Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Last Week

Tuesday morning's school assembly was quite memorable. For several reasons. First, because three of the boys were caned for fooling around during the recitation of the Lord's prayer. The kids were all watching intently. I had to look away. That was the first time that I have witnessed caning at the school. I know that it is a part of their culture, and that it doesn't happen often, but I hated it. I can't imagine every caning a child. It made me shutter. During the caning some awful crying came from the 1st grade section. Everyone laughed. Then Mr. Awuku, the libraian started a speech about the new book check-out system I have created. The crying started again. He looked over, and realized it was in fact a goat under the stairs crying. Next up for the announcements was the headmaster, and he presented that same goat to the teachers as an appreciation gift. I was standing there in awe of the fact that they were holding this live goat upside down and handing it to the two assisstant teachers as a special gift. I've never seen a more original teacher gift, sure beats those mugs, pencils, gift cards, apples.... ha ha. It was quite funny.

Thursday afternoon Emma & Isaac came over to help me deep clean my house. Things get dirty so quickly in Ghana. Ma Matilda came over to teach me how to cook some Ghanaian food. It was real fun to cook with her. I am supposed to teach her some American dishes when I come back in Januray.


Thursday night (my last night before leaving) Leticia (the guest's cook) and Araba (chief operations officer) came over to watch a movie. It was so great to have them over and feel like I have made progress in my relationship with both of them. I felt like I had to really earn their friendship and respect. And I am so glad that I have come so far with them in the past few months. They hurried back from their errands on Friday so they could come say goodbye.


On Friday, all of the VOH kids (except the high schoolers who just came home for the holiday) went to the Kakum rain forest and Elmina Slave Castle. I was really dissapointed that I was not able to go with them, but had to stay behind in order to catch my flight that night. Emma (Emmanuel) and Isaac decided not to go with the rest of the kids so they could accompany me to the airport. How sweet are they? So Friday morning, all of the high school kids came over to watch a movie at my house. Then after lunch I took them to the beach. It has been at least a year since they have been to the beach, so they were quite excited. It was me and 12 boys, I am not sure why none of the girls came. They were so excited to swim and play in the sand. They hardly came out of the waves the whole time we where there, even when I bought them all a mineral (pop).

Monday, December 21, 2009

Diary of a Traveler

As some of you have heard, I had quite an adventure getting home. Seems like I can't go anywhere without it being some sort of ordeal. Below is an outline of the adventure in getting home...

Friday December 18th
5:00 pm leave VOH for airport
7:15 pm took Emmanuel & Isaac to eat at Papaye's for dinner
8:30 pm arrive at airpot in Accra
8:35 pm find out my flight is delayed from 11:45 pm till 8:00 am the following morning (all the while realizing my Ghana cell phone had been left at the village and the driver was already gone)
9:00 pm-11:50 pm stood in line to try and re-book my connecting flights I would now miss with no luck. Even with the Sweedish business man behind me trying to bribe an airline worker for me, and the Dutch doctor in front of me looking up flights on his computer from the British air flight system. The agent ended up telling me to try my luck in London because she couldn't do anything for me unless I wanted a flight on Tuesday. She said there was nothing to ANY american city for days.
12:00 am checked my bags in

Saturday December 19th
1:00-1:30 am visited the internet cafe in the airport (i had nothing else to do!)
1:30-5:30 am attemped sleep on some benches in the airport
6:30 am customs, security & check in
7:00 am I was invited into the British air club lounge by the Dutch doctor. It was so nice! I got coffee, an apple, and plaintian chips for breakfast.
7:30 am board the plane
8:00 am plane took off for London
8:30 am realized my tv screen didn't work. Thankfully about an hour later the flight attendent reseated me, so I was able to watch movies the rest of the flight
2:50 pm landed in London Heathrow airport
3:00 pm-7:00 pm the line. This was the line in which I waited to be re-booked on another flight. London had weather issues as well as the whole northeast part of the states, so there were MANY people who were in need of rebooking. Thankfully I found some best friends for the day in line. Matt, Colleen, and Jessica were all in the same perdicament as I. Thankfully British Air was so nice and was bringing boxes of bottled water, chips, cookies, and occasionally sandwhiches to all of us camped out in line.
7:00-8:00 pm rebooking. My first impression of my rebooking agent was that he was a grumpy cynic who was not excited to help me out. Turns out he was God's gift to traveling. After pulling strings and working miracles, he was able to get me on a flight for the next day to Seattle. My original ticket on B.A. was only to Washington D.C. where I was going to switch to southwest airlines to make it the rest of the way to Portland. When he asked where I was staying and I said I had no place I asked if he could just put me in the same hotel as everyone else, and he said "No, they are crappy." Ha ha. He then proceeded to find me the best one on the list to stay in. Matt, Colleen, and Jessica had gone to agents before me, and were waiting to see that I got on a flight. THey came over to see what was going on with my flight. And my agent ended up fixing Colleen and Jessica's flight as they had only been given standby tickets and no confirmed seats. He even let me call mom on the phone to let her know I had gotten a flight. The four of us walked away from the man singing his praises, SOO thankful that he had done everything in his power to take care of us. Even though it was weather delays, and not their fault British Air was so accomodating! They even gave us hotel packs with toliteries and a t-shirt to sleep in!
8:30 pm shuttle to hotel
9:00 pm arrival and check in at a beautiful Holiday Inn in London
9:05 pm took the best shower I have had in 4.5 months. I felt SO clean!
9:20 pm drank british tea, and layed in the HUGE bed and fell asleep to the end of "Love Actually"

Sunday December 20th
8:30 am woke up and ate breakfast with Colleen downstairs. It was a bit overwhelming to have so many choices of food. I haven't had that in months!
10:30 packed up and left hotel
11:30 am arrival and check-in at airport
2:20 pm flight took off for Seattle
4:oo pm (Seattle time) arrived in Seattle! (for those of you good at time zones, it was about a 10 hour flight)
4:10 pm baggage collection & customs. I found out one of my bags didn't make it from London.
4:30 pm found my wonderful family waiting with hugs and all sorts of yummy food!
4:45-9:00 pm driving home to Portland & stopping to eat MEXICAN food on the way!

I am so thankful to be home! I was blessed to have travel companions, and VERY helpful B.A. employees. I have been VERY cold today! But it feels great to not be in the 90+ degree weather! I look forward to seeing/talking to many of you while I am home! Merry Christmas to you all! I hope you all are home for Christmas.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

I'll be home for Christmas...

I'll be home for Christmas in 4 days!!! I am so excited to see my family and friends and be home for a few weeks! I packed my suitcase yesterday because I have hardly anything to bring home except Christmas presents. I am certainly not taking any of these clothes home with me, wrong season and I have worn them quite enough the last 4 months. I have never looked forward to being cold so much. Sometimes I just sit and fanticize about wearing sweats, wrapping up in a blanket and drinking coffee. Ha ha. That seems so foreign right now compared to the heat wave I am in.

The last two weeks or so I was growing a bit weary. I have been reading in Exodus lately and a verse stuck out ot me the other day. Ex. 14:14 The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still. The Israelites were freaking out as the Egyptians were pursuing them and Moses had to remind them to calm down and allow God to fight for them. I have been trying to apply this same principle. To stop, take a breather and trust God to provide my peace and strength. The last few days have been much better. I have been able to take a step back from the teaching aspect and just BE with the kids. They are so funny, they bring me such joy. The tutoring schedule I had set up for myself meant that every night when I was in a house I was tutoring which becomes exaughsting after a while. I have tried to just focus on being with the kids the last few days. Just talking with them, sitting next to them, playing with them. It has been a good refresher. That and the fact that I have not had to teach lessons during the week. I have been working my way through my to-do list before going home on Friday! The grading system is quite complicated and has to all be done by hand, including filling out all of the report cards. I am working my way through the classes. Thankfully P.E. grading is fast!



Saturday morning the NY student teachers left. The girls and the kids were so sad. I was getting really sad just watching how sad the kids were. Their bus pulled out and most of the kids ran off but a few stood there just frozen. It was a little sad. It is strange to see so many visitors come and go and the way that it affects the kids. I miss having them here to work with already. It was so great to have their help with reading groups & tutoring. I am trying to have my lessons for next term completed (for social studies) before I leave Friday, that way next term I won't have to spend much time on preps.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Christmas Shopping

Last Wednesday I and three of the NY girls went to Accra to go to a bookshop and do some Christmas shopping. It is not like we can hop in a car and go to the mall though. We didn't have a driver, so we had to take the tro-tros into town. There are not scheduled bus stops or signs, you just have to know the places that the bus goes to. I have slowly learned the main stops over the last few months. However, this was my first time to navigate the tro-tros without a GHanaian companion. I have come back to VOH alone on the tro-tros, but not tried to find my way around town. It took about 2.5 hours of tro-tros and taxis to finally arrive at the bookshop. We were all crammed into the tro-tros with the locals in the hot sweaty van in the middle of horrific Accra traffic. One of the passengers brought a small cage of chicks on board, and suddenly we realized that there were birds under our seat! Tro-tros are always an adventure. Last time mine broke down in the middle of the road.


Real shops are minimal in Accra. Most people do all of their shopping from street vendors for everything from food to clothing. We made it to the arts center where there are stalls set up with Ghanaian merchandise for sale. Nothing has a set price, everything must be bargained for. It is a stressful process as their prices start out astronomical. I am getting better at it, and usually feel like I ended up with a good deal in the end. It certainly is a whole new definition of Christmas shopping. We had to carry everything on our laps on the way back. We looked quite a sight standing in line for the tro-tro at the Tema station with hundreds of Ghanaians. We did stop at Koala, a real grocery store for a few items. It is one of the only festivly decorated places in town. It was an all day excursion, with most of it being spent in the tro-tros to get there and back. Although the last leg of the return trip Araba picked us up as she was on her way back to VOH as well.

The other morning I was walking back from the beach at 6:45 through Fetteh and heard christmas music playing. First of all, that is incredibly rare here. Second of all, it was none other than the polka version of jingle bells. It was so funny to hear this song about snow and such in the midst of the already hot morning in the middle of Africa.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

unexpected goodbyes

Thursday afternoon I was rushing back to the house to get some money to send with the school's procurement officer (quite a title huh?) to buy some pencil sharpeners for the class and world maps when I ran into Winnie and her brother Evans. In one of my previous posts I mentioned that Winnie is one of the girls that I have been working with since my arrival. Her and her brother were not at school and standing under a tree apparently waiting. When I asked what they were doing, Evans quitely replied "we are going." It took only a second for me to realize this meant that they were moving back to their hometown. It hit me really hard that they were leaving, and right then. They are moving back in with their aunt whom they lived with before coming here. Their house mother, Irene, assured me that I can accompany her on her visits to see them in the future. I already miss Winnie's smile. Just when she was gaining some confidence and motivation for learning! I know there are always set-backs and moments of defeat in any ministry. I gave them some reading workbooks to take with them, and they laughed over the funny pictures of animals inside and waited for their aunt to take them home.

Yesterday the NY girls hosted a talent show for the kids. Sometimes it is remarkable how universal some things are. I still felt that pang of embarassment for some of the kids, and was so proud of the bravery of others. Sweet little Akua and Akosua sang little solos that could not have been any more brave. There were LOTS of talented dancers. They danced in ways American kids have never seen. The kids were loving their chance to be in the limelight. Then last night we showed the Home Alone movie after dinner. We chose it as it was the most understandable plot (not much santa, elves, north pole, etc.) The kids were cheering and clapping throughout the whole thing. Nothing could make Home Alone funnier than watching it with more than 200 Ghanaian children who embraced the slapstick humor so heartily.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

This last week has been a tough week for me in the technology department. My camera is missing (was stolen) and my computer is now half broken. The screen is completely disconnected on one side, and is halfway disconnected on the other side. The screen is currently being held up by bookends or other heavy objects. I am hoping it at least makes it until Christmas.

This week is revision week at the school. Everyone is going over the topics covered this term. Next week starts exams. The exams run for a week and a half. There are 2 tests each day with 2 hours each. They didn't schedule me to proctor any of the exams. I'm quite excited about that. Mr. Amankwaah (the social studies 7-9th grade teacher) told me that they had better put me on the schedule or I would "rest too much." Ha Ha. On the contrary, I have quite a few ideas for how to use the next two weeks. I plan on grading, working on next terms lesson plans, cleaning my house throughly, organizing Tommy's office (which I work in), and working on some projects for the school. It will be nice to have a break from teaching and tutoring for a bit. I have been growing a bit weary the last few weeks and missing friends and family. I am getting ready to be home for a bit. I found out that the last two days of school before break do not have exams at all, but rather are spent in teachers grading and students cleaning (unsupervised). If you ask me, it sounds like a ridiculous idea. It will be mass chaoas. They already have difficulty in controlling the classes as it is with the teachers there, let alone not having classes and just letting the students roam freely for two days! If it were up to me I would just send them home.

Ghanaian English

Despite the fact that most of the kids speak English, they don't always use words in the same way. I am slowly learning to use phrases that they understand. I am getting better at understanding their accents and not having to ask them to repeat themselves. Here are a few of the different words and phrases that the kids use:

plaster = band aid
duster = eraser
dust bin = trash can
boiler = trash
cancel it = cross it out
clean it = erase it
table = desk
bath = bathe
sit well = sit up
send it to the cupboard = put it in the cupboard
I'm coming = I'm leaving (and eventually returning)
full stop = period (.)
paw paw = papaya
stew = soup
groundnut = peanut
slippers = flip flops
your dress = your clothes
pants = underwear
knickers = shorts
color = crayon
push over= move over
ash = dang it! (or the color gray)
stubborn kid = troublesome kid
football = soccer
you're worrying me = you are annoying me
pa pa=too much
you have turned it = you have flipped it
will it reach? = are there enough?
am I among? = am I a part of the group?
the under = the bottom part of something
wash = do laundry
cutlass= machete
the Queue= the line
keep quiet = be quiet
sharing the food = serving the food
marks = grades
I beg = pretty please
the down there = the part of the compound I live in
the park = the soccer field
knocking = a statement you make when you get to a door, instead of an action of the fist
have you seen? or you see? (reminds me a bit of Mark Brown) = Do you see what you've done?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Seasons

There are two seasons in Ghana, rainy season and dry season. There is no such thing as spring, summer, winter, or fall. I have come to realize that all of the things that I associate with November anecember are completely cultural. There are no seasonal decorations, no sweaters, no special festive foods, no special songs of the season, no speical sporting events, no change in the weather, no change in the clothing. There is no such thing as summer clothes and winter clothes here. You wear the same thing year round. It doesn't "feel" like December because all of the usual traditions and signs of the season are completely American. I would have no idea that Christmas was coming if it weren't for the calender.

The longer I am here the more I realize how culture is so engrained in our mindsets. Our culture determines so much of our lives. What we eat, what we wear, what we say, how we interact with others, how we spend our time, the list goes on. When the kids ask me what I am making for supper, if I say a sandwich, or pasta, or salad they don't even have a concept of what those foods are. Strange isn't it? The very expectations of interactions between people is heavily influenced by the culture you come from. Here I am expected to ask of people's family, and to greet all of my elders when in passing. I am expected to at least call people here on occasion and give my greetings (no matter how brief) on a regular basis. I am slowly learning these things. My life is so different here. The things that people worrry about at home (what clothes you wear, going to the grocery store for food, social outings...) are just not a part of life here. No one cares if your clothes don't match, or if you wear the same thing three days in a row. No one goes to a grocery store for food, no one expects you to have social plans on Friday night. The thoughts and worries of American life seem so far away.

Monday, November 30, 2009

My Christmas List

I know I shouldn't do this, because I don't have room in my suitcase, but I can't help it. This year my Christmas list is comprised of some special things I would like to bring for some of the kids. If you would like to participate in this gift giving, then reply to the post with the child's name that you will buy the gift for. They do not need to be brand new items, if you have them around the house already, all the better. I will continue adding on over the next couple of weeks. You can either drop of the gifts with my parents, or mail them to the house, or give them to me when I return. Thank you so much for blessing these children!

Ishmael: goalie gloves (adult size)
Stella: all of the anne of green gables book after Anne of the Island
Andy: Harry Potter book 2
Joy Barnett house: Harry Potter and the Sorcerors' Stone DVD
Isaac Ayensu: good paint brushes for acrylic painting
Israel Agbovi: Bible with his name on it
Reading Program: several Bibles (new and old testament)
Library: small file bucket for checkout sheets
Library: yellow duct tape
Emma: basketball shorts (size m in mens)
Cynthia: Chronicles of Narnia books
Rosalie: phonics workbook
Charles: scientific calculator
Francis: boxcar children's book
Sandra: boxcar children's book
Nkugami: journal/diary
Prestoncrest Girls house: Mulan DVD, Aladdin DVD
Asuo: soccer cleats (I will check on the size) , SAT prep book
all kids: bandaids and batteries (double and triple a) I am constantly getting requests for these!, and also math flash cards

There is also a wonderful opportunity to match an end of the year gift to the VOH, offered by a donor who is willing to match all funds donated to the Village of Hope between now and Christmas Day. This anonmyous donor will match all donated funds, up to $50,000, that are given during that time. If you would like to join with others to match this gift, please make your check payable to the Prestoncrest Church of Christ. Please write “VOH matching Gift” on the memo line of your check. You can send your check to:
Attention: Sherry Jackson Prestoncrest Church of Christ
12700 Preston Rd. Suite 210 Dallas, TX 75230

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks

I don't exactly have the day off for Thanksgiving. Although, they just declared tomorrow a national holiday. Up until last night it was TBA wheter or not it was. How strange that they didn't even know for sure whether it was a national holiday until 30 hours before hand. TIA right? I don't understnad why the national holidays change from year to year or why they are so unpredictable. But, thankfully we do not have school tomorrow. The students really are not as well behaved as I thought they would be. Of my two 6th grade classes, 6B always gives me trouble. The student teachers that are here had been told the students here would be perfectly behaved and had a rude awakening. Discipline seems a constant problem. So, it will be nice to have a day off. Although Charles, one of the older high school boys, wants me to come visit him at his school in Accra tomorrow.

I live in a place where giving thanks is a part of daily life. They remember to thank God for everything! They thank God daily for bringing them through the day successfully, for each safe car trip, for each small gift received. It certainly has been teaching me about being a greatful person. People here thank the Lord for every time they wake up, and for every blessing they receive. The kids ask God to bless me each time I give them a pencil, a peice of paper, or play a game with them.

It doesn't feel like Thanksgiving. It is SO hot outside, there is no football on TV, there is school today, and there are no signs of fall. We cancelled tutoring sessions for tonight so that I (and the 6 NY student teachers) can celebrate Thanksgiving in our own way. Mom brought over stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin when she came. We found a frozen turkey in Accra, and also some potatoes and corn. We will be preparing the food all afternoon after school gets out. I am in charge of the apple pie, pumpkin pie, biscuits, and stuffing. We don't have a normal pie pan, so it should be interesting. We have invited the two VOH cooks, and Araba to join us. I will miss Grandma's pies, dad's turkey, mom's corn casserole and dishes...it certainly won't be the same without my family! But really the holiday is about giving thanks. And I am grateful to be in a place that daily teaches me how to give thanks.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

There are some successs stories despite the overwhelming nature of the work here. There are several hundred children that I work with in one way or another, but some I am trying really hard to make a difference with. Small bits of progress have been made with several kids I am working with. I'd like to share with you some of their stories.

Peace has been one of my special girls since the first time that I came. She has quite a sense of humor and likes to act out to get a laugh at home and in class. I started a behavior chart for her and have been checking with her teachers and parents daily to see if she has been making good choices or not. It has been almost two months now since we started. Every time she reaches so many good days, she gets a special treat. Her teacher says she is a different girl altogether, and her parents say that the prayers and accountability are working! She is about to earn a cake by having a month full of good behavior! There are still days when she messes up, but don't we all? Overall I am really proud of her for making changes in her choices.

Isaac Ayensu is a sweet 9th grade boy with an amazing artistic talent. This week I arranged for him to begin private lessons with the school's art teacher twice a week. I am really excited that he will have this opportunity to develop his skills! He could make a career out of his talent either as an architect, designer, or just straight up artist.

Winnie is a 15 year old girl that doesn't look older than 11. She is short and is in the third grade. She tends to lie about her age, embarassed about her height and lack of academic skills. When I first got here she would run away when I would come for tutoring at her house. Two months in she was beginning to be more receptive to reading, and even seemed to enjoy some of the books. When the student teachers arrived, I asked if one of them would work with her house several times a week. Lindsay and I have both seen significant progress in her attitude towards learning in the school reading group and the evening tutoring. She still can't read, but at least she wants to come to reading group, and is excited about reading/tutoring times!

Ebenezer is one of the 21 kids who came out of slavery on Lake Volta. He is very angry. He has deep emotional scars from his time on the lake and the cruelty he endured there. Kimberli (his adopted mom) and I started a behavior chart for him similar to Peace's. Only I have to check up on him by half days, because asking him to make good choices for a full day is a little overwhelming for him right now. I just started with him on Sunday, and he has already earned 4 stickers! I am proud of him for starting off well. He is a smart boy, but he just has so much anger. It is important for him to learn to control his anger now before it becomes an ingrained response. Pray that he continues to make good choices in handling his anger.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Full

As I was getting on the plane back in August to come to Ghana my dear friend Kami told me that life would be full in Ghana. Full of challenges, full of joy, full of frustration, full of learning, full of wonderful moments. Of course she was right. Life is quite full here. Of all of the above. It is quite overwhelming at times. I hardly have time to process the things that are going on around me. I can hardly sit down and let my mind rest because as soon as I sit down I think of the lesson plans, the grading, the children who need tutoring, there is a never ending list of needs. The longer I am here the more needs that I see. I wish I had time to properly address them all.

There are spiritual, emotional, physical, and educational needs. It seems that many of the children just go through the motions of the daily devotions and rote prayers. I ache for them to truly experience a genuine relationship with God. There are many children with deep emotional scars from either being trafficked, watching their parents die, or being abandoned by family. There are children in need of basic needs like backpacks, shoes, glasses, etc. And there are many children who desperately need some basic reading and math skills. I wish desperately I could help them all. It all hit me like a brick Saturday morning and I just sat down and cried. I couldn't stop the tears in thinking of all of these precious children and how many things I wish I could do for each of them. I know I can't expect myself to meet every need of every child. I just get overwhelmed sometimes with thinking what I would love to be able to do for them. I know all the cliche phrases about just doing my best, or just doing what I can and knowing that is enough. My current teaching/tutoring/mentoring wears me out as it is physically and emotionally. Pray that my patience and love for these children will be in abundant supply. It seems to be running low by the end of each day.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

P.S.

I removed the the crocodile story because it was just a little joke on Colleen's mom... Sorry Mary! We couldn't resist!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Broken

God has certainly answered my prayers to continue to fuel my discontent. Last Tuesday was a day that was full of unsettling and heart wrenching experiences. It is the short version (if you can call it short). My intent was to go to Tema to visit the house where the 23 kids who were rescued out of slavery from lake Volta live. They were here in August for a week at the art camp and I met them then. Halfway to Accra we learned we were stopping to pick up George (a man who works tirelessly to rescue trafficked children) from the hospital. He was in a serious tro-tro accident six weeks ago and had serious injuries to his leg and jaw. The top and bottom of his leg are in a cast with a brace between, and he has wires holding his mouth in place. He was not the same man that I saw in August. He was using a walker and struggled to get down the stairs. I have heard much about him from those who work with him, and was humbled to meet him. At the hospital we waited outside while they removed the wire holding the top and bottom set of teeth together at the hospital. Then they took us into a particular ward to have a nurse change the bandage on his other leg. Walking into that hospital took the breath right out of me. It is supposed to be one of the best hospitals in Accra, and yet there were cots/beds scattered around the lobby with people laying there in obvious pain. Gauze bandages covered various parts of their bodies with the blood seeping through. The look in their eyes was haunting. I was so overwhelmed. There was a chalk board listing the number of beds in the various units, and the amount of males and females occupying those beds on that particular day. I happened to notice there were more female patients than beds. There was even a column for deaths of the day, set out in red. I was almost in tears the whole time we were walking through. I have seen a lot of poverty and suffering in Ghana but this place really struck me. The surgery room was open to the outside and had the most pitifully equipment. Everything seemed overcrowded and under-supplied. We left and backtracked to the edge of Accra to take George back to his friends house where he is staying to recover. As we sat down in the sitting room he started to tell us the stories of some of the children he has rescued. I have heard some of them before, but somehow they just completely overwhelmed me. I was sitting there in awe of this man’s heart and passion for these trafficked children. And the way that he devotes himself so fully to making relationships and fully addressing the issue of child trafficking from educating the families to creating new ways of fishing for the fisherman. As he is sitting there with his bandages and casts and walker he said that if someone could carry him into the boat at Lake Volta all he needed was his mouth to continue to save children. He said “disability is not inability” that so long as he can talk he can continue to educate the fishing communities and rescue more children. Suddenly the reality of the lake hit me like it never has before and I was just sitting there so broken at his stories. My heart was breaking for these children and families. Families who sell children multiple times because they have no money, children who ran away from cruel masters, only to get sent back. George said he wanted me to go to the lake with them sometime. I really would like to, although I know it will be utterly devastating. You can’t see kids in that condition and walk away the same. My spirit was just flooded with emotions and ache for the 7,000 children enslaved on Lake Volta to fishing masters. I praise God that he is using people like George and the organizations that he works with to rescue these precious children. We left from there to drive to Tema to see the children’s home. When we showed up it became apparent that there was some dissension that had arisen between several of the organizations working together with these particular children. I don't want to say much, except that it was painful to see division amongst people who claim the same vision for these children. This world truly is broken. My spirit was just wrecked at seeing many of examples of this brokeness manifested on Tuesday. I am still trying to process everything I heard and saw. I must say that I am thankful that we serve a God who sees and hears the cries of the suffering. The "God who sees me" as Hagar describes God in Genesis. I take hope in knowing that the world is in the process of being redeemed back to Him, and that I can take a small part in that.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Obruni

"Obruni! Obruni! Obruni!" This what the village children shout at me as I walk to Fetteh. It means "white man." I don't exactly like being addressed as a white man for several reasons, first I am not a man, and second I feel that classifying one by color is harmful whether or not it is intentional. It is not harmful to me, but to them. Some of the rural/uneducated populations still see whites as somehow superior. I assumed that "obruni" had similar connotations as "gringo." In Mexico being called a gringo is a negative term. I learned that obruni actually doubles with the term "cherished one" in most tribal languages here. I still am trying to break some of the kids of the habit of calling me "the white" or obruni. They use it to tell someone that the white is calling, or the white is in need of something, implying that because a white is asking it comes with a sense of urgency. I try to explain how offended someone would be if you called them "the black" or "the white" in America. And its not like they don't know my name...


Meet Lovely. Lovely is a precious three year old girl who recently came to stay at the VOH. She is only here temporarily while a new arrangement is being made for her care. Her mother died when she was very young and she fell into the care of her grandmother. She cried constantly, and the only way her grandmother could get her to calm down was to tell her that obruni would come to catch her if she kept crying. So, whimpering, she would stick two fingers into her mouth to suck on and quiet down shaking in fear of obruni. Needless to say this practice developed quite a fear of obruni. She would even shudder at pictures of white people. When she first arrived she would run away from me, afraid to get near me. Slowly I broke her down, and now she is my friend. She jumps up and down to wave at me whenever she sees me coming, and occasionally falls asleep on my lap in church. I hope that I can do more than overcome Lovely's fear of obruni. I hope that I can bring a message of equality that transcends color and culture to any who still have the remains of colonial ideas.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

the burning question

For several years now I have had this burning question within me. It developed slowly over time from my experiences and reached a crescendo when I came to Ghana the first time. The question is "What will I do?" "What will I do to address the evil, the suffering, the injustice, the poverty of this world?" It is the question that brought me here to teach.

This last weekend I read the book "Holy Discontent." It spoke of each individual as having their own "holy discontent" about a particular issue. When you reach a point where you can't stand a particular injustice/need anymore and have to do something about it yourself. For some it is the field of medicine, for some dying churches, for some women's rights, for some domestic violence, for some racial discrimination.... There are many issues/injustices that get me fired up: gender inequalities, racial discrimination, child abuse, child slaves, prostitution, churches that can't see across denominational lines, (my roomates would even say recycling) all these issues just make me ache (or get angry). Unfortunately I cannot fix them all. God has given me a heart for children who need love and education, and I am determined that I need to be doing something about it.

Over the past few years I became discontent with the thought of living a life centered on my personal comfort and success. I simply cannot go through life living it for no other purpose than to live happily and comfortably. (I still have much selfishness to get rid of) I have wrestled for some time now with the "now what" that happens when you know that your life has to change. I am here teaching orphans and children in a developing country because I can't stand the thought of them going without learning to read, or being loved. I KNOW this is where God has lead me at this time in my life. Not to say that I don't have to remind myself at times of my purpose here, sometimes I get carried away just going through the motions. But I know that this is the first step in doing something with my God given burning for the needs of children.

The question hasn't gone away though. Its not enough. It doesn't stop here. I am here in Africa teaching/tutoring/loving kids, but there are so many more who suffer. I have been told by some that being here is enough. I disagree. Even while I am here I am trying to make sure that I am using my time well, there are so many more who have needs. This question doesn't just go away now that I am here. It fact it increases the intensity of it. Because I see the poverty and hardships of so many first hand. It is not as if I can "put in my time" here and call it quits, go back to a "normal" life. I have felt for some time there is something I am supposed to be doing with my life, some way in which I am supposed to be addressing some of the injustices of our world. I was discussing this with mom and Brittany last summer, I have this sense that I need to be taking some sort of iniative, spending my life in a way that makes the world better (if only for a few children). I am just not sure what that looks like yet. I get frustrated with myself sometimes, trying to figure out what more I can be doing.

I admire those who see a need and go for it, start a program/a non-profit/an organization that aims to eradicate an issue of injustice/poverty. I have this sense that there is more for me. I am pray that God will continue to develop my "Holy Discontent" (if you will) that I may see how best to use my life to make the lives of others better. Whether I stay here, or whether he leads me somewhere else the I hope question will continue burning. The minute I become satisfied in thinking I have done my part, I have missed the point entirely. I don't think God called us to live comfortable lives. News of genocides, racial riots, starving children, human trafficking, gender inequality, it should always bother us. May we never hear of them and think, oh that's horrible, and then forget it move on. I am so thankful that I am able to play some small role with these children here, and pray that it will continue to feed my discontent and develop my vision for my future. May I never be satisified.

Friday, November 6, 2009

"You can eat the paper!"


I have one last story to share from mom's time here, although their are many wonderful stories I could tell.

Mom and I made dinner one night for the Prestoncrest Girls house. They send me lunch every day at school, so I felt it was my turn to cook for them. Benjamin (house father) asked if we would cook at their house so they could see how Americans cook. We found chicken, rice, green peppers, onions, and tomatoes for the filling. Mom brought over fajita seasoning and tortillas from home. Ma Millicent watched avidly as we prepared the vegetables and chicken for the fajitas, and helped to roll all 30 of the fajitas. Of course the electricity went off while cooking. Thankfully its a gas stove. We made brownies for dessert (a foreign concept in itself). Some things are universal, Ma Milli and the girls licked the spoon and every bit of leftover brownie batter.

The electricity was off through dinner, so we sat down in the dark to eat by the light of a single flashlight. When we sat down to eat, the girls started asking if they could eat the paper. I realized they thought the tortilla was paper. They started saying in amazement to each other, "you can eat the wrapper!" like it was the weirdest thing they had ever heard. "You can eat the paper!" Some of them had already peeled it off and were eating the filling. The rest watched us to see how we ate it. They loved it, and ate their bulging fajitas and wanted more. I heard one little girl say, "This is my best food!" Benjamin was particularly enamored with the fajitas despite the fact that he could not pronounce the name. After devotion we served the brownies, the girls ate every crumb! Instead of bingo that night I brought wipe off world maps for them to play with. I heard one girl whisper to another girl happily, "Oh what a day!"

"It's not small!!"



I have stated before that I have had a constant stream of lizards in my house. I thought their main entrance point was the gap in my back door, so I taped it off with packing tape. I thank the Lord that I did. I was walking out of the kitchen the other day on my lunch break and heard something hitting the tape. I looked up to see a stripe of green nudging the tape trying to get in the house. Most of you at this point have probably guessed what this particular visitor was, a snake.




I had not even seen a snake as of yet, and here one was trying to get in the house! Neither of us are particularly fond of snakes. I ran outside to get the security guard while Mom stood watch to make sure it didn't get through the tape. While wating for the security guard to go around the back of the house to kill the snake we caught sight of its head. It didn't seem to be a large head, and we could only see about 6-8 inches of snake about the door, so I told the security guard I didn't think it was big. In order to get to the snake he had to open the screen door, and when he did so he jumped back and yelled "IT'S NOT SMALL!" and proceeded to furiously whack the snake with his stick. Mom and I were watching through the windows as he was yelling and jumping around trying to kill it. The cook Reuban came around the corner and the I heard the security guard mutter, "There are no small snakes in Africa."




We went out back to see the dead snake which the security guard had thrown into the grass. It was about the length of my arm span, and aparently poisonous. The picture makes it hard to see its full length. As soon as we walked back in the house from checking on the snake I saw something else at the tape, thankfully this time it was only a lizard. But, seriously? Not even a minute later. I was half expecting a small alligator to come knocking since every creature paid their visit. (I have been told their are some in the creek running behind my house, but have yet to see one...) It certainly was an exciting last day for Mom. I would hate for her to have left thinking life is boring here!

Thank You Amy Hubble (and Raid)

My mother seemed to pick a popular time to visit. That is for those who belong to the animal kingdom. Her coming seemed to invite all sorts of creatures into my house. I feel that each invasion deserves its own story. First came the ants.

"Ants! We're gonna live forever, you'll never get rid of us, No! If you use raid or whatever, it just won't be quite enough..." Those words from Gamma Spring Sing 2006 came rushing back last saturday. Mom was taking a shower after an afternoon at the beach when suddenly she yelled for me to come quickly. Within a ten minute span of when she started her shower, and when she finished HUNDREDS and HUNDREDS of ants had invaded the bathroom. This is no exaggeration, mom will back me up on that. Large, black, biting ants were forming thick lines on every ledge and corner, and along all of the walls. We still don't have a clue where they came from. Thankfully there were two cans of Raid in the house. We covered our mouths/noses and dominated that bathroom with it. Several of them bit mom, not real happy about her spraying poison around. I have never apprecaited Raid so much. It killed them all off. We closed off the bathroom for awhile before attempting to clean up all the dead ants. They haven't been back yet, let's hope they don't!

Christmas


Christmas came early this year, in the form of my mother's coming. She came laden with gifts from many people for the children, and for me. Opening up the suitcase full of food and cooking supplies was better than any christmas gifts! As we unloaded all the suitcases, the dining table became full of books, shoes, bookends, spices, treats, workbooks, flashcards, learning mats, etc.
I was so excited I ate the whole bag of peanut butter m&m's Brittany sent me for lunch, and chips and salsa for dinner! It was so great to taste a little of home after almost 3 months here. The learning materials will be such help in my reading groups and house tutoring.


It was wonderful to have mom here with me for a few weeks and to share with her my life here! Not to mention the fact that she helped me with cooking, cleaning, dishes, and tutoring. I kept her quite busy. Life chores like cooking, dishes, and washing just take longer here, so it was a bit of a relief to have her help for a few weeks. She did a lot of work in the library labeling, sorting, and fixing books. A daunting task! It looks much better, now if only we could teach the kids how to treat library books.... I already miss having her here. The kids have been asking of her since her departure yesterday, it seems they miss her too.

Monday, October 19, 2009

We are the Champions

Friday night Ghana played Brazil in the 2009 Under 20 World Cup championship match in Egypt. The kids were exstatic that Ghana had made it that far in the tournament, having followed the tournament over the course of the last month. I went over to the Prestoncrest Girls home to watch the game. There is nothing like watching a football (soccer) game at one of the kids houses. They go crazy at each saved goal, or attempted score. The game was incredibly tense, with Ghana playing down a man for most of the match due an early red card. (unfairly awarded according to all who were watching) The game ended at a 0-0 tie. They went into overtime. The first 15 minute overtime saw more shots on goal than the prior 90 minutes. It was so intense, the girls were going nuts. It also ended scoreless. A second overtime was played, again scoreless. It went to penalty kicks. Ghana barely tied Brazil in the penalty kicks (3-3) so then it went to sudden death penalty kicks. Everyone was so nervous, hardly daring to watch. The first Brazil shot was blocked by Ghana's goalie, and Ghana's player made the shot. The room absolutely erupted. The girls screamed, clapped, cheered, jumped, hugged, danced... Children ran outside banging pots and pans, dance lines formed...It was incredible. They calmed down only because the award ceremony came on. The golden shoe was awarded to one of Ghana's players for the most goals scored throughout the tournament. That player was trained at Feynoord, a Dutch soccer training facility one mile from the VOH! He also won overall most outstanding player of the U20 World Cup. This is the first time an African nation has won the U20 World Cup. I am so glad that I was able to be here to watch the game and share in the victory with the kids! I was just as excited as they were!

the proposal, the spider, the flashlight

Well it happened. Not at all in the way that I always thought it would, but I was proposed to. I was asked to marry a man in the same way that someone would ask if you wanted to buy bread. It happened on Saturday afternoon while I was in Fetteh getting some eggs & plantains. I was talking to Esther, the woman whose food stall I always visit on weekends. She had a visitor from up north sitting with her. He began asking me about what I was doing here, the usual questions. Then he said something about it being harder to go visit the states than it is for us to come here. He said that often you have to marry an American. He went on to talk about his brother that lived in Ohio. Then in the middle of the conversation he popped the question, "Could you and I get married?" It caught me quite off guard and I just stared for a second, then he said "Maybe I am too old for you, I am getting on to 50." It took me an awkward second to say that yes that wouldn't work. He then asked, "What do you think?" As if I hadn't just rejected him. I replied that I was not ready to get married. He said he was probably too old anyways, and that maybe I had a financee back in America anyway. He said next time he was in town he would bring me some plantains and yams and we could just be friends, and that he would ask for my phone number. I finished the conversation as quickly as I could and tried to make it away from the stand with a straight face. Wishing someone else had just witnessed this marriage proposal.

Back at home that evening I was doing something in the kitchen when I noticed the largest spider I have ever seen on the floor in the corner. Slightly unnerved I grabbed a nearby broom to do some damage. Unfortunately he saw me coming and made a run for it. He narrowly missed my blows each time. I was pretty sure I had struck a fatal blow, but then he dissapeared. Sadly, I have yet to find him. Beleive me I tried. I would rather not think about the fact that he is still loose somewhere in my house. He is not the first unwanted visitor in my house. A few weeks ago something was jumping up out of my shower drain. I never did quite figure out whether the something was a lizard or a snake. I went to get someone with a machete, and by the time I returned it too had disappeared. (back down the drain, not into my house thankfully)

Last night after church I was doing my usual evening tutoring when the electricity went out. Not that unusual around here. I finished the rest of my tutoring by using the light of my cell phone. Several girls had asked me to teach them multiplication. So I then went to their house and once again pulled out the cell phone to teach them the concept of multiplication and practice making groups with them. It all seemed quite normal to have 5 of us huddled around the light of the cell phone practicing multiplication on the steps of their house. That is, until I was walking home and realized how funny it is that teaching by light of a cell phone (or flashlight) now seems quite natural. In America we would call it a night if the lights went out, but the kids pull out any light sources they have, (including a light up frisbee one night) and continue on.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Picked Last for Gym Class

Surprise! I am now the junior high P.E. teacher! Who would have guessed? I found out that they have not had a P.E. teacher for the 5 junior high classes since school started, so I volunteered. I always thought being a P.E. teacher would be fun. Today was my first day as an official P.E. teacher. I had two periods of it today. I just taught them some basic warm ups and stretches, which they thought they were SO funny. They were giggling and laughing and shouting the whole time. I almost went hoarse from yelling over them. Most of the noise was coming from those who forgot their p.e. kits (i.e. p.e. uniform) today. They thought everyone else looked hilarious running with high knees, doing lunges, etc. I have to admit, they did look funny. Especially those who were somehow turning their stretches into dance moves. These kids have such a sense of humor. I am really going to enjoy P.E. It will certainly be an adventure.

I looked over the p.e. syllabus for each level this morning, and found them quite amusing. The first subject I am supposed to teach to JSS 1 (7th grade) is pole vaulting. If anyone has any ideas for how I can teach pole vaulting without any supplies, please fill me in. Ha ha. I also am supposed to teach rhythmic dancing, javelin, shot put, wresting, gymnastics, high jump, tennis, ping-pong... I laughed as I turned through the pages trying to imagine me teaching wrestling or rhythmic dancing. I may modify that a bit.... football (soccer), volleyball, basketball, running, ultimate Frisbee, sound more manageable. I am excited, but at the same time realize its going to be a bit of a tough crowd. Hopefully my summers of directing sports camps for Skyhawks will come in handy. I only see each of the five classes once during the week, I wish it were more often. I feel I have the best of both worlds, teaching both p.e. and social studies!

I had the brilliant idea last night of doing reading intervention during the school day. I am not sure why it hadn't previously occurred to me that I could pull students out of their classes for reading tutoring like Title 1 or lab classes in the US. I am going to coordinate with teachers to pull out a few students from their class during their "library" or reading teaching periods. I am going to focus on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade students. That way they have intervention early enough to proceed to the next level with proficient skills. My school schedule is quickly becoming full. And with such a variety of roles. I certainly don't mind that though. It is fun to have variety in my responsibilities. I go from teaching social studies, to organizing the library, to reading intervention, to teaching P.E. all between 8:00 and 3:15. I work with students from 2nd grade to 9th grade through the course of the day. Life is certainly never dull! Good thing Ma Millicent now sends me a lunch every day in a cute little green box with a spoon, I don't have time to go make something!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Saved by the Bell

I realized I have not shared much about my teaching experiences thus far. My teaching schedule has continued to evolve since the first week. I think it is finally set in stone-with 4 periods of social studies per week to two different sections of 6th graders. The first couple of periods were trying, I was stretching the material to make it last the full period. I was always so releived when the bell ringer clanged the bell and yelled "change classes please!"


The students are having a hard time understanding me. The words and phrases I use are different than their own. I will spend 10 minutes explaining something, and then someone will say "Madam, please, we don't understand." I am trying to speak slowly and explain more thouroughly. Teaching is just all together different here. In my class we have no textbooks, no projector, no tv, no supplies. The only materials I have to teach with are the whiteboard and the notebooks the students use for notes & homework. I have some art supplies I can use from time to time with them. There is a copy machine at the school, but it is only for special occasions. All copies have to be approved and then submitted to the clerk who makes the copies days in advance. So, its not like I can print off worksheets/maps/articles to hand out each class period. I have used the copy machine twice and both times felt like they thought it an inconvience to make copies of things for my class use. So....I am trying my best to be creative with what I have, but it is difficult sometimes. They end up having to copy down notes and homework questions more often than I would prefer. It is hard to creatively present material without many resources.


We have been learning about enviornmental problems in Ghana. Not exactly my area of expertise, but I am doing what I can. Last week we were discussing water pollution, and the dangers of standing water. As a project we took shovels and went down to the soccer pitch to cover up standing water around the edges. It was great to see them take ownership and apply what they had learned about mosquitoes breeding and bacteria growing in standing water.


I am considering trying to find out a way to buy some textbooks for the kids. Not that I love always using textbooks either. But they need a resource, and so do I since the material is all new to me as well. Some of the kids have various social studies texts, but is only a few in each class, and the books are all different. We are just now getting into material that can be more interactive. Yesterday we were discussing land degredation and the negative effects of deforestation. The class suddenly had so many questions about replanting and taking care of trees. They couldn't beleive when I told them you had to a have a permit to cut down a tree in America. And that you are supposed to replant three seeds for each tree you cut. I had to cut them off due to a lack of time, but it was great to see them so interested in the material.


I am slowly adapting to the learning needs and styles of the students. There are so many small things about the school system that are new to me. It is just taking time to learn. The grading system is really complicated and involves a lot of averaging. No such thing as plugging grades into the computer for calculating. Many of the things I have been trained to do in teaching simply don't apply here. I am learning a whole new side of education.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Prestoncrest Girls

I thought that I was getting up early to exercise before school each morning. Then one of the mothers, Ma Millicent (from the Prestoncrest Girls house) asked if I would go jogging with her each morning at 4:30am! There is no way I wanted to get up that early every morning, but no way that I could tell her no either. There is no other time that works for her, and I definately wanted to honor her request. I don't mind the running, I just mind the 4:30 part! Today was the first day that we got up to jog together. Thankfully she doesn't go too fast, its an easy pace I don't think I could handle sprinting that early in the morning! I was so releived after we finished when she said, "We will not go tomorrow, but Wednesday." It looks like it will be a Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday routine. At least I can sleep in on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday till at least 5:30! I may have to find a nap time somewhere in the day.

Ma Millicent has started inviting me to their house for supper regularly, and even has the children bring me lunches somedays at the school. Today they are bringing me red plantains, rice, and beans. Saturday I ate red-red with rice with them. I found some fish skins in with the red-red sauce, those of you who know me well know I have nothing to do with fish. I don't eat them in any form. It made it difficult to keep eating as I smelt the fish in every bite. Last night's supper of jolof rice was much more pleasant, with only one chunk of meat. I am not quite sure what animal it came from, but I didn't really want to know. I am guessing goat, but I didn't want to ask.

I went over to their house Friday evening and brought the movie Cinderella with me. The girls had never seen it before and started squealing, clapping, and cheering when they saw what film I had brought. Americans have given them books, clothes, and backpacks with the Disney princesses on them, but they have never seen the movies. As they were all settling down to watch it I pulled out a sucker to give each one of them as a treat. They were all ecstatic. One little girl said, "Chelsea you will live long on earth," another "I know you will go to Heaven." I couldn't help but laugh at how grateful they were for such a small treat and a movie.

Friday, October 2, 2009

the new normal

The students arrive at school at least 30 minutes if not one hour early (usually before the teachers). There are children running everywhere making all sorts of noise. The school is built in such a way that all there is nothing to absorb the noise, and it seems to just reverberate through the courtyard. (It is a u-shaped complex) Each morning at 7:50 the bell ringer clangs the bell and yells "De-vo-tion Please!" and all the kids go running into their classrooms. Then commences the singing. Each class has their own separate devotion before school begins, and each sings a different set of songs. Therefore you can hear 16 different songs at one time. The walls to the classrooms are not solid, with screens for windows making up most of the side walls, therefore sound carries. It is a wonderful chaotic chorus of songs. I can't help but enjoy it. At 8:00 the bell ringer then clangs the bell again yelling "Start Classes Please!" And lessons begin (or at least they are supposed to). This is Africa, most things don't start quite on time...

It is funny how certain things become normal that were never a part of life back home. Things like chasing lizards out of my house, drinking water from a bag, walking to roadside stands to get my eggs and bread for the week, cooking everything from scratch, being called Madam or Obruni (or Sister Chelsea, as if I were a nun), waking up with the light, going to bed early (who knew I could even go to bed before 10?), not driving anywhere, washing dishes by hand, wearing skirts every day, hanging my clothes on a clothesline to dry, snapping fingers at the end of every handshake... There are so many sights and smells that are now familiar. It seems quite normal to see people carrying water, sticks, baskets of corn on their heads. It seems quite normal to see kids weeding the grass with machetes. Life has taken on a routine and feels quite normal. Being here for a longer period of time than I have previously has given me an insight into their culture in ways I never understood before. Sometime I will have to share with you all the unique and interesting things I have been learning about Ghanaian culture. But not today.

A typical day looks like the following for me:
5:30-6:30 wake up and exercise
6:30-7:30 make breakfast and prepare for day
7:30 walk to school
8:00-3:15 teaching, grading, working in the library (or trying to be otherwise helpful)
3:15-4:40 reading program MWF, tutoring on T, TH
4:40-5:00 talking and playing with kids on my way home
5:00-6:00 cooking and eating dinner
6:00 church (on Sun, Tues, Wed, Fri), house devotion on M, TH)
7:00-8:30 tutoring at a different home of children each night (reading and playing educational bingo)
8:30-9:30 talking with the high school students, reading/undwinding
around 10:00pm fall asleep exaughsted!

Life feels full. Full of challenges, full of joy, full of reading and tutoring, but full in a wonderful way.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

You are Invited

This is a phrase we Americans reserve mainly for the front of cards for birthday parties. Here in Ghana you are not invited to parties, you are invited to people's food. I have received many invitations to people's food. I will enter a home and someone will be eating dinner and they say "you are invited" and offer to let me join in the eating of their plate. People here eat from the same plate quite often, and usually without utensils. I so much as walk by the night guards while they are eating and they invite me to their plates.

Yesterday I had to stay in the classroom through part of my lunch break with several kids in trouble serving time on the wall. Every child in the classroom proceeded to invite me to their food that they were eating. They are so gracious! One little boy offered me some of his chips, I took only one, knowing they are a luxury here. He then came back and told me he wanted me to take the whole can, because he had another one. I hardly know this young boy, and yet he wanted to share his special treat with me!

The preacher at the VOH church, Noah, invited me to his home a few weeks back. He is an educated, intelligent, and friendly man. He asked me intuitive questions about my cultural transitions and the work I am doing here. He and his wife sell bread and eggs to staff at VOH (because there is no food source close by). He told me that anytime I want bread or eggs to come get it from them without paying, because of my sacrifice to come here. I am completely humbled by his gracious offer. I didn't go get any from them last week, feeling badly for taking income from them when they have so little. He reprimanded me on Sunday for not coming by during the week for bread or eggs and told me not to let it happen again. I am completely humbled by his hospitality and generosity.

I am learning so much from the kids and staff here. They are incredibly gracious hosts. Taking hospitality to the extreme. They make sure I have a chair to sit in, a song book to hold, a water to drink, wherever I go. I came to serve them, and often find myself as the recipient of the blessings and sacrifice.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Tuesday's Child

In Ghana the day of your birth carries much significance. They were shocked to learn that I didn't know which day I was born on when I arrived. I had to look it up on the internet so I would be able to tell them when they asked. I was born on a Tuesday. Each day of the week carries its own tributes. Ironically enough, "Tuesday's child loves to cook". In my case it would be more accurate to say "Tuesday's child loves to eat." But I have been learning to cook like never before since my arrival.

I have been experimenting with my cooking since I got here. The nearest source of food is a one mile walk. And even then, Fetteh can only provide me with plantains, bread, eggs, tomatoes, crackers, and oil. The rest has to be purchased in Accra or in some other larger town. There is no running to the store for something I forgot, I only get to go to the store once or twice a month. There is no such thing as a boxed dinner set, or frozen dinners, or fast food around here. I have to make everything from scratch. I can make some mean french toast and pancakes now. I also have mastered the frying of plantians. Those of you who know me well would be right in thinking it crazy that I would eat, let alone cook anything fried. But, nonetheless they are good! Not that that can be considered real cooking, but I am making progress.

Last night I had a couple of the older girls over to make cookies at my house. They had never made them before, nor used measuring cups or spoons, so it was an adventure. Especially when they put 1.5 tablespoons of sugar instead of 1.5 cups of sugar and I didn't realize it because I was busy getting the butter. Our "cookies" tasted more like bread. Thankfully we realized it after the first batch came out of the oven and added a little sugar to the dough of the second batch to try and salvage it. Tomorrow I am learning how to make jolof rice from one of the older boys. It is a spicy red rice that is delicious! I can't say I love cooking yet, but I am learning. Maybe the old addage is right, maybe I will love to cook before my year here is up. That would make my Grandma proud!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Surprise!

There is a never ending stream of surprises here. Such as "surprise, you are librarian," "surprise there are student teachers coming from NYC for two months," "surprise, we changed your teaching schedule without telling you," "surprise, Monday is a school holiday," "surprise, you are subbing today in some random class." I never quite seem to know what is going on until it is happening. I showed up at school this morning after yesterday's holiday marking the end of the Muslim holiday Ramadan, and Ghana's first presidents would-be 100th birthday, to find they had changed my teaching schedule without telling me. I was fixing books in the library when a student comes to tell me that they are expecting me for teaching in their class. No one had bothered to tell me that my class periods had been shifted around. Good thing I was prepared.

I was not, however, prepared to substitute teach all day Friday without notes. The teacher informed me a few days in advance that he would be gone, but assured me he would leave me notes. When I got to class Friday morning there were no notes, and the cupboard containing their notebooks and textbooks was locked. Thus ensued a brutal day of 2nd grade. There was nothing quiet or respectful about them. Thankfully I had brought some notebook paper and supplies with me, and was able to wing some lessons. I hate doing that though, it is not in the best interest of me or the students. But, such is life here. There are constant surprises, or changes in plans. Keeps life interesting for sure.

Monday, September 14, 2009

"Madam, please..."

Before students ask a question they say, "Madam, please..." I was blown away by some of their intelligent questions today as I delivered my first lesson. We were discussing the both physical and social aspects of the enviornment. They are going to keep me on my toes! It was amazing to have a room of 30 students quiet and listening. There was a little whispering now and then, but nothing compared to Bodine! I am so excited to teach these students, I will be learning right along with them seeing as how the social studies curriculum in 6th grade is all about Ghana.

I spent the afternoon subsituting in a 5th grade class. The work that he left for them was coping down the tables out of the inside cover of a science textbook about various quantities and their instruments of measurement. BORING! And yet, most of them sat quietly and did it. I rewarded them with playing the game "around the world" with multiplication facts during their math period. They loved it. I am subbing in a 2nd grade class on Friday. Looks like I will be doing a lot of that around here. At least I know in advance and can plan my own lessons for the subjects they will be covering!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Today marks my first full month here! It took me over two weeks to upload the pictures for the slideshow above. The internet is so slow I could only upload a few pictures a day. These are only a few of the many I have taken so far. I can't beleive a full month has passed already!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

School

This week school re-opened. To say that it is in session would be false. In actuality it is a week of registration and preparation. Which means that the majority of the day the students sit in the classrooms by themselves doing nothing. It seems quite strange to me, but I am not Ghanaian. Normal teaching begins next Monday. I do a lot of sitting and waiting.

Monday morning I sat in a staff meeting all morning. I felt quite out of place. I was half-surprised to see my name on the staff list that was passed out at that meeting. My official titles: P6 social studies teacher, library assistant, reading facilitator. There is not much for me to do this week. I have lessons prepared for next week, but they will have to wait. I walked into the library Monday afternoon to help and was immediately overwhelmed. The place is dusty and disorganized. Stacks of books are sitting everywhere, waiting for labeling materials to be shelved. Not surprisingly, lizards and spiders have made their homes among the reference materials (because no one ever uses them.) I asked what the system of checkout was and had to stifle a laugh as the librarian spent several minutes trying to locate the "checkout book" on his messy desk. I thought to myself, "So that's how it works around here..."



Evening tutoring has been going well. Monday night was Ma Millicent's birthday. I made her a cake and some icing (the best I could with the ingredients I have). I brought it over and we sang happy birthday and somehow made a 9x9 cake feed 26 kids. They licked the pan clean, quite literally! It was so much fun though. As we were singing, Ma was singing happily along with us, "happy birthday to me" and I again felt that sense of belonging. I wrote out math problems, read books, and did addition flash cards with the girls for the rest of the evening. One of the girls had asked me to bring some glue to fix her shoe. When I pulled out the super glue I had brought along I suddenly had a long line of girls whose shoes were in pieces. Many of these girls have never owned new shoes, and the donated shoes they often receive are already worn. Some of the shoes would have required a miracle to put back together, even with super glue. They were so excited, I just hope the glue sticks...I wish I could buy them all new shoes. Last night's tutoring was at the Joy Barnett house. There are lots of kids in that house that need help. I wish I had time to do one-on-one work with them. After an hour of working on math and reading, we decided on an arm and thumb wrestling tournament to finish off the night. It was so much fun! Thankfully I was able to beat all of them but one high school boy.

Monday, September 7, 2009

see you later alligator

Silverware is something I have always taken for granted. However, I have had quite the humbling experience last week. For those of you who don't know there are two campuses of the Village of Hope. The main one is located in Gomoa-Fetteh, it houses and educates just under 200 children. The other campus is located near Accra in a suburb called Ayawaso. It is a Vocational Training Center that teaches 35 teens off the street. They can learn kente weaving, tailoring, or leatherworks/bag making. And now, thanks to the generosity of a man Jeff Roland, there is an auto-mechanic training facility. I went with he and his daughter to visit the Ayawaso campus for a few days last week.

We took a group of 6 guys out to dinner one night in Accra. Most of them had never been to a restaurant before. And in fact, one had never even used a fork and knife! Now, I must note that in Ghana many people eat each meal by hand. But it was still surprising! Some of the guys we ate with are my age, and have none of the opportunities in life that I have had. It was humbling to realize that I have finished high school and college—things they will never be able to do.

There is a house under construction at the Ayawaso campus, and one afternoon they needed help moving cement blocks. The boys were carrying anywhere from 1-3 blocks on their heads across campus. I decided to attempt to help, despite my lack of ability to balance heavy objects on my head. The boys whooped and hollered as I managed to carry the block across campus (with the help of my hand for stability). Some of the girls then decided to help out. By my fourth and final block the boys had laid out a pair of pants in front of me as if it were red carpet. I could laugh at their amazement at my ability to carry a few blocks.

During the course of block moving the boys found a treasure, or so they seemed to think. I heard them yelling and laughing, and saw that they had caught and killed the largest lizard I had ever seen. I gasped realizing what they were about to do. They were beaming and proudly began to roast it on the fire for dinner. They ate it quite happily. Over the course of the week I saw a goat and two chickens occupy that same fire. If you can catch it, you can eat it... As I told my prestoncrest girls that evening, they told me that it must have been in fact a baby alligator. It was the length of my arm. Vida, always the comedian, said "see you later alligator!" I was just thankful I was not invited to take part in this dinner.


I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with one of the instructors named Richard. I was blown away by his heart. He is an orphan that was taken in by the VOH himself. He was too old to start school, so he went through the vocational training program. He now teaches the kente weaving at the VOH VTC in Ayawso. He says that he was given hope and a family through the VOH and can't help but now turn around and share those blessings with others. He lives in a shack between two crates on the campus grounds and is perfectly content-except for one thing. He wants to learn how to read. He was talking about how God had richly blessed him and he wants to learn how to read the Bible with more understanding so he can share God’s word with everyone he knows. I have to come to believe that in America we have a limited perspective of service. We give only so much of our time and money, and feel justified in then keeping the rest to ourselves. I am humbled to realize so many like Richard here, who don’t get vacations, or days off. A life of service is a life spent fully committed at all times to the work which they have been called to. It is in such times that I am forced to examine myself and recognize the selfishness in me, and my necessity for growth. I was able to work on some basic phonics with Richard the other night, he is dying to learn and just has never been given the chance. It is so frustrating when he has such a deep desire but was never able to attend school, and yet our American schools are filled with kids who could care less. Most of my students last year flat out didn’t care about their education, and this man is dying to learn how to read... at the age of 25.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Contentment

Today we took 87 children to the beach. Despite the fact that the beach is about a mile from the VOH, they only go once a year. On Christmas. The kids were ecstatic! Sandra was holding one hand and Peace had my other hand as we walked to the beach. They were laughing and dancing and all smiles. It suddenly hit me that there was nowhere else I would rather be. Those two girls are absolutely precious, and being with them makes me so happy. As soon as we got in sight of the sand Peace had taken off at a sprint, giggling the whole way. It brought me so much to joy to watch the kids play soccer, search for shells, and eat snacks at the beach. They are such an amazing group of kids, full of passion and spirit. I certainly have my rough days and moments here, but today was perfect. All felt right with the world because I was with these beautiful children, and they were happy.

Sports Day

I can hardly seem to keep up with my adventures. Each day seems to bring wonderful cultural experiences of its own. My posts are a bit behind. This is from Friday...

I used to think that Rome’s subway at rush-hour was as crowded as human beings can get. I was mistaken. Leave it to the Ghanaians to set the record for the amount of human beings that can be crammed into a vehicle. Yesterday I went along for the “sports day” with the older teens from the VOH. It was a day of friendly competitions and games amongst the various churches in the area. For some reason whoever was planning the event decided that the VOH should pick everyone up and transport them to the school were the event was being held. For some reason it didn’t seem to occur to them that one school bus could not hold 300+ people.

Ghanaians seem to disregard personal space in the first place, but never before have I been so claustrophobic. I was sitting in a bench seat on a regular school bus with 3 other teens, and people standing in the aisles leaning into our seat. I was wearing a hat, and had to look down so the bill didn’t smack someone else in the face (that is how close we were). I thought we had a full load leaving the VOH, but we stopped at least 10 times to pick up more people on the way. At one point we had to drop some people off to, so we could pick up more people on our way to this park/school. It is no exaggeration to say that there was no less than 140 people crammed on a bus with the capacity for 65 adults. When we finally arrived at the park we had to wait another two hours before the bus returned with the rest of the people it had previously dropped off.


I am learning how to wait. I do a whole lot of it here. We waited for hours for the others to arrive before the games began. Lunch was Kenkey, a massive dense ball of maize (corn) mush with a tomato sauce and a fish head. I politely declined the fish head and gave it to the girl next to me. However, I still felt like I was eating it because the smell was so strong my kenkey smelt like fish. The games began and I suddenly felt like I was at the Ghanaian version of an old fashioned country picnic. The competitions included futball (soccer), Bible quiz, groundnut (peanut) eating contests, garre (ground cassava) eating contest, gunny sack races and drama productions. I half expected there to be a hay ride as well! It was fun to watch the teens compete. I was sitting on a concrete block watching a futball match when one of the house parents called me under a shade tarp to sit so “I wouldn’t change color.” He bought me a snack of groundnuts to sample. It was me and all the older men, which felt strange. He also purchased some coconuts for me to drink the milk from when I returned home. Because, if I had them right after the groundnuts it would “worry my stomach.”


There is generally a lack of personal space concept here. At many points during the day one of the girls would come up to me and grab my arms and put it around their waists, or lean on me, or grab my hand to walk somewhere. Hand-holding between friends is practiced regularly (even between male friends). PDA between members of the opposite sex is however never permitted. You don’t even see husbands and wives holding hands. And yet there would be adult men and women holding my hand at random points throughout the day. I’m having to shed my comfort zone quite quickly. On the bus ride home the same male house parent mentioned previously was sitting next to me. At one of the stops he handed me his Bible so he could “go urinate” (which is pronounced YUR-NATE). Welcome to Ghana.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Black Chinese

I have made three trips into Accra (the capital city) since my arrival at the Village of Hope. What should be about an hour drive usually takes about 2.5 hours due to the traffic. I should preface this story by saying that when a driver is going into Accra, they send everyone who has any business to take care with him. Therefore the truck always has more passengers than there is room. It is also safe to say that if you are going to Accra in the morning you will return until late in the evening.


I am not one to take Tylenol unless it’s necessary, but I learned very quickly that I should take a Tylenol before I even set foot in that truck. Sure enough my headache hit as soon as we pulled off campus. There were four of us adults crammed in the back of the pickup and there was a slight drizzle on the windshield (which the window wipers only succeeded to blur). The roads are full of potholes and speed bumps, and in Ghana when there is one speed bump there is 5. The driver always blares talk radio shows in Fante (the local tribal languages) which only accentuate my headache as we reach unpaved roads. Driving on these roads feels like someone grabbed hold of the truck and is shaking it up and down. I was gripping the seat in front of so as not to hit my head on the window or on the ceiling. (Dad, go ahead and take your Dramamine now!) There is no chance of reading on such drives, and my ipod is pointless as well. The driver’s radio is too loud for me to hear my own thoughts let alone my ipod. My only source of relief on such long drives is reading the business titles and logos stuck on cars. It is as if they all stand in line and draw a random english phrase out of a hat and then go slap it on their business. Some are religious phrases used to invoke blessings on their business. The rest I am sure they have no idea what they mean, because surely if they did they wouldn’t write it on their taxi or hair salon. These are a few of my personal favorites: Black Chinese (taxi), Onlookers are Worried (cell phone accessory stand), They Act As Lovers (junk shop), God Bless My Uncle Ent. (electronics), Sober Spot Drinking Garden, Enemies are not god (taxi),and Future is Unknown (chop bar).

Thursday the purpose of the trip to town was to extend my visa, along with two other Americans who also needed their visas extended. We didnt actually know we would be going into town that particular day to do that until someone showed up at our door at 8:00 and said let's go. As it stands now I am only permitted in the country for two months. We left at 10:00am and arrived at the Immigration office around 2:00pm. When we arrived we were given a form to fill out for visa extensions. We noticed that there was a spot for a passport photo but figured we could get by without one. Wrong. We were directed outside and across the street where some man had a passport photo station set up against the concrete wall. He had a plastic chair and a cloth draped over the wall as the background for the photo. We were cracking up laughing as he seated us, fixed our hair, and told us not to blink. He didn’t want us to smile, which made matters even worse. We could not stop laughing at how ridiculous the situation was. We finally received our expensive photos and returned to the office. We were then informed we had to a have a photocopy of our return flight itinerary. Lucky for us, there was some woman with a copy machine stand set up right outside as well. I think they were just inventing ways to get more money out of us. I didn’t have a copy of my flight with me, so I was unable to complete my visa extension and will have to return later to go through the whole process again. Boo.

The driver had been promising me for a week that he would take me to a village to buy good pineapple, so he took me on the way back to VOH. (the only pineapple in Fetteh is the yellow kind, and I love the white kind). We pulled up to the stand and they announced the prices of various sizes: 5 cedis, 2 cedis, 1 cedi. I thought they seemed expensive for Ghanaian pineapples, but decided to get 2 of the 2 cedi pineapples since we had driven out of the way. What I didn’t realize was that it was 2 cedis for the whole basket of pineapples that size. So, before I realized what was going on I ended up with 8 pineapples for 4 cedis! That is less than $3! I chopped up one and crawled in bed to enjoy my treat after a long day in the car.

Friday, August 28, 2009

ABC

I hate phonics. I know that God has blessed me with talents, but teaching phonics is not one of them. Nor is teaching children to read. Not my gift. I love kids, I love teaching, and I love reading, but not the combination of the three. I prefer to work with older children with concepts and ideas. Ironically, I find myself faced with the task of teaching many children to read here. Or I suppose more accurately, to fill in the gaps for children such as a 14 year old girl in the 3rd grade who lacks the ability to decipher unknown words and recognize letter sounds. I will literally have to start at ABC with some of these kids.

I lack patience in reading with kids who can’t read, just wanting them to hurry up and spit out the words! I spent an entire hour listening to a young man read a simple Dr. Seuss book today. I suffered (as they would say in Ghana). But, then I realized my attitude. That is exactly what I am here for-to fill in the gaps in their education where individual attention and tutoring are lacking. There are children who came out of slavery in the north who didn’t start school until they were 8, or 12 and are perpetually behind. There is a list longer than I can manage of children who need help.

I will also be running the after-school reading program three days a week. It is a reading incentive program that rewards the kids with a free book of their own to take home after they have read and summarized 15 books. What it really translates into is a small, disorganized library packed with 50-75 children all looking to find the easiest way to get credit for a book summary. A formula for a headache. Tracking and recording all of their books and summaries as well as keeping the place organized and calm is trying.

There are 7 houses of children who need tutoring. Of each of the houses I have assessed those in greatest need of help. Each evening after supper and evening devotions I will visit a different house to work with these specific students.

I am making the choice to put aside my personal grudge against phonics in favor of the struggling student. But it won't be easy...

It's a good day to be in Ghana


My week has been spent exercising early in the mornings with the older girls, preparing lessons for school’s approaching start, chasing lizards around my house, playing soccer barefoot in the sand by my house, determining students in need of tutoring, learning how to cook with my limited resources, and worshipping and playing alongside the children.

I prepared fufu, a traditional Ghanaian dish, with a mother and her girls the other day. It involved peeling and chopping cassava root and plantains. Plantains look like green bananas but have a different taste and texture, and left my fingers sticky for hours. Ma Millicent laughed at me as I tried to chop and peel with the learned ease that they do, as I was clumsy and awkward. Fufu is a mixture of cassava and plantains cooked and mashed into the consistency of a thick bread dough. It is then served in a bowl of soup and eaten without utensils. I was invited to supper that evening with the Prestoncrest Girls House as I had helped prepare the meal (what little help I was). They brought me a bowl of water to wash fingers as I ate, as there are no napkins. Who knew you could eat soup without a spoon? Despite my judgemental taste buds, I actually enjoyed the fufu in groundnut (peanut) stew. However, I couldn’t finish more than a third of my bowl as it was incredibly dense and filling. No wonder there is no such things as a midnight snack here!
I have found two lizards in my house this week. I generally pride myself on not being skittish. I can kill spiders and other household insects without drama. Lizards however, do me in. Now, a word about lizards. They are everywhere here, and don’t bother me as they run around in the grass beside me. But, the minute they walk into my house the story changes. I found one, small- yet disturbing, in my room Saturday. I tried to catch it so I could take it outside, but was not fast enough. It disappeared. I couldn’t find it anywhere. I dreaded crawling in bed that night afraid it would come creeping on me as I slept. I made a through sweep of the room before I crawled in for the night, no sign of the little pest. Just as I was about to fall asleep I felt something on my neck. I jumped out of bed and grabbed a flashlight and my glasses. I checked everywhere, only to realize it was just my hair brushing against my neck. Ha ha! Then yesterday a lizard was running around on the dining room wall. Angie, the girl sharing my house for the month, and I both grabbed Tupperware containers to try and trap it. I wish you could have witnessed the scene. I was swinging a golf club around trying to direct it toward us. But as soon as I would succeed and it would run toward us, we would both freak out and jump away. We were scrambling around, moving trunks and dressers trying to keep up with the lizard, and yet also trying to run from it. We finally ran it into the window and locked it inside, hoping it would then crawl out the hole in the screen we think it entered through in the first place.

It’s a good day to be in Ghana. That is what my Ghana cell phone said as I turned it on today. It caught me by surprise, but then I absorbed its simple truth. It is a good day to be in Ghana. Despite the cultural barriers and challenges, I am starting to develop a sense of my purpose and place here. I chase lizards, I read books, I plan lessons, I find little hands always sliding into mine as I walk, I struggle to memorize two hundred names all at once, I eat the same thing days in a row, I am sticky at all times of the day, I am learning a few words in Fante, I tuck children in bed at night…It’s a good day to be in Ghana.