Posted tagged ‘Peace Corps Ghana’

“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.

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“Chicken Alive”

November 21, 2017

Last night we all went to bed far earlier than the night, or rather the early morning, before, but it must have been too early for Gracie because she woke me up around 3:30 wanting to go out so we did. It was darn cold, and I hadn’t put on my sweatshirt so I urged Gracie to be quick. She was as she doesn’t like the cold either. I’m keeping an eye and an ear on Gracie as I heard her sniffing and snorting last night and this morning. She may have a cold so I’ll wait today but take her to the vet’s tomorrow for a check-up if she keeps snorting.

When I was a kid, Thanksgiving was the parade, M&M’s, walnuts and dinner. In school, we colored turkeys on work sheets to help pass the time. I remember coloring each feather on the turkey’s tail a different color. I hadn’t ever seen a turkey so I envisioned it more like the peacock I had seen in the zoo.

Wild turkeys are all over the place here on the cape and even in Boston where they have been known to attack people. I see them often on my street. Usually they travel in a group with one Tom and a bunch of females. The Tom always seems to be strutting, letting the world know he has a harem. The wild turkeys can fly. They even roost on branches. When they fly, they look lumbering like some military cargo planes.

I learned so many things when I was in the Peace Corps in Ghana. One of my skills, a seldom used skill, is cleaning chickens, plucking their feathers. In the market, I got to pick my chicken, my dinner for the night. I could never dispatch the chicken to wherever chickens go when they become dinner so Thomas, who worked for me, did the dispatching. He got the feet and head for his troubles and usually cooked them for himself. Foot and head stew is what I called it. The now dispatched chicken is dipped in boiling water to loosen the pinions. After that pull off the tail feathers first then the smaller feathers. My hands got tired when I plucked so I usually left the final cleaning, the pulling off of whatever was left, to Thomas. What surprised me was how skinny chickens are without their feathers. These were always free range chickens. Nobody had coops or fenced in areas. My chickens, except the brooding hens, left the yard in the morning and returned at night. I never knew where they went.

Before I left for Ghana, I read books the Peace Corps recommended, and I read the material the Peace Corps sent. I knew about the regions, a bit about languages, the tribal system, crops and the prevalent diseases, but I knew nothing about buying live chickens let alone how to pluck them. Why would I? Chickens never entered my mind before I left, and in my whole life I never thought about plucking them. Chickens came in packages from the meat counter, but out of necessity and being partial to eating chicken, I learned to pluck. Should that skill ever be needed here, I’m all set.

Chelsea Morning: Joni Mitchell

November 9, 2017

Joni Mitchell’s birthday was Tuesday. She turned 74, and I missed it. I blame Alexa. Last week I had asked Alexa to remind me of Joni’s birthday, and I don’t think she did, but I was sleeping so I could have missed Alexa’s reminder. Anyway, if you’ve been with me a while, you know Joni is about my all time favorite. When I was in the Peace Corps, I had a cassette recorder, one of those rectangular ones we all had. I had about 4 or 5 cassettes with me including CSN&Y, Peter, Paul and Mary, Creedence and Joni’s Clouds. I think my friends and I wore out that album, We played it just about every night and never tired of it. Chelsea Morning is my favorite song from this album. The lyrics are amazing so filled with colors and images, similes and metaphors. I can still see this song in my head.

“My doctor told me I had to stop throwing intimate dinners for four unless there are three other people.”

October 23, 2017

My back is a bit better. I can walk without holding on to anything. Yesterday was a sit on the couch day, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, the back aside. I have to go out today so I hope for the best.

I think I’ve used every adjective perfect to describe our weather of late. Think warm, sunny, deep blue sky and nearly breezeless. My house is again cooler than outside. In here it is sweatshirt weather. Outside is short sleeve weather.

My mother used to make fried dough for supper on Fridays, the no meat day. We’d all hang around the kitchen counter making sure we got our dough turn. My mother’s frying pan held three small or two big pieces of fried dough. She used to buy the dough at the supermarket. I remember it came in a blue and white box. We slathered butter and sprinkle salt on it. Fried dough was one of our favorite suppers.

We ate a lot of hamburger growing up, but my mother was a whiz at cooking hamburger so many different ways we never got tired of eating it. I still love meatloaf and American chop suey. She made spaghetti sauce with ground beef, another fake oriental dish of hamburger with water chestnuts and crispy chow mein on top,. The fall back was always  burgers. I love cheeseburgers.

My food in Ghana didn’t really vary a whole lot. We were lucky to live in the only area of the country which bred beef so we could always buy meat in the market. There was even a meat factory where we could buy some sort of tubular meat masquerading as a hot dog. The meat from the market was always tough. Only old cows were slaughtered. The meat was cooked in a broth like sauce with tomatoes and onions which tenderized the meat. I think we had that most nights though we also ate chicken, free range chickens because the chickens wandered all over the place all day but did came home to roost at night. We mostly ate mashed yams  but also had rice on occasion. Breaking teeth was a PC volunteer problem as the rice always had a few rocks. You needed to spend time cleaning it, but it was easier not to. When volunteers got together, food was always a topic of conversation.

Living alone means I don’t always make dinner. I improvise with whatever is in the fridge. I’m content with cheese and crackers or hummus and pita bread. I’m even happy with cereal. I do have meat in the freezer, heavy on the chicken, but I usually forget to take it out. Last night, though, I took out some Chinese sausage to defrost and I have some rice I can cook. That’s like a gourmet meal for me.

“The bicycle is the noblest invention of mankind.”

October 19, 2017

I admit it. I am addicted to YouTube’s black and white science fiction movies from the 50’s. No more MSNBC for me. Give me flying saucers, creatures from other worlds, space ships, really bad special effects and even a Nazi scientist. He was in The Yesterday Machine and unsurprisingly, wanted to save Hitler. The opening scene in that movie is a majorette twirling a baton, and that’s a highlight. I’m got to break this addiction. Library here I come.

Today is beautiful, the first in a string of beautiful days. It will be in the high 60’s, even reaching 70 by next week. Despite that near week of rain and clouds, this fall has been a delight.

When I was a kid, I had all the kid things every other kid had. I had a bike, roller skates, ice skates and a sled, something for every season. My bike was my favorite. It took me all over town and even far out of town. Unless there was snow, I could ride. My first bike was blue. It had a wire basket in the front and a bell on the handle bars. I loved that bike.

I remember a tingling on the soles of my feet when I roller-skated. I remember the sound of the skates. They were the loudest on the street and the quietest on the tar parking lot near my house. I carried the key on a rope around my neck. I’d sit on the curb to reattach the skate to my shoe. The skates were heavy.

Like every other girl, I had white ice skates. We all carried our skates tied together on our shoulders, one skate in the front, the other in the back. The trick to skating was always to make sure the laces were tight or I’d have to stop to retie them. My best skill was skating backwards.

When I was in Ghana, kids played with hoops and sticks. They’d use the sticks to roll the hoops. The first time I saw the kids playing, I remembered seeing the same game in old pictures. I never saw bought toys there. I saw cars and planes made from tin cans. Ghanaian kids are ingenious. I did see bicycles, lots of bicycles, but mostly adults rode the bikes as they were dear, expensive. I would borrow a bike to go market. It was an easy ride downhill from my school compound, but going home uphill was, at first, difficult. I had to walk part of the way pushing the bike loaded down as I was with vegetables, fruit and even a chicken from the market, but soon enough I could ride all the way home.

I have a bike but haven’t ridden it in a long while. It has gears. It doesn’t have a basket or a bell. It’s a good bike, but I’m still partial to back pedal brakes and no gears. They were more than enough to whisk me away!

“I saw goats. A party can’t be all bad when you have goats,” Lucy said.”

September 25, 2017

Today is amazing. When I went to get the papers, I was surprised how hot it is. The sun is bright. There isn’t even the slightest breeze. It is a summer day in late June.

Okay, I admit I am more aware of English grammar than the average person. I was, after all, an English teacher so I cringe when I hear bad grammar. I liken it to a musician playing a wrong note or a singer singing out of tune. I am more tolerant of conversation sprinkled with bad grammar. I don’t acknowledge it. Television, however, is a different story. Writers are eliminating the objective case, especially after a preposition. It is between you and me, never between you and I. Today it has been three times so far that good grammar has been tossed on TV. Detective, military and police procedure shows use experts in each field to check the plot details. Maybe it is time to hire an English teacher to check scripts for bad grammar.

My laundry is now downstairs leaning against the cellar door, and I am actually going to wash it today, a monumental task. I am also going to do a couple of errands. I think the sun has energized me.

Last night was so very foggy, a halloween sort of night. I expected something dressed in black to jump from behind the bushes to scare me. Actually, I was a little disappointed when nothing happened.

I once milked a goat. At first nothing happened. My technique was bad so I kept trying. My fingers were about to give out when the first squirt of milk hit the bucket. I felt so accomplished.

A herd of goats were responsible for my only motorcycle injury. It was in Ghana. I saw the herd start to cross the road so I stopped and waited. It changed direction and ran right into me. The bike started to fall so I grabbed it, and in the process got a burn on my leg, a round burn which took a long time to heal. The burn and the boils were my only Peace Corps medical issues.

“Don’t wait, just sweat.”

September 15, 2017

It is sunny and breezy, a strong enough breeze to chase the earlier humidity away. It rained last night but not much. The temperature will stay in the mid 70’s all day. Gracie is restless and already panting, a sign the day is too warm for her. I have given her treats, pulled her onto the couch and taken her outside, but she’s still not happy. I can’t take the staring. Maddie too is impatient. She keeps meowing at me. I give her treats but they’re not enough. Both these animals feel far too entitled, my fault I know.

I got most of my errands done yesterday but not the dump. I was gone a couple of hours in and out of stores so when I got home, I was too hot and tired for the dump. It will have to be today as I have no time tomorrow.

The paper explained that older people don’t have the capacity to adjust to temperatures as well as younger people because old people don’t sweat as much, and many take medication that affects body temperature. I mustn’t be at that stage yet as I was sweating yesterday. All my life I have been a head sweater (as in one who sweats not in reference to a garment to be worn). That might already have been obvious to you, but sweater just didn’t look right to me: hence the aside. I’m glad I’m not a pit sweater. That always looks gross to me.

When I was packing for Ghana, my mother and I looked for a strong antiperspirant knowing how hot it gets in Africa. We found one with maximum protection which keeps you smelling great for 48 hours. Who could have asked for more? Well, I used it and ended up with boils under each armpit, a carbuncle, meaning a cluster of boils, a word I wish I didn’t have to learn. I couldn’t even lift my arms to write on the board. I didn’t connect with the deodorant right away as Ghana has all sorts of diseases, but I stopped using the deodorant anyway. The boils did their thing and eventually broke. I wrote the Peace Corps doctor asking for information. He figured it could be an infection or even my deodorant and said to stop using it. I had guessed right. After the boils finally disappeared, I used powder. It didn’t provide 48 hour protection, but I didn’t care. Those boils were the worst.