60 Freakin Days

Right now I’m trying to wrap my mind around the fact that I’ve been in Ghana for 60 days already. It seems like yesterday that I was whining about being bored here, and now it feels like each week is whizzing by faster than the previous one. Then I think about the fact that I’m still not quite halfway finished with the semester and how much more rice I’m going to consume and…you get the picture.

This week was largely spent “studying” for the two tests (Development Studies and Colonial Rule/African Response) I had on Wednesday. I think I spent more time coming up with reasons to not study than I did reading any of my notes, but for whatever reason, I just don’t care too much about my academic performance here. Bad? Probably. But the lectures here have been so…uninspiring. This coupled with the lack of assignments outside of reading has rendered me more apathetic than I usually am at all times. The tests weren’t too challenging, but a couple questions on that history exam were so pathetically vague/irrelevant (“Who were the Creoles and what was their historical significance?” “Who made up the 19th century elite?”). I had to actually try to not write “Nobody cares” as my answer a few times.  My strategy was to just write as much as possible and make it sound “scholarly” in the hopes that somewhere hidden beneath all the crap I wrote is some semblance of a correct answer. We’ll see.

Wednesday night I did two things that I usually never do willingly: socialize and consume alcohol.  I decided that I deserved some kind of reward for all the procrastination hard work I put in throughout the previous days. I had one shot of gin at a restaurant, and another one later on at a bar(!!).  I believe I literally uttered “poison!”  during the second shot.  Alcoholism is something I’ll never have to worry about for more reasons than one, but the fact that booze is so nasty is definitely at the top of the list. Also, spending money on that crap is so unappealing to me. When I talk about how much I dislike alcohol, I’m often met with looks similar to these by Britney Spears.

Luckily alcohol doesn’t have the same effect on me as it has on Cathy Ames from East of Eden (that bitch is cray), or any effect at all, it seems.  I did manage to reveal virtually every embarrassing thing that has happened in my life (I spend an unfortunate amount of time thinking about them).  These stories ranged from ripping the back of my pants off after getting caught on a chalkboard, to falling into a river and down a tree within a 24 hour period, to both previously mentioned pee incidents, and having to have a woodchip surgically removed from my ass upper thigh. Oh. And my Bar Mitzvah theme. Hippo”matt”amus.

Yes, that’s a cardboard cutout of myself. There are 2 of these in my basement. The hippos as well.

The fact that I felt guilt about not being at Beacon House Tuesday afternoon is

This is Ben and Daniel!

yet another sign that I need to rethink the amount of time I spend there.  I did make up for it Thursday and Friday by spending 11 hours there each day.  Thursday wasn’t extremely eventful, other than for a few ridiculous naptime events.  I got back early Thursday afternoon from my rock-bottom lunch of $9.00 pizza to find two of the kids, Daniel and Ben, awake.  I made the mistake of taking out my Kindle to read with them nearby, and ultimately I read zero words of East of Eden that afternoon. Instead Ben fiddled around with it thinking it was some weird computer/camera, and Daniel thought it was a video game. Then I took out my iPod and they rocked out to some Edward Sharpe since that’s basically the only thing I have on my iPod that isn’t miserable. They also looked through pictures on my phone. I have never been more thankful for poor African literacy rates than when they came across this picture:

One of the most ridiculous things I had ever seen on the cover of a magazine.

That night we watched Mulan, my favorite Disney movie after Pocahontas. I’m only guessing that Pocahontas was my favorite because I own a still-in-existence Pocahontas doll that I would bring with me during car rides so I could let her hair blow in the wind. I’m really the creepiest.

Friday was the final day for two of the girls I’ve worked with over the past month.  I’m really worried about what next week will be like without them there, especially the pre-schoolers who won’t have a teacher now for an unknown amount of time. The pre-school teacher, Katie, and I bought some ice cream and cookies to give to the kids as a goodbye gift. Katie had also bought them all toys, and that went about as well as you can imagine.

If you imagined tears, screaming, and rare moments of joy, then you’re beginning to understand the kids I’ve had to deal with! They were instructed to choose 2 toys that they liked, which seemed reasonable enough. But once they all saw what the other had chosen, they deemed their own choices to be mistakes, and so much anguish ensued.

Prince, the Wee-Wee King. Potentially the cutest kid of all time.

It was a mess, a mess that culminated in the boy who peed on me flying down some stairs and into a puddle. I laughed (people, especially children, falling is my laughter kryptonite), but only for a second because then I had to deal with the crying. So much crying.

After the kids finally settled down, we started to watch Aladdin, another movie dear to my heart. When I went to Disney for the first time at age 7, I saw Jafar giving out autographs, marched over to him, and, the badass bitch I was back then, kicked him in the shin and ran away in absolute terror.

We paused halfway through the movie to give the kids their ice cream/cookies, and just as they were about to start eating, the power went out. I really need to start bringing my flashlight with me to work.  All was well, as the kids really loved their surprise and Katie had enough battery life on her laptop to be able to finish the movie.

It must have really been my time of the month, because during that night’s prayer/singing session, I had a major minor emotional breakdown over the prayers directed at me and Katie. Maybe I felt safe because the power outage blocked my gradually-deteriorating facial composure, or maybe it was because for the first time I felt that the kids really meant what they were saying to us.  I think in the beginning I felt that they said all those wonderful things to me because they felt required to, but as each one gave me a hug that night, it was just…beautiful.  God. My shit is such a mess, isn’t it?

After a long week, in a desperate attempt to recreate a sense of normalcy that has been lacking in my work routine, I spent Saturday relaxing and reading for class at the coffee house/Chinese restaurant I go to during orphanage naptime. The iced latte was shockingly amazing, and all that was missing was some smooth jazz playing to make me feel like I was back at Starbucks crying over whatever Hell I had to read while shoving Marble Poundcake down my throat.  Afterwards I wandered pathetically around a supermarket, staring dejectedly at $10.00 cheese and $9.00 chocolate bars.  I walked away with Peach/Passion Fruit juice, which is about as amazing as it sounds.

I have a feeling many some of you think there’s something wrong with me because I spend more time with kids than people my age.  If you’re interested in reading about healthy, college friendships that exist in my program here, I recommend this blog by an adversary friend. He’s possibly the sassiest person in existence. He was kind enough to advertise my blog on his while commenting on how grossly sweaty I am. He’s a charmer, that Anil.

Instead of leaving you all with a song, I’ll leave with my favorite passage from John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, when characters are discussing different translations in the story of Cain and Abel. It amazed me three years ago when I read it for the first time, and it amazed me just as much today:

“The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance.  The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Though shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin.  But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’—that gives a choice.  It might be the most important word in the worldThat says the way is open.  That throws it right back on the man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’”

And later:

I have no bent towards the gods.  But I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul.  It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe.  It is always attacked and never destroyed—because ‘Thou mayest.’”

Pretty beautiful stuff, no?

Alright. Fine. I’ll give some music, ’cause I know how much you want some. Mumford & Sons released their new album this week, and every song is perfect. I like to think of them as the male/British Dixie Chicks in terms of talent, harmonies, and overall beauty. Seriously. Just buy the album immediately.

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“Is That Your Bible?” “…No. That’s My Wallet.”

Last week I ventured back into the miserable territory that frequented the first few posts of my blog. I really wanted my writings while here in Ghana to be light and filled with the constant occasional snark. But I also promised that I’d be honest, that I would discuss everything, good, bad, or embarrassing. At the time I wrote last week’s post, I think I really needed to sort out the struggles and concerns I had. God knows I lack the ability to vocalize my thoughts/feelings in an articulate, coherent manner, so writing about them is really therapeutic for me.

I’m not quick to say anything good about myself, but I like to think I’m fairly self-aware and perceptive. Putting words to these issues makes them real, something that I can accept, and hopefully manage. I may not overcome them right away, or at all, but at least I’m not oblivious to them. And that’s an important first step, no?

Alright. Enough of this.

This week during Politics of International Economic Relations, or as I like to now call it, Introduction to Sucks That Y’all Were Born in Ghana! my professor was as charming as ever, spewing beautiful, uplifting remarks such as “When you have more black people, you have more problems,” and “If Ghana were a human being, would you say Ghana was a smart person?” Maybe I’m being a bit hypocritical since I’m not America’s biggest fan, but good God, Bossman. Lighten up! Yeah, Ghana has its fair share of issues, but compared to much of the rest of Africa…things could be worse. In other classroom news, writing “I know papaya!” on my Twi test was basically the best thing I could have done. The professor found it hilarious and he decided to give everybody points for that question since nobody actually knew what the Twi word for papaya is. I don’t really know why this surprised him.

I crossed the 100-hour mark at Beacon House this week! I can’t believe I was ever concerned over reaching 135 hours by the end of the semester. At this point I’ll probably double that. Maybe I’ll receive some kind of “CIEE’s/Africa’s/The World’s Greatest Intern of All Time” Award.

Tuesday afternoon was a little bittersweet because it was the last night for two sisters who left the next day for North Carolina. After spending 20-25 hours per week with these kids, it’s pretty impossible to not become emotionally invested in them. I got to interview them Tuesday night for the blog, and the last question I asked was “Is there anybody you’d like to thank at Beacon House?” and the older sister, Helen, basically just thanked me.

Gonna miss these two. But mostly the older one who wasn’t as annoying.

These girls have been at the orphanage for many years now so I’m sure there are plenty of people who have left a far greater impact than I have, but still..AWW! I’ve been smacked with so much collective love and appreciation since coming to work at Beacon House, but I’m still blown away every time the kids say something like this to me. I’ll give more examples later. But man. I can’t imagine how overwhelming it will be for these girls. Moving from a Ghanaian orphanage to the American South is something I can’t really fathom.

Things got a bit…uncomfortable… on Thursday. Towards the end of the day, either right before or after dinner, I was alone with one of the house mothers, Irene. Here’s how our conversation went down:

Mama Irene: (while examining her Bible) “Do you have one of these?”

Matthew: “Of course! Mine’s a bit smaller, though.”

Mama Irene: “Which books are in it?”

Matthew: “Uhh…all of them?”

Mama Irene: “What’s your favorite Bible passage?”

Matthew: (few seconds of uncomfortable stammering and flipping through pages, pretending to not remember where in the Bible the passage is) : “Uhhh…Uhh…Job!”

Mama Irene gave me a look that reeked of skepticism, but the subject was dropped for the time being. We went through the nightly prayer/singing routine in which we discussed how non-believers go straight to Hell and that you can commit any sin imaginable, but as long as you accept Christ as your Savior you’ll make it to Heaven (seems like a pretty poor system, if you ask me). As I was getting my bag together to leave, Mama Irene saw me take out my wallet to put in my pocket. Here’s a snippet of that glorious exchange:
MI: “Is that your Bible?”
Matthew: “No…this is my wallet. My Bible’s at home.”
MI: “You should have your Bible on you at all times.”
Matthew: “I know. I just don’t wanna lose it.”
MI: “What Church do you go to?”
Matthew: (mumbling) “…Regina..”
MI: “What?”
Matthew: “…Saint…..Joseph…
MI: “Oh. So a Catholic Church.”
Matthew: “…Yup.”
I really don’t know what to do about this. Telling them that I’m Jewish this late in the game seems like the worst idea imaginable, but my lack of any Jesus knowledge is painfully apparent to everybody. If I could go back in time I’d probably reveal my Jew-status immediately, and I would hope that this revelation wouldn’t change how I’m treated there, but…I really don’t want to find out.

On Friday I was looking forward to avoiding further uncomfortable situations at all costs. It was a public holiday (something about Kwame Nkrumah’s birthday), so there wasn’t any class/homework to help with in the morning. I was excited for a relaxing day of playing and watching Beauty and the Beast.

Then a child peed on me.

I don’t know what it is about me that makes kids want to urinate on me/my belongings, but it must be something. The fact that this isn’t my first encounter with child pee is a great indicator of the kind of life experiences I’ve had. The first time, 5 years ago, was pretty rough. The kid decided it would be cool to shower my shoes/bag that I left in the locker room during their swim-time with that gross liquid (trying really hard to not write “pee” over and over, and I’m struggling). Long story short, the fact that he did it on purpose, and that he was 10 at the time (like..seriously?), and that the shoes were brand new and beautiful, brought about an emotional meltdown in the laundry room as I cried/hyperventilated while waiting for my shoes to finish their rinse cycle.

Five years later, I’m proud to say that I responded monumentally better during this “wee wee” (their words, not mine!) encounter. I mean, the kid didn’t do it on purpose (I was basically at the wrong place at the wrong time), and he’s 3, and his life hasn’t been too ideal, so being mad at him would just be silly. I think the fact that I’m not 15 anymore also helped…and the fact that the kid is absurdly adorable. He doesn’t speak much English yet, but we have a secret handshake! And his name is Prince! Love that kid.

Things could have been much worse.

Other orphanage highlights:

This is what I have to put up with

• As if the pee debacle wasn’t enough trauma for one morning, the boys were literally brawling on Friday. At one point Ben (aka my favorite kid of all time) was bitten by another kid and I had to physically restrain Ben from retaliating. This is what happens when I’m left alone to watch the kids.
• When I arrived on Friday morning, the first thing Ben says before hugging me is “You look great today!” So wonderful. I love the implication that I look like a gross mess every other time he’s seen me. It’s basically the truth.
• After we finished Beauty and the Beast I danced with a few of the kids during the end credits while actively forcing myself to not sing along/cry to Celine’s version of the song.
• At dinner on Friday Mama Irene had the kids stand and say what they enjoyed about the day, and Ben and a couple others mostly talked about me. SO GREAT!
• Turns out I’m much better at teaching kids how to add/subtract than how to read simple words. This is probably because my ability to speak/read isn’t too advanced either.

On Saturday most of the CIEE crew were taken to the Eastern Region city of Aburi. As I’ve established on numerous occasions, I’m not fond of too many people my age. After spending hours on a bus with some of them, these feelings haven’t really improved. I’d say I’m pretty open and honest with my friends and on this blog, but some things I keep to myself. Some things should just remain private, right?

Apparently this belief isn’t shared by all of my contemporaries, resulting in some pretty magical conversations. I doubt any of these people I’m about to mock read this blog (If you do, hello! Please remember that when you open your mouth and talk about your various sexual escapades and STD scares on a crowded bus, you open the door to internet ridicule. The only type of ridicule I have the cowardice capability of giving). Anyway, after learning about pregnancy scares and pus-infected peen’s (which turned out to not be an STD. So…what was it?!), my favorite exchange happened on the trip back to campus. Here’s what was uttered:
Girl A: “We still have 88 days!”
Girl B: “Why are you counting down?”
Girl A: “Cause I wanna have sex!”
I’m known for my inability to control my reactions to complete ridiculousness, so it took an inordinate amount of strength for me to not say something bitchy.

This is Tetteh. I bet he fit in pretty nicely.

Anyway, aside from those sloppy bus rides, the trip was really great. Our first stop was the Tetteh Quashie Cocoa Farm, named after the first dude who brought cocoa to Ghana in 1876. Here are the highlights:
• Cocoa trees kind of look like they’re infected with malignant tumors. But those tumors are just the cocoa.
• To remove the cocoa from the trees, you use this spear/whale harpoon called “Go To Hell” to poke them off.
• Tried some cocoa. Tasted like a very bitter dark chocolate. But anything that isn’t rice at this point is delicious.

The cocoa! The yellow ones are ripe!

Our next stop was the Aburi Botanical Gardens. There are many trees, all of which are beautiful. Some highlights:
• I ate some cinnamon-tasting bark. This marks the second time I’ve eaten part of a tree while in Africa.
• We ran into Daniel, the man I mentioned in an earlier post who I met at a Thai restaurant during our Accra “tour.” How ridiculous is that? I mean, Ghana’s pretty small, but randomly seeing him again is mind-blowing to me.
• There was this weed-type plant and if you touch it, the leaves retreat. Is the plant ticklish? Nope! Just a defense mechanism.

Beautiful Tree #1

Beautiful tree #2

Strange tree carving.

Next was the Aburi Wood Carving Village. I made some really practical purchases, including a slingshot. Tempted to bring it to the orphanage and threaten the kids with it. “If any of you goes wee wee on me again, you’ll be sorry!” I just wanted another excuse to write “wee wee”, hopefullyprobably for the last time this decade. I also bought this awesome elephant! According to my mother, if the nose is pointing up, it’s good luck. Unsurprisingly, my elephant’s nose is pointing down. I think this suits me more.

After finding out he’s inherently unlucky, I think I love him even more

Our final stop was TK Bead Village. We were given a quick demonstration of the bead-making process and were brought to the giftshop. Within 10 minutes I picked out a necklace for my mother or sister (likelihood of either of them liking it? Maybe a 45% chance). A swift 90 minutes later (for God’s sake, people. The beads were not expensive. Instead of deciding between two $7.00 necklaces/bracelets for over an hour, just buy both. Lord.), we were finally on our way back to campus.

Alright, that’s all for now. Have a wonderful week, and thank you for continuing to read this nonsense!

In honor of this heavily-religious post, here’s a song called “I Don’t Wanna Pray” by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. They’re great!

Adventure and Slippery Slopes

In this week’s edition of “Classroom Nonsense…With A Smidgen of Embarrassment,” after starting my Monday morning strong by spraying my armpits with bugspray, my Politics of International Economic Relations professor (“Ghanaians have nothing to be proud of!”) decided that out of the class of 200 he would call on me specifically to answer a question.  “Is there a Robert in the class?” he asks while looking directly at me.  After I stare in bewilderment for a couple seconds he asks me what my name is before giving an answer to “What is Intellectual Property?” Luckily this exchange went monumentally better than the first time he asked me a question.  A couple of days later during the “discussion” class for Colonial Rule and African Response, the Teaching Assistant (“What is history?”) asked an equally provocative question: “What is a compass?” Luckily this question was posited about 10 minutes into discussion so I knew I could safely spend the rest of class doodling. I paid attention enough to hear bits and pieces of the discussion; one kid insisted that the Fountain of Youth was a significant reason for exploration, and another girl was outrageously concerned with where the doctors who were brought along during European exploration were kept as the interior of Africa was navigated. The answer? On the damn boat. Good Lord.  On Tuesday I had my first exam since arriving here.  Since it was a Twi test, and since my knowledge of the language so far is infantile, I wrote fun sentences like “I know papaya!” (instead of I eat papaya) and “I have a lot of hats!” (instead of I have a lot of money).  Whatever. At least the professor will be entertained. Hopefully.

On Saturday I traveled with 3 friends for the day to Shai Hills, a wildlife/resource reserve about an hour (hypothetically) outside of Accra.  I don’t think I would trade the over 3 hours/3 tro-tros it took to get there for anything.  Tro-Tro #2 featured a very passionate man selling highly questionable ointments and weight-loss capsules to the van of 28 Ghanaians. I’m only guessing it’s weight-loss related because he made numerous hand gestures that suggested he was talking about reducing stomach girth.

Sitting in the back row at least spared us direct contact with the crazed salesman (front row, white shirt)

The whole time he was looking directly at me which was just a tad uncomfortable. This nonstop selling/sermon went on for at least 50 minutes, and I’m a bit concerned over the amount of people who actually gave him their money.

About 40 minutes into Tro-Tro ride #3 the engine started smoking so we had to pull over pretty much in the middle of nowhere.  The driver told us we were only about a mile away from Shai Hills, so we decided to just walk the rest of the way even though we all agreed that the driver probably had no clue how to estimate distance.

After walking for 25 minutes a car pulled over in front of us and asked us if we wanted

Seemed like a great idea at the time…

a ride.  Because the car seemed to be nice enough (there were leather seats!) and it was a youngish couple offering us the ride (women=safety, right?), we decided it was safe to hitchhike with these wonderful people.  Turns out we underestimated the tro-tro driver’s knowledge because 3 minutes later we finally arrived!

Our guide first brought us to the Ostrich enclosure, where 4 ostriches just run around and do other massive bird activities. Seriously? What do ostriches do all day? We walked a short distance to visit

Look closely at the Ostrich’s butt and tell me you don’t see a Pomeranian coming out of it. Who do I talk to about this?!

a baboon family and to feed them bananas! As we approached I was thinking about the hazard level we were stepping into since there wasn’t anything separating us from them (and baboons are freakin’ terrifying). One baboon leaped from a rooftop onto a tree directly above me, and at that moment, I thought my end had come. As the baboon was soaring through the air seemingly towards my head, I experienced flashes of Steve Irwin and that poor lady who Oprah interviewed whose face was ripped off by a chimpanzee. Dramatic? Yes. Always yes. In the end all was well and having a baboon snatch a banana from my hand was awesome.

What a life

The 4 of us and our guide hopped onto the back of a pickup truck (solidifying this day as the most adventurous ever) to drive to Sayu Bat Cave.   Throughout the ride I couldn’t stop thinking about last summer in Botswana, that my life basically consisted of riding around in a safari car for hours a day in an environment just like Shai Hills. It’s like I was transported back 15 months and I was on one of Legodimo’s Biodiversity Drives; I half-expected to see hordes of impala rushing across the road and an elephant family that we would have to escape from.  While none of that happened, for those 15 minutes I was filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude and appreciation, perhaps more than I’ve felt before, for those 30 days I spent in the “wild.”

These feelings of nostalgia were replaced with revulsion when we first entered the bat cave. Their feces? Not too olfactory-pleasing. This unpleasantness was quickly erased once we saw/heard literally thousands of bats in the cave.

Our next and final stop was Mogo Rock, a place girls were kept for 6 months as part of their rite of passage into womanhood.  After climbing up the rock (which at one point required hoisting ourselves up with rope), and absorbing the beautiful views of the reserve, we agreed that being forced to spend half a year up there didn’t sound too bad.

Always a sucker for a beautiful view

Riding in the back of the pickup truck to the reserve’s entrance was a perfect way to conclude a fantastic day trip.

To make this week even better, I was lucky enough to spend another 25+ hours at the orphanage.  I mentioned last week that I was going to work on Beacon House’s blog, and hopefully the posts I wrote will be finished editing soon.  It isn’t anything too substantial, but hopefully substantial enough to make the supervisors stop asking me to do something that leaves some grand, monumental impact on everybody’s lives there. Again, I just wanna play and help in the classroom.

On Tuesday night, I was asked to lead a prayer. You can imagine how I reacted to that (If you guessed uncomfortable giggling and declarations of embarrassment, then good job!).  Before this happened the kids were read Bible passages about the importance of being honest, so all I could think about at that moment was how disappointed Jesus must be in me.  But telling these people that I’m Jewish after all this time just doesn’t seem like something that needs to happen. Instead I’ll let them think of me as a really bad Christian.  Definitely the safer choice.

On Thursday, I went through the normal morning routine of playing with the preschool-aged kids and babies and helping in the classroom until lunch. I ventured off during naptime to a restaurant called Luscious Temptations (!!!) to indulge in some Western, Oboruni food. In other words, it was the most expensive meal I’ve had since

Food rewards are the best kind of reward

coming here. I spent a hefty $12.00 on pizza and passion fruit iced tea, but damn it, I think I’ve earned this “luxurious” meal.  I devote so much of my time to these kids, and yeah, I really love it, but sometimes, those kids can be a pain in the ass difficult. As Donna from Parks and Recreation would say, Treat Yo Self!

I had 30 minutes to kill in the office before naptime was over so I decided to read…until an unnaturally large cockroach crawled next to me across my bag.  I’m not about to stay in the room with that monster with me!

That night right before it was time to watch a movie, the power went out (again). So much chaos ensued, and I couldn’t resist taking a picture of it:

Oh gross, his tears are all over my shirt

Not everybody was miserable, at least:

Guess this is what kids do these days when the power goes out

Friday’s highlights include me trying to help collapse a baby stroller (does it look like I would know how to do something like that?), reading The Gingerbread Man to the kids, and splurging some more on Chinese Food.  My plan is to just starve myself all week so I can afford these 2 days of extravagance.

We Love Our Matth..er..Class!

(WARNING! SEVERE MELODRAMA FOLLOWS)

I’ve already spent over 70 hours at Beacon House, and it’s been beyond amazing, but I think I need to start worrying about how close I’m getting with some of the kids. I’m finding myself falling into similar patterns that forced me to leave the day camp I spent 10 summers at. I mentioned vaguely a few weeks ago why I left, but I guess I can elaborate more now.

You spend so much time with these kids, and they’re genuinely happy, even ecstatic to see you. (Seriously. So many hugs).  They say the cutest things like  “I want you to come every day.” They start depending on you to help them with whatever they’re learning, and you feel wanted, needed, appreciated.  I’m not really used to feeling these things, and just like I did 5 years ago, I’m getting emotionally attached to a few of them.  I know that this is happening, but I don’t know how to detach myself.

I don’t know why I’m so good at forming relationships with people 10 and under but am completely clueless at forming relationships with people my age.  Maybe it’s because they don’t expect much out of me, and for whatever reason I don’t feel intimidated like I normally am when talking to people.  Maybe it’s because I have some yearning to go back and redo parts my childhood. I see how wild, free, excitable these kids are and I don’t remember ever being like that.  I’m connecting with these kids for the same reasons I did at camp—because they represent aspects of myself that I wish I possessed. I wasn’t able to form many friendships growing up, and I think that jaded me, affected the way I interact with people today. My confidence is…negligible, and I just don’t put in much effort with people because I expect them to automatically not be interested. I’m still always surprised when people seemingly want to talk to me or be around me.  Case in point: My uncle just asked me via Skype if I’m practicing “safe friend.”

So here are these wildly enthusiastic kids who run over and hug me every morning I arrive and again every night I leave, desperately fighting for my (MY!) attention and I just…turn to mush. These feelings of acceptance are so rare for me that I just latch onto them whenever/wherever they come about. I know I’m just making it harder on myself for when I leave. I like to think that three months from now they won’t see me as just another person who has come and gone in their lives, but that is the most likely scenario.  Maybe they’ll miss me for a little while, but they will definitely get over it. And then it’ll be me, five years later, missing yet another kid.

Yikes. Maybe working with kids is just something I should avoid.

If you managed to make it through the messy ending to this post, you’re rewarded with the wisdom of Amy Poehler. I’ll post two videos from her web series “Smart Girls” here, but I seriously recommend watching them all when you get the chance. Thanks for reading!

Alright, one more!

The Horse, The Kids, and The Haircut

In this week’s edition of “What am I Learning? Eh, Not Much”, there isn’t anything too ridiculous to report.  I think at one point my Politics of International Economic Relations professor told our class of mainly Ghanaians that Ghana doesn’t have much to be proud of.  So that was charming. Also, his name is Bossman. What’s up with that?! Other than that, the main development that happened was me willingly participating in my History class!! I’m pretty sure I hadn’t raised my hand in class since High School.  Granted, the question was really easy (When did European colonization of Africa escalate?), but I think I deserve some kind of praise for opening my mouth and managing to spew out words coherently.

On Wednesday after class I took a painful fun trip to the post office to pick up a package of clothes my mother sent me 4 weeks ago.  A 30-minute tro-tro ride later, the package was finally in my hands! Wait. No. There’s 90 minutes of exaggerated misery to discuss! After figuring out where my package was within the office’s storage, running around looking for a place to photocopy my license, and having to rip open the box with a small knife so they could see if anything dangerous was concealed in my undies, I was finally allowed to leave! After paying a 15 cedi “service” charge, of course. For that money they could have at least spared me the humiliation of struggling to use any dangerous weaponry and knifed open the box themselves! At that point, I was too flustered and ashamed to argue with a taxi driver for charging 18 cedi to get me back to campus.

In other, more wonderful news, the orphanage this week featured the usual awesomeness I now come to expect.  I only spent 4.5 hours there Tuesday afternoon (the fact that 4.5 hours is my short day is definitely a problem), but that was not even close to the amount of time required to try getting a 4/5 year old to play board games correctly.  After about the 12th time I tried explaining the correct position capital “Ts” are supposed to be in, I decided any future effort would be futile. The heck with it! If they wanna have their Ts upside down, then who am I to stop them? It’s not like I’ve come close to mastering the English language.

No matter how many times I showed them what a “T” is supposed to look like, this is what would happen.

After feigning disinterest in staying to watch a movie with them that night, the worst thing that could happen ever in the world made its sinister appearance: Power Outage. So instead of watching a movie, I had to deal with miserable children afraid of the dark.  Luckily my phone has a flashlight app (thanks, App Store!), so I spent the next hour with about 8 kids piled on me trying to remain in the light. The walk that night in complete darkness to look for a taxi was only slightly more terrifying than it normally is.

On Thursday, things were back to normal in terms of how much time I spend there (over 12 hours).  Last week I mentioned how as an intern I’m supposed to be doing something slightly more substantial than just playing (shucks), so I was asked to work on Beacon House’s blog. I happily agreed and was set to start a post this afternoon (I feel like a traitor since it’s on blogspot), but, naturally, the password I was given to access the site was invalid.  Oh well!

I’m also going to work a lot with one kid and help him with math. Not to brag or anything, but I was basically the math prodigy of elementary school. Nobody could do basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division better and quicker than me! Seriously. I won all the math games played in 3rdgrade. So I figured helping to teach a kid how to subtract 16-9 would be right up my ally! Wrong. So wrong. I had no idea how to explain what to do.

Teaching him might be like pulling teeth sometimes, but he’s a good kid.

He was using his toes and I was trying to get him to just count backwards 9 times from 16 (since you can’t take off your shoes in class forever, as I explained) and things were just deteriorating.  I think the fact that it seems so easy and obvious to me made it harder to explain to him. But thanks to my new-found patience (the lack of attention span can be rough) there was noticeable progress by the afternoon.  Repetition and positive reinforcement are extremely important (at least that’s the conclusion I came to), so once I brought out the stickers, I knew everything would be alright. Who doesn’t love sticker rewards?!

During Thursday’s nap-time, I decided it was time for me to do something I had been dreading since I arrived in Ghana: get a haircut.  Since my hair is basically the one part of my body that I don’t have some unhealthy issue with, I was a bit terrified of what it would look like.  I asked the barber beforehand if he could use scissors instead of the buzzer and to keep it not too short. He smiled, nodded, assured me that he’d do whatever I wanted, and proceeded to pull out the largest buzzer he possessed (he tried using 2 smaller ones but my hair requires, as they say, the big guns) and cut it shorter than it’s ever been.  Since I’m the most dramatic person alive, I actually had to fight back a tear as my hair was being evisceratedcut.

Cut Right? More like Cut Fright

Afterwards the kids expressed dismay over not having as much hair to yank off, but about 20 other people told me that it looks nice.  Leave it to me to assume that they’re just all being kind and secretly think I look worse than I did before. Just as I was starting to accept that maybe it doesn’t look so bad, my aunt tells me on Skype today that it’s the worst haircut she’s ever seen.

On Friday I made the more-difficult-than-necessary decision to only stay at the orphanage for a few hours in the morning so I could go to the beach in the afternoon. The fact that I had to debate whether to spend my Friday with screaming children or lounging by the water is slightly questionable.  But it was a really great decision.  Once you look past the fact that the water is polluted with garbage (“Those aren’t plastic bags! It’s seaweed!”), it’s a really beautiful beach.  Looking back, I can’t believe that I willingly swam in that water, and if this were a beach in America it would probably be condemned, but the weather was perfect, the people were great, the beer was nasty alright, and there were horses to ride!

Me actively exploiting a probably abused horse. Look closely, and you might be able to see some trash in the ocean!

For $2.50 I decided it was too great a deal to pass up.  Afterwards, as I looked into the miserable, bloodshot eyes of the sunburned horse, I hated myself more than ever for exploiting him like that.  Sorry, little guy!

Yesterday all of us attended the Ghana vs. Malawi football game. It was some kind of qualifier for the Africa Cup of Nations. Or something like that. Anyway, it was extremely entertaining, with all the added benefits of being in the “VIP” section. Here is what I and the other “VIPs” got to enjoy during Ghana’s 2-0 victory:

Not sure what the purpose of this was, and not sure how the police didn’t do anything to stop this from happening. Seems a bit hazardous.

Not sure what these people are.

After a long week, it was nice to spend today (Sunday) relaxing and doing some reading for class.  As I write this I’m watching the US Open finals where Serena Williams will (hopefully) defeat Victoria Azarenka, the b&%^* who beat Maria Sharapova in the Semis.  While I know Maria would have had her wig snatched in an even more embarrassing fashion, I’ll just choose to not dwell on that.

And what better way to cap off a wonderful weekend than to have a grilled cheese sandwich!

Possibly the greatest thing to enter my mouth since I’ve been here

Thank you all for reading, and have a wonderful week! Happy birthday mom! ❤

My best friend sent me this video, and I hope you feel the same uncomfortable mix of awe and self-loathing for not despising a song performed by Miley Cyrus.

No, That’s a Dog. Not a Baboon.

It only took a month, but professors finally decided they felt like showing up and teaching! Well…not all of them. I haven’t actually seen the professor for Colonial Rule and African Response, and based off this week’s “lesson” I really hope he makes an appearance sometime soon. The Teaching Assistant started off with the monumentally deep, thought-provoking question “What is history?” Seriously, buddy. You need to come up with a better way to take attendance than spending 30 minutes having us write down and discuss our personal definitions of history. He spent the remaining 90 minutes attempting to convince the class that Africa does indeed possess a history. Nobody Some people seemed to think otherwise. Along the way, he took the time to spell out “hieroglyphics” on the board. So considerate! As if there weren’t enough literacy issues in Africa, now there will be people walking around spelling that word as “hirogliphics.” Good work! At one point one bewildered girl behind me uttered “What is he talking about?” That about sums up everybody’s experience.

Anyway. That concludes my weekly class rant.

I spent another 14 hours at the orphanage this week. Just in case I didn’t make my feelings clear about working there, it really is the GREATEST.  Tuesday afternoon was spent pushing the kids on swings, receiving multiple hugs, and watching Agent Cody Banks.  At the time that movie came out in 2003, my 11/12 year old self thought it was just the coolest film ever, starring the coolest people ever: Lizzie McGuire and the boy from Big Fat Liar (or to most people the boy from Malcolm in the Middle). Now Hilary Duff is married with a child and Frankie Muniz is…(pause for a Wikipedia search) a racecar driver?! His last movie is entitled Pizza Man so a career change was probably a wise decision. Needless to say, I felt extremely old and silly for enjoying that movie after watching it again this week. And Hilary Duff looks the same as she did when she was 15. I can relate.

it’s basically either this or the trampoline. This is at least less exhausting for me.

On Thursday I met my internship “supervisor” (in quotes because she’s basically my age) and the woman who owns Beacon House.  As an intern, I’m supposed to have a long-term goal/project that will leave a “lasting” impact on the lives of the children and myself. I’m not really creative and possess virtually zero skills, so this is something that isn’t extremely appealing to me. Just making the kids smile and laugh and helping out in the classroom is more than enough to leave me feeling like the experience is worthwhile. I don’t need some grand project to make me feel like I’m making a difference.

They have some weird obsession with sprawling themselves across my legs.

I came up with the idea of a “Beacon House Olympics” since it could involve everyone and there can be educational (but mostly fun) events, crafts for uniform/medal making and cool prizes, but there wasn’t much enthusiasm displayed towards this plan. Whatever. I tried. I just wanna play.

I learned what happens when I allow 10/11 year olds to play with my camera. 50 random but adorable pictures and a 13 minute video later, I think I learned my lesson. The lesson? That giving them the camera increases my chances of having really cute pictures to show you guys and continuing to risk monetary damage is the only possible way. You’re welcome!

The kids were fascinated by my pictures on my phone of my dog. They thought he was a baboon.

Baboon? Nope! Just Milo.

A couple more highlights from the orphanage this week:

  • I was yelled at for the first time in years on Thursday for leaving toys outside. Apparently a jump-rope left unattended will result in children choking each other with it. Look, lady. Don’t you know who I am?! I don’t get in trouble. Ever. I’m the kid who never missed a day of high school, was never late to class, never got detention and feared doing anything that would result in a scolding. I don’t break rules! The last time I was yelled at was the first day of 11th grade for eating lunch in class. I almost peed my pants during that confrontation, so you can imagine how I felt during this reprimanding.
  • I am way over my head when it comes to teaching. I really don’t know how what I’m doing. I’m trying to get the kids to add with their fingers instead of using counters and it’s just not working out too well. But I brought in stickers that my friend gave me and their motivating effect seemed to help. Who doesn’t love getting stickers that say “Muy Bien!” after completing monumental math equations like 14+8?
  • There is no greater tragedy than the popping of a toddler’s balloon. I held a boy as he bawled his eyes out over this devastating occurrence.
  • I was praised for my patience by one of the House “Mothers” after she witnessed me with one of the babies.  She was surprised that I had no younger sibling.  That was so nice!

This weekend was spent in the Ashanti Region and its capital city, Kumasi.  After our 5+ hour trip into central Ghana we arrived at our first destination, a traditional Ashanti house.  This current UN World Heritage Site is one of the few of its kind remaining after the British came and destroyed everything in the late 19thcentury, probably just for shiggles.

Traditional Asante house

Our next stop was Bonwire Kente Village to learn about kente weaving and to potentially buy some cloth. I don’t really know how to go about explaining this experience, except that it was one of the worst ones ever.

Really wanted to buy the “Obama Cloth”, but was too busy fending off aggressive salesmen to have a chance to look at them.

Seriously, Ghanaians need to learn some salesman techniques. We couldn’t look at anything without being bombarded by multiple men, literally grabbing our arms to show us products for sale. The words “I’m not interested” didn’t really register with them.  Look. I like to think of myself as a really calm person and I put in a lot of effort to maintain my composed demeanor.  For example, whereas in my head I was screeching “I don’t want your fu#$%@* sh$@!!!” outwardly I just smiled and repeatedly said “No thank you”. The New Yorker in me made a rare appearance towards the end when a man followed me outside and literally threw some cloth at me into the bus. I opened the window and threw it back at him, and when he tried opening the door I slammed it shut more or less on his arm. That’s right. Don’t mess with this!

Another highlight of the trip was having the privilege to participate in a music/dance workshop led by one of Ghana’s music legends, Agya Koo Nima, who specializes in Palmwine music. I’ve done more dancing this past month in Ghana than I have in all my 20 years, and by some miracle I maintained control of my bodily functions during this ordeal. At least during my first dance workshop everybody was doing it at once. This time there was an audience of respected individuals. Please, Ghana. I didn’t sign up for the dance class for a reason. Leave me alone!

In all seriousness, the drumming and dancing we got to witness was truly amazing and beautiful, and is one of my favorite parts of the trip so far.

I would upload a video if it didn’t take hours. Instead, an action shot of the performance!

Other Ashanti/Kumasi highlights:

  • We stopped at Ntonso Andikra Village to learn about Andikra symbols/their meanings that are used as stamps/designs on buildings and clothing. I bought the stamp that means inner strength and humility (two of my favorite traits), and if I ever get a tattoo, maybe it’ll be of this symbol. Sorry, mom!

    The symbols! The one I love is on the front row, second from the right.

  • Manhyia Palace was a really cool pit-stop.  We toured the Palace Museum that contained life-sized effigies of past and present Ashanti Kings and their Queen Mothers. Just a tad creepy.
  • We visited Kejetia Market, West Africa’s largest open-air market. Good lord. I’m not a fan of large crowds and chaos, and this market had all of that plus the bonus of some pretty putrid delightful odors. Other highlights included seeing goat heads and live chickens being placed into plastic bags. I think I’ll be alright if I don’t visit that place again.
  • By virtue of my lack of male friends here I had my own room at the hotel we stayed at. See? I knew my social failures would start paying off if only I failed just enough times!

Wow, I really can’t believe that I’ve been here exactly one month already. I’m slightly surprised that nothing has gone too horribly wrong yet. However, the food situation is getting a bit concerning.  I can’t handle rice and egg sandwiches anymore, and if that starts happening with chicken, plantains, noodles and pineapple my diet will consist of…nothing. Damn it, I just want some Dunkin’ Donuts and real pizza. And bagels. And burgers that don’t look like this:

If a restaurant in America attempted to pass this off as a burger, there would be riots. RIOTS.

Alright. You get the picture. Thank you all for continuing to read this, and especially to those who have complimented my writing! I don’t really see what’s so great about it, but we all know about my non-existent confidence/self-esteem levels. Have a wonderful week!