An Ode to Mango Friends: Weeks 5 and 6

Mango Friend: a Sinhalese saying for a long-standing friendship.

My final two weeks in Sri Lanka were two of the best weeks of my life, weeks filled with so much joy, adventure, and love, intermixed with tearful goodbyes and an emotional drainage that I’ve never really experienced before. It will be hard to put my final days into words, especially as I’m writing this two months later, but I’ll do my best to put myself back into those moments, no matter how painful it may be.

Things got off to a pretty poor start with our morning class; I had prepared a dialogue for the girls to memorize over the weekend and to perform that Monday, but they forgot. Obviously I wasn’t about to scold these women who are older than me/are employed and are productive members of society (unlike me), so we just let them do it the next day. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but it involved a phone conversation about making plans for the weekend, filled with a couple obvious subliminal messages that didn’t really register with them the way I hoped (“I am craving Pizza Hut! It would be really nice to have a break from eating rice”). Otherwise the week was spent continuing with their short stories, with Hannah and I doing our best to explain the words they didn’t understand or couldn’t pronounce. “Three Musketeers” kept being pronounced as “Three Mosquitos”, and defining the word “source” was probably a bit more challenging than necessary.  Things quickly spiraled into a calamity when one of the girls came across the words “garter” and “girdle” (Really, what are those words even doing in children’s stories?), forcing us to Google Image both. So much discomfort. So much giggling by the girls.

I exerted a lot of effort with the boys during my 5th week, pushing myself to the limits with my intense and grueling crossword puzzles. WITH pictures. That’s some serious business, I’d say. We taught them as much as anyone can about clothing, and spent some time getting them to differentiate between domestic and wild animals. I think by the end of the week they may have finally understood that King Kong is not, in fact, an actual thing that exists in the world. We played so much cricket this week, and if I can’t say anything else about this class, at least I can say that these boys taught me how to play this game semi-decently. By the end of the week I was hitting so many “sixers” (still no clue what those are), and probably felt too much personal satisfaction over getting Jude out a few times. I was doing so well that I received the honor of Chamindu calling me “champion” a few times, which was honestly fantastic. Mostly I was happy that I progressed enough to stop hitting those damn sticks with my paddle-bat.

Jude on his way up the tree

Jude on his way up the tree

One time Jude launched their only tennis ball way up into one of the tallest coconut trees in the vicinity, but of course this wasn’t a problem for him. He climbed dozens of feet up the tree, and all I could think about was that I was about to witness the death of this ridiculous boy. I really should have stopped him, but these Sri Lankan boys must just be genetically predisposed to tree climbing. I couldn’t even handle climbing 8 feet without falling down and ripping open my wrist, so I was understandably dumbfounded.

I was also smacked in the penis this week while standing too close to one of the boys as he swung the bat.

Oh, and I wore my sarong to work. Because I wasn’t getting enough attention by just existing there. I was reduced to some serious waddle-walking.

Look at us!

Look at us!

I continued showing up to Bosco hours before my evening class this week and was rewarded by having to teach a class in the afternoon by myself to a different set of boys. This was predictably disastrous, and my attempts at covering some of the grammar we had been teaching to our evening class lasted roughly 9 minutes before I gave up and played Hangman. What can I say, I’m just that impressive.

Should've known they wouldn't be interested in "The Brothers Karamazov"

Should’ve known they wouldn’t be interested in “The Brothers Karamazov”

I was lucky enough to watch the boys play some fun new games in the afternoon, the most fascinating being the one in which they just threw a ball at each other with no apparent goal in mind besides to cause bum bruises. Otherwise, I just enjoyed the standard cuteness that took place on a regular basis. I made the (probable) poor decision of breaking out my Kindle with the innocent intention of helping a couple of the kids practice reading English, but that just deteriorated into the kids pushing all the buttons and trying to find the games that don’t exist on that device. My iPod was another hit, and no matter how many times the kids begged and pleaded, songs by Akon and Gangnam Style will never appear in my Purchased Songs list. Sorry, weirdos. No “Smack That” for you.

The majority of our energy was spent preparing our evening class for their first exam, the culmination of all our weeks of mostly unsuccessful attempts of getting these kids to understand topics we barely understood ourselves. I spent hours preparing a study guide, and hoped (in vain) that they would really listen when I said that reading through the examples and explanations would guarantee a decent grade.  Hannah and I created the exam together, and we both agreed that it was our crowning moment at Bosco the day we distributed that test. Sure, our expectations were about as low as they can get, but we still had some infinitesimal hope that they would not all, I don’t know, fail.

Our exam!

Our exam!

Guess which portion I contributed to

Guess which portion I contributed to

Our crowning moment

Our crowning moment

Based off our new criteria of needing to score a 50 and above to pass, everybody came out a winner! There was a lot of internal crying as I graded the papers and saw so many of them getting in the 50s and 60s, but cried actual tears of joy when one of the boys, Yomal, scored an 88. It was the happiest moment of my time there as a teacher as it was just so unexpected. He never really spoke much and kind of looked like he was about to start drooling on the desk every night, so it was such a pleasant shock for us. Selfishly, it made Hannah and I feel like we hadn’t been completely useless those past few weeks. Do all teachers feel that way when grading exams?

YOMAL!!

YOMAL!!

...Anthony.

…Anthony.

Our weekend trip to Mirissa was the one Hannah and I had anticipated the most (after Kandy), a trip to the beach culminating after 4 grueling weeks of virtual non-stop bustling around. We desperately needed a weekend to just do absolutely nothing, and as it was Hannah’s and Bev’s final weekend in Sri Lanka, we were determined to make it as relaxing, sentimental, and booze-filled as possible.

Just chilling out the train door

Just chilling out the train door

Supposedly one of the most “appealing places” to spend a few days, Mirissa is located right on the southern tip of the island, and we were eager to take one last scenic coastal train ride to get there. There was roughly 12 volunteers converging at our destination, some whom I had never met before, so I basically decided to ignore the people I would never see again after that weekend and just enjoy the company of those I actually liked had spent the past weeks with.

Our train ride to Weligama (a few kilometers away from Mirissa) took about 5 hours, hours spent mostly standing and crammed against each other. The crazy guy I am, I decided to spend a large portion of the trip hanging out the open door, clutching the handles and just, I don’t know…living. Such a large portion of my life is spent confined within closed doors, so damn it, I just wanted some exhilaration. Hannah and I squeezed our bums together and sat side-by-side with our legs dangling over the edge, nibbling on our spicy roti served in somebody’s old used school exam and newspaper. It was really fantastic.

I <3 sanitation

I ❤ sanitation

There was a moment of complete giddiness that was unparalleled in those weeks when we arrived at our guesthouse, the Central Beach Inn, and realized that we’d be living directly on the beach for the weekend. A clean beach! And completely empty (so we thought)! We were greeted by these boys who looked like they belonged in Malibu, but were actually just some young, life-loving, marijuana-smoking hotel employees.

Mirissa Beach

Mirissa Beach

And so commenced our weekend of doing absolutely nothing; good food, swimming, sun-bathing and reading was intermixed with some passive-aggression towards those we didn’t really know/didn’t want to know, and of course, the alcohol. Naturally, the wild alcoholic I am, I only had a couple cocktails, one called Sex on the Beach. Definitely fitting. As the night deteriorated wore on, the young hotel workers kept on blasting the same songs over and over again, songs I would grow to permanently despise by the end of the weekend, namely “Get Lucky”. The absolute worst song. Everyone was becoming more and more intoxicated, and I basically just sat back and watched everyone devolve into their varying degrees of sloppiness. Throughout the night the boys kept on smoking, constantly trying to get me to join them. I’m pretty sure they had a feeling how abnormal I am and just wanted to laugh at my expense, something I’m more than used to at this point.

Anyway, I did it. I smoked the ridiculous boys’ weed (their names are Chamin/maybe Charmin and Diisa). Having never done something remotely crazy/fun in my life, I naturally struggled. Really struggled. Chamin attempted to teach me how to do it, but it was just not happening. Including this little tidbit wasn’t something I really planned on doing, lest my mother keel over, or, I don’t know, employers somehow decide to read this and think I’m some kind of rascal and miscreant, but my desire for full disclosure won out. And really, it was just one inhale, or whatever you call it. Hit?

Now that I’ve probably shocked the few who read this entire world, I’ll redeem my loser image by saying I decided against staying up past midnight like everyone else who wanted to continue being fun, choosing sleep instead. The ridiculous music and crazed singing happening prevented any possibility of sleep, so by around 1:00 AM I ventured back outside, shocked by how much things had deteriorated in such a short time.

Me and Bev before the struggle happened

Me and Bev before the struggle happened

Bev. Dear, beautiful Bev. I don’t think anyone in my entire life, in any instance, had ever been as excited to see me as Bev was when I showed up at the bar. It was unbelievable, really. “Matthew, you came back!! I’m so happy you’re here!!!” was uttered repeatedly, and so many hugs were given. I had no idea how to respond to these foreign declarations of affection towards me, the awkward weirdo I am, so I was basically reduced to a lot of uncomfortable laughter and blushing. It was just so unexpected, but definitely appreciated. Didn’t stop me from running back to my room as soon as possible, however. My main reason for getting out of there was that there was this other group of girls, also volunteers, who were just so loud and drunk (my two least favorite things) and I just wanted to punt these ladies off our beach. Oh, and “Project Sri Lanka” will NEVER be better than Projects Abroad, no matter how much you rave about the cheap prices. So shush.

That damn music didn’t stop playing until after 4 AM, so sleeping was rough. Unsurprisingly, most of the crew wasn’t mobile at 8 like I was, and that wait for my pancakes was not enjoyable. I got over that nonsense, and we all wandered the beach, climbing up the small island nearby and just taking in the beautiful views Mirissa offers. We were a little disappointed that there weren’t any stilt fishermen around that morning, but that didn’t really take away from how perfect the day was. Throughout those sun-filled hours, Diisa and Charmin kept on being young and crazy, and kept on trying to corrupt me.

You can see the stilts in the background

You can see the stilts in the background

Me, Charmin and Diisa. Too bad my shirt was nasty here

Me, Charmin and Diisa. Too bad my shirt was nasty here

Just so much relaxation, a wonderful reward for our weeks of hard work, a nice boost to get me through my final week, one that was equally one of the best and toughest I’ve had in my life.

We left that Sunday afternoon, a train ride that brought a sad goodbye to Kym and Bev, two of my favorite people from the trip. The ride took roughly 8 hours, a massive delay on account of some ginormous church feast which apparently mobilized the entirety of the population between Colombo and Negombo. The bus was literally unable to move for over 45 minutes because of this. Thanks a lot, Jesus.

My favorite picture with Bev. We never did find out what that ice cream flavor was

My favorite picture with Bev. We never did find out what that ice cream flavor was

My final week began with the arrival of two new volunteers, Kirsten from the Netherlands and Jakub/”Kuba” from Poland. Apparently Jakub is too hard for people to pronounce? I wasn’t too enthusiastic about having 5 people in the house, the social butterfly I am, but luckily they met my usually-unattainable standards for likeability.

Having these new people in the house meant that Mac and Paulita needed to increase the food supply, so instead of preparing food that would be adequate for about 8 people (a reasonable amount at this point), they prepared food sufficient for at least 12. One morning, we walked into the kitchen for breakfast and were met with a platter of 20 “pancakes”/taquitos. Maybe if they actually tasted good I wouldn’t have minded, but they were just nasty. We ended up hoarding them into some plastic bags, smuggled them out of the house, and threw them away. We were awful human beings that day, but really, Macmilan, you need to learn about appropriate portion sizes.

NOT OKAY

NOT OKAY

This week was really about spending as much time at Bosco as possible. One more day was spent going over animals/clothing with the boys, including an “exam” that involved matching. Their horrendous scores affirmed the sad fact that we really didn’t accomplish much with them, but it was always the personal connections forged with the kids, really getting to know and understand them, that mattered to me anyway. We spent the last few days going over the human body, allowing us to display our artistic deficits capabilities one last time. And more word searches! If I can’t say anything else about that class, I can say that at least I helped develop their concentration and problem solving abilities. Maybe.

Volleyball Turmoil

Volleyball Turmoil

A lot of volleyball was played that week, probably the most popular sport in Sri Lanka. These boys are good, like…I didn’t want to participate and embarrass myself. Of course we did participate, and thankfully Hannah absorbed a majority of the jeers as her volleyball abilities are about as dreadful as my abilities at everything else. Jude was so pissed at her a few times, and I was really concerned that their friendship would be at jeopardy, devastating considering how much they loved each other. My cricket prowess was developed further, and football continued to render me disgusting looking and injured. One of my toes still hurts from kicking the ground instead of the ball, the talented athlete I am. Jakub solidified his status as Football Champion, his standing as Poland’s most talented young player leaving the kids in awe.

Our final week with the evening class was wonderful, as always. Hannah and I had purchased some biscuits and something extra for our shining pupil Yomal as rewards for surviving our grueling exam. That Monday night I marched into our office where I had stored the food, took out the bag and discovered that one of the biscuit packages was missing. Realizing that somebody had stolen it was one of the most miserable moments I had there; so many rupees down the drain (but really like $0.80)!! I had to dig deep into my pockets to muster the money required to replace what was taken, but in the end, there was so much joy over the food/”passing” the exam. We realized that we probably should’ve given that exam at the very end of our stay, because then we had to awkwardly begin a new topic, prepositions (why are there so many?!), that we’d only have about 4 total days to teach. These kids were struggling a lot with this topic, culminating in my favorite student, Anthony Saviour, writing, “I was under my wife when she died.” It was honestly one of the greatest things I’d ever witnessed, despite the fact that it likely underscored how ineffective I was at teaching. Oh well. At least we had some laughs.

It really began to dawn on the kids that Hannah and I would be leaving, and there was a noticeable somberness in the kids’ demeanor. It was different when I was in Ghana; I would say I’m leaving soon but the kids never really acted like they understood what that meant, that I wouldn’t be coming back. Here I just got the sense that everyone did understand, and I could tell that they were going to be hurt. They just kept asking when we’d be back, as if it’s so easy to hop back and forth throughout the year.

Hannah’s final day on July 3 would be the second saddest day of my 6 weeks in Sri Lanka, after my own, of course. I don’t really know how to describe her final day (and mine, for that matter), how to capture the beauty and misery that alternated those long hours.

This picture's perfect because Jude's actually smiling

This picture’s perfect because Jude’s actually smiling

I think we really tried to treat the day as normally as possible, to not dwell on the sadness and just make the day as fantastic as it could be. And for the most part we were successful, at least in the morning. And then as we were heading out of Bosco for lunch, Jude ran over and gave Hannah this card that he supposedly wrote for her. In reality I believe that card may have been one his parents had sent him; he had crossed out “Dearest one” and replaced it with “Dearest Hannah.” This beautiful act began our downward emotional spiral, one that became more and more severe with each passing hour.

We were back early that afternoon, desperate to spend as much time with the kids as possible. Those few hours before the evening class were again spent normally enough; we played a lot of volleyball, and basically did everything we could to ignore the fact that tears were likely on the horizon. At the end of Hannah’s final evening class, our students presented her with gifts—this plaque with a prayer, and this tiny model boat. It was so unexpected and sweet, but definitely deserved. That girl worked her ass off, and like me had really no idea what she was doing. We made the best of a difficult situation and devoted ourselves completely to those kids. Receiving some recognition was a real pleasant surprise, from a group of people who really made our trip worth it.

Our evening class <3

Our evening class ❤

After we took some group pictures, we made our way to the study room where all the kids work until dinner so Hannah could begin the impossible task of saying goodbye. I left her alone to spend time with Jude, and just wandered around trying to keep down that dread I mentioned from boiling over. Sasara helped with that; just when I thought Starbucks had exhausted every possible way of ridiculously spelling my name (Mat, Ben, Met, BET!!!!!), he comes up with “Matiw”. Granted, their Sinhala words are difficult to say/spell (Tuesday=Angaharuwada), but really. Just so creative!

It was at around 8:00 PM that everything really deteriorated; the entire Bosco Sevena population gathered in the room, forming this circle around Hannah. Clapping commenced, drums started being played, and everyone began singing this song with lyrics including “Thank you, thank you Hannah” or something like that. I couldn’t really make out much of what was being said because I had a serious case of the dreaded “insta-tears” that I seem to be really prone to these days. Hannah at this point was overcome with tears of her own, while simultaneously attempting to console Jude who was absolutely sobbing. There really is nothing more devastating then the tears of a child, someone so young who should never have to say permanent goodbyes yet. And the fact that this was Jude, truly one of the most special people we’ve encountered, just escalated the pain. I didn’t want to take away any of this moment from Hannah, so I snuck out of the room and just let her enjoy one of the most beautiful experiences I’m sure she’s had. If I’m honest with myself I know that I also left because I knew that I, too, might be receiving a similar send-off just a few days later, and it felt like I was gazing into a future I really didn’t want to see come true.

We all shared a feast prepared by Father Melinda, and finally by around 9:00 had said her final tearful goodbyes. She was given a Bosco Sevena shirt, really the one thing both of us had been looking forward to since we got there. Sure that shirt may have about 4 colors too many, but it’s still the greatest shirt she (and later I) have been given.

We had second dinner (of course) back home, and stayed up talking and just trying to prolong the inevitable, I suppose. As I laid in bed that night, I was reduced to someone I never thought actually existed: the person who cries himself to sleep while listening to Adele. Yup. That happened. It was just an emotionally draining day, and I guess it all caught up with me. And I suppose a lot of it did have to do with the thought of having to part from a friend the following morning. People who know me are probably going to be shocked to read that, and really, I was taken aback myself. I will always be the first to admit to not being the easiest person to be friends with; I’m guarded, insecure, apathetic, even, when it comes to forging relationships. I think my main issue has always been assuming people would just not see anything likeable in me, so I’ve just avoided trying to find out, really. But in situations like the one I was in with Hannah, when we were thrust together and forced to spend basically all our time together, it’s a little hard to avoid some kind of relationship, whether it’s one founded on like or disgust. By some miracle we experienced the former, and I can honestly say that she’s one of my favorite people today. I really don’t know how I would have made it through those weeks at Bosco without her help and laughter. Also she’s British, so…can’t really go wrong there.

Here's Hannah. With my underwear.

Here’s Hannah. With my underwear.

We said our final goodbyes the following morning at our bus stop, one final hug to start off a fairly miserable morning. Poor Anthony Saviour set the tone for the day when we arrived, saying to me “My heart is crying,” a sentiment I could definitely relate to, albeit in probably a less dramatic fashion. That kid really has a thing for hyperbole, as he would later tell me, “You are the greatest human.” Like…how does one really respond to such an over the top compliment, from somebody the same age as you?  I was not equipped.

Anyway, after our class with the girls (we talked extensively about Sri Lankan weddings again), we spent our usual time between classes on the Internet. At one point Jude came sulking in, looking about as glum as I expected, and said softly to me, “Hannah SMS?” Awwwww. I pulled out my phone and called Hannah, something we’d agreed to do before she boarded her plane. It was easily the cutest thing I’d seen so far, how completely Jude’s mood changed once he heard Hannah’s voice again. Obviously Hannah did most of the talking, but just seeing him smile again after the previous evening was wonderful.

From then on things were substantially better. I was encouraged to see that the boys weren’t sitting around mourning Hannah’s absence, which made me feel a little better about my own impending departure. The one thing that kept me worried in the months after leaving Ghana was the thought of the kids at Beacon House feeling sad or abandoned by me. Instead, when I arrived back to Bosco after lunch, I was treated to a mini concert put on by Jude and Kasun. They were bashing this symbol and rocking out on a chair/drum, unfortunately singing Gagnam Style. But that’s okay. They were so ridiculously happy! So much laughter. Also Kasun was wearing a FIRECE shirt.

That Friday afternoon, my three remaining housemates went off on their weekend trip to some wildlife park, leaving me to enjoy my final weekend on my own. I had decided weeks before to spend my final days at Bosco, partly because I didn’t have a lot of interest in spending time with a massive group of people I would only ever see for those 2 days, and because everyone I had known and became close with were gone at that point. My main reason was because I wanted to spend as much time with the kids as I could, because really, the weekend traveling was only secondary to the true reason I was there: to work. And also, I didn’t need to see more elephants.

I was really curious about what went on at Bosco on weekends, and was pleased to see when I arrived that Saturday morning that they have IT classes; they were learning things like where the Spacebar and Tab Key is. Adorable! Afterwards, they had a lot of free time, and I was treated to the first of many drum/singing performances by Sasara and the others. Their main objective was to get me to take videos of them, using me for my technology, basically. They certainly aren’t camera shy, which resulted in a few really amazing/sometimes violent/always cute recordings. I tried finding videos that didn’t devolve into bizarre faux-brawls, but that would have left me basically with one video to share. So…enjoy!

Sometime in the early afternoon, the boys were instructed to partake in some kind of chore. When it became apparent that that chore involved clearing the entire grounds of the hundreds of coconuts that had fallen over the past few days, I just couldn’t believe it. There was just so many. But they apparently loved every minute of it; really, I don’t think American kids would so readily spend a couple hours in the heat hurling coconuts into a massive pile.

Ridiculousness

Ridiculousness

That afternoon for lunch we were all brought to this nearby family’s home, for reasons I was a bit unclear on. I’m not sure how one family can prepare food for over 60 people, but it was lovely. I was fortunate to spend that hour sitting with a group of possibly the oldest people in existence, treating me to some awkward intelligible exchanges and some fabulous questions. The old man who was the most fond of me asked if I knew the Pope. Well…not too well, surprisingly.

I woke up on my second to last day to the surprising news that a new volunteer from France, Hugo, had arrived. My first thought, unsurprisingly, was No! Why?!  I did my best to come across as friendly and welcoming (probably unsuccessfully), but really wanted to get out of there and go to Bosco as quickly as possible. So by around 7:45 AM I had awkwardly left him alone, probably not the nicest thing to do to somebody who just landed. Sorry! Just to make my departure more unfortunate, I may or may not have been responsible for little Herma falling on her face. On concrete. Just so many screams and tears. I’m really not sure what happened, but…I just got out of there.

I got to Bosco in time to see what these kids eat for breakfast everyday: So. Much. Bread. Basically half a loaf per kid, making me feel a little better about my own giant pieces of sugar bread I was forced to consume every day. After breakfast the kids either played more games or attended their “Good Manners” class. With that name I assumed they’d be learning some dining etiquette or something ridiculous like that, but I’m pretty sure it just ended up being something Jesus-related. It was taught in Sinhala so I have no idea what actually went on there, but they certainly weren’t learning to say “Please” and “Thank you.” Afterwards I took a few more videos of crazed drum playing until I was treated to the biggest surprise of all that day:

BAND PRACTICE!

Almost everyone plays some kind of instrument, to the standard drums to the bizarre accordion/piano thing Sasara plays that involves blowing into a tube. And Jude with his tambourine? It was just too much. This powerful, authoritative lady arrived to conduct them, and she really took this seriously. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw them marching around the grounds rehearsing Sri Lanka’s National Anthem, looking like a legitimate, cohesive talented ensemble. It was just so strange, and so special to be a part of. Jude of course couldn’t refrain from causing mischief.

More games were played in the afternoon, and then a large portion of the boys were called away to do what I believe was cleaning out more gutter poop. Once again, boys were hoisted down into the depths of Bosco’s smelly sewers, shoveling bucket after bucket of (hopefully) mud out. My sympathy got the best of me once again, and I attempted to help. It took just about 12 seconds of me being in their presence for Sasara to drop a concrete slab in a puddle I was standing near, splattering me from the knees down in whatever it is they’re swimming around in. If anyone but Sasara had been the culprit I might have been displeased, but there’s no way I’m about to scold that kid. Especially when right after, he and a few others immediately proceeded to douse me with water in crazed attempts at cleaning me off. Really not that big of a deal, guys.

EW.

EW.

Thanks, guys

Thanks, guys

The boys finished their strange assignment just in time for the sunset, which I watched descend for my second to last time as they all washed off in the ocean. It was a rare cloudless evening, allowing for one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve sat through.IMG_4532

By the time I arrived back home that evening, everyone else had returned from their weekend travels. I heard all about the countless elephants they encountered, which I feigned some interest in learning about. In my mind I just kept thinking about how my weekend was probably superior. I mean…band practice! That’s worth about a thousand wild elephants, I’d say.

And so we come at last to my final day, July 8th. I never wrote about this day in my journal, but now, two months later, I still have basically every detail inscribed in my memory.

Like Hannah’s final day, mine began routinely enough. I had my final class with the girls, and they thanked me in the end for all my help. Honestly I struggled throughout with my role as a teacher to them, women who were substantially more accomplished and experienced than me. But I think we all helped each other, really; we learned so much about Sri Lankan culture from these women, and if Hannah and I managed to improve their English in any small way, then I’m satisfied.

I was surprised (and pleased) to see Sasara at Bosco that morning; It turns out he had done some sinister thing the previous day and his punishment was to stay home from school and to copy page after page of this history book. It was a mess, but I was happy to spend more time with the kid, probably getting him into more trouble by allowing him to play football with us when he was supposed to be working. But this was my final beach football game, so…the kid was going to play. I distributed some food offerings to all the boys in my class as a parting gift, including sweets Hannah’s mother had sent for her which finally arrived literally the day she left.  England really does know how to make some fantastic candy.

What every kid dreams of receiving

What every kid dreams of receiving

I returned to Bosco after lunch while the others went off to the pool, arriving in time to catch Sasara burst into tears over the “impossibility” of his writing punishment. Really not what I wanted to see on my last day, but I had at least brought some gifts to cheer him up! Looking back, I probably shouldn’t have purchased those 18 or so tennis balls, since, you know, there are over 40 total kids there. But I didn’t feel like blowing my remaining rupees on balls they’d probably be losing within 2 days, and I didn’t even know many of those boys. Definitely didn’t stop them from demanding asking for my goods. And the fact that so much joy and excitement came from receiving a tennis ball never ceased to amaze me, kind of like the balloon fiascos at Beacon House. Then I remember that these boys never receive presents and it all makes a little more sense. So as expected, Sasara’s mood picked up once I presented him with his tennis ball offering. Those tears needed to wait.

My emotional state started its slow descent into debilitation by the time my final evening class began. They all knew it was my last day, and Anthony was basically a complete mess. He demanded that I write down all my contact information for him, told me a few more times how his heart was crying. Mine too, buddy. We made it through my final lesson on prepositions (Hell), and that’s about when my first tears made their appearance. After I wrote down my email address on the board, I was presented with three(!!!) gifts from a few of my students. The first package contained a mug, and another this cross that flashes all these lights. My instant thought was, “Well…my mother is not going to want me hanging this up in the house…”.  The gift that really mattered to me was this plaque that’s specifically for teachers, and contained this prayer and words of gratitude. It was really just the sweetest thing anyone’s given me, and just made my heart begin its painful collapse. I made my way out to the study room where I knew things were about to get a lot worse.

Things were fine for a little while; I almost believed I’d be able to get through these final moments without any fuss. I still had a few tennis balls to distribute, and by this point everyone knew I had them. Unfortunately by this point I only had about 8 left, so I really had to think hard about who I was going to give them to. Except as soon as I made a move to take out the bag, I was swarmed by the entire room and the decision was (literally) taken out of my hands.  Welp. Sorry, guys.

At that point I wasn’t sure what I should do, so I decided it was time for me to finally get going. I made my way over to the few boys I really cared about, planning on saving Sasara for last, and that was about when the misery I had been expecting made its appearance. One by the one the boys starting coming up to me and commenced handing over these offerings, mostly some pictures depicting Don Bosco, or some kind of doodle. So that was really cute. Some of the boys had started to tear up, even ones I had barely spent time with. Before I knew it there was a lineup of kids against the wall, each looking sadder then the next, just standing there with tears streaming down their faces. All I could think was, “This is over ME?! Did I really matter that much to them?!” At a complete loss of what I should do, I just started hugging everybody. I don’t know how many tears my shirt absorbed that evening (mostly my own), but for the most part I had managed to keep myself together.

And then I look over and see Jude and Sasara in similar states of sadness, and it was at that point my efforts at keeping myself poised and collected began to crumble. I tried, really tried not to break down in front of them. I didn’t want them feeling worse than they did, and for me, I’m never one to let myself display that much vulnerability and pain in public. To that point I had never made a scene of my emotions before, always finding ways to keep my feelings bottled up until they could be released privately. I just couldn’t do it this time.

I eventually looked up and realized that the entirety of Bosco Sevena had crowded into the room, and once I saw a few of the boys holding drums I knew what was coming next. I was trapped in the circle of clapping, singing children, many of whom were still crying, chanting their “Thank you thank you Matthew” sendoff and if I had managed to keep myself under any semblance of control, that was basically gone by then. I couldn’t control the tears anymore, and just gave in to them. I suppose it was a really cathartic experience for me, one that I kind of wish didn’t have to happen in front of the other volunteers I had barely known. Sorry that you had to witness two emotional collapses within a week, Kirsten and Jakub. But I’m sure they had similar experiences when they left, even you, big manly Kuba.

At some point during the singing and drum blaring, Jude came in with one of the Fathers carrying a bag. He was sobbing uncontrollably, and before I could crouch down to hug the kid, he was on his knees, and KISSED MY FEET. I believe there was a “Matthew God bless you” uttered by him, but I just couldn’t believe that had just happened. Once I opened the bag and saw there was a Don Bosco shirt and Sarong(!!), there really just was no stopping the crying. I don’t know how to describe a moment like that, really. When in life are you ever shown so much love at one time by such a large group of people? It just doesn’t happen, at least not to me.

Finally the singing had stopped, and many of the boys left to go to the dining room, leaving a few crying stragglers behind. I took off my watch and placed in Jude’s hand; I just wanted him to have something of mine, something that would let him know that I cared, that his tears weren’t wasted. And then Sasara. I reached into my bag and pulled out my copy of Steinbeck’s East of Eden, my favorite book, one I had originally intended to leave for my host parents (sorry, guys). Obviously there is no way that kid will be reading it anytime soon, but I hope that one day, when he becomes Sri Lanka’s most intelligent young adult, he will pull out that book and read it/remember the awkward white boy who gave him it. Inside I had written “Goodbye, mango friend,” spending about 15 minutes writing out “goodbye” in Sinhala. It was time for some final hugs, giving Jude and Sasara extra long ones, hoping that somehow they understood that they were important to me. I led them out of the room and parted ways, giving one last look as I walked out of Bosco Sevena for the last time.

By the time we made it home by 9:00, I had managed to get myself together somewhat, just in time to enjoy my final Sri Lankan meal of…spring rolls. Freakin’ spring rolls. Fitting, I suppose. My flight was at around 4:45 the following morning, and since my host father was planning on driving me, I decided I would just head to the airport right after dinner. I wasn’t going to make him stay up so late for me, and I really just wanted to get these final goodbyes over with.IMG_4243

So at around 10:30 I was being driven alone by Mac, a quick 30 minute ride to the airport I assumed would be fairly uneventful. Of course there was some light conversation; he thanked me for coming, expressed hope that I would return and stay at his house again as a guest. That sounded like a pretty good deal to me, but then things started becoming exponentially uncomfortable. Mac started talking of his desire to come to America, asking me if I thought it would be difficult for him to find work there. “Well…I guess it depends on what you were looking to do” is what I basically told him. Cause I really don’t have any idea, really. And then he may or may have not requested my assistance in getting him a visa to America. UMMM…does it look like I have any knowledge of that process? I think he wanted me to go search out some kind of sponsor who could help get him into the country, or something to that effect. Yeah, I’ll get right on that. Thankfully by this point we were pulling into the airport, so with a quick goodbye I rushed inside, finally alone, finding myself with absolutely nothing to do 5 hours before my flight would be boarding.

So how does one spend those long hours at Bandaranaike International Airport, too early to even check in and sit by your gate? Well…if you guessed sitting at the check in area struggling to contain reemerging tears, then good work! Because that’s really what ended up happening. For hours. Apparently I wasn’t finished publicly purging myself of the overwhelming sadness that had taken over me that day. Luckily I had numerous tissue packets stashed away in my suitcase, and boy did those come in handy. Those around me were probably confused as to why some white boy was sobbing alone at 1 in the morning (I was listening to Adele again, guys. So bad.), but there was just nothing that could be done.

I remember thinking to myself how strange it was to be having such a strong reaction, one that leaving Ghana didn’t come close to inducing no matter how sad I was that day too. It just didn’t make any sense. But I think now, after reflecting for a weeks on it, I do understand what was happening. It was just a combination of thoughts and feelings which, taken together, were too much for me. I was sad, so sad to leave those kids behind, and to leave behind yet again an experience that left me feeling fulfilled and had given me purpose. I had said too many goodbyes that year, and I was just tired of it, angry really, that they had to be said at all. There was some anger towards myself as well, anger that I let myself once again become attached to temporary people. And finally, most significant of all, I think, I was just sad to be returning back home to a life I just didn’t really want to go back to. I knew the calm, the contentedness, the excitement I felt waking up every morning was going to vanish in an instant, and it was just unbearable to think about at that point.

There were more tears to come throughout the 24 hours or so it took me to get home, including during the beginning of both flights. I managed to watch a ridiculous range of movies to take my mind off things, beginning with the light-hearted, fun and uplifting Stoker. I can’t even. What did you do to your face, Nicole Kidman?? Landing in New York the following afternoon, I took a little extra time to get myself through customs, just wanting to prolong for a couple minutes the bombardment I knew was coming my way.

My family, as always, did not disappoint.

Welcome Home balloon meant for war veterans

Welcome Home balloon meant for war veterans

IMG_4553 IMG_4571 IMG_4570 IMG_4555 Excerpts from Matthew’s Journal:

  • “A random turtle was placed on the stairs and pooped everywhere” (June 24)
  • “Those kids better study for tomorrow’s exam or so help me gawd” (June 25)
  • “I was hit in the peen” (June 27)
  • “God help Anthony. Scared for that boy” (June 27, after I graded his exam)
  • “Bev and I bonded, we talked about America sucking…” (June 28)
  • “They gave me their weed just to laugh at my inability to do it the right way. Whatever. I’m pure!” (June 29)
  • “Poor Himali. “The Three Musketeers” wasn’t a good choice since she can’t pronounce French names. Or musketeer” (July 1)
  • “One more week before I never have to have rice and curry again. I could cry from joy” (July 1)
  • “Another boy ran into a coconut tree and impaled himself” (July 1)
  • “He’s nice. And funny. And kind of miserable looking, so I approve. And he hates curry and water. HAHAHAHAHAHA. GOOD LUCK” (July 1, about Jakub)
  • “Oh, it’s 4th of July! NO FUCKS TO GIVE” (July 4)
  • “Woke up to the news that we have a new boy living here. French. Igu? That can’t be right” (July 7, about Hugo)
  • “Came back and faked interest in everybody’s weekend trip. DON’T CARE. Elephants? LIVED WITH ‘EM” (July 8)

Turning 21: A Reflection

Always struggling with how to start these things, I suppose I’ll just start from where I left off. If you don’t remember, it the first weekend of Spring Break, the night before I left for California with my father. I was still experiencing a rare high of intense joy and astonishment that I was noticed by Natalie Maines which, in retrospect, probably isn’t that spectacular. But for those few moments I was filled with a glee that was numbing and foreign. Being noticed, man. It’s a beautiful thing.

(If you don’t care at all about my experiences watching tennis, skip about halfway down)

So off we went to Palm Springs, known to some of you cool kids for hosting Coachella, but is relevant to me for being the location of my favorite non-Grand Slam tennis tournament, Indian Wells. It would be my first time attending this tournament and provided a guaranteed opportunity for me to watch virtually every top tennis player in existence. But all that really mattered for me, the crazed borderline stalker that I am, was the chance to watch Maria Sharapova play in person, something I hadn’t done since 2010.

I plan on writing a more detailed post of the trip and providing a lot more pictures than will be posted here, so stay tuned, whoever’s interested in mediocre pictures of people you’ve probably never heard of!

Some might say that watching three scalding days of tennis all day and night and not doing much of anything else on a trip to California would be miserable, but those people are fools. It was seriously 3 of the best days I’ve had in a long time, a rare few days that I got to spend with my father whom I had only seen a handful of times since before leaving for Ghana. Being a smaller, more intimate tournament than the U.S. Open allowed me to be just feet away from people I had only been able to previously ogle from afar. Of course Maria Sharapova’s practices were held as far away from public access as possible (she is the Queen, after all), but I still managed to take plenty of creepy, zoomed-in pictures of her and other ladies practicing. Take, for example, Victoria Azarenka, a “lady” who had been the #1 player in the world for almost all of last year, before thankfully being dethroned by Serena Williams in February. This “woman” is an absolute disgrace to humanity for reasons I won’t get into here, but all you really need to know is that she cheats against teenagers, has convenient medical “ailments”, and is currently dating THIS GUY. No. Really. I’m not joking. See for yourself. DSCN2705

Anyway, the cretin unsurprisingly withdrew from the tournament and I was spared an opportunity of having to watch her play.

To get that rotten image out of your memory, here’s a picture of Maria I took practicing before her Round of 16 match.
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One day in particular had to be one of the greatest (and longest) tennis watching days I had ever experienced, featuring up and coming players choking away leads, top players flopping (I’m looking at you, Petra), and a probable once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to watch Maria Sharapova play just feet away from me. It all started earlier in the day session (early would turn into a relative word for that day) when some lady stood up and announced that she was selling a front-row Stadium 1 ticket for the night session. Knowing Maria was scheduled to play the first night match at 7:00PM, I basically begged my father to get that ticket for me, which he did. Just when I thought I was beginning to break from my past as a crazed, spoiled rotten douche, this happens. But at that moment I had no thoughts other than “HAHAHAHA MARIA HAHAH ❤ ❤ <3”. Yup. Definitely the sign of a healthy person. If you can’t tell, I was excited.DSCN2748

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As the day dragged on with one 2.5+ hour match after the other, I was beginning to have paranoid thoughts that her match would be moved to another court because it was getting so late. Finally, at around 10:00PM, she took to the court against Sara Errani, the girl she defeated to complete her Career Grand Slam at the French Open last year. Now, you don’t have to like vagina to recognize just how stunning this woman is. It’s completely different seeing her at times just 8 feet away. The intensity you see on TV is amplified at this proximity, and each calculated step she takes and each clenched fist and bitch-stare across the net was breathtaking. In essence, girl looked HAWT.  Oh. And she’s loud. Did you know that? I did. But holy God. It’s actually scary.

DSCN3023Anyway, I was settled in, excited to enjoy a fairly straightforward match against a woman who hadn’t given her much trouble in the past. WRONG. SO WRONG. It quickly turned into one of the most stressful experiences of my life when it became clear that things weren’t going to go as smoothly as I expected. Before I knew it, girl was just points away from losing the first set and I was quickly deteriorating into a state of mild psychosis. Really. It was bad. There were times during that 82 minute set (for non-tennis fans, sets generally don’t last longer than 45-50 minutes) when I was laughing maniacally at moments that were anything but comical, I sunk lower and lower into my seat (there was a lot of head shaking), and basically wondered why I ever thought it would have been a good idea to be this close during one of her matches. DSCN3033It’s like (kinda, sorta, not really) watching somebody you obsess care about suffer through a painful ordeal that you can’t do anything about, and all you want to do is escape and pretend that everything’s alright. You could feel the desperation emanating from this lady, and it was utterly exhausting. Somehow, after 2 hours, Maria pulled through that match just at the strike of midnight, ending things in a much less stressful manner.

So there I was, the moment I never dreamed would happen to me, the moment I would finally get Maria Sharapova’s autograph. By that time the stadium was virtually empty, and I managed to get a spot above the doors leading to the locker room without having to toss any child aside (I would have). I couldn’t believe how serendipitous it was that I was in possession of a U.S. Open 2006 hat, representing the year she won that tournament in a brilliant display at just 19. And wearing this perfect dress. As she approached, I had one of those cheesy/I didn’t believe actually happen moments when everything slowed down, sounds became muffled, and all that mattered was that one of my idols was just inches away from me and my waving hand. She was right beneath me, signing balls and hats directly next to me, and then….

And then the bitch was gone. Snubbed. Ignored completely. Absolute devastation. I’m pretty sure I had never felt more humiliated in my life, and that’s saying something. For the first time I think I understood what it felt like to be rejected, which says things about me that probably aren’t too pleasant. It was basically the first time I really put myself out there, made my feelings and intentions clear (can’t be more clear than shouting her name in crazed desperation while waving a hat in her face), and…just mortifying. We sat through Novak Djokovic’s match that didn’t finish until after 2:00AM, and by that time you could basically count how many people were left in the stands. I figured that he would surely sign an autograph for everyone left, and waited patiently as he signed something for everyone around me. And what do ya know? More rejection! Because the night just wasn’t jocular enough for me. So after a 15 hour day of watching tennis, we sulked back to the hotel empty-handed and cranky.

I should have known that my life wouldn’t take a break from being absolutely ridiculous. The next night, after a disappointing match between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal ended with Roger and his injured back promptly being shown the door, I settled in for my final match at Indian Wells that featured the Bryan Brothers, the greatest doubles team to ever play the game. I don’t care much for doubles, but they were entertaining, and I always have a soft-spot for veteran players who have earned respect. They won after saving a match point, and began the tradition of signing tennis balls and launching them into the stands for a few lucky fans to claw each other’s faces off over. One of the twins was facing our direction (we were sitting almost as high up as you can get), and something shocking happened. Astonishingly channeling my 7-10 year old self who had despised played baseball, I calmly stuck out my left hand, and before I knew it, I was looking down at an autographed tennis ball from these legendary men.

photoSo ridiculous. Apparently being 2 feet away from the player isn’t enough to get an autograph, but being dozens of feet away gets a ball launched right into my outstretched hand. I was stunned into a bewildered stupor; Me? I caught a ball? With one hand? I possess that kind of capability?! My father probably hadn’t felt that much pride in me since I had made the game-winning hit in a baseball game when I was approximately 9 years old.  Sorry, dad. But at least I make good decisions 95% of the time! It’s a trade-off. So, the trip ended on a lovely high-note (even higher after Maria won the tournament a few days later), and I look forward to (hopefully) returning next year.

Phew. Wrote more than I planned to about this trip, so for those of you still with me, you will be rewarded with tales of a visit by my mother and sister, followed by some contemplations concerning my upcoming 21st birthday/my future in general.

My mother and sister arrived to partake in their Spring tradition of using visiting me as an excuse to enter into every store in Georgetown and renew their quest of viewing the ever elusive Cherry Blossom. In all seriousness, it was an enjoyable weekend, filled with a trip to the zoo (No otters. But beavers!!), the cherry blossom festival fireworks show, and occasional time to sit and enjoy some beautiful weather when my mother actually allowed us to take a break.photo photo photo

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At this point, I have a pretty good idea of what to expect from these two whenever they see me after being gone for a minimum 2 weeks at a time. The amount of fussing and confusing excitement (being in my presence shouldn’t be looked forward to that much) is always overwhelming, but, it’s just something I have to accept. And because things can never be completely normal when my family is involved, I had the foresight to mark down moments that were particularly outrageous. This should paint a pretty accurate picture of what my family interactions are like:

  • Upon greeting me at the hotel, my mother smacked my face repeatedly, saying “Matty!!! You look good!!!!!!!” Oh thank heavens. I was really becoming paranoid that my body had deteriorated in the 3 weeks since she last saw me.
    • Despite my apparent wonderful appearance, my mother still took the time to trace out how she would like to have my beard carved into (basically into the same shape as her boyfriend’s). Yup. She took her finger and drew an invisible beard on me. In the hotel lobby.
  • At one point in Georgetown, I was sitting outside while my mother and sister looked around a store I obviously would have no interest in. They eventually felt bad about me waiting and told the store employee about it. The employee apparently uttered something along the lines of, “Oh. You should have said something! I would have given him “Porsches and Ladies” to read!” Yeah. That’s definitely at the top of my reading list right now. Just beneath the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, actually.
  • WARNING: Graphic. “I must be really comfortable here because I’ve never been able to make a doody the first day of a trip”—anonymous
  • “I remember walking through this broken boulder”—my mother, regarding the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial
  • “I think I’m dying!”…pause…burp.—my sister
  • “Ya can’t be walking around DC at night. There’s homeless people!”—my mother
  • “Who’s coming with me for my colonoscopy?!”—my mother
  • “What’s a Macklemore?”—my mother
  • “I want some pasta” (my mother). “You’re having ravioli!” (my sister). “That’s not pasta to me!!” (my mother).
  • “What’s different about a sloth bear from a regular sloth?”—my mother
  •  “You have fleshy ankles”—shoe store employee to my sister
  • “I don’t know what’s happening”—waitress at dinner to us. Because we can’t just order a meal without chaos. Ever.

DSCN3140The morning they left was the day I registered for classes, an experience that was maybe more problematic than I anticipated. For basically my entire college career I had molded schedules in a way that would allow for the possibility of having an internship. I’ve had a lot of great experiences over the years, been able to spend time at places I never imagined I’d be, and my resume is basically bulging at the seams with entries that make me look more impressive than I’ll ever be. This culminated in me being offered an interview with the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs, basically the pinnacle of any DC International Affairs student’s dreams. Long story short, things didn’t go too well (my phone interview skills are unparalleled). I think if I’m being honest with myself, there’s a part of me that sabotaged that interview. Yeah, my lack of confidence or belief that I really deserved the opportunity probably played a role, but I think there’s a larger part of me that really just didn’t want the position anyway. Maybe I’m tired of putting myself through all this stress, of balancing a full class schedule with working 20 hours a week for no pay, doing things that aren’t all that interesting. Let alone finding any time to have some kind of life. So I was left in the aftermath of registration, a schedule that leaves Monday, Wednesday, and Friday virtually free, with the decision of leaving things as they are and trying to fill those days with more work, or of changing things around, maybe taking classes I’d be more interested in that would leave little room for more. I could feel this dread building that I was wasting my time, not taking advantage of college the way I should be. Maybe I can find something smaller to do, like return to the animal shelter I volunteered at freshman year. Or maybe work with DC Reads. So for now, I left things as they are, and even did something wild and added a 1-credit tennis class. Yeah, I’ll probably still apply for internships, but there won’t be this sense of urgency like there usually is. I want next year to be the year I really take steps towards bettering myself, physically and mentally, and damn it, I think I’ve earned a break. What I really wanted was for someone to tell me, to reassure me, that it was okay to take that break, that it wouldn’t be a big deal if I took one semester to just, I don’t know…live? But, it is what it is. We’ll see what happens, I suppose. Things have a way of always working out in the end, one way or another.

So. 21. It’s really hard for me to wrap my mind around turning that age tomorrow, and I’m not entirely sure why that’s the case. It’s an age that people generally look forward to more than most, the age when you really can do whatever you want, whenever you want, without fear of repercussion. No more fake IDs, or having your older siblings or whoever go out and get you all the alcohol you want. Obviously this hasn’t been much of a concern for me; I haven’t been counting down the days like some do for when they can do this. For whatever reason, as this day has come closer, there’s been this growing sense of discomfort, or nausea, or…something. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I can say with certitude that excitement is far from what I’m feeling.

I have some theories. As the years have gone by, especially the last few, there has been this growing belief, a belief that seems to be growing at an increasingly rapid pace, that I have wasted valuable years. With every fantastic, unbelievable memory I’ve made, with every place I’ve visited, and with every opportunity I’ve been given, I can’t shake this belief that I’ve focused zero time on the things that really matter, the things that are vital, essential. I’ve focused all of my energy on achieving superficial things, academic and professional success which, while important, isn’t most important. The problem is that I haven’t allowed myself to even think about anything else; I’ve convinced myself that this is what I need to do, what’s best for me, that I can think about these things later. You tell yourself something enough times and you do start to believe it; it becomes second-nature, something you just believe to be inherent to who you are, instead of being something you manufactured as a way to avoid what you’re afraid of. This has worked for me for many years (I made it into this God forsaken school, after all), but lately I’ve been noticing these cracks. I’m beginning to realize what I’ve been doing and why, and it all comes down to that one word I wrote about a little over a year ago: Insecurity. One little word that’s been responsible for all my avoidance, all my doubts. I know I’m eventually going to need to deal with and figure out why it is I lack so much confidence in myself as a person worth getting to know. I don’t know what I’m afraid of. So there it is. I’m turning one year older, but it’s just another year that has passed with little progress made where it counts.

Another theory, maybe connected to my first one, but pretty basic and unoriginal. Turning 21 means I’m just that much closer to being thrust into a world that I don’t feel like I’m prepared for. I feel trapped in a current that’s pushing me in this unknown direction, and I feel completely powerless against it. All the flailing, struggling and fighting won’t save me from the fact that, one year from now, I’ll be graduating college, and I’ll be expected to have everything that comes next figured out. All I want is for things to slow down, for things to be less urgent, but that’s not going to happen. I hate that everything’s supposed to be decided at this one age, at this one moment, and if you don’t, you’re often deemed to be this visionless, lost person. I think what I’m most afraid of is having to leave my remaining safety net, school. If there’s one thing I’m reminded of over and over again, it’s that the world has the capacity for so much ugliness; the evil, the hatred, the murder, the infidelity, the cruelty. There are so many things out there that make the world a place I often feel disappointed to have to be a part of.

But then…then you see this adorable puppy video on YouTube and you’re brought to instant tears, or see this baby who was born deaf hear his first sounds, or you see this person whose smile or glance alone can make you feel instantly energized. You hear your name being chanted by children when you arrive for “work,” you see the amount of joy just jumping on a trampoline can bring. You receive countless hugs in a given day just for being present, you see the relief and sense of accomplishment when 4+8 is finally figured out. You’re being begged to stay until bedtime to watch a movie, you’re fought over just for the opportunity to be picked up and held, or pushed on the swing. You hear the words, “Mattee, don’t go.” You feel this overpowering love being thrown at you, more than you’ve ever opened yourself up to, and find yourself deflecting some of that love back, even when you realize the pain that will likely come when you leave. In so many ways, Ghana has helped me understand the importance of love, the beauty that it holds. No matter how much I may miss Prince and the others, the most important thing is that for those 4 months, I allowed myself to feel, to connect, to love.

That’s really all that matters, isn’t it? At the end of your life, if you can say that you loved, that you really, completely, unabashedly gave yourself to another person, everything else is just extra, an accessory. The love I gave and received in Ghana I think has been the most important thing to happen to me in years; It has opened me up to new possibilities, it’s made me realize that I do want more than what I have right now. It’s these moments of clarity, these reminders that life is so much more than the ugliness you see on the news on a daily basis, that need to be clung to. It’s the smiles, the laughter, the hope, the awe and the wonder, the leap of faith taken when you board a plane and visit one more new country (Sri Lanka is just 40 days away now)…that’s what needs to be focused on. I hope more than anything else that I manage to channel the person I was in Ghana with these kids in Sri Lanka, but one of these days, I hope I can be that person all the time. Who knows, maybe this will be the year.

Maybe turning 21 won’t be so bad after all.

Shocking Developments

Somehow it’s been about 8 weeks since I last posted on here, 60 days which have whirled by, leaving behind a blur of events that have culminated in this first weekend of Spring Break. I know, I know. My college life never consists of anything worth mentioning, resulting in this time gap. While yes, this is largely true, the main reason behind the delay has been time. These past few weeks have been a frenzy of constant work. When I’m not at class or my internship, I’m usually attempting to catch up on all the reading and assignments I’m perpetually behind on, and by the time I look up from the computer screen or a book another week has past without me noticing. I really just don’t have the 3ish hours required to sit down and carve these out, but a stroke of luck, most likely divine intervention, has spared me from a heavy workload this week.

Classes have been going well for the most part; French hasn’t been too disastrous and International Economics not too debilitating. Psychological Anthropology is starting to become really interesting (finally), now that we’re learning about specific disorders like PTSD and Manic-Depressive Disorder. I can’t really talk about what I’m learning in Cultures of Latin America because…I haven’t paid attention to what my professor has said since about Week 2. I tried, I really did but not really. He’s just so…uninspiring? But at least he looks a bit like Albert Einstein and has a Goldendoodle, so he’s got that going for him. What I really want to do is express a probable creepy amount of love towards Professor Victor Barbiero, who not only has the appearance of a giant, beautiful bowtie-wearing Santa Claus, but whose infectious and bubbly enthusiasm for Global Health and Development has inspired me to seriously consider pursuing public health academically and beyond. I mean, just take a look at how amazing his life has been. Alright. Gotta compose myself.

Work at the Wilson Center has also been going well! I’m really mastering the art of working for free. My internships these past few years have taught me that the most important thing is obedience, a complete willingness to do whatever is asked of me. And for the most part, I’ve enjoyed it. I’m learning a lot, being forced a lot bit out of my comfort zone by having to call many ridiculously wealthy patrons, and I feel like I’m appreciated and that my time isn’t being wasted. It’s nice being kept busy every time I come in, which hasn’t always been the case elsewhere.

All this class and work has somehow, miraculously really, kept me at my Ghana-induced “emaciated” weight. There was one time that I caved and indulged on Dominos, but otherwise I’ve honestly felt guilty about any time I’ve been tempted to eat something…gross. So thank you, Ghana, for showing me the saturated fatty error of my ways. But you shall never take pizza and bagels away from me.

Hmm..what else have I been up to? Obviously not that much if I have to think about it. I went to the GW Inaugural Ball, which was a lot more exciting and worthwhile than it would have been had Obama not won. If that had been the case and everyone had been forced to attend (seriously, those ticket prices were unnecessary), it probably would have been a lot sloppier (if that’s possible) with sad/angry drunkenness instead of happy/excited drunkenness. Anyway, I wore a tuxedo and a bow-tie for the first time, and all eyes were most certainly on me. Cause, ya know, I’m a put-on-a-show kind of girl boy. I also had the most eventful Valentines Day since, well, ever, when I went to the Mumford & Sons concert with HBIC Hayley. I’ll skip the trauma that was the roughly 2 hour drive to Fairfax, Virginia (ZipCar’s existence is much appreciated) and just say that the 2 hours that those British men blessed us with their beautiful harmonizing presence (+ the dreamy banjo player) trumped any other music experience of my life (sorry, Celine. You’ve been dethroned). This picture perfectly captures the state we were rendered while listening:

Faces didn't change much from this expression.

Faces didn’t change much from this expression.

Oh, there was also this one weekend when I had 2 mini Ghana reunions. It was wonderful and strange, being with them in less sweaty circumstances. Oh, and I got to see this guy again:

the greatest reunion, probably in history I'd imagine.

the greatest reunion, probably in history I’d imagine.

I know, I know. We’re adorable. Try to contain yourselves.

You know those times I’ve mentioned how I never do anything that’s even remotely shocking, cause for alarm, impulsive…what’s that? I’ve only mentioned this 500 times? Well, hold onto your weaves everybody because I, Matthew Spencer Reiter, now have a tattoo. No, really. It happened. If I had known a year ago that I would come back from Ghana with the desire to immortalize the experience on my body, I would have laughed (or cried) in horror.

The Incident.

The Incident.

It’s just not something I ever saw myself doing. I tend to shy away from the thought of permanence, so my relationship with my tattoo is probably going to be a bit tumultuous. I have a feeling there will be days when I look down at my arm, see it, gasp in horror (I’ve forgotten it’s there a few times already), and call myself insane. But hopefully the initial shock will pass and it’ll be replaced with a contentedness. I really am happy with it, especially now that it isn’t looking so scabby and my arm doesn’t feel like it’s about to burn off. And everyone who’s seen it seems to think it’s awesome, probably because nobody saw this coming from me. I certainly shocked the Facebook world, if I say so myself.

And then there’s my family. My sister was all for it and encouraged me throughout these past few months, the wild rebel she is with her tattoo trio. My father protested at first, but finally conceded and probably secretly appreciates me doing something out of character for a change. And my mother? Welp…she was kept in the dark. I inherited my crazed conservatism from her, and when I came home and she saw my tattoo, and more “horrifyingly” its location, well…she was a tad displeased. You see, during the Holocaust, those in the concentration camps were tattooed with numbers on their arms as identification. Having a father who survived the Holocaust has left her understandably sensitive to the whole “Jews can’t get tattoos” “law”, and getting one on my arm was especially disrespectful. But later research revealed that the Holocaust tattoos were on the left arm and mine’s on the right, so…I’m not a complete and utter disgrace to my family’s name. I’m sure when my religious, ultra conservative aunt and uncle discover all this I’ll have enough material for its own blog post, but I’m hoping to avoid that discomfort for as long as I can. It’s gonna be bad.

You know what’s another sure way to avoid awkwardness and discomfort? Not showing your mother’s boyfriend your tattoo within the first 5 minutes of meeting him, when you have no idea what his history is or his level of Jewish…ness. But when silence lasts for more than 6 seconds in a conversation, I apparently panic (and display symptoms of Tourette’s, according to my sister). We all know how I am with verbal communication.

Switching gears, these past few days have been a bit odd for me. I’m not sure what the reasons are, but I’ve been having some pretty disconcerting emotional blips with Prince entering my mind more frequently than before. Maybe it’s because I haven’t allowed myself to think about him too much, and now that my workload has lowered for now he’s had more chances to slip into my thoughts. Regardless, there have been moments when I see a picture or a memory flashes and I’m filled with an overwhelming sadness that has (more than once) left me fighting back tears. Good thing this seems to happen only when I’m in class.

Recently discovered this picture on my phone. Too cute to handle.

Recently discovered this picture on my phone. Too cute to handle.

I had held back on asking for an update about Prince and the other kids because I was afraid of what I’d hear. I finally decided to check in the other day and learned that there have been times when Prince isn’t eating well and somebody says to him, “If you don’t eat your food Matty won’t come back.” And it works. So now I know that he still misses me, that he probably has no idea that I won’t be coming back, and…it sucks. I can’t think of a more eloquent way of putting it, but all I want is for that kid to forget I exist. This is probably not rational, but all I feel now is guilt that I potentially hurt him by allowing him to attach himself to me. This is a toddler who arrived at the orphanage just after losing his mother to AIDS, is HIV+ himself, and for whatever reason ended up bonding with me instantly. So things are great for 4 months and then all of a sudden I’m gone, just another person in his life who left. I want to think about it differently, that I helped him and left a positive impact, but right now all I think is that I made things worse. Lacking a sense of time is probably the major reason why he still thinks I’m coming back, but the thought of him still waiting around for me to show up 3 months later is honestly unbearable. This is the first time I feel like I’ve hurt another human being, and I know I’m probably overthinking it, but this is how I feel now. Maybe I’ll have a different perspective later. God. Somebody really needs to adopt this kid.

To lighten things up, I’ll end with some travel news. First off, I’m leaving for California tomorrow with my father to watch a ridiculous amount of tennis at Indian Wells in Palm Springs. I’ve never attended this tournament and I haven’t watched tennis in person since the U.S. Open in 2011, so I’m really looking forward to it. Mostly, I’m excited about the crazed stalking I will likely be doing of Maria Sharapova, probably #2 on my list of favorite powerful ladies. I haven’t seen her play since 2010, so there will likely be tears, which is totally healthy I’m sure. Anyway, I’ll let you all know next week if I succeeded in encountering her in person, if I don’t drop dead in her presence first. Or if I don’t drop dead from the 95 degree weather supposedly happening there this week. We’ll see if Ghana prepared my body enough for this. I’ll need to invest in a new sweat rag.

Speaking of heat, I will officially be heading to Sri Lanka for 6 weeks towards the end of May, volunteering for the third time with Projects Abroad. I don’t have a lot of details yet, just that I’ll most likely be working at an orphanage again and possibly at a tsunami relief camp. When I know more I’ll definitely give a greater explanation, and I feel like I haven’t had any time yet to think about it. But visiting a new place, a new region of the world is always exciting for me, and I can’t wait to share my experiences again!

In the mean time, have a great week off for those enjoying their Spring Break, and start thinking of some witty blog title to incorporate Sri Lanka into. “Study Abroad is Ghana Be Great” was pretty lame.

BREAKING NEWS! My #1 favorite powerful lady, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks replied to me on Twitter regarding the 10 year anniversary of her “We’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas” statement. Did I hyperventilate and my body convulse? Obviously. So yeah. Nothing will ever be greater than this, unless Maria acknowledges my existence. That would just be too much to handle.

Her response after I told her she lost a lot of douchebag "fans" so it all worked out for her in the end

Her response after I told her she lost a lot of douchebag “fans” so it all worked out for her in the end

Tro-Tro? More Like…Oh F**k

I know this has been a long, trying two weeks for those of you (shout out to Shari!) craving waiting to hear about my northern Ghanaian tales, and I hope my account isn’t too melodramatic hyperbolic.  I’ll attempt to show some restraint, but to paint an accurate picture of this past week I think it’ll be necessary to unleash higher dosages of sass than normal. Prepare yourself!

Monday, November 26

My two friends and I departed Monday morning at around 11 AM, eager to commence our trek to our first destination, Tamale, the capital of Ghana’s Northern Region. I left armed with about 4 days worth of clothes, understanding that being disgustingly smelly and filthy would be inevitable and deciding to embrace it. There are a few different ways of reaching northern Ghana, ranging from the easy (45 minute plane ride) to the laborious (12-17 hour bus ride). We elected the borderline-psychotic method of taking a ferry along the Volta River that could take anywhere from 36-50 hours in supposedly fairly unpleasant conditions. All we wanted was to be the cool Oburonis, having the most unique experience of our other CIEE peers who journeyed up north.

I should have foreseen that any attempts of me being remotely cool would only end in disappointment and slight amounts of shame. According to our guidebook, one ferry left Akosombo at 4:00 every Monday. We were really worried that we’d arrive late, but had little reason to fear that Ghanaian transportation would not continue its trend of being completely unreliable with its timetables. When we reached the port at about 3:00, we were really proud of ourselves for being early.

And then we were told that the ferry left at 1:30. Thanks, Bradt Guidebook. After spending about 7 minutes feeling sorry for ourselves, we finally got ourselves together and found a silver lining: at least we’d arrive at Tamale earlier! We didn’t have a Plan B (whoops), but were adamant about not going on the Oburoni Walk of Shame back to Accra to start from scratch. We resolved to get to Kumasi by whatever non-Accra route necessary, which resulted in a tro-tro ride to Koforidua (capital of the Eastern Region) that featured the three of us and some furry friends:

There were at least 5 of these on board the tro-tro

There were at least 5 of these on board the tro-tro

We finally arrived in Kumasi at around 11:30 PM. We hadn’t really eaten anything all day and downed some indomie, too hungry to give much notice to the unfortunate fishy taste. After some debating, we elected to take an overnight bus to Tamale, leaving at 1:30 in the morning.

Tuesday, November 27

Sleeping on that slightly-more-luxurious tro-tro was a challenge I never really overcame. The roads were bumpy, the space was cramped, and there was this crazed music video (with laughable production value) blasting on the bus’s TV on loop. Also, my seatmate appeared to be in a perpetual state of misery and peril, evidenced by him keeping his head out the window on numerous occasions to discharge some probable fufu. Nasty.

We finally made it to Tamale by 8:30 AM, about 21 hours after leaving Accra. We stumbled out into the northern Ghanaian heat dazed and starving, and after a brief food search we settled on $0.50 rice and beans served on a newspaper. We had to share one spoon, but we weren’t about to complain at that point (There would be plenty of time for that later). This search allowed us to get a pretty good idea of what Tamale has to offer: a ton of mosques, lots of motorcycles, and…that’s about it.

Big ass mosque #1

Big ass mosque #1

Big ass mosque #2

Big ass mosque #2

Next on the agenda was locating our guest house, which nobody in this city appeared to have any knowledge of.  A taxi driver brought us to a random hotel, then demanded that we pay him more to bring us to the right one. That’s some pretty impressive logic, buddy. We finally made it there, and after some brief excitement over getting to sit on a bed, went on a search for this leather tannery; the guidebook says to just “follow your nose” through a suburb, which was a pretty accurate piece of advice. The tannery is run by Chief Slim, this eccentric dude who forced some sandals upon us; I purchased a pair supposedly made with goat skin.

some nasty part of the leather-making process

some nasty part of the leather-making process

Let’s play “Guess How Long Matthew’s New Sandals Last.” The answer will be given later on. We were allowed to watch the “entire” leather-making process for a fee that wasn’t really worth it, but we had to do something to justify our stop in this city and there weren’t many other options.

We headed back to the guest house to rest until dinner, which we had at this beautiful Indian restaurant. Naan was consumed. Definitely the highlight of Tamale. It was also around this time that we ran into the damn Projects Abroad crew that I talked about last time. All white people’s roads in northern Ghana end at Mole National Park, so we knew we’d be seeing them again soon.

Wednesday, November 28

We woke up bright and early, determined to get to the Metro Mass station at a time when it would be impossible to miss the bus to Mole (Mole-ay).  According to our never sometimes reliable guidebook, the bus left every day at 2:00. We got there before 10:30, went up to the ticket counter and were told we could purchase tickets at around 1:30. We parked ourselves in the shade and patiently waited, allowing me plenty of time to read the overwhelmingly miserable (and excessively long) Under the Dome

As 1:30 approached I stocked up on a loaf of bread to nibble on in case the ride took a while. The Projects Abroad crew arrived at a much more reasonable time than we did, and they came over to us for what I assumed would be to exchange some pleasantries.

Nope! They came over to tell us that there would be no buses to Mole that day! We spared 5 minutes to express our massive amounts of exasperation before heading over to the tro-tro station to see if it would be possible to get to Mole from there. We were ushered to a tro-tro that was heading to Wa (capital of the Upper West Region), told that we would be dropped off at Larabanga, 6km away from Mole. We got inside, paid our 15 cedi, and were informed that we’d be leaving at 5:30.  It was about 2:45, but at this point we were experts at sitting around waiting to leave for places; we were just happy that our day wouldn’t be a complete waste.

At 5:00, the tro-tro mate paid us a visit, taking this opportunity to inform us silly Oburonis that we wouldn’t be leaving at 5:30 that evening, but at 5:30 in the morning! WHAT?! He also took this opportunity to remind us that tickets are non-refundable, but was gracious enough to invite us to spend the night in the tro-tro. After a group meeting in which we spent a majority of the time cursing Tamale’s existence, we decided that we didn’t want to spend more money on a guest house and to accept the tro-tro douche’s offer. We drowned our sorrows in some beer, then went back to the Indian restaurant—a place we agreed to be Tamale’s only worthy attraction.

This sign's in the bathroom of Swad Fast  Food

This sign’s in the bathroom of Swad Fast Food

Thursday, November 29

We awoke from our night at Le Château Tro-Tro (name credit: Erika Baumann) before 5:00AM. Accommodations included: our own rows to sleep on, tight security (besides the whole window access possibility), free bug spray usage, and free entertainment, featuring music blasting at all hours of the night and a station recording bellowing, “WA! WA! WA! WHERE ARE YOU GOING?!? WA! WA!”

We spent a few minutes lamenting that 2/3 nights of traveling so far were spent in a tro-tro, but we pushed that negativity aside pretty quickly because we were finally on our way to Mole! There was no argument that seeing elephants would eradicate any of the previous 3 days’ misfortunes.

The trip to Larabanga was about 3 hours, and we could either motorbike the 6km to Mole Motel or walk. We elected for the latter since the path was well marked and we missed the morning safari anyway. Off we went on our journey, leading a horde of children, not much unlike Moses leading the Israelites through the desert. Except I refused to give the children any of my manna bread. Or pens. They were on their way to school, so I’m sure they had access to writing utensils. If they don’t, well…sorry not sorry.

Mole National Park is without a doubt the grandest of all of Ghana’s Oburoni Traps. Elephant love isn’t a solely white-tourist phenomenon, right? Maybe. The amount of white people there was actually a bit overwhelming, and of course the Projects Abroad crew was already there, having shelled out $100 to take a taxi the previous day. The incredulous looks we received when we revealed our…unique method of arriving were probably well deserved, but…at least we spent $90 less than they did! Silver linings, remember?

We had a few hours to relax and sit on the observation deck until our 3:30 safari walk, and the multiple warthogs that roamed the grounds gave us some encouragement and hope that we’d be seeing some elephants either that night or the next morning.

Sorry for the crappy quality of this baby warthog

Sorry for the crappy quality of this baby warthog

The only picture of a warthog I used to posses, taken last summer

The only picture of a warthog I used to posses, taken last summer

We were talked into taking the jeep instead of walking since it wouldn’t be expensive when splitting the price 8 ways. The three of us rode on the roof for the first hour, bringing back more memories of my summer 2011 Botswana days. The wooden planks and bumpy roads didn’t make my already-sore butt too happy, but within the first 2 minutes of the trip we saw a baby baboon and all other thoughts ceased in favor of giddiness and joy. We didn’t see any elephants that afternoon, but we were still hopeful and convinced that our bad luck couldn’t possibly continue indefinitely.

our view from the top of the jeep. Baboons!

our view from the top of the jeep. Baboons!

BABY BABOON

BABY BABOON


Friday, November 30, 2012

WRONG.

I am clumsy. My ability to keep my body upright during any potential perilous situation is meager. Whenever I have to perform an activity that involves climbing or balancing, there is about an 86% chance that I will end up on the ground. Maybe my life is just one grand, pitiful self-fulfilling prophecy. Whatever the reason, by the time we left Mole that morning my shame levels were reaching its familiar peak.

We began our morning safari walk at 7:30 with high hopes and determination. The small group of us set off on our generally leisurely stroll through the Park, keeping our eyes open for some tusks and/or elephant poop. We didn’t see much early on besides the occasional antelope, but we weren’t worried. About an hour into the walk, we were told we’d be crossing some water.

That's me in the back. Struggling in the stream.

That’s me in the back. Struggling in the stream.

My mind instantly flashed back to June 7, 2011, the last time I attempted to successfully make it across a stream. That day we had to hop across some rocks to get to the other side, and I missed. And had to be rescued. Once I saw the log we had to maneuver across, I knew I was a goner. My friend and I made it about halfway across before she tumbled in and I followed right after. She managed to gracefully pick herself up and get across without further incident, but I took another spill. On the bright side, the water wasn’t too deep, it was surprisingly refreshing, and no valuables were damaged. (Hope that sentence doesn’t come across as too disingenuous).

No elephants were encountered, but at least we couldn’t say that this trip had so far been anything but consistent! I wasn’t as devastated as the others over this since I was lucky enough to spend 30 days literally living with wild elephants, something I unfortunately took for granted.  We licked our wounds (dumped water on our shoes), got ourselves together and left Mole saddened but hopeful that Wa would be better. And by better I mean filled with hippos.

To get to Wa, you could either catch the 4:00AM Metro Mass bus out of Mole, or…that’s about it, really. We sat around Larabanga hoping for a tro-tro to arrive, but we were about 0-7 in terms of transportation success so we had a feeling things weren’t going to go too well for us. I was also starting to feel a little nauseous, which is just what this trip had been lacking.

Desperation led us to seek alternative modes of transportation, and before I knew it we were chasing down a pickup truck begging the driver to let us sit in the back and take us anywhere towards Wa. Look, mom & dad guys. Hitchhiking is something I will never go out of my way to do. I understand that it can be potentially dangerous, but I also live by the probably naïve philosophy that people, at the end of the day, are generally not assholes. And we didn’t really have any other options; we were not staying in Larabanga for the night. And the allure of saving money was overpowering.

We really couldn’t believe our luck (really. Cause we’d had none up to that point) when we found out that the truck was going directly to Wa. We pushed aside a pair of Ghanaians who were also attempting to hitch a ride (an Oburoni’s gotta do what an Oburoni’s gotta do), and were on our way! The sickness I had been feeling earlier slowly began creeping back, and I was becoming increasingly concerned for the cleanliness of the vehicle and my fellow passengers. I made it until we were about 40 minutes away from Wa before I was forced to have our kind driver pull over for me to go kill some bushes.

I popped a pepto and all was well! We arrived at Wa in the early afternoon and made our way to Nakori, the site of a supposedly 15th century mud-and-stick mosque where we’d be allowed to climb onto the roof. We were met by yet another horde of children who followed us to the mosque.

The mosque

The mosque

Kids running away from me. What a surprise

Kids running away from me. What a surprise

We walked the more-than-4km back to Wa where we struggled to find our guest house. We went on a food hunt and went to sleep soon after to get an early start on our trip to Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary.

Saturday, December 1

Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary is probably Wa’s main tourist attraction, and like most Ghanaian tourist hubs, the inadequacy in its functionality is alarming. To get there, you need to either hire a motorbike or rent a bicycle and ride to the lodge. Oh. And you need to bring all the food and water you’ll require for the duration of your stay. Ghana, this is Tourism 101. If you want people to spend the day/night at your wonderful hippo sanctuary, make sure there’s some damned food and water waiting for us when we get there. The girls I traveled with were adamant about biking the 18km. All I could think about was that for $5.00 more, we could get there in comfort and in 7X less time. But I wasn’t about to be a party pooper, so after basically commandeering bikes from children in the town and stocking up on not nearly enough water and some bread/oranges, we were on our way!

These smiles wouldn't last long

These smiles wouldn’t last long

After about 7 minutes I had a feeling where this bike ride was going to go. The bikes we were using were beyond unequipped to handle the terrain we had to ride through. Not to mention the only biking I’ve done in the past 2 decades has been limited to the occasional 10 minute ride around my block with my mother along flat, paved roads.  Now I was being forced to ride a bike that was probably older than me across unpaved dirt roads and sand. For over 10 miles in the early afternoon. On the equator.

The water supply was depleted after about 2 hours, and my bike’s chains kept detaching. I contemplated death more times than I’m happy with towards the end, and I may or may not have cried. Not bawling or anything deranged like that, just frustration because I knew that this ride was going to be beyond my capabilities. My inability to open my mouth has been my downfall on numerous occasions, but I think from now on I may be more inclined to put the brakes on situations I foresee as being regrettable. But we made it, I didn’t fall off the bike  (about 12 close calls. Seriously, bikes aren’t ridden on the beach for a reason), and we had over an hour to recover before our river hippo safari.

I broke Africa’s #1 rule upon arrival by drinking un-treated water pumped out of the ground, but it was either drink that potentially worm-infested water or drop dead. Both options seemed appealing at that point.

Although I was rendered completely incapacitated, I mustered the minuscule amount of energy I had left to enjoy the canoe ride along the Black Volta River, which separates Burkina Faso from Ghana. During this ride our guide took out a bowl, scooped out some of the river water and proceeded to pour it down his throat, effectively eliminating any qualms I had about my drinking water situation. Despite my strange, often ridiculous history with hippopotami (Hippo“Matt”amus will never be forgotten), I had never seen one in the wild.

Hippos!

Hippos!

I like to think that the few hippos we came across sensed my despair and recognized me as one of their former biggest fans, and chose to bless us with their presence accordingly. Or maybe they understood that if they didn’t show their faces after that 18km bike ride, the fragile emotional state I was still in would have resulted in unpleasantness for all.

We stared in awe at those majestic creatures for a few minutes before heading back, not before making a likely illegal pit stop across the river to Burkina Faso, where we got out and took some victory pictures.

So excited to illegally be in Burkina Faso!

So excited to illegally be in Burkina Faso!

We spent the remainder of the afternoon recovering and reading, with somebody blasting Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” on repeat until we passed out by 7:00.  Ghana really loves this woman, perhaps more than I do.

Probably not.

Sunday, December 2

We left by motorcycle (we agreed that biking was NOT happening again) back to town to catch a tro-tro back to Wa. I said goodbye to my two friends who had more time to travel than I did, and I sat and waited for 4 hours for a tro-tro back to Tamale.

We began to leave the station at 2:40PM and the tro-tro instantly broke down, since no aspect of this trip was allowed to go smoothly.  We piled into another one and were on our way!

At around 5:00, our tro-tro succumbed to the crappy roads that make up northern Ghana. A tire popped while we were in the middle of nowhere, forcing all of us to get out while the spare was put on. As soon as we stepped outside we were bombarded by a swarm of gnats, reducing me to a flailing mess as I slapped myself repeatedly, killing countless amounts as all the Ghanaians laughed at me. It was a sad sight, but it fits in perfectly with the rest of the week’s events. We got back on the road, and at 6:00 we stopped in a town where we were all forced to get out and wait while the driver got the tire fixed.

A half hour later we were back on track, just in time for the arrival of a torrential storm. The roads connecting Wa and Tamale are fairly treacherous in sunny daylight, so those 40 minutes of blinding rain at night were terrifying. It was one of the few moments I can remember when I actually felt like my life was at risk, but I still tried to find the humor in the situation. Lord knows I would not have made it through the 20 years of ridiculousness that is my life if I didn’t constantly laugh at myself.

We finally pulled into Tamale at 9:30, and I decided to stay at the guesthouse close to the Indian restaurant we went to earlier in the week. The taxi driver tried charging me 10 cedi to get there when we paid 3 a few days earlier, and I was not in the mental state to put up with that nonsense. Maybe there’s hope for me after all, and I won’t actually let everyone I come across walk all over me. When I trudged into the guest house looking grosser than I’ve ever looked in my life, the receptionist had the chutzpah to tell me that there weren’t any rooms available, that I could stay there only if I agreed to be out before 6AM. I must have looked like I was about to burst into tears (I was), since a few minutes later I was comfortably settled into a room that I could stay in as long as I wanted the next morning.

Monday, December 3

I compensated my body for the physical/emotional trauma of the past few days by sleeping in, laying in bed and reading until 11 when I left to go the Indian restaurant one last time. I randomly ran into 2 CIEE students who I kind of (but not really) knew, but luckily it was right as I was leaving, sparing me any uncomfortable minutes of silence that would have likely followed if they joined my table.

I arrived at the airport a couple hours before my 3:40 flight, giving me a glimpse of more of this region’s inefficiency. The power at the airport kept going out and none of the metal detectors/scanners were working, forcing a full-body pat down and an airport official having to rifle through my putrid clothing. At least he had gloves!

The flight itself was wonderful. Leather seats! A headrest! Leg room! Ah, modern technology and comfortable travel. You were missed. 45 minutes later I was back in Accra. I planned on taking a tro-tro back to campus, but when I asked somebody where the station was he offered to just drive me there himself. I wasn’t about to say no to a free ride, and I found it fitting to end the week with one final outlandish transportation story.

December 4-Present

Switching gears, the next 24 hours were spent studying for Wednesday’s Colonial Rule and African Response final exam.  It was that Tuesday night as I was studying in the hallway that my right sandal broke. So for those of you who guessed 7 days, congratulations! You can come collect your prize of 3 broken sandals at any time.

There really has to be something wrong with my right foot

There really has to be something wrong with my right foot

My motivation levels were at their typical University of Ghana low, which turned out not to be a problem since the exam was laughable. We had over 2 hours to write 4 pages, answering two essay questions that we’d already been asked in earlier exams. Sometimes I suspect that these professors have no fucks to give when it comes to providing quality education. I miss you, GWU.

That Wednesday evening I had an interview for an internship position with Bread for the City, a non-profit that helps disadvantaged DC residents by providing free food, clothing, medical care, legal aid and social services. The interview was about as cringe-worthy as the one I had 2 weeks ago with the Wilson Center, perhaps more so since I spewed some BS about having no issues talking to people and soliciting them for money. I sent her a link to my blog in a desperate attempt to make her think I possess any semblance of intelligence.

She hasn’t gotten back to me yet, and I’m guessing she won’t be any time soon. Oh well! I consoled myself afterwards by realizing that on the bright side, if nothing works out, I’d at least have a lot of free time on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

I hadn’t been to Beacon House in almost 2 weeks, and my greeting that Thursday afternoon was beautiful, with so many hugs. The kids are beyond excited for Christmas. One kid saw the Christmas Tree waiting to be set up and said, “Look at Christmas!!” as if it’s a person. They had visited a school that morning and were given books as presents, and one 4 year-old showed me his book about Halloween and said, “Look at my Bible!”  I’m really going to miss the verbal gold that comes out of their mouths. What I’ll miss most of all? This guy:

I'm not sure he even has a reason for making this face.

I’m not sure he even has a reason for making this face.

Maxwell and Prince

Maxwell and Prince

Alright, I'll miss these guys too

Alright, I’ll miss these guys too

Ghana’s presidential elections are currently taking place, beginning on Friday, December 7. We were told via email to remain on campus for own safety, but I’m not one to take my personal safety into consideration unless there’s climbing involved. I went to Beacon House that afternoon, experiencing no trouble other than the travesty of the Chinese restaurant I go to being closed. I took this opportunity as an excuse for me to buy some overpriced Oreos at the supermarket. Best lunch I’ve had in a while.

You're cute.

You’re cute.

It’s no surprise to me that Ghana’s elections have experienced some complications. Apparently many of the machines were faulty, forcing people back to polling stations today (Saturday) to vote again. You’d think that with the 4 year period between elections, people would make sure that these machines are working properly. Guess that’s asking for too much technological reliability.  Oh well. Pulling for you, John Mahama!

Oh, and the Wilson Center gave me a formal offer for the internship position next semester. So that’s exciting! My competition must have been non-existent.

If any of you managed to make it through this short story of a post, thank you! Really, the praise I’ve consistently received from some of you guys has been wonderful, and has motivated me to actually put some effort into these entries. I’m still having trouble seeing what’s so special about this drek, but for all the hours I spend on each entry it’s really nice to hear that people appreciate it. We’ve only got 10 days left here, with one final post in the works for next weekend, where I’ll attempt to reflect on this experience and provide some final thoughts, maybe on what’s in store for me in the coming months.

Until then, Happy Hanukkah! I think that’s going on now, but I actually have no idea.

Also, here’s more Amy Poehler being beautiful and smart and perfect.

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

The Time I Attempted to Travel Alone…And Failed

For those of you who have waited eagerly each week for new posts, who would wake up every Sunday morning and immediately check to see if new tales of my adventures have been shared, well…I’m sorry you couldn’t find something better to spend your Sunday mornings doing these past 3 months.  In all seriousness, I apologize for the delay in this latest update, but the traveling I foreshadowed last week actually happened!

More on that later.

Classes at the University of Ghana have come to an end! That’s strange, because it feels like I only just started to learn something a couple of weeks ago. Wait. That’s actually pretty much what happened.  Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but reflect last Monday morning on how much I’d miss Bossman and his words of wisdom while waiting a brisk 40 minutes for him to show up for our last lecture.  During this time, the class was asked to fill out a class evaluation form, at which point a girl next to me asked me what the name of the course was.  I understand that it could be hard to remember such a lengthy title as Sucks That Y’all Were Born in Ghana “Politics of International Economic Relations,” but seriously, lady. I’m sorry to say that I think it’s a bit too late for you to get your shit together.  Needless to say, I did not give Bossman glowing reviews. I could have been more volatile, seen in a “Rate My Professor” review I wrote a year ago (check 11/11/11), so Bossman shouldn’t feel too bad.  That afternoon I had a Twi oral exam, which went about as well as any task of mine that requires me to open my mouth and say something intelligent. In case you’re not aware of my verbal ineptitude…again, more on that later.

On Election Day Tuesday, I purchased a new camera and spent a majority of the day trying to control the panic that was slowly building over the next day’s oral presentation on Ghanaian Media. I could have gone to an election viewing party at NYU Ghana’s campus, but considering people didn’t get back from that until between 4-5 AM (and because my roommate has a TV), I decided to stick around. I knew if I went to the party I would have shattered any miniscule chance I had at sounding remotely coherent during the next morning’s presentation.

Despite Wednesday morning starting pretty spectacularly with the news of President Obama’s re-election (seriously, that victory speech? Mesmerizing.), my efforts at preparing for the report were fairly unsuccessful. I have enough trouble communicating under normal circumstances, so when there’s added pressure of a grade being given for what comes out of my mouth, it’s a pretty dismal scene.  There was a lot of stammering, a lot of flailing, a lot of uncomfortable and unfortunate pauses…but otherwise it went well! Anyway, who cares?! No more classes!!

Over at Beacon House, I was happy to see that there are two girls that now come in every day to teach. I helped out a lot in the classroom in the morning, and the afternoon featured the return of the trampoline.

Somebody’s displeased.

So. Much. Jumping.  All I wanted to do was lay down and avoid any kind of physical activity, but these kids don’t allow that. “Matteeee, jump!” is what was yelled at me by Prince over and over again, and then he just cried after being flung around a few times by my powerful leaps.  Once his giant head stopped flopping around and the crying subsided he just asked me to do it again. It makes no sense. Wait. Why am I trying to make sense of the demands and moods of a 3 year old?

I woke up at 6:00 Friday morning (Day 100!!), threw some clothes into my backpack, and by 7:00 I was on my way to the Western Region for another Solo Ghanaian Adventure! I planned on spending a few days lounging on a beach, maybe exploring some places that sounded appealing in my guidebook. But as J.R.R Tolkien wrote in The Hobbit, “It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.” Put less eloquently, but more appropriately in relation to my life, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” So true, Mike Tyson. So true.

As I was departing from Accra’s Kaneshie Station on the way to Takoradi, I saw a few dragons homeschool homestay kids waiting to leave in another tro tro.  After a few texts I learned that they were heading to the same location/hotel in Busua as me! Thus began the weekend I tried and failed to travel alone.  Luckily this is a group of people I like a lot (even you, fradversary), so if I had to randomly stumble across anyone, I’m really glad it was these guys.

We arrived at Alaska Beach Club by about 2:30-3ish, a hotel situated right on the beach with these huts scattered around a bar, restaurant, and communal bathroom. And there’s a penis swing.  And possibly a coslopus one as well. I spent the first night in a hut with 4 other girls, and after telling my father this he replied with, “Congrats! You’ve achieved one of our fantasies!!!!” I just can’t.

Not looking forward for the pictures of me on this swing to surface.

We decided to go swimming immediately, and it was around this time that I realized that I forgot to pack a bathing suit. On a trip to a beach resort. I decided the only available option would be to ruin a pair of shorts. Questionable decision #1 of the trip.  Early on we also noticed the ridiculous amount of dogs that make this stretch of beach their home.  Take a look!

Pups!

Maybe a Corgi? probably not.

Favorite pup.

A goat.

I was really low on cash the first day, and chose to spend a substantial portion of what money I had left on booze. Questionable decision #2.  I was introduced to this fun Ghanaian palm wine-based alcohol called Akpeteshie.  Its Wikipedia page gives a better description of it than I can come up with.  Here are a few excerpts:

“No one drinks ‘akpeteshie’ and smiles. At best, the reaction is a grimace or a frown. Such is the potency of the local gin that puts all senses under instant attack.”

“The alcohol content is so high that it is almost scandalous. It rocks the body for the first timer and there is a kind of feeling which is hard to describe, probably a knockout punch in boxing will do.”

As you can see, my face is an exact replica of this description:

My face matches the description so accurately

Unsurprisingly, its effects on me weren’t as strong as they were on a few other people, which provided great, sloppy entertainment that evening during a game of Kings. The only other time I played this was last summer in Botswana, and despite a few different rules, the experience was equally entertaining. While I wasn’t forced to chug a diabolical concoction of beer and orange Fanta like last year, I did dominate a few games of “Never Have I Ever.” I knew my lack of any normal adolescent experiences would come in handy some day!

Maybe the akpeteshie affected me more than I thought, because a late-night swim ended with me agreeing to skinny dip for the first (and probably last) time. Questionable decision #3. Obviously there was a lot of initial protest; “I don’t do things like this!!” is what I think I uttered a few times.  In the end, the underwear came off, instant humiliation ensued, and I’d like to never bring up this incident again. Thank you.

The rest of the weekend’s activities were much less shameful (at least for me. Anil.).  A lot of beach frisbee was played with local Ghanaian children, as well as a lot of lounging on hammocks.  Beautiful food was consumed, especially banana pancakes at Frank (and Dan) the Pancake Man, and $3.00 lobster.  More card games were played, which went well enough until a game which required partners revealed the incompatibility that exists between me and Anil.  Just too much sass. And probably too much akpeteshie for one of us (Hint? Not me).  We decided that we’d make a pretty entertaining Amazing Race pairing.  Hit us up, CBS producers.

I was finally on my own for a majority of Sunday-Monday morning, which allowed me to do what I was planning on doing for the entire weekend: absolutely nothing.  I treated myself to some barbeque chicken, sprawled myself on a hammock, finished reading The Hobbit, hugged some dogs, and ended up passing out by 8:30 after devouring more lobster and doing some star-gazing.

Me attempting to enjoy these kids touching all my stuff

Of course my day wasn’t completely devoid of human interaction; the kids we played Frisbee with stopped by, and after probably feeling disappointed that I was the only one remaining, managed to play with every electronic device I had on me. And now one of them has my phone number.  Eh. I suppose that’s alright.

I woke up at 5:00 in the morning to watch the sunrise out on the beach, the perfect ending to a pretty fantastic trip. Some friends joined me:

Yeah, you too

By 7:00 I was on my way back to Accra, and managed to arrive just in time to walk through a torrential downpour. All in all, while this may have not truly been a Solo Ghanaian Adventure, it was a great way to start the beginning of the end of my semester abroad.  The clothes that went into the water might smell like they were worn by skunks who decided to host a triathlon through Staten Island, but I wouldn’t change anything about my Western Region weekend.

Which is more than I can probably say for some people. Anil.

I’m seeing Mumford & Sons on Valentine’s Day. Thanks, dad! I already posted this song before, but it’s my favorite. So deal with it.

“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!

Wicky Wacky Woo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The resemblance is uncanny

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

Guess which pile is mine?

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

Look at this badass

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

The Wicky Wacky Woo s in the middle

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

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

The Beer Tower. 3 of those were consumed.

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

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

Incapacitated.

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

Possibly the greatest picture I’ve ever taken.

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

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

The boat ride to Bojo.

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

Wish I put sunblock on my feet…

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

I really love Ghana sometimes.

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

I miss seeing these on a daily basis

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

“Is That Your Giraffe?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Thursday Highlights/Quotes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Friday Quotes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

60 Freakin Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is Ben and Daniel!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And later:

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

Pretty beautiful stuff, no?

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