Friday, December 31, 2010

The End Of The Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What Is Christmas Like In Ghana

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Harmattan Gets Cooking

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas Comes Earlier And Earlier Every Year

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

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

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

This brings me to the thanks stage of the post.

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

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

Merry Christmas to all!

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

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

Where Did All The Students Go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Unusual Nativity Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 13, 2010

No Broken Bones

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

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

I just thought an update was warranted.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Hopping And Hopping

[Belated post]

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 05, 2010

On The Mend

[Belated post]

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 03, 2010

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

[Belated post]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then the school “masseuse” came.

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

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

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

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Back To Learning Ewe

[Belated post]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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