I am so very blessed. I have traveled to Ghana this week as a nominee for “Non-Ghanaian Contributor” Award for the Ghana Professional Achievers. Some of the Ghanaian nominees are Ex-President John Agyekum Kufour, Ex-President Jerry Rawlings wife Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings, and the King of the Ashanti tribe–whose name escapes me at this time. This is very prestigious. I am humbled by this experience and even more humbled that my daughter, Dr. Kathleen Kerstetter, was able to travel with me and be a part of it. The ceremony is Friday and I will keep you posted
Today we traveled to our projects in Akramaman. As Queen Mother, before doing anything, I must attend ceremony with the Chief, Nii Akrama, and his council. I have attended many ceremony days but rarely get to share this with others. Enjoy a view from the outside.
“Oh dear, they are going to put the sheep in the van.” That’s probably the most normal thought I have had in the last hours of this afternoon. In our crowded 8-passenger jitney van, I’m trying to recount the day.
The drive with our full company took about 90 minutes, I’m guessing. There isn’t much to gauge the passing of time in West Africa and the haze created by the dust often hides the sun’s exact spot. There should be a special name for the color of the dirt here. It’s not really brown, or red, or grey, but all three simultaneously. Crayola needs a sub-Saharan Clay crayon.
At a small town near the village, Mom whispers to Mercia “I just remembered, we have no spirits for the chief.” I’m not really sure what this means, but we stop at a bright green hut and send one of the guys in to buy a bottle of Schnapps.
We drive up to the village, which is comprised of many cinderblock structures – some half built, almost none with paint. The women and children in the village immediately start running alongside the van and waving. Mom is waving back with a full-faced grin. We stop the van and begin to extract ourselves. Mom begins to hug the villagers, introducing them all by name to me. I’m astonished by how many names she knows. AND she knows the names of all of the kids. “This is Prince’s Mom,” or “this is Joshua’s Mom,” I hear over and over again. While Mercia notifies the Chief that we have arrived, Mom takes me on a tour.
We turn down the sandy path to the right that leads to the well. This was one of her first projects in the village: a 50-foot hand dug steel well for fresh water. The market area consists of approximately six stands with thatch roofs where you can buy or trade for food. Mom indulges a few of the children by showing them her digital camera and taking a few photos. We meet one 11-year old who no longer attends school because she has special needs. Slight cognitive disability, I’m guessing. We are greeted by several others villagers who are taking advantage of most of the children being at school and are bathing. I experience my first National Geographic moment as a topless grandmother shouts for our attention and wants to talk to Mom.
We run into a special guest, Mr. Thomas Okine, the Assemblyman for the District. It is an election year, after all, even out in the bush. He summons us all to the Chief’s house; it is time for the welcome ceremony.
So far, I’ve already been given some hints on cultural mores for this village, but I have to admit I’m completely terrified that I will offend someone by doing something stupid, you know, like crossing my legs in public. There are eight people sitting on the porch, seven men, and Topless Granny’s neighbor. I recognize the Chief in his bright blue robe. He is last in line. We are to shake everyone’s hand as we enter. Mom whispers something quickly that I interpret as “two hands for the Chief, one hand for everyone else.” Ok, go with the flow. I watch and imitate exactly what everyone does in front of me. After the hands are shaken, we all take seats. Mom, the Queen Mother, Naa-Aku-Shika II, and the Chief, Nii, are seated in the center. Mercia is to Mom’s right. As tradition states, I gather, neither Mom nor the Chief are allowed to speak during the ceremony. Mercia speaks for Mom, and then whispers translations in my ear. The Queen Mother does manage to yell at me to remove my hat. Moms will always be Moms.
First, we present the “spirits” to the Chief. He lays hands on it and it is accepted. Next, one of the village elders pours some of it onto the ground for the ancestors. He is shouting and the small congregation is punctuating what is being said with traditional Gaa responses. Mercia is telling me that he is wishing health and prosperity to us and the village, and bad things for our enemies. I have to admit; I had a slight keep myself from chuckling as I imagined he was saying “one for my homies,” especially as his cellphone was ringing from his back pocket. Can you hear me now?
Next, the elder passes the Schnapps to a younger man who is hold a shot glass. Each person, in turn, is poured a small shot of spirits. I’m a little confused, because some pour the drink on the ground, and some pour half on the ground and drink the rest. I make two conscious decisions: 1. Even though I am having serious health concerns about sharing a drinking glass with villagers in the bush, if given the opportunity I am going to drink from this glass because nothing like this is ever going to happen to me again, and; 2. I will do whatever the Chief does – just to be safe. To my delight, I think, the Chief takes a shot. When it is my turn, I pour a drop on the ground and drink the rest. Everyone applauds. Then there are a lot of murmurs while the rest of the crew takes a shot.
Laughter. Lots of laughter. Nii Aramah leans over two chairs and informs me that they are discussing my name. My what??
Ok. Since my Mom has been installed as the Queen Mother of the village for her humanitarian work here, and I am her daughter, I am to be named. Or, at least I think that is what I understand. I have flashbacks of band camp and fraternities, and wonder if I will be escorted off the porch while they discuss the name. It wouldn’t matter anyways as I don’t understand a word being spoken. They keep repeating something that sounds like “Natalie”. I’m actually still unsure what my name really is, but it sounds cool and we all repeat the drinking ritual while toasting my new name. The elder stands up again and wishes me grace and the strength that my mother has, health and prosperity to me, and harm to my enemies. I’m humbled, honored, and little buzzed from the Schnapps and the heat.
Next, the Chief’s spokesperson stands and begins to speak while a sheep is dragged in to the middle of the gathering. My first instinct is panic: oh Holy Moly; are they going to slaughter that thing right here? I am really hoping that I am wrong – and I am. The villagers present us with a large sac of cassava, a branchof plantains, and the sheep for us to take home. Mom asks permission to break tradition and speak her own words. “I am humbled, and I do this not for rewards or gifts, but because God has called me to work for your people.” It is welcomed and everyone applauds.
Everyone stands to leave, I think, but my arms are grabbed for me to sit again. Everyone comes around and shakes our hands, and finally we are all allowed to get up. I look at the sheep, he looks at me, and it suddenly occurs to me: How do we get it home?