June 25 - July 10, 2011

Days 9 & 10 - Fourth of July

Sunday, July 3

Today was very relaxed, as torrential rains dashed our hopes of driving into Accra and hanging out at the beach. But it was a fairly welcome change from the blistering pace we had been moving through the previous week. Some of the more hardened spirits on the team ventured forth into the incessant rain, to buy a new auxiliary cable for a wounded iPod dock and some goodies from other carts. The roads (and therefore the sidewalk) were completely flooded, and getting around became a little game of hot lava monster.

The day continued indoors for the most part, with few blog worthy events. I’ll take a day off from entertaining all of you fine people, and come back tomorrow.

Sasha’s Spotting

Things seemed normal at shoprite. There was a large selection of goods at affordable prices, tabloids, and samples. One find among the aisles in the store seemed slightly strange because it was so Seattle. That was finding Rachel Alexander, ’09 graduate of our very own Garfield High School, among the canned fruits and spices. Apparently Rachel’s dad works here in Ghana and she is staying with him for 5 weeks, today being the last day of her journey.

That’s the Sasha Spotting of the day!

Monday, July 4

A lot happened today.

Everyone woke up pretty early to finish up purchases with the seamstresses. From there, after breakfast, we returned to the primary school to finish up networking the computers. Since the primary school is closer to the center of Accra, the principal had internet in his office, which meant that all of the computers, after running a line to the lab, would have internet. Unfortunately, the slow connection became amplified when it was split between twenty systems, which meant that a lot of work was left to get everything running up to speed.

While Steven, Paul, and myself ran back to get the flash drive with the blog, we checked out a stand that advertised televised live soccer matches. The owner ushered us in, very happy to see us in the town. He proudly declared that we were the first Americans in the “White House” (the name of his restaurant). We quickly drank the Cokes he offered us, and after he refused to take any money, walked back to the school.

After some more troubleshooting with the internet connection, the group headed back to the house all together to meet the drum vendor who came out from Accra. The drums he brought were intricately carved, and sounded great too. He gave us all a complimentary lesson, and we used the skills later on to recreate some of Garfield’s drum cadences.

After dinner, we headed out again to play another game of soccer with the neighborhood kids. We twisted through a few alleys, crossed a railroad track, and came to the same field we had played at before. After about half an hour though, about twenty of the older kids from the village had a pick-up game organized, so our troupe left the field and continued exploring. Eventually we made our way back to the house, and stayed in for the night. Today was a huge highlight because we had so much time to hang out. Hopefully in the coming days we’ll be able to watch a soccer match with some of the locals.

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Day 8 - Kakum National Park

Saturday, July 2

Today began like most of our other days; a flurry of activity early in the morning to prepare for a bus that arrived two hours late. Luckily, by now the group has become hardened veterans of such delays, and everyone took the setback in stride. We boarded the bus with a group of orphans from the Mmofra Trom school we had installed computers in on Friday. The introductions quickly subsided into a malaise on the bus, with quiet conversation and long catnaps. After nearly four hours, we arrived at Kakum National Park, and quickly passed the tourist shops to begin the hike into the canopy. What was a little surprising was how unnerving it was to see other Oburonis – white strangers – at the national park. We had been the only foreigners in Ofankor, and experiencing the touristy side of the trip took a bit of a gear change. We trekked across seven rope swing bridges, each one more fantastic and rickety than the last. Being a hundred feet above the forest floor, looking out onto the jungle was phenomenal, and a nice change of pace from the previous areas we had visited.

And then we were off again, in the hopes of having as much time as possible at the slave castle. We visited the Elmina Castle, the biggest in Ghana, and heard horrific tales of the treatment of slaves. Personally, what struck me the most was the story of two contrasting jail cells. One room was used to detain European soldiers who had broken rank during their duty. Two windows in the room, for ventilation and light, meant that no one ever died behind its stone doors. An adjacent room was used to contain slaves who were the most resistant and had the strongest leadership qualities. They were not given food or water in the cell, and apparently no prisoner had ever entered the chamber and come out alive. Despite its terrible past, the castle was quite beautiful, and the surrounding seaside town was striking. While we were on the roof, a nearby soccer match caused an enormous uproar when one team scored a goal. Over a hundred ecstatic fans stormed the field, in front of a harbor of beautiful painted boats that gave the town more of a Venetian feel than African.

While we waited for dinner, Maggie had the great idea of playing The Great Wind Blows to get everyone out of our tired stupor and break the ice between the two groups. In a desperate last stand, Sam made a running dive into one of the chairs, but unfortunately the plastic throne could not withstand his momentum, and one of the legs snapped on impact. After the drama subsided the food arrived, and we began feasting on a rare Ghanaian delicacy – pizza. After our stomachs were (mostly) full and our hearts content, we prepared for the long trek back home.

The three hours spent getting back to the house went by with the usual humidity and bumps we had gotten used to, but at one point we had to face off an enormous ditch in the road, completely filled with rain water. It took some extraordinary skill on the bus driver’s part, but shortly after the ordeal we were comfortably back at the house.

A note from one of the five Ghanaian rain water showerers:

We were all getting ready to turn in to bed. The majority of the group was sitting in the living room, chatting, and listening to the pounding rain. At one point Sam asked the room, “does anyone want to go out and shower in the rain?” Thus the best shower experience EVER was started. As soon as I, Sasha, agreed to the preposterous plan Sam and I booked it to the door. Steven and Henry

Today was extremely fun, but I think the whole team is ready to have a relaxed day without quite so much time in transit.

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Day 7 - Republic Day

Friday, July 1

Today we went to a slightly different school than those we had seen before. After loading onto the bus, we experienced what was possibly the worst traffic of my life. Republic Day in Ghana meant that everyone was out celebrating, and we spent over two hours in gridlock traffic. However, when we finally arrived, everyone was astounded by the beauty of the orphanage. Mmofra Trom high school had two groups of kids, those who paid to go to the boarding school, and orphans who could not. We were treated to a drumming performance from the students, which was very entertaining to watch.

Afterwards, we met the principal of the school, who had been heading the school for eleven years. Immediately after walking into his house we knew the school was in a far better situation than any of the other places we had seen in Ghana. There was no question that leaving them computers would help their school, but it felt a little odd adding to, instead of creating, a computer lab.

The highlight of the day was playing a game of soccer with some of the boys at the school. It was pouring rain, but nonetheless we had a great time. Playing barefoot in inches of standing mud warranted pretty intense slide tackles that added to the game’s ferocity. By the halftime whistle, at least a hundred of the school kids were spectating.

The bus ride back was luckily far shorter and more tolerable than the earlier journey, and we got home at a reasonable time. Everyone stayed up talking for awhile, but made a point to hit the hay as early as possible to prepare for a huge day on Saturday.

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Day 6 - Dance Party

Thursday, June 30

Today began by walking across the freeway to the Ofankor Junior high School, where we set up a twenty computer lab. Since the school is so much closer to the center of the city, we are going to be able to run a cable from the principal’s office and give the lab internet. The work didn’t take long, however, because the computers were already partially imaged. By two we were back at the house, buying clothes from seamstresses that Kyla organized to come in. Before getting measured, everyone had to first pick out fabric from a very finite quantity, and a vicious game of survival of the fittest ensued for the best patterns.

After the measuring and taping subsided, we had some free time before going out to dinner. As soon as they got the chance, the local kids led us through the labyrinth of the village, through crevices between houses with less than a foot of space between them. The more we walked the more of a following we gained, until some of the younger kids were fighting over piggy-back rides and hand-holding. We arrived at a soccer field, and the games began. While both teams played fiercely (with Paul and Steven on one team and Sam, Erik, and myself on the other), the game ended in a 2-2 tie. Next to the field, the girls started a game of ring-around-the-rosie that quickly ballooned into a circle of over fifty kids.

As our first meal out, we made quite a splash as a group of so many foreigners. Outdoor speakers are far more common in Ghana, and as we were eating our Tilapia and Jollof rice I wondered how some of the neighbors could sleep. After everyone finished, we began dancing, and as we headed out Erik overheard one local exclaim “What crazy white people!” Afterwards we went to a rooftop club to take the festivities to a place that could withstand our partying. The club was occupied with only a few people, but later as we broke the ice, nearly everyone began dancing. I’m not sure who had a better time: us dancing or the locals laughing at us.

We arrived back at the house exhausted but with our most jam packed day behind us.

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Days 3, 4, & 5 - The Work Begins

Monday, June 27

with help from Sammy K

We began the day by adjusting to Africa time. After waking up in a flurry to stay on schedule, we ended up waiting over two hours for a bus, only to tell us that the school was not secure for computers. Power was not hooked up either, but this gave the group the opportunity to visit the mayor’s office. With over twenty of us and a half dozen representatives, it seemed like the biggest meeting he had ever had. Even in the most modern building in the village, custom reigns supreme, and before discussing anything we were each given a bottle of water to drink from. The mayor was very grateful that we were bringing computers to his village, and took the time to shake all of our hands. At one point, he took a phone call in the middle of the conversation, which seemed slightly disrespectful at first, until we were informed that he was talking to the president of Ghana!

After the meeting, and a failed attempt to ride back to the house on top of the bus, we went to the secondary school, Asamansa. We were originally going to work on the high school in the second week, we bumped it up because the mayor needed time to get security and power to the middle school labs. Talking to the students was very interesting, even though we didn’t have much time. Students at the school wear uniforms, and soccer is definitely the most widely revered sport. Soccer jerseys are a very common sight, and every boy has fierce loyalty to both his local team and European clubs as well.

Back at the house, we split into two groups. One group went to the microloan office to upload photos and send e-mails. Outside, Sam walked into a group of girls outside a hair salon. He broke the circle of gossip, and after brief introductions he was offered a hasty marriage proposal, of which he heartily accepted. She offered him fufu (a soup composed of plantains and cassava) to seal the deal. Luckily for Sam, the rest of the group broke the awkward honeymoon, and a game of guessing began. The girls put Erik’s age at twenty three, Maggie twenty-two, Sam seventeen, and yours truly – twelve.

Meanwhile, the rest of the group went to a fast food place with no resemblance of its American counterpart. The joint was called Aroma of Christ, and it yielded some of the most divine flavors of rice and chicken that any of us had ever experienced. The group then convened back at the house to eat and play with the children, which was becoming increasingly popular to us all. Finally in the evening we sat around and bonded, freestyle rapping to a guitar riff.

Some programs on Ghanaian television:

- A Spanish soap opera dubbed in English

- A rerun of an episode of Oprah showcasing Skype. Oprah talked to a social worker from a Canadian town, where the temperature was four below zero. The temperature in Ghana was about eighty.

Tuesday, June 28

Today the work began. After breakfast, we took the bus back to Amasaman and began imaging the computers. To all you normal people out there: imaging involves creating accounts, loading software, configuring backgrounds and screensavers, and protecting the computers from malicious intent. A huge highlight was getting to meet and talk to the SIFE employees, who had recently graduated university (the word college is rarely used in Ghana). Talking to them about their country, music, movies, and soccer was incredibly interesting. Conversation helped make the tedious imaging much more fun. We had one conversation with Randy, a student who was very passionate about climate change. His favorite movie was Water World, and he never wanted to make sure that it “never happened again.” After spending the greater part of the afternoon staring at a screen, the outside was a blessing. At around seventy-five with a cool cross breeze, the weather was nearly perfect.

After getting back to the house, some of the guys went to play soccer on a nearby field with the kids, while the rest of the gang went to the market to get more fruit. We tried some of our fufu tonight, it was a very interesting consistency.

Catherine impressed everyone with her endless accents. Erin refused to tell us a bedtime story. What will enlighten and inspire us further on? Only time will tell.

Tim’s Two Cents

Day 3 was another amazing/interesting day in Ghana. I’m still not used to the bucket “showers” and humid nights. The 80 degree heat feels more like 90. I’m not sure it cools off that much at night. What made Day 3 awesome was seeing all of the students when we went to the school. The teachers and administrators were all very excited to have an opportunity to learn. I talked about everything from Kanye West to Ghanaian movies. It’s amazing how far apart yet how close we are as a culture. If anyone could FedEx me a hot shower, I’d gladly appreciate it.

Wednesday, June 29

Sickness has taken root among the group. Sam, after a night of stomach unrest, remained bed-ridden for a good portion on the afternoon. Alaine and Catherine had a little queasiness too, but stayed standing (Note to parents: everyone was fine by the end of the day, not to worry).

Today we began networking the computers. This involves cutting cables, stripping the ends, and routing the wires into RJ-45 connectors to make Ethernet cables. Then, after all the computers were connected through the hub, set up a central server to save files into. In the middle of our escapades, a bizarre fatigue overwhelmed Erik, who fell asleep for four hours on the schoolroom floor.

During lunch, we met quite a few characters. Paul, Steven, and myself were introduced to a few seniors from Amasaman (the name of the secondary school) who quickly ushered us into a classroom of their friends. A loquacious bunch, we all had a great time, and when we were called back to work we had all exchanged Facebook pages. What’s interesting is that in Ofankor, computers are extremely rare, but almost every student had access to the internet on their phones.

Another interesting character we met was Eugene, a senior who aspired to become a movie star. He loved kung-fu, and he had plans to change his name to You-Jin when he moved to Accra to pursue his career. Needless to say, he was very happy to meet Steven and learn some basic greetings on Mandarin.

When it was time to leave for the chief’s house, the teacher from the school was incredibly grateful. Over and over again he said “I am the luckiest teacher in the world.” As the technology instructor, he had only a few Pentium 2 computers to for over two thousand students, who are all tested on computer proficiency to gain admittance to college.

The chief’s house was a fantastic experience. After taking advantage of the running water (and more importantly fully functional toilets, in Pastor Rose’s house we use a bucket to flush), we met the chief of Ofankor. Traditionally, a chief will talk through a linguist, and our meeting was no exception. However, the linguist didn’t know English, so after the linguist spoke for the chief in a tribal language, another interpreter told us the English meaning. During this game of telephone, the government representative of Ofankor was also present, dressed in traditional tribal garb, constantly leaving the room to answer his cell phone. The room we were in, like Pastor Rose’s house, was filled with flowery drapes and wrap-around couches reminiscent of a lot of interiors from Middle America. I never thought I would see such sharp contrasts between modernization and tradition. When we find a faster internet connection, the video of the meeting will be the first to come.

After saying our farewells (with the chaperones of course taking traditional farewell shots of peppermint schnapps), we walked back to the house, getting a glimpse of the middle school we will be working on tomorrow. Everyone is tired, with frogs croaking at all hours of the night, and roosters beginning their crows at two in the morning. But I think I speak for everyone by saying that this has already been one of the most rewarding and life-changing experiences of our lives.

Side note: Riding the bus in Ghana is a very riveting experience. Driving on the highway, which is fairly light on traffic, rides a lot like arterial streets in Seattle. However, the giant rivets and potholes that dot the dirt side streets create elicit extremely fun rides. The bus regularly dips past 20 degrees to the side in a way that would make most American fathers weep over the destroyed suspension.

Tim’s Two Cents

Today was a very successful day networking at the school. I was impressed with Colin and his hard work today. He did major work today and deserves a ton of credit for getting all the computers set up. The teachers were excited to finally see the computer lab put together. You know who’s impressed me? Our driver. He’s like B.A from A-Team. I think he can drive anything with wheels. I would defiantly sign him up for Transport 4:The Ghanaian Getaway. I was also impressed with the students having their Beatles moment walking through the school. All the kids went crazy. Now I know what Beatle Mania was like to live in the 60’s…..well almost. I was not so impressed with how hot it was at 7:00AM. We were able to walk through the neighborhood today and get to see more of Ofankor. I’m hoping to see more of the neighborhood tomorrow morning. Till next time.

Jendy's Two Cents

It has been a hot and very humid three days and we are enjoying every minute of it. However, Anis says she is getting tired of bucket showers. It makes her appreciate running water back in Seattle. Today was especially fun because we got to meet the students of Amasaman school, the first place we just finished installing computers in today. The students were very friendly and the other girls were jealous that I was given a necklace today by one of the girls. But even more so, they were jealous that the same girl asked for my address so she could make me a bag and send it to me. They plan to go back tomorrow and befriend that girl. No secret intentions intended of course. I am learned a lot more about the culture here and how very different it is from back in Seattle. I have never really seen or experienced anything quite like it. Everybody is very friendly if we open up and say hi as we pass by. It is hard going from somewhere cooler like Seattle to somewhere with no air conditioning but as long as the fans hold up, all will be well. I plan to continue meeting new people and experiencing new things to bring back and share.

Anis's Two Cents

Although it’s only been three days it feels more like a week, but I am loving every bit of it. I enjoyed going to the Amasaman School today, all of the students were extremely nice and social. Some of the guys may be a little too social, but hey it’s Ghana. We made many friends today, as we do every day. I can’t wait to have dresses made and buy souvenirs for family and friends. One thing that really impresses me is how incredibly open and accepting our hosts are of our American ways. They are going out of their way to make sure that we are comfortable and have everything we need and I truly appreciate it!

Both of our regards to everyone back home! We’re outie.

Sasha’s Two Cents

This trip has taught me a lot. One thing I have learned is that perseverance is key to success. After 10 tries I finally correctly stripped and prepared a network wire. While I was still not allowed to prepare actual wires that we would be using for the lab I at least got a sense of accomplishment. Go team!


Days 1 & 2 - The Journey and First Impressions

Saturday, June 25

We had all woken up at the Ungodly hour of seven or so, drove to the airport, said our farewells to our parents, and set out for the greatest journey of our lives. Sasha was the first one there, her bright and smiling face preparing us for the daunting task ahead. After previously measuring out our checked tubs, the horrifying realization came upon us that a few of the riskier ones had clocked in over the limit. At fifty dollars extra per overweight tub, we simply had to improvise. As we furiously redistributed the cargo, with spirits nearly on the brink of collapse, ex-matadors Jenny Lin and Hannah Collins came to the rescue. Their can-do attitude and sheer brute strength helped us push through the trying moments, with Ben Huppe occasionally assisting as well.

We passed through security without incidence, and after the (comparatively) brief flight to Washington D.C. and an hour lay-over, length of the voyage began to sink in. There was a brief confusion about the selection of in-flight movies, but the bustle of the trip quickly settled into a timeless state of sleep, Sudoku, Mathew McConaughey, and Stephen’s perpetual salad grazing.

Sunday, June 26

After fifteen hours of plane travel, two hours between airports, and seven time zones, we landed in Ghana one day and one hour after leaving Seattle.

It was immediately apparent that we were foreigners. Living in the United States, even in Seattle, we were used to a level of diversity far from Ghana. The handshakes unleashed in the airport would have put even the most accomplished Garfield socialite to shame.

Watching the billboards go by, nearly all of them in English, three products stood out the most: Education, Religion, and wireless phone cards. One attempted to advertise for a vocational school, but a misplaced vowel left the sign hampered, hoping to attract new students to its vacational institution of higher leisure. It may have been the fact that it was a Sunday, but the shop fronts we passed by seemed extremely lackadaisical, with huge groups huddled around games of checkers at gas stations.

After arriving, unpacking the tubs, and settling in, we were introduced to Faustina, the head of the household we were staying at. We also met Youngs and Sammy, who work with Kyla, a woman that helps run VillageNet, the microfinance organization of Ofankor. They were all incredibly warm and friendly. Sammy coaches a men’s soccer team, and Youngs helped all of us learn the standard Ghanian handshake, a combination of handshakes completed with a snap of the fingers. The Frisbees were a huge hit, but when the soccer ball was revealed, all bets were off. While the boys played soccer and goofed around, the girls started furious games of patty-cake and piggy-back rides.

Out in the lawn, Paul asked the kids playing outside their favorite kind of music. With a curt reply of “hip-hop,” the pop-culture trivia began. They knew Jay-Z, Eminem, and Ludacris, but mentioning Lil Wayne’s name garnered a special level of enthusiasm. And T-Pain for sure.

Unlike in Seattle, where the sun can take quite a while to set, in Ofankor, the days last almost exactly twelve hours. Even though it’s the rainy season, we haven’t seen a drop yet. Even a downpour wouldn’t phase our team in the eighty degree weather.

Tim's Two Cents

Ghana is a beautiful country. I’m shocked at how hospitable the Ghanaians are. Their sense of community and willingness to help is like nothing I’ve ever seen. I spoke with a gentleman named Sammymkmji who told me how excited he was for the work the students are doing. In the past, Sammy said, people have promised to bring computers and they never came through. As he sat in the airport waiting for our arrival he still had his doubts that we would show up. He told me when he saw us coming with the gray bins, he was very excited. Sammy said he was excited for the thousands of children that will be able to learn to use a computer and compete with other students across the globe. So far it’s been a great trip (minus the jet lag and lack of sleep AND having to watch Beastly on the flight from Seattle to D.C). Thanks for reading my two cents. I’ll write more later this week.