Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Ghana Stories #3: The Ghanaian Passion in Holy Week

We got to experience Palm Sunday as it was meant to be.
We travelled on Friday March 26th (the kids last day of school in their temporary school called “Scholars International”) to a town in the hills northeast of Accra called Koforidua. It was a beautiful drive up and down a mountain with lush green jungle, beautiful views and peace from the incessant honking of horns in the city.
We stayed at another VSO’s house along with 10 fellow volunteers from north, south, east & west Ghana, sharing floor space, beds and couches. Aiden was our gracious host, letting the six of us use his room with ensuite bath, and telling us what to see and do in town. We did lot’s of walking, explored the market and spent the afternoon at the “Hotel Pool”, while the other volunteers bought supplies for dinner.
We all came together for Happy Hour at the local “Spot” for beers, Fanta and popcorn, then headed to the immense house to prep our feast. The house is normally used by 4 volunteers at a time, but currently only has Aiden. It also has the good karma of all its past volunteers including homey touches like nice curtains and local artwork. Better yet, it has a fabulous mini library with some great Canadian authors, many current titles and even a couple of good books for Lilianna and Josephine (whose voracious reading is impossible to keep up with).
What an amazing feast we had that night!!! Everyone worked together washing and chopping fresh tomato, garlic and avocado (my kids took care of this), plus okra, carrot, cabbage, garden eggs (a mini yellow eggplant), lettuce and scotch bonnet hot peppers. The vision for the meal was devised as we went along collectively with a few choice items already in mind like guacamole to go with the plantain chips and pakora headed up by Vina - a UK volunteer with Indian heritage.
The men mainly did the chicken on Aiden’s half barrel Bar-B-Que, although I am proud to say that Terry deep fried the Pakora, which was divine. It got polished off as we continued to chop and peel. There was lot’s of cold beer, Fanta and good conversation which led to a gourmet meal which was topped off with a fruit salad (papaya, mango, pineapple and banana), then games played in a circle around the living room.
It was a really nice evening, which made me feel all the more thankful for our wee commune of 6 Coyes-Loiselle. These volunteers have only each other for family while working here in Ghana, getting together every few weeks or months on occasions like this. Terry and I feel very fortunate to always have each other and the four kids as we make our way here in this world of riches and poverty, despair and joy.
The next day, Palm Sunday, we arrived at St. Dominics Parrish without palms, expecting to find a table at the back of the church with young lime green palm branches that we pick up sedately and bring to our pews. Instead we arrived in Jerusalem with everyone having brought palms from trees in their backyards or the roadside. Some were big, some small, some braided, some weaved, some with flowers attached like bougainvillea, all festive. Mass began outside upon the arrival of the procession of dancing, singing, palm waving Ghanaians with a loud celebratory brass band accompanied by base and snare drums, which beat out African rhythms to match the joyous trumpet and trombone.
Everyone was laughing and cheering, waving their sweat rags as they danced to the exciting pulse in the music. We did not have to imagine Jesus arriving on a donkey; he was there with us as we eventually made our way into the Church after the opening blessing, sweat dripping from all pores. There was no room in the regular pews, so we went on a balcony that ran the length of the church. It was perfect up there under the fans where we got to see all the action from above. The mass felt a bit like a wedding reception with children young and old socializing, singing, dancing, and praying in and outside of the church throughout mass, wearing their best dresses and dress cloths for boys. Music plays a huge role in the Ghanaian Mass. I don’t know the significance of it yet, but all the masses seem to have specific rows of women wearing matching sarongs, blouses, head scarves and jewelry. Perhaps they are nuns? One group will take up two to three pews on one side of the church and another group in a different matching costume will take up a different set of pews.
On Palm Sunday, we got to witness one particularly lively group of ladies all in blue and white with matching peals and sweat rags. Traditionally the song for the gifts is especially energetic. On Palm Sunday at St. Dominics, we were treated to the brass band and drums again, whose sound echoed throughout the church filling it with thunderous, celebratory music. They played a sort of call and answer between the trumpet and trombone to the constant beat of the drum, very African, as opposed to what you would normally think of a brass or marching band. Then the congregation joined in singing and I would not have believed this could happen, but the people singing actually drowned out the musicians. It was breathtaking and powerful, even Dad had tears in his eyes, not just Mom, as the kids were quick to observe. It was all the more potent because everyone processed to the altar with a donation for the basket dancing forwards, backwards, sideways, circling, clapping with big smiles, playing off each other singing and moved by the music. It was pure sunshine and it still maintained the essence of prayer. It never felt over the top or “Uncatholic” in the worship. Our spirits were raised high in spite of the lows that we relived in the gospel reading.
Holy week progressed. Terry travelled over 12 hours by bus to Tamale, a city in northern Ghana for 2 days of meetings. So the kids and I decided to treat ourselves to a couple of beach days at Big Milly’s, the bungalow at Kokrobite Beach (on the outskirts of Accra) that we had stayed in weeks before. Terry joined us there early Holy Thursday and we got home that evening in time for Terry and I to go on our first date in Ghana. The kids spent the evening with the neighbor kids who live below us, watching TV, which never happens anymore outside of our Friday movie nights with the projector and laptop that we brought along. Interestingly, at the end of the night, they all said it was boring just sitting there watching TV for 2 hours. Terry and I went to the Canadian High Commission for their monthly BBQ/social. The beer was cold, the burgers and free popcorn were amazing, and it was nice to meet some other Canadian expats and find out what everyone does here in Accra.
On Good Friday, we went to the 3:00 PM service arriving at 2:15 PM in order to get a pew. We sat in the front pew in order to follow everything easier. I was wearing a white shirt to stay cool knowing the mass would be very long and hot. Every once in a while we run into Ghanaian culture faux pas and today was one of those days, where we managed 2. We walked in and everyone was wearing black or very dark colors, so not only did we stick out with our white skin, but also our light colored apparel. Then we realized that we were sitting in a pew normally reserved for the readers. They were very subtle in their handling of it, very kind in fact. They did not disturb us, but quietly brought in extra chairs for the readers to sit in front of us.
Once again, we were treated to amazing music. The gospel was particularly moving as the choir sang all the parts in the gospel that are normally spoken by crowds. So we were got to hear “Barrabas! Barrabas!” and “Crucify him! Crucify him” for example sung solemnly in artistically arranged, moving 3 to 5 part harmonies. I find it difficult to decipher the harmonies here because they are so intricate and well blended that sometimes although I know there is harmony, it comes across as unison. The veneration of the cross must have lasted at least 45 minutes as each person spent extended moments praying and meditating with Jesus at the cross. There was moving music throughout and it was very poignant. After over 3 hours at Church on Good Friday, we decided not to do the Easter Vigil and instead watched Franco Zephrelli’s (sp) Jesus of Nazareth with the kids on Friday and Saturday nights on our big white wall. It was a great choice as the kids (the boys in particular) had many questions answered or clarified for them and it made Jesus’ passion so much more real as it closely and dramatically followed the gospels from his birth to his death. It also brought about more questions, which made for some wonderful Easter weekend discussions in our little apartment.
We awoke Sunday morning to discover that, much to our delight, the Easter Bunny found us here in Accra! The kids hunted for FanIce (ice cream/popsicle packs), Fantas, Ghanaian chocolate, suckers, gum and malt balls. We also each got souvenirs from Kokrobite beach (Big Milly’s): dresses for the girls, patchwork shorts for the boys, and local pottery coffee mugs for Mom and Dad. We went to Mass where it was packed out with C&E’s just like in Canada and the choir treated us to Handel’s Alleluia Chorus at the end of Mass. Anna (our Ghanaian friend who lived in Edmonton), invited us for an amazing Easter meal at her house. It brought us to the end of a truly blessed Lenten season and Holy Week in Ghana. She had other guests and family there and when people arrived they all greeted each other with “Happy Easter”, “He is truly risen”, “We are blessed”, which is how we as a family felt; how lucky we were to share Easter so intimately with each other and then with a loving family, kind enough to let us share in their love and fellowship.
Happy Easter and happy spring to all our loved ones back home.
Annette and the Coyes-Loiselle Crew

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