A Belated Merry Christmas from Northern Ghana, where instead of snow we have dust storms; instead of stockings hung over the fireplace, we hang old socks and polytin bags over the (broken) AC unit; and instead of staying up for midnight mass, we stay up playing on a broken guitar until we hear the 4:30 call to prayer from the mosque.
Oh Peace Corps. Last year for Christmas, I was stuck at my site by myself (our Safety and Security Officer put us on Standfast - meaning don't leave site - during the holidays due to the run-off presidential election). This year, I was talked into filling in for the PCVL (the volunteer leader who takes care of the Tamale Sub Office) during the transistion period between our old and new PCVL. It was a lot of work but it sure was nice. I played Santa, with beef jerky rather than candy as stocking stuffers (we PCVs don't get a whole lot of protein). I made pancakes on Christmas morning, with nutella on top. Then I spent ten hours cooking for nine other volunteers and two visiting RPCVs. Why so long? Well, first I had to make my own cheese. Then I had to grind my own beef. Then came the pies (both pumpkin and chocolate cream), during the baking of which we ran out of propane for the oven. Thankfully, everyone around us is Muslim, so we were able to get it refilled even on Christmas Day, after which we continued the cooking. I made a killer salad (with ACTUAL LETTUCE, not cabbage), some 15-bean soup (thanks to the care package from Granny), and rounded it all out with some lasagne. It's a lot of work, but I highly recommend making your own ricotta for some lasagna some day. It was amazing. I then raised my glass to toast a successful year, and finally drank the mini bottle of Glenlivet that Erica sent to me a couple months back.
I hope you all had a Merry Christmas back home, and welcomed in the New Year in style. After Christmas, I headed down to Consuelo's site in the Nkwanta North district of the Volta Region. Looking at a map it's not that far, but it was quite an ordeal to get there. I left the office at 4.30 in the morning to catch the Metro bus to Yendi. In Yendi I had to wait several hours for the cargo lorry to fill, then road it to Bimbilla. In Bimbilla, I had to wait for the "bone shaker" to fill (a very special form of transport - an old Datsun pickup with benches in the bed under a welded on canopy), which I road as far as Damanko. Here, I crossed the river into the Volta region, and immediately upon crossing started getting harassed and swindled. I then took a taxi from Damanko to Kpassa, where I got into an argument with the taxi driver who wanted 3 cedis to drive me two miles up the road to Jumbo, Consuelo's village. I was just about ready to walk when a tro driver decided to take pity on me. He drove me there for free. Merry Christmas!
I had a wonderful time at Consuelo's eating lots of good food and catching up with a good friend. Consuelo was my neighbor during homestay but I've only seen her a couple of times since then. I stayed with her until New Year's Day, then headed back to Tamale to get started on my resolutions.
What are my resolutions this year? Well, lets see...
1) Start over with the rabbits. I got some good tips from Consuelo, whose bunny is healthy and pregnant. Hopefully I can get some good breeding stock and try again this spring.
2) Have a lovely garden. I've started composting, and the women at the roadside are helping by providing me with food scraps. Hopefully I'll have some good compost ready by the time the rains come again.
3) Become a market lady, complete with market lady hat. Handing out moringa seeds didn't really work out, so I've decided to start nursing moringa seedlings to sell in my tiny little market. They'll only be five pesawas (about three cents), but I want to sell them rather than give them away so that people will actually take care of them. My moringa trees are now way about the roof. I should have cut them back but they look so pretty.
4) Improve sanitation. A lofty goal, but that's why I'm here. Last term with the JSS Health Club, we focused on HIV/AIDS. This term (which starts mid-January), I want to focus on sanitation. To start with, I'm going give the students a challenge. I will have them help me build a new soak away pit at my house (this allows water from the bathroom to a place to soak into the ground, thereby eliminating mosquito breeding pools), then have them start building there own throughout the community. If they build X-number of pits, they'll get a new football. I've get to come up with the numbers and the prizes but the couple of students I've told are very excited about it. It'll be a good way for the students to help get the community ready to take on CLTS (Community Led Total Sanitation).
5) Keep Guinea Worm away. We may not have any active cases right now, but constant vigilance is necessary to transition from most endemic village in Ghana to recently freed. Central Gonja District is the last stronghold of Guinea Worm in Ghana and one of the last in the world, and I want it gone. Now.
6) Get going on this truck drivers' education thing. Me and Liz and Maria want to do more HIV education for the long-distance drivers who pass through our village on the main Tamale-Kumasi road. We're going to start next month by training some of the tea and kenkey sellers as peer educators.
7) Not worry so much that I'm not doing enough. I need to learn to be okay with the fact that not everything has gone as planned so far, and the idealistic plans I had when I came here just might not work out. I want to enjoy my last year in Ghana, not suffer through it.
8) Post on my blog more. Oddly, this will probably be the hardest of these resolutions to keep. But I'm gonna try.
That's all for now. Today I'm heading back to the village after a couple weeks away, and hopefully I can get cracking on a few of these. Time will tell.
Happy New Year everybody!