Friday, 23 October 2009

Family life in Ghana

Written by Caitlin Stamford, GapBreak 2009 - Ghana
Maadwo (good afternoon),

I wanted to share a little bit about my Ghanaian family with you. Aunty Mary, who is 65, runs the household and the school. She used to be a teacher but got really ill, retired early and set up the school I am teaching at, which now has approximately 150 students although they never all turn up. She is very kind, and has had many volunteers stay in her house and teach at the school – we are the 8th or 9th volunteers to come here. She is a monster with the cane, but you wouldn’t pick it. She wears a wig and paints her lips purple (she has an illness which has turned her lips pale, so she dyes them).

Rita is in her early 20s and does most of the cooking and is studying to be a nurse. She is on holidays at the moment so she’s around all the time. I love her – she laughs all the time and secretly wants to be a ‘Rasta’ (Rastafarian, think Bob Marley music, dreads made with wool). She is always commenting on how ‘beautiful’ Julie and I are, even after we are covered in dirt and smelling like urine after an afternoon at the orphanage.

Paa Kwesi just turned 16, but could be 18. He is about to start Junior High School and spent his holidays teaching at the school here. He was school prefect and all his friends are much older than him. He is super smart and, like all Ghanaians, is really into football (soccer). The Youth Soccer World Cup is being held at the moment and everyone here is watching it. You know Ghana is playing when there are 20 people crowded around the televisions in town and whenever they score Julie and I can hear yells and screams from all around our village. If they win, people run around between the houses with shirts over their heads.

Mercy is 11, but seems a lot older. She does a lot of the cooking and cleaning (without complaint, Mahalia!) after she gets back from school. Doreen turned 10 on Monday and is always joking around and seems to rule the kids from the neighbourhood who are always hanging around our house.

I cannot explain to you how they are related. None of them are siblings, but all are connected to Aunty Mary in some way. And of course there are always other people around, some of who are related to the family (Paa Kwesi’s father and grandfather come here often and some kid showed up the other day who turned out to be Rita’s son) and others who are friends or teachers or neighbours and there are some tenants staying here as well and the school kids and neighbourhood kids are always around. You never get lonely in this house and I always lose track of who’s who but everyone seems to know my name which is nice.

The house itself is basically one corridor with rooms coming off it, with the exception of the toilet and shower which are around a corner. The doors are closed all the time, so it can be very dark and we can't see the stupid cats. The gas tops are on the floor in the kitchen and some of cooking is done outside, like stirring banku over coals or pounding fufu in a huge mortar and pestle or grinding tomatoes and chillies on a flat rock with a smooth stone. The water runs for most of the day, but usually does not turn on till late morning and stops at about 6 - 7. Sometimes it doesn’t work at all, but the family keep water in huge barrels and have a reservoir under the ground for rainwater. They drink the tap water, and so do the students at the school. The neighbours pay about 4 cents to fill a bucket. The electricity fails only very occasionally, and not for very long at all, but there are no lights in the shower (or toilet) so we try to shower before 6 and take a torch after that. We have a flushing toilet and a proper shower, when the water is working. Otherwise its the pit toilet and bucket showers. The water is always cold and there is no sink. They burn the rubbish behind the school and don’t use bins – they drop food scraps and empty containers and whatever on the ground where they are and sweep it up later with a broom made of twigs if the chickens or cats don’t eat it. When we wash clothes we fill a couple of buckets with water and hand-wash everything with Omo and blocks of soap. It takes forever and trying to hand-wash a super absorbent towel is a battle lost before it’s started. Ghanaians eat with their hands, which is fun but can be very messy.

I have a funny story. The kids at the school use the pit toilet and one day last week anyone who went in there came running out talking about noises coming from the pit underneath and they quickly all became too scared to go. Turns out the monster haunting the sewerage was one of our cats which had fallen in somehow and was mewing to get out. It made its way out later that day and the poor thing has since been dubbed ‘poocat’ for obvious reasons. It smelt as bad as you can imagine and it was white, but came out brown. Its okay now, but I still don’t want it anywhere near me. Even its mother was hissing at it if it got too close.

Teaching has been okay, but I am having serious problems with discipline. Aunty Mary has positioned the nurse next to my class with the cane at the ready because I refuse to use it, despite the nurse and another teacher taking me aside yesterday to tell me that I had to hit the kids because they are ‘so stubborn’ and ‘are fooling’ and ‘are scared of the cane’ so they will be quiet if I use it. I’m not making an argument about the efficacy of the cane, it is the fastest method I have ever seen to keep a class quiet. Really, its incredible. But also the fastest way to make them frightened and start crying and hate coming to school. I wrote a list of rules on some card and went through them with the kids today, using actions and rhythm so they remember. It was so excellent! Teaching win, for sure. My four golden rules are: 'Listen to the teacher' (this one is first intentionally) 'Keep your hands to yourself' (ie don't whack each other over the head or snatch things out of my hands) 'Ask before you leave the class' and 'Stay in your seat'. I'm hoping this will improve their behaviour, or at least quieten them down enough so they don't get caned by someone else.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Thailand Development Internship Scholarship

Congratulations Emily Price on gaining the Scholarship!

Emily has just finished Honours in Law and Anthropology at MacQuarie and has been busy gaining more experience in the field of Law and International Development whilst learning Thai in every spare hour! Desperate to return to Thailand and explore the country further in a professional capacity Emily will be an asset to the organisation in Northern Thailand and be able to make great head way in the project assigned to her.

Follow Emily's progress on her internship on our blog - be inspired to apply for next year's Internship Scholarships!

Friday, 9 October 2009

Wild adventures in Kenya

Written by Emily Witenden - GapBreak 2009, Ghana
For the last 10 days we've been at Tsavo, which is about a 4hour drive from our normal camp. At Tsavo we went on safari, helped with erosion caused by elephants in the sanctuary (trying to get water), helped with construction at a remote primary school within the sanctuary, had a small group of students from the school join us at our camp and join us on a second safari (saw lion cubs!!!!!!!), help make elephant dung paper and work together for peace day.

It was challenging having the kids in our camp; with all the cultural differences etc. even petty things like manners weren't really the same so it was tricky, but interesting and rewarding all the same :)
Peace day was aimed at human and wildlife relationships, as there is a lot of conflict with, for example, elephants destroying crops. So there was dancing and speeches, it was a positive occasion, moving in the right direction and I believe for the kids that joined us at our camp, it was life changing (they were bewildered with the mirrors, taps, showers, pasta etc). We only had electricity from six till ten at night and a bit in the morning...that was interesting.

When driving one day, this fairly big twister of red dirt (the earth it so red around there, plus they're in a massive drought) went straight through our windowless truck. One night we went to one of the tanks to watch the elephants drink; it was so awesome as they were wild, they were so close, and there were the cutest babies!! There are these wild cat looking things called jannets that kept getting into our room and stealing food! I woke one night to the sound of crunching under my bed lets just say that coupled with the roars of elephants all night let you know you were smack bang in the wild!!!

We got back to Muhaka today...though Tsavo was an awesome experience; everyone was so excited to get back to camp! It’s like home almost...we've also got new people in our camp, which is pretty cool.
Though I’ve been away for 10 days, I’m off again for another 10 tomorrow! 5 of us are going to Zanzibar, an island off Tanzania :) very exciting!

Every day is a new adventure in Ghana

Written by Seren Ovington - GapBreak 2009, Ghana
I’ve just had a cracking start to my third week in Ghana, even though it feels as though I have been here forever! Eva and I had our first day of teaching today. Up until now I have been surprised how easy my life in Ghana has been. Why had I thought life in Africa would be tough???

Standing in front of a class of 40 six year olds quickly made me realise that I had my work cut out from me. It is incredible how quickly they can change from being adorably cute to insane little devils who chase one another round the classroom, smack each other, scream and pretend not to understand even the most basic English - sit down and be quiet for example! I’m hoping that we'll be able to establish some authority (I now have so much respect for all teachers) and as we were kind of flung in front of the class today with no notice, when we have lesson plans we will at least feel like we have more control!

To rewind a little bit ... Our first week was spent in Accra. We went through an orientation, which included a brief but fascinating introduction to Ghanaian history and culture, drumming and dancing lessons, as well as a couple of vital sessions with the lovely Tina (our in country agent) discussing all the issues we are likely to come across. We went to some markets - they were so chaotic, vibrant, smelly, and hectic, just such a whirlwind I think I quite possibly forgot to breathe (which I guess at time was lucky when we walked past piles of smoked fish, pigs trotters, slabs of fat ... even giant snails!) All the market sellers were so friendly, shouting out Akwaaba (welcome) I just couldn’t wipe the smile of my face so walked round like an idiot with the hugest grin! One very hot day we went to La Pleasure beach. It was very cool, people randomly drumming and singing, a horse, some people even pulled out boxing gloves and had the most violent and aggressive yet good humoured boxing match! Anyway, I decided to dive into Ghanaian cuisine and ordered banku (fermented maize and casava bashed until I forms a goo). I think I was a little ambitious, it was quite disgusting, so bitter and I can’t say much for the goo texture. Apart from the banku however, I have really enjoyed the food here, in fact a bit too much! Especially since the portion size here is ridiculously large! That first week also gave us time to get know each other, which was really nice. Everyone is great and we all get along very well!

The week in Accra was all very surreal as I desperately tried to absorb all the new experiences we were bombarded with. And just as I was starting to get into to the groove of Accra we were sent off to our village homes. My home in Gomoa Ekwamkrom is very swish, by Ghanaian standards. We have electricity and running water (most of the time) a toilet, proper shower (even though I'm quite partial to bucket showers now), a fridge and Eva and my bedroom is very nice. Our host mother Grace is very enthusiastic! She is so loud and lovely and just always makes sure we are well. Oh and a fantastic cook! Also in our family there is Abigail (19) and Graces mother Rose.

We spent a week at the orphanage just out of Swedru, the town we are all based around. It was quite tough. Seeing all the kids so impoverished and desperate for human affection was very moving. Despite their shredded clothes, running noses and protruding bellies, they were the best natured, loveliest kids. Their smiles were so big and their eyes lit up with a hug or dance. We played with the kids, washed the dirtiest clothes I have ever seen, washed and swept floors and tried to help out as best as we could. I think though that because we were in such a big group it was hard for the orphanage workers to give us jobs that utilised everyone. I have been thinking about what I could do for them that would be most beneficial and we are going back every week to do what we can.

Life in Ghana in general is crazy. Everyone moves so slowly, sitting around and everything perpetually runs late but in spite of this lethargy there is an atmosphere of constant activity and chaos! It is so noisy here. Even at 4 in the morning, there are people yelling, roosters crowing, radios blasting and who knew sweeping could be so loud! I’m getting fantastic at tuning out noise! I’ve been surprised how quickly i've come to accept life in Ghana and see it as the normal. We drive past the most dilapidated mud shacks, naked kids playing in gutters filled with sewerage and I just take it all in. Some things still challenge me ... it seems to be the stupidest things. I still have trouble watching people eat with their hands! So silly! We still eat with cutlery and at times I’m wonder if it is ok if I pick up a bone to chew it or something, then I look at myself and laugh! Generally though I’m starting to feel at ease and at home here. Just as I convince myself that I fit in something will happen that makes me realise I won’t ever really blend in with the locals. Like this one time a little girl literally jumped in fright seeing us white people or when a taxi driver could not understand what I was saying but still proceeded to drive me around, asking other passengers if they had a clue what I said! In those moments I realise I’m actually living in Ghana.

Weekends are fabulous! The first weekend our host mum took us to a festival in her home town, so cultural and intriguing! We've also been to Cape Coast Castle where we learnt about the slave history, Kakum National park where we did a canopy walk and an eco friendly lodge called Green Turtle where we just relaxed, and explored the beautiful beach.

I didn’t really know what to expect coming here, but it is like nothing I could ever have imagined and I’m loving it! I am seeing so much and learning so much, every day is an adventure!

News from Kenya

Written by Emily Witenden - GapBreak 2009, Kenya
Our camp/compound is in a little village called Muhaka, about an hour out of Mombasa and a 20min truck ride from the beach. Our camp is lovely. There are bandas (thatched buildings) that we sleep in and there are 8 beds in each. We get fed really well.

Our main projects are a communal toilet and the completion of a couple of classrooms. The work is really hard, as for example there are no hoses, we carry buckets of water from the central pump and we hand make bricks and mixing cement really works the arm muscles!! But it really makes you appreciate things...obviously...

The work is very tiring but rewarding. There are always kids everywhere wanting to play. They really are beautiful. I actually got to hold a baby the other day, which was amazing. Many of the people here have very little and its difficult driving through some areas like the slums, but everyone is friendly, the kids are always smiling...that’s the main thing :)

There are monkeys everywhere around our camp. This past week was broken up with some primate and forestation work. We tracked/craweld through this very dense forest on Tuesday which was exhausting, to say the least. uuummmm...cold showers and constantly dirty feet are become normal...

Everyne in the group is really awesome...mainly girls...a few of the English people are only here for a month so it’ll be sad to see them leave, but exciting to meet the next lot...

The beach is really spectacular...the area along the beach is really touristy...and you constantly get bugged by people trying to sell you stuff...
I’m missing home like crazy...though that merely helps me to appreciated what and who I have there to miss.