Hello from Ghana!

Hello!

Apparently all my pictures are going to be up front here. Can’t figure out how to change that yet!

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First of all, the address I gave you in the last postwas incorrect. That is technically my address, but that one will be charged higher customs fees. Please use this one:

Heather Baily
Peace Corps Volunteer
Peace Corps/Ghana
P.O. Box 5796
Accra-North, Ghana

Anyway, I’ve officially been in Ghana for 11 days now, and it’s been exactly 2 weeks since I left home. It feels like much, much longer than that. Two weeks isn’t that long, but so much has happened in that span of time I’m struggling to even find a place to begin.

I guess the best place to start is Philadelphia. I arrived Sunday night and met three other volunteers at the airport.  We took a shuttle together to the hotel, where we checked in and then headed out to find dinner and catch the last few minutes of the Super Bowl.  There were about ten of us in all who were there a day early.  In the morning, we went out for a little sightseeing before our official Peace Corps sessions began.  We had about 5 hours of classes in the hotel, during which we turned in all our final paperwork, received our passports, and became “Peace Corps Trainees.” That night, we all went to the same restaurant, which was a little overwhelming for the staff but was fun for us to get to know each other a bit better.  On Tuesday, we had the morning free and at noon we packed up in a bus and drove to Newark Airport.  We got to Newark around 2 pm and our flight was at 11 pm, so we had a lot of time to kill.  We managed to entertain ourselves with games, movies, books, etc. until our 8 hour flight to Frankfurt.  At Frankfurt, we had a short layover and then got on a 7 hour flight to Ghana.  Arriving in Ghana was surreal. It was so strange to think we were finally here. It was already night when we landed, and the air was incredibly hazy.  It was about 80 degrees even though it was 8 pm.  We were met at the airport by two Peace Corps volunteers (called Peace Corps Volunteer Leaders) and a few other PC staff. The airport was really empty, as were the roads in Accra, because Ghana was playing in the semifinals for the Africa Cup.  We lost, but most of the city stayed home to watch the game.

The next few days we stayed at a Seventh Day Adventist College outside of Accra called Valley View.  The first day we returned to Accra to do more paperwork, get shots, and get to know the Accra PC office.  The second day we had sessions all day at Valley View.  On the third day, we did Accra Quest.  We were in groups of three, and we had to walk from Valley View to the road, get a tro-tro (a van, local transportation) to Accra, complete a series of tasks, and return. I guess there is no better way to figure out living in another country than be thrown in head first.  I actually had a really good time on Accra Quest, even though there were some less than great parts.

On Monday, we left Valley View and our PCVLs and came to Anyinasin, our new home for three months.  We drove up to a church, unloaded all of our belongings, and sat down in the pews.  On the other side of the church were our new host parents, though we didn’t know which were ours yet. Outside was the rest of the village, watching and laughing.  We had a ceremony, were introduced to our parents, and then collected our things and walked to our new houses.  Our group is lucky because there are only 25 of us, and for the first time the whole group was placed in the same community for homestay.  This means we are very close to each other and can visit each others houses when we are not in class, and don’t have to travel far to get to our sessions.  My homestay family consists of  my mom, Yesewa, her husband (whose name I cannot pronounce), my 11 year old sister Akwea, and my 4 year old brother, Kofi.  Our house is quite large and nice.  My room is about the same size as the room I shared at Valley View with another volunteer.  We do not have running water, but we do have an indoor space to shower (which is unusual) and a very nice latrine out back (so nice we keep a lock on it!).  We also have electricity.  In comparison to some homestays, I’m quite spoiled.

Everyday around 4 am a chorus of noise wakes me up.  It starts with the roosters, followed by birds chirping, then the goats join in (especially the babies), along with the ducks, sheep, pigs, dogs, and shortly after, radios.  I guess in Ghana if people are fortunate enough to have a radio, they feel the need to share the radio with all their neighbors by playing it as loudly as possible.  It does not matter if your radio is in competition with another radio to be heard.  Sometimes the neighbors (or my family) also begin singing around 5 am.  I finally drag myself out of bed around 6, go out to the latrine, come back to my room and put on my two-yard (literally two yards of fabric you wrap around yourself and it is considered appropriate house dress) and head to the shower, where I take my first bucket bath of the day.  For those of you who don’t know, a bucket bath is literally using a bucket of water to bathe yourself.  Needless to say, I only wash my hair every other day. Then I help (mostly watch) my mother make me an omelet (which she always serves between two pieces of bread) and I eat my breakfast in my room.  I go next door, get my friend Chau, and we had to the Methodist church where we have classes from 8 am until 5 pm.  We have a break at noon for lunch when we go home, but my parents work and my siblings to go school so no one is ever home at lunch.  That’s OK, because sometimes I need a moment of quiet time.

I say I need a moment of quiet time because every other part of the day I am constantly surrounded by people.  There are always many more children at my house than actually live here (I think because they like to watch the weird things I do, or to listen to the obruni try to speak Twi).  And in Ghana, you greet everybody you see.  Literally everybody. If you don’t, it’s an incredible insult.  So the church is not far from my house, but it takes me 10 to 15 minutes to get there because I need to greet everyone I pass. When you greet, it’s not just “Hi” or “Good morning.” When translated, it’s “I give you good morning (person I am greeting)” then that person says, “I receive it” then you or they ask “How are you?” and you must respond “I am fine, how are you?” then that person says “I am fine” followed by another question, often “what is your name,” or “What is your mother’s name” or “where are you going?” When I get home in the evenings, I eat dinner, take my second bucket bath of the day (Ghanaians always bathe at least twice a day. . . there is too much dust in the air and you sweat too much to only do it once).  After my bath, most of the neighborhood shows up to teach me Twi.  In reality, my sister mostly teaches me Twi, while everyone else sits in the background laughing. People laugh at me a lot. I’ve decided Ghanaians are just really happy people who like to laugh, and they are not laughing at me, but with me (for the most part).  I try to take everything in good humor, though sometimes it can get overwhelming.

The food is quite different, but it’s really good.  My mother likes to serve me outrageous portion sizes and tells me to “Eat Alllllllll.” It’s one of the few phrases she knows in English. It’s impossible to eat allllll, but I’ve been getting better at it.  So far, some of my favorite things have been red red (red beans and red plantains), groundnut soup (spicy peanut soup with a rice ball in the middle) and fufu (a mixture of cassava and corn you dunk in a stew).  Eating has been a bit of a challenge since it is considered incredibly rude to use your left hand for anything, especially eating and I am left-handed.  Luckily for me, Ghanaians usually use their hands to eat their food, and using my right hand to eat with is a lot easier than holding a fork in my right hand.  Nothing quite deflates the ego like being taught how to eat with your hands by your entire family, however.

This morning we had a ceremony in which we met the chief of the village and were officially welcomed.  The volunteers were told to come at 7 am, so we all showed up at 7 but our host parents refused to come with us at that hour, even though they were supposed to be present.  We ended up standing on the roadside for about an hour and a half, and our host mothers showed up around 8:30, just about the time when the chief decided he was ready to receive us.  Guess we should have listened to our mothers, not our teachers on that one.   My family decided to skip church today (which I was absolutely fine with—church here lasts 3 hours at a minimum) so now I am sitting in my room writing my blog as I listen to a makeshift church practically in my backyard.  There is lots of lively drumming and beautiful singing, with the occasional “Praise the Lord!” and “Hallelujahs!” thrown in there. This afternoon I will go to another village called New Tafo to use an internet café and attempt to post this. Hopefully I can get pictures uploaded as well

Final preparations in the States

Hi everyone!

I’m finally getting around to writing my first blog post as I get ready to leave for my two years of Peace Corps in West Africa.  I decided to make a new blog that was separate from the one I did for semester at sea– new adventure, new blog I guess!

For the past week, I’ve been very busy trying to cross off everything on my multiple check lists, making sure I have everything I need on my packing list, actually packing everything, and putting everything I don’t need in storage or donating it.  Not to mention figuring out student loans, settling everything with my bank accounts, donating my car, getting all my tax information ready etc.  It’s hard to leave your life for two years!

I’ve managed to get everything I need in one suitcase that weighs under 50 pounds and a frame backpack. It’s kind of a strange feeling to think that everything I need for two years can fit in such a little space, but at the same time it’s incredibly freeing. I’ve also donated most of my clothes and possessions so I have very little in storage (which makes Daddy and his basement happy!) and I’ve lent out most of my books to friends which is nice because books are heavy and take up a lot of room to store. But if you’re one of the lucky ones I gave books to, I’m definitely coming back for them!

For the most part, I’ve felt pretty calm through my last few weeks in the States.  I’ve had a while to prepare for this, so I never felt rushed or worried I wouldn’t get everything done.  Methodically saying goodbye to everyone in my life has been probably the most difficult part. Fortunately, whenever I’ve felt particularly overwhelmed I’ve been able to go to the kickboxing gym and throw some punches until I feel calm again!

Things I think I will miss: coffee, cheese, hot showers, and the obvious friends, family, and pets. Also, I’ll probably miss working out on a regular basis, and will have to figure out something once I get to Ghana.

Things I won’t miss at all: driving, paying for gas, TV commercials, TV in general for that matter, and cold weather!!

Well, I have more boxing up I need to do so I think that will be all for now.  Oh–lots of people have been asking what the schedule is.  I leave Sunday, the 5th for Philadelphia where I will meet up with the rest of the PC volunteers going to Ghana with me (aka, my 25 new best friends!).  We will have training for a day or so there, and then on Tuesday the 7th we will fly to Frankfurt and then down to Ghana. It sounds like I won’t have phone or internet access for a few days once I arrive, but I’ll be sure to write a new blog post as soon as I get the opportunity. And in case you want to write me a letter or send me a care package, my address will be:

Heather Baily
US Peace Corps
26 West Cantonments
Switchback Lane
Accra, Ghana

Love to you all!

Heather