Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Gift of Education

Last summer, while I was in the throes of meeting untold demands from our U. S. Embassy in Accra, Ghana, West Africa, in order for them to honor a request for a visa for one of their best and brightest 16-year-old students, I preserved my sanity by working on a special quilt that I hoped might help other children in the village to have an opportunity to attend Heritage Academy. (You can read about my experience as a volunteer teacher of creative writing in the summer of 2007 elsewhere in my blog.)

The picture above shows the finished queen-size quilt top: it is entirely made of batik fabrics and contains 1,342 pieces. It was professionally quilted, and I have received many compliments on it. Actually, I would say it is my best effort.

There are two potential good things that will come out of this quilt: 1) you may win it if you buy a raffle ticket for $1, or six tickets for $5, and 2) even if you don't win, some child will come closer to being able to attend the Heritage Academy school which this year had 100% success among the students taking their national exams, which permit them to go to high school.

One year's tuition at Heritage costs $75, so your money goes a long way. If you would like to participate in this gift of education, please send a check made out to Schoerke Foundation, 400 W. School Lane, Westtown, PA 19395, along with your telephone number, and Melissa Koomson, Director of Schoerke Foundation, will put tickets in the drawing pot for you.

If you'd like to know more about my friends Kwesi and Melissa Koomson and the amazing educational difference they are making in Ghana, go to Schoerkefoundation@yahoo.com.

PS Doing battle with the Consulate ultimately had a happy ending, and we now have Sarah Nyame, 16, here with us in the States. She is living with my daughter-by-affection and attending McDevitt High School, and I am her grandmother. I pick her up after school each day and she does her homework at my kitchen table, and I have not had such joy in my life for a long, long time.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Quilt Show Inspiration

When I go to a quilt show, if I come home with one good idea, I consider my outing a great success.
Last week, I attended what used to be affectionately known in these parts as the "Ft. Washington Quilt Show." The venue was moved to Harrisburg a year or two ago, making attendance more problematic.
But this year my friend Connie said there was space on the minibus at the retirement community where she lives, so I happily accepted her invitation. There were only 8 of us, which made the trip especially pleasant.
The picture above shows the essence of a quilt that knocked me out with its simplicity and its three-dimensional illusion. I made the sample with some solid pastels cut into 3-1/2" squares and bordered on the right and bottom with 1-1/4" wide tan, with a little square of white in the upper right and lower left corner. Each little block is connected by the same white fabric cut into a 2-1/4" sashing.
The quilt has endless possibilities. What grabs me is the "shadow" effect created by the tan standing out from the white background.
Try it. I think you'll like it!

Monday, September 03, 2007

In 1925, the granddaughter of Queen Victoria, called Princess Marie Louise, said of Ghana, “What is its spell? I cannot tell you, nor wherein lies its unfathomable charm. It lays its hand upon you, and, having felt its compelling strength, you never can forget it or be wholly free of it…”
As this story comes to a close, I'd like to say a few words about "Miss Rosie," my granddaughter-by-affection.For the past few years, Rosemary and I have spent many happy hours together in my sewing room as she began to develop her creative talents as a quilter. We've listened to Harry Potter tapes together and we've shared many a congenial lunch at the table in my sunroom.
I was at once thrilled and flattered when this 16-year-old asked me to be her traveling companion in Ghana, and I scarcely blinked before I said yes to her invitation. Yet, as the day of our departure neared, I began to wonder whether we would be able to sustain our easy relationship with one another for 24 days and nights, halfway around the world from home.
I needn't have worried. Rosie rose to every occasion of unappetizing food and unpleasant cold showers, lumpy beds and ugly black spiders with an absence of complaint and a display of circumspect grace.
Last week, Rosie turned 17, and I gave her a scrapbook for her pictures and memories from Ghana. In two days' time, a thank-you letter arrived in my mailbox, addressed to Madam Bonnie Dalzell. The letter said, in part: "I'm glad to be home. I'm glad to have what I have. I'm glad to be 17. And I'm glad to have you."
There's simply no doubt: Rosemary Limburg is a young woman of unfathomable charm.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Checking Out: Creative Caskets

Funerals are immensely important in Ghana, and they are held on Saturdays. It’s not unusual to see groups of people dressed in black or red walking down the rural dirt roads to a funeral.

In the city, a funeral of a wealthy person is another phenomenon altogether. The more important the deceased, the more elaborate the funeral.
In Teshie, just east of Accra, a family of coffin makers has developed its business to a high art form, in which special-order coffins match the occupation of the deceased. It seems a shame that they are seen only during the funeral procession; then they are buried. Pictured here are special-order caskets for an airline pilot, a Coca-Cola afficianado, a pineapple lover, a dairyman and, it seems, the ultimate poultry man. Frank Perdue, eat your heart out!

Friday, August 31, 2007

Looking Homeward

We spent Saturday wandering the streets of Cape Coast, buying beads and other small gifts to take home. My old bones were hurting, and I began to long for a luxurious warm shower and a summer meal of chicken Caesar salad.

At the same time, I didn’t want this time to end. It seemed there was much more to learn. I thought about my friend Mitch who spent two years in East Africa in the Peace Corps about twenty years ago. Her view of the world, especially the enormous wastefulness in American society, has been profoundly changed by that experience. Now that I had had a tiny taste of third-world living, I hoped that I would not forget the life lessons that had come my way.

I had done some extensive reading about the famed slave-trade “castles” in Ghana, and many years ago I had visited Dachau, the concentration camp in Munich. But nothing could have prepared me for the guided tour of Elmina Castle that we took on Sunday afternoon. As we walked to the Female Slave Dungeon and ducked our heads in the passageway to the Door of No Return where untold numbers of Ghanaians boarded slave ships bound for Europe and America, the guide spoke of the barbarous behavior of the Portugese and, later, the Dutch naval officers who plundered the Gold Coast of its minerals and its populace. The stories of unspeakable atrocities, recounted so unemotionally, caused my stomach to wrench. When – in the same courtyard where women were chosen for rape by the governor – the guide pointed out “the first Catholic church in Africa” (now a museum), I turned away in revulsion.

Today, Elmina’s port teems with fishing boats, and the coastline’s beauty belies its terrible history of man's inhumanity to man.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Last Day at School

Friday, 10 August

On the last day that we taught at Heritage, we asked the children to make a list of "20 Things I Want to Do Before I am Old". This was probably the most challenging task they faced in our class. We gave our own examples: Rosie would like to climb Mt. Everest; I would like to go up in a hot air balloon. Predictably, the kids took to the task with an attitude of seriousness. When I read their papers, some items on their lists made me laugh; others touched my heart:

-- Sophia: I will born a baby girl; I will sew a dress; I will plant trees
-- Frank: I will be a driver; I want to read; I want to go to South Africa
-- Emelia: I want to build a house for my mother; I want to go to the zoo
-- Francis: First, if God help me to grow up, the thing I want to do is be a pastor. If somebody is sick and his mother come and tell me, I will pray for him and that person will get well.
-- Gladys: Tell a story to my children about my school
-- Bridget: I want to be an inventor to help cure AIDS
-- Lydia: I want to be a holy woman in Ghana; and to be the president wife in USA (Now there’s a wild ambition!!)
-- Laud: I want to turn desert into grassland and be an angel of God.

At the end of the last class, two students – Leticia and Louiza – handed Rosie and me thank you notes (see below).

May the Almighty God bless you people for teaching us so many things, Miss Rosie and Madam Bonnie. Thank you for your good advice you have given to us. Amen. By Leticia Koomson

Miss Rosie and Madam Bonnie, May the Almighty God blessed you for teaching us a good story and making us be happy in your class every day. Amen. By Louiza Bediako

These penciled words on lined paper will remain my fondest teaching memory.

Sheep and Goats of Ghana

It’s not as easy as one might think to tell the goats from the sheep that roam the roads in Ghana. Sheep look nothing like the curly-haired creatures we know in the U.S. And when I told our students that I had trouble identifying the animals, they laughed.

They enjoyed explaining all the by-products of a butchered goat (commonly slaughtered only at Christmas, Easter and special occasions). Besides the meat, which is incorporated into stews and soups, there is the leather which, when dried, is transformed into shoes, drums, bags and other practical items. Glue is made from the hooves, medicine from the stomach, and goat horns become spoon handles resembling ivory. Goats are also used for sacrifice, the children told us, when the gods need to be appeased. Tribal beliefs die hard.

Here are a couple of stories about the goats of Ghana. The first is factual; the second is true creative writing, and was undeniably my “Hi” that day!

Doris Amppial Botwey
A goat is a calm animal that lives in the house by its owner. A goat can give birth to the young and also breastfeed its kids. In Ghana a lot of people like rearing up goat because of the money they gain for them.
Because, when a goat is pregnant and it is time for it to deliver it gives birth to more than three. When the young one grew up the owner sold some of them. This help them to earn money. A goat is very important for Christmas because their skin is used for leather, hooves for glue, dropping for manure, horns for handle spoons.
Some people too slaughter goat for sacrifice when someone breaks the law of the society or the gods for apology.
Goat is use for many activities such as Christmas, and parent slaughter goat for the children’s gift and this makes us happy and we sometimes exchange rice with mutton for Christmas gift.

Precious Gyan
A Story About Goats
Once upon a time there lived a man call Budu. He has a goat that can talk, sing and dance. So Budu went to the king of the town that he has a goat that can talk and dance. The chief agree with him and said, All the people will meet at the market and if your goat did not talk, what should I do to you. Mr. Budu said let your soldiers cane me till I die.
One day all the people in the town met at the market waiting for Mr. Budu to bring his goat. Mr. Budu brought his goat and the goat couldn’t talk. Mr. Budu gave the coat cassava pills but still the goat did not talk. Because the goat couldn’t talk, the chief solders started beating him up with canes.
As they were beating him the goat started saying Hey people! Why are you beating my owner like that? After the goat said that the soldiers stopped beating him.
After that the chief gave Mr. Budu match money two cows and five sheep. Because no one have a goat that can talk.
When Mr. Budu was going home he ask his goat, why did you let the people beat me? The goat replied to him, That is how to get match money, two cows and five sheep.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Batik-Dyeing Amid the Goats

On Sunday afternoon, we went to Mankessim to the home of Sister Juliana, an artist who designed the Heritage Academy cloth from which dress uniforms are made. Her home would be considered middle class by Ghanaian standards. Not only did it have a TV antenna, but there was actually a TV (many antennae mounted on roofs are simply status symbols). We learned that Juliiana also owns a computer which she uses to create images for her wax designs. For four hours, we sat in the courtyard and watched the laborious process of batik-wax dyeing, taking part in creating the design when invited, and taking enjoyment from the children peering over the fence, the goats trampling on the cloth spread out to dry, the skittish kitten that seemed to be a pet, and the plodding sounds off sheep passing by.