Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Encounters with the Lower Forms of Creation...

That's right...a few of those "lower forms of Creation" (aka insects) have gotten the best of me lately! The second and more serious one was a mischievious mosquito (which I don't even remember biting me) that gave me the wonderful gift of malaria. Saturday night when I was ready for bed at 7 pm, I thought I was just tired after a long day...thought I was getting lame in my old age. :) Well, then about 9 pm, when I really did head for bed, I was feeling pretty queasy, but didn't think much of it. I slept a few hours and was up most of the rest of the night being sick...not fun. So, the next about 24 hours were pretty rough. I had to work up enough strength for about 2 hours just to sit up and take my pills with some food...then, another few hours to get up to go to the bathroom. When I finally made that journey, it was quite the 12 foot venture. By the end, I was starting to black out and as Mama Carolyn was talking to me, my hearing was going in and out. Yikes! I spent a good couple days in bed, and although the first two days were rough, I do feel very blessed to have gotten over it so quickly. I was on antimalarials and then started the treatment right away, so supposedly that helps make the symptoms less severe. Praise God! I know I'm feeling better now, because chocolate actually sounds good! :)

The first insect that warrants a story is a little more humorous...although not at the time. I had just finished reading a bedtime story to the boys in their dorm and was headed back to my apartment. Trust me, my eyes are always scanning the ground for snakes, or more recently--frogs! Well, apparently I missed the ants. I suddenly felt a sharp pinching sensation on my toe and looked down to see a big ol' ant on my toe. Man...those things sure can bite! So, if you know me well, you know that bugs and I don't necessarily get along. In fact, you could even say I'm extremely wimpy when it comes to dealing with any living creature other than humans and plants. :) So, because of the severe biting pain, I did try to grab it off, while being disturbed by the fact that I was actually touching an ant...heaven forbid! :) haha...well, I couldn't get it off (could've been due to my wimpy attempt, as I definitely didn't want to actually have to grab it by both sides! ;)), so I decided to hobble over to Mama Carolyn's apartment to have her help me. If you could've heard me, you probably would've thought I was being attacked by a snake or a wild lion-- definitely not an ant! So, I (literally) hobbled along, all the while "oww...eeee...ahhh"ing! Then, another bite would come, along with some more sound effects! But...with Mama Carolyn's help, we were able to get both of them off quite easily. :) So, I'm a wimp! However, to my defense, those ants are seriously wicked...and they really do hurt! haha...okay, hopefully that gave you a smile after the malaria downer. :) Thanks for all your encouragement and prayers while I was sick...God is good!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Torn Up

Today as I sat in one of the classrooms, I finally realized why living here has been so difficult at times...I'm a fairly sensitive person, and being here--witnessing injustice and poverty in very real ways firsthand--has allowed me to have pieces of my heart torn apart just about every day.

Take this morning, for example. I went in to a classroom, where the teacher showed little effort to teach students who are eager to learn and whose futures depend on getting a good education. In fact, when I arrived the teacher wasn't even there, and they told me that they had done nothing in the first 45 minutes of class. :(

Then, it was break time and I had two boys (both about 15 years old) come up to me to tell me they were hungry. So I had them come up to my apartment to get a snack and come to find out that one of the boys' mother had left him and his brother for about a week and a half to visit family in another part of the country. She didn't leave any money for food, and when I asked him how he'd eat, he told me that his brother would try to sell things, and if he sold enough, they'd have money for food; if not, there would be no food.

Next I was sitting in another classroom when a new student who came to our school about a week ago was brought into the classroom with a desk-- interrupting the class, as the teacher who brought him in announced that he couldn't do the work in P4, so he'd have to join P2. The boy looked so embarrassed and just put his head down on his desk in shame. This boy was abandoned by his parents and has been being taken care of by a woman in the village who cannot walk and must push herself along on her belly to get places.

Well, that's just the start of my morning...all of this happened by about 10:30 and I just get feeling so frustrated inside. It's like seeing "Compassion" ads live and feeling so powerless over a whole society...a whole system so in need.

Being here has truly been a lesson in humility. I came thinking I could "change the world" and already am realizing that the issues here are so complex that one person cannot change everything. However, I'm also learning how important encouragement and love are to these kids and how I'm called to be generous. Before sending out the disciples, Jesus tells them, "Freely you have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:8b). Although I may not be able to change the world, I can obey Jesus' call to give freely...whether that's of my time and energy, a hug, a word of encouragement, a smile, some food, or just a moment of my day to spend time with a child who needs it. After all, what have I done to deserve to be in my position over theirs? is only by the grace of God.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Water Bag Challenge

I'm a teacher through and through...I just can't help myself! Even on days off of school, I like to find some "teachable moment" to take advantage of. The kids had off of school both Friday and today (Monday) for mid-term break. We ended up staying around the home, and the kids love going on walks, so today we went for a nice long one.

As I mentioned before, we drink our water out of 500 mL plastic bags, which they call "rubbers". As a math activity to teach the concept of place value and just big number sense in general, I had the idea of have the kids collect water bags, working toward a goal of 10,000! They litter the roads, ditches, and "yards" just about everywhere, so I thought it could be a good way to teach the kids to "help keep Ghana clean" while also learning math! I know, I'm a nerd! :)

So, on our walk, I challenged the kids to each pick up 10. There were 34 of us so that'd make 340. I thought that'd be a pretty good start. Well, apparently I highly underestimated my crew, as we spend hours today grouping them in piles of 10, then putting 10 groups of ten together to make a hundred, etc, until we had reached...2,963!!! Wow...I couldn't believe it!

I'll have to keep you updated on our progress as we aim for 10,000!

In the back of this picture you can see a beautiful sunset: one thing I need to take advantage of more often! Today was really, really hot (90), but with extremely high humidity; then about 3:30, the temperature dropped from 90 to 79 in about 5 minutes as the rain poured down...what a welcome sight that was! :)

Sunday, October 18, 2009


It's been a busy couple of weeks since I last wrote and I can honestly say that life is beginning to seem more and more "normal" everyday. I'm not sure if anything's really changed or if I'm just finally getting use to the Ghanaian lifestyle and last minute changes that are a part of every day.

Things at school continue to be interesting as I train and work with the teachers. However, I've started tutoring one 3rd grade boy after school and that has been a real blessing and an encouragement to me. I'm also planning on starting some math clubs after school to give struggling students some extra practice and support. Please pray that those go well!

Today I had my first opportunity to go to the street ministry downtown which is where many of the children who now live at the home lived before coming here. Many of them have one, or in some cases even both, of their parents still living, but their parents were living on the streets, or under the veranda of this train station, and couldn't afford to clothe, feed, and educate them. Every Sunday afternoon, some of ECM's staff go down to the train station to share a Bible lesson, songs, and a meal with the many children gathered there. It was crazy to see the vast multitude of children there without any parents. Many of their mothers spend their days out on the streets selling items-- leaving their young children to fend for themselves.

Because many of the children at Haven of Hope came from here, they still have family around that area, so we asked Felicia (the Ghanaian woman who leads the street ministry) to contact some of the parents of the children to let them know that we'd be bringing their children this afternoon. When I went around yesterday to tell the children (about 10 of them) who'd be going today, you'd think they just won the lottery! They were singing, jumping up and down, and their smiles were a mile wide. One of the boys told me on the way there today that he didn't remember the last time he saw his mother. She came to visit him at the home about 6 or 7 years ago, but he said he hasn't seen her since then. The parents are free to visit at any time and many of them only live an hour away, yet very few come to visit. They've even been told they'd be reimbursed for transporation costs, which is about 75 cents. It blows my mind!

So, we pulled up to the train station and were immediately swarmed with beautiful faces of children wanting to be loved. We waited patiently for the parents to come, and I was so excited to see them reunite. After the excitement of yesterday's news that they could come, I was shocked by what I saw. One of the little girls just sat in the van as her father was at the window and her mother stood back about 10 feet away. Finally, we asked her to come out and she did, but there were no big hugs, smiles, or even words exchanged. It broke my heart. There were a couple of more reunions like this; then there were a few that did seem happy to see their children. I can't imagine what it must be like to have someone else tell you all about your child and how they're doing.

Finally, it was the situation of the third group of children that really broke me down...the children who had gotten their hopes up only to wait and wait and wait and have no one come to see them. The little boy I mentioned earlier who hadn't seen his mother since he was about 2 was one of them. I just wanted to give them a big ol' squeeze and let them know that they are loved beyond measure. It really did break my heart. I was glad to have had the opportunity to go today, because I think it will allow me to understand the kids a little bit better-- knowing where they came from and trying to understand (in just a small way) some of the emotions that they face everyday because of their past. I just pray that God will use me to be an encouragement to these children who feel abandoned and unimportant. May they truly receive and believe the message that God made them uniquely for a purpose and that He loves them very much...and that we do too!

Hope you are all doing well and enjoying the cool, crisp, fresh fall air (in the States) or the lower humidity level in HK! (I think you sent it all over here! :)) If this tells you anything, usually I lay on top of all my covers at night, because it's so warm, but this week I woke up a couple of nights and was cold and put my sheet on. It was 81 degrees! :) will I ever again face the snow???

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Day on the Town

Today felt like 3 days packed into one! By 8 am, I felt like I had a ½ day behind me already! I woke up at 5 am, which is now early for me since I discovered that the wonderful eye covering contraption that they gave me on the airplane allows me to sleep past the sunrise! However, this morning I was up before the sunrise. I felt, once again, like I had gone back in time about 100 years! I lit my candle so I could see and hung my flashlight on the door as I took a shower.

Then, Mama Carolyn and I traveled to the train station just down the road about a mile and a half in Kotaku. We rounded the corner of the train station (that looks in such tough shape that in the US it would be condemned) to find many ladies dressed in their bright colored dresses with babies slung on their back and with big, huge bowls of greens and different produce that they’d sell for the day. We took a seat to wait for the train which was scheduled to arrive at 6 am. Sure enough it came, we got on, and enjoyed about an hour and a half ride to Accra. I would say it was neat to be able to watch the world wake up, but the truth is that when I sleep until 6:30 am each morning, I am in the extreme minority. Ghana seems to wake up with the sun, and by 6:00, people are out and about selling, stores are open, women are cooking and doing laundry, children are taking “baths”…their world is very much alive as I crawl out of bed! Nevertheless, it was neat to witness a piece of their everyday lives as I gazed out the windows of the train.

When we got to Accra we met up with Abby, who helped us do the shopping for the kids, which is the reason we went into town. We still had about 20 pairs of shoes left to buy and also needed to get socks and undies for all 50 kids! What a task that is…where are Wal-Mart and Target when you need them?!? We finished our shopping by about 11:30, and the highlight for me was finding a bunch of empty shoeboxes outside one of the shops. I asked if they were going to use them and they said no, so I snatched them up…not quite sure what I’ll do with them, but I’m really getting into this being resourceful thing, and I’m starting to save everything from my tin cans to toilet paper rolls to water bags!!!

After our shopping excursion, we headed to the mall by taxi to meet up with Papa Jim who’d drove into town separately. Since I didn’t have much shopping to do at the mall, I decided to hop on the internet, which was a real treat. Since it’s faster than my internet connection at home, I was able to chat with some friends and students in Hong Kong! Although 30 minutes wasn’t long enough to manage all those conversations, it was a good ‘lil dose of love. I miss them all so much!

Then, we had to treat ourselves to some good ol’ Chinese food and ice cream before heading home! We got home about 5 pm, and I was just beat! I must be getting old or something!

P.S. The picture is random, but one important thing about going to town is rationing the amount of liquid you consume, because there are never public restrooms!!! Or so we thought...although we had to pay, we were so relieved to see this "urination station"! On another random note, when asking to go to the bathroom, the students say, "Ms. Dana...please...I'm going to urinate." That one took me a little while to get use to! I'm still trying (most likely in vain) to train them to ask, "May I please use the bathroom?" Wish me luck! :)

Monday, October 12, 2009

One Step at a Time...

Praise God for the small, but encouraging, bits of progress made lately. In terms of math, the kids here really struggle. Most of them failed math last year and still struggle with the basic facts-- even in 6th grade. This makes learning higher level concepts pretty difficult. Part of my job here is to train the teachers and coach them on how to teach math more effectively. I was also hoping to start some type of math club after school to help the students catch up on important concepts they've missed through games and other activities. However, upon coming here and realizing the extreme need for learning math, I've been almost paralyzed. It's as if the need is too great and every idea I come up with seems to small-- too insignificant-- to make any difference at all. However, I know you can't get anywhere by standing still, so on Saturday I rounded up some of the P5 & P6 kids and had my first math club. I'd say it was a success, considering I said we'd meet for maybe 45 minutes and after 2 hours, I had to kick the kids out! They wanted more! So, I'm still throwing around ideas on how to best serve all of the students and how to use my time most effectively with the clubs. It looks like I may have different grade levels meet after school on certain days.

I was also encouraged by a one-on-one tutoring session with a third grade boy today. His confidence and self-esteem is quite low, partially because he's getting teased by classmates for doing poorly in math. Today I did some informal assessment to see where he's at and then had a short tutoring session. It was encouraging to hear that he had told Papa Jim that he really enjoyed that time and even learned something! We have a long ways to go, but I'm praying that God will not only use this opportunity to improve his math skills but also to improve his confidence. He's such a sweet boy, and it's encouraging to me to think that even if I make a difference for one child while I'm here, my time here was well spent.

I'm learning-- maybe slowly-- that life (especially in Ghana) is best taken one day at a putting one foot in front of the other. :)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Communication Chaos!

As I have mentioned before, communication with the African people here can prove to be quite a challenge. Although at times it's very frustrating, for some reason this week I've been able to find the humor in the out-of-control conversations...maybe because I wasn't directly involved in these situations! :) Here's a few stories that will help you understand a little bit of what it's like...

1. Papa Jim has a friend who's beginning to sell health care products, so he's come around trying to sell some of these to us. He decided to buy some type of aloe product as a supplement to relieve stomach problems. The man who sold him the product told him there would be no side effects with this product, but the next day he called back to see if he's had any side effects.

Papa Jim reminded him that he just told him yesterday that there would be no side effects and decided to play with him a little bit and jokingly said, "Well, I just fell on the ground and starting experiencing tingling in my left arm and chest pains (signs of a heart attack); is that normal?"

The man replied, "Yes. Yes. That's normal."

So Papa Jim continues, "Ok. So even though I fell on the floor and lost consciousness, that's okay?"

"Yes. Yes. That's okay," he said.

As I stood there laughing, Papa Jim repeated the question about losing consciousness and the man replied, "Yes. You can even take more."


2. Mama Carolyn and I saw Daniel, the driver, head toward the gate in the van, and we wanted him to pick up some bread for us while he was out. So, hoping to catch him before he left the compound, we called his answer. Next we quickly dialled the guard's phone, hoping that maybe he could catch him before he went out. The conversation went something like this:

Mama Carolyn: "Hi is Daniel there?"
Samuel (the guard): "Yes."
Mama Carolyn: "Could I talk to him please?"
Samuel: "Yes."
Mama Carolyn: "Hi. Is this Daniel?"
Samuel: "Yes."
Mama Carolyn: "I was just calling to see if you were going out."
Samuel: "Yes."
Mama Carolyn: "Dana and I were wondering if you could pick up some bread for us?"
Samuel: you guessed it..."Yes."
Mama Carolyn: "This isn't Daniel, the driver, is it?"
Samuel: "Yes."
Mama Carolyn: "This is Samuel, isn't it?"
Samuel: "Yes."
Mama Carolyn: "Has Daniel already left?"
Samuel: "Yes."

As you could probably bread for us! :)

3. Mama Carolyn called Mr. Yeboa, a man who is a carpenter and made some desks for the school, to see where his shop is located since it recently moved locations. Here's how it went?

Mama Carolyn: "Hi Mr. Yeboa...I was wondering if you could tell me where your shop is because Papa Jim wanted to come pick up the desks."
Mr. Yeboa: "Yes."
Mama Carolyn: "Okay. Where can we find your shop?"
Mr. Yeboa: "Okay, okay, okay!" Click...

Challenging may be an understatement in terms of communication...thus the title...Communication CHAOS!!! Like I said, I've found it's best just to laugh it off...sometimes easier said than done though.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Number Crunching

Well, it’s been 40 days since I set foot on African terrain! In honor of this momentous anniversary and also due to the fact that I’m a math teacher and just a number guru in general, I thought I’d compose a list of numbers that pertain to my life here in Ghana that you may find interesting!

0—the number of McDonalds in Ghana! (I’m pretty sure this is the first country I’ve been to that hasn’t been invaded by the golden arch!)
1.5—the number of miles some village people walk (one way) to charge their cell phones…and then they have to wait for it to get charged!
1.43—the exchange rate of Ghana cedis to the US dollar
2—the number of poisonous snakes killed since I’ve been here
$2.30—the cost of most canned vegetables (I won’t complain about the fact that it’s much cheaper to buy fresh produce than canned!) J
6:30—time that it gets dark each night
$10—the cost of a small head of broccoli and cauliflower
20—the numbers of minutes it takes to attach a picture to an e-mail
$22—the cost of a large jar of peanut butter
40—the number of days I’ve been here, thus also the number of malaria pills I’ve taken
68—the number of eggs I’ve eaten since I’ve been here
$70—the cost of the game Uno Attack
86—the average daytime temperature right now
90—the number of minutes it takes to get into Accra (even though it’s only like 15 miles away!)
$100—the cost of a black ink cartridge for my computer
$105—the cost of the game Taboo

Don’t worry…I haven’t had to buy any of these outrageously priced items yet!

Please continue to pray for clear communication between the teachers and myself, because although I feel like I’ve seen some improvement in certain teachers, there’s lots of room for improvement! It can be frustrating to explain something and see someone do the complete opposite thing 10 seconds later when it seems like they understood. It leaves me baffled at times. J

Also, just today there was a situation that came up with a couple of the older girls that I’d like to ask prayer for. For whatever reason, the older girls here (ages16-18) haven’t been very welcoming to me. I believe they’re upset with me for not catering to their needs and treating them differently than the other kids. However, I feel like I’ve still been very kind to them and trying to treat them fairly. Today a couple of the girls walked by and directed some rude comments toward me and then when I confronted them, one of them wouldn’t respond at all and the other admitted that although there was no problem between us and I never did anything wrong, she would not be able to say hello to me when I greeted her. So we’re currently dealing with the situation and it will involve some pretty major decisions, so I humbly ask for your prayers that God would give us wisdom and we would act out of love and that the kids would see that we’re making decisions in the best interest of them.

Thanks again for your loving support, prayers, and e-mails. If I haven’t responded to your e-mail, it’s because my computer has been very temperamental lately and I’m lucky to even be able to check my e-mails some days. I still love hearing from you!

Blessings on your week!


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Accra Adventures

Wow…what a day! I took the day off from school today to go into Accra to help buy tennis shoes for the kids, get started on renewing my visa, and get some groceries…or so was the plan! J Needless to say, things didn’t go exactly as planned. We hoped to leave by 9 a.m., which then get pushed back to 10, because we had an inspection this morning. Well, since the inspection crew arrived late, I believe we were on the road by about 10 after 12! I could’ve been at school after all. However, it was really nice to have a relaxing morning and to take some time to get ready for tomorrow’s inservice.

Well, we braved many a stores to buy shoes for the kids, which was once again an adventure! We’re getting better, though. We bought 30 of the 48 kids shoes, so we’re getting there. After awhile, style and color preferences tend to fade; if it fits, it looks great! :) Because of our late start and the shoe adventure, we didn’t have time to make it to the immigration office, so it looks like I’ll be doing that next week sometime. We started to head for the mall to get some dinner and groceries, but because of a wrong turn, ended up stuck in traffic for quite awhile! Once we finally got moving, we were pulled off to the side by three policemen who claimed we ran a red light. (Note: If you are not fond of sarcasm, read no further!) Hmm…who would’ve known there was a red light??? The cars in front of us, behind us, and beside us all were charging through the same “red light”. Considering most of the traffic lights here don’t even work (literally…most aren’t lit at all), I have a hard time believing that we really did, or even if we did, it was impossible to see it because of the crazy rush of the traffic and people. However, they said we did, so I guess there was no arguing.

Here’s where our adventure really begins…the policeman hops in the back seat of our truck, claiming he’ll need to “arrest” us and take us to his office so he can fill out the paperwork for Papa Jim to go to court tomorrow. So, he directs us through the crazy traffic, and I kept thinking that if he really claimed to try to protect the people, then perhaps something should be done about the fact that no one follows any sort of traffic lane rules, there’s pedestrians running out in front of cars, and a bike that swerved right in front of us. He talks around and around in circles—making it quite obvious what he was after. Then, after leading us off the main road onto some other side roads, he tells us that he’s stopped taking us to the office…I’m still wondering if this “office” even exists! So, instead we go out to the main road again (which we just came from about ½ hour earlier!) and meet up with another policeman who repeats what he heard happened and says he’ll need to fill out the paperwork to go to court tomorrow. So, we agree and wait patiently—knowing the whole time that all they really wanted was a bribe! About 45 minutes after we were “arrested” (ha!) and 5 policemen later, I think they finally realized that we weren’t going to bribe them, and they let us go with a stern, “Next time you see a red light, you better stop!” So much for policemen doing their job!