Published: July 26th 2009July 26th 2009
Alright, I know it’s been a long time since I posted on the blog, but I’ve been busy shaking hands with the President so you’ll have to excuse me. I guess I’ll start with my experience with the President since it is definitely the most exciting thing that’s happened to me in the past few weeks, although seeing Harry Potter in a REAL theater was a close second, but I’ll get to that later. As many of you know, President Obama made his first visit to Ghana and Sub-Saharan Africa after going to Russia and the G8 summit in Italy. His visit to Ghana was less than 24 hours and he made no public address. A couple years ago when President Bush came to Ghana he had dinner at the U.S. Ambassador’s house and 10 PCVs were invited to have dinner with him. Leading up to Obama’s visit, there were no scheduled events where PCVs would even get the chance to see the President so needless to say, many of us were disappointed. Then, only a couple days before his visit, we were told that all PCVs were invited to attend the President’s departure event. Obama left Ghana on a Saturday night, and as luck would have it, I needed to be in Accra for mid-service medical the very next day so I figured I might as well go down a day early and see the President. That Saturday was an extremely long day. It started with me getting up at 3am so I could catch the first bus to Accra and make it to the U.S. Embassy on time. When I got to Accra, the main road right next to our headquarters was closed and it took forever to get to where I needed to be. After I met up with several other PCVs, we headed to the U.S. Embassy to get tickets for the event and to get bused to the airport. We arrived at the airport 4 hours before Obama was scheduled to talk, but luckily the Peace Corps has taught me endless amounts of patience so the wait wasn’t too bad. One of the coolest aspects of the experience was seeing the Secret Service and Air Force One in action. All I have to say is that the Secret Service don’t mess around. There was even one Secret Service Agent that looked like he could give Chuck Norris a run for his money, and I have video evidence to backup my claim. As for Air Force One, damn that’s one shinny plane. That enormous 747 with the United States of America painted along the side is an impressive sight. There weren’t many spectators at the airport when we got there so we got prime positions next to the railing. The Peace Corps had a reserved section right up front, and I was totally surprised how close we actually were to the podium. I’d estimate that from where I was standing, I was less than 25 feet from the podium. Apparently, being a PCV does have its perks.
Finally, Obama arrived via helicopter from Cape Coast. President Obama along with Ghana’s President Mills took their places at their respective podiums and each gave a short speech. During Obama’s speech he directly addressed the Peace Corps Volunteers in Ghana and the 150 or so PCVs in attendance went crazy. After the speeches, Obama subsequently went around and shook hands with everyone along the railing. Thanks to our early arrival, I was lucky enough to be close enough to the railing to shake hands with the President of the United States of America. Shortly after that, the First Lady, Michelle Obama, went around and I also got to shake her hand. The best part is that I have the whole thing on video. You can even watch Obama’s speech online, and the Peace Corps website had an article with a picture of me near the President. I’ll try to put links to the video and article in here, but you can search the video on cnn.com under goodbye Ghana. The whole event was very surreal. Who would have thought that I’d have to go all the way to Ghana to get to shake the President of the United States of America’s hand?
Here are just a few things about Obama’s visit to put things into perspective. Keep in mind that he was in Ghana for less than 24 hours. Everything from the motorcade to the 4 helicopters used in Ghana were flown in from America. This number isn’t confirmed, but I heard that 17 cargo planes full of equipment flew back to America the day after Obama left. Seventeen planes!!! I realize Obama is the President and arguably the most powerful person on earth, but damn. There were also security personnel on the ground in Ghana for weeks and months before the trip. Now think about the fact that we are in the worst recession since the Great Depression. I can’t even fathom how much the President’s visit to Ghana cost U.S. taxpayers. Don’t get me wrong, I love Ghana and I’m glad I got to shake the President’s hand, but I think that our hard earned tax dollars could be put to better use at the present time. Just something to think about.
After seeing the President, I spent an amazing week in Accra. After a year of service, PCVs have to go to Accra for mid-service medical to make sure we are taking care of ourselves and don’t have any health problems. The whole medical check-up consists of a routine dental cleaning, filling out a questionnaire, measuring weight, blood pressure, and pulse, a urine sample, and 3 stool samples. Among PCVs, mid-service medical can be summed up as going to Accra to poop in a cup. All together, it only took a couple hours to do everything, but getting 3 different stool sample takes a while, which is why I was in Accra more than just 1 day. The dentist office was very nice since it is in the nice part of Accra where most of the expatriates live. There was on peculiar thing about the dentist office though. In the waiting room there was a coffee, espresso, and hot chocolate machine for free drinks. Usually the dentist tells you not to drink too much coffee because it stains your teeth, but this dentist was handing it out for free. As for the 3 stools samples, all I have to say is that it wasn’t as difficult to poop into a cup as I thought it would be, although I was sweating it holding the little cup in my hand the first time. Thankfully my coordination was accurate and I didn’t miss or make the cup runith over.
I had a lot of free time in Accra in between stool samples and I took advantage of all the foreign cuisine (foreign to Ghana that is). Accra is great, because you can get almost any kind of food you could want. While I was there, I had a cheeseburger and fries, chili cheese dog, pizza, steak, falafel, smoothie, gelato, and Indian food. The icing on the cake was when I got to see the new Harry Potter movie the day it came out in a real movie theater. At the Accra Mall there is an movie theater with stadium seating, reclining seats, and movable arm rests that is nicer than most of the theaters I’ve been to in the States. The Accra Mall itself is nicer than most of the malls in America as well. You definitely pay for these conveniences though. In less than a week in Accra I spent more than one month’s living allowance, but it was worth every pesewa. When we went to Harry Potter, we bought tickets for the first showing, and when we were heading into the theater we were informed that the censorship board was screening the movie and the first showing was consequently cancelled. To make up for the mistake, the theater let us see another movie while we waited for the next showing. It worked out that we got to see 2 movies for the price of 1, which is 10 Ghana Cedis. With the exchange rate, that equates to just under $7 to see a movie, which isn’t expensive, right? Well on an American budget, $7 to see a movie is actually cheap, but as a PCV I make 6.60 Ghana Cedis per day. That equates to be about $4.59 per day. So for me to go to a movie at Accra Mall and get popcorn and a coke it cost me more than 2 days pay. Again, it was worth every pesewa (penny). The only problem is that I can only afford do that every once every few month. Since that was my first time seeing a movie in Ghana in a year, I think it was well deserved to splurge a little bit.
After Accra, I came back to school just in time to do a condom demonstration for the whole school. Actually, a couple students from the HIV/AIDS Awareness Club did the condom demonstration and I supervised. With a group of about 300 students and condoms and a wooden penis, I was surprised how well the demonstration went. Just like in America, high school students tend to laugh when you talk about sex, condoms, penises, or vaginas. The giggles were held to a minimum and most of the students took demonstration very seriously. Considering almost 70% of all people living with HIV come from Sub-Saharan Africa, and 80% of HIV cases are sexually transmitted, correct condom use is a key to fighting the epidemic.
This past week the students started taking their end of term exams. The form 1 students took my core math exam on Wednesday. Since there are 260 form 1 students it is going to take me a LONG time to mark all the exams. I’ve already spent several hours marking and I feel good to say that I’ve gotten through the objective section for all the exams. Unfortunately, I still have the theory section to get through, which will take me twice as long at least. The good news is that after I’m finished marking exams and recording final grades I will officially have my first year of teaching under my belt. There is light at the end of the tunnel. The students continue taking exams next week and I am scheduled to invigilate some of the exams so I’ll have some distractions from marking.
So here is a quick update on the rodent/lizard situation. The lizard in my gas burner was an easy problem had an easy solution. All I did was remove the cover over the pipe and left it off over night and in the morning it was gone. The mouse has not been as easy to deal with. As I said, I had scared the rodent out of my veranda, but a few nights later I caught the scavenger back in my veranda. Once again I tried to corner the mouse but he evaded me and scurried out through a small hole in my mosquito netting. At that point I decided this charade needed to end with a spring loaded execution. The next time I went to market I picked up a mouse trap and set and loaded it with groundnut paste and a chunk of banana. For whatever reason, the mouse seems to have stopped coming into my veranda since I set the trap. There haven’t been anymore mouse droppings, so although the mouse is still alive the mere presence of the mouse traps appears to be repelling the mouse.
There is one more note to add before I sign off. This week the new group of PCVs is on site visit and I got to meet a few of my new neighbors. I mentioned earlier that the Ashanti Region (where I live) is getting 8 new teachers so I’ll have a lot of people to hang out with next year. All my new neighbors that I’ve met seem really cool and I look forward to getting to know them all better. Sorry this is so long, but I like to ramble. Adios amigos.