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!