Posts Tagged Africa

To go beyond the norm

It’s common knowledge in Ghana that to farm is to wrest an uncertain living  by the sweat of one’s brow.  There is a steady exodus from the rural areas to the city.  However, there are some amazing men who stand as exceptions.  Foster Ofori is one.

We have cooperated with him on a goat-rearing program for AIDS patients and a few weeks ago I went to take some pictures to send back to donors.

While I was there he showed me some of his other on-going projects and I was impressed.  Industry and innovation on a shoestring budget.

In one darkened room he was rearing nocturnal grass-cutters (cane rats) .  The original pair had been trapped from the wild by a hunter but have adjusted to captivity and regularly produce offspring.  I asked, “Have you eaten any yet?” He said, “Yes, four.”  Well worth it, I would say.  Their succulent meat does not taste like “chicken”- more like ham.

He ushered me into his yam barn, beautiful and  sprouting with promise for  the planting season.  He indicated a particular yam. ” You see this one?  People don’t like to plant it because when it is harvested in August it has a lot of moisture and doesn’t make  good fufu.  However, it keeps better than any other. Now in February, when my other yams  have spoiled, it is still good and makes excellent fufu.”

In the yard I had seen one of the children with a pile of  empty “pure water satchets.” carefully opening one end on each.   Pure ice cold water, conveniently bagged in individual servings, has become omnipresent  and can be bought almost anywhere.  Unfortunately they tend to be discarded without thought and next to the ubiquitous black plastic bags most purchases are sent home in,  are probably  the most common littered item  around.  I wondered what they were being recycled for.

In the yam barn I discovered the reason.  There, on the ground, were several hundred bags filled with soil, sprouting young mahogany seedlings.   As I looked at them I thought, “For all that is preached about reforesting, how many make the effort?”

No wonder Foster has no yearning to move to the city.  He is forever exploring and extending his ideas for innovative farming.


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Safe, Simple, Satisfactory to Millions

When I think of Western “Baby Carriers”,  cluttered with straps, and fasteners, and elaborate enablements designed to accomodate a rapidly growing infant, marketed at inflated prices, I can’t help thinking of K.I..S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid) and contrast them to  the two yards of cotton cloth that safely packs babies close to Moms across Africa.

Recently a young mother was visiting me with her baby and as she rose to go matter of factly transferred her baby to her back.  I grabbed a camera to snap a series of pictures of this commonplace action, repeated so many times daily, without a second thought.

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Spiritual Realities

I’ve been engaging in dialogue with a kindly professor of comparative religion who espouses Universal Unitarianism with a Buddhist flavour.    All on the road to “the divine” are moving forward and we should celebrate both the places where we concur and our differences.  However espousing this view trivializes the unique claims of each faith- in particular, though not exclusively, the distinctives of monotheistic faiths: the five pillars of Islam, observance of the Torah, the merit of the sacrificial blood of Christ.  There is no need to embrace Christ’s sacrifice, or observe the Law of Moses, or the Five Pillars, because any of the three, not to mention a whole lot of other options, will do just as well to ease us through this life.

To the post-modern mind it becomes an anathema to set one belief system  above it’s fellows as having unique merits, or worse to claim it is THE TRUTH. Dichotomous thought-  particularly, endorsing the idea that there are black and white distinctions between right and wrong and not just shaded grays, is also heavily frowned on.  Your opinion is valid for you alone and should not be splashed into someone else’s personal belief space.

This kind of fuzziness doesn’t hold much water in some places.  I found a news story from Uganda that seemed to make spiritual choices starker.  It didn’t stay on the active news very long so you might have missed this.

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Vipers and Rat holes

I was reading in Isaiah this morning when the boy came to mind.

I don’t remember his name but I do remember the day they brought him to our house in the middle of a work day afternoon in Ghana.

He was about 9 or 10. When they removed the cloth covering his arm I saw that it was nearly swollen double and covered with pus-filled cavities. Whatever caused it had not happened yesterday. The family wanted money to take him to the local clinic

I highly doubted that our local clinic could handle it, so shortly after they had left I sent one of the translation team to the clinic after them. Sure enough, the child had been returned to a relative’s home with no action taken.  We packed him up,  took him to the local hospital, and paid his expenses. They, amazingly enough, pulled him through.

He was sent back still needing daily dressings and we offered to pay the cost of his food and the dressings if the family (who came from an outlying village) arranged for him to stay with relatives and he went down to the clinic daily to have his wounds re-bandaged.

When healed he came with his father to say good-bye.  I was rather taken aback when the man said, ” Thank-you for what you have done for my son. Now, what are you going to do for me?”   Somehow I had considered the two synonymous.

And how had the boy arrived at such a state?  He was hunting bush rat, stuck his hand down a likely-looking hole and encountered a snake, probably an irritated Gabon viper on a similar mission,  instead.

God’s promise in Isaiah is  that when the Messiah comes

“The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

A day to anticipate.

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Risked, from Ghana

I know a number of Westerners who crossed the Sahara coming south to West Africa- the adventure trip of a lifetime.

I have also often read the stories of young Africans risking their lives to traverse the Sahara and cross the Mediterranean in chancy illegal boats to southern Europe- dreaming of  a promising new start.  Somehow I’ve thought that this involved “other” West African countries, not Ghana, where the government is stable, and things are somehow shinier.

Then I happened on to this BBC Slideshow. It starts out with stunning pictures of Ghana, including the Cape Coast slave castle from which millions were sent to the Americas as slaves.  It took me sixteen years in Ghana before I was brave enough to don funeral garb and visit a castle. They are now white-washed and sterile, like the bleached bones of a  beached whale, but still powerful in evoking past evils.

This slide show follows the steps of a young Ghanaian desperate enough to try it.  For many it is achingly hard to get a start, just a foothold on life.

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And boy, do I have some small fixable problems (small being a relative term)

“Show us too many sick kids, unfair imprisonments or burned bodies and you won’t get a bigger donation, you’ll just get averted eyes.If you’ve got a small, fixable problem, people will rush to help, because people like to be on the winning side, take credit and do something that works. At least that’s what Seth Godin says

Which reminds me, I have a half a dozen young people who need a helping hand with schooling costs.

The way I figure it is:  in our rural area in Ghana 75% of our Junior High School students fail their grade nine exams.  That means that a young person, without a viable father figure helping him or her out, who actually passes the exams must have something between the ears and would be worth sponsoring to high school.  Only 50% of those who attend our rural high schools pass their government set national exams, where they compete against expensive well funded urban schools.  If those that pass represent the top fifteen per or less of their peers surely they too deserve a chance to go further.

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Africa as a child

My earliest memories are of Africa, of the Bongondza station, in what was then the Belgian Congo.  When I returned to Africa as an adult I found that the scent of guava, frangipani, and a particular spidery white lily all had the effect of making me feel five years old again.  It’s mostly snapshot memories- joyously playing in the rain on my parents’ front porch which leaked like a sieve, and watching my father set up large plastic sheets between the clotheslines to catch rainwater for his intravenous drips.  He said he never had an infection.  I remember the pet rabbits, whose cage was set up with the legs set in tins of kerosene to keep out insect invaders.  It didn’t work.  One morning we awoke to find them two black balls of driver ants.  I remember wild honey, set in a bowl on the table in the back porch.  There was a hole in the screen and the bees stole most of it back. And I remember the feeding frenzy of the chickens when Dad brought in a section of termite mound and cut it open for them.  I had kittens and a collection of pet snails that made a habit of escaping -leaving silvery trails around my bedroom. I also had a dollhouse, and a life-size doll with real hair that had come from a church bazaar.

It all ended rather abruptly with the coming of Independence in 1960.  The Belgians had not made themselves popular and the ill-feeling extended to them spilled over to all with white skin.  One memorable evening my parents were told that they would be evacuating the next morning with the rest of the westerners on the station.  I remember that it was very hard to get a kerosene lantern for my room that evening.  I  freed the snails, including the huge one my father had found on his way back from the hospital that evening.   My father remembered mostly that he had performed several surgeries that day and that he spent the night writing post-op orders for the nurses to follow.  We were allowed a small suitcase each.  A few clothes, one or two toys, my father’s surgical instruments that he said he wouldn’t leave to rust in the forest, and local paintings cut out of their frames and rolled up that still hang in our home today.

Other than having to give the kittens away, what I remember most was that after having breakfast we just walked out, leaving everything on the table, everything as was, in the house.  I learned early that things are things, you can walk away from them.

I don’t remember much of the trip.  Dad slipped my brother and me sedatives so that we wouldn’t irritate any soldiers at road-blocks on the drive out.  In Stanleyville, we left on the last American troop plane out of Congo- a big cavernous monster with webbed seating.

We never did go back.  My father went on to work in a hospital just opened in the Trucial States.  The doctor, who replaced him, and his young family,were one day  hacked apart with machetes and thrown into a river by rebel troops.

My parents though, always spoke of the Congolese they had known with affection, remembering their kindness and ability to endure difficult situations. They remembered their propensity for laughter.  If you don’t laugh sometimes, you will always be crying.

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