Bullet Point Update

Have we only been here three days?  We’ve packed so much in to our time here, it seems to be either moving very slowly or much too quickly. Whatever the case, so far this has been a wonderful experience with the two Big Village ladies.  Please accept this bullet point update until I find a moment to process it all and write in a cohesive manner.

  • I was moved to tears when the ladies sang and danced under the baobab tree.  I’ll let you read that again.  Yes, I said, “under the baobab tree.”  So, so beautiful. I cannot post pictures of these amazing moment until we get to a faster internet connection.  I am, by no means, complaining.  I still can’t believe I met with women under a baobab tree this morning and tonight you’re hearing about it.  I still marvel at the miracle of technology.
  • I mentioned it before the I am here with a couple of “crunchy mamas.”  They’re on the au naturel side.  They like to read “Hobby Farm Home” and say things like:
    • I should take a pro-biotic.
    • What kind of oil was used to cook this?
    • Would it be possible to pick fresh mangos from the tree?

    It turns out they are in good company with our host, Dominic, who is the manager of the women’s co-operatives.  He has joined ranks of Herbalife, a weight loss and nutrition plan.  When he met us the first day, he was wearing a pin, “Lose Weight Now! Ask Me How!”  We all tuned him out a little when he first started talking about his new passion to make Ghana a healthier, thinner place, but the more he talked about nutrients in food, what foods we should avoid eating, and reasons why guinea fowl is better meat than chicken, the crunchy mamas started to pay attention.  When Dominic mentions things like the super fruit from the baobab tree, that grows right here in Bolgatanga, right above those dancing women, it doesn’t get much crunchier than that.

  • Dominic’s new venture reveals the dichotomy of Ghana.  On one hand, in the world where food on the proverbial table that day determines whether you are rich or poor, to put on weight is a luxury and a sign of beauty.  To say, “you are growing nice and fat” is a compliment (at least I took it that way).  And yet, there are those who would call themselves modern, who hold the slim figure in high regard.  Many believe it to be the influence of the western cultures, which also brought blue jeans and Holiday Inn. In any case, weight loss is now marketable in Ghana.
  • I did this today:

    Yes, he’s real – and there are 200 more of his buddies in that pond behind me.  These crocs are in the northern town of Paga, just before the border to Burkina Faso.  It is a road-side attraction in this area. It is against the law to hunt the crocs for any reason.  They are revered because it is believed they carry the souls of the ancestors.  They are tame, as tame as any carnivorous monster can be.  A croc caller lure out the beast from the Zenga pond, which means hilltop.  Nothing this behemoth won’t do for a couple of live chickens!  Of course, one crunchy mama was absolutely horrified at the heartlessness of the scenario while I comforted her with these ever so sensitive words, “It’s the circle of life.”

  • While at the croc pond, a few devoted Muslim men made their way toward us.  One man in particular thought I needed to understand how the croc’s submissive nature is the product of the sovereign Allah.  Who else can tame a wild beast in this way?  To see it is to believe in Allah, would I accept this truth?  All I had to say was, “Ash-hadu an la ilaha ill Allah” (I bear witness that there is no deity but Allah).  Would I accept?  Now?  What about now?  Just say it!  You will be a Muslim!
  • Oh man!  While you moved from the last bullet point to this one, we experienced a wicked thunderstorm.  We felt the winds hit the building ahead of the storm and then saw the lightning and rain approach from the balcony of our room where we’re staying.  All three of us were totally freaked out in that giddy 13-year old way when the electricity went out.  This is the second storm since we’ve been here.  Yesterday’s storm took out some roofs, and threw around debris and tree branches.  Dominic commented that the traditional houses, even with their thatch roofs always manage to stay firmly in place.  I know that the people are so looking forward to this rain.  It’s a break from the heat of the dry season and we’ve seen small fires all around the region as they clear the land in order to sow seeds in the fields.
  • Tonight is our last night here.  We join Dominic at the basket buyer’s market in the a.m. and then leave for the city of Tamale, in order to catch our plane there the next morning.  Dominic will be making us a Herbalife shake for breakfast before we go.  A healthy send-off!
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The Business of Batik

The guest on the CBC radio show said that every time you recall anything from the past, the simple act of remembering alters the memory.  To bring the past to mind  is to change it to fit into your present.  This was a very smart guest (Ironically, I can’t recall his name at the moment. If you really want details I’ll get them for you, but not till after this trip) and I choose to believe what he said.   It explains nostalgia.  It explains why the halls in your high school look so small when you visit it years after graduating. It explains why we call the past the “good old days.”

I know the details can be important, but those are the things that tend to go missing from my memories of Ghana when I’m in Canada.

Visiting Ghana brings me back to the reality of Ghana: the smell of earth, moth balls and soap when you walk from the tarmac into the airport; the process of going through customs, baggage check, security and security again; brushing your teeth with bottled water; bartering for a taxi cab…  The good news is that there’s such a thing as muscle memory.  While I might not recall it perfectly back home, I remember it clearly when I get here.

Some things.

Everything else, I’m blaming on the rapid pace of change in Accra.  Since my visit last year, there are buildings I don’t remember, rates that have gone up, cedi value that has decreased, finger scanning at the airport.  There’s a KFC in Ghana, people!

So I’d be lying if I didn’t say I feel some slight uneasiness this first full day in Ghana.  I write that just so I remember it for next time.  When Leisha or Karen ask me whether they should bring water, what the washrooms facilities will be like, what they should wear,  how much will it cost, sometimes I just say “Yes.”

Honestly, though, we’re having a great time.  Well, I am and I think they are.  We’re laughing lots, so that’s a good sign.

Today was a little bit about taking it easy, since our trip here turned us into extras from a scene out of Night of the Living Dead.  We revived ourselves to pay a visit to Global Mamas, an amazing NGO which trains and employ women to make batik fabric and create beautiful products from the fabric, such as clothing, bags, aprons, tablecloths and napkins and doggie bow-ties?  Yes, they know their consumer demographic – pet parents love batik too!

I might have had maybe a tinge of jealousy perhaps when Leisha and Karen met with Renee, the woman who runs the show, to talk about partnership and then picked out some amazing samples to bring home to customers.


Karen and Leisha pick out samples from Global Mamas.

I’ve already bought too many souvenirs.  Usually one would ask, Now what can I get for so-and-so?  This time I found myself asking, “Now who could I give this such-and-such to?”  (Sorry, hon!  In a case like this, budgets are meant to be broken.)


I honestly don’t know what’s going on in this picture – something about it being too hard to make a decision.

We then visited another business partner, Esther, who runs a small shop filled with miles of batik fabric.  This is the lady who has supplied me with most of my batik for Big Village for the past four years.   Whenever John-Mark comes to Ghana on a mission trip without me, I always send him to visit Esther because he has Thee Best Eye when it comes to picking fabric.  It’s a God-given talent.  That reminds me, John-Mark, Esther asked me how you were, told me twice to give you greetings and to wish you God’s richest blessing. I think she likes you.


Me with Esther’s gorgeous batik fabric.  Only one thing in this picture lacks colour…

I explained to Esther that Leisha and Karen are the new owners of Big Village.  Esther didn’t understand why I would leave my own business.  I came up against this too with Big Village’s other partners, TK Beads, when I made the announcement.  Owning a business is a very personal thing here.  There’s no selling of businesses, unless perhaps it’s code for closing your business.  When business is good, you are surrounded by family members working by your side, who will eventually take it over.  When business is bad, you work harder to keep it going.  Esther’s prices have gone up.  They do every visit and she always reminds me of the state of Ghana’s currency, the cedi.  “We are dying!” she says, “We pray for change soon.”  When we lived in Ghana, in 2008, the cedi was redenominated; four zeros were slashed off the end to make it on par with US.  Now, it’s 1.80 to the US dollar.  The cedi goes down, Esther’s rate goes up, the price stays the same.  I feel things are changing so quickly, Esther says things aren’t changing fast enough.

Tonight we’re setting our alarms for 4 a.m. to head up north tomorrow, allllllll the way to the top of the country, Bolgatanga, to visit the basket ladies!  So curious to find out what I’ve forgotten since my last visit. I will be sure to explain that selling my business to Leisha and Karen means something wonderful for them.


Karen and Leisha in Esther’s shop


Esther’s sons sit at the sewing machines.


Esther’s grandson looks out the gate of the shop, where fabric and measuring tape are part of his world.


I didn’t sign up for this.

In the absence of your presence

Dear Mallory and Sophia,

OK, I know.  Between your father and me, if my math is correct, this is the seventh time we’ve gone to Ghana without you.  After the third time you stopped asking to come.  After the fifth time you stopped getting upset about it.  After the last time, you stopped asking for souvenirs.  There are only so many carvings, recycled glass beads, and batik dresses one can own.  You did make an exception for banana gum if I really felt the need to bring you something back, which I do, to manage the guilt of leaving you behind.

You’ve been very sweet to keep telling me how much you’ll miss me.  We all remember missing Daddy a lot when he went to Ghana back in February.  At first it was because he wasn’t there to take out the trash or make us dinner, but once we got used to that, we missed him just because he wasn’t with us.  As for me, you skipped straight to the last part, possibly because you couldn’t think of any tangible way that I contribute to our family life other than our regular Star Trek (Original Series) Snuggles on the couch and my presence.

“You’ll miss my presence?”  I asked.

“You know we mean p-r-e-s-e-n-c-e and not p-r-e-s-e-n-t-s, right?” Sophia clarified.

“That’s… nice of you to say,” I decided to not argue about all the work I do around here.

That’s because you’ll figure out the work I do when I’m gone, like… like, DISHES!  I do dishes. Sporadically.  I vacuum! When company’s coming.  I tidy.  I do tidy.

So you’re right, snuggles count big time and my presence will miss you too.

Mallory, it was super-kind of you to offer me to take your iPad to Ghana.  I can’t even find an ulterior motive for you lending me this precious gadget you bought with your own babysitting and allowance money after months of saving!  You use this object daily to chat with friends, do your homework, or make us laugh on Facebook.  You’ve known me to both resent your iPad and desire it for myself.

This is how I talk to you about your iPad:

Look how easy it is to use!  Look how much fun you’re having.  Mallory, stop having so much fun, we miss you.  You made that Stop Animation movie all by yourself?  On your iPad?  This thing is amazing!  It shouldn’t be called an iPad, it should be called the i of Mordor, because it sucks you in with its power. We’re losing you to the i of Mordor!  Hey, you should take your iPad to Aunt Tracey’s to take a video of Baby Bridget!

And so on.

I was complaining about the bulk of my laptop and how inconvenient it might prove to be on this trip.  Without skipping a beat you wondered if I’d like to take your iPad.  After feeling such shock and relief that we haven’t yet lost you completely to the iPad, my reaction was ABSOLUTELY YES!  And then I had another conversation with you about the iPad:

I think I’d like to take it.  But there’s the typing issue.  I love to type and I can’t do the touchscreen thing.  Oh, but you have the keyboard attachment!  But my files.  I have a strange attachment to my files – I may have to refer to things or access things?  You just never know. But how will I chat with you if I have your iPad?  How will you do your homework? What if I love your iPad so much I won’t give it back?

You did the right thing and ignored most of that and suggested I bring both the iPad and your laptop.  What a little voice of reason you are. I was talked out of it by an even bigger voice of reason, your Dad, who reminded me that I’m already bringing two cameras, iPod, voice recorder, two cell phones and my big old laptop?  How much technology does one need?

“But I won’t be able to play Bejewelled Blitz on the plane!” was my last ditch attempt to convince myself that bringing your iPad was possibly the best worst idea.  I wasn’t so indecisive before I had a teenager, you know.  A loving, selfless teenager.  Do you know how much banana gum you’re going to get because of this?

Sophia, I know I confused you a little bit when I told you and Mallory as I tucked you into bed on our last night together, “Remember, you’ll be the Ladies of the House.”  I must have gleaned it from a TV show, like the Waltons or Leave it to Beaver, when I was young and took it to be something good parents do when they leave on a trip.  It seemed thoughtful and wise to assign a replacement in one’s absence.  Usually it was the eldest child.  Certainly it was a deemed honour. Maybe because our family is small, it seems unfair to assign the title to one daughter and not the other. You both got the title.  So in my absence, you’re both Ladies of the House.  But you raised your hands in the air, waved them like you just don’t care, and said, “Can I get a whoop, whoop?”

“Sophia, it’s Ladies of the House, not Ladies in da House.”

Your response? “Ladies of the House in da House!  Whoop, whoop!”

Clearly, we are products of two very different TV generations.

Seven times or not, it’s no easier to leave you two behind!  Even though it’s only for 10 days, I know that all kinds of important things are happening in your life, like your poetry recitals at school, the 30-hour famine with the youth group, requests from friends for sleepovers, and awesome moves on Just Dance 3.  I am well aware of the privilege of being with you almost every day, getting the chance to debrief with you after school, prolonging bedtime to talk about secrets, doing errands with my little buddies.  Even on those days when we don’t specifically do anything together… well, your presence is very special to me.

I’ll miss your presence more.

Love, Mommy

Today’s Agenda: Emote and Diet Coke

What happens the day before one leaves on a trip for Ghana, West Africa, you wonder?  It’s all about having a list and not getting it done.  It about being pre-occupied with one’s emotions to make any good use of your quickly fading time. THIS is the experience of running around like a chicken with its head cut off.  Embrace it.

I’m giving myself permission to feel the ups and downs of leaving family, friends and a “comfortable place” behind (not comparing Ghana to Canada here, just comparing the plane to my couch) and pursuing adventure and discomfort (OK, here I’m going to mention that it’s 40 degrees Celsius in Bolgatanga).

I’ll even write it on my To Do List: emote… and blog about it.

Since I’m not using my time productively anyway, may I use this page as a landing place for the things swirling around my head? Kthanks.

  • I’m curious about the results of the KONY2012 Cover the Night campaign.  I’ll admit that I’m guilty of bandwagonism.  The Invisible Children viral video pulled at my heart-strings.  What can we do?! I wondered at the desperate situation.  Only to be reprimanded by the critics for being so naive for believing wholeheartedly in a 30-minute clip.  Then when Jason Russell lost his mind a little bit, I felt even more duped.  Then when smarter people than me started telling me “the truth” about Invisible Children, I got confused.  Are there 30,000+ child soldiers or around 100?  Is Kony in Uganda or elsewhere?  Is this currently a threat to innocent children or not?  Kony2012 fatigue started to spread as quickly as its fame.  My faithful activist friends are still covering their Facebook profiles, but I saw only a couple 81/2 x 11 posters around town this weekend.  I can barely find media on that which took the world by storm.  What the hey?  There are definitely lessons to be learned here about human nature.  We put a lot, a lot, a lot into promo and advertising, but follow up is severely lacking.  Perhaps that is the scale of authenticity – how do we report back?  Also, we love to be inspired, a good movie, a good book, a good campaign, but how often does that translate into action?  The bad news is, we’re all a little more cynical.
  • For full disclosure, I just found the follow up video from Invisible Children which says, “You made Kony famous,” except I don’t believe them – in the ideology or the success.
  • I wish John-Mark would stop singing Don Henley’s “Last Worthless Evening.”  It’s just 10 days.
  • As you know, Jen Hatmaker’s, book 7 gave me a kick in the pants to evaluate the priorities in my life.  Or rather, re-align them to pursue more of God, less of me.  Tomorrow I’m travelling back to the place that challenged me to trust God fully.  This time, I know that destination well, I’m a little more competent, I’ll have to work harder to let God lead.  But I don’t want this spiritual journey to be about a physical place, that I have to go to Ghana to feel a certain way.  True transformation would change me no matter where I happen to be.  But it was a catalyst and it will be a good reminder.  I expect to blog about it while I’m there.  The Lord can be trusted.
  • One of the things you think about when you’re leaving to go on an adventure is how you will access the things you require on a daily basis at home, e.g. make-up, hugs, Diet Coke.  You either go without or find a reasonable facsimile to help you cope.  I know that Diet Coke will not be within reach as it is here, but I do know that they have Coke and Pepsi aplenty, so I’ll get my caffeine.  That means it won’t be a difficult trip for me or those I’m travelling with.  I’ll report back on the make-up and hugs, but the aforementioned 40-degree weather forces one to reassess one’s needs.
  • Speaking of those I’m travelling with, I’m going to Ghana with two self-described “crunchy mamas.”  They love health food, cloth diapers and saving the world.  They have seen me drink Diet Coke twice and both times I’ve felt incredibly guilty.  They are now going to witness the reality of my daily consumption and I’ll just have to convince them that it’s necessary.  How else am I going to clean the rusty nails in my body?
  • I remember reading the science fiction novel, Dune, as an adolescent and being horrified about the characters’ dependence on the desert planet’s addictive spice.  They could only go so long before they had to consume it.  They exported it and they exploited it.  It was a depressing scenario.  If that were true in reality, we would just make a great feel-good ad campaign about how beneficial the spice is for your social life and you could almost be grateful for the addiction.  I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company.

One of the crunchy mamas just e-mailed me.  Unfortunately, there really are things I need to get finished before I go.  Which means I’ll be blogging again shortly.

Preparing for Ghana

Six times, I have prepared for a trip to Ghana.  I’ve anticipated each trip differently.  Sometimes I’ve been very excited about going, like that one time where we thought we’d sell everything to move there.  Other times I’ve worried about it because the responsibilities seemed great.  I can remember a particular tumultuous time in my family’s life and a trip to Ghana felt like the very wrong thing to do at the time. But the ticket had been booked and I had to go.  I remember bawling as I walked through customs.  The agents and officers were very concerned for me and I was whisked through every line with an accompanying pat on the back.  I highly recommend this tactic for ease of travel.

I’m now preparing for my “final trip,” as in the last time I will go to Ghana for the purpose of doing business.  If and when I go again, after this trip, it will be for the mission… although ONE DAY I will go just to spend time with my lovely friends there.  Just visiting with them seems like an exorbitant luxury.

This time, it’s not my business, it’s the business of the new owners of Big Village, the fair-trade business I started by accident when we moved back to Canada. I’m actually allowing myself to get excited about this trip!  I get to introduce them to this beautiful place, these welcoming people.  I get to tell them to ignore the Travel Report because there is no context given for the warmth and friendliness of the place that I’ve known for over six years now.

The new owners of Big Village have done some amazing things already with the business.  They’ve already gained a couple fantastic contracts and are making new partnerships all the time.  I spent some time with them the other day and got so excited about their plans and developments, I had to tell John-Mark all about it as soon as I got home.

“They are doing so, so, so well!” I said.

“Do you wish it was you?” he asked. Jerk.

“Not at all!”

What a great peace I have about it, to know that I could be so very happy for them and their success and not want even a smidge of it.

Not only that, but I had suspected God was pulling me deeper into ministry.  I didn’t know how to say that any other way.  I wrote about it when I sent out that final newsletter to my customers back in the fall.  I imagine that many didn’t understand because I couldn’t articulate exactly what that would look like, where it would be, or how that sentiment would pay the bills.  Mostly it was J-M asking me about that last one.

I prematurely told my friends, don’t worry, I’ll ease off on the use of “Ghana” a little now. I won’t add to the end of all your stories, “Well in Ghana…”  It is so annoying.  I know.  I can’t stop.

But then as J-M talked to me about the ongoing mission partnership with our church.  There is such a great forward momentum happening in Ghana, with new ministerial candidates approved, churches joining in and growing, the land purchase and construction for the women’s college… and yet not a lot of news getting out over here.  There is a lot of work to be done, as much as there is work in Ghana.

Well, hello! My passion is blabbing, either by mouth or by keyboard.  I already talk about Ghana ad nauseum.  I already know and love the people on both sides of the ocean who are committed to this project.   I can do this!

I’d stepped away from the Ghana project for a time – not in heart, but in task – because I needed to.  I was feeling a little burnt out by it all.  So I made up my mind after an intense debrief with good counsellors who said it was OK to let go.  Rob Corey stepped in just in time and had the exact skills and energy necessary to take this partnership to the place where it is now.

Since then – for 2+ years – I’ve been a big cheerleader, especially for J-M, who saw his job morph into the position of Pastor of Missions.  He now co-leads with Rob on the project and they have a great planning team.  But as I mentioned, it’s growing!  It’s growing in a way that needs full-time support.  I find myself with some time on my hands, a desire to spread the word, and the ability to do it.  With Rob and J-M at the helm and a great team besides.  All I need to do is write words?  All I need to do is tell people about it?  No brainer!

Now as I pack my bags for Ghana (that I’m getting really good at), I find myself again thinking of new possibilities, ways to communicate, pictures to take, questions to ask, stories to tell.  And still I feel the pull deeper.


We are currently developing a website (launching June 3) for the Ghana-Canada partnership, Arise Ghana.  (In the meantime, check it out on Facebook.)

One of my self-appointed tasks is to track down photos from old teams and projects to help us have a good memory of the project and how far we’ve come along.  This is also distracting me from packing because I discover pictures that move me to tears.  I see the friendships that have been formed on both sides.  I see the way people connect at a deep level because of the shared love of Jesus.  I see us ministering to each other.  I’m not saying that there hasn’t been bumps in the road, but there are many, many moments of celebration.

When I was going through the photos of our time living there, I was asking J-M which ones I should put on the public site?  He said only those that are ministry related.  That helps me not at all.

See, I think this counts…


Pastor Charles praying for the future Women’s Business College (2007).

…and so does this.


Mallory and Sophia find a unique way to cool off in the Ghanaian sun.

Highlight Reel – Mr. Funny

Remember Mister Men?

In the hands of the right person, Mr. Funny can be toe-pointingly hilarious.

Love this picture of my Dad in his element with my Little Misses.  Dad is known for his story-telling, whether he makes up his own or adds his unique flourish to someone else’s.  When he tells his stories, he has the ability to capture your imagination, stimulate your conscience, inspire you to action, bring you to tears… or laughter.

Dad’s favourite stories to tell are from the Bible, written by those who were called to use words, document truth, build memory, inspire change, and offer life for all who read it.

The legacy Dad is leaving our family is invaluable.