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.