Thursday, January 28, 2010

December Holiday to Ghana and "current" events

Drafted on 28 January, but updated 28 February while "watching" the USA Canada Gold Medal Hockey game on It is overtime as I type... Great goal Zach!

Of the past six weeks, we've been without power for almost two weeks. My roommate went down and had the Liberians measure out the latest fuel shipment and did we find a bombshell - we were being shorted between 200-300 gallons of fuel ... every two weeks ... for over two years. Upwards of 24,000 USD of corruption! No wonder we've been running out of fuel at the end of every shipment period. People insisted the storage container here could hold 1000 gallons even though I could prove it could hold 650-700 gallons maximum with math. Goes to show you math geeks get no respect over here.

The power outage was so ironic as one of the teacher trainers on campus had finished an in-service on laptops, external hard drives, LCD projectors, mp3 players, cameras and video cameras - all donated by USAID. He (along with my help) will be "capacity building" with the remaining teacher trainers on campus so they can use technology to enhance and suppliment their lessons. Too bad there was no current to charge or run these things for TEN DAYS! Lots of reading and cards by candle, excellent stargazing in the wee hours of the morning when the moon has set and lots of silence.

Sad to see the Queens did so well this year and to fall on their faces in the NFC Championship game. No team has ever out-gained their opponent by that much yardage and lost - by well over 200 yards. At least they won't have a chance to go 0-5 in Super Bowls. Could not believe how many late hits Brett Favre took. But did get to see the first half of the Super Bowl when I was up in Voinjama until the power went out at the beginning of the second half. Did get the update. Either NO played well in the 4th quarter or the Colts stunk it up. Yet another year of dreaming of the Vikings as Super Bowl Champions.

The Ghana Trip Highlights:
Eating sausage on a stick, crepes, meat pies from street vendors. Ghanan taxi drivers trying to rip you off. Seeing actual petrol stations and not buying fuel in a glass container. Body surfing in ocean, touring Cape Coast slave castle, battling giardia the entire trip, traveling on roads where you are able to go faster than 20mph, sunbleaching my hair, meeting other PCVs, speaking French again & having a 10-15 minute conversation with a gal au francais - and she understood me to my total amazement, making sand castles, eating an entire pizza on our last day in Ghana and, of course, more meat on a stick.

Go Team USA! Beat those Canucks!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Extension School Graduation (finally updating it after a month or so)

Alright, the entire delightful affair was set to start at 2pm. We showed up at 2:15 and were still over 30 minutes early. Still haven't figured out what the correct delay is to be "on time". As an honored guest (being Peace Corps Volunteers) we had to give a speech. I proudly stepped up to the plate.

The keynote speaker was a hoot! He spent about 75% of the time turning back and speaking to the director and academic dean of the institute and the remainder speaking to the graduates and Peace Corps Vols. His theme came from the book "The World is Flat", saying we have the ability to move $100,000 from Switzerland to Stockholm by Internet or phone, to purchase a home in California over the phone in Liberia. The playing field is leveled due to instant communication. Yeah, and so many people here in Liberia are wealthy enough to do those things? We still haven't a national power grid - everything is by generators! Anyways, next he looked at we two Peace Corps Volunteers and said, "Peace Corps is Jesus Christ! You go and live with the poor and work with them, just like Jesus did!" I'm sure you can all imagine how red already my sun-scorched face turned. Or create an unbalanced ego.

Then came the rally for funds for a generator and football uniforms. Imagine the coupling of riot and a monster truck rally. Pitting the men vs the women to see who could raise more money. I went to my happy place in my mind and showed my friend, the VP of the Demonstration School, my speech. He loved it.

What would a graduation be without a music selection? The vocal group slowly moved to the front, singing in the isles, and sang ... and sang ... and sang. The Energizer Bunny has nothing on these guys. After almost 10 minutes, people got up and gave them money to stop singing, which was their strategy in the first place. The battle of attrition finally over.

If you have a music selection, you must also have some sort of a drama! An excessively long skit about HIV and getting a haircut. Over here they use razor blades - the kind you'd see in a safety knife. How does the skit relate to the graduation? Well, you'll just have to figure that one out on your own. The moral was not to reuse the blades but to throw them away and use a new one. By throw away that means throw them on the ground. (Why not bleach them and use em again? And not throw them on the ground?) Yeah...

Now to the speeches from the honored guests. There were 15 honored guests. As some of you know as in Namibia, it is important to recognize everyone in the audience, even those not in attendance. The ceremony and speakers supposed to focus on the graduates. Not exactly... The trainer rep used it as a soapbox to criticize the Ministry of Education, the director used it as a chance to talk about the challenges of ZRTTI, the DEO as an opportunity to talk about school issues. All of this while the DJ played incredibly loud music - the speakers were in the front row, not being able to get the mic to work and trying to fix them as people were giving speeches and going so far as to verbally test the system while the guest speaker was up on the stage!

My inspiring speech ... at 5:40pm. The only one to focus entirely on the graduates and weaved inspirational phrases from Toto, Journey, The Princess Bride, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog and The Life and Times of Tim to form a beautiful tapestry of prose. It took only three minutes. By far the most pithy.

Yes, we ducked out just before 6pm. Almost right after my speech. Earlier in the month I missed because the trainers and administration had a four and a half hour meeting. There were only seven items on the agenda. It ended at 7:40pm. Dinner ended at 6:00pm.

The graduates respectfully sat through four hours of absurdity to finally get their recognition, but not their diplomas. They were to be handed out at a later date.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Blackout, Thanksgiving, Extension School Graduation and Christmas Break

The year is winding down over here and thoughts are turning from creating Christmas decorations to packing for a trip to Ghana with some friends. Been putting in some good runs here. I don't even need to include a specific hill workout day - my runs include from 6 to 18 hills. It really stinks because the rainy season has long past. We went from raining torrents multiple times a day to no rain for the past week. Dust, dust everywhere. Feels almost as dry as it did in Namibia. Don't need to use sunscreen when walking to town or running - you naturally have a thin layer of dirt on your skin. White is not a good clothing color at this time.

Speaking of clothing, it is getting downright cold here. The last winter did nothing for making me used to the cold. I'm sleeping with a fleece on and still a little chilled. The lows are in the frost friendly 60's. Apparently they will get much lower come January and February.

There was a bit of a scandal for a few weeks when we ran out of petrol for the generators. When you only get electricity a few hours a day, you do realize how precious those couple hours are. We ended up going without current for three out of four days and scattered outages and rumors of missing petrol, theft or dishonest pumps. The highlight of it for me was that I got to use some of my mad math skills for calculating the volume of fuel in a horizontal cylinder if you know the height of the fuel. No, it isn't as easy as you think (volume does not = pi * radius squared * height in this situation). Then converting it from cubic inches or cubic feet into gallons. Then printing off a spreadsheet for the workers to do the calculations.

Have taken to getting water for myself instead of hiring people to do it for me. Consequently am getting better at balancing things on my head. I can balance my Nalgene bottle for most of the walk up and down the hill to work. I can walk with a filled 5 gallon water container mostly balanced on my head. Talked my roommate into doing that as well. I'm not good enough yet to balance it without using my hands, but have improved enough to where I only need one hand.

On schedule to meet the book a week goal. Put down 18 books in 16 weeks, including the four Ender's Game books. Highly recommend Orson Scott Card to anyone.

For Thanksgiving the US Embassy invited all the PCVs to Monrovia for a dinner. Unfortunately we had to find our own transport, lodging and to claim the vacation days. I'm burning almost all my days for Ghana so I passed on it. Besides, it is a full day of travel on a dusty, pothole filled road. Anyways, the remaining PCVs here got together in the town and went around and did our own gorging on our favorite Liberian foods: fat cakes, sour milk (yogurt), fried plantains and picked up some supplies for the campfires in the evening. The remaining roommate and I made a bonfire, boiled some hot chocolate and cut up the pumpkin and threw it into the coals (wrapped in tinfoil + adding some sugar and cinnamon) and singing Christmas carols.

One of my sitemates needs to get on the computer to do some Skype, so I need to cut this off. Will update this tomorrow morning with the extension school graduation. It is a story in and of itself.

Take care ya'll!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

some pics - will update it later

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Fish Farms, Agriculture and the Latest Part of Life

Since reaching my site, my actual position (assistant to the principal of the demonstration school) has been largely theoretical. I’ve been told it exists but have seen no direct evidence. I buried myself in getting the library organized and running, amounting to a week of grouping and cleaning around 2,000 moldy books. The next two weeks were a philosophical quandary of what I’m actually doing here. I joined my roommate with some of his projects and brainstorm ideas to bringing positive changes to the campus. Hunger and poverty are major problems up here thanks to the 20 years of war. From what people have shared with us, this was a major strategic battleground during the civil war. You can still find bullet casings on campus, even after a year of cleaning. Fortunately the school did appoint a new principal and we've been working together on a lot of projects to get the school on a positive track. I'll talk more on that in the next posting.

The past few days you could say that West Africa Won Again (WAWA) many, many times so I’ve been dragging myself through the bottom of the rollercoaster. To get out of the funk, I decided to start making the place a little more homey, putting up pictures, cleaning all the mud and junk off the bathroom walls, clearing off the table (was a dump) and started coloring the windows with the crayons I brought along. Nothing like a little color to brighten up the day. My roommate and I also finished plans for a palava hut (sorta like a tiki bar) next to the fire pit.

People like to ask me why I run, so I enjoy giving playful answers such as: I’m being chased by lions, We’re out of palm wine, A group of crazed women are trying to marry me.

Ahhh, the fish pond. Gotta talk about the fish pond. Before the civil war this institution farmed fish to eat and sell at the market in addition to all the produce they grew. Big money. No fish farm and no produce. In comes the primary and secondary projects. Two weeks ago my roommate and I went down to the pond to start digging out the bog. Just he and me to start with for about the first 30 minutes with people stopping by to watch the volunteers work ... not to help. Two people were inspired by our efforts (or took pity on us) and joined. Gradually it became four and by the end of the four hours we were up to eight helpers. We threw a bash for them later that evening to show our appreciation for their hard work. Last weekend we had 15 help and this upcoming weekend we will have a whopping 25 helpers! What looked to take about a month to get done may be done within the next week. That plus some great runs this week have pushed the rollercoaster car from the bottom to the way up to the top of the next hill.

Another side project we’re working on is to start a Loma language book (for personal use, not Peace Corps) so with the help of my Namibian APCD Waldo, I procured an electronic copy of my Khoekhoegowab language training manual to use as a template for the Loma. Our friend Flomo just finished it today. Before the war he was working on putting together a Loma dictionary and is translating the Old Testament into Loma (they already have it translated for the New Testament). I’ve got a font editing program and am going to make up a Loma font so I can type it all up. What I want to do and I wish I would have done in Namibia for KKG, is to record conversations and make a podcast type of program or even use the webcam on my laptop and do a video language program. Lots of people here want to contribute to its genesis. It would be fun to go back to Namibia and do something like that for volunteers so they can have it for their iPods. It is fun to watch the reaction of people when you greet them in the local language and see the genuine joy on their faces. Reminds me a lot of KKG in Namibia

Oh, since getting drenched in a downpour a few weeks ago, my cell phone won’t let me dial across the pond to anyone in the States. It just gives this business about how the network is busy. Probably need to get a new phone or to use my roommate's and buy him some credit.

That’s about all the time I have right now. I’ll do an update this weekend. Take care, ya’ll!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Current Pics Part 1 - will post comments later ... no time now

Pic 1 - Placing the last of the major books on the shelf. One week for over 2000 books.

Pic 2 - Teaching kids how to throw Frisbee at a friend's site.

Pic 3 - Quite possibly the first game of Frisbee bowling

Pic 4 - Spending time on Golden Beach in Monrovia with friends.

Pic 5 - Trouble on "the" mud hill

Pic 6 - Look how deeply the trucks are stuck!!

Pic 7 - Major lightning strike near our place. Thunder every night, but dry season starts sometime this month.

Pic 8 - Working with Concern Worldwide in bringing back (agriculture, fish ponds) poultry to campus. Yeah, it needs a little work...the jungle is winning

Pic 9 - really cool clouds

Pic 10 - what our flat looks like in the evening