Sunday, July 18, 2010

"Rock, flag, and eagle"

I am back in the U.S. after a full day of travelling. The Accra airport was a little disorganized, as I expected, but I managed to make it through all 4 security checkpoints with my drum in plenty of time for my flight. I was apparently lucky, because another volunteer got pegged as a drug trafficker because she "only had two small bags for a month! Where is all of your stuff??!!!" It was a huge ordeal that ended in her having everything taken out of her space bags and searched 4 times and being questioned when her plane landed in the states. Speaking of space bags, they are amazing. It was so easy to pack with them...even the 8 yards of fabric and 7 purses that I brought home was no problem. The first flight went well apart from a shaky landing (bad weather); I managed to only sleep 30 minutes of the 10 hours in my attempt to beat jetlag. I watched 4 movies and read half of a book. Productive day. I was also so hungry from not eating much the day before that I ate airplane chicken and rice. Ha. I was pleasantly surprised to find my drum when I got of the plane--they refused to let me carry mine on even though some other guy did. I had a 3 hour layover at jfk, so I managed to get some nonairplane food. I am going to have to readjust to American pace; when I was paying for my sushi, I stood and stared at the cashier for half a minte cause I am not used to things moving so fast anymore haha. I also have a habit of trying to hoard small bills since it was always hard to get change in ghana. I kept paying with $20 bills at the airport--I ended up paying the Jimmy johns delivery guy almost all in ones since I had gotten rid of most of my bigger bills. My second flight was also on time, and all of my bags made it to kc! Hallelujah! I am surprised every time I see my bag coming off the belt, cause I always expect the airline to lose it. Note: this is why I hadn't checked a bag for 5 years until his summer. My wonderful friend Courtney picked me up from the airport and let me spend the night at her house. She even let me borrow some pj's that don't stink and take a hot shower! I got in to kc at 10 p.m. after being awake since midnight Missouri time, so I crashed pretty soon after I got here. I guess my plan to avoid jetlag worked except for the fact that I woke up at 5 this morning and haven't been able to go back to sleep. I also woke up in the middle of the night and tried to tell courtney something that was completely incoherent. And, when I woke up this morning, I thought I was in a hostel in Africa. It took me a good 10 minutes to figure out where I was. Now I am getting ready to go to worlds of fun. What a great way to spend my first day excited...if the rain will hold off!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Airport Bound

I had my last day of work today. It was sad leaving everyone! I am really going to miss Ghana! Last night I had dinner and cake with my host family (and Fiona, an honorary member :). Even Felix and his wife came over, and Violet, Emmanuel's twin, was home from school, so I got to meet her for the first time. They made me a dress and skirt and even wrapped it. So nice! I also am coming back with a dress for my mom, and they're sending one for my sister with Fiona, because Elizabeth didn't want to leave anyone out. She is adorable! I woke up at 3:30 a.m. this morning with the rest of the house to get packed and say my goodbyes. Needless to say, I am exhausted! Then they called me their favorite taxi driver to take all of my stuff to the Mizzou guesthouse before work. Elizabeth even called the driver this afternoon to make sure he was taking us to the right station-- taking care of me even after I leave! I will definitely have to visit if I ever make it back to Ghana.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Goodbye Cape Coast

Today is my last day in Cape Coast. I am sitting at an internet cafe and there is a truck parked outside that's playing Three Blind Mice. Huh. Of course I waited until my last day here to get sick... I had to miss work this morning (schools don't generally have bathrooms in them, so I didn't think going would be the best idea for me today haha), but I think I'll be fine for the trip home. I got almost everything done that I wanted to here. We did manage to squeeze in baking cookies (two batches were gone within a couple of hours, and I only ate 1!) and swimming last weekend. There are a few places in Ghana that I didn't have a chance to go, so I guess I'll have to come back some time. Mainly I'd like to go North to see elephants... I've heard it's amazing! And I managed to squeeze in like 10 more schools in the last couple of weeks even though I missed work today, so it has been productive! I haven't really missed TV, and I didn't even mind the bucket showers, but I am really excited to sleep in my own bed without any roosters or morning announcements from the mosque down the hill waking me up :). I thought I would learn to sleep through it, but I didn't. I was planning on shadowing a pediatrician here this week, but the hospital was going to charge 200 cedi...ridiculous! I have two more schools in the morning, and then I'm riding to Accra with the study abroad advisor from Mizzou and staying the night someplace near the airport. Hopefully check-in won't be too horrible...the airport employees have been known to be more concerned about getting a nap in than getting people on the plane. And I'm hoping that the drum won't be too much of an ordeal. Two other volunteers managed to get them on a plane, so it should be OK. Oh Ghana...

Friday, July 9, 2010

School Daze

With all of the new volunteers joining HEPENS, we were able to hit lots of schools this week. Monday we did the budget and educational planning, and Tuesday we went to get all of the supplies. Lucas said he couldn't believe how mean I was when I was arguing for a price for the hand-washing buckets...haha. But they were raising the price by 50%...there was no way I was wasting our budget money! Wednesday the undergraduate Mizzou students joined us at the schools. It's been really nice to have so many people to work with, because we can split up the classes now. We've been to two schools every day, and we have two schools planned for each day next week. Nicholas, the NGO, even has them written in his planner...I'm so proud! Maybe some of my organization has rubbed off on him. Lucas has also convinced him to call the schools to let them know what time we'll be there, so there is definite progress! The kids are still amazing. I really love being at the schools. I am getting better at Ghanaian-style teaching and have a better idea now of what most of their educational backgrounds are. I've realized that although most of them have heard of HIV and can tell you what it stands for, they don't actually understand the disease. I start out my talks by explaining what the immune system is and what immunodeficiency means. I also spend some time talking about the difference between a virus and a bacterium, because most of the students don't understand why you can't treat HIV with antibiotics. Since we also talk about H1N1 (there have been a lot of outbreaks in Cape Coast schools lately), I usually compare H1N1 with HIV when I'm talking about transmission. They all have really wonderful questions...sometimes it's funny what they come up with. This morning a kid asked me "if someone infected with HIV cuts his hand and gets blood in water, and then I drink it, could I get HIV?" It's nice to know that they are really paying attention and that they are learning something! They even get exciting about hand-washing. Before I left the second school today, I saw some of the kids lining up to wash their hands at the buckets before lunch, so hopefully they will keep using them! The other volunteers were all really exhausted this afternoon, so I think next week will be long (this week we went to schools half of the time, so next week will be their first full week). I told Fiona and Lucas that, even though I'm sad to leave, I'm getting worn out too! I don't know that going home to move will be relaxing, but at least I'll be able to sleep past 5 :).

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Countdown Begins...

Today is the 7th, which means that I will be back in the good 'ole U.S.A. in 10 days. Things that I'm excited for: not having to haul a bucket of water to the bathroom every time I need to flush the toilet, not waking up before the sun every morning, going to Worlds of Fun with Julie and Matt (maybe?), leaving all of the giant mosquitoes and flies, air conditioning, eating whole grains and vegetables, seeing my wonderful family and friends. Things that I'm not excited for: having to put on makeup and shave my legs, leaving the ocean, leaving my new friends and host fam, paying more than fifty cents to get pretty much anywhere, having to move as soon as I get home, and jetlag. I will say that I'm excited to use a washer and dryer again. I hand-washed all of my clothes in China, but I don't remember them smelling this bad. Ha. I washed all of the clothes I brought with me on Monday. It took me over an hour. I mean, I really scrubbed. And rinsed. And rang them out (for all of you know how meticulous I am with my clothes since I don't even dry most of them, you'll know that it is a stretch for me to be wringing them out). It was intense. And the STILL don't smell good. I have just been spraying Downy wrinkle release on them before I hang them up, hoping that it will make me smell better. I don't think it's working. So, for those of you who will see me before I get home to wash all of my clothes and take a shower that is not from a bucket (Julie, that would be you), I apologize in advance for the smell!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

You Are Invited

Ghanaians are nothing if not hospitable. Two phrases that I hear most often here are akwaaba ("you are welcome") and "you are invited." What is most fantastic about these phrases is that people actually mean them. You ARE welcome into their homes, shops, taxis, city, country...they love meeting new people and are always willing to share what they have, even if they don't have much. Yesterday I passed one of the employees at an internet cafe eating on the stairs. He invited me to share his food--  he really was offering to give me some of his lunch. He would not have been surprised or offended if I had reached into his bowl with my bare hands to take a bite of rice. While I'm a bit concerned about the lack of hygiene, I always appreciate the gesture :). However, it's important to understand that hospitality works both ways. One of the other volunteers told her host family that they were invited to eat some of her crackers, expecting the family to politely decline. She was surprised to find her entire package of crackers disappear before she got home from work. She had invited them, after all!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Adventures in the Volta Region

My weekend started with a trip to Accra in an air-conditioned Ford van. I love that it is so cheap to travel here...I think I spent less than $20 on transportation for the entire weekend and drove to the border of the country. Convenient. After we had checked in to our first hotel and explored the area a bit, we went to the restaurant. I wanted to order hummus and falafel (the hotel is Lebaneses-run), but, of course, they didn't actually have most of the stuff on the menu. Oh Ghana. On our way up to the room, the staff was standing by the window and pulled us over to look-- there was a Ghanaian (Wutah) recording a video right outside the hotel. Bree asked her host sisters if the guy was famous, and apparently he is haha. The girl working the front desk offered to find us an escort to go to the video "after party" at the hotel spot, but we passed since we were going to be waking up early the next day to travel. In fact, we didn't even need our alarms to wake us up the next morning at 4:30, because water starting dripping on our bed at 4:00. I moved my pillow to the other end of the bed, cause I really wanted those extra thirty minutes. When I did finally get out of bed, I realized that there was a half inch of water on the floor. Bree went to the front desk while Ashlie and I got ready to try to get us a discount for the room and some plastic bags to put our now-wet stuff in, but of course there was no manager and only one bag. The attendent didn't want us to pay with cards (even though we had called ahead to see how we could pay), but Bree just got the card machine and swiped the cards for him. Haha. We left the hotel before 5 and made our way to the tro-tro station. We didn't end up leaving until around 7 since it took awhile for the tro-tro to fill up in the rain, but we still made it to Wli by the afternoon. We hiked to the lower falls the first evening. Our hotel was gorgeos...the landscaping was great and there was a view of the waterfall. And it was only $7/night! It was lacking one thing: a tv. We tried to walk to town to watch the Ghana game and saw the first goal but then decided we should head back since it was dark and we were in the middle of no where. Just as well, cause Ghana ended up losing in overtime. So disappointing! We woke up bright and early the next morning to meet our guide, Sebastian, to hike the upper falls. My first clue that it would be a challenging hike was that the people at the office sounded impressed that we were doing the hike. My second was that, the day before, Sebastian got us to the lower falls in 25 minutes instead of the estimated 45. It was definitely a steep climb. I was pretty grateful for the walking stick that Sebastion had cut for me with his machete (and I was happy that he was walking in front of me with a machete :). We made it to the top in 1.5. hours...30 minutes better than the estimated time we were given. Bree told me I got the award for hiking up the mountain. I guess I am still kind of in good shape even though I haven't worked out much in Ghana haha. Since I am terrified of heights (specifially looking over the edge of a mountain), the trip down was a challenge for me. I only had to scoot on my butt cause I was scared to stand a few times haha. But I think I did pretty well for climbing to the top of the tallest waterfall in West Africa! And the hike was absolutely worth it-- the view was spectacular! We even got to swim in the basin. It was wonderful. We managed the entire thing, including the walk from our hotel, in under 5 hours and hurried back to the hotel to get a shower and beat our check-out time at 11. We also made record time back to Accra... 3.5 hours from the tro-tro in Hoe to our hotel in Accra. Not bad considering it took us 5 on the way! There was less waiting time, though, and we didn't transfer vehicles in Ho. And thankfully this really nice Ghanaian got Ashlie and I out of paying a fee at a police checkpoint for not having our passports on us (I finally found my copy in my purse last night, but it had gotten rained on, so it wasn't too legible anyway). He also yelled at the driver enough to let us open the windows on his "air conditioned" bus, so he was a life-saver! The plan for the day is laying out by the pool at our hotel in Accra (we upgraded on the way back :) and visit the supermarket in Accra before we head back to Cape Coast (where I can hopefully find chocolate for my cookies next weekend!). Such a great weekend!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

To Clean or Not to Clean

The first couple of weeks I got here, I washed my hair everyday and bathed twice a day. Since then, there has been a gradual decline in how much I shower. For a while I washed my hair every other day. This morning, it had been 4 days since I'd washed my hair. I have also been majorly procrastinating on the laundry. I mean, why make the neighborhood boys haul up any more water than they have to, right? The entire neighborhood's water has been out for over a month, and I don't forsee the pump getting fixed anytime soon. Oh Ghana. Elizabeth always tells me how nice my hair is when I wash it. "Sarah...your hair is so beautiful today!" She also likes it when I braid my hair. I am leaving for the weekend to go hike around Lake Volta, and she told me to call her when I got there. That sounds familiar :). I threw off the entire household last night, because I was doing a community outreach and got home at 10 pm. Elizabeth waited up for me even though she usually goes to bed around 8. At least today is a holiday so she didn't have to go to work! It was really quiet this morning on my way to work, because everyone has today and tomorrow off for Ghana's Republic Day. I think that my host mom and my real mom are kindreds. Emmanuel told me a story last night about how Elizabeth hides chocolate from everyone else in the house when she gets it-- I knew I liked her! I'm going to buy some chocolate in Accra this weekend (even though apparently Ghana produces a lot of cocoa, it is really hard to find chocolate here) so I can make them chocolate chip cookies next weekend. Next weekend is my last weekend in Ghana, so I have lots of plans with the host fam already! Baking, swimming, soccer, cooking lessons... hope we have time to get everything done!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

SPF 100+

Sometimes I meet my NGO to tour a med school at 7:30 a.m. An hour later, we walk all the way back to where I started to tour the school of agriculture, which is right by my house. I was expecting to tour an anatomy lab, but instead I looked at pigs for an hour. When we finally got to the medical school after walking for another 30 minutes, the dean was not aware that we were visiting. Hmmmm....oh the organization. Love it. To top it off, I still got a sunburn through two applications of 100+ sunblock. The African sun definitely does not agree with my skin. It's impossible to keep even waterproof sunscreen on since it's so hot. My host family always says that I look really nice when I get some color, but I keep telling them that red is not the color I want to be lol. I also have a rash on my arm from running into a cactus yesterday...maybe it's just Africa in general that is not good for my skin :).

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Who Wants to Be Rich?"

This is the name of a popular game show in Ghana; it's pretty much the same as Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in the States but with 80s music and hair. I was watching it with my host family the other night (after the football game, of course!) and was thinking that most of the people here are better off not being rich. People here just don't have much, but I think people here are happier, as a whole, than people in the U.S. I met a 71 year-old American woman at the clinic this morning who has been living here for 11 years-- she retired to Cape Coast. I told her that I could understand wanting to move here since it's a beautiful area and she laughed. She said even though it was a dirty and unhygienic city, she loved the people. I can definitely understand this after spending a few weeks here! Cape Coast is like a city that feels like a small town, because the people are so friendly. I can't go anywhere without seeing students I've taught in the schools now (Madame Sarah! How are you doing???... ha I think it's really funny that they call me Madame). When we're with Lawrence, the Ghanaian ProWorld staff member, he stops to talk to someone he knows at least every 5 minutes. They are just so social! I love it! However, Ghana could definitely benefit from more resources to improve hygiene and some hygiene education. Today on my way to town, the taxi driver just stopped on the side of the road to pee. Not something that would happen in the states lol, but when there aren't any public bathrooms, you've gotta do what you've gotta do I guess. And, even though I think the goats and chickens and pigs that just hang out in the streets are funny, there is a reason that, in developed countries, animals are confined to farms. By the way, I have now learned how to say animal names in Fante now... my host sister is quizzing me tonight! I never stop working here... if I'm not at schools or in the clinic, I'm learning Fante or football or making lesson plans! :) But it's good to be busy!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Coconut Grove

We had a girls weekend at a resort near Elmina called Coconut Grove this weekend. It was pretty amazing. The rooms have warm, running water. The shower was amazing. And our room was right by the beach. I slept so well all weekend with the sound of the ocean (minus the sound of the morning announcements over loudspeaker by my host family's house!). There is also a pool, which is pretty great since the tide is too high to swim much in the ocean. This is by far the cleanest beach I've seen since I've been to Ghana, though. I am also a fan of the free breakfast with coffee :). There was a huge group here from an accounting firm in Nigeria. They were all pretty nice, although I didn't socialize much since I kinda wanted to relax this weekend. Yesterday morning we got up and rode horses on the beach. So fun! I will say, saddles in Africa are not quite like saddles in the U.S....I am pretty sore today haha. But it was worth it! The horse trainer said that he had been working with horses for 15 years. The horse I rode was apparently the fastest runner but the slowest walker, so the trainer kept having to make him trot to keep up with the rest. Ha. At breakfast yesterday morning I also met a really interesting couple from the U.S. The husband is originally from Ghana but teaches at Penn State. He and his wife travel to Africa regularly (their son, an architect, is even building them a house here). The woman writes about African food and is doing research about the nutritional value of traditional dishes. I am really excited to look at her website...I've noticed at the clinic that hypertension is a huge problem here, but it's tough to counsel people on what to eat since I don't know much about the local food. They also opened a university in Nigeria last summer and are spending the last few weeks of the summer teaching there. Anyway, the weekend was really fun, especially since we got to watch the World Cup game on a big screen last night. This is such a great place.. I will definitely remember it if I ever get a chance to come back to Ghana!


In Ghana, football is serious business. At 4 a.m., you can already find games on the dirt fields by my house. Don't bother asking people what their favorite sport is, because the answer will always be football. Everyone plays, and everyone watches. Last week when Ghana played Germany, I think all of Cape Coast was holding its breath to see if Ghana would advance. After every goal that Ghana scores, there is a group (maybe pack is a better word...) who run from where I live to the market that's over a mile away blowing vuvuzelas and yelling. It's intense. My host mother and sister always sit and watch the opening of the games but then leave the room while Ghana is playing since they get so nervous. Emmanuel  just coaches the team through the TV. He also quizzes me on player names and team strategies after every game (even the ones Ghana doesn't play). I don't watch much soccer in the states, but apparently I will be an expert by the time I get home. In the first rounds he also made me calculate the chances of each team advancing...we had to talk about all of the hypotheticals. So funny. He says that he will bye me a Coke for every game that Ghana wins. I was heckled all last week about the U.S./Ghana game. I have heard at least a hundred times that Ghana beat the U.S. in the last world cup. A taxi driver told me last week that I shouldn't support either team... "if Ghana loses, you can be a lot sad, but if U.S. loses, you can be a little sad. You have to be patriotic." My host family taught me to say I am a Ghanaian in Fante last week..I decided that since I'm Ghanaian for the summer, I have to support Ghana, and, I'll have to admit, I was really excited that they won last night. The other volunteers and I are at the beach for the weekend, so we got to watch it on a projector at the resort. Everyone was going crazy... it was a really exciting game! Emmanuel also told me that he was going to shave my head if U.S. beat Ghana, so I think things worked in my favor :).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

My Summer Family

My host family is Ghana is so great! We have settled into a daily routine. I wake up between 5 and 6 a.m. every morning and come out to find my host sister ironing clothes. We say good morning (in Fante, now, of course), she and asks if I slept well. Then they warm up my water for a shower and I eat breakfast. Yesterday I got avacado (they call them pears) and yummy! We leave the house around 7. Elizabeth, my host mother, always says, "Sarah! You are looking beautiful today!" Then we walk down the hill to the taxi station, which sometimes takes awhile since we talk to all of the neighbors on the way (the neighbors all call me Efuwa since that is my name in means Friday born). When I return home in the evenings, Elizabeth always says, "You are welcome!" and we talk about our days. She is a kindergarten teacher and has 60 in her class this session... I don't know how she does it! She is retiring next December because she will be 60, but she says she will miss her kids. Then she tells me to go watch soccer with Emmanuel. Last night the third African team was eliminated, so now they are even more nervous about the Ghana game tonight! My host sister, Pat, usually gets home around 8 since she teaches and then works at a shop. She and Emmanuel teach me Fante every night... I'm starting to remember some of it haha. The pronunciation is so hard! Ghanaians don't normally sit together and eat at the table, but they usually bring me my dinner to eat while I was soccer. Elizabeth goes to bed around 8 since she gets up at 3:30 every morning. Then Pat usually goes to bed to work on her lesson plans or read, and Emmanuel always stays up late to watch TV. They are going to teach me how to cook some Ghanaian dishes this weekend when I get back from Coconut Grove. Elizabeth is also having the seamstress come over to take my measurements. Mom, if you're reading this, don't forget that she wants your measurements, too, to have something made for you :). I am having to get used to checking in with someone every time I leave the house, but I'm usually so tired at the end of the day that I don't want to stay out late anyway. Last night Pat was worried that I had walked home in the dark, but I assured her that I had a taxi drop me off at the door. The driver didn't even know the area of town that I lived in (even though he said he did when we waved him down), so I had to direct him all the way to the house... my host fam was really impressed haha. I think I'm good at directions here because everyone goes by landmarks. If the streets are named, no one knows the name of the roads; and people definitely don't use directions (NSEW) here!

I love that there is such an emphasis on family here. Some of that may be from necessity. Most of the people I talk to have never traveled out of Cape Coast. In some of the rural villages, even 30 minutes away, some of the people have never come to the shore or seen the ocean. Children either live with their parents or with their spouses. Pat and Emmanuel are both in their late twenties and live at home, and their sisters and brothers are all married. Most people can't believe that I live by myself away from home. I thought that people just didn't travel because they don't have the resources (which is the case some of the time), but even some of the wealthier people I've met in the community don't travel because they don't have a desire too. Although I guess if I lived right by the coast I might not want to leave either :).

Monday, June 21, 2010

Tro-tros, Taxis, & (Ghana) Time

Public transportation here is an experience, to say the least. The taxi drivers have a special bond with each other. At the taxi stations, they take turns using signs for the tops of their cars that say where they are going. They also don't mind driving on the side of the road to cut each other off. It's really no big deal if they just give a warning honk. So, if you get a taxi at the station, you have to wait until it fills up before it will leave. If you get a shared taxi on the road, the driver will drive really slowly and honk at people until he finds enough people to fill it up. If you get a drop taxi, you have to negotiate the price, because, if you are white, they will rip you off (unless you're me and keep a list of how much it should cost to go everywhere in town...ha). The taxis are also colorfully decorated. Many of them include stickers on the back about God. My favorite so far if "For Give Me." I'm not really sure if they meant "forgive me" or if they want people to give them something. Probably the second. I've also seen a lot of taxis with golf balls stuck to the window in these suction cupped golf ball holders. Hmmmm. And don't expect to be able to open the door from the inside, because most of the door handles are broken. Perhaps the most surprising thing to me about the taxis is that a lot of them don't know how to drive a stick shift, but they do it for a living! It's an especially bumpy ride when a driver who can't use a stick shift well decides to take a "short cut" through some of the unpaved roads. Sometimes when I tell the driver where to stop he tells me that it's not where I want to go. Example: "Could you stop at the Yes F.M. junction please?" "No, you want to go to Old Site." Sometimes the drivers are frustrating, but I've also had some of my best conversations with taxi drivers (who are, incidentally, all men...I've never seen a woman taxi driver). As interesting as the taxis are, though, the tro-tros are even crazier. They are basically big vans that the drivers and their assistants cram as full of people as possible. However, if a taxi or tro-tro has to pass a police checkpoint, they will make someone get out and then walk or ride in another vehicle across the border so as not to be fined. It's kind of a surprise to see a police checkpoint for the first time. It's basically just guys in camo standing in the middle of the street with massive guns. Anyway, the last tro-tro I rode in had a hole in the floor (probably from all of the off roading). The guy who takes the money was just hanging out the side of the van...he didn't bother to slide the door closed for a few blocks. It's really amazing how fast they can go, too. The redeeming factor: it only costs like twenty cents for a twenty minute trip. So economical!

Ghanaians are not the most timely people I have ever met. Take this morning. I went to a school to teach. I had no idea what I was teaching, because the headmaster and all of the science teachers were out when I went to meet with them last week...twice. Then, I waited an hour to teach a class about respiratory disease before I had another 3 hour break. Nice. The thing is, none of the administrators know the class schedules. Before I left for the day, I made one of them take me to every class and write down the times that I would be teaching...we'll see if that works out. Anyway, since Ghanaians are not exactly punctual, I hear a lot about getting caught in traffic. Since public transportation is so crazy, they all think it's a great excuse. Except that it's never taken me more than 30 minutes to get anywhere in town. Lesson learned: I now keep a book with me at all times so I have something to do while I wait!

Babies and Beaches

Babies and beaches are my two favorite things about this country. The children here are beautiful. Every morning when I walk down the hill to the taxi station I get at least three hugs. Today a girl name Cynthia asked me if we could be friends. Um... of course! I love that the women carry their babies tied to their backs with batik cloth. We went last Saturday to a village to build cement blocks for a school, and there was a woman with a baby on her back in the tro-tro-- he was snoring! So cute! I have no idea how the kids can sleep through all of the noise, but they do. I routinely see babies sleeping while their moms clean or cook. After we were finished working on the school, we had to sit and wait for someone to come pick us up. This group of kids sat on the bench by me. At first they were really shy. This little girl would inch closer to me and eventually worked up the courage to touch my arm. She was trying to rub off my freckles cause she didn't know what they were! Ha it was so cute! After our mini project, we went to Abanze Beach Resort. It was like $40 U.S. dollars to spend a night somewhere on the beach with hot running water, a tv, and three great meals (lobster pasta and fresh squeezed juice...amazing!). It was a really nice break from the noise of the city...and I no one in the house woke up at 3 a.m. to turn the radio on, so I actually slept in until 7.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Jesus is Lord Fabric Shop

Ghanaians love Jesus, and the names of all of the businesses definitely reflect it. On the way to my house, I pass "God is Good Pharmacy", "Jesus is Lord Bookshop", and the "Love God Everything Store". My personal favorite so far is "Holy Wood Movies", although I'm pretty sure that was a mistake (and they probably sell porn). They also all ask me if I'm Catholic or Methodist, because those are the two main denominations. My friend Yen made the mistake of telling our N.G.O. that she doesn't attend church in the U.S... he invites her every day now :).There is really no sense of being politically correct here, either. All of the kids ask Yen if she is "a Chinese" and they regularly call my director "the fat one". They call all white people obroni and expect us to call them obibini (black person). It's so great, though, because they don't mean any of it offensively... there is not really racism here.

This morning Yen and I had a planning meeting with Nicholas and laid out the rest of our time here. I also have been trying to plan for the next group so it's not so disorganized. Kirsty (our program director) asked me if I needed a job this morning lol. If I didn't have to go to med school, I would definitely stay and work with her! Last night we went to Abanze for dinner. The scenery was great...we were right by the ocean. The food was also amazing. Who knew that a Scottish woman in Ghana could cook amazing Chinese food? We also took some wine with us, which was a nice treat. We are all going back tomorrow night to spend the night in the tiki huts (with running water!!! so excited!). We have a mini project building a school in the morning, but I'm hoping to sleep past 5 a.m. on Sunday! 

Thursday, June 17, 2010


My host family told me this morning that I was too skinny and that they wanted to fatten me up before I went home. Ha! I told them that I need to be able to fit into my pants since I only brought a couple of pairs! I do really love the food here, so I'm sure I'll gain a few pounds. They have toast or oatmeal ready for me every morning by 6 a.m. Then my host mom packs me a "morning snack" of pineapple before I go to work. It's the best pineapple I've ever tasted since it's grown here and bought fresh from street vendors! So good! Then she makes me a different lunch everyday. It's usually rice with chicken or fish and some kind of spicy sauce. I think she uses onion, tomatoes, and red pepper. Delicious! For dinner the other night, my host sister made me spaghetti bolognese, and tomorrow she's making me a special dinner. She went to culinary school for awhile, so she's a great cook. She is supposed to teach me how to make some Ghanaian dishes before I leave. I really want to try some of the street food while I'm here, too, but I don't think I'll push my luck since I'm the only volunteer who hasn't been sick yet (I think it's the probiotics and vitamins :). My host family also brings me a snack of watermelon after I get home to eat while I watch soccer. And then they are surprised when I can't finish my dinner haha. The only thing I really miss from home is dairy since they don't really eat cheese here and only use evaporated milk. Tonight our group is going to a restaurant run by a Scottish woman...she's cooking us Chinese food. I'm pumped!

Work was more productive today. I met with one of the teachers at a school that I'm teaching at next week, and we set a meeting to develop a lesson plan tomorrow. The NGO and I also started organizing for the next group of volunteers since there will be so many. I told him that he needed to be very scheduled to make sure that he makes the best use of their time. I'm coming up with some projects tonight and we will start setting them up tomorrow. Yen and I are only his second group of volunteers. I think he wants me to help organize since he's a little overwhelmed at the thought of working with 6 people at the same time. He has so many contacts in Cape Coast, though, I know he can find something worthwhile for all of them to do while they're here.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Oh work

It's been a long and frustrating week already. I've only been here a little over a week and am starting to get frustrated at trying to get things done on "Ghana" time. There is just so much lag time in between actually getting work done. It's a cultural thing, so I'm trying to be patient. Yesterday my NGO called me at 5:15 a.m. to make sure I would still make our 7 a.m. meeting (even though I have yet to be late for anything), and then when we got to the beach to do clean-up the environmental organization wasn't there. We stood around trying to get a hold of someone for two hours, and then my NGO dropped us off at one of the schools to "assist" the teachers, which really doesn't fit with doing public health work. The school just really depressed me. There were around 70 three and four year olds in one classroom with one teacher. There was no bathroom, so they all use a bucket outside the classroom door. And they didn't actually learn anything all day, because one teacher cannot teach that many kids at the same time. The teacher also hits the kids as punishment (with belts or a cane or whatever is around), which was just really hard for me to watch. Yen and I let my NGO know that we will not be spending anymore days like that while we're here and that working on a grant or presentation for his health organization would be a much better use of our time. Despite the lack of organization, our hand-washing and HIV talks went really well at the schools this morning. Even the teachers participate and ask questions. It is really great that something as simple as washing hands (and common sense to people in developed nations) can make a difference. Tonight we are doing a community outreach about diabetes. Yen and I will give a lecture/answer questions, and then we'll do blood pressure and weight checks. It will be a long day (we won't finish until 11 or so tonight), but I'm hoping it will go well!
Other than all of the time management issues with my project, I am still really enjoying Ghana! I am even getting used to the smells lol. In town it smells like fish (people carry huge bowls of them on their heads to sell) and urine (since people just pee in the open gutters). I can also always smell car exhaust. I actually saw a car that had a gas leak the other day. Seems really safe... And hygiene is not really a priority here. I'm sure when I open my suitcase when I get home it will not be pleasant :). It's really hard to keep things clean here since it's so humid. I washed my clothes yesterday and don't expect them to be dry for another couple of days. And I had to throw away my toothbrush after a week cause it looked moldy... gross!
One of the other volunteers and I are planning a night away for Saturday, so I'm pretty excited for that! Ghana plays again on Saturday, so we're hoping to go out somewhere to watch the game. Cape Coast went so crazy last week when they won! It was great!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sleep & Kakum

I don't think that anyone in Ghana sleeps. I've been awake before 6 every day since I've been here, and both of my host families told me that I sleep in. Today, my host mom woke up at 3:30 a.m. and started playing music in the kitchen. Insanity. And it's always loud outside. Music, people yelling, roosters, goats, taxis honking. I guess you get used to it if you live here... I thought that people napped since they are all up so early and in bed so late, but my NGO and host family both assure me that Ghanaians don't take naps. Maybe it takes so long to get anything done here because they're all tired all the time lol.

Our group went to Kakum National Park this morning. It was a little touristy, but still really fun. A couple of Canadians built a rope bridge over the forest canopy, so we walked it and then took a walk through the forest. We heard one of the monkeys that the major river in the area was named after (the monkeys make a noise that sounds like "kakum") but didn't see it. The park lets you spend the night in the forest and takes guided night walks through the park to see wildlife, and I'd really like to do it if I have a free night before I leave. As of now it's not looking like I will, though. The park is only about 30 minutes away from where I'm working, Kakumdo (it means "under the river"), although the roads are kind of rough in a tro-tro. On our way back, we stopped at a monkey sanctuary run by this crazy Dutch couple. They let some of the monkeys sleep in the same bed with them. Apparently, they adopt and try to breed some of the baby animals in the area that have lost their parents to hunters/poachers. After the sanctuary we stopped to eat a Hans Cottage Bottle, also run by Dutch people. The food was pretty decent, but I am so sick of rice! The tables are sitting on a boardwalk over a lagoon with crocodiles, but we didn't see any crocodiles today. After I finish doing some research for the diabetes lecture I'm giving on Wednesday night with my NGO, I'm heading home to watch the US play with my host brother, Emmanuel. Hopefully I can stay awake for the entire thing!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


It was raining all morning in Cape Coast today, and it's like the town shut down. Traffic wasn't even that bad on the way to my project (I generally can't even find a taxi that wants to take me there unless I make them go the back way...). The driver told me that he thought people here are lazy cause they all stay home when it rains :). He said he always works since his wife passed away and he has three kids to support... so sad! I keep having to tell myself that I can't help everyone and that development work will make more of a difference than charity. I took his number in case I needed a taxi in the future (it's generally a good idea to get a couple numbers of reliable cab drivers in case you get stuck somewhere). Anyway, we only got to go to one of the schools that we had planned on speaking at today cause so few students showed up at one school that the rest were sent home for the afternoon. We did get to speak to 8 classes at the first school, though, so it was still a busy day! The students were great! They loved the activities that we had planned and listened really well. The younger students were harder to communicate with since they don't understand as much English, so our Ghanaian project members had to do most of the speaking then. They all had such great questions (i.e. "Can you get sick from sharing a drink?" "Can you get HIV from mosquitoes?"). I am impressed by their level of maturity and am looking forward to working with more students in the next few weeks!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


I am working with an NGO who has created an organization called HEPENS (Health Protection + Environmental Sanitation). He is so great... completely passionate about what he's doing to help his community. He works all day every day and is the only Ghanaian I have met who is always on time :). The first two weeks that I'm here we're going to schools to teach basic hygiene (hand washing, brushing teeth, etc.). We're using the project budget to put buckets with taps (like water coolers) in schools so that kids wash their hands with running water instead of the existing bowls where all of the kids wash hands in the same, dirty water. We are also using money to place trash bins in the schools and around the community (currently, everyone just throws trash on the ground, and the garbage attracts can always see little kids playing in trash heaps, so it's a massive health problem). We had our first full day in a school today, and it was so much fun! The kids are really receptive, and they catch on really quickly. I think it's really important to educate the youth on how to better protect their health and build a healthier community. The teachers were also very excited to have us there and asked us to come back to the school if we have time. I also had my first Fante lesson this afternoon with one of the national staff. I've also finally gotten a good grip on directions and how much taxis should cost, so that helps a lot (it took me a couple of days to figure out the difference between a drop taxi and a shared taxi, but I think I've finally got it down). We had a group dinner tonight at this restaurant on the beech... the atmosphere was incredible! The tables are outdoors under a gazebo and there are palm trees and flowers all over the place. Unfortunately, all of the nice beech resorts are run by foreigners, so the tourism doesn't do much to help the local economy.
Tomorrow we are splitting up to talk to older kids about HIV prevention. I think it is so great that it can be talked about in schools. I hope it goes well since the kids in these schools are not as proficient in English as the kids who we worked with today!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Oh Ghana

Day two in Ghana! I stayed in a hostel in Accra the first night before traveling with the rest of the group to Cape Coast. The traffic outside of Accra was awful (most likely because there are very few traffic rules... we went off-roading to avoid some of it), but it only took around three hours. We had a short orientation in the Proworld office before we took a tour of Cape Coast. I think I've got the directions down for the most part (I was the only person this morning who remembered how to get from my house to town and back :). The city is a really nice size... not small but not huge. The area by the coast is gorgeous but not swimmable because of the strong tides (and pollution and fishing). My host family is really fun, but it's pretty overwhelming because there are so many of them. Some of them don't speak much English, so communication is a bit of a challenge. There are 3 little kids, an uncle, two aunts, three teenagers, and then the house mom. One of the boys asked me if I partied last night and then blew me a kiss before I left the house this morning. I told him definitely not haha. My house mom made me a huge dinner this evening. Then, while I was watching some soccer, one of the aunts in the house brought me outside to dance. They are so fun! Sharing a bathroom with 10 people will be a challenge, but so far so good! I like the other volunteers who are here and am glad to have people to spend some time with after work and on weekends. I start working tomorrow and am so excited! My NGO likes to work early, but I'm happy with that since it's so hot here during the day. I can't believe that this is the cool season!
We toured Cape Coast Castle today. The scenery is beautiful but the history is terrible. Even after reading about cave-holding sites like this one, it was still shocking to see it in person. We also went to the Sunday market. The streets were packed! It's tough to navigate between the cabs and the open sewers without sidewalks haha. I think I would definitely rather get hit by a cab than fall in the sewer though. People just pee in them in the middle of the street. One reason why Ghana is one of the least sanitary countries in Africa! The goats and chickens all over the place don't help the smell much, either. At our hostel yesterday, we thought that someone was trying to get in and then saw hooves under the gate. Pickpockets and thievery is a huge problem here, so everyone keeps locked gates with glass or barbed wire over the top.
I've already experienced "Ghana time" and have barely settled in. Our van driver was an hour late yesterday morning (frustrating since we'd woken up at 5:30 am), and one of the Ghanaian staff was almost an hour late for our tour this morning. Apparently Ghanains are just not worried about's a pretty laid back culture. Nice in some ways, but I could see it being frustrating when you are trying to get something done (i.e. the plumber has been "on his way coming" to fix the toilet in the proworld office for a month now).

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Maybe since I waited so long to pack my I won't take as much stuff that I don't need. All I REALLY need is my passport and plane ticket, right? I can't print my boarding passes online... convenient. I think its because I requested a seat change. Will definitely be worth it if I get the window seat! Total flight time today=13h 30 min. I'm pretty excited to finally have time to get a full 8 hours in. Here's hoping I sit by someone quiet!