Friendship Collateral

I didn’t know I needed other women.

Yes, I had a mom and sisters and girlfriends and aunts and the rest of it, but I didn’t know I needed them. It wasn’t until we moved to Ghana in 2006, when I saw how the women interacted there. Women were so connected and near to each other, demonstrated physically in how they would sit together or walk together, often touching or holding hands, even in that hot, hot heat.

I was an observer, an outsider, for a long time and that might be a clue as to why I became sensitized to the need. I didn’t have what they had.

At first, all I had were my long, long distance connections back home and friendly smiles and nods to my neighbours. I was the only “Obruni” (foreigner) in the group of women with whom I wished to belong.  And they did their best to welcome me, even though language was a barrier. If they couldn’t talk to me, they would still gesture for me to sit beside them. Those who could speak some English would translate from time to time. The important stuff, like when it was time to stop sitting. Continue reading

Saying Goodbye to a Ghanaian Friend

The Africa Area Director sent us several photographs of the church in Ghana when we first considered entering a partnership with them seven years ago.  In a couple of photos, there was a lady sitting at the front of the church, to the right.  Her face seemed familiar before I even knew her.

When we moved to Ghana and attended our first church service there, I recognized her instantly.  She was sitting in the same place as she was in the photograph.  She didn’t know the relief she gave me simply by being there.  In a world that was so strange and far from home, I knew that woman from the picture.

Eventually I was introduced to Rosemary.  She was timid, but kind.  She was among the first to welcome me into the women’s group.  She took pity on me when I didn’t know the language.  With the little English she knew, she would let me in on what was happening and the back and forth dialogue at the meetings.

She always offered me a seat beside her at the church functions.  She made obvious efforts to ease my transition.  I can remember when she asked me what I liked to eat.  It seemed so out of the blue, out of context.  I answered her anyway… and discovered all those things – eggs, bread and milk – in a care package given to me the following week.

Over time, we built a friendship.  Language was always a barrier, but her character shone through.  She was always serving, always thoughtful, always present.

So it’s with a heavy heart that I tell you Rosemary passed away today.  She had been suffering from pancreatic cancer.  I found this out on the day I was leaving Ghana on this most recent trip.  This news follows on the heels of the death of her sister, Angelina, who died of throat cancer last year. Another amazing woman and special friend.

Rosemary has made her way into many of our pictures both from our time in Ghana and pictures from past teams who have visited the church.  It’s hard to think she won’t occupy that space in Ghana anymore.

I suppose this is the part you can’t prepare for when you agree to take part in a missions partnership.  There is excitement and anticipation about forming friendships in the name of Christ and working with ministry partners who share a passion to serve God despite cultural differences.

You expect the blessings from the union, but the heartache is difficult.

I also suppose this is evidence of a true partnership.  We love our sister church, we mourn with them because Rosemary was our friend too.

My memories of her aren’t necessarily large, momentous occasions, but of her ongoing diligence and kindness to me as a foreigner in a strange land and her constant and faithful service in the church.  She was an inspiration.

Heaven will receive her well.

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Rosemary was a single mother of four children, now late teens and young adults.  She was a step-daughter to Pastor Charles, daughter to his wife, Fredericka.  Please pray for the whole family as they mourn.

Asking the impossible

Leisha, Karen and I had some good discussions in Ghana about what we were experiencing during our visit.  It was painfully obvious of the lifestyle we are accustomed to is worlds apart from the women in Bolgatanga who make the baskets.

While we stayed here,

they slept here.

It didn’t feel right for our differences to be in such close proximity to one another.

The hotel where we were staying is in the process of building a pool, which will be open next year.  The 40 degree heat made us wish that it was ready right now please.  On the other hand, we’d have to ignore some realities very close by in order to feel the freedom to enjoy it.

And yet, is the answer for us to sleep where they sleep?  Would it make sense for us to give up our homes, our jobs, our businesses in order to start farming the land or living in a mud hut?

Inevitably, after a visit to this reality, one brings a new perspective home as a souvenir.  I return to my home, look around and ask, why do I have all this stuff?  What do I really need?

I remember when it surprised me to discover that I was needier than a Ghanaian in a mud hut.  Modern day conveniences have incapacitated me, so that I rely on so much just to get through the day.  If we had a food shortage, I’d have no idea how to grow my own veggies or raise my own livestock.  If I didn’t have electricity, how would I do my work?  How would I Facebook?  If I didn’t have access to running water, how would I brush my teeth or shower or wash my clothes or…  If I didn’t have Google, how would I know anything?

There was a wicked thunderstorm one of the nights we were in Bolga. The next morning I saw our host use the water from a puddle that had accumulated in a plastic chair to wash his hands.  It came naturally to him.  I can honestly say I would never have thought of a puddle on my patio furniture as useful.

Perhaps that would change if I were forced to live in the situation.  But would I choose it?  Should I choose it?

In the passage of the rich man who asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus instructed him to sell all he had and give it to the poor.  I believe the passage is intended to challenge us all to release the things we hold onto tightly, the things we put in place of God, in order for God to be at the centre of our lives.  Jesus’ instructions were about what it takes to be perfect.  They were about generosity.

Jesus acknowledges that he’s asking the impossible of the rich man.  He always asks the impossible – to take the focus off ourselves and put it on God and others.  He knows that in our humanness, we can’t possibly do it.  But he also promises that with God it is possible!

A human response to poverty is to feel fearful or threatened by it.

A Godly response to poverty is to see our fellow humans with value beyond their circumstances, to minister to them and meet their needs.

A human response for the rich is to hold on tightly to our wealth and trust in it as security.

A Godly response for the rich is to be generous, understanding we’ve been entrusted with a blessing that was meant to be given.

I certainly don’t have the particulars of what this Godly challenge looks like for every individual. Lord knows I’ve struggled with the details for many years.

I do not believe it means the world living in mud huts, without electricity.  But it does mean letting go of the hold our wealth has on us (and in some cases that literally means selling what we have).   It means listening to the wisdom of Jesus and letting it resound above all other voices.  It means practicing true generosity, putting others above ourselves.  It means relying on God to see us through.

It means accepting the challenge of doing the impossible.

Different sides of the same lens

I spent most of the trip like this,

or like this,

and like this.

To see what was at the other end of my lens, check out my Flickr site with a gallery of photos from my trip.


Although I’ve only posted 53 of the 1,000,000 we took, I’ve exceeded my bandwidth for the month!  Feel free to subscribe to my Flickr RSS Feed for updates.

I will post more in June to save myself a whole $24.95 for the year.   That $600 ticket really did me in.

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!

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.