A few weeks ago I read a page of my little daily devotional book and lately I’ve thought about that passage a lot. Whether you are religious or not I think it is a wonderful reminder of seeing beauty in the ordinary and remembering the ‘Marvellous Mundane’. The author Terri Mifek writes:
“In the Ordinary” – I recently came across some of the journals I have kept while traveling. As I read through the daily entries, it struck me that it was often the little things that touched me most. Although I am grateful for the opportunity to have visited many of the grand cathedrals in Europe, it was a little chapel in a small town in France that I found especially moving. And a great conversation with a stranger proved more memorable than many of the popular tourist destinations I visited.
When we overlook the little things in life, we are in danger of missing how God comes to us in the ordinary. In a world that idolizes glamour and fame, we can easily overlook the sacred moments in our daily lives that help us live with a sense of reverence and gratitude.”
I loved her reflection and found it especially relevant for these times we are in, when we maybe can’t do the travelling we hoped to, see the people we wanted to and are at home more than usual. I haven’t dealt with the stresses of working full time for the last few years, but we are currently dealing with a lot of job uncertainty for Dave and I know well what big health worries feel like. The other night we both woke up in the morning feeling very unrested. Dave had dreamt that we had tickets for a rushed last minute re-patriation flight and we were on a frantic mission to pack up our Ghana lives in one day, and I had spent the night in dreamland having a PET-CT scan and only remembered after being in a hospital all day that I should have worn my face mask! I was so mad at myself for not thinking to put it on and was berating myself for being so stupid!
My goodness….I think it is obvious that we are struggling a bit with everything going on. Like everyone in the world we are feeling disorientated, and subconsciously and consciously nervous and stressed out at times. Our family and friends in South Africa are not even able to calm their nerves with a glass of wine at night after alcohol sales were banned again with immediate effect on Sunday night (when I read about the ER’s at the hospitals and the general COVID overwhelm they are currently experiencing I do totally understand this decision though).
When I feel a heaviness upon waking up in the morning, I know that I need to hone in on things that still feel absolutely certain and solid (like hugs with our kids!) despite all the topsy turvyness we are experiencing and the high waves of unpredictability that can threaten to cause us to lose our balance at any moment.
‘The Gentleman in Moscow’ by Amor Towles is one of the most exquisite books I’ve ever read and maybe you have read and loved it too. This January I was enthralled by the wisdom of Count Alexander Rostov, who spends 30 years in a hotel after he is forced to stay there under house arrest. His charming voice and delightful wisdom will fill you with glee and admiration, and what relevance this book has in these times when we are all spending many more hours in the walls of our homes! But the Count is under strict permanent ‘lock down’ and cannot even go outside, which would drive me completely crazy!
“Put your takkies and sports clothes on,” I tell the kids on Tuesday morning after the crazy nightmares and the night of tossing and turning, “we’re going for a walk.”
After being home for the last 4 months without our usual weekly routines, I know that whenever anxiety or a hint of sadness/depression threatens we need to get outside very quickly and feel the sunshine on our backs and breathe in some fresh air. How absolutely grateful I am to Ghana for giving us the freedom to walk around our neighbourhood safely as the ‘sanity saver’ walks I frequent in are a big contributor to how I (usually) manage to stay (semi) sane.
On this Tuesday that had felt a bit like groundhog day to start with, we immediately feel enlivened by ordinary, everyday life here and I know that this is what I will miss the most when it comes time to leave Accra.
We stop to chat to a man who is busy picking leaves from a nearby tree. I don’t think he should have actually been picking them from these trees bordering a compound but he doesn’t mind me taking his photo so can’t have been too worried!
“What are you going to use the leaves for?” I ask curiously.
“They are for the medicine for fever.” he answers with a smile, before tying the last of his collection to the back of his bike and pedaling off. The kids and I cross the road and I wonder if he was talking about a traditional malaria medication or a Covid 19 one….
We pause to admire seed pods on a plant that look just like tiny shower caps for fairies and a rooster is crowing loudly close by.
Then on Emma’s request, we walk to a lady nearby who sells second hand or charity shop overrun clothing that have been sent here from the UK and Europe. She is a real entrepreneur who sells bulk toilet paper, pretty plants and these clothes, as well as offering dressmaking services from her coral painted container store on the side of the road. However I get the sense that the government is currently angry with all of these store owners as there are big red spray-painted messages on most of these shops that are dotted around demanding that they are removed immediately!
Jane makes good use of her time while manning her store, by sewing on her manual Butterfly machine outside. We very seldomly go to the mall here where there is the opportunity for clothes shopping at a Jet and a Mr Price, so Em is totally delighted to find 3 summer dresses that fit her perfectly and I make a pocket money deal with her to split the cost of them. Jack who is a bit bored by the clothes shopping sits under the shade of the rotating circle of tops and dresses and patiently waits for his big sister!
As we leave the store and walk alongside the deep blocked gutters that make me sad with their contents of plastic, algae and tadpoles, my hope is that wherever in the world we end up next, that our children carry these lessons in gratitude from Ghana with them and that they continue to be delighted by a more simple way of living and being that the years here have shown us.
We walk under the Noble House’s Merry Christmas and Happy New Year wishes and the irony of this billboard still being up in this crazy year when we hardly know what month it is feels so relevant!
It is nearing midday now and we are a little hungry so we stop at a lady who is selling yam chips on the side of the road.
“How much are they?” I enquire.
“20 pessoa.” the lady answers giving us a wonderful warm smile.
I’m quite surprised as this is only 20 cents and I’m still wondering if she meant that this is the cost per single yam chip?….instead of making more of this than is necessary I hand her a crisp blue 5 cedi note before she reaches into the honey coloured pot of oil to drain some chips off for us.
“But the container costs 1 cedi,” she adds showing me the take away box that she is about to put them into, “but don’t worry I’ll give you some peppe!.”
Wanting to enjoy the chips while they are still hot we make ourselves comfortable on the pavement nearby and with burning lips from the green peppe sauce we simultaneously laugh and moan at how hot our mouths are while still reaching for more of these delicious fresh yam chips and dipping them into the spicy sauce made from local peppers!
The yam lady appears behind us again, “I forgot to give you ketchup” she remarks before dolloping a blob of red onto the polystyrene and disappearing again a few metres away to resume with her frying duties.
“Do you know that I read that Ghana has been named the world leader for women-owned businesses with 46% of private businesses being owned by women!” I tell our kids as we watch the ladies who pass us with sliced watermelon, shelled ground nuts and soap balanced on their heads, and we talk about all the little shops we see selling fabric and everyday items. It feels good to be able to sit outside like this without sweating buckets as the rainy season we are in means the temperatures are currently in the high 20’s rather than 30’s.
Jack and Em are most content with their yam chips but I surprise them with an icecream at Pinocchio next and we sit in the newly renovated air conditioned space cooling off happily licking our cones. If you are living here I’m sure that you have visited this icecream shop in front of La Piazza, but if you haven’t they really have the most incredible Italian gelato in the most awesome flavours that make it very hard to only choose one!
When we make our way back home the shop owners and guards in the area recognise us and their heartfelt waves and greetings really make my heart content as we head back to our compound on this ordinary Tuesday relishing in these everyday moments of gratitude.
We pass the masked tailor who still uses a coal iron while he sews! And we admire bright murals on walls.
If you too are experiencing nights filled with dark imaginings I hope that your days contain Vitamin D moments and beautiful ordinary life when you can forget for a while all the pain that our precious world is currently experiencing, and that you can just Breathe and Be. (I also hope for a hot peppe delicious food moment for you in whatever form you would prefer 😉 ).
To read other posts I have written about walking our neighbourhood in Accra see: