Monthly Archives: October 2012

Crickets

In Ghana summer, fall, winter, and spring don’t exist. The only two seasons are the “rainy season” and “dry season”. You can also think of the two seasons as REALLY hot and hot. We have been in the rainy season here for the last couple of months.

You can imagine how loud these things are.

During the rainy season there is an abundance of critters. The other morning some of the children in my village were digging small holes in the ground with machetes. After some investigation I discovered that they were hunting for crickets. Back in America some children like to play with insects. However, these children weren’t just having a good time, they were hunting for their lunch. Later that day the children came to my house with about a dozen huge crickets in a bag.

I wasn’t ready to try grilled cricket, especially one prepared by a child.

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Volta Regional Spelling Bee

Two weeks ago I volunteered at the Volta Regional Spelling Bee in Ho. Each region in Ghana, except the Western and Upper West regions, has a regional spelling bee. After the dust settles the top spellers from each region compete in the Ghana National Spelling Bee in Accra. The winner in Accra will represent Ghana at the 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C. (not sure why it’s called  “national” when there are foreign countries competing). In fact, last year the top Ghanaian speller came from the Volta Region and won himself a trip Washington D.C.

When I agreed to volunteer, it wasn’t very clear what I was going to do. I don’t have any experience with spelling bees besides elementary school class competitions and being disappointed by ESPN televising the Scripps National Spelling Bee instead of an actual sport. At the event I was thrust in being a word recorder. My job was to transcribe each contestant’s spelling of the word, mark whether the contestant asked for any hints (part of speech, definition, use in a sentence, etc.), and mark whether the contestant got the word right. I was surprised that the spelling bee coordinators entrusted this job to a random Joe off the streets who has no experience with spelling bees. Though, on the other hand, many Peace Corps volunteers have worked with the spelling bee before, so I supposed I wasn’t just any random Joe.

You could cut the tension with a knife.

Coming into the spelling bee I thought it would be a grueling event comprised of many rounds. However, after the first round exactly half of the spellers were eliminated. We started with 52 and by round two we were left with 26. The words get more difficult after each round and it showed during round two. After two rounds, only five spellers remained. Since the Volta region could send at most six spellers to the national competition, the spelling bee ended after only two rounds and the five remaining spellers were invited to Accra for a chance to represent Ghana in the Scripps International Spelling Bee in Washington D.C.

The top 5 spellers from the Volta Region. They will be competing in Accra in February.

The spelling bee is a great opportunity for children living in rural villages. It provides them with a fun way to learn English and gives them the opportunity to compete in regional capitals and potentially Accra. Most village children never get the opportunity to visit a large city. Hopefully I can get the schools in my village interested in the spelling bee so next year I’ll be talking about how students from Abutia Teti competed in the Regional Spelling Bee.


Wednesday Worship

I once had a conversation with a Ghanaian (pronounced gone-ay-an if you didn’t know) friend that went something like this:

Ghanaian: All Americans are very Christian people.

Me: That’s not true. People practice many different religions in America. There are even many people called atheists who don’t believe in God.

Ghanaian: But, you have “In God We Trust” written on your money”. That is why your country is so blessed.

Ghana doesn’t have any mention of God or religion on its currency, yet ironically as a whole Ghana is a lot more religious than America. Most of the country is Christian or Muslim with some Traditionalists sprinkled in. I could be way off, but in my neck of the woods it seems like 9 out of every 10 people is Christian and the other person lives in a Zongo or Muslim community in one of the larger towns.

However, you don’t have to inscribe “In God We Trust” on your currency to be religious. You could name your hair salon “God’s Time” (just about every shop has a religious name like this). You could have 14 different churches in your community of 4,000 people. Or you could have your public schools hold worship every Wednesday morning when school starts. For about an hour every Wednesday morning the school comes together to sing Christian worship songs. If you are a student you could choose not to sing, but the teachers would cane you until you start singing.

Students singing praises.

One Wednesday I attended the worship session at one of the public schools in my community. All of the students, Kindergarten through Junior High, and teachers met under a mango tree on the school’s campus to sing and dance. After the worship, one of the teachers asked me to talk to do an impromptu health lesson. So I gave a short talk on the importance of handwashing. Then I taught them a handwashing song I learned from one of my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers during Peace Corps training.


Big Fat Ghanaian Wedding

Over the weekend I attended my co-worker’s, Alex’s, wedding. In Ghana there seems to be a funeral just about every weekend, so attending a wedding was a nice change of pace. Surprisingly, Ghanaian weddings (or at least this one) are very similar to American weddings.

Me with the Groom.

Bride and Groom cutting the cake.

 

 


First Grant Approved

Some of my previous blog posts seem to suggest that I’ve been on vacation for the past eight months. Contrary to popular belief, I’ve actually been working. Sometimes it’s just more exciting to write about the “fun” things that I’ve been experiencing. However, this post will be just business.

Background

A latrine artisan I’ve been working with in a neighboring community informed me that the kindergarten, primary, and junior high schools in the community don’t have toilet facilities. The students were defecating in the outskirts of the school, because they had no other place to go. Aside from the negative health implications, it also causes the students to be late for class and puts them at risk of snakebites. He pleaded with me to try to do something about it, so I applied for a small grant to build latrines for the school.

I was just informed today that the small grant I submitted over a month ago was approved! Now the actual work will begin when I have to monitor the construction of the school latrines and form health clubs in the school.

Other Projects In the Works

  • I am currently writing a small grant to get shutters and doors for a school in my community. Having classrooms without doors and shutters causes many problems. You can read about the problem here, as it was featured in the news. My community seems really gung-ho about it, so I’m excited for the project.

No doors and shutters leaves the classroom open to the elements and potential thieves.

  • I’m looking into getting boreholes for some nearby communities. My community received piped water right before I arrived, but some of the neighboring communities don’t have the same luxury
  • I agreed to teach ICT once a week at a junior high school in my community. Teaching is really challenging for me here. I have to speak very slow and clear for the students to have a chance of understanding my English. Also, students aren’t taught how to think critically at school; they “learn” through rote memorization. I’m a firm a believer that you aren’t learning unless you are thinking. Needless to say, I’m up for a challenge.

On top of all this I’ll be supporting my Local NGO, EDSAM, with all of their Ghana WASH activities and household latrine construction in the Volta Region. We are trying to finish building 200 latrines before we start building another phase of construction. I think I’ll be very busy in the foreseeable future.


Half Marathon Part II

I arrived in Accra for the half marathon on Friday. One of my Peace Corps volunteer friends was celebrating her birthday that night, plus I wanted to arrive a day early. Coming to Accra almost seems like coming to a new country – it’s more developed and westernized than the rest of the country. Plus, the people speak a different language than where I’m living.

On Friday night a group of us went to dinner at a bar/restaurant that had flat screen TVs, a pool table, and western food and drinks. I ordered the chicken burger with cream spinach and it was delicious. Sure I could have gotten french fries, but I can easily buy fried yam anywhere (which is similar) and it’s very difficult to find spinach Ghana. By American standards it was fairly inexpensive, especially when you consider the tipping, or lack thereof. However, there’s only enough room on my Peace Corps budget to go there about once every couple of months.

On Saturday night one of the Peace Corps’ staff members and his wife invited all of the Peace Corps runners to their home for a carb loading meal. We ate pastas, salads, and breads. Then to top it off we ate brownies with Dreyer’s rocky road ice cream. By the end of the night I put down multiple plates worth of food and was carb overloaded for the half marathon.

On Sunday the half marathon was scheduled to start at 5:40am. However, I learned a long time ago that almost nothing in Ghana starts on time. Most people in Ghana are on “African time” (meaning 1-3 hours late), as opposed to “American time” (meaning on-time). As expected, the shuttle carrying us to the start arrived late, which meant the half marathon started late. The main problem with starting late is the heat. Fortunately, we’re in the rainy season so the weather wasn’t too hot. Most of the course was along the beach and parts of it even gave me flashbacks of running along the beach back home. The rest of the course was on a busy street with many cars and pedestrians. However, I’ve gotten pretty good at dodging cars and people, so this part of the run didn’t phase me.

My goal for the half marathon was to finish without walking, but most of all have a good time. I’m happy to report that I accomplished my goals! I didn’t run fast by any means. In fact, I finished right in front of a guy who told me he “pulled a muscle in his calf during the first six minutes of the run”. The race ended at a very nice beach resort where all the runners were given food, drinks, and massages. After some serious hydrating I decided to make the three plus hour trek back to my village that afternoon. It was a painful ride being cramped in the back of a small bus with already sore legs, but I made it back safely and am thinking about how I’m going to train for the full marathon next year!

Four half marathon and five 10k runners from the WATSAN group that arrived Feb ’12.


Half Marathon Part I

On Sunday I ran in the Accra half marathon. I had never ran in an organized race before, so I thought, why not try one in Ghana? Going into the race I knew it would be hot, unorganized, and probably dangerous. Combine that with my lack of proper training and I was a little nervous before the race. I have found marathons to be difficult to train for in Ghana for a number of reasons.

  • You never know when you are going to get sick. Whether it’s diarrhea or a cold, getting sick is a more common and capricious occurrence in Ghana than America.
  • It’s HOT. If you don’t start your run before 6am, you’re screwed and have to wait until tomorrow to run.
  • I never knew exactly how far I was running when training. Even if the Internet were faster here, I can’t quite find my village on Google Maps to calculate my running distances. However, one day I was lucky enough to be in a taxi with a working odometer so I could peak at it and measure my running distances based on how far the taxi drove.
  • It’s difficult to train by yourself. Most people in my village don’t know what a marathon is, so clearly I’ve been training by myself for the most part. However, a few months ago the schools in my village had a sports competition with schools in neighboring communities so I was able to train with some junior high students. Although, I was a bit demoralized when the students were running in “shower sandals” and still beating me. (As a side note, it was pretty amazing/frightening watching the students do the high jump without a landing pad during the competition.)
  • Running is not that common here. People think it’s bizarre to run to a place for no particular purpose other than exercise. It seems everyone gets their exercise from working and/or farming.

Although I had all of these challenges going into the half marathon, nobody likes excuses so I wasn’t about to drop out of the race. Plus there are some advantages to training for a half marathon in Ghana. One is that I feel like I’ve been “carb loading” for the past eight months with the food being so carbohydrate heavy. In the end I didn’t train as much as I wanted to, but I was able to run an average of three times a week with my longest run being roughly eight miles. Not quite 13.1, but I was hoping adrenaline would kick in during race day.