Saturday, June 30, 2007


David's Pizza: sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, and lots of cheese. Delicious.

Friday, June 29, 2007

I'm Home

...and tired and sick. Probably just a cold (and the likely ensuing ear infections, knowing me). No fever, which is a good sign. I've started uploading photos on flickr, but I'm not really in the mood for labeling and organizing right now. Over the next few day, that will happen.

It's good to be home.

In other news:

- A copy of the film Forts and Castles of Ghana finally arrived in the mail today. I put it as number one in my queue in February. Ironically enough, it was waiting in the mailbox when we got back from the airport today.

- Spokane Public School District contacted me today. I have been hired as a substitute for the school year. So I've got to complete the orientation program for new substitutes and I'm in. This is good news.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Extortion on the Seas or My Weekend at the Lake Volta Seaside

Shout out to my 'rents, who are not only reading, but commenting! Very cool, especially for my mom, who has barely conquered email!

Since Jennifer arrived Monday (6/18), we've been planning how we would spend our weekend (my last weekend in Ghana!). We had decided to go to the eastern shore of Lake Volta, Kpando (Kp makes a sound like an explosive 'p' so it's pronounced Pan-doe) and then down to Tafi Abuipe and Tafi Atome. We left Friday afternoon (6/22) and would return on Sunday.

Leaving Ve-Deme Junction, we got the first tro-tro that went by and got dropped off at Golokuati, about 12 km down the road. From there, we got onto a very sketchy old tro-tro and waited in the heat of the day for the car to fill so we could head to Kpando.

We make it to Kpando in about 45 minutes, the tro-tro struggling the entire way and it dies suddenly and loudly at the last stop, Kpando market. Smoke filled the tro-tro as we clamoured out, grateful to be there after the rough ride. We chalked it up to experience (which turned out to be the word of the weekend), and made our way down to the market in hopes of finding a taxi that could take us to nearby Fesi. In Fesi, there is a woman's cooperative that makes and sells pottery, and we wanted to go and observe, take pictures, and make some purchases.

We find Kpandu Potters (Kpando and Kpandu are interchangeable) with the assistance of some children. There are about a half-dozen women on a covered porch, working with clay in various forms and stages. It was a really nice place, and they had some lovely artwork. I bought some, but you'll just have to wait to hear more about that. :)

Anyways, we round up our purchases and hop a tro-tro back into Kpando proper, only a 10 minute drive or so. We consult our map and head toward Catherine's Lodge (or so we think). After about 25 minutes of walking and not seeing the landmarks, we hire a taxi to take us there. When we arrive, we see that we were going in the completely wrong direction. Sigh. I can't read a map for the life of me, I swear.

But Catherine's Lodge is very nice. It costs us more than double what we had expected, but still only about $5.50 when split between two people. There is running water and a fan and it's clean, all of which means a lot here. We shower, then go sit outside in the gazebo, reading until just before dusk. We head out in search of dinner, but we don't know where we're going (of course). Luckily, Isaplan, the guy that runs the hotel ran into us and led us to Rosie's, a decent restaurant. I'm growing very weary of Ghanaian food, but I figure I'll make it for the next four days.

We eat, return to our room, and sleep. The next morning, we head to Afram Plains, the port area of Kpando, in hopes of catching the ferry that crosses Lake Volta East-to-West. It quickly becomes apparent that this isn't as simple as it should be. Instead, we decided to charter a smaller boat, shared with others. An older man dressed in all black helped us negotiate terms with a father and son duo with a boat. The deal was that we would pay 25,000 cedis each to cross the river with them, buy them lunch and allow them a break, and then we would return for the same price. Thus, we would pay them a total of 100,000 cedis plus the cost of lunch to take us there and back.

When we arrive on the shore, neither of us are sure where we were exactly. The trip took a lot longer than we had expected: nearly 90 minutes, and we were expecting more like 45 minutes. We figure out that we have crossed Lake Volta, meaning we are in the small village of Agordeke.

This is were our plans begin to fall apart. The father grunts and points out the "resthouse" to us, which we don't really understand. We try to sit in the little "canteen" (this is a really small place, so it's more like some one's outdoor kitchen) and get our lunch started so we can head out, because it's so much later than we thought. We had arrived at the port at 8:45 am and it was nearly 1:30 at this point. Then the son makes it clear that they do not intend to head back to the other side of the lake today.

Inside, I'm instantly freaking out. We are on the other side of the biggest man-made lake on the continent. There are no taxi-cars, no tro-tros, not nearby. Even if we could get one, we would have to go west and then south around the lake, then back north and west again to get to Kpando. It would take many, many hours: Like 12. The men are trying to say that they will take us back for 200,000 cedis. We're not sure if this is just a misunderstanding or if they're swindling us. It's so frustrating. We just barely speak a common language and I'm trying to be firm without being rude. We are not staying here and they are taking us back to Kpando today.

After about 2 hours of them hemming-and-hawing and doing nothing about the situation at hand (in a way that only Ghanaians can do), we finally agree to them taking us back for 130,000 cedis. We're not happy about it, because we feel like they are going back on their deal and are just ripping us off because we have no other options. I don't know if this was the plan from the get-go, and I guess we'll never know, but it was stressful and scary and just awful.

I was really proud of the way that I (well, both of us) handled the situation, it could have easily turned ugly. It was pretty ugly as it was, with the father kind of storming off and leaving the son to deal with us.

It takes forever for us to leave, because we have to make a stop at a fishing village a little further up the shore, where the father leaves us out in the sun for about 90 minutes, just waiting. It was nearly 4 pm when we started the trip back to Afram Plains. Luckily, the wind was with us and it only took us about an hour. We were hot, tired, sunburned, hungry, and haggard. When we finally got back to the hotel, we showered and just locked ourselves in for the night, without dinner (or lunch or breakfast, too). We were both asleep by 7:30 and slept hard until about 6-7 am.

So, I spent yesterday (6/23) on Lake Volta, had a uniquely African experience, and survived to tell the tale. And I earned a wickedly-bad sunburn out of the deal.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

"Hey, White Person!"

6/16 - I have decided to go on a walk to the nearby village of Ve-Deme, so I go out to insist to Grandma that I do indeed want to go on a walk, no I'm not going anywhere in particular, no I don't want one of the older boys to accompany me, etc. Walking for the sake of walking here is pretty much grounds for being thrown in the loony bin. But I wanted to see the village before I left. Also, I haven't been sleeping well at night and I was hoping to tire myself out before bed.

So I depart. The hills and cliffs surrounding the village are breathtakingly gorgeous and I immediately regret not bringing my camera along. I can't ever think of a time when I've regretted bringing my camera along with me, here or back home. You'd think I'd learn to just have it with me always. Anyways, I walked for about 50 minutes total, arriving back at Volta Home just before dark.

The walk was pleasant enough, but it kind of depressed me. Everywhere I go here, I am remarkable. Children, adults, dogs, even the goats and chickens take notice when I walk by. I enjoy being inconspicuous at home, but that is impossible here. Everyone I walk by makes noise at me. The constant attention is so tiring, so draining.

It made me wonder if there is anything similar to this occurrence back home. Black skin is common enough that it need not be commented on, though who would yell out "Hey, you! Black person!" aside from the stray 3-year old with incredibly embarrassed parents. Maybe a little person would draw as much attention, but American society dictates that we at least attempt not to stare and we certainly don't follow them down the street shouting "Dwarf! Hey Dwarf!"




I would be happy not hear these words for a long, long time.

Food for Peace

6/15 - At about 7 pm, a semi-truck drove by the orphange, it's bright orange light illuminating the whole place. Immediately, the kids were running towards it, jumping and screaming. I had no idea what was going on, and it took a few minutes before I was clued in by Mercy. Everyone gathered around to supervise the delivery. The truck carried 50 bags (totalling over 2,755 pounds) of flour, corn meal, and sorghum grits and 60 5-gallon drums of vegetable oil. The food was arriving via USAID from the United States.

As the younger children danced around and the older kids began unloading the food, I felt a feeling I haven't felt in a long, long time. Maybe since September 11, 2001. Not exactly patriotism, but not that far off. I didn't feel ashamed to come from the U.S. It was nice to be able to feel proud of where I come from instead of embarrassed, even if it didn't last long. It was a really nice moment. Thank you.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

She's here!

My last week here at Volta Home has been much improved by the arrival of another volunteer, Jennifer. (I can't escape it even here, it seems, as that makes 3 Jennifers at the orphanage/school). She's a teacher as well and from Minnesota. She could pretty much be devil spawn and I'd thouroughly enjoy her company, but she's very pleasant.

In other news, I will be home in 10 days. Wow.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


A shout out for all those graduating tomorrow: Congratulations! But the big question lies lurking nearby.

What now?

I'm with you on that one!

Anyways, congrats to Wendy, Sara, Cody... there are others, I'm sure! Have fun tomorrow, if you're attending the services!

Soon, Very Soon...

In less than two weeks, I will be home, enjoying the luxuries of American life once more. Since I can't think of much to write, I will share with you the long (and growing longer) list of things I want to eat, do, and see when I get home. But mostly just eat.

I told David that I don't know how we're going to get home from the airport on June 29th, because it's going to be very hard for one of us to drive while we're being hugged, kissed, and squeezed the entire time. I hope to spend a solid 3 days straight basking in the glory of David. I'll even follow him to the bathroom.

I can't wait to make a trip to Oregon to visit family and friends and share my pictures and stories with them, and hear what they've been up to.

I miss my kitties! I can't wait to play with Ginsberg, and see what Burroughs looks like with a lot more fur. Also, I hear that Burroughs doesn't hide anymore - I'm so excited!

This is, by far, the largest category. I have been obsessing about food since about 4 days after I got here. It's totally ridiculous, but I can't stop! I plan on gaining at least 5 pounds on cheese alone.

Taco Bell
Picnic food: corn on the cob, potato salad, chips, Gardenburgers
Pizza from David's Pizza
Ethnic food: Mexican, Indian, Italian, German - restaurants in general
Fondue with rye bread
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
Fajitas, with cheese, of course
Spaghetti, with cheese, lots of it
Popcorn with butter... not margarine
Bagels and cream cheese
Warm biscuits (from Olde European, perhaps?)
Cookies, cookies, cookies
Ice cream
Plain old crackers and cheese
Snickers, Reeses, and Almond Joys
I could go on, but I think I should just stop there...

Also, cooking. I love to cook, and I really miss it.


I'm going to read different books then the three I have with me. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will be here shortly.

I'm going to walk to the AMC theater every day for a week and watch movies while David is at work. Mindnumbing entertainment and air-conditioning!

I also plan on renting a ton of movies that I've missed while I've been gone, though it'll be a few more weeks before they're out probably.

I can't wait to watch trashy reality TV again. I'm going to admit something here: I love CBS's Big Brother. I hope that show is still on this summer. If it is, I plan on catching up on all the episodes in one day and watching it all summer long.


All modern appliance, including, but not limited to: washer/dryer, dishwasher, microwave, oven/stove, blender, tap water, flush toilet, shower, laptop computer, wireless highspeed internet, refridgerator/freezer, etc.

Uploading photos and organizing them on Flickr. The lack of organization is driving me crazy.


Going grocery shopping is going to be mind-blowing. Not only will I be able to buy anything I could possibly want, but I can then take it home, but it in the fridge, and eat it.

Swimming: Lake or pool, I don't care.

Taking a bath!

Driving and walking where I want to, when I want to, and alone if I so desire.

Oddly enough, I have a strong urge to go camping when I get home. It's funny, since I've basically been camping for the past month, that I want to do it some more when I get home. It's probably just the enticement of camping food. Mmmm...

Watching fireworks on the 4th of July. Again, not normally a big fan, but it sounds like a blast right now.

Getting a haircut! Also, washing my hair with shampoo and conditioner and not a bar of soap.

Going to the Farmer's Market Saturday mornings

Wearing real shoes again, not flipflops or "slippers" as they're called here

Sleeping in.

Ordering food and having it delivered straight to my door.

Volta Home

I've added a link to the place where I am staying and teaching at (Volta Home) in my sidebar. If you visit the site, you will see a picture of two girls on the bottom right. They are Sarah and Penny, two very energetic 5 year olds.

Violent Acts of Discipline

I will preface this entry by saying that I expected things would be different here than they are at home. Duh, right? But this incident was simply too much.

June 12 - I was in a good mood this morning as I headed off to the schoolhouse. I'd spoken with David on the phone, and he'd arranged my flight back home for me (first class, I'm very excited!), I would be traveling to Hohoe later in the morning to pick up money at the Western Union, and I had a fun game planned for English class.

At first, everything appeared to be fine. But, as the class finished copying their notes from the previous lesson, I began to hear yelling and screaming in the open walkway of the school building. I peaked my head out the doorway to see what was going on.

Classrooms were being lined up, one by one, and being beaten. Beatings are the main form of punishment here, so this is not that unusual. I've pretty much gotten used to the casual smack of a child, despite the bitter taste it leaves in my mouth. That is to say, I don't like it, but I deal with it. But this was different. The students were being beaten: hit with sticks and hands and feet. All the male teachers were hitting each individual child repeatedly, as hard as they could. These are men in their twenties and thirties, in peak physical condition, railing on little kids, straining and sweating at the effort of it all. It was highly disturbing.

The kids, some as young as six years old, were screaming, crying, shaking with feat. As they were hit, over and over again, they fell to the ground in pain, rolling up into the smallest shapes they could, trying to protect themselves. No body part was exempt: heads, necks, backs, arms, bottoms, the backs and fronts of the legs, the tender area behind the knees... nothing was off-limits. I saw marks forming before my eyes, bruises and welts. These children are as dark as night, most of them. Such marks do not come easily with such coloring. I saw blood dripped from open gashes on several children.

I could barely peel my eyes away. When I looked at the teachers, I could see the sick joy in their eyes. They were smiling! They were laughing! I felt sick, I wanted to throw up. I turned back into my classroom, fighting back tears. I just wanted to yell and scream and make them stop. I wanted to run away and never, ever come back. I was about to leave the classroom, gather my things and head to Hohoe early to escape this awfulness when Isaac (one of the head teachers) appeared in my doorway: "I need to speak with your students."

I hesitate, breathe in, and ask him quietly if he intends to beat them, too. He nods, and I shake my head. I can hear the kids screaming and crying loud as ever, and I tell him that if he wants to beat children, he can take up his own class time to do it. I won't have it during mine. He nods and walks away without saying anything.

Simultaneously, I feel very brave and very stupid. I had put my foot down and said no! On the other hand, I might have just worsened the students' punishment by resisting Isaac. I don't know. It felt like the right thing, but maybe it wasn't. Either way, it felt good.

I didn't ask my students about happened to them later that day, after I left. I'm not sure I want to know. I was deeply disturbed by the whole thing. I don't even understand why the teachers thought the students deserved this. I heard a couple of half-reasons: they hadn't been studying, they were late for school, etc. But if you asked me, I'd say some asshole of a "teacher" got an itch to beat the shit out of some defenseless students, and didn't need much more of a reason than that.

Later, I tried to look back at the incident with an open mind. Was I just being sensitive? Was I inflicting my American values onto Africa lifestyles? After some consideration, I really, truly feel like what I witnessed was a case of corporeal punishment gone way, way too far. If I had been walking by a parent beating their child in this way back home, I would have called the police. I probably wouldn't have even tried to intervene directly, because the acts were violent enough that I would think that the parent was deranged, mentally unstable, and that if I tried to stop them, they'd pull out a gun and kill us all. It feels that severe, even hours later. It was just incredibly violent.

I can't get the images out of my head. With all this going on in the background, I focus on my class and try to get our game started. Class passes quickly and I head back to my room to gather my thoughts and my things. I am grateful to be leaving for town.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

You Ain't Seen Nothing Until You've Seen A Two Year Old Wielding A Machete

June 11 - Today, I witnessed many examples of how different the lives of African and American children are.

For example, today Godwin was hanging out in front of my room, carelessly swinging around a machete. He's two.

For example, 7 year old Bright climbed one of the many fruit trees this afternoon. I averted my eyes when, 40 feet up in the air, he started jumping up and down on one of the flimsy branches, trying to break free a fruit.

For example, Todzine (Tah-gee-nay), age 3, walks up to me this evening with something in her mouth. I ask her what it is, and she pulls out a bare razor blade.

In America, these children would have been carted off by Child Protective Services long ago. But in Africa, no one blinks an eye. Except me.

Note: This will be the last of the posts today, though I do have more that I want to write about. I witnessed some nastiness at the school this morning that really upset me, but I think I still need more processing time before I can write about it clearly. It's in the same vein as this post, but not quite as light-hearted. Stay tuned for more. I think I've posted 6 or 7 times in total, so make sure you read all the way back if you want the full story. They may have slipped onto the second page by now, I'm not sure.

Home Sweet Home

It's funny, but I find that whether I'm talking or writing in my journal, I avoid using the word "home" to describe the places I'm staying in Ghana. This isn't my home, and it doesn't feel like home at all, not even a temporary one. I feel like if I were to write that word down or say it alound, I might be stuck here forever.

I thought that this place would feel like home in a new way: it is, after all, the home of humanity. Many, many years ago, the first humans popped up on this continent. Africa, this ancient land, I thought, would feel like home. But still, I don't feel as though I've come home. I thought at least some part of me would feel peaceful and serene here. That in some corner of my mind, it would feel like coming back to where it all began. I am disappointed. At first, I was upset with myself, because I thought that I must have some mental block that wasn't allowing me to feel at home here. Now, I'm not so sure.

Oh My God, It's Sunday!

June 10 - Sunday in Ghana means the inevitable: Church. What's an agnostic-leaning-atheist to do? I was bored out of my mind, so I joined them, of course! And, amazingly enough, I didn't burst into flames. Hallelujah! I did get some wicked (this word will appear many, many times in this post) stomach cramps about two-thirds of the way through the service, though. That probably had more to do with a mix of indigestion and the nauseating sermon. Alas, I should start at the beginning...

"Going" to church consisted of me throwing on my jersey wrap dress, the only thing I brought with me that could be considered dressy in any way, and walking the 30 steps to the nearby outdoor classroom. I had suspected that "going" to church was not an accurate description of what we would be doing Sunday morning. And if it were, can you just imagine it? Thirty orphans walking down the dirt road in their (mostly matching) Sunday dress. What a sight that would be. Anyways, Grandpa is our minister. I know this sounds sketchy (and it kind of is, to be completely honest), but Grandpa claims to be a fully trained-and-ordained minister.

I take a seat in the plastic lawn chair. Granpa stands behind a rickety wooden altar that holds 4 bibles, a hymnal, a highlighter, and his mobile (wouldn't want to miss any important calls). It's funny, but judging from what I've seen so far throughout Ghana, I wouldn't have been surprised to see him actually answer a call in the middle of the service. Ghanaians really like their mobiles.

Service begins at about 8:40 am. Grandpa says a few opening words, then hands it off to French Teacher. They seriously refer to the French teacher as French Teacher, as though it were his name. I have never heard his actual name uttered, if he even has one. French Teacher leads the children's "Sunday School," as it were. All the adults are just sitting around, listening in, I guess. The lesson is conducted in English first, then Ewe, and finally, in French (his name is French Teacher, after all). The lesson is vaguely about not wearing your religion on the outside, but instead being a good Christian on the inside, through your thoughts and actions. I have no qualms with the meat and potatoes of this lesson, but I am bored quickly, and the service hasn't even properly begun yet. At this point, I'm not sure I'm going to make it. It's been at least eight years since I've last attended church, and Ghana church is pretty extreme.

A handful of people from the village trickle in between 9 and 10 o'clock. I guess even if you're going to to church, Africa Time is still in the works. I should have known.

The main points of Grandpa's 2 hour long sermon where (in no particular order):

- wickedness is passed through blood and DNA

- there are many descendants of Cain living among us and they are truly, permanently evil

- the culture of Ghana is wicked

- attending funerals is wicked

- "boozing" is wicked (I had to snicker a little inside at this word, I fancy it quite a bit)

- dancing, when mixed with "boozing," is wicked

- staying up late, you guessed it, is wicked

- not attending church is wicked

- if you happen to have the bad fortune to be born into the slums (Nema, an area of Accra, was named as an example), you are irreversibly destined to be wicked

- if you were born in a rural village, you're probably still wicked

- if you live at Volta Home (i.e. here), it is possible that, if you're very careful not to associate with any outsiders, you may just turn out not to be wicked

- infants and children are not exempt from God's wrath - indeed, if their parents have passed on the blood/DNA of Cain on to them, God must strike them down

- if anything bad ever happens, it is because you've done something wrong and God is punishing you (I didn't realize that God didn't have anything better to do than punish a three-year-old for pushing down her little sister)

It's all the same silliness that makes me hate fervent religiosity at home, I suppose. Ghana is not just a Christian nation, it's an evangelical Christian nation, the worst strain. I find it all depressing and sad. Grandpa preaches that the universities and the professors there are godless, that they blaspheme that the bible is the obruni's (white man's) book, not theirs. I can only hope so. For all his praise of America, Grandpa doesn't seem to comprehend that a big part of the reason America has been able to advance as far as it has is because of secularism.

Aside from that, I get very upset when religious people claim that innocent people deserved to die. Specifically, Grandpa talked about the Arab children of Iraq, how they deserved to die because they were terrorists, or the children or terrorists. Grandpa holds a special hate in his heart for Arabs, despite, or perhaps because, of his Muslim upbringing. This hatred doesn't seem very logical, or very Christian. But that's the way it usually goes. In fact, French Teacher's lesson this morning described this very phenomenon, though not in the same way). Those who profess to be the most Christian, the most faithful, turn out to be the worst offenders, using their faith as a shield against criticism. I find it despicable and disgusting.

I have suspected before that I would not be welcome here if I were to be honest, to be myself. Grandpa frequently goes off about a previous volunteer, Nadia (of Arab descent), who was not a Christian and did not just nod and smile at Grandpa's rantings. Sometimes I feel ashamed that I do not speak my mind here, but I can only imagine the loneliness I would sink into if I were to be shunned for the rest of my time here. If there was someone else here that I could talk to about all this, I don't think I would feel so bad. I doubt that Grandpa even realizes that the majority of volunteers that come through his home are liberals, secularists, agnostics, and atheists. But the people that come here, who travel to Africa, don't do it in God's name. If that was their desire, they would probably come with their church or some other religious group. The people that come with NGO's and other groups come because they want to see with their own eyes what they've previously only read about. They want to provide what little help they can in their short time here. They want to make a difference, however small.

I believe that there is good within Grandpa. There must be: he lives simply, so that he can help these children, these orphans, who most need his help. But he fails to see the holes in the lifestyle he helps to provide for these children. Some of these holes may just be cultural differences in child-rearing techniques, but there is no warmth in him for these children, who so desperately need a loving hand to touch them, a warm voice to talk to them.

I understand that the kids are sometimes just too much to handle. They are draining. Perhaps Grandpa is burned out. I am in no place to judge, I suppose. But it's hard to hear the kids being barked orders or yelled at all day.

I could really use some swashbuckling, sacrilegious humor today. If only Alison were here. Or Wendy, or Dugan, or David. Especially David. I guess it'll have to wait until I get home.

My Daily Routine

Dugan begs for more, so I will relent.

I teach a group of seven kids (when all seven of them show up to class, which isn't really all that often). There names are: Charles, Moses, Blessing, Simon (prounounced here like the feminine, Simone), Evans (Ay-vonce), Selase (Say-lah-say), and Doe. The class is officially titled Junior Secondary Schooling, but I think it is more on target with the curriculum of freshmen and sophomores in high school back in the U.S. Anyways, I've been teaching them mathematics, general science, and English language since day one. I was completely thrown in without any assistance, but I'm figuring it out slowly.

In math, I just finished teaching a unit on geometric constructions. It was highly reminiscient of high school geometry class, except no proofs. (Strangely enough, I actually enjoyed proofs, so I was sad to see that I wouldn't be teaching them).

In science, I have taught such random things as the digestive system, dental health, plant biology, and human reproduction looms ahead. I am really not interested in teaching sex ed, not here, not anywhere. There is a reason I teach elementary school, and not junior or senior high.

In English, I flip randomly through the poorly-wrtextbook (which is written by a Brit named McGuiver!) looking for things to go over with them. I still don't have a very good grasp on how much English they understand, orally or written. They're very good at pretending they understand me, which is terribly frustrating. So I try to show them some tricks when writing and speaking that they might not catch on to through conversation (like when to use I/me, how to use commas, etc.) and building their vocabularies. We've been studying antonyms, synonyms, and homonyms. This morning, we played a bingo-esque game practicing these things. Hopefully, they picked something up. At least it wasn't quite as dull as it usually is.

So, that's what I do at school. Here's a glance at my day-to-day routine, in general:

Between 5 am and 7 am (depending on how well I slept the night before and how loud everyone else is being): Wake up and have free time until breakfast

7-7:30 am: Breakfast, usually some butter bread (nasty stuff), a tiny "omelette" of sorts, and a cup of Milo, which is basically hot chocolate fortified with vitamins

8am-2:30 or 3:30 pm: School, with two breaks of 30 minutes each, at 10:20 and 12:35. The younger kids get out at 2:30, my class stays until 3:30. Of course, I'm not teaching during this entire time, I have a lot of free time during these hours, and my lunch is usually around 11:30 am)

2:30-4:30 pm: The kids do chores and homework, help prepare dinner, play - I have more free time

4:30 pm: I eat dinner around this time

5 pm: The younger kids eat dinner

5:30 pm: The older kids eat dinner

5:30-6:30 pm: Clean up from dinner, more chores, play, more free time for me...

6:30 pm: Devotionals. Now this is where it gets interesting. All the kids set up three or four benches, sing songs, and pray. It's typically a highlight of my day, because I'm being entertained, even if it only lasts about 20 minutes.

7 pm: If there is electricity, homework is done. If not, the kids are sent to their rooms.

8 pm: Lights or not, kids are sent off to bed. By 8:30, pretty much everyone is sleeping. Expect me, because I haven't used up hardly energy all day. So I lie in bed, falling asleep between 10 and 11 pm.

As you can see, the kids work really hard all day long, at school and at home, and I have a lot of free time on my hands. These kids do so much work every day! It makes lazy Americans such as myself look even lazier. But if I try to pitch in, or do anything for myself, I am quickly asked to sit back down, just let one of the children do it. I suppose it's nice in some ways, but I am growing very tired of being seen as helpless. I can't wait to be able to do things for myself once more.

What I Did Last Saturday

June 9 - No rain today. It's been pretty hot here today, actually. There is a funeral going on in the village of Ve-Deme, just a little ways further up the road. Funerals here are impressive to say the least. Everyone who has ever known the deceased shows up in bright red clothing and socializes, dances, sings, and drinks for days on end. The road just outside the orphanage/school compound is normally very quiet, lots of foot traffic, but it is rare to see an automobile go by. This weekend, however, cars and tro-tros and taxis have been flying by in a steady stream. Music has been blaring constantly since about 3 pm yesterday. And I mean constantly - all night long.

Aside from the funeral, there isn't much going on today. It's Saturday, which means no school, so I don't know what to do with myself. Luckily, the kids had some plans for me. They were going do my hair. It was quite the production, and quite the sight, too, I'm sure. So I sat down on the floor of one of the outdoor classrooms, having my hair "did" by about a dozen children. It started out with a simple combing and squeals of "Your hair is too nice!" (what that means, I don't know).

Soon enough, a consensus was reached that what I really needed was braids. I soon had dozens of teeny-tiny braids spread randomly throughout my hair. As I sat patiently, all the little girls were explaining, each louder than the next, that they wanted to be hairdressers when they grew up. Hairdressing is a very serious endeavor here in Ghana. You can't go anywhere without seeing a God's Grace Beauty Saloon or a Jesus Lives Boutique and Saloon. And those aren't typos you're seeing. S-a-l-o-o-n is the most commong spelling here. When C. and I tried to explain the difference between saloon and salon, in American English anyway, our guide, Edem, just laughed and shook his head. Personally, I think the extra 'o' adds a touch of much-needed irony to the names. Anyway, as I was saying, hair is very important to Ghanaians (especially women, but men too). Many women have weaves, complex braids, dye jobs, chemically straighted hair, etc., etc. And they are all very concerned about keeping it nice - scarfs, or plastic bags, if necessary, are worn in poor weather or long tro-tro rides. It seems like every third woman I meet here aspires to be a beautician. It'd be funnier if it weren't kind of sad. I mean, hair is great and all, but this country could use some workers with other skills. What about fields like medicine or education or public health and welfare?

So, I put up with the hairdressing for over two hours, then went to fetch my dirty clothes because Saturday, if nothing else, is laundry day. Thank goodness. Every stitch of clothing I have has been worn for days and is pathetically dirty. One of the older girls took one glance at my attempts to wash my own clothes and practically begged to be allowed to do my laundry for me. Washing your clothes by hand, and doing a good job, is harder than it looks. So I let her take over, and sat there watching for the next 2 hours, running to hang up the clothes to dry, and, at very least, washing my own underwear.

So that is how I passed my Saturday: getting my hair "did" and watching someone do my laundry.


I have decided to stop posting pictures up on Flickr while I'm here. I can't take it anymore. I can sit at the internet cafe for an hour and only get six photos uploaded. It is ridiculous! Plus, I'm not taking as many photos as I thought I would (the kids can be a pain when the camera comes out, so I only sneak it out on ocassion), so I won't be running out of storage space any time soon. I've also taken a couple of videos, which I will post here once I get home. They're low quality, but the sound is the most important part anyway. So far, I have a short video of what the rains sound like when I'm in my room (roaringly loud) and a video of Emmanuel's musical talents (he is about 10 years old, blind, and an amazing musician, despite the fact that he has no proper instruments). So you have much to look forward to until then!

I'll be home for Christmas...

Actually, make that Independence Day. Due to a conglomeration of reasons, most chiefly among them being:

1) I spent a lot of time early on in this trip traveling to many of the places I wanted to go. The places that are left on my list are mostly far away, in the North and East. I have been informed by many Ghanaians that traveling to the North, especially, during rainy season probably isn't a good idea. What should be an 8 hour drive can quickly become a 30 hour drive, if the road isn't completely washed out. So I guess I will be skipping that part of the country, since a 30 hour tro-tro drive doesn't exactly sound like fun to me.

2) There are no other volunteers, or even friendly locals, to accompany me on any of these trips, and I don't want to travel that far alone.

3) Sitting in my room alone for a good chunk of everyday, with no one to talk to, is starting to drive me nuts.

4) I miss David like crazy. I think I could handle it if I was keeping busy, but I'm not, so... You get the point.

So I will be leaving Accra on June 28th, a little earlier than I wanted to, but it was either then or just wait it out. I will arrive at JFK Airport that evening. Early the next day, I begin the series of flights that will get me back into Spokane at about 1 pm. For the second part of my flight, from JFK to Spokane, David booked me first class seats! I could really use some first class treatment after this trip, so I'm very excited. I'm sure it's going to spoil me for good, and from then on, I'll only want to fly first class, but oh well.

In conclusion, I will be seeing all of you soon! (A visit to Oregon will be in short order, as well, so I will really be seeing all of you soon.)

Friday, June 8, 2007

Long Time, No Shower

This is almost funny. I'm bored. Yeah, I'm sitting halfway around the world in Africa and I'm BORED. I've read all three of my novels through twice. Thank goodness they were all incredibily interesting, otherwise I surely would of died by now. The Timetraveler's Wife, Wicked, and Running With Scissors, just in case you were interested. I wish I'd brought the entirety of the Harry Potter series with me. I've also completed 30 some-odd Sudoku puzzles since Tuesday. So what's the deal?

I wake up every morning, between 5 and 7, eat breakfast, and fiddle around until 8, when school starts. I teach for an hour or two, then I head back to my room for a break, then lunch. Sometimes I teach more in the afternoon, but sometimes not. Maybe I'll teach for another hour (maybe 2) in the afternoon, but not matter what, I'm done by 3:30. If I'm not teaching from the hours of 8-3:30, all the kids are busy with school stuff and I'm on my own. Most of the adults on site either teach or cook, so they've got work to do. Not that they're especially chatty anyway.

So I hang out in my room, read, do puzzles, write in my journal, groom, plan lessons, maybe walk around. You may find it of note that despite all my free time this week, I "showered" only Monday and Friday (today). That's a big space in the middle there. I know, I know: you're impressed. Who can blame you? I can explain though, it's been raining a lot off and on, and showering in the rain just seems kind of silly to me, so I've just refrained. Until this morning. You have to draw the line somewhere, right? And I suppose my line is 5 days.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Me. Camping. Rainforest. Africa.

That's right, I camped in the freaking rainforest in Africa. I'm so hardcore, I know. Again, apologies to the space-time continuum, because this was last weekend as well.

We wake up late Saturday morning -May 24 - (the previous post details our Friday night). Today's plan is to go to Kakum National Park. Neither Catherine or I know what time it is, because we have left our alarms and watches back at Big Mamah's house. We decide to shower and get ready, and just wait for Joseph to come get us, since he's the only one with the time. Finally, J. knocks on the door and informs us that it's already 10:30. Yikes - we've already wasted a lot of time. Since we're already late, we decide to check our email and have lunch in town, then head out.

We take a taxi in to the park, about a 30 minute drive. As we near our destination, I start getting really, really nervous. Kakum is the home of a series of canopy walkways that dangle precariously 150 feet above the rainforest floor. It is one of only about 4 locations in the whole world that have such a thing, and it is our main reason for going. I have the feeling that the canopy walk is one of those things that unfolds your emotions thusly: 1. You look forward to a lot before you actually do it; 2. You're really nervous about doing it once you've bought your ticket; 3. You regret your decision completely upon actually seeing the thing in front of you; 4. You're thinking of ways to get out of doing it once you're halfway across; and, finally, 5. Exuberant and exhilarated that you have completed this huge task once you're safely on solid ground.

Anyway, the hike up into the forest canopy was an intense one, basically just stair-after-stair-after-stair. Between the heat, humidity, and the physical exertion, I was sweating like a madwoman. Truly, I had reached a new level of disgutingness not previously thought possible. As we climbed up the last set of stairs to the canopy walk, my heart was thudding in my chest for a completely different reason. I watched some others in our group go across and took a bunch of photos to keep my mind off the task at hand. The walkway is basically a series of long, thing metal ladders with a wooden board laid on top of them, held together with lots of intricately tied ropes. These ropes attach to cables and are in turn attached to the anchoring trees.

As I take my first step out on to the walkway, the board below me lurches and the ropes sway. It's very difficult to keep your balance up here and the ropes only go up to about your elbows. It feels as if you could topple over, though I'm sure that would be a difficult thing to actually do. I make my way across the first (and shortest) bridge, exhilirated. There are still six more to cross, the longest and highest of which lie ahead. The view from up here is simply breathtaking and I snap away with my camera.

It takes us about an hour to cross all of the canopy walkways. When all is said and done, I'm so happy that I did it, and it wasn't really that frightening. It was only when I was imagining tumbling off it to a horrific death that I was scared at all! Sweaty (what's new?) and tired, we head back to the cafe at the reception area. We order water and food, and just sit and relax for awhile. When we've gathered enough strength, we order our dinners to-go and follow our guide back down a winding trail to the campsites.

The campsite area is more than adequate, with outdoor showers and a covered toilet area. The sites themselves are open platforms, just a floor raised up a bit off the ground, with a roof covering it from above. From the "ceiling" hangs a mosquito net, protecting some well-used sleeping pads. Within a few minutes, C. and I have come to the consensus that we will be sleeping in the same net, as all of our sites are spread out. We joke that we're worried about being "eaten by bears," but I think that's just because we don't really want to think about what we actually should be afraid of out here in the African rainforest.

We settle in, C. decides to shower and J. decides to start a fire. The fire is still looking pretty sad by the time C. comes back from the shower, but it's starting to put off some heat, so we girls pack up our stuff and head off to my campsite. We eat our dinner and head in for the night. Keep in mind that's it's only about 6 p.m. at this point and it's not even dark yet. But we've had an exhausting day and we have to get up at about 4:45 a.m. tomorrow morning to go hiking again, in hopes of seeing some rainforest animals.

We read and nap until dark, then snack a little on the granola bars and peanuts I've brought along, then go to sleep at about 8-8:30 p.m. I wake up a lot during the night. Finally, I wake at about 4 a.m. and lie there in the dark until J. comes to wake us at a quarter-til-5. By this time, C. is awake too. Quickly, we gather our things and head out to the main receptin area where we will meet our guide, Emmanuel, and the rest of our hiking group. Together, just as dawn breaks, we head back up the canopy trail. Again, it's a difficult climb, but in the dark I have no concept of how far I've gone, and I'm at the top before I know it. We walk the Ebony trail, in hopes of seeing some of the monkeys we can hear so clearly. It's not hot here inside the rainforest, but it is very humid and muggy. We stop often to search for monkeys in the branches, but we see only one small one very high up.

The walk there and back takes a little over an hour altogether. When we get back, we sit in the cafe and wait for it to open, which turns out to be about two hours later. We feast on soda and water and order a ton of food. After filling up, we walk out of the park to the nearest tro-tro stop not far off. A seemingly full tro-tro stops and somehow we all load in. The mate (the guy who collects the money and opens and closes the doors) hangs out the side door as we cruise through many small villages at upwards of 70 km/h. The drive back to Cape Coast seems faster than the ride in and we are soon there.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Hello! My name is Greencard

This is a post where I tell you about stuff that happened last weekend. Sorry about the confusion to the space-time continuum. Anyway, onwards.

May 23 - We have arrived at our hotel in Cape Coast, after much confusion, and trying to stay at two-not one, but two!- different hotels that no longer exist. Our motley little group (Catherine, Joseph, and I) are starving and have high hopes of finding some good food that doesn't taste like tomatoes and onions over some kind of starch. Our guidbooks take us to Blue Cheese, or at least, to where Blue Cheese should be: that is, across the street from the crab statue in the middle of town. Yeah. The crab statue, I know. There is a cafe there and someone informs us that they've changed their name. Of course they did. So we sit, and decide upon three orders of fried rice, two veggie, one with chicken, and a round of Star, one of the local beers here. (On a side note, after ordering one today, I saw that they are only - ha! - 675 ml, so about 2/3 of a liter. I swear they seem bigger at night.) Anyways, the fried rice arrives long after the beer, so we're a little tipsy by the time the food arrives. But it is excellent. Amazing. Mind-blowingly delicious. Okay, I was really hungry, and it tastes different from everything else I'd been eating, and it was semi-familiar, and I'd been drinking. But still, it was good. This cafe turns into a nightclub in the evening, and I can tell we're getting close to that transition, because the speakers are turned up ridiculously loud. After we finish eating, we move to the far corner away from the wall of sound. From our new perch, we get to watch the movie that is playing on the single screen: The Specialist, starring Sylvester Stallone and Sharon Stone (alongside them is James Woods, which I practically have a fit about). We get to see Sly's gross naked ass and an assortment of things I could have lived without, but the shower scene is what really gets us. Mmmm... showers. So we pack up, pay, and head back to the hotel in hopes of running water. On our way back, J. & C. stop for a pack of cigarettes. A little foreshadowing: over the course of this evening, the entire pack will disappear. And no one bums a single one.

Once we are presentable (or at least up to African standards of presentableness) , we head over to the bar by the castle, right on the beach. It's absolutely gorgeous here, and the cool salty breeze feels wonderfully refreshing. Another round is ordered, then a round of tequila shots (which actually ends up being rum, all in one glass, but we take what we can get). The rum is awful and burns like crazy. I am officially intoxicated at this point, and decide that I am done drinking for the night. Catherine inherits the rest of my beer.

Over the course of the night, Eze, a musician-turned-preacher, joins us at our table. He is friendly and has an aura of peacefulness about him. He's most definately a Christian, but very open minded. His views on the world are very similar to mine and my tablemates'. I just don't happen to agree with his conclusions that religion and Jesus in particular are what makes people stop their madness and try kindess with one another. (Or for that matter, that using Jesus as your main reason for being a good person is wise, healthy, or of value on its own.) Eze's singing gets the attention of another musician in the bar, and soon we're being serenaded.

Within an hour or so, I've sobered up and our new friend gets us into a cab for a good price. We drive by the spot we had dinner at, only to see that this place is bustling with activity now. We make a split-second decision to have "one more drink" and ask the driver to let us out. As we weave our way through the crowd, past the crab statue, and into the bar, I am reminded of the moshpits of my youth (or my youthier youth). Of course, in the African version, people are really dancing, not just shoving and pushing, and it's full of black people, which would never happen in the U.S./punk version. We grooved our way to the bar and ordered another round. I find that I'm a much better dancer with a drink in my hand because now I only have to figure out what to do with the one extra hand. I dance for a few minutes in this crowd of bodies. Catherine and I are popular, with our light skin, long hair, and the stickers we're wearing on our foreheads: "Hi, I want to take you home to America with me." Catherine has is especially rough, as she's totally adorable without the added attraction of a ticket to the United States. Our dance cards fill quickly, but, like the moshpit, I am exhausted soon after starting and I go to sit down. A man comes up to me and tries to introduce himself, but I can't hear him over the music. He is motioning with his hands, but I'm still not getting it. Finally, the woman next to me whispers in my ear that he's deaf and mute. Instantly, a see the opportunity to use my dusty ASL skills. I sign my name and where I'm from, and introduce J. & C. He's very polite, which is a nice change (people here, most specifically men, are very bold and direct, which to little American me, comes off as rude). He asks me if I can ask Catherine to dance with him, and I hand him off to her. After they dance for half a song, we polish off our beers and head back up to the Savoy, our sub-par home here in Cape Coast.

As we walk, two young Rastas start up a conversation with Joseph. C & I are ready for bed, so we forge onward to the hotel. We sprawl out on our bed, two twins side-by-side in the same bedframe (later this evening, I will dream of this bed, seeing the little ravine between our two mattresses as the canals of the open sewers that flank most sidewalks here). A few minutes pass, we're nearly sleeping, when J. walks in with two bags of nasty looking weed. It seriously looks as though someone smoked it, ate it, shat it out, dried it, and then sold it J. for 50,000 cedis. Seriously gross. Manic, he searches aorund for DIY bong supplies. I am horrified that he actually intends to smoke that crap, and I think C. is too. We're wishing he'd just go to his room and leave us out of it. A couple of aluminum cans, spurts of coughing, and a lot of frustration later, he gives up and lies down on the bed next to C., who is clearly not interested in sleeping next to a 6'6" beanpole of a man tonight. She doesn't scoot over, probably in hopes that he will take the hint, give up, and return to his own room. Soon enough, he does just that. Finally, we sleep.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Arrival, Guilt, and Selfishness

So, I have arrived in Ve-Deme, at the Volta Home Orphanage, about 40 km from Hohoe in the Volta Region of Ghana. I started teaching immediately - I'm teaching 13-17 year olds, which is a new challenge. Day one, they threw me in and I was teaching advanced geometry. I messed up a lot, but they were understanding.

Meanwhile, I am growing reflective. This is probably due to the fact that there are no other volunteers here (yet) and I'm bored. I'm feeling lonely and homesick, which makes me feel guilty for two reasons: I know David is missing me and home (and I him) and that I'm not here and "with it" 100%.

Anyway, I've come to the realization that if nothing else is gained from this trip, I have learned how important it is to never take anything for granted. From water running from the tap, having a place to sleep at night, food to eat, someone who loves me, a mother and a father... there are just so many things these children don't even know they should have... and again, I
feel guilty. I miss my family desperately, but I will see them in a matter of a few short weeks. These children long for something, anything that feels like the family and the home they've never known. I feel guilty that despite my presence here, and the appearance of selflessness, I am very selfish in my heart. I want nothing more than to spend the night lying next to my husband, with my cats nearby, in my comfortably luxurious apartment. I want to watch The Daily Show and surf the internet mindlessly. I want things to be easy again.

Sorry orphans! :)