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.

​I bet you’ll never guess what we did at the farm this morning… more sowing!! We finished the field that we started yesterday (over all of the bean plants). It was just Yara, Anna, and me today, plus John and Anthony of course. We finished the field with about 20 minutes to spare, so John took us to a random little patch of ground, probably 15’ x 20’, in an area where I thought we didn’t plant anything and told us to plant more corn there. They’re just putting corn everywhere now. You can’t find a patch of land on our entire farm that doesn’t have it.

Yara and Anna seemed disappointed that we did more of the same thing. We’re coming from completely different mindsets because they’re trying to experience as many things as possible right now, and I’m happy to plant corn forever because I know that most of the alternatives aren’t any better. Like we could be hoeing.

At school, I decided to observe another teacher and went to P6 math class to learn about fractions and greater than and less than. I was pleasantly surprised by the teacher… she did a really good job of teaching the concept and checking to make sure everyone understood. When someone answered a question incorrectly, she figured out what was causing their confusion and explained that part again to make sure the entire class was on the same page. I think that summer school warped my perception of normal school because I saw how much our kids didn’t know and kind of assumed that normal school wasn’t very good. There are definitely a lot of things that could be improved, but from what I’ve seen of the teachers at Baptist, I’m impressed. Yes, I’m sure the teachers all have areas where they can get better, but they seem to care and keep thinking about ways to help get the kids up to where they should be.

I stopped by Everlasting’s class to experience a little RME (Religious and Moral Education) because I wanted to see what it was like. The kids were learning about religious families and where people from different religions go to worship. It’s pretty interesting that they have a class like RME. They learn a lot about Christianity, Islam, and traditional religions because those are the primary religions in the country. They also learn about building a solid moral foundation – things like helping people, honoring your parents, doing good work, etc. It seems like it’s a class that kids all around the world should have to take!

​Another day of farm friends! Yara and Anna came back for round two, and Sal joined as well. I thought yesterday that we couldn’t possibly have any more fields to sow, but they managed to find one. Well, I thought today we DEFINITELY wouldn’t be doing it again… I was wrong. This time, we went over a bean field that I didn’t even know was part of our farm. I asked about the bean plants, and they said that they bought the wrong bean seeds and these weren’t good to eat. I think they just like growing corn the best, so now there are going to be like seven corn fields. Also, in case you’re wondering, since the sowing/machete/pinky finger incident of a few weeks ago, I’ve been extra careful with my machete and have had no further issues. Hooray for that!

The corn in the very first field we sowed.. I think it’s been like 6 weeks now since this was planted

At school, Avy and I were planning to observe the P3 teacher, but he didn’t show up. He’s been sick for the last few weeks, and Avy has been getting more and more annoyed that he hasn’t been doing his job. She went home because she said that she was losing even more faith in the school system because a teacher who has been completely blowing off his responsibilities hasn’t been replaced. She didn’t want to teach P3 because that would almost be encouraging his behavior, but then she didn’t want to stay at school in another classroom while knowing that P3 had no teacher. I stuck around and stayed in Everlasting’s class again and helped grade exercises while he taught.

The ex-bean field

I stepped out of the class for a minute before the first break, and there was a new guy teaching P3! I was super confused. Everlasting said that they had requested a new teacher to take over, but I didn’t think he would be there already!
Around 9AM while I was grading, a paper came around with a sign up for a teacher meeting starting at 9:45 (the beginning of first break). Apparently I was invited, and I figured why not? I was interested to see how it went. At 9:55, Everlasting said, “we should probably go to the meeting”. Oh right. At 10:05, five minutes were spent deciding who was going to do the opening prayer. At 10:10, the meeting minutes from the last teacher meeting in July were read. We all looked at each other for about 10 minutes while the headmaster asked if anyone wanted to add or change anything before accepting them. Only about two of the current teachers had been at the meeting, and they both said they didn’t remember it. Five more minutes. Okay, accepted.

During introductions, one of the teachers asked who the new guy was (the one I saw teaching P3), and the headmaster gave an explanation that didn’t really clear anything up for me. What I got from it was that they needed a new P3 teacher, and this guy just walked into the classroom and started teaching and the headmaster was happy that the problem was solved. Huh? I’m sure I missed something, but I’m glad that they have a teacher now. Hopefully he’s actually a teacher and not just some random person off the street.

Next they talked about forming a committee to collect the printing fees from students for the exams. That discussion probably took another 20 minutes, and three people who didn’t want the job got nominated and assigned to the committee.

The next topic was actually more interesting. For the exams, the teachers often end up reading the questions to the kids because they can’t read them themselves. The headmaster was saying that he wanted to mix up the students in each classroom to make it harder to cheat, and one of the teachers brought up the reading issue. That launched into a whole discussion about how reading is a big problem at the school, and the final decision was that the non-readers in school will be identified and have to attend additional phonics classes after school. I was excited because I think it’s going to be good for the kids, and it was encouraging to feel like the teachers really care about the students.

I left the meeting at noon to go to lunch, and they still weren’t finished. Oh yeah, and during this whole meeting, the kids were all just running wild and not in class. Teacher meetings apparently always happen during school… because that makes total sense. I don’t know. TIA. I’m choosing to focus on the fact that some really good things happened during the meeting and ignore the fact that no one was teaching during that time. I’m interested to see what happens over the next few weeks with all of this momentum!

​I have farm friends!! Clarina, Yara, and Anna all agreed to come with me this morning! They haven’t fully committed to making it a regular thing, but I’m hoping. I only need them to commit to two weeks because my college friend, Nick, is coming on the 15th (!!!). and I’m planning to force him to come with me.

The sunrise on the walk to the farm this morning

It’s been a week since I last went to the farm, so I had no idea what we would be doing. I was happy to see that the hoeing we started a couple weeks ago was since finished by someone else. Hoeing is the worst. It turned out that we were sowing more corn. Yay! That’s one of my favorite things to do. I was a little confused about what fields we had left because I thought all of them were full. John walked us over to the biggest eggplant field and said that we were going to plant there. Apparently the eggplants are nearing their end of life, so we’re just planting corn around them and I guess they’ll die when the corn gets big enough to block out the sun. I’m not really sure because some of them still have eggplants on them… I’ll have to talk to Joe and see if he’s planning another donation soon.

One of the pumpkin plants that we planted during my second week here. It’s getting so big!!

Anyway, we sowed the eggplant field, and I stopped by the poop hole on my way out. With all of the rain last week, there’s a little lake inside and some of the walls need to be straightened out a bit. I know I need to just suck it up and finish the job, but it’s no fun alone. Maybe I’ll take this week to get back in the farm groove, and NEXT week I’ll finish the hole. Yes, I know I’m making excuses. It’ll happen though, I promise!
Another one of the plants we planted. I don’t remember what this one is… I think Nico called it courgette and according to google that’s the same as zucchini.

After breakfast, we took the new teaching volunteers around to all of the schools so they can start deciding where they want to work. We started at EP, then went to Baptist, and finally to the junior high. Avy and I headed to Baptist after making the rounds because we wanted to observe Everlasting, and we didn’t have to feel guilty deserting P3 because the new teacher was finally there! It’s actually the old P1 teacher, and the new teacher that the government sent is teaching P1.

The P2 kids working together to form groups of 10 bottle caps

It was cool getting to see another teacher in action. I hadn’t done any observation of a local teacher before today, and I think it’s really important to get an understanding of what the kids are used to. I thought he did a really good job with them. He teaches P2, and there are 32 kids in the class. There aren’t enough desks for everyone, so some of them have three people sharing instead of the two they’re made for. Apparently they spent half of last year requesting new desks from the government, and at the end of the year they got sent ten wooden chairs. Unhelpful. So they still don’t have enough.
Speaking of limited resources, here’s how you teach a class when you don’t have enough textbooks for the kids. Most of the classes don’t have a textbook for each student, and you’re lucky if there are enough for each desk to share.

Even with a big class and limited resources, he’s so good at keeping the class under control. They were learning about the number 100, so he did an activity using sticks and bottle caps that the kids brought in (I told you, they’ll bring in anything you ask for!). After Math class, they had Language and Literacy and were learning about morals. Everlasting told a story in Ewe and then told the same story in English, and the kids talked about the morals of the story he told. I liked getting to see a class taught in Ewe. They were learning some English words, so at the same time, we learned some Ewe words. The Ewe alphabet is the same as the English alphabet but with I think 10 additional letters. After class, he taught Avy and me some of the sounds of the additional letters. One step closer to being fluent! Actually though, that’s never going to happen. Ewe is HARD. It’s more musical than English and you need to pay close attention to your pitch and emphases. I’m going to keep trying though!

The junior high classroom

We checked out a class at the junior high after lunch and learned about vitamins. They have to know all of the alternate names of the vitamins, why your body needs them, and the symptoms of a deficiency. It’s kind of intense… I never even learned most of the stuff they had to memorize. Education is so interesting because different people have different ideas of what is important, and there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer. Here, the schools don’t get a choice of what to teach because all of the curriculum is set by the government and standardized across the country. I can see how that has its benefits, but at the same time, it can be kind of limiting and assumes that all schools and kids are at the same level.

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!

I’m finally starting to feel like I hit my groove at the farm, and that’s usually when things start going wrong. As soon as you’re feeling too confident, something happens to put you back in your place. We sowed another corn field this morning, and I was actually managing to move at an acceptable pace! I think I have the technique figured out. Things were going great! Anddd then I was an idiot and started being overconfident and managed to cut my pinky finger with my machete. 

Amber’s masterpiece

I was so embarrassed and we only had about 15 minutes left and I didn’t want the guys to know what had happened, so I was planning on just pretending nothing was wrong and finishing the work. Great plan except that apparently fingertip cuts bleed excessively. After about 1 minute of trying to keep going, I had to stop and signal to Amber to come help me. We didn’t have a band aid and didn’t want to ask, so she took the random objects (some string and a water bag) I had in my bag and pulled something together. Once we got back to the house, she cleaned it out and put an actual band aid on. It’s really not that bad (so Mom, stop freaking out).
After breakfast, we went around to the three schools we’re working with. We’ve spent a lot of time at EP, but I hadn’t been to Baptist or the junior high yet. We met the headmasters of both schools and talked a bit about what we can do to help out. Baptist still doesn’t have a teacher for P3, so that’s good…

Group machete time

Anyway, today was still a cleaning day so the kids were outside, chopping down some of the tall grass around the school with machetes. I’m glad that a bunch of 10 year olds can handle their machetes better than I can. It was a good morning for my ego.

The view from the orphanage

In the afternoon, James had plans to go to the orphanage to train their soccer team, and we all decided to go with him. I haven’t been yet, and I was interested to see it. That’s where the food from the farm goes. It’s about a 20 minute tro ride and a 15 minute walk from our house. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the situation there. They have about 35 kids, and they all have their own beds and there are flush toilets and running water. They definitely aren’t living in luxury or anything, but it’s actually probably a step up from our house. The floors are even tiled!

The girls’ bedroom

WAIT. There’s more. They have a washing machine. Yes, an actual clothes washing machine. And it works! I almost lost my mind. I actually had a dream last week where we got a new house with a washing machine and I almost cried I was so happy. It’s funny the things you end up missing… I don’t think I would have put that on my list ahead of time. I probably would have mentioned running water, but I’m actually doing just fine without that. Anyway, they also have an oven and a microwave and a couch. Mmm I also miss my couch. It’s okay though. We’ll have a beautiful reunion in November.

Looking out from the orphanage porch
A couple of the kids insisted on borrowing Amber’s and my sunglasses and then begged me to take a picture

Okay sorry, I got distracted. Like I was saying, it was nice to see what we’re working for at the farm every day. We got home just before dinner and then spent the night assembling school supply bundles for the kids at EP and Baptist. Avy raised money before she came to be used wherever she saw a need, and after seeing how many kids don’t have what they need to be successful at school, she started looking into getting some supplies for everyone. Each kid is going to get a notebook and a pencil case with a pencil, pen, eraser, sharpener, and ruler. They’ll still need more notebooks and the pencils won’t last all year, but it’s a start! It’s also good motivation for the kids because who doesn’t love new school supplies? We all helped put the pencil cases together, and they’ll be distributed to all of the kids later this week.

​How is this already week 3? Part of me is feeling like I can’t believe 2 weeks have gone by, and the other part is amazed that it’s only been 2 weeks because it seems like I’ve been here forever. Somehow though, waking up for the farm hasn’t gotten any easier. This morning was even worse because my legs are still incredibly sore from Saturday, I woke up with a crick in my neck, and I didn’t get to bed as early as I had hoped last night (typical).

Luckily, the farm wasn’t bad this morning. We sowed another corn field, so it wasn’t as labor intensive as hoeing or as icky as shucking. I actually think sowing is pretty fun. Sometimes though, the ground is so hard that it’s impossible to drive the machete in to make a hole. Then I basically put my entire body weight on it and try to wiggle the dirt loose. Anddd then I feel like a total loser because one of the guys is nearby in the same hard ground, and it doesn’t even slow him down. But all in all, it was a good morning at the farm!

Our corn is growing!! This is one of the plants from last Wednesday’s sowing

The thing I was really worried about today was school. Since Maria left on Friday, someone needed to take over her P2 class. Nico and I basically had an hour long stare down last night trying to decide who had to switch classes because both of us wanted to keep P3/P4 but neither of us wanted to kick the other out. In the end, it seemed like it was somewhat assumed that I would switch, so I sucked it up and said okay.

Besides the fact that the kids are younger in that class, there are also usually way more of them. There were days when Maria had almost 20 kids! I can’t deal with that… She’s one of those people who just has a way with kids, and I’m absolutely not. Anyway, I put together a lesson plan last night and was feeling kind of okay about it until this morning when Avy woke up feeling horrible and asked if I could take the P1 kids as well. AHH!

Nico taking his usual post-farm pre-class nap

I shifted my plans to focus more on just trying to keep the class under control rather than getting through all of the material I had prepared. I started them out with coloring while I attempted (and mostly failed) to learn their names. In English, I read them a story and we talked about the animals in the book. In Math, I had them solve some problems, and we went over them together. Yay! I survived. And it wasn’t really that bad. They behaved well, so that was definitely a big help.

The rest of the day was great! The power went out right after we got back from school, so Fernanda and I sat on the porch and just enjoyed the day. It was so nice outside, and the kids weren’t yelling their heads off so it was actually possible to relax. I think we sat out there for like 5 hours until dinner and then went back out afterwards to play cards.

I was planning to go to sleep early tonight, but of course that isn’t going to happen. It’s just a matter of time until I get sick.

We did something different at the farm today! Fernanda and Avy came along as well, and we sowed corn in the field that we cleared on our very first day. We had to remove kernels from the corn cobs first, and then we used the machetes to make holes in the ground and dropped the kernels in. To make sure the corn was planted in straight lines, they had long strings with stakes on each end that were moved as each row was completed.

Removing the kernels from the cobs

Each time a string was moved, one of the volunteers and one of the locals would start at each end and work towards the middle, planting the seeds about one foot (human foot, not 12” foot) apart. I think I probably did about ¼ of each row, and the guy I was working with was so fast that he did the other ¾ in the same amount of time. I felt a little pathetic, but I have to keep reminding myself that they’ve done all of these things a million times and I’m just learning.

Planting the seeds

After the farm and breakfast, it was off to school again. Today was another brutal day. English was fine, but in Math we decided to teach the basics of measuring since it seemed like the kids needed a better review than we did yesterday. It was not great. I felt like I was talking to a bunch of cardboard cutouts. I explained what a “unit” is and why it’s important to say the units when you’re measuring. I explained what all of the lines on the ruler mean. I asked them a million example questions. They weren’t even trying today. I don’t know what’s gotten into them. I would ask a question, they wouldn’t answer, I would answer it and then immediately ask the same question again, and they would get it wrong. AHHH!! Is it even possible to have more than one day in a row where I feel like school is going well??

The rest of the day was nice and chill. Maria and I went for another run, and this time, we ran on some of the backroads around the town instead of just doing laps around the soccer field. It was way more interesting, but it was a tough workout because a lot of the roads are like running on loose sand on the beach.

Our big activity of the night was a lip sync battle. Yes, it was my idea, but when I suggested it last week, everyone was all about it! Today, there was some protesting, but in the end, it happened, everyone participated, and it was hilarious. People really went all out, and that’s the key. It doesn’t even matter whether or not you know all of the words. You just need to fully commit to the performance. Hehehe it was so good.

Anyway, below are some pictures of the house so you can get a better sense of what it’s like here on the day to day. I’m off to bed!

Our house!
The view of our yard/the street from our house
The common area where we eat, make lesson plans, and hang out (and someone did laundry today so it’s also our laundry drying room)
The hallway from the common area to our rooms. So welcoming, right?
Amber’s and my beds… And our VERY organized stuff
One of the luxurious shower rooms, bucket and all
The bathrooms