Friday, December 31, 2010

The End Of The Line

What a year. Not much really happened over the course of twelve months here. I packed up my life into a ten foot by ten foot cube in Massachusetts, I said goodbye to a bunch of friends far and wide, visited my family one more time before the great bon voyage, and moved to Africa. Par for the course, really.

Some of the moments that stand out for me this year.

Saying bye (but only for the time being) to Damla by moving her and all of her worldly possessions to Michigan, East Lansing to be precise. It proved to be a long drive and only a temporary move for her, but it was a morose time for both of us. Just before that happened though we got the news that I would be arriving in Ghana by June, so there were ups and downs to be had everywhere. Another of the ups was her receiving a PhD which deserves another congratulations from me – Congrats Damla!

The spring was spent getting things in order for the move out of the western Massachusetts region and visiting friends around the area. A trip to Rochester was made to see the Vedders and relax a bit with all of my good friends still in the city. That of course meant a poker night where (if my failing memory serves me right) Kara did fairly well.

As May approached I made a trip down to see the family. Mark's birthday was a great excuse to see everyone again and have a great time. I even visited a friend from MA the day the Flyers came back from being down three to nothing (in the series and in that final game) to win. Mom and I listened to the final goal scored on the radio and we celebrated as best as we could driving home at nightfall. A very fun time indeed.

But with the happy times come some sad times. I was elated to make it to Philadelphia to meet all of my fellow volunteers from so many different places in the United States and just filled with eager anticipation that it took me by surprise to feel so sad saying goodbye to Mom. I still remember the call we made that final day I was there in Philly. I sat in the dining room all by myself using the computer to make a call to her and we cried a bit about the impending departure. We managed to compose ourselves though and aside from the first two or three weeks, we have been in touch just as regularly as when I was only a few hundred miles away, so things have worked out nicely.

Landing in Ghana was a tremendous thrill. The rains coming down as we descended the steps from the plane onto the tarmac and making our way to the terminal was exhilarating. I was realizing that this was all happening, and that we all had made it through this long process of becoming a volunteer in the Peace Corps. A bus ride here, a bus ride there, and we all just looked out the windows to see what our new country looked like. I still recall a distinct feeling of culture shock seeing small houses with tin roofs, metal boxes housing businesses, and little boys and girls walking around with machetes.

When things settled down there was that thing called training that we had to make it through. I honestly believe what we were told is true: “If you can make it through training, you will be fine.” This was so far removed from basic training in the military it would be comical to compare it to that, yet there we were griping and sulking in lesson after lesson preparing us for our jobs. After two months with basically Sunday off, it came time to swear in. I felt especially proud to join the ranks of thousands of others who put normalcy on hold and hopped into an adventure. I called my mom right after we were officially named volunteers and told her the good news. After a little over two years, my little dream came true.

I found out that I had a great campus to stay at, wonderful people working along side of me, and students who were very eager to get started learning what communications and computers were all about. The lessons have been rewarding so far, and that is not limited to the lessons that I have to teach. It means things that people have taught me about culture, family, and being kind. Even after many months of being here and absorbing what it means to be Ghanaian, I am always impressed with the giving nature of all the people that I meet.

My hope is to continue doing the things that keep me happy. On the whole, 2010 proved to be incredibly positive with only short moments of melancholy. I feel incredibly fortunate to have them all, and to try to share them as best I can with you out there on the web.

We can only try our best to make 2011 just as fine.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What Is Christmas Like In Ghana

Merry Christmas to you from Ghana. It is a bit late, but the season is celebrated here with a different type of flair than one is accustomed to in America. First, there is no snow nor small evergreen trees to chop down and decorate which makes the season feel a bit more like Florida than I would rather have (without offending southerners, how do you celebrate the day without putting on a coat and turning up the thermostat a bit?). Second, while you may be buying a gift or two, rampant commercialism has not made the in-roads in Ghana to date. No commercials, no repetitive music, no wishes for a Merry Christmas one month before the day rolls around. It is different.

I was happy to take a short trip back to my homestay village and spend the day with my adopted family. Their celebration was probably like most: not much celebrating. Most will go to their church to take part in the celebration of the birth of Jesus, but in our quarters there was too much time preparing all the food to include a trip to the chapel and spend two or three hours honoring the savior of mankind. A goat was slaughtered (I did not watch that as I figured the very spry goat was going to complain about that greatly and it was just not the moment to go and enjoy such a ritual), yams, plantains, and other foods were prepared, and we all sat down by dinner time to enjoy some delicious food. This is the custom: you eat and eat and eat, and then you wait for friends and family to stop by so that you can invite them to eat with you. Naturally they have been eating all day too, but everyone is just enjoying the time off and recalling stories. It was a lot of fun obviously.

Where were the presents? There were no presents wrapped and there were no stockings hung with care mainly due to the fact that not many homes require a fire place anywhere within the house. From what I have been hearing from most of my cohorts and Ghanaian friends, there is little gift-giving tradition in the country. The celebration pretty much comes from the eating part, not the recreation of the three wise men bearing gifts. The only stocking I saw was my own that my mother had sent in her latest care package. It's been with me for almost all of my Christmas's and it was great to have it hanging in my house to remind me what time it was. Yet there were no presents exchanged on Christmas day or Boxing day to be seen which may vary between regions of the country. I don't think Volta participates in presents though.

No Christmas tree, no Christmas lights, no colorful presents to wake up to on the morning of the big day. Everyone I saw was happy though, so it is very possible to enjoy yourself without all the trappings of the Western way of things but I still felt a bit sad that I didn't get home and see everyone for a bit of holiday cheer. I did make a call home on the 25th and it was great to hear the voices so familiar to the holiday. It wasn't the same as being there of course, but it was a way lift my spirits a bit and enjoy the day more with the nice people in Asafo.

I would say that the holiday is nice here, but it still could use some flashing white lights and maybe 20 degree temps. I might celebrate it next year inside a freezer.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Harmattan Gets Cooking

Here is the post where I mention the change in the weather. It is also the time where I use a new word that has yet to enter the vocabulary for those of us in the states not familiar with African seasons, especially sub-Saharan Africa. I will not do it justice in describing the Harmattan so you may wish to read more about it on Wikipedia. It is a long spell of dry weather which comes from the north and brings with it a lot of dust and apparently some cool weather. Lately I have noticed a few things changing.

The ground is thoroughly dry. Most of the grasses on campus are starting to wither a bit in the mid-day sun and for lack of a drink. The one day that I remember it rained was more than a week and a half ago, the one day where I had laundry out to dry. Prior to this change in conditions it was raining almost once a day and abundantly so at that. Now, very clear skies and temperatures that are approaching the mid-90s. The dirt paths and roads that have heavy erosion still showing and which used to shift relentlessly underfoot for all the mud present are now dusty and hard-packed earth. It is still hard to imagine what appears to be a jungle environment can become this arid.

The humidity has dropped in the past three weeks. I was constantly checking a weather site to see what I was perspiring through and the humidity level was always near the 50% mark. Lately I have noticed that the figure is now closer to 35% which makes the heat a bit more bearable but the air is a tad dry. Many Ghanaians have told me that my lips will start to crack soon due to the conditions but I hope to use some lip balm that I received a few packages ago to combat this. It does make the jump in temperatures tolerable though.

In the late evening and early morning it feels quite cool outside. When a family on the grounds of the campus was offering me wool blankets it did not make much sense to me to buy one. Then a few nights with the fan on a low setting in my room had me near shivering in the morning. I bought one and have had a nice warm bed to take comfort in on those cool mornings. I do recall someone saying that the days where that happens are not here to stay, which means at some point the days will become much hotter and no blankets are required, but for the moment it is quite pleasant. The thermometer in my house this morning read somewhere just above 75F which, coupled with low humidity, made it feel almost like air conditioned comfort.

As far as changing seasons is concerned, this does not make up for autumn and winter back home. I realize some will say I have it lucky to find such nice weather all year round but this climate has a perverse effect on my sensation of time. It still is not December yet. It never stopped being July save for a few rainy days where I might have given in to thoughts that it was August with late afternoon thunderstorms. I realize I miss the seasons a bit here and I doubt I am going to wake up to find frost on the windows any time soon.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas Comes Earlier And Earlier Every Year

I had the nicest surprise at the post office again yesterday. I had been given a sheet of paper that is the best sheet of paper to have - please pick up your box at the post office. One of the members of the staff on campus handed it to me on Thursday so I was anxious to head out on Friday when I knew the customs official would be there to open my packages and inspect them thoroughly. On Friday afternoon I made off with the bike under me to see what might be in store. When I arrived the man who helps me pointed a finger up and gave me a "wait right there" gesture with the dutiful, "I'm coming," comment as he walked away.

He pops back up at the pick-up window (where I have never picked up a package to date) and hands me a second slip which means I now have two boxes in the back some where. This was getting quite good. He then waved me around the counter into the back so that the customs man can do his duty. Out comes the razor blade which sliced nicely through the packing tape and there were all my Christmas goodies. Presents even! Honest-to-goodness Christmas wrapping paper that would look just right in my house if I had a tree to place them under.

They did look nice until my customs inspector went ahead and opened them. In two separate boxes I had two gift-wrapped presents that he got to see first. It kind of made Christmas come really early as I got to open my gifts on December 17th, but he had to do it so as to not let contraband items get through the postal lines.

This brings me to the thanks stage of the post.

Uncle Bruce and Aunt Ann: The shirts will be well-used and are a very nice addition to my wardrobe. On my days where I want to relax I just can't seem to do it right with a button-down short sleeve shirt that I normally where to class. Those colors fit me (as do the shirts themselves) nicely. I read your letter and you said that you were enjoying reading along in the adventures which means that I can't quit just yet, right? Thank you for the presents and the card. I will be writing soon, I promise!

Mom and Mark: Mmmm, food. I had just been thinking on Thursday that it had been a while since I snacked on something sugary (a giant ball of M&M's to be precise, but those are great no matter what shape they arrive in) and well, you clearly know my sweet tooth, not to mention my macaroni-and-cheese tooth if there is such a thing. I have my reading ahead of me with the book and magazines and you guessed it, it deserves a letter in return.

Merry Christmas to all!

Of course I do miss home. This does not quite compare to being there by the tree, sipping on some eggnog, but it is a taste of home for sure and I have the cards sitting out for all, well just me, to see. If all goes well I can make a phone call during the big day and talk to everyone and try my best to be there in spirit, if not in person.

A word to the wise: you may wish to put in an advance order for your Christmas list now so I can bring all my presents home with me in time for 2012.

Where Did All The Students Go?

And so the students have vacated. Not vacation mind you, but vacated. There is the big holiday coming up soon and that is a chance for the students to go home and visit with their family for about three or four weeks which means I have very little teaching to do, especially on a Saturday. In their place however are many adults who are either teachers in their own right looking to move on to higher degrees, or are part of a program to get certificates in subjects such as Information and Communication Technologies. As the students leave, new ones arrive. Much older and much louder students at that.

I checked around with a few other teachers and it would appear that I do not need to teach this round of students. The type of education they receive may be more rapid-fire then my slower paced lessons which are directed at the first-years. I am hoping to sit in on a few classes but the main focus appears to be getting the teachers ready for written exams that take the better part of a day or so to write. Already several teachers have gravitated towards me and the lab asking if I could help them understand certain concepts for the upcoming test. The conversation has gone something like this:

Student: "Oh, hello Fo Koku! Please, can you teach me computers?"

Me: "Hi, ... um, sure. What do you need to know?"

Student: "Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Access. How to use the internet."

Me: "ehHah, ... well, that is a lot to teach in 15 minutes. We can try, but I am not promising anything."

(Sidenote: that sound, 'ehHah,' is often used when agreeing with something. I hear it in my sleep and now use the remark whenever I talk just out of habit. It sounds quite nasally on the 'Hah' part.)

I have spent six or seven hours teaching my students just Word alone and I left plenty on the cutting room floor so to speak in developing the lessons, so there is only so much one can really transfer if you have 15 minutes. I suspect that if I did try to help I would end up only confusing things and making less sense for those who sat and listened. If they ask, I will try.

I now have some time alone in the lab and I intend to make a few minor changes before the students come back. There is a need to ask the students to share internet time so I am researching the best way to easily kick people off of their session on the computer. I need to see if we can have any hope of fixing the now non-functioning 16 computers that were brand new and rearrange the lab so more old computers can sit closer to the switch and gain internet access. They are just small things to make the lab better, but they give me something to do which is what I need.

I suspect I am going to plow through more than a few books during the break. Should be good to relax a little and reflect where I have been so far and what I can do in 2011.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Unusual Nativity Play

Last night I was treated to a great play put on by the students here at the school. As most things happen here, I was informed sometime during the day that there was to be a choral concert put on by the students that evening at the chapel. It sounded to me by the student's description that it would be a lot of songs and the like so I told him that I would be there and watch. I did just that at seven and had a very good time.

Everyone was dressed in their nice outfits which for men means a long-sleeve white collared button down shirt and dark black trousers and for the women a white blouse and black skirt down below the knees. I felt a bit under-dressed in a polo shirt and slacks but a tie and jacket are just not in the wardrobe so this was decent enough.

Inside the chapel the students gave it their best effort to get something Christmas-y installed at the altar: a flailing evergreen conglomeration of branches with blinking Christmas lights draped here and there. If you have seen Charlie Browns Christmas Special (and yes, I know you have) picture his little tree prior to the gang fixing it up. It was certainly festive but I couldn't help think that the setup would catch fire at some point.

The choir performed nicely and I was treated to a few songs that I recognized as Christmas carols. To be honest, I have not heard a one since Thanksgiving here as I don't have a radio or television tuned in to the blizzard of holiday cheer from America over the airwaves. To confess, I really enjoy not having that aspect of the holidays. Ghana does not know a Black Friday. It celebrates Boxing Day but it seems tame and reserved compared to the U.S. from what I have heard. When the choir finished we were treated to bible readings from here and there which was decent since there was no extended sermon on each passage which I have grown accustomed to hearing. After the reading, a new song was performed, sometimes by the houses (dormitories named house one, two, three, and four) on campus. It was quite good to see some of my students flexing their vocal cords.

Then came the play. We were treated to the retelling of the classical birth tale from the New Testament, but with the Ghanaian culture as the underlying base to the proceedings. One of the great parts was the portrayal of King Herod. He was a Ghanaian chief for all practical purposes save for the crown placed atop his head. Everything that had to do with King Herod was done for comical effect and I must admit that they did a spectacular job. Little baby Jesus made his great escape while King Herod thought he had vanquished his little foe. At another part in the play we see the townspeople not helping Joseph and Mary. What I smiled a lot at is that these are Ghanaians just doing what comes naturally, so townspeople carried large things on top of their heads as they passed by the wandering couple. I have never seen a play where that was part of the normal happenings in ancient times. Though thinking about it today, I can't imagine that they didn't use their heads to carry things back then.

It was a nice treat and the students really enjoyed the entertainment. To put it mildly, I am enjoying myself nicely.

Monday, December 13, 2010

No Broken Bones

Just to report back a small update on the status of my ankle: no broken bones. I had the x-ray taken and the bone appears strong. Looking at the ankle though I find it hard to understand how it could have moved out of its proper place, and this by no means confirms that there was no damage done; just none done to the bones. Who knows how the ligaments are doing.

My walking is getting steadier and I notice each day that the swelling has gone down another notch or two around the ankle. As someone pointed out to me online, I probably would have healed a lot faster had I the forethought to get some crutches the day it happened. I spent too much time hobbling along on the ankle for it to get better any time soon. More learning for the future.

I just thought an update was warranted.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Hopping And Hopping

[Belated post]

Thankfully the ankle is still dead set on healing but the trouble is that it wants to heal on its own time. Its own, sweet, prolonged time. Yesterday was my first visit to someone that might actually have something to say about fixing the injury which meant a trip to Hohoe Hospital. I went after classes and my ankle was not feeling very well at all. I spent the afternoon teaching two classes and walking as little as possible which afforded the students plenty of time to do things on their computers that I could not see from my seated vantage point. No problem, if it meant that I didn't have to walk, at least I was talking about things that might help them use Microsoft Word.

After those classes concluded I hobbled over to the statue circle area of the campus where taxis come and go and picked one up to the hospital. Getting to the hospital was easy but figuring out where I should go was a bit tricky. I managed to find the place on the grounds completely opposite of where I needed to be and a kind young lady walked me directly to the records area of the hospital so that I could check in. Ghanaians are always doing things like that; they are not just helpful by telling you the information you need, but will do the work for you if they can. After being escorted to the check-in woman I gave all the information that she asked for. Did I have health insurance? No, I couldn't say that I did have health insurance which they know about, but Peace Corps told me to keep receipts for reimbursement purposes. I was curious what the damage would be for a consultation.

That will be six cedis. That was without insurance. That might translate to maybe 4 dollars, fifty cents in American money. Not too bad. I walked to room 6 and the line was pretty large with many patients in various states of health hoping to see someone for help. Fortunately I brought a book with me to read through whilst I sat down.

Maybe ten pages in and my name, “Daniel” was called out. I gathered it was for me but I waited for it to be said a second time with my real last name used before staggering in. The two white-coated workers checked me out, saw my foot, then said, “Oh, sorry!” Everyone was saying that of course, but hearing it from them made me think that I had a great chance of finding sympathy from the healthcare industry. While they could not diagnose anything they did say I should wait until Monday to visit again when the X-ray machine would be available. Finally they mentioned some pain relievers that I might try and I took them up on the offer. For four cedis I walked away with some pills and called the foraging mission a success.

Before going home I stopped in at a hotel bar where four other volunteers were having a good time chatting and relaxing. It was good to talk to some people and just blow through an evening away from home. One Malta, a whole lot of rice and spicy meat later, and I was quite happy. I even offered a place for some guests to stay if they needed it, then I took a taxi back to the campus to avoid walking any more on the foot. My hope is that in this next week the ankle starts to resemble something more normal in shape and is not so tender. I am still having a good time here.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

On The Mend

[Belated post]

As evidenced by the prior post, my social calendar took a nose-dive with the inability to walk out of the house on Saturday. It is the longest I have spent away from the computer lab while still being on campus since I arrived in August I think. My means of locomotion in the house are limited: I hop on one foot when I want to change chairs at the table, I ride the bicycle when I have a few things to do between rooms in the house and don't want to hop (more of a push-along motion rather than peddling), and then I have used a plastic chair as a walker when moving from the bedroom to the bathroom.

Speaking of the chair, I had a sit down shower of sorts in the bathroom (note that I am not speaking of the water closet but the room where I have my showers – they are too separate rooms here). I moved the chair into the stall where the shower head spills into and then filled up a bucket of water. It worked pretty well and saved me the awkwardness of trying to lather up on one foot. You get creative when there is limited means at your disposal and necessity at your back.

Several students have stopped by to check on me and so far I have been fed fairly well without having so much as a few eggs in the pantry. Last night a Peace Corps volunteer stopped by and brought with her some delicious rice and noodles for dinner which was tasty. This morning I made myself some eggs for breakfast and had a cup of coffee to cheer me up. I did not go to church though as walking a long distance is not something that I am up for just yet. Today I can just put a small amount of weight on the right foot when the leg is positioned just so without much discomfort. It is still a long way away from me walking like a human being should.

At least the swelling has gone down somewhat and there is no bruising or discoloration around the foot. I suppose that is a good sign. As I was awaking this morning my dream consisted of a mass of spiders crawling towards me and I was standing up. Unfortunately I was on the edge of being awake so my action in the dream was to kick the spiders away; the action in my bed was to kick with my sprained ankle. No damage done, but it definitely woke me up.

Friday, December 03, 2010

First-Year Students Are Matriculated Into The College And I Dislocate My Ankle, Twice

[Belated post]

What a day. The second day off from classes saw the students become official first-years at the chapel. Up to this point their status on campus was simply known as “freshers”, their official enrollment was not settled until this day. I had thought the term freshers was just used to denote all first-year students but I learned that this was not the case and that the second-years will now refer to them from hence forth as first-years.

We met at the chapel somewhere past 9 and awaited the Bishop's arrival. Today was also marking the observance of St. Francis Xavier's birthday, or something to that effect. It was a day to memorialize the patron saint of the school and to make various prayers heard for all those on campus. To say that this ceremony was long would be an understatement. It was a full mass which included the induction of about 20 students as full-fledged, christened Catholics. That must have been about an hour unto itself, let alone the mass portion and then the induction of the freshers into the college.

Yet the school's choir has a way of picking me up and keeping me happy all the while with their songs and drumming. A few songs I am getting to know now and hum along which is heartening. I don't know what they are singing yet but maybe that will come with time as most songs are in English.

After the Bishop closed out the service the teachers met in the staff room on the second floor of the administration building for lunch. I was treated to my favorite mineral, Malta, and then two plates of food. One a rice and salad dish, and the other banku and okro stew. That hit the spot and got me nice and fat. I made me way out after it appeared several were departing and I headed home for a small rest in anticipation of some outdoor volleyball on the basketball court.

I hopped on the court and started in the back-left position before the game got going. Someone suggested I switch with Augustine and so I did, to the front row on the left. First serve to our team and we bump a bit off and the setter floats one to me out at the 10 foot line. I hit it. The other side bumps it easily and sets the ball to my side for their hitter who has some room to make a jump at it. I went up to block and from here the day changes drastically.

I don't know if the hitter came under the net, meaning his feet would land under where my feet would touch again, but the only thing I really know for sure was that my ankle rolled as severely as it ever has in my entire life. All my weight came down on the right ankle is it turned and turned and turned. I knew it was bad, but there was an awful kink feeling in the right leg and and I could sense that my foot was not back to its normal position. I lay on the concrete for two seconds before the one referee on my side gets his hand on my foot. I knew by this point that it was dislocated and my instinct was just to hold my leg above the ankle and grimace like there was no tomorrow. The ref, with my foot in his hand, pulled on it and it went back into place.

And that was the end of my game. One play and done. I stayed down for a while and then some students helped me over to some shade where staff members kept me laughing and trying to distract my focus from the swelling. A bit of ice and I think it was oddly manageable for the pain.

Then the school “masseuse” came.

Are you curious why there need to be quotes there? Yes, I don't know the qualifications here for being a masseuse, but he offered to help and everyone seemed to agree that this was the best thing for me. Do you know what you should do to a sprain because I seem to recall the advice as an acronym: ICE. Ice, compress, and elevate. I now know that there is no mention of Manipulate in that acronym. Sure enough the friend at the other end of my foot moved it around, each time flexing it a bit more until his last motion did the inevitable. He moved my foot far enough to the left (this is my right ankle) to dislocate it again.

I yelled out pretty vociferously that this was not good at all, and that it hurt like blue blazes until he held onto it enough where I could yank the leg back enough to put the foot right. To which those around me who had now just heard me curse with a bit of gusto in the lungs started to laugh a great deal. I guess it was kind of funny, but I told the nice man that he could call it a day and that my ankle was now off limits.

As I write the size of the bulge is, dare I say, impressive. I have a cold compress and some elevation and a lot more time to spend inside the house for a while here. So much for volleyball for a while as it looks like I will be catching up on a few good books from here on out.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Back To Learning Ewe

[Belated post]

It did take a while but I have just returned to learning the language through some instructions of an Ewe speaker. I didn't know where we would start but there was a hint of how things might go when my tutor found a blank sheet of paper and started to write out the alphabet in Ewe. Back to the basics was the suggestion.

It almost felt like day one but the ability to hear and talk by myself was a gift. Our first day of language training at the Peace Corps hub site was also the alphabet, but there were seven of us trying to say things in a group and there was no real way to understand if you were hitting the sounds just so or whether your voice was masked by another person's perfect pitch or yet another one's bad form. By myself I get to hear how off my sounds are when comparing to the man's speech right in front of me. The feeling is akin to driving down the road for ten miles and then noticing the left turn signal is still blinking. Just a small mote of embarrassment there.

So back to the letters. I will try my best to write them here but if they do not turn out correctly on the web log then I will just give approximations to them (edit: they did not show up).

This character ( Ð ) is a slightly different sounding 'd' sound. Tough to get the sound right when mixing it with other letters.

Oddly enough, the ( H, h ) character has more of a throat sound but the same huff is in the sound that we are familiar with. The familiar sound of 'h' is in the character ( X, x).

If you say the word 'song' and hear your pronunciation at the end of the word, then you are very close to the 'n' character. As best as you can, really getting the 'ng' out will come close to the right sound, but not quite. That one is not so bad but not so easy either.

For the 'v' you are mouthing what appears to be a 'v' but your teeth don't touch the lower lip, and you use the throat to resonate the sound of it. If we write Ewe in the right form, it looks like Eve and sounds a bit like 'away' without the long 'a' at the beginning.

By far the most sinister to my palate and tongue is 'no-idea-what-symbol-to-place-here' letter. I don't know how to describe it outside of an 'l'-ish sound that has the parts of the mouth all in the wrong place. When the tutor makes the sound I understand what it is supposed to sound like, but there is no amount of contorting that I do that comes close to repeating it.

It was a humbling hour just making sounds but it was fun getting back to studying again. I hope we can continue with the practice and that I can build on the words that I already learned from the prior training. We had a good time to boot, so the evening counts as pretty good in my book. The teacher also has a very good sense of humor and laughs with me. I recall that when several of the teachers were sitting outside watching a sporting event, my eventual tutor leaned over and told me to say something. He then added something else to the end of it and then said, “Say that to him,” pointing to the teacher next to me. I said it to the best of my abilities and that teacher plus my then-instructor burst out laughing.

“What did I say?” I asked while laughing with them as they enjoyed the joke.

“I will slap you,” was what they chuckled. Good times I tell you.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Update On The War Of Attrition

A while back I made mention of a few brand new computers that had a bit of trouble staying powered up. The main problem are power supplies and since that time (I believe two did not work) we have more computers fall prey to the power supply demon. At this stage our computer lab looks more like a monitor lab as the cases are all stacked one on top of the other two rows deep in the front of the classroom. The current count for bad power supplies in the new machines stands at 14, that out of the 20 we originally got. For the old machines we have two failures which will need a reformatting of the hard drive. Another old machine has a virus that will also need a little attention to resolve (another installation of Windows).

So the lab on the first day of class started as 39 computers. Today we have 23 that work, and only 8 that can connect to the web. Our hope is that the agent of the computer manufacturer here in Ghana will come to the rescue and repair the bad power supplies soon. It is always a challenge to have someone travel back and forth from Accra but constant phone calls are the normal ploy to get things done. He will know my number quite well by week's end.

Fortunately my netbook is still intact and working nicely. If we ever get the machines fixed the students will be very happy to come in and load Facebook again.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Funeral Sunday

[Belated post]

Today was a funeral day in town. Right outside the gates to the campus is the place that I often go to eat dinner here, the banku bar or chop bar. Last month very close to my birthday the woman who served me my meals died at a very young age. She was 47 and it was quite a shock to everyone that she passed away including me. I knew her sister and felt awful that she had a loved one pass away. She told me that the wake and funeral would be at the end of November and I said I would come. At the time I was not sure where I would be but sure enough the wake coincided with the Thanksgiving party in Accra. I was able to make it back late on Saturday but missed the burial by a few hours.

Today I felt I would make up for it by going to the third day of the funeral. They tend to start on Friday with very loud music and the mourners assembled at the house of the deceased to pay their respects. Then on Saturday there are more religious observances followed by the actual burying of the dead as I mentioned. Sunday is more of a celebration and making a point to pass along a happy spirit to the loved one on their journey to the other side. I stopped by in the afternoon just before most of the singing and dancing was finished to pay my respects. Naturally I ignored a suggestion to wear the funeral attire which is black and red in Ghana and instead I chose something light and cool. I was the only one dressed in a white shirt at the event. First mental note, don't ever do that again. I already stick out a bit and that was no way to make an entrance.

Beneath the tents set up for the occasion I was asked to state my reason or purpose for my journey to the funeral. Before the elder men of the families I spoke into the microphone that I was there to pay my final respects to Linda who had served me my food for the short time that I knew her. I was then given a ceremonial serving of palm wine in a hollowed out calabash husk and I promptly poured it out onto the ground invoking the name of the dead. I liked that aspect of the rights of the celebration. After a bit of dancing I departed and thanked everyone for their hospitality.

Funerals don't always end up being sad here. It seems that the more people get together the more they change their attitudes from grief to an actual celebration and a way for the community to help a family make it through. Everyone contributes a small gift to cover the cost of hiring the DJ (the giant speakers set up at a house usually warn you that a funeral is coming) and the rentals for chairs and tents and the like may set a family back hundreds of cedis, so if they didn't all come out then no one would ever have such an elaborate party.

It was good to get out and be a part of it. Next time I will wear my black shirt.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Movie And Culture Shock In Reverse

[Belated post]

With one extra day in the city of Accra many of the volunteers felt it was a good idea to get in some shopping and a movie. Harry Potter was just released and about half or our group wanted to see it, me included. After a brief excursion to try and locate a guitar in the city (fruitless), I and another volunteer visited the Accra Mall to meet up with the other volunteers to see the 4:30 showing. The movie was a great deal of fun and it made you feel like you were back in America for just a sliver of time as the seats and the theater were brand new and the popcorn was tasty (they asked if I wanted the popcorn flavored – the two options were salt or sugar and since I couldn't even grasp the concept of sugar as a topping for popcorn I said salt before I realized what she suggested as the second choice). Since the timing of the movie's release worked out very well for our trip to the capital for Thanksgiving I am really hoping they choose to release the next movie at this time in 2011. Who knows when it will come out though.

The mall itself was absolutely identical to any your would find in America and it has become an attraction for most of the foreigners who live in the city where they do their shopping for goods that one just doesn't find in the regular markets around town. There is an Apple store there as well as many fashion places and jewelry stores. You would hardly know you were not in America in fact. I toured the Shoprite store there and as I walked around the aisles I had this strange feeling of unease. Each item passed by and I felt like I was in the wrong place. Even after a short time in the small towns and markets I am quite used to seeing the tiny shops and open air sellers carrying large baskets of goods on their heads that that has become a norm for my eyes and brain. Here I was back to America and everything has a bar code affixed to it. Everything is for sale and the items are all familiar.

What was worse was meeting up at a club with the friends who let me stay in their house while in Accra. The friends were great, but the atmosphere was completely wrong. I was wearing my sandals that I had made for me by a cobbler in Hohoe and when I walked to the front door of the club the guard (yes, a guard dressed in all black who lifted weights) stopped me and said I couldn't go in. No sandals allowed after 7PM. It irritated me to know end that they would have silly, asinine fashion rules that smacked of Americana to me. Worse, the sandals which I really like made me feel more Ghanaian and here they were preventing me from entering a snobby bar. The guard realized I wasn't from around the area and let me in anyway with the warning of, “just this once guy,” and I found my party.

Looking around it was obvious that anyone who was here was looking their best to attract attention. High heels, tight outfits, jackets worn over black short-sleeve shirts to look ulta-cool. It was unpleasant to say the least and we did our best to excuse ourselves from the place in about a half-hour. It was a rather strange experience and I think one I will be familiar with when I end my stay here and head back to the states. I will miss certain things from Ghana and get quite comfortable with certain luxury items in America (think drive-through McDonald's) after a bit, but the first few days back will be quite odd.

The movie was great, the friends I saw were wonderful, but I wanted back to Hohoe more than a I realized by the end of the night.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving In Ghana

[Belated Post]

This is the second big holiday that I have spent in Ghana but it is the first one that would normally have been spent with my family unlike the July 4th holiday. So I had to be without them for the first time in a long time. The time was not spent in Hohoe though, rather it was a trip to the capital of the country in Accra. All volunteers were invited to the Thanksgiving dinner being prepared at the U.S. Ambassador's house and after delaying far too long I informed Peace Corps headquarters that I would plan on being there. Fortunately they let me in. A mental note for myself, call the first chance you get to be added to the RSVP list.

Very early on Thursday morning I arrived at the station in Hohoe to find a tro-tro headed to Accra. I met up with two others there, one was the volunteer from Hohoe, Scott, and the other is a volunteer not connected to Peace Corps but one we know just the same who teaches in a nearby village. Our van moved out of town by about 7 and we traveled in comparable luxury with an air-conditioned van for about three and a half hours. Upon arriving we got our bearings and began walking towards the residence of our Ambassador. By the time we arrived it was just before 11 and the party didn't start until 12. We asked at the gate if we should go in or if we needed to wait and much to our pleasure they said come in.

Ah, the house of a U.S. Ambassador. The grounds are much too nice for us that is for certain. Think of a well-off person's home in Hollywood and that might be the right scale. There was a pool that we could swim in and many of the PCVs took advantage of the chance including me. I think I was the first one in the pool (again, we were the only ones there for about an hour) and as the party was closing I was the last one to get out and try to quickly dry off. My fingers were prunes for much of the day.

Over the rather large lawn there were lounge chairs and tables set up in the shade of the massive trees on the grounds for people to relax and socialize. I met more of the volunteers who are serving their second year of service which was nice but most of the time we broke out into our “classes” since those are the ones that we got to know quite well during training. It was great to see a lot of familiar faces eagerly anticipating a very fine meal. As the soda and wine flowed everyone kept one eye on their companion and the other on the tables set up for the buffet to see if the food was ready. By two o'clock we had caught some of the smells of Thanksgiving and the queue started forming.

Our host spoke a few words about how nice it was to see all the well-dressed volunteers at his house and how pleased he was to celebrate the holiday. Then the eating commenced. Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, salad, vegetables, and dessert with coffee were there for the taking. I cannot state how good this meal was. I am comfortable eating Ghanaian foods and there is nothing wrong with them, but the difference here is just amazing when such a fine table is set for you. When I eat the Ghanaian dishes it is just the same food consumed from start to finish. You don't get to pick and choose from the starch, the vegetable, and the meat. It is all flavored the same and each mouthful is going to taste the same as the previous mouthful. But Thanksgiving supper was that wonderful treat of taking a slab of turkey and giving it just a dollop of gravy and savoring it in your mouth, only to be followed by a heaping forkful of mashed potatoes with more gravy and possibly a mix of beans or cauliflower and getting that flavor to fill the tongue. I could choose which taste I wanted next and that is what made me really happy. All the items were delicious.

The staff at the house cooked twelve turkeys for the nearly 200 invitees and each one was juicy and perfectly done. At the close of the eating we all had a chance to salute the cooks as they were presented in a line before us. I think we should have given them a standing ovation to be honest, but most were too stuffed to the standing by this point in the afternoon.  It was a great meal and a terrific honor bestowed upon us by the staff and the Ambassador.

I couldn't resist going back in the pool after the turkey had a chance to rest a bit and spent the rest of the afternoon splashing around. Around five o'clock we got going. The day was bright and sunny which was a switch from a normal Thanksgiving back home when the temperatures are going down quite noticeably. This is my first time spending the whole day outside whether it was at the pool or sitting down under a tent and wolfing down scrumptious food. Just a bit different.

Scott and I headed back to the place we would stay the night which was an ex-pat's house in Osu. I knew him from a friend of my brother who has a friend that is friends with Peter. Makes sense, right? He was kind to offer his place whenever I was in Accra and while we did not meet that night (he was visiting Kumasi with his wife Jessica) we got to meet his housemate Kalyani. We spent the rest of the night talking to her and another business friend of theirs about the world and culture. A truly good night of conversation. By 9 I was able to hear from my mom and brother and we reviewed the events of the day. It was nice to finish off the evening with a chat from back home and to wish each other a happy Thanksgiving.

I miss my family of course but if I couldn't make it home and celebrate with them then this was a great way to make up the lost time with new friends and kind people. I am extremely thankful that I was given the chance to serve in Peace Corps and find all of these wonderful new experiences here in Ghana.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Off To Celebrate Thanksgiving

It is almost that time of the year where I would normally be boarding a flight to head down to North Carolina and enjoy some home-cooking (or take part in the cooking) with family and friends but this year is different of course. I miss the family of course, but rarely do you get a cordial invite to see the Ambassador's house and have some victuals to boot. All of the volunteers within Ghana are invited to partake in a Thanksgiving meal while stationed here and I am taking that offer.

I think I am bound to miss some things though. Back home we always made sure to have our dried corn served right along side the mashed potatoes and gravy. I doubt that is something that I will have this year. Who can forget the jellied cranberry sauce that still held its shape from the mold of the tin whence it came? Not me, I loved that stuff. And the nice fat bird coming from the oven with the smell that filled the whole house up from den to bedrooms. Ah, good memories.

I think this year holds a hot city, a crowded pool (one of the only times we are permitted to swim in the country without fear of picking up a parasite), and some home-y cooking with a little bit of a Ghanaian flair. That and I hope to see some more volunteers that I could not see during our In-Service Training. This party is not only for our class of course, all volunteers from prior years who are still here are invited as well so I will meet more unfamiliar faces than familiar ones.

Since I didn't get my invite until a bit late I had to make my own arrangements for a place to stay. As luck would have it my brother had a friend who had a friend that currently lives in Accra. Myself and the other volunteer from Hohoe will be sleeping at that house during the two days that we are there. That was a great relief to know that we had a place to stay. An added bonus is that a movie was released back in the U.S. that we may be able to watch here. Harry Potter may be in the works on Friday and I have enjoyed the movies so far.

Still, this will not be the same as my old Thanksgivings. I will be in touch with the family in spirit (and by phone) for the holidays and that will have to do for now. I am extremely fortunate to have this chance to be in Ghana and doubly fortunate to have an Ambassador who likes guests to visit. I am off to find my swimming trunks and sunscreen.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Getting Into A Rhythm

[Belated post]

Things are now settling back down and I feel like a small amount of consistency is finding its way into my routine. I know where I am supposed to be, I know what I have to teach, and I know that I can now give a quiz and grade papers like all those other teachers before me throughout history. It feels pretty good.

I had not assigned a scratch of homework nor had I asked the students to demonstrate any applied knowledge outside what we do during lectures and practical lessons in the computer lab. Today I asked students to do their first quiz and already I have learned a lot about what I will do next time. I have a feeling that asking students to get out a sheet a paper, write their information on it, and then view the questions on the wall (all my teaching is done via presentations on the projector) is a bit too time consuming. It will be different next time. That, and I want to create three tests so it is not so easy to see the neighbor's paper and get a hint for an answer. But oh the pains and cries of “No, not this week,” and “we can do the quiz next week,” were delightful. I don't know if I was that bad during school when the teacher announced a quiz, but I am guessing that I was quite close.

So the first quiz is done and graded and six more classes await. I will be changing up the questions but not making the test any harder for other classes to avoid whispers from traveling from class to class. From what I have seen so far there is adequate knowledge of some concepts but we could use more practice on some of the basic steps like using the keyboard to save files. Not too shabby, but then this was not the most strenuous of exams.

Of course now that I feel somewhat comfortable with a routine I will be breaking that apart a bit when I get to travel to Accra for Thanksgiving. I will detail that trip after it is complete but for now I like teaching and I am hopeful that the students are enjoying the computer time.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Another Box At The Post Office

Nothing bad ever happens when you receive a parcel notice here at the campus. Well almost nothing bad. When I got a notice that I had a package awaiting me at the post office I was informed just before three in the afternoon and that didn't leave me much time to get to the building. The next day I would be leaving for  Kukurantumi so I figured that I would come back and find the customs man when I returned. So the box sat and waited for me.

I came back this past weekend and figured that the box would be there and all I had to do was swing by. That would have worked had I remembered that this was something I needed to do on Monday but the old brain got the best of me and I neglected to take the trip. Then Tuesday the customs official wouldn't be there so that meant that I had to wait until today which is precisely what I did. After lunch I took a trip over to town on the bicycle and stopped by to see if the man was in. He was the one that I wrote about before when I had a package that was in need of his careful attention. Much to my bemusement the woman at the counter said he was not in and that he was on break. Shoot, so no box and I had the joy of looking forward to another sweaty bike ride to and from campus to boot.

It was at this stage where I should have showed my slip to the woman behind the counter. I did not. I just rode away after thanking her.

I returned about two hours later and he had not come back from break yet but as luck would have it, I sat down for all of 20 seconds and then saw him walk through the door in his nice blue uniform. Finally something went right and up I walked to the woman at the counter again to hand her my slip. I should have noted before this point that the slip did not look like the others that I had received when picking up a package. Much smaller and no signature fields on the scrap of paper. She looked at it and then headed back to the storage area and retrieved my box. She said, "You don't need to sign for this or have customs look at it," which meant that I could have had this box in my hands the Friday when I received the note.

I am still learning. And I am very grateful to Jen for sending a birthday package full of goodies. I won't be without water anytime soon as I have a nice new metal bottle to fasten to my person at all times. That and some sugary treats which will not go to waste, I assure you. Thanks Jen!

Off to dodge the raindrops that are still haphazardly falling on campus.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

You Have Eid al-Adha Off

The Muslim community in this area is not a majority but I don't have the statistics to say that they represent 2%, 10%, or 30%. It wouldn't matter if they were 0.003%, they would still enjoy the day off from work or school as the entire country has a holiday. 

I didn't know that I would not be teaching classes today and had I known that the entire school was off, I would have asked my classes if they would be interested in using the day to make up some of our classes. Then again, if they were Muslim they may have objected anyway.

It is a minor irritant that I don't get the information about such things. All Saints' Day came as a surprise but like today it may have been mentioned to me and I just did not understand that it meant no school for me and the students. I learned of this holiday yesterday in fact, but I was not understanding that it was a day off for everyone. You live and learn I guess.

Speaking of learning, I did not know what the celebration was marking so I did a bit of research at Wikipedia. It would appear to be a happy holiday where one rejoices that Abraham didn't have to kill Ishmael. I am going to go out on a limb and guess that there won't be decorations in the homes displaying swords and chopping blocks, but I could be wrong on that one. My plans are now to go out and do some shopping and stock up on a few items in the kitchen.

Happy Eid al-Adha to you all!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Home Sweet Hohoe

I am back in the old familiar haunts of Hohoe again. Our travel back was pretty mundane and while one funeral party in some small town thought our driver was going too fast, we had zero incidents or breakdowns on the way home from Kukurantumi. The back seat was not as comfortable as I thought it would be at the start of the journey but it wasn't anything terrible or painful by any stretch of the imagination.

As we drove into town I had not a clue that we had arrived. After a few hours in the vehicle all the towns and villages look the same and you find yourself lulled into a sense of seeing the same town again and again. We were only about a block from the station before I realized that it was my town. It felt good to be back.

A few volunteers stayed to do their shopping so I walked around with them in the blazing sun of mid-day and took in the sights and smells. It was good to have some ice cream and it was very nice to be back at the house again and see that all was well on campus.

Today I was walking through campus and everyone made sure to greet meet and say "welcome" in Ewe for me. The response to that is just a plain, "Yoo" and a smile. I think I lost a bit of my language skills in just one week. My thoughts are to find a tutor soon so that I can start  to work on my week points of which there are many. I find that I can't hear a single word someone says when they talk at their normal speed. Even so, sometimes I can grab a word or two but it will not solve the question of what they said to me. Slowly I can get better I think.

There is some light shopping to do and I need to get back into the swing of things with my classes. I missed one week and I wish to make that time up with more computer exercises and the like. Maybe I will give a test as well to see where students are in the uptake of the lessons. Then again, marking 220 or so papers doesn't sound like such a great idea... maybe that was why all my other volunteer friends were lamenting their class sizes after they gave homework and exams.

On a positive note there is someone here to work on the eight computers that have failed us so far in the lab. They appear to be power supply issues and my only fear now is that the man who came will tell me that those power supplies are not in stock so we have to wait some more time before they can come in. I keep my hopes quite low for most things so I don't get disappointed.

So things are creeping back to normal. I have to see if I received permission to travel to Accra to visit for Thanksgiving soon. I called in late and well, you don't ask for extensions from the federal government in my experience. We shall see.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Another Week Of Training In The Books

[Belated post]

Another week has come and gone. Let me try to describe a few aspects of the week.

If you had an external hard drive that held a few movies or music then you were sitting around a power strip near the television in the main hall where you would have sat and grabbed as many files as you could. The amount of laptops and netbooks sitting in one circle numbered easily at a half dozen during breaks. It is humorous to see how much computing power traveled over the ocean for the express purpose of keeping volunteers entertained through the days and weeks. There is wicker furniture arranged around the tv (which works but mostly comes on when Ghanaians want to watch soccer matches) which we lay on to relax and find opportune moments to trade files. I have not really found it necessary to watch movies at night. I am usually stuck at the computer lab during the evenings that I don't need to occupy two hours with a movie.

I brought a volleyball to the hub site and found out that my knockoff Mikasa was not quite up to the abuse of slight peppering between myself and Aldwin. We both like to bump, set, and spike during the breaks but the ball could not stand up to even a moderate amount of use. The thing fell apart slowly and we were reduced to playing with a lopsided ball that looked like it had a tumor bulging out of it. That is what you get when you buy something that seems inexpensive. On some of the warmer days though the sweat came far too quickly so we stopped playing at noon.

During breaks we often just sit and socialize and talk about home or about our site. That was one part which was valuable during training was a session on mental health and while we talk about things it seemed like we were prodded more to discuss what we were thinking at various times during our stay for the first three months in our sites. It was very encouraging to find that many others had experienced similar frustrations and anxieties about large and small things.

The food was terrific here too. I had fufu two times for dinner and the groundnut soup here that you dip your fufu in was very tasty and just the right amount of spice. I haven't had such big meals in a long time and my appetite quickly jumped up a few notches with the bevvy of food options here at training. This was the same thing that happened during the first run of training. I would find myself getting very hungry at 6, 12, and 5 all the time since food was always in abundance at those times. Now I find that in Hohoe I can make do with smaller meals. It will be a trick going back to the irregular schedule and a smaller portion.

So far I have had a good time being here and enjoying everyone's company. It is too bad that they don't let us have an In-Service Training month.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Longer Days In Training

[Belated post]

Happy Veterans' day from Ghana. It is my first in Ghana and my second-to-last Veterans' which is about the way all of these holidays can be marked while I am here.

Our little group of teachers is nearing the “trained out” phase of In-Service Training. The days grow warm and humid in the afternoon and the attention spans go down by an inverse reciprocal of some sort. Many subjects are very important to us all, but sometimes we will have presentations and workshops that seem more apt for one group of us teachers than the other. That means minds wander. For the most part we just need a little reminder every so often to keep the eyes focused.

I am happy to learn a bit more about what secondary projects volunteers have done, and what we are doing within Ghana to share ideas and try different things in our communities. I see that several have started just small little clubs within their schools to push students to become involved in particular fields and subjects. I have two or three ideas already for the school.

Also we get to have a new acronym that will come into being for this blog sometime near the start of 2011. VRF is the Volunteer Report Form which will detail our time spent teaching and doing community outreach work. It looks nice enough as it just went through a revamp and I am almost ready to start working on it... almost. There are a million fields to fill out in this electronic report so it can be time-consuming but still, it is a good thing to get this all written out. I can get used to writing reports for the government and oddly enough, it makes me a little happy.

For today, Thursday, we had a little slack in the schedule so a few volunteers and counterparts went over to Koforidua for a short time. I bet a few will get a seat at the internet cafe and try to email as much as they can in an hour. Everyone will come back here though for dinner and then we might play a game or two of Mafia which is fairly popular among the education group. I think I explained that game before, but it is quite fun to deceive your fellow volunteers and put on your best, “but I am innocent,” face, even though that is far from the truth.

Good times but I do miss the home and the community back in Hohoe. I bet I will be happy to get back and eat banku and see friends.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A Powerful Story

[Belated post]

We have had one day of training and I have to say that I was deeply impressed with the content on Monday. Most of our focus today was around the PEPFAR (Presidential Emergency Program For AIDS Relief) initiative begun under President Bush. Lots of funding has been channeled to this program in the past few years and our first day of training was spent learning about some of the programs that we can entertain at our sites if we wish to educate our communities on HIV and AIDS.

By mid-morning we had a speaker who was actively spreading the message of HIV awareness. Gifty (not my former Peace Corps Trainer) told us of a story that made a connection to just one individual that she knew who had hopes and dreams of her own changed by the disease. She sketched the story of this woman's life and we listened as she told us that her dreams came to a sudden and traumatic halt when she was told that a blood test had come back with some bad news.

We listened to this activist describe the shock of the woman, the denial and rejection of the HIV-positive status. I couldn't believe that someone could hear the news and then just pretend that everything was fine, that the test must have been wrong and that if she felt healthy then everything must be fine. I should note that we had done an exercise earlier that morning where we pretended that some among us had been exposed to the HIV virus. Some chose not to find out if they would have a positive test – they wouldn't submit to even a hypothetical blood test to determine if they were positive or negative. The denial of the disease is a powerful force indeed.

Yet Gifty's story continued and when she bore a child, she had the devastating news that her newborn child was also HIV-positive. The denial could only go so far. I felt really bad for this woman in her story as she grappled with this seeming death sentence, and what would happen to her. As the story goes though, she explained that with a bit more knowledge and a great big heaping dose of acceptance that maybe this disease wasn't going to destroy her life, but give her a new mission. Then I started to make connection with Gifty the speaker: what if she is the person in the story. I felt nervous and excited to see if this was the case.

As the story closed Gifty turned to the day's organizer and asked if the woman was prepared to introduce herself. He stepped out of the room and then told Gifty something as he entered back into the room. She left and then he said that she would be right out. Then the heroine of the story entered and it was indeed Gifty. I don't remember things very well from my distant past, but I can't recall ever meeting someone who had HIV. And Gifty's story was told to a group of us who probably had many, many preconceived notions of an HIV patient. I know our own country attaches a stigma to the disease and Ghana is not much different in that respect. We typically do not know who has it and who does not, and most who are positive don't lead with that information at your local dinner party.

Here she was telling absolute strangers that she had contracted the virus and was here to smile and give us a face to attach to the condition. Color me impressed. Very impressed. At the end of her talk after she had answered questions she was treated to a long standing ovation from all the participants. I found her after lunch before she left and gave her a great big hug. Two in fact, and I told her that she was incredibly courageous to take upon her shoulders a tremendous challenge. And trust me, she was all smiles as she talked to everyone who greeted her as they said their thanks.

She was definitely a huge influence on me. I hope to invite her to an HIV/AIDS awareness event in my town so that she can keep spreading the word and putting a human voice to the disease.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

In-Service Training Day 1

[Belated post]

My counterpart and I arrived yesterday afternoon in Kukurantumi at a hotel in the town that I had not been to before. We traveled as a pair from Hohoe starting at about 11AM and getting to our destination just before 5PM. Not bad in terms of time spent on the road, and we even waited for a half hour at Kpong for the tro-tro to fill up to head over to Koforidua. The ride was pretty much how I remembered it to be – cramped and just a touch dirty everywhere. Most of our drivers were good though and we made great time on the roads as not many people are traveling on Sundays.

We walked into the hotel and then suddenly there were the familiar faces of my teaching volunteers spread out in the lobby. Well, many were very familiar as it looked as though the Volta region had gotten there a bit early. Most of the faces have visited me at the house on campus at least once. But it wasn't long before a lot of other volunteers arrived from all the other regions of Ghana. It was especially good to see all of those from the upper regions descend on our old stomping grounds here in Kukurantumi.

The moment you meet another teacher the questions are quick and to the point: how do you like your site? What is the school like? How many classes are you teaching? Are you having trouble getting the form 1's into classes? Several of the questions are relating to the difficulty that schools at the Senior High level. About three years ago the government passed a new law saying that high school was now going to be four years of education. The most recent government however rescinded that law making the schooling three years in length. Many schools did not have the capacity for four levels of students so they are just now getting to the first “fourth” years. Since the schools may not have had the budget or time to create a new space for the fourth years, this poses a problem of where to sit all four levels of students.

It gets even more complicated than this, but where I leave you with the story is about the end of my comprehension of what is going on. It is best to leave it at, “There are a few problems in the high school.” For me, the college is fine and the students are going to be missing a few ICT classes this week which I will make up next week. I am very hopeful that I get to talk at length with the rest of our ICT teachers and counterparts on what we can do to expand our knowledge and improve things.

Two Maltas and a good dinner and that was about it for me. I went to bed at 9:30PM or so. My counterpart and I are sharing a room so it is our first time being roommates. Should work out nicely, he is very laid back and about my age.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Power Would Come In Handy

I managed to do it somehow. Teaching five classes without single kilowatt of electricity running through the wires. That was not something I had anticipated on Thursday morning when I got to the lab. Apparently yesterday the power company had to perform some maintenance and took our town and area off the grid for a spell. From 7:30 or so in the morning until 5 in the afternoon we did not have power and I had three classes to teach. Most teachers don't miss a beat when this happens, they have a lesson plan that covers a book and then has notes to be placed on the whiteboard.

For me I have to figure out how a practical session on the computer for 30 or 40 students should be handled when I don't have a single computer running for any of them. What has been quite handy are the UPSs (Uninterruptible Power Supply) which have driven my projector during each of these classes. I plug the monitor into a still-functioning UPS battery and start the show up for the students. The projector burns through a lot of electricity though, and one UPS will not last me the entire lesson. When it goes dark I then grab another UPS and make the switch. I sense that I am becoming quicker at replacing the units, like a race car making a pit stop and I am the one to change the front tires.

Sadly though, these lessons were meant to give the students a chance to explore on their and get a feel for word processing applications. I can tell that in the late afternoon in a very warm lab (a heat index here of about 95 degrees) makes the students drift a bit. In the future I will detail the day in the life of a student at the school here and I must say, it would make me slump over at my desk and sleep soundly if I had to endure what they do on a daily basis. For a taste of the schedule, it usually starts at 4AM.

The classes though went on and I feel like asking for volunteers and trying to elicit laughter every so often can break up the monotony of staring at a projector screen for an hour. I don't know why the power was out today but since about the same time this morning we have been without electricity. The good news for me is that I have plenty of UPSs left to plug into the satellite modem to continue using the web for a few hours.

Nothing like roughing it here in Ghana. Or at least, my version of roughing it.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Where Did He Come From?

Wednesdays so far mean that I get to do a few chores around the house in the morning and come to the computer lab when I feel ready for it. I do not have classes scheduled for the day and eventually I will be riding in a van to other towns to observe third-year students teaching in local schools and assessing their performance, but for now I have not been invited on an excursion. That means that today was laundry day.

What we do is fill a large tub full of tepid water and add some detergent and grab a bar of soap to start hand-washing the clothes. There is a technique that I still have yet to master, but I do find that most of my clothes have arrived at some form of stasis in their dirtiness. Nothing is truly white (or khaki) anymore, but they are not getting much browner either. I must may be doing something right in my washing effort, or maybe I am just not rolling around in as much dirt as I was back in the Eastern region. It doesn't matter, I still spend about an hour washing the clothes from one week.

After that is concluded I take the still damp clothes (have you hand-wrung out a pair of slacks? It isn't easy that is for sure) outside to hang on two clotheslines that I tied to three separate trees. Everything is pretty natural here, so the air and the tropical sun do the job nicely. A few plastic clothespins and I think my laundry job is about over. Now I should note that one of the lines is a highway of sorts for some black ants. They are not always using it, but today it looked as though there was a need for them to get to the other tree so I casually flung a few away as I adjusted the wet clothes.

With that done I walked up the steps that lead to a side door here in the house and I turned to close the door. Remember, I knew that flinging ants from the line might drop a couple on me so I was waiting for the tell-tale sign of six tiny legs navigating over my neck.

Then I felt something heavy land on my head.

This was not the ant that I had pictured a second before. My first thought was a spider for some reason. There are quite a few of them and maybe one flew off the door as I swung it closed. I think I half-blurted a "Jezzus" as I swatted my right hand over the top of my head.

Plop went down a little pale yellow gecko onto the floor. Maybe two or three inches long, and off it shimmied towards the bathroom. I have no clue where he came from, maybe the door, maybe the ceiling, but it gave me quite a fast reaction. I don't mind spiders, I think skinks are cool, and even an odd ant doesn't bother me in the house, but not on me.

The gecko went about his or her business, I walked away and the clothes moved gently in the sunny breeze. All was fine in Hohoe.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

An Election Day Far From Home

Normally on a day like today I would have voted by now but I am quite a far distance away from my polling station. I did not know where I was going to declare a permanent residency while back in the states and that being the case, I didn't do anything to transfer my voting place while packing up for the plane-ride over to Africa. This being the case, I don't have a means that I know of to submit an absentee vote while here.

That might not mean too much but it makes me a bit bummed that I didn't get around to doing that. I tend to vote at least two or three times a year and it is a civic duty in my estimation. I vote in the primaries and off-year elections as frequently as I can. Even if there is just a town issue to be decided I make sure to review a bit of the pros and cons for the vote and then walk to the polling place and cast my ballot. It makes me feel good.

So this year and most likely next year I will be on vacation from my civic-mindedness. That is kind of paining me now as I read about the likely events back in the states and I am less than enthused for the possible outcomes. Cycles like this always happen so there will be lean times and fat times certainly, but like the Philadelphia Phillies losing to the eventual champions the San Francisco Giants, it won't make you feel really good when it happens.

Hence I am outside looking in as the saying goes when it comes to our electoral politics in America. Since I do have access to the web most every day I don't miss much, but I also do not get the cable news cycle so that means I am relieved of the endless nonsense that gets broadcast. A small blessing. I will keep track of the results just the same and hope for the best.

Monday, November 01, 2010

All Saints' Day March

As per last week, I arrived early this morning to the administration building to find out that I didn't have to be there at 6:30 in the morning. I missed the memo last week about the morning session being canceled, and this week I was in the dark about knowing it was All Saints' Day. Guess who wasn't Catholic when growing up. I am at a Catholic college so they have the day off to celebrate saints known and unknown (which ones the unknown are is curious to me).

But as I said, I got to the church about half an hour early which gave me some time to learn about all of this from those who showed up early. I saw the Principle too and he didn't seem to be mad or show any sign of being upset at the Halloween party on Saturday - that was a good thing. As we talked the fact was transmitted that with the day off came a good old helping of extra church to celebrate the occasion. That means I had the obligation of spending two hours in church at 7AM on Monday morning. Those who know me can pretty much tell that this is not the way you start a Monday off for me. Add to this that I must attend church on Sunday as well since it is the first of Sunday of the month and, well, four hours of time out the door for me.

But the service moved along and while it was listed as a celebration it seemed much more like a familiar mass to me. Good songs though by the choir but I can not for the life of me make out what is being sung since I don't have the lyrics. I just listen.

After the service concluded we teachers made our way to the administration block for the requisite Monday staff meeting. It was announced that the students would be marching to town today with their free time to make a political statement. The campus, which might occupy 50 acres of land in the town, has several buildings being built which encroach on the property. Often people will sell individuals parcels of land that is, by our school's purview, not theirs to sell. This means someone buys land that wasn't the property of the seller and they start to build on the plot before the school can stop them. What is more tricky is that one of the buildings is a Catholic church. Nothing like posting an eviction notice on the front door of a church that just happens to be the same faith as the owner of the property.

For some reason it has been difficult to prove ownership between all the parties involved so this demonstration is to sway public opinion to the side of the school. This wasn't an effort by the administration to conduct the march but rather a decision of the student body to show their pride in their school and ask the authorities to side with the position of the school. I must admit, Ghanaians know how to demonstrate. Get a big banner, find those students who can assemble a brass band, and gather about 400-plus bodies to go for a little stroll.

I figured it was appropriate it to call it the All Saints' Day March. I was happy  that the students could express themselves and glad that they had pride in the college to the extent that they would get this march moving. Plus, a day off for me! That is something to celebrate.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Absent From Class

I made it all of three weeks before I missed a class. Teacher absenteeism happens a little bit in Ghana and I was determined to make it to all of my classes as best I could. No long naps, no sleeping in past the appointed hour for me, no sir.

And as far as things were going today I was right on time for my 10:30 class. But none was forthcoming. Class number four was absent and I was left alone for about 10 minutes waiting for them to show up. This was odd as I have not had a class be anything but eager to come to the lab.

I went out to look for them and found them in their classroom with a teacher whom I have talked with on several occasions. I called him over to the door and asked if this class was not supposed to be in the ICT lab. “No, they have this time with me.” Then a student spoke up and said that they had gone to the lab but I was not there. At eight.


The teacher then said that the time tables had been changed for the school year and that some classes had moved. For some reason I was the one not in the know about this so I got to miss my first class of the year. I will try to teach them again tomorrow night when they have prep period (kind akin to a study hall for the students) at seven. Oh the shame of a teacher cutting class.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Happy Birthday To Me

[Belated post]

So why the belated post? Well, as I write this post at 10:30PM I have gone about fifteen hours without power here in Hohoe. This is the first time I have experienced a blackout that has last this long since the 2004 Great Brown Out that happened in the northeast U.S. From the moment I woke up there has not been even the glimmer of a spark here. All on my birthday no less.

So I was going to post my greetings at the computer lab when I arrived to prepare for my Monday class but the hour never came. I just waited around the house for the power to come back on and was sorely disappointed.

I still had a good day though. Two PCVs were in town and stopped by to wish me well before heading back to their towns and that cheered me up nicely. I had two youngsters visit me and sing me their Ghanaian happy birthday song which for the record is identical to ours but after the second stanza of, "How old are you now," they add a "God bless you now," third stanza. Same tune and everything as our own. So this wasn't a bad day by any stretch. I am betting there are some messages left on email that I will get tomorrow, but in lieu of reading those I did get to hear from a few nice people back in the States who were thinking of how old I must be now. Very.

Other than that, I swept up every room in the house today, I washed my clothes and almost got them dry before the torrential rains came. I painted two more sides of my room with a first coat of paint; I am no longer doing corners now but the broad surfaces of the walls. What else did I manage to do? 

Oh yes, I ate Mac 'n' Cheese for lunch with a helping of tuna. Thanks again for those care packages! Man that was good. I close with the sounds of crickets chirping, bats flying in and out of the crawl space above the ceiling after a night of eating bugs, and a very dark night on the campus of St. Francis. Monday will come early again for certain.

Thanks everyone for the birthday wishes and presents. Your PCV appreciates all of them.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

My Birthday Comes Early

My first birthday in Ghana won't happen until tomorrow but sure enough, some people in the U.S. remembered well before I did that it was coming and sent a care package to my doorstep.

Thank you!

The visit at the post office went much better this time, I didn't even have a chance to get into the book that I had brought along for the wait. I was hoping to get the box that I had the slip for but the man behind the counter gave me a second slip to my surprise. Sure, I'll take it.

They open the boxes there of course to inspect them and I could see some of the goodies inside. Not nearly as many ants found these boxes, though some smelled something delicious inside and were foraging about. Luckily they did not get into anything.

Aaron, you rock. The birthday card and the birthday treats were completely unexpected and apparently you know me as the two tins of coffee were well received. I also will make good use of the highest quality paint brush now currently in Ghana that you sent; it will do well when finishing up my room. I will not be showing that off to anyone else here lest they think of taking it for themselves. I loved the card too, and I took great pleasure in knowing that you think of me often – twice every other month as you wrote. I was smiling quite a bit. There were other goodies in the box as well, and all will be eaten, drunk, chewed, and read as the days pass by.

Mom and Mark came through with a box stuffed full of treasures in digital, paper-back, and food form. The added spices and Tabasco sauce will be used in short order, and the beef jerky and cheese sticks, well they are already gone. I should have savored the taste more instead of wolfing them down, but that was how good they were.

My digital life now has a sense of security in that they sent over an external hard drive. I won't feel like I am one power surge away from not seeing my digital photos or lesson plans ever again. The back-up has been made and my sense of ease is 50% higher now. Oh, and the Nano too? Bless you both. I used it already this morning while I painted the room and good gravy is that a wonder of design. I only have to hide it well so that prying eyes do not see it and start coveting. It almost holds my entire music library which is four or eights times more than the one I brought here which is dying. Again, thank you for the kindness and now I owe you both big time when I get back to the states. I will start Christmas and birthday shopping a year in advance and don't be surprised to find some Ghanaian gifts under the tree in inside the presents.

I am not homesick, but just seeing the copies of Sports Illustrated and Consumer Reports makes me think of the usual stuff that I don't have here. The connection to the web is great, but often I hit only a few sites each day and talk online with friends, I forget that there are things going on back home. I am plenty busy here though so most of the time it passes me by without much notice, but the care packages remind me a lot of the simple pleasures of living in America.

Thank you to Aaron, Ma, Mark, and Damla (last week's birthday box) for sending these packages to Ghana. I owe you big time!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fresher Games 2010

Let the games begin. And they have, actually they started on Monday. The Fresher games are competitions held on the campus here that pit the first-year students against each other, broken down by dormitories. From what I can tell there are four blocks that the students belong to, House 1 through 4. After classes each day this week they get organized into their team colors and bring along their respective cheering sections to the playing field. It is a lot of fun to watch to say the least.

I have been prone to sitting by the basketball court which allows for the volleyball net to be set up and watch the games there. The students set up a canopy for people to watch under which proves useful in the late afternoon sun. The games are run rather professionally as there is an up referee who sits on a chair and sees the action from on high, and there is a down ref on the opposite side of the court who makes calls too. I got to be the down ref for the women's game on Tuesday but I failed to make a few calls. So many lifts, but fortunately 80% of those plays didn't make it over the net to be of any consequence.

That is volleyball, but there is also soccer. Yes, here it is called football and that is very hard to correct when I tell someone that I don't play soccer, err, football back in the states. Today there was a fairly large dispute on the field due to a call not made by the referee and one of the teams walked off the field in protest. They were losing 1-0 at the time and I highly doubt they would have done the same thing had they been leading 2-1, but that is the way it worked. People take football very seriously here.

One enjoyable part of each day is that after the volleyball match is over (best of of three games) then there is a pick-up match where I can play. My timing is severely off and many of the people on the court are not used to playing 6-2 offenses, let alone having a setter dedicated to taking the second ball, but it is fun just the same. I haven't hit one hard yet, but I have used a block to my advantage on a couple of occasions. Good times here still. I gather that I will be playing outdoors for about twenty-two more months in Ghana. Lucky me!

I have sunscreen at the ready and knees that might just last that long.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Having A Good Day

Yesterday was fine, just fine. I had the pleasure of waking up at my usual 7AM and being motivated for some odd reason. It lead me to get the paint out and do another section of my bedroom wall. Even though I am still doing the corners and trim this is now the second coat of paint and I can see that this will look nice when I am finished. Photos are being taken during the stages too so I can recall what took me forever to finish when I am old and gray.

After that was finished I took note of the bright early morning sunshine and figured it was a good time to get caught up on some laundry. Out comes the giant orange plastic tub and in goes the detergent and a bar of soap. I can tell that I am getting better with this job as the suds build up faster in my basin of water, and most of my clothes come out cleaner than when they went in. An added benefit is that my fingers are no long raw when I complete the task. Onto the line in the brilliant sunshine for a day of drying the old fashioned way. I was hopeful that it would not rain an hour later of course, forcing me to bring all the clothes back inside and make an impromptu drying line in the living room.

Onto some sweeping and then I rearranged some furniture in my bedroom to give me some more space. I am contemplating putting the desk that currently sits unused in the living area into my room. I might need help for that task as the desk is a bit awkward to move around.

Then off to the computer lab to catch up on the world and give a few students some computer time. They are not yet coming to me with questions as most who arrive know exactly what they are going to do. Check their mail, then go to Facebook and see what all their friends are doing. Not that I blame them, the site does get a bit addictive but I was preparing myself for endless questions of how to do this and what software does that. I am sure that will come.

At three o'clock I came home and had the pleasure of talking to a student who had walked home with me for about an hour. After our chat was finished I made my way to the basketball court to see a game of 5 on 5 volleyball being played. That felt so good to be back on the court and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of play; some of these students know how to crank the ball down. Not all the time of course, but when the bigger hitters were gearing up you had better be ready for a smash to come your way. I got to play for about an hour and was thoroughly drenched by the end of play as the sun was setting. My counterpart showed up too and I learned that he has quite the talent for volleyball as well.

I concluded my day by stopping by the computer lab again and video calling a good friend back in the states to see how her day went. This ranks right up there as one of my better days in Ghana. Just a joy to do things and have a great time.

Today I will finish off my lesson plans for the week but before I did that I wanted to recap my good Saturday and figure out how I could make Sunday just as fun. I'm off to try that right now.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Your Package Is Here, Please Wait

A special care package arrived in Hohoe a day or two ago and I was told to go to the post office to pick it up. I didn't have a slip but I did have an I.D. card that lets all know that I am who I say I am. With classes over for the afternoon and my counterpart manning the lab in my absence I was off to town to fetch my box of goodies.

I made sure to arrive before 4 as that was the time I thought the offices would close. Just after 3:30 the man behind the counter saw me and said he thought there was a box for me, and to wait.

Sure enough he said there was one and that I should take a seat on the long wooden bench inside the building. No problem so far.

He walked around a bit, asked a few questions to others there in the office and came over to explain to me that I had to wait now for the Custom's official who would inspect the box to make sure there was no contraband shipped into Ghana. I was reassured that he would be back.

Now, I know that the Custom's man is only in the post office on Wednesdays and Fridays, so I had made a point to be there in the afternoon after 2 (which is when he arrives) so I could get in and get out.

The first half hour goes by and I realize that not bringing a book, a magazine, anything whatsoever to read was a mistake. This could be a while, and pretending to play with your cellphone to make it look like you have something to do only lasts so long as a diversion. I really miss the iPhone here at very specific points and this was one of them.

What bothered me during the next half hour of waiting was that no one knew where the official was. I was hoping someone maybe had the cell for the gentleman so he could be called or flashed (meaning to call and hang up so that the person will call you back) and be informed that a very nice, quiet, kind man was waiting to receive a parcel. Alas, no. That never happened.

After 4:30 someone called me up off the stiff, uncomfortable wooden bench to let me know that the official was here. I walked to the table that we would sit at and his first words to me went something to the affect of, "Ah, you should not have come so late." I could not tell if this was in jest or not so I just let that sit there unanswered. I realize that it is best not to disgruntle the person who will be looking at your packages for the next 23 months and deciding if they are to be confiscated or not. Biting your tongue works. At least I hope it does.

Box in hand, my very kind friend Damla packed the care package to the brim with books, candies and clothes. It was entirely worth the wait, and then some. I am now off to consume candy corn by the handfuls!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ten Percent Attrition

Some things were meant to last ages. Some last only fleeting moments. And then there is the lifespan of a power supply in the new computers here at the lab. One computer was running on Friday and then never woke up again on Saturday. I am going to go out on a limb and guess that it is a bad power supply, but I never heard anything from it; it just never started up when I came in one day.

The most recent failure was the one I just tried turning on. I pressed the power button (more of a peg since the plastic button that should have been there fell off or was never installed at the factory) and a minor gun shot rang out. I can't figure out what caused that to happen other than a timid little wire that was not meant for a long life in this world. There was one other person in the lab at the time, a teacher checking his mail, and he had the unfortunate position of sitting directly in front of the computer that I tried to turn on.

Twenty computers came brand new. One power supply failed upon arrival but that was fixed when the wireless router came from Accra. That means three bad power supplies and two non-functioning machines are now in the lab. I would hate to see the lab become a shooting gallery when students come in to turn the machines on for class, but maybe that is what one can expect from the machines in the near future.

Monday, October 11, 2010

First Official Day Of Teaching

So begins the teaching days of my life. So far so good, though I believe I could stand to improve a bit on my craft. Still, you need to start somewhere and I gather starting at the bottom and working your way up is one way to begin.

We have only one class scheduled for the first years on Monday so I can at least breathe easier now that this class is closed and I am reviewing what went right and what went wrong. Most of the wrong came from not having a perfectly set out list of topics to cover. I had a note of an introduction to the lab saved, but did not have it printed out for my own personal review, and the copy of the file on the computer which I brought was not something that I could easily refer to. Something that can be easily fixed in the next lesson.

My syllabus will consist of getting the students up and running on the computers, teaching the basics of working with files, folders, and applications and the like. Then from there we will head straight into the big applications that they must learn on the computer: word processing, spreadsheets, and then presentation software. With time we will crack open Access on the PC and do databases, but I need to read up on that before getting too involved there.

Just the same, the first steps were good. I can trace the start of this journey back to around July of 2008 when I got the crazy idea stuck in my head some early hour in the morning. That started the idea of applying for Peace Corps, and by August I was typing up my essays and thoughts on why I really wanted to do this.

I am in some small corner of the world trying to teach computers and if not for the distance of my family and friends, I would say I found a very happy spot in which to be. We will see how the next class goes.