Monday, June 28, 2010

A Definite Change of Pace...

On Friday afternoon, I had to take a student to the hospital in the closest town, Nsawam. While waiting on a bench in the hospital, I looked around to see some sort of dried bodily fluids on the floor next to me, dirt and dust being strewn around by taxis that actually drove inside the pavilion-style front lobby, and ailing patients attached to IV stands on dilapidated stretchers all throughout the crowded hallways. I silently thanked my body for so-far remaining in good health, in hopes of never having to be a patient there myself.... I should have knocked on wood.

Following my hospital excursion with the student, I departed for Accra to spend a fun-filled weekend with friends Brianna and Hridi. Upon arriving in the city, Brianna and I discussed some plans for the weekend as we waited for Hridi's bus to arrive from Kumasi. We would go to the market Saturday morning, and out to watch the big Ghana vs. U.S. football match in the evening. Sunday we would go to the beach. It sounded like a good plan.

However, on the way to pick-up Hridi, things took a turn for the worst. My stomach began to cause A LOT of trouble, and as we waited at a gas station for Hridi's bus to arrive, I proceeded to vomit in the parking lot. Hridi arrived shortly afterwards and I warned her not to hug me. I was feeling worse than ever and I suggested Eric (our wonderful Ghanaian tour guide) should drive as quickly as possible back to the hotel.

On the way back, the road seemed rougher and traffic far slower than ever I had known before. We seemed to encounter police barriers every 500 metres. My stomach was about to give out again, and I requested (demanded) for Eric to pull over. We entered another gas station parking lot, and Eric quickly asked where the washroom was. It was not quick enough however and once again I puked in the parking lot. An attendant directed me inside and Hridi and Eric pushed me forward. Not only was vomiting an issue, but I now also had what the Ghanians call “running stomach” (ie: diarrhea). At first glance, I was relieved to see that the washroom seemed fairly functional – a flushing toilet and a sink. However, upon closer inspection, the flushing toilet did not actually flush and was already filled with someone else's running stomach remnants. In addition, the tap did not work and there was no toilet paper in sight. At this point however, there was no other option. I called out to Hridi to search for something to take the place of toilet paper. There were a couple moments of silence as I heard Hridi scurrying around the empty store and then:

Hridi: “Umm... Becky, I found a football poster. Will that work?”

Becky: “I guess it will have to...”

Hridi: “Well at least you can wipe your butt with attractive men!”

At this point I was fairly humiliated, and, exiting the gas station, I apologized to everyone waiting for me in the car. I pleaded for Eric to hurry, who, I realize now, probably did not need any encouragement to get me out of his car as quickly as possible. Nonetheless, five minutes later, I needed to stop again. So, once more, Eric pulled into a gas station and asked for the washroom. We were directed nonchalantly to a dark ally behind the store. Running, we tried various doors, but could not find anything resembling a toilet. Finally, we encountered a small, wooden, outdoor cubicle inside of which lay a bucket ONCE AGAIN filled with someone else's running stomach residues which had, in addition, spilled out all over the floor. At that point however, I took no notice of these things. The bucket, in fact, looked quite inviting at this moment of urgency.

While squatting in the disgusting cubicle, in the deserted ally in complete darkness, I once again called out pitifully for Hridi to find me something resembling toilet paper. Luckily, she was able to purchase some from inside of the gas station. As she came back, I started wailing aloud that I had no dignity and that I hated this country and other ramblings which are a blur to me now. Finally, exiting the tiny chamber of filth, I began to apologize profusely to Hridi as she calmly poured bottled water over my feet to get rid of all of the unmentionable things I had just stepped in. I then kindly proceeded to puke all over her leg.

Somehow, exhausted, weak and soaked with cold sweat, I managed to make it back to the car and we were once again headed back to the hotel. Of course, we were stopped by another police brigade and since we had 4 in the back seat, he shouted at us “OVERLOAD OVERLOAD” and we had to pull-over. I even pleaded in my weakest, sickest voice “please sir, I am very ill – we are just trying to get home” but he paid no heed. Fortunately, Eric had encountered the situation many times before, tipped the policeman 5 Cedis, and we were on our way. After what seemed like hours, we finally made it back to the hotel.

Don't fear friends and family, I am pretty much myself again, after a few days of illness. I just wanted to say thank you SO much to Hridi and Brianna and Eric for looking after me all weekend – I am seriously surprised that you guys are still my friends (especially Hridi).

On a much happier and lighter note, we were able to go to the beach on Sunday (with a little help from my friend, Imodium) and Ghana won their match against the U.S. Which was AMAZING. So I am very thankful for these things!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Washing Day

On Wednesday evening, I arrived in the small village where I will be working for the next 10 months. And let me tell you, my experiences here thus far have been overwhelmingly lovely.

For those of you who may not know me so well, I am NOT a city girl by any means. So, after 5 days spent in the heat, dust, noise, traffic and pollution of Accra, I was more than ready to head out of town. Only one short hour outside of the city, lay the small villages of Fotobi and Obodan. On the way there, the road became narrower, the traffic lessened, the air became cleaner, the noise became almost non-existent. As the drive continued, mountains became apparent in the distance, covered in lush, green, tropical forests. Women walked along the roadside, large baskets of wares on their head, babies strapped to their backs. As the WUSC SUV bumped along the road filled with potholes, I became more and more excited that I was to be working in such a beautiful place.

Finally, we arrived at the destination. Although I had been told that I would be working in Fotobi, the school is actually located in Obodan, an even smaller village, only a 10-minute walk away. Just when I thought things couldn't get any more wonderful, I met the students of the school where I will be working. These girls are even more beautiful than the landscape. Upon my arrival, three of the students voluntarily carried all of my luggage to my room, immediately began sweeping the floor, dusting, fixing the bed, opening the curtains and window. Everything was a whirl of activity, and even though I told them that they certainly did not need to do that, this suggestion was resolutely disregarded. Soon after, I was given (various) tours of the school, and was greeted by all students with a big smile and the simple words “You are welcome.” And welcomed, I certainly felt.

The next day, I awoke quite early and realized I had virtually no idea of what was expected of me. I arose from bed, proceeded to accidentally lock myself in the shower room (luckily someone heard my shouts) and then headed to the school in time for the students' morning assembly at 7am. At the assembly, I introduced myself to the entire school - about 170 young girls. I was then told by one teacher that counseling sessions could be held on Thursday afternoons during the “Life Skills” double period between 1:20 and 2:40. It was Thursday. Although I was completely unprepared at that point to lead a session before 170 girls for an hour and 20 minutes, I returned to my room to conjure some ideas.

Fortunately, the session actually went quite well. Although I was not able to constructively fill the entire duration, it was a good chance to break the ice, and to get the girls thinking about things they would like to discuss over the up-coming year. Indeed, some of the topics that the girls wanted to talk about were quite shocking : appropriate relationships between students and teachers, teen pregnancy and rape. At the same time, other topics, in my opinion, would have seen almost too simplistic for the high-school level : proper female hygiene, for example. So, it was certainly a valuable learning experience for me, and gave me a good idea of the issues that will be brought up during the more one-to-one counseling sessions.

Today, as can be seen by the title of the blog, was washing day. Here, all clothing is washed by hand, and, since a machine generally washes my clothing, the girls were excited to teach me this skill. As they wash, outside from a row of colourful buckets, sun beating down on their skin, they sing. And their voices are lovely. Following the wash, clothes are strung onto one of the many long clothes lines – blowing in the warm breeze of the highlands - or simply laid flat on the grass or hung from tree branches. This is not a chore for them, but a chance to be together, singing and chatting. As for my washing lesson, I ended up getting quite a lot of help with my laundry, but they said I was a hard worker overall. : )

I need to wrap this up for now, as Ghana is playing football today against Australia and everyone is extremely excited. I have come to like watching football/soccer since I've been here and it makes me wish that Canada would step-up their abilities.

Monday, June 14, 2010

First Impressions

In case everyone is not already aware, I have arrived safe and sound (*knock on wood*) in Ghana. Brianna and I arrived at the Accra airport on Friday night, and we have been staying and will continue to stay at a small motel in Accra until our WUSC training is completed on Wednesday.

To be quite honest, I feel as though I have somehow cheated the IDS system of placement-going. After reading about the drastic things that happened to my friend Hridi who has been in Ghana for a month, I had mentally prepared myself to expect the worse. However, as I was able to travel with Brianna (not by myself as I had expected for the past 3 years), had a smooth and on-time flight, as well as an easy transition from the airport to a nice motel, everything seemed to be just too easy. To top things off, Hridi came to visit us on Friday night, and proceeded to show us the ropes in Accra throughout the weekend. We even had a great local driver/tour guide, Erick, who was a cousin of one of Hridi's friends in Toronto.. Everything has just been too strangely simple...But not that I'm complaining.

To paint a bit of a mental picture of Accra, I will highlight a few things that stood out to me over the past couple of days. When I first stepped off of the plane, I took my first breath in Africa and was met with pretty much the richest feeling of warmth I had ever known. The humidity immediately hit me like a wall and I remember a distinctly recognizable smell of warm things: pavement, sweaty bodies, red earth and motor exhaust. Since that time this sweet distinctiveness has decreased, but I think that smell will remain in my memory for a long time. The city itself reminds me of the developing version of a GTA subdivision: buildings sprawled over the landscape for miles without particular rhyme nor reason, nor with a particular point of centrality or focus. In addition, again like the subdivisions of the developed world, it seems to take forever to get anywhere due to high volumes of traffic and highway construction.

One of the most amazing contrasts to me was the sheer number of people in Accra. Always, there are people gathered outside, in front of shops, along the roadside, chatting, walking, working. Drivers yell out to other drivers, to pedestrians, and vice-versa: not in anger, just friendly words of greeting or directions. It seems everyone is in a constant state of communication, like long-time friends. Also, despite the seemingly wreckless craze of driving in Accra, most drivers are more than willing to slow, stop and wait for pedestrians to cross, or for cars to emerge in front of them in a long line of traffic. It is extremely rare for anyone to use signals or lane distinctions, and I have realized that honking instead is the main way for drivers to communicate these things.

Saturday night, Erick took us clubbing around Accra. It was definitely a fun experience, but likely one that I will not do again too soon... at least until I have developed an adequate booty. Like a lot of clubs in Toronto, guys definitely outnumber the girls. However, while in Canada it would be considered strange to see heterosexual males dancing together, here it seems to be a perfectly normal and acceptable practice. I really love this because it makes me realize that people here dance just for the sake of dancing and being together. Nonetheless, from what I've seen so far, all Ghanians seem to be born with the natural ability to dance and keep rhythm beautifully. This definitely creates a high level of intimidation for me, as I know that I am perceived as the awkward white girl that cannot even clap her hands to keep a beat, let alone dance to high-tempo African “hip life” music.

All in all though, the people are wonderful, the city is beautiful and the weather is a nice change from the ever-fluctuating Canadian climate patterns. I am very much looking forward to getting to Fotobi, the village I will be working in for the next 10 months, on Wednesday.

I guess that is all for now. I miss you and am thinking about you all. Although internet is unavailable in Fotobi, I am hoping to soon purchase a modem stick so that I will be able to have some internet access.