First year reflections 💭 This is home.

Some reflections on year one as a PCV in Ghana…

This shit is hard- Metaphorically, of course. I have yet to join the club, but I’m sure my time will come. All PCVs, past and present, will understand.

Being a PCV has been the most challenging, but also by far the most rewarding, opportunity of my life. I’ve grown more as a person than I ever imagined possible, and I’ve come to love more than I ever thought my heart could bare.

When I first came to Ghana, I endured 10 weeks of Pre-Service Training before swearing in to officially join the Peace Corps family on August 10, 2017. The next three months were supposed to be site integration, meaning don’t leave your site. But, my body had other plans and I spend almost one month in Accra trying to decipher the masses in my breasts. I was then flown to Morocco for follow up breast MRI. After the MRI, they decided to do biopsies and I was brought back to Ghana. My six month follow up visit was March 1, 2018. So far, everything looks like it is supposed to. Reflecting back on this part of my life is difficult. There’s not much of it I want to remember. I can say for sure that I never valued my mom near enough until I had my second, of three, breast ultrasounds and the doctor seemed concerned. My mom is and was my rock. My PCMO was not very helpful in the process. He suggested that I just have all 6 masses removed and move on. In my life, I have felt violated on many occasions, but this was by far the worst. At 21 years old, my only doctor was suggesting that I have 6 tumors removed from my breast and move on with no definitive follow up. I fought and fought to be medically evacuated to a country with a certified breast MRI machine, as all three radiologists suggested. I prayed that I would be allowed to go home to the US, but sadly, Peace Corps made it clear that was not an option. There’s nothing I wouldn’t have given to have my mom, or even a friend, by my side the day of my MRI and biopsies. In Morocco, both of my doctors spoke French, with VERY little English. I was in a room full of strangers, completely exposed on a cold hospital bed, with random sensations of pressure as the biopsies were taken. As tears streamed down my face, I tried so hard to be still as they instructed. After about an hour of digging around, which felt like 1,000,000, I was bandaged up and sent back to the hotel Peace Corps provided. In this hotel, I was alone. I tried to keep my mind busy, and I managed to earn 4 certificates online from Tulane in Infection Control in Disasters.

Upon returning to Ghana, I struggled with how to explain to my community I had spent less than a month in before vanishing for an entire month, what had happened. I was anxious, nervous, scared. In our communities, we already receive a startling amount of attention, and I didn’t feel I was up to it just after coming back. I attempted to talk to a Peace Corps counselor which was a disaster. The counselor told me that I didn’t want to be a Peace Corps Volunteer or be back at my site, and that she thought I should be sent home for mental health and I probably wouldn’t be allowed to come back. I fought back, hard, and never gave up. My 22nd birthday came and went. I honestly couldn’t even tell you what I did or who I was with. I managed to get back into the swing of things at site. I started teaching and making friends in my new community. I got to work making my house a home buying household items, and adding shelves everywhere because I insisted that I would not live out of suitcases for two years.

I applied to attend the STOMP Malaria Bootcamp hosted by Peace Corps in Theis, Senegal and I was lucky enough to be selected. December 4-17, 2017, I was in Senegal learning all about STOMP and how to bring this program back to Ghana. I felt like an outsider throughout the program, which is much different than normal. I was far more nerdy than the others, which is also normal. But by the end, I realized that was okay (more on this to come).

On the 18th, my momma landed in Accra and started her three week adventure in Ghana. After landing, I immediately shoved her on a bus, with a driver insistent on honking, for 6 hours to my house. The next few days my mom got to meet a few of my students as they wrapped up the school term, packing to head home. We explored Kumasi and all of its traditional and cultural wonders. We also visited Lake Bosumtwe, 20 minutes from my house, which is the only natural lake in the country. Momma and I ended our adventures in Accra by staying at an AirBnB with some amazing company. While we were in Accra, I ditched my momma and spent the morning on my own little adventure going to visit Peter, a student of mine.

Peter is a student in one of my classes. When I first met him, he was cheating on my class exam. Outraged, I did what I always do and made him come to the front of my class and tear his paper to shreds in front of his peers. I told him to come see me after class. He did. I told him to copy his notes three times and when he was finished I would let him take the exam sitting next to me. After more than four hours of copying notes, he finally finished. I gave him a new copy of the exam and told him to get busy. Watching him, I could see he was struggling. So I began to ask questions. By the end of our conversation, I learned that he could not read or write, which took me by surprise because his verbal English skills are stronger than most in his class. I discussed this with a friend who was insistent that he was pretending to befriend the obruni (white lady). But, I decided not to listen- how unlike me! I offered to do everything I could to help and two days later we started meeting in the mornings from 6:30-7:30 AM. Every day, he came. He came early. Other teachers mocked him and his peers made fun of him for liking the obruni teacher, but still he persisted. After two months, the school term ended and I ended up in Accra with my mom. Through our conversations every morning, I began to learn about his home life. Peter has had anything but an easy life, but he isn’t quick to use it as an excuse and he damn sure doesn’t let it define him. He asked if I would visit his parents the next time I came to Accra. Of course, I did say I would do anything didn’t I? After going way out of my comfort zone, armed with minimal Twi and directionality in Greater Accra, I made my journey. The trip to his place, really represents his life. It’s been rough, but at the end of the road there’s someone there that believes in you. Throughout my first year, he’s been the cornerstone of all my good days. He persists. Every day, now six days a week, we meet from 6:30 to 7:30 AM. In February he completed reading his first chapter book, with assistance. And in April, he took his first spelling test and correctly spelled 27/30 words. Seeing a 90% written on his paper brought the biggest smile to his face. For once, he was proud of himself. Ya know, that’s one moment I wish I could have captured, but for the rest of my life it will be in my memory. He is amazing- actually that’s a sorry understatement. I cannot wait to see where year two and beyond take a young boy who is now my son.

Teaching is going great, I’m getting it figured out bit by bit. I’ve learned I hate small pieces of chalk and you can get callouses on your finger tips. Being a teacher is definitely not in my future, but I’m glad it’s in my present. Of all the things I do of importance in Ghana, I think teaching falls to the bottom.

I have started a girls club, which has about 20 students. It’s small, but good. Most days we talk about reproductive health, mental health, but we also discuss future goals and work on public speaking. I have two young ladies in my biology class that have filled a special place in my heart. They often come to my house to try continental foods, most of which they don’t like, but they love to try. At my school, I seem to be closer to the boys I teach. I was expecting it to be the opposite. My boys, as I affectionately call them, often come to me with questions. I never thought 78 teenage boys and 2 rebellious teen girls would come to take my whole heart. I may teach them science, but they teach me the truths of the world. Let me tell you, they’re amazing kiddos.

In the beginning, I felt very alone at my site. I’m over four hours from my closest Peace Corps Volunteer neighbor. But over time, I’ve come to enjoy it. Being far from other volunteers has not just be great for my bank account, but also for my own personal growth. Not having anywhere to run away to has forced me to really become self-reliant. I’ve seen more than I care to share, but I’ve learned to deal with it. I’ve killed and been bitten by more insects than I can count. Being far away from other volunteers is also a blessing because it keeps me positive. Other volunteers seem to be very negative about their sites, which for some reason also makes me feel negatively about mine- which isn’t the case. I love my site. My kids are great, I have some incredible colleagues, and my house is wonderful. Being a “site rat” as we’re often called is pretty awesome actually. I’ve become close with colleagues from my school, which is a blessing.  I’ve managed to get a lot accomplished, and share many laughs with great people along the way.

In the last month, I’ve been a busy bee. A colleague and I reclaimed the school library, beginning a massive facelift and reorganization effort. I’m proud to say it now looks incredible. More than 10 students come and check out library books each day. I also worked closely with two other science teachers to submit a grant application that will hopefully bring our school a science laboratory. We spent days gathering estimates from various stores, compiling lists of practicals to be completed for each science class, and dropping sweat from everywhere. For World Malaria Month, I completed more than 140 surveys on malaria, three malaria talks to my various groups of students, a giant malaria mural, and six Grassroots Soccer Malaria Skillz programs, among some other activities.

I’ve learned so much about myself this past year. I don’t even slightly resemble the person I was when I arrived here. I’ve become confident, truly confident, not the kind of confident you fake. I’ve become comfortable with myself- I love to talk, I love to love, and I love to see the best in people. I’m much more positive, and I like me this way. Life is far from perfect, but at the same time it’s everything I ever dreamed it would be and more. In Ghana, I’m often told not to trust others, but what’s the fun in that. Life is for living, and living every day to its fullest. How can I do that if I’m always scared? Everyone I’ve come to trust in Ghana, has turned out to be amazing. Maybe that’s something about life, huh? Maybe everyone just needs someone to have a little faith in them. My students have faith in me, and I have so much faith in them. Life is about opening up, being vulnerable, and truly being you- not the you you think the world wants to see. Piss people off, speak up, speak out, be bold- but do it with an open heart. You never know when you’ll meet someone that will completely turn your life upside down. Don’t ever shout so loud, you miss the small voices that really need to be heard. Trust yourself, always. And love. Love now. Love always. Love much. Love you.

So as year one winds down, I want to thank everyone who has been keeping up with my adventures. Turns out, I suck at writing a blog. I’m thankful for Ghana. I’m thankful for family, both here and abroad. I’m thankful, most of all, for my students that really keep me going day in and day out. I’m one lucky teacher. I can truly say, I’ve never actually wanted to go “home”. This is home. Ghana is home. ❤️

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” -JFK

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Ooops! Life Got REALLLLLY Busy!

Sorry for the LONGGGG gap in between posts.  It’s been difficult to keep up.  I think what I will be doing from this point forward, will be sharing Facebook posts on my blog page for those of you not on Facebook! I hope that’s okay with all of y’all.

Anyways… Here is a short overview of the most important moments of the last few months from January ALLLL the way back to November.

January: 

First, some random pictures of my life and some of the most important people in it…


I took my first adventure to “The North” for the SWAT Malaria Committee meeting.  It was quite an experience.  I’m really glad I got to go on the adventure with my friend, David.


While  I was in Accra taking mom back to the airport, I spent some time at a student’s house getting to know his story…

I stepped WAY out of my comfort zone and visited a student and his family at their home. It was definitely the best decision I’ve made yet. Letting your students and their families know you are invested in them and their futures is so crucial. A new year comes with many opportunities and I don’t plan on letting any pass me by.


After being away from home for a week, my heart was missing my Ghanaian family pretty bad. As soon as they saw me at the road, my entire family came running to me calling, “Sister Abena.” First on the agenda after getting home was to play cars with my boys. Then, Sister Mary surprised me with my favorite meal- rice balls and groundnut soup. While we were preparing dinner, I helped Bright calculate December profits and how much she should give to the church this month. After my rough journey back to site, I’m so blessed to have these incredible people waiting here for me. #HomeIsWhereTheHeartIs #Family#Neighbors #HowISeePC #PeaceCorpsGhana #PeaceCorps @ Ashanti Region



December: Mom and Malaria 

Some pictures of Momma’s visit-

     


  

In December, I had the privilege to attend the STOMP Malaria Conference


Complete with a day at the beach!


A peek inside a Senegalese district health center…

To be qualified to do microscopy in Senegal at a health center:
-complete nursing or midwife school (bachelor’s degree and 3 years of training)
-4 years experience in the field
-2 years of laboratory training school
*optional specialized training of 4-6 weeks to become a malariologist.*



November: A month of love…

I made it through my first term of teaching here in Ghana. This is my biggest class with 80 students (77 boys, 3 girls). I couldn’t have made it through without some of these special kiddos. They keep my heart beaming with joy and pride. #TechnicalProgram#FreeSHS #EducationIsTeamwork #Ghana#PeaceCorpsGhana #PeaceCorps


I celebrated 6 months in country!


This morning I’m completely humbled. I write this as tears stream down my face. Earlier in the term, I caught a student cheating and decided I would give him a full days punishment. After completing the punishment, I made him retake the exam I caught him cheating on. It was then that I learned he could not read and write. We started meeting in the mornings from 6:15-7:30. We missed some days because I was sick or out of town.

On Thursday, our school soccer team went to play in the region tournemt in Kumasi- school was to be cancelled so the student could attend. Wednesday, he asked if I would be willing to work with him on Thursday while all the other kids went to watch the game. Of course, I couldn’t say no. We spent 4 hours reading a Junie B. Jones book and practicing spelling.

On the first day, I checked out a book from the school library. When we worked together to read it, the first page took more than 30 minutes to read. Today, we opened the same book and he read the first page, with minimal help, in about 8 minutes. Every day this kid amazes me. Watching him read that book made me cry. He’s come so far.

Today, we had a serious talk while we were waiting on other students to leave our space. He told me that if the government hadn’t put the Free SHS Initiative into place, he wouldn’t have been able to come to school. He’s beyond grateful for the opportunity. Every time we meet, he thanks me over and over again. But really, I should be thanking him. He keeps me going. He warms my heart. He’s my son and we’re quite a team. All the other teachers know he’s mine, and they know I’m more protective than a mama lion. I know I’m a day late, but everyday I thank God for putting this boy in my life.

When I first received this index card book in a care package, I wondered what I’d use it for. Well, now I have my answer. It is being used to practice site words. This little book made my student’s entire day. It’s an extremely useful tool in ensuring that he will succeed. We thank you so much Bane Bunch! #PeaceCorps #PeaceCorpsGhana #FreeSHSGhana#LearningToolsAreEverywhere


Visual arts students hating science? Let them use their creative talents to learn. #PeaceCorps #PeaceCorpsGhana


People often ask why I made the choice to join the Peace Corps… Well, here are a few pictures of my reasons.

I’m still in awe that this is my reality. Dreams really do come true, but it hasn’t been easy. It has taken hard work, sacrifice, and love, on a daily basis.

 


Beyond grateful for the opportunity to become the SWAT Malaria Partnerships Coordinator. This is Ghana be great! #PeaceCorps #PeaceCorpsGhana#SWAT #ThisIsPublicHealth #USFCOPH


Enjoying the pool after reconnect with my best friend / counterpart / big sister. I can’t imagine living this past six months without her. It was her first time ever getting into a pool and she’s not able to swim. The amount of trust she gave me truly represents our relationship.


 

My whole life- right there in black and white. My students are my world. When they’re sick, my heart aches and my head is filled with worry until I know they are okay. I’m praying this night won’t be too long. If you could, please say a few prayers for my sweet girl Samuella. This is my first Ghanaian emergency room visit. #MommaBear #PeaceCorpsGhana #PeaceCorps


 

This is what teaching 160 boys really looks like…

After school, they showed up for their punishment. (I’m a mean, mean teacher.) Then, one found the insect and said, “Madam, let me show you some science. Let’s experiment!” He proceeded to put a piece of straw under the shell of the insect, without hurting it, and its wings started flapping rapidly. When I asked him why the insect was not hurt, he explained that insects have an exoskeleton that protects them from many, many things that try to harm them. Let me also add, these are the students I fight to keep awake and engaged in class.

I see love and trust in the eyes and the smiles of these students. Even if we’re struggling in the classroom, we’re building friendships and sharing laughs. That’s what life is all about. #LoseYourselfInYourServiceToOthers#PeaceCorpsGhana #PeaceCorps

In Sickness and in Health…

So, the last two weeks have been full of sickness. I started with just a cough for two weeks, then slowly it has turned in to full-blown misery. I currently am coughing up a lung every five minutes. I have a stuffy nose, a headache and sore lungs from coughing so much, a sore throat, and overall fatigue. My doctor believes it is allergies, because I also have itchy eyes and I’m sneezing. I also have not run a fever yet. On Friday, the doctor sent me to Kumasi to buy some more allergy meds, because I had taken every Benadryl tablet in the medical kit. I have yet to see any relief from the allergy medication I have purchased. I have also been taking a nasal decongestant, Tylenol, and cough drops. I’m hoping this feeling goes away soon. I can’t take much more. Today, I didn’t go to school. I slept very poor last night and I can’t really teach because I’m 99% hoarse.

On a happy note, I had a shirt made out of our Peace Corps batik, pictured below! I’m so proud to be a PCV.

Even though I have been sickly, I have also been kicking butt at site. I’m so proud of my students and of their hard work. Over the last two weeks, I gave an exam in each of my three classes. The Home Economics program was first, they did very well. They averaged a 72% as a class, which is very good here in Ghana. The Technical program was next, and they never disappoint. They had a class average of a 64%, which is still pretty good. At this time, I won’t discuss the Visual Arts program, because I am having some issues with that class. I also took the time to see if my students were able to read, write, and understand me. Shockingly enough, almost half of my technical class struggles with reading, writing, or both. Thankfully, most of them can understand me when I’m teaching. I have offered to meet with them before and after classes. The home economics class seems to be faring better with reading and writing, but they could also be lying. But, for now, their test scores seem to be in agreeance with their statements about reading and writing.

For doing so well on their exams, the home economics girls got to watch a movie on my laptop, pictured below.


The technical boys, and three girls, also got to watch a movie for getting a 75% or above on their exams. Those that did not meet the goal, had the opportunity to do corrections. You can see them a few days later smiling for the camera. We were celebrating an overlap of material from their physics class and my integrated science. This means, the material was already covered once, so we got to have a fun, review day. See their pictures below…


Also, this past two weeks I have been getting to the school at 6-6:15AM to meet with one student that asked for help. He can speak English very well, but is unable to read and write. So far over two weeks’ time, we have learned the sounds the letters make, how to identify the first and sometimes the second letter of words based on their noises. He’s making great progress and I can’t wait to see where he goes and how much he achieves. I have a few more students that should be joining him in the mornings so that we can all work on reading and writing.

On Friday, I met with my headmistress. She is incredible! I cannot say enough good things about her. She is really the change the school needed to see. In her three short weeks with our school, so far she has almost completely gotten rid of caining, she’s making sure teachers are showing up to school and teaching their classes, and she’s making sure the students are taken care of. She really is amazing. I can’t wait to see all the improvements our school will make with her in change. She’s eased my fears and is becoming a wonderful friend.

On Friday night, I learned that the family living in the room next to me has purchased and has been sleeping under a mosquito net for the past week. That alone was incredible. When I first arrived at site, the family wanted to check out all my things, just out of curiosity. I used it as an opportunity to get to know them. They saw my mosquito net and were asking all sorts of questions. I explained the importance of using them, especially with the boy I now affectionately call my son, Kingsley. He is only 9 months old. Upon building a relationship with him and his mother Patience, I began to notice she was breast feeding less and less often. So, I asked her why. She mentioned that he was being to have teeth and could be eating other foods. She also was giving him water to drink. So, I used that as an opportunity to explain the benefits of prolonging breast feeding and the true lack of importance of water, especially unclean water, to infants. Over the past three months, I have seen such a change. The family has put what I have said into action. Patience is still breast feeding, three months later, more often than before. Patience is also sleeping with her son, Kingsley, and her sister Mary and her son Abraham under a treated mosquito net. She has been going regularly to the check-ups offered by the hospital in the community. I’m so proud of her. She is a wonderful mother, a great friend, and part of my forever family. Here is a picture of Kingsley and I hanging out as sister Patience cooked dinner one evening.

On Saturday, my mentor Janet came for a visit. The men came to finish putting the tile on the floor in the bathroom, so I was unable to leave the house. We had a good time though. We enjoyed each other’s company and ate lots of yummy food. She left Sunday afternoon around 5PM to go back to the Kumasi Sub-Office. It was really nice having another volunteer to talk to. Sometimes, it gets a bit lonely at site. Sadly, I didn’t take any pictures of my fantastic mentor, but please know we ate good food and shared a great number of laughs.

ONLY 34 DAYS UNTIL STOMP MALARIA IN SENEGAL AND 48 DAYS UNTIL MOMMA IS IN GHANA!

Reality sets in… But together, we will overcome the struggles.

Well, I ended last week’s blog talking about the STOMP Malaria conference in Senegal. On Friday morning, I got the news that my application had been picked! I get to attend the conference. Words cannot describe how happy I am to have this opportunity. I am beyond blessed to have such supportive friends and family that always encourage me. It will be the 5th-16th of December. There will be sessions from 7AM to 9PM. I will definitely be a busy girl. One fellow PCV, Jamie, among a few other PC staff members will be accompanying me. When I shared the news with my headmistress, she was so excited for me, as were my friends Monica and Eric.

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Back to reality…

So, Monday brought a whirlwind of emotions. In my technical class, I gave a quiz. I caught 4 people out of 78 cheating. Needless to say, this is the fewest cases of cheating I have seen in any of my classes so far. The class average on their quizzes was a 75%, which is incredible.

Tuesday, I congratulated my technical boys on their hard-earned successes and punished the cheaters by making them stand in front of the class and explain why they cheated in the first place. I taught my visual arts class under the tree in the front of the school-pictured below. I did not have a board to write on or anything to write with, but I still managed to find a way to teach. We were learning scientific method this week, so I identified a problem and they had to work through steps 2-6 from hypothesis formation through conclusion. While they were in class, they could ask me to check every step and would receive a 100% if it was completed in the 80 minutes of class; however, I did not force them to do the work. I told them that if they did not do it they would get a 0. Some still chose not to do it. Those that did, did extremely well. Those that did not, would soon come to regret it.

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Wednesday I gave a quiz in my class. Thursday, I had to deal with the cheating situation in my home economics, elective biology class for that quiz. I had 13 students out of 65 that cheated in that class. I was not a happy camper when I walked into class. The girls could tell I was completely upset. I called the names of the girls that cheated and made them come collect their papers at the front of the room and stay standing in front of the class. Then, I called those that got 95-100% on their quizzes and gave them candy. After that, I called up everyone that got above a 75% on the quiz. The class average was an 82%, not including the cheaters, which was absolutely astounding! I was so happy for all of those that did well. But, for those that cheated, the punishment was far from over. I made them tear their papers into tiny shreds in front of the class and then discard them. Then, I told them they needed to copy ALL of the notes for the WHOLE class so far three times before 7AM Friday morning. They were very upset with me, but I figured it was a much better punishment method than caining-the norm here. I’m hoping that those that cheated actually learned something while they were copying. All but one of the girls did the three copies. I’m still unsure what I’m going to do with her… More creativity to come.

On Thursday, my table for my kitchen was finished. I was so excited. I had two boys from the school carry it to my house from the school where the carpenter had delivered it. On Thursdays I teach 240 minutes straight. I started coughing that night, and I haven’t stopped since. Thursday in my visual arts class, I gave an assignment the students would soon come to hate. I made those that did their assignment on Tuesday, simply give me one more example of the fully worked scientific method (steps 1-6). Those that did not do their assignment had to give me two fully worked examples and list the ten laboratory safety rules we had covered in class. It was on this assignment that I caught 17 of the 65 cheating. I was beyond upset. Their punishment will be similar to the home economics girls when I meet them again on Tuesday.

Friday morning, I went to the school and spent about 3 hours collecting students’ homework and checking their notebooks, as in my class they get points just for taking notes and paying attention in class. I want to make sure that they are following along. After I had collected about 200 notebooks, my headmistress and assistant headmaster drove me to my house because they wanted to make sure I was living in a nice place. My head mistress was not impressed with the quality of my house, but I told her I was happy and content here. I really do like my house. I’m just glad she didn’t see it in the beginning. Hahahaha. She would have really loved that. It was an incredible Friday full of fun and good news. I watched this sweet little bundle of cuteness on Friday morning while her mom taught a class. Goodness, she was a happy little doll.

Saturday morning, I woke up early, still struggling with my cough. I did my laundry for about an hour and a half, then got ready to go to town. I went to Kumasi to pick up a tub of things Mitch had left for me when he was leaving. He left me some good stuff I needed for my place- pots, pans, measuring cups and spoons, silverware for when mom comes to visit, etc. I’m super thankful for his little gift because it saved me so much hassle and money going to buy all the things here. When I got back to my house, I took down my laundry and talked with the family living at my place.

So, at some point this week I learned that I had a student that cannot speak English well enough to function. However, even though my heart was breaking, I was so incredibly proud of him. Instead of cheating on the quiz in his class, he actually tried. Though he could not form logical or even complete sentences he did try. He did what he could. For that, and this boy, I am so grateful. This is my first real taste of the illiteracy problem here in Ghana. I pulled him aside and talked to him. I showed him his quiz- on which he got a 0/10. I asked him if he understood the questions, and he was honest in saying no. I learned that he had just changed programs from business to technical (the program I teach). I got his mother’s contact information and learned that he was a day student commuting to and from each day. I asked him if he would be willing to stay after school for one hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays so that we could work on his English and on giving him a better understanding of science. He said yes- I was so happy I could have cried. I sent a note home to his mother, that likely cannot speak English either, and just wrote Tuesday and Thursday 3:30-4:30pm. I told him that he was to explain to his mother that he was not in trouble, but that I was going to help him with extra study time. I wrote my number on the paper. I’m going to have another teacher call his mother on Monday to explain it all and ensure that she understands. I’m anxious to see how this situation will pan out. I’m hoping the best for this little boy’s future. He truly wants to learn and I will be sure to do all that I can to ensure that that happens.

Twice this week, the girls that I tutored in math last week came again. This week we worked on math one day and science the other. I taught them about respiration and explained their practicals in a way that seemed to make sense. By the time they left both days, I was confident that they had mastered the problems they came here with.

Helping these kids is the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life. To work so hard and slowly seeing results come, that is the best feeling in the world. We’re only a month in to the school year and about two weeks in to really teaching, and I’m excited to see what the rest of the term brings.

I have started getting to know the other teachers better. There is one teacher at my school that stood out this week. His name is Dave. He teaches math. We talked about the approaches he uses to encourage and motivate the students in his classes. It was wonderful getting to talk to someone that doesn’t think the students at our school are stupid. From what I gather from most of the others, that seems to be how they feel. When I told the other teachers that the technical boys were my best class so far, they were shocked and told me I must be wrong. They said they were stubborn and tend to be the worst behaved and the worst academically. So far, they are proving them completely wrong. As Dave said, “Teaching these kids is more about understanding them than anything.” The more we get to know them, as well as their strengths and weakness, the better teachers we become. The more useful we become.

Just a little food for thought…

Here is a snapshot of what the back half of my school looks like… The yellow building in the distance was built to serve as dorm a couple years ago, but has been used as classrooms because we simply lack space. The white building on the right is where two of my three classes are supposed to be taught-however, as I mentioned, sometimes I end up teaching under the tree. The girls in red and the boys in white shirts are my students.

Beautiful Beginnings

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As an educator, I’m working to be everything I needed in school.

We are all human.

Even though we were raised over 5,000 miles apart and in different cultures, we still need the same thing- an ally.

So, I can promise that I will fight for them, encourage and empower them, protect them, and accept them for who they are.

This week I have had students come to talk to me about so many things.  A few young men have been coming to meet with me in the mornings before class to study science, simply because they tend to not perform well in the subject.  They all work together, ask questions, and learn in a way that is truly mind-blowing.  These boys have chosen to spend their free time studying, without being told.  It completely gives me hope for their future, and the future of mankind.  These incredible young men have boosted my spirit.

 

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When I came to the school, I was expecting to be working with the girls in the home economics program.  Well, God had other plans.  I ended up being placed teaching in the technical program, which is almost all guys.  I also teach in the visual arts program, which is about 75% guys.  I do have one class with the home economics girls, but it is my smallest class with only about 60 students.  Total, I have about 250 form one students to teach.  I was completely terrified of the boys at the school.  The teachers told me they were basically heathens and that they would need to be caned to be controlled.  Needless to say, I do not support caning in the slightest, so I had to come up with my own creative measures… Read more about those later.   At the end of the week, my fears were silenced.  I am no longer afraid of teaching boys, and I have actually come to build many meaningful relationships with them.  Now, I not only have “my girls”, but I also have “my boys”.  My students are already like my children.  Below is my time table for school with when I am teaching what.  (IS=integrated science, BIOL=elective biology; 1V=form 1 visual arts, 1H=form 1 home economics, and 1T= form 1 technical)

 

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Low quality picture, high quality young women.   For these two and so many others here, education is the first step in the path out of poverty and sickness.  Free SHS is a true blessing for the children and the future of Ghana.

I’ve really enjoyed tutoring these two in math this past week.  I can’t wait to watch their futures unfold.  Peace Corps is, by far, the most rewarding job I’ve ever had.  I have really enjoyed getting to know them and their personalities, too.  This week we worked on triangles. But, they also worked on my heart.  They are such good girls.

These girls were some of the many that approached me at the school for help.  They are struggling in mathematics and can’t seem to grasp some very important topics.  They asked me if I would be willing to help them with math in the evenings a few days a week.  Of course, I said yes.

Below are just a few pictures of things I have added around the house to make it more of a home.  It’s amazing what little things can do.  A 22 cedi shelf for my bathroom made all the difference getting my belongings off the floor.  And 12 shelves and 240 cedi later, the rest of my house feels just as nice.  I’m loving the way my little place is coming together.

 

 

I feel like my house becoming a home is representative of my become part of my community.  Now more than ever, people are calling me by name on the street instead of obruni.  It’s refreshing.  I have certain ladies that I buy certain things from.  I have my Milo lady, my tomato lady, my egg lady, and my toilet paper lady.  They’re all amazing women that are becoming my sisters along the way.

After falling not once, but twice, on my way to school Wednesday and gashing my hand open and hurting my knee pretty bad, I still managed to reach my class on time.

Tuesday, my group of 70+ boys was absolutely terrible, but Wednesday morning, they were well behaved young men.  If was definitely the turn-around I needed from them.  I think seeing me hurt, but still show up to class may have shown them how much I really care about them.

After class, I headed to the market to purchase this lovely fan and flooring for my bedroom, once nothing but concrete.

After a rough start to the day, I still managed to end on a positive note.  I’m becoming more and more convinced that surviving and enjoying Peace Corps is 99% attitude and outlook.

Below you can find pictures on my room and my banged up body…

 

On Friday evening, I submitted my application for the STOMP malaria conference in Theis, Senegal.  It would be a wonderful opportunity for me to increase not only my personal understanding of malaria, but also to bring back the knowledge and share it with other PCVs and my community members.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed, but as a newby, the odds are not in my favor.  A few prayers and positive vibes would be appreciated.

 

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to speak and be a panelist at the Girls Global Action Summit hosted by USF.  I was able to Skype in and talk about my Peace Corps service and give my input about increasing girls’ access to education around the world, the barriers that stand in the way, and the overall impact the Peace Corps service has had on my already.  This event was a collaboration between Peace Corps and Girl Scouts.   It was a wonderful opportunity.  Please, check out the Girls Global Action Summit website to learn more.

 

***ONLY 72 DAYS UNTIL MOMMA ARRIVES! THE COUNTDOWN IS ON! 🙂 ***

Well, that was a wild ride…

First, let me start by saying, thank you all for tagging along with me on my journey. From here on out, my blog should be more regularly updated and full of interesting adventures. I’m eagerly looking forward to the next two years in this beautiful community and all the memories I’ll make with strangers that are already becoming family.

Tuesday afternoon and evening at my house were a blast.

It was sister Mary’s 39th birthday (Mary is one of the women that lives in my home with me). Before Mary arrived home from work, I was straggling to finish my daily chores. I took my bucket of trash out to the burn pit after cleaning my home. So, I was washing out the trash bucket outside when I saw a sweet little face peaking around the rain barrel at me. It was one of my neighbor boys, Kofi. He’s a sweet little guy. Him and his brothers are all very well behaved, but none of them speak or understand English well. Anyways, Kofi watched me finish cleaning out my bucket. After I was finished I played with him for a while. Before long, his two brothers were also hanging out with us outside my room. I decided to go get a few balloons from my room. Needless to say, it was a great decision. We played with the balloons for over an hour. We tried our hardest not to let the balloons touch the ground and eventually we ended up playing something similar to volleyball. Haha. The boys loved the balloons! They were a hit! 😉 I loved seeing the smiles on their little faces.
After Mary was home, her son Abraham and I sang her Happy Birthday. Abraham is around 4 years old and we had been practicing for a couple days. He did so well. It was unbelievably cute.

Then, I came into my room to prepare to make dinner when I heard a knock on my door. Francis, the neighbor I mentioned in my last blog post, had come to visit me. He wanted me to come to his home to meet his wife, Gifty. So, of course, I said yes. I locked up my house and followed him next door. His home is amazingly nice. I learned that he is a leader at the Pentecostal church near St. George’s, where I teach. His wife, as he had mentioned previously, is a public health nurse at the hospital across the street from our homes. Francis is 39 and his wife recently turned 31. They have a beautiful 5 year old son. While I was at their home, I was talking to his wife about her career. Then, to my surprise, she invited me to go sit in on a meeting she was leading regarding disease surveillance in our district on Wednesday morning at 9am. I was so excited! Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, Gifty knows biochemistry. So, naturally, we spent about 20 minutes just completely “nerding out” while her husband sat across from us on the couch laughing.

On Wednesday morning, I woke up early and got ready for the day. Around 8am, Gifty called to let me know that she had made it to the hospital and that I could come any time. Of course, with all the excitement, I was already ready! I threw my water bottle and a notebook in my backpack, locked up my house, and started my two minute walk to the hospital. When I entered the hospital grounds, Gifty was standing towards the back of the complex waving and smiling. It was the most welcoming sight. I was so glad, grinning from ear to ear as I waved back.
My meeting was supposed to start at 9am, so Gifty took the time to introduce me to many, many people that were community health workers at the hospital as well as other district community health leaders that had come from other clinics for her meeting. I met some very interesting and intelligent people. One of the most influential people I have met so far is the lead community health nurse at the hospital. His name is Leonard. He is so helpful and kind. He lives just near the hospital, on the opposite side that I do. Sadly, the power was out so we could not start the meeting. Some of the district health leaders decided to go have their meeting while they waited for the power to come back on.

Gifty gave me a book on TB to read through while she went to a meeting. It was so interesting. I told her that in the US we don’t have a problem with TB so it is often neglected in our studies. She told me quite a bit and while she was in the meeting I took many notes from the Ghana Health Service 2012 book on TB program development and treatment options. Of course, while I was reading I had many questions. Thankfully, Leonard was there to answer them all.

Around noon, Leonard invited me to come with him to observe new born vaccinations and check on the new mothers. Of course, I couldn’t turn down that opportunity! I love new babies. However, in Ghana, no one but the mother should hold the baby until its 8th day. The mother will usually spend a few days in the hospital, if that is where she chooses to give birth. After leaving the hospital, she will return to her home and stay inside with the baby until it is 8 days old. On the baby’s 8th day, the mother will come out of the home, introduce the baby to the community, and the baby will receive a name during what is called a naming ceremony. Up until day 8, the baby is known solely by his/her day name. For example, all males born on Tuesdays are called Kwabena and all females born on Tuesdays are called Abena. Each day of the week has its own male/female names. I met one young lady that had just had her baby four hours prior to meeting her. Her baby girl was beautiful, big, and healthy. I also met one other lady that had delivered twins the day before. They were pretty big twins. I would guess that they each weighed at least 6 pounds. They were also happy, healthy babies. All three of the babies received a dose of vitamin A, a TB vaccination, and a polio vaccination.
Around 1pm, I finally made it back to the public health building. The power was finally back on! Yay! Gifty started the meeting on disease surveillance as soon as I was back. We learned about how to identify different diseases and when to refer people to the hospital. We also learned about what types of samples should be obtained for which diseases and the processes that need to be followed when requesting a laboratory diagnosis. The samples for most diseases are sent to Accra, to a nationally trusted laboratory. However, the samples for TB and cholera can be done at our facility laboratory unit. After the meeting, I headed home and made some mac and cheese to celebrate the day!

Fast forward five weeks and here we are. To say the last five weeks have been a rollercoaster would be an understatement.
As many of you know, I had a brief scare with breast cancer. I spent 21 days in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, searching for answers with various PCMOs. With my strong family history and suspicious lumps, I was sent to Morocco, our regional medical hub for Peace Corps, for a breast MRI and core needle biopsies. Thankfully, the result from the biopsy was negative for breast cancer and was a fibroadenoma. Even though the results were good on the biopsy, the doctors want me to be closely monitored for the next few years with semi-annual ultrasounds and possible yearly breast MRIs. I couldn’t have made it through this grueling trial without my family and friends. I should probably take time to give a special thanks to Mitch who was with me through it all. He truly was my strength. By the grace of God, he was able to be with me through it all. I’m one lucky lady. What a way to turn 22, huh?!

Currently, I’m back at my site. I’ve spent the last week here at the school meeting the new first year students. I found out that I will be teaching integrated science (physics, chemistry, biology, and agriculture) to students in the technical and visual arts programs and elective biology to the students in the home economics program. To be honest, the integrated science classes wouldn’t have been at the top of my list to teach, but as I get to know the students I know more and more that it was all in God’s plan. I came here expecting to be getting heavily involved with the girls, scared of trying to make relationships with teenage boys. However, as time goes on, I realize that all of my students are very sweet and their personalities are easing the gender divide to a close. I’m enjoying my time with the male students and their teaching me a lot about what it means to be a teacher in Ghana. I’m hoping to offer study sessions on Sunday evenings 2 weekends a month to the boarding students and maybe two Wednesday evenings a month to the day students.

Because Ghana started free senior high school this term, we have an overwhelming number of students and a completely inadequate facility and number of staff. As time goes on, I’m building stronger relationships because of it. I am finding myself problem solving with fellow teachers and administration alike to make our school the best it can possibly be. Our previous headmaster has been reassigned, so we were without a top seat in school administration for about a month. On Friday, our new headmistress was announced to the staff and student body. I can’t wait to see what she will bring to our school.

On Saturday, I went to Kumasi. A student had fallen in the shower and hurt her arm a few days prior. She was hoping the pain would go away, but sadly it did not. Because she does not have health insurance, she was unable to go to the local hospital with the money she had in her possession. So, on Saturday morning I took her to Kumasi with me and helped her to find a tro tro to her grandmother’s home in the Eastern Region. After I dropped her off at the station and ensured she was okay to go on her own, I went to meet up with some Peace Corps friends. We had lunch at Abude’s Fast Food in Kumasi- I highly recommend it. It was the best pizza I’ve had since coming to Ghana! YUM! After that, we ran some quick errands and picked up a few things in town before heading back to our various sites.

So far, I’ve spent all of my Sunday cleaning my place. After being gone for 32 days, I had a major black mold problem going on throughout my home. After only a week of being back it was so bad my eyes were swelling, my nose was congested, I was coughing terribly, and I was getting severe headaches every time I entered my house. After deep cleaning all day, I can say that I don’t have a headache anymore and my house is finally smelling a bit more “lived in”.

Monday, I officially start teaching for real. Wish me luck!

XoXo

** For pictures, please see Facebook. It is using too much of my data to upload the pictures on so many different platforms. Thanks! ***

Movin’ on in… Week 1

Hey all! So much has happened since I last wrote.

After swearing in, we all went to Cross-Sector Bootcamp. It was a blast. We learned so much in just two short days. The first day covered health issues and health related projects that could be implemented in our communities. We learned a lot of useful information, especially around maternal and childhood health- the main components being breast feeding and nutrition. On the second day, we learned about agriculture. Some of the most exciting things I learned were how to compost and grow small sack gardens, the important nutritional values of moringa (if you haven’t heard of it, look it up), how to prepare meals that wean children off breast milk without a rapid weight-loss commonly seen due to diarrhea, and how to start savings and loan programs with our schools and our community members to help overcome the barriers they face in development. Needless to say, cross-sector was a incredible! After two days at Cross-Sector Bootcamp, it was time to pack up and move again.

On Sunday morning, I loaded up for Kumasi. I took a taxi to the trotro station in Koforidua. Then, most of the Peace Corps Volunteers from my group and I loaded up almost a full trotro. We made our way to Kumasi- it took almost 4.5 hours. When we got to Kumasi, we all went to the Kumasi Sub-Office (KSO) and spent the night. Whitney and I decided to be especially lazy and order pizza for delivery at the office. YUM! The rest of the group went out for dinner. While I was at KSO, I met Brady. Brady’s site is only about 20 minutes from mine. So, we chatted about our sites and planned some adventures soon to come. I spent some time just relaxing and taking a much needed break from the craziness that was PST. The next morning, I got up and went to the KNUST (Tech) trotro station to catch a tro to my community. I met up with Monica around noon. We sat and talked at my place for a while and then we went back into Kumasi to go to Melcom’s to go grab a few necessities. She bought me some fried rice for dinner. I made it back to my community around 6pm and was in bed asleep by 7:30.

The second day, I didn’t leave my room. I napped, cleaned, and began to unpack my bags. It’s an incredibly long process.

On the third day, Monica came to visit and my bed frame finally arrived. I was so excited to have a real bed frame. I’m very lucky to be at such an amazing school. I moved the two mattresses from the school bunkbeds I had been staying on to the bedframe and put up my mosquito tent. This was home! 

Over the course of the first week I made 3 trips to Kumasi to buy some things- all with Monica’s help. Except for the 3rd time on day four- Thursday. Monica decided to make me be brave and she simply told me what trotro to get on to and where to meet her. It was definitely a journey, especially because we were meeting in Central Market (the biggest market in Ghana and some say all of W. Africa). I highly suggest googling it. It’s an awesome, but crazy, place. The traffic was terrible so I got off the tro and wandered through the streets of Kumasi in the direction the driver suggested. I did end up meeting her safely. When I got back to my house, I was checking my email and saw that there was a security warning for the community just outside of Central Market where I happened to have spent most of the day. Ooops! Apparently, two royal families were fighting, but the police managed to keep it under control. In hindsight, that could explain why the traffic was so bad when I was trying to get off the trotro at the market.

Saturday, August 19, I went into town to go buy some bread, bananas, and macaroni. I made my way to the macaroni, the farthest store from my house. Before I made it there, I was stopped five or six different times by community members that want to talk. My name here is Abena Amponsah, so as I walk down the street my name is hollered left and right. I made it to the store and a small girl asked me what my name I was. I told her my name was Abigail and then I asked her what her name was in Twi. She freaked out. It was so cute. No one ever expects the obroni to speak Twi. Haha. When I left that store, I went on to go buy bananas. Before I could make it to the cornee, I was stopped by a man. He said, “Hey, you’re the girl that was on TV, right? You were the one giving the speech. I was just showing my friend here. Please come.” Oh my goodness! I started laughing, I was so embarrassed. He tried to show me the video he had on his phone, but the service wasn’t good enough. Apparently the obroni speaking Twi is a HUGE deal here in Ghana. His name is Pastor Prince. He is a missionary with a church they are starting in my community. He has lived both in the US and in Ghana, among many other places. So, then, I went back to trying to get bananas. I bought my bananas mostly without incident. The occasional man greets me as his wife and the boys try to cat call me, but it’s obvious that they are just joking. When I was crossing the street, a lady hollered my name and told me to come. She likes to try to get me to practice Twi with her, but man she talks so fast. It’s so hard for me to keep up. I can say some things, but I’m still only 2 months in to this language. Eventually, I made it to buy bread. Then, I headed home. Going in to town can be an event. In Ghana, you must greet everyone older than you that you pass. Needless to say, that includes shop owners, and people hanging out along the street. I always hate going out before I do it, but once I’m out, it feels so nice. I already feel at home. I love my community.

On Sunday, I went to Bekwai to meet up with another volunteer, Brady. He is in the agriculture sector. We met up around lunch time and had fried chicken and French fries. Holy cow! That was delicious! Then, we went to a little “hole in the wall”, literally, and watched the Chelsea soccer game. That was quite an experience. Ghanaians love their football (soccer). I made it back home and spent what was left of my evening relaxing and nursing the mound of blisters that still somehow seem to be occurring on my feet every day. Oh well, it could be so much worse.
Week 1 integration update: Every time I go to town, I have to stop to talk to an older lady that owns a store. Every time, no matter how many times I have been by she hollers greetings at me. It’s a weird feeling of security. I know she watches me along that stretch of road to ensure that I’m okay. I really like talking to her. Her English is pretty good and she loves listening to me try to speak Twi with her. I have made it a goal to get out of my house and go see her at least once a day. I have also got to know my neighbors in the next house. I met the man, Francis, and his son. His wife is a nurse at the hospital. They are incredibly friendly. It always makes you feel good to know that you have friends around. And seriously, Ghanaians make some of the world’s best friends.

Honestly, some days I don’t leave my house much, if at all. I’m in a weird middle ground of being completely overwhelmed, but underwhelmed at the same time. I find myself enjoying my alone time now more than ever, especially after not having ANY for the last three months of PST. But, according to other volunteers that have been here a while, it is completely normal. I find myself reading a lot and trying to plan for the upcoming school semester. None of my students or fellow teachers are in town because it is break time for them all. Normally, only two of the teachers from my school live in my community. I am definitely sad that I’m not getting more time to connect with my students before we begin school in just three short weeks. Sorry for not posting pictures this week. Feel free to follow along with my posts on Facebook in between blog posts.

It’s official… I’m a PCV!

So, last time I wrote, I had just returned from site and shadow visit. It was nothing short of incredible. Since then, many exciting things have happened…

I just wanted to share this picture of Gifty, a student of mine while I was teaching at Oyoko Methodist Senior High School for practicum. This girl will go far in her life, that I am sure of.

First, I got a few wonderful packages, cards, and letters. A huge thanks to my mom and grandparents back home for an incredible care package. Also, a big thanks to Cindy Harries for my letters. I love recieving them! The kiddos have loved the toys and games you added in. Also, a huge thank you to the Bane bunch! I loved the pictures and the gifts. I’m beyond thankful for them, because I have already put a few of them to use. I used the scraper for a rather non-traditional use- I used it to scrape the loose paint off the wall where we created our mural, pictured below. I have also used the zipties to secure my backpack when I am traveling and walking in high traffic areas. Because they are black, they blend in perfectly with my backpack and deter thieves and pickpocketers. I also got wonderful cards from my mom, papa and grandma. PS- momma, when you send me a card wishing me laughter, don’t write things inside that make me cry, okay? Haha I love you momma, grandma, and papa.

Short story here: I came home from classes one evening and my homestay sister that’s two was napping on the cement and the sun had began to shine. When I walked over to her, I woke her up to move her out of the sun. I picked her up and she was drenched in sweat. I picked her up and carried her around for a bit to calm her. I’m sure you all know, or can at least imagine, how a two year old is when she is woken up. Haha. After getting her calmed down, I carried her into my room and fanned her a bit. She then put her head on my chest and went right back to sleep on me lap. I should mention that when I got here, she was utterly terrified of me. I’m not sure she had seen a white person before, or at least remembered seeing one. It has been slow progress, but she is like my own now. We play and dance on a daily basis. I also tend to sneak her cookies from time to time. Her mother, Oliva, is absolutely wonderful. I have loved getting to know the two of them.

My Peace Corps cohort and I took a trip to Boti Falls just outside of Koforidua (about an hour from our homestay community). There is a picture from the falls below. It was absolutely stunning. We went down about 250 stairs to reach the bottom of the falls. The rest of the group went on an hour hike around the falls, but I was not feeling well so I missed out. But, it was still an amazing sight to see. You never know how out of shape you are until you try to go up and down 250+ stairs. We were all a bit winded by the time we got to the top.

We spent the next couple days working on our Small Community Outreach Project (SCOP). My group- Elijah, John, and I- decided to paint a mural of the food pyrimid that has now transitioned to what is called My Plate. We constructed a drawing of the My Plate onto some large sheets of paper. We then went to the school and sectioned out the amount of space we would need to cover in white paint as a primer before we began the mural. We sectioned it off and after about three coats the wall was in good enough shape to begin work. I used the scraper mentioned above to take off the loose, chipping paint before we put the primer coats on. After that, we taped up the paper drawing and used permanent markers to draw an outline of the mural. We had accidentally figured out earlier that the permanent markers bleed through the flip chart paper. Oops! So we decided to use that as an outline, because none of the three of use are artists. The next morning, we came at 6am and worked on painting the outline we had traced from the paper. We completed the outline in black paint and around 8am the children came to paint. We decided to let the children paint and discuss healthy food choices and food categorization with them while they painted. We had been promised JHS students, but instead we got a group of primary school children. Peace Corps is all about flexibilty. I have come to learn this more and more each day. The children painted all the wording and food items in the mural. The mural is pictured below. I personally think that it turned out incredibly well, especially since it was painted by 5-10 year old children. It is great to see the children walk by and start talking to eachother about how he/she painted that and they learned this or that. This was the first time since practicum that I felt I truly had a purpose here. It was a much neded pick me up after a rough few weeks.

The day after my group presented our community project, another group painted a mural with all the letters as signs in Ghanaian Sign Language (GSL). Because the letters in GSL are almost exactly the same in American Sign Language (ASL) I am able to sign all of the letters. So while the other group was painting I went to their mural to distract some of the crowd. I taught a few children how to sign “I love you”, good morning, good afternon, and goodnight. There is a picture of my signing with some children below. I also taught Aku-Sika, my younger host-sister, to sign “how are you” and “my name is Aku Sika”. She really enjoys learning GSL. I am hoping she will continue to learn. It was great to see the children learning something new. After I spent some time teaching them GSL, Halle and I took a couple of the punching balloons mom had sent in my care package out to the soccer field. We gave one to the kids at a time and had them play don’t let it touch the ground. They played with the first balloon for probably 10-15 minutes before it popped. Then, they played with the second one for about another 10-15 minutes. Then, they played freeze tag with the balloon piece designating who was it. It was so fun to watch the children play. We only had two small fights which is a major positive note here. The children seem to fight regularly here.

We had a cooking challenge- sponsored by Peace Corps Ghana. Apparently, there was a volunteer a few years back that couldn’t seem to figure out how to cook anything the entire time he was in country. They said he ate bread like every meal. I mean really? Come on man! Anyways, so ever since he left, Peace Corps has made sure we know how to cook at least one thing before they send us out on our own. I teamed up with Halle and Elijah of course. We called our group “The Breakfast Club”. We decided to make french toast with a banana sauce, scrambled eggs with veggies, and Elijah made some espresso with coffee beans and the espresso maker he brought from home. It was great. We cooked the meal on a coal pot with utensils we borrowed from our homestay families. None of the judges (our language and cultural facilitators) liked the coffee, but they loved the eggs and french toast. They asked for the recipe multiple times while they were eating. Regardless, our group won Most Sweet, Most Continental, and BEST OVERALL! It was an incredible day. I think I ate my body weight in french toast and banana sauce. My belly was sooooo full. It was great to have an American meal. You never realize how much you miss the foods you took for granted, or even ones you didn’t like, back in the US. This was a great exercise to ensure that we also respected our host mothers and everything they do for us. Cooking over a coal pot when it is over 90F outside is an incredibly rough task. I’m beyond thankful I have had my host mom cooking my meals for me the past 10 weeks. What was even funnier to Halle, Elijah, and I is that none of the Ghanaian judges or families had ever heard of “The Breakfast Club”. When we left singing songs from the movie they were all very confused but all of our fellow Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) were laughing. Also, after finishing our cooking, I saw there was a mother hen that kept leaving her baby chicks alone and I decided to hold one for a while. There is not a picture of me cooking, but there is a picture of me with the baby chick.

One extremely amazing feeling came from me being asked to give the thank you address during swearing in at the ambassador’s residence on August 10. I am incredibly honored. I am hoping to post a video in the next blog. Another friend of mine was asked to give the thank you address to our homestay families back in Maase during the second stage of swearing in. I can truly say the butterflies I am feeling are severe, but I know it will all be fine.

We took our Language Proficiency Interview (LPI). I had to tell my examiners about myself (what my name is, where I’m from, all about my family in the US and in Ghana, where I went to school, what I studdied in school, what I am doing in Ghana, where I’ll be teaching), my daily routine (waking up, brushing my teeth, taking a shower, making food, eating food, going to school, what I study in school here, hanging out with family, cleaning my room, doing laundry, and going to sleep) in detail, give directions from our homestay community to my site/my school I’ll be teaching at, and tell them how to prepare my favorite meal all in Twi. It was a very difficult exam, especially because I am better at writing the language than I am speaking it. Overall, I passed and I am incredible happy about it. The previous two weeks had been full of stress and worry about the LPI. Actually, one major excitement, everyone passed the LPI. I am beyond happy that every one did well. I know I was not the only one worried about the exam. Once the LPI was over, around 9:30am, a large group of us gathered at the spot (local drinking hole) to celebrate. Halle and I also splurged and bought some cookies.

We (Halle and I) gave our Person Project Presentation (PPP). It went over very well. We presented (only 10-15 minutes) on Ghanaian stories and tales. Here, the fables we are used to are called Ananse tales (ananse means spider in Twi). In my community, spiders are seen to be wise creatures. Similar to fables in the US, Ananse Tales are meant to help teach children morals, ethics, values, etc. We are presenting on the Monkey and the Crocodile (teaching importance of friends and the value of trust and truth), the Man That Went to Nigeria (a story about cheating to get ahead and getting what you deserve in the end), and the Man and the Mirror (teaching about lying to your spouse and understanding that things are not always as they appear). If anyone is interested in the tales, I can post them at your request. Godwin, my Twi instructor, has been telling them to us during cultural time of language classes. I have really enjoyed getting to hear them.

So, another short story: one morning I was having my normal breakfast- a boiled egg, black tea, bread with groundnut paste (peanut butter), and a few small bananas. I had already eaten my bread and drank most of my tea when I started on my bananas. I had just finished eating one small banana and had taken a bite out of the second when I decided I needed a drink. So, I picked up my tea and enjoyed the nice, warm bitterness that is black tea. When I went to pick up my banana, I noticed something moving, actually a lot of somethings. Turns out, I had been eating a banana, if not more than one, with worms/maggots in it. I knew by this point, halfway through the banana, that there was no going back. I had to have eaten multiple of them. Yuck! It was hard not to gag at the moment. Sometimes, when I see bananas on my plate, I think back to that morning. But, one thing I have realized that Peace Corps is very good at is pushing you outside of your comfort zone, actually wayyyyyyyy outside of it. When you think you can’t do it, you surprise yourself. I will say that I’ve eaten more bread mold in the last 2.5 months than I ever thought possible, and I’m sure I will be eating even more over the next two years- the humidity plays a huge role in the development of mold at such an alarming rate. I’ve eaten bugs in my bread on a daily basis, because the people that make the bread do not sift the flour before they add it- maggots and flies of all kinds are a common denominator of all breads I’ve eaten here. But, hey, it’s extra protein. These are some of the things I have come to learn… If you don’t laugh about it, you WILL cry about it. Sometimes you can surprise yourself. You are way more competent than you think. Anything is possible- trust me, I’ve eaten worms without puking.

For the past few weeks my group of education volunteers and I have been practicing drumming and dancing. When I say drumming and dancing, I mean traditional African dancing. It has been quite an adventure. Traditional dancing here is absolutely huge. Everyone knows how to do it, because people practice it from the time they are tiny little kids until they are unable to stand. The dancing is so intricate. I should add that it is taken VERY serious here and you can get in trouble for laughing while you dance, trust me. Oooops! As part of swearing-in on Thursday, we danced in our homestay community. It was completely embarrassing, but also sooooo fun! It’s hard to get the hang of it because our rhythms in the US are completely different. I’m hoping to have a video of it to share with you all soon.

We completed the Global Learning Standards (GLS) exam. Thankfully everyone in my group passed- for the first time in many years. We had about four hours of oral and written examinations, as well as one technical. We had to show that we could properly fill out a reporting form that we will be asked to complete twice a year, that we understood Peace Corps policies in country and could identify the issues with different scenarios, explain Peace Corps approach to development and give an example of a project that we wanted to complete in our community and how it fit into the Peace Corps framework, explain sustainability and how to acheive it in our projects, express the need for help in random situations drawn from a bucket (a motorcycle hit you, you are very sick and need to go to the hospital, you need to call PCMO but you have no phone, there is a snake in your house, a their has stolen your things, ask about the familial relationships of an individual) all in the local language you learned, discuss coping strategies for stressors at site, and explain four methods of teaching, the componentss of a strong lesson plan according to GES, and discuss how we would manage our classrooms (because caining is not allowed per GES new policy). Amazingly, I got the high score out of my group. I received a beautiful necklace, bracelet, and earrings! I was so excited, but also very surprised. Because we all passed, we were rewarded with cholocate- my favorite means of reward.

The big day… SWEARING-IN- The day I have not so patiently been waiting for…
We left our homestay community about 5:30 am on Thursday, Aug 10. We boarded to bus and set off to Accra. All of us were dressed up all fancy in our traditional Ghanaian clothing. When we got to Accra, we stopped by the office to use the restrooms and stretch as we had been 3.5 hours in the bus already. Then, after about 10 minutes, we boarded the bus again to go across town to the ambassador’s home. The US Ambassador to Ghana is Robert P. Jackson. Attending the swearing-in event were the US Ambassador and Madam Ambassador, the Deputy Director of the Ministry of Education, USAID representatives of both health and education, the country director for JICA (a Japanese version of PC), the US Peace Corps Country Director, the US Director of Mission to Ghana, the presidents of many local universities, and many Peace Corps staff members among many, many, others. The moment we walked in to the ambassador’s home, I was beyond nervous. There were no words to describe the chills running through my body. I was so excited to be officially becoming a Peace Corps volunteer after a grueling 10 weeks of training, but also extremely anxious to give my speech in my second language- Twi. We took the oath to become US government employees and then we took the oath to become official Peace Corps volunteers! Holy cow! I was crying happy tears. The entire time I was leaning on big Mike for support. Without him, I may have run away. There were many (4+) news and radio stations filming the event for broadcast, which just added extra fright factor. When I came up to give my speech, my knees were shaking so I had to brace myself with the podium. I have given many speeches in front of people, but never in front of such important people or in a second language that I have only been studying for 8 weeks! When I got about halfway through the speech, the Deputy Director of the Ministry of Education said, “Wow! She’s doing so well. I’m impressed.” and because I was so nervous I busted out laughing. Oops! I don’t think I was supposed to hear him talking, but once I laughed, everyone in the room laughed as well and I began to relax a bit. I finished the speech without any more accidental laughing. I should add that I was so short, the microphones covered my face. As soon as the interview was finished, I was swarmed by people. Never have I ever felt so overwhelmed by a crowd. I had other volunteers congradulating me, people from the audience congradulating me and trying to speak to me in Twi. We spent the next 45 minutes having a small reception with the guests in attendance. I ended up doing two interviews for the news channels, but they were insistent that I do them in Twi. Uhmmm, the terrified Abigail was back. Thankfully, I knew how to say most of it in Twi. Another highlight of the day was that I got to have REAL coffee at the reception. YUM!!! After the reception had ended, we loaded up back onto the bus as VOLUNTEERS and headed back to our homestay community. We arrived back around 1pm and the ceremony with our homestay families began around 2. The Peace Corps staff thanked both us and our homestay families. The homestay families were rewarded with a large cooler for taking such great care of us. Then, we danced the dance we had been practicing for the last few weeks. It went pretty well. It was so hot though, oh my goodness. I was so glad when the outdoor ceremony was over in Maase. After waking up at 4am, I was utterly exhausted by 5pm. It was great to celebrate with my host mom though. Peace Corps provided us with 3 meals- 2 for our family members and 1 for ourselves. Because my host mom is older, we did not stay long after the ceremony had ended. We came home and I began to pack for our trip to Cross-Sector Bootcamp and then on to site!

Here are a few more random pictures from the last few months in our training community…

My fellow SHS science teachers and I alongside our technical trainers.

Two adorable, newborn baby goats with their umbilical cords still attached.

The white chicken, aka my best friend with one leg.

A picture of my host mom and I at traditional night.

So, I thought I would take a section of this blog and devote it to talking about Pre-Service Training (PST). This has been, by far, the craziest 10 weeks of my life.
There have been some highs and quite a few lows, but I made it through…We made it through. Here is PST in a bulleted list- PST is…
* the double dragon
* accepting the fact that there will be bugs in the bread you eat
* building a new network of friends
* understanding that giant camel spiders and cockroaches will be a daily part of life
* building relationships with your host family
* feeling 100% out of place in almost every social gathering
* flip charts, enough said
* forced friendships, but a few genuine ones
* sweating while you sleep
* spending your weekly allowance at the spot or at the tailor
* paperwork and shots
* 6 hours of language training a day
* loving the children of your community
* realizing that PC is everything you hoped it would be, but completely different
* cramming for test like your future depends on it, because it really does!
* realizing that you have 10+ Ghanaian husbands/wives after just 10 weeks
* a way to realize who you really are and what/who you really need
* coming to understand that your heart is capable of more love than you ever thought possible

Site Visit, Shadow Visit: Traveling Cross-Country Solo

My host mother, Cecilia, and I just before I left for Contact Persons Workshop.
Halle and I in our newest Ghanaian dresses
My amazing contact person, Monica.
We celebrate the 4th of July with a hand drawn flag and some American and Ghanaian tunes.
Giving Monica a certificate of appreciation at the end of Contact Persons Workshop.
Meeting my Chief.
My incredibly beautiful shower!
My view of the Volta River on the trotro to Aflao.
David and my beautiful creation!
The taxi driver assessing the situation.
Making light of a stressful situation.
John and I were a bit excited! Gulf of Guinea- check!
Fort Prinzenstein- a significant Danish slave trade point in West Africa. 

Theres nothing quite like taxi selfies.

03 July 2017
This morning, I got to meet my contact person that I will be collaborating with at my site. I will likely be teaching biology, chemistry, and integrated science at my site. My contact person’s name is Monica. I will be teaching in a town just outside of Kumasi, very near lake Bosumtwe-the largest natural lake in Ghana. The town is about one hour outside of Kumasi by trotro. One very exciting thing is that I will only be about 30-45 minutes from my previous host family where I stayed in Dec. 2014- Jan. 2015! Monica told me that it has been one year since the previous volunteer’s service ended- her name is Ebony. Prior to Ebony, there had been one other volunteer in the community. I will be teaching at a very small, Catholic senior high and technical school. The school fees are approximately 300 Gh Cedi per term. Most of my classes will be very small as the school only has around 500 students and 25 teachers and staff. None of the students are able to pursue careers in medicine or science becuase there are no science labs at the school. They are lacking the equipment and space to have an operational science lab. There are some students that really want the opportunity, but they are unable to follow their passions becuase of the school they attend. Monica also mentioned that I will not be living in a teachers compound, but instead about a 20 minute walk from my school. I will be living in a house with just one other person and I should have two rooms to myself. I can’t wait to see my new home and meet my new community!

04 July 2017
Well, it’s the 4th of July and I have never felt so American. This is the first time I have celebrated the holiday away from home/abroad. Today was filled with many more meetings and sessions. We learned about the roles of our contact people (Monica) and what our role(s) is/are as a Peace Corps Volunteer. We also learned about our evacuation plans in case of any emergency. From 3-5PM, I will lead a session on conducting a needs assessment. Needs assessments are a major tool I will be using to understand what the community and school feel are important areas to improve on and projects to tackle and then I will align those results with my own abilities to create projects once I am settled in August.
Tonight the group is having a party to celebrate. We have drawn a giant US map with all of our states outlined. We will all use the map to show our contact people where we are from and explain to them where we come from and what our backgrounds are like. We are a very diverse group. They are beginning the music jam session now as I write this.
Today, I wore trousers for the first time since arriving in Ghana (Pants are underwear here.). Man, it felt soooo good. I haven’t gotten any new bug bites today so that is a major plus. My throat has been hurting pretty bad, but I am praying it goes away soon. My good friend, Halle, has been sick for a week now and I am hoping I will not catch what she has.

05 July 2017
Today was a busy day in meetings. We went over travel plans to site and got to spend some one on one time with our contact persons. I am really enjoying getting to know Monica. She is just so sweet and caring. I cannot wait to work with her!

06 July 2017
This morning Monica and I boarded a Metro Mass Transit bus from Koforidua to Kumasi. We left the station in Koforidua around 7AM and arrived in my community around noon. On the way from Koforidua, I passed the same station where I had stopped on the VIP bus from Accra to Kumasi the last time I was in Ghana. Talk about nostalgia! Once we arrived, we went straight to the school and dropped my things. From there I went to meet all of the teachers and the headmaster. My headmaster is an incredible man. He has only been at the school about two years now. Monica says he is a great improvement to the school. I then ate lunch- rice and stew with fish and salad- that the matron of the school had prepared for me. Because my school is a boarding school (for about 120 of the 500 students), there is a kitchen on campus that prepares the meals. Then, I went to meet the chief of my community. My community is the district capital so therefore we should have a paramount chief (highest under the Asante King in my region), but because of chieftancy issues the spot is still vacant. The sub-chief was in Accra tending to business so I met the standing chief- his linguist. The linguist speaks for the chief. When we speak, the lingust tells the chief what we are saying and the chief replies to the people through the linguist. I have posted a picture of me with the acting chief of my community. I was in the middle of greeting when my headmaster said I should smile. When you greet the chief, you must always bow to him- hence the awkward stance. It was an extremely amazing experience. I then went to the police station to introduce myself to the Chief Investigator- he was the highest ranking office a the station when I came, when I come in August I will meet the regional commander.
Then, about 2pm, I finally got to see my home! My home for the next two years is incredible! I am so blessed to have such a great community and school that have prepared for me an amazing home. I have a tiled shower with running water and a flushing toilet. The home I am staying in has just been finished so they are still finishing a small few things inside. I have a large room first with two windows. I currently have a small set of student bunk beds, but my headmaster informed me that I would be having a much larger bed in August when I come to stay. I then have a smaller room in the middle of my home that will be the bedroom once everything is moved in. Then, connected ot the bedroom is the bathroom. I have included pictutes of my home in this post. I’m not joking when I say I am overly thrilled to be in this community with such a supportive headmaster and co-teachers. Needless to say, I am beyond exhausted!

07 July 2017
Today, I went to the school around 7AM and sat in on the student assembly. I was introduced to the students. They are a rowdy bunch, but I know with patience I can handle it. I have learned many tricks to keep students quiet and focused. The teachers at my school really like to cain the students, but I am not interested in caining and Peace Corps does not allow me to do it. This morning in the assembly, Madam Felicia (a government teacher at my school) invited me to talk to the students. When they would not be quiet, the teachers present started raising their canes and preparing to hit the students that were talking, but I instead asked if I could use my own method to manage them. I figured it was as good of a learning opportunity as any. I told the students that when I raise my hand, they must raise theirs and keep quiet. I only had to use this method twice in order to calm the roar of chatter. I feel like it was a moment the other teachers could see another method of discipline in action. I am hoping to do as other volunteers have done and remove caining partially, if not completely, from my school. Caining is against the Ghana Education Service (GES) regulations, but the teachers still do it. Every day is a new day and gives the opportunity for change. After meeting the students, I went to sit with the other teachers while Monica passed out and proctored an exam that some students had missed. When I was with them, I spoke to a chemistry teacher that wants to get his master’s degree in chemistry from the US or Canada. We talked about what I have done as fas as education and I mentioned some of the Universities I thought may be good. He was accepted to a program at Florida Institute of Technology, but he was not able to go because it was too expensive even with the scholarship they had awarded him. Hopefully he will not give up on his dreams. I sent him a few of Dr. Gupta’s publications and told him to look into Pitt State.
Then, Monica and I went to the hospital. I am hoping to work with the local doctors and administration while I am in my community. The doctor I met today was very excited to work with me and offered me any position I wanted to work in while I was in this community. He told me I could look at the regional data on disease, work with community health workers on vaccination campaigns and maternal/child health, and work with him on clinical treatment. I am very excited for the opportunity! After we left the hospital, we went on an hour trip to visit the Bosumtwe Regional Director of Ghana Education Services- Madam Augustina. She was very pleasant and wished me much luck regarding my future teaching and work with the girls in my community. From her office, we went into Kumasi because my headmaster needed to pick up a few things. We arrived back at the school and I spent some time talking to Monica and the other students. It was a nice evening.
When I got back to my home, I swept the floor and spent some time just laying in bed. Exhausted is an undestatement. I got pretty good sleep last night, but the weather was very gloomy today.

08 July 2017
Today was a rather boring day. I woke up feeling fine. I swept my home and did some laundry. I was fine until around noon. I started to feel dizzy and my stomach was really hurting. I’m not sure what happened. I think I ran a slight fever. I was supposed to attend a funeral for a fellow teacher’s mother, but I was not feeling up to it. I spent most of the day in bed sleeping- which, if you know me at all you know I do not take naps. Thankfully, by late evening I was feeling somewhat better. Antionette, the student has been bringing me my meals from the school stopped in many times to check on me. She is such a sweet girl. I have been secretly giving her chocolate for her assistance. 😉 Oops! Don’t tell on me! After returning from the funeral, Monica came to check on me. She was very concerned. Ghanaians are very caring people. When the fellow teachers, students, and my headmaster heard I was not feeling well, they immediately wanted to come check on me and pray for me. I could not ask for a better community filled with better people. I am truly blessed beyond belief. If I am feeling better in the morning I will attend church at the Roman Catholic church- the mother church to my school- at 7am.

09 July 2017
This morning I woke up around 4:30 feeling a bit better. I swept my home and got ready for the day. A little before 7am, Antionette came to bring my breakfast and lead me to church. She is so sweet. She is a pentecost, but because the attends a catholic school she must attend the catholic church associated with the school. She is from about 2-3 hours away, just north of Kumasi. She is the oldest of four, but one of her siblings died young, so now there are only the three of them. I am really loving the opportunity to get to know these girls. One of the girls I have met wants to be a midwife, it is a very common career for girls in Ghana. I find it completely fascinating and I think I will try to observe the midwives in my community when I come back in August. Anyways, we made it to the church just after 7 this morning. The entire service was done in Twi, needless to say, my Twi skills need a lot of work. I could understand about one word per sentence. At the end of the service, my headmaster and the priest called me to the front of the church and introduced me to the congregation. Then, as soon as I sat down, I was called to the front again because the priest wanted to bless me. So along with Monica and my headmaster, I was blessed by the priest. This was my first time going to mass in a catholic church-ever… Much less in a Ghanaian catholic church. There was so much singing and dancing. They also took about 5-6 different offerings throughout the service. It was definitely an experience and I loved every minute of it. I am really enjoying doing things out of my comfort zone.

10 July 2017
This morning I woke up around 5:30am and began to pack up my things. I have managed to cut everything down to two backpacks. I will be taking only the necessities to Klikor (Aflao) with me in the morning. Once I had finished packing, I began cleaning. I swept the floor and cleaned up the bowls and cups I had been eating with so they would not spoil while I was away for this next month. Then, around 8am, the school carpenter came to change the locks on my room so my things would be secure while I was away. I have given one set of keys to my headmaster in case anything happens on my journey back to site so I will have a spare set available. I made it to the school around 10am and hung out with my fellow teachers for a few hours. My fellow teachers seem impressed with my Twi, but I feel really out of place. I don’t look like them and I can’t talk like them- this is what it truly means to live as a minority. This is probably the most humbling feeling in the entire world.
Around 2pm I led a session on girls’ health. Monica had asked that I spend a little time talking to the girls. There have been many problems in recent years of girls getting pregnant during vacations, especially July-September break. I spent about 30 minutes talking to them today about their health and their future. I started by asking them their aspirations. I had some students say that they wanted to be doctors and lawyers. No matter what they aspire to do, I want them to know that I am on their side. Then, we talked about what could get in the way of them acheiving their goals. They first mentioned financial insecurity, which is real problem here. Most of them struggle to pay school fees for SHS which are MUCH lower than those at univeristy here. Then, we discussed ways to combat financial security such as saving from work and getting good scores on their exams to help obtain scholarships. Then, we discussed teenage pregnancy. Because I teach at a catholic school, abstinence is supposed to be the only thing taught; however, we all know how well it works. The likelihood that all of the students will be abstinent is verrrrry low. So, I decided not to follow protocol and mention things like contraceptives and condoms. The students had heard of them before and were aware of some of their options. It made me happy to know that this information was not all that new to them. We discussed that it was okay to have a boyfriend, but by getting an education you could get an even better boyfriend. 😉 I want them to know that I am human and I have made many mistakes. I want them to know that even though I am not family to any of them, I am always someone they can turn to and a shoulder to cry on. I am really hoping that my talk got through to just a few of them that really needed it. I am hoping that I can find a way to speak to them one on one without any other teachers from my school. I want them to know that what they say to me will not lead to punishment and the only way I will EVER tell anyone what they have said is if it directly involves their safety or the safety of another person.
Around 3pm, Monica and I boarded a trotro to Kumasi. Once we got to the end station of the trotro, we boarded another trotro to her home. We finally reacher Monica’s place around 5:30pm. It was a long trip on the trotro full of exhaust fumes and crying babies. Monica’s place is really nice. In the morning, we will get a car to the bus station and I will head to Accra. Once I reach Accra, I will find Tema Station, then go to Tudu Station, and take a trotro from there to near Aflao (the main border crossing into Togo) where I will be shadowing another education volunteer, David.

11 July 2017
So today I woke up at 4am and was to the bus station in Kumasi by 5am. Monica insisted she pay for the taxi to the station. Once we got to the station, I paid 40 GHc for the ticket and I boarded the bus. We left the bus station a bit before 6am. I made it to Accra around 11am. On the bus ride to Accra, I sat next to a really nice man named Emmanuel. He said that he would help me get to Tudu station from the bus station because I had not ever been there before and my Twi is still rather weak. Once we got off the bus, he found me a cab driver and insisted that he accompany me to the station and help me find the trotro. He also insisted on paying 20 GHc for the taxi to the station. Once we got to the station, he was insisting that I take a nice bus to Aflao. I told him a trotro was fine. Once we found a trotro, he then insisted on paying for my trip to Alfoa which was 24 GHc. I was so greatful for his help. On the bus, there were a few times I was a bit uncomfortable, but then he called me his younger sister and I felt way more comfortable. It was a strange realization that Ghanaians are genuinely caring people and truly want to help almost everyone they meet. As an American, you would not normally converse for five hours with the person sitting next to you on a bus. In Ghana, it’s completely normal. As an American, you would also not usually accompany someone out of your way to help them find their way. He gave about an hour of his time to help me. I so appreciate him and his efforts. Anyways, I got on the trotro and made my way to my shadow visit. It was about a four hour drive from Accra.
Once I got to David’s site, I met some teachers. We spent most of the evening drinking coffee and discussing Toxoplasma gondii. He worked in a Toxo lab for a couple years before coming to Ghana. It was really great to not have to explain what Toxo is to someone. For once, I feel understood! 🙂 We made homemade pizza for dinner and it was absolutely delicious!

12 July 2017
Today we hung out at the school. David made us french toast and turkey bacon for breakfast. It was delicious! Then, we went to the school, which he lives just beside. Because I am highly allergic to mangos, sitting under a mango tree as he normally does was completely out of the question. So instead, we sat under neem trees. The neem trees are used to make pesticides in Ghana. The area was very shaded and comfortable. Because his site is so close to the ocean, you can feel the ocean breeze all day long. Even the hottest of days don’t feel so hot here! This week and next are exam weeks for his students so he spent the day grading and recording their homework marks for the semester. It was great to have a day to relax. Our eyes were bigger than our stomachs last night so we had leftover cold pizza for lunch and it was still absolutely fantastic! He finished grading in the afternoon and gave me a brief tour of his school. It is very similar to the school I will be teaching at in the Ashanti Region, except his school is not religiously affiliated. At 3pm we came back to his house and finally finished off the pizza. I did the dishes because he has been cooking and paying for all of my meals this far. I so appreciate it- reasons I say my contact person is the best! For dinner, we had rice and beans and salad. For dessert, we had left over french toast covered in Ghanaian honey. It was soooo good! I have missed American food. Bofrot is good, but french toast is amazing. While we were eating dinner, Dixie Chicks started playing. When Not Ready to Make Nice came on, we broke out into an utterly amazing jam session! I have not laughed that hard in a long while. It was great to be able to sing along to American music. Sometimes, the people you find yourself with help you not miss home so much. As Reunion Week is going on back home, I am finding it really hard to be away. However, when I think about my community and all of the once in a lifetime opportunities I have been offered here in Ghana, it would be too hard to go home and walk away. I have not regretted my decision. Today, sadly, we lost another member of our cohort. We will miss her dearly. She has one of the best hearts of anyone I have ever met and I hope she finds the happiness she deserves. Tomorrow, John, Karen, and I will be going to the beach near Aflao with our colleagues we are shadowing. I can’t wait!

13 July 2017
This morning we slept in a bit and we ended up getting up around 6:15. We had coffee- again, it was incredible. I have been unbelievably spoiled getting to enjoy real coffee for the past three days. After we had our coffee, David went to go visit with students. While he was out, I did dishes and attempted to sweep his floor. I felt that that is the least I could do for all the wonderful things he has done for me/with me the past few days. Today we took off for the beach around 9am. We met up with John and Karen (two other trainees) and Phil and LisaMarie (their shadow visit volunteers). On the way to the beach, we were stopped at a police checkpoint. I should add that we had put too many of us in one VERY small taxi, not including the driver that made it even worse. He told us that overloading a taxi was an offense in Ghana and that he was going to take us to the station. We all had mini-heart attacks. Then, we burst out laughing. THANKFULLY, he was just joking! Actually, overloading a taxi in Ghana IS an offense. He could have been serious and we could have been in trouble.
Soon after leaving the police checkpoint, our car had a slight malfunction. So, the tire COMPLETELY FELL OFF! You can only imagine how it felt sitting in the front, sharing a seat with LisaMarie, as the tire of the car literally turned 90 degrees and completely went under the front fender. The scent of burnt rubber filled the car and we came to a dead stop. Thankfully, the taxi driver handled the car and the situation very calmly. We weren’t sure what to think when he simply looked at it, got out his jack, and got to work fixing it. Does this happen often?!
Very soon after, another taxi came by and picked up 3 of the 6 in his car. Not long after, another taxi came and picked up the remaining 3. We all met at another taxi station and took a tro towards the beach. When we got out, we walked about a mile to the ocean! I can officially say I have been to the Gulf of Guinea, been in the water, seen waves WAY larger than myself, and dug my toes in the Ghanaian sand. It felt so good to just sit by the ocean and relax with some truly amazing people. We had a few beers and talked the day away. Around 4pm we began the hike through the sand to the chop bar- a local, cheap restaurant. I had a great meal of jollof rice and groundnut soup with chicken. It was soooo delicious. I promise, when I get back to the US I will make it for each and every one of you that have any desire to try greatness. We made it back to David’s house around 6pm. I have a slight sunburn, oops, but it’s not too bad. This was the first time in over a month that I have shown my shoulders at all.

14 July 2017
I will be leaving David’s house around 6:30am to get to the trotro station around 7:15-7:30am. John, Karen, and I will take a trotro to Ho. From Ho, we will head to Koforidua. We are hoping to get there around noon and eat some pizza and french fries.

Settling in…

So much went on this week! On Sunday, I made groundnut soup and rice balls with my host mom. It was incredibly delicious. The last week of practicum was awesome! I got to introduce my students to the fun of science and the possibility of pursuing an American education. The students at Oyokao Methodist are incredibly brilliant. I was sad to leave them after only two weeks. I ended up giving my contact information out to a few students that were extra exceptional. I love teaching in Ghana, but I could never do this in the US. After two years, I think I may have a hard time leaving them. I also have had two dresses made so far in Ghana. The most recent (brown one) is my absolute favorite. It is beyond comfortable and flattering. I really like the seamstress that I have making my things for me. She is incredibly skilled and fast. Days will last forever, but month will fly by. Monday, we will find out where we will be going for the next two years. I am beyond excited!

I’m missing my family, but I’m finding that my friends here are becoming family. I will do better writing over the next two weeks as so much will be happening.