It’s the most wonderful time of the year

11 08 2011

My arrival in Paga has coincided with two equally dramatic calendar events: the rainy season and Ramadan.

Both regularly provide loud and atmospheric reminders that this is their time.

The rains strike quickly but with some warning. An unbearably hot day of around 36 degrees with sunny blue skies will suddenly become so dark, within only a minute or two that you will need to turn on the lights just to read a page in your book. Angry black and grey clouds roar overhead bustling against and over each other, racing impatiently to their final destination. With them comes the wind. The first taste is a touch of a light breeze that makes the curtains flutter and brings with it a cool fresh relief into the stuffy house. A few minutes more and stationary fans will begin to move, powered by the uninvited wind tunneling through the house. There are no windows here, not as we know them at least. Instead there are a series of open glass panels whose angles you can change by forcing a leaver. You can never really close them but you can change the angles of their tilt should you feel the need for more or less air from outside. Soon the wind is racing through the house and then comes the thunder and lightening. Enormous pounding blasts of thunder that make the ground shake and warn everyone to take shelter ASAP. And then the sky empties. In only a few minutes the ground outside is a river and the rain so solid that you can barely see a tree just a few metres in front of you. To be in it for more than two seconds is to be soaked thoroughly to the skin. But nobody risks this. For once there isn’t a soul to be seen outside. No cyclists, no cars – not even a goat. I have seen more rain fall in ten minutes here then I expect Ireland gets in a good rainy six months. It’s biblical and fascinating to watch. The ground cannot keep up with the speed of the deluge and everywhere becomes one muddy lake within seconds. Soon into the storm the electricity goes out adding to the drama and afterwards the mobile phone networks go down. It’s like the opening scene of an apocalypse movie, every few days.

And then after a few minutes, or an hour, the sky has exhausted itself and just as suddenly it all ceases. The wind is instantly gone but the air remains cool and clean as if a brand new supply has just been delivered as a reward for the days of oppressive heat just gone.  It will take a few hours for the sun to reach its full potential again, all the while the Ghanaians talk about how cold it is. I watch them shivering as I laugh to myself – the temperature will be around 20 degrees or so – a heatwave for Ireland!

Ramadan announced its commencement in as just an obvious manner. It was all the more startling as its triumphant arrival happened at 5am. We live opposite the tiniest mosque I think I have ever seen. It is a beautiful, unimposing building that has more charm than space and for the first week here I hadn’t recorded a single soul entering or leaving the building. I would estimate that it could hold 10 believers, at a squeeze.

Because of its inactivity I assumed that it had been abandoned for a more modern, larger version somewhere nearer the centre of town. And then, on the first day of Ramadan I was awoken by an abrupt deafening wailing that seemed to come from the corner of my bedroom. I shot up in fright and confusion and quickly recognised the Arabic lilt of the call to prayer. There was no imam hiding in my wardrobe – the source was clearly from the miniscule mosque that I had mistakenly believed to be dormant. I was utterly flabbergasted that a tiny mosque could make such an all consuming sound. I have travelled to many countries where I have been woken by such prayers but the volume here was clearly made to compete with any thunder that nature could throw in its way. Or perhaps their aim is to be heard across the border in Burkina Faso. If that was the case then they certainly succeed.

Not only is the call to prayer broadcast for all in the region to hear but so is their entire nightly service, and every prayer during the day and evening too: all at impressively godly volumes. It has got to the stage that I have witnessed the repetitive chants so often and with such volume that I have found myself singing them to myself while waiting in line in the local shop or while cycling to work, as if it were some catchy new pop song.

Who knows, perhaps a miraculous conversion is in the making. More likely however is that I am now so sleep deprived that my brain has resorted to repeating simple phrases over and over again, unable to deal with anything more complex.

Like the cool relief that the rains bring I am counting down the days for the end of the holy month – and the uninterrupted sleep which will follow. I expect it to be utterly divine.

The Descent of Man

31 07 2007

‘The theory of evolution is a farce. I am 100% certain of this and I can prove it’. So I was told by an adult student of mine during my teaching days in The Netherlands. Of course I was flabbergasted and also incredibly excited to hear this undeniable proof that would contradict all those dusty know-alls I had come across in university. Proof that Darwin was wrong after all! This you just don’t expect in an English class on a rainy Tuesday evening and it certainly was a million times more interesting than the exercises on the past perfect tense I had planned. 

The Netherlands has a deserved reputation for being progressive and forward thinking – most of the time. The outside world knows all about the open policy to drugs, Amsterdam’s infamous red light district, tolerance of other lifestyles etc however there is also a lesser known band of über-christians that stalk this land also. These incredibly strict protestants go so far as to remove items from vending machines on a Saturday evening so that no business is carried out on the sabbath. The christians in The Netherlands are far from hidden away though. Everyone thinks of Ireland as being run by religious freaks but in many ways things are far worse here. The prime minister comes from the Christian Democratic party, the biggest party in the country. The state television stations are littered with specialised christian broadcasting groups. Even still it came as a surprise to find out that David Attenborough was being shunned on Dutch TV. Nope he didn’t insult the queen (illegal in NL by the way) he simply mentioned the theory of evolution in his series The Life of Mammals and as such the offending piece has been censored. One whole programme in the series will not even be shown because of its focus on evolution.

Baffling to think that this happens in 2007 in an EU country (OK I could imagine it happening in Poland) but then I guess their arguments are convincing as my old student (one of these religious nuts) explained with a straight face.

‘When animals breathe out their breath sinks to the ground but when a human breathes out their breath rises up to heaven, so obviously the evolution theory is wrong and God really did create the world in seven days’. Well there you go. It’s so obvious I’m astonished that Darwin missed it. Now please go and correct your encyclopedias instantly, there isn’t a moment to spare.

Get off the cross we need the wood

9 06 2007

As if shopping on a Saturday wasn’t bad enough, the packed streets of The Hague have an extra irritant every single weekend – a choir of singing Christians screeching out their musical beliefs to the amazement of all passing by. They are aided in this aural terrorism by a ridiculously effective amplifier.

They’re not so much a choir as a group of misfits grinning inanely and clothed in an array of colourful wool and tie-died t-shirts. If they insist on belting out their songs I feel they could you at the very least attempt something a little catchy. Their lyrics also leave an awful lot to be desired. Someone should tell them that it isn’t hard to find something that rhymes with cross. Suffice it to say I don’t think they’ll be troubling the charts in the near future.

But really, if swinging a tambourine at random strangers in public was the way to eternal salvation don’t you think everyone would be at it?

To make matters worse, today I escaped from The Christians only to confronted with the Pan Pipers around the corner. It’s a wonder I ever leave the house at all.

Cheers God!

4 05 2007

I have seen the light! My years in the wilderness have come to an end and I am prepared to rebuild my relationship with God. I haven’t been in touch nearly as much as I should have – although I did pay a recent visit which much count for something surely.

I heard yesterday that my wonderful nephew made an astounding 1,000 euro at his confirmation! I was completely flabbergasted. When did religion become so lucrative? I didn’t know there was money to be made in ‘receiving the holy spirit’. Why did nobody tell me this? In my day it was 50 pounds if you were lucky and let’s face it I am really not that old – still clinging to my twenties for another few weeks yet. What can a young lad possibly do with 1,000 euro? He has no overheads surely. And I am pretty sure it is tax-free too! My obvious jealousy made me rant about how the youth are spoiled these days and don’t know how good they have it until I realised that I was turning into one of those older mean spirited days of yore people – so I closed my mouth, smiled and kept my raging envy to myself.

Having had more time to think about it I have decided that if he can do it then so can I. Does it say anywhere in the rulebook bible that you cannot make your confirmation again? I don’t think so. That’s it sorted then. There’ll be a fabulous party with champagne and glamorous people. A quick trip to church to be confirmed and then sit back and watch the money roll in.

Who knew religion could be this good?


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