Archive for January, 2010

Stand Up for the Champions

January 31, 2010

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Yesterday I carpooled with the other volunteers to the town of Ejisu and then we took a tro-tro into Kumasi. That morning I decided two things. The first was that I did not want to spend another night in Kumasi, and the second was that I wanted to stay at the lake forever. I stayed until 11AM after waking up before the sunrise to capture it on film (which never happened because it was completely overcast). I had breakfast and then laid in the sunshine until my skin turned a splotchy red color. We all checked out and argued over our bills (7 Cedis for 2 glasses of wine turned into 70 with the misplacement of a decimal for me), and took the taxi to Ejisu.

Once in Kumasi I went straight to the STC station to book my ticket. The guide said that there were thirteen buses leaving each day, so I wanted a late one since it was already 1PM. It turns out that the only bus leaving was at 1:30PM. I had no choice but to take it. I figured I didn’t want to miss the Cup of African Nations final between Ghana and Egypt, and neither did the bus driver who might cancel the Sunday trip altogether. At 1:30PM, however, the PA system came on and a woman announced that the bus would be delayed an hour. So I went and paid again for a toilet, this one with toilet paper, and then got a roasted plantain from a street vendor. Roasted plantains are the most delicious thing I’ve had in Ghana.

The bus came at 3:30PM. Everyone was agitated before the trip even began, and little did we know we’d still be together 10 hours later. The bus broke down and hour and a half south of Kumasi. We coasted to a small town where we waited outside of a bar for a replacement to come from Kumasi. I hadn’t peed since 1PM, and my bladder was quite full, but there were no restrooms around and no bushes. It got dark as we waited, and the locals began drinking and laughing at me. I went back on the bus and sat with a woman who had been quite friendly with me since the station. Eventually the bus came and we were crammed in with people traveling from the north. People ended up sitting with cargo on the steps that lead into the cabin (very safe).

Many hours later we got to Accra, where the bus broke down again. Luckily we were at the station, so we just boarded another bus and went. All in all, however, we did not arrive in Tema until 1AM. I was exhausted, dirty, smelly, and hungry. On top of that I still hadn’t peed.

Today I watched the final between Ghana and Egypt. Unfortunately Egypt won. Senam and I commiserated together, and he drank beer (I would have joined if I liked beer). Afterwards I showered and prepared for my departure tomorrow. I still have to pack, and I am tired enough to just go to bed.

I hope tomorrow brings new things. I am nervous to leave the comfort of the Humado house, but I know it is for the best. I hope to come back for a couple of weekends to spend time with the family. I think we have grown to like being together.

Ghanaian Travel Tip #37: Always bring food with you on journeys. There is a reason why everyone has crackers in their purse- you never know when an unexpected breakdown might happen.

Ghanaian Random Fact #38: Ghana makes and produces its own Guinness.

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And What an Adventure It Was…

January 31, 2010

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It began at 5:30AM with Senam’s voice floating through my bedroom window. “Christina? Are you up? We need to leave soon.” The bus was leaving at 6:30, but Senam failed to mention that I had to be there 30 minutes early, even though I already had my ticket and nothing to check-in. So I rushed to get my things together and go to the car. Luckily I remembered to bring two packages of crackers, however. I forgot a book and to charge my iPod.

When we arrived at the station there were many people milling around waiting for the bus to open up. Senam and I said our goodbyes and he told me sternly to take care of myself and always keep a watchful eye. I promised I would, but inside felt even more afraid of the next two days. I boarded the bus first (I don’t remember how this happened), and looked for seat nine. I found the row it was in, but I wasn’t sure if I was the aisle or window seat. So I turned around to ask the driver for help and when I spoke he said “Are you talking to me?” Being the only other person on the bus I thought it an odd question, but answered and repeated my question. He then yelled at me “You are asking me a question and you didn’t even greet me?!” This was followed by a lecture on how rude I was (all the time my mind kept shifting between telling him that I was paying him, and therefore had the right to ask him a question and astonishment at how he could expect people, before the sun has even risen, to be chipper enough for a greeting) and several apologies from me before he finally told me to look on the backs of the seats. After this encounter, my left arm went numb and stayed numb for the next four hours.

Once everyone had boarded the bus, the driver made a public announcement that he was very unhappy about only three people greeting him when entering and asked if anyone had a problem with him. He then said that we would have a fifteen minute stop halfway to Kumasi. I only know all of this because the woman next to me was nice enough to translate. Then we were off.

The trip itself was rather uneventful. I watched the landscape change from shades of red ad brown to vibrant greens as we entered the forested central regions of Ghana. When we stopped for our break I paid (for the first time ever) to use a public toilet. It was quite an odd experience- there was an official ticket stub and everything. Luckily there was handsoap, but no toilet paper however (I remembered my wipes though!). After reboarding the bus I became even more nervous. The owner of the hotel I was to stay at said that I should get off in the town of Ejisu (which I thought was Ajito because of miscommunication). I had serious reservations about this, however, because I didn’t see how taxi drivers there could possibly know this hotel. I thought it wiser to go to Kumasi and hire a taxi from there. At any rate, I went against my better judgment and got off in Ejisu with an old woman. I flagged a taxi, whose passengers all told me that they had no idea where Rainbow Garden Village was, and they drove off. The old woman who came off with me asked where I was trying to get to. She offered to ask her husband, who lived in the area, what I should do. He said to go to Kumasi (ha! Never second-guess yourself) and get a cab there. And that is what I did.

The tro-tro ride to Kumasi was lovely. I decided that it was my preferred mode of transport. I feel quite safe smushed into a minivan with 10 other passenger (sometimes even 15). Even though I know it is highly dangerous and unpredictable, I still rather enjoy the wind in my hair and the miniculture of it. I got off at the central market in Kumasi (where everyone else was getting off), and began walking, proud of my ability to both get and pay for the tro-tro ride. My new plan was to find a bar or restaurant in which I could eat (I had one package of four crackers) and regroup, maybe even have a drink. I walked for several blocks without seeing any sign of such establishments, but I did not want to pull out my tourist guide and give and metaphorically wave my flag of I’M FOREIGN AND LOST! After about 20 minutes of walking I was defeated and sat at a triangular median in the middle of a three-way intersection next to a woman selling pineapples. I took a few deep breaths and was about to pull out the guide when a taxi drove up (cue angelic music, possibly a harp).

I asked him if he knew where Rainbow was and he said yes. To test this, I asked him what the name of the lake was (I could only remember by this point that it started with a ‘B’) and he said a name that started with a ‘K’. I decided to go with him anyway because I couldn’t think of any other options (I also considered his size and possible threat before I entered). We negotiated a fee of 15 Cedis (about $11) and began our journey.

It turns out his name is Stephen and the name of his car, literally translated as “God talk”, represented his ability to converse with God. We discussed the people that we saw along the drive and how long the trip was taking, but we were in good spirits. It turns out the name of the lake is Bosomtwi (even though it looks like boson-twi, it is pronounced bo-SUM-chwee) and we eventually saw signs for it. We drove to a town near the lake where Stephen asked for directions to Rainbow (proving, in fact, that he didn’t really know where he was going) and we turned off the paved road onto an unpaved one. This turned into a dirt road, which turned into a sand road. After this it was really just a path of sharp rocks. We drove (I could have walked faster) through a small village with lots of children, and continued around the lake before finally getting to the hotel. A stop I’d like to forget was having to pay a ‘toll’ halfway around the lake.

The hotel was quite nice, however. After being shown around I went down to the lake and looked out at a beautiful landscape. Lake Bosomtwi is reportedly the youngest crater lake in the world and the only one in west Africa. There were fishermen coming in from the day’s work (by this time it was around 2PM) and birds flying over the water. When I got to the dorm, I asked if anyone else would be coming, and the man said there wasn’t. This made me very sad and I felt quite isolated on the bank of a large lake with no one to share it with.

I laid down and not fifteen minutes later there was a knock on the door. Two white people came in and introduced themselves. They were Zach and Emma, teaching volunteers on the coast who came from Toronto and Vancouver, respectively. We ate dinner together and I had a glass of wine the milky color of melted raspberry sorbet. Then Emma went for a swim while Zach and I sat on the dock, looking at the night sky. Eventually we all hit the sack (at 8PM, woot!).

Ghanaian Travel Tip #35: STC buses are a way to travel in style in Ghana. They are air-conditioned and large, creating a comfortable and bumpless ride.

Ghanaian Travel Tip #36: Remember to carry small denominations of currency when you travel. With the exception of a hotel, dinner, and souvenirs you may purchase, everything else should cost under 1 Cedi.

Just Beat It

January 28, 2010

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I beat SOS Children’s Village today
I beat culture shock (I think?)
Ghana Beat Nigeria 1-0
And thusly, children are singing “Beat It” by Michael Jackson in the streets

Today was my last day at SOS. I spent the day reading with the children, who did remarkably well. I also took a few last photos (my photos are all on Facebook now) of the school and the children. It was a bitter-sweet day. I will miss the children, even the ones who drove me crazy (such as the little boy who yelled to his friends ‘I will hit her breast and run away!’ in Twi while raising his lunch bucket towards me). I will miss the freedom to do as I please. But I will not miss the boredom. These two weeks has proven I would have made a burnt out teacher by 25, and that I would never have bowed to the politics of education. On the other hand, I am looking forward to finally getting to what I came here for.

Tomorrow morning at 6:30AM I will be leaving the Tema station on an air-conditioned charter bus to Kumasi. I am going for the weekend to explore and to refocus before starting the second chapter of my journey. I hope to buy cloth there, as the Ashanti are famous for their weaving skills, and to take great pictures. I also hope that I come across no trouble. The hotel I am staying at has a garden and a bar- the perfect combination for a weary traveler. And there is a lake very near to it, which should provide added entertainment. I hope that I meet other travelers and can share experiences with them. I hope that the locals are just as nice, and treat this obruni fairly. Most importantly I hope that I can figure out how to get back.

After Kumasi I will be going to Volunteer Partners for West Africa. I will go either on Monday or Tuesday and settle in. My feelings are mixed at this point. On the one hand I am excited to begin working, but on the other I fear the same situation as with RUSO. I am comforted by having actually met the Director and seen the living and working spaces, but that nagging fear still remains. I suppose my anxiety wouldn’t be able to let me proceed without some discomfort.

I may or may not be able to blog on the weekend. Kumasi has many internet connections throughout the city, but I may get wrapped up in exploration. I will most likely return on Sunday, but there is a possibility that I will come back on Saturday evening (Senam wants me to go to church on Sunday morning to meet the women’s group there). At any rate, I will return to tell all about the adventures that I had. I will be sure to record it all in my journal so that I can recall the details clearly on Sunday.

Ghanaian Practical Travel Tip #33: Remember your powder. The heat makes you sweat, and crevices begin to chafe. ‘Nuff said.

Ghanaian Random Fact #34: Tilapia is the most popular fish eaten in the country.

And the Heavens Opened Up and God Pissed on Our Heads!

January 27, 2010

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I managed to get Ines to read for pleasure today. We sat in the library (under Nicolas’s watchful eye) and read about ducklings trying to find a place to swim. She wanted to keep reading so we began a story about an old woman who went to a tea party. Half way through we had to stop, however, because Amanda was misbehaving since I wouldn’t pay attention to her. She insisted that we stop reading the book to reread the one about ducklings and I decided to ignore her. Tomorrow our plan is to finish the story about Mrs. MacDonald. She was a very quick learner, and by the end of the first story could recognize a handful of new words on her own.

This brings me to the continuing issue of quality of education here. The Special Education class spent from 8:30 (class never begins on time) to 9:15 doing actual work. They read a story that involved three-letter words with –en endings. Afterwards, they went free to roam the school. Auntie Lizzie decided that her thesis (which she usually has from 11AM till 3:30PM to work on) took precedence over the children. They also are kicked out of their other classes for disrupting, so frequently return to the SPED classroom throughout the day. Instead of teaching, Auntie Lizzie kicks them out after a period of time to go somewhere else. If they go to the library they aren’t allowed to check out books (because they will lose them apparently), and they get ignored by teachers all over campus, which consequently teaches the other kids to ignore them as well. I saw a group of three girls actively shunning Ines after lunch, which broke my heart a little. She is a very sweet girl.

Needless to say, by the time I returned home I was quite exhausted. Before I knew it, however, it began to rain! The rain instantly cooled the air and I went outside to enjoy this slice of Heaven. The rain was surprisingly cold, and the drops were large and fast. I washed my feet the downpour, and took pictures of the cloudy sky. It came in two waves with gusts of roaring wind that hit the tin roof, making it sound like the world was coming to an end.

I am tired, even after napping, but I know that I only have a few more days of screaming children. Needless to say, I am extremely happy that I left the field of Education during my first year of school. I would have made a terrible teacher.

On a side note, every day it seems as though children come to school sick. They usually have the same symptoms, double vision and/or a bad stomach ache. I am not sure what the problem is, but I hope I don’t want to have it. One boy came up to me yesterday and asked (with a straight face) “Which one is you?” I didn’t understand until he explained that he was seeing three of me. I am assuming that this is an issue of nutrition. Most days we eat the same thing. Meals consist of cassava, fish, and palm oil with added ingredients to give it a different name. Fifi and Kekeli don’t even like this much. They don’t like pork if it has hair on it (which all of the pork does; *gross*), they don’t eat fufu or banku (because they were born in America so they feel they can’t eat it properly), they don’t like fruits, so they end up eating either rice with half a chicken leg or ramen noodles most nights. In the morning the staple breakfast is hot chocolate (all chocolate drinks are called Milo here; pronounced ‘meelo’) and crackers. I would have assumed that in the suburbs of Accra diet would be much more balanced. I must admit, however, that in Fifi and Kekeli’s case, it is pickiness that makes their diet so off-balanced.

Practical Ghanaian Travel Tip #31: GMT- No, not Greenwich Mean Time, but Ghana Man Time. It means being at least 30 minutes late.

Random Ghanaian Fact #32: Much of the world’s cocoa comes from Ghana.

Anxiety Attacks

January 26, 2010

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Lat night I stayed up way too late watching the quarterfinal match between Nigeria and Zambia. For the one soccer fan I know who reads this, if you didn’t see it, the game was epic… you should watch it. It boiled down to no score until penalty kicks, in which only one player missed his shot. I won’t say who won. In any case, I didn’t get enough sleep last night, and the first thing I thought after waking up was “Damn that was a good game”.

My mistake this morning was checking my email. I got two that upset me greatly, although I won’t get into specifics. I was so angry I was shaking and went to school ready for anyone who would cross me. By this point I was nauseous and needed to calm down, so I escaped to the library. The internet was broken, which meant there would be a lot less traffic to the computers, so I thought it was a good idea to take the opportunity to clean out the unused files. I got two of the five computers done. Each took about an hour and a half to complete. I felt bad for abandoning the SPED class though, and eventually went back after I had calmed down some.

Throughout the day I had anxiety attacks that sent shooting pains across my chest and down my left arm. Every time I have days like this I become more convinced that I will die from a heart attack. I allow myself to get way too stressed out too often. Even though I know many of the techniques to calm down, in the moment I rarely accomplish this, which just gives me more anxiety. For this reason I wasn’t attempting to make great connections and contemplate reasons for what I was seeing.

By the time I got home, however, I was feeling much better. I relaxed for a bit before talking to my mother via IM, and then I took a nice, refreshing bath. Since then I have had dinner (fish and French fries, yes!) and introduced the Black Eyed Peas to Fifi and Kekeli. It was quite hilarious to hear them sing along and dance to the music, but it is also good to know that one way to cross the cultural barrier is with “Boom Boom Pow”, or something as ridiculous by the group.

With all of this said, I am no longer in a funk. While I still grudgingly wake up every morning at 6 to go to SOS, I realize that I am helping in small ways (e.g. fixing computers, editing the SPED teacher’s thesis paper, and grading exams). Hopefully with a full night’s sleep I will feel even better.

Practical Ghanaian Travel Tip #29: Pedestrians DO NOT EVER have the right of way.

I am going to start supplementing these with random facts from now on…

Ghanaian Random Fact #30: When you find toilet paper in Ghana it will be the squishiest stuff you’ve ever experienced. The one I used today was three-ply. I don’t get the dichotomy between pit latrines and lovely toilet paper.

Awkward Turtle Anyone? With a Side of Awkward?

January 25, 2010

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I went to S.O.S. grudgingly today.  My night was restless- I hadn’t bathed, so I was hot and itchy from sweat (which I think enticed the creepy crawlies).  When I arrived, Nicolas was nowhere to be found, but before I could feel relieved he appeared at the entrance to school.  After our greetings I went to SPED, where I vowed to read for the entire day (Flashforward is awesome!  I am assuming better than the T.V. series. Is that still on?).  I wanted to check my email before classes started, however, so I ventured to the library and avoided Nic (who goes by Nicky by the way…).  While waiting for the slow computer to load, I was asked quite politely by a teacher (I think his name was Don) to help him grade a multiple choice exam.  He looked as though he was in quite a rush, so I agreed.  By this point I checked my email and decided to run the Disk Cleanup and ScanDisk operations on the PC, so I had nothing better to do anyway.  I also was late to class.  Don eventually disappeared, I think to teach a class, and didn’t reappear until I was through marking all 60 or so of them.  I didn’t mind, however, it ate up most of my morning.  After completing this I gave up on helping the computer.  It kept freezing every time it tried to purge the 8 million useless bytes of files clogging its copper and gold arteries.

And so I sat and read until lunchtime.  I left the classroom unnoticed and two thirds of the way through my book, and went to the canteen for my usual lunch (a chicken leg, jollof rice, and 5 or so slices of fried plantains).  I was offered an ice cream, I assume as a thank-you, from Don which I declined… I was walking with a full plate of food… and sat by myself at a bench.  Eventually a little chubby girl (who I think has a crush on Fifi) and her friend came and sat with me, armed with many important topics of discussion- one of which was awkward moment number one.  The chubby one proceeded to tell me a story about a car accident she saw in the morning.  The result was a dead mother and daughter, with one living child remaining.  At first I thought she was making it up, but she seemed quite serious (even though not terribly affected by this).  I don’t know if she was telling the truth, but I didn’t know what to respond.  What do you say to that?… ‘Are you ok?’ would have been met with confusion.  Luckily I was finished eating, so I made a motion to leave and was followed by the two girls who had moved on to talking about cars.

My second awkward moment (and boy was it!) came in the afternoon.  I was deeply involved in the book by this point when I and the SPED teacher were interrupted by the head of the department, Auntie Caroline.  She loudly proclaimed that Amanda and Vava had been caught behind a building ‘fingering themselves’.  Seriously?!  Do people just say this in public in a matter of fact kind of tone?  There were children around, and I was speechless.  The two women seemed quite pumped and ready for action when they stormed out towards the headmaster’s office.  I felt bad for the girls.  While it was neither the time nor place for such a behavior, they didn’t deserve two crazy women and a headmaster screaming at them.  About half an hour later Auntie Lizzie returned with the girls and made them kneel on the floor for fifteen minutes or so.  They seemed quite unphased by their escapades.

I forgot to mention the other awkward moment, so it is out of chronological order.  At snack time, after I went to see if I could open a few documents at the library, Nicolas stopped me on my way out.  He said, “Are you hungry?” to which I responded “No.” (even though I was).  He then said “I want to buy you”.  Full stop.  The look of confusion and disgust on my face must have been epic.  So I said “Huh?” with the most unimpressed face I could manage then, and he said “Buy you a snack.”.  Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh! So strange!

Anyway, I was happy to go home and finish the novel.  I sat and decompressed before opening my documents and treating myself to a bath.  It is currently 6PM and is getting dark outside.  The smells of food and marijuana (I’ve smelled it for the past two days) fill the air, and the family is preparing for the evening.  The children are in their pajamas, Geena is finishing dinner, and Paul is busily trying to finish his chores before homework.  As for me, I am trying to stay present in the moment.  I find that I enjoy Ghana much more when I do that.  I may never again get an opportunity to just be in a new environment with new people, new sights, new smells, and no one to answer to again.  I have found that part of the culture is not thinking.  One day during class I was caught looking into space, no doubt contemplating life, or a private beach without screaming children, and was asked why I was thinking.  Auntie Lizzie seemed perplexed when I said that I enjoyed taking time to just think.  I also get strange looks from adults and children alike when they see me reading for pleasure.  The book Cape Fear is used as a mouse pad in the SPED classroom, and I have never seen any person on the school’s campus reading outside of the library.  I am not trying to say that there is anything wrong with this, but my presence as a foreigner is always clear, not only in the way I dress, speak, and look, but in my actions as well.

Practical Ghanaian Travel Tip #27: Everything is paid for before use.  Elecricity, cell units, water, even internet should be bought before you intend to use it.

Practical Ghanaian Travel Tip #28:  If you want to use fabric softener in your clothes, you will need to bring that with you.

Money Makes the World Go Round

January 24, 2010

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I feel much better today. I forced myself out of bed at 9AM so that I wouldn’t sleep until I was sweating and be hot for the remainder of the day. After greeting everyone I was told that Paul, the helper, would prepare breakfast for me. I decided that this was a prime opportunity to wash my hair. I lathered two times and conditioned, then took my bath. It was glorious stepping out of the tub feeling clean. I exited my bedroom to the sight of a covered plate of food. I assumed that it would be banku and something spicy, but to my surprise it was ham, eggs, hard dough bread, and hot chocolate. My taste buds lovingly appreciated the change. After feeding I sat around the living room for a bit, but my newfound drive to stop my boredom, along with the piercing sounds of country western music forced me out. I went out to the back yard to inspect the fish pond for the first time since The Death. It was surprisingly clear (I would never tell them this, but I am convinced it was a build-up of algae and chemical imbalance from inadequate filtration that killed the fish). I saw little baby tilapia swimming around in schools and greatly envied them. It is rare that I get the intense urge to go for a wade. It was much like when you see an amazing meal that makes your mouth water and visions of what it would be like to eat that food fill your head. I could feel the cool water on my skin and the slippery feeling as it engulfed my toes and fingers. Anyway, I decided that swimming in a stagnant pond with baby tilapia in Africa was a bad life choice and meandered to the dog pen.

Last night I got very concerned that the larger male dog was going to kill the puppy so I went to look at them. I had seen the puppy before, but only heard the larger dog. It turns out that it is quite a cute, docile short-haired medium-sized mutt. The dogs were still yapping throughout the day and I noticed them scratching a lot, so I can only assume that fleas are driving them crazy (this doesn’t console me since my beauty rest is interrupted every couple of hours by barking).

I returned inside and got my camera, feeling motivated to take a walk around the community, but was interrupted by Kekeli before I fully got through the front door. She took me to the backyard to show me the dogs (which I had seen five minutes before), and insisted on me waiting for the puppy to come out so that I could play with him. While she was distracted I slipped away, but was caught again by her before reaching the gate. She asked me to go into her mom’s shop, and so I did- it had A/C so I didn’t mind. I stood around awkwardly while Kekeli spun around on the floor. I had planned to stop in before my walk anyway to buy units for the phone, but I suddenly felt very ashamed of buying more minutes. Most people here buy 2 Cedis of credit at a time; I buy 10 twice a week. Rationally I know that people don’t usually call the U.S. here, but I still felt as though I could easily be judged for wasting money on extraneous things.

When I left the shop I headed straight for the gate, only to find it locked. It was a major blow to my gusto and I had to make a decision. I would have to ask someone to open the gate, and that person would most likely insist that I go with someone. At that particular time I felt like being alone, so I went back into the house.

I did laundry (and am still doing it 3 hrs later) with the family’s washing machine (yes!) and air dryer contraption thingy that I’ve never seen before. I also watched the quarterfinal Africa Cup of Nations match between Ghana and Angola with Senam while drinking Jäger and cream soda (I got my wish!).
I also had time to think about the plight of Africa. In the United States we hear much about HIV/AIDS, genocide, poverty, and fighting, but we hardly hear about the plight of the third-world. In Ghana, it is known that water conditions, sanitization, education, health care, and many other infrastructures need to be improved, but it is a matter of money that prevents improvement. Today I watched a news story about garbage in Ghana, it was voted the 2nd dirtiest country on west Africa. Senam makes the point that the government refuses to allocate funds for garbage disposal, and Evans previously stated that people would rather through their trash on the ground than into a receptacle. I would believe both. I have seen countless numbers of water bags, papers, wrappers, and other types of garbage thrown out of cars, trotros, and by people on foot to believe these things. The garbage situation would be greatly improved by just removing water packaged in plastic bags. This would mean adequately sanitized tap water, however, which is another dilemma the country faces.

As one person I often feel overwhelmed by the issues around me. Ghana is one of the most stable African countries yet still they have so many problems. I can’t imagine the help that other countries need.

p.s. I am going to start uploading pictures on Facebook.  The thought, for some reason, just occurred to me that in the year 2010 I can do that sort of thing.

Practical Ghanaian Travel Tip # 25: If you can, be the first to say ‘good morning’. Doing this makes an awkward exchange approximately 76.4% less likely. I always get greeting anxiety when I enter a new place. If the person greets first, there is the chance they believe you are being impolite. It is also easier to just combine “Good morning, how are you?” when you initiate the greeting than to have to remember it later on. This has been the trickiest social interaction for me to get the gist of.

Practical Ghanaian Travel Tip #26: Vegetarians can easily live comfortably for an extended period of time here. Fish is the preferred source of protein, and you can supplement beans in your diet.

Banku

January 23, 2010

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I am sorry to report that nothing very exciting happened today. I attempted to sleep in, but was interrupted from 5-8am by the sounds of water and scraping as the tilapia pond was being cleaned. The end result was a clean pond, four surviving tilapia, and one goldfish. I slept until 10AM, when Senam yelled through my window to make sure I was ok. Everyone was very concerned that I may be ill. For the rest of the day I relaxed indoors obsessively checking my email and being bored.

Idle time left me ample chance to think. I am unhappy today, mostly because I am without purpose. As a student right now I would be getting ready to hit the town with my friends, all the while worrying about all of the assignments I need to complete. Instead I am sitting idle with no friends, no work, and no motivation. If I wasn’t so stubborn I would consider coming home. I am tired of dealing with a six year old (who has a bad cough and has been vomiting). I am tired of sweating, I am shocked that they really booted Conan O’Brien for the tonight show, and I really could go for a Wendy’s milkshake. All of this has led to laziness. I have put less effort into these blogs and I have pushed my friends at home away which doesn’t help my gloominess.

I’ve also had enough banku over the past two days to last a lifetime. It is to the point where I had to force myself to eat dinner tonight. It consisted of room temperature okra stew, heavy on the okra, with smoked fish and a piece of pork skin and fat. Oh yes, and banku…

On a happier note, I am recovering from last week. Sleeping in has really helped my exhaustion. Tomorrow I think I will go for a walk through the neighborhood. I would like to take some pictures and I will post the good ones.

I could really use a drink.

Practical Ghanaian Travel Tip # 23: Ghanaian television is a mixture of programs from the U.S., Europe, and India, as well as local and Nigerian programs. You can watch Desperate Housewives at 9pm, and a Bollywood film at 10pm.

Practical Ghanaian Travel Tip #24: Hulu.com doesn’t work here. 

Accra

January 22, 2010

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And what an eventful day it was. This morning Fifi and Kekeli wore fall jackets to school because the temperature dipped below 80 for half an hour. I went to work with Senam while I waited for Evans to arrive. I researched the organizations I wanted to contact and began my quest. After a few busts I was very discouraged, but I still had my meeting with the Women’s Empowerment group to see to. Evans came early, which was surprising, and then we began our quest. The plan: his house for nourishment, then the organization, then into the heart of Accra.

Evan lives with his grandmother, who mistook me for Joanna, the Australian. I say his apartment, which really is one room. Impressively, however, he had a T.V., two couches, a double bed, a refrigerator, a large radio, and many other items in the space. We went to the local market to buy ingredients to make banku and tilapia with hot pepper. When we returned to his house, we prepared the meal (who knew that by Ghanaian standards I am a horrible cook!). I ended up eating half cooked tilapia, which tasted much like dirty water- luckily I did not get sick. Evans was timing himself to finish within half an hour, which did not fare well for us.

After we ate, we went to Amasaman to speak with the program director for Volunteer Partnerships for West Africa, Hayford, about program details. The program is wonderful. They give microloans to woman-owned businesses in the area and then check in with them to make sure they pay, keep good books, and suggest better ways of marketing their products. There are several volunteers already there, with more coming in the next two months. The living quarters are also lovely- we stay in the chief’s house with two meals prepared for us each day. I now need to figure out my funds before moving to their project. Also, Evans and Hayford exchanged contact information, and it would seem as though they may work together in the future.

And then the fun began. We went to the center of Accra, where markets ruled. There was someone selling anything you could possibly want. I could have bought clothing, goats, chickens, plastic tubs, DVDs, shoes, smoked fish, chicken feet, cow’s feet, tomatoes, peppers, yams, and a myriad of other things. Men called me ‘Wifey’ and grabbed at my arm to get me to buy things, and I found it difficult to look at everything without drawing attention to myself. After that we went to the ocean, which was quite peaceful. We weren’t allowed near the water per the guard’s orders. I managed to get a few good pictures, however. Afterwards we went to get Chinese food. I have decided that I do not like Ghanaian Chinese food. It isn’t what my American palate is used to, so I can’t enjoy it.

On our way home I saw a car catch on fire. It was right before the toll booth and glowed a brilliant orange. The driver scrambled out from the car and took a fire extinguisher from the trunk. I thought the car was going to explode! There were flames coming from the underneath and licking the doors, and from the engine. I also saw a man selling a puppy in the middle of the road (talk about drive through shopping!).

I came home to news of dead tilapia. The entire pool was full of belly up fish, and a five gallon bucket on the side was overflowing with carcasses. Our best guess is that the chemical levels in the water were too high.

Tomorrow I will rest and wash my hair. A man that is somehow connected to the family was just here and is apparently an artist. He would like to draw me tomorrow, which should be interesting.

Practical Ghanaian Travel Tip #21: Do not make eye contact with a vendor unless you would like to buy something. It will only lead to awkward conversation and hurt feelings.

Practical Ghanaian Travel Tip #22: Traveling throughout Accra is relatively safe. I would suggest taking precautions and not carrying too many valuables, but there is no need to obsessively worry about your safety.

The First One to Touch Her Wins!

January 21, 2010

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I started today with the sunrise. I remembered my quest for a nice shot when I woke up, but Senam was in a rush to get the kids off to school and himself off to work that he flew past my chance. I suppose I have several dozen more opportunities. I also made the mistake of taking my malaria medication in the morning before eating. I have been trying to find a good time for it and the morning is definitely not correct. I had the worst nausea and lightheadedness that I have had in a while. I had to sit at the back of the library and obsessively open the not-working web browser to keep my mind off of vomiting. It would have been the kind that only produced bile, too. Not fun. After about an hour it passed and I went to class exhausted without the day having begun.

The students that came today were Edward, Edwin, Amanda, Ines, and Vava. Vava was kicked out of class within an hour for misbehaving and I was assigned to Ines to help her with reading. I quite like Ines, but I fear that she could be learning a lot more quickly. As a matter of fact, they all could be. Every five minutes or so their attention was lost because of the teacher reprimanding one of them or visitors appearing to say hello. The classroom serves as an office for three as well, with no divider between their desks and the students. This leads to constant interruption. The kids like me a lot, however. Not only am I an American superstar, I also don’t yell or hit for misbehavior. In all honesty I could care less if the kids write perfectly on the line or not as long as they understand the lesson. I have tried in the past to take children individually to the library to work on reading, but Auntie Lizzie insists that the kids stay in the noisy classroom.

In the afternoon I had my usual interactions with flirtatious Ghanaian men. I am learning how to jokingly reject them. I was asked to go to the beach and the club on two separate occasions and said no without saying ‘no’ on both occasions. I also played the violin. Barely. I played a few scales and it felt awkward and soothing to be playing strings again. While Kekeli and Fiifi went for their piano lessons, I sat and played minesweeper on the computer while listening to my iPod. It was a welcome reprieve from the constant attention that Ghana requires. My brain must burn very many calories just processing the social interactions I have. I have to remember the correct greeting depending on who I meet, when to cross my legs and when not to, who I shake hands with and who I don’t, all the while trying to appear like a human who this comes naturally to, and not the robot that I come across as every once in a while.

Most notably I was a human goalpost today. Fiifi and several of his friends decided that the first one to touch me would ‘win’. I had to run across the school in an attempt to get a gaggle of 8 year-old boys from attacking me. It was a lot of fun nonetheless.

When I got home with Geena (we had one hour of peace while the kids were with a family friend), I told her my thoughts about changing organizations. She encouraged me to pursue this wholeheartedly, which I greatly appreciated. She agreed that SOS was not meeting my internship needs, and that I should seek something more related to my interests. I explained to her why the village wasn’t appropriate for me, and she reaffirmed what Senam had said before that the village women take the information foreigners bring in one ear and let it out the other.

Tonight I will be speaking with Senam and hopefully tomorrow I will find myself some other potential organizations. Unfortunately it is the end of the week, but I am playing hookie from school (with the teacher’s permission) and going into Accra with Evans. I am excited to see the city, and I hope my next post brings good internship news and funny stories about my day in the City.

Practical Ghanaian Travel Tip #19: All treated water in Ghana is not the same. While most are safe to drink, the chemical taste can still cause an upset stomach. The safest bet is to drink Voltic water. I have found IceCool to be quite pleasant as well.

Practical Ghanaian (Internship) Tip #20: Take fifteen minutes each day to do something for yourself. Fifteen minutes of music completely clears my head and makes life more bearable for me. You might read a book, watch T.V. (if that is an option), listen to music, or just take a walk.