Adam’s Weak: Weeks 3 and 4

Weeks 3 and 4: June 10-June 23

I would say that during my third week, there was finally some semblance of a routine in place. Our evening class was finally up and running, and we seemed to have some idea of what we were doing in each of our 3 classes throughout the day. Here’s a breakdown of how a typical day went during the week:

      • 7:00 AM: Wake up
      • 7:30: Breakfast, consisting of tea and disgustingly large slabs of sugar bread. If you’re lucky, the bread is actually bitable/won’t harm your teeth.
      • 8:00: Leave for Bosco, arriving by 8:45ish
      • 9:00: Spoken English class with the girls
      • 10:30: English class with the boys
      • 11:30: Back home for lunch/Second shower of the day/Lesson planning/relaxation
      • 4:30ish: Back to Bosco (would start leaving earlier)
      • 6:30: Evening grammar class
      • 7:30: Home/Dinner/Third shower of the day

8:30-9:00ish: Sleep

Breakfast. Every day.

Breakfast. Every day.

So really that 11:30-4:30 time-slot during the week is the only time outside of the weekend that we occasionally did something worth noting. The word “worth” may be a bit of a stretch, but for a town whose post office is the main place of interest, anything extra is exciting. Really all that’s around is this local pool/restaurant, and we took this week to treat ourselves by consuming something that wasn’t rice and to drink something that wasn’t tea. As an added bonus, there’s the occasional feral cat and decrepit puppy around just begging for me to cuddle with/get scratched by. This week really began my issue of having to pick up literally every cute thing that came in my path, no matter how unfortunate it looked or how many worms it may be infested with. Take, for example, this kitten:

Cute! And look at Herma!

Cute! And look at Herma!

In the middle of the week Hannah and I traveled to Colombo to purchase train tickets for our upcoming weekend trip to Kandy, just so we could finalize what time the trains leave and to make sure we don’t end up in third class where the chickens are supposedly kept.  So we arrived after probably 90 minutes of traveling just to learn that you apparently can’t reserve second class seats ahead of time, and we weren’t about to shell out $2.50ish for first class seats (so many rupees). This trip could almost be added to my list of times over the past year that time was wasted or travel plans imploded, but at least we got to meet up with a few friends for a nice afternoon wandering Colombo.

The Pettah

The Pettah

We visited the Pettah, Colombo’s main market, described as a “chaotic bazaar” which is “slow and rather exhausting” to traverse. Look, travel guide. I wandered through the largest open market in West Africa, so I know a thing or two about “chaotic” and “exhausting,” and I think you might need to consider dialing down the hyperbole. The Pettah is basically just a smellier, filthier NYC China Town, and without the fabulous dumplings.  The streets were a bit narrow and getting lost is almost guaranteed, but at least I didn’t encounter any slaughters. It did rain, however, and by then I really should’ve known to carry an umbrella on me at all times on this island. Luckily we entered a store selling the most appropriate umbrellas imaginable for me:

So unprepared for Sri Lankan weather

So unprepared for Sri Lankan weather

This umbrealla

This umbrella

Also, Hannah and I went to Pizza Hut for the second time that week. The halfway slump is real, people.  My lowest point was really yet to come.

It was on this day that I had to say goodbye to Charlotte, the beautifully-accented girl from Manchester. She loved the way I pronounced her name (Shar-lit vs. (Sha-lit), and I loved the way “book” and “buck” sounded exactly the same when coming out of her mouth. But really, Charlotte’s wonderful.

Over at Bosco Sevena, we reached our peak with our morning class with the girls, covering topics that were actually potentially interesting for me as someone interested in development and public health. We discussed the environment and social issues, hoping it would evolve into a discussion on what they believe Sri Lanka’s main issues are today.  I brought up gay rights and university costs as issues in America, and they basically looked at me like I was making less sense than usual. They offered up unemployment and self-reliance (the latter intrigued me), and then rambled about drug and sex trafficking. I attempted to get them to discuss women’s rights, but they brushed that off and basically said there aren’t really any gender disparities worth mentioning. Well…I obviously wasn’t going to say it, but two of them are getting married soon and plan on quitting their jobs to become housewives (a pretty standard practice), so…I’d say that’s a bit of an issue worth examining. But this was English class, so just getting them to speak for extended periods of time about anything was deemed a success.

With the boys, this week we had two new additions to our class; I thought they were going to be there every day after, but apparently they were only there in the first place because they didn’t have the proper shoes required by the regular schools. Seems like a pretty reasonable punishment. The boys:

Udayakamara: Co-cricket champion with Chamindu and one of my favorite kids. He constantly attempted to get me to flex my “muscles” for him, and no matter how many times I tried explaining that there was nothing there to see, he kept on grabbing my arm and squeezing the flab.DSCN3560

Sasara: I was always skeptical growing up when teachers would say they didn’t have any favorites in the class, because if this kid is any indication, having a favorite is really inevitable. No matter where I end up working, if it’s with kids, there’s always one that I get too attached to. It was Prince in Ghana, and it was Sasara here. Maybe it’s self-destructive or I’m sabotaging myself by letting myself get so close when it’s just temporary, but I don’t know. I think it would be worse, not letting myself feel what I want to feel, you know? Yes, saying goodbye is the most painful thing anyone can do, but that shouldn’t be an excuse to just avoid letting connections form. I think if I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that. Anyway, miss ya, mango friend.

<3

This week we attempted to give lessons on food and clothing, and since variety is not the first word one would use to describe Sri Lankan cuisine, food was a bit of an issue. Really, it’s just rice, beef, chicken, pork, fish, onion, pepper. And food may have been an issue, but clothing was basically a catastrophe. We learned pretty quickly what happens when someone from Germany, America, and England attempts to teach words to Sinhala-speaking Sri Lankans whose grasp on the English language is infinitesimal.  Take, for example, pants. You know, those long, things you wear in the winter or for a nice dinner. For Hannah, they’re trousers, which, you know, is fine and all. But pants for me is underwear for her, tank tops for her are vests for me. And Oliver. Poor, poor Oliver. Look, man, you’re a really smart guy, and I’m sure you’re highly regarded in your field of expertise. But honey, you are NOT about to try getting these kids to think that the word for hat is “zelinda.” Sorry for completely obliterating that spelling, but seriously?? You do not get to express surprise when Hannah and I have never heard that word used before, and let’s be real. Between the three of us, it’s probably a bit more likely that Hannah and I would have a firmer grasp on appropriate English words than you. And don’t get me started on “chucks” and “gearbag.” (gearsack?) We did the best we could, and we Hannah had to incorporate her artistic talents often, but I think we managed to make some kind of progress. Getting them to draw out and write down each article of clothing might have been useful, but getting them to remember how to spell these words the next day was always impossible.

Notice Rauhl's injured foot. My fault.

Notice Rauhl’s injured foot. My fault.

But really, more noteworthy than classroom struggles was my first encounter with cricket, a sport that never ceased to confuse me and whose entertainment value I still find questionable.   Throw in the fact that these kids never followed the proper rules (as if I know what the proper rules are), and it was always just a mess. I was absolutely dreadful in the beginning, not knowing how to swing those weird paddle bats at all. I would end up swinging them tennis-style, and in those early attempts I always ended up just hitting those stick things that the pitcher is attempting to throw at. Needless to say, the kids were not pleased with me. Oh, and sometimes the ball was hit far into a coconut tree. This was never a problem for these psychos:

One of the many times the ball ended up in the coconut tree

One of the many times the ball ended up in the coconut tree

Over at the evening class, Hannah and I began the difficult task of actually, you know, teaching grammar.  We spent this week largely going over articles (the, a, an, some), explaining the differences and going over the rules and when they should be used. I’d give further details, but I don’t think I even remember the specific rules a month later. The fact that, growing up, we weren’t taught these rules ourselves and were just expected to instinctually know them, is probably concerning. We felt silly having to use the internet to look up how to explain something we should just know by now, but we didn’t have a choice. Hardest of all was explaining to them that sometimes an article isn’t used (I like pizza vs. I like the pizza). It was a struggle, we really needed a Teaching English Grammar for Dummies book, but little by little we started to see some results. It was a lot of work, there was a lot of frustration, but this is the class I really felt like an impact could be made. Even though we had no idea what we were doing, this belief pushed us to do the best that we could to organize exercises, to put in the extra time to grade papers and provide explanations. I wouldn’t say that the morning class with the young boys was neglected, but that there was a real understanding that this class was where we could really make our time at Bosco worth it.

At the end of the week, the three of us led a beach cleanup at Bosco. The amount of trash that littered the beach there wasn’t too monumental (I’ve definitely seen worse), and much of it was just branches and other natural debris that was a bit of an eyesore. Naturally, the kids focused a majority of their attention on these branches and not the actual, potentially hazardous, garbage. But hey, everyone had a good time, ridiculous pictures were taken, and an actual difference was seen by the end of the day.

Cute!

Cute!

Jude was being extra productive

Jude was being extra productive

Adorable!

Adorable!

Jude's picture of Hannah

Jude’s picture of Hannah

Hannah's picture of Jude

Hannah’s picture of Jude

LOVE

LOVE

Oh, and Hannah got wet.

Womp.

Womp.

This beach cleanup occurred on a Thursday, and we spent around 11 hours at Bosco that day, giving us a glimpse of a what a full day is like there for these kids. Thursdays became my favorite day there when we found out that the boys have their traditional Kandyan dance class in the afternoon. Impressive wouldn’t be an appropriate enough word to describe how musically talented seemingly everyone there is. It was a really special moment being able to watch them for a while.

We left that Friday morning for our trip to Kandy, Sri Lanka’s last remaining independent kingdom before it fell to the British in 1815, and the region I looked forward to visiting more than any other. There were a few new people traveling with us: Kym from Scotland (lovely), Lena from Germany (also lovely), and Basma from Egypt/London (…). The trip from Colombo to Kandy was probably the most memorable, being my first train ride in Sri Lanka and all the ridiculousness that trains there involve. Our expectations were low, so not having a seat wasn’t unexpected.

Not sure whose hands these are

Not sure whose hands these are

We ended up spending a majority of the trip huddled on the floor, but I didn’t want to sit for long as we went further inland and the landscape began to change. Our surroundings became more and more beautiful as our elevation increased, slowly rising along steep green hills which sprang up the closer we got. I spent a lot of time standing right by the open train doors, taking in the breathtakingly perilous-looking mountainsides we were riding along. Was it the safest idea? Probably not. But man, it was definitely one of my favorite moments of my 6 weeks there.

After settling into our hotel and having lunch (and cherishing the cool climate we were finally in), our driver for the weekend, Diisa (so much more on him later), took us around the city and showed us basically everything there is to see there. We were taken first high up to a viewpoint, allowing us a glimpse of how truly beautiful this city is, its central lake surrounded by beautiful, European-esque buildings; I really couldn’t believe how different everything looked and felt there.

Kandy from above

Kandy from above

We were taken to this massive mall (lame) before attending a Kandyan dance and drumming show, one of the few tourist traps we visited that weekend. I generally feel weary about entertainment when traveling that’s catered mainly to white people, but I brushed aside those ridiculous thoughts and allowed myself to be blown away by the performances. Kandyan dance is intensely acrobatic, featuring “flamboyantly attired” men leaping, backflipping and twirling around at speeds I would never fathom to be possible. We were all left in awe at the end, really.RSCN3596

whatever the heck this is

whatever the heck this is

Our final stop that night was the Temple of the Tooth, Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist shrine, containing the “legendary” Buddha’s Tooth since the 16th century. This Tooth was supposedly taken after the Buddha was cremated in 543 BC, and has since surpassed its original religious significance to represent Sri Lankan sovereignty. Anyway, we were all really excited to see this tooth, even though I was forced to wear a pink bedsheet sarong and endure the laughter of large numbers of children (again).

Hawt

Hawt

We paid our hundreds of rupees to enter the Temple, quickly finding the line to enter the shrine and visit the tooth. After about 50 minutes of standing in a claustrophobic entranceway, the doors finally opened and we began pushing our way through the eager crowd. But wait! Turns out that since we’re white, we’re only allowed a one second glimpse of the shrine from a faraway distance. So really, this was all just a complete waste of time and money, and I we left saying some not so kind words to the Buddha.

Where we waited in vain to see the Tooth

Where we waited in vain to see the Tooth

We woke up early the next morning to visit our most anticipated pitstop of the weekend, Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage, home to over 100 elephants of all ages, apparently the world’s largest group of captive elephants. I had read about Pinnewala in the days leading up to the trip, and I was more than a little apprehensive after discovering all the criticisms and animal rights’ concerns that people have after visiting. There is little that I despise more than animal cruelty, so reading about these elephants being chained, being abused during training, and often being sold for private ownership left me feeling more anxiety than excitement.

DSCN3640I don’t know if I was the only one feeling this major internal struggle once we entered the orphanage, but seeing what I just described in person was heartbreaking. Yes, there is little that’s more amazing than seeing elephants so close in person, and yes, I did pet those baby elephants who were chained (it’s impossible not to. They’re just too cute to be real), but really…it was hard. All I could think about was that I was contributing to their exploitation, and I honestly would recommend people to avoid visiting Pinnewala when visiting Sri Lanka. It’ll probably be difficult to resist, and at this point I have no right to criticize those who can’t, but it’s my advice nonetheless.

LOOK HOW CUTE

LOOK HOW CUTE

whatever's happening here

whatever’s happening here

Amazing, really

Amazing, really

Play time?

Play time?

The entry fee to Pinnewala included a “free tour” of an Ayurveda spice and herbal clinic, Sri Lanka’s system of traditional healthcare. I knew pretty much immediately, and especially after we were served this fabulous cinnamon tea, that we’d be spending all our rupees there.  Right after the tea was thrown at us, we were treated to a demonstration of their best-selling product, the herbal hair removing cream.

Effective.

Effective.

In order to entice the 7 or so ladies I was traveling with, the guide decided to demonstrate the power of that cream on one lucky individual. Naturally I was that lucky individual, and of course I didn’t protest being the guinea pig. Everyone crowded around as the cream was applied to a small area on my right leg, and after 5 minutes, gasps of shock and awe filled the air as the hair was completely wiped away. According to the man, if you apply that cream 3 times within a week (or something along those lines), the hair will not grow back for 30 years. I was just a little skeptical and should’ve requested a money back guarantee, but I can say that the one dose of the cream left my skin silky smooth for weeks. And the guide made a point of emphasizing that the cream was NOT just for ladies, using hand gestures and all to indicate where boys like to use it. THANKS FOR THE TIP.

We all bought some.

The scalp massage

The scalp massage

I and a few of the others were sporting a bit of a cold that weekend, and of course this clinic had just the right remedy for that. We were introduced to Green oil, used to treat migraines, sinusitis, and apparently hangovers. Other employees sprang out and treated us to more demonstrations of the powers of Ayurveda, leading to a ridiculous scalp massage as the oil was applied. I’m not sure who I’m gonna find to massage my head at home, but I’ll be damned, the stuff WORKS. We were ALL cured. Nobody needed further convincing of the wonders of this herbal center, and within the next 20 minutes we cleaned the place out of all its hair removal cream and sinus oil. The clerk failed in convincing me to purchase Kamayogi Bon-Bon, used to treat pre-ejaculation and “other sexual disabilities.” SORRY.

At this point, we were all ready to head on over to Dalhousie, the site where we’d be commencing our trek up to Adam’s Peak. It was about 3 hours away from Kandy, a ride that allowed us to take in more of the stunning scenery of the region and a chance to get to know Diisa, our driver, a bit better. He asked me roughly 5 times over those two days if I had a girlfriend, and no matter how many times I told him no he just kept on drilling me about it. I believe he asked me why, at 21, I was still single, and obviously I wasn’t about to get into this topic with him. I did, however, ask him why he was expressing surprise when he himself is a 26 year old Sri Lankan bachelor, a far more scandalous situation to be in. Yes, there was sass, but I only dish that out to people I like, and it was hard not to love this ridiculous man. At one point I told him to get himself a dog since he’s all alone, leading to a discussion of the state of Sri Lanka’s stray dog situation. He basically said “I don’t need a dog since I can see one whenever I want to on the streets”. So for the next 3 hours, he would point out virtually every rabid dog we came across (many) and say, “Look! A dog! See?”

It was around 7:00 when we finally arrived at our guesthouse, and surprise! No power! It was also raining, a clear sign that this was going to likely be an apocalyptic 12 hours. I convinced Diisa to stay at the guesthouse with us and to join us for our creepy candlelit dinner. Getting that man to do anything with us was impossible up to that point; he would just awkwardly stand alone on the side or wander looking like a sad pup. It didn’t take long for me to question this decision when he brought out his personal collection of arrack, some whisky/rum-type beverage made from coconut, basically the equivalent of Ghana’s akpeteshie (poison). By this point it was close to 8:00, and we planned to wake up at 12:30 AM to start our hike up the mountain. So really, Diisa, I don’t know why you were confused when most of us were not interested in taking shots with you all night. Yes, I and a few of the others had one, mostly because thinking about the next few hours was starting to make me feel ill with dread. And then I had 2 more. The psycho was actually disappointed in me for not agreeing to drink his second complete bottle, “just the two of us.” Sorry, buddy. I would like to actually make it up that mountain in the morning, while you get to sleep all day. See ya.

Now for a little background about Adam’s Peak. I went without looking at any pictures or reading anything about it in the guidebook because I was worried I would just run away scared, so I didn’t know much of this information until afterwards. I knew that it was one of Sri Lanka’s most significant places of pilgrimage for the past 1000 years, and that the depression at the summit is said to be the footprint of Buddha or of Adam after he was cast from heaven onto Earth.

It is recommended to climb Adam’s Peak at night, giving yourself at least 4 hours to reach the summit in time for sunrise, free from cloud obstruction. It’s also advised to go during pilgrimage season between December and May when the path is illuminated and there are teashops open whenever you need a break. Unfortunately, we were there in the middle of June, which meant we were going to be climbing in the dark and with far less people. It was time for me to break out my headtorch. The hike is 7km up a footpath of 5500 steps, which would likely, according to my guidebook, reduce us to “quivering wrecks.” But hey, I survived that 11 mile bike-ride in Ghana through sand in the middle of the afternoon, so I figured any other physical test would be comparably easy. And they were just steps! Not even real mountain climbing!

When our alarms went off at 12:30, I immediately noticed the sound of heavy rain pounding the roof. I’m pretty sure we all uttered a collective “Fuck”, and I knew right away that this was going to be one of the most unfortunate mornings of my life. We had no guide, there was nobody else climbing at that hour, it was so cold, so dark, so rainy. There was one small moment when I reconsidered the intelligence of climbing in these conditions, but nevertheless, by 1:00AM we were on our way.

To our surprise we were followed by about 3 random dogs who managed to climb the entire way with us. There were a few times when those dogs provided a much-needed morale boost, and I may or may not have shed a tear or two into some wet fur. The one benefit of the rain was that it allowed some tears to be safely released when necessary (thankfully it wasn’t really).

Saying that the climb was a struggle would be a massive understatement. In calm conditions those stairs would have been treacherous, but adding in the wind and cold and rain pelting us throughout the entire ordeal left us all complete messes. We got lost a couple times early on as the path was not well-defined, and one us basically hyperventilated and couldn’t control her breathing. We had no idea what we would’ve done if things got worse for her because there was nowhere for us to take her, and cell reception was non-existent. We slowed down the pace to avoid any health catastrophe, and were starting to worry we might be going too slow and miss the sunrise. More than anything else, I’m proud of myself for not falling (a real accomplishment).

Somewhere towards the middle of our climb, I looked down at my leg and noticed I was bleeding. That’s weird, I thought. I definitely hadn’t injured myself, and I didn’t feel any pain. The rain washed away the blood pretty quickly, and I continued my climb with a little extra caution. A few minutes later, I looked down at my leg again and saw to my/others’ horror that there was a leech attached to me. MY LIFE. I flicked that little douche off me, scolding myself for not covering my legs during this climb through a wet, leech-friendly environment. Whoops!

The climb was really becoming a problem towards the end, as some of the steps were so steep that you had to literally pull yourself up them on your hands and knees. Thankfully there were rails towards the summit, allowing me to hoist myself up. Throughout it all, the rain and wind didn’t really let up, and we began to realize that our chances of seeing the sunrise were diminishing. We really couldn’t believe it when we stumbled upon the summit just 3.5 hours after we started walking, convinced that all our breaks had jeopardized our chances of reaching the top on time.

Unsurprisingly there was nobody else around when we reached the top, and the gate you pass to be able to wander the summit was closed. And it was still raining. Just as we were ready to wallow on the ground in self-pity, we noticed someone peeking out through a tiny home at the mountain’s peek. We virtually demanded that we be allowed in, immediately feeling bad when we noticed that there were people sleeping inside that small room. We were so cold and wet and exhausted that desperation overpowered any feelings of guilt we may have had, and we proceeded to sit shoulder to shoulder on two of the beds, sharing cookies and basking in the warmth of a single candle as tea was being prepared for us. It turns out these were policemen living up there, and I don’t think I and the others had felt that thankful in a long time. Unfortunately they confirmed our fears that seeing the sunrise that day would be impossible, so by around 5:00 we sulked out of the house with our tail between our legs, beginning our climb back down. We all felt pretty sorry for ourselves at that point, but eventually we came to the conclusion that we really had achieved something special, something many would probably not be willing to do in the same conditions. I pushed myself further than I’ve been physically pushed in a long time, and none of us sustained any injury! I think that’s pretty damn commendable.

We really believed that it would take far less time to make it back to the bottom of Adam’s Peak, but my buckling knees and throbbing thighs made it clear pretty early on that this would likely not be the case. Within 20 minutes, half the group was out of sight ahead of me, leaving me and two others hobbling at a snail’s pace down those slippery steps. Thankfully it was becoming light out, allowing us our first real glimpse of where we were and what the climb really looked like.

Beautiful

Beautiful. Too bad leeches were probably inside my shoe in this picture.

We noticed things we had no idea were there as we climbed up in the dark, like all the mesmerizing waterfalls that littered the surrounding land. We decided to take advantage of our slow pace by taking in these views, stopping often and just appreciating where we were. It somehow took about 3 hours for us to make it back, more than an hour after the others who were already huddled around the breakfast room covered in blankets, looking like refugees/Titanic survivors. It truly was one of the most exhausting experiences of my life, but hey! I made it! I took off my hiking shoes, saying goodbye to shoes that had gotten me through all my travels these past 4 years. Turns out those shoes had the last laugh, as I looked down at my feet a few minutes later only to discover that they were bleeding. Guess I had leeches in there for hours! HAHAHA. Again, my life.

The aftermath

The aftermath

Early on during our drive back to the train station in Kandy, Diisa noticed my bleeding foot. He pulled over, examined my foot, and determined that there were apparently leech teeth imbedded in me. He plucked some leaves growing out of a plant by the road, pulled the teeth out of my ankle by hand, and used the leaves as a makeshift band-aid. I had already planned on throwing him so many rupees as a tip, but he earned a bonus with that move. He was easily my favorite non-child Sri Lankan I met.

The pain I felt in my legs when waking up for work the next morning was unprecedented, really. Hannah and I were basically immobilized, but we took solace in realizing that at least we had excuses to not have to play football or cricket with the kids that day. Unfortunately we couldn’t use our broken bodies as excuses with the morning class with the girls, and it became really apparent during this 4th week that we had reached the point of having zero more ideas of topics to discuss with them. I learned about some of the girls’ hobbies, learning to my dismay that my favorite in the class likes Twlight; overcoming that fault was a real struggle for me. It was this week that we stooped to our lowest points of desperation by asking what they’d save from their burning homes and what they’d want with them if they were stranded on an island. Their answers? Cell-phones. Thankfully they finally took pity on us and offered to switch things up, and from the end of the week onward the class was largely spent reading short stories and discussing words they had never heard before. Guess it takes actual teachers to know what kind of lessons should be conducted, I suppose.

We began our week with the boys pretty painfully; we were in no condition for proper lessons, so we spent a majority of the time playing Hang Man. We figured this would be a nice, simple thing to do to practice some of the animals and foods we had been going over the week before. Instead, it turned into 30 of the most painful minutes of my life. Seriously, boys, King Kong is NOT an animal. And really, Anton, if I heard you guess “Q” one more time I think I would have cried. That letter should NEVER be your first guess in Hang Man/anything in life. What really did me in/convinced me that this was the biggest mistake of my 4 weeks at Bosco was how impossible it was for the boys to guess the correct letter to complete this word: DU__K. REALLY??? I could understand if we hadn’t been going over that animal for days, but good God. So never again did we play that game.  The rest of the week we spent going over clothing again; this time I created word searches and word scrambles. Yeah, probably a bit of an easy option, but those kids needed a lot of work on concentration and I think word searches are extremely effective in that regard. And I also love them. I accidentally included diagonal words in one of the puzzles, a bit beyond their capabilities, which was disastrous. But at least it left little time available for football, and less sweat=happy Matthew.

I started spending more and more time at Bosco this week, leaving right after lunch/second shower to spend more time with the kids before our evening class. One afternoon that week I entered the grounds and immediately noticed a strong odor permeating the entranceway. I decided to investigate, and to my horror I saw a couple boys covered in (hopefully) mud climbing down into the sewage area by the bathroom and scooping out what I really hope was not poop. I got closer up and heard some singing coming from down there, peered down into the smelly hole and found Sasara drawing pictures in the mud/poo, happier than I’ve ever seen him. It was honestly one of the most disturbing/comical things I’ve ever witnessed.

SO happy down there

SO happy down there

I can’t believe these kids are forced to go down there and do the poop cleaning, but at least they didn’t seem to agree about how unfortunate that situation was. I felt really bad and decided to help Sasara carry the buckets out of the hole, resulting in me getting splattered a bit by whatever it is they were removing. This is just one of too many encounters with human waste this year; it’s the price of working with kids, I suppose.

I can't even

I can’t even

Another afternoon we were lucky enough to be able to attend Mass with the boys at the Bosco church. I like that I have only attended church outside America, and intend to keep it that way. The boys were super cute, as expected, especially Chamindu when he was dressed up in this ridiculous robe and led the procession.

Actually a little creepy

Actually a little creepy

This sunset

This sunset

We were making steady progress with the evening class; they seemed to finally understand the appropriate usage of articles and when not to use them. We decided to move on to other topics this week, quickly going over pronouns which they largely knew, thankfully, as well as question words. Which vs. What was a bit of a challenge, as was How vs. Why. Trying to teach the differences between and usages of verbs ending in “-ing” vs. “-ed” was equally difficult, but as always, we did the best we could. Hannah and I decided that we were going to give them an exam the following week, and you can imagine how excited they were by that prospect.

That Friday morning all the volunteers gathered at a tsunami camp to help paint the walls of a school, the monthly Projects Abroad “social.” I don’t know, I’ve had socials during my other trips with Projects Abroad, and those were basically excuses for everyone to go out once a week and spend a night drinking and having fun. But I suppose some community service is alright too. Unfortunately, the location was the furthest away for us, forcing the three of us to leave the house at 4:30 AM to catch a 3 hour train from Negombo to Panadura. The thought of traveling a few hours south when after we finished the social we would be traveling a few hours back north for our weekend trip left me feeling a bit displeased, but it is what it is.

The 10 or so of us gathered at the location eager to get this finished as soon as possible. The last time I painted was during a similar group community service activity in Ghana, so I felt like I was a wall-painting expert at that point. This was proven to be a little far from the truth when within about 2 minutes of painting my wall I splattered a girl in the face; I would’ve felt a little worse if this was Hannah or Bev, but…let’s just say I didn’t let myself feel too bad about that unfortunate event. Luckily I managed to further incidents and after two hours of painting, I’d say my yellow wall was about as close to a masterpiece anything can reach.

My wall!

My wall!

Not sure why I'm not looking into the camera here

Not sure why I’m not looking into the camera here

We were finally off to Anuradhapura, just a short 7 hour bus ride away!! This “magical city” makes up the most important part of Sri Lanka’s “Cultural Triangle”, littered with countless monasteries and dagobas that have remained in place for over 1000 years. We were lucky enough to be arriving on poya day, or full moon, an extremely significant day in Buddhism marked by pilgrimages and festivals.

Honestly, we visited so many temples, ruins, and dagobas that they have all since blended together. I’ll do my best to give names to some of the places I saw, with the help of my guidebook, but don’t hold it against me if I end up describing the complete wrong place. I’ll get off to a good start by saying I have no idea what this place is called, just that it had to have some kind of importance since the President’s son flew in via helicopter to visit it while we were wandering around the grounds.

No clue what this place is called.

No clue what this place is called.

Next we visited The Citadel, the royal palace area, featuring moats and walls enclosing the remains of the Royal Palace, which dates to 1070 AD. This area also features the site of the original Temple of the Tooth, the Tooth’s first home when it was brought to the island in 313 AD. Also, there are temple puppies here.

Palace ruins?

Palace ruins?

Temple Pups!

Temple Pups!

Thought this might have been a door. But nope! Ancient toilet!

Thought this might have been a door. But nope! Ancient toilet!

Lankaramaya (maybe), a dagoba built between 89-77 BC.DSCN3731

This restored dagobaDSCN3749

The child monks!

The child monks!

Jetavana dagoba: originally 120m high and the third tallest structure in the world, surpassed only by two pyramids in Egypt. Today it is still the tallest and largest structure made entirely of brick, taking 25 years to build and containing 90 million bricks.

My favorite dagoba

My favorite dagoba

Monkeys on the dagoba!

Monkeys on the dagoba!

Samadhi Buddha: carved from limestone in the 4th century AD, this sculpture shows the Buddha in his meditation pose. Hundreds of people crowded this area to pray.DSCN3783

One of Anuradhapura’s “tanks”, man-made lakes created for irrigation purposes, the first dating all the way back to 20 BC.DSCN3736

Sri Maha Bodhi: Probably the highlight of our weekend, this is the Sacred Bo Tree. This tree was apparently taken from a cutting of the original bo tree in India, under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. The cutting was taken to Sri Lanka, and cuttings from this tree now litter the island and other places of Buddhist significance.DSCN3801

Truth time, this wasn’t really my favorite weekend trip; it was just dagoba after dagoba, ruins after ruins, and clearly I couldn’t be bothered enough to mark down the names of each. Being there during poya was definitely a benefit, as was seeing the bo tree, but in the back of my mind I was already looking ahead to the following week when I’d finally be going to the beach. After 4 weeks of constant running around and work, I guess I just wanted a break. My mental/emotional state was clearly more fragile than I ever imagined, a revelation discovered while dining in Colombo on our way back home. We stopped off at this place called Dutch Hospital, filled with expensive, Western restaurants and shops, just to treat ourselves after a hectic 3 days. A couple people ordered orange juice, and when it arrived on the table I was hit by the dreaded “instant tears.” Tears over orange juice. Really, there isn’t much that’s more pathetic than that. Besides this brief attack of psychosis, that really was the best meal I had while away. Bless Bev for giving me a piece of her feta cheese.

I calmed down enough to drink this

I calmed down enough to drink this

Excerpts from Matthew’s Journal:

  • I dreamed I sat next to Ellen and Portia at a Celine Dion concert. Ellen asked me if I’m Australian because I was so excited to be next to them. I replied with, “No, I just love you” (June 10)
  • “NO. MORE. RICE.” (June 10)
  • “The cat scratched me so I’ll likely perish soon. OH WELL” (June 11)”
  • “We spent over 11 hours at Bosco today. Good Lord. That’s some Beacon House shit.” (June 13)
  • “We went to a tea factory, but I was too tired to give a shit.” (June 15)
  • “Lord have mercy. Want to die.” (June 16, after Adam’s Peak)
  • “My legs. Oh my God. My thighs. Why am I not dead?” (June 17)
  • “How is it that not everyone is taught that Australia isn’t a continent? Wikipedia will provide the truth.” (June 17)
  • “My legs are still paining. Can I just cut them off?” (June 18)
  • “NO. MORE. SPRINGROLLS. PLEASE!!!” (June 18)

    Absolute Hell

    Absolute Hell

  • “NO. MORE. RICE. HELP ME JESUS!” (June 19)
  • “Leave me alone travel, I just want sleep.” (June 20)
  • “And she came with a suitcase. That’s a travel no no, honey.” (June 21)
  • “There’s something not right with that one. Some kind of evil brews inside her.” (June 22)
  • “Bought Herma a little dress. Bitch better like it/not spill rice and curry all over it” (June 22)

Wicky Wacky Woo

As I sit down to write this, I genuinely can’t believe that another week has passed. One would normally associate speedy days with busyness, but I can’t really use that as an excuse here. Maybe I can a little, but still. It’s been 11 weeks already. That’s just ridiculous.

Here are Bossman’s “Gems of the Week”in Sucks That Y’all Were Born in Ghana:

  • “Teachers aren’t professionals.” Uhh…then what are they?
  • “Can the Japanese guarantee that there will be no stones in their rice? Can we (Ghana) guarantee that?”
  • “Do you think Africanization would be better than Westernization? You like the witch camps? Let’s be frank.

On the bright side, he finally decided to discuss some negative aspects of globalization.

Later that Monday night, as I was enjoying my $0.30 dinner of groundnut soup with rice balls at the Night Market, I was joined by Kwame, this seemingly-pleasant Ghanaian man.  Obviously I would have preferred to have been left alone (we know how I feel about most human interaction), but he wasn’t being too bothersome. He asked me how I was liking Ghana, how I feel about Obama/Romney, what my favorite Ghanaian food is, etc. Nothing too out of the ordinary, right? But since this is me, I can’t have normal interactions with anybody strangers. I should have known things were going south when he started talking about how crappy Ghanaian clothes are, and when he asked me what the cost is for a good pair of pants in the US.  I don’t remember exactly what he said, but here’s the gist of it: “I really need an overseas contact. You’re not going home for a few months, which is plenty of time for me to start to trust you.  I hope we can become friends and you’ll buy me pants when you’re back home. What’s your room number?”  I don’t know why I was surprised by how quickly our conversation devolved; I mean, I’m the person whose earphones were nibbled on by a homeless man who didn’t know he was supposed to put them in his ear, and who had newspapers thrown at him by a different homeless man (DC really needs to do something about its homelessness situation).  I don’t know. There’s just something about me that attracts these kinds of exchanges.

I think I need to start wearing one of these pins.

Not much happened on Tuesday besides a Twi test, which I think went well. I also created a potential schedule for next semester (International Economics, French, Psychological Anthropology taught by this beautiful silver fox, French, Cultures of Latin America, and Global Health and Development). What I really want to discuss is Wednesday, the day we got our exam grades back in Colonial Rule/African Response.  Here’s an excerpt from my journal entry that night, when my feelings were still raw (Note the difference in quality of writing. I try to keep things classy on the blog, but my journal lacks these constraints): “FUCK. What the actual fuck? I want to punch whoever graded these, probably my dumbass TA, in the esophagus.” Sure, I got a 15.5/20, which I suppose isn’t so bad, but there are some really intelligent people who got a 10 or 11/20 and that’s just not acceptable. No explanations were given for why an answer was wrong, and if you didn’t write exactly what the professor wanted, you were screwed.  If that’s what you wanted, then you should have made it a multiple choice exam, buddy. For example, one question asked to explain the legacy of colonization’s social impact. I wrote about how the re-drawing of boundaries/splitting up tribes/ethnic groups has led to ongoing ethnic conflict. That was apparently wrong.  Here’s another journal excerpt: “WHAT?! Are you fucking retarded?!” That must be it because the professor also said that slavery has no relevance to the course…entitled Colonial Rule and African Response. Good grief, man. Good freakin grief.

The University of Ghana really needs to get its shit together.

I started the day at Beacon House Thursday morning by reading a story to the kids about mermaids and evil sharks. I don’t really remember the details, probably due to a combination of a lame plot and tiredness.  Next they practiced adding numbers only by 2 to help them memorize answers. Timing them in solving 100 problems seemed to be a really effective method. I don’t remember how I was taught basic adding/subtraction, but since I eviscerated my classmates in timed math drills back in the day, I’m sure similar methods were applied.  Later that morning Zilda “taught” some more French and had the kids draw themselves. Daniel A. decided to draw me instead:

The resemblance is uncanny

In the afternoon, I “helped” blow up some balloons to make into hats for the children.  This is not an easy task for me, as evidenced by this picture from Summer 2011:

Guess which pile is mine?

Thankfully, the kids were really understanding and patient as I pathetically struggled. Wait. No. They were the worst. They all crowded around me shoving balloons in my face that they wanted me to blow up for them. “I want one as my own!!” they repeatedly whined at me.  More reasons for why I shouldn’t become a teacher became clear when all I could think about was saying back to them, “Yeah? Well I want you to shut the fuck up!” (Teachers: Do you have these thoughts/do you hate yourself for having them?).  It’s probably a good thing that I had to leave by 5:30 that day.

Look at this badass

Thursday was a friend’s 21st birthday, and I decided to act like a normal 20 year old and go out and celebrate with her and some other friends. It was also my half-birthday, and since I’m sure my actual birthday won’t be worth talking about, at least I’ll have October 18th to look back on! Our first stop was this Irish pub/restaurant in Osu, the place where all the nice restaurants and clubs are located and therefore a place I never go to. Everything on the menu was horrifyingly expensive by Ghanaian standards, so I settled on a $7.50 burger and basically cried over some beautiful garlic bread.  I felt like I was experiencing one of Survivor’s ridiculous food auctions. The menu had 2 pages of food and about 6 pages of alcohol to choose from. (MOM: I recommend skipping a couple paragraphs lest your image of me/my “purity” be tainted by some alcoholic escapades)

The Wicky Wacky Woo s in the middle

The good thing about being alcohol-illiterate is that I have no aversion yet to any type of booze, so everything looked equally unappealing. I settled on a Wicky Wacky Woo, partly because of the name, and partly because it contained a mixture of a lot of crap (vodka, gin, rum tequila, some juices). It tasted as good as I expected it to, (meaning it wasn’t really good), but there’s more drinking to discuss! I had a shot of B52 (Baileys is involved, whatever that is) before leaving the restaurant, and we were off to the next bar!

Along the way I’m pretty sure some man commented on my “fat ass”, to which I say, Thanks for noticing!! We arrived at the bar and I had a double shot of some poison gin (will always call gin poison). Around this time we were joined by a local man known by people in the group as “Sexy Monkey.” He has a crazy potty mouth, but he is also responsible for providing the group with this giant graduated cylinder-type tube of beer:

The Beer Tower. 3 of those were consumed.

I’m not sure if I was drunk by the end of the night or I was just tired, but by 1:00 AM I was pretty much donzo. Beer is nasty. I’m just happy that I didn’t have the same reaction as Buffy did after consuming a substantial amount of it:

I don’t think I’ve ever been sadder than I was when I woke up at 7:30 that morning. I dragged myself to Beacon House and silently praised God when I saw that there wasn’t any class that day. I spent a lot of that morning laying on the couch trying to not fall asleep.  I’m glad I didn’t because otherwise I might have missed this question from Ben: “Are there black people at your school?” Do all kids ask questions like this? So ridiculous. Of course my CIEE supervisors pick the day that I did the least amount of work to come check in on me. I was literally sitting on the couch reading while the kids were outside washing their clothes when they arrived. Now they probably think that’s all I do there. Perfect.

Incapacitated.

That afternoon the rain came and it was probably the most torrential storm I’ve ever witnessed. To put it into perspective, the rain was heavy enough for the kids to bath outside in it.  Unfortunately for me, persistent heavy rainfall meant that all the kids were forced to remain indoors.  And scream and jump all over me. Needless to say, I didn’t stay for dinner that night.

Possibly the greatest picture I’ve ever taken.

Saturday marked the first of probably many Solo Ghanaian Adventures to Bojo Beach, supposedly Ghana’s most beautiful beach.  I debated for a while about whether I should do this by myself, but then I realized that my alternative Saturday activities would have probably consisted of reading for class. So many times in my life I’ve used school/work as my scapegoat out of doing something spontaneous and * gasp * fun.  Also, the thought of travelling alone appealed for reasons I’m sure I don’t have explain at this point. Honestly, I do love adventure, probably more than most things. I just need to learn how to carve out some time for it during non-summer months.

I left at about 8:00, and it took 2 tro-tros and a taxi, finally arriving at around 10:15 (travel time skewed due to helpless wandering while looking for the right tro-tro to take).  As soon as I stepped out of the taxi, one of my sandals fell apart. This wasn’t too upsetting; that sandal had been on life support for weeks, and it served me well for 80 days here.

The boat ride to Bojo.

Bojo Beach is pretty much a sandbar on the outskirts of Accra.  On one side there’s a river, which you have to cross by boat to reach the sandbar/ocean. When my feet touched the sand at about 10:30, I was instantly stunned, first when I saw that there was nobody else around, and then by how unbelievably, breathtakingly beautiful the beach was. For starters, it was clean! Granted, my only prior Ghanaian beach experience involved trash everywhere and a man trying to get me to put a snake around my neck, so to see the sand and water refuse-free was wonderful. I left by 2:30, mostly because I didn’t feel like dealing with getting back to campus in the dark with one usable shoe.

Wish I put sunblock on my feet…

As I hobbled around Accra’s Keneshie station, a man saw that I was struggling and led me to a shoe repairman! For $0.25, he fixed my sandal in 2 minutes with some crazy glue and thread.

I really love Ghana sometimes.

My feet and nose may be sunburned now, but I’d say my first solo outing was really successful.  I only have 60 more days here, and there’s so much of Ghana that needs some exploring.  When classes end the first week of November, there will be plenty of time for that, hopefully. I just need to see some elephants again.

I miss seeing these on a daily basis

I’m fairly certain that President Obama is more beloved in Ghana than in the United States, evidenced by this NSFW song/video tribute. WARNING: Strong Sexual Content and possible references to Bestiality are contained in the lyrics:

“Is That Your Giraffe?”

The fact that skipping my Colonial Rule/African Response discussion class was the highlight of this week’s academic experience is a good indication of my attitude towards the University of Ghana’s learning environment.  It’s just not very good. That being said, we did have an useless engaging discussion on reggae music and the Rastafari movement in Jamaica during Wednesday’s lecture. Also, in my “Sucks That Y’all Were Born in Ghana!” class, Bossman asked the class what the difference between the United Kingdom and Britain is, and one student confidently replied, “The UK is bigger!,” while another added emphatically, “Britain is England!”. Well, at least classes are never short on laughter! What are the classes short on? Relevancy.

Beacon House this week was incredibly different.  Without Katie or Rachel, the girls who had been there every day for a month to teach, there was a noticeable atmosphere change. Things seemed more hushed and even somber when I arrived Tuesday afternoon.   I was still greeted with more enthusiasm than I usually am; the kids were probably excited to see that at least one person hasn’t abandoned them yet.  It was obvious that the attention given to them had precipitously dropped, and unfortunately luckily for me, that meant I got to be everybody’s sole entertainment provider.  This has especially been the case with the younger, pre-school-aged kids who were previously given constant attention by Katie.   While I didn’t do much on Tuesday, I did get to play with Prince (aka my favorite kid of all time), and take this picture with him, which instantly became my favorite ever:

I apparently appear super skinny here. I say my arm is just strategically covering where most of the fat is.

Other than that, I just watched Daddy Day Care with them, yet another movie that I loved when I was 10 but failed to see the appeal in today.  Maybe it’s because many of the scenes felt too familiar.

Thursday was probably the most challenging day yet for me at Beacon House, despite the wonderful fact that I completed my 135 required hours that day (CIEE record? Probably).  The kids hadn’t had class since last week, and nobody I asked knew when the long-term teachers would be arriving.  When I arrived that morning and saw that the kids were just running around/playing, I had to make the decision to either do nothing and hope a teacher comes soon, or put on my big boy panties and create work for them to do myself.

What happens when an infant gets his hands on the homework I provided

The thought of them regressing, forgetting what they’ve learned and losing any progress made the month I’ve been there was unacceptable to me.  I am in no way qualified to teach and I’m not really known for my ability to rise to any occasion, but I surprised myself this week.  It helps when these kids are so eager to learn; they came to me asking for work. I mean, I was pretty enthusiastic about learning when I was 10, but I was one of the losers exceptions.  It’s really nice to see here.

Before the kids could work on the practice questions I created, a FRENCH TEACHER (Zilda!) arrived to work with them for 45 minutes.  My initial excitement over this development  soon diminished when I realized how much of the French I learned over the past 2 years has been forgotten. Next semester should be hilarious.  I’m also concerned that there isn’t any use for Zilda’s lessons; these kids are still learning how to read/write English (why they’re learning English and not Twi at least in conjunction is an issue I don’t feel like ranting about now), so I can’t really see how attempting to learn French is of any benefit to them.

Later that afternoon, after lunch and after my failed attempt at buying some pencils for the kids to use for their practice questions (the store had pens and damned compasses, but no pencils?!), something wonderful happened.  A beautiful, bright, shining beacon (pun intended) of hope appeared to quell my fears of being responsible for the education of these kids long-term: Heather, Beacon House’s co-founder and licensed teacher! Almost cried.  She didn’t stay long that day, so that meant I still had to help the kids alone with the work I made for them, but things went smoothly enough. It’s just hard when everybody’s at a different level and wants my attention at the same time.  I’m used to people wanting my attention never, so it’s understandably overwhelming.

Other Thursday Highlights/Quotes:

  • Romeo (the dog), mounted one of the children. I was frozen in shock.
  • “Is Santa in America?”
  • “Does the President of the America sleep?”
  • “On Christmas, if he’s (Obama’s) bad, he get’s a bad gift.” What’s the bad gift? I asked. Coal? “No. Only water.”
  • “I like your head!” (seconds later) “I like your ears!”

It was another long day at Beacon House on Friday.  That morning I helped Heather and the kids start to clean/organize the classroom. Heather has the cleaning ethic of my mother, meaning there can be nothing out of place and anything potentially unimportant needs to be thrown away.  Immediately. I helped create ‘Good Behavior’ charts, something I always loved growing up. I was shockingly obnoxious during elementary school (can you imagine me being labeled consistently as the “Class Clown?” I can’t either.), but always looked to get some Gold Stars, especially if food rewards were involved. I was the French Fry King of East Broadway Class of 2003, evidenced by my…healthy girth appearance:

So. Fat. But at least I look happy about it!

Heather’s 10 year old son, Jayden (Jaedan? Eh. Britney Spears picked “Jayden,” and I haven’t seen any reason to doubt her choices) was also there.  He’s a cute and somewhat insane kid, which means he fits in well with the others.  Having another white boy there who is actually their age meant the kids paid less attention to me, which I wasn’t about to complain about. Let Jayden get chased around all day while I sit and roll a ball with Prince or help build some puzzles.

So sad when he didn’t even know what Winnie the Pooh is

Somebody knows he’s not supposed to be in there.

My other Friday experience involved interviewing two young mothers for the blog who live and work at the orphanage. I’m still a bit skeptical that they’re 18 and 19, and unsurprisingly not much was revealed (my interviewing skills are nonexistent). Of course I couldn’t make it through the interviews without something uncomfortable happening during one of them: Breast feeding.  This might come as a surprise to none some of you, but I haven’t been exposed to any many breasts, let alone ones with a baby latched on.

Other Friday Quotes:

  • “Do you have a mother? Do you have a father? Do you have a poopoo?”
  • “How are you? (without waiting for a response) I’m fine!”
    • Prince said this. He doesn’t know much English, but whenever he says something like this it’s the cutest. Ever.
    • “Is that your giraffe?” No. “Is that your dad’s giraffe?” NO!!

      My father and I with “our” giraffe at Busch Gardens

Saturday was CIEE Community Service day! About half of us (the other half had better things to do were traveling, or intentionally accidentally overslept) went to Future Leaders, an underprivileged children’s center that provides education for at-risk kids and houses orphans.  Admittedly, I contemplated skipping the trip because leaving at 7:00 AM seemed really unappealing, but thankfully I haven’t reached the level of asshole required to use that as an excuse.

It was a long but really productive day of manual labor; we helped build

I wish you could see the airplane painted next to the elephant that’s seemingly flying down towards his face.

a classroom and painted a lot of the walls that needed some revitalizing.  After sanding and painting moldy walls for a while, I helped drag carry some wooden planks over to be cut and made into the walls of the new classroom.  Things became comical as many of us attempted to use a handsaw to cut the wood. I’m sure you can guess how well I did with that.  My particular skillset isn’t really suitable for anything construction, but hey! At least no bodily harm was done! That’s all that matters. We got to paint designs on the walls of the classroom, and I helped fingerpaint an elephant that my friend sketched.

By the time we finished working at around 3:00, it’s possible that I was the grossest I’ve ever looked.  My hands were covered in paint and turpentine, but that didn’t stop me from devouring the pizza that was provided.

Week 9 in Ghana has come and gone unnaturally fast.  I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that there is only one more month of classes. I don’t want to think about having to choose next semester’s courses in a few weeks or going home at all, really. Life in DC is hard, and is stressful.  There never seems to be enough time in a day or week to do the things I need to do, and I find myself struggling through one moment just to make it to the next one. Time here is…different. Things are slower, calmer.  The people I’ve met, the experiences I’ve had…I just feel that my life here is filled with purpose, something I’m not sure I’ve felt in a long time back home.  I feel warm.  I feel like a better me.

Alrighty! Again, thank you for continuing to read this! If you’re insane and haven’t listened to Adele’s James Bond theme song, today’s your lucky day!

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.

“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!

Ghanaian Children > Everything Else

Sorry about the delay in updating, but honestly, I didn’t have much to say and I have a feeling nobody wants to read about me having 5 days off from class and doing basically nothing, and then having 2 days of class where virtually nothing happened some more. I’m ready to learn whenever you’re ready to teach, University of Ghana professors. Seriously. In one class the professor didn’t even show up and his Teaching Assistant just read the syllabus to us. In case we couldn’t do that ourselves. Oh, and my laptop broke. Who knew Accra had an Apple Store?!

I was really starting to feel restless, and to be honest, a little miserable. When I didn’t do much for so long my thoughts turned towards home and how much I’d rather be doing nothing there. At least there are pizza and bagels at home!

But then Thursday August 23 happened, and now my life is being taken over by the children of Beacon House orphanage.

Beacon House from the outside. So beautiful.

Those who know me know that I’m not one to speak highly of youth. And truthfully, some kids really are assholesintolerable. But some of my most cherished memories are of me working with kids at summer camp (Coleman Country <3). It’s been almost exactly 5 years since I’ve last worked there (August 22, 2007), and I’m not going to get into the reasons for why I left, just that I couldn’t see myself ever going back without certain people being there too. Also, I spent 10 summers there. I’d say I was justified in wanting a change. And I wouldn’t have been able to do all the amazing things I’ve done these past 5 summers if I hadn’t left.

Me at 15 during my last summer working at camp. Those kids are now 15. Boy, I’m old. I also look exactly the same, just without braces. Yikes.

 To say I’m bit a rusty when it comes to dealing with kids would be an understatement (not that I was really any good to begin with).  I also only have experience with 9 and 10 year old boys, and while Beacon House has a few of those, there are also much younger boys and girls there. And babies. Babies! I had never held a baby before, and that was giving me the most anxiety.  Some thoughts included: “What if I drop him/her?” “Babies are gross!” “I better not have to touch their poop!”

I was once kid-like! My cuteness level peaked at age 6.

 No babies were dropped, they were the complete opposite of gross, and no poop was touched. On the contrary (I’ve always wanted to write that), I surprised myself with how much I loved interacting with them.  I hadn’t really considered myself a paternal person, but I found myself, instinctively I guess, picking them up, spinning them around, and even held one up like Simba (he begged me to).

Look at the cute babies!

Alright. Enough about babies for now. The kids. Man, only cute children and puppies have the ability to melt my heart, and for the 18 hours I’ve been at Beacon House so far, I was complete mush. I’m sure a psychologist would enjoy figuring out why usually the only people I like dealing with are 12 and under, but I think what it comes down to is their simplicity; Their problems and requests are so basic, it takes so little to get them excited (and sad). They aren’t burdened with miserable, silly adult problems that make me cringe. And selfishly, it felt amazing to feel completely wanted and appreciated.

I decided to break up my experiences into different categories, starting with “Awww! Y’all Are So Cute!” Here are some highlights:

  • When I first arrived on Thursday, the kids were starting snack-time.  This began the first of many instances of hearing “You’re invited!”, which seems to be the universal Ghanaian way of saying “Come eat this with me!” After squeezing myself onto a bench at their table not meant for someone of my physical stature, I was offered crackers. From everybody.
  •  There’s a trampoline outside that is the main source of entertainment for the kids. And boy, do these kids love their trampoline. They all wanted me to “jump them,” probably because I’m one of the largest people they’ve encountered in a while, so my ability to launch them into the air is unparalleled. Unfortunately, I don’t have the energy of a 5-9 year old (I’d say it’s closer to that of a 68 year old), so that trampoline left me winded really fast. But do those kids care? Nope!

    Really hard to say no to these faces

  • My shoes, watch and hair really fascinated them. I never realized how large my feet are until I saw a 4 year old attempt to walk in my shoes. I’m also not sure how many Jews these kids have encountered, so my so-called “luscious” (to me, unruly) locks were a source of awe. They want me to let it grow forever. Yeah. Sorry kids, don’t think so!

    Gah. So cute. Also, my feet are huge.

  • They love to learn! Before class-time, the kids marched around the grounds of the house chanting “We Love Our Class!” while holding a poster that bears that mantra. I was lucky enough to help one of the kids, Ben, with his math. It was beyond cute when he would get the right answer but write the numbers in reverse (71 instead of 17). I would tell him he made a mistake and he would be so confused, and then embarrassed when he realized what happened. Aww!
  • They garden!! They help take care of tomatoes and other vegetables that are used for food.

    Ben ruining (or improving?) the picture

The next category is “Well, This is Overwhelming/Uncomfortable/Unsettling”:

  • My first overwhelming moment happened Thursday afternoon after their 2 hour nap. One boy wanted to play with me with a Frisbee, and one girl wanted me to go on the trampoline with her. I was standing in the middle with each holding one of my hands, trying to pull me in the direction they wanted. Patience isn’t something every 5 year olds possess yet, and when every kid wanted my attention at the same time, thoughts of running away/curling into the fetal position crossed my mind.
  • Kids scream. If they don’t get what they want, when they want it, shit really hits the fan. Having only worked with 9/10 year olds before, this wasn’t really something I had to deal with until now. And it’s really the worst. If I say “Don’t worry, you’re gonna jump in a few minutes” that basically means nothing to them. But hey, at least I learned I’m more patient than I thought I was!
  • Kids cry. See above reasoning.
  • Kids ask a lot of questions, and some of them can be really weird. Some examples:
    • From an 11 year old girl: “When are you getting married?” Me: “Uhhh…not for a while, I don’t think.”
    • From a few kids at various times: “Why are you crying?” Me: “I’m not crying. Just sweating.” Seriously, Ghanaians don’t sweat. We’re on the equator, guys. Give me a break!
    • From 11 year old girl again: “Do you go to church?” Me: “Not anymore.” Girl: “Why?” Me: “I don’t know…” Girl: “I want you to come with us.” Me: “Uhhh…maybe eventually.” Not sure how she would have responded to me saying “I’m Jewish!” If there’s one thing I know, it’s how to avoid conflict.
    • From Mary and Joshua, both about 5: “Will you teach us and the other preschoolers? Please? There’re no teachers here for us. We swear we’ll listen to everything you say!” Sometimes I forget that these kids are orphans. They play, they laugh, but at the end of the day, they lack things that so many people take for granted, myself included. I didn’t know what to say to them. The thought of not being able to go to school is something so foreign to me but is a real problem for so many kids. Really upsetting.

The final category, to end on a lighter note, is “Oh My God. Heart May Explode!”:

  • The kids begged me to stay for the night to watch a movie with them before they went to bed. On Friday I agreed (partly because the movie was Free Willy), and they were ECSTATIC. They all wanted to sit on my lap. I ended up with a sleeping 16 month old girl’s head on one leg and another baby trying to climb onto my back at various times.
  • When I came Friday morning, a few of the kids ran over and immediately hugged me. Aww! One of them wanted to be picked up (“I want to go on your stomach!”), and that turned into him sleeping on me for about 30 minutes. AWW!

    Well, this is cute.

  • “I want you to stay forever!” That was pretty wonderful to hear.
  • A few of the kids wanted me to read to them, so I ended up reading about 5 semi-ridiculous stories. I had never read to a kid before and one of them fell asleep on my lap during it! AWW!
  • Before the movie, prayer/singing happens. Irene, the house “Mother” is this really wonderful and religious older woman who made them repeat a few times that Faith, Hope, and Love are the three most important things. She ended with a prayer for ME, thanking Jesus for bringing me there and asking him to look after me on my way home.  I was really close to tears at that point. She had all the kids come over to me and say “Shalom!” (thought that was just a Jewish thing) and hug me/shake my hand. That was just the greatest.

I really can’t believe I’m getting college credit for basically playing with kids all day. Getting fed two meals by the really beautiful staff is an added bonus. And just to make things even more wonderful, there’s a dog! I really didn’t expect to love working there as much as I have so far. It might have taken 3 weeks, but for the first time since I left home, I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

And that’s just swell.

OH. I also went on a day trip to Boti Falls and hiked to Umbrella Rock. I’m kind of tired from writing all this, but I’ll just say that the falls were beautiful and the hike was…kind of treacherous. I’ve talked about my borderline-hatred of hiking, and this was really a doozy, but miraculously I didn’t suffer any injury! That’s pretty astonishing, I’d say. And wearing a white shirt? Not too bright.

Our 10 year old guide had us walk around the rock perimeter of the falls. Still not sure why…

Umbrella Rock! We finally made it!!

Alright, sorry for the length. I guess I got a bit carried away while gushing over cute kids! Next weekend we’re traveling so my next post may take a while. Thanks for reading!

Tro-Tro? More Like Uh-Oh!

I made it through my first week in Ghana! I’m just as surprised as many some of you  probably are, especially since a few people in the program have faced some…complications. Let’s just say there’s been a lot of trips to the bathroom for some people, but at least about half was just alcohol-induced! The other half (myself included for one day)…it’s been rough. But hey, as long as cholera doesn’t happen, everything will be alright. Right? Maybe.

I wasn’t really sure how I should go about writing about my experiences (daily summaries versus whatever comes to mind versus transcribing my journal verbatim), so I think I’ll try incorporating a mixture of everything and we’ll see what happens. I’m still new to this whole blogging thing. I thought I would start with the beginning, mainly the plane-ride from JFK to Madrid. I decided I’d start my journal on the plane since that’s what I did when I went to Botswana last summer, and this first entry is…a bit less enthusiastic and optimistic than last year’s first entry. Here’s a sample:

I’m beginning to think that I have completely lost my mind. I can’t think of any other explanation as for why I’m currently flying to Ghana where I will spend the next 4.5 months. Like…why can’t I just make my life easier and study abroad in Paris or Florence like a normal college student? Nope. Africa! You set these goals, you make these plans, not really thinking about the day these plans come to fruition.  Study abroad has been a goal/dream for as long as I can remember; I always thought of it as being the defining moment of my college career. After being accepted into the program I think I was in some state of denial, and because I didn’t let myself think about it too much, I’m probably not as mentally prepared as I should be for this.  I also can’t stop feeling like a selfish ass for leaving my family to do this for so many months.”

So yeah…it was rough at the start. But I think it would be a bit weird if I felt no anxiety at all. Knowing and understanding that something is going to be challenging and difficult means I’m more prepared to manage those moments. I hope. We’ll see.

Skipping ahead, we spent our first 3 nights at a hotel in Legon (where the University of Ghana is located) for Orientation.  There are (I think) 48 people in my particular program (CIEE), so those first couple days are a blur of meeting people, forgetting the names of those people, and awkwardly acting as if I remembered anything about the people I had spent a couple hours talking to. It really is fascinating, at least for someone like me, seeing how personable and socially…advanced? some people are.  Some friendships seemingly formed instantly which is definitely something that is beyond my comprehension.

Krystis Night Club, located just outside the hotel. Shockingly, I never entered this establishment.

But I think I did alright. At least I put in some kind of effort to talk to people, which for me is a victory in itself. Have I gone out to bars and clubs every night and thrown up on people like some people have? No. I’ve had half a beer and half a cup of sangria since I’ve been here and I paid for neither. But I have had dinner at a Ghanaian family’s home and saw The Dark Knight Rises tonight! So I haven’t been a complete recluse. I’d say that’s pretty praise-worthy.

To save some writing/reading time, here are some Highlights of CIEE Orientation:

  • Obruni=any foreigner in Ghana. I haven’t been called one yet (I think), but it’s supposedly not insulting, but endearing. Yeah. Not really convinced.
  • Apparently using your left hand (for eating, hand-shaking) in Ghana is a no-no. It’s associated with the bathroom. Great. As if I didn’t have enough social handicaps to worry about here.
  • Tro-tros are a major mode of transportation in Ghana. They’re basically these minivans that squishhold 15-25 people along fixed routes for extremely cheap prices. I spent the equivalent of $0.15 to get to the mall from campus today. Mind-blowing.

    Tro-Tros are pretty scary at first, but they’re an extremely efficient and cheap way to get around much of Ghana

  • Bargaining is extremely important for taxi rides and market shopping. I’m just not aggressive/persistent enough for this. But I mean, everything is so cheap compared to U.S. prices to begin with that I feel a bit silly trying to spend the equivalent of $0.90 for an egg/cheese sandwich instead of $1.00.  Or taking a taxi for the equivalent of $2.00 when it would have cost at least $12.00 at home. Whatever. It’s a skill I’ll hopefully improve on over time.
  • Cholera: If I experience “20 liters of watery stools,” I should probably be concerned.
  • We were taken to Accra Mall which is sooo nice. I got my phone/modem there, and it’s where the movie theater is. I’ve been there 3 times this week. That’s probably not okay.
  • We went on a scavenger hunt to get a feel for Legon, and since there are no maps and street signs this was pretty useful. Saw some goats/chickens, a burning tire, some beautiful Ghanaian children and gas stations. And a car with an Obama ’12 sticker. That about sums up Africa, I’d say.

    Just a typical thing to come across when walking the streets of Legon

  • There was a discussion on homosexuality, how it’s a sign of respect for Ghanaian culture to not flaunt/display sexuality. But how can acceptance and tolerance improve if people are encouraged or even forced to be silent? I don’t know. Something I’ll think about more as time goes by.
  • At one point everybody had to stand in a circle and massage the shoulders of the person in front of you. You can imagine how I handled that situation.

On Monday August 6th we moved into the International Student Hostel (ISH) at the University of Ghana and had 2 days of Orientation with the University, where we covered basically the same things that were talked about the days before. Some highlights include:

  • Don’t harass people sexually, emotionally, physically…basically just don’t be an asshole.
  • Don’t throw people into ponds.
  • “Sometimes you see mad men and women on campus.”
  • No smoking weed.
  • Don’t, under any circumstance, join a cult.

Once Orientation ended there was much more free time to get myself settled and explore the campus. I have a Ghanaian roommate who hasn’t fully moved in yet, and he seems really nice but after not having a roommate for over 1.5 years, I’m curious to see how this goes. I’m hopeful!

My room in ISH! I finally managed to set up a mosquito net after failed attempts on past trips. There’s also a balcony!

Finding my way around campus has been…an experience. There are over 37,000 students here and the campus is HUGE. Walking to some classes may take over 25 minutes, and there aren’t detailed maps to follow. Thankfully there is the Night Market right behind ISH where you can buy literally anything, from calling cards to toothpaste to egg sandwiches. Seriously. Those egg sandwiches are going to make up a significant portion of my diet.  And rice. And mangoes.

Part of the Night Market, about 2 seconds away from being yelled at for taking this picture.

Needless to say, these first couple days roaming around campus trying to find academic departments has been an adventure. Especially in the rain.

In between campus exploration and figuring out what classes to take (Twi, Sociological Foundations for Development, Politics of International Economic Relations, and a toss-up between African Indigenous Religions or Colonial Rule and African Response), CIEE organized seminars led by university professors. Topics included Women in Ghanaian Development, Ghanaian History, and Ghanaian Politics.

Balme Library, the University’s main library. Much more visually appealing than George Washington University’s Gelman Library.

We arrived at an extremely interesting and strange time in Ghana’s political history because President John Atta-Mills died just a week before we arrived (burial is tomorrow), so the government is in transition with new elections occurring in December. I’m definitely looking forward to experiencing both US and Ghanaian Presidential elections this semester.

RIP President Mills. Not sure why it’s taken 3 weeks for you to be buried…

Tomorrow we’re having a dance workshop, which might apparently include butt slapping. I do not slap butts of virtual strangers. Or butts of people I know, for that matter. If I have to do this, it will instantly become the most uncomfortable moment of my life. And I’ve had dozens a few of those.

Some final thoughts and experiences:

  • I found out yesterday that I will be working at Beacon House orphanage to satisfy the internship requirement for Development Studies students.  I really cannot wait for this to start, and I have a feeling I’ll have no trouble completing the 135 required hours. Yay!! I’ve really missed working with kids.
  • Weather has been surprisingly cool since I’ve been here. I should probably enjoy the wet season while I still can, since the dry season starts in about a month and it will become extremely hot. Since we’re on the equator and all. There hasn’t been a lot of sun, but humidity has left me at my trademark gross at times.
  • Poverty is obviously an unavoidable presence, but it’s been amazing to see how the people aren’t just sitting around, hopeless and defeated. They are in the streets, attempting to sell various, often random, products (like bubbles) to people driving down busy highways. Parents have their young children (generally girls) walk up to people along crowded areas (like the mall) and literally latch onto you, tugging on your clothes, hugging you, doing whatever (they’re probably instructed) to do to get money from us. It’ll be hard for me to continue to ignore them.
  • I made it 5 days without getting pizza, which for me is pretty remarkable. There’s a place that has “Terrific Tuesday” 2-for-1 pizza specials so obviously that’s a deal I can’t pass up. We were also just sick of eating chicken and rice. Getting to the pizza also involved crossing a highway and climbing over a median.  Pizza is the only food I will put so much effort into acquiring.

    Every Tuesday. This is happening.

  • Having dinner with a few friends at a Ghanaian family’s house has definitely been my favorite experience so far. There were 2 homes (one for the grandparents) in a gated compound, and both are massive and beautiful. The family is so generous and kind, prepared a delicious meal and even baked us carrot cake! I also participated in saying Grace for the first time in my life. Not sure a few of my family members will be pleased with this.  We gave our phone numbers and were told to come back any time, so hopefully I’ll get to do this again soon. It was so great! The roads to get to the house, however, were not so great. I had a few moments of thinking we were about to get wrecked by a speeding car or our car would just break down from the extremely bumpy roads.
  • No mosquito bites yet! Some people are looking kinda nasty. Probably just jinxed myself.
  • Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were just as perfect the second time seeing The Dark Knight Rises.

I know this is a bit…wordy, but I didn’t want to leave too much out. Then again, I probably included a bit too many unnecessary sentences (like this one). I don’t know. If you managed to get through all this, thank you! Classes start on Monday and I’ll hopefully have another update a week from now!

Study Abroad is Ghana be Great!

Well, I’m exactly one month away from leaving for Africa where I will be spending my fall semester at the University of Ghana. Woah. I haven’t really let myself think about it too much, but now things are really starting to sink in. There is no turning back, anxiety is starting to percolate, doubts are setting in. So basically…I really have to get my shit together. I can’t believe my summer is quickly coming to a close, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years it’s that time flies even when I’m not having that much fun.

I’m pretty much going in blindly, not knowing much about Ghana’s history, the University, the language, the culture. I should probably start doing something about that; maybe I’ll read some Ghanaian news online and learn a few basic words in Twi. I’ll buy a book or something. We’ll see. I wish I knew what internship I’m going to have (either at an orphanage, a school, or a medical clinic), but either way I know it will be a challenging, rewarding experience. In the mean time, I have online orientation tomorrow morning, so hopefully I’ll know more then.

Sometimes I really can’t believe how ridiculous my life is. Conventionality is apparently not my favorite word and I guess I’m more adventurous than I thought I was. Seeing as much of the world as I possibly can is one of my main goals, but I never really thought I’d be making my second trip to Africa by the time I’m 20. When it came down to it, I chose Ghana because I found a great development program based there, and if development is what I want a career in, studying in Paris or Sydney wouldn’t be the most rewarding choice. If I can say one positive thing about myself (a rare occurrence), it’s that I always make decisions that hopefully benefit my future.

I spent a lot of this past month re-reading the journal I kept while in Botswana/South Africa last summer. On my last post, on June 30, 2011, I spent a while reflecting on my experiences, what I got out of it and what I learned about myself. The trip affirmed my interest in international development, and when I wrote that “I know this won’t be my last trip to Africa” I probably didn’t think I’d be going back 13 months later.  I’ve written about how socially inept I am, but after a few days of awkwardness and uncertainty I managed to forge some pretty great relationships and realized that maybe some people might actually like being around me! Who knew!! (I didn’t). So hopefully something similar will happen this time around. I’ve never been good at putting effort into creating friendships, so being less passive and being more outgoing is something I’ll work on with the help of alcohol. I’ll just use my awkwardness and self-deprecating humor to my advantage. Yeah. I’ll go with that.

As I wrote on June 1, 2011 on the plane to South Africa, “Here I am, once again I’m torn into pieces embarking on another ridiculous journey to the unknown.” I can’t wait to share this journey with you guys; the good, the bad, the embarrassing (a give-in), the surprising…I’ll try to not leave anything out. Pictures will be provided too!

If you don’t hear from me for awhile, it’s probably because I rode off into the sunset on the back of an elephant the internet isn’t the greatest.

Title credit goes to Hayley McDermott!