Posted tagged ‘Peace Corps staging’

“There are no such things as curses; only people and their decisions”

October 7, 2017

The sun predicted for today has yet to appear. It is cloudy and damp. I could feel the moisture in the air when Gracie and I went out to get the papers. It made me feel a bit chilly and I wished I had put on a sweatshirt. The house, though, with all the doors and windows closed is warm.

We’re going out today, Gracie and I, to the dump, the market and Agway. My trunk is filled with trash from Thursday’s great cabinet clean-out. Gracie needs canned food and a treat or two, and I need the essentials for life: bread, coffee and cream.

My friends are coming on Tuesday for a couple of days. These are the friends I traveled with to Ghana last year. We first met in 1969 at Peace Corps staging in Philadelphia at the Hotel Sylvania. Staging is the first time the whole group of trainees get together before leaving for in-country training, and it is where we got shots, had interviews and were introduced to PC staff from Ghana. Right away we became friends and co-conspirators. The three of us skipped some of the orientation to tour Philadelphia. It didn’t take a whole lot of convincing. They were supposed to be posted in Tamale, a city 100 miles from Bolga. That would have made us neighbors. Instead, after Peace Corps found out Peg was pregnant, they were posted to New Tafo, in the south. I visited them every time I went south, and we traveled together. Just before our second year, there was an open post at my school. They were willing to join me in Bolga, and the principal agreed to make the request to Peace Corps so we became neighbors living in a duplex on the school compound. Bill had a red motorcycle. I had a grey one. We used to take day trips around Bolga. He’d take Kevin, their son, and I’d take Peg. We had adventures. I remember a couple of picnics during school holidays, one by a watering hole and another in the hills of Tongo where school boys stood and watched us the whole time. It was there an old man threatened us with the gods because he claimed we had desecrated a sacred rock by putting our small charcoal burned on it. The schoolboys said he just wanted money. We decided to take our chances. As we were leaving, Bill’s motorcycle stopped dead. It just quit running. We sort of chuckle and hoped the old man didn’t see us. The motorcycle did start right away, but it gave us pause.

“I recently went to a new doctor and noticed he was located in something called the Professional Building. I felt better right away. “

March 30, 2017

Today is a New England spring day. The sun is bright, the sky is blue, and it’s in the mid-40’s. The weatherman calls this seasonable. I call it chilly.

Yesterday was a busy day for me. I was out and about early. I had a doctor’s appointment at 9:30 so I slept on the downstairs couch and set an Alexa alarm to wake me up. She did just fine. The doctor has decided my back needs to be looked at again. He used his knee hammer on my right leg five or six times before it reacted with that quick kick. “Something’s wrong with this knee,” was his professional opinion based on years of schooling followed by years of doctoring. I tell him about that knee every year, and every year he schedules tests which show nothing. This year we’ll do another MRI on my back.

When I was a kid, we never had regularly scheduled visits to doctors or dentists. We went only for apparent pain or injury. I remember seeing the doctor a day or two after I fell down the stairs when I was ten. I remember that doctor well. Pain sometimes does that: etches an event into a memory which dims but never disappears. That doctor, the one with no bedside manner, cleaned my chin gash quickly and painfully.

I remember sitting with my mother and then being called into the doctor’s office. It was huge with high ceilings and lots of wood around doors and windows. The office was in the front downstairs room of his house. The doctor was huge with the sort of big belly some old men seem to get. He always wore a vest with suspenders underneath. The desk was wooden and befitting a huge man. He had a skeleton hanging near his desk. That fascinated me. He checked the gash then cleaned it as if he were cleaning tile grout and then put a butterfly bandage on it. He told my mother it needed stitches, but the cut had become infected in the day or two since the fall so he couldn’t close it. I was thrilled. I didn’t care if that cut stayed opened forever. All I cared about was no stitches.

I loved my first dentist. He always used gas so I never felt any pain, but my father made me switch from that painless, expensive, dentist to a really old, cheap, dentist who didn’t even use novocaine. I swear his drill was a pedal model like the old sewing machines. I remember gripping the chair arms so hard I must have left finger impressions. He soured me on dentists for a long time, but I had to have all dental work finished before I went to Peace Corps staging in Philadelphia. I faced my bête noire and was triumphant. At the dental check in Philadelphia,  I was perfect, good to go.

I figure if my back is my only complaint, I can manage. I can still be good to go.

“Strange, what brings these past things so vividly back to us, sometimes!”

May 13, 2014

The warm weather is gone and the 50’s have replaced it. The sun was shining but has since disappeared. It’s a stay home sort of day. I have mail from when I was gone to go through and a few dvr’d television programs to watch. I’ll just stretch out on the couch with my phone handy and enjoy a quiet day. I still ache and yelp when I stand up, but my knees do seem a bit better.

I have some singular memories of certain days and events.

The town plowed the field, filled in the swamp and took down the trees where we had spent so much of our childhood. They build elderly apartments. My father always called it wrinkle city. I remember a lady whose robe had caught on fire. When they brought her out, she had no hair. I can still see that. I don’t remember her looking burned, just bald. When I was in the seventh grade, they found I had a heart murmur. My dad took me for a ride and told me about it. He explained I would be tested to make sure everything was okay. I remember how gentle he sounded. My dad was the disciplinarian and a screamer so this gentleness scared me a bit. Later, though, all was well. I remember the drive to Logan the day I left for Peace Corps staging. I sat in the back and said little as did my parents. I don’t remember saying good-bye at the gate, but I do remember trying to settle all my carry-on at my seat. The man beside me wanted to know if I was running away from home. I told him I was going in the Peace Corps, and he bought me drinks. Not long after I bought my house, my car started to smoke on the way home from buying groceries. I remember crying because I had no money to fix it. All of my money had gone into the house, insurance and passing papers. What would I do without a car? Well, it was only a hose and water hitting the hot engine, but I still remember how distraught I was. I even remember exactly the car was when the engine started to smoke.

My memory drawers are filled, and I love to sift through them hoping for a surprise, something I had forgotten but now remember. These other memories, these singular memories, stay etched by themselves in a separate drawer. They, in some way, changed me. I don’t forget them for that.

“You either get the point of Africa or you don’t. What draws me back year after year is that it’s like seeing the world with the lid off.”

January 24, 2014

A brilliant sunny day with a deep blue sky greeted me this morning, but it is still very cold. The snow, which was soft and fluffy, is now hard and crunchy. When I went to get the papers, the sounds of my footsteps on the snow seemed to echo in the quiet of the early morning. Tomorrow will be in the 30’s, almost summer-like say I with tongue in cheek.

My friends Bill and Peg are coming today for the weekend. We were in the Peace Corps together and were even neighbors my second year. I met Bill and Peg in Philadelphia during staging, the time for finalizing everything before the flight to Africa. We even skipped a few lectures together to do some sightseeing. One of my favorite stories of that time is about Bill. We went to the top of the William Penn Building to see the view of Philadelphia below us. The site is manned by rangers in green uniforms. Bill spoke to one and asked the name of the river to which he was pointing because the name is so difficult to pronounce. Without missing a beat, the ranger looked at him and said,” Del-a-ware.” Peg and I couldn’t stop laughing.

Bill and Peg were to be stationed in Tamale, a hundred miles south of me and the closest town in that direction with volunteers. I knew I’d get to see them often, but it wasn’t to be; instead, they were posted down south in Tafo, closer to Accra, when they found out Peg was pregnant. Peace Corps decided to let them stay anyway as an associate director and his wife were also expecting and weren’t leaving. I visited them as often as I could which wasn’t all that often as they were a distance away. I usually stopped on my way back up north after a visit to Accra. Their house had no running water, and you had to use an outhouse in the yard. On one visit to them I was sitting in the outhouse when I heard a noise below me. I stood up and saw a hand take the bucket and then a face looked up at me and the man said hello or good morning, madame, I don’t exactly remember which being a bit shocked by the circumstances of the greeting. It was the night soil man going about his work. He put the empty bucket back, and I sat down to finish my business.

Before our second year I talked to our principal about asking Bill and Peg to come to Women’s Training College where I taught. The school needed a maths teacher and would get an English teacher in the bargain. The principal, Mrs. Intsiful, agreed and Bill, Peg and Kevin, their son, moved to Bolga. We were neighbors in a duplex.

I have quite a few stories of our adventures, but I’ll save them for the weekend!

“Children learn to smile from their parents.”

August 12, 2011

Lots of news today. First, my daily weather report: it’s an absolutely gorgeous day, a perfect 74°. My morning on the deck was idyllic with the birds flying in and out, the fountain burbling, and the tenants from hell gone somewhere else. They were shouting to each other early this morning, their usual conversational voice level, but I suspect they went to the beach because, with high hopes and my fingers crossed, I’m thinking today is their last day and tomorrow they depart. Second news: the paint eating spawn of Satan is back. I haven’t been spending as much time on the deck as usual because of the noise and Wednesday I was busy all day so it was yesterday when I noticed the new gnaw marks. A couple of marks are over the old ones and a couple are new marks on the arm of a chair. It’s back to turning the chairs against the table every night. I had hoped that the spawn’s peculiar diet had done him him. This is, after all, the third summer, of gnawing, but I think he has developed an immunity or turned into a B-scifi monster like The Incredible Shrinking Woman or The Colossus. I best be armed if we meet. Third news: I have begun the countdown. Two weeks from tomorrow I leave. When I booked my flight in April, I was counting in months. Hard to believe my trip is so close.

I know that I often subject you to my memories of Ghana, but it plays a huge role in my life and talking about it keeps the experience vivid. Today is something new: the story of how I got there. I never told my parents when I applied in October of my senior year. My dad had made comments when he saw Peace Corps commercials on TV. He couldn’t understand paying all that money for college then getting no money to work somewhere foreign, alien, for two years. In January I received my acceptance, and I called my mother and asked her to tell my father. I knew he’d be angry, and I didn’t want to hear it. She hedged but finally agreed. I called a couple of days later, and my father said I couldn’t go. I just laughed. I was 21 in my last semester of college and I couldn’t imagine he believed that would work. Next he said no more money; the well is dry. I said fine as he’d already paid my tuition, and I could get a part time job for the rest. Then he yelled and yelled and yelled. I hung up on him. The worst thing was I had agreed to go home for the next weekend to mind my sisters while my parents stayed overnight for a family function off cape. I asked my friend Lenny to go with me. He asked if I was using him. I most certainly was. We went down on the bus, my dad picked us up and didn’t speak to me. He talked to Lenny the whole time then they left the next morning, and we still hadn’t spoken.

It took a few months before my dad accepted my decision. He didn’t wholeheartedly support me until much later, but he started talking to me and hoped I knew what I was getting into. I had no idea.

My parents drove me to Logan on the Sunday in June I was to report to staging. Peace Corps had sent a bus ticket to Philadelphia, but my dad bought me a plane ticket instead. The ride to the airport was difficult because we were all so caught up in our feelings. They were afraid for me and hated having me go so far away. I was nervous and scared both of leaving and arriving. They parked the car and we walked to the gate together, my dad carrying my 80 pounds of luggage. Before I finally boarded, we hugged so long my back hurt.

They told me later neither one of them spoke as they watched my plane disappear from sight.