Saturday, September 17, 2011

Past the hump...all down hill from here

I remember this time last year I was saying to myself "Wow! Its has been four months, 23 to go." Now, today, it is "HOLY (censored)! It has been 16 months! Where did the time go. Do I have enough time to start another project? What will I do for a job 9 months from now???"

The poultry coop is doing great. Yesterday we had 41 eggs, which means almost half the 200 birds are laying and the rest should be on their way shortly. We finally got around to buying egg crates and Karim is making his way through the community to let them know that eggs are for sale. Still keeping my fingers crossed as buying eggs from us requires a change in routine....and Ghanians do not like change (don't believe me,try to get one to eat a meal that is not traditional, you'll see).

I have spent a lot of time traveling these past couple of months. In July, my family came to visit. BEST TWO WEEKS EVER! Despite some bumps in the road (literal and figurative), one mobbed crowd at the metro mass, and a thieving baboon all seemed to go well. It was nice to finally get a chance to be a tourist in this country and it was definitely better with family (especially since they hauled my drum back to the states for me).
The end of August was spent in Accra...part medical and part party. All of the Northern region went to our mid-service medical and turns out I am healthy. The only down side was the dental cleaning, whatever instrument he used to clean my teeth with was like high powered nails on a chalkboard on my teeth. I cringed the entire time and had ringing in my ears for a bit afterward. August 30th was the big celebration for Peace Corps 50th, 50 years in Ghana. The swearing in of the new volunteers took place at the Ambassador's house. I love going to the Ambassador's house, events at his house mean wine, good food, and probably a dessert (in this case it was cake).

One last thing before I sign off...prepare! Prepare! I am coming home for a Christmas and am staying through the first couple of weeks in January. See you all in a couple of months.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

May Ended??? When did that happen?

May Recap -

Sorry about the lack of updates. Once again.....

Time seems to be going by so fast. May ended before I knew it even started. And now I am getting close to the end of June. Maybe the next time I blink it will be the end of my service and I will be headed home.

The poultry coop is up and running. Of the original 200 five have died. The rest seem to be thriving and happy. Hopefully by September they will be laying eggs and the nutrition center will be making money! Karim has been really good about taking care of things. I fully believe that this project will not only be a success but will continue long after my service has ended.

May began with the All Volunteer Conference in the Volta Region. This adventure began by traveling with some fellow volunteers and taking in some sights. On the way out of the Northern Region we got onto a bus that had a bunch of goats tied to the top. Every time we hit a bump a goat fell off and swung by its rope. The goats lived and seemed to be okay, but passengers had to lean outside a window every few minutes to push a goat back onto the roof. This trip was also the rare window closed trip. If you were in the back half of the bus with an open window you were bound to get covered in goat pee. The bus looked disgusting by the end of the journey.

All Vol was fun. It was nice seeing all the volunteers and getting the chance to get into a pool...and on one case thrown into the pool. I was feeling volunteery and am now on a committee for food security. In a drunken state on the last night I even felt bold enough to campaign for Peace Corps Prom Queen. I didn't win but I did participate in the dance off....can you see why I did not win. Needless to say, it was fun and a repeat just might occur next year.

This has been a hard month at the nutrition center. We have had some victories. Children recovering, chickens growing, organizations promising support. We have had some losses. Two children at the end of the month died within a week's time frame. The sad thing is that I found myself grateful that the children died. They came to the center as living corpses and needed to be free...they were beyond recovery. I did, however, find myself angry at the parents. The parents that waited until the last moment to find help for their child. The parents that knew something was wrong for 5 or more months. The parents I still had to smile at, comfort, and welcome to the center. I am now taking a break from the center and watching the sub office in Tamale. The timing could not have been more perfect. I needed a break from the parents...sometimes language barrier is a good thing.

To end on a good note with some June news. We got funding from World Vision to buy some more chickens and feed. We hope to have a total of 500 chickens by the end of July.
The new volunteers are in country and on the 15th I get to host a newbie for a couple of days. Oh god help us, I am no longer a newbie.
The best news for last...I pick up my family at the airport at the end of the month. I am SOOOOOOOO EXCITED!!!!!!! They are going to have to appease me a little as I force them to relive holidays and birthdays as I have gifts for them and gifts for them to take back to the family back home. Sorry friends you have to wait for my return to get your swag, but the good news there is I am planning a December trip.

p.s new photos on facebook. As promised poultry coop photos can now be seen

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Never Again...Probably

April 26th

Murphy’s Law basically states: @#$% and (*%$W#@$.

That pretty much sums up the trip to “Techiman” to pick-up the poultry. Why is “Techiman” in quotes you may wonder… well “Techiman” like most of the trip was mis-information.

As soon as Karim and I get into Techiman we call the vendor and he lets us know…or decides to tell us the truth at this point…that he is actually in Kumasi and so are the birds. The vendor swears he originally told us Kumasi, but in separate conversations, in which I remember clarifying location in mine, both Karim and I were told Techiman. Our bus parked in Techiman and quickly we looked for a Kumasi Lorry.
The morning bus left at five in the morning, it is now roughly 11:30 and we are getting into Kumasi. Call the vendor again, wait 30 minutes for him to meet us, he kindly drives us to the Metro station (he should, now that he also managed to sell us vitamins and has a substantial amount of our money), vendor tells us that if we buy a seat for the birds we can take them on the bus – he swears by this and leaves us at the station.
Metro won’t take the birds no matter what. Karim finds a taxi that will take us to a bus that will. Ticket seller for this bus happily sells us a seat for the birds and tells us the bus will leave at 2pm….we leave at 4:15. All the while we are sitting on the bus Karim's phone is breaking and he is using mine to call the vendor and ask questions to make sure the birds will survive the trip.
We have our birds, I have managed to snap a few pics, and we are on our way. What else can go wrong during this trip? Did I hear someone in the crowd say flat tire??
In the middle of nowhere that distinctive and ominous sound fills the bus. FLAT TIRE! Tires only go flat when you are in the middle of nowhere. Luckily there was a spare, though the jack needed some minor repair work before anything could be done. Apparently several of the men, including Karim, had noticed that the tire was bad and had brought it to the attention of the driver and other misc staff. Everyone was told it would be fine and no worries. Ha.
11:30 at night. Finally back in Tamale. Karim and I now have to part ways because I now I have to prepare to travel to the Volta for a volunteer conference. I leave Karim with the birds, two seats on a lorry, and money to pay for the fare and the week’s vaccines. I also leave him with explicit instructions to make sure I get receipts for anything he spends that money on. My fingers are crossed.
On the plus side of this trip…all the mistakes were made. If there is a second trip, it should be smooth, right????
You may have to wait a week for pics on facebook (cuz I am too lazy to post them twice and don’t have the right cord with me now) Love you all. Pray the chicks make it to Karaga. (oh yeah another part of our misinformation trip…those birds don’t look like guinea fowl to me. They look like a bunch of chickens)

Monday, April 25, 2011

10-40 Bucket

April (All of it)
The poultry coop is underway. Do you remember a while back when I mentioned writing a grant proposal for know way back then. The last week of March I got the word that it had been approved and that money was on the way (thank you taxpayers, we appreciate you).
Progress has been speeding along. The structure has been built, cemented, floored (also cement), roofed, and fenced in. The fenced in area is pretty big, we hope to plant a vegetable garden there. The laying boxes have been built and the feeding/watering troughs have been bought. I even went away for a weekend and Karim out of his determination for success and excitement wired the structure for electricity and placed low hanging light bulbs to keep our new day old chick warm. The only thing missing now is the day old chicks.
On the 26th Karim and I will travel to Techiman to pick up our guinea fowl chicks....all 200 of them. We will travel using cramped public transportation (bus, tro, lorry....) and probably get cheated on the transportation of the birds. Either way it will be an adventure. I promise to let you know how it goes.
I am really excited about this project. I am even more excited that Karim is excited. As is the problem with some projects soon as the volunteer leaves the project crumbles. There are many 16 seater latrines, buildings, labs, clinics, etc. that are now defunct, falling apart and testaments to NGO intervention and failure to either train the people or make sure they were invested in the project. The good thing about the Peace Corps approach is that we don't flat out give anything, the community has to invest a certain percent of the total cost of the project. Karim has gone above and beyond. I truly believe that these birds will survive and will be taken care of well after I am gone. We hope that through the sale of eggs and birds we will be able to pay our teachers and keep the nutrition center open. We also hope to no longer have to ask mothers to donate money or food to the center for payment for care provided. We believe that without the “requested donation” more people will come to the nutrition center and more children will have the care they need.

April 5th
Question of the day: Where is my bucket???

Yup, my bucket is gone. It will eventually return, but that does not change the fact that I could have used it when I first went looking.
I remember those days when things were mine. If a sibling was playing with my toy, used my soap, or took my bucket I could say “Hey, that is mine! Give it back!” or “You owe me soap” or “MOM!” However, here in Ghana sharing is inevitable whether you want to or not. My buckets go on frequent journeys to do the laundry of other people, I have watched my neighbor take laundry detergent from my already non-existent supply without asking, coal has gone missing from my bag, and I have returned on occasion to find my coal pot (aka mini mini bbq) on someone other veranda coking another's meal.
I have learned a couple things from this. The first being patience and an amount of grace. The bucket always comes back and it does not hurt me (only an occasional inconvenience) if a neighbor borrows it. The second thing that I have learned is that I am white. Big revelation right?! Unfortunately, me being a foreigner (does not matter if I were to be Asian, Native American, or Black) I am considered white and thus rich. On a volunteer salary the word “rich” is way off base, heck it was even off base back home. The perception of me however has lead to the pilfering of some of my stuff. Small things really, but things that cost me money and that my neighbors would never take from each other. Bars of soap accidentally forgotten and left on MY veranda have gone missing, lumps of coal have vanished into oblivion, and laundry detergent taken before my very eyes. I have learned to lock these things up. If its small, portable, and consumable (meaning no evidence left behind) it gets locked up inside. The coal, soap and detergent now share an unbreakable friendship with my kerosene tank (which is inside because the children like to turn the knob and waste the gas).
I definitely will be more lax about the borrowing/taking of my stuff when my service is over. However, I think I am at the same time developing an unhealthy need to protect my soap from kidnappers.

***April 24, I take it all back. My bucket did not come back until 8pm and I am pretty sure it only did because my neighbors could see me searching their veradas mumbling "someone stole my bucket." Needless to say....I did not get my bath today. Bath bucket now lives inside with the coal and soap.

April 17th
What no leftovers? You have got to be kidding?! The term “leftover” is obviously a foreign concept in Ghana. I bought food and had a moment of my eyes being bigger than my stomach. I was not too worried about this, I could always take it to go....right? Not in Ghana. Someone is always waiting in the wings to pounce on what you can not eat. Today, an older woman snatched my leftovers from me as I was about to ask for a take-away bag. She did thank me for the food (as she was now getting s delicious free meal). I smiled and silently said goodbye to my future dinner.
This has happened before. Children and adults usually take what I can not eat. However, they tend to be people I know, people that it would not feel out of place if they asked “hey, you gonna eat that?” in Dagbani. This was the first time that a stranger took my food! At least nothing goes to waste, but damn that woman is lucky it was not fried plantains or else I would have snatched those suckers back and would have run for the hills.

April 24th
Happy Easter! Last night the power went out due to an impending storm. It didn't rain until 12 hours later at 5 in the morning. It rained pretty hard this morning and has been kind of cloudy all day. I also confess that I chickened out of going to Easter Mass. I did make it last week to Palm Sunday, but it was not rainy with chance of death by lightening last I stayed home. I did get caught,, however. Karim came by this afternoon to ask questions about the remaining funds for the poultry coop and how mass was. He is Christian....not Catholic, but he knows today is a religious holiday. I was caught and honestly told him that I took one look outside and said “nope!”
On a non heathen note. I am hoping the the general stormy-ness of today is an indicator of the coming rainy season. If not, at least when I get back from the Volta Region from the All Volunteer Conference there will be water in my barrel!! But, I have faith the rainy season is coming....why else would my neighbor be assembling his stick fence for the farming season??

April 26th
Today is fowl retrieval day. I will travel to Kumasi at the butt crack of dawn to pick up 200 day old guinea fowl chicks. And to top it all off, I will travel back to Tamale in the same day. I think on Wednesday I will be justified in sleepy crankiness. Pictures on facebook to come soon.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Good and The Bad

March 23rd

Today was one of those days. You know, the kind of day where bad news just kind of filters to the surface and somehow during the day you overlook the good things until you look back on the events of the day. Its really easy to overlook these good things when news you have been waiting for is not what you want to hear or a child that was discharged from the nutrition center is brought back to you because of a leg infection. These things happen and the first thoughts of the day are “Ah, CRAP!” and “What now?” or “Where do we go from here?” and maybe a silent pleading “why!?” in the back of your mind.
The morning began by finding out that the grant we had been working so hard on through the French Embassy for a tractor was turned down. I was heartbroken. So much time, effort, and travel was put into the paperwork. This was a blow. We could have used the tractor. It would have been our Swiss army knife, so many uses. Eventually I remember a conversation I had with Beth. Thanks to her I now know that the French were not the last stop. Ghana has a program to help its farmers obtain tractors. There might be hope yet....and it might be easier than navigating the FSD application and demands. This could be good...yeah good.
Before the morning was over the rest of my day showed up at the nutrition center. One of the mothers we have been working with showed up with the child we had discharged the previous week. This case is special because the father has abandoned his five children and wife, leaving them with nothing. We are doing what we can to get them back on their feet. Karim, my local counterpart, has even taken money out of his own pocket to help them. The child has a pretty bad infection and blister like swelling on his leg. He doesn't want to walk on it, but this is a tough kid...not one tear the entire time. I go with mother and child to the clinic, their lack of health card is more likely to be overlooked with someone from the nutrition center there (or maybe just the white lady). Karim has given me money to pay for treatment and I am cursing the sun for being bright and sunny. At the clinic the staff agree to see the child without the “required green health booklet” and I am trying to not get irritated because I am still having to deflect “I want to be you friend” proposals from male nurses. The treatment prescribed involves injections and lacerating the infected area on the leg. The child is a rock star! Mom looks away everytime a needle goes in or when the nurse begins work on the leg. The child does not cry out, and still I swear not one tear shed. He has to go through this again tomorrow. The staff tell me, in a show of good will, that they will not require payment. I heard some whispered dissension among the ranks, but the decision was made. I was told before leaving that just as we at the nutrition center are trying to protect these children it should also be the duty of the clinic to do the same. This was a pretty stressful (big stress on the “ful”) afternoon. On the surface you ask yourself “how much more can this woman take?” let some good come her way. Past the surface you see that good did find its way to this mother; Karim and the nutrition center will do anything to get her and her children back on their feet and the clinic took care of her child and gave her medications without charge. Small blessings, right?
Exhausted. Tired. Hungry. Thirsty. I have been all over town. To the nutrition center twice. To the clinic (opposite side of town from the nutrition center). I am sporting a pretty good sunburn. My legs feel like jelly from all the bike riding. NAP TIME!! Phone rings. Grumble. Hello? Catherine? Yes. Please hold for John. (last time the Peace Corps office called me was because I had not notified anyone at the office that I survived the windstorm, so I am thinking to myself that John is now going to ask me why I neglected to pass on my continued living and non-injury to him). “Congratulations!” That is what John has called to tell me. My day has become a sandwich. I started it hearing about a grant proposal and now I am finishing it the same way...but this slice of the loaf is better. John has called to tell me that my grant proposal has gone through. We will have the money soon and will be able to start building next week. I celebrate with a soda. Call Karim and tell him the good news....he needed some good news for today too. Now its nap time.

March 24th

Today I went on a house call with Faruk. House calls seem to be a necessary evil. They mainly consist of of us going to a house and demanding that people find some good sense and seek out treatment for a malnourished child. However, lately a pattern has solidly emerged that pulls at the heartstrings even more than just a malnourished child.
Here is the scenario - Go into a house. 4 or 5 children live there. Can you tell which one is the orphan. (orphan here usually means that only one parent has died and the new stepfather refuses to take responsibility for the child not of his blood). If you are in the US it is probably not immediately apparent. You might look for a genetic separation such as different shape, size, color, subtle mannerisms. If you are in Ghana....the of the five children the 4 non-orphans greeted you at the door. They are healthy, curious, all that a child should be. The fifth child at first is only a vision of a retreating ankle being Harry Pottered by a guardian and going to some place out of sight. Seeing this as a clue you should follow this child. Upon finding the fifth child (and getting a good view) it is immediately apparent that this child is the orphan. S/he is the only person in the house malnourished, dirty, and carries an overall air of neglect. This child is passive, introverted, and everything a healthy child is not.
We are working with the local human rights organizations to bring greater attention to these children. Karim is the best bully I know...he bullies parents and demands that they get help for children in need of care. We are just hoping we get to these children before we lose them forever.

March 27th

I have an internal radar for rain. Its true. As a rule and a habit I do not get up in the middle of the night to pee. Middle of the night is for sleeping not peeing. Even when I worked crazy shifts and hours, whatever my night was it was for sleeping. Last night around 1am I had to pee like no other. After getting back to my house, the power was out and a few moments pass and torrential rain downpour. I think my body knows when the latrine is not going to be available for awhile. The good news is that I was not only able to collect enough water to fill my barrel, but also to fill my two water cans, my water filter, and several buckets. I used the bucket to do some much need underwear washing.
I just hope not too much of the mud walls on the poultry coop got washed away...we roof this week!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Wind: another word for HOLY #@$%^

March 15th, 2011

Holy Hell What A Storm!!!!! Last night we had a pretty damnable storm. There was some rain, but the lackluster waterfall could not hold a candle to the wind...most likely because the wind would have blown out the flame and then would have sent the candle flying to China just out of spite.
Luckily due, I believe, mostly to luck (all of which I probably cashed in last night) my house is in tack. Unfortunately, destruction was evident throughout all of my Town. Roofs had blown off houses and merchant buildings, tin roofing lay crumpled everywhere. Houses with a straw roof found that their roof could be located all over the street and, if they were lucky, trapped in larger clumps between structures. A good number of structures collapsed under the gale force that swept through Karaga. Buildings freshly constructed crumbled, old clay houses vanished, and many others are simply missing crucial walls.
The nutrition center I work at resembled a good sampling of the carnage I saw throughout Karaga. The roof to the patio was blown off and made an new acquaintance with a nearby roof, leaving a gaping hole where they met. Madam Kate's future mineral (soda) stand returned the earth in which its bricks were originally made. Only a few bricks stood where there were once walls and where we had planned to roof today. Trees were splintered, branches everywhere reminding me of the self-trimming tree that once stood in my backyard back in Phoenix.
Though an actual cone shaped tornado did not pass through town, if you saw what I saw you would have definitely thought one had...or at least that you were standing on a long forgotten movie set for Twister.
Luckily, no one seems to be hurt. The worst of it is in the viewing of the damage to building, homes, stores, nutrition center. We count our blessings where we can find them.
Sadly, the battery to camera is dead and the wind took with it at least five, so far, power poles. I can not charge the battery and provide you with pictures. Maybe I am not meant to take a visual document of this “tragedy” but only to write about it (computer is fully charged) and then take picture when things are rebuilt, restored, and shiny once again. Think of me in the next couple days as power is not expected to be back again for the remainder of the week, it is still hot and my room still has a heat absorbing west wall.

Love and miss you all

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Where Did February Go?

March 2, 2011

So I have been slacking on the whole blog thing. I could lie and say I wrote something out, but the goat ate it. I hate lying, so the truth is...the Donkey ate it. ;)

It has been pretty hot lately. Sweat behind the knees hot. I never knew I could drip sweat from behind my knees, but its possible and every time I have a good sweat going (in the shade under a fan) I always initially freak out and think a bug is on my legs. For us non-exercisers this is not natural. None the less I am hoping for an early rainy season. Other volunteers hiss at this idea, but I can handle the bugs with a good bug repellent and a mosquito coil. What I am ready for is not to have to haul water in 98 degree morning weather and sleep in my sweat.

About a month ago my neighbor Suyini decided he was afraid of white people. From across the courtyard he would spot me, freak out, cry, and try to crawl to safety. The adults think this is very funny. According to Nikki, another volunteer, he just hit that age where kids begin to realize that they see color and differentiate between them. One guess who in the neighborhood is not like all the others. I have been working on this kid for a month now...we have progressed to holding as long as someone else is around, as soon as all the Ghanaians leave the courtyard the crying commences....the adults still think its funny. This kid will like me.

I am currently trying to put together a Girl's Health Club in Karaga. I am green with envy of volunteers in sites that do not have Ghana Education Services stationed within town limits. Trying to work with them and convince them that an informal club is a good thing is starting to get frustrating. I can't go around them for fear of insulting/offending them, but I am pretty damn close to pulling my hair out. Hopefully I will be able to get this club started before my service is over...if not hopefully I will have laid the groundwork for the next volunteer. These girls will learn about safe sex practices GOSH DERNIT!

I went to a funeral the beginning of February with Beth. It was a nice event and nothing like funerals back home. People danced and we paid the dancers/instrument players with small coins, we ate local food, and at one point the mourning party walked around the house 3 times while shotguns were fired. The shotguns sounded like cannons. I have spent some time around guns and people who shoot guns...they don't make me jump and as nervous the way these home made cannon rifles do. I kept picturing them exploding.

For all of you that are wondering about the mice in my house, I am now averaging one per month. That is right, just in time for March (MONTH 10!!!) I got mouse number 10. He was glad to see the groundnut paste I left out for him, though the menu price was probably more than he was willing to pay. Take that mice.

I promise to try to be better about the blog. I have always been bad at this sort of thing. 1/3 of the way done....and can't believe I am going to miss the Captain America movie.

Love you all.
Send Macaroni.

March 4th, 2011

So it hit me today, a revelation that will make me a better customer, patron, and overall person. Well, if not “overall person” maybe a better customer. Today was market day in Karaga and I went ready to but my usual supply of onion and tomato ** little yay **. Making my way through the chaos I noticed it from a far....AVOCADO **BIG YAY**. I bought five of those suckers. Avocado here does not look the same as it does in the states (the peel is different), but it tastes just as glorious. Today was a good treat. How does this make a better customer you ask. Simple. Have you ever worked customer service? Ever wanted to strangle the customer? Ever wanted to cry because that customer took it out on you because their shoe size, favorite snack, or police report was not available. I will never be that customer...if I ever have been, I will never be again. If ever the store is out of fruit loops, crazy band aids, or video games I will look back on this day. I will remember my excitement over seeing an avocado and say to myself “hey, at least it won't take 9 months for Safeway to get it back in stock.”

March 5th

Ever wake up in the morning and ask yourself “how can I cause trouble in my village today?” I tell you that this is a really simple task. The result is at least one crying child, maybe two, confused parents, and one less trip to the garbage bin. Its fun! First you need some empty Altoids tins, you know the ones your mom sends you (full) and you have been saving. You also secretly wonder why your breath does not have some residual freshness after easting so many delightful and curiously strong mints. Second go outside with the intent to give these tins away, this goal is accomplished easily as soon as one child receives a tin even some adults will materialize out of nowhere to obtain a tin. Where is the “trouble” in this...simple...the child who got a tin will now spread the word showing off her new treasure. One child who sees this will assume that the tin had fish in it and that instead of empty tins she will assume I was giving away delciousness. When new children show up for tins (which you no longer have) give them plastic bottles and containers from other thing you have collected. At least one child from this group will be upset she (Becky) did not get fish, and at least one parent (Becky's mom) will come over to find out why her child did not get fish. Luckily the parent is understanding of the “I was giving only empty containers away and there are no more tins” explanation. This is good for a least a few hours solid entertainment. Guaranteed.

In other kid news. My neighbors are still finding it quite hilarious that the children are split between half being afraid of me and the other half completely obsessed with trying to play with me. One such child, Valeria, is in the obsessed category. She is only two, so her cuteness wins her some points though we are trying to work on the “I will not pick you up because if I do you will not let me put you down” issue. Today, she was handed off to me to watch for a little while. The neighbors laughed as I sat down and let Val climb all over me. Eventually the heat kicked in, she grew tired, and plotzed in my lap. Awwwwww. Cute, right? Wrong! As soon as she passed out in an adorable state of cuteness, Valeria then peed all over me! Now instead of the picking her up issue we are working on the “you don't pee on me” new development. Granted it is hard to stay mad at her for long as she has started trying to say my name. Instead of Tiyumtaba (tee-you-m-ta-ba) she say it Diumpa (dee-umm-paa).