Friday, December 19, 2014

A Sensory Day

As the orange glow of 5am enters my bedroom and the incessant honk of a flock of guinea fowls outside my window erupts, the African Wood Bee that crafts its daily stead within my roof beams, my students crashing in and out of my house as they gather their things for morning prayer, and the neighbors preparing their children for school all add to the chorus of reasons why I am almost never able to sleep-in to the desired time of 6am. 

As I start my morning with the usual cup of tea and either an egg sandwich or pancakes, the students outside begin sweeping the footpaths, tossing a cloud of dust that settles over every surface in my house, including adding a dusty flavor to my tea.  Just as I settle in to take my first bite of breakfast, I hear a knock at my door.  Today it’s Sumaila coming to collect my bowl for lunch.  I know because he always knocks continuously and even tries to open my door, even though he knows I always keep it locked.  One soft knock and a grunt means Karim, another student, coming to fulfill that task. The conversation is always the same: Goodmorninghowareyoufine.  Bowl?  Yes.  Thank You.”

With that over, I am able to return to my breakfast.  I take a few minutes to journal about yesterday and relax before I start my day.  As I wash the dishes with my allotted 3 cups of water, I boil a half liter on the stove so I can have a nice warm bucket bath.  When the water comes to a boil and dishes are done, I pour out precisely 6 scoops of water (about 4 liters) into a bucket and take my warm bath by scooping water over my head then soaping up in between pours.  The whole process is an indecisive hot-cold-hot-cold that lasts only about 4 minutes with my now 18 months of practice.  I dress, brush my teeth, and am out the door at 7:30 for morning assembly.

The assembly is entirely run by the students.  The sports prefect hangs the Ghanaian flag, signaling everyone to meet at the grounds.  The classes all line up according to height and class, making an interesting pattern that starts with the youngest and shortest in the front right and ending with the oldest and tallest in the back left.  Teachers meet near the Kindergarten class and gossip as the proceedings are run by that week’s prefect on duty.  All students sign the National Anthem, and pledge, then announce anything that is necessary.  As the young students get unruly, the older students discipline them with sticks and turn their backs to deal with another dispute over who pushed who.  The classes are dismissed individually, KG running and fighting all the way to their room, Primary 1 being led by the very enthusiastic Wepia, who must be the leader of his clan or be ready for the fight of a lifetime (let’s be glad he is short and by birthright, claims the leader spot), and the older students attempt a synchronized march to their classrooms. 

As teachers move around and students ready their things, the only sounds are the scuffing of shoes on concrete and the occasional wail of a child being beaten by his or her peer.  With everybody in their place, I call my first Vocational Class and move to my classroom, surrounded by 2 unattended classes of kindergartners.  As I draw nearer, strangely enough, the volume and intensity of their screams increases and all of the bystanders rush to tell me who hit who.  Now somehow in charge of 3 classes, I enter my room with my students and attempt to begin the day’s lesson. 

I set my class to retrieve and ready their sewing machines just as the first complaint comes to my door of a child knocking another’s head with a rock.  As I go to remove the student, it is clear they ran away to hide from me and their punishment of sitting in a corner of my room for as long as I deem it.  I enter my classroom again to discover 4 sewing machine needles had been broken in my absence and move to replace them just as another complaint comes from another child.  None of the KG children know how to sign since 14+ weeks in to the term, their teacher is still teaching them the 123’s and ABC’s. This cycle continues throughout the class and is the main reason why I have come to resent many teachers here. 

As I am intermittently able to teach my class, I constantly have to flap my arms around to gain attention or toss around a foam ball at those more stubborn.  Today’s lesson is to practice sewing straight lines in fabric and all of the students need to be monitored closely to prevent needles from breaking, theft of materials (which happens often in this most opportunistic of communities), and to break up the disputes in the KG classrooms.  By the end of the hour, I am exhausted and ready for another breakfast.

Luckily, today is Monday and my favorite millet porridge is served.  It is a thick, gluey, spicy, and slightly sweet and sour drink that I have come to crave.  On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, all of the teachers meet under the mango tree to take “our favourite,” joking about who will take the most cups and overthrow the previous captain of porridge.  They all know to keep a few cups aside for me, since my record is 4 cups in one morning, enough to make the usual person sick. 

With my second breakfast and morning class over, I now have a couple of hours free.  I walk around school to observe the situation in each classroom.  Some teachers are just arriving, two hours after morning assembly, others are asleep in their tables as their students jot notes from yesterday’s lesson, some newer teachers simply don’t know sign language so they only communicate by writing and pointing, and commonly half of the classes may be entirely empty a whole day.  This is a very sad realization that still hasn't come to feel normal after 18 months, and I see no end in this behaviour as administration turns a blind eye to it.  

Made from about 800 recycled pure water sachets
I take a short break at home to sit down and read a bit, relax in my hammock  and watch an episode of something on my phone, or complete some chore like washing clothes or prepping for supper. 
I return to teach my afternoon class and run into the same thing from the morning.  Both KG teachers have showed up by this point but they are both sitting in the same room, leaving one class empty of supervision and instruction, opening them up to bickering once more.  I have another exhausting hour then retire home for the rest of the school day. 

I prepare my usual lunch of fried sausage with onions and green peppers on garlic bread just as Sumaila returns with my cache from lunch, a bowl of school food, usually under seasoned or swimming with weevils.  I used to feed the food to my cat (who was killed) then my puppy (who died), but now it eat it by adding my own flair to it with ground tomatoes and peppers, which usually do the trick.  The younger children gather under my windows where there is ample shade from the hot afternoon sun, often disrupting any reading or focusing I try to accomplish.

After lunch, I usually go around to my classroom to allow students in to repair their torn clothing.  As they work, I play frisbee outside with mostly boys, who have picked up the idea that humans are fun targets to fire at.  This leads to a melee and sometimes ends in blood, like when one boy had his eye slashed open by a stick a girl was using to shield herself with. My classroom inevitably becomes packed with students that all want their clothes repaired and I have to come in a chase many out as means to prevent theft and damage to the machines.  5:30 rolls around and the prefects round everybody up for supper, allowing me time to ride into town to buy supper or food to cook with. 

Not my photo but an accurate example 
About a 2 kilometer ride takes me into town where I repeatedly greet:  Ne tuma.  Na ba. La wal la?  La so ma. (Good afternoon.  Acknowledgement.  How are you?  I am fine).  I buy my food, today was kenkey and sardines, and ride back home to cook.

I make a salsa by grinding tomatoes, peppers, garlic, onion, and lime if I can find some, then add in chopped onions.  I heat up the sardines and drop them into the grinding bowl oil and all.  I pinch a bit of kenkey, a sour and firm corn dough, dip it into the peppe and swallow it all whole.  The sour and spicy flavors go extremely well together.  In total, the meal costs me just over the equivalent of one US dollar.

After I wash my dishes, it becomes clear that I need to fetch
water.  I take my 25 liter oil can and strap it to my bicycle using a long piece of rubber, ride it to the borehole at the front of my school, and wait in line as dozens of children all crowd to fill their buckets for bathing.  My container is pushed to the front of the queue under “Teacher Privilege” and I stubbornly relieve students from pumping my water.  An average of 40 pumps fills the container and puts quite the strain on ones forearms. Then I carry the container to my bike, strap it standing up, and ride it back to my house where I pour it in my tank.  Formerly, my students used to deliver my water, making it necessary to rely on them to bring it, often leaving me with days where water was scarce.  Since taking up this task, I now appreciate the effort to fetch water more and find some sort of enjoyment from the exercise involved in the task.

I spend the last hour of the day visiting the students in their various classrooms.  The KG children all meet in one room and playfight all night long, the primary students sit in cliques and chat, and most of the JHS students flirt with each other or study as mandated.  I walk room to room, playing with some students, picking on others, or tutoring the small amounts I am able, usually by signing unfamiliar words. 

As my night comes to a close, I return home to wash the day’s dirt and sweat from my feet and face before falling into bed with a book until I fall asleep.  The chirps of crickets and distant radios of villagers and neighbors lull me to sleep, but I know it won’t be long before the chorus of the morning wake me and I start the whole process over again.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Achievement of a Major Goal

If you look over my past few blog entries, you can probably see that I have been incredibly busy traveling all over the country to work on projects, and have faced many challenges along the way.  A brief list of activities and challenges include:  shooting, editing, and designing the Sign Language dictionaries over the course of 5 months, various committee meetings, editing a couple training videos, in-service trainings for additional projects at site, pilot trainings and meeting with Ghana Education Services (GES) officials, revising a document for a national program,  and my work at site as a teacher in conjunction with challenges that include: consistent lack of electricity at site, the crashing of my computer (conveniently timed as I was editing videos, effectively leading to a loss of progress and potential to update or change the dictionaries or any other projects), becoming the only remaining deaf art volunteer, having to spend more than 1 month away from site in order to complete some of these projects, and many close friends completing their service in one respect or the other.  Now all of these things began to weigh heavily upon me and I reached a breaking point right about when my computer crashed.  But I received news in early October that not only validated all of the hard work, but led to the achievement of one major goal of mine during my service.

From the moment I learned there was an annual award for education volunteers, I knew I wanted it.  Not only for the title but to back up a lot of the work I do in Ghana in hopes that it will someday lead me to my dream job as an art teacher at a good school (somewhere on the side of a mountain in Colorado). 

The award is a GES-implemented function that is awarded to about 90 teachers in Ghana, 3 at each level (Primary, JHS, and SHS) from each region, one from VSO (the UK’s overseas volunteer program), one from JICA (essentially Japanese Peace Corps) and one from Peace Corps.  The overall winner of the National Best Teacher is awarded with a brand new home and 65,000 cedis.  The 1st and 2nd runner-ups are awarded new cars, and the top ranking teachers at each level or area of specialty are awarded large refrigerators and TV’s.  Needless to say, this is all a really big deal for those teachers that win. 

The ceremony was held in Cape Coast, which is a very popular tourist area.  Because of that, everybody thought I was traveling around to see the sights (which gets really annoying as a PCV who has been in Ghana for over a year).  I was also the only recipient form the foreign organizations that showed up which led to the typical phenomenon of becoming the token white guy.  The Vice President of Ghana showed up and gave everybody a figurative hand shake (due to Ebola) before he addressed the teachers.  Then the Minister of Education gave an address that was hard to hear because the other teachers were chatting around me.  Occasions like this are a lot less formal in Ghana. 

They began to announce the recipients for the various awards.  The teachers were really excited for everything during this point, hooting and hollering for the winners and their friends. It felt so nice to be in an area where every teacher was motivated and truly cares about the education of the children.   Eventually my name was called and I had to walk out in the middle of the huge grounds where the ceremony was.  At the podium, I received my certificate and a basket of traditional “artifacts” from some dignitary wrapped in extravagant kente cloth.  I tried to take my stock back to my seat but was asked to come and stand to the side and receive a vote of thanks.  Apparently there was a statement prepared, but because of the heat they didn’t read it and instead just thanked me for my service and then I headed back to my seat.  I was very confused. 

Cue the media.  I was intercepted by a reporter from the major TV station in Ghana and had the worst interview anybody ever heard of.  The whole thing focused on how I “even learned some of the local language during my time in Ghana.” My initial reaction was to be upset that the assumption is we cannot speak our local languages, so I just focused on how I live and work at a deaf school and because of that, speak sign language.  I also mentioned something about how the work was the dream of a lifetime and even threw in a God Bless Ghana for the viewers.  I quickly returned to my seat and tried to repress that memory.

The overall winner was announced last and that was really exciting to see!  The winning teacher works in the poorest region and gave a great speech about the direction of education in Ghana.  He received the model of his future home, which was pretty ridiculous, and the runner-ups received their cars.

The spread of gifts I received. 
After that, the ceremony closed and everybody went to collect their prizes.  Here, I learned that I also received a basket full of enough milk powder to last the remainder of my service.  Once all of the excitement died down, we all went back to our hotel and then on to a reception that evening to celebrate our victories.

Fast forward a few days and I finally arrive back at site, motivated and ready to take on the new school year.  It’s interesting how recognition goes a long way to inspire you.  While it was nice to be away and experience a more prosperous side of Ghanaian culture, I once again realized that I am truly happiest when I am at my little, secluded school in the northern reaches of Ghana. 

Upon reflecting on the experience, one can’t help but feel something about being named the “Best” of anything.  Of course, excitement was one of those emotions, but also there was a mixed feeling of why did I win this over any other volunteer this year?  I may never know, but I think it is also important to realize that just because I was on the radar due to the scope of my projects, doesn’t necessarily mean I deserved the recognition most.  This feeling is what will drive me to be more, do more, and truly prove to myself that I deserve this.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Toughest Job I've Ever Loved

When you join the Peace Corps, you have the idea that you will be dropped in the middle of nowhere for 2 years, made to live in a mud hut and poop in a hole in the ground, and stay there for your entire service.  While this may be true for some Volunteers, this is not what I have experienced, especially since April of this year.

I am just now coming to the end of a very stressful period of about 8 weeks which were full of tons of work, loss, and stress.  I attended a week long training that focused on using soccer to teach about HIV, attended and co-facilitated a pilot training for an new HIV Model at the school for the deaf in the capitol, attended an education committee meeting, worked for 2 weeks editing training videos and running other errands, and also worked on editing the HIV manual for a national-level project.

All of this together seems like a lot, and it was.  I was totally fine with the work load because I was able to take about a month of time for work in the capitol to finish everything.  But somewhere near the end of all of this work, my computer crashed.  I lost just about every important file for many national-level projects, including my dictionaries, and my productivity came to a screeching halt.  With deadlines looming, stress began to kick in.  I was able to find another computer from an Embassy worker and finish editing the videos I was charged with.  But instead of simply editing a large manual, I had to start from scratch and completely recreate it.  Not fun.  Fast forward a few weeks and I find out that my computer loss is not covered by my insurance so that was great news.

Once all of my work in the capitol concluded, I finally headed home after a record stay of 26 days, the longest stay anywhere for me since April.  But the work didn't stop there.  I still had a lot of work left in editing the HIV manual and had to find other computers to work on.

While all of this was happening, school finally reopened and I also had to tack on those responsibilities.  I started repairing the sewing machines at my school to use in vocational education at school.  This turned into me tailoring many of the students’ tattered clothes, which became a small entrepreneurial endeavor to support the vocational club.  I also proposed a discipline adjustment at school and held meetings for that, and sent proposals to local organizations to help fund our struggling vocational program.  So the 2 weeks I was finally able to be at site were just as busy as the holiday from school.

My neighbor ate my cat while I was away from school.  I was actually more upset that I didn’t get to eat him; cat has been on my To-Eat list for a while now and I had big plans for Biggie.  ButI was gifted a puppy from one of the prefects at school.  His name is Pito, which is the local millet beer, and he is shown here in a calabash, the vessel in which pito is consumed.  He is way cooler than Biggie ever was and now I just have to find a way to keep people from killing him.

Lights were also out at my place again during those 2 weeks.  The electric company has shut off our meter due to a long overdue bill from a previous tenant.  But with the loss of my computer, I no longer feel the impact of living off the grid.

Just as I was getting back into the swing of things at site, I received a call from my supervisor informing me that I was selected as this year’s winner of the Best Teacher Award!  This has been one of my goals since I came to Ghana and it really feels great to be recognized. 

Even the trees had a hard time
So looking back over the past two months, so much has happened and I have pushed through all of it and made it to the other side.  The one thing that I have learned about myself through this experience is to take everything in stride.  Yes, your computer may crash, your electricity may be turned off, your pet may become someone’s super, but in the end, the way you handle all of those things at once says a lot about your character.  One year ago, all of those things piled up would have killed me, but Peace Corps has shown me how to deal with the impossible and ride out the storm.  This may be the toughest job I have ever had, but I am so ready to see it through!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

1 Year in Ghana?!

A representation of where I have been since April.
Once all of the craziness of April died down, I thought I would be ready to head back to school, relax and teach my classes, maybe start the Vocational Club, and run the rest of the term out.  That wouldn’t necessarily be what I found…

Since by this time, the dictionaries were well under way, I spent the majority of my time working on editing photos, laying out the design of the book, and piecing together what would become my favorite project in Ghana so far!  Many hundreds of hours have gone into this project and more hours are still ahead of me.  But to see the progress so far, go to the Sign Language Dictionaries tab for more information. 

What you can't see are the thousands of
termites that were flying around at the light.
I started a small initiative at my school to start teaching about HIV and other health and relationship information.  This began with the painting of a mural that outlines the risks of different activities that can lead to HIV.  With the help of our newly acquired projector (!), the students and I began to draw the mural on the boy’s dormitory and over the next few days, completed the painting.  They all did so well and now there is a new popular spot to hang out in front of the mural!
This led to the students (boys mostly) asking me to teach them how to properly use condoms.  I gathered all 150 or so of the older boys in the dining hall one afternoon and had an amazing session about proper use and disposal of condoms (complete with wooden penis models and condoms).  You can imagine how interesting giving a demonstration in sign language is.  But interestingly, I was able to clearly explain everything and even answered some great questions that will hopefully keep my students safe in the future.  The last bit was to have some of the students demonstrate condom use to their peers.  This part is always very funny and it was a good way to close out the almost 2-hour session!

I attended a Media IST that was a lot of fun.  Basically, we worked on editing videos and other projects for an entire week.  The stuff we worked on will be used for the years to come in training the new groups of Volunteers.  I also had my 24th birthday during that week and was glad to share it with a lot of great Volunteers and the World Cup.  At the end of the IST, I was named the Vice President of the committee so now I can add one more responsibility to my ever-growing list.

Around the same time, I was summoned once again to Koforidua School for the Deaf to present training on HIV education that we are adapting for the deaf schools. That lasted 2 days and we worked with a small group to teach about HIV, other illnesses, relationships, goals, pregnancy, risk, and other related information.  The training had a lot of information but we worked with a lot of great students and teachers and I left motivated to bring the program to my school.
The premiere of our new game!
The next week, I returned home and gave the girls condom demonstrations.  But this time, I also brought female condoms along (but not after figuring out how to use them myself), and I even tacked on a self-defense session that was inspired by Miss Congeniality and the S-I-N-G model.  They were roaring with my performance as one of the girls pretended to beat me up to save her.  Both sessions went very well and I look forward to teaching them more in the future.

I was invited to present on behalf of the GhAP committee at the new education group’s counterpart workshop.  This entailed leading sessions for an afternoon about HIV information and our committee.  I had a lot of fun with this and also got to meet (and break in) the new batch of Ed Volunteers.  This also means that I have been here 1 year already!  That went fast!

I returned back to my school with only a few weeks left before finals so I used that time to continue work on the dictionary and continue developing the library.  There were a lot of exciting things that happened there so go to The Library tab for more information as well! 

With the close of school, my J3 students returned home and I had to say goodbye to some of my closest friends at site.  That was really hard for me but I know I will continue to grow close to the other students. 

We also said goodbye to 3 of our 7 Volunteers in the Upper East.  It was hard to lose them but their time was up and they served their communities well!

Currently, I am relaxing on vacation from school.  I went to our regional office where I am working on painting more kente designs on the walls along with some of the other Volunteers and am eating lots of ice cream.  I have plans to go climbing at my site, weave baskets, and possibly sit on a crocodile next week so hopefully my next post will be filled with those fun things!             

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Never Ending Vacation

My past month has been a very exciting and productive one.  These are the events that transpired:

I left my school a few days early to head down to South for training before heading to an All Volunteer Conference.  I have now been awarded the title of Warden of the Upper East, which sounds way more exciting than it really is.  Basically, if Ghana ever goes through an upheaval, all 7 of the remaining Volunteers in our region (soon to be 5) will all travel to my house and wait it out.  That training lasted one day and then we headed to AllVol.

I'm pretty sure that's not even my sausage.
Every Volunteer in Ghana was invited to the same place for a week-long conference where we had a few training sessions, but really we all just go for the fun that happens in the evenings.  I can’t go into much detail about what went down because a lot of it somehow missed my long-term memory, but I do know I had fun.  Except for the part where I was fighting off Giardia for the 4th time.  I left with the title of Education Coordinator of the Ghana AIDS Project and a backpack full of condoms and wooden penises. 

After the Conference, I went to another Deaf Art Volunteers’ house to work on a Sign Language Dictionary that we are trying to put together.  The first task was to shoot photos of over 1,000 signs.  We used deaf teachers from her school as models and spent about 4 days shooting.  In the afternoons, we started to edit the photos together.  I was there for a total of 6 days before I was called to attend another In-Service Training for Peace Corps. 

I had to go and wait at one of the Peace Corps offices for a few days before the training so I just used that time to relax in a hammock and continue working on the dictionary.  The IST was about addressing gender-based violence at our schools.  It lasted for 3 days and I learned a lot of things that I hope I can bring to my school to help address some of the issues. 

Being very responsible
in the Chief's palace.
The deaf boys
I helped translate for
After that, I traveled south again to go and help paint some murals in a memorial clinic for a Volunteer that served in a secluded community.  We spent 2 days painting and had a great time working, ate some delicious fufu and antelope, and got to stay in the Chief’s Palace for 4 days!  The opening ceremony for the clinic came and I ended up finding 3 deaf people in the village that I was able to translate for.  The ceremony was really neat.  The Volunteer’s mother traveled to Ghana to speak and the community enstooled her as royalty. 

After the clinic opening, I traveled to the coast where I stayed with another Volunteer one night before we went to the beach!  There, I got a pretty significant sunburn that substantially inhibited me from carrying my very heavy backpack. 

After the beach, I headed to Accra for a night so I could hang out with another great group of Volunteers.  We went out for cheeseburgers and milkshakes and I spent as much money on that one meal as I did at the beach in one day.  No regrets!  We also walked around the city a bit and went into supermarket/mall and I nearly died from excitement.  The last time I was in Accra, I was still comparing everything to America so I was underwhelmed.  Now, I am so used to living in a much poorer community and I get excited even when I see a storied building.  Needless to say, Accra was a blast and I was sorry to leave the next day.

I took an overnight bus for the first time and dosed up on sleeping meds to make it through the trip.  I fell asleep in the south and woke up magically in the north.  There was a day layover at the regional office again and then I headed out to the bush to help another Volunteer work on a Grassroots Soccer camp where we teach about HIV and AIDS. 

The camp lasted for 5 days and we worked with a really great group of kids during the event. We played a lot of games to illustrate risks of HIV and made banners to display in the community.  The week climaxed to condom demonstrations.  I taught the group of boys about how to safely use them and somehow maintained composure during that bit.  I never thought I would be giving condom demonstrations to African teenagers but it was actually one of the best parts of the camp.  I was really happy I went to help out with the camp and got to make a small difference (hopefully) in a community. 

My last stop was back to the regional office where I started work on a mural project that I suspect will last a while.  We are trying to paint kente cloth designs all around the room and so far, they look great. 

I was supposed to leave for home this morning but I had so much fun over the past month that I kind of don’t want it to end. In all, I traveled into 7 of the 10 regions, stayed at all 4 of the PC offices, slept in 10 different beds, went to 4 Volunteer’s sites, worked on 3 projects, attended 3 PC events, got to the beach.  Now if only my entire service could be like this! 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Gaining Altitude

I consider the second term to be a very important time for me as it really defined my role as a Peace Corps Volunteer at my school. 

In the past, I would teach class, come back home and relax, read, watch movies, and nap.  I wasn’t really spending any time with the other teachers or students but I was getting by.  I was enjoying the work I did but I hadn’t found my niche yet. 

All of that changed when the new library was established.  It was initially set up as a place where we would gather to play cards and chat, but soon the students turned to the books and fell in love with the space.  I also met my Ghanaian brother, Yamusah, through the library.  He helped sort the entire stock and became the first prefect.  I gave him the responsibility of holding the key and he opened it each night for the students to use. 

Because I was constantly thinking of ways to improve the space, I started to spend much more time in there with the students.  I was no longer retiring to my house in the afternoons to rest and I went around every single night while the students were studying in their classrooms to chat or tutor in what small ways I could.  I noticed my relationships with the students began to grow and my sign language improved exponentially. 

That turned into me going to meals with them and even sharing food with some.  Yes, I drink out of the same cups as them and dip my hands into their bowls of banku and soup. 

I also started to hang out with the teaching staff a little bit more.  I eat porridge with them every other day (when millet is served) and we now have a few inside jokes and I am starting to feel a bit more a part of the staff.  Although I am still not as close to the teachers as I want to be, I’m getting there. 

Another development this term was when I started going to Mosque with my students.  I went out and dropped far too much money on a Muslim outfit, got beads, and even a cap.  Initially, I was nervous to join them since I know literally nothing about what it’s like to be a Muslim.  But they welcomed me, sat down with me and taught me how to rinse before prayer, and showed me how to perform the ritual.  I have absolutely no idea what I am doing most of the time but I find the experience fun and now I look forward to Friday afternoons when I usually join them. 

But being a “Muslim” also has its benefits in Bolga.  I wore my outfit to market one Friday and suddenly everyone’s shouts changed from “Salaminga” to Alhaji, which sounds so much less offensive after a while!  I was also given the Muslim name of Mumuni and the locals know that more than they know my real name. 

Things are also looking up for my projects at school.  I have mentioned the struggling Vocational Program several times but I may have found an organization that could help us.  I wrote to them and they have a partner that may be able to help.  I am now waiting for a reply but it is a step in the right direction! 

We also just received a donation of 25 desktop computers for the school to initiate a government program to help train the hearing impaired in technology and communications.  There really wasn’t any assessment on the government’s side of things to see if our school is capable of implementing the program (which we aren’t yet), but now it gave me another goal of erecting a building to house the program in. 

For all of these reasons, I have decided 2 things:  The first is that I will not leave until my initial goal of finishing the Vocational Program is realized.  Secondly, should the program start by the end of my 2-year term, I have decided to stay the additional year to see how things are running.  I feel really good about the decision and I know for myself that it is the right thing to do! 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Holidaze and The New Term

 The past Holiday season was spent traveling around some of Northern Ghana with some other Volunteers. 

My first kill.
We met up for Christmas, shared presents, prepared a nice dinner and were generally very Merry.  I achieved 2 firsts here:  My first kill (the guinea fowl we cooked for dinner) and my first bee sting moments after I killed the bird.  Must have been the blood.

From there, we traveled to another Volunteer’s site and relaxed for a few days and indulged in a few gallons of pito, the local millet beer. 

By the time New Years came around, we were in Tamale, the regional Capitol in the Northern Region.  We had the very rare opportunity to go swimming in a real pool and took full advantage of that for a few hours.  Plus it helped us all to get much cleaner than we would from a bucket bath!  We met up with even more Volunteers and went to a local spot (bar) to ring in the New Year. 

Fireworks in the street
This New Years was interesting to say the least.  Let me set up the scene:  The only girls at the spot were the Volunteers and some other white people in a corner that kept to themselves.  Ghanaian women pretty much don’t party in public.  The rooftop of the spot (where all the fun was) was packed with men who were all trying to prey upon the Volunteers.  At a few points, some of the guys were wrapping their arms around me and another male Volunteer and trying to dance behind us.  So that’s about when I stopped enjoying the night.  I can remember all of this vividly because I wasn’t feeling well and didn’t drink anything.  By then our girls were loose and allowing some of the Ghanaians to get away with way too much so I started to step in and try to help them out.  Which led to a call to security and a few guys getting carried out.  At 12:00 exactly, the woman that was serving our group decided she needed to leave immediately and that I was in charge of collecting all of our money and paying her.  I didn’t even get to enjoy the first 10 minutes of 2014 because I had to pry money from all of my drunk friends which was no easy feat since the music was incredibly loud and it was dark.  And then fireworks started going off.  In America there are rules about where you can and cannot fire pyrotechnics but in Ghana it is all free game.  Add to that the fact that there is absolutely no security or crowd control and you are in for a show!  Fireworks were being fired right into crowds of people and into moving traffic.  I though there was going to be an explosion.  Eventually, that led up to a huge street fight and at that point I decided it was time for us all to go since most of our group was an easy target at that point.  We made it back to our hotel safely and nobody got robbed or assaulted so all was well. 
Gotta love free rides!

The following morning, I decided I had had enough fun in the past week that I needed to go home.  Instead of paying 8 cedis and sitting in a crowded tro for 3 hours, I decided to try and hitchhike the 3-hour trip home.  The beginning of the trip was stressful.  I watched so many really nice cars pass me and when I finally found a ride, they were only able to take me a few miles.  I made it about a 30-minute distance in just over an hour.  After sitting the in the bed of a truck, a cart, 3 other cars, and walking a good distance, I finally got lucky and a couple that was going to Bolga picked me up and I rode with AC for about 2 hours!  Then a quick walk home and I had made the trip for free in 4 hours.  In all, I was in/on a total of 8 vehicles.

The next 2 weeks would be very boring for me since school was still on break and campus was dead so I watched way too many movies and read a lot. 

Once I got back though, I received my Christmas package from home, which I think gave me temporary diabetes for a few days.  I ate so much chocolate in a few days that my legs were swelling, I was constantly tired, thirsty, and generally just felt ill.  But maybe that was the Giardia I had for the 3rd time.  Who knows?  Anyway, all of the scary symptoms left after a few days. 

Second Term

The students finally started arriving back at school, and with them, my social life.  Teaching didn’t really start until the 3rd week of school so I spent a lot of time just sitting around with the kids and planning out the next projects. 

The day we finally made a new pole.
In our spare time, I started bribing the students to come and make football nets.  Their reward for helping was that I would open the computer lab in the evenings and they could come in and play.  This was so successful that 2 nets were completed in 1 week.  To put that in perspective, our first 2 nets took 3 months to finish…  So many kids were coming to help that I had to devise a system to limit the number of kids in the lab (and prevent fighting) by handing out tokens to those that were most efficient.  That worked really well and work continued for 2 weeks before all of our nets were finished.  Up to now, we have made 6 nets, using approximately 8000 water sachets.

The past week was devoted to the district sports competition and our campus was packed with hundreds of kids from neighboring schools.  To help keep my sanity, I pretended to be deaf the entire week.  If I had been talking, the kids would follow me around shouting “HELLO!!!” and “Salaminga!” which gets really annoying after the second time.  This way, once they thought I was deaf, they would leave me alone and I was at peace!  I actually made it the entire week without talking to anybody or reacting to any sound, which is much harder that it seems.  Buying food was really fun because I could only flash money and point to communicate what I wanted, which really threw the market ladies.  Then some of the hearing students started to write notes to my kids and ask them questions and they even started doing the same to me!  The whole time, my kids knew I was refusing to talk so they got a kick out of every interaction I had.  On the last day, I bough food from one of the ladies again and purchased it as a deaf person and then thanked her in Talensi (the local language) and completely shocked her!  My kids were watching and all erupted in laughter and sign language applause (basically jazz hands) and then the lady knew the past week was all a huge joke.  Best moment of my week!

Ghanaian Shuffleboard
Since the kids have been pumping out the football nets, I have been encouraging the school to try and sell them to neighboring schools.  By the end of the tournament, one school had asked to buy 2 nets.  I have no idea if they will actually follow through since promises in Ghana generally tend to be casual in nature, but I am hopeful that we can start a small business endeavor and start to support the kids more with it.

During the tournament, I taught the JHS kids how to play shuffleboard which turned out to be a life saver!  Kids in Ghana have the ability to make games out of anything so I figured we could draw the target zone on the walkway with chalk and use lumpy stones at the pucks.  As it turns out, the inconsistencies of the stones adds to the challenge and makes it way more exciting when you actually score.  After a day of playing, I painted the stones and now it’s way more official.  It really is the simple things in life that can make you the happiest.