Sunday, June 29, 2008

Cape Coast Weekend

So, looking back on the title of my last blog, I am not sure if I really explained myself. The kids in my class love to sing American songs...I'm pretty sure they know them all...from head shoulders knees and toes to old mac donald to twinkle twinkle little star. But their favorite song is jingle bells...they sing it over and over again...its very cute!

Anyways, our first weekend here in Ghana was absolutely amazing! We just returned about 2 hours ago from Cape Coast which is located about 6 hours away from Hohoe. While it took us only 6 hours to drive home from Cape Coast, it took us about 10 hours to get there. We left on Friday afternoon after placement and lunch and did not arrive at our hotel, or rather, exotic resort until about was a long journey and many of us found it difficult to sleep as our driver was not a great driver. It did not help that there were speed bumps throughout the entire ride there and our driver liked to fly over them.

All ten of us were very excited when we finally arrived at the resort, all in one piece, only with a scratch to the side of the tro tro (van), and a dented bumper (which occurred when the driver attempted to back into a parking space). We were warmly greeted and shown to our ocean front African huts. They were the most amazing things ever! We were the only people at the resort and slept with our screen doors locked so we could hear the ocean as we slept and keep cool. It was so peaceful and relaxing. I felt extremely safe at the resort, and for that matter, I feel extremely safe throughout Ghana.

Because we had arrived at night, we were not able to adequately take in all the beauty surrounding us. We could see the ocean from our door and were able to walk down to the ocean in less than a minute. And the water was clear and warm...there were many large rocks so we only put our feet in and walked through the water but it was gorgeous. I loved being able to see the bottom of the ocean and the creatures that were hiding down there!

After a delicious breakfast of fresh pineapple (better than any pineapple you can ever get in America, even Hawaii) and toast, we got in the tro tro and headed to the canopy walk. We had to walk up about 97 steps before arriving at the beginning of the actual canopy walk. This walk is exactly what it sounds was a walk above the trees. While the wood was not as thick as I thought it would be, I was reassured that we would be fine as none has ever fallen from the bridges. At the highest point, we were 120 feet in the air. The view was incredible and the breeze was refreshing. It was amazing the learn that this canopy walk, which was made of 7 bridges was made by arrows and arrows only. There were no machines used to assist the 4 Canadians and 2 Africans that worked hard to create this incredible walk!

After the walk, we returned to our resort for a delicious lunch. We then drove about 5 minutes to Elmina Castle which we could see from our resort. The castle was not a typical beautiful castle such as the ones I had previously visited in Germany. Instead, it was an old castle that still reeked of horrific smells. This castle was built in 1482 and was first occupied by the Portuguese. Then, the Dutch took over. Next, the castle was controlled by the British. For the last 51 years, this castle has been in the hand of the African people. This castle was a place where horrible events took place. Slaves were taken to this castle and endured horrible conditions. It was very difficult as a white American to walk through this place where so much history occurred and so many people died due to the color of their skin. Slaves were branded and starved and forced to complete difficult tasks. As if the conditions in the dungeons were not bad enough, the conditions that the slaves faced when they were put on the boats was even worse. The slaves were forced to board ships and travel to various countries. Many prisoners did not survive these harsh conditions. Their bodies were thrown into the ocean, never to be seen again. Approximately 4 million slaves passed through this castle at a rate of about 1000 slaves at a time. It was amazing to learn all this history but very difficult at the same time.

Later that night, after dinner, our group was sitting around talking and hanging out at our resort. Two Ghanaian men came over and introduced themselves. They sat down with us and we invited them to join in and voice their opinions regarding the reasons why Ghana is such a Christian country while many of the surrounding countries are Muslim. This conversation quickly took a different turn when one of the men asked me if I was religious. I explained to him my beliefs and told him that I was Jewish. This did not go over well with him and the conversation quickly turned into an attack against my beliefs. The other volunteers, even though not Jewish, and some even Christian all stood up for me and helped me explain to this man that people have different beliefs and perspectives. He did not understand this concept and continued to argue with me, quoting verses from the New Testament even thought I explained to him that I did not believe in the New Testament. I was grateful to have my new friends there with me who understood my beliefs and don't judge me based on them. It is amazing how quickly we have bonded...a group of people who met just a week ago. I am excited for the next 7 weeks and all the new and exciting opportunities that await me!

Oh, by the way, mom, I was proposed to twice this weekend. Once by the driver, Richard and once by this man who was criticizing me for my religious beliefs. Don’t worry though, we were warned that this might happen and told to inform the person who proposed that we were already married. I didn't feel right lying that much about it so I just told them that I already had a boyfriend at home. Richard told me that it was okay and that I needed to have a husband in America and Africa but I wasn't so fond of that idea. Maybe next time, Ill just have to go with the whole I'm already married thing.

Anyways, I love and miss you all!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Jingle Bells

It has been a busy but great few days! Yesterday, our group went on a 45 minute hike to get to Wli Waterfall. It was a nice hike and the waterfall was absolutely amazing! I went into the water with a few of the other volunteers...we went all the way out and went right under the waterfall. We were so close that the water hurt when it hit our bodies. I went in the water a second time to take in some of the children from the orphanage I am working at. We brought along 10 of the older children (ages 7-8). They had a blast and I had fun playing in the water with them. When we got out of the water to put on our clothes, one of the girls put on my shoes and one of the other volunteer's was very cute. The walk back was entertaining as two of the kids held my hands and we sang songs.

I am emailing some photos to my mother so hopefully she will share them with all of you soon! I cant figure out how to post them on here!!!

Anyways, I have to go...I have 2 little boys who are waiting for me outside the door of the internet cafe because they want me to come play with them.

Sending lots of love!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sister Nicole

Greetings from Ghana!

You may now refer to me as 'Sister Nicole.' Yes, that is the name I was given at my placement at Christ Orphanage here in Hohoe and how all the children and staff address me. Today was my first day there and although it was a little overwhelming, I loved it! When our van pulled up to the orphanage, the children ran outside and greeting us, hugging us, jumping on us, and asking our names. I am one of four volunteers currently working at the orphanage. There are four classes at the orphanage so we each got to pick which class we wanted to work in. Their preference was that the volunteers who are staying in Ghana for the longest work with the older children. Out of the four of us at this orphanage, I am staying the longest so I am working with the oldest kindergarten class. They are still pretty young 5-6-7 years old). And my class has 25 children and only three benched on which the children sit. The youngest class has a total of 53 children...and yes, they are all in one room! The yard is, well, I don't think it would be appropriate to call it a yard. It is a small, yet open space where the children are able to run around and play. Remember though that there are no toys or balls or jump ropes for them to plan with. It was so difficult trying to get them to play ring around the rosie for all the children only wanted to hold my hand and it is pretty difficult to make a circle that way. The yard is all dirt and because it rained today that meant that the yard was really just mud.

While it was heartwarming to see how happy the children were to have us there to hold them, love them, play with them, and teach them, it was also very heartbreaking at the same time. It is amazing that they are able to teach the children in such an environment and incredible to see how they make due with what they have.

When I entered the classroom that I would be working in for the next eight weeks, all the children rose and said "you are welcome, mada'am." They then proceeded to sing me two songs. It was very cute. The teacher then asked me if it would be okay if he left me with the class to teach them. Although I have worked with children before, I had never been in a situation like this before. I told him that I would rather that he taught the first lesson so I could observe and see how advanced the class was. He taught for awhile and then left me alone with twenty five children who immediately went crazy. The teachers here in Ghana use corporal punishment and the students therefore know that the teacher is the authority figure. Some white girl comes in to teach their class and they know that I would not use it so I need to figure out an alternative way to gain and maintain their attention.

The man teaching the class was Alex who is the brother of Raymond, the head and founder of the school. Alex is on summer break from university and helping out with teaching. There is supposed to be a new teacher coming on Thursday but seriously, who knows? I have prepared some activities for the children to do tomorrow. I am excited yet a little nervous to be teaching the class!

I returned to the orphanage this evening with a large group of volunteers to go back to Christ Orphanage. Many of the volunteers who are at other placements came too. We took all the children (about 100 children) outside to an open area outside a church where we played with balls that we brought. We also played games such as duck duck goose and just held the children. The children loved taking pictures with our cameras and it was great to see them again.

Anyways, we are leaving the internet cafe so I will try to come back soon and write more

Sending lots of love!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Orphanage Placement

Hi Friends and Family,

I decided that it would be convenient to keep a blog of my trip to Ghana so that you could stay updated and be a part of this adventure with me. I am not sure how often I will be able to get to the Internet cafe but I will definitely try to update this blog regularly.

I received my volunteer placement today and was assigned to work at an orphanage in a suburb of Hohoe called Wegbe. This orphanage is made up of a classroom and shaded courtroom and serves 110 children between the ages of 2 and 10 years old. Reading about my assignment and the tasks I will be doing there reassured me and helped me realize that spending my summer in Africa was the right decision for me. I will get to assist the founder/teacher of the orphange and help organize projects and activities for the children. I am very excited as I requested to work with children on this trip.

Feel free to share my blog web address with others that may be interested and let me know so I can add them to my list.

Love, Nicole