Thursday, March 7, 2013

The New Year

This new year has started out busy and strong.  The last few months of 2012 were tough: had the stalker neighbor incident, was tired in general of the behavior of men in my community, projects weren't going anywhere, so many doubts and confusion and life questions bothering me, and I absolutely hit the one-year wall.
But I looked to the new year to start over, change my attitude and outlook.  New Year's has always  been one of my favorite holidays.  I like being able to look at the past year, and use that to move forward, move on, start a clean slate.  And probably this year more than in years past was one in which I needed to move on.  Let go of the troubles of 2012, hit the restart button.  I'm sure for lots of people the new year is more about what you say you'll do more than what you actually do, but this year I knew I couldn't be one of those people.  This new year couldn't just be an excuse to make goals and resolutions to make me feel better, and then not follow through.  I knew I had to take responsibility for my own actions, do what I know I need to do and remember to not worry about the things I can't change.  No matter how hard I try, I can't change other people, anywhere in the world.
So I've taken the new year to put the focus back on me.  Sounds selfish, but it was necessary for me to to it for my mental, emotional and physical health.  I created an intense workout schedule (all due to the help and inspiration from the Women's Health magazines Marissa sent me) so that I would not cheat myself on exercising.  Last year I was too easily able to get into long, no-motivation, no-exercise slumps, and frankly, that's just not me.  I need exercise, I need to feel in-shape, I need to sweat, I need to push myself physically.
I have also cut out beer-drinking in my community.  The last few months of 2012 I finally came to terms with the frequency and quantity of drinking in my community, and how often I was a part of it, just to be social and to get out of the house.  And it took me going down south around Thanksgiving to realize how much I drink in my town compared to (some) other volunteers.  I've always drinken, and justified my drinking, because its just what people do (and by people, I mean only the men).  If I didn't go out and drink pito or beer, I wouldn't leave the house much.  But that's exactly the problem: that's all they know how to do, and I shouldn't have to do that just to be out in the community.  So I finally put my foot down.  And not only do I feel a lot better physically, I've saved a ton of money.  But that shouldn't come as a shock.  I already knew how much of a money sink the drinking was based on how quickly the men run out of money each month.  I was able to tell what day of the month it was purely based on whether the men would go out and drink.  On pay day, its like everyone just won the lottery and the alcohol flows freely.  By the end of the month, everyone is telling me they have to go hide in their house because they don't have anymore money to spend on alcohol.  Yeah, it got real old, real fast.  I will admit that I still drink pito, but only on occasion.  Its the local drink, and its a much more open, social thing to do compared to going to beer bars and sitting in little closed off rooms at the beer bars.  I like the outdoor atmosphere, sitting on a bench under a straw roof, watching the cars pass by, talking with anyone and everyone that comes by.  But since I've stopped drinking beer, I've also cut down on hanging out with the men I would normally drink with, which also means that I haven't drinken much pito in this new year.  Its a win-win.  I will say I miss Christohper's auntie and that whole family, at the pito base I always go to, but she still always asks about me and I try to see her when I can!

Its been a fairly busy first two months of the year.  Lots of projects and events I've helped with, lots going on in Kongo.  I went to Navrongo at the end of January to help Ethan and Stephanie with an HIV/AIDS testing event at the clinic there.  Navrongo is about 30 km northwest of Bolga, so it wasn't a long trip.  I arrived at the clinic at about 9 AM as things were being set up.  Things got going at 10.  Liv, Stephanie and I manned the welcome/information table out in front of the testing room.  Most of the day we got big crowds of the local junior high kids coming through.  The three of us played educational games about sex and HIV/AIDS, did condom demos and answered questions.  Ethan said they tested 193 people and had one confirmed case.  This was the first such event I've done here and it was a very good experience.  I think the adults, students and small kids that came throughout the day got good, correct, valuable information, which they may or may not have gotten before.
Also at the end of January, I got a meeting set up in Kongo about a potential borehole.  I got a contact from my homestay in Accra at Thanksgiving of a woman from an NGO that does boreholes and other projects in the Upper East and Northern regions.  She came midday one weekday to meet with the elders in Go-nseung and survey the area.  The assemblyman, aka my counterpart, was supposed to be there as well to answer questions and translate, and just in general be a community leader.  He knew of the meeting several days in advance, and a few hours before the woman showed up, the day of the meeting, I called him so he knew exactly when the meeting was going to be.  Well, come noon, Mary shows up with her driver near the mission, so I walk from my house to meet her there.  On the way I try to call Christopher...and his phone was off.  Great.  So when I meet up with them, I tell Mary we can go see if he's at the junior high, where he teaches.  We are greeted by my good friend Mr. Roja, who is sitting outside.  When I ask where Christopher is, he tells he had left to go to Bolga.  Perfect.  The elected assemblyman, the representative for Kongo West, decides that he can't even be in Kongo, let alone keep his phone on, to attend a meeting to get water for HIS village, not to mention the exact section his family lives in.  Hm.  Needless to say, a lot of expletives were running through my head as I was coming to this realization.
So, this meeting still needed to happen.  Mary drove back and forth from Tamale that day for this meeting, and she normally lives in Accra, so this couldn't just happen another time.  Mr. Roja suggested that he get one of the students to come translate, and I said I knew Eastwood (the boy I took to the food security camp in October) so he got permission from his teacher to take him out of class.  So Eastwood hopped in the car with us to go to Go-nseung.
We first went to look at the borehole they have near Christopher's family house to get GPS coordinates, which is one of two boreholes in the Go-nseung area of Kongo.  Then we walked over to the sub-chief's house.  Luckily, the sub-chief was just coming back from the market.  We introduced Mary and the reason for this meeting, and then he sent someone to go fetch the other elders in a near-by compound, since all the elders needed to be present to discuss this issue.  The half hour or so meeting dealt with questions like the area of this sub-section of Kongo, population of the sub-section, the furthest walking distance to the borehole, potential location for a pump and access to the land to drill.  I thought the meeting went well; Eastwood did a great job translating, he really saved me.
At the end of the meeting, the chief got some pito from the house to share, and he presented Mary with a fowl and six eggs.  We then drove to the primary school, because that's one far edge of         Go-nseung, and we needed GPS coordinates for the other borehole there.  Martin, the headmaster, was around, so he answered some questions that Mary had.  By then, Mary had to get back to Tamale, so we drove Eastwood back to the junior high and they took me to my house.  I was so very thankful for his help I gave him five cedis to buy food or school supplies.  I've never given out money ever to anyone here, but this was definitely an exceptional case.  He was taken out of school to do me this huge favor, and he's such a nice, good kid.  And I knew he could use the money.
I didn't see Christopher, let alone hear anything from him, until two days later when he called.  No apology.  No reason for his absence (not like I would have believed a word of it anyway).  But I made that meeting happen despite him.  Regardless of his actions, Kongo saw with their own eyes what I did.  I brought in another white lady in a truck and drove around Kongo in it and had this meeting.  People talk.  Although the project is not a done deal yet (I did not get a yes or no answer, more reps will need to come out to survey the area before I know), now everyone knows that I've done work to find an organization that could bring them water.  This NGO has a lot of other projects going on close by and some other communities are higher on the priorities list than Kongo, so it'll come down to funding.  But now I have done what Kongo asked me to do, they cannot say I didn't try my best.
For a few days at the end of January I helped out with my third world map project.  A nearby volunteer, Melissa, got funding to paint maps at her JHS in Pelungu (about a 40 minute bike ride from me).  The day I biked over we painted a white background to draw the grid and map on the second and third days; then we got to painting on the fourth day before I left.  The other two map projects I helped with, the volunteers had access to electricity so they could set up a projector to quickly trace the map.  Melissa's school doesn't have electricity, so we did it all by free hand.  It took a whole morning to just make the 2"x2" grid, then another whole morning to draw in the map.  (By noon, the sun would be hitting the wall full on, and so it was just too darn hot to do anything except between 8 and 11 AM or so).  I couldn't stay to finish the map, but I'm sure I'll come around again to help with the other maps she has planned.  I must admit painting maps is a very satisfying experience.  You literally start with a blank wall and by then end you have this beautiful, colorful world map.  Just about the coolest thing.  And its just fun to draw and paint!
January and February were packed with sporting events.  The African Cup in South African went on for a few weeks at the end of January and beginning of February.  Just like last year, everyone got so into it!  I will say that Ghana did not play well at all.  Somehow they made it to the semifinals (then lost to Mali in the 3rd place game, 3-1), but how they managed that I have no clue.  In the quarterfinals they played Cape Verde, who was in their first AFCON ever, so they were the kind of Cinderella story of the tournament.  I'd say Ghana just got lucky (although the keeper did have some fantastic saves- he kept Ghana in the tournament) and won 2-0.  In the semifinals they finally succumbed to Burkina Faso in a penalty shootout.  I was glad Ghana kept winning just because it kept everyone here happy, but I wish that I thought they deserved their victories.  They played careless, uninspired, boring football.  Not fun to watch, or force myself to cheer for.
But much more importantly, I got to watch the NINERS in the SUPER BOWL!!  I waited all year for this game, and the fact the Niners played made it that much more important.  I couldn't watch the Super Bowl last year since I was still on site probation, but I was not going to miss it this year!  I reserved the TV at a bar here that has DSTV, and therefore can get ESPN International, called Hands of Love.  Yes, there really is a bar here with that name.  We had the place to ourselves; then again we were there from 10 PM-4 AM on a Sunday night, so there wasn't any competition.  The game didn't start until 11:30 PM our time, so we had all day to party before.  We did all Super Bowl parties around the U.S. proud!  But what an epic, heartbreaker of a game!  Although I was the only Bay Area volunteer watching, the only die hard fan among our group, I still had a lot of supporters from other parts of the U.S.  But in the end, I had no one to console me!  We weren't shown the Super Bowl commercials, but we did get to see the halftime show.  And, somehow, we did not experience any power outtages, yet they did at the stadium.  Weird, its suppose to be the other way around New Orleans!  But we just had to laugh a little here (although we also just wanted the game to keep going because by that time it was already about 2 AM).  At 4 AM, we left, exhausted, and luckily found the few taxis driving around Tamale to take us back to the suboffice.  I can't wait to watch next year's Super Bowl at a normal hour!

And last, but certianly not least, the bookshelves have been built at Kong-Gorug Primary for the library!  So exciting!  I took a first delivery of books over the other week; I've been collecting books sent from family since a year ago, so it was nice to get that pile out of my room.  Once the big shipment of books comes in, I'll sit down with the headmaster to discuss library rules, handling of the books and the starting of a reading period and a reading club.  The headmaster, in concert with an Estonian volunteer that was in the area from September-January, has gotten funding to put in solar panels at the school since they do not have electricity.  So hopefully soon the students will be able to study at school and enjoy the library in the evenings!

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