OUT OF AFRICA – 2
As mentioned in an earlier blog post, there are two seminarians and a junior attending Notre Dame University who have been sponsored by the diocese to spend eight weeks this summer as an intern with Catholic Relief Services in Africa. Bob Angel is already on post in Makene, Sierra Leone, about 100 miles northeast of the capital of Freetown. His brother Dan who is a senior at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami leaves next Tuesday for eight weeks in Liberia and Christophers Mertens, the junior pre-med student from Notre Dame has just arrived in his eight week posting in Tamale, Ghana. Bob and Dan have established a blog site and it can be reached by clicking here http://african-angels.blogspot.com. Bob’s early postings reveal the challenges of an American spending any time, much less two months in a strange culture, challenging climate, and without the support systems which often sustain us in manners and ways unknown to us when we take them for granted. It is a superb blog and I strongly recommend that you add it to your regular reading for the next few weeks.
Christopher sends me a long e-mail which I convert to a Word file and which I will edit and present here from time to time. I am sure that Walter, my cyberspace guardian angel will find a way to make it accessible so that I do not have to add the full text to this blog spot each time but will share with you his experiences as well. He will be assisting in a clinic and working with a physician who treats a lot of HIV-AIDS cases and other diseases which affect people in that part of the African continent. Needless to say, none of these men are enjoying anything near the “lap of luxury” but rather are experiencing the desperate poverty and living standard of most of the world in which we live.
I hope you enjoy their reports back as much as I am enjoying hearing of their experiences coming from “Out of Africa.” I am very grateful to the staff of Catholic Relief Services in Baltimore and in the host countries and regions of those countries who are welcoming these men and guaranteeing their experiences.
What follows now is Christopher’s first two impressions of Ghana.
Accra, Ghana, greeted me as the sun rose on our plane and we prepared to land after a ten hour flight across the Atlantic. I didn’t get much sleep on the overnight flight, a result of what I believe was a combination of restless anxiousness to arrive and the bright flickering movie screens on the bulkhead of the plane playing various romantic comedies in succession. The thing that struck me the most as I peered at the landscape while stretching my neck to see around those sitting in the window seats was that most of the roads were not paved for the city where we landed. I know this shouldn’t be a shock to me, but it did drive home the reality that I was truly someplace far removed from Tampa and South Bend, my two homes.
Catholic Relief Services (CRS) had a driver awaiting me as I cleared customs at the airport, a process that was also surprisingly painless and quick, at least in my case. The heat and humidity that greeted me outside is a close family member of the climate of Tampa, and the sweat that immediately appeared on my face and arms confirmed this observation. The 7-8 mile drive to the CRS offices took nearly 45 minutes thanks to the narrow roads of Accra and the explosion of car ownership in the city that far outpaced the road capability. As we crept along the streets, various venders would hold their wares up to the window. I have been told that it is possible to leave your house here in Accra with just the clothes that you are wearing, and you would be able to purchase almost anything you could possibly need to take on vacation somewhere.
At the CRS office, I was warmly welcomed and introduced, and then briefed on not only my stay, but also on the major programs that were being run within Ghana. CRS is involved in many programs, most of which are focused on the 3 northern regions of Ghana (Upper East, Upper West, and the Northern regions), and dealt with issues ranging from pre-natal care and early childhood care, HIV and AIDS treatment, prevention, and education, and agricultural programs aimed at assisting small villages and farmers that struggle to live even on a subsistence basis from the farms they live and work upon. Although I will be primarily stationed at the Shekhinah Clinic in Tamale, it is planned that hopefully I will be able to travel out to some of these program sites while in Tamale so that I may more fully see the scope of the work and good that CRS is doing.
After waiting out the 2-hour downpour that is beginning to signal the start of the rainy season in the southern part of Ghana, I left the office and arrived at my lodgings in a guesthouse for the night. After a much welcomed 3 hour nap, I arose and headed to the small 4 table restaurant downstairs to catch some dinner. After hearing the options, I decided that I would forego the familiar food from home (such as spaghetti) and try a local dish that came with tilapia. Now, being from Florida, and a fan of seafood, I thought it would be great to see what they used as spices for it. When the plate came, it seemed I did “catch” some dinner, as the fish was present in whole on my plate, eyes gleaming, and mouth and teeth open in an eternal grin. The waitress, smiling, told me that usually it is customary to eat this meal without utensils, and I took that as a challenge to be accepted. Unfortunately, I didn’t foresee dinner being such an entertaining event, and left my camera locked in my room, so I will let you imagine the rest of the dinner, as I tried to delicately remove the skin of the fish and scrape out the tasty meat and seasoning while trying to avoid any guts, bones, or brains on the fish.
Today I fly up to Tamale where I will be greeted by the CRS office there, and then after a little time to orient myself there, I hope to be off to the Shekhinah clinic with Dr. Abdulai in a day or two. I was fortunate to have a great internet connection this past night, but I believe it will be a bit more sporadic for the weeks ahead, yet I will still try to jot down notes, observations, and experiences on paper so that I may commit them to type to send out. The graciousness and generosity of those that I have met so far has truly been a blessing, and I hope that God will help me to remain open to meeting and getting to know people here on my stay.
There are two major reasons why I think our local Church will benefit from young women and men having opportunities such as this. First and foremost, we are a universal Church and although we share the same doctrines and disciplines throughout the world, every local Church is different. The Diocese of St. Petersburg is different from the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, for example. To have priests and lay people who have first-hand experience of the Church Universal will broaden our own horizons and make the universal nature of our faith better known. The second reasons is the profound love which I hold for Catholic Relief Services. They do incredibly good work in incredibly difficult working circumstances. They make we Catholics in the United States look good by their presence in over 110 countries throughout the world. I want these two men studying for the priesthood and the one studying for a possible lifetime as a doctor to share their experience with CRS and their sense of its presence and effectiveness throughout this diocese. I also hope that more young women and men will choose CRS for a life’s profession. All of this is possible with “apostles” of CRS spreading out throughout the diocese and country and telling its amazing story.
I am leaving in a few moments for Chicago and the final meeting of the Search Committee seeking a new President and CEO for Catholic Relief Services. It is the least I can so and sharing with the organization some of our women and men and allowing them to tell their amazing stories of their experience is a part of my DNA.