Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday Morning

It's Sunday morning at my parents' house in Windsor, where I'm living until returning to Ghana next year February. It's early winter in Maine, you can see the sky through the skeleton branches of the maples and poplars in the front yard. The leaves have all fallen into a crunchy brown mass around the base of the trees. About half the yard is white under an inch of snow, and the wild turkeys are roaming around the neighborhood. My Dad has set up a kitchen computer, and I hang out here with a cup of coffee in the mornings. Mom is making pumpkin pie filling with the same white plastic food processor we've had since I was a kid.

I got home on Thursday after more than two years in West Africa, and all I can say is that I highly recommend the experience of going away for a really long time and then coming back. I'm still a little fatigued from the abrupt jump in time zones, sleep doesn't feel restful, but that feeling is receding. It hasn't quite been three days yet, and I'm still rebooting my physiology, although the readjustment has been smoother and much less disorienting than I'd expected.

I packed my things from Ghana into an old trunk yesterday. A lot of them are holiday gifts for family and friends (kente cloth), some I'll be taking back in February (leather sandals), but others are keepsakes from a part of my life that's now closed. My cutlass, funeral cloth, and notebooks are relics and memories, they stay in the trunk. I'm planning on going back, but in a different capacity, and the two years as a rural, isolated, agriculture volunteer are finished. The friends and relationships are still there, but it's never going to be like that again. That may be why coming home has been relatively easy, it's more of a bridge between two periods rather than beginning a new one here. It's an interlude rather than a chapter. Still, it's incredible to find things I'd forgotten about from my life in Portland before Peace Corps. Pulling on an old Rogue's Gallery shirt feels a lot like picking up my cutlass, like conjuring up another time.

I got off the plane from Accra in Washington, D.C. and the first thing I felt was the cold. I've been cold in Ghana; falling asleep without a sheet during harmattan season when it gets a little brisk at night, in a hotel room when an air conditioner goes crazy and you wake up with chattering teeth, and even the fever chills from malaria. All of these things are cold. But they're not like the clear, complete cold of winter air. That's an instantly recognizable sensation, as distinctive as the lush, closeness of tropical warmth that hits you like a wall when arriving in the tropics. I've missed the cold, and coming back to it was just as relieving and refreshing as I'd imagined and hoped. It was snowing in Washington when I was boarding the plane to Portland, and I pulled my old insulated EMS hoodie tighter, savoring the wind and snow and cold. I love the cold, although my parents' house is a classic Maine house, difficult to heat, and expensive, so we kind of don't. I find myself unironically pulling on my fugu, a kind of long cotton smock from northern Ghana and a gift from the Chiefs in my town, in the mornings. With a long-sleeve shirt and a pair of thick socks, I'm comfortable.

The plane from Washington flew in over South Portland, over the lighthouses and Casco Bay, and then over the marina and the SMCC campus. My family and Sarah met me at the airport, and we drove through Portland, through Stroudwater and then across the city to Washington Avenue passing the Back Bay. Maine is even more beautiful than I'd remembered, and considering how much I've thought about home at times, that's saying something. I was worried that my memories were embellished, and that I'd come back and feel unsatisfied. Not a problem. Do you know that kind of blue-grey winter light that colors everything in the morning and the later afternoon this time of year? Does not exist in West Africa. Not that it should, but I'm just saying. West Africa has its own kinds of local light.

I haven't talked to very many people yet, taking this whole return kind of slow, but so far the normalcy has been the strangest thing. So far, so far, no crazy disconcerting, disorienting, through-the-looking-glass strangeness. Just the occasional moment of lightheadedness, when everything seems a little bit surreal for a minute. I was talking to my Dad about it yesterday, and I feel like the normalcy of coming home is a product of adapting, slowly and incompletely, to Ghana. My life in Ghana does not seem strange after coming home to Maine, but rather its own normalcy that exists elsewhere. Maine does not seem unnatural after living in Ghana, but has its own normalcy that, for me, was just put on hold for a little while. I'm not sure how well this feeling comes across, but it's an incredibly comforting, relieving, and justifying sense. I didn't lose anything by going away.

The luxury of life in the U.S. is immediately apparent, but it's the little things that strike you, rather than the cars, buildings, and built environment (i.e. Ghana has one modern bridge, there are three in Augusta alone). My parents' house doesn't seem so incredible, although it's a nice house, but the fact that my Dad has filled it with photos seems amazing. Mom has pinned up all his rejected prints over a couch, and the idea that here an unplanned collage of irregular prints like that is unremarkable...there, moment of lightheadedness. We were out at Barnes and Noble in Augusta last night, and the parking lot full of cars didn't seem weird, but picking up a Kindle or a Nook e-reader? Or, and this is my favorite, thinking that I'd like to read a particular book, and then going over to shelf and finding that particular book. These are amazing things.

That Sunday morning feeling is starting to slip away, and we're headed over to L.L. Bean to get some boots (boots, for the snow), so it's time to go. I needed a few days to get into the rhythm of life here, but now I really am back and for a relatively short time. I'm split time-wise between Windsor and Portland, and traveling for a few weeks to Texas in January to see Hannah and family in Florida, but I hope to see you (whoever you may be). Figuring out the phones soon, but Internet/Gmail/Facebook are constantly available again, and that's nice too.

Take it easy

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

An Abrupt Change of Plans

Hey, so here's how it is: An opportunity has come along, at the very end of my service, to pull together an agricultural program for Peace Corps focused on the cashew crop. It's a nice piece of work, and I'd really enjoy doing it. If all goes according to plan, and that's not 100% sure, I'll be flying home December 15 and returning to Ghana sometime in late February. I'll be working to pull together a program of agricultural skills, small-scale processing projects, and business skills for PCVs and farmers in cashew growing communities. I don't love the idea of being away for another year, but in all honesty it just sounded like too much fun to pass up. But, in the short term, I'm coming home, got the plane tickets and everything. December 16th I'll be back in Maine : )

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Movies in West Africa, II

I bought this one the other day. Haven't had a chance to watch it yet, they're VCDs not DVDs so I have to find someone with a local deck, but the guy who sold it to me either acted in the film or worked on the set "getting metal to build the cyborg."


I should probably add that "Ninja" has become a sort of label here, a miscellaneous piece of media culture that people in Ghana have picked up. It still means what you think it means, the ads for Ninja Home Security have a picture of a guy dressed in a black face mask, but there's also a Ninja Coffee Whiskey, etc. I was at a festival one time where a banner proclaimed the upcoming "Ninja Coffee Whiskey Fiesta Party!"

The whole thing is pretty funny, but I don't mean to make fun, if that strange distinction makes any sense. When I was a kid I used to be into all of these American movies from the 1970's that randomly picked up the idea of a ninja from Japan and pretty much ran with it (see "American Ninja"). There's a James Bond film from the '80s (possibly "You Only Live Twice") where Bond and a gang of ninjas attack the enemy base. There's nothing different about how the word ninja, or any number of other random things like the idea of a killer cyborg, gets picked up in Ghana.

Ghanaian/Nigerian films have their own stock characters, they just aren't well known outside Anglophone West Africa. The most common one, and I'm genuinely not playing this for laughs, is the magical preacher who can supernaturally flash onto the screen (keep in mind budgets are low; you turn off the camera, he steps into the frame, you turn on the camera) and banish evil spirits or prevent something bad from happening. He's not necessarily a character in the film, more of a representation of the power of faith. Everyone understands the scene where a woman tormented by spirits or about to be attacked yells "Jesus!" and, shazam, magical preacher. It's understood in exactly the same way that if you see a red-eyed robot lurching toward the camera it's clearly evil, unstoppable and out to kill the main character.

I find Ghanaian movie culture hilarious, but speaking as a person who just bought a bootleg DVD of Predator 3 and has been known to scream "Get to the chopper!" at people taking too long to get into my car, not any sillier than my own. This is their golden age; when budgets are low, production equipment is accessible, demand for movies is high, and everyone is on a relatively equal playing field.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Togo, Benin, Onwards


So on the heels of our close-of-service conference, I'm going to Togo and Benin for a little while. The phone will be off but I'll hit Facebook with some details and photos when we get back. The end of this Peace Corps thing is bitter-sweet. My official close-of-service date is December 1st, and depending on money I'm hoping to travel for six weeks or so across West Africa to Cape Verde and then catch a flight back.