Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Ok, so it takes me a little longer to get anything done...

Hello All,

Sorry for the delay, it is only mildly inexcusable that I have taken two whole months to send some sort of update, especially to those who are probably a bit more interested, if not concerned, or just plain worrying about my wellbeing. I would like to say it was the power outages (nearly daily for less than an hour where I am now, but on a 3 day am-pm and then pm-am rotation), internet outages, mild (read: massive) frustration with various online tools I was trying to originally do this with (googlepages is horrible), or my wanting to spend what precious time I had of all these things working getting the initially useless computer lab back up and running so the PTA here likes me. Finally, however I can send this out, because the lab is completely up and running as of earlier today, and I have had ample time to write as I have finally succumbed to a normal and mild traveler's stomach plight.

Ghana is... Ghana is gorgeous. The weather is humid less than the oppressive Boston summers, and a might cooler. The Sun is only abusive for the first two or three sunburns, but after that it is enjoyable, though many Ghanaians tell me otherwise. The colors are different, though that may simply be the Mefloquine I am taking (causes hallucinations, says so on the packaging). The dirt is reddish-brown, and the sky has more vibrant blues than anything I've seen before, probably due to less pollution, again the Mefloquine, and possibly just the surrounding colors being equally vibrant and bright.

The food is a different color and flavor altogether. Oranges are yellow or green, Yams are white, Pineapples are red, there is this strange Sucre ingredient (apparently made from Canes or something) where my classic ingredient High Fructose Corn Syrup is supposed to be, and the tomotatoes... Well the tomatoes have flavor, flavor unlike anything I ever tasted before, you simple could not describe them as "watery," they are very robust.

Pretty standard fair as far as food goes, peanut soup, various stews (usually tomato based) with okra among other things not commonly found in American 'Cuisine' (Apologies Helen, Tanya, Frank, Harvey etc, I would never lump your cooking in with common American Cuisine), pounded corn made into dough like balls for tearing small bits off and dipping them into your stew, Chinese food, and lots of spaghetti or rice. And of course, plantains, lots and lots of plantains.

I had to spend a month in Accra in a rather boxy cement house, nothing too special for the community it was in, for the first computer shipment to be cleared out of customs.

Often the power was out for 12 hours at a time, alternating daylight and night hours every 3 days. Some of these days I "aerated" the pool (You know, to keep mosquitoes from breeding in it!), others I read (Yes Harvey, Ron, Helen, I am reading again, and quite a bit, and almost some of it isn't trash).

I love Ghana, but I am sorry to say I absolutely hate the port city Tema. After multiple days of 6-14 hour waits dealing with an overzealous Fantis spinster, while nothing happened with Yaw ("Yow" the computer teacher) and briefly Toon ("Tone" the Belgian volunteer from ICYE), we finally got our first of 3 shipments out.

I was happy to find almost all the computers were Pentium IIIs with at least 450mhz on them and a decent amount of ram. I had been warned they may be Pentium Is, possibly worse. We loaded up our van, and took the equipment first to the house in Accra, and then the 4-5 hour drive inland to Kumasi and the school.

On my first arrival there with the van full of computer equipment, it was an experience like no other. The small children swarmed me all wanting to shake my hand, hold it, guide me to the building I was to live in, or wherever I wanted to go, or they wished to take me. It was something I simply cannot put into words.

Shortly after arriving Toon, Yaw and I got to work on sorting out the hardware, good from bad, testing, configuring, planning (all half-assedly as I could muster, in hind sight), etc. Strangely enough I kept losing my blank CDs. At first I thought I misplaced a few, but a few days later my entire spindle (30+) had decided to go for a walk. I had realized the CDs were being stolen, but no one entered the computer room without Toon or Yaw or I in it supervising... There's no way someone could have stolen thirty plus CDs out from under us... I am not nearly the criminal investigative genius I thought I was. One of the students told me one day when I was complaining where my CDs got lost to that children were taking them. He then proceeded to tell me how.

The children brought books into the computer lab and would sneak empty CDs in between the pages while we weren't looking. They would then LEAVE the books in the classroom when they had to go to class next. Later after school or near the end of school they would come back to the computer lab and ask Toon or I if they could get their books... If there is anything in my life more humbling than one student feeling sorry for me enough to tell me how horribly I had been tricked I hope to avoid it. These children were less than 10 years old, and I was thoroughly impressed, amused, and bloody annoyed.

Now that the lab is setup, we almost have our hands on a backup generator, and the internet is working and the systems are nearly secured from user error (kids will be kids...), I have begun work on rewriting the antiquated computer text book (MS-DOS is the primary focus of the book, you remember DOS, right?) for the school (partly to start putting together a curriculum for the class I will be offering the faculty in a few weeks or months), and possibly other schools.

I am truly enjoying the work I do here and the freedom that comes from the project, it's ever-evolving goals, and what I am experiencing of Ghanaian life in general. Each day I wake up feeling that the work I am doing is worthwhile, have delicious meals, find time to read (sometimes forcibly by candlelight), research new ways to solve computer problems, or just hang out with some of the older boarding students whom have befriended me and been an almost endless supply of laughter and hijinx in the evenings or on weekends.

I've made some friends and they make me get away from the computer on weekends and go out and enjoy the 85 cent (delicious) lager pints, or go to various towns nearby to meet other volunteers, see funerals (which are actually somewhat enjoyable), and other sights and sounds of this great, and truly free, country.

It is somewhat late and my ability to write (already hampered by our very great American Education system) is slowing being worn down by this pesky call from my pillow. Goodnight.


Evan Taylor