Saturday, January 7, 2012

Here it is! After 26 months in Peace Corps, and 17 months in studio - A new body of work inspired by Ghana and created by Chris Martin!

This body of work is currently part of Relationships: Spheres of Influence on exhibit Jan 10 -May 6, 2012 at Brunnier Art Museum, Iowa State University, Ames, IA
Opening Reception, Thursday, January 19, 4:30-6:00 pm
Special presentation by Chris will be Tuesday, February 28 at 7:00 pm

You're invited to come visit us and see the show in person!

Friday, September 3, 2010

“Home again, Home again!” by Tammi; 3 Sept 2010

The final few hours of our journey home took place on August 16th. Over two years ago we made our exit within a kicked-up dust cloud of activity; completing a bathroom remodel, sorting and donating mountains of stuff, insurance, finances, powers of attorney, checking i’s for dots and t’s for crosses, then finally passing off the keys, and praying we had remembered to pack the necessities.

Although it all worked out well, after having left in a bit of chaos, we were a little unsure of what we would find upon our arrival back. Would our house be a mess? Would it still be standing?! The scheduled week of our return Ames had been making the national news. The on-line photos of campus showed Iowa State Center in the middle of what appeared to be a beautiful reflection pool. Unfortunately this “lake” was where landscaping, parking lots, and lower levels of buildings were supposed to be. While trying to ignore all this news, we had also heard how the flooding broke water mains resulting in the need to have water trucked in and/or treated. Not that treating water would be unusual for us. But we were really hoping to have the luxury of clean running water once we got home.

Happily, the evening we pulled into our driveway, we found our house to be not only standing and dry but well cared for as well. In fact we found our neighbor friend inside flushing the pipes since the boil order had been cancelled. Thanks to our fabulous leasers and wonderful neighbors who all obviously watched over things for us and took care of whatever needed to be done (without so much as a peep!) it seemed almost as if we had never left. The path had been laid that would make it easy for us to just settle back in.

They say that readjustment to life back home is the toughest part of the Peace Corps experience. So it might have made sense for us to unpack our bags and try to relax for the very few days remaining before Chris had to report back to work. Instead, the very next day (despite the fact that everything had been so well taken care of) we began ripping up carpet, repainting walls, and remodeling again!  I guess not everyone handles the readjustment process in the same way.

As of today progress has been made on the home improvement projects but we still haven’t gotten our things unpacked, not even the bags we carried home with us! Chris is back at work and we’re both staying busy and we’re catching up with friends and generally life is good. Actually it’s marvelous! When I turn on the tap the water runs (cold AND hot)! When people speak I can understand what they’re saying. Business offices are so very efficient. It’s easy (and painless) to get around. Most tasks can be accomplished – and - in less than a day. Tasty recognizable food is everywhere (gain winter layer of fat—check). And it’s hard to believe I never realized until now that the Hy-Vee grocery store is one of the most beautiful places in the world!

So anyway, if you’re still reading this blog you have obviously noticed that I’m still writing it. And I think I will continue to do so for a while. One reason being that if readjustment is one of the hardest parts of the Peace Corps experience, (whether or not that holds true for me personally); I feel I should cover it. But as I mentioned before, I want to go back and record or finish writing about some compelling stories and interesting subjects that I didn’t get posted during service, even if only for selfish reasons. And the time to do it is now before I get too caught up in and distracted by American life and while I still have a fighting chance at capturing the moments which are still somewhat fresh in my mind. 

In the mean time Chris and I will be playing the role of RPCV and taking part in several presentations including the one announced above. 

Ahhh…it’s good to be home again!

Monday, August 9, 2010

"The Final Chapters" by Tammi; 09 Aug 2010

Ok, so it’s been a while since our last blog entry. Yes, too long. The past several weeks have been a flurry of activity. In fact I am still caught up in the whirlwind.  But I’ll do my best to summarize parts of it now.

I am writing this as I sit on U.S. soil! Actually I’m not sitting directly on the dirt. Instead, I’m in the luxurious comforts of my sister’s home in Wisconsin; a stopping point on the final leg of our journey home. We touched down a few days ago and are now happily adjusting to life in America. 


Our enthusiastic welcoming committee

But I need to back up---Back to Ghana---and tell you about those projects we were working to complete. Since many of you were players in the school library project, let me jump into that one first.

School Library:

You all were so supportive that we quickly received the necessary funding. The actual work was slow going at first, but quickly picked up steam once the contractors had done their part.


The project begins…


The pace picks up…

Much more than just wall paint, Chris led the visual arts students in creating World and Ghana map murals…


Bringing in the books (so eager to have a library, the kids were reading as they carried them in)…


And finally the greatly anticipated library is reborn!!

On behalf of everyone at DASHS, thank you for your support!


Friends and family of Peace Corps volunteers from across the U.S. contributed so that kids from every region in Ghana could attend this year’s student leadership conference. Chris and I were able to take four student participants, two junior group leaders (top students from last year’s attendees), and my faculty counterpart. It was another fantastic event for everyone. In fact our young return leaders said it was even better than last year! Best of all, our kids have already begun to follow up with peer education sessions on topics ranging from goal setting to HIV/AIDS education.


Invest in Our Future Scholarships:

The Invest in Our Future scholarship kids are well on their way to completing their senior high school education. The funds (which will see most students through another full academic year) have been distributed, and the students along with their families are strategizing as to how they can fill any remaining gaps. One student has even started his own micro-enterprise rearing rabbits to raise money for his future education.  Two of my friends/colleagues, Gifty and Elorm, will faithfully oversee this project until these kids finish their schooling at DASHS. I am looking forward to receiving their and sharing their progress reports.


Knowing the kids are in good hands made saying “goodbye” just a little bit easier


Art Show:

There simply was not enough time in the shortened academic calendar for the art show to come off this year, but the plans and proposal are in place for next year.


Water Sachet Project:

By leading a project that turns trash into income for the school (see “Made in Ghana” blog entry from March), Chris was able to enhance the visual arts program at DASHS and jump-start construction of a new canteen that will serve the entire school. When we left, there were outstanding requests by people who wanted to purchase more products, so it is clear that the project has great potential. There was also a lot of talk and enthusiasm among the faculty and students for the continuation of the project. But initiative and leadership were sorely lagging and we left feeling very uncertain about the project’s future. Now just this week we received word that 200 pieces were produced and delivered. So hope prevails.

There are many topics that we have not yet covered and I still hope to add those things here on this blog retrospectively. Our lives as Peace Corps Volunteers may have officially come to a close. But that doesn’t mean our service is over. In fact a new and exciting chapter as RPCV’s (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer’s) has only just begun!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

“World Cup Crazy” by Chris; 26 June 2010

Several of you have asked me if the people here are into the World Cup. The answer is a yeah--in a big way! For the past two weeks there has been little talk of much else. Our school has changed is schedule (starting classes at 6 am) so that students and teachers can be done in time to see the matches. The newspapers and radio talk of nothing else. Interviewers are constantly asking government officials how they feel now that the hopes of all Africans are now resting on Ghana. Might this all be a bit dysfunctional? Perhaps!

Lets back up for those of you who are not following the “action”; the World Cup is the championship tournament for international football (soccer) and is held every four years in a different country, similar to the Olympics. This year it happens to be in South Africa, its first time on African soil. It started with 32 teams and is now down to 16. Six of them were from Africa; South Africa, Cameroon, Cote D’ Ivoire, Algeria, Nigeria, and of course Ghana. All of the African teams were eliminated in a disappointing first round – all except for Ghana. And so Ghana pretty much represents the entire continent now. If only I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard “All Africa’s hopes now lie with Ghana.”


Every visible television (including this one at the shop next to our favorite spot) draws a crowd

So as chance would have it, the Ghana Black Stars are set to play the U.S. The big match will be at 18:30 GMT and to say Ghanaians are frothing at the mouth would not be an over statement.  Let’s discuss how we got to where they are now, and before I get going forgive me, for I am a bit jaded and have experienced too much here not to react.

During the first World Cup round each team plays 3 games in their assigned group and you either win lose or draw getting 3 points for a win, 1 for a draw, and 0 for a loss. In the end the two teams with the highest point counts in each group advance. The Black Stars grouping included Serbia, Germany and Australia. They won their first match against Serbia, the first win (and if I’m not mistaken the only win for an African team), then played to a draw with a weaker Australia, setting them up to play Germany in their last match of the first round. On the final day of round 1, Serbia played Australia while the Black Stars played Germany. In order to advance to the final 16, Ghana had to either win or draw against Germany…that is, if Serbia won their match as expected. Well Serbia did not win. By a miracle of all miracles Serbia lost to the weak Australian team, saving Ghana’s butt. 

Tammi and I along with another friend watched this event unfold in Ho, and upon hearing of Serbia’s loss, (the games were being played simultaneously) mayhem ensued. There were impromptu street parades, yes lots and lots of vovozellas (obnoxious horn distings) being blown, yelling, cheering and car horns blearing well into the night. Now I do not have a problem with celebrating a win, but… they didn’t win! They played a lackluster game and lost 1 to nothing. I think the thing that really set me off was at the end of if it when the Ghana players (again-after losing the match) tore their shirts off and ran around the field waving the Ghana flag. Did I mention that Ghana LOST THE GAME?! Yet they were acting as if they had won the entire championship when they had only lucked out enough to advance.

So you’re wondering what my take on it is? Sadly I find that this is a perfect metaphor; yet again an African country is bailed out by someone else and they take what they can get with little or no modesty or pride. Ghana was perfectly capable of winning their match. They are a good team with great potential. They had many opportunities where they could have risen to the occasion and scored a goal, earning their place in the tournament. But apparently they preferred to sit back, keep an ear on the other match that was taking place, and let somebody else put them into a position to play on. Typical…

I was angry and still am. I am sorry I am venting this on you but you know sometimes I feel things need to be said that ain’t so nice. If Australia had not had a big surprise win, Ghana would have been sent home. The team and its fans cared little of the fact that they failed to win. What would we have done in the U.S. if this had happened? (By the way, the U.S. earned their presence in the second round with 2 wins and a draw). How I see it is we would have shook hands with our fellow competitors, retired to the locker room, wiped our brow, breathed a sigh of relief, and counted or blessings. But not here, instead there is the typical air of entitlement.

One of these fans is not like the others...Where's Chris?
I did the sermon at our school’s church service last Sunday (believe it or not) and one of the main points I spoke on was anything worth having is worth working for. And I think my message may have even got through to a few. Then this event comes along and my message is flipped on its backside by Ghana’s greatest idols. It drives me crazy!
Solutions? It’s not simple. The way I see it is that this is a culture that is ruled by entitlements. People here seem to strive to greater positions so that they can enjoy greater entitlements but without putting in the work. The government throws out benefits to the various heads such as new cars, TVs, even air conditioners, seemingly to pacify them. I have shared my frustrations about leadership here many times because it seems that those in positions of power reap all the benefits but seem not to know how to or do not want to do what it takes to be real leaders. It needs to start somewhere. And it might get started if we stop simply handing people things and instead encourage them truly earn it. Stop the aid and make them trade. This country is chuck full of resources and manpower but as long as they keep getting handouts there is little or no incentive to utilize either.

There are several other discussion points I could include here such as why African teams have not fared well even though they have some of the best players in the world. There is also the point of “All the hopes of Africa are upon the Black Stars” or the one that really gets me, “God is on the side of the Black Stars.” But these would just force me to rant of even longer and trust me you wouldn’t want that.

So I’ll finish by saying that while I hope the U.S. team does well, in the end I honestly hope for the best team to win. I would actually love to see the Ghana play well as a team, play with passion, and earn a victory over the U.S. Then during the post game interviews I would want to see Black Stars team members talk about how great it feels to have accomplished something that they have worked so hard together to achieve. This would indeed be a small way in which the Black Stars could genuinely help their fellow Africans.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

“June 10, Two Years Today” by Tammi; 10 June 2010

Today marks a huge milestone for me. As I write this evening I celebrate the anniversary of our second year in Ghana.  Two whole years!  This is the goal I have been striving to reach and I made it! We arrived in Ghana on 10 June 2008. And a lot has happened since. And maybe nothing at all has happened. I have mentioned before that this experience has been like swinging on a pendulum – up one minute and down the next. Maybe the bright side is that I can now empathize with people having bipolar disorder. Two years on this ride and I’m ready to get off it. Or not… Or something. 

Ok, so I’ve been a little moody lately. It kind of reminds me of the time back in high school as graduation was approaching. I started having dreams – dreams of frustration, dreams of the future, dreams of sorrow for what would be left behind, a mixed bag. I remember sometimes crying in my sleep- as if I had some emotions that I was unable to place, unable to vent, unable to understand. So instead of dealing with it in my waking hours the tears came in dreams like a volcano puffing smoke. You know there is something going on under the surface but you’re not sure what it is.

The situation is kind of similar to what I am going through now. I am so excited to see the finish line right there in front of me, but what happens when I cross it? I guess now is the time when a person should do some reflecting. So I’m sorry if this blog entry seems disjointed but so are my thoughts. I’ll take this opportunity just to look back at today’s activities. I was just saying to Chris that in many ways today is a reflection of our entire time here in Ghana.

This morning I awoke from a fabulous night’s sleep. I took a Benadryl last evening and that combined with the cool night air and a breeze from our ceiling fan (yeah electricity!) was almost heavenly. It was better than a few mornings ago. Earlier this week Chris and I had returned home after being away for 8 days. Travel in Ghana is grueling and after a weeklong conference with students and bunking in a room full of PCV’s Chris and I were ready to sleep in and have a little quality time to ourselves. But it was not to be. At 6:07 a.m. a visitor came to our front door (which is exactly adjacent to our bedroom window). And the visitor was persistent. So I had to get up, get dressed, answer the door, and establish there was no emergency before simply dismissing the student and requesting that she come back at a more reasonable hour. It was a bit of a buzz crusher, but the funny thing is that it’s not unusual in Ghana to show up at someone’s door before 6:30. There are some things I will miss about living here. Others I will not. But I digress…

I stretched my way out of bed this morning, had a lovely cup of coffee, but then swung into a bit of a funk. Apparently I hadn’t shaken my mood from yesterday. Yesterday I was tired--so very tired. I was tired of the heat and tired of the humidity. Tired of being mocked, tired of being laughed at, tired of still being the Obruni freak show even after two years of living and working here. I was questioning the whole thing. Has it all been pointless, has it been a waste of time, have I only served as an object of peculiarity and a resource to tap, steal from, and/or suck dry?!

I told myself to shake it off. Today was laundry day (remember there is only hand wash here) and I was actually looking forward to it. It’s something that I can do quietly, on my own without too many spectators or critics, and actually achieve some small feeling of accomplishment. By the time the clothes were hung to dry I was feeling a little better.

Then I went to teach my mid-morning class. I was thinking this would be easy since it is my one and only small class. But when I arrived at the classroom there were no students at all. So since being on time here constitutes being early, I decided I’d kill a little time and do a fly-by of the computer lab and the teacher’s lounge.

In the computer lab, my counterpart commented that some students were abusing their ICT privileges and purposely screwing up the computers that we have been working so hard to maintain. I trudged out of there thinking “Ungrateful ignorant F*^#ing students! Don’t they know they are lucky to even have computers? I don’t know why they bother coming to school at all. They should stop wasting our time”. I didn’t fare much better at the teacher’s lounge. Another colleague (one of the few teachers who really cares) commented on how things went for him last week as Master on Duty.  Basically he said he would be happy to get a transfer to well…anywhere else! As long as the students showed some respect & followed at least some of the rules, and school administrators at least pretended to care about the school and showed a little leadership now and then. Hmm…I can’t disagree with that. Twenty minutes later I decided it was time to return to the classroom… it was still empty. I didn’t feel like talking to the blackboard or to myself, so I tossed the students’ graded homework assignments on a vacant desk and went home.

Escaping this world by hiding inside the house and tucking my nose in a schlocky novel for the rest of the day seemed to be my best bet, but Chris’s pendulum was on a different swing cycle and he convinced me to join him on a trip to town. Thursday is market day and we had supplies to purchase for the school library project, a pantry to re-stock, some people to see, and a few other errands to run. So I agreed to go along and promised not to be too much of a lead weight.

Today was another hot and stupid humid one. So I was NOT looking forward to the walk into town. Luckily, one of the three school vehicles is currently operational (the other two are broken down somewhere) and since we had some heavy items to purchase for the school we were entitled to a ride. As we were waiting for the truck, the Bursar called to me and said he had my reimbursement for the computer parts I purchased. Wow! I figured I’d have to kiss that 100 Cedis goodbye. So things were really starting to look up!

At the market, part way through our shopping I felt we were making some progress and was pulling out of my protective shell when we crossed paths with my real life hero Rev Anaba. It’s always so good to see him. But today he had some sad news to share.  One of the children at the orphanage had died. Just prior to her 1st birthday little Ama became very ill and did not recover.

Everyone in our area had been getting increasingly worried that this season’s lack of rain was going to be devastating. Afram Plains is comprised mainly of subsistence farmers - people who are already marginalized.  But less than 2 weeks ago, thank God, the rains finally returned. With the rain, however, comes an increase in the mosquito population and with that an increase in cases of malaria. If we understand it correctly, Ama’s respiratory pneumonia was brought on by a case of malaria. And despite the loving care she received at the home and in the hospital, she lost the battle and was laid to rest just yesterday.

When we mentioned to Rev Anaba that we were on our way to the hospital to visit a friend, he informed us that another one the Spartanburg children was there being treated for malaria. We could sense his compassion, frustration, and worry. The home takes all the available precautions, like having the kids sleep under the prescribed bed nets.  But kids are kids. They are active. They are active in the morning and they are active in the evening and those are times when malaria carrying mosquitoes are also active. (And it’s not just kids. Malaria is the most common illness in both children and adults who are treated at our local hospital). At 8 ½ years, Yao is one of the ‘senior’ residents at the orphanage. He is also one of the very brightest, most engaging 8 year olds I have ever met.

Hospitals here do not provide things like soap, t-roll, or even food. Patients depend on their friends and family for those things. So we added a few juice boxes for Yao to our purchases and set off to visit the hospital. We could recognize the children’s’ ward because the sidewalks were filled with concerned mothers including two house moms from the orphanage. They were outside sitting with Yao and called to us when they saw us coming. Yao certainly was not his charismatic self, but thankfully he seemed to be on the mend. He was working on a plate of food that the mothers had brought him. And despite the fact that Chris tried to steal said plate of food from this poor sick orphan child (be sure to tease him about that), we detected a little smile when I mentioned we would play football the next time we see him.

Our other visit was to the men’s ward to see Chris’s counterpart. Mr. ABC has been in the hospital for several days for treatment of what was finally diagnosed as pneumonia.  Chris visited a couple of days ago. But this was my first time to visit patients at the hospital. At first I found the conditions to be sadly dizzying. This was not like your typical 2 bed patient rooms divided by a curtain with a private bath and TV all surrounded by modern medical equipment.  No, this was a small single room with eight beds (including some temporary cots) with a urinal off to one side, no privacy, and standing room only for visitors. Our friend occupied the first bed. He seemed to be a bit week but based on his frequent wise-cracks we could tell that he was on his way to recovery.

We visited with ABC for a while and since there was no way to even fake privacy, we soon had the guy in the next bed engaged in our conversation and laughing along with us. It was then that I really started to adjust to this foreign hospital environment. Upon closer inspection I could see that the surroundings were actually kept pretty clean and although dated, the equipment and supplies were probably adequate. Then I realized that there really was something different about this place - a feeling of camaraderie.

On his prior visit, Chris had learned to go around to each bed in order to greet each and every patient in the room. If one person gets a visitor, then everybody has a visitor. We greeted the middle-aged man on an oxygen tank as he labored for breath. Then we greeted an elder who seemed ill but relaxed and content. On another bed, partially curled up, laid an emaciated version of a young man. His eyes showed gratitude for our greetings and simple words of encouragement, and contained a spark that will likely be there until his life light is prematurely extinguished- presumably by AIDS. Some locals believe there is magic in the touch of white people. They think that it will bring good fortune or good luck. Of course I don’t believe that myself, but if a few words and a handshake or a touch on the shoulder helps to provide a small amount of hope, Chris and I are not about to deny such an indescribably simple gesture.

After making our rounds, we returned to ABC to ask our leave. It turned out that the neighbor man is the father of one of our students. He was proudly talking about his daughter just before she arrived to visit.  Although his daughter looked terrified to be there (it doesn’t take too many years of experience to know that death is all too close to life in this particular part of the world) I could feel the father’s positive attitude radiating throughout the room. Based on his outlook I know he is going to get well and maybe even pull some of his comrades toward wellness with him.

After all the shopping and visiting in town was done, Chris and I rewarded ourselves by going to Ross’s spot (bar) for a nice cold beer. Then we headed for home where I was looking forward to a refreshing shower and a bite of supper. A small boy who Chris and I refer to as our ‘artist in residence’ was here working on his latest carving. He hangs out at our place for hours nearly every day, picking up pointers and techniques from Chris along the way. Then a few minutes after stepping in the door, another one of my students arrived on our doorstep.

Grace is one of the Invest in our Future scholarships students that is benefitting from contributions from you, our friends and family. She had come for her progress meeting with me. This is the time when I meet individually with each of the scholarship kids to check up on them personally, see what their challenges are, advise them on academic or personal matters and praise them on areas of progress. In the beginning the kids were reluctant to come. Now they seem eager and somewhat possessive of their privileged time for these meetings. I also felt a little awkward in the beginning. Now it’s the highlight of all my Peace Corps experiences. It has been so very special to connect with these kids, to see them struggle and then see them achieve things they doubted were possible. When they get excited I get excited. When they glow with pride, I beam!

Once our company departed, Chris and I finally sat down to a nice bowl of guacamole and plantain chips. Chris looked over at me and said “You know we have made more of an impact here than we are aware of and we have affected a hell of a lot more lives than we’ll know.” Yeah, he’s probably right. I certainly hope so.

It has been two freaking years, (48 months/730 days). Just this morning I wanted throw up my hands, run home to America, eat cheeseburgers and grow fat & happy. It might have been easier for me to do that when I was mentally cursing my students and generally pissed off at the entire Ghanaian population.

This evening I’m racking my brain as to how I can possibly secure that the world will been saved in the little time I have left here. Now I’m sad and worried thinking, Who will take care of “my” kids? Who will stick up for Kwame? Who will worry about Rosemary passing her Math exam? Will my friends keep in touch? Will the little breakthroughs I made remain after I’m gone? And what of my friends back home? Their lives have been as active as mine. How will they react to my being present again?

I realize that even as I prepare to go home, I am still learning, still adjusting, still swinging on that pendulum. Stupid pendulum! And the ride is almost over – like it or not.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

“A National Geographic Experience” by Tammi & Chris; 18 May 2010

We took a few nice pictures on our visits to a neighboring village.  It’s about 18 km away from Donkorkrom, 15 km from the nearest pavement, and 10 minutes down a dirt walking path.  The photos look better as full size images, but you’ll get the idea. If Africa is half a world away from the U.S., Ghana a whole different world than Iowa, and Afram Plains a land all its own, then this Fulani village is like its own world within a world, within a world…

With no Twi or English speakers among them even conversation as simple as yes & no was impossible.  But there was enough communication to learn that the Fulani are a proud, determined, and beautiful people. In their traditional role as cattle herders, they are also our sole source of a fresh cheese called wangashee! Think fresh mozzarella. Really wished we had discovered them much sooner!