What's the start of that famous joke? Ah yes..
So a Jewish Iraqi Canadian Girl walks into a bar... well not a bar. Rather she walks into Redeemer's Church International in Lapaz, Accra, Ghana.
Ba Dum Dum Ching!
Okay, so I have to work on my punchline a little bit. Or find more creative ways to introduce what I did this weekend. How about I just tell you what I did on Sunday?
I joined my host family to church. I had asked the previous week if I could go with them one Sunday, as it seems to be such a huge part of (most) people's lives here. Or at least the people I work with and my host family. When I asked my coworker (who goes to the same church as my host family) what denomination the church is that they belong to, she answered "charismatic." Another coworker further explained that "charismatic" was not simply a way of describing the liveliness of the ceremonies but is the name given to this denomination of Christianity, a branch of the Pentecostal church.
The church was about a 25-minute drive from Labone (where I live) in an area called Lapaz. As we approached the church, driving into the living quarters of Lapaz residents, you could see streams of people walking along the dirt road in their Sunday best. Women typically wore bright colourful patterned dresses with a matching piece of material wrapped on their head. The men, despite the strong heat, wore nice pressed suits. These wardrobes weren't necessarily the case for younger churchgoers, some of whom dressed quite casually or a little more "going to work."
Now I know the most pressing question on your mind is... BUT WHAT DID GABRIELLE WEAR AND DID SHE LOOK DAZZLING??? Well, I am sad to report that I don't have a picture of my outfit but I did indeed look dazzling in a powder yellow dress with slim brown piping around the neckline and straps. Perfect for the occasion, if I do say so myself!
Anyways, amidst the closed-up shops (which tend to fold into compact metal squares), empty restaurants, hair salons and homes, we passed a number of churches along the way, and a Mosque as well (I'm currently trying to find the statistics on the Muslim population in Ghana but I get a different number every time. A few sites report that Muslims represent 45% of the population in the country). With each church we passed you could hear the singing and clapping of the pupils inside.
Upon our entry into the church, a two-story concrete building with a hand-painted banner that read "Redeemers Church International", my host mother, Eva, went straight to the front and danced with some of the other women. The men joined later as a small band played music and sang. I, feeling a bit shy, stood back and clapped, once in a while buckling my knees to the rhythm (a very Obroni thing to do, I presume).
Front of the Church.
The term "charismatic" was quite the fitting descriptor for the energy in the building that Sunday morning. After some passionate singing and music, the preacher delivered his sermon (fortunately for me in English). The ceremony concluded with the pastor (none other than my very own Host Father Steven!!?? I had no idea I was in the midst of a celebrity this whole time!) healing people with the touch of his hand. People would come up to the front of the church, close their eyes whilst my Steven placed oil on their foreheads, recited some prayers and pressed his hand against their heads. Quite a few people from the church stepped up to do this, each one reacting to the ritual a little differently. Some remained calm and quiet, intent on spiritual connection. Others would shake, stagger sluggishly, careening around the front of the hall with the support of some of the male attendees.
Preacher delivering his sermon.
Eva, my host mother with her bible.
Briana, My little host sister, in her church dress. A-DO-RA-BLE.
After this ceremony came to an end, Steven invited all the Church newbies to the front of the house and greeted us formally. I felt a bit shy, but the smiles and welcoming words of those who ran the church led me to a place of greater comfort and ease.
My host family, Eva, (a very hungry) Briana and Steven, the church Pastor.
All in all, it was a very enriching experience. Different than my experience going to the church in Burnt River! But in many ways I experienced the same emotions. I tend to enter places of worship with pleasant curiosity yet I cannot help but carry a sense of apprehension, conflicting thoughts on organized religion itself and (I kid you not) a deep-seated fear that someone, something or some spirit in the church will stand up and point me out as a phoney! Like the voice of Charlton Heston will come over the loud speakers (the loud speakers being the Heavens of course) and in a deep booming voice announce that I don't belong there. Boom! Lightening strikes and I have to explain myself to the whole congregation!!
Unlikely, I know. Some people are afraid of spiders and others are afraid of spiders AND Charlton Heston's voice.
After church, I participated in another common Accra ritual - going to the beach!! I met Adusei and we had a great relaxing time at Labadi Beach - a collection site for foreigners and Ghanaians alike. Enjoy the pics below.
I spy, with my little eye, someone that needs sunscreen.
A boy who came over to our table and sang a birthday song with a three-string guitar. I gave him a couple cedis and asked if I could take a picture. He melted the hearts of most of the patrons at this particular bar on the beach. They would motion him away at first, as they do with most of the buskers, but he persisted with the cutest, sweetest voice singing about his birthday (according to the song, this event was to take place the following day... though I wouldn't be surprised if I bumped into him sometime in February singing the same song). People caved, enjoyed the show, clapped and forked out some money. All the other buskers and performers paled in comparison.
Well... Except these guys. Great acrobats! Except when one of them ate a beer bottle and regurgitated the broken glass. "And for my next trick, watch me make the audience disappear in horror!"
Rasta performers drumming as the sun sets.