"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

Monday, August 26, 2013

At my new home! FYI: I am posting multiple times, scroll down to read in order.

August 24th:

My first post from Gbimsi, Northern Region, Ghana!

The trek up north was once again interesting to say the least. It took two days. I’m not sure of the exact mileage from the south to my site, but I’m pretty sure that on an American highway road system it should only take 5-7 hours. Anyway, a few of us stayed in Kumasi (the 2nd largest city in Ghana) for the night on the way up. Finding a guest house (which is what hotels are called for the most part) was a minor fiasco in itself. After traveling uncomfortably several hours to Kumasi, we alighted and proceeded to where a guidebook told us was a decent guest house. When we arrived at the place, we found out it is no longer established. So we started walking around asking people where a guest house was, and we came to a decent looking place. We went up to the third story (first time I think I’ve been higher than one story in Ghana) to the lobby area of the hotel. They had a room available, so we filled out the papers, paid, and then the woman proceeded to tell us that only two of us could stay in the one room, but we were three. As PCVs, we don’t really have or want to spend the money on two hotel rooms for just three people, so we tried to negotiate, but to no avail. Back out to the bustling streets we went. We asked some more people where another guest house was, and a nice Ghanaian walked us to the next place. Here the rates were a little higher, and we also ran into the three-to-a-room problem. The woman told us she had one room available where it was big enough and we were allowed to fit three in, so we shelled out the cash, filled out the same papers as the other place, and upstairs we went. We opened the door to the room, and another person’s stuff was in there! The woman was confused but then remembered that somebody was indeed staying in the room already. SOL again! We weren’t about to pay for two rooms, but we didn’t know what other options we had, so we sat there discussing until the woman came over to us and told us to follow her. She took us up to a small room with one bed and said she didn’t want to leave us stranded and we would be allowed to sleep three in the room as long as her boss didn’t find out. Whew. By this time it was almost dark and we were dead so we went out and found some food and called it a night since we had to travel even further the next day.

Oh, and the place had a breakfast included! The woman told us that only two of us could have it so that she didn’t get caught when three people went down to get breakfast. So the next morning two of us went to get breakfast, and it took awhile for the lady to come out and ask if we wanted tea or coffee to start. We said that we didn’t want anything because we were traveling far and didn’t want to drink too much because we’d have to have the bus driver stop. So we sat there, and sat there, and sat there, thinking that our eggs would come out like it did for the people next to us. About 45 minutes after we entered the room for breakfast, we had nothing in front of us, and the cook was nowhere to be found. So I went looking for her. When I found her, I asked where our eggs were, and she looked at my with a surprised and confused face and said, “But you said you didn’t want anything!” So there lies a perfect example of the communication barrier, and cultural differences. She took our words about denying coffee or tea as that we didn’t want anything at all….yet we were sitting in the dining area, so what did she think we were doing there? Anyway, it was kind of funny, but annoying since we were running late to go find a bus up north. The lady brought out two egg sandwiches for us, and then told us that one of us had to pay extra because we only get breakfast for one. Goodness. So we had another little chat with the woman at the desk and tried to get her to remember how she told us that two of us could get breakfast, but she wouldn’t budge and we had to pay extra.

And we left, waved down a taxi, and told him to take us to the bus station. We arrive at the bus station, but it turns out the station he took us to was only for Accra buses (south) and that we had to go much further away, on the outskirts of the city, to get the buses to the north. On we went. We arrive at the next bus station, and find out that it is only for one city up north, Bolgatanga, and the buses weren’t leaving until 3pm and driving into the night. If we wanted a bus to Tamale, we had to go to a different station and those buses would probably be taking off in the morning. So as we stood there discussing and bus drivers were heckling us to get on their bus, a man came up to us and told us we could get a personal taxi up north for the three of us at the same price as the bus. Hmmm, it sounded iffy but we wanted to investigate. We went over to the man’s taxi and were chatting with him and others around, and they were friendly and explained that the driver had driven from the north a few days ago and had to drive back up, so we could ride along with. We went with it. I would much rather have a personal taxi than sit on those crummy buses and be crammed. The driver was very nice and personable, spoke some English, and we started cruising north. We were making great time, but about 7 hours in, the car broke down. I was only about an hour from home! So the driver started walking back to the nearest town to get some help. He got a mechanic and some oil, it took about an hour for it all to happen, and we were off again. Not even ten minutes later we broke down again, this time for real. Luckily, we broke down right next to a police checkpoint, so the cops (with AK-47s I think) helped us flag down another car to jump in for the rest of the way. They were very nice and helpful, and we got in a Ghana Education Services truck going north. About an hour later, at sundown, we passed through Gbimsi and I got out and walked the short few minutes to my new home.

The previous volunteer left me the combos for the locks to the outside rooms of my compound, and inside she left keys to the place. That worked fine, and I got inside and everything was fine other than some cobwebs and such. There are some young girls who are in the place adjacent to mine in the compound, and they helped sweep around and get the cobwebs and such. I called my counterpart, Thomas, and told him I arrived, and he sped over on his moto from Walewale, the bigger town about 4km away. I had no water, no food, my main room light was out, and I was dead from traveling. He walked (10 mins) with me to get some chop from some ladies cooking and selling. I greeted some people along the way, and a couple remembered me from my first visit. I got a rice ball and soup to go, I kind of ordered the food and drink in Mampruli, but the also understand enough English for me to cross between languages. I ate, Thomas left, and there I was sitting alone in my home for the first night. It felt weird, and I didn’t really know what to do, but I have two fans! It had rained just before I got into town, a ton of huge flies/mosquito things were out, and the thermometer Carol left here said it was 85 degrees out. The humidity made it worse. But I had fans! I was dead and didn’t want to unpack or anything, so I went outside to brush my teeth, and when I looked up at the sky, I’d never seen that many stars in my life. It was a good way to end a long couple days of traveling. The sky was so dense with stars, and I also see a super bright star which I’m led to believe must be a planet. My small bed isn’t that comfy, but I’ll get used to it, and it’s all OK because I actually have a ceiling fan above me. Living in luxury.

So that was traveling and arriving. What did I do for all of my full day one alone in an African village??????

Woke up late, 7am. There are some noises, but not hear as many as at homestay, or maybe I’m just used to all of it. I laid in bed and knew I had no food and no water. I hadn’t bathed and I felt gross. A neighbor girl came over, one who was helping me yesterday, and she started rummaging around looking for things that were left in boxes from the last volunteer. I browsed around with her and cleaned up a bit more, but my stomach let me know that food and water had to become priority. She told me she knew where I could get some Wakye (rice and bean dish that I like) so she ran and got some for me. It cost me 1 Cedi (50 US cents) and I couldn’t even eat all of it.  The women next door also sell the “pure water satchets” which I believe I explained already, but if not, it is just 500ml plastic bags of supposedly clean and filtered water, but that’s up for debate.

Next, maybe its TMI, but I had to go see what was happening at my latrine. It is about 50-100 yards away from my front door, it has a lock on it, and only I have the key. So at least the hole in the ground is my hole in the ground and not to share. I had to get some more cobwebs down and chase out a lizard, but other than that it was in decent shape. Pictures to come.

Water. I needed water. I couldn’t bathe, cook, or use my filter without it. I had a couple dirty buckets and a big trash can which needed filled with water. So off I went with Joyce, the neighbor girl, as we took some buckets and she walked me to the borehole. I’d say its 300 yards away, but I’ll check on that and be exact at some point. We brought some soap and a rag with us and cleaned out my buckets, and started filling. The borehole is surrounded by several homes, so a guy started yelling words in Mampruli across the way. I couldn’t really hear, so I went over to him and greeted in Mampruli and spoke what little I could. He farms groundnuts (peanuts) apparently, and gave me a whole grocery-sized bag full of them as a welcome. I went back to the borehole and picked up my bucked, while Joyce placed the bigger bucket on her head. She’s 13. Goodness they are strong. I struggled to carry my bucket in my arms back to the house as she walked nonchalantly home. My arms burned. It really does make sense why they carry everything on their heads. Two buckets full of water just isn’t enough, so I had to make a second trip. This time, I put the bucket on my head, with a rag rolled up and used as a cushion, and balanced it with my arms up. My neck is sore as I type this, and I’m sure tomorrow it will be worse. Going to have to get used to that.

By that time, I had about half of my trash can full of water, it was maybe 10 or 11 a.m. and getting super hot, so I decided enough was enough. Now that I had water I was able to clean out my filter. I hooked up my little countertop gas oven, boiled some water, and cleaned it with that. OK, now I’m set for drinking water.

By then I was starving again, and still had no food. It was market day yesterday, and market is every third day, so I can’t buy food in town to cook. I had to go back to the chop lady from the night before, and she had some jolliff rice prepared for lunch. I once again greeted every person I passed in Mampruli, every 20 yards is a few people at their little store or just sitting around. They all were very pleasant and laugh at my attempts to speak Mampruli. Friendly vibes all around.

So I had food in my belly and half a trash can of water. My priorities were in check. Now I’m finally able to unpack my things and feel a little more moved-in. It is silly to be outside in the afternoon because its so hot, so I put on some tunes and unpacked/cleaned for a couple hours.

I needed to clean myself. There’s nothing like an afternoon bucket bath when its so hot out. I have a little room outside of my front door where I bathe…and urinate. I guess it kind of makes sense. Why have a totally separate place to pee into a drain when you already have a cement bathing room with a little drain in the corner. Anyway, bucket bath felt great, although when I opened my soap it had mold all over it so I had to go borrow some from the neighbors.

It was late afternoon, I was clean, full, unpacked, and had enough water to clean some dishes that had been collecting dirt in the kitchen since the last volunteer left. To do dishes, I just pour some of the filtered water into a small Tupperware, add some dish soap, and scrub away. I have a tiny sink with a drain so I can dump out the dirty water that way, but it just flows right out the back and I could just as easily toss the water out there myself. Whenever I’m able to buy some food, my dishes are ready to be used!

As I was about to go scavenge for some food from the chop lady, Joyce came over with some soup and rice, compliments of her and the other girls next to me! It was palmnut soup, which is pretty good. I went out to thank the girls, but Joyce tapped me and told me that “Madame doesn’t know about them giving me food.” Let me explain, from the little I know of the situation. I’ll find out more over time. But basically, the primary school headmistress and a couple teachers are the women in my compound. They have several girls and children who live with them and basically do all the cooking and cleaning and things. These are not their children. Joyce told me her mother lives and works as a teacher in Tamale (two hours south) and she stops by from time to time to say hello. I’m not sure how often that is. I don’t really understand how it works that a mother has her young girls go live with someone else and do their work but live for free. Like I said, I’ll find out more, but Joyce told me not to go thank the girls aloud because the madam living there can’t know that some of the food was given to me. We’ll see what else happens.

I was thankful to get the food. And by then it was about 7pm, dark, and I was tired. That was when I decided I better sit down and type about my travels and first day while it was all fresh, so here I am typing now. I have water, I’m clean, kind of hungry and definitely miss the ability to munch on food whenever I want, but I have a fan blowing on me so all is well. It feels good to finally be unpacked. After ten weeks of living out of my backpack and not having all of my stuff with me, and not having an outlet in my room or the voltage regulators to charge my stuff safely, it feels good to be in control and “comfortable on my own.” I really did luck out as far as peace corps living conditions go. I not only have electricity, but I have fans, a tv (with only one channel), semi-comfortable sitting chairs that were bought and left by Carol, a sitting room and a bedroom, and I’m in a safe and friendly village. It’s just weird to be sitting here alone knowing that I’m the only white person for miles, and that I now live here and truly do have to fend for myself. Phew.

Something I haven’t really discussed yet, but is a very real and large factor of me moving here and trying to adjust, is that I’m in a relationship. I assume most of my readers know that, but about a year ago this time I met Menucha in Maryland, and we’ve been dating for about ten months. She has since moved with her family to Sydney, Australia (she has dual citizenship since her mother was born there) and we’ve been talking daily despite the ten hour time difference. My morning is her nighttime and vice versa. While I do miss my family and friends back home, I have to admit that I really, really miss Menucha. We’re going strong and figuring this whole thing out as it comes. Committing to Peace Corps while in a relationship truly does make the whole transition that much harder.

No idea what I’m going to do tomorrow, let’s see what happens. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that school doesn’t start until September 10th, so I’m just meeting people and getting settled until then.

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