Thursday, December 18, 2008

“Losing it” by Tammi; 18 Dec 2008

One thing that I used to pride myself on was a fairly decent ability to multi-task. Occasionally I might even have a temporary moment of brilliance juggling several different tasks at once like a well-oiled machine. Then I moved to Ghana.

Last week we attended an all-volunteer conference. It was a great opportunity to talk to fellow volunteers, share ideas, successes and hardships. In one conversation I had, I mentioned to a more seasoned colleague that I seem to have lost my ability to multi-task. In fact, I find it difficult to concentrate on even one thing! She came back with what I hope is a very valid point. “Are you sure you have lost it”, she asked? “Chances are good that you ARE multi-tasking, even when you do not realize it”. She went on to point out that things that were previously “routine” may require a great deal of cognitive attention now. Those issues of culture, language, environment, etc. affect our everyday decision making abilities. And even though they are slipping to the background as I make the adjustment to my volunteer life here, they are still factors.

I am hoping she is right. Especially since I have a trip to plan, have hundreds of student grades to mark, have a house to clean…

Tammi and Chris with their dates to the unofficial Peace Corps Prom
Theme “Ghana Fabulous!”

Saturday, December 13, 2008

“Bug in My Shirt ?” by Tammi 13 Dec 2008

It’s something that really needs to be discussed, but I am in NO MOOD to broach the topic of the education system in Ghana. Instead I will present a different distraction for the day…

A moment of attentiveness in my temporary Form I ICT class

I realize that it’s now cold and wintery for most of you who are reading this. But you know that feeling you sometimes get when you are outside on a hot August day doing some gardening or are out for a brisk walk? I’m talking about that faint but obvious tickle in your shirt or on the back of your neck-one that makes you wonder “Is that really a bead of sweat dripping down my chest or could it be some multi-legged creature traveling to places where it has not been invited”? Here in Ghana I get this sensation repeatedly day in and day out. And I have found that the answer to that question is most often “yes”. Yes, it is a trail of sweat. And, yes, that is a bug--squish!

Some cool bugs that were thankfully NOT found in my shirt!

When it is not sweat &/or a bug, my own hair seems to be the culprit. Several weeks after moving here, my hair started driving me crazy. It was everywhere! It accumulated at an alarming rate in the shower drain, the sofa, the floor, etc. I felt as if my late, Great Pyrenees was teasing me from the doggy heaven beyond. He was saying, “See. It’s no fun to shed so profusely that you can create multiple small, fuzzy, creatures from what you have left behind”. But also like the coat on my beloved dog, it seemed that the amount of hair on my head did not dwindle. I have noticed some seasonal shedding back in the States but this was ridiculous. If my body was trying to cool itself down by alleviating some coverage, it was not working. You just can’t beat the African heat.

Look closely for the bug in the second phtoto. He is very, very clever.

At this point the shedding hair has slowed down significantly. I don’t know if it was a seasonal weather thing, a stress thing (volunteers endure a lot of stress, but I don’t think my stress level is coinciding with my shed rate), if my hair is growing at a much faster rate in this climate, or if the most likely candidate was my shampoo. After a trip where I splurged on some American brand shampoo made for white person hair types, the situation seems to be under control. But even with a full head of hair that sensation continues. So I’m making a little game of it. Instead of playing “Rocks, Paper, Scissors”, my game will be “Bugs, Hair or Sweat Drips”. And I’m sure I will guess it right at least 1/3 of the time!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

"Other Thoughts on Perspective" by Chris 23 Nov 2008

What do we mean when we talk about perspective? I would define it as how I view things around me in relation to what I am accustomed to. Will I see and react to things in the same way when I return to my life in the states? Absolutely! How could I not? But to what extent I don’t know. Tammi & I had a conversation about just this recently and we came to a couple of conclusions.

First, as you all have ascertained from our blog entries, we do live a much “simpler” life in many ways and we are surrounded by people living even more simply then what we are use to. The phrase “hand to mouth” takes on its true meaning here. I can never deny that we live much better than most the people around us but our lives are quite different/ simpler than what we had in the states. Much of the change I see as for the better; No credit cards to deal with, no house or car payments to worry about, no car to fuel or drive, no crazy meeting schedules (we are informed of most meetings we have here about 2 hours ahead), and no need to keep up with the Joneses. Sadly, we are the Joneses. There are so fewer trappings here and the people here, as with the rest of the developing world, equate trappings with wealth which they in turn equate with happiness. I would agree with them on the first two points but I beg to differ on the happiness issue. But that is a discussion for a different time. I have had numerous conversations about this issue with my students and I hope to get through to them at least a little. Then again, who am I to deny them what I already have in abundance?

Chris teaching his students graphic Design

It is true that the whole conversation is
hypocritical on a lot of levels. And that leads into what I really want to discuss: how will we choose to live upon our return to the states? I find it hard to believe that I won’t be affected by what I experienced after living two years in Africa when I am making decisions on which bottle of wine to buy, the $15 or the $25 one, both extravagant. Or do I really need that new pair of shoes even though the pair I have is fine?

A quiet day at Kumasi's central market

Will we live more simply? I would love to say yes. In many ways I am sure we will, but in other ways…it’s just too easy not to and admittedly I’m weak. We all have become overly comfortable with our positions in society and the world and it is really easy to remain that way. Presently Tammi & I live in West Africa, our access to the conveniences and comforts we have grown accustomed to have been greatly reduced. I really miss air conditioning. But we still do very well in perspective. Peace Corps gives us a monthly stipend and expects us to live at the same level as the people around us but they are realistic and know that most Americans couldn’t do that. We stick to the stipend and it is plenty enough to feed, cloth, and house us, but it allots us very little latitude for luxury. This is where Tammi & I are different from most of our fellow PCVs, and believe me there is no small amount of guilt attached. I am on sabbatical from university, and with that is the comfort in knowing that my salary is there just in case we “need” a bit of luxury (even though the money is difficult to get and the luxury is hard to come by here).

We will live more simply in many ways but... I see a couple of scenarios; the first, we return and book trips to Vegas, Disney World, and any other place that is a cliché example of American over indulgence while eating a McDonalds quarter pounder or a piece of pizza. The second scenario is we return and deny all the luxuries, ride the bus
or bike and become completely altruistic giving our time and money to various causes while living a very simple life. I think what will really happen is somewhere in between. The first scenario is possible after being denied luxuries for 2 years I will feel compelled to indulge to the extreme. The question is; how much self discipline have I gained? Eventually I will work it out of my system and settle into a simpler life. The second scenario will happen, but again perhaps not to the extreme. I do expect to return and take a more active role in causes I strongly believe in. If nothing else, what I have gotten with my PC experience so far is an understanding of what is really important and what’s BS. I am coming to realize how much BS we proliferate in the states and how little of it is really necessary. I might complain about the system here but the one thing it has going for is that it is straight forward. They seem to run into problems when they try to be more western (try to complicate things) and it just doesn’t work.

One thing I hope happens upon our return is that we are far less dependent on all the trappings we have become accustomed to. Do we really need two vehicles or a bigger house? What about all those kitchen appliances? We don’t have
a toaster, a blender, food processor, or coffee maker here. We don’t even have a can opener! The Leatherman becomes very necessary here. We have no appliances and we are making some of the best tomato sauces I have ever tasted (trust me it is not due to the “fresh” produce acquired here). The lack of kitchen gadgets and preprocessed foods has forced us to improvise and be creative with our cooking. We strained coffee through a bandana before we got our French press. We grind various things in an iowa; grinding bowl (see automatic coffee grinder picture in 1st blog). It serves as a perfectly adequate food processor/blender though it would be difficult to make a margarita in it. I have taken to making chunky peanut butter; I buy raw ground nuts roast them on the stove add a bit of salt & sugar and grind away. It is the best peanut butter we’ve ever had. I have come to thoroughly enjoy chopping onions & garlic which we seem to use in practically every meal. I do miss a quality chef’s knife though.

All sorts of critters

We have been told numerous times that readjusting to the US is often more difficult than adjusting to your host country. It has everything to do with perspective. Those who have traveled and spent a goodly amount of time in another culture especially one very different than ours, see that there are different ways to live. There are different customs, different ways of doing things, different ways of looking at things, and no single way is
always the right one. We cooked what we felt a very “American” meal of hotdogs and mac &cheez for our home stay family. They loved the hotdogs but hated the mac & cheez. In most parts of Ghana, the idea of drawing milk from an animal’s mammary glands is strange enough, let alone letting it ferment to be turned into cheese. At the same time I can’t understand why they would let corn meal ferment in water so it is sour and stinky, but they love it. The phrase “To each their own” seems pertinent here.

It has been said many times before that if everyone in the world could walk in the shoes of their enemies for just a day… Especially at this point in our history it is so important for everyone to better understand how others live, to gain a broader perspective. We can get a feel for what it is like to live in Ghana but we can never ever TRULY understand what it is like to live AS a Ghanaian. With the profoundly spoiled status I have been given as a white American male, I simply and knowingly couldn’t hack living as most do here
. I understand that and it humbles me. It also gives me profound respect for the people here. In the end, I pray it helps me to be less selfish and I hope to be more sympathetic and understanding of the people and things around me.

Finally, on a bit of a lighter note, I thought I would give you a few anecdotes on perspective. They come in 3 categories;
1) What, doesn’t that happen everywhere?
2) Geese I wished I’d taken a picture, &
3) Haven’t you had to
I do hope this will become a regular feature.

A month or so back we were walking through our local market when we passed a woman topless with her breasts & face painted white. She proceeded to throw everything she was carrying into the air and ran off screaming. We were later told she’s a priestess and she was taken by a spirit… Doesn’t that happen everywhere? Just tonight I had a
pack of small children run with me for a good 200-300 yards while out on an evening run. I know it was the highlight of their day and it made my day much brighter also.

A drummer taken by the spirit
Ohum festival in Old Tafo

A couple of weeks ago they shut the school down for 2 days of intramural sports. Imagine the star player of the schools’ football (soccer) team, a 20 year old man standing on the sideline in the best macho pose he can muster, sweat glistening on the ripped muscles of his shirtless back (Terri, that one’s for you) and a powder blue diaper bag slung over his shoulder. I wished I had a camera. Another of the other players wore Christmas themed woman’s socks pulled up over the knees. I wished I had a camera. We were in Koforidua a while back where we saw a guy in quite an attractive pair of zebra striped bright pink hot pants. They looked very nice on him but I don’t think they quite achieved the look he was after. Again,
I wished I had a camera. They have no clue what theses clothing items are for, to them they’re western and that simply means they’re cool. It is quite common to see children wearing tee-shirts as skirts which I think are genius. There is a big market here in second hand western cloths which they call “obruni wawo” literally translates as dead white man’s cloths. In the beginning I guess they literally thought that these cloths were from dead westerners because why would someone just get rid of perfectly usable cloths?

Public Transportation

Have you ever had to help to push-start your taxi or had your taxi stop to pick up a piece that fell off? Better yet have you had to wander down a road looking for the part that fell off? Have you ever had to have a stranger’s child sit in your lap on public transportation or simply have a stranger hand you their infant?

A few of the neighbor kids

Lastly in the “what’s up with that?” category; We have a cobra, yes a cobra in our back yard! What’s up with that?

Friday, November 14, 2008

“A Change in Perspective” by Tammi; 14 Nov 2008

Chris blending in with the locals

Sometimes I get to thinking that I should update the blog. Then I try to think of what I have to say that might be interesting to others. Sadly good ideas do not always come easily. As we are getting used to our routine here, life seems busy, tedious, and boring all at once. While my original intention was for the blog to kind of serve as my personal journal, I don’t want to bore the crap out my friends and family. But I have also recently come to realize that I really must consider perspective. We all need to take a step back now and then and self-reflect from an outside perspective the best we can. It hit me just the other day, “OMG my perspective has really changed over the past few months!” So here is a little window into our lives that may (or may not) be of interest:

Market lady (NOT possessed) with her husband

Every Thursday is market day in Donkorkrom. It’s the kind of day where one might be able to find really rare, exotic things like honey or a plastic dish drain rack (neither of which I was successful at finding this day). So anyway, Chris and I went to town to the market. We visited a few of the stalls and were crossing the main drag when we happened to notice a bare breasted woman. While it’s not uncommon to see an exposed breast here and there, Ghanaian women typically venture out fully and nicely dressed. So it was not the dangling boobs that drew our attention so much as the fact that the woman’s dark arms and torso were whitewashed with a floury looking substance. Ok, fine to each her own. It’s not like I’m making any great fashion statements either. Then just as we were passing by, the woman hurled the basket of things she was carrying down onto the street, screamed, and with arms (and breasts) flailing about, went running in the direction that she had just come. Well, that’s different Chris and I each thought to ourselves. Apparently noticing our slightly perplexed looks, the Ghanaian coworker with whom we were walking offered the simple explanation, “That woman is a priestess and she was taken by the spirit”. Duhh! Of course! That it explains it…priestess, temporarily possessed. We should have realized that. So no big deal, nothing to write home about…Or is it?!

Buying beef from the butcher shop

Monday morning I went to school to teach my ICT class and found that 2 of the 3 sockets that we have in the lab had almost entirely melted. There were little brown burn marks around the receptacles so I guess I should be glad that the lab was at least still standing. Such is the way of life (and electricity) in Ghana.

Speaking of electricity, on Sunday we were on our way home from Kumasi, about to reach the ferry crossing to Afram Plains when we noticed that there had been brush fires since we had passed this way two days ago. Brush fires are often set this time of year to clear an area for planting or to flush out animals making them easier targets for bush meat. Despite the forestry service pleas and education sessions, these fires continue to be set during the dry season and often burn beyond the control of those who set them. This time, we observed that the fire took out 5 power poles while it burned. When we finally arrived at the house after 11 ½ grueling hours of travel under the African sun, we found that we had no electricity. Hmmm…I wonder. At least we have running water. No, make that “HAD” running water. No problem, though. The assistant headmaster says that the piped water will return - sometime around March. (Thank goodness for water barrels and able-bodied students)!

Junior high and grade school students hauling water to their school

One last tidbit for now - Earlier this week a cow was slaughtered, butchered, and roasted just outside my kitchen window. I must admit that I do not recall that ever happening in our back yard in Ames. One might even think it unusual here in Donkorkrom. At least I have not seen that happen. Well, not since the goat was butchered and roasted in our yard a few weeks ago anyway.

No goats were harmed in the taking of this photo

P.S. Today the electricity is on and the water is flowing through the pipes. You would hardly know we're in the Peace Corps!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"Proud to be an American" by Chris & Tammi; 05 Nov 2008

We woke very early this morning to text messages from fellow PCVs who along with us were overwhelmed and filled with a feeling of great pride and joy! Barack Obama will be our next president. We do not say this as a sound bite. There is genuine hope. We have regained some of the confidence that we had lost with our fellow Americans. The fact that we awoke on the continent of Africa gives this historic event special significance to us. Our local colleagues, who follow the news, have questioned us about the status of blacks in America and how our racial views might play into U.S. politics. As white Americans living in Ghana, describing prejudice to our African friends is a bit unsettling. We hope that this victory speaks for itself. We now feel that we can hold our heads high and once again proclaim that we are proud to be American!

Monday, November 3, 2008

"Speaking of Politics..." by Chris; 3 Nov. 2008

One-man campaign rally

So I figured with the U.S. election just moments away (GO BARACK!!!) and Ghana’s just over a month away, I should try and give you all a primer on Ghanaian politics.

I am absolutely NOT an expert on politics let alone Ghanaian politics so what follows is merely my observations combined with a bit of light research.

Ghana’s as with all other African countries pre-colonial political history was based on clan and tribal groups. The colonizers came in and established arbitrary national boarders based on nothing more than how large an area they could claim and possibly the occasional natural boundary i.e. river or mountain ridge. Tribal boundaries were never considered which arguably doesn’t help with the alleviation of strife across the African continent. On March 6th 1957 Ghana declared its independence from England becoming the first African country to free itself from colonial rule.

Between then and now Ghana has had its fair share of coups. One of the more prominent and “popular” political figures that even to this day influences Ghanaian politics is Jerry Rawlings who came to power via a coup in 1981 and ruled until 1992 when he was then elected president by popular vote. He was reelected again in 1996 and gave up the presidency in 2001 due to term limits. There was concern that Rawlings would be reluctant to give up power after having led Ghana for so long. Yet to his credit free and fair elections were held and in 2000 John Kufour was elected as Ghana’s new president.

Campaign band in Accra

President Kufour’s term has run out and now for the first time in 8 years Ghana will elect a new president. There are (from what I understand) 7 or 8 parties vying for the presidency; the NDC, CPP, PNC, (sorry, Ghanaians love their acronyms) the DFP DPP, RPD, and the NPP. Another party, the NRP is not fielding a presidential candidate this year. I suppose you’d like to know what these all stand for. Well, so would I. The ones I am sure of are the NPP-New Patriotic Party, the NDC- National Democratic Congress, the PNC- People’s National Convention, CPP- Convention People’s Party, the DFP-Democratic Freedom Party, and the NRP- National Reform Party. The rest I would love to tell you but I am not confident I would correctly identify them correctly.

I am sure that soon you will all start to hear about the elections over here. Ghanaians will not only elect a new president but also an all new parliament and Regional heads (like our governors). The reason you will hear about these elections first of all is because Ghana stands on the brink of a very important event. They have operated with relative peace longer than any other African country and the world is hoping that it will remain that way. Secondly, due to the violent events that have taken place on the continent during recent elections, i.e. Kenya and Zimbabwe, everyone is holding their breath. Thirdly in recent months a number of violent outbreaks have occurred related directly to political campaigning.

Why the violence? It would be a huge understatement to say “it’s complicated”. First of all, and again from what I understand, all the political party’s’ platforms are relatively similar. By our standards they all resemble the democrats with strong social programs and education taking priority. Also, as with all of Ghanaian life, all the parties have very strong Christian leanings. So I have a hard time seeing how such violence could erupt based on disputes over party platforms that are so similar. The people here are very passionate about their politics and they love to discuss/argue about it endlessly and I suspect often it gets out of hand and sometimes completely out of control. What I have heard and concluded is a good deal of the violence is largely based on clan and tribal disputes that go way, way back. Many of these parties by default have tribal roots simply because their candidates were born of one tribe or another and this makes some people like or hate this or that candidate. There is also a strong concern by many that if the NDC which is the party John Rawlings created should win, it is a back door way of putting him back into power and there is no love lost for Rawlings by many Ghanaians who were persecuted during his 18 year tenure.

They are doing a lot of PSAs (public service announcements) on the importance of a peaceful election. They talk about avoiding the use of inflammatory speech aimed at opponents, American politicians should take note. I really wished we could record some of these PSA’s. But let’s just say that the production quality is… well. They are darned entertaining though. We heard that they are even taking a little film festival around to all the villages showing the movie Hotel Rwanda, which I assume is to scare people into behaving themselves.

campaign revelers at a rally in Donkorkrom

I have heard our PC Country Director, Bob Golledge, speak of his concern about violence during the elections on a number of occasions and felt he was overly concerned. Then a month or so ago two different parties planned rallies in the town of Gushegu on the same day, violence erupted and several people were killed and a great deal of property was burned and destroyed. I no longer feel he is being overly concerned.

From December 5th to the 10th Peace Corps will hold an “All Volunteer Conference”. The Ghanaian elections are to be held on December 7th. This is not a coincidence. The Peace Corps and US government want all the PCV’s in one place at election time so that if God forbid there are problems we will be more easily evacuated. In order for a party to win the election, it must take a majority of the votes (over 50%). Well since there are seven parties vying for the presidency, the chances of one party getting the majority is not good. This means a run-off and if that happens there is an even greater concern for unrest. The plan for us PCVs is that we will be put on what they call “stand fast” mode which means that we must stay in a designated location until the elections are over and a winner has been declared. The run-off would probably be held just after Christmas.

So some final thoughts on politics over here; The other day Tammi and I were talking and I had goose bumps when I came to the realization that we are living in a country that could possibly erupt into civil war over an election. The goose bumps were for a couple of reasons, first the obvious, fear. It is a very scary thought that at any moment large scale violence could break out (I do truthfully doubt it though). I also know that all the PCVs will be well taken care of and kept out of harm’s way, but I worry for the Ghanaians that can’t simply be evacuated. Secondly what might be harder to explain is that I truly realize how delicate, profound, and fleeting democracy really is. I am saddened at the apathy of my fellow Americans toward politics and government but I will save that rant for some other time. I am impressed that over 70% (it may be higher) of eligible Ghanaians will cast a vote, and often the voter will have to overcome serious adversity in order to perform their duty. I was speaking to a fellow teacher about the number of people that will vote. He gave me the 70% number but he was upset that not more would vote. He was shocked when I told him that in America we would be lucky to get 50%. I would say violence not withstanding America could take a lesson from Ghana about the preciousness and importance of participatory democracy.

More Later on campaigning in Ghana…

Saturday, October 25, 2008

“I Wished I Had a Tape Recorder” by Chris; 22 Oct 2008

I wished I had a recorder so I could share just a little of this joy with all of you…

As I am sitting here typing I am listening to a group of high school girls next door singing and it is literally bringing tears to my eyes. It isn’t that they are the greatest singers or that the song has moving lyrics (I can’t understand a word they’re singing). They are celebrating someone’s birthday and I do recognize the “Happy Birthday to you” tune and “how old are you” .

At the beginning of the school year we held an assembly to make announcements, to introduce new faculty, etc. At the beginning the students at 150 plus strong broke into an impromptu solo and respond song that went on for 10 minutes. Standing in front of all those students I had to fight to keep the tears back.

Not being musically inclined in any way, I am amazed at how effected I am by music, especially this music. As I said I have no idea of the meaning behind the lyrics but to me it sounds like pure joy. All day long I see how hard these people work just to feed themselves & their families and that they can simply break into a song will forever astound me. It is always loud and ruckus and beautiful. Eye ye fe! (It is beautiful)!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

“Mef Mondays” by Tammi; 22 Oct 2008

It is a requirement that all Peace Corps volunteers in Ghana maintain a malaria prophylaxis regiment. This regiment began the first Monday of training, and because many of us volunteers take the weekly pill Mefloquine, the beginning of each work week has become known as “Mef Monday”.


Possible side effects: Stomach pain, diarrhea, difficulty concentrating, dizziness, headaches, lightheadedness, loss of appetite, nausea/vomiting, trouble sleeping, visual disturbances.

Hmmm…Let’s weigh out the drawbacks vs. the benefits-

First, stomach pain – I can’t say that I have had that (except maybe if I have not eaten enough before taking the pill or perhaps when I have eaten too much of something because it tasted so good).

Diarrhea-Ok, I live in Ghana. Let’s face it, a person is going to have diarrhea from time to time. There are so many possible causes that I don’t know which one to blame it on. (Actually I have been doing quite well in this department. My nail-biting husband has had his share of experience with this symptom though).

Difficulty concentrating- What was I saying?

Dizziness-The last time we were in Accra we visited the Koala Shopping Center which is what most Americans would consider a typical grocery store. Oh my gosh! They had so many beautiful things there. So many Western things. (So many things that I cannot
afford on a Peace Corps “salary”). It was so exciting to walk around and just look at everything. I must admit that after only 4 ½ months living abroad, this experience actually made me dizzy!

Headaches-I occasionally got heada
ches in the States. Maybe the hot climate is forcing my muscles to relax. But considering the amount of stress, I’d say that I actually get headaches less often here.

Lightheadedness- H
ave not had that (except for maybe the euphoric Koala grocery store experience or the times when I was packed into a vehicle with too many other hot sweaty people).

Loss of appetite- Yeah right! Where are those Snickers bars that our dear friends and family sent us?

Nausea/vomiting- Thankfully, none so far.

It’s the last two side effects that are the most interesting. And they typically go together.

Trouble sleeping-

Visual disturbances-

It has been my theory that people claim to have “mefloquine dreams” simply because most are usually in a new environment when they take the pill, are traveling, are out of their typical routine, or all of the above. We all have crazy dreams under those circumstances. However, now that I am slowly adjusting to my new routine, I have started to notice a pattern. It’s not the night that I take my weekly pill, but the next night, Tuesday night. I feel that I sleep pretty well but that I’m very, very busy in my dreams. And those dreams are like vivid little movies. I would not call it a “visual disturbance”, but instead maybe cerebral adventures in R.E.M. I will not try to describe the dreams. They hardly make sense to me much less to anyone else. But there might be something to those side effects
listed on the side of my pill bottle.

The idea of contracting active malaria is not attractive to me. The symptoms of high fever, shaking chills, intense headache, profuse sweating, body ache, and delirium do not sound pleasant. Not to mention that there are potential long term affects and oh yeah, it can kill you! So the possible side effects seem a small price to pay. I will keep taking my pill on Mef Monday as directed without fail. But be sure not to call too late on Tuesdays. It’s a busy night for me. I’m going to bed early to enjoy the ride!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"Chopper Soccer" by Tammi; 21 Oct 2008

I find that when a helicopter lands on the school football field (a.k.a. soccer) it causes a bit of class disruption. It even disrupts the grade school and junior high school down the road. And it seems that some folks from town (about 1 ½ miles away) also feel it’s worth the cost of a ride down to our school to see the big chopper land and take off. Everybody wants to come and see (including Chris and I). This is what happened today-three times! I was told that the government helicopter was bringing and picking up forms for the new national identification program which is being implemented in Ghana. But who knows…I’m ignorant and confused about what's going on around me here most of the time.

Chris investigates

A few spectators gather

Chris's visual arts students

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"Indoor Fauna" by Tammi; 12 Oct 2008

I am beginning to think of Raid as air freshener. As I sit here typing, I see there is a trail of tiny red ants coming from somewhere around the window and going to destinations unknown. Since I see them so frequently, I often wonder what these small annoyances do for a living. I’m not sure if they have a taste for sweets, mold, “meat”, moisture or if they simply just want to get into things-everything! Regardless of their career choice, I am plotting my next attack with my trusty “All Purpose Insect Killer” in the pretty purple can.

When we came to Ghana the first house-dwelling creature of that I observed was the very fast, often times large, flat, wall spider. While it looked creepy, we were told that spiders in Ghana don’t bite so we warmed up to them a little bit. In fact I named one of our larger wall spiders George. One day George seemingly disappeared. It was shortly thereafter (coincidentally?) that I noticed the gecko that had come to live with us. I felt it was only appropriate to name it George II.

The red ants march on, the occasional wasp makes its way in, gnats fling themselves at our light bulbs, an occasional termite drops by, and various other 6- and 8- legged creatures come and go. But I am happy to report the complete absence of cockroach sightings in our own home. We are careful to stow and secure our edibles in the “keep” in hopes that this will remain the status quo. As far as the little malaria-carrying-biting-bastard-mosquitoes, we have found that they are less prevalent here than in Iowa on a typical summer day. Rarely do we see one in the house.

Some of our fellow volunteers are not so fortunate. Home invasions of various degrees of have been reported. Their lists include scorpions, bats, mice, and snakes. So (happily) our indoor fauna is fairly boring.

Overall, bugs are not as problematic as I had anticipated. Regardless, I periodically engage in chemical warfare. While I make a point to avoid any geckos and I do not aim directly at the spiders, (they are on our side after all), I take responsibility for accidental casualties of war. I also understand that there may be possible human side effects if I use my weapon too often, too liberally, or too carelessly. Whatever-gotta go Raid the northeast border!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

"Daily Grind" by Tammi; 05 Oct 2008

I believe it would be all but impossible to find a Peace Corps volunteer who did not think it from time to time. But last week is the first time that Chris or I said it out loud. Maybe it is because the thought is less threatening than it was earlier in our service and the difference between saying it and actually acting on it is now separated by a much safer margin than it used to be. “Of course I think about it”, I answered. “It crosses my mind nearly every day”. But as we casually discussed the sinful thoughts we all share of getting the heck out of here, I think we also stabilized our commitment to fulfilling our volunteer pledge in full.

Not surprisingly, life in a foreign land is challenging. Those who have lived
abroad can tell you the difficulty of…well…EVERYTHING. I’m not just talking about a new home, a new job, a new language, new culture, and new environment. I’m talking about the (formerly) simple things that we do every day. Eating, drinking, bathing, sleeping, shopping, and commuting, and so on. It all takes a heightened level of energy to complete the common tasks, and for each task it takes a while to work up enough gumption to get the job started.

Our presence here falls somewhere between freak show and movie stars. It is impossible to step foot outside of our home compound without being called to, stared at, carefully ignored, or enthusiastically greeted by each and every passerby. Every small child craves a wave from the passing “obruni” (white person). And the children with greater vocabulary commonly ask for money (since it is assumed that all obunis are wealthy).

Combine the lack of anonymity and daily challenges with the heat and humidity and you find that the daily grind can really suck the energy out of you.

On the other hand, the daily grind makes the actual work feel like a welcome distraction. It’s fun to consider the possibilities of an eco lodge/artist community/national park tourism when it takes your mind off the fact that you have a pile of super stinky clothes in the corner that must be washed but the electric is down, the water pipes are only trickling, and maybe you shouldn’t wash anyway because it looks like it’s going to rain.

As an escape, Chris and I have always enjoyed going out for walks, bike rides, and generally getting out and exploring. Here, (once we psyche ourselves up enough to go beyond the gate), we typically assign a certain amount of time to our outings, “Let’s go down this path for 45 minutes and then turn around and come back”. Inevitably, when the allotted time is finished one of us will say “Let’s just go up around the next corner to see what’s there”, or “Let’s just keep going to the top of that hill so we can see what’s on the other side”.

Now, as we continue our Peace Corps Odyssey, I am guessing that both our commitment and curiosity will carry us through. Sure it takes some added energy, but it’s just too darn intriguing to discover what lies around the next bend!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

“About School” By Tammi; 19 Sept, 2008

School officially started on Monday, although it's kind of hard to tell. Today is Friday. No classes have been held yet. Only about 1/6th of the students have reported to our school. High school fees are about $75/term, (there are 3 terms), and many students will not be able to afford fees until the beginning of next month. Few of the first year students know which school to report to. The Ghana Education System (G.E.S.) is just now sending out the high school entrance test results and school assignments. Most high school students in Ghana are boarders and live on the school campus. Students typically have to travel 1-2 days to reach the school where they board.

Entrance to school campus

The students who have reported to school have spent their first week cleaning, sweeping out the classrooms, and “weeding” (mowing the lawn with machetes). Our school is very typical of schools in Ghana.

Just your typical school girls

The assistant headmasters started working on the class schedule yesterday. Before the class schedule can actually be developed, however, the masters need to know how many teachers are returning, the subject(s) they teach, and how many students are coming. These items of input are still quite vague.

Chris and Assistant Headmaster/art teacher, Mr. ABC

I have been assigned to teach Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to freshman and sophomores. Today I was issued a box of chalk, 1 red pen, 1 blue pen, and a notebook to write my lesson plans in. I have a textbook which I tracked down and purchased in Accra, a photo copy of the freshman syllabus which was provided by the Peace Corps, (the sophomore syllabus has not come out yet), and some misc electronic files that I have collected from other teachers. Yep, that should pretty much ensure my teaching success.

classroom block

We have a new school computer lab! However, said lab has been under construction for nearly 2 years (as are the admin offices, boys’ dorm, girls’ dorm, new classroom block, old classroom block, and assembly hall). The construction crew is supposed to be returning to work “any day now”. There are about 20 misc disassembled computers in various states of disrepair in a dirty (infested?) store room. If the school electrician is able to install electrical outlets in one of the designated classrooms today, I will be able to start setting up and testing the functionality of the computers over the weekend. The typical class size is 40-60 students. So if we are lucky enough to get most of the computers operational then each computer will have 3-4 students trying to use it during class. Last year G.E.S. promised 40 new computers to each high school. I’m guessing that these computers will actually reach our school sometime after the missing construction crew completes the campus building projects.

New computer building under construction (complete with sheep on porch)

Our fellow teachers and staff at the school have been delightful! The atmosphere of the school is very positive and the school seems to have a fine reputation. We are sad that our headmaster/neighbor will be moving in a week or two. But apparently being transferred goes with the territory as headmasters are transferred about every 5 years. We have grown quite fond of Headmaster Daniel and his family and are hopeful that the new headmaster and family will be as likeable.

Outgoing Headmaster Daniel with wife Madam Tina

“Our Home” By Chris- 13 Sept 2008

Out for a walk

OK so I would love to say we are living in the bush of Africa taking turns at night beating off poisonous snakes and insects while the other tries to sleep but I can't. Don't get me wrong there are poisonous snakes including Cobras and Mombas, dangerous millipedes, and scorpions that sooner kill you then look at you. All big fun but we aren't living in a thatched hut sleeping on dirt floors, we live in what was/is the guest apartment attached to the back of the headmaster's house. It originally was a house built by Japan Motorworks to house an executive that was overseeing a tractor works that didn’t pan out. We have 24/7 security guards, though I question what these guys (who are very nice people) would do it confronted with any sort of danger.

The Headmaster's house is in the front. You can see our little abode sticking out on the back left.

The "hall" (living room)

Anyway we have 2 bedrooms, a living room (what they call a hall), a kitchen, a storeroom/pantry, a shower room, and toilet. We share it all with a myriad of innocuous bugs and spiders and several geckos who are a lot of fun to watch scurry around. It is not Shangri-La by any means but it is more than adequate. WE EVEN HAVE A TV! They were so excited to show us our TV and its one channel. We do try to catch the news on occasion but it is rarely turned on for I was looking forward to being away from TV after my serious TV addiction issues back in the states. We are far more excited to have a fridge, a cold beverage in Africa is a precious commodity. We had to buy a gas cooktop and a kitchen sink, we also had a carpenter make tables for the kitchen. I know what you’re thinking; why didn't I make them? Well I didn’t bring tools I haven't quite figured out how to track down materials or tools and until then there's a need and besides they were quite cheap. One table a 36"x 60"x 20" table made of all hardwood, all be it still wet (I think it’s Kapock wood) cost us the equivalent of $25.00. I do plan on making us some furniture as soon as I can track down some tools. I also hope to be doing some sculpture of which I already have some drawings of. I will keep you all apprised of my creative ventures.

"Automatic Washing Mashine"

"Coffee Grinder" (We are grateful for the beans sent from the States)!

We are in a pretty rural area of Ghana as I discussed earlier and it is not easy to find a lot of things in the market here, but a wise person said to me before we left the states, "When you start thinking you can't survive with what's available, look around and realize that these people have survived with far less for a very long time." Bottom line is we have everything we NEED, everything else is a luxury and to me sometimes it seems we are living in luxury comparatively…

The road between our home and town

Another pretty sunset from our doorstep

"Our Site" by Chris: 12 Sept '08

Here we are the swearing In Ceremony

We have been at site now for a little over 3 weeks having sworn in as actual Peace Corps volunteers on the 19th of August. Training was intense for someone who has not been on the learning end of a classroom situation in a very long time. I would say the language was the most difficult thing for me while Tammi had a little easier time of it. We were also required to pass a language competency test before we could be sworn in. I was truly terrified of it but passed on my first try and so did Tammi.

Our Twi language learning group -and - The now "famous" drumming troup

So here we are at site, in Donkorkrom, sometimes spelled Odonkawkram or Odonkawkrom. We just learned that it means "Slave Town". Donko is Twi for slave and Krom means town. I won't go into the history of the area just now. I also won't repeat all the statistics about Donkorkrom, just some observations;

Some call the Afram Plains, (of which Donkorkrom is the "capital"), the bread basket of Ghana. Back in the early 60's a dam was built on the Volta River or in the local language Esuten Frau and with the damming of the river system it flooded not only the Volta River to our east but also the Afram River (Esuten Afram) to the west and now Afrom Plains is virtually surrounded by water. Before the valleys were flooded this was a major cocoa growing region and after the flooding the climate was changed, the cocoa trees could no longer thrive and they died. 40 plus years later the Afram Plains has switched over to other crops including Yams (bayera) cocoa yams (mankane), casava (banchae) and maize. Most farming is done on a subsistence basis growing just enough to feed their families plus enough to sell at market to make a living. Some have tried larger scale agriculture but there is still a lot of work to be done there. Probably the largest export as well as largest environmental problem in Afram Plains is charcoal. Trees are being taken down at a dizzying rate to be made into charcoal. The government has tried to get the charcoal makers to at least replant the trees but they presently see little sense in that when there seems to be plenty of trees to cut down. They seem to have something in common with us westerners; shortsightedness. Traditions and people’s minds are very slow to change here, also something they have in common with us. So if any one has any brilliant suggestions...

Loading the pontoon for river crossing to Afram Plains

Our school sets on a one square mile piece of property but the actual school takes up a very small part of that. They along with several other places in Afram have planted plantations of Teak and Mahogany which offers a wonderful amount of shade on campus and potential profit generation for the future. They are thinking long-term which suggests the school is well run. Though as with a lot of things in Ghana it is by no means a well oiled machine;

Our school was to begin Monday Sept. 15th but no one is quite sure how many students will show up or even how many teachers will return for the next school year. Its run a bit differently here than what we're use to. We are told students will trickle in for the next couple of weeks, and the form 1's (freshmen) will show up quite a bit later. School is based on a 3 term school year. We will find out what we are actually teaching and when and classes will start in earnest by say the week of the 22nd. We call it GMT no not Greenwich Mean Time but Ghana Maybe Time. Everyone we have interacted with at school has been wonderful. They are as anxious to learn about the US as we are to learn about Ghana. Our head master is first class and sadly we are losing him and his family to a lucky school in the Kwaho Mountains. We hope that our new head person will be as good.

A Note from Tammi: You may have noticed that it's been a while since our last posting. We have been "recovering" from a hard drive crash, which is something that is hard enough to deal with when you live in a 1st world country! Anyway, we're back up. Sorry for the delay...