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.