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Ghana: Day Six

Right now I’m up, tired, and very, very excited – a group of us are leaving at 1:00 for Cape Coast, to spend the rest of Friday and most of Saturday sightseeing. I know nothing about our plans – I’m just along for the adventure. Of course, the downside to not knowing how much down time one has is that one tends to overpack, hence the rebirth of my 200-lb backpack for the duration of the trip.

Before leaving, and after showering (yes, I have running water, and yes, showering feels amazing after sleeping in a sauna) I met up with Laura and we headed to Koala market for breakfast; there’s a cafe above the store that Laura said had a good reputation, and so we went up the stairs in the back, but not before running into Eloise. A Projects volunteer from Australia, she is in Ghana for a total of five months (I think) and she’s already served three; most of that time was in Cape Coast so she was coordinating with Lauren (who is organizing said trip) the things to do and see while over there. We met her two days ago at Sharpnet; just thought that I’d introduce her.

Koala Cafe – not sure if that is its real name, but if it isn’t then my second guess is “Santaland.” The market itself is full of garland and gigantic, silver stars hanging from the ceiling – fairly festive, if you ask me – but its nothing compared o the cafe. First of all, there’s the six-foot-tall Christmas tree in the back corner; then, all the plates, napkins, mugs (not cups), and tablecloths are Christmas-themed; but the thing you notice the most are the chair coverings – like somebody skinned 32 miniature Santa Claus’ and mounted them on the chairs. It’s funny and sad at the same time; but the Christmas overload is just scary.

The food itself was interesting (as always, shenanigans, shenanigans) – I ordered the beef sandwich, and Laura ordered the chicken (she really likes chicken if you haven’t noticed) and I ended up with a bologna sandwich, and Laura with what I believe was tofurkey. I also ordered a meat pie, which was good, but I’m not even going to conjecture about what sort of meat it was; apparently I ordered the last one, because Laura ordered one and they were all out – this sparked an interesting conversation about overconsumption in America and Europe. Laura quoted one fact that I really want to check up on, that all McDonalds “start fresh” once an hour, which means that they throw out whatever is on the conveyor belt at that time. For humanity’s sake I hope she is wrong, but I doubt it.

From here, we grabbed our stuff from the bag check area downstairs and went (via taxi) to meet the others at the tro stop, specifically the tro stop down the street from Joker’s Bar (near Laura’s house – I’ll make a map at some point). The plan was to take the tro to a stop called “Kaneshie” and then transfer to a tro headed for Cape Coast; we piled on, all eight of us, and after a few stops the driver just decided to take us to Cape Coast himself (we sort of filled up the van anyway).

And by eight of us I mean, in no particular order: Henrietta, Laura, Demetri, Lauren, Floriane, Jasmin, Chris and myself. And in no particular order, each of them put in earbuds within five minutes of each other (except for me, without an MP3 player); and approximately forty minutes after that, in no particular order they all fell asleep. I stayed awake to watch the drive (and because it was too hard me to sleep scrunched up like that), and here is what I learned:

One – the Ghanaian countryside is truly beautiful. I’ve seen African countryside firsthand once before, when my parents and I spent the two weeks surrounding New Year’s in South Africa, in a game preserve one week and near Cape Town the next. But that was South Africa, and this is Ghana; and what I can tell you is that at least along the coast, Ghana is subject to a kind of verdant fertility that reminds me of back home – except that this abundant greenery is painted on a much flatter canvas, allowing you to see “the bigger picture” from the coastal road. Sometimes, in contrast to the green on my right, I could see a larger expanse of blue on my left; and as we drove, we passed through towns literally made of red and brown peppering the landscape, with people dressed in all the remaining colors tucked betwixt. It was, as I said before, beautiful.

Two – things get hot. For a reason none of us could really place in the beginning, this tro was extremely hot; first, chalking it up to the midday sun, we opened a window and managed some surprisingly paltry relief; but when the front cab in the van (underneath which was the engine) started billowing steamy protestations, it made a lot more sense. None of us obronis know for sure what happened (probably just basic overheating, since we managed to get to our destination without serious incident) but it stopped the van a good five times; and a good five times I thought, “Okay, is it going to explode yet?” Yep, I’m ever the optimist.

Three – I learned how to ride a jackhammer. Reread that if you need to; I want you to have the full visual. This fantastic van, in which I was over the the rear left wheel, was missing one (1) shock absorber – and guess which wheel was the lucky one? So take one part uncomfortably fast driver, add one missing shock absorber (the entire van was sinking towards that side, I should have known), and throw it in a very cramped, eight-person bowl. Add speed bumps *very liberally*; let sit for three hours. Makes: way too many servings of ka-CHUNK-CHUNK-CHUNK-ouch-CHUNK-CHUNK-ouch-ouch-CHUNK-ouch-ouch-ouch-CHUNK-CHUNK-ouch.

Four – honk. I still don’t get exactly why our driver honked so much; it seems like a normal cultural thing to just randomly honk to say that you’re in a hurry, but he also honked nonstop when there were no other cars near us, when we passed through towns, and when we weren’t actually going that fast. I think repeated honking must also mean “Look at me I have obronis.”

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Cape Coast, Day One

The tro dropped us off in the middle of town, after much finagling. Apparently, the driver hadn’t known where the hotel exactly was when he said he would take us, and after driving into town and asking some random bystanders, he wanted to charge us a whole handful of cedis more to take us to the hotel. We declined that generous offer and instead got out, got our bearings, and made our way to a “bar.” A pleasant, tented sitting area, where this “bar” differs from normal bars is that normal bars have drinks, and this one apparently didn’t. We asked for coke, fanta, diet coke, sprite, orange juice, pineapple juice, and every other kind of juice imaginable – “so sorry, we don’t have it.” Granted, three different people, apparently not paying attention, each went through that list, which was somewhat amusing; but the point is that this went on until Henrietta ordered water, was told they didn’t have any, and promptly stood up and informed our waitress that she could see numerous bottles of water behind the counter. I still don’t know what the issue was, but in the end half of us got water and half of us got Smirnoff Ice – and then Demetri hunted down some pineapple and a loaf of bead from the street vendors, and that was lunch.

After our refreshments we grabbed two taxis – there were now nine of us, as Lauren’s friend (whose name I cannot spell) had joined us at the bar – which made the taxi ride nice and cozy. For the duration of the ride (which was actually surprisingly long), Demetri, Laura and I continued a game that had begun this morning, before leaving for the coast, but had gotten started again with renewed vigor at the bar; there is no official name for this game, so I just term it “Gamed Word.”

Take a compound word, or a noun comprised of two words, and pretty much switch the order and add an “-ed.” Really simple and immature, and really, really fun. I think it started off with Demetri mentioning something about “creamed ice” and things took off from there (“meloned water” “clouded rain” etc). Quality entertainment, for which I’m sure the taxi driver wanted to shoot us.

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I’ve stayed in a hotel before; Ive slept in tents, teepees, yurts, dorms, cottages, B&Bs, airports and on roofs (neither of those last two are comfortable, by the way) – but never before have I stayed in a botel. Yes, I’m sure it’s just a misspelling, or cultural insensitivity on my part, but the fact is that’s what was carved onto the plaque out front the main gate: Hans Cottage Botel.

This is a misnomer on all three counts: in the course of our stay, I didn’t meet anybody named Hans (or see any Germans for that matter); there were no cottages; and I didn’t see any botels (whatever they are).

That is unless “botel” is a synonym for “crocodile sanctuary” – because, as it turns out, the lake underneath the dining area isn’t for swimming, unless you like being eaten. But don’t worry, for those of you who like to be on the water and have only slightly less of a death wish, you can rent paddle boats – or as I call them, mobile bait buckets. This seems like a horrible idea for setting up a returning customer base.

I’ll try and add some pictures to the blog, but if you’re going to be checking my shutterfly site (once I’ve uploaded the photos) you’ll notice the interesting design of the dining area. I’ll do my best to describe it: there is a lake full of crocodiles. Two, maybe three feet above this lake is a series of walkways leading to the gift shop, the main dining room, and the side dining room. The walkways themselves are made out of concrete, with similarly concrete, waist-high walls; the design flaw comes at the gift shop and the side dining room, where both are surrounded by knee-high fences of the |=====|=====| variety. I think of them as “ladder fences” because they’re so easy to climb on. So, a knee-high fence that is easy to climb, a few feet above what we later proved to be some very hungry crocodiles. Does anyone else think this is a bad idea? No? Just me?

And yes, I almost fell in, so I’m a little biased.

But anyway, dinner. We began by making our way to the main dining room, a large two-story thatched hut full of empty tables and only a few guests, all obronis; more noticeable was the dancing in the center of the open area. Supported by four talented drummers was a group of maybe ten dancers, the oldest among them (drummers included) being not more than sixteen at the most – the youngest being six. I’m not sure what you would call their style of dance, but it was the happy marriage of the Casper Slide and the hokey pokey, and I mean that as a compliment – it looked really fun, and was entertaining to watch.

But we didn’t get to see the rest of the dancing, because rather than seat us among the Land of Empty Tables we were lead across the Lake of Certain Death (see above note on crocodiles) to the Isolated Food Chamber (side dining room); named such not because that’s where we got food, but because being above the crocodiles, beneath the bats (yup) and surrounded by mosquitoes makes you all-too-aware of how many things in the world would like to eat you.

And so, conscious of our humanity, we ordered a variety of sandwiches and spaghettis; I was famished at this point, and ordered a soup, salad, and spaghetti bolognaise, one of my typical tourist fares. I can out-pig most Americans, I’m just not proud of that fact (well, to be perfectly honest, I am a little bit – it’s a guy thing). We ordered, and then we waited; and waited; and waited. I had made a joke at the beginning of the meal, that with Ghana time factored in our food wouldn’t come for two hours; apparently, I wasn’t kidding. Everyone’s meal overall was good, though, despite my questionable tomato-and-cucumber-shavings salad; the mistake was going for dessert. Two orders of cake resulted in eight pieces of dried bread that had been baked with a little bit of sugar; the closest comparison I can make is that it was like eating caramelized Styrofoam (or at least what I imagine the taste & texture would be).

After the meal wrapped up, but before they cleared the plates, we noticed that we were being watched from below – an unnerving feeling – by a crocodile (also unnerving). It’s head was the only exposed part, so I don’t know big this guy was in total; but with a two-and-a-half-foot long snout and foot-wide head, we weren’t keen to find out. Instead, we all took pictures, and pictures, and picturesd – and then someone threw the leftover chicken off of Jasmin’s plate. If you’ve never seen a crocodile feed, it’s like a force of nature: before the chicken even hit the water our visitor had snatched it and dragged it under, and then swam off. At least, we thought it had swam off, but we were wrong; and being wrong about the whereabouts of a large, hungry crocodile is something I would not recommend to anyone or anything made of meat.

It’s not like we were attacked or anything; but the crocodile made itself known by thrusting it’s open mouth out of the water as we were sitting down. I don’t care if it’s behind a foot of plexiglass, staring down at a five-foot-long toothy mouth attached to a pair of eyes staring right back up at you is not, in either my or the esteemed Mr. Darwin’s opinion, beneficial to one’s survival or general relaxation.

After the hungry welcome mat made it’s way back to the deep, half the group headed for bed, since we were leaving at 5:30 the next morning for a canopy walk; the other half, comprised of Laura, Demetri, Chris and myself, stayed behind and I taught them how to play Set (of course I brought my Set cards). This may have been a mistake in retrospect, seeing as both Demetri and Laura became instantly obsessed – we played four games (I just dealt, didn’t play) until we realized it was just past midnight, and literally ran to bed.

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Ghana: Day Five

 

Up, again. Not that I was worried I wouldn’t wake up this morning, but I just thought I’d share that fact. I consider waking up as “starting the day on a good note” and always much better than the alternative.

I’ll be meeting Laura soon and we’ll be going to the internet cafe – facebook also counts as starting the day off on a good note. Or feeding my addiction. Either way, I’m happy.

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The internet cafe, although entertaining for me, is pretty much, for you, reader, an oatmeal topic – bland and mushy (I don’t know exactly how “mushy” fits into the metaphor, but it’s an entertaining visual); as such, I’ll skim over that part of my day unless something spicy comes up. Spicy oatmeal is worth talking about.

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Laura and I wanted to try something new for breakfast today, not because Celsbridge or ChurCheese were bad options, but we were thinking about going to a restaurant that maybe didn’t begin with the letter “C” – so we traipsed down the alphabet, via Laura’s guidebook, to “F is for Frankie’s.” Despite having been warned against it for reasons hitherto unrevealed, the guidebook said that is was a popular place with good food. For those of you that don’t know me, the fact that it’s a popular place is just a bonus on top of my only requirement: good food. We made our way down the street – Frankie’s is about a three-block walk down Oxford Street from Sharpnet. Keep in mind, however, that each block is already quite large; and there are three conditions that make each block into a caricature of a normal downtown stroll. Imagine walking down the street in the busy city center of your choice; for me, that is Seattle, where there are large and clearly defined sidewalks, and the walk is pleasant and possibly even calm. Take the idea of that walk, and add the first and most permeating condition – cars. There are cars everywhere – pulling in, pulling out, turning around, passing each other on the two-lane road, turning left, turning right, etc; and these cars don’t care much for pedestrians. For the majority of any walk down Oxford Street, one walks between the parking spots and the road, also known as “in between the cars and where the cars want to be.”

The next thing you’ll notice about the street is, as I said before, the street vendors; they fill in the gaps where there are no parking spots, and unlike the cars around them, they are quite interested in pedestrians. Selling everything you would ever never need, in a variety of aggressive sales techniques I have never seen before, they do absolutely nothing to either help you get to your destination or have enough money once you arrive.

With addition of the street vendors, total walking space is reduced to a neat corridor – cozy but manageable despite the fact that the walls are constantly shifting. Where things get tricky is with the addition of the Pit of Slow and Painful Death, which adequately sums up Accra’s open air sewer system – a series of open troughs (foot-and-a-half wide, and two to three feet deep) occasionally covered by dubious (at best) grates or slabs of concrete; add in the most putrid black amalgamation of rubbish, human excrement, and disease and you have a death trap. Fortunately, the gutters on Oxford Street are better than most of the rest of the city – but I’m still not planning on falling in any time soon. One of the Projects volunteers did, and the cuts on her leg seeped for days (I still don’t know if they’ve fully healed, but I saw the leg two days after the fall and it was nasty).

So add these conditions together and you get the idea; suddenly a three-block walk becomes a mile-long waltz with the culture. That’s not to say it’s incredibly dangerous – just know what to watch for, and keep in time with the music.

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So, Frankie’s. According to the Bradt travel guide: “Also on Oxford Street, Frankie’s has long been known for its high-quality pastries, cakes and ice cream, while the more recently opened first-floor restaurant and coffee shop serve an excellent variety of salad and grills in the US$3.50-5 range, as well as superb burgers (the best she had ever had outside the States, according to one reader).” (124)

To put that description to the test (after braving the aforementioned gambit) we sat ourselves down in the middle of a restaurant so nondescript on the inside I may well have been back home. As many tourists as natives, MTV music videos on the flatscreen, and prices on par with American restaurants, this was the full tourist experience; and in that spirit we both ordered burgers (although they had the largest menu of any restaurant we’ve yet seen, we were both craving burgers) for roughly 12 cedis apiece (roughly 9 USD at the time of writing). I’ll admit that the burgers were decent (the steak fries were great), but the amount of meat on these things has me on the lookout for anorexic cows. At least the bun was filling. Wait, did we just have burgers for breakfast? Yes. Yes we did. Go us.

After the meal we were supposed to meet up with Jasmin and head to Sunshine-to-Go, a diner popular among the volunteers; but not before my first showdown with a street vendor. This was not a particularly noteworthy experience in and of itself: I needed sunglasses, he was selling sunglasses (on a side note, the sunglasses vendors are a sight to see, carrying large, flat yellow styrofoam blocks through the street on their heads, probably 5′ by 5′ by 1′ tall, with easily 200 pairs of shades crammed on top) – and the vendors can smell “need” almost as fast as they can put a price on it. “For you, my friend, these are nice; haha no way; these then; what do you think, Laura?; yeah, they’re nice; okay, for you, 15 cedis; he’ll pay 8 cedis; I will?; no, no, 12 cedis, very good price; I’ll pay 10 cedis; okay; okay; okay – thank you.” Like I said, the process itself was uneventful; but it marked my transition into the system of the Ghana street vendors. It’s a fascinating system, actually, and I’ll go into more detail about it at a later date; what’s important is that this was another milestone for me personally, a metric with which I gauge my immersion into local culture.

At the tail end of these proceedings, Jasmin showed up; and as planned (I love actually being able to say that) we moseyed, waltzed & dodged our way to Sunshine-to-Go. Demetri, Henrietta, Alex and Chris were already there, having ordered already, and we just joined them. Laura and I got milkshakes (what breakfast is complete without one – and I use the term breakfast loosely here); or at least, Laura and I ordered milkshakes – Laura got hers, while I was stuck bereft of that pleasure. I thought maybe it was just taking a while, as most things in Ghana do; but towards the end of the meal when I asked for it again, I got an actual earful from our waitress about how she had to warm up the machine again. Sorry, ma’am, but that’s not my fault – you read my order back to me. Eventually, though, I got my milkshake, which I’m pretty sure at this point was just two parts chocolate milk and one part cold shoulder (and three parts delicious).

I don’t remember what Jasmin got, but I’m sure that both she and I would agree that it doesn’t matter; what does matter, however, is that it was at this meal that I learned about Demetri’s obsession with pop culture, courtesy of MTV playing on the television. And obsession is the best word for it; celebrity gossip, chart-toppers from whatever year, who acted in what movie, every song ever sung by so-and-so, etc – he knows it all (also, chances are that if they’re a celebrity, he knows them, especially if they’re Lady Gaga). Random tidbit.

Lunch went on past 3 o’clock, but Laura, Jasmin and I left around that time to withdraw some money and then head on to the orphanage. This was my good for me, because I learned where the nearest ATM is, as well as the place to change money on Oxford Street (yay survival points); but it turns out that rather than a routine withdrawal, this was an emergency transfer for Jasmin. With a little over two weeks left, she had run out of money, and without a debit card she couldn’t withdraw more; so her parents had transferred a sufficient amount of funds into Laura’s account (Laura and Jasmin grew up together, just FYI) to then be withdrawn by Laura and given to Jasmin. This went off without a hitch, except that Laura hadn’t told her bank that she was in Ghana, and this was a maximum withdrawal – and yes, after that transaction her account immediately froze. Fortunately, there is a second account that Laura has been using for a couple of days since.

The other “mini-event” that happened is that on to the way to the ATM, we passed a street vendor who knew Laura’s name and specialized in making bracelets with people’s names on them – he happened to have one with “Laura” on it that he had been trying to sell her for over a week. This is normal, and us obronis get used to being remembered by every street vendor; what I’m not used to, and will never e okay with, is when we’re walking down the street and a vendor grabs one of my friend’s arms using a significantly-more-than-sufficient amount of force, and tries to pull them into the shop obviously against my friend’s will; this does not sit well with me, especially when it’s not typical (that was the only time in two weeks that any of us were treated like that by a vendor, an the only incident that I’ve heard of like that). I think to say that I am uncomfortable with that makes sense; and to please ask the vendor to let go (both Laura and I asked multiple times) is a reasonable recourse; but when he only pulled harder, with no signs of letting go, I stepped in and forcibly removed his hands from her arms. I appreciate that that is a dangerous move, to get physical with even just one street vendor, but as I outlined above he was not responding to reasonable requests – unfortunately, as I was peeling him off of her, he started shouting something about being attacked and to “shoot this man, shoot the obroni.” However, that was the end of that: nobody go shot, nobody got dragged, and nobody bought a bracelet. It unsettled me though, and I’ve been on my guard every visit to Oxford Street hence.

On a surprisingly lighter note, the orphanage. Today was the beginning of a variety of new themes, each equally deserving of your attention, reader; up first is the discovery of Leon’s dancing, an act so interesting and horrifying that it can only be described by the act itself. As such, expect a link to the first video soon. You have been warned.

Second theme is that of education vs intelligence, broken into two sub-parts, and I would much appreciate you, reader, taking this seriously and reading this all the way through before making a judgment.

I’ve never been solid on my view about “nature vs nurture” – I rather enjoy playing devil’s advocate, but that does nothing to further my own personal views; or at least, it does nothing to help me realize what my views (and judgments) already are. I’m not going to sugarcoat this to save face:

I thought that the kids at the orphanage would not be intellectually on par with kids of a similar age back home, simply by the fact that they are being raised in an educationally inferior system. I say “inferior system” only after asking other volunteers their opinion, helping kids with their homework, and continually hearing stories about the beatings in school. Granted, there is a variety – everything from kids that are trying their hardest to kids that are what the aunties call “clowns” – but this a similar gradient to what I grew up with in the Seattle Public School system, and I should have realized that coming over. In both systems, some kids want to succeed, and some kids don’t; the difference is that here, it’s much harder, but there are equally intelligent kids – they just don’t have any semblance of the support system that we do.

The first part, the catalyst that got me thinking about this, was Spongebob Kid – Atsu – who was going through a battery of tests in school at this point. These tests are the same relative difficulty as anything you would find in the states (I’ve seen them, and compared them to the homework); and like a dedicated student from anywhere in the world, Atsu asked me to help him study for his math exam the next day – he told me his previous test scores, and how he wanted to make them much higher (they weren’t bad – B’s – but he wanted to improve) and when we sat down to do the recommended homework, he did all of it and then a bunch of extra problems; and then he got up and studied on his own from one until three in the morning. That day he was the first to finish his math test, with the highest score in the class. He did similar on his science test; and he got a perfect score on his English test the next day – decide for yourself, is he an inferior student?

The second part was the beginning of chess wars with Moses. This started out as Sudoku wars – unbeknownst to me my new phone had one game on it, and that game was Sudoku (which made me really, really happy); Moses tried one, on easy, and eventually got it, and then challenged me to beat his time. I did, but that only strengthened his resolve – and before I knew it he had pulled out a chessboard and we were getting ready to play. Now, I love chess, not just because it’s a fun game but because it can tell you a lot about the way a person thinks. Today, we played four games – I won three, but two of those were using a particularly nasty opening. Moses beat me one. I’m not a strong chess player by any means – I used to be on chess team, but I haven’t seriously played in well over three years (sad, I know, and I hope that changes in college), but I’m not so horrible either. My strength is usually that I have a strong, central opening; and that during the midgame and endgame I can coordinate aggressive attacks from across the board. However, I have a horrible time predicting my opponents next few moves, and after my strong opening I peter out to a strategically lackluster midgame where I make mistakes – not necessarily huge mistakes, but mistakes. The point is, Moses, who I can guarantee was never in chess club, and doesn’t know those terms, has a very strong midgame; but more than that, he adapted to my playing style much quicker and more effectively than a plenitude of my old opponents back in the day. Taken in conjunction with the fact that he’s a good, confident student, and a good actor, it’s my personal opinion that you could drop him in at least the Spectrum program (top 5% of the public school students) if not the Advanced Placement program (top 1%) and he would thrive.

The point that I’m trying to make here is one that I’m sure you’ve heard a thousand times, but now I can as a firsthand observer say, “Invest in these children’s futures.”

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The third overall theme, not having anything to do with education or intelligence, or logic for that matter, is the curious case of Leon and Jasmin. This is when Jasmine’s troubles started. For the past two days, Jasmine has been coming to hang out at the orphanage after her volunteer placement – and as we found out yesterday, Leon was instantly smitten; as I found out today, he’s serious (or at least pretending to be). This first played out in the form of monopolization – for the entire time the volunteers were at the orphanage, he monopolized Jasmine’s time, aggressively; and then, after he had found out that a group of us were going to get together tonight I had to convince him not to show up (which was harder than it should have been). I told him that I would put in a good word for him, though, if I saw her, which sort of satiated him.

However, I didn’t see her that night, nor Laura; they both stayed in, being tired and in Jasmin’s case, sick as well. The general plan, among a large group of volunteers, was to go to a pub called Ryan’s (which they do every Thursday) – but because neither Laura nor Jasmin were going, I texted the only other person whose number I had, Georgina. She said to just come on by any time, and gave me basic directions – these turned into much more explicit directions after the taxi, not knowing where Ryan’s was, decided to drop me off in front of Frankie’s. Oxford Street at night (it was around 10 PM when I got out at Frankie’s) is not the most reassuring place to be – a lot of people, loud music, crazy drivers; all in the dark, where obrunis are the only things that don’t blend in with the shadows – you feel a bit conspicuous to say the least. Needless to say, I started booking it (calm, fast-walk style), and in conjunction with Georgina’s directions I made it not to Ryan’s, but to a nearby bar called Duplex, owned by Bob the Big Friendly Lebanese Bartender (not his real name, just FYI). When I showed up, I ran into Georgina and two new volunteers, Emma and Jess, both from England; and they were “applying for a job” at Duplex by making shots for the house. Both Georgina and Jess, having worked in bars before, “applied” with what Bob declared unusual shots – but he said they both passed.

On that note of success we all headed down the street to Ryan’s, a surprisingly large, gated bar that was absolutely packed – with mostly guys in their late 20’s to early 30’s. I just made my way to where the rest of the group was (unnoticed because I entered with three ladies) and spent a few hours talking with Georgina, Lauren, and Floriane before heading home for some shut-eye. Needless to say, I was locked out of my room, again, and had to break in, again. I’m getting really too good at this.

Ghana: Day Four

Tired and sore. The floor did not turn out to be as effective as I had thought, so now I need to continue to search for a more ideal sleeping situation. My mouth and throat do feel better though, possibly from the intense saline-and-biohazard treatment at the beach yesterday. Part of this whole thing could be the fact that I’ve only been eating one meal a day, with one or two mini Cliff bars; hence my excitement at hunting down the wild ChurCheese this morning. Shortly, I will don my furs and paint, grab my finest hunting spear, and pray to the gods for a silent foot and swift strike. Auuga auuga auuga rah rah shishkomba.

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The gods work in mysterious ways; instead of going to ChurCheese, Laura took me to Oxford Street, a sort of main avenue with an interesting dichotomy – rows of larger, official businesses and restaurants behind similar rows of street vendors, a sort of model of corporate evolution radiating outward from the street. This will be a new fixture of my day, once I feel comfortable enough taking the tro; this is where both the grocery store and the internet café are, as well as a slew of restaurants.

First things first: my phone. Laura showed me where to get a cheap, reliable phone, at a place called MTN. It’s a moderately-sized bright yellow building, and as I found out MTN is actually a provider, such as Sprint or Verizon. I got a surprisingly nice phone for 40 cedis, or about 28 USD. I checked the rates, and it’s really cheap to call back to the U.S, 10 cents a minute with 3 cents for every international text message. If you get a call from 0112330543017989, it’s me, just FYI.

From there we crossed the street to some sort of smoothie shop for breakfast; Laura got a “Valentine Something-or-other” with pineapple in it, by far my least favorite fruit; and I got an orange smoothie. You would think that with a recipe like, “take one cup of bananas, one cup of oranges, one cup of strawberries and throw in a blender with some more orange juice” it would be hard to mess up – but you would be horribly, horribly wrong. In the same spirit as having to tell them to peel the fruit and plug in the blender, they obviously skipped the step that said “Don’t add shreds of plastic to the smoothie.” That, or they grabbed one of the fake oranges from the display; either way, I ended pulling out at least ten fingernail-shaped (thats what I thought they were at first) pieces out of the drink (via my mouth) – starting when I was already halfway done. Not my finest meal.

From there we journeyed to Koala Market (the thing previously referred to as “The Market”), where I got a nutritious breakfast of raisin buns, Fanta, and water. This market will, eventually, become an integral part of my financial instability, as it offers tons of delicious snack food (e.g. chocolate) – for a moderate price. Laura introduced me to a new kind of “biscuit” (cookie) that I’m now in love with – Fox’s, two pieces of shortbread with chocolate in-between. On a completely unrelated note, I was asked to check my backpack (which I was carrying my laptop in, so I could transfer the blog at the internet cafe) – as I was raised in Seattle, where this is a common practice in a lot of stores to deter thieves, Laura had never seen that happen before; we got into a lovely little chat about that that carried us all the way to the aforementioned snack food; at which I just stood in awe at all the wonderful sugary choices. I do love carrying on pleasant conversation, as long as there isn’t any food around to distract me.

And finally, from there we took a short walk down a vendor-laden side street to Sharpnet, the internet cafe – a large, bright pink building that is impossible to look directly at in the sun unless you enjoy beholding the Burning Bush in the semblance of concrete cotton candy. Inside, however, it looks normal, except for the employees in equally pink shirts: there is a rough horseshoe configuration of computers with one or two outlying tables, and by the open end of the horseshoe are two desks. The first, smaller desk is where you get an individual user account and put money onto said account – this was very different from my internet cafe experiences in, say, Europe in that the user account you set up stays with you. For example, if I put five hours on my account (about 10 cedis, a little over 7 USD – very cheap) and only used two in one sitting, it would remember my log off time and have the remaining three hours ready for me whenever I next showed up. The computers themselves are half-nice – the monitors are absolutely great, as are the graphics. The internet, however, is relatively slow, although it does fluctuate. I seem to have uniquely bad luck with them, so far freezing whatever computer I’m using multiple times in one sitting – probably because I always have a bunch of process-heavy windows open.

The next, larger desk (lest I keep wandering off on tangents) is a sort of FedEx/Kinkos operation, specializing in printing and some binding. It was at this desk that I bought a small USB to transfer my blog files (the one I brought with me doesn’t seem to be compatible with my netbook). To complete the picture, there is a washroom in the middle of the back wall, and by the front entrance there are stairs leading up towards what are apparently [disgusting] private rooms with webcams. I haven’t seen them and I don’t need to.

Since this was my first visit to the internet cafe since my arrival, and hence my first time being plugged into the internet since I started blogging, I uploaded all the content that you, reader, have so far been perusing (I changed the posted dates accordingly, just fyi). Similarly, I got another chance to feed my facebook/e-mail/twitter addiction, so that was nice; and even better, while sitting there organizing my blog and stealing glimpses at 90210 on Laura’s computer, I called my parents. Granted they didn’t pick up the first time, or the second time (it was five in the morning back home), I finally got through to my dad (the only who is up at that horrible time of day) and I think succeeded in truly catching him off guard:

*ring-click*

“Hello?”

“Hi Dad!”

[Silence – but you can actually hear my dad thinking]

[…]

“Matt!”

For the record, I had not discussed with them the idea of getting a cell phone here in Ghana, so that opening conversation was what I was expecting; but it was really, really nice to hear how excited they (mom woke up) were at hearing my voice (if you’re reading this, I love you guys!) (let me clarify: I love you guys even if you’re not reading this; you know what I mean).

After this, when Laura finally managed to drag me kicking and screaming away from my addiction, I returned to the orphanage and Laura went back to rest for a bit. I dropped off my stuff in my room (as I mentioned before, I had taken my netbook in my backpack) and beelined for the library; where I was met with an unusual sight. Andy, Auntie Stephanie, Leon, Daniel, Roger, and one or two of the other older boys were there just chilling, while a handful of the smaller boys were coloring on the floor (some of them coloring, literally, on the floor). What makes this scene unusual for me at least is that I’ve only ever seen one or two of the older boys in the library, and never have I seen Leon in there; and frankly, I hope he stays out of the library from here on out.

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Leon is the type of person who takes control, sets the tone, and gets things done his way; using every tool in the spectrum – everything from intimidation and actual violence to puppy-dog eyes and what I believe to be serial, almost compulsive, lying. Although he’s never hit a volunteer so far that I’ve heard about, I feel that he is too unpredictable and self-interested to be comfortable around – every adult I’ve talked to says to just generally watch out for him, and of all the stories he’s told the volunteers, they change and occasionally don’t match up on some key parts.

Here’s what stays the same each time, and as best I can understand it (after comparing notes with the other volunteers) this is “his story” as he wants it understood: He is just a little older than the other boys, but like them he doesn’t really have parents – he does, but they live in Burkina Faso. He got separated from them when a volunteer funded him to go travel to Accra for some reason (the details here get really shaky) but his paperwork got stolen so he can’t return home. He showed me pictures of his dad, his mom, and his two sisters, and told me there names were something-or-other. Finally, he told me that he sleeps on the street near the orphanage because they won’t let him sleep at the orphanage; he used to have a job but he quit for some reason.

Here’s what I know: In the pictures that he showed me, he isn’t in any of them. For all I know they could have been picked up off the street – and they are surprisingly old and worn, the sort of thing you would find in your parent’s old photo albums from their childhood. He does live on the street, but he spends every waking moment at the orphanage, which begs the question why doesn’t he have a job if he needs the money so bad (he always wants us to buy him things, and complains that he doesn’t have any money). You might think that it would be because he’s young, but one volunteer (who I will keep anonymous) saw his immunization records (which he carries with him) and they state his year of birth as 1981 – making him 28 years old. Leon asked this volunteer to keep it a secret, but the implications are either that those are somebody else’s papers or that Leon is, in fact, a 28-year-old man who spends all day wasting time at the orphanage (I admit I’m a horrible judge of age); either way, the general consensus is that he cannot be trusted.

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The reason why I hope Leon stays out of the library is he because he and small children do not mix; in the course of the older boy’s shenanigans, Leon got ticked that the younger boys were coming over to Andy and I. To remedy this, he started hitting them on the head, hard, and shouting at them until they all ran out of the library, just so he could continue his little comedy routine uninterrupted. After this we had an all-around arm wrestling tournament, which both Andy and I lost horribly, but I did go up against Leon, and I can tell you that he is built like a tank.

After the tournament, everyone including Auntie Stephanie left the library, leaving me to hold down th fort until Laura showed up to help, and then Frank showed up to close the library. When I left the floor was an artistic masterpiece, and books were strewn everywhere (we cleaned those up) – but all the kids were alive, no thanks to Abraham Lincoln (who I had to forcibly restrain, again, so that he wouldn’t actually try to kill this other kid). Laura and I meandered over to the large open area near where they play soccer (I’ll upload photos so you can see what I’m talking about) where Andy was talking with a large group of boys (Let me make it clear, besides Dela I’ve maybe seen a grand total of five girls outside of the far-removed girls house; they don’t really come to hang out) and Jasmine, a new volunteer from England, same town as Laura, who actually has a totally different placement but hangs out at the orphanage in the afternoon. Jasmine is Indian; and interestingly enough the color of her skin garners her as much, if not more, attention than us obronis – white people.

That night Laura and Jasmine took me to meet the other volunteers at this restaurant surprisingly near the orphanage (remember, I thought those places mentioned to me were all that there was – not necessarily realistic but at the time I was struggling to absorb everything I was being told) called “Melting Moments”; Andy’s family was serving Red Red, one of his favorite dishes, so he said he would join us afterwards. This restaurant was a small place that when lit up stuck out of the surrounding darkness like a sore thumb – but in a cozy, kitschy way. We got inside and I was taken aback by, as horrible as this is to say, how many white people there were. This is whee I met the entirety of the Projects Abroad volunteers I would end up spending the rest of my time with, short of maybe one or two (there are more projects volunteer here but I don’t think that I’ll be crossing paths with them before I leave. I was sitting between Alexandra (not to be called Alex) and Laura, and across from Lauren; Jasmine was between Alexandra and Lauren; and Demetri was next to Lauren and across from Laura. This would end up being the core group I hung out with over the next few days – but there were also, next to Laura, Henrietta, Florienne, and Georgina; and at the end of the table was what was called “the trio” – Jesse, Anna and Alex – who spent the entire time at dinner talking amongst themselves (except for Jesse, who rather rudely asked who I was when I first showed up). I haven’t seen them enough to warrant them a spot in the dramatis personae entry, so I’ll give them some airtime here: I know nothing about Alex; Anna was Laura’s roommate, and left the room a total mess (moldy bread and all); and Jesse is from Atlanta. Apparently she blogs unpleasant things about the rest of the group on occasion.

Enough about them, the point is that these were all the people who I met that night; and I witnessed, and for a small time was part of, a conversation between Demetri and Alexandra concerning history, good books, and Greek history. It was awesome. After dinner (I ordered spaghetti bolognaise – hooray for comfort food) the majority of the group caught taxis to this party on the beach called Reggae Night – you can guess the theme – but I said my goodbyes and walked home to get some much-needed rest.

As it stands at the time of posting:

 

Dramatis Personae

 

These are the people whose names and faces I remember so far. Keep in mind that I’m horrible at guessing ages in general, and that everyone is generally nice (if not friendly). MOPC = method of physical contact, which almost every boy has, and each one’s is unique.

Moses – He’s called the actor because he is so outgoing and dramatic, and a really nice guy.; he’s our “secret weapon” when it comes to taxis because he always manages to negotiate a lower price, and enjoys doing so. He’s one of the older kids, but I’m not sure how old. I think that I’m going to become good friends with him and his brother Daniel. MOPC is to continually do the traditional handshake, easily twenty times in a row.

Daniel – Moses’ brother, who looks like, and acts like, Chris Rock; I don’t even know if he knows who that is. When I first met him he was wearing a button-up shirt that got switched inside-out a few times during the day, just randomly. He so far has needed help with angles, but he does understand them fairly well. No  MOPC I can recognize.

JohnBu – One of the smaller kids who always wants to be carried (MOPC), but is old enough to walk. He whines a lot, and the other boys hit him, in a sort of chicken-and-egg cycle. Very wiry.

Frank – a smaller kid, but a little disconcerting; he has the build of a midget (and is surprisingly stout for his age) and the face of a 26-year-old. Aggressive when it comes to things that he wants. I found out later that he has dwarfism, and is actually ten but looks to be about five. He also wants to be carried all the time (MOPC).

Edward – an older boy who my friend sponsored, now a sophomore in high school. Probably the calmest, friendliest person I’ve met so far, he really likes math and especially business.

Awuly – probably about ten, he has a habit of hanging off me and putting himself in a headlock that honestly cannot be comfortable (MOPC). He comes up to my side, takes my arm and puts it around his head (which is hip-level for me), similar to what would happen if he hugged me and I actually put my arm around him – but then he sticks my arm like it would be if I had my hand in my pocket, then hugs me as tightly as possible. If you manage to find a partner to try this with, you’ll find that this exerts a surprising amount of crushing power. The weird thin is that he’s very deliberate about this whole ordeal, and I do my best to avoid it.

Abraham Lincoln – yep. In the flesh; of a young Ghanaian boy, specifically. He’s supposedly smart, but very violent and demanding. He loves to be read to even though he never pays attention. MOPC is to either lay across my lap, or force me to restrain him while he tries to maul this one other boy whose name I don’t know.

Leon – I’m not sure what his whole story is, but he’s not in school and doesn’t have a job. He doesn’t stay at the orphanage, but spends his free time there (all day, every day). He was separated from his parents when his papers got stolen and is looking for some kind of work; he wants me to buy him a watch. I’ve been warned about him by a multitude of people, in terms of trusting him, so I’m not sure if any part of his story is true and am not giving him the benefit of the doubt. He reminds me of a large number of the “troublemakers” at Garfield.

Daniel  – one of the older boys and a great football player. The day before I arrived he had been awarded as the champion of the All-Ghana Orphanage League; this is quite an accomplishment considering the popularity of football here. My friend and Auntie Stephanie discussed the possibility of him joining a club as the next step in his education and his soccer career; it’s my understanding that these clubs would be like the Cascade swim team except with a small educational component. He only like female hip-hop artists.

Okorse – Also one of the older boys, he conversely only likes the male hip-hop artists. He and a few of his friends took me on a short walk my second night at the orphanage; other than that I don’t know that much about him. His MOPC is a fist pound followed by a sort-of wiping the back of his hand under his chin (that’s our particular handshake).

Nicholas – My friend from the outside, who is the cause of a bit of drama now and again. Besides getting me in trouble with one of the Aunties, he somehow not only figured out where Andy and Laura were living but showed up at Laura’s house one night for what he said was help with his homework. She, too, got in trouble for this, and next time we saw him she firmly told him never to do that again. Other than that, he’s very smart, probably the smartest person I’ve run into so far. He’s only thirteen, but when he sat in with me during tutoring on Monday, while I tutored boys the same age as him he completely understood everything I was teaching; we got to talking at the beach, and he has already decided that he wants to pursue a career in agriculture (he says that he’s fascinated by how you can grow the plants to feed people and make money – his words). He absolutely loves swimming.

Andy – one of the Projects Abroad volunteers, from England. He’s been in Ghana for a month and a half already, but in the Volta and Ho regions. He feels extremely comfortable here, clubbing all the time (my general impression) and giving out his phone number to quite a lot of people. Nice guy, funny, eighteen, and Buddhist. I haven’t yet asked him why he chose this particular trip, but he’s the only other male volunteer.

Laura – As I said before, my saving grace. She’s very easy to talk to, adventurous and helpful – and this is where I stop making observations about her character in favor of providing facts, so that you, reader, can discern her character for yourself. She has been in Accra with Projects Abroad since the Wednesday before I arrived, but showed up to the orphanage the day after. She knows the area very well already (not the are immediately around the orphanage, but she knows where the markets are, how to use the trotro, etc) and is going to help me get a phone and find the market [today]. She, too, is taking gap year, but not by choice; and while probably the first thing that’s going to pop into your head when you read that is, “Oh, she didn’t get into the Uni she wanted because she didn’t do as well as she hoped” I assure you that is definitely not the case. For those of you who don’t know, you get into Uni in England based on what your teachers predict your grades are going to be (great argument for not ticking them off); Laura was predicted three A’s and a B (in the class she needed an A the most), and so she was not accepted to the school of her choice, a dentistry school (again, for those of you who don’t know, dentistry is one of, if not the absolute, most respected and challenging field of medicine in England); but after lots of hard work, and practically living at the library, she pulled all four A’s – and since her school was known as having an extremely rigorous education with usually accurate predictions, she actually made the newspaper. Other important things: she wants to visit the U.S., again, but more than just New York this time (although she did love it last time). More on her later, since I think we’ll be going to ChurCheese every day (she says we have two weeks to try everything on the menu)  and because she’s reading my blog, so I can’t say anything nasty about her yet.

Emmanuel – A soft spoken boy, probably thirteen or fourteen. Exceedingly nice, and perpetually smiling a soft smile, his MOPC is to put his left arm on either my bicep or over my heart, and hold it there while we talk. What makes this interesting is that his left arm twitches  often, which caught me by surprise the first time; apparently he has epilepsy.

Atsu – Spongebob kid, since I’ve only ever seen him wearing a Spongebob shirt and similarly yellow shorts. I helped him with his math – he has tests coming up this week, but he knows his stuff, the only problem is that he does not sleep (he’ll wake up and study from one to three in the morning because that’s when it’s quite – supposedly). His MOPC is to walk next to me with his arm around my waist. Really nice, loves sports.

Sandy – another Delta flight attendant, I met her on my third night here. She’s been visiting the orphanage for a year and a half, and we got to talking about travel in general. She’s adopted one of the boys but is having some issues getting him into the states because they can’t get a birth certificate.

Auntie Stephanie – The absolutely and unusually friendly Auntie who watches the library until 4 PM. She has the most expressive face I’ve ever seen (every little part moves, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen the same expression repeated) with the biggest, warmest smile.

Dela – the mute, slightly touched girl. She will always latch onto me (hand hold of death) when she sees me, probably because I let her. However, I’m beginning to understand how to communicate with her, and how to interpret her mannerisms and the parameters of her world. She points to everything, and grabs using the claw of death (forefinger and thumb, with enough crushing power to seriously bruise something, so I keep her away from the small children). Usually she’s just content to just hold hands indefinitely.

Germany – one of the three Projects Abroad volunteers who has been here longer than me, she’s from Berlin. She works with in the younger boy’s house, feeding and bathing them in the afternoon. I don’t know specifically how long she’s been here but I’m the first male volunteer that she’s seen. Very nice, seems to be very honest and hardworking.

England – the second Projects Abroad volunteer, who I believe is from Cambridge. She had some sort of a mainstream business job that she quit after one year to volunteer at this orphanage. She focuses on watching the infants.

Denmark – another Projects Abroad volunteer, who has been here for three months. I know absolutely nothing about her.

Jasmine – a new Projects Abroad volunteer that arrived with Andy and Laura, she’s from India and I haven’t had the chance to talk with her.

Ghana: Day Two

There are a few things worth mentioning.

One, that I’ve had to “break into” the building three times. As  mentioned yesterday, my room is inside a guest house of some kind; and my neighbor, who I rarely see, has the only key to unlock the door. Two details: he insists on locking the door when he leaves, which like I said is at complete odds with my schedule; and the lock is an actual bolt, not just a handle lock. So not only have I had to break into the building three times, I’ve had to break out if it as much as well. Here’s how that works: the door is actually a set of double doors, and the fundamental flaw in bolting double doors is that if both doors are loose, there is enough give to open them simultaneously. That’s a handy fact when you’re on the inside and can see the latch keeping the fixed door in place; but when you’re on the outside, trying to get in, there’s a few more parts to that equation. Specifically, two broken deck chairs (as a stepladder), one partially dismantled window (I removed a plane of glass, temporarily), and one really dirty arm (the window sill above the door was, is, and forever shall be nasty). Throw in some amused children to complete the picture, and you’ve got yourself my morning and evening routine.

Two, roosters. Specifically, the ones that start cock-a-doodle-doo-ing at 2am, and continue, right outside your window, every five to fifteen seconds (I timed it), indefinately. Having that begin, after a heat-and-Mefloquin-induced night of vivid dreams, tied up in the kevlar cocoon,  is not a pleasant morning.

Naturally, I got up at 4:45 AM. Not that I have any right to complain about the time – everyone here wakes up at 4, does their chores, showers, and the kids leave for school at 8:07 (they said), come home, do their homework, play, and everyone seems to be in bed by 8:30. So really, I’m in a timezone somewhere far, far away; the point is, though, that waking up at 4:45 AM after lots and lots of travel just physically hurts – I’m going to try to eat something but no promises about keeping it down.

Regardless, my morning was productive. I managed to rig the mosquito net in such a way that it regains most of it’s effectiveness, and then proceeded to devise some exercises that a six-foot-two person can do in a five-by-three space. I’m predicting that I’m going to be working out a lot, since a) between the hours of 8 until 2, there’s nothing to do, b) the only way I’m going to be able to sleep is if I physically exhaust myself, and c) I’m probably going to end up shirtless occasionally, seeing as it’s still hot. After these shenanigans, I decided to see if I could help at all with getting the kids ready for school; I arrived in time to dry off some of the younger boys who were showering, and to help sweep the grounds.

Sweeping the grounds is another one of those totally new things for me; not that I haven’t swept before, it was an integral part of my old job at Swanson’s. What was new was watching all the kids do it; first because they spread out in an unspoken but organized fashion, then because they totally focus on the job, then because they do it really quickly and effectively, and finally because they use a gigantic brush made out of what I think are small palm leaves, dried and tied with shoelaces or ribbons. This is a clever invention in that not only is it easy to make, but it sweeps better than most brooms I’ve seen – and you can use them as a giant pair of tongs, by separating the the leaves and grabbing the trash with them. Another unique aspect of these brooms is that the bundle will loosen as you work, so you have to continually stop and pound the leaves back down (it’s hard to describe, I’ll try to get a picture).

After volunteering, and having the boys teach me how to sweep (I’m still not very good, apparently) I ventured back to my room to rest until the boys had gone to school, and I could walk around the area outside the orphanage in search of breakfast and adventure. It’s 8:45 now, so I’m going to leave soon – I’ll be seeing my friend again this morning in a bit, and then I’m truly on my own here. There are international volunteers coming today, from what I’ve heard, who work during the week and stay at the Salvation Army. Most of them are European, and I might end up befriending them.

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I’m sick. I’ve been sick for a few days, but I was hoping it would go away before I left; it hasn’t, and instead it’s slowly getting worse. I’ve never had anything like it before – it’s almost like the right side of my head is malfunctioning. It started a few days ago with a canker sore on the underside of my tongue (which is honestly annoying enough), and now there are some on the bottom right side of my mouth and one on my gums on the right side. I’ve been brushing religiously, and i rarely eat junk food. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve tried lancing them with a gum strengthener soaked in hand sanitizer, which works really well but I have yet to decide if that’s actually a good idea. I’ve been sleeping on either my right side or my back so that it doesn’t spread to my left side (I think it’s just a nasty cold, since my lymph nodes are inflamed on the right side) and this morning I woke up with my right ear and right nasal passage plugged. If it spreads or gets much worse, I might end up having to return home early.

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I am not, by nature, a poet, but rather, by nature, I am inspired. When this happens, I write. Apparently. You have to understand, up until the end of the school year this year, I’ve never been happy about writing anything (Deathssay, the first thing I enjoyed writing, I’ll post later); and yet now I won’t shut up.

The reason for this revelation is because I went on a walk this morning. As walks go, it was fairly mundane – just a stroll around the orphanage; however, I wasn’t alone. In fact, the walk wasn’t my idea or even really my choice. As it happened, on my way to breakfast, I ran into a mute and slightly touched in the head girl, whose name I still don’t know, but with whom I embarked on a fantastical journey through the orphanage. I still haven’t had breakfast.

And this is all the explanation I’m going to give for “Ode to a Morning Walk with a Mute Girl.”

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There is an extremely vocal goat outside my window.

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I finally managed to leave for the bank, to change my currency, and ChurCheese, for lunch. This being my first real foray into the city, I learned a lot more about my surroundings. The first thing you notice, that I should have been more careful about, is that every guy wears slacks – not just jeans, nice slacks. With dress shoes. Ah well, if they couldn’t figure out that I was a tourist before I’ll be easily identifiable now (ha ha).

The next thing is that there is a type of beauty in this sparse, dry, open area – a lot of the flowers, trees and bushes in the estates near the orphanage are blooming in full color right now; there vivid pinks and yellows, fruity reds, purples and oranges, and even the greenery seems to thrive.

Finally, there are about four times as many taxis s there are cars. Taxis are everywhere – and they would be very popular if not for the trotro, a sort of bus that I have yet to experience.

Of course, when you’re wandering around noticing things for the first time, things are bound to notice you – enter Nicholas. As I’m walking down the street, this Ghanaian kid with a sachet of water (very popular here – not always good for tourists) falls into place walking next to me. He’s a bit wiry, wearing a Spain soccer jersey, and the first thing he asks me is if I’m a footballer, and I say no – he says that I look like one. He plays all the time – and oh by the way, where are you staying? I tell him at the orphanage, and we get to talking about that; apparently he has a bunch of friends there (as later find out, the orphanage is a sort of community center, especially since they have satellite tv). It turns out he’s waiting for someone to show up at the orphanage around three o’clock, and is just killing time until then. What about school, I ask, since that’s where almost the entire orphanage is right now; that, and I passed one cross the street from orphanage with children playing football (you know what I mean) in the courtyard. He told me that he actually has two days of midterms, and gets out of school early – would I like to go to the beach with him tomorrow, around 11? Being me, adventurous, foolish, or whatever, I say yes, and tentative plans are formed.

Meanwhile we traipse to the bank, with Nicholas asking directions of random passer-bys, change some money, and make our way back up to ChurCheese. It’s completely empty, which is slightly disconcerting, but we sit down anyway, and when the waitress comes over I chat with her about Ghana, this being my first time and what foods she could recommend; I still don’t know exactly what I got but it was good, and cheap. Nicholas got a chicken something (it’s typical for tourists to take kids out to lunch) that he shared with me, also good; and the rice that came with both our meals (they were out of chips) was borderline addictive. Keep in mind that ChurCheese is like a more full-service fast food joint, think Marie Callendar’s or Applebee’s but with a gigantic playpen. For some reason, our service was crawling (I think we waited easily 15 minutes for our food, and we were the only people there) but Nicholas and I talked and watched the plasma tv on the wall that was playing the top ten South African music videos (the number one spot went to some song by The Parlotones with a great music video that I’m going to check out).

Post-food found us back at the orphanage, where I immediately ran into my friend, turned around, and saw the rest of the crew that had come over from the hotel. My friend gave the tour, again, and everybody just absolutely swooned at the toddler’s house (it’s really hard not to, I do every time). I got to talking with one of the crew (who I think was actually the boyfriend of one of them but lives here) and he told us that there had been some issues with orphanages selling babies, into labor or any of that category of horrible outcomes; that’s why I was originally asked for those police & medical reports.

We finished up the tour pretty much at that point, but not before my friend introduced me to two of the volunteers that were here with Projects Abroad. I don’t remember their names, but I do remember their countries (Germany was feeding the kid in the wheelchair, England was playing with the toddlers under the tree in the courtyard) and their generally cold shoulders. I used to be sensitive to people generally showing disinterest in you from the moment they meet you, but it’s still a little disconcerting; more so when you’re gambling your social life on them.

At this point it was around 1:30, so my friend and I headed to the library so I could begin helping kids with there homework, a task that I later found involves less math, science and reading skills than a loud voice and the ability to physically restrain a large number of children at once. I began by helping Dwuly with his multiplication tabled, which he actually knows fairly well; and then moved on to helping him with his reading, which is not particularly easy when they have a heavy accent and a lisp. And when they primarily mimic you; I guess that’s more normal than I thought, but a lot of what would happen when I read with the kids is that they would try to perfectly mimic what I said, without even looking at the page. I’ll have to think of something a little different for tomorrow.

But here’s where things do a total handstand – Frank, Andy and Laura. Frank, to the best of knowledge, helps out in the library and is a really nice guy; I think he invited me to go golfing with him on Friday which would be totally random and really, really fun. He’s looking for a netbook, so I’m going to have him take a look at this model eventually.

Andy is one of the two “new” Projects Abroad volunteers. He’s been in Ghana for about a month and a half, in the Volta and Ho(?) regions, but I think he just got into Accra. He’s an eighteen-year-old Buddhist from England and loves Bob Marley and giving his number out to random people (he listed off everybody in his phone book, which was amusing).

Laura is, at this point, my saving grace. She and Andy showed up during the tutoring session and helped out/ saved my life, and we got to talking a bit. She’s nineteen, from England, and here with Projects Abroad but on her own – she’s actually taking a gap year, which makes me really excited, since now I realize I’m not the pariah of the academic experience. The reason she’s my saving grace, though, is because she offered to show me around, take me to the beach and get a cell phone – and just generally hang out, a pleasant and welcome surprise after the other two Projects Abroad volunteers. I’m still to sure what Andy’s doing, but I’d like to hang with him too.

That evening i showed Laura where Celsbridge was, and she had a chicken sandwich with chips and I mooched off her, but not before I had tried my luck with ordering the goat pepper soup. Yes, the goat pepper soup; take three parts “indeterminate mass of bones, meat, and what I think were intestines, most likely from a goat” and two parts “peppers from hell, or paint stripper, whichever you can get your hands on first”, and throw it all in a blender. Serves one foolhardy tourist. I have never, and I promise you, never, tasted anything so spicy in my life; it was good, but after the third sip it felt like it was eating through my stomach lining (just to clarify, that’s not a literary device. It did actually feel like it was eating through my stomach). Hence, Laura was nice enough to let me eat some of her food, and satiate the lava monster in my intestines. Pleasant visual.

We got back after I stocked up on some water, and the rest of the night was uneventful. Andy and Laura left abut ten minutes after we got back, and I spent a bit talking to Okorse, Daniel (the soccer player, not Moses’ brother), and a few others. Daniel actually invited me to his football game on Sunday which I eagerly agreed to attend; and we walked down to the end of the block to look at this street vendor that sells something having to do with movies (Like pirated dvds on steroids, they advertise as being the best collections of a certain genre or theme with up to 3000 minutes of footage. Slightly dubious). Finally, Leon and I ended up talking (he wouldn’t let me go back to the room and go to bed) which is when he told  me his story, which I unfortunately didn’t fully understand; I might get him to e-mail it to me, since from what I could understand it’s a good story if it’s true.

Then I escaped to my room, lay down, and promptly fell asleep.

Ghana: Sweat

I am no stranger to sweat. I am not the kind of person who has cause to sweat every day, doing hard physical labor full time or an intense workout routine; and Seattle, this time of year, apparently has hail. At various points in time, however, I have sweated in the past – I used to participate in a crew team, and before and after that I was involved in Aikido. It’s a very simple process: a human is subject to a relatively high amount of heat, or they physically exert themselves to a point where they induce a higher heart rate, or they even could be subject to extremely stressful circumstances. It is an inherently beneficial process, both cooling the body and purging the system of waste chemicals. I am no stranger to sweat.

Let me clarify further: I am no stranger to physical sweat. The heat here in Accra (80 degrees when we landed at 7:45 this morning) goes hand in hand with wet, smelly clothes that begged to be changed. It hits the unwary traveler before they even get off the plane, a sort of welcoming party that hugs you and won’t let go until you’re underwater or back in the air. That is not to say it’s unbearable by any means, it’s just noticeable; a typical human can adapt to it. Let me clarify further: I am no stranger to physical sweat.

There is a kind of sweat, I realize now, that I am alien to, completely, irrevocably, a sweat that I was born without, raised without, and never had cause to know, for which I consider myself cursed a hundred-fold and blessed infinitely. This is the sweat of the soul, caused not when you stand underneath the sun, but when you stand in the middle of an encampment of deserted children and you realize, maybe for the first time, maybe for the hundredth, or thousandth, “what is.”

This is the sweat for which there is no shower, no clean clothes, no breezy salvation; this is the heat that makes you deliberately earn your new clothes, ones that fit better and cool you off just a little bit more the next time; nothing store-bought or mass-produced but instead deliberately handmade, carefully knit, meticulously sewn.

This is the sweat to which I am virgin; this is the sweat that creates the first stitch.

Ghana: Day One

[6:17pm, Sunday, November 7th]

Okay, now that I’ve gotten “Sweat” out of the way I can tell you about the rest of my day, from the time that the plane touched down until now, and probably through the rest of the night.

The plane landed safely. This may seem an arbitrary and unimportant detail in my journey, but trust me when I say that without it there would be a serious problem; but fortunately my journey was free of serious problems, and even moderate and minor ones (except for the taxi fare, apparently paid in gold); I chalk this up to the distinct possibility of some more exotic expiration that gets me in the middle of the trip. Better notify REI.

Let’s skip to the part where we caught the taxi, or in financial terms, where the taxi caught us: leaving the airport. The first thing you notice when you step outside the airport (if you use the forbidden side doors that we had to ask really nicely to be let out of so we wouldn’t be trampled by…everyone) is that the airport itself is one of the tallest structures in the immediate vicinity. It is a vantage point – which is saying something because it’s no more than four stories on a hill. I counted five skyscrapers – seven-story buildings – on the way to the orphanage, and a plethora of small walled communities (not “gated-neighborhood” walls, concrete “let’s not get robbed” walls), open space, and burned refuse. In my limited experience in temperate Third-World countries, this is the signature, what I expected from the rural areas – not necessarily from the country’s capital.

My next tourist thought was, “Ghana is not a pretty country.” I admit, that thought crossed my mind a couple times. Here’s the first major issue with that judgment: Ghana is not a hilly, verdant landscape replete with middle-class homes in nice neighborhoods, nice sidewalks (or sidewalks at all), copious amounts of lakes and streams, public art, and a visible, solid infrastructure. For those of you who don’t know, that’s Seattle. Ghana is not pretty, in my opinion, because my definition of a pretty city turned out to be Seattle. Whether that’s because I am predisposed to like Seattle, or because that’s where I feel safe, my definition of beauty will have to change a little bit more – which is not a bad thing. I’m not saying that I’m going to decide that Accra, specifically, is a beautiful city when I wake up tomorrow – I’m just saying I need to better define my criteria.

Enough self-righteous self-wronging. We arrived at the orphanage; we forgot to check the price ahead of time and was hit with 15 cedis fee (todays exchange rate is 1.4 cedis per dollar) when the fee usually costs less than ten. We unloaded the bags and the fun began.

First, we dropped our bags off with Samul (all spellings are phonetic estimates, with which the accent doesn’t help), a young boy at OSU who watched them while we paid a visit to the head of the orphanage, a stout Auntie (as all the older women are called) who after neither asking for my medical note (one of the requirements) or background check, nor asking/telling me what my duties were, gave me a room (the room?) for a rate I have to discern. The room in question is exactly that: room. Roughly 6.5x5x10 (w,l,h; in feet), I have enough “room” to stand, lay straight on the bed, and sit on the upper bunk (next to where I crammed my stuff). Yes, there’s a bunk bed, which takes up more than half the room; a mini, mini fridge (electric icebox?), which isn’t cold but serves as a great end table for one of my bags; and an upright fan to serve as my air conditioning. It’s broken, which is why I know the fridge isn’t cold – so now I have the windows (3×1.5, w,h, in feet) open letting in the cool night air (about 75 Farenheit). I’ve never felt safer, though, since I’m in the inner sanctum of what I think is, in fact, a guest house – the walls are about four to five inches of concrete on the inside, closer to seven for the outside wall, with burglar-proof windows and two currently bolted hardwood doors. I have a key, which is the only reason I haven’t termed my room “The Cell.” I was thinking more along the lines of “Emerald Fortress” – not because it’s protecting the guy from the green city, but because the only light in my room is a dark, vibrant green that makes everything  bit trippy. Yes, my Emerald Fortress is nigh impenetrable except for its Achilles’ heel, namely the light switch being outside the door, enabling a switch-happy kid the ability to render the Emerald Fortress into a normal, boring one. On a side note, I managed to st up some clothesline and my mosquito net using one string of rope, the doorknob, and a bedpost – not quite MacGuyver, but the point here is that I’m sleeping on the lower bunk, hanging the mosquito net from the upper bunk. This reduces the overall efficacy of the net by roughly 130%; for those of you not familiar with new math, we minus 90% because the net is against my skin (not so great for keeping those bloodsucking festerpools off my skin) and the other 40% because I’ve effectively cocooned myself into smothering immobility (I’m thinking they made this net out of kevlar – great if the mosquitos are packing heat, no so great for moving, breathing, or surviving).

So I got my room! While they were preparing it (I’m not sure what exactly they were preparing) we gave bread and fruit to the collection of boys who had gathered around us, and this is when I stopped thinking and started learning. If you only notice one thing about the youth here, it will undoubtedly be that they touch. Everything. I had the contents of my pockets examined, and then returned to me; I shook hands, gave hugs, held kids, gave piggyback rides, and carried little ones around with me; each one probably a hundred times over. While you’re standing and talking to someone, they’ll just keep on shaking your hand (which for the record goes broshake-handshake-snap) for minutes. All the kids come and touch you, even though they don’t know you – I was constantly holding hands. As I found out later, if you at ll bend down, sit down, or squat, you’ll induce a dog pile. I say “induce” because it borders on being one of the laws of physics – probably even more reliable. What’s fascinating about the whole thing is that touching is almost subconscious here; whereas in America we try to not touch, anyone or anything.

We began by dropping off our bags at the office, and then toured the infant’s house. These children are by far the cutest things you’ve never seen, hands down; but they are in these moldy cribs (by no fault of the orphanage – they have gotten some new ones in thanks to some serious fundraising, but not quite enough) with torn mattresses. We then visited the younger boys’ (6-12) house, and stopped by the older boys’ (13 and up) house where they were getting ready to watch the Manchester vs. Chelsea soccer match (soccer is BIG here – I’ll probably end up getting a lot of practice). Finally, we took some of the boys and went to…

…Celsbridge, one of the places (specifically a cafe) that will end up being one of my staples outside the walls of OSU. See, I don’t get fed here. I completely understand this, since the food should be saved for the children, but that leaves me with the following options (as best I understand them):

Celsbridge (the cafe): open air, very relaxed, this place is about 300 feet straight out of the front gate and specializes in meat. Well, supposedly. We ordered chips (fries), two sausages and one beef something-or-other; they were out of beef so we ordered kebab; turns out they were out of kebab, so we got the spicy chicken – and when I say spicy chicken, I mean a little chicken and a lot of spicy. I don’t believe I’ve ever tasted meat that was so searingly spicy before – I’ve done hot satays, I love kim chi, and I do like wasabi, but this was completely different. Good, but definitely an acquired taste; and speaking of acquired tastes, I was introduced to the joys of Malt soda, a barley-based carbonated energy drink, supposedly healthy and tastes like it.

Churchie’s (the pizza place): the second best pizza place, and where I think I’m going for breakfast tomorrow morning. Limited options, remember? It’s out the gate and to the left, down the street an indeterminate distance.

Novatel (the hotel): where the crews lay over, also known as one of my two lifelines – the other being the the American Embassy. I don’t know how to get to either one, yet, but I intend to find out. the reason they’re on this list is because they supposedly have the absolute best pizza, ever. I may have to check that out.

Frankie’s (the greasebucket): a hamburger and pizza place that was warned in earnest against visiting.

The Mall (…): It may or may not be close by, but it’s definitely overpriced. Still, I might stop by and get something to snack on.

Street Vendors (the natural selection): I’ll try these out when I’m ready to expire in the most grotesque display of intestinal fireworks. I think they serve goat, might be fun to try. Once.

The other building of note is the bank, where I’ll be changing my money tomorrow; out the gate, take a left, walk a bit, take another left, and walk some more. People here are reeeeal precise, let’s hope that doesn’t apply so much to the money exchange.

And after seeing all this, and learning all that, and meeting all of them, I retired to my room at one in the afternoon to blog, take a shower, and pass out.

The man next to me on the flight is a very nice Ghanain gentleman from Connecticut by the name of something I can neither spell or pronounce; the reason I know he’s nice is because he didn’t get upset when I poured my orange juice into his lap.

Yup. Let’s backtrack a bit.

I was raised on travel. My mother is a flight attendant and my family has been taking me places since nine months before I was born. People always ask me if I can remember all the places I’ve ever been to; “unfortunately” I took a lot of my trips before I started remembering things (which some would say was early last year, but they can just hush up) so the answer is no. However, I do remember just loving to travel. In the course of my blog I’ll try and throw in as many of my past trips as I can, and I welcome questions, comments and what-the-heck-were-you-thinkings.

However, to stay topical, I’m going to skip straight to the part where I’m taking a gap year before going off to college next Fall. More on that later, but what’s important is that my mom told her friends my plans; and one of them, a fellow flight attendant, suggested that I volunteer at the OSU Children’s Home (orphanage) in Accra. Apparently this woman and her entire family have been volunteering there for a few years, and love it (this includes her children, all of which are younger than me); I was eager to say yes. This would be my second time to Africa, first to Ghana; and I would be there, virtually on my own, for a “good cause.” (I’ll explain this in another blog). It would also be one of the longest amounts of time I’ve stayed in one place. Overall, it sounded like a great idea…

…especially the part where I try some new things. See, besides the “first time to Ghana” and “longest on my own/ in one place” aspects, this would be my first time setting foot in an orphanage. I used to babysit this one kid, Patrick, and he was great. He was everything one looks for in a babysitting job: very energetic, very smart, and very friendly – and there was only one of him. I am not, by any means, a kid person. Sure, I love their cute antics and I seem to get along with them well enough, but I don’t like messy, needy, disruptive, violent, disrespectful, and/or deliberately disobedient people at any age, much less when they each have the energy capacity of a small city. Also, I’ve never been much of a physical contact person, that just is what it is (but I’m getting better). I’m surprisingly okay with the poverty aspect, but the orphan part is totally emotionally incomprehensible for me (as I wish it were for most people). On top of that, I’m not sure about the prevalence of AIDS over at that particular orphanage and that never makes anything easier.

So why an orphanage? And why just jump right in to one in Ghana, rather than building up to it? I’ve been asking myself that for a while, and ‘m not particularly fond of the answers I’m coming up with. Yes, I want to travel. To Ghana? Sure. “Sure”? Yeah, I stopped looking at alternative ways to spend my November when this trip was dropped in my lap. But what about the orphanage aspect? Well, I like to try new things that would normally put people outside of their comfort zones. So you’re just going for your own personal experience? Isn’t that minimizing your goodwill? I just don’t know. In my personal opinion it’s hard to completely selfishly donate one’s time, but it is not impossible and that gray area is where I tread now. I wouldn’t be as worried if I knew that I could make a positive difference; but I’m inherently of the opinion that I can’t bring anything to the table they don’t already have (again, read my “Good Causes” post).

Fortunately, I’m [hopefully] going to be tutoring the children who attend school, and while explaining things to others has never been my strong suit I can only hope that if I take things slow and approach the job with the level of passion that I feel towards education, I’ll be able to make some sort of lasting positive impact. Isn’t that everybody’s goal for life in general though? This sort of normalcy is inspirational.

Now back to the land of the here and now, or more accurately then and there: leading up to the trip was a combination of jealousy and excitement from all of my friends and family, with a liberal dose of apprehension from the latter (I love you guys). I, surprisingly, was nonchalant about the matter. I typically try to never fret about a trip, because I like to have no preconceived notions about my experience, since they provide a digression from flexibility and opportunity. That being said, I took that notion to the extreme, to the point where my parents were questioning my resolve more than once. Not that that was an issue; I welcomed the opportunity to go over the trip with the people that have my best interest at heart; but when one of these opportunities takes place two days before the trip because I still have an untouched shopping list, that’s excessive. Try telling the people at REI that the trip you’re stocking up for leaves in 14 hours (I think they’re taking bets on my survival rate).

So I eventually get packed (true story) and during this whole time I’ve been in contact with various people for making arrangements, or at least going through the motions and faking the rest. I got my visa application sent in (rush mail and rush processed because I left it a little longer than I should have), e-mailed the head of the orphanage, and continually checked in with the woman who would be taking me over and introducing me to everyone (my mom’s friend). She was very helpful in suggesting gifts & donations to bring over, of which I only got my hands on clothes, cards and books (NOTE: if you’re reading this and at any time wish to support OSU Children’s Home, they could use anything having to do with soccer, any vitamins, and diapers, as well as clothes and books. They are in dire need of more cribs as well their current ones are moldy); she was also great help in the nonissue that arose when I heard back from the head of the orphanage. I was out of town the weekend before the trip (see my blog posts about DC) and get an e-mail that Saturday (seven days before I leave and ten days after I sent it) that says I need, among other things, a police background check. For those of you who don’t know, that is a seven-to-fourteen-day, roughly twenty-dollar endeavor that is typically performed by an employer and must be done through the mail (or online for a higher fee). Three days and two police station scavenger-hunts later, I figure that tasty tidbit out. Hence, a dilemma; so instead I begin writing a letter of credence that I thought might suffice; I end up not printing it when the woman tells me that this hasn’t happened before and they won’t turn me away for not having it. Hence, the nonissue is left unresolved.

And with all that travel preparation, on the morning of Saturday, November 6th, 2009, my dad drove me to the airport to catch the 6:15 flight to Lord-only-knows-what (but I intend to find out).