Monday, April 11, 2011

Gone but not forgotten

 My GSK colleagues have all left Ghana now, leaving me as the last representative of this motley crew.  Last week, Nela took off on a one-week tour of Ghana with a few friends who came over to visit her.  They headed up to Mole National Park, where they were fortunate enough to see two elephants.  She was looking forward to having DK be their guide again. (For those of you who don’t remember, he’s the guide who has a starring role in my Mole National Park trip in December.)  She asked about him at Mole, only to find out that he passed away from a cerebral stroke on the first of March. 

In a country where funerals feature so prominently, I feel very fortunate that this is the first case in which I’ve personally known the deceased.  While I know plenty of people who have lost loved ones, all the other funerals that I’ve known about have been for the close relatives of people I know but not someone I’ve met. 


Yesterday I went to church with one of the teachers, a Catholic who is a member of one of the smaller parishes on the edge of Kumasi.  We were supposed to go to the 7 am mass (even here, where I can’t seem to sleep in, that’s still pretty early) but after she told Father Francis that she was bringing me, he asked her to take me to the 9 am mass at St. Andrew’s right next to the mission house so that we could have lunch afterwards.  Since he spent six years as the head of a Catholic church in the US, he was thrilled to have lunch with an American.

Mass started at 9:30 and lasted over 2 hours but somehow it didn’t feel that long, maybe because I was fascinated by trying to follow the mass.  At the start of the mass, Father Francis welcomed “our American friend, who has come here to worship with us.”  That was the last time during the mass that he spoke in English to the congregation.  (Later in the mass, when he walked around to shake hands with people, he asked me directly if I was completely lost yet.) Even though the whole thing was in Twi, growing up Catholic made it possible to figure out what was going on.  I’m guessing that the way I felt must be a little bit like how US Catholics felt back when the mass was in Latin.  As compared to US churches, there was a great deal more singing and dancing, including when the parishioners got up to put money in the collection box, instead of having a collection plate passed along the pews.  One of the odder parts (to me) was when the community brought up a range of food and dry goods to place under the altar.  From looking at pictures later in Father Francis’ office, it seems that this donation is a regular occurrence at Ghanaian Catholic churches, even his church in the US.

After mass, Elizabeth and I visited with him in his office at the mission house, a beautiful structure built directly behind the church.  Before we ate, he showed me pictures of his going-away party at his US church in Putnam County, NY, about an hour from NYC.  He was the head of an all-white parish but he went down to the city a couple times a week to have fufu and other Ghanaian foods with the diaspora centered in the Bronx. 

During lunch, a tiny kitten was wandering through the dining room and weaving her way around the table.  She jumped up on the chair behind Father Francis, which made me realize that she must have been an indoor cat.  She even jumped up on Elizabeth’s lap.  I really wanted to pet the kitten, whose name is Koki, but she never came over to me.  Father Francis said that little Koki had never seen a white person before.  While I’ve considered that point in regards to the kids here, I had not really thought about how the small number of white people here might be seen by the animals.


Speaking of little kids, one of the things I will miss most when I leave Ghana is how the little kids here react to me.  Nowhere else in the world have I been viewed as a total rock star for merely existing.  I’m not sure that I’m ready to go back to a place where I’ll just be another boring adult that the kids want to ignore. Luckily I know of at least a few little kids who have told their parents that they miss me. 

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