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PC Adventure

Location: formerly Indianapolis, IN, Central Region, Ghana

INFP, prone to fits of outrageous behavior and supporter of same

Monday, November 23, 2009

Virgins for $50.00! Actually two virgins for $50.00!!

Yes, that is correct, or at least that is what a local fellow paid for having sex with two very young village girls. By”very young,” I mean late elementary-school-age young. In a country where 80-percent of the residents live on about $2.00 per day, the girls’ virginity was worth nearly a month each. I was told that the fee he paid was, “rather low”, by village standards because the families had encouraged earlier visits by the guy (I mean Grandfather age, ugh!!). Once the news got out and around the village, the girls’ family convened the tribal authorities to resolve the matter (versus the legal authorities). In Ghana, traditional authority resides with the family, clan, village, and chief, although not necessarily in that or any order. Despite minor flaws, family jurisdiction is how most domestic issues are resolved here. If you want a divorce, you consult the family, make the announcement and state loudly, “I divorce you,” while sprinkling white powder on the person (the white powder is not poison, clearly it deserves a little investigation). Their system has worked for centuries and now the “modern” legal system more or less runs in tandem. I heard that the family hoped for a higher settlement because the man worked at Kakum National Park, which means that he has a job whereas most of the villagers are self-employed subsistence farmers. If the family had filed charges with the police or the social services agency, then the man would have gone to jail and possibly on to prison. I have read that Ghanaian laws are strict on juvenile rape and it is now illegal to rape your wife, although women have told me they cannot really deny their husbands “their marital rights.” (I will leave this for another day….)

I personally do not know the former virgins, but everyone else in Abrafo seems to know them. The village sentiments tend to be pro girls, con parents. Blame is slung around, oddly enough, very little toward the perpetrator. Now, I look squarely into the eyes of every girl of that cohort, believing that somehow a knowing gaze might erase the trauma. Life goes on…. I had passing-and-greeting relationship with the perpetrator, but before I could see him again, he was transferred to another village, an outlier post where the only known entertainment is chasing poachers. I hope they put a very large and conspicuous bell around his neck....
Finally, I feel like writing?! I’m a little surprised by what is coming out of my heart. As usual, I want to cry for a while and I am aware that I have not done much of that lately, despite all the very real reasons to do so. There is so much to absorb or deflect, too much and some days I forget to wear my emotional armor.

Armored or un-armored, I am critically aware that I will be leaving here in less than two months and that has me in a sort of panic. Will I get everything done? Is that possible, or even desirable? Everyday becomes so meaningful. I just read a poem by a Palestinian, Mahmoud Darwish, where he describes his last day of living after learning that he has only one day to live and my days are a little like that—both random and intentional (the poem is appended below). Mostly, I try to stay on top, not below, the tectonic shifts. Some are subtle, like the San Andreas, others resemble Mt. St. Helens. Today, I was crying while riding my bike because there were at least one hundred butterflies accompanying me along the road home. Magic can completely undo me any day.

Onto lighter notes, I am enjoying a short hiatus from teaching. The school calendar calls for a vacation from early August until late September. I miss the students, but it is nice to slow down. While on this topic, I should note the latest of my teaching wonders. Sometime last spring, I became the de facto ICT teacher (Information Communication Technology) at the village junior high school. No one was more surprised. The headmistress, Madam Kate, pleaded with me and I accepted reluctantly, after-all, I am the only one there with a computer. Even after reviewing the syllabus, I had no idea how to begin for a class of 46 students, most had never touched, let alone seen a computer. In typical Ghanaian school fashion, they all had copious notes about ICT, including detailed sketches of system units, hard drives, etc. In addition, their notes contained vivid descriptions of the inner-workings of flat-screen monitors and the differences between Pentium III’s and IV’s. With great haste, I learned the meaning of CD-ROM and the difference between data and information. Despite my years of computer use, I was surprised to discover that I knew virtually nothing about them. They say, teach and you will learn—I will heartily second that. For the first class, I took my laptop and from there it just flowed. I bought a cheap desktop and had the kids march up to my house, 10 students at a time, for hands-on time. I had never seen them so enlivened. It was my favorite four months of teaching. School resumes this week and I am curious about my next assignment. Will it be bomb-making? Crochet? (School has resumed since I wrote this and happily, I have no new subjects and one of the male teachers has asked for ICT—ugh!!)
I forgot to mention the appearance of annoying Mr. Syllabus last year. He is a young energetic fellow, who teaches English to the younger JSS students. He appeared sometime last year and while on school patrol, he would stop at my classroom to remind me to teach according to the syllabus. The Ghana Education Service has one for almost everything, but as you might imagine, the syllabus will not help my students. The kids say that Mr. Syllabus does indeed teach to the syllabus; they also say they don’t like him so much. I never did learn much from teachers I didn’t like.

Besdies the drama at school, there is the persistent drama at Kakum National Park. It is a nonstop rollercoaster of personal status management. Who has the most personal status on any given day is completely a mystery; nonetheless, it is the most important plot in the soup. Loyalty is only for the day and maybe not even that. Besides power, the future is the commodity being brokered--survival of the fittest? Here the working life demands the finesse of a debutante’s ball. I am not particularly attentive to American status behaviors, but I instantly recognize their breaches or the hateful misuse against others. Having an outsider’s status, I can view the whole daily loopy-loops with some light-hearted humor unavailable to the insiders. They are all canines and claws behind syrupy sweet smiles and kids gloves (yikes, I am suddenly confused about the Little Red Ridinghood story. What was that really about? Didn’t they discover the original Dead Sea Scroll of that story with a different version--Red killing the wolf, marrying the wolf, or running with the wolf? I cannot remember). So I can march around banging pans and pulling hair, but no one even gives me a glance. The players know each other as clearly as predators and prey know each other, each weighed to the ounce, every movement anticipated, the resumes memorized, the stakes are enormous—for the future, for the children, for the grandchildren. Luckily, I am mostly invisible, but not entirely immune. Visually, the impact is like those TV weather maps of huge hurricanes, where the circular cloud pattern blankets entire oceans, entire continents. I watch the sky warily and can only wince for those without the killer instinct.

Taking a giant leap, not across an ocean, but across a sea, the Mediterranean Sea to be exact, while on the subject of watching the sky, I can report on the beautiful Italian skies I saw last month with pal Jen. I did not know I needed beauty the same way I need exercise and roughage, but that is exactly what Italy gave me—beauty, the memory of beauty and the expectation of beauty in the future. You know the proverbial “don’t know what you need until you get it” idea? Well, beauty is what I needed and what I got in Italy. The people, the art, the architecture, the shops, the food, the wine, the people, the sidewalks, the Vatican, the little cafes—all so beautiful (this is in direct contrast to Ghana). I could only weep. Even the Italian language seems to explode with beauty, it is “bella” this, that and everything. I enjoyed every moment there. I do not think I can describe even one thing with any justice, but if I could, I would describe the perfect crunchy thin-crusted pizzas, the earthy and ethereal Chiantis and the mesmerizing hills surrounding Florence, just for starters.

The Italians built upon the ancient Romans love of everything. And the Romans, well they make most other cultures seem a little tame--recall the coliseum, chariot races, gods and goddesses—what a marvelous bunch. Jen and I stumbled upon the equivalent of our dollar-store and inside alongside the normal stuff we found a Latin-English dictionary, yup, for a dollar (well a Euro). For some reason we did not buy it, but we lamented that lapse for the rest of the trip. It would have helped with the dates—MXCCI (I have no idea!!). I wish I could remember more of those miserable Latin classes I endured in high school—amo, amas, amat—is about all that remains.

Somehow, the entire trip boils down to the Pantheon. What a marvel, for 1400 years it has stood, proudly, beautifully. Besides a different form of transportation, they used to have chariot races outside, now just little European Smart cars race around—really, the big difference is only the current roster of deities. The old Roman gods were replaced by the Christians and the old statues left sprinkled across the Italian landscape, some even at the Pope’s house. And the Pope’s house? Well it is the grandest house of all. The last note on Italy comes from one of Jen’s countless tour books, it said you should not miss the opportunity to gape at anything, and we did just that with gusto. We needed an adjustment just for gaping (like warbler neck, or peregrine neck). In every picture from Italy, there is at least one if not a dozen people gaping somewhere. One last gape from that trip occurred at the Tripoli airport, where an eight-story tall life-like portrait of President Kaddafi (sp?) was muted only by the wind-whipped desert sands in the hot white air. Yes, I flew on Libyan Air and I survived—I do not know why I was not scared.

As for my peeps here in Ghana, they are all fine. My gal Alice is doing well in Senior Secondary School. All the usual suspects are doing well in the village and beyond. Most of my Peace Corps pals have left and I have not bothered to know their replacements. Another cat has “gone missing” as they say here and the two dogs, Panther and Sammo, are still making my life here brighter. This Thursday, I'm going to the Ambassador's house for Thanksgiving dinner. He is inviting staff and Peace Corps volunteers. I'm personally hoping to see what's in his wine cellar--American, International, African wines?? Anyone's guess!!

According to my calendar, I have 60 days left in Peace Corps. Officially, January 20, 2010 is my final day. There is about a week’s worth of paperwork before I am “free.” Then, I am heading south, to Eastern and Southern Africa for some spontaneous touring. In February, I will meet pal Paula for a 21-day walking tour of southwest Africa—Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and South Africa. Look for me in Indiana with the spring wildflowers, around the Ides of March. In time for your birthday Martha!! Et tu Martha??

Know that you are all missed. Until I see your lovely faces, I send you blessings and prayers from the oldest continent on the planet.

Happy Holidays--all of them!

Always love…d

ps. sorry to the birders, I meant to note my most recent finds, but the computer won't allow my pen drive...another day....


If I were told:
By evening you will die,
so what will you do until then?
I would look at my wristwatch,
I’d drink a glass of juice,
bite an apple,
contemplate at length an ant that has found its food,
then look at my wristwatch.
There’d be time left to shave my beard
and dive in a bath, obsess:
“there must be an adornment for writing, so let it be a blue garment.”
I’d sit until noon alive at my desk
but wouldn’t see the trace of color in the words,
white, white, white…
I’d prepare my last lunch,
pour wine in two glasses; one for me
and the other for the one who will come without appointment,
then I’d take a nap between two dreams.
But my snoring would wake me…
so I’d look at my wristwatch:
and there’d be time left for reading.
I’d read a chapter in Dante and half of a mu’allaqah
and see how my life goes from me
to the others, but I wouldn’t ask who
would fill what’s missing in it.
That’s it, then?
That’s it, that’s it.
Then what?
Then I’d throw away the poem…
this poem, in the trash,
and put on the latest fashion in Italian shirts,
parade myself in an entourage of Spanish violins,
and walk to the grave!

Mahmoud Darwish, a Palestinian, is one of the most prominent poets writing in Arabic today.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Radical continuity, that somehow describes the past few months. So much is different, so much is still the same, all-in-all everything here feels predictable. I’m surprised that the calendar says January 2009 and like the past two years, I am shocked speechless by the passage of time. How it flies?

Ok, ok, I do know about the election. Wow!! Historic!!! Wish I had been there, moreover, wish I was going to the inauguration. Here, we’re still in the midst of the presidential election runoff, hopefully the finale is tomorrow (January 3, now 6 days later and all is ok).

I know why I can’t track the passing of time; it is this absolute lack of seasons here. I’ve been hypnotized stupid. Day after day, one after the other, exactly alike, carbon copies (wonder about that, is it really carbon?? Hmmm, anyway….). While I have always loved the changing seasons of the temperate latitudes, I never recognized the influence on my sense of time. Here, there is only equatorial la-la time—now I call it the Prozac latitude. Surely that explains Gauguin’s later years. He became happy eating watermelon and painting. Similarly, I have become happy eating pineapple and gazing at the rainforest with the crazy insect sounds. So, you say,”years have passed,” and I say,”oh, really, I didn’t notice??”

Life in the village pulses forward with the clock and the calendar, but always for me at the pace of my feet. The slower pace is joyful and I have never been happier with my daily tempo. But don’t even think that means that I don’t think about anyone there. Quite to the contrary, I think of everyone and everything there all the time--my parallel universe/dual reality.

Not much has happened since last writing, nothing will ever compare with the cobra incident, but life forges ahead here. Mostly I’ve been busy working. Unlike the first year and a half of not-much-to-do, now I don’t seem to have enough hours in a day. Work in the park has evolved into serious cerebral stimulation (SCS). Due mostly to the arrival, or I should say appointment, of the Visitor’s Relations Officer (VRO), Tina. She’s Ghanaian and a delight—bright, sweet and funny. We have laughing fits together. She went to Forestry School and focused on conservation education. We complement each other and now I understand what “building human capacity” really means. It is the big goal of Peace Corps, the transfer of skills and abilities by working WITH people, and it goes both ways. I’m learning, too. It is joyful. In addition, I feel fully integrated into the Wildlife clan and believe me, they are clannish. I now have about 70 big brothers looking out for me, it doesn’t hurt that they carry guns. No one would dare to harass me in or around the village/park. Feeling safe is rare for most Peace Corps volunteers. I am lucky and grateful.

Besides work with Tina, recently I helped write two grant proposals for the park with the Senior Officer for law enforcement. The grants have nothing at all to do with law enforcement per se, but rather they aim to establish a baseline on the forest elephant and monkey populations in the park. I’m hopeful about the prospects and especially the possibility of some “real” fieldwork in the forest. As many of you know, I can cheerfully sit for hours and watch things—another one of those lovely skills that never appears on a resume (and, probably shouldn’t). That reminds me of that overused quote about the seeming zaniness of bird watching because it includes rising at dawn, sitting in dreary places like bogs and contending with the horrors of nature—yet, we love it and can’t wait to go again.

Work at the park is largely what has sustained my interest for the past year. Much of the work I do there is capacity building at the management level, somewhat like mentoring. Actually, I do a lot of listening, then nudging, somewhat like personal coaching. In addition, I get to research all kinds of cool things—like butterflies and medicinal plants. In the park we have butterflies that use termite mounds symbiotically (yes, those weird stalagmite structures). Did I mention we have over 600 butterfly species in the park? I try to photograph all that I can locate, even those stuck in the grills of cars, which makes for some interesting conversations while snooping around parked cars. If that’s not weird enough, imagine me hopping and jumping around trying to capture butterflies in a butterfly net. Looks easy right?? Butttttt, not easy at all. Somewhere I read that butterflies have 6 or 7 different flight patterns, all detected in wind tunnel experiments (does that hurt the butterfly? Marilyn B. comes to mind), and it is the reason they have few on-the-wing predators. Clearly, a middle-aged woman is no match for that type of agility, but I try (you know it is bad when your dogs laugh!!). Regardless, I have more than two-hundred butterfly photographs and no guidebook--perhaps a project for my dotage??

While on the topic of age, let me just say that I don’t feel like I’m 52 years old. I feel 26 years old, ok, half my age. Fortunate for me, nothing creaks or cranks too hard. I’m still running and biking several times a week. Physical activity is my Prozac, there’s good scientific evidence for that notion. Having said all that, I must note that just last week I twisted my ankle. I actually heard my ankle cry-out in pain—a mix of crunching and tearing. It is now swollen and discolored, but healing, albeit slowly. Finally, am I menopausal?? I can’t tell about the sweating. I sweat all the time. The Ghanaians give me an odd look, part pity-part amazement. They could wear long-sleeved black polyester velvet pantsuits under the noon sun and they couldn’t create the gallons of moisture that I can.

While sweating, I still teach in the village, at two different schools—one private and the other is public. This year the public school has 31 pupils in the JSS3 class and the public school has 21 students. They are as different as night and day. Last year’s test scores express the simplest difference: the public school scores started where the private school scores ended, 6-19 and 21-39 respectively. The private school draws all the promising students in the village and nearby environs. Folks in the village, even those without electricity, will submit the necessary funds to send their wards to the private school, leaving those without good scores or financial means in the public school. Thus, in the public school there is no such thing as the brighter students pulling the lower-functioning students higher: the brightest aren’t that motivated.

This year for the first time in three years, I have JSS3 students who can’t read English. If they can’t read English, then their performance on the national exam will be poor, since it is written in English, Ghana’s official language. I’m just stunned and I keep asking why, why, why???? The townsfolk claim that the, “public school is no good.” They also say that the children aren’t trying to learn. But, I believe it is combination of factors, not the least is poorly educated parents. Parents, who certainly care enough, but without education themselves, know nothing about what education requires of their children. They don’t know that the children need time to sit with their books, their homework—never mind any other enriching mental stimulation. That is not to imply that Ghanaian children are dull, they are not, but their informal education does not relate well with the formal education process. I can weep for this…. There’s so much to say about education, but I’ll stop there. Every day, I see that we are so blessed in the U.S. by having free education that rewards critical thinking.

I’m running out of gas and there’s more to tell. I wanted to write a long travelogue on my September-October trip to Morocco and Egypt, but that will have to wait. Suffice to say, I had a great time, but like any travel, I have endless stories to help put some people to sleep. I especially loved the High Atlas Mountains, the Berber culture in particular (their food, their rugs, simplicity, etc). I hiked to the top of Mt. Toubcal, North Africa’s highest peak. Very different from our mountains, somehow the Atlas’ are taupe, the whole place in one color—somehow calming. But Egypt was nearly as difficult as rewarding. I was so hassled that I finally added a head scarf and that made matters much better. If pictures are worth all those words, then I’ll cut this short and try to post pictures (http://www.flickr.com/photos/dxebird/ ).

Some of you, I’ve already told, for others my decision to stay here another year will be news. The primary reason is again the work at the park—it is the most fun I’ve ever had at a job…. I know some of you want me to come home and it should be comforting to know that Peace Corps has a cap on the years a volunteer can serve—it is 4 years. So whether I want to quit or not next year is the end….

Even though I like it here, I hope to come back to the U.S. for a visit in March. I don’t think I want to meet snow, I need to remember why I will move back there and spring is far more seductive.

Well that’s my story for today. I send you all big hugs.

As always, healing thoughts to Jen and anyone else.

Much love…Dixie

Friday, June 06, 2008

Broken promises, procrastination, good intentions, forgetfulness, amnesia, disorganization, poor planning, character flaws, biochemical imbalances, national electrical grid failures, the monsoon season, the dry season, lack of essential fatty acids, Starbucks, much slower planetary revolution/equator speed, peri-menopause, sweat exhaustion, humor deficit disorder, vibrator malfunction, ill-fitting shoes, new glasses, inadequate cleaning products, nostalgia or something has derailed me every time I’ve tried to write this blog. I started this installment five months ago, now it is June. How?? I can’t even blame the presidential election, which incidentally is surreal from here—bizarre snippets indeed. So, I can’t explain my lapses and I don’t entirely understand it, but I do know that a day doesn’t pass without thinking of there and visualizing your sweet smiles….

This time, there are all the usual topics to report, plus the trip home, the return to Ghana, and the big-big lunch with President Bush, Mrs. Bush and Condi Rice as a Peace Corps representative—that’s the preview. Read on if you’re so inclined, but know that I’m still very much here in Ghana until January 2009.

First for this tale, I must back-up to December 07. I was left speechless about my short 30 days in the U.S. Any attempt to describe that visit will only fall short (I’ll try anyway). I came, I saw and I left too soon (veni, vedi, lefty-too-soony, I wish I could remember some of that Latin). I cannot explain how that time unfolded, or how enormous amounts of love, fun and sweetness could dance around the rooms and hang from the ceiling, but it did. There’s just no way to thank everyone, but, I must thank Mary and Tammara for their hospitality and good cheer, despite some challenges (new job, electrical projects, car juggling, Schroeder). A big “gracias” goes to Esther for the loan of her truck, then Martha and Brenda for their van. Much gratitude goes to everyone who made the effort to contact me, whether in person or otherwise. A special hall of fame appointment belongs to Dino for safely delivering me to and from the colonoscopy (that is real love!). Shari, you get a million candles lit for the mountains, dangerous driving and all that snow. TT and Sarah for the money that I used to buy dictionaries for the kids, oops almost forgot Mom and Pop you pushed the amount past the “can do” point. Lynsey, a raised glass to you, for being so perfectly you and always making me smile. And finally, my taste buds thank everyone who cooked for me or had me out to breakfast, lunch or dinner. I was overwhelmed all the time by everything….

In the last blog entry, I stated unequivocally that I would be home for Christmas and I was, but I didn’t say that I’d be returning to Ghana after 30 days. For that little omission, I’ll apologize (as they say, it’s often easier to ask for forgiveness than seek approval!).

A limited number of PCVs can remain at their post for a third year, granted that all their planets are aligned—health, productivity, attitude, etc. My supervisor asked if I wanted to stay shortly before the snakebite and shortly after I shifted to the Wildlife Division at the park. Tentatively, I said, “yes,” because the first year and a half had been so miserable that I couldn’t imagine leaving here without a sense of progress or accomplishment. I felt that another year would give me the necessary time to balance the equation. So, I applied and I was granted the extension. Even though I was “approved,” I knew that once I was home I could change my mind and stay, also, I knew that being there would make the decision clear; besides, I needed to see your lovely faces…. After thirty days, returning to Ghana felt right. Almost everyone could support that decision, but it was still difficult. Now, five months later, I know it was the right decision.

Once back, I resumed teaching English to the JSS3 kids. Most days they make me laugh, but there are days when all goes to hell and I just have to walk away from the classroom. Cultural differences are impossible to tease from all the other pubescent issues. The other teachers liberally use canes and lash as they feel, but I can’t, which means my discipline is “odd”. Offenders in my class have fetched water for me, or written sentences 200 times, or they have stood with their noses in a circle on the blackboard. Forcing them to sit alone may be the most effective punishment—they hate it.

Ghanaian teenagers are generally very respectful and they are deeply motivated to learn. Education is the only road to escape from the village and the grinding physical realities of peasant-farming. The kids know it and they really try to excel. Just last week the JSS3’s took their Basic Education Exams (BEE). Here, the results dictate their future—good scores mean a good school and bad scores mean a bad school or no school at all. The government provides free primary and junior secondary education, but any further education requires funds, as well as proper admission to the school. Last year almost half of my public school kids got to move forward to the senior secondary school level, although about half of those are attending technical schools where they will learn a marketable trade, no one student from the village public school scored high enough to gain admission to one of the country’s premium schools. This year’s students will wait four months for their results—so, now we wait. As they say in the village, “they’re in the house”.

Everything at Moon house is good. The garden has been fenced, but for one reason or another the seeds haven’t grown. Now my shovel has a broken handle and the local carpenter isn’t fixing the thing (urgh!!!!). Perhaps by this weekend I’ll get seeds in the ground. The rains have returned and it is time to grow something. While on the topic of growing things, let me add a note about the plants of the rainforest. I grew up with four big seasons every year, here there’s really only two—rainy and dry. During the dry season many trees lose some of their leaves, but not all their leaves like the trees in Indiana. During the dry season, I always think that the trees look thin, there’s more sunlight getting through. However, when the rains return, the green growth is exponential and that is what is happening right now in the forest. Everything is exploding with new growth, the word, lush, doesn’t do the rainforest justice. I’m just smitten with the rainforest, even though I don’t understand it. It is overflowing with life, for instance one researcher here in the park found 43 ant species on just one tree!!!!!! Still, there are days that I pine for the known world of a North American hardwood forest, known trees, known plants, known sounds, known smells, known insects….

I’ve worked so hard to understand the cultural and the work environment that I’ve ignored the natural environment. As I mentioned sometime ago, I hardly go bird watching here, which seems odd. One of my goals for the year is simply to be out in nature every week sometime. So far, I’m doing ok. Just this evening I went for a little bird walk and found a black cuckoo behind my house (well, there’s one behind and one in….). I wish I could bring you all an ebony tree, their bark is so unusual, it is like a very wide wale corduroy and somehow soft—it is so sensual. Did I mention that many trees here have those enormous buttressed roots? The buttresses grow in a sort of swirl pattern, all that to keep the tallest trees standing. The forest trees are not deeply rooted and since we don’t get many winds they can stand for many, many years and become very, very old.

Besides big buttressed trees, I’ve also fallen in love with epiphytes, plants that grow on other plants, they are not parasitic. These epiphytes “make” their own soil, in fact one biologist working in the park believes that there is more dirt above ground than at ground level (the soils here are remarkably poor). It is all about sunlight. In the park we have endless orchids and bromeliads, even mistletoe. Then there’s the vertical structure of the rainforest, made even visible by visiting the canopy walkway, which offers a glimpse into that “rare air.” From the ground the only way to identify some trees is to use binoculars. In addition to trying to identify plants, I’ve also started on butterflies. With over 600 species in the park, I can stay busy. Just last week, I finally got a butterfly net. So now I can get some in the hand. I’m especially interested in getting photographs because there’s no good reference besides a $250.00 two volume set. Don’t laugh, but I’ve even resorted to inspecting the grills of cars (even more reason for the locals to think I’m crazy!!).

My familiars, the pets, continue to charm my days. My first dog’s puppy DD just had 5 puppies—all cute and now all adopted by good homes. Likewise, the cat followed suit, Crazy has two kittens and since cats are known for killing snakes, I think I’ll keep them.

The architect who designed moon house is sending a platoon of architect students to build a computer center for the village, or so that’s the story (never mind that no one here really wants the computers, they’d rather have teacher housing, but hey they’re getting it for free, this is the heartbreak of development work, lots more to say about this another day). The students will be using my house as a home base while here, which means that they’ll eat their breakfast and lunch here and as far as I can tell they’ll be here all day. So, I’m packing all my things into my bedroom, locking the door and leaving town for the duration of their visit, June 4-27. I’m not yet certain if I’m vacationing or just visiting pals around Ghana—unknowable at present.

Work at the park, improved dramatically when the new Wildlife Division “Visitor Relations Officer” appeared. Tina (there’s the first great part—she’s a female) is a thirty-something go-getter, who schooled in the U.S. (Iowa). We just vibe good together, that’s all I can say. This is a different lifetime at the park. It is now soooooo much fun!!!!

Also, I’ve become more integrated into the Wildlife Division and that translates exponentially into more interesting work. I’ve helped train the tour guides on a variety of topics—epiphytes, biodiversity, interpretive skills and butterflies. I’ve introduced a half dozen of the staff to the World Wide Web (recently I read that less than 1% of Ghanaians have computers, what is the U.S. rate?). Last week I taught a mini-class on customer service to the café staff (customer service is non-existent here, I’m not kidding, but their culture is very gracias otherwise, somehow it didn’t extend from the house??). There’s more in the pipeline and that all makes me cheerful. At last, meaningful AND enjoyable work….

And finally, there’s the village work. For one reason or another, they can’t seem to get going and I can’t seem to kick-start them. The principle players are all somehow compromised with competing personal interests—they all have businesses that interfere with their ability to create community benefits (help the person or the community—this is tough). Meetings feel positive, and then nothing happens, time after time. I keep hoping for a Gandhi-like figure to emerge, but alas, nada. This is the trench-work of capacity building. There’s one guy in the village that seems to heading in the right direction, but he disappears for weeks at a time. I need to write about the apparent lack of initiative here, but it is difficult because it is not that simple. Ghanaian culture is non-competitive and that makes personal benefits unseemly and selfish. Contrast that with an equally repugnant layer that is highly exploitive, dishonest and criminal. They call it, “chopping,” which means you “steal” money and or resources while everyone knows it; no one does anything about it (aren’t words fascinating, “chopping” doesn’t sound as bad as stealing). This is all wrapped-up in their notions of power, prestige and personal value. Remember to add the colonial era scars, deep unfathomable waters, which still inform the social structures and beliefs. Everyone suffers. Obviously, this topic deserves more ink, but for today that must suffice.

Ok, onto a lighter palette. In February, the big boss of Ghana Peace Corps called me into his office when I was in Accra and asked if I would like to have lunch with President Bush, Mrs. Bush and Condoleezza Rice at the American ambassador’s residence. Hmmmm, I couldn’t refuse. I dislike the man, but I was offered an opportunity to represent Peace Corps and that I could do without hesitation. During his tenure, Pres. Bush had not entertained any PCVs, so while in Ghana he selected reversed the slight by strategically meeting in the first country that Peace Corps entered in 1961. The Country Director here in Ghana, Bob, selected ten PCVs to represent all PCV’s. Somehow I covered a couple of strategic demographic categories—over 50, female, from the Midwest, democrat, feminist, socialist, Buddhist, humanist, bird watcher, semi-vegetarian, blah, blah, blah….

The entire event was surreal, not that surreal isn’t already an overused concept here, but we were first interrogated by the Peace Corps staff on basic stuff: what are Peace Corps goals, how many volunteers in Ghana, etc.????? Then more sophisticated matters like which fork to use when. Yes, they were very concerned that our village-ways left us unable to use cutlery. The country director assigned me to sit between the pres and Condi; I think the cutlery issue tipped the balance in my favor.

We started the day in quarantine at the Peace Corps office, and then we were driven without looking sidewise to the Ambassador’s residence, screened and led behind a velvet rope that separated us from the throng of expats, embassy staff, media reps, etc. The big motorcade arrived and they disappeared into the Ambassador’s home. After a very short time, they emerged and addressed the crowd, and finally they posed for pictures and kissed babies (I’m not kidding—since Mrs. Bush was here last year, I had more or less seen the same drill then). Our gang was slipped into the Ambassador’s dining room, where we stood behind our chairs like good boarding-school kids.

You know when you haven’t seen a full complement of crystal, china and real silver on a white damask tablecloth in a long time, it can produce vertigo. This was no ordinary table service; this was the presidential china, crystal and sterling. I held onto my Louis XVI chair for support…. The pres, Mrs. Bush, Condi and the press entered the room. #43 told us to relax and sit—we did. Then the media had three minutes to snap pictures and that’s how that “tiara” picture happened. The press was swept out and dinner was served by white-gloved staff. Since arriving here, I have been suffering from uninspired cuisine, I didn’t know it, but lunch was the proof. We had light lobster bisque, followed by a chicken mushroom béarnaise concoction, real bread, real BUTTER, did I say, REAL BUTTER??, a salad of imported greens and raspberry vinaigrette and finally, an apple tart with vanilla ice cream. All accompanied by various American wines (HE had an O’Doul’s).

The conversation was very casual. Our country director gave a few serious remarks, but then we went around the table introducing ourselves with the pres working us. He joked about PCVs home states, their schools (since many of the 20-somethings are school-identified) and their Peace Corps work. He had already heard about my snake bite. He seemed genuinely interested in all of our stories. Most of us talked about our work and how we’re making a difference. I talked about poachers at the park and teaching English.

During our hour and a half lunch, the pres poked my arm several times, called me “Dixie chick,” and “honey.” I felt like I was sitting by my younger teenage brother. Yes, there was a lot of snickering. Madame Secretary of State, on the other hand was quiet, more formal. She said very little besides stating her plans post S.O.S., “back to Stanford and teaching.” The event ended when the handlers arrived and whisked us out for individual photos (yes, if I can get it scanned I’ll post the picture of me standing between Pres. and Mrs. Bush). The entourage left for another function and we were ushered through the kitchen to the back door (literally) to wait for our vehicles to come fetch us after the motorcade had cleared the Ambassador’s residence.

I have pictures to prove all this, but some days I have to pinch myself or look at the lovely Tiffany engraved-pewter box that we all received as our “gifts” to remember that it was real. Very, very, very, very real.

Now a fitting segue? How? Coming up? Besides the unknowable, I’ll keep on doing all the usual things. I just remembered how I miss those PCV pals, especially Sarah, Katie, Kate, Mary Jane and Donna. I hope the RPCV world is sweet. I was a trainer at the SED IST and believe me, this world ain’t the same without you’ins….

Belated birthday wishes to all the January girls—lil’ sis Amy, Sarah S., Sharon L., Vicky P., Miki M., Shari S.; Feb—Miriam, Jean, Lynsey, Paula; March-- Lorri, Martha, Georgette, Shelby, Nan Joy; April—Evie (oh Evie, you’ll be missed), lil’ bro Mark, Becky L., Kate S., FJF, Kathy S., Larry Peavler; May--Mom, Deb Bussard. Then June—Jena, Melinda H., Annie B., TT, Rebecca J. (where are you??), Melynda and lovely Tammara. Whew, please forgive me if I’ve missed your day, they all roll around in my gray matter somewhere.

I send healing to Jen, Carole Edson, Shari’s Mom, Vi and anyone who needs it at all—it works.,

I wish you all great and wonderful days.


p.s. if possible I’ll post more pictures at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dixiebird/

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sanguine or pugnacious??

Ok, ok, I’m ok; you ok? Is anyone really OK?? Then, why be only OK, why not something more interesting and complex, say like, sanguine or pugnacious? (those two words probably sum-up my personality to a “t”).

Deb Bussard nudges me with each letter to post something, anything on this blog. So, thanks to you Deb, I’m trying. I don’t know exactly why, but writing has become torture. I’m a lifelong writer and this development is perplexing. There’s no “block” to it, I just can’t seem to find words to describe much in my world. Following the cobra bite, not much seems important, my story seems a little flat, but I’ll try. Sorry for the slow speed, please don't worry, really you can trust that everything's gonna be alright (isn't that a Bob Marley song??).

Oh, well, first-up for scrutiny will be the four-leggeds. Perhaps they have a story and as many of you already know, I find animals as interesting if not more intereseting than some people....

I must tell you that Adom, that doe-eyed beauty, has gone to live with a crazy German development-worker in the closest district capital, Twifo Praso (tree-foe prah-soo). After her second litter, she adopted an obvious dislike of children, especially those capable of squealing (those being the youngest and most vulnerable of children). Before her deportation, I would be quietly reading in or around the house and my peace would be shattered by the high-pitched wails of terrified children. The red-dirt road by my house is full of children passing to and fro and she tormented one and all. Fortunately, Adom never bit any of them, but she did manage to claim a little boy’s flip-flop one day. He never came back to claim the lost item and the event only elevated her character flaw amongst the locals. I could see only misery ahead, so, sadly I began searching for another home away from children, or a place with a fence. A friend of a friend recommended Andre and after a thorough background check, Adom moved to his house and she now has a larger doting family. I saw her two weeks ago and she seemed happy. By the way, the local dogs, for all their poor treatment and lack of care, are generally very well behaved. I suspect that those dogs born with ill-tempers find their way into stew pots and thus keep the bloodlines amiable. Domestication is rightly a great mystery.

Adom’s first puppy, Wisdom, died a mysterious death. One of my students from last year had adopted Wisdom and all seemed ok, but one day Sammy appeared at my house looking sad. He reported that Wisdom had “coughed then died.” I don’t know what really happened, but I do know that dogs don’t get the same sort of health care, shots, etc., here that they get in the U.S. I’m surprised that animals survive here at all. Besides all the typical problems, I even wonder if they get malaria. I know for a fact that rabies is rampant. I’m still mourning the loss of Wisdom, but hanging in my house is a small oil on canvas painting of Adom and Wisdom by my painter pal Katie. It is a treasure.

So, G3 (generation 3), was Adom’s litter in early May. She had 6 puppies and 3 have survived. Again more mysterious deaths; two puppies seemed to die from malaise and another was eaten by a gang of adult dogs, or so says the former puppy recipient. Of that litter, I have kept a male and female and I named them “Happy” and “Beautiful,” after my two favorite perfumes (yes, I aim for shallowness some days). Incidentally, that was my previous-life in the U.S. daily dilemma, did I want to be “happy” or “beautiful,” as if something sprayed could make a difference. Ok, that’s magical thinking, but there’s something inherently appealing about magical thinking, plus can you really imagine yelling, “world peace, and I mean for everyone” or “energy-efficient, non-polluting, non-toxic and renewable fuel for everyone, no exceptions” every hour or so, but on second thought, why not?? That reminds me of an old friend, who worked as a telephone solicitor one summer and occasionally her group would be asked to go to an office window and scream, “more money,” as a motivating behavior…there’s much to scream about these days. What are you screaming about??

But seriously, I also have a new cat, her name is Crazy. She is a calico, although mostly white. One eye is blue, the other is green. That recessive trait has always sorta spooked me in both animals and people, so I give her a wide berth. She is fond of scaling the screening and perching on the breezeway columns (11 foot above ground), thus the name. Once up, she can’t get down without an intervention, which got old the second time. Ordering a cat to do anything is just plain silly. Do you recall that Gary Larson cartoon about, “what cats hear,” as I recall the text bubble was absolutely empty. Sorry, one of those tangents…. So, the best part of Crazy is her predilection for eating things close to the ground, i.e. lizards, amphibs, insects, snakes, etc. For that skill, I’m most grateful and that earns her great smoked fish everyday.

I should mention that just last week another snake appeared in the breezeway, at nearly the exact location of the biting cobra. It was evening and I bounced out of the house to visit the toilet. On my way across the breezeway, I saw a snake curl and coil, then my heart stopped, and I mean STOPPED, SCREECHED TO A STOP, THEN STAYED STILL FOR A LONG TIME. Until I could start panting and focus my eyes and gather some wits (honestly, I never understood that phrase before, but it perfectly describes my process). Everything in my possession that could kill a snake was in the storage room on the other side of the snake; so, I trotted across the road to the wildlife staff quarters and one of the senior officers happily returned with me and dispatched the snake with his machete (never mind, that the wildlife crew is sworn to protect native animal species, snakes, I’ve learned are somehow except from protection). Fortunately, the specimen in my house was a nonpoisonous species. We could only guess that it had entered via the small space under the screen door. Now, I’m keeping my machete in the bedroom and the carpenter has added a stop under all the doors.

While on the topic of snakes, I should add that while my foot appears normal, there are days when it swells without provocation, or feels hot, or my foot turns bright pink. On those days, I believe the snake that bit me is nearby and I take extra precautions. One of the villagers suggested that perhaps the snake wants to apologize?? Hmmm. Snake or no snake, I’m going back to the snake specialist in Accra Thursday for a follow-up visit. I don’t expect any real news. Before leaving Ghana, I’d like to visit the local witch-doctor-herbalist. Many of the villagers feel he could end my post snake bite symptoms. Some of them even assert that the fangs are still in my foot. I don’t know anything, but I do know I’m gonna get a snake tattoo when I get back to the U.S.

My work situation keeps improving. As I mentioned last time, I’m finally officially switched from the evil NGO to the Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission, a department of the Lands Ministry of the Ghanaian government. That means there’s more than your usual amount of bureaucracy. On the positive side, they’re a friendlier bunch and they do try to serve the public interest. “Friendlier” means that they like to have parties, socialize and drink. But seriously, they’re rather like big boisterous Irish family— lots of internal jabbing and at the same time aggressive towards outsiders. Unlike the U.S. National Park Service, which features both law enforcement as well as interpretive focus, this group is mostly enforcement based (think military). Thus, the emphasis is on catching poachers, not on educating and enlightening the visitors. Regardless, I have been admitted to their club and I feel both safe and protected, which I hadn’t felt here before. In fact the NGO boys seemed to delight in keeping me slightly off-kilter.

The work with Wildlife will probably be spotty—something this week, but a week of nothing, which sounds ok to me. Two weeks ago I assisted in a two-week tour guide training. Honestly, it was one of the first times that I felt I could contribute and it was one of the first times that I was actually asked to contribute about the welfare of the park. Finally!!! The next project is probably some sort of fundraising or creating sound-spaces in the park (this is a “new” concept in national parks—sound as destination). Clearly the Wildlife gang is a better match for me. Even the haphazard schedule allows me to pursue other projects in the village--teaching, the girls group and other little endeavors still in the dream stages.

Speaking of dreams, last week the bicycle project finally ended. It took more than ten months, but at long last 120 bikes were delivered and distributed in my village. The half-day workshops empower all the recipients and I can only swell with awe seeing the bikes around the place. They call the bikes, “Auntie Esi’s bikes.” I only pray that no one perishes while riding one.

Another dream came true in August (gosh that was over a month ago, what have I been doing??). While I was waiting for the transfer from the NGO, my supervisor asked me to assist with a community cultural tourism assessment of a weaving community in northern Ghana. I jumped at the chance since I’m totally and absolutely enamored with textiles here (remember Ghana is the home of kente cloth, prized throughout the world for its beauty and history—if you don’t know anything about it, “Google” it). I spent a week in the community with a young woman from Ghana, who had recently graduated from one of Ghana’s universities. It was a first experience of working with a bright, young female from Ghana (oh, I have never given up on feminism….). At the park I have encountered countless well-educated young men, but this was my first well-educated young woman. Patricia was just lovely and the time was productive.

The village, Daboya (da boy yah) is renowned for their traditionally woven smocks, also called fugus. They are worn all over Ghana, but most common in the Muslim northern half of the country. The smocks are made from three to four inch woven strips that are sewn together to create a rather oversized shirt. (I’ll try to post pictures at--sorry, i didn't get this done, but will try again later). Besides weaving and sewing, the community also spins thread, dyes the yarn and sells the end product. I was simply speechless at the dye pits that use locally grown indigo. Indigo and other ingredients make the pits rather fragrant. In fact it is both the scent and the color blue that makes the Daboya smocks distinctive. (I recall that African slaves were used to farm indigo in the pre-Civil War south). The report is 90 percent done and essentially we are recommending a Peace Corps volunteer assist the community develop their tourism potential (human capacity building--help train tour guides, develop marketing strategies, etc.). I only wish I was going there to work for two years, I would love it. While there, I remembered art, how did I forget art?? Now, that’s a subject for another day….

My not so small girl Alice has finally left Abrafo for senior secondary school, but not without a big fight with her father, which has left me irritated and annoyed. Alice scored very well on her exams last year and her father, who works at the park as a maintenance supervisor, claimed he would send her to school. However, when it came time to pay the fees, something close to $180 for three months, her father claimed he had no money. School began two weeks ago and this, “has money” vs. “has no money” story continued while Alice sat at home. (I should add that Alice is the oldest of 14 children and her stepmother just gave birth to her 8th child. Families this large are no longer that common in Ghana, but it used to be the norm. Alice is treated like an ugly stepchild by the stepmother, who often refuses to feed her—urgh, urgh, urgh!!) Finally, I agreed to pay her school fees if the father would buy some petty, petty things. It took more work, more talking and finally threats to get the man to do what he said he’d do. I’m so sad that girls have to struggle here for education—this story is not unusual. I’m mad at Alice’s father and the whole system. This is a rant that might never end, so I’ll stop here…. Suffice to say that I’m happy Alice is now staying in a hostel at the nearby school. I’ll be able to visit her on weekends. For her father, I can only hope for a public castration.

And finally, my last news. Since I last wrote my dear friend Kate has returned to the U.S. after her two years at the Cape Coast School for the Deaf where she taught art. I spent time with Katie almost every week and her absence has been like a missing front tooth, you know how your tongue won’t leave the space?? Here in the x-pat/development work world, friends are fast to come and go. Some don’t leave the heart so fast; Katie is like that. That is also true for my other pal, Sarah, who is leaving this week after a big send-off party in her village. I’ll try to include some pictures soon of that event—drumming, dancing and merrymaking are planned. Like Katie, Sarah’s departure will leave another big hole. We have been meeting almost every week since arriving in Ghana at the same time, plus we were assigned to the same NGO and endured the same crap. Oh, woe!!

Let me end this prattle with gratitude. The letters continue to brighten my days. Packages full of goodies make my life sweeter—chocolates and body creams couldn’t be more perfect. Goodies for the kids make them feel oh-so-special. I want to especially thank Kathy Shrum, a RPCV (returned Peace Corps volunteer) and former resident of Indianapolis who has adopted me.

Also, belated birthday wishes to Shawna, Brenda, Kathy Egli, brother-in-law Brad, Gayle H., Kris and Barb, sister-in-law Missy, my twins Jane Barker and cuz Diane (both 14th girls), Donna Jones, Pop, nephew Jon, sister-in-law Lynda, Ruthie B., niece Nikki, Terri Mc, Joy, Sara Lenahan and forward to Marilyn P, Susan and Becky Whitney. Sorry, I know I’ve forgotten someone, or something???? For just ebout everything that needs and excuse or explanation, here in Ghana we say it’s due to the heat. It has been really hot lately, I think!!

Healing energy to Jen and everyone else…believe it, it’s real and it works….

Much, much love to all…d

ps. You might be wondering when I’m coming home. Well, definitely I’ll be home for christmas and that’s not so far away….

pss. my photos have moved, now they are at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dixiebird/

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Or how I landed in a Ghanaian hospital for ten days and accomplished something that no one in my village had ever done before: I survived a poisonous snake bite.

Of course that title is intended to pique your interest; however, you’ll need to wade awhile before you get into that deep water. First, I offer my most sincere apologies for taking so long to write. In the past, I’ve used writing as a form of discovery and an accounting of the days, at least the highlights, but somehow the flow had stopped and even though some of you nudged, I couldn’t get going for awhile. That being said, don’t think for a moment that I’ve forgotten anyone or anything

Nonetheless, it has been so long since I wrote a blog entry that I don’t know where to start—ok, I’ll start with some good stuff. The single best news is Moon House. I can barely believe that I’m living in a house with that name, it makes me giggle. Although, I’ve been there nearly four months, it still feels like only a few days. I am shocked by the comfort, like the deep pleasure of breathing for the first time after a long dive underwater. Moon house is simply the most serene place I have lived while in Ghana and perhaps ever—the place just has good mojo. (check out the cool pictures at: http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/dxebird7/my_photos , but bear in mind it might take a day or two). The rains have returned and I’m planning a modest vegetable and flower garden. Also, the JSS3 boys are coming to build a bamboo fence to keep the “lawn-mowers” at bay, honestly I don’t know why the goats and sheep won’t eat anything you really want them to prune, but that’s how it goes out here on the open range of the rainforest….

In hindsight, I now know that I was suffering from what Maslow might insist is a basic human need, namely, “shelter.” Silly me, I only thought of shelter as walls, or protection from the elements, a woefully inadequate definition. The elements, noise and bad energy, were beating me as surely as a cold rain. Once moved, I realized how tightly I was wound (is that the same spelling as “wound,” wind vs. wound, what you do to a clock vs. a knife injury?, now that’s a typical tangent). When I first moved, there wasn’t electricity at the house, which meant that I didn’t have all the conveniences of the earlier house: no lights, no refrigerator, no iron and worse yet, NO CEILING FANS. Yet, I was happier and not surprising, more productive.

The lack of electricity meant that my days were a lot like camping, sans the nightly fire. Why no fire? Because, it’s always too hot for a fire; hell, it’s nearly too hot for light bulbs. Candles are just fine for me, but that light is insufficient for reading. While I was hand-twisting about the electricity, the Wildlife boys offered me a room in their nearby quarters with an electrical outlet (more on the Wildlife boys in a bit). Thus, I moved frig, iron, camera charger, etc. into their house about 100 yards away from Moon house and that arrangement was ok, although I really, really wanted electricity.

Beginning back in August, I started the process of getting electricity to the house, long before I ever moved. The builder/architect had already wired the place and they had powered it with a gas-chugging-loud-as-a-jackhammer generator (happily long gone). Even with electrical service, power outages are a common event here in Ghana, land of power shortages/outages (do you really want to know about the politics of energy in a developing country??). The Electric Co. of Ghana is a little like the ol’ Lilly Tomlin-Laugh-In skits about the telephone company—they’re not only omnipotent, but they’re also on the-take.

I knew getting electricity would take a lot of money and I was prepared, but I wasn’t prepared for the ordeal. Getting electricity required 9 months and 28 trips to the local district capital, a town 20 kilometers north and costing 14,000 cedis roundtrip. In addition, the prelude required much smiling and nice-making with the BIG BOYS, never mind the “palm” money paid up and above the actual fees for the service. Oh yeah, there was a pole involved and the community cheerfully donated that, but the Electric Company vacillated back and forth on the pole’s viability—pole ok, pole not ok, pole tall enough, pole not tall enough?? We might as well, just roll the dice. Somehow, I decided that having electricity in the house was worth about 10 therapy sessions and that is just about what it cost (you won’t be surprised to know that I still need the 10 sessions!!!!).

Finally, in early May, the men and the truck arrived. They installed the pole, ran the wire, and lit-up the house. My village neighbors still praise my patience and resolve, of course they didn’t see the logs that I chewed through to maintain an exterior calm and single-minded purpose. Since Moon House ostensibly belongs to the community, they provided nearly constant support for the effort, which included several members of the local political structure visiting the Electric Co. and the neighboring district administrators. They also came and cleared the small trees and brush necessary for the wire to be unrolled on the ground. My electricity was a sort of “lightening rod” for the village, even community members that I barely knew would talk and laugh about the electrical vicissitudes—it provided a forum to discuss the various village problems—lack of electricity, inadequate wells, paltry medical services, etc. Overall, I felt the experience became an empowering drama, although a bit heavy on the drama.

So, now I’m electrified—it’s a little irrational exuberance, but I’m pleased, especially about the ability to read at night (remember its dark from 6:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.). Due to growing demand for electricity and questionable government deals with neighboring countries, Ghana now has an inadequate domestic electrical supply, which means we have rolling blackouts every three days that last for 12 hours and that is just long enough to spoil all the sensitive items in the refrigerator. I still keep candles on-hand as well as a rechargeable flashlight. That pretty much sums-up my electrical drama, but of course there are other dramas….

The next drama was more like a disappointing overly-hyped film, namely my switch from the NGO boys to the Wildlife clan (I can’t honestly say “boys” anymore about the Wildlife gang since nearly half their staff is female, however, their senior mgmt. is all male and they get their umph from military training, sorta the equivalent to our law enforcement arm of the National Parks). I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before, but the NGO boys and the Wildlife Division co-manage the park. The NGO runs the visitor’s center, commissions the café and the gift shop, and provides all the maintenance and repair of the visitor’s center and the canopy walkway. The Wildlife Division is a governmental agency and they provide tour guides for all visitors, protect the flora and fauna of the park (that includes armed surveillance and anti-poaching teams) and maintain cordial relations with all the 400+ communities surrounding the park. I’m still unclear about what I’m doing with this new bunch, but I do know that they’re friendlier and overall, far more humane with their staff and more business-oriented in their approach to the work. I nearly cried when I learned that they have quarterly goals (by contrast the management of the NGO has no plans and any and all proposals seemed to threaten them somehow).

You might correctly suspect that the relationship between the NGO and the Wildlife Division is uneven at best and territorial at worst. Really, I’m hoping to bridge the gap for the sake of the park and the many lovely stakeholders. The Peace Corps really pushed the move forward, especially once my supervisor started to get the same run-around that I had gotten for the past year and a half. Make no mistake, it is a serious slap for Peace Corps to remove a volunteer from an organization, after all Peace Corps’ mission is to support development and that approach must honor those early, nascent steps toward greater human/organizational capacity development. The evil-NGO-boys had no redeeming capacity and I’m so happy to be away from them. I hadn’t even realized the frustration until it was gone and I noticed how sore my head was from hitting the proverbial wall…. Enough said on this topic since I don’t know what will unfold, but I’m thrilled with the possibilities ahead.

Hmmm, now what to do?? While waiting for a clearer vision of the near future, I’ll continue to teach and help the community with their plans to do something. Helping them define what needs to be done is as important as accomplishing the actual thing--maybe it’s a new water pump, maybe an early childhood educational building, perhaps adult education, who knows?? Also, I really enjoy my basic business advising work. Last week I worked with an electrician who wants to expand his business—mostly what he needs is a better location (remember that ol’ adage—location, location, location….). Next week I hope to help with a basic business seminar in the district capital. Basic business skills are so necessary here, often people have no idea about basic accounting—are they making a profit?? If you ask most small-scale business people, they don’t know. These are skills that can be taught and Peace Corps has a ton of resources to help.

What else?? Oh yeah, my dog. Adom had her second litter. The puppies are almost a month old. What an ordeal…. First, there’s that miserable courtship zaniness, dogs urinating snarling and growling all day and night for a whole week. Then there’s the poutiness of pregnancy and finally the big dance. Fortunately, we were both better prepared to be parents. I heard squeals at 4 a.m. and thought there was a new bird species in the vicinity—ha!! It wasn’t until 7 a.m. that I discovered Adom curled into a corner with 3 little ones. Three more came later and one was born dead. Presently, my little mother has 3 females and 2 males, but one of the females is not thriving even though she gets hand-fed, I don’t expect she’s long for this world. The other four are robust and a tumbly-bumbly clump of fur. By the way, Adom’s first pup, Wisdom, went to live with one of my favorite students, Sammy. Now and again, he appears like a ghost and pokes his nose around the place, then disappears. I don’t think Adom even notices, but I smile.

Now that I’m rolling, there’s so much else to say, but I better start on the cobra story—it requires serious pulp. Well, at 3:15 a.m. on Saturday, June 9th, I got out of bed and padded barefooted out to my toilet, which is separated from the living room and bedroom of my house by a concrete breezeway that is about 20 feet long. I didn’t really NEED to go to the toilet, but due to the past five months of nearly constant urinary tract infections, I decided to go anyway. After sitting on the toilet, exiting the room and closing the door behind me, I stepped on something—something that wiggled and hurt me like a bee sting, it also seemed to wind around my foot, so naturally I kicked it forward like a ball. All this happened within seconds and in complete darkness, even the moon was absent. Oddly enough, the breezeway light had died just the week before, not that I really ever turned it on when visiting the toilet at night or for any other reason to be outdoors at night—moon, stars, or odd sounds. Anyway, without moving a step forward I reviewed the stinging options. In Ghana there are biting scorpions, millipedes, centipedes, spiders and lizards, just to start the list. I thought I should look at the thing to know how to proceed and by turning on the toilet light I determined that I had kicked a snake, at least that is what the coiled mass under the chair looked like.

When I got back into the house I could see blood oozing from my top of my right foot. Immediately, I began reading the Peace Corps Health Handbook (yup, I’m ridiculously logical in an emergency). The book said to “seek immediate medical attention” and not spend time searching for the snake. I knew from the park tour guide’s schpiel (is that a word?) that the locally prevalent green mamba’s venom could kill in about 30 minutes; thus, I decided I needed to know if I had 30 minutes or a little longer. Back outside I limped, this time armed with a flashlight (yes, for a short minute I wanted a gun, but I don’t really believe in killing anything). What I saw wasn’t the bright lime green colors of the green mamba, but rather a mossy-green-gray tail end of a snake as it crossed a short wall to the courtyard. I happily skipped thinking about who I’d try to call in thirty minutes, what would I say, or what I’d try to write (probably the happiest moment of my life to see that snake wasn’t bright green….).

Hurriedly, I got into clothes and hobbled to the Wildlife quarters, where after banging on two doors I roused one of the senior staff members. He quickly rode his motorcycle into Abrafo, about 1/3 kilometer away, and fetched Ken Asare, he is Alice’s father (my student-watergirl-friend), he works at the park and he owns a taxi (cars are uncommon in most rural villages, although Abrafo probably has 8-10 vehicles). Within a few minutes Ken arrived with his car and he sped toward Cape Coast. Within 15 minutes my foot was already swollen and painful. We arrived at Cape Coast’s relatively new hospital by 4 a.m. and then nothing much happened. They hooked me up to a saline drip and let me sit while they sent for the pharmacist to unlock the drugs—the anti-venom. Well, I don’t know what the pharmacist was doing, but when he finally arrived about 2 hours later he discovered that there wasn’t any anti-venom in the hospital’s pharmacy.

Somehow time wobbled, by 8 a.m. I still didn’t have anti-venom, although all the staff seemed to agree that was what I needed. Finally, my friend Sam was sent by taxi around to various Cape Coast pharmacies to find anti-venom. The husband of a Peace Corps nurse who lives nearby was similarly sent searching for the same. The whole affair was getting mythical and if I hadn’t been on a hospital bed, I would have laughed. The venom was spreading up my right leg and I was swelling inch by inch. I had read all the symptoms of venomous snakes at home, so when I began getting nauseous, clammy and having difficulty breathing, I knew time was getting short. Miraculously, the anti-venom arrived, shot into my saline bag and within minutes I could feel the easing of my panic.

The lack of treatment continued all day, mostly the staff just ignored me and the Peace Corps nurses were so unhappy with my treatment that they decided I needed to be in the nearly first-world hospitals of Accra. They arrived at 7 p.m. and whisked me away. Instantly I felt safer in their possession; the language barrier alone made matters miserable. Once back in Accra, their first choice hospital declined my care, stating that they were incapable of caring for a snake bite victim. The Peace Corps nurse Cynthia was so mad I thought she was going to throw a chair or something. Indeed, earlier that day via phone, they had said they could admit me.

Onward to hospital #2, 37 Military Hospital, where at 2 a.m., I was finally on a bed. Before the bed, they rolled me into the emergency room; I followed what must have been a multi-vehicle-passenger traffic accident. Everywhere—on every bed, on every chair, lined up against every wall and sprawled on every part of the floor--were bleeding, moaning, and screaming people. Somehow, our little Peace Corps entourage was swept past all that in a slow-motion sequence by a sharp-witted female doctor. It is almost always true that a “white” gets preferential treatment here and the hospitals make that statement louder than anyone else I’ve encountered (too sadly true….).

The next day, I was seen by the resident snake specialist, Dr. Akotoo. He said they should have continued giving me anti-venom until the swelling had ceased. Ultimately, the swelling had stopped at mid-thigh. My foot was so swollen that I couldn’t move the ankle joint or my toes. The anti-venom was sufficient, but just barely. Now, they grew concerned about the possibility of bacteria and infection, which is exactly what was happened. By Monday afternoon, by foot was hot and turning red—really red, carmine, angry red, blood-blood red and moving up over my ankle. Cellulitis, which is a deep tissue bacterial infection, became my new nemesis, scarier somehow than the snake, and it was actively altering my cellular construction. Only massive, broad-spectrum antibiotics could stop and hopefully reverse the trend. On Tuesday, I was convinced I would lose my foot. Even though I was glad to be alive, I cried and cried over my scary foot. Let me add that the swelling was intense, mid-foot was 2 inches larger, mid-calf was 3 ½ inches larger and mid-thigh (not that my thighs aren’t already big enough) was 5 inches larger. I felt like a monster….

Luckily, PCVs came to visit and made me laugh; they brought levity and treats. The Peace Corps nurses came too and brought me every treat and trinket I could name—juice, books, etc., but frankly I had no appetite. The nurses supported me in everyway possible, especially the basics. In Ghanaian hospitals you don’t get toilet paper, or towels, or even flatware for your meals—you’re supposed to bring that from home (I didn’t know….). I received parallel great treatment from the Ghanaian nurses and doctors. By Wednesday afternoon the infection was subsiding and the angry-red was reducing rather then increasing. While my foot and leg were better, my hands were swollen, bruised and sore from the multiple, large-dose antibiotics they were pumping into me day and night.

After a full week and a day, on Monday, June18th, they released me to the Peace Corps nurses, who promptly took me to the Peace Corps compound and propped me up in one of the medical-unit rooms. They have a great medical ward here, but they can’t administer the kinds of meds the hospital could, nor are they capable of 24-hour monitoring, which is what I needed at first. Incidentally, the med rooms are rather spartan, but comfortable with a bed, shelves and air conditioning. The compound contains all the administrative offices, plus a library, a computer room, toilet/shower facilities and a lounge with a TV and DVD player for volunteers to enjoy when in town. However, PCVs can’t overnight at the Peace Corps office unless they’re admitted to the medical unit; they can only stay from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

So, that’s nearly the end of it. I’ve been out of the hospital for 2 days and I’m still at the med unit in Accra. Happily, I’m off the IVs, but I’m still taking oral antibiotics and walking is moderately tough. Generally, I feel a little wobbly. My foot is still slightly swollen, but reducing by the day. Honestly, I expect a fang to pop out of that foot some day. If so, I’ll have it made into a necklace or something….

I may return to Abrafo on Friday, although I’m not sure—maybe next Monday. I don’t need to push anything. Rest is my only agenda.

So, my dear friends and family that’s my story for today. Please forgive my long absence from new words and know most certainly that I think of you more often than you’ll know. This work continues to be the hardest job I’ve ever loved. There’s never any rest, but I don’t think I really want any, I want to absorb it all, let it nourish me in a way that staying comfortable can’t….

Know too that your letters and goodies are treasured, but Deb Bussard takes the cake by sending dog food and puppy chow via the mail (Kathy Shrum in on that too). Thanks to all for the Christmas goodies—wow!! The kids especially love the goodies that come their way.

Also, because some of you asked, the balance of the bicycles, 120 more, should arrive in Abrafo in September (for info on the Village Bicycle Project, see their website at: http://www.pcei.org/vbp/

Healing energy to Jen and Shari’s folks….


Ps. I’m lost on the b’day folks, I think I had gotten up through March?? Sorry, if I’ve missed you, but know that I always remember—belated to birders--Becky L., Lynn; Deb Bussard, Mom, Mylinda, Jena, MSH, Annie Barker, Miss Daisy (Tammara-did I spell that wrong??) and Rebecca, down there in the holler. Advance greetings to the fabulous cancers—Mary Byrne (a million times), Dino and amazing Amy Benckart. Miss you all….

Pss. In my spare time I’ve been thinking about reverse alchemy and the miracle of rain (vs. drought). Also, how to teach my student’s to type without computers or typewriters. Next time, I’ll write about my student's taking their national tests, my experience getting stuck in the water tank and any other absurdities that have crept into the day….