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“You, like every human being, are a storyteller by birthright. You are born with an endless supply of personal and universal themes. It is important to open yourself to receive the vast wealth of imagery that lives within you. Build a hearth within you and let it become a circle of protection. In it your heart’s wisdom may ignite and burn. Ask that all who gather at your fire from your own inner skies, lands, and waters come with goodwill to share their truths in its warmth.” – Nancy Mellon, “Storytelling & the Art of Imagination”

Storytelling is one of my dedicated passions–at least for the next three weeks, and then we’ll see. Let me clarify: my job is all about supporting my boss’ incredible ability to tell a story, yes, but my personal life is being governed by an event I’m planning for November 6th, and that’s the stressful side of things.

Last summer, I spent a week in Hiroshima, visiting one of my role models and third-grade teacher, JoAnn. She and her husband were serving the end of their two-year term as the head of the World Friendship Center, a small but impressive organization that championed the rights and cause of the “hibakusha” – survivors of the atomic bomb. I can (and will) write much more about the history of the hibakusha and my experience with them during my visit, but for now suffice to say that all of this culminated in agreeing to help plan a keynote address on the Willamette campus come September. That planning process turned out to be a very enlightening journey in itself, one that was plagued by my absolute inexperience with event planning on this scale and in the Willamette community, but which benefited greatly from the sheer level of interest that people had in the stories of the hibakusha. The World Friendship Center organized a trip like this every three years, but to different locations around the world, so we were incredibly lucky to have this opportunity.

Building on that success, we’re putting together another speaking event at the start of next month that focuses on the stories of those who were involved with the Minidoka Relocation Center, of the Japanese-American internment camps during World War II. We have an interned speaking, as well as the son of Reverend Emery Andrews (the name should be familiar to anyone who took a WA state history class), and the current head of interpretation and education at the Minidoka Historical Site. It’s going to be fantastic, and it’s going to be timely: there have been an increasing number of performances of topical plays such as Gordon Hirabayashi’s “Hold These Truths” in the Pacific Northwest; there is the upcoming release of the movie adaptation of Laura Hillebrand’s riveting biopic “Unbroken”; and just in Salem the Halle Ford Museum is bringing in an exhibit about the artist’s life in interment camps and how it affects his identity even today. Willamette University’s Office of Multicultural Affairs is focusing on the internment as part of their theme for the entire year. George Takei, who was in two separate internment camps as a young child, is speaking on campus on November 11th. There is widespread interest amongst people in the area.

My challenge is to put those “people in the area” in a specific area at a specific time – Willamette’s Hudson Hall at 7pm on Thursday the 6th. Unlike last year’s event, which was generously funded in advance of my involvement, I’m tasked with raising a certain amount of funds and selling tickets is one of my limited number of options for the timeline and organizational structure with which we’re working; the other is getting sponsorship. I have experience with neither, and this is a great example of why I termed my blog “We’ll See Where This Takes Me” – the answer is always some sort of an adventure.

What’s the next step after the Minidoka event? That’s where I see the most relevance in the above quote. I have been thinking on and off about taking these two successful events – this one will be successful, I have no doubt – and starting an event-planning nonprofit. Everyone is a storyteller by birthright, and I think that there will never be a shortage of experiences to share – especially those which can educate our communities and their leaders. In fact, I’ve almost finished the first draft of the business plan for such an organization, but I’m going to have to bench it until the right opportunity arises. I know it will, but I need to get my own life in order first.

———-

[I actually had an introduction to this post, but it didn’t fit well with the rest of the text, so here it is (anachronistically) for your viewing pleasure:]

I just chugged a hefty cup of coffee, so now is as good a time as any to start writing.

 

As one of the many facets of my job, I’ve been laying the foundation of the next book my boss is set on writing. This mostly consists of researching a specific type of quote–no, I won’t divulge any more details about products currently in development–and during my slog through the sound bites I started picking out quotes that don’t necessarily qualify in his framework but seem to inspire mine. Being a philosophy major (and you’re welcome to roll your eyes in exasperation every time I say that) and specifically interested in language and the mind, many quotes, declarations, one-liners, and especially manifestos tend to strike me as either energetic fluff or distillation of once-important concepts that have been reduced past the point of coherence. At least, they did, until I started working for a motivational speaker – his job is to infuse meaning into words and experience, so I imagine that him hiring me is akin to a structural engineer hiring a demolitions crew to help run things.

 

In all of this, though, I’ve decided that these quotes I’ve been pulling out will serve as intermittent inspiration for my writing. Let’s give it a try…

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Vienna – the Fourth

Today was just simply great. It was simple; it was great. I’ve been trying to find some way of adjudicating my day using big words and long-winded sentences, but really, that defeats the entire purpose.

This morning started off with a bang. And a crash, a few scrapes, and one or two “thuds.” One of my roommates is not exactly quiet when it comes to rifling through his stuff at seven in the morning, and by “rifling” I mean “throwing his backpack against the floor, table, walls, window, and most likely the ceiling”. Needless to say, I was solidly awake by the time he finished, and ready to greet the brand new day with a smile on my face!

If you know me, you know exactly what kind of animal dropped that last steaming pile of words.

Let’s try this again:

It’s 6:10 and my watch is going off; oh joy. I had some trouble sleeping last night (does laying in bed wide awake for three hour sound fun?) so with the 6:10 alarm I’ve gotten exactly four hours and fifty minutes of sleep. My rule in these situations is that [(if hours unconscious < 6) then (the world = not worth it right now)]. This applies to the fact that I was planning on exercising this morning, which is the exact reason why I was in bed at ten o'clock – so I could up at 6:10, work out, and have my day.

Well that's not happening folks, sorry.

It's 7:00 and the civil war between my roommate, Jason, and his luggage has begun; from the sounds of it, both sides are taking heavy losses. My other roommate, Taylor, is gone, probably to forage some food from whatever the breakfast situation is downstairs. I roll over to try and block out the sound of battle, but my precious sleep has already been claimed as a casualty of war.

It's now 7:20 and the war has just been won by Jason; to celebrate, he threw a parade, out the door, with his laptop and a new outfit claimed from the enemy. I'm celebrating by turning on the little lamp over my bed to try and motivate myself into waking up. Baby steps, people.

It's 7:35 and I am crawling out of bed; after changing clothes and drinking some precious water, I continue working until Taylor comes back from the hunt and announces that breakfast consists of “yogurt, bread, jam, and some other stuff but no ham and no cheese.”

———————–

An interlude: In the short time I've been over here, I've had some sort of bread (be it a roll, croissant, or some other lump of baked dough) with cheese (generally swiss) and sliced meat (generally ham) **every** single morning, and I'm really starting to like that habit. It's tasty, generally cheap, and has carbs, dairy and protein.

———————-

With the idea of food having been established in my mind, I head downstairs to find that there is a smörgåsbord of urprisingly decent food considering this is a cheap hostel – to begin with I see that there are both plates and bowls, which means that there are at least two types of food. Further down the line I see gigantic punch bowls (for lack of a better descriptor) full of yogurt, strawberry jam, packets of butter, packets of liver spread (some people are into that), curds, and finally, orange slices; around the corner on the tables facing me are coffee, tea, and hot chocolate jugs, and across the gap are baskets and baskets of bread. As an added bonus, behind the bread table are containers of cornflakes and milk.

Let's do this. I begin by stocking up with every tool they have to offer – tray, plate, bowl, knife, spoon – and begin with the yogurt. I love yogurt. One of my favorite tv characters loves yogurt (Michael Westin from Burn Notice). Everybody should love yogurt. ANYWAY, this being some weird-looking yogurt that I have never tried before, naturally I filled up the entire bowl. Now, I should quickly describe these bowls – when I say “bowl” you're probably thinkin something along the lines of “something mostly round that-” but let me stop you right there. Height-wise, the rim of the bowl is maybe an inch and a half above the bottom; seriously, this piece of glass is only a bowl by nature of the fact that it would mke an even worse plate. So when I say that I filled up my bowl with yogurt, I mean I took maybe a spoonful and a half. Moving on from there, in anticipation of the bread to come I grabbed a few packets of butter, with an experimental liver spread packet just for kicks, got a mug with hot water and a mint teabag, and metaphorically dove into the bread baskets. One basket was full of white bread, while the ther one had pumpkin, multi-grain, and basic brown bread; there was a tray of some sort of weird pastry thing; and again, natrally I took one.

And this is when I was hit with the lunchroom dilemma. You know that little game that you play when you walk into a cafeteria and you try and decide where to sit, who to sit by, who looks friendly, who looks like they're going to eat you, etc etc etc? Well that game gets even more interesting when have the hostelling equivalent of the UN to choose from, in a strange country with strange people; not knowing who spoke what language, or who used what customs, I divebombed the last empty table and began to eat my yogurt.

Now I'm sitting here eating this yogurt (which is excellent, by the way) and watching the comings and goings of the arbitrary UN Council on Cafeteria Dynamics, when I see this American couple that I sort-of maybe had half a conversation with.

———-

Definition: “Sort-of maybe half a conversation”
A period of time where dialogue exists between two parties, but nothing important gets said. Generally takes place before introductions are made.

e.g., I'm standing at the check-in counter yesterday, waiting for the luggage room key, when Mr. American (a moderately tall, black-haired bespectacled boy probably about the same age as myself) approached the counter to check in and also asked if they could break a fifty-euro bill. The clerk said, “No, sorry, I don't have any change” which is a whole lot nicer than “Well I did have enough, but that jerk standing next to you waiting for the luggage room key payed with a hundred-euro bill and cleaned me out.” For the record, you can tell when an ATM is on it's period because it only spits out the largest bills it can find – you would think it would be consistant, but so far I have gotten my money out in only tens, only twentys, and a few mixtures of things, but this last one just spit out a solid hundred-Euro note. This wouldn't be so bad if I was buying something pricey, but I'm on a student budget – my biggest expense besides lodging is the 5 Euro that I'll spend on my next meal, and who wouldn't feel like a jerk in that situation?

Anyway, so he obviously needed some change so I enacted the half-dialogue:

“Hey, you need change?” Restatement of the obvious in a feeble attempt to break the ice.
“…Yeah” Recognition that indeed, you did just state the obvious; but wait, who the heck are you anyway and why do you want to know?
“I can do that actually; it's sort of my fault since I'm the guy that just took all her change.”
Insert feeble smile from the clerk.
“Oh great, thanks!”
Insert me smiling awkwardly at Ms. American standing behind me.

Yup. That was exciting.

—————————-

So I see this couple getting their food, and as they finish up I sort of half-wave (I don't think we need to define what that means) to try and get tehir attention. You know, nothing major, since I don't want to seem to desperate; but I'm not always so great at subtlty, and for some reason they didn't what really turned out to just be me looking like I was partially epileptic.

I love body language. Time to break out the bg guns – eye contact. So now in the midst of the UN Council of Food Consumption theres this American boy with his eyes locked on this couple and his eyebrows doing what can only be described as the funky chicken dance. Don't pretend you've never done that either. Eventually they saw that my table had lots of empty seats with one of them filled by someone who wouldn't eat them (see above note on the lunchroom game) and one simultaneous “Wouldyouliketositcanwejoinyouhere?” later, they sat down to eat.

At this point it would be typical to do introductions, but me being me I had to get cornflakes. Seriously. So I ran to go get another “bowl” and on my to get some milk I notice that in the refrigerated shelf where they're advertising soda and orange juice, they also had plates of salami and cheese for sale; not only was that exactly wht I was looking for, but 1,40 for six pieces of salami and five pieces of cheese isn't bad at all. So I dropped off my mound of corn flakes, ran upstairs to get a 2-Euro piece, ran back, bought the plate, and settled down to properly meet my compatriots.

Of course I was a little nervous about this – not because I don't feel comfortable meeting new people, I truly love it – but because they could turn out to be “my group” for the duration of my stay here, and hence my sanity is invested in this.

However, sometimes the ice breaks itself in these situations; for example, there's nothing quite like coming back to the table and hearing “I swear, Harry Potter **was** in our room last night” to really just set your mind at ease.

I'm going to enjoy these people's company, even if only for breakfast.

So there I am, standing with a quizzical look on my face, when Mr. American turns to me and just says, “Well he was!”

To which, of course, the only proper reply is, “Well it sounds like magic was happening.”

Yes, the delegates from America are just that awesome.

——–

Over the course of breakfast, I learned that the Americans have names (Andrew and Rachel) and that they, too, are on a gap year – but unlike me they are using this year to study Spanish at a university in Granada. More specifically, Andrew is on a complete gap year, and has been already accepted and confirmed at Tufts; and Rachel is going to use the credit from her studies to transfer in as a Sophomore at the always popular TBD University (I was considering going there for most of my junior year). Both are originally from Chicago; both love music. Ironic because the last time I was in Chicago was for an orchestra competition, but it's always great to meet other musicians. Andrew plays the piano (pretty well, from what I gather) and Rachel sings (although she has tried her hand at various instruments, including the bassoon). This whole conversation came up from the question, “What are your plans for the day?” to which they responded, “We were going to see the Mozart House and then the Music Museum. What are yours?” to which I in turn responded to with a quizzical look (I'm good at that) and a “Oh, you must like music” (I'm also excellent at stating the obvious as well, in case that was not already…..obvious……damn it).

My plans for the day, as they stand now, are to see Schonbrunn Palace, a supposedly very beautiful sight that is the top of the tourist to-do list in Vienna. I invited them to come with me, but you know how musicians can be. Anyway, we discussed our individual plans for the rest of the week (and just so my mother knows, I have planned out what I am doing each day, when I am leaving, the subway route, my walking path, and the operating hours and admission at each venue I plan on visiting); but it turns out that these two are heading to Prague on Wednesday and now I am very tempted to scrap the aforementioned plan that took most of last night….more on that later.

I did discuss my plans for the reat of the week anyway though, and when gesturing wildly in the air (the always-handy and questionably-effecvtive 'air map') failed we went upstairs to find a real map twenty minutes, lots of storytelling, some planning, and a few pieces of Mozartkugeln later (you can't visit the Mozart House until you have Mozartkugeln), we parted ways – Andrew & Rachel to the Mozart House and myself to my room to gather my things, and then on to Scloss Schonbrunn.

—————–

Now I'm walking through the park trying to find the palace. “What park?” I hear you asking; and I can assure you that I'm asking myself the exact same question. Guess who left their map in their room; come on, one guess. Is it the guy who meticulously planned out each little detail of his day trips? Hm? Yep. He forgot to grab the map on the way out. Now I'm walking through a large, somewhat barren park – Schloss Schonbrunn is, according to the map, over one kilometer in ech direction and has a large park, and so logically I headed for the first large park I saw at the “Schonbrunn” subway stop. Something that large should be hard to miss; and yet, this is not the correct park. Go me.

It looks like there is a large somewhat ornate building up around the corner, maybe that's it.

Nope, that says…Technical Museum? Okay, where the heck am I now?? Wait I remember that the Technial Museum was a bit above the palace….so if I turn around and head south I should see it eventually. Let's try that.

Or I could just actually turn around, since the palace is now staring at me from across the river. I'm not usually this bad with orientation, I swear.

————

I'm just inside the palace now. I walked through a rather large courtyard, into a little side door, and was greeted by a massive line for tickets extending from the ticket booths at one end of the room all the way to the ticketing kiosks at the other. Yeah. So I bought my ticket, walked around the gigantic queue, and entered the museum no problem – and then got my audio guide and proceeded to waltz up the stairs, literally (because in Vienna, waltzes are the background music for everything).

But speaking of stairs, these were cool. Aptly named the “blue stairs” they were adorned with a royal blue carpet running down the middle of the marble steps that turned up to the second floor, Above us were tall windows with ornate framework (only one was restored to it's original gold covering) and above that there stretched a beautifully painted ceiling of some obscure reference to Austria's power (seriously, it was not described). The audio guide did say, however, that the palace was originally a hunting lodge that was later converted to a live-in palace; but even as a palace it was much less ornate until Maria Theresa and Queen Elizabeth of Austria (called Sissi) had it redecorated and maintained in a rococo style.

I'm not going to write a history paper here, so don't hold your breath, but I am going to go into detail so if you want to skip to the next part, scroll down until you see the dashes.

We worked our way through the Guard room, where four mannequins were on display in various military garb – this was the room where the guards protected the emperor's chambers, and it was where anyone who wanted an audience with the the emperor (Franz Joseph I) had to pass through. Next was the reception room, where, as named, people waited for the emperor; it had a rather large pool table to entertain the guards. attached to this, but closed save but for viewing, was the aides-de-camp room, where the emperor's aides would wait to help the emperor for whatever he might need; and then there was the emperor's study itself, a beautiful room made of what must have been chestnut, with bookshelves, a simple yet regal desk, and a series of beautiful gold candlesticks “scattered” about. Apparently Franz Joseph I gave audience to over 100 people almost every single morning, and had an excellent enough memory to not forget any details. I was impressed.

The next three rooms were unfortunately under constructions, with the walls covered and the furniture removed; apparently they were the bedchamber of Franz Joseph (where he died), his latrine, and one other thing that I'm not too sure about. Past that were a series of three rooms that belonged to Sissi, the emperor's cousin and wife, beginning with a “closet” (that's what they call smaller rooms in the palace, but the rooms themselves are still rather large) that had a door to a deck on the right, and a doorway to the “Staircase Room” on the left (going forward was not an option since this served as a corner of the palace). The Staircase Room was Sissi's study, but named for the large spiral staircase that went through the floor into the empress's private bedchamber – however, this staircase was removed after the deposition of the last emperor. An interesting fact that we learned at this point in the tour was that Sissi was considered to be one of the most beautiful women in Europe at this time – and took great pains to keep it that way. She would pursue physical activites that kept her in shape (which was a little unusual at the time), she would more often than not completely skip dinner with her family so that she wouldn't eat, and she spent hours each day maintaining her ankle-length hair; and in the next room, her makeup room, I saw some impressive combs to match that statement. Past there was the family dining room, a beautiful white room with a large central table, fully set as if for an impending meal using the silver pieces from the silver museum collection.

After that, we saw so many rooms that the order now escapes me; but they were all beautiful, especially the ones built with Chinese art (there were two beautiful blue and white Chinese rooms, and one room with black lacquer panels with Chinese art on them). There was also one room in the palace dedicated as the “Napolean Room” where he stayed during his two occupations – but more than Napolean, his son Flancy was the subject of that room. There was a large portrait of him in the garden, and a bust of him on his deathbed at the age of 21 (taken by lung disease) – but what I've never seen in a museum before is that they stuffed and mounted his pet bird on a desk in the center. It was interesting, but unusual.

Overall, the art in Schonbrunn palace was fantastic, with many gigantic paintings renowned for their detail and accuracy, mostly depicting large ceremonies (i.e. weddings) in its history. Additionally there was quite a lot of history attached to each room (as opposed to the palace as a whole); for example, the Napolean room; the recital hall, where the six-year-old Mozart performed for what I beliee was the first time, then ran over to the queen, jumped on her lap, threw his arms around her and kissed her on the cheek. One of the China rooms that I mentioned earlier was used as a secret meeting room for the queen and some of subordinates for certain political matters. There was simply a lot of character throughout the palace, and I would recommend seeing it if you get the chance.

——————-

Now I'm out front the palace again, and I need to figure out how to get to the back; there are supposed to be some impressive grounds, although the maze & labyrinth are both closed (that's what they call it, but I'm not quite sure of the difference between the two).

——————-

Impressive, despite being a reltively strong word in the English language, is not half as descriptive as necessary to define the grounds of Schloss Schonbrunn. There is a cafe called Gloriette; on the map it is in the middle of the grounds, but in reality it is fifteen minute walk from the palace, and then up a six-story hill, overlooking the entire city, and every single step of the way is a beautiful aspect of landscape and architecture. Seriously, look at the hundreds of pictures I took when I post them. Just the lighting was a sort of religious experience, solely illuminating the palace when I reached Gloriette. I could go on and on, there are seriously not the right words to describe this event.

And on that glorious note, a happy ending to my day, I traipsed back over to the subway station, back to the Hutteldorf station, grabbed my token Durum for lunch (more on that later) and got to the hostel to shower and relax.

———-

A note about the showers at the hostel – you press the knob and have ten seconds of water. For a five minute shower, this translates to pressing the knob 30 times, at least; or at least that's what they want you to do. My way is a little nicer – take two shower curtain clips, link them together, snap one around the pipe that connects the front lateral pipe to the joint, and snap the other one around the handle, and take a nice 25 minute shower.

———–

Post shower, which is the point I'm at now, is going well – I'm chilling in the lounge off the lobby of the hostel, a raher funky room with orange and red cushioned chairs, well-designed lamps, and a rather cheery paint job – and I've been working, and will continue working until much later tonight.

Hope you enjoyed this entry, I know I did. There will be more, both about my time spent in Frankfurt, and the rest of my travels throughout the year. I promise you this, as well as lots of pictures.

Happy New Years!s

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

There is an extremely vocal goat outside my window.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.