Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Sabbatical Day 10 - Part 2

Wednesday, 14 June 2017, afternoon

Getting in Touch and Feeling My Age

Rev. Gershon Dotse
and his CPE certificate of completion
What follows is a description of what transpired between the last two paragraphs of the previous Sabbatical Day 10 posting.

For three days the Rev. Gershon Dotse and I had been finalizing our itinerary for the rest of our stay in Ghana. Gershon, as many of you know, is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ghana - a church in the Reformed theological tradition which has a partnership with the United Church of Christ through our global ministries. Gershon studied for two years at Eden Theological Seminary, here in Webster Groves, gaining a Master of Theological Studies degree - a degree usually preparatory to doctoral study. Like many other foreign students at Eden, Gershon connected with my own First Congregational Church of Webster Groves because we are close by and therefore accessible on foot from the seminary, on Sunday mornings. And like many other foreign students at Eden, Gershon joined First Church during his time of study so that he could have a pastor and community with whom to connect.

Gershon's interest was to go on and study for a Ph.D., then to teach at a seminary. And although I have not discussed it with him exhaustively, it would appear that either his three-year student visa or his funding ran short of his anticipated time of study. So, rather than continue on and get that Ph.D. here in the States, Gershon elected to enhance his pastoral and counseling skills by making his third year of study in a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program through Laclede Groves Senior Living of Lutheran Senior Services. There, he worked as a chaplain in a rigorous program that included an assignment to a caseload of residents, logging of his work, and discussion with an instructor and other students about the relative successes or "growth opportunities" he experienced. He did brilliantly, of course, but said in retrospect to me one day, "It's very conservative there," referring to the theology of the instructors there which differs by sharp contrast with the liberal theological training he received at Eden and at his first seminary, Trinity Theological Seminary in Accra. "The women in the program had a hard time with the stated expectation that they would not serve as pastors." (Over the next couple of weeks, it would be interesting -in light of his statement - for me to learn that, though theologically liberal, Gershon could be rather traditional in his expectations. I'll save that for a later entry, though. For now, let's talk a bit about communicating in Ghana.)

My correspondence with Gershon, since his return to Ghana in May, had had its challenges. Gershon's access to wifi turned out to be rather spotty in his hometown of Hohoe. So, he was unable to send documents he wanted us to see. Meanwhile, we were having some trouble connecting by phone with him.

We knew, by the time we left the U.S., that our Consumer Cellular SIM cards would not connect with systems in France. When we arrived in Paris, our orienteer Shannon offered us her wisdom about cellular SIM cards. She suggested that we go to a tabac. A tabac is what we would otherwise call a quick shop, except that their quick shops often include a full bar from which you can often order not only drinks but sandwiches and other fare. Most of them sell prepaid phones and SIM cards which you can "top up" online. Shannon offered suggestions about companies she thought offered really good bargains.

MTN and Vodafone marketing is everywhere in Ghana!
Photo from https://gwuoid.wordpress.com/tag/ghana/
Our French SIM cards, however, would not connect with Ghanaian cellular systems, so we knew that we would eventually have to buy new ones. And although I had learned in my first few days in Elmina that there were two very strongly represented mobile telephone service providers - MTN and Vodafone (you could see them advertised on umbrellas and the sides of buildings, almost as much as promotions for Milo and Miksi chocolate milk powders). By Wednesday, Gershon had finally been able to send his latest draft of our itinerary, and I wanted to be able to speak with him about it. He suggested that we have someone on the resort staff run out and get me a SIM card.

They don't have tabacs in Ghana. You can purchase a SIM card from an authorized dealer, however. Sometimes, they're found in storefronts. Usually, however, they're either standing in an intersection or sitting under a roadside umbrella. The guys I connected with at the front desk were very enthusiastic about getting me a SIM card. They told me that SIM cards are usually free but come with coupons in a variety of denominations. I handed them a 10-cedi bank note (GH¢10, worth about $2.50), and one of them called another staffer whose shift would begin at 3PM to stop at a kiosk.

At 3 o'clock, a messenger from the front desk came to our lunch table to say that the employee had been delayed but was still going to pick up my SIM card. I was assured that it wouldn't be much longer. Indeed, about a half an hour later I was still at lunch and received word that my SIM card was waiting at the front desk.

Examples of Vodafone top up cards
The young man who handed it to me asked whether I wanted him to set up my phone. But since I had successfully installed two French SIM cards (and those instructions were in French!), I figured a Ghanaian SIM card (in English) should be a snap! As it turned out, he ended up doing it for me anyway.

Vodafone, you see, has a number of different ways to connect with their system. You can connect with a contract, the way most affluent Ghanaians do it. You can connect without a contract, by having them send you the SIM card after you register for it online. Or you can do what we had done, which is to get the card from a guy under an umbrella who is actually giving them away to young people like the staffer who had just arrived at work.

I got the SIM card installed myself and immediately tried to call Gershon. The call went through, but before we had spent thirty seconds in conversation, we were cut off: I had only installed the card, I hadn't topped it up. I tried to read the instructions on the accompanying piece of paper, but the print was so small and difficult to read, I concluded that I ought to go to my computer for advice.

The business side of a Vodafone top up card,
just about actual size.
(Source: Wikipedia)
I looked online and learned that with the SIM card had come a cardboard folder with a code that needed to be entered via text before the GH¢5 of call and data time could be mine. I entered every number on the card that I could find. The online article said that topping up would require a 14-digit code, but the only numbers on the little folder I could find had 16 digits. Exasperated after my fifth try at this, and the time now approaching 3 o'clock, I went to the front desk with the phone and the folders. I handed them to the receptionist, who took them from me, reached into his pocket and withdrew a coin, and proceeded to scratch off a gray bar I had up to now ignored.

Lo and behold, below the gray bar had been the 14-digit code all the time! As he entered the code, a second receptionist now took the remaining card, unsealed it, and scratched off the second code.

I don't remember ever feeling quite so old or so ignorant as I felt watching these two men in their twenties quietly and smilingly enter the codes I had somehow missed entirely.

Never mind, now I could call Gershon with my GH¢10, and I did.

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