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


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.