The End

July 24, 2013

As I write this I’m back in my parents’ basement, watching new Parks & Rec, and constantly checking my iPhone.  I’d say I’m readjusting to American life just fine :)  Yet it’s still so hard to believe that I’m home and never going back to Ghana, at least not anytime soon.

The last bit of my time in Africa was absolutely incredible.  I was reminded how lucky I was to be not only in Ghana but my village of Sefwi-Nkonya.  The amount of appreciation the community showed me was unmeasurable.  Despite the many, many, many times they frustrated and pissed me off (don’t worry you Americans do it too) in the end I was truly blessed.  This was all exhibited in my sending off party.

On the 4th of July (no coincidence) we had my going away party in the village.  I was joined by 13 of my other Peace Corps Volunteer colleagues for a day of fun and celebration.  The official ceremony consisted of speeches, singing and dancing.  I was also presented with gifts.  I was given kente cloth and chief sandals.  These are very special in Ghanaian culture.  The cloth is handwoven on a loom and is quite heavy.  The designs are representative of different stories.  Mine related to a a group of warriors planning for battle and were taken by surprise.  They were then brought to a foreign land where they went to live as their new home.  This was supposed to represent me also leaving for Ghana to be my new home.

The next part came as a complete surprise.  I was enstooled as a chief of the village.  This is an honor that very few volunteers ever achieve.  I was named Nkosuohene which mean “Chief of Development.”  I was completely taken back.  So when it came time for me to speak I was at a loss for words.  All I could muster was a ridiculous number of thanks yous and I’ll miss yous.

The rest of the day was spent celebrating with the community and my colleages.  Which again reminded me how lucky I was to be surrounded by such great volunteers.  Everyone is so motivated and works so hard to help others it’s amazing.  Not to mention they know how to throw a good party.  This became even more evident when one of the PCVs I know married a Ghanaian right before I left.  The wedding was short and sweet but the reception was a perfect way to say goodbye to all my new friends.

The final few days in Accra also went well.  Standard interviews, medical appointments and paperwork along with seeing some friends for the final time in a while.  It was great to see some of the staff before I left, too.  While we all get annoyed with each other from time to time, they work their butts off for us and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.

The flights home were uneventful, minus my upgrade to premium economy!  My family greeted me at the airport, and we went straight to Portillo’s.  I got a Chicago style hot dog and an Italian beef dipped, of course.  Then there was a Phish philled weekend downtown which was just absolutely fabulous.

Now it’s home for the next week including a weekend trip to South Haven and then it’s off to Maryland!  I wish I was home longer but that’s the way life goes.  I want to say thanks to everyone who’s read this blog and supported me all through the past 2 years.  I could not have done it without you.  Everyone is welcome to visit me in College Park right outside Washington DC.  Until then take care!

Steve

P.S. I thought about a more reflective post but that would be impossible and go on forever.  If anyone ever wants to talk more feel free to contact me!

The Longest Week

May 19, 2013

This is without a doubt the hardest post I will ever have to write.  To start my “c” key doesn’t work so I am forced to use my On-Screen Keyboard every time I need to type a “c.”  This is, however, a minor nuisance compared to the main subject of this post and that is the death of a fellow volunteer.  I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around this so please bear with me.

When I got “the call” I was on a bus returning from helping at a malaria awareness surf competition.  All had gone well and I was returning to my village with Jocie.  I answered a call from a random number, and it was one of my supervisors.  She asked if I was at my site which was a weird question especially since I wasn’t but I had already informed another supervisor.  Then she said “I have some sad news.”  Right then I knew someone had died.  They only divulge medical information if someone is dead and this certainly isn’t the way to begin a call about an evacuation.  Then she said “Danni Dunlap…”  She kept talking but I only half listened.  I was clenching Jocie’s leg saying “Oh my god” and in my head thinking no no no.  She went on to explain that Danni had gotten suddenly ill and they sent a car to pick her up.  She made it to the hospital where she passed away.  When I asked what the cause of death was she said it wasn’t confirmed but they believe cerebral malaria.  I was in shock and disbelief (still am).

Danni was incredible personified.  On paper she was beyond accomplished: Brown alum, taught English in South Korea, volunteered in Haiti and was attending graduate school at Emory in the fall on a full tuition fellowship.  In Ghana she seemed to do just about everything from HIV/AIDS education, building latrines and a health clinic, new volunteer training and helped out with STARS.  She was also set to be enstooled as “Queen Mother” of her village an honor bestowed on very few volunteers.

Beyond her resume she was a vibrant individual full of life.  She always had a smile on her face and greeted you with a hug.  She could help you through any problem Peace Corps related or not.  When she described her projects at site she wasn’t pretentious or bragging.  She wasn’t scary or intimidating.  She was motivational and inspiring.  What made her so great was that she made us all better people.  Even though she is gone that impact continues.

If someone had told me that would be immediate I would’ve called that person a fool.  Everyone flocked to Accra as fast as they could.  Naturally the mood around the office was like nothing I’d ever seen before.  I’ve experienced death before but not like this.  She had touched EVERY volunteer and staff member in some way.  Over 200 people from all over the world arriving in the country at different times knew her.  Now we were all coming together and emotions were indescribable.  Despite the seemingly insurmountable despair we knew there was work to be done.  We needed to say goodbye in a proper way.

The memorial planning was the longest few days of our lives but everyone pitched in to make it as beautiful as we could because that’s what Danni was…beautiful inside and out.  One volunteer coordinated getting 150 beds for volunteers at various embassy workers’ houses.  Other put together videos and slideshows.  Some got decorations for the venue.  Some helped get funeral cloth made (200 yards in 48 hours).  Others prepared speeches and planned the actual memorial service.  We also had people at the funeral home 24/7 to be with Danni as per request from her mother.  I designated myself as an errand boy running all over town picking up random items people needed, delivering messages and getting in contact with necessary people.  I also organized the set up and clean up of the service.  Not the most glamorous job but something that needed to be done and it kept me busy.

The memorial itself came off better than any of us could have ever imagined.  Over 300 people were in attendance.  Stories about Danni’s life, pictures, videos, singing and dancing all portrayed the amazing life Danni led.  There was ever a Dr. Pepper toast in her honor (she was obsessed with that stuff).  The US Ambassador to Ghana made a speech as well as Danni’s mother.  When her mom spoke it was like Danni was speaking.  She was strong and full of life, it was a spitting image.  And despite just losing her only child she thanked US for what we do and for OUR service!  I couldn’t believe it.  And her final words were for us to take care of ourselves and to come home to our parents.  We all lost it but I can promise you that I WILL COME HOME!

The next day Danni went home, but not the way a 25-year old should.  Not the way she was supposed to in less than a month!  I was in the last group of people at the funeral home where we saw her one last time before she was taken to the airport for her flight home.  She was in a box draped with an American flag.  It was a nice gesture but it couldn’t heal our pain.  We all stood there on the tarmac saying good bye as she was taken away from us forever.

The next few days had been planned for a conference for everyone who came to Ghana in my group (including Danni).  We had talked about postponing it but we decided not to change it.  We thought everyone being together would help.  We discussed the process of leaving the country and Peace Corps different paperwork we need to fill out, things we need to return and life after Peace Corps.  We were at a nice hotel and the sessions were not very intense so we were able to be together and try to relax.  They also brought in grief counselors from Washington DC to help.  One positive from the conference is I officially got my date to finish which is July 17th so two flights and one day later I will arrive in the US for good on July 18th!

I am now back at site and doing well despite watching the Blackhawks lose last night.  I met the two new volunteers that have been placed in our area and they are as excited as I was when I first came which I can’t believe was almost two years ago!  I will now begin wrapping things up and trying to get a volunteer to replace me.  I want to thank everyone for their donations to the STARS youth conference that will take place next week.  Although I won’t be there, I’m sure it will be another great event thanks to all of you.

Finally I need to take the time to thank everyone for their support through the recent tragedy and this two year endeavor as a whole.  I always say that I have the best family and friends in the world but it’s true.  I’m incredibly blessed that I now also get to add a fantastic Peace Corps family.  Even though we just lost one of our members, we are stronger than ever and I am confident we are all going on to do wonderful things.  I’m going to savor these final 59 days in Ghana, and I will be sure to enjoy my two weeks in Chicago to the fullest before my next adventure in Maryland.

Steve

Moving Forward

April 21, 2013

To those of you still reading, thank you for hanging in there.  As I’ve entered my 22nd month in Ghana, I am running out of interesting things to write about.  As with most volunteers in my position, projects are winding down and the focus is turning to life after Peace Corps for both me and my village.  There will be a date when I am no longer around (July 18th for those who want to pencil me back home) and I need to work to ensure a smooth transition.

As some of you may know I have decided to attend the University of Maryland in College Park this fall.  It is there I will spend the next two years worked towards a Master of Public Policy specializing in International Development.  After being accepted to six of the seven schools I applied to (Notre who?) I had a tough decision.  This decision became much easier when I was offered a Graduate Assistantship at Maryland.  The position…Fraternity Housing Director.  Maryland owns some of their fraternity houses and has a graduate student live in them as a resident advisor/house manager.  My fraternity experience at Illinois will be paying off (literally) as I receive full tuition, $13,000 stipend, two-room “apartment” with private bathroom, meals, utilities, health insurance, and 20% off at the bookstore.  In a nutshell I am going to be paid to go back to college and live in a frat house.  I’m sure I’ll soon realize it’s not as glamorous as it sounds but for now I’m pretty excited about it.  So if anyone is ever in the Washington DC/Baltimore area you have a couch to sleep on.  The only downside to the position is I have to be there at the beginning of August giving me only two weeks back home so we’ll have to make them count!

For Ghana I am trying to get an Agriculture volunteer to replace me in December.  Their primary project would be to continue my work with CocoaLink in monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of the text messages the farmers have been receiving.  They would also be free to engage in any secondary activities that they see fit such as the latrine project and ICT teaching I’ve done.  I have filed the initial paperwork with Peace Corps and talked to the World Cocoa Foundation to make sure they are on board.  The next step will be to have community meetings to discuss proposed the new volunteer.

Recently we just had our annual All Volunteer Conference which was once again a great weekend.  Every time I get with other volunteers I am always so honored and privileged that I get to work with such amazing people.  When we weren’t getting down to business with mandatory workshops and sessions we were having all sorts of fun.  If you’re on Facebook you will see a recent video posted from the talent show that should leave you quite impressed with my abilities.  I’m sure my sisters will be proud.

Moving forward I will continue to work towards a smooth transition out of here.  In early May we have our Close of Service Conference where people who came over in my group will get started on the process of leaving the country.  Various sessions on important paperwork, graduate school, careers, Peace Corps opportunities and other fun surprises are in store.  It will also be a time to say good bye to most of these incredible people I have had the pleasure to work with these past two years.  It will be quite bittersweet.

I hope spring is sprung and that we are finally getting much needed rain back home.  The rainy season here is certainly making up for last year’s lack of rain.  Finally we also have our STARS conference again this year and we are in need of funds.  If you can donate any amount I’d appreciate it.  Just click on the link and it will take you to the project description page.  https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=13-641-018

Go Terps!

Steve

Latrine Project Finished?

March 20, 2013

The structures are complete, the education is complete, and the toiletries are bought!  So this means the project is over right?  Maybe not…

I have been informed that the NGO who was assisting with the endeavor has now been extended because they have gotten more money.  With a high demand to build more household latrines, there is hope that we may start building again.  The director is coming up from Accra to visit next week so hopefully I will be able to get more information.  We also could use a new water pump…

Yes everyone is excited for the new school latrines but unfortunately there is one small problem right now…the teachers are on strike.  All across Ghana full time teachers are striking for better wages.  I can’t say I blame them since most teachers aren’t even paid the small salaries they are owed.  The problem is a lot of teachers don’t do their jobs or are just simply bad teachers.  Is this due to the poor pay?  Maybe.  But one thing is for sure that striking does not benefit the students.  Especially when they are supposed to take high school and college entrance exams next month.

Speaking of schools, I have been accepted to Indiana, Maryland, American and Chicago.  Notre Dame rejected me like I thought they would.  I’m obviously disappointed but it was also a long shot to get into the program I wanted.  However, I do have ND losing in the first round in one of my brackets.  I should hear from Arizona and Berkeley by the end of the this week, and then it will be decision time so stay tuned.

The end is starting to creep in a little bit here.  Next month we have our annual All Volunteer Conference which is a great time.  Then the next month a conference for all the volunteers who came in my group to help us prepare to leave.  It will bittersweet I’m sure.

I’ve uploaded pictures to Facebook (finally) of the latrine project.  Now I’ll just be waiting to hear the last from schools as well as the NGO director.  As always I will keep you all informed.  Enjoy your March Madness!

Steve

 

Harmattan Continues

February 19, 2013

I’m back at my site after a few weeks on the road, and I arrived to a much welcomed view.  The two blocks of school latrines have been erected with only small details left to complete.  It has been a long, arduous process to get my community to contribute their share, and I was nervous of what I’d come back to see.  Hopefully by the end of this week both structures will be entirely finished and I can finally post pictures.  I know I’ve been slacking on the blog, but it has been months since I’ve posted any pictures.  I purposefully did this so I could post the pictures of the latrine project in their entirety.  The last step will be to have a community meeting to educate everyone how to properly use and maintain them.

As I said earlier, I was traveling to Accra to work on the Spelling Bee and take the Foreign Service Officer Test.  The Spelling Bee Finals were once again a great success!  We had 103 finalists from all over the country including two visually impaired students.  It was my job to escort one of those students around (sort of like a seeing-eye dog).  The boy I was with was thirteen, and it was his first time in the spelling bee.  He was so nervous the whole morning as he was practicing his words using a Brail word list.  On stage he got even more nervous, but when he got to the microphone he didn’t miss a beat.  He made it to the fifth round and came in the top sixteen!  The applause he got when he was finished was truly heartwarming and inspiring.  Not only was it a monumental moment in this boy’s life but for all of Ghana as well.  It was a testament that even the physically or mentally challenged can perform as well or better as the rest of society.  This is a lesson that Ghana is struggling to learn, but at least they are on the right track.

After the Spelling Bee, I dropped Jocie off at her site which is not too far from Accra.  The accommodations looked good, and there appears to be other volunteers always coming in and out.  She has already been working at a women’s clinic in the outpatient section taking vitals, giving immunizations and helping other nurses.  She hopes to be involved with delivering babies soon.

I then took the Foreign Service Officer Test.  This exam is for anyone who wants to be a Foreign Service Officer and work at an embassy.  The test consisted of many multiple choice questions and one essay.  The multiple choice sections consisted of history, geography, government, current events, management, English, and a biographical questionnaire about myself.  I won’t get my results for a few more weeks, but I’m not too optimistic.  The questions were very hard, and it takes most people a few times to pass.  Even if I do pass, I still have to write personal narratives.  If I pass those then I get an oral evaluation.  If I pass that then I have to clear medical and legal checks.  If I pass those then I have a final review.  If I pass that then I’m put on a list of names to possibly get hired.  As you can see it’s a long process so I’m not worried about my performance at this juncture.  I am glad I took it to at least get a feel for the exam.  Who knows maybe I aced it and I’m on my way to a career with the State Department.

Right after the exam I went straight to Kumasi to watch our office there for a few weeks.  It was nice to work on some things for grad school and start the process of getting myself a replacement volunteer for when I leave.  They would not come until December, but I will be long gone before then so I need to meet with the right people and fill the proper paperwork to get the ball rolling.

Now that I’m back in Sefwi-Nkonya I will see this latrine project finish and begin my replacement process.  There is another school sports gala in the neighboring town, so a lot of the kids and food vendors have gone there for the week.  There has also still been no rain in a few months which is normal but once March comes it should start.  However, it won’t be fully rainy season until April.

That’s it from my end.  The Ghana soccer team came in fourth place again at the Africa Cup of Nations after choking in penalty kicks in the semi-finals and then not caring about the third place match.  Certainly nothing like the Chicago Blackhawks (you’re welcome again for ending the lockout).  Still no news regarding grad schools but hopefully the next time I post I’ll know more.  Keep enjoying your white man’s winter!

 

Steve

Back to the Grind

January 16, 2013

After an incredible time in the US I am now back in my village.  Harmattan (dry season) is in full effect with everything covered in dust, but at least the nights are cooler.  There has also been some progress made with the school latrines not as much as I would like, however.  Finally Jocie (my girlfriend whom some of you already know about) has also come back with me offering a unique dynamic and perspective to my experience.

To everyone I saw in America…thank you so much for making it such a great time!  After almost getting stuck in Ghana because I did not have the credit card my mom bought the plane ticket with, I made it.  The only negative thing about being home was watching ND get rolled, but at least I got to see them play (or try to).

I loved seeing each and every one of you hearing what you’ve been up to the past year and a half.  There’s only so much I can gather from FB and it was awesome to see each of you in real life.  Whether it was in Tower Lakes, Barrington, Lincoln Park, Lakeview or South Haven we did it up right.  And to those I didn’t get to see, I’m sorry.  Being home for only three weeks just wasn’t enough.  Luckily I should be back this summer for a longer period of time so we can meet up then.

I was able to do some business while I was home.  I had grad school meetings at Notre Dame and UChicago.  Both went very well and I was very impressed.  Hopefully that feeling was mutual.  I also completed a fellowship application that can be used at any of the schools I applied to.  Finally I did get an acceptance letter to Indiana so that certainly made for a very Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday.

On my way back to Ghana I met Jocie at JFK in New York to fly back.  I met her through a mutual friend six months before I left for Ghana, and we’ve been in contact ever since.  She wants to go into nursing and found a volunteer program in Ghana that allows her to work at a women’s clinic and orphanage for three months.  She set it up so that she could fly back with me to see the country and get adjusted before starting her work.  It’s been great having someone to travel with and share my experience.  I try to convey everything through this blog, pictures and conversations but unless you see it for yourself you don’t really understand.  It’s interesting to see the things she points out as new or different and to me it’s nothing special.  I guess I’ve been here longer than I thought!

The day after I got back to my village we had another latrine meeting since the progress was not fast enough while I was gone.  The community has agreed to have their contribution finished by Monday, so we can bring in the latrine artisans to start physical construction which should take about one month.  I am also getting a visit from our country director on Monday.  He is in the area visiting all the volunteers’ sites just to talk and see how/what we’re doing.

A few weeks later Jocie and I will go to Accra to help at the National Spelling Bee before she goes to her post outside Accra.  I will then take the Foreign Service Test at the US Embassy.  This exam is for anyone who wants to be a Foreign Service Officer.  It is supposed to be very difficult with many people taking it a few times before they pass.  Even once you pass the exam, there are still many steps to complete before being hired.  Despite the odds, I would love to work at embassies all over the world and that certainly won’t happen if I don’t take the test.

That’s it from here I suppose.  All the other volunteers are great and the newly elected president has been sworn in.  The Africa Cup of Nations football tournament starts this weekend in South Africa, and Ghana is favored to do well.  I hope everyone had as enjoyable a holiday season as I did and are now looking forward to 2013.  I know I certainly am!

Steve

P.S.  You’re welcome for ending the lockout!

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

November 29, 2012

As December comes around the corner I certainly have a lot to be thankful for.  Forty-eight household latrines are complete, we have begun construction on the school latrines, I have submitted all my grad school applications, the Ghanaian Presidential campaigns are winding down with no problems, I just had Thanksgiving at the new ambassador’s house, Notre Dame is in the National Championship and last but not least I’ll be home in less than three weeks!  Yeah I’d say life is  pretty good right now.

This post will be rather short since the first paragraph sums it all up.  One of the two 30x8x7  foot pits is half dug and most of the sand has been gathered to mix with the cement.  We still need to finish this first pit and dig the other one as well as gather more sand.  The cement should come next week and then we can begin molding blocks (approximately 3000).  Once that is complete, then the rest of the materials and the skilled artisans will come to complete the structures.  In the end, we will have two six-seater latrine blocks.  One for the primary school and one for the junior high school.  We’ll see how much work gets done while I’m home for the holidays.

Thanksgiving take two was a great success.  This year I stayed with a USAID worker.  He just came to the country six weeks ago from Thailand and his wife is in the US expecting their first child.  Needless to say he was looking for some “guy time” so he hosted me and three other male volunteers.  We had a great time just hanging out drinking Amstel and wine from a bottle…a luxury for us PCVs.  He was a great host and it was nice to have American accommodations plus a pool.

Now I am seeing that this school latrine project gets started on the right foot before I leave for home.  The presidential and parliamentary elections are one week from tomorrow (December 7th) so that is creating a buzz around the country.  Normally elections instill fear among Americans in African countries but Ghana is an exception.  Everything is expected to run smoothly and there have been no significant reports of violence.  As a precaution, we are instructed to remain in our villages from December 5-9 just in case something was to happen.  I will keep you posted on this via Facebook but it’s definitely a “no news is good news” situation.

Well like I said this was going to be a short post.  I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season and trying not to get caught up in the madness.  You already have more than you could ever possibly dream of.  That said, feel free to buy me as much stuff as you want!

Steve

All Quiet on the African Front

October 28, 2012

I know I know it’s been six weeks since my last post.  To be honest things have been pretty quiet over here.  Most of the work I have done has been on grad school applications and studying for the GRE.  Now the GRE is over (got a decent score) and my applications are mostly complete so I am coming into the home stretch.  My first deadline is December 15th so I plan to have them all submitted by that time.  The final list of schools is American, Arizona, Berkeley, Chicago, Indiana, Maryland and Notre Dame.  All the programs are related to development work in one way or another.  Again, if anyone has advice please feel free to pass it on.

The household latrine project is complete…almost.  All the latrines are built but we’re still waiting to have the educational meeting to discuss maintenance and sanitation.  The school latrine construction has also yet to begin.  The job was awarded to a contractor but his price is too high so we are working on that.  As they say in Ghana “It’s coming…”

I helped at two regional spelling bee finals and the kids did very well.  We even had two blind students advance to the national finals which is incredible!  Being physically handicapped anywhere in the world is difficult but especially here in Ghana.  Any impairment is viewed as a curse and you are treated as a second class citizen.  It is sad but the courage these kids have is amazing.  A few of my colleagues are teachers at schools for the deaf and they are doing some fantastic work.

For now, my immediate plan is to hold the meeting and at least start construction before I go home for the holidays.  I will also be going to some PCV villages way out in the boonies (even more remote than me) to show films and sign people up for CocoaLink.  We also have a new ambassador who will be hosting Thanksgiving at his house like the previous one.  This is one of the best days of the year as all volunteers get together to have a great feast.  While I haven’t met him yet the fact that he is doing this means a lot to us.  Although he is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) from Afghanistan so he knows our pain.  He was also the ambassador to Libya before he came here, and it was his replacement who was unfortunately killed in the attacks.

Luckily everyone is safe here even with the elections just a little over a month away.  There is more arguing than usual but no threats of violence to worry about.  I even met the Peace Corps security manager for West Africa and he’s not concerned at all.  PCVs in Sierra Leone are a different story with their impending elections, however.

Yes, I was did vote from here, as well.  I thought my ballot wasn’t going to come but low and behold it finally showed up.  I am registered in Illinois so even though it means nothing (thank you electoral college) it’s still a right we enjoy.  My newsfeed has been cluttered with political updates and opinions and reading from here it’s funny.  Everyone’s so concerned how if so and so wins then everything is ruined.  I can tell you right now no matter who is president America will still be America and it that is awesome!

Finally my 3G has been working great in my village and I have been streaming Notre Dame football games.  Yes it is “Posh Corps” but I love it!  It looks like I won’t be able to see my Blackhawks but as long as I can play my own hockey in Tower Lakes I’ll be fine.  Speaking of when I’m home, start to make elaborate plans.  I arrive the morning of Monday, December 17th and fly out the afternoon of Wednesday, January 9th.  With the exception of a few days in Michigan (25th-29th) I’ll be in Chicago ready to party!

That’s it from here.  Quiet like I said which is fine with me.  It’s a little bit of a lull in my service right now trying to make sure I get these projects complete but hopefully I’ll get some new things on the horizon.  Then before I know it I’ll be at home letting you all buy me food and drinks ;)

Steve

The Spelling Bee is Back

September 15, 2012

In a surprising turn of events I just returned from working with the Spelling Bee all last week.  If you remember, this past year I helped out at the National Spelling Bee in Accra.  We have now begun the qualifying for Nationals in February next year.  As a part of that we need to hold community bees for all the schools.  These are sponsored by various companies and NGOs.  The Brong-Ahafo Region (in the middle) of Ghana has their community bees sponsored by the Newmont Mining Corporation.  They’re based out of Denver but have locations all over the world.  As part of their community outreach they sponsor various programs and the spelling bee is one of them.

Last year when the students came to Accra, one of the pronouncers was American.  This made it very difficult for the students because of the accent.  When volunteers speak here we normally use what we call “Ghanaian English” to communicate because if we speak normal they won’t understand us.  Well the company wanted to better prepare the students by bringing Americans to the community bees.  So when the PCV helping organize the spelling bee for her NGO asked me help I said sure.

Since we were being sponsored by a multi-billion dollar mining company no expense was too large.  We were FLOWN from Accra to Kumasi then driven to their plant site.  Once we got there we had to go through more security than an airport.  I guess that’s to be expected for a gold mine.  After greeting all the important people we were then driven to our hotel which was by far the nicest accommodations I’ve had here.  All the perks of America with the best part being the food.  My meals consisted of fried noodles with shrimp, legit pizza (served in a box!), filet mignon (with real bacon!),  and wait for it…LOBSTER!  It was pretty incredible.

Now even though we were distracted by all this free food we did accomplish a lot.  Between the two of us we went to ten communities with over 200 spellers!  They were mainly held in churches (open air shelters).  We had a PA system and I had the word list.  Their teachers had already trained them (or were supposed to) and the kids had word lists to practice. Of course when I roll into town its like a famous celebrity.  Kids crowding you and yelling but once we got started everyone was quiet for the most part.

Pronouncing the word wasn’t the hard part, it was the sentences and definitions the kids would ask for.  The ones listed on my paper were very long and impossible for Ghanaian primary school children to understand.  I’m pretty sure none of them know that the hand consists of the metacarpus.  So we “dumbed” them down a bit.  We also had to omit words entirely like peach (they don’t have those here) or bunt (no baseball either).  I also changed the sentences to apply to Ghana so they involved a lot of football, fufu, and tro-tro references.

Despite my best efforts though students still couldn’t understand me.  For instance I know they can all spell “got” but when I say it they spell it “gat” and the same thing happened with “rock” they would spell “rack.”  They say they A’s like O’s which is not correct.  This was exactly why they wanted to bring me in so they could hear the difference and get used to it.  It truly separated the better spellers/kids who know English.

Nevertheless I was still very proud of all the kids and they of course were happy I came.  46 students advanced to the regional bee which will take place next week with six finalists from that going to Accra.  Now I am back at the office where I will be the next two weeks watching over the place.  During that time it will be GRE, GRE, and more GRE.  I have heard from back in the village that 21 latrines are finished with 27 left to plaster.  The artisans have left to finish another project and will return in two weeks to finish and hopefully start the school latrines.

Now for the biggest news…I’M COMING HOME!  My flights have been booked and now I just need to submit my paperwork to Peace Corps.  The plan is I’m home December 17-January 9.  Needless to say I’m very excited!  I will be in Chicago the whole time (minus a few days in Michigan for Christmas).  So start clearing your schedules and get ready for some fun :)

Steve

Moving Right Along

August 26, 2012

Progress!  Progress!  Progress!  Things are really moving along right now in Nkonya.  We have completed all 48 structures and have now begun roofing and plastering.  After that we just need to make the doors and have one final meeting on maintenance and sanitation.  There is still no word on the school latrines yet but I am under the impression that we will be able to start construction soon after completing this project.

It makes me so happy to see the community members all hard at work and motivated to complete this endeavor.  I know that many PCVs have problems with community mobilization for projects but that has not been the case here.  People are always asking me about the next step and appreciative of everything so I feel like I’m not really working at all.

The next project after the latrines will involve beekeeping.  Owusu has the materials but just needs the carpenter to build them.  With swarming season coming in September, I have told him to move quickly which he assures me he will.  There is a funeral for the chief’s brother in October so everyone is busy making preparations by renovating their houses.  Needless to say, all the carpenters and masons are in demand.  The chief’s palace, my next door neighbors, and the closest bar are all undergoing facelifts.

More good news, the volunteers from the region where the stabbing occurred have been cleared to return to their villages!  I know many of them have been yearning to go home so they are all quite excited.  While the situation was unfortunate we can’t let it stop our work and all the volunteers are in full support of returning.  It won’t be long until we hear great things coming from them I’m sure of it.

Last week I got some visitors from PCVs in another region of Ghana.  They are teachers on break right now so they are touring other Peace Corps villages and mine was the first stop.  We had a great time touring the town and checking out the latrines being built.  We even went out into the bush to where they make apoteshie (moonshine) and palm wine (less strong moonshine).  It essentially consisted of some old barrels and a distilling tube in a dirty pond.  The palm wine was pretty good though.  Very sweet and all the villagers were quite pleased with us hiking out there to sample the local brew.  Later on in the day some of my neighboring PCVs joined us for a movie night in the ICT Center.

The next day I went to a meeting for some volunteers in the Agriculture sector to plan for the next training group arriving in October.  We revised our sector’s overall project plan, knowledge/skills we need, and finally drafted a set of learning objectives.  Next month the trainers (both PCVs and staff) will meet to set the training schedule.

After this meeting I went to Accra for another meeting of the Volunteer Advisory Council.  One member from each region met with PC Staff to discuss a variety of volunteer issues.  This meeting happens three times a year.  Even though it lasted a little longer than we would like we talked about important solutions to make PC Ghana better.  It’s also nice to get to Accra (civilization).  We recently moved into a new office which I hadn’t seen yet and it’s definitely a much needed upgrade from the old one.  I also got my hands on a donated complete World Book Encyclopedia set from 2001.  Although a bit outdated, it’s certainly a great addition to my school’s library.

What lies ahead is finishing the latrines and what’s even more fun…grad school applications!  I was on the fence for a while but it seems to be more and more necessary.  Plus I get to keep putting off real life which I’ve been advised by my peers in the workforce.  I certainly don’t mind going back to college.  I’m applying to programs relating to International Affairs.  Peace Corps has confirmed my love for learning and experiencing new cultures so if I could make that a career I think I’d by one happy camper (even if it means having to take the GRE on October 24th).

I will still get to have a little fun in our PCV Fantasy Football League.  The draft is a week from today and I’m looking forward to it.  Since it is all volunteers in Ghana I think we’re on a level playing field for information week to week, but I will accept any and all insider info from you back home.  The same goes for grad school advice.

Lastly, a shout out to my cousin Devin and his new wife Meghan who got married in Gloucester, MA, yesterday!  I’m sorry I couldn’t make it but I wish you both the best and I promise I’ll make up for my absence when I come visit.  That goes for all the Burgoons in attendance this weekend.  I miss and love you all!

Steven

P.S.  If any of you have sent a letter since April, none of them have shown up.  I was even supposed to get my new debit card in the mail and that never came either so I think a bag of mail from the US went missing.  If you could resend any letters that’d be great!


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,339 other followers