Monthly Archives: July 2009

Feeling Better

Just a quick update to say that I’m feeling better. I’ll be flying back to London on Monday so now I’m just buying last minute gifts and getting stuff together.

Yesterday was the last day of school and it was tons of fun. The kids didn’t have to wear their uniform and they had fun dancing and such. I’ve really loved working with the kids at the school. They’re so amazing!!! That’s definitely been the highlight of my trip and I’m going to miss them tons.

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I’ve found my Ghana stay a bit stressful of late. I think the many inconveniences are getting to me a bit. I’m also a bit lonely. I’m pretty much on my own here except for when I go to the school where I volunteer. I see Barry once in a while but he’s traveling around doing his research. While I’ve made friends with the other teachers, I find it difficult to really communicate. Most people speak English in formal situations like school but they speak Twi at home. What that means is that they can have a very basic conversation in English and for me that means difficulty in communication. Hence the loneliness. I can’t really express myself as they don’t understand me, especially my pronunciation and I barely understand them. Also, I feel a bit as though I’m being seen as ‘Miss Moneybags.’ Any time one of the teachers sees me with this or that item, they say that I need to leave it for them when I leave Ghana. That includes things like my digital camera or some of my knitting notions or even my earrings. I brought many gifts to give away as I knew this was expected, but I didn’t expect the envy with which each of my possessions is greeted. That includes innocuous things that you wouldn’t think twice about. It gets a bit annoying as I keep having to scrutinize what I wear or carry as I don’t want to be asked for it.

I’m definitely going through a homesick phase at the moment. Actually, I’ve been so homesick that I’ve changed my flight so that I’ll be leaving Ghana next Monday rather than in another 2 weeks. The school is closing for summer vacation this Friday and with no job at the moment, it made sense for me to leave now rather than travel around more. Also I might be able to find some temp work on my return to London until I head back to the states.

A few other things have gotten to me:

– Caning

I am definitely not a fan of caning students and even more so after the past week. I think on some of the days, the teachers were moody and hitting kids for no reason. They had exams last week and I kid you not, after the exams were graded some of the teachers said you should have gotten at least 90% to all the students and then pulled out the cane to lash the students the difference between the percentage they got and 90%. So if you got 80%, you got 10 lashes. I was disgusted by this and went and complained to the headmaster. I think that the caning makes teachers a bit lazy in creatively getting the students’ attention. Do this or I’ll cane you seems to be the general motto and I nearly cried at times for the reasons that some students were caned. Especially the really little ones. Even though the school is middle class, the nursery kids do nothing most days. Today, we did some coloring and I had to break each crayon into 5 pieces so that each kid had a small piece to color with. And then I cut up pieces of paper and drew some basic triangular sorts of things for them to color. The thing is though, with nothing to do, the kids get bored and start playing or running around and then they’re caned for it. It’s all a vicious cycle and really hard for me to take.

– Sanitation and Hygiene

Things just aren’t really clean here. I literally walk around with anti-bac and handy wipes and I don’t think I’m that ‘precious’ a person. The nursery kids have a bucket outside of the classroom and that’s what they pee in. This occurs at many local businesses as well. There are no toilet facilities so they use a bucket and empty it at the end of the day. There are no facilities for them to wash their hands and the whole thing is just a little gross. I think one thing I really appreciate after my Ghana experience is running water. I visited a teacher’s house and while there was a toilet, there was no running water so you had to use a bucket of water to flush the toilet and then wash your hands in another bowl of water. And I think to shower they have to use buckets of water too. This works ok if you have running water nearby but lots of people have to travel a bit to get water and then take it back home. Some of the people living near the guesthouse where I stay come over and get water from there. I can’t imagine having to live life without water whenever I needed it. The thing is, these are middle class folks. I shudder to think how much harder it is for the poor folks.

Sorry about such a negative post but everything has really been getting to me recently. And the funny thing is that Ghana is an African success story. They’re doing really well compared to other countries in Southern Africa.

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Obama Mania

I thought I’d include a quick note on the absolute Obama hysteria over here. I’m not joking, it’s absolutely insane. Obama is visiting Ghana for the next 24 hours and from the moment of my arrival two weeks ago, there’s been Obama signs everywhere. There are pictures of Barack and Michelle everywhere saying ‘Welcome Home’. Also, there are pictures of President Mills with another of Obama photoshopped in saying ‘Partnership for Change’. I’m pretty sure Barack Obama had no idea that he had signed any partnership for change with President Mills.

Today, there is 24/7 coverage of Obama in town. It’s pretty sad as there isn’t too much to report. So there’s been specials on the Obama’s car and Air Force One. Also, the coverage is just a bit ridiculous. Lots of people are lined up outside of Cape Coast castle in order to get a glimpse of Obama. Anyhow, some Americans studying abroad have joined in the mill and have been interviewed. The news spent quite a bit of time discussing how these Americans weren’t able to see Obama in person in their own country but now can in Ghana – as I said, ridiculous! Do they really think all Americans can just rock up to the White House and have a chat with the president???

Last night there was also a story about a teenage boy who bears a remarkable resemblance to Obama and how his looks affect his life. There are a number of Obama songs as well. It’s a bit scary all the hysteria and hero worship. For the Ghanaians, Obama’s visit is a great coup as Ghana is the first country in Southern Africa that Obama is visiting. I think the Kenyan gov’t is pretty pissed off that they weren’t the first. However, it’s a bit crazy how much the Ghanaian gov’t is expecting from this short visit. I think they expect the trajectory of Ghana to change over night because of this one visit. There have been a number of news chat shows discussing how this visit will impact the country. They’re expecting preferential trade with the US, more money from the international financial institutions, etc etc. It’s all a bit much.

I’m not going to lie, if I had the opportunity, I’d love to meet Obama; I’ve even decided to wear my Obama T-shirt today. But I wish that Ghana didn’t feel the need to prostrate itself at the feet of Barack Obama. It’s all a bit to obsequious and undignified.

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Volunteering – I love my new kids!

One of the school kids. She is so cute!!!

On Wednesday, I finally started volunteering. There was a slight hiccup in my plans as the school the owners of the guesthouse had assured me would like my services proved to be disinterested. From what I can gather, a contact of the guesthouse owner’s son assured him that I could work at the school; they then told me that everything was confirmed as though they had set it up with the school headmaster themselves and then it all fell through. So on Tuesday, Earl, the guesthouse owner’s son who is running the place while she is abroad, went to find me some volunteer work for me. They found a school that was happy to procure my services and on Wednesday it all began.

The school is lovely and I think caters to the middle classes though I think on viewing my pictures, many might be surprised at the facilities at the school. There is a roof and walls but then just open space instead of windows and concrete floors and ramshackle desks. However, this doesn’t take away from the fact that the students are amazing: very welcoming, extremely well behaved and interested in learning. It’s quite funny that they call be obruni or white person. To the Ghanaians, all foreigners are white, even little old me that’s never been considered white in my lifetime thus far.

Corporal punishment is still the norm over here but despite the threat of canings, the students are very happy and precocious. The threat of canings also keeps them very well behaved. Another amazing factor is that all these kids speak Twi at home; however, for school purposes, they speak English and study in English and on school premises are not allowed to speak their native language. They study French as well and they do have classes in Twi though they’re only allowed to speak that language during the allotted class time. Can you imagine American or British kids having to live bilingually?

The school currently caters to kids from nursery school to upper primary (ages 1.5 to 14). According to Earl, schools are good businesses in Ghana. This school is quite good in providing breakfast and lunch for the students which is important as they can’t monitor what the kids would eat at home or if they might have breakfast at all. However, the kids do have to pay for it; daily, weekly or monthly. I’d think it should just be part of the school fees. I haven’t sussed it out yet but I worry that maybe some kids couldn’t afford lunch one day and so would just have to do without. It’s difficult to tell though as the teachers eat apart from the kids.

So far I’ve had very Ghanaian foods for lunch. Day before yesterday was jolof rice and a boiled egg. That was a bit weird. The jolof rice is normal rice, made spicy and red somehow. Then there’s a boiled egg plopped in for protein I guess. I think, meat or fish is too expensive so instead of just having plain rice, you have an egg with it. Yesterday, I had kenke which is maize mashed up and placed in a corn husk. You then eat it with your hands, dipping it in a pepper sauce. And you have a little smoked fish to go with it. Again very tasty though I need to work on eating with my hands a bit better. Today I had kenke which is fried plantains with beans.Very yummy and probably m favorite Ghanaian food so far.

After lunch, the students had cultural activity and they were performing some dances. A bunch of the boys drummed while some other boys and girls danced. It was quite fun and the drums were thrumming.

[I have tons of pictures of everything (the Ghanaians seem to love posing for pictures but sadly the internet connection is so slow that it’s difficult to upload any of the pictures. It’s currently taking me about 1 hour to upload 4 pictures. I’ll need to go home and choose top three pictures for posting and add them to the blog at a later date.)

In other news, I’ve finished writing up the pattern for my cowl and have knitted a second prototype which I love. I asked one of the students to model it for me. Isn’t she gorgeous? The pattern will go out to be test knit and hopefully soon I will have published my first knitting pattern; yet another of my ‘to do before I’m 30’ activities checked off.

Knitted in Malabrigo Merino Worsted – Sapphire Green.

I also got another student to model the first prototype of this cowl. It looks absolutely beautiful against her skin color.

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Accra – Kumasi

Yesterday, I left my cushy lifestyle in Accra at the British High Commission to move to Kumasi, Ghana’s second city and its historical capital, where I’ll be spending the rest of my time in Ghana. What should have been a straightforward 5-hour bus ride changed when our bus broke down and we were stuck on the side of the road for nearly two hours. I saw a bit of local color as we stopped near a family home. There were the cutest kid goats. I was going to take some pictures but sadly my camera battery ran out as I was taking pictures.

Home outside which we broke down:

Baby goats had run away but here’s their mama:

I’m actually staying outside Kumasi, near Ejisu, at a guesthouse called Villa Sankofa ( Earl who runs the place with his mother is lovely and very helpful. I’d call the place shabby chic. It all looks absolutely lovely but then you realize that things don’t quite work as it should. It’s still a complete luxury compared to what I’d expected when I first decided to come to Ghana. Also, my room, which is actually an apartment, is about double the size of the studio I lived in in London at a fraction of the price.

Today I’m getting my bearings. I’ve made my way to an internet cafe and I have to go buy groceries. Tomorrow, I’ll go to the school where I will volunteer and get that set up. I can’t wait to have a bit more ‘purpose’ to my stay. I guess I’m not one of those people than can just vacation. I need a schedule and I need to feel like I’m doing something.

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Designing – Cable Crush Cowl – Prototype I

I’ve always had a crush on cables. I love their construction and so for my first attempt at a design, I used the interlocking crosses from the Harmony Guides as my center piece. Then I got cabley happy and added more and more. I lurve it though and it looks great in Malabrigo Worsted Rhodesian.

This is my first prototype of this cowl there’s still room for improvement. I’ve named this ‘Cable Crush Cowl‘. In naming this cowl, I went for my love of cables coupled with my love of alliteration. 🙂

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Hangin with the Animals

Today, myself and a number of others joined Cathy, a zoologist, at a Primate Conservation Center. These poor monkeys are endangered and we went to see the breeding center. It was a bit sad as they were all caged up. I hate seeing animals in cages. I know it’s necessary but…

Besides the monkeys, the mini zoo had some other animals hanging out.

This cute camel was one of a number given as a present to the Ghanaian government as a present from Colonel Gaddafi. It’s a bit of a sad story though. There were four camels at the center and one day some workers cutting down some trees decided to be nice and feed the camels what they had cut down. Sadly, these were poisonous trees and all the camels died. This one survived because it had been sick and been separate from the other camels while receiving treatment. Now she is all alone.

There were ostriches:

And warthogs (yes, I did break out in a rendition of Hakuna Matata!):

Also, I managed to finish this lovely shawl while here in Ghana.

Pattern: Springtime Bandit by Kate Gagnon

Yarn: Malabrigo Yarn Merino Worsted (Burgundy) 2 skeins

Needles: US 9 / 5.5 mm

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