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Friday, December 28, 2012

Smelly Chicken

During the time I posted my last blog posts, I was evacuated to my host uncle's house because of a chemical disaster.


I realize that sounds terrifying. Yeah, it was, but it stunk even more than it scared me. I'm hosted in a villiage called Atwima Boko. Boko is a green paradise full of tradional dwellings and...poultry farms. One of said poultry farms' storage rooms exploded at the beginning of December amd released agrochemicals into the air. I noticed a foul scent one day on my way home from school. My sister told me about the disaster, but I didn't think much about it. I guess something in me believed it would be cleaned up within a few days by Emergency Services. Funny, after my experiences in the first week.


The very next morning, I awoke to the smell (awful...think of old cabbage and rotting meat together) inside our house. My host family were not in the common room, so I peeked in the spare bedroom to look for a family friend who spent the night (Emily's old host brother)

Smelly Chicken (cont)

What I saw in that room made my heart jump. Sleeping on the matresses were two very tiny people! Our guest was nowhere to be seen. I almost screamed, but my host dad came in the room just then.


"Is someone sleeping in there?" I asked.
"Yes. My wife's brother's kids."
I breathed a sigh of relief. What my sleepy brain had pegged for shrunken strangers were my baby cousins.


My host uncle lives next to the poultry farm where the accident occured. The family came to sleep in our house, which is up the road aways, to get away from the scent. However, the smell got worse and worse. By that morning, it had spread not only around Boko but throughout all Kumasi.


A few minutes later, my two-year-old cousin Yaa (pronouced "Yow") emerged from the room. He took one look at me and screamed. I smiled, held out my hand, and drew near...and he burst into tears. (Yaa acted like I was a boogeyman all morning...which confounds me because he'd never seemed the least bit afraid of me before)

Smelly Chicken (cont)

"Pack some clothes," said Daddy. "We're leaving."


To where? For how long? How many people are coming? Before I could ask any of these questions, I was in Uncle Francis's car with Ma, Daddy, Kofi, Atta, and our guest. We drove down the long, familiar road out of Boko, covering our noses with wet handkercheifs. Atta and I squeezed on top of each other and laughed all the way into town. The situation was by far the oddest one I've ever been in.


It stunk, so bad breathing was difficult, all the way to the city limit. Inside, I was praying for all my neighbors who couldn't get out.

When the car pulled up to depot junction (right by my school), my siblings and I got out and got in a drop taxi.


"Where exactly are we going?" I asked at long last.


"Dad's brother's place." I had met our paternal uncle on several occasions, so all my nerves left.


I spent the day and one night at his place. It was a large house full of people, and I enjoyed my time there.

Smelly Chicken (cont)

December 7, the morning after our evacuation, was Election Day. All my family rushed back to Boko to go and vote. By then, the scent was gone from our house, but the polling station was still a stinkhouse. The pollmasters actually handed out surgical masks and asked the voters to wear them while waiting in line.


Just like Kofi's emergency the first week, the disaster reminded me I live in a developing country. In the US, evacuation orders would be issued and officials sent to clean the place up immediately. Here, the carless must fend for themselves.


Again and again, I am struck by the layers of this society. If you work hard in life, pursue a good education, it is possible to attain a high standard of living. My host family has a comfortable house, plenty of food and clothes, even clean tap water(!). However, working hard and excelling school cannot ensure there will be an ambulance if your child is in danger. It cannot ensure that anyone will help you if an agrochemical leaks.

Smelly Chicken (cont)

I am troubled by these things. I have faith in Ghana's people. I believe they'll change Ghana for the better. But...just as I said before...how many people will suffer before that happens?


And as much as I love Ghana, I see that I cannot raise children here. As beautiful, rich, and deep as the developing world is, I will play it safe.


It grieves me that most people don't have that choice.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Truth and Fact

A fact is solid, something you can touch and hold. Truth is a liquid...as soon as you think you have it, it slips through your fingers.

In Ghana, facts are taught in school. The teachers literally read from the textbooks--what they teach is exactly what they are told to teach. The students dutifully memorize word for word whatever is in the book. (I lost points on an assignment for writing "parents must set a clean example" instead of "parents must set a good example".) My classmates can recite the definition of seperation of powers, but would they recognize a partisan judge if he sentenced them?

In Ghana, truth is more elusive than ever. Maybe it is discussed in the choppy, tonal languages that I will never understand completely. But if Ghanaians discuss truth in Twi, Ewe, Ga, and the rest, what stops them from doing it in English? Nans speaks less English than Ghanaians, but he and I can chat about philosophy and discuss the meaning of life.

Truth and Fact (cont)

Fact is also preached in the church in Ghana. Evangelists are everywhere, shouting: "Repent! Convert! Jesus is the Son of God and that is a fact."

I don't see how that can possibly be a fact. Facts are proven. Facts are of the mind.

Truth, on the other hand...truth is too deep to be proven. It's of the soul, of the guts. "Jesus is the Son of God. That is the truth." Now that statement alows for discussion, for meditation. One is free to think and talk and decide what one believes. But whether one believes in a fact is irrelevant. A fact has been proven by the scientific method.

But how accurate is the scientific method? If it's not perfect, is there such a thing as a fact?

And as for truth...what is it exactly? Is it relative? Absolute? Both? Neither? Where does it come from? These are questions for a good discussion, not a blogpost. I thrive on discussions like that, I love the feeling of truth slipping through my fingers.

Truth and Fact (cont)

Since I thrive on such discussions, I'm sure many of you realize the restlessness (on one hand) and the lonliness (on the other) I have felt at times in Ghana. However, I have found that many AFS students thrive on such discussions, and that on a rare day some Ghanaians enjoy them. I am struck by how beautiful new relationships can be.

Morgan Lide

A few days ago, I recieved the news that Morgan Lide, an intergral member of our exchange student community, drowned while on a trip with her host family.

When Allen Evans told the YES Abroad crew that the last day of the Washington DC orientation would be our last moment together, I'm not sure any of us really believed it. I certainly believed I'd cross paths with most of my YES fellows again, and even hoped there would be a reunion.

Those words have come true in a terrible way. That moment was our last together in this life.

Morgan was one of the first applicants I talked to...on Exchanges Connect. Morgan had bad larengitis at the IPSE and talked through new friends. Morgan, though we were aquaintances at most, greeted me with a smile and a hug in DC. Her loss weighs on me, and I will grieve in my slow, quiet way. I know I have 51 brothers and sisters grieving with me.

I have hope that I will see Morgan again one day, and I believe our number is still 53. But it stings.

Morgan Lide (cont)

The host family and blood family of Morgan are in my thoughts and prayers. YES Abroad students, I am with you. I hope you have all found support with your host family, your new friends, and each other. However, I know that all the support in the world doesn't change what happened.

All of you grieving for Morgan, May the Lord bless you and keep you, May He look upon you with favor. May His face shine upon you and give you peace.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Assembly Time

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 7:00 my entire school stands in the yard for assembly time. We sing hymns (I sing them with my heart but keep quiet...they are all in Twi. My classmate Kendrea taught me how to sing one, but all the rest are impossible).

The headmaster then takes the stage and gives us some tough love. Sometimes the tone of his voice makes me think: "I'm not an animal!" but I know he actually cares about the student body. Ghanaian culture demands respect for elders, but on the same coin permits a certain degree of rudeness towards minors. I don't like it, but I can't change it.

Then the headmaster asks us to pray, and says his petitions. I love the fact that we are actually encouraged to pray at school, but I don't find the group prayers very enticing. They often go something like this: "Thank God you are alive. Many people are dead today, but you are alive. Think of all the people who are dead from accidents or illnesses. Thank God you aren't one of them."

Assembly Time (cont)

That type of prayer depresses me on a good day. As I'm grieving, it feels like knives on my heart. Sure, thank God you are alive, but what about the hope of salvation? How can you be so sure those dead people are dead, if you truly believe in the God you are praying to?

My opinions about assembly time are mixed. I like the way religion is not sensored from school. But I don't prefer the lectures about "this is the way things are." I don't know if one creates the other.

I have also noticed many of the Muslim day students slip into class a few minutes late. I don't think it's a concidence. Maybe assembly time ostrasizes some in order to unify the rest.

I believe there is a meeting point. Could teachers tell their students about faith without insisting they adopt a particular religion? I've had teachers in the States do that, though they were treading on dangerous ground. It comes down to the difference between truth and fact. Look for a new blog post.

Eid-al Ahada

October 25 marks the Islamic holiday of Eid-Al Ahada. This feast day celebrates Abraham's sparing of Isaac, and traditionally involves the slaughter of an animal, emulating the ram Abraham sacrifced in place of his son. The meat of the animal is enjoyed and shared with friends, neighbors, and the needy in the community.

As YES Abroad students (and followers of an Abrahamic religion ourselves), Lydia and I were hoping with all our might that we would have the opportunity to celebrate this holiday. Neither of us is hosted with a Muslim family, and AFS in Kumasi doesn't have the manpower to organize a cultural experience like the students in Accra attended.

Fortunately, our friend Samira, a YES alum who has proved a sort of peer mentor for Lydia, invited us to pray and eat with her family that day.

After a hectic morning (see "Tro-tro Tales"), we arrived at Samira's. Samira and her sisters helped us wrap our heads and apply the makeup used by Muslim girls in Ghana.

Eid-al Ahada (cont)

Looking smart, we walked together to the mosque. I was astounded by the number of beautifully dressed men an women flocking to their house of worship. The entire neighborhood was preparing to pray.

By the time we arrived, the mosque was full. Samira spread a prayer rug on the ground outside, and she, Lydia, and I went through the Islamic motions of prayer, listening to the Iman say the Arabic petitions that were, at that very moment, being prayed all over the world.

In case this blog hasn't made it obvious, I am a Christian. The experience of praying in that manner was so powerful that I can't deny Islam offers a relationship with God. I don't have all the answers, but the promise to Abraham in Genesis could be threefold when one considers Christianity, Islam, and modern Judaism.

We finished our celebration with a mid-morning meal of kenkey (corn dough) and fish. Samira's family didn't have the resources for a slaughter animal, but we enjoyed their Eid meal with them.

Eid-al Ahada (cont)

Samira's family gave us the opportunity of a lifetime. I'll never forget my first (of hopefully several) Eid-al Ahada.

The Ghanaian Family

Family in Ghana is a much more fluid concept than in the United States. If you are close to a friend or a cousin, you call them "brother" or "sister" and take that literally. If someone is like a parent to you, you will introduce them as "my mother" or "my father".

Here, I've listed my Ghanaian family...black and white.
My Brothers
Kofi (Caleb)- He is every bit as strange as my brothers at home...and that's saying something. We've watched so many movies together, he's rattled so many random bits of information to me that we are now related. It is interesting having an older brother for once--at times he acts like a bodygaurd. He keeps me on my toes and I'm glad to live with him.

Nans- This Frenchy speaks less English than most Ghanaians...and yet being the only white kids in school, we are naturally seen as related. Explaining to people at school that Kofi is my brother and Nans is not is often fruitless. We have sucumbed to peer pressure and tell people we are brother and sister.

The Ghanaian Family (cont)

However, the truth is Nans and I have become very close. My experience teaching ESL comes in handy--by the time the boy goes back to France, he'll be able to speak like an American (Not that that is so useful in Ghana...). Nans and I are different in some ways, but I stick up for him when his philosophical views are ridiculed, and he sticks up for me when Ghanaian males try to make a move. He is my brother, all right.

My Sisters
Marta- This girl is the type of big sister any small girl dreams of. She teaches me to cook and wash, shows me around town, and even befriends my friends. Once, when the Tema Team (Emily and Lucie) came to visit, she led a flock of five obrunis through the Kumasi market (which is about as wide as an airplane aile), and then escorted us to a peace rally led by the YES Program. We got a lot of stares, but that didn't phase her.

Bridget (or Atta)- She laughs harder and prays harder than anyone I've ever met. Her bursts of affection are rare but so strong.

The Ghanaian Family (cont)

In some ways, she's a tricky person to figure out, but over the months we've grown very close. I admire her.

Lydia- Oh, Lydia. I NEVER thought I'd have a friend I'd want to talk to on the phone for thirty minutes a day...but, alas...Lydia and I are like Mom and Kelly Suto. I tell her everything and nothing.

Sakina- I don't even know how to begin to describe my best Ghanaian friend. She is spunky and sweet and my entire class adores her. When I saw her for the first time in two weeks after my trip, she jumped and cheered and swept me into a hug that lasted five minutes. I'm not sure what I did to make her love me so much...because she's been that way since my first day of school. Sometimes there are things that can't be explained.

My Mother
She's motherly in every way. When I was sick, she made a constant supply of rice water and checked on me every couple hours. She loves to smile and laugh...you should have seen how pleased she was to get the headlamp Grandma sent.

The Ghanaian Family (cont)

I have never felt motherless for a moment in Ghana.

My Father
He goes out of his way to make me feel welcome...making me breakfast and inviting me to tag along wherever he goes. He's educated and open to conversation about news and politics (he's always watching the news, BBC or national). He is a man of great faith, and I admire him.

Admittedly, it was awkward in the beginning to call any of these people family. Only one person has ever belonged to the name "Mom" and one to the name "Dad" in my mind. However, that has changed and our bond will continue to grow stronger.

The Ghanaian Family (cont)

In some ways, she's a tricky person to figure out, but over the months we've grown very close. I admire her.

Lydia- Oh, Lydia. I NEVER thought I'd have a friend I'd want to talk to on the phone for thirty minutes a day...but, alas...Lydia and I are like Mom and Kelly Suto. I tell her everything and nothing.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Tro-tro Tales (cont)

Another day, I was on my way to meet Lydia for the celebration of Eid (an event which requires its own blogpost), when my tro-tro failed to slow down and rear-ended another tro. The drivers got out began shouting at each other. They looked at their cars, shrugged, and moved on. I laughed because I didn't know what else to do. (No one except the driver's pride was hurt, thank God)

As a full time resident of Kumasi, it is impossible to avoid pushing and shoving for a tro-tro forever. About a week ago, I was forced to push my way into a corner of a tro-tro on my way home from school. The door was unable to shut because of my awkward position. The mate in this tro was about 12, and I think he was as agast to see an obruni in his tro-tro as I was to see him working at that age. I rode all the way to Boko against a sliding door that was extremely ajar. It was my scariest experience in an automobile since coming to Ghana, and I will take care not to repeat it. Tro-tro Tales will continue t

Tro-tro Tales (cont)

Mondays prove a particular challenge since so many people need to get to town in a hurry. I have traveled to school a different way every single Monday. Once, my host dad's friend brought me to school and my dad to work, along with his wife and three boys. (There were seven of us in a car built for four.) Once, Caleb and I squeezed in the taxi with six or so others. Another time (this one makes me chuckle) we pushed and shoved our way into an overcrowded tro-tro. People were sitting on the floor, on top of each other, and squished so tight no one could breathe. The driver didn't notice until we were over halfway to the spot we generally hail a taxi. "Get out," he said to a number of people, including Caleb.

"If I get out, so does the obruni," my brother said, in what was either a display of loyalty or a plea for my help. Either way, we got out there and took a taxi the rest of the way.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Tro-tro Tales

Bump. Bump. RRRRRRR! BEEP! Push, shove...wait I got to school on time.

After opening my eyes to an earsplitting alarm at 4:30 am and eating a breakfast of porridge and bread, I make my way (dressed in a school uniform, of course) to Boko station at approximately 5:30. I wait along with 70 other people for the next tro-tro. On Mondays, there are more than 100 people.

Everybody lines up super nice for the tro-tro, but when it arrives they push and shove and cut in line...it's messy. If I'm alone, I wait patiently. The trouble with waiting patiently is that it does not garuntee I will reach school on time. When I am accompanied by my host brother (most days, since he attends the same school), he does the pushing and shoving for both of us.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Story of a Month (cont.)

Maybe that doesn't sound like much of an acheivement, but when I
compare it to the way I followed Daddy so blindly my first day in
Kumasi, it is incredible. So much happened in the month of October. I
grew so much, began so many friendships, and I will share many stories
with all you readers in time. I really do live in Ghana, you see. I've
never lived anywhere but Laporte...and what a new life it is!

(I'm so sorry for the repeated posts...I use mobile internet and my
text is limited.)

Story of a Month

I know I coul tell any story of my last two months in Ghana. But this
seems to show how much has happened since Mariam rescued me that night
in the rain. I now know not only what a drop taxi is, but how much
they should charge. I know not only how to get home, but how to get to
Lydia's (she has since changed host families...thats another story). I
can make my own plans and go have a heck of a good time.

Story of a Month (cont.)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Sarah Bibbey <luthermaggiegloop323@gmail.com>
Date: Wed, 21 Nov 2012 01:00:39 -0800
Subject: Story of a Month (cont.)
To: luthermaggiegloop323@gmail.com

Suddenly, a familiar sputtering sound burst from the engine. In the
middle of a roundabout, the tro screeched to a stop. The mate said
something to the passangers which clearly meant "Get out."

The three of us exited, and Lydia said "What now?"

"Drop taxi," I said. We went up to a taxi and I negotiated the fair
all by myself and got us a reasonable price, all with monkey poop on
my shirt.

Story of a Month (cont.)

The crazy Kumasi trio was unfazed. We contined to watch the chimp run
and bang on the bars until...he picked up a piece of his own poop
which hit me right in the stomach! I laughed until I cried. (when I
was doing landury, I scrubbed that shirt until I cried. Yes, I
handwash all my clothes here)

After such a joyous day at the zoo, we boarded a trotro headed toward
Lydia's house. We enjoyed ourselves by eating springrolls (which are
more related to chimichangas than actual springrolls)

Story of a Month

On November 8, school was out for midterm. Lydia, Nans, and I decided
to meet and explore the Kumasi Zoo. (although I didn't mention it, I
went there on that day which lasted forever, which is featured on my
last blog post)

We photographed some wild bats, watched the parrots and lions, until
we arrived at the chimpanzees.

The chimpanzees at the Kumasi zoo are insane! They shrieked and
flipped and we were delighted. Then the old man chimp spit on us!

Monday, November 19, 2012

I'm Back

I know all of you are confused and/or worried. I have discovered a way to blog easily. My host brother is now perfectly healthy. Please know I have just struggled to find internet. All is well.

Be Careful What You Pray For (Eternity in a Day)


Maybe you’ve had those mornings. You wake up early and you wake up wired. You could have an amazing revelation that carries you to the clouds…or a demonic thought that eats at you all day long.
On September 24, I woke up at 4:30 am. I had some really awful thought, and ended up praying hard for a sign that God was with me.  It was a matter of some celestial importance...but I was also really nervous for my first day of Ghanaian school.

I could here my family milling around getting ready for the day. I went ahead and dressed in a nice black skirt, and flats with no socks. I wanted to make a good impression, even if I had no uniform.
I also pictured God laughing at me, saying signs were for little girls, and didn’t I know he was here.  But when I came to the living room, my host parents and brother had their hands clasped and ready to pray.  My host father is a minister, and I’ve had some incredible experiences with faith already. I joined in, as I usually do when I find them in prayer. Daddy prayed for Kofi to be healed, and for me to have a good day at school.

By 6:00, we were at the Boko station, and by 6:30, we were at my school, KSTS. I spoke to one of the girls wandering around, and discovered that class began at 7:30, and the headmistress would be in around 8:00.

I decided to wait quietly for Prince (my host brother, as well as one of the heads of AFS in Kumasi). I sat on a chair outside the office, watching the students.

But after a few minutes of this, I got restless.  The adventurous Sarah said: “Come on, you’ll be going to school with those kids soon. Go talk to them.”  The practical Sarah said: “Relax, you’ve got all year. Besides, they’re all speaking Twi, and you can’t tell one word from another.”

Well, as is often the case with me, neither one won out. I walked near the students, looking, not talking. I’d already gotten a few strange glances, being white and all. Now people were staring curiously at me.
The girl I talked to earlier (I really like her, but her name is difficult, and I can’t remember it) came up to me and said: “You look like you’re feeling lonely. Would you like to take a walk around the school?”
I agreed and followed her. We’d only been walking a little while when the speakers blasted a little jingle. “It’s assembly time,” my friend said. Curious to see just what that might be, I followed her.  Everyone began singing a hymn, but I knew neither the tune nor the words. That didn’t bother me. I was worshipping with a glad spirit.

Then, however, the students began to line up. This did bother me a little, because I didn’t understand the organization of it. Everyone had prim school uniforms on. Not only did I not know how to line up, but I was white and ununiformed.

Then a man with a stick came to be sure the lines were straight. He didn’t even lift the stick, but when I saw it, I bolted. (YES friends, I think Allen Evans and capital punishment were in the back of my mind). 
The problem with this was I was in the front of the crowd. As I ran away, everyone turned to stare at me. Humiliated, I saw that I’d interrupted a highly organized function.
The man with the stick walked towards me and hissed for my attention. (Hissing is a polite way to get people’s attention in Ghana, but it still feels very rude to me, and reminds me of villains in melodramas). I went to him, nervous and embarrassed. He asked what I was doing at the school, and I told him. He asked me what grade I was in…I told him I didn’t know. He looked at me like I was a little crazy and told me to continue to wait for Prince.

Oh, if only I’d listened to the practical Sarah I wouldn’t have showed them how ignorant I really am.  I basked in my stupidity for a while. Then I had a conversation with a strange man who wanted me to set him up with a white girl.

Finally, Prince arrived (circa 9:30 am), accompanied, to my delight, by Nans, the French boy who will be in my school.

Nans and I spent some time catching up while Prince and Nans’ host father talked to the headmistress. When they’d finished, I asked when we could go to class.

“Not today,” Prince said. I burst out laughing with both relief and disappointment.

In a few minutes, I was in the car with Nans and his host dad. We would drive around town for a few hours, and when Prince was finished with Lydia’s school, he would find me a tro-tro home.

Those few hours turned into many, many hours. They were joyful hours, as no one can keep a straight face around Nans. By the time Prince had finished with Lydia, it was 3:00. We tried to meet, but both of us were stuck in traffic. We finally did meet around 4:30. Prince took me to the bus station, but we found the line for the Boko tro was endless. He did some negotiations and got me on a run down tro-tro that would hopefully get there before dark. Everyone on it was shouting, and I was squeezed between two big, sweating ladies.
The ancient machine broke down not even a mile from the station. The driver started it again, and it puttered along.

It began to rain, and the traffic only got worse. The bus turned down a small street, and the thing died again. I knew it wouldn’t start this time. It was pouring and getting dark. I had no idea where I was.

God, I prayed, See to it that I get to Boko alive, please.
I called my host dad, and through all the noise, he said something about finding a taxi.
I sat in the tro long after most everyone had left. A girl in a school uniform came and sat beside me. “I’m Mariam. Don’t be scared,” she said. 

It’s alarming how wrong first impressions can be. I assumed she was young, and trying to offer comfort, but she would prove no real help.

When we left the tro, she led me to help find a taxi. I was lost, terrified, and didn’t want to go far. I was about to walk back and refuse her help when…

I tripped, and my left leg fell in gutter. (A note to everyone at home: African gutters are waist deep, and contain the things sewer pipes do in America. It’s a miracle I didn’t break a bone.) Mariam pulled me up, swift as can be. That’s when I changed, realizing how helpless I truly was. To refuse her help would not be impolite. It would be downright stupid. 

If I hadn’t tripped, I don’t know what would have happened.  I decided to follow her. A girl ran out of a nearby house, and told Mariam she would get a rag for my muddy left leg and bleeding right. She led us to her porch, which was crowded with family members. They all fussed over me, saying: “Sorry, obruni. Oh, sorry, sorry.” 

They gave me a rag, and some bagged water to wash. I’ll never know who they were, but I will never forget the help they gave to me when I was such a needy stranger.

We found a taxi, and I called my host dad to talk to the driver. (When I said “host dad” Mariam thought I said “husband”. She seriously thought I was married for a moment!)
The ride home was pleasant; Mariam rode with me because she lives near Boko. She, the driver, and I chatted like old friends.

All day, I’d been a little worried about what my host family would think. Was I too late coming home? Should I have been clearer about my plan? And Ma and Kofi were supposed to go to Accra for medical testing. Had I missed them? Had I messed up their plan?

At Boko station, Daddy hopped in the taxi. “What a good experience for you, Sarah,” he said, not in the least worried.

When we pulled up to the house, the family greeted me with such zeal; you would have thought I was the prodigal son. Or better yet, Moses, rescued from the water by a girl called Mariam. (I know that's not especially accurate, but it was irresistible!)

“Oh, I missed you today!” exclaimed Marta, who spent many long hours with me while Ma was visiting Kofi in the hospital.

Ma and Kofi loaded into the taxi with overnight things, sitting next to Miriam. So, by arriving by taxi, I’d actually helped their plan to go to Accra. They thanked her warmly, and invited her to visit anytime. “Bye, Sarah,” Ma called.

“I’ll miss you!” shouted Kofi. This was especially poignant, as Kofi and I had not spent much time together.  We were still essentially strangers. And yet brother and sister.
I think this day was packed with signs and small miracles, but I’ll let you identify them on your own.
I stayed up until 11:00 recording everything in my journal. Some days do last forever!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Dark Continent

This is Africa, the Dark Continent. I’ve always believed this name derived from the color of the people, but I see now it is for an entirely different reason.
I live in a small town, so I know about power outages. I remember the shadowy, frigid mornings when Laporte lost power. (They were more frequent when I was younger. I wonder if the power lines have been strengthened). We would start a fire using flashlights, and try to make toast over it.
But even when the electricity is working, Ghana is much darker than those mornings. And when the power outages occur, at least three times a week, it is so dark I forget I have eyes.
My ears grow sharp at these times, the singing of villagers, clucks of chickens, and pounding of rain become my world.
With or without power, Boko is a feast for the ears. Always, roosters are crowing, children are laughing, the mosque is calling, the churchgoers are chanting, radios are blasting. The houses are open, so it is easy to hear people talking or watching TV walking by. If the rest of Africa is this way, it is the Loud Continent.
And the Continent of Very Strong Smells.  Spices that are distinctly foreign to me mix with the scents of frying food, burning trash, and occasionally human sweat or excrement.  It’s sensational, often enjoyable, often causes the nose to wrinkle.
Africa: The Dark, Loud, Continent that Smells Strongly. I like it.

9-1-1

In America, you are taught, from the time you are able to hold a phone, that if there is ever an emergency, you must dial three numbers, and help will arrive in the form of an ambulance, firetruck, or patrol car.
I know well how important this service is. A friend and I once found an unconscious man in our neighborhood, and had to dial. My own brother had lung blockage at when he was four days old, and would have died if no ambulance was available.
Here in Ghana, my host brother has been very ill. He’s been plagued with headaches so severe he is unable to stand.
On Monday, September 17, my host parents decided he needed to go to the hospital. This was a good judgment because he could no longer sit up straight, and his breathing became labored.
My host family doesn’t own a car. This is not usually a problem, as there are frequent tro-tros into Kumasi from Boko. But getting Kofi to the village station would have been impossible. Ma decided to call a taxi.
I didn’t think much of it, mostly because I was so worried.
When the taxi finally arrived, Ma said: “I’d like to carry him, but I can’t.”
I stepped forward to offer my help, but Ma began speaking very fast in Twi. Before I knew what was happening, I was holding Ma’s purse, and Marta (my host cousin/sister), an Auntie, and Ma were carrying Kofi to the taxi at breakneck speed.
I held the doors open for them, trying my hardest to help. I have never been more afraid and confused in my life.
It was only after the taxi drove away that the gravity of the situation began to sink in.  A taxi. Ma had called a taxi. Why not the Ghanaian 9-1-1? What about ambulances? Stretchers?
Then it hit me. I had not heard a single siren the entirety of my two weeks in Ghana.  
Are there ambulances in Ghana?
I considered voicing my question to Marta. But if it needed to be asked, I knew the answer.
Ghana, in spite of having electric lights, running water, and houses at least as well accommodated as the one in Laporte, is a developing country.
We were lucky. Kofi will be all right. He’ll come home from the hospital soon. (UPDATE: he came home Friday, September 20. He has to have some scans done, but he’s recovering well.)
But, I wonder, how many Ghanaians weren’t so blessed? How many taxis didn’t get there on time, caught in that infamous Ghanaian traffic?
Ghana will be okay. It is a developing country, and is developing very fast.  (I hope to devote a few blog posts to that subject.)  In a decade or so, I believe Ghana will have the infrastructure to support emergency services. But how many lives will be lost in that decade?
And how many nations, in Africa and all over the world, have no reliable ambulances?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Live from Ghana

It is September 13, 2012. I am settled and more than happy in a home in Boko, Ghana. Boko is a small village outside Kumasi, the large city I probably told you I'd be living in. My living situation similar to the Laporte/Fort Collins idea at home.

The past week has been the longest of my life. I flew to New York on the 5th, navigated the airport with significant savvy (one would think I flew alone long before becoming a YES student!) and passed a somewhat lower than expectation Gateway Orientation. It was loosely organized and the most valuable information came from young exchange student alum.

September 6th was a long day at the hotel because our flight didn't leave till 11:00 pm. Our flight to London was strange...they decided to feed us a full meal at 1:00 am. Lydia and I woke up when the carriage passed, and we ate in confused stupor.

The Heathrow Airport was even crazier than JFK. But I enjoyed everyone's accents, and also the fact that seven students from Belgium Flanders joined us on the flight to Accra. (Did I really only meet them a week ago? It feels like a month, at least...)

 We landed in Accra, greeted by the Ghanaian humidity and the vivid, varied smells of urban Africa. Jamirah, who was our group leader in Washington, met us at the airport, to the delight of all the YES girls. That night, we stayed in a guest house in Accra, joined by two French students and several AFS volunteers, including my host brother, Prince. Before we were fully, cognitively awake the next morning, we were on a bus to Elmina, a beautiful beach town with the oldest castle in Ghana. We toured the castle, which was a heart wrenching place. West African castles were not for kings, queens, knights and the like. They were prisions for thousands of men and women who were part of the greatest forced migration in history: the Atlantic slave trade. They were kept in very crowded rooms with little provisions and no means of hygeine for months. Hundreds of years later, those castles still stink of vomit, urine, and blood. It is an anomaly, really, that any of them survived to face the next hardship: the middle passage of the Atlantic.

At the castle, which many foreigners visit, we became targets for money for the first time. People would ask us cordially for our names and then write our names on seashells, demanding large amounts for them. The AFS volunteers were annoyed, and made sure we got back in the bus and ignored these crazy (and likely bored) teenagers. I did, however, meet some kind university students who were impressed with my red hair!
We checked in to a beautiful beach hotel.  I have never stayed anywhere like it.  We ate at a nearby restaurant, shedding our shoes and running on the sand. Like twenty best friends. And really, we'd only been together twenty-four hours. But I think, whether you are French, Belgian, American on the YES program, or American on AFS, it is only a certain type of person who chooses to be an exchange student in Ghana for a year.

When our food came, we shared, as if we'd known each other our whole life. I have two new families, my host family, and my AFS family.
The next day was packed with even more adventures! We walked on a canopy over the rainforest in Kakum national park, and then toured another slave castle. When we returned to our guest house in Accra, it felt like we'd been away weeks and weeks.
Our next day was really the only day of orientation. We visited the US Embassy, which was very welcoming and happy to give us advice. We rode the tro-tro (essentially a van converted into public transportation, if you've ever been to Central America, think of the "chicken buses") to a market in Accra. It was there that I experienced real culture shock for the first time...it was a beautiful feeling...and scary. I was surrounded by so many new sights and smells, and everyone was staring at me like I was a chicken with no head or something. But it was more beautiful than scary, because I knew this country would become my home.
The rest of the day passed in orientation session. The night passed in being sick. Americans seemed to think I caught some bacteria. Ghanaians seemed to think I "took too much spicy food". Either or both is possible, at any rate, I'm better.
We drove over the hills and forests for hours to Kumasi the day after that night. It was so beautiful to see students united with their families. I was dropped off last, but Oliver and Zaza, the Belgians hosted in Sunyani, came inside to see me off.
And finally, after a week that lasted a year, I met my family. They are the kindest folks around, and easy to talk to. There are many family members who live nearby, and I've already meant uncles, aunts, and a great-uncle. At home, I have a brother, Caleb (or Kofi, because he's Friday born) and a sister, Bridget. I love my new family, and the neighborhood. I went for a walk yesterday, and all the little kids swarmed the obruni (Twi for white person) and begged me to take their pictures. I did, and showed them, and they squealed with glee. They tried to talk to me, but my Twi consists of Hello, How are you?, and Thank you. I talked to a few kind teenagers who spoke English. They were worried I was lost!
I am very happy here, and I look forward to sharing my experiences here on this blog.


Sunday, September 2, 2012

My Calling

I have said goodbye to almost all of my college bound friends. I love you all, whether you are at Montana, Wyoming, CU, DU, Pac Lutheran, Saint Olaf, or right here at CSU. I will miss you, but I know you are all exploring what you love. As I will be, in 3 short days.

This afternoon, I said goodbye to my aunts, uncles, and cousins, who have been such an important part of my life since birth. My relations have always been family, never strangers.

I feel compelled to share my most poignant goodbye. One week ago today, the class of 2012 at Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church was invited forward for a blessing as we begin our lives in the outer world.

Did I mention the SOTH class of 2012 consists of two people? Friends, family, and mentors laid their hands on Tim and I as our pastor blessed our journeys. Every emotion, laugh, tear, conversation, and God experience that had touched me in the six years I spent at SOTH returned to me. It was the closest I have ever felt to the divine. That bundle of people was so full of love. It didn't matter who was touching who, because Tim and I had our hands on each other. I realized, though my first year away will be difficult, I will never have to say a final goodbye to these people. No one can tear what God has knit together.

After all of this, do I feel ready? Am I ready to experience a disruption so terrible and wonderful that my outlook will be forever changed?

Yes.

Yes. I'm ready. This is my calling. To delve into another culture, promote understanding, and build relationships beyond borders and beliefs.

Four goodbyes remain. The four I will not contemplate until the last moment. Mom, Dad, Tyler and Griff.

But I am ready.

My Cousin Sam

Laura, Tim, and Sarah...the FCMOD sunglasses!

Tim, Jess, Laura, and Marc

My Uncle Dave

Family: Joe, Stella, Spencer, Me, Ryan, Tyler, Griff, Sophie, Grant, and Danny

Sophie, Sarah, and Spencer 


Stella!

Marilyn and Roger- The best next door neighbors ever!

The UW Girls-- Gabbie and Stefanie

My good friend Daniel!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Paths and Good-byes

I have lived in Laporte, CO, a bustling town of 2,000 people for 18 years. Oddly, I don't even know the entire 3 square miles. I've been going off on adventures lately, off on the dirt roads behind the restaurant/bakery/tackle store, Vern's Place. I am impressed by the views back there, and I believe it's where I'd like to live someday. But if I don't even know my entire minuscule town, I know there is no chance of knowing the entire world. That's comforting, in a way. I'm here for a reason, but it's a small reason. No one is meant to do everything.

Ever since before graduation, I've felt the weight of all those impending goodbyes. I'm not moving into Fort Collins, or to another city, or even to another state. I am crossing the Atlantic Ocean. I know I won't be alone, as I have Emily, Lydia, Anne Elise, and Jenneni, and all the other YESers, in spirit. But I feel quite alone. I don't know anyone taking else taking such a big step right out of high school. I have been so nervous to part with my loved ones. But as my friends settle into their dorm rooms or pack their bags, as my teacher parents and teenage brothers return to school, I am ready. I'm ready to say that terrible word beginning with g, because saying it is far better than waiting to say it. In the next week, I will probably shed tears, give hugs, and make promises. But I am ready. This agony of prolongs farewell cannot last forever.

I know during my eighteen years in Laporte (and Fort Collins), I've done my share. I've loved, I've lost, and I've touched lives. I am leaving a dreaming girl. I will return a grown woman ready to give my life direction.  

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Camping

My loving father and I partook in fabulous American tradition today and yesterday--camping. I've never really thought twice about the practice...I assumed it was just done. But after pondering it in my recently culturally oriented mind (thank you, AFS!), I realized camping is an American tradition that some may not understand. For fun (and for you, if you've never been camping) I decided to make a list of camping traditions and activities.

What is camping? At it's barest, pitching a tent and sleeping in it. But it's a way Americans of all ages have fun with their family and/or friends near nature.

1) Campsite For my family, the ideal campsite is in the mountains, with a river or stream nearby, and somewhat secluded
2) Campfire Sadly, as my state of Colorado is facing a drought enforced fire ban, Dad and I were unable to do this. Usually, we light a fire, roast hot dogs, and sit around telling stories. Sometimes we even sing songs. Dad and I still roasted hot dogs, but we used a gas grill. We still told stories, which is one of my favorite parts of camping.
3) Hot Dogs and S'mores It's great fun to pick up a stick, sharpen it, stick a hot dog or marshmallow on it, and try to brave the flames. If you've never heard of a s'more (pronounced si-more), it is a gooey, burnt (or roasted) marshmallow placed atop a piece of chocolate and smashed between two gram crackers.
4) Fishing Now, I'm not an expert fisherwoman, but fishing giving us an excuse to explore the streams near the campsite. Some fishers gut their fish and roast it on the fire, but Dad and I have never caught a fish big enough. 
5) Sleeping in the Tent Some people sleep in a trailer or camper. My family sleeps in a two room tarp tent, in sleeping bags. The smell of a tent is unique and always beautiful. While sleeping in a tent, you can feel the difference between the morning and night air.
6) Hiking Being Coloradoan mountain lovers, we usually hit the trail towards the end of our stay in the campsite. Today, the Saint Vrain Trail led us to some beautiful views of the Rocky Mountains. Trail mix (essentially a blend of nuts, raisins, and M&Ms) is an important thing to bring camping because it makes the best snack on a hike.



I hope you enjoyed hearing about this Western American experience. I enthusiastically recommend you try it sometime.  

Sunday, June 24, 2012

This is really real

I have been promoted! That's right, I interviewed, and it came through. At about 8:00 am on Friday, April 13, which was a day off from school, I opened the email that has been the source of joy, questions, and tears. I am going to Ghana in for the 2012-2013 school year. I am jazzed, I am honored, I am terrified. I will be living in a host family and attending a fifth year of high school, which puzzles some. Technically speaking, this has very little to do with my interest in community service or my formal education. However, I will use the experience to better both. This is a time for me to learn the culture of a new a place. Oh, what a wild ride it will be! If I learned anything from my experience in Guatemala, it was that the best way to learn culture is to dive right into my host family's life, and keep in mind that nowhere on this globe is out of God's sight. I will cling tightly to my faith and my desire to meet new people next year.

Specifically, I am traveling to Ghana on the YES Abroad Program, a program that promotes communication between the United States and the Muslim world. The Department of State's Bureau of Cultural Affairs provides fifty-five scholarships to American students to live and study in countries with significant Muslim populations. Ghana is 60% Christian, 30% Muslim, and 10% traditional religions. Ghana was my second choice, but I am honored to have been chosen to go anywhere. 

The day after tomorrow, I am heading to Washington DC for a Pre-Departure Orientation. Among other things, I will participate in workshops, meet students from Ghana, and meet the Ghanaian Ambassador to the US. Wow! This is really real...

If someone had told me last summer that I'd be leaving for Ghana in a year, I'd tell them they were nuts. It's strange how things work out that way. There are many parts of my life I would not have believed in years ago, such as:

I have a best friend from Afghanistan, and we have a lot in common. I've been to Guatemala, and it is so full of life. Sunday is my favorite day of the week because of the deep fellowship I share with my sisters and brothers.

And I am one of fifty-five students...who will LIVE in a completely foreign country next year.

That surpasses my wildest dreams.