My experience in Ghana...
As most of you already know we are back home and if you didn't know well, Hello again!
It's been a week since we arrived and looking back at these past four months makes it seem a bit surreal. I've always wanted to participate in an overseas humanitarian build and being able to lead one was a check off my bucket list. Not only was it four months of our lives in Ghana, but we spent nearly a year and a half prior to that preparing, recruiting and fundraising in order to make this happen. Now that it's finished it's bittersweet; but I honestly wouldn't change it for the world.
When we first arrived in the village I remember how chaotic it felt meeting so many people, both volunteers (at the most we were about 60 people) and the locals and getting adjusted to the place and the routine. But by the time we left, although we still would hear obroni, obroni, hi, hi, hi and people who I never even met calling my name; the place felt like home. We watched as some of the little kids had growth spurts and learned to walk. We celebrated birthdays, weddings and a new baby. We shared drinks, laughs and stories and made memories to last a lifetime.
It was easy getting to know the other volunteers, we were all there for the same purpose and since there wasn't too much to do in the village when we weren't working; a lot of our time was spent playing games, sitting around bonfires and talking. It's funny to think about how different we each are but how we became a little Ghanaian family. Fanny and her love of fabrics and peanut brittle, how Damien managed to make a pun out of everything, Maria the seasoned vet of Abetenim who we all went to for advice, Cayetana and her wild spirit and love for the children, Maude and her strict bedtime of 8pm and Izzy's spontaneous dancing and for being my travel buddy. Just to name a few. It became harder and harder to say goodbye to everyone and I hope to see you all again (five year reunion)!!
Out of everything we experienced, certain things stick out the most in my mind. For instance, and as cheesy as it sounds, one night as we were sitting around talking, I looked up into the night sky and out of no where saw a shooting star. It was my first shooting star and I remember at that moment feeling how special it all was.
The time Dave, Fanny and I went to watch a soccer match between Abetenim and a rival village. The game ended in a tie, but the way the guys celebrated you would've thought they won the championship. The ride back was filled with cheering, chanting and lots of excitement. It was so much fun to be a part of. After that it became part of my weekend routine to go and watch the guys play whether it was a game or just practice.
The little kid, Kwasi, who I first met when he fell asleep on my lap during one of the soccer games and quickly became my favorite kid in the village. I'm pretty sure he knew he was loved because every time I'd see him he would run up and get my attention so I knew he was around and then proceed to hold my hand as if he was telling all the other kids "this obroni is mine".
There are so many other memories I can talk about, but you'd probably get tired of reading :D.
During construction, my motto quickly became "it is what it is". There were times we ran into obstacles and the small details didn't always come out correctly, who needs perfectly straight walls anyway. But if it wasn't a make it or break it situation, I'd usually say "it is what it is" and try to fix it and continue. We managed to make it all work and even with the setbacks, the anger and sadness in the final week; in the end I am very proud of all we accomplished.
I learned a lot during the trip as well. I learned more about construction and structure, I very slowly began to learn another language (me da ase Abu for the lessons), and I learned more about myself. I found true happiness comes from the tiniest, most simple things, children are the most curious creatures on this planet, and how lucky and thankful I am for all the opportunities this life has given me. Plus, most importantly I learned I could spend nearly every waking moment for an entire month with Steve and not want to kill him. So yay for that!
Despite the trip being longer than originally intended, towards the end the time seemed to fly by. I'll admit it was a struggle leaving; as we were running around Sunday morning doing last minute things I contemplated staying in the village longer, and thought the same thing on the plane. But we will be back one day.
I find the truest measure of traveling is the impact it makes on your life. The places, the people and the experiences that change you for the better. I forever left a part of myself and my heart in Abetenim.
So now, I don't know exactly what is in store for me next, but I'm excited for the unknown and am looking forward to the next adventure...
(I go and return)
The past week has been bittersweet; it’s been full of ups and downs, but it was the best week I’ve had these past 4 months. Catrina mentioned in last weeks blog about the construction halt that has sadden the entire Abetenim community and for several days the workers were angry, upset, and going crazy as they didn’t know what to do with themselves.
This past Monday we were visited and informed that we must stop construction due to the regional chief of the area; the second construction stop in the matter of six months. Within days of the finish line we were both angry and saddened that we were so close yet we knew we could do nothing, but were more heartbroken knowing that the Abetenim Arts Village has come to an end and construction may no longer continue indefinitely due to one person’s political power and personal greed.
Unfortunately the chief of Juaben owns the oil factory in the next town over and wants to keep Abetenim poor to provide cheap labor for himself. Ever since Nka’s presence in this village, the local school has grown in size and attendance, more students are continuing into senior high school in nearby towns, and more young adults are able to leave Abetenim to create better futures for their families. The construction of the arts village has increased jobs that are better paying then previously provided in the area as well as hope for a brighter future. The chief has made it his personal vendetta to stop this, even threatening the local people with this second construction hold that if they do continue working there could be fatal consequences. The story can go on and on, but I’ll end it here.
Tuesday evening we took pictures on site with the workers and suggested going on a hike the following day. At first they looked at us like what do you mean? Walking in the jungle for fun?.. But it was a great hit! We were expecting a turnout of a couple of guys, but 10 of them were waiting for us the next morning as we approached the village square. We also expected 2-3 hours which resulted in 5 and ending at Akapo Spot, the local watering hole.
During those 5 hours we hiked through the jungle and saw some of our workers farmlands. We had our fair share of oranges and papayas, and the guys would clap and hit stones against their machetes as they danced and sung. They also tried smoking out a rodent from their borrow, but I don’t think he was home. We passed by farmland where they were collecting palm wine from the trees and stumbled upon a makeshift “factory” where the local women were crushing palm berries. Before heading on the last path to Abetenim we walked through Tunkumso, where the guys stopped for some Adonko and danced to “One Corner”. Once arriving back in Abetenim the guys continued dancing and singing to the bar and everyone came to their doors and windows to see what was going on, and then the party began.
In Akapo Spot, they guys grabbed the table, bench, and any metal pieces and kept dancing and making music until Collins finally set up the sound system and computer. The party then moved outside and many children joined in on the fun. After an all day excursion, Catrina and I eventually left the bar to head back to the campsite and Abass joined, asking where we’ll be going tomorrow. Our response was no where as we were beat and had somethings we wanted to get off our to do list, but all the guys enjoyed their day and took their mind off of what had happened several days prior.
Thursday we stayed local and tried to watch a movie with the guys in the afternoon, but of course, the power went out right before we started so instead we had a conversation with Frank, the Nka coordinator to find out more information about what was going on in the community. The days that followed Monday nights news were full of rumors and uncertainty if the chief actually ordered this construction hold or if it was sub-chiefs. Long story short we told him we were going to work Monday night to finish the floor slab and he said we should have, we officially had his unwritten approval.
We gathered a couple of the workers and told them we’d like to continue working that night and the next day to finish as much as possible, but we couldn’t let the whole village know as we didn’t want the chief of Juaben to hear of us going against his orders. 6 PM we walked on site and there were 7 men already in motion, the worst part though was there was a storm on the horizon. Shortly after starting we were hit with a rain storm, the guys were mixing the concrete under the patio roof and bringing it in for the slab. We continued throughout the night till 2 AM and then started at 7 AM the following day. We were able to finish the floor slab, complete the plastering of all columns, pour the bench top, complete the floor drain in front of the patio, and infill gravel around the exterior of the building. These men worked 19 hours those last 24 hours, not because we forced them, but because they wanted to see it completed as much as we did. We even had other men come on Friday to help to make sure it was completed for the community. We were extremely proud and grateful and we feel they were too. It was time to relax, celebration was coming.
Saturday was the big day for a lovely couple and the village, that’s right - we crashed another wedding. Collins, Akapo, Nemo, our jack of all trades, Ozonto dancer, and all around clown, got married and we were surprised to be apart of their version of a bridal party. This wedding felt more authentic than the previous wedding we went to in Accra and perhaps was a bit more entertaining since we knew almost everyone and had a relationship with the honoree. The event lasted all day with breaks in between and ended with us taking night shots of the building.
Time flew by this past week and with the construction hold, it threw off all our plans, but honestly I’m glad it happened they way it did. We were able to spend more quality time with the guys on the days we didn’t work, we were able to finish a majority of our todo list for the building, and I think it’s safe to say we will never forget Abetenim, nor will they forget us. Sunday consisted of taking photos, finish packing, hanging out with both the kids and the guys, going to church for Colin’s, meeting little Steveo (our worker’s child was born on Thursday and was named after myself, or so they tell me but good choice if you ask me), having my favorite local meal (Fufu with goat meat)and it was probably the best one I’ve had in this country, and of course saying good byes which was the hardest part for everyone. Out of everyone tho, the waterworks came from the person I least expected; Colin’s. This man is always joking around and always has a smile on his face, but when it was time for goodbyes he just couldn’t hold back.
And well.. there was 4 months of our lives in Abetenim. We leave behind a structure that will hopefully be used for it’s original purpose. We leave behind countless laughs. We leave behind amazing people, friendships, and memories. I will miss all the catcalls, the hi hi hi, the obroni obroni obroni, the what’s your name/ wo din de sen. I will miss the children, the nights of indomie or egg-bread, and the slow-pace of life. I will actually miss going to work and seeing the same people every single day, the laughs, the interesting conversations, and the bonds we created. The volunteers, the other groups, but especially the local workers and Abetenim - Me da ase, you will all always be apart of me. I hope to revisit Abetenim, grab a beer with the people I’ve met whether it be in New York, Germany, or Akapo. And with all that, it’s looking like a white Christmas, and I’m grateful to be able to get back home and spend it with family, my girlfriend, friends, and of course my dogs.
I hope you’ve enjoyed ArchiTuesdays, I’m sure some of the other leaders will post their experience and stay tuned the next couple of weeks as we’ll continue posting photos and time lapses from our archives since WiFi was scarce and hopefully one more event (details to follow).
Excuse the delay...this past week has been one that seemed to both fly by and drag on simultaneously. It was a productive and eventful week with a punch you in the face surprise at the end. I'll bet you never see it coming, we didn't, so keep reading...
Steve and I are OFFICIALLY the only obrunis here in the village. This past Friday Damien headed home, and practically hopped and skipped his happy self into the tro-tro. The night before we had a little bonfire and shared some coconuts and laughs with a few of the local guys. At first we were really tired and not in the mood for a fire and a late night. Mind you it was only 8pm but we had been working 11 hour days all week. I'm glad we decided against sleeping because we ended up having a good night and creating that memory which is much more important now that we don't have as much time left here.
The randomness of some of the stuff that happens makes it much more fun and a good story to bring back home. For example, Steve practically gave a random guy on the tro-tro the surprise of his life. The man was either drunk or slightly crazy and was mumbling and telling me he loved me. Steve was scrolling through Instagram and came across a provocative picture which happened to catch the mans eye and made him scream with exhilaration and start blessing and thanking God. We were dying of laughter for the rest of the ride back to the village.
The empty rooms in our buildings have been housing new tenants as the animals start creeping their way inside. I've walked into a mouse in my bed, yes in my bed!!!, lizards in the bathroom and bat flying around. I wouldn't say I'm afraid of any of these, but you bet I called one of the guys to come help me each time. No shame. It wouldn't even phase me if I saw a goat sleeping in the next room one of these days.
For the last three weeks we have been "cooking" for ourselves; so pretty much eating whatever is available in the village at the time. Which means we have been eating a lot of rice, beans, plantains and yam fries with a dinner selection of either indomi (ramen noodles and veggies) or eggs in bread. There are times when we are busy working and end up having lunch later than usual, which it often means there is no food left to buy, so we are either eating protein bars, biscuits and oranges or just waiting until dinner. We ended up saving a bunch of money during these weeks and are sometimes hungry but in retrospect are still very lucky and have little complaints. Despite all that, I can't wait to get home and eat a steak, a salad and an entire bottle of red wine!
(Spicy rice...all foods also come in plastic bags like this)
Back to the construction; the classroom is now an actual building. Every day has been another major step forward and come Saturday afternoon, after two weeks of work, we had a completed roof! The metal roofing sheets went up in a mad rush and drew the attention of anyone who passed by the site. People have been telling us how much they like our project and how happy they are that we are completing it. Certainly feels good and unreal that after four months of hard work it is all coming together. The final touch to the roof work was ironing out all the little details. The carpenter we worked with was not always the easiest or most precise and I spent much of the day Saturday bossing the man around and insisting on doing the little things correctly. I'm pretty sure by the end we were both tired of hearing me speak, but I'd be damned if we didn't get the job done and correctly!
We just started the plastering on the exterior this weekend as well and are working on the floor slab at the same time. Yesterday we worked for a full 12 hours and I must say it is looking pretty good. The final countdown has began and a schedule of the finishing touches has been set for this week. Although Steve and I are exhausted and getting up at dawn to work is getting harder and harder, the adrenaline of finishing is what has been keeping us going.
I find people here keep asking us when we are going back to our country, as if they also can't believe we've been living here for so long. But now instead of our usual "i don't know", we finally have an answer. That is if we are able to find flights back home that don't cost us a fortune; or else we may be extending our illegal visas just a bit longer.
Now for the punch in the face...
After all this progress this past week and everything you just read about; on Monday evening we were told that we are no longer able to continue our construction. Yesterday during the day a group of men, stating they were from the district chief's office, came to our site and started telling us that there was some problem with our presence and work in the village. They told us that at that moment we were to stop working immediately. This is all some political nonsense that also occurred about 8 months prior and caused delays on other projects. Anyone who knows Steve and I can guess that we weren't going to take orders from some random men and continued working during the day. Come on, we are literally four days away from finishing. Unfortunately late yesterday evening, we were told by the organization's coordinator that construction has to be stopped until further information was available. Even this morning it all seems unreal. There is so much anger and sadness surrounding this situation and we have little information right now. We are going to take it day by day and figure out what is going to happen next. So please bear with us and cross your fingers that this all ends well.
I promise you're going to want to check in next week to get the full story about what happened and what ends up becoming of our project.
First off I’d like to start off by saying all Ghanaians are weather forecasters and should be hired as so. These people know when it’s going to rain hours before the first drop, despite what my weather app says and despite the clear sky and blazing sun.
“It might rain later today.” I respond, Oh it’s going to rain today? “Oh no, no. Maybe.” I’ve been here long enough to know, if they’re saying maybe then it’s definitely going to rain.
You would think after being here for so long we would run out of things to write about, but this past week has been quite different from the others and included a few obstacles along the way. First off it was the first full week that Steve and I are here on our own; trying to move the schedule along and wrap things up has been exhausting to say the least. It seems as if the to do list doesn't get any shorter.
Construction this week focused on the first real step towards building the roof structure. We managed to assemble the sill plate and all the rafters for the main roof before we hit a problem. In order for the sill plate to rest on the concrete ring beam it has to be fastened together with rebar; so holes had to be made through a stack of three 2"x6" which make up the plate. If you remember from our previous blogs, tools in this place are hand to come by. So when we were able to borrow a drill from Kwame (the local welder) we were anticipating a quick job. A few holes in and the drill bit got stuck in the hardwood. The workers kept pushing it to the point that it started smoking and the motor burned out. And that's why we can't have nice things. Needless to say the rest of that day slowed down and was spent trying to repair the drill and manually make the holes. It was frustrating to spend an extra day making holes than we had originally planned for, but we managed to get the primary pieces of the sill plate up onto the walls.
Obstacle one handled...and unto the next one.
Anndddd we're back at it again with this weeks Archituesday blog. If you're still following, I hope you're entertained because we have a few more weeks so hang in there.
Weather is still getting hotter, yet back at home I keep getting told it's the opposite and in reality, I've never been this excited for cold weather. The campsite has been getting vacant the past week as the French and Spanish team both finished and have rushed home, but first showering us with gifts such as leftover shampoos, room furnishings, and of course the wonderful children of the village. We are currently four and after Thursday, we will be three until December 1st (Catrina and I still don't have end dates, but we have been invited to another local wedding).
This past week was very eventfully as Monday- Wednesday there was filming in the village by an independent director from Ohio. Wednesday ending in a huge village bond fire at the soccer field.
One of the many things I have come to enjoy being on the jobsite is seeing how much progress we make each week. It's sometimes hard to believe that only a few weeks earlier we were finishing the foundation. It's especially cool to see the other team projects progress along side ours. As all the teams collectively work on their respective projects, it's been pleasant to walk over to neighboring jobsites to talk to project leaders and volunteers of other teams about their own successes, struggles, and overall experiences building. It's also helpful to be able to swap ideas, tools, and construction materials. However, as the projects get taller, scaffolding is easily the most valued piece of equipment and if you're not careful someone may take your ladder while you are standing on top of your 15ft high wall! True story.
Another week another step closer to completion; although we still have to squint hard to see the finish line.
If you've been keeping up with our writings, you've probably noticed that over the last couple of weeks we each have had mixed emotions about everything from the construction to the stay and the food. I'll admit it isn't always easy with the physical work, the heat and the repetition; but I've learn to take things in strides, change up my routine and remember the bigger picture of why we are here. At times I catch myself smiling, still in slight disbelief that I've been living in Ghana and building a classroom for the last three months.
So we have been here now for what's going on 11 weeks and well... it's starting to become a little unpleasant. In the village, the women cook us the same meals every week, so everyone knows what days they hate and what meals they look forward to. I'm also starting to heavily crave certain food.
Five of us went into Kumasi for the day on Sunday, basically to eat and to go food shopping to help us pass time the next couple of weeks. Lunch consisted of pizza and deep fried chocolate ice cream and while I'm still day dreaming and drooling over that ice cream, it's helping the days go by. Also on the trotro ride back to Abetenim we were joined by six locals about our age and one kept trying to get my attention, yelling out "White man, take me to Jamaica, Ghana is too hot." I'm not sure what weather app or website he's using but he could have definitely chose a better country if being too hot is his problem.
For me it’s hard to believe we are starting our 8th week. Wait, scratch that, it’s our 9th week! We are having so many new experiences on and off the jobsite that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of the weeks anymore. Nonetheless the project is progressively moving along despite some local obstacles we are forced to address. It’s very pleasing to see how far we have come from our first few weeks.