Tuesday, August 14, 2007

religion, churches, and proper good-byes

My time here is rapidly coming to a close. I'm leaving my district this week. I'm heading to the south starting on the weekend. I leave Ghana on the 21st. I reach Toronto on the 22nd. I reach Winnipeg on the 26th.

I'm feeling a combination of sadness to leave the people that I've met over the past 3.5 months and extreme excitement to see my friends and family again. The biggest shock that I felt was realizing that I can be both sad and excited to leave, while the people that I've become close with, especially the family that I have been living with for the past 3.5 months, are only sad to see me go.

I realized it at church this past Sunday. I attend with my host family, who are conveniently enough, also Catholic. Church here in Ghana, and religion in general is really quite an experience. I have been to three churches since I've been here, and all have been very different from each other.

The first church I went to was on the first Sunday I was in Ghana. Janna, Holly and I woke early on Sunday morning and made our way to the Presbyterian Church in Tamale that was near where we were staying. The service, much to our dismay, was in Twi (the language mostly spoken in the southern, Ashanti region of Ghana) but we stayed anyway. People were ecstatic that we were there, and were volunteering to translate for us. In the middle of the service, people divided up into bible study groups and they made ours to be in English. The service went on for four hours -- something that I would have hardly noticed because there was so much going on all the time except for my growling stomach. They invited newcomers to the front of the church and asked us to introduce ourselves so that they could give us proper greetings.

The thing that blew me away the most, though, was the singing. These people had such power and strength in their voices. They prayed as they sang and they danced as they prayed. The energy that came out of the instrument area was astounding, and everyone was out of their seats and into the isles dancing. At one point I joined a conga line. Then, at one point, the choir rose to sing and everyone else -- musicians included -- sat silently waiting for them to begin. They sang a song with such beautiful harmonies, power, and grace that I was blown away. They sang with such belief that some parishioners were moved to tears. I only wish that I could hear it again.

In the middle of June a co-worker invited me to her church in Tamale, and since I was going to be in town anyway due to a workshop, I agreed. I showed up at the Baptist Church right before the service started and searched for my co-worker, but didn't see her, so I grabbed a seat near the back so I could watch everything that was going on. The biggest difference that I saw with this church was the music. While the first church had a definite West Africa feel mixed in with the gospel music, this church's music was nothing short of a mixture of pop and rock. And their voices were also amazing, except that they were out-fitted with microphones and speakers! After the first song my co-worker joined me, tears coming to her eyes that she was so happy to see that I accepted her invitation to be her guest.

Maybe it's just that I've never been to a Baptist church before, but I was unprepared for the way that they prayed. At one point I clasped my hands and bowed my head quietly, but I was surrounded by people with their eyes closed and arms out, calling out their prayers at the top of their voices with an amazing amount of conviction. The music was still playing and I was pulled away from my silent prayers, and just watched instead. This mass only lasted about 3 hours, which was once again too long for my growling stomach.

Usually, though, when I'm in Savelugu I attend a small (60 people at the ABSOLUTE max, usually about 40 people) church that's priest is from Mexico City. I like going to this one the best -- the music isn't as good or well prepared and the only musical instrument is a pair of drums by the back, but when I'm there, I belong to the church just as all of them do. The mass is almost the same as it is at the church I go to in Canada. I'm not the white person that gets stared at, I'm just one of them. We share the same faith and they all accept me for who I am. I've made quite a few of the friends I've made here through there.

Yet, at the end of Sunday's mass I was almost yelled at. After the mass I went to a friend that helps with litergical services to say that it was my last Sunday there, and to say good-bye. He was outraged. "You should have told us before. We should have given you proper good-byes. We didn't pray for your safe travels! We didn't thank God for sending you to us for this short time!" He went on for some time before stopping, grasping my hand, and saying, "oh, we will miss you."

It was then that I realized the impact of me leaving. That I'll probably not see these people again. That I really will miss my friends and the small church that I went to with the Father with a great sense of humour.

Despite being to three very different churches, the majority of people in my region are Muslim. The interesting thing is that whenever I discuss religion with any of my Muslim friends they always say the same thing, "we pray to the same God anyway." In fact, in Dagbani there seems to be just one word for any god: Naawuni, and it is used in many every day greetings. Naawuni son tuma (May God bless your work) Naawun' a ti bi ow (May God bring us tomorrow) Naawun' ni lubsina (May God bring us together again). The answer to all these is Ami. These greetings are said to Christians, Muslims, and Traditionalist alike. Where I live, there is no animosity between religions. People want to live in harmony. They want to understand each other instead of attacking them or hating them.

I think the world has something to learn from the people that I've spent time with this summer!

I begin travelling south on Saturday. The summer has both gone by as fast as lightening and as slow as I could ever believe; yet, the end is drawing near. I'll still be posting, so don't abandon me yet! I'll be very excited to see everyone again, but for now, I'm going allow myself to be sad about leaving.


kristin said...

Hey Laura,

You are definately allowed to be sad... I'm sad for you!!! :o)

And what you wrote about your friends saying that we're all praying to the same God... I absolutely agree with them! (And it reminds me of Grandma... she said the same thing to me when I was going to a different church denomination for Christmas eve mass.) Living in harmony, trying to understand each other and without animosity between religions... what a concept! :)

Can't wait to see you, see your pictures and hear more in person! Enjoy this last week and have a safe trip home!

The family misses you!

Jenny said...

{{{hugs}}} It's Saturday! You're leaving already!! Wooow! :( I shall miss all your wonderful tales and I am sad with you that you'll miss your friends. (But omg I am so excited you're coming home!)

Anonymous said...

hi Laura,
am a Ghanaian living in the UK and i just wanted to say your postings make really great reading. Keep on writing. You have a great gift for it.And, let me say a big thank you for coming to my homeland to volunteer. God bless you and I have no doubt you've made a great impact on the lives of the people you met, worked andlived with in that short time. Am really glad you enjoyed your stay and had what it seems like a very rewarding time in Ghana. Do come again sometime!!!

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