Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Keep Giving

Now that I am back in America, Africa is a distant-- yet extremely fond-- memory.  I think about my students often, and relish the few moments I have had with the other volunteers since we've been back. 

I still love teaching.  And boy, is it a different ball game in America!  But while we are on the subject....

A few months ago, I had an email in my inbox from SOHI explaining about a new project they are working on: a computer lab at the School for the Deaf in Ghana.  Words cannot express the avenues that having computer skills could pave for those beautiful African students.  I was determined to jump on board.  And luckily, so did my third graders. 


at Canyon Rim Academy
February 3, 2010
7:00 pm

Please come to see my class put on a little benefit concert in an effort to earn money for a laptop to give to Signs of Hope International.  They have been working really hard, and it is sure to be a wonderful time!  Call or email me for the address and more details. 

Saturday, August 22, 2009

on the flight home

From my journal on the airplane: 

The day that I've anticipated and dreaded, looked forward to and wished would never come has at last arrived.  

Woke up around 4:30 this morning to throw my sheet and a few other last minute things into my suitcase before loading in the tro tro for the last time and heading to the airport.  

Customs and security were smooth sailing--my suitcases really are a lot lighter and easier to manage.  We waited a while to board; I spent my last 2 cidi to buy a Fanta.  More waiting, more checks, and then we finally boarded: Delta flight DL167.  Currently we are in the air somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, leaving Ghana.  Headed back home.  

I haven't yet been able to pinpoint the exact way this experience has affected me.  I feel such inclusive love for my students, the teaching and learning opportunities, the 8 other girls I learned to love and lived with, and so many other blessings I have been given by way of this trip.  GRATITUDE.  

My life has truly been changed, but not in the same way as any previous experience--even London--changed me.  It is so different than anything I know.  I was pushed, pulled, and expanded in ways I never expected.  Time has passed in such a unique manner.  It's a strange feeling.  

Thinking about my students and missing them a little.  Hoping that they continue to feel my love and prayers--even when I am not there with them.  

Thinking about the other volunteers.  I cannot imagine this experience without them.  Today we will part ways.  In each other's lives for nine weeks, and then taken back to our "previous lives."  Isn't it funny how that works?  For over 2 months these girls have been my friends, colleagues, teachers and relief.  So grateful to have them in my life.  

Thinking about going home.  It will be a big adjustment!  Not only to have running water, food, and my own bed, but also heading straight into my career, being with my family, having many more responsibilities than I have had for my time in Ghana.  I've got to start thinking about more than just my amazing Deaf students, which will be fine once I get the hang of it again.  And, honestly, I feel like I'll look at things differently now that I have had this Africa experience.  

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Obruni Bye Bye

So much to do and say in so little time.

I've been thinking a lot for the past few days about being here and the ultimate result of my African experience. My eyes have been opened to a completely different culture, I have honed my signing skills (a little), I have made new, life-long friends, I have had an incredibly unique teaching experience, I have realized how to live with less, I have learned a lot about myself. Ghana is unlike any place I have ever been. I don't know if my words or pictures can truly convey this country, and how I feel about it. I have definitely learned humility, simplicity, gratitude, and patience.

This week has also been amazingly full of adventures and good times. It is hard to believe that my time in Africa is coming to an end! I have loved being here serving and teaching and learning and experiencing.

On Thursday, we skipped school... but for very good reason: we traveled to Kofordua to the bead market! There were tables full of beads in every pattern and shade you could immagine. Most were traditional African clay beads, but there were strands of tiny glass and plastic beads hanging down the sides of the tents. Some had ready-made necklaces, earrings, bracelets, etc. Needless to say, I spend more money than expected. However, I got some really cool gifts and some stories to go with them! (Like everything purchased in Africa...) Loved the bead market.

Friday was the last time I will ever have to rub my skin raw doing laundry in Africa! My friends from the JSS-- Matilda, Adwoa, and Linda-- came over to assist Lyndsey and I with our last laundry. They whip through it like there's no tomorrow! I am always so grateful for their help, because even though I hate to admit it, I am a weakling.

Friday was also the last night that the student teachers from the Presbyterian school would be around. They were all leaving to take their final exams and receive their certificates. (I know what that feels like!) We were all sad to see them go, especially the students, because they were extremely more dedicated and prepared than the actual teachers. Their absence has already taken its toll.

Saturday was celebrated as our last Saturday in Ghana by going to the Rita Marley (Bob Marley's wife) Gift Shop and Boutique. We went there thinking that we were going to be able to tour her studio, but no such luck because she was off seeing Obama! It still was worthwhile for a number of reasons: First, we met two very eccentric American women who were new to Ghana and working at the Boutique. Both claimed to be helping Rita with a clinic she was opening in a nearby village. They talked to us and we explained Ghanaian money while we bought postcards and pins. One lady kept telling of how she lived in Jamaica for ten years. She said a lot of other things too, but some were a bit unbelievable. We took a picture with her and she said, "Everybody loves Rasta!" in her sing-song whispery voice. We had a good laugh for sure. Also a very positive part of the trip was purchasing two mangoes right across the street from the shop. I wish I could describe the mangoes for what they are, but words escape me.

Saturday night we were invited up to the high school for "Drama Entertainment." This week, the students decided for the boys to dress up like girls (stuffed bras and bums), and the girls to dress up like boys (eyeliner goatees, baggy pants and sideways hats). They did some skits and dancing. Near the end, they asked us to do a dance... we had no idea what to do, so we taught them the "Boot Scoot and Boogie." Hilarious! But they loved it.

On Sunday, we went to church at the Primary School with our students, but this week we all wore our African dresses or skirts. The students thought we all looked so beautiful! My dress is made out of some fabric from my Nana-- sort of a hot pink and purple tie-dye. I don't know how much I'll wear it in America, but the Ghanaians sure loved it. Nycole and Catharine both had full traditional African dresses made. Kelsey had a shorter dress with a full skirt. All the other girls had skirts made, too. It was fun fun fun.

And now we have started our final week. I am trying to savor every moment with the students. Some of them have been saying how they will "worry, cry. 18 July. Miss you." (It makes more sense in sign.) I will miss them too! Highlights (and lowlights) of the week so far:
  • On Monday we were working in the P-zero class, teaching and playing. Then, all of the teachers of the preschool "KG" (kindergarten) classes stopped whatever was going on and lined up their students in two lines-- tallest to shortest. Then, they passed out signs that said things like "Mother's Our Only Hope" and "Disability is not Inability," and marched the students around the entire school compound while on teacher played a drum. When we asked what it was for they told us "Preschool Education Week." They said that they had activities planned for each day, but when we went today, they didn't have anything going on. It was mildly amusing, and fun to let those little kids out of the classroom for a while. Mom-- have you ever considered doing a march?!
  • Having 3 massive mosquito bites on my legs and they itch like no man's business.
  • Trying to stretch my protein bars, trail mix and peanut butter for a few more days.
  • Trading all of the things I would rather not bring home at the Wood District.
  • Hanging out and chatting with the other volunteers.
  • Running out of camera space. (dang! good thing I have friends who will lend me some of their memory).
  • Thinking about hot showers, running water, and real food
As this is my last email, I would like to once again express my gratitude to all of you. I thank Heavenly Father every day for my amazing, supportive family, and incredible friends. I cannot wait to see you! Like I said before, this experience has been unlike any other, and I am so grateful to all of you for helping me get here. Love you all.

So... I'll see you in a couple of days!

Peace Out.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Oh my llamas!

There is so much to tell about this week.
I'll start with Wednesday. Republic Day! No school was held, so we seized the opportunity to visit some waterfalls...which turned out to be quite the adventure! LaraLeigh (our leader) found us a ride with a school group-- there were 4 chaperones and 15 students (about 12-13 years old) and 9 SOHI volunteers all smashed into one tro tro. It was hilarious! We decided later that they wanted us to join them even though their tro tro was already full so that we could help pay. The first waterfall we visited was Akka falls. It was a short walk down some steps to see it-- the water was brown and muddy, but the surrounding jungle was very pretty. We also walked up to a rock that overlooked a little valley, which was very beautiful. After a fan ice we hopped back in the tro tro and headed for Boti Falls (the "big one"). It was impossibly crowded! We hiked down to the falls shoulder to shoulder with people in the mud the entire way down, and back up. Down close to the falls was especially crazy. Us nine obruni (white) girls certainly stuck out! We stayed for a bit and squeezed through the crowds to a misty spot in the jungle. (Of course, Nycole, Suzy and I sang a little rendition of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" while standing in the jungle because--honestly--what could be more appropriate? And, let me tell you, the Ghanaian people LOVED seeing the white girls sing! We had our own little audience). After those falls we followed our school group friends to a new destination. We had NO idea what we were in for! It turned out to be a slightly treacherous hike up a sheer cliff through the jungle to Umbrella Rock. The hike there was much more difficult than expected-- we climbed rocky cliffs amidst masses of drunken Ghanaian men grabbing your arms and singing loudly in Twi. There was trash EVERYWHERE along the path.
Side note: I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but there is no garbage/waste disposal in Ghana. Everywhere you go there is garbage strewn on the streets and sewage filling the ditches. Not my favorite. It was a bit shocking to see the attire the Ghanaian people chose to hike in: dresses, heels, dress shirts and designer jeans. If their shoes were a hassle, they would just take them off and walk barefoot! (I was so grateful that I wore my Keens and not my flip flops). Finally we reached the overlook. They made LaraLeigh and I pay 50 peswae to climb up (probably because we are white and they knew they could rip us off-- the girls who arrived before us were smart enough to refuse to pay), but the view was completely worth it! After Umbrella Rock, we followed our school kid friends a little further along the path to see a "3 headed tree," which was a palm tree with a 3-in-1 trunk. The Ghanaians were crazy about it. Finally, we turned around and headed back. One of the little boys we were with- Michael- grabbed my hand and held on for the last quarter mile of the hike. Back in the commons area, it was a major party-- crowds of people dressed in distinctly African knock offs of trendy American styles, (obnoxious) music booming through speakers everywhere we went (even on top of the mountian! don't know how they got it up there...?). The white girls stuck out like a sore thumb-- we recieved lots of unwanted attention while the chaperones were rounding up the school kids. Needless to say, it was a relief to come back to our quiet little guest house in Mampong. Loved that day-- everything was so crazy this account does not do it justice, nor can it even attempt to capture it completely, but I hope you get a small taste of what it was like!
Thursday carried on as usual at school, as well as Friday. UNTIL-- Ghana's Most Beautiful Woman showed up at the school! No joke! Actually, we had an assembly with her. It is equivalent to a "Miss Utah" or someone like that. She came to the school to visit the kids, and because both of her parents are deaf and attended the Demodeaf School. Honestly, I wasn't super impressed with her because she wasn't very sensitive to Deaf culture while claiming to be an advocate for the deaf. Even so, the students were thrilled to have her there. They performed some of their cultural dances again, which I always love to see. Goodness, I love those kids.

Saturday (July 4th) was another day for the books! Very wonderful and adventureous. We woke up at 3:40am (so early!) and got ready to go to Shai Hills. Our tro tro was scheduled to pick us up at 4:00, but in true Ghanaian fashion it was a bit late. We drove for a while in the dark, in and out of sleep. Finally, we pulled in as the sun was rising-- and were greeted by a group of baboons! They were climbing on the benches looking for food just outside the windows of the tro tro. Of course, we were snapping pictures like crazy. LaraLeigh negotiated the entrance fee, then we picked up our guide named Abraham. He was awesome! Picture the most optimistic, intelligent, smiley Ghanaian man you can, and you would have Abraham. We drove through the grasslands and saw wild antelope and more wild monkeys. Abraham told us about the Shai people and we hiked to a tribal cave (part of which is now infested with bats--like in Batman). We listened to "The Circle of Life" while driving through the grasslands-- itseemed so appropriate, even if we didn't see lions or elephants. Plus, it made me think of Bailey! The whole morning was so happy and fun. AND THEN.... on our way out, our tro tro got stuck in the mud. Now, this isn't like the mud we see normally at home. It was sticky like glue and thick like clay. Abraham and Emmanuel (our driver) asked us to get out while they got sticks and leaves to put under the tires for traction. Abraham was practically cutting down trees with his bare hands! But it didn't work. All nine of us girls pushed and pulled from every angle, but the tro tro would not budge. We said a prayer. We worked on the situation for what felt like 3 solid hours, but I think it was really only about 2. Abraham was so optimistic and great the whole time. He kept saying "Are you all okay?" We were so grateful to have him: he was up to his biceps in mud, he got stung by a scorpion, his boss refused to send a car to help us... what a champ! Finally, a car came down the road with some people from Austrailia (the only other people we had seen all day). They and their guide helped us push, and we also tied the tro tro to their toyota with a little rope we found so that it could help pull us out. Totally in an answer to prayer-- we got out! The happiest moment ever! We drove back (very carefully) to the reception area and washed off our muddy shoes/feet/legs/arms/hands. I bought a mango in celebration. By the time we got home, I was exhausted. We wiped down with baby wipes, and crashed. Catharine and I listened to a couple chapters of HP 7. With it being the 4th of July, we wanted to make a treat. We decided guacamole would be delicious and more simple than another cake! Only one of the 7 avacados we bought was ripe, but it made enough for us to enjoy with plantain chips for a delicious

Also on Saturday... I ATE FUFU! The flavor was pretty good-- kind of spicy-- but the texture was like a slug going down your throat. No chewing. I liked the flavor of fufu better than banku, but I again opted for a granola bar after a few bites. :)

Many other things have been happening: learning a cultural dance from a couple of the high school girls, teaching a class of fifty five (yes, 55) kindergarten and first graders how to play "do as I'm doing," visiting the girls dorms, playing with the school kids, reading, chatting with the girls, meeting a new obruni friend at church, and living the Ghanain life. Wish I had time to go into depth about it all. I'll definitely show you all of the pictures!

I only have a few short days left in Africa! Next week will be my last post from this little internet cafe in Aburi. My, how time flies.

Sure love and miss you all.

Mahoeye Pa!


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Hello Sports Fans!

Well, it has been another amazing Ghanaian week. Surely someone is blessing those rains down in Africa because it has been raining. and raining. and raining. In fact, on Thursday the girls and I had a rain dance and played outside during a particularly heavy rainstorm. Nycole and I washed our hair outside! Likewise, on Friday it started pouring in the middle of the P-4 (fourth grade) vs P-6 (sixth grade) soccer match (which was then cancelled as everyone dashed into the dining hall) and the rain continued for over FOUR HOURS STRAIGHT. I have seen it rain, and I have seen it rain for a long time. But I had never seen a downpour/lightning/thunder rainstorm that lasted that long. I had about 7 kids in my arms at once. They all say, "It is cold, wet! Keep me warm!" When we ran home, mud splattered all over the back of my shorts.

Saturday brought another tro tro trip to Accra. The group from Kibi came down on Friday night so that we could leave early enough (8:30am) to make it for our 10:30am appointment at the Temple! Side note: I can't remember if I have already explained the traffic situation in Ghana, so let me explain again. We ride in tro tros, which are like oversized vans, four to a seat and zero leg room (even for the shorties). Most of the roads are a mixture of paved and not paved. There are no speed limits, traffic signs, regulations for cars, regulations for pedestrians, etc. I have had a couple risky experiences. Traveling, or "tro-troing it" is always an adventure. Even despite the scary traffic, we arrived at the temple about half an hour early. Doing baptisms was excellent; one of the highlights of the trip for sure. It was very quiet in the temple, and the people were very accomodating. Loved it all. Afterwards, we took a lot of pictures and then headed off for Chicken Inn (pizza) and Frankies (ice cream). After eating, our group split off and determined to meet at home later. I went back to the art centre to pick up a few more things. This week was not as fun as last week-- pushier sales people, Ghanaian men grabbing and saying obscene things, everyone giving us a hassle. I was DONE with the art centre by the time we all were ready to leave! On our way back to the tro-tro station, I bought a mango which cheered me up entirely.

Sunday we went to church at the school with the students. They had a lesson taught by one of the JSS student teachers about "Walking in the Spirit." It was interesting. Those kids sure know their bible! After church, a few of my friends- Adwoa, Matilda, and Linda- came over to help me with my laundry. (Long overdue). They helped me get it done so fast! It was raining, so I had to hang everything on the porch or in our family room to dry. (It still isn't dry). I gave the girls crackers and PB with Milo (like hot choc) in thanks for helping me. They love peanut butter! They ate 2/3 of my crackers and 1/3 of a jar of peanut butter. "Sah-weet!" they say.

Monday, half of the girls were sick: Charity, Shea, Kelsey, and Catharine. Our house was quiet and dark. Those of us who were well headed off to school as usual, but even there it was a low-energy day. Lyndsey and I had to leave school a bit early to visit the ATM in Medina. While we were there, I bought a mango-- plus two more to eat this week! Yay.

Can't believe that today is the last day of June! How is the summer going? I hope you have some amazing plans for the 4th of July. I am sad to be missing barbeques and fireworks. Ghana celebrates Republic Day tomorrow, so we have no school! (Probably won't be having a barbeque though...)

I have tried, to no avail, to post pictures... sorry! Thanks for your patience.

Love and miss you all--


Thursday, June 18, 2009

All Downhill From Here

Hey folks!
So over the weekend we went to Cape Coast and had many fantastic adventures. First of all, we stayed in a hotel surrounded by a crocodile infested swamp! I saw many crocodiles "in the wild" and it was awesome. We threw our leftover chicken into the swamp after dinner and watched them "attack". Next, we walked in the canopy of Kakum rainforest! This was one of my favorite things in Africa so far. You hike into the forest a bit, then climb some stairs into this little hut where the canopy walk begins. There are wooden planks that you walk across from tree to tree. It was raining a little while we were there, so I got soaked! Now I am an official tree-hugger-save-the-rainforest-advocate. After the canopies, we went to 2 different Slave Castles on the coast. It was very sobering and quite sad to hear about how the slaves were treated, but very interesting and historical. Our last stop was the "coconut grove" resturant, which was RIGHT on the beach. We played around in the water, but we didn't swim (sorry Bay). Plus, I ate french fries. And vanilla ice cream (Grammy!). Even despite the ever-so-long hours in a tro-tro, it was a wonderful weekend.
Back to school this week, and it has been a great one. I am in love with these students! It is difficult for me to put into words the connections that we have made. Some things are difficult for me; for example, this week in a P1 (first grade level) class, I taught a writing lesson. As a class, we came up with the beginning and the middle of a story. I gave the students the assignment to finish it-- each one for his or herself. They couldn't do it! They really don't have a concept of "pretend". Rather than playing house or "lost kids", these kids grew up running races, playing hand-slap games, and copying pictures from books or movies. So to ask them to invent an ending to a story was literally unheard of for those kids. On the other hand, some things are easy and rewarding; for example, Nycole has been a bit sick this week and had to miss school for a couple of days. When she came back to school on Wednesday, the students came running and asking her if she was well again, hugging her, and rubbing her hands. Like I said, some of the moments that I have had with specific students is hard to put into words. It is hard to express the way the students love-- they are so unconditional and earnest in the way they love us. It is always gratifying to be around them (even on particularly frustrating days). I am glad that we have been able to spend some considerable time with them; I know the situation would be different if we were only here a week or so.
This weekend we are headed to Accra to explore and shop! We are going to the Art Centre, which supposedly has some very cool stuff. If you have any requests, let me know! :) Our trip is already over halfway through... Can't believe it.
Thank you all for your emails and support! I honestly thrive on your words and relish my internet time each week. I have never had such a hard (but rewarding!) trip, and I am so grateful for the constant foundation of amazing family and friends. I can't wait to show you all of my pictures when I get home! I hope this finds each of you well and enjoying your summer.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Wonderful and Challenging

Hello everyone out there!  Ghana continues to be wonderful and challenging.  Happy June and happy summertime to all.

I must tell you about one of the best things I've been a part of so far.  Last Thursday (June 4) was the LOREAL 100th Anniversary in West Africa.  As a part of their celebration, they donated a training Salon to our school.  We arrived at school around 9:30 and were promptly seated in the dining hall to wait for the presentation.  We waited for a while (as we usually do-- Ghana standard time), and watched all of the students cram on to benches until the guests arrived.  The students performed their cultural dances (which I think I mentioned last week), the Headmistress and the Chairperson gave addresses, and the students cheered and applauded.  LOREAL gave everyone a t-shirt, lunch, and a few of the teachers hair service.  They also gave all of the students a "goodie bag" with some lotion, deodorant, and a few pieces of candy.  Everybody was thrilled!  There was so much energy and excitement in the air-- I loved being a part of it.

This weekend was Lyndsey's birthday, so Nycole, Catharine and I planned some festivities. (We celebrated Friday, Saturday, AND Sunday in true Bowthorpe fashion!)  We made a cake.  Nycole actually did most of the work-- one of the cooks at school helped her with the batter.  We will never take handmixers for granted again.  Try beating eggs with a wooden spoon...  She brought the batter home and we had to figure out how to light our gas oven, which was also an adventure.  We did manage to light it (without blowing anything up) and we had to guess on how hot and how long to bake it.  I helped with the frosting.  Again, I will never take my electric mixer for granted ever again... try beating butter, evaporated milk, and sugar together with a fork... it's no easy task!  The cake was pineapple flavored, so we cut fresh pineapple to go on top.  In the end, it was a 2 layer masterpiece!  We baked a cake from scratch (literally) in AFRICA!  Wahoo!  I was also in charge of the decorations, so I bought some tape and made a colorful paper chain and a "happy birthday" sign.  Ghanaian tape is not sticky at all, so it fell down within a few minutes.  Still, it was the thought that counts!  We filmed some of the students signing the "happy birthday" song, and they signed a card for her.  We went to Kofordua on Saturday and purchased all of the fixings for guacamole, which LaraLeigh made on Sunday for us to enjoy with plantain chips when we got home from church.  I hope she had a happy day(s).  It was a fun weekend for me, anyhow!

I hope this finds everyone well and enjoying your gardens, barbeques, sun/rain, and the first rites of summer.  I love you and think about you constantly!  

All the best,