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!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

“I don’t think we’re in Kansas” by Tammi; 09 May 2010

After nearly 2 weeks of air conditioning, catered food, and swimming pools, Chris and I have returned to site. We have been away at a Peace Corps all-Ghana-volunteer conference which was immediately followed by our education sector Close of Service (COS) conference. It was a nice respite except for the fact that we’ve been reminded of all of the work we have left to do with such little time remaining.

Shortly after returning, we learned there would be a funeral in town. We could tell because a truck load of revelers dressed in black and red clothing came tooling down the road whooping and hollering (much like you would see before a college football game). After nearly 2 years, many things have started to feel routine in our lives here in Ghana. So sometimes when I see, hear, or experience certain things, I try to think back to how I would have viewed them when I first arrived. I remind myself of these feelings in order to maintain an appropriate perspective for when I return to the U.S, to remind myself how special my experience here is, and to cue me in on what to put in this blog. In the process, I am sometimes also reminded of just how far away from home we actually are.


Men in traditional funeral dress
In Ghana, it is fashionable for funerals to last about 4 days. For Chiefs and dignitaries they may last a week or much longer! One could write an entire book about funerals in Ghana (in fact I think some have already been written) but in a nutshell, they go something like this: On Thursday, canopies are erected, plastic chairs placed in rows, the biggest sound systems in town are hooked up, and visitors travel from far & wide to the specified town or village. On Friday, the body is displayed, music is blasted, there is gospel karaoke, drumming, dancing, and drinking. On Saturday, there is usually a morning service while the body lies in state, followed by more of the Friday activities. And on Sunday there is a final service (and also the burial if it did not take place on Saturday). I have broken these activities down by day, but in actuality the music typically goes on continuously throughout the night and one day runs into the next. Collections are taken throughout. Close friends or family members staff the donation table and write receipts for each amount given. Depending on the level of donation, you might receive a memorial t-shirt, a full-color funeral brochure, or for more modest donations you might receive a handkerchief with a picture of the deceased, or some type of trinket (i.e. yesterday, we saw that people were sporting a cord of red & white yarn with a black plastic ball attached).

Scenes from a chief's funeral

On our way to buy eggs yesterday, we noticed at least 20 people dressed in their specially made funeral garb hanging around the police station. It seemed a bit odd but we greeted one another and passed on our way as usual. We later learned that this weekend’s funeral turned into a brawl, and that those people hanging around at the station were there because they had been arrested. We’re not sure what the main cause was, but the formula for the fight included the local brew, a lack of license or purchased permit to hold the event, and a village/family feud.

When we inquired further with friends and neighbors, we learned that the funeral was for a young man of 25 years. He was a student at DASHS before Chris and I arrived and had been working at the district hospital in town. Why he died is a bit of a mystery. The victim’s sister died only 6 months ago apparently under similar circumstances. It seems that each of the siblings simply fell ill and never recovered. We were told that this young man ironically did not seek treatment at the hospital where he worked, but instead went to a prayer camp. When we probed as to the reason why an educated man would shun conventional medicine for prayer alone (wouldn’t both be a good idea?) we were told that some months ago there was a quarrel between the children’s mother and their grandmother. After said falling out, the grandmother cursed her daughter claiming that her children would be taken from her one at a time as punishment. The grandmother, we were told, is a witch. Until yesterday I had never heard of the wicked witch of Afram Plains.

God willing, Chris and I will be back in the States in precisely 90 days. And while parting from Ghana will bring such sweet sorrow, I sometimes find myself tapping my heels and thinking: There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.

Monday, April 5, 2010

“Leap of Faith” by Tammi; 05 April 2010

09 May Photo Updates Below

Why would a middle-aged woman drop everything and leave behind her friends and family, the comforts of her home, and a great job? Mid-life crisis? I don’t really think so since the idea of joining Peace Corps had been brewing since my childhood school days. I think committing to the 2+ years of volunteer service is better described as a leap of faith, a calling to which I finally decided to respond. So it shouldn’t come as too much surprise that in celebration of the Easter holiday I found it most suitable to jump off a cliff – literally! The dream of soaring like a bird has also been in my mind since childhood, so why not try that as well?! Chris (who shares my same ‘sensibilities’) agreed that was a great idea. So off we went to the top of Kwahu Ridge to go paragliding.

After some typical developing country travel trials and tribulations, Chris and I still managed to be among the first few dozen people to arrive at the jump site. We paid the fee, put some basic information on a single sheet of paper (no release form required) and then we waited to be called. This year the event was sponsored by the Ghana Tourism Board, which added a lot of pomp and circumstance but left much to be desired in the realm of logistics and organization. So we had to keep waiting and checking and waiting some more. Each time Chris or I checked our status, we were told “you will go today”. And then “today” ended. But the next morning, our time finally came. 

Today I am still basking in the glory of the most righteous 15 minutes I could possibly spend strapped to a man who is not my husband. It was my very first experience paragliding and I don’t think it possible to find a better pilot for the experience than Frode, an expert Acro-paragliding pilot from Norway. (Chris flew tandem with Nick, who is a journalist/extreme sports enthusiast from the U.S., and claims his experience was the most magnificent). Anyway, let there be no doubt that it was absolutely wonderful for each of us. Mine went something like this.

After about a 2-minute orientation Frode strapped me up and hooked us together and when he gave me the word, we pulled forward, took a few running steps toward the precipice of the cliff, and were airborne! Then instead up gliding down, Frode harnessed the wind and we went up and up some more. We sailed back and forth for a while just enjoying the view…soaring with some friendly vultures…leaving the noise and chaos below…and trading the equatorial heat for cool exhilarating breezes…Ahhh! It was a beautiful escape; just the wind and the sky and the glider – and for the duration of our flight all was well in the world, there was no need for me to save it. Then judging that I was comfortable in my new environment, Frode asked if I’d like to do some wing dips. I didn’t exactly know what that meant but I was so elated with the whole thing I answered “Sure, sounds great to me”! 

As a child my favorite playground equipment was the merry-go-round and the swings. I loved to get the merry-go-round spinning so fast that I knew I would fly right off into oblivion if I didn’t hold tight enough. And on the swings I liked to reach the height where I could feel as if I were high diving as I swooped down the pendulum of the swing. I quickly learned that wing dips are something like both of these things combined, thrown into the air, and multiplied tenfold. As we say here in Ghana they are “Sweet Paa”, maybe even sweeter than a double dip of frozen custard. I whooped and laughed even when my eye caught a glimpse of the sail nearly lateral to us. 

After that we took a relaxing cruise around the sky combing the ridge, taking in the sights of the rock outcroppings and the trees that appeared broccoli-like from this perspective. I would have been happy to play in the sky all day and I’m sure Frode had the skill to keep us there. But all good things must come to an end (and many others were waiting their turn to enjoy such an experience). So we started our descent toward the soccer field below and Frode threw in some really awesome mind numbing spiral spins before bringing us in very lightly for our landing. My instructions for landing were that we would run together for a few feet to absorb the momentum as we touched down. But I barely had 3 steps in before I found myself seated comfortably on the ground. (I guess I hadn’t quite recovered my land legs after pulling 3 ½ G’s in the sky). But I didn’t care. My head was still high in the clouds.

Chris and I can easily see how a person could become ‘addicted’ to paragliding. How lovely it would be to spend our days hiking up mountains and flying back down. But since we’ll soon again be living in Iowa, a land of few mountains, we may be able to keep the appetite at bay. But let me give you a warning: If ever you’re tempted to tell either of us to go take a flying leap, think twice. We’d most likely respond “Sounds great to me, let’s go leap together”!

Chris prepares for take-off

Chris in mid-flight
 Tammi Prepares for take-off  
A running start...

And they're soaring!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

“Our Home-Stretch Projects” by Tammi; 27 March 2010

As we round the bend toward the home stretch of our volunteer service, Chris and I want to inform as many people as possible about the projects we’re striving to complete. We want to involve those of you who are interested in our activities here, without being burdensome. But we do need your help! So we’re providing this summary of projects so you know what’s up and what’s coming, to help you decide if or how you’d like to contribute.


Our current library

School Library:
Our students need a library and the school needs money to get it done. This project is currently posted on the Peace Corps website and is open for donations of any amount. This link should take you right to it: . In addition to a description of the project, you can see our status in relation to having the project funded (we need a total of $2,838). Donations to this project are tax deductible and are needed ASAP.


Kids at STARS 2009

You may remember our blog entry about this last year. This is an educational leadership conference for our most promising senior high students from rural Ghanaian schools. We found it to be a very worthwhile event last year so we’re working to make it happen again this year. This project is also currently posted on the Peace Corps website: . Once again, donations to this project may be tax deductible. (A total of $3,765 is needed).

Current year’s Invest in our Future scholarship recipients

Scholarship Fund:
If you are not already familiar with this, let me try to explain it by saying-
This is an officially unofficial scholarship program that works through friends & family, their faith in me, and my personal connections here in Ghana. I initially tried to set this up through the standard Peace Corps channels but because of monitoring difficulties (believe it or not, corruption does exist in the GES - Ghana Education System) I was told by Peace Corps Ghana that they could not facilitate a scholarship through the on-line system. Regardless, we have been able to keep 15 students in school so far by covering all their standard boarding fees. If we can add about $4,500 to our coffers we can keep these kids in school next year as well. Depending on how GES and the government of Ghana respond to the former administration’s decision to change high school from 3 to 4 years, this amount might see the students through to graduation. At the very least they’ll be one step closer. If you want more info on this I have plenty, plenty. Just ask and I’ll send more info to you. This project is not tax deductible for you, but it is invaluable to the scholarship kids.

At the 2009 Art Show

Art Show:
Currently Chris is helping to organize the 13th Annual Peace Corps Art Show. This includes a week-long exhibition and series of workshops. As in past years, each volunteer who teaches visual arts will bring his or her top female and male student to participate, along with a sampling of their student’s work to share. Because the represented schools are spread across different regions of the country and because half of our visual arts teachers are stationed at deaf schools, this event offers a unique and very important opportunity for integration and socialization. This year’s event will be hosted at Dzodze (pronounced; Joe 'J) Senior High School in the Volta Region and will coincide with another festival which celebrates the importance of visual arts and crafts in Volta. Hands-on workshops will include traditional ceramics and kente weaving. Participants will also visit a kente weaving village and one of the most dynamic traditional markets in West Africa. An educational and creative HIV & AIDS event will also be included. Once this project is posted and ready for donations via the Peace Corps website, we will send out another quick notice. (We anticipate that approximately $3,000 to $4,000 will be needed).

Please don’t think that we’re a couple of slackers and that these are the only things we’re doing to save the world. Rather these are the only things that we need financial support for. So thanks in advance if you are able to help. It’ won’t be long now and we’re looking soooo forward to seeing our dear friends, family, (and things like cheeseburgers, garden veges, Iowa chops, sweet corn…) when we return home in August!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"Made in Ghana" by Chris; 02 March 2010

In Ghana safe filtered drinking water is most readily available in clear plastic bags or sachets with a company name printed on them. It costs 5 pesewas, the equivalent to 3 cents. These are the primary source of safe drinking water for the majority of Ghanaians so it is a good and affordable thing. The problem is that there is a VERY serious issue with how the empty sachets are disposed of.  For the most part they are simply tossed on the ground.

Nearly 300 tons of plastic waste is discarded in Ghana – every day! The greatest amount comes from various forms of plastic bags (boy do they have plastic bags) and most of this plastic waste is the direct result of safe drinking water. It sounds strange to say it that way, but what makes for a convenient, sterile, affordable, portable container for purified water also makes up for over 80% of the plastic trash.

Before the movement toward “modernization” in Ghana many of the food products purchased were served in say a banana leaf or corn husk, some still are, and people would consume the food and toss the wrapper on the ground for one of the millions of sheep or goats to eat, or it was left to simply biodegrade. Then along came well meaning foreigners to help with sanitation issues and they taught the people that plastic is clean, safe and good. But they never taught them that animals can’t eat plastic and plastic does not biodegrade. They were not trained in the proper disposal of non-biodegradable products so after the introduction of plastic they continued the same habit of tossing their rubbish on the ground and therein lay the problem. This is an entire conversation in itself and I really want to focus on our sachet project but suffice it to say sadly there seems to be little or no initiative on anyone’s part to address the serious issue of rubbish control here.


Typical beach in Ghana

I wrote in my journal toward the beginning of training how intriguing drinking water out of a bag was and how it seemed to in some ways make more sense than the ubiquitous plastic bottles. But I was distresses by the sight of millions (and I mean millions) of sachets scattered everywhere and I was going to put it on myself to figure out some creative way to use them. Well here we are a year and a half later and we have the Made @ DASHS sachet project.

The Girls; Priscilla & Joyce

Every year the visual arts teachers hold the Peace Corps Art Show where we gather with our top students to do workshops and show off our work. This is where the seed was planted for me. I started working with my students on product design and had them concentrate on what could be made from the sachets. Suggestions included everything from pencil, book bags and wallets, to rain coats and umbrellas. Many different designs and ideas were thrown around but we decided on a couple of different wallet designs and a woman’s hand bag to be made for the Art Show. We produced several of each of the designs along with a few decorative mobiles of cranes folded from sachets (resulting from a lesson on origami). All the products were quite well received and we sold most of what we took.

Flush with success we returned to DASHS and I proceeded to map out a plan for the future of the project. At the beginning of the next term we would start production in earnest in hopes of producing enough products to send to the US for the holiday season. We reworked the designs to simplify the process and we added a new design; a small zippered pouch. We decided against making any more of the hand bags do to its complexity. I worked with the students not only on the sachet products but also on setting goals, working efficiently and schemes on staying organized. I talked to them about the demands, expectations, and responsibilities of running a small business. Honestly like everything else most of this went in one ear and out the other but it was obvious that some of the information stuck. I also worked with my students and continue to work with them on educating the rest of the school on why we should keep Ghana clean and how we could use DASHS as a model. To this end we made some receptacles for sachet disposal and they were placed around central campus and I “tried” to train the students in their use. Consider that many of these kids are from the rural villages and they have never seen a rubbish bin let alone used one. It worked for about two weeks and there was a profound difference in the appearance of campus. But after that interest waned and many students decided it took just too much energy to walk the 10 meters to one of the receptacles. I continue to wrestle with this issue.

A sachet receptacle/ playground equipment

I was originally hoping to have 600 pieces ready to ship within 2 months from the start of school. Well as you have heard us complain previously, school doesn’t really start when it is suppose to so in the end we had barely a month to produce what was to be shipped for the holidays. We made a large chart, kind of like the United Way, and we updated it at the start of each week and in the end we surpassed our goals resulting in 260 wallets and pouches being shipped to the US via Ghana postal and a prayer.

Well the wallets did arrive and they seem to be a great hit. Along with some donations we earned around $700 for the school. This was all thanks to several dedicated volunteers including our parents, Tammi’s sister and nieces Rachel and Jessica, and our friend Jean back in Ames.

Sampson folding dividers

Every bit of the proceeds after shipping costs and quite minimal material expenses (after all we are using rubbish) will go directly into school improvements. I am hopeful that our initial “infrastructure” project will be the construction of a school canteen. At present food is served in a rather unsanitary environment, bare ground open to whatever animals choose to stroll through. Also the students presently have nowhere to sit and eat. I decided on this as the first project not only because the students and staff have been wanting it improved for a long time, but also in hopes that due to its high visibility, students and staff will readily recognize the benefits of the sachet project.

MTN sewing a wallet

We just returned from an excursion with the visual arts students and it was made entirely possible by the sachet sales. We took students to see various craft villages and expose them to some of their heritage. More on the excursion later.

Josh hot cutting parts

Other things we are considering doing wiht the monies are the purchase of more books for the hopefully soon to be refurbished library, the purchase of cisterns to retain rain water, and perhaps some of the monies will go into the scholarship fund. My vision is that all the proceeds will go toward improvements to the school. But at the end of the day it will not be my say as to where the proceeds go. I must say presently this worries me. You see it seems everyone has distinct ideas as to where the money should go and sadly most of the ideas are self serving. It is an issue that Tammi and I have profound frustration with and I don’t see it being resolved any time soon.

Josh cleaning sachets

So where do we go from here? That is the million dollar question. My plan is to serve as the distributer in the US and to have a teacher here at DASHS manage the program. I would work with the teacher and students on designs and form a representative committee to make collective decisions on how the monies should be spent. This would all happen in a perfect world but we’re definitely not in a perfect world.


Actual Made in Ghana @ DASHS sachet products

We have just finished 120 small and large zippered pouches; (a new design thanks to suggestions from you all) and have shipped them to our niece in Milwaukee to sell as a fund raiser for her Amnesty International club. We now plan to start producing wallets and pouches for the local market here along with working up an inventory I can bring back to the states at our close of service. But what happens after that? What happens to the money I send back? I honestly do not know.

You see I have managed to stumble into one of the greatest issues I feel Peace Corps Volunteers deal with; most of the time we start projects when we really should be overseeing the starting of projects and we end up running them because it requires much less pain and mental anguish. People here seem to be much happier if you do it for them. I have been working on the premise that if I got the project off the ground and they saw actual tangible benefits they might take it and run… Not so much.

In the end I feel this is a very positive project that holds a great deal of potential but all this is left up to the folks over here. I cannot and will not micro manage it, they must learn to do for themselves and I feel I have given them a pretty good tool to work with. We’ll see…

Yes there is always hope!