Friday, January 2, 2009

A Sweltering Winter Wonderland

Most people don’t know this, but those pictures NASA comes out with from Mars missions- fake. The real deal is all those photos came from right outside my home, where almost everything coated with a fine layer of rust red dust. What those scientists are really spending our tax dollars on is anyone’s guess.

Yes, it’s the dry season at my site, and that means desiccated streets, parched animals, and the occasional dust storm. My snot is red. Nothing is white. My lungs, too, are probably red- down to each individual alveolus. The only upside to this- dust angels. Merry Christmas there!

Speaking of Christmas, things went very well over here- Chihiro and her friend Yasuko came over, bringing gifts and some Japanese food to cook. In fact, they brought one of my favorite dishes in Japan- mochi. I haven’t eaten real mochi like this since about 3 years ago when I lived in the outskirts of Tokyo. Things got so bad, I used to have to go to mochi dens to wean myself off the delicious rice treat.

Yasuko brought the dry mix with her from Japan, and all we had to do was add water, roll them into balls, and boil them for a few minutes. Easy enough, right? Unfortunately, no- we added too much water, and when it came time for rolling, it was mush (see below). I don’t think me cracking up, practically on the floor laughing, helped matters. The girls did the best they could and put our sad, limp-looking creations in the pot of boiling water. They managed to get two perfect balls towards the end though.

We boiled them up, mixed them with a brown sugar sauce traditionally mixed in with the starchy treats, and topped it off with mochi poweder, kind of like brown powdered sugar. Despite the mochi coming out nothing like the picture from the package, I gave it all thumbs up.

We exchanged gifts afterwards, and despite my shitty wrapping job (think pieces of notebook paper and duct tape), I think I did well with gifts this year. Earlier that week I went Christmas shopping at the Cultural Center in Accra to find Chihiro a gift. Among the gifts was a stretch of fabric with a woodblock print of dancers from Northern Ghana, as well as two Mad Libs I tore out of my Worst Case Scenario-themed Mad Libs book- one with how to survive a snake bite (for Ghana), and the other for how to survive an earthquake (for when she returns to Japan). Yasuko got a bead bracelet I picked up from Koforidua. Both seemed satisfied with their gifts, and guys, it is al;way propitious to know a girl's favorite color before getting her a gift.

They also brought their computer, and when I placed my pen drive in the computer to lift some files, I found out the drive was riddled with viruses. And then the Great Deletion happened. I lost all of my files, including some important ones dealing with STARS among other documents. Are they backed up? We’ll see next time I go to Accra. Luckily, I didn’t infect Yasuko’s computer….

Earlier Christmas Day, I went into town to exchange afehyia pas (pronounced afishyapa- think happy holidays and New Year’s combined), and gave gifts to those I’m tight with. In Ghana, getting gifts for people is relatively easy-

“What do you want for Christmas?” ‘Biscuits’ “No prob”

For my headmaster, I found a really nice leather frame, and placed a photo of the two of us shaking hands inside it. I’ll never forget his elated smile when I handed it to him. I didn’t bother wrapping it for him after the previous night’s fiasco of wrapping gifts.

It was bothersome when total strangers or people I didn't know very well asked where their gift was. I would tilt my head slightly to the side and just stare at them, befuddled, until they got the point that I had nothing for them. Asking them "Where's MY gift?" or saying “It’s right over there [point in some direction, then run away when they look]" also proved effective.

Among the gifts I got was a huge, I don’t know, stalk? Of bananas, and while carrying this behemoth back to my house, I noticed but was not surprised by an enormous spider, like the one mentioned in my last post, residing on the bananas. Inured to living amongst a plethora of biting and stinging animals, I shrugged and continued to walk to my house, clutching my bananas w/ spider.

All Peace Corps Volunteers either spent Christmas at their site or out of the country- traveling around Ghana was prohibited by Peace Corps due to run off elections taking place at the time. Under stand fast rules, we were to stay at site until January 2nd, a few days after elections in case of any violence. A few of my friends went back to the States, while others spent their holidays in other West African countries or Europe. I forgot to ask for Necco wafers to those friends who did go to the States.

For the most part, elections went well (depending on who you ask); Ghana could account for no major violent outbursts in any of her 10 regions, and it looks like the NDC party (the opposing party in Ghana) won by the skin of its teeth (about 51%). There was just one tiny gaffe in the election process, a certain district botched something and now elections had to be extended to Friday. I found this out from an irritated Grant, who happens to live in that very district. I raised the question about whether or not this would further extend stand fast for PCVs. This seemed to irritate him more.

Sure enough, a few hours after our conversation, Peace Corps texted us that stand fast will in fact be extended to January 6th. Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyy damn!!!!!

So I got to sulk with mostly everyone else in my town, though their sulking came from the election outcome- NDC's win. Only a few people in my town were staunch supporters of the NDC, and for them it was kind of amusing for me to see the look of satisfaction on their faces. It’s like seeing the lone Dolphins fan in a room packed with Jets fans (if you know what I mean). I can care less about either party; I don’t see any difference between the two, and in talking with people around Ghana, I’m further confused. They both sound the same. I liked the CPP, but they , like America’s Green Party, got a scant number of votes during the first elections. A lot of people liked the guy running for the CPP, but every single one of my interlocutors, being cab drivers or the women selling vegetables in the market, said they liked the main guy, Nduom, but the rest of his party “didn’t have it together”.

Over the school break, my students and I finished the Periodic Table Project- It took three days to complete- first we chalked an outline, then painted with the black, and lastly touched it up with some color. Even Chihiro and Yasuko stopped by to help, though many of the students were at church that day and so we didn’t work on it. The finished product was a beautiful site: A periodic table, some examples of electron configurations, and a model showing protons, neutrons, and electrons.

All JHS students have to take a high stkaes test to get into high school, and keeping in mind that most of the questions on the science portion of the test come from their chemistry units in the syllabus, I thought it would be a good idea to have a visual aid for them. On top of this, the students are responsible for memorizing a heap of insignificant information, such as the names of several inorganic compounds. Looking at the syllabus, a lot of what the students have to learn was taught in my college chemistry class; I think the painting will help boost interest in chemistry, and make them feel smart when they can explain to others information not readily available on the now painted wall. For instance, I want students to be able to look at the table and know what the numbers at the rows and columns stand for.

Elections in my town were held at my school, so many people got to see our painting. With great aplomb, I expounded on some of the concepts of the painting to onlookers. My counterpart, on the other-hand, frowned at our creation. He pretty much expressed that that the painting was unsightly, and it shouldn’t have been done. In my head, I imagined me and a reanimated Mendel knocking my counterpart’s jaw loose with a double punch. My façade though was that of stoicism despite my cp’s obvious affront.

Things have been steadily going south with my counterpart ever since I started work at my site, except that recently, after making the comment about our school's painting, he's been lightening up and being more friendly with me. In fact, just the other day we had a congenial conversation about leaving together for the in service training event on the 12th. He and I, along with all other education volunteers and their CPs, will meet up in Kukurantumi for a five day workshop. I'm hoping that by Term 2, we will have worked out our differeneces.

Since stand fast has left me stuck at site during the holidays, I needed to find some kind of analgesic for my boredom. Aside from tutoring students in the morning, reading books in the afternoon, and talking to people around town in-between, I would find myself restless, needing to do something less mundane. My answer to this quandary took the form of my headmaster’s Minolta SLR film camera. My headmaster had showed me the camera before, but up to that point I was totally ignorant about all things dealing with film cameras. Fortunately, as a youth my headmaster used to be a professional photographer, and showed me his collection of brilliant photographs he took years ago. So my headmaster spent a day showing me the parts of the camera, how film works, and explained some of the jargon that comes with taking pictures. Mr. Donkor showed me how to focus, read the light meter to make appropriate adjustments, and eye a situation to get good light balances.

After giving me a few pointers, he let me borrow his camera, and with a full roll of film, set off to practice taking some shots. I did a nice little walkabout around my town, snapping pictures either of the forest or of families and children excited to get their picture taken. I’m sure I looked like a fruitcake just wandering around the fringes of my town snapping pictures of what seemed like absolutely nothing to my fellow Otumians.

During the holidays, I’ve also been unnerved by reports coming in over the radio about Hamas and Israel’s bloody conflict in Gaza. It is a shame that innocent people are killed on both sides, and as convoluted as the situation is, it hurts to overhear in the rhetoric that many nations are condemning Israel. Coincidentally, about three days before any news of Israel’s retaliation on Hamas, something else that is Israel related had also stopped me in my tracks:

Before leaving for Ghana, I downloaded several episodes of my favorite podcasts on my iPod so that while in Ghana I could hear the sound of Americans conversing. I held out listening to my favorite show, Keith and the Girl, for over a month so I could hear new conversations while stuck in a crevasse of boredom. Last week I was in just one of those situations, and though the show was about 7 months old, it still retained its entertainment value. I was cooking, and while listening, I heard my name mentioned on the show. I nearly dropped what I was doing, I was so shocked.

A while back, I had sent a letter to Keith and the Girl in New York expressing how good I thought the show was as well as how the show should provide some entertainment for me whilst in Ghana; along with the letter I included some pictures of Israel (the Girl is from Israel, and her boyfriend Keith constantly rips on how brown everything is over there). I half-heartedly hoped that my non-brown subjects in the pictures would set things straight. Since I sent the letter in the midst of finshing up grad school and getting ready to move to Ghana, I forgot all about my letter to KATG.

Fast forward to me cooking dinner 7 months after downloading the show, and stopping dead when I hear Keith mention how he just got a letter from “this dude Darren who sent pictures of Israel- the place is brown.” A very weird experience indeed. If you at all you want to hear it for yourselves, just go to, click All Episodes and do a search for show #724- Brother Love’s Mother (skip ahead almost exactly one hour into the program to find it).

As fantastic as that all was, three days later came the news of Israel’s most recent major conflict since 2006. At the same time there have been hundreds of Ugandans killed because of war, and close to 2,000 dead in Zimbabwe because of a cholera outbreak. I wonder how many of my students are remotely aware of these events.

During the holiday, I also got sick, a first for me since coming to site. I had some sort of cold, leaving me with the beeps bleeps and creeps for a few days. Looking back, maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to get out of bed and tutor some of the form threes, but I didn’t want to just languish in bed all day, and I have it in my head that being sick= losing the good fight. So for about 4 or 5 days I forced myself from my home, stumbled into class, and looking all a mess, continue with math lessons. It got to a point where I had to quit. One lesson proved to be interesting though- In teaching about exponentials, I used an example of multiplying bacteria in, say, a sickly human being, and then I began coughing terrribly. As pallid as I must have looked, I think I was able to drive home the point of the efficacy of learning maths.
One day my headmaster even called to see how I was doing. Even though he was out of town, he knew I was sick and wanted to know if he should come back to take care of me. I turned down his incredibly generous offer, and was left greatly appreciating his and the rest of the town’s solicitude whilst I was sick.

I need to wrap this up… so quickly:

For New Years eve, I went to sleep well before midnight because, well, I was tired, sick and alone. So ladies, save any kisses for when I get back. For New Year’s Day, I went to the Presbyterian church after being urged by so many people to go; I hadn’t gone for several weeks, and I was getting the feeling that maybe now would be a good time to go. I was wrong.

The service was interminably long- over four hours, and I remembered why I stopped going in the first place. I must have said "Jesus Christ" at least 50 times, but for all the wrong reasons. The last hour and a half seemed to deal only with money and accounting, and I wanted nothing more than to leave the place. But I just sat there, and in time it became worth my while- at hour four people started to openly object to having to sit through the procession, and to my amusement, instead of leaving people were up in arms about the service's length. Admittedly, I like the first hour or so of church- people are dancing, there is great music, and I’ll talk to people I usually don’t often get to see. The women wear outfits quite pleasing to the eye (and it’s amazing to me to see all that white when right outside is a storm of red dust). Everything the women wear are tailor-made, and if not white, the outfit has some other color, along with an interesting pattern that is very much Ghanaian in style (I’ll try to get a picture up next time). Also, some cute girls go to church, but again, no deal. I am not starting anything in my town. Bad idea.

Other news?

A mouse not once but twice entered my room; the first time we both freaked out and it ran out of my room. The second time it had entered my room, I was less shocked and more focused on chasing it out of my room, where I found the hole it was coming from and proceeded to occlude its only means of getting back in the house with some wood and a bag (I was like a beaver, sort of).

I read in the NY Times that they may have found a cure for giardia, that cursed intestinal problem caused by paramecia. It’s rather interesting how they plan on preventing illness, something about making the paramecium express all its proteins at once and allowing the body to recognize it, instead of it tricking the body with a different protein coat..never mind. Read it for yourself.

I forgot to mention that the other week my friend Megan and I found a sushi restaurant in Accra; we were full off of Indian at the time, but vowed to try the place next time we’re both in town. We'll also go to an actual movie theater in Accra, the first movie I've seen since I left for Ghana about 7 months ago.

Lest I forget: I also failed to mention in my last post one of the most amusing things I’ve ever seen in my life: During my finals, while one of the students was taking his test, he seemed to furtively put the entire paper in his mouth and chew on it. I don’t think this individual student was trying to be funny, because he did a double take when he looked up to see me staring at him with the most bewildered look on my face. He swallowed it.
I tried making a bloomin' onion, then got very sick because I ingested too much palm oil.

That’s it for now. I’m in Accra saying bye to Chihiro...and I just found out the director- the commander in chief- of Peace Corps, is here (with food) so I think I'll stay. There are a ton of people at the office today, many of them coming back from the States, one from Morocco, another from Egypt... uuurrr! I need to travel more! Enough!

To my friends and family in Israel: Stay well and stay safe.


Winter Wonderland- Diana Krall
Blue Christmas- Elvis Presley
Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah- Jews
Country Gramar- Nelly
Face-to-Face- Daft Punk
Raining- Dandy Livingston
Unity- Operation Ivy
Blue Skies- Ella Fitzgerald
Don’t Touch My Bikini- The Halo Benders
Hooligans- Hepcat
Don’t You Just Know It- Huey “Piano” Lewis & the Clowns
Oh Lately It’s Been So Quiet- Ok Go
The Past and the Pending- The Shins
Rudie Can’t Fail- The Clash
UA- 赤いあなた
Masi Campofiorin Ripasso



Yasuko making mochi

Not bad
One of Chihiro's gifts

My headmaster's gift

Periodic Table Statge 1

Periodic Table Project- Stage 2

Periodic Table, Finished

Mr. Donkor's camera

Some photos I took

More photos...

My Form 2s

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