Saturday, September 18, 2010

Let the goodbyes begin...

I’m really bad at goodbyes, and I have a lot of them ahead of me for the next month and a half.

Last week we had our COS (Close of Service) Conference for the 2008-2010 Omnibus group. Most of the people I trained with were together again one last time at the Coconut Grove Beach Resort in Elmina. Those who weren’t able to make it were missed very much, especially Ann Paisley and Consuelo, who are both in my prayers. That last morning was hard for me. Some of the group is leaving early because of one reason or another; it was my last time to see them. It’s one thing to say goodbye to one person, but quite another to have to say goodbye to a bunch of your friends all at once. There’s no time to say what you want to say. So to all my Peace Corps friends who are leaving, farewell and we’ll see each other again soon.

Though the goodbyes were making me sad, I did get some good news last week: I received and accepted an invitation to serve as a Team Leader for AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civil Community Corps). I'll be based in Vinton, IA for 11 months starting in January of 2011. It feels good to know what comes next, even if it is only for the next year. I'll leave Ghana on November 11th and will have exactly two months off before I report to the NCCC campus in Vinton.

For now I’m back at site, getting ready to wind things down, pack my things, and move on to the next adventure. Yesterday being Friday, I knew both of the chiefs would be home, so I went around with Assemblyman, Madam Hawa, and Mr. SS to inform them and the other opinion leaders that I’ll be leaving the village in early November. It didn’t take long for the news to spread. “Mantenso, are you really leaving? When are you coming back?”

In Gonjaland, and most other parts of Ghana, when someone is leaving your house, you send them off by saying some variation of, “May God send you safely” or “May God send you safely there and back.” I like this second phrase better than the first. It acknowledges that you’ll be back, even if the time of return in unknown. I don’t know when I’ll be back in Fufulso, but I will someday, and that’s what I tell everyone. My landlady is in her final month of pregnancy with her second child. She told me yesterday, “When you come back, I want to have five children to show you.” It makes me feel special to know that I’ll be missed, and hopeful that I’ll have the money to come back here one day soon.

A little update on the projects:
The rainwater collection system at the school is complete, and thanks to some heavy rains in the last couple weeks, the tanks are full. That’s 20,000 liters of water ready for the students when they return for the new school term.
I’m waiting for the headmaster to return and school to open in order to start on the wheelchair ramp. I don’t really have funding, but there’s a bunch of left over blocks, sand, and gravel from the construction of the tank platforms for the rainwater system, so we’ll see what we can do.
The world map I’m painting on the side of one of the primary school buildings is about 90% complete. I should finish it this coming week if the weather cooperates.
I’m down to one rabbit, but she’s healthy. I’ll pass her off to Madam Hawa when I leave.
In one finally attempt to spread the word about moringa, I’m nursing a bunch of seedlings to distribute throughout the village.
And (DRUMROLL) – still no guinea worms to be found.

One final story.

I was at the roadside one morning in early August, buying something for breakfast. I remember that it was a Monday, because it was Buipe market day, and a bunch of lorries were lined up at the roadside waiting to go to the market. All of a sudden I heard a crash – a small child was trying to cross the street and was struck by a speeding car. The car then swerved off the road and struck another man and child before crashing into a billboard. The boy who was hit on the road died the next morning. He was the grandson of one of the Red Cross Mothers I work with. The man who was hit died a week later from his injuries.

Speeding cars have always been a problem in this community. We’re on the main truck route that passes through the country, so everything from private cars to big, overloaded, articulated trucks heading to Burkina Faso and beyond pass through the village. Because the road is fairly nice at this point in the journey, drivers pass through as though there’s no village, some not even tapping the brakes. The problem of speeding used to be mitigated by the presence of the police barrier on the south end of town. But about six months ago, headquarters decided to move the barrier a few kilometers outside town, despite protests from the villagers. For those six months, the leaders of the community have been appealing to the District Assembly for help, either to move the barrier back or provide speed ramps. The community members said they would build their own speed ramps if the DA wouldn’t, but the DA insisted that they were working on it, that the community should just be patient and the speed ramps would come.

Well, the death of two people because of a speeding car lit a fire under a lot of people. Two weeks after the accident, a crew suddenly appeared and quickly built some shoddy speed bumps. Within two weeks, these speed bumps were reduced to almost nothing. Some cars don’t even slow down for them anymore. Most of the people I talked to dismissed it as another example of the failure of the government to answer to the needs of the community. No electricity, no clinic, no latrines – of course there aren’t speed ramps either.

On Thursday, I woke to find a large group of men from the community taking matters into their own hands. I don’t know who provided the cement, but they decided to build their own speed bumps. They’re not the greatest speed bumps, and I don’t know how long they’ll last, but they’re definitely slowing cars down. I have a feeling there’ll be some backlash from somebody for taking matters into their own hands like this, but right now, drivers are going a lot slower when they pass through Fufulso.