Saturday, October 3, 2009

[Half] Marathon Runner/Walker/Hobbler

Mehuwakyei /mi-hu-wa-chi/. This is Twi for it’s been a while (or 久しぶりだな for my Japanese mates). My bad. A goat bit my fingers off and Peace Corps had to fit me out with $4 million bionic fingers. I still refuse to eat with my hands though. Nah, I was lazy. No goat bit my fingers off, but I don’t trust the one with the single horn always hanging out on my front porch leaving a pellet poop surprise for me every morning.

Things are good. Actually, much better than last year in terms of work. We have all new teachers at our school and they show up, like every day. And they are good teachers. It’s like being in a dream. And my teaching has improved a lot this year. It feels like I’ve been here for much longer than a year. My students treat me with a lot more respect, and we are getting loads of things done this term. We have had almost no cancelled classes, unlike last year, and the headmaster is coming to school every day. Let me remind you that just three months ago I would be the only adult at the school most of the time, the students were fed up and no one seemed to care about school. Things have really turned around. Am I jinxing the situation in Otumi with my glee? I hope not.

The only bad news is that I lost my Form 3 Math class to another teacher. Originally this term I was in charge of Math and Computers for Forms 1-3. My headmaster and the assistant headmaster both felt that the students should not be learning new material, but spending their class time practicing past questions from the BECE so they could get a better score and go to a good high school. My headmaster wants me to focus on teaching computers since that will also be on the BECE for the first time in Ghana, and the Form 3’s are missing an entire school year of the subject. So be it.

Other Peace Corps volunteers have voiced similar complaints that their headmasters will not let them teach Form 3 so that they can focus giving students practice questions only. I’m still trying to decide if this is a good decision or not. I want my students to do well, and it seems that our school outperformed a lot of schools around us (which, admittedly, does not say much).

Another hurdle is the fact that my headmaster is disallowing extra classes (classes before and after school for the Form 3’s) because parents do not want to pay extra money. So this means I cannot teach night classes with the computer anymore, because the parents won’t pay. The students saved their own money to purchase a computer last year, and now they are coming to me on how it is not fair that they cannot use it (the school is rigged to the street lights, so the only time we get power is at night). I have been hounding some people in my town for months now to bring power to the school, and still we’ve had nothing but telephone poles sent to the school, which I can’t help but stare at since it’s right outside the staff office window. Someone is being a lazy asshole.

We had a PTA meeting about three weeks ago, and the fact that I’m not staying a third year came up. A few people were upset that I said I’d stay if the ICT building was finished (I said this last year, during my third month at site!) The ICT building might be done in a few months, and now I am reneging since I lost hope in the building last year and set my sights for teaching in New York City. I promised I would do everything I could to be replaced by another Peace Corps volunteer, and hopefully that will be the case.

The fact that I’m leaving soon hit a lot of people who want their children to go to the U.S. I have almost no idea how to help them, but next time I’m in Accra I told them I would go to the American Embassy to find out what they need to do. I filled out all this info about their age, the type of visa they want, all this stuff. So for all you singles out there, if you want to marry a Ghanaian to help them get a visa, please send me a message. I tried to reason with some of the parents that it’s likely that if the students do well in school and work hard, they would have an easier time going abroad. But I really don’t know if some of these families have the money to send their kid over to the States. One couple said they have saved a ton of money for their son, and I know them well enough to know that they probably have saved enough. Too bad their son might arrive in the U.S. only to see the crappiest economy our nation has faced in a LONG time.

More volunteers are finishing their service this November. In August, the last of my old education group friends had left Ghana at their close of service. After this next group leaves, my group will be the oldest group serving in Ghana. Every day now I’ve been going up the same road to school I’ve been using for over a year, and I can’t help but think ‘I’m going home soon’. It’s like I am missing a place I’m still living in. In short, I am sad about this. I love my town. I love the people here, and in a matter of months I will be leaving all this. And I get sad when mango and tangerine season are over. God I’m going to be sad when I leave. Le sigh. I’ll be back, my cats need to cheer me up.

I’m back. Those cats. Yes I still have them, and coddling three fast growing cats has not been easy, especially since I get paid about $120 a month. I wish they could do my dishes or help out with the laundry. They are pretty good mouse catchers though, and boy have they caught a lot of mice, since the house is practically situated in a tropical forest area. They still are running in front of my legs though, which is no good when the power goes out and I can’t see anything and I end up tripping on one of them into a wall. And forget about scaring them with my African masks, they seem unfazed by any of my antics, ever.

During the school break, I took a trip to Jack’s site for a day before heading to a week-long volunteer conference on AIDS/HIV education. We had fun, and like usual ate exorbitant amounts of food. Since we were leaving for a week-long conference, we had to empty the fridge the only way we knew how- by eating every last morsel of food. We mostly laid around, me, Jack, and the dog Herzl, breathing heavy from the food and the milk. Yes, Jack has milk at his site. And a milk man. The only milk all of the volunteers have access to is powdered and in a tin. At Jack’s site, we could amble up to a stable, greet the milk man (a Fulani with an awesome hat), and walk away with a week’s worth of milk (which incidentally could be made into cheese, yogurt, and butter). In fact, before leaving Jack’s, it came down to drinking some milk that congealed into butter, so that really we were drinking butter bubble colloid things suspended in what tasted like butter milk. Bleckkkk. We also climbed a water tower under construction, with some of the village children wearily following us to the top.

On the way to Kumasi for the conference, we stopped by one of the new volunteer’s house and Jack’s closest neighbor. When we got there, we noticed a dog with three-and-a-half legs hopping towards us. The volunteer had replaced another volunteer, and along with the job this guy also got a hand-me-down dog. Right when he got to sight, this poor dog landed its paw in a trap, and lost most of its leg. Apparently now the dog is getting on fine, but I’m worried about my kittens since there are loads of hunters in my area. Another curious thing about this guy’s site was the total lack of phone reception, save for one particular spot about six feet in the air in his kitchen. Because this is the only place where he could get phone calls or messages, he made a harness attached to the ceiling, where the phone would be cradled waiting for incoming signals. Good thing this guy is tall. I had to stand on my tip toes to get my phone on that damned cradle.

The HIV/AIDS education conference itself could fill three pages, so to summarize, there were two conferences: one for volunteers in southern Ghana, and another for those in the north. I attended the south meeting, and met up with loads of friends I haven’t seen in a while. Each volunteer brought their counterpart as well for the week, and we were all shacked up in a really nice hotel on the outskirts of Kumasi. Lisa came with her counterpart, who it turns out is the chief of her town, and one of my favorite people in Ghana. I, on the other hand, had no one. All the teachers left my school, and my headmaster was away. I was counterpart-less. The conference was very informative, though, and it had a pool which was peculiarly cold even though the days were hot hot hot. Many of us laughed when previous to the conference we got an SMS from Peace Corps reminding us to bring a “swimming costume” for the pool at our hotel. I was going to be a water barrel, Jack a goat I think, and Lisa a popular Ghanaian bouillon cube.

After the conference, several of us went to the Kumasi Peace Corps sub office to unwind and goof off before going back to our jobs. Lis and I went to this amazing butterfly sanctuary not too far from the office. Early on, there was overcast and not much butterfly action. We took a walk in the forest for a bit, got eaten alive by all sorts of insects, and when we came back out to the main building of the park, the sun was out and so were the butterflies. Lisa knew some butterfly-ese, so she was able to coax a few of them to pose while we took pictures.

After our relaxing trip to the butterfly sanctuary, I took Lisa to a nice Indian restaurant in the thick of Kumasi. Unfortunately, I am not too familiar with the area, so before getting to the restaurant we first had to wander the streets, at night, hoping not to get mugged or strangled. The restaurant was quite excellent though, so check out Vic Baboo’s for fine Indian food and good smoothies.

The next day, I went for a jog around KNUST, a top university of Ghana and the venue for our STARS conferences, to train for the marathon coming up in three weeks. Idiotically, I got so lost on KNUST’s huge campus that I ended up jogging for three hours (which I’d imagine is like running almost three quarters of the marathon). I ended up injuring my knee, and could barely walk on it when I got back to the office. For three weeks I took care of it, but a week before the marathon I couldn’t even run for 5 minutes without feeling silly stabbing pains in my knee. So months of training for the marathon went right down the drain.

Now, you would think that is the end of the story, that any sane person would next write something like I watched from the side to cheer on my friends in the marathon. No. Not this guy. I had intentions of doing this, but when I went to registration with everyone the day before the race, I ended up deciding to try and run the half marathon. What can I say? I got caught up in the excitement, and only weeks before I was running half marathons as part of my training.

The race was a complete mess. I started off at a good pace, and maintained this for about 20 minutes before my knee voiced protests and I slowed to a jog. 10 minutes later my jog turned into a walk. 5 minutes later my walk turned into a 2 hour hobble to the finish line, with the walkers of the half and the runners of the full passing me with quizzical looks on their faces as they passed me. “Why,” they would ask themselves, “does this person have a runner’s number pinned to his shirt? He is obviously not sweating nor running.” I put shame beneath me and watched as the real runners dodged cars, annoying people, and a goat while running on the ridiculous course that seemed to have very little foresight for an international marathon. Much of the path was along the coast though, so it was quite pretty, and lasted much longer for me considering my snail’s pace.

It was nice seeing the country director, who parked his car towards the end of the course to cheer all us PCV’s on as we got closer to the finish line. It was embarrassing though when we both saw each other in the distance, and what should have taken 5 minutes to get to the country director ended up taking 15. At the finish line was Lisa (holding a sign instructing me to “Run Faster”) as well as several other volunteers who showed up to cheer us on. A few of our peeps did well in the race, others got injured from the nonsensical course. All in all we were smiling in the end, with a complementary coconut in one hand and a chicken leg in the other. There were free messages for runners, but my table broke on me and I fell to the ground, thus ending my session and my relaxed state.

During our time in Accra for the marathon, Lisa, Serena, Emily (a Peace Corps Mali volunteer), Corey and I (plus a few others....) were invited to stay at this incredibly generous expat's house. Between relaxing on comfortable couches and watching cable television, we were treated to groceries he picked up for us that some of us haven't eaten in months- sliced turkey, real cheese, wine from a bottle and not a box. Our expat host definitely goes down as one of my favorite people.

That’s about everything. Today we had entertainment day at school, where the Form 1’s entertained the Form 2 and 3 students with dancing and singing. I was around to see last year’s event, so I kind of knew what was in store for the day. I liked one group who did drumming and dancing to the theme of sanitation and cleaning up garbage around a river so people don’t get sick. My supervisor also came as part of her tour de volunteer’s sites, and it was great seeing her. It was also nice when my supervisor handed me an amazing package from my friend Kim, allowing me to introduce Jujyfruits, Yogurt Raisins, and Junior Mints to some of my mates in town. Note: packages induce tears of joy.

Lastly, if you are not a Peace Corps volunteer, than you will enjoy the book "Heat" by Bill Buford. If you are a volunteer, this is the worst book to read while serving in-country because it's all about fine Italian cooking, something totally lacking at our sites.


Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc
Russian River Valley 2006


Can U Dig It?- Certain Stars
On A Day Like This- Elbow
Outside Villanova- Eric Hutchinson
8-Ball- Underworld
Straight, No Chaser- Thelonious Monk
Happy Ending- Mika
Time to Pretend- MGMT
Champions- Mr. Flash
Feelin' Way Too Damn Good- Nickelback
Stars- The Weepies
The Vagabond- Air
We Tigers- Animal Collective
Hell Yes- Beck
10 A.M. Automatic- The Black Keys
Sunshine- Buckcherry
We’re All In Love- Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Freedom- Rage Against the Machine
Hurry Up Let’s Go- Shout Out Louds
Summer Wind- Michael Bublé
Miles Ahead- Miles Davis
Run On- Moby
Rewind- Nas
Mighty O- Outkast
Speed of Life- David Bowie
Oo-De-Lally- Disney’s Robin Hood
A Day at the Races- Jurassic 5

The last of the old education group

Carrying luggage, the Ghana way

Bye Chris and Eric!!! Damn shame it had to end that way

Pure evil


Free lol cat picture

The milk man

That's not milk!!!!!!

Jack and a hyperventilating Herzl on the water tower

Interesting Western Region flora

The cradle of life for phone reception

You put this thing on your gas range, instant oven!

Suitor #2


At the butterfly sanctuary with Lis

The Accra International Marathon
Hey this map doesn't mention haranguing pedestrians or belligerent motorists!

Some Japanese runners- boy was my Japanese lacking that morning

One of the few occasions that call for tape over the nips- marathons

I think the back of this said "Don't die, jerk!"

SHS student Gabriel after running the marathon.

Entertainment day at our school

Student playing "sick farmer"

Group photo!


Lisa said...

ha ha ha jerk

Lisa said...

okay we are breaking up. is that nickleback on your music list???? wtf darren, wtf