I have not had a chance to blog because of the internet. I am actually trying to type this as fast as possible just in case it goes out again. I am unable to post photos for now until I have a better internet connection. Starting out in Ghana was much harder than I expected. I was frustrated with myself with feeling so homesick, though not having luggage for almost a week because the airport sent it to Memphis instead certainly didn’t help. Total nightmare. I’ve been wearing and sharing clothes that are so dirty, we basically roll around in dirt with the kids all day long. At the first hotel I tossed and turned most of the night with the thought in my head of “Oh my god I am so far away from my comfort zone, what am I doing??? I slept very little, but once I met the rest of the team I started to ease in. We woke up the next morning to drive to Cape Coast. As we pulled in we randomly met a girl who is photographed in a tour book we had. She is 19 and her name is Prudence. She stayed with us all day as we toured a slave castle. Her mother passed away and she dropped out of school, which was sad as now she just sells a certain kind of chips in the market each day until she has enough money to buy food and then she goes home. It’s tough to see someone so young and so sweet who without education will not get to experience too much else in life. They slave castle was very interesting. It set in how much the colonization of Africa was horrific and messed things up for their future to which they are still trying to come back from. The tour guide was so great and at the end even mentioned how slavery should never happen again and emphasized the current issue of trafficking in the world and that it needs to stop. The living conditions for the slaves in the castle were just unimaginable.
We started camp and I was very nervous. As we pulled up I got chills as the children ran and smiled and clapped and bowed for us. From studying Africa the last several years I was always concerned that the local people saw westerners as intruding and looked negatively upon them. However, the principal immediately welcomed us and offered us everything she could because she wanted us to know how much she appreciated us being there to help. Thus begun the start of my week which included hokey pokey, happy and you know it, puppet making, card making, story writing, water color, pastels, hang man, jump rope (my entire right side is now sore from swinging a jump rope for 3 hours straight), football, capture the flag, relays, and down by the meadow (which turned out to be their favorite as they had me write it on the board the last day so they could copy it and remember it for when I wasn’t around).
I struggled at first. I had a group of 25 kids ages 10-13, most of which who were boys. They were very rambunctious. As a volunteer I was in the mindset of helping them and making them feel good, but quickly learned that discipline was necessary. They would not listen, would not sit, be quiet, and were constantly pushing and hitting each other. As my frustration grew I suddenly realized why some of the teachers I had growing up who I thought were mean had gotten that way. As time went on I learned what worked and what didn’t to calm them down, even though we still had many moments of insanity. I learned quickly that it was okay to punish them because no matter how much trouble they got in, even the head trouble makers were hanging all over me to hug and hold my arm before every single meal, break, and end of the day.
They are all so talented. Their drawings so intricate, their stories long and detailed. They are extremely fast (I learned this after playing duck duck goose and being constantly picked and unable to outrun them). The week was fun. I had never been so dirty, and it involved peeing in a bathroom that was only a hole in the ground covered in bugs, but every morning I rolled out of bed at 5:30am excited to get to the school to see them.
Today was the last day and it was not easy. My kids made me cards that completely melted my heart. They also ran home to collect things to give me as gifts. I refused to take them, as it is hard for them to purchase anything with their money, but they didn’t care about not having much, they wanted so badly to give me something. They were so afraid I would forget them. I found that the toughest boys in class who gave the most trouble were the ones who cried when we said good-bye and begged me to come back. My heart broke as I held my breath and fought back tears as I told them I never would and they had taught me so much and given me memories which was better than anything. They asked for my phone number, which I did give but insisted they didn’t need to waste their money to call. I got in the van as over 150 children stood huddled outside waving us good bye, some sitting on the ground crying. I didn’t feel the connection or the emotion all week, I didn’t think I would cry, but at that point I found it impossible not to.
I also took the time the last day to explain my life. I told them about NYC, my apartment, boyfriend, and family, They asked my parents names and if they were still alive as many of their parents had passed away they said. I showed them photos of NYC from my camera. They immediately picked out the World Trade Center and told me that was the building that was hit by the plane. I explained the day to them and told them this was a new building, but was so glad that they knew so much. They asked me why Obama killed Suddam Hussein and Osama Bin Landen. They asked me if Obama helped to kill Gadafi. I explained that sometimes people cause harm to many people and it is wrong. However, I told them that I believed someone in return causing harm to that bad person is not the answer as it only is showing an example of what was wrong in the first place. (I was hoping they would pick up on this message and stop hitting each other, no such luck). Everyone in Ghana really likes Obama, the kids talk about seeing him all the time on televisions or in papers. They want to know where he lives and more about him. Their knowledge on these issues impressed me so much. They could never sit still or quietly..but when they began asking about these issues they were completely silent and filled with a million questions.
I tried to tell them how smart they were..how creative, talented, beautiful, special, funny. It was hard as one older boy wrote a card about how much he was happy to meet me and hoped that I did not think he was a monster. He is one I will never forget, and I hope he knows. They are just so happy. They have a simple life, are very poor, but just so happy and constantly writing “I love my life”. They also gave me soap as a gift because they are fascinated with skin color. They looked at my skin and asked “what do you use to wash?” When i told them soap they could not get over it because they used soap too and could not fathom how someone with black skin and white skin use the same thing to wash.
I have other details to fill in but for now I am beyond exhaustion and probably close to out of internet. We have a day off tomorrow and then a new camp to start on Saturday. Time is going by much faster now and my first week is almost over. I hope to post pictures when I can, but it may wait until I come back to the U.S.