Adam’s Weak: Weeks 3 and 4

Weeks 3 and 4: June 10-June 23

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

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

8:30-9:00ish: Sleep

Breakfast. Every day.

Breakfast. Every day.

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

Cute! And look at Herma!

Cute! And look at Herma!

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

The Pettah

The Pettah

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

So unprepared for Sri Lankan weather

So unprepared for Sri Lankan weather

This umbrealla

This umbrella

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

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

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

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

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

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

<3

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

Notice Rauhl's injured foot. My fault.

Notice Rauhl’s injured foot. My fault.

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

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

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

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

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

Cute!

Cute!

Jude was being extra productive

Jude was being extra productive

Adorable!

Adorable!

Jude's picture of Hannah

Jude’s picture of Hannah

Hannah's picture of Jude

Hannah’s picture of Jude

LOVE

LOVE

Oh, and Hannah got wet.

Womp.

Womp.

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

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

Not sure whose hands these are

Not sure whose hands these are

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

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

Kandy from above

Kandy from above

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

whatever the heck this is

whatever the heck this is

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

Hawt

Hawt

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

Where we waited in vain to see the Tooth

Where we waited in vain to see the Tooth

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

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

LOOK HOW CUTE

LOOK HOW CUTE

whatever's happening here

whatever’s happening here

Amazing, really

Amazing, really

Play time?

Play time?

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

Effective.

Effective.

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

We all bought some.

The scalp massage

The scalp massage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beautiful

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

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

The aftermath

The aftermath

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

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

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

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

SO happy down there

SO happy down there

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

I can't even

I can’t even

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

Actually a little creepy

Actually a little creepy

This sunset

This sunset

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

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

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

My wall!

My wall!

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

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

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

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

No clue what this place is called.

No clue what this place is called.

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

Palace ruins?

Palace ruins?

Temple Pups!

Temple Pups!

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

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

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

This restored dagobaDSCN3749

The child monks!

The child monks!

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

My favorite dagoba

My favorite dagoba

Monkeys on the dagoba!

Monkeys on the dagoba!

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

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

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

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

I calmed down enough to drink this

I calmed down enough to drink this

Excerpts from Matthew’s Journal:

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

    Absolute Hell

    Absolute Hell

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

No, That’s a Dog. Not a Baboon.

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

Anyway. That concludes my weekly class rant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baboon? Nope! Just Milo.

A couple more highlights from the orphanage this week:

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

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

Traditional Asante house

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Ashanti/Kumasi highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ghanaian Children > Everything Else

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

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

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

Beacon House from the outside. So beautiful.

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

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

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

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

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

Look at the cute babies!

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

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

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

    Really hard to say no to these faces

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

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

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

    Ben ruining (or improving?) the picture

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

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

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

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

    Well, this is cute.

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

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

And that’s just swell.

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

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

Umbrella Rock! We finally made it!!

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