Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Update On The War Of Attrition

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

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

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

Monday, November 29, 2010

Funeral Sunday

[Belated post]

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Movie And Culture Shock In Reverse

[Belated post]

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving In Ghana

[Belated Post]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Off To Celebrate Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 22, 2010

Getting Into A Rhythm

[Belated post]

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Another Box At The Post Office

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

You Have Eid al-Adha Off

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

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

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

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

Happy Eid al-Adha to you all!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Home Sweet Hohoe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 12, 2010

Another Week Of Training In The Books

[Belated post]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Longer Days In Training

[Belated post]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A Powerful Story

[Belated post]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 07, 2010

In-Service Training Day 1

[Belated post]

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 05, 2010

Power Would Come In Handy

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Where Did He Come From?

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

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

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

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

Then I felt something heavy land on my head.

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

An Election Day Far From Home

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 01, 2010

All Saints' Day March

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

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

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

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

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

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