Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas, the song goes, and now we hear Christmas music everywhere. How funny to hear Bing dreaming of a white Christmas, or Burl sing of Frosty the Snowman, or of the slay bells that go jinglely jangley, in the winter wonderland when none of that is going to happen here. It is not going to snow six degrees north of the equator no matter how much we sing of it. It is hard for me to know if this music has become a part of Ghana’s Christmas tradition, or marketing, to get obrunie into the Christmas mood. In the local language, Christmas is translated as Buronya – from obrunie (white man), and nya (to get or obtain), and so the literal translation is “White Man got something to celebrate.”
So these days find me wondering, “What is it about this place that makes us love life so?” I’ve been asking the ex-pat community that question this week. Some attribute it to Ghana itself, the “black star” of West Africa, some say it is the people, be it the Ghanaians who are a happy, funny, and hopeful bunch; some say it is the community, and those who are drawn here, and how they spend there time.
For example, on Sunday night we attend a good-bye/house warming party of sorts for the Ashesi community. It was at the Bat. Pad, or bachelors residence. A housewarming in that this was the first time they had invited the community over, a good-bye, to one of the lecturers (or professors) who lives there is returning to Guatemala. Life is like that here. People are coming and going, and even in our brief four months, we see that. For example after Church we meet missionaries who have been here over six years and are two weeks away from returning to the states for six months, and then its off to Kenya. Meeting them I wonder, should I even get to know these people, I’ll never see again? I wonder how many 1000s of folks they have met and said good-bye to since 2000?
Yet life is like that, and strangely, it is OK. There are (as they say) “plenty, plenty” parties here. My Dad remembers this from ’68-’69 and that hasn’t changed. I was talking with our soon to be going-home Ashesi-Guatemalan friend, who said, “it is not like there is much else to do here.” There are no movie houses, no malls, no commercial gathering places except maybe the bars at night and Accra changed characture at night. So we obrunies hold parties, or invite people over, or go to their house, and how much better it is to Buronya (white man got something to celebrate). I think about what we would be doing in the states on those evenings we’re visiting. I wonder if we would be watching TV, or playing on the internet. But not here, at least in our house, there is little of that. Oh, we have a video rental place down the street, and we gather, as a family to watch one or two a week, but mostly it is people, and how much better. We talk about books we’re reading, or the latest adventure someone has been on, or those quirky Ghanaian ways.
Tonight at the Bat. Pad., we learn that one of the staff, who has been at Ashesi from the beginning is royalty, the son of a chief, and so we start calling him our “chief.” On Tuesday our “Chief” will take us to the land that Ashesi owns outside on the hills of Accra. Its 100 acres that will someday be their permanent site, currently they are spread out over three buildings, really converted houses, roughly a block or two away from each other. When we go to the future site, we will greet the chief of that village, and bring him schnapps. Not just any schnapps, foreign schnapps.
[Casper, our chief leading us to new site]
“Why schnapps?” I ask, and no one seems to know the answer, but together we conjecture that it is the Danish influence, after all the Danes were huge slave traders in Ghana. The castle of Accra, once called Christianborg Castle, and now the seat of government, was a Danish fort. Schnapps is so popular that it is made locally, but made stamped with across the bottle, are the words “Made according to the Holland recipe,” so it at least seems foreign. The local schnapps would never do for a chief, he would expect the foreign one, so on Tuesday we will bring him two bottles of foreign schnapps.
“Why two bottles?” I ask. I find I have a lot of fun asking questions of Ghanaians, the why behind what goes on here. I find it is best to ask several people, just to see if the why is consistent. For example, I’ve noticed that our neighbors have goats. We don’t live in the kind of neighborhood that has goats. Much of Accra is that type of neighborhood, and it is not uncommon to see herds of goats being driven down its streets, but not ours, and yet our neighbors have goats, or at least have had them for the last few weeks. Tonight we learn they are for the Christmas Dinner.
“So how does that work?” I ask. We learn that Buronya, or Christmas Day, starting about 5am, our “chief” will have a man come to slaughter the goat(s) and make them ready to roast. At 9am the family will go to Church and when they get home around 12:30 or so, the goat is ready. Its their Christmas Day feast. The day after Christmas is Boxing Day, and the tradition is to cook up much food (mainly rice) and deliver it to our neighbors along with cans of Coke. Imagine our surprise if we had not know to box the food up, hence its name, Boxing Day.
Back to the schnapps. When you visit the chief of a village, it is the custom to bring two bottles. Sometimes (or maybe both) will be opened, and a small amount will be poured on the ground to honor their ancestors who are buried, and remembered. Sometimes this tradition is told to honor the local gods, but as our “Chief” tells the story, it is to give them something to drink, but not too much, “we don’t want to get them all boozed up.” As to why two bottles, he asks, “Does not the chief have two legs?” But when we go to visit the chief of the village where the Ashesi land is located, we gather in his living room, listen as he asks, “What is your mission?” and our chief tells the story, we introduce ourselves, and then present him with two bottles of foreign schnapps to put under his stool, for the next time visitors come.
As we leave we shake his hand, and his elder and junior brothers, but the chief comes first, then the elder, then the younger brother so it is a bit of a center, left, then cross over to the right shaking exersize.
[Picture of Suzanne meeting the chief]
So Buronya Y’all!, because we have much to celebrate: That our family is healthy and happy, that we have so many friends (both here and around the world), that life is good, and there is so much to hope for for this Christmas. Thanks to all who have been praying for us, sending us letters and care packages (thanks Nelda!), and even reading this Blog. We feel blessed. Buronya Y’all