How many volunteers are in Ghana?

About 160, all over the country.

Do you live with another volunteer?

No. We all live alone at our sites unless we’re a married couple (which I am not…SURPRISE!). The closest volunteer is about 20 km from me (as the crow flies), or an hour(ish)* by public transit.

*There is no actual reliable public transit, an hour(ish) means roughly anywhere from one to four hours.

Do you live in a mud hut?

Unfortunately not. I live in a 2-room cement building in a compound with another teacher. I have electricity (MOST of the time) and used to have running water. Those days of luxury are over – the water pump broke, the school has no money to fix it, so for the foreseeable future I’ll rely on the borehole on the school campus like everyone else. Minuses: back to the bucket bath, my toilet no longer flushes. Pluses: FINALLY an excuse to really practice balancing things on my head…and……no, that’s about it for pluses.

Are you going to steal a child?

I’m going to call forth all the powers that lie within me to try.

Do you ever feel unsafe?

Not at all. I’ve been stolen from once, and it was a small boy sneaking into my house to steal crystal light packets while I was in the other room. He was caught, all packets were returned to owner and promptly consumed.

If you stay in the sun of equatorial Africa long enough will all your freckles meld together and you’ll turn black?

A note to the wise…never ask me this question again.

Are Ghanaians amazed at your red hair?

Not at all. They think it’s brown. I’m going to write a blog about my first-ever experience as a brunette later. But to summarize my semi-scientific analysis: redheads DO have more fun.

Do you get sick a lot?

I’m pretty much in a constant state of sickness. With that said, I have yet to get anything remotely serious beyond a fever of 101 every now and then. My body prefers to take the long and steady route, and while it might take 5 full years for my digestive tract to regularize again, I have no complaints. Of course there are currently outbreaks of both Cholera and Anthrax in Upper East so…we’re gonna move on before I jinx myself.

What do you miss the most about America?

Is that a serious question? The food obviously. Oh….I mean….my friends and family.

Are you fluent in Sign Language now? Do Ghanaians use a different type of sign language?

I’m conversational in ASL. I can communicate well enough to teach a class using a lot of other visual cues, but I think it’ll take me years before I really feel like I’m fluent. Ghanaian sign language is essentially the same as the ASL from the 1980’s (read: the ASL before Americans realized some of the signs were politically incorrect and changed them. I still feel weird when I use the sign for Japanese. Luckily that particular word doesn’t come up much over here). Of course, there are subtle differences and some new vocabulary (weirdly enough the American Sign Language dictionary doesn’t have a sign for “fufu”), but I’m sure a deaf Ghanaian and a deaf American could understand each other without too much trouble.

What are you working on right now?

A couple projects, all of which I’m VERY excited about

  • Looking for funding to create a Post Junior High School vocational department at my school. This will allow even students who fail the national senior high school entrance exams to continue their education and learn a practical trade. I just need $20,000 more, so if you find it growing on the trees over there or something, feel free to send it my way!
  • Hosting a Leadership Camp for the deaf at the end of the month with 6 other volunteers. Every other deaf ed volunteer will be bringing 4 students and a teacher from their schools up to the Upper East for 5 days of the best camp ever. It’s a ton of work but I have no doubt it’ll probably be the best thing I do with my service.
  • Running an after school vocational club. Right now my students are sewing and basket weaving. We’re hoping to jump-start the bead making in the next week or two.
  • Working on an IFPRI study (International Food Policy Research Institute) – they work closely with the Ghanaian government to consult on agricultural policy. They’ve asked PCVs to help out by doing weekly interviews with a farmer from their village for the duration of the farming season and sending in reports so IFPRI can better understand the decisions farmers are making at the grassroots level. The farmer I interview is name Buzong Kennedy Sandoog and he’s awesome.
  • Hopefully planting some fruit-bearing trees around the school campus to create an internal income source
  • Planning out the logistics of fleeing the country with one or several Ghanaian children (“nuggets”) in tow

What’s the most frustrating part of service?

The transportation. No, no, no, the fact that it usually takes 4 weeks, 15 cancellations and uncountable hours of waiting for someone to actually have a meeting with you… no wait! Probably the heat. But then there’s also the aggressive men who don’t take any female seriously and propose constantly despite assertive claims that she’s already married (ok, I know I told you earlier that I wasn’t, but work with me here alright? I’ve been working a year to convince these guys and I trust you won’t blow my cover). Being called WHITE PERSON everywhere I go and always being the center of attention? No, the lack of volume control on anything that makes noise. Oh man, I can’t decide. Point is, there are a LOT of really frustrating things about service. That’s what makes the awesome parts (see list above) so damn awesome.

Is everyone a really good dancer? Are you becoming a better dancer because of it?

Yes everyone’s a really good dancer. And I’ve ALWAYS been a really good dancer and resent anyone who says otherwise. Mary’s embedded those skills in my DNA. Ok, but yeah, maybe Ghanaian’s have taught me a thing or two.

Do PCV’s ever date locals?

All.the.time. In fact many get married to locals- we have a PCV-Ghanaian wedding this month, a PCV with a Ghanaian child already, and another recent engagement announcement. You’d be surprised. Will I? No… I’m married, remember? Unless of course a prince comes along and then all bets are off.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve eaten?

The other day I helped one of my students, Sumaila, catch hundreds of flying termites after the rains. I thought we were just catching them because they were everywhere and it was annoying (literally, there were so many that if you walked outside all you could hear was a loud hum from the beating of all their wings). Turns out fried termites are delicious with a little peppe, groundnut powder and salt! Also, I tried dog (and it was delicious). I’m sorry America, you might hate me now but you’ll forgive me when I bring you African NUGGETS!


A Day in the Life

Of me, if that’s not already clear.

5:30– I wake up to the sound of sweeping, roosters and radios on full volume. On a good day, I get up and go for a jog, listening to a playlist that is predominantly Ke$ha (i dare you to judge me), and watch the sunrise over African savanna. On a bad day I stay in bed, think nasty thoughts about my neighbor’s radio, and throw pillows at my meowing cat’s head until 6:30.

6:30– At this point I put on some water for oats and coffee (if i have electricity that day…i don’t right now), and probably do the dishes I failed to do the night before. Sometime during this portion of my morning, Sumaila, a p5 student, will come knocking on my door and remind me, as he reminds me every day, to put my bowls in the kitchen so he can get me school lunch at 2. I’ll tell him, as I tell him every day, that the bowls are already there, and yes, I am going to teach p5 today. We part ways.

7:30– After I am cleaned, dressed, fed and caffeinated, I will make my way up to the school classrooms (about a 500 yard walk from my house in the teachers’ quarters). The students will all be lined up in rows according to their classes for morning assembly. This is the time to make any necessary announcements, and also when the students sign the national anthem and morning prayers. I enjoy watching the small ones the most because:

  1. they’re small and therefore cute 
  2. they don’t know sign language very well yet, so usually during the anthem just repeat the same sign over and over again and pretend they’re following along.

Once assembly is over the students MARCH in their lines to their classrooms. Again, I watch the small ones.

8:00 – First period begins. Let’s say this is a Wednesday, and I’m teaching my P5 ICT class. When I enter the class every student stands to great me “Goodmorninghowareyoufine” and we begin. Sign language is very good for some things – story telling, descriptions etc. Sign language is not very good for other things – like teaching ICT for example. I will begin my lesson using the small sign vocabulary there is for ICT-related words, sometimes making up my own signs for things like “hard drive” and sometimes just relying on the written form. Some students understand, some students dont but nod their head anyways, some students are signing to someone outside the window. Yes, the class is quiet, but MAN it’s still distracting when they try to sign over you. Dependable Sumaila sits tall in the back row, diligently copying down everything I write in his wobbly handwriting. Three students will come in late and I will scold them and they won’t care. Finally, I’ll tell the students that it’s Group 1’s turn in the ICT lab and the 10 group one members will peel off with me and enter the lab. I have printed out and laminated paper keyboards that I hand to the rest of the students with the intention they work on their typing even though we both know that won’t happen.

    side note: our computer lab used to be a tiny room with one working computer. It is now a tiny room with FIVE working computers thanks to my parents and sister-in-law donating old laptops and fellow PCV Travis taking the time to come help me set them up! Thank you guys for your help and donations, it’s made such a difference to have more computers! If anyone reading this also has an old laptop they’d like to donate to our school please contact me (via an email or comment).

Anyways, I have all my classes broken up into groups of 10 so they can fit in the lab. They will take turns doing whatever assignment I’ve made for the day, pertaining to whatever lesson I did on the board. Sometimes typing their names, using the shift key, saving and re-opening documents, or their favorite, making a Ghana flag in paint.

9:00 – breakfast time! Students head down to the kitchen for some cocoa porridge and the teachers gather under the mango tree. We discuss everything from politics, to American culture, to sick students, to whether or not deep massaging a breast will make it grow, to “church services” (ie eating dog), to the recent news from Bawku (a region about 50 Km from me that is currently undergoing tribal violence over the chieftancy). Don’t loose sleep over it, Peace Corps doesn’t let us get within a 30 km radius of the area.

9:30-12:00 – classes continue (or don’t as the case often is). Teachers not in class remain under the mango tree or make various trips to town. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I’ll teach ASL to the teachers, in addition to my other classes, which usually ends up being one of the highlights of my day.

12:00 – I’m not scheduled to teach my p4 art class until 1, but upon passing the room I notice half the class is sleeping on their desks and the other half are playing with the paper airplanes we made last week. I decide this is the moment. It takes about 15 minutes to wake everyone up (with very hard and painful looking hits to the head!) and collect the other ones who figured the school day was over and went back to the dorms. I’m feeling nostalgic today, so we talk about snow.This involves me acting a lot of things out, like shoveling, and walking and penguins. I look like a fool, the children laugh and everyone has a grand old time. I pass around some pictures of snow and then the questions start.

  • “me travel america die? (Translated: If I go to america will i die?)”
  • “someone tell me women old cold die! (I hear the cold kills old women!)”
  • “Me clothes more more more, ok? (if I wear a lot of clothes will I be ok?)”

The translations aren’t meant to make my students seem stupid – they aren’t (well…most aren’t) – it’s just proper ASL grammar vs. English grammar I’m using. People (including myself) forget that English really is a second language to the deaf, and tend to judge them when their grammar isn’t correct. Well, it IS correct in their first language – ASL. Essentially every class these kids take is a bilingual class, because nearly every teacher has to rely on writing on the board (in proper English) when their signing isn’t good enough (or when their signing is non-existent, which is an unfortunate occurrence at schools for the deaf in Ghana, see: my teacher ASL classes, above). These kids are dealing with a lot more struggles than initially meets the eye (and they’re not lacking in those either), and I’m learning to appreciate how strong and motivated they really are.

Back to my day… Finally, we talk about how snowflakes are all different and unique, and I hand out paper to have them each make their own. I leave class to 47 paper snowflakes being thrown in the air and realize the students think snowflakes are actually the size of paper….. something for next class.

2:00 – school is “over” although it’s likely there haven’t actually been any classes for a while. The students head to the dining hall for lunch, and I sweat my way to my house because at this point it’s too hot for me to think about anything but being stationary and horizontal on my cement floor under a fan (again, if there’s electricity). Sumaila brings me some school food for lunch (not great, but FREE!).

3 – 5 – Any range of activities including : laundry, sweeping my house for the 4th time that day, cleaning the mess my cats made, biking into my village for food or cellphone credit, working on Peace Corps grants/reports/stuff, writing more lesson plans, wiping the dust that layered itself on all my furniture in the few hours I was gone, hanging out with my teachers’ kids,wandering the campus and having students try to teach me the Azonto (a dance, look it up on youtube, it won’t let me post the video i have), going to America on the back of Agana’s motorbike, declining another marriage proposal, watching a football match with students crowded around one small tv the school owns, or remaining horizontal on my cement floor and sweating. This is also a time when the side of my house creates a nice shadow from the sun and turns into prime play territory for a lot of younger students. I’ve gotten quite used to the noises made by my deaf students, but when I have visitors it often catches them off-guard. It’s adorable and I prefer them to the jarring noise of a guinea fowl any day (if the students don’t play the guinea fowl take over the shade and like to be very vocal. I think the reason I like their meat more than a chicken’s primarily has to do with the fact that I feel like I’m getting my revenge…)

5:30 – DINNER TIME! Students head to the dining hall for dinner. I sometimes visit them, sometimes stay in my house and concoct some sort of meal out of whatever i have at the moment. It often involves lots of tomatoes, onions and starch, although I’ve gotten pretty good a mimicking mac and cheese using powdered milk.Peace Corps gives me pre-natal vitamins to fill in the nutritional gaps, don’t worry.

7:00 – Students return to classrooms for night studying. This time is intended for them to do their homework, but because they almost never are assigned homework usually just turns into a play time. I’ve found this is one of my favorite times to wander around and encourage them to take out their notebooks and answer the random questions they ask. Or, again, have them try to teach me how to dance (they’re just SO GOOD). If I don’t go up to the classes and hang out with the students I’m usually found in my house reading (or if it’s a night like last night, I fall asleep at 7:15 with my book open to the first page…)

9:00 – Night classes end, although many of the children have been sleeping at their desks since 7:01. If I chose to hang out with the kids that night, I’ll also head to bed and promptly pass out in a puddle of sweat.

And that, my friends, is my weekday in a nutshell!

This post is in response to a request. If there’s something specific you’d like to hear about, let me know!