Posted tagged ‘Ghana’

“He shoveled the bacon out on a plate and broke the eggs in the hot grease and they jumped and fluttered their edges to brown lace and made clucking sounds.”

February 11, 2018

Today is a dismal dark day. The rain started last night around eleven, and it’s still raining.  The weather report says rain on and off for most of the day. The only saving grace is the warmth. It is 47˚. I have to go to the dump. I’m thinking it will be quiet. The rain keeps people away.

When I was a kid, I mostly walked to church on Sundays. Sometimes, though, I’d go with my father to an early mass where he was an usher. I always wished I was an usher, but only men were ushers. My father stood in the back of the church waiting until the right time to pass his basket. He never kneeled. The baskets were at the end of a long pole which reached to the halfway point of the pew. My father would pass the basket then move to the other side of the church to get the rest of the pew. I always had a dime for the offering. After church my dad bought his paper from the guy in front of the church who was always there. The guy had a gray cart with a cover so he could protect his papers from the rain. After that my father and I sometimes went to get donuts to bring home. My father only ate plain donuts which he buttered. He’d also buy jelly, lemon and glazed donuts. I loved butternut, but he never remembered. My father kept with the traditional donuts. It made choosing easy.

I love eggs and their versatility. My favorite breakfast is two eggs over easy, crispy bacon and toast, usually rye. Eggs are often dinner for me, and once in a while I make an egg salad, but only if I have celery and lettuce to add as egg salad by itself is a bit bland. I love deviled eggs. My mother made them for all her barbecues, and my friend Clare often does the same. Most people have a favorite recipe for potato salad, but for just about every recipe, eggs are a critical ingredient. Coloring Easter eggs is a family tradition. You not only get to decorate the hard-boiled eggs but you also get to eat them.

St. Patrick’s drill team used to take part in the Halloween parade in Woburn, a town next to my own. We all hated marching in it because during the parade we’d get egged. I remember getting hit in the leg and having the egg slide down into my boot. It was gross marching on shells and uncooked eggs. I was glad when the decision was made not to march.

In Ghana I was close up and personal with eggs. I had chickens, and I also bought eggs in the market and sometimes from some small girls selling door to door. If I wasn’t careful in buying the eggs, I’d sometimes crack an egg the chicken had sat on for a bit. I was never bothered by that. It was just the way it was in Ghana sometimes.

“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”

February 3, 2018

Today is beautiful with a blue sky and the return of the sun, but it’s cold, an uninviting cold. I have no inclination to go outside. The hot air from the furnace is blowing and keeping the house warm. I won’t even get dressed. I’m nice and cozy in my sweatshirt and my flannel pants. It snowed a bit yesterday, enough to cover the walk and my car windows. I’m hoping the sun will melt the windows clean so I won’t have to brush and scrape.

I always think it is the darkness of winter which palls the spirit so I do my best to compensate. I keep white candles lit in the windows, and their light shines across the dark lawn. In the living room, I light lanterns in the corners of the room. Their candles flicker and leave shadows on the walls. On the hearth, twelve tea lights shine in the votives of the long candle holder, and a gourd filled with white lights sits atop firewood in a basket. The room is filled with light and is warm and cozy and welcoming.

I do love New England and am not tempted to leave for sunnier climes. I am tired of winter, but around this time I am always tired of winter. The two years I spent in Ghana gave me an even greater appreciation for the changing seasons I so love. It was always warm there, and I tired of the warmth. I wanted to be cold, to see my breath on a crisp winter’s morning. I missed the beauty of snow and how wonderful it looks as it falls and how breathtaking the world is after a snowstorm. I wanted to welcome spring with all its colors and sights and smells. Where I lived in Ghana had no flowers. It had baobab and pawpaw trees and fields filled with millet and yams. It had grass, tall and green, but it had no flowers. I missed looking for the first spring shoots to appear, for the crocus and the daffodils.

Spring is always a miracle, and I wait for it with great expectations. Every day I check for the tips of shoots in my front garden. When I find one,  I want to dance wearing bright colors and flowers in my hair.

“Music replays the past memories, awaken our forgotten worlds and make our minds travel.”

December 30, 2017

The deep freeze continues. It is 16˚ and snowy weather is predicted. The sky is grayish white, and the air is still. I have to go out later for the one thing I didn’t know I needed the other day when I shopped, toilet paper, an item as essential as food and water.

My car needed only the oil change. Everything else checked out just fine though I was told to keep an eye on my tires.

In Ghana this time of year I loved the weather. Today in Bolgatanga it was 88˚ but tonight it will be only 68˚, and that’s the way it will continue for the rest of the week, even getting as low as 63˚ at night. That’s one thing I didn’t expect in Ghana, cold weather. I had no clothes to keep me warm. My students every morning were dressed in sweaters on sweaters and layers after layers. I had bare arms and sock-less feet, but I had steaming coffee in a huge mug to get me started, and the mornings warmed quickly.

I watched a movie today which partly took place in Jordan. One scene was of the city of Amman in the early morning light of dawn, and the only sound is the call to prayer. I stayed right near a mosque during my Peace Corps live-in, a three week stay with a family. I was in a town called Bawku which is heavily Moslem. A small mosque was on the street below my room. The pre-dawn call to prayer was live, not recorded. I heard it every morning and still remember so well the beauty of that song. The single voice was clear and powerful. It became familiar. I’d lie there listening then at the end of the song I’d fall back to sleep.

In Marrakesh I also heard the songs to prayers every day coming from a mosque not that far from my riad and also from the Koutoubia Mosque, the largest one in the city which towers over everything. Its minaret is sort of a landmark for the city. I was usually out walking around when I’d hear the afternoon calls. The voice was recorded, but it sounded over everything else and was rhythmic and lovely.

I know smells become familiar and trigger memories. The aroma of burning wood   always brings me back to Ghana, especially the mornings, when breakfast was being cooked over the fire. When I was in Morocco and heard the songs to prayer, I was reminded of Ghana, and that small mosque and the beauty of the single voice singing. It seems sounds too carry memories.

“The true essentials of a feast are only fun and feed.”

December 18, 2017

Today is cloudy but it’s warm, in the 40’s. Last night was freezing.

In the dark last night Gracie went out and wandered down the hill by the side of my house. I went to check on her in the front yard and found her gone. I got my flashlight and looked but didn’t see her. I called my friends in panic, and despite the time of night and the cold, they came, one walking using his flashlight and the other driving. By then I had found Gracie at the bottom of the hill. She couldn’t get back up. I went down the hill to her and grabbed her, but I couldn’t get us back up the hill either. I kept sliding. Finally I found a route which got me and her to the front yard. We both went inside. She had a treat. I had an asthma attack.

Today I’m planning my cookies and the Christmas Day dinner. I have a method. I write down the name of the recipe, its source and the ingredients by aisle. I’m thinking 3 kinds of cookies. For dinner I’m leaning toward pork of some sort, but that’s just a maybe.

Yesterday’s Patriot’s game still has my heart atwitter. The last minute was amazing. My friends and I cheered, stood up, moaned and screamed. The final play was unbelievable. After a Steelers touchdown was called back as an incomplete pass, the Steelers decided to pass for the touchdown instead of spiking for a chance at a tie and overtime. The pass was batted away, it flew into the air and was caught by a Pat for an interception. End of game!

I saw a Facebook picture taken in the Tongo hills outside of Bolga. The caption mentioned the harmattan, the hot dry season with sand blowing in from the desert which is happening now. During my first harmattan, the back of the soles of my feet cracked from the dryness. I had to tip-toe. I started getting ballerina muscles. Finally the soles heeled (sorry-a written pun looks like a misspelling) into the ugliest thick callouses. I didn’t care. My feet felt fine.

I ate a lot of goat in Ghana. The first time I had no idea what I was eating. It was during Peace Corps training, and I was at my live-in, a three week span where we lived with a Ghanaian family. I was alone at dinner and was served soup with bony meat in one dish and in another dish, a glob of I had idea what. No fork or spoon mean I had to use my fingers. I grabbed some glob and ran it through the soup then ate it. The reddish soup was spicy hot, but I managed. I had to pick up the meat, also with my fingers, to chew around the bone. When next I saw my hostess, I asked why I was eating alone and what did I eat. She said she thought I’d prefer to be by myself. I didn’t. She said I ate t-zed with red soup and goat meat. Tuon-zafe, t-zed, is best described as a porridge of boiled corn meal, a glob. The goat meat was okay which is a good thing as I ate it often. I even found it once here in a Caribbean restaurant and ordered it as a bit of food nostalgia.

I don’t know how I got on to goat. I guess it was mentioning Christmas dinner as that’s what I had my first Christmas in Ghana. It was a feast.

“Christmas time! That man must be a misanthrope indeed, in whose breast something like a jovial feeling is not roused – in whose mind some pleasant associations are not awakened – by the recurrence of Christmas.”

December 12, 2017

Today will be rainy and warm with a temperature in the 50’s, but tonight will be  different. Old Man Winter, who’s tired of waiting in the wings, is coming back to lay claim to December. It will be in the 30’s all week during the day and even colder at night. One night is predicted to be in the teens. On that night, I’ll be cozy and warm in the house with all the Christmas lights glowing and spreading their warmth. I’m thinking I’ll have egg nog in hand, in keeping with the season of course.

It has been really difficult of late to maintain a bit of optimism. I hold on to mine with every muscle in my body especially now, at Christmas time, when all of my memories  surface and help me believe in goodness, generosity and faith. Even though we live distances apart, my sisters and I celebrate together when we honor family traditions. We keep our mother and father close. How could I be anything but an optimist at this time of year?

My first Christmas in Ghana was my first Christmas away from my family, but my mother made sure I had a bit of home. She sent ornaments from our family tree. She also sent a small plastic tree to hang them on. I used the brick-like paper from the box to make a fireplace on the wall. From it I hung the small stocking she had sent. A few Christmas cookie cutters were also in that wonderful box. Though I had never made sugar cookies, I did that Christmas. They were delicious and shaped like a star, a tree and Santa. I found out much later that my mother and my aunt Mary had split the huge cost of sending that box airmail so I’d have it in time for Christmas.

I have many memories of that first Christmas in Ghana, but I think my favorite happened while I lying in bed waiting to fall asleep. It was cold, and I was bundled in a wool blanket I had bought and even still have. At that time of the year the harmattan is in full force. The days are hot, usually over 100˚ hot, but the nights and really early mornings are delights when the temperature drops sometimes even 30˚. On that night, I heard a boy’s voice singing. I think it came from a family compound just outside the school walls. The boy sang all the verses of We Three Kings in a sweet, clear voice. It was the only sound in the cold night air. It brought delight and joy to me, and I knew I’d be fine that first Christmas away. I always think of that boy as my Christmas miracle.

“Each day has a color, a smell.”

October 8, 2017

The day is cloudy dark. Rain is predicted. It is also windy which makes it feel colder than it is. I had to shut the back door. Last night was Gracie busy. She had me up every couple of hours, and we went out at 3:30. I went back to sleep but woke up when I heard her moving around at 8:00, but she readily jumped on the couch with me, and we both slept until 10.

I did all my errands yesterday. I had a route in mind, but the cars in long lines at the lights had me reconsider how to get there from here. I should have realized they’d be lines as this is, after all, a three day weekend, sort of summer’s last hurrah. Today is a stay off the roads day as the weekenders will be driving around looking for something to do.

I can smell wood burning again. The smell has again triggered memories. I remember overnights at Camp Aleska, the Girl Scout camp in the town where I grew up. The camp was up a dirt road across from the zoo and was surrounded by tall pine trees. Paths were behind the camp and led all through the woods. There was one big room in the camp with a huge fireplace. My favorite part of the overnight was falling asleep as the fire waned and the embers glowed in the dark. I have mentioned mornings in Ghana several times. The air smelled of wood fires as breakfast was cooked over wood charcoal. In the market, huge bags of charcoal were for sale. In some villages tree trunks were slowly burned into charcoal and bags of it were for sale on the sides of the road. Even the irons were filled with wood charcoal.

At night, aunties, older women, sitting along the sides of the main road in Bolga cooked food over wood charcoal and sold it.  I remember the smell in the air was a combination of the wood charcoal burning and food cooking at my nighttime snack stops. That was the first time I ever tasted grilled corn and deep fried plantain and yam chips. Guinea fowl was rare, but I always bought it if I found it. I remember the spots of light from the lit lanterns up and down the street and the blazing embers under metal bowls filled with groundnut oil where the food cooked.

I am ever so thankful for having served in Ghana and for the memories still strong and vibrant.

“There are no such things as curses; only people and their decisions”

October 7, 2017

The sun predicted for today has yet to appear. It is cloudy and damp. I could feel the moisture in the air when Gracie and I went out to get the papers. It made me feel a bit chilly and I wished I had put on a sweatshirt. The house, though, with all the doors and windows closed is warm.

We’re going out today, Gracie and I, to the dump, the market and Agway. My trunk is filled with trash from Thursday’s great cabinet clean-out. Gracie needs canned food and a treat or two, and I need the essentials for life: bread, coffee and cream.

My friends are coming on Tuesday for a couple of days. These are the friends I traveled with to Ghana last year. We first met in 1969 at Peace Corps staging in Philadelphia at the Hotel Sylvania. Staging is the first time the whole group of trainees get together before leaving for in-country training, and it is where we got shots, had interviews and were introduced to PC staff from Ghana. Right away we became friends and co-conspirators. The three of us skipped some of the orientation to tour Philadelphia. It didn’t take a whole lot of convincing. They were supposed to be posted in Tamale, a city 100 miles from Bolga. That would have made us neighbors. Instead, after Peace Corps found out Peg was pregnant, they were posted to New Tafo, in the south. I visited them every time I went south, and we traveled together. Just before our second year, there was an open post at my school. They were willing to join me in Bolga, and the principal agreed to make the request to Peace Corps so we became neighbors living in a duplex on the school compound. Bill had a red motorcycle. I had a grey one. We used to take day trips around Bolga. He’d take Kevin, their son, and I’d take Peg. We had adventures. I remember a couple of picnics during school holidays, one by a watering hole and another in the hills of Tongo where school boys stood and watched us the whole time. It was there an old man threatened us with the gods because he claimed we had desecrated a sacred rock by putting our small charcoal burned on it. The schoolboys said he just wanted money. We decided to take our chances. As we were leaving, Bill’s motorcycle stopped dead. It just quit running. We sort of chuckle and hoped the old man didn’t see us. The motorcycle did start right away, but it gave us pause.