Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Farewell Party

Writing this final blog entry from my summer 2010 trip to Ghana has been an unbelievably difficult thing for me to do. I have been home for two weeks already and although I keep trying to write it, I keep putting it off. In my mind, it is like, if I don’t write this final blog entry, then the trip really isn’t over. I know that this reasoning doesn’t really make much sense but in my head, it seems to make sense.

It’s amazing how quickly my trip flew by and how much I wanted to get done that didn’t get done, but at the same time, it is amazing how much I did get done that I didn’t plan on doing. Unlike my previous trips to Ghana, this trip was more about me. Yes, I was going to see my kids at Christ Orphanage and to spend some time volunteering, but I was also going to do my research, see my friends and kids in the Wegbe community, visit my adopted family in Ho, and of course, spend time with my boyfriend, Alex.

The night before I had to leave Ghana, Alex threw a going away party for me. The family prepared fufu (and jollof rice for me because I am not a fan of fufu) and we danced the night away. My local kids came over and we danced together as they begged me not to leave. I promised them that I would be back soon as I know that after I finish school, I will be on a plane, back to Ghana. It was a very special night. During the party, which was of course held outdoors, it began to rain. It was so magical to be dancing in the rain, something I have to admit I probably haven’t done since I was a child.

I danced with Mawuse in my arms (and Cynthia holding onto my legs), and just hugged her as tight as I could. I couldn’t believe I would be leaving the following day. I couldn’t believe that my little girl Cynthia wouldn’t be coming to my room every afternoon and evening to join me for meals any more. I couldn’t believe that I wouldn’t be there to see Cynthia’s baby brother or sister be born within the next few weeks. I couldn’t believe I wouldn’t be able to hear the kids at Christ Orphanage singing songs as I walked from my room to the orphanage every morning. I couldn’t believe that I would no longer hear ‘Sister Nicole’ called out every second of every day. I couldn’t believe that I would no longer be where I feel so at home. I couldn’t believe I was going back to America, back to school, back to the fast paced, capitalist life style that has overtaken America. Its amazing how fast five weeks can fly by.

The following morning, I went to the new site to take some final photos of the site. I witnessed Raymond and some local volunteers and parents planting corn, which will help to relieve some of the food costs when it is harvested. By this point, the classrooms were completely decorated and we worked on decorating the bedrooms. I must admit, the rooms look pretty cute with the stickers adorning the walls and the glow in the dark stars on the ceilings.

Following my visit to the new site, I went back to the orphanage to say a final goodbye to the children and teachers. The kids sang for me as I sat there taking it all in and realizing that I was actually leaving (again). Alex refused to let the kids sing the ‘Goodbye song’ as he knew that I had already cried enough about leaving Ghana and he didn’t want to see me cry anymore. That song gets to me every time the kids sing it so I have to admit, I was quite happy that they didn’t sing it this time.

As my flight was at 11pm, Raymond decided that we should leave Hohoe around 1:30pm. I knew that we would not leave at 1:30 because, come on, this is Ghana that we are talking about, but I didn’t expect that we wouldn’t leave til 4pm. Luckily we still had plenty of time to drive to Accra and stop by Alex and Raymond’s uncle’s house before my flight. As we drove out of Wegbe, the Christ Orphanage kids were crossing the road to go to the park to play. They yelled out my name as I waved to them and started crying. It was nice to see them again before leaving but it was very difficult, as I wanted to go play with them at the park. I didn’t want to endure the 4 hour drive to Accra and then the long flight back to LA. I wasn’t ready to leave.

Although I didn’t get to see the kids officially move into the new site or do everything that I wanted to do while I was there, I think I accomplished a lot. I learned so much more about the Ghanaian life style. I learned more about what life would entail when I finally make that step and move to Ghana. I realized that I have the potential to continue to make great things happen for the community in Ghana that I care about so much and other communities that I hope to be able to help in the future. And most of all, I learned once again to appreciate life and live every moment to the fullest. I learned the hard way that nothing in life in certain and that things can change (for the better or worse) in the blink of an eye.

I treasure every moment of this trip and cannot wait to get back to Ghana after I graduate from college (what a crazy thought!). Thank you to all of you for taking this journey with me and for reading about my experiences in Ghana for the fourth time! If you would like to make a donation to The Ghana Project or purchase a beautiful, one of a kind bag, coin pouch, or purse, or other item, please email me. Your purchase could provide a school bag for a child at Christ Orphanage.

Thank you to all of you for your love and support! It means the world to me!

Until next time,
Nicole

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Big Move

If you have ever been to Africa, done business within Africa, or even sent something to Africa, you know that things here take a long time. They say it will take a day but it takes a week, they tell you that you will be somewhere in 5 minutes and 30 minutes later, you still aren’t there. This is what we like to call African Time, or in Ghana, Ghana Time.

We were supposed to move the kids to Christ Orphanage’s new site on August 1st. This is part of the reason why I decided to come to Ghana at the end of the summer instead of the beginning of the summer this year. Unfortunately, even with planning my trip late in the summer, I will not see the move to the new site. A lot of progress has been made at the site and we have started decorating the classrooms but it still is not ready for the official move to occur. The workers are still painting, putting on doors, making steps, and putting in the electrical wires. The water tanks are not yet hooked up for the plumbing and the electrical poles that have been placed all along the road to the new site have not yet been wired. So basically, although a lot of progress has been made, there is still a lot to do. I just keep trying to remind myself, this is Ghana, this is the way things work here, this is normal for them, nothing happens on time here.

Although I will not be able to witness the move to the new site, I have been able to witness some of the older kid’s reactions when they have come to the site. The oldest class was invited to the site late last week for the first time to come and help us decorate the classrooms. They helped for awhile but their attention was mostly focused on the playground equipment which they had a blast playing on. After spending a lot of time at the site over the past few weeks, it was so nice to be working and hear children’s laughter, to hear them using the equipment and enjoying themselves. I wish that all of you who have supported The Ghana Project could have heard this laughter and seen the smiles on these children’s faces. Like always, I have done my best to document their beautiful smiles but I know that my photos and videos do not do them justice.

Even though some of the work that we have done at the site this past week has been tedious – cleaning the windows in all the classrooms and varnishing all the desks, I know that these things will make a difference in the way the new site operates. I know that these things will help to make the experiences at the new site even better and help to keep the new site operating efficiently and effectively for Christ Orphanage’s current children and many more children to come. I know that the decorations and learning materials that we have put up in the classrooms will put smiles on the children’s faces and help enhance their learning experiences. I am so happy that I have been able to be a part of it. I just can’t wait until the children are able to move to the new site and take advantage of all the new resources that we have provided for them.

It is also exciting to think about the way that the lives of 30 of our children will change when they move to the new site. These 30 children are the orphans and most underprivileged children at the orphanage and they will be living in the dormitory at the new site. Although I was a bit skeptical about taking these children out of their current homes, as they all live with extended family members or other people in the community, I know that they will greatly benefit from having their own beds, receiving three meals a day, and being forced to attend school on a daily basis. Currently, some of the children are not sent to school on a daily basis as their guardians keep them home to help cook, wash, farm, or sell. It is something that has been very difficult for us as these children then become behind in school and it affects the entire class. Although I understand that at a certain age, children become extremely important parts of the household and are able to help maintain the family, it saddens me that these guardians do not see the importance of school and do not recognize the opportunity that is being provided for their child. Many of them do not look at the bigger picture. They look at the present and do not realize that education is their child’s way out of poverty. Luckily we only have a few children who are kept home from school by their parents/ guardians for these reasons.

I know that within the next few weeks, the children will move to the new site. Although I would have loved to see the kids move to the new site, I know that the safety of the children is more important and at the current moment, the new site is not a safe place for them to be as a result of all the construction and work that is still going on. I know that next time I return to Ghana, I will be able to witness the changes that have occurred as a result of the new site, resources, teaching practices, and change of environment. I cannot wait for that day.

(I will post photos on Facebook within the next few days of the new site so you can all see the progress that has been made there).

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Consecration in Peki

Although I never really sleep in here in Ghana, I usually enjoy an extra hour or two of sleep on the weekends. On Sunday morning, I was awake by 5:30am. After showering and eating some rice, I got dressed in my white traditional outfit that Essie had made for me as Alex got dressed in his matching one. We wore white as that is the color traditionally worn to a consecration. The outfits consisted of long tops and pants which were adorned with some modest decorations which really added to the outfits. Essie and another family member tied my braids back for me and we went outside to wait for the taxi that would be taking us to Peki, a village about an hour and a half away from Hohoe.

I had been told about this family event that we were going to before I even arrived in Ghana so it felt kinda crazy that it had finally arrived. We were going to Peki for the Catholic Church consecration of one of Alex’s aunts as a Cathekist. I had met Melody, his aunt who was going to be consecrated a few weeks prior and she was very excited that I would be attending this special event. She made sure that I would bring my cameras along to document the event as well. As I had never been to an event such as this, I was not really sure what to expect but I was excited to be able to attend this event and to be able to meet more of Alex’s family members.

We arrived in Peki after passing through three or four police stops, all of which stopped and checked our driver’s papers or gave him trouble for his missing side mirror. We went to a family member’s home, where there were already a good 30 or 40 people sitting around, chatting, and eating. Everyone was dressed up, even the children and some of the women were dancing and singing. From this house, we went to the church. As there were maybe 30 or 40 other people being consecrated with Melody, there were a lot of people at the church. We sat in plastic chairs outside with hundreds of other people as the church was already full. It was nice to sit outside because it meant that it was cooler and that we didn’t have to stay quiet. I played with some of the children that were with us and snacked on some local food. The service was still going on but we decided to walk over to a local chop bar where the locals dined on some grasscutter. I sat around and watched as they sang and paraded around before eating the grasscutter and the stew that accompanied it.

We returned to the church and sat around some more as the service and ceremony were very long. Some of Alex’s brothers had my cameras and were taking photos/ videos so I didn’t really have anything to do besides sit there and take in what was going on. The consecration eventually began and I was pulled into the church to witness it. After the consecration ended and the church emptied out, we paraded down the road, singing and dancing with Melody. Our party had grown and about 60 of us went to another house, located a lot closer to the church for the celebration.

Throughout the afternoon, there was dancing, eating, tons of photos taken, and lots of fun to be had. I was the official photographer meaning that I took most of the posed photos that Melody requested to be taken. Alex’s brothers also took turns with my camera which was nice because it meant that I could enjoy the event without having to always think about taking pictures. Since the event, I have gone through the hundreds of photos that were taken so that I could share them with Melody and the rest of the family. Melody was extremely grateful of all the photos that I took for her and her fiancĂ© complemented me and told me that I was the best photographer in Peki.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

A Million Tiny Braids

It is Saturday evening. I am lying on my bed and can hear the loud, highly amplified music and singing from down the road. As there are three funerals in Wegbe this weekend, the village is very busy and loud all the time, even at 1:30am, when I am trying to sleep. And at 1:30am last night, one of the funeral guests decided it would be a good idea to use a whistle to accompany the singing. Lovely, right?

There is a large tent set up in our compound for one of the funerals. Luckily, the main activities are not taking place in our compound or else it would probably be impossible to sleep at all. However, it means that there are a lot of people here. And it means that the village of Wegbe has become a sea of red and black.

Earlier this week, in preparation for the funeral, one of the women in my compound decided to purchase a goat. She bought the goat on Monday and kept it tied up all week, until yesterday. After dealing with the goat’s extremely loud and obnoxious cries for a few days, I finally decided to ask why the goat was tied up. As I do not recognize the goats that belong to the families in this compound, I did not realize that this was a different goat, one that had been purchased from the market. And the reason it was purchased from the market, of course, was so that it could be slaughtered.

Luckily, I happened to take a little walk yesterday late in the afternoon with some of my kids in the village. By the time I returned, the goat was dead and lying with its legs up on a table in the compound. I couldn’t watch as the two men skinned the goat and then proceeded to cut it up. However, I couldn’t help but see parts of the process as I went about what I was doing, which included occasionally walking across the compound. And as the process of getting the goat meat took awhile, it would have been highly unlikely that I would have totally been able to avoid witnessing parts of it. Although I am a vegetarian and refused to eat any of the meat, I do have to admit that I am happy that I no longer have to deal with the goat’s loud, obnoxious cries at all hours of the day and night.

On Thursday afternoon, after a long morning at the orphanage, I decided to go into town with Roland and get my hair done. I had asked Essie, the woman who cooks and cleans for me if it would hurt and she assured me it wouldn’t hurt that much. I didn’t know how to take this answer as it was coming from someone who picks up burning coals with her bare hands and scrubs clothing until her hands are raw – things that I cannot do.

As Roland and I arrived at the beauty salon in Hohoe, I started to get a bit nervous. Alex was out of town so it was going to be a surprise for him, something he had told me a few weeks earlier that he wanted me to do for a family celebration that would be happening this weekend. I showed the girl which style I wanted – small braids and she went to find some fake hair. I was not very excited for the fake hair part. It would add a lot of weight to my head and it kinda grossed me out at first.

Two women began working on my hair and I was impressed. They did the first few braids and they did not hurt at all. I was glad as I was basically sitting in the middle of this salon, in which about 6 other women were getting their hair done as well. I relaxed and was happy now that I realized that I would not be in pain. Unfortunately this quickly changed.

The braids started getting tighter and tighter and the women started pulling so hard on my head. I was in so much pain it was pretty ridiculous. My scalp was so sore. There were five women working on my hair and I was pulling away, trying to ease the pain as they yanked my hair. About two hours into the torture, I made the women stop and take a break. I needed a break and my head needed a break. And I was hoping that by allowing the women to stop working for a few minutes, they would come back and not yank my hair so hard. I returned to the chair and the yanking resumed just as hard, if not harder than before. I somehow dealt with two more hours of this before they finally finished. I regretted my decision to get my hair done but was not going to stop midway through the process. I think that I managed to thoroughly amuse the other women working and the other customers in the salon but I did not care because I was just so happy that they were done. I gave the women a nice tip as I felt bad that I was such a difficult customer. I think they were probably just as happy to get me out of the salon as I was to leave.

I returned home and was complimented by everyone on my hair. I still wasn’t sure at this point if I actually liked it or not. It was long, black, and heavy and my head still ached. I took a pain reliever in an attempt to relieve the pain and went to bed. This was not as easy as it sounds because every way I attempted to lye caused pain to my head. Even sleeping on my stomach, although it meant that I would not be lying on my hair was painful. I woke up many times throughout the night but luckily by the next morning, most of the pain was gone.

Alex returned from his trip the following evening and was impressed by the fact that I actually went out and got my hair done. Like everyone else, he loved it. I am getting more and more used to it as time goes on but it is somewhat annoying. I decided that this is going to be both the first and last time that I get my hair done. I can’t wait til we have to remove all the braids from my hair. That will be fun!