Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Monday, December 21, 2009
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
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
Sunday, December 6, 2009
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 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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Friday, November 20, 2009
Sunday, November 15, 2009
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
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
"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!
Monday, October 19, 2009
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
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
Monday, October 5, 2009
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
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
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
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
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
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
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
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
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
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
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
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...
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.