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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.

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[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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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: 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.

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