Posted tagged ‘Peace Corps’

“I hope you have an experience that alters the course of your life because, after Africa, nothing has ever been the same.”

May 20, 2023

Rain is coming. It is supposed to rain all day, but the rain is welcomed as it is so dry. I have one errand. I have to go the grocery store to get a few items to fill my larder. I’m also thinking a Snickers bar.

Today is Africa day here on Coffee. I am wearing a t-shirt my sister gave me which says, “I don’t need therapy. I just need to go to Ghana.” My house is filled with my treasures from Africa, some I brought back and many I bought on subsequent trips. I have a metal chess set I bought in Ouagadougou, the capital of what was Upper Volta in my day and is now Burkina Faso. It was a weekend getaway destination for me. The station wagon would pick me up at my house which was on the road to Ouga. The road was laterite until close to the city where it was paved. I remember during the rainy season we had to get out of the car so it could pass through places where the road was flooded. In Ouga I stayed in a hotel with air conditioning. It felt like a resort. I dined at L’eau Vive, a wonderful restaurant run by nuns. I shopped at the market which was below street level in the middle of the city. It is no longer there. I really liked the city and went often, but now Burkina Faso is dangerous and violent because of extremists, a great loss.

In Accra, the capital of Ghana, Hausa traders used to sell their wares on High Street. I always stopped there hoping I could get bargain. I spoke enough Hausa to chat so I usually got a good deal which was probably not a good deal but felt that way to me. Accra had many Lebanese restaurants, one Chinese restaurant and a few western type restaurants. I always ate once a trip at the Chinese restaurant. It was a treat, a sort of expensive treat, but mostly I ate Lebanese food. It was cheap and good.

I used to shop at Makola Market, the largest market in Accra. That was where I bought my mosquito net which I never used. On the cloth side of the market, yards of folded cloth were stacked tall. I’d look for neat cloth patterns for dresses. I was usually lucky to find some. I still have some cloth stacked here in the den.

When I walk my house, I see memories everywhere.

“I hope you have an experience that alters the course of your life because, after Africa, nothing has ever been the same.”

March 2, 2023

My kitchen floor stayed clean for three days. Today it has been raining so the floor has become a roadmap of dog paw prints. According to the forecast, it will rain again tomorrow so I’ll have to live with paw prints.

It being Peace Corps week, I thought I’d take you through a regular day with me in Bolgatanga, Ghana. I taught English as a second language at Women’s Teacher Training College. I taught second years, 35 students in each of my two classes. They were ages 16 to 32. They sat in the classroom two to a table.

Now to my day!!

I always woke up early to the sounds of students sweeping the dirt in the front of my house. They did chores throughout the school compound before classes. I’d sit outside my house having my first cup of coffee watching the morning unfold. After the sweeping, I could hear water from the taps falling into metal buckets. It was bucket bath time for my students when the chores were finished. Meanwhile, I was finishing my coffee then having my breakfast, the same breakfast every morning: two eggs over and two pieces of toast all cooked on a small wood charcoal burner.

My house was by the back gate across from the school garden. The classrooms were a short walk away. My lessons were divided into reading comprehension, vocabulary, speech and writing. I had to present my plan book every Friday to the principal.

When I had a break in teaching, I’d go home for another cup of coffee. I’d sit on the steps and watch the little ones walk to the elementary school outside the front gate. They would stop, salute and tell me, “Good morning, sir.” They were just learning English starting with greetings.

After I was finished teaching, I had lunch, the same lunch every day: fresh fruit including bananas, mango, pawpaw, pineapple and oranges.

After lunch I’d read or plan lessons, and sometimes I’d walk into town to the market, especially on market day, every third day. I had favorite market sellers. The egg man would hold the eggs up to the light so I could see the egg level and know it was a good egg. I never saw it. I just trusted my egg man. My tomato and onion lady always dashed (gifted) me a few tomatoes. I bought more, things like fruit, filled my bag then started home. I seldom walked home. Someone always stopped to give a ride to the white woman who taught at the school.

Dinner was beef or chicken, usually in a tomato sauce with onions, and yam. One time Thomas cooked beef and the sauce tasted odd. He showed me what he used: cinnamon and nutmeg sent by my mother. He had no idea what they were.

At night I’d read and listen to music. Just before bed, I’d take my cold shower, but if I were quick enough, I’d get some hot water from the pipes which had been heated by the sun. I never dried off so I could air dry and fall asleep.

I found every day exciting. How could it not be living in Africa?

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” 

February 11, 2023

Today is another delight but colder than yesterday’s delight when it was so beautiful and close to 60°. I went for quite a ride in the afternoon all the way down to Chatham on 28 and back on Route 6A. I made two stops, at the post office and at the tiny South Chatham library. I was looking for the thrift shop but went to the library instead, a serendipitous stop. I chatted with the library lady for a while and was surprised by the book cards in the backs of the books. The lady showed me her file box of cards. I found books on sale so I picked out and bought 5 hard covers for $10.00. I was so very happy with my finds.

The last few months have been a trial for me. The finger fiasco was a huge part of it. It took me a while to decorate for Christmas then another while to put it away. I still have presents upstairs waiting to be sorted and wrapped. It is my new project. My pine tree is up in the dining room waiting for my friends and me to celebrate our Christmas, soon I hope. I didn’t have my uke for a few months. I didn’t go out much except for PT. I was okay but I’m not fond of okay. Fast forward to now. Good things have happened. I no longer have PT. I graduated, and I’m still enjoying my congratulatory cookies from my sister, but sadly, they are almost gone. My new TV is being delivered today. I am back to uke, twice a week. Yesterday I had a burst of energy. I brought in my Christmas cow. I added and rearranged books in my little library where I found a gift, a snowman dish. I re-taped the bird holes in the library wood. I picked up Nala’s backyard trash. I had hot dogs for dinner. Life is good.

When I lived in Ghana, I read all the time. The first books I read were from a Peace Corps book locker, gifted to me by a volunteer finishing her service. Before my time, Peace Corps used to give them to volunteers so I was lucky to get this one. The books in that locker were just amazing. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy were there. I became immersed in Middle Earth and resented the need to sleep. I wanted just to keep reading. I read all four books one after the other and only stopped reading to teach and sleep. I read while I ate. My town also had a library for which I will be forever grateful. I was never without a book to read.

“For there we loved, and where we love is home,
Home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts…”

February 9, 2023

We are in the midst of a heat wave, that is if you compare the temperature to last week’s when it was around 8°. Right now it is 46°. Even though we’re socked in by clouds spread across the sky I’m going closet hunting for my Hawaiian shirt. I don’t think I need sunscreen, but I’ll keep it around just in case.

Yesterday was an amazing day for me. I got to play the newest book at uke, and my finger barely hurt which is a great thing as next week I have 4 uke events: practice, a lesson, a mid-week concert and another on the weekend at the mall. I’m thinking three of those might be enough for my crooked, barely bending finger. Yesterday’s second event made me cry. I was bemoaning my fate of a dead TV to someone I don’t know all that well. When we meet, we usually chat so the TV came up in conversation. I told her how I compensate with my iPad. Why didn’t I buy a new one? I explained I was being given a TV which best fit my budget. She asked how much one would cost. I had no idea as the dead TV was one of the first HD sets and was massively expensive. It worked well all these years and deserves its eternal rest. She handed me a check for $500. I thanked her and refused the kind offer. She said she was paying it forward in honor of a relative who had passed. I couldn’t refuse. That’s when I cried. That’s when I got my hug. The third and culminating event was a package from my sister and brother-in-law congratulating me on the end of my PT, four months after the surgery. It was filled with cookies from Cheryl’s. I ate two.

Where I lived in Ghana was way up country. It was the poorest part of the country and the region with the most extreme temperatures. Right now it is 101°, a dry 101°, but soon enough the dry heat will disappear and the humidity will start. The rainy season isn’t far away. My students, on one of my return trips, told me they were amazed I lived in Bolga as many Ghanaians would not choose to live there, but a white woman did. I didn’t tell them I had been posted there even before I got to Ghana. I knew nothing of Bolga until mid-way through training when I spent a week there meeting the principal, checking out my town and what I needed for my house. It was the rainy season.

It didn’t take long for Bolga to feel like home. I got waves and greetings everywhere I went. I fell in love with my town and was so very thankful to have been chosen to live there. That’s what I told my former students. They said they knew that.

“The color of springtime is in the flowers; the color of winter is in the imagination.”

February 2, 2023

The freeze is coming. We’ll go to single digits at night. 28° will be tomorrow’s high while the low will be -2. Saturday will be warm as the high will be 17° (Did you notice the tongue- in -cheek?). I could go to the dump today, but I’m waiting for Sunday and balmy weather, 40°.

I slept in this morning. Last night I went to bed around two. The dogs were asleep on the couch. They tend to crash earlier than I do, but they know the routine. Once I close my computer, they follow me up stairs. I spent almost an hour with Jack. The dogs by then had moved to my bed. Nala was under the covers while Henry was watching and hoping.

I went to my uke practice and my lesson this week. My finger is swollen and stiff which happens every time I do uke twice in a week even though I don’t use that finger. I’m going to start taping the offending digit as I have practice, a lesson and a show next week. The surgeon did tell me the finger would take a year to heal completely.

When I was in Ghana, most of each day during training was scheduled, and the down time was at night. We spent our first two weeks in Winneba. I can still picture that school and all of its buildings. I had a second floor room in the dorm. From there I could see palm trees and the rusted roofs of the compounds in the town. We went to greet the chief. I can only imagine the reaction of the Ghanaians. Here was a parade with 120+ of us trainees plus PC staff walking through town.

During those first two weeks, I was still amazed about being in Ghana. I was getting to know my fellow trainees. I had language two or three times a day. Sandwiched in with that were large group sessions. One was medical: what wonderful diseases we were hoping not to meet. Another was about Ghanaian customs and how not to offend. My language group went to see the market.

I got homesick every now and then during training. I remember in Winneba going to the female dorm, all of us in one room. I had had a trying day. I got to the dorm and starting spewing about everything and swore I was leaving. The other trainees all agreed they’d go with me. That gave us a laugh. Everything was good again.

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

January 21, 2023

I am bereft. My Boston Globe did not come. I hunted all around the front yard and even under the car. I came inside and wept.

I wanted more than anything to be accepted to the Peace Corps. I had taken the language test the spring of my junior year then sent in my application in October of my senior year. I heard in January. I was over the moon.

The day I left Philadelphia for Ghana I remember standing outside the hotel waiting with everyone else to board a bus. The luggage was piled behind us. We were allowed 80 pounds so the pile was scalable. The Peace Corps had sent us all sorts of information including a suggested list of what we might want to pack. My mother and I took that list to heart and began shopping. The first purchase was luggage. I chose red. Even now I have one bag left from then. While I was in Ghana, I stored the luggage in my armoire because I didn’t need it. It got a bit of mold. We bought two sets of sheets, the suggested amount, two sets of towels and one giant bath towel. We went clothes shopping, all summer clothes. We also bought a couple of pairs of sandals. One lasted three rainstorms, the other all two years. We bought two years worth of toiletries and two years worth of underwear in assorted colors. What was difficult about all of this was we had no idea what we’d find in Ghana. Peace Corps gave us wonderful information about Ghanaian customs, government and schools but nothing super-useful, nothing about life between breakfast and bed. Keep in mind we’re talking pre-internet. We got books, brochures and ditto sheets with that familiar smell.

It didn’t take long after training to realize the best part of Peace Corps isn’t Peace Corps. It is just living every day because that’s what Peace Corps comes down to, just living your best life in a place you couldn’t imagine. It is living on your own in a village or at a school. It is teaching every day. It is shopping in the market every three days. It is taking joy in speaking the language you learned in training. It is wearing Ghanaian cloth dresses and relegating the clothes you brought with you to the moldy suitcases. It is loving people and a country with all of your heart from breakfast to bed and forever after. Peace Corps doesn’t tell you that part, the loving part, but I expect they know it will be there.

“Every Christmas, all around Ghana, there are tons of these parties and they are full of everything that exists in human life in Ghana and worldwide.”

December 16, 2022

Today is warm but ugly, rainy and now windy. The dogs are sleeping on the couch, one on each side of me. I have to go out this afternoon as I have PT. Tomorrow I have an appointment with the surgeon at 8 o’clock. I hate it, too many finger events.

The first year I was in Ghana and Christmas was approaching I was a bit sad. It was my first Christmas away from home. The decorations from my mother helped, but I still missed being there until one night still bright in my memory drawer. I was lying in bed under my scratchy blanket. It was cold, harmattan cold. The night air was clear. The stars were so many everything seemed to shine. All of sudden I heard a boy singing We Three Kings. I didn’t know where he was. I figured he was in one of the compounds close to my school, and the night air was carrying his voice to me. He sang every stanza. He brought Christmas to me.

I remember the impromptu Christmas party that year. Some Peace Corps volunteers were in town waiting to travel north so I invited them to my house, to my house in Bolga. Patrick, another volunteer in my town, and I went to the bar at the Hotel d’Bull. We begged for beer, for Star Beer. We had to promise to bring back every bottle. Bottles were precious. I made sugar cookies for the first time. My mother had sent a few cookie cutters. The cookies actually tasted good. I was a bit surprised. As per Peace Corps custom, the volunteers brought food or gave money as you never showed up empty handed to another volunteer’s house. They also contributed to the beer fund. We sang Christmas carols. I remember someone saying just don’t sing “I’ll be home for Christmas.”

Later in the evening, we went outside behind the wall of my house and sat and talked. Stars filled the sky. A couple of falling stars made the evening almost magical.

The next morning I found a 20 pesewa coin in the tiny stocking my mother had sent which I had hung on the wall. Back then 20 pesewas, about 20 cents, could buy bananas and oranges and even a taxi ride around Accra. It was a wonderful surprise present.


“Strange to see how a good dinner and feasting reconciles everybody.”

November 6, 2022

I thought yesterday was perfect, but I slightly missed the mark. That honor belongs to today. It is already 71° and will get a bit higher. There are a few clouds but not enough to block the sun. There is a bit of a wind but not a cold winter, almost a summer wind. I am going out later today. It would be sinful to miss such a lovely day.

Nala trash picked this morning. She got into the bag I was readying for the dump. I have to check outside, but I suspect there is trash because she disappeared right after the theft. Henry again was guilty of abetting. He was lapping one of the cans on the floor.

The smoke alarm went off again, the one in the hall. It has a new battery so I’m thinking it is dying. Henry ran upstairs. Nala went to the hall to check it out. She is brazen.

The big news is I have started my first load of laundry. I had to get my step ladder so I was in the cellar anyway. I keep looking for fireworks and listening for noise makers.

When I was a kid, Sunday was family day. I remember sitting in the living room with my dad after church. He’d read the paper, and I’d read the comics. Back then I had my little world which seldom extended beyond my town so I never read the news. My father did. He’d read the paper end to end. His finger tips got blackened from the print. When that happened to me, I’d press my fingers on white paper so I could see the fingerprint. My mother was always in the kitchen making Sunday dinner. That was the only dinner of the week. The other days we had supper in the early evening, around six. Dinner was in the afternoon. Saturday supper and Sunday dinner were the only meals we ate together because my father came home from work the rest of the week too late to eat with us.

The other night I had a real dinner. I had rib eye, mashed potatoes and peas. I had leftovers the next night. Those dishes are parts of my all time favorite Sunday dinner. My mother made that dinner for me on a Saturday night, on the night before I left to start staging for Peace Corps and Ghana. It is one of my connections to family, a favorite memory I still keep close.

“The Peace Corps is guilty of enthusiasm and a crusading spirit. But we’re not apologetic about it.”

September 8, 2022

The morning is dark and damp. It was spitting rain earlier. The forecast is for a partly cloudy day, but the sun hasn’t yet made an appearance. I closed the windows. The house felt chilly. I can see the leaves being blown up and down on the oak trees, quietly, gently blown. It is a day to stay close to hearth and home.

I made a list of everything I want to do in the next few days. Most are inside chores. I didn’t put a schedule on the list. It will be completed in time.

When I was twenty-one, I went to Ghana. It was a bit scary. I didn’t know anyone, and I knew almost nothing about Ghana. It didn’t seem real at first, but when I stepped off the plane, I knew I was somewhere different, somewhere special, somewhere exotic.

The beginning of Peace Corps training is staging in this country, a time for checking in, meeting each other, getting materials and learning a bit about the country. We also had a dental check-up, a conversation with a psychologist and a yellow fever shot. We were in Philadelphia. I had been given a bus ticket from Boston to Philadelphia, but my father said he didn’t want me on a bus for so long so he bought me a plane ticket. I had bags of carry-on. When I sat down in the plane, my seat-mate wanted to know if I was running away from home. When I said I was going into the Peace Corps, he bought me a couple of drinks. I didn’t know if it was guilt from his question or amazement that I was headed to Africa. I just took the drinks.

In the line for check-in at the hotel, I met a few people who became friends. Bill and Peg were two of them. They were and are kindred spirits. They went with me to tour the city. Nobody noticed we were missing. We saw it all: the historical spots, the top of the William Penn building and the art museum, the much later Rocky steps museum.

Back then we could bring eighty pounds of luggage. We had a list of what we should bring. It included sheets and towels. Dresses were the custom for women so my mother and I did some clothes shopping. I remember a really ugly after shower cover-all. It had black and white designs. It lasted through two years of nightly showers. Within a few months, I was buying Ghanaian cloth and having dresses made. The men had shirts made or wore fugus, smocks from Northern Ghana.

Training in Ghana took most of the summer. It ended with a week at Legon, the university of Ghana. I remember having brewed coffee every day as part of breakfast. I remember going to Accra and wandering the city. I remember the swearing-in when I became a Peace Corps volunteer, all of us in a room, the ambassador in the front and me crowded in the middle. We recited after him. We clapped and cheered at the end.

During training, I traveled all over Ghana, sometimes by myself. I fell in love with Ghana. I turned twenty-two at the near end of the summer. I was so much older than I had been.

“A man’s palate can, in time, become accustomed to anything.”

May 7, 2022

The morning is ugly. The rain comes and goes. The high will be in the low 50’s, and the day will stay rainy. I’m glad I have nowhere I have to be. The house is warm and the coffee is hot. I have harkened back to my childhood and am watching Monster from the Ocean Floor, a 1954 black and white science fiction movie. All I’m missing is the Rice Krispies.

The dogs watched from the deck while two spawns of Satan chased other from tree to tree, branch to branch. I figure the chase is a prelude to romance. Ah, spring!

Puddles were always inviting. When I was little, I loved stomping in the water until the puddle disappeared. I always rode my bike through puddles. I’d raise both legs off the pedals and watch the water spray into the air on each side of my bike. It was a bit like the parting of the Red Sea.

When I was a kid, I remember being excited when I started reading chapter books. Gone were the chickens, the hens, small animals and the colored pictures of the Golden Books. Because the chapter books were long, I always used a bookmark to keep my place. I thought it a sin of sorts, a sacrilege, when people dog-eared pages. I still use bookmarks. Some are official while others are just torn pieces of paper. My current book mark is from a bookstore no longer around. It is ephemera.

My father liked spaghetti with stewed tomatoes. That was the way his mother cooked it when he was a kid. He always said the only places for garlic were shrimp scampi and garlic bread. He didn’t like Romano cheese, only parmesan, but he was easily duped. As long as he didn’t see the garlic or the Romano being used, he didn’t taste them. I loved watching him eat Chinese food. He’d keep his handkerchief close so he could blow his nose and wipe his eyes, effects from the amount of hot mustard he used. He often chose foods with his eyes. He wouldn’t eat hummus. He said it looked like wallpaper paste.

My palate expanded when I lived in Ghana. I was introduced not only to Ghanaian food but also to Lebanese and Indian. Hole-in-the-wall Lebanese restaurants were all around Accra. The food was cheap so I ate a lot of Lebanese food, mostly for lunch. Indian food was a treat. The one Chinese restaurant in Accra served its Chinese food with a Ghanaian twist. The flavors were unique. We always ate outside on the veranda. Eating there was a bit expensive. Even the taxi ride was dear, but we didn’t really care. We were on vacation when we went to Accra, the big city, the city of cars and lights and street markets. I knew the city well, but being from the Upper Region, I always felt a bit like a rube, a country cousin.

%d bloggers like this: