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