Annual IJM retreat

Climbed the tallest mountain in Ghana, fed a wild monkey, and ate Jollof for Thanksgiving.

They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Africa. They don’t eat turkey or stuffing or pumpkin pie. And you don’t get the day off.

Instead, Wednesday through Friday this week was our annual IJM staff retreat. We travelled 3 hours outside Accra to a city called Ho (seriously).

We had teaching, worship, games, a poolside dance party with a live band of Ghanaian police officers (in uniform).

On Thanksgiving day we took a trip a couple hours further north and visited the monkey sanctuary. I bought 35 bananas for about $1.20, determined to feed a monkey. But carrying this huge load of bananas through a monkey sanctuary soon became a liability. I don’t know what i was expecting, maybe some kind of more controlled environment like a zoo, or perhaps encountering one slow moving timid monkey at a time that I slowly befriend with a banana?

But you see, that’s now how it is when you enter an African monkey sanctuary with 35 bananas. It was terrifying! They just came on us suddenly from every direction. They were lightning fast. They were sneaky. They were everywhere.

One came charging down a branch out of the heights and leaped like 12 feet in the air between trees right over my head (like just a few feet over me). I freaked out and through a banana to Gregg, our legal fellow and that high-flying monkey leaped from the tree onto his shoulder and ate the banana. I quickly distributed them to the IJM staff, not just out of the goodness of my heart, but also out of some primal instinct to not be the target of every wild monkey in the jungle.

I eventually worked up enough nerve to coax one onto my shoulder, but as you can see, I was not relaxed, at all!

But hey, I did it and got a picture!

Then we climbed the highest mountain in Ghana. We started at 900 feet and climbed to over 3000 in about 52 minutes.

These are the 3 Americans in the office. Gregg is our legal fellow. Naana is our aftercare intern.

Matt and Leo, the two IJM Osofos (pastors)

On the way down with Patrick, our IT guru

This is Ade. He sits across from me in the office and makes me laugh. He is part Nigerian and loves to tell jokes in Nigerian Pidgin English, or broken English. “Ade body dey mell! Dat boy need showa giddy giddy!”

Everyone who attempted the climb succeeded. I was stunned by the determination of our oldest members of our team.

I felt pretty homesick and missed all the thanksgiving food and family.

But here is what I am thankful for. .

An amazing team to work with

A life full of adventure and laughter

Meaningful work

Safety and health

My loved ones back home in good old California that I will see in a month

My family to return to that saved me a plate from an embassy celebration.

My Lord and savior Jesus Christ, who is faithful and never ceases to surprise me by going everywhere I go, before I get there.

Matt

thankful day fifteen

Today I am grateful to have awoken to the sound of rain and the cool breeze that came with it.  It felt like a familiar November morning back in California.

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raindrops from this morning

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dark storm clouds coming

Massive Mass

Today we went to church with the President of Ghana…and 10,000 other people. It was a special mass to celebrate the 5th anniversary of the Anglican Bishop of Accra’s ministry.

On the stage was the Bishop of Accra, the President of Ghana, the American Ambassador, and the people who stole our seats!

The gathering was in Independence Square (or Black Star Square) where all the biggest national ceremonies take place, like the presidential inauguration.

It was a joy to go with our dear friends Leo and Priscilla, and their kids Perez and Ayeye.

We were blessed to be invited by the Bishop and our friends in his office and to join them at the reception after where for quite some time the dance floor was rocked by a chief and his wife, the Bishop (the dude has moves) and his wife, and then Joy and I with kids in our arms.

Joy says if you want one picture to sum up what I do, it’s this next one: Leo and I networking.

This is our friend K.B. that oversaw over a hundred Anglican Churches observing Freedom Sunday with IJM.

This is what my kids do while I’m networking:

Thankful day fourteen

Today I am thankful for the opportunity to help in a surprising way. I was out on a walk around our neighborhood and as I was passing close by our house when I heard a car behind me and a cuh- clunk, cuh-clunk. The car had turned too sharply for the right hand turn and the front right tire was completely down in the gutter. The car was balancing on its undercarriage and the back left tire was raised slightly off the ground. I took all this is in and there was the moment of decision – one side of me wants to help and this other voice says what can you really do? But I decided to approach the car and at least say, “sorry, sorry” (a very common way here to interact with someone when something unpleasant happens). Two women got out of the car (later I found out their names were Miriam and Michelle) and asked if I could help. I went and got Dominic, our gardener/gateman/helper extraordinaire. And you know what? The four of us plus one other guy walking down the street successfully lifted the car up enough to get all four tires back on the road. Amazing!!! The things you can do without AAA. ;). The girls driving the car were SO thankful and I’m sure it will give them a story to tell of the time an Obroni (white person/foreigner) helped get their car out of the gutter.

No time for picture taking tonight.

This is the sunset a few nights ago (this picture was taken by Hannah)

This is a previous time a car went into the gutter down the street from us. This car took a tow truck and an entire afternoon to get it out.

Thankful day thirteen

Today I am grateful I got the opportunity (and the energy again – can you see I’m not taking this for granted??) to go to the literacy center. I feel really delighted when I leave. It’s like this part of me that has been sleeping (for most of the past 9 years) wakes up and all these teaching skills and knowledge pour out of me so naturally.

Today I took this book that I found at a market recently.

It details the story of an ant who accidentally boards a bus and tours around Ghana.

As I reflected upon last week I was struck by something I learned from teaching in Los Angeles Unified – how important it is for kids to see people who look like them and have some of their experiences – in what they read. It really is so, so important.

So I brought this book and read it to a group of older girls (maybe 8-12 years old!). They were fascinated to hear city names that are familiar to them and we even laughed about the abundance of ants in Accra – really, there are so, so many. We looked at this simple map of Ghana and traced the places together.

They were delighted to see something they knew in print. I can’t wait to find more and share it with them.

Do you know of other books that take place in West Africa?

Thankful day twelve

Today (and really every day) I am grateful for this group of homeschooling families that do life together. We meet every Tuesday at the only indoor, air-conditioned playground in town. And our kids play (and play and play and play). The moms talk life, faith and homeschool.

Once a month we take a field trip to somewhere around Accra. Today we went to the Accra Zoo (and I organized it! Eeks). There were about 40 of us. This zoo is inside Achimota Forest (an honest to goodness real forest that you drive down a crazy long, bumpy dirt road to get to and we even saw monkeys in the trees above us). A guide takes you around to see the animals and teach about them and I think to make sure you don’t get too close! It’s pretty cool. The kids loved feeding the camel.

They got to see a mama warthog and her babies and she was defending them against us!

There was a tortoise, striped hyena (with a Mohawk),

ostrich, emu, beautiful birds

and to finish it all off – a python that you can hold!!!

Abby was really looking forward to this (she held it a few months ago and couldn’t wait for another opportunity!)

(In contrast, I held it on our previous visit and was totally terrified. I passed this time. 😉

So thankful the field trip went smoothly and so thankful for all these families that help make Ghana home for us.

just in case you’re curious! This is one of the mamas – Ali! She’s my neighbor and fellow homeschooler and helped me pull off this field trip. So, so grateful for her!!

Thankful day eleven

Today I am thankful for the opportunity to go and volunteer at an after-school literacy center (and for the energy to do it!).

It hit at such a desire in my own heart to see children learn to read. And it lined up so well with my training as a teacher.

My own children came and read and listened and ran around.

So many wonderful feelings.

Thankful day ten

Today I am thankful for a break. We went to a fancy hotel and paid a day use fee to enjoy the facilities and pool. It was lovely and restful and so necessary to recharge us for the week ahead.

Thankful day nine

Today I am ever so thankful for the recycling man that showed up. Recycling is growing in small ways in awareness and popularity here. It has taken me nine long months to find a recycling company that will come to my home and function in a similar way to what we had in Davis. Of course, it looks a lot different!