Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Ghost stories in the monkey cemetery

After spending a night in Kumasi, where I spent hours catching up on the internet, a group of us started making our way north. We wanted to take our time because we couldn't do anything until the banks opened on Monday, so we stopped at the Boabeng Fiema Monkey Sanctuary outside of Techiman, in the Brong Ahafo region. The story behind this place is kind of fun. There was a hunter walking in the bush one day and he came upon a fetish that was being guarded by four monkeys - two Monas and two Black and White Colobus. The hunter took the fetish and the monkeys ran away. The next morning when he awoke, the monkeys were at his house in the village, guarding the fetish again. The hunter then consulted the fetish priest, who told him that the monkeys were the children of the fetish god. If they liked the monkeys, they should keep the fetish and treat the monkeys like fellow humans and protect them. The monkeys therefore live in peace with the villagers to this day. The come and hang out, mostly in the morning, and even get buried as humans when they die. So if you visit this place, there are monkeys running around every, somewhat similar to the way goats roam about all over the place in other Ghanaian villages.
The monkey cemetery was definitely the highlight of the tour. We were staying at the guest house in Boabeng that night and couldn't resist the urge to walk through the forest to the cemetery after dark to tell ghost stories. It was fantastic, and SOOO scary.
If you want to see pictures, I just put them on flickr.
Off to my site now...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

W.W.G.D.? (What Would Gumby Do?)

The answer, of course, is be flexible. But I’ll get to that a bit further down. As of yesterday, I am officially a Peace Corps Volunteer. We swore our oaths in front of the Ambassador and our new Country Director at an awesome ceremony at one of the secondary schools in Kukurantumi. But more on that in a minute. I have to back up and tell a little about the last week or two.
The Ghanaian presidential election took place on Sunday. It was uneventful. There were a few disturbances in Greater Accra and in the Upper Volta, but nothing to be alarmed about. If recent history is any indicator, nothing more will happen. The results didn’t come out until Wednesday. The Ghanaian constitution dictates that a candidate must get more than 50% of the vote in order to be elected without a run-off. The NPP’s (the current party in power) Nana Akufo-Addo got just shy of 50%, which means he and the NDC’s (the previous party in power) John Atta-Mills will be in a run-off election on December 28. That’s bad news for me because it means I’ll have to stay at my site for both Christmas and New Year’s and face the holidays without my friends. I think I’m going to make stockings for Maria and Meagan (my neighbors) and have one of the tro drivers deliver them on Christmas. Other than that, all my plans have been shot to hell. C’est la vie.
Monday was our last day of home stay. It was kind of anti-climatic. While I was glad to feel like an adult again, leaving my family on Tuesday morning was very sad. They’ve been so good to me and I will miss them all. My host mom had matching dresses made for me and for her. It’s kind of ugly but it’s the thought that counts. There were a few tears shed and away I went, to stay with the other trainees in hotels until Swearing-In.
Monday was also a sad day for many of us because our friend, Phuong, decided to go back to the states. Sometimes the people we leave behind won’t let you leave so easily, and her family needs her. We’ll miss you, Phuong! Ice cold fantas won’t be the same without you here.
We finally got to meet our new country director this week as well. He came down a day or two before swearing-in to talk with us and with the PCVs who were having a conference nearby. After a time in the marines and a career as a lawyer, Mike joined the Peace Corps and served in Vanuatu. Immediately after service, he became the country director in Kiribati, an island nation in the Equatorial Pacific. Sadly, PC Kiribati was closed this year due to transportation issues (tiny coral islands spread far and wide). But with Bob leaving early to deal with his mom, Mike was transferred here as his replacement. I hope I’ll get to talk to him some more in the next couple years, but as I don’t plan on going to Accra anytime soon, it’ll have to wait.
I passed my LPI (language proficiency interview) with not only a passing grade, but a high one. In fact, the language trainers said I was their best student in this training class. Woohoo! I still feel like my Gonja skills are not nearly what they should be, but that’s what the first few months at site are for. Maybe I’ll be able to pick up some Dagbani too, as many of the people in my village are Dagombas who have moved to the Gonja land for work.
LPI and Tech Evaluation done, there was nothing to do but wait for Swearing-In. Friday was the big day. I had a fantastic dress made, as did several of the other trainees. I also had a bit of fun shaving the bat signal into Steve’s beard.
The Ambassador was present to administer the oath, as were a number of Ghanaian bigwigs. In addition to the formalities of the ceremony, we also had a few fun presentations. Each language group did something in their language. Meagan and I had a little skit prepared in Gonja. We were going to do a song, but Braimah’s sister passed away and he had to leave before he taught it too us. We did well though. Afterwards, we did our traditional drumming and dancing. I was one of the drummers – the one luckily enough to be wielding the giant cowbell. More cowbell! It was one of our better run-throughs, hot and sunny though it was. I got quite a sunburn just from the 15 minutes I spent out performing.
We received some awesome advice from Mike during his speech. He told us that whenever you find yourself having trouble, just ask yourself, “What Would Gumby Do?” Because flexibility is the key to the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer. He then gave all of us a miniature Gumby doll – how cool is that?! He also said that PCVs are the kind of people who look at the glass as half-full, the figure out a way to take a bath with it.
I decided early in the week that after swearing-in, once I would no longer see my host mother everyday, I could finally shave my head. I’ve been thinking about it for a while now, especially after Kathryn and Julie did theirs last week. A number of factors led to this decision. I’m out of shampoo for one, and even if I wasn’t, it takes a lot of water to wash your hair and there’s not a whole lot of water in my village. At least not safe water. Also, it’s really hot in Africa. Really. I was also sick of my hair and as I’m starting a new life in a new place, now’s my chance to start fresh in the hair department. So sorry to all those who liked my hair. But the deed has been done. After the ceremony and dinner, all the new and old PCVs went to the For You Spot, our local hangout. We had told them to stock extra beer and bring more chairs and they did. The definitely made a killing off us last night. After a couple of beers helped get my courage up, I sat down at let my stylist go to work. Kevin started out with the clippers, but was helped along the way by several of my fellow new volunteers. It turned out surprisingly well. I got a lot of compliments on the shape of my skull. Few people can pull off the shaved look, but apparently I can.
But then, a few months here have skewed my perspective. A lot. What looks awesome to me could look horrible to you. Either way, it’s now much easier to bathe. And much cooler.

P.S. - I'm uploading all my pictures to flickr as I type. So check it out - http://www.flickr.com/photos/hannahefrank

Thursday, December 11, 2008

New Address

As I prepare to move North, please start sending anything you want to
send to me to my new address...
Hannah Frank, PCV
Peace Corps/Ghana
P.O. Box 962
Tamale, Northern Region
Ghana, West Africa
Stuff will still get to me if you send it to Accra, but it will get to
me quicker if you send it to Tamale (the PCVL only goes to pick up
mail in Accra once a month).
More later when I have more time on the internet.
Merry Christmas,

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Another holiday weekend spent hugging a toilet

(I originally wrote this on Sunday but wasn't able to post it until today) The last few days have been spent in a fever induced stupor. As I mentioned in my last entry, I had what I thought was the flu on Wednesday. Turns out it was a little more than the flu – the PCMO said it was either malaria or dysentery. Though I have no background in medicine, I’m leaning towards dysentery. If it were malaria, I’d probably still be in bed. More on that in a minute. Let me expand upon the Thanksgiving festivities.
Though I’d had a temp of over 102 on Wednesday, I was feeling okay on Thursday morning. The original plan was for all of us to cook in the morning and get together for a potluck on Thanksgiving afternoon around 3 or 3.30. We were supposed to have the entire day off, seeing as it’s a major American holiday. However, on Wednesday night, half of the group got phone calls from our training director, saying that they would have to go to Accra on Thursday morning to open their bank accounts. Why this couldn’t be done on another day, or why they waited until the night before to tell them is beyond me. They were assured, however, that they would be back by noon.
While I was feeling better, I wasn’t feeling so well that I wanted to go about making 60 apple pies (McDonald’s style pies, not big ones) all by my lonesome. So instead of starting in the early morning, I moseyed over to New Tafo to use the internet and what not, waiting for the others to return from Accra. I knew they wouldn’t be back by noon, but I wasn’t expecting them to arrive at 5.30 in the evening! By about 2, I resigned myself to making the pies alone and started peeling apples. Luckily, Kimmie and Andy took pity on me and came to help. Mame Esi was also instrumental in the pie making process (she is after all, a professional maker of meat pies and other tasty items). While she thought our filling was way to sweet, she liked the changes we made in her dough. Instead of Maggi (shrimp flavored bullion cubes), which she usually adds to the dough for her meat pies, we added sugar. By 5 o’clock, 60 steamy apple pies were being pulled from her big clay oven. We threw them in a box and headed to the spot (we were too pissed off to have the potluck at the PC office, so we went to our favorite spot in Kukurantumi and bribed Sister Grace to let us have a party there). I was instantly a hero. Half the people who were supposed to bring food couldn’t because they’d been in Accra all day. But when 60 warm apple pies walked through the door, the evening was salvaged.
The plus side of the trip to Accra was that we got some mail. And, joy of joys, even I got a letter. The stars aligned just right this week and the Thanksgiving card my granny sent actually arrived on Thanksgiving Day – something that never happens, even in the states. In the end it was a good Thanksgiving, even if by that time I was feeling too sick to eat anything.
Like I said, I had been feeling better early in the day but by Thursday evening, my stomach was rebelling again. When I finally left the Thanksgiving celebration, all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball on my bed. I had no desire to go to session on Friday, especially when I woke up unable to control most of my bodily functions. But I knew that the PCMOs were coming to the hub office to give another talk, so I dragged myself out of bed and staggered to the taxi circle. When I got to the hub office, I went to lay in the sick bay to wait for the PCMOs to arrive. A few hours later I woke up completely drenched in sweat and every muscle in my body ached. According to the ancient celcius thermometer I found, my temperature was 39.3 (102.7). I lost count of how many times I went back and forth to the toilet. It was not fun. As I said earlier, when the PCMO finally got there, she decided that I had either dysentery or malaria and therefore gave me medicine for both. I got permission to spend the night in the sick bay, since there was a fan and a flush toilet. By about nine, my fever finally started to break, even though I was still having trouble keeping food down and keeping away from the bathroom.
I didn’t go home until last night but by this morning, it was like I had never been sick. I even ate all my breakfast! Braimah is convinced that it wasn’t dysentery, but simply too much yam fufu. Hmmm – interesting diagnosis. If eating yam fufu leads to dysentery-like symptoms, I’m screwed. That’s all they want to feed me at my site. I can’t wait to set up my kitchen.
On a happier note, I just heard a Christmas song on the radio. Even in Ghana, a few days after Thanksgiving is not too early to start with the carols.
Don't be surprised if you don't here from me until later next week. Things are getting very hectic in the run up to the election here and I want to avoid all the crazy crowds. In addition, everything will be closed and even taxis aren't running on election day (Sun, Dec. 7), so I won't be coming to use the internet. There are lots of plans and backup plans in place for our safety, so no worries, ya hear!
See you on the flip side. Next time I post, I will be done with training!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Site visit and more

Once again, it’s been a long time since I last wrote and a lot of exciting things have happened since I last made it online. Forgive me, therefore, if I’m somewhat long-winded today. There’s a lot to tell.
I’ll start with the Sunday before last. My host family invited me to a wedding in Koforidua – one of Mame Esi’s nieces was the bride. They wanted me to have a dress made for the occasion, something I was more than happy to do, as I need some formal Ghanaian wear for swearing-in as well. However, because of the financial crunch we’re under, we weren’t paid our allowance the previous week and I didn’t have the money to buy the cloth until the Friday before the wedding. As good as Ghanaian seamstresses are, that’s not enough time to have a nice dress made.
The solution – my family played “dress up the obroni.” I was going to wear the dress I had worn to the Ambassador’s function the first week of training but Mame Esi said it wasn’t formal enough and lent me this fantastic sequined number. I looked absolutely ridiculous but all the old ladies kept on telling me how beautiful it was.
The festivities began at about 6 am. Members of the family traveling from Old Tafo started gathering at our house, eating breakfast and making sure everyone looked nice, from me down to little Kofi. A rented tro then pulled up at about 8 am to ferry us all to Koforidua. I asked what time we would be back, as I had to pack that night for the trip I was leaving on the next day, and Ama said 3 or 4. I shouldn’t have taken this to actually mean 3 or 4, knowing that time is completely relevant when church is involved. But more on that later.
I didn’t realize that weddings could be so traumatic. I thought the church services, which are regularly around three or four hours in length, were bad enough, but add five times as many people and lots of wedding traditions and it was ten times as long. And very, very loud. There was a full two hours of dancing and worship before the bride and groom even arrived. Everything was said in both Twi and Ewe, neither of which I can speak, making the whole thing that much more frustrating. I had no idea what was going on for most of the day. And instead of a billion bridesmaids and one pastor as you might find in an American wedding, there was once maid of honor and TWENTY officiating ministers.
As if I didn’t feel out of place enough, come noon, my sister Emma pulled me out of the church because it was time for me to take my lunch. So even though I wasn’t hungry, she took me across town to get some banku and okra stew and then we sat in this random relative’s house awkwardly for about an hour, watching football and waiting for Mame Esi to call us back to the church. When we eventually got back we sat for another two or three hours of frivolity. After the ceremony was finally over, we boarded the tro again to go to another facility for the refreshment – another couple of hours of formalities, this time with food and drink, and lots of shoving in the line for said food and drinks. It was nearly dark by the time we escaped and when I finally returned I went to Phuong’s house to relax with an ice-cold Fanta before heading back to my house to pack.
The next day after language class we were supposed to have all our bags packed for our site visit. They suggested that we bring as much of our stuff with us as possible because we would have our counterparts with us to help on the trip up to our individual sites. I took everything except for my computer, mandolin, and a few small items. Most of this would get left at my new home when I came back to Old Tafo for the last few weeks of training.
Before heading out for out weeklong site visit, we had a three day workshop with our counterparts and supervisors. We were hosted by the Bunso Cocoa College, not far from Old Tafo. I knew my counterpart was female but I wasn’t expecting the cute little 4’9” lady who walked up to me and introduced herself. Madam Hawa is awesome. Not only does she make me feel tall, but she also reminds me a lot of my host mom. She too is a baker, had a big family, and treats me like her own daughter. And tiny though she is, she was a big help in getting my massive amount of stuff onto the bus to Fufulso.
The workshop itself was torturous. It was primarily meant to help the counterparts understand their role in Peace Corps but we trainees had to sit through the whole thing, even though most of the information was stuff we’d already had drilled into our heads in the past month and a half. But you gotta do what you gotta do. On Thursday morning, we all went our separate ways to visit our new homes for the next two years. Those of us heading to the Tamale area we able to get on the STC bus from Accra (kind of like Greyhound – the high class way to travel in Ghana, complete with air conditioning and Nigerian movies). There were a few delays getting there but I eventually got to Fufulso late that night. Because my village is on the main truck route between Tamale and Kumasi, I was able to have the bus stop for just a moment and let me alight just a few hundred yards from my door. We had to wake my landlord up to let me into my room, where I passed out from the weariness of the road.
The next morning I had my introduction to the village. First order of business was to greet the chief of course. Or chiefs I should say. The community I live in is actually two separate villages that have merged into one – Fufulso and Junction. There are therefore two separate chiefs, both of which I had to greet. I waited for them to assemble their elders, then went with Madam Hawa and my landlord (who is the District Assemblyman for the community) to the Junction chief’s palace followed by the Fufulso chief’s palace (though by palace I mean it was more like a weathered mud-brick compound – we are in Africa after all). Those formalities aside, I was taken to meet the police captain then the school teachers. The teachers we kind enough to allow me access to their personal facilities for the week – my latrine is still under construction so they gave me the key to their latrine at the school for my private use. And so everyone would know they weren’t to use it, they added some words in chalk to the outside of the building – STRICTLY FOR USE BY U.N. PEACE CORP VOLUNTEER ONLY BY ORDER. Subtle, huh? I can’t wait until my latrine is down, so that I won’t have to walk across down and through the school yard to relieve myself.
Other than the lack of a complete latrine, my accommodations are very nice, particularly by Peace Corps standards. Like I said, I live in the Assemblyman’s compound, which is the nicest building in town. I have two rooms and a porch to myself. One room has been furnished as a bedroom and even decorated. I have the most fantastic color scheme going on – green walls, a blue floor, and bright pink sheets on the bed. So wonderfully colorful. I’m going to have to replace the curtains – I’m not digging the laciness as much as the rest of the room. The other room is a blank canvas. I’m going to make it my living room/kitchen. The carpenter was supposed to visit me while I was there but didn’t make it before I left. I want to have him make me a couch and some shelves, so I have somewhere to put the ten million books/manuals that PC has given us since we’ve been here, as well as a place for my clothes. My only problem right now is how to get the two-year-old daughter of my landlord to stop screaming in terror every time she sees me.
The water situation in my village is pretty bad. Several NGOs have tried to put in boreholes, but without success. The water table is too deep or something along those lines. Most people use hand-dug wells in the wet season, but these dry up pretty quickly and not long into the dry season, the sole source of water is the dam, favorite hiding place of guinea worm and other fantastic diseases and parasites. Madam Hawa told me that the year before last, even the dam dried up by the end of the dry season and the people where forced to go all the way to Yapei to fetch water. So I’m going to have my hands full here. The beautiful tin roof at the school looks perfect for a rainwater collection system. The only one I’ve seen in town is the one at my house – my landlord built a giant concrete collection tank in the middle of the courtyard. It’ll hold about 50 barrels (about 2800 gallons?) – more than enough for the needs of myself, my landlord, and his wife and child. Let me put this into a little perspective for you. Everything you take a dump, the flush of your toilet uses at least a couple of gallons. Some older toilets will use as much as 6 or 7. The average Ghanaian uses about a bucket a day. Even as a heavy water user by Ghanaian standards, unless I’m doing wash I rarely use more than 2 buckets, or about 8 gallons. And I take two baths a day.
The one semi-productive thing I did while at site was to visit a village with Maria and several of the Carter Center volunteers to do a Guinea Worm program one night. We drove two hours into the bush until we got to this tiny village that is still having trouble with the worm. It was nice to get to know some of the people I’ll be working with. Maria is the only other PCV in my district and because she’s only about 15 km from me, we’ll be seeing a lot of each other.
I can’t wait until I have my kitchen set up. The food situation was absolutely ridiculous this week. Because I didn’t have anyway to cook for myself while I was visiting, Madam Hawa wanted to make sure I was eating. So even though the Assemblyman’s wife was cooking me breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Madam kept make me lunch and dinner too. Now I like Ghanaian food, but not so much that I want to eat five meals a day. But when someone goes to the trouble to pound fufu for you, you are obliged to eat it. I’m pretty sure I gained about 10 pounds in the few days I was there. Bleh.
I didn’t really do much while I was there – just met a bunch of people whose names I can’t remember and started the slow process of finally settling in somewhere. I even set up my hammock on the porch. The about halfway through my visit, I came to the conclusion that it kind of rocks having two chiefs. One of the Fufulso elders came by one even with a giant bag and a rooster, saying “Chief said to bring you these yams and this cock.” It was a beautiful rooster and looked very tasty too. I thanked him for his welcome gift and was only sitting a few minutes before one of the Junction elders arrived, also with a bundle of yams and another rooster. After all, two cocks are better than one (sorry Granny, I couldn’t resist being obscene – it’s better to giggle as I type this than to laugh when someone hands me such an expensive gift). Madam Hawa’s son slaughtered one of them for my dinner the last night I was there, then killed and smoked the other one to take with me on the trip back to Old Tafo.
Instead of taking the STC bus (which is after all expensive), we decided to be economical and take tros to get back to Old Tafo. We didn’t want to get in late (and technically aren’t supposed to travel at night until after the election), so we only traveled as far as Kumasi on Tuesday, spent the night at the KSO (Kumasi Sub Office, which beats the socks off the Tamale Sub Office in terms of comfort and cleanliness), and continued on to Old Tafo in the morning. We even had a chance to get hamburgers while we were in Kumasi. While there were only 9 of us coming from the Northern Region, the PCTs from Upper East and Upper West were also staying at the KSO that night, so we were able to hire a whole tro to take us home. We got a great price.
Unfortunately for me, I was sick when I woke up on Wednesday morning. Yay for the flu! Diarrhea and a high fever = horrible companions on a three hour tro ride. By the time I got home, my temperature was 102.5. Tylenol brought that down a little but it was a horrible 24 hours.
I’m feeling much better this morning. My stomach is still a little funky but the fever is gone, relieving my fears that it was malaria. I can now look forward to tonight’s festivities. We’re having a Thanksgiving potluck at the hub office. That means it’s time for me to go now – I have 45 apples in my room, waiting to be peeled and made into pies. It rocks having a baker as a host mom! Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

On making it through another week

Another long week has passed. It’s been quite a drama-filled week too. The first trainee to go home left this week. I’m not going to go into the details – we’re all pretty bummed to see him go. The moral of his tale is don’t get involved with members of your host family. I think I’ll just leave it at that.
The other major issue I had to deal with this week was the lack of funds in the Peace Corps coffers. The budget for Peace Corps/Ghana has not been increased in several years, despite inflation and the rising cost of food and transportation. So when PC needs to give us our weekly allowance, the cash is not always there. We were supposed to get paid last Friday but no money was sent up from Accra. We ended up having to wait until this Friday to get our $2/day. Now, I know we’re supposed to be living near the poverty line and all, but I find it incredibly irritating that they just didn’t give us anything at all for an entire week. Luckily we get our meals for free during training. But there are other expenses that simply can’t be avoided. Take toilet paper. One roll is 40 pesawas (100 pesawas=1 cedi). That’s more than the cost of a taxi to New Tafo. So when I found myself facing the choice of either getting to the Hub Office to maybe get paid or buying something soft with which to wipe, it was difficult to decide. It’s a good thing I had a lot of notebook paper lying around.
On the plus side, Marion and Alan returned yesterday. Marion’s mother passed away unexpectedly a few weeks ago, so PC sent her home for two weeks. Her husband Alan went with her. They confirmed their awesomeness by bringing freshly baked cookies and several newspapers and magazines with them when they returned. Marion said she’d help me with baking the pies for our Thanksgiving potluck (since I live with the baker, I’m lucky enough to have access to an oven). I think we’re going to go with chicken instead of turkey, since turkeys are so expensive and we’re all broke. There has been talk of a roast pig though - one of the environment volunteers is staying with a pig farmer. Of course, that may just be wishful thinking.
Monday we’ll be meeting our counterparts, who are coming to town for a workshop. Then we’ll all go with them to our individual sites. I’m planning on taking as much of my stuff as possible with me, as I’ll have my counterpart to help me. After that, there’s just two weeks more of training before we swear in. Fun times.
Okay, I have to go to Addo Nkwanta now – the environment PCTs are having a cross-sector demonstration for us. As we say in Gonja, “To, kamanto!” (“We’ll meet again!”).

PS – Here’s a funny anecdote I have to share. I was walking down the path with one of the Ghanaian trainers when she says to me, “Wow, look at that huge cock!” She was of course speaking of the big rooster standing on a porch nearby, but I couldn’t help but laugh on hearing these words come from an elderly woman’s mouth.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Field Trip Fiasco, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Dirt Roads

It’s been an exciting few weeks for me. After a busy week of more language and more technical training, Halloween kind of snuck up on us. We had intended to have a big party, with costumes and more, but the following morning we would have to be on a bus at 5.30 to head north for our sector-specific field trip. We had to settle for a couple of hours at our favorite local spot, with a few impromptu costumes thrown in (and lots of funny looks from the few non-Americans who happened to be there).
The big story I have to tell is that of the field trip itself. We’re now halfway through training and the Peace Corps wanted each sector to travel together to get some more hands-on practice amongst current volunteers. The Environment crew head to the Upper West region, while SED (Small Enterprise Development) went to a site not far from Kukurantumi in the Lower Volta. WATSAN however is a larger group and is somewhat divided from within between those assigned to the Northern Region to on work primarily on Guinea Worm Eradication (that’s me) and those going to the Nkwanta District in Upper Volta to work more closely on Health and Hygiene. We therefore divided into two groups for field trip, with those of us assigned to the north going to a site not far from Tamale and the others going to Nkwanta.
The problem with this plan was that WATSAN had the same budget as the other two sectors even though we were doing two separate trips. We were told we would have to make due with just one car for both groups as Peace Corps couldn’t afford to give us two. Here’s the thing – while if you look at a map, it’s technically shorter mileage wise to go from Kukurantumi to Tamale through the Volta Region than it is to go through Kumasi, the roads in Upper Volta are ABSOLUTE SHIT. It actually ends up taking a lot longer to go through the Volta, unless you have a private car. We were in a privately hired tro, but not one that was equipped to handle dirt roads of this level. But we had to go this way anyway, so that we could drop off the Nkwanta group before heading farther north.
When Martin (are technical trainer) gave us the schedule for the trip, I laughed. He had us scheduled to arrive in Tamale at 4 pm. Having already traveled in the Nkwanta training during Vision Quest, I knew that it would take AT LEAST seven or eight hours just to get to Nkwanta, and that was only halfway. Even though we left close to on time on Saturday morning, we didn’t get to Nkwanta until about 3 or 3.30. We had taken way too much time to eat lunch in Hohoe due to Martin’s insistence that we eat at a restaurant instead of a chop bar (Ghanaian fast food). After we dropped the others, we continued on towards Tamale, covered in dust already and getting hungry again. What we didn’t know was that we wouldn’t arrive in Tamale until 10 pm, and it was another hour from there to get to the place we’d be staying the night. Let me just say that traveling down dirt roads late at night is not a pleasant experience, no matter where you are.
I had a cool person sitting next to me for most of the ride – Sub Chief Larry, one of my new neighbors once I get to site. He’s an older volunteer, working as a SED PCV in Daboya, northwest of Tamale. Because he’s older and male, he gets a lot more respect from his community that I can ever hope to get. They even went so far as to enstool him as a sub chief. He’s also one of the few PCVs who has studied Gonja, so we talked about that and my extensive plans for cooking once I have a place to set up a kitchen. I get the impression he’ll be visiting me a lot after all the tasty meals I described. How many of you can say that you’ve entertained royalty?
Anyway, by the time we reached Tamale, we were all orange from the dust, absolutely starving, and ready to pass out. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stop at the Tamale Sub Office (TSO) – all the sleeping mats had already been moved to Mike’s site (where we’d be staying) and our meal had already been paid for and prepared by his Assemblyman’s wife. We had to continue. Back on the bus we went and a little over an hour later we finally pulled in for the night. After we got some cold TZ in our bellies (think really thick grits smushed into balls and eaten with peanut soup) and actual showers thanks to Mike’s polytank, we sprawled out in his courtyard with a couple of mosquito coils and called it a night.
The actual bulk of the trip was pretty cool. We spent time with a few different volunteers, helping with their projects and seeing their sites. We played a football (soccer) match against the town team at Shawn’s site as part of an AIDS education thing, but Martin had failed to mention we’d be playing, so we had to play in our Chacos. I wiped out at one point, much to the delight of the three hundred some-odd children standing along the sidelines. We also learned a lot about the Guinea Worm projects, even taking samples of the dam water in Savelugu and going house to house inspecting and replacing filters. We spent the last day at Johnnie’s site, which is somewhat close to my own (which I’ve yet to see).
We tried working out someway we could go home by a different route, but another vehicle could not be found (or, more likely, they just didn’t want to pay for one). We HAD to go back the way we’d come to get the others. Instead of staying at Johnnie’s site again like we were supposed to on our last night, we headed to the TSO after dinner, so that we could get a head start and leave at 4.30 on Wednesday morning. (We also had the slight ulterior motive of wanting to be at the TSO so we’d be able to look up election results on the computer as they came in). We ended up passing out pretty early though, since we knew we’d have a long day on Wednesday. Inez called me at 3 am to give me the news about Obama (woohoo) and the day began with a slight boast, a boast that was soon shot down by many long hours of bumpy, dusty roads. About 2 hours in, the clutch on the tro started going out, and every time we stopped to let someone pee in the bush, it would take us 20 minutes to get going again. As we had discovered the previous evening, the vehicle was actually infested with cockroaches – the little baby ones that are so annoying were crawling over everything, including our legs. I didn’t know that cockroaches bite but these ones did. Eck. The similarity to Little Miss Sunshine was striking, as the bus was yellow and our crew a motley one. Fortunately, unlike the movie, we had no dead grandfather to deal with – just a bunch of very irritated Peace Corps Trainees, including one slightly OCD nurse.
By the time we limped into Nkwanta, I thought people were going to strangle Martin (he had stayed behind with the Nkwanta group while Braimah went north with us). We stopped at the guesthouse the others had been staying at while the driver (the poor guy who’d been with us the whole time) went to “fix” the clutch. No amount of caffeinated beverages or cookies could make us feel better. Then JJ had a brilliant idea – why not turn the last half of the ride into a celebration?! Just as any celebration in Ghana isn’t complete without the traditional pouring of libations, so was our trip in complete without libations of our own. Mixing gin and tampico (think Sunny D) in a nalgene bottle and passing it around amongst the group may not sound very good to you; it might even sound nauseating. But to us, it was heavenily. And more importantly, it allowed us to indure the final leg of our journey – dust, roaches, and all. Because we decided not to stop for meals, instead buying food on the road along the way, we made it back to Old Tafo in slightly less time than it had taken to get to Tamale. After leaving at 4.30, I finally got back to my house at 9.30 in the evening. I’ve never seen my host mom’s eyes so big. The first thing she said to me after “Welcome Home!” was “I will get you water for your bath.” I was absolutely disgusting. It took me several hours to wash all the clothing the next morning, even with help from my sister (who was nice enough to even wash my backpack and pack pillow for me). I almost feel human again today.
I decided to forgo going to Koforidua with the group today. A bunch of people wanted to visit the Bead Market that is held there every Thursday. I had found time to go last week, so I didn’t really feel up to it. I did however get Kymberly to look for some earring for me, to match the new Ghanaian dress I just had made by Consuelo’s host mom.
A note on beads. One of the things women do with beads here is tie strings of the little ones around the waist. I’ve heard someone say that one reason is to keep track of weight, a reason I believe, especially when I see that every small child is wearing a string or two. But the interesting things about waist beads is that they are part of foreplay for Ghanaian women. Having waist beads exposed is somewhat similar to showing your thong in America. Good girls just don’t do it. As my host mom said to me, “Only let your husband see your beads.”
I bought a few strings when I was at the market last week. They were very cheap and most are beautiful. Being the UTD nerd that I am, however, I couldn’t resist buying a string of orange and green waist beads. Gotta have a little school spirit every now in then.
Okay, now I have to go prepare for tomorrow. Phuong and I are giving a presentation on Ghanaian pop music. Time to make a playlist….

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Blank Spot in the Road

In our language class yesterday, we learned words and phrase to use in the market. "How much is this yam? That is too expensive, reduce the price. Please give me a little extra." etc. The topic also included colors (though we only really learned four - apparently we don't need more than for colors to make it in Ghana) - red (peper), black (lembir), green (fitiri-bunjbunj), and white (fuful). As Braimah (my language teacher) said the word for white, I started giggling. I suddenly understood the root of my village's name - Fufulso literally means the "white place." Or As Braimah put it, the place without color. I'm going to be spending two years living in the blank spot in the road. That's what I get for telling my APCD (Associate Peace Corps Director - my boss when it comes to WATSAN) that I want to be placed somewhere pretty. But I'm excited - I'm close to lots of good places, and more importantly, lots of friends.
We're going on a field trip this Saturday. We're going based on sector and assignment, so all the WATSANers that are assigned to the north are going to the Northern Region together for a week. We'll spend some time at a volunteer's site, helping with a few things and seeing some more of the country, then we'll head back to Old Tafo for a few weeks before we go on our individual site visits to our villages.
Even though we're leaving at dawn on Saturday, the fact that Friday is Halloween has not escaped us. We're planning on having a cross sector get-together of some kind, including costumes and maybe even a little trick-or-treating. Why not - our homestay families already think we're insane.
Happy happy birthday to my big sister, Emily. I have to head back to Old Tafo for my lunch.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

First Aerogramme from Ghana


October 25, 2008

I just got Hannah's letter dated Oct 9th.....so here it is transcribed ...

Dear Friends
I just got back from what the Peace Corps calls my "vision quest". I travelled to a current volunteers site for a few days visit, to see what life is like in a village. It was so great to have at least a little freedom,even if it was brief. I had a lot of fun with my host, Sarah. It helped that I brought my M&M's and beef jerky, along with my mad cooking skills. She lives in Tutukpene, a town in the Nkwanta District of the Volta Region.
I wish I could live in Tutukpene too-it's nestled at the base of a mountain and there is lots of good "chop" (fast food Gana style) available. And though Nkwanta is "isolated" because travel is so difficult in the district, the volunteer sites are relatively close to one another and they work together a lot. There may not be electricity and internet and phones are hard to come by, but
I would love living there for two years.
I am supposed to have my site placement interview today or tomorrow to determine where I'll be. We're now at our training site in Kukurantumi. I move in with my host family on Saturday and on Monday I find out where I'll be sent once I finish training in December. Everything is going so fast but I wish it would move faster still. I am ready to go to work!
Though I don't know what language I have to learn for my site, I have been practicing Twi for travel purposes (and so that if I do get to go to Nwanta, I'll have a head start). My favorite phrase so far is "Yemfre me obroni; yefre me Hannah" ..."My name is not white lady, my name is Hannah".
The little kids are so cute when they try to get an "obroni's" attention (Obroni literally means "one from over the sea"), but it is sometimes frustrating . They are usually happy if I just wave back- if I speak Twi to them it makes their day. By the end of my stay with "Ama Olila" ( Sarah's
Ghanaian name) the kids in Tutukpene knew me as Sister Hannah and would call to me
wherever I went. I have run out of room now and time....the Fufu has arrived!
So for now, "Yo Meeks!" Hannah

The first post from Old Tafo

I think I’m going to have to admit failure – at this point, I don’t think the “proxy blogging” thing is working out too well. In theory it’s a great idea, but in practice it’s a bit annoying. While I like sending letters to people, the postal system (both Ghanaian and American) is too slow for the kind of information sharing I normally do with my blog. The letter I sent to be posted two weeks ago still hasn’t made it onto the blog. And though my access to the internet is erratic, I can access it. The proxy blogging idea was more of a contingency plan for if I got placed somewhere without any internet access at all. I wasn’t sure until last week where I would be sent within Ghana and therefore how easy it would be to get online. But now that I know where I’m going, the situation is a bit different. Ultimately, it’s cheaper for me to post to the blog myself – it’s 1.40 Ghana Cedis (GH¢) to send a letter to the states, while it’s usually about .60 per hour at an internet cafĂ©. When I’m only making 6 cedis a day, that’s a lot of money. I guess I should back up a bit and share the letter that I was going to send to Kathe to post for me so that I can bring you up to date…
“Dear Friends,
It has been an exciting few days, full of ups and downs and in between times as well. After months of waiting, I finally found out where I’ll be going once training is over in December. I’ve been assigned to the village of Fufulso (a.k.a. Damango Junction). It is in the Northern Region, about 30 minutes west of Tamale. I couldn’t have asked for a better location. Only 30 minutes from the PC sub office (and therefore free internet) and right on the main truck route between Tamale and Kumasi. I’m also only about 2 hours from Mole National Park, one of the biggest game reserves in West Africa. And, joy of joys, there are quite a few of us clustered around Tamale – so lots of friends to hang out with and bounce ideas off of. I won’t be without some challenges of course. I don’t have electricity at my site. I’ll also have to use either the dam or a stream for my water – my village doesn’t have any boreholes (the safest source of water in rural areas) due to its geological profile. But that is why I’m here – to figure out how to make situations like this work. I think the rainwater collection guide I brought will come in handy very soon.
Because I now know where I’ll be going, I’ve had to switch language classes. No more Twi for me (as much as my host family wants to speak it to me). I’m on to Gonja now (and no, it’s not pronounced like ganga – it’s pronounced GOOn-ja). My language teacher, Braimah, is a lot of fun and after only a few sessions, I can already greet people, introduce myself, and ask for my favorite Ghanaian dishes to eat.
I like the village we’re staying in for training. It’s not very big but it has everything I need. Except internet (but I can take a car to New Tafo for that if I get desperate). I still feel really awkward living with a family and having every hour of every day dictated for me. It was really tough this week, as my “little brother” Kofi contracted malaria and had to spend three nights in the hospital. Seeing a two-year-old get a blood transfusion is so sad. He’s back home though and healthy enough to be playing on my porch as I write and listen to music.
We’re getting ready to celebrate birthdays on Monday. Four of us share October 20th as a birthday so it’s going to be fun. I hope I don’t have a repeat of the Russian birthday party from a few years ago.
I also bought a cell phone this week, so that’s the best way to get more details on my adventure (011-233-242660968). I have so much to talk about and so little time. But life is good and I’m loving it here. Especially when the sun goes down, the temperature drops, and I have time to reflect on each wonderful day that has passed.
Until next time,
So I will have semi-regular access to internet (depending how often I make it to Tamale – but I’d have to go there to post letters anyway). Right now it’s kind of a pain to post stuff to the blog, as I have to go to another town to do it and on my own dime (during training, we only get 2GH¢ a day too – that’s only a little over $2). But it’s far cheaper to spend a few pesawas (100 pesawas=1 Ghana cedi) on getting online than an entire 1.40Gh¢ sending a letter that might make it on the blog within a month if I’m lucky.
I had a fantastic birthday celebration. The others I share a birthday with were all in different towns as we’re all in different sectors and therefore split up for most of training. I told my host family that I wanted to cook for my birthday. They humored be and let me use the kitchen after class on Monday. By the time my “chili” was done however, they had set a table and gathered quite a crowd for the greatest birthday party I’ve ever had. Only a few of my American friends were there, as I had no idea my family was going to go to such links to make me feel special on my birthday. We a great time. My host mom even baked me a heart-shaped cake! Let me just add, living with a baker is awesome. My brother Samuel borrowed a stereo from somebody and for an hour we alternated seamlessly between really loud gospel music and really obscene rap. After my “dance party” was over, the five of us Americans headed to a spot (in Ghana, bars are referred to as spots) to have a beer with some of the others. All in all, a great end to a great day.
At my dad’s request, I set up the skype account like I had it set when I was in Russia. Now, if you call 512-377-1987, it goes to my skype account and is then forwarded to my Ghanaian cell phone. Free for you and cheap for me. I love technology.
Before I go, let me list a few things I’ve learned to do this past week:
-Carry a baby on my back with only a “two-yard” (a piece of fabric)
-Pound fufu (a Ghanaian dish made from either boiled yam or boiled plantains and cassava mixed together)
-Construct a pit latrine (though I haven’t practiced this yet)
I also got complimented on my laundry technique by an old Ghanaian lady. I guess all that hand washing I did in Russia has finally paid off. If only my clothes would stay clean for more than five minutes – stupid humidity.
That’s all for now. Tune in next week for more.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hannah's postcard

The very first missive from Hannah has arrived-and she also called just a few days
ago and we had a nice very quick phone call! Here's both sides of the postcard....
Ta Dah!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Planes, trains, and plantains

I finally have a chance to put a little message up here, letting you all know I'm safe and sound in Accra.
We arrived a few days ago, after a very long flight from Philadelphia. Things have been moving at whirlwind pace thus far, but we finally had some free time to explore today. Technically, we're on a cultural scavenger hunt, but one of my tasks was to find an internet cafe and see how much it is for an hour (the answer - 0.60GP - roughly 50 cents, and 1/6 of my daily allowance while here).
Now I'm off to buy a sim card for my cell phone. I'll try to reply to individual messages later.
Love to all.
PS - Plantains are in season and fantastic. And no, my banana allergy does not extend to plantains. Mmmmm, fufu.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Choo chooooo! (Doesn't really sound like a train when I type it, but that's what I'm going for)

Stage two of the road to the Peace Corps is underway. Erica just pulled out of the parking lot, leaving me to wait for my train to Philadelphia.
The train is running about an hour late. I’m not surprised. Unlike with other train systems (even the Russian ones), I’ve never talked to anyone who’s ridden on an on-time Amtrak train.
As I sit here waiting, messing about on the computer for lack of anything better to do, it seems weird to me that I’m nearly gone. I’ve been wasting away all summer, waiting for my departure, waiting to meet my fellow trainees, waiting to do something more useful that sitting around waiting. I get blue with each goodbye, with each facebook message or email wishing me well. But I can’t wait to get going on this next grand adventure.
I had to repack my bags after flying up here on Saturday. The bathroom scale that I used to weigh my backpack was apparently a full 8 pounds off and my perfectly packed bag was therefore 4 pounds overweight. Since my carryon was already packed to the gills, I decided to bite the bullet and buy a small rolling duffel and split up the 54 pounds in my large pack into two bags. It's more luggage that I wanted to take but I'm way underweight now, which takes a load off my mind.
I had a good time here in Charlottesville with Erica – a perfect combination of cheesy tourism (ie – visiting Monticello) and goofing around (ie - hiking in skirts, sandals, and goofy hats). I even had time to continue Erica’s education in regards to classic movies. I did manage to injure myself at a very inopportune time – cutting my thumb in an attempt to sharpen my pocket knife (doh!) while Erica was in class. But all is well now as I leave for Philadelphia, where I’ll meet up with my fellow Peace Corps trainees and depart for Ghana.
Uncle Todd is going to meet me in Philly for my last few free days. I think some Philly Cheesesteaks and baseball are in order.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

On the fine art of packing

I like to think of myself as an artist when it comes to packing. Anyone can pack for a week long trip, but how many people do you know can pack a bag for a 27 month trip without going over weight?
I took all of this stuff...
...and these two backpacks...
...and this was the result...
The big green one is only 45 lbs, putting me within the free limits for Delta, with whom I am flying to Accra. I have this wonderful feeling of accomplishment. Of course, I haven't gone over my list to make sure I have everything, but no one's bursting my bubble today (not even the fact that Hurrican Ike ruined my going away party plans).

Friday, September 12, 2008

September is already here...

For some of us summer hasn't been long enough. For others it cannot be done soon enough!
That person would be Hannah who has been eagerly awaiting her epic journey to Ghana via the Peace Corps.
Well Hannah- your time has come. We all wish you a fond Bon Voyage and safe return. I will await your mail for me to post here on your blog.
Your proxy blogger- Kathe W.

Monday, September 01, 2008


It's September. Holy crap.
I've been waiting for September to come all summer, because September means my imminent departure, the beginning of the next exciting adventure. It's exciting, but also terrifying.
I'm not terrified about spending the next couple years of my life in Ghana - that's the exciting part. I'm terrified because the arrival of September means that I have just a few short weeks to get through an extraordinarily long to-do list.
A few examples of items currently on my to-do list...
~Sell my computer
~Somehow find enough money to buy the rest of the stuff I need to pack
~Write my will
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Even though I don't have to be in Philadelphia for staging until the 27th, I'm leaving Texas on the 20th-ish. That leaves a little less than three weeks.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Dear Friends,

I received a letter today that indicated it is once more time to fire up the blog. It reads as follows...

Dear Prospective Volunteer: Please give this letter to your family/friends and ask them to hold on to it for as long as you are in Ghana.

Dear Families,

Greetings from the Ghana Desk in Washington, D.C. It is with great pleasure that we welcome your family member to the 2008 Ghana training program. During the past year we have received many requests from Volunteers and family members alike regarding travel plans, sending money, relaying messages and mail, etc. As we are unable to involve ourselves in the personal arrangements of Volunteers, we would like to offer you advice and assistance in advance by providing specific examples of situations and how we suggest they be handled.

1. Irregular Communication. (Please see #3 for the mailing address to Peace Corps' office in Accra the capital of Ghana). The mail service in Ghana is not as efficient as the U.S. Postal Service. Thus, it is important to be patient. It can take from three to four weeks for mail coming from Ghana to arrive in the United States via the Ghanaian mail system. From a Volunteer's post, mail might take up to one to two months to reach the United States depending upon how far the Volunteer is from the capital city, Accra. Sometimes mail is hand carried to the States by a traveler and mailed through the U.S. postal system. This leg of the trip can take another several weeks as it is also dependent on the frequency of travelers to the U.S.

We suggest that in your first letters, you ask your Volunteer family member to give an estimate of how long it takes for him or her to receive your letters and then try to establish a predictable pattern of how often you will write to each other. Also try numbering your letters so that the Volunteer knows if he or she missed one. Postcards should be sent in envelopes--otherwise they may be found on the wall of the local post office.

Volunteers often enjoy telling their "war" stories when they write home. Letters might describe recent illnesses, lack of good food, isolation, etc. While the subject matter is often good reading material, it is often misinterpreted on the home front. Please do not assume that if your family member got sick that he or she has been unattended. The city of Accra has medical and dental facilities, and there is a Peace Corps Doctor and nurse there as well. Most Volunteers can reach Accra in less than one day's time. Many Volunteers also have access to a telephone (most have cell phones!) so that they can call our Medical Office. In the event of a serious illness the Volunteer is sent to Accra and is cared for by our Medical Unit. If the Volunteer requires medical care that is not available in Ghana, he/she will be medically evacuated to South Africa or the United States. Fortunately, such circumstances are very rare.

If for some reason your communication pattern is broken and you do not hear from your family member for at least one month, you should contact the Office of Special Services (OSS) at Peace Corps in Washington at 1-800-424-8580, extension 1470. The OSS will then call the Peace Corps Director in Ghana, and ask him to check up on the Volunteer. Also, in the case of an emergency at home (death in the family, sudden illness, etc.), please do not hesitate to call OSS immediately, so that the Volunteer can be informed in person by a member of Peace Corps/Ghana staff.

2. Telephone Calls. The telephone system in Ghana has reliable service to the United States. While few Volunteers have access to a telephone (land line) at their sites, more and more Volunteers are choosing to buy cell phones. Some sites have clear cell phone reception and others do not. In any case, most Volunteers have access to a phone (land line or cell) when they travel to a larger town within a few hours from their sites.

When dialing direct to Ghana from the U.S., dial 011 (the international access code) + 233 (the country code) + the number. Volunteers generally set up phone calls with people in the U.S. in advance, and have the distant party call them, which is much less expensive than calling the U.S. from Ghana. You may also choose to call your volunteer on their cellphone, if they decide to buy one in Ghana.

The Ghana Desk in Washington, D.C. usually calls the Peace Corps office in Accra at least once a week. However, these calls are reserved for business only and we cannot relay personal messages over the phone. If you have an urgent message regarding travel plans, etc., you can call the Desk, and the message will be relayed.

3. Sending Packages. Parents and Volunteers like to send and receive care packages through the mail. Every package mailed to the PC Accra P.O. box is opened by Ghana postal staff in the presence of a Peace Corps staff member to verify that the contents match what is listed on the (small green) declaration form. For example, it is therefore not appropriate to write "Religious material inside" if there are no religious materials inside.

You may want to send inexpensive items through the mail, but there is no guarantee that these items will arrive. We do not recommend, however, that costly items be sent through the mail. Even though most Volunteers eventually get local post office boxes, you may always use the following address to send letters and/or packages to your family member:

John Doe, PCV
Peace Corps
P.O. Box 5796
Accra-North, Ghana
West Africa

It is recommended that packages be sent in padded envelopes if possible, as boxes tend to be taxed more frequently. Packages can be sent via surface mail (2-3 weeks arrival time) or by ship (4-6 months). The difference in cost can be a factor in deciding which method to utilize. For lightweight but important items (e.g. airline tickets), DHL (an express mail service) does operate in Accra, but costs are very expensive. If you choose to send items through DHL, you must address the package to the Country Director, c/o Peace Corps, 26 West Cantonments, Switchback Lane, Accra, Ghana, West Africa. The telephone number for the Peace Corps office in Ghana is (233) 21-775-984, should DHL need this information. If you send the item to the Country Director, no liability can be assumed. For more information about DHL, please call their toll free number, 1-800-CALL-DHL, or visit their web site at www.dhl.com.

Sending airplane tickets and/or cash is not recommended. Certain airlines will allow you to buy a prepaid ticket in the States; they will telex their Accra office to have the ticket ready. Unfortunately, this system is not always reliable. Many airlines (eg., KLM, Air France, Sabena, Ghana Airways) fly into Accra, but each has its own policy on pre-paid tickets. Please call the airline of your choice for more information. You could also send tickets via DHL as mentioned previously. However, Peace Corps will assume no liability in the event of a lost/stolen airline ticket.

Trying to send cash or airline tickets is very risky and is discouraged. Volunteers are meant to live modestly and not accept any additional financial resources to support their service. If your Volunteer family member requests money from you, it is his/her responsibility to arrange receipt of it. Volunteers will also be aware of people visiting the States and can request that they call his/her family when they arrive in the States should airline tickets need to be sent back to Ghana.

We understand how frustrating it is to communicate with your family member overseas and we appreciate your using this information as a guideline. Please feel free to contact us at the Ghana Desk in Washington, DC, if you have further questions. Our phone number is (800) 424-8580, ext. 2326/2325, or locally at (202) 692-2326/2325.


Country Desk Officer
Country Desk Assistant

This is all I can say at this point. I'll try and keep the blog up to date in this, the month leading up to my departure.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

On the joys of knowing where I'm going (at least where I'm going this September)

The fact that I'm leaving for Ghana in a little over 7 months is making it impossible for me to concentrate on anything BUT Ghana. I've been researching everything about the country and keep finding more and more to research.
My first order of business though, besides calling all my family and friends, was to make myself a t-shirt to tell the world...

I mean, come on - who could resist that pun? I think next I'll have to make one that says, "Here today. Ghana tomorrow." Hehehe. The Voits are rubbing off on me.
I also decided that I needed to get my hands on a good guide book for the country. Lonely Planet (often referred to by my friends and I as the traveler's bible) doesn't have a book specifically on Ghana, only one on West Africa in General. That didn't really matter though, as Barnes and Noble carried neither the Lonely Planet West Africa book nor the Guide to Ghana that I eventually settled on. I decided to try Half Price Books on the way home, and though they too were deficient in books on Ghana, I was able to find a Twi-English dictionary. Twi? Yes, Twi. Twi is the most widely spoken of the non-English languages in Ghana. A good starting place for someone like me who is going to be living there.
I'm still on the prowl for guide books and possibly a good map to display prominently on my wall.
Did I'm mention I'm excited?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Drum roll, please...

Here's the news we've all been waiting for.
As I was driving back to Dallas from my dentist appointment in Austin on Monday, I received a phone call from an unidentified number. Since I've been waiting for THE call to come, I answered politely, "Hannah Frank."
"Hi this is ---- from the Peace Corps Placement Office. How are you today?"
Mmmmmm, "Great" now that you've called.
After pulling over and having a thirty minute conversation with the nice lady from DC, I was informed that a letter of invitation was on its way to my door.
For some reason, they could not reveal the specific country to me over the phone, but I did learn my departure date and region - Africa, Sept. 20, 2008. That left me with 3-5 business days in which to pace back in forth in angst, wondering where I could be heading.
You can imagine my excitement when I went to take the trash out on Friday afternoon and saw the mail man at the mail station. Poor man - I probably scared him half to death.
"HEY! Did you bring me anything exciting today?! Possibly a large envelope from Washington?!"
Joy of joys, there it sat, at the bottom of his bin of mail. I could have hugged him, if he had looked more like the sort who would liked to be hugged by a stranger.
I couldn't wait until I got back to my apartment. Halfway between the mail box and my building I read the magical word - "GHANA."
That's right folks. I'm leaving on September 20th for the West Africa nation of Ghana. I haven't had a lot of time to research the country yet, as I had to leave for a retreat about 20 minutes after receiving the letter. I do know off the top of my head that it was the first country to which Peace Corps volunteers were assigned when the program began in 1961. Therefore, I feel like I'm joining quite a team.
I'll try and keep you posted as time toils on between now and then. If you're in the mood for a little reading on the Peace Corps in general between now and then, I've added a bunch of stuff to my website (http://web.mac.com/hannahefrank/iWeb/Site/Peace%20Corps.html).
Until later,

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The long awaited blog entry

Those of you who actually read my blog may have noticed a sizable gap between my last blog entry and this one. The explanation is both simple and complicated. Simple in that I simply don't want to talk about all the shit that's gone down in the past few weeks and complicated in that the shit that has gone down has not been of the sort that is easily explained in a blog entry. To sum things up - people are assholes.
Let's just leave it at that.
That being said, I'd like to think that I've had a good weekend. I finally convinced myself that three weeks of coughing is enough and went to the doctor. Thanks to some amazing antibiotics, I am now over the allergy-induced bronchitis and am able to go about business as usual. Though I had been planning a trip to Big Bend since October, in the past week all the friends who were to join me found a way to cancel on me. I'm not rich by any means; there's no way I can justify driving to Big Bend by myself for a long weekend. I should have been depressed by this development, and I was until I saw my email on Tuesday. As it turned out, my favorite singer-songwriter, Terri Hendrix, was coming through Dallas on Friday night. I bought myself a ticket and went to see her show at Bend Studio (if you haven't been to a show there, you should go - http://www.bendstudio.com). I finally had a chance to thank my rock star friend for the fabulous shirt she sent...

If any of you want to know what's been going on in the past few weeks, you know my number. I've had enough and am ready to move on. If things go as planned my next blog entry should have something to do with my peace corps placement....

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Next time I'll have to remember to order Mexico sin vomito.

I was having the most fabulous trip for the first two days. Yes, the bus ride was long, but not that bad. We had lots of good food and company, especially hanging out on the rooftop terrace in the hostel. The problems started on the third morning.
When I woke up, my first thought was that the "hangover" I had was not in proportion to the amount of alcohol consumed the previous evening. As it turned out, it was not a hangover at all. It was the very beginning of a major case of Montezuma's Revenge.
As the average reader of this blog may already know, I'm quite a well-travelled person. I've been to Mexico numerous times and never once suffered more that what Russell once described as "soft-serve poo." The rules I follow are rather simple - No ice. No water unless from a bottle, even when brushing teeth. Mouth closed in the shower. Nothing fresh that doesn't have a peel. Yet, somehow, by the end of the day on the 30th, I found myself cloistered in one of only two shared bathrooms of the hostel, much to the chagrin of the other residents. I've decided that the fault lies with the chile verde enchiladas I had the night before. But lets go back to the beginning.
After waking and dismissing my mild nausea as the result of our fiesta, I joined the others on a hike to the top of la Buffa, the mountain that over looks the city (which is already at almost 7000 feet). About halfway up the side, I was about to pass out, but still insisted that it was some combination of a hangover and altitude sickness. I made it just shy of the top before I finally relented and laid down in the shade. (On a cool little side note, while laying there, a woman passed with a Peace Corps patch on her bag. I talked to her for about 20 minutes and am still so excited, I can't wait to find out where I'm going).
After a round trip of about 10 miles, we finally made it back to the center of town. I tried to eat some soup but to no avail. I ended up going to bed and not getting up except to go to the bathroom until late the following afternoon.
I like to look at the bright side of things though. Mexican medicine is amazing stuff, though I really don't want to know what's in it. Blake went to the farmacia for me the next morning and broke back some magical pills that in a few short hour took me from unable to hold down water to eating saltines and pounding back the gatorade (I was probably severely dehydrated at this point, but as I had other problems, I wasn't too upset by it). By nighttime, I was ready to enjoy my New Year's Eve, even if the celebration wasn't exactly what I had in mind.
The three of us staying in the hostel (out of our group of seven), were invited to the house of Senora Magdalena, the other four's host. She made roast pork and insisted upon ringing in 2008 with cider and 12 grapes (each person must make a wish for each one - 12 because of the 12 months). I never thought that celebrating New Year's with an 82-year-old woman would be so much fun, but we had an amazing night. And it wasn't just because I was finally able to hold down something other than crackers, though that was certainly exciting.
Nonetheless, I'll have to remember next time to order Mexico sin vomito.