Sunday, August 16, 2009

Some Sunshine for an Overcast Holiday

Term 3 is over, and I’m about a week away from saying I’ve been a Peace Corps Volunteer for one year. Ha! I managed to stay alive and committed despite the cobras, giant ants, lack of cheese and amazing disappearing acts from teachers at my school. No, I’m going strong and I will finish my second year with exuberance. Exuberance!!! I think I’ve got a better handle on what I’m doing here, and I can actually voice my opinion better than when I first got here. Before, I was much more passive, considering I’ve only been in Ghana 1/28 of my life. For a year, my students and the community have seen me go to work every day, giving it my all and really caring about the town. They’ve seen me toil and sweat on friends’ farms, do dishes, cook, do my laundry, and speak the language in town. I’m no CIA agent finding out the secrets of a small farming town in Eastern Region, nor am I a lazy sack of fufu that gets paid a babillion dollars by the US government. Nope, just Darren, or Kwazi Boateng in my town- the guy who has one more year left and will damn well make the most of it.

Off to a good start with this post, I guess this makes up for my hiatus. I have a 6 week holiday though, and more free time than I usually care for. Several things happened in the meantime: Obama came, the education group before ours finished their service and are now back home, I’ve got 3 kittens/gremlins, the project I wanted to work on might be coming to fruition (capital M) after a strange and capricious yet magnanimous decision by the district, the new volunteers have sworn in, and oh yes, I’m in a relationship with a golf playing, Italian, attractive and smart girl from Jersey (I have no idea what that conjures up in your mind, but I tried). It’s been a busy 6 weeks since I last posted.

In mid July, Obama and his family must have had a strong urge to buy kente cloth and chew bush rat, because they came for a visit, amidst weeks of celebrations from Ghanaians prior to his arrival. Obama songs on the radio, Obama biscuits on trays sitting atop market women’s heads, Obama gas ranges and of course Obama cloth. When did Ghana become America’s 51st state? Please tell me the goat is the state animal.

At the 11th hour, Peace Corps Volunteers were invited to meet at the US Embassy to get tickets, board a bus and see Obama give a speech at the airport before taking off in the ever impressive Air Force One. Although all volunteers were invited, several did not come because of the unimaginable journey it would take to get from northern Ghana down to Accra. Of course many did come, and it was nice to see friends from afar. Mind you, all this was going on towards the end of school, so my students would look at me with awe, and I pulled their chains by telling them Obama and I will play one-on-one basketball before his plane takes off.

After hours of chatting at the embassy, we took off in buses for the airport, where American expatriates also awaited to see Barack Obama and Ghanaian President Atta Mills speak. The scene was incredible, a podium with Ghanaian and American flags waving, with Air Force One taking up most of the night sky. There were Ghanaian drummers and dancers on either side of the red carpet leading up to the plane, and when Obama and Mills finally showed up, both gave an excellent speech. Unfortunately, upon seeing Obama, I had a hard time listening to his speech since I had the Obama song stuck in my head and had the strongest hankering for Obama biscuits. I did catch Obama make mention to Peace Corps not once but twice in his speech. Lots of cheering by us, if you could imagine. Barack and Michelle came around to shake a sea of hands and then were led up to the plane to look down on a bunch of excited Americans and Ghanaians. Did he know we had been standing for hours at the airport waiting to see him? I got to shake Obama’s hands a few years ago, and this time I got to shake Michelle’s. Her hands were soft but no wisdom passed from her to me. Why doesn’t that ever happen? I hope I didn’t accidentally give the First Lady the paramecium that makes you shit yourself.

Soon after Obama’s visit, the Peace Corps group before us began their close of service (COS), meaning they were leaving Ghana and going back to their regular lives in America. The economy might suck, jobs might not be available, and some were awaiting to take their MCATs or GREs, but all of them had so much to look forward to- no more being spotted by everyone from miles away; no more malaria medicine; rooms with AC; familiar sights. Despite everything they would be getting back, you could see how sad they were for what they were leaving behind. Hell, I sniffle a bit when I think about my COS- Otumi is my home, and the people here feel a little like my extended family. My students are like my children. Yes, my friends were excited to go home, but that doesn’t mean they looked back with insouciance.

A few months ago, one of the girls who were COSing asked me if I wanted three kittens, and I said yes. Now, “yes” would automatically form on my lips for almost any favor she would have asked of me since I live to see her happy, but really I did not fully envisage what I am currently dealing with. She left, and I did take her kittens. Cuteness: confirmed. Patience on the ride here and to Accra for the vet’s: excellent. But over time, they became less and less cute and more pooping nuisances. At one point one of the kittens got sick, I thought it might have had rabies because it was so delirious, and I tearfully sat and pet him while he was curled and paralyzed on my ground. When I went into town to get a box for him, people were confounded as to why I was so upset over a wee cat. Just chop it (eat it) says my counterpart. I mean, there are vets in Ghana, one is an hour away, but in a small rural town, cats are mice eaters and not companions.

My kitten recovered though, and I took him on a ride with his two sisters on a ride to Accra for the vets. Since I got the kittens at the age of 4 weeks, and the mother was taken back to America, the nutrition of the one cat was lacking and it got sick off the milk the vet had told me to give them until they were six weeks old. When I finally got them to the vets, the doctors were so nice- they checked the kittens out, gave them food, and housed them in a nice place for four days to check on them while I got my rabies shots from Peace Corps. These doctors recognized I am a volunteer, and did not charge me a penny for the treatment or the housing, and to them I tip my hat.

Its been about two weeks since I’ve taken them to Accra, and they have been healthy and growing in girth, height, and annoyance. At first I gave them Ghanaian names like Gyata (lion), Hawa (woman from “Hustling is not Stealing”) and Ewo (honey). But they have gotten on my nerves so much that now I’m calling them MC Pee Pants, Jack, and Jack Jack, all suggested by my friend Jack. I am currently teaching them how to hunt, and it stinks to watch them torment lizards that fall from my ceiling. But that is the law of the jungle, and these guys have to learn to live off the land since I won’t have them forever. Reading “The Jungle Books” has definitely helped make me realize just how much they need to be ready for the world once they are no longer kittens. Listen to me! These kittens! God! Yesterday a goat rammed MC and I had to intervene with a swift kick to its side. And I don’t like the look of the hawks that sometimes come around the house. I'm pretty protective of them, looking out for their best interests. No, I do not clean the cats with my tongue nor do I breastfeed the kittens, that’s preposterous!

A week before school ended, the assembly man of my town and the headmaster asked me if I could still get a grant for computers, the very grant I proposed to them 7 months earlier when there was a half built building that needed completing. Now, they want to know if I can help get the computers we talked about months ago. With a blink of an eye, the students cleared the weedy compound around the structure, the chief’s workers, along with the chief himself, came to take care of the larger flora behind the compound. Carpenters came and ripped out the wood that had rotted many moons ago, and there is now a roof on the building. With so much fervent work, I ended up going back to the district assembly and meeting the man who helped get this project back on its feet: Mr. Wonder. Mr. Wonder does not float in a balloon and blow bubbles down to people passing on the street. He has a nice office, is well educated, and has as much interest in finishing this project as I do. We’ve been working together to ensure the building is completed, and that it does not lose inertia. We planned out that they will pay for the building, furniture, and white boards, while I get 20 Pentium 3 computers, a projector, 6 security gates (a must according to Peace Corps grants for computers), and a one year subscription to the internet for one computer. I wrote the grant proposal, I’ve got the invoices, and now all I have to do is wait for official paperwork to staple to my proposal. Since the money will have to come from donations from friends and families, I’ll just leave this for my next post, complete with pictures and a more detailed story.

Now and again, PCVs can end up dating each other. Couples can be as far apart as a 15 hour tro ride that can leave them harrowed and smelling like livestock, but glad to be with a person they care about. I’m thanking the stars that this is not the case for me- Lisa is a scant 2 hours away, although I would travel the 15 hours if I had to. The country is our oyster, and if there’s one thing I like to do, it’s experience a foreign country with someone close to me. So from here on out, my posts will have pictures and mention Lis as we finish our final year of Peace Corps together. Can’t wait!

Last week Lisa and I went to see the new volunteers swear in, and see some of our own friends on the side. Swearing in was a lot of fun, I got to see my host family and presented my host father with some kente I picked up in Kpetoe as a congrats for being "re-elected" as sub chief. I also got to greet my old trainers and enjoy myself at the after party (although I got more than I bargained for, haha). I knew two volunteers from Vision Quest (see STARS ’09 post), and I vaguely remembered some faces from the Obama event at the airport, but it wasn’t until swearing in that I got to know more about the new volunteers. As opposed to our group of about 30, all of us being education vols, the new group is a mix of almost 70 education and omnibus volunteers combined. It was good meeting them, and I hope to run into the occasional volunteer from this group when traveling.

Before I get out of here, I’ll mention my reservations about the marathon coming up. During the swearing in after party, a slightly drunken volunteer with knowledge about marathons essentially said that running the race WILL kill me. I have not been training correctly. Instead of my daily 6 mile runs (one of which I almost stepped on a cobra), I need to be running 3 to 4 hours every week, otherwise my body will not be ready for such a strenuous race. Looks like I’m doomed. I always knew pride will do me in in the end. Nice to have known you all! Can anyone look after 3 kittens while I sleep forever? They do NOT shit all over the place and leave scratches on your legs. :>

Wine: Golan Heights Cabernet Sauvignon Galilee Yarden 2004


Arms Aloft- Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros
Last Beautiful girl - Matchbox 20
0510 If Les Fleur Were Mine- The Kleptones
Say Hello Wave Goodbye- David Gray
Heart It Races- Architecture In Helsinki
Just You, Just Me- Nat King Cole
Everybody Got Their Something- Nikka Costa
Reckoner - Radiohead
My Friends - Red Hot Chili Peppers
Mahna, Mahna- Cake
Ain't It Crazy- Lightnin' Hopkins
Satan Lend Me A Dollar - Hill Of Beans
Kitty- Presidents of the United States of America
UB40- Sweet Sensation
Forever Broke- Yoko Kanno
John Coltrane- My Favorite Things
Tea For The Tillerman - Cat Stevens

Some photos from my town

The rocky road I run on

My neighbors

Obama in Ghana

Above: MC Pee Pants Below: My Responsibilities
Bye Kim and Erin!

My host parents after the celebration

Dan and local kente weaver in Kpetoe

Kente cloth

Weaving Kente

The new volunteers performing their drumming and dancing

After party fun

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