Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tuesday August 18, 2009: The Experience of a lifetime

***If you are reading this, then it means that I have made it safely back to the USA and am somewhere resting and/or sleeping***

Whew! This has been quite the experience. Quite the adventure. You never really understand why things happen the way that they do. You sit back, try and change what you can and brace yourself for the things that occur with no prior warning. No one really understands how and why God does the things that he does, we simply must have faith that all those things in Christ will work out for the good.

I sit here constantly erasing what I am writing. I don't quite know how to synthesize my words to convey the sense of meaning that I so earnestly desire you to have. It has become a real challenge for me to place all of my gratitude, understanding of place and self, and heavy emotional undertones within the confines of this blog or even a conversation. The fact of the matter is that one must experience something on their own to really gain a greater sense of understanding and admiration for things other than what you are used to.

As my fingers rush across the key board, typing what seems to be a reflection of what is going on in my head, I realize that, not a book, a blog, or a lecture can really begin to shed light on a journey of self. This trip was not about Ghana, Africa or the US foreign mission to Accra, it was about me. How would I take the things that God gave me, refine them, embrace them, and share them with the people here..in this physical space. I remain speechless yet moved by the strong sense of moral realization occuring as I type.

This has been one of the best summers I have ever had. In the same breath it has been one of the most challenging. This summer has asked me, on many occasions to face my fears and ask myself honest questions. To learn to bear the burden and carry my own cross. It has also asked that I become saturated with more than what I have known for many years living at home. I lay awake many nights dreaming of my future. What will it look like? Who will be there? are among the many questions I have. Certainly each step forward in life brings with it more understanding and a clearer sense of self worth.

I could have never imagined that this was how I would be serving my country. For me, diplomatic work has become more than just an American pastime but certainly a way to enrich your life while also enriching the lives of others. I define diplomacy as the "true act of making and keeping good friends". In that, you deal with both the positives and the negatives yet you remain steadfast and dedicated to each other and the depth of the relationship. Diplomacy has taught me many things about life and about people.

How have I changed? Well..I know but I doubt this is something to broadcast. What I can say is that within 10 weeks I have become a better individual for me. The world may not see all that I proclaim, but this trip was not for the world...it was for me. It was my time to change. God has revealed to me more of his perfect will for my life and he used Ghana, not me, as a way to show that. A way to show me that sometimes you have to be taken out of your element to grow up. I was getting too comfortable in the things I knew that in many ways it prevented my own growth. Hence the revelations God presented me; so in that sense, the trip was for my growth indeed. I took a lot from Ghana, to help better me. Each day of my life I try and give of my self to others. Advice, mentoring, guidance, money etc. that now I needed something for me and experience that gave me the opportunity to ask real questions about what I believe, who I care about and where I plan to go in life.

Indeed I also gave a lot of myself to Ghana. To help improve where I could, do what I could and learn what I could. Another real definition of diplomacy is like putting together a puzzle. You take each piece place them side by side until you get a bigger picture that allows you to get a glimpse at how others live and learn. That was Ghana for me. It was a time for spiritual growth and mental growth, things I could not have gotten here. It just so happens that God placed this time in my life at the time I was going to Ghana. He used Ghana as a conduit to help me understand more things about myself, and consequently my world.

When I think of where my life is going and where I stand on things I think about the relationship that I have with my fraternity brothers. The definite love we each have for each other. The loyalty we confirm through our actions, and the trust we have in the house-- all symbolize something greater.

I think of my relationships within BSP. Our ups and downs help define who we are. We were brought together by God and held together by love. The only thing stronger than our influence is our bond.

I think of the Cobb family. How they epitomize for me the level of understanding it takes to bear great fruit and sustain a great family. Their strong love for each other and willingness to go above and beyond to protect their unity goes unparalleled. This reminds me of the strong Ghanaian family unit. Touched by God's grace.

I think of the Johnson family and my cousin Jojo who serves his country with pride and due diligence but brings that same level of pride and sophistication when he is serving his family. Despite the hardships he has seen and bear he keeps moving forward and holding our family together.

I think of my aunt Betty. The eldest of my grandmother's kids with a heart heavy with love. She takes care of her husband who is dealing with many life altering illnesses, while also taking care of her mother who is faced with old age and severe dementia. Her strength to keep going reminds me of the women in the villages who despite having very little remain the glue that binds the communal spirit of those that dwell within.

I think of my father who is the hardest working man I know. He has taught me more about manhood than I think he realizes. His tenacity and simple understanding that someone must bear the hard work, makes him a clear sign that God's work is powerful. He has been a firm stance, for me that life's problems must we deal...so that in the same instance life's glories we can feel. He reminds me of the men in Ghana who toil day in and day out to see that their kids have a better life.

I think of my grandmother, Beulah Davis. Her strength is enough to move mountains. Her wisdom enough to fill libraries. Her love enough to overcome any evil. Despite her age and now trying times with dementia, she still shows us how to love. She is the elder, the queen mother and the reason I stand firm today on who I am. She taught me that if you work hard enough and remain vigilant, anything is possible. She helps me everyday to remember that we are simply passing by this place headed for something greater. She reminds me of the Queen mother elders. They can sit back and look at how their posterity is abundant.

I think of my God. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me"- nuff said.

Ghana will be ok. Africa will be ok. When your steps have been ordered in such a way that God has something for you...it shall be revealed. pray for me, pray for Ghana, and pray for mankind. Thank you to all of those who have been following my journey. I will continue to pray that you get something from this blog just as I have gotten.

Life is a beautiful orchard of fruit. As you walk, what fruit will you pick?

God bless you all!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Monday August 17, 2009: A Day Away

Sometimes having patience is a good thing. I could learn and have learned to be more patient with myself. This past weekend was relaxing, but not by choice. On Friday evening me and Kukua hung out. We ate and I taught her some steps. She was excited to learn some stepping. She wants to take them back and teach the kids at the church. After she left I laid down and began feeling wheezy. I had eaten some fufu earlier, not my favorite dish, and I figured it was something in there that made me feel bad. Around three am, I woke up in a cold sweat and ran to the restroom. After what was one attempt at throwing up, I fell back against the bathroom wall feeling dizzy and light headed. I laid down on the floor and placed my feet above my head. I felt a quick cooling sensation, I had never felt. I really thought I had come down with something terrible. After sometime I began to feel better but had a light headache.

The next day I had enough energy to go to Abrui Gardens with a friend. It was a botanical gardens about 30 min drive away from Accra. We took some food, wine, board games, and snacks and ate on the grounds. It was a small pic nic. very relaxing and we all had time to just chill and recap on the experiences. On the way back I started coming down with a fever. I thought it was Malaria. A fever onset by flu like symptoms. I rushed to the nearest pharmacy and got some anti malarial drugs. They are very strong. I took one and started feeling worse. Come to find out the pills was what was making me worse. I developed ab pain, kidney pain, and throat pain...all side effects listed on the side of the drug. Of course I stopped taking them immediately. I am still feeling those effects. I don't have Malaria, I don't think. If I would have just waited and been patient to see what was really wrong with me I could have avoided all the other pain that came. I guess, in a place with high Malaria outbreak you have no choice but to be over paranoid. I hope I am ok.

I will be back in the States tomorrow night. Much rest will be needed. But I will be glad to be home. I cannot wait to see family and friends.

I will put up a final post tomorrow.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thursday August 13, 2009: Thursday the 13th

Despite the title on this post, today has not been a bad day. I just could not think of anything catchy enough, I feel like I am all out of titles.

This weekend will be the last weekend before I head back to the USA. Some want to throw a party while others would like to do some smaller things. All for me? wow I have only known these people for a short period and yet they are willing to pull the best wine out. I guess I could learn a little from the manners and dispositions exuded here. America, we got a lot to learn about hospitality.

I have been spending the past couple of days inside just reading some of the books that I bought. I should be finished with that 700 page book tonight. Then I can get back to the other reading I started before I was given the larger book. I must say, I really enjoyed the State of Africa. It told the stories behind most if not all of the African nations and then had sections about many of the things that have happened in Africa since colonization. (Apartheid, Hutu and Tutsi wars, Congolese insurgency, Ethiopian famine, black hawk down etc.) Three movies to watch again are "The last king of Scotland, Hotel Rwanda, and Black Hawk Down" Three great movies that introduce people to some troubling but important events that happened in Africa. I know there is a good one on Apartheid right? Any suggestions?

When I get back to the US I can't wait to do the following things: Drink water from the tap, eat at Popeye's and Burger King, have fast reliable Internet, take the metro, go to Walmart, have ice, see my grandmother and family, eat fried pork chops and bacon!

Its the little things that you really miss when you are away. The ease of going to McDonald's and the convenience of wal-mart.

I also plan to rest and sleep past 9am, talk on the phone for free after 9, watch music videos on demand, and have my emails come to my phone. Oh what joy these things will bring.

But I will miss from Ghana- The very friendly people, the ability to have someone wash-iron-and cook for you, some great friends that I have met here, the pace, the weather, food, low prices, and spirit I have each day I wake up and realize that I am in Africa.

Let's see what today brings!!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tuesday August 11, 2009: Another Day

Today is just another day. I am not certain what will come of it but being in Ghana really makes this a mystery. Literally, the mood, the time, place and setting could change. The free flow nature of things really makes for great entertainment. I mean, there is no such thing as a dull moment.

Yesterday my barber got sacked (fired) from his job. I am not sure what he did but when I went to get my weekly cut and shape up he was not there. I asked the guys where he was and they hesitantly said he was sacked. I had been training him on better cutting techniques all summer, and just when he got the hang of cutting my hair he is gone. Someone told me in Ghana, that if you like something you should enjoy it then because tomorrow it may not be there. This person was mostly talking about things in the market, but who would have ever thought it would mean people. He was a cool guy and was overjoyed to see me spending so much on getting my hair cut. The new guy is a little off. The edge is just not quite right. I will wait until I get to the male spa this Friday and get another one. I won't risk his newness on my head. I normally cut my own hair, but since I could afford, quite regularly the cuts here, I said why not.

On Mondays Joel has the day off. They send a guy named Theo who wants to be in the America army so bad he can taste it. He says that he dreams about coming to America to join our military. I asked him why not the Ghana military and he turned his nose up and said they are corrupt. The corruption in Ghana is a quiet thing. People don't normally talk about it, they just deal with it. After talking a bit longer with Theo I found out that he wants to first go to college and major in political science, and then he will go to America. I also found out that he just graduated from high school, is 19 and sleeps 3 hours each day. He works from 6pm-6am and then he leaves and goes home to sleep for 3 hours and then he reads his Ghana history book and then goes and spends the rest of the day talking with his friends. I told him he should be more productive with his day. So we mapped out a plan for him each day. I have him using email, browsing the Internet, reading news headlines and everything. He will spend the next year absorbing information. He plans to go to college next fall.

I feel like I am really getting used to this place. I will miss the hospitality. Perhaps some of yall in America can invite me over for a free lunch or dinner. LOL. Well today is yet another at work, gonna spend some part of the day learning all about visas. I figure I should know more about them.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Monday August 10, 2009: Free Flow

Ghana is the type of country where you would really have to work to get an ulcer. Despite the tough terrain, poor quality of water, the "foreign" factor and a few other things, living and working in Ghana is quite relaxing. People are nice, the food is good, the weather is nice, and things seem to be so much simpler. A guy could get used to enjoying the simple things in life. I know when I get back to the US just as soon as I get off the plane, life as I know it will go to gear "hectic". Things in the US are so rushed and things here, for what its worth are laid back...sometimes almost too laid back.

This past weekend was relaxing in that same right. I have been determined to get some summer reading done so that I am not only more culturally educated but more erudite. After work on Friday, I went to Ghana University in Legon and visited the book store. To my chagrin there was not much there in terms of casual reads. Most of the books there were books for classes and such not general read. I was surprised not to find certain books there. I thumbed through most of the fiction and non fiction and nothing seemed to strike me as a must read. I was rather disappointed, that is until I went to the back of the store and saw some nice ties for 8 cidi a piece. They were nice ties too. So what started as an adventure in buying more books and becoming more learned turned into me asking myself whether or not I had a shirt to go with this tie, and whether the shoes I had here went well with the ensemble.

I left the store with two ties and an irritating feeling that I had come all the way out here and found nothing to read. Good thing I had already went to the book store in the mall and gotten something to begin my late, but rewarding stretch to erudition.

I got home to find Sola-mae heating up the banku in Okra soup with the Guinea Fowl. I had gotten two Guinea fowl from the north. I had them smoked. I love banku, okra and guinea fowl...so it was a combination that really made my afternoon. The guinea fowl is so much more healthy than chicken. It is a small turkey/chicken like animal that is slightly gamy but delicious. In fact, it is so delicious that many of the tribes in the north fought over them. The war was called the Guinea Fowl war. It was a war over the guinea fowl and how someone killed a tribe's Guinea fowl. The war, which was quite interesting, actually ended on a more serious note than it began.

I digress...Back to my eating diatribe: I added some bread to this mixture to "sop" the remaining okra soup with and my slight irritation turned to a quaint smile of satisfaction. After dinner, I had no desire to nap, as the "itis" did not hit me so hard here since I was already moving at a slow pace. I began my reading. I began reading a book called A Squatters Tale. It is about a Nigerian boy once adorned with the finest suits, women, and loads of money who lost it all due to the economic crisis the world is facing and has been left with no other option than following his wild uncle to California to try and live a better life. What he finds in the US is not much different. The story defines character, truth, love, and greed all in one short story. I am quite entertained by the piece.

I am also reading Nelson Mandela's A long walk to freedom. Which illustrates, in his own writing, the issues surrounding apartheid in South Africa. It is a pretty decent balance from the fictional novel about the young boy. Although, I really don't know how fictional it is. Both books began my Friday afternoon well.

After reading for what seemed like 3 hours I grew restless and decided to meet up with some friends. I invited two friends over to eat the remaining bits of the Banku and Guinea Fowl. After we ate, we all played the Ghanaian game of CARDS. A catchy name right? Well it is similar to a mixture of tunk, for those who play that, spades and I declare war. The Ghanaians play it well. They even slam the cards down on the table like many of us do in Spades. The apple don't fall far from the tree does it?

We played cards and then afterwards they took me to an outside hang out spot. Apparently this spot was probably the most happening spot I have been to in Ghana. The music was blasting, the people were crowded around many tables and chairs and the servers were moving from table to table with a level of satisfaction I have never seen. The night began with a few people dancing to the latest Ghanaian and Nigerian hits, and then turned into a heavy dance hall with music from all genres.

After sitting there for a couple of hours I saw a crowd begin to form not far from where we were sitting. Sam, one of the guys I was with, told me that at a certain point this dance group comes and begins doing all kinds of crazy dance moves. I took his explanation as being no different than the dancing I saw already. Boy was I wrong. The guys were in tights and they were dancing and doing flips and eating fire, and eating glass. It was acrobatic stunts times ten plus the "African" factor. It was def. a show. They did stunts with ease, ate glass from people's tables after breaking the beer bottles, and rubbed fire all over their body. It was nothing that I had seen before. I prepped myself to see some really crazy miracles like people turning into snakes and stuff, which actually happens here, but that did not happen. We ended the evening taking one of the guys home. He drank way too much.

That next day I woke up and watched some Ghanaian movies that I had bought. "Scorned" and "Perfect Picture". Both of which had some of the same Ghanaian actors. The films here are interesting. They seem a bit more realistic than ones in the states. I mean, I actually felt like some of these things happen regularly. The films over here are low budget to our American standards, but seem a bit less sensationalized. They are good but it is interesting to see some of the places they go to in the movie and know that I was just there, it is also equally as interesting to hear the birds squawking in the background just outside the spot where they are shooting the film. I bet it is that same bird that wakes me up every morning. It sounds like a bad cough compounded with a flem type gargle. Yeah it's a bit much.

I find myself getting up early, even on the weekends and actually feeling ok about it. After I finished my bed and movies experience I showered and went to meet my friend's parents. My friend Kwabena's mother works here at the embassy and she invited me over for lunch on Saturday. I arrived at their house awe struck by the wealth, artistic design and elegance. Not that I did not expect it, but it was still great to see this really unique style of living. The bucknor's have class that I am trying to get. wow! We had rice balls with Guinea fowl in ground nut soup. This was the best food I had since being in Ghana. I mean, I could have wrapped the stuff up and ate it again even though hunger was no longer an issue. We had some great conversation and I took away some interesting things about Ghana and some more literature.

I left thinking wow, this could really be me in a few years. On the way home I stopped to get a Ghanaian newspaper called the Chronicle, low and behold who do you think is in one of the stories on page 6? Me! They did a small write up on the commissioning we did in the north. It was cool. I kept a copy.

After lunch I headed to the embassy to do some Internet work...emails and face book mainly until I went to an all male bible study group. It was interesting to see how many of the Ghanaian men hold bible study. I learned a great deal and I also realized that much of the Ghanaian cultural tendencies don't go away, even in the midst of God. LOL. They argued there too. But it was all healthy conversation. I left feeling more spiritually energized.

I ended the evening doing more reading.

The next morning I attended church. For some reason I felt a bit more empowered and showy so I wore a bow tie. I wore a black shirt with a gold bow tie. Besides it being very Alpha like of me, I for some reason wanted to feel impressive. I don't know where it came from and why I wanted to go like this to church but I did. In Ghana, you do things as you will. The Ghanaian way..everyday. LOL. Church was quite good and the message was very clear. I had been thinking about God's perfect will vs. God's permissive will for my life. I have been battling with really seeing what God has allowed me to do vs. what he has planned for me to do. Since being in Ghana I have realized more of what God's perfect will is for me. I embrace it more now. Church, this past Sunday, really helped me solidify what God had been telling me all along. He made it very clear in church. Now, the test is, acting on that realization. Faith without works is dead.

After church I went over to a friends house for brunch. Thanks Karis for a wonderful time and conversation. The brunch was great and the conversation was even better. After being here for only 9 weeks now I have been able to articulate, rather clearly and convincingly, the issues of Ghana and Africa. Her father, who is a retired professor of English and literature recommended some books. One was called The State of Africa. It was a 700 page book he lent me and told me to read it by next Sunday so I could return it to him. wow, 700 pages in a week, with work and fun in Ghana? It's tough but I am up for the challenge. In my eagerness to get the book done, I read 150 pages last night. At my pace, I should get it done. I would love to have some further conversation about it when I am done. The book really provides a historical analysis of Africa and how the countries evolved and fought for independence. It really paints a vivid picture of Africa. One cannot truly understand contemporary African politics and culture without reading this book.

After my reading tirade I ate, watched some movies on tv and talked about the Ghana experience with a colleague. Sometimes its good to talk about Ghana with a non Ghaniain. You find things are a bit more frank. Debriefing is good.

Well enough with my long narration of my weekend. Believe me, it was more relaxing than I make it seem in the post. This is my last week of work. wish me luck everyone....evaluation time is coming.

peace out.

Friday, August 7, 2009

August 7 2009: Slowly but surely

Slowly but surely I am becoming more and more like a Ghanaian. I find myself clasping my hands when I talk to make a point, I am more direct when it comes to things that I would like, and I am really beginning to understand what it means to live and exist in this economy. My initial "wow" has now turned into a quest to find a deeper meaning, a more profound idea and a better understanding to compound some of the experiences that I have been having. It is no coincidence that I am here in Ghana at this moment. It is beyond a serendipitous occurrence that I am meeting the people that I am meeting. This experience has been like a coming of age theme in a book. I am the main character Kwaku, and I have come home. When at first I am wowed by the new way of life I see, I have begun to understand more of why I am here.

A friend asked me not too long ago why Ghana. When I was at Cornell I used to attend the Ghanaian student banquet each year. Many could not understand my connection. I have not traced my family lineage back to Ghana, I don't have any family members that are, I am not married to one or anything. There is this profound attraction that I have to Ghana. It has always been an interesting curiosity. Nothing I dwell over, but it certainly is stark enough for people to see it. I suppose in someway I showed favoritism to Ghana. I grapple with that question all of the time and have still yet to find a clear answer. I chalk it up to the idea that God does things for a reason. Sometimes we don't quite understand what he is doing. This is where that F word comes in. No..not the bad one but the one that kept Job alive and ultimately made him rich, and the thing that has kept me going strong each and every day..its called Faith. Perhaps by the time I finish my time in Ghana I will have a better understanding of why Ghana..until then, lets ride the faith wave until something comes my way.

I plan to stay in and relax this weekend. I don't plan to do much. I bought some books written by African authors and so I plan to get through them this weekend. I have also been invited to a friends house to have lunch on Saturday. Kwabena Bucknor's (Cornell '07) mother actually works in the embassy. She has invited me over to their house for dinner.

Other than that, things have been pretty simple around Ghana. After this weekend I have one more weekend left. I will end with a bang.

See yall on Monday.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Thursday August 6, 2009: Hustle and Bustle

Just so you all are clear, I did not take the child. Would one of you have raised it? When the guy called I got on the phone with him and told him that there must have been a communication misunderstanding and that I would not be taking the child because under government regulation I could not do that. In a very interesting way, that would fall under trafficking in persons. This would mean me breaking the law in both Ghana and the U.S. Thanks for the gesture but sorry I will not be taking the child. He took it ok I guess because he heard me and we ended the call and I have not gotten a call that some man is here at the embassy with a child. So all things are ok.

For the past couple of days I have been out of the office attending conferences. Many conferences are going on here in Accra. There is one for the study of Africans in the diaspora. A few Cornell folk have come in town for that one. There is a small one on AGOA, which is supporting the larger one in Nairobi this week, and there is one on AIDS and HIV and another on Intellectual Property. I have been trying to get to all of them to really expand my knowledge on what is going on here in Ghana. The AIDS and HIV workshop was amazing. It was chaired by a physician here in Accra working with the Ghana AIDS commission. All I have to say is please be sure you are getting yourself checked regularly.

It has been an interesting week in that it seems like it has been longer than most. I plan to go out tonight to dinner and a movie. Kukua and I will be going to see the new Jack Black movie. See America, you can go to the movies in Africa. A big movie screen. LOL. This should help beat the many misconceptions that people have about Africa.

I also plan to volunteer this weekend at a Children's home. You can actually go in and hold babies that are never held because they have no parents. I love to do service no matter where I go. It really helps you see the community and understand the way of life. This is a lot of what diplomacy is. It is not about simply reading the newspapers, or sitting in an office. It is about getting out there, seeing the issues, talking to people and asking questions. It makes for a better understanding of how we can help Ghana help itself, not just help Ghana. For too long now people have been taught, in developing countries, to hold their hands out and get something, as opposed to working within the system they have to bring relief, support and leadership. The whole "teach a man to fish thing". We have to assist and not direct. Most of my work has been finding out the facts and assisting. Most of my personal work and growth has stemmed from this very same notion.

For example, I want to help the tour guides in the cape coast area improve their English. When taking the tours of the slave castles, it is very hard to understand them. They have heavy accents and it makes the tour less enjoyable. I plan to send them some material that would help them. In addition, I have inspired someone who will be here to set up a toast masters club in the area. That way, they can really work on improving their English. They can take control over working the club, and helping themselves in speaking better; especially since more Americans visit these sites than anyone.

We will see how it goes. The hustle and bustle keeps me going everyday. Each day brings with it something new and exciting. Time is winding down. I have one more full work week in Ghana.