Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hello everyone,

Sorry it’s been awhile since the last post. For some reason, I can view my blog (and read your comments – special thanks to Ange! Haha) but it’s difficult (no, impossible) for me to add a post. The same is true of facebook – I can get to the sign in page, but can’t actually get to my profile, inbox, etc. For some reason my student email works REALLY well – so if you’ve sent me a facebook message, please forward it to my student email and I will get back to you. Even now, I’m emailing this to Isaac so that he can post it on my blog! Using my cell phone it only takes me a few moments to check my student email right from my laptop! So email me!

So… updates (sorry if this becomes long):

This week we had the first literacy session! It went really well, and we organized the women (around 45 of them) into two levels of literacy ability. Level 1 has received no formal education, and Level 2 has received basic education. It was really encouraging to meet the women. There were seamstresses, hairdressers, traders, farmers, etc. We had a discussion time, where they could (in Twi or English) explain why they came to the program and what results they are hoping for.

Many of the women said that they want to be able to help their children with their homework. Others wanted to read their English Bibles with English commentaries and studies for themselves, so that, as they said, “No one can deceive.” Some women joined the program so that they will be better equipped to develop their businesses. Some just want to “write a signature anywhere”! One woman said she was there so that she wouldn’t throw out a “good letter” that belonged to her husband – when she sees a piece of paper on the floor, she has no way to tell whether she should keep it or sweep it up into the garbage!

When the session began, we were all together in a big group and I welcomed the women (with Felicia translating) and the pastor prayed. I was a little surprised to a see a woman in the front row pull her dress aside, completely exposing herself to nurse her baby! At the same time, though, it was also an encouragement – a reminder that these are everyday women, with busy lives and growing families. The first session gave me fresh motivation, and I hope that the program can help them in some way. I also think that, in between learning, we will have a lot of fun at these sessions! Even on the first day, there was a lot of laughing, getting to know each other … I got to play with the baby … haha When it came time for the leaders to take over their groups, they were fantastic! Some of the leaders are retired teachers and so they are adding their years of experience to the program.

On Wednesday was the leaders’ meeting, where I handed out the lesson plans I had prepared and we discussed them. That went well, and so we’re all set for the upcoming sessions! Right now our schedule is: Tuesday and Fridays, level two meets from 8-9:30 and level 1 meets at 10 – 11:30. On Wednesdays leaders meet at 2pm. This is the schedule for the next two weeks (phase 1), and then a week break, and then phase 2, where we may pick up the pace and add a third weekly session.

This week I went to Accra with Felicia, which was fun. I had my first tro-tro experience. The tro-tros are large vans/mini-buses that serve as public transit. They’re very cheap, and they range from being quite comfortable to being held together by duct tape! At times, they can become very crowded and hot. On the first tro-tro, the one to take us into Accra, I was so surprised as people just kept piling in! The seats fold this way and that, so that when everyone is seated there are bodies from one side of the vehicle to the other, and you couldn’t get out if you wanted to! On that first tro-tro, I counted 23 adults and one baby packed into the vehicle – and I must mention that one of those adults was the size of two adults! But that first one was the most crowded – the other tro-tros were okay, and you really can’t beat the price!

Of course, my time here is made up of more than just light-hearted anecdotes. There’s been different ‘culture shocks’ to deal with – or things that I still have to learn to deal with.

One of those is time. When it comes to time here, people are laid back and time is event-oriented. So you don’t finish the meeting at the time you planned – you finish when you finish. In one way, it’s kind of nice. But at other times – like when someone leaves you waiting for an hour and a half – I have to remind myself that maybe Africa will teach me patience! The Internet at the café, though, still gets to me… there are times that I could literally cry in frustration when the connection is lost again, or the page won’t load, or it takes 12 minutes to open an email!

Another thing that’s been hard to get used to is having house help. In the beginning, the houseboys or maids I saw were either treated as part of the family, or treated as a business arrangement. But here in the town, I think some of the workers are a little more desperate, with no other options… Because of that, they can be taken advantage of and treated poorly. Watching someone yell at their maid, throw a plate in her direction, or threaten to beat her is really upsetting. One maid I know – I saw her yesterday with two band-aids on her face, forming a curved line down her cheek. I asked what happened, and it was to cover up the marks left by her mistress’ nails. It’s difficult to know what to do… for now I simply make an effort to be kind to the workers – maybe invite them to the literacy classes.

Another thing is the poverty. Not just the poverty – the lack of opportunity. To know hard-working people who cannot get a job. For instance, Auntie Jo’s grandson Kwaku wants to be an electrician and only needs a little less than 500 dollars to get the training. He can’t get a job, though, to make this money, and so he feels frustrated.

When I meet people in town (different from Accra), they very often ask, “Bring me back to Canada!” I usually joke that I couldn’t fit them in my suitcase, but it also gives a small insight into the lack of options they feel are available to them. In this way, Isaac’s ring has also come in handy – even just yesterday a guy asked, “Are you a married woman?” Showing him the ring shut down his idea of marrying me so he could come to Canada. He bounced back quickly, though, “Perhaps you have a sister…” Which reminds me – I have a message for my brother James – some schoolgirls here looked at your photo and announced that you “are very nice.” And you have an offer of marriage as well.

People love to see the pictures I brought of family and friends, especially the pictures of Isaac. It’s funny, I talk about him so much they act like they know him. When I was staying with Suzanne and Micahel in Mampong, by the end of the week Michael declared, “I like Isaac! We have so much in common!” – even though he’s never met him! Auntie Jo teases me about sending her wedding pictures, and Belinda sometimes calls me “Mrs. Isaac”. Kwaku, in his broken English, looked at Isaac’s picture and said, “I love Isaac. Very niiice boy. Very nice.” Every time I am quiet or I sigh, Felicia guesses: “You are missing Isaac.” Is it that obvious? I’m sure if Isaac ever came here, he would have a whole group of people he’s never met, greeting him like an old friend!

So – this is getting VERY long. Even though I mentioned cultural challenges, there are a lot of great things about the culture here. It’s lively and expressive and musical. People here are very polite, and for the most part treat each other with respect. Everyone is endlessly connected to each other, and life is very public and communal. From pounding fufu to stirring banku to arguing to braiding hair to nursing babies – things are done outside, in public. I think it would be impossible to come to Ghana and feel lonely – you could stand on the street and in five minutes you would have been greeted by half a dozen people. This was especially true yesterday, when Ghana won the world cup (?) in a match against Brazil. I saw groups of up to twenty people watching a TV outside of shops, and when they won there was a dull roar of people shouting. Late into the night, there was celebrating!

Anyway – gotta go. I visited the Queen Mother today, and she invited me to a funeral this afternoon … which you may hear about later.

Lots of hugs,


PS: I had Felicia, Belinda, and Kwaku try a “cup-a-soup” that I had brought. They hated it! Auntie Jo wouldn’t even try it, and gave a whole lecture about how Canadians can’t cook. And I quote: “This is why I say: They don’t know how to cook! They invite you to their home, they open a package and heat it up. They put it on your plate and say, ‘I cooked!’” I tried to explain that this is Canadian travel food, but she wouldn’t hear of it: “Travel food or no, it is Canadian soup!”


  1. Hi Erica,

    Another GREAT blog. I'm SO thankful that you can do this blog! In spite of all the frustration to do it, I know many people (especially your MOM) love to hear from you. Not only is it reassuring that you are OK, I love to hear all about the people, their culture, and especially their reasons for wanting to learn. It IS very motivating! I am glad you are wearing that ring (I'm sure Isaac is too) and please let those girls know that your 15 year old brother is NOT getting married anytime soon! HA!
    Love ya, praying for ya, keep well,

  2. Hi!

    Thank you for the update on your student email, I will be sure to forward the mass amounts of facebook messages to your account... (you may soon regret your announcement) haha.

    Glad you enjoyed my previous comments :) I was slightly nervous that you couldn't read them, and that I looked like a fool to any lurker of your blog. So a special shout out to Erica for giving my comments validity.

    I have a funny anecdote to brighten your day.. Um, Thursday I guess it was, I was sitting in the library, (with some friends, "studying") when we noticed a guy walk out of the bathroom, and halfway across the library WITH A HUGE TRAIL OF TOILET PAPER ON HIS SHOE!! I haven't found it that funny in the past, but I laughed at how paranoid you are about it, and how I actually watched it happen to someone (in the busy area of the library no less). Needless to say, I have adopted your paranoia.

    Anyways, this week I have 3 midterms, and a couple of assignments. I can't believe it is mid-October and you'll be back before I know it. Mac released the exam schedule, and I do not have an exam on your arrival date so it looks like I shall be welcoming you with open arms at the airport (if your family allows me safe passage with them that is....)

    Oh yeah, Heather cut my hair on friday. It has lots of layers and short side bangs.. I like it a lot.. its a lot lighter and has more bounce :)

    I suppose I should be sending this to your email, but oh well... another time.

    "Keep your dreams alive! Alcohol and Drugs can destroy your dreams!"

  3. p.s. I don't know why it says "10:20 pm" It is currently 1:22 am EST, which means it is 5:22 am in Ghana?

    p.p.s. You didn't respond about a Ghanaian thanksgiving.. I am still curious.

  4. p.p.p.s. I'm sure keeping the girls off of your brother while he is a continent away isn't too difficult... and your mom is fair warned for when she gets to Africa.

  5. oh yes.. another note. did you make them pancakes? I can only imagine what they would say to "just add water" pancake mix...

  6. I hope your neice gets as much mention as Isacc does. She misses you.

  7. I told Sheena to email you..

    and i'll message you back later.. for now.. a thought of the day:

    Do you ever wonder about those people who spend $2 on those little bottles of Evian water? Try spelling Evian backwards....