The Buchele Adventure
This is record of the Buchele Adventure, as reported from West Africa.
Saturday, February 28, 2015
Furniture Shopping – Ghana Style Part 2
In our last blog post, Suzanne and Casper begin scouting out furniture for the new engineering building at Ashesi. Shop number one was (maybe) located but didn’t have what we needed.
Shop number two was listed as in a certain shopping center. It was closer in to central Accra. We found it, a large colonial-era complex with shops around a large indoor walk space and huge steps up to the second floor; think Gone with the Wind but substitute grimness and uneven, concrete steps. The shop was upstairs. We walked in and found a helpful salesperson and a large, varied selection of office and other furniture. Almost immediately I spotted it: the holy grail I pined for but thought I would never find in Ghana, a high-quality rolling chair whose seat folds up so you can roll a whole bunch together compactly when you need to put them away. I sat in one like it at Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering at two different workshops over the last two years, and I was enamored. I had spec'd theirs, made in America and priced at $600 each (ouch). This one was made in Canada, she couldn’t give us a price just then but would email us a quote and options available (e.g. fabrics, arms or not).
The Olin-esque chair
I was feeling pretty happy with myself for having spotted that one, but knowing it may well be out of our price range we kept looking. We found a few other stackable options, but none perfect: one with chrome legs (rust an issue), one kind of flimsy-looking although it seemed sturdy (I think that one was from Italy, but looked a lot like the molded plastic chairs we had in public elementary and high school in the US), one we thought would scape noisily across the floor. But some possibilities, both were confortable. We thanked the saleswoman and went on our way, feeling somewhat successful.
Two other chairs
Shop number three was difficult to find. The location was in the same neighborhood, a bit of backtracking to where shop number one was (or should have been) but near the cathedral. We used our algorithm, got to the cathedral and past it, no shop. So our driver Peter called, they picked the phone (yay!) and gave another landmark, and said if we got to such-and-such other landmark, call again. We did, and called again, and apparently we went well past it (why they gave us a landmark well past it in sort of the wrong direction is, well, curious). Peter called again, got yet another direction and landmark, we drove that way, still no sign of it. Frustrated, Peter handed the phone to me to try again – maybe the obruni will have more luck. We did, she seemed much more interested in navigating us there with me on the phone, and 4 minutes later we pulled up to the shop on a quiet side-side-side street and right next to a Presbyterian Church. We NEVER would have found it without the step-by-step navigation, and why she didn’t mention the Presbyterian Church in the first two tries is also curious, it’s almost as if the receptionist was being purposefully difficult, not a winning marketing strategy if you ask me.
New Engineering Building gathering space
Shop number three’s building was a nice, modern, dedicated office furniture shop, not nearly as crammed as the last shop but also with a plentiful, varied selection. We were again met with a very helpful saleswoman as we entered, we told her what we were looking for and she took us around to the 5 or so possible chairs on two floors. One of the first ones we saw we really liked, but once again, chrome legs. Oh, I think that one has an option of (hard, rubberized) plastic legs, says helpful saleslady, but it has a mesh back and no arms. No arms is actually fine for the classroom setup, she shows me the photo in the book and I see the price, too, in our price range! Hooray! Do you happen to have any in stock, I ask. She heads off to check, and is back in less than a minute saying they have 140 in their warehouse, which is exactly the number I want. Wow. We ask her if we can have a sample, and to reserve the 140 for us, and it’s arranged: she’ll send us an invoice via email, she’ll have one sent from the warehouse and Peter can pick it up Monday, and she’ll hold the rest for us for a few days to decide. We leave feeling very successful.
They have this one with rubberized plastic legs (we ordered some)
No one yet has had any folding tables, so we go to the big office supply and furniture store in town, a 4 story dedicated building that is everyone’s first and often only stop shopping for such things. Ashesi has purchased from them before, but the chrome has rusted and we haven’t been completely happy with other features either, hence our branching out for these new purchases. But I figure they’ll have a good supply of folding tables, which we’ve had zero luck with so far, so in we go.
Ashesi’s new Design Lab
The first floor is all office supplies (paper, pens, etc.) so we go up a floor. Not what we need on that floor, we go up another floor. This looks more like what we need, a large variety of stackable and other chairs, and lots of tables. We see some foldable tables, most with chrome legs, some dented and/or with parts missing or broken. Come to think of it, looking around, about every 3rd piece of furniture is, well, damaged. Lopsided, missing feet, dented, missing arms, broken parts. The place does not scream quality, to put it mildly. We don’t see the dimension of table we’re looking for, at least not in a foldable one, but their selection is so huge I figure they can order just about anything. We head over to the only salesperson on the floor, a woman sitting at a desk at the top of the stairs. She is looking pretty bored. We go up to her, greet her, and tell her we’re looking for foldable tables. She motions to where we were. We explain we didn’t see what we needed. She rather unhappily gets up and walks us over to the three tables we already saw. We explain that we want a table like this one, without chrome legs, but in a dimension more like this one. She looks doubtful. I ask if they have other sizes. She shrugs and heads back to the desk. We follow her, more hopeful than she is, apparently. She sits at the desk, types at the computer for 20 seconds, looks up and says, “they don’t have dimensions.” I try and clarify what she means. She responds: “There are no dimensions for the tables.” Again, I try and clarify, not sure how a store that clearly sells hundreds of different tables could possibly not have descriptions and dimensions in their computer system, but that apparently is what she’s telling me. I actually don’t believe it, I think she is just tired of dealing with us - it’s much easier to sit looking bored than actually do something. So Casper and I look at each other, shrug, and decide to head out. I am not very motivated to look at chairs there, as the selection is huge (it would take a long time to do a thorough job); representatives from Ashesi were there in November-December and had done a thorough job documenting that they had, and they hadn’t found the perfect thing; the salesperson clearly doesn’t want to help us; and with so much evidence of low-quality around, plus our own experiences with some of their products, I just don’t feel like putting in any more effort here.
Ashesi’s new Science Lab
In the car I vent a bit about the poor customer service and seeming poor quality of products there, and both Peter and Casper become very animated: “oh, they don’t care, they have all the government contracts, they could sell to no one else and they’d still make money!”
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Scholarships from Abroad - part two
In part one, 18 students from the village are selected to receive a scholarship to high school.
was for Lynn to transfer funds via Western Union and have EcoBank issue checks to the schools in the name of the students and have the headmistress distribute those checks.
What Actually Happened
EcoBank – the Pan African Bank is our bank. We have a challenging relationship. Expediency and efficiency are verbs unknown to them. I wrote about our first adventure (when we tried to open a bank account efficiently) and my last involved writing withdraw slip by hand, copying a “sample” they provided on blank paper (EcoBank does not print withdraw slips, and then charges $2 to with withdraw money). And of course there is the fun game we play with their ATMs we call like to call ATM roulette – but today I’m the wheel instead of the ball, just hoping the ball of funds will land on my number and tuition checks can be issued.
I have an amazing mother-in-law who, when she was wanting something from a large institution, would make an appointment and then plop herself down in the office of the person who had the power to grant her request with a good book, empty bladder and no intention of leaving. It always worked. Today, I’m channeling Nelda as I walk into Ecobank with an empty bladder, a fully charged Kindle, and a firm resolve to do battle with their bureaucracy.
I guess it could have been worse had I not won the heart of sweet Bernice who helped me with the paperwork.
In Ghana there is always paperwork, and even if much of the information is the same, one has to fill out every stinking form. By hand. Bernice really wanted to just transfer the money into the accounts of the different high schools, but we didn’t have their account numbers.
I think…Maybe if these high schools had answered their phones (or provided working numbers). Maybe if they had responded to my emails. But none did, so the only other option was for me to personally drive to each school to get those account numbers… and that is not going to happen today. So checks it is…
Bernice hands me a 2 inch stack of check forms, and a quick calculation has it taking 4-6 hours to complete, a task I am not excited about as it has me finishing about bank closing time. So I ask Bernice to help, and she balks.
Now I wasn’t raised Catholic, and I didn’t have a Jewish Mother, but as a pastor I do know something about the guilt those two faiths are famous for. I really feel bad for heaping guilt on her, but what alternative did I have?
“If I don't finish today, I say, there are going to be eighteen disappointed students who will not be going to SHS and its going to be on your conscience, because Bernice, I'm doing everything I can to help them”
God Bless You Bernice!
Three hours later Bernice and I have the forms are filled out. Now about the money…
It wasn’t all EcoBank’s fault, Western Union played a supporting role by choosing not to make funds available, just to take Lynn’s money, issue codes, and do nothing because it was Africa. Seriously, what did they think was going to happen when they sat on the money until Lynn called, and they had a personal interview?
So I had hours to read, pray, and nap.
That should be the title of my autobiography. Read, Pray and Nap.
Western Union’s motto is “Moving Money for Better,” and fourteen hours after they said the money was available, they finally moved that money to EcoBank, and the check writing process begins.
Its 3pm and the bank closes in an hour.
That night I was teaching a course on prayer, and the topic was Dealing with Disappointment. I figured even with the hours of prayer (and naps) today would provide plenty of illustrative material on dealing with disappointment, especially now that the bank has closed, and no checks have been issued.
This isn’t the first my afterhours experience with EcoBank. It seems their policy is whoever is in the bank when the doors close will be helped. I stood, or rather sat my ground even when the formerly bored security guard came over tried to shame me into leaving. Really, I’ve been here six hours, and you’re shaming me?
With the doors are locked, a party atmosphere breaks out, and suddenly the room develops compassion, “Oh! You are still here?” “You have been here all day! Its too much-ooooo”
Ninety minutes post closing time, Bernice, my sweet angel, shows up with the checks. She is proud, I am relieved, and ready for some food and a bathroom. Time per check: about 30 minutes.
[Handing Checks to Headmistress Margaret ]
A few days later My Guys hand the checks to the school headmistress, Margaret, who later will distribute the checks to the students to take to their schools.
Thursday, December 18, 2014
Scholarships from Abroad–part one
It was not my intention to become a scholarship committee, and yet here I find myself in the midst of the perfect storm of crushing need, resources abroad, and year-end urgency.
Lets back up.
Six more months ago our friends Lynn & Skip were living on the other side of the faculty bungalow. Skip teaches at Ashesi, and Lynn in the village schools.
Lynn is the kind of person I aspire to be, deeply compassionate, fragile, thoughtful, and a very good cook. She is so comfortable in her identity that just being in the same room makes you feel like the kind of person you always wanted to be. Like a sponge wiping up a spill, her personality absorbs the anxiety I have about where I am on that journey.
[Lynn with teacher]
Lynn brings a message of non-violence to the village schools. She believes when children are treated with respect and dignity, even when their behavior is not positive, they will try harder to respond with a more proper behavior. Fear is not the tool of good teacher. Pain is not a good motivator.
[Lynn presents to the teachers]
She heard from the teachers how students were not motivated to study for high school entrance exams; there was no money for tuition. In Ghana, schooling up through junior high is relatively free, but high school has a tuition that starts at about $300.
[Lynn teaches folk dancing]
So last May, Lynn offered to provide scholarships to students who passed their High School Entrance Exam. Up to this point, that number has been one or two each year. In October, the results from the senior high school entrance exams were published. Margaret, the school headmistress notified Lynn that thirty village students had passed, and Lynn asked if I could help with the distribution of the scholarships.
Ministry is always more fun when you share the load, so after Lynn contacted me, I met with Adams, a student I have high regard for. I explained the project to Adams and he organized some students to help. Adams recruited Yahaya, and Affum, and the trio become the guys. Yahyah is an orphan from Village of Hope, Affum is Ashesi’s first student from the village of Berekuso, and Adams, an amazing leader. It is a good team.
[The Guys: Yahyah, Affum, Adams & Rev. Steve]
The Guys are helping for a variety of reasons. Some knew Skip, some just like doing stuff with me, and one is helping his village. They are good young men, who received their education from scholarship, so perfect for guiding this project.
We sat on our back porch having coffee and eating digestive biscuits, figuring out how the project would work. These young men already have such amazing leadership and problem solving skills. I just bring up a situation, and they clarify the question, determine a method for answering it, and then seek the best, honorable solution. I watch in awe. They ended up interviewing twenty students, eighteen who qualified. Those that didn’t, had just showed up, I guess, because they heard the we were give out scholarships.
[Adams interviewing a student]
In the next installment read how the scholarships get funded.
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
The Secret to Shelia’s “Chicken and Red Sauce”
A friend of our son wants to make a him Ghanaian comfort food for his birthday. Sheila’s Chicken and Red Sauce is the gold standard. Prepared in the afternoon, the chicken is served room temperature with piping hot Red Sauce, white rice and a fruit salad.
In 2009, Shelia taught me it’s secrets.
[Steve & Shelia cooking in 2009]
There are two recipes that are cooked concurrently, often in the early afternoon before the house got hot.
8 medium onions, quartered
2 fists of garlic, skinned and cut
4 fingers of ginger, skinned and cut into slices
3 small chickens, cut up.
Oil for frying (safflower or sunflower)
Chop onions, garlic and ginger in a food processor or blender until rough-smooth. Pour over cut up chicken and cook on medium-high heat for 10 minutes.
[“steaming” the chicken]
Add salt, stir and continue to cook until chicken thoroughly cooked and just starts to pull away from the bone. Shelia calls this “steaming the chicken.”
While chicken is “steaming” start work on the Red Sauce (see next recipe).
When chicken begins to pull away from the bone, steaming as long as 30 minutes (depending on the tenderness of the chicken) turn fire off and remove chicken with tongs and place in a colander, capturing the stock that drains off and returning it to the stock pot. Let chicken cool slightly.
[frying the steamed chicken]
In a large, deep frying pan add one half to three quarters inch of light oil. Heat oil until hot, then carefully add chicken to one layer. Cook until chicken is deep brown on all sides and remove. Drain on paper towel, and cover. Cook chicken in batches.
[peppers and tomatoes]
32 Roma Tomatoes, quartered (or 3 large tins of diced tomatoes)
1 handful of small hot habanero peppers, steamed and seeded (if you want to reduce the heat).
3 medium onions, halved and then sliced in half moons.
1-2 cups light oil (safflower or sunflower)
2 tins of tomato paste (70gr each)
½ c dried shrimps (or 4 cubes of Maggie – Maggie is a concentrated flavor cube [wiki]). Or use extra salt or flavoring cubes.
4 cups stock from the steamed chicken (see previous recipe)
3 T curry powder
3 green peppers, cubed, or cut in nickel sized pieces (add right before serving)
[fried onions and pureed tomatoes and peppers]
In a large stock pan, fry onions in oil until just brown at the edges.
While onions are frying, puree tomatoes and peppers in a blender of food processor until smooth and add to fried onions.
[sauce reduction, see how its level reduces in pan]
Cook on high until reduced by half (about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning).
When reduced by half, add 2 tins of tomato paste, and blend until smooth, cooking on medium heat.
Add half cup of dried shrimps (or 4 cubes Maggie). Stir often to prevent burning.
[dried ground shrimps added, see how much sauce has reduced]
Add 4 cups of stock from the chicken, (which should replace half of the liquid that was reduced by cooking).
[chicken stock added]
Cook until thick. Add in 3 T curry powder and turn off fire and correct seasoning, adding salt if needed.
Tip: Do not cook curry powder as it loses its flavor and becomes bitter.
Just before serving, stir in cubed green peppers.
Serve with rice and fruit salad.
Thoughts on Cooking
I wonder why it is I am drawn to doing the things that only last for the moment, like
things that are fully consuming, but once completed, become memories.
I look at the artwork my kids have made over the years, and they are for us, a moment in time, captured. But for most of what I really I enjoy doing, there are only memories.
Like my mom teaching me to make what I now call "Iowa Chili," though it should more rightly be called "Kansas Chili" because that is where she was raised, but I learned it in Iowa. Iowa Chili doesn't have garlic, it does have kidney beans, along with ground beef, and uses tomato sauce along with the whole tomatoes.
Texas Chili is way different, as is Grubstake Chili. Each has been taught to me in a kitchen of shared love, love of food, love of the cooking process, love of the companionship of learning and teaching food, and the stories.
At my first church, the kitchen was where everything important happened. We cooked together, talked, enjoyed each other's friendship in that room. If I needed to think or talk to someone, staff knew it would happen in the kitchen.
At my last church, I taught a cooking class that prepared food for 100 in a couple of hours from raw ingredients. It really was an excuse for us to gather in the kitchen and enjoy each other for a few hours. It was an amazing kitchen.
Not every church has a kitchen like that. In one church I served the kitchen was a room designed by someone who doesn't like to cook. It lacked a soul, odd for a building that has such vibrancy in its design and construction.
I know rooms are not alive, that they don't have a soul, but there is something about this kitchen that is missing. It may be what my daughter Anna talks about, when she says "chain food" doesn't have love in it. She can taste if the love is there, she says, and knows if the person who made it cared.
Food is symbolic of Love when words are inadequate. – Alan D. Wolfelt
Eating dinner that night Shelia taught me her Chicken and Red Sauce, around the Mozley's large table, eating this wonderful food, with these great friends, I remember thinking, if my Anna was here, she would taste the love, and the friendship that produced and shared this meal. It made me think that food is not just to something to sustain our bodies, but when shared, to sustain our souls.
The secret to Shelia’s Chicken and Red Sauce? Love.
Monday, October 20, 2014
What We Will Do When… (Ebola Comes to Ghana)
Each morning Suzanne and I watch the news to hear the latest on Ebola. We fear one morning we will wake to learn Ebola has made it to Ghana. When it does, Ghana will be ready.
Hospitals are Preparing
We were paying a bill at the nearest hospital. Outside there was a nurse who took our temperature and interviewed us for five minutes before allowing us inside, to pay my bill.
The trouble is many tropical diseases initially present with similar symptoms to Ebola: fever, headache, diarrhea, vomiting, weakness, joint muscle pains, stomach pain, lack of appetite. In the weeks our nurse has been monitoring, she has found many with those symptoms—this is a hospital after all—but none with Ebola.
Churches are Preparing
At our church in Accra, hugging, shaking hands, even holding hands at the end of the service for “the Grace” was stopped.
Shared communion elements were changed to prepackaged individual servings. It is good that we are practicing this now, before Ebola hits, so that when it does, we are ready.
At Ashesi, we had two days of Ebola training from the Ghana Ministry of Health. We learned that Ebola first appeared in South Sudan, but identified months later in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) in 1976, near the Ebola River.
Of the five known strains, this outbreak is the first time the Zaire strain has appeared in West Africa. Suspected to have jumped from bush animals (who are carriers, but not affected) to humans, hunters and those who prepare food were the first to be infected, followed by health care workers.
“This is a crisis of Leadership and Citizenship” the president and founder of Ashesi said at a September Town Hall Meeting.
Leadership in how the governments of Liberia and Sierra Leone initially responded.
Citizenship in how the public and patients lied, or left out important details in healthcare in screenings.
Ashesi has started construction of two isolation units on the edge of the campus. If a someone becomes suspect they are quarantined until the ambulance arrives.
In a few weeks we will start having preparedness exercises on campus to practice what we have learned.
So what will We do?
When Ebola comes to Ghana we will stay, doing what we do now, unless the University is closed down. Then we will leave until it is safe to come back.
Today, we feel perfectly safe in Ghana, and are thankful our community is making preparations for when Ebola does come.
It is not a matter of if.
However, this highlights one of the very few positives of being located on a very bad road. Nothing arrives here by accident, and by God’s Grace, neither will Ebola.
[from www.thisisindexed.com – a fun website that puts everything in perspective]
Thursday, September 04, 2014
The Transparent Man at The Zayaa Mosque
Typical architecture of northern Ghana
The architecture of northern Ghana is so different than the south; homes are round, in collective compounds, and made of red mud and thatched roofs. But 20 minutes south of Bolgatanga on the main road there is something that doesn’t seem to belong anywhere: The Zayaa Mosque of Walagu.
The Zayaa Mosque of Walagu
This shrine has square corners, was built to be many levels, and looks more like it belongs in Santa Fe than the savannah of Ghana. I have no trouble imaging Luminaries atop its walls at Christmas.
Today known as the Zayaa Mosque, it dominates the landscape, making the mud houses that surround it look out of place, and ancient. Our guide tells us it was just built in the 1990s, using traditional materials and methods.
Sheik Abdul Karim, was given a vision for a house of prayer. In a series of dreams he was directed to this location and then given a vision that specified its design and purpose. The story goes that the morning after he came to Wulugu, a hand dug well appeared on the site. God had provided water. As the Sheik started building, new levels would appear in the night at he slept, as if some unknown person had continued building. In another dream, he heard “The land I have shown to you is a place to be kept holy.” Dave and I are invited to remove our shoes before we enter, this is holy ground.
Do you see the transparent man?
While our guide tells us this story, I look over and see what appears to be a man, a transparent man, sitting, watching us. I have that feeling of being watched, but don’t say anything to Dave. I snap a few pictures to make sure I’m not loosing it I’m wasn’t or imagining things I was.
Close up of “transparent man”
When we take off our shoes and go inside, I see transparent man up close, but all I see is his shirt, on closer inspection, he goes away. The site makes me feel energized, adventurous, something our tour guide doesn’t quite know what to do with as I go scampering up any incline he points me to.
Though the Sheik built this as a house of prayer, it feels like a grown-up version mud of a McDonald’s PlayLand with all sorts of cool tunnels, turrets, and walls to climb. No wonder they keep the goats out, they would love this place.
Keep those goats out!
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Bolga–Neighborhood Bible Study
Steve is on a tour of Ghana to visit our Mission Society Colleagues serving in northern Ghana and Togo. Having spent some time with Sue K [her blog], he is now in Bolgatanga, with the Bolga Bartletts, Dave and Ellen.
In the afternoon we prepare for the neighborhood Bible Study, when about 70 high energy kids show up before 7pm to study the Bible and learn about Jesus in a positive way. Dave and Ellen host it each Monday night, but a group of friends and local pastors do the bulk of the teaching.
Imagine a weekly Vacation Bible School, with 100 kids that goes on all year, in your home and you have a good idea what Dave and Ellen are doing here. Week by week they are building a relationship with each child and their through the gospel. Tonight, even a grandmother shows up just to see what has so captivated her granddaughter’s faith.
A grandmother came to see what’s happening.
I had been warned that worship was intense, but nothing could have prepared me for its intensity. When overwhelmed, I have been known to crawl into my camera and observe from the safety of a lens, but tonight the drumming, neighborhood kids singing and dancing crashed into me, like a huge ocean wave. I wimp out and sneak into the kitchen to see if Ellen needs any help, abandoning Dave. He does fine, after all, he does this every week.
Why Dave holding up six fingers?