Our program here in Ghana, Natural Resource Management, is actually a kind of new group. Before our current group of trainees, they used to do Small Enterprise Development (SED) and Environment separately. Now they are grouped together, which makes sense since Ghana has such a vast amount of important natural resources that need to be conserved and that can be better developed to support the Ghanaian people. At my site I will be working mostly with the environmental side of things- establishing tree nursuries, planting trees, supporting dry season farming, supporting youth and women's groups, promoting environmental conservation activities, and promoting alternative livelihood projects such as rabbit rearing.
Last Monday afternoon we went to the Deputy Chief of Missions house in Accra for the reception of our Peace Corps group. The DCM is second in command after the U.S. Ambassador to Ghana. Unfortunately we didn't meet the ambassador because he was out of town, but we should meet him later on sometime. I didn't talk to the DCM directly, but I did talk more with our trainers and our Country Director, Mike. The reception was near the U.S. Embassy, which we got to drive past to look at. For a second there it felt as though we were right back in suburbia America, with the walled communities and tightly packed houses and apartments. It would be very easy to stay in a cushioned American bubble in this two-block radius of Accra. And so in one of these very nice, air conditioned houses with a huge yard, we had our last few cold beers (and we all keep saying that each beer is our last, but we've had a few of these "last beers").
On Tuesday it was time to leave for our training site, Kukurantumi. The drive was about 2 1/2 hours, and we went almost directly north of Accra. This is my mistake- I told evreyone that Kukurantumi is near the Togoan border, because this is the only Kukurantumi Google knows about...this is FALSE. If you look on a map, Kukurantumi is north of Accra, approximately halfway to Lake Volta in that area. The drive was very beautiful, very lush, lots of banana and plantain trees everywhere, not unlike Costa Rica. On the bus ride all of the guys were asking Dan about football scores, so I found out the 49ers are 4-1??? (I know by the time this post gets up it will be different, but I was still pleasantly surprised, and not surprised that it would happen when I'm gone...)
The training staff in Kukurantumi are all very nice and welcoming. We have a group of technical trainers, and then a group of language/cultural trainers that do the language classes. They care very much about teaching us as much as they can before we go to site so that we know more of what to expect, and how we should act so as to not offend our communities and integrate into the Ghanaian culture.
The day after arriving in Kuku, we got placed in our homestays! Our group is staying in two towns about 16 km from Kuku, Masse and Anyinasin. To get to either town from the Peace Corps hub site, you walk to the Tafo Junction, grab a cab to New Tafo (45 pesewa), then get a cab to either Masse or Anyinasin (1 cedi). The trip takes about 20 minutes each way, which isn't too bad, but if you can't find any taxis in your homestay town, then it can take a while to get to the office. On Thursday morning, we all decided to take a tro from Anyinasin to the office, so all 13 of us crammed into the tro, four to a row, along with two other men and four school kids in the trunk..it looked pretty funny. Buut it only cost 1 cedi to get from homestay to the office, instead of 1.45, so it was worth it.
Before getting placed in our homestays on Wednesday, we had a cultural fair, where the trainers presented Ghanaian clothing and jewelry, art, daily household items and food. I don't remember a lot of the nams of the foods we had, but there were tigernuts, groundnuts (like peanuts), and various sweets- spicy plantains, spicy groundnut paste, fried balls with coconut, raw and baked coconut. There were also three drinks- one sweet one made of corn, one water based with lots of spices in it and one milk-like one made of millet.
In the afternoon, our parents started arriving one by one. They were supposed to get there by 1, by Ghanaians aren't too good with being on time, so our meeting started a bit later than that. After having an open conversation about homestay, and the difficulties faced due to misunderstanding, we started pairing off! My homestay mom is Auntie Rose. She lives in Anyinasin, has four children and nine grandchildren, and three siblings, I think (I don't really know who are her actually siblings because everyone she introduces to me is either her brother or sister, haha). My new name is Afia Ako. Afia means that I was born on Friday (I was actually born on Sunday, but since she was born on a Friday I guess it means I was too), and Ako means youngest born. "Britney" is just a hard name to say no matter where I go, so I'll take whatever name I'm given.
So Cara and I and both of our moms packed ALL of our luggage and mosquito nets and med kits and water filters and lunch pails into one little taxi, trunk overflowing. I received my huge box of books already (it only took three weeks to get here?!?), so now I have a lot of things to lug around, when originally I thought I did such a good job of packing light. My room at homestay is very cozy, and I do have access to electricity which I don't really use except for the light, but I am certainly not complaining. I settled into my room, met some of the neighborhood kids, and met the family who lives in Auntie Rose's guest house. The two little kids I see every morning are named Nasiri and Obama.
I told my mom I wanted to learn to cook, and that I will eat anything- she seemed happy about that! For the first dinner, she made a fish stew and boiled cassava. The stew had tomato sauce, pepe, mackerel and oil. To eat the stew, you scoop it up with the cassava with your right hand (you only eat with your right hand, NEVER the left...and for everything else, you only use your right hand- to wave at someone, to give someone money, to shake hands with someone). Ghanaians only eat with their hands, and families tend to all eat out of the same bowl together. Its just me and Auntie Rose though, so I always get my own bowl of food. Except of course when her cat wants to come join me at dinner! They are very paranoid about us petting any animal...but come on, when your homestay mom's cute little cat warms up to you and eventually is rolling around in your lap, what am I supposed to do?? He is very sweet though, and I always throw him some of my dinner so then Auntie Rose will think I are more than I did, hahaha. Ghanaians serve A LOT of food, so I never eat everything on my plate, even though Auntie Rose is always insisting "EAT ALL"!!
After dinner, its bucket bath time! I actually like them a lot, they are very refreshing after a long day of sweating. I've gotten really good at only using about 3/4 of a bucket of water to bathe and wash my undies. (You are supposed to wash your unmentionable in the shower because Ghanaians do not openly wash and dry them outside. And little kids and homestay parents tend to want to do your laundry for you, so it is not appropriate to have them wash your delicates.) Then after bathing, I study, write, and by 8:30 or 9, its bed time!! It get dark really early here, by about 6:30 you need a flashlight to walk anywhere, so people go to bed really early here. Aaaand then they get up really early, about 4:30 or 5. Luckily I don't need to get up until about 6ish, but I'm always semi-awake from 4:30 until I get up because there is so much noise anyways (farm animals everywhere making noise, people blasting the radio, taxis honking). I don't mind though, I have gotten into a kind of routine here, so getting up early and sleeping early have become a comforting norm.
Fun Fact: Cara, from West Virginia (in her own words, she is the definition of West Virginia white trash haha), and I were both born on Father's Day, one year apart. So, I found my Peace Corps soulmate/twin! Dawn calls us salty and saucy. I can handle that. Saucy is close enough to sassy.
One thing that I do wish I could be good at by the time my service is over is dancing like the Ghanaians. Even little kids, who can barely walk, just start dancing and grooving, all smiles and laughs, whenever they hear a beat they like. They look so cool when they dance, and they have so much attitude too, I love it. One morning at the taxi stop in Anyinasin, Mike from Arizona gave his phone to a little boy who was listening to a Michael Jackson song on it. This little kid danced around for 20 minutes, and it was so exciting to watch...I want to be able to dance like these 5 year-olds! Even when all the little kids start yelling "OBRONI! OBRONI!" they start dancing around. (Obroni=white person, obibini=black person...whenever kids yell obroni at us, we just yell obibini right back. Its not an insult, just a fact. Walking past schools is always funny, because you get tons of school kids yelling obroni at you and waving. Its pretty cute, even though getting referred to as "obroni" everywhere you go gets to be a bit much sometimes). A few times on my way to the taxi stop, I've had school girls follow me, and ask me my name. Its really sweet and cute.