Random Impressions from July through October, 2012

Excerpts from my journal:

July 26, 2012 It’s a Snap
I had a big smile on my face after shaking hands with Siska, our host at Stumble Inn resort in Elmina. For a month I’ve been trying to master the Ghanaian handshake and was finally able to pull off “the snap” with Siska’s help.

The trick is in the timing and in being able to snap your fingers, neither of which come naturally for me. I can snap handily on my left hand, emitting a sharp click but when I try my right hand all I get is a failed flick. More of a thud than a snap.

To properly show your coolness here in Ghana, you grasp each other’s right hand, shake and pull away, sliding down each other’s middle fingers, snapping simultaneously as you break apart. Unsure of myself, I’ve tried to hurry or waited too long. Siska admitted to having the same problem so we took the time to practice until we got the timing right.

That’s when I realized that the timing is more important than the snap because both people will snap and as long as at least one emits the snapping sound, it won’t be so obvious that the other person’s snap is a dud.

Thanks, Siska!

August 7, 2012 A Girl Named Gifty

On any given day I can expect at least one unexpected gift. Today’s surprise arrived when I asked a young girl her name. I didn’t quite catch it and so I watched as she carefully wrote it out on a piece of paper. Gifty.

I remember Gifty from the time she pointed me in the direction of Nadville the day I was looking to buy flour. Gifty works at the Melcom where they don’t stock flour. I was impressed by her assistance because this was the first time any of the clerks at Melcom had suggested a way for me to find what I was seeking. Generally, if they said anything it was, “It is finished.” It took me weeks to figure out that ‘finished’ meant they were out of stock. When pressed, no one ever seemed to know when they would be in stock or where in Kumasi I might find what I was looking for.

Today, I was asking about the fancy cakes in the glass case at the stop of the stairs by the check out counter. I wanted to buy one to make Lauren feel special at her last meal in our home before her return to the States.

After explaining the deal with the contents of the glass case and what protocol was required for removing a cake and carting it off, Gifty told me about how she is learning to cut hair and hopes to go to America to practice her skill. “Obruni hair, too” she confided. Gifty was so charmingly sincere that I was driven to fib and told her that America surely does need another cosmetologist.

August 17, 2012 A Typical Day

I wake to the pre-dawn song of the Common Bulbul sounding much like the birds in Kurt Vonnegut’s novels: “Poo tee wheet, poo tee wheet.” I lay beside Bob in the dark and plan my day. Heavy with shopping lists and chopping strategies. To julienne or not, eggplant with the root vegetables or in its own sauce.

Bob wakes, we share our thoughts, dreams, impressions from yesterday and plans for the day. We fix ourselves some cocoa and tea and turn on our laptops to check Facebook and emails for transmissions from beyond.

I strip the bed and start a load of laundry. I cut up a mango. Jeremy walks below the kitchen window on his way to release this goats into a new day. The neighbors are already cackling happily and cooking something on a fire on the ground.

Albert, the gate guy across the street waves good morning with a smile. The chickens are shuffling around in search of grubs. Someone torches off their garbage and the acrid aroma of burning  plastic fills the air.

I make breakfast – fried onions and pepper, scrambled tofu and toast. I eat mine with boiled plantain. Then I put on a skirt and pull on my back pack to go to market. I’m the last to leave the house so I lock the doors. I pat the goats on their heads, taking care to use my left hand and go out the gate, turning left on the dirt road outside our house.

I pass a man on the street and greet him.  “Hello, how are you?” he asks with the typical big smile. “I am fine, and you?” I ask. “I am also fine” he answers and pauses for a moment before saying, “I like you.” We have stopped now. We look at each other. “I like you, too!” I say and then we both begin to walk again. “Bye bye!” “Byeiii!”

August 30, 2012 – Hope

I see that I’m not the only hopeful person who has put out their trash can for Wednesday pick up. Our trash has, indeed been picked up on a Wednesday in the past, just as Mr. Kingsley said it would be. And on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

September 21, 2012 – Founder’s Day

I’ll bet little Vala is still dancing in the dark on the red dirt road outside our house. Whirling and jumping to the beat in her head in her angel-like robe. Her mother sits on the wooden bench against the wall across the street, laughing away the holiday evening with her friends Teresa and  Jean and the gang next door, our neighbors from the north.

September 27, 2012 – Towering Cloud

The rain has the sound of permanence as if it has settled in for the night. At one point during the day I found myself staring incredulously at an enormous storm cloud. It was hurt-your-eyes white and stacked so high I flinched at the thought of it toppling over and burying me in creamy light.

Elodie came to  our home for the first time this week and had pulled me aside at the bottom of the stairs to tell me what a fright she had regarding her father. She was fixing dinner for guests at her Green Ranch on Lake Bosumtwi and heard news of an avalanche burying the base camp where her 64-year old father was staying in Nepal. She had told me before that the last time he visited the Ranch he swam clear across the lake, a distance of 10.5 km or 6.5 miles!

Elodie waited to find out more, squelching her panic, going through the motions of serving her guests the evening meal and eventually heard that her father had not stayed in the camp that got buried beneath the avalanche. Still, the image of her father entombed in a mountain of snow was difficult to shake and had unraveled her nerves. “Why can’t he behave like other men his age, happy to putter around the yard?”

I thought of Elodie’s father and the avalanche as I stared up at the towering cloud, an idle thought overshadowed by the task of preparing dinner.

October 16 – Timpani

The rain came suddenly after an all-afternoon build up. Always the wind heralds its approach, making the curtains dance.

When our new neighbors moved into the ruins on the other side of our house I noticed that they began using the second floor, which had eroded into a roof with crumbling walls, to dry laundry, read and talk on the phone. I also noticed that, if someone were standing on the roof next door they could see me standing in the tub without a shower curtain or curtains on the windows.

So Bob tied two plastic bags over the louvered glass for decency’s sake. Now the bags snap in the wind as lightning flashes and the downpour whips against the open windows, splashing on the floors. Finally, the uproar settles into the sound of people clapping. A symphony of timpani and applause.

By Camille Armantrout

Camille lives with her soul mate Bob in the back woods of central North Carolina where she hikes, gardens, cooks, and writes.