03 August 2011

on returning to america

i arrived in the US on monday evening.
being back is strange. i'm back in the city where i've lived most of my life, and many things still look exactly how i left them, yet it's a place i don't know.
for months i had looked forward to coming home, but then about a month before leaving ghana, i realized that "coming home" also meant leaving home. don't get me wrong: it's great to be back and see the people i love and missed. but ghana is home to me now too, and it's now the place that is so familiar to me.
people talk about reverse culture shock, and i thought i had experienced it in the past when i had traveled abroad a few times. but after living in another culture for two years--living and loving in another culture--returning to your own is truly a shock.
going to the store is overwhelming: a whole aisle of deodorant? why?
i have a car available to me, but i haven't driven. i'm nervous that i have forgotten how.
my journey back was three flights. when i arrived at my first layover (brussels) and went to the check-in desk, i stood in line trying to figure out with the time change what time of day it actually was so i would know how to greet the lady. i paused, getting ready to say "good morning", and she just said hi. hi? what is hi? what happened to greeting? my flights back were my first time in two years that i had real butter, potato chips, and ice in my drinks. but in each of the three meals served on the planes, they served laughing cow cheese, the only kind of cheese available to me for the past two years. you can't just give me some cheddar?
being home is just a mixture of so many different feelings. i feel sad to think about ghana and the people and places i left behind, but i feel relieved to be back in a cooler and more luxurious environment. i feel really stressed to think about the big changes coming and the burden of finding a job and a home. but eating dairy again (lots and lots of dairy) is such a happy feeling.
my mom and i went to an international grocery store today. i was looking for ghanaian yams to make fufu. i found the yams, and i also found a whole list of obscure ghanaian foods that i thought i would never see in america. i must have looked ridiculous in my enthusiasm in that grocery aisle.
so, yes, i'm back. it's weird. it will be a process of adjustment. i'll probably still get a little wide-eyed at the grocery store for a while, and i expect i'll need to carry a sweater with me most places, but soon i'll (re)learn how to drive and begin my new life.

26 July 2011

leaving wa

i am excited to be going back to the comforts of america, but i am equally sad to be leaving ghana.
specifically, leaving wa was a sad day for me. because of a last minute schedule change, my school held my going away party on the same day i left, just a few hours before i was to catch my bus. yes, it was a bit stressful, but it was also a nice way to really say goodbye to everyone, all in one day.
at assembly in the morning, i told the students i was leaving and that i would miss them all and that they should be good and work hard. they all wished god to bless me with a safe journey. at the party with the teachers, they thanked me for the work i have done and also wished me blessings and safe travels. they gave me two beautiful dresses as going away presents: one sewn by my good friend and seamstress/teacher annacleta, and the other made from handwoven cloth by a housemother at the school. it is always humbling when people who have so much less than you have give such generous gifts. but that's ghana. ghanaians are a generous people.

when the party finished, i packed just my few last minute items and locked up. it's hard to believe, but this little house in ghana has been my home for longer than any place since high school. and even more than that, so many special (and life-changing) times have taken place there.
as we rode away in our tiny taxi toward the station, i had tears in my eyes. we passed the people and the shops that i know so well. i know i'll be back to visit, but just based on how much wa has changed during my two years there, i know it will be a completely different city in a few years.
when i first considered joining peace corps some three or four years ago, strangely enough, one of my greatest concerns was that after building friendships and relationships for two whole years, it would be devastating to leave. i guess that's an indication of what a good experience this was.

21 July 2011

jewelry, one last time

my goal in teaching art to the deaf in ghana was basically to try to give students a creative means by which they could earn a living in the future. i knew i wasn't going to change the world with my project, but i just hoped that i help even just one deaf student to find a source of income for the future.
the jewelry project just fell in my lap. i started making bottlecap earring with the jhs kids, and the vocational teacher saw us and asked about our supplies, saying she had experience with jewelry but no supplies. i agreed to try to collaborate with her. we started by selling just a few pieces, which allowed us to buy supplies to create more. when the ngo that supports the school saw what we were working on, they were so impressed they offered to help as well.
but the rewarding part of this wasn't getting the supplies; it was getting the girls' enthusiasm. that, i'll admit, was a battle. with no set class timetable for jewelry, many girls just didn't show up because they weren't interested. at some point, though, they began to enjoy it. suddenly girls were coming to class and were making beautiful, interesting jewelry. they learned how to mix and match colors and how to use the hardware correctly.
as a final goodbye, (thanks to my mom's help from america) we were able to use some of their profit to purchase a jewelry kit for each student. i think this is the part of the project that was the most rewarding. the girls were truly grateful for the kits when we distributed them yesterday. not only did they appreciate what they received, but they asked very good questions about where in ghana they can also buy their own supplies when these finish.
i think some of the girls are really excited about this and truly do want to learn it well to sell jewelry in the future.
that's exactly what i was hoping for!

15 July 2011

class pictures

the last day of class, instead of having exams (shh! don't tell!), i returned the students' artwork from the past year and recognized one student from each class who did exceptional work.
it was nice to have a final chance to say goodbye to all of the students.

this is p3, the youngest class i taught this year. this class is energetic and enthusiastic, and there is such a broad range of talent and personalities in this class.

this is p4. this class was a challenge. it was my biggest class, and some of my worst troublemakers were in this class, leading to a couple of fistfights and lots of drama. but they're all sweet kids at heart!

p5 had a couple of very talented artists. this was a class that had a lot of creativity.

p6. my smallest class, always made even smaller by the extreme truancy of most of the students. i often had only two or three kids show up for class. frustrating, but i got to spend extra time with those two or three kids who did come, and we had some great times. the one-on-one attention with them was wonderful.

jhs prep. it amazes me when i look back at this class when i first came. they were so young and immature, but this year i've watched the whole class grow up and become some of the new leaders of the school.

jhs 1. these kids are jokesters. the boys especially just liked to goof off (can you tell by the calabash on their heads?). despite that, they were very hardworking and made some great stuff.

jhs 2 also is a class that amazes me when i think of how much these kids have matured. enock, the third from the left, used to run away and refuse to attend class when i first came. now, he's one of the best and hardest working. they are the oldest jhs class now, and they act it.
it's true. i will miss these kids.

14 July 2011


these are pictures from assembly.
assembly is every morning at 7:00am. the students all line up:
sign the Lord's prayer and the Ghana national anthem:
have some announcements
and then march off to class:
i can't say i'll miss assembly--it's too early in the morning--but it is definitely part of the rhythm of the days here.

13 July 2011


this is asaazuma. she's my little friend. she's in p3. she is sweet and precocious; she likes to visit me and offer to do chores, such as sweep in front of the house. then she asks me to give her something. she starts big, and each time i refuse, she asks for a little less, until usually i just give in and give her some chilled water.
she likes to just visit too, though. one time when we were "talking" she paused then asked if we are friends. yes, i said, we are friends. she liked that.
everyone once in a while, she smiles and signs again that we are friends.
she's talented at crocheting. she'll just find a little piece of metal wire to use as a hook and whatever scraps of string she finds, and she crochets little purses and hats. when she saw that i had an actual crochet hook and real yarn, that immediately became what she most wanted me to give her.
she came by this afternoon and offered to sweep for me. i said no, it was ok, but we "talked" for a few minutes. she asked when i'm leaving. when i told her i leave wa in just one week, she looked like she would cry. it almost made me cry too.
i'll miss my little friend.
i am giving her my crochet hook and yarn when i leave.

07 July 2011

things i missed?

over two years ago i was so excited and nervous about my peace corps service. what would it be like? how will i change? how hard will it be? i just reread some of my original posts from my preparations before leaving for ghana. 
it's interesting the things i thought i would miss and the things i actually have missed.
"the office. snuggling with my dog. air conditioning. target. cheese. watching my dog chase her tail. internet. margarita nights. thunder picnics. washer and dryer. winter. snow. instant communication. driving. showers. ice cream. making my dog roll over. my little apartment. being cold.  my down comforter. crisp fall days when the leaves start turning. baking. quoting arrested development. flowering trees. walking my dog. iming in all caps. borders. electricity? thai food. my comfy couch. ikea. the day the arrested development movie comes out. iced chai lattes. text messages. monkey bread on christmas morning. going barefoot. blowdryer. learning to like wine. roadtrips. chocolate. cnn.com. blowing in my dog's face and watching her freak out. "
wow. yes, i have missed some of those things: air conditioning, WINTER AND SNOW, ice cream, being cold, my down comforter, etc. pattern here: i missed cold.
however, i'm only about a year behind on the office. pirated stuff is easy to get here. instant communication, text messages, internet: i have all those things here. 
the things i actually missed, aside from cold, were so many american foods, the ability to move about freely and without waiting hours (mainly, having my own car), and anonymity. it will be refreshing to be able to walk around and not have every single person stare at me. or tell me three weeks later what my exact whereabouts were on a certain day. i missed having family and friends around, especially on holidays and hard days, but i found new family and friends during my time here!
and while i'm so excited about being reunited with the things i have missed, i am becoming quite nostalgic about leaving. so now, my new list: 

things i WILL miss from GHANA:
the laughter of deaf students. fufu and light soup. the formality of greetings. seamstresses. banku. alvaro. so much free time. pure water satchets. the fresh breeze when it's about to rain. wagashee. a simpler life. vibrant, colorful clothing. small victories in the classroom. being entertained by chickens and goats. traditional music and dance. the thrill of receiving a package. my students' constant willingness to help with anything. mango season.

04 July 2011

jewelry update

after a rough week here last week, i am so happy that this week is already starting better.
i'm really excited about some recent updates in our jewelry program. several months ago, an ngo that supports the school had some of their leaders from canada visit. they toured the school and saw what kinds of projects the students have been working on. they were really impressed with the jewelry we had produced. the visitors bought several pieces when they were here.
and, it turns out, they were so impressed that they also donated a large amount of money for supplies!
the teacher i have been working with, annacleta, went to kumasi last week and bought OH SO MUCH beads and other jewelry supplies. she's excited. the headmistress is excited. the students will be excited, when they see it. i'm excited. hopefully this will be the nudge that the school needs. we've been on the brink of having something really great; i hope they can keep it up.
i talked to the headmistress today about all of this stuff, and she and annacleta want to expand the jewelry program to the jhs students and boy vocational students as well, if they are interested.
additionally, the headmistress is interested in opening a small shop just outside the school so that a couple days a week some students can go and tend it. they'll sell the woven cloth and jewelry that the students have made.
which in turn...will raise money to keep things going!
this wasn't exactly how i pictured the program being funded, but i'm really happy that some money (and enthusiasm) has come through. i still plan to bring with me some of the jewelry the students have made, and i'll sell what i can in america. the only other thing the school needs now is jewelry pliers, which annacleta couldn't get in kumasi. they'll need plenty if all these extra students will be working as well, so i'll use the proceeds from my sales to send back some pliers.
here are a couple pictures.
this is me and annacleta. she is the vocational arts and crafts teacher, responsible for teaching jewelry and embroidery and lots of random craft stuff. she has become a good friend since we've been working together. (oh, and she made both our dresses too, of course.)
this is annacleta helping amina and salamatu with some embroidery work.

30 June 2011


this is a game called oware. it's basically like mancala but a few different rules. you can get boards carved from wood, but the kids just make their own by digging small holes in the ground and using stones.

01 June 2011

appreciating the small things

when i first started teaching here, i used to get so frustrated at the lack of creativity shown by my students. often they were technically very talented, able to copy things wonderfully. if i showed an example to my class, i would receive 15 exact copies of my example as their final projects. if i didn't show an example to the class, they would just sit there, frozen in fear of doing something wrong, and they wouldn't even start.
so last week, i was excited when they suddenly got it. it was as if they suddenly understood i wasn't going to cane them or fail them if they made something different.
we made pop-up figures for the books they made last term. i showed the example of a pop-up star, but i told them they could make a flower or a heart or anything else they imagined. i was so excited when i received cars and animals and letters and all sorts of other ideas that they made.
one girl even brought a small girl into the class so she could trace her hand and use that.
i know this is a small victory, but it was really rewarding.