August 09, 2011

ghana..part 2: email excerpts

this post is intended to be a collection of email messages i sent to family & friends since living in ghana from may-july.  i realize that i have shared a lot of information & emotions with them over 3 months time, whereas i haven't felt able to sit down and open my heart up on the blog.  i'm hoping that one day i will look back at the blog & be able to see how much growth and change took place from those first 3 months which were especially trying...
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we’re having a difficult time deciding on the house and school, but only because there is so much to consider and it requires a lot of consultation to sort it out.  we feel like God is guiding us all the time as we press onward.  tomorrow dash will come with me to 2 of the schools before he goes to work.  it may end up that we send ayana to a different secondary school than the boys’ primary school.  both are in the local area/neighborhood where we have been looking at houses.  there were no open doors to finding a house near dash’s office; that complicated the search for both a school and home.  i’ve been doing so much driving these 2 weeks (well, the driver is driving but it’s still exhausting).
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finally we’re in a developing nation that feels like it’s developing everywhere. we’re doing well, learning so much every day. it is all good. we’ll meet our first Baha'i on Saturday; he will walk and meet us nearby then we’ll walk back to this guest house. i’m glad this is all happening gradually – i’m already overwhelmed by all of the changes. the biggest is that i can’t drive; i have to have a driver. the second is that the company pays for our rent (taken out of dash’s pay) so we have to work closely with this company all the time, rather than be on our own and figure it out. third is the rarity of anything familiar, from food to roads to schools to the language... it is exciting to be in the midst of it all in one respect. in another it makes me recoil and long for something that doesn’t make my head full of new synapses.
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there are many paradoxes here i think. the biggest is that this is the land of cocoa and coffee beans but you can’t find any good or inexpensive chocolate or coffee!!! if i was into the processing of these raw resources i would develop all kinds of markets here. it makes me want to live another 100 years (not really!) in order to undertake so much of the ‘exigencies’ of the times. but i will be overflowing with children and jr. youth activities before i realize it and there will be just enough time extra to try and grow food, compost and get involved with permaculture at the micro level.
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we’ve been without internet service since Friday (it’s now Thursday). sometimes it feels like a LONG time without being connected; other times it’s as if life is normal without it. it is wonderful to hear about your developments. did Annick tell you we met her older sister, charlotte, here in accra?!! it brought many tears to my eyes (i know, sometimes i’m too sensitive in my heart). she is a beautiful woman and it made me miss Annick so much. then i start to think of SA and it just fills me with sadness. i really miss it. at the same time i feel happy and full of gratitude to be here. it really is the full African experience (for West Africa). the heat, the chaos, the lack of roads, the traditional dresses and clothes, the food, the outdoor markets on every block, the plantain trees, the dirt, the beauty of the people... the National Baha'i Center is very humble; it brought us joy to attend the Feast there. songs were sung by those who are from French-speaking countries, as well as a couple English songs at the end. we learned that there are 600 jr. youth participating in jr. youth groups in this city alone! wow! may 28th will be a festival for all of them to perform songs, dances, etc. – ayana has already been asked to join the youth ‘band’ after they heard her sing. she may sing a solo for the festival but will not be part of the jr. youth group songs since she doesn’t know them well yet...
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we’re still at the guest house. we found a house that we’ll move into in june. it will be in a different area. it is a new house with 3 bedrooms. it’s not big enough to have guests stay comfortably but surely we would arrange something (not that anyone is coming, though there’s a young woman in Durban who promises she’s coming this year!). it’s in a compound with 4 other homes, and has a small pool. pretty cool since it’s the only place we looked at with a pool; it was our 2nd choice but the other place we couldn’t afford. when we move in, we’ll finally settle in and receive the boxes of our belongings from both Durban and America. the house has no storage so i’ll be determined to find a place for everything and throw away the boxes asap so we can enjoy living there. the kids have been having a bit of ‘study time’ each day to keep fresh in their learning. it’s a very long time to be outta school. ayana will benefit the most from studying now because she hopes to do well on her assessment test and perhaps skip the rest of grade 7.
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domani has acquired asthma while here. he started with a bad cough in the night time and quickly started wheezing. we’ve been through quite a crazy process at the clinic – everything is so DIFFERENT! it’s a public clinic but feels almost private; the fees they charge are kinda high so not all Ghanaians go there. it’s definitely cool seeing all the dr’s and nurses, etc. being Ghanaian instead of European. and it’s nice seeing women with babies dressed in the prettiest dresses and head gear. i never see anyone nursing but i wonder how they manage with newborns in those fancy clothes. i was such a mess when i had babies. i never looked nice!! i’m very glad to be past those years.. i look back at photos and i always wore sweatpants and t-shirts with a bun..not exactly attractive.
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I wish the cocoa beans that grow abundantly in this country were made into chocolate here!! there is almost no chocolate to be found, and certainly not the good kind. it’s insidious! the poor farmers vs. the wealthy businessmen. I only want to buy chocolate from the farmers. I wish I had a lot of money to open up a production plant that was owned in part by the farmers – they’d get most of the profits received by the people who want to sell the chocolate.


anyway, I’m not doing anything grand or important these days. just sitting & reading articles about all the good things other people are doing or all the bad things that are happening. i really want to move into our home but it will be another month probably.


dash is becoming immersed in learning about his position (right now back to jo’berg airport from Mozambique).   kids and i hang out at the guest house having homestudy time, developing relationships with the people who work here, and attending various Baha'i activities.   tomorrow we’ll attend the annual jr.  youth festival.   ayana will sing 2 songs, one with a youth who will play the guitar.  we’ll bring 4 local jr.  youth that have shown some interest in the Faith.  kids will begin schools in September – the boys will attend a British Int’l School that’s very small; Ayana will attend a different secondary school that’s also under the British system but it’s a different school.   both are in the area that we found houses.  it’s been a very challenging process and quite hectic with all that is new, different and challenging, but we’re learning a lot and growing a lot while teaching – so we’re well.
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no one’s gotten malaria (yet!).  it feels like a normal African city, full of people selling goods on the streets, carrying goods on their heads, wearing traditional dresses and linens, never wearing socks, and accustomed to the heat.   poor people live by rich people.  the roads are poorly paved – only some are good.  other roads are dirt with lots of rivets, rocks and potholes.   construction is a never-ending reality.  many shops operate out of metal containers.   this city has no big restaurants or hotels like other african cities (like in Tanzania and Mozambique) – it feels like there is no place of beauty to enjoy really unless you go an hour’s drive on very bumpy dirt roads to get to a nice beachside (which we did one day after being invited to a ‘beach resort’ – which was NOTHING like the kind of resort you’d imagine one to be).  yet we are happy and grateful to be in Africa, to be serving in Africa, to feel the African spirit and be surrounded by African hearts.   we don’t have all the goods, foods & conveniences we’re used to in SA but we have internet, electricity, satellite tv, and drums. we are still waiting to move into our house.   after much searching we found one.  it’s a 3 bedroom, simple and new.  not our first choice but nice.   we now need to begin the process of getting it furnished which might take another month.   everything takes longer here. . and really requires patience.   nothing has gone smoothly since our arrival.   even going to the clinic was a fiasco.   yet we are happy!
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we’re beginning to enter the process of having a house furnished.  may take a while and be a crazy process – if only there was a way to skip the traffic, the construction, the chaos. . but really, it’s all just part of the beauty of learning how to live here.  once we live in the house, the kids and I can do most things in that area without experiencing much of the chaos; we’ll shop and go to school in that area.   we’ll attend Baha’I gatherings there whenever possible as well.   dash will still be stuck in the traffic to go to work – well, there’s traffic EVERYWHERE.   no road is wide enough here with all of the cars on the roads.   and many of the roads are falling apart or aren’t paved.   very surprising.  we’ve spent the day playing soccer then doing various projects in our room.   I won the Risk game (with dash’s help!).  we watched Rio together but dash and I started falling asleep – the soccer wore us out.
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we are fine.   enjoying family time together this weekend.  yesterday we brought a jr.  youth with us to run errands and play soccer.   our driver was there, too.   we all went to eat pizza together – the boy didn’t like it and we felt so bad for him.   he never had that kind of food before.   in the car we read 2 lessons from the Kenyan jr.  youth book.   he is eager to learn.  he brought 2 additional friends over yesterday, saying they want to know Who is Baha’u’llah? J  we have very, very little materials with us right now.  we’re just getting by with what we have but it’s fine.   one soul at a time. .  cam cam, ruz bi ruz.   when this jr.  youth brought us to meet his mom last week, we had a little fireside.   the next day he told his pastor about Baha’u’llah.  the following day he came with pamphlets from his pastor about Jesus.   it provided yet another opportunity to proclaim Who Baha’u’llah is, with as much wisdom as i could strive to embody (not easy for me to do in those situations).   i keep longing for details and little stories about kwa mashu and teaching in durban.   we are so happy to hear about one of the jr.  youth from delft who now lives in malmesbury; he is doing wonderful teaching and service all by himself. . and is now being trained (he’s turning 15 in 2 weeks).


dash’s job is great. he loves the work. it’s an incredible field that is taking root in businesses around the world because they are realizing their products must come from a sustainable place (for both the employees’ lives and the earth). i’m really happy for him.  i am still acclimating my soul to Ghana. we wait still to move into a home of our own. we have taught the Faith to those we’ve met here at and around the guest house, and have become close to a few. we spend a lot of time together as a family inside our 2 rooms. we don’t have access to driving ourselves around unless the driver is working during the week, or overtime on weekends, so we have become accustomed to a more simple way of living, rather than doing a lot of exploring, etc. this sometimes means we miss Baha’i gatherings. but soon we’ll move to the house and meet the friends in a different sector, and begin to engage with the core activities.
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the last thing i feel is settled. my weakest link in life here is not being able to freely drive around. it may be a long time before we feel comfortable getting licenses. the company provides a car and driver. we must share the one car. many businesses and organizations here provide drivers because directions, traffic, road conditions and corrupt police make it somewhat formidable to drive as a foreigner (though i’ve seen some and they look so confident doing so). as much as i fight against this situation, the more i find myself going against God’s Will for me at this time. i am striving to appreciate all the benefits it offers (not having to pay insurance or worry about maintenance, bribery, or petrol costs) and not sink into that place of complaint (where i’ve been since we arrived) – i have been in a place of fighting for my independence. i miss being on my own, being able to explore, be free. i think of Abdu’l-Baha explaining how he was free in prison. that’s my goal, to be free internally in a situation that makes me feel a bit imprisoned. i love how i was able to get in the car and go far and explore cape town. this will be the opposite experience. i am preparing myself for being very local and serving at the neighborhood and sector level most of the time. this will be a blessing. the test and difficulty for me will be when i want to go be of service, attend something, or run errands and we feel we can’t ask the driver to work overtime, or i can’t have the car because dash needs it for work. so that’s my biggest test. sounds like nonsense compared to humanity’s struggles and sufferings. i just want to serve and be able to arise. . .
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on our side it’s one thing after another testing our resolve.   it requires intense patience and acceptance, forbearance and searching for understanding and divine assistance.   today i had to deal with Domani’s newly acquired asthma.   the local clinic for middle class folks is incredibly inefficient but it’s close by and the dr.  had already seen him so i needed to go there again before we switch to a better place.   it took more than 3 hours to see the dr.  and get a prescription.   i sit there and feel completely calm about it, trying to help the kids not complain whatsoever, but deep inside i’m not pure-hearted or content with it.   ugh, it’s just one of many, many things.   the guest house has worn us out; we just need to be on our own.   the kids are doing well with their studies, with being basically content with life.   we find joy in the little things, in the simple things, together.  we’re in the process of working with a carpenter to make some shelving units, etc.  it’s tricky working out costs, especially within a budget, but i really appreciate being able to choose what will go into the house (after 3 ½ years of furnished flats).   our home is a very simple one room space downstairs for living room and dining area, with a separate kitchen.   not large, just wide enough to fit basic furniture in.   upstairs is 3 simple bedrooms but the best thing is that each room has it’s own bathroom!!
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i had an image of ghana that was only village life. i know we can’t go up country to live, and it’s not practical anyway, but i do love being near villages where people celebrate their culture in every way, all the time. city life is hectic. but accra in particular is off the charts chaotic. dash traveled to Tanzania and Mozambique and he said their infrastructure was 100 times better than accra. it’s ridiculous really. currently the Chinese are here working on one major highway, but it will take a long time to finish and there are 100’s of roads that are a mess, not even paved. we drove one saturday to a beach that was an hour away. we spent 30 minutes on the bumpiest dirt road leading to the ocean; i’m not kidding, it was the worst road leading to any kind of resort area. it makes you not even want to go there again. dirt roads are fine, but the rivets and holes are what leads to insanity as the car tries to avoid them and continues to shake up and down continuously.
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i miss driving! i miss being free to go and explore, to be on my own, etc. it’s just a struggle that i have to be patient with and know that it’s not forever. it makes me slow down and do things locally – once we move into our home which still hasn’t happened. yhu! the newly built house still isn’t finished with contractor work. once it’s finished we’ll have some walls painted, and then we’ll go to some stores and purchase furniture and kitchenware. we have to buy everything but it will belong to the company; they will reimburse us after we submit receipts. we have to work within a budget. it’s nice to get to choose what we like after several years of moving into furnished flats. our boxes from SA and the US have arrived.
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it’s not easy for me to be this inactive but i’m going through it for a reason. there are many challenges and difficulties about developing cities that are new for me, yet i know it’s all to benefit me. i admire my brothers and sisters who have always been, or who have, accustomed to such material discomforts or disadvantages. i am aware of all my weaknesses here. despite it all, we endeavor to play soccer and get some exercise and stop playing when we’re dripping wet (which occurs rather quickly!); we play Risk or Yahtzee together; we have Sunday night storytelling when we discuss Baha’i stories and the kids show something they’ve memorized, or try to tell a story from memory; we have a good amount of learning time from workbooks and Baha’i books; and we sometimes watch a downloaded movie together.
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today i met with an older Baha’i woman who’s American but has lived in England for 35 years. she’s doing a year of service here for an organization helping widows. she’s staying upcountry in a rural area. aside from missing city life, she expressed what dash and i feel about this country – it’s very hard to live here. it involves many layers of the different aspects of life. . but it was comforting to know we’re not the only ones who find it difficult to live here. and it’s not even hot here yet! it requires a lot of spiritual growth; it’s God’s Will for us to be here. . .
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Domani is well now because of the pump he takes each morning and night; it was scary to see him so unhealthy and not able to run because his lungs were so constricted, but he’s fine with the medicine. you can find a good doctor and medical facility but you may have to drive an hour through traffic to get there.  it’s just crazy in many ways. nothing like south africa. haven’t seen a true hospital like we are used to, but we’re so sick of the typical clinic that we won’t go back. we’re looking for a dr. where we’ll be moving instead of driving a long distance just to see a dr.


we’re getting closer but my mind is still wrapped around trying to organize and figure out how to proceed with what still needs to be done (like ordering curtains to match with all the measurements and fabric). i have faced difficulties today with a carpenter; miscommunication and difficulty is explaining (even with photos) what we’d like done. i’m glad dash is able to take some time off from being at the office yesterday and this upcoming monday so i can spend a little time sorting through the details at some stores while he stays at home with the kids.
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we’re very far removed from the july 4th holiday and summer vacation. we are very much into the women’s world cup, though, which is fun for dash and the kids. i enjoy it, too, but more as a background to what else i have going on. i really like the area where our house is. i like how it’s an area unto itself and less connected with city congestion; i like seeing a herd of cows once in a while and being able to walk down the street to get some local goods. overall, though, i’m not impressed with accra. it certainly hasn’t captured my heart. i find it far from what people said about it – that the people are SO friendly. ugh, i think so far my experience is one that tires me more than gives me energy – and it’s not even the hot season.
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i cried today (not exactly a new experience) when we watched a special program about the world cup in south africa. i can’t shake the sadness when i see the photos, feel the culture, hear the music and remember the friends. it made me write the kids a long letter. we’ll send it next week. this is my 3rd letter since the end of april. i am rotating who it gets sent to (i saved their addresses from Baha’i school). the last one was a compilation of Selections for the jr. youth in preparation for becoming youth. this one is just a heart to heart.

August 05, 2011

ghana..part 1

as i walked down the road recently to buy eggs from an outdoor, wooden stand, i felt happy and grateful to be living in this neighborhood. i reminisced about how i've longed to live amongst african people and how i couldn't really do that in south africa. here, in east legon -- a neighborhood in the outskirts of accra -- i walk past gated homes and old, worn out small homes without walls, right next to each other. i see big metal pots cooking food, locally made foods being sold, corn growing almost wildly in yards, chickens and goats roaming around, dirt roads riveted with potholes adjacent to paved roads, and lots of inquisitive ghanaians referring to me as 'ibruni' (non-ghanaian).


i'm enjoying a lot of local things that are different: the soap that's smooth and sturdy..the hot peppers that are green and red..the big pots of bulk corn kernels being sold at outdoor markets..the sound of goats, cattle or chickens roaming nearby..and sobolu leaves for making a sweet but blood-cleansing drink.

life is so different here than anything i've ever experienced that it's hard to sum it up or give enough examples. i find that it's taken me this long, 3 months, to write about how i really feel, or what it's truly like to live here. the first 2 months in the guest house were like living in a bubble that was a world within itself. it is the company's place for employees to stay before they find a place of their own, like us. the company is almost all Indian so the food cooked is Indian. it was ok but got old after a month. the house itself, and all of its issues, took their toll on me. the toilet smelled everyday despite being cleaned more than 1 time a day; dinner wouldn't be served until 7:30 so the kids had to go to sleep on full tummies; the air conditioner didn't work properly; the electricity constantly went out and often the generator didn't work because of low fuel; the internet connection was disturbed everytime the electricity went out and for almost the entire 2 months was not working (we were able to get on after receiving a stick from the company); the mosquitos constantly came into the house because the doors were always kept open downstairs -- which made them spray heavy amounts of fuming bug spray on a daily basis; the cooks had an attitude with us when we requested something like eggs in addition to what they had already prepared; the water pressure was turned off almost every day so each morning or afternoon we had to send one of us downstairs to ask it to be turned on again (while one of us would be waiting in the shower); and for a month the laundry was still still damp from all of the rain that it would begin to smell once put in our bags (the worst being the towels which we had to exchange almost daily).

we arrived at the guest house at midnight on april 30th. by may 2nd we were introduced to our driver -- the driver who is paid by the company & who is assigned to us. this turned my stomach to such an upset state for over a month that i felt like i was having a war within me. it disturbed me to the core to not be able to  drive in this country. i felt trapped. i felt like i lost all my independence and way of life. i allowed my mind to wander in a dark valley of loss, wishing i could just get in a car and go, explore, be on my own, stop spontaneously, and be free. this theme still lingers in me but it has been replaced with a certain sense of genuine appreciation. our driver, augustin, has been incredibly helpful in this long transition. he's been a source of directions, translation of the local language, negotiating prices while shopping, physical assistance with our belongings, running errands for us on his own, and enabling us to not be stressed or concerned at all about the roads, the police, the traffic and all of the chaos of this city.  he's become a part of our family life to some extent.  what's most significant about him is that he's trustworthy -- we feel comfortable and free around him because we have no doubt as to his integrity.  this enables us to give him $, to have him be with our kids without us around, and to be able to rely on him in many ways.