Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Mission and a Vision

“You have a mission and a vision,” Alpha, our night guard told me a few nights ago. He continued by telling me that this is not something many of the volunteers have when they come through the house. I agree with and have witnessed the validation of this statement.

Wednesday night
Its only 7pm but it’s already almost dark outside. We are sitting around the little fire pit they use to heat water and cook meals. The stools are wooden and pretty close to the ground, the dirt. I am holding Richmond (now seven weeks old) and Melody (three years old) is standing behind me doing my hair. The children here love to play with the volunteer’s hair. This is because the children here have hair which is cut very close to their heads so they are unfamiliar with longer hair. “It’s beautiful,” I tell her when she finishes with my hair. Dela (sixteen years old) is walking around with the radio which is a bit staticy and going between a music station and a talk station. The girls are preparing dinner, singing, drawing water from the well, and sitting around talking in Ewe. Although I am not great at the language, I can usually pick up the general subject that they are talking about.

Fireflies are flying around. Melody runs to chase the chickens away from the food. The cats and two kittens are playing…watching them reminds me of two siblings playing together. The goats are walking around in search of any scrap of food they can find. I can see all of this from the light which is being projected from the fire lamp.

The father of the family invites me to come visit his farm this weekend. The boys laugh when I tell him that I’d love to. They ask me if I have ever worked on a farm before and crack up when I answer them. I don’t mind as I feel as if these boys are my brothers and I am totally used to their jokes by now.

They invite me to eat dinner with them. I tell them that I have already eaten as we eat dinner at the house at 6pm.

Richmond falls asleep on me. After holding him for awhile, I return him to his mother and walk back over to the house to sit and chat with Alpha and the boys who follow me back over.

The main events are basically the same every night. I eat dinner then go visit the neighbors and play with the kids, sitting around as they eat. I return back to the house to bring Alpha some tea and bread. Then I sit outside with the boys (Dela and Godsway) and girls (Genevieve and Peace) who live next-door. Other kids are also around such as Eli, the director’s younger brother and Emmanuel who lives down the road. We talk, play games, and hang out. Some aspects vary from night to night such as last night when both the children were on my lap and they both fell asleep.

While I have so much more I want to write to you about, I am done for now as I have been at the internet café for about an hour now and I'm ready to head back to the house.
I love you all!!!
Xoxo
Nicole

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Mole Weekend

I was not planning on going to the internet café right now but because it started raining and I was out walking, I decided to stop in here and update you about my weekend. After our delayed flight, we finally were able to board our flight and head to Mole. After landing in Kumasi, we had to find a tro tro to take the 7 of us to Mole, about a four hour drive from Kumasi. This in itself was another adventure. Our taxi from the airport took us to the station where there were hundreds of taxis and tro tros waiting to take people to their desired destination and or sell them goods. It was chaos! Various locals tried to get us into tiny beat up taxis – we knew the road to Mole was not very good and we really did not want to delay our arrival any longer if the taxi was to break down and not make it all the way. We found a large tro tro and negotiated a price…then, we were off! The ride was just as we had been told… extremely bumpy.

The bumpy ride and delayed flight were obstacles which we happily overcame as we were very excited and anxious to arrive at Mole National Park. Mole was incredible. We arrived at dinner time on Saturday and ate a delicious, much needed dinner. On Sunday, we got up early and went on a walking safari. While walking to the main building from our room, a baboon ran right in front of me. He ran on the patio and even paid a visit to the ladies bathroom. I would have been scared out of my mind if I was in that bathroom and was suddenly greeted by a baboon. Immediately after beginning our safari, we spotted an elephant. On this two hour safari we saw about 15-20 elephants…it was incredible! I took tons of pictures to share when I return home. The elephants got so close at times that our guide made us move back numerous times. We also saw many more baboons, warthogs, and antelopes. I wasn’t too disappointed that we did not see any crocodiles! We were also hoping to see lions but did not find any on our safari. Right after our safari, we arranged to go on a driving safari. Although we saw the same animals, it was still amazing because we were able to just watch them and not have to concentrate on where we were walking/ how close we were to them. We were also able to go further into the park as the vehicle moves quicker than we can walk.

Overall, it was an amazing weekend full of many adventures and incredible sights. The flight back was uneventful which was good as we were exhausted and ready to get back to our placements in Hohoe.

Hope everything is well back home and the earthquake did not shake things up too badly! I will write again soon!

Xoxo
Nicole

Friday, July 25, 2008

Arrival in Mole

We arrived at the airport this morning at 4:15 for our 6:00am flight to Tamale. After being dropped off by the cabs, we walked to the domestic departures terminal. Our check in time was supposed to be from 4:30 - 5:30 but the building was locked. One of the airport workers came and opened the door for us -- it was dark and quite inside, the security men were sleeping on the benches and none of the machines or televisions were even turned on yet. It was not surprising to us that we were the first people who arrived for the flight -- we decided to arrive on time -- American time, not Ghana time. After we checked in, about an hour later, some of us dozed off on the very uncomfortable metal benches. About 6:30, we were told that our flight was delayed due to bad weather conditions in Tamale. Typical. They were not sure how long the delay would be -- when I asked, I was told it would only be 15 - 20 minutes. this was not the case as we found out a bit later that our flight had been delayed and we were free to do whatever we wanted as long as we returned by 10am! So now, after a great nap, I am at the internet cafe in the airport waiting til our flight begins to board. that’s all for now...with our luck so far, there will be a few more difficulties along the way and don't worry... I will be sure to update you about them!!!

xoxo
Nicole

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Lions and Tigers and Bears...Oh My

I am sitting in Accra, the capital of Ghana at an internet cafe writing to you right now. I am with six other volunteers. All of us are staying in Ghana for 6 - 8 weeks so we decided to travel to Mole together. Mole is in northern Ghana and is where you can go on a safari and see elephants, monkeys, antelope, and other animals if you are lucky. Our original plan was to leave for Mole this morning on an airplane but that plan quickly changed when we arrived at the airport yesterday to buy our tickets. We were told by numerous people, including a group of volunteers who traveled to Mole three weeks ago that we needed to go to the airport by 4:30pm the day before and buy our tickets. This information was confirmed by an airport worker when we called and tried to reserve seats for our trip. We left placement early on Thursday, grabbed our bags, and hopped in the tro tro for the 4 hour ride to Accra. The ride was extremely uncomfortable as the tro tro we took was not in great shape and the bumpy dirt and rock roads did not help. We took a back route to get to Accra so that we would not have to stop and wait at the bridge which they are still doing construction on. After a bit of traffic in Accra, we finally reached the airport. we told Isaac, our driver that we would be back in 15-20 minutes. The joke was on us. we never imagined that it would be 3 hours before we saw Isaac again. We talked to the information desk to find out where to buy our tickets...things were going well...we were given directions and arrived at the counter only to find out that the flight to Tamale on Friday morning was full. uh oh. now what? We weren't all that surprised but we were hopping that there would still be a way to get to Tamale on Friday. oh boy, we were wrong.

We had already gotten permission to take today (Friday) off from placement so we were a bit hesitant about asking for Monday off too but the airline was not offering us any other choice. They told us that the only way for us to get to Mole would be to fly out on Saturday. As they took four of us into the office, the three others called CCS to discuss our options. We would either have to take off Monday and move our trip back and day, spend the weekend in Accra and drive back to Hohoe on Sunday -- missing our trip to Mole which we had been looking forward to, or fly to Mole on Saturday and return on Sunday -- an option that did not sound too good to most of us. CCS told us to wait an hour while they talked to the manager of our program. We didn't have an hour. It was 4pm by now and the office where we were to buy our tickets was supposed to close at 4:30. What a dilemma. A crazy one at that. We were starting to freak out. What were we going to do?

We decided to call back CCS and get an answer as to whether we could take Monday off. We were given permission to do whatever we needed...meaning that we could take Monday off. yay! Things were looking bright for us, right? Next, we needed to call Mole National Park and make sure we could change our room reservations from Friday to Saturday. This posed some problems when we were told that there were no more rooms. Great After talking to the reception desk for awhile they were finally able to find us two rooms for Saturday night -- mission accomplished. We were all ecstatic...our trip to Mole would still be possible...we had an emotion, crazy few hours and encountered a few minor problems but we would be able to go.

Next it was off to the counter to buy our tickets...we were sent back to the office to make reservations. Buying our tickets was a whole other story...this process took forever!!! They had to put our reservations into the system and write the tickets and collect the money...sounds simple, right? Apparently not. Many problems arouse along the way but finally after being at the airport for 3 hours we were all walking out with tickets in our hands! Success! Luckily Isaac was still there and waiting for us and had not taken off with all of our belongings.

Today we are hanging out in Accra and tomorrow morning at 6:30am we will be taking off to fly to Mole! Hopefully our experiences at the airport tomorrow will be a little smoother than yesterdays!

I love you all!
xoxo
Nicole

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Lake Volta

As we sat on the porch of our homebase waiting for our tro tro to arrive, two other tro tros pulled up. They were here to take a group of 20 new volunteers to Cape Coast for the weekend. They spent about 30 minutes getting into the tro tros – organizing their luggage and getting seated. Sarah, Mark, and I just sat back and watched the chaos. (Sarah and Mark are both previous CCS volunteers who have returned to Ghana on their own. Mark worked very hard and did a lot of fundraising after his trip here with CCS in January. The money he raised is being used to build a new site for Christ Orphanage -- the orphanage I am working at. I have visited the new site and I cannot wait until they are done building and ready to have the kids move in. The building they are in right now is inadequate and I am so happy that a new site is being built just for them! They will have so much that they currently lack such as a kitchen, health center, bedrooms for the children, additional classrooms, and so much more. I am so glad that I have been here in Africa during the time that these two volunteers choose to return. They have been a great inspiration for me and really prove that it is possible to go home and continue to help out the people they met here. They are not yet reached the set amount of money needed for this project but it is my hope that when I return home, I will be able to help and do some fundraising of my own.) I was laughing at the fact that one of their drivers was the same guy who drove us to Cape Coast four weeks earlier. He was the driver who drove horribly – making many of us nauseous and sick to our stomachs.

Our tro tro was 45 minutes late so we called a cab. We told the driver of the tro tro, Isaac not to come pick us up because he was running so late. He insisted on showing up anyways. Mark was talking to Isaac about the situation as the taxi pulled up. It was quite a hilarious situation but we ended up leaving in the taxi for out hour and a half drive to Lake Volta.

As the bridge to get across the lake has a dip that has recently been discovered and construction is taking place, we drove as far as we could, grabbed our bags, and walked across the bridge. In attempt to fix this problem, the bridge is closed for a few hours each day. During that time, some people sit and wait for the bridge to reopen so they can drive their vehicles across. They can end up waiting for hours. Although the bridge is closed to traffic, people are allowed to walk across. People taking advantage of this opportunity to make money offered to carry our bags across the bridge for us. Taxi and tro tro drivers waited on the other side of the bridge, offering to take us to our destination. We caught a cab and headed to our hotel – only about a 5 minute drive from the bridge.

While at the hotel in Lake Volta, I wrote in my journal with the intention of typing it up and sharing it with all of you. It is for that reason that these next few paragraphs may be in the present tense.

July 19th – I’m sitting on the deck – a beautiful butterfly catches my eye. I feel like I am on the water as I can see the water moving out of the corner of my eye as I write this. Although the ground is wet from the rain, it is an absolutely gorgeous day. This hotel is amazing – I feel extremely guilty being here. I get up to ask if the extravagant buffet set up is the breakfast that is included. I am extremely happy to hear that it is. It smells great – a selection of eggs, pancakes, toast, porridge, and pineapple. I feel like such a tourist with my purse, camera bag, camera, journal, pen, and plate of food neatly arranged on the table. The pancakes are delicious. Although a bit different than the pancakes my mom makes at home, they still taste amazing – a nice combination of a sweet and buttery taste. Other yevos are sitting at the surrounding tables. They are speaking in a language unfamiliar to me – perhaps German? It appears as if this is a hot spot for yevos as all the guests here are white.

A few hours later- While I hate waking up early at home, I love waking up early here. I feel like there is so much I am missing if I just aimlessly lie in bed. Out here, on the deck, I am watching canoes go by. I wish I could better explain the beauty to you because I am afraid the pictures will not do this place justice.

The lizards are running across the wooden planks -- I've photographed some of them but my favorite one which has red and yellow on its tail and is bouncing to the rhythm of the drums runs away too quickly for me to snap a photo of him.

I found out this morning that the large group of yevos is a group of 22 people here from the UK. Willy, one of the men from this group came over to my table and chatted with me this morning. He is here with this group to film, photograph, and document life in Ghana. They are here in Ghana for another two weeks and will be traveling to Hohoe next week. Their hope is to make a film following the life of a child here in Ghana. They are also raising funds and developing a new school in Ghana. Besides Willy, I also met Bobo who is the production manager of the film. It was amazing talking to him as he was a very genuine man who grew up in Ghana and whose goal is to help people in need. While in Hohoe, they hope to visit Christ Orphanage.

Some random things I want to share:

Drug stores in Ghana are called Chemical Stores...this definitely confused me the first few days I was here.

In Hohoe, most of the roads are dirt roads...there are tons of potholes which makes driving oh so much fun! There are no stop lights or stop signs of any sort in Hohoe. The only ones I've seen are in Accra, the capital.

Animals roam the streets -- sheep, chickens, goats. The people apparently know which animals are theirs.

The women carry everything on their heads -- buckets of water, things to sell, suitcases, etc. I can't even imagine being able to carry some of the things they carry on their heads in my arms!

That’s it for now! Love and miss you all!
xoxo
Nicole

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Wonderful World

Hope things are going well back home. All is good here in Ghana. I have been very busy between working at the orphanage and spending time with baby Richmond (the neighbor’s baby). I have fallen in love with the baby and take care of him almost all day that I am at the home base. Occasionally I share him with the other volunteers too!

This week has been pretty good at the orphanage – crazy but good. I have learned that things are always crazy at Christ Orphanage. I brought a parachute and balls to play with today – something I found in the resource center here. I brought it out this afternoon when I was playing with the kids out on the field and the children went crazy. Another volunteer and I held the parachute over their heads and moved it up and down…this did not work too well as the children created a mosh pit in the center, knocking down each other. They do not have toys like this at their disposal as we do in America so they get super excited when they see them.

It is amazing how simple life is here though. The babies are strapped to their mothers backs with cloth…there are no strollers, no carriages, no pacifiers or other things that we think that babies need. Everything is simpler…yes, it is a village but I have come to realize that so much of what we have at home are unnecessary extra things. Yes I love my cellphone and laptop but I don’t need them 24/7. Having to walk to go use the internet was annoying at first but is kinda nice now. At home, I feel connected to my cellphone and email/ facebook inbox. But there is so much more to life than that. At home, we go from our air conditioned cars to our air conditioned jobs to our air conditioned houses and think nothing of it…we don’t say hello to people on the street or wave to the children or take a moment to admire the beautiful trees and flowers. Yes, the pace of life here is much slower but take a minute and think about the lives we live, all the extra stuff we tell ourselves we need and the opportunities available for you to help people/ brighten their day.

This weekend, I am off to Lake Volta which is about 2 hours away from Hohoe. I am traveling there with 3 of the other volunteers who have been here for a few weeks. The weekend after, I am off to Mole which I am super excited about.

Thank you for all the suggestions/ ideas! They are appreciated!!!!
Xoxo
Nicole

Sunday, July 13, 2008

It's a Small World After All

I love receiving the emails from all of you! and the suggestions about positive reinforcement are great! I will put those ideas into use.

I’m sorry that this email is so scattered...I have many thoughts and not much time to get them all typed/ organized.

My weekend has been very nice and relaxing. Yesterday morning I walked into town. I later returned to town to take some of the new volunteers on a tour. Back at the homebase, I talked to a bunch of them and answered their questions. I also spent much time with my friends who live next door -- they have a baby boy (one month old) and a three year old girl. I spend a lot of time with the kids and always bring them over to the homebase to hang out. The mother doesn’t mind just giving me the baby for a few hours and letting me take care of him. Its amazing...something that I think most people in America would not do.

I went to church this morning with Rebecca, one of the ladies that helps clean/ take care of the house. It was incredible. Everybody was dancing and singing. I loved it! I love that they are so into their religion, even if it’s not the religion I practice. It was an amazing experience to be there...I videotaped a little of it so I can share it with all of you when I return home.

Earlier this week we went to the Llipke caves. They are a series of 6 caves. The hike/ venturing into the caves was a 4 hour hike. It was intense but beautiful. The caves required much climbing, ducking (to avoid hitting ones head) and walking. The view from the top was gorgeous but I was so tired from the extreme trek to the top that I didn’t want to go back down. if slept very well that night! I also recently went to the monkey sanctuary which is home to hundreds of monkeys. We bought bananas before arriving there and fed them to the monkeys right out of hands. I was in heaven (I love monkeys!!). There were even mother monkeys with babies holding onto their underside. It was so cute!

I'm going to head back home now! I miss you all! xoxo Nicole

by the way...Alie, if you read this, I met this guy named Carter in Keta last weekend. He is in Accra (the capital) volunteering and goes to school at Whitman. He is also going to be a sophomore and lived in the same building as you last year. Its crazy that I traveled across the world and met someone who goes to Whitman, such a small school.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Teaching

Sorry its taken me awhile to update this...the last time I came to the internet cafe, the internet was down. It’s amazing how quickly the weeks are passing now that I have a regular routine and am used to life in Ghana. Teaching has been difficult this week. Although I absolutely love and adore my students, they are very difficult to control at tines. Yesterday was by far the most difficult day so far. I don’t remember if I told you but I am the only teacher for my kids. All the other classrooms at the orphanage have both teachers and volunteers so the volunteers just assist the teacher and develop activities for the children. In my class, I am in charge, I have 24 students now...I just got a new student today. I have a new appreciation for teachers everywhere because I now realize how difficult and frustrating teaching can be. My students were so difficult yesterday that I had to get the headmaster to come in and try to quite them down. As I am the teacher in my class, I have not had to deal with corporal punishment and seeing the children being punished in that way. However, one of the other volunteers at the orphanage who is working with the youngest class (ages 2-4) was exposed to this type of punishment in her class. She was not okay with this at all so she met with the staff of the orphanage. As a result, the teachers at the school are no longer allowed to use the cane to punish the students. As an alternative, the headmaster had my students all stand on one hand and the opposite foot. He told me that the students would stay like this for 40 minutes. Although I was extremely frustrated with my kids, I was not okay with this as a form of punishment for misbehaving. He tried to tell me that this was a good alternative and would make the students listen/ behave better in the future. After being in the classroom for a few minutes with the children standing like this, they started crying and expressing their pain and discomfort. I could not stay in the room. It was too hard for me. I walked out crying. I could not stand to be in the room with my students crying and being punished in such a way. Its frustrating when I try so hard and they dont listen but I was not okay with this as a way to punish them. After a few minutes of sitting outside and crying my eyes out, all my children came outside and gathered around me as each one apologized. It was most definitely my hardest day here. And while I think its great that they are not going to keep using the cane, I do not think this is a good alternative. I am working on brainstorming other forms of punishment that are more humane. For some reason, it surprises me that there are still places in the world where children are hit with a cane or stick. Today was a much better day and the children were much better behaved. I am working on teaching them how to write their names...it is not as easy of a task as it sounds.

After placement today, I went to mosque with Alpha, the night guard of the homebase. It was an incredible experience. They dressed me up in the traditional clothing and had me perform the rituals before entering the mosque. They taught me all about the traditions, clothing, and prayers and even had me join in for the 15 minute service (which occurs 5 times a day).

I am staying in Hohoe this weekend to go shopping and spend some time in the community. We have a new group of 33 volunteers arriving tomorrow so it will be fun to meet them all and get to know a new group of people. Its crazy that the three weekers have already left and that their stay here is now over.

I am going to head back to the homebase. Hope everything is going well! Love you all lots!

xoxo
Nicole

Monday, July 07, 2008

Waiting on the World to Change

As I am writing on my blog, it has become evident to me that there are some thoughts that I have forgotten to share with you. I have had the opportunity to observe much as I have been in Africa for 2 1/2 weeks. It is amazing how friendly Ghanaians are. as I walk down the street, I am waved to by every person I pass, the children call out 'yevo' meaning, 'white person.' it is not a negative term in any sense. The children wave as hard as they can until we are long passed them...it is very sweet and always makes me smile. Some of the more outgoing children run to us and grab our hands, walking down the street with us. Their parents don’t mind, they don’t worry as Hohoe is an extremely safe town.

This past weekend, I traveled to Keta with 12 other volunteers. We spent Friday afternoon driving there and spent Saturday relaxing at the beach. As most of the other volunteers laid on the beach reading and tanning/burning, I made friends with some of the local children. I took them in the ocean and we had tons of fun trying to jump over the waves. These children took a liking to my video camera after I finally was able to explain to them that it takes a video, not a photo. They did not speak any English so this was a bit more difficult than it may seem. they were talking to me in ewe all day and I tried to explain to them that I don’t speak ewe but they didn’t seem to understand that. it was a beautiful day...the only downside was that the beach was a huge mess...covered in garbage. Later that afternoon, after showering, I walked down the street with the children and played with the entire family. I had a great time with them and was sad to have to leave them.

I have so much more to tell all of you so I will try to return to the internet cafe later tonight (it is currently 2:30 pm here and I am going back to Christ Orphanage at 3pm to play with the children out on the field.) if I am unable to make it back here today, I apologize but I hope you know that I am thinking about you and miss you all tons!

xoxo
Nicole