A Perfect Day (What’s the Draw?)

It didn’t start out perfect, in fact there was nothing about it that remotely seemed perfect, it was just an average day. I did some reading in the morning, wrote a recommendation for our household help who is immigrating to the States this week, went to the obrunie market, and then Suzanne called to invite me to the W.E.B. du Bois Center for a celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. We took Henry the taxi to the center, and learned that Dr. King had been in Ghana 50 years ago, when independence was declared from Great Britain. He had watched as the flag of the United Kingdom was lowered, and the Black Star of Ghana was raised. If fact, one of his more famous sermons, Birth of a New Nation, was given a month after his return to the States, heavily influenced by what he had seen here.

Suzanne and I walked home from the Center, when we could have taken a cab. Its not that far, maybe a mile or so, and the only reason we considered a cab was our kids coming home from school, and the Harmatan. )(see Leanne’s blog about it). Harmatan is when the wind shifts direction, bringing dust in from the Sahara. It is the dry season in Ghana, and it blew in while we were in Egypt. We noticed it as we climbed off the plane, it was cold (ok cold is a relative term, now it gets into the 70s at night), dry, and a fine layer of dust covers everything. Around us people are coughing or home with mild cases of pneumonia. There is no blue sky, and the sun is just a glowing ball, even midday when it looks like it should be setting. Even so, we walked home, arriving about the time our kids did, but dustier. They are dropped off at the corner and wait for us and together we walk home, talking about their days. Then we began cooking fish-fried rice.

A picture of the Sun I took with my phone right after Church on Sunday.

Fried rice is usually reserved for low quality fish, and seasoned to cover its low quality, but tonight we’re having fish bought from the Tema fish market on Saturday. Tema, about a 20 minute drive east of Accra, is Ghana’s largest fishing port. It is a new town, built on a grid with all the science of the 60s in town development. We went with a former Peace Corps doc (the one who helped us when Grace had malaria), and his wife from Finland. She did all the bargaining, and so we not only got great fish, but at great price. It might be a waste that we are using this highest quality fresh red snapper on fried rice, but we like the way the rice steams the fish, its never tough or overcooked, and oh so tasty, plus we’re cooking for another family, who’s mother is sick, and recovering from major surgery.

Tema Harbor, all the boats are not out fishing because of the Harmatan.

After dinner, the kids clean-up, and start doing their homework. Later Fox asks for my help picking out the chords to a song he wants to play at coffeehouse. Coffeehouse is a sort of talent show the school runs each semester. Last year Fox and Grace formed a band and were the hit of the coffeehouse (at least according to their proud parents). Fox is preparing for the next one by learning some new material. He plays me a song on his iPod, and I slowly pick out the chords and write out a chord chart out so he can play it. We play together for a while and then I go to continue cooking the next batch of dinner for our friends. When I come back, he has learned the song, and wants to try another. It’s a more challenging song because it has a Latin beat, but the chords are simple, and in a few minutes, I’ve got it figured out, but this time he writes out the chord chart. We play and sing, and it is a moment I’ve always hoped for. My love of music is catching.

After the kids go to bed, I can’t get to sleep, my thoughts keep running over how perfect the day’s ending has been. I had always hoped that my kids would be interested in music, in learning guitar, in singing, but up to this year only Anna had shown much interest. I wonder if this is how my Dad felt when I didn’t go into engineering. I clearly had the aptitude, but it didn’t interest me like it did him, and I see that in my kids, they have the aptitude, but have not shown much interest, at least until these past few months. It is like something has awakened in them, and I am so thankful that I was around to see it and participate. I could have easily missed it.

Later, I’m sitting out on our screened in porch in a very dusty chair while the rest of the house sleeps. I think about how, if I was back in the States, this night would not have happened. I would have either been at a church meeting, on the phone with someone preparing for a meeting at the church, or we would have all been gathered around the TV (ie: watching House), or fighting over who’s turn it was on the internet. Instead, I was playing guitar with my son, and learning his music. I had the emotional energy to invest in our relationship, and tonight I’ll remember it as a perfect day.

A friend has asked the question about Ghana, “what’s the draw?” The implication that the blog descriptions do not make it sound so great, and sometimes downright scary. Suzanne and I’ve been thinking about this all week and I think it has multiple answers. Part of the reason our blog doesn’t make is sound so great (and sometimes downright scary) is a genre issue. Blogs like ours tend to point to the quirkiness of this place, and the interesting incidents we experience. There is so much that is normal, and boring, and everyday, like the lives most of the world lives, and then there are incidents. Sometimes we win, sometimes West Africa wins, and on those days, our friends say WAWA, or West Africa Wins Again, and you get to read about it here.

Another draw is the people, they are involved in real issues, and so our conversations tend toward the larger issues, and the impact we are having on a developing nation, and its people. People here (and I’m talking about the obrunies or ex-pats here) have a passion for what they do. They are also connectors. Its not uncommon, when you meet another obrunie on the street, to exchange phone numbers, or get an invitation to their house for a party…and you’ve just met. There is an assumption of good will, that those who are called to this place, are good, and faithful people, already trustworthy, and our goal is just to figure out how to integrate them into our lives, and get to know them.

Another draw is we can easily afford to have someone shows up at our house most days and mop the floors, clean the kitchen, wash, fold and iron the cloths, dust, changes the bedsheets, towels, clean the bathrooms, even help the kids with their French homework. To say that it is great is an understatement.

Another draw is the fantastic school our kids go to, a school that has challenged them and motivated them to study at night, and spend hours doing it (with almost zero parental nagging). I remember one of the first week-ends we spent at the beach, the big kids had the option of spending the day with us exploring the town, or going back to the hotel to do homework, and they choose the latter. How strange is that, I thought at the time. They have an international set of friends, and see the world for what it is, really large, and really interesting, and that which divides us is so much smaller than that which could unite us.

Perhaps the biggest draw is the effect Ghana has had on our family life. I remember fathers, like Larkin and Perry, excitedly telling me how life overseas changed their families, and drew them closer to each other. I remember looking at how both these families interacted, and hoping someday, mine could be like that. I see it happening, not in big dramatic ways, but in the time to just sit around and play guitar with my son, and it fills me with hope, and I’m glad to not have missed it. So yes, it was a perfect day, the kind you want to put in a memory jar and remember, on this day 15 January, 2007, life was good.

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