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.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
I have been the only American here for two days now. It is hard to split my time between children. So many of them want my attention because there are no other Americans or groups here to play with them. I was the source of several fights today over who got to sit by me and who got to hold my hand, etc. I couldn't fit through the door from the kitchen to the living room in PrestonCrest Girls House tonight because too many little girls were holding on to me! I suppose it is a good problem to have.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Last week there was an art camp going on with various art forms for the children. Everything from sculpting clay to dancing. It was fun to just be able to walk around and pop in classrooms and see the kids enjoying making art. The group has now left, and it is back to normal around here. Lots of construction and grounds work going on since school is not in session. I am thankful to have a few weeks before school starts to settle in. It turns out that I will be co-teaching the social studies for primary 6. I am supposed to meet with the teacher later this week to determine who will teach which sections. I am a little nervous about this partnership because I am afraid I will end up never knowing when and what I am supposed to be teaching. I will also be helping maintain the library, and run the after-school reading program 3 days a week.
The other day I went to the well to fetch water with the kids for their house water drum. They did not fill my bucket to the rim, for which I was thankful as I hoisted it up on my head. The girls I was walking with all use one arm to hold the bucket, I was glad I was not the only one! They told me most whites cannot even do that. I walked with them back to the house doing my best to balance and not slosh the water out. I want them to know I am here to be with them, to serve, and love them. When we reached the house I had a stream of water trickling down my face and back, but overall felt I hadn't lost much water. ha ha. As soon as I set the bucket down with relief, Haniel grabbed my hand and gave me another bucket and lead me back towards the well. I ended up making three consecutive well trips, feeling a bit more successful at my balancing each time.
I counted last night as I was sitting in the hallway of one of the houses, and I had six little girls leaning or laying on me. I love it. I had several playing with my hair, several making marker tattoos on my feet, and a couple sleeping on my legs. They have taken to calling me "macaroni" because they think my hair looks like it. I offered for them to try and eat some to see if it tastes like it, but no takers yet. It has now become "Madam Macaroni." I call many of them by various pasta names as well. They love it, even though they have no clue what they are.
Last night at church the kids brought tears to my eyes singing their hearts out to "Magnificent", and I praised God that I have the opportunity to spend time with these precious children.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
They told me to wait while my camel was being collected for me to ride. Bad day for a skirt. Didn't know I would be camel riding. As they hoisted me up on the camel, they mentioned this was going to cost extra. I tried to reason with them on the price, and brought it down some but finally gave up and decided I would literally just go along for the ride. You're only in Egypt once right? My camel tour guide was a different man I had not yet seen. As he lead the camel around the pyramids he would stop when he thought I should take a picture and tell me what pose to do. He would not snap the picture until I said "aloha," "cheese," or "Abra cadabra." His favorite phrases. When I looked back at my pictures later I discovered he was taking other pictures of me when I didn't know it as well. He offered several times to be my Egyptian boyfriend for 5 camels. I asked if the current ride would then be for free, and told him I would consider the offer. I am not quite sure what I would do with camels. The pyramids were an amazing sight, I have dreamed all my life of seeing them. It was quite surreal to be riding around on a camel seeing the pyramids and the Sphinx. My guide told me Fox was a magic camel and could take me to the top of the pyramid, I was dissapointed when he didn't deliver on his promise.
After my camel tour of the pyramids ground, they took me back to the dingy perfume shop to have a Pepsi. All stood around and waited for me. It was quite awkward and I wanted to get out of there! They told me they were taking me next to the Egyptian Museum. I assumed that this meant the museum I knew housed all of the artifacts that had been removed from the pyramids. Hardly. It was their own private tourist papyrus museum. Several other men were waiting there for me. By now the crowd of men had grown to almost 10, and me. The official papyrus expert, such as he was, demonstrated for me the ancient techniques of papyrus making. He explained some of the hieroglyphic meanings of various paintings displayed in the shop. Then commenced the sales talk. Two of them were trying to get me to purchase some papyrus paintings. They did not believe me when I tried to explain I could not afford it. When they would not leave me alone I finally decided to just go ahead and get the cheapest one they had to humor them. While they were finishing up the papyrus painting they told me to go and see the perfume shop in the back. I told them no thank you, but a few minutes later they told me to go and sit and wait in there because there were no other seats. Sly. I was then bombarded by the perfume sales man. Greasy and sketchy. Those would be my two adjectives for him. He started putting them on me. He then started to demonstrate the wonders of his Jasmine, mint, and lotus flower oils. Which entailed an arm massage. I was not quite comfortable with this, and especially protested when he started to put it on my face! He didn't listen. He wanted to massage my face with these oils. He also was trying to talk me into finding an Egyptian husband. I got to a breaking point, and said I was done, and left. Due to this whole ordeal I did not have time to see the real Egyptian Museum or have lunch in Cairo as planned. Nor did I have any money left due to their expensive rates.
I was so thankful to get rid of all those men and be back in the van with just my driver. I felt much more comfortable with him. He stopped twice on the way back, once to get me a bread treat from a roadside stand, and once for a Pepsi. I was so relieved to arrive back at the airport. I felt so vulnerable all day, completely at the mercy of these men.
My flight to Ghana was no less exciting. In a nutshell, I was sitting with a woman and her son between the ages of 1-2. He started off by hitting me repeatedly when I sat down, tried to take my Ipod, screamed at me and his mother, projectile vomited for several minutes straight (must have been a record, no exaggeration, the vomit was everywhere!), tried to take the food off my tray, and almost succeeded in flipping it onto my lap. There were points when both mother and son were crying and yelling at each other, as I sat awkwardly next to them, unsure whether to help or ignore them. Thankfully, he finally fell asleep and I prayed that the rest of the flight would be uneventful. I had quite enough adventure for one day and was just ready to finally land in Ghana!
Saturday, August 8, 2009
At least, I hope. I'll only be there a few hours.
Long story short, I have been stuck in New York City for several days now. I am standby status on the flight to Ghana each night due to the fact that I am on an airline employee's pass. The airline has informed me that I really don't have much hope of getting to Ghana anytime soon. The flight each night is either completely full, or is at the weight limit due to the over-packing of the passengers.
In order to actually get me to Ghana this week for sure, I went ahead and booked a last minute ticket, which happens to have a layover in Egypt. My new flight leaves NYC on Monday. I have been spending most of the last few days either on the subway or at the airport in NYC. It will be nice to know for sure when I am leaving. Although, I have completely run out of clothes and toiletries. My suitcases went on ahead of me to Ghana. I think I need to find myself a laundromat...
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Everyone keeps asking, "Are you ready?" I've decided that there is no way to ever be completely ready, but it is time. I have felt very affirmed in these last few days through family, friends, and the metro church family. I am completely overwhelmed in every way, but so excited at the same time to finally be able to go be with the children I love. I cannot wait to see the kids' beautiful smiles as I arrive at the orphanage on Thursday morning! My heart just leaps thinking about seeing Sandra & Peace...