Peru – Summer 2014

I was having trouble logging into this blog but finally broke the code! I also realized that I never posted pictures from my time last summer traveling in Peru traveling which concluded with volunteering for Villa La Paz Foundation at the Hogar de San Francisco de Asis.

After stubling on the documentary, “The Human Experience” I was moved to include volunteering at some point during my travels in Peru last summer. I contacted Dr. Tony almost a year prior because I had heard that, like me, others had watched the documentary and his volunteer list had a bit of wait time. Dr. Tony responded quickly and my advanced notice secured the exact week that I had hoped to volunteer.


There were so many stories from those 5 days that I wouldn’t know where to begin. A few highlights included early wake up calls, carrying children to the bathroom throughout the day, carring children onto public transportation and then through downtown Lima for doctor appointments, hoisting a child who was casted on both legs up in front of an X-Ray machine, play time at the park, bathing children, and the list goes on. Exhausted would be one descriptor but at the end of the day, I truly look forward to the next time I am able to visit Peru and return to the Hogar because these kids are so completely inspiring, resilient and adorable.  We were lucky to have a group of high school volunteers around for most of the week but towards the end, they left me and my travel companion, Julie flying solo for the weekend with 42 children with many different needs. We survived.

Here are a few pics of some of the munchkins but I’m being careful about taking my phone out. “Amiiiiga, please, your phone” is a commonly heard phrase around the Hogar and once you give in, it’s all over….

Play time in the park


On our way to Lima for doctor appointments!


Reading Dr. Seuss


Taking photos in the park


More play time

More pics from Peru!

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Chicago > Colorado > Peru


What a whirlwind few months these have been…and the fun isn’t going to stop anytime soon! On Friday, I’ll be moving to Frisco, Colorado to start a new job and a adventure. And, in the spirit of my blog title, I am proud to say that once again I am “Ghana Make It After All.” Juggling the excitement of a new job in a completely new place and the closure of the job I have known for 7 years and the city I have known since 6th grade is never easy. Tonight I’ll be heading to Gio’s, one of my favorite restaurants on the South Side of Chicago to bid farewell to my best friend, confidant, go to gal since the day we met on Labor Day weekend, 2004. Tomorrow is my last night in the city and I’m not sure what to do. Part of me wants to cram it all in and another part of me just wants to drive to my parents house, spend one more night with them and celebrate my last morning in Chicago in rush hour traffic with a Starbucks and some XRT radio. It doesn’t get much more Chicago than that!

A week after I arrive in Frisco, Colorado, my new home, I’ll be heading to Peru for adventure #2. I planned this trip long ago and even in the midst of the moving craziness, just wasn’t willing to forgo all of the time and energy (not to mention money) that was put into this trip planning. So, off to Peru on June 21st I go!

A few highlights of the trip include:

Cuzco! (and the Inti Raymi festival which will be going on)
Manu National Park
Macchu Picchu (and were taking a stab at Huayna Picchu)
&  Ollyantaytambo
Then, it’s back to Lima to volunteer with the children at El Hogar!

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The Waiting Game

I am back in Esaase for my last week of volunteering at Esaase Christian School and Orphanage after an extended weekend getaway exploring the northern region of Ghana. Prior to leaving for the north early last Thursday morning, I spent Wednesday with Debora and her Mother Sylvana from Switzerland, their friend Benedict from France, Emily and her boyfriend Oliver from South Hampton UK, and Julie and her boyfriend Alex also from Switzerland. Debora, nicknamed Nanahemaa (queen mother) is responsible for many of the organizational, financial and sponsorship efforts happening at ECSO. Our day began at the school cocoa farm. Alexis Chapman from the US helped purchase land for an ECSO cocoa farm in 2005 (I think) and then Debora came in 2007 and learned that the farm needed additional support to maintain the crops and ideally generate a profit for the school when the cocoa is harvested. Mr. Boateng needed money to pay for the farmers and equipment and Debora, being from Switzerland, had some connections in the chocolate industry. Through those connections, she was able to find investors and sponsorship for the farm from a Swiss confectionary company. In order to support the farm, students from the Vocational School for Confectionary Apprentices in Switzerland made and sold chocolate bars.  All proceeds went to ECSO.  The money from this sale is helping to maintain the farm while the cocoa grows and ideally the Swiss chocolate company will buy the cocoa (as long as the quality is good) when it is harvested in 2012.  I had seen cocoa growing in a few trees here and there around Ghana but had never seen them in quantity. We drove about 45 minutes to a small village, made a turn off and traveled down a dirt road for another 15 minutes  before arriving at a small village where we got out of the bus and began our hike. My idea of a cocoa farm was nothing like what the cocoa farm actually looked like so it was neat to see the tropical land, strategy of planting, which did not seem to have much rhyme or reason, and the hike into the cocoa farm was beautiful. When the ECSO cocoa is harvested, the plan is to sell the cocoa to fund a vocational high school that the orphan students can attend after they graduate from ECSO. As I mentioned in an earlier post, if a student does not have financial support from a parent, family member or sponsor, he/she will not receive an education beyond 8th grade.  Mr. Boateng is trying to build a vocational high school so that these students have a chance to further their education after attending ECSO.

Top row (left to right) Cocoa farmer, Debora, Nana Boateng, Cocoa farmer, Benedict, Oliver, Mr. Boateng, Emily.
Bottom row: Julie and Alex

The cocoa farm

I didn’t realize that cocoa can grow on the trunk of a tree!

After visiting the cocoa farm, we drove back towards Esaase. Before returning to the school, we stopped in another village called Nkarwie to visit with the head chief of the region regarding the tree planting project and status of the school. Mr. Boateng had apparently written to ask support for the vocational high school and received a letter back from the chief to be at his office at approximately 10am on Wednesday to discuss the issues. Mr. Boateng has begun building the school but lacks money for the roofing and other finishing touches. He wanted to bring all of us to show that the school has the support of volunteers but is lacking in community support.  Despite the chief being over an hour late (blame it on Ghana time) the meeting was another great experience for me in Ghana. The chief asked Mr. Boateng about his struggles at the school and Mr. Boateng cited two big problems. One being funding for the structure of the vocational school and the other being his inability to provide the orphans with an education beyond  the 8th grade. After some discussion and questions, the chief agreed to support 5 of the orphans through high school per year and he plans to help with the cost of the roofing for the vocational school. In the end, it was worth the wait to speak with the chief and ideally, this meeting made them more aware of the school (often private schools are not supported at all by the government), aware of the successes of the school (Mr. Boateng told them how much work the students had done in Owabi Wildlife Sanctuary by planting trees) and made them aware of the fact that ECSO is the only school around taking care of the orphans. We were back at school for lunch and made it an early night because of an early morning departure on Thursday to Mole National Park.

Our meeting with the region chief (tall guy in the middle-can’t remember his name)

I woke up on Thursday morning around 4:30 am because we were going to get a ride in the school bus to the main station in Kumasi to catch a 7:00 bus to Tamale. There is no way to purchase tickets in advance so by the time we left at 5:30 and got to the station to buy tickets around 6:30, long ticket lines had already formed. Many of the people in line were looking frustrated and we came to find out, after hearing a number of different versions of the story that the Tamale bus was already sold out. The good news was that another bus, not sold out, was going in the same direction but going slightly further and would cost one cedi more. Apparently this was why people were pissed…nobody wanted to pay the full price when they intended to get out at Tamale. Deborah worked her magic and we got our tickets, the bus arrived moments later and we were on our way to Tamale (a 7 hour bus ride) on a big orange Metro Mass Transit (MMT) bus with rather uncomfortable seats but only costing about $8.50 for the ride north.

Early morning at the bus station

We passed through Techiman, and about 3 hours later, stopped at Kintampo where I was finally able to go to the bathroom and eat some rice. I was charged .50 peswas (about .35 cents) to use the nasty toilets and as the nauseating smell of Ghana public restrooms filled the air, and I turned over my money, and then the bathroom attendant asked me to marry him. How romantic. We got back on the bus after a 15 minute break and continued north into Muslim country. The churches became mosques, the architecture of homes changed drastically and Ashanti fashion changed to more ornate Muslim fashions.

We arrived in Tamale around 2:00pm at the “new” bus station which was nothing more than an empty field with a wood shack as a ticket office and some vendors selling bread and water. Once we disembarked and collected our luggage, we began asking around for the bus to Larabanga, the junction and village nearest to Mole National Park. We assumed that a bus would be leaving around 4:00 and we planned to wait it out for a cheap ride. We were approached by mobs of men asking where we were going, offering us rides, and when Debora pushed past everyone to the ticket office, she learned that the last bus to Larabanga was full and that we had two options: stand for 3 hours in the aisle of the bus as it drove down a 50 mile dirt road or try to hire a driver.  Since we only had one night at Mole and a hotel reservation at the popular Mole Hotel with a swimming pool, we all wanted to get there as soon as possible and with all body parts in tact. The prices to Mole in a hired tro-tro began at $200 cedis (about $175 USD). According to the men at the bus station, the road was “very very bad” and that’s why we will not get a ride for under $200 cedi. Granted there were eight of us but nobody wanted to pay $25 a piece. We still had a long weekend of traveling ahead of us, more rides to pay for, more meals and more lodging. A young boy claiming to want nothing more than to help us find a less expensive ride, grabbed Deboras hand and told her that he could find us a ride for $100 cedi but we would have to walk to the tro tro station. At this point we figured that we had nothing to loose. If anything, we would be led to the tro tro station, which was the best chance we had at getting a ride to Larabanga. We all trudged through the town of Tamale, which appeared to be the capital of motorcycles and scooters, walked for about 20 minutes, past shanty kiosks and vendors then arrived at the chaotic tro tro station only to find out that a ride for $100 cedi did not exist. This boy played the game with us, appeared just as frustrated and claiming that just last month, he got a group of 8 a ride for $100 cedi. We stood around for a good 45 minutes arguing with various tro tro drivers, none of whom wanted to make the drive to Mole. Finally, we found a man who was willing to go for $140…or so he said. We piled in the white van, and the driver turned up the middle eastern techo music (really bad) to a volume that caused all of us to laugh hysterically and then cover our ears.  We all found it odd that the boy who led us to the tro tro station had weaseled his way into the front seat of our tro tro and would be accompanying us to the park. LET THE ADVENTURE BEGIN.

Once we turned onto the infamous road to Larabanga, we were told to open all of the windows so when the dust came into the van, it would also circulate out of the van. I was not sure exactly how much dust the driver was talking about but within 20 minutes, I knew we were in for a really rough and dusty ride.

The three hour road to nowhere…well, maybe Mole Natl. Park but we sure didn’t see any end in sight for quite some time

I have no idea how the van made it all the way to the park, but we all suffered some extreme whiplash and 2.5 hours after departing from Tamale, we arrived at the gates, covered in orange dust from head to toe. The inside of the van was orange, our driver was orange, and all of us looked like we had gone into the Mystic Tan (spray tan) booth with our clothes on.

Our orange-tinted, pissed off bus driver and the creepy boy who joined us for the ride (wearing Barack Obama boxers)

We checked into the hotel after each paying an entrance fee of $10 cedis (the hotel is actually inside the park) and all we really wanted was to dust off and take a shower.  As Debora was checking in, I overhead an angry American yelling and demanding a manager…apparently there had not been running water in the hotel for two days.  At this point, all you can really do is laugh and try to make the best of it. As we walked to our room it hit me that we were in Mole National Park and that the stories were true…a family of baboons literally greeted us at our hotel room door.  I put on my bathing suit and and as I walked to the pool, past more baboons and warthogs, and as I jumped in, thanked God that we had arrived safely, with all body parts in tact and just in time for dinner.

Baboon standing about 10 feet from my hotel room

We celebrated our arrival with some Star beer and jollof rice then called it an early night because we had to be up for a 6:00 am guided walk through the park. Here are a few pictures from our walk:

Mole National Park

After eating a yummy complimentary breakfast at the hotel, we paid 5 cedis each to be driven back to the town of Larabanga. According to someone, there was a 10am bus to Wa, in the far northwest corner of Ghana, minutes from Burkina Faso, where were had planned to stay at a the Weichau Community Hippo Sanctuary.  We were dropped in Larabanga and approached by another group of men all wanting to know where we were headed. Debora explained to them that we would be catching the bus and did not need to hire a driver.  Apparently the only bus to Wa left at 6am and according to these guys, there would not be another bus until 6pm…maybe. Debora did not believe them so we waited…and waited…and waited….

4 hours later, after we had pretty given up hope and come to grips with the fact that we might have to stay in Larabanga (the Mole Hotel was full) and catch the 6am bus on Saturday (they wanted to charge us another $200 cedi to hire a car to Wa), our saving grace pulled into town. As a group of 10 piled out, a few of the men whom we had befriended in town approached the truck driver. We were waved over and told that he was going to Wa and we could catch a free ride if three people would be willing to sit in the bed of the truck. A FREE RIDE TO WA! YES! Without hesitating, Debora, Alex and Julie jumped into the back of the truck and I got into the cab with the other 3 ladies while tall Oliver sat in front.

The man going to Wa was incredibly nice, drove a really nice truck and had a government job that requires him to drive around to small villages and educate people of the northern region about irrigation. He is based in Tamale but his family lives in Wa and he has time to see them about one weekend a month, so he was driving west to spend the weekend with his family. During the ride, he told us that the north only experiences one rainy season so there is only one season to farm as opposed to two rainy seasons in the southern half of Ghana. Most families in the north practice subsistence farming which means they only grow crops for their personal food. Learning how to use irrigation systems will allow them to grow crops throughout the year, not only for themselves but there is the potential to make money and improve the economy in northern Ghana when more people are farming. He is also working with banks to loan money to people who want to begin irrigation farming.

During the drive I made a phone call to a man named Henry who works at the Wa tourist office. He had booked our accommodation at the Hippo Sanctuary for Friday night and based on the events of the last two days, I knew that we would not make it to Wa then to Weichau by dark so I wanted to cancel Friday night and find out if we could stay on Saturday night instead. Henry answered the phone and said that he already knew they could accommodate us on Saturday night.  He recommended that we stay in Wa for the night and he promised to arrange a ride for us from Wa to Weichau in the morning so we would have a full day in Weichau. After driving around to 5 hotels that were all full and having one of the receptionists call additional hotels, (the man in the truck was nice enough to stay with us until we found a place to sleep) we arrived at the Kedge Lodge where this guy claimed we would be able to stay. It was no wonder there was availability and I won’t go into detail but certainly the worst place I have ever slept. It did not help that around 11pm, I began vomiting up my dinner (spicy chickpea looking beans and plantains) and had to walk to the nasty shared bathroom with no toilet seat that was 20 feet from my bedroom, and sit there until I was feeling better.

After a bad night of sleep we were all ready to get picked up from this craphole at the arranged time of 7:30am. We waited….and waited…and waited some more….the ride never came. Henry kept saying that the driver was close but when we received a call about 3 hours later from the people at the Hippo Sanctuary, we learned that the van had a flat tire and had not left Weichau yet. Debora decided to walk to the tro tro station so we could catch a ride to Weichau. About 35 minutes later, a truck pulled up that had row seats in the bed, a canopy top and already looked completely full. I realized that this would be our ride to Weichau. Our backpacks were loaded on the top and strapped down and 7 more piled into the back of the truck. I was still feeling rather sick so I crammed in the front seat with two other men. The road to Weichau was as rough as the road to Mole and if I thought our last bus wouldn’t make it on the road, I was certain that this one was going nowhere. We stopped about 6 times and the driver kept getting out to fix something. Debora and the rest of the crew inhaled a lifetime of exhaust and were once again covered in dust but after we finally arrived in Weichau. Oliver was not happy and told me that he honestly feared for his life the entire time they were in the back of that truck. He said it was by far the scariest moment of his life.

The men working at the visitors center at the Hippo Sanctuary were expecting us thanks to Henry (although he didn’t score points for the ride to Weichau not showing up) and we were happy to learn that there were exactly 8 beds left and that the driver would be sleeping at the sanctuary to ensure a 5:30 am departure to Wa, so we could catch the 7am bus back to Kumasi. Despite only seeing two hippos off in the distance during our dugout canoe paddle trip on the Black Volta, I enjoyed getting out on the river, the weather was gorgeous, stars were so bright, the accommodations in rustic mud and stick huts were really cool, and the outdoor sunset bucket showers was memorable.

Here are some pictures from the Hippo Sanctuary:

Our lodge at the hippo sanctuary

my bed for the night

Hanging out on the rooftop of the lodge

Canoeing on the Black Volta

Sunset dinner (we made spaghetti and tomato sauce from scratch)

When I arrived on Sunday around 4pm, Tabea gave me the rundown for the week. I did not realize that end of term exams began this week and that there was not much for me to do but help type up exams that would continue into next week and review/edit the ICT exam for each grade level. Yesterday I administered a written computer exam to the 6th graders and the highest grade after I scored the tests was a 70%. The rest of the students averaged about a 30% and for this particular exam, I had not looked over it prior to passing it out to the students because I was traveling when the computer teacher typed up the exams. After this test, I asked her if I could glance over and edit some of the other exams. So, the printer lasted for most of the day yesterday but just as we were about to print grade 5, the ink ran out and there was no replacement. I told Mr. Boateng that I would go to Kumasi to print the test because I needed to check email and write a blog post. I’m back at my favorite internet cafe in Kumasi and after 4 days of traveling, I am still completely exhausted. It took everything I had to get in a tro tro today and come down here because I’m getting somewhat burnt out of being squished into vans, relentless horn honking, having people pass out and head bob on my shoulder, sitting next to large smelly trays of whole fish, headaches from the diesel fumes and hearing “obroni obroni obroni” and hissing everywhere I go. So, that is my complaining for the week and I hesitate in saying that I’m ready to come home but the days are getting longer, and I really miss my friends and family, summer fun in Chicago and I can’t wait to eat fresh vegetables and take a hot shower!

From what I can gather, tomorrow is a no-exam day at school and I’m planning to spend the day with Justina, the computer teacher and show her how to use the open source software I installed on some of the computers. I also hope the Internet holds out at school because I promised her I would get her an email address to write her and the kids. On Thursday it is the 5 year anniversary of volunteers at ECSO and a fundraising event, so Mr. Boateng and the staff are throwing a party. Based on what I’ve seen around the school, I believe the kids will be performing various dance, music and drama throughout the day, I know Debora had to prepare a speech and otherwise, it’s all going to be a surprise! I have no idea what to expect but I’m looking forward to seeing end product of what the students have been practicing all month.  On Friday, it is the end of term dance party and Mr. Boateng plans to have music from 12-6pm. We have a funeral to attend on Saturday and I’m sure that I will have stories from all of these events but I do not plan to post again until I arrive in Accra on Sunday and check into my hotel. By then, I anticipate having many more stories to share. Thanks for reading my very long post. This is what happens when I’m without internet for 6 days!

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Tuesday at the cafe…

So, I just posted on Sunday but I have to take advantage of my last 15 minutes of hi-speed internet time and write something.  I came into Kumasi this afternoon to Skype with some tech people from the northern burbs of Chicago. We are planning a conference in November and I told them before I left that I would be at the meeting…and I made it! Despite being pretty expensive ($1.50 for an hour), the Vodafone Internet Cafe in Kumasi is pretty awesome. At one point in our meeting, my buddy Scott said that I sounded better over Skype than one of the other people in our meeting. Each computer here is equipped with Skype, AIM, Firefox and a microphone headset that works! Really well! So, I decided to make it an evening here and treat myself to some pizza and beer across the street at Vic Baboo’s. I know it’s not really all that Ghana of me to go eat pizza but I’m just really craving American food. I’ve officially been here 20 days and eaten only Ghanaian food for 19.5 of them (So I had half of a pizza the first week I was here).

Staples of the Ghanaian diet:
White rice or white rice ball
Tomato Stew (cabbage/carrot/tomato paste/oil)
Cornmeal with water to form a ball then placed in ground nut soup or okra soup
Navy Beans
Cassava Root
Steamed or mashed yam (not the sweet potato kind)
White bread

That’s a wrap and my diet for the past 20 days.

So, I’m off to get some pizza and looking forward to an early start to the weekend. I’m heading to the northern region with the other volunteers to see elephants, hippos and other fun things (TBD) at Mole National Park/Wa and beyond on Thursday! I will try my best to write a post before Monday evening.

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The post that got away and…Ducks in Kumasi

In keeping my promise to post more about my daily life at the school, here is the post that got away, from Friday plus, a bit about my day with the Ducks!

On Thursday at ECSO I taught 4th grade, 2nd grade and a spontaneous English lesson in 5th grade. Stage 4 (4th grade) is now in the swing of coming into the computer lab in shifts. Around fifteen kids for 20 minutes each and then we switch three times. Despite having a much less time in the lab, they are actually having more contact time with the computer and we are getting much more done in 20 minutes than we used to with 45 kids, 11 computers and around 20 seats. You do the math. I challenged the fourth graders to draw something using just the 4 shape tools in the MS Paint program. I actually had them gather around one of the computers for a demo today which worked much better than me showing them on the chalkboard with a mockup screen and toolbar drawn. They are still having major issues using the computer mouse and holding down the left click button as they maneuver the mouse around, but I feel like we made some progress today and I even saw a few houses (made of squares) come out of the activity. In 2nd grade, we practiced just the square tool. They learned how to put their cursor in one area of the screen, click the left click button, hold and drag the mouse down and away.  I spent time with each student or group of two with my hand on top of theirs, guiding them around the screen until they were able to do it on their own.  At the very end of the lesson they learned that the paint bucket will fill the square with a color. The tough part was clicking on the paint, then the color, then the shape. Three clicks. Not easy. The language barrier was difficult again today in both classes but we more or less accomplished what I was hoping to accomplish in 20 minute increments. In between the two classes, I decided to go on a walk to find out what the kids were learning in 5th grade so I could plan for Friday’s activity. I’m going all Avoca West here and trying to train the computer teacher to communicate with the classroom teachers to reinforce concepts the kids are learning in the computer lab so they begin to make connections between computers, their learning, and using computers for productivity. Let’s just say that this concept is not really sinking in. So far, learning how to use the mouse has been a very slow process and new students come in every day who have never touched a computer before so I will feel as though I made an impact if I can get the computer teacher to engage the students in activities, practice and repetition until the skill is learned each and every time they are in the computer lab as opposed to reading out of an ICT book and letting them navigate the computer on their own.  Anyway, back to my story…As I wandered down to 5th grade, I noticed a few of the kids peeking out from behind the door. When I arrived at the classroom and asked for the teacher, the kids told me she was not there. I asked where she was and they said she was in Kumasi. 44 kids (maybe more), unsupervised, sitting in their classroom alone…all day…with no teacher. Yikes. I guess there is something to be said about the fact that none of them were fighting, desks were not overturned, there were not paper airplanes and spit balls all over the floor and most of them were just sitting with their heads down. As I entered the classroom, they erupted in applause and said, “Ms Madamme has come to teach us!!!!” So, there I was, panicking, teacher instinct set in and I knew that I could not let these kids down. I went next door and asked the 6th grade teacher if she could help me out at all. It was then that I realized she was teaching both classes of kids by hopping back and forth but really just monitoring the 5th graders and not teaching.  To my surprise and without hesitation, she handed me the English Stage 5 teachers guide and said, “they are learning how to write a letter. You will teach them.” I am not sure if she was posing a question or stating a fact so I went with it, grabbed some chalk and became the English teacher. With the help of the kids, I was able to figure out where they left off and picked up with the five parts to a semi-formal or friendly letter: address, date, salutation, body of letter and subscription. When I asked for an example of an address, nobody could give me one. A kid finally stood up and said, “Madamme, we do not have an address.” So, I did what I could and showed them an example of what an address could look like. I remembered Rahman’s address and then the ECSO address flashed before my eyes…both P.O. boxes. Then, I remembered seeing an enormous warehouse type of building that was just mailboxes in Kumasi. At the same time that these realizations were happening, I could not recall seeing a mail man anywhere in this entire country. It occurred to me that they do not in fact have addresses and the people who need to communicate with others outside of their village (not many) need a P.O. Box. So, I showed them an address with a P.O. Box and they nodded to confirm that they understood what I meant by an address. We continued to discuss the parts of a letter in greater detail and then we discussed an “official letter” where you would add the addressees information as well as a header. As I stood there clutching the chalk, I realized how long it had been since I wrote a letter. I decided to be the 21st century educator for a moment and ask how many of them had heard of a type of mail you use on the computer. Negatory. So, I briefly explained email and told them that when they get older, they can get mail on the computer. Some of them understood what I was talking about and thought this was pretty cool while others just looked at me with a blank stare. After teaching the lesson, I had forgotten why I was down there in the first place until one of the students reminded me that they had computers tomorrow (Friday). Oh yeah! I was looking for a way to connect what they were learning to computer class. Maybe it was fate that I wound up teaching them how to write a letter and they just happened to be coming to computers tomorrow. We will write letters using Microsoft Word!!! Something tells me that we may only get as far as writing the address but I’m going to be optimistic!

Fast Forward to Friday at 10:00, an hour before Stage 5 is supposed to be coming to computers to learn how to type a letter. I am sitting in the computer lab and drafting an example letter to be printed (we got the printer working earlier in the morning) and passed out so they have something to refer back to as they type. I was able to print 11 copies which seemed like small miracle. With an hour to spare, I had the computer teacher’s attention so I began showing her keyboard shortcuts and how to insert clip art and the students MS Paint projects into Microsoft Word. I also showed her how to use simple data to make a graph using Excel. In the midst of rocking her technology world, POOF! LIGHTS OUT! COMPUTERS OFF! The hiss of computer monitors after they have just been shocked. AARGH! Throw me a bone Ghana!  Well, at least I have a lesson for the 5th graders for next week…as long as we have power.

On Friday during the day I received a call from Leslie Steeves who is in charge of the Oregon study abroad program, Media In Ghana. I managed to make it to the internet cafe in Kumasi to write my last post and catch up on email then made my way to the Duck hotel just outside of town. It was great seeing Leslie and chatting it up with the Oregon kids about their adventures. Leslie and I also had some laughs about the trip that I was on in 2002. According to her our trip in 2002 was a disaster. According to me and probably the rest of the U of O students, it was a complete blast from start to finish. She recapped many of the funny mishaps from our trip that had slipped my memory and we shared many laughs. The rain was coming down pretty heavy at this point and I was planning to return back to Esaase for the evening then head back in the morning to join them for a day of touring around an area of Kumasi that I did not have the time, the knowledge or the funds for. Leslie is the most generous person and is treating me like I am one of her students again.

I’m sitting in the Treasure Land Hotel right now using their FREE WI-FI. What a treat! Leslie treated me to a fantastic day in some of the small craft villages outside of Kumasi. Today we traveled to Bonwire (the kente weaving village), Ntonso (Adinkra stamping village) and finally, a wood carving village en route back to Kumasi.

Me weaving Kente cloth in Bonwire

We ate lunch at a fast food restaurant similar to a food court and then ventured into the abyss that is Kejetia Central Market. I opted to visit the cloth area instead of touring around the market at large. Kejetia Central Market is the largest open air market in West Africa, is right smack dab in the middle of the city and you can get lost for days winding through the narrow passages and people selling everything from cured meats and fish to animal parts/skins (one group spotted leopard skin),  car parts, plastics, fabrics, household items, electronics and the list goes on and on and on. It’s the nuttiest place I have ever been and I can’t wait to go back and explore some more before I leave. I was rather frugal today and purchased a few kente items, a few adinkra items and two pieces of cloth at the market that I hope to have made into skirts. I wanted to post more pics but it’s time for dinner! Chinese…YUM!

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Ghanazuma’s Revenge

Howdy folks! Let me start by saying that I wrote a pretty thorough post last night while in bed and remembered to transfer my photos over to my flash drive but forgot to copy over the text of my post. Since I spent sooooo much time on it, and do not have the brain capacity to recreate such a masterpiece, I will just say that this week was a series of ups and downs and now I’m back up! The last time I posted was my no electricity day off and what a fun day it was. Tabea and I spent 4 hours cruising around the city of Kumasi, which I am growing more fond of every day. After spending an hour at the internet cafe, we went grocery shopping, changed money, had some ice cream, took photos of Kejetia Market and walked to the Kumasi Cultural Centre. One the way home we quenched our thirst for a mere 3 cents and made it back in time for dinner. Lucy had a piping hot dinner of rice and tomato stew waiting and we inhaled it. Around 8pm after a few games of “Kalah” or Mancala as we know it, and simultaneously around 8:30 we both started complaining of stomach pain. Mild cramping quickly became a night to remember in Ghana as both of us alternated visits to the bathroom well into the wee hours of the morning. We tried to pin down what could have caused the relentless vomiting and (sorry for the details) diarrhea. Was it the packaged ice cream? The 3 cent water? The dinner that Lucy, best cook ever made? We both paid a visit to the doctor just to be safe.  Total cost for doctor visit/malaria medication (just in case) and 4 other pills including a new packet of Cipro = 15 cedis or $12 USD. Not bad. Worth the trip just for the experience alone. Tabea is still under the weather and believes she has malaria. Malaria is the most over-diagnosed illness in Africa and I know it to be completely debilitating. I was debilitated but only for a day and a half…classic food poisoning. So, now I’m on my Cipro and Immodium A-D and feeling much better. I’m en route to meet up with the Oregon crew this evening. My professor Leslie is in town with the Journalism school kids and more than anything, I am excited to speak WHITE ENGLISH! It is getting dark out so I’m going to post a few pictures and hit the road. I do have some interesting school related stories from this week so as soon as I have the chance, I will post more about my actual volunteer position as opposed to all the adventures and misadventures I am having.

A truck full of Obama Biscuits!

Overlooking Kejetia (pronounced Katie-uh) Square

Teacher Mackerel…Mmmm (please disregard my disastrous hair. UGH!)
“Thank you teacher”

Scenes from the Kumasi Cultural Centre below

Gotta Run! Thanks for reading!

Obama purse (top left)
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Cruising Along…

After I wrote my last post, I ate lunch with Rahman at a hotel cafe and returned to the tro-tro station. Rahman can be a big help in negotiating taxi prices, speaking the Twi language when people don’t understand my “white English” and he is also teaching me Twi, but I am finding that we are both lost souls when it comes to navigating the city of Kumasi. We found our way to the tro-tro station after walking around in circles for awhile, but could not figure out which tro-tro I needed to get back to Esaase. I must have looked confused and then a small miracle occurred. One of my students, a fifth grader named Richmond, approached me to say hi and asked if I was going back to Esaase. I nodded and he tugged my hand and pointed to the other side of the station. Not only did he help me find my way but at this point I also realized that there was a direct tro tro to Esaase from Kumasi!  Excellent! My co-volunteer Tabea was continually complaining that she had to pay for three separate rides to get back to our village so this was a great find. The ride back to Esaase was a bumpy one as usual. My seat on the tro-tro was really uncomfortable due to a large steel pole running right underneath the worn out padding of the seat. I’m pretty sure that my soreness yesterday was directly related to that 45 minute ride. Similar to road right outside of Accra, they are also widening the roads in Kumasi. This means that they tear up the entire road and red gravel and dirt is exposed until the road is paved again. Runoff from the heavy rains create deep trenches in the roads that tro-tros and other vehicles have to dodge and/or drive very slowly to maneuver over some really deep divits in the road (most of my time on tro-tros is spent contemplating how these vehicles can possibly run back and forth all day given their condition but it is amazing to see).

(This picture doesn’t really illustrate my point but it was the best I could do…the locals think it is super weird when I pull out a camera while in a tro-tro and then they talk about me. I know this because whenever I pull out a camera I hear the word, “obroni”)

This causes major traffic jams and since there are no lanes on the roads, the cars just bottle neck and the 30 minute ride becomes an hour and a half. I am going to assume that construction moves about as slowly as everything else here and according to Mr. Boateng, this somewhat short stretch of road will probably not be done until 2012.  It is still nice to see that improvements are attempting to be made all over the country, and if you are interested in cultural geography, this is why Ghana is such a good example of a developing country. They have an exciting initiative/goal in the country to be a first world/middle income country by 2020! Ghana is still very much a second world country most likely due to a number of factors – The road conditions, lack of waste management, electricity and water being cut off at random times and building delays/infrastructure (one of the most common sights is a half built building without a construction crew around).

On Sunday night when I returned from Kumasi, families were busy preparing fufu, a traditional Ghanain meal in which cassava root and plantain is pounded repeatedly (usually by a male) while water is slowly added (by the female) with a large mortar and pestle until it forms a starchy ball (Tabea describes it as bubble gum after it has been chewed, spit out and then chewed again…YUM!). That starchy ball is placed in a spicy soup (okra soup, tomato soup, peanut soup, etc) and usually a piece of meat like goat or chicken on the bone is added.  Needless to say, this meal is never a favorite among tourists or “obronis”. I find it difficult to digest and very difficult to swallow since you are supposed to use your hands, grab a chunk of the paste, and swallow it whole (chewing causes your gag reflex to kick in). I am probably making it sound a lot worse than it is. The whole process of making fufu is truly remarkable and a lot of work so for that reason, I always do my best to be respectful and eat as much as I can get down.

This is the first thing I saw when I got back to the school on Sunday! Awesome!

I slept well on Sunday night after watching the final World Cup game with the boarding school boys in Emilia’s house, and woke up refreshed on Monday morning ready to face the new work week. We had some electrical issues in the computer lab on Monday morning and Mr. Boateng had to work his magic to get the main power source to the computers working again.  Even after Mr. Boateng fixed the computers and power came on, a few of them were still giving us errors.

Exhibit A

The main machine which has the Internet access was one of the computers that went down and never came back on. When it did, there was an operating system error, everything was written in German and I have no idea how to fix Windows machines anyway. Mr. Boateng reacted to this by saying, “You come from U.S. teach computers and you should know how to fix all of them!” He was joking around with me but I still felt like a dufus for having no clue what to do.  There are a few tech guys that swing by the school but yesterday happened to be the day that they did not show up and yesterday alone three machines went down so Tabea and I were rather frustrated. In addition, the overflow of kids in the lab (the grade 2 class had 46 kids yesterday) with only 20 seats caused us to loose our cool. It was just too much to handle in such a small room not to mention completely unsafe given the electrical chords running everywhere. We asked the computer teacher if it would be okay to split up the classes and do three 20 minute intervals so we could make sure that every child was able to use the computer. 20 minutes of focused, personal time with the computer is much more manageable and better for their learning as opposed to sharing one machine with 5 kids (3 of the 5 standing) for an hour and having to remind them to switch. There also doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to what happens in the computer lab when the kids do come in and this has also been a source of frustration. I will spare the details but with all of the kids in grades 1-6 we pretty much have to start from scratch. The mouse is definitely the most difficult thing for all of the kids, old and young to maneuver. I really wish we had the single click Apple mice here at the school! Most of the mice here have 3 buttons and it’s just too difficult for the kids to push down with their pointer finger. We will continue to work on this using the Paint program as long as it takes to learn them to learn the skill of clicking and dragging with the mouse.

On Monday afternoon, I began feeling a bit nauseous and disoriented. I decided to lay down and take a nap. When I woke up, I had a minor case of the chills and Tabea took my temperature. I think it was around 99 so she gave me some fever medication and then Emilia gave me a pill called Quick Relief for flu like symptoms. By the time dinner rolled around, I was feeling better and we ate my favorite meal called Red Red which is beans and fried sweet plantain. YUM! We opened the computer lab for the boarding school kids last night, the hour went by quickly and before we knew it, time for bed!

This morning I woke up to no running water. Luckily I had one of the kids (it is customary for the kids do everything they are asked here without question…typically the adults do not fetch the water, run simple errands or even do the wash by hand. You would ask your child to start doing these tasks around the age of 9 or 10.) boil me a bucket of hot water last night so I had that as a backup this morning. I dunked my head, was able to get some shampoo on my hair, rinse and washed my face with the leftover water. By 9am the water was back on which was a relief. At 11am this morning the electricity went off right as our computer tech person arrived to fix the three broken computers! As you can see, things can change at the drop of a hat and you have to be flexible and pretty laid back all the time or living here will drive you nuts! Luckily, I have been able to harness my inner hippie here and in addition to volunteering, I am using this time to relax, chill out and learning how to slow down!

Tabea and I made it to Kumasi this morning to check email, purchase some much needed items and cruise the very bustling Kejetia market. It took us about an hour and a half to drive the 15 km from Esaase. We took a tro tro and the ride cost us about .35 cents. This city is so alive during the day. I haven’t been around here except on Sundays, which is definitely the down day in Ghana, and there is so much going on!!! Music playing in the streets, people making announcements, and it sort of looks like a giant sidewalk sale everywhere you go!

I almost forgot to mention that two more volunteers are on their way to the school right now. They are arriving from Switzerland and Deborah Ferrari is one of the people who helped make ECSO what it is today, a highly regarded private school with wonderful, well-maintained learning facilities (in comparison to many other schools in Ghana).  She also found funding for the school farm, building maintenance, and found sponsors for many of the orphans who live at the school (they are always looking for more) and she must have had a huge influence because everyone is really excited to see her this evening! Another thing before I forget…a big problem here is the fact that once students pass through elementary and middle school, fees rise and every child in Ghana must pay to attend high school. This is a major problem for many families and especially orphan children with no families and this is the reason why so many students here are not educated beyond the age of 13 years old. If you are interested in sponsoring a child for elementary, middle or high school, ECSO (a non-profit private school) is always looking for help.  According to Mr. Boateng, the total cost to send a child to high school here is around $2,100 cedis which is about $1800 USD. The initial payment to enter high school is about $450-500 USD and then you are required to pay around $130 USD per tri-mester.  This would be an expense for many families in the US so you can imagine how financially taxing this is for people who live in small villages like Esaase and make a few dollars a day. Getting through high school provides a child with the best possible opportunity for success here.

Anyway, thanks to everyone reading my blog. I really appreciate the comments and all the love you are sending my way!

This is the super cool logo that comes up when I go do Google search here in Ghana!

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