In which our intrepid hero is ready to get on with it

Greetings, everyone! I hope you’re enjoying the Olympic coverage as much as I am. For those of you who watched the opening ceremony and saw the Ghanaian Olympic team, I have a little trivia. They were wearing kente cloth, which is a traditional cloth that is made only in ghana and is woven in strips about 6 inches wide and 9 feet long. The pattern of kente bears special significance, and certain patterns are only allowed to be worn by dignitaries or royalty — I’m told that that pattern was woven especially for that team.

I’m experiencing one of those things in life where I am forced to do something that I have absolutely no desire to do. I liken it to going to the DMV, sitting through a bad movie, or going back to school at the end of the summer.

In fact, that last one is pretty much it. I went to site, did my thing, enjoyed doing my thing greatly, and then had to get on a tro and spend 8+ hours getting back here. Why am I back here? To spend another week taking some tests, do the swearing in ceremony, and then go *back* to site. I’m ready to get to work, and to use a term my mother can appreciate, I’m chomping at the bit.

On a more positive note, it was really cool to see everyone again, share pictures and stories about our sites, and commiserate about traveling. It was also good to see my host family, who have become a second family to me here.

It was also interesting to see how different life at site was from life here. People in and around my site are much more subdued; they’re still friendly, but they aren’t as insistent to know everything about you. I wonder if that comes from the fact that there have been two volunteers at this site before me (the third white guy isn’t nearly as interesting as the first), or if it is just a difference in the regional culture. My site village is also much more remote — it’s about the same size as Old Tafo, if not bigger, but the road is much rougher and a 30 kilometer trip to the nearest big city takes about 45 minutes to an hour. Old Tafo, on the other hand, is right on the main road to Koforidua, which by comparison is much nicer and makes for much quicker travel.

The most surprising part of the whole trip to site wasn’t even at site itself. I stopped at the Kumasi Sub-Office to check the place out, and I was pleasantly surprised. The place is svelte. It has wireless internet access! and a full kitchen! and hot running water! and books that I haven’t read yet! It was incredible. I downloaded email, grabbed about 17 books, and talked to a couple of PCVs who were enjoying some downtime, and then got back on the road. Now that I know where it is, you can expect pictures in about a week and a half.

Alright. I have to get ready to cook this afternoon — Peace Corps is making us prove that we can actually make edible food so that we won’t starve to death at site. My menu is grilled chicken sandwiches with tomato, cocoa yam leaves, and a carrot, onion, and eggplant tapenade… I’m feeling pretty confident that I’ll pass. As always, keep the questions coming.

In which our intrepid hero undertakes domestic proclivities

Greetings, everyone. I’m writing this email from my guest bedroom/office in my new house. I’m at site, and while I still have quite a few things to do before it’s actually livable for long periods of time, it already feels like home.

That’s right, I have a house. With multiple bedrooms. To myself. I know what you’re thinking — sometimes, this Peace Corps gig can be really rough.

First, a description of where I am. My site is in the community of Seikwa, in the Brong-Ahafo region of Ghana. Seikwa is a small, rural town that is about 90 kilometers from the regional capital of Sunyani. The nearest large towns are Sampa (the border town — I’m within a good day’s hike of Cote d’Ivoire) and Berekum, but my best guess is that Seikwa itself is home to around 1,000 – 1,500 people. They have their own market, police station, fire station, and full-service transit station, as well as a full primary school, junior high, and (my new place of employment) senior high school.

My house is located on the grounds of the local health center — in lieu of a full hospital, my community has a clinic and basic pharmacy, and provides housing for health workers that travel around the area to provide services and education. (I know some of you are likely interested in how this scheme works — I’ll let you know as I have more information.) Because the health center is about 200 yards from the school campus, and because the school campus has no housing for teachers, I get the benefit of having a quiet, private home within walking distance of my school.

The structure itself is similar to a single-story duplex — there are two homes per building, and each home has the following: enclosed courtyard, 2 bedrooms, sitting room, indoor kitchen, bathroom, and pit latrine. There is a small indoor hallway connecting all of the rooms, and there is also a small back porch which looks out onto the forest behind me. As far as size goes, it’s plenty for one person — I’m guessing that the indoor area is about 280-300 square meters (850-900 square feet), and the main courtyard is about 30 square meters (100 square feet). I do have electricity, but no running water. The nearest borehole (public well) is at the school, and I do have a large aluminum cistern for collecting rainwater, but I’ll be in the business of fetching water from here on out.

With regards to furniture, I have a desk and chair, a full-sized bed, a bookshelf, a large sitting/lounge chair, 1 kitchen-style chair, a couch, a large banquet-type table, and a small cooking table on which to prepare meals. Both bedrooms have built-in closets, which is a definite improvement from storing my clothing in Space Bags. I still need to buy things like cooking utensils, buckets extra chairs for guests, a mattress or some kind of padding for the guest bed, and

I spent most of Saturday cleaning, doing laundry (by hand — no Whirlpool appliances), arranging furniture, and unpacking. It surprised me how quickly I slid back into the routine of being “at home” — after a month and a half of eating whatever was put in front of me, it felt really good to cook and eat a meal of my own choosing, even if that meal was only baked beans from a can and toast made over the gas burner. One of my goals for Sunday and Monday is to scout the markets in the neighboring towns to see what I can find for fresh produce and household supplies. Market day here in Seikwa is on Fridays, and the market is very sizable; however, I will need to figure out where I can buy fresh vegetables throughout the rest of the week.

I’m only here for a week. I go back to Old Tafo on Thursday, and I’m there until 19 August, when I swear in and become a Peace Corps Volunteer in earnest. After swearing-in, I make my way back here in a slow, leisurely fashion to make my home more… home-like. In the meantime, I’m going to have a walk around and see about fetching some water.

In which our intrepid hero makes merry and prepares to travel once again

Greetings! Once again, I find myself writing from the confines of my mosquito net.

The Ohum Festival has come and gone, and with it life in Old Tafo returns to normal. Festivals are an important part of Ghanaian culture; they are a chance for people who have gone to other places to return home, visit family, and rekindle old friendships. They are also a time for the community to come together and plan for the coming year. This particular festival — Ohum, which roughly translates into “Survival” — commemorates the original settlers of this area, who fled from warring tribes in the north well over 100 years ago. The two weeks preceding the festival, the entire town observes a ban on drumming, dancing, and noisemaking as a gesture of respect to the ancestors and the gods. Last Tuesday, the ban was lifted, the drums were brought out, and for 5 days, a good time was had by all.

The party was headquartered at the Chief’s Palace, which was bad news for Prince B.J. Ghanaians consider it a point of pride to play their music louder than anyone else. They make the speaker stacks at SummerFest look puny. There were three speaker stacks at the palace. It was loud here, about 500 meters from the palace. In the palace, Prince B.J could *feel* the bass in his chest. After about 3 days of partying and merrymaking located about 10 feet from his bedroom, he decided to request the key to the sick bay at the training site so that he could get some sleep. The training staff, in their benevolence, chuckled and gave him the O.K.

The party ended yesterday with a giant non-denominational church service that I’m willing to guess could be heard in the next town over. Being someone who values his hearing, and who comes from a religious tradition where sitting in the front pew is considered a bold demonstration of your faith, I politely declined to attend. Instead, I went for another long walk on the road through the bush (read: remnants of rainforest) to the next town, which is a religious experience in and of itself that words cannot do adequate justice to describe.

Tomorrow is a momentous occasion, and the next few days will be busy ones, which is why I am writing this email now. Tomorrow, after teaching about 200 small children how to properly wash their hands (reasons for which are to be explained later), I go to Cocoa College in Bosu to spend 2 days with the headmaster and counterpart teacher from my school. On Friday, I go to visit my school, as well as my new home, for 6 days. I then come back to Old Tafo for 2 more weeks to complete my training, and swear in as a Peace Corps Volunteer on the 19th of August.

I cannot begin to describe how excited I am. Training has been a great experience, and my homestay family and I have bonded over the last few weeks, but just to think about living in my own home, cooking for myself, and having a clear picture of the next! two! years! It makes me smile from ear to ear.

The major goals for this initial trip is to become familiar with the town, begin setting up my home (if it’s ready), get to know my colleagues, and just get comfortable. Ghanaian Senior High Schools are currently on vacation (they do a 3 month on, 1 month off rotation), so I will have some time to work on my computer lab and figure out lesson plans. I also plan to do some wandering around and, if possible, visit the market in Techiman. Techiman has the distinction of being home to the largest open-air market in West Africa, and is supposedly one of the most incredible experiences in Ghana.

If possible, I will also stop by Kumasi and visit the Peace Corps sub-office there. Peace Corps has its main office in Accra, but also maintains two sub-offices in Kumasi and Tamale. Because it can take well over 2 days to reach the very north of Ghana from Accra, Peace Corps provides the sub-offices as a place for us to work, get our mail, and/or sleep when passing through on our way to and from Accra. Both sub-offices also have free wi-fi, so I plan to take some time in Kumasi and update my blog with all of these travelogues. I also plan to post some pictures (yes, Mom, I have been taking pictures) so that you can all get an idea of what this far-off place called Ghana actually looks like.

Well, that’s about it for now. I’ve got a 5:30 run to see to, and an exciting day afterward. Until next time…

In which our intrepid hero twiddles his thumbs

Greetings from the home of the Ohum Festival. For the next four days, Old Tafo will be a place of happiness where the alcohol flows like water and the dancing goes on until dawn. Expect a full report next week.

You know you’ve been at the Equator too long when you walk out of an air-conditioned space into the mid-day heat and think “man, that feels much better. I was *freezing* in there!” It sounds cliched, but it truly is surprising how quickly a person becomes acclimated to the temperature. Button up shirts, cotton trousers, and a crew cut go a long way towards keeping cool, and as long as you drink enough water, you usually end up just fine.

The hardest part by far is forcing yourself to drink enough water. You drink so much water that you get sick of it. Normally when that happened in the States, I would make myself something like Kool-Aid, Gatorade, or I’d go buy some sort of fruit juice. Kool-aid and Gatorade don’t exist here, nor does any kind of powered drink mix short of Oral Rehydration Salts (which taste AWFUL — I sincerely hope that none of you ever have to use them), and fruit juice is either something you walk a few kilometers for or make yourself. The other problem is making sure that you keep enough electrolytes in your system — precisely the thing that Gatorade was designed to replenish.

Thus, in my constant struggle to stay hydrated, I have resorted to making my own Gatorade. Gatorade is basically just simple sugar, a small amount of salt and other electrolytes, and a crap-ton of flavoring. I took the rehydration drink recipe from Where There is No Doctor (1 liter of water, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp baking soda), added the juice from one fresh orange, and shook until I could no longer see anything collecting at the bottom of my Nalgene. While it was far from perfect, I was able to drink two of them in the span of an hour, and I felt much better for it.

Figuring out how to make your own Gatorade is the kind of thing you do when you’ve got a lot of spare time on your hands. I’ve managed to finish 2 books in the last two days. Last Sunday morning, I walked to the neighboring town and back – a solid and respectable 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) round trip. I have spent a fair amount of time playing Ultimate Frisbee, downloading materials and software as part of a “Resource CD” for my fellow trainees, and playing around with both my personal website and some classroom management software that I might deploy at site. Even with three or four hours of language training every day, and a one to two hour technical session on most days in the afternoon, I still end up with more spare time than I know what to do with.

Most days, I end up sitting and talking to whoever happens to be around, like my friend Kwabena, my host mother, my brothers, the neighbors, or pretty much anyone else who wants to stare at/talk to the white guy. Other times, I go over to the palace and hang out with B.J. On market day, I go into New Tafo, buy myself a FanIce, and wander around the market for an hour or two just admiring the cacophony of sights, sounds, and smells. If you ever want to make a Ghanaian market lady happy, buy something from her — negotiating the price is fun in and of itself, but then she also gets the added benefit of increased business from everyone who wants to buy the same thing that the obruni (white man) just bought.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for now. I’ve got a new frequency guide for BBC World Service *and* Voice of America shortwave, so I’m gonna go kick it old school. See you all next week: same Bat time, same Bat channel.

In which our intrepid hero exercises with royalty

I completed my teaching practicum last Friday. It was a bit sad to leave the students who had helped me learn a lot about teaching in Ghanaian schools, but I was happy to be done with my daily 6am commute into Koforidua. I am also happy to be able to dedicate more time to language and cultural training in the community.

Now that I am no longer commuting, I have the luxury of time, especially in the morning. One of the benefits of living at the Equator is that you have pretty much the same amount of daylight all year round — it also happens to be the same reason for the tropical climate. Therefore, it is pretty much a given that the sun will always rise between 5:30 and 6:00am, and the sun will always set between 6:30 and 7:00pm.

Because of this, it becomes easy to slip into certain patterns. For example, for the first time in my life, I am awake by 5:30am every day, and most days it’s actually closer to 5am. As a result, I go to bed by 10:00pm almost every night. Because my language classes do not begin until 8am, this means that I now have between 2.5 and 3 hours of time in the morning to do pretty much whatever I want.

Most mornings, this means I get up, stretch, and do some sort of exercise. I alternate days of running with days of strength training and flexibility. My strength training and flexibility regimen is pretty basic — I do a few different types of pushups, a few different types of crunches, and some simple yoga poses, all to the dulcet tones of the BBC World Service. When I go running, I either go with my host brother or with one of my fellow Peace Corps Trainees.

Which brings us to the royalty part of our story. As part of our training, Peace Corps places us with homestay families in communities around our training site. It helps us to get used to living in a Ghanaian community and understand the structure of Ghanaian families. Most of us have fairly ordinary families — for example, my host father is the headmaster of the Junior High School here in town, my host mother sells clothing on market days, and my two host brothers both go to Junior High School.

However, my friend and fellow trainee, B.J., has a slightly different homestay experience. His homestay father happens to be the chief of Old and New Tafo. Chieftaincy is a traditional form of local government which is included in the Ghanaian Constitution, and combines many responsibilities of mayor, priest, and municipal judge. It is an inherited position, and is considered to be a position of royalty with the rights and privileges therein — including having your own private car and living in a palace.

In order to live in the Chief’s Palace, you must be a member of the chief’s family. This means that in order to live in the chief’s house, B.J. had to be adopted as a member of the royal family. And as the chief’s son, you are referred to as “Prince”. Therefore, B.J. Edwards of North Carolina is now also Prince Kwaku Piasa, Prince of Old Tafo.

I find a delicious amount of irony in the fact that a white conceptual artist from the southern United States is now a member of the royal family in an African village. As does everyone else in Old Tafo, who has to be content with living with Methodist ministers, retired teachers, shopkeepers, contractors, and school headmasters. Thus, to bring it full circle: I get up every other day, put on my running shoes, and walk down to the palace to pick up Prince B.J.