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!