Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mao

I love games.  Growing up I especially loved to play card games.  But, there was one game that I adamantly refused to play.  Mao.  This game was popular at camp and retreats, but I never played.  Why?  Because you are not allowed to explain the rules or talk.  I don't know how it works (because I never played) which is the whole point of the game.  It just seemed too frustrating to me.   
Why tell you that? Because, sometimes I feel like life in Ghana is like playing a game of Mao.  You don't know the rules by which you are supposed to play and no one explains them.  I feel like I am constantly playing this game, trying to figure out what people really mean, how I am supposed to act in certain situations, what I am supposed to say or not say, how I am supposed to dress, etc.  Communication is not always an option.  Whether or not they speak English is beside the point, sometimes it doesn't matter, things just get lost in translation. Sometimes it is rather amusing, sometimes frustrating, other times just plain exhausting, and usually you don't know if you are winning or losing!  I think I am slowly learning how to play, but I will certainly never be an expert.  I suppose that is the point though, learning how to adapt.  Nevertheless, I am thankful to sit out a round at home and not have to play for a few weeks! 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

All I Want for Christmas...

This year I have a few requests for Christmas for our kids:
*Simple scientific calculators (about 15 of them)
*Stickers! Lots and lots of stickers of all shapes and sizes.  (They will be a part of reading program now)
*Large soccer goalie gloves
*Size D and size AAA batteries

If you are interested in meeting some of these needs, or want to know about more ways to help let me know!

Friday, December 10, 2010

God will make a Way

Blessed is he whose help is in the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, the maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them--the Lord, who remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free...
Psalm 146:6-7

It's a good thing I didn't see it.  If I had seen it my heart would have been shattered.  Seeing the bloody swollen lips were enough to tell me that whoever the perpetrator was heartless.  How can you beat a child in the face?

I traveled to Kete Krachi with members of the Touch A Life Foundation in mid-November.  Kete Krachi is known as being a hub for child trafficking.  Children are forced to work for fisherman on Lake Volta and its many small islands.  You can find out more about it on their website if you are interested http://www.touchalifekids.org/ .  We have many children at VOH who were former child slaves.  I felt it would be a great experience for me to go and see their background and the conditions they came from so that I would better understand them.  I knew it would not be an easy trip, but felt it necessary in my continued ministry to these kids. 

We transported 10 children from our campus here to perform surgeries on their umbilical hernias in Kete Krachi.  We left VOH around 5:15am last Sunday morning and arrived in Kete Krachi around 7:30pm.  There has been a compound built there to house children who have been rescued previously.  We were greeted by cheers and hugs from many excited teens.  The older children who have been rescued stay in Kete Krachi and complete vocational training apprenticeships.  The younger children have been moved down to the gomoa area to attend school with us at Hope Christian Academy. 

Monday morning we went out on the lake in a boat to go and talk with fisherman.  I have been hesitant as to whether or not to make this trip for months now.  For the reason that I didn't want to be a nosy white getting in the way of the social changes in progress.  I wanted to take some pictures in order to tell these kids' stories, but didn't want them to feel like they were in the zoo or something.  Every time we stopped our boat to talk to fishermen they had this smirk on their face, like they knew they were in the wrong but weren't ready to do anything about it.  Each time we stopped to talk with fisherman, the kids would continue mending nets, bailing water, or doing everything but making eye contact with us. 

After stopping to talk to several fisherman, we pulled up to one of the many islands to stop and talk with individuals there. It was a market day, which meant many of the children usually on the lake would be on the islands working on mending of nets or other menial tasks.  We were met by a small group of children.  George Jr, the Ghanaian man who works tirelessly to rescue and care for many trafficked children immediately recognized one of the boys: Gideon. He said he had been rescued and returned to his parents, only to be re-sold to a fishing master.  Because he had been previously released, we thought there might be a good chance of being able to rescue him again.  I quickly grabbed a tiny little boys hand and walked off to allow any negotiation talks to happen without interference. 

I was walking around holding several young children's hands and communicating with them in my broken twi (the local language).  A woman started yelling and one of the young boys immediately dropped my hand.  I realized that she had been scolding him for associating with a white.  Unfortunately fear and superstition still dominate many rural and remote communities.  Within a few short minutes we were called over and told that the boy would be released to us, along with his younger brother.  The two boys disappeared momentarily into a hut to gather their few belongings.  When they re-emerged I realized the younger brother had been the very boy I had been walking around the island with.  His name is God's Way.  We quickly ushered them into our boat and took off before anyone changed their minds. 

I could hardly grasp how fast the worlds of these two boys had changed.  I sat with Gideon, the older brother, on the boat and tried to reassure him that things would be okay.  I could sense his apprehension and fear.  I can't imagine what it would be like to get in a boat with a bunch of white strangers to go to an unknown place!  Thankfully he spoke some English, so I was able to communicate with him.  The power of that moment is unspeakable.  I can't express to you what God did in those moments leading up to the boys climbing on the boat.  God is capable of great transformation, and I witnessed something that day that is priceless. 

We ushered them onto the bus that would drive us back to the Touch a Life compound.  We stopped briefly on the way back, and the boys were given some shoes to wear, new footballs, and some new clothes.  Immediately their demeanor changed.  They began to smile and relax. 

When we arrived back, their eyes were wide as they took in their new surroundings.  God's Way was sitting quietly on woman's lap when one of the formerly rescued boys named Jacob walked in.  God's Way's eyes lit up and he shouted his name.  Jacob ran and embraced him.  It was a reunion unlike I have ever seen.  In that moment I believe God's way realized that it would all be okay.  He had known Jacob from when Jacob was working as a child slave at least a year ago.  They embraced and held hands for many quiet moments. 

Over the next 24 hours I witnessed the look in their eyes change.  I was sitting with Gideon a few hours later and asked him how he felt, he paused for a moment, looked at me and simply said, "happy."  That word made the whole trip worthwhile.  To make a child feel happy, loved, and valued is what this ministry is all about.  God's Way fell asleep curled up in the lap of one of the women in the group.  One of the women in the group had lost her son Connor the year before.  She had come on the trip in search of healing, and also to reach out to children in need of the love of a mother.  At the end of the night her son Connor's blanket was given to God's Way as he was prayed over.  He slept peacefully through the whole thing, wrapped in the warmth of love, possibly for the first time.  As Connor's life was honored, the God's Way's was given a chance at life.  I was part of something powerful that day.  I was reminded that God's way is perfect.  And that most importantly, His way is redeeming. 













As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless.  He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.  2 Samuel 22:31

Don't Try this at Home

The coconut men should post a disclaimer.  Or at least issue a verbal warning.  Quite frequently you may find coconut sellers on corners chopping up coconuts for customers.  They use machetes to chop off all the outside materials into a convenient cone.  They stack these ready to enjoy coconuts on their carts until customers come.  At which point they make one swift chop and knock off the top so that you can drink the coconut water and then scoop out the coconut.

A co-teacher was sweet enough to leave me a coconut on my table in the staff room last week.  I went home thoroughly excited to enjoy my coconut.  I pulled out the biggest knife I could find and gave it a whack.  I expected the top to cleanly fall off like the professionals do, no such luck.  When all was said and done I was drinking the coconut water out of a small slit, with coconut n water dripping down my chin and shirt.  There were pieces all over the counter, floor, and me. Turns out I should just leave the coconut chopping to the professionals. From now on it will remain "eat-here" and no longer for "take-away."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Only in Ghana

I recently spoke to Francis, our VOH student attending school at OC.  I asked him how he was coping with American culture and what he thought of it.  He said there are so many times when he just laughs at Americans.  I am sure many of the things we do are amusing to him.  The same thing is true living here.  There are times you just have to laugh.  Sometimes the kids tell me I am getting crazy because I laugh too much.  There are times when I see and experience things that could only happen in Ghana and I can't help but laugh.  Here are some examples:
  • when the discussion in the teacher's lounge is about whether or not dwarfs exist
  • when a woman shows you her menstruation calendar like its a normal thing to do
  • when you see a live goat strapped to the top of a van with the other cargo
  • when you see children running up the stairs at school holding a machete
  • when an invitation says a wedding will start at 9:00am prompt and it starts at 12:00pm
  • when you see entire bus loads of people peeing by the roadside
  • when you see a billboard advertising fashion for weddings and funerals all in one
  • when you share a giant bowl of food with several people without utensils
  • when you see an advertisement for Wormplex, "your one stop de-wormer"
  • when you are sitting in a tro-tro with baby chicks under your feet
  • when you see an elderly woman wearing this shirt in pink sparkly letters... "wanted: boys that don't lie"
  • when you see this page in a beginner's English book:

Monday, November 22, 2010

apples are for teachers

Pine-apples that is.  I thought the pineapple sitting on this teacher's desk was perfect.  What better reflection of the differences in our classroom culture? 

This picture was taken a couple of  weeks ago when I went to Nkwatia, a small town in the eastern region of Ghana to conduct a teaching semniar with Alayna.  Alyana has been working on a curriculum development project for a few years, and this seminar was part of the implementation.

The first day she presented on integration, lesson planning, inquiry, experimental procedure, etc.  The second day I presented on reading skills and phonics.  It was really short, but a good start.  We were only with the primary 1, 2, and nursery teachers.  Turns out rhyming was not a part of their training, they found it quite challenging to create simple rhymes out of words that I had written down and given to them.  They did however, get really into the "letter aerobics" song.

It is really interesting to try and present material and methods to individuals who have no previous experience with such methods and philosophies of teaching.  I felt like I was speaking a foreign language for most of the presentation.  Hopefully some seeds were at least planted to focusing on literacy skills in the primary classrooms! 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

send the fairy godmother packing

If you had any illusions that mission work, or life in Africa was straight out of a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, please throw those out the window.  There is nothing Cinderella about this story.  Sure, coming here for a week or a month as a playmate life might appear a bit Utopian.  But the truth is, some days it just plain sucks to be thousands of miles away from family and friends.  The truth is some days I just get down right frustrated with the kids.  The truth is, trying to control a classroom of 40 plus kids seems like it is not even worth trying at times.  There is nothing exotic or romantic about such a life.  All that wears off in a matter of days after you step of the plane. 

A group of visitors is here this week, and they were asked to sub in classrooms today so that we could conduct a reading seminar for the primary 1 and 2 teachers (1st and 2nd grade).  One of them had her bubble burst when she realized this was not the "disney land village of hope".  She realized that the reality is that the 1st grade class is just down right awful, and that the 2nd graders are not much better.  While it was kind of amusing to me to watch the guests realize just how challenging teaching is around here, I know exactly what it feels like to just want to walk out of the classroom feeling totally defeated.  I know what it feels like to wish you don't care and just be able to walk away. 
But I do.  I do care.  And that is why even when the reality of work here threatens to overwhelm and consume me, I sit outside and look at the stars and pray for the strength for tomorrow, and I know that it will come with the morning, and hopefully the weariness will fade with the night.


Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself: the Lord is my portion, therefore I will wait for him. The Lord is good to those who hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
Lamentatations 3:22-26

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

#2

Here's a question you don't get every day... "How would you like to be my second wife?"   I never imagined I would get so many proposals from random strangers in Ghana.  I sometimes get tired of all the attention the color of my skin brings.  As flattering as professions of love from complete strangers are, I can only come up with so fake phone numbers. 

Surprisingly, polygamy is still practiced in Ghana. Usually in more rural communities.  I have asked several kids that have come from families with multiple wives, but still can't quite seem to figure out how that could ever work.  An old man the other day told me to "try and come by his house later..."  I don't think he was talking about a game of scrabble either. 

They are never threatening, I don't ever feel unsafe, just feel like blending in a bit more sometimes. I have gotten used to stares, and shouts of "obruni," and I have lost track of how many proposals.  There are days I just wish I could travel somewhere without being noticed...  It would be nice to not draw attention for once.  Especially since it is attention just based on my skin color and assumptions of the money that goes with it.  The only perks are that I do often get free tro-tro fares, directions and advice, as well as the opportunity to tell plenty of fake husband stories thanks to the whole single white female situation. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

It is more blessed

Acts 20:35 ...remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said...it is more blessed to give than to receive.

I have always liked going Christmas shopping.  Mainly because I like buying presents for my family.  Every time I travel to a foreign country I have so much fun picking out things I know they will love.  I could spend way too much money on presents for other people.  I find great joy in getting presents for people, especially if they were not expecting them.  I have always enjoyed that type of giving.  However, while living in Ghana I have discovered what it really means to give.  To give of myself, my time, my energy, and my money. 

I have not solicited funds for my work in Ghana since March 2009 and yet every month I am blessed by friends, church family, and supporters who God uses to provide for all of my needs.  I am able to buy food, pay for transportation, pay the electricity/water bills, buy materials for the reading program, etc.  And every month there is money left over.  It has become my great to joy to share all that is left over with those in need here, or to use for particular needs around the VOH.  I have always known that there is more joy in giving than receiving, but not really.  Now I understand.  I don't ever want the people here to thank me, because the money is not from me.  Those wonderful, loving people back home that support me have touched the lives of people here in ways they do not even know.  Providing library chairs, sending students to extra classes, paying for textbooks, providing money for medicine, paying school fees for kids who can't, buying school supplies... It certainly is more blessed to give than to receive.  When someone gives me a great gift, I am very thankful, and humbled, and awkward. 

There are unending needs here.  Everyone could use more money.  You don't know shoestring budget till you have been in a place where there is extreme poverty.  There is no such thing as a budget at all for many of these people.  It seems sometimes that the needs are too great, too many. But one day, one need at a time.  I find that every time that I open my hands and heart to address the needs around me, God continues to take care of my needs.  I am sharing this for only one reason: because I hope that you experience what it means to give. To really give. To give when you have, and to give when you don't.  To give what hurts the most.  The most difficult thing for me to give right now is time.  I have made the choice to be here, but giving away time that could be spent closer to family and friends costs a lot.  More than money could pay.  But, the truth remains, it is more blessed to give.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Some might call it stupidity...

Sometimes I have moments in time when the world seems to freeze and I wonder how on earth I ended up in that particular situation. Last Friday night I was walking the streets of Accra hand in hand with a hotel manager helping me to look for somewhere to sleep for the night. While I realize that sounds rather sketchy I should back up and explain. Friday I spontaneously decided to go into Accra and do some research for graduate school. I brought along a list of recommended hostels/hotels in the area I would be for the evening. I was at the internet café for a few hours researching schools when I realized it was already 8:00pm. So I packed up and went outside to hail at taxi to the YMCA (yes ladies and gentlemen, there is a YMCA in Ghana!). Turns out it is not a real popular place, and the taxi driver had trouble finding it. When he finally dropped me off there, I was told it was only for men. Oops. The information had failed to state as much. Oh well, it looked sketch anyways.

Plan B was a hotel not far away that was rather cheap and reportedly clean. Upon arrival I was informed it was all full. By this time it is almost 9pm, and I was started to worry a bit. Apparently the hotel manager was also concerned because he took my hand and told me he would walk me to a few nearby hotels to see if they had vacancy. Ghanaians are rather hospitable, and I was thankful for his willingness to help me. IN fact, he spent almost two full hours helping me look for a place to sleep for the night. We checked several nearby hotels, and took a taxi to one a bit father out: all were full. Who would have guessed that cheap no-name type hotels would all be full on a regular weekend?? I had stayed somewhere a few weeks before with no problem, but it was already closed for reception at that time of night. I had the option of some expensive places not too far away, but ended up accepting the manager’s offer to have me sleep with his sister.

I had to go and get something to eat, as I had not had lunch or dinner yet that day, and then promised to be back soon. By the time I returned the sister, whom I had never spoken to, was already asleep. So, he banged loudly on her door, woke her and her roommate up, and rolled her over to make room for me. -She is probably a few years older than I am, and was sleeping on mattress that barely resembled its original form. There was no sheet on it, and no padding left to speak of. He did bring me a cloth thankfully. So, I dropped into bed completely worn out well past midnight. When I woke the next morning around 6 next to a stranger it felt rather strange. I was greeted by a “Good morning obruni.” The situation struck me as rather funny at this point. I had never spoken to either of these ladies before and I shared the bed with them.  I was rather thankful for it though. 

While some might call it stupid or naive to think I could find a place to sleep without planning, I prefer to think of it as another lesson in Ghanaian hospitality. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The High Table

I attended quite the birthday recently. It was the 50th birthday of one of our drivers, Alex. Most birthdays in Ghana seem to come and go without much to-do, so I was surprised to receive an invitation to a birthday party.
I should have known better than to arrive on time, but I did anyways. You would think I would learn such things after a year here. 6:30pm on Saturday. The music blared over the empty courtyard set with plastic chairs and a decorated table full of fake flowers, glasses, and cake. I waited outside the courtyard making small talk with teachers and staff members who also were somewhat early. One particular teacher seemed to be assigned as the MC for the evening. Turns out my name was on the list of mentionable people in attendance. I was a bit caught off guard, because how did they know I was coming anyways? I didn’t think much of it, until the party was in full swing and I heard my name being announced. Of course, the party did not get rolling until after 7:30pm.
As it turns out, Ghanaian birthday parties are much like other ceremonies, in that they come with a full set of chairpersons for the event. After a brief introduction the party, the MC announced the particular individuals who would occupy the high table. Our chair person for the event was the director's wife, and I was among of the assistants. All of this was going on in Twi, so when the announcer switched to English I was surprised to suddenly hear my name. I was introduced and asked to come and sit at the "high table." The table situated at the front of the crowd laden with decorations, treats, and drinks. I felt a bit awkward, especially since the birthday boy (man) himself was not even seated at the table, and nor were any of his family members. The rest of the program proceeded on in Twi (the local language) and I sat and pretended as if I could understand (while stifling yawns threatening to offend). The MC continued on with the evening's program of tributes, dances, songs, etc. At one point I was called away from the table to join in the dancing. Now, despite the fact that I have been here more than a year, I have not yet perfected my Ghanaian dance moves. I think I managed to spare some dignity despite my haphazard rhythm. We were served drinks, and a small plate of snacks (made from scratch by his wife).
Birthday gifts were presented in political fashion, accepted with a handshake and photograph as if they were national presidents signing a treaty. We then "assisted" in cutting the cake, of which we were served larger slices than the rest of the party guests who only received a small bite. Then a birthday quiche was cut, and again the portions were in our favor. Finally, we received our party favor. The goody bag. Literally. Inside the bag was a plastic bowl. To top it all off, inside the bowl was a bag of meat. Cooked chicken pieces to be exact. This is considered quite the gift. I couldn't suppress the smile that threatened to appear as I discovered my party favors. It was the perfect finale to the most unique and exciting birthday party I have ever attended. I am considering instituting the tradition of having a chairman and chair people to assist at my next birthday party. After all, 25 will be a big year too right?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

ABCD's

For those of you faithful readers, you will remember a time a year ago when I pronounced my dislike for phonics throughout my university studies.  I never wanted to teach early literacy, ever.  And yet I find myself in the middle of Ghana as the reading facilitator and chief advocate for the school and orphanage. 

I went to Accra last week in order to purchase some free books for the rewards for reading program, as well as some readers for our primary 1-3 classes. (Thank you to the generous donors who made that possible!)  I am not teaching p.e. at all this year, so I am teaching mostly reading with a little bit of social studies mixed in here and there.  Last week we received 48 new students on campus that were child trafficking victims on lake volta. They have been rescued through the Touch a Life Foundation.  They will be staying on our campus for the next year.  I was already overwhelmed with the amount of children  unable to read, or read well.  Then came a whole batch of kids who had never set foot in school before, and who don't speak english.  I have realized I need to focus on encouraging and equipping teachers with resources and ideas for how to incorporate reading into the classrooms or my work is in vain.

One young boy who is one of the most recent children rescued is named Jacob. Jacob has some hearing difficulties due to an unattended and inflamed ear drum rupture/infection a few years back.  I found him outside of class on his first day in first grade refusing to enter.  When I realized the situation, I sat down with him and we thumbed through a few literacy books I was holding at the time with ABC's listed inside.  I then lead him into class and we sat down to learn how to write his name.  He is a sharp kid.  He made connections between the alphabet on the page and his name.

Ever since that moment he seeks me out in school and in the evenings to learn letters and numbers.  He doesn't have to speak any english for me to realize how intelligent he is.  Every alphabet card I showed him today he made real life connections to by pointing or imitating the pictures displayed on the cards.  For example, the letter "F" card had a picture of a fox holding a fan.  So he picked up a book and began fanning himself.  He grabbed his chair and positioned his chair so close to me he blocked the view of the other three boys to the book we were looking at.  He leaned intently in to look and listen to everything.  I was playing an alphabet song for him to listen to and point to the letters as he went along.  It took him a few minutes to realize that the song and the letters were connected.  Then he would seriously shout "A!" B, C, and D.  because those are the only letters he knows.  The rest he doesn't know, so he would just keep shouting those four.  I couldn't help but smile at his over enthusiastic shouting.  Both at the letters and objects that matched the pictures in the book.  I am excited to watch as his english proficiency grows and his first year of school unfolds. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

B.Y.O.S.

Today I learned a valuable lesson.  When eating lunch at the school, you must b.y.o.s.  (Bring Your Own Spoon).  Lest you be caught sitting in the back of the library spoonless, chopstickless, knifeless, forkless, staring at a bowl of rice as I was yesterday.  I was left with two options:  drink my rice out of the bowl or eat with my fingers.  The first option has its obvious problems.  The second has no immediate difficulties, except how to wash your hands afterwards.  There is no sink or running water at the school.  The only prospects for hand washing is a bowl of dirty water the children have all been using all day to rinse their hands.  I didn't feel like have tomato sauce all over my hands was very professional either. 

I finally decided to use bits of bread to eat as much of the rice as possible.  Turns out bread is not really an effective rice scooping tool.  When the slice of bread was gone, I resorted to more embarrassing means of eating my bowl of rice.  I won't be caught spoonless again.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Meow

Thanks to Pam Mears I have been dibling it up this week.  By that I mean that I have been administering DIBELS reading tests to all the 1st-5th grade classes.  Thus far, with the help of some volunteers, I have made it through all the 1st-3rd graders along with about a quarter of the 5th grade students. I am pretty sure I could recite the materials in my sleep.  Each test must be administered to a single student at a time as it is not a written test, but oral reading.

One aspect of the 1st grade test is phoneme segmentation.  For everyone who is not a teacher, that means taking apart the phonetic (sounds) in a word.  So the word hit becomes /h/ /i/ /t/.  I asked one particular student to tell me the sounds he heard in cat.  He said "meow." 

Despite the cute answers, the overall outcome has been quite discouraging.  Of the couple hundred students tested so far probably only about 5 are on or above grade level. I expected as much, but without the concrete stats it was a little easier to imagine I was wrong.  Reading is not a subject on their syllabus, or in their timetable (subject allocation).  Therefore the only direct reading instruction comes from me.  I have my work cut out for me this year. Especially since the teacher they hired to take over teaching reading has decided not to come.

Monday, August 23, 2010

What Planet is This?

I flew into OKC with Francis Flair last Thursday to bring him to America for college at Oklahoma Christian University.  Seeing the USA through the eyes of Francis has been a whole new experience for me.  I had the opportunity to introduce him to things that were completely new and fascinating for him.  Such as mailboxes, ice machines, grocery stores, chocolate chip cookies, dead bolts, etc. He mentioned he felt like he was on a different planet all together.  Our lifestyles are so completely foreign to him.

I might have almost drowned him trying to teach him a cannon ball in the pool.  Good thing my dear friend Amy Hubble came to the rescue.  I might have been too busy laughing to notice that he was actually panicking.  Bowling went a little better.  He actually came out on top during the second round.  The movie theater, was impressive.  So much so that he fell asleep.  (I'll let him off the hook with jet lag on that one)

Francis was amazed at the campus of OC.  He has never seen a school compound like it in his lifetime.  I had a great time giving him the tour and introducing him to the faculty and staff we met along the way.  I was completely overwhelmed with the love and support with which he has been received.  Gifts from cash, to cookies, to bicycles and open arms awaited him.  God is truly wonderful.  I am amazed at the way he has taken care of Francis.  I hope the OC community will continue to help him adapt to life in the USA. 

I tried to teach Francis the things he could not say in America.  Let me give you a few examples of our America lessons:

#1: Don't ask for a rubber. 
(a rubber is a plastic bag in Ghana)

#2: Don't say you are going to flash someone.
(flashing means to call and hang up after your phone number has appeared on their phone)

#3: Don't hiss at people.  In America, it will still get their attention.  But not the kind of attention you are looking for.

#4: Lock public bathroom doors.  (He learned that one the hard way)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

painting the town red

I am not really the domestic type.  Nor do I really get into interior decorating.  But for some reason I had the urge to repaint the house.  Perhaps it was the mildew yellow color.  Or perhaps it was the fact that it looked like chalk on a cement slab (because it is).  Whatever the case may be, Alayna* and I made the executive decision to paint the house.  Well at least the bedrooms and hallway.  Not that it was really our decision to make.  Because it is Tommy's house.  But, he is in America right now.  I still haven't told him.  He'll like it. Right?

Painting in Ghana is not like painting at home. You can't just go to Sherwin Williams and whip up a batch of fabulous paint and go home with all the accessories to paint like a pro. 

Step1: The Friday before paint day we took the 1 hr tro-tro ride into Kasoa market to find a little paint stand to buy the first oil based paint we could find.  Turns out you have to mix turpentine in with it.  Then we had to find a way to get the 4 cans back to the VOH along with our other market purchases. 

Step 2: Pull a Tom Sawyer and pretend like painting is great fun and find some recruits.  Thankfully it worked.  Shaibu, Asuo, Dana, Francis, and Sualesu joined in the "fun."
Step 3: Sandpaper the walls.  Now, what should have been step 3 is take all the furniture out of the room. Because suddenly everything in my room was CAKED in yellow chalk powder.  Including my body. 

Step 4: Without the blue painters tape, drop cloths, or anything besides a brush, paint, and a pan dominate the walls.  Turns out that beige color does not look like the sample.  Thanks a lot paint man.

Step 5: We ran out of paint.  So...while I am covered in paint splotches I have to put a skirt back on and make a three hour trip to get more paint from Kasoa.  As if they don't stare at me enough when I go into "town" I had to add some paint marks. 

Step 6: Spend all afternoon repainting the ceiling white.  Turns out those boys have never painted before and let the roller of beige paint hit the ceiling on every stroke.  Or so it seemed.  Without any ladders, my perches were precarious as I made my way around the room fixing the ceiling lines in the bedrooms.

Step 7: Repaint the bathroom.  The beige looked like puke.  So it had to be re-painted white.  Finished around 1:00am.

Step 8: Sleep out in the hall with all the doors to the rooms closed, because the turpentine was about to give us cancer with the fumes. 

Thank goodness I did this all the day before I left on vacation. Let's hope the smell is gone when I come back.  Its amazing what a fresh coat of paint can do to a house.  And new curtains. Did I mention that we had new ones made? Hope Tommy doesn't mind. 

*I met Alayna in 2008 at VOH.  She is currently in Ghana implementing a new curriculum  project and is stayed with me for a couple of months.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Knocking

Jesus looked at him and loved him.  Go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.
Mark 10:21

I took the weekend off to celebrate the completion of the school year and to just chill for a bit without the persistent shout of "knocking" at the door accompanied by "madam chelsea!" (In Ghana, knocking is a statement you make at the door not something you do to the door)  I dearly love these children. I'm sure you all know that. But sometimes one has to take a chance to breathe, reflect, and rest. Since school vacated on Thursday the children are free--and are therefore continually wanting attention for one reason or another.  I tried to get some cleaning done a the house on Thursday and failed miserably for the steady stream of interruptions. 

I read the gospel of Mark this weekend.  I was struck by the constant demand for Jesus' attention.     I know there is no comparison between my life and the ministry of Jesus.  There are not thousands of people following me from town to town wanting to be healed or expecting to hear me preach.  My small glimpse at endless needs makes me more in awe of his patience and compassion that he displayed for the people.  In Mark 6 it recounts how Jesus had tried to sail away in a boat to a solitary place.  But the crowds beat him there.  Instead of responding in exasperation in verse 34 it says that Jesus had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. 

Often times Jesus tried sneak away at times to pray, or to teach his disciples alone.  It rarely worked, the people found him.  It amuses me at the kids' ability to find me wherever I am on campus.  One little boy came to interrupt girls devotional Thursday night because he wanted batteries.  How he knew we were meeting at a different location that night is beyond me.  I need to learn that practice of sabbath and solitude.  Taking time away so that when I am working I am working from the fullness of God's love within me, and not my own strength. 

In chapter 10 of Mark, the author tells us the story of the rich young man who thought he had it all figured out.  He thought he had figured out how to follow God's laws, be righteous, be rich, and get to heaven.  Until Jesus rained on his parade.  As I was reading this morning I just stopped at smiled at verse 21.  Jesus looked at him and loved him.  Not because he had it figured out.  But perhaps because he was so naive to think he did.  I think it must be similar to how I reacted when a student asked if we grew the same fruits in Oregon as they do in Ghana.  When I showed him on a map that most of our tropical fruits come from Florida.  He asked if we had been going to "the down there" to get our fruit.  I couldn't help but smile at his precious innocence.  I wonder if that's not how Jesus felt.  Looking at the rich young man and thinking. "oh my friend, you have a long way to go." 

I'm quite certain that he must do the same with me.  I hope he looks at me and loves me, despite my naive attempts at serving and loving in Ghana.  I'm sure he looks at me and thinks, "oh child, you have much left to learn."  But I sure am thankful that he is able to look at us and love us inspite of it all. 

C-L-O-S-I-N-G PLEASE!

At long last our school year has finally come to an end.  I am used to the September-May/June plan.  So this school year has been a stretch.  It hardly seems like the school year is over because it did not end with the usual fanfare and bang that accompany many American classrooms. There were no class parties, no awards assemblies, field days, etc.  They did spend the last day cleaning the school compound, and they simply won't come tomorrow.  At the end of every school day the bell ringer ringer clangs the bell several times then yells, "closing please." Except every sound is drawn out.  Wednesday I heard it for the last time. 

The teachers have been frantically entering grades into the report books.  Grading was never so menacing as it is doing it by hand.  You also have to wait in line for each classes record book.  I finally finished my last class late Wednesday afternoon. 
We had a teachers seminar this last week with a group of teachers from the Prestoncrest Church of Christ in Dallas, TX.  The teaching staff here was surprised when I showed up to the meeting the first day.  Sometimes they think because I am an American I am exempt from such meetings and trainings.  I try to present myself as just one of the staff.  I admit sometimes I fail to follow the regular teacher's procedures.  Such as the chain of command when requesting a leave of absence.  I think it was very important for me to be a learner right beside the other teachers during the seminar.  The fact that I am just one of the team is slowly setting in. 

I have started thinking about the new students that I will have next year, and the repeat students.  I am really excited about teaching the same material as last year-only better.  Second year of teaching has got to be so much better!  In the meantime, I have plenty of programs, activities, and preparation to do during the short school holiday! School reopens the 6th of September.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Like Father, Like Daughter

There is something unspeakably wonderful about sharing experiences with those you love.  For several years now my parents have been hearing about the VOH and the children whom I have grown to love so deeply.  My mother had the opportunity to visit last fall, and my dad just spent the last two weeks with me.  I have settled into my role and the community since my mom's visit, so it was a great time for dad to come.  I knew that he would grow to love the community here as I do.  He quickly won their hearts. Everyone kept saying how much I "resemble" my father.  One of the teachers even went so far as to say that I should have been a man.  Thank you for that.  But, I was honored that the house parents commented on our similar work ethic and character.  It was so fun to listen to them sing his praises after he the various classes he taught. 

He doesn't sit still real well.  I wonder where I learned that from?  He kept telling me he did not come to sleep and that he wanted to serve in any way possible.  So, he helped in doing review games with my social studies classes, read with my reading groups, played kickball in p.e., taught primary devotion each afternoon, helped with reading program, taught a parenting class, fixed broken library chairs, preached a sermon, played with kids, and everything else in between.  He discovered just how insufficient words are to describe the experiences of the heart here in Ghana.  I am so thankful for who he is, and the way that he serves.  I am so blessed by he and mom's support of my work here and their examples of faith.  I know sometimes they have a hard time with me being far away, but I told them it's all their fault.  They taught me to love Jesus.  And I'm thankful they did.  I think he left thoroughly exhausted, but with a full heart.  I wish you could all come visit.  This children, this place would capture your heart.

Friday, July 9, 2010

One Step at a Time

I have written several times about my dear and devoted Ebenezer.  There are moments when my heart hurts I just love him so much, and moments when I want to cry with exasperation over him.  There are times I am so frustrated by his behavior and disrespect because I want better for him, and know that he knows better.  There are also days when I am overwhelmed with his ability to love and learn.  For many months I have been counseling him on his behavior, and monitoring his progress.  He is constantly at my side, so I spend a lot of time with him each day.  He is preciously loyal.  There are days when I get discouraged that we are back sliding and that his anger is overcoming him.  Not too many days ago I had to physically restrain him from entering a house where he was trying to beat up a couple of girls that had been teasing him.  But today I praise God for baby steps.  I praise God for a heart that desires change.  Transformation takes time.  But it is beautiful to see small steps forward. 

Of his own initiative today, Ebenezer gave me a prayer he wanted me to type for him so that could read it every morning.  I almost cried as I read his words.  I will share with you just one part of it:

God please help me to be respectful to my parents and the people around me.  God bless me and guide me to forgive my brothers and sisters.  God please help me to stop becoming angry easily.  Thank you God for what you are doing for me and my family.  Father bless my family and bless the Village of Hope.  Thank you for the food that you have been giving me.  Thank you for the water you have been giving me.  I love you God and I know that you will help me to be a good boy.  Thank you God for sending your only son to die for me.  Thank you for listening to my prayer.

I praise God that it is in his heart to overcome his anger and disobedience.  I love that his is thankful for having clean water to drink and food to eat each day, as so many here do not.  God please answer his prayer.  Today and everyday.

Love

Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.  John 13:34

I have decided that life is a lot more simple than we often make it.  God created us with such love and desires that we share it with each other.  Everyone.  Period.  Whether we think they deserve it or not. Whether they love us or not.  Whether they treat us well or not.  We have got to stop talking about it, reading about it, and do it.  If there is one thing I am learning from the ministry here it is how to love more fully, more deeply, more sacrifically.  Don't just love when it feels good. Love when it hurts.  Love when it is uncomfortable, awkard, dirty, costly.  I challenge you to just love with all you have got, and then some.  And see if God won't fill your heart.  Today my heart feels like it could bust with love for these kids.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Nkugami

Matthew 10:42 And if anyone gives even a even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.


It is not often that I share with you the background stories of our children here. I sometimes forget that these boistrous, joyful, passionate, children have such tragic stories. Their histories are incredibly powerful, so today I would like to share with you the story of a sweet young lady named Nkugami. Her story speaks for itself about the importance of this ministry, and the redemptive beauty of God's love. I am continually amazed at her maturity, selflessness, and joyful heart. She spends much of her time caring for a young girl named Christie who has physical and mental challenges. She never complains that she misses out on activites and leisure time to care for Christie. It is precious to watch Nkugami love and care for her. My heart just swells when I see the two of them together. Here is her story in her own words:

My name is Nkugami Takpando from Yendi, in the northern region of Ghana. I am 14 years old and in grade 6.
This is why I came to the Village of Hope:
One afternoon, my mother called me and this is what she said to me, “Nkugami, very soon you will leave here for another place. Promise me that you will be a good girl.” Just after she said that she laid down on the bed and died. My father went out to buy a coffin to burry my mother. My father returned with the coffin, and put it in a room. When he was asked to go and bring the coffin from the room, looking at the coffin alone in the room, he also fell and died instantly.
Life became hard. I was like chaff that the wind blows anywhere it wants. Besides my parents death, there were several other deaths in my family sequentially. The only hope was my grandmother who moved me from my town to a distant land with the fear that I may also die.
I was five years then, I had to work on people’s farms for daily bread. Hope was lost, no future for me. I was always weeping and mourning. No education, clothing, and shelter was VERY hard. My health matter was horrible because there was no proper food and proper balanced diet. As a result, I almost died of sickness. I couldn’t read or write.
One day the Village of Hope came to my aid. My mourning turned into dancing and laughter. Now I can write and read. Village of Hope has given me everything- including shelter, education, health, clothing, etc. My vision is to become a trained teacher to help others who may have happened to go through such problems. God help me. Amen.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

giraffes have a staring problem

Perhaps you think it cliche, but I have a serious fascination with giraffes and zebras. We do not have them in West Africa. They can only be found in certain parts of eastern and southern Africa. So, my last morning in South Africa I made a mad dash to a nature reserve to try and find some of these beautiful creatures. I could have visited the zoo, but who does that in Africa? The elder from the congregation obliged me, and took me to go and see them in their natural habitat at a nature preserve area. I think they thought me a bit silly for being so excited over them. We had to drive around the nature reserve until you spot the animals. He could hardly stop the car before I was out the door when we first spotted the zebras. I got as close as they dared let me before they started to wander off. When we spotted a group of giraffes I headed straight though the waist tall grass to reach them. They all stood there and stared at me for the longest time. Seriously, look at that picture. Those guys can you make you feel self conscious. I tried to slowly inch my way closer to them, but it was hard since I was so excited. With the giraffes I tried to be a bit more patient than the zebras, and got within 3 yards of one of them! I could hardly believe it, I was so extatic! It was the perfect way to end my trip to South Africa. When my generous hostesses dropped me back off at the airport I could hardly believe all that I had crammed into one weekend. I seriously considered missing my flight so I could accidentally stay for the rest of the tournament!

Monday, June 21, 2010

see the champions, take the field now...

I awoke to the sounds of a bustling house at 7:30am. I had not finished enjoying my sleep. My hostess, however, thought otherwise. Naniwe marched in the room and announced it was time to get up. She would drop me off in town on her way to church. Ghana was to play Serbia that afternoon in Pretoria, and I was going to try and get a last minute ticket. Smarty pants that I was, I had not checked online before leaving Ghana to see if there were any left. I had assumed the lottery system was over, as I had heard getting tickets was virtually impossible to any match.
It was the first day that I had been left on my own to explore the city, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The details of my procuring a ticket are quite extensive and entertaining, however I will spare you the novel. After walking back and forth across town, playing hide and seek with the taxis, asking for many directions, waiting in line for several hours at the ticketing office, and getting lost in the mall, I finally came emerged with a ticket in my hand at 3:15pm. The game was to start at 4:00pm across town. The only tickets that had been left were the premiere tickets. I had not had time to buy any Ghana gear to wear to the match, so I had to buy the first thing I found once I finally reached the stadium. I was then personally escorted to the suite from which I would watch the match. I could hardly catch my breath from my whirlwind morning, and my luck at getting such a ticket before the national anthems and kick off. The view was incredible, and this stadium much more impressive than the last. I was once again caught up in the electricity of the fan excitement. I had free beverages, snacks, and a great view for Ghana’s victory over Serbia. I met several other Americans, South Africans, and Uruguayans enjoying the match. In fact, one of the Uruguay fans decided I should be his wife and proposed to me. I was quite literally swept off my feet before I could answer. He picked me up and started to walk me out of the suite. He finally put me down amidst the laughter of all those in the suite. Turns out Ghanaians aren't the only ones for impromptu proposals. It was quite funny.

The game was very entertaining, and of course the goal by Gyan the highlight of the day. The fans went nuts (myself included)! Everyone in the suite congratulated me for the goal and after the game as they knew I lived in Ghana. I don't know quite how to describe the thrill of it all. I left feeling like I was walking on air.

Afterward I wanted to go to the Fifa Fan Fest site where 30,000 fans gathered to watch the matches on big screens. Unfortunately no one could direct me to any public transportation for how to get to the place, which was situated just outside of city. My pursuit of the place seemed to reflect that of my pursuit of tickets in the morning. I was directed to join a park and ride shuttle in pursuit of a taxi. Once at the parking lot there was no taxis. I was told to get back on the bus and have the driver take me to particular station. The Fifa bus driver gave me a personal ride to the station, where he would not leave me saying it was not safe. He took me instead to a police station around the corner to request help. No one in the police station seemed to think I could find a public bus or taxi (or safe one at least) at that time of night (7:00pm though dark as midnight). There was apparently no one headed that way on the squardron either that could give me a lift as the officer had hoped. He told me that the Hatfield square (where I had watched the first few matches on the big screen) was only a few kilometers away and that I should call my hostess for a ride. I did not want to bother her, as we had already arranged my pick up after the Germany vs. Australia match later that night. I decided to walk what was supposed to be a couple of kilometers. Turns out a couple actually means 6. I was trying to hurry in order to see the kick off of the match at the square. The 3 miles seemed to stretch on and on as I walked as fast as I could across town. For those of you worried about my safety--don't. It was no Egypt. If I had just walked from the stadium after the game, I would have been there in 15 minutes. But, naturally trying to go to Fan Fest lead me on the wild goose chase back to where I started. I missed kick off, but was able to watch the rest of the match from a restaurant table at the square. I ate fajitas (YUM!) while watching Germany thrash Australia. Watching in the middle of the square packed with international football fans is definately an unforgettable experience--especially after all the work in getting there!

Jabulani

Saturday morning I awoke to my hostess bursting through the door at the woman’s home at which the prayer meeting was held. I discovered a flurry of frantic texts from all members of my family to contact someone in order to find out the new location where I needed to pick up my ticket. I will spare you the details-but in a nutshell I accidentally and embarrassingly woke up the USA team manager at the team hotel, and spoke with several others before discovering my ticket was with the unknowing mother of a team member. Really, who wakes up the USA soccer team manager before 6am on the morning of a World Cup match? Me! I like to pretend that didn't happen. I had to go to the USA team hotel in Johannesburg in order to pick up my ticket to the match. Quite the place—I felt like an intruder amongst all of the family members of the team. Due to some mistake there was an extra ticket to the match, so my hostess (Naniwe) ending up being able to attend the match with me.

We had to drive back to Pretoria, the city where Naniwe lives, before making our way to Rustenburg the place where the match was to be played. I fought sleep all the way there, even as caravans of team fans honked car horns, blew vuvusellas and flew their flags proudly. Naniwe had not slept all night and therefore requested I not sleep in order to keep her awake. This made me a bit nervous for our return trip that would happen later that night (and such fears were incidentally well founded). The parking lot was as festive of a place as any. Fans were putting the finishing touches on their supporter gear and collecting their warm clothes for the match. We joined the park and ride shuttle with the rest of the fans streaming into the lot.

The stadium was abuzz with festivity. Outside the stadium were tents set up with various fan gear, entertainment, and beverages. I walked around just soaking up the atmosphere before going to find my seat. Sure enough my seat was right smack in the middle of the USA team family members. It was up higher than expected, in the far right corner of the field-a great view though. I was sitting next to Tim Howard (the USA goalie)’s mother. We made small talk throughout the match. I thoroughly enjoyed her company, and insight on the team. My stomach was in knots the whole time. Naniwe laughed at how intense I was throughout the game. It was all quite surreal. The score board/replay screen was not working-so we didn’t even know the official time which was strange. I could hardly contain my excitement throughout the match. The families seem satisfied with the tie, of course everyone would have preferred the win, but felt good about it. I didn’t want to leave the stadium after the match. The atmosphere is just so electric.

We ended up having to wait an hour and half out in the cold for a shuttle bus back to the parking lot. There were thousands of fans waiting and it took that long for us to get on one with space available. It took at least 30 minutes to reach a parking lot that could not have been more than 3 miles away (traffic). My hostess had been dozing off on the bus, I wasn’t sure if that was a good plan or not. Once we reached the parking lot to unload, she was disoriented and was unsure of which direction the car was and which was we needed to exit the parking lot. I felt quite certain we were in trouble. I knew where the car was, and which was to exit- though she was not confident in my directions. She was dozing off in between chances to pull forward in our line of cars to exit the lot. I asked if she was okay to drive, and she told me she had slept in the bus so she was now ok. I beg to differ. The next 2.5 hours were possibly some of the most miserable of my life. She did not know how to get back to her hometown, to read the road signs, and was half asleep the whole time. I thought for sure that is how I would die. I was again not allowed to sleep, which was the worst part. I was trying everything I could think of to make myself stay awake. She had the windows rolled down to attempt to wake herself with the cold air. I was freezing, and SO tired and frustrated. She kept asking me for directions, and then didn’t listen to my advice. We were in the middle of nowhere, and she decided to stop at a farm house (at 2 am) and honk for someone to come out. Thankfully no one did. Then she drove us all the way back to Rustenburg to start over and orient herself. Once we found the correct freeway, she didn’t want to drive full speed because she was tired. So we slowly made our way the 100 kilometers to Pretoria. Everytime I looked at her I was not sure if her eyes were open or not. I suggested she pull over and sleep, since it was better to be safe than dead. She thought that was funny, but not safe. So she drove on. The only few minutes that I was wide awake during that drive were the seconds after a cow ran into our lane of the highway. I shouted to alert her, and she swerved just in time to miss the bull. It was seriously close. My head kept hitting the headrest or my hands in sleep. I could barely keep myself from succumbing to it. I had slept about 5 hours between the previous two nights. The miserable drive finally ended at 3:30am when we arrived back in her driveway. I was so cold I slept with gloves on my feet, and fell asleep seconds after my head hit the pillow, having enjoyed the game of a lifetime and somehow surived the drive back.

Just like a waving flag



This could quite possibly be the most difficult piece of writing I have ever done. How in the world am I supposed to capture in words the experience of the World Cup?? I mean seriously. I don’t know how to begin to explain the significance and pulse of a country bursting with pride at hosting the first cup on African soil. What a huge moment this is for them, not to mention that every other African nation shares in their pride. Even before I left Ghanaian soil the World Cup fever was overwhelming. The airport in Ghana was decked out, throngs of people clad in national gear filled the departure hall. Even the flight attendants on South African Airways were wearing Bafana Bafana jerseys. I could hardly sleep for excitement on my overnight flight on the night of June 10th. I arrived Friday morning the 11th the day that it all began. From the second I stepped off the plane my pulse quickened with the thrill of it all. I was met by several members of the church in South Africa that were going to host me. As soon as the car started and the radio came on, there was a continuous stream of commentary on how the countdown was over and the world cup had arrived! National pride must be at an all time high. I know you have probably seen Invictus, but this was unbelievable. Every local you saw was wearing some sort of Bafana Bafana gear and most were sporting (and blowing) vuvusellas. I think I could hear one of those at all times during my weekend stay. People had their windows rolled down and would toot their horns out the windows, as they were walking down the street, as they were waiting at the airport, everywhere!! It was surreal and incredible to see all the fans of various nationalities wearing their team colors with pride. It felt like what must be an Olympic type atmosphere. Such a time of international unity, and all the while national pride.

Friday morning I toured a cultural village that displayed the 5 major tribes of South Africa and their history and lifestyles. I walked in the mock villages, watched cultural dances, a historical video, and learned the diski (soccer) dance. I spent the afternoon and evening watching the opening matches of the World Cup. I watched them in a public square in the middle of Pretoria among what must have been almost a thousand young people. All decked out in their Bafana Bafana gear and armed with vuvusellas to make noise the whole game. I had to stand on top of the picnic bench in order to even see the big screen. Everyone was standing on top of something. In fact, my toes were sore the next day from standing on tip-toe for so long. The fans were elated with South Africa scored the opening goal of the whole tournament. They danced, sang, hooted, jumped, clapped, and yelled for ages. I personally had to set down my coffee to celebrate the momentous occasion properly. I considered just letting it fly from my hand like others were doing with their beers, however—it seemed that christening my neighbors with hot coffee would not be appreciated. Let me take a moment to make a point here. Yes, I was holding coffee. It is winter in South Africa and I was cold. Really cold. Turns out I have been in this tropical climate for long enough that my body gets a cold when the temp drops below 70 degrees (and in South Africa down into the 40's!). When Mexico scored it got almost silent in the square. It took a few minutes for the cheering to resume, although it was not quite as zealously as at goal time. They were happy when the game ended with a tie-but not elated about it. I stuck around to watch the France vs. Uruguay game which did not quite have the audience participation of the first match-but was still enjoyable.

Turned out that my hostess was going to an all night prayer service that evening, so I would not be able to actually sleep at her house. Awkwardly enough, I actually had to sleep at the home where they were hosting the all night prayer meeting. I had been awake the entire previous night on the plane, and had not had a decent nights sleep for several nights prior to that. I knew that I was going to need my sleep for the big game on Saturday. So I felt quite weird walking in greeting everyone there for prayers, then sleeping...I am not quite sure how I always seem to get myself into these interesting situations, but I do.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

#24

My birthday started rather early this year. It kicked off with a surprise party at Araba & Thelma's home on May 25th. Thelma (the new human resource manager) had been making natural juices for the OC students to sample throughout their stay. She told them all to come over that night, and I assumed that it was just to try another juice. And it was, but it also doubled as an early celebration for my birthday/ goodbye to OC since they were leaving on the 26th. Araba, Leticia & Thelma had brought plaintain chips, roasted groundnuts (peanuts), fresly made pineapple juice, as well as pineapple/watermelon juice. Yum! I was very honored by the toast and the thoughtfulness of the whole event! And to Cole, thank you for dedicating 'African Queen.'

My actual birthday I awoke to a text from Thelma starting at 4:50 am (thanks for the lovely early wake up) and was bombarded with emails, letters, facebook messages, texts and phonecalls throughout the day. I was sang to by my students at every one of my classes. I am not quite sure how everyone found out it was my birthday, but all the kids seemed to know.

I spent the afternoon relaxing on the beach for a couple of hours before coming back for Thursday night girls devotion. We spent some time just singing praises together. Then the girls told me to close my eyes. They surprised me by spelling out "happy birthday" with individual letter cards held by each girl along with several posters they had all signed. They had me close my eyes, and when I opened and saw their sweet sentiments and beaming faces I felt my heart would burst. It was so precious. We had a little dance party afterwards. They love to dance! The rain started to fall, which made for the perfect ending to the day. (I LOVE Ghana rain!) I ran home in the pouring rain to end the day by watching some Friends episodes, eat the lovely turtle chocolate dessert mom had sent me, and to talk to my dear sister! Thank you all for the many birthday wishes from back home!

Big Head

My 6th grade social studies students have been studying citizenship recently. What it means to be a citizen, how to be a good citizen, rights/responsibilities, etc. I asked them to design and carry-out a project to demonstrate good citizenship in our community. The 6b classroom decided to gather items to donate to "the needy" at the Bonsoku school (in a nearby village). It made me so proud to see them take ownership of the planning of everything, right down to asking the headmaster permission to go out. I loved watching their excitement as they collected their items to donate over the course of the week. They brought everything from pens, pencils, notebooks, oranges, toilet paper, etc. When those that don't have a lot are generous in giving what they do have it is quite humbling.

Wednesday morning they sorted out all the items and loaded the bus, anxious to go and deliver the items. They had neglected to inform the school they were going to be coming, so we caught them by surprise. But they received us warmly into their classroom. We greeted them, introduced ourselves, officially presented the items, and prayed for them before taking our leave. In Ghana when someone is feeling proud, they say "you're head has become big." I felt as if mine swelled with pride for my students as they executed this citizenship project with such enthusiasm and responsibility. My 6a classroom is going to go and help clean the marketplace in Fetteh next week. I look forward to the completion of their project as well. Teaching is so meaningful when it has practical application!

You are Welcome

Visitor season kicked off with the arrival of the Memorial Rd/Oklahoma Christian group on the 6th of May. There will be groups here for the next few months solid, with groups overlapping at times. I can hardly beleieve that it is already that time of the year. It was so wonderful to see the OC group at the airport arrivals hall last month! I really enjoyed having them here. It reminded me of how it was to be here as a part of a team in 2007 and 2008. It was great to have help at my reading classes, reading program, in children's Bible class, as well as just people to hang out with at night. A group from Lipsomb University was also here for a few weeks. Currently we have a group of 6 art people from Harding University, 2 leftover Lipscomb girls, and 3 interns from Abeliene Christian University. I am still getting used to having other people around. Sometimes I am still surprised to see other Americans at church, and not to be the only white around. It is nice to have other people to give the children attention and love. It is very interesting to hear their perspectives about this place. It helps me to reflect on my own growth since my arrival last year.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Clean your plate

Saturday the 22nd of May was quite the day. Saturday morning I had to say goodbye to my sweet friend Stella. Stella just graduated last saturday from JHS 3. She will be staying with her Ghanaian sponsor for the next few months before going to high school in the fall. She came to say goodbye and when she layed her head on my shoulder I noticed huge tears rolling down her face. She is scared to go, and sad to leave. I hated saying goodbye to her.



That afternoon I took the third set of students to reach Papayes to Accra. My dear friend Offei was one of those who had completed the reading program. Offei lights up my life. His mannerisms and comments are histerical. He ordered his food, then told me he wanted to get it to-go. I was confused, assuming he must be hungry. However, when his food came he started devouring the rice. As the food on his plate was waning, I told him that if he ate everything on his plate, right down to every last grain of rice and the bones I would buy him ice cream on the way home. I was talking to the kids sitting next to me, and was not watching Offei when I suddenly realized there were no longer chicken bones on his plate. I asked him where they were, and he gave me a closed lip smile and laughed. Jessica Ortman, who was sitting next to him, realized she could hear him chewing on them! I was so shocked I could hardly beleive it! I must admit I was freaking out a bit, which Offei thought was even funnier. I asked all the other kids if it would make him sick and they said no. He then just wanted more of a reaction out of all of us, and started to collect the other kids' bones!! I never dreamed he would take me literally when I joked with him to clean his plate. Oops. Apparently Offei means business when it comes to ice cream. I was going to buy them all some anyways!



Saturday night we showed the film the BIG GREEN, a kids soccer film from the mid-90's. You would have thought they were watching a world cup match the way they were chanting, clapping, jumping, and shouting during the film. It was so much fun. They were so into the film, even chanting "kiss the goat" and "go big green" at various points in the film! They have already been asking me to show it again.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The gift

Ebenezer has been my constant companion for sevearl months now. The other day he was quite angry at me because I called him out on his bad attitude. He spent most of the day upset with me. He even told one of the OC boys that is here that he wouldn't be my friend anymore. On my way to church that night he came running up to me apolozing over and over for his behavior. He kept saying "I was acting crazy wasn't I?" "You knew that I was being crazy." He spent the rest of the night saying sorry.

It is not very often the VOH kids have money to spend, only if friends or visitors give it to them. Yesterday I was sitting in the library when he walked in with a bag of pure waters for me. I buy these sets of 30 "pure waters" that are in small sachets to drink. He had 1 cedi ($1 essentially) and decided to spend all of it to get me water! Ebenezer knows kids are always asking me for water and I run out very quickly. He wrote me a note and told me that the reason why he was doing that for me was that he loves me very much. It was so sweet. It is moments like that remind me exactly why I am here. It is humbling to accept such sincerity from children. I told him it was quite possibly the best gift I had ever received.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Honeymoon Suite for One Please

Ever said that before? I found a cheap hotel in a small beach town halfway between here and Accra for the weekend. The honeymoon suite was $5 more than the regular room so I splurged. I found it rather amusing to be in the honeymoon suite alone. Although, really I had come for a date. A date with God, I needed a serious weekend getaway with him to sort through some stuff.


I spent the majority of the weekend sitting on a rock outcropping in solitude on a quiet stretch of beach in Kokrobite. Saturday morning I scoped out a great spot in front of a half-finished hotel. The security guard on duty came to greet me and brought me two fresh coconuts! He was quite gracious when he realized that I had come to be in solitude and left me alone the rest of the day. I won't spell out what happened those two days-but it was a fabulous time of silence and reflection and prayer. There were no epiphanies or decisions made, simply a beautiful reunion.


The last night I found a great hippie place to stay even more cheaply. It reminded me of Portland + Rasta + Ghana + beach. There were cute little huts with tie-dye sheets, mosquito nets, bucket showers, coconut trees, hammocks, bamboo, outdoor dining, and all the ambiance that goes with it. It felt great to not hear "Madam Chelsea" every second, and not to be called Obruni, or to feel obligated to be doing something every minute of the day. I have never stayed in a hotel alone before, it was a bit weird and lonely. But wonderful all the same. Just what I needed. Some time to really feel the things that I have been neglecting to reflect on and to feel.

Bumper to Bumper

An understatement: Accra has traffic. It doesn't really matter what time of day, unless it is before 5am or after 10pm, the roads are packed. It took 4 hours for me to get from one side of Accra to the other on Friday night. At one point I was sitting in a crowded crowded, hot, loud city bus being smashed between two people listening to all the passengers shout and argue about the price of the fare with the fare collector. The situation struck me as rather amusing. Accra is a bustling metropolis of people. I am slowly learning my way around on the tro-tros, knowing which place to change cars. Bumper to Bumper is the name of a really popular hip-hop song around here. And while it actually has nothing to do with traffic (something more sensual I'm sure) I feel like my life does right now. My mind has been flooded with so many thoughts, emotions, responsibilities, etc that it felt like a traffic jam in the head. So I decided it was time to get away for a few days. Long overdue actually.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The time has come!


Since September the junior high school 3 students (essentially 9th grade) have been studying VERY hard for their BECE exit exams. This set of exams determines their high school placement. If you don't score well cumulatively you don't go. 1 is the highest score, 9 the lowest. They are taking tests in 7 different subjects. The tests include 40 multiple choice questions and then a set of essay questions. Each test is 2 hours.


First term they had extra classes before and after school, starting at 7:00, ending at 5:00pm. Then they would go for prep EVERY night after dinner/devotion until 9:00 to study some more. During second term they have been writing practice mocks. Which is essentially past test questions from previous years. They will spend most of the week taking the tests, then the next week revising and discussing the answers.


The time has come for their exams. They start on monday and last until next Friday. Please pray for their focus, retentive memory, honesty of examiners and graders, and protection from any sickness! There are 27 students. There names are: Patrick, Anita, George, Eric, Roberta, Yeenu Sr., Yeenu Jr., Joshua, Sampson, Beatrice, Samuel, Martha, Philomena, Mary, Abass, Stephen, Isaac Ayensu, Daniel, Agnes, Isaac Boateng, Foster, Emmanuel, Stella, Selina, theophilus, Alex, and Michael.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Happy Birthday to you...


Last Sunday it was Dana & Dawuni's birthdays. They are twin brothers who were turning 18. They are in high school, so they are attending school off campus. I have not gotten to see them much as they only come on school breaks. I went to their house in the afternoon and told them to come and make some cookies at my house for their birthday. Dawuni (the quiet one) was busy writing a sermon that he found out that morning he would be preaching that night. I could tell I caught him off guard, first in knowing that it was his birthday, and second for offering to come make cookies. I told him to find his brother Dana when he was finished and to come on over. After about 30 minutes he just decided to send his brother over to make the cookies. Dana had never made cookies before, and was enjoying learning how. He did a great job making them! He made what I called mountain cookies, they were huge...but tasted great! He told me that he had only received a birthday present one other time in his life, in 2006 and that his brother Dawuni had never received one. I was shocked. 18 years and no one had ever given him anything on his birthday. Dawuni never came, so we took some of the baked ones back to him along with a mineral (coca cola). He was a bit shy to receive it. He was watching a movie with his house, so I left after dropping it off and didn't think much of it. The next day he brought me a letter that I will never forget. He told me that I had broken the curse. He had thought there was some sort of spell on him that he would never receive a birthday gift, or even well wishes on his birthday. He was so surprised I even knew the day of his birthday, and confused why I would show him such kindness. Sometimes simple gestures are the most profound.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Let Them Say

This morning I awoke to a pleasant rain and sea breeze. I decided it would be a perfect morning for a job since it was not too hot. As I was jogging I amassed the usual stares and shouts of "Obruni" with a few mixed "madam chelsea" along the way. Sometimes I let the stares deter me from venturing out for a jog. Somehow the children never tire of shouting "obruni" at me, even though they see me weekly. I have decided to go with the popular Ghanaian motto "let them say." Which simply means, let people talk and say what they will, just go about your business and dont mind them. I went exploring down on the coastline between the hotel beach areas and discovered a serene and secluded section just for me. I reveled in the drops of rain and wind whipping the waves and my hair. I think it reached into my very core to bring fresh air. I lost all sense of country and culture and just absorbed the ocean in all its glory. What a big God we serve. It was one of those moments that I felt so insignficant, and God felt so infinite. I am thankful for the moments when I am reminded of such.

I walked back through town, just soaking it all in. Somedays I am still somehow struck by my present reality. It hits me that things have become normal that used to be so foreign. I was the lone white person wandering down the streets of a small rural fishing village in Ghana, West Africa. Women sweeping with straw brooms, goats and chickens running free, children playing simple hand games, men sitting on benches under trees talking, the smell of fish being smoked, rickity wooden tabels ladden with half-spoiled produce... The sights and smells of village life. I continue to feel like an invader in this scene. "One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn't belong..." Their is a genuine quality about life here that is fascinating. The sense of community is inticing. I am quite aware that I will never blend in, my skin just doesn't have the capability-but perhaps in time they will stop being surprised to see me.

There were three small children peeking through the wooden bars of the gates to the White Sands resort. It is an extravagant resort located in the midst of this impoverished fishing village. It is overpriced and patronized by only wealthy foreign businessmen. It hit me that this depicts a striking picture of the reality of their lives. Catching a glimpse of a life that is just out of their reach. The high rock walls provide quite a barrier between the two realities. Most developing nations suffer from these extreme ends of the economic spectrum. I would like to think that what we are doing here at the VOH is bridging that gap. These children will have the chance to do more than just peek inside the gates.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Mistaking Africa

In the past two weeks I have heard two children say that "whites" are better than blacks. It broke my heart to hear them say it, and to think that they really believe that! Neither of them were taking to me, I just happened to overhear it both times. I had quite the heart-to-heart with both of them about racial equality. They perceive whites as better because our country is more economically advanced. Unfortunately it seems that many Americans seem to have the idea that we are better for that same reason. Or that Ghanaians are stuck in some childlike mindset, incapable of progress and efficiency of business and government. Such opinions are never stated directly of course, but rather are implied by the way that they often just seem to know better or tend to speak down to locals.

Tommy brought me a book when he was here last titled "Mistaking Africa." It addresses all the misconceptions and stereotypes produced and reinforced in American media and literature. Most of it is consistent with what I have found of people's assumptions of my life here. I get asked questions about wild animals, tribal warfare, running water, etc. The national geographic photographs have permeated the American mind to the point where many Americans think of nothing else when they think of "Africa" than mud huts, wild animals, starving children, and tribal conflict. The truth of "Africa" is so much deeper. I just started the book, but it is already quite thought provoking.

We tend to stereotype things and people we do not completely understand, in order to put some sense of association or placement. Africa is a big place, but it tends to be lumped together as one singular country with a single history and culture which is so untrue. Even in Ghana there are 57 different languages and a whole variety of tribes and cultures. Their background is so diverse, it is not so simple as learning Ghana's history, let alone the rest of Africa.

I am so thankful that I am teaching social studies here. It has given me the opportunity to look in depth at the history and national development of Ghana. It has given me a great understanding and appreciation for their struggles. They suffered much at the hand of Europeans, and it has crippled their economy and perspectives in economic progress. As a relatively new country (53 years old) they are still working to develop their government and economy.



Reading the book has caused me to stop and analyze my own perspective on Ghana and Africa as a whole. I want to make sure that I am not allowing any negative conceptions to be part of my mindset. I never write stories on my blog about interesting events or stories to be told at the expense of locals. I am not poking fun at the differences in culture, merely sharing my experiences but I want to be careful not to perpetuate any stereotypes. It is true that most of the stories that you hear coming out of Africa are negative or condescending in some way. I want to make more of a point to tell you success stories of Ghana. I will never be able to fully understand Ghanaian culture, but I am enjoying the pursuit of a greater appreciation for who they are as individuals and as a nation.