Sunday, May 31, 2009

One Day, Three Funerals

Today was my first day to sleep in but sleeping past 9am didn’t work too well as the sun was shining through the windows in my room. I got out of bed and ate breakfast before tackling the issue of unpacking my bags once again. I had unpacked everything when I was moved into what I thought was my permanent room but as I decided that the room they put me in was way too big for me, I had to repack everything to change rooms. I wanted to give myself a few days before unpacking everything to make sure that my current room would be the room that I would want to stay in for the next 10 weeks. As I have now spent about a week in my new room and like it, I decided that today would be the day to unpack and organize my room. I was getting pretty tired of living out of my suitcases and not knowing where everything was. It took me a few hours to get everything in its place but now my room is neat and organized and I don’t have open suitcases laying all over the ground. After I finished this extensive task, it was 12:30. I walked over to Raymond’s house to eat lunch as Raymond’s wife, Dina makes lunch and dinner for me on a daily basis. Just as I was about to start eating the delicious plantains and stew, Raymond called me and asked where I was. I responded and told him that I was at his house. He laughed as he informed me that he was at my hotel. When he arrived at his house, he was all dressed up in a huge kente cloth which was wrapped over one of his shoulders and decorated sandals. I questioned his outfit and he explained that he had just come from the burial of his uncle’s daughter. This woman was only about 35 years old and had been sick and hospitalized for the last two weeks before passing away. Raymond informed me that his other uncle, the one we had stayed with after I arrived in Accra was in town for the funeral and that we should go visit him. A taxi took us to his uncle’s Hohoe house (he also has two houses in Accra), located pretty close to Raymond’s house. Upon our arrival, we learned that Raymond’s uncle had actually just left the house and gone to the funeral grounds. We stayed at his house for a little while anyways and socialized with other family members who I had met during my stay in Accra. Sammy, the little boy who I had played with at Raymond’s uncle’s house in Accra was also at the house but he didn’t remember me at all and acted shy around me the entire time I was there.

After awhile, some of Raymond’s family left the house with us and we headed over to the funeral grounds -- located pretty close to the orphanage. We were driven over there by a taxi and passed one of the houses in which Achupei, one of the girls at the orphanage who is attached to me all the time lives. She is a twin so she lives there with her twin brother, Achu and her older sister, Sitsofe. As soon as they saw me in the taxi, they started running after the taxi, hoping to catch up with us. It was so cute to see Achupei run her heart out and chase the taxi as fast as her feet would go. We stopped near the funeral grounds and the kids, came over to me. News had quickly spread that Sister Nicole was there and many of the other children from the orphanage who live close by came out to see me.

I had known that there was a death in the area as I had seen people standing in the streets dressed in red and black (the traditional colors for a Ghanaian funeral), seen and heard trucks full of people drive through the village, waving their red cloths, shouting and singing, and had heard talk about the preparations for the funeral for the past two days. Additionally, on Thursday and Friday, women dressed in black and red had passed the orphanage singing and dancing causing me to question one of the teachers about what was going on.

In contrast to funerals in America, funerals in Ghana stretch out over a number of days. They are also more like celebrations of the person’s life rather than exclusively sad, somber events. We attended the funeral for Raymond’s cousin (whom he called his ‘sister’). There was a few huge tent like things set up to block the sun and an extensive sound system was set up. About 75-100 people were sitting around. There were rows of chairs set up – half of the chairs facing one direction and the other half facing the first set. The family was to sit on one side and the guests and local community was to sit on the other side. We sat on the family member side. There was a bunch of talking in Ewe and it was later explained to me that the guests are expected to bring bottles of alcohol and money to help the family cover the costs for the funeral. Patrick, one of the former teachers at Christ Orphanage told me that he thinks its sad because people are so willing to give money to help pay for the funeral after the person is dead but most of them are not as likely to give that person any money should they need it when they are alive.

After this funeral, we walked less than 300 feet to another funeral – this one was in honor of about a 50 year old man who had passed away. We stayed at the funeral for a little while and then walked back to the funeral we were originally at. This funeral hopping continued for the rest of the afternoon. By the time we were done, we had been to three funerals as well as to the house of a family who had just recently lost a family member. The community was unsure as to whether she had died or not so it was our duty to go over there and find out if the death was true or just a rumor. Although the conversation took place in Ewe, I could understand that this woman had in fact passed away. The 20 something year old daughter was crying hysterically. I asked why out of all the funerals we had been to that afternoon, this girl was the first one we had physically seen crying. I was told that this death was so much more recent than the others so the family was still in such shock and had not really had much time to react yet. The death was so recent that there had been no time to plan a funeral for this weekend.

I later learned that we had to go to all the funerals because Raymond, as president of the Youth Development Organization presents some money to the families to help cover some of the funeral costs. For this reason, Raymond also had given a little speech at each of the funerals. I did not follow what he said as it was all in Ewe.

While hopping around from one funeral to the next, I observed that there were many elderly people present. As I had just received a box of glasses from Sherry, founder of Eyes on Africa, I took note of the number of people who were wearing glasses. During the entire day I must have seen at least 400 people and I only observed one person wearing glasses. It was interesting to notice how much of a need glasses are in rural Africa. In addition to the box of reading glasses, sunglasses, and sewing kits that I received from Sherry, another box arrived on the same day. This box was from Vivian, founder of So You, a sewing organization on the East coast. Vivian and others from the community came together and sewed 50 pillowcases for the children to use. The post office had already opened the box as that is what they do with all big packages so when Raymond brought the box home, we sifted through the box and admired the beautiful, hand made pillowcases and all of the beanie babies and other stuffed animals they had sent for the children.

I thought that after all these funerals, I would be able to go back to my hotel and rest but Raymond convinced me to come back to the first funeral with him. He told me that there would be drumming and dancing. It was a little weird at first that people were acting so joyous as they had just lost someone from their community. Many of the children from the orphanage were around and thought that it was pretty cool that me, a white girl was at the funeral. In addition, many of the local people thought it was pretty cool too and were happy but shocked at the same time to see me there. They were even happier when I was finally convinced to get out of my chair and dance with them. Yes, I am now the white girl in town who dances. The dancing was very tiring especially during the part when I was dancing while holding Achupei. Every time I tried to take a little break and sit down, I was told that I couldn’t stop dancing yet and someone would grab my hand to ensure that I could not leave. The men were happy to dance with me and many of the women told me that they were so happy that I was dancing with them and participating in this traditional ceremony.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Returning from Ho to Hohoe

It’s been such a long, busy, crazy but amazing week which is why I have not had time to update my blog in so long. Things have been good though! It’s been difficult to find the time to sit down and reflect and write about my experiences because things have been happening so fast and by the end of the day, I am exhausted. I will try to organize this in chronological order so that it makes sense to you although it was not all written in chronological order.

So, let’s go back to last weekend – I was in Ho, visiting my adopted family. The weekend was lots of fun and very enjoyable! It was great to see these people who I am so close with and catch up with them. As you may remember, there was a little confusion over the fact that I would be taking Richmond back to America with me. The end of my last blog ended with me telling you that this subject had been dropped. Well, it had been dropped until Monday. What was I still doing in Ho on Monday, you might be wondering. Monday was a holiday – African Union Day so the kids would not be going to school and although the orphanage would be open and running, I decided that since I won’t be able to spend that much time with my family during this trip (as they live a bit far away), I would stay until Monday afternoon. Before checking out of my hotel, I went on a little adventure to find an ATM. Well, I didn’t have much luck and ended up going to three different banks. None of the ATMs were working and the tellers were closed as it was a holiday. Somewhere in the midst of this adventure and changing of taxis, I dropped my cell phone. I didn’t have much chance of finding it as there are tons of taxis that look exactly the same and I had no way to track down the driver of the taxi I was in. After my unsuccessful banking trip, I returned to my hotel, packed my things, and checked out. Without a phone, I had no way of communicating with my family. Luckily, I remembered the name of the village that they lived in and caught a taxi there. Because I was a foreigner travelling alone, the driver tried to charge me about 6 times the fee Dela and I had paid the day before. I told him that I would pay him what I had paid a driver the day before for the same distance. He realized that I wasn’t a stupid foreigner and quickly agreed to accept my payment.

I spent the rest of the afternoon with my family, playing with Richmond and Melody. While I was playing with them and some of the other kids, one of the young girls told me that I was red, white, and green. Green, huh? I had never really thought of myself as green but I realized that my veins on my arms, legs, and feet were, in fact, green. It was kinda funny to me but weird for the young girl as the Africans green veins do not show due to their dark skin color.

Forgive, Richmond and Melody’s mother questioned me for the first time about the issue revolving around Richmond. She was quite sad to hear that I had not agreed to take Richmond home to America with me and that this plan would not be happening. She told me about the deteriorating relationship between her and her husband, Bless. Apparently, Bless had informed Forgive that he no longer needed her and that she should leave. She informed me that she would be taking her children and leaving the family’s house within the next few days. She was going to go live with her parents, who live in town. She made sure that if I cannot find her or the children next time I come to visit (which I told them would be in a few weeks), then I should have Dela call Forgive’s parents so I can visit them. I made sure that Forgive and the children were not being hurt by Bless before I left.

As family is what I would consider the most important thing in Africa, it was surprising to me to hear that, like in the rest of the world, people in Africa also get separated and divorced. It might sound silly but it took this incident for me to actually realize this.

As it was already the afternoon, I decided that I should get on my way back to Hohoe. A bunch of the family members walked me down to the main road and on the way, John, Dela and Peace’s father pointed out the town’s waterfalls, mountains, cocoa farms, and told me all about the place where the mountains come together and how there is a mount up there as that is where their ancestors came from. It was so nice to have these things explained to me. I was truly grateful. John told me that during my next trip to Ho, we could actually go check out some of these places. When we reached the main road, I said my good byes and John and I got into a taxi. John (who was wearing the shirt that I had brought for him) said he had to go to town to do some things but I think that whether or not he actually did, he wanted to accompany me to the tro tro station and make sure I was sent off safely. I bought a bottle of water and some plantain chips and then boarded the tro tro headed to Hohoe. After the tro tro was full, we pulled out of the station. We had a much quicker ride back to Hohoe that I had from Hohoe as the tro tro does not make tons of stops, like the bus. As there are less people on a tro tro than on a bus, less stops were requested. I was dropped off in front of my hotel but quickly learned that after they had finished moving my stuff and making sure everything was okay in my new room on Friday, Raymond had taken my key. So I left my stuff with Hannah and Kayla, Elyse’s friends and hurried off the Raymond’s house to retrieve my key. I practically ran back so that I could shower and get ready as they were planning on leaving in about half an hour to go to dinner to celebrate Kayla’s birthday and the girl’s last night in Hohoe.

I finally got in to my room, jumped in the shower, and searched through my suitcases (which I had not had time to unpack yet) to find some clean clothes. I was ready in no time and then had to sit around and wait for Raymond and the driver to come pick us up. Typical, when they arrived, we got in to the tro tro, along with some of the other teachers from Christ Orphanage, as well as Gladys, the former Nursery teacher of Christ Orphanage who I knew very well from last year. We drove about half an hour to the restaurant at Wli Waterfalls. It was an extremely pretty, serene restaurant located outdoors. And we were the only people there, which was nice. Before dinner, we sat in relaxing, padded chairs which faced the waterfall.

I was taught for the second time (Dela had previously taught me) how to play the only card game that Ghanaians know. (For the reason that it is their only card game, they just call it ‘card game’). It still made absolutely no sense to me. I did not understand which cards to play or how to figure out who was winning. But our driver, Alex was sitting right next to me and helped me decide which cards to play. The guys tried to explain the game to me but they didn’t explain it very well. When I had finally given up on the game and went to go sit with the others, they were also playing the same game. I tried again and this time, Nicholas, the Class 2 teacher actually simplified the rules and showed me how to play. It made so much more sense. I understood and played with Glady’s younger brother who was about 10 years old. The game depends much upon the 5 cards which each player is dealt. And for some reason, I kept getting really good cards which made it impossible for me to let the young boy win.

We ordered dinner – I ordered spaghetti minestrone and an orange Fanta. One of our waitresses was a white woman. I was a bit surprised to say the least as I had not previously seen a white person actually working somewhere in Ghana. The guys told me that she was a German woman – they could tell from her accent. I have a feeling that, although I have not actually met any other Germans while in Ghana besides this waitress, Germans often come to Ghana. Often, when people ask me where I am from, they say, ‘are you German or American?’

Dinner was delicious. We sang happy birthday to Kayla, who was turning 22 and was presented with a kente cloth that said, ‘happy birthday’ as well as a dress made of traditional batik fabric. We then headed back to the hotel so Kayla and Hannah could finish packing as they would be leaving the following morning.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Accra Bank Adventure

From journal on May 26, 2009 at 1pm - on tro tro ride from Hohoe to Accra:

Lush green grass, bushes, and trees surround us on either side of this narrow, two lane road (one lane in each direction) leading to Accra. Every so often, we drive through a village. Homes, schools, and little kiosks with women selling their crops are lined up on the sides of the roads. We pass children in their brown and orange school uniforms walking with friends. Bricks are stacked near unfinished buildings and run down houses. The countless numbers of potholes and ‘rumble strips’ (speed bumps) make the ride extra fun although they make it a bit difficult to write. We are behind another tro tro, obviously going to slow for our driver, Alex. He waits until the cars in the opposite direction have passed and then passes the slow tro tro. We have only been driving for a little more than 30 minutes yet we have already gone through three police check points.

We swerve around potholes, as do other drivers. The potholes seem to be the only thing that the drivers slow down for. In contrast to America, cars, not pedestrians have the right of way in Ghana. When people (or animals) are crossing the road, the driver beeps his horn repeatedly and continues speeding down the road without considering braking. Its like a real life version of the game Frogger where you try to cross multiple lanes of traffic without getting hit. Another police check point. We are waved through and continue on our way.

Animals are running around, not concerned with anything except for finding food. The mountains look beautiful – they are covered with green trees that reach to the sky. Palm trees and trees with various colored flowers line the sides of the streets. Men sit around shirtless. Women walk on the side of the road carrying their babies on their backs with huge baskets full of produce from their farms, a jug of water in a yellow gasoline looking container or wood balanced on their heads.

People can be spotted at the most random places. A man in what seems like the middle of nowhere is cutting grass with a machete. People are resting – taking naps on benches. Others are chatting away. Young children can often be seen with their mothers who work at kiosks, selling produce and other goods. Sometimes they are standing in the sewer, other times they are crawling or playing close to their mother. The older siblings love to pick up the babies, many who have never seen a white person before, and hold them out to us. They then laugh their heads off as the baby screams and hides from us (an unfamiliar creature).

On Tuesday morning, Raymond informed me that he thought it would be a good idea for us to go to Accra as Elyse’s two friends, Hannah and Kayla (who stayed in Ghana for longer than Elyse were going to be taking the tro tro to Accra and then taking a public bus to visit Cape Coast before they fly back to Canada next week. Raymond (and I) only expected to spend the day in Accra and return to Hohoe the same evening. Instead, due to the fact that we were unable to get everything done in one afternoon and because we were running on Ghanaian time (meaning that although we were to leave Hohoe at 11am, we did not leave until about 1:30pm), we decided to spend the night. Tuesday was definitely long day – besides the 4 hour drive (which Alex made shorter than that due to his speedy driving), we unsuccessfully tried to get Elyse’s friend’s travelers checks exchanged at a countless number of banks. In addition, we also visited a number of electric stores, looking for and negotiating on materials for the toilets, showerheads, and locks necessary for the new site of the orphanage. As it was getting late and the stores were beginning to close, we would have to wait until the following day to look for the materials for the windows.

So back to the whole bank situation…due to the fact that we (Elyse’s friends, Hannah and Kayla, and I) thought that we would be leaving Hohoe much sooner than we actually did, we did not think that we had time to visit the bank before our trip to Accra. So we told Raymond that we would need to stop at a bank once we got to Accra. I spotted the first Barclays that we drove past in Accra but the driver passed it and there was a ton of traffic so he did not think that it would be worth it to turn around. We were assured that there were other Barclays in Accra so when we stopped at the next one; we thought that we were in luck. The three of us girls approached the security booth outside the fence of the gate and I asked the guard where the ATM was as I only needed the ATM. He quickly replied that there was no ATM. Confused; the girls went searching for the entrance to the bank so that they could exchange their travelers checks. Apparently there was no actual bank either. It was only a bank for businesses. We laughed it off, got back in the tro tro and continued driving. We spotted a third Barclays which advertized on the sign that they had an ATM. Unfortunately; they only had an ATM which meant that the other girls were out of luck. I thought I was finally going to be able to access an ATM but, of course, the ATM was not working. As this Barclays was located right next to a bunch of other banks and we were running out of time until the banks would close, Hannah and Kayla tried a certain bank to change their checks and Raymond and I headed over to a different one which accepted Visa cards. We found the ATM and I entered my information but the ATM informed me that it was unable to connect with my bank in America. Hoping that Hannah and Kayla had better luck, we met back at the tro tro and quickly discovered that we were no further than when we had begun.

Raymond knew of another Barclays, located in the heart of Accra. To get there, we had to sit in horrible traffic. Raymond asked me if the traffic was this bad in America. I told him that I had previously thought that the traffic in Southern California was pretty bad at times but the traffic we were sitting in here was 100 times worse. Seriously, We would sit in the same spot for 10-15 minutes without moving an inch. And Ghanaian drivers are quite aggressive and loud as all the drivers are competing to be first, to make it through a certain intersection, and to get to their destination as quickly as possible without thinking of anyone else. They are not afraid the use their horns either. Although it is a bit hilarious at first, it gets annoying pretty quickly, especially when trucks or busses honk their horns very loud for long periods of time.

Every time we passed people walking on the side of the road, the horn in honked, in case the person somehow couldn’t hear the noise of the rattling car coming closer to them. This honk is a warning for the people to not even think of crossing the road.

Although Accra is a little bit of a more developed city than the rest of Ghana, most of the street lights were not working. At times, the drivers didn’t even pay much attention to the lights that were working. And for stop signs, they just went straight through those. Maybe that is why the government hasn’t bothered with spending tons of money to put up stop signs and such in the smaller towns and villages.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Freedom Hotel, Ho

It’s amazing that I have been in Ghana for a week already. But what a long week it has been. It’s been difficult for me to get to the internet café as I am staying at a hotel that is not within walking distance of the café and I have been running non stop this week. The staff at the hotel I am living at in Hohoe says that by next month, wireless internet will be installed. The hotel has only been around for three months so that is why it has yet to be installed. That will make it a lot easier to stay in touch and update my blog more frequently.

Things at the orphanage are going well. I have spent much time during the last week in the classroom with the students even though that is not my main duty during this trip. It is difficult for me to get away from that as the students run out of the orphanage to greet me every morning the minute that they spot me. Imagine 40-50 children running towards you, screaming your name, practically attacking you, all trying to reach you, hug you, and grab on to you in any way possible and insisting that you come and work in their classroom today. This is my greeting every morning. I then try to get some of the kids to let go of me so I can actually walk and lead them back to the orphanage. It is truly amazing how far in advance they can spot me. And of course the minute that one of them spots me and starts running towards me, a few dozen other kids follow and do the same.

The children who I taught last summer insisted that I spend time with them in their class and work with them as I am their former teacher. As all the classes have teachers this year, I have been spending time in the classroom assisting and also trying to individually help some of the students who are still having trouble writing and identifying their letters. I see this as a skill that is important that they learn sooner than later as it is an essential skill that will make the rest of their schooling difficult if they do not master.

While in the classroom this week, one of the children yelled out to me, ‘chicka chicka boom boom.’ It warmed my heart that this student remembered the book that we read so often in their class last summer! Raymond is looking for the Very Hungry Caterpillar book as that was the book that we read a few times every day last year – it was most definitely our favorite book. I still remember the entire book by memory as we read it so many times but I think it will be more effective to go over it with the actual book present as it has many colorful, interesting pictures which the children love.

On Friday, I worked in a different class – Class 1, as the teacher was not there. This is the oldest class – the 10 children in the class are between 9-10 years old. They are doing very well academically and can read, write, and have mastered their addition, subtraction, and multiplication skills. I took out their books that they are reading and we read about snow – a concept that is very foreign to them. While looking for something else to do with them, I came across a manila envelope addressed to Raymond in my handwriting. I opened it and found the letters that I sent which were written to the students at the orphanage at the fundraiser I had in January. I asked the children if they had seen these letters yet and they said yes, however, they were very excited to look at them again. I gave each student a letter to read and they read them very well and loved the drawings. We talked about where the letters came from and how my friends, back in America were the people who wrote these letters. After each student read their letter, I asked them if they wanted to write back to the people who wrote the letters. They excitedly said yes. So, I grabbed a white board marker, and with their help, we drafted the format for the letters they would writ back to their new friends. The children personalized their letters by including information about themselves such as their age, favorite food, and things they like to do. After they wrote their letter, I asked them if they wanted to draw a picture, like their new friends in America did for them. Of course, they said yes. One of the students, Israel , really wanted to draw a plane as the letter he was given had a die cut plane on it. He tried very hard to draw a similar plane but was not happy with the results. So, remembering that Boa and Morgan had decorated some loose die cut images, I took those out and found a plane. I showed Israel how to trace the plane and he (as well as the other children) loved it! They took turns tracing the loose butterfly, dog, and plane die cuts and then colored in the traced images. As only about 6 of the children in the class were present, only 6 letters were written. However, I hope to have time this week to work with some of the students in the other classes who have some basic reading and writing skills to respond to some of the other letters. I plan on sending all of the letters in one envelope to my mother and assigning her with the task of getting them to the correct people as it is a lot more financially efficient to do it that way. As the mail here in Africa can be a bit slow at times, it might take a few weeks to arrive but if you get a letter, I highly encourage you to write back. I hope that by overseeing this project for the next few months, that these correspondences can become a regular thing and the teachers will continue to encourage the writing of such letters after I leave. The children love the fact that they are writing to my friends in America and I hope that those of you receiving letters are excited to see how much time and effort the children put in to the letters that are being sent to you. Just for your information, the letters that we read and the children wrote back to are to Melissa, Ilana, Boa, Coral, Daniel Glik, and Dani. I plan on also having the children write letters to Matthew Pierce, Morgan, Erika, and Andrea. I am sorry if I have left anyone out. If you or your child(ren) want to be a part of this penpal program and receive a letter from a student at Christ Orphanage, please let me know. Similarly, if your name is on this list and you do not want to participate/ do not think you can commit to writing back to the student, please let me know. I would rather have fewer letters written and receive responses than have the children write tons of letters and not receive responses.

This coming week, I will be teaching Raymond how to use Excel so that he can keep accurate accounts of finances both for himself and for the orphanage. In addition, we plan on going window shopping so we can find containers in which to store and organize the school supplies that I brought. I told Raymond that I would not hand over any of the supplies until we had them organized in such a way.

Now, on to other things. So as I think I told you in my last update, I moved hotel rooms as I was told that the room I spent my first night in was only my temporary room. I was moved into a huge room with air conditioning. The bathroom alone was bigger than my room at home. After a day in this room, the electricity went out. I spent the next two days in the room without a working fan, a/c, lights, or fridge. I really did not mind that much as I do not feel that I need to live in such a luxurious place – this room was called an apartment room. The only difficult part was the fact that the sun sets pretty early and that meant that by 6pm, my room was pitch dark. The electricity was restored two days later. By that point, I had already unpacked my entire room but I decided that I did not need or want to stay in this huge room anymore. As the smaller rooms were booked until Friday morning, I had to wait until then to change rooms once again. So on Thursday night, I repacked all my belongings and on Friday morning, I moved back in to the first room I had stayed in. I did not have time to start unpacking my stuff again as I was leaving on the noon bus from Hohoe to Ho. Although Dela, one of the boys in my adopted Ghanaian family had come from Hohoe to Ho to visit me on Thursday, I was going to Ho to visit him and his entire family. I did not realize until I arrived in Ho how many people his entire family consisted of. I cannot count the number of people I have met that claim to all be related.

I arrived to Ho on Friday afternoon on a bus that was packed to capacity. As I had been switching rooms and moving all my stuff, I arrived at the station just in time to catch the bus. Raymond assured me that I would be fine and the bus would not leave until after noon but by the time I bought my ticket and boarded the bus, I could only find a middle seat – it was like I got stuck in a middle seat on an airplane. Of course the whole bus stared at me as I carried my bags and tried to find a seat.

I arrived in Ho two hours later. By that time, I was so sick and tired of auto horns and speed bumps. For some reason, the drivers here communicate with each other and the rest of the world by beeping their horns very loud numerous times. And the bus’ horn was super loud. Each time we would drive through a different town or village, the driver decided that he needed to honk his horn for a good 15 seconds. That may not seem like very long, but, trust me, it is. Another annoying way that cars communicate with each other here is by flashing their bright lights.

I was met in Ho by Dela. Dela and his family – my adopted Ghanaian family lived next-door to the CCS homebase which I stayed at when I came to Ghana last summer. We walked from the bus stop to the taxi station. From there, we got a taxi to Chances Hotel – the biggest hotel I have seen in Ghana outside of the capital city, Accra . This hotel has 120 rooms and apparently was totally booked for the night. So we walked back down to a main road and picked up a taxi to take us to Freedom Hotel. This hotel, while much smaller that Chances had a room and I was quickly checked in. After putting down my stuff in the room, Dela and I headed to his house. It was then that I saw my family and met much of their extended family. Their house in Ho is conveniently located next to many of their family member’s homes. They share an outside area where they hang out, play games, and cook together.

As dinner time was approaching, I was called inside to the house to find a table set up with a Styrofoam container and drink. They had gone out and gotten me a meal of rice and salad. It was very good and I handled the spiciness of the fried rice pretty well, if I may say so myself. After dinner, I continued to hang out with the children who were helping me with Ewe and laughing at me every time I pronounced a word in Ewe.

As John, the father of Dela and Peace thought that I was spending the night at their home, he informed me that I should go bathe. As they do not have a western style shower, he insisted that Dela would take me to his brother’s home to shower as they have a western style shower. I was confused as I did not yet know that John was under the impression that I was staying with them, so, I did as told and showered at his brother’s house. Upon my return to their house, John informed me that they had prepared a room for me to stay in. I thanked him immensely but told him that I would be spending my nights in a hotel in town.

Before I left for the night, Melody fell asleep on me. It was just like last summer when almost every night Melody and often also Richmond , her baby brother would fall asleep on me. Richmond and his mother, Forgive had gone in to town to visit Forgive’s family and were not home by the time I left to head back for the hotel although I was assured that I would see them on the following day.

The following morning, as I was getting dressed and ready for the day, I received a knock on my door. I was informed that I had a guest waiting for me in the lounge. I headed over there and was met with a huge hug by Forgive and Richmond. The little three week old baby I had first met at the end of June 2008 had grown up and was now walking – or at least trying and only sometimes succeeding. I was so happy to see them. Forgive’s mother, father, and friend were also there and I was introduced to them. As I had yet to eat breakfast and Forgive and her family had not eaten yet either, we all headed to the hotel’s restaurant for brunch.

After this meal, we took a taxi back to the house I had been at the previous day as that is where Forgive and Richmond live as well. I was introduced to even more family and was taught by some of the young girls how to play a game with stones in which six piles of four stones are placed in front of the two players who are distanced but facing each other. Each player then rolls stones to try to hit the other player’s piles of stones. It was fun and looked a lot easier than it actually was, especially because the ground was not flat.

While taking a break from the heat, Dela, Godsway, Jenevive, Peace, Melody, Richmond (all of whom lived in Hohoe last summer), and I headed inside the house. I took out my bag and gave them presents, toys, and clothes which I had brought for them from America . I had a little too much fun when looking for clothes for Melody and Richmond so I had quite a wardrobe of clothing for each of them. The older kids had fun playing with the light up yoyo while the younger ones and I played with the bouncy ball.

A little while later, while sitting outside and socializing, I was called into the house by John. He sat me down and told me that we should start the preparations for Richmond . I was confused and asked him what he was referring to. I quickly learned that Bless, Richmond and Melody’s father, who I had met the previous day and had talked to on the phone informed him that I would be taking Richmond back to America with me. I was left stunned. While I know that sometimes I have a hard time understanding everything during phone conversations with Ghanaian, I also know that although I love Richmond , I had not agreed to bring him back to America with me. Both John and I were left stunned – John because this meant that I would not be bringing the now 11 month old baby to America and me because the whole family had been under the impression that I, a 20 year old college student would be taking Richmond home with me.

The subject was quickly dropped and not brought up the rest of the day except for when I approached Dela as he has the best English skills and asked him why they thought that I was taking Richmond home with me. He told me that if I wanted to take Richmond home, that was fine. Between the week that I have been here during this trip and the eight weeks I was here last summer, I had been asked a few dozen times to take people home to America and had been told by about half a dozen mothers that I could take their children home to America. While I had known that people here have a huge desire to go to America, I honestly did not think that a parent would seriously ever really be willing to just hand over their child to me. It was something that I still cannot really believe and has been in my mind for the last day and a half.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Christ Orphanage

Today was the day I have been looking forward to the most. Today was the day that I actually got to return to Christ Orphanage and see all the kids again. I was awoken early by a loud knock on my door. It was one of the hotel workers, bringing me my breakfast. At 6:30am! As much as I tried, I could not go back to sleep and decided to get ready for my day. Patrick came by and walked me to the orphanage, asking if I remembered where it was. I easily found it and told him that I could never forget! On the road to Christ Orphanage, one of the kids from the orphanage grabbed my hand and walked with me. Upon walking through the gate and into the orphanage, the children started chanting my name. My fear that they had forgotten me was quickly pushed away as I immediately had dozens of children attached to me, grabbing me, hugging me, and wanting to be picked up. Many of the children had new scabs, scrapes, and other injuries to show me.

When I finally got most of the children off of me, I walked in to the school building and was happy to see that the artwork, numbers, letters, and other things I had put up on the wall were all still there – and the kids were still using them. Not only were all these things still up on the walls, but other things had been added as well. The class that I taught last summer had new desks – they are not that great but they are better than making the children knell on their knees to do their work.

I was happy to learn that a new teacher had been hired for my class. We still have a lot to work on with them – starting with mastering the writing of their names. This is something I worked on with the children last summer but as my class was passed on from volunteer to volunteer, practicing this skill had been neglected. It is going to be one of my many goals for this summer.

Today was the day I have been looking forward to the most. Today was the day that I actually got to return to Christ Orphanage and see all the kids again. I was awoken early by a loud knock on my door. It was one of the hotel workers, bringing me my breakfast. At 6:30am! As much as I tried, I could not go back to sleep and decided to get ready for my day. Patrick came by and walked me to the orphanage, asking if I remembered where it was. I easily found it and told him that I could never forget! On the road to Christ Orphanage, one of the kids from the orphanage grabbed my hand and walked with me. Upon walking through the gate and into the orphanage, the children started chanting my name. My fear that they had forgotten me was quickly pushed away as I immediately had dozens of children attached to me, grabbing me, hugging me, and wanting to be picked up. Many of the children had new scabs, scrapes, and other injuries to show me.

When I finally got most of the children off of me, I walked in to the school building and was happy to see that the artwork, numbers, letters, and other things I had put up on the wall were all still there – and the kids were still using them. Not only were all these things still up on the walls, but other things had been added as well. The class that I taught last summer had new desks – they are not that great but they are better than making the children knell on their knees to do their work.

I was happy to learn that a new teacher had been hired for my class. We still have a lot to work on with them – starting with mastering the writing of their names. This is something I worked on with the children last summer but as my class was passed on from volunteer to volunteer, practicing this skill had been neglected. It is going to be one of my many goals for this summer!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Arrival in Hohoe

After waking up at the crack of dawn – or rather, 7:00am due to my crazy jetlag, Elyse and I went into the living room. We were told to sit and watch some television even though we didn’t really want to. Raymond had already left the house and we had no clue where he went or when he would be back.

Staying at Raymond’s uncle’s house was quite the experience. This house, in Accra, the capital city of Ghana was very nice and extremely big. It was quite a juxtaposition from the way that many other Ghanaians live. It was very weird to be in a house in Ghana that had a flat screen television, an air conditioning unit, and even a pretty new Audi car. While in this part of town, we saw many new looking high end cars – Mercedes, Lexus, even a Jaguar. Raymond took Elyse and I on a walk upon his return to the house. By this time, we had eaten breakfast (or rather, Elyse had eaten breakfast and I had watched as the food contained either fish or meat – we couldn’t tell which one but it didn’t really matter since I don’t eat either).

As Elyse continued to watch Will and Grace and Party of 5, I played with Raymond’s nephew, Sammy, who was pretty loud for an hour or two before I woke up and then very shy when I first tried to play with him. But eventually, he let me play cars with him. He would push the car and I would make all the noises – honk-honk, beep-beep, vroom – vroom. He got a kick out of this game and every time I tried to take a little break and sit with Elyse, he would call me to come back. After awhile, I decided to go to the room and grab my camera. Sammy let me take his photo and then insisted that I take a photo of his car as well. He stared at the photo on my camera screen for the longest time and then I showed him how he could use the zoom buttons to zoom in and out of the photo of the car. Sammy was in heaven and occupied for the next hour. I eventually took a new photo of the car as I was getting a little tired of seeing the first one close up, far away, and at all ranges in between so many times.

Upon Raymond’s return to the house, he insisted that we eat again. It had only been about 2 hours but it was time for our 2nd meal already. We went outside and saw that the meal was all set up and waiting for us on the table. The dish was corn based and I wish I could remember the name but I have forgotten at the moment. I ate it plain as the sauce that it was to be dipped in was okra stew – more fish! Don’t worry mom, I ate it without the stew and at dinner rolled around, Raymond explained to me that there was rice and stew but the stew had chicken in it. He asked if I would eat a stew with fish instead. When I told him that I don’t eat fish either, he went and got me a stew without fish or meat. I was very gracious and now that Raymond knows this, I will hopefully have non meat and non fish meals from now on. After this meal, Elyse, Raymond, our driver, Alex, and I went for a walk. After sweating up a storm and walking for awhile, Elyse requested that we turn back and head back to the house and she wasn’t feeling too well. Raymond explained that we were almost at our destination, the American House, and after we saw this site, we would take a taxi back to the house. I was a little confused as to what ‘the American House’ referred to, so I asked – apparently it was a very funny question, which left Elyse and I even more confused. Eventually, it was explained that it was the American Ambassador House. As Raymond had told us that we were going to visit the house, I asked him if the Ambassadpr knew that we were coming – apparently another funny question. I played along with Raymond and Alex and tried to understand what was so funny. After walking passed some very nice, huge ‘mansions’ as Raymond called them, we arrived at the junction which is know as the American Junction. This is because this ‘American House’ was the first mansion built in the area. After this house was built, others nearby decided to also build big, fancy houses.

After the photo opportunity, we piled into a taxi and headed back to the house. I inquired about the plans for the rest of our day as I wanted to go to the supermarket before our trip to Hohoe. I soon realized that because it was Sunday, this goal was not going to be achieved today. Raymond told Elyse and me that we would have to stay at the house until about 12 noon as he had to do some business with a friend who was at church (and often stays at church until 2pm). We watched a few games of checkers, which had some crazy rules – or rather, no rules for kings and then got our stuff ready to leave. After saying our good byes and expressing our gratitude, we put all three of my overweight suitcases as well as my backpack and hand bag back in the tro tro.

Now for a little story about one of my bags of luggage:
Anthony, the man I befriended on the flight to Ghana told me that he would meet me at the baggage claim after we went through passport control. Because he had dual citizenship, he got to stand in a shorter line than those of us who did not have Ghanaian citizenship. The man at passport control was surprised to see that a white American girl was going to be staying in Ghana for three months and explained to me that he could only approve my stay for two months and that I would need to go to an office in Ho, about an hour and a half from Hohoe in a little less than two months to get it extended. Thanks to all of my mother’s hard work, I already knew that this would happen and was prepared for it. By the time that I made it to the baggage claim, Anthony already had all of his bags. I searched the luggage carousel for my bags and watched them make a few rounds before I was able to sneak in and grab them. Anthony insisted on helping me and lifted each my three 70 pound bags onto the cart for me. While lifting the third one, the handle ripped out, leaving Anthony only holding the handle, and my suitcase on the ground. He felt so bad but I explained to him that it was an old suitcase; I was not going to take that suitcase home and had planned on leaving it here in Ghana anyways. As we walked out, through security, both of us got stopped and had to open our bags for the inspectors. Of course! It was not a huge deal and pretty quickly, we were on our way down the ramp and out of the airport. Anthony stayed with me and made sure that there were people there to pick me up. It took me awhile to spot the people who were there for me as there were was a mob of people surrounding the security barrier outside the airport. I saw a face and a white hand waving towards me and felt good knowing that Elyse and Raymond were there to pick me up. After saying good bye to Anthony, we started walking to the tro tro – it was a bit of a scary experience as Raymond and a bunch of other guys insisted on pushing the cart and the bags almost all fell forward. But luckily, we made it to the tro tro in one piece and then headed to Raymond’s uncle’s house. Elyse and I caught up and she updated me on the kids and other stuff at the orphanage. I was so anxious to see the kids (but as of tonight, Sunday night, I still have not seen them yet)! But that will all change tomorrow morning.

Now back to our trip to Hohoe…
Raymond had told Elyse and I that we would leave his uncle’s house by 12:30. So far so good. On schedule and everything. This is pretty impressive for Ghanaians. We had to make a few stops before leaving Accra and by the time all of Raymond’s errands were done and his brother was picked up, it was 2:30. We spent the next few hours in the tro tro. If the extreme heat, electricity outage, and stares from all the locals wasn’t enough of a welcome back to Ghana, the awful tro tro ride was. I had forgotten just how bad the roads could really be.

After going through three security checkpoints, swerving around hundreds of potholes, and coming extremely close to hitting some animals, we arrived at the Greater Grace Hotel – the place that Elyse explained was home. As there was an unexpected guest last night, my room was taken for the night and I was given a room just down the hall which I have heard is much smaller than my room. The long tro tro ride had drained us of any energy so we went out to the bar to get some Fantas. I then took a shower – finally and started to search through my bags for some clean clothes to wear. I didn’t have too much of a problem finding some clothes but I had to open and rummage through all three bags before I could find one of the six bottles of bug spray I had packed.

I was trying so hard not to make a mess of my stuff as I will be changing rooms tomorrow but after a few minutes of searching for the spray, I just started tearing my bags apart. I soaked myself in bug spray and then went outside to get some fresh air. I was greeted by some of the staff here at the hotel who were extremely friendly. We sat in front of the hotel and chatted. They explained that they liked my country and then proceeded to ask me which country I was from. I laughed as they had already decided that they liked my country before they knew which one I was from! Of course, when I told them that I was from America, they liked my country even more. One of the young men told me that he would like to go to America one day. After telling them that my sister will be coming to Ghana in two months, he asked if I would give him permission to marry my sister so that she could take him to America. I explained that that’s not really the reason why people get married and not to count on getting to America by marrying my sister as I would not give him permission to do such a thing. I spent the rest of the evening talking with various workers at the hotel, as well as Patrick, one of the former teachers from Christ Orphanage who now works at a different school but frequently visits Christ Orphanage. I’m now off to sleep at this place that Raymond refers to as my new ‘home for the rest of my life’ as I will be staying here for so long.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

British Airways Flight from London to Accra - Flight 2

After aimlessly walking around and stretching my legs in the Heathrow airport, I finally boarded my flight to Ghana. This flight won’t be as bad as the first one as it is three hours shorter, plus I am sitting in the emergency exit row so I have lots of room and no one in front of me. The first flight actually wasn’t that bad, because I was so tired (as I only got 4 hours of sleep the night before) that I slept for a good few hours on the plane.

On this flight, I am seated next to a native Ghanaian, Anthony who has lived all over the world – from Anaheim to New York and now London. He is a very nice man who now lives in London with his wife and two children. But he frequently flies to West Africa on business, as he works for a non profit organization, Water Aid. This organization supplies water to remote villages and poverty stricken areas in 16 different countries. While talking to him during take off, I learned that orphanages in Ghana are a pretty new thing. Previously, if the parents of a child died or couldn’t care for their children, other family members would take them in. Anthony’s parents took in three of his cousins that lived with his family until they were old enough and decided to move out and make a life for themselves. He explained that people today, even in Africa are changing and not as willing to care for other’s children – resulting in an increase of orphanages. Anthony is originally from a town in the Volta Region, not far from Hohoe.

Friday, May 15, 2009

LAX Airport Gate 103: America to Heathrow

A little girl runs in front of me – I am sitting, waiting at my gate. She is pushing her orange stroller and panicking her parents as she runs out of sight. I look at her and think of all the children at Christ Orphanage that I will see on Sunday! I think about little baby Richmond who was just 3 weeks old when I arrived in Ghana last summer and is now walking (according to his father when I talked to him last week). I think of Melody and all the other children who I cannot wait to see again.

The tears have finally stopped. I didn’t think it would be so difficult to say good bye to my mother and sister, but it was extremely difficult. And then my sister made it even harder by sending me with a very sweet letter that I opened when I arrived at my gate. I had finally calmed down a bit and then I burst into tears again. I am so happy that my sister and I have the kind of relationship that my aunts have. And I hope that we will continue to be so close for the rest of our lives. She is so important to me and I am so excited that I get to see her in a little more than 2 months when she comes to visit Ghana!

I am leaving LAX in about an hour. In a few hours – or a lot of hours, I will be in Heathrow, England. After my two hour layover and transfer there, I have a few more hours of flying until I arrive in Accra, Ghana. I will be met at the airport in Accra by Raymond, the founder and head master of Christ Orphanage as well as his uncle, and possibly one of my fellow volunteers, Elyse who returned to Ghana a few weeks ago with two of her friends.