The Horse, The Kids, and The Haircut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cut Right? More like Cut Fright

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not sure what these people are.

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

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

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

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

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

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No, That’s a Dog. Not a Baboon.

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

Anyway. That concludes my weekly class rant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baboon? Nope! Just Milo.

A couple more highlights from the orphanage this week:

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

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

Traditional Asante house

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Ashanti/Kumasi highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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