Saturday, March 13, 2010

Hand Me That Cutlass

Just got a text from a friend today congratulating us on 21 months of serving in Ghana. 21 months. Meditating on that (with licorice tea), I can rewind and fast forward all the ups and downs, triumphs, failures, blah boring moments, reality checks, and fears I had in the beginning and still harbor now. 21 months of learning the ropes so I could be infallible the rest of the time I’m here. 21 months of setting up the dominoes for the spectacular conclusion. Ha! Who am I kidding?!

I’m currently working on three main projects- teaching at the JHS, helping to organizing this year’s STARS youth conference, and getting the computer lab and library finished before I COS. Stop me at random, ask me what I’m thinking, and honestly it would probably have something to do with one of those projects. Luckily I am not going solo on any of this; several dedicated and creative people are working right beside me, thankfully. I hear “everything will work out” or “by God’s grace”. Telling that to a volunteer hurtling towards their close of service just doesn’t work.
In the end it doesn’t really matter how hard I work, everything is reliant on the enthusiasm and involvement of others, along with a little luck. It’s like planting seeds and hoping they will germinate, granted you are being smart about your sowing. Ultimately it’s up to the seed and the right conditions for things to come to fruition. Ooooh, perfect segue.

Lately, I’ve been farming. A lot. As soon as I step into the bush, I leave behind all my worries and thoughts. I focus on two things: weed well, and don’t get bitten by a snake. Weed weed weed weed. This is the top de-stressor. Plus I’m helping a good friend AND paying her back for doing my laundry (I’m awful at hand washing shirts and pants). In the forest, I learn a lot about things that don’t crop up normally in conversation, like the life of farmers and stories in the forest. A lot of the farmers I know do not own a plot of land, they rent it by splitting their harvest with the actual owner. Also, around my town there are armed robbers who at any given moment can come in and take the farmer’s entire day’s work, or even their lives in some recent cases.

Every Saturday, my friend Auntie Obi and I head out towards the thick part of the forest. She would occasionally call out an echoing “HOOOOOOO”, with “HOOOOOOOOO” responses from unseen farmers in the green portrait. This is to let the other farmers know you are there, and make things less mundane. It is an hour walk into the forest to get to her farm, and at any given moment we would pass one of my students or a friend I know in town. Their reactions are worth the trip. “Oh sir, you have done well!” “Ayeeekoooooh!” (well done!), “Wo betumi do?” (you can weed?). And I can’t forget to mention what people jokingly say to me on the way to the bush- “Catch me a rabbit” “Bring me back a yam” “Bring me one bush rat”. I would pretend to scrawl this on an invisible sheet of paper; god forbid I forget to bring them their prize. Of course I’ve earned my own keep of avocado, kontummere leaves, yam, oranges and plantain after a morning’s work.

Second to farming is running. Running for my life, as fast as I can go for about ten minutes after school is more like it. Beats the hell out of my stress, because I’m too busy catching my breath than thinking about how shitty my lesson went or that I was the only teacher at school for most of the day. If no one is around, I chase the goats until I tag them. This takes a lot more effort than my normal runs. So far it’s Goats 9-Me 2.

Last week, after school, while running on the main road, some storm clouds were approaching, so I turned around and headed home. On my way back, I heard some of my students calling me from deep in the forest (I stand out pretty easily). I left the road and went down the snaking trail of the forest towards my students and their families. They were getting down palm nuts, and it looked like they were about finished, and just in time- a storm was brewing not too far from where we were . They told me to take the lead, and I went on my way. By the time I got back I was soaked, and lightning was striking all around my house. Usually, I prefer running in the rain, but my acute fear of lightning trumps my love for saturated exercise.

While the lightning was striking all over the place, I could see farmers, including the aforementioned students and their families, walking the flooded road back to their houses, which are almost a mile away in many cases. Some farmers were using their giant metal bowls as umbrellas, with lightning striking so close to them I cringed every time. And here’s where I become a coward- as much as I yelled for them to come to my house for shelter, they could not hear me through the deafening rain. And I was too chicken to go out and direct them to a mug of tea and chair in the confines of my safe and warm living room.

After that day of seeing the farmers working in the rain, straining with their load, and walking several kilometers back home with the threat of being hit by lightning, I’ve had a new and profound kind of respect for my community. I see my students in a new light. When they are finished at school, without question they go to farm in adverse conditions. And then they come to school the next day to learn. I’ve lived here long enough to know this, but my recent farming expeditions allowed me to know a bit more. When I was their age, I worked too. But their work helps feed their family, despite the obvious dangers. Props to the farmers. I know February 6th is Farmer’s Day in Ghana, but in my town that should be every day.

Right next to my house is a palm oil mill. Some farmers bring their harvest of palm nuts straight to this mill, and the nuts are pulverized to make this bright red oil- I have no idea of the nutritional benefits of it, but most people use it when cooking a meal. When I first got here, a tablespoon of the stuff would wreak havoc on my stomach. Ever since I got to my site and could cook for myself, I opted for vegetable or coconut oil and avoided palm oil. Very recently my stomach has gotten stronger, and I don’t get sick from friends’ cooking, so I’ve started getting my own palm oil. I can just go to the mill, and they give me all the oil I want. I’ll come home with a huge container that would last me weeks.

Not too long ago, I got back home with such a container of palm oil, and went to shower after a long day of school. When I got out of the shower and went to the kitchen, the container was on its side, and my three white cats were now red colored culprits. So much fun cleaning that up.

Other small stories

I accidentally dropped a teacher while giving her salsa lessons. We were in the staff room, and all the teachers were laughing hysterically at me and Eva, one of the female teachers, whizzing around doing an awful job of salsa. Then Eva, thinking I would catch her, did a faint. I did not catch her, and she ended up hitting the floor pretty hard. This brought more laughter.

There are so many stories from the staff room, but most memorable was a recent situation where I was left acting as pseudo-parent for the day. While grading papers, dozens of my female students entered the office with one of the other teachers, who looked like Santa holding a big black bag. In the bag were bras, underwear, as well as Western second-hand skirts and shirts. Of course they started putting on the skirts and holding up the bras and shirts to their friends while I sat trying to find a spot on the ceiling to focus on. But the girls and female teacher wanted my opinion. There were plenty of “definitely not’s” and “not on your life” for the pouting girls wearing way-too short skirts. Ghanaians are usually over ambitious as it is with girls, and I didn’t want my students creating more hassle for themselves.

Not too long after that weird situation, my host father from Peace Corps training came to randomly visit me in my town. Everyone in town calls me Kwazi Boateng- Kwazi for Sunday born, and Boateng being my host father’s name; but until then no one ever met him. That day Nana Boateng got to see the school and meet with many of the people around town. It was so nice that he finally got to see where I live. Recently my host sister, Regina, died, which incidentally was an exact week after our primary headmaster passed away. I think this contributed to my host father's decision to get out and see my site.

Although I couldn’t make it to Regina’s funeral, I did go to the primary headmaster’s funeral. Hundreds of people attended the service, and even though his death occurred about 2 months ago, many of us were still grief-stricken. One curious part of the funeral had all the teachers line up, while the new primry headmaster called roll. When they got to the deceased headmaster's name, we all yelled "Present Out!"- this is what our students say if we call out their absent friend's name during register.

We celebrated Ghana’s 52nd independence Day on March 6th with a little marching in the market town. Last year, like every year in Otumi, all the students are involved and compete against the other primary and middle school in town. For months, the students would spend the early morning hours practicing to march. At the last second, the event was cancelled due to change of plans. This year, 20 students from the JHS and 20 from the primary school were invited to come to Kade, the district capitol, to march for the District Chief, the Director of Education, and other dignitaries. Our school did a good job….I think. When I play back what I recorded, the teachers are cracking up at how uncoordinated they were. You could see these videos for yourself when I get home…. In 5 months….

For those who donated to my site project, I just got the donor's list. I will be making thank you cards throughout the week, complete with pictures. The building is almost finished, and when it is I can start getting the computers. I feel weird bringing up this next project, but here is the STARS website if you have any more money to donate. Just click on the link for more information. Thanks!

Peace out!

Wine: Ghost Block Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville 2005


Day-O- Harry Belafonte
Phantom Other- Department of Eagles
Man In the Mirror- Michael Jackson
Too Long- Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire
Obscured- Smashing Pumpkins
On A Day Like This- Elbow
Second Walk- John Frusciante
Peace And Quiet- The Rifles
Sitting, Waiting, Wishing- Jack Johnson
Give It Time- Eric Lindell
Holographic Universe- Thievery Coporation
Flip Flop Rock- Outkast
Sepian Bounce- Charlie Parker
Run It- Chris Brown
Roll Over Beethoven- The Beatles
Stir It Up- Bob Marley
Nervous In The Alley- Less Than Jake
Mr. E's Beautiful Blues- Eels

Worst idea for a poster (bottom right)

Going to farm with Auntie Obi

The trail to AO's farm

Getting down some weird round cucumber thing

How I do dishes

Learning Twi through JHS textbooks

Lights off! Bring out the coal pot

Airplane ≠ Space Shuttle

Nana Boateng (my right) in Otumi

March 6th - Independence Day marching

My school!

Taking pictures with students after marching

My friend has this strange poster in his house

Eva and Milli, two of my coworkers, after marching

At the palm oil mill

A container of palm oil

Another container of palm oil

At the primary headmaster's funeral in Kade

Lining up for "Roll Call"

Three of the sub-chiefs of Otumi

My dogs after a funeral in Nkwanta Anwiem

1 comment:

k said...

Lovely post, Darren. You look and sound well (except for those gnarley feet.
Miss Kim