Turning Points and Opening Up

Everyone experiences turning points in life where you start to feel settled in. Like going back to school after a long break, starting a new job, or traveling to a new place. Yesterday, day 10 of my trip, was a turning point for me. I was finally able to break out of the thin, but notably there, shell that I had made around myself. Yesterday and today were the first days I actually felt like a part of the community here, not just the young white girl looking into the lives of foreigners. If I think about it, it’s really not that surprising that it took a while to finally get settled.

The last time I was in Ghana I was surrounded by a group of 35 Americans-- students and mentors. I was one of the youngest on the trip. I had just turned 15. The group shared the same experiences-the first time this far from home living in a culture completely foreign to us. We had each other to rely upon and a staff of people working with us who knew how to deal with a group of teenagers who were either homesick, and for some of us, me included, actually sick. Now I am here alone, without anyone else my age. I am almost completely immersed in a culture that I still don’t understand. Yes, I am able to talk to the girls living here and talk to my family and friends at home, but it was starting to get a little bit lonely.

Ruth and baby Esther in the nursery next to my room

Ruth and baby Esther in the nursery next to my room

Yesterday Kofi was finishing up work and didn’t come to the office. I called Stephen and he was planning to come, but at the last minute canceled for lack of transportation. I spent the majority of my day in my room working on French, typing up notes from the weekend with MadamFo, and working on a few essays. Around 5 o’clock I was so tired of being cooped up all day I decided I would go for a run. I knew I couldn’t go alone so I set out to just run sprints up and down the hill in front of the compound. When I went outside Senyo, who is the director of the Vocational School here at VEG came over to me and we started talking. He noticed I was in running clothes and right away called over one of the girls living here (Ruth) to see if she or one of the others wanted to go running. I guess he didn’t think that running sprints up and down the sandy hill would do me any good. While he was waiting for one of the girls to come back he reminded me about how the journalist was coming tomorrow and that he would be staying late to clean everything and make sure it was all organized. I promised to help when I got back and that tomorrow I would make sure I set up a desk in the office.

Francis running along side us

Francis running along side us

Running buddies

Running buddies

Ruth didn’t want to go for a run (I don’t blame her), but Anita volunteered. Anita is always laughing and talking (I asked her today if she could quiet down a little at 6 a.m., and she laughed saying “I don’t know why, but I love to shout!”). She has a great sense of humor. She came back down in a brightly colored outfit and a pair of ballet flats! I said I had an extra pair of sneakers, but she said “no, no this is fine.” So off Anita and I went, down a road the locals refer to as “River Road” (not sure why, I didn’t see any rivers…) and we ran all the way to another local town. Yesterday I saw my first real African sunset. The sun was a huge ball of bright pink so big hanging low over the mountains off in the distance. All the children in the local village followed behind us tagging along. One boy named Francis asked if we were “training” and I said, “yes!” We said we’d come back tomorrow. Anita and I ran down the dirt road laughing hysterically to ourselves at the sight we must have been.

After returning from our run we came back and helped Senyo clean up the classroom. I love organizing. My OCD tendencies come out strong. I organized a huge pile of books into different categories. Akpene and I made the book area spotless! The classroom looked great by the time we had all finished.

For dinner I went out on the porch and sat with the other girls. At first it was just a girl named Rosemary, and myself. Finally she started to talk to me (after I asked a million and one questions) and she started telling me about her family and her boyfriend. Apparently she met him when she was in Form 4 in Senior High School and he was her teacher…. He is 35 and she’s 23. Apparently he is not a teacher anymore. This story reminded me of what Kofi had said to me earlier in the week that a lot of girls just expect to find an older man to marry so they wouldn’t have to worry about finishing school or getting a job. I wondered if that is what happened with Rosemary. After Rosemary (Rose for short) finished showing me a bunch of pictures and videos from home she asked to see pictures I had of my family! So I brought my computer outside and all the girls crowded around and I went through some pictures with them. They were fascinated by the idea of prom and why we got so dressed up? They asked for my dresses and for me to bring them to America.

R.O.C. stickers with Sokode Senior High School

R.O.C. stickers with Sokode Senior High School

Today I got up early and went down to help Julian, the other volunteer, set up his classroom. I cut up bottles and made signs to represent the different elements for his science class. Then I went into the office when the other staff members got there. They brought me over a desk so I could sit with everyone. Now I have a place in the office and I feel like a real member of the team. Kofi arrived and we made our lesson plan for Day One of Relationships at Sokode Senior High School. I cut out more R.O.C. stickers to give to the kids.

Ginanne Brownell, the freelance journalist, arrived around 10:30 and we all went to greet her. She wore bright pink lipstick and eye-shadow (the only reason this stood out to me is no one here ever wears makeup, so I thought: a girl after my own heart…). We all sat down together for introductions and talked about the plan for the day. She then went off to do interviews for the solar and technology school and most of us went back to the office to work. Julian and I were fortunate enough to be able to have Ginanne sit with us at lunch where she shared her stories of what it was like being an international journalist. She has a strong focus on education for women and girls and helping break barriers for them to access education. Based out of London, but originally from Flint, Michigan, she wrote for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal covering pieces on arts and culture. She was in Accra covering a piece for the Times in the arts, and then she had heard about the Solar and Technology School with VEG and decided to come check it out and write about it. She was writing the piece for NPR’s program called “Goats and Soda” a page of articles on development. Ginanne had just launched a website called She-Files.com (launched this Saturday to go along with the Women’s Marches) where women can submit articles about arts, education, development, and health. She was intriguing to talk with.

In the afternoon, Kofi and I went to Sokode high school to start our Relationship Unit. The students were hesitant at first to talk to me, but Kofi helped them open up. We were able to have some great conversations about what it meant to have a healthy relationship. We spoke about students dropping out of school because of relationships -- either getting pregnant, or starting to have to pay for the boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s school fees. Kofi reminded the group that “You can only help people with what you have.” We gathered questions to ask the R.O.C. students next week when we Skype. These questions were so much more serious than the questions we received from the group at MadamFo. I wonder why?

Writing down for the Know's and Want to Know's at the start of class

Writing down for the Know's and Want to Know's at the start of class

Kofi leading the class in a group discussion

Kofi leading the class in a group discussion

Goodnight Ghana

Goodnight Ghana

By the time we got back everyone in the office had gone home for the day. I asked Anita if she was up for another run and she said yes!!! I brought her a pair of socks and converse sneakers. We set off on the same route as yesterday stopping to say hi to the children we had met before. Francis ran with us again for a portion of the route. And we made it home just in time for the entire sky to light.

Natalie