One Month

October is slowly changing. Instead of the leaves turning colors and the crisp air filling my lungs, the days are getting hotter and the rains are slowing down. My time is coming to a close and it is as if the universe wants to give me every last test possible.

I’ve been sick since September. I had bronchitis, which was not pleasant, but bearable. It disappeared for a week and a half, although a cough lingered. And as soon as I was feeling myself again, it came back. Was it the stress of working so hard for two days straight? Was it the pollution that fills my lungs every time I walk out of my house? (Seriously, have a lung illness living next to a soap factory that burns lye and being in the transport center of Ghana does not make for a good combination for fumes.) Or was it simply Ghana’s way of saying: “We can’t let you leave without one last good illness?” Whatever conspired against me did a good job. This past week I’ve been all but bed ridden. Friday was the worst, I deteriorated so fast I was terrified. All I could think about was how Danni had just one month left too. That thought of not making it to see my parents again, or my friends, or my dog, or my Oklahoma, or my aunt it gave me the strength to do everything in my power to heal. Plus, the 2g of antibiotics I’m taking everyday seem to help too. I will heal because there ain’t no way I’m going to let bronchitis ruin me after all I’ve been through.

And if I thought that would be the last thing, of course I’d be wrong. The truth has a funny way of coming out, right when it simply no longer matters. This month I’ve watched as my neighbors have become drunker and drunker. The other day as I walked to the latrine, boiled cassava came flying by me. And then my neighbor threw a crab on the ground. As I sat in the latrine, I heard someone rambling in English nearby. Upon leaving the latrine, I found my drunk neighbor right outside the door talking to me about heaven knows what. There were a few people sitting there and the sober ones all looked contrite. I’ve heard this guy’s ramblings before and most of the time it involves me being white and him being black. His wife (?) recently moved in and I saw her on my way home yesterday. She decided to come with me home. I told her I was sick and going to take a taxi, but since she didn’t have money she could walk home if she wanted. I wasn’t going to pay for her taxi, why should I when I barely even know her other than by appearance? She proceeded to tell the taxi driver a whole slew of lies. In Twi. Well, lucky for me I understand Twi. The taxi driver understood English. So I told him the straight story and that I would not be paying for her. Now, this may not seem like much of a to do, but after two years I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough of being taken advantage of. I’m sick of my skin color being some sort of unspoken code. I tired of people treating me like a pet. This woman has begged me for gifts and money since she moved in. I was not about to reward her for taking advantage of me while I’m sick. Later that day, the drunk neighbor (her husband), dragged my small girl away because she didn’t wash the dishes. The day before I asked the family if the small girl could help me wash my suitcase the next day. She was probably two minutes away from finishing when the man came over and dragged her away. I asked him to have a little patience since she was almost done. He proceed to rant and ramble at me about doing things properly and her needing to do her job. He kept going on and on about how she doesn’t know her place and I don’t know mine.

And that’s when I lost it. I felt myself grow 8ft tall and take a stand. I let him know that it simply didn’t matter. The girl could do both things and it didn’t matter when they were finished because in the grand scheme of things, does it matter? No. If the dishes don’t get washed for another five minutes, the world was not about to end. She works all day slaving away and he treats her like dirt. I puffed up and told him to stop yelling at her for the most ridiculous things and to have patience. I watched as the air deflated out of him, but then he went to say something else. And I stopped him. I told him our conversation was finished and this discussion was over. I organized the other small girls and turned my back on him and walked away. The whole neighborhood was watching our exchange. The whole neighborhood of women. They were smiling. The small girls told me afterwards that he is crazy and a drunk. But they smiled at me. I stood up for all of them.

The truth continued to ooze out for the next few hours about how that family has been stealing from me for months. When I had an old padlock, one of the guys had a key. They stole my water. They lied to me about entering my house. The girl stole my food and something very dear to me. The guy who used to live in the house stole the money I gave him monthly for the light bill. The mom lied to me about the light bill and stole my money just this past week. One of the brothers wants me to go with him to a big man to show off that he has a white friend. It drives me crazy that the family still treats me like a five year old. Last time I checked, I’m competent enough to know how to wash clothes, close a door, and walk across the street.
They have told me lie after lie. I could taste the bitterness on my tongue as the lies all unfolded in front of me. This is the taste that will linger in my mouth when I think about my home. This will be my last taste of Techiman. But I won’t let this cloud my memory of my time here.

I have my fabric lady, Vida. Her sweetness will compensate for the rest. And I have so many other wonderful things that I will remember that will make up for the disappointments.

But I’m ready. I’m ready to go. One month and my Peace Corps service will be over. Two years of life changing experiences will come to an end. When I get back to America I want to buy a t-shirt that says:

I survived.

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.

The Good Old Days

“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” As I sit here vacillating between excitement over going home and sadness about saying goodbye, I remember all the stories of my service. When will I have an opportunity like this again? When will I be able to experience such highs and such lows? As I heard that quote from my favorite show, the Office, tonight I shed a tear. I’m in the good old days. I’m in those memories of adventure. I want to go home, but I don’t want this to end. I don’t want to give up my dream job working on my dream project doing things that matter. I don’t want to say goodbye to my best friend. And I surely don’t want to give up this amazing healthcare. Yes, there are things I will not miss like strange tropical diseases and being covered in filth after a 100km ride in a totally unsafe vehicle. But there are things I will always look back fondly on, that I will carry with me like a badge of honor.

Here are some of my favorite memories:

Just this past week, I attended the African Cashew Alliance World Cashew Conference. Also in attendance at this event was the Chairman of the Wenchi Cashew Association. I didn’t know he was going to be there and when I found his name on the list I instantly broke into cold sweats and I felt myself close up. Suddenly, all the bad memories from my old site came flooding back and I thought I would have a panic attack. Then I saw a white truck and I thought I would just crumble into pieces. Instead of succumbing to my fears, I decided to become a secret agent and do everything possible to avoid him at all costs. I actually had fun suddenly finding hidden alcoves and learning to spin quickly on my heel and duck behind a plant when I saw him. Despite me seeing him, he never saw me. I became a master of hiding and camouflage. I went the entire week without him even recognizing me. I’m very proud of my sneakiness and ability to overcome my fears.

And over a year ago, I remember so vividly hearing the news that the President of Ghana had died. I was in Richie’s tiny village. We stood on a rock with the phone in the air trying to get service so we could verify the villager’s claims on the internet. The next day was full of such craziness that I still can’t even believe what happened. We walked through 5ft tall grass looking for the sacred hole, sacrificed for the ancestors, drank spirits in their honor, and found wild orchids. I will never forget singing Lion King songs on the way back and showing up in town to find the entire place dancing. We literally emerged from the bush and danced our way through town. Apparently, the villagers still remember me for that very reason.

I remember the Fourth of July in 2012. We didn’t have a grill for our steaks, so we improvised and purchased burglar wire. We broke a set of pliers shaping the wire into a grill that would fit over two coal pots.

I remember my initial site visit when Sam came to meet me. He talked to me about the SAP project and set me up for an amazing next two years.

I remember the first Peace Corps party I went to. While many parts are fuzzy, I still remember dancing into the wee hours of the night and returning around 4am. I remember the fence was locked and someone scaling it to unlock it, despite the fact that we didn’t have a key.

I remember the look my Tess’s face when she saw me crawling to the bathroom for the umpteenth time during the last part of my typhoid. It still cracks me up.

I remember opening the door at Richie’s house to find an entire gaggle of students who should be in class, instead they were delivering us a chameleon.

I remember sitting on the hard concrete ground looking for shooting stars with my Ghanaian family.

I remember rolling through town with my Ghanaian brother and Richie screaming Kwabena at every guy we saw.

I remember standing on my rickety table thinking “oh god this is bad news” and hearing the table crack in two. I still remember the slow and gradual fall as I grabbed for the rope hoping that 1mm of flimsy rope would save me.

I remember sitting at the table with my expats eating something delicious with their new neighbor. I turned to him and asked where he was from. I will never forget the shock on my face when he said Oklahoma.

I remember my first trip to Accra, I thought my stomach wasn’t going to make it as I bumped along the Kumasi Accra road. I didn’t care how terrible I felt, I made a beeline for the closest supermarket where I proceeded to purchase 20cd of cheese and ate it all immediately.

How could I forget the countless dance parties that started on a whim? Or the moments with Richie? Or friends who have come and gone. Or the lessons learned, mainly the hard way?

I’ve had quite the adventure and I wish it wouldn’t end. I’m in the good ole days. I’m here. And I’m going to leave soon, but until then I’m going to soak up as much good as I can.

The Reason I’m Still a Peace Corps Volunteer

I was ready to quit. I was ready to throw in the towel. I was frustrated, upset, sick, confused, scared, and hopeless. I was afraid of facing my fears head on. I didn’t feel like myself either. I felt like a shell of my former self.

At the beginning of April, I felt like everything was crashing down around me. At our All Volunteer conference, I knew that I needed to take control again and stop the train before it really did crash. I approached Peace Corps staff for help.

The Country Director saved me. I spoke with him about what was going on, how I tried to resolve the issue myself and how after months of different strategies nothing was working. I really did feel like I was crumbling in front of him. I thought I was strong enough to overcome these challenges alone. I’ve learned though that it takes an even stronger person to reach out for help when they know they need it. I expressed my fears and frustrations. He listened to me attentively and spoke calmly with me. He assured me that I was not alone. And I wasn’t the first person to go through this. He told me to come down to Accra after the conference, so I could think through things and relax. I felt like I was the number one priority. I felt like Peace Corps staff wanted to do everything in their power to ensure I felt safe and could be an effective volunteer. It was exactly what I needed at that moment.  I needed to be reassured. I needed a mini vacation. And I needed to know Peace Corps staff was there for me. As stoic as our Country Director is, I still felt like I was being cared for. Sometimes you just need that family atmosphere to remind you that people truly do care. You just need to be around people who want what’s best for you. It wasn’t just the Country Director that helped me, but my APCD and the DPT. My APCD has been there for me through thick and thin for the past year and a half. He’s rushed to my side to stick up for me, he’s intervened when necessary, he’s listened to my long rambles about budgets and money, and he’s always given me constructive feedback and helped me find my way. He’s really gone above and beyond to help me through my service. Plus he literally swooped in with my favorite driver and rescued me.

After the conference, I headed to Accra for a weeklong forced stress buster. I spent a lot of time researching stress relief methods, yoga poses, meditation techniques, and other ways to relax. I’ve never felt so relaxed before. It helped that I stayed with my Thanksgiving homestay family as well. (The American embassy workers who hosted me for Thanksgiving.) I spent a week with them a few weeks prior due to a really dumb medical issue. And by dumb I mean, only this kind of weird thing would happen to me. But it didn’t! It affected someone else too in an unrelated circumstance. The couple I stay with are beyond welcoming. I never feel intrusive or awkward staying with them. They have truly opened their home to me and allowed me to heal. The American food, air conditioning, hot showers, pool, and super cute puppy help too. One of them is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, so she truly knows the hardships involved and how sometimes PCVs just need a hug. She talked me through a lot of the issues I was grabbling with, giving me great advice on how to proceed. She encouraged me to remember why I joined Peace Corps.

A few days later I met with the Country Director, my APCD, and the DPT. They gave me two options: take interrupted service and go back to America or return to site. In my head I imagined Tim Gunn shouting “MAKE IT WORK!” I took a few hours to think through it, but in my mind I had already decided. I wasn’t quitting. I wasn’t going home. I wasn’t giving up. I feel like the CD gave me some tough love, a gentle kick in the ass. Exactly what I needed. I needed someone to give it to me straight. I needed that push. The next day, I walked over to the Peace Corps office and told CD Mike that I wanted to stay. And I 100% made the right decision. Ghana isn’t done with me yet.

Parallel to all of this, I wasn’t feeling well. For months I felt crappy, but I was never able to figure out why. The day I got into Accra, I had a lot of time to think. As I was unpacking, I grabbed my malaria prophylaxis. Suddenly it dawned on me. I looked at a calendar and everything became clear. The three days after I took my medicine, I became ill, but I would get better. Then I would take it again and I was back to sick. The next day I met with the Peace Corps Medical Officer, a quick explanation of my discovery and immediately they changed my meds. All along I thought I was just under the weather, but it turns out I was having a terrible reaction to the medicine for over 5 months! The PCMO has helped me every step of the way along this bumpy road of my service. Ghana has definitely thrown spitballs of salmonella at me, but the PCMO is always there to bandage me back up. When I fell, they were incredibly thorough. When I had my other recent medical issue (seriously, I would be a tropical disease doctor’s wet dream), they had me on the table drawing blood within minutes and off for Xrays immediately after. I loved my doctor in the States, but the PCMOs here have really gone above and beyond to ensure that I am healthy. Would your doctor yell at you for not eating vegetables? Would your doctor text you to check up on you after you got home? There has been at least one occasion where the PCMO has saved my life. Hell, the PCMO even met me at the office on a Sunday evening. The last few times I’ve been down there they’ve even made me de facto PCMO. They joke with unsuspecting PCVs that I’m the new nurse. I couldn’t imagine having to deal with 200 hypochondriac volunteers with weird infections, tropical diseases, and never ending requests for meds. I completely trust and respect the PCMOs we have and I’m incredibly grateful to be in their capable hands. Now if only they could get a thermometer that didn’t take 3 minutes to take your temperature.

Two weeks ago, the unimaginable happened and we lost our fellow PCV and friend. Our grief was overwhelming and it was shared by the staff. The way they handled the memorial and allowing us to mourn was beyond amazing. They kept their composure, but it was clear they were in agony. The speed and efficiency at which they organized homestays for us was truly impressive. The embassy employees opened their arms and their homes to almost 140 of us. At the memorial service, I was moved by CD Mike’s speech about Dani. CD Mike, the very definition of stoic, stood up and shared his grief with us. His tears showed us that it was okay for us to cry, it was okay to mourn, we didn’t have to pretend to be strong. After the memorial, he came around and hugged us all and told us to stay healthy. It reminded me of my own father, hugging me and telling me to stay safe in Africa. It reminded me of that fateful morning when I entered security at the airport. My dad hugging me goodbye. Once I got to country, I found a note he left in my backpack telling me to stay safe.

Every single one of us has a family, a group of friends waiting for us back home – sending us love, worrying about us, scared out of their minds, and amazed at our adventures. I imagine as a parent it is incredibly difficult to allow your child to disappear away to Africa for two years. Before this, I was only concerned about how this would affect me. My parents would learn to accept it in time, but know I realize what stress and concern I’ve put them through. Now they know that life is even more fragile over here and it could have been me. I’m sorry Mom and Dad for putting you through this! But know that I’ve grown as a person, I’ve learned more than possible in the 19 months I’ve been here, and I’ve had an amazing time.

I know though that my parents can take comfort knowing that I’m in good hands. From my APCD always having my back. From Ernest the driver being my personal body guard. From the DPT offering support when I needed it the most. From the PCMO saving me, caring for me, calling all my PC neighbors to help me, and putting up with my seemingly endless strains of salmonella. And our fearless Country Director who gave me the kick I needed, the hug I needed, and the support I needed. I’m so grateful to know these people have my back.

Welcome Home

April will always hold a special place in my heart, mainly because shit always goes down in April. Special place doesn’t necessarily mean good, it just means a little corner of my heart will forever scowl and give my pleaseeeee look at the month of April. Last year it was typhoid fever which knocked me out for the entire month second half of April/early May. This year it was a whole slew of things.

I finally arrived back at site yesterday afternoon, it has been quite an interesting month and a half. Here’s what went down:

Meeting with business man interested in expanding his juice business to create cashew fruit juice concentrate.
Frantic call from PCMO, went to Accra for medical. Still to this day don’t know exactly what it is, but I’m about 95% sure of what it is. And I’m 50% sure that juju was involved. Since we are throwing stats around.
One day back at site to pack.
Agriculture Reconnect Training – I talked about business trainings and helped out for the training.
Easter
Helping Scott with Our Talking Hands (see the previous post)
One day with Cara helping her find ways of diversifying and bringing in more profit to her project. It will need a lot more attention though, so I’m hoping to go back and help her convince her community to invest in some small stuff.
Warden training! Hell yeah, go safety training! I was pleased that I remembered a lot of stuff from training, but I guess security is in my blood. Thanks Dad!
All Vol. The All Volunteer Conference. It was pretty fun, not as fun as I remember from last year. But I also didn’t drink very much, so that makes a difference in my perspective I think. Prom was fun once the music started going. I unfortunately had a very bad reaction to mefloquine during All Vol, so I didn’t have as much fun as I could have. Also, during All Vol I came to a very difficult and hard realization that led me to give up something I truly treasured. Sometimes though, you have to accept defeat, bow out gracefully, and do what’s best for yourself. Another hard lesson that I’m glad I learned, but I’m very sad that it had to happen. (Imagine saving up money for your dream vacation for over a year, you finally get to go on vacation and something horrible back home happens, so you have to leave early before you get to really enjoy any of it.)
After All Vol, I headed to Accra. I had a meeting with the Country Director Monday. I spent the week staying with “my expats.” They work for USAID and hosted me for Thanksgiving and while I was sick in Accra a few weeks before. They were incredibly gracious, accommodating, and supportive during my week of internal hell. They fed me delicious food (homemade lasagna including the noodles!, enchiladas, cheeseburgers, spaghetti, Swedish meatballs, and fried chicken). They even let me go to the beach with them on Saturday. One of them is an RPCV, so it is like having a mentor. She really helped me to deal with my internal struggle and discover ways of changing my situation. It was exactly what I needed to help me get back to my normal self (screw you mefloquine!). I met with the PCMO and they switched me off mefloquine, so I’m slowly starting to feel like I’m emerging from a fog. It’s wonderful.

Monday, I met with the Country Director, Director of Programming and Training, and my APCD. They gave me two options – return to site and “make it work!” (my words, not theirs) or take interrupted service. During the week before, I spent a very long time thinking about why I joined Peace Corps. Have I accomplished my goals? Do I feel like I made a difference? Do I want to go home? Am I strong enough to overcome this hurdle?

This is why I want to be a PCV and why I decided to continue my service:

I want to help others. I want to give back. I want to share my business knowledge and skills with HCNs who otherwise wouldn’t have access to these ideas. I want to put my skills to good use, teaching people how to improve their lives by adopting simple principles, such as recordkeeping, accounting, knowledge of the value chain, and marketing.

I want to be immersed in another culture.

I want to learn about myself, grow, and benefit from others’ experiences.

I want to prove to myself that I am capable of living and working in an environment that is difficult, stressful, dirty, and sometimes dangerous. I want to prove to myself that I have the endurance to survive two years in a developing country. I want to prove to myself that I am strong enough to handle any circumstance that comes my way.

Last Thursday, I attended the Swearing-In Ceremony for 20 new Health PCVs. I’m incredibly glad that I was able to attend, because the speeches from the Ambassador and the Country Director reminded me of why I was here. I am here because I want to serve my country, by serving others.

I didn’t join Peace Corps to quit with only 8 months left. I didn’t join Peace Corps to take the easy way out. I didn’t join Peace Corps to mope in the corner because of this that and the other thing.

I am a Peace Corps Volunteer because I want to be here.

I’ve dealt with issues I never imagined I would face. I’m done with letting other people dictate who I am as a Volunteer. The only person who can judge my service is myself. If I feel that I have accomplished my goals, helped my community, and made a positive impact than I have succeeded. I will complete my service. I will not let the obstacles in front of me impact my last 8 months.


As I returned home yesterday, I spent the 10 hour trip staring out the window. The rains have returned and the land is green again. The wind in my hair, my head out the tro window, and I am content.

When I returned home, I grabbed some kenkey, but the lady forgot to give me mako (salsa). Bummer. I haven’t had anything to eat outside of breakfast. I get home and I can’t open my lock, it has rusted shut. A few bangs and I get it to open. My kitchen/porch is a mess. Clearly, it rained heavily while I was gone. My flax seeds have been nibbled on and there are tiny little flax seeds everywhere. I open my cabinet and 100 teabags from South Africa have been devoured by that bastard mouse. My ranch dressing packets and chickpeas were also not spared. I opened another cabinet and saw that fat little mouse just eating whatever his heart desired. On top of my bookshelf was a venerable mouse playground. He had carried my chickpeas all the way up the bookshelf and ate them under my mask. My wardrobe also made a nice little dining room for the guy right on top of my dresses.

I open my fridge and dear god I’ve never smelt anything so putrid. It was crawling with flies and bugs and all sorts of gross things. I quickly closed that door. I’ll deal with that later. I left it open when I left, the wind must have slammed it shut. There’s a cut in my screen, but at a weird place so maybe it is just recent storms. Nothing is missing. Inside my house is just dirt, but not as much as I was expecting. I found a worm on my bed. I sat down and wanted to cry. I forgot how small my house is. I felt so lonely now. It is always like that when you return from travelling though. And I couldn’t even eat because I had no mako for my kenkey. BAH HUMBUG.

So I got some kids to come over and fetch some water. Then I offered them 5cd to scrub my fridge, a little pricey but I wasn’t about to touch that thing. Even they thought it was gross, so that was some sort of awesome validation. At least it had been unplugged. They took it upon themselves to clean the rest of my porch, take out my trash, wash the floor, and overall make everything look 1000x better. It was fantastic. I decided to put some music on and I played Antenna by Fuse ODG. (Go look up the videos on youtube…NOW, but then come back and finish reading.) Like every azonto song in Ghana, a few beats and all the kids are dancing.

So a dance party started on my porch and the kids taught me some new azonto moves. Akua who helped clean the fridge is a great dancer and teacher. I think I found a new way to exercise. We danced for about 10 minutes, then I had a brilliant idea.

I ran back to my room and searched around for an American song that had a dance associated with it. So what did I decide on?

Gangnam Style.

Seriously, how much more American can you get that listening to a Korean song that went viral on YouTube with the most ludicrous dance? That’s what America is to me!

I taught them the dance and laughed so hard. They were so good! I wish I would have filmed it. I’ll have to do it again, so I can get pictures. Imagine a really tall skinny white girl teaching a bunch of 5-10 year old Ghanaian kids how to do Gangnam Style on a tiny little porch. I’m sure we looked awesome.

We danced for a couple hours until the rains came. It was hands down the best welcome home I could have asked for. Despite the fridge, the mouse, my lock, and the daunting task of cleaning, I felt great about coming home. It completely represented my past few months. One thing stacking on top of another, nothing seems to be working out, frustration, and disappointment, but then suddenly something happens and reminds me why I am here.

I’m here for impromptu dance parties. And I’m here to find creative ways of making that mouse pay for his indiscretion in my absence.

Here’s to the last 8 months!

Well At Least the Concrete Broke My Fall

To say my life is ridiculous would be an understatement. The past few months have been crazy, what with being evacuated from site, landlord/housing debacles, and now this. I’m pretty sure the last PCV to live in this house cursed it prior to leaving. That is the only rational explanation for my spectacular first full day at my new site. No welcome home is complete without a trip to the ER, right?

Saturday started like any normal day. I woke up to the sweet sound of silence and the harmattan tinged red rays of the sun. Wait, that’s not true, I woke up because my new little kitten decided to go spastic, jumping and pouncing over every surface of my body. After a couple of time out tosses from the bed, I finally succumb to his wishes and get up. At which point, he decides he wants to go nap in the corner. Typical.

I decided to mentally map out my day: paint, shop, watch a movie, unpack, play with cat. In that order. So while it was still relatively cool outside I gathered my paint can and prepared to paint. I have only four walls and I was only planning on painting three. So I set to work painting, dancing, and trying to avoid stepping on my cat (who naturally was sitting right between my legs the entire time). In order to get the top part of the wall, I had to step on my small table. Eventually once I had made my way to the final wall, the guy that lives behind me decided to come over, grab the paint brush, and finish for me. Whatever. He stood on the table the entire time though. Just painting the hell out of my wall.

After all three walls are expertly painted and my eyes have started to burn from the fumes, I hop into the shower area. I take a well deserved bucket bath, making sure to scrub the hell out of my body. I needed to attack the paint, sweat, and cat scratches off my body. I get dressed, throw on a dress, grab my shopping list and make my way to town. My first adventure into my new town as my town. First things first, I head to a good chop bar for some delicious banku. After I stuff myself with two balls of banku, three things of chicken, and a heap of groundnut soup, I head to the batik section of the Techiman market.

It’s curtain shopping time! I find three different batik patterns that look fabulous together and happily buy them. I then head over to a tailor and have the batik made into fabulous curtains of fabulousness. I go on to buy other things, including nails, a broom, plastic buckets, copious amounts of toilet paper, all the stuff you need to move in. Afterwards, I head home laden down with goods.

I spent the afternoon looking at my stuff, thinking about watching some movies, and obsessing over my curtains. I hang up the rope for my curtains and hammer the nails in with my lock (I didn’t have a hammer…). The curtains aren’t perfect, but I let them be. I come back about 30 minutes later and I can’t stand the thought of my curtains not being perfect. So I get back on my table and I start adjusting the curtains. Suddenly I feel myself losing my balance and I hear a very audible crack underneath me. I grab for the rope, but feel it snap in my hands. The table is slowly falling backwards with my body being ejected from the table top. I land square on my tailbone with my legs on top of the side of the table. I’m still wearing a dress and my legs are spread open for the entire neighborhood to see what Obruni panties look like. Because only I would fall that ridiculously. The first thing I do is realize I can’t move. Then I realize that’s a problem. I start screaming “HELP! HELP!” until I realize no one near me speaks English. So I just start making weird noises to get someone’s attention. Finally after what seems like forever, someone comes over to pull me up. They don’t speak English, but I kept telling them “no, I can’t move.” After another bout of forever, someone comes who does speak English and he picks me up and puts me on my bed. The landlady rushes over and starts pounding on my back, attempting in a very weird fashion to violently massage the pain away. I’m crying and in serious agony. I say the one thing I know she will understand “cell phone.” She finds it and gives it to me.

I dial for the PCMO, even though I know it is a Saturday. No answer. I try again. No answer. I try again. Still nothing. So I called the next person I could think of who would be able to help – the PCV in charge of the Kumasi office. She calls in the troops and about 5 minutes later the PCMO calls me. He tells me to get to the Holy Family Hospital in Techiman.

Oh god no. I have to go to the village hospital in Ghana? Oh god, oh god. This isn’t happening. The landlady and her son? call for a taxi and about 10 minutes later they hobble me over to the car. It takes me 3 minutes just to sit down. The taxi driver decides to drive like a maniac and take the only damn road in Techiman that has speedbumps. We are in a Daewoo. The bottom of the car is approximately 2 inches off the ground. Every time we went over a speedbump I thought my life was over. I felt like someone was smashing my rear with a frying pan. It took everything not to burst into tears every few seconds.

Finally we get to the hospital and they help me out of the car. The second I get out of the car with assistance I hear an eruption of cheers. I still don’t know where they were coming from, but hiding somewhere within the courtyard of the Holy Family Hospital a crowd of Ghanaians was cheering for the lame ass white girl. They were probably laughing at me, but in my disabled state I took it as encouragement. Semantics really. They heave me over to the ER which tells me, no go get registered in the other building. So we hobble over the other way. They set me down at the window for registration. The seat was a slated wood bench which was quite possibly the least inviting seat I’ve ever seen in my life. Sitting down was like sitting on a bed of hot coals – excruciating and unpleasant. I burst into tears upon sitting down and the man at the window starts asking me questions. The PCMO was calling me every few minutes, so I was answering question after question. Finally the window man asks me for my telephone number (right after he asked me which Christian denomination I was, that was awkward!). I told it to him, but he didn’t understand me. I suddenly started to feel queasy and like I might pass out. He asked me for my phone number again and I couldn’t for the life of me remember it. I kept saying numbers out loud and hoping they were correct. A group of interested onlookers stared at me like I was an even weirder white girl who couldn’t string 10 numbers together.

After I yelled incoherent numbers at the man for an adequate amount of time, they hauled me over to the triage unit. I honestly don’t know if that’s what it was, but that’s what I’m calling it because it sounds cool. I really should know these things, I did hospital advertising. Anyway, a man has me stand on a scale to weigh me. That didn’t go so well. The man told me to stand on the scale, then walked away to chat with his buddy about soccer or something. Here I am wobbling on a scale, barely able to stand up, and this guy is chatting it up? After a good 30 seconds of standing on the scale, my landlady and her son catch me as I fall backwards, very close to passing out. They sit me down in the chair to get my blood pressure checked.

I am not even exaggerating when I say the man took my BP no less than 10 times. He checked it first 5 times and then asked me if I was feeling dizzy. No shit Sherlock, did you watch me fall off the scale? Then he kept checking it like he was a med student on drugs who thought it would be fun to listen to my arm make cool noises. Finally he sends me on my way and I’m dragged over to the ER again. They sit me down, this time in evil metal chairs, and have me wait for what I don’t know. The PCMO is freaking out because I haven’t been seen yet and damnit, white girl needs attention! I’m not going to lie, sometimes I like getting special treatment because I’m a different color. Sometimes I get a better seat in the taxi, skip the bank line, or get my food faster. But this time, when I really wanted special treatment, they were not giving it. I sat and waited in line like everyone else. And honestly, despite the pain I was in, I appreciated the art of the queue. Lines are there for a reason, to keep things orderly and organized. I truly treasure queues, especially when they are followed. So, despite the PCMO calling in favors, hustling up the nursing staff, and calling friends who work at the hospital, I waited in line just like the rest of the incredibly ill folks.

So let me paint a picture of what a Ghanaian ER looks like for you. For starters, there was the smell. It didn’t smell like anything, which is actually rare in Ghana. Upon entering the ER, to the left there was three hospital beds sitting right next to the waiting chairs. Each bed was occupied with an ill woman. The women were hooked up to IVs and looked downright despondent. The lady closest to me just stared at me the entire time I was there. I never saw her move, which was really creepy. Heaven knows if she was really there. The chairs faced the hospital rooms which were very small and had two beds in them each. Each bed had at least 5 people on it, only one person was the patient. Everyone had family there feeding them, bathing them, or otherwise taking care of them. The nurses station was to the right and there were 3 women manning the station. I watched as they started to give an IV hookup to a woman, but she forgot something. So the nurse just left the needle in the woman’s hand, facing the traffic flow, and got up to raid the cabinent for something she needed. She took a good 2 minutes to find what she needed before heading back to attend to the woman. The lady sitting next to me was clearly very sick and was being assisted by 4 family members. One person to keep her head up. One person to give her water (despite the IV drip) and one person to bark orders at the nurses. Everyone needs an order barker, I had one (my landlady). The woman was about my age and she wasn’t responding to anything. She sat there like a vegetable unable to keep her own head from falling to the side. I wasn’t sure what was wrong with her, but I knew I didn’t want it.

Finally they call me up to the nurses station for more BP taking. I notice a nice pool of blood on the floor and on the table from the last lady. (By the way, there were no men in the ER – the only one was the doctor – no patients.) Despite my addled pain brain, I point to the blood, give the most disdainful “I don’t think so” look I can give and wait for the nurse to clean the place up before I sit down. While they look my BP another 3 times I sat there repeating the mantra “please no IV” over and over in my head. All they needed was my BP. Now, I didn’t notice this until after the nurse attended to me, but up until this point not a single person had asked me what happened or why I was there. I found that very curious.

So after another 10 minutes, the doctor finally calls me into his office. He asks me what I did and what hurts. I tell him about falling on my ass and he barely listens. He writes down in my little book in the worst scribble imaginable something about something. He tells me I need an XRay, prescribes some pain pills, and sends me on my way. I was in the office for a total of about 1 minute. Most of which was spent watching him write in my book. The XRay technician wasn’t there though, because it was a Saturday so they spent a good 20 minutes calling every number possible trying to find the guy.

The landlady and her son leave me to collect my pills. I sat in silence as I waited for the Xray technician to show up. Do you have any idea how painful it is to sit on a hard, metal chair for over an hour alone with really sick people when your ass feels like the bones have been ripped to shreds? It felt amazing…I sat there and just watched people stricken with tropical diseases be attended to by the nurses. They didn’t have enough room for this one lady so they just dragged over a curtain and put her behind it in the waiting area. I watched as old women who would barely move pissed in buckets next to their beds. A family member would promptly grab it and go wash it out. The women would then slowly roll back over covering themselves with their two yards. I felt like the entire world was moving around me, like I was stuck in a time warp watching life pass in front of me. Then the XRay technician showed up and they hobbled me down the corridor. Once I was almost there someone came over to offer me a wheelchair. Seriously? Where were you like oh, say 2 hours ago?

We get to the XRay room and I was surprised at how medical it looked. I mean it looked like a real XRay machine, a real medical room, and professional. The XRay technician had at least one drink earlier in the day, that much was obvious. He began asking me a series of questions while the landlady (who speaks NO ENGLISH) looked on.
Tech: “Do you have buttons?”
Me: “No.”
Tech: “You have zipper?”
Me: “No.”
Tech: “How did you get dress on then?”
Me: “What?”
Tech: “Underwear – it have buttons?”
Me: “Ummm, no.”
Tech: “Do you have waaast beaaads?”
Me: “Huh?”
Tech: starts patting down my sides and stomach area. “waist beads?”
Me: “Oh, no.”
The tech then looks at the landlady and then back to me in pure disbelief. He points at the machine and tells me to lay down. Great, more painful metal tables. It took me at least 2 minutes to just lay down from a sitting position. He pokes around for my belly button and then adjusts the table. He doesn’t put any lead apron on me, just casually slinks over to his bunker and pushes a button. I feel my insides cooking and growing cancer cells. After a quick XRay development he puts the image up to the light and then starts pointing at random places around my hip. Oh god, I shattered my hip! The landlady walks over lifts up my dress looks underneath and says something to the doctor.

I ask the doctor if he wants me to change into the dressing gown. He agrees so I hop off the table (hop meaning take 5 minutes to labor myself off the table) and head over the salon style doors to change into something a little more comfortable. The landlady follows me and helps me undress. Oh hey, I just met you and this is crazy, but can you help me get naked? So not only have I just met this woman today, but now she has seen exactly what my pasty white ass looks like. Surprise! It’s white. Time for round two. Another trip onto the table, more inside cooking, and image developing.

I redress and head back outside XRay in hand. Honestly it was pretty quick. Much faster than all my XRays in America have gone. And by that I mean the one I had when I was like 14. We go back to the waiting area for I don’t know what. I notice that the landlady has a vial in her hand with my name on it. Oh no. Oh god. WHAT IS THAT? She hands it to the nurse and the nurse takes a saber to the top of the vial. Slices it right off. She pulls out a needle, turns to me and gives me a fantastic show of exactly how you put meds into a needle. She squeezes it for fun and I watch as out spurts liquid horror. I put out my arm and turn my head to the side. Oh no, she says, come with me. I follow her a few feet to a door.

She opens the door and I notice it is basically a cupboard. Inside are two broken chairs, a few deserted sandals, a dirty towel, and various other odds and ends. She tells me, I’m going to put the medicine directly into your butt to make the pain go away. I protest saying that needle your holding is pain itself. What makes you think this won’t hurt more. She says – oh it will. Then she says the one thing I will always remember, “now don’t scream like a small girl.” She lifts up my skirt, pulls down my panties, and I brace for impact. Of course I let out a small gasp/scream. She just jabbed a needle in my butt cheek. How do you not react to that?

And that was it, all finished. I was free to go. I was confused though, doesn’t the doctor have to look at the XRay – shouldn’t someone evaluate it? Nope, not necessary, he will look at it Monday. WHAT? They lead me outside to get a taxi and I call the PCMO. Apparently the XRay technician has already spoken to the PCMO and told him that I don’t have any broken bones. Oh, well then. When was someone going to tell me that? I demand fufu from my neighbors and they pick up the necessary goods to make it along the way home.

I get home and look at the time, I was only there for about 2 and a half hours. Not bad for a trip to the ER. I chug down the pain meds, eat my fufu in peace, and get another call from the PCMO. They want me down in Accra for further evaluation. So someone will come and pick me up, since I can’t ride in a tro, and I will be flown down to Accra.

Word of my demise spread fast, especially since Becky (Kumasi office PCVL) and the PCMO called every single Volunteer nearby to come to my aid. My best friend wasn’t able to come help me, but honestly I was okay. I had two Ghanaians babying me and I just really needed food and to lay down. Food would be easy enough to mooch, plus I had crackers and Chocodelight. If I were a doctor I would prescribe that for all patients, except those with diabetes, because that would be negligent. I kinda forgot about breakfast though and didn’t realize pain meds would make me ravenous. So when PC came to pick me up Sunday I was close to eating my arm. Luckily, since I had just moved in I still had a packed bag with freshly washed clothes. Ridiculously convenient. I gave instructions to the neighbors for feeding my cat and was whisked away to my awaiting plane, two hours away. First stop, rice and chicken. Jollof and fried chicken never tasted better.

I rambled in my half delusional for the entirety of the trip to the airport. Becky and Tess waited with me at the airport until I could check into my flight. Then I waited for another 45 minutes to board. Finally I went through security which was a joke, although they did have me take out my laptop. Finally, it was time to board my flight. To say I was excited would be a bit of an understatement. Despite being in incredible pain, I had always wondered how magical it would be to fly within Ghana. To avoid all those potholes. To just skip over the two hours of hellish road that leads to Accra. To spend less than an hour travelling when normally it takes 5-8 hours. But then I had to walk to the plane. The plane was parked a fair distance away on the tarmac. I hobbled over to the plane like a geriatric hip replacement patient. I was carrying my backpack (couldn’t even get it on my back), my XRay, and my handbag. I finally made it to the plane and then had to ascend the steep stairs into the plane. The flight attendant looked at me like I was insane, why on earth would a fresh, young person be walking like that? I make it to my seat, sit down and assess my surroundings. I’M ON A PLANE! HOLY SHIT. There was even first class. First class for a flight that I soon found out would take 35 minutes. I still shake my head in disbelief at the people who pay for first class on an inner country flight for a country the size of Oregon.

We take off and down come the TVs – in flight entertainment. Then come the drinks. Is this the real life? I’m flabbergasted. We arrive in Accra a few minutes later and I suddenly realize I’m not in Kansas anymore. And by Kansas I mean Kumasi. And by Kumasi I mean under the effects of the Harmattan. Accra was about 90 degrees with 90% humidity. It felt like walking into a swamp with a parka on. I walk over to the exit and right there is a beautiful white mega SUV with the Peace Corps logo on it, waiting to take me to the office. I felt like I was on a different planet. I felt like one of those expats who come to Africa with 30 suitcases full of fine clothes and powerbars. Once I realized how high up the seat was and how difficult it was going to be actually getting in the car, the dream like state washed away and I remembered exactly why I was there.

The driver tore through the streets of Accra with poise and very little bumps, thank god. The PCMO was there waiting for me at the office (on a Sunday evening! I love the PCMO!). The first thing I said to the PCMO was “so we meet again…” So, we have two newish PCMOs, one female from Turkmenistan and one male from Ghana. I’ve spent more time with the male one and I was glad he was on duty. I like his sense of humor, he probably thinks all PCVs are all walking time bombs. I just so happen to blow up fairly frequently. And he gives me some medicine and I’m reassembled. See I have this thing for disdain, I love disdain. I’ve been told I have three modes – disdainful, extremely disdainful, and bitchy. The male PCMO has a very subtle current of disdain as well and because I’m attuned to disdain wavelengths, I can pick up on it very easily. That’s why we get along. I know that when he sees me, hears from me, or reads my text messages he is probably rolling his eyes wondering “what now…” And that’s not a bad thing, because honestly I think that myself too. WHAT NOW BODY? what now. So rolling up in the Peace Corps vehicle, hobbling out, and saying “so we meet again” was probably the most James Bond villain I’ll ever get in my life. Another thing I can check off my bucket list.

He took my vitals, let me ramble on about how evil tables are, and told me I needed an MRI. WHATTTT? I thought MRIs were just for brain scans and cancer. Turns out they are just super magical tools for looking inside your body without having to grab a scalpel. That evening I went over to a PC staff’s house and had dinner with a few other volunteers. Do you have any idea how wonderful real burritos with mango salsa, homemade guacamole, beef, and cheese taste when your body is trying to tell you your ass isn’t welcome here anymore? They taste wonderful. Oh and Cherry Coke. Sometimes I forget how fantastic it is to be an American, with access to food, glorious food. I’m just kidding I think about food all the time, who am I kidding. Ground beef really does a lot for your spirit though, let me tell you. So after a hardy meal, I was happy to pass out and await my MLK day MRI.

The PCMO went with me to arrange the MRI, they told us to come back in 45 minutes so I begged them to let me find something to eat. We drove around looking for food on the street, but unlike all the other towns in Ghana, Accra is hoity toity and it is harder to find street food. Finally we get to a place with egg sandwiches and I happily eat the most delicious breakfast ever. Back to the MRI place and they have me change into a dressing gown. I go inside and I’m very happy that it is an open MRI. I have to use stairs to get on the table, which again takes me a ludicrous amount of time to get on. They position me so that my arms are above my head, a pillow is under my knees, and a plastic contraption is encasing my hips. They were very kind and put a thick blanket over my legs – so thoughtful, it was cold in there! I can’t move for thirty minutes so I drift into a state of day dreaming. I couldn’t actually fall asleep because the sound of the MRI was far too interesting and loud to allow for sleep. I had a brain MRI once and that was loud as hell, this one was much more soothing. In fact it reminded me of Close Encounters of the Third Kind which is one of my favorite movies. I spent the thirty minutes thinking of things I wanted to do but now couldn’t because I was a gimp. Damnit. It only took 10 minutes though for the pain in my hips and ass to become insanely painful. All the pressure in my legs was being forced into the parts that hurt. Somehow I mentally pushed through the pain (didn’t take a painkiller that morning) and accepted my fate. The mind really is rather powerful. After thirty minutes the MRI was finished and we went on our merry way. The results didn’t come back until Tuesday late afternoon and they were in doctor lingo. The PCMO needed time to translate them, so I came back Wednesday. Luckily, it was nothing serious or sinister as the PCMO pointed out. It did say though that I had bulging discs in my tailbone. Two of them.

About 15 minutes prior to getting the results of my MRI I got an amazing care package from my dear colleagues at my old job. Inside were all the things a girl needs to feel better – trivia, ugly doctor photos, peanut M&Ms, hand sanitizer that smells good, a stress ball in the shape of a skull, cards, cheese whiz, and the greatest gift of all time. A coozie that says “That’s what she said.” So when I got the results of my MRI I giggled and thought about my lovely coozie and how much I would like a nice cold beer out of that coozie while I repeated the words – bulging discs.

My prescribed course of action? Take pain pills, take it easy, and no more standing on tables. Well there goes my career as a table dancer, damnit. So they kicked me out of the med unit and put me in a Peace Corps car going back north. It was me, another PCV, and two staff members squished into a stuffed car laden down with mail. We took the crappy road. It took 5.5 hours to get to Kumasi. My knuckles were white from clutching on to the hand thingy near the window. What are those things called anyway? Handle? No. I don’t know, anyway. Each speedbump, acceleration, brake, and swerve to avoid potholes was like a hot poker on my ass. My knee also got a bit of damage from my fall so sitting for that long was doing wonders for my knee too. I was so ready to just scream “LET ME OUT!” when I saw that we were only 15 minutes away from salvation. Then it started to rain. Seriously? Ghana, stop it.

I had taken a pain pill halfway through the ride and it kicked in at about that 15 minute mark. So by the time we got to the office I was white knuckled, white faced, starving (hadn’t eaten anything that day), and feeling the effects of the painkillers. There were a lot of people at the office for a meeting the next day and when I walked in it was like they all saw a ghost. I probably did look like shit, let’s be honest. I wasn’t really coherent either, luckily someone got me some food and I cuddled with my bestie. The pain was so great I couldn’t leave the next day. When I thought of sitting on a tro for another 2-3 hours over a speedbump infested road, I imagined sitting on top of a rodeo bull with spikes on his back.

And that’s basically what I got when I left Friday. The tro I got into filled pretty fast and I picked the back row next to the window, just in case I needed to puke. Who knows? So two ladies sit next to me and for once they were tiny. For the first time in history I didn’t touch the person sitting next to me on the tro. There was literally inches of space between us. It was spectacular. Well, until we started moving. Turns out the back seat hadn’t been bolted back in when they last took it out. So we were sitting on a seat that wasn’t exactly stable to say the least. Every time the driver accelerated, slowed down, went over a speedbump, or passed another car my entire row went sailing forward into the seats in front of us. The entire seat would lift off the ground and go forward. It wasn’t that bad on my rear though considering it wasn’t touching the seat half the time, since half the ride I was airborne. I was queasy with a pounding headache though the entire ride and my ass was still in serious pain. Normally I suffer through tros pretty easily. I’ve developed a hefty amount of patience in this country and I can occupy my time quite well. Well, my head hurt so I couldn’t listen to music. I didn’t even want to think because that would hurt my head more. The pain was radiating throughout my entire body, which clouded my mind even further. So I sat there and suffered in agony for two hours. And for probably only the second time in country, kept repeating in my mind “are we there yet?!” I’ve never been so happy to see the Techiman station. I promptly got a drop taxi and hustled my broke ass home.

My new goal was to stay in my new house for at least 48 hours without injury, a need to call the PCMO, or being run out of town by an evil arch-nemesis. Well it is now Thursday and I’m happy to say I made it so far through the week with only minor injury to myself. I tripped and almost fell into the most terrifying gutter in Ghana and that screwed up my back again, but luckily I rested and it felt better. My back/butt/hips still hurt like no one’s business but I’m able to carry on. I try to walk a decent distance everyday so as to keep my body from withering away, but I can’t otherwise exercise. So much for my resolution to do daily squats. My ass is doomed for all eternity to be big, broken, and legendary.

Hard to believe it has only been about 16 months in country. I’ve already experience enough for a lifetime. With every tumble I take, I continue to believe that Peace Corps has been the best decision I ever made. I can handle a lot more than I thought I was ever capable of withstanding. Except tables, apparently they can’t handle me.

But my curtains look great!

Bastards.

I’m Dreaming of a Home For Christmas

Christmas is right around the corner and I haven’t even had time to think about sleigh bells in the snow. The stress of searching endlessly, fruitlessly, and constantly for a house is wearing on me. This month has been incredibly trying and it looks like it won’t give up. I’ve been given a deadline, I have to find a house by the end of the month or else I’m moving to another town.

This month is probably one of the hardest possible to look for houses. First we had the election, which means we couldn’t leave for 5 days. Then I had my midservice medical, which took me out of the hands on loop for half a week. Now Christmas is a coming.

If I can’t find a house, I’ll be shipped off to another town. I know this other town, hell I even really like it. There is just one small problem. It would take me a very long time to find any work to do there. My new project partners are not in that town. I wouldn’t have a counterpart. I wouldn’t have a local work partner. I would be out there all alone, looking for something to do in a town of over 80,000 people. Peace Corps works because most volunteers are placed in small communities. It is easy to find out how you can help, because there is a smaller amount of people. The first three months of your service are spent surveying people, learning about their issues, and working with them to establish a game plan for how you can help.

I just have one extra problem. I only have a year left. Less than that now. Cashew season ends in June. We aren’t allowed to start new projects in our last three months. What’s a girl to do?! If I don’t have a real job to do, an accessible, working project partner, or easy access to people I can help – then what’s the point? I know myself, looking for the people I need without a guide in a town that big is too overwhelming. It is like trying to find a needle in a haystack and then hoping that needle fits the thread you are using.

I could always do something else. I could move to a small village and become a true farmer, but let’s be honest. I’m not helping anyone by doing that. I know how to harvest cashews, I know what methods work best for improving yields. But I can’t hold a chainsaw, I sucked at grafting. The first time I ever really planted something was during our training. I’m useless as a farmer, the only agriculture background I have is what I have learned here. Yes, I could teach people business literacy skills, how the global market works, how India impacts their cashews, but that isn’t something you teach everyday for a year.

Alright I admit it, I’m panicking. I only have a year left. I’m starting over. I don’t know where anymore. I feel like my skills are so specific now that it is hard to put me anywhere. I’m good at consulting, helping people to discover how they can improve their services. But finding somewhere to do that, with a group of people, with just a year left. Not possible.

The thought then crosses my mind – why don’t I just completely start over. Why don’t I just re-enlist so to speak. Start completely over in a different country. But I can’t do that, that would still be quitting.

How am I supposed to help? How do I wrap my mind around all of this? How do I do it without panicking? I’m constantly on the verge of tears and I don’t know how to stop them. When I am stressed or upset, I cry, I cry a lot. It helps me to have a physical emotional release for all the stuff bottled up inside. When I get to this point though, when I am stressed past the breaking point, I just keep falling deeper and deeper inside this hole. And I feel like I’m just sinking. I think this is my breaking point. I think I am currently in it. I’m fighting everything possible to keep from tipping over into despair. I want to have hope that this will all be resolved quickly and easily, but how, how can I feel that?

I need to have some sort of control over situations. I have absolutely zero control at this point. I have done everything I can do and now it is up to others. There is a possible house for me. It is perfect. Great location, very nice place, super great neighbors, and the landlord is trying to perform a miracle for me. Unfortunately, time is not on my side and Christmas is throwing a wrench into my plans. If action is not taken today, then I will most likely lose the house and my last hope.

Things work out for a reason. I have to accept that.

Then there is another thing stressing me out. Other Volunteers. Everyone wants to hear what happened, everyone wants to give me their input on what I should do. Everyone has their own opinions of what their Peace Corps service should look like. We all view Peace Corps service in a different way. Everyone has different reasons for joining as well. Generally, we judge each other based on how productive we are. I hate to admit it, but it is true. If you do too much, others consider you “a super volunteer” and it makes everyone pissy, it makes everyone else look bad. If you never spend any time at site and only do Peace Corps club related things, people will wonder what you are even doing in country. If you just sit around with the locals and haven’t really done any projects, other Volunteers think of you as a useless Volunteer.

But you see, Peace Corps is a different. We have three goals – train locals, share our culture, and share local culture with you. The only person who can measure success is yourself. If you think you have been a successful volunteer, that’s all that matters. During staging, you develop indicators for how you measure success. Each indicator is unique to you alone. It is not healthy to judge other volunteers on their success, yet we all do it.

I recently had a conversation, which involved someone else telling me what I should do with my service. How I could be a better volunteer. How I could do more. I didn’t realize I wasn’t doing enough. For the most part, I love to get feedback on how I can improve. How I can become a better, more productive person. However, in my current state of stressed out, homelessness, with no real site, no job, and no nothing, I didn’t appreciate this feedback. How on earth am I supposed to be a better Volunteer when I don’t even know anymore where I am living? But now I have this awful seed planted in my brain – am I a bad Volunteer? Am I not doing enough? I have had a month at an office, but what have I really done? I could be doing more, I guess I wasn’t doing enough before. I should take on more stuff so that I don’t feel guilty for doing little. What if my community could have learned so much more from me, but I didn’t share all my knowledge with everyone? I haven’t written any grants, I haven’t brought anything physical to my community – does that make me a bad Volunteer?

So, if you are keeping tally:

Homeless
Not sure if my new site will be my new site
If I have to move again, how will I find work
Possible new house, needs money by Monday otherwise shit
Looming deadline
Not having control over the situation
Am I a bad Volunteer?
Money issues – no matter where I go I have to buy everything for my kitchen again
I’m still sick
Mid-service blues
Friend troubles
Christmas

Those are my current stressors. Not to mention I haven’t been alone since the end of November, and sometimes you just need to be alone.

I keep taking deep breaths. I know that everything will work out. I refuse to go home early. I am strong and I will make it through. Friends and family back home, your support throughout this ordeal has been ever so appreciated. It helps to know that no matter where I am, I can rely on the love of my family and friends.

Completely off topic, but I had a dream last night that I went to a grocery store in America. I spent at least 5 minutes freaking out about butter. I was so excited to see butter, to hold it, to hug it, to put it in my basket.

I bought a tub of chocolate yesterday. I might just want copious amounts of movies today and eat a tub of chocolate. After all the world ends today. I might as well enjoy it.