Monthly Archives: June 2010

time flies

wow. the short time I have been here has flown by! i keep trying to soak as much in each day as possible so as not to miss anything…

On Sunday, myself and a fellow volunteer teacher were invited to church by the head teacher at school. We had no idea what we were in for… We were told he would get us at 8:30 and he didn’t come until 9 (this is typical in Africa) so we caught that tail end of the children’s service and then began the other service at 9:30 and were there for three hours and we left after Part I. Can you imagine being in church for six hours in one day? Craziness! The church was packed full of people and everytime the music began to play they poured into the aisles and danced with no inhibitions; I found myself gathering so much of their energy just by watching! The church service was a combine service both English and Twi and also French I think…so every time a scripture was read it was done in all three languages. Before beginning her sermon, the Reverend asked us to introduce ourselves. As soon as we mentioned we were from the U.S. they congregation erupted with “oooohhhhsss and ahhhs,” and “WE SCORED THE U.S. YESTERDAY! WE SCORED THE OBAMA BOYS!” People are still reminding us that we lost to Ghana…

School has been a little tiring these past few days just trying to figure out how we can make a difference… I spoke with the head teacher about beginning some sort of reading program which I think we will initiate tomorrow. A significant portion of the students have no idea how to read but yet they are still required to copy everything off the board; they have notebooks full of information but don’t know what any of it says–it’s a little disheartening. One of the teachers had been teaching for two weeks and thought the kids were picking up on things until she gave them a written assignment and realized that only two students of the 7-8 year old class knew how to read and the rest of the students were either copying or having those two students read the questions to them.

I tried explaining to the head teacher that no progress can happen until these kids know how to read and comprehend. You can try teaching them all you want, but all they are doing is memorizing the shapes and transferring them to their papers… Two volunteers don’t go to their sites on Fridays so I have roped them into coming to the  school to do some small group work with some of the students… We’ll see how it goes… There are about 9 students in Class 1 that can’t read, two in Class 3, and two in Class 5 that need significant help… I’m not sure about Class 2…

You can learn so much about Ghanaian culture just by sitting in a Junior High classroom and having a coversation with the students (ages 13-18). Today they asked me what would happen to a man in the U.S. if he raped a woman, I told them that the man would most likely go to jail for life and they were completely shocked… I can’t say that rape is culturally acceptable here, but the rules and opinions on it are much more lax. They also asked what would happen if a man slapped a woman and I tried explaining that he would be warned probably the first time and then after that he could continue to be punished more severely… They are full of questions; another question was, “Does the U.S. make condems?” And I told them yes… They then said, “Oh really? Because I heard the Chinese did and that they made them to fit their own penises and they’re too small for ours.” Wow. They asked if we had that problem and I told them we needed a new topic…

I am at the stage where I am giving tests to certain classes. Class 4 finished their citizenship book so I gave them a test on Monday and all I heard was, “Sir Sam this is too much.” I am sorry, but we have been talking about this for the past two weeks, no excuses. You would have thought I was asking them to recite the Declaration of Independence… The Junior High class has a test next Wednesday on two chapters from their book and I told them no multiple choice because they can just memorize facts and to expect about 20 questions and I got the same response… I’m not sure what they’re used to it…

Anyway, that’s all for now…I think I need a nap because today was soooo hot! and I just need to lay under a fan, fa’sho.

what a red, green, and yellow weekend

Friday evening myself and my fellow volunteers (8 of us total) embarked on a journey to Cape Coast, the capitol of Ghana’s Central Region. Thank to Accra’s traffic a 2.5 hour trip took 6.5 hours; eventually after a couple of hours in traffic our trotro was able to move faster than .5 km/h and we could catch a breeze that would carry the drops of sweat from the ends of our noses and onto the person sitting next to us. I consider myself lucky in getting put on this trotro because it was driven  by a guy and his three other brothers served as his mates (money guys). I was able to sit in the front seat between the driver and his brother George. Despite George’s constant quizzing of Ghanaian geography I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. In addition to geography, George tried to teach me some of the language he and he family spoke because they were from a different region. Halfway through our journey, George asked, “Would you mind to be my friend?” I replied, “well sure…” He then introduced himself and asked for my address because he has always wanted a foreign pen-pal and if that is all it takes to make someone’s day then so be it. In case he someday managed to make it to the United States I gave him my Dad and Stepmom’s address; they can take it from there.

We arrived in Cape Coast around 10:10 PM. Having called ahead at a hotel we thought every thing would be settled and ready to go. Finally, we arrive at the Mighty Victory Hotel to coarse looking man in a wife-beater who had no idea what we we’re talking about. The experience of getting a room only solidified our belief that Ghanaian’s make the rules up as they go… We ended up with two rooms–two guys sharing a double bed and then another room with 6 girls in two twin beds and a queen bed.

Having not eaten dinner we decided to go to Oasis,  a restaurant/nightclub/beach/bar. We all got something to eat and drink and then had to leave early because my stomach was causing me some severe pain. The doctor told me I would probably have diarrhea for about two weeks. Well…I have hardly pooped and am so backed up it hurts. I finally had diarhhea at 4 AM that morning and got to feeling much better–my body just needs to get used to this diet of carbs and chicken (more on that to come). I apologize if that was TMI.

In case you didn’t know, Cape Coast is home to the oldest European building in Africa south of the Sahara–Cape Coast Castle. Originally, the castle was erected by Queen Elizabeth I to house slaves bound for the Americas. Today, however, it is simply a tourist attraction. Close to Cape Coast is Kakum National Forest and Hans Cottage, a monkey sanctuary.

Kakum National Forest has a Canopy Walk that is open to the public. For a pretty high price (even with a student discount) we were able to do this and it was a lot of fun! Mainly, it was just cool being up that high and looking down at everything; not to mention I was able to quit worrying about coming across a green mamba, python, or viper on the path. The forest is home to forest elephants, panthers, all types of venemous snakes and antelopes.

That same day we went to the Hans Cottage Monkey Sanctuary. I assumed there would be monkeys just roaming around and climbing on us, maybe even stealing things from our pockets. All of the monkeys, however, were in cages except for one that was on a leash. The place wasn’t a complete dissapointment because we met to wonderful Dutch people who have lived there for 6 and half years working on this project; they were extremely energetic about what they do and we just a lot of fun to talk to, even if their exhibits were kind of lame.

Next came lunch at the Crocodile Hotel– a place with a variety of food options and crocodiles you can touch! No thanks… Kim enjoyed herself though…

For all of our travels around Cape Coast we hired a driver for 50 cedis. It was supposed to be $35 for the car and he was going to take all 6 of us in one car. At 7:30 the day of he decided he didn’t want to take us in just one car (probably so one of his buddies could make some money); once they both arrived we told him that we weren’t going to pay $40 per car when he originally said he could take us in one. He claimed the police would be out and would pull him over; I said, “Junior (his name), I’ve been here for a week and the only police I have seen have been a barricades.” And it isn’t a big deal here because the police can all be paid off. We finally agreed on 50 cedis for one car and he takes care of the bribes for the police. Case closed.

Cape Coast was nice, but I really enjoy the part we are in more. I feel like the poverty and pollution was three times as bad there. One thing is Pokuase (where we live) doesn’t have drainage or sewage like they do; they have visible trenches on either side of the road where EVERYTHING drains and every time we were walking down the street we saw naked children bathing in them and drinking. Also, there were people just sleeping on the streets there–you don’t see that as much in Pokuase.

The beach was nice and full of Rastas–you know Bob Marley? He was idolized in t-shirts, tapestries, necklaces and so on. Lots of guys played soccer on the beach too which was fun to watch; I choose not to play because they don’t have fouls or anything and I could end up with a broken ankle for the next two months. Other than the occassional black plastic bag floating in the water it was fine; I just pretended like it was seaweed. The shore line on either side of Oasis was severely polluted though with clothes, shoes, garbage and the like–eventually that will all just end up in the ocean. Also, the waves were huge; the depth of the ocean could change by 5 or 6 feet in one place. Some waves were pushing seven and nine feet, making the undertow really strong!

I went to bed last night at 9:30 to try and catch back up on sleep and I may do the same thing again tonight… Luckily, our journey home just lasted 2.5 hours like it was supposed to, but the driver was a maniac! He tried to pass 6 vehicles, one of which was a semi! Wowawoowah…

Anyway, this post has taken me about three hours because of pictures so I am calling it quits.

Hasta luego.

Stay Tuned…

Things to come:

  • Pictures, hopefully. (The internet is so slow that I’m not sure my patience can take it)
  • Food (Ghana’s food is one of a kind and VERY traditional)
  • Cape Coast (We are heading to Cape Coast this weekend for a Canopy Walk and beach relaxation)

If you have any questions about things, reply to this post and I will answer them in my next one!


if you are ever called a “kakalita,” you should be embarassed.

The other day I walked in to the 1-3 year old classroom and a little girl named Alexandra started balling and put her head down. I asked another kid why she was doing this and they said “She thinks you are kakalita!” Having only been on the continent for a week I had not yet learned what kakalita was so I asked… They couldn’t put the definition in to words but I was satisfied with their actions. They put both hands up like they were clawing at something and roared. I automatically went, “LION! Okay.”

Later I asked another girl, Lawrencia, what the word meant and she said, “You know the person that follow you and then you’re dead.” Wow. Oops.

My final attempt at deciphering the word left me in the same place. Isaac told me that a kakalita was someone or something with a face so horrible you just can’t look at it.

Thank God that girl was only 1 so that her opinion doesn’t mean too much…



Yesterday I decided to whip out some of the school supplies I was able to bring and declared the day Mechanical Pencil Monday. FAIL. Well, it wasn’t a complete fail; At least now I know to give gifts at the end of the day.

I began giving pencils out early in the day and the kids were extremely appreciative. For every one I gave I received a “Thank you, sir. God bless you.” The children guarded them like treasure and had big smiles on their faces; it was nice to see something that we would regard as a simple gesture to be received and appreciated so greatly!

With that said, the kids fought and fought. “Godwin stole my pencil from my pocket!” or “My graphite is gone!” Well kids, figure it out… I am not the pencil police and I’m sorry. I eventually just told them to put them away or I would collect them because it was impossible to get anything done in the classroom with the disruptions.

I wanted the kids to be able to use the pencils so I told them that I would see about getting more lead or graphite as they say. On the other side of Accra there is Accra Mall and it is basically a western mall; there are a ton of Obrunis there and high-class Ghanaians. It saddens me to think that many foreigners come to Africa and see only this side of Accra—this isn’t Africa; this isn’t the way most people live at all. Also, this mall is the only place where you will see children begging and they aren’t even African children, they are Indian children; I swear it is like something out of Slumdog Millionaire. They see you, come up to you, grab your arm and say “Master, a bite to eat; some money?” And they usually hang on for about a minute and while it is heartbreaking and can also be a little obnoxious.

Anyway, at the Accra Mall there are two big grocery stores that carry a variety of products, one of them being lead/graphite. We got to the aisle where the school supplies were and graphite was like 8 cedis (about $7)—UNREASONABLE. Everything is much more expensive there because mainly upper-class people go there, but for me that was just too much. Even deodorant was around 10 to 11 cedis ($9).

Today (6-16-2010) I apologized to the students for not being able to get graphite; however, I was able to get a couple of storybooks which made today’s Creative Arts lessons all the more worthwhile. Yeah, today I taught Creative Arts; it’s beginning to look like I am just going to be a go-to teacher for when another teacher doesn’t want to teach. I taught two creative arts classes, one math class on probability, and a social studies class on Ghana’s Cooperation with Other Nations (basically on participation with UN, ECOWAS, & African Union). I was exhausted by the end of it; I just woke up from a 1 hour and 20 minute nap and I feel good J

All of my teaching is done on the spot because I don’t have any of the books to prepare ahead of time and often I don’t even know what I am teaching until I am teaching it. In one of the Creative Arts classes we talked about the necessary parts for a story (characters, subject matter, title, audience, etc.) and then I read them a story and we then answered questions about what we had previously discussed. The next Creative Arts class was several years ahead of the last class so the book would have not been as engaging. Instead, we also talked about the different parts of a story, but this time they were supposed to come up with one of their own that they could act out for the class. We came up with the subject matter and four characters together, the rest was up to them.

It is extremely difficult for these kids to do anything on their own, as in think creatively or for themselves. None of the plays include what we had talked about as far as characters or subject matter go. In addition, one group found a play in their book and read straight from that and the other teacher actually encouraged this despite my instructions—that was a little disappointing. I am going to make it my personal mission to get these kids to somehow think for themselves when it comes to their writing and creative thinking. I asked for examples of subject matter and everything I got was HIV/AIDS, Drug Abuse, Obedience, Disobedience, Death, etc. I’m not sure they completely understood me when I said that stories could also be about fun/exciting things (i.e. playing football (soccer here), cooking dinner, a birthday celebration, etc.).

I actually just finished reading PUSH by Sapphire, the book that the movie Precious was based on. This book was an excellent read, especially considering my new mission of teaching these kids to THINK. In addition, the book simply teaches you to love. I would definitely suggest you read it, but beware because it is graphic at times.

obibini kids

This past Friday I toured the school I will be working in for the next three months; I was expecting to just take a tour and meet the other teachers and headmaster and get my schedule or what I would be teaching at least. Little did I know that I would be taking over a classroom that day…

His Grace School is about a ten minute walk from our compound and has about 120 students with maybe 7 or 8 teachers. Kids from ages  2 or 3 all the way up to 18 and they organize students in “classes” that are generally three year age groups, but sometimes you have a random kid that’s 18 even though it is just a primary and junior high school.

It is set up in a U-shape building with a “courtyard” in the middle with concrete stones. Each classroom is concrete floors, stucco walls, and windows on two sides with no screens, blackboard on the front wall, a makeshift “closet” and wooden desk/seat combos that sit maybe a foot off the floor (you can imagine some of the bigger kids sitting at those).

Eventually when I get a schedule I will be teaching both social studies and English; however, until then I am doing whatever…I’m not as stressed by it as one might expect because I’m not sure there is enough structure to stress about things… Teachers are not required to tell when they are going to miss class so I have been covering several of their classes–sometimes teachers are even at the school and just miss class (that’s what the headmaster did today).

This past Friday I taught an English Composition class. The head teacher just came to me and said, “I am going to have you take this class for now,” with no other information on what the class even was, where they were, what age or anything—that was a little stressful just because it was my first time, but we made it and figured it out; the kids are very helpful and, for the most part, well-disciplined. They stand when you enter the room, stand to ask questions after being called on, stand simply to answer questions, address everyone as sir or madam, and just genuinely want to learn, something you don’t always find in the U.S. The English Comp class is basically grammar and some other things; we worked on subjects vs. objects, action verbs, adjectives, and friendly letters which was class six (roughly 11-13 years old).

Today was a trip. In the morning I taught a math class because the teacher just left and the kids finished their problems, eventually he came back but then he left again. We worked on slopes of lines and finding coordinates—something I hoped I would never have to teach. It took everything I had to not say, “FYI, you’re never going to use this again in the rest of your life.” Next class I taught was a Social Studies class and the teacher was actually there (I’m not exactly sure what was going on there), he just put his head down… Also, in Ghana, social studies spans a large amount of topics and it just so happened that today’s was conveniently SEX ED! These kids had supposedly heard of everything before but it didn’t seem like it so I was left to explain everything from ejaculation, erection, menstruation, ovulation, abortion, pregnancy, intercourse, to what to do if your penis gets stuck in the vagina (they had seen this happen with dogs and had to help)… See why today was a trip? The final class I taught today was English Comprehension; this consisted of me reading them a short story and asking questions to make sure they understood it.

They have a teacher’s “office” where only teachers are allowed to hang out; it overlooks the field that everyone uses as a bathroom—it’s quite a sight at lunch. There is a toilet for teachers, but it’s about the same as using the bathroom outside… Ghanaians will use the bathroom anywhere and by anywhere I truly mean ANYWHERE!

I checked with the head teacher today to see about when I will receive my schedule and he said maybe tomorrow (we know what that means)… I’ll probably go another week just filling in, it is a good way to meet the students and figure out where they are with their learning.

the biggest family

Africa is three and a half times the United States; the country of Sudan alone is the size of the United States. Looking at your world map won’t tell you this though, but ask yourself who made the map. Having grown up in a society where we have access to whatever we may need we look at Africa and think of how far behind they are, but to them that isn’t a problem; their culture is set up around the way things are currently and by introducing other means of doing things would severely disrupt their way of life and believe it or not, I’m not sure that would be a good thing. Never before have I seen so much national pride as I do here in Ghana, but many of the slogans are Pan-African. MTN, a phone network, has numerous slogans about getting behind Africa—it really is amazing.

words from an obruni

Wow. Did you think I had died? I promise I haven’t; I’m alive and well! Our flight was from Louisville to Atlanta and then from Atlanta to Accra. Other than the fact that a kid threw up next to my seat on the plane and another girl sat in the bathroom complaining about internal bleeding the flight was good! The first leg was about 50 minutes and the second was about 10 hours. This was the first introduction to my minority status and it was very interesting! The airport doesn’t have gates so they just park the plane in the middle of the runway and bring these big steps that you climb down from and then get on a shuttle (the nicest thing I have ridden in since being here).

Leaving the airport and getting to our residence in Pokuase was a trip for sure. The director of the NGO I am with picked us up but because there was so much luggage and three new volunteers (another girl from Peru flew in at the same time) we had to take a taxi. Taking a taxi in Accra gave us insight into A LOT of cultural norms. First, Ghanaians pee anywhere; very rarely will you ever find a place with a restroom (compounds do but nowhere in public). Our taxi driver got out of the car and walked to the other side of the road (a very busy road) and whipped out and started to relieve himself and he did this again later in our journey. Next, there is no such thing as lanes in Accra and surrounding areas. There are marks on the roads to signify two lanes but this means nothing to the locals, they drive wherever they want at whatever speed that want and coupled with the fact that there are no stoplights, it is an experience. Sometimes the locals just decide to take it upon themselves to direct traffic and our taxi driver wasn’t listening to them so they just came and banged the top of our car, kind of scary. There were several times that I thought my life was ending, but now having ridden in a taxi several times and a tro tro even more I am used to it.

Traffic here is terrible. We think NYC and LA are bad, but that is because most of us haven’t been to Accra yet. From Pokuase to the circle should maybe take 20 minutes, but instead it takes about one hour. I have never been in a traffic jam like the ones here. I’m used to traffic jams meaning cars are just at a stand still in their own lanes on the interstate, but traffic jams here mean that your car is blocked in with cars on all four sides of you going in different directions. CRAZY. Oh, and to make matters even more tiring, there are goats and sheep and chickens that run around EVERYWHERE!

While there are many people who drive their own cars, much of the population relies on public transportation and when I say public I mean public. As I mentioned previously there are taxis, either shared, meaning the driver may stop and pick others up along the way, or chartered, just you and the driver. In addition, many people use the trotro. Trotros come in all sizes, styles, colors, and makes; they are normally about the size of a church van, but instead a vehicle that should hold about 15 people has anywhere from 22 to 28 people packed in. One of the trotros I was in was rusting out so badly that you could see the tires spinning below, but hey…it gets you where you need to go. Another thing worth mentioning is that there are no set prices on any of these. In America we’re used to hopping in a cab and relying on the meter to tell us how much to pay and everything is done by bargaining. Since we’re white they often times think they can charge us more so it can be a little trying, but we’re getting used to it. Last night our taxi driver tried to charge us 5 cedis to get to Kwami Nkrumah Circle, but we just laughed in his face and got it down to 3 cedis.

Once we finally arrived at our compound we were greeted by Princess, the wife of the spiritual chief Nguomo. Together they have one child, Prince who is nine months old, but he has two other children from another woman, Niyobo and Nikoffee, both of whom are in my classes at school. At first Princess was a lot to handle, but she has come to be one of the most enjoyable people here, very bubbly.

After eating dinner around 7 PM the first night we just sat around and talked. During a span of about 2 hours the power went off four times and the water hadn’t worked since we had been there. It is very off and on with power and water here and rarely do they work at the same time. We have been fortunate the last couple of days in that most things have been working. Showers are cold and you don’t leave the water running the whole time because the tank will run out, in that case you revert to bucket showers. Since it is the rainy season here we could just go outside for our showering. When the power is on the heat isn’t so bad because they have THE MOST POWERFUL CEILING FANS EVER! Sometimes we just sit under the fan and feel like we’re in heaven. It definitely isn’t as hot as I expected, but that is because it is the rainy season; it is a little humid though but there is a constant wind here which makes it quite pleasant.

The next morning for breakfast we had two pieces of bread and then headed into town for a tour. We saw Kwami Nkrumah Circle, a memorial thing for Ghana’s first president, the National Museum, Independence Square and we ate at Papaye.

Food here consists of A LOT of chicken and rice and it is often spicy and fried; I haven’t been disspointed so far. I will update later about the food as I get to taste more of it. Usually, when a Ghanaian gets food they will say, “You are invited;” at first I was like what are you talking about but it means that you can share the food with them. They are extremely generous to us with everything; if you walk in to a place and there are no seats they will make the obibinis (black people) move and give their chairs to the obrunis (whites). Now, having said that you probably think I have become a huge racist. No. It is acceptable for people to call one other that here. Everyday we are walking down the streets they will holler “OBRUNI!” and we will respond with “Obibini bye-bye!” It’s kind of cool but something we are still getting used too.

Well, that is all I can write for now. I will update more about the school I work at and the language here in a little bit.

time is near

Well, the time has almost arrived. Time for me to bid farewell to my old kentucky home–the place of 90% humidity in the summer months, my loved ones, close friends, and consistency.

Now, I embark on a three month journey. As I travel to Accra, Ghana I am both anxious and eager–anxious because of a new environment and eager to make someone else’s life a little bit better. It isn’t often that we get opportunities to travel thousands of miles and to partake in a culture so foreign compared with what we’re used to. My time in Africa will no doubt be a test–a test of my patience and flexibility, but also of my calling. Hopefully by the end of this trip I will have a more solidified understanding of my own purpose in this life and how better to accomplish that purpose. It has been my personal motto that the only way to truly make this world a better place is by giving of our time and energy to those less fortunate than ourselves and by giving of our love to everyone, even those we may deem undeserving.

Mother Teresa once said, “Yesterday has gone; tomorrow has yet to come; we only have today, let us begin.” I am extremely fortunate to have the opportunity that I do, but I would encourage those of you who are staying behind to adopt this adage as your own. Forget what has happened or what could happen; instead, focus on what you can do right in this moment to make someone else’s life just a little bit better, a little bit happier, a little bit more easier.

I have no doubt that this will be an experience that I remember for the rest of my life, that is why I have chosen to share it with you through this blog. After all, many of you have helped make this experience possible through your various donations. Please however don’t think that your partnership with myself and this trip ceased with your donation. I am taking this trip, but so are you. Somewhere inside of you, you recognized that this was a cause worth supporting and I am grateful for that. Please continue to keep me in your thoughts and prayers; send me any positive energy you have left at the end of your day.

Again, I look forward to sharing this journey with you.

I love you all.


Sam G

I absolutely dig adventure and travel!

Verbal tantrums of a writer & an anxious spectator of life.


Madison's renderings of teaching and learning