Skip to content

Are you hearing what I’m saying?

15 June, 2016

We went to church at CCC in Kumasi on Sunday (more on that later). The pastor was a character. He got more and more fired up as he went through his sermon. Every now and then, he demanded, “Are you hearing what I’m saying?!” It’s a rhetorical question to which the attendees would murmur or shout in affirmation of the point he just made. (Side note: those of you familiar with Messiah College will appreciate the irony of going to a church called CCC.) 

Even though many Ghanaians speak English it is sometimes very difficult to truly hear and understand what they are saying. Some things are pretty easy: 

Off the lights = turn off the lights

Building for let = building for rent

Out of bounds (context: sign posted on a door) = off limits

Barber (i. e. “Where do you barber your hair?”) = to cut hair

Some differences are more challenging. Some accents are very thick and I have to pay careful attention to catch key words. “Th” sounds like “d” and the hard “r” at the ends of words like doctor sound like “ah.” Dr. Widmer’s first name also ends with “r” and locals have a terrible time with it. Most simply call him “Doctor.” Some people have poor grammar or different syntax. Teaching an English as a second language class has definitely helped me to work through some of these things here in Ghana. My students have similar pronounciation challenges and I’m used to the way they speak. 

Some words have a different meaning altogether, which is super confusing! My team has been called a father with four children. The students are my sister and brothers and Dr. Widmer is our father. Familial words can extend beyond their literal meanings to include people who you’re close to. If someone wants to get your attention they wil hiss at you. (I have not yet heard anyone hiss to hail a taxi.) I have hissed at some teammates a few times before I even thought about it. I’ll have to stop doing that when I go back home. It may get someone’s attention but they will think I’m being strange! Both of these things are common in GB and Senegal and I’m accustomed to them from previous travels. 

One thing that surprised me at first is that a person will walk away from you and say, “I am coming.” I thought it was a case of not knowing the right vocabulary. Upon further observation, I discovered that it actually means “I am coming back.”

Are you hearing what I’m saying?


Misadventures in transportation 

14 June, 2016

Monday, June 13, Tamale

We spent all day traveling to Tamale and finally arrived at WV around 4:45. We were relieved to see the familiar faces of Godfrey (GI-WASH director) and Abukari (master artisan from the TOT). Abukari does not work for WV; he was just visiting. “Thank God you have arrived,” Godfrey said seriously. “We were not sure what was happening today. What was the fracas?”

We told him the most recent details and then shared some other transportation mishaps from the first week. I’ll go in chronological order.

Sunday, June 5, Accra 

Our first meal in Accra was at the Kuku’s Nest with Tesfa’s team. Each team got a taxi for the ride back to the hotel. Our driver was told to follow Tesfa’s taxi to the hotel. We soon realized that the driver didn’t have a good grasp on the situation and barely spoke English. In a few miles, Tesfa’s taxi made a left at a traffic light and out driver kept going straight. We tried to tell the driver where we were going, but the name of the hotel sounds a lot like the name of a beach and the driver wasn’t familiar with the hotel.

It was quite a dilemma. We didn’t have the address or phone number of the hotel with us and made sure not to make that mistake again. We thought about pulling over and finding a new taxi. At last we remembered the neighborhood that the hotel is in. The driver finally understood! He turned around and we were able to get to the hotel with the help of some observant team members who recognized some landmarks. The guys we waiting for us at the hotel when we finally arrived.

Monday, June 6, Accra 

In case our first six hours in Ghana weren’t exciting enough, we were thrown another curve ball on Monday morning. The driver we were expecting was long overdue. We hung out in the lobby reading a newspaper and watching fuzzy Christian music videos and a strange soap opera. A man showed up looking for a group of Americans he was supposed to be driving. “World Vision?” we asked.

“Yes, yes!” the driver said.

Back in Tamale, Godfrey could guess where the story was going. “You did not get in the car with him, I hope!” he exclaimed, and likened it to kidnapping.

We laughed because we did get in the car and drove for about 10 minutes until the driver got a phone call. He turned to Dr. Widmer and asked, “University of Alabama?”

“No!” he replied.

We turned around and went back to the hotel where a group of confused undergrad medical students from Alabama were waiting. The driver had taken the wrong group of white people.

Sunday, June 12 & Monday, June 13, Kumasi

We were originally supposed to drive from Kumasi to Tamale. It’s around seven hours. When we met with Godfrey on the 6th, he said it is better to fly and began working with someone to change our travel arrangements. On Sunday night we got the long-awaited phone call with a confirmation of our Monday morning flight. We would be picked up Monday at 9:00 for a 10:40 flight to Tamale. Flights between Kumasi, Tamale, and Accra are about an hour long.

We were picked up at 9:30 Monday – half an hour late – and told us that our plane was actually leaving about 20 minutes earlier than we were originally told, meaning we had less than an hour to drive, check in, go through security, and board the plane. Yikes! We quickly threw the luggage in the truck and zoomed off to the airport.

I was handed a printed page with our names and flight confirmation number. “My name isn’t on there!” Katie exclaimed. Only four tickets had been purchased for our group of five. Oh no! Dr. Widmer and I were silently formulating backup plans. The driver pulled over and called the office, who immediately purchased another ticket while we kept driving.

I checked in the team, including Katie, at the tiny airport with no problems. The plane was behind schedule and we had time to play a card game while we waited. Just before we were supposed to board, an airline employee called me over. She said that the five of us were being removed from this flight and were being re-routed to Accra and then on to Tamale this afternoon. It was an unfortunate change of plans, but I was thankful were all together and had air conditioning. The airline covered the expense and paid for our lunch, which was delicious. We finally left the airport around 1:00.

Monday, June 13, Accra

We arrived in Accra around an hour later, grabbed our luggage and headed to the counter to get some information about our flight to Tamale. We hadn’t been given any information about the flight number or the time. An airline employee flagged us down. The check in for our flight was already closed, but they had been expecting us and reopened the check in counter for us. Another man saw what was happening and became livid. He wanted to be on our flight, too, but was not allowed to check in late. The furious man began shouting at several employees. We became a little concerned. Fortunately, he did not become aggressive toward us. He was eventually satisfied and we were permitted to board the plane after security gave their OK to the selfie stick in Jacob’s backpack.

Monday, June 13, Tamale 

We finally arrived and were relieved to meet our World Vision driver. We were driven to the WV office and the story comes full circle. As Godfrey said, thank God we are here. It was an eventful day! I’m also thankful for the airline staff who were very helpful and thanked us several times for our patience.

Update from the weekend

13 June, 2016

We are back online after having almost no internet for two days. Our hotel has been wonderful otherwise. This morning we are traveling to Tamale, the city where the Faith Leaders Workshop will be held. A few evenings ago, we spent some time talking with our new friend Abdul, A welder from the TOT. He was very open to taking about his Islamic faith and I was encouraged by our similarities. I’m looking forward to the FLW where we will concentrate on principles like God created all people, everyone is valuable, and God has a plain for our lives.

Here are some pictures:

We got a nice treat on Saturday – lunch at “Pizza Hut.”

Rita from WV took us to visit two communities to see schools, latrines, and pumps related to WV.  This was one of my favorite experiences in Kumasi. I’ll share more info later.

There were supposed to be more pictures but my connection slowed down and won’t upload them.

Market in Kumasi 

10 June, 2016

We went to the market on Thursday morning. The market is a daily hub of activity that operates around what I assume is the city square. I had a great time and the students did, too. A market like this is extremely different from an American mall. The service is better, many prices are not fixed, and if it’s not in stock, you can’t go online to order one. 

The market is similar to the lumu (big market) I visited several times in Ingore, Guinea Bissau. The  Kumasi market is much bigger. Vendors are packed together and we walked single file up and down the aisles. Whiffs of fish, exhaust, and smoke caught me off guard at first and brought back a lot of memories.  There are a few hundred vendors at the Kumasi market mselling produce, clothes, sandals, plastic containers, and a few hardware items. Colorful umbrellas cover the locations of some vendors. A few sold palm nuts, called “chebeng” in GB. The cost is $0.75 USD for about a kilo. (See my post from spring 2012 to learn more about palm nuts.) Vendors also sell produce like hot peppers, cabbage, onions, tomatoes, mangoes, arrowroot, and avocado. Katie and I bought pre-made African dresses. I was surprised that I only saw one place selling outfits like that. Tunics and leggings are not trendy like they were in GB a few years ago. 

Dr. Widmer recommended we look for Fan Ice. I had never had it before. It is very similar to ice cream. It comes in small plastic bags, like the yogurt in Senegal. It seemed so normal to me that I was surprised whe one of the students wondered how to eat it. You rip the corner with your teeth and suck out the tasty ice cream.

We drew some attention because we were white, but nobody bothered us. I heard people yelling, “white person!” like they did in GB. The students were delightfully oblivious to it. I felt a twinge of stress every time I heard it. Someone told us later that they were saying a different word, but I didn’t believe them. Additionally, about a dozen people stopped us, soley to greet some white people in English. The five second interchange satisfied them and they went on their way. 

We met a few interesting characters. The guys made friends with a man who sells sunglasses and has a small hardware store. We met an older Ghanaian man who told us he spent several decades in Canada. My favorite person was a nice young lady wearing a red fedora who spoke English pretty well. She approached us about buying her wares and wondered where we were from. Her manner was very sweet. She kept saying, “Wow!” as if everything I said was genuinely amazing. This young lady has a friend who lives in Minnesota. I wasn’t interested in what my new friend was selling, but asked her to help me find something else I was looking for. This is a strategy I highly recommend. In the situations I have encountered, my new friend loves providing a service to me, plus I am confident that I will get a good price because they know how much something should cost. 

We loved the market. John especially enjoys haggling over prices. We have some down time this weekend before we go to Tamale and we’re hoping to see more of the local sites, including a large artisan market in the city. 

Here we are eating Fan Ice at the market. 

TOT Workshop

8 June, 2016

The Trainer of Trainers workshop began this morning. We are running on “Africa time,” meaning that many activities start 15 minutes to an hour later than scheduled. It is very frustrating to task-oriented Westerners. This especially bothers one of the students. I can definitely commiserate because I am extremely task-oriented, but I am better prepared for it on this trip. 

Although our cultural perceptions of time are different, we were concerned when only two of six participants had arrived 45 minutes after we planned to begin.  We thought we were okay doing the morning presentation in English with no translating. Halfway through we discovered that all but one participant was far more comfortable speaking the local language of Twi (twee). Everyone was more engaged after that. They had several lengthy conversations that revealed both their creativity and desire to solve problems faced by people with disabilities. 

We spent the afternoon at the workshop of Fred, whose younger brother James is his apprentice. They hail from Ivory Coast and were happy to talk to Dr. Widmer in French. They are very few French speakers in this area.  Abukari, a highly skilled craftsman regarded by Dr. Widmer, and one of his assistants came from Tamale to lead the next two and a half days of the workshop. The artisans are each making a bucket tipper, latrine chair, and water cart. The engineering students are enjoying it. They’re amazed by all the OSHA violations and asked, “What would John Meyer say?”

The hotel grounds have the best maintained landscaping I’ve seen in West Africa. There is even a yard with grass and I saw someone mowing it yesterday. The flower below is a hibiscus. The photo of the hotel is the view to the entrance of the conference room we used for the morning session. 


7 June, 2016

We left Accra, the capital, very early this morning. I think the last time I got up that early, I was going to work a Black Friday shift at Target!

Accra is an amazing city and it is even nicer than I expected. The main road on our end of town is a six-lane highway in better condition than some highways in PA. There are many small shops selling basics like soda, tea, powdered milk, and soap, which I find very normal. Other shops are more specialized with items like car parts and pharmacies with a decent variety of medicine and recogniable brands of toiletries like Dove. There is new construction throughout the city. We saw about 10 large cranes at worksites on the drive from the airport to the hotel. There are new apartment buildings, sleek, modern office buildings, and billboards for things like Heinz ketchup. One of the modern things that surprised me most was a TV commercial for mobile banking.

There is a lot of greenery in the city. The palm trees are a different variety than I am used to. The trunks are smoothers and have evenly spaced rings on the bark where old branches have fallen off. There are some clusters of banana trees, plus lovely bougainvilleas, the occasional flamboyant tree, and mango trees. Cashew trees do not grow here. I am amused by some  compounds that have corn planted on the little strip between the wall and the road. The tallest corn has tassels but some of it is still short. 

I didn’t realize how few animals and smells there were until I started seeing and smelling some. We took a walk in a residential area just off the main strip. We saw only three young goats, some chickens in cages, and a pet dog who was well fed. No donkeys were spotted and there is no rooster alarm clock outside my window, though I have heard several in the distance. The smells in that neighborhood primarily came from cooking fires, fish, and a few passing vehicles that were particularly pungent. The smells reminded me of lumu. We stood out because we are white, but nobody harassed us or asked us for anything – a welcome change from my previous travels. Only one saleswoman called out to us and immediately gave it up when it was clear we weren’t interested. Young children looked at us without being impolite or afraid. Some said hello and continued their way. This was the peaceful feeling of anonymity I wished for in Guinea Bissau. It makes life much less stressful. 

The taxi service appears to be regulated well. Apart from a drive that was stressful because our driver barely spoke English, I have been very impressed. Each taxi is easily identifiable with some yellow paneling and has a registration card on the windshield. The cars are probably less than 10 years old and well maintained. There are no holes in the floor, no exposed mystery wires, and the driver doesn’t need to find the sweet spot to make the door close. 

Everyone is healthy and enjoying the food. The weather is hot and muggy. We are most fortunate to be staying in nice hotels with air conditioning. It is a great luxury in this part of the world! Tomorrow we begin the Trainer of Trainers workshop. Abukari, a well known artisan who the project has worked with before, is coming to help teach the other craftsmen to construct the assistive devices. Pray for safe travels for the craftsmen and clear communication across cultural borders. Also pray for peaceful sleep and dreams. I have been doing pretty well. 

For those I have traveled with before… One of the students is 80% Deku, 20% Pedru. I feel like I’ve known this student for years. In the airplane, we were served fruit juice with moringa and it was delish! More details coming your way in the future. The bianda is different but good and there are sabi mangoes manga del, de! N misti patibos. 

Ghana, here I come!

26 May, 2016

I am excited to share that I will be traveling to Ghana for two weeks this summer. The trip is through The Collaboratory at Messiah College, an organization I have volunteered with since my days as a college student.  Those of you who have followed my journey for a long time know that my experiences in Collab have been extremely influential in my life and I am thankful for this opportunity to serve in a country I have not visited before.

I am traveling with three students and a professor – Katie, John, Jacob, and Lamarr – through the Africa WASH & Disability Study project.  The project partners with World Vision to address social, physical, and institutional barriers faced by persons with disabilities (PWDs) in Sub-Saharan Africa.  We will be blogging here regularly while we travel.

My trip will focus on the social and physical challenges.  Socially, PWDs face discrimination and neglect.  Families consider it shameful to have a child with a disability and may keep the child hidden indoors.  Some people believe that a disability is a direct result of wrongdoing by a parent or individual, or caused by a curse.  One major focus of our trip is leading a workshop for Christian and Muslim leaders explaining the importance of including PWDs in society.  The lessons are based on themes such as people being created in God’s image and Jesus’ interaction with PWDs.

Three physical challenges faced by PWDs are access and use of hand-pumps, transporting water, and access and use of latrines.  Over several years, the project has designed solutions for people facing these water-related issues.  The second focus of our trip is to facilitate a “Trainer of Trainers” workshop for local artisans to learn to fabricate and sell bucket tippers, latrine chairs, and water transportation carts. A similar training was done with a different group of artisans in January and was very successful.

My water situation in Guinea Bissau gave me an appreciation for the struggles faced by those who don’t have indoor plumbing.  Many people, particularly women, spend hours every day walking to wells, drawing water, and transporting water for cooking and drinking, bathing, washing laundry, and watering gardens.  Devices like these are useful not only to PWDs, but to children, the elderly, and those recovering from illness or injury.  They’re practical for able-bodied individuals too, as they make everyday tasks easier and more comfortable.  I wish had a water cart in Guinea Bissau!

Ghana is more developed than the other West African countries I have visited.  We will travel to three different cities and stay in modern hotels.  The capital city has many modern amenities.  The nearest Starbucks in about 4,000 miles away in Egypt, but there are grocery stores and a mall.  Another big plus is that many Ghanaians speak English, which will make travel and shopping easier than on my previous trips.  The wonderful staff of World Vision is helping us with logistical support.

Some prayer requests:

– Safety, good health, and sound sleep for the team.  Sleeping well is a particular concern of mine.
– Team dynamics – We are going to get to know each other very well, very quickly!  We’re off to a good start.  Pray that we will be wise, loving, patient, and address conflict in healthy ways.
– Clear communication – We want to present our message clearly in a foreign context and also communicate the reason we’re there: God created all people and people need to be treated with love and dignity.