There is hardly a quiet moment in Akatsi. Anywhere you go, you can hear speakers blasting music, motos roaring, men preaching on megaphones, sellers shouting prices at no one in particular, bands marching through town led by the siren of an ambulance for a funeral, and of course, various clucking, howling and meh-h-h-ing. Even at night the chorus of cicadas is deafening, with the Muslim calls to prayer piercing through.
Since being here, I’ve developed an affection for reggae. It very much so fits the pace of life here. My favorite is a reggae version of, “Hero” by Enrique Iglesias that I hear every once in a while. Akatsi has also renewed my love for early 2000’s R&B, like Mary J. Blige, Destiny’s Child, etc. There is some local music I have grown fond of, like Angela by Kuami Eugene, Ayo by Shatta Wale and “Yaa baby” by Wutah. Some music I have developed an extreme disliking for, like, “One Corner”. Just about every other song you hear being played in Akatsi is this song, and at recognition of it, everyone screams and jumps up to do some sort of dance.
If you ever play gospel music around Mawuko, he will unfailingly say this:
“I like Gospel Music. Gospel Music is God’s music. Everything else is Satan music.”
Once I asked him what was Satan music. He responded by rapping some nonsense, concluding with, “SHATTA WAL-E!”.
“But, Mawuko, you like Shatta Wale. Does that mean you like Satan music?”
“Me, I don’t like it that much, I only like it small.”
Last week, as the rain started to pour, I took shelter under the eaves of my neighbors home. The power was out (as it usually is during storms) and I and the family sat in the darkness, chatting and listening to the rain. I was eventually offered a bamboo mat to sleep on, which I declined. One by one, the family fell asleep and I ended up taking them up on their offer. I was in and out of a lazy slumber for about an hour, and when I finally awoke, Akatsi was still in a cloudy haze, with the chickens hiding under the cars and the goats left fuzzy with moisture (and the baby goats even fuzzier). With no plans in particular for the day, I rested my eyes a bit more and enjoyed the moment for as long as it would grace me. As the family began to rouse, they offered that I keep the cloth I had slept under, and I dreamily wandered home with it still wrapped around me. I realized it was the first time I had felt comfortably warm in Akatsi, as opposed to the stifling stickiness that usually follows me from waking to sleeping. It was a lovely moment.
The same family later in the week taught me how to make catcake, a treat like peanut brittle that I try to buy after school each day, but lately have been missing because of my late returns from tutoring. It was easy and fun!
HOW TO MAKE CATCAKE
1 tb oil
2 cups of roasted, shelled groundnuts (peanuts)
1 cup sugar
Rolling pin/large glass bottle
Large cutting board
- Put roasted groundnuts in bowl. Preferably outside, rub the groundnuts in your hands to remove the casings. Shake the bowl to separate the casings out.
2. On the large cutting board, spread the groundnuts out. Using the rolling pin or large glass bottle, grind the groundnuts until fine, pressing down firmly and being careful not to push them off the board.
3. In the medium saucepan, spread the oil around and place the sugar in to melt. Stir occasionally until it is all liquid.
4. When liquid, stir the crushed groundnuts in slowly. This will form a mixture that will be very malleable until cooled.
5. When completely formed, remove from the mixture from the pan unto the large cutting board. While still warm, roll it out evenly to about an inch’s thickness.
6. Cut long, thin slices from the rolled mixture. Take pieces in hands and twist each end in opposite directions, forming curls.
7. The catcake should cool and harden rapidly, and can be ready to be enjoyed after a few minutes of cooling.
I usually go to a small church of about 20 people (most of whom are children) with this family every Sunday. However, one of the HFLA teachers invited me to their church so I decided to go visit a couple Sundays ago. I knew I would be a spectacle but I thought I would brave the attention for my friend. When I arrived, they offered me the front and center seat (of course) which I politely declined for a more elusive spot. The service was great, but I knew the time would come when they invite first-time guests to the front. My friend pulled me up and the mic was handed to me so that I may say my name to the congregation of about 200 expectant people. Then they asked me to sing a song. I laughed but saw they were serious, and left them very disappointed when I would not comply. At this point we were nearing hour 4 of the service, and as I heard the announcements I was relieved that we were nearing the end. However, then a new pastor walked in, grabbed the mic and asked us if we were “ready to hear the word of God”. At these words I tapped out and left, because at this point I was so and antsy and hungry that I would not be able to pay attention, so there was really no point in me staying. I felt a little bad but I got a coconut afterwards, and then I felt pretty good about my decision.
Something I do not understand is that people here will not tell you everything they are selling. I ask what someone has and they say, “Spaghett.”
“ . . You only have spaghett?”
“. . (points to container) What’s that?”
“Okay. So you don’t just have spaghett. What else do you have?”
“But . . I can see eggs.”
“No, I’m just saying I see that you have other things.”
“How many eggs do you want?”
“I– . . okay. I’ll take one.”
And people don’t like to tell me the prices upfront. I haven’t caught many actually lying, but they’ll only tell me the highest price (the price of the most expensive/largest portion). Like last week when I asked someone how much her sandwiches were for, and she replied, “2 cedi.”
“All of them are 2 cedi?”
“(Points to big one) That one is 2 cedi?”
“ . . What about the smaller ones?”
“ . . (chuckles) 1 cedi.”
Sometimes they won’t tell me the price until after they give me the item. On the weekend I got in an arguement with a woman over porridge. I asked for her to add milk (at school they usually pour a bit in each serving), and she said she didn’t have any. I told her that it was okay, and that I would go elsewhere and she said, “No, no, no, I‘ll get some for you!” She ran in her shop, opened a packet of milk and poured it while I asked her not to. She then told me it would be 2 cedi, when porridge is usually 50 pesewas. I told her I didn’t ask her to open a whole package of milk to pour in, and that I did not want to pay 2 cedi for porridge. We went back and forth a bit, and then a guy started offering to pay for it. I wouldn’t let him so I ended up paying the 2 cedi. When I tasted it, I realized it’s the kind of porridge that uses fermented corn dough (which is definitely not the kind to use milk in), and it left me very frustrated. I tried buying porridge two more times that morning, and even though they were all different, they all had the same fermented taste that I despise. I also dropped 20 pesewas down the gutter, and that pushed me over the edge. I started walking home to cook but when I tried to buy ingredients at my friend’s shop and he remarked that I “looked annoyed”, I started crying. Not quite ugly-crying but getting dangerously close. I bought my eggs and left, still sniffling and wiping tears and of course everyone I passed had to say something like, “Oh, yevu, why are you crying, oh?” or the moto rider who usually calls, “White lady!” as I pass, now calling, “Red lady!”. It was very embarrassing. It was a hard morning.
I knew it wouldn’t be long until everyone knew me by name in the surrounding area. Now whenever I walk I hear, “Kay-leeee! Kay-leeee. Come sit small. Va.” or “Kay-reeeee. Are you back? Where to?” People here often say my name like my great-grandmother used to, emphasizing the LEE. It’s very sweet. The KG students call my “Auntie Candy! Auntie Candy!”, and the funniest part is they didn’t always have trouble saying my name, so I’m not sure what happened.
Once I heard my name being called from the police station. I had heard the policemen calling me before, but I’ve gotten pretty good at ignoring people. However I decided to be polite and go say hello. I entered the station and looked around, only to see cells with inmates in their underpants at the bars, beckoning me over. I turned, stunned, to see a policewomen, suspiciously inquiring what I was doing in there. I had not realized that the voices were from the actual inmates rather than the officers. “I . . uh . . sorry.” I briskly walked out and on my way.
Last week the school had a football game against another school. I anticipated excitement but this was a whole new level. As their students marched into our compound, our students went wild jumping up and down at the gate, cheering. They eventually formed a circle around the visitors and just stared at them as they got ready. The game began, and the other team started some taunting cheers against the Human Factor. Our students just joined in with them, despite our pleas for them to do their own cheers. The excitement eventually died down some, as the heat was pretty dampening to the spirits. Our school caught a second wind when a sir left and came back running with a base drum strapped on, followed by a few other students touting instruments. They played some hymns very vivaciously, with the kids dancing and jumping around, as well as a few other chants like this one about paw-paw (papaya):
Paw-paw is a kind of fruit
Paw-paw is a kind of fruit
Sweet like sug-ah
Yellow like Fanta
Everybody likes paw-paw
There was also one a little more pertinent to the setting:
If you want to
Come to Human Factor
See the master and write your name
If you want to
Come to Human Factor
See the master and write your name
The boys are handsome
The girls are beautiful
The teachers are good
The boys are handsome
The girls are beautiful
The teachers are good
And one in Ewe, that I am determined to learn since we sing it everywhere:
Vovome vovome vovome!
Dela Yesu toe menye
Eworm mezu ablordevi
Egblor nam be tanyee yewor anyigbalado
Mazor azorli mawor akordedzi
(twist on each syllable) Vo-vo-me!
The other team won the game but our students still cheered ecstaticly just the same.
(Me, responding to cheering) “What are they doing?”
(Pearl, annoyed) “They are jubilating.”
It was great.
I’m trying to finish up the Ewe books each class is making, so I dared to invite a few KG1 students into the resource center to finish their Ewe alphabet pages. I knew if I invited a few inside, I would have to be fighting off break-ins from the rest of the students. I do love them, but they make me crazy. Somehow we got the pages done before a student broke down the door, and boy– did they color. Every few seconds they would hold up their paper, saying, “Auntie Kay-dee! B𐒧!” and I would say, “Yes, yes, beautiful. Keep going!” I think they took that to mean they should color harder rather than over more space. A couple colored so hard their page ended up 3D with the wax. They also colored the table, which I’m not sure how I missed since I was right there the entire time.
The kids are in exams now, so I was organizing the library at the SHS most of the week. Senyo, the HFLA’s founder, has come to visit so I wanted to finish as much as possible before his arrival. Every session I’ve been spending around 7 hours on my feet, carrying stacks of books to and fro. The books don’t get much love so they are very dusty, so then I in turn get really dusty. I have to stop periodically to wash my hands becase I start to notice my fingerprints on the book pages. I really, really like organizing, and I can easily get lost in it. Because I’m focused, I’m not noticing my body getting tired. After the first day, I felt normal. But after the second day, it was like walking around with a heavy, wet blanket over me all day. I could barely keep my head up and I was pretty mean to the kids. It was awful. I realize now I need to pace myself. But I am very happy with the progress I’ve made so far– I feel like the library is actually usable now!
I was working in the library, and a student came in to show me a picture of me and Madeline, a sweet KG2 student from my last trip. I told her that I had been asking for her, but everyone has been telling me she doesn’t go here anymore.
“Where did you find this?!”
“You sent it to me, with a letter.”
“. . what is your name?”
I felt bad that I was just realizing she was still here, but I had asked a few teachers and students, but in retrospect I know I can’t trust anyone’s answers here. They either don’t understand my question, or don’t know the answer, so they make up one to appease my interest. Sigh. Anyways, it was a very precious moment.
The school has been very lax lately as they are having exams, and when testing is over, teachers aren’t instructing. They probably should be doing something, but I’m not going to fight it. Because they have so much free time, the resource center has been very busy. Georgina from P5 and I have been exchanging drawings, and when she folded one of her drawings into a house I decided to fold my next one for her into a heart (isn’t it crazy the things you can remember from elementary school?) That led to me teaching a dozen students in the resource center how to make oragami hearts. I love these little spontaneous moments. I try not to get too wrapped up in whatever I’m working on to let these moments pass by. I am expecting an influx in paper hearts in the coming week.
I have been trying to organize a get together for some of my P5/P6 students. It has been a little tricky as our family does not want them over (which I cannot blame them for, as they can get pretty rowdy). After the kids had insistently inquired about it for a few weeks, we finally arranged to meet at Deborah’s house. The afternoon began with some ballet on their tile floor sprinkled with talcum powder as we danced to some Debussy from my phone. Then Debra pulled out her tablet and we watched some funny Nigerian videos. We ate some of my banana french toast and then I taught them how to play spoons. It was a quite a hit, and they all got very competitive and a bit aggresive. Someone brought out a ball so the party got moved outside where we attempted to play volleyball. That quickly turned into “how high can Sheila hit the ball in the air while Rosemund and Debra race to grab it first”. We eventually moved back in to escape the heat, and the girls decided I should teach them a dance routine. So we played “Hold me” from Jamie Grace on my phone, a very popular song here, and made up a dance for it. About a 15 minutes in, someone turned on the TV to find that “Frozen” was playing. We spent the rest of the party watching it, with Deborah commentating on every upcoming scene.
“Oh, they will die. Look, they have died! EVERYONE CRY.”
She also performed the “Let It Go” dance with her sister for us, while Debra tried to play spoons by herself on the couch.
Victoria, the resource center madam, owns a catering business that makes pizzas (AMERICAN FOOD!). She had told me about it before and I had been considering buying one as a treat for the family, but never quite committed to the idea as it is quite expensive. However, when I saw someone selling fresh mushrooms here (which I had not seen previously) I decided it was pizza time. I gave her the mushrooms along with a few cheese sticks my mom had sent me from home and some money for the rest of the ingredients, and that weekend Victoria and Evelyn, the class 1 madam, made us 4 small mushroom and sausage pizzas. It was glorioius. And, aside from the ingredients, she didn’t charge me for the pizza. AND she gave me a bag of mangoes from her tree (my favorite fruit). It was the nicest thing. On my way home, the family that sells me fruit saw me with mangoes and asked me, hurt, if I was buying fruit from another seller. I told her that my friend had given me them. Satisfied, she offered to give me a pineapple in exchange for a few mangoes. So I came home with pizzas, mangoes AND a pineapple. GOD IS GOOD.
If I ever doubted if Mawuko loves me, I think it has finally been affirmed. I have been very tired lately, and I was complaining about it to Mawuko. He ran to grab my medicine so I could take some.
“How many should I take?”
“Me, I don’t know. 10.”
“Oh, dear. Once I took 2 and it did not end well. I think 10 would kill me.”
“Oh. If you die, can I have your iPad?”
Whenever we are roughhousing, Mawuko always shoulders the duty to take things too far. When we pillow fight he always turns it into a fist-fight. Sometimes he’ll come into my room and whisper in my ear, “Kaylee. Let’s go beat Shine.” I’ll tickle shine, Shine will punch Viscant, Viscant will pick me up over his shoulders, and Mawuko will grab the cutlass, ending the fight. “MAWUKO! DZIDZO LA!”
The longer I’m here, the more I realize the prevalence of Juju in the culture here. I always thought it was just a few superstitious people that believed in it, like Viscant who chastises me for doing random things that might upset the “gnomes”, like whistling at night, or walking and eating, two things I seem to do quite often. Sometimes people drive crazy and I yell at them, with Viscant begging me not to because they may use Juju on me. However at church today, we talked about trusting God and being patient on his deliverance, as opposed to turning to Juju. At this I peered around the room and saw everyone causally nodding in agreement. I never realized how much of an option it is here, to go to someone that will sell you a lotion or concoction to make your business flourish, make someone marry you, rid you of illness, etc. Apparently a student passed away from the senior technical high school, followed by others in her class going into comas directly after. People are blaming Juju, as their headmaster has stopped allowing churches to use their classrooms on Sundays as they had done previously, and they believe this has allowed evil spirits to enter in.
Yesterday, a group of the HFLA staff went along with our brass band to attend Senyo’s brother’s funeral. I had yet to attend a Ghanaian funeral, so I did not know what to expect. We arrived to some seating with a DJ playing music. When we had settled, the band played a few hymns and someone said something in Ewe on a mic, inciting a group of us to rise and start moving, with a teacher leading me. Someone asked if I was scared, and then I realized we were going to see the corpse. His widow wept at his side as our line circled the coffin. After a few people spoke, we rose to follow the coffin as it was marched to their house. We entered in to sit in groups of about 8, around a bowl of Kenke, stew and water to wash our hands with. It was very sweet. The ambulance came to take the body and we loaded to the church, where 4 funerals were combined into one. From there we loaded to his hometown and marched to the cemetery. Senyo’s flight was unfortunately delayed so he did not make it to the ceremony. He arrived about an hour after it had ended, but before I could speak to him upon his arrival, I saw another yevu at the funeral.
“Hi . . who are you?”
“Oh my gosh! Hi! My name is Kayla, I’ve heard so much about you!”
“What? Where are you from?”
“PLNU! I’m in the nursing program!”
It’s very Senyo to not tell anyone that he is bringing a student with him from the university. Everyone was shocked and overjoyed that she was here, as this is her third time visiting. I excitedly chatted with her as we went to visit Senyo’s mother. He had some items to give me from my aunt (chocolates, DVD’s, a charger, a globe for the kids, and more chocolates decievingly hidden in boxes of healthy crackers). However much I love chocolate, the best surpise was having Kayla come. Having a friend here to bounce ideas off of, work alongside, complain to, and share stories with is so nice.
Sunday I was very, very tired. I stumbled home from church hoping to take a nap. However, I saw that I was locked out, as my family goes to a different church and had not returned. I slept a bit on the porch, but after half an hour decided to jump the gate. It was quite the feat, as our gate has spikes and is fairly tall (to my family reading this, sorry). I waited until the coast was clear from onlookers and mustered up all my rock climbing experience and somehow got up. I sat on the top for a bit, trying to figure how to safely get down without catching on the spikes or landing on Ellie who was eagerly awaiting my drop underneath, despite my orders of, “Dzo! Dzo, la!” By then, the groups of neighbor children from each direction had noticed my struggle and were attentively watching.
“Can I help you?”
“No, I don’t need help. Thanks. Please go.”
(The kids stare)
“You’re not being helpful. You’re making me nervous. Please go away.”
(The kids start giggling)
“. . (sigh)”
I eventually got down and was pretty pleased that I did not get injured. I then realized they locked the kitchen, so I had a lunch of chicken salad from a tin with crackers (thanks mom) followed by a well-earned nap.
Later I visited Kayla at the Time Tells hotel. She shared her lunch of chicken and rice with me (praise the LAWD) and we shared Ghana stories and watched corny African music videos on her room’s TV. It was so nice to talk to someone that understands me, as in my mindset and also my language. No one here is a native English speaker so it can be very frustrating for me. With Kayla, I can speak fast and figuratively and she can finish my sentences (wipes away a tear). And she has beautiful long hair that I get to braid! Wahoo!
Upon leaving, I walked by a party going on in a courtyard at the roadside. They invited me over, which I would usually decline, but I was little intrigued (mostly, admittedly, by the food set up) so I visited for a bit. 3 birthday girls came out and we sang to them, pictures were taken (many of me, which I felt was inappropriate since I was just a random person walking by). We prayed, the birthday girls each said a few words thanking God for another year of life, and they had a few of us pop champagne bottles, including me. Now, I have only seen this in movies so I didn’t actually know how to do it, and I did not know what to expect. I was very surprised when it shot off, and was amazed that no one was impaled. We ate watse, fufu, cow meat and yam balls, which I had never had before and really enjoyed.
I can’t believe Christmas is almost here! Mostly because it’s not hyped here like it is in the US. So far I have heard one Christmas song and seen one string of lights, both of which made me very excited. Every morning Mawuko will ask me if it is Christmas (or, rather, assert that today is Christmas with me having to break it to him that it is, in fact, not). Every afternoon he asks if I have a present for him yet. We made a little Christmas tree out of a paper towel roll and strips of curled construction paper, so I could put a gift from one of my students underneath. Sometimes he likes to try to creep off with the present. He absolutely cannot handle the delay of gratification, so sometimes I like to mess with him. I bought 10 sparklers for 70 pesewas (?!?) and we have yet to use them, to Mawukos utter torment. I honestly would like to use them, but we keep running out of time every evening. I’m afraid that after all this build up they will not work. We’ll see.
As I was typing this, my wall gecko (one of my wall geckos? I am unsure if I have multiple) appeared on my wall. I realized I have not named him and that he is around enough to deserve a name. If you have a suggestion, please leave it in the comments. Thanks.