Worried by Ghana’s Police? Four things to try to avoid trouble (by an expert)

Ghana is not a police state, but that said, we get stopped (or worried) by the police often, and almost all of interactions are friendly, or at the very least, interesting.  

Steve’s new friend in Lawra

For example:

I was about two minutes away when I called Suzanne to let her know when I could pick her up.  Two minutes: plenty of time for Suzanne to move to the side of the road, and just enough time for Steve to get in trouble.  As I hung up a Ghana Police Officer flagged me over. Busted, but why?

The officer hops in the passenger seat and explains how using a cell phone while driving in Ghana is illegal and dangerous and now he will take me to the police station to be arrested, but then asks “What should I do?”.

I think he is asking for a bribe, wanting me to say something like “can’t we take care of this here?”  Instead, I ask his name and apologize profusely.   I happen to already know the police officers at the station nearby from a previous excursion to this side of town, so going there will not lead to my arrest I figure, so lets have some fun.

“Oh Sir!” he says indignantly, “I am not asking for a bribe!”

“Good because I can not give you one,” I say.  He recounts (for the first of several times) the chain of events that has led to this situation and concludes “What should I do?”

“You should give me a warning and let me go” I say which apparently is not what he wanted to hear, so he tells the story again.  Suzanne has started calling from the side of the road I guess, wondering where I am. I beg to answer and quickly explain the situation.  She gets it without much explanation and seems not annoyed by my delay.

When I hang up I notice the officer has changed his tact.  “You decide what I should do,”  he says.  “I take you to police station and arrest you, or forgive you and let you go?

“Let me get this straight,” I say, “I can either go with you to the police station and be arrested, or you forgive me and let me go?”  Let me think about it, I’m tempted to say, knowing I could really use a good police arresting.

“All things being equal, I think I will go with you forgive me and let me go.”

We go through the story again–this is like what the eighth time?–and each additional telling has me sounding more and more like a Jedi trying a mind trick “forgive him you will, so on his way, he can go.”

Duh – it finally it occurs to me that I am the elder in the situation and he cannot leave unless I give him permission to go. So I thank the officer, we shake hands, snap middle fingers, and I express my gratitude again.  He plays right along, now begging to take his leave. After he gets out, I roll down the passenger side window and ask “What can I do for you?”  Water.  It is a hot afternoon, and they are on an all-night shift. As I’m driving away I think “for I was thirsty and you gave me water.”

Suzanne is there waiting by the side of the road, and happy to see me.  We fill the car with fuel, and pick up some water on the way to pass by and drop off some water to the thirsty officers as a “gift from our hearts.”

When Stopped by Ghana’s Police, here are four things to try:

1) See the humanity of the situation.  Nothing is personal, we are all players in the same story, so try to make it an interesting one, but not too interesting.

2) Explore the tension between respecting their uniform;  and interacting with them human beings.

3) Do not fear, get angry or ugly with an officer, but be playful as appropriate,.  This step comes after #2.  Once, I was playful before I had respected the uniform/AK-47, and not being serious nearly got me into big trouble.

4) Do not try to hurry the situation.  Compared to all the other options, you do have all the time in the world.  Show you are not in a hurry and are willing to reason and appeal to his humanity while waiting him out.

Getting worried by the police is a fact of life in Ghana, but it can also lead to interesting stories that are fun to tell.  Thanks for reading mine.

Reporting from Ghana, West Africa this is Steve Buchele.

To Save a Leg

img_6469A medical need serves as an opportunity to witness God’s power in a young student’s life. 

It was a few weeks before the spring semester ended when an East African student stopped by as I was re-oiling our rustic mahogany front door on a Saturday morning.  I knew John’s (not his real name) older brother was injured in a motorcycle accident the week before, so I put down the oil cloth and invited him in.  His brother was not doing well, and doctors gave two choices: amputate his leg or try to save it. The operation to try to save the leg was expensive.  John’s family had made him the functioning elder of the family (their father had been killed in the Genocide), and he was frantic with worry. Now it was his decision to “take the operation,” (as he said) and save his brother’s leg, or amputate it.  It was a $2000 question.

Those of you who know me well know I like to fix things and save the day.  I thought I could raise the $2000 from friends in the US, but I stopped and asked myself, was that the best solution?

In our training to serve here, Dr. Daryl Whiteman talked about being open to a “power encounter” when the power of God is made visible through people working to do what they know to be impossible.

When I told John how God could make a way, I wasn’t just speaking platitudes, I believed God wanted to use this situation to do something interesting and powerful.  Yes, it would take a miracle and involve a whole lot of people, but maybe God had larger ideas.    More than the net worth of his family, $2000 was a theoretical number hardly even imaginable to him.

John was looking for someone to donate the whole amount, but “how realistic is that?” I asked, implying to him that it wasn’t going to be me.   How could you raise that kind of money, I asked.  So we began dividing $2000 into smaller amounts, and I asked, do you know 20 people who could each give $100? He knew three.  How many people do you know who could give $50 (he would need 34). We kept dividing up what was left until we had an array of manageable units of different amounts that friends and family could give if he asked.  Now that he had a plan, we prayed over it and agreed to meet later, and John left to collect phone numbers.

Over the next few days, he used my phone to call friends and family, ministers and politicians, really anybody in Rwanda he knew.   I talked to faculty who knew his situation, and together the campus community collected what we in the church call a love offering.  At the end of the week, he had raised pledges to cover about one-third of the hospital bill, and combined with the love offering,  had raised over at half of the hospital bill, enough to proceed with the operation.  He sent the funds home via other Rwandan students going home for the summer, and they gave it to his family.

whhIn their excellent book When Helping Hurts, authors Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett write about three stages in any crisis: relief, rehabilitation, and development.  They are distinct stages in any crisis, each requiring a different approach to aid.  In the case of the injured leg, the relief stage began right after the accident and lasted until the patient was stabilized.  We entered the story in the rehabilitation stage; after relief had been provided and how to move on to healing needed attention.  Rehabilitation is thoughtful, built more on relationships than immediacy, and the book explains that the worst thing someone could do wanting to help a situation is to offer relief when rehabilitation or development is needed.  Too often, our first instinct is to provide relief.

When I returned to campus in the fall, John stopped by my office one afternoon.  Truthfully, I expected him to ask for more funds, but instead, he wanted to tell me about his brother.  I could see his excitement as he told how his brother’s leg had healed, and even better, that it happened because the community came together to help pay for the operation as if there were two miracles.   “I never would have believed this was possible,” he said eagerly.  “I know God can do anything!”  I was proud of him, and what he had done, and told him so, but he shrugged off my praise and said it was God who did all these things, and through it all, he learned that all things were possible.money-cant-buy-those-things-but-it-certainly-can-steal-them

I think about how close I came to doing the wrong thing, (calling a few friends and arranging a wire transfer to pay the hospital bill). It would have defeated the eventual outcomes: both a healed leg and the honor he earned in the eyes of his family and community, the trust he learned to place in God, and the excitement this miracle provided to him.  Money can’t buy those things, but it certainly can steal them, I thought.

At the end of our training, Dr. Whiteman used to remind us “… with the best leaders, when the work is done and the task accomplished…” he would pause, and then with a sly smile say, “the people will say ‘We have done this ourselves.’”

Quote attributed to Lao Tzu


My Wonderful Mother-in-Law


Everything I know about being a good host and making people feel welcome in our home I learned from Nelda Stallones Fox Nardone, my mother-in-law, Suzanne’s mother. She once told me “I always knew my job was to provide hospitality.” So it is with love in my heart, and to honor our friendship that I thought I would write about my relationship with Nelda and what has been happening in our lives these past few months.

I met Nelda and the rest of Suzanne’s family around Thanksgiving, 1984 when Nelda was freshly married to Charlie and they decided to introduce him to Texas. Suzanne and I had met a year earlier during her junior year “abroad” at The University of Texas. Oddly, the first night we went out that year, Nelda was also out on a date with Charlie and I remember Sue telling me how strange and wonderful it was for her mother to be dating.  Suzanne’s father had died in 1978.

The Fox Family, Nelda, Suzie, Mary, Reg and Maurice, circa 1964

I am pretty sure that Thanksgiving weekend in 1984, they hoped I was just a young man passing through Suzanne’s life. I had a beard, was a musician, was a liberal and a Methodist and quite different from the family.  But then I visited their home in Connecticut, and Suzanne moved to Austin after graduating college and just two years after they had married, Nelda and Charlie welcome me into their family.  That was over 30 years ago.  “He wasn’t the son-in-law I expected,” Nelda told my son one time when he was visiting a few years back, but when you see your job as providing hospitality, you adapt. Nelda and I both did, and in doing so, found a wonderful friendship.

Charlie and Nelda Nardone, 1986 (at our wedding)

It is a friendship built on family that celebrates food.  Nelda has been such a huge influence on how and what I cook.  She introduced me to cooking shows like America’s Test Kitchen, Good Eats, and Lidia Bastianich but not Martha Stewart.  She introduced me to ocean seafood (and many different ways to prepare it) and of course, the fine art of Southern Cooking, but that was after she and Charlie started wintering in Texas.

When Suzanne and I were in graduate school, with three children, at least once a month we drove from the cramped seminary married student housing to the expansive “Mirabella Ranch” as Charlie called it, their home in Oatmeal, Texas.  The town of Oatmeal, Texas –and I am being generous here –was really just vacant ranchland triangulated by three Baptist Churches, and “the ranch” was some 10 minutes west.  This place would be my children’s only stable home in their childhood over the seven different houses and communities we lived in during their school years.

Nelda & Charlie at the “Oatmeal Box” in Oatmeal, Texas, circa 1992

We would arrive hungry, usually after dark, to a feast of pot roast, potatoes, carrots, and onions. They had held dinner for us.  Those were lean years, our kids ate subsidized school lunch (it could have been free, but for our pride).  In the morning we would wake to the smell of bacon, or sausage and grits, the smells wafting up through the house and over the weekend I would watch Nelda love on her grandchildren through food, attention, and unmitigated love.  She also sent us back with plentiful containers of her food.

With the cousins, Fall 2003

What I remember about those visits, besides the life-giving food and sanctuary from a difficult life, was the first 15 minutes after we arrived.  Nelda would be getting dinner ready, while Suzanne was nesting, and the kids were off exploring or cousining.  Nelda intentionally gave me her undivided attention, asking me about what I was learning in seminary, or what new food I was discovering.  So much of my life is spent listening to others talk about theirs, and for ten minutes, while we were finishing dinner, I felt like I was at the center of her world. She was a great listener.

Nelda always believed in Suzanne and me and was never critical of our parenting style or the illogical career choices we seemed to make along the way.  And there were plenty.  When Suzanne earned a Fulbright and we moved to Ghana for two years, the Texas Ranch stored our worldly goods, and Suzanne’s childhood home in Connecticut became our launch point.  Every few weeks she sent us and my kids the Sunday comics, TIME magazine, and made sure her love arrived in other surprising and delightful additions to our packages.  Coming back over the summer, her home served as a re-entry point, restocking depot; and M.A.S.H. unit, while I recovered from a nasty bout of malaria that surfaced two days after arriving back in the States.

FoxHill – the Connecticut Home, circa 1993

The Connecticut menu was completely different from Texas.  Gone was the rich Southern cooking, replaced by Lobster, Grinders, Mystic Pizza, mussels, clams of some sort (soupy, chowder, stuffed, fritters).  In those days I had a difficult allergy to milk, and she was careful to make something safe for me and Grace, calling it “Buchele Friendly” instead of non-dairy.  No matter what she made, it was delicious, filled with love, and never did she go to bed with a dirty kitchen.

Nelda had been feeling a bit off for months.  Nothing specific, but a generalized pain in her abdomen at night that she would forget about once she was up and active the next day.  After dropping the last of her summer Connecticut guests at the airport, she went in for a check-up and that is when the diagnosis came.


Nelda has pancreatic cancer, stage 4.


What I knew about pancreatic cancer came from witnessing others with that disease over the 20 years in the different churches I served.  Also, her mother, Ercelle, died from it 18 years earlier.  I was in seminary at the time, and Suzanne I visited her grandmother at the assisted living center along with the kids. The night she died, we had been to the hospital and could see the time was near.  Nelda sent me home, and Suzanne stayed with her mom, reading, talking or resting as her mother took smaller and more shallow breaths, until they stopped altogether and she was gone.

Nelda, her mother Ercelle, and sister Linda, circa 1995

It was my first solo funeral as a young seminary student.

Suzanne and I were on our way to Japan, to celebrate our 30th anniversary when the news of her cancer, as they say here in Ghana, “joined us.”  The plan to spend two weeks with Grace & Ryosuke was cut short and we flew back to join Suzanne’s siblings, see Nelda, and figure out what came next.

There were appointments, lab work, chemo, financial decisions, and house maintenance.

Reg (Henry), Mary, Nelda, Suzanne, & Steve, Aug 2016

I was proud of the way Suzanne and her siblings all worked together for the common good of Nelda and their family.  In the months to come, countless family and friends came to spend a week with Nelda, caring for her and celebrating her love.  Even confined to a chair, her gift of hospitality was felt even as the disease progressed and she became more sedimentary.  When I was there in August, we watched a lot of cooking shows together, even knowing the likelihood of her returning to her beloved kitchen was low, but then, that wasn’t the point, it was hospitality of our friendship through food and cooking.

Wesley and Nonnie, baking circa 1993

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers,” wrote the author of Hebrews promising some have “shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”   If Nelda taught me anything about showing hospitality to angels, she showed me it was incompatible with efficiency or hurry.  One could not be hospitable and efficient at the same time. Unlike Martha Stewart’s obsessive weapons grade hospitality, her’s was fueled by love, to create a home for the family who gathered around her table.  She is a wonderful friend and mother-in-law and taught me that making people feel welcome in your home is a fine job to have, especially if done well.

Nelda’s Pot Roast: [click here]

Nelda’s Clam Chowder: [click here]


Post-script: Nelda went home to live with the other saints in heaven on All Saints Sunday, November 6, 2016.

Helping to Celebrate Eid al-Adha

“it’s like a Muslim Thanksgiving and Christmas all wrapped up into one…”,

Writes our friend Mary Grace writes in her Eid al-Adha blog “How many sheep did you have? A food approach to holy days.”  She writes of the “gathering of families, traditions of ritual food, and closing of most businesses for the specific days at minimum and possibly for the full week.” [1]  That was our experience back in 2011 when we were introduced to the holiday by an exchange student we hosted from Pakistan for a year.

Eid al-Adha, or simply Eid, celebrates the obedience of Abraham when God commanded him to sacrifice his greatest possession, his son.  Muslims believe it was Ishmael; Christians, Isaac, but either way, it is a holiday to remember Abraham’s obedience, and how God provided a substitute, a ram[2].

Rituals adapt to their context, and being so far and few from home, our Ashesi Muslim students come together from their different traditions to create a truly multicultural event.  That is what we saw with our Pakistani exchange students years ago when they served up a chicken Biryani, and we all danced to Pakistani folk music. Last year for Eid, I “helped” the Gambian boys sacrifice a goat in the garden outside our back door. This year we helped in a different way, it was fried chicken and fried Irish potatoes.

Cleaning the Goat for Eid-2015 (photo credit: Francis Wachira)

According to tradition, the “meat from the sacrificed animal is divided into three parts. The family retains one-third of the share; another third is given to relatives, friends and neighbors; and the remaining third is given to the poor and needy.”[3] I am not sure where our students draw the line between family and friends, or even the needy but what I do know is they make a tradition of inviting Christian students to join them.

Inviting Christians seems to be part of an unwritten tradition of Eid, or at least a part of the tradition I have experienced.  In the early days of the faith, when Arab pagans were persecuting the Prophet Muhammad’s followers, Ethiopia’s King Armah (a Christian) gave audience to the family of the Prophet in his palace[4] , and welcomed them saying  “go, for you are safe in my country.”[5] Muslims I know have never forgotten that kindness, and are eager to repay that debt to me.

“Go, for you are safe in my country”

The night before Eid, I FB messaged one of our Gambian students asking if they would be using my garden for the sacrifice, and learned had nothing planned and they had no funds, so I said come over after prayers and we would figure something out.  For Americans, it would be like not having a turkey at Thanksgiving and no family to spend it with.

Atomic Down Goat Market (photo credit: Steve Buchele)

So late in the afternoon, we drove to the goat market, but the selection was pretty much picked over.  The goats were literally walking skin and bones which would not have been much of a celebration.  Kind of like a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree, but with goats; and they were sad, and nobody likes to eat sad goat meat.  So I asked about chickens since the idea is to sacrifice something and next to the goat market was a large cage with live chickens.   Chickens would be acceptable, but since we’re getting chicken, my student asked, could we not get the frozen ones, since it was late in the afternoon (he was thinking the frozen birds from Brazil).

So off we go to the proper supermarket (of which there are 13 in the whole of Accra, a city of three million). Surprise! They had fresh chickens  at the meat counter that were plump and local, and since it would take hours to defrost the frozen birds, he asked if we could get the fresh ones instead?  It was starting to feel like if you give a mouse a cookie story[6], and I half expected him to then ask, “if we’re getting fresh chicken, could we not stop at KFC for the already cooked ones?”  But he didn’t.

We were back on campus by 5, and by 9pm I was getting texts of fried chicken and fried potatoes, thanking us for the celebration.


Their Eid Celebration Dinner


TxtMsg: This was great Rev. Steve, we all had nice time together and with few other folks…you made it Rev. Steve! We truly do appreciate you…Thank you very much! Allah bless you

This I learned this from my sister Beth, that even when you can’t solve someone’s problems, you can lend them $100, and sometimes, that will make all the difference. I was thankful Suzanne and I were in a position to do something because everybody needs a home at Thanksgiving, even if they call it Eid.

Thanks for reading.

PS: For a different perspective on Eid, I really encourage you to read Mary Grace Neville’s beautifully written “How many sheep did you have? A food approach to holy days.” on her blog about teaching in Morocco.


[1] 2016 https://learninginmorocco.wordpress.com/2016/09/11/how-many-sheep-did-you-have-a-food-approach-to-holy-days/

[2] Genesis 22/Quran Surah 37:103 [link]

[3] 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eid_al-Adha

[4] 2008, http://nazret.com/blog/index.php/2008/06/24/ethiopia_the_king_who_granted_asylum_to_

[5] 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Migration_to_Abyssinia

[6] One of my kid’s favorite books, here is a video if you have never read it.

New Tools: Accepting Help and Borrowing Money

Living in Ghana I tend to read a lot of blogs, some of our colleagues in the field, others from people who just moved here.  It’s almost an expectation, move to Ghana, start a blog.

Somehow I had ended up (mostly likely some enticing clickbait) on www.desiringGod.org, and was reading “What’s Wrong with Western Missionaries” [click here].  It’s a great read, but the cliff notes version is that they are too self-sufficient. Self-sufficiency is a quality admired and encouraged by Americans, and especially by men but when author Nik Ripkin wrote about the missionary who was known as “The man we love,” the reason leading to that love was “because he borrows money from us.”  He borrows money from the people he came to serve.

I’ve done a lot of things here in our time in Ghana, and I’m constantly looking for more experiences to add to our bucket list, but borrowing money was never on, nor a candidate for that list.  It never would have occurred to me, and so after reading it, I prayed a silent prayer for an opportunity that I might be open to.

Next day a final year student invites me to lunch and as we get near the front of the line to order, he says, “this lunch is on me.”  Now I know he is a full scholarship student, and my unconscious  reaction was, “Oh, no, you can’t buy me lunch, it should be I who is buying you lunch,” but then the words from yesterday’s silent prayer come back to me, and I said, “Okay, that would be great.”

To talk and share a meal is something our students learn when they come to Ashesi.  Talking while eating is not part of the normal culture of Ghana, and you can tell what year group a student is in by what she/he does at lunch. The first years are mostly silent; the final years, won’t hardly shut up.

Outside Ashesi, rarely have I observed Ghanaian families eating together, and when they do, they eat in silence.  Sometimes I have been invited to dine with them, and that means sitting in another room, eating by myself while the rest of the family is off working, cleaning the kitchen or watching TV. It is a strange and lonely experience.

Now it wasn’t as easy as just buying lunch, as the accounting system in the canteen isn’t set up for such generosity, but they figured it out, and we had an interesting conversation over a lunch of RedRed, plain rice and fried chicken.  [Here is my RedRed’s recipe]

Mostly we talked about his summer internship, and if it involved doing what God created him to do.  I love these conversations because it will not enough to just do what you are already good at, it has to lead toward that which the creator created you to do in this world. While he was good at what he did last summer (and secured an open job offer), he did not feel this was his purpose.  That is the great value of a college internship, to try–in a low-stakes environment–how something fits, and learn early on if it will be enough.

You know, I have trouble accepting help, not only in Ghana, but back in Texas too.  The past month when I was helping to care for my mother-in-law, so many friends and people I didn’t even know offered to help, and I couldn’t always accept.  I won’t be a candidate for “the man they love” anytime soon if I don’t learn to be as accepting as I try to be in giving.

So be patient with me, and keep asking and when I offer, be a good example and accept.



PS: Even if you are not a missionary, I recommend reading the blog on “Whats Wrong with Western Missionaries” [click here].

How to NOT buy a Mattress in Ghana

Last fall we began a journey to buy a new bed frame and mattress and in the process, enacted our own version of the Goldilocks story, minus the three bears, chairs, and porridge, of course. 

It is quite common to see bed frames sold by the side of the road.

After months of investigating carpenters who made bed frames, we found one we both liked and ordered a custom four-poster bed frame.  Then we set about finding a new mattress to put in it.

The First Mattress

Suzanne ordered mattress #1 while I was out of town, a new mattress from Latex Foam Mattress.  When Suzanne ordered it, the salesman argued with her about ordering a soft (turns out he was right).  She figured it would be OK since Ghanaian mattresses have a reputation for being hard (totally deserved).  By hard, I mean their mattresses should come  with a Rockwell Hardness Scale rating.  Think concrete blocks covered with flowery fabric and you have the basic idea of their softness and comfort.  I’m not kidding, laying on a tile floor feels softer.

Then she lay in the first bed, but it was too soft.

True to its name, our first mattress was soft.  Really soft. So soft that over time it developed a memory, making me wonder who thought having a mattress with a memory was a good thing?   I mean this mattress remembered exactly where I had slept the night before, saving an ever deepening indentation compounded by the serial effect of the nights previous.  Wouldn’t forgetfulness be better quality for a mattress;  forgetting where I slept, so that each time I laid down, it was like the first time?

After a few months, we started calling it the bed hammock.  There was a 7” drop from top to bottom on my side.  When the bed hammock could drop no further (i.e. my derrière and bedframe slats were becoming friends) and, Suzanne’s parking space was millimeters from hitting bedrock, we knew it was time to find a different bed mattress.

The Second Mattress

So while Suzanne was out of town, I ordered an Orthopedic mattress, but this time from Ashfoam.  On the Ashfoam website they advertise 10 different degrees of hardness in their mattresses,  but like the menu in a typical Ghanaian restaurant, this Ashfoam list was purely aspirational.  Just like you’ll never find everything on a restaurant menu available (or ever actually been served or prepared), so it was with their list of different types of mattresses.  There have three different models, and the showroom had two for me to field test.


Standard Density – meaning really hard, like max out the Rockwell scale hard.  I later learned they “make” several models that are harder than this one; how is that even physically possible?

Orthopedic – they actually didn’t have this one in stock for me to test, but it was their recommendation.

Comfy – This is the one I tested, but truthfully, I thought I was laying on the Orthopedic model, so that is what I ordered and a week later it showed up.

After our first night on the new mattress, I thought Orthopedic…that must be the Twi word for supernaturally hard like they had put some Juju on it to make it this hard because nothing of this world could be this hard.  We even tried putting a mattress topper on it, and that Orthopedic mattress sucked the softness right out of it.  It was bone cracking, neck paining, hard and the week we tried to adjust, we couldn’t.  Wimps, I thought, and truthfully I’ve slept better on the floor…its softer.  So we went back to the bed hammock and finally,to sleep.

She lay down in the second bed, but it was too hard.

A few calls to the showroom and Ashfoam offered to switch out the Orthopedic for the Comfy if I would pay the difference.  Pay The Difference?!  – I was ready to buy a whole new mattress just to get that Juju between a rock and a hard place mattress out of our house.   $25 to get rid of it and replace it with a softer model?  “Yes Please,” I said wondering how many people had already rejected this particular mattress?

The Third Mattress: 

Strangely, we were both in the country when the third mattress arrived.  Suzanne was still skeptical after that first night (and maybe still is) but I think we have found the mattress for us, here, now.  It was hard, but not too hard; it was softer, but not too much so.  It was just about right.

Then she lay down in the third bed and it was just right.

Goldilocks (Suzanne) fell asleep

One of the many Adrinkra symbols carved into our new bed frame.  This one means unity and human relations, a fitting symbol for our bed, me thinks.


Two Years and Three Days

It has been two years and three days since Suzanne and I moved to the place we call home…

“So where’s home?” the usher asked as in the foyer of the church in Iowa. Suzanne and I had flown in early that morning and were still were bundled up like ticks against the 20 degrees and a blue northerner outside. The usher was new here (or new since I had moved away some 40 years ago), so he didn’t know Ames was my childhood home, and this was my home church.


[Steve * Suzanne outside in the snow]

Suzanne and I look at each other nervously, never certain how to answer the question our global nomad kids hate. “Maybe I should have asked, where are you guys from?” he asks, saving us.

“That’s easier,” I sound relieved. “I grew up in Ames, Suzanne is from Connecticut; we lived in Texas for 30 years, and now in Africa.”

That is our answer, however, ask a Ghanaian, and the answer will be to a nearby question.

“Where are you from?” I asked a student one day. For some reason it never occurs to ask about home.

“I am from Burkina Faso.” A French speaking country just north of Ghana. I hadn’t detected the trace of a French accent in her voice.

“Really, what is it like there?” I ask.

“Oh, I have never been to that place.” She was telling me where her family comes from.

“Your mother moved here from Burkina?”

“No, she stays in Nima.” A Muslim region of Accra; stays means grew up there too. Who knows when her family actually moved to Ghana, but that is where they are from.

“So you were raised in Nima.” I say, thinking I should remember to start with that question. It does get me thinking about the concept of home. Is it the place one grew up, or where your family came from? For me, I grew up in Iowa, but my family came from Kansas. Iowa formed my genetic dispositions into this person I became; and had it been another state, I would have grown to be a different person. That is where I’m from, but is it home?

“Home is the closest place to where you are not?”

Is it the Chinese who say “Home is the closest place to where you are not?”  For example, if I say I’m going home when in a city that is not where I live, it means I’m going back to the hotel. However, if I’m at the hotel, it means Austin, but in Austin, it means Ghana or Iowa, unless the hotel is in Ghana, and then it means Ashesi. But if I’m at Ashesi, it could mean Texas, or Iowa.

Home: the place they have to take you in

Another definition: Home: the place they have to take you in. Suzanne and I learned this definition a few months ago, when our son moved back into our house in Texas, a move his mother and I had not encouraged, and yet did not prevent. It is his home, so it has to take him in.

Home: the place you take responsibility for.

Another definition: Home: the place you take responsibility for. When one takes care of the place they stay in, it becomes home. Even the animals know not to soil the place they sleep (well not chickens, but who credits them with much intelligence).

home is where you know where the silverware is kept.

Another definition: home is where you know where the silverware is kept. This came from my niece Mary Lynn. So home implies familiarity, which I understand. A few years back my father sold my childhood house and built a new one. While being filled with furniture familiar, this new house does not feel like home; it always takes a few drawers to find the silverware.


[Mary Lynn and our snow shovels]

What was weird about being back in Ames was the amount of Africa stuff I saw in the local food coop.


[so secret we don’t even know about it in Africa]


[African Black Soap (right next to Dr. Bronners)]


[Baskets for $39.  We buy them for $7]


[yep, they are from Ghana and have the cool tag we don’t get for $7]


[The food co-op my mom helped start, now called Wheatsfield, then the very 70s Mutual Aid Food Association, or MAFA)]

Suzanne stayed a week longer after I returned to Ghana, giving me airplane time to think about that question of home.  I should have told the usher, “Home is wherever Suzanne is.”   For me, she is what makes a place, home, and her staying that extra week has me thinking about where our home is. Perhaps, home is the place that needs you most. I know we certainly felt that being back when Suzanne’s mom and our daughter’s faced major and minor surgeries respectively, and our Texas house needed some work.

home is the place that needs you most.

I’ve been thinking about home a bit because Suzzy Phonecard is homeless….(read about Suzzy).  Right before we left for the States, Suzzy moved out of her home, suffice to say there were family issues, and she felt safer to be out on her own.  I helped her move to an uncompleted abandoned house in the next village over. Ghana is filled with uncompleted construction, half built structures of concrete and cement blocks that look like an active worksite but truthfully, no work has been done since the money ran out. Workers just dropped their tools like it was Pompeii and the volcano just erupted.

I meet the main family squatting staying there and the mother is quite pregnant. Suzzy shows me her room and by room I mean a windowless closet and she asks me to buy her a door. The current one is cardboard. “How much will that cost?” I ask but she doesn’t know.  I leave it to her to figure out the details and get back to me.  She is disappointed I won’t make the problem go away and we play this game for weeks, she telling me about needing a door, and me asking some stupid question like where do they sell doors, or how much will they cost, or what happens when you move, and finally she just figures out a different solution, and that door closes without me.


[Christmas on the Hill, we left for Texas the next morning]

Home is that place that feels like you belong.  As I was waiting to board the last leg of the flight back to Ghana I see two different sets of friends from Accra and wonder if maybe home is the place where you know people on the flight back. 

home is the place where you know people on the flight back. 

On our first Sunday back at Asbury-Dunwell Church, Auntie Pamela greets me at the door and gives me a deep hug saying “Welcome Home,” and I almost tear up.    Home is the place where the people there claim you.

there is no adventure in home; and no home in adventure

Ghana is our home now, but so is Texas, so is Iowa for me, and Connecticut for Suzanne and who is to say there can be only one home?  I so appreciate what Lisa McKay wrote in her grand memoir of travel and romance Love at the Speed of Email about the relationship between home and adventure, that there is no adventure in home; and no home in adventure.  Maybe that is why we like Ghana so much, because here, we really can have them all: adventure, home and each other.


[At the Zilker “Tree” in Austin, Texas, one of our many “homes”]