Birthday Posting

 Posted by Matthew Cutler at 11:12 am  Ghana
Feb 012013

It is finally here– that day I was trying to avoid. My 50th birthday! There is that line from the Reform Jewish prayer book that says something along the lines of where can I go, God, where You are not there? Same is true about a birthday– thanks to Facebook, birthdays cannot be avoided! But what I realized is that they shouldn’t be; they should be shared. It is the embracing of them that makes them so sweet. That is why I am honored that 70 people so far have supported what my friend Marji Karlin has dubbed “my birthday potty”, a campaign thru to raise $7000 needed to build a much needed toilet facility at the Bethel School Complex. It isn’t the sexiest campaign out there– but it will be valued by the 300 students who attend the school each year. So, let me make another pitch– if you haven’t contributed to this effort, please do so by either sending your checks to Congregation Gates of Heaven or pledge thru the following link:

So today, they broke ground on the project. I was a little skeptical because we have a little over $4000 in pledges for this project. But while I am confident that the money will be found, I am skeptical. Pastor Albert Manu said that I should have faith and God will provide. Hmmm.. he hasn’t spoken to synagogue treasurer in America, has he? But using a pun from Rabbi Don Cashman of Albany who said that this is a way of  building in “increments for excrement” removal… [I can hear the groans of disapproval for that line from all the way back home!!– but I thought it was funny. In truth, there some really funny lines about this campaign but my mother warned me as a child about the proper use of bathroom humor!– what, more groans?]

Any building project has challenges, right? One challenge is that one of the classrooms would have to be relocated because the project would come close to the room. Now with a metal roofed building and planks for sidings, this was no big deal– in a few hours, the new room was constructed. The digging was going on as this was being done, as school was in session. The 15 foot deep hole was excavated– the team of workers spoke loudly and with disapproving tone in Dangwe because the work wastoo  hard and should be done quicker with the right equipment; not with 6 guys, 4 shovels and a pick axe! Sure enough the back hoe did its job– albeit a little too close to the classroom building as the dirt floor in the last  classroom did crack and cave in a bit. And the truth was that it was a great teachable moment– to talk about machines for the little ones; the oldest kids got a lesson in the physics of the back hoe, the math class had to calculate the mass of dirt being removed.. me as the English teacher [and the brother of an attorney], I had them write releases and disclaimers– absolving me and the school of any guilt should they fall into the hole during construction or step on a nail or get hit by a beam! Ok– I was kidding about the release forms; but I am not kidding when I tell you that Pastor Manu wants to talk to me about the wording for the plaque whic he wants to hang prominently at the entrance of the toilet facilities!! I kid you not–a plaque will mark the gift being given!! [Folks– some day, you will turn in the “Bradt Tour Guide of Ghana” to the pages about PramPram and there will be printed that one site that should be seen is the plaque on the outhouse which reads: “Built in honor of the 50th birthday of Rabbi Matthew Cutler by his friends and the members of Congregation Gates of Heaven, Schenectady, New York, USA.” I will contact Rabbi Cashman for the appropriate Biblical citation to be used as a preamble!

Of course no day would be complete without a proper birthday celebration. At the end of school, my students and all the teachers as well as some people in the area I befriended came to wish me well. There was a beautiful and tasty birthday cake with a flare or Roman candle in the middle. There were cards, songs sung by the children, a toast from the Evan Charwey as the master teacher, pictures taken.. and a gift: an African suit tailored just for me! It is quite exquisite– surely I will be the talk of the town when I attend a United Way Board meeting wearing that brightly colored pants and shirt! And all kidding aside– it was one of the most meaningful and touching things I have received as a present! So you are darn right I will wear it .. and I will wear it with PRIDE!!

Let me bring this posting to a close by saying that when I came to Ghana, I was going to teach and do some good work. But what I didn’t expect was a renewal of my spirit and a recharging of my professional batteries. I am so proud of the bonds of fellowship I forged here, especially with Pastor Manu and his family as well as the teachers of the Bethel School and the students who can flap their wings like butterflies as they tell the story of the goofy bearded guy who always wore “knickers”, who told funny stories and sang silly songs but made them feel and encouraged them to think… well, that is how I HOPE they remember me! And just when they use the toilets that have my name on it…


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