Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Uninvited Guest

It was a full day yesterday and as I trudged home from the lab at around 10:30 I was thinking of getting home and calling it a night. An early start in the morning and then just being out and about on campus put me in the sleepy mood, and a thought occurred to me as a got within about 100 yards of the house: I didn't make my bed.

I almost always make my bed. No, let me put it this way, I don't recall the last time that I didn't make my bed before slipping under the mosquito net and going to sleep. Sometimes I do it after I get ready in the morning, other times it is in the late afternoon, but it gets done. Yesterday was the exception to that standard however. I forgot to do it and didn't use my time wisely to make sure the chore was complete. It was just something that didn't happen.

So my thought as I approached the house was of this nature: "Why should I do it? I can just crawl into bed and not make it, and who will know?" Rationalizing like that is probably the sign of something not right, but it did seem like a good argument at the time. By making the bed I have to move the mosquito net out of the way, take the one bed sheet and smooth it out properly, and then put the pillows on just so to make it look nice. Simple, but it is a minute of effort. I could just toss that ritual aside and go to sleep.

I don't know when I changed my mind, but by the time I got my gym shorts on and was ready for bed, I couldn't do it. I had to make the bed. I took the mosquito net and pulled both ends tight and swung them over the lines that tie the net to ceiling. I took the pillows off and rested them on the night stand (an old student's desk from years and years past) then I straightened out the bed sheet, all in the darkness of the bedroom.

It should be noted that I adopted a rule for nighttime activity in the house; use lights so you can see things clearly. Earlier yesterday I turned on the light to the pantry and took great exception to the cockroach crawling around my forks and spoons. Without the light on, dark places can hold a few surprises.

Last evening was an exception.

I straightened the bed sheet out nicely and was about to put the pillows back when one wrinkle just barely caught my eye on the bed. I tugged at the edges of the bed sheet and it wasn't going away. Did I leave a pair of gym shorts under the sheet? It seemed like the edge of a drawstring for a pair that I brought over, so I reached under the sheet, in the dark, and grabbed the end of the drawstring to remove it... but drawstrings usually don't have scales and feel incredibly limp.

In science class, we were taught that the decisions made by the brain are centered in certain areas. But those actions which aren't so much decisions but flat-out urgent reactions are controlled by a more ancient part of our nervous system in the brain stem. That was most likely the region in action last night as I, in a fit of spastic haste, let go of whatever it was that I had grabbed. I heard the faintest of thuds on the bed as it landed, and then I moved quickly to find my headlamp to see what was in my grasp.

Sadly, a skink had made its final resting place in my bed (it looked like this one). Under the covers during the day an exhausted lizard felt the need to stop this mortal journey and find ever-lasting peace about ten inches from my pillow, just under the cover of my bed sheet. I got it out of the bed and took her (or him) to an even better resting place just outside my back door on the grass. It did not smell nice to put it mildly.

So there is a moral to the story. If you don't want to make your bed, you better think twice. You might unknowingly be sleeping with a dead, or worse, live lizard in your bed.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Training Trainers Or Trainers Training

Over the past week several people took part in the Training of Trainers (ToT) at Kukurantumi. After I attended the previous workshop where staff and volunteers alike hammered out what the Pre-Service Training (PST) would be like in terms of events and timing, I got the notion that being a trainer might be rewarding. Who knows why that didn't occur to me before, but once it did I sent in my letter of intent and was informed at All-Vol that I would participate.

We arrived on Monday, May 23rd, and learned about the plan of events from our Director of Program and Training, Rob Moler. It seemed like there was a lot of work ahead of us, and a fairly high expectation of what we might accomplish by Friday. A total of eleven PCVs are to become the PCVTs (Peace Corps Volunteer Trainers) so that they may help the new arrivals, the PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees) adapt to their new environment and get a head start on their positions. Again, everything is an acronym and if you don't know what the acronym is, you ask and do your best to commit it to memory since it will appear repeatedly.

The beginning of the week was focused on what the whole PST would be like. Where events happened, the timing of various bits, and where conflicts might arise. After a thorough review of the big picture for training, we were often breaking into our sectors to concentrate on what we would need to bring to training at a more detailed level. What books and handouts should a PCT have? When should they get them? How many and where can we obtain them, or are they already available but at a different location. Many many different things to go over, and every day of training there is about eight hours of time to account for; the complexity grows by every hour that you work on it.

In the end, we had a fairly good idea what would be needed per session on the calendar, really good resources to draw upon from prior years, and then a direct path to get ready for this year. Friday was fun as there were nine or ten of us at computer screens typing up, copying over, and editing with reckless abandon all types of material. We also had time to write up comical biographies for one another which will find their way into the welcome book that trainees will get upon their arrival. I didn't read my own bio but I am hopeful that someone remembers that I invented the Nalgene bottle - which was the persistent rumor that went around during our training session.

These workshops are a bit of fun but they do take a bit out of you. Breakfast is at 7, so you need to be ready by about 6:30 to make it to the hub site on time. My wake up call would have been around 6 but for the fact that I could never sleep in that long. Most mornings I would pop my eyes open at closer to 4 and then try to nap my way to 6; failing by 5:30, I would just resolve to get up and shower. We also would join up after the day was over and head to a local pub (which is a very inaccurate description of a watering hole here - think of a cargo container with a few plastic chairs scattered around and that paints a better picture). I'd have one soda, feel the effects of the early morning wake up call and be ready for bed by about 9. Oh the sacrifices, yes?

Joking aside, there was a lot done at the training workshop and plenty more work to be done in the coming week or two. The new group is set to touch down in Accra on the 8th of June which is not far away at all and the real fun begins.

After all of this I am now remembering how it all felt to get here. It has really been one year? Time flies when you are having fun.

Not that I couldn't go for a cheeseburger and fries right about now, but that can wait. More fun is calling.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Combining Traditional Clothing With American Culture

I have mentioned in past posts that if you have an eye for a particular fabric for sale on top of someone's head or in a shop, you haggle for a price and then get it for a few cedis, then take it to a tailor and get something nice made to fit you. It really is a much better way to go about dressing oneself then heading to a giant store to find pre-made clothes that may not be the best fit in colors and patterns that don't quite match your style. That is all well and good and something that I find lifts my spirits up a bit (I am currently waiting for a shirt to be made that is using a print that the school sells to the students here, a print that has a photo of the statue of St. Francis and has written around said photo the words St. Francis College of Education), but how about making your own cloth and then getting something traditional made?

Enter my fellow volunteer friend in Hohoe, Scott. He works at the Volta School for the Deaf and he is their art instructor. Scott and I have had many conversations at the Grand Hotel just chatting about life and often our work. He was telling me that this year he had made a concerted effort to get some of the students who have an interest in doing art to use that inclination for the school's benefit. They make stuff and Scott is finding ways to market it for the benefit of the school. It is a great idea, and one that seems to be helping out everyone involved. The students have also taken to weaving kente, a type of cloth that our area in the Volta region is well-known for. So through his school I had a ready source of weavers for some fine material that actually is quite expensive on the open market. The first step is taken care of.

What type of shirt to make though, that was the question. I have regular shirts already, ones that might not be too out of place were I to wear them in the U.S., but I didn't have something that was a bit more Ghanaian. Here is where the smock comes in. The best way to describe it would be to say that it is a sleeveless shirt which has about one extra shirt too much cloth in it. Smocks are usually big, baggy, and heavy. Typical to the north, but still worn throughout the country, I have been tempted to find one that I could get as 1) a formal Ghanaian shirt to wear to class, and 2) a souvenir for when I return to the States. But when I see these shirts for sale they come at a hefty price and often I am not interested in the color or the style of the pattern. Then back in April I met a Ghanaian who was wearing a smock, and it appealed to me for one specific reason. It was a smock meant for the Miami Dolphins.

Well, not exactly, but it was certainly the correct color scheme. Vertical strips of white, bright orange, and turquoise blue. White was the dominant color, and the orange and blue were thin lines running top to bottom. I commented to the man wearing it that I liked it because of what it reminded me of, and he smiled and thanked me. Here is where the two ideas merge then.

I need a Philadelphia Flyers smock.

Scott was very supportive of the idea since he had already made a go of letting his students weave a kente pattern with Ohio State colors included, and he said this would be something the students could easily handle. He bought three colors (orange, white, and black for the uninitiated in hockey team colors) and yesterday I set out to arrange a pattern. We batted around about six ideas and settled on one that will have a lot of orange in it. The cost of the thread, the students time and the effort to sew the smock will most likely come out to 70 cedis which is expensive, but the smocks last a long, long time, and I hope to be showing it off to people when I return so I think it is a good purchase.

Oh sure, the Flyers lost to the Bruins in a four-game sweep not too long ago, but they won't fold the club up and move to Wichita any time soon, so there is always next year. When the smock is finished I can wear it on game days and tell students that the Flyers are playing, hence I must sport their colors but with Ghanaian sensibilities. I will post some photos of the project as it moves along. Go Flyers!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Beads, Beads, And More Beads

Sunday has been a day of recovery of sorts due to the fact that I made a day-long trip to Somanya to see a bead-making operation. I don't get earlier starts than 3:48 AM.

I was supposed to be up earlier than that too; my alarm had a feature where it would ignore weekends so as not to wake you up on your relaxed weekends. My 3:30 wake-up alert never came and instead I was awoken by the phone ringing next to my ear. It was the art teacher on campus and she asked if I was indeed going to come along with her and the rest of the students. I said, “Yep,” and shambled off to the bathroom to try my best to wake up in under two minutes and get out of the door. I made it to our statue circle where the vehicles were parked by 4:01.

Not my typical Saturday here.

We got on the road by about 4:20 and I think I was the only one that was not used to being awake at that hour as my head bobbed to and fro trying to fall off of my neck. It didn't and I was treated to seeing a sunrise on the road. It was a very beautiful day to start, and after a few hours trekking over some bumpy roads, we made it to our destination.

The man who operates the business is nicknamed Cedi and that is the name of the compound we entered, Cedi Industries. He is a very friendly man who took time to explain to the 35 of us what is involved to make glass beads, the different types of beads one can create, and how to make them using clay molds and lots of fire. After our lesson was over, we all clamored about for a few clay molds and got to working on our objects d'art. It was fun and I took a lot of time making my one masterpiece, the glass bead that would clearly show my artistic talents to all present.

At this point the skies became pitch black and the rains let loose on the land in torrents. Our glass beads were not affected and the fires raged on in the kilns, but it was hard to get around the place as most of the facilities were not connected by hallways, just open-air paths from one hut to the next. It has been a while since I have seen rain like that so maybe rainy season is just around the corner.

During the time where our beads were being fired (they have to melt in some very hot ovens before you can see the final product) our friend and guide Cedi showed us another technique to make much fancier glass beads. His demonstration was impressive while he used a propane and oxygen mixture to form a single glass bead from several colors of glass filaments. I was impressed and would have loved to try it, but apparently the techniques a few years to master, and we had about thirty minutes to spare.

After taking our lunch, the second year students and I piled around the now cool clay molds to see what our glass beads looked like. I was hoping for near diamond-like perfection but what I got were dark balls of greenish glass that had holes pressed through the middle. My expectations were not quite on target. Later still we got to see the special bead that we created using powdered glass in one clay mold. Out came mine and it looked, well, it looked awful. No design could be seen in the mix of colors that I had used, and the oblong shape made me think somehow I had fallen asleep during the instruction phase of our lecture. Though it was mine, and I took a photo of it to commemorate it prior to giving it to another student who had lost her bead.

We were taken to the shop where we were allowed to take one bracelet and one necklace professionally created at the site. Mine looked nice, and I ended up buying two more bracelets while I was there. One maybe as a gift to myself and one to hand out to someone later.

By the time I got home my head was quite heavy. The students were great and it was nice to have a chance to talk to some of them in a relaxed situation. If I get the chance to do this type of trip again I will definitely jump at the opportunity.

Does anyone need some ugly glass beads? I know how to make them now.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Trying To Game The System

First there is nothing wrong with what I am doing so far as I can tell, at least not from a legal standpoint. Yet after a few false starts, Vodafone's offer finally started to pay off for me until I hit a little snag yesterday. Please bear with me.

Vodafone offers mobile phone service in Ghana, and they also offer internet service through USB Modems that attach to your computer. After I got to Hohoe I chose Vodafone since another provider at the time dropped all service for multiple days running and that just would not do at 'tall' (as the Ghanaians say it). In Ghana you do not pay a monthly fee, you purchase credits that you redeem through the provider and when you speak for a certain amount of time you run your credits dry and must buy more. Equivalent to pre-paid phones in America. The great thing about Vodafone was that if you buy credits in higher amounts they add bonus time to your account. If I bought 5 cedis of calling time, then they would give me a 50% bonus, making my purchase in effect, seven cedis and fifty pesawas (7.50).

Only later did I find out that if you put down major money, you could get a 75% bonus. Now that is some serious texting and talking there. If you bought 10 cedis of credit, you had on your phone 17.50 of time. To call the U.S. from Ghana would run about 1 cedi for 7 minutes of chatter. Not too bad, and calling local phones here was a little cheaper still.

There was one small catch. Your 10 cedis had an expiration date, maybe two or three months from the time you entered it on your phone. The bonus had a separate expiration date, usually earlier than the full value you added to the phone. So 10 cedis would expire in three months, the 7.50 would expire in less than half that time. Not a problem, since when you called or texted it came off the bonus credit first.

Now, enter the Internet modem. I can get a full month's service on my computer for 45 cedis. The small catch was I needed a new chip to make the modem work, I couldn't just use my phone SIM. I pay the full amount (45), add it to the SIM chip for the internet modem (am I losing you at this stage?) and get my internet connection, but then I don't get a bonus for spending 45 cedis – the internet modem doesn't have that same offer.

Transferring credits to the rescue. You can transfer credit from one phone to another and that is how a lot of people here buy their time on the phone, they just pay someone else a small fee and that someone else will transfer their credit to the other phone. I have two SIM chips, and I have two phones to place said chips into. My goal was to pay 45 cedis, two twenty cedi cards and one five cedi card, add them to my phone SIM chip, then receive the bonus minutes on my phone card. After that, I would be able to transfer the 45 cedis over to the internet SIM chip which was temporarily put in my extra phone. It sounds convoluted, but this worked.

I would get my internet modem charged up with the 45 cedis, and my phone had a bonus amounting to 32 cedis. Two birds, one giant stone.

Up until yesterday.

The internet modem credit expires after 30 short days. The phone credit expires after what appears to be 37 days (give or take). I have to wait these seven days before I can repeat the process, as when I add credits to the phone chip now, the bonus expiration date does not extend beyond the 17th of May. I found that out the hard way when I plugged in a five cedi credit to the phone. My perfect plan to game the system has a slight kink in it, but I am very thankful I have a computer lab and free internet still on campus.

I have found myself doing strange mental calisthenics to pass the time. Congratulations for reading this far.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Peace Corps Ghana Descends On Ho

We started on Sunday night, but really we started much earlier in Hohoe before the All-Volunteer Conference got underway in Ho. I had a trickle of volunteers come and go last week prior to all of us traveling to the regional capital Ho on Sunday morning. Many volunteers were making their way to and from a few places so the house stayed busy over the course of five or so days with maybe twelve visitors in all. Upon returning Thursday I realized how much cleaning I have to do.

The All-Volunteer Conference (All-Vol for short, but for some reason we do not use AVC even though it is a Peace Corps-sanctioned event) is a time for every volunteer currently serving in the country to meet up at one place and learn about programs, PCV-led initiatives, committees, and gobs of information regarding HIV. It was great to get there a bit early, enjoy the pool, and see some very familiar faces stroll into the hotel compound where we were staying. Of course everyone was there from the group that I traveled and trained with, but this also includes the volunteers who have been here more than one, two, and three years. Lots of PCVs and plenty of catching up to do from all areas of the country.

The major funder of the event is PEPFAR (see, acronyms) which stands for the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which meant that each day we devoted a majority of our conference time to learning about HIV and AIDS by way of reviewing ongoing projects that are being down by other volunteers in the field, and what type of funding can be obtained through PEPFAR grants. Towards the end of the day on Wednesday, all of us could no longer hear the word PEPFAR as an acronym but rather, it became a sentient being unto itself with eyes and ears and a dry sense of humor. PEPFAR could be very subtle at times.

Humor aside, most of the conference presented all the PCVs with a pretty thorough understanding of what is being done and what could be done in the communities in which we serve. To put it mildly, the bulk of the subject matter would not make for good web logging material as it pertains to very particular details that only matter to us here. It did help to have a good night's sleep though before the day started to make it all the way through as some topics might are far from whimsical and light.

Beyond the HIV component, we were given many opportunities to learn about PCV projects in a variety of disciplines running the gamut from girl leadership camps to how to set up a computer lab. If there was time to fill, many participants were eager to speak about what they had found to be successful in their areas. We had very little time where we just sat and stared at each other with nothing to do.

Another chance to meet with the Volta volunteers happened at our regional VAC (Volunteer Advisory Council) meeting. We got together and went over the minutes from our last meeting and voted in a new representative for the area. I don't know how close the vote was but somehow I got the nod for the duties which are just a few, and then was briefed a bit on what it might entail. It seems to be just a bit of travel and making sure that all the suggestions from the volunteers make it to the regional meeting which also needs to be scheduled by me. Sounds familiar to a few things that I have done before, so it should be fun. A Robert's Rules of Order refresher is on the horizon.

Actually, after that meeting all of the new representatives from the eight regions of Ghana got together for the national VAC meeting. We went through the concerns and addressed them in a way that seemed to suit all assembled. The last order of business was to set the new Chair and Secretary for the national group where I got a nomination as did another PCV, Jonathan Schatz. When the votes were tallied for Chair we had an even split and after some discussion, it seemed easy enough to just rotate each meeting between Chair and Secretary between the two of us. I got the Secretary spot for the first joint meeting between VAC and our Country Director and the Director of Program Training. It seemed like a decent meeting and something that I am happy to take part in.

Lastly, after serving in the group that helped plan this year's Pre-Service Training back in April, I put in my application to become a Peace Corps Trainer (yes, PCT for short) and when the conference was closing on Thursday morning I found out that I had become a trainer. There were many named so I now forget who I will see at various times, but I am sure more will be revealed as the weeks pass by.

All told, things worked out fairly well and no one was injured during the conference which was a prime objective of those organizing these events. Everyone had a lot of fun and we got to say our good-byes to those who will soon be closing out their service in just a few months. “Alls-Vol” was a resounding success in my book.