Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Slow Period

Our students are in their first week of a two-week period of exams. The Cape Coast tests are 60% of their overall grade and if you want to see a quiet campus, then these two weeks will be the time to come. No one is wasting any time walking or talking with friends, they all have books open, pens and pencils at the ready, and lots of time poring over the facts and formulas that their tests will question them on.

The lab has been, with absolutely zero physical changes, transformed into a quiet study hall at night. At about 7 or 7:30PM each night the doors open up and students walk in and occupy a chair and a small bit of desk space in order to revise (study) their notes. Most don't bother turning on a computer as they need to stay away from the distractions, but I am happy to oblige any that do need to have a break and just relax for 15 minutes. Unfortunately for every student here the internet connection is so slow that the 15 minutes could turn into 40 if they don't mind the time. Too many people on at once slows our speed down at prodigious clips. I was having concerns of leaving Facebook running but decided against it as it may be the only fun thing they get to partake in during these two weeks.

When the students are finished they will depart and then the next thing I get to look forward to is my friend form the states visiting close to the middle of February. Maybe we can do some more exploring around here and turn up some new things to do. My hope is for lots of fun and again to see the country through the eyes of the first-time visitor. I think I will skip the trip to the jam-packed Tudu station this time though. Unless he wants to just get right into it.

A fun story from last night before I stop here. I ran home last night near 6 or 7 and found that my housemate was in the kitchen making something to eat. I headed straight for the bathroom as I stay hydrated to a fault. While in the water closet I could hear loud footsteps sounding as though my housemate was taking a bit of exercise while he was in the kitchen. It then occurred to me that I might have seen a bat in the kitchen earlier in the day that may have still been hanging around. In hindsight, I should have extricated the bat then, but the story would not be as fun.

Sure enough I found him saying, "Bat!" as I walked to the kitchen. The poor bat was stuck in there. They usually find their way out but he was taking a couple of breaks from the flight circles, so I had the chance to toss a bowl over him while he sat down on the floor. Sliding a manila folder under the bowl gave me the chance to pick the little fellow up and escort him outside. I don't believe Taka is an animal lover, but he was relieved that the little fellow was released back outside to freedom.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

What Accounts For A Storm In Dry Season

If you have been reading the last few posts, then you already know that dry season has been visiting my neighborhood for the past two or so months with little let up. Each day the sky turns a light dusty white color and you never see a stitch of blue sky, nor a cloud to speak of. Today a very strange thing happened in the morning, it was quite dark outside.

When I woke up it seemed to me to be a bit too dark for the time. Sure enough when I went out the back door of the house to hang up my towel, I could clearly make out the boundaries of dark clouds which I have not noticed in weeks. But to have borders meant there was a sky to see around them and hence I could witness blue for the first time in a long time. I wasn't confused into thinking that the dry season was over but I was a bit relieved to see something approaching a normal view upstairs.

Then tonight I got the full effect. It started with a slight fuzz of a sound. The curtains tossed around on the open windows and sure enough, the fuzz which started off inaudible turned into a full buzz. The rain was hitting the sheet metal roof and the sound was reminiscent of the October storms. I ran outside to put my bike under a roofed enclosure and expected to see the torrents come down but... no. Nothing more than about one hundred drops and it was over. It barely made the dust and dirt budge and then no more. Later there were flashes of lightning in the night sky, but even those were hard to see through the dust in the air.

It would seem that the rain didn't see it's shadow - two more months of dry season.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Have You Walked Up A Staircase Lately?

Just for a moment, consider the last staircase you walked up or down in your life. Can you recall anything about it? Was there any difference that was notable or did you just see the stairs and then move from one story to the other? My guess is that if you live in America, then no, there was nothing particularly unusual about the staircase - maybe you noticed a chip in the paint on the handrail or that their is a bit of dirt on the third stair. I think I can expand a little bit on stairs here in Ghana from a recent experience.

There was a recent In-Service Training (IST, naturally) for our newest education volunteers which was held just outside of Kumasi. The trip out and back were most definitely worthy of a post here, but that will be later. Peace Corps held the workshop at a hotel that felt like it was 50 miles away from Kumasi but in reality was probably about 10; traffic is so bad around the Kumasi area that walking would feel far faster than sitting in a taxi. Still, the hotel was very nice. The rooms had air-conditioning and a water heater in every room in case you wanted to take a warm shower. It was a beautiful hotel and one where a lot of money was spent to create a building that had four floors of good-sized rooms. Tile was everywhere and TVs that worked in each room.

Every morning I would descend the steps to get breakfast in the lobby and each morning I would make a mental note of which steps were completely different. I could lose count before I was finished with the first flight of stairs. I would dare say that in this very fine hotel, one where a lot of money was spent to make things nice enough for international travelers, no one step was a carbon copy of any other step. Like snowflakes, each one had a unique character, and by character, we really mean exaggerated flaw. Several steps were not even close to parallel either, they jutted out in completely random direction as if someone purposefully liked to change the lines to create "visual interest".

In the morning it was not so bad, you are walking down the stairs and the foot lands when it lands but there is not as much danger of a stumble. Unless of course you found the one set where there was a miniature bonus step added to the top stair. No, the morning commute was fine. It was the evenings when you were a little tired (or as some volunteers tried it, tipsy) that the steps posed a safety hazard. There were so many variances in step height that you could not keep track of which one was the odd man out. Was it the first set on the second floor where the third and eighth step were too high? No, it was the third step of the third flight which was out of sequence. I tripped at least six times on those things and I knew they were there.

This problem exists in a lot of buildings here in Ghana, too. The steps seem to be made from the ground up and at some point the people checking the steps realize two-thirds of the way up that they have to make up 3" of extra space in one direction or the other. If you were employed only to do this type of work there surely would be some form of trick or shortcut that would give workers a better method of consistency, spacing the rise and run of each step to be similar to the previous one and the next. My hope is to post a photograph of the first stair case that I would climb down in the morning - it was comical.

It is one of the endearing things about Ghana I think, but I am not sure I will miss it when I leave.

Here was the photograph mentioned above:

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Dry Season Means Dirt Season

Being gone for about 25 days meant that upon my return to the house there was a tiny little bit of cleaning to do in the house. Every square inch of horizontal service collected 25 days worth of microscopic particles while both me and my housemate were away. The floors are spattered with footprints, and if you stamp your foot somewhat hard on the floor, then you will see curls and tendrils of dirt curl through the air. It is really dusty here.

Even in the bedroom where the windows were mainly shut and the door was closed, there is dust everywhere. I found my mechanical pencil on my sketchbook and was hoping that maybe with the windows closed that not as much dust had made its way in there. Carefully I plucked the pencil off the cover of the sketchbook and sure enough it appeared as though an x-ray had been taken with the pencil clearly showing up in a perfect outline of dirt. This was going to be difficult to clean out, and worse, I had this very bad feeling that my bed and the linens sitting there beside the desk were equally as covered with the mere beginnings of dry season here. Everything is going to need a washing (or a heavy whacking) to get the dust loose. Even when sweeping it out you can physically taste the dirt that is clouding up the room as the broom brushes over the floor.

Worse is that after cleaning out the house, it is only going to get dusty again and leave us with no other option but to sweep and dust more. Maybe I knew this was coming but for some reason having the entire house covered in dust was not the grand reception that I was hoping for. Oh, and the two bats that were in the house as well.

It's the little things like that which I will miss I suppose.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Holiday Summary

The holidays have come and gone and it appears that this site has been rather bereft of updates and posts. Someone must have been asleep at the switch, operator-error in the parlance of the computing world, and things have been a bit slow. So now would be a good time to change that. For what it is worth I have been contemplating writing a bit more on life. Several people that I saw over Christmas and New Years' gave me positive feedback on the updates so I want to continue with them and at the same time practice my writing, honing the craft a bit more in preparation for the return to the real world of American life.

With that in mind, this is a wrap-up of the trip out and back for Christmas. I took about three weeks to travel back to the states and see my girlfriend and family as well as a bit of time to just relax away the days better than I can in Hohoe. Leaving on the 14th meant that I would fly during the night into Amsterdam and then proceed after a few hours of layover-time on to Boston. Damla was there and as a precaution had a jacket ready for me so that I would not freeze upon walking outside. Fortunately it was a nice day for the northeast and that meant I could manage without too many extra layers. The coat would definitely come in handy later on during the trip though.
My initial thoughts on being back were that things had not changed much since I had left. There was still order in the streets, dogs on leashes, and commercials blazing from every surface imaginable trying to encourage the people to go out and use those credit cards to add just a few more precious gifts under the tree. I had forgotten how much media pushes people to buy things without a television or radio in my life here in Ghana. No Christmas music either. That was corrected within seconds of being back on the ground in the airport as it was all that was playing and being advertised.

Still, it was good to be back, and the idea that the holidays would be had with family and friends made me feel very happy and peaceful. A majority of time was spent in Boston but for about 8 days we were driving around the country on a mission to visit people. Unfortunately there was only so much time to get around here or there and so much energy was left in the tank by the end of the trip that I couldn't make it to everyone I wanted to see. In all, we traveled 2,000 or more miles to make a road trip that would put a long-haul trucker... well, they probably do that on a Monday and call it a good day. But still, for the two of us, it was a bit of an accomplishment.

We managed to do this as boyfriend and girlfriend at first, but after Christmas day we could drive all over America as an engaged couple. I proposed to Damla on the 25th and she said, "Yes" which is a whole lot better than, "Let me think about it and get back to you." We are both very happy and had a great time as the husband- and wife-to-be that we were.

It isn't already obvious, Christmas and New Year's Eve were great and I had a lot of food to eat which I don't have in great supply here in Ghana. Ice cream, gallons of coffee (not an exaggeration either), almost a half-gallon of eggnog, meat that is cooked to perfection and things that are deep fried to that golden goodly crispness. Everything was fantastic and by the end of the vacation I really didn't have any more need for it. When I come back permanently I might try eating a few "bad" foods for a week, but I find that I much rather like the taste of good things prepared well as compared to having unhealthy things that taste sweet or fatty. That, and I watched many reruns of the show "Chopped" from the Food Network. Why anyone should know how to cook rose petals is beyond me.

As with many things in life that are good, this trip was much too short. After the kisses and goodbyes were over, it was always off to the next thing. Eventually that had to be the airport in Boston, and both Damla and I said some long goodbyes before I boarded the plane to Rome. Much of the trip was uneventful save for an overhead panel falling down in the seat ahead of me. Alitalia may not be seeing me use their fine services for the return flight to the U.S. A great trip made even better by everyone I got to see. Thanks especially to my mom and Damla for taking great care of me and seeing to it that I got fatter for the stay.

One thing is for sure: next year I will be home for Christmas and I won't have to fly in an airplane or be at an airport for 24+ hours to do it! (Enter the Christmas music 11 months too early)