Thursday, July 17, 2008

Wow! We Live in Africa! July 7, 2008

In our first 24 hours in Ghana we were greeted at the airport by a band of whooping Peace Corps reps, received a police escort to our first training site, had our arms injected with various vaccines, learned a little Twi (the local language), met with the Minister of Education, and attended a reception at the ambassador’s house. Then…things got busy.

Currently we are in what is called Pre-Service Training (PST). We trainees are living with host families in the communities near our training hub. The training hub is in the village of Kukurantumi , which is near the town of Koforidua in the Easter Region. Our days are filled with language learning, teaching practicum, and community integration activities.

We are currently in the rainy season. It rains almost daily for an hour or two – at times very heavy. Temperatures are in the 80’s. This is a fairly affluent part of Ghana. Not all locations have them, but ceiling fans provide a good level of comfort. Chris and I feel quite fortunate to have a fan in our bedroom. Here we have electricity most of the time. We had indoor running water for our first 4 days, but for reasons unknown (possibly repair or construction) the piped water has stopped. Our host family collects rain water in barrels which we use for cleaning and bucket baths. They also fetch water from the nearby bore hole which we use for cooking and drinking. Peace Corps provides volunteers with an easy to use, gravity fed ceramic water filter which we use to treat all of our drinking water. This helps to prevent a myriad of very “interesting” potential ailments. Despite the precautions taken with food and water, it is possible that we will not experience our next normal bowel movement until we return to the States in a couple of years. Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV’s) and retired people are similar. We both live on fixed incomes and we love to talk about bowel movements.

Chris and I really enjoy our training group. Our group of trainees is quite unique for two reasons. First, there are two couples in the group (Chris and I being the elder couple). Second, at age 84 we have the oldest Peace Corps Trainee (PCT) to date as part of our group! Peace Corps life is not easy. It wears down the young and old alike. We started in Philadelphia with 35 trainees. Two have already returned home. Chris and I feel that the couples are at an advantage since we have our own built-in support system. We are impressed at the tenacity and adaptability of our counterparts.

After MUCH anticipation, we have received our site assignment where we will spend our 2 years of service beginning mid-August: Donkorkrom.
I’m sure that the fact that we are a couple went into our site selection. It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere. We have to take a boat to get to it! I anticipate that it will take a full day of travel to reach our site from our present location and/or from the capital city of Accra. Donkorkrom is in the Afram Plains of the Eastern Region. It is a multi-ethnic society made up mostly of farmers, traders and a few Government workers. The district is said to have a vibrant and fast growing market. Donkorkrom has pipe born and borehole water that supplies the whole township. Electricity supply is from the national grid. As is common, the community is headed by a chief.

We will teach at Donkorkrom Agric Senior High School (DASS). DASS is located on approx 1 square mile of land with an enrolment of about 700. The school offers programs in Agriculture, Science, Business, General Arts and Visual Arts. Dormitories and classrooms comprise the campus. Apparently the school has about 20 computers. I do not yet know how many of them are actually functional. We will visit our site the first week in August.
Our living accommodations are described as a flat which is located about 50 meters from the school. There is a toilet and bath facilities and electricity. (Of course we do not yet know how reliable any of those utilities are).

Donkorkrom is of note as the southern administrative center for Ghana’s second-largest conservation area Digya National Park, which extends over 3,750 square km north of the Afram Plains and west of Lake Volta. According to Ghana Bradt Guide, Digya has never formally opened to the public due to difficulty of access, but its potential is enormous thanks to a remarkable diversity of habitats and a mammal checklist that includes red-flanked duiker, elephant, manatee, hippopotamus, buffalo, lion, leopard, bongo antelope, and half a dozen species of monkey. The Dowsetts recorded 236 bird species over a 9-day expedition in 2005 and a checklist of 300-plus seems probable.

We arrived in Ghana on June 10th. This is my first in-country blog posting because this is the first time I have had access to the internet. The internet café is located about 6 km away from where we are staying. Travel is always a bit of an adventure. And the first 3 times I attempted to use the café it was either closed or the internet was down. We are still working out how best to stay in touch and are looking into connectivity options. For the first time, however, Chris and I both have cell phones. I guess it took moving to Ghana to get that accomplished. I’ll be happy to share our phone numbers with friends and family if you zap me an email. Just be sure to keep the time difference in mind. Ghana is on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), which is currently 5 hours ahead of CST. Ghana does not recognize daylight savings time.
Well I better get back to making lesson plans for my practicum teaching. Next week I am teaching follow-up lessons to the HIV/Aids and internet classes I taught at the local senior secondary school this week.

Observation of the day:
I was sitting in on an ICT class at the local high school. Without the aid of computers, the teacher lectured on how to set up an email account to 45 dark skinned students who had never even seen the internet function. With chalk and a well-worn blackboard, he wrote out the steps. A woman dressed in a pretty batik pattern dress passed by along the path leading to the back gate. With perfect posture, she easily carried a bowl full of porridge sachets on her head. As the teacher continued his lecture a chicken casually entered the doorway on one side of the room, and then pecked her way across picking up tidbits and little broken pieces of chalk before nonchalantly exiting through the other doorway. In the distance a kid goat bleated for its mother. A nice breeze kicked in, cooled the layer of sweat on my skin, and brought the first few drops of rain. Soon the rain was pouring down with such force on the un-insulated tin roof that the teacher’s voice became inaudible. Thus, the teaching paused. But nobody seemed bothered by it. After all, we’re on GMT (Ghana Maybe Time).
And I thought to myself – Wow, I live in Africa!