Machete Day!!

​When we got to the farm this morning and John asked me if we wanted to use the hoes or the machetes, I thought it had to be a trick question. Why on earth would he think for a second that we would choose the hoes? I instantly answered, “machetes,” without even consulting the others, but luckily they confirmed later that they all wanted the same thing. Phew.

Kind of “before” picture… More like an “in progress after I realized I hasn’t taken a before picture” picture.

After


It’s a good hint that we’re going to get to do something fun with the machetes when they take the time to sharpen them. When we do things like sowing corn with them, there’s no need for them to be sharp. When we do things like chopping down dead corn stalks, we need sharp machetes. Today, we got to chop down tall weeds in another field that I didn’t know was part of our farm. I really need to stop pretending that I know anything about where our farm starts and ends because every time I’m sure I’ve finally gotten it, we go somewhere else that I didn’t know existed and my head explodes. It’s painful having your head explode so many times… but seriously, how could we have gone 6 weeks in the same parts of the farm and now in the last 4, the area we’ve covered has at least doubled what I knew about before? Sorry, I digress.
We got to chop down some tall weeds, and chopping things with a machete is one of my favorite farm activities. I feel like I’m doing what I was born for (this is the Ghanaian inside of me talking). It really is satisfying though… until you look down and realize that you have a million blisters and your hands hate you. This is another one of those “Did I have gloves? Yes. Did I wear my gloves? Of course not.” situations.

I obviously didn’t take any pictures of the work we did at the clinic… But I did take this picture of some of the adorable kittens they currently have there. Priorities.

I was feeling invigorated when we left the farm, which was good because the next stop after breakfast was the clinic for another day of construction work. The task of the day was to make more blocks! Nick, James, and I got to help mix the cement/sand/water together, pack it into the molds to make the block shape, and push perfectly formed blocks like little concrete [sand]castles onto the ground to dry. Nick and I missed some of the beginning work because of the farm, but we spent about 3 hours there and made 300 blocks total! How did my hands feel by the end? Ha. Haha. Hahaha. Horrible. But you can’t show weakness in front of the guys! So I pretended I was fine and tried to adjust what I was doing so that I could spread the abuse out over my whole hand.
You’ll also be happy to know that the “Princess” nickname is now officially a thing. ALL of the masons have started calling me Princess Lara, plus some other various people in town. I just go along with it because that’s way easier than trying to fight it. Plus, who doesn’t want to be a princess?

Everyone went to Juapong in the afternoon because it’s market day there! A bunch of us wanted to buy fabric, and Avy’s birthday is tomorrow, so I had to secretly buy supplies for her surprise birthday cake. I got in touch with the same woman who made the cake for Evans’s birthday, and this time I asked for it to just be a chocolate cake because the last one was a swirl, and the chocolate part was so much better (though they were both good). Anyway, I was hoping that Avy wouldn’t come with us, but no such luck. Instead, we had to make up some clever stories to split up and sneak around the market, hoping she wouldn’t see us. There was one close call when I was trying to buy eggs and had to stop mid-sentence to run away from the egg stand, but I think we’re okay. I guess we’ll find out tomorrow! And hopefully she’s a good sport and plays along even if she knows.

Clinic Construction

The cassava sticks we planted (the little angled sticks coming out of the ground)

This was a great day! I feel like the last week has been so productive, and today was no exception! James, Yara, and Anna were travelling for the weekend, so it was just me at the farm this morning. I was nervous about managing to wake up and motivate myself to go without any company, but it actually wasn’t that bad. AND I got to do something new at the farm! We planted cassava sticks. You start out with a pile of sticks that are about 4’ long, dig a hole, shove the stick in, push the dirt back around it, and chop it with your machete to be 8-12” long. I haven’t gotten to use a machete to actually cut things in a while, but don’t worry, my skills are still exceptional. After John showed me how to do it, he and Anthony watched me try once to make sure I had it right. No pressure. My machete instincts took over, and I chopped that cassava stick like a Ghanaian. Yes, you should be impressed. I ended up planting most of the little field by myself, so I must have convinced them that I knew what I was doing.

Before they started work today, there were no walls at all. This was at the beginning of the day when I arrived and they had been working for an hour or so.

I was the most excited about the next part of my morning… I got to help with the construction at the clinic! I’ve been telling Joe for weeks that I want to help, and a couple days ago he finally asked me if I wanted to go and work. We headed over after breakfast, and after I jokingly gave him a hard time for saying hi to a guy on a motorbike without asking for a lift, he called one of his uncles to take us there. Yes, it’s less than a 15 minute walk, but it was hot and as Joe pointed out, princesses don’t walk. I guess that nickname is going to stick, but if it comes with motorbike benefits, I’ll keep any complaints to myself.

Elisha and me carrying mortar to one of the masons.

We got to the clinic, Joe shoveled some mortar for maybe a minute, and he vanished. I didn’t know where to go or what to do, so I just stood out of the way and watched how they did things until the guy mixing the mortar, Elisha, called my name. He knew my name! I was excited about that, and when he said, “do you want to help…”, I’m pretty sure my whole face lit up, and I ran over without even waiting to hear what he wanted. I started out by just helping him carry the mortar to the masons who needed it. They were starting to put the walls up, and honestly, I didn’t mind standing around just watching for a while because it was cool to see how they did things. Anyway, I gradually started getting more responsibilities. I got to mix mortar with Elisha, shovel sand, clean the site, measure things, make sure walls were straight, wind up the strings (that they use to line up the blocks), carry blocks, fetch things, etc. You know, all of the high-level tasks. I was just happy to be there. I felt like I was part of the team when Senyo, one of the masons who is really good, made me his designated tape measure holder. After that, he started trusting me to break blocks for him! When there was a gap that needed a block smaller than a full one, he measured, told me the size he needed, and I broke it to that size.

Breaking one of the blocks. Refer to the dreaded ax hammer in my hand.

They kept asking me if the work was hard or if I was tired, and I kept saying no because I wanted to prove myself. They asked if the sun was too hot and told me I could go in the shade, but I shook that off too. I was doing fine until my hands started to fail. I had gloves with me but obviously didn’t use them because no one else uses gloves, and I don’t want to look soft. I know, stupid. Extra stupid when the tool they use to break the blocks is a mini-ax with a handle that’s like a piece of rebar (imagine a metal cylinder with a thick metal wire wound around it… aka not smooth at all). I got to the point where I couldn’t even break a block because of my blisters. Senyo figured out my issue, felt my palm, shook his head, and said, “too soft,” before showing me his hand for comparison’s sake. I have a lot of work to do.

Shoveling sand to mix more mortar.

When it was time for me to go home for lunch, I said goodbye to everyone and headed out with Joe. I actually think that they looked sad to see me go! They were all saying, “wait, you’re leaving??” That made me feel better because I was a little worried that they were just tolerating me because they felt like they had to, even though I told them that I was happy to help if I could but would happily stay out of the way if I would just be a bother. I told Joe to follow up and see if they’d be okay with me coming back because I really enjoyed myself.

For the way home, Joe asked if I wanted to take another motorbike. I said, “oh no, we can just walk,” and he looked at me, shook his head, and said, “no, it’s too hot.” Well like I said before, I’m not going to argue with a free ride. He had trouble getting in touch with anyone, said we just had to walk, and we got about 50 feet down the road before someone stopped to pick us up. That’s the princess life, I guess.

This is what it looked like when I left. They were pretty close to finished for the day by the time I left, but they did add a bit more afterwards.

The rest of the day was quiet. I was exhausted after working for 5 hours in the sun during the morning, so I mostly just hung out and enjoyed some time in our mostly empty house. Clarina left around 3PM, and I stood with her by the street until she got a tro tro straight to the airport. I really am an emotional mess now when it comes to people leaving. I almost started crying AGAIN. I can’t even think about the fact that someday soon it’s going to be my turn.
Anyway, for now, I’m going to ignore that unwelcome truth and instead focus on enjoying my weekend with the house basically to myself. It’s so nice to have some quiet and time to sit and relax without a million things going on around me. At least until tomorrow when new volunteers come, AND NICK IS COMING!

Back to the Poop Hole

 

Anna carrying some branches

Our farm numbers were back down today; only Anna and I went. We were rewarded with a morning of carrying massive palm branches from a nearby farm to ours. The pig house roof is made from palm branches, and it broke in a couple places. We cut new branches (by “we cut” I mean John and Anthony cut and Anna and I carried) to replace the ones that were crumbling. I was just happy to have something new to do, and it was a fun challenge to carry the branches without toppling over or running into anything. Plus, the actual labor wasn’t very hard which was a nice change from hoeing.

Measuring the boys

After breakfast, I took a trip to Baptist to see some of the kids getting measured for new uniforms. Avy is using some of her donated money to replace the uniforms of some kids whose are in bad condition and whose families aren’t able to afford new ones. I don’t know that the kids understood what was going on, but I can’t wait to see their reactions when they get their new uniforms!

Working hard

I didn’t spend the whole morning at the school as usual because Joe and James were taking cement to the clinic and asked me to come along and help. Turned out that they really didn’t need help because you only need two people to pull/push a cart with five cement bags on it. Joe told me to get on the cart too, and I thought he was kidding until he stopped walking and insisted. Well okay, I’m not going to refuse a ride if it’s repeatedly offered. I got on, and he and James took me the whole way there. I don’t think the people in town had seen anything like it before because they were all laughing and taking pictures. Joe started calling me Princess Lara, and I’m a little worried that it’s going to stick.

We dropped the bags off, and I feel like I made up for my ride there because I pulled the cart most of the way back to the market and insisted that James ride for part because he was whining about being tired from the malaria (but then refused to take it easy, so what can you do?).

If you were wondering how John managed to nail the roof in the middle of the poop hole…

I took it easy for a couple hours after lunch because it’s so incredibly hot, and around 3PM, John stopped by to pick me up and walk over to the farm. I decided that I couldn’t keep procrastinating on this poop hole roof, especially since it’s been raining and the hole is just going to keep getting wetter (the hole is to turn the pig poop into fertilizer for the farm). Really, it’s stupid that I’d been putting it off because I didn’t even need to build the roof. John and Anthony built it, and I just had to supervise and make sure they did what we wanted.

Presenting: the most fabulous poop hole roof ever!

We fixed the last two columns in place, added the beams to support the roof, and put on the roofing material. I can now confidently say that this is the most beautiful and intense poop hole in all of Ghana (*disclaimer* this statement is pure speculation. But really, how much competition can there be?). The whole thing took maybe an hour and a half, and after seeing the construction in action, I’m positive that having them do it was the right choice (even if it wasn’t totally intentional). John took about three hammer swings to do what would have taken us ten, and I’m pretty sure that we wouldn’t have been able to manage parts of it. Anyway, it’s finished now, and I’m happy for that. All that’s left is to finish filling in the dirt around the walls… ehh that’s a project for another day!

Outdoor Classes

The P3 outdoor chalkboard. We’re really excited about the P3 teacher because he was so determined to not let the day go to waste. With this, they were able to have normal class, just with better ventilation.

Okay so I apparently know nothing about the size of our farm because when we got there this morning, guess what John handed us? Machetes. More sowing. I could tell that Anna was a little bummed that we were doing the same thing, but like I said, it’s just because this is her first week. I’d be happy to sow every day until I leave if you told me I’d never have to hoe again.

Mixing the sand and cement for the new floors.

This time, we went to another field that I didn’t even know existed. How have I been working on the farm for 2 months now without having any clue about how big it actually is? Crazy.

P3 classroom – “Before” shot. The light parts are where the floor still is and the dark parts are all of the holes.

The floor after they tore out the old one.


Starting to put the new floor in.


The finished product!


School today was kind of awesome. They’re redoing the floors in some of the classrooms because they’re in such terrible condition (I think I mentioned this before?), and the work started today on two of them. That obviously means that those classes (P2 and P3) couldn’t use their classrooms, so they moved all of the desks outside and they had class underneath the big trees in the schoolyard. The P3 teacher had a makeshift chalkboard, and Avy and I taught P2 using little whiteboards. One of the things I love about being here is that there’s a much smaller separation between the indoors and the outdoors. At home, we’re so cut off from nature. Here, it feels like the indoors and outdoors are less segregated… each one is like an extension of the other.

Avy doing song time during one of the breaks.

The P2 teacher, Everlasting, was overseeing the construction, so Avy and I took over his class for him. Avy did some reading stuff with them and I taught them about greater than, less than, and equal to in Math class. The difference in where the kids are skill-wise never ceases to amaze me. Some of the kids got it no problem when we gave them exercises, and others totally did not. I spent some extra time with one girl in particular who got all of them wrong. I wrote out all of the numbers from 1-100, and I pointed at them one by one while she said their names. We got to about 49 with no issues and then everything fell apart. No wonder she couldn’t do greater than and less than… she didn’t even know what the numbers were. We practiced that for a little while and then I moved on to the greater than/less than stuff. I can’t say that I think she understood it completely when we finished, but hopefully it was a bit better. The other thing you need to remember is that we have a language barrier, especially with the younger kids, so me explaining anything is a lot of hand motions and acting and pointing. Not ideal.

Me teaching about the greater than/less than fish who likes to eat the bigger number. This is actually still how I think about which way the symbol goes…

After lunch, Avy and I went back with Evans, one of the staff members from VCO (the org we’re here with), and checked out the drainage issue at the school. Evans has some architecture training, so the two of us tried to come up with an inexpensive but acceptable solution. Basically, the school is a U-shape and all of the water pools inside the U because of how the land slopes. There are two drain pipes at the bottom of the U, but they are way too small to handle all of the water. So the schoolyard floods and eventually overflows into the school building and the classrooms. Good, right? I mean, I look at the design of the school and where they decided to put it on the site and just shake my head. Anyone who took one second to think about it would have been able to tell you that there would be a problem. We came up with something, and hopefully they’ll get the funding to do it.

Seriously the best classroom… as long as it doesn’t rain.

We have another project planned for the school, so after we left, Avy, Clarina, and I went to Juapong (about 3 towns away) to buy some nails. Some of the desks at Baptist are in really horrible condition. Some are missing pieces, some are clearly falling apart, and ALL of them wobble. I can’t even imagine trying to learn while also trying to avoid getting stabbed by the nails sticking out of my desk. Anyway, we bought some nails and we’ll see how things go.