Tonight is our light out night, but different because we have a generator. Its not a large generator, it won’t run the Air Con or even a microwave, but it does keep the food from spoiling in the fridge, and enough lights and fans to make the night pleasant. I am surprised at how much we have come to appreciate the generator, maybe surprised isn’t the right word, embarrassed seems closer to the truth. Not so embarrassed that we’ll not run it, or worse return it. It is nice to have lights and a fan, that and not to lose the fish in the deep freeze.
It’s earlier in the day and Fox and I are bargaining for a taxi to buy gas (or petrol as it is known here) because we know tonight it is light out and we’ll want that generator. The taxi slows, and Fox begins by asking how much to “dis dat place,” the driver says 20. 20 is higher than we are used to paying, and so Fox counters with a ridiculously low price. Let the negotiations begin, which are as much about relationship as they are about price. Finally they settle on 15, and we climb in. Along the way, I’m thirsty, and so I see a lady selling water, and hand her 300 in coins for a sachet. Sachet water is how it is sold on the streets. You’ll see people, usually young girls, walking around with large tubs of these cold packets, shouting “pure water,” except it sounds more like “piere-wa-tear”. The sachets are kept cold by ice, and are very refreshing, all you do is bite the corner off one end and suck the water out. When done, most people just toss the plastic wrapper on the ground, creating a huge litter problem.
[girls selling Pure Water]
On the way back, we take another taxi, but this time there is more traffic, and we climb in before discussing the price. I have one in mind and hope it is the same number as the driver. When we get out, about a half block away from our house, I hand the guy a 20, and he seems pleased. We don’t “drop” at our house, a request made by our guards, as they don’t want taxis to know where the obrunies live (yep, we blend well). I go off to talk to Yeah-Yeah and Fox takes the petrol home. Yeah-Yeah is the Lebanese car mechanic across the street (I’m not kidding, his name really is Yeah-Yeah, except you say the first Yeah, its like you’re clearing your throat). I’m going to see “our” car, as I call it. Since we’re staying another year, and we can’t always depend on our friends to leave the country and us with their vehicle, we’re in the market, and Yeah-Yeah, is our man. He comes highly recommended, and has been rebuilding a Mitsubishi 4WD that is known by another model name in the States. We’ve looked at it several times, and today I test drive it and ask the price. He says “the owner will sell it for no less than 120.”
300 for a sachet of water
120 for a 4WD SUV
Price is a matter of context. When Yeah-Yeah says 120, he means 120 million (120,000,000) cedis, or about $13K. The taxi driver says 15, he means 15 thousand (15,000) cedis, or about $1.63. Only the street vender quotes the actual price, 300 cedis or about 3 cents.
[two million cedis]
So it will cost us 165 to run the generator all night (can you figure out the price by context?) Don’t get me wrong, I like the generator. I like electricity. In fact when we were out at Lake Bosomtwi, where we didn’t have a generator and the power was off as much as it was on, Margaret got us saying the “Thank you Lord for the electricity” prayer, saying “we loooove the light.” By week’s end pretty much everyone was shouting it the moment the lights flickered on. Its true, we do like the light, but what I don’t like is how it separates us. I mean we were clearly separated before, but having lights when many don’t, and spending $18 every fifth night for the fuel to do it, is in comparison, really separates us. We’ll spend in fuel as much as much as our guards will make in a month.
Ghana @ 50
[Steve & Suzanne in Anniversary Cloth]
Earlier this month Ghana celebrated its Independence Day, with an amazing celebration. It was weird, because Independence Day has always been July 4th, but here it is 6 March, as they say putting the date before the month. “Happy Birthday,” Emmanuel says as we step out, “but to me,” he adds. “Happy Birthday Ghana.” I have never seen him, nor so many Ghanaian’s so happy, so excited, so hopeful.
[Family at Independence Square]
At Independence Square Ghanaians kept coming up to us to either have our picture made with them (an interesting roll reversal since it is usually me taking their picture) or to express their gratitude at us being there to celebrate with them. Everybody is smiling, and for today, at least, the country is united and whatever suffering they have had in the past, or are experiencing, presently it is forgotten. Ghana is 50. About the celebration itself, the experiences that Tatum and Margaret write about mirrors ours so closely that I’m almost sure we had it together, yet I’m not in their pictures, nor they in mine.
So it is ironic that Ghana’s Independence Day was in the same week it was announced that I would not be returning to Foundation as pastor. In many ways that bond between pastor and church had been dissolving since well before we left for Ghana, but hearing the words, or seeing them in the eNews that week, was still a shock, so final. I’m not sure if Foundation outgrew its second pastor, or its second pastor realized that this church, which had been such a wonderful fit for so many years, had begun to chafe and pinch. Like a pair of ill fitting old shoes, we could dance, but not dance well together, and certainly not without hurting someone or stepping on toes. Part of the pain is remembering how great it had been, the rest was in what it had become. It was time to give these old shoes a rest, or send them off to be repaired.
[this guy comes by our house to shine shoes, and repair them]
There is an old joke about Methodist pastors being like an old pair of shoes: though the soul may wear out, the tongue is the last thing to go, meaning they still love to preach. When we left, I thought this year would be more of a trial separation, a time for me to rest, read, and explore a different culture and to come back tan, rested and ready. A time for Foundation to be who it would become without being under the influence of Pastor Steve. But the longer we were away, the more I realized the damage prolonged stress had done to my soul, and now healed, I just knew I couldn’t go back.
[a few of the kids in Youth Group]
Of course my kids took it hard, Foundation had essentially been the only church they ever knew until moving to Ghana, but here they found the church youth group they had always longed for. It was large and already working well, and yet there was space for them to plug in, and their dad wasn’t the pastor. They knew we were applying to stay another year, and had even been a part of the decision making process, but the consequence of not returning to Foundation had not been considered.
The reason they tell us that Ghana is on the load shedding exercise of light out every fifth night is the region is in a severe drought, and water levels at Lake Volta have fallen below its minimum. If the turbines run at full capacity now, they will burn out, there is not enough water behind the dam. I know this feeling, that last year I was trying to run at full capacity, and there wasn’t enough to sustain that effort. Its not that I burned out, as much as I, as my sister Beth puts it, got crispy around the edges. Call it what you will but it isn’t that different than an emotional light-out, or load shedding of the soul, and what I needed was a spiritual generator.
This isn’t how I thought it would all end at Foundation. I thought we would retire at that church after a long and successful practice of ministry. Now that we’re not, there is a part of me that longs for it to end well, to say a “good” good-bye. I hear how other missionaries have left their churches, and I think I would have liked to do that, to receive Foundation’s blessing before we left, instead of feeling like we snuck out. You may remember I don’t like to say good-byes, but this time it won’t be a “I’ll see you later,” at least as your pastor. So I don’t know what to call it or what to say.