An eclectic Christmas

The Ghanaians I see did Christmas very differently than my American or European experiences. Commercialism and pageantry were out – I saw only two Santas: one drawn onto the outside chalk board at Ashesi, accented with green garland; and the second on orange wrapping paper that I bought at the European & Lebanese grocery store on Christmas eve. The advent wreath and Christmas songs with which I am familiar at home evaporated into our tent-congregation’s routine of beginning before the heat and singing African music, the words of which I never quite really understand. That all seemed easier though than fulfilling the image of what I allow my culture to expect of me this season – the right gift(s) for all the right people, a complex sequence of social engagements, planning and coordinating weeks (sometimes months) in advance about travel among family and friends, and teaching traditions to our next generation.

Here, my friends have had loose plans over the recent week or two, yet no one seemed to be confirming specifics until nearly a week in advance.  Perhaps that’s a sign that I affiliate with a rather frictional group of people (as in, those not explicitly affiliated with one identity group or another). Working at a university which only adjourned on 20 December, I am similar in ways to the international student community – from Togo, Nigeria, Liberia, etc – whose families are out of the country, yet we are many years separated and their families are more geographically proximal than mine.  Living in Berekuso, “the bush,” I am not squarely inside Accra’s ex-pat community – which I understand had a mass exodus after close of business on Thursday and Friday. As a white-lady, I’m not solidly inside the local Ghanain community – many of whom welcomed relatives living abroad who I understand had a mass in-flow on Friday and Saturday.  The people with whom I most resonate are cross-cultural, people in bi-racial marriages or who have studied or lived abroad for several years, or those whose children or grandchildren live in Europe or America. Somehow, this cross-cultural or multi-cultural group knows my sense of displaced presence, neither really belonging within my home group because I’m away, nor fully belonging with this culture because I’m partially of somewhere else.

Within that context, I celebrated a Christmas to remember.

Christmas Eve I ventured into Accra for two reasons I would never have imagined in America: picking up a leg of lamb from a Lebanese butcher, and getting my hair cut (really, has any American woman reading this ever bothered the impossible, even the most basic hair appointment on a Christmas eve?! Antoinette seemed business-as-usual when I asked on Thursday if she could trim my hair on Monday (24 December), “yes, at 10 o’clock or at 12:30…” Monday was the only day I have had flexibility to go where she is in the city, but it’s unheard of to me that a hairdresser would be available Christmas Eve without weeks’ notice). The city was alive as I had never seen it. Building crews worked normal hours, all of the shops were buzzing (including “Jesus Loves You Electronics”, the shop’s normal name, not just a seasonal touch), and a vibrant flair of shopping seemed to be underway. Like in America, the access ramp to the mall was at a standstill for blocks before the exit, and yet other main arteries seemed as thin as pre-dawn hours. The most amazing thing was the animals – herds of goats and large cages of fowl ready for sale and slaughter. (I glanced sideways waiting for a tro-tro at one point, only to see a woman near me waiting with a fluffy yet elongated chicken hanging limply from its reddish clawed feet in her hands!). When I got back home about 3 p.m., I smiled congratulatory greetings at the neighborhood chickens and goats that might now make it to Easter.

Increasingly, I am benefiting from having been introduced to Yaw, a driver who is infinitely reliable and far safer on the roads than tro-tros or than what I call “off the street taxis.”  He seemed non-pulsed about driving me to a mentor/friend’s home that evening, Christmas Eve. His rate remained the same as normal, but I paid him “time and a half” which seemed reasonable to me even though unexpected (and welcomed) by him. He picked me up at 4:00 pm for a traffic-ridden two hour ride that should have taken about 40 minutes. And he seemed more startled that I asked him to pick me up again this morning, December 26 which is “Boxing Day,” for an early morning airport ride, than he did when I had asked about driving me on Christmas Eve evening. I don’t know if he was startled by the early pick-up hour today or by some special significance to the colonially imprinted Boxing Day holiday. Either way, I decided I should pay him time and a half for this morning’s ride too. (Bargaining about Christmas just didn’t seem right on either ride.)

Christmas Eve, my host Nana and I shared a quiet meal, exchanging stories about the traditions we each grew up with, as well as our various funny and profound memories of Christmases past. After dinner, we intermittently baked with Esi, snacked on fruit and candy together, and sipped tea reflecting on relationships.

I’ve read and been told that Ghanaians don’t open presents in front of the person who gives. So, I didn’t ask if or when we might exchange gifts. I was grateful to feel so welcomed into their collaborative home, as welcomed as the sort-of-adopted children from across the street; this was the gift I was receiving. I quietly put several little presents for various people in the household under the artificial tree (which my host tells me she bought when her European grandchildren visited 5 or more years ago), and left this morning without the small gifts having been touched.

Christmas day, the featured event was a lunch-party at 1:00 for children in the neighborhood who didn’t have a “proper” place to be. Nana knew each one by name. She enlisted her niece to hang balloons in the trees and to be the DJ and enthusiast for music and dancing after boxed lunches. By 1:30, no children had come; the various 20+ year olds who came to eat lamb and roasted chicken and help with the party laughed that children learn “Ghanaian time” early, that or the fact that youth definitely prefer night time parties and are saying such with their feet! By 3:00, the adults had enjoyed our fare (including my American touches of canned cranberries, stove top stuffing, and eventually a pumpkin pie) and the children’s party was really getting underway.

Until 10ish last night, there was a continuous sequence of people dropping-in for visits (even though the music moved from outdoor dance music to indoor jazz after the children left shortly after 5).

I appreciate all that Nana did to love me into her eclectic Christmas, all the care Esi provided through cooking and cleaning and smiles, and all of warmth the children created who laughed and danced and sang the only Christmas carols I really heard this season. I met a young adult I want to invite to share stories in class next semester, networked with a couple who turned out to be Gestalt practitioners (an organizational development approach that I too studied 5-8 years ago and practice) in Accra, and raised a toast with an American couple living in Ghana, ones who took me in before they had even met me. “Merry Christmas,” we smiled among ourselves late in the evening. Indeed, it was an eclectic and merry Christmas.


Peace as a process

My experience of the Ghanaian presidential election this weekend differs, no doubt, from official reports. I am an American, teaching and learning under a fellowship sponsored by the American Department of Education, facilitated by and administered through the American Embassy in Accra, and full time within the Ashesi University College community in the village Berekuso. I voted absentee by postal mail from foreign countries during the last two American presidential elections, something a woman in Ghana exclaims “could never happen – too much suspicion”—and indulged in my own frustrations about the challenge of getting a ballot from my country during the 6 week window they allowed. That seems now like a very minor inconvenience. I received the standard American warning last week from the American embassy that I should stay indoors during Friday’s election, and stay away from crowds generally leading up to and just after election day. And I have watched and learned through Ashesi-eyes as this community agreed to be an experimental test site this fall for how a new biometric voter identification process might work to reduce voter fraud and increase access.

I entered election day (Friday, December 7) keyed up and curious, but confused by whose truth to follow.GhanaFall2012 300

I pause here to remind anyone reading this that I am not writing or speaking on behalf of or as representative of any of the organizations with which I am engaged; I write and reflect here purely as an individual, learning and teaching.

All official reports continue to praise the 2012 election as fair, free, and peaceful. But as I heard a philanthropic businessman say off-handedly several years back, “things on the ground look different than they appear on Google Maps.”

Ghana is diverse. Accra is the densely populated urban capital, and Berekuso – where I am, 90 minutes north of the capital – is either a rural village or a peri-urban community, depending on who ask. Regardless, it’s a very poor area, mainly agricultural, low on the national totem pole for infrastructure like roads, schools, electricity and water.

Berekuso road looking up to Ashesi atop the hill

Berekuso road looking up to Ashesi atop the hill

Ashesi, an elite private liberal arts college dedicated to developing a high integrity class of leaders for making positive change in Africa, sits at the top of the Berekuso hill accessed by a quasi-private, paved road. The socioeconomic contrast between the two communities (Ashesi and Berekuso) is stark but synergistic. Collaborations continue to emerge between the two. The more often that I ride “The Welfare Bus,” a free service provided by a local prayer ministry, to get from my “storey-building” (a house for multiple family units built upwards several floors, generally here implying too a compound with a wall around it and a guard at the gate) to Ashesi, located 5 kilometers away, the more I feel a familiarity with and relative sense of belonging within Berekuso.

Saturday though, I was a foreigner when I walked through Berekuso. All I could see was the stark contrasts between the political rhetoric I had heard – much of which I had believed – and what I was sensing and seeing and hearing from others.

The day was a national holiday, not for elections (always on December 7) but because it coincided with Farmer’s Day (always on the first Friday of December). In my storey-building, we came together for a shared breakfast to listen to the radio (our television is broken). Polls were to open at 8 a.m. and close at 5 p.m. (I suspect that is to correspond with daylight hours, including a cushion on each end for getting ready and for finishing; power remains unreliable and electricity is not available throughout the country). By 9:30 a.m. the radio was reporting that many polls were not yet staffed, no ballots were available, and no ballot boxes present, even though lines had long since formed. Tensions rose early in some regions where people had camped out since 3 a.m. to get an early spot; and on-the-ground in the Accra region, officials were maintaining that the polls would close at 5 regardless of what time they opened (ultimately, the polls did close at 5 pm. It’s unclear what happened in the late opening areas, but in areas that experienced equipment malfunction by mid-afternoon, officials re-opened those certain polling stations again on Saturday. It remains unclear which voters and how many of them chose to return and wait again the next day).

We had already seen signals of logistical challenge. One colleague in the biometric pilot said that after being registered, she returned for the follow-up test, and the machine did not recognize her at all – in fact, the machine determined that her hand, at the end of the arm attached to her body standing in front of the machine, did not belong to her. Until radio reports of biometric malfunctions on Friday afternoon, I honestly thought the pilot had been scrubbed until a next election cycle. Ironically, I read a Thursday BBC report quoting the electoral chief as saying, “the new biometric voter identification system had worked smoothly during extensive tests.” And so, one makes reality from pieces of available data.

Thursday afternoon we had severe rain storms. That night, a housemate reported he had seen one of the local organizing precincts where translucent plastic ballot boxes with rectangular slits in the top were stacked for Friday; but the ballot boxes were ¼ full with rain water. His questions were two-fold: why hadn’t someone turned the boxes upside down as the skies darkened, and how were all of those boxes going to get completely dried in this humid climate by voting time the next day?  I understood his concerns better when someone explained the actual vote casting process to me.  Here’s what I got: the ink will bleed!

Election line at Comet police station

Election line at Comet police station

People register months before the election. Then, you must turn up at the station in which you registered (yet some of the stations move, are not marked, or accommodate multiple lists without necessarily having signage to indicate such). You wait in the queue until you reach the registry. One by one voters go forward to confirm that they are in the right place (yet I heard stories Friday of people spending several hours in the wrong queue and then needing to start over again – others in lines were too intense and irritable for someone to even consider their time in queue A entitling them to a place at the front of queue B. With no official orchestrating a “fair” process, the crowds are left to sort that out). The registrar issues a paper ballot for president, then directs the voter to a cardboard privacy space to ink their littlest finger and mark the paper next to the name of the candidate for whom you intend to vote. (I’m told that smudges get disqualified and so already tense people with shaky hands can quickly become even more nervous about the pressure to make a clean mark on the first attempt). You then fold the paper, deposit it into the translucent box marked “presidential” (another challenge I hear for illiterates or inattentive people whose votes are disqualified for being in the wrong box), and then return to the registry for a paper naming parliamentary choices. The marking and depositing processes repeat. My housemate’s concern was for the mess of mushy, ink stained ballots that would emerge from damp ballot boxes the next evening. Entire districts could be cancelled out because no one turned the boxes upside down the preceding afternoon.

The BBC reported Friday, “Both Mr Mahama and Mr Akufo-Addo have promised to accept the result, but 5,000 soldiers have been put on standby just in case…” I read that 14 million people were registered to vote in 26,000 polling stations nationwide; however, the electoral commission announced results coming from the 11,000 registered voters, so information consistency remains reliably inconsistent, as has been my experience over the months. I  asked colleagues which radio station to listen to. The response? “Who do you want to hear winning?”  And so the quest for a fair and free, peaceful election had begun.

Fairness and free choice – at least in my mind –include some form of dignity and respect for each during the process. In fact, I see why peace means much more than just the absence of people shooting at each other. But what I saw and heard does not yet fit that image of fair and free; maybe like peace, it’s all a process that improves over time.

Women shop keepers of Berekuso
Women shop keepers of Berekuso

Mid-morning I walked through Berekuso and enjoyed the visceral community spirit. I took pictures in the village for the first time, congratulating locals on such pride in what they were doing this day. People seemed to celebrate their national unity, something the nation earned when peacefully transitioning from the late President Mills to the current president John Mahamma in August after Mills died unexpectedly in office. A peaceful, constitutional transition had never happened here. The constitution held provisions for what to do, but given the country’s (and continent’s) history of military coups and “improper procedure” by force, it was not actually clear to anyone whether or not the Ghanaian people could unite around that rule-of-law transition without violence. They did, with integrity and unity of purpose among all parties. Indeed Ghana served as a role model for other African countries this summer.

By 1:00 p.m. Friday, the temperatures were getting hotter, patience was growing thinner, and crowds were getting bigger and rowdier. Men in their 20’s and 30’s normally in the fields gathered in clumps, some erratically  pacing the street waiting for (several seeming to hope for) a need or chance to fight. This was when I decided to return home. I could hear great whoops and cheers erupt from one of the two polling places. At first I thought that was community spirit. But later, I heard from someone that at his polling station the translucent ballot box was so close to the queue that everyone towards the front of line could see who any individual had inked on their ballot (ironically, had privacy been created by putting up a curtain, accusations of vote tampering and box stuffing would have run rampant). Therefore, the crowds cheered when someone cast a ballot for their favored party and jeered when a vote was cast for an opposing party. In a small community where everyone is known to each other, that seems to limit ones freedom quite a bit. I saw it as harassment or voter intimidation.  This wasn’t true in all polling stations; at one I saw, the distance from the box respected voter privacy.

Women in the north are apparently under great pressure to stay home rather than vote. Elderly people are entitled to by-pass the queue and go straight to the registry for their ballot, but in a station only 45 minutes from me I learn the elderly got verbally harassed when they went forward to vote by others who were irritably waiting long hour in a long queue. To me, these are examples of disenfranchisement, voter intimidation or lack of access. But a 70 year old female colleague voted in Berekuso, invoking her elderly privilege to go to the front of the queue, and she told me she was in and out in 10 minutes without comment from the crowd. It’s difficult for me to know which is the exception and which is the common experience.

Similarly, I don’t know that “peace” actually happened. BBC reported tear gas being used in a clash between protesters and electoral officials, youth – according to one report – raised a flash-mob to protest use of an Israeli subcontractor to count votes (reports which the electoral commission later called a press conference to deny, and assured voters that the contractor was only for technical work). Sunday I heard stories of another “skirmish” when two ballot boxes disappeared – in one report the boxes simply went missing; in another one two men entered a counting spot, poured fuel on the ballots, and lit a match. For all practical purposes, the ballots did disappear (though by afternoon the electoral commission announced that they have counted the charred pieces…).

I do not mean to criticize, simply acknowledge what I saw and reconcile that with what I thought leading into this year. It is worth me noting that two Ghanaians have laughed as they told me their own experience of watching America’s 2004 election – our escapades with “hanging chads” on ballots marked in machines that had not been cleaned in precincts of underrepresented populations and in a state governed by the brother of the sitting president.  They gloat, “that’s a coup American style!”

Man casts his ballot.

Man casts his ballot.

Votes were counted one by one over the weekend. Certified on-lookers verified each vote as it was counted and electoral commission workers at each poll validated results before telephoning them into the central commission – saying the number and then saying it digit by digit for confirmation. Radio and TV broadcasted results as they came in, so people nationwide were using arithmetic to ensure that no more than the 11,000 votes (or whatever the actual precise number of registered voters turned out to be) appeared among the ranks. And the electoral commission paused the process multiple times to have what seemed to me to be peace-conferences among representatives of all parties when someone lodged a complaint. On Saturday night, one party announced their pending victory on the radio telling their supporters to wear white on Sunday to celebrate the momentous occasion; before midnight, the electoral commission held an emergency press conference denying that any outcome had been established, and then chastising the party in question for saying anything that would pre-empt the commission (if I’m correct, that party actually ended up losing by end of the next day). A renewed commitment to everyone re-focusing on the importance of “peace” ensued, regardless of fatigue or outcome. By Sunday night, just before 11 p.m., the electoral commission and observers convened a press conference to announce that by a 50.7% to 47.74% margin, the incumbent party had won re-election.

Outside my house, I could hear cheers and horns and honks for hours (at least I was then clear on which party my area was supporting). But I slept nervously. I felt embarrassed for my concern by Monday when there was no report of violet aftermath, but several people told me that they too had wondered and not slept well. Leading up to the election, I consistently heard from a colleague that one particular party was prone to violence and would likely be “bad losers” (though I’m quite sure that I also heard the exact same thing about the opposite party – it depends on who you ask and what you want to hear). So I am now experiencing what the official reports say was a peaceful election. (The opposition still reports its intention to contest the results, but the electoral commission has declared they will need to do so in the courts, not through re-count or run-off). People my age and older have limited experience with a “fair and free” or peaceful process. The country has only been independent since 1957, electing their first president in 1960, deposing five presidents by coup, and then ratifying a constitution in 1992.

20 years ago the constitution became a political rule of law. It explicates rights and implies responsibilities of citizenship. When I applied for the fellowship to teach here in Ghana, I thought that was enough, a constitution and an elected government. I assumed that a democratic government with rule of law, established without gun fire, implied stable climate for business and economic development…especially given the vast oil reserves found off the coast in recent year. But I never noticed the depth to which a culture must also ratify a nation’s constitution or rules of law. People must individually and collectively agree to conduct themselves in their every action with a level of respect and dignity in which rights and rules of law can be upheld. No one can skim money off of the top of a contract, or show favoritism to their family members, or seek sexual favors for jobs, or use sticks (or guns) to fight with or threaten their opponents, or re-use the work of another claiming it as one’s own, or offer or accept money (or anything of value) in exchange for a change of or compliance with a rule of law. (I’ve heard a joke about someone getting a C in a college course; when asked about it, the person replied, “that’s all I could afford.” The funny thing is that the joke is not funny at all.) It is no wonder that tensions ran high on Friday, Saturday and Sunday – many of these people have not lived through an election or a process that was not tampered with (and some still say this one is no different – the opposing party is still reported to be challenging the results). All of their lives, my students tell me, they have faced “how the system works.” So to ask a nation to trust that a “fair and free” system is now in place simply isn’t realistic. That trust still needs to be earned.

I am honored to be working at Ashesi this year, to be among a community of colleagues who believe that we can make a difference – one person at a time, and generation by generation. But the work is hard. It requires vigilance on every front, political, social, spiritual, and economic. Peace ultimately requires a continuous process of renewal – commitment, values, and collaboration. I have been here, Ghana, during a peaceful election. And yet, this country’s peace – indeed peace worldwide – still requires enormous commitment on the part of everyone for us to actually live harmoniously.

Note: Colleagues circulated this weblink and blog on campus in the days leading up to the election — you may find them interesting if you want to learn more.

Reminder of a poem posted during the American elections – esi ’08


Since my last post, my world here has begun to feel more familiar. I liken it to living in a new town for just long enough that you know how to turn before the traffic light which creates a delay, and choose a route that circumvents the back up. Things feel familiar when I can create options, when different paths overlap and new possibilities naturally surface. I drifted off on the tro-tro early one morning and realized that we were passing the king’s palace – which I then remembered is 2-3 stops after the station I wanted, but delightfully only one stop before a lovely French bakery! “Mate, next stop…” At 6:25 in the morning when my appointment was at 8:00 a.m., finding my way to Des Amies felt much more significant than getting off at the station I was aiming for. (And, oh, was that chocolate croissant amazing!)

Here in Ghana, I walk down the dirt road on Sunday mornings to a church that meets under a tent in a construction parking lot where we sit in plastic lawn chairs and worship and sing in Twi, the local dialect. I don’t speak or understand Twi, but it’s a Presbyterian church with a familiar flow of worship and I understand the basics – “I pray,” “we pray,” “God,” “Christ,” and names of books of the bible. Sometimes we’re singing in English and I don’t realize it because the accent is so heavy; other times when we sing in Twi I read along in the hymnal using phonetics I’ve picked up learning to pronounce my students’ names.

Only a few people have hymnals so singing is an echo process where by a vibrant, grey haired woman who they call Gramma speaks the line quickly, and then everyone sings it with music. My ear is not tuned to this tonal language, and so the entire process was performance for me until an elderly gentleman one day said “I could share my book with you, but you wouldn’t understand it.” Wanting to belong, I replied, “I could try to read it…” He shared; I read and sang phonetically; and at the end of the hymn he smiled broadly and said, “that was right good!” He has opened his hymnal to me every week since then. (Plus, I’m getting better at pronouncing my students’ names on weekdays as a result.)

The first time I went to this church, I saw the coordinating minister confer with Gramma; then the coordinating minister escorted me to a lawn chair circle being created “for English,” he said. Each person who joined us in our little English circle for bible study that morning got the welcoming explanation: “fsfdasdf asdfsdf asdfsdf white lady asdfsdf asdfsdf English safdsdf asdfasdf for today. Okay?” I could infer the meanings in between the words I recognized. Now, that English circle emerges even when it’s only me and the minister; young people in their 20’s and 30’s join over the 20 minutes and we always finish and return into a community with the same sized group as the Twi speaking groups.

I have been away for two Sundays. Last week at my church, Gramma greeted me warmly with a gracious and loving smile, “it’s been two weeks for this one!” I have become familiar enough that she had noticed each time I was gone (my absence remains relatively easy to notice; I am still the only white lady). I feel like an “acceptable other” in their midst, especially because our stories are overlapping over time. Vivian’s father, from my first tro-tro excursion into the city, comes to the same church (I think I saw Vivian one day spying on me from a back line of folding chairs with her quiet rich smile – the children meet in another tent just beyond the main one). “Do you remember me?” he greeted the first day we were there at the same time. One evening, I got out of a shared taxi at the same junction. A young man who also alighted said he would escort me home; I didn’t know who he was and yet he knew me from the church.

With open air, no walls and by the side of the road, people seem to come and go in waves, the service process itself lasting often 3 hours or more. I’ve only once stayed for the full service, maybe it was my first visit. But I don’t feel a pressure to behave by the rules of church at home where everyone is silent until the order of worship says we should speak or sing. The experience here is far more organic, though not at all unplanned. A cell phone rings, and the receiver either steps away to answer or reaches to silence the sound. I watch people at the taxi stand beyond our tent dancing to our music even though heading to their own destination. Cars come and go. The children sing and clap and grow quiet and erupt in laughter, just out of sight but still within the dirt lot of our tent.

Ministry is more evangelical here, a stronger rhetoric woven into people’s daily lives, than in my congregation and social circles at home. Last week, I went to school quite early most days to catch up on things needing internet – we’re in the same rhythmic period here as I know from my academic semesters in America, the time when teachers are swamped with grading, students constantly seek feedback on papers returned and guidance of final projects due soon, and all trying to finish community obligations as the days speed by. To go to school early, I need to travel separately from my normal carpool. Getting transit into the city at 5 a.m. is established, but going further into “the bush,” where Ashesi is, doesn’t happen at this hour.  But I find that the Bethal Kwabenya Ministry Project has a bus that passes my junction going the direction I want – further out of the city, through Berkuso, and to the bottom of the Ashesi road which then climbs a steep hill to the college’s campus. The back of the bus reads “The Welfare Bus,” and it passes the main junction at 5:25 a.m. with more timely precision than anything else except the morning roosters. It lumbers along needing 25 minutes to cover the distance to the outer end of Berkuso, nearly twice what the carpool car needs. Still, by 6 a.m. I can be sitting at my office computer with a cup of tea.

Each morning, I see the same two junior high school girls on The Welfare Bus, one of whom is holding her textbook up to the bus window attempting to make out letters and sentences in the pre-dawn light. I hand her my flashlight as I board. She smiles enthusiastically, and dives back into her textbook for 10-15 minutes until we pass her school. (I need to find and buy two flashlights soon, one for each of them.) Friday, the bus was in for repairs and yet at the exact same time as it might have passed my junction, a dusty white tro-tro lumbered up the hill – the mate called out warmly, “is that you?!” He laughed as I tried to make sense of it in the dark, and he opened the tro-tro door for me to join the ride. The tro-tro’s horn is broken (a horn is a central piece of auto-equipment here! To cars it says, “move over,” “get out of my way,” and “go, there’s an opening in the traffic!” To people it says “look out, I’m behind you,” “want a ride?” or “sorry, my taxi’s full.” I’m still learning the horn language; like Twi, it is a tonal language.) And so as we lumbered through Berkuso Friday morning, the mate was leaning out the window calling out in a high pitched shout, “beep beep!” and then he’d laugh and wave to one person at a time before calling out again, “beep! Beep beep!” He seems to celebrate life every single morning; his smile alone is enough to make me enjoy the dawn ride to school.

“See you on Monday!” he and the woman who tells each of us where to sit and makes sure the children are safe told me; “we drive Monday to Friday, we see you on Monday.”

It’s just past 8 a.m. now on a Sunday morning. I’ll fold the laundry, comb my hair, and walk down the dirt road to the tent. My church service starts again soon – 8:30 a.m. I was told on my first visit, 9 a.m. according to the sign by the road, and sometimes as late as 9:15 a.m. in ritual. Indeed, some things are feeling familiar.