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!