Final Thoughts and Reflections on Ghana and the Power of Education

I had two main purposes while in Ghana: the first was to help GHEI in any way possible and the second was to learn as much as possible. But, as someone who really wants to make a difference in the world, I knew I wanted to make a lasting difference during my short time in Ghana. I suppose even before I ever stepped foot in Ghana I had thought about how to best make a lasting difference in such a short period of time. Once I arrived in Ghana, specifically in Humjibre, I had conversations with a variety of people as to how I could best achieve this goal.

The answers I received varied. I heard that just by being there makes a difference. I heard that by working with GHEI and helping the organization achieve its goals makes a difference. I heard that by simply playing with children on a day-to-day basis makes a big enough difference because it is unlikely the children receive that attention and interaction anywhere else. I heard that my knowledge of education and different teaching strategies makes a difference. Even after doing all of the above, I still hadn’t thought that my contributions in Humjibre would be everlasting.

In fact, I still don’t think my presence in Humjibre is everlasting. However, I do know that I found my purpose in being there, in GHEI’s presence in the community, and in education. See, although I am a teacher, I was oftentimes conflicted while in Humjibre because who are we to encourage a community to learn about education and health if they can be happy without our presence? Before going to Humjibre, it was important to me that there was a local, in-country staff that was comprised of community members. I never wanted to be part of a crew of white people in a foreign land trying to sell a product, whether that product was education, religion, or lip balm.

Honestly, I’m a purpose-driven person. I need a purpose to be motivated and invested. By finding this purpose, I can continue to work towards making an everlasting difference in Humjibre and elsewhere. There was one night in particular that sticks out in my mind. This night was Wednesday, June 26 and was the night of no sleep due to a party in the community center.

Because I couldn’t sleep, I went outside to hang out and be part of the commotion. It was near the community center where I encountered a group of children hanging out socializing and laughing. The group seemed like fun so I joined gravitated towards them. There was a clear language barrier (as these kids ranged anywhere from 6-12 years old) but, as we all know, smiles are universal.

For some reason, I’ve always felt comfortable around kids of this age and I’ve oftentimes been complimented on being “good with kids”. I enjoy their youthfulness, energy and infectious behavior. I also enjoy the break they provide me from the “real world”, as most children aren’t bogged down by day-to-day life that can be, at times, overwhelming and disheartening.

On this night there was one little girl in particular who acted more energetic, carefree and genuinely happy than anyone else, including other children. I add the caveat of being “genuinely” happy because there is a saying in Ghana where the people keep “smile when suffering”. While I believe the U.S. needs to adopt this unique perspective, this little girl was as genuine and honest in her laughter and smile that a human can be. The girl’s name is Sarah.

Sarah, her friends and I played a variety of games together. Many of these little games are ones I learned from my own dad, who is far superior in playing with children than me. All of the children loved the games, and I don’t intend that to be arrogant. Anyways, per her youthful energy, Sarah seemed to enjoy the games more than most. Yes, all of the children were smiling and laughing but no one smiled or laughed quite like Sarah. The children were theatrical, as children are, when I would pat them on the head after a missed high five or softly flick them in the throat. But, none were as theatrical as Sarah.

Sarah is the type of child who is so seemingly happy in every sense of the word that it’s almost infuriating that someone can be that happy. I want to be that happy and I want everyone else to be that happy. Herein lays the purpose of GHEI, education and my work. To preserve and foster that happiness, Sarah needs to be afforded an education. Sarah (and everyone else) deserves the opportunity to not only learn, make goals and create dreams but she also needs to be given the tools to become a lifelong learner, to reach her goals and to make her dreams come true in order to live a happy and fulfilled life.

This is the true power of education. Some people have no higher inspiration in life than to work a menial, thankless, 9-5 job and there is, in my opinion, absolutely nothing wrong with that. People should be able to live their life however they see fit (given that they don’t do anything Aaron Hernandez-esque). However, people should be exposed to different options. Basically, education provides people choices. We’ve all heard of the term “educated decision”. Well, there are few things in life that are more tragic than “uneducated decisions” (and, just to clarify, there are plenty of educated people who make uneducated decisions on a daily basis, just look in the realm of politics).

If Sarah doesn’t have access to an education, she may never be able to make educated decisions, she may never be able to have goals or dreams, and, without hopes of achieving goals and dreams, what is there to live for? The last thing I want is to see all of the life, the youthful energy and infectious smile to be sucked out of Sarah by not giving her a chance to develop and chase whatever dreams she may have now or in the future. That would be a tragedy in every sense of the word.

Yes, I have mentioned that people seem happy in Ghana. Yes, I think this is due in part because of the immense poverty. And yes, I know that sounds weird. However, consider this: Thoreau, in Walden, advises us to “simplify, simplify” and to “cultivate poverty”. It’s a pretty easy concept if you think about it. I’m going to steal this analogy from a movie (Up in the Air) but…imagine you have a backpack. First, you fill it with the smaller items in your life, whether it’s your phone, laptop, books, whatever. Next, you fill it with the slightly larger items you have: your chairs, desks, tables, etc. Then, you fill it with the largest items you have: your car, your house, your boat, etc. That backpack gets very heavy vary fast.

This is the life most of us lead; one that says we are “free” but we are really not. Rousseu opens his Social Contract by stating, “Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains.” These societal chains are put on by the government, our jobs, our families, but mostly we put them on ourselves. It becomes pretty obvious that to be truly free, you have to shed your attachments. In other words, simplify and cultivate poverty. Less is truly more.

However, my purpose isn’t to cultivate poverty. My true value isn’t to convince others to cultivate poverty. Yes, I see value in cultivating poverty. Yes, I see value in changing our perspective to “smile when suffering”. However, the true value in life is in education. I believe that humans are inherently and naturally “good”. If we can give people the necessary tools to make educated decisions, I believe our society and world will become a better place. Simply put, we need to let people, like Sarah, have the opportunity to obtain a quality education.

This is GHEI’s purpose and this is my purpose. I want to help all people obtain access to a quality education. Education is the one thing in life that can help all people achieve their dreams and goals. True, sports do that for some. True, music does that for others. There are other avenues to achieve your dreams. But for the overwhelming majority of people, education is a necessity in order to achieve dreams. With an education, you have hope. Without hope, what is there to live for?

Remember: It doesn’t always matter what dreams you chase in life, what matters is that you have the chance to dream.

To learn more about GHEI, please see the following and, if possible, consider donating:

Website: ghei.org
Blog: http://gheinews.blogspot.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/GhanaGHEI
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GHEI.Ghana

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Ghana – Days 19-20

Note: I’ll be blogging about my time in Ghana over the course of the next few weeks. Some entries will cover the course of multiple days while some will cover the course of only a day.

Ghana trip – Days 19-20

Day 19 (7/1/13)

July 1st not only happened to be my last day in Ghana but it is also a national holiday in Ghana: Republic Day. This meant that since we were in Accra, the capital city, there would be a lot of things going on. However, this didn’t mean that we would be doing a lot. Rather, Happy, John and I had plans to relax on the beach and, if lucky, go to a football match at Accra Sports Stadium.

You would think that after spending three weeks in Ghana that my nerves and anxiety would be completely gone. While most did disappear while in Humjibre, there is something about the uncertainty of travel that makes me nervous. When traveling, unless I’m driving, I never feel like I’m in control and I always know that nothing is guaranteed to work out as planned. I guess that sums up life in a way. I knew that on the night of July 1 I’d be boarding a plane and then landing (hopefully) safely at JFK in New York. Spoiler alert: I made it to JFK.

Anyways, we went to the beach in the morning and spent a good amount of time sitting on the shore, walking along the shore and relaxing in beach chairs. There is something about the ocean that makes one think. Maybe it’s because the ocean is so mysterious in so many different ways. I could stare at an ocean all day long and probably never get bored.

View from Accra beach

View from Accra beach

Nothing extremely noteworthy happened at the beach because, well, we were at the beach and we relaxed. We mostly sat, had some beer (I had two bottles of Guinness), and talked. There were a lot of people out and about and as we were leaving many more were arriving for the night’s celebration. Kids were all over in the water playing around per usual.

John and Happy on the beach

John and Happy on the beach

Representing Wisconsin

Representing Wisconsin

Enjoying some Republic Day drinks

Enjoying some Republic Day drinks

After the beach, we went to Accra Sports Stadium to catch some of the President’s Cup football match. The president of Ghana himself was in attendance, which I thought was really cool. Tickets were insanely cheap (they cost the equivalent of about $1.50 USD) especially considering the match featured the two best teams from Ghana. One of the teams is based in Kumasi and the other is based in Accra. The team from Accra, the Hearts of Oak, won 2-0 and with the victory, obtained the gold trophy. The whole experience was a pretty cool spectacle.

Happy, John and me at Accra Sports Stadium

Happy, John and me at Accra Sports Stadium

We left the stadium with about 15 minutes left in the match because we needed ample time to get back to the hostel to grab our belongings and so I could get to the airport with enough time to spare. It was at the hostel that I said my goodbye to John, as he was staying to travel in Ghana for a few extra days. I really appreciated his presence throughout my trip, as I enjoyed our conversations and the company.

Happy then took a cab with me to the airport so he could see me off. We said goodbye there and I was off to figure out how to get home. I waited in the check-in line for close to an hour, filled out my immigration card in line, and made a contact with a woman who actually lives in Massachusetts.

After checking my bag, I went through immigration to security and then to my gate. The airport was pretty easy to navigate and I was really hoping JFK would be the same (as I’d have to go through baggage claim, immigration, customs, check-in, security, etc. all over again). After waiting about an hour to board my flight I was finally on the plane that would take me back to the U.S.

Day 20 (7/2/13)

The flight from Accra to JFK was as amazing as a flight as it could have been. I had more than enough leg room and I also occupied the window seat, so I was able to lean up against the side of the plane and fall asleep. I did feel bad about having to get up a few times to walk around and freshen up because every time I had to get up I had to have the lady to my right get up as well. Although I didn’t feel too bad seeing as it was a long flight, so what can you expect?

In fact, even though the flight was long, it seemed extremely short. I started out by finishing up Things Fall Apart and then watched the movie Stupid, Crazy Love that was shown as part of our in-flight entertainment. After the movie I fell asleep for a solid six hours. During that six hour span I have no idea what happened…I didn’t wake up once during that block of time. It was the best sleep I had gotten in a long time. The flight lasted close to 11 hours and after my sleep, I only had about 90 minutes left to go. It was awesome.

We landed safely at JFK in New York and I made it through immigration, baggage claim and customs with no issues. I then had to re-check my bag and although the lady at the counter didn’t exactly inject me with optimism that it would show up in one piece (my African mat was tied and strapped down to the outside of the bag) I let her take it. I assured her, and by doing so, myself, that since it arrived that way from Africa then it could make it to Madison.

I went through security again, and then boarded a bus that took me to my terminal. This was at about 5am so I was able to text family/friends to let them know I was back in the U.S. I was also able to call Rachael and hear her voice for the first time in three weeks. Once I found my gate I brushed my teeth, found some coffee and ate my last two granola bars that had traveled to and from Ghana with me. I felt pretty relieved to have navigated through JFK successfully and, at this point in my trip, I was just ready to get home.

Since it was nearly impossible to jinx myself now that I was back on U.S. soil, I made the following notes in my journal:

  • I wore sunscreen not even a handful of times (total) and was only mildly burnt once.
  • I wore bug spray/30% deet only 3-4 times, slept with no bed net 3 nights and, to my knowledge, was never bit by a mosquito (or any other bugs for that matter). Chalk this one up to luck in its simplest form.
  • I never used the first aid kit or any medicine I bought specifically for the trip. The only pills I took were Advil for my ankle and I took diarrhea pills for 1-2 days and then that little bug went away.

While sitting in the JFK airport, I tried to reflect on my time in Ghana. I knew that what I had just done was a rare, true once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was able to easily recognize that fact. However, my body, my emotions, etc. didn’t really feel any sort of shift or adjustment. I left the U.S., went to Ghana, and then I was back in the U.S. That was it. Maybe I would experience something in the coming days but to be honest, my lack of emotions frightened me.

If you know me, you know I’m not outwardly emotional as it is. However, I expected that something like this, especially being a first time international traveler and just an overall inexperienced person in life, would really impact me. It wasn’t until I had a public presentation in Evansville nearly a week later that I became outwardly emotional for the first time. But while sitting in JFK I was a little scared of being emotionless. I made a note of knowing what I like, dislike, love and hate but was I capable of outwardly showing these emotions? Should I be content with being so calm and even-keeled? I guess after reading this paragraph I still don’t have the answers to these questions.

Back to the travel: my plane from JFK to Detroit was delayed one hour and while this caused a little bit of anxiety I was ultimately thankful because it meant I had nearly no layover time in the Detroit airport. The flight from Detroit to Madison was only 45 minutes and because of the time zone change, I actually gained some time back. We were in the air above Detroit at 12:20pm and landed in Madison at 12:00pm.

It felt good to land in Madison and it felt even better to get my bag from baggage claim and to realize that yes, I had finally made it back home. My trip was now officially over but my experience wasn’t. I thought back to how scared I was boarding the initial flight to Ghana and how once I arrived in Ghana I felt completely and oddly at ease. I looked forward to coming home to share my experiences but now that I was back home having a beer in the Madison airport, I was already getting nostalgic.

Even though this was the end of my journey from the U.S. to Ghana and then back, I still have one more important entry to make about this experience. That entry will serve as my “wrap up” and will contain some final thoughts and emotions as I still continue to try and comprehend and appreciate the full experience of my time spent in Humjibre and in Ghana.

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Ghana – Day 18

Note: I’ll be blogging about my time in Ghana over the course of the next few weeks. Some entries will cover the course of multiple days while some will cover the course of only a day.

Ghana trip – Day 18

Day 18 (6/30/13)

We left our “hotel” a little before 7am and walked to the bus station in Kumasi. Turns out, we were late by just a few minutes, which meant a long wait to see the next bus filled. As I mentioned in an earlier blog entry, there are no departure times for Ghanaian modes of public transit. If you were the first person on the bus, you waited until it was full. If you were lucky enough to be the last, then there was no wait. Unfortunately for us on this morning, we were the first ones.

Talking with Happy while waiting for our bus to fill

Talking with Happy while waiting for our bus to fill

After nearly 90 minutes of waiting, we boarded the bus to Cape Coast. This time waiting wasn’t all wasted, however, as it allowed me sufficient time to find some bowl fruit for the first time since leaving Humjibre. As we boarded the bus, John and I were once again placed in the front seat with the driver with everyone else crammed behind us. I still felt as if some injustice was taking place but the selfish part in me didn’t raise much of an argument this time. This was partially because I did spend a few minutes sitting in the back and my knees were up against metal the entire time. Seeing as we had a couple hours in of traveling in front of us, and considering that I was easily the tallest person on the bus, I didn’t feel as bad about my preferential treatment this time. However, as I write this remotely looking back on my experience, I feel bad now.

Upon arriving in Cape Coast at about noon, we had lunch outside of the slave castle before taking the actual tour. Luckily, we were able to store our bags behind the reception desk at the castle, so that wasn’t much of a concern. At this point in the day it had gotten pretty hot. But, the sight of the ocean was really cool. This was only the second time in my life that I saw the ocean, so it was pretty amazing to me.

View of the ocean from Cape Coast Castle

View of the ocean from Cape Coast Castle

The tour of the Cape Coast castle cost about $10 USD and it cost another $10 USD for the right to take pictures. This seemed (and still seems) pretty outrageous to me but it was worth every single cent. The castle was used to store and ship about one-third of the total number of slaves from Africa. This means that roughly 8-9 million people were shipped from this castle (not including the ones who died at the castle).

Backside of Cape Coast Castle

Backside of Cape Coast Castle

We saw and stood in all five of the men’s chambers. Each chamber held 200 people each, for a total of 1000 at a time. The chambers differed slightly, but the similarities were that each at minimal light (maybe 1-2 small openings that showed natural light since there was no electricity at that time), there was an elevated spy hole so the Danes, Swedes, or Brits (all controlled the castle at one point or another) could keep an eye on the future slaves, and the chambers were all roughly only 25’ x 15’. The men stayed in the chambers (and only there) for three months before being shipped out.

Only source of light from inside the male chamber

Only source of light from inside the male chamber

Our tour guide was great and he really made me feel the history of the place. Part of me wanted to block out the fact that I was standing in the places where slaves stood once upon a time. Part of me wanted to think that this place was constructed after the fact. I’m not sure why I wanted that but maybe I was just afraid or overwhelmed at where I was at the time.

I’m not nearly a skilled enough writer or orator to capture the magnitude of what I felt while on the tour. Since the vast majority of the people on the tour were not white, I felt some shame in being white. This mush have shown on my face because on the tour, a Ghanaian man came to me and said, “It’s ok now brother, I’m glad we can all get along…it’s not your fault.” I didn’t really know what to say, so I just silently nodded.

The most impactful part of the castle I saw, by far, was the chamber for people who tried to rebel or run away. This was most certainly a death chamber. There were three doors blocking the entrance to the room and there was only one entrance/exit, so all three doors blocked the one. There was also no source of light.

The tour guide explaining the death cell

The tour guide explaining the death cell

The tour guide actually closed the door (on purpose) for only 10 seconds so we could get a sense of the darkness. The heat, humidity and darkness was almost unbearable for that short time, so I can’t imagine what it would be like at all hours of the day.

To provide a deterrent for others to rebel, these people received no food or water and were locked in this chamber to die. There was no air ventilation of any kind. Many people resigned to their fate and started killing each other (as a favor) or committing suicide. You can actually see and feel on the ground where they would strangle themselves as others. There are divots, ruts and grooves where the shackles dug into the cement floor while the killing took place. I still can’t wrap my mind around this.

Picture of the floor of the death cell, clearly scuffed by shackles

Picture of the floor of the death cell, clearly scuffed by shackles

We also saw the white governor’s quarters, which were unsurprisingly spacious. There was also a plaque unveiled in 2009 that marked the visit of President Obama and his wife. Another plaque situated near Obama’s was donated by village leaders of Ghana. During the days of slavery, many chiefs were active participants by selling their people in exchange for goods. While it is doubtful that these chiefs knew what the people went through, it does force one to kind of pass some of the blame onto them (our tour guide acknowledged this). The plaque vows to never let this happen again.

Plaque given by chiefs

Plaque given by chiefs

Another part of the tour was walking through the “Door of No Return,” which was the same door that the aforementioned 8-9 million future slaves passed through before boarding a ship. On the backside, there is a new sign that reads, “The Door of Return.” This is to symbolize the return of blacks to their native land of Ghana (or Africa).

The Door or No Return

The Door of No Return

The other side of the door: The Door of Return

The other side of the door: The Door of Return

Needless to say, the castle was incredibly memorable. Contact me if you’re interested in hearing more about it or if you’d like more pictures. Or, simply Google “Cape Coast Castle” and look at the haunting images and read about it. It’s truly worth your time.

Following the castle tour, we again were unlucky, as we were one of the first arrivals to try and board the bus to Accra. We waited for about an hour before hitting the road. The ride to Accra wasn’t horrible, as it took a little over three hours. However, it became horrible once we hit the outskirts of Accra, as traffic clogged everything up.

This would be my last night spent in Ghana, and that fact was not lost on me. We stayed at a Salvation Army hostel type place. Our room had seven beds and was open to anyone, but it turned out to be just Happy, John and myself. There weren’t any bed nets here either but, at this point in my journey and after seeing how many mosquitoes there were, I wasn’t too worried about it. I mean, I was taking malaria medication for a reason.

When we went out for dinner, all of the televisions were showing the preview of the Spain-Brazil final of the 2013 Confederations Cup. I asked Happy how big a deal it would be if someone from Humjibre would play for Ghana’s national team. He said there are two girls from Humjibre who play for the national team. One plays on the senior team while the other plays for the U20 team. Needless to say, for a small village like Humjibre, this is a really big deal. Apparently the entire village stops while these two are in action.

Happy also revealed that he was selected to play for Ghana’s national team, as he was on a team that won the national championship and he, along with some of his teammates, was chosen to play for the Ghanaian Black Stars. However, Happy ended up choosing education over football. He wanted to finish senior high school before joining the team. However, when he finished school, his spot was already gone.

I asked Happy if he had ever regretted his decision to choose education over a spot on the national football team and he said no because he feels he is doing the right thing by helping his home community of Humjibre through GHEI and teaching. Happy stressed multiple times his desire to be part of the history of Humjibre and part of the team that made education important in the village. I think he already has achieved this goal and because of that I have nothing but respect and admiration for Happy. And, because Happy is educated and he sees the true value in his work, there’s no wonder why he is happy (put intended).

So it was that after writing in my journal and falling asleep, my last night in Africa came and went without anything too noteworthy, which is probably a good thing. For this blog, I have two posts remaining, one on my final day in Africa (which includes my thoughts/emotions on my travel back to the U.S.) and one on the most impactful “event” of my time in Ghana. Hint: I haven’t written about this “event” yet.

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Ghana – Day 17

Note: I’ll be blogging about my time in Ghana over the course of the next few weeks. Some entries will cover the course of multiple days while some will cover the course of only a day.

Ghana trip – Day 17

Day 17 (6/29/13)

At about 4:30am we rose to depart Humjibre. We were to leave at 5am and by that time Happy had already summoned a cab to take us to Bekwai, where we would board a bus to take us to Kumasi. Our plan for the day included traveling to Kumasi and then going to the market, the cultural center and wherever else seemed interesting to us. Usually, GHEI has many more volunteers but again, this was kind of nice for me because it was just Happy, John and I, so we could really do whatever we wanted to do.

When we got into the cab to leave Humjibre, I wasn’t really feeling too many emotions at the time. To be honest, I was more scared than anything because I realized it was my first cab ride in the dark. I’ve already detailed how the driving works in Ghana and how the cabs differ from American cabs. Needless to say, I was wide awake as we made the short journey to Bekwai.

We made it to Bekwai safely and boarded a trotro. It was an uncomfortable situation since John and I were, as usual, the only two white people on the bus and we were the two (randomly?) picked to sit in the front seat next to the driver. It made me feel uncomfortable because all of the Ghanaians, including Happy, were crammed in the back of the trotro while John and I were able to stretch our legs in the front seat. John assured me that arguing about the situation would do no good.

The bus ride to Kumasi took less than three hours because we left so early and were able to avoid any heavy traffic. This was extremely nice and welcoming. Once in Kumasi, we took a cab to our “hotel”, which was really a mission guest house that is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. It was really clean, quiet and there was a shower down the hall from our room, which was extremely advantageous seeing as I hadn’t showered in two days.

After checking into the guest house, we went to Ghana’s Cultural Center. John and I did a tour and saw some really cool artifacts from the Ashanti kingdom. Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed. One of my favorite artifacts was the fake golden stool that was given to the British by the Ashantis. The golden stool symbolized the Ashanti king’s power and no one, including the king, is allowed to sit on the stool. The fake stool was made with bronze but was heavily coated in gold to fool the British, who demanded it upon colonizing Ghana. However, the Ashanti kingdom fooled the British by giving them this fake stool for a number of years, until the British realized it wasn’t the real golden stool. The British were never able to get their hands on the stool and to this day it remains in the Ashanti king’s palace but is closed to the public. I wonder if it exists.

My other favorite artifact was a bag supposedly filled with valuables by Okomfo Anokye. Okomfo Anokye is a really big deal in Ghana. He was the one who summoned the golden stool from the heavens in the 1600s and also stuck a sword in the ground (more on this in a bit) that symbolizes Ashanti unity. This bag was apparently filled with valuables from Anokye but has never been opened. I was really skeptical of this story, especially because I was within inches of the bag (although it was behind glass casing). However, when I went to Washington D.C. I was within inches of the Declaration of Independence and I’m not skeptical of that, so who knows. However, Okomfo Anokye does have some crazy stories attached to his name, like the sword I’ll write about in the next paragraph and because of the fact that he was born with dreadlocks.

Statue of Okomfo Anokye in Kumasi. In his right hand is the stool and in his left is his sword.

Statue of Okomfo Anokye in Kumasi. In his right hand is the stool and in his left is his sword.

To symbolize the unity of the Ashanti people/kingdom, Okomfo Anokye stuck a sword in the ground that has been there ever since. Think of this like Excalibur, as no one has been able to pull the sword out of the ground. The last person to attempt to pull it out was Muhammad Ali, who visited the site in the 1960s. No one is allowed to touch the sword now.

Okomfo Anokye's sword (bottles for libation are scattered around)

Okomfo Anokye’s sword (bottles for libation are scattered around)

The only time the sword has ever moved was when the British bulldozed the area around it in hopes of getting the sword out. However, the sword disappeared for two months and then reappeared in the same exact spot once the British departed. Again, I’m skeptical but it makes for some awesome stories.

Closer picture of the sword

Closer picture of the sword

After visiting the cultural center and the sword (they are in two different places), we went to the Kumasi market. The market is a daily occurrence and is absolutely insane. People and things are literally all over the place. I was glad we didn’t spend too much time there especially because I nearly dry heaved while walking through the fish/meat portion of the market. I’m not sure if Happy or John are reading this blog but I will say thank you to both of them for walking fast because if I had spent more time in that area I would have thrown up all of my food. There is no refrigeration of any of the fish/meat so it’s all just lying on wooden tables and baking in the sun.

Happy, John and I then had lunch at a very touristy spot. It was heavily air conditioned and contained more white people than I had seen in weeks. I ordered some vegetarian pizza, which was a nice respite from the usual Ghanaian diet. We had an interesting conversation during lunch that in part included Happy revealing that Ghanaians refer to America as “our masters”. This is in part because of U.S. aid given to Ghana in in part because of slavery. So when some Ghanaians refer to the U.S., it’s not uncommon for them to say, “our masters”.

After lunch, Happy and John went back to nap and I went to an internet café to check in with home. Instead of reading the world news, I was interested in what was happening in the sports world. To give you some perspective on what I had missed, these are the following bullets I made in my journal:

  • Aaron Hernandez was charged with murder and was released by the Patriots
  • The Celtics traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets
  • Doc Rivers left the Celtics to coach the Clippers
  • The Bucks drafted a guy from Greece I’ve never heard of (but after some research, I like the pick)

Overall, I enjoyed my stay in Kumasi. The bigger cities in Ghana seem to basically be bigger villages. There are certainly bigger buildings than you’ll see in villages but there are no skyscrapers or anything along those lines. However, I will say it was amazing how tall some of the buildings looked after spending two full weeks in Humjibre. One of my favorite parts of Humjibre (and Ghana as a whole) is the fact that the sky was unimpeded by buildings. It was easy to see the horizon and the full sky. What a sight. Obviously, as I write this from Boston, the sky is much different. However, even most rural parts in southern Wisconsin block the sky more than places in Ghana.

At night, I spent some time reading Things Fall Apart (great book) and writing in my journal. I was also able to look at myself in a mirror for the first time in two weeks, which was nice. Getting some rest was pretty important, as tomorrow was a day full of travel. We were to leave Kumasi for Cape Coast (to see the slave castle, which was unforgettable) and then travel from Cape Coast to Accra.

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Ghana – Day 16

Note: I’ll be blogging about my time in Ghana over the course of the next few weeks. Some entries will cover the course of multiple days while some will cover the course of only a day.

Ghana trip – Day 16

Day 16 (6/28/13)

The one thing I do not miss about Humjibre is the (almost) daily wake-up call at 5am via the PA system. On Friday, June 28 I was awoken by the PA and I could not fall back asleep following the conclusion of the announcement. I finally was able to gather the strength and energy to get out of bed at about 6:30am to pack my things a little and to relax before the Quiz Competition.

This was the beginning of my last full day and night in Humjibre. It was pretty amazing to me that my time in Humjibre was nearing its conclusion and it was even more amazing that my time in Ghana was coming to a close. I had waited for this trip for so long and I had worked my ass off in order to make this trip happen.

Without the help of family, friends and other donors there’s no way I could have gone on this trip. Financially, as a first year teacher, it would have been impossible unless my credit card funded the trip. I already have enough debt due to student loans so I decided to work to make this trip a reality. In addition to teaching full-time I coached middle school basketball and from October-May I worked as a server at Pasqual’s in Madison. This resulted in a severe lack of free time and a lot of tiring days and nights.

But, as I sat on my bed and reflected on the past year and took note of everything that occurred in order to make my presence in Ghana a reality, I shook my head to myself almost as if I couldn’t believe I was actually sitting there. One of my favorite parts of one of my favorite movies, Good Will Hunting, is when Robin Williams and Matt Damon are talking about the value of getting out and seeing things. Matt Damon’s character says something along the lines of not having to travel to learn about the world. Robin Williams’ character rebuts by saying that reading about the world isn’t enough. You have to actually go to the place to see it, smell it, hear it, feel it, and taste it. Williams’ character uses the Sistine Chapel as an example.

Another of my favorite movies, Dead Poet’s Society, which oddly enough also has Robin Williams play a leading role, has a key moment that I regularly show to my students before beginning a unit on poetry. While I won’t be discussing poetry in this space, the following quote from Dead Poet’s Society, said by Williams’ character, couldn’t escape my mind as I thought about my time in Ghana:

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

Both of these movie moments flooded my mind. What really occurred to me was that I was in Ghana, I could see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, and touch it. What really occurred to me was that I was there and that, for one of the few moments in my life, I felt like part of the “powerful play” and that I was contributing a verse. I finally felt that working at Pasqual’s while teaching and coaching was worth it and I became forever appreciative and grateful for my family, friends and donors who helped me get to this place.

After collecting my thoughts and relaxing during the early morning, I finally walked up to get my morning dose of bowl fruit. Instead of purchasing my regular five (three of which I usually ate, two I would give away) I bought seven because I knew people would eat them. The bowl fruit lady then threw in an extra one because she knew it was my last day in Humjibre. I asked if I could take her picture and she seemed a little coy, but I did anyways and she was pretty elated to see the end result. I told her she looked beautiful and for the first time I saw her smile wide and she thanked me. It was a cool moment.

The woman who made and sold me bowl fruit each morning

The woman who made and sold me bowl fruit each morning

Upon returning to the GHEI compound, everyone started gearing up for the Quiz Competition (QC), the penultimate event for the education summer session. Everything was all set by 10am, which was the starting time for the event. I had the quiz questions and answers in my possession to preserve confidentiality.

2nd Annual Quiz Competition banner

2nd Annual Quiz Competition banner

The QC went rather smoothly and for that I was really happy. Not only did I formulate the questions for the event but I also held a considerable amount of power, as I acted as a judge with John. The Quiz Master would routinely defer to John and I, and we had to decide whether to award full, partial or no credit for the answer given. It felt really good to play such an important role. However, not everyone in the audience liked the fact that two obrunis held some sway over the competition.

Two judges: John and me

Two judges: John and me

Here are some notes I made about the QC:

  • The community center was absolutely jam packed with competitors, students, teachers and community members.
  • Because of all of the people and the proximity, it was really hot and stuffy. I was sweating throughout.
Quiz competition landscape

Quiz competition landscape

QC chaos

QC chaos

  • Clement’s opening speech highlighted the fact that the QC is not for prizes but for student exposure and for the community. He said this is a historic event for Humjibre (which it was, as this was only the 2nd QC ever).
  • Each individual participant received a prize (a pocket dictionary and two pencils), each school received a prize (a wall clock) and then there were cash prizes for first, second and third place for the primary school competition since there were four schools (however, only first place received a prize for the JHS portion, as there were only two schools competing).
  • The chief and elders were in attendance, which was really cool to see them support GHEI and education.
  • I was pretty proud because my questions seemed equitable. The scores were very close throughout the competition for both primary and JHS (with the exception of one outlier school in the primary competition). This not only made the QC entertaining and tense but I felt some satisfaction in my questions.
  • During the closing remarks, Clement thanked everyone and made a special comment to thank John and me for our contributions. Happy then told everyone that John and I were leaving the village early the next morning and then had everyone say, “Bye, bye.” To which most people did, especially the students. It was a pretty cool moment of recognition.
  • The chief’s closing remarks were brief but it was cool that he felt the need to prepare a short written statement. He closed with this: “God bless GHEI.”

Following the QC, the book club boys sought out John and I to say goodbye. It was pretty nice of them to do that. They are some smart boys and I hope they keep pushing themselves to succeed.

Reading club boys with John and me

Reading club boys with John and me

Lawrence then told John and me that the chief wanted to meet with us. I tend to respect authority so I became sort of nervous about this impromptu meeting. Inside the GHEI office, we sat down and the chief thanked us for all we did for Humjibre. He told us we are always welcome in the village and that he will pray that God will get us home safely. The really cool thing to me was the fact that he initiated the departing handshake, which rarely happens in my experience. It seemed to me that usually people make the effort to shake his hand. It was a very cool moment.

All in all, the QC went very well and most everyone was pleased, with the exception of a few local teachers who thought they deserved more than they got in terms of prizes.

At about 4pm, we went to Sister Comfort’s for some farewell drinks. We were there for a few hours and it was a great time. Clement thanked John and I again and gave us a farewell gift in the form of a necklace with an adinkra symbol attached. The symbol stands for “resourcefulness” and “endurance.” I was able to get some pictures with the local staff I had grown close to, which is nice to look back on.

Shantie putting my necklace on me

Shantie putting my necklace on me

John, Clement and me

John, Clement and me

John, Innocent, me and Lawrence

John, Innocent, me and Lawrence

Also at Sister’s, the rain finally came in full force. We lost power but that didn’t deter our celebration. It started raining at about 7pm and continued past 9:30pm. Once the power left, we started singing the chorus from the well-known Sean Kingston song, “Me Love.” It was a really cool moment and one I probably will never forget. I don’t really anticipate ever singing “Me Love” with a group of Ghanaians in the pouring rain again.

We walked home in the pouring rain and dark. Shantie, Elena, John and myself then had dinner in the dark because the power was still out (we were able to see mainly because of John’s camping candle and my head lamp). When power eventually returned I was able to write in my journal to recap the day and some of my emotions. Since I’m kind of running with the full disclosure theme in this journal, I’ll put down the bullets word-for-word that I listed in my journal on my last night in Humjibre:

  • It’s a weird feeling knowing this may be the last time I ever see these people again. I’ve grown close with a few and hope to keep in touch.
  • I know I’ve changed because of my experience here, but I don’t think the full force of these changes will hit me until I’m home.
  • I’m sure I’ll adjust back just fine to my old ways of living but at the very least, this experience confirmed my belief in the inherent goodness of humanity and my belief that true happiness comes from giving, helping and serving society and/or those people who truly need it.

With that, I fell asleep for the last time in Humjibre. We (John and I) were slated to leave early the next morning to travel with Happy to Kumasi. Following our night in Kumasi, it was off to Cape Coast to tour the slave castle, which was an incredibly discomforting experience. After Cape Coast we were to go to Accra where we would be until I flew back to the U.S. Although this marks the end of my time in Humjibre, my journal continued and so will this blog. There are still things I need to write about and if you’re interested in reading then by all means keep reading!

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Ghana – Days 13-15

Note: I’ll be blogging about my time in Ghana over the course of the next few weeks. Some entries will cover the course of multiple days while some will cover the course of only a day.

Ghana trip – Days 13-15

Day 13 (6/25/13) – Day of Preparation

There was no PA system blaring the morning of June 25, so I had my best night of sleep thus far. Even the sheep, goats, roosters and other noises seemed minimal in the morning for whatever reason. As soon as I woke up and began writing, I became conscious of the fact that exactly one week from June 25 I’d be back in Wisconsin. I knew I’d miss the people and place of Humjibre but I was looking forward to returning home to share my experiences and I was also looking forward to moving to Boston.

Since I’d be traveling for a few days before leaving Ghana completely, I was also aware that I only had four days left in Humjibre. Now that the books had been delivered to Sorano, everything seemed to be gearing up towards the Quiz Competition that was taking place on the upcoming Friday.

Because I had put in a considerable amount of time reading and formulating questions for the QC, my workload was pretty light. Therefore, I was able to take advantage of some cool opportunities that aren’t always available to GHEI volunteers. One of these opportunities was to observe teaching in Humjibre, which I wrote about in a previous entry. Another of these opportunities was to tour the clinic in Humjibre, which I’d be doing with Shantie and John on this day.

Road leading into Humjibre

Road leading into Humjibre (taken from the clinic)

Before going to the clinic, John and I had a conversation about health and education and how they intertwine. I mentioned the fact that some doctors have to give toddlers books to see how they react. Do they throw the book aside and treat it as a toy? Or, do they handle it with care and open the front cover as they may have been taught by a parent? These are indicators that a child is exposed to books before they are school-age children.

This made me think of many things. One, is it the doctor’s responsibility to promote literacy in children before the age of 4-5 years old? If it’s not, whose is it? I know the clear answer is parents but let’s be realistic, not every parent encourages their child to read. Also, will a child’s literacy affect a person’s insurance rate? Will that person pay a higher premium if they can’t demonstrate how to handle a book, identify a cover/author/title/where to begin reading, etc.? I’m willing to bet that if someone can prove that illiteracy to leads to x, y and z (similar to how smoking leads to a different x, y and z), then at some point it will affect insurance.

When we made it to the Humjibre clinic, there was six staff present. One of the nurses lives there, so 24 hour care is available. It is a very small clinic, there is one maternity ward (contains 2-3 beds), one male ward (4-5 beds) and one female ward (4-5 beds). No beds were occupied when we were given the tour. The clinic sees anywhere from 10-30 people per day.

Maternity ward

Maternity ward

Since the clinic was so small, the paragraph above pretty much provides the extent of what we saw. The other time we spent there was chatting and joking around with the nurses, who were (unsurprisingly) extremely nice and welcoming. Some were more jovial than others, and it was fun to joke around a bit.

Following our time at the clinic, Lawrence, John and I set off to formally invite each school to the Quiz Competition. We also wanted to get a list of participants so we could verify that students were from the particular “grade” that was listed on the sheet. This didn’t really happen, so a different firm deadline was set by Lawrence. Apparently, many people try to cheat in order to gain a competitive advantage (imagine that).

I also had my second, and final, Twi lesson, in which I learned months, some food, body parts and numbers. Following my Twi lesson, John and I went up to play some football (soccer) to get some extra practice in anticipation of our match tomorrow. Soon enough, we attracted some boys who wanted to play.

We set up a common game that the children play in which two large stones (roughly the size of a cinder block) are placed at opposite ends to act as goals. When space and/or players are limited, this is the form of football that is played. The object is the same, to score goals. Our game started as a 3-on-3 game but eventually grew to 6-on-6. As more players were added we simply put more space in between the stones to give us a bigger playing field.

The ages of the boys playing ranged probably from 8-14 years old. John and I were on the same team and we actually won 8-2. In fact, I scored on a pass from John and John scored on a pass from me. I could skip mentioning the fact that I missed close to 10 wide open shots on the goal but I figure I’ll go for full disclosure here. The game was a lot of fun and it was another good test for my ankle. I felt really limited, as I couldn’t cut or run with ease, confidence or painlessness. This was one of the most discouraging things of my trip: I really wished I was healthy to play without reservation. However, I didn’t let my ankle hold me back from playing, from walking all over town, from farming, and from doing other activities.

I was looking forward to our highly anticipated football match that was to take place the next day. We were going to be playing on Humjibre’s main pitch and there was even going to be an announcement on the PA system. I had two goals: the first was to not fall down (so I could avoid gravel, razors, rocks, etc.) and the second was to score a goal, as I was positioned as the striker. This goes without saying, but I also wanted to win the game.

At night, I observed a very clear sky and saw the brightest stars I had ever seen. If I had known what constellations to look for I bet I could have found them all. It was a really pretty sight.

Day 14 (6/26/13)

The morning of Day 14 was similar to many other mornings. I walked to town to get some bowl fruit and then I came back, had some coffee with the bowl fruit and started reading. I was really getting hooked on The Joys of Motherhood and wrote down a quote from the book that I think is true:

“Yes, life could be at times so brutal that the only things that made it livable were dreams.”

Following breakfast we had an education team meeting where we discussed the Quiz Competition. All of the questions at that point were finalized and I then created a scoring sheet that would be used. We then met with the GHEI staff to brainstorm ways to attract volunteers to GHEI. I mentioned that we should work to attract other teachers because not only did I (hopefully) do a service for GHEI and Humjibre but the education I gained from my experience is something I took home with me and it’s also something I will use in my teaching to help my students. I truly believe that the education “expertise” I brought to GHEI pales in comparison to the education I received just by being there.

In the afternoon we played our football match and won 2-1. We played a team from Humjibre of people who were probably 18-22 years old. The game attracted probably close to 50 people, if not a little more. It was truly a blast playing. Probably because of my ineptitude for scoring, Coach Alfred put me in as a defenseman, which I appreciated. This resulted in much less running around on my ankle and just less running overall. I thought I did pretty well, as their only goal came on a penalty kick. Our keeper, Mensah, had some pretty incredible saves, too.

Football match

Football match

Our team was clearly anchored by the Ghanaians on our team who work and volunteer for GHEI. Afterwards, we went to Sister Comfort’s for our victory drinks. Everything tastes better after a win. Also, I had to shift my goals since I no longer had much of an opportunity to score a goal. I focused on not falling down and winning and I’m glad to report that I/we achieved both goals.

Ankle disparity post-football match

Ankle disparity post-football match

GHEI team picture

GHEI team picture

At night, because JHS students had finished up with a week of standardized tests (for SHS placement) the week prior, there was a dance party in the community center, which is located about 30 yards away from where I slept. The music was blaring and was so loud that our windows and walls were rattling. This made sleep impossible so I went outside to play with some children.

In fact, this decision to go outside and play was one that resulted in something truly impactful, which I’ll save for a later blog entry. The music ended at about 1am and I was able to fall asleep around then. I then woke up at 6:30 to begin my second to last day in Humjibre.

Day 15 (6/27/13)

When I woke up I started doing my laundry almost right away in hopes that it would dry in the morning in case of rain. Although there was some sort of weird satisfaction in hand washing, I knew I’d appreciate a washer and dryer more when I got home.

On my way to get my morning bowl fruit, I was pulled aside by a middle aged gentleman who was seemed drunk. It was about 7:30 in the morning. I used my limited knowledge of Twi to ask him his name and to ask him how he was. Quite frankly, he told me he was not happy because he was so poor. This was pretty surprising to me because it was the first person I had met who was openly unhappy about being impoverished.

Since I had been buying bowl fruit on a near daily basis, the lady who made and sold the food and I had developed a bit of a rapport. We began conversing in Twi first but I became lost after about two exchanges. We then switched to English but she struggled a bit with the language. However, she did say she wanted me to learn her language so we could talk more. I told her I was leaving in two days and she didn’t seem pleased. She asked me if I would take some bowl fruit with me to the U.S. and I told her I would (but I didn’t…because I ended up eating it).

The majority of the morning and afternoon was spent preparing for the Quiz Competition. We wrapped dictionaries and pencils that were prizes to be given to each participant. I also created a document of teaching ideas and literacy strategies that had worked for me in the past. I put the document on the GHEI education computer. Hopefully the team can look it over and see if anything is of use. I made sure to let them know that they can throw it away if they want. My intention wasn’t to tell them what to do, rather, it was to give them some ideas of things that have worked for me.

In the afternoon, I went to a funeral with some GHEI staff. Funerals are a pretty big deal in Ghana, as there is a get together the day after death, one week after death, and two weeks after death. GHEI usually sends a person (or people) to every funeral to offer support to the community. I think this is a really nice gesture and probably one that the community appreciates.

We were at the funeral for about 45 minutes and it wasn’t like a traditional U.S. funeral. When we arrived, people were seated in a square while there was a chair with the deceased person’s picture on it. Music was playing and people were making donations to the family. Unlike the Catholic mass, donations were publicized, so there was some sort of pressure to give a decent amount. We shook hands around the square and then took our seats while other arrivals went around the square and shook hands. GHEI did donate money to the family.

After the funeral, we began setting up the community center for the Quiz Competition. The big day was finally only hours away and everyone was getting excited. The following day was also going to be my last day and night in Humjibre, which was saddening yet exciting. I was looking forward to traveling with Happy and John but I knew that I was really going to miss Humjibre.

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Ghana – Days 11-12

Note: I’ll be blogging about my time in Ghana over the course of the next few weeks. Some entries will cover the course of multiple days while some will cover the course of only a day.

Ghana trip – Days 11-12

Day 11 (6/23/13) – Church

While I’m not a religious man, I was curious about the church experience in Ghana. As mentioned in previous blog(s), some church services in Humjibre last hours and hours. Since I had this prior knowledge, I was wary of showing up to church on time. Shantie and I had committed earlier in the week to attending a Catholic mass on Sunday. The reason I chose to attend a Catholic mass was simple: I was baptized Catholic and my Grandma Doverspike was Catholic. In fact, before attending church in Ghana, the last time I attended Catholic mass was at her funeral.

Shantie and I arrived a little after 10am (it started at 9am) and were ushered in while a man was preaching. The first thing I noticed was the lack of formality, at least compared to a Catholic mass in the U.S. People were openly talking (not loudly), moving around, and walking around. There was no display board for songs (you either knew the words or didn’t), there were no bibles (you either brought your own or didn’t) and there were no pews like there are in the U.S. However, as with pretty much everything else in Ghana, there seemed to be a routine that people followed that I was oblivious to.

Humjibre Catholic Church from a distance

Humjibre Catholic Church from a distance

During the part of mass where the church asks for collections, people walk to the front of the seated audience and donate however much they want. The box in which you place donations had mirrors for walls so when you put your hand in, it was impossible for people in the audience to see how much or what you dropped in the box. I decided to donate some money but I don’t feel like stating the value is very relevant, so I’ll leave it at that.

Also, since the mass was preached in a different language, I couldn’t understand a word. I just kind of followed what everyone else did as far as standing and sitting. At one point, a man seated in front of me turned around and shook my hand. Other people did the same. I’m not sure if this was the part of mass where you offer peace to your neighbor but I gladly shook hands and smiled. No words were exchanged.

All in all, church was an interesting experience but it wasn’t a transformative experience or anything. There was a choir and altar boys just like there are in the U.S. Other than the experiences outlined above, the mass wasn’t too noteworthy. Maybe I would have more to say if I knew what the preacher was preaching.

After church, John and I met with Happy, as part of our cultural immersion/experience was learning some of the language. As I wrote previously, the language people speak in Humjibre is Twi. We learned some of the basics like the alphabet, pronunciations, and some introductions in conversations (things like, “How are you”, “What is your name”, etc.).

I only have a couple big regrets in my life but one of them is not continuing to study a foreign language in college. So, I took advantage of this opportunity to learn the basics of a new language by taking some diligent notes on words, phrases and pronunciations. I was able to use them a little bit while I was in Humjibre, which was good. I think people appreciated the effort that we put forth as obvious foreigners.

Following the Twi lesson, we indulged in some “Comfort Pizza”, as pizza happens to be Sister’s favorite food. It was delicious and a welcome non-traditional Ghanaian meal. Speaking of the food, I loved all of it except for one meal, which I didn’t really like at all. The one unsatisfying meal is called “Banku” and is really bitter and fermented. Google it, it’s the stuff that looks like a ball of dough. Not a fan.

In anticipation of our upcoming football (soccer) match, GHEI held its first “practice” in the late afternoon. We played 7-on7 against some children who were probably 10ish years old. We won 3-2, which isn’t saying much because all of our goals were scored by Ghanaians and considering the ages of our opponents. I had a few chances to score but couldn’t capitalize, which wasn’t too surprising.

The game was extremely fun. Seeing the joy that football puts on people’s faces made it incredibly enjoyable. This game made me feel like I developed an even better rapport with the people I was with in Humjibre. I was starting to get the feeling that I was really going to miss the people and place when it came time to leave.

After the football scrimmage, I took note of my ankle and how it held up ok. I wore my vibrams on the pitch that is comprised of gravel and dirt. The shoes seemed to work pretty well but I was in some dire need of Advil after the scrimmage.

Before taking off vibrams (notice swollen right ankle)

Before taking off vibrams (notice swollen right ankle)

After taking off vibrams. Note: this line is not a tan line. The soccer pitch of gravel and red dirt consumes your body.

After taking off vibrams. Note: this line is not a tan line. The soccer pitch of gravel and red dirt consumes your body.

The night of the 23rd we had a Library Board meeting in which we informed the members of the board about the upcoming Quiz Competition. The meeting was brief but we also were able to highlight the fact that the next day would be the Sorano book box delivery (more on this in tomorrow’s entry). I also showed Lawrence the questions I formulated for the QC. He was appreciative and gave his approval for me to start typing the questions out.

Quiz Competition questions pre-typing

Quiz Competition questions pre-typing

After the meeting my thoughts were primarily centered on Rachael, as I knew that the next day would be the start of her summer class at Harvard. It was tough not being able to communicate with her but I sent some mental positive vibes her way. I think the vibes might have gotten lost somewhere in the Atlantic.

Day 12 (6/24/13) – Sorano Book Box Delivery

Even though I played an extremely minor role (if you can call it a role at all), I was extremely excited to be part of the book box delivery to the nearby village of Sorano, which is much, much smaller than Humjibre. These books were the very first ones that students could read for leisure and for fun. That fact continues to just blow my mind. The year is 2013 and these were the first books these students had at their school that they could read for fun…the first EVER.

A lot of work went into this project and the vast majority of it happened before my arrival. Still, I was lucky enough to be included in the presentation and delivery. The entire GHEI team went to Sorano for the presentation and to deliver the book boxes to the classrooms.

GHEI group picture from Sorano

GHEI group picture from Sorano with Sorano school staff

We met Sorano’s chief who seemed really cool. He showed up in a basketball uniform and shook our hands and then went behind some cover and changed into his chief regalia. After our brief meeting with the chief we went to the school where anticipation was building fast. As soon as the students saw us with the boxes they started screaming, clapping and making noise. It was very cool to see the smiles on the faces of students and staff.

The primary school was about 80-100 students total. The students lined up outside in single file lines. The boxes were stacked to look like a pyramid (there were six boxes total, one for each class). The boxes were also covered with a white sheet to preserve the little thread of secrecy that still remained. The presentation began with Happy speaking, followed by Clement. They spoke in Twi so I’m not sure what they said. John then spoke, as he put much time and effort into this project. Happy translated for John so the Ghanaians could understand his words.

John speaking at presentation

John speaking at presentation

One thing in particular that John said stuck with me: “Education is the key to opportunity.” He attributed the quote to George Washington Carver. This is a message that I tell my students all the time. Your effort in the classroom is the one thing you control and education happens to be one thing than will help you achieve your dreams, no matter your race, religion, socioeconomic status, location, etc. I truly believe that…which is why I’m passionate about education and also why politics can be so discouraging.

The chief then spoke and since Abby was standing next to me, and because she speaks Twi, she was able to translate for me. There were a few things he said to note:

  • He thanked GHEI for the books and welcomed us all to the village and school.
  • He urged the kids to read because he wants to one day see a kid from his village become Ghana’s president.
  • He said we (GHEI) came on planes to deliver books and one day they too can be on a plane to deliver books.
  • He said that he believes in the children and that, with books, they can become whatever they want to be in life.

We then took the boxes to the classrooms, hung posters that detailed how to properly care for a book, taught the classes how to properly fill out the book checkout sheet and then started reading with the children. John and I were paired together and after reading with the students for about 30 minutes we then had minerals (pop/soda) as a GHEI staff.

Reading with Sorano students

Reading with Sorano students

Upon returning to Humjibre, we had a brief staff meeting and then I was off to spend the afternoon and two hours after dinner typing and finalizing the QC questions. It felt really good to be done with the majority of the work. Lawrence and Shantie seemed genuinely appreciative of my time and effort spent on the questions. The 15 page Word document I created can serve as something tangible to look back on and be proud of.

Before bed, I made a few notes in my journal about things I was missing from home. Besides the obvious people, I made the following list before I shut my eyes.

Things I miss from home:

  • Pasqual’s nachos (and now that I’m writing this from Boston, I miss them again…I really need to find a good Southwestern/Mexican restaurant with legit nachos and tequila);
  • Popcorn;
  • Burger/Brat;
  • My bed;
  • Spider-less shower;
  • Grass;
  • Paved roads;
  • Cool air; and lastly,
  • Mirror (my cell phone was the best mirror I had).

So you know, I’ve had all of the above since returning to the U.S. Actually, I had nachos when I got back to Wisconsin and promptly threw them back up that night. Apparently my stomach was still adjusting to the glory that is American food (even though nachos aren’t American, are they?).

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