My new family

As some of you know, I finally moved out of the chief’s palace about a month ago and I’m now living in my permanent housing. It was such a relief to move. There was a lot of drama with the elders and my new landlord about if/when I could move, which was very frustrating to say the least, and I had just about convinced myself that I would never move when one evening my counterpart, the acting chief, and four strong young men showed up at my house with a large flatbed truck and began quickly removing all my belongings from my room. The acting chief greeted me, then turned to the crowd gathering outside my door and announced, “Mam B is moving today!” Then I hopped in the cab of the truck with the driver while the young men sat on my things to make sure they didn’t fall out, and off we went to my new house.

The day after I moved I got sick again. I was sick all through June with what was probably a bacterial infection. I had a cyclical fever, and each time it happened I would get a really bad headache, followed by absolutely terrible body aches, and a high fever (103 wasn’t uncommon) followed by bad chills. The fever would usually come in the afternoon and be terrible all through the night, and in the morning I would usually feel almost normal. I would have about three days of this, then it would go away, only to come back two or three days later. These are pretty much all the symptoms of malaria, so I was worried for a while I had it, but I took several malaria rapid tests and all were negative. So finally two days after I moved to my new house, three weeks after my illness began, the Peace Corps doctor said I could go to the Kumasi Sub-Office (KSO) to rest and get blood tests done. I told my new landlord, my counterpart, and the acting chief that I would probably only be gone two or three days. I ended up being gone for nine days because the tests in Kumasi were inconclusive and I wasn’t getting better, so I ended up going to Accra to see the doctor in person and get more blood for more tests. By the end of the month I was finally feeling better and allowed to go back to site.

At this point I had been living in Adabokrom for about two months, but moving into a new house with a new family definitely gave me the feeling that I was just now starting my Peace Corps service. It was like when we first got to homestay and met our families for the first time (only much less terrifying) and like that first day of site visit when you show up to your community and see the room you will be living in for the next two years all rolled into one. For the first time since coming to Ghana in February I was actually able to completely unpack my bags, which was an amazing feeling. I was graciously given one large room in a brand new house to stay in for the rest of my service. The house and room are beautiful, but it was also very empty when I came. One of the first things I did was talk to a carpenter about building a table to put my stove on and shelves to hold my cooking utensils and food. The carpenter did a nice job, and he did it in a day, which was even more impressive, so now one corner of my room is my “kitchen.” I keep meaning to go back to him and have a bookshelf made. Maybe I’ll get around to that today.

My new “family” is also absolutely wonderful. The landlord’s name is Kofi, and he is actually the son of the acting chief, but they are not on speaking terms (this is one of the many issues that led to so much drama over where I was going to live, and why it took so long for me to be able to move). Kofi is probably in his mid-thirties, and he has a beautiful wife named Ama (everyone calls her Sister Ama, or just Sister). Kofi and Ama have two kids, Sandra and Kennet (I think Kennet is supposed to actually be named Kenneth, but no one can pronounce “th” here, so everyone calls him Kennet). Sandra is five or six and incredibly sassy, but still a very sweet girl. Kennet is two and too adorable for words. When I first moved in he was pretty terrified of me (most kids are if they’ve never seen a white person before). Slowly he got up the guts to visit my room with his big sis. He would giggle nervously, and if I looked at him and smiled he would giggle uncontrollably, run to the corner and hold his hands over his eyes, all with a huge smile on his face. Then he’d peek out between his fingers to see if I was still watching, and if I was he’d giggle again and quickly cover his eyes again. That only lasted a few days though. Now he will just walk into my room by himself and climb up into my lap. And each day when he sees me for the first time in the morning, usually when I’m on my way to take my bath, he lets out a squeal of delight and gives me the biggest smile that just warms my heart.

I hadn’t been living at the house very long when one day Kofi came to my door and said, “If I buy you a chicken, you can kill it?” I told him, “No, sorry, I can’t kill it.” He said, “OK, if I find someone else to kill it, you can cook it?” I debated what to say next, but I finally told him “Yes, I can cook it.” I waited the rest of the day for my chicken to arrive, but it never did, and I was just starting to think I got off the hook when early the next morning Kofi took me to the backyard to show me a beautiful rooster tied to a stump. He told me it was for me, and I should call my counterpart to help me kill it. At the time my counterpart wasn’t speaking to me (more drama for another post) and he refused to come help me, so Kofi sent another nice man to the house to do the butchering for me. I didn’t know Kofi had found someone else, so in the meantime I went to my room and started to look up how to slaughter, pluck, and butcher chickens. I found some very informative blogs, and just as I had finished reading I decided I couldn’t bring myself to do this and was wondering what would be a polite and culturally appropriate way to turn down this gift when a man knocked on my door and held up a dead, plucked, still whole chicken and motioned for me to take it. It thanked him, stared at it, and finally told him I didn’t know how to butcher it. That wasn’t entirely true anymore, but I didn’t think I could do it myself, so he took the chicken from me and told me to follow him out back, where he began to indiscriminately hack at the bird. I’ve found that in Ghana they don’t really have any sense of cuts of meat, regardless of what kind of meat you are eating. They pretty much eat any and all parts of animals, so they just cut until they have portion-sized squares of meat. When he was finished, I was a little dizzy and had in my hands a bowl of chicken parts, including the head, feet, and most of the organs as well as the meat. I made a soup and spent the rest of the day eating, but a whole chicken is just too much for one person, and without electricity it wasn’t like I could just put it in the fridge to save for later, so I’m sorry to say a lot of that poor rooster went to waste.

Kofi and Ama are also working on helping me with learning twi and are teaching me how to cook Ghanaian foods. Ama doesn’t speak English, so both of these things are harder to do with her, but she’s very sweet and willing and we get by. Kofi’s English is very good, so I spend a lot of time talking with him. The other night he had me try bush meat with him, because bush meat is his favorite and no one can live in his house if they don’t like bush meat (he was kidding of course, mostly). Bush meat is an animal called grasscutter, which is like a large rodent, I think. The meat was actually pretty good.

Well this post is getting pretty lengthy and my counterpart just showed up so I think I will end it here but I’ll write another in the next few days, this time about the work I’ve been up to!