Saturday, May 12, 2012

Sorry for no updates for a long time. I just finished traveling around Ghana for a bit during the term break for our school. The incident I’ll talk about today is something called Bob Marley Day. What is Bob Marley Day, you ask? It’s the day that he died, May 11th. My friend in the town Sena told me about this on Thursday, but I dismissed it as an esoteric holiday that only a few people enjoy. It seems I was wrong. My village friend, Mensah, came to me raving about Bob Marley Day. It took a fraction of a second for me to realize why it was called Bob Marley Day, and exactly how people celebrate said day (think Rastafarian). That would explain why earlier in the night, as a funeral wakekeeping (common practice for all funerals in the south of Ghana), I smelled pot in the middle of a crowd of middle aged people, typically quite tame in their demeanor. My friend proceeded to tell me that everywhere in Ghana people celebrate this Day, and no matter what happens the police and military won’t do anything (I don’t know if I believe this, simply because there may be so many people blazing that its impossible to police them all). My market town Ho? Apparently it would be chaos if we were there… instead we are in the villages, so entertainment was limited to watching semi-drunk potentially-high motorcycle riders do circles in the road, and a rogue pick-up truck driver that, had I been two seconds slow in my reaction time, would have run me while walking on the side of the road. Now, I’m on holiday for two weeks from drinking anything. People just don’t seem to grasp the concept of more than one night of sobriety. Here’s a verbatim transcript: “I have something here” “Sorry, I’m on a break from taking anything for two weeks, so I can’t partake” “Okay, then I’ll buy you something tomorrow” Another interesting slice of life: “Let’s get some palm wine” “Okay, but I will not drink any because I’m on a break” ”Oh, why? Palm wine doesn’t count as alcohol” Speaking of which, apparently palm wine, regular wine, beer, and sips of the hard stuff don’t count against my abandonment of alcohol (according to the norms of some of the locals). In summary, Bob Marley Day was interesting, but mainly full of people who were chain-smoking cigarettes (not exactly my thing, as I’ve never tried them).

Monday, March 12, 2012

Busy? Maybe.

Lets see, how do I describe my current feelings right now? I have some successes under my belt recently -
A) I've found a neighboring teacher who fixes computers to come and repair three broken computer left at the school by a past NGO (note to all NGOs: don't donate if you don't teach people how to take care of it!)
B) I went to the March 6th independence day celebration (where students march around the field for a few hours in military formations)
C) We had a sports day at a neighboring town, and the students from our area won all 4 different sports fields.
D) A funeral was in town this weekend, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad - as people can either be troublesome if they don't know me, or nice. I stayed out to get maximal cultural exposure.
E) Snake meat tastes good, but with a lot of bones (though I've been cautioned against ever eating snake meat again by almost everyone that I tell I ate it - something about the meat being improperly handled and the snake venom contaminating the meat... luckily I'm still alive.)
F) Since doing aspects of P90X since September, and furthermore now that I'm running 3 days a week, ... okay, this is a prime example of a fragmented sentence. But sometimes there's just nothing else to do, so why not exercise a lot?
G) I'm tutoring some little kids, nearly 6 year olds, about basics like counting, the alphabet, basic English - wow, those kids simply will not sit still!! Climbing over everything (including me!) while I'm trying to teach them to read... crazy kids.
H) I had some interesting conversations with my students about taboo social matters, and some of the answers I received, and questions they asked were jolting. There's nothing like adolescent education for puberty, and generally the parents don't want to talk about those matters, so I received some upfront questions about 'growing up'. However, it is a very serious issue, regardless of tabooicity, and needs to be talked about - so that person to talk about it with them was me. I separated the boys and girls to make things easier and for kids to feel less shy. Some had to write their questions down on paper because it was too hard to speak about it with their teacher. As a direct result of this, I am looking into ways to further their education of sex and HIV/AIDS awareness in the future.
I) I'm still doing the next stage of FSO, which is my personal narratives. PNs (acronyms abound in gov't policy) are upcoming.
J) I've been trying to stay in town for a while, because I know I will be travelling in about a month's time for a bit - both for our Close-of-Service conference and for PC Ghana AllVolunteer conference in April. Unfortunately, this begets major volatility in my happiness, mood, and willpower. Its been about one month since I've actually traveled to another town (market town doesn't count), and the strain is showing, but I'll tough it out like usual - I'm taking a quick trip to Accra this weekend to recharge my batteries.
Not to end on a pessimistic note, but I have my good days. I have my bad days. Now its my good hours and my bad hours. I don't know what is going on with my mind - it had been almost a month since I've seen any other volunteers - am I going crazy? Probably yes. Do I want to get out of Ghana right now? Sort of, but there's still work to be done, and I am here to do it - I know I can deal with these last five months.
I want to end on a lighter note: I can't think of anything. So here is a bland statement: I'm reading a book called The Black Swan, which is about uncertainty and 'unknown unknown' variables and how it affects history and life. Recommended for any cerebral readers out there that want a book to digest, not just to skim through.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

FSOT Success!

I received the results from the FSOT back: I needed a 154 to pass and go to the next stage, and I scored a 165 - though to be honest it is unclear what the actual high could be. So on to the next stage - personal narratives. A few happenings:
1. We had a camp for Junior High School girls recently at Hohoe, so I took four girls from my school to participate.
2. I took another set of students to Ho for skyping with American students and internet usage.
3. The 6th of March (Ghanaian Independence Day) is approaching, so all of the teachers and students are travelling to neighboring Gbedome for celebrations. Additionally, all students are marching around in military formations on a field.
4. I asked my Rasta friend in the town how people lived before electricity (incidentally the lights went out yesterday morning and never came back on), and he said from kerosene lamps, candles, and the moon (but only "when the moon is working" - I thought the phrase made the moon seem like a car that sometimes starts up, but not always)
Thats all for now, but the weather is getting hot! I went to sleep at 11pm last night (extremely late!!) because before then it was too hot in my room.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Success!! I am registered to take the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) on February 6th, 2012. It is the first part of what looks like an extensive entrance filter to apply to complete training for work abroad in US embassies around the world. There are five different career paths you can choose, so naturally I chose Economics (after all, I do have a degree in economics). The FSOT has 4 parts:
1. Job Knowledge Test (based on economics) - I think I should do well enough here - my mind has a penchant for facts and trivia
2. Biographic Questionnaire - From what I've looked at, its mostly about your personality and history, so I think I should do decently on this as well
3. English Expression Test - Hmm. I will be studying some GRE material and doing some online practice to improve.
4. Essay Test - Crap. I haven't written a serious essay since college (so almost 3 years ago); ergo again I will be revising some GRE practice questions to prepare.

If I pass this exam, then I will have 3 weeks in which to submit some personal narratives about myself. If I pass that satisfactorily according to a panel, then I will get called in for an Oral Skills Assessment. Almost finally, I have to receive medical and security clearance, and then pass a final review board. Finally I will complete an extensive training course (even longer than Peace Corps' 10 weeks), and then lastly wait to be hired by an embassy. Simple as saying cat in a hat.

I would be working in embassies around the world, with rotations back to the US for a few years at a time; however, this is a career track, not just something to do for a brief stint and then choose something else (that is, assuming I succeed).

Well. I might as well get started preparing now.

Saturday, December 31, 2011


Indeed, the holidays are here in Ghana. It's been a surprising couple of days so far. How? Let me use a list (as always) to express the surprises:
A. Remember all those Christmas songs in the US that play when its cold outside? they still play here; its odd to be sweating in 85 degree weather outside and hear "Chestnuts, roasting on an open fire..."
B. I am staying with a Ghanaian family for Christmas and New Year's (I stayed with them last NY as well). Let me say: I am being spoiled with fans, a Wii, and a spectacular house.
C. I've thought about staying (extending) for another year, but I don't know if things will come to fruition. Even being in Accra for the holidays, people I've never met pleasantly shock me and come to talk to me about being in Saviefe and the work I'm doing there (nice/rewarding); but its one more year.
D. I am going to the beach today! Outlook: ~82 degrees, slightly hazy, and I'm not sure if I want to swim in water so close to Accra (sewer drainage from the big city).
E. There were some little kids (Ages 12, 8, 7, & 4) that were here: its an impressive thing to hear children that small speaking excellent English after living in the village where even kids at 15 have a hard time expressing simple thoughts and actions.
F. I received a small box of Ferrero-Rocher for Christmas (two thumbs up).
G. Some other Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) and I started a book club. Our first book was East of Eden by John Steinbeck - recently completed by Mike Shoup and book #101 finished since Sept. 15 2010.
H. I think I'm really going to miss Ghana whenever I leave - the people are extremely friendly and will go out of their way simply to ensure you are salubriously comfortable and verily relaxed. Examples: I was offered the nicest seat from a person while riding on a tro (the person got out of the seat to offer it!); at the house in Accra, all of my whims are thought of (drinks? food? [I didn't realize I was thirsty, but since you ask..]); "Do you want breakfast, Mike?", "Ye..", "Let me make you something!".
I. Everyone is my mother - "Mike, eat more food and feel free. I want you to be happy" (happy is sometimes equated to being fat and large, a symbol of wealth and beauty).

Anything else? I suppose a happy New Year's is in order... ok.
Oh! We PCVs in Volta have a girl's camp coming up on January 9-13. Its a leadership camp for girls in the equivalent of 8th grade (here, JHS Form 2) to educate them about leadership, HIV/AIDS awareness, career options, and to motivate them to study hard and succeed in their schooling.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Successful completion of Taking-students-to-Ho-and-skyping-with-Americans, iteration II!! But now I'm exhausted so its time to read and bed. 8:45 never felt so late...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Volta Verbalizations

If you,
are interested in a blog about some of my students, check out:
I've just added a post about local food.