January 17, 2012 I’ve Been Wearing the Same Dress for 4 Days

The women we met in the market

The women we met in the market

Woke up early this morning again to work with the kids at Demo Deaf. I have been in the same dress for 4 days. The kids only have a few uniforms and we were advised to wear the same thing or they would think we were wealthy (which creates problems). I think I’ll wear a new outfit tomorrow because the dress I’ve been wearing is filthy. It has chocolate fan ice on it, orange juice, dust and more sweat than I should probably admitt. After we got up we all met for breakfast. Our beautiful hostess, Joyce serves us breakfast every morning. I love the chocolate Milo they drink down here. It’s like a chocolate nutrition drink we have every morning.

The road to mampong has become very familiar to us. We walked up it again to the school and went straight to the classrooms. Today we worked on some basics…colors, the alphabet and numbers. The kids are amazing! Some of their stories are so sad. Ghana places no value on its deaf community. My little girl (the one we only know as U) always looks so lonely and scared. She lights up when she sees me and she stays right by my side. I adore her and I can only imagine what it must be like to be dropped off at a school of strangers with no language to communicate. A little boy kissed my hand today and held it to his face. I nearly cried.

The teacher for the class I’m working in is named Hannah. She is adorable and spunky! She is hearing but can sign very well and you can tell she loves the kids. She is always happy and she encourages them. I think, if we were here longer, she and I would be good friends. When it’s break time we have to leave. If we didin’t the kids would just stay with us and they need to get out and play. Curry took us to meet Mr. Armoir (not sure if I’m spelling his name right). He taught at Demo deaf for 17 years and he is a very up-beat man. When he shook our hands he smacked them so hard mine actually throbbed for a while after. Curry had a meeting with him so the rest of us went back to the school for another half hour to work with the kids after their break. I showed my class a picture of me and my boys. They laughed at my little white kids. I don’t know if any of them have ever seen white children before…and my boys are quite fair. Blonde hair, blue and green eyes; the kids nearly tore the photo trying to get a look at them.

When our time was up we walked back to the Courtyard and had lunch; Pro-bars and beef jerky (Thank You Pro-Bar for sending us with all of those wonderful bars. You kept us properly fed). Curry got back from his meeting and we loaded up into a tro-tro to head to the market in Koforidua. Another 1 hour ride in the tro-tro! I actually don’t mind the drives. The scenery is gorgeous and we usually wind up laughing pretty hard at each other. We have a good group. We are all so different but we respect each other and the struggles we’ve all been through that have brought us here. Curry decided to send us out on a mission. We had to buy supplies for the kids we sponsored so he split us into three groups and gave each group a list of items we had to buy. Our list had things like spoons, Milo (that chocolate nutrition drink) maxi pads, toothpaste, pomade for their skin, soap to wash their clothes, soap to wash them and a spicy sauce they put on their food called shito. We kept trying to pronounce it in a way that wouldn’t sound so naughty, but Curry told us the way it looks is the way it’s pronounced. SHIT-O! I couldn’t say it without laughing (sometimes I really am just a 5 year old little girl). Curry gave us money, taught everyone how to bargain and set us loose. We bought a ton of stuff for our kids, loaded it all into the back of the tro-tro and took off to wander through the market. The market is a never-ending maze of tiny shops filled with everything you can imagine (and a few things you don’t want to imagine). We walked past a man cooking some sort of meat on a grill. Carissa turned to me and said in a frantic whisper, “Monkey fingers! Monkey fingers! That meat has fingernails on it.”

We walked around for a little while and headed back to the tro-tro. A few of us split up on the way back. Ronai and I went to buy some fabric she had seen earlier. On our way there a group of ladies saw us walk by and shouted “Obruni!” (white person). In unison we shouted back, “Obibini!” (black person). They laughed hysterically. We stopped, chatted and took pictures with them. Racism doesn’t seem to exist here. Or, if it does…I haven’t seen it. I grew up in a very politically correct place…Southern California. It’s exhausting. Here in Ghana, it isn’t like that. There isn’t animosity or anger and when someone shouts “Obruni” they’re just shouting because they don’t see it often. It’s kind of endearing, at least that’s how I choose to see it.

Ronai and I ran into Curry and went to buy more water and oranges. This time I figured out how to get all the juice out of the orange without making a mess. We found the rest of our group, loaded up and headed home. It seemed like a long loud ride but it was fun. A soldier flagged our tro-tro over to hitch a ride. He climbed in with his giant gun and we went on our way. I think Pablo was trying to secretly snap a picture. The soldier was very polite and a few minutes up the road we dropped him off again.

When we arrived back at the courtyard we were all starving! We unloaded the things we bought for the kids and came down to dinner. Dinner was fried rice with a sweet Chili sauce, fried chicken and an Orange Fanta. We asked for seconds. Joyce was so happy!

After dinner Joyce took us to a store down the road that sold fabric. Joyce had the local Methodist preacher’s wife open the shop for us. After we selected our fabrics we walked back to the courtyard and they brought a seamstress up to measure us for dresses. The preacher’s wife came up too. She turned out to be an English and Twi teacher. She helped us with our pronunciation and gave us some Twi words to practice because I told her when I come home I have to talk to my son’s class about what I learned in Africa. Everyone has been so accommodating and wonderful. The people are amazing and it’s been another adventure-filled day. I’m ready for bed, but I can’t wait for tomorrow.

By Jennifer de Azevedo Suttner

January 18, 2012 Lots to experience and learn today in Ghana

Our group with Samuel asare past president of the Ghanaian National Association for the Deaf

Our group with Samuel asare past president of the Ghanaian National Association for the Deaf

Started off today with another early morning and breakfast (I’d like to thank Pablo for eating my eggs every morning) then off to the school. The morning traffic is fast and crazy and every time a car passes you get honked at (either to let you know there’s a taxi coming if you need a ride or just to make you aware they’re coming and they’re not stopping…so stay out of the street!) We sat through the kid’s morning devotional. A young man who studied religion preached to the children (in Sign language of course). He was eloquent. At least that’s how Carissa made it sound as she interpreted for me. He taught the kids how to pray and how to be respectful and good. When he finished we went to our classes to teach. Ronai and I went back to Miss Hannah’s class. My girl (the one we call U) found me and hugged me to death; all the kids do EVERY day. They are energetic bundles of love. We found out from Miss Hannah that “U’s” real name is Theresa, signed with a T at your chest. She’s just starting to learn and misunderstood her sign. She learned a lot today. Ronai and I drew pictures on the board of fruits and veggies and taught the kids the signs for them. They were so excited! Theresa tried to get me to do her work for her by sticking out her lower lip and making a sad face. It totally melts me but I showed her how to do her pictures and let her do the rest. She did fine but she’s a little perfectionist. She seemed mad that her pictures didn’t look like mine.

Rachel had the brilliant idea to label everything in the special ed class so the kids could see how everything has a name and a sign. Curry went out, bought paper, glue and markers and we all went to work. WINDOW…FAN…CHAIR…DESK…DOOR…FLOOR…CEILING…BUCKET…CRAYONS…TABLE…WALL. We labeled everything we could find in the classroom and then we worked with each of the kids to help them understand. Rachel started it out. “My name is R-A-C-H-E-L. My sign is this…(and she showed her sign name). Everything has a name and a sign. Then she would finger spell D-E-S-K and then she would show them the sign. It was an incredible morning! We each took a child and individually went over the things we had labeled in the class. Miss Hannah decided she wanted us to label in her class too so we went to work next door. As soon as a teacher would see what we were doing they’d ask us if we could do it in their classroom, too. We didn’t have enough time to finish all of them so we told them we’d come back the next day.

After we had lunch back at the courtyard (Probars) we all split up and went to do different things. Carissa, Rachel and Aaron went to the dressmaker (we all couldn’t get our done by the same dress maker because she wouldn’t be able to get everything done by the time we had to leave) and the rest of us went to Aburi to buy more wood carvings. I’ve become a pretty good haggler. I bought presents for all my boys. I bought a carved Mancala game for Cameron, a carved hippo for Ethan, a drum and a tiny wooden elephant family for Chad and a bunch of necklaces and bracelets for them as well and I did it all by myself! Curry told us if you don’t haggle with them they don’t respect you. Well I am all about respect baby! I was starting to feel pretty local!

We left the wood district in shifts. The Coleman’s stayed behind and the rest of us headed to the taxi area in Aburi. On our way there, Curry bought us all coconuts. The man cracks it open, lets you drink the milk, and then cuts all the chunks into a bag for you. Mine wasn’t super fresh, but it was still a fun experience. I kept telling everyone, “If I get diarrhea…it was the coconuts.”

It’s a short taxi ride from Aburi to where the courtyard is in Tutu. Everyone wanted some down time so those who wanted to rest stayed at the Courtyard while Curry, Ray, Ronai and I went for a walk into town. We ran into a woman Curry knew named Cynthia. She owned her own restaurant and catering business and she let us walk down to her home and meet her family. I chased her kids around their bright pink house and then we walked down to the water source behind the house. It looks like an underground spring that just bubbles up. They scoop the water into their buckets and carry them up the hill on their heads. When we got home the power was off so Joyce was lighting lanterns and candles all over the house. Curry had arranged for us to have a dinner guest; Samuel Asare who was the past president of the Ghanaian National Association for the Deaf. The moment he came to our table I was taken with him. I couldn’t understand what he was saying until Curry started interpreting but I had to try not to stare at him. He had a sweet face and a twinkle about him that I found whimsical. I wished I could better communicate with him because I was fascinated. I couldn’t get over his grin. We had a wonderful meal (chicken and rice…you stick with what’s safe) and then Samuel told us his story in American Sign Language. He was 10 years old when he lost his hearing. He chose to persue an education and became an advocate for the hearing impaired. He told us about the deaf culture in Ghana and how they struggle for support. It was an eye-opening and wonderful evening. I was grateful. We stayed up late visiting, laughing and joking around and then I CRASHED!

January 19. 2012 To the Cape Coast

Beware of Crocodiles

Beware of Crocodiles

This morning was wonderful. We walked up to the school and finished labeling all of the rooms while Rachel got her hair done at the hair academy on campus. I stopped in to see how it was going and she seemed to be having a good conversation with the teachers about the differences in deaf communities in the U.S. versus Ghana. I think it was eye opening for them.

Curry had me teach our class for a few minutes today. At first I felt really intimidated and was worried I wouldn’t be able to communicate well enough with the kids, but once I got into a rhythm it felt good. I can see the kids are learning and I’m learning, with them. It was a pretty great day at school.
We were supposed to leave at noon for the Cape Coast but Rachel’s hair took longer than we anticipated. It looked fantastic! They did a really good job, but we ended up leaving late. It was the 6 hour drive from hell with 11 people crammed into a un-air conditioned tro-tro. We drove through villages and cities; markets crammed with hundreds of people. When cars are stopped here people flock to the windows trying to sell you whatever they have. You can buy water, plantain chips, souvenirs, and that’s just a little sampling. It’s like having your own private store at every stop light.

Most of the smells here are pretty obnoxious and the smell of diesel and dust and burning trash clung to our clothes and hair as it blew in through the open windows. We were able to keep our spirits high while laughing at our driver, Emmanuel’s dirty music. We’d finally convince Ellie and Leah that one of the songs was really about oral hygiene. Good grief!

We were all pretty grateful to arrive at the boatel. It’s a hotel built by a crock pond. We got there late that night so we couldn’t see anything. We did pass a sign that read, “ATTENTION! The management takes no responsibility for accidents. Parents are advised to monitor their children.” Well, that put me on my toes!

We ate at the boatel restaurant which is built out over the croc pond. Most of us ordered spaghetti and french fries (I was so grateful for some familiar food). Leah and I took our malaria pills before our food arrived. I managed to keep mine down but Leah ended up feeding the crocodiles. Carissa was so excited about taking a paddle boat out on the croc pond she was practically dancing in her chair. I told her I’d get up early and go for a ride with her. I couldn’t’ go back home and tell my boys I didn’t go for a ride in the croc pond.

We were all exhausted after the long tro-tro ride so we headed back to our rooms. They were…interesting. There were mouse pellets on our bed and Ronai and Ellie’s room also had bugs all over the shower floor. I unpacked the sheet I’d brought from home and put it on top of the bed. Honestly…I expected worse. There wasn’t any hot water but I was filthy so I took a cold shower. As soon as I turned off the water the power went out so I stumbled out of the bathroom naked while Ray and I tried to find our flashlights. Luckily Rachel and I were roommates that night because I was still in the buff when the power came back on. We chatted for a bit and wrote in our journals before nodding off to sleep.