After our weekend of fun in Ica, I only had nine more days before I was leaving Esperanza de Ana! Since we were nearing the end of the year, not only was work busy, but there were special programs with the kids and families to celebrate the holidays. I didn’t want to miss out on experiencing any of that because I was overwhelmed with work, so I tried extra hard to plan out my schedule, blocking out the special programs and being extra productive during my work times.

I’m going to focus this post on the non-work events of my final days, and next time, I’ll talk about work. Even though I was only around for 10 days of December, I think those days were more eventful than any other month in terms of the electrical work!


With the Christmas season and the end of the school year approaching, there was a lot of fun happening during my last week. We had two Christmas events, one with just the kids and one with the entire families. At the kids’ event, each class performed a dance or song, and it was so fun to watch! The age 2-3 class is all girls, and they danced to Spanish “Let It Go” while wearing Ana and Elsa dresses (yes, the Frozen craze is international) and looking like it was the best day of their lives. It was adorable. After all the classes performed, they got their Christmas presents. Each teacher picked a boy gift and girl gift for her class, and I was amazed by how well they did at picking things everyone would like. That’s a hard job!

Sometimes, I think the teachers have their kids do things for their own entertainment. One of the teachers had a couple of “donkeys” dancing during their performance. The girl in the caboose of the front donkey is the sister of the girl in the front, and she was doing the BEST little prancing feet. Like I said, no idea how necessary this actually was for the performance, but I certainly appreciated it.

The next day, we celebrated family Christmas. You know how, when you’re used to seeing someone in one context, it’s disorienting to see them in another? Like when you see your elementary school teacher at the grocery store or a coworker outside of the office. Seeing the kids with their siblings and parents felt like that. Of course, I knew their parents existed, but I never had any reason to meet them because my job was separate from that part of the ministry. I loved getting to see another side of the kids and pick out which ones are like exact mini-replicas of their parents. We sang some Christmas songs, and then things got competitive. Each teacher planned a game for her class, and the kids played with a parent as their partner.

Ready for family Christmas!
Building a balloon snowman… and struggling.
They needed an extra person for a few of the games, and I quickly volunteered myself as a stand-in (because who doesn’t like games?!).
This is my favorite team-building challenge… you’re supposed to walk and keep the balloons between you without holding them in place, and you do laps while adding a person and a balloon each time. It’s hilarious. We did EA staff vs. some of the moms, and we were like a well-oiled machine. It wasn’t very fair. Also, I don’t understand why my focus face is me sticking my tongue out, but clearly I was VERY focused when this photo was taken.

After the games, everyone crammed into the cafeteria for a Chocolatada, a Peruvian Christmas tradition where people gather together to enjoy panetón and Peruvian hot chocolate. Panetón is similar to a fruit cake and originated in Italy. Now, it’s been co-opted as the official Peruvian Christmas bread. The classic has dried fruit inside, or there are variations like one that replaces the fruit with chocolate. Now, that sounds like something I could get behind… but the bread itself is orange-flavored! I despise oranges, so as you can imagine, I can’t quite get into panetón. Peruvians looove panetón and everyone buys them (I don’t think anyone makes them) and gives them to everyone else for the holidays. It’s kind of like Christmas cookies in the States but not homemade and not delicious (in my personal opinion, at least, which clearly isn’t that of the majority).

Anyway, part two of this tradition is hot chocolate, but it’s like no hot chocolate you’ve ever experienced. It’s made with evaporated milk and special chocolate bars (rather than powder), so it’s incredibly thick. Then, you add cloves and cinnamon and BUTTER because obviously the evaporated milk wasn’t thick enough. And then you drink this with your panetón and feel like you’ll never eat again. Don’t get me wrong, it was good… but one cup was enough to hold me over for the rest of my life. Oh yeah, and remember that Christmas is during Peruvian SUMMER, so you’re drinking this world’s thickest hot butter-and-chocolate while also sweating. WHY.

Pancho, Dora, me, and Delia. The three of them work in the kitchen together, and they’re a super fun bunch! They were also the ones responsible for the buttery hot chocolate preparation.
Family Christmas photo! (pic by David, the EA photographer)

My second-to-last day of work was an in-service day. The EA program directors presented their 2020 action plans, and each planned a game to help break up the day. And that’s how I found myself playing musical chairs with my coworkers. I started next to Jim and told him “fair warning but I get a little competitive” which is true, but I was mostly kidding! He apparently took it as a threat. WELL, in the end, it was Jim, me, and one chair. When the music stopped, I was in position for a win. I committed to the sit… and Jim pulled the chair out from under me! He immediately felt guilty because I was clearly going to fall and tried to catch me which ended with both of us on the ground. I declared myself the winner because he had clearly cheated, and there were not only multiple witnesses, but video evidence! (Side note: I need to get myself a copy of that video…)

I tell you this story not because I want justice for this outrageous act but because it provides important context for what comes next. After this musical-chairs sabotage, Tony (Jim’s wife) approached me about being part of Jim’s birthday surprise. You see, it’s a Peruvian birthday tradition to crack an egg on the birthday person’s head. They were planning to sing for the three December birthday people, Jim, Julie, and me, so I would be in the perfect position to avoid raising suspicion. Previously, I had said I would never participate in a birthday egging because I would hate to have it done to me, but I felt like Jim had it coming! And so, this is the story of how I got my revenge on Jim but also a lesson about how vengeance is never the answer. Enjoy this video:

I’ll explain a couple of things:
The singing you hear is the tail end of the THREE birthday songs that are sung: Happy Birthday in English, Happy Birthday in Spanish, and Spanish Christian Happy Birthday. It’s endless.
I have the eggs stored in the waistband of my leggings so that I can clap along and keep Jim from getting suspicious (note for the future: pants with pockets recommended).
During the songs, he’s trying to tell Julie to get an egg to crack on MY head (rude, Jim), and she refuses (what a good friend)… and as the song ends, he pretends to crack one on me. Little does he know… Ha! Gotcha, Jim! But while he’s trying to wipe his egg residue on me (and I try to guilt him out of it because I had literally just showered), Eddy and Brenda run into the kitchen and get two eggs to crack on my head! Karma. And then Eddy chases Julie around the kitchen, she dodges one attack (the egg ends up on the floor), and after the video ends, she runs outside and he eventually gets her too.

Lessons learned: never celebrate a birthday in Peru, what goes around comes around, and hot water is not recommended when washing egg out of your hair.

Me, attempting to protect my clothes from the eggs, before I stole Julie’s strategy of rinsing my hair in the kitchen sink (with the help of Jocelyn… at least SOME PEOPLE are good friends). Note the egg white glistening on my arm -_-

It was a gloomy, drizzly day. The sky was overcast, the air cold, the people sad and grey. Everything practically begged you to be depressed… except for one thing. The date. December 20th, 2017. The day when, twenty-something years ago, my life changed forever. SURPRISE! I’m talking about the day of my birth!!! I know, that was unnecessarily dramatic. But December 20th this year truly was a cold, gross, drizzly day, and if it wasn’t my birthday, I probably would have been as seasonally depressed as the rest of the city.

Work birthday balloons

If you know me, you know that I take birthdays VERY seriously. Not just my birthday, though that is one of my favorites, but anyone’s! Everyone’s! I love them. The fact that everyone has a special day where people just celebrate the fact that they exist is kind of awesome! People say, “Happy Birthday!” but they mean, “I’m going to have an awesome day because thanks to this day, you exist! And since I’m happy about that, you should be happy too! So happy day of your birth!” Okay, maybe that’s just me who thinks that… but that’s how I give my “Happy birthday”s in my head, so that’s how I’m choosing to receive them as well.

Anyway, my day started out with balloons at work! They got me balloons! But wait… that’s not all of the excitement that work brought… the ceiling was feeling jealous of the sky, so it decided to start raining too! Yup, that’s right. We sprung a ceiling leak about 15 minutes after I got to work. You know how people say it’s good luck when a bird poops on you? (Lies.) I think they also say that it’s good luck if the ceiling starts to leak on your birthday. (Completely made up.) If that’s the case, I’m going to have some incredible luck this year! Once the one leak was under control, a couple hours passed and ANOTHER one started up! It sounded like there was a downpour inside. I have no idea what happened, but they’re doing construction upstairs and chances are good that they messed up some pipes. I guess that’s one danger of having an office in a basement.

I don’t know how well you can see it, but there were two nonstop streams of water coming from the ceiling. I usually work in the room through that door.
This ceiling incision with a kitchen knife confirmed that there was, in fact, water above the ceiling in our actual office also

We also had a huge humanitarian aid distribution where something like 100 people came in to get packages, and after work, we ate cake! It was the birthday of someone else at the organization too, so there was a little joint celebration. Side note, I don’t think that birthday candles exist here because they basically just stick fireworks in the middle of their cakes. Okay, slightly dramatic again… they’re more like giant sparklers. But definitely not the kind of thing you’re supposed to blow out, unfortunately.

After work, I had the rest of the night planned. There happened to be an opera, so I figured, why not? Opera isn’t my favorite, but it’s still cool to go to the show and see the costumes and watch people fake die on stage. The storylines are also always completely ridiculous. This one was “Il Trotavore” (The Troubadour). It was kind of fun because there are subtitles to help you follow along… but they’re in Armenian. I got some good reading practice, and I completely understood one line in the whole opera! It was incredibly exciting.

As promised, here are some more pictures of the lights around the city. These ones are on Northern Ave
More of Northern
On the way to opera!

Here’s my attempt at a brief summary:

There is a gypsy woman who sneaks into the house of some rich people and weirdly stands over their baby’s crib. The kid starts falling apart, so the gypsy is burned alive for supposedly cursing him. She yells for her daughter to avenge her as she dies.

I also got a rose at work!

The daughter tries to do just that by throwing the rich people’s baby into the fire too, but she accidentally grabs her own kid and he dies instead. She keeps the other baby and raises him as her own.

Fast forward some number of years. The princess is in love with the fake gypsy boy (man?) aka the troubadour. The count, brother of the kidnapped kid (aka the now-grown gypsy man/troubadour), is in love with the princess. They don’t know they’re brothers. They get into a fight one night, and the princess hears a false rumor that the gypsy man was killed. She is devastated and does what anyone else would do in that situation… she decides to become a nun.

Gypsy man hears about this and goes to rescue her from the convent. He breaks her out, and off they go. Meanwhile, the count captures gypsy mother (fake mother of gypsy man). When gypsy man hears, he declares a war. He loses, and he and the princess get captured.

Christmas tree inside the opera house

The princess promises to marry the count if gypsy man is freed. The count agrees, and the princess poisons herself with some poison she had in her ring (is this a normal thing to have??). The poison is incredibly slow-acting because she stays alive long enough to go see gypsy man, tell him what she’s done, have a fight with him (why is he fighting with her?? She’s already definitely going to die), and spend at least five minutes singing about how she’s dying, she’s dying, yeah, yeah, yeah so just do it already! (I’m sorry, I don’t think I’m cut out for the opera. Things take too long to happen.)

Princess finally dies. Gypsy man is devastated, but that’s okay because he gets beheaded just minutes later when the count sees he’s been duped. Gypsy mother wakes up just in time to hear that her “son” has been killed, she tells the count that he killed his own brother, he falls to the ground in grief, and she cackles about the fact that her mother has finally been avenged. The End.

After that incredibly uplifting show, we went to this dessert restaurant that always results in a full-on sugar coma. I ate a brownie with ice cream on top and a chocolate shot on the side, and it was phenomenal. And I wanted to die afterwards, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Zoe, Olivia, me, Liz, and Gabrielle with the opera poster
Some of the decorations in front of the opera house
Note the giant, red ornament that you can walk through
More opera decorations
Olivia the ice sculpture eskimo
Ready to inhale my dessert

The day was pretty perfect. There was some excitement at work, plus balloons and cake, we watched a bunch of people fake die while singing, I ate enough sugar to power me through the rest of my life, and I got to hang out with my friends. I have a bunch of friends who didn’t know each other, and it’s always fun when you can make your worlds collide. It didn’t seem like anyone hated each other, so we’ll call it a success! Anyway, it definitely wasn’t like any other birthday, but it was great!

What’s the oldest city in the world? What’s the first thing that pops into your head? If you said Rome, today is your lucky day because you’re about to learn something new! Yerevan is 29 YEARS older than Rome. Take that, Rome! Ha!

Serious decorating…

Yerevan is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities, right next to Babylon. It got its start in 782 BC when King Argishti I founded the fortress of Erebuni. I guess you could say that the rest is history… 2799 years of history, to be precise. Today, unfortunately, most of the historic buildings have been replaced with newer models. In 1924, the architect/urban planner Alexander Tamanian (the same guy who designed the opera house) made a new master plan for the city center, and a lot of the historic streets and structures were destroyed to accommodate his plans. You can still visit the remains of Erebuni fortress, though, about 7 km southeast of the center.

There was also a chalk party for kids earlier in the day where they shut down the street and kids got to chalk it up

Yerevan’s birthday is celebrated every year (since 1968) on the second Saturday in October. Believe me when I say that this birthday party is like nothing you’ve EVER seen before. Word of the day: ridiculous. I’m going to try not to overuse it in my descriptions of the happenings, but I can’t make any promises because well, it was ridiculous.

There was an extensive schedule of events for the day, and I didn’t make it to even half of them. How could I? You would have to be in 100 places at once. The exciting festivities started with a street cleaning and the washing of Yerevan monuments… don’t want to miss that! Those were the only events that started before noon because this is Armenia and “morning” here means like 12-3PM.

I decided to make a loop around the different areas where things were happening. My timing is apparently impeccable because I made it to Republic Square right at the end of the “Opening of the International Balloon Festival” which means that I was there just in time to see the hot air balloons take off. Oh yes, hot air balloons. Twelve of them. Did you think that “balloon festival” means those dinky latex balloons? This isn’t MY birthday party we’re talking about. This is YEREVAN!

One small example of the balloon arch craziness… now just picture this literally everywhere

On the topic of balloons though, it looked like a balloon festival threw up all over the city. You couldn’t look in any direction without seeing a balloon arch or balloon column… or 100 of them. Tons of businesses had balloon arches surrounding their doorways, colors perfectly coordinated to the business’s colors or defaulted to Armenian flag colors. I don’t even know how they managed to accumulate that many balloons. Trust me, I am NOT being dramatic. I’ve seriously never seen anything like it. Balloon factories around the globe probably worked overtime for months to fill the city’s order. Okay, maybe slightly dramatic, but we’ll say 5% drama and 95% completely warranted commentary.

Anyway, the hot air balloons. It was like something straight out of a movie. The twelve of them took off one after another and floated around the square. It was awesome. Don’t think that when I say “ridiculous” I mean it wasn’t awesome because it definitely was that. It was also just completely over the top.

All lined up and ready to launch
Doesn’t this look like something straight out of a movie?
The streets were PACKED
Prepping for their festive ride

I took a stroll down to City Hall and was there just in time to see the “Festive cycling” participants (aka people on bikes, carrying Yerevan flags and wearing matching t-shirts) depart. So incredibly random. From there, I headed back towards the center and the opera house. One of the best things about the day was that most of the streets in the event areas were closed. How fun is it to be able to walk fearlessly in the middle of a usually busy street? (The correct answer, by the way, is VERY fun.)

There were also approximately one million stages with ongoing performances all across town. There were stages in Republic Square, the park near Republic Square, the opera house, two of the parks near the opera house, two on Northern Avenue, and at Cascade. And I’m probably missing some, honestly.

The taglines of the day: “feel Yerevan” “love Yerevan” “see Yerevan” and “hear Yerevan”
Flags over the street.. leave no corner undecorated
Northern Avenue
Me, Liz, and Gagik

I spent the day marveling at the fact that we literally searched the entire city on Independence Day, trying to find something going on and failing miserably. Now I understand why because with plans in the works for Yerevan Day, how could the city afford to do anything? Better question, how could the city afford Yerevan Day? I would bet that’s a sensitive topic… there are so many things here that could benefit from even a tiny fraction of the probably millions of dollars it took to pull everything off.

This makes Armenia sound like a country with confused priorities, and I won’t argue with that. Before you start judging though, think about the fact that it happens everywhere. I’d bet there are zero countries that aren’t guilty of doing the exact same thing. I’m not saying it should be excused because everyone does it or that I didn’t think the day was a ton of fun… It’s just something to think about.

Cascade during the concert!

At night, there were simultaneous concerts at a few of the stages. I went to the one at Cascade because it seemed like the biggest deal. I had heard about previous concerts there and wanted to see it in action. They put up a stage facing Cascade, and people stand on the stairs like they’re bleachers! It’s brilliant. I somehow ended up right in the front, maybe because I was by myself and it’s much easier to wiggle your way through a crowd when you’re solo. The concert was an orchestra with a revolving cast of singers. Each singer came on for one song, and sometimes it was just instrumental so they brought out dancers. I enjoyed the music, and it was also cool that the crowd was a huge mix of ages, from babies to grandparents. It’s always fun to be a part of something that brings together a diverse group of people.

In conclusion, Yerevan Day was ridiculous. Everything was done to the extreme. I think my jaw was dropped for 80% of the day. People looked like they were having a great time. I had a great time. I feel like I can confidently say that I will never experience a day like that again. I just have one question left… if that was how 2799 was celebrated, what on earth is 2800 going to look like?

The opera house
During one of the instrumental pieces
Look at how close I made it to the stage!
Can you find me? Also, how sad looking is that heart?

There is a lizard in my room (or maybe it’s a gecko… does anyone know what the difference is? We’ll just go with lizard). Now, I’m not afraid of lizards or anything, but that doesn’t mean I want one in the room where I sleep. I have some lizard-related nightmares that I’d rather not have come true.

Nightmare #1: There’s this scene in The Parent Trap (the newer one with MK and Ashley) where the step-girlfriend ends up with a lizard half in, half out of her mouth. I keep having these horrible visions of me waking up in the middle of the night with a LIZARD IN MY MOUTH. Ew ew ew ew ew ew.

There he is, lurking right next to my air conditioner like he has no idea what danger lies inside.

Nightmare #2: I don’t know if you recall the lizard-meets-A/C incident of 2016, but apparently, I’m scarred from it. Today, my new roommate was hanging out on my wall, my air conditioner was running (which is rare, but it was HOT), and all of a sudden, it decided to move TOWARDS the A/C unit rather than away from it. COME ON, LIZARD! Be smart! It disappeared from view, and I was sure that at any second, a dead lizard was going to be dispensed onto my bed. I’m currently sitting on bed #2, far away from the drop zone.

My A/C is now off, and my lizard friend was last spotted heading away from my bed, so I think we’re safe at the moment. Nothing is for certain though. On the bright side, these lizards make this weird sound… I don’t even know how to describe it. My best attempt would be that it’s like when I try to imitate a dolphin. I know, that’s very unhelpful, but it’s the best I can do right now. I’ll start trying to catch it on video. Anyway, that’s a positive in my mind because then you can always tell where they are. I would rather know if my room has been infiltrated, even if it’s going to freak me out a bit.

If I’m being honest, the lizard was probably the most eventful part of my day. I’m still sick, so I went to school for 1st period and then came back to sleep. I need to take advantage of all the rest time I can get because tomorrow I have three classes to teach. Jenrika has been with the class 9 English class doing grammar the last couple of days, but I have them back tomorrow, plus the class 8 Science period. Wish me luck!

Oh! The other mildly exciting thing that happened today was that it was a kid’s birthday at school, and that means candy! I love how birthdays are celebrated here. This is another “I don’t know if this is an Indian thing or just how things are done at this school” thing. Every day during assembly, they ask if it’s anyone’s birthday. If it is, they come up to the front, and everyone sings “happy birthday” to them (and it’s a much better version than the one we use. I’ve decided that our “happy birthday” song is horrible and kind of sounds like a funeral march. We should work on that). The kid doesn’t have to wear his/her uniform that day, and they walk around the school giving out candy. Tell me that doesn’t sound like the best thing ever! With almost 400 kids in the school, we have A LOT of candy days. This should be a thing everywhere.

Finally! Test day! And it’s also Pastor Daniel’s birthday! Today was another one of those days that just reaffirmed the fact that I know what’s going on approximately 10% of the time. More likely, that number is 0%, but 10% of the time, I just don’t find out that whatever I thought I knew was actually wrong.

I got to school around the usual time, and it was chaos. Kids were getting sent over here and over there, teachers were running left and right, and it looked like there had been a balloon explosion. So, what did I do? I asked once if there was something I could do to help, got a half-answer that I decided to take as a no, and stayed as far out of the way as possible. Everyone was getting ready for a small birthday ceremony for Pastor Daniel.

The “We Wish You A Happy Birthday” kids. Hilarious.

Here’s the 20-second summary: Pastor Daniel showed up, and everyone clapped. A prayer was said, a Bible verse read, and then he was serenaded by a happy birthday remix (including a rap), courtesy of the class 9 and 10 boys. All of the teachers were called to the stage for something that we were apparently supposed to be aware of, and I was happy to see that the couple of teachers I was standing with also got the panicked “ummm whattt???” eyes. We tried to refuse, got forced onto the stage to perform some songs that I didn’t know, and quickly returned to our hiding spots in the back. Paper letters were pinned to the backs of some kids’ shirts to read “WE WISH YOU A HAPPY BIRTHDAY”. That was kind of awesome. The cake was cut and some pieces were stuffed into the mouths of random, nearby kids. The gifts were presented, a “thank you” speech was given by Pastor Daniel, and that was that.


Pre-cake cutting

Speaking of the cake thing, that’s something else that I don’t understand. Anytime there’s a cake cutting here (which, in the two weeks I’ve been here, there have been more cake cutting ceremonies than the rest of my life combined), there are like 10 people with their hands on the knife, and after the cut is made, everyone feeds each other cake. It’s like what people do at weddings except it’s not a wedding. Today, Pastor Daniel cut the cake and then fed pieces to like 5 random people who were standing close-by. I need to do some asking around about this because I really don’t get if there’s some method to the whole thing or what, and with my luck, I’ll end up doing a cake-cutting at some point and will offend everyone with my lack of cake-feeding knowledge.


That about wrapped up the birthday ceremony, but SURPRISE! Half day of school to celebrate! Of course. I totally knew about that… not. The one thing that DID go according to plan was that the English test actually happened. Spoiler alert: I was in physical pain after grading the class 9 tests. Teachers of the world – is that something that happens to other people, or is it just me? Class 10 did pretty well. I personally think that everyone should have gotten a 10/10 because it was insanely easy, but they at least had a large majority who got 8/10 or higher. Class 9 though. My gosh. There were so many questions that people didn’t even answer. What is wrong with these kids? When you don’t know the answer, you GUESS! You write ANYTHING and hope that you’ll get partial credit. Anything is better than nothing! If you write nothing, you’re going to get zero points, guaranteed. We’re going to have to talk about that. These are essential school skills!

The teachers!

Part of the reason I’m bummed about the scores is because I know that when kids do poorly on tests, it’s partly a reflection of how the teacher did preparing them. That means I have work to do. I’m not going to take all the blame though because part of the problem is the way they’ve been educated up to now. The way I see it, the kids in classes 9 and 10 have been speaking and learning in English for at least 10 years at this point. How long does it take to get a good grasp on a language when you’re speaking it every day? And when you start from a young age? They should be able to write complete, coherent sentences by now. They should be able to read and comprehend a basic story. They should know how to study for a test where they don’t know the questions ahead of time. Am I being unreasonable? You remember how I mentioned the big board exams they have to take at the end of year 10? They’re in English! There’s no escaping the fact that they need to be able to read and write proficiently.

Sorry, I’m ranting. It’s frustrating though! Now I’m all invested in these kids, and I want them to do well! I want to help them do well, but I think I probably care more than they do. Teacher life is exhausting. I don’t think I’m emotionally cut out for this.

No, of course I wasn’t taking pictures of the class during the test…

Anyway, after school, I headed home to finish grading the tests and was interrupted by a knock on my door. It was my sister (#2), Prisha, asking if I was ready. Ready for what? I never know. I figured it was something to do with Pastor Daniel’s birthday, and she was wearing a dress which meant I should probably change out of my pajamas. I said, “of course!” like I totally know what was going on and then rushed to get changed into something presentable before running downstairs. I caught the car just as it was pulling out of the driveway. Phew.

It turns out that Pastor Daniel puts on a lunch for the teachers every year on his birthday. We were headed to the Bible school where we enjoyed a few more birthday serenades, another cake cutting/cake feeding, and a lunch. I was directed towards the “non-spicy” foods which means “tolerably spicy for a non-Indian and non-spicy for an Indian”. One dish was pointed out as being spicy, and I steered VERY clear of that. Trust me, if you’re a normal human and an Indian tells you that something is spicy, run the other direction.

All in all, it was an exhausting day. It was really cool though to see how much the teachers respect Pastor Daniel. I’ve talked to more than one who mentioned how he’s been a mentor/a friend/like a father to them. He’s one of those people who makes everyone feel special and appreciated. I really admire him as a leader, and more and more I’m realizing how lucky I am to get to spend so much time with him. I have so many opportunities to talk to him and ask questions and learn from his experience. To put it simply, he’s kind of a big deal, and I get to be part of his family. How awesome is that?!?



It’s Avy birthday!! Woowoowoo!! Guess what her most exciting birthday present was? Malaria! Yup, I couldn’t make that up. She hasn’t been feeling very well recently, so she took a trip to the clinic this morning to get tested. She only has one plus (out of four), so it’s the least severe, but it’s still malaria. I have to say that she’s handling it quite well. She said, “I’ve been saying that I want to get malaria just once before I leave because the kids get it all the time, and I want to know what it feels like. So I guess this is just the universe giving me a twisted birthday present.” Like I said, she’s handing it well. She’s also taking a lot of drugs, so I think that helps.

Look how tall the corn is! 5′-7″ Lara shown for reference.

Speaking of birthdays, we had a surprise at the farm this morning… PIGLETS!! 10 of them! They were born last night, and they’re adorable. Okay, that’s not totally true. They’re pretty weird looking, and they’re still working on the whole “moving” thing… think robot hairless cats. But not a new, high-tech robot. More like a robot with some loose wires that looks like it might collapse at any second. If my judgement wasn’t clouded by the fact that they’re baby animals and, as such, are automatically considered cute, I would probably say that they’re kind of gross looking. No worries though, I’m sure they’ll grow into adorable little piggies! Besides watching the pigs, we did more machete weeding, but that’s really not important.

On the walk home after dropping off the sawdust. Check out that sky!

In the afternoon, Joe came by with 5 ½ big bags of sawdust for us to take to the farm for the piglets. I tried to carry mine on my head with no hands and totally failed. Joe said that my hair moves too much, and I think that’s true. It slides around on top of my head when it’s in a ponytail. The only way I’ll be able to perfect the head-carrying technique is to cut my hair off or get cornrows. Ugh. I’ll keep working on an alternate plan because neither of those are options. Meanwhile, John was riding a child-sized bike with his sawdust sack on his head like it was no big deal. I asked him how and he said, “you just put it on your head and ride.” Great, thanks. That’s my new ultimate goal, but I’m not under any misconception that I’ll be able to get there without intensive training and probably without living here for another 20 years. Luckily, a yevu (white person) carrying anything on his or her head, even with hands, really excites the locals, so we gained a lot of fans as we walked through the village.

Village cake. The best thing ever.
Village cake, post additional nutella decorations. The cake lady was upset that we didn’t give her any coloring to make the icing flashy, but I think it was better this way. Mosquito candle on the side.

I had to run over to the cake lady’s house when we got back from the farm to pick up the cake. When I got back to the house, I sent spies in to verify Avy’s location and creeped in the back door. We left it in the other girls’ room until after dinner when Yara and Lily brought it out with a lit mosquito candle for Avy to blow out (we have birthday candles, but Avy is the only one who knows where they are which obviously doesn’t help). All of my fears about her catching on to our plans were totally unnecessary. She had no idea! I also made her a card and had all of the current volunteers sign it, plus asked the past volunteers I know to send me notes from them to write in. It all ended up working out so well!

We had a chill night in after that (mostly because the cake was amazing but sooo heavy and none of us could move), just playing cards and hanging out. It reminded me of the early days of being here when we used to play cards all the time and were always spending time all together. It was really nice. I can’t speak for Avy, but in my opinion (which is clearly the most important in this situation), it was a successful birthday!

I had a chance to redeem myself at the farm today. We had to finish sowing the rest of the field, so I promised myself that I would be more careful and went for it. Today it felt like I was born with a machete in my hand, and I made it through the morning without any major injuries.

Hole progress shot!

Nico and I stayed after again to keep working on the poop hole (a place for them to convert pig poop into fertilizer for the farm). It must seem like this is taking forever, but you have to understand our circumstances. First, the dirt is more like clay, so it’s heavier and stickier than regular dirt. Second, the tools we have aren’t exactly ideal. We consistently have two shovels. One is sharp and somewhat effective at cutting through the soil, but it has a broken handle which is only about 1’-6” long. The other is completely worthless for cutting through soil. It has to be really loose and soft in order to get anything onto the shovel. We also have a pickaxe, so usually we use that first to dig up the ground and then go through afterwards with the shovels. It’s slow work. One time, we also had an unbroken, effective shovel, but apparently someone borrowed that one and hasn’t given it back yet. I honestly think that with good shovels, we would finish this hole in half the time that it’s taken us. But alas, we don’t have good shovels, and so here we are, making progress at a slow crawl.

Once we couldn’t take any more digging, Nico and I headed back to the house, ate breakfast, and headed back out, this time to EP. During our meeting on Tuesday, the principal brought up the fact that only two of their computers (out of either 8 or 10, I’m not sure) were working by the end of the year and asked if anyone could help fix them. Nico and I volunteered even though neither of us would claim to have advanced computer fixing knowledge, but we figured that we probably know more than most people in Frankadua. Either way, it was worth seeing what we could do to help.

The lab with Nico hard at work

When we got into the “computer lab”, it was pretty clear why none of the computers were working. I don’t think that a single one of them had the computer connected to a monitor, and half of the computers and monitors weren’t plugged in. The other half were plugged into power strips that didn’t work. We managed to get three working right away, just from correcting the plug situation. We opened up another computer and basically played spot the differences with one of the computers that worked. Each time we saw something that was different, we stole a part from another computer or tweaked whatever needed tweaking until it matched. Neither of us had any clue what we were doing, but we got another computer to start working! Now we have four that turn on, and all of them have some software bugs that need to be worked out. I’m feeling pretty good about what we’ve done so far though, and I’m confident that we’re going to be able to get them running smoothly.

My new laundry setup

The entire afternoon was spent on laundry. I finally think I’ve perfected the technique. Step 1 was an overnight soak of EVERYTHING which helped with the smell issues. Then I had three buckets, one soap and two rinse, so that I can actually get the suds out of everything. Finally, I bought a laundry bar (basically a bar of soap) that smells awesome, and I scrubbed the crap out of everything with it. After I was finished, my clothes actually smelled good! Unlike last time, but we don’t talk about that anymore. I’m a hand washing laundry pro (though all of the kids still laughed at me because it took me so long).

Happy birthday Evans!

Right as I was wrapping up my laundry, the new volunteers arrived! We have two new people, Isabel (US, 10 weeks, teaching) and Tolu (Canada, 1 week, medical). I’m feeling good about them already. They kind of had to just jump right in because we were celebrating Evans’s birthday (he’s on staff with the organization). Sosane found a woman in town who could bake a cake (apparently she has a tin oven in.her house?), and she and Avy shopped for ingredients for a birthday cake for him. It looked funny, but it tasted awesome.

The cake in all of its glory

Somehow, the mini birthday party evolved into a real party because James, Nico, and Amber bought a goat and they were cooking it on the front porch. I guess everyone invited a few people because before we knew it, the entire porch was filled with people, some from the farm, some from the clinic, some just from around town. There, of course, was also a bonfire. I don’t think anyone was planning on having an actual party, but I’m glad it happened because it ended up being a lot of fun. There’s nothing like an impromptu goat party to kick off the weekend!

​Today was SO much better than yesterday, thank goodness. It’s Nico’s birthday (!!!), so we had a day of fun planned to celebrate.

Yay baby plants!!

It obviously started off with the usual early trip to the farm. Want to guess what the activity was today? You got it – more hoeing! That wasn’t very exciting, but do you know what is? OUR PLANTS ARE GROWING!!! Yay!! I am really not a plant person, so the fact that any plants I’ve come in contact with are actually surviving is thrilling.

We sang happy birthday to Nico at breakfast and presented him with a semi-squished cake that we bought at the mall on Sunday. After two tro tro rides and a couple of days in the fridge, I’m impressed that it survived (though only barely).

Nico with his smushed cake
School actually went well too! I was happy to be back in the P3/P4 classroom and to have another person teaching with me. Having a co-teacher makes the days way easier, and I didn’t realize just how much easier until yesterday when I had to control the kids and prep and explain everything by myself.

We talked about pronouns in English (very exciting, I know) and did more times table practice in Math. We also went over measuring distances with rulers, and the kids did NOT seem to get it. According to their textbooks, they supposedly learned it 2 years ago…? I did a quick review because I assumed that they already knew it, but everyone was staring back at me with blank expressions on their faces. I think we’re going to have to start from the beginning tomorrow.

Maria, Fernanda, Avy, Amber, me, and Nico by the river

After school was lunch, and after lunch we went to a hotel in a nearby town, Atimpoku. Supposedly they sometimes have functional wifi, but today was not one of those days. That’s okay. We all got drinks, sat by Volta River, and just hung out. We were only about 30 minutes away from the house, but it felt like we were in paradise. No kids, flush toilets, and fake Oreos (they’re decent fakes though) that Avy brought. Does it get any better than that?

We came home in time for dinner and afterwards headed to the soccer field by our house to stargaze. Today is the first day since we got here that the sky isn’t completely cloudy, and we wanted to take advantage. As you might guess, there aren’t a lot of lights here, so the sky is ideal for looking at stars. It was another one of those nights where I had that feeling of total contentment. It doesn’t get much better than laying in a field and staring at the night sky with a bunch of your friends.

It’s pretty late, so I should get to bed if I want to be able to wake up for the farm tomorrow. But yeah, today was a great day.