So it is Saturday night and we have been in Ghana for five days, made it through our first week at work, including three days driving through the byzantine traffic circus they call the Accra metropolitan highway system. After two days of learning the easiest route to the office and a few key shopping areas from other senior couples, we were issued a car on Thursday and have been on our own since then.
We live three miles from the Area Office and temple, but the two times we have driven home, it took between sixty and ninety minutes. I understand that was not quite normal, we left later than usual both nights and there are short cuts that can make it more like forty-five minutes. Those shortcuts are made interesting by the dearth of road-signs or anything resembling Brigham Young’s classic, neatly patterned checkerboard grid of intersecting perpendicular roads. We were also warned that while most of the traffic rules are the same in Ghana as in the US, you should not expect anyone else to follow them.
Traffic literally inches along jam-packed roads for miles, with hawkers and panhandlers incessantly working the crawling vehicles from all angles, miniature taxis and the omnipresent private minibuses, or “tro-tros,” constantly cutting in on and cutting off adjoining cars to gain a car length’s advantage, police cars and ambulances with flashing lights and sirens trying to navigate the gridlock, and the fearless motorcyclists who streak through gaps between the columns of slowly
moving cars, oblivious to the vehicles an inch or two away on either side, to red lights at intersections, or even to the traffic cops, who generally just shrug, knowing that the only thing that catches up with motorcyclists in Accra is the law of averages.
Adding to this excitement are the bone-jarring potholes, badly decayed road surfaces and gutters that are located where most road planners would put a shoulder. These are not friendly sloped gutters. They are squared-off, concrete trenches, over a foot wide and 18 inches deep, situated right at the edge of the traffic lane, which serve the dual purpose of capturing storm runoff and swallowing errant wheels of motorists that venture too close.
We are currently living in one of the nicest parts of Accra, Ghana’s capital with about two and a half million people, located on what the British previously called Africa’s Gold Coast. We have the Spanish, Vatican, Chinese and UN Embassies right around us and we drive past the Ghanaian Presidential Palace every morning on the way to work. We are situated in a very nice furnished two-bedroom apartment in a gated, guarded complex with about seven other amazing, outgoing senior missionary couples, who have invited us over for meals and get-togethers and taken us shopping every day since we arrived. As I typed this paragraph, we had our first power outage that plunged the apartment into blackness for about 10 seconds until the back-up generator kicked on, restoring everything, including the air conditioning.
We work in the four-story Area Office which is on the beautifully landscaped grounds of the Accra Temple, along with a stake center and a new MTC under construction. We interact daily with the Africa West Area Presidency, several Area Authorities and a host of senior missionary couples and join with them each Friday evening in the temple for a sealing session.
But all this misses the point of what makes this such a remarkable mission and why we are here. A missionary couple who had recently returned from here noted that the world travels to South Africa and East Africa to see all the amazing animals. On the other hand, you come to West Africa because of the amazing people. We have yet to attend any church meetings here, but we have had the chance to rub shoulders for the past five days with the absolutely most pleasant, humble and dedicated people on face of the earth. The members who work in the Area Office, whether in managerial, technical or administrative support functions are perennially upbeat, cheery and exemplify the mannerisms of the Lord they are serving. There are areas of the office are not run in the most incredibly efficient manner, but almost all of the people here are very good at what they do, very concerned that they are meeting expectations and extraordinarily gracious and appreciative when you go out of your way to show your interest in them and appreciation for their help.
This week, we had three busloads of members who brought their families on a daylong journey from the neighboring country of Cote d’Ioivre (Ivory Coast). After leaving last Monday, the people arrived here on Tuesday to attend the temple throughout the week, many for their first time and quite a few brought all of their families to be eternally sealed together. They finished the week last night (Friday) with a cultural celebration that ran until almost midnight before they boarded their buses for the trip home. I don’t speak French, but language differences can’t mask the joy in their eyes, their knowing smiles, the shy little boys in white shirts and ties peeking out from behind their mothers’ dresses or the beautiful little girls skipping hand in hand around the temple grounds festooned in brilliantly colored dresses, their impossibly tightly-braided hair festooned with a brilliant array of ribbons. I think we are really going to like this place.