Monday, October 25, 2010

The Prophetess

"At this time the prophetess Deborah was judging Israel.
She used to sit under Deborah's
palm tree...and there the Israelites came to her for judgment."
Judges 4:4-5

Last Saturday's excursion took Julia, Laura and I to the seaside town of Keta with aspirations to see the lagoon.
After overshooting Keta completely and then backtracking to end up in a little village that was next-to-but-not-technically Keta, we decided to ask around to see if a fisherman would be willing to ferry us around the lagoon for a couple cedis. This is where you have to love Ghanaian culture --
We walk up to a house on the beach with a bunch of fishing boats sitting behind it, say "We want to see the lagoon. Can someone take us?" And out comes this ancient fisherman with one silver eye and some younger guy who is probably related to him somehow. The old one introduces himself as Tony Blair and the young one is Early. They usher us into their canoe and off we go. I don't know if they do this periodically or if we are the first yevus who have ever come up and requested a ride, but it was if we had reserved an official guide ahead of time.
But of course, it wouldn't be Ghana if things had gone entirely to plan. Or rather, had gone according to our plan. Our guides knew exactly what they had in mind for our tour.
The lagoon turned out to be all of about 6 inches deep, and this is the rainy season no less. They punted us diagonally across part of the lagoon, a roughly 10 minute trip, to an island. There we were instructed to wade through ankle-deep black mud to the shore and start walking barefoot towards the solitary hut on the other side of the island. Here the trip took on a bit of a surreal quality. The half-baked mud, peppered with sharp seashells, burned our feet until we learned to stick to the patches of rubbery aquatic plants. The silver glint of the sun on the water almost obscured our view of Keta in the distance. Ahead of us, a tiny hut situated beneath two lonely palm trees shimmered in the heat.
It wasn't until we'd been walking for a bit that Tony Blair finally explained what we were doing:

We were going to see the prophetess.

...who was not at home. Pfft. Anti-climactic much?

We took a few minutes to explore her house. Our guides told us that she has lived alone on the island for six years now. Her simple hut was significantly smaller than the average American's garage, but she had a flourishing garden of cassava and maize. Even more impressive was the seashell shrine she had built. Hundreds of shells in carefully arranged mounds formed an enormous cross framed in designs with an inscription at the head.

Eventually we turned to go back to the boat only to see a figure coming towards us. Apparently Deborah had seen us coming when she was on her way to the Keta market and had come back to see us.
She seems to be in her 40's, with a tough, weathered look from living on the island. She had an odd way of tilting her head back with her eyes half closed and saying, "Yesssssss."
Then she launched into giving us Bible verses. We stood for nearly ten minutes under the boiling sun while I scribbled furiously:
"Judges chapter one, chapter two, chapter three, chapter eight, chapter ten, chapter five. Nehemiah chapter eleven, chapter twelve, chapter thirteen, chapters sixteen to eighteen. 1st Timothy chapter four, chapter five, chapter nine, chapter twenty-three, chapter seventeen verses twelve to fifteen..." On and on. She finished by tapping the paper with the verses insistently and saying, "Prayer and fasting, prayer and fasting" over and over, then praying over us in rapid Ewe while we stood with our heads obediently bowed and our eyes closed except to peek at each other curiously.

My first reaction is to think that's she's a little bit crazy. The torrent of Bible verses- chapters, really- didn't make much sense. And to be honest, I'm very skeptical about her status as a prophetess.
Yet religion here is a whole different animal than it is in the Western world. In America, a religious fanatic who went around blessing people and lived alone would just be viewed as some mentally ill person who wasn't taking their medicine. Here, it's completely normal.
So a little part of me wants to believe. 
Life is boring if you're too cynical all the time.  

1 comment:

  1. It looks very "cool" there. Isn't wonderful to be somewhere that praying over people isn't looked down upon. Peace be with you.