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 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 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 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 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.