Sunday, July 20, 2014

Saying Goodbye

       One month ago, I arrived in Ghana at night, the dark making it difficult to get my bearings or really understand where I was. Tonight, I fly again at night, stealing away while everyone is sleeping. I remember telling myself as I walked across the tarmac that first night, that the next time I saw this spot, I would be feeling sad and nostalgic. I was mostly telling myself that to calm my nerves, having just flown into Accra alone. It helped to think that soon, it would all feel familiar. In the end, though, I was right. I knew I would be.
       On one of my last nights here, a Ghanaian asked me, "What did you dislike about Ghana, and what did you like about Ghana?" The answer to the first question may not come as a surprise: I was never able to figure out what time anything was happening, or whether it was even happening at all. I think I would need a lifetime to get used to Ghana time.  For the second, there are many answers, but one comes easily. It's the girls I'll miss seeing every morning at school. I loved their questions and their shouts of "Madam! Madam!" I loved that they took naps during breaks, because that's just what I would have done if I were them. I loved that they were willing to do jumping jacks to wake back up before lessons, and I loved it even more when the jumping jacks just turned into dancing.
       When any volunteer leaves, they sing a terribly depressing song with the line, "My friends are going away/ I have nobody to comfort my soul/ Goodbye, Goodbye." As if I wasn't already sad enough. I'll never forget when they ran out of the classroom to wave goodbye as I got in the taxi. True, they were following the teacher who had one last question for me about their exam, but I like to think that they would have done it anyway.
       In other words, there are many things I'm taking away from Ghana. Some are memories, and some are weighing down my backpack so heavily that I'm really starting to dread the commute home. If things get too heavy, I'll just take a leaf out of Ghana's books and start selling the contents of my bag market-style on the streets of New York. Then it'll be home again, for a long nap in honor of my sleepy students.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Best Laid Plans

       It was bound to happen sooner or later. I was hoping for later, but you can't choose when you want to be sick. These past three days have proven to me yet again that sometimes, plans just aren't going to work out the way you thought they would. The timing was extra unfortunate since I was supposed to say goodbye to my class yesterday, and I was supposed to leave for Mole National Park today. Instead, I've been lying in bed attempting to eat and watching an IV drip, drip, drip, drip... Listening to the bus pull away without me this morning was definitely not one of the highlights of my trip.
       After receiving some stellar care from my host families, I'm on the mend and feeling more like myself. I am also more than determined to make it to Mole tomorrow to meet up with the group and see my fair share of elephants and baboons. Until then, I'll just keep lying around. Since they took my IV out, I'll have to watch something else. Perhaps the fan will do.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Monkey Sanctuary

Kintampo Waterfalls

Playing Games

The Observers

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

"It's Ghana, a little bit of pressure"

       Today, in the spirit of the World Cup, we went to the village to play a soccer game, Ghanaians against foreigners. I did what I do best and cheered from the sides. In between cheering, I worked on a grant application for the school, never mind that I've never actually written one before. I'm a native English speaker and a teacher, so I was handed the documents and told to write. It's strikingly similar to last Thursday, when I was told at 3:00 pm that I would be running a combined computer and classroom management course for the teachers of the school the following morning, plus every remaining Friday. It has me seriously doubting the phrase, "It's Ghana, no pressure."
       As I held the laptop in my lap, surrounded by children peering over my shoulders while I typed, I worried about what the dust was doing to the computer. Whatever it was doing, it couldn't have been good. After a while, I lost interest in the game and wandered into an abandoned classroom with an actual table on which to set the laptop and a seat on which to sit. I was relieved to find out later that the game ended in a draw. At least there won't be any incessant gloating from either side to interrupt my typing.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Unexpected

       I never thought I'd sit on a crocodile, but that's what vacations are for, getting you to do things that you never expected to do. It sure sounded dangerous at first, but he was pretty relaxed about the whole situation, so I followed his cues.

       After bidding my new friend good-bye, I did something else I never imagined doing, and walked a few feet into Burkina Faso with no documentation. They are surprisingly relaxed at the border, so after miming and using a few French words to explain what we wanted to do, they smiled and let us walk past the gates. A friendly argument ensued when we tried to take photos with the Burkina Faso sign, but the problem was solved by the photographer standing on the Ghana side of the border and taking pictures from there. No harm done.

       The most refreshing time of the day was sitting in the hills overlooking the rocky landscape. The rest of the day was spent gulping water, wiping sweat from our foreheads, and feeling quite faint, but these few minutes were complete paradise. 

       As we headed back to the bus, we got to talk to some of the most cheerful children I've ever met, and they didn't seem to mind the heat at all. They were just excited to make faces and pose for the camera, and I was happy to oblige. If there's anything I should take home with me, it's that smile right there on the left.

Monday, June 30, 2014

What you miss when it's gone

       I realize that I've only been in Ghana for one week, but I joined a conversation among volunteers who have been here for weeks or months and have weeks or months to go. We were talking about what we're going to do when we get home, and the conversation went a little something like this:

       "I'm going to brush my teeth in a sink."

       "I'm going to stand in the shower and actually drink the water."

       "I'm going to keep my feet and nails clean for more than ten minutes."

       "I'm going to get a manicure."

       "I'm going to sit in front of the washing machine and watch as my clothes wash themselves."

       "I'm going to get a manicure while I sit in front of the washing machine and watch as my clothes wash themselves."

       In other words, we're not suffering. We've just noticed the things that we used to take for granted. For example, sinks.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Settling In

       The hardest thing to adjust to here is the difference between Ghana time and New York time. In New York, 7:30 means 7:30. In Ghana, 7:30 means 8:30, or maybe 7:20, or maybe 9:00. Just be ready. Or don't be ready. It's your choice, because, "It's Ghana, no pressure." I went immediately from schedules and to-do lists to sitting in a chair in the afternoons with nothing to do for hours on end. It was a little unsettling at first, but I'm pretty good at it.
       This week I taught a science lesson about the two seasons in Ghana. Apparently, we're in the one where the weather "gets pleasant." When I walk through the markets or sit somewhere without a fan, I'm not so sure. During the day at school, there is usually a lovely breeze when you open all the shutters and doors. Sometimes a chicken walks into the room through that open door, but it walks back out soon enough, no harm done.
       In school, I've been teaching English, math, writing, and science. The girls don't have textbooks, so they do a lot of note-taking. They don't always have notebooks either, so the volunteers try to buy some to donate, along with pencils, erasers, and markers. They are so grateful to receive them, and it's taught me that I waste to much and take too much for granted. I've never before been concerned about whether or not I would have a pencil for school, but so many do. Even so, they are very giving, and will squish into one bench so they can give me their chair.
       During breaks, they tried to teach me a clapping game that I can now participate in, but I have no clue who is winning. I can't figure out how it's scored, but I clap and trust that they'll tell me when I'm out. I take pictures of them, and then I have many girls around me asking me to "snap a picture" of them. I give a lot of high fives and hold a lot of hands too, so I'm never alone.
       Today was two of the volunteers' last day at the school, so there were many good-byes and a lot of raucous dancing. Some of these girls could be professional drummers, and I'm surprised the desks are still standing after the beating they took. I did see one girl pounding nails back into a desk with a rock, so they probably won't last forever.
       It's hard to believe that one week is done. I can now hail a taxi to town and more importantly, get one back to the house. I can greet people in Dagbani, and I can sit with my own thoughts for hours at a time. It's not always easy, but it's a start, and I have plenty of time to perfect these skills in the weeks to come!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Taste of Tamale

The Beginning

       When I think about traveling, what comes to mind most is the people, not the places. Take for instance the girl I met on the plane from Newark to Lisbon. When she heard that I had a 12-hour layover in Portugal before flying to Ghana, she said, "My mom and I can show you around the city if you want," which is precisely what they did. They brought me to a monastery where I saw the final resting place of Vasco da Gama, several lookout points where I could see the whole city, and a famous custard tart cafe that has long lines even at nine in the morning. While we were eating, the mother's old colleagues from the Indonesian Embassy happened to walk by, and they joined our table. Before I knew it, we were cracking jokes with an Indonesian ambassador over cafe au laits. When they said good-bye at the tram that would take me back to the airport, there were hugs received, emails exchanged, and kind reminders given to take my malaria medicine in Ghana. All because of a lucky seat assignment.
       In Ghana, I've received much the same greeting. I've lost track of how many people have smiled and waved at me. I've been welcomed into people's homes, and I feel like I've known them my entire life. Today, I traveled to several different schools, and the children in each classroom sang a song to welcome me. When I sat down, the girl next to me touched my hair and said, "Madam, I want you to be my best friend." I think I can manage that.
       Then in a small village, we met the chief, and I carried one of his descendants around, strapped to my back with a colorful, beautifully patterned cloth. I am looking forward to visiting an orphanage this afternoon, but I must admit that I am sitting in an internet cafe with time ticking, people waiting, and pictures not loading. So until next time, just know that I am happy, and I can't ask for anything more than that.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Ghana Bound

       There's never a good reason to skip getting a Billy's Bakery cupcake, and knowing that you're going to be in Ghana for four weeks really gets you thinking. That's why I found myself on 9th Avenue today, buying one cupcake for the moment and one for the road. It was my way of saying farewell to the city, even if it's only for a short while.

       For one month, I will be volunteering at a school for girls in Tamale, Ghana. I don't know yet what I'll be teaching, but that has never stopped me before! Besides, it never hurts to receive more practice in the art of spur-of-the-moment lessons. All I know at this point is that I am one lucky teacher, and I will figure out the specifics soon enough.

       Earlier this week, Ghana flashed across everyone's radar when they played against the United States during the World Cup. Perhaps I need to be more patriotic, but I was kind of hoping Ghana would win. I was planning on joining their celebrations and buying Ghana-themed sports memorabilia to add to my basically nonexistent sports memorabilia collection. My new plan is to pretend I'm Canadian.

       In any case, I am thrilled to be going. One of my favorite things is meeting kids from around the world and finding out that they are basically the same, no matter their background. It's why I'm willing to give up Billy's cupcakes for four weeks, and that's really saying something.