Don’t let it slip

I’m fast approaching a date that I don’t want to pass. I’m terrified of November 20th. I don’t want it to come.

I don’t want to say I ended my Peace Corps service over a year ago. I want to remain within my one year mark. I don’t know why, but I don’t want to tip over into that territory. I want to be still fresh off the plane. Three days isn’t going to make a difference, because that date is going to pass no matter what, but I feel it sometimes. I feel it slipping. I feel the connection to my service slipping from my hands. Somedays I come home and cry because I miss Peace Corps so bad. No I don’t miss the hardships or the heartbreak, but I miss the feeling. I miss feeling impactful. Arabic makes me feel selfish. Learning a language is selfish. I’m learning this for me, so I can converse with others. I’m not doing something that has a direct impact on others right now. I get that this whole mindset of wanting to be impactful is just as selfish, but entertain my line of thought. I miss feeling smart because I had all this time to think and better myself. I miss being loved by a community of strangers. I miss feeling like I was doing something. I was someone. I miss that feeling when lights have been off for hours and suddenly the lights are back on and everything seems amazing in the world, like I could do anything because suddenly I had electricity. I miss the intellectual conversations I would have from my porch with other Peace Corps Volunteers, locals, or sometimes the goats. I miss the look on a farmer’s face when I told them something that changed their minds. I miss the smile from my small girls when I would turn on Gangnam style and we would have a dance party in front of the ravine. I miss my fellow Volunteers and the stories we shared. I miss it all.

I enjoy Arabic, for the most part (except when I’m patronized and demoralized), but I can’t really measure it. I can’t describe its impact on me, not yet. I can’t see it smile at me from across the courtyard when I run out of my room because a mouse scurried under my bed. Arabic doesn’t care that I know all about cashew nut quality. Arabic doesn’t excite me like a fresh batch of farmer data ripe and ready for analysis.

We are always ready and looking forward to the next moment, stage, or period of our life. But sometimes, you have to look back and realize where you came from. As much as I miss Ghana, I know that I’m going to enjoy going to my fridge and making dinner in my government apartment though. But right now, I don’t want missing Ghana to end.

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My Peace Corps Service

On October 6, 2011, I emerged from the Lufthansa plane into the steamy evening air of Accra. I stepped foot onto the African continent for the first time. Two years later, I can still vividly remember the feeling of arriving in Ghana. Two years later and I’ve accomplished a lot, but only time will tell what my impact has been.

Standing on a cliff overlooking a tree dotted savannah, shadows and sunlight fill the scene. My service has been much the same. The shadows sometimes cast doubt on the effectiveness of my service, but the rays of sun pouring over the landscape reveal the true story.

Two days into my service as an official Peace Corps Volunteer, I sat huddled over a shiny metal table, pen and paper in hand ready to dive into the conference call. Beads of sweat formed on my neck and temple, slowly rolling down my front as the screechy fan circled above my head. I leaned forward to hear the speakerphone over the din of the bar’s crackling TV. As the conference call finished, I could feel the corners of my mouth slowly pull back into an unmistakable smile. This was going to be my primary project. Ideas started to form in my head, cogs started turning, and a pull deep inside my stomach told me that this project would become my baby.

A few days later, I sat in a dusty office surrounded by binders, papers, and cobwebs. I quickly opened my laptop, ready to prove myself to my new Ghanaian counterparts. As SAP stated exasperatedly during our conference call, farmer registrations were far behind schedule. I sprung into action, creating a plan for tackling the registrations in the next few weeks. We had just three weeks to register farmers from over 16 communities, spanning half the region. Christmas eve, I set out from my house to Muslim area of town. As I approached the first house, I suddenly became anxious, this was after all my first introduction to my farmers. I was greeted by a group of about 15 men who had just finished prayers. This group would turn out to be my biggest supporters and friendliest farmers. As we documented each farmer, I took pictures of each person (an added transparency measure for the software).

SAP Guy

Our taxi would bump along the dirt roads surrounding Wenchi. Dust would fill the car like a fog entering the vehicle, it would grab hold of my throat and linger softly on my clothes. My short red hair would turn redder and lighter with the dust settling wherever it could. As we jostled around in the taxi hurtling toward Nchiraa, I noticed the land change slightly. Crags burst forth from the mix of maize and cashew farms; palm trees rose high above the grasses. We climbed slightly and as we emerged from a dense section of teak trees, the view broke through and you could see for miles. Miles of farms, untouched land, and Africa.

A few weeks later, we were making our way down another bush path. This time the journey took much longer. I dozed off and on in the backseat as we passed bushfires, cashew farms, and tiny villages huddled around a water source. We stopped in a small village to register a few farmers. We parked in the shade of an ancient mango tree, dripping with thin, waxy leaves. I set my laptop on the roof of the tiny Daewoo so it would be eye level. My counterpart, gently grabbed my arm and pointed towards a little shack across the street. The closest gas station for miles and miles.

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(The yellow jerry can is the gas station.)

The hot wind pushed my bedroom curtains higher and higher as I sat on my makeshift desk, my bed. I furiously added data into a spreadsheet, enjoying the monotony of the work. I coughed and reached for more water. One of the 800 farmers I shook hands with likely handed me the flu. But the fever and body aches weren’t going to stand in the way of my data analysis. I poured over the data, fascinated by the trends that were emerging and their implication for this project. Not only did I have a great sample of cashew farmers, but I had insights that would help me plan my future trainings.

January melted into February and with it the hot harmattan winds continued to blow. One night, the team from Germany arrived, and we discussed logistics for the next week’s training. As the sun set over the hills of Wenchi, the bats sleeping restlessly in the giant mango tree began to stir and disappear into the dusk. The furious sound of their wings beating against their bodies and their cries of hunger echoed into the night. The stars began to slowly pop into view and I listened to the team from SAP conversing in German. I chimed in on occasion as we discussed details. As the night wore on, one of them snuck off and came back with a bag bursting to the top with German goodies. I was ecstatic to see some of my favorites – Weisswurst, Knodel, and Haribo. The full moon slowly rose over the horizon, distorted by the harmattan winds, it glowed orange illuminating the town.

The cashew season slowly soldiered on. The intoxicating smell of cashew flowers filled the air. March became April and the first shadow crept over my service. As I laid in bed, writhing in feverous pain, I drifted in and out of delirium. Sweat poured down my back as I tossed and turned during the hottest month of the year. Suddenly, I would wake up from my terror strewn dreams and stumble wildly to the bathroom. I couldn’t even remember the taste of regular water, I was drinking so many oral rehydration salts. I don’t remember what or how I ate, but somehow in that month I received sustenance. Nor do I remember travelling to Kumasi to visit the lab. As I teeter-tottered back in forth in the lab chair, I willed myself to stay conscious. Leaving the lab, the Peace Corps car had left. I walked in a stupor towards what I hoped would be towards a vehicle to take me back to the office. The next days were a blur as I got progressively worse. My energy was sapped wholeheartedly from my body, leaving me to crawl to the bathroom. Four weeks passed since the start of my illness and finally I was prescribed medicine to treat typhoid fever.

The rainy season arrived in thunderous fashion. The sky seemed to open up and a deluge issued forth. Roads became rivers and rivers became violent. My curtains remained almost horizontal for the three month monsoons. I could barely leave the house for fear of being swept away. The rain would hammer on the tin roof deafening my ears. Loneliness began to affect me and sadness slowly seeped into my daily life. But eventually, the rain died down enough that I could carry on with my work.

I quietly organized my handouts for my basic recordkeeping and accounting trainings. Everything was prepared and I was thrilled to begin teaching. Before I joined Peace Corps I envisioned myself giving basic accounting trainings in some far off land in a different language, well my vision became reality, except it was in English. The farmers surprised me with their attentiveness and participation in the trainings. I was shocked to find women participating with the men. I drew out the shy farmers and asked them about what they learned. I provided pencils as incentives for participation. For seven weeks, I trekked around Wenchi providing trainings to over 100 farmers. I was thrilled at the progress they made and satisfied with my work. 

A few weeks later I set out for the adventure of a lifetime, traversing around South Africa for three weeks. The cold Atlantic Ocean took my breathe away as I lowered myself into the cage. Being careful not to dangle my appendages outside the confines of the steel cage, I watched as great white sharks swam past me in the water. They leapt with such force over the choppy surface of the water, I could barely believe the experience was real. A week later and I was awestruck when I saw my first giraffe. As the baby giraffe was chased by devious warthogs, the sun set over the savannah. The air grew cold as we spent the evening chasing lions and tailing rhinos. The lion’s roar reverberated throughout my entire body, enticing goosebumps to ripple across my skin.

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The next month was bland in comparison to my South African escapades. I travelled back and forth to the district offices, pleading with bored officials to support my bushfire prevention event. I had been looking forward to planning this event for a year and I was excited when the agencies were all on board. I left the final planning to my counterpart and I hopped down to Accra for Thanksgiving at the Ambassador’s residence. I stayed with an amazing couple who have embraced me like a member of their own family. Thanksgiving Day, I slipped on my specially designed and tailored dress and blow dried my hair. As I sat down to eat, I invited those at the table to share what they were thankful for – a family tradition. That day I was even more grateful for gravy, lots and lots of gravy. Later that evening, I joined my embassy family for second Thanksgiving. I waddled to bed that night.

I returned home to Wenchi, eager to conduct my bushfire event. Then, it all crumbled to pieces in front of me, sabotaged by one individual. By the time I got to the event location that morning, I was already fearful and severely shaken up. I still haven’t recovered from that day, and I doubt I ever will. Peace Corps arrived like a knight in shining white Nissan armor to carry me far away.

Another dark shadow cast no light over the month of December and I struggled. I came very close to quitting and accepting defeat, but through the strength of my friends and support from my APCD I made it through those dark 51 days of homelessness.

As I sat on the edge of my new bed contemplating the boxes and bags of stuff in front of me, I wondered where to start. Where do you start over? I pulled clothes out of boxes, books out of crannies, and decorations out of bags. I was determined to make my quaint, tiny space my home. I purchased beautiful batik for my curtains. As I went to hang them, the table I was standing on gave a giant creak and suddenly split in two. Only one word came to mind as I slowly tumbled backwards onto my concrete floor, and that word was inappropriate. I healed and moved on with my work.

February approached once again with a flurry of events, one of which I had been planning for a long time – the Peace Corps West Africa Cashew Conference. I’m incredibly proud of the results of this conference, but it came at a price. Another shadow was quickly filling up any sunlight visible.

My friend Ralph encouraged me to go to a spot with him one evening, but the moment I got there I knew it was a terrible mistake. The gurgles and deep resonating growls coming from my stomach had nothing to do with hunger. I looked around frantically for a latrine, desperate for any sign of relief. The cramps hitting my stomach caused me to double over in pain. I pleaded with Ralph to let me go home immediately. I just made it in time. That night I laid in bed drenched with sweat and feverish, the food poisoning felt like I was being eaten alive. Over the course of the next month, the effects of that food poisoning became clearer and I became sicker and sicker. But again I survived and over the next few months healed.

Despite healing, the shadows grew darker as I struggled with a project and the sudden death of a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer. I’ve unfortunately often heard the pained screams and wails of Ghanaians as they discover the news of a loved one’s passing. I couldn’t help but echo those same wails as I heard the news of Danni’s untimely departure. I headed back to Accra, where I dealt with my sorrow by hiding away and baking. I’ve held my friends closer ever since her funeral and hope to never cry such terrible tears again.

I returned to work determined to excel and I set ahead furiously studying for the Foreign Service Test, which I passed. The happy news of my score reached me while I was on a much needed vacation in Germany. We’d just stepped foot inside the house, returning from a wonderful few days in Spain, when I received the email. The next few weeks I spent enjoying the crisp, fresh air of Germany with my aunt and uncle. It was exactly what I needed and a wonderful treat. I truly didn’t know how much I valued fresh air until I inhaled it again.

There must always be balance between the amount of sun and shadows, so after my magnificent trip to Germany, I should have been on guard for the shadow that began to creep up again. Rays of sunlight still flooded through hoping to break the shadow, but again one individual was bound and determined to cast darkness back into my life. Despite being scared and shaken, I survived this security threat with my head held high. I refused to shrink back into the ease of the darkness.

Happiness once again returned after I received my official Close of Service (COS) date: November 20. With just a short amount of time left, I set a course for closure and began wrapping up my primary project. This included a World Cashew Conference and a round of meetings with my project partner, fresh off the plane from Germany.

One week will mark my two year anniversary in Ghana. I have just 53 days left in West Africa. Only 53 days to ensure my primary project will be well looked after. Only 53 days left to say goodbye to the friends I’ve made and relationships I cherish. I don’t know what my impact has been. I know what I’ve done. I know what I’ve taught. I know how my primary project has expanded beyond my dreams. Time will tell if I’ve made any impact on Ghana. But Ghana has surely made an impact on me.

Reconciling my contradictions

I’ve been struggling lately to reconcile my own beliefs. I’m finally coming to terms with the fact that the sun does not revolve around the earth and this new concept that the world is not flat. I’m struggling with the battle going on in my brain between what I knew and what I’ve now experienced.

As kids we all dream about what we want to be when we grow up. Something triggers a sudden revelation that yes, indeed, I want to be a monkey trainer. Then with those wonderful attention spans, a kid changes his mind and now wants to be a fireman. I changed my mind a few times growing up, but I typically stuck to a profession for a few years until reality crashed down on my head and reminded me that either I couldn’t draw (architect) or didn’t like science (rocket scientist). I remember those soul crushing reality checks were devastating, but a few weeks or months later I’d find something better to dream about. When I was 16 my mom suggested a career path to me that she thought I’d enjoy. As with most things in my life, my mom was right. The more I looked into the career, the more I wanted it. Now 10 years later, I still want to work for the Foreign Service.

But why? I have two main reasons for wanting to work for the State Department. The first has to do with my love for other cultures. As a kid, I spent some wonderful years living in Germany. That gave me the exploration bug. I wanted to know more about other cultures. Some of my favorite projects in school had to do with researching other countries and their people. Despite everything they tried to teach me in Oklahoma, Americans are not the only human beings on this planet. Through globalization and technology we have become a truly interdependent planet. Our relationships, partnerships, and shared interests are what keep our economy chugging along, even if it does have some hiccups every few years. I want my career to be focused on sharing cultures and values, along with advancing mutual interests.

My other reason for wanting to work in foreign service is deeply rooted in my family history. Both of my parents served in the Air Force. I grew up understanding service and duty. I have great respect for how my parents served America. Through osmosis I developed this same sense of duty to my nation. My life should be in service of others, not to better serve myself. I feel like I would be disrespecting my family’s legacy if I didn’t devote my life to service.

 

Peace Corps is about grassroots development. Help others help themselves. But why? I believe that through globalization lines on a map our slowly becoming less relevant. Yes, I’m an American but I’m a citizen of Earth. Countries rely on each other for food, resources, protection, and goods. The idea is simple, if you help developing countries advance, you help yourself. You’ll gain access to more resources, more skilled labor, increased technology, and a greater supply of food. Those citizens will also reap the rewards by having greater opportunities, increased income, access to better education, and an overall better quality of life. So, in effect, while development tries to be altruistic, it is really a mutually beneficial exchange. I want to see Ghana succeed because I care about her citizens and I care about her culture. I want my farmers to have access to better resources. I want them to be able to have the same opportunities I had growing up.

But is that just my Western upbringing and mindset that is imposing these beliefs and hopes on them? My farmers are happy, yes they’d like more money, but they often site TVs and laptops as their next purchase if they had the money. They wouldn’t reinvest their money into their farms to improve their yield in the long-run. Investment just isn’t something they think of here. But does that make it wrong? Is my way of thinking right? Am I imposing my ideals on them? Yes, I know that investment is good and it makes sense, but does it mean buying a laptop is wrong? In America, we put happiness and wealth on equal pedestals. Are we generally happy as a nation though? I would argue no. Do you have to have the American or Western ideal of happiness to be truly happy? No.

 

Through my Peace Corps service, I’ve been able to integrate into a community and a culture that is vastly different from my own. I’ve been able to experience life as a Ghanaian and I’ve come to understand their culture. Their way of life has had a profound impact on my own beliefs about happiness and service. I feel trapped between two worlds: my American culture and my Ghanaian thinking. I’m glad I have these two sides, because they make me a stronger global citizen. And technically there’s also my German heritage thrown in there too.

I will continue to serve my country by serving others. I will use my multiple cultural identities to make better decisions. And I will constantly reconcile my experiences so that I will challenge the status quo.

I will be forever grateful for my time in Peace Corps for allowing me to experience things that question my beliefs. Life would be awfully boring if we didn’t have belief upheavals every once in a while.

And the world would still be flat.

My Progression as a Peace Corps Volunteer

A long time ago, in a village far far away, I posted about the different types of Volunteers. I used Disney characters to highlight the different roles and personas we take on. I’d like to revisit those Disney characters to show how I’ve changed during my service.

First I was like…
chip

So excited and eager to be part of the Peace Corps.
Then after a month of training, I was like…
zazu

Getting sassy from sitting in sessions all day.
After another month of training, I was like…
beast

I turned into a completely different angry animal.
As training came to a close, I was like…
peter pan

Freedom! I was so excited to go to my site.
As I started working at site, I was like…
hercules

I can do anything! This is fantastic.
At our reconnect conference, we I returned to sessions I was like…
scar

Bitter and disenfranchised, but quietly plotting new outfits.
Then it was my first All Vol, and I was like…
belle

I just wanted to dance and be pretty.
Then I got typhoid, and I was like…
dopey

Completely off my rocker and asleep for a month.
Then rainy season hit and I was like…
stich

Incredibly stir crazy and about to eat my tin roof, so it would stop pelting.
Then I went on vacation, and I was like…
cinderella

All my dreams came true!
Thanksgiving came next and I was like…

abu

Free food? Washing machine? Please, can I have more?
Then my incident happened, and I was like…

ursula

Angry, just angry.
As I struggled to find a new home, I was like…

cogsworth

Frazzled and stressed to the max.
But then I got a new home and I was like…

ariel

A whole new world to explore!
Then I fell down hanging my curtains, a day after moving in. I was like…

mean girl finding nemo

Really, not happy.
Things picked up at site and I was busy with conference planning, so I was like…

shang

Let’s get down to business!
Then shit hit the fan, and I was like…

ezema

Crazy, upset, and about to put some boxes in a box and smash it.
Then I got sick with the curse of April, and I was like…
carl

Couldn’t even walk up a flight of stairs.
Then there was All Vol round two, and I was like…

evil queen

Damnit I’m going to look fabulous.
Then everything magically went away, and I was like…

lilo

Hi, I’m back and I’m happy again!
Then I got back to business and was busy, so I was like…

doc

All’s good in the world again.
Then I got to go on vacation again and see family, and it was like…

genie

Someone just granted me three wishes.
Then I got back to site and had wonderful work to do, and I’m like…

buzz

To infinity and beyond! Warp speed ahead and into COS.

From Tree to Tummy: a cashew’s journey

Ever wonder how that cashew in your mixed nuts got there? Ever walked through the grocery aisle and wondered why cashew nuts are so expensive? Well here’s the scoop on how one small nut goes from a tree in Ghana to your pantry.

Cashews grow on trees. Like so:
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The farmer then walks around his farm and picks up the nuts that have fallen on the ground. That’s how you know the nut is mature. The nut is attached to an apple which is removed. The farmer then takes his cashew and dries it on the ground.

After it has dried for at least a day, the farmer takes his cashew nuts to an agent. The agent weighs the bag of cashews and calculates the amount of money he will give him based on current prices.

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For example, this year the highest price per kilogram was about $0.55.
Consider a normal sized container of cashews, they are typically 225g (8oz.).
That means 225g = $0.13.

Okay, so now the farmer has been paid for his cashew. The agent collects cashew nuts at a buying station, until he has enough bags to load a truck. Now, the buyer (who has hired the agent) sends a truck to the buying station. Using a few very strong men, the truck is loaded. Each bag of cashew weighs about 85kg or 187lbs. Two men lift opposite sides of the bag and place it on another man’s head. That man walks the bag to the truck and slides it off to the guy packing the truck. Once the truck is full, it heads to the warehouse.

At the warehouse, the cashew is dumped onto a large tarp or slab of concrete. Here the cashew is dried again to ensure it will not spoil while being stored. The bags are refilled and stacked on wooden pallets for storage. When the buyer is ready to ship another truckload of cashews to a processor or a customer, he again loads a truck.

If the cashew is not being processed in Ghana, it is sent to the city of Tema, a large port. At the port, the bags of cashew are immediately off-loaded into shipping containers. The shipping containers are then loaded onto a vessel for transport to India, Vietnam, or Brazil. Once they reach dry land again, the containers are offloaded and the bags are transferred to a truck. The truck then hauls the cashew nuts to a processor.

The cashew kernel (the part you eat) is encased in a tough outer shell. Now that the cashew nuts are being stored at a processing plant, they go through quite a few more steps.

1. Roasting – cashews are roasted using steam to make the shell brittle and easier to crack.

2. Shelling – using a stick or a cracking machine, the outer shell is cut. Gloves or oil is placed on the hands during this process. Inside the shell is a liquid similar to poison ivy. When it touches your hands it starts to burn, so precautions must be taken. The kernel is removed from the outer shell during this process. Some companies do this by hand or use a machine that shakes the kernel out. Kernels that are whole and undamaged are worth considerably more than halves or split nuts.

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3. Drying – prior to this stage, the kernels may be sorted based on size. The kernels are then dried in a giant oven. This takes about 6-8 hours.

4. Tesla removal – just like peanuts have an outer papery shell, so does the cashew. This is removed by hand using a scrapping tool.

5. Grading – nuts are then sorted and separated based on their grade. Here are some grades:
180 (very large whole kernels) – the most expensive grade
210
240
320 (smaller whole kernels)
Halves
Splits
Butts
Pieces – one of the cheapest grades (Most jars of cashews you’ll find in the supermarket are halves and pieces mixed together.)

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6. Packaging – cashews are then vacuum sealed and placed into boxes for shipping. Each box weighs around 40-50lbs.

At this point, the cashews are again loaded onto trucks for transport to another customer. This time the customer is a roaster. The cashews are again offloaded into shipping containers and shipped to America for instance.

In America, the shipping containers are transported by truck or sometimes train to the roaster. The roaster receives the boxes of cashews and immediately freezes them. This ensures anything potentially living in any of those boxes (hopefully not, but this is America we triple check everything) dies. The boxes are then emptied into a giant container. The nuts then proceed down a canal of sorts. Air is blown against the nuts, to help separate any foreign materials from the nuts. They proceed down an assembly line of checks to make sure the cashew nuts are free from any bugs or other random objects.

The kernels are now ready to be roasted. This is done using giant vats of hot oil. Apparently, the kernels travel through a hot oil vortex! After the kernel is lightly roasted, flavorings are added. This can include salt, sugar, or perhaps chili powder. If the nuts are being added to a trail mix, they continue down a conveyor belt and meet up with the other ingredients. Nuts are then dropped into containers, sealed, and a lid is placed atop.

The packages of cashews are then again boxed, and ready for distribution to the next customer. This customer may include some big name stores, or a food distributor. They may be stored again in a warehouse. The jars of cashew are then delivered to a store, stocked, and lastly purchased by the final customer. You.

The final container of 225g of cashew might cost you $3.50, but after all the miles that cashew nut has logged, you should be grateful it isn’t sending you an expense report.

There you have it, the incredibly long journey a cashew takes from a farm in Ghana to your grocery store.

You want to go where?

My intrepid band of small girls let me in on a little known secret. Right around the corner was a sports center full of delights for children. They told me they even have basketball. I was too shocked and excited to put my obroni thinking cap on and consider that it might be too good to be true.

Wednesday, after the girls decided that my kitchen needed to be scrubbed, we arranged to go play basketball the next day. I woke up extremely excited for basketball. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a sports person. I love watching American football, hockey, and eating hot dogs at a baseball game, but I wasn’t the sporty type in school. In fact, the only real game I ever did play was basketball. In grade school. I was center because I was gigantic for my age. Honestly, I should have stuck with it. I needed to learn that everyone has a role to play on a team, just because you don’t get the glory, doesn’t mean you don’t have an important part. Yeah, SHOULD have learned that. Only child syndrome I guess. Anyway. I only played basketball.

Thursday was a chilly morning. The sun never came out. The wind was blustery and the fog sat heavy on the morning. Around 9am I spotted the girls lollygagging at the house across the way. I waved and made dribbling motions with my hands. It was like throwing blood into the water, there was an immediate frenzy of action as the girls quickly finished their chores. I put on exercise clothes and we headed out. We walked together down the dirt road to the main street. I looked to my side and the three girls were chatting excitedly. They were laughing at each other and frankly giddy. As I smiled at them, I was reminded of just where I was. Hannah was wearing a pair of flats from the market. They were clearly 3 sizes too small and she couldn’t walk in them. She brought them to play basketball in. It was the first time I’d seen her in shoes.

We crossed the street and turned down a side street. We walked past massive houses with real lawns. Then we passed a sign pointing to the Techiman Municipal Library. I’d seen the sign on the street for ages, but never really thought much of it. Come on, this is Ghana! I’ve seen what happens to libraries. Someone comes in and builds one with every good intention, but after they leave some big man swoops in and shuts it down in a power play. (When will these people learn that when you are 6ft under, it doesn’t matter how much power you had. You still won’t have the power to rise from the grave.) So, when we passed by the library, I noticed it was a fairly large building. Interesting. We continued walking past it, down the paved road. We get to the end and turn into the youth center. To the left is a run down soccer field with poles for posts. There is junk lying all over the lawn. It looks dilapidated even for Ghanaian standards. I talk to the woman in charge and she says they are undergoing renovations. I ask if they will have soccer balls, basketballs, etc. when they finish. No. What will you have then for the youth? She’s not sure.

It was too good to be true. It was another disappointment in a long string of hopefulness. So I called down to my heart and told the drawbridge to pull back up again. Time to bolster the defenses. After a while, you become so jaded by the lack of well, everything – service, agencies, resources, initiative, politeness. I think it truly hinders your ability to trust anyone. I was much more open, friendly, and frankly nice when I still had that shred of hope. Now that I’ve been tossed around in the wash for almost two years, I’ve become jaded. So I build up defenses so I won’t have to be disappointed again. (This isn’t just me either, I’ve seen many volunteers experience the same thing.) But I admit I was shocked when one of the girls asked me if instead we could go to the library.

You want to go where? The library? Ummm, yeah sure! So we walked back in the same direction and came upon the Techiman Library. I was ready for disappointment. I was prepared for it to be closed and derelict. We turned the corner and the first thing I saw was a front desk with someone sitting behind it. As we stepped into the library I saw shelves. Actual shelves with books on them. Then I noticed the people. Adults and children sitting, reading, studying. My jaw dropped and I was dumbfounded. The guy running the place came up to me and explained the resources the library has. I walked the girls over to the kids section and he helped gauge their reading level and gave them books to read. I admit though, my defenses were still up, and I wasn’t incredibly friendly to the guy. I didn’t know exactly who he was until later. I thought surely he wanted something from me. I figured he would be rude to the girls. I sat down with the girls and helped them sound out some of the words on the page. The man, Frimpong, came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder. Here it comes, the plea for help or money. Instead he led me to a nearby room full of brand new working computers. He told me I’m welcome to bring the girls sometime and show them things on the internet, teach them how to use Microsoft Word or Excel, whatever I wanted to do. I could have hugged the guy at that point. I suddenly felt my icy interior melt away and a little flower of hope started to bloom once again in my heart. I rejoined with the girls and grabbed a book on the arctic to show them.

We sat huddled together as I flipped through pages of penguins, polar bears, and whales. Their English isn’t the best, so I spoke slowly and made them repeat the word ‘walrus’ many times (mainly for my own amusement). I explained how the different animals live out in the cold. I don’t think they ever knew that there were things in the ocean larger than a tilapia. As we finished the book, I saw their eyes light up and suddenly their chairs were flying back. They raced to the bookshelves and grabbed local story books. They asked me to read to them. So I settled in and began reading to them about the Danso family from Namase. After we finished that book, it was another three. I had the girls trade off reading pages and they helped each other with the difficult words. They didn’t want to stop. They wanted to read and read and read. I could hear their tummies rumbling though, so I knew it was time to call it a quits, but just for today. As we got up to leave, they looked at me with puppy dog eyes and asked when could we come back again.

As we walked home, they chatted excitedly about the stories. The girls let me in on a few neighborhood secrets and we laughed the whole way home. We returned home, but I still wanted to play some sort of sport with the girls. They went running around searching for a ball. After ten minutes, there was so such luck. I knew though that there was one good way to get these girls moving – music.

Back in May, I taught the girls how to do Gangnam Style. They loved it. So I put it on and cranked the music up. The girls immediately remembered the song and started doing the dance. As we flailed around wildly, the neighbors started to notice. (If I stand outside my house, everyone within 1000ft can see me.) The neighborhood kids started running over and dancing too. The adults were laughing and dancing in their own homes. Instantly, I created a block party at noon on a Thursday. I switched the song to Azonto and watched the kids pull out their best moves. I taught them the macarena and some line dance steps. I then busted out my best MC Hammer and U Can’t Touch This wiggled across my lawn. As the kids were teaching me some more azonto moves, Uncle Sam, the Program Assistant with Peace Corps pulls up in the official car. Here I am sweating and dancing, Uncle Sam couldn’t get enough of it. He was laughing so hard. The kids were too, I may not be the best dancer, my arms might be too long and lanky to be elegant, but damnit if I’m going to look ridiculous I’m going to make the best of it. Have you ever chased kids doing Gangnam Style off a small cliff? Well I have and it is incredibly funny. (Don’t worry no children were harmed!)

Exhausted, I told the girls to go eat lunch and I slinked back into my room. I smiled at how much fun I had that morning, reading to the girls and dancing. Is this really my job? Am I allowed to have this much fun? I only have a short time left. I need to soak up these moments, because I will never have a job like this again.

And I smile because I know these moments will stay with me forever.

You win some, you lose some. But mice always die.

Wins:

The Fire Chief from my old site called me out of the blue yesterday. He wanted to just say hi. He told me that the whole community misses me, especially the fire service.

Leave request was approved – I’m going to Germany! In about 3 weeks I will get to see my aunt, half of my motherland, and a giant plate of schnitzel.

I killed two mice Sunday. One drowned in a bucket of water. One scampered under my stove; lifting the stove to check, I saw him and promptly dropped the stove. Right on his little head.

I attended a cashew festival over the weekend. It was organized by my friend and fellow PCV. It was very well attended, fun, and frankly a huge success. I was able to talk to a lot of farmers about the importance of record keeping and tracking expenses.

I’ve been studying ridiculously hard for the Foreign Service Test. I’m able to pump out a handwritten 5 paragraph argumentative essay in under 30 minutes.

I’m planning a new set of trainings with my old friend Yahya (see last post). We discussed how his agents were really bad at bookkeeping. Don’t worry I’ll come and save the day.

While in Germany, I’ll be meeting with SAP in person. After almost two years, I’ll finally get to meet the entire team. I’ve already started planning my third pilot for them.

Team Ghana won the Stomping out Malaria blog quality challenge. I got a special shout-out for my eloquent description of the symptoms of malaria. Eloquent is self-serving, ridiculous is the better word.

I’ve decided on plans for Christmas and they include a best friend, a little captain, and California!

In two days, I will have made it to the 20th month mark.

I’ve found a new travelling egg seller who passes by my house. 25p ($0.12) for gigantic eggs. Most villages you’d pay 40p for that. I can’t even remember how much eggs are in America, but I’m making out like a bandit here.

Losses:

I was excluded from an event because I wasn’t part of the “boys club.” Literally. My credentials notwithstanding, I’m a girl therefore I can’t possibly be qualified. Not the first or last time my fellow PCVs will discriminate against me based on my sex, tendency to wear makeup, or dislike of rolling in the dirt.

Another mouse made an appearance last night, alive. These guys really love my place don’t they?!

I keep getting this feeling of being tossed aside. When I bring it up to the tossers, they toss the idea away. Clearly I’m not wrong. But a recent incident has really upset me. Sometimes people do things without thinking and old scars suddenly start burning again. Funny how a good day can be ruined so quickly.

I’ve been planning a Resume Workshop for my fellow PCVs. No one has signed up, it is in 3 days. Oh well, all your jobs are belong to me!

Inflation is really kicking my ass. Prices in town just went up again, second time in a month. We are supposed to get a raise, after my service is over.

More tornadoes in Oklahoma. I’ve rarely felt homesick during my service, but this is kicking me in the ass. I want to be home. I want to know that my family and friends are safe immediately, not hours or days after the fact.

It has been a long time since I’ve received a care package from certain members of my family. COUGH DAD. I’m starting to think he’s forgotten I’m in Africa with poor access to life saving medicine – Peanut M&Ms.