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!


travelgirl said...

Oh, my gosh, Tammi & Chris. I was so excited to see/read your blog. I have it sited on my blog ( so I have easy access to it. Glad to hear you're OK and that "YOU LIVE IN AFRICA"

George and I will be anxious to read about the rest of your adventures.


Dot & Dennis said...

Tammi and Chris, It's great to hear about your adventures in africa. We are so proud to know such an adventurous couple. We will look forward to future postings about your experiences in that distant land.

Dennis and Dot

barbandjay said...

Dear Tammi and Chris,
Jay and I are sitting here on a steamy hot Iowa summer night, reading your blog together ..... the "wow" factor is registering high. We are so impressed and you paint a vivid picture that reads almost like an old Banana Republic catalog, minus the description of what you are wearing.
Seriously.... we are appreciating hearing about your adventures and the challenges you encounter. You have inspired us to blog for the first time ever.
Our Best,
Barb and Jay

Brian said...

Awesome blog you two, I've been keeping up on the travels of a friend of my that joined the PC a year ago at this time and is also in Africa, so I'm interested to see how things are similar or differ! Enjoy your experience, i look forward to reading more!

Oh and Chris, Ive got quite a list of questions for you when you get back.

Brian Tiedeman

PS. the website looks great!

Stacey and Keith said...

hey you all!!

Wow it sounds amazing the experiences you both will be encountering!!! We cannot wait to visit...!!!!

Miss you both and send our best wishes!!!

Stacey & Keith Davidson

Christine said...

Hi Tammi and Chris,

David and I are so glad to see your blog up and running and learning that you are doing well. I hope you will still have internet access after you move to your next destination.
We sent the first package your way (to the PC address in Accra)- let us know how long it took to reach you (we may be able to get stuff to you for next year's Christmas ;-)).
Also, if you could provide a street address that will make it easier to send mail by courier (they don't like PO boxes).

I look forward to hearing about your life in Africa.

We miss you!

Christine & Dave

john said...

Tammi, I was entertained by your description of your battle with insects, and hope you came out victorious. At least go down fighting with an empty Raid can.