Sunday the 30th we said goodbye to our homestay families for the next few weeks as we do our off-site technical training. I was sad to say goodbye to Auntie Rose and the cat! I'm very glad that we still get 2 1/2 weeks at homestay at the very end of training in December- they have been so kind and welcoming to all of us. The morning we left was very interesting. We were told that a Peace Corps truck would stop by each of the homestay towns and pick up our luggage to be driven ahead of us to Kumasi. Mike, Chase and I live out in the boonies of Anyinasin, so the truck was going to stop by my house to get our stuff, instead of us having to lug our bags to the middle of town to be picked up with everyone else. The one catch: there was not the big truck that we were expecting to come get our things, it was one of the small Peace Corps vans. So, all our luggage was thrown up on top of the van, and was at the very top of an already four- to five-foot high pile of luggage. The entire inside of the van was jam-packed with luggage from Masse, so all of our luggage in Anyinasin got put on top of the van. It took more than an hour for Toni to "secure" our luggage to the van, with one tarp and some rope. As I watched the truck roll away, I gave up all attachment to anything I packed in my bags. But I give Toni major props- ALL of our luggage made it to Kumasi, without any problems.
The drive to Kumasi, the capital of the Ashanti Region, took about three hours. We all PACKED into the Peace Corps bus, five to a row, instead of the usual four. Since we didn't have a big truck to transport our luggage, everyone's extra little things got stuffed into the back row of the bus- water filters, med kits, mosquitos nets, extra bags of clothes and backpacks full of the 15 or so Peace Corps training manuals we were given. Little did we all know at the time how important it is to get use to packing tons of luggage and people and animals and boxes into a very small space. Other than that, the ride was fairly smooth- not too much traffic, the roads were very nice, but we did see one accident. A van was completely overturned on the side of the road. And accident clean-up isn't quite the same as in the States. You see the sides of the road littered with mashed up cars. I don't think destroyed cars ever get cleared away; they sit in the grasses that grow around them, constant reminders of dangerous driving habits that make a tro accident by far the highest safety threat to volunteers, over robbery and assault.
Once in Kumasi, we stop by the KSO (one of the Peace Corps sub offices), which is very cozy and comforting. Its easy to see why people visit a lot to unwind and catch up with fellow volunteers. I most likely will not end up at the KSO very often; the sub office in Tamale, the capital of the Northern Region, is about a three hour drive from Bolgatanga in the Upper East Region. From the KSO, it took us over an hour to drive through town to get to our hotel. I did not expect Kumasi to be such a big city. I did prefer it to Accra, but still not my favorite city in Ghana. We certainly got spoiled for a few days at our hotel- running water, a shower (with water pressure!!), a flushing toilet, a mirror (now I know what I look like), A/C, a balcony, a bar right near a pool, wifi (?!?!)...I'm luckily not attached to any of these things, but its nice to have for a few days, so I'm not complaining!
The food has been fairly good, but I can't help but miss my homestay mom's cooking! For breakfast we have had one or more of the following: oatmeal, hard-boiled eggs, fried eggs, kwokwo (a soupy, millet-based porridge- definitely an acquired taste) or sausage. For snack time the hotel has served us delish hot pastries filled with meat. Ghanaians do not make any bread that is special, but when it comes to pastries, they can sure make some tasty treats. Lunch has been fried fish almost everyday, banku with fish stew (I am personally a fufu fan, banku is not quite my thing, but it varies greatly depending on who prepares it, so some trainees love it), fried chicken, rice, kontomire stew (kontomire is the cocoyam leaf; I am starting to warm up to its intense green taste, but for being a green-tasting-veggie lover, I was surprised I didn't automatically like it). For dinner we have had fried rice, rice, spaghetti, cabbage salad and tomato sauces.
On Monday, we met our counterparts- very exciting! These are the people from our sites that we will be working with very closely for the next two years, and who will be our greatest assets for obtaining information on the community and setting up meetings and projects. We all packed into the conference room at the Wadoma hotel and picked a seat around a big table- 25 volunteers, and almost as many counterparts (several were late to show up). Then we were told to go look for our counterpart; we were not going to be told who he or she was. So we all started introducing ourselves to the counterparts in our respective dialects in order to find our person. My counterpart's name is Ayil Christopher (I just call him Christopher). He is the assemblyman for my community, Kongo West. (There is a neighboring community called Kongo East, and together they form the whole of Kongo, but I am specifically assigned to Kongo West. Kongo East is still in the process of trying to obtain a Peace Corps volunteer for themselves). There is one chief (nabaa) for all of Kongo, but East and West have their own assemblyman. Kongo West is split into five sections, each of which has a subchief (bisnabaa).
After a few meetings I have come to learn a lot about my community, but there is still so much more I want to know- it is all so interesting! And talking with Christopher about the community has made me so excited to see it, and meet people, and start working. It seems as though one of the most important projects I will need to facilitate is mobilizing the women in the community that harvest and process shea. There are other women's groups in the community that are very well organized- like the pito brewing group, and the food traders group- but the shea harvesters have no organization, and Christopher believes that bringing them together will help these women earn more money, and therefore help the community. These people of Kongo are very poor and food security is a major problem, as it is with all of Ghana, and well, all of Africa.
We have meetings scheduled all week regarding site visits, HIV/AIDS education and preparing for both. Friday morning we leave very early to travel to our site with our counterparts! Christopher said it took him 10 hours to get from Kongo West to Kumasi, so I'm sure our travels will be very interesting. We will then all be in our respective communities Friday through Monday, then we attend PEPFAR (President's Emergency Plan For Aids Relief) field activities, which is intended to give us experience in planning and carrying out HIV/AIDS education activities. Since our sites are spread out all over the country, we are split into about six or seven PEPFAR groups. All Peace Corps volunteers in Africa are required to do HIV/AIDS activities in their communities, so I am glad I will have a chance to observe what current volunteers are doing.
We are all excited to get out of these meetings and see our site. I am excited to get out and start working, and I am very glad to start working with the all the women's groups in my community. During my site visit, Christopher wants me to meet the chief, all five subchiefs, and the District Chief Executive, who Chris is related to. I will also check my living situation, get an initial feel of my community and its members, check out the transportation situation, closest health centers, police station and plan an emergency route for the country's Emergency Action Plan. There will be a lot more interesting information coming soon!