Wednesday, June 19, 2013

See you Mampong! K and S are on the move!!
Private trotro to dinner
Awesome foursome! 
Nii, me, Philo
Nii-Bortey
Rachel, me, Georgia
Biggest ever plate of food. There is rice and black eyed beans under there 
Stephen and I. It's been a selfies kind of week

The end of a chapter

WARNING! Emotional, soppy, long post below! 

I'm writing this as I am on a bus from Cape Coast to Accra. This is the 2nd part of my journey to day as we left our home on Twifu Mampong for the last time this morning. 

The last few days and the weekend didn't include much excitement. The weekend was very relaxed with a couple of the other volunteers visiting. My best friend, Georgia came so we could spend our last weekend together and a volunteer who Kirsten knows from back home and is on the program came. They are going travelling to Europe together after here. It was so nice to show them around the village and the kids loved having them. I spent pretty much the whole weekend with Nii. Started to hit me that it was only a matter of days left that I would see him. I find it so amazing and I'm so lucky that I have had 2 of the best relationships in my life with 4 year olds and in the last year. I thought saying goodbye to Joseph at the special school in December was one of the hardest things but Nii is just as special and these 2 boys have honestly individually changed my life. They just don't know it because they're only 4. 

The only other thing to report was a massive 6 foot snake that was killed by a house near ours. It was about 4 inches thick and thank goodness I didn't see it alive but they did point it out to me dead. Lovely. Pretty pleased this occurred in my last week here! 

So, now lets get emotional. Yesterday was our last day teaching and I just appreciated how amazing the kids are. They've put me through my paces that's for sure and on some days it would have been a hell of a lot easier to ask that I not teach and help with the kitchen and everything or help with the younger kids but I didn't and that's meant I've had the most amazing experiences and relationships with these kids. We had a normal day teaching pretty much and I spent my day videoing and taking pictures. There will be so many up here next week when I'm home and settled. The class I like to call my class as I worked really hard on their maths with them and getting them prepared I hope for their exams in a couple of months. They have to pass these exams to be allowed into high school. Most kids in this class, if they don't pass will never go to school again. They are a naughty class but with some strict Siwan it meant we got somewhere I think and I really got to know the kids, especially the really naught ones who eventually were just cheeky but really wanted to do well for me. Was a very proud teacher this week seeing them all study for my tests and apologise when they didn't think thus done well. Pleased I put the time in to them because I think it paid off and it will really help them in August. It's really crazy to think I've spent the last year pretty much teaching and with kids and it's all over! I really do love teaching an spending time with kids so it is sad to think it won't be happening for a while but noone said it's the end... 

We decided that we would like to do something for the family to show how grateful we are to them for all they've done for us. So, since some of the children have never been to a restaurant for dinner we took them all for a meal! Getting 10 people of which 6 are children and 8 are Ghanaians, trust me, this was not easy!! They said we would go straight after school so we got changed and were ready by 3:45. We left at 6:30! Turns out for an extra 5 cedis ($2.50 ish) we could hire an entire trotro from this guy that lives next to us and he would wait and bring us home. Ghanaian limo! The kids were sooo excited. We could have driven round and they would've been happy. Not quite what we did. We went to our local town, Twifu Praso and went to the only restaurant there which is a part of the Shell petrol station. The choice was fried rice, plain rice or banku. I just wanted a piece of chicken so I went for fried rice as did K and every child with the parents having one plain rice and a banku. Funniest order I've ever given, '8 fried rice, one banku, one plain rice thank you'. The kids were all so well behaved sitting down but they were so tired. Food comes...with a knife and fork!!!! This may not seem exciting to all of you but I honestly can think of 3 times I've used a knife and fork in this country and well the kids have never used them. Seen them but never used them. I was almost in hysterics seeing little Nii trying get rice from his plate to his mouth using the wrong end of a knife and a fork. He was adorable. Everyone scoffed their food it's safe to say while me and Kirsten as per every meal were almost throwing up we were so full. They wonder why we've put on weight with portions like that. I let the kids attack my food too because they were enjoying it so much and they need it more than feeding my fat. When dinner was over and everyone was smiling and there was quite the mess all over the table we went home in our private trotro and returned to give all our family their presents. We had asked them all what they needed since most don't have school bags or whatever. It came to 2 smart shirts for the eldest boy and our host father, a headscarf and necklace for our host mother, 3 school bags for the middle kids, sandals for second to youngest and a ball for Nii. I've never seen anyone so happy that he had a ball all to himself!! I then proceeded to crash on my bed when I should have been packing. Oops. 

Due to my lack of packing last night I got up early and finished off and realised if packed or given all my clothes to the children and basically had nothing to wear so had to extract some clothing from my bag which was challenging since it contains a drum. The drum is the size of my bag so the only things in my bag are stuffed around it or in it. Shows I'm not bringing home much. When we finally finished packing it was off to school we go. So we handed out sweets and things Kirsten had brought with her like pencils and we bought pens and everything. Then we had our send off ceremony. It consisted of them presenting gifts from the staff management, staff, school, host family and PTA. Then one of the teachers we are close with as Kirsten shares classes with her stood up and thanked us and sai how hard we had worked and that she now thought of us both as her sisters which was a huge honour and felt very lucky to have friends across the world. We then stood and i thanked them all for their welcome, their hospitality and to the kids we teach for accepting us as their teachers as we learnt with them. We told them how they don't realise how caring they all are and how much they've taught us as well. Then Kirsten wished them all good luck and told them that they could do anything they please with hard work and that we are sad to leave as we will not see them continue to grow but how much we will miss them. Then came the goodbyes. All the children sang a beautiful thank you song and when it was over all our classes jumped on us holding our hands 'God bless you Madam' 'Safe journey' 'We will miss you' 'Please don't leave'. After the mob died down and they were sent to their classes we had a moment saying goodbye to the teachers we are good friends with and I went to jump around with my BS6 class one last time and tell them to keep working hard and they make me super proud. Then came the tough part. We walked to each class where one of our family's kids is to give them a card and say goodbye. 
Freda - we got a big hug
Nii - I burst into tears as he came running up and wrapped his arms around my legs. In that second I had no idea how I could leave. Seriously. 
Afia - we got a great hug and she smiled and we got her cheeky grin 
SK - got a moody shrug. Had our difficulties with him. He either loves us and won't let go or hates us. Unfortunately today was a hate today but wouldn't be the same if he was normal with us! 
Philo - she snuggled up and said shell miss us and that got me all teary 
Stephen - the boy who has a heart of gold. He turned to me and said 'Zill (because that's my DJ nickname from DJ Siwanzill) I'm going to miss you and I will cry. Don't forget me.' Obviously I cried again.
And there ended the goodbyes of the kids. We went with our host mother home and met our host father who helped us with our bags up to the road, ma just put them on her head. Standard. We got a trotro and our host mother gave us a big hug. She is one hell of a character but she's looked after us, fed us and cared for us every second. She will forever remain a special woman to me. 

Now I'm on my way to the capital, Accra, where I began the journey in my Africa trousers, fat and very dirty. Different to when I came in jeans, relatively thin and sparkly clean. I don't remember what that feels like. 

What sums up my time here? Sand. Dirt. RICE! Children. Lack of sleep. Bugs. Sweat. Hard work. Friends. Frustration. RICE! School. Travelling. Georgia. Beauty. Welcoming people. Nii. Kirsten. 

That last one, where we may be entirely different people and come from different places, here I relied on Kirsten entirely as she did me. I have lived with her every second for 5 months almost and I wouldn't change it for anything. I would choose Kirsten everytime, wouldn't change our partnership for anything as we've formed a friendship that I know will last forever. From roomies to sisters to pen pals. It's been one hell of a road K but we made it. We reached the end and we did it together. 

There are way too many words to describe my time here but it's safe to say the people I've met along the way have changed my life not just the place. And now I've done the gap year it changed my life thing I do have to say, there is no place like home. The people who I am going to see in the next 3 days are where home is and it's time to go back now. 

Will be on next week with how my travels are and how it feels to be home. 

See you on the other side!

Love, 

Siwan Emily 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Friday, June 14, 2013

Nii and Siwan, bestest friends 

1 week till home!

Yet another week has been and gone and now I have only 1 week to go!!!! Been here now for 141 days and have just 8 till I'm home! Not sure how I feel about leaving, it's mixed feelings but to be honest I can't wait to be home and see everyone! 

So, back to business. This week. Basically, was a very usual week with a few surprises as always in this country. 

SURPRISE #1 
Monday after a horrible day of caning for BS6 on Friday included a class test set by me. One of the only classes I don't share with Sam is BS6 Maths which is what my class test was for. The test went fine and their marks are so improved, not good in the least but remarkably improved so is as really pleased with them. I returned their tests the same day and made sure each child had theirs so that I knew no caning was going on. The BS6 classroom is at the far end of school to where I sit. So, straight after I hand them out and walk back to where I sit, one of the BS6 kids comes up to me and said 'Sir is collecting the papers to cane us.' So, off I march up to the classroom to find him cane in hand with my tests. To cut it short, we got in quite an argument which ended with me snatching the papers and saying 'They're my BS6 Maths class and therefore I get to punish or reward them as I please'. He then said 'Welcome to Ghana'. I am not an angry person but it's safe to say it took every ounce of me to force myself to walk away from that situation without pushing it further. Bearing in mind I've been here for 5 months, taught almost all of his classes and everyday he has said something insulting or ignored me entirely I think walking away then was one of the most difficult but probably best decisions I've made. So, there ends the rant. 

SURPRISE #2 
Trip to the hospital. Nothing serious just developed an odd rash that was driving me to insanity with the itching. So, finally decided to go. Was surprisingly uneventful, just some sitting and waiting and then came the prescription for my skin infection which has been causing me to be run down and ill. My prescription is 20 pills a day!!!! Plus my malaria pill so I am taking 21 pills a day! Before taking them it seemed a bit much so I text my friend here that I met in the first week who told me not to worry, they're ALL antibiotics and antifungals and that I should take them all and I'll be fine. I am drugged up to my eyeballs! But seems to be working so it's all good. 

SURPRISE #3
Another trip to the hospital. This time was with Nii. Nii is the smallest boy in our family, he's 4 and it's safe to say, we are quite attached. Any time he's been ill I've carried him home and we fall asleep after school sometimes together on my bed and we share food everyday. So for a while he's been ill on and off and had horrific skin kind of like bites but a rash and they've looked really bad so finally Ma asked me to take him to the hospital. Mami Siwan came out in full force. The queue in the hospital was huge for some reason so we had to wait 4 hours to be seen which just meant so much bonding time with Nii. He held on to me the entire day or snuggled up on my knee. Then I took him in to the consultation room and were informed it was scabies which is an itch mite that lives in the skin and you get them living in unhygienic living conditions. So this meant he was to have medication and 3 injections. 3 injections was not covered by the insurance so I paid not very much and in we go for the injections. I hate injections but was rather unfazed in my position of parenting. They then asked me to lean Nii over my knees so they could inject his bum. And he was petrified. He screamed and kicked and cried and because he was so tense they couldn't get the needle in. They smacked him and I was completely helpless. They then got a male nurse to hold him which I thought I'd be really pleased about but then he looked at me and grabbed my hand and screamed my name, I mean screamed. It was horrific. It is safe to say I love Nii and hated seeing him so distressed but I knew it was for his own good. They never got the needle in and Ma had to take him so eventually he got the injection. But I put him on my back and squeezed onto me and held on so tight in the taxi and all the way back to school. Then, we have been inseparable since. I think leaving on Wednesday is going to feel like leaving Joseph back at the special school. I'm going to hate it but I love that we've had this and he's the best. Want to bring him home with me. 

I'm going to love you and leave me. Next one will probably be my last from the country!! Wow!! 

Siwan Emily 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Ama Benewa win!! And racism...

I'll start with the not so cheery. As we come to our final few weeks we are starting to get tired and the excitement and acceptance of everything is wearing off and we're really starting to feel affected by the things that get thrown at us. When I say we I'm talking Kirsten and I. Mainly when I say this I'm talking racism. And I'm not going to say much other than give you the examples: 

Your skin is horrible, like pig. (Followed by a pig snort. Pig snorting is regular at us) 
Your cheeks are fat like apples. 
Your eyes are like cats, they are not good. 

This is just from the children and teachers at school who have had white volunteers for 7 years, 4 a year so that's 28 white girls and they're still like this. We question them and ask why do they say this to which they reply 'Because we don't like, it is not nice'. We just look at each other and say 'oh Africa' or 'oh life'. But it's safe to say everyday is getting a bit wearing now. 

The other thing is our school today performed in a culture competition against other schools with a dance performance and a drama performance! All I can say without posting the videos is it was really hot and WE WON!! AMBIS ARE THE WINNERSSSSSSSS!!! Was so proud because they've worked so hard and performed so well even if it was a little stressful with me typing the script with 4 minutes to go and then having to run to the competition to give it to the judges. That is all I have to say now. No more for a few days. 

Love you all, 

Siwan Emily 
Trying to remember calculus to teach one of the teachers. 
How I punish children - kneel on the floor and put your hands in the air. 
Culture dancing kids 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Celebration x 2

So, for those that know me you know what the first of the two celebrations is - my 19th birthday! The second was our host's mother's funeral, her name is Rebecca Ama Benewa. So to make it easier I'll go day by day and explain everything that went on! 

FRIDAY 
Happy Birthday me! Last teenage year then I've got to be a big girl! Woke up to the best birthday messages. One from the fam jam, a perfect birthday card with reminder of home as it was a Philly ecard which made me smile a lot and got me all excited for my second birthday in not too long when i'm home and Nay, well what can I say...a perfect message reminding me how old I was and that I was getting sensible and serious in my life and all the amazing stuff I have to come. So, I'm done being gross and nostalgic (can you tell, I'm beginning to get excited to see everyone again - you do get a little emotional when you're away for 5 months!). Then off to school, but before this could happen, Kirsten, the best roommate anyone could ask for quickly swung out a drum hiding in our humble room for my birthday which all my friends had contributed to buy me as I have wanted from the moment we arrived to take one home! Sooo cool! Will post a picture. So then off we went to school as normal and it was fun. Kirsten took some fun pictures of us at school and then we had worship which is always a lot of signing, clapping, dancing and drumming. Then, when it is your birthday here you have to buy things for people as well as people buying you things which meant I had to buy a lot of sweets for all my 3 classes and handing them out became such a riot as other classes were trying to get one I just threw them in the air and let them fight for them. Was so funny to watch. After school, we went home and people had started to arrive for the funeral so there were lots of people milling around our house so we got changed and spent the evening cooking and relaxing with all the ladies preparing food. I think this is one of the nicest parts of culture here even if it is a little sexist. Then just before bed we went to pick up our Sunday dresses for the funeral and when we returned I was greeted with the best birthday tradition. You have to be soaked in water. So, when we returned the children attacked me with about 5 buckets of water (which bearing in mind we have to walk 10 mins to get was a big deal) so I was drenched from head to toe!! 

SATURDAY 
Oh this was a fun day! Well, interesting. We were awoken at 6ish and told to get dressed and go. Dressed in black looking reasonably smart I hope. We were guided up to the family house where Ama Benewa lived and one of the sons lives. There was a tent outside and a choir singing. We sat down and then were swiftly told to go into the house to pay our respects. We walked in and were I would say the right word is confronted by Ama Benewa literally. There she was lying in a big white bed adorned in white clothing with flashing lights around her. Just want to point out two things here: 1. She has been dead for 5 months so how they preserve I have no idea 2. Not only have I never seen a body before, I have never been told to greet one at a Ghanaian funeral so it's safe to we were a little lost. So we said a prayer and left awkwardly. Awkward is the only way to describe us here at least once a day but what can you do? All part of the experience and I can now say as a 19 year old I have seen a dead body. From there we sat and listened to singing and some preaching outside. Then the children from the school choir arrived of which 4 are our family kids, Freda, Philo, SK and little Afia so the grandchildren of Ama Benewa. We then, as teachers took them in to see her where they were to sing for 15 minutes. So many of the children were crying and the kids from our family were screaming and were literally dragged out at the end. After being so close to these kids now for 4 and a half months I just wanted to take the pain away. It was horrific. The children went home and we stayed to watch the rest which included the coffin being bought out and there being some blessing of it and some crying and some bizarre preaching. 

After this we went to the cemetery following a taxi with the coffin sticking out the back. And it was put in the grave that had been built already.  All cemented into the perfect rectangle ready for the coffin. Then they put some premade cement blocks over it and started to cement it up. This was relatively quick and non emotional after the morning so all seemed to end abruptly. Walked home with Derrick and went to see how the kids were getting on at the school. As we were walking there we were greeted by the kids coming in the opposite direction. They were all ready for their performance so we headed up to the square where all the funeral celebrations were happening, about 200 people sat watching. The kids all went into the town building thing kind of like a town hall but used for nothing except storing the funeral tents. They got all dressed in their traditional outfits and jewellery and paint and came out ready for their 'culture dance'. Will post a picture of how amazing they looked an when I'm home in a couple of weeks I'll post a video. They were amazing and I was so proud. The drumming and dancing that they performed was amazing! Can't describe it as there is no comparison to something in our culture. Only way would be a shuffling dancing walk with some funny movements of the arms but that is completely wrong because its really hard and they were really amazing and it's a really cool dance. 

After they performed we went home and ate lunch with the teachers on our porch of banku and okro soup which was delicious. Then the rest of the evening was nice and relaxed which was good since we were shattered. 

SUNDAY 
We woke up like the latest we ever have here which for me was about 7:30!! Wow! Unfortunately though, that came with a sore throat. We got told to dress in our Ghanaian outfits for church around 9 so of course we did but obviously everyone else was on Ghana time so didn't leave till like 10:30. We went up to the square for the church service. There isn't much to say about a church service other than there is a lot of shouting and preaching and singing and money giving. Sat next to Derrick and Kirsten which was not my best move as it meant I got the giggles and then couldn't really stop. Derrick is the first person we've met here our age who kind of gets it simply because he watches about 5 western movies a day and has been away from the village to boarding school. Kind of nice to finally have someone who has our back. And there ends Sunday, we did nothing except lie down all day and eat one meal which was the downfall of the day but it didn't include cabbage which are the first vegetables we've had in maybe 3 weeks so was quite happy with that. 

Weekend done. Got more to say so will do another one about our last 2 days. Sorry for the length and probably the boring ness but either write it all or don't write much. Till the next! 

Siwan Emily