Place-based memory

Starbucks knock-off in our neighborhood in Accra

Starbucks knock-off in our neighborhood in Accra

When we were in the US, we were trying to remember the names of some places in Accra where we went all the time. Even though we had been home for only a few months, we could not remember them! We talked about it several times. We even tried to use memory helps like imagining we were there; no luck.

The day after arriving in Accra, still tired and suffering the effects of jet lag, I just blurted out the names of those places without trying.

I meet a lot of Africans when I travel. Then a few weeks or a month later I might meet one of them in a different place than where I met them. I know that I know the person, but I cannot think of their name, nor where I met them. Back in the place where I met the person, I might at least have a chance of remembering their name.

Apparently, my brain is divided into compartments. All the information for a specific place goes into that compartment and I can’t access it unless I am in that place. Although, even then there is no guarantee.

The soul of Ghana

Sign - Talented paintersGhanaians put up the marvelous signs. Some quote the Bible, others have Christian motifs, or are based on traditional proverbs. Some relate to a personal experience of the owner. There is a book of them: Joe’s Hair that Talks. I even produced a few copies of my own book of Ghana signs. Many signs are in Ghanaian languages, which makes it hard to share them, but I love that they value their languages.
From my perspective, a lot of the signs on businesses are overblown:
  • Ultimate Strategic Information Systems – on small, cramped shop filled with obsolete computers
  • Talented Painters – the sign itself is badly hand-lettered
  • International – often the first word in the name of a church or business that obviously has no international reach
Oh Jehova. [How man struggles for] the little that he gets to eat (in Ga)

Oh Jehova. [How man struggles for] the little that he gets to eat (in Ga)

It would be easy to criticize these signs. They promise more than the business or church can deliver. But, it seems to me that they can best be understood as expressing aspirations. Ghanaians are not satisfied with the things as they are. They want their businesses, their communities, their churches and their country to be something more. They put those aspirations, perhaps unrealistic, on their signs.

These signs full of aspirations get juxtaposed with signs which express the struggles they have in life:

  • Oh, this world!
  • Oh Jehova, How Man struggles for the little he gets to eat
  • Life is calculations
Big aspirations and lots of struggles. Seems like a good combination to me. If I were to summarize the soul of Ghana, that’s what I would say – big aspirations with struggles. My prayer is that their aspirations for themselves align with God’s aspirations for them. I know in my life, that is a struggle all its own.

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Whose plans

I was living in Ouagadougou at the time. I had an appointment away from the office which I would attend with a Burkinabé man. He had come to the office and we would go together. But stuff kept happening. You know the situation: first a phone call, then a question, then someone stopping by. On it went.

I was a little frustrated and concerned about being late. Finally, we were on our way. I mentioned to the man accompanying me that we would be late because of all the interceptions. He replied:

Your plans are your plans,
but that was what God was doing.

I really did not have the time to digest that right there, but the words have stuck with me. Insights from people in other cultures enrich my understanding of life, God and godliness. He reminded me that a strong focus on my plans can keep me from seeing God’s hand in situations.

Missionaries destroy culture?

The claim that missionaries destroy culture has been around for a while. There are a lot of answers to the claim, not the least is the work of Yale Historian Lamin Sanneh and sociologist Robert Woodberry. But let me add another perspective.

Afaka script

Afaka script

Language and culture are intricately linked. A person’s language expresses their culture. It contains the concepts that pass the culture from generation to generation. So work which enhances the reach or use of that language necessarily protects and promotes the culture. Some languages have very complex scripts. Think of a script as an alphabet and the rules that govern its use. For example, in English we have an alphabet with two cases – upper case and lower case, or capital and ordinary letters. We have rules that govern when we use upper case and when we use lower case. iGnOrE tHoSe RuLeS aNd ReAdInG gEtS dIfFiCuLt, and writing too. Just try typing that! Some scripts have more than two cases. I have heard of four. And there are several other kinds of complexity used in writing systems around the world.

Devanagari script

Devanagari script

This kind of complexity poses issues for keyboarding the language on a computer. Here is a link to an interesting short slide show showing even more complex scripts. When you get to the page, click on the map to launch the slide show. You have to manually advance the slide show from one section to the next.
http://scripts.sil.org/cms/scripts/page.php?site_id=nrsi&id=

Tifinagh script

Tifinagh script

Some highly skilled people have put in a LOT of work so that all these scripts can be used on a computer; so that people who speak those languages can send email to each other, or post in their language on Facebook, or have web sites for their organizations, government offices, and businesses. They did this with little backing from computer companies. Who were they? Well, they were missionaries. They wanted to be able to keyboard these languages in order to translate the Bible, teach people to read and produce Christian literature. But their work can be used much more widely.

Tai Viet script

Tai Viet script

When they finished, what did they do? Did they archive the systems they created? Did they hide them? No, they spent even more time and money to make the technology available to everyone, using a widely accepted standard called Open Source, then they did more work to make it available on a website, free for anyone, none of which they needed to do for their own purposes. They did it so that the people who speak those languages, whether they are Christians or not, will benefit from the tools they developed.

A pretty strange way to disrespect and destroy cultures, I think.

Writing Systems of the World

Writing Systems of the World

Ulfilas day – according to me

Today, I commemorate a man you probably never heard of who did something unheard of. I wrote about it last year. Read, or re-read it here:

https://heartlanguage.org/2013/02/07/ulfilas/