Thursday, March 31, 2011

Africation Complete

There's not much in Ghana that phases me at this point. I know that may sound jaded or arrogant, but that's not how I mean it. It's more of a comfortable "I know to expect the unexpected" mindset that helps me feel more relaxed. I'm not going to be able to do things in Ghana the same way I do them back home, and nothing is going to go according to plan anyway, so why get all worked up? I gave up trying to stay annoyed at inconvenient light-offs, faulty school schedules and late trotro's a long time ago. Too much effort in this heat! Besides, I like my bucket showers and chasing geckoes away from my computer. I love the way of life here- quirks, faults and all. Someday I won't have frizzy hair daily and sand in my bed and constantly dirty feet and mosquitoes in my toilet, and call me crazy but I know I'll miss even those things. Like sitting in a traffic jam because a flock of sheep is in the road and wading through ankle-deep water every time it rains, they're just another part of living in Ghana.

The process of being Africated takes a different amount of time for each person, but the components are basically the same:
* calls all white people 'yevus' (check)
* has hissed at an entirely inappropriate moment (ooooh yes, check.
                  I thought that carriage driver in Egypt was going to toss me into the Nile.)
* fumbles if the other person doesn't snap at the end of a handshake (check)
* frequently uses the words 'small' and 'somehow' incorrectly (somehow check)
* has killed a bug with their bare hands without thinking (check...unfortunately)

But the more Africated I become, the more awkward it can be to be around newcomers because cultural gaps appear where you don't expect them. So I was a little nervous when I heard two newbies were coming. Jess and Lucy are 21 and 22-year-old nursing students from England, working for a month at Good Shepherd with me. I was even more skeptical when I saw their coordinator unloading their luggage- an enormous suitcase and a backpacking pack apiece. I thought, "Good Lord, they're gonna die in Aflao..."

Well, shame on me. There I go being judgemental again and having it come back to bite me:

After giving them the general run-down about Good Shepherd and the teachers, Lucy commented, "You've really found a home here, haven't you?"
That was probably the moment my attitude really began to shift.
I wanted to throw my arms around her and say, "You do get it! We're going to get along great!" You see, my only real difficulty with newcomers is when they can't get used to the idea that I've adjusted to Ghana enough not to particularly miss home or American culture. I never know what to say when I'm wrist deep in soup and fufu and someone says something like, "I miss forks." I mean, obviously it's not that convincing to agree when you have four fingers shoved in your mouth...

And it turns out that both bulging suitcases were full of donations they had campaigned and fundraised for weeks to collect. They brought toothbrushes, clothes, soccerballs, notebooks and pens... In 7 months I haven't seen anyone donate on that scale. It was one of those powerful moments that moved me to guiltily promise myself for at least the thousandth time, "I will never make snap judgments again." In the two days I have spent with Jess and Lucy so far, my attitude has done a complete 180. Fulfilling my Yevu Contract doesn't seem like a chore now.

The Yevu Contract, named by Julia and myself, is the unofficial yet sacred obligation that volunteers have to look out for one another. It means that you show newcomers where the best place to get mangoes is, introduce them to the inexpensive tailor and buy them their first bag of aji peli. It means that once you've gotten to know each other, regardless of if you get along well or not, you share sunscreen when someone runs out, divide up the chocolate in your package and bring them Coke and bread when they get sick. I am extremely fortunate in that I have stayed in Aflao long enough to become part of a second family and find genuine friends, however for most volunteers, we are the only support system they have in Africa. So basically if those suitcases had been full of cutesy dresses and hair straighteners instead of stuff for the kids, I still would have drawn a map of the town for Jess and Lucy (a fantastic tradition started by my Julia when we first met) and explained old vs new currency to them... I just wouldn't have enjoyed it as much. As it is, I have been having a grand old time playing tour guide and helping two more people fall in love with Ghana as completely as I have.

I was talking to Britta shortly before she left to spend her last two months in Mali. She told me, "Remember that candy you gave me? I left it on my table and some ants got to it." With a grin and pause she added, "...I shook them off and ate it anyway. I think I've been here too long!" I responded, "Yeah, when I go home I think the other volunteers are going to be shocked by some of my habits!" When Britta started laughing I realized, "Oh yeah...not all white people are volunteers...I think I've been here too long too."

Africation complete!

Walk Like An Egyptian

I know this post is ridiculously overdue, but I figured better late than never! It somehow ended up in my finished pile without ever getting posted. My brother and I had the chance to take a tour in Egypt from December 30 - January 11. We left shortly before the rioting started, which caused many groups to be cancelled. Andy and I were that much more grateful that we were able to take this trip when we did!

The Brandrews Sphinx

My first impression of Egypt was, "Wow, it's COLD!" Coming from weather in the 80's and 90's, Egypt's low 60's winter chill felt downright frigid. Of course I didn't realize QUITE how cold intolerant I'd become until I was happily snuggled under a fluffy comforter, commenting how nice it was that it was finally cold enough to sleep under a blanket, and Andy informed me that it was 70 degrees in our room. Oh....Uh-oh...

Overall my perception of Egypt was radically different from the other group members'. That was to be expected though; my standards coming from West Africa were just a little different than they might have been if I'd come straight from America. Andy mentioned in his blog post that while our group members were exclaiming over the poverty and dirtiness of Cairo and how crazy the drivers were, I was marvelling over the obvious affluence and tame traffic. They were excited over how cheap everything was, while paying more than $2 for a meal felt like highway robbery to me. I woke up in a 6 cedi-a-night hostel in Accra on a pillow that smelled like mildew and went to bed in a glitzy four-start hotel in Cairo. We ate in the hotel restaurant the first night and I don't think I've ever been so flustered. I felt like everyone was staring at the bold pattern on my skirt and my dirty Keens. They had a four-page menu that actually served everything it listed, with prices in the double digits if you converted them to dollars. I was so overwhelmed by that alone that I literally had to put it down and come back to it. I went around our hotel room that first night just touching everything. And the shower, oh the shower! I had my first hot shower in 16 weeks and it was fantastic. Ghana is so hot that I don't miss hot showers, but considering I couldn't feel my toes in Egypt, it was my new best friend.
Billboards. Fast food restaurants. Turn signals. A GRAND PIANO.
Dozens of things I hadn't seen in more than a dozen weeks.
I enjoyed the luxury even as I felt out of place in it.

The hardest part was thinking in terms of dollars again. I stopped converting Ghana cedis to dollars in my head a long time ago because I quickly figured out that if you do, you'll get ripped off. However in the upscale restaurants and boutiques that our tour group was so fond of taking us to (blech), it was practical to check the price in Egyptian pounds against the US dollar equivalent. Every time we bought something, I was working a double conversion in my head: Egyptian pounds divided by 5 for dollars times 1.4 for cedis. And let me tell you I was NOT liking the numbers I was getting, even while incessantly reminding myself that I had to think like an American again.

News Year's Eve day Andy and I tagged on to an optional trip to Alexandria with a small group who was finishing their tour. Although the sites were interesting, I almost enjoyed the 3 hour drive from Cairo to Alexandria more than anything. We were on our way by 6 a.m. and took the desert road. As we left the outskirts of Cairo, I caught my first glimpse of the pyramids, just black silhouettes against the soft pink-gray sky. Once in Alexandria, our stops included old Roman catacombs, a small museum, a Roman theater and a huge column in the ruins of an old temple called Pompey's Pillar- misnamed because of the myth that the politician's severed head was placed on top after his execution. My favorite stop was the Qaitbay Citadel. Of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, the Great Pyramid at Giza is the only one surviving. However the Citadel was built from the blocks of the Alexandria Lighthouse, fished out of the sea after the Lighthouse collapsed from an earthquake. So the castle-like structure is the closest you can come to visiting a second Ancient Wonder.

Qaitbay Citadel

We spent the first day of 2011 wandering around Cairo on our own since our tour didn't start until the 2nd. We chartered a taxi through our hotel and saw the outside of a handful of mosques and were given free reign to explore the small Coptic (Christian) District - with strict instructions to "stay away from those (roadside) shops. They no good. They push you, run into you...Madam. I take you to good shops." Hahaha, our taxi driver knew I was going to be trouble. All throughout our tour I tried to convince people that I live in Ghana, meaning I'm perfectly used to being hustled, pushed, hounded, propositioned and grabbed. But working with rich tourists day after day has conditioned these guys to coddle their customers as much as humanly possible because God forbid I should breathe the same air as the common Egyptian. So after exploring St. George's Cathedral, I bought a thick wool shawl on the sly from one of the road vendors, suspecting that the "good" shops our driver planned to take us to were more accurately "expensive" shops. And I was exactly right. A papyrus art gallery, a perfumery, a jeweller...gorgeous and definitely a waste of time. I would have to get a second mortgage on the house I don't have to buy anything from those places.

Ramses II Colossus
The first day of our tour took us to Memphis to see a relatively small alabaster statue of a sphinx and the Ramses II Colossus, once 12 meters high but now missing the last 3 meters of his legs, poor guy.
At Saqqara we saw a handful of small pyramids, most notably the Step Pyramid, before heading off to the big dogs: Giza.
In the middle of the bursting Cairo metropolis of 20 million, three colossal pyramids overshadow the crumbling apartment buildings and sleek business centers.

Great Pyramid
The Pyramids at Giza are...there aren't words. I'm simply awestruck by the things humans are capable of. The inside of the Great Pyramid was nothing like I'd imagined. Although certainly I realized that the grandly decorated maze of passageways full of booby traps and trick doors that Hollywood portrays was unrealistic, that's still what I had in my head. What I encountered was a steeply sloped tunnel 90 cm wide by 100 cm tall, packed with two lanes of people. An eternity of creeping uphill through the massive granite blocks at a crouch brought us into the burial chamber. A dimly lit room with nothing but a built-in sarcophagus the size of a small car. Nothing to impress the eye, but thrilling to the mind. I walked through a manmade mountain, built nearly 5,000 years ago by 20 million pairs of hands. Back in the fresh air, we were given nearly an hour to marvel before driving a short distance away to see the Sphinx. Not surprisingly, I found something incredibly moving about the sight of the Sphinx standing guard in front of the pyramids. He faces modern Cairo, almost as if he's warning it to stay away. How could I not be fascinated? All the sites we saw in Egypt were amazing testaments to human achievement, which draws a distinctly different reaction than a natural wonder.

We took the sleeper train to arrive in Aswan on the morning of the 3rd, where we toured the Unfinished Obelisk, the High Dam and a lotus-shaped monument built by the Russians in the '60's. We took a short motorboat ride to the island temple of Philae, a picturesque site of worship for Isis, the mother goddess. That afternoon we were introduced to the luxurious cruise ship M/S Norma, our home for the next three days. After lunch we went to Kitchener's Island to see the botanical gardens- an unimpressive place in January- and take a feluca (a traditional sailboat) ride. 

Aswan at night

January 4th was set aside for an optional trip to Abu Simbel, one of Egypt's most popular attractions after the pyramids. But at a steep $250 per person, Andy and I opted to wander Aswan on our own instead. We hired a horse-drawn carriage to take us through some of the back streets. For the second time in our trip, I hid my blond hair under a headscarf and savored the rare opportunity to escape my role as a stereotypical tourist. Admittedly Egypt is a very difficult country to visit independently and our trip was greatly improved by the involvement of a professional tour group, but being catered to like that nonetheless made me uncomfortable. That night we saw the Kom Ombo temple, dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek and the falcon god Horus, dramatically lit up at night.

Sailing through the night brought us to Horus' temple at Edfu, the temple that has remained the most intact, and then on to Luxor.

January 6th (Epiphany!) we went to the Valley of the Kings outside Luxor. A seemingly drab, lifeless valley, this was hands down one of my favorite stops. 61 of the 62 tombs had already been emptied by grave robbers by the time modern archeologists unearthed them- the exception of course being King Tutankhamun's. The thing that struck me about Valley of the Kings was that, since they are underground, the paint on the carvings has survived. The sight of Anubis' striking black jackal face, Horus' regal blue feathers and Amun-Ra's rather amusing green-blue skin brought the history to life for me in a way that none of the other temples did. It finally hit me that I was seeing the things I've been learning about in history books in school my whole life. What 3rd grader doesn't know King Tut? I mean, c'mon- VALLEY OF THE KINGS...! On the other side of the mountain is Hatshepsut's temple, built by one of Egypt's female pharaohs. Our day ended with a visit to Karnak. At 300 acres it's the largest temple and used to employ 81 thousand people. Crazy, huh? It boasts the world's largest hall of columns, where Andy and I wandered for close to an hour with our jaws dragging on the ground. It looks like it should have been built by giants, not ordinary humans without modern equipment.

Hall of Columns at Karnak

The next day we took a short flight back to Cairo and pretty much just bummed around the hotel. January 7th is the Egyptian Christmas, which happened to fall on a Friday- the Muslim holy day. About 10 hours after Andy and I left, a bomb went off outside a church in Alexandria on New Year's Eve, the first terrorist attack Egypt has seen in a decade. Our assumption is that our tour group was concerned about more tension between Muslims and Christians and was trying to keep us out of potential crossfire. We did get out briefly to see the laser light show at Giza though- impressive light effects, but a hilariously outdated script.

The last day of our formal tour took us to the Mohamed Ali Mosque (also known as the Alabaster Mosque), the Hanging Church in the Coptic District and the famed Egypt Museum where we saw the loot from King Tut's tomb among a thousand other interesting artifacts.
It was surprisingly hard to say goodbye to our guide and the five other group members.

It was even harder to say goodbye to Egypt when the time came for Andy and I to go home.
Leaving was a very bittersweet experience. Between having my brother with me and most of the luxuries/ amenities (depending on your point of view) common to American life, I felt like I'd actually gone home in a lot of ways. Sure, the signs were in Arabic and most of the men still wanted to marry me, but it was close enough. Egypt made me homesick in a way I never expected. Suddenly the next five months looked pretty long and part of me wished I was getting on the plane in Accra with Andy the next week.

And yet, as soon as I arrived back in Ghana, the comfortable feeling of returning home sank right into my bones.

I was happy to be back in a place where I speak a passable amount of the native language, as well as a useful form of pidgin English...versus only two words of Arabic and getting confused looks when I told people I would "Go and come, go and come." People responded (positively) when I hissed at them. I didn't have to stress over giving an appropriate tip, and Ghanaian vendors tend to be much less aggressive in regards to prices. And- maybe most importantly- I was WARM!!!
Whirling Dervish performance

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Be a Funnel Today

I have the funniest relationship with the workers at the Volta Region post offices. As a yevu I'm already easyily recognizeable, but they primarily remember me as the girl who hoots and dances when she gets a package. The customs officer in Ho still remembers me months later, and I'm on friendly terms with the entire staff of the Aflao post office. They all abandon their work and run over when I have a box, to see the latest oddities I've received and chuckle over my "bizarre" reactions. No matter how many times I explain that the contents are for my babies at the orphanage, they always seem puzzled why I'm hopping up and down over YET ANOTHER box of diapers. They tolerate it because I'm good entertainment though. As for me, I usually do everything I can to avoid drawing attention to myself, but something about receiving a new batch of donations kills my inhibitions. Boxes mean Prince, Princess and Philip will have diapers for another week, and Ashili, Constance, Aguh, Gracious and Fali will have real toothbrushes. They mean another month that Good Shepherd won't have to use a considerable chunk of their tight budget to buy sanitary supplies for the girls, and basic household objects for Rose, Kafi and Abla. Real people with real needs.

My trip to Ghana has always been about service.
Yes, I have been fascinated by Africa for my entire life. I want to explore every corner of our big, beautiful, interesting planet. I wanted to challenge my independence and self-sufficience.
But the heart of my trip has always been my desire to serve. Nothing less could have pushed me to cross an ocean and move to a town I had never heard of. And nothing less than my passion for the people I have the privilege of working with in Ghana could sustain me throughout these nine months.
I'm not alone in my passion either.
Since the day I first announced my plan, I have been nothing short of overwhelmed by the supportive and compassionate responses of everyone from my parents to virtual strangers. Monetarily, spiritually, emotionally and otherwise, more people than I ever expected have stepped forward to support me- and, more importantly, the people that I came to help.
Both public and private, from both individuals and organizations, donations towards my trip have raised a jaw-dropping nearly $10,000, not including the value of the objects that have also been donated. More people are still joining the list too- the Ford Motor Company being the latest addition. What touches me most deeply is that regardless of my sponsors' relationship to me, all of them are strangers to the residents of Aflao. Yet that has not stopped them from pouring forth an astonishing amount of resources with no expectation except that I put them to the best use. I have the rare and humbling opportunity to be the "funnel" for these resources. How I use them, who they benefit, is virtually entirely at my own discretion.

It's a responsibility I take extremely seriously.

I have never once forgotten that these are not my gifts, my donations, my dollars at work. Rather they are the result of literally hundreds and hundreds of generous, caring individuals' effort merely working through me. I'm just the funnel.
I'm both grateful for and uncomfortable with my role. It doesn't feel right that I should get the credit for others' generosity. I also struggle enormously with my guilt that, no matter how many boxes arrive, there will never be enough to go around. The need is simply too great. For every person who shows up on my doorstep in tears of gratitude, an equal number come asking for things I no longer have to give. How do you choose who to help when there are 5 baby blankets, 7 mothers who need them, and you love them all?
However the joy of being able to help far overshadows the occasional difficulties. I may feel self-conscious carrying over a basket of goodies to hand out to my neighbors, but when they're smiling and shaking my hand and babbling, "Auntie, God bless you!" I know that it doesn't matter how or where or who it comes from- the bottom line is that these beautiful women have gotten some of the things they so depserately need.

I wish all of my sponsors could be here to personally see the difference they are making in so many dozens of lives. Since that's not possible, I'll do my best to show you!

I had the honor of personally meeting Mama Tammy Brooks and her close friend Dr. Marty Hatala last month. They were both warm, caring, genuine women whose obvious love for the children renewed my own dedication as a volunteer. Mama Tammy is the founder and head of the Jesse Brooks Foundation, the organization that runs the Good Shepherd Happy Children's Home, among others.

L to R: Dr. Marty, Tammy and me with the Good Shepherd kids
As promised, every penny of donation money not used to cover my basic living expenses will go to the children at the end of my stay. I will be writing the check to the Jesse Brooks Foundation, specifially designating it for the kids at Good Shepherd. Tammy assured me that she personally handles all donations and will direct it appropriately. Even more importantly, she told me that the Foundation has ZERO overhead. That's right- 100 cents of every dollar goes to the kids.
Many organizations give a breakdown of how far donation money can go. "X dollars feeds a child for a month. X pays for their schooling for a year." I don't have concrete figures to give you, but I can tell you that I have never believed so strongly in the power of a dollar. Remember how I said the orphanage has to spend a considerable amount every month just on sanitary supplies? Esther said they spend 15 cedis, or approximately 10 USD. Crazy, isn't it? That $10 can keep about a dozen girls clean and comfortable for another month. It's a delicate subject, I know, but one I'm not doing them any favors by avoiding. $5 can buy a new pair of shoes. About $60 gives all the children at Good Shepherd a piece of meat every day for 3 days. Esther has been working tirelessly for the last 6 months to improve the diet at the orphanage because insufficient nutrition, particularly protein and calcium deficiency, is noticeably stunting many of the kids' growth. I could go on and on.
I'm not trying to get preachy or fish for donations (ok, maybe I am a little bit, but can you blame me?) I'm simply trying to illustrate that so little goes such a long way.

So I have a challenge for you: Give away a dollar today.
Drop it in the charity box by the cash register at the store. Hand it to the scruffy guy on the corner. Add it to the tip for the frazzled-looking waitress at lunch.

Be a funnel today.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

How Far We've Come

March 6th marked Ghana's 54th Independence Day!
My host father, Worfa, and I got up at 3 am to catch a tro to Accra so we could see the official ceremony in Independence Square.
It was hard for me to choose between spending my only Ghanaian Independence Day at home so I could see my kids march in the local parade or spending it in the capital to see the celebration on a national level. However Worfa's excitement at being in Independence Square on March 6th for the first time confirmed that I ultimately made the right decision.. (That and my kids didn't even end up marching after all, but I didn't find that out until after the fact.) Some of my most memorable and meaningful moments in Ghana have been spent with Worfa, simply sitting in front of our house eating Oreos and talking, so it was very special for me to be able to take a trip with him for the first time.
The center of Independence Square was filled with hundreds of children, from elementary age to adolescents, standing stiffly at attention. They were from metro-area schools and youth groups, such as Ghana's co-ed version of the Boy Scouts and a Muslim Youth Association. They had been standing at attention since long before Worfa and I arrived just after 8 o'clock, and continued standing at attention when President John Atta Mills arrived and drove up and down the rows, waving from the sunroof of his black SUV. They stood stiffly at attention throughout the medley of drum and dance performances, the ceremonial torch lighting and the President's admirably brief speech with only a half hour respite in which they got to move as they marched in formation around the square. The militaristic display was on one hand a little intimidating in its precision and uniformity. On the other hand, though, it looked almost a little silly and I had the very irreverent urge to start belting, "BE PREPAAAAAAAARED!" from that scene in the "Lion King" when all the hyenas are marching.
All this standing stiffly at attention in the Ghanaian sun without rest, shade or water predictably took its toll. In other words the kids were dropping like flies. (I've never quite understood that phrase. Flies are EVERYWHERE in massive swarms, and they seem to do every but die.) The seats we found initially were out of range of the speakers, so since I couldn't hear anything anyway I made a game out of trying to be looking at kids at the exact moment they collapsed. Ok, that sounds a little heartless, but how could I have helped in that situation? The only movement out in the square was the constant running back and forth of the first aid teams as they ferried the fainters to the makeshift infirmary.
Worfa could hardly sit still, which ended up paying off in the end because he pestered me into hunting for new seats just in time so that we were within range of the speakers when Atta Mills gave his speech. I have now heard both Ghana's President and First Lady give live speeches, which I think is kind of neat.
They finished the ceremony with a Presidential Salute (aka big guns go boom) and three Air Force jets zooming overhead.

I have moments where I am reminded- and subsequently amazed- how far Ghana has come in such a short time. Ghana has only been an independent country for the span of my dad's lifetime, after all. Living in my much-loved Aflao, where there are extremely high poverty, unemployment and illiteracy rates, I tend to get a skewed view of Ghana's state of affairs. But then I go to Independence Square in Accra or the cathedral in Kumasi or the regional hospital in Ho (just a tour, not for treatment) and I'm reminded that there really are families here who go out for ice cream, men who wear a suit and tie to work, kids who get to be part of extracurricular activities and go on field trips. Of course I'm speaking from a ridiculously strong bias, but I don't think it's any accident that Ghana has some of the best health care, education systems and public services in all of Africa either. Ghanaians themselves are the driving force that has shaped this amazing country into what it is in little more than half a century. America may be a couple hundred years older, but it's certainly not a couple hundred years ahead.
As I stood in the middle of the square after the ceremony ended, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of hope. I want my kids to know what it's like to do science experiments, to go to a museum, to blow out the candles on a birthday cake, to get spoiled by their parents with a new toy for no reason. I want them to grow up wearing socks and seatbelts- and maybe hating both. I want them to experience the oddly satisfactory feeling of back-to-school shopping. Sometimes it's hard for me not to get lost in my sadness, and even guilt, that they may never know those things. But in that moment, much of the discouragement I battle every day seemed to melt away. I like to think volunteers are people who do what they do because they never fully stop believing it will someday make a difference, despite all indications to the contrary.

So here's to you, Ghana. And hoping we're made of the same stuff.

"But I believe the world is burnin' to the ground/ Oh well, I guess we're gonna find out/ Let's see how far we've come, let's see how far we've come/ Well I believe it all is coming to an end/ Oh well, I guess we're gonna pretend/ Let's see how far we've come, let's see how far we've come" ~ Matchbox Twenty

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Six Legs

My long-time, six-legged arachnid nemesis finally fell today.

Cockroaches and lizards have virtually disappeared from my room, so aside from the occasional beetle I'm left with only the "shadow spiders." Huge, completely flat, light gray and lightning fast, they stick to the walls (as opposed to also coming onto the floor) and don't seem to spin webs and therefore don't bother me. Adult cockroaches are a different story; I'm immensely relieved not to see them hanging around my ceiling anymore. There's something fundamentally disgusting about cockroaches... They're the size of small animals without any of the cuteness that makes small animals likeable, you know? But thankfully spiders have never overly bothered me. I usually kill them if I can, but they don't stress me out. If I'm feeling lazy I sometimes don't even try; they're all over the place anyway. I find about three a day on average, so I'm getting quite adept at killing them in under five smacks. I'm telling you, they're unbelievably quick- five shots or less is very admirable, if I do say so myself.
Katherine Niemann, spider killer extraordinaire!

...Old Six Legs was the exception.

In an epic battle that lasted more than ten wallops and raged over two walls, I managed to claim two legs, but my victim ultimately escaped with its life.
And has been taunting me ever since.
Six Legs spent two days centered a foot over my door, staring at me (accusingly, I believe). When it finally decided to start moving around again, it stayed frustratingly out of reach at all times. Until- bingo! it finally got careless. I came into my room this evening after being gone all day and there it was, only a foot or so above the floor near my makeshift bedside table.
Doing something nefarious I'm sure...
I reached for the shoe. Bambambam! Three strikes.
Six Legs disappeared into the crack between my door and doorframe. I didn't give up though. As I was searching my door in the dim light, I caught sight of it scampering away across the floor (can you still scamper if you're missing a quarter of your limbs?) out of the corner of my eye. It hid in the shadow of my table. Fatal mistake! Six Legs was toast as soon as it opted for the floor.

I just hope I got it before it spread the word that sometimes even I need more than five tries...

(Happy Birthday, Brandrews!)

Music Therapy

I am a musician.
This will never change.
Watch me convert to Hinduism, dye my hair brown, start writing with my right hand, become a pro athlete, and learn to like seafood and I would still be a musician. Although I'm capable on three instruments, I'm a singer-songwriter at heart. I have more rules, traditions and superstitions about my songwriting process than you find in most religions.

Before I came to Ghana, a lot of people asked me what my biggest fear about moving to Africa was. I didn't admit it to most of them, but it was that I would forget my music. I don't have the technical savvy to write down most of my compositions- there are amateur recordings of some of them, but otherwise they only exist in my head- and I wouldn't be exaggerating if I said I was terrified I was going to forget how to play them after nine months' hibernation. The few people I did confide this fear to assured me not to underestimate muscle memory, it would all come back in time, etc etc. Kind words, but they did little to comfort me. My songs are an intensely personal part of me. In the weeks before I left, the thought of possibly losing them literally kept me up some nights.
I had the chance to play a gorgeous baby grand in the lobby of one of the hotels we stayed at in Cairo, but that only made matters worse. Between my nerves and my informal audience, I stumbled over my songs even more that I had anticipated I would. It's hard to describe how deeply that upset me. (My poor big brother had to deal with my crying so many times in the five weeks he was here, but he always handled it like a champ.)

Even after six months away from home, my music continues to be by far the biggest sacrifice I have made to come to Ghana. I've continued to write lyrics, but without the music it's not the same. Sometimes I miss my piano so much I physically ache for it.
So when I was standing around with some of the other teachers today after school and one of them casually mentioned that the orphanage had acquired a new (aka functional) organ (aka keyboard) that was enough to send me sprinting across the compound bellowing "ESTHER, WHERE IS IT!?!?"
It was like being reunited with an old friend. It was like being reunited with me, really.
For as long as I sat there, I could pull the beautiful familiarity of my words and melodies around me like the world's best security blanket. It filled up that emptiness in my chest I've lived with so long I wish I could say I've become accustomed to it.
And the longer my fingers moved over the keys, the more I remembered. Chord by chord, the pieces of "Hummingbird" came together a little better with each repetition. As I played through "Orion's Love Song" I thought, 'I can't remember the middle section even vaguely; what am I gonna do?' ...And then I reached the end of the part I could consciously remember and somehow I just didn't stop. As the music reappeared from some hidden part of me, I was overwhelmed with relief and above all gratitude. 
Muscle memory might just be the best idea God ever had.
I am a musician.
This will never change.