"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 14, 2013

July 5, 2013

It’s Friday and been another long week, but I’ve made a lot of progress with the new language Mampruli. This week consisted mainly of language training to prepare us for the next two weeks as we travel to each of our individual sites all across Ghana. I will be going up to the Northern region, and will get to test my new language skills with the people of that region.

Tuesday was a festival holiday for the people of the surrounding area. The past two weeks, people “kept quiet.” This meant no loud music, no drumming and dancing, and stuff like that. Then on Tuesday, the “no lound sounds ban” was lifted and they celebrated. All the chiefs of the surrounding villages all got together for a ceremony that we Obrunis were allowed to attend. That is, only if we brought gifts for the head chief. We all had to bring a decent sized branch of a tree and present it to the chief in order to show our respect and thank him for allowing us to be here. When we walked into the chief’s palace – do not picture extravagance usually associated with the word palace – I heard a “Mr. Austin!” call from someone. You can imagine how weird it felt to walk into this place I have never been and hear my name being called! It turns out one of my students was a drummer for the performers at the palace, and he yelled out my name to say hi. Famous already. At the ceremony, we carried our piece of wood and shook the hand of every chief (about 30) including the head chief, and then piled our firewood up at the end of the line. I haven’t been able to post pictures on this blog yet, but some pictures of this will be on my facebook. The chiefs wear a special design of cloth, and swing it around their bodies kind of like a toga. While there were many togas at this party, it was far from an Animal House celebration.

One day this week we went to a bigger market in a nearby town (close to where I taught those two weeks) to buy things for our July 4th party, which will be explained later. As I was walking around the market, I once again heard a “Mr. Austin!” call from someone in the crowd of sellers. One of my little girl students spotted me, which isn’t that hard to do in a market with all Ghanaians, and had to come up and say hi. While I did think it was really cool, I also realized that she wasn’t in school in the middle of the day that day, for no apparent reason. She told me that they closed for the afternoon, another example of how unstructured the Ghanaian junior high system is. Also while in this market, I was buying some tomatoes from a couple women, and one of them had an Ohio State shirt on! I tried to explain to her that that is the sports team where I am from, but I don’t think she really understood. Regardless, I had to get my picture with her, and she and all the surrounding women loved that I wanted a picture with her. So, Buckeye fans, you are represented even in the small markets of rural Africa. Congratulations.

The Haircut Extravaganza…

It came time that I felt the need to get my head shaved. After asking around how I can get this done, I was directed to the village barber. I was told he would have a machine that could cut my Obruni hair. So my brother took me to the place, and really all it is is a tiny wood shack, a typical structure around here, with a guy who happened to have an electric trimmer, much like the one I used back home. Perfect. Only problem was, he wasn’t around. The shop was open, and there were a few little kids inside and sitting out front of it, mainly because there was a tv with football on, but no barber. They told me he would be back soon. In Ghana, “soon,” means nothing. I waited a bit and he didn’t come so I was told to just come back the next day at 6. So I did. And he wasn’t there. I was told to come back around 6:30, so I did. And he wasn’t there. I went back every fifteen minutes a few times after that because they kept telling me he would be back soon, but he never showed up. Finally they said just come tomorrow at 5. So I did. And he wasn’t there. But now I really, really needed my haircut, it was getting annoyingly long for my standards. So I waited, and waited, and waited. An hour and a half later, he showed up! Aha, I will finally get this done. He didn’t speak much English, but my brother kind of told him what I was saying. So he started up the trimmers, did three swipes along the side of my head, and then, low and behold, the power went out. The crowd of kids sitting around watching me all started laughing, as did I, at the situation at hand. I would have to have a partially shaved head for the rest of the night because if the power goes off in the evening, it won’t be coming back on. The barber understood the predicament, and promised to be at the shop at 5:30am the next morning before he went to farm so that I could finish the cut and look like a normal human being for the rest of the day. I tried and tried to make sure he would definitely be there at 5:30, since he was so unreliable the past couple days. He said he would be, so I left. I went back home, my mother laughed a bit but was more upset at the barber, and I hung out at the house for the night with part of my hair off. No big deal. I went to sleep, woke up at 5:15, and walked down to the shop. I wish I could take a poll of my readers right now to see how many people think he actually showed up, and how many people think I had to walk around with a goofy head of hair for the day. But I can’t, so I will just tell you.

He showed up! He proceeded with the hair cut, and gave me a Ghanaian football player-style Mohawk, which I am currently sporting. I also wish I could take a poll of my readers, picture being shown, for who likes the ‘do and who doesn’t. But I can’t, so I’ll just rock it.

As I mentioned briefly earlier, the 20 of us volunteers decided we wanted to have a little July 4th party. We did the best we could, we all bought some food and made a dish, as American as possible, and got together at one person’s home. I helped a couple girls with some guacamole and salsa – yes I’m saying those are American. Plantain chips were used as the medium for dipping. The two trainers who are volunteers that have been here for a year already, knew where to buy packaged hot dogs, so we also had those. Another couple people made groundnut butter (peanut butter) and banana sandwiches. I have yet to see jelly in Ghana. We had a fun time listening to American music and singing the National Anthem and other stereotypical American songs. The volunteer’s home we had the event at enjoyed the company and sang along with us as much as they could. Good times.

Today we had a cultural event where we did some drumming and dancing. Not much more needs to be explained. Once again, pictures will be on my facebook but unfortunately not on here until I figure it out and also have the time/internet.

As I mentioned a long time back when I was in Accra, we had the talent show and I performed my rendition of Miley Cirus’s Party in the USA while Ben played guitar. I whipped up some lyrics the night before the show, mostly based on what we had experience in our first few days being in Africa. The title is changed to “Maakye, NO me ho ye papapapa,” which means “Good morning, I am NOT feeling good at all” in Twi. Typically, one would say “Maakye, me ho ye papaapa!” meaning they are feeling great this morning. I changed it to the opposite meaning due to the health issues that arise upon arrival in this country.. A couple other notes about the lyrics. A tro is their version of a taxi. Obruni means white person. “circa circa circa circa line” is what the tro drivers yell out their window in Accra to let you know that you are on the “cirle line” route through the city in their tro. Any names or places mentioned are names of our coordinators and places we went or stayed in those first few days. Some of it may not make sense to you, but here it is:

Hopped on the plane at JFK
With sunscreen and mosquito spray
Walk into the land of Africa
With no idea what to say

Jumped in the tro
here I am for the first time,
make sure I’m on the circa circa circa circa line
This is all so smelly, but
Everybody seems so friendly.

My tummy’s turnin and I’m feeling kinda homesick
Too many skeeters and I’m nervous
Then I’m nauseous and I’m vomiting
Then I get diahrea, then I get diahrea, then I get diahrea

So I put my hands up and let it all out
The latrine is my best friend
Shakin my head like ‘No’
Movin my hips like ‘No’
So I put my hands up and let it all out
I hope its gonna be OK
Maa-aa-aaa-kye, NO me ho ye papapapa! Maa-aa-aaa-kye, No me ho ye papapapa!

Get to Accra in my tro tro van
Everybody’s lookin’ at me now
Like who’s that dude whose got no clue
Obruno from outta town

No longer got Agatha beside me
Definitely not at Valley with Tony
Now I’m at Madina Marketplace
Man I really miss Mama Grace

Chorus again

Nervous about my homestay (my homestay)
Don’t know how to bucket bathe (bucket bathe)
Off to Addo Nkwanta
The Peace Corps got my back and I feel alright!



July 14th:

I’m at my site right now! At this point in the training, all 20 of us new volunteers will spread out across the country and visit our villages that we will be working at for the next two years. Let me rewind and explain some thing up until this point.

I packed up everything I had at my homestay and we all got on the PC bus with a thousand suitcases and traveled to the 2nd biggest city in Ghana called Kumasi. Here we stayed at the Samarita Village, a nice little village built by Christian missionaries. I got to use a toilet again, and also take a shower, although the water pressure and showerhead were quite third-world. We had a fan! It felt good to stay here for a few nights and clean up and refresh ourselves. During those few days we had sessions all day long with our new counterparts. A counterpart is a person from each of the schools we will be teaching at; it could be another teacher or even the headmaster. Peace Corps reimburses their travel to Kumasi from all over the country, and each of us volunteers now has a friend and reliable source who we know at our sites. It was also nice because when our seminar closed, they traveled with us to our sites to show us the way and help with our bags. I forgot to mention that on the first day at this place, we all gathered on a map of Ghana that our coordinators drew on the ground with chalk. Our Education coordinator then announced each of our names and the location we would be serving for the next two years. After all this time, this was finally the moment I would be filled in as to what my site was like. I knew I would be up North since I was learning the Mampruli language, but I knew nothing else. As they called all our names, we stood on a dot on the map where our site was. It was a cool way to announce this big news. I found out I would be living in Gbimsi in the Northern Region about two hours ride North of Tamale which is the 3rd biggest city in Ghana. So now I’ll explain traveling to the north of Ghana…

Departure from the Samarita Village at 4am. Well, that’s what they told us. The vans had to be loaded with all of our junk and it was a tight fit so the packing took an hour. By 5 we were on the road. Unlucky for us, we wouldn’t be making this journey on the comfortable PC bus. The bus was simply taking us 15 minutes to the bus station in Kumasi. 5:15 am, it is dark, and the outdoor bus station is packed with Ghanaians! Apparently all the buses leave very early and you have to get there even earlier to make sure you get a ticket. We didn’t get there early enough and missed our first bus that was headed up north. There were 5 of us volunteers and our counterparts who were going to catch the same bus up north and get out at various points along the way. We all waited for about an hour or so at this bustling station, with all our bags, as it finally became light out. Our counterparts were taking care of buying our tickets and figuring things out, and trying to explain to us what they were doing. We got our ticket, it was 20 Cedis, and waited for the right bus to show up. When it arrived, chaos ensued. It was as if they had never loaded a bus before! There is no order or organization to the process. The buses simply do not have enough room underneath to carry all of the passengers’ bags. So our counterparts made sure they jumped in the chaos and paid the “ bus loaders” a couple cedis to make sure our bags got put on the bus. It was a whole fiasco because everyone has a ticket, yet there isn’t enough space for everyone’s bags. The solution is to just put everything on your lap or in the aisle, which is what many of the Ghanaians had to do with quite large bags. I also had to put my backpack at my feet and little bag on my lap for the whole ride. This was not comfortable. Not to mention the tight seats, lack of cushion, and bumpy roads. Oh and of course no air conditioning; it was ventilated by the dusty Ghanaian air. Even loading the bus seats was a horrific process. We were given seat numbers on our tickets, but for some reason not all Ghanaians decide to look at the number or abide by it. Once someone called someone out for not being in the right seat, they had to climb over all the bags already loaded in the aisle and get to their seat. I was just shocked at how unorganized this whole process was because it really should be quite simple. The bus system just doesn’t have a driver or anyone who directs people and gets things in order. It’s mostly just a free for all.

So we finally get on our way by 8am or something I don’t really remember. I was wiped out by this point. And so uncomfortable. And knew we had a looooong ride ahead of us. It was probably one of the most uncomfortable I have been for an eight hour chunk of time. You may be wondering if we stopped, or if rest areas even exist here. The answer is kind of. We did stop once at a “rest area” where there were restrooms and some food being sold. It wasn’t all that bad. There were another couple instances where a Ghanaian would yell for the bus driver to stop because he/she had to urinate. This became a whole fiasco too. Apparently it is normal for the driver to stop whenever a passenger wants, but our driver wasn’t cooperating, which riled up everyone. When he did pull over though, a handful of men and women would get out and squat by the side of the road to take care of business, then get back on the bus and we would proceed. An old drunk man stirred things up during the ride as he started preaching about teachers getting paid too much because they don’t show up at school half the time. I couldn’t really understand him but my counterpart explained a bit. He was basically just drunk and rambling.

8 hours, 1000 beads of sweat, two side-of-the-road pees, and a sore butt and back later, we were passing through the tiny village of Gbimsi in the Northern Region. Gbimis has about 6000 people, and 500 huts. You do the math. It is located right on the main highway going north and south through Ghana. Overloaded trucks travel from the south all the way up to Burkina Faso on this road. It is paved and fairly nice actually since it is a main road. My counterpart had the bus driver pull over so that I could get off at the school. As we pulled over, about 50 little JHS kids came running up to the bus, since the volunteer who is living here now and closing her service, knew I was arriving soon. The kids were fighting over who got to carry my bags for me, and all just staring at me and laughing and chatting in Mampruli. I was so worn out from the ride, but this was quite the welcome. Carol, the volunteer here now, is a retired systems analyst from Ohio, believe it or not, in the Cincinnati area. She is fantastic and everybody seems to love her. She’s been a great host for my few days visiting my site, has a steady flow of foods and goodies from the US of A, and has put a lot of effort into making this place a homely environment. I’m walking into a great situation; I really couldn’t ask for anything better. My new home is one of four “apartments” attached together. It is on the JHS/primary school grounds, and the other women who live here work for the primary school. I have a little front porch area with a couple tiny rooms for bathing and cooking. Inside my home there are two small rooms, and a third sitting room. Like I said, Carol has made it a very nice environment and has bought some sitting chairs, tables, floor mats, and decorations. All of these things are not commonplace in a Ghanaian home. Ghanaians don’t really host people or have unnecessary items in their homes. A picture on the wall, or a decorative stand would not be seen. I do have electricity, although it goes out about once a week. I will continue bucket bathing and using a hole in the ground for going number 2. I have a ceiling fan and standing fan. The school actually gave Carol a TV, although it only gets one channel right now. Carol has bought a small tabletop gas stove and mini-fridge, along with stocking the little kitchen with many pots, pans, plates, silverware, cutlery, etc. Like I said, I couldn’t have asked for a better site to take over. Due to her efforts, my transition to life here will be much smoother than I anticipated.

Let me rewind to when I got off the bus. The headmaster and a few teachers were around since it was after school on a Thursday. We waited a few minutes for some village elders to arrive and welcome me. The chief is not well and is in a hospital apparently, so these elders provided my official welcome. I tried out a tiny bit of my Mampruli which they enjoyed. Friday I went to school with Carol. Next week is exam week, so they just reviewed on Friday. I will explain more about the school when I actually move in here, there is too much to explain for now. I will just say that the kids would just gather around me and stare and ask questions. It feels good but is also very tiring! Speaking of tired, I’m tired now and losing focus to write. To wrap things up, I stayed at my site for a couple nights and now I’m off to shadow a different volunteer for a few days in the Northern Region. After that I’ll be back at homestay to finish out training. The days are very tiring, it’s super hot (and it’s not even the hot season) and there is a lot to take in at once.

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