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!


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


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.