Homesickness

Lately I’ve been feeling homesick. It may be the combination of many things, my sister Beth’s 10 day visit, us finally buying a car, or the news of staying another year finally sinking in, the wear and tear this latest version of the load shedding exercise is having on us. But there was something about this week, especially this today, that the homesickness finally hit. I’d wondered when it would hit, and even sometimes, if.

I’ve read about missionaries fighting periods of homesickness, sometimes sparked by a mission team from home, or events happening beyond their influence, and over the months, I’ve watched for the same in my family. When one or more started showing the signs, I’d be sure to add the comfort foods from home for a few meals, buying the more expensive imported food, hoping to stave off, at least for a while, the loneliness, and usually it worked…but this time it was different, it was me.

So we went to Ryan’s Irish Pub for some great Western food, and later to Champs, a local sports bar modeled after what people here think an American Sports bars must be like, sort of like Olive Garden is modeled after what people think an Italian Restaurant must be like. It was fun to go to those places, to be transported at least for an hour or more to things familiar, where the food arrived in a reasonable amount of time, was easily identifiable, the AirCon was cold, and the power didn’t go out. But then we went back to our house and, the light was out.

New Load Shedding Schedule
Ghana is on a new load shedding program where every other day we lose power for 12 hours, alternating between all day and all night. So, in case that hasn’t sunk in, that’s 12 hours every other day: 25% of the time. Usually, the day isn’t such a big deal except last week, when Beth was visiting, we went on a trip to Kakum, the canopy walk in a rainforest.

[Here are pictures from the canopy walk at Kakum]

These are just the kind of knots that hold the whole thing together! Our guide told us the ropes are replaced every six months.

We used our friend’s, the Ikes, car to drive to Kakum, and long the way we tried to stop and buy petrol (gasoline). Since we haven’t had a car, and this load shedding during the day is relativity new, the thought that gas stations could be open but still not be able to pump gas (because the pumps are electric) had never occurred to us. So here we are, needing gas, and station after station can’t sell us any because of the “light-off”. Our friends tell us that Load Shedding is usual, it hasn’t been this bad since 1994, but for us this is all we know of Ghana. It started the month after we arrived.

Then we get back to our house, and the next day it is light off, except that the automatic pump cutoff isn’t working and so in addition to not having power, there is no water, because there is not power enough to pump the water up to the tank, and the tank is empty. We have water, but it won’t flow into the house. We have a generator, but it isn’t powerful enough to power the pump. We are so much better off than most, but the reality is, it still it is still hard living, but not the hardest. We have friends who have been without water since October (meaning the only water they have is the water they have paid to be trucked out to there house), so things are not that bad, I mean after all we still have water to take bucket showers, and washing cloths can wait for another day, but this week it was almost too much. And, we wonder, “Just why did we ask to stay another year?”

This is our third major load shedding schedule, and the most invasive. Back in September it was every five days, then every three days alternating between day and night. In the weeks leading up to 50th celebration, the papers has been full of the hopeful promise that the load shedding exercise would end soon and forever. But there was little excitement for it, and at the time I wondered why. In fact Load Shedding did end (mostly) for 15 days around the 50th, but then the reality caught up with the press, and we went back to the old schedule, and now this new one.

Load Shedding was supposed to end because the energy contracts that had been providing energy to the surrounding countries has been sold to Nigeria. Load Shedding was supposed to end because there were new power plants coming on line that would supply the difference needed, Load Shedding was supposed to end because ValCo (the big Aluminum manufacturing plant) had reduced its power demands. But then Load Shedding didn’t end and instead, got worse. I must admit, I took it hard, not so much because of light out as much as broken hope. The government had said it would end, and we had been mislead. I was learning what perhaps most Africans already know, and maybe that is why it is so hard to be hopeful here.

Beth’s Visit
We had a wonderful visit from my senior sister Beth who returned after being here 37 years ago, when she was 19 and did her first year of university here. It was an interesting dialog for us, discovering what she remembered, taking her back to places that were so important to us then. She vocalized what I had felt along, that much of Ghana feels familiar, but it is all different somehow. Having someone from home brought back memories and feelings I was not used to thinking about – maybe that is why I felt homesick. But we also realized while she was here it had been seven years since our mother unexpectedly died, and Beth so much reminds me of her.

[Beth at Volta Hall, the dorm she stayed in while attending The University of Ghana in 1968]

Buying a car.
Perhaps it was finally getting that which separates us from the lowest level of the American Bubble: a car. After doing without one for the past eight months, except in half of those we were borrowing some friend’s car while they were out of country. But since we couldn’t always rely on our friends to leave the country at our convenience, we bought a car.

[Our new car, which Fox dubbed “Smoky the Car”]

It’s a 1998 Hundai diesel, called a Galloper II (I’m pretty sure this model was never imported into the U.S.!). Maybe this is how it goes when you think that if you only had this one thing, life would be better, and if you have the misfortune to actually get that thing, you realize, well, life isn’t really all that different with that thing than it was without. That thing was the generator, and now a car, and now that we have both, we should be happy, and mostly we are, its just this week was harder than most.

Maybe its getting harder because, as news filtered through our communities that we’re not coming back for another year, we could almost feel the collective, sigh, and people giving up on us. Maybe it’s the nice emails I’ve been receiving from folks who just wanted to say good-bye, and how my ministry had touched their lives, but it all feels so final. Maybe its all these things, that and the start of rainy season.

[Stormy Clouds on the way back from Cape Coast]

Before Beth’s visit it has rained a total of three days in last nine months we had been here. But we think Beth brought the rain because since her visit it has rained seven times and they were long, hard and hopeful rains. Hopefully raining above the dam, and filling Lake Volta, and that means light.

So it is a different feeling that fills or lives lately, one of hanging on, and wondering what God will do with all this. Tonight I’m wondering if it was a bit presumptuous for us to say that staying here another year was our choice, but part of God’s plan, and maybe this week has just been a gentle reminder.

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