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!


  1. Thanks for the update!! Wow... such a ton of information. I'm glad you're getting along so well with the kids!!

  2. Katie,

    Your Ghana adventure is amazing! Keep us posted as often as you can. And sleep under that mosquito net!