Double Validation

Today I received my official appointment letter, salary offer, and lots of paperwork. I was so excited just for that. I ran around the house dancing and making odd noises that could be confused with guinea pigs. And then this happened:

http://www.peacecorps.gov/media/forpress/press/2379/

Peace Corps finally did a press release on the Peace Corps Ghana Cashew Initiative. (And they used my picture too!) Michael took over my German software technology project and look where we are now! What was once just an idea tossed around by a few Peace Corps Volunteers is now a shining star in Peace Corps’s list of successes. Why? Because it worked. We worked. Our project was a sustainable success.

So I guess my crazy dream of becoming Secretary of State might not be so much of a pipe-dream after all. Because at this moment, I realize that anything truly is possible.

Monthly Musings–Goals 2 and 3

My service was different. I hit the ground running. I was lucky to work with established groups, organizations, and locals. I didn’t have to wait to assess my community’s needs. It was all laid out in front of me. (In retrospect, maybe doing the assessment might have saved me some from being evacuated. Speculation though.) So while most people’s experience resembles a diminishing return curve, with a general increase in activity up until the very end, mine is turning out to be opposite. I started out busy and highly productive as the months pass by, my projects have started to wrap up. While my calendar still has penciled in trainings, my focus has changed to goals two and three. I spend more time just sitting and talking with my Ghanaian friends, enjoying their company and stories. I eat local food as often as possible, I know that at some point this year I won’t get it anymore. I often find myself drifting through the market, aimlessly stretching my legs. The smells, the feel, the frenzy, it is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced in America. I want to spend the remainder of my time loving every moment. I want to soak up the smiles, the conversations, the attitude. I can teach bookkeeping to as many people as possible and I wish that I could. I could also spend a few hours a day sitting with Vida, my best friend in Techiman, watching people pass in the market, chatting, and sharing moments together. Diplomacy isn’t just about building boreholes and increasing farmer yields. Diplomacy is sharing the American ideals: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; hard-work and tenacity; and finally, freedom.

I’m no longer having the personal revelations I had during my first year of service. I’ve had a few, but I just feel different now. I feel like the last year I spent peeling back layers of myself until I discovered the true me. What’s left now is the new and improved model. I’ve attacked my flaws face on and I feel like I’ve won. I’ve overcome obstacles and learned to cope. I’ve been trudged through the slimy stairs of Hell and found my way back to the land of the living. I’ve learned how to be a better person, employee, teammate, coworker, friend. I’m proud of who’s emerged. I can’t wait to show you the new me at the end of this year.

I love long tro rides. I can stare out the window for 8 hours and be content. I love eating with my hands. I love taking a cold bucket bath. I love early morning walks to the junction to get kenkey. I love feeling like nothing is extraordinary here anymore – it is the Ghana I know and love. I still find beauty all around me, but nothing surprises me anymore. It all seems so normal.

Two Dinners, a Washing Machine, and a Pool: or How I Spent My Thanksgiving in Ghana

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, hands down. It used to be Halloween when I was a kid, but Thanksgiving represents everything I love – food, spending time with family or friends, and the mindless slaughter of poultry. (Chicken tastes so much better here, mainly because every time I eat a bite I imagine the chickens behind my house keeling over.) I used to HATE Thanksgiving, because I hated turkey. My mom used to cook me a separate cornish hen IN ADDITION to the turkey on Thanksgiving. I was a tad bit ridiculous, but eventually I realized turkey tastes amazing and I shouldn’t be such a selfish, spoiled brat.

Let me go ahead and send a big “sorry” to my friends and family, who I did not talk to on Thanksgiving. Which is basically everyone. I was busy the entire day and just didn’t get a chance to phone. I’m truly sorry, I’ll make it up to you in two years (because I’ll still be here for Thanksgiving next year).

So here’s how my Thanksgiving went down. On Wednesday, I woke up incredibly early because I couldn’t sleep. Surprise, surprise. Around 6:30, I headed over to Techiman to give a session to the new Peace Corps Trainees on Business Literacy. I taught them all about Business Literacy in the exact way I teach my farmers, translator and all. I hope it was a good lesson for them, otherwise it would have been really painful to sit through. After my training I left for Accra. I hopped on a tro towards Kumasi and boiled in the sun for a good 20 minutes before we left. There was no breeze and it was probably 100 outside. I was slowly melting until we finally left. I was pretty lucky though, I got the front seat and I had really good leg room. Our driver was fast too and we made it to Kumasi around noon. I headed over to Asafo station to catch a VIP bus and my luck doubled. I stepped out of the taxi, walked over to the bus, was instantly seated (in the jump seat, again), and the bus left maybe 30 seconds later from the station. Fastest turnaround ever.

It rained along the way to Accra though, so obviously that slowed us down. Dear World, how do your people still not know what to do about rain? I mean rain has only been around for what a couple hundred million years? How is it possible that when humans see rain, they still freak out and have no idea how to function? Whatever, so the rain slowed us down a bit, but we finally made it to Accra. I was really excited at this point, because I wasn’t staying at the office this time. I got a homestay family from the Embassy!

Every year around Thanksgiving, American Embassy workers open their lovely mini-America homes to poor, starving, dirty Peace Corps Ghana Volunteers. They allow us to take 20 minute hot showers, sit in front of their Air Conditioning units, raid their fridges, and happily use their washer and dryer. And that’s exactly what I did. I got in around 7pm to my expat’s compound. I was afraid the security guards were going to question me, pat me down, and throw me out but after checking with my family they let me in. I walked just a few steps and then I was back in America. It was rather magical, like I was beamed back home. My expat family was fairly young, still in their 30s. They had a 5 month old Shih-Tzu named Pepe, and he was probably the cutest thing I’ve seen in this country. My expat family were both foodies, which means I was paired with the perfect couple. They also had an incredibly affinity for amazing red wine, which made me appreciate them so much more. For dinner we had salad (with dressing!), fried chicken, and french fries. For dessert? REAL Ice Cream. Butter pecan with homemade candied walnuts.

The next day instead of going and doing anything in the city, I just sat around the house and enjoyed being American. After all it was Thanksgiving. In the morning, me and the other PCV staying at my expat’s house went to the pool and I got to actually swim. I wasn’t just standing in the water, I actually swam around. Oh so enjoyable. That morning I also did a load of laundry in a machine with real detergent. I had completely forgotten what super clean fresh out of the dryer clothes felt like. I have to admit, I was incredibly shocked. It had been so long since I had felt something so soft. How could it be that soft? I’m still a little amazed, plus the clothes came out and they weren’t standing up by themselves. I’ll always enjoy machine washing clothes from now on in my life.

It isn’t Thanksgiving if I don’t get to help cook, so my family let me make the hummus. And I was actually impressed with myself, I made it from memory and didn’t use a recipe. I did get to use a blender though and what a difference it makes! Normally when I make hummus I soak the chickpeas overnight, boil them for an hour, and then manually mash them with a mortar and pestle for 2 hours. The blender was much faster. The hummus turned out excellent, if I do say so myself. I’m just glad I was able to help out. Being able to stay in a beautiful, giant, clean house with access to all these comforts from home was amazing, but I felt so guilty. They basically let us have/use anything in the house – including the liquor cabinet. It was incredibly generous of them and they definitely didn’t have to host Peace Corps Volunteers over a holiday. I tried my best to be helpful, at least to ease my conscience.

Oh I forgot something important, for breakfast on Thanksgiving I had cereal and turkey bacon. TURKEY BACON. Okay, so around 11 I started getting ready for party number 1. Thanksgiving at the Ambassador’s house. I washed my hair in hot water and then dried it with a blow dryer. The last time I personally used a hair dryer was in 2008. Over FOUR years ago. I slipped on my super amazing incredibly stunning Thanksgiving dress and did my makeup like no one’s business. Pop on the earrings and bracelets and we were in business, ready to roll. We cabbed it over to the Peace Corps office to meet up with some people before we headed over to Thanksgiving dinner/lunch. I had never been to the Ambassador’s before so I was pretty excited. We had a new Ambassador too, he had just arrived maybe 2 months ago. Turns out he too is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer – he did his service in Afghanistan!

Socialize, socialize, socialize, size everyone’s outfits up, take pictures, and free drinks. Good times. Food comes out and suddenly you remember what crowd you are in. A crowd of Peace Corps Volunteers who cry at the prospect of cheese, drool over pie, and will beat you up senselessly for the opportunity to eat something besides chicken or fish. So getting in line was a bit of a mad dash combined with a glaring eye brawl. If anyone even attempted to cut in line, I’m pretty sure a large group of people would have just shoved the person to the back of the line. We are so civilized.

When I saw ranch dressing I lost it. Turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, salad, green beans, carrots, sweet potatoes – all of it I drenched in ranch, including the gravy. That’s what I like to call an Oklahoma Thanksgiving. I don’t know why I ate so much honestly, but my eyes tend to be bigger than my stomach. It doesn’t help that there is something still living in my stomach, not sure what, but I can’t eat near as much as I normally can. If I have an arch nemesis, his name would be whatever is living in my stomach – salmonella, a parasite, an ulcer – whatever the hell it is, because honestly we don’t know. Anyway, I got super full and had to loosen my waist belt just a bit. Then I ate pie. Pie, pie, pie pie pie.

It was fun seeing everyone all dressed up and getting to see everyone period. But honestly, it was a little overwhelming. So many PCVs in a somewhat small space. It didn’t really feel like Thanksgiving, probably because we were standing under fans and it was hot outside.  Also, there was something about it that just didn’t feel right. I think I was missing that family touch. The idea of sitting down to eat after having cooked all day. I’m still not sure what it was, but even sitting with my friends and having a good time – it still felt very contrived. Which lucky for me was remedied soon. My expat family was more than gracious and invited me to eat Thanksgiving dinner with them as well. They were hosting dinner at their house for about 10 people, which quickly morphed into 19, then settled to 14. So I had the option, go out partying and drinking with all the other Peace Corps Volunteers – or have a second Thanksgiving with Embassy workers. I chose the later. There was supposed to be at least 2 other PCVs joining me, but it ended up being just me.

At the Ambassador’s, we were joined by some Marines and unaccompanied Embassy workers. One of them just so happened to be going to my expat’s party, so they drove me back. We got back to my expat’s house and I’m so happy my family sort of put me to work. Now it was starting to feel like Thanksgiving. I lit the candles, put food on the table, cut up last minute veggies, and greeted people. Finally, a family Thanksgiving!

We sat down and the spread was impressive. Two turkeys, a ham, three stuffings, fresh cranberry relish, pumpkin lasagna with homemade noodles, homemade bread, two types of gravy, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, carrots, and more. The table was full to the brim. It was lovely. I was surrounded by expats, almost all of whom had been Peace Corps Volunteers. It was truly incredible. I loved talking to everyone and hearing about their jobs. I wasn’t able to eat much, but I tried. I definitely made room for some hot apple crisp though. After dinner and desserts, it was time for drinks. I tried some Crystal Skull/Head Vodka and was most impressed, especially after a year of drinking alcohol from plastic bags.

The next day was very low key and chill. In the evening I went to a cashew party hosted by ACi. Honestly, it was a bit boring – older Germans and lots of Ghanaians, plus high life music. It didn’t help that I was recovering from a non-hangover associated migraine. As I started to feel better, the high life music ramped up and the Ghanaians started dancing. I pulled out my best village moves and showed everyone how a white girl turned African dances. Turns out next door was having salsa dancing classes, so I bowed out early and headed over to learn some salsa! It was really fun, but man am I bad at formal dancing. It was the first time I had ever actually danced with someone formally. I’m going to need a lot of practice before I’m not a total buffoon.

So, my Thanksgiving was interesting, exciting, and a lovely taste of home away from home. Oh yeah and I looked utterly fabulous.

Bushfire? Not UP IN HERE!

So, I’m planning a massive event for my town at the end of this month. We are inviting all the farmers in my town, plus all the farmers who want to come in the district. Bushfire is a major problem in my area and the fires will be starting again soon. Bushfire can easily destroy a farmer’s cashew and it kinda sucks to be covered in ash for a month. So I made it a goal to have a giant bushfire event and educate as many people as I could on how they can prevent fires.

Just call me Smokey the Bear. So last week I walked up to the district offices and petitioned them for approval/funding/participation in the event. Luckily, everyone is on board. The only issue is funding because of the election the district’s budget is on a freeze. I’m not sure how that works because I feel like money should be flowing right before an election. Oh well, I’ll come up with some other way to secure funding. I’m resourceful and I have fabulous dresses, someone will cough up some cash.

Oh by the way, I’ve only been asking for 230cd, which funds 4 tents, 500 chairs, a table, sound system, and water for dignitaries. Basically that’s $130 for one kick ass party. So dear US taxpayers, I’m going to try and get your tax money to help people in Africa learn to prevent bushfire, which means more cashews for you, and people in Africa don’t go hungry. That’s decently worthy right? Right.

Anyway, so I visited with the Fire Chief this morning and it was honestly pretty amazing. I had a productive meeting with a high level official with the government. That’s an achievement in any country. (Can I get a ribbon?) He told me that the program I proposed was great and that this is exactly what the farmers need. Yesssssss, approval! So the Fire Service is totally on board and they are getting pumped about the football tournament as well.

For once in my life, I’m not stressing about the details. As long as there are chairs and a sound system, this will work. I’m organizing over 5 government departments and helping them to do their job for them. I just need them to show up and they will do the rest.

And that’s exactly what a Peace Corps Volunteer is supposed to do. We come in and help organize events like this. We allow locals with knowledge to teach each other, we just help facilitate it. If this event works and goes well then I’ll consider my service a true success.

If anyone is in a generous mood and wants to help contribute to the event, let me know in the comments below.

You can just call me Queen

Yesterday I was finally given my Ghanaian name. So, I’ve had a few different names since I’ve been here. White girl, obruni, Jackie, Maame Amaokua, Akosua, and my personally favorite Sister. There are only a handful of Ghanaians that know my real name and sometimes I even forget it when I see my fellow Americans. I’ve never been truly given a Ghanaian name though. It is a big honor to be given a name and I had been waiting patiently for too long.

Okay, so that’s a bit of a lie. Maame Amaokua was a given name, but it was because she couldn’t say my real name. So she gave me something I couldn’t say.

So yesterday after over a year of waiting, I was finally given my name. My Ghanaian mother deliberated while eating her fufu and then just randomly blurted it out.

Nana Akosua Adjeiwaa the Second, Queen Mother of Bui.

Woah! I was just expecting one name, I got three, a title, and some digits. My Ghanaian father came out afterwards and congratulated me on becoming his new Queen Mother. He then informed me that we will have to plan a ceremony to enstool me. That’s right, it isn’t just a name, it is a duty. So Bui is a pretty tiny village 2 hours North of me. But, it just so happens to be getting a giant dam there. So, it may be small, but it is powerful – just like the tiny river that will soon power all the Northern regions of Ghana.

So I’m not sure if you know this yet, but I’m kind of a big deal. I became a Queen overnight. I always wanted to be a princess, this is much better. So earlier yesterday I was just known as Akosua Jackie, now I’ve been officially upgraded. I just joined the royal family.

 

So what do Queen Mothers do? Well, the Queen Mother advises the Chief on all matters. The Queen Mother represents the women in the traditional council. The Queen Mother is also responsible for choosing the next Chief. So even though Ghana is a male dominated society, it is actually matriarchal.

And I just became that matriarch. 

Those Evil Little Mother…

A thunderstorm rolls through the Brong-Ahafo right at sunset. The sky is illuminated by lightning and the suns setting rays. The clouds looks eerie in the dim light, a halo effect surrounding the towers of clouds. The rain misses us, for now. Another storm rolls by just a few hours later.

BOOM. BOOM.

The sky is cracking and the dark night is suddenly broken apart by streaks of light.

The pouring rain always starts the same way. The rush of wind like a tornado sweeps through my house, turning my curtains perpendicular. The howl is deafening and the rain is almost here. Within seconds the entire area is a deluge.

I wake up and quickly go shut the bottom slats of the windows. Otherwise my house will flood. I pull back the curtains though to let the cool storm air circulate my room. The lights have gone out and the house is quiet. All you can hear is the wind and the rain pummeling the house.

The rains aren’t supposed to last this long. They should have ended in September. This kind of storm is different. It isn’t right.

Listening to the rain reminds me that I drank a lot of water before going to bed. I scramble around in the dark for my headlamp and drowsily stumble towards the bathroom.

I cautiously walk towards the bathroom, afraid I might slip on the now soaking wet concrete. My headlamp is highlighting the rain drops, it looks like a rave.

I enter the bathroom and set my toilet paper down next to the toilet. As I go to sit down I notice something in the corner of my eye. I shriek as I realize a giant flat spider was sitting right next to the toilet, just waiting to scare me. His beady little eyes glare at me, taunting me with his creepiness. I stare him down for a long minute contemplating my next move.

I’m too tired, too in need of relieving myself, and too angry to put up with this guy. So I let the mean flat spider win this round and I quickly exit the bathroom. I’ll find somewhere else to pee.

And I did.

Tonsillitis

Must suck being a virus. Imagine it. One day you are just floating around in the breeze, having a great time, just chilling. The next day you get sucked into someone’s mouth and thrown onto their tonsils. Hanging on for dear life you bury yourself into those fleshy little red things and settle in for a while. Suddenly you realize, hey this isn’t so bad. It is nice, warm, food is always passing by. You get to taste a little bit of what your friend is eating. Well, everyone time your host breathes you feel like you are being ripped apart from your house like in a tornado, but whatever. You know that in 5 days time you will have totally latched on and will get a nice few days of rest.

5 days later and it is like a mini vacation for a week. You get a nice hot bath of liquids coming from your host’s copious consumption of tea. Your “hotel room” last week was a nasty motel on the side of the road, but now your room has been upgraded to the penthouse – so much more space! Those tonsils have really expanded for you, how nice.

At some point though you realize that this person’s mouth isn’t the greatest and it is time to move on. So you pack your bags, drink everything you can at the minibar, and don’t pay the bill. You skip town on the next cough and go back to floating in the breeze.

Life is so rough for a virus.