The Beginning of the End

Look at how big Little Nico has gotten! I don’t know that you can really tell from the picture, but he’s not the little squirt that Amber wrestled into a corner anymore.

This morning was ANOTHER full house at the farm, but subtract Yara and add Amy instead. We did more machete-ing which I think successfully convinced Amy that she never wants to come again, especially when all of us said that it’s our favorite farm activity. Here we are, on my second to last day at the farm, and we managed to work in another field that I NEVER would have guessed was ours. I give up. I will never know how big the farm actually is. I know, you’re wondering why I don’t just ask. Yes, that would make sense, but would take a bit of the surprise out of each morning. I want to leave it as one of life’s mysteries.

So clean!


I also finally found out what we do with the pigs. This is another thing that yes, I probably should have asked about a long time ago. I was a little curious because if you’re trying to get milk or eggs to sell, you obviously aren’t going to raise pigs. The only thing pigs are good for, product wise (as far as I know) is meat (and, according to the poop hole, poop) (ahhh sorry I broke my promise about never bringing that up again! Ignore me). Some guys were checking out the pigs this morning, and Joe said it’s because we’re selling 6 pigs and will use the profits to buy chicken and rice for the orphanages. Ah. Makes sense now.
The rest of the day was low-key. I went to school and graded papers in Everlasting’s class, went home and worked on thank you notes for some people, sat in a power-less house for a couple hours, took a rain shower (probably my last one!), and drank some hot chocolate.

Genius, right?


Besides all that, Anna and I had a project for the afternoon… currently, our handwashing bucket puts water into another bucket that has to be emptied all the time and is not user friendly. She asked why we didn’t just put a pipe or something from the bottom of the drain bucket so the water gets piped off the side of the porch. The next question was, well do we even need a bucket? I brought a scrap of roofing material from the farm (that was used for the you-know-what) and we hammered it flat, cut it to size, folded the edges over so they wouldn’t cut anyone, and formed it so it would catch the water and direct it off the porch. Success!! I’m very excited about this development. It’s the little things.
A new volunteer also came today. She was originally at Olive, but she decided that she wanted to switch to Purple instead because she was the only volunteer at the orphanage. Her name is Zahra (so add that to the already confusing Lara/Yara mix, plus we have the confusing Avy/Amy), she’s taking the bed on top of me (which meant that I had to move all of my nicely organized things), and I am literally going to see her for 1 day before she goes to Cape Coast for the weekend and I’m gone forever. Weird. I know I’m overusing that word but whatever, that’s what it is. This whole leaving thing isn’t going to get any less weird.

You Can Just Call Me the Geek Squad

Before

After

We had a full house today at the farm! Yara managed to drag herself out of bed, plus we had Ricardo with us for the first time. Guess what kind of day it was… machete day!! John dropped us off in an area with some pretty short weeds and said that he and Anthony would be working in an area with taller weeds because they’re harder to cut down. Nick and I just looked at him and he said, “do you want to come work with us?” Nick nodded, I chimed in, “me too!” (and John looked at me with doubt in his eyes, but whatever because he still let me come), and he led the two of us plus Ricardo to the tall weeds. They weren’t as tall as that one day last week that I said was the best machete day ever, but I’m not going to complain. Still a good morning! The only issue with tall weeds is that by the end, I have scratches all over my arms and weed pieces in my hair which makes it harder to look presentable for school… but hey, that’s what headbands are for, right?

Piggie update! Five are left, and they all look healthy.

My school day was behind the scenes anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal if I looked a little disheveled. I went back and worked on the computer with the newfound battery, and now everything is working so well!!! The power of google is incredible. The new battery fixed one problem, plus I disabled/resolved all of the other things that used to pop up every time the computer booted up. It used to take probably 5 minutes to get started, and you had to make selections and log in and do a bunch of other stuff. I wanted to make it as simple as possible for someone who wanted to use the computer, so I got rid of all of that. Now, you can know nothing about computers and start it up in about 1 minute with no prompts and no problems. Hooray!

Our desk-fixing workshop


Everlasting also brought his laptop in because he’s having some issues, and apparently the work I did on the school computer convinced him that I’m acceptably proficient at fixing computers. On Monday when I was looking at the school computer and saying what I thought was wrong with it, he asked me if I was trained in computer hardware. I said no and kind of laughed, and he looked at me like he didn’t trust for a second that I was going to fix it (to be fair, I couldn’t have promised anything because I also didn’t trust for a second that I was going to be able to fix it). Looks like I did okay because now he’s trusting me with his own property! Lucky for me, his issues were simple (one involved just switching his Y and Z keys which were swapped for some reason… I looked like a genius when I just popped them off and switched them). Phew! I have a reputation to keep up now, so failure isn’t an option!

Anna and Yara, hard at work. Not shown: the 1 million nails we bent (shhh that’s not important)

This was a fix-it kind of day, and after school we went back to Baptist and continued our desk repair work. Anna, Yara, Avy, and I worked for a couple hours and managed to fix a good number of desks. I was proud of myself for a few desks especially that were unusable or wobbling like crazy, and I got them into good working order! Most of them just needed extra nails to make stronger connections between the different pieces of wood, but a few were missing supports or other pieces that we needed to scavenge from broken desks. In all, I’d say we got through close to 20 desks today. That sounds good and all, but it also means that there’s still a lot more work to do considering there are seven classrooms with desks, each one has 10-15, and literally every desk has something that needs to be done to make it fully functional. But each desk we work on makes a difference! One step at a time.

See Ya, James

​I guess Ghana decided that it needed to give me a parting gift because I felt HORRIBLE all day yesterday. I woke up at 5AM and my stomach felt like a washing machine. I was hoping that as the day went on and things got out of my system I would start to feel better, but no such luck. I had such big plans for the day, and instead I spent 80% of the day laying in my bed and the other 20% running to the bathroom. Wonderful. I think it was just something I ate though because I didn’t have a fever or anything, and by the time I woke up this morning, my stomach felt mostly okay again. Avy was totally not helpful and kept saying, “hmm maybe you have malaria. That’s kind of what it felt like. Ooo or you could have worms!” Yeah, or I could just have an upset stomach. Thanks for the encouragement, Avy.

That night, there was a big party at one of the bars in town to celebrate James’s last night. They rented these massive speakers (they were maybe 10’ tall x 6’ wide), and we could hear them playing music all the way from our house which is at least a 10 minute walk away. At one point, some people from the neighboring town came too, and I’m positive that it was because they could hear the music. I guess there’s no way for anyone to call in a noise complaint… if there was a way, it absolutely would have been done. I was just upset because everyone was dancing, and I really couldn’t dance because of my stomach situation. The ultimate sadness. I probably shouldn’t have gone at all, but I wanted to be there for James and hang out with everyone.

Before

After


When my alarm went off this morning for the farm, I felt about 85% better which was enough to get me out of bed. If this was any week besides my last week, I probably would have skipped the farm. That’s irrelevant though because it is my last week, and that meant I had to go. We did more machete work… it seems like that’s the new shucking in that we do it all the time and never seem to get any closer to being finished. Fine with me though because it’s the most fun. The only disappointment was that we did short weeds again today, so it wasn’t nearly as satisfying as Friday.
James told everyone at breakfast that he would still be around when we all got back from school to eat lunch, but I didn’t believe him for a second. Last time he was here, he said that he didn’t tell anyone when he was leaving because he didn’t want to have to say goodbye. If that’s how he felt last time, was there any chance that he wasn’t going to do the exact same thing again? No way. But we all went off to school anyway and figured we’d know soon enough if he was telling the truth.

The little piggies. There are only five remaining now, but these all look healthy so we’re optimistic.

I spent part of the morning helping Everlasting until Avy came into the classroom to get me because the one functional computer stopped working. You’re looking at the official IT support for all of Frankadua (and its probably 15 total computers). I went to the computer lab (if you can even call it that) to see what I could do and realized pretty quickly that it wasn’t a problem that could be solved in a couple minutes. I told the teacher that was trying to use the lab that I needed some time to fix it, and she said, “no problem, I can just teach it in my classroom.” I know I’ve talked about this before, but just imagine trying to teach a computer class without using a computer…
I spent about 2 hours working on the computer until it was in decent shape around lunchtime. Luckily, most of the issues were software related rather than hardware related, and though I don’t know too much about either, I’m way more comfortable trying to solve software problems. When I started working, the computer couldn’t even get past the startup screen. By the time I finished, it was completely functional but with some annoying notifications and things to deal with during startup. I’ll deal with those tomorrow. I also think that I need to replace the battery inside. It’s just one of those little 3V puck batteries, but I couldn’t even begin to tell you where I would buy one of those (besides probably Accra but we don’t have time for that). Hmm… I’ll have to do some research. Anyway, moral of the story is that it’s easy to be IT support in a town where barely anyone has a computer and you have access to google.

When we got back to the house for lunch, shocker, James was gone. He said, “it’s easier this way.” Well yeah, for him it’s much easier. For everyone else who thinks they’re going to have a chance to say goodbye and then doesn’t, it’s really crappy. I would be a lot more upset if I wasn’t going to see him again in 2 weeks. Oh yeah, I don’t think I’ve mentioned this… I planned on going to London for a week after Ghana, and now I’m going to visit James in York for a couple of days too. And Sosane is going to come to London to spend a day with me! So much to look forward to even after I leave!

Music Class

 

Look how tall it is!

This was the best machete day! My current favorite farm task is machete-ing weeds, and today John took us to work in a field that had some really tall weeds! We usually just do short grass. This was so much better! It was as satisfying as chopping down corn stalks. You smack them really hard with your machete and then just watch them fall. It was definitely much harder than clearing the short stuff, but it was also a million times cooler. Worth it.

The kids carrying rocks through the schoolyard

Nick, Avy, Anna, and I went to Baptist after breakfast and were met by a stream of kids with pans and buckets of rocks on their heads. Typical. There were some big piles of stones in the schoolyard, and the kids were helping to move them to someone’s house in the village who was probably going to use them for some construction work. I didn’t get the whole story, but it’s not really important. Even after being here for almost 3 months and seeing things like this happen all the time, I’m still impressed by the kids and what they’re capable of. They’re always carrying heavy things on their heads or going to get you a chair to sit on or offering to carry your bag or running errands for the school or chopping something with a machete. It’s really an awesome part of the culture here. Kids are taught to help from such a young age.
After the rocks were finally finished being moved, class started. I was planning to help Everlasting in P2, but Nick was teaching P4 because their teacher was out sick. I thought I would be more helpful if I went with him, so the two of us worked on teaching P4 math. They’re supposed to be learning about some more advanced things with operations, but after looking at the homework, we realized that they’re don’t even understand the basics. Due to that, we just taught them some foundational stuff about operations (for example, in addition, the order of the terms doesn’t matter, but in subtraction, it does). By the end, it seemed like they were getting it, but it’s hard to measure that without grading an exercise or a homework.

Music class!

Just before lunch, I joined Everlasting and Anna in P2 for creative arts class. This week’s topic – music! They were supposed to be learning about making their own instruments. Anna made some shakers last night using beans, jars, and toilet paper rolls, but we don’t have nearly enough resources for their whole class to be able to make one. Instead, we brought what we had, split the class into groups, and gave the shakers to one group at a time. The rest of the groups got a beat to make, and we did a couple rounds of making “music” with each group doing their beat. If I’m being honest, they all sounded horrible (probably because Anna and I didn’t plan beats ahead of time, so they didn’t mesh well together), but the kids had a great time so who cares?

Computer Class Without Computers

 

John sharpening a machete. He wets the blade, throws a little dirt on it, and moves the machete back and forth on the rock.

By the time I get home, I’m going to be a machete queen. It’s too bad that this training only started in the last couple of weeks because I think it’s going to be a very useful skill. Would it be weird if I brought a machete home with me? No, seriously… I’m strongly considering getting one, but what on earth would I do with it? Without it, I think I’ll feel lost. It’s like when I went to China and came back and wanted to use chopsticks all the time. Now I think I’m going to find a lot of opportunities to machete things. For example: hmm okay I’m having trouble coming up with an actual example, especially if I end up living in a city again. On a hike if plants are overgrown? In case I get into a fight with a bear? Chopping firewood (but only from very thin trees because otherwise it will take me way too long)? To scratch my back? If I had a fireplace, I would hang it on the wall above like a sword. Sorry, I’m getting sidetracked. Let me know if you have any ideas. I need to justify buying one. Anyway, in case you didn’t guess, we spent the morning machete-ing more weeds. I haven’t gotten sick of it yet.

Doesn’t it look like I know what I’m doing?

After breakfast, I headed to Baptist and bumped into Everlasting and the headmaster on the way there. They had to go to a kid’s house, and Everlasting said that his students were doing some reading practice on their own. When I got to the classroom, there were some kids sitting, some kids standing at the back of the room, and two kids at the front. The girl at the front was reading a list of words, pointing at each one with a piece of broken desk, and the boy was yelling at her anytime she got one wrong. The class was actually under control, so I took a seat in the back and let them keep going. I’m pretty sure that the boy was left in charge, the kids sitting had already read the list correctly, and the kids standing hadn’t. It only took about 20 minutes for things to start falling apart, so I took control (that makes it sound a lot more impressive than it was… I just made them all sit down) and wrote some math problems on the board for them to work on. I was impressed with how well-behaved they were once they had some work to do! It made my job very easy.

ICT class in the classroom. Everlasting has a keyboard that’s not connected to anything to show the kids where the keys are.

Everlasting got back after the first break, and I got to observe him teaching an ICT class (their computer/technology class). The interesting thing about ICT is that the school only has one working computer, so often, the teachers don’t even bother going to the “computer lab”. Today’s lesson was about the spacebar and backspace keys. I must say, I was impressed by his computer-less explanation.  To give you an example, for the spacebar, he explained the concept, had a couple kids come up and write sentences, and explained that those kids have spacebars in their minds so they put spaces between the words. He said that he doesn’t have a spacebar in his head and showed what those sentences would look like without spaces. It’s funny because the schools always say that it would be great if we helped with ICT class since we all know a decent amount about computers, but there’s no way I would be able to teach that class better than he did without having any resources.

Isn’t this crazy?? A class of 32 kids trying to look at one screen. The school has two computers, but only one works. We’re talking about trying to donate a projector to each school. That way, even though each kid won’t get a chance to actually use the computers, at least they’ll all be able to see the screen.

Then, I don’t even know how this came up, but during break, he gave me this long speech about how all of the people in the town are always keeping a close eye on the volunteers and how they’re behaving. He said that sometimes, the volunteers act in a way that the townspeople find appalling, such as drinking or smoking in front of the kids or dressing inappropriately. He said that people have an idea in their minds that “yevus” are completely different from them, and when we come to town and they see us trying to fit in, it helps to change their perception. People love it when we try to learn the language and carry things on our heads and go to work on the farm because those are all things that they do, and it makes us relatable. He said that people notice when the volunteers are making an effort to be a part of the community and that he’s heard people saying nice things about Avy and me specifically (probably just because we’ve been here the longest).

I was happy to hear someone affirm my attempts to fit into the community. That’s been one of my goals since the beginning of my time here. I want people (including me) to feel like I belong. Until he said all of this to me, one thing I didn’t realize was how much people pay attention to what we’re doing. I think that’s an important thing to remember any time when you’re clearly an outsider. People are watching to see how you behave, and from that, they form judgements about a group much bigger than just you. No pressure, but you represent a lot of people!

It was interesting to hear all of these things from his perspective, and it definitely gave me some things to consider. I have a feeling that the understanding he’s led me to will continue to help me throughout my journey this year (and beyond).

Happy Birthday Avy!

 

Piglets!!!

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!

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.