Saturday, March 13, 2010


Last night Tommy, Sarah, Hannah & I sent 7 kids to Papayes in Accra. When the children have read 120 books in the after school reading program we take them to eat at Papayes. Papayes is a local restaurant that looks remarkably like Mcdonalds. The menu consists of fried or roasted chicken with rice or chips (fries), fish with rice, or a beef burger with chips. The kids had never ordered off a menu before. Let alone have the choice in what they would like to eat for supper.

We played car games all the way there. Eric, Lebene & I played tro-tro in the back seat. (adapted from slug bug). It was really funny. Maybe only because I had the most tro-tros. The kids were antsy with excitement as we arrived and ordered food. Their eyes all tripled in size when they saw the portions of their meals. None of them could finish their meal. They all filled to-go boxes with their leftovers and our own. They marched proudly out all dressed up, with their boxes of take away to the car. I got them all ice cream on the way home. Ebenezer was beside himself he was so happy with the events of the afternoon. He put his arm around me the whole way home in the car. He was counting how many good things I had done for him that day and promised me a really big hug when we arrived. It is fun to see the kids rewarded for all the hard work they have put in the past few months in reading. It is also exciting just to go on excursions with the kids. Ebenezer say a neon sign that said "open" and remarked that "oh, Ghana is nice! look at the sign!" This coming from the boy who usually is Ghana's biggest critic. It is so funny to see the things that they get excited about seeing.

Queso for Breakfast

This week Tommy came back for a visit along with Hannah and Sarah-two girls from Memphis. I was so blessed by the suitcase of treats that Tommy brought me!! (Thanks Jim & Terri!) Something about living in Africa just takes peanut butter to a whole new level. Ziplock bags, granola bars, dried fruit, and chips and queso/salsa have never been quite so exciting. In fact, I was so thrilled to have REAL chips and queso that I had it for breakfast most of the week. It was like another christmas. If you ever need to learn to give groceries their proper appreciation just move to Africa or some remote place.

It was such an encouragement to have Hannah, Sarah, and Tommy here this week. I love when there are visitors here who get it. People that truley have come to serve. Not people who think going to Africa is trendy, or is going to add some jewel in their crown. This week I was working on a letter writing project during my reading classes. I had to get penpal letters written and pictures taken of every child in teh school. (500 kids) I was SO thankful that I had Hannah and Sarah here to help!!

Having people here also reminds me to be dilligent in my lesson preparation, patient with the children, and grateful for the opportunity to live and work here. The same is true every time I receive cards (late as they may be), emails, and care packages. I am blessed to have the prayers and support of so many back home. There are times when I feel quite isolated here, but then I remember just how many wonderful people there are supporting me from back home. It is such a learning experience to be taken away from your support system of friends and family and familiar comforts of home. I am learning (sometimes painfully) a lot about myself and God through it all.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Shoulder Level! Solider Marching!

I made history on Saturday. I was the first Obruni to march in Ghana's Independence day celebration in Fetteh. All last week we spent the mornings marching in the hot sun down on the football park (soccer field). Most of the week they asked me to pretend I was a dignitary so that the kids could practice saluting me. But towards the end of the week they asked if I would lead a contingent of students in the 6th March parade. So for the first time on Friday they asked me to practice. I have never marched before, a shocking fact to all Ghanaians. My first lap around the park the kids all were shouting "Madam Chelsea! Madam Chelsea!" It was quite distracting!
I felt a little ridiculous, but wanted to get the marching down before my debut in town on Saturday! I had to swallow my pride to begin marching in front of the whole school for the first time. I was trying to stay on the drum beat, and on time with all the other girls. The whole time they are giving commands: mark time, shoulder level, forward march, eyes right, eyes front, and soldier marching.

Saturday morning we made our way to a school park in Fetteh. There were 3 schools present along with many members from the community. First all of the school children marched all the way through Fetteh. I was left to babysit the 4 young children- Irene, Nanaja, Nana Yaa, and Majoda. When they returned the actual marching contingents lined up in front of the dignitaries of the event. Each school had selected 25 males/females for the nursery/primary/junior high units of their schools. The poor kids had to stand in the hot sun for over an hour during the chief's speech. Finally, it was time for marching. All the groups lined up, with one teacher accompanying each unit. As we marched around I could feel everyone's eyes on me. The other teachers had told me not to worry, that the people don't watch how the teachers are marching, only the students. False. When you are white, everyone stares at you. The announcer started talking about me, but it was in Fante, so I couldn't understand. I found out later that he said something to the effect of: Look at that Obruni teacher marching with the Village of Hope. Isn't she doing great? Isn't it wonderful to have a white marching with us for Ghana's independence day?" When we reached the military representatives, chief, and dignitaries of the event we had to salute. Everyone said that I did great. Apparently all the Fetteh kids were saying I was the only Obruni they had seen that could march. Ha ha! I have been pleasantly surprised at the teachers commending me all week for marching with them. I can't help but feel like I earned a respect from my colleagues through the marching. They are slowly starting to treat me like one of them. I am really glad that I had the opportunity to march. It was a lot of fun, and I am real glad that I was able to appear somewhat coordinated for once!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Story, Story

I often find unattended classrooms taking turns telling stories. In Ghana when someone is about to tell you a story, they say "story, story" before sharing their tale. Sometimes when the lights go out the kids will sit around and take turns telling stories. Story-telling is an important part of their culture.

Allow me a quick qualifier before continuing: I am no longer going house by house each evening playing bingo/tutoring. There were too many houses to make that work. So, I leveled the children and am conducting reading classes with 4 different groups of children during various nights of the week.

The "highest" level of kids that I am working with meets on Thursday nights.
I decided that it would be really cool if they wrote stories and I found a way to publish them. I know there are some websites out there that will allow you to format and publish simple books. I was so excited to have them start writing I got a little ahead of myself and forgot to explain the editing process and all the basics of book writing. I was just sitting her reading through the kids' stories and am truely thrilled to see their personalities coming out in their stories. Some chose to write their life history before coming to the VOH. Ebenezer is especially pouring his heart out. Vida is also writing her own. Gideon Sr. and Daniel are writing about how they want to help people in the future, and how they want to grow to be like their fathers. Ernest and Kofi are writing about football (soccer) matches. Knowledge wrote a story about a rich man who neglected to care for his poor neighbors (a remarkable adaptation of the story of the rich man & lazarous in Jesus' parables). I am anticipating it will take several months before we are ready to work on actual publishing. But, I am really excited to see how this project turns out!

Ma Victoria

As many of you may have heard we lost Ma Victoria to liver cancer a few weeks ago. She has been staying in Kumasi (her hometown a few hours north of here) since September to receive medical treatment. For months we heard good reports about her recovery. And in fact the only official title we heard of her sickness was hepatitis. Her husband Emmanuel Effah went back and forth between staying with her and continuing his duties as a house parent here. Georgina Nanor, the substitute house mom was filling in as mother to the kids and performing the cooking and cleaning duties over the past few months. We all thought that Ma Vic would be returning soon until a few weeks ago.

On February 10th Emmanuel called me aside to tell me that he had gotten a call from the preacher of the church they attended in Kumasi telling him he had to come right away to be with Victoria. It had been over a month since he had had the chance to go see her. He, Fred (the director), and Ma Gladys (head child care manager) all went the next day (Feb 12th) to visit her. Ma Vic’s condition had worsened, so Emmanuel stayed there with her. On Saturday the 13th we had a 24 hour prayer session over her. The doctors had said there was nothing else they could do for her, so it was all in God’s hands. We had two hour prayer slots by houses. On Sunday the 14th, half of the house parents went to go and visit her and pray over her. They came back late that night really unsettled by her condition. She was not even able to wake up enough to recognize their arrival. Sunday morning in Bible class all of the kids wrote her letters of encouragement and love. She never received the letters. Monday morning the 15th she died with Emmanuel holding her hand and praying over her.

They called a meeting of the teachers/staff at 8:00 Monday morning to announce to us. The house mothers immediately started weeping and wailing aloud. In Ghanaian culture grief must be expressed quite publicly. My own tears were silent. We all sat in shock. Not really believing it could be true. They announced to the school children shortly after. The kids were dismissed to go back to class and I was mortified at the thought of them trying to carry on with their lessons as if nothing had happened. Some teachers told the students they would not do any learning that day because the kids were too sad. Thankfully Monday’s I don’t have too many classes, so I was able to use my free periods to just sit with some of the kids who had lived in her home. Ebenezer was crying off and on all day, along with many others from the home. How heartbreaking it is to see children lose their parents for the second time! The other kids respond to those who are crying by telling them, “Sorry, don’t cry ok?” As if the feelings can so easily be dismissed.

I was able to spend a little time talking with a few of the kids from her house over the course of the week. Tommy Drinnen (the American missionary whose home I am staying in while he is staying getting his phd) came to visit and share in the grief of the VOH. He and I along with Fred and his wife Faustina traveled up to Kumasi on the following Saturday to visit Emmanuel and his family. We sat around in mostly silence for several hours at his home. Each time new visitors would come they would walk around the room shaking everyone’s hands. Then after a couple of minutes, those who had already been in the room would get up and walk around and shake the new comer’s hands again. Then they would sit down and ask the purpose of their visit. There was a steady stream of visitors—Emmanuel had been a preacher before coming to work at the VOH 9 years ago, so they knew many people. Linda, the youngest daughter was in South Africa playing for Ghana’s national field hockey team at the time. She just returned this week to the news. I sat and talked with her for a few minutes tonight, and just ached for her as tears streamed down her face. She has not yet been able to go and join her family.

Death rites and funeral customs are quite different here. Funerals usually don’t happen for 5-10 weeks after the death of the individual. There is a one week celebration held after the death when the family all comes together to set the date for the funeral. Funerals are a really big deal. Many people are invited, and much much money is spent. Tv advertisements, posters, etc. are used to promote the event. Families provide programs, a meal, shade tents, a p.a. system, cold water sachets, and take away meals for all in attendance. Some funerals last for several days, and if it is a chief it can be weeks! I learned that most funerals even have people who are paid to weep and wail. Often times these people have never even met the deceased! Many of the old traditions are fading away with education and the influence of western culture. We will all be traveling north to Kumasi in order to attend the funeral on the 27th of March.

I laugh now at the fact that when I came in 2007 & 2008 I thought Ma Victoria was Ma Gladys. And in fact many of us called her Gladys both those trips. I was able to get to know her much better this time. I keep remembering one particular morning when I hand washed her cltohes with her. I had never done a whole load of laundry by hand before. She was amused at my washing, and tried to give me the smalker garmets to wash. She had a lot of spunk, energy, and love for the children in her home. Please pray for all of the children and parents as they grieve for her in the coming weeks and months.