Monday, August 17, 2009

Last Week's Updates

Nicole: Last Monday (August 10, 2009), was supposed to be a teacher in-service and training day at Christ Orphanage. I knew that many of the children would show up anyways as the children were only told verbally on Friday that they shouldn’t come to school on Monday. On our way to Raymond’s house that morning, we passed many Christ Orphanage children who were walking to school or getting ready for school and dressing in their school uniform. I stopped by each child I saw that attends Christ and reminded them that there was no school that day. Of course none of the children that I told this to knew that there was no school on this particular day.

We arrived at Raymond’s house, where we met Kylie and Deb (two other volunteers) as we were all going to see the new site that morning. I met Kylie in Ghana last year as we were both volunteering through Cross Cultural Solutions, and both got placed at Christ Orphanage. She arrived towards the end of my stay in Ghana but we still interacted as there were only a handful of volunteers at Christ. As Kylie is about to start her senior year of college as a Film major, she decided to return for three weeks this summer to shoot a documentary for her thesis project. Her mother came along with her to assist her and to experience Ghana for the first time.

We all piled in to the tro tro and drove down the horrible, very bumpy road to the new site. As it had rained the night before, all of the pot holes were filled with muddy water which made the drive that much more fun.

We arrived at the site, where work was being done on the dining hall as well as the bunk beds. The building of the dining hall has been absolutely incredible. Just a few weeks ago, I remember being at the site as the parents carried bricks on their heads to the area where the dining hall would be built. At this point, there was nothing there except for the dug out foundation for the building. When we went to visit the site on this particular Monday morning, all the walls were up and the beams which will reach to the ceiling were practically completed.

We also went into the dormitory building, where more than 30 of the orphans will be housed. This building has taken quite some time to build. When I came to Ghana last summer, I visited the new site a few times and saw this building in its beginning stages. It is now painted and is getting close to being completed. This building has been built with a flat roof so that when the other buildings are completed and funds are available, we can return to this building and build a second story to house even more children.

We spent quite a bit of time at the site this morning as Kylie was videotaping Raymond as her mother Deb asked him lots of questions about the new site.

We returned to the school where we were met by some of the children who decided to hang out at the school campus even though there was no school. They helped me put up tons of educational materials that Melissa and I had made and got laminated. We hung up pictures that we traced or drew and colored of animals, letters, numbers, shapes, the days of the weeks, the Ghana flag, a map of Africa, and other things in the various classrooms on string which the teachers had put up along the walls. The children loved handing me the clothes pins (or pegs, as they call them) and the laminated pages as I stood on the benches so that I could reach the string and hang up the new educational materials. I know that I am the one that put all the stuff up on the walls and made a lot of it, with the help of my sister, but I must say that the classrooms sure looked good after we hung everything up.

Last year, when I arrived at Christ Orphanage, the walls were bare. There were maybe one or two posters in the whole school but nothing else. So, I took it upon myself to decorate the classroom I was teaching in. The kids loved everything that I put up on the walls and were so excited to see their work on display for the first time. At that time, the only way that we could think to put things up on the wall was to glue them. So glue them we did. We used lots of glue to make sure that nothing would fall down as the walls were brick and not exactly the smoothest things in the world. I never thought that a year later, I would be the one that would have to work to get this stuff off of the walls. I am happy that the teachers and children were able to use these resources for a year but they got so dusty, dirty, colorless, and torn that it was just time to take them down. The children loved this part as well as I let them help me tear almost everything off of the walls in every single classroom. This was a huge project but worth it as the laminated materials that we put up are so much more colorful and useful. And because we did not stick the laminated items to the walls but rather hung them on clothespins, they can easily be cleaned and taken to the new site so they can be used for a long time.

Melissa: Tuesday, the 11th, was a special day, as we had planned to give out the glasses that Sherry from Eyes on Africa had sent to us. Nicole and I along with Patrick, who helped Nicole pass them out last time, headed over to the church. About ten women were already waiting for us when we arrived, eager to get some reading glasses. We set up our table and Nicole showed me how to test the people to figure out what strength of glasses they needed. Patrick explained in Ewe to the people what we were doing and taught them how to care and wash their glasses once they received them. We started calling up people and testing their eyes. We would make them try on the glasses and have them read us a line from a book to make sure they could actually see okay. We had waves of people come in. Sometimes we had a very long line of people waiting to get glasses while at other times it was very slow. Over time, we started to run out of some of the glasses. The strongest glasses went first and so on. We had to explain to some people that we couldn’t give them reading glasses because they were not the right strength for them. We informed them that they should go to the clinic and get their eyes tested by a doctor. Many people wanted the glasses anyways and it was very difficult to make them understand that if they glasses were not right for them that they would hurt their eyes and maybe damage their eyes even more. It was very rewarding giving out the glasses though. Seeing the people’s facial expressions when they could actually see the words in the book was amazing. They were all so happy and thanked us immensely.

By about 12PM we had run out of almost all of the glasses. We packed away all of our stuff and sat down to eat lunch. Quite a few people still came by looking for glasses and were disappointed when they found out that we had run out.

On Friday, we decided to go on a field trip to the Wli Waterfalls with some of the children from Christ. The teachers had picked out about 12 children that were doing especially good in school that were allowed to go to the waterfalls with us. The 12 children along with 7 of us volunteers and 2 teachers pilled into the tro tro and headed for our half hour ride to the waterfalls. The students that came with us were some of the youngest in the school and ranged from 4 to 6 years old. They were so excited to be going out of the town and sang happily during our whole journey. After we parked the car, we had a 45 minute walk to get to the waterfall. We had planned on going on this trip on Thursday but it was raining very hard so we had to postpone it. Since it had rained so much, the walk to the waterfall was very interesting. There were large puddles everywhere on the road and mud and dirt everywhere. The children were so adorable as they loved walking right through the muddy puddles. After walking over about 6 bridges and through many wet paths we made it to the waterfall. To our surprise the waterfall was blasting water everywhere as it was very windy. It seemed like it was raining and the children soon began to get freezing cold. I absolutely loved it though! I thought the waterfall was so beautiful and the water felt so nice. I was kind of disappointed that we couldn’t go into the water or get very close because the water spraying at us was very powerful. Nicole and I did manage to get some cute pictures of the children before our cameras got too wet. After awhile, we decided to start on our way back because there wasn’t much we could do at the waterfall except just look at it. One of the other volunteers had brought chocolate chip cookies for all the children and she handed them out. I don’t think they had ever seen or tasted a chocolate chip cookie as they all looked at it as it was a foreign object. Eventually they all bit into it and devoured the delicious chocolate. We passed out lollipops to the children once we had arrived back at the tro tro and headed back to Christ.

After we returned to our hotel, Patience, Yaira, Godwin, Atsu, Christoff, a few of the kids from around the town and Christ, came over to hang out for a bit. We stayed outside with them and started having a photo shoot. They all absolutely loved getting their picture taken so it made it very easy to get some good pictures. Nicole and I took turn taking the pictures so we could join in with them. They danced, rolled around in the grass and went crazy for a couple hours. Other town’s people would stop and watch us as they walked by. Some of them asked us to take their photo while other kids watched and sometimes joined in playing with the other kids. One girl came with her sister and started to hang out with us. Godwin and Patience ran away from her and explained to Nicole that they truly believed she was a witch. They had told Nicole that she slept with her eyes squinted and her hands all scrunched up. They informed Nicole that they wouldn’t play with her. Nicole and I both found this pretty funny. Eventually it started to get pretty dark outside, so we sent the kids home and went into our hotel to rest.

Nicole: On Friday night, after our photo shoot outside of our hotel with the children, I attended a wake for a man in the community that had passed away about 3 weeks earlier. This man was the father of one of the young boys at the orphanage who had passed away just a few weeks earlier from illness. Raymond informed me that the family, especially the father was having a very difficult time coping with the loss of their son, which was very understandable. Apparently it took such a toll on the father’s life that he too ended up passing away. As the father had to sell his property to pay for his son’s funeral, there was no money to pay for the father’s funeral after he died. It is for this reason that the funeral for the father took place a few weeks after his death.

I was at Raymond’s house, listening to the youth playing the drums and singing, practicing for the funeral before we all moved over to the site of the funeral. The body was inside the casket inside one of the rooms of the house and could be seen from the outside window. The children who were with me ran over to see the casket and then ran away frightened. The wife of the man who passed away had a baby tied to her back, presumably her baby and was in tears, dancing and making jerking movements, and somewhat talking to herself or possibly to God. I could not even image what she was feeling and felt so bad for her as she had lost both her son and husband in such a short period of time. I also felt bad for the baby on her back and just wanted to go over and take the baby from her and just hold it but I thought that maybe the baby was all she has left and was possibly providing some kind of comfort to her.

On Saturday morning, Melissa and I woke up and took a taxi to the Hohoe tro tro station. We boarded an almost full tro tro headed to Ho. Due to the fact that the tro tro was almost all full, we got horrible seats. Melissa ended up sitting in one of the seats on the end that fold up so that people from the rows behind could fold it up and get through. These seats are not attached to the rest of the row so it makes for an even bumpier experience.

We got to Ho and got off at the Electricity Company where we met Eli. Now, let me explain to you who Eli is. Last summer, while staying at Cross Cultural Solutions, Eli was living with the man in charge of the Ghana CCS program. He was best friends with Dela, John’s son, where I spent much/ all of my free time. In the evenings, I would sit and chat with Dela, Dela’s cousin, Godsway, Eli, and the CCS guard, Alfa. We became good friends and my relationship with Eli progressed into more than just friendship.

After I left Ghana last summer, Eli and I continued to communicate via phone and developed a long distance relationship. As I am a white American and Eli is a black Ghanaian, I was nervous to tell many people back home about this relationship. I think that many people have preconceived stereotypes and racist ideas about Africans, especially black Africans. I know first hand that many of these stereotypes are just stereotypes but I know that not everybody understands that. I also know that long distance relationships are not the easiest thing in the world, especially when the relationship is across continents. But both Eli and I have made it work and have chosen to continue our long distance relationship.

As Eli attends a boarding school in Keta and is not really supposed to leave at all, I was unable to see him much this summer, although he visited me occasionally. Earlier in the week, before we went to visit Ho, Eli came to visit me and to meet Melissa in Wegbe. Dela was also supposed to come and visit us at the same time that Eli came but he ended up getting a bad case of malaria and had to stay home and recover.

So Eli met us where we got off the tro tro, in front of the Electricity Company and took us to meet his family. It was a bit awkward as we were seated in a room with Eli’s mother and grandmother, neither of whom spoke nor understood much English so Eli had to translate everything for us. We also met Eli’s older sister and her young girl who was very scared of us, especially of my camera. She would wail whenever I picked up the camera and tried to take a photograph. I took photos of the whole family together as I promised Eli’s uncle, Isaac who lives in Los Angeles that I would take photos of his family and send them to him.

A few days before I was to depart for Ghana, way back in May, my mother, sister and I went over to Eli’s uncle’s house. We met Isaac and his wife, Tamina. Tamina, a previous CCS volunteer met Isaac while volunteering in Ghana and they recently got married. After much doing much work and spending much money, they finally succeeded at getting Isaac to America. They told us of their time in Ghana and showed us photos from their wedding, which took place in Ghana. Eli’s mother (Isaac’s sister) and Eli’s grandmother (Isaac’s mother) were impressed by all of this and were excited that I would be able to share their photos with Isaac and his wife.

After visiting with them for awhile, we said good bye and went to purchase some ice cream. We bought enough ice cream so that we could take it with us to Dela and his family. Eli came with us to visit Dela and his family for the final time on this trip. The ice cream was a hit and it was nice to be able to keep the extras cold in the fridge/ freezer that I had purchased for them. It was also exciting to see that the fridge had other stuff in it, mostly the drink which Annie (Dela’s mother) makes and sells.

Of course, since we were visiting Dela and his family, our short trip had to contain some kind of adventure. Even though I have visited them numerous times, I have yet to learn that I should always wear long pants when I visit them. We walked through the brush (with Richmond on my back) and up a huge hill to John’s work as he would be at work all day and we wanted to say good bye to him. John works at the cell phone towers, on the top of this particular hill on which one can see the whole town. We took the opportunity to take some photos and to say good bye and thank you to John. We walked back down the hill to their house. This time, I carried Richmond on my hip as he got super heavy on my back on the way up.

We (Melissa, Eli, and I) hung out with the family for the early part of the afternoon before having to say a teary good bye. My adopted family members were the first people we had to say good bye to and it was a very difficult good bye. Forgive, Richmond and Melody’s mother repeatedly told me that I shouldn’t cry as they would not be going anywhere and I would be back to visit them in a few short months. Although I knew this, it was still difficult to say good bye and the tears continued to flow from my eyes.

Melissa: On Sunday we decided to attend church with Raymond. We got ready rather early and headed over to Raymond’s house. Raymond had told us that we had to be at the church at 9 AM. Of course we didn’t make it there on time because Raymond took forever to get ready. He wore a traditional outfit with bright colors; it was very beautiful. All of the children in the town were dressed in their best clothes for church and most of the siblings wore matching patterns; it was so cute. Finally it was time to go so we piled into the tro-tro and headed for what we thought would be the church. We past the church and went into town. Nicole and I were very confused but just went with it. We arrived at one of Dina’s family member’s house and sat and talked with them for a bit. Then we took Dina and Andy, her son, to Dina’s sister’s house because they weren’t going to come to church. Finally we headed to the church. As we walked in, everyone turned around to look at me and Nicole. We sat down with Raymond in the back and watched the service go on.

I really enjoyed being at the church. The women were so into the songs and would get up and dance around all the chairs. I thought it was seriously so beautiful. I just felt like they really could connect with God and were so proud and confident with themselves. There were quite a few kids from Christ who were happy to see us at church. We never had a bare lap, as children would come and pull themselves onto us. Most of the children weren’t in the service but rather at the Sunday school building across the way. We went into the class and were immediately attacked by more children from Christ. They gave us chairs and we watched the children “attempt” to learn Bible stories. It was pretty difficult because they were distracted by our presence.

We eventually went back into the church service to watch the town youth perform some songs. This was a special church service because it was directly run by the youth and considered a church youth celebration. Once again they sang and dance and the band played very loudly. It was so beautiful. Raymond has an important role in the church and community so he was called up to the front to say some words to the congregation. He pulled us up with him and everyone clapped as we walked to the front. They introduced both Nicole and I and we were given seats in the front along with Raymond.

After about 3 hours, church had finished. We got back in the tro tro along with the Chairman of the town and headed back to Wegbe. We went to drop the Chairman off at his house but along the way we got a flat tire. Nicole, the Chairman, two of the children from Christ, Godwin and Israel and I walked the Chairman the rest of the way to his house. We sat in his house talking for awhile until they had replaced the tire. We then made our way back to Raymond’s house. A soccer game was about to begin in a half hour or so, so we made our way to the soccer field. As we walked there, the soccer players were parading around the town, informing everyone of the game they were about to play.

The soccer game was very fun. I think that the people that attended liked dancing and singing to the drummers more then actually watching the game. All the children crowded around Nicole and I as we filmed and took pictures of everything that was going on. We met a lot of children that we hadn’t seen before. They instantly fell in love with us and wouldn’t leave our sides, which was pretty cute. We had many photo shoots with the kids as they all loved when we took their picture. The Wegbe team eventually won the game 3-1 and the whole town ran around the field in celebration. We made our way once again back to the tro tro and piled in. We tried to make our way to the street but tons of people were singing and dancing in the middle of the rode. Raymond started to honk his horn along with the singing and people crowded around the tro tro as we slowly made our way to the street. The towns’ people had created a little parade and were all making their way back to Raymond’s house. Raymond had told us they were going to drum and dance at his house because they found Raymond as a hero and someone they admired. The drive back to Raymond’s house was very fun. There were crazy people dancing in front of our car and soon we caused a sort of traffic jam, as cars couldn’t pass us. It was quite funny because they wouldn’t stop honking at us.

We made it back to Raymond’s house, along with about 100 other people from the soccer game. The drumming, singing and dancing continued until the night. It was such a fun night but eventually went back to our hotel as we had gotten very tired from the long day we had had.

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