Friday, June 15, 2012

Banku, Fufu, and FanIce--Oh My!

Wow! We've had another eventful week here in Ho--so eventful that the U.S. Embassy in Accra has issued a traveler's advisory for our area. There has been some Muslim riots in a neighboring village, and a few lives have been tragically taken. Fortunately, the violence has been isolated and we have not been affected by it. There has been some violence in Ho, though. Just down the street at the market, a police officer shot a man who attempted to rob a shop. The other shoppers turned against the officer because they thought he had shot the man for no reason. Due to this incident, the police have had a heavier presence here lately. The police depo is across the street from our house, so we feel pretty safe.

We have had quite a few things to adjust to since we have arrived. For instance, the city of Ho randomly turns off the electricity and/or water in an effort to conserve. (The first quesiton the children asked me when they had an opportunity to ask me about America was whether the cities randomly turn of the water every day. They were shocked to hear that it doesn't happen in America.) Many times I have returned from a long, hot run excited to take a shower, only to be disappointed by a lack of water. We have also learned how to cope without a toilet, as the students at McColin's School do not use one. Also--and this may be the most difficult thing we have had to adapt to--is a lack of a washing machine and dryer. We scrub our clothes by hand with a soapy bucket of water. Depending on how many dirty clothes I have, it takes about two hours. Molly and I have had a lot of dirty laundry due to running every day, sometimes twice a day. Maybe this why the Ghanaians laugh when we say we run simply for exercise. The concept is unheard of here. Also, because it is rainy season here, it rains almost every day... So sometimes our clean clothes take a LONG TIME to dry outside!

Along with handwashing our clothes, we have had so many new experience since coming to Ho. A few random examples: We have both had several marriage proposals from strangers. We often see goats, and chickens run alongside the road. We have had to sit on each other's laps in the taxis because the taxi drivers literally fill the car as full as possible with passengers to travel across town. We have tried fufu, banku, red red, and other traditional Ghanaian dishes because we have a local woman, Linda, come and cook for us every night. She teaches us about the dishes as well. The food here is spicier than I originally expected. Another first time experience for me is having a meal consisting of all carbs--rice with yams and a side of bread was a meal we had recently! There is no milk and not much animal meat here... Molly and I have started to eat quite a bit of FanIce for calcium, which is supposedly "vanilla ice cream" but it tastes so different--it is such a smooth, refreshing treat.

FanIce is especially refreshing after a long day of teaching and coaching the children. Here is a typical day for us: Begin running at 5:45 (this is considered late by many Ghanaians, who are up before dawn washing and sweeping), shower (when there is water), eat breakfast, and leave for school by 8:00 (school is about a mile from home), teach math, English, citizenship, religious and moral education, art, or computer skills to either third, forth, fifth, or sixth graders throughout the rest of the school day (which ends at 3:30), coach the children in basketball, football, or soccer during breaks, coach the children after school until 5:00, and then return home to eat, and get ready for another day. We are extremely exhausted and DIRTY at the end of every. The red African dirt coats our clothes and skin from head to toe! I have dirt stains on my feet and ankles that I can't wash off, no matter how hard I try.

Although Molly and I both started off teaching the younger children (kindergarten-1st grade), we have been teaching older children more lately (3rd-6th grade). This is our preference, as the younger children are not as well behaved, and we have trouble controlling them due to somewhat of a language barrier (our American accents) and also due to the fact that we refuse to beat the children. In the Ghana school system, beating is customary. Sometimes they use branches, and they aren't afraid to hit children on the head. It is painful for me to watch. The children expect it, though, and since neither Molly or I do it, we have trouble getting control of a classroom full of younger children because they don't respond to any punishment that does not involve a whip or stick. Anyway, we can pretty much teach whatever subject and class we want to teach, because the teachers and the students like us to come and teach their class at any time. During breaks, we usually help Michael, a teacher, with a script that he is writing for a Christian movie he plans to direct one day.

Our after school program is off to a great start! At first, it was utter chaos as we tried to organize which of the 270 kids would play each day. We have had several discussions with the school's sportsmaster, who believes that only the most talented kids should have the opportunity to play. We have worked out a 3 group rotation. There is a group of younger kids, a group of girls, and a group of boys. Each group has about 20 children in it. Each day, one of the groups stays after school to play. The sport we have been working on lately is basketball, or "handball," as they call it. We have been going through basic drills and games dealing with passing, shooting, and dribbling. We have not started playing any real basketball games yet, as we are in the process of getting the materials to set up two hoops. Eventually, there will be a boys team and a girls team that will play against each other and the other schools. The girls are especially dedicated and responsive to coaching because in the past they have not been given the opportunity to play, let alone to be coached. Also, they are not as interested in "football" (soccer) as the boys. Some of the boys have been trying very hard to learn basketball, and they are doing a great job. But many of the boys become too distracted by a game of football to learn anything during basketball practice. Anyway, of the boys and girls that are serious about basketball, I think we will be able to put together competitive teams. After basketball, we will move on to coaching soccer, football, sprinting, and distance running. Also, at the start and end of every practice, we lead the children in warm-ups and cool-downs. The children LOVE to run with us! We have also taught them stretching, agilities, and some exercises, which they also seem to enjoy because we see them practicing on their own during recess. In fact, many of the children practice ball-handling skills during recess, which is really fun to watch. The children really prize the sports equipment and jerseys (which they wear when it is their day to practice after school), and they seem to take pretty good care of everything.

Our cross country training is going well! Whoever told us that Ghana doesn't have hills was mistaken. I have never run so many hills in my life! They are gradual hills, but they are so tiring! We have started to incorporate some two-a-days and a medium-long run into our training, so I think this week we will run close to 55 miles. Later in the summer, we will run about 70 miles a week.We have also been doing some body weight exercises. I think the neighbors think we are crazy. Some of them gather on their porches to cheer us on. They're probably thinking, "Those crazy Yavus!!!" Anyway, sometimes we lift rocks (because the terrain is sooo rocky here!) and the neighbor children join in with us. We have some video that we will try to upload eventually of them doing synchronized squats with rocks. They are so cute! Some of them have even helped us with our laundry when they saw us struggling for hours to get it done.

Last weekend our volunteer group took a trip to Cape Coast, which is located in the Central region rather than the Volta region, where Ho is located. It took us about 6 hours in a tro-tro--(Ghana's form of mass public transportation, which is a normal sized school van that has 18-20 people crammed inside-)-to get to Cape Coast. It was much more tourist-y than Ho, and we actually saw some other Yavus--or as they call us in the Central region "Obronees." We got to tour Cape Coast Castle, which is a 400 year old slave castle that Britain used to hold slaves that would eventually travel on the Middle Passage. We got to walk down in the male and female dungeons. The conditions were horrible... We were literally walking on petrified feces and urine. Many of the captured West Africans died before they ever stepped onto a ship. After the fascinating but depressing tour, we went to the beach and went swimming. The tide was strong, so we didn't go very far out. We ate dinner on the rooftop of the student housing building. They actually served American food, so I was able to get a plateful of spaghetti with BEEF!!! and... A SALAD!!! Yes, a salad. It was the first salad I have seen since I came to Ghana. The next morning we went to Kakum National Park to do a canopy walk. We walked along the rickety bridges high up in the tree tops. It was such a beautiful experience!!!

I'm sorry about the length of this blog post... We would like to post more often so that the posts wouldn't have to be so long, but our Internet use here is very limited.

On the Canopy Walk!

At Cape Coast

The Castle


  1. Remember those dishes that you learn about! You'll have to make a Ghanian dinner when you come back!! Miss you two!

  2. So impressed with what you two are doing! Not surprised, but impressed. Thank you for the amazingly detailed narrative. And love the photographs -- including the only "Cornhuskers Girls State" sweatshirt in Africa.
    Best of luck!