Day 12

This morning we were all able to sleep past the routine rooster wake up call and sleep in because it’s celebration day! When we finally got out of bed, we all got dressed in the nicest (and least stinky) clothes we could find and then loaded up the bus one final time. We drove to the school we went to on Thursday for a ceremony celebrating the new computers put on by the five communities that received labs. When we pulled up catchy music was blasting from speakers as people milled around the tents set up over rows of chair. Everyone was dressed very nicely, in either Western business clothes or traditional African garb. Before the ceremony began we walked across the street to meet some of the chiefs. They were all very friendly, especially one man who had lived in America for a few years.  We headed back across the street, with our usual entourage of Ghanaian children, and got our seats for the ceremony. The majority of the ceremony was spoken in Twi so we just sat and nodded. There were some musical performances and a short play that we could piece together, as well as a few speakers in English. Barb thanked the communities for being so welcoming and said what a pleasure it was for all of us to spend time here. There was a ribbon cutting for the computer lab and the keys were given out, following which we were requested to dance. Let’s just say my dance moves were met with quite a bit of laughter. After our awkward dance performance we loaded up the van and headed back to the house to pack and clean.  We all savored out last night in Ghana, slurping down ramen and sitting on the porch enjoying the pleasant night air. I’ll miss the stars in Yonso and I hope that one day I’ll be able to see them again.

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Day 9

Yesterday morning we awoke at six to the sun beating down on our tents and the loud playful trumpeting of a nearby elephant. We were momentarily confused as Elliot enthusiastically began to accompany it, and woke the whole camp up. Soon after, we got ready, filled up on Nutri-grain bars, and walked over to meet our guide for our early morning safari.

We split into groups to better cover the 4,577 square kilometers of park, and set off with our rifle-carrying tour guide. As we left for the safari we encountered several warthogs, deer, and a mischievous family of baboons. Clearing a ridge we looked down into an expansive watering hole where a small herd of elephants was bathing. They were soon joined by others and we snapped pictures and watched in awe as they played around in the water. After hiking down we wandered through the lush jungle where we observed antelope standing guard over their territories and our guide explained the medicinal properties of several different plants. Many of us sported attractive green wellington boots we had borrowed from the park after forgetting our close-toed shoes, but we were immediately grateful when we forded a muddy river and waded through marshlands.

When we returned from our morning adventure we were elated to find real food in the form of omelets and toast from the hotel restaurant. Soon thereafter the first driven safari departed for their 11:00 sojourn deeper into the wilds of Mole National Park. We saw Waterbok, Ibex, red monkeys, and a multitude of other creatures from our position atop the jeep. Upon returning from our foray into the African jungle, it soon became apparent that it was pool time. The entire company settled in for a long afternoon of food, and relaxation. As 3:30 approached, the second group left for their safari drive. We chatted with fellow do-gooders Peter, Tyler, and Mitchell, who were working at an orphanage outside of Accra. We finished off the evening with an incredible sunset. We all drifted off to sleep under the vast and starry African night sky, listening to the soft chorus of various nighttime voices.

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Day 7

Today was an interesting day. It began like any other with the screech of the rooster that wakes us up every morning. The bus came early which was a nice surprise and after we loaded up the laptops we were on our way to our next school. We were greeted as we always are, being chased by a swarm of smiling children who followed us to our computer lab. Some of us were feeling a bit under the weather but after some food and some rest were right back to normal. The regular process of computer setup, wire crimping, etc. was completed much faster than usual seeing as we’ve all become pretty good at it at this point. We packed up and left early which was a nice surprise but instead of going home we went back to the first school to fix some problems we had on our first day. We were once again welcomed by the same group of kids who not only recognized us but some even knew us by name. It was sad to say goodbye a second time but it also felt pretty nice to go back home.

When we finally got back to the house we ate snacks, tanned and played games with the local children. After a while the sun was blocked by the clouds and within minutes it went from ideal tanning weather to pouring rain and thunder. Later in the evening some of the same merchants from earlier nights came with scarves, ties and assorted clothes.  Soon after one of the local children offered to give haircuts and seeing as I had already planned to get my hair cut in Ghana I decided to give it a try.  Big mistake. I don’t know why I thought this 10 year old wielding kitchen scissors would actually give me a nice cut but it turned out to be an uneven chopped up mess. After giving him 3 American dollars and having a group meeting regarding our trip to Mole Park tomorrow we are now all beginning to go get ready for bed. Hopefully things go as smoothly tomorrow as they did today.

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Day 6

I am not really a superstitious person; but I think we could all agree that today was cursed with bad luck. Bad Juju magic as the Ghanaian people might call it.

The morning cloudiness and nice breeze early in the morning had us thinking that it might be somewhat a cooler afternoon. Chances were looking good when the sun came out and everyone got right to work, packing the truck with the computer gear. Hugo’s usual sassy shouts carried through the walls of the house. Of course we simply rolled our eyes, laughing in secrecy because if you show him any sign of entertainment, it only adds fuel to his fire. So despite the pleasant morning, it became a little too warm for my own liking.

Our mouths ran dry as we sat on the bus parked in the drive way of the local gas station. The time ticked by and we were becoming antsy. While the conversations turned from laughs and smiles to the look of heat exhaustion and resorting to finding creative ways to stay cool in a parked van. There just happened to be a refrigerator packed with soda and juice just calling out to us, “Have a cold drink… cool down why don’t you?” We couldn’t resist the purchase, thanks to Barb for funding and quenching our thirst with absolutely great sugary drinks. The smiles reappeared as everyone gulped down their soda pops, the general mood was lifting as we found a truck bed full of cocoa beans and cute baby goats walking along the road. It didn’t matter that the cars here drive way over 80 miles per hour.

Until a young goat was crossing the street and hit by a car going well over 70, and then once more by a car just a few meters behind the first. If you didn’t see the goat get hit directly, you could definitely hear the reaction from our group. What I heard first before the limp goat was the gasps of the remorseful girls and the guys receiving affirmation that their “bros” saw the goat get “smashed” too. This was just the beginning of the bad Juju magic.

Within minutes, we received a phone call. Barb’s face flushed, her warm expression turning to deep concern. Our friend and the driver of the truck full of the lab gear was sorry to tell us that a bin full of desktops had fallen loose of the truck bed and onto the road. The damage was obvious and the concern only deepened within the team when Barb broke the news to the technology leaders Hugo and Judy. Jugo and Hudy. As it’s said, you cannot change what has already been done so we went on our way to the school hoping that nothing else would go wrong.

Perhaps it could even be called Murphie’s law, in which anything bad that is possible of happening will happen. I could even say that on top of bad Juju magic could have played into the last chapter of our day.

The computer lab was a dark and shaded room, a traditional song was scribbled onto the chalk board and the desks were perfect for the remaining computers. Cheese-Its were being passed around the room and the previous two incidents were pushed far back into our minds. We were focused on getting the lab done quicker than the first two labs so that we would have a few hours with enough light out to wash a few loads of clothes. The kids weren’t as interactive this time around but it was okay because they were seated at their desks reading and writing, listening to their teacher. Teachers and other adults at the school were the most interactive, very kind and wise. When the electricity went out again, as the current is unreliable in Kumasi, we waited outside in the sun, mingling with the adults. Many of them wanted to exchange emails and become Facebook friends so that we could chat on the web, everyone seemed to be enjoying the sunshine, snacks and the beautiful landscape of the particular school grounds. The networking was almost finished before the power had gone out and the group had congregated in the lab to talk about the last step.

It started with a quick Pop! Pop! Pop! It was a familiar noise that I had heard before when my cameras battery charger circuit blew a few days earlier. The wires plugged into the desktops were steaming and the scent of charred plastic wafted into the air. After the first computers blew, it was followed by eighteen more loud bangs, there was an immediate panic as we evacuated the room.

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Day 5

Today began at around 8 AM when we began to gather all of the gear needed to set up our second lab of the trip. The bus arrived approximately an hour after it was scheduled, but we have learned that in Africa timing is not nearly as important as it is back in the States. We packed the back of the truck with all of the laptops and headed to the school.

On the way to the school we made a stop at the director of the school districts offices in order to learn a little bit about the education system, introduce ourselves, and receive his blessing before heading to the school and installing the lab.

We were greeted at the school by many smiling faces, and it was obvious that the children knew why we were here. While unloading all of the supplies the children could not attempt to hold back their excitement. Once in the lab things went a lot smoother than yesterday. Because of the fact that we were using laptops instead of desktops we were able to skip about half an hour of work, this step includes connecting the monitor to the power source and the actual computer. We also had a much easier time crimping wires which is what took most of the time up on the first day. After we had made a lot of progress we were allowed to explore the school and play various games with the students. We brought out one of the soccer balls that we would later donate to the school and joined in on an already started match. They seemed to love the fact that we attempted to play with them even though most of them were much better players. Kids also love the cameras, seeing their faces on the digital playback screen always excited them.

After our short break we completed the finishing touches and fixed a couple small problems in the lab, and then we actually got a chance to teach some of the students how to operate the computers. We conducted two 20 minute long periods in which we would be assigned one student to show around the computers. They seemed to love the application called “Paint” where the students can draw pictures and create shapes. They were also very intrigued by the sample video that came already programmed into each computer; this was a wildlife video featuring many animals that they probably had never seen before. I think it was at this point where Marcus, one of our interesting chaperones decided it would be entertaining to adopt the accent of Bane, the villain in the most recent Batman movie. For the next couple hours his booming voice sounded dangerously identical.

After helping the students it was time to load back into the bus and head to the house. Once on the bus it was announced that we would be stopping at our local leader Kwabena’s house. We had only seen his family via computer screen because last night he showed us an episode of a TV show that his family appeared on because of all the good work that the Yonso Project had been a part of. Once at his house we were introduced to his two sons and one daughter. We all made ourselves at home in his living room and chatted about the various pictures hanging on the walls, some featured famous people and some just consisted of his family. One of the photos that stood out was of Kwabena and the current president of Ghana. After a short while of interaction with his family we headed back to the house.

Shortly after we arrived at the house our vendor friends which we met the previous night were knocking at the door. They had even more interesting stuff for us to look at tonight. Most of us bought a knife or two and some people settled for a bag or some jewelry. After all of the shopping was complete we brought out the drums and began a lot of dancing with some of the local children and teens. This brings me to now, 10pm sitting at the computer while some people are studying, and others are talking about their music preferences. Tomorrow we will work on our third computer lab and hopefully it will be completed even more smoothly than today’s.

I also hope that everyone’s families are having a wonderful time in Seattle and I can assure you that we are having a lot of fun and staying safe. Until next time, goodbye!

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Day 4 - Part II

I want to say what a pleasure it is to work and travel with the team. The team is excellent.  They work really hard in the labs and give a lot of positive energy to the kids at the school.  I have never heard so much laughing and seen so much happiness.  I am sure the children at the school will remember them for many years to come.

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Day 4 - Part I

Today we woke up to the sounds of roosters and Marcus. We packed the bins with desktops and monitors that we were going to bring to the school. The van arrived an hour late.  Before heading to the school we stopped in the town to meet the chief. They shared introductions with us and then we headed off to the school. The trucks were unloaded and we brought all the computers into the lab. All of the children were crowded around the windows staring at us. The first thing we did was put all of the computers under the desks and set up the monitors. Then, we plugged the keyboards and mice into the computers. We didn’t have any measuring tools so we had to measure the length of our wires with our shoes. It worked out well but some of the wires were too short and some were too long so we had to do some rearranging. We ran into some problems because we didn’t have crimpers for the wires, or power cords for the computers. We waited about an hour before the power cords arrived and then we got back to work for a little while. We took a break to go play with the kids.

Several boys played soccer on a makeshift field while other girls and boys met and conversed with the kids. After, we went back inside for a while and waited for the crimpers. Claire, one of the chaperones, along with Jake and Helena went to meet with officials from the school district and talked to them about our project. About an hour after they returned the crimpers arrived and we got back to work. It took a while but we finally finished setting up all of the computers and went back out to meet and play with the kids some more. Some of the kids started wrestling with the small children, and others showed them their cameras and took pictures with them. Finally we had to leave. It was sad to say bye to the children but we had to leave. We spent the rest of the night showering, playing cards, eating, and chatting.

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Day 3

Hello from Ghana! It is now almost 11 at night and after a long and busy day out and about in Kumasi we are all relaxing around the house. Some are stationed at the couch watching The Dark Night Rises on Marcus’s Ipad, a lot of the boys are in their bathroom trying to eradicate a spider, and the rest  are on the porch enjoying the cool air and catching fireflies.

Today began with being woken up by roosters and another hot and humid day. Most people slept much better last night and are getting more used to the heat. We left for our market excursion around 10 am on another small cramped bus. The first stop we made after we made it to Kumasi was Kwabane’s grandmother’s house. We picked up his truck and met some of his extended family. After we made it into the city a food and hydration break was much needed. We ate an early lunch at “Strawberry Foods.” We did not come across any strawberries inside but we did find cool drinks and delicious traditional food. After being fed and hydrated we were ready to venture into the market! We drove through looking for a place to leave the van and saw sidewalks filled with vendors selling everything from machetes and gardening tools to knock off Louis Vuitton socks and Gucci belts. Everywhere the eye could see were streets lined with stands and there were people everywhere. We couldn’t stand in a group without completely blocking the way. While a little hectic and overwhelming, the market was a wonderful glimpse into Ghanaian culture. Some people bought some pretty cool stuff, my personal favorite being Whit’s pair of “Brikkendstock” sandals.

After the central market it was off to the computer store to buy 40 monitors to connect to the desktops we brought. We had an enjoyable wait playing soccer and other games with some neighborhood kids. Our next stop was another small market that had more traditional crafts. People bought masks, jewelry and even one carved staff. We all got firsthand experience with bartering, and some proved to have the gift when it came to making a deal. On the bus ride home we all compared purchases, but most of all swapped bargaining techniques and tried to convince others how good of a deal we got. Shortly after we got home dinner was delivered. After feasting upon yams, a flavorful sauce and chicken it was time to get the computers organized for our first school tomorrow.

Everyone is doing well and we are having an amazing time! I’m very excited to install the computers tomorrow and meet all the children at the schools. I hope I can learn a little Twi and not be so lost when people try to talk to me! I am also excited for our trip to Mole national park at the end of the week. I hope we see a ton of wildlife and that no one gets eaten by a lion!

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Day 2

Today began at 5:30 AM with us packing for our eight hour bus ride from Accra to Kumasi, the region in which the schools we are helping are situated. As we left we all waved goodbye to our friendly volunteer coordinators who arranged us a place to stay in Accra and their awesome puppy of 4 months Jojo. We were all dreading the long ride on the bus, expecting it to be hot and cramped like the bus from the previous day. The bus turned out to be spacious and air conditioned, and with several stops along the way the ride was an enjoyable experience. Once we arrived we had to take inventory of all 42 tubs since I had forgotten to make a list of what was in each one at the packing party. The house (more of a compound actually) we are staying in is beautiful. It has a shaded porch overlooking the driveway and yard with several palm trees growing.  The house is very large with three bedrooms and a living room which could fit all of us alone.

After we settled in part of our group went into town to buy more water and bread for us. On the way back they were caught in a spring storm and forced to take cover in the house of the village chief. They were kept company by a group of almost 20 local kids who were extremely excited to meet the foreigners in their village. Back at the house a started a small soccer game with four kids who came to see what was happening in our compound.  We took a break and went inside and when we came back outside we found that the group of kids had multiplied from 4 to nearly 25 kids all on our porch. We started playing soccer again in the rain, which was more refreshing then any bucket shower I have taken so far. As it got dark and the mosquitoes made their appearance we all went inside for dinner. Our meal was made by several local women who delivered homemade rice, beans and chicken to our house, which was delicious. We’ve just finished dinner and now we are all preparing for bed and looking forward to our day in the markets tomorrow.

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Day 1

After a long plane journey (almost a day’s worth of sitting on the plane) and some lost luggage, we safely made it to Accra, Ghana. Upon departing the plane, the heat was definitely noticed. A couple helpful men from the airport helped us load our tubs onto the crowded van. We had to squish into and although it was uncomfortable, I’m pretty sure we all agreed that heading straight to the house and being able to settle in/cleanse up was worth it.

I heard somebody say that it was about 6:30 AM when the girls woke up (Friday). We didn’t really sleep because of the cock-a-doodling roosters, barking dogs, chattering men, chirping crickets, and blasting heat. But I eventually made up for it on our 3-hour ride (one way) to the Cape Coast Castle.

The castle was BEAUTIFUL as it overlooked the Atlantic Ocean. It was painted white and there was a row of cannons aligned outside. There were cannon balls just left outside as it must’ve looked from decades ago because it looked rotted. The sun was gleaming and it was hot, but there was also a humid breeze. There were a ton of mini shops and restaurants located around the castle and a ton of lively people walking around as tourists.

At the slave castle, we were paired up with a very one-of-a-kind tour guide. I forget what his name is but he had a very theatrical personality and mentioned many religious statements.

Although we read about slavery in books, this tour experience was certainly one-of-a kind in that it made one feel as if he or she was actually held captive in the dungeons; especially when our tour guide turned off all the lights to allow us to put our feet in the shoes of the slaves’ that were once imprisoned in those steep, dark, crowded, congested dungeons. There was not a crack of light creeping through the windows, and not a bit of noise. I could only imagine myself hearing the cry of women as they tried to scrape the walls with rocks to break through. I could only imagine how difficult it must have been to avoid stepping on any poop or pee that was left on the ground by the 150 men or women in each tiny dungeon. And I could only imagine the number of days the slaves counted in hope of being released…until they no longer had energy to. The slaves must have had a lot of strength and hope to stay alive.

Then our tour guide led us to “The Door of No Return” which symbolized the slaves’ inability to return to Ghana after exiting the door. When the slaves exited the door, they were led onto a boat that traveled through the Caribbean’s and onto the Americas. Later on, we also learned that the “The Door of No Return” was changed to “The Door of Return” to welcome Ghanaians back to their homeland.

For lunch, we went to Café Beach Restaurant and the food took forever to arrive. But it was good and worth the wait! I ordered scrambled eggs with toast while many others ordered culturally enriching meals like curry and grilled fish… kind of wish I ordered the same. After lunch, we went to the markets and shopped around for about 20 minutes. Biggest learning tip for the day: when in doubt, walk away. If the seller is not willing to bargain, I learned that it is best to just walk away and he/she will eventually ask you to come back and buy their product for the price that you asked.

Now, we’re eating dinner (Jollof with chicken) and some people are learning how to play the drums. It is quite lovely and relaxing this evening. Jollof=fried rice with lots of mixed vegetables. It is delicious!!!

P.S. Parents, we are safe and having lots of fun. You have nothing to worry about! :)

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