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)
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“Matteeee, Don’t Go!”

I’ve come a long way from that early August evening 139 days ago when I wrote in my journal while flying to Madrid, “I’m beginning to think that I have completely lost my mind” regarding my decision to study abroad in Ghana. Having these doubts was probably a healthy reaction; it’s easy to say, “I’m going to Ghana for 4.5 months! Bye!” Then you board the plane and the reality hits you and you’re filled with an overwhelming urge to run from the airport and go back home to the comfort of certainty that home provides. Maybe I’m not as spontaneous as I’d like to be; I like knowing what comes next and meticulously planning out every detail, diminishing the chance of a surprise or unexpected blip. When I’m thrust into new or unpredictable situations, I’m usually rendered temporarily overwhelmed or anxious, as was the case in the early days of this semester abroad.

That being said, my ability to adapt to situations, to do whatever I need to do to keep myself grounded and composed is something that has helped me each time I’ve traveled on my own. It’s one of my favorite things about myself (when’s the last time I’ve written about things I like about myself?), and something that has reassured me that if I ever end up working in a travel-intensive field, I’ll be alright. Finding a routine is key, as is keeping yourself busy and remaining focused and motivated.

Remaining focused and motivated has been a bit of struggle, at least academically, during my time at the University of Ghana. It’s hard when professors seem uninterested, assign zero assignments, and generally fail to inspire any interest in topics covered. Luckily my unnatural obsession with academic success hasn’t wavered too far off-track, but next semester is going to be a challenge. I had my last final exam on December 11, a 2.5 hour shitfest to conclude my semester of “Sucks That Y’all Were Born In Ghana.” It’s amazing how spending dozens of hours waiting or sitting in tro-tros in northern Ghana can make 2.5 hours seem like no time at all. Anyway, it’s over. Please, it is finished. No more talking about Ghanaian education ever again.

The next three days were spent at Beacon House, where I wanted to spend as much time as I could before going home. Christmas really came early for these kids, who were visited on Wednesday by 5th graders from a local international school. Their teacher attempted to have the kids participate in an interactive telling of the Christmas story, which involved them having to frantically pass a bag of cookies or candy to their left or right on cue. As expected, this didn’t really go too smoothly, but everyone had fun and I suppose that’s all that matters. The Beacon House kids performed a choreographed song that they’ve been rehearsing for weeks, which was truly beautiful to watch.IMG_3107

The gang!

The gang!

Thursday proved to be even better.  This group of girls from North Carolina who were part of some religious community service program came by and took all the kids to a field where they played a bunch of games. Activities included: limbo, Frisbee throwing, some crazed balloon popping battle, and, my favorite, sack races. I have a feeling having the kids under 5 years old do the sack race/3-legged race was more for the comedic benefit of the older kids and adults, but it really was hilarious. And look at how unbelievably excited Prince is! One of my favorite moments of my time here:

Mouth wide open in unbelievable joy

Mouth wide open in unbelievable joy

shit got real when the staff faced off

shit got real when the staff faced off

This was just silly

This was just silly

We also played “Duck Duck Goose,” which culminated in me chasing down the son of Beacon House’s owner, lunging at him like some starving wildebeest. Despite my body flop I managed to catch him, and was met with a comment I have unsurprisingly never had directed at me: “Boys will be boys!” Who, me? is pretty much what my first thought was. There was also so much Hokey Pokey. So. Much.

I think somebody's struggling.

I think somebody’s struggling.

It was one of my favorite afternoons at Beacon House; There was so much joy, so much laughter, so much…normalcy? I don’t know if that’s the correct word to use, but this was the first time I’ve spent time with the kids outside the confines of Beacon House, and it was a wonderful change. I’m really thankful that I got to be a part of it.

The most beautiful face in the world.

The most beautiful face in the world.

Things got even better that evening when this Italian couple came and cooked some pasta bolognese and garlic bread for all of us. After singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus we were given apple cobbler! The fact that my body didn’t reject this influx of “normal” food was encouraging leading up to the food rampage I’ll be embarking on tomorrow. I failed in my attempts at showing Prince effective ways to consume pasta, but he just couldn’t get the hang of the noodle twirl. So. Messy. After dinner the kids were given Christmas presents by the North Carolina ladies, a wonderful conclusion to a wonderful day.

I tried.

I tried.

Friday at Beacon House was much more subdued, but as I was getting ready to leave to meet up with friends to see The Hobbit (loved it) I learned of the Sandy Hook school shooting. Maybe spending so much time with elementary school-aged kids sensitized me more than I was previously to US gun laws, but I don’t think I’ve ever been angrier than I am now about this. I wrote this post Saturday morning when my anger was still at its boiling point.

Saturday I began the costly task of buying Christmas presents for the Beacon House kids. My original hope was to get the kids a pet goat or lamb, since I thought the owner was, according to her email, “asking for a donation for the kids for Christmas.”  She even emailed a picture of the kids with a goat they were given last year. When I asked her if she thought it wasn’t too crazy for me to buy the goat, her response was, “No, but can it be dead? It’s for Christmas dinner.” WHAT. She sensed my confusion and horror before laughing at me for thinking she’d actually want a goat running around the house pooping everywhere. MY MISTAKE. So yeah. No goat from me!

I spent a lot of time at the mall buying candy and small toys that should keep them entertained for about 90 minutes. I was purchasing bibs for the infants at this baby store when two of the clerks expressed their desire to be my wife and birth my children. She insisted on having my Ghana and US phone numbers after expressing massive disappointment when I told her I’m leaving on Tuesday (sorry to whomever you are with the random numbers I gave). Look, Doreen. You seem like a really pleasant lady, although perhaps a bit too forward. There are few steps before marriage and baby-making that you may have skipped by mistake, but I’m still flattered. It’s just not going to work out between us, for more reasons than 1. Some of those reasons you might even find blasphemous. So I suggest seeking elsewhere.

I promised the children and house mothers that I would go to church with them, and after almost talking myself out of it mostly because I didn’t feel like wearing long sleeves and jeans in Africa, I got myself there on Sunday at 8:00 as requested. I figured we’d be leaving at that time, or by 8:30 at the latest. Looking back I’m not sure why I thought something would ever happen on time for me in this country, so the fact that we didn’t leave until after 11:00 shouldn’t have surprised me.

I had never been to a church service before, and this one was about as dramatic as I expected. The pastor often screeched the gospel he was spewing, since you apparently can’t effectively pass on the Lord’s message by any other means. Despite the drawn-out bellows of “AMEEEEEEEEEN!” that happened far too often and the singing and dancing that popped up on occasion, I still managed to almost fall asleep. Just like in my Hebrew School glory days. I also managed to avoid giving any of my money, partly because I didn’t have much money left to give, partly because I’m a bit of an asshole, but mostly because the pastor sugar-coated the purpose of the money request by saying the donations are “seeds needed to grow into trees.” Or something like that. Just say you want our money to pay the electric bill. Geesh.

After church ended by about 1:00, I went back to the mall to buy a few more presents. I miscalculated the amount of gift bags I needed and I still managed to not get the correct amount of everything, but I decided to just hope that the kids wouldn’t realize that they don’t all have the same gifts.

I spent as much time with the kids as I could during my final two days in Ghana. Some of the kids understood that I would soon be leaving, that I wouldn’t be coming back anytime soon. A few of the younger ones struggled with comprehending it, but then I remembered that I’m not the first person to have come and gone from their lives. A while ago I mentioned how difficult it would be for me to be one of those people, just one amongst many who the kids became close with just to leave them behind.

And then there’s Prince. God. There were times in the days leading up to my final day when I would tell him that I’m going home soon, that I won’t be coming anymore, and he would look up at me with his big eyes, really seeming to understand what I was saying, and he would say, “Nooo, Matteee don’t go!” The thought of him missing me when I’m gone fills me with indescribable sadness that’s almost overwhelming. I don’t want any of the kids to be sad when I go. Hell, I’m still trying to figure out what it is that the kids even like about me that they’d miss. We watched Ice Age my final night there and I had a moment when I realized, God, I’m just like Ray Romano Manny, stumbling across a child and pretty instantly becoming attached. I definitely had more of an emotional reaction watching this movie now then when I was 10.

My final hours at Beacon House were spent more or less how I started: jumping on the trampoline, pushing kids on swings, reading stories, and dealing with abnormal levels of cuteness. I ate lunch with them one more time, and started getting ready to go. I wrote a letter to Ben, giving him some advice and asking him to take care of the others, especially Prince. I also gave him my watch because he and everyone else is so fascinated by it. I left a letter for Prince that he won’t be able to read anytime soon on his own, but I hope that somebody keeps it safe. My mother might be a little sad when she learns that the stuffed bulldog she got for me as a parting gift is now in his possession, but I think she’ll understand that he’ll get more use out of it than I will.

"Matteee, I want to jump!"

“Matteee, I want to jump!”

Before I left I finally gave them their gifts, since that was really all they cared about.  I started saying goodbye to the boys (all the girls were going to Church), and held Prince one last time. I gave him a kiss, put him down, and he scampered away to take his nap after saying, “Mattee, goodbye!” I locked myself in the volunteer office to give myself a minute to compose myself, and left with the group going to church and said goodbye to them there.

Mama Irene and Prince <3

Mama Irene and Prince rocking the shades I bought him

My departure was far from the spectacle I was partially expecting, and I definitely prefer it this way. I’m about as adept at goodbyes as I am at hellos, but at least tears don’t normally accompany introductions. I don’t like fusses being made over me, and I know that about 24 hours from now I’ll be bombarded with an insane amount of it from my sister family.

If somebody told me 5 years ago that I’d be working with children again I would have deemed that thought as outrageous. I had seen the dangers of becoming attached to kids, I had felt the pain of saying goodbye to people that I became close with who I’d never see again. I promised my 15 year old-self that I would never put myself through that again, that no matter how much I enjoyed spending time with kids, having to leave them behind isn’t worth it. That summer in 2007, really this one kid, affected me in ways I don’t think I realized until now. You become attached and then one day it’s just over. Maybe part of why I’ve been so unwilling to form relationships with other people over the years has been partially because of this.

This time around, 5 years later, I think I’ll be alright. A major difference between me at 15 and me at 20 is that I’ll appreciate the time I’ve spent with these kids and not just dwell on the ending. I went in with an understanding that these relationships are only temporary, so I wasn’t hit with the unbearable realization that it was all about to end in the past few days. I opened up a part of myself that may have been locked away since that summer, and with that opening I exposed myself to so much love, so much renewed appreciation of the value of human relationships. I’m not sure how much effect this will have on me, but I suppose time will tell.

I want to thank everyone for reading these every week, for all the compliments I’ve received. People being interested in what I have to say is something I’m not really used to, and I really appreciate it. I’m not sure where this blog will be a month from now, but I’ll do the best that I can to make my life a bit more interesting so I have things worth writing about. I’ll definitely be back again within the next week to talk about what being home has been like.

One thing I can guarantee? So. Much. Pizza.

Adventure Ho(Hoe)!

Once again, I apologize for keeping any of you (mom and dad) in suspense while waiting for another update.  70% of the reason behind the delay is that I didn’t have much to discuss since last Wednesday, and 30% is because I had to study for two final exams this week. And these blogs take roughly 4 hours to complete.

You’re welcome.

Shortly after posting last week’s entry, I received a letter.  On the front of the envelope in red, menacing block letters was “ELECTION MATERIAL. PLEASE EXPEDITE.” Sure enough, inside the envelope was my absentee ballot for the Presidential election. It was mailed out on October 17th, arriving November 14. So yeah. KissExpedite my ass, Nassau County.

Not sure if it’s legal for me to be posting a picture of my ballot.

I managed to squeeze in a trip to Beacon House the next afternoon, and not much happened other than a quick game of ‘Run Away from Prince!’ Unfortunately, the game ended in disaster:

The Anguish of Prince: Part XXVII

Who would ever cry over not being able to catch me? Me?!

Just toddlers, apparently.

That Friday morning I departed with 2 other friends for the Volta Region in eastern Ghana, bordering Togo.  It’s probably the most naturally beautiful region of Ghana I’ve visited so far, with rivers, lakes, and mountains sprinkled throughout.

We arrived in Ho (let’s attempt to contain the immaturity…I may have struggled to) after maybe 3.5 hours and caught a connecting tro tro to Kpando (‘k’ is silent) where our first two points of interest were located.  After lunch we began our supposedly 1 mile trek to the Blues of Ur, a meditation/prayer center described in my guide book as “the most bizarre tourist attraction in Ghana.” That’s all I needed to know.

Tourism! Tourism!! Tourism!!!

After wandering aimlessly along the road for much more than 1 mile, we finally arrived.  There was more aimless wandering while trying to find the exact location of the meditation center, bringing us through cornfields and semi-creepy, seemingly abandoned homes.  Once we stumbled upon located where we needed to be, we were led by a very informative lady through the center, comprising a shit ton of Virgin Mary/Jesus statues and shrines. Did I say informative? Cause she actually knew absolutely nothing. Like when the statues were built.

Please enjoy these pictures of Jesus and Mary:

Ah, the Virgin Mary. What a cutie

Jesus! Lookin good, buddy!

Our next stop was Kpando Potters, a small pottery village filled with wonderful ladies. Their products were really beautiful (and cheap), and I easily would have purchased more than I did if I had more room in my bag/didn’t have a poor history with transporting pottery back home.  I don’t remember half of what I’ve purchased as gifts these past few months, but hopefully it’s enough for me to avoid the belittlement of my mother.

Not likely.

On our way to our final destination of the day, Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary, our taxi driver may or may not have ran over a child’s foot.  Can’t be sure. There wasn’t any crying, but he may have just been in shock. I guess it wasn’t too serious because we were back on the road soon after. A few minutes later we were flagged down by a man who needed to get his daughter to the hospital. Luckily for me, the mother/sick child sat next to me in the back of the taxi. When the girl wasn’t breastfeeding, she was coughing all over me. ‘Cause that’s just my life.

We chose to stay the night at Tafi Atome and take advantage of the $10/person accommodation, dinner, breakfast, and sanctuary tour deal that’s offered there.  For that price I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised by the lack of working toilets/showers.  But at least there was a squatty potty (hole in the ground)! We had dinner with a group of Canadian/European volunteers who coincidentally were part of Projects Abroad, the organization I volunteered with when I went to Peru and Botswana. This is one of the rare times that I’ve expressed more enthusiasm over finding something in common with strangers than the other person(s).  Unfriendliness I can appreciate. I took this chance encounter as a sign that next summer I need to volunteer again somewhere.  Maybe in Asia. We’ll see.

We woke up at 5:30 the next morning for our 6:00 monkey encounter. Upon waking up I noticed that my throat was sore and my nose stuffy. Uh oh! That sick baby infected me! Maybe. I don’t know. But that baby did cough on me a lot.

look at those faces!

It wasn’t so bad, and nothing was going to diminish my excitement over seeing monkeys. We + the Projects Abroad crew were taken to pick up some bananas, learning along the way that the sanctuary is home to over 400 Mona monkeys.  The guide did some kind of monkey call, and almost immediately roughly 6-8 of the little guys scampered down from the trees looking extremely confused and slightly petrified. Or maybe that’s just how their faces always look. Anyway, by the time we ran out of bananas, 2-4 monkeys had climbed all up on me. And it was awesome.

After a hearty breakfast of pasta and bread served on Barack Obama plates (!!), we were on our way to our next destination, HoHoe(pronounced Hohoy). To get to the junction to catch a tro tro, we needed to take a motorbike. I never thought I’d ever ride on the back of a motorcycle, but Africa seems to be the only place I’m willing to do somewhat cool/ridiculous things.

We took a taxi from HoHoe to Wli (Vlee) Falls where we’d be staying the day/night.  After spending about an hour hotel hopping, trying to find one that wasn’t horrifyingly expensive, we settled on one that cost us a steep $6.00/person.

The falls were about a 40 minute leisurely stroll away through a forest and across 9 bridges. The falls itself instantly became one of the most stunning places I’ve visited in my life; I’m always a sucker for a beautiful view. It probably wasn’t the wisest decision for me to swim in the freezing water with my clothes on while sick, but when do I ever make good decisions? Wait. Probably 92% of the time.

There was a minor incident while hiking up to an observation point; We were accosted by an excessively angry guide who demanded that we pay an extra $1.50 for hiking up there. We weren’t having any of that nonsense. But later on there was a lot of yelling in foreign languages and we decided to just throw money at them and leave.

We decided to head back to Accra a day early since we saw pretty much everything there was to see, and because money supplies were becoming an issue. I’m always down for saving money, so by 4:30 we were on our way!

Except it took 2 hours for the tro tro to leave HoHoe. To make the ride extra enjoyable, I was in the middle of a row that should not have squeezed 4 people into, and my nose and throat were rapidly deteriorating. Needless to say, by the time we arrived on campus at around 11:30 PM, I was ready to never use Ghanaian public transportation ever again.

The next few days were mostly spent procrastinating studying and expelling phlegm and mucus from my body. I had an interview Tuesday afternoon with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars for an internship position I arbitrarily applied for a few days earlier. It was advertised as a “Development Internship” so I assumed international development would be involved and so I didn’t actually read the internship description. Turns out development can also refer to fundraising. Whoops. Anyway, a combination of my extreme inability to get through an interview, a poor cell connection, and my stuffy nose resulted in a 20 minute trainwreck that revealed just how unqualified I am for any job. When I was asked to describe my strengths and weaknesses, I should have just replied with, “Well, I possess the obedience of an attention-deprived puppy who’s willing to do just about anything to receive a treat, but I lack any beneficial skills that would appeal to you or any employer anywhere in the world. Ever. Am I hired?” I won’t be holding my breath for a formal offer for the position next week.

I had two final exams this week, starting with Development Studies on Wednesday and Twi on Thanksgiving Thursday. Twi was much more disastrous than I was expecting. It turns out that the class I mocked a few weeks ago made up 10% of the exam. I figured that lesson was completely useless and didn’t study it at all, which wasn’t my brightest move. Eh. Whatever. Ghana’s weird and all you need is an 80 (sometimes a 70) to receive an ‘A.’ Not gonna worry about it too much.

CIEE just loves spoiling us and organized a Thanksgiving dinner for everyone at a really nice restaurant. Since cooking isn’t something my family excels at, Thanksgiving  has been spent at a restaurant for a majority of the past 10 years. Turns out that eating at a kosher restaurant on Thanksgiving is just about as miserable as it sounds. I forced my family to actually put in some effort and have dinner at home 2 years ago, resulting in this:

Cranberry…sauce?

This was supposed to be minestrone soup.

The food consumed at this restaurant was magnificent. There was turkey, chicken, stuffing, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, rice, and salad, ending with apple pie. I had everything twice. This was just a prelude to the food rampage I will embark on 25 days from now. Look out, every pizza establishment within a 5 mile radius of my house!

I woke up from my food coma on Friday morning, got myself together and went to Beacon House, where I got to witness the kids being woken up by throwing them on the trampoline. The results were pretty miserable:

So much misery

Later that night, I was interrupted from my plans of catching up on Grey’s Anatomy and working on this gem of an entry by some friends inviting me to a fake-birthday party, which was basically just an excuse to consume copious amounts of alcohol. Here are some highlights of the night:

  • I played flip cup for the first time, and was shockingly fantastic. Maybe it’s because I was substantially less intoxicated then some of the other participants at this time.
  • Cheers, Governor (governah?)!  is just a ridiculous game that was the downfall of many, including myself.
  • Absinthe was poured into my beer at one point, and it was probably the most disgusting thing I’ve ever consumed. It’s also green. And was apparently also illegal for a long time in the US. Didn’t know that at the time, but I can understand why it was outlawed. It’s diabolical.

This was probably the first night that I can say I was definitely drunk, and will probably be the last. Can’t let myself become too much of a real 20 year old.

We’re getting down to the wire here, folks. 25 more days! I’ll be traveling for a week to northern Ghana starting on Monday on a quest to see some elephants and hippos and other cool northern Ghanaian attractions. By the time I get back I’ll only have 2 weeks left here, which is unreal to think about. I’ll probably have one more update to talk about next week’s trip, and maybe a final entry for some concluding thoughts and reflections.

And then my blog will probably spiral into oblivion, since my normal life consists of little that’s worth writing about. But who knows? Maybe some of my willingness to be a semi-fun person will carry over to next semester.

But that’s pretty doubtful.

Here’s some Ray LaMontagne to brighten your afternoon

“This White Woman Touched My Balloon!”

Week 12’s academic experience was about as thrilling as previous weeks.  However, I did learn that “moustache” in Twi is “mfemfem.” How adorable is that?!  Other than that, the main development of the week was learning that I’ll be presenting a group oral report on Ghanaian media a week earlier than expected (November 7), meaning I’ll have 2 weeks free for traveling before my first final exam.  Good thing we’re about 12% prepared for that presentation. Eh. (But seriously, uh oh).

My day at Beacon House on Thursday began once again with helping Ben work through a Ghanaian short story, one that was about as ridiculous as the last one about a slow-moving bus driver. This week’s featured 6 Ghanaian ladies traveling to a school to help teachers “work harder.”  Women teachers were taught subjects that had generally been instructed by men, like Math, Science…basically anything that isn’t home/baby-related.  Everyone was just ecstatic that women were taught how to “work harder.” Lord. If this story sounds ridiculous, take a look at what next week has in store:

Before lunch, and because I can’t go a day without something comical happening, I had to deal with removing a wild animal from the classroom.  This ordeal lasted for about 30 minutes (23 minutes longer than it probably should have lasted). The damn creature decided to hide in the corner of the classroom where all the 50+ pound rice bags were.  With the help of this beautiful Swiss lady, I hoisted away about  33% 66% of the bags before zeroing in on the target: a small moderately-sized lizard.

Look at this bastard

After almost shitting my pants when seeing how outrageously long the tail was, and after we she stopped hyperventilating, we armed ourselves with brooms and created a pathway for the little dude to escape outside through. It really wasn’t that big of a deal.  I just can’t resist hyperbole always sometimes.  The experience is pretty comparable to this video. Skip to about 1:52, or watch the entire thing because they’re British which means they’re perfect.

I made it back from lunch just in time to watch the conclusion of the original 1966 Batman film starring Adam West.  I had never seen this movie before, but after seeing the concluding fight scene, I think I will need to watch it about 12 more times. I’m not really sure what the purpose of the cat was, but I’m really glad he/she was an integral part of the scene. Bon voyage, pussy!

After the movie finished, and because the day evidently wasn’t jocular enough, I had to help blow up more balloons for the kids. Look. It’s wonderful that the simplest things like balloon sword fights can bring so much entertainment, but after everybody’s balloon eventually met its demise and with all the tears and demands for roughly 126 more balloons that followed, I was just not interested anymore. I decided to sadistically snatch some balloons just because I found their reactions to the slightest inkling of balloon thievery hilarious.

I can’t even with this kid

Is the loss of a balloon for maybe 4 seconds really worth screaming and bursting into tears over? Geesh. Anyway, the real thing to take away from this experience is the following complaint from 4 year old Michael to one of the house mothers: “This white woman touched my balloon!”

My life. On the bright side, I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that day for perhaps the first time in a decade. It was fantastic.

My sandal met its probable permanent demise on the way back to campus that evening. I guess for a $0.25 repair, I shouldn’t be too saddened that it only survived 5 more days.  Rest well, buddy. Maybe we’ll resuscitate you back in New York.

I couldn’t go to work Friday morning because we all had to attend a “lecture” on slavery to “prepare” us for our trip to Cape Coast to visit centuries-old castles where the slave trade was conducted for hundreds of years.  Once the lecturer began by uttering, “The Jews were enslaved by Egypt! Have you heard about that?” I knew my time was about to be wasted. Things deteriorated fairly quickly, culminating in him advising us to not let ourselves be emotionally affected by our visit to the slave castles. He honestly couldn’t understand how people, even those with ancestral connections to the slave trade, could get to the point of tears when walking through the dungeons and seeing the conditions slaves were subjected to.  I could physically feel how offended the entire room was. Pocahontas understands.

Later that afternoon, after acquiring a new pair of sandals by the mall that I struggled immensely expertly bargained down to $12.50, I received a knock on my door. I don’t know what possessed me to open it, but I’m really glad I did because 2 friendly people had come to talk to me! They told me they were just visiting rooms checking up on people, which seemed harmless enough.  After more pleasantries were exchanged, the girl asked me if I knew Jesus Christ. Great. I know where this is going, I thought. “Oh, yeah. I’ve got him on speed dial” I replied in my head.  They didn’t seem too phased when I told them that I was Jewish, and that my Jesus knowledge wasn’t too extensive. “Savior, blah blah” is pretty much what I said when they asked me what I knew about him. After about 20 minutes and they had exhausted the usual nonsense about how nothing done or any accomplishment on Earth matters at all unless I accept Jesus as my Savior, they recommended that I read a book they saw on my roommate’s shelf entitled Hell Is Full of Good People. Yeah. I’ll add that to my damn reading list. They also told me that they’d return shortly with a Bible for me. STILL WAITING! Take it away, April.

We left at around 7:30 Saturday morning for Cape Coast, about 3.5 hours outside of Accra.  We visited Kakum National Park which featured a canopy-walk of 7 bridges, 100-150 (or more. Or less. Not sure) feet above the ground.  This experience was slightly more terrifying than I had expected; the guide told us not to worry if the wood creaked under our feet. I worried. By Bridge 3 my legs were less jelly-like and I was able to enjoy and appreciate the views and moment more.

Just a tad terrifying

The main highlight and real focus of the trip was the visit to Elima and/or Cape Coast Castle. I and a few other people elected to visit just Cape Coast Castle, the youngest of the Ghanaian slave trade castles, constructed in the mid-17thcentury. A reflection session was held after dinner to discuss the trip, and people were able to so eloquently and articulately vocalize their thoughts and feelings, in ways I have never been able to do. 36 hours later I’m still trying to work through exactly how I feel/felt about walking through one of history’s grossest blemishes.  The smells, seeing first-hand the rooms where hundreds of Africans were kept in the dark with no sanitation, hearing the stories of physical abuse and rape…it’s just incomprehensible. The juxtaposition of the beauty of the Castle’s exterior/its location and the understanding of what slaves experienced as they were led through the “Door of No Return” was particularly jarring.

Slaves were led through the Door of No Return, the last door they’d walk through in Africa.

The last view of home the slaves would have.

The beautiful, shiny exterior of Cape Coast Castle.

I don’t know. I went to the Castle having no idea how I would react, or how I would feel. Some experiences take time for its significance to become apparent.  I might not have any direct connection to African slavery, but on a human level, this is an aspect of history that is universally important.  It needs to be understood what drove humanity to conduct these atrocities to help acknowledge or recognize what’s being done today that, while not at the scale of the slave trade, is comparable to the exploitative, power relationships that still exist throughout the world. Oppression didn’t start and end with the Atlantic Slave Trade. My family by virtue of being European Jews suffered through the Holocaust. Minority groups find themselves struggling daily in a society where difference is often equated with inferiority.

I maintain the belief that people aren’t all good or all bad, that seeing and recognizing our own flaws will allow for the acceptance of others.  But acceptance of others can’t come without first accepting and loving yourself. I’ve realized that part of why I have trouble relating to others is because of my unwillingness to let people really know me.  For whatever reason, (fear, I suppose), I came to the conclusion that aspects of my life needed to remain hidden in order to maintain any of the few relationships I have with other people.  While there’s been some progress this past year with self-acceptance, I’m still hindered by lingering distrust and poor self-esteem.  I’ve come across people whom I would love to be open with, but still find myself fearful of them not liking what they see. Them seeing nothing at all has been my preferred solution for so long and breaking from that mindset is something I’ve only recently begun attempting.

If anything, my trip to Cape Coast Castle has helped me recognize the progress humanity has made but also the reality that much more still needs to be done.  It’s helped me recognize this progress in myself and the issues I still grapple with.  It’s helped me appreciate the flawed-nature of humanity, and our privilege that allows us to choose whether or not to overcome these flaws.  Mankind’s unique ability to choose has been humanity’s most detrimental trait. It’s up to current and future generations to make this ability positive, powerful and valuable.

Alright, hope I didn’t lose all of you towards the end there.  To lighten things up, enjoy this scene from last week’s Parks and Recreation. The fact that I cried while laughing during this is a good indication of where my maturity level is:

To my New York/Washington, D.C. family and friends, stay safe and make good decisions!

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!