"Life in the Peace Corps will not be easy. There will be no salary and allowances will be at a level sufficient only to maintain health and meet basic needs. Men and women will be expected to work and live alongside the nationals of the country in which they are stationed—doing the same work, eating the same food, talking the same language. But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps—who works in a foreign land—will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace."

-President John F. Kennedy

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A week and a half in and it seems like a month

June 5, 2013:

Arrived at Accra airport at about 1pm. Got driven about an hour through traffic to west Accra where we will be staying for a few days.  Had a small briefing but they let us rest and catch up on sleep for the long day to come.

June 6, 2013:

A lot of paperwork, vaccinations, and briefing at the PC headquarters in Accra. Feels good to be officially welcomed and brought into the family here.

Rush hour traffic into Accra central in the morning is nuts. The roads are basically a free for all.

We got wined and dined at the Ambassador of Ghana’s residence, or should I say mansion, this evening. Beautiful house, lawns, and pool. They had wine and beer for us, as well as little appetizers. The Ambassador is a pretty cool guy. He and his wife both were PC Volunteer’s back in the day in Afghanistan, so he really knows what it is like to be in our shoes. Basically he told us that w will have a huge impact in our communities because we will most likely be the only white person and westerner that the people will ever encounter in their lives. Granted, there will be volunteers before or after us, but he means we as a PC family will be the only westerners they interact with. He made us feel very welcome and appreciated, and it always feels good to hear that again, especially when you aren’t making any money.

Overall good impression so far. We’ve been told that Accra (pronounced uh-CRAW by the way) really isn’t a good impression of Ghana at all. Monday when we get up to our training site for the next ten weeks and move in with our homestay families we will see the true Ghana, which they are saying is much better than the westernized, hustle-and-bustle Accra.

We’re pampered here at this site for the first few days by the way. Two people to a room with a shower, toilet, and sink. They don’t always work when you want them to though…

June 7, 2013:

I’ve forgotten to mention that my name is been the biggest struggle for the Ghanaians on the PC staff here. I’m fairly used to the reversal of Austin and Jacob, but there are just so many forms and nametags and introductions and they’ve been seeing my name for months before I’ve gotten here and never knew which name came first. It’s funny.

Also didn’t mention that I think I’m the youngest in the group. I’m the only one who just graduated in May, there are some December grads and a few 22 year-olds, but I’m the youngest. It hasn’t mattered or come up at all, but when since I realized it I figured I would share here.

The malaria threat here is no joke at all. The medical staff takes this very, very seriously and is always available for our reported concerns. We of course have our medicine to protect us for the most part, wearing long pants and shirts helps, bug spray, and I’m typing this right now under my mosquito net covering my bed!

We’ve mostly been having presentation after presentation to prep us for moving in with our families. Have yet to be exposed to true Ghanaian lifestyle, so I’m looking forward to that.

June 8, 2013:

Today was actually the first time we were let go on our own to fend for ourselves in the capital city Accra! We have been about an hour outside the city center tucked away in this campus and have yet to be able to explore on our own. This is what I’ve been looking forward to and what I embrace.

The Accra public transportation system is based on vans called tro-tro’s holding anywhere from 16-25 people. Yes, that is a big range. If the driver and his buddy collecting the money want, they will cram as many people as they can, despite the uncomfortableness and lack of A/C. You ask around making sure that the tro-tro is going the direction you want to go, then jump in and wait until it fills up. This took us anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes on different occasions depending on which direction you want to go. Once full, the mayhem begins. There are not many traffic lights along the roads, no lane lines, and the occasional unfinished road which makes cars have to share the side of the highway that is finished.

Throughout the five hour timespan of running around Accra, I saw zero other white people outside my two group members.

The city center is unbelievable packed and busy. Being the only white people, we would get shouts at us “Uberoni, Uberoni!” which means “white person” in the local language. Although sometimes it may seem offensive, they really mean no harm when saying it, and most of the time they say it and want to talk to you and get your attention because you’re a cool person to them. This leads me to my initial impression of Ghanaians. I’ve heard over and over that the Ghanaian people are so friendly and nice, and they truly are. When we would ask random people for directions, they would often drop what they are doing and start walking us in the right direction and point and explain. They were always wanting to help. In Accra, pretty much everyone can speak English. However, we would try to throw in some of our basic Twi we have learned, and they think it’s so funny when we do.

There is trash everywhere. The streams and sidewalks and river and markets, you name it, it’s pretty disgusting. The makes for some pretty horrific, constant smells as you walk around. Tonight, the smell and air I feel like is still caught in my nostrils and lungs. If I hadn’t experience Bangkok before today, this would have been a mind-blowing. It was still very shocking all over again, but I had seen this sort of thing before.

Saw a full-blown live scorpion outside our housing area when we got back…scary stuff.

June 9, 2013:

Learned how to bucket bathe today in preparation for moving in with our families tomorrow. Also did my laundry in a bucket today! We wrapped things up here and move to our training facility a couple hours north for the next ten weeks. This will be more of a true Ghanaian experience!

Also wrote new lyrics to “Party in the USA” based on some of our experiences so far and sang at our little talent show while my friend Ben played guitar. It was quite a hit, I’ll maybe type up the lyrics at some point and share/explain.

June 10, 2013:

In my new family’s home in this village. Mind blown. Can’t even begin to type about it.

June 15, 2013:

Ok so I’ve had several days in my home in the village to absorb some of the culture shock and “setlle in.” It is still hard for me to wrap my head around the lives that these people live. My family consists of my mother and father (who knows how old? Maybe around 50? Ghanaians age very well so it is hard to guess their ages), three brothers under the age of 13, and three sisters under the age of 16ish. These six children are called my brothers and sisters, but two of them are actually my aunt’s children. My aunt lives in this house area with us as well so they are just considered my brother and sister.

My parent’s plot of land is about 50 by 100 feet. This area is fenced in, and the middle of it is our open area where clothes hang from the line. There are several rooms on the edge of the plot, I am not exactly sure who is sleeping in which rooms together, but I have my own little room. We have some lights (although it shuts off when it rains/storms), no running water, no sink, no kitchen, and no true toilet. The “washroom” is located just outside the gate. It is basically just four cement walls about 4 by 4 feet, and this is where my family urinates (into a drain), and unfortunately this is where we bucket bathe as well. To elaborate, I have a trash bin outside my room where rainwater is collected from the roof. I also have a bucket and a scoop. When I want to bathe, I fill my normal-sized bucket about half full, walk with my soap and towel outside the fence and into the cement washroom, and take my bucket bath. The basic idea is that you dump some water on you with the scoop a couple times, then lather up the sponge with soap and scrub a dub dub. Then you pour more scoops of water all over you till you think you’re rinsed off, while breathing through your mouth the whole time because the tiny room wreaks of urine.

The toilet situation. Also outside the fence near the washroom is a wooden shed with a door and many see-thru cracks. Inside this little shed is a hole for my family to use, and then they specifically built me a wooden seat a couple feet off the ground with a hole in it. Us volunteers have been told not to shine a flashlight down the hole….I have stuck to that advice so far. As another note, the Ghanaians do not use toilet paper, I had to go buy it separately and take it with me to the toilet each time. You can also imagine the smell in this shed…

Let me walk through a typical day my first week and this will describe more of the situation.

4:42 am: I wake up every morning and look at my phone at this exact time because the medicine man walks by my home with a loudspeaker selling his things. I first thought this was just a loud church service, because we were told that the Ghanaians in the village have a service at 4:30 am every morning, but apparently that is elsewhere in the village.

4:42-6 am: I roll around in my bed unable to sleep because my huge family and all neighbors are already awake preparing things for the day. They sleep, wash dishes and clothes, etc in the early mornings. I have yet to go out and see exactly what chaos is going on, but it is quite the ruckus.

6 am: I walk out of my room into the outside area of the home and greet everyone with the following conversation:

Me: Maakye
Them: Yeenua, wo ho to sen?
Me: Me ho ye, nwon sue?
Them: Mensu me ho ye paaaa!

This is basically just good morning, how are you, I am good, we are very good also!

I walk in my towel to the washroom, bring along my bucket I filled up, and bathe for about 15 minutes.

I come back and dress, and my mother will have breakfast on a little table outside for me. In Ghana, families do not eat as one. They like their space when they eat, and it isn’t a social time. Everyone is around the area though while I eat, but they feel rude if they look at me or talk to me while I eat. I talk to them some, but mostly just eat my scrumptious bread (no sarcasm, the bread is fantastic) and egg sandwich and watch them go about their morning business. Mom will then give me tea and I’ll sit in my chair in front of my door and chat a bit as they do dishes and sweep and things.

By 7:45 am I have to leave to go to my Peace Corps training sessions. In Ghana, greeting anyone you pass is mandatory. The full greeting is the same conversation I typed above that I have with my family when I come out of my room in the morning. You  MUST greet everyone you pass or else you are rude and inconsiderate. So as I walk what should be a short walk to the church where we have our sessions, I greet the several families and people I pass along the way. Luckily, compared to my fellow volunteers, I have a quick walk to the church, so they all have to leave about 20 minutes early to make sure they can stop and greet everyone along the way. All the children yell “Obruni!” at me, which just means “white person” and isn’t meant as criticism, it is just what they say to us all. This village has hosted peace corps volunteers in two separate rounds before us, so they are familiar with white people, but still mesmerized, especially the kids. When we are in the church structure for the day, children will just stand at the open-air windows and front door and stare at us the whole day.

At noon, I walk back home, greeting everyone with the same basic greeting except a couple new words since it is the afternoon. Mom has lunch waiting for me. She and my aunt are sweeping or cooking or washing dishes (it seems like this is done all day so I don’t know exactly how they fill their day). They do these things outside on the porch area, everyone is always in our outside area and rarely in a bedroom. There is no kitchen or other rooms for them to be in anyway. There are usually kids home too, either they didn’t go to school or got sent home because the teacher didn’t show up. A few days they have been gone though. Lunch is usually some noodles and red spicy sauce, smoked fish, and only upon request, fruit. Ghanaians don’t eat fruit with meals. They don’t eat much fruit at all really. They only eat fruit when they can’t get any other food, so they aren’t used to having fruit ready for me with a meal, but our PC leaders told us it is OK to request it and our families will accommodate. I have an hour lunch break and walk back to the church for afternoon sessions.

At 5 pm I walk back home, changing the greeting to account for the fact that it is now the evening. When I get within shouting distance from home, my family yells “Iko!?!?” (I’m not sure how to spell it but this is how it sounds) and I say “YAWYAY” (also not sure how it is spelled but this is how I was told to say it). This basically means “You are home and welcome” and my response is “Yes I am home and thanks.” The kids are all running around playing soccer with a little tennis ball thing since they don’t have a soccer ball. Also the are they can play in is very tiny and a real soccer ball would be too big. My dad is usually back from the fields (he is a farmer), and my mom is cooking outside with coals. We don’t have a stove or oven, we just use coals and pots to cook. I sit out front of my room and watch the kids play, and soon enough they stop and just come over and sit next to me and ask me questions. My 13-year old brother has learned English very well in school and acts as the primary interpreter between my parents and me. Without him, me and my family communicating would be quite rough. My dinner is usually read soon after I return home, and its left on the little table where I eat alone. Dinner foods have ranged quite a bit but usually consist of stews, yams, fish, spicy sauces, and such. The two staples of Ghanaian village food are fufu and bankou (once again not sure how to spell). Both of these are finger foods and my stomach has not quite accepted them. They are a potato-y starch-based food that you dip into spicy stews. Not exactly my thing but I’m trying to build up my intestines for it since I will be eating it a lot apparently. After I eat my mom boils water in a pot over the coals and serves me tea. I asked my brother if any of them also drink tea and he said only rich men can drink tea for morning and evenings. Once I found that out I felt bad. Now would be a good time to fill you in on the money situation. Peace Corps has selected these families to host us. They are willing to host, have been trained on what to expect from us and what they will need to do, are able to vacate a full room for us to sleep in, and then are given a stipend which covers the extra cost of food. I do not know what this amount is, but they seem to be happy with the extra money, feed me way too much food, serve me tea, and have even supplied one roll of TP and some water bags for me. Which reminds me, the water situation. In Ghana, there are little 500ml clear plastic bags of purified water that are sold for 10 pesawas (about 5 US cents). These have been provided to us by PC whenever we need, and my family has bought me a few bags also. PC also gave us filters so we can pour rain water into the filter and use that water for drinking also, but I have yet to do so. I use that water to brush my teeth.

After dinner I usually sit in my room for a bit to relax, and sit outside in a chair and chat with people that stop by. There are ALWAYS new people walking by the gate and they always stop in because they see a white person. My little brother has to translate everyone’s questions as they come. By 8 oclock things are winding down. I usually head into my room between 8 and 9 to go to sleep. The sun sets at about 6:30pm here, so it is dark for a couple hours and then people just go to sleep. I have tried to do something fun with my siblings each night. One night I taught my brother and his friend the card game “War” so we had a good time with that. They really just enjoy asking me questions about America and how I like Ghana. The concept of snow is also a popular topic for them, they can’t wrap their head around it. They think it only snows in America and doesn’t rain at all. I need to show some pictures of snow but I don’t want to bring out my laptop yet. The couple times that I brought out my camera all the kids went berserk! They love grabbing it and taking a million pictures, which actually can be a good thing because I don’t want to walk around and take pictures that much or else I’ll feel awkward. A couple nights so far my father has had friends over after 10pm to have some drinks outside. The walls of my room aren’t really walls, and everything is heard everywhere. I hear my little baby sister screaming crying next door, neighbors shouting, people walking by, etc. I usually lay in my bed for about an hour sweating and trying to fall asleep but it is just too hot.

That describes a normal day so far this week. I will try to post some pictures ASAP although I don’t know when that will be. It is so hard to describe this situation and how it looks, feels, smells to me, but I will try my best. Anyone can feel free to ask questions and I will try to respond. Things that you wonder as you read this or something that doesn’t make sense and I will try to clarify. But for now, I need to go pee in the bath and brush my teeth in the yard, then hit the sack in my 90 degree room and mosquito net-wrapped bed. Maybe the clouds will have cleared after the heavy afternoon rain and I will be able to see a million stars while I brush my teeth.

1 comment:

  1. Good to hear from you Austin! Your "day in the life" description is really interesting! Hang in there. Everyone is so very proud of you!!