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|Friday, May 25th, 2007|
Hey folks, if you haven't noticed, I'm not really posting here anymore. Check out my new site at www.myspace.com/douglas_larose
|Monday, January 8th, 2007|
|Safowa Gifty Education Fund Update & How You Can Help
The Safowa Gifty Education Fund
managed by the Women's Association for Children's Welfare and Douglas La Rose PCV
The Safowa Gifty Scholarship Fund was established by the Women's Association for Children's Welfare (WACWEL) in 2006. The fund was established to help ambitious, yet under-privileged, girls attain SSS (Senior Secondary School) levels of education. The first round of fund-raising enabled two recently-graduated JSS students to obtain admission and enrollment in secondary schools in the Jasikan district of the Volta Region of Ghana, West Africa. Both students are successfully moving forward with their educations.
The contributions from the first appeal for donations have had an immense impact on the lives of two young female students and has inspired scores of other students to work harder at attaining their dreams. Safowa Gifty is attending the College of Profession in Jasikan and is currently in her second term. She is learning secretarial skills including accounting, record-keeping, and how to use a computer. Salomey Danquah is getting ready to start school at Kajebi Secondary School were she will study journalism.
WACWEL has decided to expand the aim and purpose of the Safowa Gifty Scholarship Fund to address more fundamental factors effecting the education and development of the youth of Ghana. Now that we are in our second phase of work, we have decided to broaden our aim to help both young men and women as well as young children who are neglected for various reasons. For this reason we have changed the name of the fund to “The Safowa Gifty Education Fund.”
The updated aims of the fund are as follows:
To modify a currently unused classroom in the JSS compound of Guaman to house a library holding books donated by the Darien Book Aid foundation.
To purchase toys and other necessities for a day care which addresses the neglect of pre-school children.
To aid young students in purchasing school uniforms or supplies.
To award scholarships to promising young students who would otherwise be unable to obtain the means to attend senior secondary or professional schools.
1. The Library Project
The library project was initiated over one year ago when the Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) working for WACWEL sighted an opportunity in a pamphlet provided by Peace Corps. The Volunteer contacted the Darien Book Aid foundation in the U.S.A and secured a donation of over one thousand books for the library project. The question of where and how the books would be housed has been addressed but the means to construct the doors and purchase the locks necessary for the JSS compound has not. Stationary and record-keeping supplies would also be necessary for the functioning of the library. Part of the education fund would thus be used to address these issues.
2.The Day Care Project
The purpose of the day care is to watch children who are otherwise neglected or exposed to unhealthy conditions (being tied to their mothers' backs when they went to farm, for example) while their parents are working. Unfortunately, the woman who watched the children fell seriously ill and a replacement could not be found. The day care center fell into disrepair and the chairs, books, and toys used to instruct and entertain the children were lost or stolen. Thankfully, the woman who watched the children is healthy again. Part of the education fund would be used to address these issues.
3. School Uniforms and Supplies
Ghanaian schools still practice a type of British-colonial discipline in which students are caned or expelled for not following certain protocol. Such protocol includes wearing a specific type of uniform and carrying a certain amount and quality of school books and supplies. Because of poverty in Guaman money is difficult to come by to purchase such necessities. The surprising thing is that only $10 is ample to provide all of these necessities for one student. Very unfortunately, young female students sometimes go to the extent of finding “sugar daddies” to help buy school uniforms and supplies when their parents can't afford it. This is, stated simply, the trading of sex for education. Part of the education fund would be used to address these issues.
4. The Safowa Gifty Scholarship Fund
The Safowa Gifty Scholarship Fund was established to aid ambitious yet under-privileged girls attend SSS and Professional schools. The scholarship was named after a student who inspired a Peace Corps Volunteer (the author of this petition) because of her ambition in such extreme and grueling circumstances. The girl would awake at 4 A.M, go to farm, and then attend school until 3 P.M. She would then cook, clean, and process food and then study by torchlight deep into the night, only to fall back on the cycle again the next day. The first appeal for donations helped Safowa Gifty enroll and attend a professional school in Jasikan. In all of its aims the fund was successful. A similar girl by the same of Salomey Danquah was also awarded an SSS scholarship by the fund.
In its second round the fund wants to expand its influence to aid young boys as well. Even though boys are favored by families to receive funds for education, there are circumstances where their families cannot afford to pay school fees for them. SSS school fees are about $150 (including tuition, uniform, room and board). WACWEL plans to continue supporting Safowa and Salomey along with two yet-to-be-chosen boys.
Appeal for Donations
With your support, these four issues can be addressed. The benefits of such a program are immense. Not only does providing an education for young men and women help them in their individual lives, but it also helps break a cycle of poverty and exploitation. By helping those in the most under-privileged of circumstances hope is instilled in the hearts of their peers and their children. By supporting a small-scale program such as the Safowa Gifty Education Fund you are also empowering a local NGO that plans to expand its influence in the lives of women and children. WACWEL is run by local women who are familiar with their problems and practical about their solutions.
The Safowa Gifty Education Fund is supported entirely through private donations. The account is managed by a Peace Corps Volunteer (Douglas La Rose) in conjunction with the Women's Association for Children's Welfare. 100% of all donations go directly to these programs; there are no administrative costs or overhead expenses. Donations of any size are accepted and WACWEL is able to provide receipts. However, you must consult your tax advisers to determine if your contributions are tax deductible in the U.S. We are also able to answer any questions or concerns you may have about supporting us. By helping us you are helping the lives of aspiring young men and women and the future of Africa.
PLEASE MAKE OUT ALL CHECKS TO: THE WOMEN'S ASSOCIATION FOR CHILDREN'S WELFARE
Our address is:
Women's Association for Children's Welfare
PO Box 129
Jasikan-Buem, Volta Region
Ghana, West Africa
|Saturday, January 6th, 2007|
|Home Sweet Home/A New Year
6 January 2007
It's been a whole two months since I've updated, but I've been trying to clip off some of the redundancy which seems to latch onto my messages. I've been shacked up in San Diego since the 15th of December on a short vacation and will be returning "home" to Ghana on Sunday, 14 January. I'll take this opportunity to wish everyone a happy new year and give my warmest wishes for the ensuing 12 months (and beyond, for that matter).
To say the least, it has been a bit sTrAnGe to be home. The sights, smells, and social mores of the U.S are quite different from those in Ghana. In a way, I initially felt like a tourist in a foreign country when my plane touched down in San Diego. The roads, the buildings, the hustle and bustle of metal and money; sounds shooting out from every corner and down every street. The pace of life made me feel like a hobo being blown along the boulevard trying to hold on to my hat. I quickly stept into pace, and then slipped back into my college-life mode of DVDs, beer, and unhealthy food. These are all things that will dissapear as I transition back to life in the tropics and get back on track with my work.
My focus in the new year is going to be on expanding Wofabeng's medicinal nursery project (updates will be on the website shortly) and trying to get more resources for the Safowa Gifty Scholarship Fund. Safowa is doing VERY WELL in school and is very grateful for all of the help that has been given to her. I have to remind her everytime she thanks me that there were a few generous people who made it possible. So, on behalf of Safowa, thank you! The educational aspect of my service is also expanding into a library project and a day-care center. The Women's Association for Children's Welfare has worked hard and we now finally have the resources to reopen our day-care! This is a huge success as mothers are often forced to take their children to the farm with them (sometimes women have to tie two babies to their back) which both burdens them and puts their children in danger. I will write a new petition for help in the next week or so.
Again, happy new year and best wishes to all of you.
You'll here again from me when I get to Ghana,
|Tuesday, October 31st, 2006|
21 October 2006
The measurement and management of time is one of the fundamental realms that cultures have dominion over. The construction of cycles is partly determined by our environment and partly determined by our explosive imaginations. Because of this, cultural conceptions of time are unclassifiable, porous, and inevitably in a state of flux. Yet in order to bring order to our universe(s), we are forced to comply with our societies' definition of seasons, hours, days, elections, revolutions, etc. This is one of the major challenges we have when we cross cultural borders outside of our countries or even within our countries. Often our insistence upon our way of perceiving the world leads to intolerance, disagreement, and social tension. As I mark my one year anniversary of living in Ghana - and just one month shy of my first year in Guaman - I have come to appreciate the power of these constructions in both positive and negative terms.
As an American, I feel that impatience and punctuality are part of my birthright. When a meeting is supposed to start at 7:15 I try to arrive by 7:00. When a package is supposed to arrive in seven to ten days I expect it in five. In Ghana this is anything but the case. If the community is holding some kind of ceremony the invitation will state that it will start at 7:00 "prompt" but in actuality it will start at 10:30 to 11:00. If someone is supposed to give you back something you lone them "tomorrow," then you should expect to get it within the month. For almost the full first year this frustrated me to no end, but little by little I began to understand the reason for it. Because of uncertainties like the weather, the availability of food, the reliability of transportation and even the amount of people you need to meet and greet on the way somewhere, you can really only hold an extremely tentative idea of what time an event is going to begin. It is easy to see why this might seem inefficient and even irresponsible when you are first exposed to it, but after a year or so it starts to make sense. (I pasted a copy of an article I wrote for the Peace Corps' Newsletter to the end of this email entitled "African Time," which was published five or so months ago.)
One year later I have also experienced the first natural environmental cycle in seasons since I arrived. We are now entering the "dry season" - one of two seasons in Ghana including the "wet season." To be honest, it seems that the only difference between these two seasons is the length and intensity of the storms. In the dry season, there are a few very intense thunder and lightning storms every week; during the wet season there are a few smaller lightning-less storms everyday. A few other things you notice are the types of insects and animals that inhabit the environment around you. The big hairy spiders, bird-sized moths, and hornets that I remember in my first days here are now back; the leaf-and-twig mimicking bugs that became part of my houses' decoration from May through September seem to have all vanished to their breeding grounds.
I am in the process of making some pretty serious decisions about my Peace Corps service. Now that I have been here for one year, I realize just how short one year is. I am currently debating whether or not I should experience three "cycles" of life in Ghana. In other words, I am thinking of extending my service for one year. That means I wouldn't come home until January of 2009. The perk to all of this is that in December of 2007 Peace Corps will pay for me to come home for one month. I know that the extra year of service would greatly enhance the projects I have been working on. Anyhow, we will have to wait and see what happens.
I also thought I'd let you know how the scholarship fund is going. Safowa has been going to school now for about three weeks, and I am happy to inform you that she is doing well and enjoying it very much. The $120 spent this term covers her admissions, school fees, school uniform, and hostel fees. It seems that the total cost per year will be about $350 to $360. The Women's Association for Children's Welfare has also used part of the funds (roughly $50, or 500,000 cedis) generated for Safowa to help another student by the name of Salomey Dongbe to start her classes. Hopefully we will be able to get more assistance in the future to expand and continue this program. That kind of money isn't easy to come by in Ghana, so more contributions will help the program to stay alive. Again, Safowa, Salomey, and Guaman warmly thank everyone who contributed to the scholarship fund. Thank you so much.
I've let this message go on for to long, so I'll stop here and let you know how the environment aspect of my service is going in the next email. I'm thinking of all of you and hoping that your horizons are drenched in sunlight. Oh yes, and please give the Neoconservatives a good ass-kicking come November 7th.
From the May 2006 Peace Corps Newsletter:
by Douglas J. La Rose
A common frustration among volunteers is dealing with "African time." We often find ourselves glancing back and forth from our watches to our Newsweek waiting for half of our group members to arrive to a meeting. Sometimes we wait in vain; sometimes they show up; sometimes we begin to become restless and upset. In fact, glancing through a handout which environment volunteers were given during training (Environment Sector: PCV Stories) I was astounded at how many times volunteers complained about "African time." One volunteer remarked that "once the groups were formed, I still had trouble - they wouldn't come to meetings or be very late" and another made the rather off-color comment that "the women always have an excuse [to not come to meetings on time]" while yet another complained that "as much as you are told about African time it still frustrates me to no end" and that it is "difficult to…. have people come remotely on time." It is certainly obvious that "African time" is the "thorn in the side" of many volunteers, who imagine that they can't accomplish anything within the tempo-spatial framework their community has provided them with.
When I first arrived at my site, I threatened to begin boycotting meetings - and indeed at times did - so I could focus my time and energy on things which were more effective, such as teaching at the JSS or visiting farms. I was simply sick of showing up at a meeting at 7:30 and waiting until 9:15 for three people to show up, all of whom agreed that, by this point, the meeting could serve no purpose. I would lean forward in my chair, waving a finger in the air with a rigid and stoic composure, lecturing with flashing eyes on the importance of keeping good time. Our conversations concerning time and culture became heated, and at times I would find myself in slippery arguments about how "African culture" must change if development is to pick up its pace. But then I began to realize that the concept of time in my village wasn't just something that was composed of an abstract Ghanaian notion of how mental itineraries look, but was rather something fundamental to the nature of the village. It simply isn't proper to get up and leave because you have to be somewhere at "seven sharp"; all of the eyes in the room will move to you and be framed by unsettled eye-brows and disapproving frowns. "Kwadjo Aseda, relax, we said we would be there from seven going." As visitors in our villages, we have to understand what we are capable and un-capable of doing, and changing our villages' culture to one more suited to Los Angeles than Ho isn't one of them - even though, without a doubt, cultural exchanges of a powerful nature will (and, by nature, must) occur.
Another foreign element of time in our villages is its intermingling with the space between departure and arrival. When someone in my village has finished their fufu and groundnut soup, bathed, and is ready to depart for the group meeting someone may stop them on the way and have a word with them about some important issue. Perhaps the person may be invited to sit at the person's house so that they can discuss the matter in more detail. In my village, it would be considered terribly rude to go darting by someone's house while someone was calling you, pointing at your watch and announcing that you will come "at a later time." Such cues may be acceptable in New York City or Dallas, but they certainly aren't acceptable here. Again, there are certain things that we can and cannot change, and one of them certainly isn't (nor should it be) the way greetings and schedules are culturally constructed in our villages. We would be offended if we worked with a Ghanaian in the States and they showed up to work half-an-hour late because they had to speak with a relative on the way, but we definitely wouldn't go about meddling with our cultural foundations to accommodate for such differences. Nor should we expect the people we are working with to completely accommodate for our cultural conceptions of time and space.
In fact, concepts of time and space are deeply imbedded cultural notions that don't simply disappear over the course of two years. And here I am talking about our conceptions of time and space. As Americans, time is something sacred to us; it provides order in an otherwise disorganized and chaotic world. This is not at all implying that our sites are disorganized and chaotic worlds, but rather it is suggesting that they are organized and concrete worlds. Our dilemma is that they aren't our organized and concrete worlds. Slightly wrinkled jeans - which might be perfectly fashionable in a St. Louis mall - will draw gasps and sighs and other gestures of disapproval while you are walking through your regional capital. Trying to stand in line at Ghana Commercial Bank will become a three-hour project. Getting upset at your group members for being thirty minutes late will give you a bad name and an ambiguous role. These are all examples of conflicts between cultural conceptions of order and disorder, clean and unclean, sacred and profane.
Of course, there are ways of adapting to this dilemma which don't involve complete cultural submission or behavior change (which would undoubtedly cause us problems upon our return to the United States). I imagine it would be rather unhealthy to be stuck between two organized and disorganized worlds, wearing ironed jeans at 5:30 A.M rushing to the front of the line at the Bank of America in your hometown. One way of adapting to the dilemma is to establish networks of signals which operate to situate you where you are supposed to be at what time. If a meeting is to begin at 7, tell the most punctual (in your opinion, of course) person in your group to meet you at their house on the way to the meeting. Once you get to the meeting (or communal labor or whatever you have planned), you will see that the members who have planned on coming are either there or soon-arriving. Once there, you can make the best of the time you have. There is no use waiting at your nursery, cutlass in hand, at 6:00 A.M waiting for you group members to show up, when you know very well that "six sharp" means "from six going." There simply isn't any sense (or, in Twi, "adwene bia nim") in behaving that way.
Douglas Joseph La Rose
Peace Corps Ghana, September 2005 - December 2007
|Saturday, October 7th, 2006|
|My Thoughts on Bob Dylan's "Modern Times"
In appreciating Modern Times, which I will readily admit was a challenge, I had to forget all of the advertising and prescribing that placed it at the end of the "trilogy" that began with Time Out of Mind and Love and Theft. Modern Times definitely breaks with the murkiness and severity that began with Time Out of Mind, and it surely cannot be placed in the same category as the frontier grunginess and rawness of Love and Theft. Modern Times is an album which stands alone in the Dylan catalogue, much like Under the Red Sky, Down in the Groove, or New Morning. And like those albums, I think it also represents one of Dylan's weaker efforts, even though it (like those others) has some really good songs on it. In the case of New Morning, however, it was that very indulgent laziness and weak effort that made it such an enjoyable record. As far as the labeling of Modern Times as a cap to the modern trilogy goes, there is nothing on Modern Times that can compare to "Things Have Changed," "Mississippi," "Cold Irons Bound," "Not Dark Yet," or "Highwater" with the possible exception of "Ain't Talkin'."
I must confess that I strongly disliked Modern Times the first few times I listened to it. This may have something to do with the fact that the two weakest tracks are indisputably "Thunder on the Mountain" and "Spirit on the Water" and that they are also unfortunately the opening tracks on the album. When reviewers claimed that Dylan was backed by his strongest band yet, I may have set my expectations too high, but these two tracks are very lazy (in an altogether bad way) and very mediocre. These tracks make me think of the post-office-worker-by-day-coffee-shop-mu
sician-by-night hunched over a Casio keyboard in a suburban espresso bar singing along to pre-recorded guitar, bass, and drums while the clientele sip on their mochas and get lost in cheap novels. I must say that "Thunder on the Mountain" is particularly quite atrocious, with its only redeeming quality being its somewhat entertaining peculiarities and its live potential. "Spirit on the Water" is just boring, with unfocused and trite lyrics accompanied by a sleepy band and ending with unexciting harmonica and guitar solos. Thankfully, Modern Times does get better as it goes along.
"Rollin' and Tumblin'" is definitely one of the best songs on the record. This song makes me remember how great Dylan was live just after he released Love and Theft. It has that driving beat and rolling and sparkling guitar that has the sound of danceable and uptempo Southern rock. The lyrics on this track are particularly amusing, especially in the context of the rest of the album: "I got trouble so hard I can't stand the strain/ Some young lazy slut has charmed away my brains….Well I get up in the dawn and go down and lay in the shade/ I ain't nobody's houseboy, I ain't nobody's well-trained maid." Of all the songs on Modern Times, this is one of the few that I'll crave in much the same way as I thoroughly and disproportionately overplay "Pledging My Time," "Most Likely You Go Your Way," "Dirt Road Blues," "Summer Days," and "Cats In The Well." "Rollin'" is one of the few tracks where I can definitely tip my hat to Dylan's new band, but I'm still unconvinced this isn't something his previous band couldn't pull off just as gracefully.
Like "Rollin'," "When the Deal Goes Down" is also a fine number with deeply charming and heartfelt lyrics. It harkens back to songs like "I'll Remember You" and would have fit nicely in one of those smoky scenes from Masked and Anonymous. This track represents the best songwriting on the record with verses like: "Well the moon gives light and it shines my night/ But I scarcely feel the glow/ We learn to live and then we forgive/ Over the road we're bound to go/ Far frailer than the flowers/ These precious hours/ That keep us so tightly bound/ You come to my eyes like a vision from the skies/ and I'll be with you when the deal goes down." It's this rugged cowboy band Dylan in a gray felt cap and suit with a pencil-line mustache growling into a big microphone and being driven by cellos and violas that I think best encompasses the reflective and romantic nature of Dylan's better recent work. All in all, I think this is the best track on Modern Times.
"Someday Baby" is a filler track, and I think it's mostly a throwaway one as well. I don't think I'll ever put in the disc with the explicit intention of listening to this track, but I also don't mind tapping my feet to it. It's wedged between two really good songs, so I guess the odds were kind of against it from the beginning. It also suffers a bit because of it's half-assed adoption of the old blues number of the same name.
"Workingman's Blues # 2" is a nice tune, and if the new band is to be congratulated for any stylistic influence on Modern Times, it can best be pointed to in this song. I don't think I have ever heard another Dylan song like this, at least in the musical and structural sense. The song has slight political and economic undertones, with references to outsourcing and working class strife. In this way, it lyrically refers back to albums like The Times They Are-A Changin' in a way that I find oddly nostalgic for Dylan.
"Beyond the Horizon" feels like it was written for a soundtrack. It is a repetitive and at times redundant track that is indulgently jazzy and would work well in Dylan's latest musical. In fact, if you try to listen to the song sans the vocals it almost sounds like it was recorded by Benny Goodman or Charlie Christenson. Like "Spirit on the Water," I find "Horizon" to be quite boring and lyrically mushy. I can't help but feel like "Horizon" is just a conflagration of fragments Dylan has scribbled down, with no real central theme. Like "Horizon," "Nettie Moore" is an interesting ballad that at times becomes tedious. The song seems to shift between sour love and jaded indifference. I'll let this track sink in for awhile before I judge it too much, because the lyrics are quite beautiful when you dissect the song, but I'm yet to reconcile them into a single theme.
"The Levee's Gonna Break" is the only other track on the album besides "Rollin'" that has any real drive to it. I have heard many people criticize Dylan for excessively ripping off traditional songs throughout the album, but I think this is a case where the originality and timeliness is appropriate. It is rare for Dylan, especially in his later work, to make explicit references to current events, but in this case I think the theme of the album combined with Dylan's recent lyrical cynicism makes the song work quite well. In contrast to what I have heard other people say, I don't think the song sounds at all contrived, musically or lyrically.
I don't really have much to say about "Ain't Talkin'" at this juncture, because it hasn't completely sunk in. The song is comparable in length and seriousness to Dylan's other recent epics like "Not Dark Yet," "Highlands," "Cross the Green Mountain," "Mississippi," and "Sugar Baby." The main difference seems to be that "Ain't Talkin'" isn't as accessible as those tracks and that it has an altogether bleaker outlook. It seems like the darkness forecasted in "Not Dark Yet" has been realized in "Ain't Talkin'." The song is very heavy and hard to digest; it is thick, dark, and morally challenging. It suggests poetic comraderie in some civil war-era struggle and I can't help but to picture Dylan pulling a horse through some Southern swamp in a gray uniform with his only food remaining being some salted meat in his pocket.
In the end, Modern Times doesn't seem to accomplish whatever it is that it set out to do. While some of the tracks seem tired, weak, and contrived, others are ingenious and profoundly compelling. The best songs on Modern Times are "Ain't Talkin'," "The Levee's Gonna Break," "When the Deal Goes Down," "Rollin' and Tumblin'," and "Workingman's Blues # 2." Perhaps it was because the album was advertised as the end of the "trilogy" that I had such high expectations for it. Modern Times, however, is loosely imagined and is difficult to listen to all the way through. It starts off very, very weak and becomes strong, with dull valleys of further weakness between. Let's just hope this isn't Dylan's swan song.
|Safowa Goes to School, Meeting with the President, etc.
7 October 2006
It seems like ages since I last updated all of you. Quite alot has been going on here in Ghana, with projects picking up pace and interesting events and experiences scattered throughout. I'll try to keep it short and inform you about three exciting things that have happened since I last updated you from Ho (when I did the radio show): my attendance of a party with the President of Ghana, Kuffour; Safowa Gifty's enrollment in school; and my new medicinal farming project with Wofabeng.
On the 22nd of September 50 new Peace Corps Volunteers arrived in Ghana. This was the same group that I was in exactly one year ago, so it was very interesting and somewhat surreal to see their faces as they glanced around the tropics of Ghana for the first time. We finally met them at the residence of the US Ambassador Bridgewater on the 25th of September at a reception with John Kuffuor, the President of Ghana, a.k.a "The Gentle Giant." The Regional Director of Peace Corps for Africa spoke, our Country Director spoke, the US Ambassador spoke, and then finally Kuffuor spoke. It was a delightful if not over-the-top experience and it was nice to eat some real cheese after eating pseudo-cheese for so long. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to bring my camera because I wearing a kente cloth, but I'll try to get some pictures and put them up on my photo page.
Another great piece of news is that Safowa Gifty will be starting school on Monday. She will be going to a professional school to study business and secretarial studies. The school is in Jasikan and she will be staying in a dormitory there. After traveling around and looking at different schools, this is the one she chose and luckily they accepted her right away. I and especially Safowa want to give a very big "Thank You" to Matthew Armstrong, John Burke, Kathy Ragland, and my own Aunt Mary for helping support the scholarship fund. Your generosity and compassion have changed a life.
My projects with Wofabeng are also going well. We started our newest project, a medicinal plant nursery in Guaman. We have planted about 500 Moringa trees, which are a medicinal plant used to cure and prevent all types of illnesses. If you do a search on the internet you'll be sure to find a plethora of information on it. We are also planting over 50 other varieties of traditional medicinal plants. Everyone is very excited about the project and the effort of the group has really shined.
Some other things: I visited a mosque in Jasikan yesterday by the invitation of a few of my friends in Guaman. It was a very interesting experience. I learned how to do the prayers and wore the traditional white clothe. Before entering a mosque you have to wash every visible part of your body exactly three times: your face, hands, feet, ears, nose, and mouth. The prayers take about 30 minutes and then the pastor chants with the congregation.
|Wednesday, September 6th, 2006|
|One Year in Ghana, Radio Interview, etc.
Friends and Family,
Well, the time has finally arrived for me to celebrate my one year anniversary as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Even though my cultural integration has perhaps become admittedly excessive, I can say in full confidence that I feel at home in Ghana and especially in the small, seemingly insignificant village of Guaman. I am also proud of the work I have done with students, farmers, and community leaders and even more humbled by the life lessons they have taught me. Life as a Peace Corps Volunteer is difficult, and at times stressful and frustrating, but after I broke the eight or nine month mark my volunteer work became a passionate routine and I am now reaping the satisfaction by seeing students move on to higher education and farmers get a better profit for their maize, cassava, or rice. As for the things I have learned, well they cut so deep to the core of my existence that I don't think they can be literally expressed. A couple things are for sure: I will shut up whenever I feel myself getting ready to complain about how long it takes for a waiter to get me another beer or how annoying those snow boots are that suburban girls wear in the deepest heat of a California summer. Okay, well maybe the second part will still bother me.
Right now I am in Ho in the southern Volta Region. I am here to do a radio interview with Kofi at Volta Star Radio. I was selected by Peace Corps to plug our 45th anniversary and give contact information for NGOs and schools who want volunteers. We are also going to be discussing Wofabeng and our current projects. Luckily it is going to be recorded and edited, because I'm not sure how good I will be at this whole interview-thing. Right now I'm trying to formulate some clever one-liners in my head but I know once I sit down in the humid room of an African radio station my mind will wander to other things. I'll let you know how it goes.
As for my work, it is going exceptionally well. Safowa will get her test results on Friday and then we'll find out where she is going to school. I start teaching general science, math, and social science on the 19th at the JSS. I am also quite busy farming with different people in the village and working on the nursery project. In the next two weeks we will also be starting an HIV/AIDS advocacy campaign in Jasikan with a budget of $5,000. So needless to say, I am busy and things are getting busier.
|Tuesday, August 8th, 2006|
4, 5 August 2006
Before I embark on anything else, I want to inform everyone that the website has been updated, with photo album updates, at <http://www.wofabeng.org.>
It's Friday, and today the Junior Secondary School students went home for a one month vacation. After helping the students prepare for their English language exams and helping give out the exams themselves, I am happy to say that I have successfully completed my first term as a teacher. Teaching wasn't something I planned on doing as a Peace Corps Volunteer (and technically, I suppose, I am not supposed to be doing it), but as long as the school needs teachers and I have the time and knowledge necessary… well why not? I am very pleased with the way the class went. In fact, the students' test scores were higher, on average, than they were in the other classes. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that I routinely show up to school, something that can't be said for the rest of the teaching staff at Guaman J.S.S. I'm also happy to say I have received my teaching schedule for next term and I will be teaching form three Mathematics, General Science, and Social Science.
Everyday life for me in Ghana has developed into that kind of routine which is characteristic of life anywhere. The days are full of ritual - the times I bathe, what kind of food I eat, the time of day I brew coffee and settle down with a book, group meetings, classes, workshops, etc. The calendar also has its flow and rhythm which is punctuated by journeys and events - my parents visit, Peace Corps training, visiting other volunteers, visiting friends around Ghana, etc. The only thing different about life here is the environment and the things themselves; but my mind goes on sorting out and categorizing experience the same way it would anywhere else. The real question is how socialized that mechanism of sorting out the world is. Anyhow, this isn't the most convenient place to address such questions.
I am also happy to say that the experience of becoming a chief hasn't interfered too much with the flow of life. I can still sit down with friends under a humid palm and enjoy a beer in my gym shorts on a Tuesday afternoon. I can hold dance competitions in my courtyard accompanied by my students and my tape deck blaring Ghanaian music. Perhaps the only difference is that I am addressed with a different name (Nana Obunitsi) and I can't do certain taboo things. For example, at a meeting the other night I forgot to great one of my group members and, as a joke, went down on my knees to beg forgiveness (this is something that happens everyday in Ghana). Unfortunately, it is considered an insult to the ancestors for a chief to do such a thing and normally I would have to buy a sheep and sacrifice it. I was forgiven sternly. The day before I was also caught carrying some water I bought from a store in town. It is forbidden for chief to be burdened by anything as he walks (except for the 20 pound clothe a chief has to wear to ceremonies). Anyhow, life goes on… only with a little added splash of color.
"What if Al-Qaeda blew up the levees
Would New Orleans have been safer that way?"
-Neil Young, "Let's Impeach the President"
|Wednesday, July 12th, 2006|
12 July 2006
Warmest greetings from Accra,
I'm on the eve of my parents' departure from Ghana and am reflecting on all of the amazing experiences we have had together as a family. My mother and father have done well given the circumstances; I even coaxed them into delving into a couple traditional feasts of fufu and grasscutter. I was a little bit dissapointed in their lukewarm reaction to bush meat but then again it took me a few months to get accustomed to the savory flavor of rodents. All in all, the trip has been a solid success.
After a brief walkthrough of the more placid parts of Accra we took a bus to Cape Coast and did some fundamental touristy things. The two main attractions in Cape Coast (for tourists) are the castles and Kakum National Park. The latter is an aesthetic experience and the former is a social and historical experience. Kakum National Park consists of a 20 meter high canopy walk through some of the only remaining evergreen rainforests in West Africa. It is one of the few places where you can still find bush elephants and wild antelopes outside of the comfortable cages of zoos. The two castles we visited were Cape Coast Castle and El Mina Castle, both of which figured crucially in the slave trade beginning in the fourteenth century. This was the more sobering and awakening aspect of the trip. The stark and dismal reality of slavery plays a vital role in the narratives of African, American, and European history. It is also of fundamental importance to understanding the modern distribution of wealth among the world's economies - no matter how much we try to deny it. Visiting these castles and seeing the capabilities of us humans to inflict suffering on each other - for economic reasons - reminds us of the immense challenges we continue to face in our various modern societies and our larger global society.
Our trip to Guaman (my post) was perhaps the most interesting part of the trip. Upon our arrival, the chiefs and elders gave us a warm welcome with traditional drumming and dancing as well as the pouring of libations. The following day, on Monday, we had a large ceremony in the town square to celebrate two things: the first was the commissioning of Wofabeng's milling complex and the second was my installation as a chief. I wore traditional garb and swore my allegiance to the chief and elders. I am now called Nana Obunintsi VI which can be translated as "the Chief of Knowledge Hunting." This was apparently chosen because of my involvement with education and youth empowerment. It can also be loosely translated as "the Chief of development." I only pray that I can live up to the community's expectations. The honor of being enstooled as a chief was truly one of the most important moments in my life.
Anyhow, I am just hours from being the only La Rose in Ghana again so I reckon it would be a wise decision to enjoy these remaining hours living it up with the Fam.
|Thursday, June 29th, 2006|
29 June 2006
Friends and Family,
Greetings from Hohoe! I am sitting down to write this email on the eve of my mother and father's visit on Wednesday, and must say that I am ecstatic about this opportunity to share this experience of Ghana with them. There seem to be two dominant stereotypes of Africa which we are fed by the Western media. First, there is the stereotype of banyan trees and giraffes interacting during a dramatic firery sunset. Second, there is the stereotype of Mogadishu, Khartoum, or Leopoldville gripped by rebel fighters or the image of human beings deteriorating under the merciless grip of HIV/AIDS. The depressing thing is that the first stereotype contains animals and landscapes and the second contains people. Unfortunately, this seems to be the image of Africa that has existed in the Western worldview since the colonial era. I don't want to go through the pains of giving you my thoughts on the implications of all this, but I do want to tell you what amazing people West Africans are and how revealing it is to hear the positive things Ghanaians hold in their minds about us. It really flips history over on its head. The lessons I have learned from living in Ghana are lessons that I couldn't have learned anywhere else, and that is why I am so happy to have the opportunity to host my parents here. Living in Africa proves all of those stereotypes to be unbelievably false. Although my father has been to West Africa before, I don't think even he is prepared for the hospitality he is going to receive in Guaman (my village) on 10 July. The village has prepared an amazing day for all of us, themselves included.
Now I want to say something about the Ghana Black Stars and the World Cup. My goodness, what an exciting time it has been since the Italy/Ghana kickoff. I hosted all of the Ghana matches at my house (yes, believe it or not I have a television). I had a slight schizophrenic episode during the Ghana/USA match, and do believe the penalty was entirely unfair, but I was happy when Ghana prevailed and had the chance to meet Brazil on the 27th. I should say that during the Ghana/USA match I was cheering on the U.S, and that all of the people watching the match with me (some 30) didn't find any offense in it. I don't know what would have happened had things gone the other way - but oh well. The Ghana/Brazil match, in my opinion, was entirely skewed, and I do suspect there was some foulplay behind the scenes, but the celebratory mood continues, and people are still celebrating here that the Black Stars got so far. The fact that Ghana made it to the World Cup meant a lot to the people of Ghana, and it was great to be here when it happened.
Anyhow, I should be going now. The rainy season is in full swing and the sky is becoming an ominous charcoal-color, so I should probably head to the tro station and be off to my village within the next 15 minutes.
Much love, Douglas
|Sunday, June 11th, 2006|
|Pictures from Ghana, 11 June 2006
Greetings from Accra! I have been attending meetings for gender, youth, and development and have been elected the representative for Volta Region. It means I will be doing alot of youth empowerment and gender empowerment work, which I am very excited about. I'll keep this short and allow you to (hopefully) enjoy some pictures. I know it has been along time, but alas...( Read more...Collapse )
|Saturday, June 10th, 2006|
1 June 2006
Friends and Family,
First of all, I want to send a very big thank you to everyone who has supported the Women's Association for Children's Welfare's "Safowa Gifty Scholarship Fund." Your support has been incredible and we have received enough donations to get Safowa through two full years of Senior Secondary School. With the money leftover we will be helping other young girls in the area who need money for uniforms, books, etc. Receipts and thank-you letters will be in the mail soon. When I told Safowa and her family that we would be able to grant her the scholarship, they expressed more thanks and gratefulness than I have ever seen. It is impossible for me to put into words how much you have helped.
Everything else here is normal and moving along just fine. I am enjoying teaching JSS and interacting with the students. Most of them are doing well, but there are some exceptions - both extraordinary exceptions as well as dissapointing exceptions. Because it is the rainy season many of the students have to stay at their farms and help with sowing seeds and weeding. I think this is a good example of the direct causal connection between poverty and lack of education. Because families need constant help on their farms, they can't afford to let their children go to school. These are the very cycles which those of us from urbanized and suburbanized households take for granted. Nonetheless, it is amazing to see the energy and devotion that many of these students commit to learning...
Next week I will be heading to Accra for a few important meetings. One of them is a Gender, Youth, and Development (GYD) meeting. I am expecting to be given the position as GYD representative for the Volta Region, which I am very excited about. I have developed a lot of passion for working with children and women on projects in the area. One of the projects involves the Women's Association for Children's Welfare starting a snail farm to generate sustainable income so that we can reopen a Day Care in Guaman (the original caretaker fell ill some three months ago).
Again, thanks for your support. I hope everyone is doing well!
|Tuesday, May 16th, 2006|
16 May 2006
Friends and Family,
Due to the intensity of the rainy season and the unreliability of electricity, I haven't been able to update in a few weeks. That being said, I will nonetheless keep this message brief.
As you are experiencing what I am sure is a pleasant Spring, Guaman is being plunged into the depths of the rainy season. From morning until afternoon the jungle is silhouetted in a thick grey light which gives way to deep black clouds around four or five o'clock. Even though the rain persists, in one form or the other, for the entirety of the day, the truly heavy tropical storms come in the evening. Veins of electric light spray upwards and downwards and the thunder rolls in waves with the rain, causing quite a cacophony. The roof of my house is composed of the rusty corrugated iron typical of Africa, and during early morning thunderstorms can be quite a hindrance to my sleep.
Though the weather has proved to be a formidable obstacle to my work, things are nonetheless moving forward. I have been putting more and more of an emphasis on education as my volunteer service develops. I find teaching and tutoring to be immensely fulfilling tasks. Furthermore, I have always been scared to death of public speaking, so this experience has been rewarding on many fronts. I am teaching Safowa Gifty how to use the computer at my NGOs office, and also have her reading various books. I want her to be well-prepared for secondary school!
I heard on the BBC today that the Bush administration is "deploying troops" to keep an eye on the U.S-Mexico border. After all of the protesting which pointed out the fundamentally positive roll Latin American immigrants play in the American economy is this really an appropriate step? Even if they don't envision using force against immigrants, it is a macabre gesture. The issue of illegal immigration is not a military issue. My thoughts are with the thousands of families who have already lost family members in the deserts of California, Arizona, and Texas. To the hardest working people in America, this whole thing must seem like a slap in the face. As all of us are also immigrants, we must likewise support them. What kind of role do they envision U.S troops playing at the border anyhow? The whole thing sounds completely dismal to me. God help us.
I will be in Accra in early June and I promise to post some pictures. I hope this message finds everyone is good health and spirits.
|Tuesday, May 2nd, 2006|
To all those who inquired about donations,
The Women's Association has a registered bank account at Ghana Commercial Bank. The bank CAN accept checks which are made out with U.S dollar amounts. Checks which are made out to the NGO should be payed to "Women's Association for Children's Welfare." Be sure when you address the envelope to include "Safowa Gifty Scholarship Fund." I will include the address below. I have informed Gifty that I want to sponsor her, so hopefully by the first term I can have the ability to cover her school fees. If the donations aren't sufficient, I will by all means find a way to cover the rest of the costs. Thank you so much for your interest! For your donation Gifty will send you a personal letter of thanks along with a receipt from the Women's Association - be sure to include your return address!
Douglas (and Safowa)
Safowa Gifty Scholarship Fund
c/o Women's Association for Children's Welfare
PO Box 129
Ghana, West Africa
|Tuesday, April 25th, 2006|
|Me chiamo mo pa
25 April 2006
Friends and Family,
I apologize for the lengthiness of this message, but I think it will be a worthwhile one to read. If not for my sake, then at least for the sake of the people I am working with. Oh yes, and the website is updated and looking beautiful, so be sure to see it: (http://www.wofabeng.org
Now that I'm well past the seven-month mark of my service, I think I can justly contrast my pre-service anticipations of Peace Corps with what I have experienced so far as a volunteer. I think other volunteers or returned volunteers who read this will agree with me - and I do realize it is rather cliché, yet justifiably so - that the Peace Corps experience is entirely what you make of it. In my conversations with other volunteers in Ghana I hear everything from horror stories ending in the check-in at the Accra airport to stories about volunteers becoming sub-chiefs of villages for their remarkable efforts. In light of this, I have to say, in all honesty, that I feel very good about the work I am doing here. In fact, never in my life have I felt I was doing more important and meaningful work than this. There are both short term and long term ways of measuring my effectiveness. Short term results like hosting JSS (what we know as Middle School) spelling bees and seeing the winner successfully spell and define the word "paleolithic" and long term results such as seeing the nursery slowly grow towards regular productivity. That being said, there are certain obstacles that I realize I can't overcome myself, the primary of them being a simple lack of money in the area. Unfortunately, what little money there is seems to always be squandered by big men, at least that which is filtered through the local government. It is the independent, community based organizations like Wofabeng and the Women's Association for Children's Welfare that do good honest work in the area. I would urge any international donor (and I will follow this advice myself in the future) to give to NGOs rather than government bodies.
After my inter-service training, I decided to sit down with my NGO(s) and draw up clear goals for the different quarters of the year. Those of you who know me well are probably in disbelief that I could ever grasp organization this way. But sure enough, I took flip chart paper and plastered the wall of the office with hand-drawn calendars containing deadlines, dates of meetings, and dates of group work. So far (since the first week of this month) we have probably accomplished more than we did in the first four months I was here. The nursery is rapidly growing; we are quickly approaching 10,000 seedlings! I have met with the elders and planned on turning a run-down old cocoa warehouse into a community library. We are currently working with book donors in the U.S to get about 15,000 books. The elders plan on naming the library after me, something I am simultaneously proud and embarrassed about. If you ever visit Ghana, don't miss the "Kwadjo Aseda Douglas La Rose People's Library of Guaman." I'll make sure to establish a world-class section for archaeology and anthropology. In all seriousness, I hope that project can be finished in the early months of 2007. Education along with gender and youth empowerment are the things I feel most passionately about in my work.
Speaking of gender and youth empowerment, I want to share with you a poignantly illustrative example of a case which I have become both emotionally and professionally committed to. There is a small community which sits in the hills overlooking Guaman by the name of Bethel. Bethel is a "healing" community comprised of people who believe in the healing power of evangelical Christianity, and who have moved there in hope of getting rid of various ailments. A certain girl by the name of Gifty, who is 14-years old, comes from this community and is one of the best students at the local JSS. Since I began teaching there, she has become a dear friend and pupil of mine. Indeed, she is known by the rest of the community as my "daughter" (in the terminology of fictive kinship) because she lives with her aunt and her parents reside in Northern villages. I have, on an almost daily basis, been teaching her how to read and write. I would put my month's salary on a bet that she is the only 14-year old girl in the Volta Region to have read The Hobbit. She has just completed forum three JSS, but doesn't have money to continue to SS. In Ghana, the government pays for school up to JSS, but then leaves the student either with the option of finding money or learning a trade. Most young girls who can't find money end up getting married and becoming street vendors, seamstresses, or if they are lucky, owners of small stores.
The situation gets even more complicated. Gifty, of course, does have a real father, and one who isn't exactly what one could consider a good father (from an American or a Ghanaian cultural perspective). He lives in a village about one hour north of Guaman, and has demanded that she become a laborer on his farm after she finishes JSS. The reason, he tells her, is that he doesn't have money to pay her secondary school fees. SS fees in Ghana are about three or three and a half million cedis per year (roughly $300-$350). Since I am the official residing executive secretary for the Women's Association for Children's Welfare (WACWEL) here in Guaman, I have proposed that we help this girl - since it is exactly the type of project our mission statement supports. The problem is, of course, that we don't have money either.
If you want to help, we (and especially Safowa Gifty)would be very grateful. Even if each person who read this sent $10 we could get a start on raising money for this very intellectually gifted girl who is at an important crossroads in her life. Writing proposals like this to family and friends as an appeal for money isn't something I particularly want to be doing, but international NGOs tend not to support students on an individual basis like this. Gifty, I promise you, is an extraordinary girl who, given a good education, will go on to do great things in her life and in Ghana. The Women's Association for Children's Welfare is a registered NGO with an account at Ghana Commercial Bank. Our address (for this specific fund) is:
Safowa Gifty Scholarship Fund
Women's Association for Children's Welfare
PO Box 129
Ghana, West Africa.
Make out the check to the title of the NGO: "Women's Association for Children's Welfare." I promise I will post pictures of her smiling face the next time I find myself in Accra.
Until next time, I hope all my friends and family are doing great back home in the States. I can't wait to get home for Christmas and see my nephews, who I imagine are huge by now! And, of course, I send my greetings to Ingrid in Sweden (or is it Portugal now?), and Amy in Japan. Professor Glassow, Professor Jennings, and Mary, I hope you had a splendid time at the SAAs in Puerto Rico. And to my comrades in Ghana, I hope your projects are going well. And to all those who read my blog, thank you for your intriguing (and sometimes challenging) comments and questions. I agree that there are both positive and negative aspects to educated Ghanaians moving abroad - but why would you ever want to leave such a friendly place? ;)
|Tuesday, April 11th, 2006|
|7 Months Later...
11 April 2006
We have finally updated the website for Wofabeng (www.wofabeng.org) with a list of current projects and our plans for the year. Or, I should say, it will be updated WITHIN the week. We have also updated our contact information. I will try and get some pictures of our projects on the site soon. There has been a recent increase in interest for the group and our projects are rapidly picking up speed. The Women's Association has also submitted a proposal to the Global Fund for Women (an NGO based in San Francisco; me and my cats' ole stomping grounds) to begin a project focusing on the education and empowerment of young women. I am happy to say that I am more optimistic than ever about my work and its impact on the community here in ******.
It's hard to believe it is already mid-April. I am surprised that I have gone this long without going crazy (though you, as readers of my emails, may beg to differ!) or giving up and returning to the U.S.A. Indeed, on April 19th it will have been 7 long months since I left home for West Africa. Everyday I become more and more convinced that joining the Peace Corps was the best decision I could have made at this time of my life. I want to thank everyone who has supported me. Without your letters and emails it would have been very difficult for me to make it through the rough times.
There have certainly been challenging experiences. About two weeks I had a severe bout with malaria. I had a fever of 40-41 degrees centigrade (or 104-105 degrees fahrenheit) and my joints became entirely immovable. I stayed in my bed for a good two days while anti-malarial medicine pounded through my veins and did its own part in keeping me disabled. I can whole-heartedly say that malaria is the worst sickness I have had, and that it should not be given the romantic treatment it is often endowed with in travelogues and novels based in the humid tropics. It is god-awful. Then there have been the quite tragic experiences: driving through a small village which had been devastated by cholera; coming down a hill to witness a 70-person bus which had just flipped over after blowing a front tire (inflicting God-knows how many casualties).
But Ghana has much more inspiration and happiness in its day-to-day existence than worry and sadness. The people of Ghana are the friendliest and most welcoming I have ever met, and they are truly interested in making a better life for themselves and their country. Ghanaian culture is vibrant, musical, spicy, and invigorating. The environment is incomparably beautiful and the food is a godsend. Whoever thought that someone could gain weight moving from America to Africa? Where you're hearing from one right now!
Ghanaians are entirely aware of what they need to do and how to do it, but they just don't have the resources to get things done. As I have said before, Ghana as a colony was given an export-oriented infrastructure, and this infrastructure has exported both Ghana's natural and human resources. And no, I am not talking about slavery. About 80% of college graduates in Ghana move to richer countries - depriving Ghana of doctors, teachers, scientists, businessmen, and future leaders. On the one hand it is difficult to blame people for wanting a better life, but on the other hand it is difficult to understand how Ghanaians can expect their country to change for the better if the educated class just wants to leave.
Again, I beg you to visit the Wofabeng website, and I hope everyone has a wonderful Spring. I can even smell the orange blossoms from this distant corner of Earth!
"Uncertainty, in the presence of vivid hopes and fears, is painful, but must be endured if we wish to live without the support of comforting fairy tales."
-Bertrand Russel, "The History of Western Philosophy"
|Tuesday, March 28th, 2006|
28 March 2006
The weather is finally cooling down and giving way to regular rains, which is a blessing because of the problems the heat was causing me (or more specifically my skin). The farmers in my village are busy building yam mounds and planting maize, groundnuts (peanuts), and cassava. If you are a farmer the success of your crop largly depends on your interpretation of the weather, or rather your prediction of it. In small villages predictions can sometimes take the form of prophecies. For example, if a hunter catches three (this is, I promise you, the magic number) grasscutters in one day than it means the rainy season will be strong; but if the chief trips and falls in the village square the season will be dry unless you slaughter three goats. Say what you want about the glories of meterology, but I find the system here to be far more entertaining.
I am in the final weeks of the school term, which means the students are excited for their two week break and the village is preparing for Easter festivities. I invited all of my best students over to my house yesterday and bought them minerals (soft drinks) and we watched a movie. It was a way of thanking them, or rather rewarding them, for giving me their best. Many of these students will be graduating from JSS (Junior Secondary School) but will have to stop their education there. Why? Because that is when the government stops paying for school. It really is a shame because the best students all seem to come from poorer families. It is rare to find foreign NGOs who will sponsor students by paying their fees. SSS (Senior Secondary School) only costs about $200 a year but most of the families in my area make $1000 a year.
I have also been working with the Women's Association on some HIV projects. One of the projects involves counseling people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs) and those in danger of getting it. This is by no means easy or fun work. This morning I had to talk to a 20-year old girl and a 17-year old girl who are going to get tested for HIV in the next month or so. The Women's Association wanted me to talk to them to convince them to go back to school (again, no money) and avoid jobs that put them at risk. Being orphans, these girls often have to move from place to place just to have a bed to sleep in and food to eat. For young girls, this often involves finding a "sugar daddy" who will pay your expenses in exchange for sexual favors. One of the girls has been doing this since she was 14. They are scared to death of being tested, and they have every reason to be.
Again, the problems in Africa begin with poverty, which results from an unfair world system. It is our responsibility to change this. It will be the ultimate challenge which will define the greatness or wickedness of our way of life.
Much love, Douglas
|Tuesday, March 14th, 2006|
|AIDS Work and Shifting Seasons
14 March 2006
Finally, we are on the threshold of the "rainy season," which is peculiarly named considering that the "dry season" was as wet as any winter I have ever seen; only now the sky rolls with greenish black clouds and lightning tickles the Togolese mountains and sends waves of vibrancy cascading through the village. The hues of the jungle are shifting from a lime to a kaleidoscope of dense greens with a bouquet of exotic crimsons, azures, and bright yellows suspended or neatly lobbed like a Pollock painting, or perhaps even scattered like rose pedals awaiting a bride and groom. Every morning I am greeted by an orchestra of unnamed insects, devilish goats and congregated roosters. The air is thick and low, crawling through the fields of yam mounds, groundnuts, and newly planted cassava. Going to work on Elizabeth's farm is like swimming through a dissolving pond and one wonders if fish are to be seen browsing through the canopy looking for a worm.
Of course, all of that is wonderful but perhaps also explains why I have been in Accra so much. Undoubtedly the looming day-fog, hot and stifling, has caused whatever predicament has erupted on my arms, chest, and back. I have tried a number of different things (7 to be exact) to combat this vexing rash but it prefers to vacillate between mild and severe. On a normal day I now drench myself at least six times with cold water and apply menthol-scented baby powder to my skin. I have to swallow at least 100 mgs of Benadryl every night just to discover decent sleep. Even then, I must be wary of the unwelcome mosquitoes which somehow acquire permission to enter the party inside my mosquioto net. Although the rain is beautiful, cleansing, and exotic, it also brings with it a world of problems forgotten about during the wet "dry season."
As for my projects - they are great. I recently wrote two proposals: one for the Women's Association for Children's Welfare (WACWEL), and one for Wofabeng. Both of them were sent to the Ghana AIDS Commission and deal with advocacy and treatment. I spent an unrecordable amount of time writing these things; I had to draw up a budget (with the aid of my counterpart and a few others) in a currency I don't know too well and do alot of research on the AIDS epidemic in West Africa. It, hopefully, will be well worth it. The proposal for WACWEL aims at assissting orphans whose parents have died from HIV/AIDS (and believe me, it is all-too common) and providing school materials and basic neccessities for them. I also requested funds [from Ghana AIDS Commission] to start campaigning against stigmatization and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs) in schools and churches. Believe it or not, the good samaratin story found in Luke is a good tool to convince most villagers that it really isn't okay to castigate those who must live under such unfortunate conditions. In Ghana, there are myriad misconceptions about what HIV/AIDS is and how it is spread. For example, some men believe that if they rape a virgin they will no longer have HIV. Perhaps that is a fact that won't make your day any brighter, but I thought I'd let you know. The proposal for Wofabeng is focused on printing T-shirts and giving presentations at schools.
Well, that should be all for now. By the time next week comes the weather will have a new hand of cards to play and hopefully this ailment will have cleared up. I hope all are doing well in the States and are enjoying what remains of Winter. I can envisage the old orange tree on Cita Ave. (in Escondido) swelling up and getting ready to sprinkle the grasses below with aromas of sweet nectarine and pumpkin spice. Oh, how I could use a glimpse (even "peeping through a keyhole down upon my knees") of American Spring.
|Monday, March 13th, 2006|
|Tuesday, March 7th, 2006|
7 March 2006
I will readily admit that the title of this email is rather contrived, if not absolutely ridiculous, but when four things which begin with "f" converge on you at once, see for yourself if the temptation isn't grand enough. All in all, things in the Volta Region are good, with the exception of a few disturbing things that are going on, the least of them not being the brutal weather that makes the American South seem like a dry desert. The air is so thick that you are better off wearing flippers to get from point A to point B (I hope by now that you have gotten used to my inexcusable talent for exaggeration).
While I was rumagging through the stacks of books at the PC office in Accra, I came across a collapsing old copy of "The Collected Works of William Faulkner." I figured it would be worth giving the old bard a shot, so I sat down last week, brewed some tea, and began focusing on his shorter works. I know it doesn't need to be said too loud (he did win a Nobel Prize for Literature), but William Faulkner is absolutely incredible. Reading his works is like being wrapped up in the creative fire of Genesis; his decriptions are like birds swirling out of a bell tower during its crash at noon. I can't even begin to explain how impressed I am with the depth of the characters and their cameos in his other stories...
Yesterday was Ghana's forty-ninth birthday since it won its independence from England on March 6, 1957. All of the JSS students marched through the streets of Guaman banging drums and clapping their hands. It was a rather impressive display of patriotism followed by a complete submission to palm wine and local liquors. Happy Birthday, Ghana. Now kick Nestle out!
On a completely different note, I have noticed a rather severe problem with Christian fundamentalism in Ghana. The landscape here is sprinkled with what I like to call "mushroom" churches. These are churches that seem to blossom beneath some shady tree overnight. If you are at all familiar with Pentecostal churches you may have an idea what the services consist of. Members become possessed by the holy spirit and convulse on the floor, speaking in tongues and losing control of their senses. Of course, none of this would be a problem if it wasn't for the intensity in which SOME of these churches evangelize. And evangelism isn' t a problem either, if it is done in a fair and appropriate manner. But these churches tear into local traditions, other Christian churches, and the local marketplaces like they are bastions of the devil himself. I have seen behavior that one would associate more with rioting than evangelism. For example, my community used to be comprised of some 20 or 30 churches, but at least 15 of these have been subsumed under the guise of a popular Pentecostal church by the name of Assemblies of God. Furthermore, the fury with which these people are converted causes them to give all their time and money to crusading and building new churches, taking necessary funds and energy out of farming, teaching, etc.
On a more light note, everyone in **** is doing wonderful. I have made some of the nicest friends I could have ever hoped for. One of the benefits of living in a small community (of about 700 people) is that you see the same people everyday and learn to laugh and converse with them. I have a handful of very good friends who have helped me through some of roughest times and who have helped clarify some of the more confusing experiences I have had in Ghana. God bless them. I know that a year and a half from now it will be horribly difficult to leave **** and head back to the U.S.