Friday, December 08, 2006

Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life

When I was thinking of a title for this (maybe final) blog on Ghana, the first line of an old hymn came to mind: Where cross the crowded ways of life. I love hymns--I love singing them, especially in four part harmony, and this particular hymn is wonderful to sing. But the phrase came to me partly because there was something about this trip to Ghana that touched a place deep in my soul.

Accra, Ghana, is by no means the most attractive or interesting place I have ever visited. Parts of it are downright squalid. But there were some experiences that were just so vital that I would not have traded this trip for any other location in the world.

Here are some of the shining experiences.

One night, my daughter suggested we go to Bywel. Bywel is a nightclub by Accra standards.

The venue is primarily outdoor, with a fenced in area, a gate/door through which one must pass and pay an entrance fee. Once inside, there are relatively crude counters with rickety chairs to sit on. Patrons can order soft drinks or beer, and sit there in the humid night air. The entertainment is the draw. The overall space is a large open square, with the seats on two sides of the square, the refreshment bar on a third side, and the band on the fourth. The band plays highlife music. As we entered, they were playing, in highlife style, "What Child is This?" Seems to be a popular in Accra.

We sat down, ordered some drinks, and then listened to the music. After a short while, some people began dancing. One woman especially wanted to dance--so she stood where she had been sitting and moved enthusiastically in time to the music. After one whole number had played, during which she stood dancing the whole time, a man came along, took her hand and led her out to the dance floor section. Into the third number, he began dancing with another woman, so the first woman hip-bumped her competition out of the way.

We didn't stay long, but the scene is quite memorable and will stay with me a long time.

On another evening, my daughter suggested we go to Alliance Francais. The French government sponsors these cultural centers in over 100 countries. The night we went there, they had a drum and dance exhibition.

The drums were playing the polyrhythmic music that I associate with Africa, and the dancers performed a variety of numbers, each of which was preceded by a costume change. My personal favorite was announced as the Monkey Dance. Just how the dance was the monkey dance eluded me, although other patrons attending may have understood perfectly.

During the time that I was in Ghana, the US celebrated Thanksgiving. In fact, the Thanksgiving break at school facilitated the timing of my trip. Obviously, Ghana does not specifically celebrate this quintessential American holiday. But, since I was with my daughter, we decided to have a Thanksgiving dinner. Along with a friend of my daughter's, we went to a local restaurant--strangely an Argentinian restaurant. For Thanksgiving dinner, my daughter and I both ordered kebabs on a hanging skewer--mine was chicken (that's close to turkey, no?) and hers was beef. A most memorable Thanksgiving dinner!

Eating out was not much different than eating out in the US. However, the first night we went to a local Ghanaian restaurant. Among the ways in which this restaurant was different were the hand washing stands dotted around the restaurant. Some typical Ghanaian food is meant to be eaten with the hand, so washing hands first is a good idea.

The overall ambience of the restaurant was lovely--on a hot evening, we sat in an open air structure, with the breeze playing on the wind chimes. All around, in the night air, you could hear the evening sounds of traffic, voices, and night creatures (small ones--nothing vicious!).

On the Sunday that I was in Accra, my daughter had discovered where the closest Presbyterian church was--it was fairly close to where she lives. As we made our way to the church, we passed several other groups of worshippers, and you could hear the singing wafting up from the open buildings. The Eben-ezer Presbyterian Church is a large brick structure. The windows were all thrown open for the 7 a.m. (!) service--the English service.

We sat in the outer area which we learned the church had built several years before to accommodate all the extra worshippers they had. They called the overflow area the shed.

The hymns were unfamiliar--but, no matter. What I found most fascinating about the service was that in the course of the 2 1/2 hour long worship, they collected not one, not two but THREE offerings. First, they collected the tithes that went in wooden boxes. The givers had to come forward in special groups--the Session members first (then those boxes were taken away), then dignitaries and other important visitors (again, those boxes were removed) and finally all the other congregants. The second offering was a Thankoffering collection, no doubt for Thanksgiving Sunday. This was collected in deep bags that looked like knitting bags, that were passed in and out of the rows of worshippers. Finally, there was an announcement that since everyone has a special day, we should give in honor of that. While it took us a minute or two to figure out what the preacher meant, it soon became evident that you were to give in honor of your day of birth.

With the first offering, the choir had sung. The second offering had a jazz band playing very lively music. Now, this third offering also had the jazz band, but this time, everyone went in to the church to give their offering. We watched as section by section went up front--and the band kept playing. By now, members of the congregation were dancing up the aisles, on their way to give. Actually, there was a passing resemblance to Bywel! Finally our section got up, and my daughter and I made our way inside. What we discovered then was 7 baskets in the front of the church--one for every day of the week! So, I being born on a Tuesday put my contribution in he Tuesday basket. What a stroke of genius--an offering that builds in competition to see which day of the week has the best givers born on it! Ideas to take home to my church in Harrisburg! Another indelible memory.

I saved the best for last--what was the absolute best part of this whole trip? Getting to see my daughter. The photo below speaks for itself!


Anonymous said...

Great photo of you and your daughter. You both are radiant.

I enjoyed reading the posts about your trip - and got a chuckle at the story of the woman who hip-bumped her competition out of the way.

LauraHinNJ said...

Sounds like this was a fantastic trip! Thanks for sharing it here.

robert said...

Your blog caught my eye this morning because of your reference to Frank Mason North's powerful hymn, "Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life." (Today is the 159th anniversary of his birth.)

I see that you love hymns and hymn singing. Good for you! Are we a dying breed? I sure hope not! And if you enjoy reading about the background of our hymns and their authors, I encourage you to bookmark my daily blog on the subject, Wordwise Hymns. God bless.