Tag Archives: Church

Donning of the Robes

Joining Good News choir was the easy part. Actually singing is the challenge. First, other than a pass/fail Gospel Choir course I took in college, I have no singing experience. I don’t even sing in the shower. However, one thing I learned in my Gospel Choir course is that it is really easy to blend into the crowd, so as long as I don’t have any solos I should be okay. Second, I didn’t know any of the songs and they are all in Ewe, making for a very steep learning curve. So I bought a song book and a few CDs and tried to learn the songs.

We practice three times a week: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Recently we’ve been combining practice with Church Choir and have invited a choirmaster to come lead the practices. This has helped me, because the practices are more organized and focused on one or two songs.

On Sunday Good News Choir held a ceremony for the donning of our choir robes. Wearing the robes is a big deal for the choir and the church as a whole. In fact, many people came to the ceremony, including the Abutia paramount chief and professionals who are from Abutia, but live outside the community. Someone made a very generous donation to purchase the robes. Each robe costs 100 Ghana Cedis and we bought about 30 of them. The women’s robes look like graduation gowns, because of the graduation type cap they wear and the men’s robes look like judge robes. Many people said I look good in a robe, so maybe I’ll consider a career as a judge.

My choir putting on the robes for the first time.

My choir putting on the robes for the first time.

I’m very happy with my decision to become a member of Abutia Teti E.P. church and Good News choir. It’s typical for Peace Corps volunteers to stay away from churches for different reasons and I might be the only one to have joined a choir.  However, being part of a group with so much tradition that many people in the community care about makes me feel part of my community.

Good News Choir after the robe ceremony.

Good News Choir after the robe ceremony.

Maybe I'll go for a career as a judge after the Peace Corps.

Maybe I’ll go for a career as a judge after the Peace Corps.

 

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Good News Choir

Ever since I arrived in my community almost 16 months ago, I’ve made an effort to attend church every Sunday. Not only does it help my language skills (most services are conducted in Ewe) and help me meet new people, but it also demonstrates to the people in my community that I am interested in their way of life. As I mentioned in a previous post there are 14 churches in my community of 4,000+ people, so it was a bit tricky deciding on one to attend regularly, especially since every church wants to be that one church the white person is attending.

After attending a half dozen churches I settled on the Evangelical Presbyterian (E.P.) church in my community. A huge factor in this decision was the music/worship. Almost every church I’ve attended in Ghana worships by playing the same beat on westernized instruments (usually drums and bass guitar) with death metal like “singing” into a filtered microphone. Moreover, the volume is typically increased to an obnoxious level, making the “music” unbearable to listen to. However, music in the E.P. church is different. They literally don’t use anything modern, just good old fashion instruments – African drums, cowbells, shakers and sticks. The music they make is soothing and it even makes 5-hour church sessions almost bearable.

Good News Choir drumming.

Good News Choir drumming.

In my church, Abutia Teti E.P. church, there are a number of groups referred to as “choirs” that make music and sing during church service. Some of the choirs are Church Choir, Good News Choir, Great Choir, Israel Group and C.Y.B. (Church Youth Band). During the course of a church service each choir, which sits together, sings a few songs. You might think that there would be some form of competition between the choirs. However, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. It’s common for one choir to drum for another choir during its time to sing and some choirs even practice together!

The choirs are almost like clubs or church groups, as they do much more than singing and making music. Choir members fellowship with one another, work odd jobs to raise money for the choir’s bank account and attend church rallies together. So, naturally, once I decided to regularly attend Abutia Teti E.P. church, I then had to decide which choir to join. Fortunately, my decision was somewhat easy to make, because my barber is the leader of Good News Choir and they were accepting new members. So I joined Good News Choir.


Holidays in Ghana

In some ways the holidays in Ghana are similar to the holidays in America. When the holiday season rolls around the weather in America generally turns colder. Well, the same is true in Ghana. Although instead of rainstorms or snowstorms, we get dust storms. By the middle of December the Harmattan is in full affect in Ghana. Winds carry the sand south from the Sahara desert in northern Africa to create dry and slightly cooler weather in Ghana. It reminds of the “Santa Anna” weather in southern California where the weather is dry and windy. Except the Harmattan creates a visible layer of dust in the sky. It also brings cooler weather – sometimes the low temperature is in the 60s. I must be turning Ghanaian because at times I get cold!

Although the cooler weather is a nice reprieve from the hotter and humid weather during the rest of the year, the Harmattan comes with a couple of annoyances. Your throat and mouth become very dry. If you’re not careful you will get sick (maybe that’s why the Peace Corps gave all volunteers a flu shot). When travelling on dirt roads (which is hard to avoid in Ghana) you will be covered with a layer of dust.

Like in American, in Ghana everyone wants a present. I can’t walk around my community without someone asking me where their Christmas present or “Xmas bonus” is. I wrote before that when I leave my community people ask me to buy them bread. I suppose it’s a similar concept. Unfortunately my modest Peace Corps living allowance doesn’t permit me to buy a Christmas gift for everyone in my community. That said, I did buy some small gifts for people living in my house.

The day after Christmas, or Boxing Day (yes, Boxing Day is a holiday in Ghana), my landlord’s clan, the Nyive clan, met outside the house for a Boxing Day meeting. There are 8 different clans in my community, although if nobody told you would probably never notice. My community seems pretty homogenous (though maybe I’m not very observant?) I suppose since my house is on the Nyive clan’s property, I’m part of the Nyive clan by default. In short, the meeting consisted of discussing community issues and clan issues. After the meeting everyone in the clan got a bag of rice, bottle of soda, and a pack of biscuits as their Xmas bonus. Finally I took a photo with the clan elders.

Where's waldo? Next time I'll wear Ghanaian traditional wear.

Where’s waldo? Next time I’ll wear Ghanaian traditional wear.

Between Christmas and New Years I went to a monkey sanctuary about an hour drive away from my community. The big attraction at the sanctuary is to by able to feed bananas to mono monkeys. If you’re lucky they will even crawl on you while eating. Unfortunately a group of tourists had just left as I arrived, so the monkeys were full from the previous group.

I was worried the monkeys would steal my camera.

I was worried the monkeys would steal my camera.

New Years seemed like a bigger deal than Christmas in my community. On New Years Eve I went to church and it turned out to be a marathon session. I arrived at 7pm and the service lasted until 1am. To some people that may sound like a torturous way to kick in the New Year, but most of the time was spent singing and dancing so it was actually fun and entertaining. Another reason I was happy to be in church for New Years was because the shopkeepers in town will sell fireworks to anybody and I’d rather not be in town with ten-year olds wielding explosives. After the service we paraded around town with more singing and dancing. I spent most of New Years day recovering from the previous night. I usually hit the sack before 9pm, so staying up until 2am was a big shock to my system.


Wednesday Worship

I once had a conversation with a Ghanaian (pronounced gone-ay-an if you didn’t know) friend that went something like this:

Ghanaian: All Americans are very Christian people.

Me: That’s not true. People practice many different religions in America. There are even many people called atheists who don’t believe in God.

Ghanaian: But, you have “In God We Trust” written on your money”. That is why your country is so blessed.

Ghana doesn’t have any mention of God or religion on its currency, yet ironically as a whole Ghana is a lot more religious than America. Most of the country is Christian or Muslim with some Traditionalists sprinkled in. I could be way off, but in my neck of the woods it seems like 9 out of every 10 people is Christian and the other person lives in a Zongo or Muslim community in one of the larger towns.

However, you don’t have to inscribe “In God We Trust” on your currency to be religious. You could name your hair salon “God’s Time” (just about every shop has a religious name like this). You could have 14 different churches in your community of 4,000 people. Or you could have your public schools hold worship every Wednesday morning when school starts. For about an hour every Wednesday morning the school comes together to sing Christian worship songs. If you are a student you could choose not to sing, but the teachers would cane you until you start singing.

Students singing praises.

One Wednesday I attended the worship session at one of the public schools in my community. All of the students, Kindergarten through Junior High, and teachers met under a mango tree on the school’s campus to sing and dance. After the worship, one of the teachers asked me to talk to do an impromptu health lesson. So I gave a short talk on the importance of handwashing. Then I taught them a handwashing song I learned from one of my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers during Peace Corps training.