Friday, July 25, 2008
Must Be Present to Win?
We celebrated the Fourth of July on the fifth of July at a barbeque in Nalerigu with several area missionaries and Peace Corps workers. I’d agreed to watch the grill for Sarah. Yisah (say “YEE-suh”), a Ghanaian man, was doing the actual grilling, but Esalas had had unfavorable grilling experiences in the past—i.e. they’d ended up with charred briquette-kabobs—and so it was decided the grill needed watching. Marvelous Mona had malaria, so Sarah had agreed to help her prepare her potluck dishes. And so it was decided that I would watch the grill, with Aili assisting.
Yisah and I started chatting, and the conversation quickly became unpleasant. It started when he asked how long I’d be in Ghana. Standard, non-threatening opening. So I told him I’d be home for Christmas and come back in January. But what if I get married, he wanted to know. Oy. Here we go. “I am not likely to get married this winter,” I said, and Yisah countered, “But what if you meet someone and you are in love?” Oy. “Well, I am still doubtful; I don’t actually know anyone I want to marry, and I’ll only be home less than two months.”
“What if there is a miracle?” he said. Oh. Well, in that case I supposed my miraculous husband could move back to Ghana with me. “But what if he will not come?” Eh? Of course he’ll come. Aside from the fact that we just made him up and he, therefore, has no free will, any mythical husband of mine would be delighted to move to Nasuan. “What if he won’t leave because of his job?” Um, well . . . at this point, I’m out. I’ve got a mythical husband whom I’ve met, dated, and married in under two months—why did I do that again? Oh, yeah. The miracle—which either has totally exhausted his spontaneity (and no wonder) or his spontaneity was limited to conventional activities (then why . . . ? The miracle. Right). Well, I just don’t know. The logic behind this series of events is escaping me.
So then we get to what I suspect may have been the real question all along. Would I consider marrying a Ghanaian? Unfortunately for this line of questioning, I’m pretty much done with this game. Unfortunately for me, I’m still watching the grill.
“You live in Nasuan, right? Have you had many marriage proposals?” Well, I suppose I’ve had a few; though I think of them as more of “marriage announcements” rather than proposals. “If you lived in Nalerigu, you would’ve had 100 by now.” Gee, how . . . flattering. “How about The Chief? Has he proposed?” The Chief said he would find me a husband if I wanted to make my home in Nasuan; he did not say the husband would be him. Yisah explains, “The Chief is just shy. The next time you meet, he will see what you think of him.” Okay, I’m skeptical. The Chief has five wives already. Yisah counters, “The Chief in Nalerigu has eighteen wives.” I explain that American women are selfish and do not like to share, but Yisah knows this already. He returns to his previous train of thought. “People,” he explains again, “are just shy.” Then he highlights himself as an example. He has seen me many times, but he has only spoken to me today. Oy vey. Please don’t bust out in a proposal before the meat gets done. Perhaps, he speculates, people are afraid of Nathan and Sarah. Perhaps that’s why I haven’t been more ardently pursued. Oy. If that’s the case, I’ll have to make more of a point to thank them for their intimidation even as I’m now resolving to make sure Sarah knows just how much I hope she enjoys her meat.
Enough of that topic. Well, more than enough really. Since Sunday comes next chronologically:
I’ve decided sermons in English are my favorite. Nathan preached at our church in Nasuan—must’ve been July 6th, since that’s the day after the 5th—and Elijah the Church Brother translated. The translation seemed just a little more aggressive than the preaching, but I think it worked out okay (I mean, based on my vast knowledge of Konkomba, that’s what I’m concluding). My favorite part was during the “Jesus died for you” climax when Elijah got a little carried away, anticipating passionate emphasis where Nathan hadn’t actually had a chance to speak yet, while Nathan just stood and grinned at him. It felt a little strange to hear Nathan speak Konkomba culture in his English words, and even after I got used to it, it still felt a little like spying. Keeping in mind that what the pastor said and what each listener heard is not always even similar (that’s a disclaimer, lest I inadvertently credit Nathan with heresy), this is a summary of the sermon highlights as I perceived them:
He talked about war and about a humble man who rides his donkey into the middle of conflict and soldiers lay down their arms. This man on the donkey brings peace and freedom to those who are burdened by heavy work. If your work is heavy, you can follow this man. You will still work for him, but when he ties his cart to your back, you will find it fits easily and does not cut into you or rub sore places. You will find you can pull it, and when you have no strength left, you will find that he will give you more strength again. “So,” Nathan asked, “who do you want to follow?” And the congregation answered, “We will follow the Donkey Man.”
In other Nasuan news, with two more attempted homicides, Black Chicken has promoted herself to the top of the Eat List—displacing White Chicken, who was there for crowing too loudly outside Aili’s window during naptime. Our current intention is to carry out Black Chicken’s sentence before she can reproduce again. As for PCD the Goat, we celebrated Nathan’s birthday in Accra with a fantastic dinner of barbequed goat sandwiches.
Our meetings in Accra began about two weeks ago, and when I say “our,” I’m using the term loosely to support the illusion that I was working too. I’ve spent most of the past two weeks playing in dirt. Grueling, I know. The kids and I (six kids, ages 2 to 5, plus Karissa) made gourmet dirt-food and sold it to each other for leaves and bottle caps. When we needed a break from that, we found worms and shared worms and practiced not smushing the worms too much. I’m pretty sure these were the kind of worms you fish with and not the kind of worms you get. Just in case, we were careful to practice pretending to eat dirt instead of really eating it, but some of us were better at that than others, Hannah Federwitz.
I’ve mentioned The Federwitz Family: Paul Extension in previous emails—that’s Missionary Ali and Paul Her Husband, along with their two kids, Hannah (the one who eats dirt and thinks my cooking is “for goats”) and Baby Levi (he’s new). The Federwitz Family: David Extension recently re-arrived in Ghana from their furlough in America. They include Missionary Valerie and David Her Husband, plus their children, Michaela, Josiah, Micah, and Baby Joyanna. None of them have ever sampled my cooking, but I did see Micah (he’s two) accidentally eat dirt. He was trying to eat a rock, and the dirt came as a bonus. David Valerie’s Husband works with Nathan in Gbintiri.
So The Federwitz Family: Paul and David Extensions, Alvina Federwitz the Nana, and the Esala Family Inclusive (that is, including me), met in Accra for the meetings. The Bosses of our team flew in from America for the occasion; perhaps intuitively cognizant of the path to my heart, Jim the Boss came bearing chocolate and mouse traps. Since I didn’t actually attend the meetings, I don’t really have much to say about them. But since they were the whole point of coming to Accra, I thought I might at least bring them up. Otherwise, you might think our point in coming was to go shopping.
A shopping milestone, I made my first purchase out the car window last week. I’d seen Sarah do it many times, both as the driver and as a passenger. Intersections are busy with, well, peddlers weaving in and out of traffic, and they carry their wares on their heads (just like the guy in that book, except instead of stacking them up in a tall tower, they have them piled high in big bowls or laundry baskets, and monkeys probably never steal them—because there just aren’t that many monkeys around). As we inch forward in traffic jams or stop for red lights, Sarah waves a peddler over for a quick exchange of goods for money. She calls it “window shopping.” She says the price is usually a good one because no one has time to haggle in traffic. Available goods include, but are not limited to, cooked food such as rice or yams, toilet paper, toothpaste, bread, sun glasses, ice cream, phone cards, apples, bananas, dog leashes, mushrooms, candy, flip flops, fabric, toilet seats, cell phone accessories, and children’s toys. Once, Sarah says she even saw puppies for sale. I bought two large squares of flannel, from which I intend to make non-disposable feminine products. (Whether or not I let you know how that goes will depend on how in favor of self-disclosure I’m feeling of at the time I have anything to report. But don’t worry; I will warn you before I start dumping that kind of information on you.)
A trip to Accra also means big-city shopping in the form of a trip to the Accra Mall. The mall featured many standard mall features, such as clothing and jewelry I couldn’t afford and real actual ice cream in a real actual food court. As a happy bonus, this mall also included grocery stores selling cornflakes for less than $12.00. Okay, I didn’t actually pay much attention to the cornflakes, but I did choose a very cheap bottle of bleach, with which I intend to wash my dishes (gotta kill the crawlies, you know). As I was nearing the end of the cleaning product aisle, I was accosted by a sales rep promoting her product over the one in my cart. Her clothes sported the logo of a name brand bleach-based cleaning product, near which she was lurking. (I passed several sales reps for various products sprinkled around the store, leading me to believe this attempted customer-stealing must be standard and acceptable.) Her product was better than the one in my cart, she claimed. Her product was an all-purpose cleaner, she said. “It can clean your toilet very well,” she promised, and I responded, “I do not have a toilet.” (I have a pit with a toilet seat, yes; but I’m certainly not bleaching it.) She just blinked at me. I expect she doesn’t get that answer often. Ah, city folk. Oy.
Enough prattle. Now, What I Learned:
My cockroach smashing skills are still intact. After sweeping up a few dry, poisoned bodies earlier in the week, I was startled but not surprised to find a live, juicy one under the wash tub in the kitchen sink. I acted quickly, calling, “Shoe!” and Sarah Esala, ever vigilant, kicked off her very classy brown flip flop with the little beads on the strap so I could smash the cockroach to death with it. Even though she declined to share the joy of victory by viewing the post-battle carcass-and-ooze, I still consider her a first-rate team player and remember her sacrifice with awe and thanksgiving.
1. Remember last time when I reported being accidentally legal in terms of leaving the country every two months? This month (this weekend, actually) is my first chance to obey this law knowingly. You’d think I wouldn’t want to miss it. My options are to either go to the immigration office in Tamale and get permission to stay two more months or to cross the boarder—a two day trip one way to Burkina Faso (where I have a visa) or an all day round trip to Togo (where I don’t). We’ve been in Accra almost forever enduring endless meetings and the pressure that comes with teetering on the edge of too much to do with deadlines not quite far enough out, and our only hope in sight has been the hope of a relaxing trip back to Nasuan with brief detours for swimming and vacation-like mini-excursions—along the lines of Ghana’s version of The Largest Ball of Twine, if you will. (Not that I have been personally stressed by too many meetings in too short a time (I, after all, only endured one relatively short meeting and played in the dirt the rest of the time), but I’ve been absorbing stress by proximity and experiencing it in sympathy, which is just as exhausting but without the happy excuse of actually having done anything.) Anyway. With all the stress in the forms of meetings and deadlines, my visa needs become an unhappy and unavoidable addition, not to mention how taking me to Tamale or to a boarder would severely hamper our vacation plans. So we’re thinking maybe my passport can just go take care of its stamps without me actually being present. Delusional? Perhaps. But David Federwitz believes it’s possible. He’s planning to take my passport to Tamale with him since he has to go do a lot of paperwork for his family anyway. And in my next email, I shall discuss that age old question about passport stamps: Must one actually be present to win? I’m praying not. Because Plan B features me on a bus to Tamale. “Nathan will put you on the bus, and David will get you off,” Sarah explained. Just like luggage. Oy.
2. I met a woman named Barbara yesterday who is a church-planting missionary in Europe and is in Ghana to adopt a baby. The adoption process is not going as smoothly as she’d expected, so she’s finding her time in Ghana ambiguously extended. She has no friends or support network to help her out. Furthermore, her stay in Ghana is now exceeding her guest house reservations, so she isn’t even sure she’ll have a bed each night. So she’s waiting and spending her limited resources while her baby waits in the orphanage.
3. And speaking of babies, Sarah is expecting, due end of November. We’re praying for everybody’s health, of course. Additionally, well . . . Nasuan is not the best place to give birth on account of no hospital. So the Esalas Limited (I’ll be in America) will be traveling . . . somewhere in November. One option is to have a short term volunteer doctor—maybe a surgeon or somebody good at delivering babies—come to the Baptist Medical Center in Nalerigu either to help with Sarah or to help with other patients so the doctors aren’t overworked with Sarah there too. (Know anybody who might like to do that?)
4. And speaking of traveling, Marvelous Mona and her family are having their very own Nomad Month to The Ivory Coast and America, ending with Burkina Faso in September. The Esalas and I will be returning to Nasuan in a few days to spend August there, and then we’ll be out a bit more in September with an Introduction to Ghanaian Culture class for me in Tamale. And Nathan’s parents are coming to visit in September too; their coming from Ohio.
5. And I’m still praying for a cat.
Thanks so much for your participation in this ministry. Feel free to send me similarly long-winded epistles detailing your every day activities. You know I want to read them, because “do unto others,” and all that.
Quote of Today:
“Don’t go outside naked!” Nathan Esala, halting Annaka in her tracks and highlighting a key difference between village and city decorum.