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, 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.