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.

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