Friday, July 17, 2009

I am now finishing my 11th week here in Ghana, which means I will be back home in Canada in 4 weeks from now. Honestly, I do not know where the time has gone! At the beginning of my time here everything seemed to go by so slowly that at times I felt I would never be going home. But now every day seems to pass faster than the previous day. Things are starting to blur together in my mind and I am kicking myself that I have not been writing more in my journal, or keeping up more regularly with my blog. I am sorry that this instalment of adventures and new experiences has taken me so long.

I do not even remember where I left you hanging in my stream of crazy stories, but I do believe the next big adventure was to the city of Kumasi.

Kumasi is the capital of the Ashanti region and has the reputation of being the cultural capital of Ghana. As always this trip was full of adventures (some which I would like to repeat, others…). The adventure began with a very exciting tro-tro ride. It is approximately a five hour journey from Nsawam to Kumasi. I had never really considered how dangerous the tro’s are here until Nick began to enthusiastically share stories of terrifying tro accidents with me. He definitely thought we were not going to make it to Kumasi. Thankfully though, we had a fairly tame tro driver. It always astounds me to see how some of the people here drive. They all drive as if they are part of NASCAR, and have absolutely no regard for the rules of the road. They pass when there is oncoming traffic and just barely manage to merge back into the correct lane before they get hit! The amount of almost car accidents I have seen here blows my mind. There was also a tremendous thunderstorm while we were driving (which did not make Nick feel any safer). The storms here are absolutely incredible! I love the raw power behind them. It was even more exciting because the window next to me did not fully close and the roof of the tro was leaking right above my head. It all made me laugh though which is good. I do not think you could survive here without a positive attitude and a sense of humour!

When we arrived in Kumasi we met up with some of the other Canadian volunteers we had gotten to know during orientation. It was so nice to see them again! It was also extremely nice to be able to talk to the girls about the school system in Ghana. They are working at a school in the Western region and are going through some of the same struggles I am having right now. It was sad to realize how far spread the problems are, but in a strange way nice to know I am not the only one going through these struggles.

On Saturday we went out to explore the city. It was a very cool place! We went to the cultural centre and were able to see all of the local crafts being made. It was so interesting to see the local artists making the pottery, carving the drums, weaving the Kinte clothe and creating beautiful paintings. It was very fascinating to spend time with the artists and learn more about their lives. I love how friendly people here are! I ended up leaving with a very beautiful traditional drum. I am not really sure how I am going to get it home, but I will cross that bridge when I come to it. After spending hours at the cultural centre we made our way across the city to the largest open air market in West Africa. It was absolute insanity! I had thought the markets in Accra were large before, but they cannot hold a candle to this market! It is a big sea of ‘organized’ chaos. I do not think I have ever been so turned around and lost before. I am thoroughly impressed that people can find there way around that market every day and know exactly where their respective stalls/booths are. I also do not think I have ever been grabbed at and pulled in all directions so many times. At one point when we were trying to find our way out of the market I got separated from everyone else and swept away in a sea of people. I must say that it was one of the most nerve racking experiences of my life. I had no idea where everyone else was, and could not stop to look for them because the current of people moving ensured you moved right along with them. I did not like to be totally separated from everyone I knew and at the same time have absolutely no idea how to get out of the market. At one point one lady grabbed onto my skirt, a man grabbed my arm and another person grabbed the drum on my back and they all started to pull me in different directions at the same time. My stress level was hitting peak highs =) I eventually found my way back to the group and we finally found out way out of the market maze. It was an absolutely chaotic at times, but it was definitely never boring.

When Nick and I arrived back in Fotobi/Obodan we both turned to each other, and almost in unison said, “It looks like home”. It is crazy how comfortable and at home I feel in the village now. It is strange that a place that is so different from anything you have ever known before can feel so normal and comfortable. It is also strange how close to people you can feel in such a short time. Nick is virtually the exact opposite person I am, yet we have become close friends during our time here. It is always interesting to talk to him about anything and everything really because we have such different views, values and opinions. This summer has definitely moulded me in many ways, and by discussing my opinions with someone who feels so differently I have really been pushed to critically re-evaluate what I believe and why. It has already been an amazing summer of personal growth, and it is not even finished.

FAWE, and in particular the school I am working at, are in a lot of financial trouble right now. The major funding source for the school was the Rockefeller foundation; however about a year ago they lost all of that funding when the foundation decided to switch its focus from education to the environment. As a result funds are very tight at the school. The teachers here had not been paid for four months! I know now why they sometimes come to school and sometimes don’t. It must be hard to show up everyday when you have not been paid for months. I cannot imagine what would happen back home if teachers had not been paid in that long! They definitely would not still be showing up to school that is for sure. A few days before midterm break the teachers decided enough was enough and threatened to not return after the break if they did not receive some payment. Some of the teachers barely had money left to buy food. It is amazing the dedication they show to the girls by continuing to work. FAWE was able to come up with one month’s salary for every one in two days. It makes us all a little suspicious that they were able to come up with the money so quickly, yet they had not paid the teachers in such a long time.

I am continuing to struggle with some aspects of school life here, particularly the punishment. It is so far from anything I have ever known before. Thankfully they do not use the cane here at my school (the other Canadian girls working in the Western region still have the cane at their school), but they have many other punishments that I find just as hard to witness. I know that it is not my place to pass judgement on a system; however I have noticed that at almost every level of society you will find people who were once abused by those in power now abusing those they have power over. It is a vicious cycle, and I am sad to say I do not see an end to it in the near future (I also do not know how they would be able to fully break the system). I have been able to talk to some of the teachers about the punishment here though because they have asked me what punishment we use in Canada. It always surprises them when I tell them how we run classes back in Canada. It is an interesting conversation. I am not sure if it will change anything, but it is always good to know that there are a diverse range of responses to different issues that arise in the classroom, and some do not include physical punishment or humiliation. I know that it is something that I will struggle with till the end, and I will probably continue to wrestle with it when I return home.

My next great adventure after Kumasi was during Midterm break for the school. I had 4 days off and decided to make the most of them by travelling to the North of Ghana to Mole National Park, and as always it was full of adventures. The first adventure in the trip was the bus to Tamale (a 12 -14 hour journey). We arrived at the station early to make sure we did not miss the 3 o’clock bus. However at 3:15 there was no bus in sight and the station was practically deserted…not a good feeling. When we asked at the desk we were told we were at the wrong station and that we had to go to the other side. I do not think we have ever run so fast in our lives. We were petrified to miss the bus because it would throw off the entire trip. I have never been so thankful for the fact that things do not run on time here in Ghana. The bus ended up being 2 hours late, not a very fun wait, but I was extremely grateful we did not miss it! It was an overnight bus which is apparently not very safe to take. I realized how unsafe it must really be when two armed cops came onto the bus to be security for the ride. It is one of the first times I have been excited to have cops with big guns around. Bus rides here are always exciting for a variety of reasons, but the overnight bus takes the prize for being the most exciting ride. Rode conditions are questionable at best (which results in the bus ride feeling more like a rollercoaster). They also feel the need to constantly be showing movies…Nigerian movies. I do not know if any one has ever had the unfortunate privilege of sitting through a Nigerian movie, but if it is an experience you can avoid I suggest you do. It is some of the worst acting I have ever seen before in my life, not to mention the most ridiculous special effects. Actually I may try to bring one home just to be able to share the experience with you. It would not be so bad if they just played it normally, but they feel the need to blast the volume (even throughout the night). At midnight they hauled us all off the bus to do a mechanical safety check of the bus (I am not really sure why this did not happen before we began our journey…). The bus also made a stop at 2:30 in the morning for people to get off the bus to buy food from women still selling bread and other such food stuffs by the side of the road. I have no idea why the women were still up, I have a feeling they wait all night for any busses that may come though in hopes of making some more money. It was much different from any bus ride I have ever been on in Canada that is for sure. But it was a great start to the adventure.

We made it into Tamale at 4:45 am on Sunday. Amelie and I decided it would be a good idea to take turns sleeping on the benches until 6. We then ventured to find a way to get to Mole National Park (about 5 hours from Tamale). The only bus that goes mole was not going to leave until 4 pm. We really did not want to wait for 10 hours. We decided to try and bargain down a taxi. What a crazy adventure within itself! Eventually we got a taxi to agree to take us to Mole and our next leg of the journey began. It was about 4 1/2 hour drive down one of the worst road I have yet to see in Ghana. By the time we made it to the park Am and I were completely covered head to toe in red dust! It was actually kind of disappointing when it washed off, I thought I had a really good tan =) After being dropped at the park gates we had a 2 km hike into the park. All in all, from the time we arrived at the bus station to the time we made it to the park was about 21-22 hours. Thankfully it was well worth the journey.

Not long after we arrived and had gone for a swim, we had our first encounter with warthogs and baboons! It was crazy to see them so close. The baboons are very cute and funny to watch, but can be very dangerous at the same time so you have to be careful. They try to break into the rooms to steal your things, and it is not uncommon for them to jump onto your table while you are eating and steal your food. Always very exciting! I went on a walking safari later that afternoon. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life! While walking around I was confused by something that I smelt. It seemed so familiar, yet I could not place what it was. Turns out it was a mixture of wild mint and age. I saw so many interesting plants, not to mention wildlife! There were so many different types of monkey’s and antelope running everywhere. And let me not forget the elephants! My guide was amazing and he was able to track down a little family of elephants. They were no more then 10-15 feet away from me. It is incredible how silent they are! You would think that they would make a lot of noise because they are so large, but if it was dark they could have walked by and I would have never known. We also walked through an area frequented by hyenas, but thankfully did not see any =) It was one of the most magnificent things I have ever experienced! One thing I did not anticipate was the intense Northern sun. I did not think it could be much stronger then the sun in the Eastern region, but I was sorely mistaken (literally I was sore from my sunburn).

We ended up crashing pretty early that night (not all that much to do once the sun goes down at Mole because you can no longer see the animals). It was good though because it meant we were up early to watch the animals play in the waterhole. We saw a whole herd of elephants go walking by, and I guess they forgot one because the next thing we saw was one lone elephant running like crazy to catch up blowing his horn? Trunk? I do not know how to describe it haha making a lot of noise anyways. It was a very cool thing to see. I love elephants. I wish I could bring a baby elephant home with me, but it would definitely be over the weight limit for baggage! =)

Later we went to a little mud hut village about 12 km from the park. They are trying to start an eco tourism program. It was really interesting to spend time in the village playing with the kids and seeing the different way of life there. It is constantly astounding how much diversity there is within Ghana. It is a small country, but it is one of the richest in terms of cultural diversity that I have ever seen before. We ended up going on a canoe safari down a river not to far from the village. It was another absolutely incredible experience. Unfortunately we did not see as many animals as some other people have in the past, but it was still very interesting! After the canoe safari it started to rain a little so we had to hurry to get back to the park. The only mode of transportation… a motorcycle! I went on my first ever motorcycle ride down a dirt road in Africa in the rain. It was one of the most terrifying and exhilarating experiences of my life. When we made it back to the park we sat and watched the storm roll in over the valley. Watching storms roll in is an amazing experience, and the thunder and lighting here is incredible! I am a sucker for a good thunderstorm.

The next morning our journey began at 3:30 am on a bus back to Tamale. It was quite an exciting bus ride. I really do not understand some of the systems they have here. I also do not understand why everyone always feels the need to yell about everything. There is no such thing as a normal conversation. People do not wait for other people to finish what they are saying before they start yelling. As a result it is a lot of people all trying to yell over each other. It is amazing that anything is able to get done!

We made it into Tamale at around 9 am and spent the day wandering the city. We caught the 4 pm over night bus back to Accra which was even more eventful then the night bus to Tamale. It is very interesting how a person’s true character comes out when they are tired. It is much harder to put on a false front, and weaknesses become excruciatingly clear. Unfortunately I was a little disappointed by what I saw in people I had counted to be close friends, but I guess that is part of life. We got back to Accra at 5:30 am. I went back to Amelie’s place for a while to wait until the sun came up a little more before beginning my next transit adventure to get back to my little village of Obodan - I had to catch 3 different tro’s. I caught the first one without any difficulty and it took me to circle station (one of the biggest tro stations in Accra). From there I had to find a tro going to Nsawam (the larger town near my village). Most people are very helpful in the station and they point you in the correct direction to find the tro you need. However I had an unfortunate run in with one very large young man who grabbed both my arms and would not let me go. I was trying to fight him off, but his grip was to strong. Not to long after, some other guys saw what was happening and came to my rescue. I do not understand what he though he would accomplish by grabbing me in a very open place. Anyways, the other guys got me away safely and I made it without a hitch back to Nsawam and then to Obodan. I did however learn a Twi phrase that will come in very handy here – jah meh – it means ‘leave me alone’. I do not know why guys seem to feel the need to grab me and try to pull me places I do not want to go here, but I am glad to know how to say leave me alone (and I am not scared to make a scene anymore). Usually Nick is with me and can intervene when I get grabbed, but last week when he had his back turned I was grabbed by 3 different guys and was starting to be pulled away before he heard what was happening. However I am learning how to make a scene very well if need be.

I am finding the gender attitudes here to be extremely tiring. I am always astounded by some men’s attitudes towards me and other women. When I was in the North I do not think I went past a village without seeing the women working away cooking and doing the wash while the men were all sitting under trees in the shade talking to one another. Men here are unwilling to help with the household work and expect the women to take care of everything they want. At the school I am really struggling with how some of the other male teachers interact with me. I do not mind helping them do different things (even if it is part of their job and not mine), however I cannot stand it when they are rude. They never ask me nicely to do things; it is usually barked out commands. I have begun to flat out tell them ‘I will help you, but I am not doing anything for you until you ask me nicely and treat me with some respect’. Some days it frustrates me to the point where I am close to tears. I do not like being treated like an object there to make their lives easier. I am a person who needs to be treated with the same amount of respect that I show them. It was especially tiring a few days ago when I was the only female teacher at the school. The male attitudes seemed to be especially overwhelming and hard to deal with that day. Hopefully they will get the point soon that they need to ask nicely for favours and treat me with respect. And hopefully, though I know it is a long shot, I hope that it might carry over into their interactions with all other women. I hope that it will at least influence how they interact with the next female volunteer who is coming to the school when I leave, and she will be here for a whole year. I hope she does not have to deal with the same things I dealt with because I do not think I could take a whole year of it!

This summer I have had to deal with a lot of male attention, some meant in respectful ways and others not as respectful. I have gotten used to laughing with the guys when they ask me to marry them, and usually everyone just has a good laugh at the end of it all. However last week I had an encounter with one of the teachers that left me extremely shook up and uncomfortable. I tried to brush it off, but I really could not get it out of my head. I told Nick about it later that night and he said “No wonder you are upset, that is what we call sexual harassment”. It was an extremely uncomfortable situation, and when I tried to talk to Anita about it the next day (to let her know I did not want to be left alone with this teacher) she blew me off and did not really believe me. I think that was even harder to deal with than the harassment. I have been doing my best to avoid that teacher, but every time I see him it throws me off again and makes me feel very uncomfortable. Needless to say I was not really on top of my game for a few days.

As I am writing this the most beautiful butterfly has come into the room and has decided to take up residence on my book. The butterflies here are absolutely magnificent. They are so graceful and colourful. It is amazing the diversity that can exist among one species. Though I suppose we have just as much diversity in the human race since we are all unique and special in our own ways. The butterfly has reminded me of one of the small mud houses I walk by everyday on my way to Nicks. The have the most stunning sunflowers growing up one of the walls. It is so peaceful and picture perfect that every time I walk by it puts a smile on my face and fills me with a sense of calm. Speaking of walks (each thought leads me to another haha), this week while walking to Nicks I have realized how much a part of Obodan/Fotobi I have become. I always greet everyone I meet when I am walking, but it is strange to realize that I actually know most of the people I greet now by name. This truly has become a home away from home for me. It is going to be hard to leave it behind despite how excited I am to see everyone back home.

I decided that after my great midterm adventure to Mole it would be a good idea to stay around the village for a weekend to relax. It was a great idea in theory, however despite my best intentions to have a relaxing weekend that is not the way it turned out in the end – it ended up being just as busy, if not more so than usual.

On Saturday I woke up ridiculously early to the sounds of roosters crowing (it should be illegal for them to make noise that early) and could not fall back asleep. So I decided to just get up. No one else was up yet so I sat outside under a tree, read a book and watched the animals. Not long after that, Naomi (the lady who cooks for the students) came by with her little daughter. I must have played with her for hours. She is so adorable! It always amazes me that she can stay amused with the same game of hide and seek/peek-a-boo for such a long time.

After play time I had to do laundry… I know it does not sound like a big deal, but it is truly a major undertaking. You have to wash everything by hand, and depending on how dirty things are it can take hours. Though on the plus side it is a great upper body work out =) Later I ran some errands in town (picked up my new African dresses) and then watched baby Grace so Julie could have some time to ‘relax’ (I say ‘relax’ because with 6 kids I do not think she can ever truly stop doing things). That evening I hiked up one of the hills/mountains that surround my little village. It was such an amazing view! I had never truly grasped how small Obodan is until I saw it from above. There is no way there are more than 100 people living here. It is so peaceful at the top, being able to see everything happening below in the valley. I was sad when it was time to come down. But the sadness did not last all that long because after coming down I was off to a party at the FAWE FM radio station. It was one of the most interesting parties of my life. I have been to parties where I am one of the only girls before, but this one took the prize for being the biggest sausage-fest that either Nick or I had ever seen! It was an interesting night, but it was never without laughter which is good. As always I was thankful that Nick was there to help me when I needed it.

On Sunday I decided to go to one of the Presbyterian churches in Nsawam. I wore a traditional Ghanaian outfit (the kappa and slet), which proved to be a great source of amusement to everyone I met. =) I left for church at 8:30 am, and I did not get back home until 3 pm… longest church service of my life! And I even ended up leaving a little bit early! However it was definitely an experience. Most of the service was in Twi (only 10 minutes at most was in English). It was definitely a lesson on being outside of my comfort zone, and really gave me an idea of how new immigrants must feel when they do not understand what is going on around them. After church I ended up going back into town to try and find some food for dinner. This proved to be more difficult than I had anticipated due to the fact that it was Sunday. Thankfully there were a few places open in the market and we were able to find enough food to get us through a dinner. We ended up making a homemade pasta sauce and some makeshift garlic bread. It was pretty much one of the most exciting meals I have had here. No fish and not to spicy…it was heavenly!

Later that week, Nick and I had to run a bunch of errands in Nsawam. However due to the fact that it is rainy season we quickly found ourselves caught in a torrential downpour! It was actually pretty funny, especially now that I am thinking back on it. Everyone else had taken shelter under the over hangs of buildings or inside little shops to wait out the storm. However, we decided that we were already wet so there was really no point in waiting for what could be hours for the rain to end. We just went about our business, running down the streets that by this point looked more like rivers. This provided endless entertainment for the Ghanaians who were watching us. It is nice to know we can bring joy into their days by being crazy Obruni’s haha While we were running through one of the market streets I heard “Hey, more Obruni’s”. I looked up, and much to surprise I saw other white people, but not just any white people, I saw Mennonites! Or at least I think they were Menno, the woman was wearing the traditional outfit, so I am pretty confident in my assumption. It felt like I was back at Grebel again =) On the way back to Nicks place we had a very exciting tro ride – at one point the tro mate went to slide the door closed (they do this after the car is already moving) and the entire door fell off! I thought for sure the mate was going to fall out with the door because he seemed determined to try and hold onto it. By the time we made it back to Nicks place we were absolutely drenched! I have never been able to wring that much water out of my clothes before haha I was also cold for the first time since leaving Canada! I actually ended up wearing a sweater. I never thought I would see the day when I would wear a sweater in Africa, but it happened that night.

After making it back to Nicks place we made a very…interesting dinner. His neighbour Julie sells chickens, and usually she will kill them and get the chicken all ready for you. However, last night Nick decided he wanted to kill the chicken. So for a while we were hanging out with Dinné (that is female version of the name dinner). Yes, Nick decided we needed to name the chicken. This turned out to be a big mistake because I then started to become attached to our dinner... It was definitely an experience! It gave a new meaning to fresh food! And I now know how to kill and prep a chicken, which I am hoping I never really have to do a lot of, but good to know I can just in case of an emergency situation haha. The two other Canadian volunteers who we had met up with in Kumasi came down to visit yesterday. It was really great to see them again. They were telling us about their placement and living arrangements. It sounds nightmarish! They are basically living in what they call a brothel (it is not really a brothel, but it is a guest house with several one hour rooms…) Anyways, I have never been so grateful for my little sleepy village of Obodan!

We were planning on going to Accra to see Obama when he came to Ghana, but unfortunately due to ‘weather concerns’ he was not doing a public speech in independence square. Rather he was going to be giving an invitation only speech at a convention centre. Due to the fact that my invitation would have been sent to Canada before being forwarded through the post here, I am forced to conclude that it was somehow lost in the mail. So unfortunately we did not see Obama speak in person, but the weekend was anything but a disappointment because we took the opportunity to travel to the Volta region and have a multitude of adventures there.

As always the tro ride was very exciting. I think I will stop telling you that, and you can just assume the rides are always exciting unless I tell you otherwise haha. The ride was a lot longer then we had anticipated. Due to the fact that Obama was arriving later that evening, Accra was in absolute gridlock! It took over two hours to get out of the city (something that should have taken 20 – 30 minutes at the most). When we made it to Volta it was dark and raining. We were dropped off at the side of the road near a main junction, and from there we had to make our way to the little village of Tafi Atome. This proved to be more difficult than we had anticipated. The usual mode of transportation in and out of the village is motorcycle taxis; however there were none to be found. It would have been a fairly miserable time waiting to find a way there, but people are so kind and welcoming here that it in the end it was a lot of fun. We ended up sitting and chatting with some of the nicest old women I have ever met before in my life until someone in the village with a car agreed to give us a ride.

The next morning I was the first to get up (ridiculously early because that is when it is best to see monkeys). I was amazed by how peaceful it was when I walked outside. You could hear the birds and monkey’s starting to wake up, and the sun was just starting to peak over the tops of the trees. It reminded me of early mornings at the cottage when everything is so still and serene. After everyone else decided to greet the day we went on a walk through the forest to see/play with the monkeys. The monkeys there are Mona monkeys and they are absolutely adorable! They even came and ate bananas right out of my hand! It was incredible. Though less incredible was the moment when a monkey was a little over zealous to get the banana and accidentally bit my hand instead, but it makes a cool story to tell. It will be an even better story if it ends up leaving a scar! How cool would it be to be able to say “yea, that’s just a scar from a monkey bight I got when I was living in Africa.” It would be pretty amazing!

After my great morning of monkey adventures we ventured to another village fairly near by that is on top of a mountain. It was such an interesting village, and nothing could compare to the view! From that village we hiked down the side of the mountain (it took a while because it was a very treacherous climb – very slippery, little rock slides, etc.). Eventually we arrived at the most breathtaking oasis of a waterfall I have ever seen before in my life! Honestly, this felt like I had found a little piece of paradise. Since it is such a secluded waterfall it is not a main tourist attraction, so we were the only ones there. There were also some caves behind the waterfall to explore. They were unbelievably dark, and I must admit I was a little worried that the bats would decide to fly out at me haha. We spent a lot of time swimming and exploring the caves before beginning our hike back up the mountain. It was a very intense hike up, but it went a lot faster than it did going down. It is opposite of what I would have thought, but it is a lot easier to go up the mountain than down.

Once we made it back to the mountain top village we were again faced with the dilemma of having no mode of transportation down. While we were waiting for a taxi to come we hid from some rain under the porch roof of the village square. It was a fun detour to our afternoon plans. We ended up talking with our guide and some other people in the village for close to an hour. Once the rain ended we made our way back down the winding mountain road to the main junction town, grabbed some food at the side of the road, and ended up sitting and talking with some of the village elders for a while. It was a really neat experience! They are so full of wisdom and proverbs, but also have the ability to make me convulse with laughter haha. After that we headed to another small village near by called Tafi Abuipe where they do the traditional kente weaving. It is so interesting to see the traditional crafts and ways of life here.

The next morning we were able to play with the monkeys some more. A monkey ended up holding onto my finger for a while. It was like it was trying to hold my hand…it was one of the coolest experiences of my life. I wish I could bring one home with me, but then he would miss all of his monkey friends, so I do not think it would be fair. We had to head back to Accra before coming back to the village, and we decided to stop at the mall to get some groceries that you can’t get anywhere else. I have not been into a mall in over two months, and I must say it was a huge reverse culture shock. It made me realize that coming home is not going to be a walk in the park, and it is going to be extremely overwhelming at first. I think it will actually be harder and more overwhelming than my culture shock was when I arrived in Ghana. But I will cross that bridge when I get to it. I know for sure though that I won’t be able to go to a mall for a while! It was almost sickening to see the abundance and wealth that was in the mall contrasted to what most people have here in Obodan. It is even harder to know that many people have even less than the people here do. I definitely have to do some more reflection on this because I am still working through so much.

This summer has been truly amazing. It has been filled with struggles and trials, but they have all pushed me in new ways, and have truly moulded me into the woman I want to be. I have come out of my shell here, and have grown in ways I never knew possible. Though at times this summer has made me wish I could be like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz – have the ability to click my heels and be home – I am so glad that I had the courage to come here this summer and see it through till the end. It has been a life changing summer and I would not trade my time here for anything.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

June 16th - entering week 7

I am now entering into my seventh week of being here. I am feeling so at home and at times cannot believe that in only eight weeks I will be back in Canada. At one time this thought would have made me so happy because I was feeling so homesick and out of my element (especially when I was sick!). But now the thought fills me with a very bitter sweet emotion. I miss everyone from home and I am very excited to go back and see family and friends, however in doing so I will be leaving behind new friends who have become a family to me over here. Life here is becoming very familiar and I am getting very used to the way things happen here. Things that used to throw me off so much no longer phase me. The frequent power outages here used to drive me up the wall, but now it just seems normal. The bugs are another thing that used to drive me crazy. They are everywhere here especially at night. Now I only really notice them when they go down my shirt… not an experience I like at all! When that happens I still freak out. I do not think I will be able to get to a point where I won’t freak out when that happens. But can you really blame me? I do not think anyone really wants to have a strange African bug crawling down their shirt =)

The rainy season has most definitely begun now, and we often get rain at some point everyday. The rain is always a welcome relief. It cools things down which makes me very happy, and it also makes the crops grow and ensures that the bore hole of water does not dry up. Yes, I now understand why that song Africa says “Bless the rains down in Africa”. The only time the rain is unfortunate is when you get caught in it, or trapped somewhere. When it rains here it does not joke around. It is torrential down pour like I have never seen before! I have had several days when I have been trapped in the school unable to make it back to my room. It does not sound that bad, however there is no bathroom at the school. When you have to pee but are stuck instead just listening to rain pouring down all around you… it is definitely not the most fun experience =) But I have learned to hold it like a champ haha! Last night I experienced my first Thunderstorm here in Ghana, and I must say the raw power behind it was magnificent! I am so grateful that I am not scared of storms because I think I would have had a heart attack otherwise. The thunder was so loud that it shook the building and whenever the lightning flashed it illuminated my entire room. It was an incredible storm (even though it kept me awake the entire night). I am constantly aware of Gods amazing creation and sheer power here. It is hard not to be when surrounded by such extraordinary nature and all of the religious slogans on vehicles and businesses. It is always a comforting reminder to rely on God when things get rough. There already have been some rough patches here and I am sure there will be some more, but I know that by relying on God I can get through anything.

A few weeks ago I traveled back to Accra and then to the Volta Region for the weekend. It was most definitely nothing but an adventure! Friday night we went out in Accra to several different places. One of them was an Irish Pub that they have. It was the most bizarre experience! It felt as though I had entered an alternate universe (or travelled all the way to Ireland!) There was no way we were in Ghana anymore. It was a very strange experience, though nice to be able to have some food that I recognized haha. We were out with some British Rugby coaches that Amelie has befriended in the city. They sure are crazy when they start drinking! The night was nothing but boring that is for sure!

The next day we got onto a bus and headed out on what we thought would be a 2-3 hour journey to Volta. 6 1/2 hours later we arrived. Time here really doesn’t mean much and I am still getting used to that. It was a beautiful drive though! It was amazing to be able to see different areas of Ghana. I have now been to 4 out of the 10 regions in Ghana. I am hoping to make it to at least 6 of the regions by the time I head home. On Sunday we hiked through a crazy forest with a lot of different river crossings to get to the Wli waterfalls. It took about an hour and a half, and was a very educational trek. I ate cocoa. Not like the cocoa you get back home that tastes like chocolate. I ate the cocoa right out of the cocoa plant. It looks like a white seed in a way and you suck on it until you get the entire outside is off. However you do NOT want to bite it! The inside is a red centre that does not have a very pleasant taste to it. Nick tried biting it (he always does everything he is told not to!), and his facial expression was enough to ensure none of us followed his lead! There were also butterflies everywhere! They were some of the most beautiful butterflies I have ever seen before! So colourful! I am most definitely going to miss the nature that I am constantly surrounded by here. I know we that we have nature back in Canada, but it is not quite the same. Once we made it to the falls we spent the majority of the day swimming and hanging out on the shore near by. It was one of the most spectacular sights and experiences. I wish you could have all been there to experience it, I am not sure if the pictures will do it justice. The rock face of the cliff next to the waterfall was absolutely covered in bats! It was a crazy sight to see! I do not think I have ever seen so many bats all congregated together in one place! It was nice to know that they were eating all of the mosquitoes though!

After spending the day at the falls we headed back to our guest house to relax. A day hiking and swimming in the sun sure does take a toll on your energy level! Not to mention the fact that I had only had about 3 hours a sleep each night for the past 2 weeks! I am not impressed with the fact that I have become an insomniac here! But I digress, after eating dinner we decided to pass the time playing cards. There was another guy (Tuen) at the guest house who was there alone so we invited him to join us. He was a very interesting guy from Holland who was just finishing his 4 month stay in Ghana. He taught us a new game called Farmers Bridge and we played late into the night. He shared some amusing stories about his time here and gave us a glimpse into village life in the North of Ghana. He lived with a family where the Father had two wives and 9 children. It is amazing the diversity that exists within one country!

Our journey back to Accra the next day was yet again full of adventures! I have never been so scared while riding a tro tro before! We had to take two different tro tros to get back to the city. The first tro we took was by far the most terrifying experience of my life! Not only did they pack it so full of people that someone was actually sitting on the roof, but the driver was a maniac! Think of everything that you should not do while driving and that is exactly what he did. I do not even know how fast he was going because the speedometer was broken… slightly disconcerting! He also would always pass on corners! You could not see if someone was coming the other way at all! Part way through the ride smoke started to come out of the engine… =S The driver did not stop, someone else sitting in the front seat simply pooped the dash board open and began to pour water onto the engine to cool it down. The floor was so hot that Amelie and I thought our flip flops were going the melt for sure. I have never been so grateful to arrive at my destination! The second tro was a lot more normal. We had more room the sardines in a can which was nice and the driving was relatively tame. Everything was going smoothly until we came to a police road block. Much to my dismay a police officer holding a very large gun leaned his head through the window and said “We want the white ladies”. It was definitely not what I wanted to hear! So needless to say Amelie and I were pulled out of the tro. We were then taken to an immigration officer who demanded to see our passports. (We currently do not have our passports because they are with the immigration office of Ghana getting out visas extended). They are not legally allowed to demand to see your passport once you are in the country; however he decided to hassle us anyways. We explained our situation to him, but he was still not willing to let us go. He wanted a bribe, but Amelie and I are unwilling to get into that game. We played dumb until he let us go. It all turned out fine in the end; however I was definitely petrified while it was happening! I do not like having huge guys with big guns half interrogating me on the side of the road in a foreign country… not exactly my cup of tea! But I suppose it increases my street cred so it is ok =) All is well that ends well right?

On Tuesday I went to the library to find all of the work that I had done to organize it completely undone! I felt like I wanted to cry! I was so close to having a break down that I had to leave and go make some lesson plans for English instead. I could not stay and see all of the work I had done gone. I am having a hard time organizing the library because I keep being told to make it like a library back home, but then whenever I make a suggestion or try to do something to take the library to the next level it gets rejected. It is frustrating when you have such a vision for a place and someone else keeps holding you back. I am hoping it gets better and we are all able to have pieces of what we want in the library, but in the end it is not my decision and I will organize it however they want it to be. I just worry that with their organization system they will be unable to keep the library in an organized manner. Fingers crossed we can find a way to do it their way, but at the same time ensure it can stay organized for years to come.

Tuesday night I went down to Nick’s place for dinner and I learned how to make Fufu. It is a traditional Ghanaian dish and it was so much fun to make! It is very labour intensive and is quite possibly one of the best upper body workouts I have ever had! I really enjoy hanging out at Nick and Bellas. It has become my nightly hang out place. They have a very nice front porch that we hang out on. They are close to the road so they can still see what is happening and feel connected with the world; however they are so surrounded by nature that you feel like you are in your own little world. I love the school, but it is nice to have some quiet time and not always have people running all around you. I have my special spot on the back porch of the school where I am able to go and take a few minutes for myself to rejuvenate. I am discovering that alone time is essential if you do not want to burn out!

Wednesday night I was back at Nicks (surprise) and his neighbour Julie came to visit with her little baby Grace who is 2 months old. Grace is the cutest thing of my life! Julie put Grace on my back and wrapped her up with a big piece of cloth (the traditional way to carry a baby here). I got to carry her around for almost an hour. It was such a cool experience! I love babies and being able to spend time with Grace really made my day! On Friday night I was able to hang out and play with Grace for hours! I am so thankful I am in the village and can have these experiences. I have a sneaking suspicion that I probably would not be doing things like this if I was in Accra. Julie informed me that I am not going home until I can tie Grace on my back by myself, and carry her while sweeping, cooking, washing and fetching water on my head! I will be truly Ghanaian by the end of it all. On Sunday night I was able to tie Grace to my back by myself! It was very exciting (and also a little scary! I was afraid to drop her!) =) Yesterday (Monday) I once again successfully tied Grace to my back and also carried her all the way from Fotobi to my village of Obodan on my back. Everyone in both villages thought it was the best thing since sliced bread (actually I have not seen sliced bread here before so maybe it was just the best thing haha). They had never seen a white lady carry a baby on her back before and the reactions I got were priceless! Grace is quickly becoming one of my new best friends here in Ghana. She is not much of a conversationalist but she is one of the best listeners I know =)

Bella is also teaching me to dance like a true African woman. We have had many sweet dance parties at their place and I am sure there are only more to come! It is a lot of fun and also a good work out! Not that I really need to lose any more weight right now, my pants have already become to big haha. But I am happy to report that this past weekend I ate more then I think I have eaten since coming to Ghana! I cooked with Nick for almost every meal and we were able to make some really good food that did not have sea food and was not super spicy! It was a very exciting thing in my life. This weekend I also had street meat off the side of the road in Nsawam. Nick and I discovered something that is like sausage on a stick and it is one of my new favourite things.

On Saturday I got my hair braided and I now look even more Ghanaian then before. It was a very long and painful 3 hours, however it was totally worth it. I now know why everyone here braided their hair. It is so much cooler (temperature wise) when it is braided!

On Sunday Nick and I headed to a village/town called Aburi which is about an hour away by tro tro. There are some breathtaking botanical gardens there that we went to visit. Aburi but be one of the coolest towns I have ever been to. It is on the top of a mountain and as a result the view is SPECTACULAR! Unfortunately it was so humid that the pictures probably will not turn out, but just close your eyes and imagine standing on top of a mountain and being able to see everything around you for hundreds of miles. Such a cool thing! We also discovered a lot of local artisans and spent some time hanging out with them. It is so nice to know the people who carve the items you buy! I much prefer that to buying it from a vendor in the city.

It was a great weekend of hanging out in the village. I am feeling more and more at home here everyday. I am learning so much about the culture and traditions of Ghana, which is extremely interesting, though at times also frustrating. However there is no doubt in my mind that I am gaining a greater world understanding which is exactly why I came here this summer. I am having many experiences that I am not writing about, so you will have to wait and here more stories when I get home! It is so hard to believe that I will be back home in less then two months now. Time sure does fly!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Reflections after one month... adjusting to village life

I have now been in Africa for a whole month! How crazy is that! Despite the fact that some days seem as though they will never end, time has just flown by! I find myself becoming sad that I only have 10 weeks left at the school! I also find myself overwhelmed by how much work there is to be done on the library in those weeks! I think there is more work then days left here… I hope I can get it all done before I leave, and if I can’t then I hope someone continues the work after I leave. One thing I have noticed about Ghana (and I am assuming it is the same in much of Africa) is that if something is half working they say oh that is good enough, it kind of works, there is no need to do any more work on it. It is an attitude that I am having a very hard time trying to come to terms with. I know that I am not here to change things. I am here for a short time and I will only get a small taste of this country and its very diverse and rich culture. But at the same time it is so frustrating to see systems in place that simply perpetuate a system that does not function smoothly or at the best level it could. I have also noticed that some of the best things about Ghana’s culture can cause some of their greatest weaknesses. For example – everyone here is like a big family. Everyone cares for everyone else. However this also means that rarely if ever will someone get fired. If you fire someone then who will be there to make sure no one fires you? This results in some people holding positions of power that they should not have; People in high positions that have lost the vision for the future and are not doing anything, but that are so controlling they do not allow their staff to do anything unless they have been given a direct instruction. It is extremely frustrating to recognize these issues and know that nothing will ever be done about them! Even Ghanaians have told me that they know these problems exist but it is useless to try to change the system. Change will never come if no one tries! Change has to start with one person! It only takes one spark to get a fire going… Oh well, it is something I will have to learn to deal with this summer.
Something else that I am adjusting too, or trying to adjust to, is the pace of village life. Everything seems to move so much slower here! No one is in a hurry to get things done, they will happen when they happen. Teachers come and go as they please, sometimes they go to the classes on time and sometimes they don’t, sometimes they come into work and sometimes they don’t… I am having a hard time grasping the concept of people wandering in and out of work as they please with no negative repercussions. Behaviour that would not be tolerated for even a day back home is the way of life here. Time seems to hold little or no significance in peoples lives. I had choir practice (more about the choir later) last night, and the director had stressed that rehearsal was to start at 6 pm sharp! 6 pm did not mean 6:15 or 6:30 or 7:00, but 6:00! I was a little frustrated with Elias (my friend in the choir with me) because he had said he would come get me at 5:30…by the time 6:00 rolled around he picked me up. In my mind all I could think of was great I am the new person in the choir and the only Obruni and I am going to be late to one of my first rehearsals! We made it there by 6:20, and it turned out we were some of the first people there! The director did not even show up until 7:15! Sometimes it is nice to know that time is so relaxed here and you do not always have to be stressed out about arriving somewhere at a specific time, but other times it is very frustrating to hurry to prepare for something that ends up being delayed for hours. Hopefully I will become more used to this relaxed form of time otherwise I will become very frustrated this summer! I just hope that I can get used to North American time again when I get home otherwise I will be in trouble come first semester!
Now I will tell you all more about choir. One of the teachers at the school who I have become friends with Eliasgoes to the International Central Gospel Church (ICGC) and he is part of the band that plays along with the choir there. I mentioned to him that I loved to sing and he invited me along to check out the choir. I have now been to 2 rehearsals and church on Sunday (church there is 4 hours long!). It is a very, very gospel choir as the name of the church might have given away. I have a lot of fun singing with them, but I did not enjoy church as much as I had hoped I would. I want to go to the Presbyterian Church before making a decision about which church to attend. So I may or may not stay in the choir, but it has given me a way to meet a lot more people in the community and build relationships I would have never had otherwise. It is experiences like this, the getting involved with the community that will make my summer unforgettable! It is all about the relationships.
Speaking of relationships, as you have probably read in some of my other blogs I am becoming great friends with Anita (the other teacher who lives with me at the school). This past weekend we had a huge heart to heart and now we feel more like sisters then just friends. I feel so blessed to have her in my life here! We can talk openly about everything and have confided a lot of life dreams and goals with each other. I feel like the level of relationship we have now should have taken years to form, but instead it has only taken us a few weeks. She is a lot of fun, and is a huge source of joy in my life. We are going to go get our hair braided together one day =
I am becoming much more comfortable in the village and it is finally beginning to feel like home! I am so thankful for this. I was having a very hard time with being homesick when I first moved from the big city of Accra to my little village of Obodan. It made it even worse when I got sick because no one likes to be sick and be so far from home. It was especially scary to me because the Doctors did not know what I was sick with! Having a mystery illness and being away from home is definitely the worst! But I am settling in very well now. Though at times a do feel a little envious of my friend Amelie who is living in the city and who is able to have a night life with other volunteers and people travelling through Ghana. Night life here consists of walking to Fotobi and playing cards… Not quite as exciting haha. But in the end I am glad that I am in a small village and am able to see what life is like for the majority of Ghanaians. I also am thankful that I am not just hanging out with other foreigners, otherwise you do not get to form close relationships with people from Ghana! You do not get as in touch with the culture, and in the end I do not think you really gain a greater world understanding. When I am bored here at night I just keep reminding myself that I did not come here to have a great night life or meet other foreigners. I came here to gain a greater world understanding in hopes of creating a more peaceful world. I believe that I am exactly where I am meant to be. I found last week while I was sick that I was beginning to almost wish away my time here. I just wanted to go home (a lot of this was due to the fact that I felt absolutely wretched!). But on Sunday at church between the Amens and then Halleluiahs the pastor talked about paying a price. He mentioned the story of Abraham and how God had a plan for his life and a plan to bless him. However first Abraham had to leave behind everything he knew. He had to leave his home and his possessions behind. He had to leave his ‘comfort zone’. However he was pushed from his comfort zone because God had a better plan for his life. God had a plan to bless him in the future, a plan to take him to a better place. Well it was definitely something I could relate to! I have most definitely been pushed outside my comfort zone in more ways then one, but I do believe that I have been brought to this village at this point in my life for a reason. There is a plan, and I need to be living in the present. I need to give myself fully to everything here for the time I have left, because before I know it I will be on a plane heading back home. There is so much for me to learn and experience here, I cannot waste any more time missing things back home. However I do have a request for all of you back home who have significant events happening before I come home… Can you please hold off on them until I get home? Thanks! (aka those with birthdays just delay turning a year older until I can be there ok? Haha)
I met the queen mother of the village the other day! It was very exciting! I was not really sure of the proper etiquette, but we had a very nice conversation and she is very kind! Apparently she had been at the clinic when I went there when I was sick, but I was to sick to know who she was. She had spoken to Bright about me and was very concerned for my health. It is cool to understand more about the systems here, to see more about the old ways of life (the chief system).
I am still having a hard time with the food here, but I am starting to make due. Anita is very understanding that the food is not agreeing with me. We usually have some sort of bread and egg combination for breakfast which is great. It is good to start the day off with food that I can actually eat! Lunch is always some sort of traditional food that the cook at the school makes. All of the food here is very spicy and oily… both things that do not sit very well in my stomach… However this weekend when I go to Accra I am going to get some peanut butter so at least I can get protein when all else fails! I will continue to eat the traditional food in hopes that my system will get used to it, but I do not know how likely that is. I do however absolutely LOVE the fruit that they have here! The pineapple is probably the most delicious pineapple I have ever tastedMy pants may not fit me by then end of the summer… I think I need to find a belt very soon in order to avoid having my pants fall off part way through teaching a class!
I have fallen in love with the cooks little daughter Mameesi! She is absolutely the most adorable child! She usually does not like white people apparently, but she has taken to me like a bee to honey! I spent most of Sunday morning playing with her, and when I had to leave to go to church she started to throw a fit and cried and cried and cried. After I left she came back to Anita’s room (where we had been hanging out) and sat outside her door waiting for me to come back for almost two hours! I could not believe it when Anita told me when I got back. It almost broke my heart! She is so cute and it is so nice to get to play with small children again! I love all of the girls at the high school, but it is not the same as being able to play with young children! There are young kids everywhere in the village, but I do not know them well enough to be able to fully play with them yet…hopefully one day soon I will!
I have taught some of the teachers here how to play crazy eights! It is a lot of fun, and it gives us a good way to pass time at night, especially when the power is out (which happens quite frequently here) - you never really know when you will have power or when it will go off. It makes life a constant guessing game! I definitely have a new appreciation for constant power supplies in North America! This summer is definitely showing me things that I used to take for granted at home that I am so thankful for.
We are starting to get more into the rainy season here, which means torrential downpours can come at anytime…yet another thing that makes life a constant guessing game! It is hard to make plans when you do not know what the state of the weather or power will be in an hour. However I am very grateful that this is the rainy season because when it does rain it cools things down to a bearable temperature. I did not realize how much heat can affect your state of mind!
Another thing I am learning to live very well with is bugs! There seem to be bugs everywhere here! (Especially at night when they get drawn to the lights.) I am ever so thankful that I have a bug net up around my bed! The other night I think someone left the door open to the teachers hallway at the school and our hallway was swarming with bugs! Bright went out and sprayed them, and a lot of them did fall to the floor dead, however when you walked down the hall you could hear them all crunching under your shoes – it has to be one of the grossest sounds I have ever heard! But I am getting a lot less jumpy around bugs. I still do not like them especially when they get into my room, but I am learning that there is not all that much I can do to stop them, and in the end there will be some of them around no matter what I do.
One thing that I am struggling with here is the attitude towards homosexuality. It is absolutely unacceptable here and people are very violently against it (I met a few people who said they would beat someone up if they found out they were homosexual). Some of my best friends back home are homosexual and this attitude makes me very sad. It is such a hateful attitude! I do not understand how you can hate someone so passionately and know nothing about them other then they are homosexual! One of the other Canadian volunteers who I have met here is having a very hard time with this attitude because he is unable to express who he truly is. He constantly has to keep his true person hidden. That must be very tiring! This morning I walked into the staff room to find the headmaster passionately expressing his views against homosexuality and from what I understood from the conversation he was kicking 2 girls out of the school because they were lesbians ( I am not sure about this part I have to ask Anita), but he was very hateful in his words. I do not understand how people here can be so religious and believe in Gods love so much but not accept those who Jesus would have eaten dinner with. He ate with those who the society shunned – he would eat with the homosexuals. Jesus calls us to love one another as ourselves. He does not say choose who you want to love, he says love everyone. You do not have to like everyone or agree with everyone, but you do have to love everyone. This hateful attitude will give me many problems this summer, I can tell already.
I have bought a traditional African dress and continue to fall in love with the culture here. I love the bright colours and the upbeat music! In choir we sang a song called Igwe by a group called Midnight Crew (I do not know if you can hear it if you youtube it, but it is worth a try, it will give you a taste of the music here!) I hope to get some more traditional clothes in the future (it may have to be sooner rather then later at the rate my clothes are becoming to big for me! =)
I am becoming more used to the changes in lifestyle here. It no longer seems so strange that when you go to the bathroom you then have to go next door and fill a bucket of water to poor it down the toilet bowl. I am getting more used to the fact that I have a different standard of cleanliness then most people here do, and am finding ways to cope with the differences (disinfectant spray, antibacterial hand soap, etc.) It no longer feels all that strange to see chickens, goats, sheep or cattle just wandering around. (Though this weekend I saw a sheep and a chicken get hit by a car – that was a little disturbing). The driving is still a little terrifying at times, but not quite as terrifying as it was when I first arrived. And I am becoming an expert at walking on the half paved half pot hole filled roads without spraining an ankle. =) I know that I will definitely miss the greenness of Obodan when it is finally time for me to leave. It is so breathtaking here. And I have found a place on the back porch of the school where I like to go to sit and think and take 10 minutes to rejuvenate throughout the day. The view is amazing and it is truly peaceful and serine.
Obodan is feeling more like home, I am really beginning to flourish here, and know that it will be very hard when it comes time for me to finally leave. Until then I am going to throw myself into all the possible different situations I can. I do not want to go home feeling as though I missed out on something here. I am going to spend the next 10 weeks being fully present with those here and soaking up everything I can.

Black Magic

It is crazy how superstitious some people are over here! And it is not a religious thing, it is more of a cultural thing. People who are devout Christians who believe in God will also believe in something called Juju or black magic. I have heard about it from people in the village, girls at the school, Nick’s roommate and even read about it in the newspaper.
In the newspaper I was reading a story about students who skip school in order to spend their time in internet café’s cheating foreigners out of money. There are huge rings of scams going on. It is a large problem for the education system because of the poor attendance rates and dropping test scores. However not only do they skip school for this some of them also apparently use juju (spells and different rituals) to give them special powers and make them more successful in cheating people out of money. Some of the rituals include sleeping in coffins, not bathing, eating flies… They believe that if you bathe after you have used juju or while you are using it you will die. Sleeping in coffins will give you power and eating 15 flies 3 times a day will also give you certain powers.
Some of the students at the school have told me I should only take tro-tros and not taxis because some taxis have coffins in the trunk and one out of every 10 people the drive will die. They will just keel over and drop dead for no reason. Nicks roommate Bella is probably the most superstitious person I have yet to meet. She is so scared of juju, yet she is also very hard core Christian. It seems very strange to me that you can believe so fully in Gods power and love, yet at he same time believe so strongly in juju. She will not pick money up off the side of the road in case someone has put juju on it. Apparently people can put juju on money so that when you pick it up off the side of the road something bad will happen to you (you will turn into a yam, your manhood will fall off, etc.) I do not know what good this would do to someone else, so I am not sure why someone would put a spell on money to do that in the first place… It just blows my mind how strongly some people believe in these things. Nick told me a story about when his Dad worked in Africa as a colonial police officer – One day a man came into the police station ranting about how a witch put a spell on him and he was going to die in 2 days if they did not go and make her take the spell off of him. There was nothing the police could do for him, so the man left. 2 days later he dropped dead and the autopsy showed no sign of anything being wrong with the man. There was no cause of death. I think that when things supposedly happen because of black magic it is because people have psychologically made themselves so convinced of them. The human mind is a powerful thing and you have to be very careful what you choose to believe in!
This is a huge cultural difference that I have noticed and it continues to put me a little on edge. I was feeling very uncomfortable by it until I talked to Anita about it. She told me that so many people believe in it, but it is just silliness in her opinion. She holds the same view that I do in terms of the mind being a powerful tool and it is only when you believe in something so strongly that something will happen. It will definitely be an interesting summer here having people quote scripture to me in one breath and then in the next be telling me about juju and black magic! Life sure is different here!

Sick and a long way from home...

Sick and a long way from home…
This past week has been quite the adventure! Even though I told myself I was not going to get sick in Africa I got very, very ill. Right after I had uploaded my last blog and I was still in Accra with Nick (who is all better now!) I began to violently throw up. Not a good thing at all. However being my stubborn self (and not liking to go to the doctor even when at home in Canada) I decided that I did not want to go to the hospital even though Nick insisted I go. However, right after I refused to go I received a phone call from Anita (the teacher who lives across the hall from me who has become like a sister) and she told me I was not allowed to leave Accra without seeing the Doctor. So whether I liked it or not I was off to the hospital. We went to the same hospital we had taken Nick to only a few short days before. It is a good thing we went because by the time we made it there I felt absolutely dreadful! After paying some money and waiting around for a while I got in to see a Doctor. It is very intimidating to be in a foreign country at a hospital in with a Doctor all by yourself… or at least I found it intimidating! The doctor and I both had a hard time understanding each other (the whole accent thing) and apparently I talk to fast, and he mumbled his words… it was an interesting experience. Long story short from the symptoms I was having he thought it may be Malaria so he sent me to do 2 blood tests and some other tests. I was intimidated enough just seeing a doctor… but now I had to go down a strange little hall way and wait to be stuck with needles (something I am very scared of even in Canada!). Nick is a great guy and I am glad he was around, but he does not get the whole moral support, "do you want me to go with you" thing. So I went of to have my tests done alone.
The area where the tests were done was behind a folding screen in the hallway. I must have looked absolutely terrified while sitting there because a very kind older doctor came by and comforted me assuring me everything will turn out fine. When it came to be my turn to have my blood taken the kind older doctor came back and did the test for me. I did not look at the needle and made it through the tests fine. However after having my blood taken my arm would not stop bleeding… it was a little disconcerting to say the least! No matter what they did for a while it just kept bleeding ( not sure why, I have never had that problem before!) Anyways, the tests came back negative for Malaria in the blood stream, however apparently it can hide in your liver and not show up on the tests. The doctor started me on anti malaria medication as a precaution. Man those drugs are strong!! They totally wipe you out! I thought I was feeling weak before because of the sickness, but every time after taking to drugs I felt like collapsing! You have to take them three times a day, every time I thought I was gaining some strength it was wiped out again!
Tuesday I was feeling even worse then I was on Monday. Nick insisted that I go with him to the clinic he had gone to when he first got Malaria because it had been such a good experience for him. Unfortunately I did not have as much success in my visit. The Doctor was great, he was very kind and knew exactly what questions to ask. He ordered me to have more tests done and to have a few injections. That was great, more needles! =S They could not find a room to put me in for the longest time, and eventually I wound up in the labour and delivery room. I have to say I am very grateful I do not have to have a baby in Africa! The clinic has no electricity or running water! They are all wired for power and they just need to be hooked up to the grid, however the government or the power company or someone will not hook them up to the grid. I have no idea why, but it is very frustrating for them!
The nurse who was giving me my injections was very nice, however she did not have a very steady hand. Part way though one of the injections I think she skewered the vein in my hand… my hand began to fill up with the liquid and became twice the size it should be! It was very painful! It felt like a car had just run over my hand! Eventually she stopped that injection and tried two other veins in that hand. She ended up missing both of those as well. In the end my right hand ended up looking like Frankenstein’s hand! Nick finally went to get the Doctor who came right away and successfully found a vein on my other hand. I did not know what I was going to do if they did not find a vein soon. I was seriously considering just trying to leave. I could not take it anymore! I just rested for about an hour while waiting for the saline solution to run into my body to re-hydrate me. It felt very strange to be in the labour and delivery room like that! Bright (one of the teachers from the school) also came down to the clinic to make sure that I was ok. I am so glad he did because he is able to speak Twi fluently which proved to be very helpful! After my crazy injection experience I was given even more medication to take. I looked like a serious drug addict for a while! I had to take more then 5 pills 3 times a day! That is a lot of pills!
I also had to go to Nsawam (the larger town near my village) to get some more tests done. Which, just my luck meant yet another blood test (another needle!). However I have to say I was learning to deal with needles like a champ and they were no longer fazing me… just making me a little nervous (it sounds bad, but a needle in Africa, even though I saw them take them out of the sterile packages, still made me a little nervous.)
Wednesday I thought I was finally getting a little better. I had been banned from working that week and told that I just needed to go and rest and get my strength back. I had slept all morning, and was finally feeling a little stronger. However in order to take my pills I had to eat food… and food here has been a bit of struggle for me. Everything I eat seems to make me want to throw it up again. I was able to get some rice and chicken stew into my system, but right after I finished the last bite I ended up throwing it all up again! Right when I thought I was getting better I ended up getting even sicker! It was very unfortunate! However I did rest the rest of the week and was able to regain my strength and recover my health.
I stayed in Obodan this weekend (mainly because Anita would not let me leave), but it turned out to be a very good idea because it allowed me to become more acclimatized to the weather and the food in the village. It is not that far from Accra, however the weather is different here, and the change I think is what took a toll on my system. It was a very scary experience to be so sick and be so far from home and those you love. However it definitely made me very humble and forced me to rely fully on those around me. I think it helped me to become closer to those I am living and working with. They are beginning to feel like a second family to me. Anita is the biggest sweetheart and I enjoy hanging out with her so much! She is already talking about how much she is going to miss me when I go home! I am here for another 2 1/2 months, but already she is thinking about how much she will miss me. It is nice to have a friend so close by all of the time. We are quickly becoming more like sisters then just friends, and I thank God that he blessed me so much by putting her in my life here!
It was not a pleasant experience being sick in Africa, and it is not something I want to repeat while I am here, but it opened me up to be more vulnerable and to rely fully on those around me. This experience pushed me from my comfort zone, and stretched me in new ways. And though it was unpleasant I feel that there must have been a reason behind it, some hidden lesson I learned. I do not know how yet, but I am sure this experience has shaped me to be a better person somehow =)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Life in Obodan - 3 weeks into the adventure

Well I have now been away from home for 3 weeks. It feels like it has been a lot longer then that!It is almost as though I have not been in Canada forever, I feel as though I am forgetting what it is like at times. I forget what it is to smell the spring buds on the trees. I forget what the cold spring mornings feel like… in fact I just forget what it feels like to be cold! It is so ridiculously hot here! I actually cannot believe how people can survive in this heat! Especially those who are pregnant! I have a new admiration for pregnant ladies!

I was finally beginning to get settled into a routine and a rhythm in Accra. I had formed a mini family unit with the other volunteers I was living with, and I was finally beginning to feel comfortable in the city. I was getting the hang of the tro tro’s, I knew where the best places to get different things were. It was finally beginning to feel like home. However just as I left my friends and family in Canada to come to Ghana I then had to leave my new found friends and mini family unit to move to my new home in the little village of Obodan. I know I had told everyone I was living in Fotobi, and I really thought I was. Imagine my surprise when I get told that I am actually living in an even smaller village next door to Fotobi. I have to say it is probably the smallest village I have ever seen before. But it does make Fotobi seem like a booming metropolis =) And Fotobi is only a 15 minute walk down the road, so it is not to far to find some more people.

My first impressions of Obodan – The scenery is absolutely breath taking! There are huge hills/mountains covered in all different kinds of trees and plant life. It is green pretty much everywhere you look! Contrasted to the breathtaking scenery is the desperate poverty of the houses in the village. Mud walls and sheds made of branches. There are a few roads like the roads we have at home (well dirt country roads at home), but between houses and when you go up different lanes you can no longer really call them roads, they are more like treacherous lanes. If you are not careful you can easily twist an ankle in a pothole. I am scared to see the state of these lanes when the rainy season truly gets under way! Despite the poverty that seems especially intense in Fotobi and Obodan the people are some of the happiest and most welcoming people I have ever seen before in my life! It makes me wonder why we cannot be so happy and welcoming in Canada when we have been blessed with such abundance. Why are we so hesitant to share with those around us and help others in need when we have more then we need. People here will do whatever they can to welcome others, and help those around them, even when it means giving away their portion of food for the day. How did we loose this in Canada? It is truly disgraceful that we are so self centered and hoard so much when there are so many around us in need. And I am not just talking about those in other countries who are in need. Those in Canada, people in our own backyard so to speak, are living in poverty and going hungry. Over 15,000 Canadian families occasionally have nothing to eat. We should take a lesson from the Ghanaians who have so little financially, yet are abundant in community spirit.

Some other things that I have noticed in my first week of living in Obodan… Animals are everywhere! Honestly, I am not exaggerating when I say they wander freely wherever they want to go. Chickens, dogs, packs of goats and even sometimes cows just wandering throughout the town. It will be strange to go back home to Canada and not hear animals all the time, or to be able to cross the road without having to wait for the goats to cross first =) The stars here are also incredibly stunning! There are basically no street lights for miles around which makes it an ideal place to star gaze! Unfortunately I cannot see the big dipper, but it is really nice to know that the moon I see at night is the same moon that everyone back at home will be seeing later that evening. It is refreshing to remember that when feeling a little home sick far away from home. It is nice to have something that connects you back to those you love at home. If it were not for the mosquitoes I would be out every night stargazing!

While on the topic of mosquitoes, my friend Nick who is living in Fotobi (only a 20 minute walk from my place to his) managed to get malaria before being here for a full 2 weeks! Thursday I got a text message saying he has malaria. Thank you very much Nick, you know the way to worry me and get me stressed out! Thankfully he lives in the same house as a girl names Isabella who took very good care of him! She was the one who insisted he go to the clinic. Thank goodness she did because by the time he made it to the clinic he felt as though he had been hit by a bus! I am also very thankful that the health care system at the clinic was much faster the then one we have in Canada! Within 15 minutes of arriving a Doctor had Nick in a room hooked up to IV to re-hydrate him and was sticking him with all these needles. It was very epic! Nick said it was like watching ER except he was the patient. The doctor was shouting to nurses to bring IV’s stat and ordering others around to get vaccinations ready… it sounded very intense! After becoming a pin cushion for all the different needles and after laying there for a few hours trying to become re-hydrated Nick was sent back home to Fotobi. I walked down to see him after school on Thursday and could not believe how weak he looked! I had seen him the night before and he looked fine, infact he looked better then fine. Within less then 24 hours Malaria had wiped him of his strength. He could not even put his own shoes on when he was leaving the hospital. So I am now even more aware of the mosquitoes and a little nervous about them! I am very relieved that I have a bug net to sleep under! Hopefully that will help keep them at bay!

I was supposed to be living with a host family in Fotobi/Obodan, however it turns out that I am living at the school. They have a dorm area for girls who are boarding students, and they also have another area for three female teachers to live. So I have my own room and am only about a 1 minute walk to work. It can be really nice at times, but also a little trying sometimes because you never really get a change of scenery. There is a indoor bathroom which is very nice, though it is a little different from the ones at home. You have to go next door to the shower room to fill up a bucket of water to poor into the toilet afterwards because it doesn’t flush. It makes something that is so simple at home take so much longer and seem like so much more of an ordeal! There are also no lights in the washroom or the shower room, which makes going to the bathroom at night very exciting! It gets dark here about 6:20 or so… you can imagine the rest.

I have a neighbour who lives across the hall from me. Her name is Anita and she is by far the biggest sweetheart! She has really taken me under her wing and done everything in her power to make me feel as at home as possible. She is doing her year of national service (in Ghana after you graduate University you have to do a mandatory year of national service – you get sent somewhere in the country and given a job for the year and are provided with small living allowances). She teaches life skills at the school and has been acting as the dorm Matron. She is in her early twenties and we have become good friends already. She also introduced me to all of the other teachers at the school. And by all of the teachers I mean the ones who teach full time. There are a bunch of teachers who only come in when their subject is being taught so it is easy to miss them if you teach at the same time or you are off doing something else. There is a large population of young teachers at the school though. There are 3 young guy teachers who live about a 5 minute walk from the school who Anita is very good friends with and they are starting to become very good friends of mine as well. I am beginning to form yet another little mini sub family. And thankfully this one I will not have to be torn apart from until I leave! I do not think I could go through being torn away another time! This first week in Obodan has been a week of hard adjustment, lack of sleep (it has been WAY to hot at night and I have no fan in my room!) and homesickness. However it is getting better as time goes on, and before I know it Obodan will feel like home.

Things in Ghana are very different from things in Canada. I am beginning to feel almost as if I went to another world instead of just around it. Not only are daily activities different, but also a lot of attitudes towards different things. The whole attitude that women cannot do anything for themselves is really starting to drive me crazy! This weekend we came back to Accra to visit with Amelie and to get Nick a place with AC for the weekend so he could just relax and recuperate from his bout of Malaria (I have decided that he is now Mosquito Man or Malaria Man). Friday night I went to meet Amelie so we could go and see a possible new place for her to live and then I could bring her back to the hotel (there is no way she would find it on her own). When I met up with her she was also with her friend Stephane (he also goes to University of Ottawa and is here volunteering for the summer) and his friend Eco who lives just down the road from his host family. Everything was fine until we were walking down the road to go to see Stephane’s house. Eco then decided I could not carry my own bag and that it is a mans duty to not only carry the bags but also to walk on the outside of the road in order to protect the woman. I am a very independent person, and I do not mind when guys help me to carry things, but I do mind when they do it because it is ‘a mans duty’ or ‘women cannot do it for themselves’. This is just one example of this attitude, but I have run into it many other times, and each time it gets harder to deal with.

Another attitude towards women that I am having an extremely hard time dealing with is that when women are raped it is their fault. No blame is given to the men here, it must have somehow been the woman’s fault. “It is because she wore that mini skirt” “It is her fault because she went to his house” “It is her fault she was out walking at night”. No matter what the situation is the women get blamed for it! Even when girls get raped in school by male teachers the girls often get expelled (if they become pregnant) and the teachers simply stay where they are or sometimes are suspended for a month and then transferred to another school. This is absolutely ridiculous! How does anyone expect anything to change if the women are going to always be blamed for everything? It is not the women’s fault that the men cannot control their sexual urges or their lust for power and control! I heard a very disturbing stat the other day – 50% of women’s first sexual experiences in Ghana are forced upon them. It is absolutely dumbfounding! Amelie is working at with Ghana’s National Education Campaign and told me about one meeting she attended when they were discussing a case of one girl who was raped by a teacher at her school, impregnated and then kicked out of school because she was pregnant. The teacher was no punished at all. The case itself infuriated me, but what made it even worse was the response of one of the men who works with the National Education Campaign. He went on and on and on about how it was clearly the girls fault and she deserved to be expelled because it was her fault she was raped in the first place. These attitudes towards women are extremely frustrating and will definitely be struggle for me this summer!

Another thing I am going to struggle with this summer is the different attitudes towards teaching and punishments in the schools. The education system in Ghana is a huge issue. On paper it may seem as though the system is doing well. On paper there is one teacher for every 35 students, but in reality there is often one teacher for every 100-200 students. On any given day 20% of teachers just do not show up to school to teach. Schools cannot work this way and students definitely struggle to get what they need to succeed in this broken system. There are also very few if any school inspections and when there are inspectors around they do not have a list of what they should be looking for. Many teachers here have also not been paid in over a year, and as a result they not only have to teach, but they have to do something else to gain income to feed themselves and their families. Punishments within the school are something that I have already started to struggle with. On Friday I was in the teacher’s room at the school working on a class plan when one of the students came in to hand an assignment to the other English teacher. I did not follow the conversation that followed because it was in Twi, however I knew that for some reason Giftie (the other teacher) was not happy. She then sent the student out to kneel on the ground (which was concrete). I had no idea what was going on, and did not know how to ask. Eventually I got up to courage and in the most respectful way I could I asked why the girl was kneeling on the ground outside. I was told she had brought her assignment late and this was her punishment. Giftie then asked “what else could I do, she has to be punished somehow.” I probably looked absolutely dumbfounded (because I was!) One of the other teachers asked me what punishments we have in Canada. The only things I could think of were losing marks if you hand in an assignment late, or getting detention if you misbehave, or if it is really bad you would have been sent to the principles office. But there was never a physical punishment! I know that I will not be able to physically punish students, and I am really going to have a hard time seeing other teachers do it.

Wow, so now that you know everything I am having a hard time with, I will share more about what I do at the school. I am teaching English which I think I am really going to enjoy doing. I taught my first class this past week (I was not supposed to teach the class but the other English teacher did not show up so it fell to me to teach). It went well and I had a lot of fun with the girls. I think they were a little taken aback at first because I was a lot more laid back then the other English teacher usually is. I tried to make class fun and always smiled and tried to get them to laugh. By the end of class there were only 3 or 4 students who were not smiling and laughing with me. I was also very upfront about the fact that they will probably have a hard time understanding me at times, and I will probably also have a hard time understanding them. So we will all have to be patient with each other and probably repeat things a lot of the time. I taught them about past tense and future time, and then gave them an assignment. All in all it went well and most of them seemed to understand everything. Those who did not do so well on the assignment were probably the ones who did not take notes when I told them to write certain things down… I guess something’s do not change even when you go to the other side of the world.

I am also the new secretary at the school and do a bunch of computer and administration work for them. It is not to exciting, but is needs to be done. However I do think that the headmaster thinks I have more computer skills then I really do because he asked me the other day to design a crazy schedule on the computer and I have no idea how to go about it! We will see how that goes next week.

I am also the new librarian. Ok, so one day I will be the librarian, I first have to build them a library. Currently they have a very small space that is just crammed full with books with no particular rhyme or reason to how it is done. They refer to it as a reading room and they want me to take it and transform it into a library with organized sections and a whole catalogue of what books they have. It is a huge project and I know it will keep me very busy for most of the summer. I am going to another senior secondary school that is more established sometime this week in order to see their library and the system they use to organize it. I am hoping that will give me some ideas, because I am feeling a little out of my league at the moment.

A funny story from Obodan; I was in the library on Friday trying to organize some of the books into subject sections. I looked up, and much to my surprise I saw a chicken! A chicken had wandered into my library. I was unsure what to do so I decided to leave it alone (as I said before chickens kind of just run wild around here). Next thing I knew the silly chicken started to try to peck at the walls of the library! (the walls are made of metal). The poor chicken was so stunned he started to stumble backwards; his whole body was probably vibrating. And then… the stupid chicken pooped on the floor of my library! It is absolutely hilarious to think back on, but I was so stunned at the time I did not know what to do with myself! I shooed it out of the library, but still could not believe that he had pooped on the floor! I knew at that moment that I was a long way of home!

It is very funny to go walking down the road in the village. All of the kids get so excited to see me. I thought that I was called Obruni a lot on Accra, but I think the kids of Obodan are giving the people of Accra a run for their money! I cannot walk down the road without being followed by kids who all want to touch my skin. I do not think Ihave ever felt so popular before in my whole life =)

I also find it very funny that Anita has a TV in her room at the school and sometimes when we are hanging out at night she will turn it on and shows like Friends and the Cosby Show. It is funny to be so far away from home in a little village in Africa and be able to watch Friends (granted it is a very fuzzy version, but it is still Friends). It is also very funny to be listening to the radio hearing some sweet African music and then to hear songs from back home. You cannot get away from North American culture even when you move to a village of 200 in Africa.

I am still getting settled into life in Obodan, but before I know it I am sure it will feel like home!