Debauchery!!

Apparently I can’t be serious and honest in my blog without causing concern for some family members. The second I start talking about some of my flaws, I guess I need to start expecting emails asking about my “immense” low self-esteem.  Pretty sure the word I used last week was “poor;” immense seems like too strong a word. Maybe it’s not. The point is, I’m not going to censor my thoughts or feelings just to make myself appear perfectly fine and content with myself. Part of why I started writing these entries is because of my less-than-satisfactory ability to vocalize certain facets of my being. I apologize to those of you who were uncomfortable with me breaking from my general snarky tone, but I don’t think you’ll have to worry this week.

Alright then.

My penultimate week of classes featured some of the last hidden gems I’ll likely hear from Bossman in “Sucks that Y’all Were Born in Ghana!” (Politics of International Economic Relations, for those of you who forgot the class’s actual name):

  • “If you’re not doing excellent there’s nothing you can do about it.” Really? Nothing?!
  • “The population of Nigeria is 160 million.  I don’t know how many the leader has killed…but there’s about 160 million.”
  • “Does Ghana like the Nigerians more than the Brits?” The Nigerians of the class responded with a resounding “NO!!

Not much else happened this week academically besides a lot of studying for another Colonial Rule/African Response exam on Halloween (funny how not being in America instantly makes October 31 insignificant). After seeing the scores of the first test there’s probably no point in feeling confident about it. I also didn’t study as much as I should have, partly because I didn’t care too much, but mostly because I was distracted/mesmerized by coverage of Superstorm Sandy. I don’t know why I bothered concerning myself with a silly storm that only affected rich white people in the Northeast (Don’t ask. But this article is shockingly appropriate/identical to an argument had over this).  Thankfully my house survived unscathed and my father was safely marooned in Las Vegas (best week ever for him) and avoided evacuation.

When I arrived at Beacon House on Thursday I was surprised to see that Ben’s new mother was there, I guess to deal with some adoption paperwork and other legalities that are part of the process. It really is amazing and beautiful to see him so excited and happy. I’m happy and excited for him too, but I can’t help but think about the other kids whose futures are still completely unknown.  I can’t imagine it being easy for them having to see Ben with his mother, and I think it was slightly inappropriate that she spent so many hours at the house.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned about children, it’s that they become jealous easily. I don’t know. Maybe I’m overthinking it.

Hello, perfect baby pretending to be Superman!

I really need to work on not laughing at inappropriate times. Prince and a couple of the other kids decided to play “Run Away from Matthew!” As I power walked ran after them, Prince turned towards me, stuck out his tongue, laughed and yelled “Na na na na na” at me. I went after him, he turned around to run away, and immediately smacked his giant head into a wall.

This smile didn’t last too much longer

The switch from screaming in laughter and joy to howling in anguish and pain was instantaneous (always is with this kid).  I only laughed for about 2 seconds (I swear!) before running over to him to let him cry all over me.  I’m really curious to know the quantity of child tears my shirts have accumulated these past few months.

Friday morning I had to register for next semester’s classes at GW.  Like most things in Ghana, this experience was stress-free, unlike prior registration experiences that have rendered me near tears and in the fetal position. I left for Beacon House afterwards, feeling pretty bad about how little I’ve been there these past two weeks.

My mood quickly changed once I arrived and was met with a ridiculous welcome that I’m still not used to. There were chants of “Matthew! Matthew!” (or “Matteeee” from Prince) and kids running at me from every direction to give me a hug. I’ve probably mentioned how unused to I am to witnessing anybody express excitement over my presence. It seems completely outlandish to me, but it’s also the greatest. Ever. And when I have to leave and the kids seem genuinely miserable and say “Don’t goooo!” it’s just…too much to handle.

My cheeks used to look like Prince’s. Can’t wait to get that back in a few weeks

I’ve earned the reputation here of spending a majority of my time with children, but this is one of the few instances in my life when I don’t wish that anything was different.

That afternoon I helped a girl with her science homework, giving me a chance to look through a Ghanaian textbook. I knew that if it was anything like the short stories I’ve talked about, that it would likely be hilarious.  Some sections were, but others were absolutely terrifying. Just take a look at some of these pictures and you’ll understand.

Things started off tame enough

“Our friends will run away from us if our body gives off an unpleasant odor”
Well this is a bit odd

When I saw the heading of “Keeping the Anus Clean” I realized this book is probably not the most ideal learning material.

This is around the time that I wanted to rip up the book.

“God created humankind from the dust.” WHAAATTTT? This is in a science textbook. I couldn’t believe it. Wanted to cry.

The only jobs teachers gear us towards are doctors, policeman, farmers, and presidents. Seems pretty valid

This is just hilarious.
Remember, old people are not wizards/witches!

I mentioned last week that after seeing that hilarious fight scene from Batman I wanted to see the movie 12 more times, but I didn’t think that would ever actually happen.  Luckily for me the kids watched it again Friday night, and this time I got to see the film in its entirety. It’s a 90 minute trainwreck of pure campy hilarity. Two new favorite scenes:

I began my Saturday by going to mall, hoping to either get my camera fixed or purchase a new one.  My camera is probably my most important possession here, and since I’m going to be doing a lot of traveling in the next few weeks I need to do something about this fast.  Unfortunately, like most of my trips to the mall here, I left accomplishing little and with a bag of chips. A young woman in the supermarket asked to be my friend, and all I could muster was a “No thank you!” and ran away.  I’m sure she really just wanted my money, but I don’t think my answer would have been different regardless.

The social butterfly that I am, I intended to spend the rest of my Saturday reading, but somehow agreed to play some Frisbee. There were times when we were pretty good, but a much larger number of times when we were shockingly bad. But it was fun. And thankfully a young boy joined in and automatically made us look better. I played again today (Sunday), this time competitively. Considering I haven’t played a team sport since probably high school gym, and that I haven’t really exercised since the summer, I’m just glad I got through it. I also learned that I’m some kind of frisbee-throwing virtuoso.  It’s amazing how good I am when little movement is required.

I’m not really a “go out and have fun at bars” kind of guy. I’m more of a “stay inside and be lame” kind of guy. The few times I decide to actually be a real 20 year old, ridiculousness tends to follow. Here’s a timeline of last night’s debauchery. But first, please enjoy this Spongebob clip:

  • Spent about two hours trying to meet up with people at a bar on a beach that’s supposed to have live music.
  • Arrive at bar and learn that the music is nonexistent.
  • Cross the street to another bar when poison gin shot #1 is consumed.
  • Young cat comes up to us. I needed to hold that cat immediately. Spend a lot of time on the floor petting him.
  • Get up to finish poison gin shots #2 and #3. Realize that brand new sandal is broken.  Same foot as my other pair, making me question whether my right foot is dangerous.
  • Hobble over to Bar #2. Around this time Anil gave me his shoe to wear. His feet are tiny. Really tiny.
  • Carton of Sangria consumed.
  • Off to Bar #3, aka Air Hockey Table Bar. There’s a new motorcycle racing game there. We all came in 8th place.
  • Off to Bar #4 where we met up with other people. Still wearing Anil’s shoe. Beer and poison gin is shared. Yuck.
  • Few of us return to Air Hockey Table Bar where I demanded a rematch after my humiliating defeat by Anil a few weeks ago. The table ended the game prematurely with him leading 6-5. THIS ISN’T OVER.
  • Finally start stumbling back to campus. My other sandal breaks. Decide the only sane thing to do would be to walk barefoot all the way back. Bon voyage, pussy sandals.
  • We decide to steal a bunch of political party flags. Not quite sure how this decision came about. Climbing on shoulders was required. Surprisingly I didn’t participate.
  • Finally arrive at around 1:15 AM with a PPP (Progressive People’s Party) flag and no foot wounds! I’m as shocked as you probably are by that.

    Can’t wait to fit this into my suitcase

This coming week is pretty important! Last week of classes, my Ghanaian media presentation (HAHA it’s funny cause we’re not prepared at all), and potentially some travelling. If I don’t latch onto another group’s travel plans, I’m just going to embark on another solo travel adventure, possibly to the Western Region. I think it would be good for me to travel alone some more, if only as a way to test myself. With all the traveling I’ve done over the years, very little of it has been completely on my own.  I’ve always been shepherded around or chaperoned, and I’m curious to see how I’d do when having to make my own decisions. So either way, I have a feeling I won’t be here next weekend, in which case my next entry may not be for a little while. Sorry, dad everyone.

My friend sent me this video this morning, and I’d say it encapsulates what I deal with here better than anything else I’ve shared.

Oh, and one more Spongebob clip from the same episode. Really can’t believe this was allowed to be shown.

“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!