"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, July 28, 2013

July 20, 2013

I am now safe and healthy back at my homestay with my family after a couple weeks of travel. Rather than explain a flow of events that occurred, let me discuss several various topics that I have noted throughout my time here thus far, in no particular order. Pardon me if I have already mentioned something previously and I just do not remember; I don’t re-read what I write here and don’t remember what I cover.

President Barack Obama. Do Ghanaians like him? One would reasonably think that Ghanaians, and maybe Africans in general, would adore President Obama. This is not the case, however, and not only do they not adore him, many believe he is the anti-christ. Ghana is an incredibly religious country. I forget if I’ve mentioned yet, but Ghanaians take religion very seriously, whether it is the numerous forms of Christianity, Islam, or the traditional tribal religions. Due to this strict religious adherence, and coupled with a not-so-progressive culture, homosexuality is highly frowned upon. Because of Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriages and advancing the goals of the LGBT community, Ghanaians think he is the anti-christ. Even a highly educated Ghanaian man, who came to speak to us volunteers, mentioned that he was all for Obama up until his endorsement of the LGBT community. Volunteers who are LGBT, or those who support the community’s rights (which happens to be the vast majority of volunteers it seems) are strongly encouraged to keep this hidden during their stay in Ghana. If a village or community learned that you were in fact gay, sadly you will probably not gain respect in the community and may not even be able to carry out your job with success. Even by advocating for LGBT rights is risky business. If your community or village knows you support LGBT rights, this may also jeopardize the success of your service. More to come on this topic in the future as I possibly engage in some conversations with teachers and other educated Ghanaians.

One afternoon in Tamale (up North) as I was waiting along the road for a bus, I sat down in the shade at a roadside stand that sold some drinks and snacks. A couple young guys sat out front, so I started talking with them. One of them was a high school student who pretty much spoke fluent English. He often had to translate for the other guy who was a few years older it seemed.  We chatted a bit, they always like to ask questions about America. I was hungry and asked them where I could find some bread. Being typical hospitable Ghanaians, the older boy offered to jump on his moped and go find me a loaf of bread. I gave him a couple Cedis and off he went. There aren’t many countries in the world where a person would offer to go that far out of their way to get some stranger some food, and, furthermore, there aren’t many countries in the world that I would willingly give money to a stranger and expect that he return with the food I requested. The people in Ghana truly are friendly and well intentioned. They, for the most part, are more than willing to help and make you feel at home.

In Ghana, they pretty much have the reverse philosophy from America regarding animals and crops…. The animals roam freely, and they fence in their crops.

I went to job shadow another volunteer last week in a very remote village in the Northern Region. The road, and means of transportation, were the worst I’ve experienced in my whole life. Part of the journey to his village was a section that took two and a half hours, while we only covered around thirty miles. You do the math. The dirt road had so many deep potholes to dodge that we were constantly swerving all over the place, and only able to go about 30 mph at the fastest. In addition, the trotro (van) I was traveling in started smoking every fifteen minutes so the driver had to get out each time and dump water on the engine to cool it down. Also while on this lovely ride, I found myself next to a breastfeeding mother, which, might I add, isn’t the first time in this country. Ghanaians have a totally different view of privacy. As I’ve talked about before, men and women alike will pee along the side of the road. Mothers also seem to always be breastfeeding on trotros. So I sat squished and uncomfortable next to this breastfeeding mother and baby, while being jostled around due to the horrible roads. The baby would be grabbing onto its mother’s breast, and then grabbing onto my water bottle cap with the same hand….

While job shadowing this other volunteer, one of his students who he particularly liked, got sick. The boy’s parents wouldn’t take him to the clinic, so the volunteer took it upon himself to get the boy there. Due to his symptoms, the nurse or whatever (not a doctor in this clinic in the remote village) said he had malaria. His parents wouldn’t get medicine, so the volunteer also bought his medicine for him, and nursed him back to health in a couple days time. Apparently, Ghanaians get Malaria fairly frequently, and it isn’t the deadly version. I think they are a bit more immune to it than us, so if an American were exposed to it, the chances of it effecting the body more negatively are higher. I’m not sure if I said that right, or if it’s even true. Anyway, I am telling this little story to let you see that parents here either cannot afford to help their children always, or simply do not care enough to. I am not sure if this is a special case, or if generally it is how parents act in Ghana. A more fair assessment will be made down the road with more experience. Scary though.

Right now it is Ramadan (spelling?) and many Ghanaians in the North are fasting during the daytime for this Muslim tradition/holiday. Due to the lack of demand for food and drinks at little roadside stands during the fasting, the prices go up a bit during these 30 days.

I don’t think I’ve discussed the use of the right hand in Ghana. Basically, one should never use his or her left hand in Ghana for any action other than cleaning private parts. If I were to hand something to someone with my left hand, they would not take it. I can’t even wave with my left or raise my left hand for a question. Being a foreigner, we have a bit of an excuse, but the Ghanaian PC trainers are drilling it in our heads that we must use our right hand for most things because the left hand is only used for wiping.

While at the other volunteer’s site shadowing, I was talking with one of the junior high boys and somehow the topic came up of his interpretation of how Ghana began and what the white man did to Ghana. Because the kids hardly ever seem to exercise the creative parts of their brains, I told this boy to write me a story and draw me pictures to illustrate. I wasn’t sure if he would actually do it, but the next day he returned with a big piece of paper filled front and back with a story and a few pictures. The pictures are up on Facebook, it is kind of hard to read, so I will type it up here using his spellings and English…

A Stories about the Europian and the Gold Coast

On 1471 going. The Europian people or Euro country came to the Gold Coast country or you can also call Ghanaians. When they were coming they brot more things and they were saying that they will make our country good. True they make our country good and all above the ending they make our country poor and make there country reach (“rich” he is trying to say). Why becuas they take our Gold and send it to there country. That why they make our country poor. Now I am going to Euro to take our Gold back to Ghana. Now I am in Accra airport to look for Eroplen (“aeroplane” “airplane” he is trying to say) to Europian. A vehicle to Europians with my gun now I alight in Euro. I talk to them I am looking for the Presdent house if I reach there I will go with my gun and I no they will ask me many quations and they will alight me to the presdent. I will talk to him you the Europian come and take our Gold and make our country poor and make yours reach. And I am here to take it back. If they di not give it back to me I will kill them and blast or take the thing they have and if the presdent also have something to say I will also see how we will do and if he say no and I kill him and the skirities (“securities” he is trying to say) and be the Presdent there. About one year ago you will see I will be reach and send the Europian to Ghana and take Ghana people to the Europian. And we will also be reach and they will also be poor. This is the end of my stories. Thank you.

Some of the following are captions to the pictures:

“this is our own eroplen we the Ghanaians”
“chetion them to Ghana”  (I think he means chasing them to Ghana)
“the skirities of the Europian presdent” (the securities of the European president)

While the composition level is certainly below what a 14-year-old junior high boy should be writing at, I was so happy that he actually wrote a story, drew pictures, and even colored the pictures! It has sparked an interest in me to want to start somewhat of a Writing and/or Drawing Club at my school. The kids don’t get the opportunity to be creative and do art projects or even immerse themselves in a storybook. I think they’ll really embrace the chance to be creative and open their minds; it’ll be quite the change of pace from always copying notes from a blackboard and going to farm every day.

Since I’ve been back at homestay down south, I am clearly seeing why they call it the rainy season. Pretty much every day now it downpours. I don’t get to see thermometers, but sometimes it gets “chilly” when it rains and is breezy. I’m sure it’s never below 70 or 75 degrees though, and when the sun comes out during the day it easily shoots up to close to 90 I bet.

So how am I getting paid and how much do I spend? Throughout training, since we are not yet sworn-in as true Peace Corps Volunteers, we receive a cash allowance on a weekly basis. Once sworn-in, we will receive a monthly allowance via a bank account they set up for us. While training, we get 4 Ghana Cedis per day, which is about 2 US dollars. So every Saturday we get 28 Cedis, but have to give 6 back right away to pay for the cell phone plan they set us up with. So I walk away with 22 Cedis, or about 11 USD and this is money we may spend however we like for the week. Food is always supplied/cooked by our homestay families. The families get a little stipend from Peace Corps to cover our cost of living, although I am not sure of that amount. It can’t be much but I’m sure my family loves the extra money just to feed a scrawny kid like me. What do I spend the money on? If I get a taxi or trotro to the regional capital, that costs me a few cedis, the internet cafĂ© there costs me a couple cedis, I buy a soda, beer, or snack here and there, I’ve bought my fabric and gotten it tailored, any toiletries and such we may need, etc. While on our two week travel to our sites and shadow visits, we were given the bus ticket fare amounts, as well as a 12 cedi daily per diem which we had to buy all our meals with.

My dear readers – if you have any questions, or topics you want me to address or elaborate on, please say so. If you want to criticize my poor English grammar skills, please contact my past teachers/professors, the names of which I can get for you. Any good articles/websites/organizations/books/quotes or anything you can recommend to me, please do so. Last but not least, if anyone wants to check off “send a care package to a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa” off his or her bucket list, the following info will help you complete that oh-so-noble task:

USPS flat rate box seems to be the way to go.

[Insert name here e.g. Austin Jacob]
U.S. Peace Corps – Ghana
962 Tamale N/R Ghana
West Africa


In the words of a Mamprusi Ghanaian:

M puusiya pam!


I thank you very much!

No comments:

Post a Comment