Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanks Have Been Given

It is two full days back at Hohoe and I still feel like it happened way too fast. The Ambassador to Ghana invited those in the embassy and all of the Peace Corps volunteers in the country to his house so they could enjoy the pleasures of a very splendid turkey dinner with all the trimmings and the best Thanksgiving you can get while you are thousands of miles away from home. This year I almost didn't make it.

We tend to get the announcement that there is an invite waiting for us when the September newsletter is circulated to all of the PCVs in-country. It clearly states that you are invited but that you must RSVP to reserve a place for you on the guest list. Naturally, I made a mental note of that and promptly forgot to do so five seconds later. By the end of October I had talked to one or two volunteers who said that they would be seeing me at Thanksgiving when I realized that I hadn't responded yet. Typical.

It was by the goodness of one lady's heart that she overlooked my lateness and added my name in pencil to the bottom of the list. I am not sure if I was the last to respond, but there were plenty ahead of me on the sheet of paper that I saw. Sometimes Peace Corps is strict about their regulations, but in the end I was incredibly thankful to have them bend the rules.

Thanksgiving last year was almost identical to this year save for the fact that now my group was the old group and the new group was eager to understand what they were in for when the food came out. The chefs and staff at the Ambassador's residence still know how to put on an edible show as the feast began at 2PM and didn't really stop until 4 with dessert. I tried my best to not be gluttonous but a second helping of mashed potatoes could not be resisted, and an extra slice of pie (or three) was also there for the taking with some extremely fine coffee. I was satiated and then some.

With most of the volunteers in one spot you could walk no more than eight feet and not stop to talk to someone about how things were going and what they planned on doing next. Maybe after talking to one hundred people and having been up since 5 that morning in order to catch a tro-tro to Accra the day had grown on me a bit. Being just a little weary and finding out that I could stay with an returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) who was living with her family in Accra, I begged out of joining others for more fun in the city and went to the family's house. It was just what the doctor ordered: I had a quiet place and a very fast internet connection. It allowed me plenty of time to chat with and call my girlfriend back in the States, and provided for a serene evening of air-conditioned comfort. Also, a swimming pool.

There is one thing though that makes the trip to Accra a bit painful. Leaving it. I am not a big fan of the city and while it has plenty to offer for everyone, I am much too used to the quiet days and the roosters calling at all hours. It just seems more like home when there is less noise, smoke, and people around. To get home on the very next day, Friday, meant that I had to find a Hohoe tro in the afternoon. It was not very easy at all. When I walked into the park that operates as a central Volta station I saw three or four long lines of passengers waiting and absolutely no vehicles. That isn't a good sign. On Fridays there is never enough tro-tros to fill the demand. Hence, a long line. Oh, and the price escalates by two cedis for the trip.

I made friends with the man that I stood behind in the queue. Soon, maybe 20 minutes or so, someone approached him and spoke very briefly. Emmanuel turned around (he was dressed nicely and I assume that since his shirt had the words Ministry of Health that he worked there, seemed like an eminently trust-able soul) and motioned me to follow him. It pays to greet people here.

We walked for maybe a half-mile to a station that I had never seen before that seemed to be at the heart of a wild labyrinth of market stalls selling everything from smoked fish to purse imports from China. Sure enough though, at the end of our meandering path there stood before us the dilapidated tro-tro that would take us home. I landed in the flip-out seat in the second-to-last row (the last row housing several pieces of automotive hardware which were in need of repair) next to a very big father and his children. It was tight, hot, and uncomfortable and we waited for about 40 more minutes for the last person to arrive so that we could make our exit.

This is not to complain, as the trip back and forth from where I live to Accra is a fifth of what others go through to come down from their homes, but it does not make it any more pleasant or easy to bounce along and know that others have it worse.

By about 7 o'clock I was back in town and a few more minutes later I was at the house resting. It is always nice to see other volunteers and to be treated to very American foods, but at times all you want to do is go back to the place you call home.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Back To The Radio Station

Just yesterday I had a fun if unexpected moment at the school. While teaching students the difference between a bulleted list and a numbered list a student from another class walked in and asked for my phone number. She was told to do this by another teacher whose name I was not quite sure about. After I gave her the number it took about ten minutes for me to receive the call and soon I figured out who the teacher was but I was still thrown a bit by the message. "Go see the station manager at Heritage FM."

Why was she giving me the message? What did the station manager want and was I in some sort of trouble? I got done with the class and made my way to find the teacher in question. Alberta (a few months pregnant and in need of a chair outside of her class to rest a bit) explained that she had a radio program with the station on Wednesdays about marital issues, hence she knew the station manager. He had called her up as the station had lost my number and asked Alberta to send me the message. She didn't know what they wanted but said I should just take a taxi and head over to the station. After thanking her and teasing her a bit, I found my bike and rode down the road to the station.

The manager was there and I sat down to hear what he had to say. He was offering me a chance to do a radio promo for them which is not what I would call an urgent message or request, but one that turned out to be pretty fun. They do their promo spots in-house and they had a few scripted messages for me to look at and repeat. It seemed a little silly, but also it was a great break from the regular stuff so I said that I would give it a try.

The station itself is in what I would describe as a small house walled off from its neighboring buildings. As you enter the building from the front, just off to your right is the production studio. To say studio makes you think of something from the movies or television where there are two rooms, the audio engineer sits behind a bank of a thousand dials and knobs and she or he looks through a big glass window to the recording area beyond where the talent delivers the music or voice that will be heard by millions. For this studio, picture a six foot by eight foot room completely covered from wall to ceiling with egg-crate foam and one air conditioning unit humming away to keep the room cool. There was not a lot of space to walk around or move, and I was the fourth person to enter the room so it was crowded. Two desks held the audio mixing board and the computer that would save the tracks that were recorded.

This is not the same studio where we recorded the health program, that is in the room next door. This place is just meant to do recordings and it was where I would be speaking. They gave me the sheet of promos and showed me what they had in mind for me to read. I wish I had memorized the one passage they had me say as it was the silliest thing I have ever said into a microphone (I think, I have said some silly things in my time) but it boiled down to, "I have traveled the world and have never found a radio station that gave me so much pleasure as Heritage FM, 107.3" After I did a few takes of this passage, they had one they liked and they did just ten seconds of post production to it. They played it for me on their rather nice speakers and I was rather impressed my voice could sound the way it did. I didn't get a copy of the file, but when I return I will ask around to see if someone can give it to me.

What would be even better is to hear it on the radio and say to whoever is near me, "That's me!"

Sometimes the small things here can make you smile and have a good day. I should note that while I was enjoying myself at the studio I was not preparing for our ICT Club meeting. I drafted notes earlier in the morning for the one-hour session but didn't refine or practice what I was to cover during my lecture. That had a negative consequence to what I went over. You can't win them all I suppose. It just means I will try a bit harder for our next club meeting whilst I listen to the radio in town for their promo spots.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

A New Housemate In Hohoe

It is finally official, I have a second body staying permanently in the house here at campus. St. Francis College has received a new volunteer by the name of Yoshitaka and he is living in our house fully now. He was here for a short time in Hohoe last month for training purposes, but he was not living with me. He had a homestay family of his own in town that treated him to some Ewe lessons and made him feel right at home in Ghana with plenty of food. After a trip back to Accra he came back this past Friday for good to live on campus.

He is enjoying the new routine I think and has been very gracious in allowing the house here to remain a way-station for other people who are traveling up and down through the Volta region. After he arrived I had two volunteers stay on two consecutive nights and he was all right with the arrangement. That was a small concern of mine: that he might not like a lot of company. He was very clear in saying that he enjoys being social and likes to relax with a beer every so often. I told him my personal preference for socializing and a Malta and we are communicating nicely.

Today was church day (like clockwork, every first Sunday of the month) and Taka, as he prefers to be called, and I went to do our duty. It was a fun service yet again, however they continue to run into the 2 and a half hour zone. The service could really be sped up if they just passed a collection plate between the pews instead of having everyone get up and dance-walk their way to the front of the church to drop in their coins or bills. Maybe I should suggest this efficiency to Father Akpa in the near future. With a few more suggestions, I bet I could get the entire Mass down to 39 minutes! "Communion could be handed out while you pass the donation plates around."

Currently I am sitting in our computer lab. I left the lab yesterday thinking that the power was out in Hohoe as there was no electricity humming in the lab itself. When I got home I saw we had power - what luck! Today I learn that our lab still has no power and that the other buildings on campus do have power. Apparently just the lab and maybe one other building block are out of juice. I didn't know this until today. Our electrician is traveling and tomorrow in Ghana it is a holiday so it looks like we might not have someone available to work on this small hiccup. That would be bad since today is the first day where I have people participating in a working meeting of the ICT Club. Hardware can be a trick to fix when you don't have electricity but we'll manage, "...somehow".

Friday, November 04, 2011

A Trip Up To Nkwanta

Recently I made an overnight trip to the Nkwanta region to see a few of our northern Volta volunteers. It was Halloween and many suggested a party to celebrate and that seemed like a great excuse to make the trek. Most who know me here can count on me being at the house or at that computer lab when they pass through Hohoe since that is where I usually am 99% of the time. But that needed to change. Off to the north I went.

The main complaint about the trip is the quality of the ordeal you go through. Not quite torture by any stretch of the imagination, but difficult for sure. The road heading north is about half pavement (gravel dropped on top of a layer of hot tar) and half dirt. The pavement part seems a luxury after you have been riding on the dirt for a few hours, but even that part can stand some infrastructure improvements when compared to other roads in the south. Still, the bulk of your fun stems from the dirt portion of your trip. The road has seen torrential rains for the past three months so its condition would leave a civil engineer in the states scratching their heads: do vehicles still use this road?

Absolutely. The biggest trucks in Ghana regularly use the road to deliver produce (tons and tons of yams) to the south and goods back up to the north. So picturing big heavy trucks lumbering up and down a thoroughly drenched dirt road and you have an idea of the damage that is possible. At a few key points the land is too low - about even with the water table it would seem - and the road becomes a pit. Fortunately when I passed back and forth, the rain held off for a day or two so the mud was firmly packed, but the tro-tro had to gingerly make its way into the trough, riding on the ridges left behind by the wider tracks left by the yam trucks.

Since it was drying out a bit, the dust on the road is everywhere inside the tro when you are finished with the journey. My clothes were a mess and when I stepped out of the vehicle I was reminded of the character Pigpen from the Peanuts comic strip, a haze around me as I tried to knock the dust off my jeans.

All in all though, the trip was very much worth it. I stayed at a volunteers house and got to see what village life would be like were I not placed in a rather large town. Lots of people passing by and saying hello using a language that I haven't the faintest idea how to hear or speak, and a beautiful scene at sunset. I don't get those so often here (or maybe I do, but I am in the computer lab helping someone's laptop see the wireless signal again).

I don't travel much in Ghana but I think I could be convinced to make a long trip before my service is up to see some other Peace Corps Volunteer sites and to experience what others have. It was the farthest north that I have been since arriving I think and well worth the bumps on the road to get there. A very kind thank you to those PCVs who showed me around!

Making A Long Distance Connection

Way back when, maybe at the beginning of 2010 when I knew I was going to come to Ghana, I filled out a form for the Coverdell World Wise Schools program whereby a member from the Peace Corps connects with a school back in America. My teacher and I have been in touch and it looks like we can get the students connected while separated by thousands of miles and a small body of water.

A few weeks back we had our first connection and it was a lot of fun.

We used just a normal phone line to make the connection and I think we spoke for about 45 minutes. All of the students had a question about what life is like, what the students here do and what it might be like to be in a class in Hohoe. I tried my best to answer the questions but I let them know that my experience here was with a different age group. The students that they were more interested are around 10 to 12 years in age I think, so my students who can be young-ish adults don't quite match up so well. We managed though, and I had a lot of fun telling them about fufu, banku, and the other Ghanaian dishes and customs that one finds here.

We are going to try to make another connection and I have in mind using our ICT Club here to organize a project that will show what life mightt be like here using videos and photos of school. It seems to be very interesting to the students in my classes, and I am hopeful that the students back in Ms. Tinney's class get a kick out of it too.