Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Last Days Of August

[Belated Post]

As for the past few days here in Hohoe I have been doing my best to settle in to the new place and get myself ready for the next big adventure: cooking for myself. Yesterday the gentleman who helped get my bungalow ready brought the last piece of the puzzle to my back door, the natural gas canister meant for my stove unit. There was a hold up in gas delivery to the area just at the moment where I was to move in, and that shortage meant that I still could not cook. That naturally precluded me from even bothering with buying simple things like plates, utensils, and the like. Well, that was just me being lazy, but still I didn't need these items since the school was providing all of my meals since I arrived in the guest house and continued here at the new place.

So now I need to cook. Several members of the campus community from age 8 to 50 have told me that they will be my mentors when to comes to preparing Ghanaian foods. I have welcomed the offers so far, but we shall see how well I adjust to making my own homemade cuisine with a Ghanaian flair. When I was told that banku could be made in as little as a half hour, I was impressed. Then later I was informed that to make it in a half hour one must be at the pot at all times stirring a batch of what could be described as extra, extra thick oatmeal and my ambition waned a bit. Oh for the love of microwave dinners back home (even though I never ate those when I had the chance). My thought is to start small and work my way up. Peace Corps Volunteers in the past took the time to cull together a slew of recipes and suggestions for your new diet while in-country and I have a PDF that will refer to often for new dishes. Still, I am going to need to travel to the market more frequently than I did when I was at home for fresh ingredients and the chance to speak more Ewe out in the community.

Beyond my cooking needs, I am going to look for more books to read. The three that I bummed from my fellow PCV last week are almost finished. The Hunt for Red October is coming to a close and after that I think it will be back to drawing for a while. Each book has been excellent and given me a reason to stay up past midnight immersed in the pages. Strange that during training I would not stay up much beyond 9PM. The principal of the school stopped by last night before I could crack open the books and we chatted for the better part of an hour. Very interesting man to say the least. He attended university in the former Soviet Union during the 1980s. I had plenty of questions for him to be sure.

So that is what life is like. I think tonight will be the end of the book, some pasta and tomato sauce, and then a plan for the rest of the week's menu. Where did August go?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

First Nights In The Bungalow

[Belated Post]

This is night number two in the new bungalow. I mentioned that it is quite expansive for one person to live in and that still remains true, especially when you move all of your worldly possessions of the moment into the bedroom and have about 2,000 square feet left over to cover with knick-knacks and reminders of home. I spent the first full hour in the house sweeping every square foot of poured concrete flooring and tiled surface. It wasn't easy and I can see a detraction to having such a space be mine for 26 more months and some odd days. Cleaning day will be cleaning weekend if I am all by myself.

But I was liking the view and the comfort just fine during the day. I nice breeze was making the flower-print curtains ebb forwards and backwards at a rhythmic pace, and I could read on the couch provided for me in the living area. I was quite happy. I lost all track of time and by four the phone rang and I realized I was late to the party happening in the town. Two other volunteers were celebrating their birthdays and I was supposed to be in town an hour ago, so off I went.

One thing though that I had neglected in the bright sunshine of the afternoon was to remember how long I was staying out. It was near the witching hour when I came back and lo and behold my little bungalow stood alone in a pitch black darkness. One solitary street light lit the smallest sliver of a pathway leading to my door and suddenly all my thoughts went to the burglar whom I was sure to surprise mid-robbery. I have quite the active imagination. Each door I opened, each curtain I pulled back was done with the expectation of a surprise from a bad horror flick awaiting me. The lights in the house were here, no, there... no, over there. I am still getting used to the fixtures and which switch does what, and which switch does naught.

There are three very bright outdoor lights that I should have left on when leaving but did not. Tonight I returned after dusk to the same house and boy howdy do exterior lights make a difference. My only concern now is making sure I don't brush up against a wall that one of my 2-D spiders is clinging to as I make my way through the dark house. When at rest, these spiders don't rise more than a nickel's thickness off the wall or ground, hence my 2-D name for them. But when you surprise them they move with incredible speed. As the light flashes on and you see two brown spots race by your ear you get quite a spook.

The one cockroach in the kitchen didn't bother me as much. I think I might name him (or her) if I see it a second time. Suggestions are welcome.

Slowly I am getting used to my new place.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Full Day

[Belated Post]

Today was actually quite full though I sense that I didn't accomplish too much that is easily checked off on my life's to-do list. Yesterday a fellow volunteer swung through my town and paid a visit that turned into a stay as a vehicle would not make it back to his town before nightfall. We are not supposed to travel at night within the country as a security measure – sometimes not-so-nice people like to rob passing vehicles under the cover of darkness. That one was drilled into our sub-consciousness repeatedly during training. So Raj stayed the night and he came bearing gifts from the Kumasi Sub-Office. Books! He grabbed quite a few and felt the load was a bit much to carry the rest of the distance so he left a few behind for me here. The Sub-Office by the by is a place operated by Peace Corps where volunteers can crash for the night to prevent nighttime travel, and get a few books plus some internet service. Raj helped himself to all but the stay.

I was glad to have company here and glad to rummage through the books that he grabbed. I have The Hunt For Red October, Running With Scissors, and Dear American Airlines. Not my typical reading material, but then again it will hold my attention better than the Peace Corps manual for teaching HIV/AIDS did. That book was a bit dry reading the other night.

I digress, as always.

Raj was over for the night so it gave me an excuse to go exploring the neighborhood with him when dinner time came. Last night we stopped at a chop bar around seven and had ourselves some banku and what I think was ground nut soup. Both of us agreed that it was more than spicy enough for our palates. Almost too spicy for mine. Hence our next quest for some Fan Ice which I may have mentioned before is vanilla soft serve ice cream in a bag. It is usually frozen and when you buy it, you work it between your hands for a bit to get it somewhat melted and then tear off a corner of the plastic bag and squeeze yourself some fond memories of Dairy-Queen goodness. For that we had to walk even further into the town in the dark for to administer the fix. A kind stranger showed us the way to a place he knew had what we sought, and when we arrived and made our purchases we dashed* him some money so that he could buy a candle. I figured it was really for a drink, but who knows really. We had our ice cream and I was happy.

This morning I saw Raj off to the station where he met his lorry van for Dambai. I am betting he waited on-board for the better part of an hour, maybe longer, before the vehicle left the station. One of the issues you have when planning a trip here is that one may know the time it takes to get to the destination, but not the departure time. The last time I left Hohoe I waited for over an hour in the tro-tro before we picked up the last passenger to fill the remaining seat. This just throws a general question mark in your plans when going someplace far away. He arrived safely back in Dambai around 3PM; he was sitting in the lorry before 10AM and the trip should run about four hours. It was a while waiting I am sure.

After that brief excursion for me I returned home and did my best to mingle with the shop keepers who are getting to know me. Some are even going out of their way to help me know the ropes of the town and the people. As Raj and I returned home last night we were met by a stranger who really wanted to walk us to my place on campus. Quite nice of him. Then I said hello to my tailor friends just outside of campus and the one very nice woman motioned me to come close, her expression was not at all the one I was accustomed to. “That man who is with you, he is a thief. Be careful.” It is a very good idea to get to know people well when you arrive apparently. We detoured from our trip home and bid the man a good farewell just to be on the safe side. It pays to talk to people and smile I have learned.

So after again chatting up my acquaintances along the way I got ready for a one o'clock luncheon with a teacher on campus. He took me to his house and introduced me to his family. Homemade fufu is something to covet here, and this occasion was no different. I ate what I could and he did as well, and we covered a few subjects of both his country and mine, and what I could expect from students when classes started. Again, the naturalness of sharing and socializing here makes me pause sometimes and wonder why we don't do the same in America. That is for another post along with other observations, but for now I am happy to be living here and receiving the welcome that I have had so far.

I should mention that sprinkled throughout yesterday evening and today I was reading through the one book Raj lent me. I found that Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs was set in my old stomping grounds of Western Massachusetts. In fact, it was in most of the towns that I am most familiar with: Amherst, Northampton, Hadley, and so on. It was neat to read about some of the places that I even recognize, including the Emily Dickinson House, the Hadley Mall and Thorne's in Northampton. It made me miss a bit of the places and the people back home from that area, and when the Amherst Regional Middle School was mentioned I got nostalgic for Tuesday night volleyball. I am still thinking about you guys back there, just so you know.

I should say that the material covered in the book was a bit on the “holy moly am I reading this?” end of the spectrum that would cause me to greatly caution others (this means you Mom) from reading it, but it was very well written and funny, if not unbelievable for a memoir. I finished the book already, so you can see how much time I have between missions here. It felt good though to get caught up in a book rather than watch my clothes dry.

When I was almost finished a man approached my place here and said that my house was ready for me to move in, provided I didn't mind ducking and dodging the lightning bolts that were approaching. We agreed that maybe tomorrow morning would be a better time to get the goods over the new place. I figure it is maybe a driver and a sand wedge to the new place, so it won't be too far. Bright and early tomorrow I will be in the permanent home. Fortunately there is a gas shortage right now in Ghana so I won't be getting a fully operational cook-top until a gas cylinder can be procured from town. That means I get to have a home but can continue to get served meals three times a day from the school kitchen. I am sure some day I will get used to the toils of living here.

That is a joke, it has been quite swell so far.

*dash - (v.) to give someone something extra out of kindness; to give someone a bribe

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Tour Of My Final Home And A Haircut

[Belated Post]

Today I was allowed to take a gander at the place that I will be calling home sometime soon. My current residence, as I have mentioned before, is a guest house that is located on the campus grounds. I have a room here, and there is a common area where I take my food typically, but that is it. I don't have a kitchen in the guest house, and depending on who is passing through, at times I will have neighbors in the rooms adjacent to mine, and then other times it is an emptier than a can of condensed milk after my morning tea. All this should be changing soon as the bungalow that I will be staying in gets the last touches for my arrival.

Around 8 this morning I walked over to the house and knocked on a few doors to see if anyone was home. Since no one was home I figured that I was at the right house. They had mentioned that the one which was to be mine has not been lived in for about two years. As I rounded the exterior of the locked-up place the Housemaster greeted me and walked over. A very friendly man who I hope to trade knowledge with soon (his Ewe for my computer know-how), he showed me into the place and gave me a quick tour.

All I can say is that it may well be far too much space for just one person. The place is bigger than any apartment that I have had in the states by a long stretch. It is a two-bedroom bungalow that is meant to be shared living but for the moment, I will be the only one located there. Apparently there could be a Japanese volunteer arriving to also teach a course or two at the school, but at this time no one is sure whether that is a month from now or a year. I guess I can update the blog later when the time comes.

For now though all the rooms are open to me. Honestly, it is too much. There is a water closet, shower room, the two bedrooms, one exceedingly large general living area that is probably 20 feet by 30 feet, a corridor that has three store rooms in succession which then leads you into the kitchen area which has by my count two pantries. The kitchen is painted a dark gray or black and I may need to research a different paint scheme for that space. It does not have the natural gas tank or cook-top burner yet but they are on the way. The school has a fixed up refrigerator that they will loan me (very kind of them) and I think I will splurge and buy two new mattresses so that I can entertain overnight guests at the abode when the time comes.

At the front of the house is a very nice porch that I can sit on and just whittle away the hours talking to passersby. Or at least that is the plan. Quite posh, but before I get carried away, it does a have a few minor problems with water seepage and this and that door getting stuck. The building itself is about 50 years old so please do not consider it luxury at its highest, but for what my expectations were, it just blew me away.

Did I mention I am having a good time in Ghana?

After the session of touring and snapping photographs of the house, I entertained a visit to the town and got my counterpart to show me to his barber. My hair, well, my mop was getting plain annoying here. I would actually have to comb it after a bath to make sure knots wouldn't form which, to my best memory, has not been an issue with my coiffure for twenty years or so. It was high school probably when I could see my bangs feathering themselves into my eyelashes, and going almost three months without a haircut put me back in that boat. If you have seen photos of me recently, your chuckles probably could not be suppressed. Mine weren't.

Hence, the barber trip. For some reason I went under the impression that the barber was familiar with a westerner's hairdo. I greeted the man and William seemed kind enough and was just finishing another man's haircut when he spoke to my counterpart in Ewe. I heard the price mentioned, I heard the word 'yevu' spoken, and I added the two together to form something like this, “You want me to cut the white guy's hair? That will be four times what I charge you.” Something like that. Typical haircuts here are about one cedi, which is equivalent to 60 or 70 cents American. I was to pay four cedis. This guy must be good I figured to up the rate that much. We agreed and for fifteen minutes I was treated to my first Ghanaian haircut.

Hair fell down from my head like the ash from Mt. St. Helen's when it exploded every which way possible. I knew he had clippers, and I said something about using the highest number guard he had but from the clippings I could see, quite a bit of hair was littering his little shop (he even remarked that my hair was jamming his clippers up which made me chortle quietly). Sure enough, the mirror was painting the picture of what a sheep looks like one day after spring begins. My head has been like that before so it was no big deal to me, but was this really worth four times the cost of a normal Ghanaian haircut? I just smiled when he asked if it looked alright. “Yup.” It sure felt cooler than my previous style.

As I said, his name is William and he is originally from Togo so I asked him a few questions while seated about his homeland. He speaks French, Ewe, English, and maybe one more dialect and he really wants to go to Europe or America. I wish I could just plop everyone who wants to leave Ghana for distant shores right down at their destination to see what our cultures are like. I think they might like their country more if they were able to do that, but that is just a hunch. Then again they might enjoy it as much as I am enjoying this experience here.

When we were done, I got up, got my wallet out, and paid him. He then announced quite proudly that I was the first white man to enter his shop for a haircut. As I rubbed my nearly-bald white head I remarked, “No kidding?” Smiles all around and I said my goodbye in Ewe. I think I just met my new Ghanaian barber today.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Meeting And Greeting

[Belated Post]

Today was my day to relax. Saturday. Well, I have not been pressing very hard on the other days of the week truth be told, but that is to be expected a bit after six days a week of training for the past two months. I feel that I am moving right along here and getting myself acquainted with the new town in the easy-does-it mode. While in my room I pulled out some of the books that the education volunteers received right at the end of training and started reading through them. The first one out was the book devoted to learning a new language – it is more of a guide to the learning process than something that I can use to find out how to say, “That book is too expensive.” Still, there is an approach there in the book that might be useful for me in planning to attack the Ewe language. Focus on small parts and incorporate the new vocabulary and phrases into your conversations. Makes sense to me, I'll try it.

After reading through that book I finally picked up the phone to call a volunteer who lives in my very town but whom I have not met yet. Scott said he was eager to see me so by about one in the afternoon I was in a taxi to go visit him. He is a teacher who has been in the country for a year and teaches art at a deaf school. We easily spotted each other on the road and we sat down to chat (not in the road mind you). Instead of going to his house we stayed outside under the shade of an orange tree at a family's house that Scott has befriended. The house is wonderful and the company was excellent. It was mainly just the two of us talking shop for a while about the education system and what he had gone through to get his job to be the perfect fit for him. I was impressed to find the leeway he had in getting to that point and realized that one is not locked into something that they do not enjoy. That is reassuring to hear. He showed me the vocational aspect that he has been working on: getting his students to craft pocket books and bags out of pieces of unused garment cloth and plastic water bags (see my earlier post on water sachets). Neat stuff, and it was helping to fund projects at the school.

After a short time one of the sisters stopped by at the house and we had a good time talking cultural differences between the three of us. It helps a bit to do this with a volunteer who has been here a while to feel out decisions that we may need to make. My one example to bounce off each of them was a woman in the town who has already asked me to buy food for her. She sells food, why she can't just go thirty paces down the street to buy her own food was beyond me, but I felt that urge to be “nice” and respond one day with giving her a biscuit. I chatted with them about this dilemma and felt better for their answer. We concluded that the seller was just testing me to see if I would be “the new guy” and buy her something. I won't, but I will just say thank you if she asks again. Oddly enough, if I offer a Ghanaian something that they may not want (a banana for instance), they are more likely to tell me, “thank you”. They don't take the banana, but answer only with those two words. In this part of the country that effectively translates to, “No.” I am going to try that and see if that fixes my problem of the pushy market woman.

Come to think of it, a woman in Asafo always expected me to buy bread for her as well. She didn't get any from me, so I better just apply the same rule here to be consistent.

Many hours were passed talking to the point that I had to come home to eat. We said our goodbyes but before that we already planned out another meeting for Sunday. We hope to work out a way to cross schools a bit and see what we can do to help the other out. Sounded good to me. Have I mentioned how much I like being here lately?

I like it a lot.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Not Needing An Excuse

[Belated Post]

After rummaging around the internet a few days ago I remembered that I had not spied the comments on the web log in a while and decided to screen them to see what has been said for the past few weeks.

First off, thank you all who have replied. It is nice to read through them even if I am a bit late. Things are going well and it is encouraging to read your responses to some of my posts.

One of the comments in particular struck me from Steve about what I should be doing with my idle time while I wait for classes to start. “Go draw something you clod,” is what he said (not in so many words of course, I am just paraphrasing the gist of it). That there is some fine advice, so last night after I returned from spending some time with a few volunteers who were passing through town I got out the mechanical pencil, sharpener, and my sketchpad for some honest to goodness sketching time.

A few factors here though. I don't have much to draw at night since my furnishings here at the campus are temporary and what I have with me is just not that interesting to draw. A bottle of sunscreen? My water filter? They just do not inspire me much. I was left with my well-worn shoe as the subject. The second aspect of drawing in the evening (sun sets here at just about 6:15 every day) is that my light source is a pitiful energy-conserving fluorescent bulb, maybe 60 watts of ugly, blue-white light. All this is to say that I am giving myself the best defense possible for not turning out a masterpiece.

After about an hour and a half I was reasonably close to finished. My pencil was an H, which means the graphite is a bit hard and shows lightly on the surface. In the dim light it looks like I have a nice dark drawing, but the natural light of the next day will probably reveal a very gray picture. My art teacher in freshman year would pick up a piece of art by one of his students, hold it flat like he was carrying a serving tray as if to weigh the work with his ever-knowing hands and then mull out loud, “This one doesn't have enough pigment on the paper, don't you think?” His coy way of saying you could stand to go a bit darker on this one. That is what I think of this drawing tonight. The shoelaces I don't think came across clearly enough either, but that is all right, I did something that I can save and bring back with me when I am done.

Thanks for the suggestion, and if anyone has any questions about what I am doing, try to leave them in the comments area and I will get to them as I see them. Here is the masterpiece:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Out And About In Hohoe

[Belated Post]

I had two Peace Corps friends come out for a visit to Hohoe today which was nice so I felt obliged to post a little bit about it. There appears to be two very large benefits to living here in Hohoe: Monday and Friday are market days, and the Barclay's bank located just down the road from my campus lodgings. I sense that there will be several chances to meet and greet fellow volunteers while they do their shopping and banking on certain days.

Market days are where most vendors will show off their wares. It is the largest market in the general area and it brings out a lot of people, including volunteers from neighboring towns. Two times a week I have a chance at seeing some of my counterparts. That is a good thing.

And the Barclay's bank here is one of the few branches around for some 30 or 40 kilometers and most people who live in more remote areas are likely to come directly to Hohoe to make withdrawals than not. Most PCVs were set up with Barclay's back during training days, and now we have money stashed there  to use. Dan and Chris made the trip from not too far distances to pick up a few more items for their respective homes and gave me a call to see if I wanted to meet up. I couldn't resist the offer and trudged my way down the road a bit to see if I could find them and also stop in at the bank to make a withdrawal of my own.

Today was a bit warmer in the afternoon than I had anticipated as the sun shone brightly so as I made my way out of the gate from the campus I could feel the sweat start to pour down my temple and back. That is one of the more uncomfortable feelings here, the sweat dripping and rolling down as you read, eat, sleepwalk, ponder, or whatever you might do that requires nominal effort. There is no stopping it and if you are sweating then you are not yet in heat-stroke territory, so count your blessings and just deal with it for a while. Like two years maybe.

Just the same, it was good to walk around a bit today. I had a goal of talking to ten people and I think I hit my quota before I even met up with the other volunteers. I love the expression on the faces of locals as I try take a hacksaw to their language in hopes of impressing them. They are impressed, but their unsuppressed laughter makes me feel that they can also hear a thick accent and mangled verbs buried somewhere deep in the carnage of what I just said. The man at the bank did appreciate the effort and paid me a compliment.  I happened to also meet a man who wants to try setting up a computer lab for children within the community. I approach this type of conversation with a tiny bit of apprehension as I don't know who the person is and how serious they are, but I remain open to listening and finding out more information.

Where was I? Oh, right, the two yevus (yay-VUs, foreigners in the Ewe language) who visited me. Dan and Chris took a taxi to town and did their errands as I arrived on the main drag. We walked to Melcom's which is a store that is more one which we would see back in the states. I have heard another volunteer describe it as Walmart meets a damaged freight store. That isn't too far off from what I have seen. Still, it is a nice big store with plenty of things to buy. Most other stores here are akin to sheds that are about eight feet by eight feet, or buildings with long rows of shops that are about double that size. Finding a store that has aisles is a novelty.

We left the store with our purchases (I had to get my necessities of an iron, tea, and rope) and strolled back towards the lorry station for both guys to catch a ride home. I said my goodbyes and found out that I could be expecting more visitors in the next two days as more PCVs are going to be swinging by. Have I said that I am having a good time in Peace Corps lately? I should say it more often.

From the lorry station it was about a half-hour walk back to my abode on campus. I heard from a newly minted friend here that I might be given a chance to move into the domicile that will be my home for two years relatively soon. That is good news, but I already know that I am soft when it comes to accepting meals prepared for me. The school has given me three square meals a day since I got here due to my being put up in the guest house. I am sure that I will be fine. I hope. Maybe there is a pizza joint somewhere close by that does delivery.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Time On Your Hands

Now that I have settled in at Hohoe for a while I am finding a new situation that I had not anticipated. Time. From about June 3rd to the August 12th I have had a routine to follow, an itinerary to meet, and for the past few weeks my time was spoken for from about 5 in the morning to about 6 in the evening. Now time has swarmed over in abundance. I am meeting with people here at the school and getting acquainted with this and that procedure, but for the most part I have had ample time to get things done with more than enough room left over.

I could be reading books but I am soon running out of those. I can only post so many details before I bore even myself with the task, let alone the people who happen to pass by and feel their eyes glaze over with the volume. So other things must begin to fill the time.

Maybe starting “small, small” is a good beginning; exploring the area and getting to know the surroundings. I will need some supplies when I finally get into my home here (still at the Guest House on campus) and I have started a list of things to pick up. The school has been quite generous in picking up a few things, so my list is smaller than I was expecting. A bed, maybe even a small refrigerator is coming. Very nice. So maybe I will be getting an inexpensive bike so I can roam around a bit and get some exercise in the process.

Our ICT laboratory now has satellite internet which is a huge bonus. Apparently all the labs in the colleges of education within the country are upgrading based on a government initiative. Great by me, maybe I will be able to use Skype to speak with the people back home more frequently. It was touchy to do it when I was using the first internet connection and that was without anyone else online in the lab with me. And it could well be possible for me to see the highlights of the last Flyers-Blackhawks game which our side lost (I just did, and  boy was that a crushing way to end it - I felt sad for everyone there in the rink that night to lose it by the puck going through the netting and no one really knowing it). Small things like that could go a long way to making me happy.

As I said, lots of time now and I feel obliged to use it. First things first, I should put some photos up.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Official Official Announcement

[Belated Post]

The end and the beginning has finally arrived. I have sworn in officially as a volunteer in Ghana. The end of training means that we escape the routine and the lorry rides to and from Kukurantumi, that we can set our own goals and schedules and be in charge of what we do. It is the beginning of a very difficult job as well. Were it not for training though I would not be ready to face the challenges that await in Hohoe. So this means a lot more change to come for me in the short term.

However I am getting ahead of myself here. I should probably divulge a few details from the event that saw 72 of us become full-fledged volunteers, and thereby remove the training wheels from our name: Peace Corps Volunteer Trainee.

We met at Opass which was a school close to the hub site in Kukurantumi. In the early morning the skies opened up and a deluge came pouring down which I was certain would ruin our little ceremony. Fortunately by the time my mother and sister made it to the lorry station to catch our taxi out of town the rain had slowed to a mist. I was dressed in the shirt that my host family had had made for me and it looked great. A batik print of dark purple and green which looks really nice. My hair looks terrible as it has not been cut for over two months but beyond that, I think I cleaned up nicely for the day. My mother and sister looked wonderful in their print dresses, and we made it over to the school for the morning. Actually, upon arriving I had my one down moment as my Nalgene bottle was left in the cab before I realized my mistake. I was down a bottle and it took me about ten minutes to realize that it was only a thing and that some Ghanaian now has a nice bottle from the U.S.A.

So all the volunteers showed up in the mist and clouds to get ready to celebrate. We had to wait about 45 minutes to an hour for some of the guests of honor to arrive, but soon the show was rolling with a rendition of the American and Ghanaian national anthems. Ours was song by volunteers Johnathan and Emma and they did a tremendous job. Then the speeches and so forth got under way. After a while we did get to walk up and collect our certificates of training completion from Peace Corps Training Officer Robert which was great, and then Country Director Mike Hoffman came up and announced that we had better all stand up and raise our right hands. We swore that we would uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States which gave me some modest helping of feeling proud, and that we would do our best to perform our duties in Ghana. It was a happy moment for me.

Then came an certificate for our host families. I felt especially proud to see my mother's face light up as our family name was called. We had our photos taken and my family is the gleeful owner of a brand new water jug which was a gift from the Peace Corps. I thought that was a nice touch. They have to put up with us strange Americans for so long that they deserve something neat. By about this time the rain strained to get beyond misting but never succeeded. For me it was better than a bright and sunny day; cooler is better.

Then the dancing came next. I got to do tow different dances for the guests and the volunteers. I probably looked silly, but it was fun and smiles were everywhere when we got done. I wish we could have had a third dance to perform just to extend the good times, but two was all we brought. Maybe I will be lucky to find a video of the routines posted by another volunteer and link to it later. About one hour later and with some lunch in our bellies we were done. I sent my family home and walked over to the hub site to get final payments and my bank account. We gave a healthy applause to our trainers who had been with us since the day we set foot in Accra International Airport. Grace and Gifty were both hard-working women who saw to it that we became acclimated to the new culture with humor and patience. I thought it worked out quite well.

Later when I got home I spoke with my father here and he said that he was full of pride for having a white man live in his house. I realize that this sounds very odd, but I completely understood him as he was just happy to be chosen as having a worthy home for an American to live in. I was extremely grateful to him and his family and said that over and over again. He said that he was going to be sad that I am gone and I believe him; I think the home saw more visitors stopping by to hear my twisted versions of Twi and Ewe. He and I spent many a night just talking about any subject under the sun. I hope his farm does well (though he could use more rain for all of his crops as the rainy season has been anything but rainy) and that the children all do well in their schooling. My final act of getting acquainted with the culture was to help my mother and father pluck dried out corn kernels from the cob. The hand of a Ghanaian is made from steel I am certain since a blister formed on my thumb from about twenty minutes of work. They just kept going and trading stories and laughs.

As the urge to sleep crept in I got up and picked up all the items that I wanted to give to my family. Some of it was food (thank you all who have sent me care packages from back home in the states) other things were gifts that I would pick up at markets here and there. They were all smiling and said their thanks many times over. They have been so nice to me that I felt my gifts paled in comparison, yet they were smiling and that made me feel quite good.

I retired to my room and wrote them a letter of thanks that stayed in the room for them to find after I left. By about ten I was done packing the last of my items in my bags and got myself ready for a trip to Volta. So far I have had a great time in Ghana. I think I will have two more years of happiness to look forward to.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Another Acronym Passed

[Belated Post]

We are all just finishing up our Technical Assessment Interview here at the hub site. The TAI was the last of the hurdles to clear before we can swear in as education volunteers. When getting in I thought I had already done the hurdle jumping with the medical and essays completed, but that was just the start. Inside the country you are drilled with knowledge almost every day of the week. There are four exams: Safety and Security, Medical, Language, and now Teaching. For what we experienced, the LPI and the TAI are a bit more in-depth exams given that they are not written but interviews where you have to go in and rattle off whatever you brought with you in your brain case.

I think that I did sufficiently well in my interview today, but we must wait for our scores. There were a few questions that I could not quite understand or the answer had escaped my attention as I crammed the night before. I do feel that a majority of the questions I correctly answered so my hope is that the Peace Corps does not send me home for missing the grade by one point.

Our mood is still relaxed and most trainees are passing the time by writing home, playing board games (may I suggest you look up Ticket To Ride if you like board games that are not too difficult to pick up), and catching up on the soccer game that was played yesterday. I did not attend it, but I have heard that it was a spirited game between Trainees and Trainers.

It was an epic rematch of Team USA versus the Black Stars of Ghana, and the result was the same. We lost 2 to 1. To be fair, some of our players were playing their second game of soccer ever, so it is a bit harsh to blame us for not winning. I wish I had had the chance to see it. I was side tracked on my last day of church in the community but man was it a fun affair. I don't understand the Twi language that the service is spoken in, but there was a big band there celebrating the life of one of their parishioners who passed away in May. They made the entire building jump and it was incredibly neat to see everyone dancing and celebrating in unison. My ears may have suffered a bit for the loudness, but I am sure hearing aid technology will be great by the time I am deaf.

So that is how things are going lately. I have more pictures but they need to wait until I get to the ICT lab in Hohoe before I can get a speedy connection going. Off for more training right now.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Nothing In Particular

[Belated Post]

One of the few times so far that I do not have anything in particular to post about. Everyone is walking around here at the hub site in Kukurantumi and enjoying the blessings of a very sweet and delicious dessert brought to us courtesy of the food workers that are hired on certain days to cater lunch. I am not sure where they got their recipe but it was highly sought after. People are still milling about licking their plates clean.

The feeling is more relaxed among the members of the class as the LPI is mostly finished. Some have to do theirs again since the tape recorder did not function correctly when their interviews were conducted. At some point we will learn how we fared and some of the comments of the staff on our strengths and weaknesses. I have already fallen off the language practice bandwagon since there is no test in my imminent future. With that being the case I have reverted back to asking my family for Twi lessons which still come too fast for me to keep up but are fun ways to pass the time at night.

This is the final week for the home stay portion of training. If all of us have done our homework correctly then we should be swearing in shortly and then off to our sites for two years of hilarity and insanity. I am anxious for it with all the unknowns still lurking about in the back of my mind. What kind of a teacher will I be, how will I get along in the new community, where am I ever going to find the time to read a book? Well, the last question is a bit of a tongue-and-cheek comment as I have already had more than enough time to finish all the books that I brought along with me. Plenty of time to get more books and do some writing in the coming months.

But those are some serious questions there. I don't know what to expect and since that is something that I cannot control I had just better let it go and figure it out when I get there. We are to take on other projects while in our community and report on them frequently while serving in the country. HIV/AIDS education is one prominent topic, gender youth development programs are another, and it can be something that you yourself find that the community needs and will support during and then after your term of service. I haven't the foggiest notion of what I might be doing for that yet. I think that there are a few avenues that are of interest right now to me, but not much can be decided while I am still so far away from the site.

Some other small things (please recall that this post had no theme so I get to just rattle off odd stuff) that I am finding are necessary. I enjoy seeing my old photos that came with me digitally here on the netbook. If ever I just need to relax and smile I will go to the photos and just rummage through them for a while. I left the old Rebel at home so my shots don't turn out so dark, but that is a good thing. I am not lugging around a giant camera in the hot jungle climate waiting to lose it or have it be stolen when I am not looking. One minor glitch in my export of the images was that not all of the photos came over when I used the thumb-drive to copy files. Some are just not there. Bummer. Yet the result of me smiling at my photos still remains accomplished. Add to that my MP3 collection playing in the background and you have a pretty successful night.

Doing laundry isn't nearly as much fun as you would think it without a washing machine and dryer at your easy command. I have been made fun of by other volunteers by being one who lets the family do the washing but that changed recently. I had some extra time at the end of one of morning sessions to do some laundry and I took that opportunity to do some laundry with my sister, Ronney. She is absolutely fantastic at this job. I am horrendous at it. When I would get half a shirt done, she was finished with 75% of her own clothes. Still, she was able to teach my some more techniques and get me pointed in the right direction. To put it mildly, it is not easy to do your laundry by hand with just a bucket and some soap. It is possible, but not easy. Drying is done on the line in about three hours if the sun stands tall and bright in the sky.

One thing struck me the other day as I was eating a dinner in my home: the food is good and tasty, but it will be an entir plate or bowl of the same thing. I don't know why this took so long for me to realize but when I was in the states, I am very accustomed to having a dinner that might have some green vegetables or salad accompanied by a single serving of meat and a starchy food item all on a plate. I get to pick and choose what I eat during the meal. Here, if you are eating fufu and soup, that is all you will be eating. It is a giant portion of course, but the flavor will be the same bite after bite. Just different. When I get the chance at my site I will experiment with Ghanaian/American combinations to see if my taste buds like that better.

Lastly for this post of random observations, in Asafo I live right next to a highway called Accra Road. The traffic on the road cruises at about 60 miles an hour for the faster trucks and taxis, but there are a few very heavy rigs that will go lumbering up the long hill next to where I cross. The point here is that the road is where many adults and children cross to go to town. So this means that horns are honking as drivers believe a pedestrian is nearing to close to the road. It is only two lanes wide and has a breakdown lane running on the outside, but that is pretty much the sidewalk so if there is an emergency some people walking will need to jump into the grasses for safety. I sense this country reflects more of what a libertarians' dream society looks like. Not much government interference or regulations. It still works, just watch out before crossing that road.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

George Washington: Greatest American President?

[Belated Post]

Reading books here is an excellent way to drift off into some other land while you are stuck waiting for a tro-tro or can't get to sleep when you know 9PM is way past your bedtime. There were a few books that came over with me and it seems that the stack is getting lighter and lighter with each passing week. The latest book that has drawn to a close was a biography on George Washington by Henry Cabot Lodge.

What a man.

As it should be understood from the outset, I have favored Abraham Lincoln as the bearer of the title “Greatest President” that this country has had and the site is named for a bit of his speech during the second inaugural, so I am still heavily biased towards Lincoln.

Yet I didn't have much appreciation for Washington. His tales from the history book lessons I had as a young student don't stick much beyond the war hero saga and his taking up the oath to be the first President of these United States. My opinion of the greatest President is a bit more divided after having read this book. He lead an incredible life and conducted himself in the most impressive way imaginable.

I tend to put Lincoln in the top-most echelon because of a certain humanity that he expressed and a personality that is truly touching to my consciousness. He really cared for the people that he represented and wished only to do what he thought best and prudent for the American people.

Yet what I can see in Washington is an almost identical passion to do the right thing each and every time the opportunity presented itself. It just does not do the man's life justice to write up a bulleted list of his feats but one does need to comprehend what he accomplished. He led forces against Indian tribes at a time when most of us think of junior year in college. He was lauded for his efforts and returned home to continue his work on the plantation. When the British began to agitate the colonies Washington displayed a forward-looking view that the colonies were self-sufficient, and in by being so, ought to be self-governed. He didn't need to wait until a Declaration of Independence to know that the time was short for Britain to lay her demands on thirteen subservient colonies. He applauded the efforts of those dissenters in Boston from the outset and made sure that if his talents were needed that they would be willingly given.

Called to lead the Continental Army, he faced a daunting enemy with practically no support to speak of. The Congress which he dealt with was constantly looking to him to bring a single superlative victory over the well-equipped adversary while at the same time offering almost nothing by way of military supplies and necessities. The conditions which Washington endured would be sufficient for him to be included in the pantheon of great Americans even if he hadn't engineered a strategy that offered that final victory. That he did manage this is astonishing. His mind was incredibly capable of surveying and maximizing advantages just as it was deft in analyzing and measuring the men he commanded. When he made a choice for command it almost always resulted in positive outcomes. When Congress chose the commander it was sure to follow that the political appointment offered disappointment and battlefield losses.

During the war he never said the forces of the British were sure to win, but he would offer frank reports of the conditions he faced and what he would do to keep the struggle alive to the Continental Congress. His mind was fixed on the goal of American freedom and he would not waver from it, and on at least one occasion rode straight into the fire of the enemy to command his troops to stand and fight. The man had courage enough to outfit an entire battalion. He commanded an entire army on the equivalent of a shoestring, and often chose to spend his own money where he could to help.

So his legacy is already deeply carved in American lore. That is prior to him putting his full support and backbone behind the new Constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation and to become the country's first elected President. Do we need to go further?

Yes. He mastered the battlefield and he chose to master the political field which next came into focus. The author pointed out that Washington had an incredibly quick mind to assess and direct the men he encountered in life. For the most part, he chose the first members of his cabinet with considerable acumen and foresight. It is indeed hard to imagine a President today having two future Presidents in his cabinet. By no means could he have known that both men would come to dominate political factions for generations to come, but it is to his credit that he was able to form a government that aligned itself to solidify the new nation. It was his stamp of approval that held the nation together when divisions started to separate the people apart.

The post has run long, so I will spare more details of his Presidency for you to read on your own, but as the book came to a close, Henry Cabot Lodge closed with this paragraph and I wanted to capture it as a perfect summary of his biography:

"As I bring these volumes to a close I am conscious that they speak, so far as they speak at all, in a tone of almost unbroken praise of the great man they attempt to portray. If this be so, it is because I could come to no other conclusions. For many years I have studied minutely the career of Washington, and with every step the greatness of the man has grown upon me, for analysis has failed to discover the act of his life which, under the conditions of the time, I could unhesitatingly pronounce to have been an error. Such has been my experience, and although my deductions may be wrong, they at least have been carefully and slowly made. I see in Washington a great soldier who fought a trying war to a successful end impossible without him; a great statesman who did more than all other men to lay the foundations of a republic which has endured in prosperity for more than a century. I find in him a marvelous judgment which was never at fault, a penetrating vision which beheld the future of America when it was dim to other eyes, a great intellectual force, a will of iron, an unyielding grasp of facts, and an unequaled strength of patriotic purpose. I see in him too a pure and high-minded gentleman of dauntless courage and stainless honor, simple and stately of manner, kind and generous of heart. Such he was in truth. The historian and the biographer may fail to do him justice, but the instinct of mankind will not fail. The real hero needs not books to give him worshipers. George Washington will always hold the love and reverence of men because they see embodied in him the noblest possibilities of humanity."

Well said. I don't have permission for that excerpt, so please contact me if it needs to come down. Washington was an incredible individual and it would do us all well to review his story and emulate his character. Maybe I can reserve a space for a tie at the top of the Greatest President Ever debate between Washington and Lincoln. I owe our first President that much.

If I were to have my pick of the next book, it would be on Alexander Hamilton. His tenure at the Treasury Department and his life in general is a fascinating tale even when told from the second-hand stories of Washington's life. That or another president of course.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Language Proficient, Maybe

[Belated Post]

I may or may not have passed my Language Proficiency Interview this morning. We will not be getting any grades until later so I cannot say precisely if I was able to pass with flying colors, pass with somewhat faded colors on a breeze-less day, or failed with a flag a half mast. From what I recall of the interview about 80% of it went according to plan. The other 20% consisted of questions that I did not quite hear clearly or from blank spots in my memory banks that previously had something akin to a balance of $0.01. Some of the highlights were as follows:

The place was in a home of a fellow volunteer and I can say that I was not a fan of the decision. Several members of the home, through no fault of their own, greeted us on the front porch. That is quite a distraction when you are trying to pull words out of thin air and someone is casually moving boxes around and doing chores. It should have been done at the library in hindsight. That was where we had practiced the day prior and at least that space gave us somewhat of a secluded area and quiet.

As soon as the tape recorder was turned on (they apparently save the recordings and use them to verify our language abilities) I got quite nervous of doing even just the basics in Ewe. Just putting, “my name is David” got me panicky. One minute in it was just fine and I cruised right along.

Until, that is, the interviewer jumped in on my memorized dialog and asked a question. While it was nothing difficult to answer, it did throw me off step for a few moments. The interviewer was very patient and if she saw that I did not understand the question she slowed down a bit and asked it again.

Most of my stuff was there though. I asked to recite my poem and got to a point where I was stuck on a word when the aforementioned household member walked and got us even more distracted. I started over but the brain was already stuck, so I completely skipped a word in my poem that I knew prior. Nunyui, how I forgot you.

As I said, about 80% of it was there without issue. The last two items on my interview were the 20% that I flubbed a bit. My interviewer asked if I could pretend that I was at a border crossing and we could do a role playing exercise. I am not allowed to leave the country without Peace Corps consent so I was flummoxed by this one; we can't even do this anyway, why am I being asked? I had no vocabulary for traveling to visit or see someone so far as I can recall and as far as my notes reveal. I introduced myself of course to the border guard easily, but when she asked why I was wanting to go to this country I could only respond in Ewe that I didn't know why I wanted to go to this supposed country. That was the end of that.

To conclude, the interviewer asked if I had any questions but she said that in Ewe and I again did not have the vocabulary to understand the question. I do not think that this was the worst thing, but I did my best where I could and I think they were positive with me while I was tossing out terms and phrases. Maybe the next update will read, “I've Been Kicked Out Of Ghana,” but I doubt it at this point.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Ready For The LPI

Ewe is almost at a close for now. As far as our little class has gone, we are all catching on at just the right time, right before the test. No better time to peak in your studies than eight minutes prior to taking the exam. We will not be entering a written test though, we will be speaking with a native speaker in our target language and must fill in the time of twenty or so minutes with dialogue. No small task, but I think we will manage.

Each day for the past three weeks we have been a group of four volunteers struggling to pronounce and memorize phrases and words, conjugations and inflections, and put it all together for the LPI. That acronym is for Language Proficiency Interrogation. That does not sound right. It may mean Language Proficiency Interview. Yes, that does sound better though I am sure it will feel a bit more like an interrogation as the questions come in another tongue and you have to sit there and figure out what the interviewer wants to know. We have a bit of a script or dialog worked out so everything should run smoothly, but you never know when a turn of phrase can throw you off a bit.

I am typing this post on the front porch of the town library, a library that heretofore had been locked up because it would appear that the town doesn't quite have the resources to staff or maintain a daily facility. Some of our fellow volunteers found the key and got it open, but it most likely will close up when all of us leave. It does provide us a nice quiet place to do our practicing and that is what I am about to do in a few minutes.

I remember not liking the idea that I had to learn a new language when I received my assignment. I wanted to be able to talk to my family in Twi and get better at it but that was not the case. I can still make some progress on Twi in my spare time, but for the last few weeks it has been only Ewe entering the great hard drive in my mind and I think it has worked out well. I think I will enjoy being immersed in the language when I end up at Hohoe and hope to continue my study of it through the use of a tutor, but my secondary goal is to sneak in a Twi book with me and practice it so I can make my home-stay mom proud by proclaiming her cooking the best in all of Ghana, said in perfect Twi.

I should probably stick to just passing this LPI though as my first mission. “Miado go emegbe!” (meeyahDO go emeBEH) We shall meet later!