Saturday, February 25, 2012

Cape Coast Visit - 18 - 28 Feb 2012

Ghana Diary: 18-28 Feb 2012

Saturday 18th Feb 2012

I arrived in Accra last night at 9pm, after an unremarkable flight.  Rev'd Canon Joseph Bain-Doodu collected me from the airport, in the Bishop of Cape Coast's car, driven by Albert, the Bishop's personal driver.

The Fespa temporary abode
Having spent a pleasant night at the Fespa Hotel in Cape Coast, Joseph collected me and took me on a bit of a tour of the area.  We went first to his office, which is a Government building near the Castle in Cape Coast.  Then, to breakfast, at a Cafe on the sea shore, next to the old Slavery Castle.  A very pleasant spot indeed...palm trees, waves, local fisherman at their work.

We then took a tour of the area, particularly around the very impressive campus of Cape Coast University.  (CCU is the premier education establishment in Ghana, and the primary industry of Cape Coast itself.  Cape Coast is the African Oxford or Cambridge, it seems!)

Joseph and Elizabeth relaxing at home
Next came a visit to Joseph's house to meet his dear wife Elizabeth (whom I know from her time in England last year).  Their house is provided for them by the Diocese, on a hill overlooking the City, in the campus of Adisadel College (an Anglican Sixth Form Residential College).  The house itself is in need of renovation (which is why Joseph has arranged for me to stay in a hotel) but it has specatular views over the City to the sea.

After some refreshment, Joseph dropped me back to the hotel to freshen up and have a short rest.  I expected him again at 2.30pm, when we planned to take a trip, with Elizabeth to visit the first colonial castle in these parts, at Elmina.

Joseph and Elizabeth's Home: The 'Matchbox'
Unfortunately, Joseph didn't arrive until 3.45 (because Elizabeth had got caught up at a very busy hair-dressers!).  There was therefore no time to visit the castle, because we were due to visit an old friend of Joseph's, called Ernest.  He is a builder, who had recently constructed the tomb for Joseph's late mother, as a gift.  Joseph and Elizabeth wanted to personally thank Ernest for his gift.

We had a very pleasant visit with Ernest, and some interesting discussions about the Diocese (Ernest is a Churchwarden of Joseph's former parish in Elmina, as well as a long-standing friend).

Around 5.30pm we journeyed back to Cape Coast, with the intention of paying my respects to the Dean of the Cathedral, and then to the Bishop.  The journey to the Dean's house was interesting, because as darkness fell, the road became almost invisible due to a film of salt and sand on the windscreen.  A bit scary!  Poorly attached wiper blades and only a squirt of water available were not enough to clear it!

We arrived at the Bishop's house at around 7.45pm, which frankly struck me as a little late to go visiting.  I was we arranged to meet the next day!

Sunday 19th Feb 2012

Interesting breakfast in the hotel this morning...a piece of 'butter bread' (a sweet, soft bread...quite tasty) with a hard boiled egg.  Manged to construct an egg mayonaise sandwich without the mayonaise!

The Cape Coast Cathedral Sanctuary 
We went to the Cathedral this morning, for the 9am service.  Joseph was a little late collecting me, so we arrived at around 9.15...but the service had only just got started.  What a fascinating experience!  The service was three hour blend of the following elements:

  • Matins - in Book of Common Prayer, 17th Century English
  • Eucharist - from Common Worship
  • Hymns...very traditional old English hymns, sung extremely slowly (presumably to help non English speakers get their mouths round the words).  In between each verse, the organist played the whole tune over again...presumably to help memorisation of the tune!
  • Songs - in Fanti (the local language) - led by a band...with dancing and clapping

Throughout the service there was a strange, yet compelling, juxtaposition of Anglican and Ghanaian culture/language.  The sermon was delivered in English, but every so often, the Preacher (Cn Peter, Bishop's Chaplain) would break-off to interprete into Fanti.  The intercessions were all in Fanti, and very powerfully led by two lay people.  I have no idea (of course) what they were praying, but it was fast, passionate, and long...with much participation from the congregation...while the band led music quietly in the background.  As the intercessions came to an end, the lead intercessor began singing a Fanti (local language)chorus, which the band picked up, and soon the whole church was swaying and singing.

The Eucharist itself was very 'high'.  Lots of incense, bells, and well-executed choreography by the Altar Party.  Just before it got underway - at the Offertory - a 'Great Procession' was announced.  This involved a lady from the congregation (who wished to give a significant gift to the church in gratitude for her 80th birthday) being ceremonially led down the aisle, with crucifix, acolytes, and verger, to present her gift to the President.  (Later, after the Eucharist, the President prayed for her and her husband, and blessed them with holy water).

After the Eucharist, the 'grand offering' was announced. This is a weekly appeal for the church restoration fund (the Cathedral is showing signs of its age).  It involved apparently everyone in the congregation dancing their way to a large collecting bucket, and putting money in it.  I observed, with a little amusement, that a number of people who were clapping to the music as they came down the aisle, then clenched their fist as if it had money in it...and then pretended to put money in the bucket.  (I chatted with Dean Francis about this afterwards...over lunch...and he agreed that this practice encourages a certain level of dishonesty in the worship.  However, we also agreed that everyone who puts an empty hand in the box probably also feels both that they are participating (even when they can't afford to) and that next time they might try to find a few coins to add).

Castle Cafe - in the lea of the Cathedral and Castle
After the service, Dean Francis and Bishop's Chaplain Peter invited Joseph and me to lunch at the Castle Cafe (fast becoming a favourite place!). The cafe sits right on the sea-shore, in the lea of the Castle.  Sea breezes waft through open windows, making the whole place feel very comfortable indeed.  The food isn't bad either!  We had a friendly, jovial lunch, and then set off for home.

After a break, Joseph said he would pick me up for a meeting with the Bishop.  He was very precise in his timing...4.55pm.  But 5.10 came and went and there was still no sign of him (he later told me he got stuck in a Governors meeting at one of his schools).  So, anxious not to keep the Bishop waiting, I walked down to 'Bishopscourt' - the 'Bishop's Palace'.

Bishopscourt, Cape Coast
The word 'Palace' is honorific...not literal.  The Bishop's house is a modest single storey which he made me very welcome.  After Joseph had joined us, we spent some time chatting about general IDWAL issues, and planning the rest of my week. (IDWAL = Inter Diocesan West African Link.)  The week will include Tuesday's trip to Accra, some time at St Nicholas Seminary, where I will celebrate Mass at the Dean of the Seminary's invitation.  On Friday we plan a day's excursion to Dunkwa Diocese, to pick up on a friendship I struck up with Bishop Edmond when he was in England.

After visiting the Bishop, we collected Elizabeth from home, and went to visit the Dean Francis and his wife. Joseph and Elizabeth wanted to thank the Dean's wife for all her help with the recent funeral of Joseph's mum.  It's a lovely custom...a personal visit to thank someone for their gift of time.  Not just a card...but a personal and heartfelt thankyou.

Again, some laughs with the Dean (who has a wicked sense of humour!) and then home to bed.

Monday 20th Feb 2012

Cape Coast (Slavery) Castle
I had a surprisingly wonderful day today. Went to Joseph to his office, for what was supposed to be an hour's meeting. While he was "just doing a few things" I went for a walk, and starting chatting to some of the local men who were hanging around outside the castle trying to sell things (or 'hustle' as they call it).

William (a.k.a. 'Heaven') and Gospel (his actual name!)
Before long, as we talked about theology and cultural differences, we had a whole gang of young men round me...all chatting away, debating, and laughing at my jokes (Wow...I've found some people who haven't heard my jokes before!!). Then, as Joseph's "quick visit to the office" lengthened into 10 hours in the office (the poor fellow got dragged into meeting after meeting) I ended up spending the whole day with some of these lads, (especially William and Gospel) who took me under their wing, took me to a local Ghanaian food restaurant (never seen by tourists) and generally just had great conversation.

This felt like 'vicaring' the old fashioned way...when priests had time to stop and chat, enter into the details of people's lives, offer counsel, support and friendship.  I felt like I was ministering to people who were interested in what I was saying, who had a real interest in Scripture, and who listened with attentiveness and intelligent questions. At one point I said something like "I'm talking too much" to which they replied "No...we are so interested in what you are saying...and besides, you are an Elder. We are taught to listen respectfully to our elders!"

Memorial to Slaves
I also took the opportunity of a relaxed day to visit Cape Coast Castle and to view something of the horrendous story of slavery which was centred there.  It is not a subject which is easy to write really has to visit the place to even glimpse the kind of horror which people were put through within its walls.

I have to tell you, I love it here. The people are really friendly and welcome, the streets are safe, and the weather, crucially for an Englishman, is pleasant and warm!  Paradise? Almost.  The litter is rather a problem...and paradise will not have such punishing levels of poverty.

Tuesday 21st Feb 2012

Went to Accra today, borrowing Bishop's Daniel's car and driver.  An unremarkable two hour journey brought us to the historic heart of Accra, where the Anglican Cathedral, Bishopscourt and School are all housed on one large site, on the edge of the central market district.

Passing on the Deanery of Portsmouth Donation
I met with Bishop Matthias of Ho, who will become, in due course, one of my principle links with Ghana (because of the link that we in the Portsmouth Deanery have agreed to set up with Ho Diocese). After passing on a donation of £1,065 raised by the Deanery of Portsmouth to help +Matthias pay his priests, we had a very useful and friendly meeting. I have learned a little more about the challenges that +Matthias faces.

+Matthias is a real 'missionary Bishop'.  He has no adminstrative staff, and only a few priests and churches scattered around a geographically massive Diocese (which extends over the national border into Togo).  When I visit the Diocese in September, I'm going to need a multi-entry Visa in order to move backwards and forwards across the border with +Matthias!

+Matthias told me that his Diocese has a steep hill to climb in proclaiming Christianity, because of the relative strength of traditional 'fetish' religions, which clearly have a strong hold on the local culture.  I will be very interested to explore these religions when I visit Ho - and to understand what the Church feels it will add to people's lives by challenging their traditional worship patterns.  Despite its origins in the Middle East and North Africa, Christianity can easily be perceived as a Colonial religion.  How is it perceived by the people of Ho Diocese who have converted, I wonder?

At the Shrine and Tomb of Kwame Nkruma
The Bishop and I had a pleasant walk after our meeting - touring the market places of Accra, and viewing some of the substantial (and very impressive) central Government buildings and spaces.  In particular, we enjoyed a visit to the national shrine (and tomb) of Kwame Nkruma, hailed as the Father of modern Ghana.  +Matthias had never actually visited the shrine before, himself.  We learned much about the great man, and paid our respects at his grave.

Afterwards we went to a massive craft market, with literally thousands of Artisans making traditional African goods (largley for the tourist market, I guess).  +Matthias wanted to visit a particular Artisan who has made traditional stools for him, which he likes to present to new Canons of his cathedral.  (He also presented one to my Bishop, Christopher, during last year's tour).

We returned to the Cathedral, where I took a few minutes to pay my respects to the Archbishop of the Province of West Africa, the Most Rev'd Dr Justice O. Akrofi.  I arrived unannounced and entirely on the off-chance of being able to give him the greetings of my own Bishop, so I was very grateful that he was able to spare a few minutes to speak with me.

After a couple of hours journey, we returned home to Cape Coast around 5.30pm.  I had intended to meet Joseph at his office.  On arrival, however, he was in a meeting (surprise, surprise)!  His staff were reluctant to let me interupt his meeting, so I waited for a while in his reception area.  However, patience got the better of me, so I decided to go for a walk and see if I could meet up with any new and interesting people.

The Cape Coast Fishing Harbour - Chaos!
I walked down to the Castle (where there is always an interesting collection of people gathered) and met up with William - the young man whose company I had enjoyed the day before.  Soon we decided to go for a drink in a nearby bar, looking over the ocean, while he told me of some of his dreams for the future.  His particular passion is for acting, so I encouraged him to think about performing some street drama in front of Cape Coast Castle, and also how to sell some of the African crafts he deals in on the internet, via ebay.

We had a pleasant evening in the cool of the ocean breeze, and then took a (very cheap!) taxi back to my hotel, where, with the help of the internet, we attempted to set up an ebay account for him.  Unfortunately we weren't terribly successful...but a start has been made!

William went home, and I went to bed...but before turning out the lights, I roughed out a sketch of a one-man drama which William could possibly use to build a Street Performance about slavery in front of the Castle.

Wednesday 22nd Feb 2012

Having gone with Joseph to his office, he kindly gave me the use of his car. This was really helpful, as it allowed me the ability to get around on my own, without waiting for lifts or chaperones. I used the car to tour the area a little, then to visit St Nicholas Seminary to make an appointment to meet the Dean tomorrow.  I then popped down to the Castle to give William the script I roughed out for him.  He was delighted with it...but whether he will ever have the courage to perform it in front of his friends at the Castle, we will see!

Today was Ash Wednesday, and I very much enjoyed attending a service at mid-day in the Cathedral.  There was only a small congregation, led by Cn Lawrence, one of the Chapter.  He preached a powerful sermon (in English and Fanti) on the importance of tithing, and the congregation said the Litany together, and prayed for forgiveness.  There was, perhaps, a little more 'begging for mercy' than I am used to in my culture...but the whole service was most illuminating.

Afterwards I wandered down to the Castle, and struck up a conversation with some other young guys who hang around trying to 'hustle' (their word) tourists. A white man in a clerical collar is very noticeable in Cape Coast...and before long I was engaged in a three way conversation with two Rastafarians and another Ghanaian, all of us sharing our different perspectives on our faith.  The other man was called Kennedy, and he told me of work he was doing with local young people to try and teach them skills for life, through discussion and very basic training.  He is an artist and a musician - and he kindly gave me a drawing he had just completed.  He said that he wanted to try to arrange a meeting with some of his young people, for discussion about some of the religious issues we had been debated.  I said I would be happy to...if time permits.

St Nicholas Seminary - Student Accommodation
I then made my way over to the Seminary, to join them for an Ash Wednesday Mass.  (My second 'ashing' of the day...I must be very very sorry for my sins now!).  The service emerged out of an hour of contemplative silence (the end of a 'retreat' day that the students were having).  Thankfully (for me) the whole service was in English (because the students, who come from all over West Africa) have only English in common.  Emerging from the silence, the service was both majestic and moving, with traditional hymns and contemporary songs blending together magnificently.

Joseph rang me after the service, so I went to pick him up from the office.  He then told me (poor fellow) that he had yet another meeting to attend in the evening, so I chose to remain at the Castle.  First I went to my third service of the day (at the Cathedral this time).  Afterwards, I arranged to meet with Kennedy and a friend of his, Kwaku, who is a musican as well as a local secondary school headmaster.  We had a meal together in another local restaurant, and passed a couple of pleasant hours chatting about music, as well as the trials of State education in Ghana, and the challenges of setting up a vocational training scheme.

Kwaku invited me to come and play with him and his band on Saturday evening - which I am very much looking forward to.  He specialises in Jazz and Blues, so I will be right at home!

Joseph eventually finished his meeting and came to pick me up around 9pm. Went to bed happy that I had made yet more new friends, and passed a most pleasant day.

Thursday 23rd Feb 2012

8.15 - went with Joseph for some breakfast and a chat at the sea front cafe.  He then left for another long day's travel to sort out a problem in a school of his region, leaving me with his car again.

Seminary - New Accommodation Block started
I went first to the tailor who is making me a new white cassock - as befits a Canon of Cape Coast Cathedral(!).  Then, to the Seminary, where I had a very pleasant morning meeting students in their classrooms, and touring the Seminary.  I am preparing a separate report on that visit for the IDWAL committee - but suffice to say that the Seminary (the only Anglican Theological Training centre in West Africa) seems to me to be in very good hands, under the leadership of its Dean, Rev Dr Victor Atta-Baffoe.  Plans are well developed for the production of filtered water (for sale to generate regular income for the Seminary).  A new accommodation block (to ease sleeping arrangements for students who are currently sharing four to a room) has reached the first floor...but work has stopped for now due to lack of funds.

Seminary Students currently live four to a room!
Around 6pm, I was delighted to be asked to celebrate Mass for the Students.  I was ably assisted by two young men (Michael and George) who helped me through the intracacies of the Roman Catholic Missal which, for reasons I haven't yet completely understood, is the regular service for the Seminary.  I preached to the students about the slow demise of church attendance in the UK, fed, I believe, by such forces as consumerism, militant athiesm and the all-pervading power of television.  I warned the students - tomorrow's priests in Ghana - to be on their guard against these forces as they take hold in the country.  (TV is only in its infancy here...but it will grow.  Athiesm can't get much of a foot-hold in such a religious society...but it will try. And so on...)

Later, I took Joseph and Elizabeth out to dinner to a restaurant that some of my newly-made friends had introduced me to.  Neither of them had ever been to it, so it was fun to introduce them to somewhere new in their own country!  The Oasis is largley fequented by Westerners...and serves a great cheeseburger!  It is situated right at the water's edge, and has live musicians dancing and drumming.  Very much a tourist spot...but very pleasant for all that.  I have promised to eat more Ghanaian food tomorrow!

Friday 24th Feb 2012

With +Edmund and Gifti
A four hour journey in the Bishop's car, kindly lent to me with his driver Albert (Kofi) took us to Dunkwa, where I had a very pleasant lunch with Bishop Edmund.  I first met +Edmund when he stayed with me and my family in Portsmouth, and we quickly found a common sense of humour, which we enjoyed reviving together today.  His wife Gifti (a 'gift' from the Lord) prepared a beautiful meal of Ghanaian food, which I immensely enjoyed.

It was, from an English point of view, slightly strange that Gifti served our food, but then retired from the room to let Edmund and me have conversation.  (I later learned that she went to have her lunch with Kofi, my driver).  The place of women in Ghanaian society is very different from that of the UK...they are honoured, cherished and respected, clearly...but there are certain demarkation lines around duties and practices which are rarely crossed.  I struggle with this - as a liberal Englishman - but I am here to learn, and not to least not until I know more!

Dunkwa Cathedral
After lunch we paid a quick visit to +Edmund's Cathedral, and viewed some building work taking place next door (to provide a Diocesan office, and offices for hire - to bring income into the church).

We travelled home (another four hours on bumpy roads), and I then spent the evening with Elizabeth and Joseph.  Elizabeth (who, interestingly, ate with Joseph and me) had prepared a beautiful meal of fried rice, chicken and salad.  The three of us sat talking (oiled by a little red wine!) late into the night about the challenges of ministry in Ghana.

Saturday 25th February 2012

Entrance to Kakum
A rest day today, with some fun thrown in.  Albert (the Bishop's Driver) took Elizabeth and me to Kakum National Park to walk on the aerial walkways.

There is not a lot to write about this morning's adventure, except to comment that walking 100 feet up in the tree canopy is something I won't quickly forget.  Neither will I forget some of the rather frightening state of the walkway!

The following is a selection of photos which will I hope tell the story of my morning...

Albert and Elizabeth set forth...
Petrified Englishman follows
They want me to walk on that?!
(The walkway was constructed by slinging aluminium ladders, covered by a plank, with nylon rope fastened to overhead cables.  Indiana Jones eat your heart out!)

Elizabeth bravely steps forward
Yes...I am clinging on for dear life.  The smile is a mask!
Walkway maintenance didn't inspire confidence!
But the view was spectacular!
Elizabeth makes it to the end - six walkways later!
Just another walkway shot...
Afterwards we took some lunch in a 'bushmeat restaurant' - Antelope and Soup, with Fou Fou.  (Actually, I tell a lie...Elizabeth and Albert had the bushmeat...I chickened out and had the egg sandwich Elizabeth had considerately packed for me!)

This afternoon was spent writing a sermon for tomorrow's Installation at the Cathedral and updating this blog.

This evening, Joseph, Elizabeth, Albert and I went to Coconut Grove - a 'rich man's playground' at nearby Elmina.  After being among the normal poverty of average life in Ghana, it felt very strange to be at a beautifully maintained complex of hotels, golf course and restaurants.  Coconut Grove is owned by a business-man who is currently running for President of Ghana.  It really is a millionaire's play-ground; the car park was full of brand new four-by-fours!

We had been invited to attend by Kwame, a local musician, whose 'band' (him on a keyboard, with his friend Kennedy on some vocals) was commissioned to play some blues and soul classics in the restaurant.  Kwame is an excellent keyboard player, who truly manages to get his keyboard to sound like a band!  He invited me to join in for a few we managed an adhoc rendition of a few classics, like 'Summertime' and 'Mustang Sally'.

If was dark (sunset is at 6.30pm here) so unfortunately few of the photos of Coconut Grove are publishable.

We had a wonderful evening, listening to music and the sound of the waves crashing on the nearby beach.  The evening was slightly spoiled by a large party who, around 8.30, had become sufficiently 'oiled' to start dancing and conversing loudly around the restaurant.  Never was a fun evening!

Sunday 26th Feb 2012

What a day! What a very hot day!  I actually thought, at one point, that I was going to melt into a pile of goo in front of the whole church!  Even with a light-weight cassock, specially made in Cape Coast, I was hotter than a hot dog sitting on a hot wall in the sun!

The heat aside, I thoroughly enjoyed myself during my formal installation as Honorary Canon of Cape Coast Cathedral.  The whole service lasted for 4 and a quarter hours - including the Eucharist, service of the word, and appeal for the Anglican Education Service, and a whole host of other elements!  Ghanaians have an immense amount of patience to sit through such long services, especially given the levels of heat!

Here are a selection of photographs taken by a trusty volunteer (who unfortunately didn't quite understand how the automatic focus function works!). They are rather dark - because the Cathedral itself is not brilliantly lit - with windows either hidden in side aisles, or with glass replaced with air-bricks to improve air-flow. Nevertheless, I hope they serve to illustrate the occasion without too many more explanations from me.

Opening Procession

Procession into half empty Cathedral - which soon filled to overflowing

New Canon preaches...watched over by a very white Jesus!

Very high pulpit...six feet above contradiction!  Joseph translating into Fante below

Another Procession: Formal entry of the new Canon

Pledging allegiance to the Canonical Law of the West African Province

Formal Induction Liturgy

The new Canon is installed in the 'Seat of St Thomas the Apostle'

Receiving the Blessing through Bishop Daniel Allotey

The New Canon is presented to the Congregation

Lots of happy handshaking

A Welcome from Anthony - Churchwarden

The Eucharist continues

Praying for God's Blessing on assembled School Children

A new Processional Cross is dedicated

Praying for blessing on the Offering

The above pictures give only a taste of the very long, slightly convoluted, but very enjoyable service.

After lunch at the Cape Coast University, a much appreciated shower at my hotel preceded an evening meal with the Bishop, at his home, with the Dean of the Cathedral, Chapter Clerk, Dean of the Seminary, the Precentor of the Cathedral, and the Diocesan Secretary and his wife (Joseph and Elizabeth).

Unfortunately, the lights went out half way through the evening, which was then completed by the light of a couple of torches.  But that didn't stem the enthusiasm of the assembled company for some long speeches of welcome and thanks. Most embarrassing! I took the opportunity to re-iterate the central theme of my morning's sermon: that hospitality (such as that offered by my family and parish to Joseph which he was in the UK) is a sacred Christian duty - which in my case God has graciously rewarded with the gift of many new friends (and of course the honour of being a Canon of the Province of West Africa!).

Monday 27th February 2012

My last full day in Ghana (sniff, sniff, boo hoo!) for this visit.  Here are some photos of today...

Dean Victor teaches his Seminarians at St Nicholas Seminary

And the other side of the room!

Some of the Seminary's classrooms

The main administration block - with offices, library, computer room, chapel and classrooms

Lecturers' Accommodation, front and behind.

Student accommodation block...4 sleeping and working to a room
I had a really interesting morning at the Seminary today, participating in a lecture and discussion about Anglican roots in Ghana, and questions about how much the traditional past of the Anglican church should impact upon its future mission.  A great deal of the worship of the Anglican church in Ghana is rooted in the ancient traditions of Anglicanism, especially the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Whilst the older generation grew up with these ancient, medieval words, they are arguably inaccessible for many young people (for whom even standard modern English is often very much a second language).  It will be interesting to see over the coming years whether the church in Ghana manages to find new and culturally relevant ways of expressing the Anglican faith.

After time at the Seminary, I popped down to the Cape Coast castle for a Coke, and a last chance to meet up with some of the friends I have made around the cafes and the Castle, especially William.  Here a few snaps of life in that neck of the woods:

Then, I collected Elizabeth from her work place (a health centre in Cape Coast) and we decided to go out to the Coconut Grove resort for a bite of lunch.  Here are a few snaps of Coconut Grove, which I had only seen in the dark before now!

Coconut milk...fresh off the tree!  Delicious!  The flesh is quite slimy compared to the dried-up version I am used to in the UK!

Yes...they keep crocodiles at Coconut Grove!

After dropping Elizabeth in town to do some shopping, I went to meet the Dean of the Cathedral, Francis, for a drink and a chat.

He lives here, at the Cathedral's Mission House:
Mission House - with Parish Hall.  The Dean has a modest flat in this small complex
Nearby are the bare bones of what was once the Cape Cost Post Office, opened by President Nkruma in the 1960s as part of Ghana's brave new start.  I don't know the history of why it closed and is apparently no longer needed...but it makes a sad skeleton...

Cape Coast Post Office (as was)
The Dean and I agreed it would be rather more pleasant to chat down by the sea, at the Oasis Restaurant (which has become a favourite haunt!).  We chatted about his ministry, his hopes and fears for the future of the Cathedral.  It is clear that the Cathedral has a vital and powerful ministry in this area of Cape Coast.  It is frequently packed out...and the Dean (and Bishop) dream of being able to one day build a bigger church.  However, the old Cathedral (built as a Garrison Church originally) is deeply loved, and the present site is quite small.  Any new building would have to be elsewhere - which would bring all sorts of other problems!

While we chatted, I snapped some photos of all the vibrant life going on around me...everything from beach football, local fisher-folk doling out the results of large net sweep of the bay, and even pigs on the beach!

Pigs on the Beech...and children!

A local show-off poses for the camera

The latest catch is divided up between those who hauled it in from the shore

Beach Soccer...hard work!

After meeting the Dean, I drove back to Joseph and Elizabeth's house, for them to take me out to supper with his family.  We went to a local hotel, where we had a very pleasant meal with Joseph's grandfather (the head of the family) and his tribal Chief (who is also Joseph's great Uncle), and Joseph's cousin, Anthony, who is also a Churchwarden of the Cathedral.  There were lots of speeches!  They wanted to thank me, and through me Clare and Emily, for having hosted Joseph in our home for two years!  They then presented me with a beautiful abstract picture of an African woman, and a costume which is traditionally worn by northern tribal chiefs.

Left to right:  Joseph, Anthony (Cousin), Grandfather, me, Chief Nana (Great Uncle), Elizabeth
 After such long day of talking and eating, I went home to collapse and sleep!

Tuesday 28th Feb 2012

Today will be spent essentially tying up loose ends, packing suitcases, and travelling to Accra for the plane.  (I think there is a plan to visit more of Joseph's relatives en route to the airport though!).  However, this seems as good a moment as any to record some overall impressions of my stay.

I have not travelled much in Africa (only in Uganda prior to now) so I don't have a great deal to compare Ghana against.  However, I can say that is a country of exceptionally friendly people, who very much enjoy feasting and laughing.  Smiles and a welcome (Akwaaba!) are offered easily and freely.

Typically Chaotic Street Scene - including one of MANY adverts for the MANY independent churches
On the other hand, the country faces many real challenges.  Top of the list is that it operates almost enitrely as a cash economy, and very few people pay income or purchase taxes. These results in the Government having very few resources for investment in infrastructure.  The country gives the impression of slowly and sadly decaying - especially in urban areas. Former (colonial) buildings are generally not well maintained, and much of the grand new buildings of the post-colonial era are now falling down or badly repaired (especially the former post office - see above - and the Education Service office in which Joseph works).  Newer buildings are often started, but then not completed due to lack of resources - resulting in field after field of have completed concrete structures.

The roads are reasonable, though only the major roads are passable at any kind of decent speed.  There is a major problem with litter...everywhere!  Municipal services are few and far between.  There is also a recent phenomenon of drinking water from small disposable clear plastic bags (instead of bottles).  That reduces the number of bottles thrown all over the place, but there is a thin film of empty plastic bags everywhere instead!

The weather is warm and humid...which can sap one's energy, although the fairly constant sea breeze in Cape Coast combines with the warm sunshine to create an over-all pleasant environment.  Unfortunately, in many places, the fresh air of the sea is masked by the smell of urine.  Ghanaians have few public toilet facilities, and people tend to relieve themselves wherever they feel like it!

Typical Beach Scene along the Cape Coast
Over all, however, this is country with great people, great beauty and great promise.  We, in the West, have MUCH to learn about the value of spending time with each other - about the vital importance of community, family and tribe.  Ghana has only the most rudimentary social safety-net, partly because there are few resources, and partly because it is rarely needed.  Most people live in grinding, daily poverty...but a helping hand to family members in distress is always offered.

Whether Ghana has the drive to push forward as a nation is an open question. Most people seem content to make enough money for the day's needs, and then to relax and chat.  In a warm country, with many good friends, it is possible to get by on relatively few resources.  (I sometimes wonder whether the legendary drive of Europeans is caused by our simple need to get our roofs put on quickly!). It will take a new brand of leadership to persuade the population as a whole that extra and devoted effort (and investment through taxation) will be needed to lift the country to its next stage of development.

At the same time, I worry about the tendency of Ghana to automatically embrace western influences.  Most Ghanaians dress like Europeans, with traditional dress only worn by the old, or for special occasions.  Other western influences, especially TV and mass entertainment, are, I think, beginning to undermine the sense of community (just as they have done here).  It is easier to believe one lives in a community by watching soap operas than to actually engage in the more challenging task of building real community.  Secularism and a slow creeping atheism is also undermining hope.

No country, of course, is perfect.  Ghana looks like Paradise at first glance, but a little bit of a dig beneath the surface reveals some underlying structural problems which will take many years to overcome.  I am hopeful, however, that with hard work and dedication and slowly increasing investment from significant global companies, Ghana is looking forward to a bright future in the sun.

That's about all for now.  I will be preparing a more formal report on my interactions with Diocesan and Seminary Staff for the IDWAL committee (IDWAL = Inter-Diocesan West African Link).  However, I hope this blog of my adventures has helped you to get a flavour of life in Ghana.

Tom Kennar
28 Feb 2012