Friday, December 7, 2012

6 Months in Ghana

I can hardly believe that I'm six months into my service.  Some days drag on, but overall the time flies by. Next week school is mostly just a formality, and all of the teachers will be recording grades while the students take their last couple final exams.  Before I get into retelling some highlights of the last month, I want to write about what I did today.
During the week I read The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac, and I became inspired to lace up my hiking boots (not a nice Italian pair unfortunately) and climb a mountain.   Since today is election day in Ghana, (and like most countries in the world, election day is also a government holiday) I got the day off from school, and I had the perfect opportunity to climb my mountain.  I wouldn't say that The Dharma Bums changed my life and turned me into a Buddhist hipster, but it did reaffirm my thoughts about nature and peace.  I had my own epiphany last summer; while kayaking by myself on the Upper Iowa River, I was struck by the beauty of the bluffs, trees, riverbanks, and river itself.  I just couldn't believe that all of this beauty and peace was so easily accessible.  All I had to do was take a 20-minute drive in my crappy, but lovable 1990 Toyota Corolla (more affectionately known as The Little Red Dragon Go-Kart), lock up my old Schwinn road bike (that I had turned into a pretty nice ride) and helmet at Malanaphy Springs, put in just downstream of Bluffton, and within 15 minutes I could be separated from the outside world by a shield of natural beauty.  After reading The Dharma Bums I wanted to have that again, and I knew all I needed to do was climb one of the many mountains around Bodada.
I think I have more shoes than any other male Peace Corps Volunteer in Ghana: Chacos (can't be a PCV without a pair of Chacos), running shoes (I thought I would be jogging more), boat shoes (my brown dress shoes), black Adidas (soccer-inspired style, but I use them as dress shoes here), soccer cleats (I thought I would be playing a lot more soccer), flip-flops (known as Charlie-waters or shower slippers here because you wear them while bathing), and last, and until today least, my hiking boots (they're just so versatile I couldn't leave them at home).  I digress, but I think it's funny how many shoes I have, and I like to laugh at myself.  Anyway, I had hiking boots just like Japhy and Smith, so at 8:30am I laced them up, picked a peak, put my water bottle and camera in a bag, and started my journey.  After walking to my school, I realized that without a cutlass (machete for those of you who aren't privy to Ghanaian English) I was just going to have to follow the farm trails and hope I got to the top of a mountain.  So I looked around again and spotted a small corn field almost at the top of a peak that wasn't too far away.  So I followed the trail and turned onto a smaller trail when I thought it was time.  Just 20-minutes after starting my journey, I was in that cornfield I had spied from the school, and I loved it.  Looking around, all I could see was jungle, hills, and the occasional corn field.  I took some pictures, but they really don't do it justice.  Then I started back down the mountain knowing full-well that I wasn't finished with my morning adventure.
I got back on the main path (10 inches of packed and worn dirt, kind of like good single-track mountain bike trails) and continued away from town.  I ran into the first Ghanaian I had seen since I started.  Fridays are taboo days (no one is allowed to go to farm, something to do with local gods and resting, and you get fined if you're caught) so I hadn't expected to see anyone.  I greeted the man in Lelemi, and he asked me where I was going.  I shook my head and told him "Ni sa walk." which means "I'm going walk."  He just laughed and asked me if I was going "back-back."  I didn't really understand what he meant but said yes anyway, and we continued on our respective ways.  He just chuckled to himself and said, "Obruni."  I probably really surprised him.  He probably hadn't expected to see anyone, let alone a white man who greeted him in the local language.  Ghanaians don't really go for hikes, so he probably thought that was strange too. 
Shortly after that I started to walk through a cocoa farm, and decided to help myself to a cocoa pod.  There were tons of ripe pods, and no one was going to miss one, but I felt kind of guilty anyway.  I decided that I would ask around and figure out whose farm it was and befriend the owner.  Cocoa tastes nothing like chocolate, more like an intense pineapple/mango sweetness with the texture of snot, and I love it.  I just needed a nice coconut to top it all off, but I made do with my stolen cocoa pod.  I walked on, crossing a small stream (that the townsfolk probably call a river) a couple of times, and just enjoying the beauty and serenity of everything.  I came to a fork in the path and decided to go up instead of following the stream, so I climbed to the top of another "mountain" and continued along the ridge.  I came across a small pineapple farm, lots of peaceful looking bamboo grove, and eventually a palm wine and akpeteshie farm.  I was really hoping someone was at the palm wine farm because a couple calabashes of sweet palm wine and a chat with a local farmer would have topped off my adventure perfectly.  But alas, I ago-ed and no ame-s came back; the farm was empty.  
I walked on a little further, and I was hoping to find a trail that would take me down to the road or some other trail that I could loop back on, but I would have no such luck.  Judging by the big ridge on the opposite side of the road, I guessed that I had hiked almost three miles from Bodada, but it was a very pleasant three miles and I wasn't disappointed about having to follow my same path back to town.  My only regret was that I had no one to share my experience with, and I got a little lonely before deciding to write about it in a blog post today and share it with the world.  Bodada is truly a beautiful place, and everyone should come visit me here (fellow PCVs in Ghana and everyone back home with $2400 - enough for the plane ticket and 2 weeks of anything else you want to do). 
After hearing about everyone's stories from site at our three month Reconnect-IST (In-Service Training), I decided that I have no reason to complain.  I'm in a gorgeous area, I have internet access, and my classes are not too big (largest class is about 25).  I struggled with classroom management early on, but for the last month, things have been going pretty well.
The week before Thanksgiving (Nov 12 - 16), I wanted to have a class test in my math and science classes, but unfortunately the Ghana bug got me and I had to stay home from school on Thursday (when I was planning on giving the science test and grading the math review homework) so that pushed my test back until Tuesday, November 20 (my mom's birthday! Happy birthday Mom!).  On Monday I don't have any classes scheduled and enough teachers came that I couldn't sneak into a class and give my test, so I just planned on giving the test on Tuesday.  But just before we closed on Monday, the headmaster of the primary school comes up and tells us that our schools (EP Primary and JHS) get the honor of weeding (cutting the grass) the clinic which is about as far away from our schools as you can get in Bodada.  Also he tells us that we'll go over there at 8:00am and then the students are supposed to get the day off of school after that.  This honor was bestowed upon us by Chief Nana Abo IV, who is also the Ministry of Education supervisor for the circuit of Bodada, so there was no getting out of this work.  And while my headmaster said that I could give the tests to Godwin to administer on Wednesday, Godwin wasn't so keen on grading those tests for me.  I wanted to leave for Thanksgiving dinner with the Ambassador in Accra on Wednesday, so something was going to give.  We agreed not to tell the students that they were supposed to get the day off of school after the weeding, and we would give the tests when the work was finished.  This ended up working out fine,  but it's just an example of the planning and emphasis on time and scheduling in Ghana.  The results were encouraging, one student got 97% on the math test, and I think 80% was the best grade on the science test.
Thanksgiving in Accra was awesome.  I stayed with Dennie Ege who works at the US Embassy in Accra.  He's a State Department employee and gets posted to new places every three years.  It was so great to stay with him in his American style house with tv (I got to watch some NFL games!), air conditioning, running water, hot water, 2 fridges, a freezer, Doritos, cereal with milk, and hamburgers.  I couldn't have asked for a better homestay in Accra.
Thanksgiving dinner itself was fun because I got to see almost everybody from training and I met over 50 other PCVs.  And the food...two buffets full of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, green beans (although no green bean casserole with those "fried onions" on top), cheesy cauliflower bake, and salad (which I didn't have room for on my first trip because it was at the end).  I had two full plates of food, and a third helping of turkey.  It was great although I don't know if it was quite up to par with my mom's cooking (mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and green beans especially).  Then came the dessert of pecan, pumpkin, and apple pie (once again missing Mom's apple crisp with ice cream).  It was great and I nearly ate myself into a coma.  But everyone else wanted to go out to a bar and party, so I tagged along.  We went to an Irish pub in Osu, and I posted up at the bar and watched the Lions' game and didn't drink a drop (even if I had wanted to, there was no room in my stomach for alcohol).  As soon as that game ended, I was in a taxi back to the Ege house where I felt reenergized, having finally allowed myself five hours to digest some of the feast.  So I watched a little bit of RGIII magic and went up to bed, did I mention the air conditioning?! I was cold that night and got to use a quilt.  I missed the cold more than I realized.
The next day I went to the Peace Corps Office in Accra to pick up my packages from my new favorite aunt and uncle (Cathy and Dave) and my always favorite mom (Mom).  After a little searching in the mail room, I found both packages and did my best to downplay the contents to the horde of once-again-ravenous PCVs who call themselves my friends.  "Oh just some food and stuff, probably nothing too good," I said, knowing full well that there was candy, meat, and cheese of some kind in there.  Everyone seemed to understand and backed off once I said I was going to wait to open them until I was alone.  Processed American food is worth its weight in gold among volunteers, so yeah, I wasn't about to open that up to the masses.  While at the office we were told to get our flu shots (mandatory) and any immunizations we still needed (final Hep-A for me). 
I also decided to weigh myself because that's kind of the cool thing to do.  Who has lost the most weight?  Wade I think.  Has anyone gained any?  I dont think so.  Who can gain the most weight when they visit America?  I think the record is 22lbs in one month.  I weighed in at 172lbs, down about 12 since I arrived in country, but I think I lost most of that during the first three months of training.  172 is the least I've weighed in a long time, probably since freshman or sophomore year of high school, and that was the day after Thanksgiving.  I do think my weight has stabilized since I've arrived at Bodada, and now that I have cheese and snacks for a few weeks I'll probably put on a little more.  Besides losing fat weight, I think I've lost some muscle mass too.  The diet here is mostly starch with some soup and oil, and since I don't really have a taste for smoked and dried fish, I eat vegetarian pretty often.  I try to eat beans as much as possible, and now that I have some beef jerky and beef sticks (courtesy of the care packages) I'll be eating very well.
The next day I left Accra for Kumasi with ten other volunteers.  We stayed at the Kumasi sub-office (aka the KSO) for one night and then headed to Christian Village for the IST.  The KSO is awesome, and it's a shame that it takes me over 12 hours to travel from site to Kumasi because I would really like to spend some more time there.  It has a full kitchen, showers, comfy couches, and even wireless internet.  My only complaint is that the yard has too many trees to effectively throw a frisbee or football, and there's no basketball hoop. 
Christian Village is pretty nice as far as accommodations in Ghana go, but I prefer the State Dept. houses in Accra.  Everyone from my education training group was there; there are 22 of us now.  It was great to hang out with everyone, but the sessions during the day sure can drag on.  My counterpart never showed up, but on Thursday, my headmaster came.  I thought he would enjoy it, but mostly he was as bored as everyone else.  All of the Ghanaian counterparts had trouble understanding the American speakers, and even we were bored, so I can't imagine how they felt.  In truth though, the sessions were pretty useful.  You had to be active and participate to stay awake, but if you could handle that you would definitely learn something.  The first event lasted two days and was just a "How are things at site?" chat with possible solutions to some things.  Then we had one day of grants and HIV/AIDS stuff because that's how we get a lot of funding (and a lot of Ghanaians need to be educated about the truth).  The third event lasted two days and covered behavior change and a specific model that we should use.
Most of the fun happened after our sessions when we would go back to the dormitory and relax with a beer or throw around the American football or the frisbee.  After a little peer pressure and a couple drinks, I decided that it would be okay to get my hair cut into a mullet.  I immediately regretted my decision, but everyone was less enthusiastic about cutting it off and I decided to just own it.  The next day I got the sides trimmed up even more and added a little style to the whole thing with some lines.  It's pretty epic now.  On Thursday and Friday we (to be more accurate, a few girls) got the Ghanaian counterparts to play a game of frisbee with us, and then on Friday night everyone went to a big outdoor bar and restaurant in Kumasi called Echoes.  It was a lot of fun and they had a live band and we danced until a little after midnight.  I was supposed to catch a bus to Hohoe at 4am on Saturday, but decided that my morning would be better spent in bed.
On Saturday, with my day suddenly free, I decided to go into the city and visit the Vodafone internet cafe and just hang out in the city.  I can't say that I love Kumasi, but it's not so bad.  It's crowded and noisy and smelly, but that's what you get with cities.  Then that night I stayed at the KSO with three other people headed to Volta.  We decided to get up early and start our journey at 5:00am because it would take them ten or 11 hours to get to Ho, and it would take me more than 12 to get to Bodada.
We weren't really sure how we would get there exactly, but we knew the best plan was to get to Koforidua (capital of Eastern Region) and then get cars to Ho and Hohoe.  We decided to just play the trotro game where you stand on the side of the road and try to get trotros to pick you up.  The difficulty increases with the more people you have and the farther you have to go.  Luckily for us, the second trotro that stopped knew how we could get there and dropped us off at a great junction with a pretty big station.  We got a car to Koforidua from that station and even though it wasn't a direct car, we only had to take two cars from the KSO to Koforidua.  From Koforidua, I got in a car to Hohoe and had to wait less than one hour.  We got a flat tire near Have-Etoe, but other than that, the trip was great.  Then it was just two more taxi rides before I was back home to Bodada.  I had missed site and was happy to be back.
On Monday, I went to school and then to Jasikan to withdraw some money and stock up on groceries.  The pastor I live with is having surgery on his humerus, so he's going to stay in Ho for a while.  This means that I'm living alone again for the next few weeks which is fine by me because I get to cook any food I like.  And since I just got a bunch of cheesy things and spices from my mom, I have been whipping up tasty dishes like chicken alfredo, parmesan risotto, and marinara rice.  I'll tell you all right now that the 24-oz of grated parmesan cheese won't last nearly as long with me cooking alone as it would back in American with my whole family eating from it.
On Tuesday, as I was reviewing math with my form 2 class, the headmaster walked in and said that we just received the exams from the office and that we were supposed to start them an hour ago.  So unfortunately for my students, they didn't get much review with me, but I helped them out immensely by rewriting the terminal exams for math and science.  For some reason, they pulled questions from the whole syllabus instead of just the first trimester, so my students had only been taught about a third of the test.  I wasn't too happy about this, and neither were the other teachers, so a few of us wrote new questions to replace the topics we didn't cover.  This increased the grades, but still showed how much work I need to improve my teaching style to help the bottom quarter of the classes.
Next week is the ICT final which I personally feel is worthless, but I'm having forms 2 and 3 take the test so they can get used to the format and so I can learn what I have to teach.  I'm going to teach to the test in my scheduled ICT classes, and then focus on actually using computers in extra classes in our new computer lab with 24 new laptops.  We got the laptops from the government, and once we have a suitable place to store them, they'll deliver them.  The PTA would like to use my computer experience to run the lab, and focus my energies there.  And since we have plenty of math and science teachers, I think the students won't suffer too much without me teaching them.  It will be interesting to see how long it takes for this lab to get finished because my kitchen still hasn't been touched.  Also, I guess we're just going to renovate an existing room close to the church and turn that into a computer lab.  My guess is that it won't be done by September next year, but they might be a little more serious about this because we're getting free computers.  Who knows.  Either way, I'm going to try putting more pressure on redoing my kitchen as well as the lab.
That's all for now, and I hope you can tell that I'm doing pretty well here.  I think I'm settling in well at site, and I'm looking forward to break and getting out on the town more.  Thanks for reading.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Perceptions and Reality

This blog post was requested by a friend of mine who was a few years older than me and currently works at Lawrence University.  I didn't ask him if I could use his name here, so I'll just stick with his first name. Thanks Nate!  I'm going to do my best to comment on my perceptions of Ghana, and Ghanaians' perceptions of America.  Coincidentally, this post is exactly the type of thing PCVs are supposed to be doing.  Two of Peace Corps goals are: education of Americans about the host country, and education of host country nationals about America.
My perceptions of Ghana
I feel like my perceptions of Ghana were similar to other Americans'.  Ghana is in Africa, and it's hot.  But I also knew a bit more about it before I came.  I took an African history class my senior year at Lawrence, which doesn't seem like a whole lot of African history, but Africa is not an emphasis in the American educational system.  I also knew a handful of people from Ghana in college and was really good friends with one guy in particular, David. 
David and I were on the same intramural basketball team for all 4 years of college, but we never had any real talks about Ghana.  However, David was a smart dude, and I respected him a lot as a scholar, footballer, and person (not as a basketball player though. He might have been able to beat me sometimes in 1v1, but I was a much better team player).  I had no real reason to think that Ghanaian students would be any different from American students or students from other countries that I met while at Lawrence.  I generally thought that all students in Ghana were like him: hardworking and ambitious.  In reality, I don't think students in Ghana are very different from students anywhere else in the world: some care and want to learn and are willing to try hard, and others would rather do a million other things than sit in a desk.  My perceptions were shaped by my personal attitude toward school (why wouldn't you want to learn new things!) and by the smart hardworking international students I met while at LU.
The biggest difference that I do see between Ghanaian students and American students come from systemic issues like corporal punishment (caning), teacher apathy, and lack of parental guidance.  Those things are difficult to change, and it takes personal commitments and willingness to change.  I'm working on some of those things at EP JHS, but the going is slow.
David was one of the more religious people that I knew (granted that doesn't say a whole lot because I went to a small, non-denominational, liberal-arts school), and I guess I didn't know what to expect when I got here, but almost everyone is pretty religious.  Traditional religions and the people who practice them are not nearly as prominent as they used to be, but interestingly enough, everyone respects the power of traditional religions and the magic associated with them.  The people of Ghana are overwhelmingly Christian, and Islam is the second largest religion, but only the most devout people who have truly put their faith in God don't believe that traditional religions have the power to hurt them.  The same goes for witches; everyone believes in their existence and takes witch threats seriously.
Probably my most incorrect perception of Ghana was that Ghanaians would always be trying to rob, scam, or cheat me.  I just assumed, thanks to the American media, that Americans who travel to third world countries are always in danger all the time.  This is just not true, and I find 98% of Ghanaians to be extremely nice and helpful.  Ghanaian hospitality is more than a saying, it's a way of living. 
I was also unsure of how people would look at me considering that I'm a white man coming from a country which participated in the slave trade.  I whole heartedly believe that all people are equal and should be treated as such regardless of skin color, gender, wealth, sexual orientation, or any other differentiating factor among human being, but I still felt guilty and sorry about slavery, discrimination, racism, and the struggle for civil rights that black Americans had to deal with in America (and still have to deal with today).  Gay rights is a pretty big issue in America right now, and I just don't understand how people can be so ignorant and closed-minded about such an issue that obviously is exactly the same as all the other civil rights struggles from the past.  The great Charles Barkley said this one night on TNT's Inside the NBA show, "I'm all for gay rights. As a black man how can I agree with discrimination of any kind."  Ghanaians are also extremely homophobic to the point that it's illegal, and I don't think they will be changing their minds too soon because of their strong religious beliefs.  This paragraph was supposed to lead into the section about Ghanaian perceptions of America, but instead I went on a rant.  Sorry, but I'm not going to delete it.
Anyways, 99% of Ghanaians have stopped blaming Americans for the slave trade, and I haven't been harassed about it yet. (Or maybe they never blamed Americans too much.  The British colonizers are still referred to as "colonial masters" and I think they took a lot of the heat.  And it's important not to forget that kings and chiefs in Ghana were usually the people selling the slaves to the slavers and making money.  And slavery was practiced in Ghana by Ghanaians before the Europeans came to buy slaves.)  Slavery was terrible; everyone acknowledges that.  I had a really great conversation with my new headmaster a few weeks ago about all kinds of perceptions and beliefs people have in America and Ghana.  In the end we agreed that generalizing and assumptions only lead to problems, and there is no way to undo the past; we can only learn from it and try not to make the same mistakes.
Ghanaian perceptions about America
Ghanaians really do believe that all Americans are rich, and they believe that if you have a job in America you also live in a mansion and drive expensive cars.  I work all the time to dispel this myth.  Yes, it's true, the average American is wealthier that the average Ghanaian, but the way wealth is distributed is similar to Ghana.  There are super rich people, people who have plenty of money but not boatloads of it, people who earn enough to get by, and people who really struggle.  The difference is that America has more of a middle class than Ghana, so a greater number of people are able to live comfortably.  Something that is hard to explain to my students is that living in America costs a lot of money.  A person can live in Ghana on very little money, but everything is more expensive in America (except imported goods like electronics which cost the same or even more here).  So to just afford basic things like food, water, shelter, etc, you need to make a lot more money than most Ghanaians.  I've been told that even when families send someone to America to go to school or work they think they live a lavish lifestyle because they are able to send back enough money to support the rest of the family.  The exchange rate and cost of living are the two biggest factors that allow this to work.
People do ask me for money, but not so much in Bodada (they know I'm a volunteer and I'm here to help them) .  Usually when I just say no people will leave me alone, but sometimes I have to explain that I'm a volunteer.  Occasionally that isn't even enough, but then other Ghanaians will step in and get the person to stop bothering me.  Ghanaians have a lot of pride, and they don't want visitors or outsiders to think that Ghana is full of beggars and robbers.  It's surprising and really nice how often I'm helped by strangers here.
Switching it up a little, Ghanaians also love Obama, but he's the only pop culture icon from America that most people know.  I already talked about the Obama shirts, but there are lots of other shirts that people wear that are originally from America.  They buy big crates of clothes that were donated, and sellers sort through them and then sell the nicer articles on the streets and in clothes kiosks.  Just the other day I saw someone wearing a Gustavus Adolphus t-shirt, and I've seen lots of other t-shirts that I recognize.  Most people don't know what their shirts represent back in the states, and there's no discrimination between colors and genders.  I see guys wearing women's shirts, sweatshirts, and shoes all the time.  It makes me smile.
 I'm sure in Accra there is a greater influence of American culture and media, but in most parts of the country, people don't listen to American music too much (some like rap and pop but they love country music) or watch American movies.  Some radio stations will have an hour of American music each morning, but mostly they play local music and the DJs talk a lot, like wayyyyyy too much.  More affluent people have TVs here with a satellite dish which gets a few channels for free because you pay for the dish itself and the converter box, and occasionally an American movie will be on.  But most of the programming is either Ghanaian or Nigerian.  They also have a few international news stations like BBC and Al Jazeerah.
Most people here have a lot of respect for Americans and I get the impression that we are thought of more highly than Europeans.  I like to think it's because of programs like Peace Corps which offer more substantial aid than some other volun-tourism groups, but it's probably because they know American money is good and that Americans are rich and nice.  
I'm kind of running out of steam now, so let me know if there's anything that I should elaborate on by commenting, Facebooking me (I uploaded more pictures!), or sending me an email.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

School Update

Well, it's been a very long time since I last blogged, and once again, I have failed to write another blog about the food here.  This is now the 8th week of school, and I am behind schedule in all of my classes (I'm thinking and hoping that this is typical).  I'm going to give you a brief recap of everything I can remember from each week of school, but after such a long time who knows how well this will go.
Week 1 (Sept 4 - 7): This is the week of manual labor at almost every school in Ghana.  Our trainers warned us about how much the teachers just sit and do nothing, but I was thinking that maybe I could get some real work accomplished.  HA! Only about half of the students show up, and the ones that do are put to work sweeping and weeding the compound, and making it presentable and ready for "effective teaching and learning."  I've heard from other volunteers that this is a good time to review previous tests and determine how much the students remember/know, so I'll try that in the future.
Week 2 (Sept 10 - 14): This week I went to school bright and early at 7:20 so I could prepare for my lessons and show the students that I was serious about teaching and helping them learn.  I was the only teacher there until at least 7:50 every day; some days the other teachers wouldn't come until 9.  Morning assembly (think lining up in your class like you do in elementary and middle schools) is at 7:45, but some days it doesn't happen until almost 8.  Classes are supposed to start by 8:00 every day, so to the culturally insensitive observer arriving to your job at 9 when it is supposed to start at 8 would seem absurd.  Good thing our trainers told us that tardiness was commonplace in Ghana, even by teachers and other professional workers; it's just part of the way of life.  Sign-in times are adjusted somewhat so it doesn't look so bad that a teacher missed the first hour or two of school.
On Monday, the new Form 1s arrived from the primary school, and that was a treat.  Only half of the 10 students promoted could read!  I'm not really sure how the ones who can't read were promoted to JHS, but I guess it's pretty common because there are still some Form 2 students who struggle reading.  On my first day of teaching I met with each of the classes and introduced myself and had each of the students introduce themselves to me and the rest of the class.  By my second class we started serious learning.  I thought things were going well and I had lots of energy and positivity. 
Friday the 14th brought a serious message: three of the four Ghanaian teachers at EP JHS were transferred to new schools!  The letters were from the district office and they were signed and dated September 6th, and they informed the teachers they should report to their new schools by September 1st.  I thought this was funny in a terrible sort of way.  I was sad to see the teachers go because I had gotten to know them and had just finally memorized their names.
Week 3 & 4 (Sept 17 - 21 and 24 - 28): These two weeks merged together in my mind because it was mostly the same thing for both of them.  The three new teachers who were transferred to Bodada EP JHS trickled in and said hello and logged that they visited the school.  Of course none of them did any real teaching because they had just been transferred and were just trying to figure out what will happen moving forward.  (In my mind this was honestly excusable, but I did feel pretty bad for the students.  I even gave each of the classes some English assignments just so they would have something to do.)  I was still full of energy at this point, and each morning I hoped that the other teachers would start showing up for real. Yeah, it sucked that they were transferred to a new school, but they all only lived 5-10 min away in it really that hard to commute? 
It was damn near impossible for me to control all of those students.  There was one day when my counterpart Godwin had to go to a meeting with the Form 3 students, so I was left with the Form 2 and Form 1 students all to myself.  That was too much for me.  They don't fear me because I don't use the cane to discipline them, and at that point they all thought my accent was hilarious.  (Note: I'm sure they still think it's hilarious sometimes, but they don't make fun of it when I'm around as much.)
I also had my biggest crisis to date during the 4th week.  The night before my crisis I was reading one of the A Song of Fire and Ice books (which are awesome by the way) on my Kindle Reader program and when I finished I closed my laptop and set it on the ground.  I didn't drop it, but I didn't particularly like the way it sounded when I set it on the ground.  Whatever, it had definitely taken bigger hits than that in the past.  Then next morning when I pressed the power button, nothing.  I was crushed.  I tried to plug it in, and I pressed every button that should have made some light come on, but all I got was more nothing.  I took as much of the case off as I could comfortably do without freaking out more.  I actually took quite a lot off because I'm a jack-of-all-trades/handyman and I know more about computers than most people.  (My bicycle mechanic and car mechanic skills are my most valued random skills.)
Nothing I did changed the fact that my computer showed no signs of life at all.  That was definitely the lowest I've felt during my four and a half months here.
Week 5 (Oct 1 - 5): The new teachers all arrived and on Monday we hashed out the new schedule.  We had to change a few classes around to accommodate the classes each teacher would teach.  Apparently when the transfer people, they don't pay any mind to the teachers' preferences and specialties.  Last year Godwin was the only math/science teacher, and they didn't have an ICT teacher, so they got me.  After the transfer, we had four people (myself included) who taught science, three who taught math, and two ICT teachers.  I was posted to Bodada EP JHS because they needed help teaching math, science, and ICT, but now they would be fine without me.  Luckily for me, the teachers were pretty cool about changing their subjects, and we ended up with a teacher for every subject except French.
This week the teachers were all very good about attendance, and one morning three teachers beat me to school.  I was really looking forward to working with the new group of teachers because all of them were [Aside: should I use "are" here? Someone please help me out. I've switched it at least 5 times now, and it still doesn't look right. Also, I don't proofread this so sorry about the other mistakes.] under 40 and seemed to be looking forward to starting classes.
On Oct. 3 I decided to try turning on my computer again just for the hell of it, and as if by magic, the thing started right up.  Elation!  It came on and acted like nothing had ever happened, except the speakers don't work, but I bet I can fix them with a little elbow grease.  I was feeling awesome heading into week 6.
Week 6 (Oct 8-12): Test week in science and math!  I gave large review assignments on Tuesday, we reviewed during the second class, and had tests on the final class of the week.  In science the best score was 64% and the worst was 8%; in math the best score was 83% and the worst was 12%.  In both cases I graded extremely generously and gave out tons of partial credit.  Also, I thought the science test was quite easy, but if you can't read "See Spot run." how can you answer questions about science?  Anyway, I gave the top half of both classes stickers, and the people who did very well got more than one.  I think they really liked the stickers. 
This week was when I started to lose my energy and positivity.  At school my students were failing, and at home I felt pretty isolated.  The other teachers don't live in Bodada except for Godwin who stays here 4 nights a week, so I don't get out of the house nearly as much as I should.  It sounds so simple to just take a walk, but it's so much more than that here.  It is really quite draining to walk around.  It's not that anyone is mean, if fact it's the opposite, everyone wants to talk to me.  Even just walking a few houses down to the store to buy some bread can take me 15-20 min.  I'm not the most naturally outgoing person ever, but I can put on a pretty good front.  However, there's only so much positivity a person can have when he has the same conversation with every person he sees because he can only speak a few lines of the language. 
I should mention that this is a common feeling among PCVs.  The first 3 months at site are pretty rough once the honeymoon wears off.  Some days I just don't have a lot to look forward to, especially when my students are misbehaving (which happens a lot), and the teachers decide that they only need to come to school three or four days per week.  That being said, I know that it will get better, and the most important thing I can do is stay positive.  Thankfully, I have a great support group of family and friends who will let me complain when I call or email them.
Week 7 (Oct 15 - 19):  I was feeling pretty low last week.  All of those things I just mentioned were still with me, I was catching a cold, and just not feeling good in general.  I needed to talk with an American.  Unfortunately, I didn't until the weekend. 
So what did I do during this week when I wasn't teaching?  I tried to print off and send in my absentee ballot (failed because the power was out and no one wanted to fire up their generator to print off 4 sheets of paper).  I watched seasons 2 through 4 of "Parks and Recreation" which is hilarious, and my favorite character is Ron Swanson.  I've also read a lot during my time here.  I finished the five published A Song of Fire and Ice books; I read the last 2 books of the Hunger Games series (not as good as the first book); I even started reading The Bible.  I'm really looking forward to my Kindle Paperwhite arriving in the package my mom sent to me during this week.  I'm hoping that it arrives in early November even though I won't pick it up until Thanksgiving when I stay with an American family living in Accra and have Thanksgiving dinner with the Ambassador and all the other PCVs.  It should be a good Thanksgiving.
On Saturday night the pastor came back.  He had been staying with his family in Ho because he broke his arm when I first visited Bodada.  He wanted to be close to a hospital until he got the cast off, and on Friday the cast was finally removed.  He's got a bunch of rehab to do because he broke is humerus and his arm is more or less frozen in place right now.  I'm glad he's back, and it will be nice to have some other people around the house now.
Also, I've gone to church every Sunday except for one.  Church officially starts at 9:30am, but in reality starts closer to 10, but it lasts until at least noon.  I now just head over at 10:30 because none of it is in English, and that way I don't have to sit there for more than three hours even if it's a really long service.  They usually have three donations (one time there were five), and everyone gives something each time.  There is a lot of dancing and singing to accompany the long services, but the pews are very uncomfortable and it can get quite hot in the church.  But going to church is a great way for me to participate in something, and everyone gets to see me at church.  They love the fact that I'm there every Sunday.
Week 8 (Oct 22 - 26):  Yesterday, Monday, I went to Hohoe to print off and mail my absentee ballot.  GO OBAMA! I also visited the market there and loaded up on vegetables and peanut butter.  I searched for an Obama shirt, but apparently they are only available in Accra.  For those of you who haven't been to Ghana and seen the Obama shirts, they are awesome!  They are red, white, and blue; they have a bunch of stars; they say "44th President of the United States: Barack Obama;" and they have a great picture of Mr. President himself right on the front.  I was really hoping I could get a sleeveless one just because they're so good.
Today, I woke up with a pretty sore throat after a night of fitful sleep.  I was feeling chilled and feverish, and I genuinely thought I would be sick this morning.  After drinking some water and eating an egg sandwich, I made enough of a recovery to get psyched up for school.  Classes actually went pretty well today, and I laid down the law in my math class.  Almost half the class now has a nice sized portion of grass to weed because they were being a little too talkative.
So phew! That's a brief synopsis of the last eight weeks.  Thanks for reading, and it's great to hear that people enjoy my blog.  Please let me know if there's anything in particular you want to hear about because I do take requests :)
PS. I bought some chicken sausages yesterday in Hohoe and cooked two of them last night.  I ate them with ketchup and onion on some bread.  I'm pretty sure it was the best hotdog I've ever had.  I miss American food.  Especially meat and junk/fast food.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

School's Starting Part 2

19th August - Present
So far my time in Bodada has been uneventful, but pleasant.  I live in a nice-sized, EP church-owned compound with ten rooms, and two of them are mine.  My bedroom is about the size of a dorm room, and it's pretty spartan.  I have a bed, 2 plastic chair, and as of yesterday I have a desk provided by EPJHS.  My second room will be a kitchen/dining room, but it's still under construction.  The carpenters have to pour new cement for the floor, the room needs painting, and it needs a ceiling.  I'm told that the ceiling will be wooden beams with woven mats placed between them to "Keep the lizards out of the soup."  Sounds good to me, right now lizard soup doesn't sound too tasty.
The first day I arrived my counterpart Godwin and I went into Hohoe (the second largest city in the Volta Region) to buy a USB modem, voltage regulator, and other supplies.  I impulse bought an electric kettle on the recommendation of my shadow visit host, Mike Shoup, and I can honestly say that it competes with the USB modem as my favorite purchase.  I mostly just use it to heat up water for my bucket bath, and after my first warm bucket bath I couldn't remember how I tolerated bathing without warm water.
Since my kitchen is still under construction I didn't buy a propane tank or a stove which cost almost 150GH₵ combined.  This means that I get to use the pastor's stove (same setup as I would buy) whenever I cook something, which is nice but I would prefer my own space.
My second major adventure was to the Tuesday market town of Kute which is located on the border with Togo.  Although it's listed as 5km away from Bodada on my information sheet that I got about my site, it took almost an hour of traveling to get there.  The drive was beautiful: there were mountains, forest, farms, and small villages along the whole way.  Like Bodada, Kute is between two mountains, but the mountains that form the border with Togo are noticeably larger than the Ghanaian ones.  The town is small, but market itself is large because Togolese and Ghanaians both buy and sell there.  Nothing too interesting happened there, but it was nice to get to use my Ewe market skills.  Unfortunately I don't think I'll go there too much (at least until I buy a bicycle) because traveling there costs as much as traveling to Hohoe (which offers a larger market with better prices).  Jasikan (the town that really is 5km away) has a large market on Fridays, and it's large enough that I buy most things regardless of the day of the week.
My third adventure was meeting Kate Pote in Hohoe for shopping and meeting other volunteers.  Kate is the closest volunteer to me (about 30 minutes away from me at Akpafu Sec. Tech.) and is a science teacher there.  Akpafu is on the Hohoe-Jasikan road about 10 minutes from Hohoe, so whenever I end up going there I'll probably see what she's doing.  We just went to the market and then met up with Scott and Nathan who are also PCVs in Volta.  Scott teaches art in Hohoe, and also helped open up a store called Our Talking Hands which sells traditional Ghanaian art products made by students at a Deaf Art School (in Ghana all people with mental disabilities who go to school go to "Deaf" schools...sad but true).  Scott is really committed to this place, and he helped the owner create a Facebook page and a website  Nathan lives in the Northern part of Volta, and was just swinging by before his trip home to California.  I probably won't see him too much, but he's the head malaria dude in Volta so we'll be in contact.
My fourth and final adventure was school!  It started yesterday, 4th of August, but we won't start actually teaching until next week.  Schools here don't have janitors or grounds crews because they have lots of free labor at their disposal.  That's right, school children do all the sweeping, mowing (called weeding and done with machetes), and cleaning.  The first week is dedicated to getting the school presentable and in full working order.  Tomorrow we'll be reviewing last year's exams, and it'll be a good chance for me to gauge the actual level of the students.  These last two days have been pretty slow, I just show up, talk with the other teachers and the headmaster, and then go home at the end of the day.   I'm still not sure what my teaching schedule will be because the headmaster hasn't even figured out the schedule yet...such is life in Ghana. 
The last two weeks and a half weeks have been pretty slow going, especially compared to the schedule we had during training, but it's been very relaxing.  I've met a lot of people by going to church and many more people come over just to talk with the pastor.  I've been out on the town a little, but not too much.  Mostly I've just spent time with the people who live in the compound (Pastor Jean-Paul, Sarah, Patricia, and Michael), and spent a lot of time reading too.  I recently finished the last two books of the Hunger Games series, and I'm on to the fourth Song of Fire and Ice/Game of Thrones book.  I'm really happy that school has started though because it will give my life a little more structure, and I'm really looking forward to meeting the students and teaching.  I do know that I'll be teaching all three grades ICT (computer class) and Godwin and I will split the math (known as maths here) and science classes.
I'll try to blog more too. Let me know what you want to know about via Facebook, email, or comments.

School's Starting!

Wow, it's been a really long time since I've posted anything.  Sorry to the 7 people who regularly read my blog.  Anyway, I'll give you an update on my life, and hopefully I'll revisit the food blog soon.
End of July through 15th of August: 
My life revolved around learning Ewe.  Everything I heard about the Peace Corps language program before joining was very positive: it's total immersion, you become fluent, and it makes integration a lot easier.  I feel like by being assigned to Ghana we missed out on these opportunities.  Ghana is different from most countries I know about because the official language English is only used in schools and government.  Everyone who graduated from senior high school speaks English well, but at the junior high level and in the villages they don't speak English so well (if they speak it at all). 
Ghana is also very split concerning the local languages; the government only recognizes 7 local languages, but there are over 100 distinct dialects.  For example the language they speak in Bodada is Lelemi.  Everyone here speaks Lelemi, and it's in the Akan family of languages (same as Twi- the most widely spoken native language).  Lelemi is not officially recognized by the Ghanaian government because so few people speak it.  Most people of Bodada also speak Twi and Lelemi, but they all grew up speaking Lelemi, so it's their best language.  Because the government doesn't recognize Lelemi, the local language part of the BECE and WAECE exams (where students from small villages usually score the best) don't offer Lelemi.  0 of 13 students passed the BECE last year at my school.  The grading is from 1-9, 1 is the best, and anything below 7 is considered a passing grade.  I have my work cut out for me. (And so do my students because they don't even get a freebie from Lelemi being on the test.)
So beside the fact that I don't know the local language of my village, I couldn't even be immersed in Ewe (considered the language of the Volta) because we were in Eastern Region where they speak Twi.  The British were better at colonizing by the time they got to Ghana.  They had a basic idea of what worked and what didn't based on past colonizing ventures (North America and India to name the big ones).  The British did do some development (they allowed people at the local level to rule themselves).  Do I think what they did by creating a colony was good? No.  Maybe it's the same in South America, but I am under the impression that the Spanish did a better job eliminating local languages and people.  Do I think that's terrible? Yes, so many years of tradition and unique history have been erased forever from human knowledge.  Do I think the local language learning would be easier in a country with a single unified language? Absolutely.
Peace Corps sets the required level of language fluency at Intermediate-Mid, and in Ghana we have 5 weeks to get there.  Inter-Mid means that you can form complete, grammatically correct sentences and a sympathetic listener can understand you.  I learned vocabulary and grammar for Ewe so I could get around in a few different situations: extended introduction, market adventure, asking for directions and directing people, and travel scenarios.  I passed the test, and I actually had a pretty good grasp of Ewe (I didn't just memorize some dialogs like some do).  I can put my own sentences together which is more than most people, but I've been told I have a chip in my brain that helps me learn languages.  If Peace Corps graded me on my Spanish level, they would give me something like Advanced (and I'm definitely not fluent).  I guess different people of different ideas about language fluency *cough cough* Sam and Paul! Keep taking Spanish, you know more than you think you do! *cough cough*
Most Peace Corps programs have language and technical training together for the whole 10 weeks, but due to the Ghanaian school schedule and our arrival time we do all of our technical training (teaching) first, and then we move on to language.  Basically we had 5 intense weeks for each, and that forced us to cram really hard to pass the language test.  There was a lot of unhappiness in our training group related to the language training schedule.  But at the end of the day we teach in English, and even in villages, enough people know English that you can get by without any other language.  I do plan on learning Lelemi, and it's amazing how little Lelemi it takes for people to love the fact that I'm trying.  They always tell me I'm doing great, and I can only say the greetings right now.
16th of August: Swearing-In
This was a lot of fun.  Everyone's homestay parents, prominent members of the community, other PC volunteers, all of the PC staff, and even the US Ambassador to Ghana were all in attendance.  My mom, her sister, and I were matching in our outfits and I'll get some pictures up soon (there are some on Facebook already).  We only lost 2 people to early termination during training (really good compared to PC as a whole), and one of those people didn't even show up in DC.  24 of us swore in and took an oath (very similar to the President's Oath of Office) to accept our roles as Peace Corps Volunteers for two years.
That night I exchanged gifts with my homestay family.  They gave me a bunch of pictures from swearing in and other occasions, and I they gave me the cloth for the outfits to match my mom.  I had my mom (real mom from America) mail some stuff, and my family loved it.  They especially loved the candy, soccer ball (football here), perfumes, toy truck that makes noise, and baby clothes for Kwaku Peter Vanney.  They were a really good family, and we got along well.  I plan on visiting them sometime during my service.
17-19th August
Our whole training group went to Bunso Coco College for two days to learn about Peace Corps Ghana's other sectors Agriculture and Health.  This was a lot of fun because the sessions were led by current volunteers, so we got to meet more people!  Then we all went our separate ways to go to our sites.  I need to get going to school now, so I'll give you the rest of the updates later today.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Food Part 1

I'm not really sure of the best way to go about writing this, so it's just going to be a stream of consciousness.  I'm going to try to organize it by categories, but we'll see how that goes.
Most Ghanaian food is eaten with your hands, and that doesn't sound too difficult until you realize that most Ghanaian food is a soup or stew.  Granted, you get a starchy ball of something to help you eat the stew, but kind of like eating rice with chopsticks, it's really hard unless you grew up doing it or have a lot of practice.  I could probably write a 2000 words about the proper way to eat each food, but I won't get into that now.  Just don't eat with your left hand; it's considered incredibly rude and disrespectful because that's the hand you wipe with.
Here's another interesting thing about food that I've noticed: people have the set way of making something and only that specific way is the proper way.  Different families prepare things differently, and no one quarrels about that, but if an American tries to add a sauce or vegetables to something that it doesn't  belong on, the Ghanaians will let you know.  For example, many of us wanted to put cabbage on our hamburgers one day (no lettuce so why not) when we had a caterer, but they insisted that we couldn't do that because the foods weren't meant to go together.
Fufu, bankou/akple, kenke, and rice balls  are the four most common starches eaten in Ghana (or at least Southern Ghana, I'm not sure about the North).  Besides rice balls which are just balls of white rice, the starches are made from some combination of corn, cassava, plantain, yam, and/or coco yam. 
Fufu is made by pounding boiled plantain and cassava (although yam and coco yam can be substituted) in a giant mortar and pestle with water.  The mortar and pestle is only used for pounding fufu, and it's bad luck to pound an empty one.  The pestle is just a big stick as thick as a forearm and usually about four or five feet long.  The business end is flat because of the beating it takes, and its edges are all curled back up to keep splinters and pieces of wood out of the fufu.  The mortar is a big heavy hourglass-shaped piece of wood carved from a single block.  They are usually about 16 inches in diameter, and the part that takes the pounding is flat.  It takes a lot of work to make fufu because you have to pound the ingredients until you get a sticky ball the consistency of bread dough.  Basically you are adding air into the starch until it's smooth.  Also, you don't chew it, you just swallow the chunck that you "cut" from the ball with your index and middle fingers.  In my opinion, it's mostly tasteless.
Bankou, also known as akple in the Volta region, is a ball made by "driving" fermented corn dough together with fermented cassava.  Different regions eat different strengths of bankou (I don't like it after it ferments for too long), and truth be told, akple is actually different from bankou, but I don't really know why yet.  You just mix the fermented doughs together in a big pot over a fire and stir vigorously; this one also takes a lot of work because you have to cook it for at least 30 minutes stirring constantly so it doesn't burn. Bankou tastes like a grainy, earthy, sour ball of corn flour.
Kenke is made by steaming corn dough in corn husks or sometimes banana leaves; it's a lot like a tamale but it's not filled with anything.  Bankou and fufu are usually balled up and put directly into the bowl of soup, but kenke is usually served on the side and dipped into a sauce or thick stew.  It's often eaten with "pepe" (Ghanaians trying to say pepper), and it's pretty similar to salsa.  It's also eaten with stewed meats.  Kenke doesn't have much flavor either, and just tastes like corn.
Rice balls are just made by mixing over watered rice until you get a starchy mass.  They are the easiest thing for me to eat here because we eat rice all the time in America.  They think rice is an American food, and I just find that hilarious because we consider rice to be an Asian food.  Rice balls are generally served in the soup directly like bankou or fufu.
All the soups here have the same basic ingredients as American soups: onions, tomatoes, peppers (the hot ones), pepper powder (think chili powder), salt (or a processed spice packet made by Magi that is mostly salt but also has other spices), and water.  By adding tomato paste and a meat (usually smoked and dried fish) to those basic ingredients you get what they call light soup.  It's basically a simple tomato soup, and it can be eaten with any of the starch balls.
The vegetable soups that I've had are contumiri, okra, and garden egg (egg plant), and unless you specifically tell them not to, they will add smoked and dried fish.  They all have less tomato than the light soup, and but otherwise it's the same.  Contumiri (I have no idea how to spell it) is the green leaf of the coco yam, and if you don't boil it for a really long time, the acid in the leaves won't break down and can cause kidney stones.  Also, the older a leaf is the more acid it has, so many Ghanaians only eat the young leaves that grow from the center of the plant.  Contumiri stew is usually eaten with boiled yams or coco yams, or occasionally bankou (no fufu though); it kind of tastes like spinach.  Okra stew it really sticky and slimy because the okra is just boiled and then ground or diced.  Ghanaians insist that okra stew must have fish in to be okra stew, and it must be served with bankou.  Okra stew is not my favorite, but it's not too bad either.  Garden egg is what they call egg plant over here, and an egg plant is they plant itself.  They really do look a lot like eggs here because they are white not purple and much smaller (you guessed it, egg sized!)  The soup had a nice taste of vegetables, and I think I had it with bankou.
I've also eaten palm nut soup and groundnut soup.  Palm nut soup is made by boiling a big pot full of little red palm nuts, then beating them in a special mortar and pestle to separate the flesh from the seed.  The flesh is rich and nutty, and it makes a delicious soup full of umami and savory flavors that I am unable to describe.  It's prepared similar to light soup, but they use red oil (palm oil) to add more flavor and calories.  I like it best with chicken and fufu.  Groundnuts are peanuts, and the soup is a thick peanut broth that I think goes best with beef and rice.  I'm not sure how it's made because my host mom hasn't made it for me.
I've only been here for about two months and I've already had a crazy amount of meat variety.  I've eaten fishes of all variety including shark, chicken, beef, pork, snail, snake, squirrel, rat, cat, and dog.  Probably more too, but that's all I can think of now.  Most have been smoked and dried to preserve the meat (because there are no refrigerators here) and then added to soups, but occasionally they will be fried in red oil or stewed.  By adding the meats to soups you greatly improve the soup, but you tend to lose a lot of the meat flavor and just get a bland smoky flavor.  Also, the extra cooking made the squirrel and rat particularly tough.  I haven't had a steak since I left America, and the beef, chicken, and snail have only been served in soups.  Besides eating fish with pepe, fish is usually just smoked, dried, and added to soup also.  The pork and cat have been two of my favorites so far.  The pork that I had was cooked on the street and stewed in a giant pot.  Because we were eating it late in the day, they only had fat and skin left, but the fat had been cooking for a long time and melted into sweet, salty, pork goodness in your mouth.  Cat was first fried in red oil and then stewed in a tomato based sauce with lots of spices.  We ate it with kenke, and the meat was succulent, juicy, and sweet.  I've only eaten dog I've had has been smoked fresh and then added to rice jollaf.  It was good, but mostly tasted like smoke.
Up next: Street food, fruit, and everything else!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Job Shadow

On June 16th, a Monday, I left Bodada for Saviefe Gbogame.  I took a taxi from Bodada to Jasikan, a trotro from Jasikan to Hohoe, and a small bus from Hohoe to Ho.  In total the trip took around three hours, but it felt longer than that because the roads are full of potholes and my bus was stopped at a police checkpoint for 15 minutes because our driver did not have his proper license or insurance or something.  Once in Ho, I called Mike Shoup, a current volunteer stationed in Saviefe Gbogame, to pick me up from the taxi station.  Mike was in Ho because he had helped another trainee (Sam who will takes Mike's place when he finishes in a few weeks) get to her shadow site.  I made better time than Mike had expected, so we went to the Vodafone internet cafe.
After that we went to a little spot that Mike frequents when he's in Ho and chatted about life as a Peace Corps Volunteer and our lives back in America.  Mike has integrated really well into his community: he's fluent in Ewe (although he would tell you he's not), he knows everyone in town, and he's got a group of guy friends, mostly other teachers, who refer to themselves as Parliament (Mike is of course the foreign minister).  I told Mike about my pre-Ghana life, and it turns out that we had pretty similar stories.  There are a lot of similarities between the two of us, and if I end up like Mike in two years then I'll be pretty happy.
We took a small, cramped bus to Saviefe Gbogame, and I know I complain about the roads a lot, but this road was the worst I've been on so far.  It took us over an hour to travel about 30 km (I think that's probably a high estimate).  The town is pretty small, but small towns are good for PCVs because you can actually feel at home if you make an effort.  Mike also has a pretty sweet home with a grass yard and toilets (no running water, but you just dump a bucket full down the hole to flush), and Mike has a great landlord who lives there too.  He says that they have really become his second family.  That night I just met some of Mike's friends, and we took it pretty easy.
The next day I visited Mike's school, but it really was not that exciting because it was end of term exam week in Ghana.  The Ministry of Education requires a standard end of term exam for all Ghanaian students, and the tests are full of typos, terrible questions, and just flat out incorrect English.  For example, one question on the Information and Communication Technology test asked students the number of buttons in the navigation panel of a factory settings version of Internet Explorer.  Not only is the number completely useless even if you have a computer in front of you, but also the tests don't always include answer keys.  Mike just gives out bonus points for terrible questions, so the math test for Form 2 had five bonus points (on a test with 40 questions).  I graded most of those (maybe 3/4 of them) and the scores ranged from 9 to 22 (that's including the 5 bonus points).  Also, I got to look at some solutions students gave for the essay and short answer portion of their social studies final, and it was pretty bad...maybe half the class got 0's (grading extremely generously).
After school Mike and I went to a neighboring town to visit a friend of Mike's from Bodada, visited an akpeteshi distillery, and hung out with Parliament until David (another trainee) got into town that night.  Hanging out with Parliament entails sitting around a circle in plastic chairs talking and drinking.  It was a lot of fun talking and drinking with those guys, and I hope I can get a similar group of Ghanaian friends in Bodada. 
It was pretty late when David showed up because he had a rough time getting to Saviefe.  He's technically in the Volta Region, but he's outside of the main Volta strip on the East side of Ghana.  His site is in Bejemsi which is northwest of Kete Krachi in between the two northern forks of Lake Volta, so he has to travel by ferry to get anywhere in the South.  Turns out that all the ferries are currently broken, so he had to take a big canoe across the Eastern part to get into the rest of Volta.  Then he had a terrible time waiting for taxis and trotros to fill on his way to Saviefe; I think he told me it took him 13 hours total (and that's just traveling within the Volta Region)!
David arrived around 8 and was starving, and so was I because Mike and I hadn't eaten since 10:30 that morning.  Mike had been arranging a special feast for us, and unlike most plans he tries to make this one ended up happening.  Mike's best friend is a rasta who doesn't smoke weed (he drinks though) and is an amazing cook, so whenever they have something special Rasta Mensah is involved.  I'll just come right out and say it now, we ate cat, and it was delicious.  I'm glad we weren't there for the killing and butchering, but I would have liked to watched them cook the meat.  Apparently the deep fry it in red oil (palm oil pressed from the palm nuts), but I don't know anything else that went into the thick stew that we ate with kenke (corn flour steamed in either corn husk or banana leaves, I can't remember which one it is).  Although we all had a pretty good buzz from drinking all afternoon on empty stomachs, I don't think that's the only reason the meat was so sweet and tender; I think cat meat is probably just really good (deep frying it obviously helps too).
The next day (Wednesday) we went to school with Mike again, and just lounged around reading and watching movies.  Apparently that's a pretty typical day for Mike, and he said he's gotten really good at just sitting and doing nothing. Then we had snake for dinner.  It was also good, but not as good as the cat.
On Thursday Kate Mansfield came to visit me and hang out in Saviefe Gbogame.  For those of you who don't know who she is, Kate is a fellow Decorah person who's a year younger than me, and I know her because everyone in Decorah knows everyone else.  Kate's going to start her 5th year at UW Madison, and was in Sokode Gbogame (45 min bus ride from Saviefe Gbogame) volunteering at an orphanage with a few other people.  So Kate and her friend Vanessa got on the bus and met us in Saviefe around 8:00am.
We immediately went out to a palm wine farm to see the process and sample some of the local drink.  Palm wine is made by cutting down a palm tree, cutting off all the green parts, cutting a hole in the trunk to collect the watery sap, and collecting the liquid in a jug.  It's all very unscientific, but very cool.  Apparently a single tree can produce wine for weeks varying between four liters of wine (litres in Ghana) in the beginning and as little as 2 liters towards the end.  You could still collect the liquid produced by the tree after it stops producing a significant amount; however, the liquid begins fermenting as soon as it leaves the tree leaving you with extremely strong (maybe 20% alcohol) wine by the time your jug fills.
We went early in the morning so the wine we sampled would be fresh, thus very sweet and fruity.  And it definitely was sweet!  The "wine" had very little alcohol and tasted as sweet as soda.  The flavor was slightly fruity, but the sweetness overpowered the unique fruitiness of the wine.  We tried some of the slightly more fermented stuff also (I had taken a few drinks of that on previous days), and the unique palm wine flavor comes through more strongly.  As I'm writing this about a week after the fact, I can't recall the taste and flavors, so I can't give you a good foodie description.
This farm was also an akpeteshi distillery, but he wasn't currently distilling anything.  It looked like a moon-shining operation that you would find in the Appalachians: oil barrel with a fire underneath (for boiling the wine), copper tubing to collect the alcohol vapor, and two barrels of water through which the copper tubing runs and is coiled (to cool the alcohol back into a liquid), and the end of the tube where the alcohol drips out.  The first batch of liquid that comes out of the still is just wood alcohol, so that gets thrown out.   It's just pure akpeteshi flowing out of the tap after that.
For the rest of the day we just hung out and visited with people.  This involves drinking, and I probably drank a little too much.  I ended up falling asleep at 6:30, but it was a fun day.  The next morning David and I took the bus to Ho, then boarded a large trotro to Koforidua, and then took taxis and trotros back to Anyinasin.  All in all the trip took a bit over 5 hours, but it seemed like less time.  For the next few weeks everyone will be focusing on learning their site languages, so that's Ewe for me.  It's going well, so I should have no problem passing my interview exam.
I swear the next blog post will be about food.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Site Visit Part 2

Yesterday, Friday, I returned to Anyinasin from my site visit and job shadow trip.  It's nice to be back, but at the same time I'm really looking forward to going back to Bodada.
Last Saturday I met two of the three chiefs and two of three queen mothers in Bodada with the help of my counterpart and my headmaster.  I met one of the queen mothers who was just sitting in a store, went to the stool chief's house, met another queen mother, and then went to visit the chief of Bodada-Buem.  I didn't end up meeting the paramount chief or one of the queen mothers, but I don't remember which queen mother I didn't meet.  The paramount chief is basically the head chief of the area, but the stool chief has similar authority.  I'm not really sure what the difference is, but here's what I do know: every town has a chief (like a king-mayor, chiefdom is inherited); every region has a paramount chief (I think he's elected from the other chiefs but I'm not sure); and stool chiefs rule over regions as well.  The paramount chief and stool chiefs work together, but I don't know where the stand on the hierarchy.  I'm pretty sure that the paramount chief rules over a group of people, in this case it's the Buem people, and they choose the site for the paramount chief based on the safety and protection an area can offer.  Since Bodada is in the middle of the Buem area, and it's between two mountains, it's a very secure location.  I found this information fascinating, but I've probably bored many of you reading this already.
Each time you meet a chief or queen mother you have to go through the same formal greeting and introduction.  It goes something like this:

                "Good morning chief, how are you today? We mean no ill will and carry with us no bad news.  As you know, many months ago we applied for a Peace Corps Volunteer to come to Bodada and teach at EP JHS.  Thankfully our application was accepted and by God's grace our volunteer has arrived.  His name is Peter Vanney, but he's known as Ofah Yaw (I'm not sure how you spell it, but it means Uncle Yaw).  He's here primarily to work as a teacher, but he's also here to help all of Bodada.  He'll be leaving here on Sunday and will return at the end of August to stay for two years.  He's from America and will be learning our language and getting to know many people in the community. We've come to visit you to gain your blessing and to inform you that he'll be living with us."

So then the chief says, "Yes, you are welcome." and he goes around to shake everyone's hand (in a counterclockwise motion so as to never have the back of his hand facing someone whom he hasn't met [you only shake with your right hand]).  If you're meeting a queen mother, then the ceremony is over; however, if you're meeting a chief you are offered a shot of some alcohol.  In most cases it's akpeteshi, but sometimes the chief will have beer or Schnapps.  It's not impolite at all to decline this drink (just like America some people don't drink alcohol), but I have taken it every time it's been offered.
On Sunday the 15th, I went to church and then hung out with my counterpart and his friend Castro.  Church was a long ordeal, and since the pastor (my landlord) broke his arm on Friday in a motorcycle accident, a few different people gave sermons.  For a while everyone was worried that the pastor might have been seriously injured (you hear motorcycle accident and you know it can be bad), so it was nice to hear that he only broke his arm.  It was completely serendipitous that he broke his arm the day after I arrived, but I couldn't help but think some crazy people might connect the accident to my arrival.  Like I said, I am glad that it is only a broken arm.  Church only lasted a little over 2 hours, but since I had to sit up on the stage the whole time so they could introduce me to the congregation, it seemed a lot longer.  The sermons were mostly in Twi, occasionally they would translate parts into Ewe and Lelemi, but none of it was in English so I didn't understand a bit of it. 
The woman who was leading church in the pastor's stead introduced me as Ofah Yaw to the congregation.  Basically she went through the whole chief speech and then asked me to say a few words.  I thought this situation might arise, so I told them good afternoon in four languages (English, Twi, Ewe, and Lelemi), the crowd loved that. (Rural Ghanaians are almost always happy to see a white person, and they are especially happy to see a white person who can speak some of the local language.)  After that I didn't really have anything else to say; I just told them that I was happy to be in such a nice place and that I looked forward to meeting everyone more when I return in August.  Then they sang a few more songs, and church was over.
Godwin was late to church because he had to run out to one of his friend's farm to pick up a bottle of palm wine.  Palm wine is the fermented liquid inside palm trees, I'm hesitant to call it sap because it's ridiculously sweet and very watery.  I'll explain more about it in a later post, but it's really not too strong, between 5% and 12% alcohol.  Anyway, after church we went to Godwin's house and split a liter of it, and then we went to visit Godwin's good friend Castro.  We hung out there for a while and drank some more palm wine while watching a replay of the Spain-Portugal Euro Cup semifinal.  It was a fun afternoon, and I think I'll get along just fine with those guys once I return to Bodada.  I just hung out an packed up my things that evening and on Monday morning I left Bodada to travel to Saviefe Gbogame for my job shadow.  More on that next time.

PS These are my school break times if anyone wants to visit me of buy me a ticket back to America: December 14 - January 7, April 19 - May 13, and July 25 - sometime in late August.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Lelemi, Twi, and Ewe

Bodada-Buem in the Jasikan District of the Volta Region.  That's where I am now.  This town is actually on the map that Shannon and my dad bought for me, so those of you playing along at home can find it by going north from Hohoe, which is north of Ho. Bodada, meaning "Ancient Stone,"  is a small town (1500 people) in a gorgeous part of Volta.  There are mountains (the ancient stone for which the town is named) to the east and west of the town, but they aren't mountains like the Rockies, more like the coulees near the Mississippi River around LaCrosse or Prarie du Chien.  The scenery honestly reminds me a lot of that area, except for the fact that I am surrounded by rainforest and tropical trees.  I really will try to take some pictures soon.  There is kind of a problem with being busy and having a large camera: I can't just take pictures whenever I see something cool.  It's bulky so I don't carry it with me, which is dumb, because it's not going to make me stick out any more than I already do...I'm the only white person within 40km.
So here in Bodada they speak Lelemi, then Twi is the second most common language, and finally Ewe is the third.  Most people know some English, but everyone is better with all 3 of those other languages than English.  Lelemi is a language of the Buem people who came to this area from the Ashanti region.  I haven't been able to figure out if the Ashanti forced them to leave, or if they were Ashanti who left the rest of their people for whatever reason.  I'll have to ask some of the elders or maybe the chief.  Anyway, when I found out that Ewe was the 3rd language I wanted to switch to learning more Twi, but Ewe will be more useful since Ewe is much more widely spoken.  So when I return to Anyinasin in a week, I'll continue to learn Ewe.  However, I will be able to spend some time learning Lelemi because Justin Akpanja, one of the Peace Corps drivers, is actually from Bodada (and his uncle is the chief!)  Justin was very excited to learn that I was going to Bodada, and I am happy to know that I have already have a friend who is family to the chief.
I met my counterpart teacher on Monday, and he seems quite nice.  His name is Godwin Agbobi (the "gb" sounds mostly like a "b" in Ewe), and he graduated from a college of education five years ago.  He helped me move all of my stuff from Kumasi to Bodada, and thank goodness for that because I probably have about 120lbs of stuff spread between 4 bags.  Did I mention the trip took us about 10 hours?!  And that's not counting the hour and a half we spent waiting for the bus to load in Kumasi.  One of the biggest problems that Ghana has with infrastructure (besides not having enough money to build stuff) is that they don't have highways or interstates or bypasses.  The main highway will take you right through the middle of every town you pass, so you can't just cruise...ever.  And the roads are full of potholes, but still...10 hours to drive halfway across a country the size of Oregon seems ridiculous.  No nevermind, it's just the way things are outside of first-world countries.  Anyway, Godwin is the school's math, science, and ICT (internet and computer technology) teacher, so he's very happy to have me to help share the workload.  He's a bright guy, he speaks English very well, and we've gotten along well so far.
I arrived in town last night around dinner time, and a welcome committee of Evangelical Presbyterians and teachers from EP JHS (Evangelical Presbyterian Junior High School) greeted me upon arrival.  They had been expecting me all day, but they weren't upset at all that I kept them waiting; they were just happy that I was finally here.  I'm staying at the pastor's house, Jean-Paul Agidi, and he's a pretty young man for a pastor.  I'm guessing that he's only in his 30s.  He was joined by the headmaster of my school Headmaster Gyamebi (sounds like "Jah-meh-bee"), most of the teachers from EP JHS (there are only 8 total), and some church elders known as Presbyters.  They already had dinner ready for me, and I was starved after hardly eating all day.  But as tradition demands, we went around and did the formal introductions first.  This is the Ghanaian way, and it was not annoying, I just want people in The States to know that tradition and formal greetings are a big deal.
I only have one room to myself right now, but Pastor Agidi has told me they are going to put up a wall around the outdoor walkway to make a little sitting area and kitchen for me.  The rest of the house is very nice for Ghanaian standards: they have electricity, a tv, satellite dish, refrigerator with freezer, and even a water faucet outside (but no running water inside).
I haven't done much in town yet.  I got a tour in the dark last night, and got a more extensive one today.  It's pretty small, but not tiny.  They have four small JHS's and one senior high school.  My school is one of the smaller ones, and it doesn't have electricity.  When I visited this morning everyone was very excited, and the students especially liked it when I spoke some Twi and Ewe.  They also loved the fact I've eaten fufu and had some apeteshi (distilled palm wine).  The school itself is in a state of disrepair although you can tell that it used to be gorgeous.  It's just a big rectangle with 3 large classrooms and a teachers' lounge/office, but the walkways around the outside are nice and wide.  The school sits atop a bit hill and the roof is supported by cement columns.  It kind of reminds me of a big antebellum mansion in the South of the USA.
I'll let you know more about Bodada as I learn it,  and the food blog will come once I return to Anyinasin.  Also, Bodada has an MTN tower in town so I have excellent 3G coverage! Hoorah! I'll have internet when I come back here in August.

Friday, July 6, 2012

1 Down, 26 More To Go

So I've officially been in Ghana for one whole month, and it seems crazy.  I've already done so much! I've learned krakra Twi (small small Twi, which means a little), taught at a middle school in Africa for two weeks, and started learning Ewe.  I have a new family and over 50 new friends!  It seems so strange when I think about being at site away from all the other trainees.  We've become a pretty close group, and I feel like I know everyone well.  I'll definitely miss everyone when we split up.   I'm also somewhat used to not having running water.  A shower right now would be fantastic, but bucket bathing is actually quite refreshing.  It would probably be a lot less tolerable if I weren't right by the equator.
That being said, I definitely miss a lot of things about America.  Family, girlfriend, and other friends are at the top (that includes everyone at Magpie by the way), and American culture is right behind them.  It's just so different here than in America that I can't even really describe it in a blog.  Hopefully you can get a sense of all the differences by reading this because I really can't make a simple chart.
I really will write a food and drink blog soon.  For now all you need to know is that the only thing that is the same is that I sometimes have an egg omelet  sandwich for breakfast (not a typical Ghanaian breakfast, but my mom knows that I love it­).  Everything else is different.  They eat a lot of fish here, and the main carbohydrates are cassava, yam, plantain, and rice (which they think is an American food but I laugh because we think of it as an Asian food).
It's also pretty hot here, and since this is the rainy season it rains nearly every day.  I can't wear shorts here.  Occasionally I'll wear some khaki shorts, and I haven't gotten any comments about them.  But I've been told that only punks wear shorts (late teen/early twenty boys), so I mostly wear khaki pants since I'm a professional teacher.  It's really not a big deal unless it's really hot, and contrary to popular belief, I don't actually sweat that much.  Also, I was voted best dressed, so I must be doing something right.
I'm also happy to say that I'm having my first shirts made now.  I bought some fabric with Victoria a couple weeks ago after teaching, and when my mom saw it she brought out some more fabric she had purchased for me.  I'm getting a tunic made from the material I bought, and I'm getting a button-up shirt made from my mother's fabric.  Victoria and I ended up buying the same fabric that day because it's pretty awesome, and it will only be goofy that we have the same fabric for another 2 months.  People might think we're married though because married couples really do dress to match.  My mom and I will also have matching outfits!  We'll be looking very sharp when I swear in.  Pictures will definitely make Facebook and/or this blog once I get the finished product.  I'll also buy some more material that doesn't match anyone else soon.
That's about all that's new.  It's a little frustrating that I learned a bunch of Twi from my family, and now I have to forget it and learn Ewe.  But I'm really not even upset because knowing Twi greetings is very useful if you live in Ghana, regardless of where you live.
Up next: Food or Site Information!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Sickness, Setbacks, and Celebrations

Last weekend I didn't really go to a funeral.  Friday night when I was planning on going, it turned out that my family was actually going to the funeral.  Only my brothers Appiah and Kwame were going, and they were going to dance.  As almost everyone will tell you, I'm no dancer (unless I've put back a couple/a lot of drinks...SigEpSigEp!)  Well getting drunk at funerals is totally acceptable here, but as an ambassador (note the small "a") of peace from the United States of America, I would rather not.  Funerals are a big celebration where the dead are honored for their greatness in life, and their failures and shortcomings are forgiven or overlooked.  I did go to a funeral for a few minutes last Saturday morning (June 30), but I didn't get the full experience of dancing and drinking.
On Sunday, I went to the Vodafone internet cafe in Koforidua where the internet is actually decent.  I can get downloads of about 1MB/s, but it takes about 1 hour by taxi and trotro to get there from Anyinasin.  On my way back to Anyinasin, I got some fried rice, spaghetti, and chicken from a street vendor.  I probably wouldn't have bought it normally, but some Ghanaians on the trotro bought some so I figured that it must be good.
I should have stopped eating it right away when I noticed that it was kind of cold, but...I didn't.  That tro ride was pretty rough; 45 minutes of bouncy roads in the back of a cramped van in which I couldn't even sit straight because I'm too tall with 15 other people did not make my stomach feel too great.  We I got off I knew I needed to get to a toilet pretty quickly lest I wanted to "join the club" aka poop my pants.  It happens often enough to Peace Corps Volunteers that it's just called joining the club, and a few people in my training group have already joined.
I got home with clean underwear, but my brothers immediately started harassing me about going to the funeral.  I said that I wasn't feeling well and needed to use the bathroom and probably lie down for a while.  I told them I needed at least 1 hour.  After 15 minutes they came and knocked on my door and asked me if I was ready to go.  "No, let me sleep for a small time." I said.  Then they told me that my bankou was almost ready (bankou is the fermented corn flour ball that I'm not a huge fan of).  I told them, "Men co didi! I'm sick." (Translation: I'm not going to eat! I'm sick.)  About 10 minutes after that I went outside and vomited.
My brothers kind of (note: in Ghana they don't say "kind of," instead they say "somehow" to mean the same thing) understood that I was sick; they asked me if now I was ready to go to the funeral.  I had to explain that I would not be attending the funeral, and that I needed to stay home because I was vomiting and running (if you are jogging you need to say jogging or training because here running means diarrhea ).  I then went to my room and took a nap.
I awoke to my mom knocking on my door. She had returned from the funeral with her sister, and was trying to get me to go with her.  However, once she saw that I was sick, she asked me what happened and if I had taken medicine.  I managed to explain that I had eaten some fried rice and spaghetti in Koforidua, but I was unable to explain that if I tried to take medicine, I would just vomit everything right back up.  I eventually just left it as yes, I'm going to take medicine.  I did try to drink some water then, but I was still ill.  So about 30 minutes later I went and threw up again.
Enough details though, you get the idea.  I was miserably sick from 3:00pm to 8:00pm in a foreign country because I ate some street food, and I was unable to tell my host family exactly what was happening.  I was pretty unhappy, and I definitely thought, "This wouldn't have happened if I were in America, and being in America would be really nice right now."  My family was genuinely concerned for my health, and there were a few people visiting our house (because of the funeral) and they also seemed genuinely concerned.  It was a pretty tough afternoon for me, but thinking about it now confirms that Ghanaians are just nice people.  Most people seemed worried that I was going to die or needed medical attention, but usually I was able to explain that it was just something I ate making me sick.
Here's a list of some things that are tough and other setbacks I've experienced in no particular order: it's hot, my $5 Walmart speakers broke, my iPod decided to stop working for a day, I had to reinstall Windows7 on my computer because it wouldn't start, my external hard drive decided to quit functioning (but I was able to recover almost everything on it), I have to handwash all of my clothes, it rains almost every day so it takes two days for my clothes to dry, I got food poisoning, I forgot all of my books at home, there's no running water, I have to greet everyone I see because I'm a celebrity, and my house is a 10 minute walk from town.
It's really not that bad, and I've gotten over pretty much everything on the list.  That being said, I do miss running water, constant electricity, nice roads, and American food.
This post is supposed to include some celebrations too, and I think that will be good to lift my spirits a bit after all this talk of sickness and things that kind of suck.  The first and only celebration that I have to talk about is the Ohoum Festival.  No one was able to figure out exactly what it is or why they celebrate, but these are some things we know.  The timing of the festival changes every year depending on the growth of palm trees, but we don't know what they look for or why it depends on palm trees.  For one month no one is allowed to pound fufu, make excessive noise, or play music after dark.  If you live in town this month is noticeably quieter because Ghanaians are pretty loud at night compared to Americans.  When something happens with the palm tree, the chief of Old Tafo and the village elders walk through the stream for a few hundred meters.  Lots of people join them in the stream, and then the whole procession moves to the street and they parade through town.
Parades here are pretty cool.  There's lots of drumming, dancing, and waving.  Anyone at Lawrence or who knows Sambistas can think of that kind of drumming.  After the chief passes by, or really whenever you feel like it, you can join the parade.  The chief was carried through town on a big platform, and he would occasionally stand and dance on the platform for a while.  This sent the crowd into a frenzy and everyone would start dancing furiously.  When the parade ends, there's a dancing competition.  I think this is pretty standard, but it might be only for Ohoum.
Most people were nice, but a few weren't so happy to see a bunch of white people parading through town.  Victoria and I also got dragged into a dance spot by our counterpart teacher at RCJHS and immediately felt uncomfortable.  For one the place was packed; we were the only white people there and everyone knew it; and people tried to pickpocket me and take my backpack.  Luckily I didn't have anything in my back pockets, and we left in less than a minute.  It was crazy in there, and we didn't like it.   All in all the festival was a lot of fun, and I'm glad I got to see it and participate.
4th of July Party!  All of us PCTs decided to have a potluck to celebrate Independence Day.  We held the potluck at our favorite spot in town which happens to be owned by Mandee's (a fellow volunteer) mom.  The day before the party I decided that I would make some vegetarian chili, something I've whipped up many times working at Magpie.  I knew it wouldn't be too hard to find tomatoes, beans, onion, chiles, and garlic, but finding cumin proved to be impossible.  Also, I had to settle for some white beans. I'm not sure what kind they were, but that was the only kind available.
I soaked the beans for half a day, and when I returned home at 4:00pm, I was ready to cook.  I should take a little time to explain our kitchen facilities: we have a fire pit (3 walls) that you feed firewood into; we have a charcoal grill with no grill that you just set pots upon, and we have no cutting board (though I brought one!).  Everything works surprisingly well, and my mom is a pro at cutting things in her hands.
I started boiling the beans on the fire pit, roasting the peppers on the charcoal, and prepping my tomatoes, onions, and garlic.  Everything came together nicely, and my family loved me stew.  However, since I couldn't find cumin or get chipotles in adobo sauce, my chili turned into a spicy tomato soup.  As anyone at Magpie will tell you, I have a tendency to overdo the spiciness of soups, and the same thing happened with this chili.  As one fellow teacher put it, "Your chili's on fire!" 
I ended up being late to the party, which I knew would happen because cooking beans and chili takes a lot of time, but my spicy tomato soup was still quite popular.  That brings me to another topic at our 4th of July Potluck, the Trainee survey.  A few girls decided it would be fun to put together an anonymous poll to decide who had the best smile, best eyes, and who was the best dress, and most likely to do certain things...a lot like a high school senior yearbook thing, except we've known each other for less than one month.  Anyway, I pretty much ran the table for the guys: smile (#2), eyes (1), best dressed (1), most likely to get a Ghana tattoo (2), most likely to integrate into the community (1), most likely to become fluent in the language (1), most likely to become a volunteer trainer (2), most likely to become a country director (1)...etc.  There are more but I've already bragged plenty.  I should mention that you could not vote for yourself, so these things were determined by my fellow trainees.  Not going to lie, it made me feel pretty good about myself :)
Then we sang the national anthem, and it was awesome. 'Merica!
Funerals are a big celebration, so I'm sure I'll write about them more once I actually go to one.
I'm excited to announce that my sister Cynthia had her baby the other day (Wednesday).  Because he was born on a Wednesday, he will be named Kwaku.  I already have one brother named Kwaku, but his full name is Kwaku Aguday (I have no idea how to spell it).  They don't name babies until they have a party a week after they are born, but my family is already talking about naming him Kwaku Peter Vanney Anokyewaa!  Apparently they have a family member named Peter, so they aren't naming him only after me, but's pretty cool.  I guess that means I would be the godfather.  I'm not so secretly really excited about this.
Unfortunately I think I won't be around for the naming/birthing celebration because all the Peace Corps Trainees are going to Kumasi to meet our counterpart teachers for our sites.  This means that they'll finally tell us the name of the town/village we'll be teaching in for two years!  After we meet our counterparts everyone will go to their sites for a short visit, and then we'll shadow a current Peace Corps teacher for a few days too.  It's going to be an exciting 2 weeks, and I'm not sure when I'll be able to find internet. Hopefully it's soon!