A few points to make

  • It’s raining heavily this morning.  It feels like the kind of rain that settles in and sticks around.  We wouldn’t mind except this is the “adventure” portion of our trip.  We’ve scheduled a zip line ride down the side of this dormant volcano, complete with horseback ride (our transportation back up the mountain).  Do they cancel because of rain here?  Do we?  Can’t imagine the shower in our face on the way down or a ride on a soggy beast on the way back up.  J-M and I have discussed it at great length and we’re still undecided.  We keep saying, but we’ll never be here again.  Which doesn’t mean it can’t suck.
  • The alternative to a waterlogged whirl down the mountain is staying put and enjoying one of several natural hot springs pools that are just outside our door.  Part of our package here is also a mud bath.   We spend 20 minutes in a sauna (naturally heated), apply the volcano mud all over ourselves and then bathe in one of the hot springs with its natural minerals.  I’ve never done anything like this and I’m not sure if it sounds icky or delightful.  But the guide promises I will look younger and more beautiful following this treatment.  Rain, sleet or snow would not keep me away.
  • Yesterday we ate at a Subway restaurant in Liberia.  It felt like we were cheating. Why is it so wrong to eat at a chain restaurant in a foreign country?   We were really, really hungry, OK?  We justified it by saying it’s actually a great learning experience regarding our cultural differences.  Did you know you order your sub in Costa Rica either 30 cm or 15 cm long?  I tried to think of how to say “small size” in Spanish and the girl sighed and said, “feefteen.”  I tried harder to list the ingredients I wanted on my sub – they were posted right in front of me on the glass, I just had to read them!  Tomate (tomato), lechuga (lettuce), pepino (cucumber), pimientos (peppers), aceitunas (olives)…  Did you know you can get AGUACATES (avocados) on your sub here?  Tell me that’s not a learning experience!  I pronounced every ingredient wrong and the sandwich artist would repeat after me with the proper pronunciation, not in a way to teach me, but reprimand me.  We devoured our subs in the car and promised we wouldn’t do it again. And we probably shouldn’t tell anyone about it.
  • If you really want to enjoy your vacation you are, in a sense, forced to ignore reality.  We have sent our kids to their grandparents and camp.  We’ve left our TO DO lists behind.  I didn’t even get to fully clean the house before we left.  Ah well, the mess will wait till we get back.  But news has come to us to remind us that this is temporary and cannot last.  We are sorry to hear from our close friends in Ghana that their family home has been devoured by fire.  This was after they returned from the funeral of a family member, whose death was “too soon,” whose funeral was just a year after the funeral of another family member.  They are going through the trials of Job.  We hear this news in Costa Rica and it brings guilt into the mix.  Should we be enjoying ourselves this much?  There are tragedies everywhere, even in these hills.  Do we just put the blinders on and move ahead?  Our work and the day-to-day will be waiting for us shortly.  We can address these things – even help – if we get back. In the meantime, though, this vacation has been a welcome gift for our marriage, our friendship stronger and a reminder of how we’re in this life together.  I even believe it will rejuvenate our reality when we get home.  J-M says it would be a problem if all we lived for was our next vacation and saw reality as something to be escaped.   So now I want to know how do we make the most out of this time away.  I’m wrestling with that this morning.  A rainy day when we’d hoped for sun is not the worst problem.  Lord, be with our friends in Ghana.
  • Since writing my first bullet point, we’ve gone to breakfast and decided that it’s not just rainy out, it’s downright dangerous.  It’s not just torrential downpours, but lightning and thunder as well.  We think we’re smart not to slide down a mountain in these conditions.  We’ll relax today.  J-M is enjoying the hammock on the porch of our cottage here as we speak.  He struggled to get outside the door with two pillows, a hardcover Walt Disney biography, his ipod and speakers.  And as he stumbled into the hammock, then heaved, grunted and strained to make himself comfortable, I laughed at him.  He said, “Hey, I work hard to relax.”

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.

Offloading some stress

I’m writing this at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam because I missed my flight.

Who does that?  For many years, up until a couple of hours ago, I was all, Who are those people they are calling over the intercom and what the heck would they be doing to miss their flight?  It turns out it can be as easy as: sitting at the wrong gate like a nitwit for an hour and a half; freaking out like a ninny when you hear your name called on the PA system; and running like a nincompoop for 25 minutes to get to the other end of this massive terminal…  only be told that they’re offloading your luggage and you’re SOL in Schiphol.

At first I was relieved to see that I wasn’t the only one.  Another girl and I arrived breathless at the boarding gate.  They even gave us hope as they re-opened security.  Then I was not so relieved when this girl started giving security a hard time, blaming them for getting it wrong, which made them to decide to shut both of us down.  The girl started crying, “But it’s an EMERGENCY!”


A very dramatic scene. Quite disappointing.

I thought this gal and I could then at least join forces to figure out what our next step would be, but my delinquent companion was clearly traumatized and couldn’t get over the fact that this was actually happening to her.  She ran ahead of me into the crowd yelling to no one in particular, “How could they do that? How could they do that?!” I’m curious to see if she’ll rejoin me on the next flight Toronto and, if so, what state of mind she’ll be in.

Rebooking a missed flight is a lesson in humility.  I now know not to expect sympathy from anyone along the road to finding a way home.  Each KLM agent made sure to tell me that I had committed an almost unpardonable sin.  Did I know that I had kept other passengers waiting?  Did I know I had created endless work for them?  Did I know how much of an inconvenience this was?  Did I know that I had personally offended them, their children and their children’s children? Like beating myself up and waiting for another 8 hours wasn’t penance enough.  I nodded meekly not wanting to provoke further wrath and paid $600 to get myself a seat on the next flight out of here (for which I will be 4 hours early at the boarding gate so as not to miss it) in Economy PLUS.  Oh, the perks!

The idea of Economy PLUS makes me laugh.  Mostly because there was a very intoxicated Texan at the Ghana airport last night, trying to impress the ladies by telling us he had a seat in Economy PLUS.  Don’t worry, we didn’t fall for it.

This missing a flight thing is that last in a series of unfortunate events that started happening yesterday, at the end of a brilliant trip to Ghana with the new owners of Big Village.  At around lunch time, Leisha, Karen and I were smiling and sighing, thinking about getting ready to leave.  We wanted to go and we wanted to stay.  It had been a great time meeting the Big Village partners, seeing new and exciting things and laughing a heckuvalot together.  But we all missed our friends, family and life in Canada too.  Plus, we were tired out from pushing it hard the whole 10 days.  We decided to cheers the trip with my Coke and their malt drinks and do some last minute souvenir shopping.

But yesterday afternoon didn’t co-operate. The city seemed to be on edge and we saw and experienced all kinds of difficult scenes.  Without going into detail, the world around us wasn’t on its best behaviour, with crazy traffic, pushy vendors, and aggressive behaviour at every turn.  Or was it because we were so tired that we were no longer interested, patient, or accepting?   We might have taken one picture yesterday, as opposed to the kajillion we took earlier in the week, simply because we lacked the energy.  One of us would ask the other to take a picture of a scene out the window we were noticing through half-opened eyes. The other would say it’s too far away – referring to the camera. In her lap.

But then Leisha had a bad physical run-in with an aggressive person on the street.  No one was hurt, thankfully, but we all shut down after that (other than being totally impressed with Leisha’s Kung Fu skills and Karen’s vocal chords).   Felt a little like that boarding gate security guard, “GET OUT! ALL OF YOU!”

Now the extra hilarious thing – and by extra hilarious I mean totally upsetting – is that Leisha and Karen are right now exploring the city of Amsterdam.  They had actually planned a longer layover in order to enjoy a sweet little tour of the city and shop at the market.  Here I sit bleary-eyed and plane-faced pulling a Facebook faux pas and using my status to beg people for their sympathy.  Some of my friends fall for it.  Others tell me there are worse places to be stuck.  Well, I am in a European cafe, preceded by the words “Schiphol” and “Internet.”  I’m going to take advantage of my wifi day pass and upload some of those pictures we took of our trip when we were energetic, positive and curious.  Good memories, from just or a day or two ago, will see me through.

Before I do that, Constance Amartey, you need to know that, “You are delaying your flight.  Please proceed immediately to Gate B14 or they will proceed to offload your baggage.”  That threat is very real. Run like the wind!!!

But if you miss it, you know where to find me.

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!

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.