"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

Friday, August 30, 2013

Don't take sitting on a toilet for granted, please.

August 30th:

I’m writing this at about the exact time that I arrived in my new home one week ago. I honestly don’t know if I feel like one week just blew by, or if it seems like I’ve been here forever. I’ve done so much, yet I’ve also kind of done nothing! Some notes and things….

An observation on obesity in Ghana. I honestly don’t think I have seen one obese or even slightly overweight male in this country. There are skinny guys, buff guys, tall, and short, but there really just aren’t any fat men. The women, on the other hand, do tend to have some extra meat on their bones. I have not seen an extremely obese woman yet, but the women’s bodies and daily routines don’t line up quite as well with the high-carb diet.

I went up to the furthest northern region in Ghana called the Upper East and I visited the capital called Bolgatanga. It was just a short hour trotro ride north for me. Between here and there is a pretty cool escarpment that I want to explore sometime in the near future. It was a sunny day when I went, and everything is so green here now during the rainy season. It was a bit surreal as I rode through the beauty, as little villages of mud huts popped up along the way.

During that drive it has also occurred to me that I am so used to the amount of goats and cattle that roam freely on the roads. There are more goats crossing the road about to get hit than squirrels, raccoons, and deer combined in the States!

Another thing that I’ve “gotten used to” since being here is seeing children, maybe maximum age 10, going number two out in the open or just on a pile of trash. I’ve read the U.N. statistic countless times that says about 1 billion people still defecate in the open, and here I am seeing it firsthand. More on this in the future.

The transportation system…I’ve talked about it a bit before, but I want to touch on it again. To go north to Bolga, I was lucky enough to stand out on the side of the road (this is the main road, paved, going from Tamale all the way up and into Burkina Faso) and just get in a trotro that had a spot for me. In Bolga on my return, as in all cities here, there is a large open area where all the trotros gather. I go in there and usually get heckled because they all want to drive the white person, but this time I had to go asking people where the trotro is to get to Walewale. When I found it, I paid my 2 Cedis for the hour ride, and sat in the piece of junk, clunker, uncomfortable, unsafe trotro until it filled. This time it was busy and only took about 15 minutes of roasting and sitting uncomfortably waiting for it to fill. Every time it feels like the thing will just fall apart when we hit a speed bump or something.

So I’ve been here almost 3 months…and I just don’t know how I will go 24 more months squatting to go number two. I had a slow day with nothing to do, so I took it upon myself to make a toilet seat/stand thing. What were some of the things I tried?

A plastic chair. Since the hole is in the corner of my latrine, I needed to cut off the back portion of the chair so it fit in the corner, and then cut a hole in the seat. The plastic was just harder to cut than I thought. Next.

A bucket! Duh. I would just flip a bucket over, cut a hole in the top and sit on that. Eh, I wasn’t sold on it.

A big Tupperware/plastic box! There were a couple plastic boxes sitting around with books in them that Carol left, I would just cut a hole in that and sit. Silly. When you cut the plastic and sit on it, it breaks.

Ahhh, I will just use a wooden stool/footrest thing that is sitting around! It is nice to sit on, so why not just saw a hole in the middle of it and use that! This was the killer. I was so ready for it to work, but I just didn’t have the tools. I have a little saw on my swiss army knife, and a couple other solid knives that I started chipping away through the wood. It was just too thick and I got about halfway through cutting the circle and thought my hand and arm were going to fall off.  I needed a break and I’d just work on it the next day.

I was kind of fed up with failing and needed to get out of my house, so I went into the village. It was then that I realized we had a carpenter right there! I knew he had never made a toilet seat/stand before, and I was kind of embarrassed to ask him to make it for me, so I started by asking him if he could make a legit gate for my back porch to keep the goats out. He hardly spoke English, and my Mampruli just wasn’t cutting it, so we had to get someone over to translate. This attracted several other people, basically anything I do in town attracts people. Now I knew I couldn’t ask about the toilet seat. Aha, then the carpenter wanted to come to my place to measure the dimensions for the goat gate, so I was able to get him alone and ask him if he thought he could make the toilet seat. Since we couldn’t really understand each other’s language, I had to play charades to explain to him what I wanted. He got a kick out of that. Anyway, I did want to try to be my own handyman and take up those two projects to keep myself busy, but then again I was glad to get out there and meet more people. It is good to now have contact with the carpenter, and also just to pump some money into the booming Gbimsi economy. He said he’d have it ready in a couple days, so I’m curious to see how it all turns out.

As much as I sit here and complain about how the rainy season sucks, I’m trying to appreciate it because I know that the dry season will really suck and I’ll be wishing for those full days of nonstop rain. Today it rained literally all day and I wasn’t able to go anywhere or do anything. I had errands I wanted to do, plus I just wanted to get out, but when it rains nothing happens. I was annoyed but also tried to appreciate that at some point I’ll really be wishing for some moisture around.


Something I haven’t mentioned at all I don’t think is that Ghana is going through a relatively big political issue. The losing candidate of last year’s election had recently accused the current president of rigging the election and getting extra votes somehow. I’m not sure of the details, but the Supreme Court announced its decision today. This had potential to really shake things up here in peaceful Ghana, and Peace Corps put us on “stand fast” meaning that we weren’t allowed to leave our sites. It turns out that the court ruled the president did not rig the election, all the votes were legitimate, and so far I don’t think there have been any violent demonstrations to any extent. The news the past few days has been focused on telling the people to keep the peace no matter what the result. Seems the peaceful Ghanaians sure have kept the peace.

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