How I learned about living in community

by Carolyn Kroll

On my bedroom wall hangs a 4-ft tall, framed poster entitled "Celebration." The poster depicts African villagers dressed in tribal garb performing the daily tasks of living: women pounding fufu, carrying firewood on their head, cooking over an open fire, washing young children in buckets of water. A group of men sit in a circle, holding an elder council under a thatched roof hut; and some younger men kick a soccer ball among delighted small children. The picture is crowded with everyday commotion, but your eye is drawn to the middle of the scene where women and young children dance and sing as they parade in a large circle.

I lived in such a village in my early 20's as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ghana. With a freshly-minted Northwestern University journalism degree, I entered Peace Corps training in 1967 and 9-weeks later flew to Ghana along with 25 of my fellow trainees. We were all assigned to teach at various secondary schools throughout this West African nation that was in the throes of building its education system and holding its first national elections. In training, I met a fellow volunteer, Jim Kroll, and we married 6-months later in Ghana! When the elders in the small village of Kibi heard that newly-wed American "Peace Corps" were coming to teach at their nearby secondary school, they decided to build us a house. Made of cinder block, covered with a layer of mud, and painted PINK, this house of three small rooms and a screened porch had a corrugated tin roof but no electricity or running water. Upon our arrival, the village chief met us at our new home and poured a libation (a traditional ritual honoring their ancestors) of palm wine as a welcome and good luck gesture.

Even though he knew no English and we knew little of the local dialect, Twi, the elder chief took us under his wing – walking over from his own hut every morning to "greet" us and make sure we were doing OK. He instructed some of the village women to teach me to bake bread in the village's clay ovens shaped like gigantic anthills and to make the staple Ghanaian dish of groundnut soup with fufu. He took Jim out into "the bush" to learn to tap palm trees for the sap that ferments into palm wine, and gathered the village men to sit in a circle with Jim and drink this brew once a week. The village women brought us buckets of water and piles of firewood carried on their heads. Small children shyly crouched on our porch steps and stared at the strange "obroni"(white person), which they had rarely seen before. Although Ghana is a former British colony, no one with a white face had ever LIVED in their village! We walked every day to the nearby secondary school where I taught English and Jim taught chemistry and immersed ourselves in the lives of young Ghanaian students 12-18 years old.

For more than 30-years I have carted this poster through several moves to different houses because, for me, the scene portrays those illusive concepts of community and family that I experienced in that small Ghanaian village. This scene has remained the central image that informs both my professional life and my personal journey. So now, the poster will come with me again – to the Durham Central Park Cohousing Community where I intend to live among my new extended family. There we will work together, laugh together, support and care for each other reminiscent of that Ghanaian village where I first learned the real meaning of community.

Picking favorites

Last Sunday we spent several hours picking our favorite three architectural “schemes” (building shapes) from the six that Ellen and Ken (our architects) have presented to us. We had tough choices to make, balancing light, space, price, and most of all our desire to build a building that fosters community.

Bill, our process committee chair, Doug, our manager, and Martha, our design committee chair, guided us through several exercises that helped us make the decisions. These are photos of us during the most important of the exercises, placing dots to indicate which schemes we thought were the best in 7 different categories, or “factors.”

The process was tough and we didn’t always agree but in the end we had our 3 choices. Tomorrow we’ll pick a winner and first alternate.

Lu clutches her dots, valuable “currency” when you’re thinking about the building you’ll be living in for the next 20 or 30 years.

Scheme-selection-1

Doug, Carolyn, Pete, and Erica wait their turn. It looks like Tish has finished.

Scheme-selection-2

Joyce studies the Age/Safely factor.

Scheme-selection-3