Saturday, July 31, 2010

Volunteering To Do Chores

[Belated Post]
There has been some grief given to me about chores that I don't do in my house. The other volunteers have had the same schedule I have had but then they have to do laundry as well. I have had the luxury of my home-stay mother do my laundry for me and believe me, it is a huge perk. Yet there are some things you had better learn how to do on your own before traipsing off into the cold reality of being the one responsible for cooking and cleaning for yourself. It seems that the past few days have fit that bill nicely. I'm volunteering my rear off with chores to get a feel for it.

Yesterday I pretty much sat around and watched the soup that I sup and the fufu that I chop (chop being the preferred word to use when referring to eating) be made. I helped where I could by fanning the charcoal, mashing and grinding the tomatoes for the soup, and pounding fufu for maybe twelve seconds before my mother here felt that her fingers were too precious to be crushed by my wildly inaccurate pestle thrusts. She was laughing while telling me to go rest small. So my sense of cooking is a bit aided but far from complete.

Today saw me spend most of the day at Kukurantumi training but when I got home and finished eating another scrumptious dinner of rice balls and palm nut soup, I walked to the outdoor kitchen that we have here and saw what I would call peanuts roasting over the fire. It looked like fun and most of the family was there collected around the fire laughing and trading stories in Twi that an invite to join them was eagerly accepted. The nuts are called ground nuts as I may or may not have mentioned before, and they are identical to what we know as peanuts but just about ten to twenty percent smaller. My sister and brother were set to the task of removing the skins of the batch that had just come off the fire and I figured I could help. While the nuts were not scalding, they were hot enough that at first I could not hold on to them long enough to get any skins off. That papery wrapping was no match at first. My soft buttery hands are not used to 170 or 180 degree heat either, which meant all present giggled as I couldn't keep my mouth shut as the heat burned the palms quickly.

Not content to quit, I kept at it and did about a tenth as well as my sister and brother did at removing the skins. They will use those ground nuts to make, well, ground nut butter. This in turn can be used to make the ground nut soup in large batches for hungry families. It was fun and gave me a chance to talk and just be with the family which a lot of the chores seem to have in common. Everything is done mostly by hand over wood-burning fires and outside. Maybe there is something a bit romantic about being able to not dictate the schedule by what is on television but what needs done and who you get to talk with while doing it. If this post is a testament to anything, it is that a little hard work won't kill your typing fingers by any stretch.

Tomorrow, Sunday, will be another day of chores. I will take part in sweeping the compound which is done everyday, washing my clothes by hand to get the technique down under the supervision of my mother, a trip to church (yes, I do consider that a chore but one that has some dancing and drumming included), and then some cooking. The boys also wish to get me into a game of football and I want to show them that I really am an American and therefore don't understand this game unless it is called soccer, and even then I won't play it well. I hope not to disappoint!

Sunday will also be August 1st. It has been about two months in Ghana. I hope you have enjoyed reading the updates as much as I have been enjoying telling you about it. Most of the volunteers are preparing for their interviews for language proficiency and I feel somewhat comfortable with where I am. Just a few more things to review and memorize and then I can head into that on Wednesday. Several more tests are coming to make sure the Peace Corps knows that we really were paying attention to the 30 or so informational sessions we have had so far, and then we can swear in. Ah, it is hard not to jump to the day two weeks early.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Where To Get Your Water

[Belated Post]
Oddly enough, I listed some of the food that I eat here in Ghana but not the water that I drink. Someone asked a question as to whether I was drinking the water right out of the spigot or the local well yet. In short, no.

For the duration of the stay here I will be drinking water that has gone through a filtration system that the Peace Corps provided to all of their volunteers. It has the look of a slightly tapered cylinder that is wider at the bottom than at the top. It comes in two parts that sit one on top of the other and the water poured into the top goes through two filters and the bottom unit acts as a reservoir for your fresh, ready-to-drink purified water. What is water in Ewe you ask? Tsi (pronounced CHEE), and may I compliment you on your inquisitive nature.

If I were to drink the water from the tap or the well two things would happen: I would feel like my thirst had been quenched and then I would regret every minute of that decision for the next 24 to 36 hours as my body flushes the works (in a manner of speaking) to rid the gut of foreign critters. Filtered water is the only way to go. I perceive my last gastrointestinal bout came from an apple that had lots of untreated water beading on the skin that I neglected to wipe off.

There are times that you don't have the water filter handy however, and though my Nalgene bottle is always there to carry extra, at times even that runs dry. Fortunately there are water sachets. Pronounce that as you wish since no one here has a definitive answer on how we are supposed to say it, just trust that you can use it and not get sick 99% of the time. My best description of this is to give you an example you can try at home:

- Take a resealable plastic bag from the kitchen drawer
- Fill it with water from the kitchen faucet
- Seal the bag so no water escapes

Now there you have in your hands something that looks like our bagged water here. Ours are not resealable but hermetically sealed during the filling process. Care for a drink? Pinch a corner on your bag so that most of the water is pushed away from the corner. I tend to add a bit of a twist to the corner so that I can keep the bag closed after the next step. Take that same said corner and give it a good toothy bite and tear off the plastic. Spit the piece of plastic out into the trash. Release the corner a bit and then just suck out the water that you need by pretending the bag is a pliable sippy cup the toddlers use.

You are drinking water like a professional and a true Ghanaian. Since these bags are made of plastic and there really isn't an infrastructure set up to collect garbage you can imagine that these bags are discarded everywhere. Try to throw yours out in the right spot when you are finished.

It took us a few weeks to figure out that water sachets make some very fine water balloons and I have witnessed some spot-on shots while avoiding being drenched myself. It won't be long until that changes I am sure, but I have the benefit of chucking my full water bottle at the assailant so they had better be careful. A liter of water in a hard plastic bottle leaves a decent welt.

The cost of each sachet right now is five pesawas or about three American pennies. Not a bad price. If a man, woman, or child is selling a basket-full of them from on top of their head they may call out, “Pure wah-Tah”. Most of us have now adopted the Ghanaian accent and fully pronounce the 't' like they do even among ourselves.

This is more information than you needed probably, but sometimes the simple things have very interesting stories behind them. I apologize after-the-fact if this wasn't one of them. I hope you enjoyed your sachet of water.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Thieves Will Not Be Tolerated

[Belated Post]

Of course no culture likes a thief. It just goes against our social/moral intelligence that you do not take what is not yours. I personally don't know a society in history that has an open invitation to take other people's belongings. You just do not do it.

One should definitely refrain from stealing while in Ghana.

We were told in training by several staff and current Peace Corps Volunteers that you ought not to throw around the accusation of thief flippantly. Ghanaians do not like them at all. They will show you just how much they despise them as well and you may not like it at all if you were only 30% sure you got the suspect right. Those who are present are liable to apprehend the person and apply mob justice prior to getting the suspect to the police station (or hospital as the case may require after the mob has deliberated for many minutes).

This morning I was walking to the center of our town to pick up a taxi to our hub site in Kukurantumi. I was running a touch late and happened to arrive just in time to see a crowd moving in the opposite direction towards the police station. I figured something was up from all the commotion going on and the several missed chances of people greeting me that are a habitual experience on my commute. Sure enough, the crowd had their thieves and the town was abuzz as to who the perpetrators were. I happened to see my father who was in town walking towards me and so I greeted him and inquired as to what was happening. He said three men had been caught stealing goats and were now being shown to the police station by half of the town.

This is serious business. It has nothing to do with goats but with the idea of taking something that is not yours. These two (the third escaped into the wilderness) apparently had quite a bit of bruising and swollen faces to show for their work. I did not see this at all but when I arrived at my taxi I asked my fellow volunteers who were already there waiting in the car what they saw. It amounted to a man with a very swollen face taking continued slaps and pot shots while the other had copious amounts of blood running down the side of his neck and an ear lobe that was not attached as well as it should have been.

When we were hearing about the stories of petty thieves taking incredible physical abuse from crowds I had this very odd feeling that this can not be punishment fitting the crime. If someone grabs my wallet with just 12 cedis in it I hope they are not killed for it – it just doesn't seem right in my book. The counter-argument is along the lines of, “Well, they should have kept their hands to themselves.” Sure, I understand that their action precipitated it, but maybe we can have a standard like a year in jail for this or that and not 40 angry people punching and kicking and quite possibly mortally wounding a person. I shudder to think of someone who is falsely accused in this type of situation. It was surprising to see that on what was otherwise a normal day in my small little town.

I still can't stress enough that I feel incredibly safe here and that the people I meet every single day are the friendliest people on the planet. I mean that.

Just don't take that pencil if it isn't yours.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Two For One

[Belated Post]

Some days the sun shines and the day looks great and you are not sure why. Then you get to the hub site and someone says those magic words, “You have mail.” I sure did. I got the letter from my mother (thank you again and again Mom) and tucked it into my shirt pocket for safe keeping until I got home.

Feeling pretty good I almost walked out before another volunteer shouted my name to keep me from absconding. More magic words, “You have a package.” Oh come now, who could be so nice? Ahh, Jen. You are too kind!

So now I have two things to open when I get home. I got the letter open before even reaching the road that leads to my house and just hearing the paper rattle in the breeze is a very cool thing. So I got myself caught up on my mom's vacation adventures and the weather report for America (it has been hot there, eh?) and took leave of my family for a few moments to enter my room and open the package. I was the proud recipient of candy, magazines, a book on being a cool boy, and a newspaper from Amherst telling me the latest news. Apparently the schools will be merged into one monolithic district as per the small towns and their committees who had to decide on the matter. Lots of goodies and to boot a letter in the envelope telling me what is going on in Hadley. The home stay family enjoyed tasting the Good & Plenty's up to a point. Too much sugar for their tastes I think. The Mentos will be saved for private use only though.

Good stuff and I thank you digitally first here and the letters are (will be) in the mail in due time.

Oh, and Mom, you went white water river rafting? Awesome! Please send those photos if you have some. I would love to see them.

Mail days are good days in Ghana.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Safe And Sound In Asafo

[Belated Post]

I am back from site visit and boy howdy was that a good time. I had the chance to meet many people there at the college and interact just a little bit with the community even if it was for just four days or thereabouts. Last night was my first real trip to a restaurant since I arrived in Ghana and I had the pleasure of trying something new yet again. Akple (and since I do not have the right characters in our English alphabet to do it justice, that will be how I have to write it for now; it is pronounced ahPLAY with just a hint of 'k' in between the ah and the play) and a delicious soup with a giant, succulent fish resting in the center of the bowl. A very good way to end the night. My counterpart helped Raj and me find the eatery even though he had not yet eaten and had food waiting for him at home. You have never seen such hospitality and I will do my best to equal their generous gestures in return.

So I now know what Hohoe has in store for me in some ways but I do not have a crystal clear vision of what the job will hold. Teaching computers is the obvious thing, but my side projects and the amount of work that the teaching will require are still a bit up in the air for me. I am sure more will be revealed as the end of September draws near. In the meantime I need to work a bit more on my Ewe.

Our return journey went from two of us to four of us as we met two other fellow volunteers waiting in the lorry station in Hohoe at the precise moment that Raj and I needed a ride. Bill and Tara are a married couple will both be teaching in either a junior high school or a high school, I forget which it was. So four of us plus two other Europeans boarded one tro-tro for Kpong (don't pronounce the 'k' again on that town name either). While waiting for about a half hour before the vehicle filled up we happened to chat up two or three women who could speak both Twi and Ewe and they had a ball teaching and testing our various bits of knowledge. I think I like it better now that I have some understanding of very rudimentary Twi plus Ewe (low novice at best). The more words I can get the merrier. Rita was a passenger who was taking the ride all the way to Koforidua and we used her quite often to help us out in language and to save some money. She saved each of us 20 pesawas on the trip from Kpong by telling us the real fair that we should be charged and when we arrived in Koforidua, we had her lead the way past all the men yelling, “Where are you going?” into the tro-tro that would take us to Tafo the quickest. I think I did my darndest to thank her in English, Ewe, and Twi (she spoke all three quite well) and then I used my just-learned expression, “God bless you,” in Ewe. She smiled and was on her way.

Do you see how great the people are here?

On a side note, I had the chance to introduce myself to a few people when I arrived at St. Francis and thought I was telling everyone that I was born on Wednesday with the name Kwaku, or alternately, Koku. Instead though I had forgotten one letter on the alternate name and said Kodu. My counterpart overlooked this as he thought that might actually be my American name, Kodu David.

Not quite. As it happens, 'kodu' is pretty much the word for banana. Small mistake. I can't wait to make the next one. Oh, actually, that happened on Saturday when I said goodbye to two women who were visiting my counterpart's home. I thought I was saying “safe journey”. They reacted with faces aghast and said that I was mistaken. Apparently the teacher I have knows the phrase he gave me as “safe journey”, but in the middle Volta region, that phrase pretty much means “rest in peace” and is said of the dead. Slight oops moment. Another learning moment brought to you by a forgetful speaker and regional dialects.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Off Again

Looks like I have been pretty active on the web as of late, but that is only because of the ICT lab here at the campus. Sadly, I will be drifting back to my haunts in Asafo (though I am quite happy to get back to my mom's cooking) and leaving the 'net behind. I will continue to write but all of the posts will be of the belated nature that are familiar around here. I hope to have more details and a good long summary about the swearing in ceremony in the month of August. Still keeping my toes crossed on that one.

I must also leave space here for an apology to those of you (maybe you in particular), who have left comments on particular posts. I did not see them because typically I am so rushed while updating this space that I don't review any of the old posts. Someone emailed me and asked if I had seen them, and much to my chagrin - no, I hadn't. Sorry about that. I will add more posts to make it up to you in the future. For the time being I am catching up on them and my thought is all of you are terrific for the words of encouragement and wisdom. I need all that I can get here!

Now, off to find some food in town and get packed for the return journey home. When traveling by tro-tro, wear your darkest darks and be ready to sweat it out.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I Made It To Hohoe

[Belated Post]

Well, all the work, all the patience, and all that time spent wondering if it would ever come to pass that I would land in my final spot has come to this: I am posting from within the community of Hohoe (pronounce that like ho-HOY) inside St. Francis' College of Education. This is the area that I will see day in and day out, and these are the people that I will be working with for the next two years in Ghana.

We got here by way of Bonsu College where all of the Peace Corps teachers were met by our counterparts at the institutions in which we will be teaching. Principles, Headmasters, and teaching counterparts were all there to meet and greet. I met the two that were from St. Francis and felt immediately at ease. It was a great start to the day, and later that night I went to the spot close by to the campus in Bonsu and shot the breeze with my fellow ICT teacher. Good stuff.

By Wednesday we were on the go. Seven adults forced and squeezed their way into a sport utility and made the trek to four campuses in the Volta region. I was the second stop, but even by that point my back was a bit achy from the rough roads we traversed along the way. Some roads were great, others weren't roads but rock and dirt and major gaps to navigate. Four hours after we started (at 5:15 mind you we got moving) I was unpacking and having my first encounter with the staff on campus.

So far I am impressed with everything that I am seeing. The campus here is quite nice and is well maintained. We are missing the students of course as this is the break period for the first and second-year students, but the third-year class is in session and about to go out into the teaching world. In a class of about 100 students I was introduced as the Peace Corps volunteer who will be teaching ICT for two years and the class was quite excited about the news. That was a nice cloud nine to ride for a while I must admit. The lab has a lot of computers and quite a few new ones waiting in the wings to be installed which is great. I will have to put some photos up soon to give the loyal readers some graphic representation of where I am here.

I am being shown around by one of the ICT teachers. He also teaches mathematics (shortened to 'maths' by all Ghanaians, and after thinking about it, it makes sense that it is plural given that mathematics is plural, but it sounds so strange to hear that word spoken) so I believe that my addition to the staff will relieve some of the load on the two teachers who deal in other subjects. My main counterpart is off reviewing and grading national exams in Kumasi. When I come back in August he and I will be reunited and off to plan lessons for the year.

For the past two days the school has treated me quite well, I have a unit that has two beds and a communal eating room but to date I have only seen one other person here in the bungalow with me. The food is great, the company is fine, and I have made a friend in the local feline who sees me as a table-scrap-giver of the best sort. That is what all domesticated animals do here by the way. There is no cat or dog food at market, you just feed them what you were just eating and they seem to do fairly well. This cat in particular likes kenkey and fish apparently.

So that is it. I won't know where I will live just yet, they are still making the arrangements here so upon my arrival in August I will settle down in the appropriate spot. I can hardly wait. I also have this sense that my Ewe will improve a bit when I can talk and interact with native speakers as opposed to in the class setting. We shall see. I am hopeful that my other volunteer friends are enjoying their stays as much as I am here.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Small, Small

[Belated Post]

I am still here and as it has been a while since I have stopped by a place that has had an interent connection, the posts are somewhat backed up. I hope that the readers forgive me.

So why title this post "small, small"? Maybe because I say it and hear it every day that I am here. People are always helpful when you try to speak the language that they smile, the politely correct or help you when you need it and encourage you to try more phrases if you can, and then the close with the small small comment. It is just a reinforcement that we who are learning the language cannot rush the job and that you must only learn a little bit at a time and before you know it you will have a good handle of things.

Small, small indeed.

Our Ewe is coming along at that small, small pace. Our small group has had two tries at speaking with a native-speaking Ewe person and each time has given us ample room to find frustrations. We know certain phrases but sure as shoot the person we speak to will use all the words that we have yet to master or learn in their response. Even if we do know the words that they reply with, the likelihood that we can hear them spoken is tiny. Right now I am making out blips and snippets of words I can recognize mixed in with a jumble of encoded syllables and consonants that have me dumbfounded.

To help remedy some of these gaps I went ahead and bought some index cards at the market to help me memorize my vocabulary and to get better versed at remembering the pieces and parts of my diction in Ewe. When a question is posed to me in class I thumb through all of my notes to find the answer which is teaching me not to think and remember but rather to thumb and regurgitate what is written. I hope it will help me out. Most of the volunteers that I speak with feel like they are in the same boat which more than likely means we are right where we need to be in training.

Here's to flash cards and learning small, small.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Details, Details, Details

[Belated Post]

There was a nice surprise again in the mail today. I stopped by for more training in Kukurantumi and was greeted with the best phrase ever invented, "Hey, you have a letter." Something neat about the hand-written note though I muchly appreciate emails and the like. You get to read it and have it printed out for you to look at later all in one nice little package. Thanks Mom for sending it!

She did ask some questions that I feel embarrassed to not have addressed already, so here you have a longer post filled with details.

Where I Live: I live with a host family that Peace Corps had arranged prior to our arrival in the country. They are the best host family a guy could ever want. My mother and father are especially kind and treat me as a guest is treated in Ghana. That means very nicely. Their house has several rooms and my room is quite nice measuring around 10' by 12' with a door that locks and two windows. The walls are an aqua color which suits me just fine and the floor is a smooth poured concrete type of surface. I have the following furniture: a desk, a chair, a bed with foam mattress, and a small coffee table that houses the water filter and many odds and ends. Yes, there is a mosquito net outfitted just so above my bed so I don't catch malaria at night. The color is akin to a slightly soiled ochre but it can be any color for all I care, so long as it keeps the critters out.

So that is the room. The house itself is spacious and it faces a courtyard that is part macadam and crushed rock. Opposite the house is the kitchen which is a stand-alone building where a fire is always smoldering away, cooking up something good. The plot does have one other building that is under construction which is meant to house family and in-laws but for the time being the project is on hold. Near the kitchen and the addition is your bath room. By bath room I mean four walls and no roof. At about five feet high, the walls are meant to block your view in to the bather while not blocking your view out if you happen to be the one bathing. I must say I have had some really beautiful views out while completely lathered up. Also, the bath is done by whatever water you can fit into a bucket. I still think this is absolutely neat.

Unto itself in this house description segment is the VIP. All of our prospective home stay sites had to have at a minimum a VIP installed to get the nod for accepting a volunteer, and by VIP I mean the latrine. Ours is quite nice and doesn't have the smell you would expect even from a port-o-potty that you see at fair grounds. It isn't smelling like roses either, but you had better get that expectation right out if you are living here. You can sit if you want to while in the latrine as there is a deck that is made out of concrete that covers the pit but I would advise against it. There is a story to tell about this, but that is best saved for in-person conversations later and not for a web log where squeamish eyes are glancing. Oh, and VIP sounds pretty regal, right? It stands for Ventilated Improved Pit. Not nearly so luxurious now, is it? I should say that it does the job right, however.

So those things make up the general layout of the house. I am one of about ten people that live in the compound and there always feels like there is room for more.

What I Eat: This was also a question that for some reason I have not addressed in full here. I eat anything at least one time to figure out if I like it and if my gut can stand it. So far so good. As a guest in the house I eat alone every meal, just outside the door to my room in a hallway. I know that sounds strange but the culture here seems to be that the guest has his or her privacy when taking meals so that is my own little spot to chow down breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I sit on a stool that stands around nine inches tall. My knees are above my navel at that height and it took a while to get used to. The table that my meals are served from is around twice the height of my stool. At some point I am going to get a camera out and take a photo of myself eating for posterity.

That is where I eat, but what I eat can range a bit. Things you may be familiar with are here. I eat a lot of rice and from time to time some pasta is mixed in with a rice meal. Chicken and beef are possible candidates for my meats as well as a fish that must be plentiful from somewhere close by. Smaller bananas than we have in the states are gown here locally and taste just as sweet. Ghana also grows oranges nicely but they have tended to be more fibrous than the Florida ones that I knew. Still, these are the familiar meals. Let's see what the new stuff is.

Fufu. A staple food that can be made from a few ingredients that will vary from region to region. I think mine here is made from cassava, plantain, and maybe some third plant. Each ingredient gets trampled to death by a long piece of wood. One person sits low to the ground and turns and folds the fufu over while the second person repeatedly drops a long piece of wood down to smash the contents inside the wooden bowl. If this makes no sense I would advise a trip to your favorite video library on the web and search “pounding fufu” to see the process. The consistency of fufu in my house is just a touch sticky. The flavor is somewhat bland since no spices that I know of are added to the mix while it is being pounded. It essentially is a carbohydrate-heavy staple food that needs some support in the flavor department.

Enter soup. The word in Ghana is used for a more viscous concoction that is spicy, oily, and most likely red in color. I had some of this pour out of a container into my backpack and to this day the whole bag still has a faint soup smell to it. This is what you do with your fufu: you pinch off a small ball of fufu with your fingers and then get it to stick to the end of one finger in particular, dip that ball of fufu into the soup, then insert that into your mouth and swallow with as few bites as possible. Simple?

No. If the soup and fufu are fresh, then you are talking about using your fingers to manipulate food that has a temperature close to that of a cup of coffee. From what I have heard your fingers will get used to this, but I have yet to hit that level and must wait a bit or use utensils to start consuming. As I said before, every area will probably have slightly different types of fufu so my hope is that Hohoe has a tasty version of it.

Banku is similar to fufu in that you are eating it with your fingers (Ghanaians are right at home eating all meals with fingers only) and dipping the banku into a soup. The texture is different as is the flavor hence the different name. This one is mostly if not completely made from cassave. I had banku tonight and rather enjoyed the mix. Finger-licking good if you will.

Other foods that come to mind are rice ball, yams, and fried plantains. Each will come with a side of soup and sometimes stew. Stew is more dry and can be spread over the main starch of the meal. Rice ball (em-O two-O) is just cooked rice that is hard-pressed into the side of the pot to slightly break up the rice grains and create a sticky dense version of rice. Form that into a ball and there you go – rice ball.

One unusual thing here that is taking a while to settle in is eating for calcium. That means chewing through some bones in the meal. I have gotten used to fish bones (the small tiny ones) but I have yet to really get behind eating a chicken bone. They are hard to crack and not pleasant to chew, but this is how most people find a source of calcium. I am hoping the family notices that I am leaving fewer bones on my plate! Of course, if I should fail to eat all of my bones there is always a FanYogo to grab. They are packets of frozen yogurt that you get pretty much anywhere so far as I have found and taste great on a hot day. One a day has been my habit as of late. For 60 pesawas you just cannot go wrong (40 cents or so American).

Those are just some of the things that I have eaten so far here. The food is pretty good and I think once a body adjusts to a new set of nutrients then it is just a matter of adding a bit more each week and enjoying the experience.

If you get the chance, stop by and have some fufu with me.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Home Sweet Home-Stay

[Belated Post]

We made it back. Nik and I finally arived home on the 6th after a few incidents on the ride back. My guess is that the trip had about an extra hour or more added to it by break downs on route. Our tro-tro had a tire fail and the spare must have needed some attention as we waited on the road for the driver to return back to the tro. He did a quick job of it actually. This may not have been his first repair job.

After that little stop, there came another incident with a taxi on the last leg of the journey. Our driver had an issue with frequent stalls in first gear. While he was adamant about trying to restart the engine many times over, that did not seem to fix the problem of the car stalling. It was dark out at the time and all the Peace Corps safety and security advice kept drumming along in my brain: don't be out late, try not to travel at night. Much ado about nothing though as within ten minutes we hailed another driver and he took us the rest of the way home. Funny thing though, the engine that we looked at under flashlight had the following issues: no air filter whatsoever, and a missing radiator cap. Those are parts that I thought you needed for the car to continue running properly and maybe that is why we took an unannounced pit stop in the middle of a road.

All told, we got home unscathed by our Project Shadow voyage. It was very encouraging to see a lab and a teacher going about her job doing the best she could with the resources available. I must say, the school we were at had a nice school with many features. I hope the site that I get to has just as much but I would settle for half as much and be happy. Those words may come back to haunt me though.

So we are back at the homestead and it was very nice to be back in my own foam bed under my own mosquito net. I bought a mirror at the market in Kumasi for my family since theirs was cracked in two spots. They seemed happy that I was back and smiled at the gift. I smiled at the great Ghanaian food that was there to greet me. Good times! We are back to doing our language learning. I need to spend a bit more time studying at night though as whatever I get during the day I will struggle with the morning after.

Small, small, the chicken drinks its water. I think that is the phrase we got in Twi but I don't remember that nor do I know the Ewe version of it. It still holds true though. Small steps.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Happy Fourth Of July

[Belated Post]

It was a happy fourth in Ghana. My shadowing exercise is still in session so I did not celebrate the holiday with the home-stay family but instead spent it with two fellow volunteers in Mampong. I believe it may have been my first July 4th outside of the U.S., and I still managed to be nostalgic about my country while removed from it. It helped a lot to have a book written by Henry Cabot Lodge in the 19th century that celebrates the life of George Washington. I had not reviewed a great deal of history of our first commander-in-chief but the book thus far does an excellent job at showing his mastery in the art of war and his adroitness in handling people and situations. It almost defies belief that the Revolution ever happened given that the army never had the pay or the provisions that the British had.

So, it was great reading the accounts of that time period near 1776 and to remember that it really was a struggle to achieve independence. The independence day for Ghana is celebrated on March 6th, so I have some time to catch up on my history here before that day comes. We as volunteers have talked quite a bit about the subject but I think I need a book that details the steps this land went through to obtain freedom and self-governance.

Our little group mentioned that both our countries escaped the control of the British Empire to find our way to freedom. Neat, yes?

So our fun festivities fell to a small gathering of several friends of our Peace Corps Volunteer on the campus and a few things American. We had our Ghanaian equivalent of hot dogs (sausages on a kabob), popcorn, trail mix, candy, beer and Coca-cola. And games! Our guests were treated to a fun game of Uno and then a hilarious game of Uno with the last man standing (and coming in as '8th winner') being Nic. Not content to stop having fun, we went ahead and started up the quintessential board game of the last 100 years, Monopoly. Sadly, all the Americans lost in the end, yours truly being the first one to go bankrupt. That too was great fun and qualifies me for having played Monopoly once a decade for the last two decades.

The night was not quite over yet though. There is one last thing you must do when saluting your country inside or outside of the land of the brave. Firework. That is correct, no pluralizing it as there was just one bottle rocket. In what might have been too late an hour, that little rocket made a lift off that scared our guests and gave us one heck of a jolt. I don't think we had heard something that loud in a while. Once the heart beat came back on rhythm, we all laughed again at the display. That was the way we do it back home.

Thanks America for being there. I'll be back again to participate in person in a few years.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Project Shadow: Mampong Edition

Peace Corps did it again. They got me to go out and enjoy the country. Darn them and their evil plans!

I am having a great time visiting a fellow volunteer who is ending her third year of service in the country. We (another PCV in Training) left our town at 7 or so in the morning on Friday to make the half-day trip over to the Ashanti region in Ghana. The first ride was air conditioned which was a huge plus, the second ride was in a regular air-cooled tro-tro and my trousers should the worse for wear by being covered in a black/brown dirt that I am sure won't come out in the next wash. Yet the trip was a success; we made it to our destination right on time.

It should be noted that we had a stop at the Kumasi station which is the 2nd largest market in the country. Words just don't work well enough for me to get the scene right. Think of a hustling and bustling Times Square in NYC but ten times more packed with people, cars, chickens, and other odds and ends plus every shop owner who can eek out a living in a three foot by three foot square. It was utterly amazing at how dense this market was. Hundreds upon hundreds of people selling whatever could fit on top of their heads. A shoe market that just ran up and down one alley way draped on a hill. Too many Black Star flags and apparel to count as the big game was going to be that night. So much action and it was all condensed into about an hour. I enjoyed Nic, my co-traveler trying his best to negotiate a fair price for items there - his Twi is much better than my own. I say "Good afternoon," and don't hear a thing after that when the speaker asks me something I haven't memorized. Nic can deflect marriage proposals with a shrug and a word and the crowd laughs and applauds him. Maybe my Ewe will be that good.

Onto Mampong. We arrived and got right to business. Where to eat, and where to watch the game. A restaurant close by was the best spot, and soon we were eating our fufu and relaxing in front of a television with 30 or 40 others. Darkness sets in early here, so the match began as the sun set, and into the evening we watched. Pandemonium broke right at the end of the second half on Ghana's first goal. Maybe the Black Stars would do it, move on past Uraguay.

So very close. So very, very close. It was awful to see the game end with a tie and proceed to overtime where a goal kick would have won it for Ghana, only to see the ball riccochet off the crossbar and then to see Ghana lose in a shoot-out. Everyone just became quiet, and into the night they went. Disbelief and sadness were there, but I am certain that everyone was very proud that Ghana played their hearts out and almost pulled out a win.

We went home and made up for some time spent watching the game by talking Peace Corps late into the night. I believe 2AM we all hit the hay, and we got ready for another day.

Just getting to know another region as Peace Corps has allowed us to do is something I'd like to do again. Those of us stationed east should find time to travel west. Those of us south ought to make it a pact to hightail it over to the north when time permits. There is just something exciting about traveling and getting to know another town. Today we had the great fortune of bumping into a young student who said she had the time to take us on a tour of her town, her school, and to help us understand what people said in the native tongue as we walked around. Many people do wonderful things here for us and I believe I really lucked out to get this chance.

Our contact has been a tremendous asset. We are sure to be only adding to what she has already accomplished in the ICT stream with her counterparts here. She and other ICT developers inside PC have set up a repository of useful software and references. I feel better already about my prospects for teaching students with that type of support.

Not bad for having about 24 hours of time in Mampong I'd say.

And I saw my first goat riding on top of the roof of a commercial bus.