Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ghana Trip, Day 10

The chainsaw experience yesterday morning (waking up to the groundskeeper clearing brush at 6am) mixed with my malaria medication to make a rather horrible nightmare about Leah and I getting chased across canopy bridges by a madman with a chainsaw. It was less than pleasant. I’ve also started to miss my chickens, as they are SO much quieter than the scads of urban chickens here (although some of these are much prettier).

Jetlag is finally over (the day before we go home), but I’m glad to finally feel a little better physically. However, I’m just so heartbroken about the state of the education in this place (not that it is much different from many state schools in the US), and the limitations society has placed on these children who can do anything except hear, I get distraught about my inability to change anything meaningful, and how ineffectual this short trip is. I found myself bouncing between those feelings of despair, and a real desire to come back for a longer trip and see if I can actually affect a change, back to wondering if there was any kind of impact really happening.

Part of our party was off looking at local churches, so I sat around and talked to Rachel and Aaron. I found myself repeating something that is constantly asked of Pablo: “You know almost no dads learn to sign with their kids right?” He answered with the same I-did-what-I-did-because-I-love-my-child that Pablo always uses, in the same tired tone.

The conversation would around personality and life and way from the topic, but I was yet again struck by my first impression of Aaron Coleman(alright, second. The first one was, “Wow, he’s tall!”): What a great Dad.

Then M- and H- showed up. This was while Ronai and Jen were being church-napped, by the way. When we told M- what they had planned to do: head over to peek in the church windows and get a little glimpse) he started to laugh uncontrollably. He told us there was no way that they were going to be able to sneak anywhere, being obrunis, and that they’d probably be dragged to the front of the church, the congregation would make a huge deal about their presence, and they’d have a hard time escaping. He said they’d be lucky to avoid getting baptized into a new faith against their will, a thought that all of us found absolutely hilarious.

M- caught us up on his educational adventure, now that he’s at the University and has completed his basic college education. Watching this man talk about coming up through the higher education system in Ghana, mostly without interpreters, and how hard he’d had to fight to merely get into college, much less through it, blew me away. Then, as he talked about his time at the University now, his plans for grad school, and how there were more than a dozen people following in his footsteps, I was heartsick and amazed.

I was reminded of a conversation I’d just had up at the school with one of the high school Given that shift in perspective, the experience was a positive view of all the possibilities looming on the horizon for these children. When one high school boy told me he wanted more than to simply go to college and University and come back as a teacher of the Deaf, my heart swelled. When Curry started Signs of Hope International, and they began their work in Ghana nine years ago, even that outcome would have been out of this boy's reach. That's astoundingly fast progress in such a short time.

Lunch completed, we trudged back up to the school to “entertain” the kids for a few hours. It was great fun, and I was able to pick up the skirts that E-, the sewing teacher had made for me. We wandered around outside with the kids, as they hugged us and mugged for the camera.

Then we headed inside the cafeteria for some shade. Once inside, some of the older kids ignored us and watched a soccer game ... I mean ... “football match” on the single TV. The younger kids, however, were thrilled to see us, and we goofed around quite a bit. Then, one older middle school girl came up to me and asked if we were going home the next day. I said yes. She got indignant and angry, and asked me, pointedly, why we’d come if we were only going to stay for such a short visit. What could we possibly have accomplished in that short of an amount of time?

Three or four hours before, I’d have responded with, “Good point” or “At least we’re trying to do some good.” However, after the talk with M-, his wife, and jotting down the experiences with the tour guide at Cape Coast, and the Ranger at Kakum, I felt like I was able to answer her:

“We came because each of us has some connection to the Deaf community in our home, and we wanted to learn from you. We also have experience being hearing signing people, and that we had knowledge we could share with them, and their teachers. We wanted to see how much their school had improved, and to share that with the people back home, and we wanted to remind them that they could do anything hearing people could do, despite what cultural roadblocks they came to. I told her about all the people we’d met and talked to, and that as hearing, obruni tourists we were able to go many places (Cape Coast, Kakum) that they had never been (because they are residential students) and communicate with many people they could not (because they were Deaf). With our access, we were able to talk to people, force them to confront their prejudices and change their perspectives, and that if we only managed to change the outlook of a few people, they might talk to their friends and family. That’s how perception shifts change."

Pablo, of course, filmed part of the exchange:

As I’m talking to her in the video above, you can see a kid dancing in the back. Here he is showing off more of his moves:

I felt better today than I have any day of the trip (excepting the short visit to the crocodile pond) because I finally was able to quash that niggling question that had been plaguing me the last few days: “I know what I’m getting out of this, but what good am I actually doing?”
We headed back to the hotel for dinner and a game of bottle-cap Pictionary and packing. Can you guess who from our group the picture below is meant to represent?

Aaron Coleman with his camera, of course.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ghana Trip, Day 9

Saturday morning we “slept in” until 8 in the morning. Pablo and I had mate' (Argentine tea) and did some reading while Jen, Ronai and Ellie went to a Cocoa farm. The rest was nice, and my feet really appreciated the break from all the hiking in sandals.

We did, however, head back to the Aburi wood district to pick up our pieces. Since not all of us would fit in a single cab, Aaron and Leah hopped into the first cab, leaving Pablo, Rachel and I to grab the next one. When the river stopped, however, he already had a man and a woman in the back, leaving only two “open” seats. Pablo took the front seat, and Rachel and I tried to figure out how to take up one seat in the back. Finally, we settled on sitting her tiny backside on my knees.

So, there you go. If only you’d come to Africa, maybe you, too could have had the notorious Rachel Coleman in your lap. : )

We arrived in Aburi and I went to pick up the pieces I’d ordered. First, I picked up the Man-Angel, or “mangel” as he has come to be known.

Here’s the artist who made the angel for me (with Ronai and a piece he made for her):

Then, I went to see A-, the young wood carver from Rachel’s trip 4 years ago. Here he is in 2008:

He’s taken this photo:

and created this:

He was even willing to let another silly signing lady take is photo:

Then, I went to go get my Nativity. I’d been collecting wooden Nativity pieces for years, and two years ago they were all broken in a “my-four-year-old-was-helping” type accident. So, I’ve been Nativity-less for about a year now. I wanted something big and less breakable, and so we asked for a plaque to be crated, that we could hang on a wall, out of her reach.

I was very specific about the piece, wanting not only Mary, Jospeh, Jesus, and an Angel, but also a shepherd, the wisemen, a donkey, a sheep and a camel. We got this piece, that measures about 24 inches long by 12 inches tall:

Beautiful, isn't it?

I’m just in love. Look at all that detail!

We walked back to the taxi stand, took a cab back to the hotel, and then had a relaxed a peaceful time reading, napping and preparing for Sunday. A day off was nice, as we’d been ON 8 hours a day, at least, for the past week.

A quiet dinner, followed by rum&cokes for a few of us, and we were down for the evening.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Ghana Trip, Day 8

I woke up this morning bright and early, and stupidly excited. Crocodiles, don’t you know? Curry had warned us that we’d only have a little bit of time, so I dressed hurriedly, packed up all of our stuff and waited for the appointed wake-up hour. Then I rushed to Jen and Rachel’s room and knocked.

“Je-en! Crocodiles!” There was muffled grumbling, but eventually the two of them appeared, and I practically DRAGGED Jen outside.

We ate breakfast (more eggs and toast, but this time there was JAM!) and I scurried around taking photos of the crocodiles (and seeing what happens when toss them marshmallows).

Oops, missed that sign!

Anyway, then it was off to the paddle boats:

Note the awesome here as D- pretend to push Jen into the croc pond.

Note Jen's face when the crocs nearly jump into our boat!

Crocodile adventure complete, we loaded our stuff back into the tro-tro. I had Pablo’s phone on me, when all of a sudden I realized: INTERNET. I had time to take and post one croc picture to facebook and let everyone know we were alive before we had to go again. Hopping back in the tro-tro after yesterday did not sound like a good time, but Pablo was THRILLED at the idea of the canopy walk, so I braved the van with a smile. Besides…we’d found 5 minutes of the internet and had seen the crocodiles. Still, having had the internet and lost it again made me miss it like I had when we’d first arrived. Instant connectivity is a drug people. I’m going to need to unplug more when I get home.

The drive to Kakum national park was relatively short, and when we arrived we discovered that we should have brought along our wallets, as the prices for Foreign Students were drastically less than those for Foreign Adults. Curry worked his magic (something about proving we were a nonprofit, and having been there before) and we got in at what I would imagine are reasonable prices.

We arrived right before a huge bus filled with obruni tourists, so Curry asked the guide if we could start the walk now, and not wait for the 9:30 tour. They haggled a bit, settled on a price of GH₵15 (a little over $9), and off we went, just the nine of us and the guide. I’m still stunned that there don’t seem to be hard and fast rules about what is allowed and what is forbidden, as everything is negotiable. Most prices are totally negotiable (unless it is something in a can or a processed package), and they can range from normal to absolutely outrageous. It’s so different from the US.

The trip up the mountain-side looked like the beginning of the Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland, and we took some fun photos on the way up.

There was a Palm Wine stop halfway up to the canopy.

Ronai is actually drinking Crystal Light Lemonade, but it looked just like the Palm Wine. I couldn’t help myself.

We started the hike up to the canopy, and Pablo was practically giddy. I’d forgotten how much he likes being out in the green and the trees, and how little he’s had the ability to really do that lately. He was practically skipping, and enjoying his tropical rainforest experience tremendously.

We took a few photos, and Ronai interpreted for Leah, walking backwards up the mountain. She was doing an amazing job, and I found I was feeling excited every time she missed a number or a heavily-accented word, so that I could feed things to her. She took my “help” with good grace, but it was such a unfamiliar experience for the guide leading the tour that he finally asked why we kept flapping our hands (to warn Leah about the soldier carrying the AR15, for example). Ronai asked Leah, who responded, verbally, that she was deaf, and having a hard time hearing the guide, but also a hard time understanding the accent, and so was getting the information interpreted into ASL. He looked shocked, and started asking Ronai about how come Leah could talk if she was deaf, and seemed very shocked to find out that she was intelligent despite her deafness. He tried to backtrack, in his surprise, and say that only the Deaf who cannot speak are disabled, but was cut off when both Ronai and Leah told him she hadn’t been able to speak for a long time, but had been able to communicate since birth. It was apparently quite the game-changer for him. (A special thanks to Pablo for catching this on video).

After that, it was more tro-tro, down to the Western side of the Atlantic ocean. I know I've said that before, but I have such a hard time wrapping my brain around that concept…I’m on the other side of the world! We hit Cape Coast, and unloaded past some very angry sales folk who kept asking for our names as we entered the castle. Curry had warned us that they would ask and that then when we came out, they’d have painted our name on a shell or a rock, and demand to be paid for making us custom art. As we went by, ignoring them, they started swearing angrily at Curry. He just shrugged and told them he’d been here many times, and knew better, and herded us inside.

Again there was the price issue for foreign adults vs foreign children vs foreign students, but these folks recognized Curry and Signs of Hope, International and just let him pay the correct price to get in. Again, Curry skipped us to the front of the tour group, saying we wanted to do the self-guided museum tour after the tour of the castle, because by that point we were a little late and wanted to get home. We wandered to the edge of the castle walls, and looked down at the fisherman, the water and the sand in abject awe. Then our guide arrived, and we entered the doors of the great white edifice.

There really is no way to explain the horrors of the castle. The single beams of light from an foot-square window, the trough in the center of the men’s rooms that ended up backing up to over a foot deep, the tunnel that led them underground to the Door of No Return so that they would never see their wives and children again; these are facts and images, but not the essence of the place. Seeing the separate women’s rooms, where the Europeans would separate the ones worth raping vs the others, the church built over the very top of the whole place, and cell of the condemned, where the rebellious and those who fought for their freedom were locked, with no light, no food and no water, until they died was eye-opening, but the scratches on the stone floor and walls of that cell, made by nails and bones and teeth as individuals made a last-ditch effort to get out alive, are burned into my brain.

(The videos below are dark, and so some of the interpreting gets missed. However, due to the guide's accent, some of the spoken English is impossible to understand, too. Dynamic equivalence?)

After the abolition of the slave trade, Ghanaians bricked the tunnel closed, so that no one could ever be taken through it again.

When we exited the castle through the “Door of No Return,” I wasn’t sure if I was heartsick or relieved to see little children playing just outside the threshold.

The speaker talked about how after the slaves left the castle, they were put in canoes and taken out to the boats, and that then they disappeared forever. Until recently, it was true that no one who had passed through that door had ever come back. In the last few decades, thought, a few families have un-interred their ancestors who were brought to the Americas in chains, and have brought them back in through the doors, so that their final resting place can be close to where they lived free.

Ronai did most of Leah’s interping, with Curry making up the rest, and only an occasional feed from me. Outside the Door of No Return, however, I found that no one was near Leah, and that the guide had begun talking, so I jumped up and started to interpret for her. She grinned a bit, and told me to go ahead and get started. It wasn’t the best interpretation, especially as I have no experience, and no idea how much lag time I need,. Normally, I wouldn’t have even tried, but Leah was familiar with the material, is utterly bilingual, and was listening to the speaker through her implant. She even gave me feedback when we were done. *I* wasn’t even that self-assured at 15! I felt like I did poorly, but it was a very useful experience.

The views from the top of the castle:

Castle completed, we headed back into the tro-tro for the forever-and-a-half ride home. Topics included religion, banned words and the Rachel making up new lyrics to existing songs. Leah even found a way to sleep without being bothered by the burning trash, noise or the light.

Finally, we got back to the hotel, and hit the hay, hard.