Monday, April 25, 2011

Happy Easter

Of course my updates have not been what they used to be here and it is not for a lack of time on my hands, it has just been that I have not stopped by the computer lab often lately. The students have departed for another of their vacations and in their place there are adult students who are busily studying various subjects to obtain a degree or certificate which they can take and use to advance their careers. I don't believe that they have an exam this time around, but they will be taking copious notes in classes upwards of 80 or more individuals.

That is one long paragraph to introduce an apology for a lack of updates, but that is the way things have gone lately. There is not so much going on around campus so I have made this time useful by cleaning up the house daily, having a few more shirts made and conducting errands to town and back to keep myself occupied during the day. I went so far as to even buy natural gas to cook with which had its own story.

After hailing a taxi with my empty tank in my manly grip (not quite so, but it sounds nice) I headed to town and a turn off that I had never traveled before lead us to the filling station. Tropical Gas was the name, and there didn't look to be a serious line whatsoever. Just one man, one cylinder, and one attendant doing the filling. I take it that the method is as follows: hoist the empty cylinder onto a large industrial-sized spring scale and take a measurement of the weight, then attach the nozzle to the tank and run the pump to fill the tank up to a heavier weight. Looked straight forward, and after waiting for about three months to do this simple chore I was feeling a bit satisfied to complete the task.

Then the power went out as I stood next in line. The man filling the tank jumped to a wall and flipped a switch off as if it really mattered a lot to do that, and he turned and said, "Lights off," which means that the power was off in town. I looked at the taxi driver to find out if this had a negative consequence on our mission. Yes, it did. We would not be getting gas then and there, but I could leave the tank behind and come back later when the power came back on. Small things like that could be an irritant of course, but given how long I waited to do this in the first place it seemed entirely justified that I wait a bit longer. I went home, paid the fare, and then waited until the power flowed freely again before heading back to the station to pick up my tank. All told, just twenty cedis for the entire affair including the bonus taxi ride to and fro.

But back to Easter. You can have yourself a very good time for Easter if you wanted to travel to places here and there. Most people that I knew felt that the best place to be was in a town in the Eastern region where a great big hill serves as a launch pad for paragliders. I even saw a news clip from the event and sure enough, lots of white people were waiting in line to try the trip. If you were inclined to drop 80 cedis, you could fly, but I opted to stay closer to home.

Here in Hohoe you could choose from any of the dozens of church services held at 7, 9 and who knows when else. Easter as a holiday has a lot more festive feel than it did in America where it was celebratory but not party-esque in nature. There is still music playing this Monday evening as the holiday goes for most of the weekend and then moves on into the first day of the week. As a national holiday most families take a trip somewhere and picnic or visit friends. I spent my Easter not paragliding, not going to church, and not picnicking. Rather, I talked with the family back home via Skype.

It was definitely better than all of the above as I got to see my aunt and uncle, as well as my grandmother who may or may not have understood what Skype was or did, but certainly recognized her aging grandson on the computer monitor. It was great talking about the time spent here, how things were going on back home, and generating ideas for more blog posts in the future. Further, I got a chance to wish a happy Easter to my lady-friend before I closed shop for the evening and tucked myself into bed. To cap off the day I got a text message from my brother that the Philadelphia Flyers prolonged their season by another game with an overtime victory. Sweet!

Not a bad holiday at all.

Monday, April 18, 2011

My First Visitor

All is quiet at the house again as I have returned by my lonesome from the airport in Accra today. My girlfriend Damla paid me a visit in Hohoe and spent ten days in the country with me to see first-hand what it is that I am doing and what it is like to live here in Ghana. I wanted to see the country through her eyes as someone who has not been here before. I gather the first impression was the heat and humidity of Accra and Ghana in general. For some reason the week was quite warm with very few interruptions in the heat index. Not that this was a bad impression for someone just getting away from one of the colder more snowy winters in the northeast of America, but it can really hit you like a ton of bricks.

I spent most of my time in the tro-tro ride home pointing out things that I thought might be of interest – the typical tourist stuff of which I have minimal knowledge. I know only what someone else has told me, and for most of the ride to Hohoe there is little to remark on besides the lake and the farms. As we were going over a few speed bumps I could see from my seat that the oncoming tro-tro had a goat standing on top of the roof. This happens but it is not something that I get to see everyday, so I told her to look out the passenger window to catch a glimpse, expecting her to be surprised by the very sight of a goat riding on the roof as it passed to our left (you would really not want a goat riding in the passenger area as you might guess). Unfortunately, this was the least-sure-footed goat in Ghana, and those speed bumps that we were were rolling over gave it a run for its money. She looked out the window the moment it fell off the roof. Good thing though, or bad thing depending on how you look at it, the goat was leashed by its neck to the metal railing that was welded on to the top of the tro. I told her to look at the passing vehicle the moment a goat was strung up by its neck, wailing and crying for its very life while one good Samaritan inside the car was grabbing a leg trying to help the tormented animal.

We kept driving right along. Nothing to see there.

Things like that are great stories to have on a trip, aren't they? It did not throw her off in the least, and we continued to have fun while running about. There was market day where she and I trailed off into the labyrinth of stalls that occupies about a football field of space near the taxi station in town. She found some jewelry and I found a neighbor to chat with and introduce, and off we went to explore further. People who know me would come up and I would do my best to greet and they in turn would look at her and say the pleasantries all in Ewe, which I failed to instruct her on before and after she got here. “Yo” is never a bad guess when someone says something that sounds nice but unfamiliar. I use it all the time and it will either be correct, or get me a good laugh.

We did manage to find the Wli waterfalls which is a must for anyone that comes to this region. A simple walk of about forty minutes gets you to a lush mountain side with a steep and beautiful waterfall as your reward. It did not disappoint us as the water was bounding over the edge and making a nice splash at the bottom. Many people were out for the afternoon to take in the sight, and we got some nice photos and videos of the scene to take back home.

I don't think I am going to let anyone leave Ghana without getting something handmade for them to wear. Part of the fun of being “Ghanaian” is dressing the part and when you see the prints and the colors and the fashions that most people here will wear, you don' want to stick out too much with T-shirts and shorts. Hence, you go buy two or three yards of fabric (the more colorful the better) and have a tailor take your measurements and do their thing. Voila! You have yourself a Ghanaian outfit. Damla had a few choices to make and did very well for herself. There isn't a lot to compare it to back in the states: you see that there is a pucker or a loose spot here or there, and you just tell the tailor that that needs to be fixed and they have at it. I can't imagine what it would cost to have your wardrobe tailored directly to your body back home, but here it runs from about six to nine cedis, or $4-6 American. Not bad, yes? She looked beautiful in all her attire here, that is for sure.

To state that I was a beneficiary in this deal is the world's largest understatement. She brought along so many snacks and goodies that I will be fat before I know it. Jelly beans, licorice, breakfast snacks, I could go on and on. My sweet tooth better get a check-up and soon because there is plenty for my molars to gorge themselves on here. She also packed and left a hard drive full of movies (dozens and dozens of my favorite odd-ball show, Mystery Science Theater 3000) and digital goodies. I might even speed up my learning of Turkish since she left behind audio lessons for me to digest in addition to the sugars.

Speaking of foods, I believe we both figured out what was edible and inedible as each day passed. While not getting her sick was the main focus, one might want to just dabble a little bit in the “danger zone” of foods to see what is good and delicious here in Ghana. Banku and Face-The-Wall were successes, but maybe not groundnut soup. So each day we added a bit more to the rice diet to see what was going to work. By the end I was so proud of her when she told a seller standing by our tro-tro “What is that?”, pointing to the top of her head, and being told what it was kindly said no to her. Braver than I was by a mile and a half even after my first two months here. Cow tripe on kebabs worked, so did the ice cream and frozen yoghurt that comes in plastic bags. Plantain chips were a “go”, but raw lettuce was never an option. By the end, she could say “Medi fo” and mean it (but maybe not understand it – I am satisfied).

Sadly though, trips like these have beginnings and the requisite endings, so we had to part ways as her job beckoned back on the other side of the lake. We made the last leg of the journey together on one more bumpy tro-tro with suitcases and glum feelings about the ten days that were now behind us. Emotional goodbye? You bet. But this goodbye was as much about knowing how happy we were together and how much fun we could have no matter where we were that it was a bit of gladness wrapped in with the sadness. Sneaking in to the customs line I was able to wave one last bye-bye through a wall of plate glass and wish her the safest of journeys (she made it back in one piece but a suitcase didn't) and then find my way around Accra all by my lonesome. It was a great visit and while I learned a few things about how to play host, I also found out one very important lesson: I am darn lucky to have her!

Thank you Damla for everything!

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Kukurantumi Again, Planning Aplenty

When the call came last week, there was something about a planning session that might be happening. It came from the woman in charge of my ICT group whom I refer to here as my APCD (Assistant Peace Corps Director), and she asked if I had time during this week to participate in a planning session for the next class of Peace Corps Trainees. It seemed like a nice thing to be a part of, and I told her that I would ask and see if the school was all right with it.

They said, "Yes." I said, "Yes," and that put me on a tro-tro to the Eastern region on Sunday of last week. It is different now coming to the hub site here in Kukurantumi. There were so many sessions and so much work done here, but each time I got to see people who made me smile, and friends who made the whole experience enjoyable. Coming back brought many of those good times come back, but when a fellow volunteer and I arrived, the hub site was empty. Off to the For You bar for some sodas and time to pet two very fuzzy puppies who were romping around the grounds.

People did show up, and we reconnected with some volunteers who we haven't seen since maybe Thanksgiving. There were just eight volunteers here, seven from my group so we got to hang out and relax quite a bit in a low-key environment. Scott from my town was also here, but he is a year ahead of me and re-upping for another year. Added to us were the two volunteers who operate the sub-offices in Kumasi and Tamale (TAH-mah-lay). Then all the staff that we knew from our training days here showed up and it was much like old times. Even the food tasted the same.

So the idea for this session is to plan the next events for Pre-Service Training (PST) for our future volunteers. They come as Trainees, they leave as Volunteers. During that process, there are about 80 days where many things get planned and the PCTs are asked to be here, then there, and back to here again. Finding the schedule is important as it will give the trainers different windows to begin planning some of the excursions and book some of the places that we will need to train the new group.

Four days of understanding the process and then planning the weeks and days was a bit of a struggle. As the number of volunteers goes up then we also need to factor in new hires to train the volunteers, so we also were given a crash course on personnel decisions from the Administrative Office which, oddly enough, was rather enjoyable due solely to Bob Gingrich being energetic and clear with his presentation. He didn't even use Powerpoint to make himself understood. Impressive.

By Friday we were ready to go. One last trip to the hub site for breakfast and the few remaining staff and volunteers headed their separate ways. I rode home with Scott and we were fortunate to find a tro-tro that filled quickly straight back to Hohoe. All told, I think the venture was a success. I have a better idea of what goes into training us, and I feel a bit more energized about my service and position here in ICT at St. Francis. I am going to submit a statement to Peace Corps declaring that I would like to be a trainer for the next group if it works out for my schedule. If not, then there is certainly other PCVs that are up to the task, no doubt. First, I think it would be fun and exciting to see the 50th class of volunteers land in Ghana, and second, I think it would give me a much better perspective on my own service. I will be sure to post an update on that front.