Sabbatical Gifts, part 2

There is an Akan Proverb that talks about two small birds, Afofonoma and Nkwanoma, and the literal meaning of the proverb is “It is Afofonama which understands the language of Nkwanoma.”

Background: It is the traditional farming practice of the Akan to abandon their old and unproductive farms for several years so that the land can rest and become overgrow with weeds. This roughly corresponds to the Biblical practice[1] of letting the land lie fallow every seventh year. Because the soil here is exhausted by year round farming, the Akan have learned to leave it abandoned for several years in the hope that it will become fertile again. Their name for this abandoned farm is Mfua. When a farm becomes mfua, a small bird called Afofonama will come to live in it. Now next to the farm is the forest, and in the forest there is a small mysterious bird called Nkwanoma, who is hard to understand.

Over time, Afofonama learns this forest bird (Nkwanoma) because he lives next to the forest in the abandoned farm. So the proverb says “It is Afofonama which understands the language of Nkwanoma.” Afofonama learns to understand Nkwanoma because they share a common border, and the meaning is: People who understand each other very well must have similar habitats.

This is something we struggle with here in Ghana, having similar enough habitats with our Ghanaian friends to begin to understand them. For example, last Friday Vida came over to teach me how to make Groundnut Stew. Now, I already know how to make a Groundnut Stew, but no self respecting Ghanaian would call it that. In fact I think Emmanuel and the guards call it Obrunie Stew, and so last Friday Emmanuel asked Vida to please come over and teach Mr. Steve how to cook Ghanaian properly. (I’ve included this new recipe at the end of this post)

Cooking is for Suzanne and I, a social activity. Usually when we invite people over for dinner, dinner is about half cooked and so our friends are invited to help us finish cooking the meal. It’s a time of social interaction, and their helping to cook adds something special to the meal. It is our “shared activity,” that draws us closer. When I was a pastor, I used to counsel the newly engaged and even long-time marrieds that there were three components to a successful long term marriage:

1) Eat dinner together every night around a table (with the TV off)
2) Find a shared activity and make time to do it together.
3) Develop mutual mutual admiration to how your mate spends their day.

For us, that shared activity is cooking, or travel. Since kids came along (16 years ago) we have not had that much time for travel and so that leaves cooking as the one thing we do together and really enjoy. However last week, we did travel to the Volta Region, while Sarah, our wonderful friend, former houseguest and Fulbright daughter came to stay with the kids.

I can’t remember the last time that Suzanne and I spend any significant time away from the kids together. It might have been Seattle, a week-end from when we still lived in Temple and that was two houses and three moves ago. We used to travel well, and I wondered, would the same magic be there? It was!

[picture of Suzanne, Grace & Sarah]
Volta Region is the former German Togoland colony that was given to Britain after the First World War. The capital of the region is Ho, a busy and well organized town that even my Dad remembers as being pleasant, 40 years ago. It clean, and the people are friendly, and it hasn’t fallen to the poverty and hassle of a town that caters to tourists. Now that doesn’t mean we didn’t pay the obrunie price, or have to bargain hard, it just meant that we didn’t see so many desperate people.

We stayed in a “moderate,” hotel, at least according to the bible on Ghana, called The Bradt Guide. When we first got to Ghana, we only stayed at the Upscale hotels, but the longer we’re here, the lower our standards are, and we can’t see that much difference between moderate and upscale (expect the price). This hotel, the Freedom Hotel, had the largest shower we’ve ever seen, yet there wasn’t enough water pressure to do more than wet the water controls, so it was a bit of a mystery why it was so large.

[picture of Suzanne standing in the really big shower]

Volta region is largely populated by the Ewe people group, so instead of hearing the cheers of children shout obrunie, obrunie as we drove by, it was yea-vu, yea-vu which we later learned meant obrunie, but in their local language. Like the Asante (the largest people group in Ghana), the Ewa are skilled cloth craftsmen. In fact, as we watched the costal planes give way to the “mountains” of Ghana, we also see the people wear more and more of the local fabrics (batik and tie & dye) and less and less brouni uawa (used or dead whiteman’s clothing).

We went to the town of Tafi Abuipe we were given a tour of the Kente Weavers by two local high school boys and weavers called Wisdom and Ekker. In Accra, we understand that most of the Kente is mass produced, but here in Tafi Abuipe, there are maybe 100 local masters, who each have their own school to both teach and produce Kente.

It was a wonderful day we spent driving around, letting the culture and people direct us. Our goal was to begin the day by going to a nearby falls, but after we missed the turn off, and then gave a ride to a Ghanaian lady with a large load, we got directions to the Kente weavers. Well, sort of. Getting directions in Ghana won’t actually get you where you want to go. it will just get you to the next place where you can ask another person. For example, it was only after we had picked up the this first lady that we realized we had completely missed the turn off, and so it was decided to try to visit the town of Tafi Abuipe, to see the Kente weavers. But she wouldn’t give us directions to that town, she would only give us directions to the next town, where we could stop as ask someone. That is just the way directions are given here, just go to this next town and ask someone there where to go from there.

Kente weaving in Tafi Abuipe is the product of a 15 year old NGO, or Non Governmental Organization. NGOs are big here. I’m guessing there are 100s of 1000s of them all over Ghana, providing much aid and support to Ghana. This one in Tafi Abuipe brought in or formalized Kente weaving so that obrunies, or should I way, yea-vus could understand it. It one is well run. We pulled up, parked under a tree and out comes Wisdom and Ekkers who ask “Do we want a see the Kente weavers?” Sure, we said not really knowing what to expect.

The tour begins by showing us where we will end, the Kente Shop, but we don’t go inside, instead we go from house to house to see the different masters and their pupils learning learning the art of weaving. After a 30 minutes, the certain patterns begin to emerge to the eye. These are the traditional patterns that we will see for sale later, mostly being woven by young boys. Their speed is amazing, and it makes a rhythmic clicking sound from the working of the four foot peddles, the shuttles going back and forth. As the tour continues, we seem to pick up more guides. We even see a new development, a school of weavers taught by a woman, who has young girls in her school of weaving. This school is set apart from the men and boys schools, and so I get the feeling this was a bit controversial at the time, but is now acceptable. When we have seen enough, they take us back to the Kente shop where we are presented a rate sheet for the tour we have just taken. We see much cloth for sale. They also offer home stays, weaving classes (for obrunies), dinner, traditional dancing and story telling. This is the organization that the NGO has brought to the village. It makes it accessible to us, and we like the fact that the money we spend stays here, and goes to those who weave the cloth. We leave understanding a bit more about their lives, and the story of how each cloth is made. I buy two long strips, or male strips, to use as stoles, when I go back to pastoring. Suzanne buys a couple of woman’s strips, which are shorter.

This purchase of two long strips of Kente cloth was a big deal for me, that I was thinking about pastoring again and picking up supplies to do it. When we came to Ghana, I didn’t even bring a stole, or book of Worship. I did bring a clerical color, but brought the wrong one, the too small one. As I think about it, maybe that wasn’t completely accidental. Maybe it was a metaphor for what my practice of ministry had been. Only now am I realizing how small, and how constricting my conception of what ministry is, was.

On our way back to Accra I receive a text message from one of the two pastors of Asbury-Dunwell Church, who wants to meet with me. I am figuring we will talk about the web page, but he just wants to meet me and talk. After an hour or so he asks if I would like to help with the counseling. I have to laugh at God, at putting me in this church, and them asking me to do the one thing I felt least qualified to do. Pastoral Counseling. I wish I had thought to make that same request of the various pastors who passed through Foundation over the years. I wonder about the cross cultural mix, and the pastor says it would be great to have someone here to help with the obrunies, “you understand them.” Oh, I thought, so it works both ways. You feel at much at a loss as I do, reaching across the cultural divide. I think that is what we love about Asbury-Dunwell Church so much, it that it is a church that seeks to do what the small bird Afofonama seeks to do, to understand the language of Nkwanoma, to be the people who seek understand each other well by creating similar habitats of faith.

As I think about counseling later this week, and the Ghanaian way of giving directions. We in the west will want to give you the complete route, even though we know you’ll mostly likely get lost and abandoned these directions before you ever get where you’re going. We know that and still insist in giving them that way. What if the goal of spiritual counseling was to just get to the next juncture? There you could ask the next local person, who knew that area better. What if the spiritual life wasn’t about getting there, as much as it was about getting closer to it, getting closer to ‘dis ‘dat place.

So in the spirit of getting closer to ‘dis ‘dat place, here is a more authentic recipe for Groundnut Stew:

Vida’s Groundnut Stew

In some ways the cooking of Groundnut Stew is a metaphor for life itself in Ghana. You can use all the same ingredients but until someone teaches you how to really combine them, life will never be authentic. Even this recipe isn’t quite authentic because it is missing the small smoked fish that we Buchele-obrunies have not come to appreciate.

Ingredients List
5 Garden Eggs (Garden Eggs are a type of locally grown white egg plant,
3 onions
10 small hot peppers
3 whole fresh tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp. rosemary
Salt
2 whole chickens (cut up into pieces)
2 cups raw, unsalted, groundnut paste (peanut butter)
2 small tins of tomato paste

1 kg (or two pounds) white fragrant rice (from Thailand)
Water

Instructions
Wash and slice lengthwise the garden eggs, and remove the stem from the hot peppers. Place in a pot and cover well with water and bring to a boil.

In a large pot, combine chicken, 2 diced onions, crushed garlic and 2 tablespoons of salt. Stir until chicken is covered, and then add enough water so that there is ½ inch of water, and place on the fire to steam/cook. Stir often to prevent sticking.

While chicken is steaming, remove boiled garden eggs and hot peppers, and blend them together with about half the water in a food processor or blender until smooth. Reserve the rest of the garden egg pepper water for later. Blend until smooth then strain to remove the seeds. Dispose of seeds.

Add one tin of tomato paste to the steaming chicken and stir.

Add the blended, strained garden eggs and pepper to the chicken and add enough water to cover chicken, bring to a boil and add 1 teaspoon of rosemary. Then add whole 3 whole fresh tomatoes, and one whole onion.

While chicken is cooking, mix ½ can of tomato paste with the reserved garden egg pepper water. In another bowl place two cups of unsalted groundnut paste and slowly add the tomato paste-garden egg-pepper water. Add a little water, mix until smooth, repeat until very smooth. Then slowly add 4 more cups of water (or more) and mix until smooth and fluid. Though it may be tempting to skip this stage or rush through it, the smoothness of the soup ultimately depends on. Vida’s stew was silky and smooth because she spent much time blending.

Pour into boiling chicken, and remove the whole tomatoes and whole onion.

Blend the now boiled whole tomato and onion until smooth, add broth to the blender and the rest of the tomato paste and blend until smooth. Add to boiling chicken.

Bring to boil and then turn flame down to simmer until a dark oil begins to form.

Omo Tuo (sticky rice balls)

While stew is simmering, cook rice in a large pot. Cook until mushy-soft and then mush the rice against the side of the pan with the back of a wooden spoon. Mush until cooked rice grains appear to be broken. Dribble a small amount of water in a small bowl with tall sides and swish around to cover. Using a large spoon or ladle, separate a large dollop of rice (1 to 1½ cups) and place in the wet bowl. Swish the rice around being careful not to touch (it is very hot) and keep turning it and swishing it until it forms a round ball that is a little larger than a tennis ball. Place rice balls in a pot, or cooler to keep hot.

Place one rice ball in the bowl and add groundnut stew to ¾ of the height of the rice ball being careful not to pour stew over rice ball.

[1] For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild animals may eat (Ex23:11)
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