Thursday, June 20, 2019

Rainy Season and Other Events

Greetings family and friends!  I apologize for the bit of delay in writing.  Somehow, there always seems to be something happening here at SAGISS to keep me busy.

The rainy season is in swing and we finally have some beautiful green in the landscape!  The once, brown, dead wisps of grass are nowhere to be seen.  With the green comes life!  It is mango season – delicious! However, along with the rain come more bugs and very big ones at that.  I found one in my bathing pail one morning and another on its back – thank goodness – it could not move so I was able to sweep it out of the courtyard. It had to be 3 inches long.  Luckily, our request for screen doors and a fix to our ceiling which was open to the rafters, were both fixed.  It has helped tremendously!  Many fewer wasps, mosquitos and bats flying around.  And now the neighbor’s cat is unable to jump our internal gate to access our hallway – which is a relief as I am allergic to cats.  So fewer cats, bats and bugs to deal with. Yea!   However, somehow the lizards/geckos seem to continue to find their way in.

One morning, while at work, we had a scare.  Someone saw smoke coming from the roof of our fourplex.  I was told to come quickly, my house was on fire.  I ran to the house, (well, it was more of a fast walk-run) which is about the equivalent of 2 city blocks from the office.  I quickly unlocked our gate and the door to the kitchen, but it was fine.  My next-door neighbor, Mary, had been out of town so we had to locate the student who had her keys (to feed her cats) to open her door.  Sure enough, her kitchen was on fire!  The Fire Department came from town – probably about 2-3 miles away, and put the fire out.  They used a ladder in our hallway that had the opening to the rafters to be sure the fire was out and wouldn’t spread to other units. (This occurred before the aforementioned fixed ceiling.) My kitchen and bathroom ended up with some water, but nothing a good cleaning couldn’t solve.  Some of the girls came and helped me empty the kitchen, remove the water, clean everything top to bottom before returning them to their proper places.  Poor Mary still has no working outlets, though she has a new kitchen ceiling and bright new paint on the walls. She shares our fridge.  It appears the fire started at the outlet to her fridge, probably over-night when we had a thunder/lightening storm.  Her two-year Peace Corps assignment is up in August, when she will be returning to New Mexico.  What a sending off gift.

Janice, the Director of Lay Mission Helpers, came to visit and before she left the students from my class sang for her.  I am including a short bit for your enjoyment.  They just love to sing and dance!  So full of smiles!
One Sunday, a few weeks ago, the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, came to visit Damongo.  He instituted a new region this year – The Savannah Region – of which Damongo was named the capitol city. Damongo is hoping this will bring jobs and increased economic stability. He showed up at Mass at the Cathedral and said a few words following Mass.   He is a Christian, though not Catholic. 
When I was getting up to bring my offering, my little friend Angela, whom I met at the Easter Monday picnic, came up to me.  I gave her a big hello and hug, she and a couple friends walked with me to give my offering and sat with me through the rest of Mass.  I was excited to think she remembered me, but then it hit me that, of course she remembers me, being a white woman here – one sticks out! 
One day after school, while I was still working in the office, I saw some girls out in the yard swinging some big knife-like objects.  They call them ‘cutlasses’.   They were cutting the grass with them, as the mower had broken down.  One girl was watching them with a clipboard, so I got the feeling maybe they were being disciplined.  Watch the video – and listen closely -  kinda humorous!

Last week was a bittersweet week.  The Form 3 students completed their WASSCE (West African Secondary School Comprehensive Exams) on June 4.  That means they have completed their formal Secondary School education.  They don’t get a diploma and graduate as we do in the United States.  They must wait for their grades to see if they have passed.  If they do well, they are eligible to go on for tertiary education – such as a teachers’ college, nursing school or college/university.  If they do not do well, they can take some private courses to study further and take the exams again.  That evening we had a special event commemorating their achievements and to bid them farewell, as they would be leaving for home early the following day. Rather than a diploma, they were given a certificate from the school.  The school’s student population went from 86 to 57 for the next two months.  The Form 1 and Form 2 students will complete their 3rd trimester at the end of July.  Summer vacation is the month of August.  Students return early September for the new academic year; we are hoping for a large entering Form 1 class to boost our population.

Well, that is some of what I have been experiencing here at SAGISS.  I continue to enjoy my time here.  I hope you enjoy reading my story and seeing the pictures and videos.

The adventure continues…..

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Holy Week in Damongo

Holy Week has always been very important to me, especially the Triduum.    Holy Saturday Mass is always so beautiful, bringing new Catholics in to the fold.  The past four years it was spent at the Cathedral of St. Paul, a magnificent piece of art, and filled with the Holy Spirit.  I loved spending my time there. 

This year Holy Week was spent in Damongo, Savannah region in northern Ghana.  I was a little concerned about whether I would be able to get to the various Masses and how I would deal with any differences from what I was used to.   It was a different experience, but I was not disappointed!   As I said in an earlier post, I am not bringing God to these people.  God is already here!

The Saturday prior to Palm (Passion) Sunday, there was a Lenten Walk, which consisted of a Stations of the Cross procession up a large hill.  As I climbed up, there were places I was wondering how in the world I would ever get back down!  Once at the top, there was a vocations talk, questions and answers about the Catholic faith, multiple priests heard Confessions and the day culminated with a celebration of the Mass.  It was a very beautiful day!  It started at 8 am and I think I got home around 2:30 pm.

The following morning, Palm Sunday, we all met at the site of St. Anne’s Church (the original Cathedral) where we received our palms and had them blessed by the Bishop.  We then processed down the main street of Damongo, carrying our palms, singing, music playing, to the site of the new Cathedral, which was opened in 2016, for the Mass of the Passion.  It was a beautiful and joyous site.

Wednesday morning of Holy Week, we had the Chrism Mass.  All the priests of the Diocese were there to renew their vows and for the blessing of the oils by the Bishop.  There were definitely not as many priests as the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul, but it was a very touching Mass. 

We attended Holy Thursday Mass, where the Bishop did the washing of the feet. We arrived home around 11 pm.  Bright and early Friday morning at 7 am, all the girls of SAGISS met at the front gates and we did the Stations of the Cross down the dirt road past our campus.  I had never been down the road in that direction, so it was interesting to see what lay beyond the school.  We sang songs between stations and probably walked 1 ½ -2 miles.  On the way home, we prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary.  It was 2 hours of prayer and deep contemplation of the passion of Christ.  At 3 pm on Friday, we were back at the Cathedral for the Passion readings and Veneration of the Cross.
Holy Saturday was very special.   It started with a huge, and very hot bonfire, which the Bishop blessed and used the fire to light the Easter candle.  The flame from the Easter Candle was then disseminated among the large crowd of people filing in to the Cathedral. 

The past three years, I had been an RCIA sponsor at the Cathedral of St. Paul. The Cathedral of St. Paul would often have 25-30 new members entering the Church on Holy Saturday.  We were excited here at SAGISS, as 6 girls from SAGISS were coming into the Catholic Church!  Some were of the Muslim faith, others were of different Christian denominations and others were from a traditional African religious background. It was a very exciting night for them and all of us here at SAGISS. 
To my surprise, the Cathedral of St. Anne in Damongo, had over 65 new elect!    They crowded the altar area, waiting for their turn to be Baptized and Confirmed.  The girls from SAGISS were over-joyed!  It was another very late night, arriving home about 2:30 am!  Madam Pauline, the Headmistress, then invited me in to her home for a glass of wine!  I had to say yes to celebrate the joy of Easter and the Risen Lord!  My head did not reach the pillow until after 3:20 am.  I was feeling very happy and relaxed after the wine and slept very well for 3 ½ hours when my alarm rang!   I had to be up at 7 am to be ready for the Bishop’s driver to pick me up for Easter Mass at a neighboring parish one hour away.  Bishop Peter Paul wanted me to experience another parish in the Diocese.

As we drove in to the church yard of Holy Trinity Parish in Sawla, there were many, many people outside waiting.  The church was jam packed! As the Bishop left for the Sacristy to prepare for Mass, the Pastor led me through the crowd of people, to a chair of honor on the side of the altar near the musicians.  I was sitting directly in front of the drum set and behind the ambo.  They were crowding as many people in as possible; the doorways were packed with people.  A truck filled with plastic chairs came for those who needed to be seated outside.  The youth choir was seated in the front few rows near me and they were filled with loud, joyful voices, praising the Risen Savior!  A beautiful sound and sight to behold!
I thought 65 new converts to the Catholic faith at the Cathedral of St. Anne was a lot, but this parish had 120 people being Confirmed by the Bishop and receiving their First Holy Communion on Easter morning.  The night before, at their Holy Saturday Mass, they were all baptized.  They lined the center aisle, filing in two-by-two.  It seemed to be a never-ending line of people eager to be Confirmed and later to partake in Holy Communion.

Following Mass, I was invited to have Easter dinner with the Bishop, two priests and two seminarians.   I mentioned I had been an RCIA sponsor for three years and explained the program lasted 9 months, meeting once per week.  They were astonished, because each of the people baptized and confirmed in their Diocese goes through RCIA, but it is a three year program, meeting not just once per week, but oftentimes, twice per week.  The main difference appears that they allow anyone not born into the Catholic Church nor baptized over 7 years old to be a part of the program.  So not all 120 Elect were adults, but the ages ranged anywhere from 10 years of age to 80+ years old. 

The Easter Holy Week festivities did not end with Easter Sunday.  We had a Mass at the Diocesan Secretariat Unity Center at 10 am Easter Monday.  It was followed by a picnic, where people brought food to share, vendors sold food and drinks, and there were games to be played.  Families, friends, young and old were celebrating together this wonderful day.  I was popular with the younger crowd, as I handed out lollipops and cold water and rice with red sauce.  One sweet little girl named Angela was the first to approach me, and she pretty much hung around me for the three hours I was there.  She would bring her friends over to get a lollipop.  At one point she fell asleep on my lap with an angelic smile on her face.  I had made a new friend!  The kids enjoyed having their pictures taken and performing songs for me. 

Monday evening, as I reflected on my Holy Week experiences, I thanked the Good Lord for giving me the opportunity to spend these three years with these wonderful people.  It was just 3 months ago, that I left the United States to travel to Ghana.    I have experienced so much already, that it is hard to fathom.  It is very difficult being away from family and friends; however, I know God placed me here for this time and he has blessed me abundantly.  Madam Pauline, the headmistress, and her visiting nephews and niece, Raymond, Antoinette and Anthony have welcomed me, along with the Form 3 Girls of SAGISS, to spend the Easter break with them.  They have kept me busy and helped make any time of loneliness minimal.  As you can see from the blog and pictures, I have had a Holy Week filled with the Holy Spirit and many blessings! 

The adventure continues….. 

Friday, March 29, 2019

Travels and Cooking Lessons

I have had a number of occasions I would like to share with you since my last blog update.

Karen and I took a trip to Accra, the capital city of Ghana, to do the last bit of necessary paperwork at Ghana Immigration, to be able to stay in Ghana for three years.  Accra is a city of many contrasts – some places are very new and modern while others not so much.  We visited a shopping mall that had a couple stores where we could find most anything we really needed.  However, as we traveled by plane, we were limited in what we could buy.  At the same time, there are lots of vendors on the street, plying their wares, walking between lanes of traffic.  Oh yes, and there is lots of traffic in Accra and crazy driving in most every town of any size. 

While in Accra, we stayed at the Good Shepard Guest House where we met a number of priests and other guests. Accra has two rainy seasons, so it was much more green and lush - with actual flowers blooming - very pretty and in contrast to the dry brown we see currently in Damongo.  With the pretty green grass and flowers, however, came the humidity!  Even though the temperature was 10 degrees lower than in Damongo, it felt much hotter.

Karen and I borrowed our kitchen with a gas stove and oven to a few Form 2 and Form 3 girls who were celebrating birthdays in March.  There was a lot of cooking during the day and fun festivities, including dancing, in the evening.  Francisca, a Form 3 Food and Nutrition student, did most of the cooking and baking. 

Karen and I traveled by bus for three hours with the Form 3 girls on pilgrimage to a newly constructed Grotto, which was blessed by Bishop Peter Paul on the Feast of the Annunciation.  The first two hours of the trip was on a nice paved road, passing through a few towns of moderate size.  The last hour was on a dirt road, going further and further into what seemed like nowhere.  However, periodically, a small village would appear and you would realize you were still in civilization.

At the site of the Grotto, there was a huge iron crucifix, created by a local artist.  It was a very special day for many people.  Following the blessing of the Grotto by the Bishop we had a lovely Mass.  Karen and I were introduced to the crowd of people by the Bishop, so they would know who we are these next three years.

The girls of SAGISS wear their white uniforms for Sunday and special church occasions, like the pilgrimage.  Here are the Form 3 students in their Sunday whites, singing on the way to the Grotto.
I used my kitchen again, for two cooking practicals for my Form 1 students.   They wanted to cook some “American” food.  I had them make spaghetti and marinara sauce.  They did a wonderful job.  I invited the two girls with the highest test marks to join Karen and I in going to the market on Saturday morning to do the shopping for the practicals.  They were very helpful in both showing us how to determine what foods were fresh and also in carrying our bags of food.  They refused to let us carry anything other than the bread!    These girls are so kind and helpful.
The girls all liked the American spaghetti and are looking forward to more cooking practicals in the future.  Here is one group toasting to a wonderful meal.

The adventure continues……

Friday, March 8, 2019

God In Everyday Life

My time in Ghana has been somewhat of a whirlwind.  I am experiencing so many new and different things.  My senses sometimes seem on overload.  I am typically a quiet person who gets energy from silence, alone-time, communing with God in prayer.  Some of my typical routines have been difficult to establish here.  God called me to SAGISS for a reason.  I think He is trying to draw me out of myself and in to relationship with others.

For quite a few years, I was a “Daily Mass” goer.  It was a rare day that I wasn’t in the pew.  I loved daily Mass – it brought peace to my day.  I was also committed to two hours of Eucharistic Adoration per week.  My time was typically very early morning hours, and I was there with the Lord all by myself.  I could talk to Him about all that was troubling me.  I could set my problems before Him, and by the time I walked out, he had lifted my burdens and had answered me, had guided me in the direction of His will.  Those hours in Adoration lead me to this mission.

I miss my time in Adoration.  I miss saying the Rosary in the Virgin Mary Chapel or praying in the Sacred Heart Chapel or just sitting in the pews at the Cathedral of St. Paul.  I miss my Cathedral family.

Here on mission, I have the ability to attend Mass on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday mornings.  I am grateful for these opportunities. Listening to the girls sing, with their joyful and angelic voices, lifts me up. 
Unfortunately, I have not had an opportunity for Eucharistic Adoration here in Damongo.  I think God felt the connection between Him and I was strong, but that my connection to the people around me needed some work.  Thus, He sent me on mission, to get me out of my comfort zone, to push me to the next level.  I am to find God in the people I encounter.  I am finding Him in the girls at SAGISS, in my fellow teachers, in the headmistress (my boss), in the priests and sisters, and in the people of the town of Damongo.  When I go to market to buy my bread, my oranges and apples, my tomatoes and onions, I see Him in the tired, weathered faces of the women who labor so hard to make money to feed their families.  I see Him in the curious, smiling faces of the children as they say “hello” to the white woman passing by.  I see Him in the Muslim men kneeling in prayer.  I see Him in the SAGISS girls always willing to lend me a helping hand.

I have now met my Bishop, Bishop Peter Paul of the Diocese of Damongo, as he invited Karen and I to his home for dinner one evening.  He is a very delightful man; very kind.  (It was there, I had my first taste of guinea fowl.  It tasted very similar to chicken.)  I have met many priests, some at Mass, others by fact I am on mission through the Diocese of Damongo.  The priests give very good, relevant homilies, relating them to the person in the pews’ daily life and struggles.  (However, last Sundays Mass lasted 3 hours!)   I enjoy working for the Diocese and the Catholic Church.  God is woven through every part of the day at SAGISS – the benefit of volunteering for a Catholic High School.  God is not just at Mass. There are signs of God everywhere – He is not kept out of the public forum as we do in the United States.   People believing in God is the norm here.  I am not bringing God to these people – He is already here.  I am learning how to become closer to God through my interactions with these people.

March 6 was the 62nd Anniversary of Ghana's Independence.  The girls of SAGISS marched in the parade, as did all the other schools in the area, down to the tiny tots.  They not only march with their legs, but their arms are definitely a part of the march also.

Young children marching - precious!

SAGISS Girls marching.

Caption: Bishop Peter Paul presenting 2nd prize to girls of SAGISS and Headmistress, Madame Pauline

It is now the season of Lent.  I struggle with what I am “going to give up”, as I have already given up so much just to be here.  Missing out on time with my immediate family for three years is the most difficult.  I know God has a plan for me and for them; that my mission here is meant to be and that from it, will come wonderful things for my family.  We don’t always understand why or see where God is leading us, but if we put our trust in Him, all will be well.  I truly believe that.
God brought me here to Ghana to draw me closer to Him, through relationship with my fellow man.  We are all children of God - no matter where on this earth we live.

In this season of Lent, I will work on my prayer life - carving out some alone time for just God and me; I will give alms through service via my mission; I will continue eating a mostly simple, almost vegetarian diet.  Life is different here.  I feel like the three pillars of Lent are woven in to my daily experience: prayer, fasting and alms giving.  This mission is drawing me closer to God through my everyday living.

The adventure continues…

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Everyday Life

I hope today’s blog post will give you a flavor of what I am experiencing, here in Damongo, Ghana.  It is mainly a compilation of photos for you to enjoy.

One Sunday afternoon, we took a short safari at Mole National Forest – which is a quick 20 minute car ride from Damongo.    Most everyone who visits Mole will pass through Damongo on their way.

We saw 12 elephants – one of which came very close to charging us.  We started following an elephant down the road.  He stopped to eat at a tree.   Suddenly we realized there was a second, much larger elephant, with tusks, following us!  We were sandwiched between two elephants!  The larger one kept coming toward us, ears wagging and he sounded his trumpet.  We ran into the bush, at the guides demand.  The guide had his rifle ready to shoot in to the air to scare the elephant, when the elephant himself, veered off the road into the bush.  We scrambled to our vehicles, having had a very exciting, yet scary few minutes. 

As our safari continued, we saw a number of other elephants.  Three teenage elephants at a water whole, some adult elephants, one taking a dip in the water while two others just having a drink.  We also drove right past an elephant whose hind feet seemed to be a bit stuck in the mud. A second elephant was in the trees coming to his rescue – again, we drove out of there quickly!

At Mole, we also saw various types of monkeys,  antelope, wart hogs, and baboons.

Here are some photos which show what everyday life looks like in and around Damongo.
Road to SAGISS
It is dry and very bumpy and we must go ever so slowly.  What would normally take 2-3 minutes to drive in United States takes us 18 minutes down this road.  Supposedly it is worse in rainy season!  I can imagine getting stuck….  We also meet huge trucks carrying gravel, logs and people – somewhat surprisingly, they are Mercedes Benz.

 Fencing along the road to SAGISS.  The hard work it took to make it is amazing.
Young boys selling chickens on side of road
Sheep walking freely through town
This is Isaac - my faithful phone guy. 
He sells me Vodafone minutes so I can be in touch with family and friends!  His stand is right next to the bank where I get Ghana currency.   He is a very nice 22 year-old young man who is patient with this older, American woman who doesn’t know much about how things work in Ghana – or how phones work in general – right Joe and Paul???!

Street vendor in Damongo selling used shoes.  Huge piles of shoes! 

Father on motorcycle with his three sons.  Common sight seeing either multiple people or large loads on motorcycles. Seeing a baby strapped to his momma’s back while she drives a motorcycle is also common.
Young men hanging out at the petrol station where we were airing our tires before trip to Tamale. 

Three girls at the Tamale market
One side street at Tamale market

SAGISS girl carrying items on head to Dining Hall after cleaning the Teachers lounge one evening after classes.
Goats sitting atop tractor in SAGISS compound

Pigs wandering the SAGISS compound
I hope you enjoyed the photos of everyday life in Damongo!  I am doing fine!  Keep me in your prayers!  God bless you.  The adventure continues……