“But They’re Sri Lankan Bunnies!” Weeks 1 and 2

Hello everyone! I’ve been home for about 2 weeks now, and I’m sure 2-3 some of you have wondered why there has been this delay in posting stories of my Sri Lankan travels, and…I guess I don’t really have a real excuse for it. Uploading my pictures was a long ordeal that isn’t worth explaining; there were over 800 pictures and videos to look through, and I’m really not sure how I managed to take so many. Giving my camera to the kids a couple times probably contributed to the excess, and I suppose there were some really fantastic moments worth capturing. 40% of the pictures alone may just be of the various monkey species I encountered, which…you will thank me for later.

Anyway, I think the main reason for the delay has been my reluctance to dive into recounting my time away; sifting through 6 weeks of memories is not particularly easy, and I’ve been unsure as to how to go about it. In Ghana I posted every week, when the stories and feelings were still fresh, so even with my journal and guidebook by my side, placing myself back into moments that happened in late May and early June is going to be difficult, but we’ll see what happens. To spare myself time and because I want to finally get these pictures uploaded on here, I will divide each entry into 2-week accounts, with some days featured more than others. So bear with me, and I’ll understand if I lose you before the end.

Weeks One and Two: May 26-June 9

I’ll start by first saying that Sri Lanka is a small island off the southern tip of India, and is not, in fact, a part of India at all (I’m looking at you, mother). My father, sister, and best friend had no idea I was traveling to an island, so…just in case anyone else experienced confusion over where I was, hope this helped!

"I want to get a sense of what India is like"

“I want to get a sense of what India is like”

Traveling from New York to Sri Lanka takes a long time, and often involves flying through and missing an entire day. Who knew? Thanks to that pesky 9.5 hour time difference, I left on a Sunday night and didn’t arrive until that Tuesday morning. My first flight took me to Abu Dhabi, an over 13 hour experience that was spent largely sleeping, watching Once, and enjoying my first dabble with Rice and Curry. Little did I know (I kind of did) that for the next 6 weeks, there wouldn’t be much else consumed, save for the occasional springroll (there will be much to say about that delicacy), and the constant sugar bread thrown at us for breakfast. I downed some McDonalds while waiting for my 5 hour flight to Colombo (a problem, I know), and at this point I was just proud of myself for making it so far without experiencing fear-induced nausea.  My new hypothesis is that the farther away I get from home, the more calm I naturally become, cancelling out any anxiety I may feel about what comes next.

I finally made it to Colombo by around 4:30 AM, and was greeted by a cheerful member of the Projects Abroad staff who probably despised me/his life for having to pick up silly Americans at such a ridiculous hour.  I got myself some Rupees (getting to say I possessed that currency always made me giggle), picked up a sim card for my dusted-off Ghana phone, and walked out of the airport ready to commence my Sri Lankan adventure.

SOHOTSOHUMIDOHMYGODITHINKIMDYINGHELPMEHELPMEHELPME

I thought nothing would ever be as bad as Ghana’s heat, but…my body quickly went into panic mode, and probably tried getting me to turn around and hop on a plane back to America by reducing me to a sweaty disaster at a caliber not seen probably by anyone ever in history.

The Jesus shrine across the street from my house

The Jesus shrine across the street from my house

So things were going pretty well, I’d say. The drive to my host family’s house took about 25 minutes, allowing me to catch a small glimpse of my new environment. Paved roads! No goats! Strange Jesus shrines on every block! My quick, highly credible/intelligent assessment was that Sri Lanka’s development was a bit farther along than Ghana’s just for the fact that roads were paved and people weren’t pooping in the gutters.

By around 7:00 AM I had finally arrived to my home for 6 weeks, the household of Macmilan (Mac) and Paulita Jayamannah (may or may not have spelled everything there wrong). They live literally feet from the beach in the town of Kepungoda, Pamunugama, around 20km north of Colombo on the west coast, featuring a post office, a Church, and a bus station. Anything anyone could ever need, really. I spoke with Mac for a few minutes before I settled into my room, and here’s a breakdown of what was discussed/of what occurred:

    • Mr. Herman

      Mr. Herman

      Mac’s first question to me was whether or not I have a girlfriend. After I told him no, he told me that the girl volunteer also staying there who I hadn’t met yet could become that. Oh thank God!

    • He saw my tattoo and smacked my face, not hard, just kind of like a love tap.
    • At one point he grabbed my right boob.
    • He asked me my name, then asked if I was Catholic based off it. I actually told the truth this time, learning from my Ghana mistakes. But then he laughed and said, “I could tell by your nose.” He then expressed surprise when I said I eat pork and commented on how clever Jews are. Hooray for Jewish stereotypes!
    • Mr. Herman: This was a Dutch philanthropist who lived and worked with Mac for years before he tragically passed away in 2012. It took about 5 minutes for him to show me his fully-preserved bedroom and one of the plentiful pictures of him scattered throughout the house. More on him later.

I was brought over to meet my new English girlfriend/roommate, Hannah, who actually lived in the house directly behind mine, where my host parents’ son lives with his wife and baby daughter, Herma (as in…Herman). We spoke for a few minutes before she left for her first day of work at Bosco Sevana (she had arrived a few days before me). I don’t remember what exactly was discussed in that first conversation, but I surprised myself by how much effort I put into getting to know someone. Maybe I’m not a complete impotent human being after all! Or maybe the fact that she’s from England made her appeal instantly surpass the high levels required for me to care about asking questions. The two of us bonded over our interest in crappy reality TV, Adele, food, sarcasm, and talking about people behind their back. Sure, we may have disagreed on what the correct word is for things that shouldn’t have different words (underwear vs. pants, pants vs. trousers, rubber vs. eraser, tank vs. vest, rubbish vs. trash, plaster vs. band-aid, eggplant vs. aubergine, etc.), and she may have never heard of tacos and had the audacity to claim that her bagels/pizza were better than New York’s, but we somehow managed to overcome these obstacles and become friends! A shocking development for me, really. Anyway, more will be said of this wonderful lady (and everyone else worth mentioning) throughout the course of my accounts.

The lagoon!

The lagoon!

After sleeping for the entire day, Hannah took me to see the beach, which basically doubles as a trash pit. But at least there are pigs roaming around and there are beautiful views of the sunset. Our host mother led us to a lagoon about 5 minutes from home; as we were staring into the water, we were approached first by a cow (who would eventually attack multiple people), and then by some random fisherman who had us go for a ride with him. Probably not the safest thing to do on my first day, but Paulita didn’t object and that’s enough for me.We made it back for my first attempt at eating with my hands (right hand only, of course). Eating rice with my hands sounded simple enough, but when there is literally a mountain of it, steaming hot and topped with various curries and meats, things quickly deteriorated. Rice dribbled down my face and possibly my shirt. Mac was laughing at me and telling me to “watch how Hannah does it”, as if she was some hand-eating aficionado.  I wish I could say I improved over time, but…nope. Always a mess. Always rice.

Portion sizes were always a problem

Portion sizes were always a problem

Oh! There’s also a puppy living at home, a German Shepherd I named Fido. He is absolutely insane, and will likely be a danger to Herma in the next few months

Look how cute/psycho!

Look how cute/psychotic!

The next morning a member of the Projects Abroad staff came to take me to Bosco Sevana for the first time, just to show me how to get there and to introduce me to the Fathers, Brothers, and kids. After I made myself sound cooler than I am by telling her it was my third time with PA, we set off on my first encounter with Sri Lankan public transportation. To get there, you need to take 2 buses, the first one leaving just across the street from the house. There is the 273 to Bopitiya, which takes between 12-15 minutes and costs 16 Rupees ($0.12), and the 275 Colombo-bound bus that drops you off after about 10 minutes at Bosco, costing 10 Rupees ($0.08). So…travel was always costly. Once in a while if it was too hot (always) or we couldn’t be bothered waiting the potential 30+ minutes for a bus, we would splurge on a tuk tuk (taxi) for a steep $2.25, or tortured ourselves by walking halfway.

A typical bus crowd

A typical bus crowd

So despite the roughly 25 minutes of travel time, getting to work could take up to an hour depending on how long you wait for the bus to either come or to leave the station. But at this point in my life, sitting around waiting for things to happen is something I’ve mastered. I thought Ghanaian transportation was wild, but these buses are at a hectic level I had never experienced before. If you’re lucky you get a seat, just not in the front where seats are reserved for male/female clergy (female clergy? Don’t think that existed), “Pregnant ladies”, the elderly, or “disabled persons.” Obviously that rule was ignored constantly, because standing on those buses is not ideal. You’re either standing with the buses not very crowded and you fly up and down the aisle, or you’re standing in a packed bus and worry about sweating on everyone around you.  Traffic laws aren’t really a thing that exists there, so these buses are careening down roads at unadvisable speeds and take on way more people than recommended. There was at least 2 times that I was forced to stand on the stairs with the door open, which was honestly fantastic, but probably not the safest option. Oh, and sometimes we are blessed by the presence of renowned local entertainers who come aboard to dazzle us with their impressive tambourine playing and singing and demand our money.

The beach at Bosco Sevana

The beach at Bosco Sevana

When arriving at Bosco I was first taken aback by the fact that the place is literally on the beach, one that’s completely deserted and actually clean! The rest of Bosco isn’t that exciting to detail; there are 2 large buildings filled with classrooms, dormitories, a dining hall, a Church (naturally),  and…a zoo. Besides the numerous dogs that roam the sand and halls (Simba, Nala, and their babies), there are parrots, rat-eating turtles, and a porcupine named Kitty. I don’t know how I feel about Kitty. There are times when I looked at him (her? It.) and thought it was adorable with its tiny little legs and buck teeth, but when those spikes were raised and you can see the exposed pink skin, I wanted to puke. I also wasn’t too sure how dangerous those spikes were (can they be shot from their bodies?), so feeding it biscuits was always an ordeal. I was horrified when I saw that the kids just went in the little compound Kitty lived in to clean it and even pet him/her! I guess Kitty has been properly domesticated, but…yikes. Oh, there are also pigs there which I didn’t know until my last day.

Bosco's entrance

Bosco’s entrance

Before sitting in on the first class I would be teaching with Hannah, I met some of the kids who attend school there. I first believed that Bosco Sevana was just an orphanage and care center and didn’t expect to be doing any teaching, since, you know, I have zero qualifications for that. But it’s a fully functional school, attended by kids who live there full time and who can’t attend regular schools because of learning difficulties, kids who live at home but other schools won’t take them, and by those living nearby who want to take extra classes to improve English. There are only 8-10 kids who stay behind for school at Bosco (there was some variation as random kids weren’t able to go to school certain days because they lacked the correct shoes, or something like that), so that at least made the prospect of leading the classes less overwhelming. In total there are about 40-50 boys who live at Bosco Sevana, ranging from around 10-20 years old. Anyway, before I could even tell them my name, they latched onto my tattooed arm and ogled it; seriously, everywhere I went, fascination over my strange “butterfly” (I guess I can see the resemblance) tattoo followed.

I sat in as Hannah taught the first class of the day, these three 24-25 year old women who work at Bosco either as teachers or as an accountant and who wanted to practice their spoken English. Every day we mostly came up with various topics and questions to ask them, which turned out to be a fun way for us to learn about Sri Lanka while also being somewhat useful. We would have them talk for as long as they could about things like what their daily routines are, what they love to do on the weekend, childhood memories, likes/dislikes, etc. We literally discussed every possible thing minus sex, stooping to desperately low levels towards the end by asking what they’d want to have with them if they were stranded on a desert island, or what one thing they’d save from their burning house. But on this first day, they were asked to talk about what their perfect day would be like, and I was forced to stand up and give my own example. Public speaking surprisingly isn’t something I excel at, so I ended up making up some sad scenario where I’d be lounging on a beach in Greece with my dog while beautiful people brought me food. It was rough, but I survived, and somehow managed to pull myself together for the most part and be a decent co-teacher. Maybe.

Hannah and I decided to see how much the boys knew by testing them on the alphabet. After introducing myself and struggling to remember/pronounce any of the names of the boys in attendance on my first day (Chamindu, Samo, Rauhl, Kasun, Anton, Jude), we learned that they do all know the order of the alphabet. But since only about 2 of the kids could speak any English words at all, getting them to list out words with each letter of the alphabet proved to be an obstacle. And even if they knew a word, spelling was out of the question. It didn’t help that their attention spans were about as developed as expected from young boys, and all they wanted to do was play football or cricket. On this first day I basically resigned myself to understanding that we probably wouldn’t make much progress with them, and that we’d need to celebrate any small achievement.

The original plan for that weekend was to just go to Colombo and this other town nearby called Negombo just to take things easy for our first weekend and to explore our area. But we received a text by another volunteer inviting us on their trip to Yala National Park and decided it would be better to do that, to meet everyone else and, I guess, because there are elephants and leopards supposedly all over that place. It was cute how they were concerned about me being the only boy traveling with 5 girls and how I’d have to share a room with them. Not a problem, ladies. Boys are dumb.

We left that Friday morning after our first class with the girls at 10:30, a morning that conveniently featured my first Sri Lankan monsoon. It was easily the heaviest rain I ever experienced, but I didn’t care at all because at least it was a little cooler out. I started to care a little later once our trip to Colombo started pushing 2 hours (those damned flooded roads) since we had a deadline for when we were supposed to meet up everyone. Considering the distance we had to travel (Yala is on the Southeastern coast), leaving earlier would’ve been a bit more intelligent, but…we were noobies. It didn’t help that the travel plans kept changing (a train ride was originally supposed to happen), and Hannah and I had no idea where we were going/what we were doing. In retrospect, this probably wasn’t the greatest “first trip” idea, but I figured that after Ghana, any kind of travel would be relatively less unbearable.

I can’t remember how many buses we took (Bosco–>Colombo–>Panadura–>Matara–>Kataragama–>tuk tuk ride?) or what city we met up with everyone in, but I do know that this whole travel ordeal took around 12 hours. Welcome to Sri Lanka! I wish I could say that this was the worst day of traveling I’ve experienced, but nothing will likely ever rival the 21 hour Hell that was traveling to northern Ghana. Honestly I think it was a good thing being thrust right into long-distance travel; we figured that at least we wouldn’t have to deal with anything as bad as that day, which we were right about. And all those hours on the bus allowed me to start to get to know everyone I was with: Barbora from London, who I wish I got to spend more than 1 weekend traveling with; Karoline from Denmark, Hala from Lebanon/Canada, who’s super lucky and traveled to Thailand and Cambodia after Sri Lanka; Charlotte, this wonderful girl from Manchester with possibly the greatest accent I’ve encountered; and Bev from Australia, probably the coolest woman I’ve ever met. When I’m 48 and if I have kids, I hope I’m lucky enough to be able to still be going on adventures like she’s been able to. After arriving close to 11 PM, all we wanted to do was hobble to our rooms, after crowding together to use the Wi-Fi, of course.

My blonde posse wandering Kataragama

My blonde posse wandering Kataragama

The next morning before our afternoon safari, we traveled to Kataragama, described as “one of the three most venerated religious sites in Sri Lanka”, a site important to Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims. The town itself, named after a deity important to both Hindus and Buddhists, is small and quiet since there wasn’t a festival going on at the time, but it was nice being there when it wasn’t flooded with a lot of tourists. As my guidebook says, “it was a welcome alternative to the dusty mayhem that usually passes for urban life in Sri Lanka.” Well said. There were stalls filled with beautifully arranged fruit scattered around, but apparently those were only allowed for Buddha. Damn him.

The fruit offerings

The fruit offerings

We entered the Sacred Precinct, filled with various shrines devoted to the mentioned religions, and made our way to Maha Devale, a complex decorated with elephant and peacock statues, containing both Hindu and Buddhist relics and shrines, one of which represents Kataragama, and another, the Buddha. Close to the complex are stones surrounded by railings, where visitors come to smash coconuts that have been set on fire as offerings to Kataragama.

DSCN3254

Coconut offerings

Coconut offerings

But really, the most important aspect of Kataragama is that it is inundated with langur monkeys.

Nom

Nom

I like this monkey's basketball shape

I like this monkey’s basketball shape

My favorite monkey of all

My favorite monkey of all

We returned to the guesthouse, eager to start our 6 hour safari through “Sri Lanka’s most rewarding wildlife reserve”.  But really, I was ready to see some damn elephants again after the disappointment I experienced in Mole National Park. Things were going well, hopes were high during the 40 or so minutes it took to enter the park.  Early on we saw some wild boar and some water buffalo, leaving us hopeful that it was a sign of good things to come. We even saw a peacock, so we paused to admire its beauty for a while. I mean, they’re pretty amazing birds to see up close, so we figured it would be worth the pause.

This mouth

This mouth

The first of many peacock sightings

The first of many peacock sightings

And then…what? What was that? Is that…No…Is that rain? Okay, okay, it’s Sri Lanka during the rainy season. It rains all the time, right? And usually for just a few minutes and then the sun magically reappears again as if the past 20 minutes of torrential downpours never happened! So we didn’t let ourselves become discouraged; this was a 6 hour safari after all, so the weather couldn’t possibly be awful the entire time. Sure, we were in a truck that had no windows, and tying down the attached tarps to mitigate the rain assault may completely obscure our views and eliminate any chance of seeing anything, but it was just a small passing storm, right?

WRONG. It lasted a long time. There were a few momentary breaks which tricked us into believing the worst was over, but usually that was accompanied by rainfall at even greater velocities moments later. At least we all were able to share this one small towel! We were all left with fairly wet bums by the time the rain finally subsided, but at least we managed to mix in some laughs about the situation in between our mutual weather scorning. To make matters worse, even though the weather eventually cleared up, we were told that animal sightings would be hampered. We began to question the intelligence of choosing the 6-hour option.

The day wasn’t a complete washout, however. We were fortunate enough to see some pretty damn fascinating wildlife:

Wild dog

Wild dog

These deer

These deer

This bunny

This bunny

Luckily for all of our sanities, we were blessed by the presence of a couple elephants, my first time seeing one in the wild in 2 years. It was wonderful being with everyone else as they experienced their first elephant encounter, bringing back memories of my own; the awe doesn’t really diminish over time, no matter how many times I saw them up close in the past.

Hey buddy!

Hey buddy!

DSCN3361

And look at these fantastic birds!!

These pelicans

These pelicans

This guy

This guy

Pretty one!

Pretty one!

A Toucan!

A Toucan!

I think some people were disappointed that after 12 hours of traveling, all we saw were a few elephants and no leopards at all. I don’t know, I think it was worth it. There were a lot of laughs, friendships were formed (a pretty commendable accomplishment for me), and at least we got to eat the first of many chicken and “chips” dinners! Honestly though, the amount Hannah and I looked forward to our weekends just so we’d be able to eat non-rice and curry meals and to be able to use cutlery was ridiculous.

Group picture! From left: Hala, me, Charlotte, Barbora, Karoline, Hannah, Bev

Group picture! From left: Hala, me, Charlotte, Barbora, Karoline, Hannah, Bev

Things began on a potential high note during my second week when my host family believed they had won the lottery. As soon as I heard the words, “We received an email…”, I began to feel a little skeptical, but they were so damn excited so I kept my mouth shut, just in case something miraculous really had happened. Anyway, basically the entire family had us go to the computer to explain what the email said and what they’d have to do to claim their winnings (millions of rupees were involved, I think). The email, sent by “The Shell Lottery Program”, wanted bank information and other personal details that were definitely a trap, and luckily Hannah was the one who was mostly dealing with all this. She called the number provided and ended up talking to some Nigerian man. Womp. Sorry, host family. Y’all have been scammed! So much disappointment.

This week Hannah and I had to travel to Colombo and visit the Project’s Abroad office to extend our visas. We were told this could take a while, which, you know, is pretty obvious at this point. But at least there was air conditioning and a book to read! Really, it was basically like sitting at the DMV, or like any of the other times I’ve sat and done nothing while waiting for something to happen throughout this past year. Only this time, after the 5 hours of waiting, I had to give up $100 (so many rupees!) by virtue of being American, compared to the Europeans who pay closer to $30-50. The Hell is that nonsense.  But it’s okay, I had some nice conversations to pass the time. I debated in depth the following questions: “Is Georgia like California?” and “Is Georgia like a small village?”

The other non work-related event of the week was the arrival to our home of Oliver, a well-traveled 38 year old computer technician from Hamburg, Germany. He and his self-described “magic fingers” was a welcome addition to our lonely house(s), even if it meant having to share a room. He’ll definitely come up again fairly soon (preview: the teaching clothing fiasco).

At work, our spoken-English class with the girls was going strong. Have I mentioned how strange it was to be teaching people older than me? I’m not exactly used to giving people direction; I’ve always shied away from leadership positions, always preferring to be delegated to, not to be the delegator.  So to be listened to, to have my ideas and lessons really absorbed, it was a completely new experience. I like to think that I rose to the occasion, that I took on my role as a “teacher” as seriously as I could. That being said, by the end of that second week, Hannah and I were struggling with coming up with new topics to discuss with the girls.  This week’s topics included: embarrassing memories (I obviously spoke for a while), what time period they’d travel back to, holidays, and religion. When I was asked at the end of the week what the differences were between Christianity and Judaism, I knew we’d be in trouble in the coming weeks.

With the boys it was more of the alphabet, struggling with coming up with ways to make it more fun. That proved to be fairly impossible, so we ended up finishing our lessons early that week and gave them more time to play. Playing soccer football on the beach sounds like an amazing time, and it was, but…these kids are so damn competitive, and kicking the ball barefoot and on sand usually resulted in me kicking the ground and bruising my toes. Oh. And it was SO HOT. So sweaty. So filthy. So disgusting.

Alright, I guess I should introduce some of the kids:

Chamindu: This (questionable) 15 year old is an adequate football player, but is the undisputed cricket “champion”.  While his vocabulary may have been limited to “yes”, “no”, and “champion”, I feel like we managed to understand each other pretty well. He has one of the best smiles, and is one of the hardest workers. There were rumors that he likes to steal, but…I really just can’t imagine. He’s just too cute for theft.

Hannah and Chamindu

Hannah and Chamindu

Rauhl: One of my early-on favorites mainly because he tried the hardest in class. He (and everyone else) is obsessed with Ben 10, which is apparently a cartoon, and often mixes up his letters, creating ways of spelling words I never would have imagined. There was this one time I may have contributed to injuring his foot while playing football, resulting in him being out from class for a week, but that can’t be confirmed.

Me and Rauhl

Me and Rauhl

Kasun: A demon. But really, there were times when he worked so hard, and other times when he just sat there and threw hissy fits. His laugh was particularly hilarious, but he also enjoyed sometimes tossing dirt at me. So…demon.

Demon

Demon

Jude: I don’t even know where to start with this kid. First, there’s his height and age; he says he’s 14, but if you look at him and saw how impossibly tiny he is, you’d think he was 8 or 9. He makes up for his small stature by having the biggest personality and by being the most competitive. When he’s not showing off on the football field (he really is the Bosco football champion), you can find him dancing around to Gangnam Style. Really, thanks for choosing the literal worst song to use for your victory dances. He needs to have his way at all times, and when that doesn’t happen he often just sulks off to the beach and refuses to play. He releases frustration by doing backflips and break-dancing. Despite the amount of times I wanted to pick him up and punt him for his lack of humility, he is one of the kids Hannah and I were closest to.  He’ll be mentioned a lot as well.

Typical pose

Typical pose

This week we also started our evening class with 7-10 boys (and 1 girl!) who either live at Bosco or live close by and want to improve their English grammar. This was probably the hardest and most rewarding class we taught. It was hard because we had to teach grammar rules to people our age (again, so strange!) when we had never really learned the rules ourselves (thanks, America!) and had no idea how to explain them. Even our first topic, articles (the, a, an, some, no article) required extensive internet research on how to explain the differences (already forgot them). We only had one class with them that week, and we just gave them a diagnostic worksheet to see how much they knew about articles on their own (spoiler alert: not much). This class required the most effort, the most planning on our own time. It was the one class that I felt like a real teacher, and the class I was proudest of being a part of.

For our second weekend, we traveled inland to visit Dambulla and Sigiriya, parts of the “Cultural Triangle” where Sinhalese civilization began, and Sri Lanka’s most important historic region. It took only 5 hours to reach Dambulla, where we were picked up in a safari car, cause that’s just how you travel with Projects Abroad. This new American girl, Rachel (another blonde!), met up with us there; I now had somebody on my side when arguing whose word for something (mine vs. the Brits vs. Australia) was less ridiculous.

typical transport

typical transport

The next morning we traveled around Dambulla, home to rock cave temples filled with Buddhist art, statues, and murals. Oh, and most importantly, the monkeys. Even more than the previous weekend! And even cuter.

LOOK AT THEM

LOOK AT THEM

THERE'S A BABY

THERE’S A BABY

LOOK

LOOK

One more

One more (try to avoid looking. You couldn’t? Me neither.)

We visited the five or so Dambulla cave temples located over 300 feet above the town, offering beautiful views of the mountainous countryside and plains. At the base of the steps leading to the temples is the Golden Temple, depicting a 30 meter Buddha statue. They claim it’s the largest Buddha statue in the world, which is apparently a blatant lie (I love that). It’s not even the largest in Sri Lanka.

The perjury

The perjury

Dambulla views

Dambulla views

Each cave was filled to the rim with often dozens of Buddha statues, many of which were meters long, either reclining or sitting. Murals covered the ceilings and walls, depicting, shockingly, more Buddhas (and gardens, elephants, etc.).DSCN3452

DSCN3424

ceiling mural

ceiling mural

DSCN3432DSCN3441Our next stop was Sigirya, 15km northeast of Dambulla, home to a massive citadel sprawled over a giant chunk of gneiss rock, 200m above the surrounding flat countryside. This medieval capital is now a World Heritage Site and is Sri Lanka’s most coveted attraction. Sigirya was first used as a religious retreat for Buddhist monks during the 3rd century BC, and rose to prominence during the 5th century AD as the site of King Kassapa’s residence (until he killed himself).

Our excitement to climb Sigiriya Rock plummeted once we learned how much it would cost to visit it as a tourist: Rs 3750, compared to Rs 60 for locals, equivalent to $28.50 for us, and $0.46 for Sri Lankans. I agreed with everyone else that it was a ridiculous, outrageous price difference. I understand charging foreigners more than locals, but that’s completely unreasonable. We tried arguing that since we were volunteers, that we were working there and donating our time for free, we should be charged the local price or at least be given a discount. But nope! In the end we ended up splitting up, with 4 of us (myself included) choosing to visit the rock despite the wallet pillaging involved.

Our mutual reaction to the money scandal

Leading up to the Rock are the Water and Boulder Gardens dating from before and during King Kassapa’s era. The Boulder Gardens were fairly interesting, with some centuries-old paintings still visible and caves shaped liked cobra heads.DSCN3466

Cobra?

Cobra?

It was finally time to climb up the Rock, a feat that seemed pretty impossible at first glance as we approached it.  It really was enormous, and there didn’t seem to be any visible method of getting up there.  Obviously I was starting to be concerned, but luckily it looked like it wouldn’t be anything more difficult than climbing precarious-looking stairs all the way to the top. So things could have been much worse. The only issue was the wind, blasting 60-70mph+ at our faces and making my already-wobbly legs more unwilling to be mobile.

Sigiriya Rock

Sigiriya Rock

Before reaching the top we climbed up this 19th century spiral staircase attached to the rock (absolute terror) to visit the Sigiriya Damsels, Sri Lanka’s most famous wall-paintings of “busty beauties”, painted during the 5th century. Nobody’s really sure what their significance is outside of being just some nude nymphs who happen to like flowers and fruits.

the staircase

the staircase

These pesky damsels

These pesky damsels

DSCN3484Towards the end of our steep ascent we reached the Lion Platform, where two massive paws are all that remain of a giant lion statue, the main symbol of Sinhalese royalty. There were also puppies here. We finally made it to the summit after only about an hour of climbing, and unfortunately not much of Kassap’s Royal Palace remains to be seen. The views of the surrounding countryside made everything worth it, and was easily the most beautiful site I had during my trip.

Lion's foot

Lion’s foot

Sigiriya Rock view

Sigiriya Rock view

The troopers: Hala, Bev, Me, Rachel

The troopers: Hala, Bev, Me, Rachel

We made our way back to Colombo the next morning, leaving our hotel in a fury after there was literally nobody there to serve us breakfast because they were at church. Typical Sri Lanka right there.  Once we made it to Colombo we traveled to Majestic City, which is a mall and not an actual city as I assumed. A few of us ended up going to Pizza Hut, a good indication that I was approaching the “halfway struggle.” But it was glorious, despite the self-hatred that followed.

Alright, that’s about it for now. I’ll have Part 2 completed hopefully very soon! I thought I’d end things with some journal quotes, which you’ll clearly notice is filled with the same level of eloquence seen here.

Excerpts from Matthew’s Journal:

  • “Welp…here we go again.” (May 27)
  • “IT’S SO HOT. IT’S SO HUMID. SWEAT. SWEAT EVERYWHERE. HELP ME!!” (May 28, after landing)
  • “Can’t remember the wife’s name. Juanita? That can’t be right…” (May 28)
  • “This. Weather. Will. Kill. Me.” (May 29)
  • And there’s a porcupine! What the Hell! Such a Botswana move” (May 29—there was a porcupine who came every night to eat our left overs when I was in Botswana)
  • We had a “Western” breakfast and it was definitely not at an IHOP level” (June 1)
  • “So wet everywhere, especially the butt” (June 1)
  • “Thanks, Ghana! No travel will ever be as miserable as your travel!” (June 2)
  • “Paulita handed me my underwear in front of Hannah” (June 4)
  • “So tired/hot always. Help me. 5 more weeks of this. HAHAHAHA” (June 4)
  • “Don’t flop, even it means Serena drags your wig across the clay that you’ll likely diarrhea on first “ (June 5, about wanting Maria Sharapova to reach the French Open final)
  • “If Oliver broke the fan in the bedroom I will poison his fucking curry” (June 5)
  • “Pretty sure my neck is diseased” (June 6)
  • This hotel is pure bliss. Wi-fi, beautiful chicken, AC, hot shower. There were even puppies who charged at us!” (June 7)
  • Got home just in time for second dinner! Really ready to puke, especially since ants were crawling all over it” (June 9)
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“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!

“Your Nose is Sweating”

It’s getting towards the middle of October, the time of year I love perhaps most of all—for the beautiful Fall foliage, and, most importantly, for the virtually perfect weather/temperature.  There are only a few non-Winter months when I’m not completely disgusting to look at/be around, and October is usually one of those months.  Here in Ghana, October is turning into a fiend. There’s a war being waged against me, with October being the front line of November’s treacherous army. The weapon of choice? Debilitating heat.  I’m definitely probably exaggerating a bit with the use of that word, but anybody who knows me understands that once temperatures rise above approximately 65 77 degrees, my body is no longer capable of keeping me in the semipresentable appearance I strive to maintain. I’ve reached the point of requiring separate morning and afternoon shirts. I knew that this would probably be the case in the months leading up to this experience; Ghana’s basically on the damn equator after all.  I decided that I wouldn’t let my unfortunate sweat glands get in the way of my travels, but when I think about having about 70 more days of these temperatures that will only be getting higher, I just want to hide in a freezer. Or run away to Iceland. In essence: livin’ in this town is like livin’ in the Devil’s butt crack (Credit: April Ludgate).

Anyway, back to the important stuff. This week I learned so much, and by so much I mean so little.  I have so much nonsense I want to share, so I’ll break it down per class.

First, in “Sucks That Y’all Were Born in Ghana,” Bossman gave a shockingly uncritical lecture on globalization. In between, he spewed some wisdom and observations:

  • He explained (in detail) how a fax machine works.
  • “It used to be that when you received many letters you were a somebody. Today you’re a colonial person if you receive letters.”
  • “We are poor because we don’t give enough money.” Uhh…that doesn’t sound like it makes much sense, but..maybe it does. I don’t know.
  • “If you can buy the pizza, you have arrived. AMEN, Bossman. Amen.

I haven’t talked about Twi in a while, mostly because it’s probably the one class that I don’t have any issues with.  It’s a combination of the professor being just the cutest older Ghanaian man alive, and the class consisting of people I don’t mostly actively dislike. On Monday, my professor wasn’t around, forcing the class to combine with another, larger class containing some pretty special people.  Needless to say, a combination of there being no air conditioning and the professor being ridiculously dramatic (bellowing things like “KILL THE TEACHA!” when he made a mistake) resulted in some slow-building sass steadily percolating in me. Uh oh! Once he asked the class, “How do you create a Yes/No question in English?” I became slightly concerned that it would burst forth. But then when he mentioned “Fact-Finding Questions” and one college-aged student heard it as “Fuck-Finding” and just had to let everyone know through obnoxious, “embarrassed” laughter, I’m pretty sure my glares were somehow audible. Wait. That was probably just the exasperated sighing. Pocahontas really understands how I felt at that point. What? You want more Pocahontas? Alright, here you go.

Oh, and my Development Studies professor sounded out pornography. Yes. He moaned. It was probably the most shocking/amazing moment of the semester. I love moments when you aren’t sure whether to laugh or cringe, so you uncomfortably do both.

On Tuesday (after my Colonial Rule/African Response TA decided he didn’t feel like showing up), I was supposed to go to the market and practice bargaining in Twi. But, as Sweet Brown likes to say, “Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That!”. So instead I turned Tuesday into a Mental Health Day (I clearly needed one). I read a lot and watched The Silver Linings Playbook, mailed to me by my father, known to most simply as Irwin. The movie is amazing. You should all see it when it’s released in November.

Some order has been restored at Beacon House now that there’s a full-time teacher again, one who’s actually qualified.  She’s going back to the basics, drilling the kids with simple addition/subtraction so they don’t even have to think about what 3+5 or 9-6 is.  I definitely understand the need to do this.  The day I don’t see a couple of the kids struggle with 3+1 will be a beautiful day.  I didn’t do much Thursday morning besides help Zilda “teach” some French.  My contribution was teaching a few of the kids how to draw a star.  I sympathized with them because when I was their age, I really struggled  with that task. Take a look at this drawing of the solar system I made soon after my 7th birthday:

I only knew how to draw Jewish stars at this point in my life. See? Hebrew School was good for something!

Thursday night I was subjected to most of Aquamarine, a magical movie starring a young Emma Roberts, JoJo, and Sara Paxton, this Reese Witherspoon-like girl but with creepy piranha teeth. JoJo wishes for a miracle that would save her from having to move to Australia (who would complain about that?), and the next morning she and Emma find a mermaid named Aquamarine (Sara) in a pool.  A beautiful friendship is formed, and Aqua tells the girls that she has to prove that love exists within THREE DAYS (uhh..that’s definitely realistic) or she’ll be forced by her father to marry a merman. For whatever reason the girls become obsessed with this surfer/lifeguard, Raymond. The entire movie is basically JoJo/Emma stalking Aquamarine/Raymond as they “fall in love.” A lot of ridiculousness ensues. Here are some highlights:

  • “Can you pick things up with them?”—Aqua, about her new feet
  • When Aqua transforms into a human girl, she looks at her butt and says “Isn’t it cute?”
  • Apparently, girls call boys and hang up on them to get their attention.  Really? Is this true??
  •  “Everything we’ve learned about boys have come from the pages of these magazines!”—JoJo or Emma. They had about 100 magazines. Good Lord.
  • “The laugh and pass”—casually walk past the boy you like while laughing.
  • Raymond buys Aquamarine some cotton candy, and Aqua proceeds to rub it all over her face.
  • “I don’t have earrings! How can I not have earrings?!”—Aqua.  Uh…not a big deal, girlfriend.
  • “Don’t you just LOVE love?”—Aqua
  • “You guys look like the grandma brigade”—some bitch.  Aqua spits her drink onto her in retaliation.
  • When Aqua cries, she exclaims, “OH MY GOD! What’s happening to me?? I’m leaking!”
  • Raymond and Aqua watch the fireworks separately, gazing longingly at them.

At this point the power mercifully went out, sparing me us from the ending.  I can only assume that Raymond eventually finds out that Aqua’s a mermaid, but decides that he loves her just the way she is.  So romantic.

Ben posing with the chalk-tracing of himself that I did. I’m not responsible for the extra fingers/toes added.

Friday morning began with helping Ben read a short story and answer some questions about it.  The story was about this poor Ghanaian bus driver who gets made fun of by some asshole kids for driving slowly through the towns.  At one point these soccer players are being carried across the street (not really sure why that was happening) as the bus approaches. The people carrying the soccer players fall in the middle of the road but because the driver was going so slowly, nobody was run over.  Now everybody loved the driver. The end.

Before lunch I attempted to play this Uno/Dominos mash-up game with a few of the kids.  I never played Dominos growing up, and the kids didn’t really understand the rules of either, so it was grand old shit show.  But at least they seemed to be enjoying themselves.  Before I left for lunch the kids were shown 3 music videos, and voted on the 2 that they wanted to learn choreography to. One song contains the lyrics “Jesus loves me, yes!” and the other contains “I am a soldier in the army of the Lord.” I really hope I get to be a part of this production. After I put on my sunglasses when I was leaving, one little douche boy asked me if I was a girl. Cause apparently boys can’t wear sunglasses. I really thought my days of being asked that question were over, but I guess the accusation wasn’t too outrageous.

And people are shocked when they hear that I didn’t get along with sister growing up. This is what she made me do. But it looks like I was enjoying it..God.

That afternoon I didn’t do much other than help with practice math questions I made for them.  I really love how much a couple of them love to learn and ask me to give more problems.  I tried getting Prince to write a number, but since he’s 2 (or 3…not really sure) he wrote more on the table than on the paper. Whatever. He’s the cutest so he gets away with everything. It was also around this time when one of the kids told me that my nose was sweating. Thanks, kid. Like I needed that reminder. I left at 6:30, and Mama Irene was surprised that I was leaving so early. The fact that 6:30 is considered an early time for me to leave is precisely why I need to keep leaving around that time.

This baby is perfect. Just a tad messy, though.

Somebody needs to adopt this child. And that somebody should be me.

These past few weeks some people have been saying things to me like “Where have you been?!” as if they actually care.  I really just want to reply with this quote by Amy Poehler/Leslie Knope but I just smile and say, “Oh, ya know. Internship!” It’s true that I’m not around much during the week, and weekends for me are when I do most of my homework.  So Friday night when I was asked to go to a bar, and after learning that the people going weren’t gross, I agreed to join.  I had some nasty beer, then drank this decent cider beverage.  We walked over to this other bar (which I guess means I bar hopped for the first time) where I had a $0.50 shot of some poison gin. This bar instantly became the greatest place in East Legon when we saw there was an air hockey table.  I beat my fradversary Anil in the first game, probably due to a combination of his intoxication and shock that I was so aggressive. I might have been slightly tipsy myself because I couldn’t stop laughing and standing for long periods of time was becoming problematic.  He beat me in a rematch 7-5. The bastard. All in all, it was a really fun night. Going to bars with people you don’t dislike isn’t so bad, I suppose.  I’m secretly hoping to have a night that devolves into this:

I’m sure you can guess who I relate to the most.

This weekend has been spent researching Ghanaian media for a group presentation that I decided should finally be thought about, and studying for an upcoming Twi test.  On Saturday I saw that I only had $5.00, and after going to about 8 ATMs on campus that weren’t working, I decided to spend that money on 25 hours of Wi-Fi rather than save it for food. Priorities. I found $0.15 that I used to go to the mall to use the ATMs there.  After running away from avoiding some begging children outside the mall, I was accosted by a man who asked me for “a favor” while I was at the ATM.  As I was withdrawing $50.00 I glared at him and said, “I don’t have any money to give you!” and stormed away.  I don’t know when I became so evil, but it was probably around the time that I ran out of fucks to give. I purchased a book, Beyond the Horizon, to read after I soon finish East of Eden.  I was going to read The Hobbit next, but decided that I should probably read some African literature while I’m here. Also, wandering pathetically through supermarkets is something I really need to stop doing, but I walked away with some iced tea and these potato chips that I used to buy once a week when I was in Botswana. Nostalgic food purchases are the best kind of food purchases.

Alright, that’s all for this week! Apparently I write more during weeks when not much happens, which means this entire post is probably useless. Oh well. At least my father will enjoy it.

Have a wonderful week!

My roommate  watched this magical movie called The Encounter on TV tonight and I thought I’d share the trailer for it. Spoiler Alert! The Encounter is with Jesus.

If that trailer peaked your interest, which I just can’t imagine not happening, the entire movie can be seen here! You’re welcome.

“Is That Your Bible?” “…No. That’s My Wallet.”

Last week I ventured back into the miserable territory that frequented the first few posts of my blog. I really wanted my writings while here in Ghana to be light and filled with the constant occasional snark. But I also promised that I’d be honest, that I would discuss everything, good, bad, or embarrassing. At the time I wrote last week’s post, I think I really needed to sort out the struggles and concerns I had. God knows I lack the ability to vocalize my thoughts/feelings in an articulate, coherent manner, so writing about them is really therapeutic for me.

I’m not quick to say anything good about myself, but I like to think I’m fairly self-aware and perceptive. Putting words to these issues makes them real, something that I can accept, and hopefully manage. I may not overcome them right away, or at all, but at least I’m not oblivious to them. And that’s an important first step, no?

Alright. Enough of this.

This week during Politics of International Economic Relations, or as I like to now call it, Introduction to Sucks That Y’all Were Born in Ghana! my professor was as charming as ever, spewing beautiful, uplifting remarks such as “When you have more black people, you have more problems,” and “If Ghana were a human being, would you say Ghana was a smart person?” Maybe I’m being a bit hypocritical since I’m not America’s biggest fan, but good God, Bossman. Lighten up! Yeah, Ghana has its fair share of issues, but compared to much of the rest of Africa…things could be worse. In other classroom news, writing “I know papaya!” on my Twi test was basically the best thing I could have done. The professor found it hilarious and he decided to give everybody points for that question since nobody actually knew what the Twi word for papaya is. I don’t really know why this surprised him.

I crossed the 100-hour mark at Beacon House this week! I can’t believe I was ever concerned over reaching 135 hours by the end of the semester. At this point I’ll probably double that. Maybe I’ll receive some kind of “CIEE’s/Africa’s/The World’s Greatest Intern of All Time” Award.

Tuesday afternoon was a little bittersweet because it was the last night for two sisters who left the next day for North Carolina. After spending 20-25 hours per week with these kids, it’s pretty impossible to not become emotionally invested in them. I got to interview them Tuesday night for the blog, and the last question I asked was “Is there anybody you’d like to thank at Beacon House?” and the older sister, Helen, basically just thanked me.

Gonna miss these two. But mostly the older one who wasn’t as annoying.

These girls have been at the orphanage for many years now so I’m sure there are plenty of people who have left a far greater impact than I have, but still..AWW! I’ve been smacked with so much collective love and appreciation since coming to work at Beacon House, but I’m still blown away every time the kids say something like this to me. I’ll give more examples later. But man. I can’t imagine how overwhelming it will be for these girls. Moving from a Ghanaian orphanage to the American South is something I can’t really fathom.

Things got a bit…uncomfortable… on Thursday. Towards the end of the day, either right before or after dinner, I was alone with one of the house mothers, Irene. Here’s how our conversation went down:

Mama Irene: (while examining her Bible) “Do you have one of these?”

Matthew: “Of course! Mine’s a bit smaller, though.”

Mama Irene: “Which books are in it?”

Matthew: “Uhh…all of them?”

Mama Irene: “What’s your favorite Bible passage?”

Matthew: (few seconds of uncomfortable stammering and flipping through pages, pretending to not remember where in the Bible the passage is) : “Uhhh…Uhh…Job!”

Mama Irene gave me a look that reeked of skepticism, but the subject was dropped for the time being. We went through the nightly prayer/singing routine in which we discussed how non-believers go straight to Hell and that you can commit any sin imaginable, but as long as you accept Christ as your Savior you’ll make it to Heaven (seems like a pretty poor system, if you ask me). As I was getting my bag together to leave, Mama Irene saw me take out my wallet to put in my pocket. Here’s a snippet of that glorious exchange:
MI: “Is that your Bible?”
Matthew: “No…this is my wallet. My Bible’s at home.”
MI: “You should have your Bible on you at all times.”
Matthew: “I know. I just don’t wanna lose it.”
MI: “What Church do you go to?”
Matthew: (mumbling) “…Regina..”
MI: “What?”
Matthew: “…Saint…..Joseph…
MI: “Oh. So a Catholic Church.”
Matthew: “…Yup.”
I really don’t know what to do about this. Telling them that I’m Jewish this late in the game seems like the worst idea imaginable, but my lack of any Jesus knowledge is painfully apparent to everybody. If I could go back in time I’d probably reveal my Jew-status immediately, and I would hope that this revelation wouldn’t change how I’m treated there, but…I really don’t want to find out.

On Friday I was looking forward to avoiding further uncomfortable situations at all costs. It was a public holiday (something about Kwame Nkrumah’s birthday), so there wasn’t any class/homework to help with in the morning. I was excited for a relaxing day of playing and watching Beauty and the Beast.

Then a child peed on me.

I don’t know what it is about me that makes kids want to urinate on me/my belongings, but it must be something. The fact that this isn’t my first encounter with child pee is a great indicator of the kind of life experiences I’ve had. The first time, 5 years ago, was pretty rough. The kid decided it would be cool to shower my shoes/bag that I left in the locker room during their swim-time with that gross liquid (trying really hard to not write “pee” over and over, and I’m struggling). Long story short, the fact that he did it on purpose, and that he was 10 at the time (like..seriously?), and that the shoes were brand new and beautiful, brought about an emotional meltdown in the laundry room as I cried/hyperventilated while waiting for my shoes to finish their rinse cycle.

Five years later, I’m proud to say that I responded monumentally better during this “wee wee” (their words, not mine!) encounter. I mean, the kid didn’t do it on purpose (I was basically at the wrong place at the wrong time), and he’s 3, and his life hasn’t been too ideal, so being mad at him would just be silly. I think the fact that I’m not 15 anymore also helped…and the fact that the kid is absurdly adorable. He doesn’t speak much English yet, but we have a secret handshake! And his name is Prince! Love that kid.

Things could have been much worse.

Other orphanage highlights:

This is what I have to put up with

• As if the pee debacle wasn’t enough trauma for one morning, the boys were literally brawling on Friday. At one point Ben (aka my favorite kid of all time) was bitten by another kid and I had to physically restrain Ben from retaliating. This is what happens when I’m left alone to watch the kids.
• When I arrived on Friday morning, the first thing Ben says before hugging me is “You look great today!” So wonderful. I love the implication that I look like a gross mess every other time he’s seen me. It’s basically the truth.
• After we finished Beauty and the Beast I danced with a few of the kids during the end credits while actively forcing myself to not sing along/cry to Celine’s version of the song.
• At dinner on Friday Mama Irene had the kids stand and say what they enjoyed about the day, and Ben and a couple others mostly talked about me. SO GREAT!
• Turns out I’m much better at teaching kids how to add/subtract than how to read simple words. This is probably because my ability to speak/read isn’t too advanced either.

On Saturday most of the CIEE crew were taken to the Eastern Region city of Aburi. As I’ve established on numerous occasions, I’m not fond of too many people my age. After spending hours on a bus with some of them, these feelings haven’t really improved. I’d say I’m pretty open and honest with my friends and on this blog, but some things I keep to myself. Some things should just remain private, right?

Apparently this belief isn’t shared by all of my contemporaries, resulting in some pretty magical conversations. I doubt any of these people I’m about to mock read this blog (If you do, hello! Please remember that when you open your mouth and talk about your various sexual escapades and STD scares on a crowded bus, you open the door to internet ridicule. The only type of ridicule I have the cowardice capability of giving). Anyway, after learning about pregnancy scares and pus-infected peen’s (which turned out to not be an STD. So…what was it?!), my favorite exchange happened on the trip back to campus. Here’s what was uttered:
Girl A: “We still have 88 days!”
Girl B: “Why are you counting down?”
Girl A: “Cause I wanna have sex!”
I’m known for my inability to control my reactions to complete ridiculousness, so it took an inordinate amount of strength for me to not say something bitchy.

This is Tetteh. I bet he fit in pretty nicely.

Anyway, aside from those sloppy bus rides, the trip was really great. Our first stop was the Tetteh Quashie Cocoa Farm, named after the first dude who brought cocoa to Ghana in 1876. Here are the highlights:
• Cocoa trees kind of look like they’re infected with malignant tumors. But those tumors are just the cocoa.
• To remove the cocoa from the trees, you use this spear/whale harpoon called “Go To Hell” to poke them off.
• Tried some cocoa. Tasted like a very bitter dark chocolate. But anything that isn’t rice at this point is delicious.

The cocoa! The yellow ones are ripe!

Our next stop was the Aburi Botanical Gardens. There are many trees, all of which are beautiful. Some highlights:
• I ate some cinnamon-tasting bark. This marks the second time I’ve eaten part of a tree while in Africa.
• We ran into Daniel, the man I mentioned in an earlier post who I met at a Thai restaurant during our Accra “tour.” How ridiculous is that? I mean, Ghana’s pretty small, but randomly seeing him again is mind-blowing to me.
• There was this weed-type plant and if you touch it, the leaves retreat. Is the plant ticklish? Nope! Just a defense mechanism.

Beautiful Tree #1

Beautiful tree #2

Strange tree carving.

Next was the Aburi Wood Carving Village. I made some really practical purchases, including a slingshot. Tempted to bring it to the orphanage and threaten the kids with it. “If any of you goes wee wee on me again, you’ll be sorry!” I just wanted another excuse to write “wee wee”, hopefullyprobably for the last time this decade. I also bought this awesome elephant! According to my mother, if the nose is pointing up, it’s good luck. Unsurprisingly, my elephant’s nose is pointing down. I think this suits me more.

After finding out he’s inherently unlucky, I think I love him even more

Our final stop was TK Bead Village. We were given a quick demonstration of the bead-making process and were brought to the giftshop. Within 10 minutes I picked out a necklace for my mother or sister (likelihood of either of them liking it? Maybe a 45% chance). A swift 90 minutes later (for God’s sake, people. The beads were not expensive. Instead of deciding between two $7.00 necklaces/bracelets for over an hour, just buy both. Lord.), we were finally on our way back to campus.

Alright, that’s all for now. Have a wonderful week, and thank you for continuing to read this nonsense!

In honor of this heavily-religious post, here’s a song called “I Don’t Wanna Pray” by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. They’re great!