Friday, July 24, 2009

Reflections on Ghana, West Africa

Each day of our life, actually each moment of our life, is a stepping stone for how we live the moments or days or even years to come. But some moments, some days seem to have a more dramatic effect than others. My Ghana experience will definitely have a profound affect on the rest of my life. I pray I will be able to use the things I have seen and experienced to effect my own life and the lives of my family and friends. To help all of us have a different, perhaps new, perspective on life. To help me know how to live my life in the coming days and months and years.

It has been a couple of days now since I left Ghana and returned to my home here in South Carolina. Trying to re-enter society as we know it here in the USA can be somewhat of a challenge. I’ve written before about the confusion I am conflicted with regarding why I have and others don’t. Being in Africa just makes this issue more intense for me. There are also the physical issues of body clocks and getting readjusted to time changes. I can’t seem to sleep past 3:00am but then can’t stay awake during the day J Some of these issues, I want to adjust to. I would like to sleep again. Others, I don’t want to forget.

As Delta Flight 167 lifted off in Accra, I felt a surge of emotions, such a confusion of feelings. I’m ecstatic to be going home, to feel Craig’s arms around me, to feel the hugs and kisses of my precious children and grandchildren. I missed them all so much and yet, I feel a certain degree of sadness too. Sadness at being able to do so little. Sadness at having met so many precious little children who don’t have clean water, or enough food or adequate healthcare. Sadness that I don’t know more about them. Do they have someone to love them? To tell them they are special? To tell them they can grow up and make a difference? Sadness at leaving the new friends I’ve made. Sadness that life is just so hard.

Flying along at 33,000 feet in a 767 at over 500 mph, listening to Natalie King Cole’s beautiful voice, having been served a meal with more food than I could possibly eat, seemed so completely surreal. I couldn’t put the food in my mouth without the images of the people in the Airport Section of the Tema Dump haunting my mind. It’s tragic and unbelievable that people depend on the leftovers from these flights for survival.

I’m home now and I’m thrilled to be home with my incredibly wonderful husband and loving family. I lay down to sleep and my sleep is full of dreams of Africa. I revisit those 14 days over and over in my sleep. I hear the words of my new friends, I hear the beautiful harmony of their voices raised in praise, I see the poverty and I see their smiles. And when I am awake, I think. What happens now? What do I do with all this? Where do I go from here? And then I talk. My family listens and cares. My family wants to help me process all of this. We talk about where we go from here. How can we help? What can we do? And then we pray. We pray for wisdom. We pray that God will show us our next steps. We pray that God will send others to join in our prayers for the people of Ghana. Will you?

Sometimes it is hard to realize just how much difference a little can make. Did you know that $52.00 per year will allow a child living in the Tema dump to attend school? This is only $1.00 per week!!! This allows that child to have a meal each day, to learn to read and write, to learn math skills, to have a chance to one day make a positive difference in the world around them. Did you know that $35.00 will pay monthly rent for a pastor and his family in the town of Kpeve? So little for us makes so much difference for them.

I wrote about responsibility one day last week. The fact that knowledge makes us responsible. I know and now I am responsible. What about you?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

African Mission

Monday -
We began our drive toward the Volta Region heading northwest from Tema. The traffic is unbelievable all the time here. Every road is lined in tents and huts with people selling everything imaginable. If they don't have a building for their business, they carry it around on their head. I have seen boiled peanuts (loose), bananas, banana chips, boiled eggs, loaves of bread and sodas being sold from the heads of vendors and this is only a few of the things I saw. Along side the road, you can buy or rent about anything you can possibly think of. You can rent a dump truck, a back hoe or other industrial equipment. The operators just sit in the equipment, you go to them and contract with them on the spot. I saw doors and windows, braids, pots and pans, irons, microwaves, refrigerators, mattresses, newspapers, maps of Ghana and even toilet paper for sale by vendors on the streets. I filled two pages in a notebook with items we saw for sale. Quite interesting.

Labo Labo was our first village stop on Monday. This little village was really prepared to greet us. They set up our meet and greet in a shaded area behind the school. After we exited the van, the children were released to greet us and I can truthfully say I have never been greeted in such manner. They ran across the school yard toward us singing and waving their hands, yelling "akwanna, akwanna"(welcome, welcome). Some of the children had paper airplanes that they sailed into the air. It was quite a greeting!

The people had gone to so much trouble to prepare for us - it was very touching.

That night we attended Pastor John Johnson's church in Kpeve, a small town about an hours drive from Labo. This little church was so refreshing. They have recently made some improvements to their building. It has a roof and door and they also have a new set of drums! The building is small and the walls go about 6 feet up with an opening between the top of the wall and the roof. They have done a lot of hard work on this and would like to put some screening up to keep the mosquitoes out. At this time, they are saving the money for this project. It was a wonderful experience worshiping with them.

We spent Monday night in a hotel in Ho. The hotel was clean and nice. The bed was extremely comfortable and I was very thankful for a good night's sleep. The day was very tiring with a lot of driving and bumping around in very crowded conditions. We have so much fun though even under those conditions - lots of singing, laughing and just enjoying each other.

Tuesday -
Today we will begin installation on the 2nd purification system in the village of Adigbo Torno. This village has a large body of water nearby but it has a parasite that causes Schistosomiasis (one of the symptoms is blood in the urine) and many of the villages are suffering from this. We spent all day here, working on the system, visiting with the villagers and playing with their children. A little girl named Esther and I became very good friends! She sat in my lap for a long time and demonstrated her dancing abilities for us. Very impressive, I might add! (For all you facebookers, she is my profile pic today).

We left there after dark and had a long drive to our next village, Alovanyo. We drove a couple of hours, turned off the paved road and onto a dirt road/path and drove (or perhaps I should say bounced) for 30 minutes into the village. They were expecting us for a worship service which took place far back in the bush under a palm canopy. Ben drove us as far as the van could make it into the village and then we got out and walked. It was really dark and a long walk through the village and down a dark, rocky path. This was my favorite worship experience of the trip. Their drums and shakers were the only instruments and their dancing and singing was out of this world.

We arrived at the guest house back in the village about midnight, very tired and ready for some much needed sleep!

Wednesday -
Upon waking this morning, we discovered the beauty that surrounded the house! Mango trees, pineapples, corn, plantain and bananas were everywhere and a gorgeous view. We were invited to a "meet and greet" with the Chief and his elders. As we walked up to the meeting place, I heard the call of the drums. They were signaling a village meeting! What a beautiful, soulful sound.

We left Alovanyo and headed to Logba Tota! Logba Tota is high on a mountaintop and is the village of Chief Takyi who has taken care of us everyday since arriving in Ghana! He has a 3 bedroom guest home that we stayed in. The views are magnificent from the wrap around porch on the house. It was a nice relaxing afternoon, sitting and visiting with all our team.

Thursday -
Today was our return to Tema day. On our way, we stopped at Adigbo Torno to check on the purifier and it was working perfectly. We were all so thrilled - it was a great moment! Even better is seeing the excitement of the villagers! The smiles on their faces and knowing that we could help in this way is just wonderful! And to top it all, I got to see Esther again!

It was a long hard road this week. I've been through so many different emotions as we go from village to village. I go from being completely exhausted to a burst of energy, from feeling terribly sad to complete exhilaration, and pretty much everything in between. This has been a week I wouldn't trade for anything.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pondering life

Why is life so easy for me and so hard for so many others? It's a question I've pondered many times in my life, particularly in the past few years.

For all my life I will remember the night of January 1, 2006 when I crossed Lake Ponchatrain. I was with a team going to New Orleans to work at a relief center after Hurricane Katrina had devastated the area months before. Never had I ever seen anything like it, such utter devastation and pain. The people of New Orleans had it hard. That week was cold and they had no winter clothing or blankets. They came to the relief center for food, clothing, blankets, medical supplies - everything they needed for day-to-day living. But in the midst of all that, they blessed me in ways I will never forget. They smiled and hugged and were so thankful for the little we could do for them. As I returned over the next months to help out where I could, they continued to encourage me tremendously.

My New Orleans experiences changed my way of thinking forever and I came back home to South Carolina to find ways to bring encouragement to people at home. That's when we discovered the homeless community. Again I met people with so little, real-life men and women who were living a really hard life. Our house church, LifeNet, began to hang out with them on Saturday mornings at Finlay Park, sharing breakfast of sausage biscuits and cheese grits. We sang together and prayed together and so often, cried with them. Their stories broke my heart in the same way the stories of the precious people of New Orleans had broken my heart. Once again I found myself asking the question, why is my life so easy, so wonderful, so full when others have it so hard.

For all my life, I will remember the morning of July 8, 2009, the day I set foot on Ghanaian soil.

Life in Africa is hard. I've met hundreds upon hundreds of people in the past eight days. Yes, life is hard here in Ghana.

Many villages have no wells, no electricity, no running water and of course, no plumbing. They carry contaminated water from rivers and streams for all their water needs. They live in one room thatch or mud huts. A few of the lucky ones have tin roofs instead of thatch. They don't have stoves, refrigerators, mattresses, sofas, or so many of the things I think I need. You get the idea, I'm sure. They have a very hard life.

But they do have love. They have love for their families, love for their God, love for their neighbors. Amazingly they've shown great love to me a complete stranger from the USA. They have given so much to me. They give me hugs and have taught me their wonderful handshake. They laugh with me, they walk with me, they help me climb up steep rocky paths and carry my heavy backpack.They smile at me, they sing, they dance, they allow me to worship with them. They give gifts of beautiful pieces of Kente cloth with our names embroidered on each one, pineapples, bananas, plantains and even a goat. They smile and they are a beautiful happy people.

I still don't know the answer to my question. I doubt I ever will. What I do know, however, is that when I met the people of New Orleans and the people of the homeless community, and became aware of their plights in life, I became responsible. I became responsible to reach out to them, to love them, to let them know that they are special people and that God loves them. I became responsible to do the things within my realm of possibility to help.

I now know the plight of the people of Ghana. Life is hard. What can I do to give back just a little of what they've given me and try to make their lives a little easier?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

It's been about 5 hours since we left Potwabin but I can still hear the sweet melody of the children's voices. They sang for me! What an incredible gift on my first visit to a Ghanaian village. There little voices were so sweet and melodious and the wonderful thing about it is that they began the singing on their own. My cameras are a child magnet. They love having their pictures made and then viewing themselves on the preview screen. They had gathered around me where I was sitting under the shade of the big trees. We took some pictures and then sang "Old McDonald" which they just love and they giggled and giggled at the animal sounds. And then they just started singing. They were probably all under ten years old and there was about a dozen of them. I have no idea what the words were because I speak no Twi but I didn't need to know. It was one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard. Those precious little voices just blended together in perfect harmony and they smiled at me through the entire song. They smile with their mouths and with their eyes. I managed to keep the tears back, though it was hard. I'm afraid the "abruni lady" crying would have frightened them.

I've wanted to come here for so long and it's just so amazing to actually be here, meeting the people, learning about their lives and just being able to have a small part in bringing them safe water. The little children really just grab my heart. I asked God to give me a deep love for the Ghanaian people before I came here and I can truly say He has done that. I wrote before I left that I felt I had given a piece of my heart to Africa many years ago and I'm sure now a part of me will be here forever. As I boarded the van to leave this afternoon, my last words to the children of Potrabin were "Midowupaa" (I love you)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Training Day and Processing

Today was a nice day. We all really needed a decompression day after all the intensity of yesterday.

Dave conducted the training on the purification system with the different men that will be in charge of the systems. We followed that with a preview of the water hygiene training that will take place in the villages.

After a really delicious lunch of chicken stew, white rice (just like South Carolina), roasted white potatoes and of course, deliciously sweet pineapple, we walked to Jerusalem Gates to visit with the children and take some little gifts for them. It was a great visit! The children were very excited to see us again and ran out to greet us with hugs and lots of big smiles. We took many pictures of individual chidren, which they loved. One little boy, Douglas, told me he wanted to be a pilot when he grows up and that he will fly me back and forth from America to visit him here in Ghana. One of the older girls, Comfort, hugged and hugged me today. She is so cute and just a bit awkward in that 12 year old way. She told me she likes to learn about science and math. I love it when girls are interested in those subjects.

It has been such an incredible thing to see how my trip is affecting my family from5000 miles away. Everyone seems to be having a difficult time processing all the sad things they are reading about and observing through our pictures. Ashlea and Tom are praying about what the next step is. Amy, my sweet other "daughter" wrote me today that Natalie and Nicole, ages 5 and 3, are hearing about the things that I'm involved with here in Ghana. Natalie, after hearing about the Tema Dump wanted to know if the people didn't have a trash can. So hard to try and explain these kinds of needs to anyone but especially to young children. What the girls do understand is that I need their prayers. Each morning, Amy gets the globe down, they place those precious little fingers on Ghana and pray for Nana. Oh, how blessed I am.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Laughter and Tears

As I woke up this morning, my first morning in Africa, it was so quiet and peaceful. Africa wakes up quietly and slowly. The only sounds were those of some song birds and another bird that I think was a guinea.

After a leisurely and delicious breakfast, we (our team) along with Chief Togbe Takyi of Logba Tota, Oto and Ritchie walked to Jerusalem Gates Academy. Julius and Salomey (the husband and wife team who run the school) were expecting us and graciously welcomed us. I love the relaxing, laid-back ways of our African friends and we could learn a lot from them. We arrived at the school and they invited us to sit in the shade, sip bagged water and visit with them for a while. They had invited another gentleman from their church to be present, a Mr. Bloe (i'm sure that is not the spelling but if you drag the 'oe' out it's what is sounded like to me) who works for the Department of Agriculture and shared with us some of the experimental farming techniques they are experimenting with. It all sounds very interesting and quite progressive.

Next, what we were all looking forward to - meeting the children. Oh my, they are so precious and so polite and so heartbreaking! When you look into their eyes, it feels like you are looking into their very souls and you want to pull everyone of them into your arms and just make everything okay. Unfortunately, life is just not that simple. I took pictures of them and hugged everyone I could possibly get my hands on and then decided we would just do a great big group hug or huggle as our family calls it. Some of them laughed and some just smiled shy smiles and some held my hand and many of them hugged me. I left feeling sad and happy at the same time and so grateful to just be here!

We came home to a delicious lunch of kontumerie stew. This is a mixture of kontumerie, a leafy spinach type vegetable, tomatoes, tuna and a variety of spices. This was served with yams which taste like a cross between our sweet potatoes and white potatoes. Really, really good - my favorite food yet!

After eating that wonderful lunch, we went to the Dump. Never in my life have I even imagined the sights I saw today. Our fellow human beings living in conditions that I never knew existed. Yes, I've seen pictures of this dump and other dumps around the world but as we all know, seeing pictures and seeing real flesh and blood people are two vastly different experiences. My heart literally ached and I felt nauseous as I walked around. Their homes are made of whatever they can find, cardboard, pieces of wood, garbage bags, sheets of plastic and pretty much anything else you would find at a garbage dump. The smells will forever be with me - the smell of poverty and filth and hunger and heartache. The images are burned in my mind and in my heart - the images of poverty and filth and hunger and hopelessness! I pray I will never forget today.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I'm really in Africa

Getting to Africa went from a relatively short wait in the Charlotte airport to lots of waiting as the day progressed. We boarded in Charlotte (late, I might add) and then the waiting began. We sat in the plane, on the runway for a little over an hour! No bad weather just waiting.

After arriving at Kennedy (only about an hour late), we grabbed a bite to eat, checked in at the Ghana desk, verified passports and visas and began to wait again. At about 5:00 pm we were boarding the plane. My seat was 20D in the middle of the center section of seats. I walked on the plane, passed through the coveted Business Class section and then began to look down the aisle anticipating who would be sitting in 20E (my friend Davi is in 20C on my other side). Well, I'm a rather large person as you all know, but I was totally unprepared for the gentleman sitting in seat E. He had to weigh at least 400 pounds and I am not exaggerating. It became evident really soon that there was no way he could, even if he had wanted to, move for me to get to my seat so I had to go around to the other side of the plane. Davi came and sat down and we started trying to figure out how in the world we were going to sit for 11 hours of flying as crammed together as we were. Davi and I are sharing a room, aka a double bed this week, and I'm sure she was already thinking "I'm going to know Becky a lot better than I really want to - does it really have to begin on this flight?" After everyone was loaded, Davi noticed there was an empty seat behind Anita and David, so I asked the flight attendent if I could move there and she was fine with that. After a couple of minutes, she came back and said there was a center row of three seats in the back section, if Davi and I both wanted to move back there. Boy, did we and we wasted no time in collecting our carry-ons and moving. It was awesome - almost like being in First Class (but not quite). We were able to spread our stuff out in the middle seat and have plenty of room to relax.

Imagine our delight at the seating changes when we sat on the airplane from 5:00 until 7:30 when we finally took off. There were apparently several problems that delayed us but the biggest problem was weather as we discovered the airport was shut down for about an hour because of tornadoes in the area.

The fight itself was quite uneventful (thankfully) and we, even after all that waiting, were only about an hour late arriving in Accra, Ghana. I was a little sad I didn't have a window seat as I really couldn't see much at all from the center section but I got to see plenty after de-boarding, entering the terminal and driving to the home where we are staying.

The airport was very interesting with different sounds, smell and sites than I am accustomed to back home. We were met by Chief Tachee of the village of Lobo Tota, Pastor Ritchie and another gentleman, Stephen. It was quite a relief to have them there to pick us up, assist us with our baggage and "help" us through the masses of African men offering taxis, luggage assistance and I don't know what else :)

On the 30 km drive from Accra to Tema, where we are based for the next two weeks, I was completely enthralled. I saw shepherds with herds of cows (right on the side of the road), goats running down the middle of the road, little cardboard houses, beautiful expensive looking homes and an assortment of other things. I really could only grin from ear to ear and think after all these years, I'm finally really here in Africa.

Our hosts are all so friendly and kind. Mary Godly, lady of the house where we are staying, is a lovely young lady and very gracious hostess. She had a wonderful lunch ready for us. A quiche type dish with tuna (very yummy), toast, fresh pineapple and baby bananas. The pineapple here is unbelievable. Never have I tasted any so sweet and tender. Craig, you would absolutely love it and I suspect little Dashon would even swallow the fruit it is so tender. They could not believe it when we told them we pay 3-4 USD for one pineapple. They get them by the dozen for under 10 cedi (appx 7.50 USD)

I've been in Ghana now for about 6 hours I'm still grinning from ear to ear. Just think after all these years, I'm finally really here in Africa.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Ghana Bound

It's here! It's Ghana time!

The past 24 hours have been quite interesting. I woke up yesterday morning feeling excited and anxious to get all my little last minute things done.

I spent most of the day hanging out with Craig, Ashlea, Laura, Addie, Whit, Teddy and Tyler. We did hair, shared lunch, Teddy composed a theme song titled "Theme Song for Infinity Man", taught Addie how to pull hair through a frosting cap and an assortment of other fun activities.

Later in the day I headed home to finish off the packing. Naturally there had to be some drama mixed into the day (not that Teddy's composing and Addie learning to pull hair is not drama). A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned to Ashlea that I needed a suitcase and she offered me the use of theirs. My initial reaction was sure, that's great! but as I considered that I decided it might not be such a good idea because there luggage is really nice and had been a wedding gift. I was concerned it would get too beaten up. So Addie went out with me one day and we luggage shopped. A few days later Ashlea saw the new luggage and insisted that I use one of theirs. Tom had an old one he has had since college days so I decided okay I'll return the new one and use Tom's. It seemed to be working out fine until yesterday at 6:00pm when I attempted to zip it closed and you guessed it - the zipper broke! So we made an emergency run to Target, purchased another suitcase and hurried back home to switch every thing over. I'm just reminded that no matter how much we plan sometimes things just happen!

Zippers and I have quite a history. When I was a teenager I had two friends who were sisters, one a year older than the other. The older sister was married one June and the younger sister the very next summer. I was a bridesmaid in both the weddings. The younger sister decided to use the same dresses for her bridesmaids. The decision was made for us to dress at the church and so at the last minute I slipped my dress on, reached back to zip it up and you guessed it, the zipper broke. Thankfully, my mom was present and found a package of straight pins. She pinned me up and I went through the entire wedding and reception straight pinned up! Quite uncomfortable but it worked.

Today will be a day of waiting. We are waiting in the Charlotte airport for an 11:30 am flight to JFK where we will then wait for a 5:30pm flight to Accra, Ghana. We are scheduled to arrive in Ghana around 8:30 tomorrow morning (local time) which will be 4:30am here on the east coast.

We had a fun night last night at Dave and Anita's, laughing and talking about their past adventures in Ghana and the adventures we anticipate in the next two weeks. I don't think there was a lot of sleeping going on but we're all so excited I think we'll survive. I've decided I picked a great group to travel with on my first trip to Africa!

Friday, July 3, 2009

4 Days to Africa

Becky writes:

The reality is settling in that I am really going to Ghana. Africa has been in my heart since I was 14 years old and went to a preview weekend at CIU (then Columbia Bible College). There was a missionary there who shared about the needs of the African people. I guess a little piece of my heart has been in Africa all these years.

I met Anita and David Waters a couple of months ago. They became a part of LifeNet (our house church in Columbia) while we were away on our trip and living in Huntersville. Right after we returned to Columbia, they shared their ministry with our group. They go to Ghana to install water purification systems in villages, encourage children who live in the city dump at Tema, Ghana and most of all to share the love of Jesus with everyone they come in contact with. As I watched the video from their previous trips and felt the tug at my heart, I realized that God was re-awakening that part of my heart I had given to Africa so many years ago.

So now, six weeks later, I find myself just 4 days from leaving for Africa!

I've been reading Matthew 5-7, in preparation for the trip. These chapters are referred to as the Sermon on the Mount and are three chapters of Jesus' teachings. I found these teachings to be particularly encouraging and helpful before my trips to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and so have been concentrating on this reading for the past couple of weeks. But tonight I was reading in Psalms and just amazed at some verses in Psalm 113 and in Psalm 116.

Psalm 113:4-7 "For the Lord is high above the nations; His glory is higher than the heavens. Who can be compared with the Lord our God, who is enthroned on high?
He stoops to look down on heaven and on earth. He lifts the poor from the dust and the needy from the garbage dump."

I was so blown away - Here one of the main purposes of the trip is to minister to the children who live in this dump and these verses actually talk about the very people we are going to minister to. I love the word picture in these verses - the picture of God actually stooping over to look down on us - I am reminded of when I am speaking with my grandchildren, I lean over to get on their level and talk with them - to show them how interested I am in what they are saying and doing. It just blows my mind the God of the Universe cares enough about me and the children in the dump in Tema to stoop down and check on us!