Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Last Day In Ghana

This is it.

My service is up as of the afternoon of March 21st, 2012. I am still in Accra as I type this up sitting in the computer room at the Peace Corps headquarters (with the air conditioning on at full throttle and aimed directly at me), but I am leaving for good come this evening. What one goes through at an early termination (ET) is practically the same as what one goes through for their close of service (COS), just at an earlier date which meant there was no expedited service for the process - you still must take a few days to move through the proper administrative channels and get your medical clearance, but the whole affair will take at least two days and most likely three.

Three days is a lot of time to have boring details, so we will just skip that part.

But it has been enough time here to capture glimpses of the time. The people that I have gotten to know really well, the ones who have spent a great of time helping adjust and make a happy life among the different surroundings, it all comes back. There are great times here and then are some times when you would look at the calendar and scratch your head and say, "How long do I have left again?" Most days were ok though and that was in large part to communication with loved ones back home and friends right here in Ghana. I could always count on some support from the far corners of the earth as well as right next door.

I am sure that with further reflection, I can wrap my head around the adventure. It was a wonderful experience and I will state as unequivocal fact that Ghanaians are the friendliest people that I have ever met, and I would love to return years down the line. I would really have to persuade my wife though, so it may be many many years down the line.

The final act of service by the way here in Ghana is handing over your Peace Corps identification card so that they can punch a hole in it. I think with that, you're finished. I am eager to return to get married, and I am going to say goodbye for a little while. It has been a great part of my life and I am happy and I get to add to the story by doing something wonderful now in the U.S.!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Announcement

[Belated Post]

It took the better part of ten minutes for the Principle of my school to make his observations and points to the students of the school on matters of discipline and school procedures before he came to the sad news of the week. One former board member of the school had died recently and the entire assembly stood in silence in his memory, and then he turned to news about me. Fo Kwaku was leaving as he stated. "at any point from this day forward."

Mumblings across the entire chapel as I felt a lot of eyes fall on me. I did all I could to look away or around and make sheepish grinning faces as I felt gazes staring in my direction. If it could be considered a good thing, people were decidedly against the idea which was nice, but the reasons for my early termination of service were not given in detail by the principle. Instead he said that I was being recalled by Peace Corps and let it go at that. My guess is that he didn't want to say I was quitting but that in fact was really the case.

In Peace Corps parlance, quitting is Early Termination (ETing), and it can be done at any point from the start of training until the last day of your service before you officially close out your service. So why would I terminate early was the question I faced at every step after the morning assembly concluded.

Quite simple: I was getting married!

My fiancee is still in America and she had the good fortune of finding a contest that we decided to enter. In honor of the Boston Marathon run in April, a museum in the city was promoting a marathon day of weddings for 26 lucky couples. We wrote an essay, submitted it before the deadline and figured it was less than a slim chance that our name would be pulled. On March 2nd I got a message from her that read, "We woooooon!" Our little dream of getting married was going to come true and it was all paid for and everything.

But there is the little matter of Peace Corps to return to. They will not let a volunteer marry another person without 30 days prior notice. If the intended spouse is not an American citizen, then you must wait 120 days. There was not enough time to notify Peace Corps of the intended marriage with that rule in effect which meant any marriage would be cause for ending it all, an Administrative Separation, which is a lot different than ET'ing. It would be similar to a dishonorable discharge - not what you want to end your service with. I felt that leaving early was the absolute best decision and that it was a wonderful moment to start life all over again, precisely what I felt like I was doing when I accepted the invitation to come to Ghana in the first place.

When we closed from the chapel I attended the staff meeting and was given a few moments to explain the decision to the staff present which included all of the above story, less the unromantic details of administrative separation. They said they were sad to see me leave, and that it would only be fair if I invited all of them to the wedding ceremony in Boston, to which I said, "You're invited." The principle then asked if I would be coming back after and I explained that it would be a long while before I made my way back to Ghana, but I did manage to say "Mayi mava," which is "I will go, I will come." They laughed at my poor Ewe but appreciated the effort.

From there it was making the rounds on campus and seeing the students who have gotten to know me over the course of my 20 or so months at the school. They expressed a bit of dismay at my decision until I explained the reason and then they wished me all the best. It was probably harder to see the second year students since I taught them last year and I know a few of them pretty well, but nothing compared to the way I had to tell the vice principle's family.

I have been at their house more than any other place since 2010 and I have gotten to know them very well. They have given me a place to eat for almost my entire service here at St. Francis and have been generous to the extreme end of the spectrum. When I told them on Sunday night, I knew they would be happy for me and Damla, but I also knew that they might be sad for me leaving a lot sooner then they had expected. The mom was there, her two children, and her cousin who has been my helper at the house all this time and it started off fine. They were excited that I would be married. Then I turned and saw the daughter, who is 11, crying. I felt a very empty feeling in my stomach, then my helper Leticia, left and was crying too. So after that short outburst we kept talking and things began to calm down a little bit.

It has been quite emotional and I am sure the rollercoaster is only just getting started, but for the time being it was nice to tell the community that I have grown to really love that I won't be here until the official end. It would have been hard to leave though had all the students left the campus and I was here by myself after the semester was over leaving the empty campus behind. Now I get to wave goodbye to all of my friends and say to them how much they have meant to me. Thankfully there are social sites that will allow me to keep track of the ones I have gotten to know quite well after I leave here, and I am ready, more than ready, to embrace a very wonderful life back in America.

On to the next big thing.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

It Has Been A While

That seems to be a fairly standard title for a post among Peace Corps Volunteers, especially those who are coming around the bend a bit, making their way to the conclusion of their service. As the months pass by, you tend to feel less impelled to tell the loyal readers about what the goats did outside your door, or what someone yelled to you on the way to town. In all honesty, what happened to you during the training aspect was so dutifully documented that it could just as well apply to every day thereafter and you have a good idea of the experience as a whole.

Still, posts start to decline, you talk and email to your close friends and keep them abreast of what you are up to, and then months pass by and you say to yourself, "Wait, do I still know the password to my blog?"

So it is here. The days crept by a bit slowly at first and then it wasn't days, it was weeks. I will do my best to capture the essence of 30 days or so and see how I do.

Generally speaking, it has been quiet on the campus. Last year I am certain we had adult students descend upon the grounds to continue their studies but this year the campus remained vacant between the first and second semester. That meant that my return trips from the computer lab late at night had nary a soul to chime, "Fo Kwaku" in order to say goodnight. In truth, I have gotten to greet the security guards a bit more since they are the only men who are awake with me after 11 at night.

Right on Valentine's Day I had a visitor from America arrive and we did some of the usual tourist things in the Volta region. We generally stayed around town and did small things here or there to get the flavor of life in Ghana. He was quite impressed by the hospitality and the friendliness of everyone (less so the vegetable sellers who were vehement that he not snap their pictures with his cameras), and we had a good time. During that stretch my roommate here on campus was out so we had the place to ourselves. I would say about mid-way through his stay I got a case of the intestinal blues (too much eating out or something) and we had to stay a bit closer to home for a day or two. Eventually we did make it to the waterfalls at Wli, and that in and of itself is a fun story.

My friend is an avid amateur botanist. He loved to photograph the fauna here and was always wanting to know plant species. "What's this one Dave?" he would say, ignoring the prior 48 answers I had given him to the same question: "I have no clue what that might be." Still, the walk to the falls at Wli was filled with such plants and it made for a bit of slow going. Normally I see tons of people on the path to the falls but this day we didn't see a soul except for a few locals who were going about their business. The walk itself should take about 45 minutes, but that day it was more like an hour and a half to get to our destination. Had it only been 45 minutes, we would have had the falls to ourselves completely. It would have been the first time I had experienced it in silence and I may have enjoined my friend to take the moment to quietly meditate on the beauty of nature (Ok, that is just me making stuff up, I would have just fallen asleep on a bench or something).

But at the precise moment where I told him that the falls were just ahead, three boys came running up the trail dressed in school uniforms. They greeted us and sprinted past. Four more went racing by and then even more. A high school from Hohoe had made a field trip to the falls and no sooner could we hear the rushing water then we could also hear the screams of the students shouting in merriment. Most Ghanaians have heard that if you yell and shout, more water will come over the cliff. I have no idea who started that novel idea, but I was aghast that our silent quasi-meditative state was lost. Now we had to share.

I took maybe five minutes to be upset and then several of the students came up to the both of us and started to ask us questions. It was great again, and the happiness started to flow. For the first time I decided to hop into the water and join the kids under the falls. The water was chilly and the laughter never stopped. It was incredibly fun and after I left the falls, every student it seemed wanted to have their photo taken with me in my t-shirt and swimming trunks. I felt more like a TV star than a PCV. Sometimes life has a way of making a good situation out of a bad one without you having to do anything to mess it up.

That was a good memory to take away from that day. Sometimes life has a way of saying, "Here, try this change on for size and see if it fits." I am just happy that I have said, "Sure," on several of those occasions.

After my friend left I had about two days where the house was empty until more fun ensued. My roommate Taka asked to have a going away party for one of his fellow volunteers and it seemed like a great excuse to have a whole bunch of people over. Let me tell you one thing: the Japanese know how to have a great time anywhere. It was a barbeque of out-sized proportions and we all had a great time. All the cooking and logistics were handled by his friends and all I had to do was accept having 12 strangers stay in the house for 24 hours; the perfect entertainment combination. Several PCVs showed up as well, and we all had a good time sending Jun (pronounced like the month) off on his merry way. It would be great to have other parties just like that in the future, but we shall see how the timing works out.

Everyone is gone now though, and the rains (remember it was dry season when I last wrote) are coming down in buckets. Thunder is rumbling away and I can hear the water cascading off the roof and into the cement channels around the perimeter of the house's foundation. Everything has turned green in the past two weeks too which makes the land look so much better - there were far too many burned-out patches on the ground from fires set to clear brush and leaves and trash. It definitely has the feel of the tropics again.

I am going to promise more posts in the very near future, but as for now, Ghana is still here and so am I.