Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Injection

I realize that it has been more than a week since I have updated you and I apologize for that but I have not been feeling well. I started feeling sick last week. I felt like I had a cold and took some over the counter the medicine and cough drops that I had brought from home to help my sore throat and my headache. On Friday, I got worse and had a very difficult time sleeping Friday night. I called Raymond early on Saturday morning requesting that he take me to get some medicine. Raymond was convinced that I had malaria although I told him that I just had a cold and needed some stronger medicine than what I had brought.

Raymond told me that I had to eat my breakfast before we left in case they needed to give me an injection. I started to get a little worried when he started talking of this ‘injection.’ I ate my breakfast and then we got in a cab and drove about five minutes to St Joseph’s Clinic. We were seen by the doctor who said that we were lucky to catch him on a Saturday morning. Raymond informed the doctor that I had been sick a few weeks earlier but I had just ignored it even though he thought it was malaria and now my symptoms had worsened. The doctor took my blood pressure and temperature and then asked what me about my symptoms. Using this information, he informed me that I did in fact have malaria. I was not entirely convinced by this way of determining that I have malaria but everyone else who I have talked to here informed me that it was the correct diagnoses. I am still not 100% convinced but I don’t really know as I have never had malaria before and have nothing to compare it to.

The doctor started writing out a long list of medicines that I would need to take and started talking about this ‘injection.’ I wasn’t too fond of the idea of getting an injection and informed him of this. Raymond told me that the injection would help me get better within a day or two. Raymond had malaria the week prior and had to be hooked up to a drip. I went to visit him on the day he was hooked up to it and I did not want to have to go through that so I finally agreed to take the injection.

I went into the ‘Injection Room’ where the nurse was busy putting together the instruments and medicines needed for the injection. I watched the nurse open the sealed needle pouch which made me feel a little more comfortable about the injection of B 12 that she was getting ready to give me. I pushed up my shirt sleeve but she shook her head and said ‘buttocks.’ Oh joy, I thought.

Now, I wouldn’t call the area where she did the injection my buttocks but rather my lower back. But whatever. It doesn’t really matter because it hurt so much anyways. And it hurt like crazy for the next two days. I spent much of my time in bed, either reading, watching tv, or sleeping. And every time I would get up or get back in bed, the area where I was given the injection hurt a ton. Finally, today (Tuesday) the area stopped hurting and I can sit down and get up without being in pain.

I may be 20 years old but I felt like such a baby when I got the injection. Even though I had agreed to receive the injection, I was still scared and the injection itself was very painful. I burst into tears and laid down on a bench immediately after receiving the injection. Raymond acted like a father towards me, making sure I was okay and taking care of all the paperwork and everything. He brought me back to my room and brought me lunch. He checked on me through out the day and made sure I was okay.

I have been taking a bunch of different medicines which were approved my Raymond’s nurse as well as a family member back home who is a nurse. Between the medications and the fact that I am sick, I have been extremely tired and am trying to take it easy. This is not easy for me as I enjoy being with the children at the orphanage and although I know that I need to take care of myself, I am started to get tired of resting this much.

For those of you who might be worried about my health after reading this, please let me put your fears to rest. I am being taken care of very well and my health has improved much over the last few days. I am taking all my medications and Raymond and practically everyone else I know here is monitoring my health.

Now on to happier things. Its going to be difficult for me to put everything that has happened since my last update in chronological order but I will try to put it in an order that makes sense.

As I think I told you, Sherry, who runs Eyes On Africa sent a ton of sewing kits with the reading glasses I distributed a few weeks ago. Patrick suggested that I take the sewing kits around to various seamstresses but I decided that I wanted to give them to the community members. So on my way to the orphanage one morning, I started giving out the sewing kits. They were just little kits with a few different colored strings, a button or two, a safety pin, and a needle – the kind that hotels often leave out for their customers.

As the sewing kits were in little boxes, I took one out of the box so I could actually show people what I was giving them. I had to explain to many of the people that an identical set of supplies was in the box I gave to them. People smiled and thanked me for this gift. I repeated this exercise two more times before I had given out all of the sewing kits. I had people approach me later that day and the next day requesting a sewing kit but I had to explain to them that I had given them all out. At certain times, I had people crowed all around me, all wanting to make sure that they got whatever I was handing out.

It felt good to hear how appreciative the people were and to know that something so simple could make them so happy. Besides being approached by people requesting sewing kits the next day, I was also approached by people who had received sewing kits and wanted to thank me again.

Last Wednesday, all of the teachers and volunteers had a staff meeting. This was a much needed meeting because changes needed to be put into effect at the orphanage. Two other volunteers who arrived earlier in the week were present at this meeting and got an opportunity to learn more about the structure of the orphanage. The teachers were distributed to different classes as to best serve the children.

My class from last year, now in Class One was assigned to a brand new teacher who is actually at the orphanage to teach French. He moves around the orphanage teaching French to the various classes which leaves me in charge of teaching Class One everything besides French. As Mark, a previous volunteer and the guy heading the project to build the new site arrived earlier this week, we have discussed this issue and realize that the class needs a permanent teacher. As a result of this class not having a permanent teacher, the children are not at the academic level that they should be. I bought each of the children a writing notebook and have been working with them on their English and math skills in attempts of helping them reach the level they should be at.

On Friday, the head teacher of the orphanage, Kennedy and I went around to three different primary schools in Hohoe in an effort to collect syllabuses for the classes at the orphanage. Earlier that week, Raymond and I went to the internet café and spent two hours unsuccessfully searching the internet to find the syllabuses. The government and Office of Education make it very difficult to get ahold of the syllabuses as they only distribute a limited number of copies. Some of the teachers were a little hesitant to let us borrow their syllabi to make copies but eventually, we had collected all of the syllabuses that we needed. We sent them to be copied and then Kennedy and I went to pick up some clothing I had made by a local seamstress. We grabbed a much needed lunch and then headed back to the copy center. They still had a good amount of copying to do and I was not feeling too well so I left Kennedy and took a cab back to my hotel so I could rest. On Monday, upon my return to the orphanage, I was happy to find the syllabuses all bound and ready to be used to help the teachers design their lesson plans.

That’s all for now. I am sure there are lots of things that I have left out but I will add them to my next few updates as I remember.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Painting the Building at the New Site

Last night, Saturday night, I decided to go on a little walk by myself before going to Raymond’s house for dinner. I decided to walk the route I take to get to the orphanage as the children that I see on the way there make me so happy. And my little girl, Atsufe (pronounced Achu-pey) lives on that road. I started my walk and first came across the little girl who stands on the path during the week. She was grinning from ear to ear. I picked her up and threw her in the air. She loved it and laughed every time. I continued on my walk and came to the corner where there are some children who didn’t know who I actually was until last night. I see them all the time but they have never come closer to me so I didn’t want to approach them and possibly frighten them.

They started yelling ‘yevo…yevo’ and Atsufe’s older sister heard them and ran to get Atsufe. The children actually ran up to me and I asked for all of their names and told them mine. I picked up Atsufe and started playing with the other kids who had surrounded me. Some of the children who attend the orphanage and live in that area came out to see me as well. One of the older boys brought me a chair and instructed me to sit down. I did and continued to play with the children for about 30 minutes before announcing to them that I had to go eat dinner but I would come back tomorrow.

I then headed to Raymond’s house for dinner. Alex, one of Raymond’s relatives who had taught my class last year and then turned the class over to me when I arrived was in town for the weekend. Alex who is very well educated and finishing university this month had come over earlier that day for lunch and started asking me all sorts of questions about America. And they weren’t just some basic questions but questions that made me really think and realize that while I know a lot, there is so much about my country that I don’t know. We talked about the difference in culture between Ghana and America, divorce, schooling, religion, and much more. After dinner, Alex and I continued our conversation and Raymond joined in as well. It was so neat to sit down with them and talk honestly about the things they were curious about and the things I was curious about. We talked a lot about the importance of family here in Ghana. They were surprised to hear that the only non immediate family member I see regularly is my aunt. They were also shocked to hear that my grandparents live two hours away from my home.

They told me how here in Ghana when you get married, it isn’t just a commitment between two people, it is a commitment between two families and frequently between two villages. They continued to tell me how rare divorce is in Ghana for this reason. They then asked me questions about divorce in America. And they were in total shock when I explained to them that many divorced couples go to court over the children and often the children spend half the time with one parent and the other half with the other parent. This is not something that they would ever consider doing if they were to get divorced.

As I had talked to my sister while I was at their house and they knew she was coming to Ghana in a little more than a month, they asked me if there were any tourist type places we would visit when she is here. I told them that I was planning on taking her to Wli Waterfalls, the monkey sanctuary, Cape Coast, and a few other places while she was here. Alex asked me if I had been back to any of these places again this year. I answered him by telling him that no, I had not gone back to any of these places this year. He asked where I have been going/ what I have been doing on the weekends. I told him about my family in Ho and told him that I had spent the rest of the weekends here in Hohoe. He asked why I had not gone back to any of these places and I explained to him that when I came to Ghana last summer, I was a volunteer but I was also a tourist and that CCS encourages you to go on weekend trips and see other parts of the country. And yes, I loved the travelling and seeing other parts of Ghana but that this year, I was here as a volunteer and not a tourist. I explained that I felt that Hohoe, specifically Wegbe is my community and that I am enjoying spending my weekends in this community – meeting the people, participating in the events, and learning about things in this community.

Yesterday, I spent the morning with Evanx and he took me to a place in the community where there is a wine distillery and the local drink is made. It was vey interesting to see that and learn about it. They also took me to see some pigs that were located nearby. In addition, I visited all of Evanx’s family members again and spent much time with his three year old niece who is absolutely adorable and loves me. I told Alex and Raymond that this is the way I prefer to spend my weekends – here in the community.

Last night, Raymond had told me that he would be going to the site today to continue painting the building. I told him that I wanted to come with him and help paint. I don’t think that he really thought I was serious as when we got to the site, he handed me a paint brush as the other worker and he got rollers. I told Raymond that I could actually paint and quickly exchanged my brush for a roller. Raymond and the worker had done the first coat of paint on most of the front of the building the previous day but we still had to finish the front and do the other three sides. Now it didn’t seem like that big of a task but trust me, it was. Raymond and the worker worked on the front of the building, putting on a second coat. I worked on the first coat of the other three sides of the building. My hands and arms were sorer when I finished the painting than they are after I go to the gym. It was amazing to see how much the paint transformed the building. I can’t wait until the day when the children finally see this new site and are able to live and school there.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Talking About America

This week has been busy at the orphanage. As Mark, a volunteer who initiated and has done most of the work and fundraising for the new site will be visiting soon, we have been working on some tasks that he requested were completed before his arrival. Our main task at the moment is developing updates for each of the children to put on the website. Every day at break, the teachers, Raymond, and I have been gathering and talking about the children. I take the notes, write down which class they are currently in, and make any logistical corrections that need to be made. We have almost finished going through all of the children so I have been working on turning the notes into short paragraphs and typing them.

Other things that I have been busy doing this week include trying to learn all 150 of the children’s names. I know a majority of the names but there are still a bunch of kids whose names I am still working on. Its good practice as I have also been trying to organize all of my photos on my computer. I have developed folders on my computer for each of the children and have been going through and sorting the thousands of pictures I have already taken.

One day this week, I taught the older children, Class 2. The children started asking me if I could call America so that they could talk to the people too. I was a little confused but then realized that Godwin, one of the students had told his peers that he had talked to my sister on the phone. As Godwin lives with Raymond and his family, he is around in the evenings when I go over to their house for dinner. While on the phone with my sister one evening, I had asked him if he wanted to say hello to my sister. He was very excited to talk to her and hear her say that she was coming to Ghana in a few weeks. Godwin communicated very well with her in English – I was very impressed.

I then had to explain to these 9-10 year olds that although it was currently 11am in Ghana, it was 4am in America. I asked the students what they were doing at 4 in the morning. They told me that they were eating and doing chores. I told them that at 4m, I am still sleeping. This made them realize that at 4 in the morning, they are in fact also sleeping. I asked them if they would want me to call them at 4 in the morning. They ruined my point as they shouted ‘yes.’ I just laughed and explained to them that I didn’t think it would be very nice to call my sister at 4am and wake her up. They finally agreed with me that we shouldn’t call and wake up my sister but told me that when I leave I must give them my phone number at home so that they can call me.

This conversation led to the students asking me questions about America. I was a little shocked when one of the boys asked me if there were blacks in America. I told him that yes, there are blacks that live in America and we call them African Americans. I then told them how there were also other people in America. People from all over the world – Asians, Mexicans, Germans, etc. This resulted in all of the children telling me that I should take them to America with me when I return there.

A few weeks ago, Patrick asked if he could use my computer to type his final project for the teaching college he attends. So he started typing. After a half hour, I noticed how long it was going to take him to type the first page which he was still on. So I offered to type it for him and he happily accepted my offer. I did not realize that the project was a total of 50 pages until he brought his draft the next day. And even though the draft had been ‘edited,’ it was a mess. As I typed the project for him, little by little, I could not help but edit it for him.

I had the entire project finished early this week but took it upon myself to go through all 50 pages once again to read it for clarity and mistakes. There were some sentences that I had come across while typing the project that did not make any sense at all but I could not edit as I had no clue what Patrick was trying to say. It was a lot of work but I couldn’t let him turn in a final project that had so many mistakes and made absolutely no sense in places. This afternoon, I finished typing and editing the final pages that Patrick had added.

Now for some cute things that I have been meaning to share with you.

For my 18th birthday, some of my friends bought me a Tiffany’s bracelet. It is a chain type bracelet with a heart charm on it. I wear this bracelet 24/7 including here in Ghana. The children love playing with the bracelet and when they see the heart, they say ‘apple...a for apple.’

In addition to the heart bracelet, I also wear an elephant necklace here 24/7. I had a similar necklace that my sister had made for me last summer before I left for Ghana. She made an identical one and wore it while I was away and even after I returned. On my last day in Ghana, I gave my necklace to the little girl in my adopted family, Melody. In this way, the elephant necklace has kind of become our thing and at my fundraiser for the orphanage in January, we had the necklaces available for a donation. I have a new elephant necklace which I have been wearing this year. All of the children love it and enjoy identifying it. I have learned the Ewe word for elephant as the children who can not speak English have taught me that in their language, elephant is ‘antigleeyne.’

My hotel is located a short walk from the orphanage. I walk there every morning and afternoon and greet all of the people I see. The children enjoy calling out my name and even some of the adults call me by name now. There is a point on my path in which I walk past a house that is home to a young girl. She is probably a little younger than a year old. Every morning and afternoon, she stands in the middle of the path and waits for me to come. She waits until I am close enough and then hugs my legs. She makes me smile as her face lights up when she sees me. I think it is the cutest thing in the world and it makes me so much happier than the children who cry when they see me.

A few weeks ago, Patrick and I went to town to purchase some containers for the school supplies I had brought for the orphanage. At one of the shops that we stopped at, there were three girls sitting and chatting. When one of the girls saw me, she asked my name and proceeded to touch my skin. She then tried to rub it like she wanted to rub some of the whiteness off of me and transfer it onto her. She was probably around 12 years old but she held my hand the whole time I was in the shop. She kissed my arms numerous times when I told her and the other girls that I had to leave after purchasing some items and didn’t want to let go. She shouted after me and told me how beautiful I was.

While her actions were cute, it saddens me when Ghanaians like this girl tell me that I am prettier then they are because of my skin color. I have also been told that my skin is softer and nicer than Ghanaian’s skin. I try to convince them that their skin is equally beautiful and soft but they refuse to believe me. It’s horrible how we Westerners have been able to convince Africans and other racial groups that whites are the most beautiful people. I personally think that Ghanaians are truly beautiful, inside and out. I think that their dark complexion is gorgeous and brings out their beautiful features.

After purchasing those containers, I filled some of them with school supplies. I brought two of them to the school one day when I returned in the afternoon. The children started chanting something in Ewe as I arrived with these containers. I was confused as to what they thought I had in the containers and what they were chanting. I asked one of the teachers and it was explained to me that since the people who sell kabobs use the same containers to hold the food, the children were shouting this in Ewe. After all of the craziness died down and the children let go of me, I was able to enter the school and put the containers in an out of reach spot in one of the classrooms. I asked the children in Class Two to stay in their classroom as the rest of the students went to the field to play. I explained to these older students that I needed their help and asked if they were willing to help me. They were more than happy to help. I took down the containers and explained to them that we were going to clean the very messy cupboard and organize the materials. I took out my ipod and the speakers and put on some Disney music for them to listen to. The children had no clue what this white musical device was but when I plugged it into the speakers and the music started playing, they first looked at it in shock and then started dancing. That afternoon, we organized the cupboard. It was quite a task but the children were a great help. They assisted in organizing the flash cards, putting rubber bands around them and then putting them in one of the boxes. They also helped to go through all of the books and pull out the ones that needed to be restapled or glued as they were broken and falling apart. I took out the piles of paper that had children’s artwork or schoolwork on them and organized them into a box labeled ‘Schoolwork.’ I made sure that we did not change things too much but that we made things neater and easier to find and use.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Community

We had another amazing storm here this afternoon. Every afternoon, after spending a little less than two hours on the field, Evanx and I walk the kids who live a little further than my hotel home. Today the sky was looking dark and cloudy as we left the school.

I tried to get going right away so that we wouldn’t get caught in the storm but Evanx was talking to one of the volunteers who just arrived a few days ago. Less than a minute into our walk, it started sprinkling. We walked quickly and encouraged the children to run. We made it out to the main road before the rain started coming down a little harder. I crossed the road and ran inside to my hotel to put down my bag which had my camera and important papers in it. I quickly crossed the street again and had to run a bit to catch up with the group. The sprinkles turned into big rain drops. As it was impossible to walk fast enough to beat the rain, we stopped at a covered, outdoor church and waited for the rain to stop.

The children quickly found the drums which were obviously used for Sunday services. They started banging on them…but not in a bad way. They were actually really good. I was thoroughly impressed. The group that we walk home is made up of maybe 12 kids – most of them are in the younger class but there are about three kids who are in Class 1. The older kids are between six and seven years old. One of the older kids, Emmanuel was obviously an expert. He took the biggest drum and started playing. The others played in conjunction with him.

As there were only three or four drums, the rest of the children danced around to the music. They occasionally stopped to watch the rain or as many of the younger ones did, hide from the rain. I sat on one of the benches, listening to the kids play and watching their cute dance moves. I was holding Rita, an eight year old girl who is in my class. She was not at school yesterday and arrived at school very sick today. According to Raymond, she was shivering and could not even hold herself up this morning. They took her to the hospital where the doctors informed her that she had malaria. She was feeling much better than she had in the morning but she just wanted to rest and lie on my lap.

Rita got up for a minute to play the drums and I joined the children in dance. They giggled and enjoyed the fact that Sister Nicole was dancing with them. When I sat down, one of the little girls got on my back and I carried her around.

For those of you who don’t know, the mothers here carry their babies and young children on their backs. They have a piece of fabric which is tied under the baby’s bottom and around the back of the baby’s neck or the child’s upper back. I think the women would laugh at the fact that we use strollers and baby carriers to carry our children around. Yes, some people have well made packs that they use to carry their baby on their back or chest but even that is so much more complicated than the simple piece of fabric they use here. It is incredible how one piece of fabric can be used to support a baby. It doesn’t seem possible but trust me, it is. Even Raymond’s son, Anderson, who is a big baby and extremely heavy for his age is frequently carried around on his mother’s back.

It is not only the mothers who carry the fabric used to tie the baby to their back. You can see older and younger women with such a piece of fabric tied around their midsection, on top of their garment. Mothers are not paranoid about their children and have no problem with other women picking up their child and putting him/her on their back. Apparently this is pretty comfortable for the babies as they are frequently fast asleep on their mother’s back as she is busy doing her chores or walking to get somewhere.

While on this subject, I wanted to explain how babies and other young children are transported in cars. In America, most people, especially families have cars. And if they have young children, they have car seats in their car. Okay, yea, I know you know that but just in case you didn’t I wanted to inform you. Anyways, here in Ghana, most people do not have their own cars. And I wouldn’t even know where to find a car seat if I for some reason wanted to buy one. Most people here either walk to their destination or for longer trips, use a taxi or tro tro. The children are conveniently placed on the parent’s laps.

Oh, and also, seat belts aren’t part of the norm here. I have noticed that most of the drivers wear seat belts but have yet to see a passenger put on a seat belt. Frequently, it is impossible for the passengers to put on a seat belt as many of the vehicles lack such safety feature.

Okay, so back to this afternoon. After a good half hour, the rain finally stopped. We quickly walked the rest of the way to the point where we drop off the kids. We have to dodge puddles and watch out for vehicles which drove over puddles and sprayed water all over the place. The rain had stopped but the thunder and lightening continued. I thought that the lightening I had seen last week was pretty incredible but this lightening was something special. At one point, the lightening hit in four or five places, one after the other. I stopped and followed its path with my eyes, my mouth open in disbelief. I wish I could have captured this on a video camera because I don’t think words adequately explain the incredibleness of this sight.

Now, let me finish updating you on my weekend and Ho and fill you in on everything that has been going on this week.

So, I woke up somewhat early last Sunday and was served delicious egg sandwiches and tea. I then had to ask the question I had been dreading to ask. I pulled Peace aside and asked her where they go when they have to urinate. She turned and asked her father who was sitting in the middle of the compound, surrounded by people. They told me that I should go in their outdoor shower. I walked over to the shower and found Melody bathing. I helped her get all of the soap off of her body and then she wrapped a towel around the bottom half of herself and ran to get dressed. I then squatted the way most of the females do here when they need to urinate. The males just turn their backs and do their business. I have had many experiences where I have been in a tro tro and the driver has pulled over to the side of the road to urinate. It is not uncommon to see males by the side of the road, backs facing the traffic, urinating. Sorry if that was too much info!

The family was going to go to church but I was informed that Dela and Bless wanted to take me to the waterfall. I happily accepted their offer. We hiked down the hill and followed a long path. Eventually I could hear the sound of water. Let me tell you, this waterfall was nothing compared to Wli Waterfall, the big waterfall located in Hohoe. This waterfall was extremely small but super cute. Dela climbed up and grabbed a crab – no, not the little ones kids catch at the beach but rather, a big, somewhat scary looking crab. Along the way to and from the waterfall, Dela and Bless pointed out all the different vegetation to me. They explained the difference between a plantain and banana tree (a plantain tree has a bit of red on the trunk and the banana tree’s trunk is more white). They showed me the cassava plants, maize (which I could easily identify), yams, coconut trees, and cocoa plants. Dela found a ripe cocoa nut and cracked it open. I was a bit surprised by the taste of the pure cocoa. After visiting the waterfall, we walked down another path to see the stone quarry. I had been shown many piles of beautiful pieces of flat rocks that were used to decorate houses and for other landscaping purposes. As Bless works at a quarry, he wanted to take me there to see it. We stopped by a few other sites before we arrived at the one that bless works at. It was hot and looked like a lot of hard labor was required for this job. Bless easily took a piece of the stone and used another, smaller rock to split the stone in half. I lifted one of the now two pieces of stone and was taken back by the weight of it. It was absolutely incredible. Bless showed me the areas where they have excavated far enough in to the land and have found pure water.

On our walk back from the quarry, Bless and Dela told me that there were some pigs that we should go see. We were guided by their smell as well as their sound. The pigs were separated into about six pens, each with three to five pigs of relatively the same size. The first pen we visited had some average sized pigs, the next had some baby pigs, and the next had huge pigs. The baby pigs stuck their snouts into the gate, trying to communicate with us. As I was taking a photo of one of the big pigs, he decided to lie down in the water. Splash. Yes, you guessed it, some of the water landed on my legs. I tried not to be too grossed out but when we arrived back at the house, I got a bucket of water and washed off my legs.

When we arrived back at the house, the church goers were not home yet but there were still many people around. The girls asked if I have brought the little photo albums again on this trip and I replied that I had. I got the photo albums out, one full of my pictures and the other full of my sister’s pictures. The photo albums were passed around and everyone enjoyed looking at photos of our friends and family, as well as landscape. Around the same time, the photo book which I had got made for the family after my departure from Ghana last summer and had sent to them was brought out. My heart was warmed as it had been brought out a few weeks earlier when I had visited them as well. They took the book out of the protective sleeve which they keep it in and showed it to their other guests and extended family. As I had my camera out and had been taking photos of the kids, one of the older men asked why I hadn’t taken any photos of him or the other adults. To be honest with you, I am much more comfortable taking photos of children as they love to be photographed and don’t really care what they are doing or what they look like. Photographing adults is more challenging and requires me to actually ask the person if I can take their picture. I went around, asking each of the adults if they wanted me to take their photo. Each of them replied ‘yes.’ We hung around the compound for the rest of the morning/ early afternoon. Forgive and Peace were busy preparing banku in honor of me for the entire family. They were so excited when I told them that I regularly eat banku and akpeleh in Hohoe. They made my stew separately as their stew had fish in it. Dela and I were served in the house and enjoyed the specially made meal.

After spending a little more time with the family, I informed them that I would have to get going. Dela, John, Forgive, and I walked down to the main road. Forgive told me that I should carry ‘my baby’ so I did as I was told and carried him. He had spent the entire weekend wearing clothes that I had brought from him and I must say that he looked pretty cute in them.

We reached the main road and sat down, waiting for a taxi. I pulled John aside and asked him if I could give him some money to cover my expenses which they had endured. He told me that ‘God would repay him’ and that he would not accept any money from me. As I had a feeling that this would be the answer as Dela had also refused my money, I had already asked him to think of something that I could get them that their family needs or could use. As of Wednesday, Dela informed me that he was still thinking. In case he doesn’t come up with anything, I asked Patrick to help me figure out something that would be appropriate to give as a gift to my Ghanaian family.

As Forgive, the mother of Melody and Richmond is no longer receiving any financial help from her husband, she had asked me the previous day if I could help her in any way possible. As I was raised by a single mother and know how difficult it can be to support children on one’s own, I asked John if it would be okay by him if I gave Forgive the money that I would have given them to cover my food and other expenses. I told him that I didn’t want Forgive to become dependent on money from me but that I wanted to do what I could to help her. John told me that it was a generous gesture and that he would think about what the right thing for me to do would be.

They pulled over a taxi for me and asked me if I would be okay getting a tro tro on my own. I informed them that I would be fine and thanked them for all of their hospitality. My adopted family had not been happy that I had to leave so soon but I promised them that I would return in two or three weeks to visit them again. I told them that next time I visit, I will come on Friday and leave on Sunday so that I can spend more time with them.

I was dropped off at the very busy, crazy tro tro station. I was only the second person on the tro tro heading to Hohoe so it took some time for the vehicle to fill up. When it finally filled up, we drove out of the station, honking like crazy and had a smooth, quick ride back to Hohoe.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ho Trip

So after hanging out with my family for a little bit, Peace told me that we should go down to the funeral for a little bit. I grabbed my camera and followed her to the funeral site. I could have found the funeral on my own as all one had to do was follow the loud music. We arrived and watched some of the locals drum and dance. Others were sitting, watching and socializing. I was brought a chair and sat down. I then noticed that some of the children who were sitting near by were staring at me. I started to copy what they were doing and it turned into a game where they would make certain motions or do certain things to see if I would actually mimic them. After maybe 15 minutes of this game, I got up and pointed to my camera, asking if I could take their pictures. Of course, they were more than excited by the chance to be captured on a camera. I first took a picture of a little girl who I hadn’t been playing with but who was staring at me. She was so adorable especially because she was all dressed up for the occasion. She was not too happy about the white girl taking her photo and started to cry. All of the other children were happy about getting their photo taken and seeing it on the camera screen. I had to explain to them that they had to stay still for the photo to come out clear. Some of the locals started watching and laughing as I photographed these very excited children. After being at the funeral for awhile, we returned to the family compound.

Then, Dela, the oldest boy (who is 17 years old) told me that we should go visit his father at work. So Dela, Godsway (Dela’s ‘brother’), and I left the compound to go to John’s work. I knew that John worked at the Vodafone (cellphone) tower as during my previous trip to Ho, Dela and John had pointed out the towers to me. I knew that the towers were on the top of a hill but I was in no way prepared for the hike that we had to take to get there. I tried to keep the fact the John walks this path twice a day every day in my mind but it was still difficult. The hill took a bit longer to walk than it looked like it would take. And I was walking it with two teenage boys who are pretty well built. On the way up the hill, we took a little break and the boys showed me their family’s farm where they were currently growing corn – and a lot of it! They pointed down the hill further and showed me where their other farm was located.

We finally arrived at the gate of the cell phone towers. I was later to learn that there was one tower for each of the cell phone networks meaning that there were five towers. John was inside the gate where the Kasapa tower was located. He was in charge of documenting all of the work done by the workers on this tower and basically just acting as security guard for this particular tower. As there was no one currently working on his tower, John came out and greeted us and then walked us over to a shaded area where there were two benches. The view was incredible. As we were on the top of this hill, we could see the whole valley stretched out in front of us. I definitely pulled out my camera and started snapping pictures. Although the photos are good, I do not think they do justice to the beauty that was stretched out before our eyes. It was incredible as we could see every vehicle and person (within a reasonable distance) and their movements. In addition, I also watched as smoke started rising from a particular location. Don’t worry, it was only trash being burned as that is the way they dispose of trash here in Ghana. I watched as I spotted another area from which a trail of smoke could be seen. It was incredible to see things from this view. Maybe two or three miles in front of us, there was another hill which just sat in the middle of flat land. John told me about the hill and explained that there are 14 villages that are located on or directly next to the hill. He shared stories of his visits to some of these villages and asked me if I would like to go to visit some of the villages. I told him I would love to and that maybe it is something that we could do during my next visit to Ho.

We were approached by another worker who was taking a little break from his work and wanted to come enjoy the view with us. He began talking to me – asking about my trip and plans and stuff and then, of course whether I was married or not. He then informed me that Dela was perfect for me – a handsome, smart, nice young man and that I must marry him. Dela and I just looked at each other as we have a friendly brother-sister relationship with each other rather than a romantic relationship. We just went along with what this man said – it made me laugh at points.

After probably an hour or so, John returned to work and told me that he would be home in about 2 hours, around 6pm. As we were walking towards the exit, we spotted two men on one of the towers. Now I am not very good at estimating things like this but they must have been at least a good 30 or 40 feet up on this tower. Watching these two men work that high up in the sky made me feel scared for them.

We walked down the hill which proved to be much easier and quicker than the walk up. We returned to the family compound and I took out some books to read to the kids. They had requested during my trip to Ho a few weeks ago that I tell them a story. I told them that I was not very good at story telling and instead would bring some storybooks the next time I came to visit. The children enjoyed the books, especially the lift the flap one. We hung out outside and I played with the children.

A little while later, Dela called me into the house. They had gotten me fried rice from a local shop and had set it up along with a Fanta and bowl in which to wash my hands on the table. I thanked him immensely and ate the delicious meal. I don’t remember if I told you on my blog update from my first trip to Ho, but this is what they did for me every night that I was there last time as well. It was an extremely generous gesture. I tried to give Dela money to cover my food and everything else they had purchased for me – bottled water, soap, etc. but he refused the money.

We watched some television on the family’s television but I quickly got bored of having to read the subtitles and the bad acting of African films. I went outside and played ball with Richmond which involves me kicking or throwing the ball and then him rolling it and loudly saying ‘goallll.’ Can you tell that this is a football (soccer) family?

I played with Melody – tickling her, which she loves and playing with her worn out stuffed animal. We then played our little game in which she says ‘I love you’ and then I say it back and then she says it and then I say it. It goes on until one of us gets tired of it and stops replying. It’s something we started last summer as it was some of the only English she knew. It may sound cheesy but it is actually really cute.

It was getting late and Richmond was fussy so one of the women tied him on my back. I walked around, trying to calm him down and after a little bit, he fell asleep. I sat down and Melody came over and laid her head on my lap. She quickly fell asleep as well. Richmond was taken off my back as I took Melody inside so she could sleep on the bed.

I was shown to my room for the night which was Godway’s brother’s room but was vacant as he was not there. They put on a fan and made sure I was comfortable. I slept soundly on the mattress which was located directly on the floor.

I awoke on Sunday morning to many voices outside the closed window. I checked the time on my phone and as it was still pretty early, I went back to sleep. Or at least attempted to go back to sleep. On top of the voices, one could hear the sounds of birds, goats, and roosters. I could sleep through the noise of the goats and birds, but the roosters just make it impossible to actually sleep. I am out of time for now but I will finish updating you on Ho within the next few days!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Cocka Doodle Do

On Saturday, after awakening early and finishing packing, I ate my breakfast and waited for Patrick to arrive as he wanted to escort me to the tro tro station. He arrived half an hour late – not too bad for Ghana time but somewhat unexpected as he is usually good about time. We took a taxi to the station which is in town and found the tro tro going to Ho. Patrick assisted me with buying my ticket and getting my stuff into the tro tro. As this is the public tro tro station, there are tro tros waiting to be filled up so that they can travel to one of various towns throughout Ghana. The only downside to this system is that sometimes it takes awhile for the tro tro to fill up so you just have to wait until more people who have the same destination as you show up. Luckily for me, the tro tro was almost full but unfortunately that meant that I had to sit in one of the end seats. These seats are the seats closest to the side of the tro tro where the door slides open. They fold up so that the people in the back can get in and out of the vehicle. And since they are not attached to other seats, they take all of the bumps quite harshly. We waited for one more passenger to enter the tro tro and then we were off. Or so I thought.

So most of the tro tros are not in very good condition. They run, at least most of the time. The one that we were in had some problems starting, so some of the other drivers and people standing in the station pushed the tro tro a bit and then the driver put the vehicle in reverse so that we could exit the parking spot. The driver had a bit of a difficult time controlling to vehicle as it was still not running properly and came close to hitting another one of the tro tros. All of the bystanders started yelling and telling the driver to stop. Luckily he stopped just in time. By now my heart was pounding quite quickly. I was somewhat scared. Or rather, very scared. The vehicle shut down and the people pushed the tro tro forward as the driver steered. The engine finally caught. I caught my breath. I was praying that the driver would not turn the vehicle off as I was scared that we would have the same issues again.

We pulled into the gas station just down the road and the driver left the engine running as he put gas in the tank. Now I take after my Aunt Lori and don’t understand why people let their gas tanks get so close to empty. I always see people here pushing taxis, tro tros, and other vehicles to the side of the road or a nearby gas station as they have run out of gas. Honestly, I think it is plain silly to wait to the last minute to get gas. I guess the drivers here are more like my sister or Aunt Sue, both whom wait until their gas tank lights are on to fill up.

After the vehicle was supplied with gas, everything was fine. After this little incident which got my heart pounding, the rest of the ride was pretty smooth (well, it was bumpy but whatever, you know what I mean).

About an hour and a half after we left Hohoe, we pulled into the station at Ho. I exited the vehicle and was immediately bombarded with people trying to get me into their tro tro or sell me bread, pure water, dvds, plantain chips, watches, and everything else possible. I walked to the front of the station and called John, the father of my adopted Ghanaian family. I told him that I was at the station and he told me that he was sending Peace to come and pick me up. I thanked him, took the time to buy some credits for my phone, and stood around waiting for Peace to arrive. I waited and waited and waited. I tried calling John back but his phone said that it was ‘either switched off or out of network coverage area.’ Okay. So I called Dela. I got the same message when I called Dela’s phone. Okay. Well, Dela had given me another number to use for them as well so I tried calling that number. Someone picked up! But that person spoke very little English. And then they hung up. I was pretty sure that it was Annie, John’s wife. So I called back and we had a conversation similar to the first one which got me nowhere. When I called another time, the person, whom I thought was Annie, told me that I had the wrong number. I was confused and tried calling John and Dela’s phones again but got the same message. I then remembered that I had Forgive’s husband’s phone number. I knew the Forgive and him were having issues but I had been stranded at the station for nearly half an hour and was unable to get in touch with the family any other way. So I called Bless, only to find out that he was in Accra, the capital city. I explained to him that I was at the station in Ho and had been waiting for quite awhile for Peace to come and pick me up. I asked him if he could please try calling them and find out where Peace was. Of course, right after I made this call, I got an incoming call from John. He told me that Peace was on her way and should be arriving at the station for me shortly.

She finally showed up and I couldn’t be happier to see her. During my time waiting, while I was not on the phone, I had been approached by a taxi driver who drove up very close to where I was standing and starting talking to me. He had a passenger in the back seat, yet he stopped to tell me that he loved me and wanted to marry me. Yea, yea, yea. This again. Without even knowing my name, he asked for my phone number. I told him that I would not give him my number but that he could give me his number. He didn’t like this as he probably knew that I would never call him. He started begging for my number but I stood on my ground and told him no. He eventually gave in and gave me his number. I didn’t even have a name to save the number with in my phone but I typed the number as he told it to me and then after he finally drove away, I closed my phone, thus deleting the unsaved number.

Now, let me tell you that this is not as mean as it may seem. I have learned the hard way that giving my number to people in Ghana that I do not know and I think will never call me is not a good idea because they will call me and they will call me and call me and call me until I finally pick up. And although this little game may sound like fun, it honestly is not.

So back to the story. Peace and I took a taxi to her village. We were dropped off in front of a funeral celebration which was packed with people. Everyone turned to look at the white girl arriving in their village. This is a very small village and I do not think that they get white visitors very often. Or at all. Well, except for me.

We walked to their house where I was warmly greeted by my family and all the other visitors who were sitting outside in their compound. I was so happy to see them all again. Peace who had insisted on carrying my backpack took the rest of my belongings and put them in the house.

Upon Peace’s arrival at the tro tro station to pick me up, I had noticed that she was wearing one of the shirts I had brought for her and given to her during my visit a few weeks earlier. Upon arriving at the house, I noticed that Godsway was wearing the jersey I had given to him last summer and Richmond was wearing an outfit I had brought for him a few weeks earlier. It made me feel good to know that they were wearing and enjoying the clothing that I had brought for them. In addition, they had their laundry hanging in one lines in the middle of the compound and I spotted quite a few pieces of clothing hanging to dry that I had also brought for them.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Update

So I took a break from my last entry to eat dinner. Before I left for dinner, I was feeling so itchy on my arms and legs (but I couldn’t find many mosquito bites on my body) so I just covered myself in bug spray like I do every night and headed out. By the time I got back to my room, I was so itchy that I took the only allergy medicine I brought with me, Benadryl and it knocked me out. So this evening I will finish with my update.

Back to yesterday – So I usually take a break after lunch and go back to my hotel to shower and nap or write or go to town or do whatever else I want. Yesterday, Evanx, who walks me back to my hotel every day after lunch wanted to stop by his aunt’s house to get some oranges for me. I had been to his aunt’s house before and it was very close to the orphanage so we walked over there. We walked carefully as it had been rainy all day and the ground was covered with dirty puddles – definitely not the kind you want to jump in. Evanx brought back a bucket full of green oranges. I can’t remember if I have already shared this with you or not but the oranges here are a bit different from the ones back home. The oranges here are green. And yes, that is when they are ripe. It was something that totally confused me when I was first offered an orange here. I am used to it now and the only thing that still confuses me about the oranges here in Ghana is why they are called ‘oranges.’

Anyways, Evanx brought the oranges over and we cut them and enjoyed a number of delicious oranges. We were sitting outside under a covered area as it was sprinkling, but then it started pouring again. It poured for a minute and then stopped. And then, it started again. This time, it didn’t stop after a minute; it stopped after about an hour. We kept eating oranges and watched the rain fall.

Evanx’s nieces were preparing dinner. It was only a little after 1pm but the preparations are quite a chore. They started by cleaning the snails. Evanx asked me if I would eat them and I said no. He explained to me that there is no blood when killing a snail so it is fine for a vegetarian to eat but I disagreed with him and was not in the least bit interested in trying a snail. Then, they washed the palm nuts and started to pound them to make the palm nut stew which is traditionally eaten with fufu (a local dish made of cassava and maize). I was asked if I had ever pounded fufu or palm nuts. I had to admit that even though I had watched a countless number of people pound these foods, I myself had never tried. I was given the thing used to pound the food (a pounder?) and gave it a try. I knew they would laugh at me when I tried. I was quickly proven correct about that. They laughed as I tried to pound the palm nuts. I did not have as much practice at they did and definitely not as much upper arm strength. They laughed at the way I pounded the food and told me that I needed to pound it harder. Maybe over the next few weeks, I will get more opportunities to pound palm nuts or fufu and learn how to pound the way the locals do.

As the rain continued to pour down for quite a long while, we decided to walk back to the orphanage as it was closer than my hotel. All of the children were inside as it was nap time and it was raining and very muddy outside. Of course, there were some children who were running around and being very loud as the others attempted to sleep. I stayed at the orphanage until the students were released around 5:30. It was quite a long day to say the least. It’s amazing what a toll children can take on you, especially when they are under the impression that you are a human playground.

While I was at the orphanage, I had been thinking about my thesis research which I had planned to do this summer at Buduburam Refugee Camp, close to Accra, the capital of Ghana. I realized that although I had been talking to people who work with various organizations at the camp for the past few months and had amazing contacts and opportunities to take advantage of there, I didn’t need to go somewhere else to do my research. Hohoe is my community and I didn’t want to leave Hohoe for two weeks to go to Buduburam. I realized that I am already comfortable with the people in Hohoe and there are so many interesting things that can be studied here. So, I informed Raymond, whose aunt who runs an orphanage at Buduburam and had offered to host me that I had come to a realization that I didn’t need to go to a foreign place to do my research but rather, I wanted to stay local and do my research here in Hohoe. He understood and told me that we could still visit his aunt one day when we go to Accra. This sounded perfect to me.

I talked to Patrick about my change in plans and asked him to help me come up with some research topic ideas regarding childhood education that would be of benefit to the community. As he is a teacher, I thought that he would have some good suggestions that would also be important for the community. So over the next few days, I hope to decide on a topic.

Anyways, I am going to be traveling to Ho tomorrow to visit my adopted family again so I will update you again after I return.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Change of Plans

The weather here has been extremely rainy. Two nights ago (Tuesday), Patrick and I went over to Raymond’s house to eat dinner there as there was no electricity and it was very dark at the hotel. We sat outside and enjoyed our meal. Anderson (Raymond’s son) and Lillian (a little girl who lives in the same compound) both ran to me and hugged me. I asked Dina (Raymond’s wife) what she did the children as earlier that day, Anderson who knows me and is usually fine with me around started screaming his head off the minute he saw me and ran away. Lillian decided to mimic Anderson’s behavior.

Being white in a black country causes numerous encounters like this. Many of the children here get very excited when they see a white person (‘yevo’) and jump up and down with excitement. There are also the children who have never seen a white person before and run away in fear, screaming and crying. And some of the children who are very excited when they see a white person from afar aren’t so excited when the white person gets closer and tries to approach him/her. Yes, I know from experience.

On the walk over to Raymond’s house, we witnessed the most insane and amazing lightening I have ever seen. You know those photographs of lightening lighting up the whole sky. This lightening was like that. And the lightening would strike at one point and the sky was so clear that you could watch the lightning’s path extend across the sky for a good 10 seconds. It lit up everything. It was incredible. This lightening continued throughout dinner and after. I didn’t get tired of watching the lightening make its path in the sky.

When the lights came back on about an hour later, it took some of the beauty out of the natural event occurring in the sky but as the town doesn’t have bright lights, it didn’t ruin the magic.

I watched as Dina began to bathe Anderson with him sleeping on her. It was quite a task as Anderson is only 2 years old but is a pretty big child. She laid him out on her legs and dipped the washing cloth into the bucket full of boiling water and cold water that she had mixed and then rubbed the soap on the cloth. With the white bubbles covering Anderson’s limp, bare body, she scrubbed his body to cleanse him of all the dirt. She washed his hair and then gently wiped his face while protecting it from the bubbles. After she washed the front of his body twice, she took a cup full of water out of the bucket and washed him off. She then flipped the child over and started to clean his back side, which appeared to be a much easier task than his front side. She washed the soap off and started to dry his wet body which was glistening in the light. She proceeded to cover the creases of his body with baby powder. This is a bit of a funny sight as the white baby powder covers the black skin. Dina even was able to pour Anderson’s medicine into his mouth without him screaming like he usually does. She wiped her wet legs off and took her baby inside to sleep.

Yesterday (Wednesday), during the break that I usually take from the orphanage, I decided to go to town to use the internet café. About ten seconds after I walked out the hotel’s front gate, a taxi honked, a hand waved from the window, and the car pulled over. It was Dela, the driver from Cross Cultural Solutions. I hadn’t seen him or the staff from CCS since my first visit there a few weeks ago. I asked Prosper, the taxi driver if he would drop me off at the internet café on their way back to the home. He happily agreed. But then, I changed my mind and decided to go back with them to the home base so I could say hi to the staff and visit with them.

We took the backroads as there is construction and building occurring on the road that we usually took to get to the home base. I was greeted with a warm hug by Rebecca, one of the ladies who take care of the home base. She told me how she had been calling me numerous times during the last few weeks but that the number hadn’t been going through. I apologized to her and explained to her the story of how I lost my phone in Ho and didn’t have any of the numbers that were in my phone. We exchanged numbers again and she told me that she would call me so we could arrange a time for her to come visit me at my hotel.

While at the home base, I got to see a lot of the staff who were not there during my visit a few weeks earlier. Makafui, the director of CCS was happy to see me and said that someone told him that they had seen me in town but he wasn’t sure cause he hadn’t seen me yet. He inquired as to what I was doing during my trip and told me that they were still there and available if I needed anything.

After my trip to CCS, I went to the internet café to check my emails and send out some blog updates. I was happily surprised by the fact that my sister was online and excited that we were able to talk. I then headed back to my hotel to put down my stuff before going over to the field to play with the children.

Today (Thursday), I arrived at the orphanage at 8:30 as Evanx (one of the teachers) has been giving me a hard time about not getting there exactly at 8:30. I told him that I was on Ghana time and asked him what he was complaining about especially after his hour and a half lateness in picking me up to go to church two weeks ago. He said that he likes the way I treat time as being something that is so precious and said that he wants me to arrive on my time, not Ghana time so that he can learn from me. I’m not sure how well this will work but even if we can cut his lateness down by half, that would be a huge improvement!

After being warmly greeted by the children, I took my five children from Class 1 into our new classroom. It had only taken me a few short days to realize that a number of the children in this class are way behind in their writing and number, color, and letter identification skills and this is greatly affecting their performance in class. Because these children are so far behind, they are completely lost during class and cause trouble. I asked the teacher of this class (the class I taught last summer) to pick 4-5 kids from the class with whom I could teach. He happily agreed. I got a white board, a bench for the children, a chair for me, and a little table for the papers, pencils, and other learning materials. We set up class in the classroom at the orphanage that is not used by any of the classes. Between my visit last summer and my return this summer, the classroom had been decorated and adorned with the alphabet, colors, and other educational learning tools. The children love the colorful letters because they help them when they can’t figure out which letter I am asking them to identify.

Today, we took a break from the game I had them play the previous two days. This game was that the child had to pick a colored white board marker from my hand and tell me which color the marker was. We only used three different colors as to make it not too difficult or confusing. The child then had to go to the white board and write any letter that they wanted. The rest of the kids were instructed to raise their hand if they knew which letter it was. This was a game that I had developed in my head as it required the children to practice writing their letters and identify their colors while also recognizing and naming letters. It was so successful and the children enjoyed it so much that they begged me to let them play again the next day.

But today, I decided to introduce a new learning material – alphabet flashcards. I had the children identify the letters, the picture that was illustrated which started with the particular letter, and the name of the object depicted in the picture. I then gave each child a few of the flashcards and had them go through them, look at the pictures, and pick out their favorite card. Each student shared their favorite card with the rest of the class and then I had the students write the letter they had chosen and draw the object that was illustrated on the card.

I allowed the children to color in their drawings and then instructed them to practice writing the alphabet on the back of the paper as I worked with one student in particular. This student, Patience is definitely the student in Class 1 that has the most trouble learning and retaining information. She cannot write many of the letters so that, as well as working with her on spelling her name are my first priorities for her. I had her come to the white board and worked with her on writing a lower case e. This was not an easy task and took quite some time. But eventually, after breaking it down and having her draw a horizontal line with a rainbow on top and a tail at the bottom, she finally did it. I was so excited. It finally clicked in her head and she wanted to keep practicing. So she filled the entire board with pretty close to perfectly written e’s.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Thoughts of Glasses Distribution by a Native

After our long but extremely rewarding day of distributing the glasses, I asked Patrick if he would write about his experience so I could share it with all of you. He was honored by the request. Here are his words:

On Thursday, June 4, 2009, Sister Nicole schedules a time on Monday, June 8, 2009 to distribute reading glasses which she received from Eyes On Africa. It was an interesting schedule where she had to pick up her calendar and figure out her least busy day out of all her plans for the week.

I shared the information with the elders of the community and the people as well, on Saturday and Sunday, June 6 and 7, respectively.

The venue chosen for the program was Presbyterian’s Edem Chapel in Gbi-Wegbe, in the Volta Region of Ghana. The day has finally come and all the preparations made by Sister Nicole prove that everything is going to work out well.

To our surprise, upon reaching the venue, the people of the community filled the chapel and quickly, we entered, greeted the people, and prayed to God to be with us through the program. The health assistant present was Madam Charity Amponi with Sister Nicole and Patrick.

I must say here that Sister Nicole is a wonderful person. Though not a nurse, when she tested what an eye could read using the criterion on which the glasses were to be given out, she picked the correct level of glasses. When the people put on the glasses, they were like “I can read this Bible now, I can see and read, thank you.” I hope you can all see the joy that fell upon the people of the community yesterday.

I must commend Sister Nicole and Eyes on Africa for the wonderful job they have done in the lives of the people of the Gbi-Wegbe community. The day was tiresome though on a whole, everything was successful.

Sister Nicole is a wonderful person who someone should know – her social life and everything about her – her coming to Ghana through Christ Orphanage for the matter as Raymond has also done a lot of good for to Gbi-Wegbe community.

We are informing you that sight glasses are also needed. Thanks to the organizers of this program, especially Sister Nicole, Eyes On Africa, her mom, friends, sister, and of course, the Elders of the Gbi-Wegbe community.

--Patrick

Sister Nicole is Known All Through Town

Monday was a very moving day. After the distribution, Patrick informed me that as all of the people had been told who I was, I should not be surprised if now, the older members of the community call out my name when I walk by. I laughed it off as most of the community of Wegbe already knows who I am. But he was right, the next day, in addition to all of the children calling out my name on my walk to the orphanage, a number of the older people also called out my name. Patrick keeps telling me that by the time I leave here in August, every single person in Wegbe will know me by name. I must admit that it’s pretty cute that so many people know me by name and call out my name every time I walk by – any hour of the day.

In addition, on Tuesday, I was asked by an elderly lady if I had any glasses left. She informed me that she was ill and unable to attend the distribution to previous day but that she has been unable to read and would love to get a pair of reading glasses. I had to sadly inform her that I had no glasses left. She made me promise to try to get some more glasses for her and the others in the community who were unable to make it to the distribution the previous day. I told her that I would do my best. It was amazing to see how far this project spread and how Eyes On Africa and I were working to make reading easier for the people of this community.

Patrick's Birthday Party/ Funtion

We walked back to my hotel from the chapel where we distributed to glasses, followed by students at Patrick’s school. The students had just been released so they were done with school for the day and had fun singing my name as they walked behind me. Patrick and one of the students took the mirror and books back to his house while I went back to my room to shower and nap. I was so tired that I slept for a few hours and when I woke up and went out to the back of the hotel, one of the guys that works here, Nicholas was holding a chicken by the neck. I shrieked which made all of the guys burst out in laughter. They told me that they were going to slaughter the chicken in honor of Patrick’s birthday.

The previous evening we had been talking about the slaughtering of animals in honor of birthdays and other events but I did not realize that they were actually going to do it. They informed me that a cow cost about 900 Ghana Cedis which is a little less than $700. In comparison, a chicken cost about 4 Ghana Cedis, about $3. So a chicken it was.

I went back into my room to grab something and when I came back, Alex, another one of the guys that works at the hotel was holding the now headless chicken. I was glad that I missed the actual slaughtering of the chicken. The next I saw of the chicken was at dinner when it was served to the guests of Patrick’s birthday party.

Before the guests arrived, Patrick and I went into town as it was market day and we needed to get the ingredients for a salad and some more rice. We quickly hurried around the outdoor market – kind of like a farmers market and picked up the necessary items. I bought Patrick a chocolate bar and a pineapple (which we all ended up eating for dessert) as well as the other ingredients.

We returned to the hotel where the workers were busy preparing dinner. I had no clue how many people would be coming but I knew that Raymond and his family as well as some of Patrick’s students were expected. The final count was at 22 people. It was quite a function – yes, that’s the word they used to describe this birthday party. We all sat in the outdoor covered and screened patio which has tables, fans, and music.

As a bunch of Patrick’s students arrived first and looked pretty bored, I brought out some colored pencils and construction paper and had the children make birthday cards for Patrick which they presented to him later in the evening.

Around 8pm, all of the guests had arrived, all dressed up, and a while later, the function began. It was not exactly what I expected but it was very nice. One of Patrick’s friends, Jemimah, was the MC and first explained the reason we were all gathered together and then asked Patrick to go around and introduce all of the guests. Then she invited anyone who had any stories about Patrick to talk. A few of Patrick’s friends shared stories and memorable experiences. Then, some music was put on and a bunch of the guests got up and danced. I walked around and took photos of the guests with the intentions of getting all the photos of the night printed at some point and put into a little photo album as this was Patrick’s first ever birthday party! He was very excited that this year, he had the opportunity to celebrate his birthday and I was happy that I could help him do that. With his teacher salary of 60 Ghana Cedis (about $46) a month, I don’t know how he lives, let alone would have any money to put on a birthday party.

I made sure that the party was done right and told Patrick that I would be happy to buy all the guests a Fanta, Coke, or Sprite. The drinks were enjoyed by all, especially the children. After singing happy birthday and saying prayers, we were finally allowed to eat the dinner that had been served about 20 minutes earlier. While all of the guests had rice with tomato and chicken stew, Patrick and I had rice with salad. We eat dinner together every night and as a result, he has been somewhat forced to eat what I eat, which means no meat or fish so he wanted to continue that tradition. The food was delicious.

During the meal, Patrick’s students got up and sang him a few songs, including happy birthday again. After the meal was cleared, the pineapple which had been cut up was brought out. Then, Patrick thanked all the guests for coming and celebrating with him. His students presented him with the pictures they had made for him and one of Patrick’s friends presented me with some drawings he did for me. Everyone went around and shook hands and said good night. It was past 10pm so it was time for people to get home and get to sleep.

Patrick truly enjoyed celebrating his birthday and repeatedly thanked me for helping to make it possible.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Reading Glasses Distribution

Guess what? I’m sitting here in the dark once again. This whole electricity outage thing is starting to drive me crazy, especially since it gets dark so much earlier here than it does at this time of the year back home. The guesthouse has a generator but last week, it stopped working. Great, huh? On the bright side, it makes me realize how electricity is something I definitely take for granted back home. I never really think about the fact that maybe my electricity will stop working and I will be stuck in the dark without a fan all night and without a way to charge my electronics.

Its pouring outside. In little sporadic chunks. It pours for like 30 seconds and then stops for a minute or two and then starts again. It’s crazy! The sky was so dark and gloomy this afternoon but Nicholas, one of the teachers at Christ Orphanage told me that he was now a weather forecaster and that it wouldn’t rain today. For some weird reason, I kinda just took his word for it.

It’s crazy how quickly people here rush to cover when the rain starts. Within a few seconds, people pack up their shops, tables of products, or dinner preparations and move to somewhere dry. It’s not too bad when you’re outside because people use candles, which they have melted to the bottoms of cans. They provide enough light for various activities. These candles can be seen on the sides of the roads every night as the women selling their products on tables at night put out a candle or two on the table so that they can see and so that others can see them and their products.

Even when outside without lights, it’s not too bad. When I visit Raymond’s house at night and the electricity is out and no lights are lit, I can see pretty well. Even though I can’t make out faces in the distance, the light of the moon is enough to see people and things within a reasonable distance. And when it is not too cloudy at night, the stars light up the sky as well. When I look at the sky here it reminds me of being at camp, a place in the middle of nowhere where lights are limited and the sky is filled with millions of stars. It is just breathtaking.

For those of you who don’t know, in order to raise funds for Christ Orphanage and provide people with a tax write off, I came into contact with an organization called Eyes On Africa. Sherry, the founder of this organization generously allowed me to operate under her 501C3. As Eyes On Africa provides reading glasses to people in rural Africa, Sherry asked me if I would be interested in learning how to test people’s eyes and distribute reading glasses to the community I serve in Ghana. I quickly agreed and before I departed for Ghana, she shared her knowledge on this topic with me and taught me everything I needed to know.

A few weeks ago, the package full of reading glasses, sunglasses, and mini sewing kits arrived. The box was pretty beat up but everything inside was still in tact. Patrick helped me separate the sunglasses and sewing kits and count all the glasses. We became familiar with the items we had and started planning the distribution day. As there were 240 pairs of reading glasses and about 50 pairs of sunglasses in this package, I thought that we would need to put on distributions at multiple sites in order to give out all the glasses.

We decided to start with one distribution at a time. We set the date and Patrick got permission from the school that he teaches at for us to set up the distribution at the school’s chapel. Patrick altered the town cryer though which the news of the distribution was spread to the community of Wegbe. Wegbe is the subsection of Hohoe that I am staying in (and that the orphanage is located in). According to Patrick, there are about 2,500 people who live in Wegbe alone. I was very surprised when I heard that figure as I had assumed that a smaller number of people lived in this village.

When Patrick informed some of the town’s elders of the plans, they were impressed and very supportive but not impressed by the fact that I had been in town for three weeks and that my host had yet to introduce me to them. Patrick apologized on behalf of Raymond and invited one of the town’s elders to come by on Sunday night to meet me. As the other elders were out of town, only one stopped by but he was extremely welcoming and excited to hear about what I had been doing in his town and how I found out about the town in the first place. We had a nice discussion and he informed me that I pass by his shop quite often and always greet him and wave but that until that night, he didn’t know who I was and what I was doing in Wegbe.

On Sunday, Patrick announced to his church that the distribution would be happening the following morning at 9:00am. After returning home from church on Sunday and doing a million other things, I re-familiarized myself with the instructions given to me by Sherry. I mounted the eye charts with which we were to use to test the people on colored construction paper and made little signs for the different levels of glasses so that we could easily keep track of which glasses were which. I packed up some tape, my camera, a big bottle of water, and all my other Eyes On Africa supplies.

Patrick had gotten permission from his school’s headmaster to take the day off to assist me with the distribution. Raymond had put me in touch with an optometrist from the nearby hospital but he wanted to take over and do things much differently than the way I had been trained. I explained to him that I was not in charge of Eyes On Africa but rather a volunteer and did not have the authority to change the way the testing was conducted. Although his intentions were good, he was difficult to talk with and wanted to do things his way only. I decided against partnering with him in the distribution for these reasons.

As the distribution day was quickly approaching, Patrick got in touch with one of his family members (he can’t really put the way that they are related into words but claims that they are related).

(FYI – the electricity just came back on – that’s very exciting for me)!

Anyways, back to Patrick’s family member. This woman, Charity, agreed to come to the distribution and assist us with the testing and distribution of the glasses. Charity, a nurse at the Health Department here in Ghana was an amazing asset to our team of volunteers.

Patrick and I agreed to leave my hotel at 8am on Monday morning. I had the box of glasses and my bag ready to go. Patrick had already dropped off his Ewe Bible and would bring an English Bible as well as a few other books and a nice size mirror for us to use.

I got up early, put on my Eyes On Africa Volunteer shirt which Sherry had sent to me and got my breakfast. It was only 7:30 but Patrick had already showed up and was ready to go. I finished my breakfast and we headed out. Patrick had instructed two of his students (fifth graders) to come to the hotel and pick up the box of glasses and the mirror and books, which they carried on their heads to the distribution center.

When we arrived at the campus, all of the students were outside at their morning assembly at which the headmaster was speaking. We greeted some of the teachers that Patrick works with and some other women who were standing nearby. The women asked if they could be served right away as they had been waiting for us to arrive. We told them that they would need to give us some time to set up and that we would serve them at the chapel.

After being spotted by some younger children who were not part of the school and greeting them and giving them high fives, we walked over to the chapel. As we walked up, I saw about 30 (mostly elderly people) sitting outside. Patrick confirmed my thoughts as he told me that all of these people were waiting for us. It was only 8:20am and there were already 30 people waiting for us! But wait, we entered the chapel and to my surprise, I saw another 20-30 people sitting in the pews. I took a deep breath. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people already there. I was a little overwhelmed but unzipped my backpack and started to set up the distribution center and testing table.

The people who were sitting outside came inside and found seats. Patrick had gone to get something so I was alone with 50-60 of the people from the local community. They were silent and watching my every move. It was a little weird but I quickly got over it.

Patrick returned with Charity and the three of us stood up and greeted all of the people. Then, Patrick addressed them in Ewe and explained who I was and what we would be doing, as well as how the glasses should be used as well as instructions regarding caring for and cleaning the glasses. I explained the way we would operate to Patrick and Charity and went over the testing with them.

Charity was in charge of the actual testing as she could communicate with the people a little better than I could and knew how to test the people as she is a health professional and I explained the testing process to her. After the people had tested, Charity would tell me the level of glasses they should get. I had one pair of each level of glasses on the table with little place card type things that helped me stay organized and had the level of glasses written on them. I also had an Ewe Bible and an English Bible. I would give the person the designated glasses for their eyes and ask them to read to me from the Bible. About a dozen or so people requested to read from the English Bible as they could not read Ewe. A few others couldn’t read either Ewe or English so I asked them to read the letters to me.

I would ask the person if the letters were clear. If the letters were not clear or the person said that the words were blurry or that the glasses were not good for them, I would give them the next highest or lowest level of glasses. This process took longer with some people than with others.

It was so inspirational and rewarding when a person would put the glasses on, look at the Bible and say, “I can read.” They were so excited to be given the opportunity to read. Others didn’t need to say anything as the look on their face when the looked at the Bible was enough to tell me that they could see clearly see the letters and read for the first time in a long time.

After deciding on the level of glasses, reading with the glasses on, and explaining to the people that no, we did not have sight glasses as well, I would write down the glasses level on a piece of paper and send the person over to Patrick. Patrick was in charge of writing down some basic information about the people – name, age, sex, and level of glasses so that we had some documentation and could determine the glasses which were most needed by various age groups and to discourage people from returning during the day to get another pair of glasses. After documenting this information, Patrick would get the person the level of glasses and ask them to try them on again. Patrick had some books so that the people could look at the book with their new glasses. A few times, the glasses were not right for the person and they would be sent back to be re-tested and to try different glasses.

Although it was early, we decided to get started on distributing the glasses rather than waiting until 9am. I was unsure as to how to handle this large of a crowd and was worried that chaos would break out if we allowed those seated in the first few rows to come up first. This worry was quickly put aside as Patrick informed me that as the people showed up, they were given a slip of paper with a number on it. The number corresponded to when they arrived so that those who got there first could be served first. It was a great system and it all worked out extremely well. We had a few instances when a crowd of people would gather around the testing table but Charity took care of it and refused to continue testing until all of the people had returned to their seats.

We worked very hard from about 8:30am until 2pm. I was very hungry by that point and grateful that somehow Patrick had gotten us some corn. We always had a large number of people – they just kept showing up. I lost track of time but at some point, Patrick informed me that we had no more level 3 glasses. Shortly after, he informed me that we were also out of a few of the other higher level glasses. This made things a bit difficult.

I felt horrible that there were still so many people to serve and we were out of a lot of the glasses. I had to inform people that we did not have any glasses that would work for their eyes left. I told these people that they could choose a pair of sunglasses if they wanted but that I would not be able to give them a pair of reading glasses. The first few people that I told this to did not want to take a pair of sunglasses, but this quickly changed. The women and men had a blast trying on different pairs of sunglasses and looking at themselves in the mirror. I had to explain to them numerous times that the glasses were for the sun, not for reading – I think that by the third or fourth time I told them this, they finally understood. When they found a pair of glasses that they liked, they would ask me to take their photo. It turned into a little game. They would search through the box of sunglasses for a pair they liked, try on a few pairs, and then decide on the pair they liked the best and have me photograph them wearing the glasses.

Even though we were out of some of the glasses, we still had quite a crowd. We continued testing and were able to serve those who did not need very strong glasses. Around 2pm, we had served everyone in the building and had run out of glasses. Patrick, Charity, and I were exhausted. We packed up the testing materials and picked up the slips of paper that had been dropped all over the floor.

As we headed out of the building, two men approached me and asked if I had anymore glasses. I informed them that all the glasses had been given away and I had none left. I felt bad that I could not help these men but impressed at the same time by the fact that we had been in that chapel all day and had helped to give so many people the opportunity to read. For some of the very elderly people and people with eye problems, the level 3 glasses were not strong enough for them. Charity talked to these people and wrote down the name of an eye clinic in town and the times that it would be open to serve them. I was glad that we were able to provide them with another resource instead of sadly just turning them away.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

What a Storm

I awoke early this morning to attend church with Raymond, his wife, Dina, their toddler age son, John Anderson, and Godwin, one of the older children at the orphanage who lives with them. When I had asked Raymond about what time I should come over to his house to go to church, he told me that we would be going to the second service, from 9am-11am as the first service is too early for even him. The first service begins at 6am and goes until 9am.

I had eaten breakfast at my hotel as I do every morning but Dina insisted that she had made me food and that I should go eat it. So at 9:15am, only an hour after I had eaten my eggs, toast, and tea, I was eating yams and stew. I later realized that this was in fact my super early lunch.

Around 9:30am, after Anderson’s hair had been cut (during which he screamed his head off) and everyone had showered and gotten dressed in their finest clothing, we left for church. We got there in the middle of the service, which was totally fine by me. Unlike the church service I attended last weekend, this service was both in English and Ewe. The priest would say what he wanted to say in English and then a translator would translate it into Ewe. The priest got really into his sermon and was practically screaming at one point and not leaving enough time for the translator to translate in between. So, basically, this meant that the priest was screaming in English and the translator was screaming at the same time in Ewe. Pretty confusing I must say.

When church ended, the children were reunited with their parents. This was the first church that I had been to in Ghana that had a separate service for the children.

We drove back to my hotel where we all hung around for awhile. I bought Godwin a Fanta which he generously shared with Anderson, who had just woken up. I left Godwin and Anderson with a coloring book and colored pencils and retreated to my room to take a little midday nap. I awoke to a huge storm outside. Rain. Insane rain. Like, Portland rain. Loud thunder. Bright lightening. I stood outside and watched the storm for awhile but I was getting so wet that I eventually went inside.

That’s all that has happened so far today so now, let me catch up on the last few days.

Thursday and Friday were typical days at the orphanage. Or as typical as you can get. I did art with the older kids and they loved it. One of the things I have in my suitcase of school supplies for the orphanage is stencils. The kids absolutely love these. They enjoyed tracing everything from dogs and cats to soccer balls (or footballs) to various shapes.

I told Raymond that I would not hand over any of the school supplies that I brought until we had it all organized and stored in plastic containers. I have so much stuff for them and it would just break my heart to see it all thrown around and unable to be used for a few years. I continuously remind Raymond about this but he is a very busy guy, especially with overseeing everything at the new site. So, on Saturday, Patrick (one of the former teachers at Christ Orphanage) and I went to town and started searching for plastic containers. Now, let me tell you, this was not as easy of a task as I imagined it to be. We went to four different shops and only ended up with about 7 or 8 containers. I had found a smaller container that I really liked and thought would be perfect to get for markers, colored pencils, crayons, etc. But, they only had one of that container and the other shops didn’t have any. So we have a few containers to start with – mismatching of course, but it’s a start. I wanted to get on this so that the kids could actually start using the supplies and that the teachers could identify what there was and develop lessons or projects that use some of the supplies.

Back to the new site of the orphanage. Some time this past week, Wednesday, I think, Raymond and I went to the new site. Raymond goes there twice a day every day but I happen to think it is quite a walk and in the extreme sun and heat, it’s not my favorite thing to do. The site is looking great though. There were more people there the day we went as the staff had asked the parents to come and help at the site that morning. Parents were using machetes to cut the long grass and other random plants that were in the way. Others were moving bricks (on their heads) from the area that they had been made to the location that they will actually be used. The guys who actually work there every day were cutting wood to make the window frames, helping the women lift the bricks onto their heads, and doing other laborious work. I feel bad saying this but I was sweating just standing there, watching, and taking pictures and I wasn’t even the one with the bricks on my head or machete in my hand.

It’s incredible to see how much man power and work goes into building a building like the one that is being built here. And most everything is done by hand. They don’t use power tools or electric tools but rather, use a regular saw and cut through each piece of wood.

On Thursday evening, a man who runs a volunteer organization here in Ghana and is friends with Alfa, the security guard from Cross Cultural Solutions, came by my hotel to talk to me about his organization. He insisted that the following night, I come to his house for dinner. I asked Patrick to accompany me which was a good thing cause I would have never found his house on my own and it made me feel more comfortable. His wife made us some really good rice and served us Coke and Fantas. Their son was shy but immediately after meeting me, he went and told all of his friends that he had a white guest at his home. All of the local children came over to see me. I played with some of the kids and we had a nice evening talking to Cephas, the guy who invited me over. He then asked me to re-teach him how to play Dominos as one of his volunteers had given him a mini set as a present and he couldn’t remember how to play. I taught Cephas and Patrick how to play Dominos and showed them and the children how to line the Dominos up and then hit the first one so the rest fall down. Cephas showed us photos of his engagement and other random photos of him and his family as well as photos that his volunteers had given him.

On Saturday, before going on the adventure to find plastic containers for the school supplies, I spent the morning with Evanx, one of the teachers at Christ Orphanage. He took me to meet the rest of his family that I had not been introduced to the week prior. I met his mother and his sister who lives in Northern Ghana but was in Atabu, one of the subtowns of Hohoe which Evanx’s family lives in to take care of their sick mother. Evanx cut his mother’s hair as I took photos of some of the local kids. We then went to his town’s local garden bar and got a Fanta. He then continued to take me around his town as he told me that he wants me to learn my way around. We went back to his friend Christian’s house where we had eaten last Sunday. I learned that Christian’s father is the chief of the town of Atabu, an elected position. We then went for a walk to Hohoe where Evanx got his hair cut by his friend, a barber. It was a long walk there so we opted for a taxi to take us back to Wegbe, the town in which the orphanage as well as my hotel is located in. I went to Raymond’s house for lunch. Raymond was at the huge funeral but Patrick and I enjoyed the yams and spaghetti stew. Patrick explained to me that Ghanaians typically don’t drink anything during their meals or for at least 20 minutes after their meal. I thought it was kind of weird as all the restaurants and other places that I had eaten meals in Ghana serve you drinks with your meal – like they do in America. I learned that not drinking during your meal is seen by people here in Ghana to be healthier as it gives your stomach a chance to digest the food by itself first.

Last night, after eating our dinner, which Patrick brings to me from Raymond’s house each night, we walked back to Raymond’s house to return the dishes. Dinner was fun as we were joined by two children, Aiden (3 or 4 years old) and Jemimah (5 years old). It is customary and respectful to invite others near you when you eat. Often, this is just out of respect and the person does not actually eat with you but the children came over and enjoyed our akpeleh with us. Akpeleh is a traditional Ghanaian food which you eat with your hand and dip into stew – we dipped it into spinach stew. While many locals, including Patrick and most of the other locals that I have observed use all of their fingers to pick up the food, I find it more convenient to use my first three fingers only. Although Patrick tried to get me to use all of my fingers so that I could eat more at once, I just couldn’t do that. Later, when back at Raymond’s house, I learned that the way that I eat – with only three of my fingers is the proper way to eat but Ghanaians have adopted this new way so that they can eat more at once. In addition, it is not considered proper to let the food go beyond about half way down the fingers but many of the locals have issues observing this rule when eating.

We had met the kids earlier in the day as they were staying at the hotel for the weekend. There was a huge funeral this weekend and this family had come in from Accra to attend it. We also met the kid’s uncles, Von and Sam whom I enjoyed talking to. They told me stories of their study abroad type experiences in London and Boston. Von, who studied in Boston, was not properly prepared for what he was getting himself into and was hit hard by the extreme cold and snow.

The children called me ‘Auntie’ which I thought was pretty cute. I had spent a few hours with them that day and felt that these children behaved and acted more like American children than Ghanaian children. It was kinda weird to be honest. I thought that maybe it was because they lived in Accra – a big city rather than a village like Hohoe. Working at the orphanage, I notice differences between the children in Ghana and the children in America but these children just didn’t seem like typical Ghanaian children. The children were born in different countries – the girl in London and the boy in California. It was incredible to see that although they now lived in Ghana and attend school here, by spending their first few years in another country, they were so different than most Ghanaian children.

Anyways, I am done rambling. The storm has halted so I am going to head to town to visit the internet café.