About the Blog

United Hearts Children Center is located in Bawjiase, Ghana. It is currently home to 25 children, who are excited to move into their NEW home in the next few months. We are continuing fundraising to complete the project and have just started to fundraise for the United Hearts Community School. Check them out in my links!

Monday, March 28, 2011

There is no gate 4

So, the obviously long awaited Ghana post is here! Followed by an ever so riveting medical update for those that are interested.

For lack of any other format to write in, here is a big bulk of writing that will describe the series of events that resulted in my untimely return to the country.

I arrived at the airport at approximately 5 pm for a flight that was to depart at 9:30. The Accra airport requires check-in to be a minimum of 2 hours prior to departure, and by requires I mean requires. I have heard stories about people being unable to get on their flight due to arriving with less time than this. I walked back and forth in the small check-in area, wondering where I would check in for my flight, and after finally asking someone what I was supposed to do they pointed me in the direction of some official looking people sitting at a table. Apparently, they were the first customs checkpoint, and after telling them that "just a lot of clothing" was the contents of my bag, they scribbled some letters on the suitcase with chalk.

I then was instructed to get in line behind a vast number of people, all of who were going to Lagos and were waiting to check in at the desk that, surprisingly enough, said Lagos. Luckily, a monitor quickly turned on with my Atlanta flight, and after wrestling with a number of Ghanaians to have my bag weighed, removing 2 kg from my overweight suitcase (which I could only do once I converted 2 kg into pounds with the handy converter on my phone), and cutting in front of the line to weigh it again, I finally was on the path to check-in.

The second customs official I spoke to, this time while waiting in line, asked me a series of "very important questions to be answered fully and honestly," including, but not limited to, how long I had been in Ghana, if anyone else helped pack my bag, if I had left my bag unattended since packing it, where I travelled when I was in Ghana, how I liked the country, when I was coming back, and instructed me to contact him upon my return so he could show me around the country.

After answering his questions fully, honestly, agreeing to let him show me around Ghana upon my return, and being laughed at when I told him I had "kity kity" containers of liquid in my carry-on (meaning small), I made my way forward. I then watched as a woman rubbed a white cloth type device over my suitcase, inserted the cloth into a machine, and then told me she had to search my bag. My entire suitcase of still sweaty clothing and possibly some Ghanaian alcohol (for a keepsake souvenir, of course) was searched. Despite having my 3 months' life belongings unpacked in front of everyone in the airport, it was a surprisingly pleasant experience for both of us, especially when she repacked my suitcase better than it was originally packed by yours truly and when I let her keep my fancy four sided nail buffer.

Finally, after all this excitement, I reached the check-in counter, got my ticket, and said goodbye to my drug and explosive-free checked baggage. I proceeded upstairs, through immigration, and into the lovely terminal. After some time spent eating, staring at the international chocolates for sale in the store, and attempting to read, I decided I felt ready to go to my gate. After discovering that the scribble on my ticket said to go to gate 4 at 7:00, I proceeded to learn that there is no gate 4 at Kotoka International Airport.

No, seriously. After asking about 10 airport staff, ranging from airline staff, janitorial staff, food staff, sales people, and even an immigration official when I wandered the wrong way through his area, I heard these responses:

"If you go back downstairs to the Delta counter, they will be able to tell you how to go to gate 4."
"Gate 4 is downstairs, you have to go back down there."
"Gate 4 is a temporary gate, I'm not sure how to get there."
"Go back to immigration, the door is on the opposite side."
"Wait here and someone will come and get you."
And, of course, my personal favorite:
"There is no gate 4."

Luckily, me and the 200 other people on my flight ran into each other in the three-gate airport terminal, and decided to listen to the people telling us to sit and wait for someone to come and get us. Due to the fact that I am now in this country, you can guess what happened.

Now, to give credit to some of the people I asked for help, gate 4 is a temporary gate and the door is actually through immigration, which meant we were paraded through the line of people trying to get their exit stamp out of the country. We followed this man (an oburoni, no less!) down a sketchy, poorly lit stairway, waited in line sweating due to lack of air-conditioning and limited fans, were patted down and had carry-on baggage swiped with the weird cloth things (mine passed this time!), and then sat in what I seriously feel like needs to be described as the bowels of the airport. It was an old waiting area, with old vending machines and check-in counters, looking out onto the tarmac. Finally, we went through a metal detector, waited for the bus to come, and drove off to the airplane.

It took forever to load the plane, and I luckily had the good fortune of sitting at a window overlooking the bus stop, watching it come and go and the people trickling off of it. Anyway, the plane took off and 13 hours later I was in Atlanta. So, alas, that is my journey home.

Despite the boredom you must have felt while reading this due to my lack of ability to actually write anymore, I do plan on continuing to blog for awhile, mostly to share some pictures but to add all the things I just didn't have time to write.

And time for medical: I met with a neurosurgeon today, who I really liked and who has a very good reputation and is quite well known. I had heard that he is conservative in terms of treatment even though he is a surgeon, which he also told me himself. However, he feels that surgery is my best, and possibly only, option for any improvement with my current condition. I will be needing to make a decision asap so that things don't continue to deteriorate, but will first be getting a second (third, fourth, etc.) opinion. So, that's that.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"It's such a funny story but I can't get myself to write about it."

Thus, I will once again be diverting your attention towards my ever so fascinating medical issues instead of talking about Ghana.

I had an MRI Tuesday morning (after the doctor I saw Monday decided it was urgent), and received a phone call from her only a few hours later to tell me how messed up my back is. I have a herniated S1 disc and it is totally compressing my nerve, causing a lot of numbness, pain, and muscle weakness in my leg. However, she also mentioned that the discs above it (I think L3, L4, and L5) have some issues. I don't quite remember what she said, or even if she elaborated, but alas, things aren't sounding so great in my lower back. I have an appointment with some big name neurosurgeon on Monday, so I will update here provided there are still things I feel like blogging about. Or if I still haven't written anything about Ghana.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

I'm Alive!

Sorry for the extended leave from posting, things have been a bit chaotic in the past few weeks, including the chaos that was my parents FANTASTIC trip! Due to some unfortunate medical issues, my parents, my uncle The Doctor, and I, decided it was in my best interest to return home. I am currently waiting to get the opinion of another doctor because mine was relatively useless, followed by a physical therapy appointment, before finding out if I should get an MRI on my back/leg, for whatever nerve issue is going on. So, no worries, it shouldn't be anything too serious!

Annnnyway, I hopefully will continue to blog for at least a few more weeks, both to catch up on all the things I had wanted to write about and didn't, as well as offer some updates on my reentry into the country.

For now I am just going to offer this update, but coming soon will be the exciting abridged version of my trip home.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Because I'm still in Bawjiase...

the internet is miserable. Therefore, I will just let you know that my parents are here, sitting on either side of me, equally miserable about the fact that the internet is awful. Luckily, they seem to mind this slightly more than the heat, which I figure is a positive thing. However, accessing her Facebook page seems to be a very fulfilling experience for my mother, so that's a plus.

We have changed our plans slightly and will be leaving Bawjiase tomorrow, to some hotel that apparently has wireless, meaning I will take the smartphone I use at home that has ruined my life and may once again ruin my life by updating my blog from it. And, you know, perhaps go on Facebook.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A tiny bit of information that is relatively boring but kind of important(ish)

After speaking with my mother and then forgetting to actually do it, I have FINALLY changed the settings here so that anyone can comment. So, to all those who have mentioned to me that they are blog challenged, I extend my sincerest apologies because it appears as though I have been the real blog challenged one the past10 weeks.

Secondly, the power was out for 24 hours and before that I was more tired than normal and didn't have the energy to go to the internet in Kasoa, so the blogging has slowed down a bit. Have no fears, though, I am still here.

Lastly, the number of posts will likely continue to dwindle in the following two weeks as my parental unit is currently on a plane somewhere over the Atlantic, sleeping/eating/watching movies/reading, landing Ghana in a little less than 4 hours. I am nearly positive that I have not mentioned the fact that my parents are coming and that many people reading this don't even know the adventure they are embarking on. They will be in Bawjiase until Tuesday and then the three of us will be traveling to the coast. I will likely be able to get on the internet if I so choose, but if not then I will be back in Bawjiase on March 9th or 10th.

So, if you don't hear from me until then, please continue to enjoy the snow the best you can/whatever weather you are having, and I will enjoy the next two weeks the best I can.

(I really do love my parents copious amounts and am beyond excited to spend this time with them, but alas, traveling with the parentals at the age of 23 is always a little frightening to anyone)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

"We know we're coming, but they don't."

-Vladimir Visek, referring to the fact that nearly every person we walk by calls out to us despite the fact that we walk back and forth to town multiple times per day.

Anyway, seeing as I cannot think of anything to write about/don't feel like writing about any of the things I can think of/haven't written about this in a long time, I thought I would update a bit on where we are regarding fundraising and what we still have left to accomplish. The new building is coming along and they finally started building the roof this week! We've been waiting a long time to finally see this happen, and the volunteers and the kids were equally excited to see this next step to the building. The money we are using comes directly from Mama Hope, so if you are interested in helping complete the building, definitely check it out!

The new building is obviously an important part of what we are doing right now, but even more crucial is making sure we can cover the daily expenses it costs to take care of 25 children and their caretakers. The salaries of our wonderful staff alone cost us 500 Cedi a month (340 USD) and providing food costs, at minimum, 1500 Cedi (1015 USD). Combined with electric bills, school supplies and other basic necessities, the monthly budget of United Hearts is 2500 Cedi (1690 USD). We have a balanced menu that we aim to make for the children every week, but we often struggle to provide them with the necessary components of it, as the protein and fruits that it contains add a significant amount to the already costly task of feeding so many people.

I truly understand how difficult it can be to really see how even the smallest donation makes a difference, and I can honestly say it took me actually being here to realize how even $25 helps. I can only hope that the posts I have made make the result of donating at least a little more tangible, and that this would help you in making the decision to give even just a few dollars. Donations can be made through our (new!) website and go directly to covering the monthly costs of United Hearts.

These links are also always on the right side of my blog, so if you ever feel inspired to skip a few meals out or forgo your Starbucks visit (which, admittedly, sounds absolutely impossible to me right now), you can always find the websites right there.

I hope everyone on the East Coast is enjoying what I have heard is basically spring-like weather!

Click here for donations to United Hearts!

Click here for donations to help construct the new building!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Things That Make Me Happy

  • Sitting down to breakfast every morning and watching as Vlad opens the sugar, smells the fermenting odor, and then puts a spoonful in his tea.
  • Seeing small children with stuffed animals and dolls wrapped on their backs.
  • Having sister Akua tell me waye ade (pronounced why-a-deeay, meaning well done) when she is drying the children after I have bathed them. Meeting her standards of cleanliness used to be near impossible for me.
  • Taking a tro-tro and having it stop less than five times and not breakdown before getting to my destination.
  • The days when Agogo wears his Agogo jersey.
  • Knowing that the large covered bowl in front of me is ground nut (basically peanuts) soup with a rice ball and chicken.
  • Being able to respond in Twi when someone asks me what I am doing.
  • Walking more than one minute before someone calls me oburoni.
  • Buying a cold water.
  • Sitting in the house talking about anything and everything with the other volunteers.
  • Getting chicken and not egg with lunch and dinner.
  • When all seven of the small children (Kwashie, Kofi, Ernestina, Kevin, Joe, Agogo, and Kweku) are in good moods at the same time.
  • Every time the power goes back on.
  • Drinking a cold Coke on a hot day.
  • Realizing I have worn in a piece of fabric so that it is finally soft.
  • Hearing the children at the school by our house cheer, Monday - Friday, when the bell rings signaling the end of the day.
  • Buying spicy plantains from Theresa or rice and stew from Zinabu.
  • Having a child draw a picture of me.
  • Picking up a new dress from Ismailah or Vivian.
  • Anytime a kid laughs uncontrollably.
  • Being called obibini after the older girls braid my hair.
  • Getting a smiling picture of a child who doesn't often smile.
  • Telling men who want to take me out that I prefer going to the beach and actually having them agree to it.
  • Any moment when I am not craving a food I can't get in Bawjiase.
  • Rain.
  • Regular bowel movements.
  • Eating pancakes (Ghana style) instead of egg sandwiches for breakfast.
  • Days in which being called out to and yelled at doesn't irritate me.
  • The rare moments when I am wearing a clean shirt.
  • Every time I stop and realize where I am and what I am doing.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


And rained and rained. I frantically put buckets outside to catch the rain, but it takes at least 10 minutes for the water dripping off the roof to be clean of sand and dust. However, I am unfortunately not able to predict the weather, so I filled up our water bin by the bathroom with relatively dirty water, thinking we can at least use it to flush the toilet. But the rain kept coming, so I proceeded to reverse the process and took a bucket to empty the giant container, just in time for Lauren and Fifi to come home and wonder what I was doing. We ended up not catching a ton of rain water for that bucket, but a few trips to our now full well fixed the situation.

Anyway, here are a few pictures of the past week.

This is the prayer circle they held in our house.

We had a fun day with paper masks and hats!

Cynthia scaring/playing with the little kids

Cynthia and Mary

We went to the site yesterday and the kids were mesmerized by the water that had filled up what will soon be the new building's septic tank. I used this photo as an excuse to climb on top of the concrete walls.

Ernestina and Irene pretending to cook

John having fun coloring and ignoring me when I told him to get off the table

Akua looking at the view from what will soon be her new bedroom!

Lauren and I hanging out on the steps of the current building.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

So, they do speak English here.

I can only say THANK YOU (Mberg 2010 this is totally for you :D ) to the responses to my shameless plea for comments. I do need to remind myself that people are reading, even if I get to thinking it's just my mother and Lauren who are actually checking up on this. I seriously appreciate just knowing that people care when I update, especially on the days that I feel totally self-absorbed for thinking people want to read about my time in Ghana. So, here are today's thoughts.

As a follow up to my previous post about a possible Language Barrier in Bawjiase, I thought I would share with you some of my personal favorite English phrases used here. I will includ a description, as best I can, to define how we use them at home compared to their meaning here.

I'm coming.
Bawjiase translation: I will be back, one second, hold on, I'll do what you are asking me to do in a moment.
Not totally different from the usual use at home, meaning that I will be there. However, "I'm coming" is used when people are with you and need to go do something, telling you they will return. The children also frequently tell me they are coming when I ask them to clean up and instead of putting the crayons away, they continue coloring and tell me, "I'm coming, I'm coming."

It's for you/me.
Bawjiase translation: It's for you/me, it is yours/mine, it belongs to you/me.
I actually find this one to be particularly confusing, because it's hard to figure out if someone is giving me something or telling me that it belongs to me. Yesterday I had an extensive conversation with one of the children in which the only words exchanged were (I am in italics), "It's for me?" "It's for me." "I take it to the volunteer house?" "Yes." "It's for me." "No, it's for me." This interaction was repeated at least three times until I left her with the picture.

Bawjiase translation: A lot, more than, very, sooo.
I still get taken aback by this one sometimes because I am so used to it meaning too much, as in more than something should be. Cynthia, one of the children with the darkest skin, is said to be too dark, but it is not used to mean she "shouldn't" be so dark, but simply that she is the darkest. I can tell people that they are too beautiful or that it is too hot or that the food is too good.

And now, my personal favorite.
Are you sure?
Bawjiase translation: Really?, No way!
At home this isn't the most polite thing to say. People use it to express doubt and to question what someone says. Here, however, it's just an exclamation and an acknowledgment of what people are saying. When I tell people I don't like fish, the most frequent response is "are you sure?" It's not because they think I don't actually know if I like fish, but simply that they are surprised. However, the reason I like this so much is because it gives me the opportunity to express doubt without being rude. When people tell me something that I'm really not sure is true, I get to say "are you sure?" without being offensive in the least. Of course, I've also taken a liking to using this phrase as they use it and now find myself saying it far more than I should be.

Again, thanks for the responses to my last post. Hopefully I will make it to Kasoa where I can upload some more pictures! And if you are in the parts of the world that are being dumped on with snow, stay warm and try to keep enjoying it for me!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Lack of Title

I went to a funeral on Saturday. And by went I mean that I showed up for about an hour, all of which was a sermon, in Twi, which Iddris kindly translated for me when he felt like it and when I listened. It was actually a very sad occasion, honoring a 29 year-old man Iddris went to high school with who was shot and killed at the beginning of January and only buried now due to the police investigation, which is still not finished. There were many times when the hundreds of people gathered began cheering, which obviously confused me. In the words of Iddris, "they yell when they like what he is saying." So what was the pastor saying that caused such passionate cheers and amen's?

He was cursing the man who killed Joshua, the man's family, and anyone who had information and was not coming forward with it. I have a lot of mixed feelings regarding this, as I understand the anger felt by the huge number of friends and family gathered in remembrance of Joshua, yet I couldn't help but think about how this would be different if I was home. Luckily, I have never personally known anyone to die in such a tragic way, but I imagine a funeral service to be focused on the positives about the person and their life and not filled with hateful wishes regarding the people responsible for the death.

I also found the passionate yells of the crowd particularly interesting because of the way people are encouraged not to show emotions here. Iddris told me that Joshua's wife and child were not in attendance because they would cry "too much" if they were there. Given, the pain they must feel is unimaginable, but I have never heard such a thing before coming here. The night before the funeral Iddris worked hard to keep the conversation about me because he was worried he might start crying and would never stop.

On a much lighter note, I learned that "Africa Teeth" are different than "America Teeth" when Iddris' friend began eating the bone from the goat soup he bought me. And I mean eating the entire thing. I ate some of the meat off of it thinking that was enough, and when I made a feeble attempt to break the bone, he grabbed it from my hands and proceeded to just... eat it. I sat there in horror, imagining how much it would hurt my teeth and how disappointed my dentist would be, while the men laughed at me.

On an even lighter note, I went down to see the kids yesterday and found some of them sitting around hot coals, burning the ends of sticks. I asked them, in Twi, what they were doing, and assumed they responded in Twi since I didn't understand what they said. I asked again in English and got the same response, and after each individual child said it to me at least five times, I realized they were saying "China fork." First of all, the way they pronounce "fork" is horribly similar to the four letter word also beginning with F, which caused me to respond with "WHAT did you say?!" Again I received the same response: China "fock."

Have you figured it out yet?

They were making chopsticks. I then proceeded to gather as many small, relatively straight sticks as I could find, and engaged the children in a chopstick lesson.

Finally, and I hate to be doing this, but I would lovelovelove if you are reading this for you to leave a comment, anonymous if you so desire, and saying anything at all, ranging from "hello," "oh hai," "you are the coolest person ever," etc. A lot of times I really don't feel like blogging, and although my mother gets out of bed everyday just to be able to read this, I talk to her a few times a week anyway and she would survive perfectly fine without this. So basically, if you are reading and want to keep reading, just give an anonymous (or not anonymous) shout out, because I need some motivation to keep up with my increasingly boring posts.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

What I missed during my teenage years

They come in by two's and three's until there are at least 10 of them. I am on the porch writing in my journal about whatever I write in my journal about, barely noticed by each person who comes in, seeing as their chanting is distracting them from most of their surroundings other than our front door.

They're praying.

Or, at least that's what I think you call it. They are walking around, chanting, singing, silent, following Pastor's lead. I hear Lauren ask if she should be in the room, and they must tell her it doesn't matter because by the time I enter to collect my belongings to go to town, she is in her room, door shut. I knock on her door to ask if she thinks I can walk through our main room, where the praying is taking place, and out the front door. After a moment's thought, we both decide I better go out the side door, and Lauren locks it behind me. I successfully put my shoes on without anyone seeing and step off the porch just in time to bump into Pastor Elisha rounding the corner.

I never was cool enough/bad enough to need/want/try to sneak out of my parents' house, and now at 23 I know what it feels like, at least to get caught.

Becca, where are you going?
Uhhh. I'm going to town?
Oh. Okay.
Is that okay? Should I not go to town?
No, it's okay.
I can stay if you want.
If you can stay, then you should stay until prayer is over.

Pastor, my bag, and I walk back in the house, through the front door, and I proceed to Lauren's room.

I was caught. Pastor was outside.
What was he doing outside?
I don't know.

I return to my room and wait until I hear "Vlad! Lauren! Becca! Prayer is finished." We each emerge from our rooms, "God Bless You's" are exchanged, and I follow the group out, assuring Pastor that I won't stay out late.

Apparently the group will be returning tonight and tomorrow, and seeing as it is currently 5:30 and I still have not fled town, I will once again be in my room listening to whatever it is that is going on.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Was there a language barrier?

This, hands down, was the most frequently asked question when I returned from my first stay in Ghana. Yeah, people wanted to know what I did and what it was like and how I ended up there, but more than that they just really, really wanted to know if we spoke the same language. Such a simple question, but like everything else I was asked, I really wasn't sure of the answer.

"Ehh, not really," was often my response. They speak a little English, I speak a little of their language. The problem with speaking a little of their "language" is that no one seems to know what language that is. Twi is (I think) the national language after English, but I am under the impression that people wouldn't understand if I were to speak Twi in other regions of Ghana. Fante is the designated local language, spoken in the central region (I think). And no, these are not all speculations about where languages are spoken because I just don't know. They are speculations because no one seems to know.

I know how to say a fair amount in the language of Not English, but every time I ask someone if it's Twi or Fante I get one of two answers. "I don't know" or "It is both." Although the people of Bawjiase have no problem communicating with each other in whatever language they are speaking and often struggle speaking to us with their minimal amounts of English and our minimal amounts of Not English, there seems to be something wrong with calling it a Language Barrier. And the only explanation I can think of for why it cannot be named this is because of confusion.

We often joke about how the people of Bawjiase are just very confused, and although I'm sure it seems this way because of the limited verbal communication we have, I think it can also be credited to the fact that no one ever seems to really know what is going on regardless of what language is being spoken. When I ask people questions in Not English, I get different answers depending on the person, place, and/or time, and when I wear certain clothes or do certain things, I evoke different reactions, with women on one side of market commenting on my tank tops and the way my fabric is wrapped, and women on the other side of market complimenting me on my outfit. People say they will do one thing and do the opposite, and when you arrange to meet someone in town at 3 PM on Monday it only makes sense that they will stop by your house to meet at 9 AM on Thursday.

Interestingly enough, the children at United Hearts :D seem to be the only people who do not have conversations based on confusion with us. They don't necessarily speak a lot of English, but they certainly understand a lot, and when we tell them to do things they either A) do it or B) choose not to do it and smirk at us instead, blatantly doing the opposite to bother/spite/make fun of us. When the kids are fighting and we ask what is happening, they explain it to us, and surprisingly the story is always the same no matter which child you ask. I don't know if the lack of confusion is due to the fact that the children have spent much more of their life around people not from Bawjiase than the rest of the obibinis we meet, or that we speak the language of children better than Not English, but spending time around the children can somehow be relieving. However, it is also more frustrating, because understanding means that we can't just shrug things off and chalk it up to being confused, and instead have to actually acknowledge whatever situation is going on.

Alas, the point of this boring post is... well, I'm not sure. It's only fitting that you probably found it confusing, and to the people who are going to need to communicate with me when I return home, I apologize for the incomprehensible conversations that we will likely have.

Also, send the snow clouds this way, as it still hasn't rained and we are quickly running out of water.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Dress

Oburoni, where are you going?
I am going to church.
Becca, you did not go to church today?
I am going now.

Yesterday we got to church at 11:10, which I didn't think was so bad for a 9 o'clock start. I had to go to church yesterday. It was not because I haven't been in around three weeks. It's not because I sinned or promised Lauren/the kids/Pastor/God that I would go.

It's because I needed a reason to wear my new dress.

I had it made last week out of a purple fabric with large purple flowers and gold swirls. However, I cannot wear it Monday through Friday between the hours of 8 AM and 5 PM because Vivian might see. Vivian is my tailor from my previous stay who works right in town across from the internet cafe. I don't see her often, but when I do it is wonderful. She gives me a big hug, we chat, she asks where I have been and where I am going (although all people in Bawjiase ask this). Last time I saw her, however, after catching up for 15 minutes, she threw out the comment I've been waiting for. "You haven't come to me for anything!"

Vivian is notorious for taking her time when you bring her some fabric. She tells you when it will be ready and every time you stop by, it isn't. Given, I have three more months here so I'm not too concerned with this, and the dresses she made me are well done. When I got here this time, however, the volunteers went mostly to the man who made the two garments I have had made in the past six weeks. He is fast and his work is superb. For now I will continue to avoid Vivian when I am wearing the dress she did not make.

And now some pictures from the past few weeks!

Grace and Sister Mary


The small kids in school!

Kwashie and Kofi

Joe, Kwashie, Kofi

Kwashie, Agogo, Kofi

This is what sunsets have looked like the past few weeks because of all the Saharan sand in the air.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Water, water.

Bawjiase is out of water. People are lined up at our well, which is currently covered with a cloth, waiting for yesterday's four minute rain to seep into the ground and into the dried up well. I just passed Agnus who was washing her clothes in dirty, bottom of the well water, a stack of bowls and buckets next to her ready for any water that magically shows up. Despite drinking pure water and failing to wash our dishes to a socially acceptable level of cleanliness (thus needing very little water), we go through buckets of the stuff everyday flushing our toilet.

The act of using our bathroom is surprisingly pleasant, due to both the real, indoor toilet and the calming pink tiles lining the wall. The frog that lives in the hole in the wall and the spider that apparently never dies take away from the experience, but overall the environment is a comfortable one. The problem is when business is finished and we need to flush all the little surprises, using as much as a full bucket of water each trip to the bathroom.

Our water storage container by the bathroom is full, thanks to the children who brought us water from an undisclosed source after the orphanage staff found out we had none. However, we have decided that flushing the toilet takes precedence over bathing, and so I am really very dirty. The well at the orphanage is in better shape than ours, so bathing, if I choose to do so, will be taking place there.

The lack of rain is only made worse by the fact that those pesky Harmattan Winds seem to be dying down and Bawjiase has been once again graced with blue sky, fluffy white clouds, and scorching heat. Luckily, we have found many hidden benefits of there being no rain, mainly that we now have an excuse not to clean the dishes and not to bathe. An actual benefit, however, is that dry weather is perfect for digging wells, and the well at the site of the new building is in the process of being dug. The drier it is, the longer it takes to hit water, meaning the deeper the well will be in the end. However, this process requires paying workers, and although we have received so many generous donations, we still need more to finish the project. If you haven't yet donated and feel up to the challenge of using your weekly Starbucks money to help dig a well, check out the links to the right of this post!

I will hopefully make it out to Kasoa on Monday, where it is safe to plug my camera in so I can upload some pictures and make another post. Like usual, I "haven't had the time" to formulate a post, really meaning that I am starting to lose perspective on how unique this experience really is and feeling as though anything I have to say is just boring. However, with a few lovely words from my mother, who may be one of a handful of people who are actually reading this, I have some ideas brewing in my head. So stay tuned.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


I don't remember the last time that I was so self conscious here in Ghana, yet I'm also not sure when the last time I experienced something so entertaining and unique was. This morning I set my alarm for 5:30 AM, which is a time I have only ever woken at (to the best of my knowledge) to get to an airport. I got out of bed at this hour when no one, and I mean no one, should be awake on a Sunday morning, to go for a run.

I don't run. I don't run for exercise, I don't run for fun, and I am not even sure if I would run if someone was chasing me. Given, "running" isn't the most appropriate word to describe what I did this morning, but it's the word most commonly used. I can't tell you too much about Awutuman Future Leaders Association seeing as I don't know much about it, but every Sunday morning they meet at 5:30 AM (which translates to 6:30) and proceed to go for a "run." The women go first, standing in three lines, wearing their white AFLA shirts, and the men follow in a crowd playing a variety of musical instruments. Running back and forth along the parade-like event are people with whistles; gym coaches telling the women to start jogging instead of walking. Surrounded by women of different shapes, sizes, and varying athletic abilities, I wasn't so much self-conscious about being told to run. However, more than anything, the run/jog throughout town is a 30 minute dance parade.

I can't dance. At all. The attention I was receiving because of my skin color was only heightened by the fact that Linda, the woman who owns P-Square (see glossary) was ordering me to dance. "Dance, oburoni, dance!" She grabbed my hips and tried to make them move before giving up with a scoff and a clucking noise. After around 15 minutes I began to warm up to the experience, and by the time we were approaching town I was in enough of a delusional sleep-deprived state to find myself dancing and jogging, yelling at Linda, "Obibini, dance! Run, ntemtem, ntemtem! (run fast!) I attracted a lot of attention, pointing fingers, and laughs, but the beauty of living here is that I attract a lot of attention, pointing fingers, and laughs no matter what I am doing, thus making it virtually impossible to make a fool of myself.

By the time we made it back to the center of town I was sufficiently sweaty and highly energized. There we met up with AYUDA (which, consequently, means "help" in Spanish but is really just the acronym for another organization in town) and proceeded to stand around and be confused with them for half an hour. There was a van in the middle of the crowd which a woman exited, apparently some famous actress, who was there to help clean the town, which was what we did during our running breaks. I don't know if this is a normal occurrence at AFLA or just an every so often event, but when I find the strength to again get up at 5:30 on a Sunday (hopefully by March) I will be sure to post. After awhile Vlad and I got some water and quickly realized we were ready to go back to sleep.

Unfortunately, my decision to attend AFLA meant that I had to forgo church due to extreme exhaustion, so I don't have any new experiences to report on.

Other than going to AFLA, things are still the same here. The children are as crazy as usual, the weather is becoming increasingly warmer and the sun and blue sky are still covered by the Sahara Desert.

Friday, January 21, 2011

How? Fine.

Seeing as things have been relatively uneventful here, I am going to use this post as a way to give you a taste of my daily interactions with the people of Bawjiase.

Firstly, I am not from a small town. I am from a place that is technically not a city, but close enough, where people say hi to me because they know me, either by name or by sight. Generally, these interactions involve a small a smile, a wave, a simple "hello," or a good morning/afternoon/evening. Here in Bawjiase, however, it is rare to have an interaction that is so simple. For a reason which I have yet to figure out, it is crucial for the people of Bawjiase to call to me using some sort of name before/instead of actually speaking to me. These names include:
  • Becca
  • Becky
  • Rebecca
  • Ama (my Ghanaian name, given to all females born on a Saturday)
  • Oburoni (White person)
  • Obolo (nicely translated to mean big, aka you are fat and it is something we like and not an insult. Always difficult to explain to a new volunteer)
  • White woman
  • White man
  • White
About 30% of the time I choose to ignore people when they call to me, mainly if they are not using one of the first three names on my list. This is not actually rude, and trust me when I say you would do it, too. Being white in Bawjiase is like being Lindsay Lohan anywhere else. Nearly every person I pass calls out to me, and it is not only exhausting but literally impossible to acknowledge every single one of them. The other 70% of the time people call to me I respond. The following are possible interactions that will occur (the words in italics indicate I am speaking. Also, I am using only English to write the interactions, but many happen in Twi, as well):
  • How are you? I'm fine, how are you? I'm also fine.
  • Good morning/good afternoon/good evening. Morning/afternoon/evening.
  • Where are you going? I am going to town/market/Kasoa. You are going to town/market/Kasoa? Yes.
  • Oburoni! Obibini!
  • Give me 50 pesewas/5 cedi/water. No. You give me 50 pesewas/5 cedi/water.
  • How? Fine.
  • Oburoni, where are you? (commonly said by small children who are confused between where are you going and how are you)
  • I want to take you as friend. Okay.
  • Where is your brother/sister? (Lauren or Vlad)
  • I love you/I want to marriage you. Oh.
  • Oburoni, how is your life? My life is fine.
  • Lastly, though not verbal, my arm is frequently touched/grabbed/squeezed by children, women, and men. I don't believe this is a social norm here as much as it is simply due to the fact that my arms are white.
And that is a little taste of my normal interactions here in Bawjiase.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Sahara Desert

Nothing very exciting to report. The weather hasn't been the best (in terms of clear skies) due to the Harmattan winds. The only reason I learned this term is because one of our Ghana guide books felt it important to tell me that weather isn't great in Ghana from December to February. Winds blow sand from the Sahara into West Africa, and from my extensive research on Wikipedia, I have learned that the fog, low visibility, and lack of sun is known as the Harmattan haze.

Despite the lack of sun and general ability to see, Vlad and I decided to spend a few days at Butre beach in the Western Region of the country. We pretty much sat in the same chairs for two days watching waves, eating, reading, and swimming. Yesterday's trip home turned out to go quite smoothly despite thinking we would have to leave Butre by walking one hour to Busua with our backpacks after the man in the "tourist office" told us there was no tro tro to Agona on Sunday. Luckily, he told us he could find a driver in town, and we ended up paying the man to drive us in the town's tro tro to Agona on his day off. After that, things went pretty smoothly, except for when Vlad broke the window on one of the tro tros (no one noticed) and then found out, 30 minutes after ordering, that the restaurant we stopped at didn't have the meal he wanted.

Like usual, the kids are good. I keep forgetting to write about this, but we are changing the name of the orphanage to meet social welfare standards, and about a week ago chose to name it United Hearts Children Center. Because of the stigma associated with the words "orphanage" and "home," social welfare does not allow these to be in a name. We also decided to no longer have a name which implied religious affiliation, because the orphanage itself is not a religiously based institution and we don't want to present ourselves as one. Currently, the challenge is figuring out how to refer to it without using the word "orphanage," which appears to be the biggest obstacle yet.

Lastly, we have started fundraising for our newest project! We are going to build a community school that will serve all children, regardless of ability to pay. Despite public school in Ghana costing a small amount, the costs add up quickly when you factor in uniforms, books, supplies, and food, and ends up being around 15 times more than the actual year's tuition. United Hearts Community School will be able to provide for the children whose families cannot afford to send them to public school, while also enrolling students from families who do have the money. Check it out: United Hearts Community School!

I hope everyone is staying warm!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Oburoni, take your time.

Lauren turned around and looked at the two young women. "Are we walking too fast?" I'm not even sure what they said in response, but that's irrelevant. What does matter is that I had the 45 minute tro-tro ride here to think about what taking your time actually means. Just like Lauren, I instinctively assumed the comment was driven by the fact that we were walking at a typical speed, apparently only fit for oburonis (actual plural is obrofo, but whatever). But the thing is, we are always moving faster than the majority of people in Bawjiase. In the past 45 minutes, I have come to these inconclusive conclusions regarding taking your time.

Taking my time means being okay with standing still and watching as the kids play some vampire like game that I don't understand, but enjoying being nothing more than a viewer. I asked a few questions, which aided me in figuring out that vampires were the theme of the game, but I am still not sure I get why they were also running around hitting each other with wooden spears/blocks/pieces. Either way, I allowed myself five minutes of semi-peaceful time to watch over 20 of the children play together with almost zero crying and for once enjoying the experience of having not one child hanging off of me.

Taking my time means sitting in the front row of church for two hours while Vlad and Lauren text each other behind me and the only words I understand are "praise the Lord," "Jesus," and "hallelujah." I prefer to call the two hours a time for personal reflection and not spacing out, but this may be a bit facetious of me. However, I did catch the bit of English letting me know that the topic of the sermon was about information, and I learned that information leads to transformation. I am still not exactly sure what that means.

I took my time when the children and I stopped for 10 minutes while walking to the site. A man was at the top of a coconut tree, and although I am horrible with estimating heights, it had to be at least three stories up. Using shear man power and absolutely no safety precautions he had scaled his way up the tree while toting a machete and proceeded to chop down coconuts. There was a small boy also helping him at the top of another tree, perhaps 20 feet up, and we watched as both chopped coconuts and proceeded to make their way down the trees. The ride home from the site in the back of Prince's truck (the architect) wasn't necessarily taking our time in terms of chronological time, but it certainly was different, and I feel thankful that only two of the children cried, the truck didn't tip over, and I made it out with no actual splinters.

Taking my time meant that I was able to read each and every report card of our school children, and learned that some performed excellently in nearly all subjects while a few failed some classes, and that some things are the same no matter where you are in the world. Jessica "talks a lot in class," and Promise is "quiet and respectful." Akua, however, is "very lazy," and she "needs to work harder." I am so proud.

Finally, taking my time means that I have decided to extend my trip by six weeks, and will now be arriving home on April 18th. I realized that I don't know if this experience will ever be possible again, and the one commitment I had for the beginning of March, despite being really exciting, did not win over time in Ghana. So I will be home a little later than expected, and will be working with the difficult feelings of mourning the complete loss of snowboarding season. For those in the Northeast, I hope that all that snow you got is treating you well, and that you are trying to enjoy it, at least for me.

Thinking of you all!

A few pictures from leaf rubbings, which was relatively successful.
Ezekiel, Kelvin, and Raheal

Kwashi, Akua, John, Ezekiel, and Barbara

Raheal and Ernestina

Saturday, January 8, 2011


Back at the internet already. I cannot believe I have now been here for three weeks. Time is going by so quickly, and although it feels so long ago that I found Vlad in the airport and awkwardly asked if I could hug him (he said sure, and our friendship has since progressed nicely), I am just not sure where the three weeks have gone. The children are doing great, and although some days seem to be more exhausting than others, the time I spend with them is wonderful. We only had one person get urinated on the day we went to the beach (sorry Lauren!) and Meshak only pooped all over himself once in the past few days. Two very big successes.

I showed the kids how to make crayon rubs of leaves yesterday when they seemed a bit bored of coloring, and I told them that next week I will bring plain paper and more leaves. I'm not sure what part of "next week" they didn't understand, but Akua informed me that I told them I was bringing the stuff this morning and that I had to return to the house to get it. Which I did not. I was then brought to the well where the children showed me the plastic bat that someone, probably Kwashi Tetteh, dropped in the well, and we spent the next 15 minutes trying to get it out. It didn't help that the water was really low, and the mission was completely unsuccessful, but maybe later.

I have started writing in my journal less and less, which is sad because as the days seem to become more repetitive it is the little things I need to remember (and post here!). With the excitement dying down, I am looking forward to writing about more general things, especially the work we are doing with Mama Hope.

A few pictures from the meal the church brought to the orphanage last week.

Kwashi and Irene

Kevin playing in what is soon to be his new home:

Barbara hiding behind me:

Grace and Amanda in the tro tro on the way to the beach:

At the beach! Vlad is on the left, Pastor is on the right:

Irene making a silly face:

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Ordinary Things

Sitting here in the internet cafe my blog seems so ridiculous. Surrounded by local men, writing about the things that are completely normal, ordinary, and certainly not exciting to them, I feel silly. Who am I to upload pictures and post about what is simply their daily life all over the internet? They know nothing different, and I can't even begin to imagine what they would think if they knew the things I was writing. They stare at me while I type at a speed only achieved by the number of papers I have written, and look at the less-than-exciting pictures I post of their town.

For this reason I am dedicating this post to the things that are interesting and different to me and completely meaningless to them.

Fire is the equivalent of a garbage can here. People have places outside their homes where they place their garbage and every few weeks they light it on fire. Last time I was here it took me quite some time to realize every fire I saw wasn't actually dangerous, and this time I have taken a real liking to starting the fires, particularly burning our used toilet paper that we cannot put down the toilet.

I have been washing dishes at the orphanage with 11 year-old Grace. It took a few days for her to approve my cleaning abilities, and it felt as though I was in some sort of competition where I would wash it, show it to her, and wait for her to say "it's good" or "it's not good." My skills have improved greatly, but I am still exhausted after washing 30 plastic bowls to her standards. I told her about dishwashers, and she was so appalled to think that we eat off dishes that a machine couldn't possibly have cleaned to her standards. Grace was hanging out in our house while I was doing dishes yesterday and stood there with her jaw dropped, in complete awe and disgust at the way I was cleaning. I explained to her that this is why the children do not eat at the volunteer house.

All water comes from wells. This means that when the barrels in our house are running low (about every other day) we walk to the well, draw water, and walk back with buckets on our heads. I generally enjoy this activity for two main reasons. The first is that it is a great arm workout, and the second is that I am bad at it. Carrying water is the only task I have discovered thus far that has a great benefit when you are bad at it: the more water I spill, the cooler I am. It's quite a refreshing activity. Although I haven't been carrying water my entire life and get harassed for carrying a bucket smaller than most of the children, I am already getting used to it.

This is a bad thing. It means that every time we need water, I dread the task just a little bit more. However, despite things feeling so repetitive here, everyday is so very unique, and it's the little things that happen that make each day worth it. A few days ago I dropped the bucket we have for fetching water in the well. Our bucket is very fitting for oburonis, as it is about as special as we are. It is cracked and has a very short string, hence why I dropped it. I feel as though this was my official induction into the water drawing population, although the obibinis at the well quickly took the bamboo stick used for retrieving the bucket out of my hand. Apparently I couldn't do that fast enough. Now when we go to the well (which is the busiest in the morning and before night, as it's coolest these times of day) we stand there and before we know it have our buckets filled with water while our fellow well-goers laugh at us.

Although the well is only a few minutes walk from our house, I always seem to pass so many interesting people, and the other day a young boy looked at me and announced, "Oburoni, you are carrying water." Yes, yes I am.

We took the children to the beach on Monday, which was the most fun I have had in a long, long time. I finally got to spend the entire day in the water without having to beg my parents to come and join me, and there were even times I needed to get out from being so tired. I really enjoyed watching the kids play in the waves and it was awesome to take them out further, although Joe cried while I was holding between every wave, and then laughed every time I dipped him in. Typical.

Lastly, I will hopefully post some pictures soon, but cannot right now because I am using the cafe in Bawjiase where the computers are full of frightening viruses that will cause my camera to self combust. The power hasn't been great the past few days and the cafe we use in Kasoa, about 45 minutes from here, was closed when we went yesterday.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Parties, Jesus, and Glowsticks

"Have you never been to a party before?"
For all the church services I "accidentally" missed this week, I have certainly had my fair share of religious experiences. A church came to the orphanage a few days ago to host what we were informed would be a party. Although the cultural differences between Bawjiase and America seem to be infinite, I really, really thought I knew what a party would be like here.

I was terribly wrong.

We sat down with all our children, as well as around 50 local children. Although only half of the talking was in Twi, I didn't listen to very much of the English, and therefore had little idea what was going on. However, I did learn these things:

- According to the church, our children are not orphans, as God will always be their father.
- Basic hygienic principles, according to their nurse, include washing your hands many times a day, especially before and after you eat and before you go to the toilet, and if you step on a nail you should go to an adult for help.
- The older girls at the orphanage are beautiful singers, particularly when they sing Feliz Navidad.

But in all seriousness, the generosity of the church was incredible. They brought food for all the children and adults, as well as massive bags of clothing to donate to the orphanage. They were absolutely wonderful, and Pastor, Vlad, Lauren, and I sat down with them while they discussed their interest in continuing a relationship with the orphanage.

"What would they do if they knew you were a Jew?"
Lauren and I went to church this morning. We arrived at 10:45, probably an hour/hour and a half after it began, and the service finished at 1. This time, I was not expecting a party, but I was about as surprised as I was a few days ago. It is the one the orphanage more frequently attends, and it is much smaller than the church I was at a few weeks ago. I can only describe the experience as some weird combination of my Bat Mitzvah, a dance party, and Rosh Hashanah. Lauren and I realized quite quickly that Mr. T (his name is pronounced Tiff-ah-liss and I would rather call him Mr. T than butcher the spelling of his name) was translating the service for us. The pastor would say something in Twi, Mr. T in English, and back and forth, even through one song. Lauren and I both became emotional at one point when he mentioned our names, as it was both embarrassing and powerful to be acknowledged at this small service. There was a lot of talk about the new year, and even though we ended up having most of the service translated into our language, I didn't necessarily listen the entire time. My apologies to Mr. T, whose thoughtfulness I really do appreciate.

Then Lauren and I were invited up to the front. To be honest, this was less frightening than being invited up to recite my Torah portion, although it did feel fairly similar. Mr. T informed us that we were supposed to join him in song, but much to my dismay, it was not a Jewish prayer, and I was completely lost. Lauren realized that she actually knew the song, so we are going to work on it for our duet next week.

"Look at us; bringing the Western world to Bawjiase one glow stick at a time."
Clearly I also made it through New Years with all my limbs. The children LOVED the fireworks and no one was injured, although some of the children started crying, which was fine because sometimes I still want to cry from the loud noises. I wish I was able to capture our 10 PM walk into town on video, as the sound of singing from the many churches surrounding us was truly one of the most amazing experiences of may life. Of course, we received a lot of attention making our way into town with beads and glow sticks. We arrived into town to find about 14 more people than we thought we would see there. We sat down in the front of Two Face where there are always children hanging out, and I could tell they were mesmerized by the glow sticks. I gave one to each of them, and as we lit up the sparklers I showed them how to wave them around. It was fun to share our version of New Years with some of the people in Bawjiase, although I did not hold back in asking every man who came into Two Face why he was not in church. We proceeded to yell happy new year about four or five times, as none of our phones/watches/clocks said the same time, and then we realized we didn't do a countdown, and then I realized I wanted to video the countdown and made everyone start over. It's amazing how arbitrary New Years really is.

I hope everyone had a happy and healthy new years and that 2011 will be the best year yet. Beginning it in Bawjiase seems to be a good sign.