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.
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.
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!