Thursday, March 31, 2011

dinner on the town

I can do this now! I can get on the bus after work and come down to Chicago for a late dinner with my younger daughter! Even though, really, I haven’t ever come down just for a meal, until today. Busy: she is, I am, and the weeks fly by. But still, I know I can, and isn't that just splendid!

Today I had additional incentives to appear in Chicago. There are things, family bits of china, small tables, things that i want to transport down to my girl's place before my own move. Now comes the time to declutter life and stick with the essentials.

It’s a beautiful day outside – and this is immensely pleasant, as the two previous times I’ve come down to see her have been in the thick of winter. Not tonight. It's a great evening for a long walk to dinner.


We eat at Antico – and I am relieved that I am eating Italian food that is fresh and wonderful. Ed’s been running episodes of Kitchen Nightmares on Hulu and the past two demonstrated failures have been Italian eateries. I can finally let go of images of soggy eggplant and stale chicken cutlets. Antico offers a small symphony of Italian flavors. This place (just opened last week!) will be around for years to come.


Yes, it’s good to be in Chicago. Tomorrow at dawn, I’m back on the bus, heading up north again, but today, I’m having a city night. A quick taste of the urban, before taking out the mouse traps and settling in to farm living. Soon.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Ed thinks I’m unabashedly optimistic, but I truly believe we are now seeing the final stages of the farmhouse project rolling toward completion. In fact, I’m betting that I can pretty much move in on April 20th.

It’s important to get this date right, because I don’t want to move into chaos. Nor do I need to move before the last floorboard is sanded and finished. My condo buyer isn’t closing until late May. But, I want to be there sooner rather than later. Wisconsinites may fight me on this one, but I think spring is a beautiful season here and spring starts, in my estimation, pretty much when the leaves burst in a riot of green from long dormant tree branches. And as I recall, that nearly always happens around my birthday (April 21st).

There is yet another reason to move sooner: the farmhouse is starting to look so darn pretty right now! Freshly scrubbed, ready to show off her buffed and polish new face.

(new walls, new ceiling, still waiting for new floors)

From a more utilitarian standpoint, I should be there, too, because there is work that I need to do on the doors and frames and it’s easier to get rolling on it when I am actually at the farmhouse.

So today I booked movers for April 20th.

It’s the third move for me in the last half dozen years and I am using the same company I had for the previous two moves, except, as I explained to the agent today – I’m moving less “stuff” each time.

This morning, before classes, I ride out with Ed on his motorbike (cold!) to inspect the most recent progress. Nice!

Outside, I see that the first crocus is showing a solitary yellow brilliance.


Yes, it’s time to step outdoors more. Poke around in the dirt. Watch the sky change colors. And, too, it’s time to write a few words, not only for Ocean, but for the stalled book project. All that, starting three weeks from today.

In the meanwhile, I drive past one of the big lakes and see that the ice is clinging forcefully, as it were January and not almost April.


In the evening, I go to a public hearing downtown. It is in the matter of street art (I'm for it!).

I finish the day with a celebratory drink at a place that used to be a home of sorts for me (I worked there) some years back -- L'Etoile.

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One of the waiters who worked there then is still on the staff and he and I spend some minutes thinking out loud about the passage of time.

Time. Short spurts, long hauls, dates and deadlines. I have one now: in three weeks, I should be packed and on my way.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Easily bothered? Then this day’s not for you. I mean, you really have to be made of tough stuff to come out unscathed and unperturbed after a day packed full of annoyances and irritants.

Work issues? Well sure there are always those. But worse: how about the wasted hours fixing internet commerce snafus? And time frittered on phone exchanges that are only mildly relevant to the task at hand?

Well so what – there are days like this. You ignore the brilliant skies and the lovely promises of spring and you blunder along, fitting as best as you can nearly everything into an already full day

Hey, at least the ice is nearly melted on Lake Mendota. Can you believe it? It’s the latest spring I remember in south central Wisconsin.


I can hardly stay awake long enough to write this. Sleep: I deeply miss good nights of sleep.

Monday, March 28, 2011

mink fur

My mother used to say this in the years my sister and I attended the UN School in New York: I gave up the possibility of owning a mink coat so that you could go to a good school. (The message was: you better make it count.)

I felt badly for her. She was frugal -- sewed her own clothes, wore costume jewelry, but she really appeared to covet the mink. Coat, stole -- however it presented itself, she wanted it. I suppose in the 1960s, mink was the ultimate symbol of success. Sort of like a huge LCD screen is these days.

So I grew up believing that mink was a huge deal – a rare animal that ladies seemed to want (in the dead version) to sling across their shoulder, sometimes with paws and other extremities still in tact.

Alright, let me say a few words about this day: the skies are blue, the air is gentle, the temps shoot up to the low forties. I step out this morning thinking – why am I not riding the bike to work? (The short answer is that the bike is dirty from a winter rest in the condo garage and the tires are low on air.)

I decide to walk to campus. An hour along the lake front path. What could be better!

And I am rewarded – with my first sighting of crocuses...


...and with a secretive peek at the wildlife that inhabits the shores of a (still partially frozen) Lake Mendota.

There is the muskrat....


...and an animal that someone on the shore tells me is a weasel.


A weasel? Like, an animal baring a coat of mink fur??


Much of the ice that covered the lake all winter long has melted. But some remains firmly in place.


Though it doesn’t fool me any. There is nothing in the air that feels like winter. We’re onto a different kettle of fish here.

About time.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


If yesterday was miserably cold, today was still somewhat cold, but beautiful nonetheless. Blue skies and a warm sun meant that I could leave the scarf behind. At last.

And this is a good thing, because today, I launched my (protracted) move to the farmette. Ed brought his truck (you surely have dead mice in the engine! It smells to high heaven! Open the window...) and we loaded up all that I store in the storage room in the basement of my condo building: Christmas decorations. Important papers and less used kitchen utensils. Skates, picture frames, a picnic basket. A guitar.

We roll slowly toward the farmette, thinking that a bump at a faster pace would surely send things flying. At the farmette, we unload the truck, carry it all to the basement and I check off on my list one room (admittedly the smallest) as “moved in.”

And the willows sway and the birds chirp and life is good.


But it is cold. At the farmette, the ground is still solidly frozen, so that my attempts at leveling the dirt driveway are completely unproductive.

I leave in the early afternoon, having work to do at home.

But I move slowly on the return trip home. I spot the truck farmers out in the field next to the farmette and I pause for a while. I feel neighborly almost. As if I’d already moved in.


And a few paces further, I come across a man with a camera. What are you looking for – I ask.
Birds that stay at the water’s edge.


That water is really not a pond, but one big puddle in the fields below. Sometimes it dries up during the summer. Other times it does not.

In the evening, I chat with my mother (who lives in Berkeley). She’s skeptical about my move. I’m not. I’m sure as anything that I am doing the right thing.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

bits and pieces of a day

I wake up, look outside and tell myself – only a few more days of this. And that's a few days too many.

Not wanting winter anymore, I feel cheated and cold when I step outside and feel the bite of an arctic wind. At least I think it's arctic. Anything now below freezing I count as arctic.

I had wanted to mend the dirt driveway at Ed’s farmette today, but the ground is a solid brick of ice still. And so instead, we head out to Menards, to study tiles.

Why tiles? Well, there is this regulation that does not permit the oven to be within a certain proximity of wood. Including the frame of a window. Because the stove is going to be quite close to a window (weird, I know) we have to cover the frame up with a barrier. Andy suggested tile.

At first I think – plain white. Let’s not be fussy here. But we then find something unusual at Menards -- tiles that aren't exactly tiles. Thick little bits of something.


We read the box label. They appear to be stone slabs from Turkey. Cheap marble. Kind of cracked at some edges, but with character. $5 for a stack of nine. (One has to wonder – why nine?) And I’m thinking -- these will work so well with my four tiles that I bought on random four trips through France years ago. Souvenirs, you might say, from tightly budgeted trips. So maybe I could insert them amidst the thick slabs of Turkish whatever? Wouldn’t that be cool?

We buy the Turkish slabs and the grating and the sealant and my oh my, this tile thing is certainly a PROJECT. Still, it's only a modest project and if Andy approves, we’ll have a stove backsplash that looks like this:


We stop, too, at Sears, to pick up a land-line phone. And while there, I make my way to the TV section, to admire how cheap big TVs are these days. When I bought my 19 inch flat-screen five years ago, I winced. Now, you can get a screen in multiples of mine for half the price. I nudge Ed toward a zesty looking 32 incher. Shouldn’t we upgrade the tiny set? But Ed's skeptical – is there something you especially want to watch that warrants the added cost? I admit that there is nothing. We move on.

At the farmhouse, Ed works on running a phone line to the living area. I volunteer to plant the tomatoes for the season.


Ed’s tomatoes vary from year to year. Sometimes they grow in abundance, someday they’re inconsequential. This year, I’m there to help.

And finally, we unpack the Menards mouse traps and though I am so very tempted to set them up immediately, I force myself to put them aside.  Maybe they should wait until the dust settles. Who cares if there are mice here now. The house is still uninhabited. Besides, we haven’t agreed as to who will carry a caught mouse out to the fields. I’m okay with seeing a mouse, but I’m less okay with toting one around, dead or alive.

Ed continues to work with wires, but I head back to the condo in plenty of daylight. I want to do my tax returns. It's my gateway to real spring.

Friday, March 25, 2011


 There are so many trivial, yet perplexing issues you face when recreating an interior in a crumbling old farmhouse. I call Andy (the builder) early in the morning to toss around a new thought. You know the bathroom? Where you're extending the wall some? We thought maybe it would work to create a space for storing towels and linens. 

Ideas for improving space use at the farmhouse spring forth sometimes quickly, with plenty of advance notice, and at other times they pop up when the work is already beyond the point of no return. We're on target this time. Andy's grandson, who has restored many a crumbling structure in his time, listens to this most recent suggestion. It's good. We can do it. A sigh of relief.

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On our way to the farmhouse, we stop at the lumberyard where I had put in an order for the kitchen countertop. I've forgotten which one we purchased and I need the information now to think about a backsplash in a place where there isn’t enough wall to do the job.

The person at the lumber yard tells me – you ordered chocolate cognac. Really? I am in a place of exotic tastes and colors. Ginger with chocolate cognac. Ghana, with France at the side, beckoning.

At the farmhouse, Ed looks through the purchased hickory  floor boards. I take on the task of removing all the scattered pieces of nonsense that should have been cleared from the house before the construction began. Ed’s mom’s artwork. My photos. Ed’s childhood books. And so on. They all now have a thick layer of construction dust and Ed suggests I use his air gun to clean them off. It is insanely satisfying to blast air at a piece and watch it come clean.

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Inspired by my role here as the dirt blaster, I take a vacuum to the basement and attack the overhead cobwebs there. Eighty years of dead spiders and their webs are sucked into the ridiculously impartial bowels of the vacuum cleaner.

Things are looking good.

... Until Andy’s grandson mentions – oh, by the way, you’ve got a nice bunch of mice here.
Every morning when we come in, we see a fresh set of mouse footprints. They go up the stairs, check things out upstairs then go down again.


Of course, there are going to be mice in the country. I’m not repulsed by them. Indeed, on the last day in Ghana, I had opened my suitcase only to find a chewed granola bar and some black deposits there. A mouse had feasted than pooped right inside my bag.

Still, this does put a fresh dimension on how to set up the kitchen. Must I use plastic to hide all foods now? I ask Andy’s grandson whether he has had mice and if so how has he dealt with them. Oh – lots of mice. You make a game of hunting them down. He packs up for the weekend and gets ready to go. Happy hunting! -- he shouts over his shoulder on his way out.


So, there’ll be a game going. Just to stack the deck a little, I invite Ed's cat, Isis, to take a quick walk through the farmhouse. Surely the mice will recognize that we mean business here?

It's cold outside still. The ground is not yet fully thawed. Not a single crocus has bloomed yet. You can't rush spring. Not in Wisconsin, not where the field mice still like to stay close to your furnace.


Thursday, March 24, 2011


It’s eight in the morning, ninety minutes before the start of class for me and Ed and I are at Home Depot studying floor boards.
I want you to consider hickory – he tells me.
We need to buy floor boards for two room that are currently floorless. It’s tricky because the rooms feed into the living room, which does have a floor – of mixed wood specimens. It’s maple here, Andy tells us, and oak there.
So... why aren’t we buying oak? I ask Ed.

Too straightforward. The farmhouse floors are variegated.

I’m not convinced. The hickory is so variegated it makes your head spin.

hickory to the right

After the last class for the day I head for the construction mess at the farmhouse. Andy is there. So is his grandson. Ed’s tampering with the electricals. We convene downstairs to study the floor issue.

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Isn’t hickory like having a zebra in the room?
Why not?
Zebras are black and white. These floor boards aren’t black or white.

And we continue in this way. If not about floor boards then it's the walls or ceilings or closets.

My head is spinning. The crew leaves. Ed and I continue to work – or, rather he works and I pass tools, screws and track bits.


And now it’s nearly dusk. I'm longing to sit for a few minutes (hours?) in a space that hasn't a thick layer of construction dust. Finally, Ed's ready to let go and head back to the condo for dinner. We walk to the old Ford with the red tape for a fender. I reach inside to open the hatch. Hmm. Hatch opener is not working. I slam the door shut and, in response, the lock slips down into a locked position. The key is inside. Ed, the thief extraordinaire, breaks into the car, retrieves the key and hands it to me.

At the condo I reheat soup from yesterday. Ed microwaves stale bread, I add a salad.

So, hickory over red oak?
Yes, sure. Funny how at the end of the day, lines blur, and things that appeared so monumentally important just a few hours back now seem trivial and benign. Zebra like? Sure. With ginger cabinets.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


If you teach large classes (as I do), you can’t allow yourself to be easily embarrassed. A few weeks ago I spilled tea all over my white blouse just before class. Eh, big deal. Today, I noticed that my top was bunched oddly in places. I noticed this after speaking to a group of 70. So it goes.

But I did feel truly mortified when I came home from work to find my door strangely locked. I typically lock it a certain number of twists – it was locked differently; I knew, therefore, that someone had been inside.

There are only a few people who have a key to the place. My daughter – but she’s at work, so not her. Ed – he’s at the farmhouse. My real estate agent – she’s in Florida. The “concierge” downstairs... Ah.

I walk downstairs and ask if she’d been in.
Oh no. But a real estate agent came by.
Say what?
With the same guy who was looking at your place last week.
They thought you were in Ghana.

In fact, I have had a hell of a time keeping up with life since I’ve been back. The laundry, the darks, the lights, is sprinkled all over the bedroom. There are stacks of mail everywhere. The bathroom looks like ten people went through and forgot to put away their cleaning products. And so on.

It was one of those events when you do not buckle your seat belt and have a car accident. I NEVER leave the place messy. I hate messes and I insist on putting things away before leaving. (In other words, I drive Ed nuts.) But this one time I was too busy to care about anything but getting to work on time.

I felt certain that the sale was, therefore, off. Imagine if you purchased a place in pristine condition and you returned for an affirmation, a one last look before you signed your life away with a mortgage and found that it wasn’t pristine and fresh at all. That someone’s undergarments were drying on the bathroom door knob (it’s a great way to dry upper undergarments) and an electric toothbrush had (accidentally, Ed would say) spattered a week’s worth of paste on the mirror.

I call various agents and track down the offending one (I thought you were still in Ghana – she tells me). She apologizes and the guy (thank you, dear man whoever you are) still loves the place, but really, I was completely mortified.

In other news, the world is gray, wet and cold. I remember how in the old days when people didn’t pick up their dog’s poop in big cities, I hated the month of March, because it revealed every size and shape of dog crap on ugly bare patches of cold, wet earth. There is just nothing pretty about mid March in northern places.

So, let me retreat from my policy of never posting photos that are more than a day old and post one from exactly a week ago, when a small group of volunteers in Ghana plunged to find relief from the heat under the enormous Wli Falls.


I stayed on the shore and watched, enjoying their craziness and abandon. And I counted butterflies.

When do Wisconsin butterflies return from Mexico? I miss them.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

ginger and chocolate

It’s late. The flight from Detroit to Madison was delayed and I’m on my last morsels of energy as Ed pulls up at the airport and I find space between floorboards and other Home Depot purchases in his little Geo.

How is the farmhouse? I’m intensely curious, of course. Not only haven’t I seen the progress of the last ten days, I’ve been so preoccupied with Ghana that I have neglected tracking construction details.

Chocolate. The cabinets you’re putting into the kitchen are the color of chocolate.
How can that be? I chose “ginger.” It’s a honey tone at the lumber yard.
It’s dark brown. The color of chocolate.

Is the order incorrect? Am I going to have to ask them to rip out what’s there and start all over again?

Blending thoughts of Ghana with the routines of work and nonwork back home continues to be a challenge, so that I toss all night amidst vivid dreams and surreal images. Maybe it’s my malaria medication plying tricks on me.

In the early morning, right before my classes, we drive over to the farmhouse. It’s cold and wet, but at least I know that this weather will pass. There’s evidence of it already. The crocus bulbs we planted last fall are poking through the cold earth. Soon -- good weather will come soon.

Inside the farmhouse, I’m astonished at the progress. The kitchen is looking like a kitchen now. With cabinets!


Where’s the chocolate?
Looks like chocolate to me.
Ginger. The official name of this is ginger.

Such a funny choice of color analogues. Ginger and chocolate. The flavors of west Africa.

Monday, March 21, 2011

coping in Paris

I didn’t attend the parting debriefing – the session where the Cross Cultural Solutions Ghana director talked to the group about our volunteer efforts in Hohoe. I was, at the time, finalizing the sale of my condo at the village Internet Café.

Perhaps I missed, therefore, the discussion that surely must have taken place about reentry issues that arise for returning volunteers. I’ve heard about such issues for Peace Corps volunteers, but I thought – I’m not going to become undone after a week in Hohoe. Peace Corps is for two years. That's a jolt. Hohoe time was one short week (oh, but we all learned so much!)...

But it became clear the minute I stepped off the plane in Amsterdam (my first stop after Ghana), then Paris, that I was going to have issues with suddenly stepping into affluence.

I love Paris more than any other city on the planet. It is my balm against a rocky world. I feel content just watching people attend to daily life there. Their demeanor always has elements of confident joy, perhaps indulgence – yes, that, but still, when I need a break, joy is a good thing to touch and admire.

But the very fact that Parisians – at least the ones in city center – are so content drove me nuts today. How can it be that Porsha, my enthusiastic student at Happy Kids, will have none of the freedom of play that these kids (my daughters too, indeed, all kids born in places where schools are good and there is indoor plumbing) have from day one?

Removal of children from their impoverished surroundings, even from orphanages such as Happy Kids and sending them far away is not, in most instances, the way to go. I have always weighed in class, at a very theoretical level, the pros and cons of international adoption. And now, as I see the richness of the culture of Ghana, plucking kids from a way of life that is so full of Ghanaian custom and placing them in a customary vacuum on the other side of the ocean gives me even greater pause.

I could not live in Ghana permanently. Ever. It’s too different, too embedded in religion, too traditional -- everything that I am not. For Ghanaian kids coming to America, the same must surely be true: we’re too different. And what about being black? In Ghana, minority status comes not with being of color but being of no color. Meaning being white.

Well, yes, but the opportunity in the America! Surely it is better to go on to study and eventually land a job that pays decent wages and allows you to travel freely – surely all that is better? I don’t know. Who am I to say.

Darn that Paris! It’s always so beautiful! And I have a near perfect March day here. Happy spring indeed!

I walk and walk and walk some more. Six hours of walking – from the eastern fringes to the west and back. From Luxembourg to Eiffel, to Les Champs and the Louvre, to Pompidou, Marais, Bastille, Notre Dame, hoping that by the end of this energetic spin, life would feel good again.

And in fact, it happened before the end of the walk. I pause to take a photo of flowers in a flower shop in the Marais (I took only a couple dozen photos, and most I will post here in a minute). The shop owner – a gaunt, pleasant looking fellow came rushing to me. Madame, madame, what are you doing? I’m used to the occasional shopkeeper who is opposed to photos. I’m sorry – I tell him. I should have asked. (That’s a canned response. Typically I do not ask for permission in public spaces.) He goes into a French rant: these flowers of mine they are beautifully presented (they are actually just thrown into buckets)! I am an artist! I cannot have my art stolen from me. I nod and put my camera away. But he slaps me on the back and bursts out laughing. I’m just having fun, Madame! Go ahead, take your photos! I was not serious!

It was a moment of humor and camaraderie and it made me laugh.

The cloud lifted. I began to relax.

Okay, photos form “une grande promenade” – the walk through Paris. I apologize for the postcardy nature of the beast. Virtually the only time I took out my camera was when I approached a “major sight.” Beats me why. Oh, and children. French children who live with families, not in orphanages, children who play on Sundays and then eat big meals with family, then take a parent’s hand and walk to school Monday.

Sigh, it was a complicated day.

first minutes in Paris are always at the Luxembourg Gardens

a Sunday family walk... sigh...

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spring in Paris comes at the end of March

the good life: children playing with boats

idle time

THE flowers

...and cakes

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and the sky turns golden

then mango orange... the most beautiful sunset I'd seen here...

Monday morning. My flight leaves after noon. I take a quick jaunt to the food halls of Bon Marche, pausing for an espresso, watching the kids go off to school (there are no strollers in Ghana; from back sling to fend for yourself, kid)...


I want to pick up a few jars of mustard. Weird, I know, but I love their mustard with mushrooms and I can find it nowhere else. It’s cheap and wonderful for a lazy person who cannot be bothered to make sauces for a meat dish.

At the Food Halls I walk the aisles admiring all the wonderful foods that are for sale. It’s a splendid place of cheeses and fruits and olive oils, of goose livers, smoked salmon and stewed duck. And then I come to the shelves of chocolate. And I see this:

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Ghana chocolate. Oh yes. I know Ghana produces superb cocoa. At the Internet Café I routinely listened to commercials on how to keep the mistletoe from attacking your cocoa trees. There is a government office (The Cocoa Board) devoted to cocoa production even in remote Hohoe.

The trouble is that most kids in Hohoe never get to taste chocolate. The families harvest cocoa and out it goes to the west. It reminds me of post-war Poland: apparently we made great ham: Polish ham was on the shelves of many American markets. But we could never buy any of it back home.

The Paris skies are brilliant. Blue as can be. I pull my wee suitcase and sling the bag full of Ghanaian fabric up past the Luxembourg Gardens and take the train to the airport. I’ll be home tonight.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

one last time on Ghana

(Friday) A time of butterflies

My fingernails look like I’ve been digging in rich black soil. It’s not that Hohoe is dirty. It’s hot here, and so dust turns quickly into dark mud on your skin. Oh, oops, did I say “it’s hot here?” That’s wrong. I’m not in Hohoe anymore.

I’m sitting at the Accra Airport waiting for my flight out of Ghana. How could it be? The air is cool, the food is plentiful, the wines, unleashed, flow at the snap of a finger – how could this be? Hohoe is only four hours away!

Snap of the finger. Did you know that in the Volta Region of Ghana, you don’t just shake hands in greeting? You snap your finger against the finger of the one you’re greeting, to form a mutual snap. It’s tricky until you get the hang of it.

In a week, I came close to getting it right most of the time. But not all of the time.

Yevu, yevu – those words will be in my head for a long long time. It’s an especially touching greeting, if you consider the history of the white person in Africa. But the little ones don’t know that. All they understand is that if they see a white person, this is the way they express both curiosity and a welcome. White person! White person! I respond with a wave and sometimes a greeting. Ndi (in the morning), ndo (in the afternoon). But it’s the wave of the hand that is crucial. So that they can wave back with all heart and smiles.

Yevu, yevu!

Akpe kakakakaka – thank you so very much.

Friday. My last full day. I’d been told: don’t prepare a full morning for the kids. Friday is game day. After the first recess, they go out and play games.

I teach my last class. It’s super over-prepared. We do the math, the reading, the letters of the alphabet. I’ve constructed this module where we talk about opposites and I have this plan to end with a very subjective pair of opposites: if the line isn’t long, it’s? ...short. But with respect to time, what is short? Is a minute short? Yes! Is a year short? No, it’s long! How about a week? Short!

The regular teacher sits with the students during my classes

Yes, short. But I tell them, in one week, look how much you can do! In our short week, we have read eight books, learned six new songs! We’ve talked about the crops and climate of Ghana and America, about ice fishing and butterflies. Hand clapping games, jingles about numbers. Drawings, letter hunting, Complicated sums, backwards counting, imaginary animals, sign language. And we added friends. Mine is a rich pool. Twelve children in a school in Hohoe.

Oh, how I miss them already!


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the littlest one

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8 years old and always the first with the right answer

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the oldest in class

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one of the twins

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the other

I mean to end on this theme of friends. We sing a song – a new one that they learned just this day – one that’s quickly risen to a top ranking in their estimation. ...Circle’s round it never ends, that’s how long I’m want to be your friend!

Recess. I see the older kids going off with a soccer ball. The preschoolers are out, too. I suggest that they line up for one last photo.


I pack up my papers, thinking – field games now. But the teacher tells me no – that’s for the older kids. I can have another hour and a half. The school director joins the class. They wait expectantly.


What now? I have no more curriculum!

Alphabet. We ended in the middle, let’s play alphabet games with the remaining letters. I buy myself ten minutes of planning time, even as I write words that kids are shouting out in answer to the letter game.

I can read two more books. I’ve brought extra ones. Sing one more round of make new friends. Some number tricks. Minutes pass, we’re good, we’re good. Half hour left.

I say to them – did you ever think of writing a book? What would you write about? This strikes them as somewhat nuts, but I persevere. I suggest we write one right now! Why not?! I have a whole half hour!

The previous day, I had seen something that perhaps was one of the most poignant moments for me (out of a week full of poignant moments). The littlest one (age four) had finished a drawing early. The other kids were still going strong, but she was done. I asked her if she wanted one of my story books to look at. She nodded. I gave her the book and she hesitated. Could she really hold it, look at it, examine it, all on her own? I placed it in her hands. Have those little hands ever held a book before?

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Often at recess, she lingers proudly over her drawing and a bevvy of preschoolers comes out to watch her. She just recently moved up to this next level of schooling and they like to admire her desk and anything that she may have in it. (Though typically it's empty. The children here have no supplies. The teacher lends them pencils and in my week, I've handed the paper.)


Now, as the idea of “writing” a book is taking shape, the littlest one pipes up with her usual “I cannot.” She says it always in the same way: I cannot draw an animal. And now – I cannot write a book.

I tell them about the little engine that could, changing it to a Hohoe van, going up a hill. The teacher and directress catch on to the idea – I think I can, I think I can – they chant with me.

And so the kids tell me the topic and the setting and I start a sentence and they take turns finishing it for me. I cannot emphasize enough how difficult this is for them. It’s a crazy idea and there are no right answers. When they come up with sentence endings, they say them in hushed, timid tones.

And so we have a book of sorts and it's about children hiding and the teacher eating too much pineapple.

And my time in class is nearly over. One more story about a butterfly. I ask each child to come up to the blackboard and draw a butterfly. I cannot draw a butterfly – my littlest one pipes up. I think you can.

She does. As do the others. Our blackboard of butterflies.


There is a lot of hand holding and hugging as I walk to the car. The headmistress presents me with a pair of Ghana earings. It is, predictably, a very difficult moment of leaving. [Will I be back? Maybe. I'm coming away with at least a few ideas on how they can go about building up their resource base. I would like to spend time exploring this more. And, I would love to see the children again.]


In the afternoon, the volunteers are all over Hohoe: one last trip to the market. (Note to commenter: no it's not only batik. Though in my own purchases, I preferred batik, because it's made locally and I like to support the women here who print it.)


To the art shop of Courage. Names here are so often aspirational! Wisdom. Bright... And shop names are frequently with a religious motif:


...To the seamstress. To the Internet Café, where I e-sign a counter to the offer on the condo.

Late in the evening we go to the Obama Bar. It’s our first and last beer drinking evening. Ghana beer is tasty – of the pale ale kind. At midnight we walk up to where the woman has her street stand with egg sandwiches. She fries an egg, sprinkles some combination of peppers and ginger and garlic and places it between two rounds of a bread that is somewhat pita-like. Most volunteers wont eat street food here (for good reason), but we break the rule for this. Delicious.

By Saturday morning, most of the volunteers have left to catch early flights. Only four remain. We’re booked for evening departures.

Saturday in Hohoe is laundry day and as I walk one last time to check email (my condo is sold! closing in May!) and pick up some last things that are still with the seamstress, I see the lines and fences draped with wet garments. Many have to draw water from wells and use basins outside and I am reminded of laundry days at my grandparents’ house in the Polish countryside, where my grandmother used a scrubbing board and well water too to do her laundry.


And now it’s time for our last meal at the base. I’ll miss having someone cook good food and clean the dishes after all the meals. It’s a tedious task in Hohoe, especially since there is no warm tap water. Our cook is not terrifically bothered by this, but I know it can’t be easy preparing food and scrubbing it all clean afterward.


I finish packing. All to the sound of loud music that appears to be playing steps away from the base.

There is a church there – one without walls, so that sound carries easily. We walk over to watch the dancing...


...and this is our final moment in Hohoe. But let me end the Hohoe page with a photo from my last walk through the village. Yevu, yevu, they cried out. And waved. And posed.


At three in the afternoon, a van takes us to Accra. My flight takes off at ten in the evening and I am so tired that I fall asleep as we take off. I miss everything – the food service, the sound system -- all of it. I wake up a number of times, but immediately doze off again.

By seven I am in Amsterdam and by nine I am in Paris. Just for a night. I need a good long walk. I just wish it wasn’t so cold. The fifties. Completely disconcerting after the heat of Ghana.