A quick update on the school opening!

I am feeling quite tired and not the best today. I had a two hour nap this afternoon hoping to feel a bit better, and although it did help, I am just feeling a bit under the weather, but before I head to bed I wanted to write a quick post. Yesterday was the school’s grand opening. We dedicated the school, honoured God and those who have supported and served in raising up the school. It was a wonderful ceremony! I got to meet all of our students, and they are incredibly shy! But awesome at dancing 🙂 It must be an African tradition to dance at celebrations, and yesterday was no exception. The kids are awesome at it! I hope they can teach me a thing or two 🙂 

Today we had off, as tomorrow is our first day of full day teaching. So I slept in – as I couldn’t sleep again until 2:30 a.m. – and then went to town to go to the post office and do other errands. Then took a nap this afternoon to try to shake off my yucky-ness, and then have been doing some random things to get ready for tomorrow. I am excited to meet all of them again, and get to know them and feel what it will be like to teach in the classroom!
I will try to write more in detail tomorrow night about our first day. Love you all and miss you!!
Angie

The Place You Are In Needs You Today

This morning I woke up extremely tired. It was a different tired than the exhaustion that I had been feeling – my body was finally telling me that yes, we do need sleep! I don’t care when go to bed anymore, as long as we do, I’ll be happy! I think jet lag may finally be wearing off!

After breakfast, Lesley and I headed to the school to go through all of our supplies, sort through things, and start to set up somewhat for tomorrow. It was exciting seeing things actually happening, of toys being rolled out of bags and new pencils and crayons and paper pads for the kids to draw on. One of the kids of the workers tagged alongside us, and played with a lot of the toys we had. It was amazing to see his wonder at the simple toys that we take for granted – yoyos and noise makers for example. I’m sure he’s never laid eyes on toys like that before, and his pure joy that shone was amazing to see.

As we were going through the curriculum, it was beginning to hit us how much we would have to adjust how and what we teach – so many of our North American traditions and books can’t be used in the same way. For example, one worksheet was about Dads, and said simply how some of the reasons they love their dads is because they buy them new shoes and take them out for ice cream. Well here there are kids who don’t even own shoes, nor ever have the luxury of having ice cream. It’s these little realizations that really make you think about your own culture and the things we so easily take for granted back at home. I’ve really wrestled with that a lot – because if I’m being completely honest, I love the fact that I always having running hot water and that I have more than one pair of shoes and that my shelves at home are filled with books I so love. And with that realization comes a feeling of guilt, because shouldn’t I live my life so freely without attachments to things like that? It’s interesting, being here, I feel as if my mind doesn’t stop thinking and wrestling with my ideas of self, of culture, of what makes me me. I think that that is why culture shock is such a struggle, because it strips away things that make up our self. And that is terrifying!

While we were at the school, we had a lovely surprise – two women stopped by the school from a neighbouring town, and one of them was from Switzerland! She was probably around my age, and she is going to be here until December. She’s staying at a local’s house (the woman who was with her) and volunteering at a hospital. We exchanged numbers and she is hoping to come by and pick Lesley and I up to come to their house for a visit. It’s so nice to meet other visitors who are in the same boat as me!

After lunch, we headed to the Asamankese market again to buy a few things we were looking for at the school. I bought a few things to send home for birthdays coming up, but completely forgot to stop by the post office for stamps! Lesley and I also chose fabrics for our traditional African dresses that we had measurements for last night! I’m so excited to see how they will turn out. Today we walked to the market instead of taking a taxi like before, and all the way there we heard, ‘Obruni! Obruni!’ and kids would run from their homes to point and wave to us. I had one guy laugh at me and tell me I looked funny, which was a very interesting experience! I was walking with Belinda’s cousin, a little girl of probably about five, who held my hand wherever we went. One lady asked me if she was my daughter (although i didn’t know what she was asking me until Belinda translated) and then burst out laughing as if it was the funniest thing she’d ever seen. I guess it makes sense, they most likely have never seen a black family adopting a white child, whereas back home the idea of interracial adoptions is completely normal.

The late afternoon consisted of a nap, followed by supper and a broken up phone call from Mom. Technology is so frustrating when you are a world away from home!

Oh and exciting news – today at lunch we had a traditional Ghanian lunch (Belinda has been making us more normal foods for our sensitive Canadian stomachs!) of a plaintain in sort of a dough-y mixture, and then spicy tomato and beans. They were delicious!

Homesickness and culture shock are still a big struggle, but all I can do is take it one day at a time. For whatever reason, I am here today, and there is a quote on the wall from one of the past interns that says, “The place you are in needs you today.” It is so very true, no matter if I am here in Africa or at home. Today, for whatever reason I was here – be it to hold little Stephanie’s hand through the market, or to provide for the taxi driver the small fare he asked for, or to give the little boy at the school the opportunity to play with his first toys. My prayer tonight is for all of you to remember that – where you are needs you today. You are where you are for a purpose, always, even if it’s hard to see that.

Lots of love,

Angie

A weekend in Accra

So much has happened in the days since I last wrote! It’s hard to believe that I have already been here for five days, as silly as that sounds. Thursday night Mary left to head to Accra for the day Friday, and so Friday it was just me and Lesley. Belinda woke us up early (8 am!) and we ate breakfast, but shortly after headed back to bed to read (but that was really an excuse to nap!). Jet lag has been hitting me hard – it hasn’t for Lesley, who falls asleep as soon as her head hits the pillow. Every night I can’t seem to fall asleep until about 3 am (last night it was about 2) since that is around 11pm according to my body’s clock. Hopefully that changes soon as exhaustion plus homesickness plus culture shock has not treated me well!
Anyways, so Friday afternoon Lesley and I spent time reading, I drew for a long while, and just generally relaxing. We weren’t quite brave enough to venture out into the village on our own without Mary by our side quite yet. In the evening, just before supper, we went outside to take some pictures and I chatted with two of Auntie Jo’s hired staff (although I can only remember one’s name – Seth – names are so hard when you meet so many people all at once!). But before iit got dark, we headed back in as dusk brings mosquitoes. From what I understand, since we are so close to the equator, at this time of the year the sun drops so quickly. It is pretty much dark here around 6 pm, such a strange sight when it feels like a regular summer day in which the sun should stay hanging until around 10 pm!
Friday night we ended the restful day with a movie in bed.
We were up bright and early Saturday morning to be ready for our driver to arrive to take us into Accra. Belinda made us pancakes, a nice Canadian treat with a bit of a Ghanian spin as I piled on the fresh mangoes! In typical Ghanian fashion, our driver was about a half hour late, so we arrived in Accra at Mary’s parents’ house around 11:30 in the morning. We headed straight to the Accra mall. It was extremely similar to any North American mall, just with different stores in it (although there was an Apple store!). We walked around, visited the bookstore where Mary’s books are sold, had pizza for lunch, and then shopped a bit at a store called “Shoprite.” In this store you can find everything you’d typically find at a North American grocery or convenience store. I picked up a few things I hadn’t brought along with me, and got envelopes so I can mail some letters home! 🙂
After Shoprite, we drove across the city to the Accra market. On the way there we stopped at a store called “Global Mamas.” It is a none profit organization that began as a way to help women from Ghana sell their wares at a fair price. There was a lot of different, interesting clothing and It was very different than the market in Asamankese; there were more artisans here, selling clothes or jewellery or artwork rather than just household necessities or food. It was overwhelming how the vendors act – they are so pushy and really want you to buy their things! Mary said the trick is to “pretend you aren’t interested, but as any of you who know me know that I have a very difficult time being rude! Everytime an artist would show me his work, and I would remark how beautiful it was, he would say, “Okay, I put it aside for you!”
We walked the aisles filled with carvings and paintings and jewellery and clothing. Everything was beautiful. I tried to limit myself to only one painting and managed to do so! It is a beautiful painting of three women walking down a street, carrying baskets carefully balanced on their heads. I also bought a traditional Ghanian game, Owari. Mary’s still working on teaching me how to play so I can teach all of you at home when I’m back! And my final purchase was something I had wanted to buy since I found out I was coming: an African drum! Mary bargained down his price, so I got the “medium size” (the large I would have loved, but it was out of my price range) with a bag to carry it on my back. It is funny, because they immediately started putting the bag on the drum, and I of course assumed that it came with it. But they did it without asking so that I would feel obliged to buy it – thankfully, once again Mary was an awesome bargainer and we got a great deal on that one too!
As we left the market, I bought pure shea butter and Mary and Lesley purchased coconuts. I was brave and even though I am not a fan of shaved coconut, tried Mary’s – and although I wasn’t particularly fond of it, I was glad I tried it! Next we went to the Accra theatre – who knew they had a cinema here in Ghana? We saw Think Like a Man, a chick flick naturally – but it was fun. The commercials beforehand were the best: they weren’t previews for upcoming movies like we’re used to, but they were just regular commercials and very, very cheesy.
We bargained for a cab ride back to our hotel. It was a hotel just a little ways away from Mary’s parents’ house. It was beautiful on the outside, hidden behind a barbed-wire topped wall, but on the inside it smelled of mould. Nothing we would be used to in Canada. But I couldn’t help but look at the bed, despite the funny smell, and be so thankful that I had a bed to sleep in and hot water to shower with (a rarity). Being here and seeing the poverty that many Ghanians live in has really opened my eyes to the amount of excess I have. At supper last night, Mary mentioned how the groundskeeper and his wife make 70 cedis a month (worth $35 CDN). That was what I spent on my drum alone at the Market. And as we drove back to the hotel that night, a woman was bold enough to come up to our stopped car in the darkness and ask us for some money for her and her child. The sadness and despair on her face was so evident that my heart broke. Even here in a country with far less money than our own, I have so, so many reasons to call myself blessed.
Anyways, this morning we had the opportunity to experience Ghanian church! It is incredibly different than any church back home, with an open building made up of pillars and a roof overtop. There is dancing and cheering and singing at the top of your lungs, and everyone comes dressed in their bright Sunday best. The women were dressed so beautifully in bright colours! In the Pentecostal churches here, men sit on one side, and the women on another – although when we asked, Mary wasn’t sure why that is. Unfortunately, most of the service was spoken in Twi or Ewe, two of the local languages here. Mary translated a bit, and from what she shared with me I knew it was an special message for me. Since I have been here it has been an incredibly hard adjustment, and I’ve struggled most days with tears and fears and anxiety. I’ve especially doubted God’s calling me here, and although I don’t want to leave, my desire for home and safety is so great. Last night was a particularly difficult night, but the message this morning was specifically on God’s calling for each of His children and how from the moment He knows them He is preparing them for what He has called them to do. The pastor spoke of the disciples and how God commanded them to leave all that they had for Him, and the pastor prayed that each one of us would be revived to God’s calling in our lives. I felt that his words were speaking – even through a translation – directly into my heart.
I’ve doubted a lot these past few days, and yesterday my prayer was that God would allow me to look back and see the ways in which He has spoken to me and been faithful in the callings He has placed on me. And I did remember, in so many ways, that everywhere He has called me to I have walked in blindly, not believing that I can do it on my own. And I can’t – but through His strength I have. I know that for whatever reason, God has called me to this place. On my own I cannot do it, but through Him, I have faith that I can.
Esther 4:14b: “And who knows if you have come to the Kingdom for such a time as this?”

I’ve Arrived!

Hi everyone!

So I have arrived in Ghana safe and sound! Everything went smoothly with our flights, the only upset being our flight from JFK to Accra was stuck on the tarmac for a couple hours as we were waiting on some luggage. So that meant we arrived later than expected, unfortunately. Fun fact I noticed on the plane – did you have any idea that planes travel at over 900/kmh? I suppose that’s common sense, but it blew my mind to think about how fast we were going!

When we arrived at the airport, we were greeted by Mary’s cousin who works in the military. This meant that we were “VIP” – and consequently got to skip all of the lines at Customs! Woo! Through Customs they scanned our eyes and fingerprints, and then we were off to the long baggage claim line. Once we found our luggage, we went to find our driver, Evans, who was waiting for us outside. Mary’s cousins and his friends all carried and unloaded our luggage for us … it was a nice treat!

Our first drive through Accra was very different than driving back home! So much honking, driving all over the street, no seatbelts – it was quite fine through Accra, but then heading towards Asamankese which is much more rural there are huge potholes that are scattered along the road. There are vendors that sit by the side of the street, trying to sell you quite literally anything you could imagine. There are bright colours painted on buildings, and what was amusing is how nearly every name of a business or bumper sticker has been “Christian-ized” so to speak. So for example, a store might be called, “Holy Spirit Hair Dressing” or something of the sort.

For our first stop we rested at Mary’s parents house outside of Accra. We had something to drink, had some fresh mangoes, visited with her parents and then headed off to Asamankese. It was about an hour and a half or so until we arrived – lots of houses along the way, varying in their levels of poverty. There were compounds in Accra, but along the way to Asamankese most of the houses were what we might describe as shanties. People worked alongside the road – some doing carvings, others selling items.

Finally we arrived in Asamankese and visited the school first thing! We climbed out of the van and stood by the road for a little while, while Mary and Lesley were both overcome with emotion. It has been a long road for the school to become what it is now, and the idea of knowing that children will soon be walking through its doors is incredibly exciting. We explored the grounds, Mary and her Mom showing us the rooms, and describing to us what land was theirs as well and her dreams of what would come next for the school. Mary is a dreamer, and she always inspires me to dream big and then never stop pursuing them!

After visiting the school, we came back to what will be my home for the next 11 months. It is a guest house, and when you walk into the brightly coloured hallway, there is a bathroom and bedroom to your right, and a kitchen down at the far end of the hall. To our right you enter our area, with a sitting area and dining area, and then three bedrooms off of that. Lesley and I are sharing a room with a bathroom attached, and once the interns arrive (who will be teaching the Women’s literacy class) they will stay in the two other rooms. A woman named Belinda works for Auntie Jo (who owns the guest house) and cooks for us. She is a sweetie, and so is Auntie Jo – everyone is so welcoming!

We had our first official Ghanian meal, fried plantains, fried chicken, rice, vegetables (carrots, cucumbers, and green beans) and watermelon for dessert. After that we settled in and unpacked, Lesley phoned home and I opted to email everyone instead. I knew if I phoned home I would start to cry, and I was trying to avoid that!

Last night was, however, incredibly hard for me. I think it all began to sink in how far away I really am from home, and I shared with both Mary and Lesley how overwhelmed I feel (which they both assured me was completely normal!). I think I was plagued with doubt of whether or not I could survive a year here, and I was also faced with how everything is different here, from the food to the buildings to the nature to the language to the weather. And I felt incredibly disconnected, with a huge time change from home and no cell phone to instantly stay in touch (or internet constantly available). I know that I am meant to be here, and had felt incredibly at peace about my travels up until that point. So I don’t doubt for a moment that it was the Enemy attacking me, and the next morning Mary confirmed it when she told me how her mom had phoned and been worried and wondering about me, sensing the day before that I was overwhelmed. It was difficult to sleep last night, even though I was exhausted (and running on six hours of sleep in 48 hours) but I managed to, and Lesley and I both slept in until 12:30 p.m. local time.

We got up, had lunch that Belinda had prepared for us, and then we headed to the Market in Asamankese. New sights and sounds overwhelmed us as we walked through the busy streets. Vendors were cramped side by side, and literally everything you could think of was available. Everyone was so incredibly friendly! Not everyone speaks English, however, most speak Twi, and so it was hard to communicate. Mary or Belinda translated for me. Many of them called out, “Obruni!” meaning white person, and many asked how I was doing, told me how beautiful I was, and told me how welcome I was in Ghana. Little kids were the most fascinated with me and Lesley. One girl kept touching my skin and giggling, and while walking by one of the vendors I stopped to talk to an older woman who was holding a young toddler. I guess my white skin terrified him, since no matter how hard I tried, laughing, teasing, and talking to him all made him cry and crawl deeper into his grandmother’s arms!

After we picked up a few things including a kettle, some laundry soap, and toilet paper, we stopped by Mary’s aunt’s house. The building which she lives in used to be Mary’s grandfather’s house, and it was the first house she saw when travelling to Ghana for the first time from England when she was young. We visited with her aunts, and as soon as the kids saw an obruni coming, they shouted and yelled and all came running towards us! I think that was the most fun part for me so far, getting to play with the kids. They couldn’t really communicate – some spoke broken English, but mostly the older ones – so I laughed and let them all try on my sunglasses, took pictures of them and showed them my camera, and then asked them where the football (soccer ball) was so we could kick it around. One girl didn’t stop giving me hugs, and kept telling me how much she liked me. One boy picked up his young sister and shoved her towards me, wanting me to hold her. I did, but I think I scared her because she started to scrunch her face, about to cry! The kids were most fascinated with Lesley’s iPad, and we have one picture of them all crowded around me as I show them their pictures on the screen – if I can get it from Mary I will post it, because it is something else! We all agreed it would make the best Apple advertisement!

Afterwards we relaxed back at the house, and figured out cell phones and internet. I now have a phone, and you are more than welcome to text me if you have an international phone! I would love that! Send me an email or message me to get the number. I also have an address that you can mail anything to, and will give that to you as well. For tonight we are settling in, going to go through a few boxes of things for the school, and Mary has left for Accra for a few days. We will join her early Saturday morning for the weekend. The next couple of days Lesley and I will plan for the school, as the school opening will be Tuesday and we will have parents and students tour the school with us.

It still seems all a bit surreal to me that I am in Africa. It all seemed like another world away, only visible through pictures and movies, and here I am able to fly across the ocean and be here. Despite feeling unsettled and overwhelmed, I am incredibly blessed to be here and thankful for all of you back home. I already miss you incredibly and can’t wait to see you again, but I am thankful for the new faces and culture I get to experience here.

I will write again soon!

Lots of love from over here,

Angie

Preparations

Hi everyone!

Thanks for checking out my blog! For the next year or so you will find me writing here, instead of at my regular blog. I hope to write regularly and keep you all updated on my trip to Ghana!

So here are some of the details of my trip! I will officially be leaving at 4 p.m. on August 7. I will fly from Toronto to New York, a two hour flight, and then from New York to Accra (which is 11 hours long!). It’s funny to think that my first flight ever will be a long one, from one side of the world to another! I better bring lots to read 🙂

While I’m at His Majesty’s Christian School in Asamankese, I will be teaching Kindergarten, doing other administrative duties like assisting the other interns in their orientation, planning a retreat for staff, and helping out with the Christmas Pageant (for those of you who know me, you must know how excited this makes me!). I’ll also be assisting in learning and development days for the other staff.

For now I am busy gathering things I’ll need, filling out Visa applications, doing a lot of reading and visiting friends and family, and getting lots and lots of shots! So far I’ve had five and counting. But the clinic I’ve been going to has been great – I always leave having had great conversations with the doctors about my trip and everything else in between!

I’m thankful to have wonderful family and friends who have been unbelievably supportive and encouraging as I begin this journey. God has greatly blessed me through the community He has surrounded me with. I look forward to the adventure ahead! Please keep me in your prayers as I submit my Visa, travel to Toronto for a week to prepare, and that God would protect my heart as I leave friends and family for a long time.

Thank you all! I’ll write again soon.

Love,

Angie