Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pediatorkope: Churches and beaches

I woke up refreshed and well-rested the next morning. I took a wonderful bath, and ate a breakfast of bread and cheese. I was feeling generous, so I shared my food with the kids. I was touched by how well they shared food. The wedges of Laughing Cow didn't go very far, but the kids shared everything evenly. One would take a bite of a wedge of cheese and then pass it on. They may not be able to get along when it comes to waiting in line for kickball, but with important things like food, they make sure everyone is taken care of.
I waited for my papa to take his bath and get dressed. We were supposed to get to church at 9:30 am, and it was already 9:20. My papa had some position of leadership in the Methodist branch that met at the village school. He was dressed in a long sleeve, white shirt, and slacks. I felt out of place in my shorts and sandals, but I didn't have any room in my backpack to fit dress clothes. While we walked I practiced saying "good" and "bad" in Dangbe. For some reason they are very similar, and I wasn't able to get any of the villagers to understand the irony.
"How do you say 'good?'" "ehi." "and how do you say 'bad'?" "ehi." "They sound the same!" "no, listen. 'ehi', 'ehi'."
People would ask me what I thought about something and I would say 'ehi'. I wondered why half the time they looked at my funny. I guess I was telling them it was bad.
I figured out that the second syllable of "good" is pronounced nasally and with a downward tone, while the second syllable of bad is produced in the front of the mouth and with a rising tone. I had heard that Danbge was a tonal language, but up until this point hadn't encountered any problems with it. We used the words we learned without respect to tones, and people seemed to understand us fine.
We got to the church at about 10:00 and there were only a few other people in the room. The pastor was arranging a purple-fringed cloth over the lectern, a boy tuned a bass drum, and a lady in a white dress was singing into a megaphone. The meeting was scheduled to start an hour earlier, but no one was there yet. The pastor started the service. My papa had written the agenda on the board. The theme for the day was "I will give eternal life to those who follow me."
There were a few scripture verses listed, and next to those were names of people who were assigned to read them. I also saw a list of eight or so hymns.
After an opening message we started singing the first hymn. People began filing into the meeting. The music was amazing--I kept telling myself that I was listening to Africans singing. The lady with the megaphone would lead, the boys would drum to the rhythm of the song, and the congregation (which had grown to over 20) would sing along mostly in unison. My papa would shout the words of the song after we sang them. There was a visiting preacher from Big Ada, and he had a resonating baritone voice. He sang a counterpart to the congregation. When they would die down he'd start up, then they would swell together and break. At times I felt almost moved to tears.We'd sway and clap, and I'd attempt to sing along. You could tell everyone knew the tunes. The hymnbooks only contained words.
After each hymn we would have a scripture reading, or we would recite something in Dangbe--probably the Lord's prayer or a creed. I just listened. The villagers would lower their heads and whisper into the desks. The visiting pastor would sometimes get very animated, whispering explosively and bursting into tongues and growling. When that happened the hair on the back of my neck would rise, but hearing all of the villagers reciting was an interesting aural experience.
The visiting preacher was given his turn at the lectern. He paced the floor like a caged leopard, staring off into some unseen place and yelling fervently in Dangbe. Every once in awhile he'd pause his yelling and whisper something like "thank you Jesus." I was only two feet away from him at one point during his circuit around the front of the room, and when I looked into his eyes I saw no human recognition, as if he were temporarily autistic. Shortly after his scheduled tantrum, he sat down and became just another friendly villager again.
After church I walked over to meet my friends. They were attending an evangelical church, which still had 30 minutes to go, so I slipped in. It was a very different experience. A lady in a bright yellow dress was visiting from Tema. She would charismatically tell stories (again, in Dangbe) and recite scriptures. The conclusion of every story was a heartfelt "hallelujah," which everyone in the room would repeat. People would frequently interject with "Praise Jesus", "Thank you Jesus", or things like that. In general, the message was much more everyday than the Methodist scripture reading. She would talk about food, clothing, and the fact that God had brought obrunis to this church for the first time. At the end they pulled out this collection plate and the men and women lined up separately into almost a Conga line, dancing in a procession toward the collection plate. Each person would drop some money into it and dance back to their seat.
The preacher wanted to take some pictures with us afterward, and invited us to return to the island and donate to the church.
After church we gathered at the riverbank to meet our canoe driver. We had planned on touring the islands the day before, but our driver wasn't available due to the heavy rains. We generally try not to do certain things on the Sabbath, but we did want to explore the rest of the islands, so we took a vote and decided to go. We all hopped in with four villagers and sped down the river toward the estuary, where the Volta meets the sea. We passed colorful fishing boats, big mansions at Ada Foah, and little resorts. Eventually we reached the estuary. A narrow sandbar separated us from the sea. We beached the boat and hiked up the dune to see what was on the other side. There were waves! Good ones!
I took off down the beach, dove into the water, and before I could think straight I was coasting back to shore on a little peeler. Everyone else was laughing. I hadn't been surfing (or bodysurfing for that matter) in a very long time, and it was heaven to be back in the waves, even without a board. The outgoing river created interesting sandbars and currents which cause the waves to wedge and break partially perpendicular to the shore. They're peak up and grind across the shore like a point break. It was so fun! The waves would sometimes break directly on the sand, and I'd get tumbled around for awhile. I jammed my big toe after an especially powerful collision.
After awhile everyone got tired and piled back into the boat. I was reluctant to go, but was starting to feel burnt, so I scrambled back up the dune and strapped on my life jacket. We ate sugarcane on the ride back and took a bunch of pictures of palm trees and colorful boats.


  1. i cant get enough of these posts. They are so lovely and really ... sheesh I cant think of the words to describe them. They should be published - I cant wait to hear about more stuff. Good work!

  2. Sounds like you are having fun!