Leaving My Comfort Zone (Again): Volta

I know just last month I posted about how I’m over “roughing it” and plan to vacation to higher standards in the future…but that plan got side railed when three Returned Peace Corps Volunteers came to visit us last week.

Before arriving, they talked to current Peace Corps Volunteers living in Ghana to get recommendations on things to do outside of Accra. My Teaching Assistant has lived in Ghana her whole life and when I told her some of the towns and activities recommended, her response was a raised brow and, “Why would anyone want to go there?”

One trip she could get behind was a visit to her home region: Volta.

Volta makes the tourist list in Ghana for the Wli Falls (highest waterfall in West Africa),  Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary (not a real sanctuary), Tafi Abuife Kente Village (cloth making), and hiking (Mounts Afadja, Aduadu, and Adaklu come to mind).

We were just up for the weekend (we had plenty to show our guests in Accra, not to mention Cape Coast), so we made our plan simple. Leave Accra early Friday morning to make it to our hotel near the falls by noon. Make the hike to the lower base of the falls that afternoon. Saturday, our friends would hike to the upper falls (while we relaxed and read!), followed by a drive to the Tafi Abuife Kente Village, then back home to Accra.

Friday morning we left nearly on time and were on the road about an hour before Chandler asked our driver to stop so he could use a restroom. Our driver was visibly concerned. He didn’t know of an acceptable place to stop. Chandler assured him any gas station would do, and that’s why he got to pee outdoors – something we haven’t done since we were Peace Corps Volunteers ourselves:

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I was tempted to hop out and see what a “female urinal” is…but I figured if you’ve seen one hole in the ground, you’ve seen them all.

An hour later when my bladder had filled, our driver breathed a sigh of relief. We were nearing The Royal Senchi Resort which, in his mind, was a much more appropriate bathroom stop:

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I have to be honest. As we walked around the grounds, I was no longer sure the Wli Falls held any appeal for me…I was wondering how we could convince our guests that they’d rather stay put for the night : )

However, despite my best attempt, we pushed on. At about this point, the gravel disappeared and the remainder of our drive was pretty bumpy. I was feeling pretty car sick by now and told the driver I needed to stop. He was still appalled from the morning stop with Chandler and so he asked if it would be all right to drive to the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary for the stop. It wasn’t on our list, but I figured a bathroom was a bathroom.

Man, am I glad the monkey “sanctuary” wasn’t on our list. Driving through the town it became pretty obvious it was just a tourist trap. You pay money for a local “guide” who takes you through the village to find the monkeys (that are already hanging about and easy to spot). You are then “encouraged” to buy bananas and feed them to some already overfed monkeys. The bathroom break was enough for us and before long we had made it to our destination:

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A teacher no more…

Whew…after two years living and working in Ethiopia, my time as a teacher has finally come to a close! Yesterday marked the end of my Reading Program at Adare and we celebrated with an award ceremony and cookies : )

Two students from each grade 7 & 8 class were named “Adare Star Readers” and were allowed to pick a chapter book – graciously donated by friends, family, and strangers – to bring home and continue their reading practice. Books chosen were classics like Matilda, The Magician’s Elephant, Bridge to Terabithia, and Peter Pan.

The joy on their faces was worth the struggle I sometimes went through keeping this program up and running over the last nine months. I just want to say thank you to everyone back home who helped support this program, the students will never forget it!

Adare Readers

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World Read Aloud Day

Wednesday was World Read Aloud Day and it couldn’t have had more perfect timing. The first week of each month I host a reading program in my school’s library that every student – all 1,368 of them! – participates in. This month’s theme was nonfiction and it shouldn’t surprise me that the students enjoyed it more than the previous fairytale lesson.

The preferred read alouds of the students: Flight by Robert Burleigh and Snow Is Falling by Franklyn M. Branley. Who knew they’d love snow and planes so much, seeing as most of these students will never experience either. But that’s what makes books so important in the first place – opening up worlds you’d never be able to experience otherwise.

And I can’t lie, I loved reading Flight to them…thank you Charles Lindbergh for being born in Minnesota : ) It was like reading a little piece of home. If I’m being honest, reading about snow made me feel right at home as well.

Some other much loved books were…

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International Day of People with Disability

December 3rd was International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD) – a United Nations’ sanctioned day that aims to promote an understanding of people with disability and encourage support for their dignity, rights, and well-being.

This day is incredibly important throughout the world, but especially in Ethiopia, where those with disabilities are usually treated as second-hand citizens, if they’re even acknowledged at all.

I’m proud to say that my main school – Adare Primary – is taking steps to rectify this issue. They’ve recently hired a teacher whose sole responsibility is to work with disabled students. Of course, you may think, what else would they do? But the harsh reality here is that students with disabilities, whether physical or mental, are placed in the same classes as their peers and are eventually forced to drop out when they fall too far behind.

As far as I’m aware, our new teacher doesn’t have much (if any) training on working with disabled students, especially our blind students who have only a bare understanding of braille. Thanks to a number of you lovely people, I have a handful of braille books on the way (including a guide to teaching braille! – Thanks Mom). But in support of International Day of People with Disability, I figured I’d make one more plea with you to help support our students with disabilities.

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The power of reading

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This past week marked the start of my new Reading Program at Adare Primary School. In the span of 4 days I taught 23 classes with a total of 1,368 students, grades 1-8. Each class was held in the library so that students who’ve never held a book of fiction before would get a chance to read for an hour.

The plan (hope) is to repeat this program once every month. Grades 1-6 got an introduction to literature. We read some books aloud and then I passed out books for them to read independently. In the coming months we’ll have more focused readings…a day for fairytales, nonfiction, poetry, etc.

Grades 7 and 8 will be participating in a reading challenge. Anyone remember the BOOK IT! Program sponsored by Pizza Hut? Rewarding reading with pizza? Genius. So with that in mind, students will come in every month and read as many books as they can (and then answer the critical thinking questions I created for each book!), and the student from each class (there are 10 grade 7 and 8 classes) who reads the most/answers the most questions correctly will win a goodie bag at the end of the semester.

Goodie bags will include school supplies (most of which I’ve already been able to collect), games, and books. And that’s where you can help. After all, ’tis the season to be generous : ) You can buy a cheap, used book and ship it to Ethiopia FOR FREE – that’s over 7,700 miles if you’re in Minnesota! (Though of course you can ship from anywhere!)

If you’d like to help Adare Primary School Students, here’s what you do:

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Halloween is the cutest holiday

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Halloween was never a holiday I placed a lot of importance on back in the US. But here…well, what’s cuter than preschoolers in masks? In a goal two attempt to share American culture with my students I took over the preschoolers “rest time” and read them Halloween stories and let them try on a variety of masks I brought with me.

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Someone ran off with the lion mask almost immediately, but the kids were more than happy to trade off being fairies and giraffes.

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Books that shouldn’t be sent to Africa: Part 2

As you may have guessed, I finished going through the books at my school and figured I’d share a few more of the more memorable titles.

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Once again…numerable romance novels. Check out the variety – one that takes place in Texas, another that occurs over the holiday season, and a good ol’ fashioned “men at work” one. Quality.

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Did anyone know this was a book, FIRST?

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Just what Ethiopian children need…learning about the different ways American children irritate their parents and reading material about marriage – we’re trying to prevent child marriages!

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I know Ethiopian children everywhere were wondering, “What was Macaulay Culkin like as a child star?” But in all seriousness, this round of books contained a lot more child-friendly options.

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