Thursday, December 17, 2009

Good Bye Ghana

I am going with a baker's dozen approach to my final blog - I hope you enjoy!

1. Hermann Gmeiner started SOS villages by doing something small. I don’t think he imagined there would be many villages all over the world helping kids with hundreds of staff people but he wanted to make a difference in the lives of some people and he dedicated his life to the work. It is so hard for me to think small like that sometimes. I want everything to be huge and to happen right now but I need to try and make a difference in the lives of the people or person I come in contact with and be satisfied without it being some world renown thing. God is in control of what that one action may become.

2. I will always be thankful for the roads in Michigan. There are always roads way, way, way worse out there (Ghana). Also this goes for the bigger picture. This trip made it easy to see how blessed I am. I have family, health, education and religious freedom, friends and resources (in a classroom or) to just enjoy. I could easily have been born in a place without any one of those things that I consider so dear to my life. I will try not to take for granted everything that God has so graciously given me but know that he also can take away and that I need to be thankful even when I don’t have, just as the people in Africa are thankful for the seemingly little some have.

3. One of my passions is health / fitness and I was able to see how important these are in our lives. We eat too much meat and waste too much. I am going to try and eat less meat (ill never give it up because it tastes great and God said he made everything good for us to eat) and more healthy rice, pasta and vegetables. I also see the value of hard work. These people work so hard and are fit, strong and happy for what they have. We are blessed with technology and medicines that can help us live longer and if we combine that with a better diet and exercise we can live so much more productive and quality lives.

4. Family is ridiculously important. If parents are horrible then kids are horrible and that is where our society is heading. We need to strive to live better lives with morals and values that really mean something. Determine what those values are, and live up to them. If you come from a good family thank your parents all the time. If you don’t come from that type of family decide to make a change, be different and make life for your children better (I know it probably won’t be easy, but many times the hard things in life are worthwhile and you will be blessed for it). No matter what the financial or educational or social status of a family is, if love and values are there it will be great. My ten values in order of importance are faith (relationship with Jesus), relationships, love, purity, integrity, service, learning/growth, health, sports, and relaxation. I’d love to explain them a little if you are curious as to what I mean by them.

5. I tried to make sense of the educational system in Ghana as did our group. All I can say for sure is that no matter where you are give kids the basic skills to succeed and love them unconditionally. I hate to see kids “fall through the cracks” but I think that if you give it everything you’ve got to help those kids and teach them some basics and show them how to love they will find a way to be successful.

6. It is hard to remember the big picture. We want to see that what we are doing is making a difference in the lives of people. Remember that we may only be planting the seed. We may never see the development of students or people we come into contact with. Plant the seed and pray. God may bring someone else into that person’s life to help them grow. Also thank people when you realize that they helped plant the seed or encouraged your growth. It make them feel good.

7. I have learned that I have a lot to learn. Just when I think I am making strides and living the life I should be God puts me in a situation that humbles me. I am sorry crazy barterer lady at the Volta boat and any kids that I wanted to squish into the ground when they acted up. Almost everything in life can be a way to grow. Think of it that way and it is easier to be patient and kind when those situations arise. Don’t be satisfied with where you are in areas of your life. If you aren’t moving forward you are moving backward, you can be better so why not try?

8. Don’t be afraid to make real friends. Pour everything you have into people that you would like to be friends with. Be careful who those people are because you will act like they do unless you are very disciplined. Don’t be afraid to show emotion – so many people think crying is a sign of weakness but it can be beautiful. Share your feelings with these friends and listen to what they have to say. This life is all about relationships – develop a great one with Jesus Christ and try to make some really intimate ones with other people too.

9. It is okay to step outside of your little tiny box of comfort every now and then. The more you challenge yourself and your beliefs the stronger person and Christian you will become. Go on some adventures and try some things you have never tried. It is easiest to grow during these times. It is also easy to see what kind of character you have during the challenging times. It was easy to see the type of character that the people in my group have when we climbed up a mountain and tried to free our trapped van or when it was too hot to do anything but they played hard with the kids anyway. To see a person go through a difficult situation in a foreign country but act mature and not let it spoil the last few days of a trip. Stretch and test yourself to see what you are made of.

10. With power and wealth comes destruction. It is clear in the bible and really in society that we as people desire to have and have more stuff and power. As we achieve the stuff and the “better life” we often forfeit everything that really matters. People in Ghana don’t have what we have and they are friendly, they seem to rely on God and have some values like family, integrity and so on that we seem to lack now. At one time I think the U.S. was like this. I think people lived somewhat morally and in a way that would be pleasing to God. However, as we become more “successful” and powerful as a nation we are self destructing. You can see it in our economy, divorce rates, crime and so many places. I fear where our country is heading but I am not worried because my hope is in the Lord and not in a country or my job or the stuff that I have.

11. I need to focus on the people that usually get passed by or left in the dust. It has become more and more clear to me that I need to give my attention to those in need. I would love to make some of my friends change how they are living their lives. I wish I could show them the way I see and make it appealing to them but in all honesty they may not care. Jesus said that he came to seek and save that which was lost. He came to heal the sick and forgive sinners. That message makes more sense to me know. I need to focus on the people that no one else wants to focus on. The people that were picked on in school, the people without many family or friends, the ones desperately seeking God’s grace but are least likely to be shown it even by other Christians.

12. From Previous Blog - God has a sense of humor. Attison was our drivers name and I jokingly kept calling him Atticus (from to Kill a Mockingbird) anyway, after a really deep talk about spiritual issues with one of my great friends Whitney the next day I woke up and read the daily bread and the title was “speaking the truth” and it was about Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird. What a funny guy our creator is! The message was speaking the truth even against opposition and persecution and the ending says “It’s better to declare the truth and be rejected than to withhold the truth just to be accepted.” God knows what we need and when we need it. If we just let him lead our lives it is amazing what he can do. I encourage you to seek out a relationship with him daily. Make it personal, it can be informal, give him your troubles and get to know him. I know I am really enjoying his friendship and sense of humor.

13. Don’t be afraid to let your light shine. Be a window for God’s goodness to shine through. Be bold but humble, be smart but wise, be confident but meek, be kind, be loving and pray for others.

My prayer is that I can take these lessons and use them every day. Help me to make a difference in just one person’s life, help me to be thankful, help me to use my passions and gifts, help me to stick to my values, help me to plant seeds, help me to continue to grow, help me to develop relationships, help me to stretch myself, help me to be content, help me to give everything I have to those in need, help me to rely on You in all situations and help me to let Your light shine in me. There are so many other things I could talk about but this will do for now! Thank you for reading my blogs, I hope you enjoyed them and picked up a few interesting things along the way.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Mole Park Trip - 2nd to last blog

This is the second to last blog I will be writing about my student teaching adventure in Ghana. First here is a summary of my second to last week teaching dating November 30 – December 2. On Monday I put together the answers for the 8th grade physical education exam. I then had the opportunity to proctor one of the IB exams for foreign languages. IB stands for International Baccalaureate. This is a very prestigious form of education used by many top notch schools around the world. Generally grade 11-12 students take IB classes which are very advanced and prepare them for the universities they hope to get in to. On Tuesday I graded the physical education exams and sadly got to witness the expulsion of two students from the school. The principal gave a long talk at lunch and eventually called two students up in front of everyone. He talked about their academic dishonesty and said that after lunch they would be leaving. The students had given money to a security man so they could get answers for the exams and make copies. The IB program and the school’s reputation would be on the line if the students were allowed to stay at the school. It was a difficult procedure to watch. After school I finished grading the exams and I was not very enthused. Not because I had to grade them but because the students did horribly. The very best grade in the class was a 50/60. The average was about 30/60 and the low grade was 18/60. This exam counts as 60% of the student’s grade with a practical part of the grade accounting for 40%. However, there was a higher note for the day. After dinner we did mock interviews as a group and I think that taking opportunities to do those types of activities and get feedback is very valuable. On Wednesday I helped grade some more exams and handed them back to students. It was a very light week being that exams were going on and we left early Thursday morning for our trip to Mole National Park.

Mole – Final excursion
We were supposed to be up and left for Mole National Park at 4:30 am. At 4:15 we all carted our belongings to the front gate and waited until 5 am for our driver to finally arrive. This solidifies that in Ghana and most places outside of the U.S. time is not that important. Attison, our driver, was not nearly as good as Bismark, our driver to Wli Falls, and we constantly noticed. We knew we had a long trip ahead. From our estimates it was going to take about 12 hours on a nasty bumpy road in order to get to Mole. It ended up taking about 14 hours and maybe costing us our only chance to see an elephant on the trip, but God has plans and I know I am trying to always realize that. We got to mole at about 7pm and had dinner and apparently an elephant walked right through the dinner area about an hour before we arrived. In the morning on Friday we went on two safaris. The one in the morning was a driving safari. We took a huge jeep and two men with a powerful gun and went in search of animals. We were amazed to see three types of antelope – bush buck, water buck and cob also warthogs and birds of many different kinds. In the afternoon we went on a walking safari and saw the same animals except we saw a mother and her baby warthog and a few heads of crocodiles pop up out of the water nearby. Both safaris were about two hours long and very fun. We did not however have the chance to see the elephant we longed for. The way Mole National Park is set up only a small amount of the park is actually used for viewing animals. There are hundreds of elephants, some lions, leopards, cheetahs, hippos and other very amazing animals but they are rarely seen because they are smart and hide from human activity. It would be awesome if it was possible to go to those back areas of the park but as of now they do not do that. We enjoyed some good meals, swimming, air conditioned bedrooms and Christina’s birthday while we were at Mole. The trip was a good reminder to not just look at the outcome or what you get in every situation but also the journey or the process.

On Saturday after breakfast we left for Kumasi. Kumasi is the second largest city in Ghana and is well known for its markets and kenti weaving among other things. We went to the cultural center in Kumasi for some shopping. It was very different than the cultural center we went to in Accra but we were able to find some things we liked. We arrived Saturday night at the university in Kumasi and stayed at the Engineering Hotel. This was the nicest accommodation we have had in Ghana. It was a very nice hotel similar to one in the states with air conditioning, hot water (even though I never use hot water here) and so on. We ate a nice meal at the restaurant there and enjoyed a good sleep in the very beautiful hotel. On Sunday we left for home in Tema but we decided to stop at the cultural center in Accra on the way through. This was possibly our last chance to get items or gifts for people. On Sunday night our power went out at about 10pm just before any of us went to bed. This wouldn’t have been bad except that it is very hot in our rooms and the fans are powered by electricity. I somehow got to sleep but my sheets and pillow were soaked in the morning.

Outlook for my final week
Monday – I am at TIS but exams are finishing. I don’t mind today because it gives me a chance to catch up on my emails and blogs because we have not had internet at the village mostly in the last two weeks or so. On Tuesday I may have a class to teach but I am not sure yet. We are also having our final party for the host teachers and administrators on Tuesday night for dinner. On Wednesday I may also have a class to teach but I am not sure yet and this will be my final day at Tema International School. We also have big plans for playing soccer and swimming with the SOS village kids on Monday and Wednesday night. Thursday we have the day to pack and probably use the pool for a little while and we leave for the airport at about 5pm. Our flight leaves around 10pm and we should be back in Detroit on Friday morning. On Saturday morning I will graduate and it is very weird to say that!

Final comments
I am going to miss my host teachers the Alex’s and the students/staff at TIS. It was hard to get to know all of their names because I only had them in class a few times. I will also miss the SOS village kids that we get to play with many nights during the week. I have decided they like me for only a few reasons. One, I have a lot of hair everywhere and no one here is really very hairy. Two, I am fairly strong and big to them. One girl calls me John Cena (a wrestler) and they constantly have me hurl them into the air. I have decided that is my main purpose in life. Hurling kids around for their enjoyment. I hope they also like me because I am kind but try to keep them from acting like crazy people at times. The group I am going to miss the most is our student teaching group. Many people have said how hard it will be not to cry and miss the kids like crazy and I will miss the kids a lot but I could not imagine how different this trip would have been if any one of my friends had not come on it. Graydon, Christina H, Whitney, Kendall, Nicole, Jen, Christina O, Dr. Mags and Barb are great people and I have really had the chance to get to know them. We have been through quite a bit together in only seven weeks or so and I would not trade it for anything. I will try to talk about the lessons I have learned, my spiritual growth, themes for the trip, cultural epiphanies and how to use this experience in going forward in my final blog. You will have to wait a few weeks for that one though. I need some time to process and write. I am actually very excited for the cold and the snow in a few days and to see people that I love. I will leave you with these today:

Bible study is not merely to inform us –it’s meant to transform us. –Daily Bread

God has a sense of humor. Attison was our drivers name and I jokingly kept calling him Atticus (from to Kill a Mockingbird) anyway, after a really deep talk about spiritual issues with one of my great friends Whitney the next day I woke up and read the daily bread and the title was “speaking the truth” and it was about Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird. What a funny guy our creator is! The message was speaking the truth even against opposition and persecution and the ending says “It’s better to declare the truth and be rejected than to withhold the truth just to be accepted.” God knows what we need and when we need it. If we just let him lead our lives it is amazing what he can do. I encourage you to seek out a relationship with him daily. Make it personal, it can be informal, give him your troubles and get to know him. I know I am really enjoying his friendship and sense of humor. Take care and God bless!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Observation week

Monday November 23 – I went in to TIS to make sure my plans for the coming two weeks of exams would be acceptable. I had my agenda for the next two weeks approved by my host teacher Alex and the Principal. I planned on observing my fellow student teachers during most of the next weeks.

Tuesday November 24 – I went to Tema Parents School with Kendall and Graydon. They have an assembly on Tuesday mornings which consists of singing, praying, motivational speaking and announcements if not more. It was very hard to hear what the man on the microphone was saying because of the poor sound system and tons of kids. The teachers also got in a circle to pray before starting classes. I first went with Kendall to her 1st grade classroom. It is a tiny room with 40 students packed into their desks. Her topic for that lesson was day and night. She made a game where students had a card with an answer and a question on it and if the student’s card had the answer they read the next question or phrase. It was in the flow of a story. Kendall did a very nice job with the kids and the lesson was pretty successful I thought. It was nice to see how she handled classroom management and interacted with her other teachers and so on. I then went to visit Graydon’s 5th grade class and they were talking about an experiment they had done with a battery, wire and light bulb. Graydon too did a great job with the kids. I was able to see each of them teach or at least be in charge of the class for several hours and the day at Tema Parents was a very good one.

Wednesday November 25 – I first went to observe Whitney and her 3rd grade classroom. They were doing a grammar lesson and then a lesson on body odor. Whitney’s class was a little rambunctious but she did a good job handling them. After Whitney’s class I went to visit Jen in the Kindergarten. These kids are a whole new breed. I actually did a little teaching of some stretching and physical activities for the kids to do and we did recess and Jen taught a lesson on washing by reading some stories she made up and having kids answer questions. If I have learned anything on this trip one thing is that it takes special people to work with grades three and below and I am not one of those special people. I could teach them PE and love to play with them but I would not want teach them all day long unless I was really needed in that area. I also went to observe Christina’s 5th grade science lesson on energy. She has brought her group a long way and they were doing group work for the hour while I was there.

Thursday November 26 – On Thursday I slept in and then went to observe a PE lesson at Methodist Day Secondary School. This was a setting different from mine at TIS. More like a public school setting there were very few facilities and equipment and generally class sizes are very large. It was interesting to see that the general set up for the class lesson on handball was similar to one that I would create in Michigan. There were progressive drills and a culminating game all of which was focused on the objective of passing and throwing a hand ball. It was also great to talk physical education and lack of respect and so on with the two Ghanaian physical educators. It was just like I was in Michigan. I also hung out with Alex and made fun of a man’s infomercial video. He was a fitness person supposedly with outrageous exercises and poor advice and made up information on how his exercises help you. It was very funny.

Friday November 27 – This was a beautiful Ghanaian National Holiday and we all enjoyed the day of at the pool and out to eat pizza and then we went to see a movie at the Cinema in Accra. For a while at the movie it was like we weren’t really in Ghana. The theatre was as nice as all the good theatres in Michigan and we were watching a film, New Moon, that is out in the U.S. as well. We went to the movie with an English couple now living in Tema near us. It was a very relaxing and fun day.

Saturday November 28 – We left for a Volta boat cruise early in the morning. As we arrived we had an experience with an older woman selling jewelry. She was possibly the worst barterer of all time but that is the only negative thing I will say about her. We didn’t end up buying much jewelry from her but some did from another lady nearby. The cruise was really nice. It was relaxing and had great views of the mountains and the water. We had a really great grilled chicken lunch, played some cards and talked. We also met a nice guy named Maximus who hung out with our group and Jen most of the trip. We stopped half way at an island and there were lots of people from the island playing music and lots of kids just coming up asking for money. This was a tough part of the trip. The people need money very badly but it was hard to know what to give and who the money goes to and so on. Many of us ended up giving quite a few kids the coins we had in our pockets. The whole trip was about five or six hours on the boat. That night we also went into Accra for a World Aids Day Concert. There was some good music and speakers on HIV/AIDS and they were doing free testing for people. It was a cool event to be a part of. HIV and AIDS is such a problem especially in Africa.

Sunday November 29 – We decided to sleep in because we got back late from the concert and skip going to a church service but instead we held our own at the pool. We swam for a while and tanned and then put on our own little six person service. It was a good time and I hope meaningful for everyone. We went to the store to get some odds and ends. All in all it was a pretty relaxing weekend.
Final comments – From my observations and especially just interacting with the group of teachers I am here with it is easy to tell that they are all going to be excellent teachers. I am blessed to have such a good group to get along with, enjoy the experience with and learn from. We have been able to talk about issues we are having and help each other with ideas and lots more. We are talking about going as a group to teach in the Alaskan bush together. We will see if that is in God’s plans but wouldn’t it be fun! This last comment should get my mom riled up :)
God bless and if you need anything in prayer let me know!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Starting Week 4

Teaching almost over
This week was my last full week of teaching. At TIS the students have exams coming up so I did my final evaluation on Friday for my fitness lesson. This coming week I am planning to observe the other teachers in my group and visit their schools to see what they are like. The following week I will help with exams on Monday through Wednesday but then we are taking a four day weekend to go to Mole National Park and Kumasi. At Mole we will see elephants, hippos, and all the other sweet “safari” animals. It is about a twelve hour drive to Mole and we will stay there for a day and a half then go to Kumasi, another huge town on the way back for a day. After that big trip all of our trips will be over and we will have three days left of teaching before returning for the States. The trip is flying by and we will be home soon.

Night life
On Friday night we went out to Vienna City and Manila Bar to see what the night life in Tema, Ghana is like. Vienna City was a little more of an upscale (Ghana terms) hotel/restaurant/bar/casino. The restaurant on top had a beautiful view of the city. After a little while at Vienna City we moved over to Manila Bar where there was a big open dance floor and a combination of Ghanaian and U.S. music. We were all surprised to see the large amount of prostitution, for lack of a better word, that was going on. There were many older white men with “escorts”. We had a particularly persistent young lady hanging around our group most of the night. Her name was Sarita and she was very interesting. She kissed our hands, kissed many of the girls in our group on the cheek and tried to dance with us every chance she could. One girl came over to Graydon and me and told Graydon that if he bought her a drink he could take her home. It is really sad to think that this is the way of life for so many younger females in the towns here. We did have a good night talking and dancing a little and experiencing the night life in Tema.

I mentioned the meals I have had at TIS a while back on this blog but I will give a little better rundown of all of the things I have eaten and tell my most unique eating experience thus far.

Banku (fermented corn dough) with okra stew, oranges – This is my usual Tuesday/Thursday Lunch
Yams, spinach stew, fried plantains, watermelon – This is my usual Wednesday Lunch =favorite lunch
Rice balls with peanut soup, pineapple – This was one of my favorite dinners
Beans and rice, fried fish, papaya and bananas – This is my usual Friday Lunch
French fries and chicken – We have had this meal a couple of times for dinner
Rice with – fish +sauce, chicken + sauce, beef + sauce, mystery meat and sauce – This is the usual dinner
Angel hair pasta – some type of sauce and meat – This is an occasional dinner
Crepes, eggs, bread, porridge, oatmeal, corn flakes – These are almost all of the possible breakfasts
Fufu with light soup, grasscutter meat (local bush meat), goat – This was my most unique eating experience so far. Last Friday for lunch my host teachers Alex and Alex took me to a local restaurant. There were big bowls of this light soup which is a reddish sauce simmering with various meats. In one bowl whole fish were simmering, in another goat pieces, in another the grasscutter meat. Fufu is a very hard, large potato like plant. To make fufu a person pounds boiled plantains, cassava and the fufu together and continuously folds the mixture together for about 45 minutes. This is possibly the most vigorous work I have noticed that goes into making a meal here. For a heaping helping of fufu, taking into account all the work that goes into it, it costs one cedi or less than a dollar. My meal consisted of a ball of this fufu drenched in the light soup with a hunk of goat and grasscutter meat. For both fufu and banku you are supposed to just swallow it without chewing but it is a pretty thick consistency so I usually chewed a little. Almost all of the meats for meals are left with all the bones and in this case the skins were also left on. I ate all of the fufu and most of the goat and part of the grasscutter but there were so many bones and I was not really into eating the skin that I didn’t quite finish everything. This meal is traditionally eaten with the hands but I also used a spoon to eat some of it. The grasscutter had a nice smoky taste but I only ate some of the skin with it. The goat was pretty much like a tender chicken. Both of the Alex’s ate their meal including most of the bones, soup and part of my meat.

We have also gone out to eat for pizza two times and have eaten the typical sandwiches and spring rolls for snacks or lunches while on our trips. We got hand dipped ice cream at one place and have tried an item called fan ice from vendors. It is very similar to icecream in a package and very cheap. As far as drinks go we have lots of bottled water, juice occasionally, when we go out orange fanta, sprite or coke are popular items and alvaro – my favorite unique drink here, it has a pear or pineapple flavor and is similar to a jones soda or something like that.

Church experiences
We have been able to attend two church services so far. The first was the opening service for the SOS College. The school has services at a place called the Joint Church normally but they are going to try to hold one service a month at the actual college. This was a very nice “Presbyterian” service that lasted about one and a half hours. There were some praise and worship songs and a hymn or two accompanied by some very great young voices. The message was on how Jesus Christ came and lived a human life and he related it well to a mainly student crowd. Three points I took away from the message were we need to as Jesus did – endure traditions, endure the word and follow in His footsteps. Another key point was the difference between wisdom and knowledge and how we need to grow in mind, body and spirit. I was surprised at how conservative the service seemed to be. There are some differences in how people here worship but for the most part this service was very similar to one I would go to in Michigan. The second service was at the First Baptist Church of Tema. This is a large beautiful church. The first thing we noticed was that there were only like five other people in the church when we arrived right at 7am when it was supposed to start. However at some point when I turned around not long into the service the whole church was nearly full. This service was a little more charismatic I guess is the right word. That is what I expected many of the churches to be like here. There was also praise and worship songs, hymns and lots of prayer. The church had a nice big choir and a good message about prayer. They seem to be focusing on stepping up their prayer lives right now. Some key points I got from the message was that Jesus is our perfect example to follow and as busy as he was he found time for prayer. He made time alone to pray to God. Prayer takes planning, commitment, and discipline. He also talked about how Jesus intercedes for us and that we are in spiritual warfare but the victory is already won for us. The only real differences from this church to a normal Baptist church service in Michigan was that dancing was a little more a part of their singing and when they prayed it was almost like yelling at times. Otherwise the service was pretty typical to me and had some very good parts. Six of our group members went to both services and their comments about the services seem like mine. They really liked the services and have been very good experiences. The Baptist service was about two and a half hours long and they made a point to recognize us for being new to the church and prayed for us during and after the service.

I mentioned this before in my blog but I am amazed at how much of a part of life religion is for these people. Church and related activities make up most of the week for what seems to be a large portion of people here. Even though we are sometimes quick to judge a church that may not be exactly like ours I have really been thinking about the passion and commitment that the people here have to their faith. While I don’t agree with every single theological aspect of the churches here, or in Michigan for that matter, I would love to capture more of the passion and commitment to Jesus Christ that the people here have. Here are a few things to think about from Titus 3. We need to remember that people no matter how bad they seem, no matter how different they are from you can receive the same mercy and grace that God generously gives. It is not by any great thing that we do but solely relying on Him for salvation. Verse nine is what I would like to think about especially. It says avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. We often times focus on the little differences in our Christianity and don’t focus on God’s gift of Jesus Christ and the love we should base our lives around. While I really believe strongly that I understand Gods word in most situations because of my upbringing and my church background it is not worth fighting about those little things with people. We are on the same team. I hope to focus on living more and more like Christ, able to defend what I know is right but more able to show his kindness and love. I am much more likely to win someone over through my positive attitude and love than through arguing and being negative.

Last Comments
I apologize for the length of these blogs but it seems much easier to write one big blog a week as opposed to many smaller blogs during the week. Everything is going well and I hope it is for all of you! Take care and God bless.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ghana week 3

The environment in Ghana is like that in many developing countries. There are some main paved roads but there is way too much traffic for those main roads. There are also many dirt roads or just random places that people drive. Therefore it is very dusty in most places. The dirt is more of a reddish color here. The rain here comes in spurts. There is a rainy season which was just before we arrived. Now we are in the dry season. When it does rain though it absolutely down pours and this causes large potholes and backups in the gutters used to drain away water. There are these gutters all over the place. They are usually a foot or so wide and run alongside most buildings and roads. It is not uncommon to see people urinating in these gutters in the middle of a busy street or town. I believe our count is nearing twenty people for such instances. When there are backups the smell from these gutters is very disgusting. I believe some are strictly used for sewage to flow through so at certain places it smells even if there has been no rain. Another common activity that happens in Ghana as well as many other developing countries is the burning of everything. Trash and other such waste is burned everywhere. Some days seem to be burning days where piles are set aflame. In the U.S. many environmentalists would be pretty upset but here there seems to be no landfills or garbage dumps although some areas sure seem to be looking closer to that. People generally throw trash just about anywhere. There is a good amount of trash on the ground along the roads and just about everywhere through town. In the young kids classrooms my group members have told me that if students have a snack they just all toss their wrappers on the ground outside and it is later swept up or picked up. The SOS village itself is pretty well cleaned up but most areas are littered with trash or burn piles.

Half way point
It is very hard to believe that we have already been here for three weeks. We have had many conversations about how relative time is. It does seem like we have been here forever but it is weird to think we are half way done. The days seem to be long but the weeks are short. At this point many of us have discussed our frustrations with the education system and teachers in general. Most people in our group are not being allowed to teach very much and there seems to be so much miscommunication or lack of communication about what is going on in the classroom all the time. Personally I have been able to teach several lessons and have good feedback from my teacher but that is not everyone’s experience. Many of my colleagues host teachers have not even been in the class to observe while they teach. Some have only taught a few lessons and most of which are unexpected and unplanned for. We as a group are very talented I believe and have many great strategies to share with the teachers here but it seems to be lost on many of them.
Another frustration is that only the elite students seem to move on. What I mean is that the schools we are in are supposedly the best of the best here in Ghana and it is true that many students coming from my school, TIS, and the other high school, SOS College, will go to Harvard and other really great universities across the globe BUT that is only a small percentage of the students in Ghana. We have learned that of the 130 children in the SOS village only a handful will go to the SOS college (high school) and of them only a couple will be included in that group of elite that go on to big universities. There seems to be a lot of falling through the cracks and it appears very acceptable to many of the teachers here. We have talked quite a bit about why this is and how to fix it in our group and we feel that the system here is like it was in the 1960’s in the U.S. Corporal punishment, writing everything on the board and only the elite really learning seem to be the norm and we are hoping to help make that change. Pray for wisdom to know how to help the teachers and the system here, for patience in the process and positive attitudes to make a difference even if it is only by helping one kid be more successful that would have fallen through the cracks.

General Comments
This week has been a good week. I have enjoyed teaching some, eating the food, playing with kids after school, relaxing and playing cards etc with my group. We said good bye to our coordinator, Barbara, whom was here with us for the first three weeks and welcomed the new coordinator, Mike, for the final three weeks. We are going to a beach and possibly Accra again on Saturday. Then we are going to the Baptist Church and relaxing on Sunday. The next two weeks my school has exams so I will not be teaching but I am going to go observe and help in some of my group’s classrooms and help out with exams where I can. So in all honesty I have about three days of teaching left after this week before I graduate! Over the past month or two I have finished reading through Genesis, Romans, 1 Corinthians and am almost done reading Exodus and 2 Corinthians. I have really enjoyed it. I am trying to go over the history in the old testament that I haven’t looked at in a while and everything Paul writes in the new testament is amazing to me. I am also working on notes or a little bit of a curriculum for high school Sunday school in my spare time. I have had many teachers here come and comment either on my reading of the bible or just wanting to talk about church or faith and it is very encouraging. Our group is also fairly Christ centered and we have had some good conversations about different topics which has been a real blessing. Well hopefully that gives you a little more of an idea about what has been going on in Ghana and in my life this week. PS I have many more pictures posted on Facebook if you would like to see those.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Some explanations!

SOS Village and Schools –
Tema International School –
Trips taken: Kakum National Park (canopy walk), Elmina (slave castle), Monkey Sanctuary, Wli Falls

People in Ghana speak English but that does not mean we really communicate clearly all the time. I have had many struggles understanding what people are saying. Many times people shift back and forth from Twe to English. Twe is a very common language in the southern area of Ghana that I am staying. Another difficulty is the pitch at which people talk. I seem to be on a different higher pitched wave length some times. People seem to talk at a lower level and pronounce vowels softer than we do. A third struggle is the structure or meaning at times. The structure people use is sometimes different than what I am used to. When speaking to someone in the U.S. it is easy to walk into a conversation and fill in what you have missed. Here I can never do that. The structure of sentences is sometimes different and we use some different phrases and meanings for words. Even non verbal communication is different. We respond to different forms of non verbal language. All of these things make communicating to someone in English not quite what it seems.

Culture Part 1 (Living)
All over Ghana there are these huge houses half built. We all were curious why there would be so many abandoned big houses in a fairly poor area. We have discovered a common sense answer. There is no help from the government or loans available here. When people build a house they must use the resources they have and continue to add to it as they have the money. Also people sometimes have bigger eyes than pocket books. Many people have a great vision for a house and do not realize all that it will take to complete it. Most of the houses even though they look abandoned are probably not. There are probably families or several families living in these half built houses. That brings me to the next culture point the family structure. In the SOS village where we are staying it is very evident how important family is here. They model the village with a house mother and many children. Also in the village are village grandparents and a village father. All of the teachers and other staff are called aunty and uncle. Here it is common for extended family to live together and take care of each other. In the U.S. a husband and wife are generally only responsible for their immediate family. Here if some family members have jobs the children could be watched by older or other family members.

Culture Part 2 (Economy)
In Ghana markets are everywhere. Alongside every road there are vendors and goods. On many roads are people selling something. If you need anything while you are driving you could probably get it from someone. The currency here is called Ghana Cedis. One U.S. dollar is worth approximately 1.41 Ghana Cedis right now. It is also pretty cheap to buy many things here. We have purchased a dozen or so bananas for one Ghana Cedi or about $.80 in the U.S. It is possible to have a specialized Ghana shirt or dress made for ten Ghana Cedis. One really fun thing about the economy or culture here is the bartering. When purchasing an item the person might say that a painting costs 30 Cedis but the correct response would not be okay here you go. The correct response would be I will give you 15. Eventually you would hope to settle around 20 Cedis. This is the policy almost everywhere you go.

Teaching Styles
The teaching style in Ghana is sometimes what I picture it looked like in a 1900 one room school house. The classrooms are fairly small with a large number of students. There is nothing on the walls and few materials to use in order to teach. Almost all lessons consist of teachers talking and writing on the board and students listening and copying down material in a book. There style for classroom management and discipline is often very different as well. If there is classroom management or discipline it consists of more or less corporal punishment. In the older grades it is not as much like this. Somehow it seems that in the middle school level students just completely turn around their behavior. At young ages they are all over the place and out of control and get punished by whipping or smacking. Then the older grades somehow seem to act right and not do things that deserve much punishment. Also the school I am in, TIS, is a very competitive and achieving school so the “bad” students are fewer and farther between. Another culture/teaching point is the emphasis on time. Time is not much of an issue anywhere in Ghana. In the education setting it is probably the strictest. Teachers and students are supposed to be at a certain place at a certain time but very often this time ends up being later than it is supposed to. It was hard to adjust to that at first because I am used to starting class and getting everything rolling at a specific time but here that time may very well be ten minutes later than it is supposed to.

Culture Part 3 (Education and Religion)
Everywhere you turn in Ghana is a school, people and a church. These two topics, education and religion, are what I believe to be the most important aspects of Ghanaian culture. I believe this is so because of one word – HOPE. People here need education in order to have the hope of a decent life whether that life is in Ghana or the U.S. or elsewhere. It is very evident because people are spending money to send their kids to school and many do not have much in order to give their children an education so that they can become something great. Religion and church is on that pedestal with education. People here do not take everything for granted like we do. They rely on the Lord and put their hope where it belongs. On many vehicles are faith based slogans, many of the market enterprises have faith based names. In the staff room at my school, Christmas carols and other Christian music is played. In almost every school prayer and Christian songs are a vital part of the classroom and seriously around every corner in remote looking areas is a church or two. I have felt free to read my bible and work on Sunday school material in my free time at the school and it has been very nice. I am very excited to go to a Baptist church nearby on Sunday to experience my first Ghanaian church service.

Final Remarks
Everything is going very well. I miss many of you while I am here, but I am loving the experience. We are going to the capital, Accra, this weekend and church on Sunday. God is good all the time! You all are in my prayers and I hope you are doing well. Hopefully this gives you a better idea of some of the experiences I am having.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Week 2 in review!

I would like to start by saying that I appologize for the length of this blog. Our internet was down for about a week and there have been some great experiences. So read at your own risk!

Part 1 Tuesday 11-3-09 through Friday 11-6-09
My class schedule is a little different from that of a typical class in Michigan. I teach a 1.5 hour physical education class on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. I also teach or observe a 45 minute study skills class on Monday-Friday. I help coach/teach volleyball and swimming after school from 4-5:30 on Monday-Wednesday. The rest of the time during class is either spent going over how my teaching went, talking to administration and other staff, overseeing the construction of a sports complex or just sitting down somewhere. I taught my first lesson and it went pretty well. I also "taught" a study skills lesson which more or less turned into talking about myself and where I am from and having students introduce themselves in front of the class.

The food I am able to eat at the school is very authentic. Here is the typical lunch menu.
Monday - Beans and rice, fried fish, egg, gari - ground cassava and some sauces
Tuesday - Banku - fermented corn dough (looks kind of like a mashed potato ball), okra soup, rice
Wednesday - not sure of the name but (spinach stew), rice
Thursday - repeat tuesday
Friday - repeat monday or wednesday
For dinner we usually have rice with fish, chicken or beef and sauce.
For breakfast we have 2 pieces of bread, some type of oatmeal or occasionally eggs.

After school we all play with the kids at the SOS village and either go swimming, play soccer or just hang out and mess around. The kids are amazingly cute, many are really intelligent and speak many languages, very gifted athletes especially at soccer. I have never watched a mob of 5 year olds play such a flawless game of soccer. We are also going to start being a little more adventurous into town as far as looking at the markets and going to the beach among other activities. In the evening my group of 8 usually gets together and either gets online, plays games or just talks about something. It has been a really good group so far.

Part 2 The craziest weekend ever! Saturday 11-7-09 through Sunday 11-8-09
Saturday morning Bismark, our driver, picked us up to head north and east toward Wli Falls. This stretch of road is easily the bumpiest pothole filled stretch of road in the history of creation. After about 4 hours in the car we were close to the Wli area and were going to climb Mount Gemi - the largest mountain in Ghana. We turned down what supposedly was the road to climb the mountain. However this road did not look like it was driven on for probably at least 6 months. The mini two track road led us first to a small river that after some deliberation by Bismark we decided to drive through (successfully). Keep in mind that African jungle was on either side of us as far as the eye could see and there was only room to drive one vehicle on this road. As we came close to the mountain the road ended and we decided something wasn't right. So we reversed back to a split in the road a ways back. We attempted to take this split but our van just couldnt make it over the monster ditch so our van was stuck. It was approximately 95 degrees, sun beating down and our group was trying to dig/push our van out of this ditch in the middle of the African jungle. After three minutes my entire shirt, shorts etc were completely soaked with sweat. This continued for the next two hours as we tried to get our van unstuck. Eventually Bismark was able to get some help from a local village and we got the van out. We then stopped for lunch at a beautiful resort owned by two kind Germans. Afterwards we went to the falls and saw probably the most amazing thing I have ever had the pleasure to view. This waterfall and area was absolutely breathtaking. Following the waterfall we cruised around Hohoe to look for a place to sleep but it was very shady and nothing was really available. We ate dinner at a very intersting restaraunt and headed to Hoe where we actually had reservations at a fairly nice hotel. We got there at about 11pm. I was asleep for much of the driving in the dark during this time but I can assure you it was an extremely fast and pothole adventure. The next part of the story is by far my most intense and just weird experience in Africa. We got to the hotel late and Graydon and I were roommates. We settled in and were laying down watching soccer when I passed out. At about 2:30 am I somehow woke up and glanced over at Graydon, or so I thought it would be. Instead I saw a black African man laying in the bed next to me. I also noticed that the closet door had been swung open. At this point my heart began to race, I began to pray and critically think about what in the world was going on. Every possible scenario went through my head. Did they kill Graydon and steal our stuff and for some reason were waiting for me to get up to kill me. How did they get in, I had checked all the doors and windows before going to bed. After a few minutes of just incredible thinking and asking God for protection but being ready to be with him in heaven I slowly reached for my knife and cell phone that were lying behind me on the bed. I slowly crept to the edge of the bed and my heart raced for minutes which seemed like hours. I was ready to fight to save my life and ready to die and be with Christ. I finally got enough courage to stand and start walking to the bathroom where I would prepare myself to be jumped. As I moved across the room the lighting changed to my absolutely thankful suprise Graydon had been asleep next to me the whole time. I cannot explain how the light had completely morphed Graydons features, skin color and clothing into something different or how the closet door swung open but it had and all of that emotion was calmed. I checked the room quickly and started explaining the story to Graydon. This was by far the most intense moment of my life. Somehow two other members of my group had experienced the same lighting/change of their roommates but in a much less frightening way. We woke up Sunday morning and headed for the monkey sanctuary to feed some really cool monkeys by hand and then we went back to the Wli falls. This time we hiked up a very tough mountain to get to the upper falls and a place where I believe not many people have experienced. It was so beautiful along the way and at the falls. It is the neatest place I have ever been. Following this trip to the falls we headed for home and arrived late Sunday night to shower, unpack and get ready for another day at school.

This was our second trip within the overall Africa trip and it was very amazing. God's beauty was seen everywhere as we drove through absolutely gorgeous mountains, trees, flowers, Wli falls and so on and so on. Even through the struggles of travelling and getting stuck our group stayed calm, worked hard and supported each other. Going up the mountain - and I will say right now this mountain was a tough climb and fairly dangerous our group worked together and were determined. I have really grown from this experience. I trusted God with my life literally on several occasions, worked extremely hard and tried to be a leader for our group when I needed to be. Only when we are challenged can we grow. If you are living your life in comfort and afraid to take on challenges or afraid of persecution I am here to tell you you are not growing. You don't need to go to Africa or do something crazy to be challenged. Really delight in those challenges and grow. Also don't deny God in your life. It is by his love that we are here, by his mercy and grace that we are able to do anything and have the opportunity to live with him one day. If you are going to do anything do it for him and don't take for granted the opportunities you have. Use your opportunities and grow! To those that were able to read this thanks and you may now go back to your normal lives :)