God is so good, for months Anna, our youngest, has been campaigning for a Christmas Tree, the plastic kind they sell upstairs in the obrunie market starting at $20, or along side the roads, or at the highway corner trade markets, or pretty much everywhere we go. All along we’ve been very clear, we’re not planning to be here that long, and at least for a while we were not planning to be here on Christmas at all, but traveling (as it was in ’68 when my family went on a trek up north). But then plans changed, and it turns out we here, and almost without a tree. In steps Mrs. Bright.
Mrs. Bright is Fox’s English teacher. Mrs. Bright is teacher from the old school, demanding, and doesn’t try to be cool, or her kids’ best friend. She has challenged Fox, not letting him get by on sheer talent alone, but requiring hard work of him. I’m thrilled to say he has risen to the occasion. She’s been here since 1982 and so his American ways seem brash and arrogant to her. For awhile he thought she hated him, but now I think she has earned his respect. The week before school was out, Mrs. Bright offered us her classroom Christmas tree, one she usually put up, but this year didn’t get a chance to. We told the girls that if they wanted a tree, it would be their responsibility to see that it made its way home. Being car-less, we’re not at the school much these days. So on the last day, the girls stop by her office and pick up two boxes and bring it home in that afternoon’s taxi, and by dinner time Anna & Suzanne had it set up, and Anna spent the afternoon and into the evening making ornaments.
We didn’t know what kind of Christmas we were going to have, but I must say, as several of my kids have already said, it was the best Christmas ever. Maybe they say that every year, I don’t know. Usually, I’m so exhausted from the Advent schedule of extra services, parties, and expectations, that I’m barely present for the day. The porch light is on, but that’s all I have the energy for. How interesting to be fully present for this day and my family. It again makes me wonder about the high cost of pastoring, or at least the high cost in the way I practiced it. I had to laugh when Suzanne gave me a carving of an antelope, reminding me of how wonderful life is when I’m wearing my antelope skin. (if you don’t know what these means read: Ted Haggard & the story of a Hunter and his Antelope-Wife )
Since it isn’t the tradition to have Christmas Eve services here, we stayed home, played games, watched a movie, and ate homemade peanut butter- chocolate balls (thanks Jamie Ratliff). Right before bed Fox read the Christmas story from Luke, and we sang some Christmas carols with the guitar. It was nice, simple, and wonderful, though I must say I did miss the magic of singing Silent Night in a room full of candles and loved ones.
On Christmas Day, I’m told there were services at the Ghanaian churches, but at the international churches we attend, there were none, so we stayed home and cooked breakfast tacos (with real bacon!), and turned on the A.C. or air-con, as it is known here. We are in the dry season now, it almost never rains. The water in the Lake Volta is dropping, so the days of weekly load shedding are numbered, soon it will return to every three days, and nobody is looking forward to that again.
Last week the weather changed. People who have been here longer tell us its the beginning of Harmattan, when for several months the wind changes direction to blow dust off of the Sahara. All we know is that for several weeks now people have been coughing and sniffling, and the night air has been still. Disturbingly still, especially on light-off nights. Mostly we all sleep with fans, these three foot off the floor fans that blow air through our mosquito netting. On “light off” nights, it is a hot and sweaty night, especially now that there is no breeze, but thankfully is it much cooler. During the day, the blue skies have been replaced by white and grey, and the sun has a fiery glow, obscured by the dust. We are told it will get much dustier, where we won’t even open our windows, and can’t see half a block down the road. But those days are not yet.
I read of a program called “Nothing but Nets,” a collaboration of the NBA, The United Methodist Church, and other organizations to collect money to buy mosquito bed netting for Africa. Reports are that every 29 seconds a child dies from this parasite, and if our recent experience with Grace is typical, it can be a frightening experience. We were not the only ones, that same week Grace was sick, Ruth, Emmanuel’s younger daughter was also very sick with Malaria. We went to a private clinic where they kept her for 48 hours, Ruth went to the public military hospital, where she was treated and released only to return two days later, sick. Today both are well, and we know it was because we could afford treatment.
It will be interesting to see how Nothing but Nets gets administrated here. I mean the NBA and UMC are not the first people to try to give out nets. In October, the government gave out nets in conjunction with a country wide vaccination effort to families with children under the age of two. The newspapers reported a rash of mothers falsifying their children’s age, and urged them not to. We hear reports of earlier government net giveaways, only to discovered that later these very same nets ended up for sale at the local pharmacies for $10 a net. Its not the people’s fault, it is poverty.
There seems to be three economies here in Ghana. There is the top level, of which we are near the bottom, there is a small middle class (at the top is the small-shop owners and mid-level managers), and then there is everyone else. Emmanuel and his family are at the top of the lowest level. These economic levels define where you live, how you get around, what school your children attend, and where you shop. I would like to say I don’t know how I feel about these inequalities, but I do know how I feel. I do know how I feel spending in a day what our guard or our house keeper makes in a month; put another way, we out-spend them 30:1. Ghana can be a wonderful place to live, if you have the money, and so that makes me wonder…is that why we love it here? I always get this way after Christmas, when the lines between the have and have nots is so clear.
 AC sounds just like a common Ghanaian name (Esi) here for women born on a Sunday, like Suzanne.