Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Pit Latrines and Pop Rocks

This morning we set out from the branch on our ROAD TRIP!!!  Jasper or bust!  Here we come, we will be taking this town by storm!  Now, if any of you know me or Gail you will realize that we cannot make it more than a few hundred km without a bathroom break.  So, with no city/town/village in sight we decide to stop at one of those "rest areas" with bathrooms.  At first it was just me.  Then Chisomo and Memory decided they needed to go too.  Memory went in first and then came out.  Memory and Chisomo went in together.  We hear laughing.  Then they both come out.  Then Chisomo goes in.  Memory stood by the door and, after a few minutes called through the door "Are you still in there?"  Gail was wondering if they thought that it was like a Houdini trick, but lucky enough Chisomo came out.  Memory went in.  She also came out, a relief to all of us!  When we got back on the road it all came out....these weren't toilets, they were outhouses.  Memory said she was wondering if she would fall in to the pit latrine...the what???  Pit latrine.  Sounds so much better than "outhouse" so I think we are going to have to rename ours at the lake.  Much more refined don't you think?
And yes, Gail, your butt looks fine in the photo.  No worries!  So once we were done with the pit latrine (I can't quit saying that, it's so nice sounding!) off we go to our final destination, Jasper!  There was a couple of photo ops on the way, and I will never forget Memory telling Chiso to hurry up because she might die of the cold before Chisomo got down the hill for the picture!  Gail assured her that nobody can die when it's plus probably feels like it though. 

We checked in and got out of the hotel as fast as possible (and no, it wasn't because I picked it and it didn't smell good, it's because we are on a very tight timeline and everyone has their own idea of what the ladies should see while they are here!)  Jasper Brewing Company offered us a great fare for dinner, and when finding out that Memory and Chisomo were from Malawi visiting they gave them their dessert for free!  Being a good Canadian Gail had ordered her side as poutine, and both of the ladies were brave enough to try this excellent mix of gravy, cheese curd and fries.  They didn't have seconds.  But, then again, I know a heck of a lot of Canadians who wouldn't have seconds of poutine.

We decided that it was best if we checked off at least one thing from the list of places to see tonight.  We walked back to the hotel, grabbed the car, and headed for Athabasca Falls.  Well, first we had the ladies don toques, and Memory put on a winter coat, but that was quick.  We learned easily that if you see a bunch of cars on the side of the road that means wildlife, so we stopped to see some elk but we were on a mission!  (Although Gail and I did discuss how much fun it would be to stop on the side of the road just to see how many cars stopped with us, then Gail could yell "Psyche!" and we could drive off just to do it again!  I usual.

Exiting your vehicle and your first look at the falls is amazing.  It is more amazing if you are not sure if you are going to survive in the cold, but it is breathtaking.  The sun came out, the wind died down (slightly) and we spent more time there than we first anticipated.  We found a set of stairs that lead down to a rocky beach where people had left inukshuks, Gail proceeded to try to make one while Memory and Chisomo posed for pictures on a rock face above.  She gets honourable mention as there were some doozies on that shore.

Now, for the pop get pictures later, when there is sufficient wifi to upload a couple.  Gail and I travelled together a few years ago for work.  One of my favourite experiences was with her, Mel, and Danine when we stopped at the Nanton candy store and bought pop rocks.  It was a blast (get it?  hahaahaaaaa).  Anyhow, I mentioned to Gail that wouldn't it be great to see if our Malawian friends could try Pop Rocks?  Know what Gail did?  Pulled a package of them out of her purse!!!  After the breathtaking scenery of the falls we stopped Memory and Chiso in the parking lot and told them we were going to share our favourite candy with them.  And we did.  Pics to follow, but believe me, there was some confusion, some laughter, and a whole bunch of fun times!  Chisomo said she couldn't figure out where the noise was coming from!  
It's been a day of firsts.  First look at an Alberta pit latrine.  First sight of the Rocky Mountains.  First time Memory has not shared accomodations.  First (and last) taste of poutine.  First look at a mighty waterfall that carved rock throughout the centuries.  First sight of snow.  First elk sighting.  First bear sighting (and no, you CANNOT get out to get closer).  But I hope that, in years to come, Memory and Chisomo, your first Pop Rocks taste will be remembered as well.  

Monday, 13 June 2016

Worship, Fellowship and Familyship

Poor Memory.  For someone who is used to going to bed at 8:30 PM and going to bed when it is dark...I'm afraid we are not being the best of hosts.  After a rousing Ukrainian wedding reception in Vegreville we didn't manage to all get settled in bed until well after 2 AM...slightly late for our guest. Then church.  We need to worship on Sunday and our friends Deb and Mike Russell have the perfect place, so off we go on Sunday morning to their church!  I, for one, have never experienced a service well over two hours in length, but Memory sang along with the songs and was greeted by the congregation who hail from all over Africa, it was a powerful and wonderful experience.  Deb and Mike were awesome hosts!
After a nice lunch with Deb and Mike it was off to Sobeys for the balance of the dinner ingredients for our family Sunday dinner.  Only 13 people, nothing outlandish right?  You don't come to Edmonton, to Canada, and expect to spend time with one or two people, you need to meet as many people as possible....ok, maybe not, and maybe our family is loud.  But we are family.  And Memory became part of the family just because she got a special birthday cake from Rachelle, it's not every day that you get a birthday cake made by the owner of Milk & Cookies Bakeshop!  We all gathered, sang Happy Birthday, and wished Memory many happy returns (a day late!)
I am sure that Memory will get a good night's sleep at some point in her journey here to Edmonton, but there is so much to do, so many people to meet and so many things to experience...Delainey asked me tonight when I am giving Memory a "down time" day and I think it will be Saturday.  She has an entire flight to Ottawa to get some down time from our crazy hectic home!  Until then I am sure that getting her to bed around the right time, even though the sun is still shining and it is hard to fall asleep, will do.  Memory didn't travel this far, and leave her husband and little children for this long to sleep....right?  She was brave and adventurous to do this to experience it ALL.  And we aim to please!  Happy birthday Memory, your next LONG day awaits!  

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Searching for Bison, Pysankas and a true Polka

Well...that was a weekend.  I'm not sure to feel sorry for Memory and dragging her all over or feel like we have done our best to show her a busy weekend in the life of the Neddows!  Whichever it was I am sure that she will be trying to sleep this off for a little while!

Saturday broke dreary and rainy for the wedding of Meagan and Kirk.  It was cold, so Memory donned her traditional outfit and along with that she put on my sweater and Sandy's winter dress coat (yes, it was that cold, even we were wondering where the sun went!)  The wedding was beautiful, almost a full Ukrainian ceremony (without the mass) and Meagan was the most beautiful bride.  Memory had a smile on her face every time she saw the bride, she was stunning!

Ray is here from Idaho as well, so we need to go on a bison hunt!  Memory has never seen a bison, and they are formidable creatures that everyone should get a chance to see once in their life!  We drove down the highway towards Vegreville, certain that bison spotting would be easy.  No bison on the highway so into Elk Island Park we go, right to the "Bison Loop".  Who names a road "Bison Loop" when there are no bison?  This is the best we could do for Memory, the wide open plains in front of her....with no bison :(
Yes, I agree, slightly hokey when there are no bison in the picture.  But it IS Elk Island Park and Memory.....there has to be a better photo op out there!  Off we go on the highway again, this time our destination is the world's largest pysanka!  We KNOW it's not going anywhere!  And we were correct!  Memory would have probably been more impressed with bison, but we are going to a Ukrainian wedding, so pysanka it is....
Did I mention that the winds were slightly less than tornado like and the temperature was hovering in the single digits?  Not flattering to the hair, and then (for those most unfortunate to not have visited the pysanka) you have to wait for it to turn around!  Can you say freezing?  Not sure poor Memory could after this photo op!  Off to the reception in the social hall in Vegreville!  The unbelievable meal had special Ukrainian fare.  I told Memory about each one, and perhaps I forced her to put a cabbage roll, a peroghy, and a pyroshky on her plate.  Perhaps.  I probably did because she didn't touch them.  Well, she touched them and I think she found them to not feel like anything that would taste good.  She still had a great meal of roast beef, mashed potatoes, and salad.  But no gravy.  Gravy looks like chili, Memory doesn't like chili I think, because she thought the gravy was chili and skipped it.  (Sunday night dinner will have gravy, I am sure she will love it, good thing for second chances!)  
There were many highlights to the evening for Memory.  Watching the Ukrainian band blast out polka after polka, then on to two steps, waltzes and some good old rock n' roll was fun.  Getting Memory on the dance floor was fantastic!  I think she loves to dance.  Seeing the dance floor packed with people touching each other was an unusual sight for her, and one that we see all the time (can you imagine how hard it would be to polka without touching your partner??)  But the big highlight, I hope, were the two performances by Volya.  Stunning displays of art and athleticism, and Memory got to experience it all.  I truly hope she is having a wonderful time and that we are giving her experiences to last a lifetime.  I hope her smile says it all.....

Friday, 10 June 2016

We made it through day 1 at the branch!  There were loan policies to go through, Human Resources policies to go through, and many questions to be answered. But, we did it!  And, in celebration, we went out to a girls dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant.  We had a feast....beef, chicken, lamb, and veggies....a whole bunch of different stuff, and all without the use of utensils.  I'm hoping that Memory had a memorable time with everyone.  And....I hope she was warm, because it might have been the first time today that she has felt warm :(
Yes, Albertans listen up.  When you go out in shirt sleeves and it is a balmy 17 degrees, that's not warm for everyone.  It actually is downright cold for people who are from Malawi (where it is winter right now and the temps can get as low as 21 to 23...).  I promise myself tomorrow, and for the rest of Memory's trip, that I will remember to offer an extra coat, perhaps even a winter coat, when we are walking out of the house.  This morning poor Memory walked out (and I am sure it was really warm, like at least 10 if not higher) and I think I saw her turn into a block of ice.  Then she got in my vehicle and my air con came on...then she got to the branch and it's set at 22....just about heat exhaustion (if you are Canadian).  Then off to walk to the legislature from a couple of blocks away (without a coat).....saving the day were Karen and Herman who brought a nice warm coat for Memory to wear while I took some pictures of Syd in her prom dress (note...heavy coat for Memory, sleeveless dress for Syd and Karen!)  
I'm kicking myself, I should know better.  I know what a wall of heat feels like, it cannot be that different than a wall of cold (although truth be told nobody in Ghana was able to offer me anything to ward off that wall of 40 degree heat...)  Tomorrow, when we are honoured with watching Meagan and Kirk exchange vows, become man and wife, then party Ukrainian style in Vegreville I WILL remember, Memory needs coats.  Lots of coats.  If we cover her with blankets and coats then I will be able to run the air con, stay cool, and still feel like the ultimate hostess.  Vegreville or bust tomorrow!!  With tons of blankets for the drive!

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Key learnings from day 1 with Memory....celery is not a food.  Dogs should not cuddle with you.  And husbands, yeah....they should cook.  A side note, longboards are deemed to be dangerous, especially when your teacher (Delainey) has already shown her wounds from the last "I think I can do this hill".

I cannot imagine being this adventurous.  Here she is, thrown into a family in disarray (ok, we say we will eat at 5 but really it's going to be 7).  I picked Memory up from the airport and, after dropping her luggage off we went veggie shopping at H &W.  I think our meat is fine, potatoes are starch,but veggies?  Fruit?  I need guidance. Memory, bless her,was not much help. Except for the watermelon at the end.

I like celery.  Grab some, even though it's not something she's had before.  Green onions. Yum.  Some zucchini (she thought it was cucumber) cantalope, and lo and behold...they gave us a free watermelon!  Get home with our haul and find no Cheese Whiz.....imagine celery without it...yes, she hates it.  Wish I had a picture of her face when she tried it without Cheese Whiz.

I'm all over the place  tonight.  Tomorrow we work...tomorrow we will try to solve the problems of a small but mighty credit union in Malawi.  Tomorrow is what I live for, as long as I can keep her off that longboard.....

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

June 7, 2016
I was reminded today, as I presented a meeting in one of our historical branches in the city, what a credit union was and what we want it to continue to be.  Our 149th Street branch is steeped in history, Firefighters Credit Union history to be exact.  Memory arrives tomorrow.  She represents, to me, the history of credit unions.  From Lilongwe, Malawi, Memory has traveled to Canada with the hope of creating a stronger and more sustainable credit union.  And we have the honour of hosting her for the next 9 days.

So begins our journey.  I do not know what fears Memory houses...but I know what lies within me.  Imagine, if you will, hosting someone in your home without understanding what "comfort" may mean to them.....what "clean" might mean...what "home" might feel like.  Delainey and I went out today in search of "chips" which Memory indicated are part of her breakfast.  Chips?  Lays?  Dill Pickle??    We have decided on a variety, banana chips (which I fear will not make the grade), casava chips (which may make the grade) and plantain chips (which I ate frequently while in Ghana, and have come to enjoy immensely).

I'm hoping that you will join us on this journey that begins tomorrow.  If you are able to physically join us that will show Memory our close knit village.  If you can only be with us in spirit then that will resound as well.  Memory will be taking in many valuable lessons at Servus, along with (I hope) many familiar scenes where neighbors are getting together with neighbors.

I hope this is a time that we, as a credit union and a family, in Edmonton can get together and display some of the community spirit that I have witnessed firsthand while traveling in Ghana.

Memory is missing her two precious daughters, Kate and Angel, who are waiting for her to return home.  She has chosen to spend her birthday, June 11, away from family and friends, to further develop her credit union...and her home.  I already admire her, and I have not yet met her.  I hope that you join us on our journey!

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

We're not in Africa anymore Dorothy

Wednesday, March 4, 2015
OK, Dorothy isn't with me but Nancy is.  We are in Faversham, Kent, England.  We have a beautiful room in the Sun Inn, originally built in 1349.  Yes, 1349.  As a Canadian it is hard to even imagine 1349, but here you see this kind of history everywhere you turn.  It's in the cobblestone streets, in the residences that have withstood centuries of wear, and in the churches where people mourned and buried their dead-marking the graves with sad missives carved in stone in the 1500s.  It's a different world than Africa, and Nancy and I are both grateful for that.  The pace is slow here, the weather crisp, it's what we need.
How did we get here from Africa?  It's a good question.  A long time ago I started researching our family tree, and Faversham is the heart of our father's tree.  I have walked the street that my great grandfather, Horace, walked as a child and stood on the porch of the house he lived in when the 1881 census was done.  Down the street from the Sun Inn, at 1 West Street, is where my great great grandmother was living in 1841.  I've walked to the Faversham creek where, no doubt, my ancestors came to relax and play in their childhood.  And perhaps, just maybe, I have sat with Nancy and shared a night cap in the same pub as Horace or Samuel or Julia did over a century ago.  Nancy has been wonderful, traipsing through graveyards (grid pattern splitting up works best) looking for the markers that will tell me more about my ancestors, she's been very successful to date and we still have one more day to go.

So this isn't Africa.  Am I missing Ghana?  In a way I am.  I miss the people, and the new adventures that one anticipates will be around every corner.  But that's looking back now, and I'm looking forward to getting on the plane on Friday in London and coming home to see my family and friends.  It's been a long trip and I'm thankful for this little town that is rejuvenating and relaxing, and for the chance to walk on the soil of my forefathers.

Monday, 2 March 2015

You're Not Pretty When You Cry

I hate goodbyes.  They are so sorrowful and really difficult to deal with.  Most of the coaches just got on a bus to Heathrow, they are disbursing to different parts of the world to go live the lives they left behind when we started this journey.  And it is a journey.  I hugged Jackie, Laurie and Katherine-it is their first journey to Africa, and I remember what it was like last year saying goodbye.  They are going home with stories that will touch the hearts of coworkers and friends, and they will be thinking of coming back next year.  I hugged Liam and Larry, gentlemen that they are, their lives forever changed because of the women they were forced to live with for the past fortnight.  And Louise, she has kept me sane and in good humour for the past two weeks, how do you say thank you for that?  You don't, you just give hugs and pleasantries and then you cry.  At breakfast this morning we were chatting about what we were doing today.  Some were leaving, others were going to enjoy some sights this city has to offer.  A couple were thinking of checking off "Phantom of The Opera" on their bucket  list, something that we did on Saturday. Some are going to see Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Trefalger Square. But nobody is doing what Nancy and I are.....when they asked us we were unique.  We were the only ones that could say,

"We are going to Faversham."

I know, I can almost see the blank look in your eyes.  It is the same look that those around the table gave us this morning.  Deer in the headlights.  In the late 1800s Horace Bloxham Hawkins, my great grandfather, made his way across the ocean from Faversham to settle down in Winnipeg with his lovely wife Bessie.  I am going to find my roots.  I am going to stand on the soil of my forefathers, wander the streets they wandered over a century ago, and hopefully find where they were laid to rest.  The journey ended this morning when the coaches started to say goodbye, and now my new jouney, however short, is about to begin. 

We are going to Faversham.  I am going with my illustrious partner from last year, Nancy, who is "along for the ride,"    If you think you had a blank look on your face when you read that line you should see the looks Nancy is getting.  She happily describes splitting up to cover more ground in the graveyard, she has a plan. 

So now dear readers, I have to take my leave.  I am going to find the house Horace was raised in, and the house that his father, Thomas, was born in.  Hopefully there is a story in Faversham.  If there is I will be sure to let you know.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

What's right is wrong, and left is right

This isn't a physically stuck in Africa.  This is a mentally stuck there, I think very similar to last year, only last year I could hold my breath and hope that I did a good enough job that CCA would be able, in good conscience, to invite me back for a second year.   this year is the end of my two year commitment so now there's a real possibility that I may never set my feet on Ghanaian soil again in my lifetime and that is cause for reflection.  We have arrived in London for the debrief.  The Ghana CCA and Irish coaches have had a wonderful day, thanks to Louise for dragging us around London for 12 full hours of unbelievable sites.  We toured Westminster Abbey.  I can check "See Phantom of the Opera at the place it began" off my bucket list.  We did The Tube.  We walked in the rain together.  Nancy used the umbrella to protect my Phantom program from getting wet inside its protective plastic bag.  We are now nicely fitted in our hotel rooms, with hot water and what seems to be unlimited power.  I got to message Sandy tonight with no interruption of wifi.  I should be delighted.
OK Louise, which way?

I'm not.  I wish I was, and perhaps it is the jet lag, perhaps it's just the emotional toll of a couple of weeks involved (but not in) someone else's shoes.  Whatever this is I'm not delighted to be "back".  Yet.  Remember, for those of you who have been reading the blog, the story of "don't tell a single story"?  Well, I want to tell you the other side of that story of Africa, of Ghana, that you don't hear every day.  And maybe you will understand why I may not be as delighted to be out of Africa as you would hope that I would be.

There is the welcoming spirit of (everyone I have met) Ghanains.  "You are most welcome," is a phrase we heard over and over again every day.  I woke up in Ghana yesterday.  I heard people welcome me, in a village, in a store, in a market, they are the most welcoming people I have ever met.  Now, please, please please, do not take this as an affront to London residents (because I truly believe that this would happen if I were displaced into Toronto, or into Los Angeles, or into Saskatoon....) but I haven't gotten that welcoming feeling here.  Today as we strolled towards the underground (Tube) station we ran across our fellow CCA coaches from Uganda and Malawi who were making their way to the hotel.  It was a reunion.  On the street.  There were a lot of us.  We were hugging, we were chatting....
#CCAcoaches meet again!

And we were in somebody's way.  The lady with the umbrella bumped up against me, and as I was about to say "I'm sorry" in my Canadian-raised way she looked at me as she passed and said "You have no right to block the sidewalk!" and kept walking.  Again,  it could very well be jet lag, but I wanted to be back in Ghana at that moment, because I know I am very welcome, even if I am in a crowd blocking the street.  It happened again on the Tube escalator, I apparently was on the wrong side and was blocking those that wanted to run up the people mover.  It wasn't enough that there was nobody to my right and enough room for a fairly large person with a suitcase to get by me on that side, I was told to move (after which Liam mentioned to me that "they won't think twice about running you over," and I wished I was back in Ghana.  

Although I'm going through a little culture shock (again) I have to mention the biggest learning (or path to learning) that I have about the similarities in the two cultures.  Even though, in Ghana, they drive from the left side of the car, which for me is right, and the Londoners drive on the wrong side of the car which is right, and we are always taught to look left and right before crossing the street, the right side is the same as the left side driver when it comes to pedestrians in an unmarked/jaywalking area.  The pedestrian is wrong.  Period.  Liam tried to teach me that last year.  I'm still not getting it.  Liam tried to exhibit it on our way to the hotel from the airport, just the right being right and the left being wrong, or the back seat driver position in the front seat....
Look, no hands!

I have to chalk it up to jet lag.  I had a wonderful day with wonderful people, in a wonderful city that has a rich history and beautiful sites....but I'm missing Ghana already.  Tomorrow morning is our debrief, maybe that will put everything into perspective for me.  For tonight I'm just thinking that the right is wrong, and the left is right, I'm not too sure which way to look crossing the street unless I'm staring at Liam or Louise's back and just blindly following...and I've had a beautiful journey so far.

Can I describe this day.

This has been the most incredible experience today, from morning to night, from work to relax....and there's no way anybody in their right mind will have time to read the whole thing.
Alfred picked us up this morning with a gift, credit union cloth, from our first credit union, St. Martin de Porres.  Credit union cloth is something to be treasured, and each of us has a bolt of it to make into a treasured moment of our time there.  Ramseyer CU gave us some cloth as well, and I am going back to my seamstress sister (and seamstress sister from another mother) to figure out how to best honour these treasured items.
We are at Asawasai St. Theresa's CU today and yesterday.  A woman CEO.  A brilliant, engaged, vibrant woman.  In a man's world.  Another inspiration, quite like many of the women we have met on this journey.  Regina, the CEO, has been blessed with the ability to build and maintain relationships, and she (somehow) managed to convince the King of Asante that her members would like a plot (50 acres) of his land, but could not afford it outright.  The King agreed to a payment plan, and not only did he take the payments, he deposited them with her credit union!  It was exciting to see her open the Indenture yesterday, it means the land now belongs to her members....and the next step is building infrastructure and individual homes.  Like I said, another amazing woman...with a capital "A".
Regina, another inspiring woman

Regina took us around her community on foot today, it is apparent that she is respected in this area.  She took us to another CU, Asawasi Presby, which was a terrifying jaunt across some streets away.  We met Joyce, the manager, another strong woman who we chatted with before she walked us half way back to St Theresas.  It was lunch time, and we passed by a permanent stall where there was a big stone oven and two men pulling out the most YUMMY smelling bread you have ever smelled.  Now, we have been warned not to eat anything off the street due to our poor stomachs but this was too much to resist.  First I just asked if we could take pictures.  Then the smell, oh, the smell.  Imagine your Mom's kitchen, close your eyes, you walk in from school and that smell....OK, we will take a loaf.  Two Ghc and 50?  We will take two.  You get a deal for two, only Ghc4.00.  That's less than a toonie for all you Canadians.  Oh, what a lunch!  Hot bread and unmeltable yellow spread!  It was a delight I may never experience again!
Remember the King?  The one who Regina got to sell his land on a payment plan?  He's out of town unfortunately.  We did, however, get a chance to see his palace, hear the incredible story of his kingdom, and tour the museum by his house today.  Too bad he takes the Golden Stool with him, we didnt get to see that, but I will tell you that story one day....
The day ended with a meeting of the Board and off we went with Alfred home for one last night at the True Vine.  We sat in our usual spot, and the owner was in there with another man and they asked us if we would take a drink with them.  Stop here, we could have said no [Daabi, daabi] but we decided to sit down.  This was one of those moments for Louise and I that you could sit back and reflect on "wow, what if we had said no?"  I can tell you because reflect I have done....
I never would have met the man called Kofi [born on a Friday].  I never would have heard his story about being a successful businessman here, friends with the president, when he became an enemy of the state and was arrested during the military takeover.  I could have been sitting on Facebook instead of hanging on the edge of my seat imagining what it was like as he spent time in jail, without a charge, was blindfolded and driven to a fake tribunal where he was sentenced to 18 years in prison.  Could have been eating my chicken and rice instead of hearing how he bribed a guard, fled to just inside the Ghanain border only to be caught again, then used his very last money for one last fleeting attempt at freedom.  Yup, I could have hung out with Louise [not a bad thing] instead of listening to how this man, exiled from the home he loved, rebuilt his life in London...children, now a granddaughter, none of whom wish to come back to the homeland he missed so much for over 30 years.  He says sometimes it is lonely, even with 4 children, because his heart and home are here in Ghana, but fate chose England to be his children's homeland.  I will post his picture when I can.  

How can Kofi be 80???

Because he represents, to me, the value of choosing to speak to a stranger rather than politely declining an invitation to chat.  This man will be 80 in January, I hope he lives to see his new granddaughter decide that she loves the country that her grandfather so adores.  He carries his tribal mark proudly on his cheek like so many people I have met here, and, rather than turning his back on the country that turned its back on him, he is back here....he followed his heart back to his home.
I miss home.  I am also truly thakful for saying "yes" instead of "daabi" to the invitation to a wonderful story tonight.  I wish I could have had you here with me, I did no justice to Kofi's story, but it was the end of another memorable day in Ghana, 

Friday, 27 February 2015

It's almost over....again

Friday, February 27 7:10 PM
I'm sitting here in the communal room with my partners, Nancy (from 2014) and Louise (this year).  It's hard not to get a little emotional just because of all the things these two ladies have shared with me over the last two years.  They are busy trying to pack suitcases, I've given up I know I am over and I will have to pay.  In 40 minutes we leave for the airport.  In a few hours I may never see this continent again (although, God willing, I will).  A few thoughts before I board the bus, and maybe a few more to be uploaded in London.  I'm emotionally exhausted from the day, from the week, from the trip.  The market today was a zoo, as soon as you step out of your vehicle 6 or more men are right there, they are all trying to sell you their wares and they will not let it go.  They won't give you any space and they follow and follow.  Now, I've been to Mexico and been to the markets there, but this takes the cake, it's nothing like anything I have ever seen.  They need to make a living, and they need to make money for their families, their shelter, their food, it makes me sad.

We get a 7 hour flight to reflect on our journey here, or sleep, whichever comes to you.  I'm going to reflect on the really impressive women that I have met here, ones that break the stereotype of what we may feel women in Africa are.  They are strong, they have their own ideas and they will continue on their own journey while I go home to mine.  Similar to Alice, who visited us from Kenya, I hope to hear from these women occasionally, and hear that their careers are progressing and that they are happy, healthy and continuing to be strong of mind and strong of spirit.  

I'm hoping that the images of Africa will stay with me forever.  I want to remember hiding from Alfred while I had a cigarette (tsk, tsk) and the look on his face when he came around the corner.  The look of the babies when they see our skin for the very first time.  The absolutely breathtaking scenery of this beautiful country....that I will miss for sure.  

Although "goodbye Ghana" is better alliteration I think I'm going to stick with "see you later," or "until we meet again...."

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Hi All,

Sandy here.  Was looking at the stats for Debs blog and noticed that it has been viewed by people in 10 countries now.  Found it interesting and thought Deb would like to share.

United States
United Kingdom

Have a Great Day!

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Lost In Translation

The Ghanain people are by far the most hospitable that I have come across in my travels thus far.  That being said, although English is the official language here there are over 70 tribal languages that are spoken.  Most are "mutually intelligible" according to my sources [Wikipedia] but we must realize that sometimes things may inadvertantly [or purposely] get lost in translation.  I thought, if you were kind enough to "slog through my blog" yesterday, with the visions of Debbie standing by the sea darkly reflecting on humanity, you may need a little humour to make up for it and maybe have you visit again.  So, instead of taking you through yesterday [which was a wonderful day at Ramseyer CU and the meeting with the full Board was fantastic] I will give you a few "faux pas" that have occurred to Louise and I over the weekend and tonight.

Firstly, you all know the story of ending up on a canopy walk instead of a slave castle...this is an example of purposeful rather than accidental.  Nancy and Larry's driver, Bright, listened to them when they said that we all wanted to do the Elmina slave castle Satrday and then, becase they had a shorter drive home, they wanted to do the Kakum canopy walk Sunday morning.  As near as we can figure Bright decided there was way more time to do the canopy walk on Saturday, and the slave castle Sunday didnt occur to hìm that we planned it in such a way to avoid some severe phobias.....lost in translation, you know the outcome, I walked the canopy walk.

For a week or more now I have been thinking I am the center of the universe.  OK, Sandy caused this, but I walk down the street and everyone is calling my name.  DEBBIE!debbie!debbie!  I always turn around and smile although they don't seem to be particularly interested in me...and always seem to be saying my name with a little venom...Today I remembered to ask Alfred what my name meant in Twi.  He said it didnt mean anything, which clearly is disppointing to someone who is the center of [Sandy's] universe.  Then he got a good chuckle.  All those people calling my name on the street...."Daabi" is the Twi word for "no",  Burst my bubble.  Lost in translation.

Tonight, knowing that we should not anticipate anything on the menu for fear it isnt available Louise and I asked our friendly waiter, Fred, if the chef had any pizza [we have lucked out once during our stay].  Fred rushed off and came back saying no, there was no pizza, but he could get us one.  What a nice lad.  We told him around 6 PM to have it delivered.  Our other waiter, Michael, came up to us shortly after and asked us what we felt like for supper as the chef had two pizzas left.  We thought Fred had gone to Michael and talked to him about the pizza.  At 6 PM tonight Fred delivered the delivery pizza to our table.  About the same time Michael brought our pizza from the kitchen,,,,don't ask, we bought the wait staff a pizza for their dinner tonight...lost in translation.

Power outages are common here, tonight was no exception.  Louise and I had settled ourselves around the pool and were busy writing our report when the power went out.  Normally the generator kicks in at the 5 minute point, but it didnt this time.  I am a big subscriber to Louise's mantra "Dont let it in" [meaning eyes forward, it's all good] but when the giant bug landed on me I did let out a pre Africa shriek [but maintained my sense of humour]
Michael:  "Ma'am, have you both provided for the mosquitoes?"
Me:  "Yes Michael, we have blood."
Michael:  "Very good ma'am.  Thank you, all is fine."
Louise and I thought that was good crack, [here's your Irish saying for the day] and giggled a little as he walked away, assured we had provided for the mosqitoes.

The power outages are a little like camping, blackout conditions but the possibility of reprieve with a little light.  Now, the "light" is a segway as we had the best day of our skin turning into other's amusement today.  We were at our new credit union and we were taking a walk around the block to bounce some ideas around.  We walked by two older ladies, one was staring at us intently so I said hello.  She didnt answer, but held my gaze until we passed.  I felt that she was still looking at us so I stopped, turned around, and she was staring at Louise's legs.  She looked, laughed, then went on her way....lost in translation?  Louise has the perfect white skin like Delainey, but I have to admit, she does stand out here in Ghana.  She stops toddlers from crying and school children in their tracks, both of which happened today.

I can only wish I had that much will never be the same....."Daabi!  Daabi!" 

Monday, 23 February 2015

Elmina Slave Castle and Humanity

February 22, 2015

Canadian author, Lawrence Hill, penned "Book of Negroes" in 2007, for those of you who haven't read it this is a book that you cannot put down.  I'm prefacing this post with the fact that I have read this book (among others about the slave trade) and it may make me a little pensive in the writing, just like I was pensive the whole day today.  It could be that I was still reeling from actually doing the canopy walk at Kakum, but I needed a little time by myself last night.  I walked down to the ocean and stood and looked out over the vast expanse wondering if there was much difference from the look of the ocean in the late 1700s and early 1800s.  Probably not.  I could see Elmina castle (St. Georges Castle) in the distance, a place that best be remembered forever for the number of lives lost in it's stone dungeons and the number of lives forever changed as the slaves left their homeland through the "door of no return."  This was a powerful experience, one that I liken to Sandy's and my tour of Auschwitz in 2012.  So many souls left this earth in this structure, it's almost palpable as you walk through it.  Our guide told stories as we entered each area-here, there were at least 150 women, children and babies with four small pots in each corner to relieve is where the governor stood as the women were brought out into the yard for him to choose is where the men were thrown who tried valiantly to revolt-only left to die with no food or water.  It could be up to three months that these men, women and children sat in the filth of this place before the ship came to take them away.  To what?  Fates worse than death in many cases.  Three months.  The strength of the people echoes in the walls.

I'm reminded again how many times that humanity has been lost.  How many times people have turned a blind eye to something so utterly can only pray for the souls and hope that you have the strength to not turn a blind eye in the face of a travesty like this.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Have fear....conquer fear

February 21, 2015

Last night was interesting.  Now, I want to let you know that this hotel we are in is very nice, and although there is no hot water you really don't need it because it's so hot.  I have a bathroom, a little balcony and a bed which is all I need.  I was in the bathroom last night getting ready for bed (excited about the coming visit to the slave castles!) when a little movement caught my eye.  There seemed to be something coming up the toilet.  I did what any good camper would do, I sat on the edge of my tub, interested.  A few minutes later up came a small snake....he looked at me, I looked at him, he looked at me.....I flushed.  Wow.  Something to laugh about, but my heart was pounding....looked like a baby, where was mom?  Why did he pick me?  Why Room 119?  Why tonight?  As I sat on the tub it appeared that he wanted to answer all these burning questions and he reappeared in my toilet again.  I bolted to the phone, called the front desk, and they told me "Flush it madam."  I came back in and looked at him, he was actually trying to get back down my drain (which I was relieved about) and I helped him do it.   If you love something...set it free.....he didn't come back.  My wonderful husband, forever the recorder of all occasions on his camera, had one question:  "Did you get a picture?"  No, honey, slipped my mind.  I will try to do better next time.

Maybe I should have named him....

So, I'm not very good with snakes, kind of afraid, but those of you who know me well understand my paralyzing fear of heights.  Last year, on our free weekend, I was scared I was going to end up on the coast and have to go to to do the canopy tour at Kakum National Park.  I'm just not that brave.  Since Alfred couldn't get us to Elmina until Saturday noon (let me rephrase, Alfred was going to pick us up at 5 AM we said no), Louise and I decided we just wanted to do the slave castles and relax.  Alfred was fine with that.  Nancy and Larry met us there with their driver, Bright, and Bright had other ideas.    Off we go to the slave castles.  I never have a good sense of direction when it comes to the ocean, today was no exception, I was the only one not wondering where we were going (Bright turned away from the ocean, and we all know the slave castles aren't inland).  My blissful ignorance lasted about 10 minutes until Louise asked Alfred where we were going and he said "Kakum, you don't have time tomorrow to do this."  ALFRED!!  How could you?  How could our protector and our companion sell us out?
Guess I have to channel Abenna, my African name, perhaps she is better at rope bridges 40 m high cause I can tell you Debbie can't do it.  We get there and Alfred says, "I will wait for you."  No, Albert, no you won't YOU will come with us.  "Oh no, no, I will wait here."  Louise and I both go at him (she isn't totally OK with heights either)....Yes, yes, you will.  You are coming....then silence.  "I am afraid of high things."  What? are we.  So I guess you have to come with us.  Because we NEED you.   "You need me?"  That will do it every time.  Alfred is coming with us.

8 bridges
3 Lord's prayers
25+ "I'm scared" repeated rapidly for an entire bridge
15+ "I can't do this" again, rapidly in succession.
20+ "He said don't look down, so don't look down.  YOU LOOKED DOWN YOU IDIOT"

I videoed myself on the first bridge, just to hear it afterwards.  It's not pretty.  But I did it.  I beat my fear for once.  And I'm Debbie, I think I might have had a little Abenna in me today, but I'm Debbie and I can do a canopy walk!!!  POWER!!!!