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.


Paula Curran said...

Hi Chris and Tammi,

I have been reading your posts for the last two years (every word, and sometimes more than once) and am impressed with all you have experienced, endured, and learned during your work in Ghana. I have appreciated all your insights, humor and at times, your understandable frustrations.

Enjoy your remaining time in Ghana. Know you have done your best and have touched people there in a way no one else has.

Stay healthy. See you back in Iowa soon.

Paula Curran
P.S. Ames now has the killer Furman Aquatic Center, complete with slides. A must do when you return.

Paula Curran said...

Chris and Tammi,

I have been reading your blog this last year and have read every word, from the day you arrived until today, July 11, 2010. I am impressed and amazed at what you've experienced, endured, and learned. You've had a life changing experience, for sure. With you home, Ames will never be the same. Stay healthy and happy.

Looking forward to seeing you back in Iowa soon.

Paula Curran

Sheri Michaels said...

As usual, I really enjoy hearing your stories of your stay in Africa. I imagine that you are getting ready to come back home to Iowa. Please include me in your email list if you are arranging group discussions/talks about your stay in the Peace Corps.

Sheri Michaels