Day 7 – Bongo Rock

We had planned to just spend a day or so in Bloga, but it is a nice town, and the Sacred Heart Catholic Guest House is simple, but comfortable and so we stay for what turns into four days. After the adventure with the Crocodiles, Anna decided to visit Bongo Rock, via shared Taxi. A few days earlier I had thought that five was the passenger max, but today the driver crammed seven into his tiny TICA but 60 p, I can hardly complain, about .45 cents.

Bongo is a village just north of Bolga. There is not much to the town, and given the directions we got from the kid from New York who spoke to us on the ride out there, we walk out of town toward the big rocks. It always amazes me to think about what we are doing, walking outside a town we’ve never been to, toward a place we have only vague directions toward, in the very north of Ghana, West Africa. We’ve been here long enough for this to seem pretty normal, but then I think about what we’re doing and I can’t believe it.

We get maybe 10 minutes out of town and a man coming from the other direction asks “Where are you going?” He decides he will lead us, and along the way he calls out for 3 or 4 others join in. There is no discussion of money, but I know at the end I’ll dash him some small thing for his efforts. This always seems to happen and I see it as more a hospitality than hustle, and so I’m OK with it because I know we’ll get a much better tour if the guy leading us knows where to take us. He asks if we want to see the Traditional or Christian site. We keep saying Traditional and he keeps asking until we say Christian, and then we go there.

The landscape here is very different, the grass is green, clipped short by the goats, who are tied up, not and wondering around. We walk besides fields of maize (corn), and millet, past plots of groundnuts (peanuts), cassava, and okra. But do not see the banana, mango or papaya trees, but find terraced farming here, and lush fields surrounding the terraces.

The Christian site has 4 steel pipe crosses along the path to the top. We gather that the Catholics come out here and if there were a few more crosses, I imagine Holy Week and reenacting the stations of the cross [click here]. It is a challenging climb, one I wonder how many times these boys will do today. They ask about Anna, and watch her very carefully. Its a rough climb, and when I’m losing my breath, I pause to take pictures, sometimes I actually use the camera.

We had been warned about the last step, how it is a leap of faith, but worth the risk. In other words it looks more dangerous than it actually is. How will I know? I had asked the college kid in the Taxi who had been to the rock earlier. “Oh you’ll know,” he said. We when we got to the place, we saw a panoramic view of all the north of Ghana into Burkina Faso, breath taking. We could see the different villages and extended family compounds, not that different than flying over the Midwest with the farmsteads that dot the landscape. But to get an even better view, one has to jump across the crevasse to the large rock that looked beyond the trees. Oh, so this is what he had been talking about. The body looks at what the eyes can see and says, better not jump. The mind say, says you can do it, overcome your fear…jump. Its not as far as it looks. The body is skeptical, imagining all the scenarios where it doesn’t make it; the mind say go for it, you’ll be fine.

All day I’ve been thinking about our ride up to Bolga from Tamale. We took one of those long-haul TroTros, the really large ones that seat five across, seven rows deep, and are usually top loaded with bundles of cargo and goats. National Geographic stuff. Sitting this compact, my ears are inches from the two Peace Corps girls behind who talk as if I were not there. I can’t even turn around we are so stuffed in here. They catch up on each other’s lives, discussing everyone in the program and who they are currently “with”. I can’t avoid listening; they talk non-stop for three hours. One boy they talk about extensively, “like when you’re talking with him, he looks all thoughtful, and he gets that like far off look, like he’s thinking deeply about what you are saying…” the other jumps in, “but he’s not” she says. “There is like nothing going on inside.” I’m sure I’ve dropped a couple hundred usages of the word like. These women are such verbal processors, but their words burn in my ears. Am I like that? What would they say about me if they knew me? For three hours I hear them analyze their friends and colleagues, and that boy. “He’s passionate about nothing,” they say. Not that he isn’t passionate, its just that his passion does not have an object. Its talk without action, music without expression, art that can’t evoke an emotion. Passionate about nothingness except looking or feeling passionate. I think about myself, my situation, and wonder what makes me come alive, or back to my current situation, what would I jump across the crevasse to do, ignoring the danger of possible failure?

Someone once said “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” [Howard Thurman] So have been compiling my list of things that make me come alive, and it seems like such a shallow one, but what would be worse I think, is to lie about one’s own list of passions. So in no particular order this is my list: cooking/food, worship and Ghana.

Cooking – I’ll spend all day, or two cooking a meal, or learning a dish from someone. It is perhaps my most favorite thing to do these days; in fact I get cranky if I don’t spend some time in the kitchen every few days. I was like this growing up too. Once in junior high I remember visiting my Uncle Joe’s farm in Kansas, and making them pizza with my mom. I’ve cooked in most of my friend’s kitchens at one point or another. I love the communal aspect of food, and deeply appreciate that about aspect of the Ghanaian culture. That, except for one dish called “Face the Wall,” one would never think about eating alone here. Food is community, and by definition, something shared. For me its one of the hardest adjustments to life back in the states, how lonely lunch or dinner time can be because people are too busy to stop what they are doing to share a meal, or worse, rushing through it so they can do the next thing; eating with out tasting it. When Suzanne asked what I wanted to do for my 50th birthday, it was inviting friends over and cooking a fabulous meal with them and then sharing it.

Worship – I’m not just saying that because I’m a pastor, and should include something religious on my list (how sad would that be?) I do love worship, I love planning it, attending passionate worship services, feeling the playful love that goes into the service when everything works together, the danger when someone calls an auditable. I love being lost in the experience, as the work of worship helps me approaching the divine. This work can’t be measured by minutes, but only what that experience does, where it takes you. I love a well structured sermon, singing hymns I’ve never sung, connecting words of the hymns with the message, being lead by a talented lead worshipper, or listening to the perfect song following a sermon, like a good cup of coffee after dessert. I love that feeling after the benediction when I feel changed, encouraged, or challenged. I love it on Wednesday when my mind is still working through a “some assembly required” aspect of the sermon, or when I’m wondering years from now, about a particular point or story I heard.

Ghana – I wanted to say Africa, but this continent is huge and diverse, and Africa is already so trendy these days. When I say it, Ghana doesn’t feel like a large enough passion, but it’s a newly discovered one, one I cannot fully articulate. I just know I love being here, and when I’m not, then talking about life here. I like the person I am here. I like the work Suzanne is doing here. I like traveling here, even when it is difficult and things don’t go our way or are dangerous. We’ve learned we prefer the TroTros over the big bus, or the air conditioned vans, or the fast cars or dropping taxis. Its not about the expense, or the planning, it just is simpler and more interesting. I mean an air conditioned van should be nicer, but what about when the guy sitting next to you for three hours is from one of those formerly French colonies, where deodorant is not widely used. In an open air Tro, no problem. In a closed air conditioned van, big problem. I see so many people doing such good work here, and the work Suzanne is doing is leading toward deeper change. It isn’t in an orphanage, or building a church, its preparing Africans to problem solve Africa’s problems, the African way, and it feels like we are connected to something so much bigger than ourselves, something worthy of being the object of our passion, of taking that leap and we both feel so alive.

Back on the Christian Rock site near the Bongo, I wonder if I’m over thinking this whole leap to the next rock and while I am, I watch Anna mountain goat across it with ease. It is worth it I hear from her, and when I’m finally there, we can see far enough to actually see the curvature of the earth.

Then its off to Bongo Rock. It’s the kind of place one wonders how they discovered it. Basically, just a big rock just balanced on a few smaller ones, but when you strike the smaller rocks they sound like a tuned drum, a bongo, and these four guys that have been moving with us all take up stations around the different rocks and start banging on them.

I had noticed them picking up hand sized rocks earlier. There is a rhythm to it, a song of tones, and these guys bang it out. After the concert Anna and I take our turn, and then everyone just rests. We relax in the shade of the rock; the wind blows, our sweat soaked shirts dry, the view is amazing, and we just rest, thankful to be here. Then as if something had happened, it is time to head back. Its an easy walk back to the village.  We see this perfectly white lamp sitting on a rock. Then its a dash to our guides and back in the shared taxi to Bolga (this time just four of us).

Back in Bolga its time for Sugar Cane, and Anna finds a seller and we take it back to the hotel. I remember this treat from when I was a child here, and watching her chew on it, it is a shared memory.

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