"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, January 19, 2014

Cockroaches and Chickens

The first day at school was pretty worthless, but I had a fun time and it felt good to be back with my students. They showed up late along with the teachers, and then the cleaning commenced for the day. They had to sweep, weed, and pick up trash on the compound. Also, all the desks were piled in one room so they had to clear that mess and it always results in desks being broken, which is hard for a student to afford to replace. There were no classes, but as I was sitting around with the other teachers, two huge camels came walking into the village! I had to take a double look because I hadn’t seen it before and didn’t know why it was happening. It turns out that guys from north Burkina Faso near the Sahara ride these camels down into the south of Ghana, beg along the way, and then sell the thing and go back by public transit. The guys had the full head turban thing and looked rugged as if they just traveled hundreds of miles on a camel…oh yeah they did. I got to get on the camel and walk a short way; their height surprised me and it’s quite interesting how they kneel and stand to get on and off.

Later that day, I was sitting with several of the boys in my class. They asked me what “ignorant” meant because headmaster said it and they didn’t understand. So I showed them on my phone how I used Google to find the definition of a word. Now, they don’t really understand the Internet and haven’t heard of Google, but they saw that I just typed in “definition of ignorance” and got an answer. They thought it was the coolest thing. But it made me realize that they don’t have dictionaries or any way to look up a word if they don’t know what it means. They’re often too afraid to ask the other teachers, and of course their parents don’t know because they don’t speak English. I told them to always come to me and ask what different words mean, and I kind of want to get a bunch of pocket dictionaries and lend them out. Then I really blew their minds….I opened Google Maps on my iphone and zoomed in to our exact location at the school. They could see the soccer pitch and we tried to find a few of their huts by looking around the village. They though they could run outside and be seen on the phone, but I had to explain the picture was old and not a live video. Anyway, they were loving the google maps and also had me look up Mecca since they are Muslim the wanted to see where Mecca is in Saudi Arabia, and we could see the big temple. The power of the Internet is huge! Once they get it their lives will change.

The second day of school began my weeklong brutal sickness. I won’t say exactly what it was, but it starts with a d and ends with iahrea. I got hit with something nasty and wasn’t able to eat for days, yet still had plenty of waste somehow. I had no energy and wasn’t able to go to school and just spent 95% of my days in bed or in the latrine on my cozy wooden toilet seat. I would’ve just slept in the latrine if it weren’t for the cockroaches, bats, lizards, and spiders. During this sickness I think the highlight of my time would be this little story…

The cockroaches have been pretty overwhelming lately in the latrine, and I just had to do something about it. The easy way I figured is to just spray the potent (and polluting) bug spray down the hole and in the latrine to hope that things either die or get scared away. Naturally, I had to return to the latrine about 30 minutes later to use, and I found a gathering of chickens at the rear of my latrine structure, which was weird to me. As I got closer, I saw that cockroaches – maybe 20 – were crawling out of my hole, under the door, and out the cracks in cement in the back. As the cockroaches escaped, the chickens would snatch them up and have a feast. It was kind of funny to watch, but then I soon realized the remainder of the life cycle that was taking place here. I spray deadly chemicals into the air, the cockroaches are then filthy with poop in my latrine and also under the influence of these chemicals, the chickens then eat the cockroaches…and then I eat the chickens. Hmmmm, I’m not too sure about this whole process. Needless to say, I haven’t eaten chicken since.

My boss boss came to my village. The Country Director for all of Peace Corps Ghana is Mike Koffman, and he does these few week stints where he tries to visit a small portion of the 150 volunteers in Ghana here. This time he was visiting my site on his rounds. This visit occurred during my sickness, so I wasn’t in the best shape to host a visiting boss, even if it was just for a couple hours. Mike was also previously a Peace Corps Volunteer, along with being a lawyer and US Marine, and has been Director here for 6 or so years. The conclusion I came to after his visit is that Peace Corps is probably one of the only jobs out there where you can comfortably and nonchalantly talk about diarrhea with your boss! Since he was a volunteer, he knows how it is. I told him up front I wasn’t feeling well and we talked a bit, included some details but excluded some also, and he even took a trip out to my latrine to see what type of facilities I have. I’m sure it’s fun for him to be able to compare all the volunteer’s sites and facilities. Even he admitted my latrine was a pretty far distance from the house and sympathized with my having to run out this far to take care of my bowel movements. Anyway, it was a good visit, we mostly sat inside out of the heat and just talked about my family, sports, and other random things. He’s a good director, and he will be finishing his post this year and we will have a new guy take over.

I had to get an antibiotic for bacterial diarrhea. Just because I called it an antibiotic doesn’t mean I had to get a prescription from a doctor. Everything here is over the counter and is sold at little roadside shacks that are somehow called pharmacies. I got an antibiotic with 10 pills (that seemed to have done the trick) and it only cost me 3 Ghana Cedis…aka 1 dollar and change. Not bad for an antibiotic eh?

I’ve said before how my JHS was started by catholic missionaries and is technically catholic with catholic prayers in the morning even though most of the students are practicing Islam. For the opening week, we had to have a catholic mass during the school day. The priest came in from Walewale, and all 300 some of our students and 500 some primary school kids gathered for this catholic mass. It was just so interesting how different that is than in America. You can’t do anything forcing religion on someone in American schools, but here you have a mass and even make the children repeat after you to say all the catholic prayers that are apart of the mass. The Our Father, and the countless times where Jesus Christ is mentioned and you say Praise be to God and whatnot, these Muslim students had to say it all. For communion though it was only the teachers who took the Eucharist. I don’t know, in a way it is cool that they get to be exposed to both the religions like that, but it is just odd to see a school and priest force the kids to not only attend the mass but repeat all the prayers and words throughout.

I’m beginning every one of my classes by teaching a new English word, and also by testing them on their times tables. The times tables are getting so much better since the beginning of the year when they hardly knew anything. The English words are still quite difficult. It’s nearly impossibly to define a new word for them with only words that they already know. For example, the word one day was ‘accurate’ and I defined it as ‘correct in all details’ but they didn’t know the word details! Instead of also defining details and adding more confusion, I just had to change the word ‘details’ to ‘things’ so I defined it as ‘correct in all things.’ What can you do?! It’s kind of comical sometimes how basic I have to make a definition for a new word, but at least something is happening, because they don’t ever learn new words.

Small black plastic bags here are a huge waste issue. Every single market woman, small store owner, and anyone who is selling something, has a box of these plastic bags that they put whatever it is you bought in. But, if you look around, over half of the trash you see laying around making the place look poor and ugly are those black bags! They don’t reuse them AT ALL and continue giving out a million more bags per day but don’t realize that all the trash they see on the ground is the bag that seems so important and useful. It took me long enough to actually start doing this, but now I bring my own little bag to market and put everything I buy inside that and don’t take their plastic bags. Maybe this will catch on over time because I always explain and point at the trash on the ground and they see the bags and kind of understand what I’m doing but I don’t know if they will in turn change their behavior also. If those stupid bags weren’t used, this country would be a lot more beautiful. And I think the usage and quantity of those bags is only growing right now.

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