Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Day 22 :The Dog Days Commence

In contrast to earlier this week, today and Friday were much more laid back and plodding. Work seems to have stalled somewhat, or is rather moving slower than before. The masons have been working a lot - we employ the same three ones for most of the work - but with so many sites, it's hard to stay exactly on track all the time. But no fear! The latrines will still be mostly done by the time we leave next Saturday (Anough is again the lone wolf which is behind all the others).

Our time here is split between buying and transporting materials around to the sites and actually overseeing and helping with the construction, with healthy doses of naps in between (physical labor is more demanding than what we're used to). Akokapom moved slowly to finish 90% of the superstructure, after which they ran out of sand and needed Sammy to buy some more. One of elders in the village took Anjali, Mike, and Ben to see the nearby Christian cemetery, tucked away in a surprisingly serene grove of trees. Besides the founder of the village being buried there, we saw a tall mango tree which is purported to have been planted over one of the graves. That means that the village has been around for at least a hundred or so years! It's amazing how old Obodan and the surrounding areas truly are.

Western Obodan saw plastering on its walls continued, with cries of "Mortar! Mortar!" coming through every so often. After evening took hold (it's pitch black by 6:30 pm here), the team ate rice for dinner, and finished up watching Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers in the evening. Brilliant movie.

SIgning off,

team 2

Day 24+: The Weekend+

On Saturday we took longer than usual to get started for the day, which worked out perfectly because Winnie came to greet us instead. We took her around to the sites to talk specifics about the project that we had only glossed over when she came with Benard. After visiting the project sites, we returned to Obodan and held a meeting for the children and a few mothers of the village. We first demonstrated proper tooth-brushing and flossing technique with the help of Winnie speaking in Twi. Then we proceeded to present the children with toothbrushes, toothpaste and dental floss which caused great excitement. In retrospect we really didn't plan that part out well so it turned chaotic for some time, but in the end it worked out well and the children went home excited to use their new things. The rest of the day consisted of more work on the sites when Winnie left and we finished watching The Two Towers sometime in the afternoon. For dinner Sammy wanted to take us to a nice restaurant where we could play pool, but it turned out that the place didn't have a pool table anymore and wasn't currently a restaurant either, just a bar. The owner was able to accommodate us in the end and although we needed to wait a long time for the food, we were provided with the most delicious chicken and rice we've had on this trip (I think it was even better than what we had at the Golden Tulip place where we first met Amadei). At the restaurant we spoke to three other pre-med Obronis currently working at the Nsawam hospital for a few weeks. They chose Nsawam on a whim, but were having a good time despite not enjoying the local food all too much. We arrived back in Obodan late, but not too late for a movie...

We then finished The Return of the King sometime in the wee hours of Sunday morning, with roosters actually crowing while Frodo and Sam are at Mt. Doom.

Seeing as time is short at the internet cafe, I'm going to quickly gloss over the exciting events of the past few days. On Sunday we danced at a funeral party held in Obodan which was awkward throughout, but lots of fun nonetheless. Mean Girls! We also taught Matthew how to play spa...strange seeing how we taught him a Ghanaian card game. Monday brought us to Sammy's farm as he harvested more pineapples. We waited a long time at Blue Skies, though we enjoyed ourselves as we watched an interesting TV show and read some ridiculous articles in the daily newspaper. Suraj and Ben got pretty sweet haircuts that the kids have been all over. Bought lots of roofing material and found out that we can actually use an ATM in Nsawam, which is a heck of a lot closer than Accra is! The sites are moving along well and should be nearing completion soon. Peace!

Day 21: A Traditional Celebration

Well hey there! Just pretend you're reading this before Thursday's post. Wednesday was a very exciting day for our team and for Obodan because Benard Amadei came to visit our projects in each community. During the morning we worked at various sites, particularly Akwakupom while Winnie took Benard to a few places in the Nsawam area including Blue Skies. Upon arrival he asked us questions about community involvement, feedback, structural choices and the materials that we used. He was very impressed with our work and surprised that we were able to work on 6 different sites all at once. His input was also valuable for thinking about future projects. As a civil engineer, he was mainly concerned with the structure of the homes and the erosion that jeopardized the structure of them, so he talked a lot about diverting rainwater away from homes. In the end we showed him our pilot latrine and honored us by using it himself!

Afterwards, we walked back to the Chief's Palace where a traditional celebration awaited us. Loud drums and dancing started things off, with Benard and Mike taking respectable stabs at Ghanaian dancing! We met with the Queen Mother and other community leaders and listened to talks given by Sammy, Winnie, the Queen Mother and Benard as well. The celebration was topped off by the presentation of a beautiful white mask from the village to Benard. We hope to communicate further with Mr. Amadei to hear more feedback from a man so experienced in engineering for development. Colorful pictures and video to come!

Day 19 and 20: Team 2 Takeover

Day 19

After bidding farewell to our Travel Team 1 counterparts (we miss you!), Anjali, Mike, Ben, and Suraj headed back to Obodan for night and awoke to a brand new week of latrine work. With the majority of the latrine sites finished with substructure work (the exception being Anough), today began with inspection and helping out moving blocks to the Western Obodan site. The boys can carry the blocks with their strong, manly muscles, but the office-work atrophied arms of Anjali required her to carry the cement block on her head (with a T-shirt rolled up underneath for comfort). It's quite amazing how strong the community members' necks are here - heads are used to carry most large items, and the women can even balance whole tubs of water on their heads without needing hands to steady them as they walk. The Western site finished most of its superstructure.

After Western we took a break in our room that quickly morphed into an afternoon siesta for most of the team (Mike doesn't do naps, alas), after which we blearily trooped to Alata to check up on the rebar work. The masons were working hard and swiftly at pouring in the concrete slab, and finished that for the day. We bought some rice on the way back, and for dinner Anjali showed her cooking prowess (or at least her ability to not mess up) by making some rice with flavoring in it. We were all quite tired for the day, and the evening ended with an early bed.


Day 20

Laundry Day! One truly appreciates washing machines once she has washed four loads of clothes by hand, with breaks to fetch a bucket of water at the nearby borehole every so often.

Today was a more strenuous work day, the kind that actually has you waking up a bit stiff the next day. In the morning the team split up between overseeing the work in Akokapom and Central Obodan. The concrete floor slab was poured in Akokapom, while the superstructure was finished in Central. Then, after a lunch break of the ubiquitous bread (our diet tends to consist primarily of carbohydrates here) sold here, we all walked to Alata, where we carried blocks once more and mixed mortar for the masons to use to work on the superstructure. No naps today. After Alata we moved to Anough, where the substructure was still being worked on. Dirt needed to be filled in on the sides of the pit, so the team grabbed shovels to help with that part. If you've ever read "Holes" by Louis Sachar, then you have a better idea of how shoveling dirt feels like. The evening ended with Ben taking over the chef's duty and cooking up some more rice, except with the added bonus of onions. There was time for a quick movie, then beddy-byes.

Cheers from Africa,

Anjali, Ben, Mike, Suraj

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Day 18: Lake Volta and Team 1 Leaving

Wow we had to wake up super early for our van ride to Lake Volta so we could catch the cruise! So me and Marta and Mira were already up by 5am packing up all our bags *sniff*. We left some extra bug spray and hand sanitizer behind for the others. So since we were leaving, Suraj, Mike, Anjali, and Ben would be stay back. We walked to the van and barely had time to say goodbye to the kids; we weren't going to be back either, we had to bring our luggage with us because after stopping by the Lake we were going to Accra to meet Winnie and Bernard Amadei, the founder of EWB for dinner! We did see Ebenezer and Akotuanat and said bye to them, and I told Richard to tell the others that I said bye but I dunno if he will!

We also got great bread on the way, but upon arrival, we realized not only that the cruise was full, but that is was 40CDs each, around $30 per person, which did cover food and a live band but still, it was full. Besides, there were too many obronis for our liking, and you know us, we're totally not obroni enough to go on the cruise. So we decided to leave and ended up going to a really nice resort that also had a 'cruise' but it was a 15-person sized motor powered quaint-looking passenger boat. Sure why not? The resort was nice and had a pool, and some grass to play soccer and volleyball in (net included!) Mike even got a nice beef khebab that we all drooled at. So on the boat ride we realized how freaking huge the lake was, I just looked it up and it's the largest reservoir of water in the world by surface area, and the 4th largest by volume in the world. It has a dam that powers 80% of Ghana. Woah.

After a small lunch we headed to Accra to meet up with Winnie and Bernard and others, but decided to take a small trip to the beach! Full of people, horse rides, and bars. We just chilled on a strip further away from most of the people and tossed the frisbee and a hacksack, and Mike and Ben even jumped in the water. I think Mira did too. Great, now we had to meet Winnie in our soaking wet clothes. Good thing we brought nice clothes to change into!

So we met at the Golden Tulip Hotel in Accra, and formally met Winnie, our professional mentor from Cali, Bernard Amadei, founder of EWB and professor at U of Colorado, Boulder, along with members of the Ghana Institute of Engineers and Engineers without Borders - Ghana. We took pics and sat down for a nice dinner. First time we had non Ghanaian food in a while.

This is when Team 1 left Team 2. A team photo was taken and handshakes and hugs were exchanged. And as soon as we had gotten to Ghana, we had to leave. Me, Mira, and Marta stayed at the hotel to wait for Winnie to take us to a guest house for the night so we could make it to the airport at 4am without having to go back to Obodan. We waved goodbye to Suraj, Mike, Ben, Anjali, and Sammy, and headed to the guest house. Indoor plumbing was quite a surprise. So was the king size bed we shared for the 4 hrs we slept. Tomorrow we would leave for the US...

-Eric, Marta, Mira
P.S. Team 2 can tell you if they did anything else that night, like watched a movie, I have no idea lol.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Day 17: Boti Falls and a Surprise Guest!

Today was our first true Touristy trip. We all clambered into a taxi van and began our journey to Boti Falls. On the way, we obtained FanIce a soft vanilla ice cream you squeeze from a package! Yum. When we got to Boti Falls, we noticed huge throngs of students from around Ghana; they were wearing matching shirts or polos and as soon as we got out of our van we were kind of bombarded with plantain chips and candy, some of which we bought. So we went along with a tour guide down to Boti Falls, which was just a staircase away from where the plaza we parked our van was. There are two falls actually, one male and one female, from two rivers that had joined up at one point on their way to the falls but then diverged again due to a large rock. They were discovered in the 50s I think and the name comes from a foreigner's inability to pronounce the full name of the area (something-boti) so the name got shortened to Boti Falls. Then we stopped for a bit to eat more plantain chips, and began hiking up a trail to who knows where.

Sammy was a bit tired by this point, and for good reason. Some of the drops were like 90 degrees and there were some climbs where you had to be on all 4s to get up. Finally we reached our destination which was this large flat rock balancing on this other rock. And the view was amazing too. Lots of obronis on the way too. (Obronis being foreigners, like us). Anyways, after we made our way back to Obodan, we still had work to do: move 300 blocks from central Obodan to Anoff, a satellite of Obodan about a 30 second truck ride away. So we loaded 100 blocks at a time onto the flatbed truck, road with it to the site, then unloaded it all around where the pit was dug. These blocks would be the eventual substructure! Also, Clay and Chelsea and some ELiTE friends decided to visit Obodan and stay the night and even helped with the blocks.

After playin a little frisbee and soccer at dusk, we spent the night in Nsawam chilling at McDonal's and came back and collapsed from exhaustion. Also, tmrw we have to get up super early to make it onto the cruise on Lake Volta...

Friday, August 5, 2011

Days 15 and 16: Me Boh Eh Soom Thre Thre

Ah so today was a good day to wash our clothes. Not much to do initially in the morning so we had time. Too bad it rained later in the day while our clothes were line drying. Note to self: bring a line next trip so we can dry our clothes at our place rather than hang them up at Faustina's... Anyways, the rebar/steel bender came by today and he agreed to do one floor latrine per day. And then we went over to Kwasi-doi again to this time make sure the plastering was getting done on the substructure. The kids we noticed, in this area, are much more... outgoing. They'd get into random arguments and would just gather around the pit and chat. I asked James what they were arguing about, because James was the instigator of the argument in the first place, and he had said that they were going to put chickens in the bottom of the latrine, or something ridiculous like that. And then the Kwasi-doi kids got angry at James (who's from Obodan) and they would start arguing. They're like 10-12 years old and it's great! I guess it was pretty enjoyable to have them around. For lunch we took a break and ate some Muslim food, it was like rice and beans and some spicy ingredients, and it was quite tasty. We also got "sugar bread" later which is just sweeter-than-normal bread, plus we got a discount (and thus a larger loaf of bread) cause the driver of the bakery van liked Mira.

Also since the rebar was finished too, we helped with pouring concrete onto it to make the floor slab. Can't wait to see the finished product! We had some good food for dinner again too, Mira made her rice and spicy sauce and egg combo while Marta and Anjali made a non-spicy version with rice and tomato and egg. It was goood. We also watched Forgetting Sarah Marshall. LOL

Day 16:

Today we saw the finished concrete slab so we plan to start building the superstructure today. But it is still not 100% cured so we won't lay too many layers of superstructure. We took the second team to see the pilot source-separated latrine from last summer and hung out there a little bit, and it wasn't smelly at all! Looks like it was working yay! I tried hiding in the latrine to scare the team, and Mike would tell me when they were coming, so I sat on the toilet (cover down of course) and then Anjali opens the door and I'm like Ah Anjali, close the door, I'm using it. I think she said she was pretty startled. Nice. And the kids who were hanging around Ben kept saying to each other "Me boh eh soom thre thre" which means "I slap you three times" even though three in Twi is "ebiesa" they just shortened three to "threh." No slapping was actually done but it was just fun to say. Ben's got the phrase down.

So then after a few more sites got their concrete, Eric, Mira, Mike, and Marta went with Sammy to Accra to run some errands and most of all to buy souvenirs in this indoor outdoor market. They literally bombard you and shake your hand and ask you to buy their things. And most of them were selling the same stuff too, Ghanaian shirts, jewelry, wooden sculptures and masks, etc. Mike almost got a free painting for a piece of gum; unfortunately the package was soggy from the rain that day or else we woulda got a free painting! We all bought a few things and turns out Marta's really good at haggling. Tonight we had instant noodles, instant macaroni, and instant pasta for dinner. Yesss. I also think tonight was Lion King night.

Me boh eh soom thre thre,
Eric, Mira, Mike, Marta, and Faction 2

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Days 13 and 14: New Kids in Town

The days here aren't as hot as you would think. The wet season is just ending and the hills next to the village are usually covered in this rolling fog. It doesn't rain too much, well it drizzles a bit, but it's not too sunny. The breeze is nice though. So today we continued with making sure the masons were plastering the inside of the pits and we were looking forward to seeing the second team today!

Sammy went to Accra to pick them up, but when we called him to check on how things were, he told us that their flight as cancelled and that they were stuck in Morocco. Plus, their bags had not made it on the flight. We didn't want to believe him at first because he likes playing jokes like this, but when he came back to the room and we didn't see anyone with him, we considered he might have been telling the truth. Then Suraj, Anjali, and Ben burst through the door and then we're like oh Sammy, you got us didn't you. The only part of his story that was true was that their bags actually had not made it on the flight and they were going to come two days later.

So we all visited sites together and tonight we ate at Fotobi and had a great time, although a few of us have been feeling slight headaches and fevers but nothing a little Cipro can't cure. And instead of Fanta, some of us had Alvaro, which is this nice non-alcoholic carbonated beverage with several fruit flavors to choose from, and we got Passion Fruit. Def a tasty drink.

Mostly today we hung around Kwasi-doi to make sure the substructure was getting completed. Everyone helped out, whether it was shoveling, mixing mortar, carrying blocks, anything! Anjali was learning a lot of Twi from the kids, and I had learned to count from 1-10 in Twi as well. I also taught John Kwaye how to count from 1-5 in Chinese and then later taught him 6-10 but he said that was too hard. Then later, we walked to the site in Western Obodan, around a 20 minute walk from Kwasi-doi, but 2 minutes away from where we were staying, and we saw that they had laid the wooden boards on the substructure, in preparation for pouring the floor slab.

Then we noticed that they were designing it per the pilot latrine we implemented last summer, which was neither gender-divided nor side pit access. So we had to sit down and talk about which design would be better, and of course we knew it would be gender-divided but we had to clarify where the entrance doors were and where the pit access doors (where you dig out the solid waste) were. We ended up getting it figured out thanks to Sammy!

Tonight most of us went to Nsawam, and logged on to the internetz. But nobody updated the blog. Psh.

Team 1 and Team 2

Day 13 pics (Day 14 pics start at the picture with Ben, Anjali, the kids, and the pit):

Monday, August 1, 2011

Days 11 and 12: Laboring and Anniversaries

So today is Sunday, which means all the kids wake up real early and go to church with their parents. It also means it's communal labor day! The most work gets done today so we were really excited. We went up to Kwasi-doi, the lazier of the villages, who kind of disappointed us cause they were supposed to have the pit dug and all by the morning but they said they'd come back at 2pm in the afternoon. Hmph. At least we did have the honor of being served some food again by some of the villagers, this one woman has given us fufu (mashed casava) before so this time she gave us some cold square kenke, which is mashed maize, with some spicy tomato fish sauce. She also had us mash the fufu she was preparing for us with some hot soup which was great too!

On a brighter note, Alata's substructure is halfway done. We videotaped a lot of the construction with Marta's camcorder for her documentary. I even interviewed a couple of the kids, like James, who enjoys making animal noises and wants to be an engineer! It's all on camera I swear. And we also met John Kwaye from Kwasi-doi, who wants to be a doctor because doctors help people. I noticed how he said doctors help people, not that he himself wanted to help people. Well, maybe once he's closer to his dream he'll realize he will be the one helping others!

Dinner was quite special tonight because Mira made gardenegg soup (gardenegg is a squash the size of a tomato i guess, and it has tomato paste, onion, jalapeno peppers, palm oil, and some spices) and cocoyam (a yam-like... yam) Sammy said it's almost as good as his mother's gardenegg soup... Congrats Mira!


Monday, August 1st, means only one thing. Team 2 is one day away! Suraj, Ben, Anjali will be coming tomorrow! Anyway, Mike and Sammy went to Accra to take care of bizznazz, and me and Mira had to go check up on Kwasi-doi, the slower-digging village. We literally took the straightener and shovel ourselves and made sure the bottom sides of the pit were vertical and straightened. It was really sunny too, so it turned out to be a good workout. As you can see too, kids love helping out with the latrines too. So why not let them have a shovel and go at it right?

And tonight we went to Nsawam again to McDonal's! Not for burgers and fries but for chicken and rice. We also celebrated Marta's 7th anniversary with her bf, well with us, but you know what I mean. McDonal's is like a club actually because when you enter there's a huge space for dancing. The restaurant is upstairs, and a floor above the street so you're free from the streetlights and noise and everything. And today we were able to get some internet too, only the 2nd time actually. We're really living simple here, even though there is electricity in the village, we don't have a means of calling or going online without Sammy's blackberry or coming to Nsawam which is a 15 min taxi ride from Obodan. At least it's kinda cheap though (the taxi which is around a $1 per person and the internet which is a $1 an hour)

Your obronis,

Day 11 pics (Day 12 pics start at our group picture):

Days 9 and 10: Bros and Hoes

Well hello again, this is our shout out from the ninth and tenth days of the trip. Important events included: Mike pick-axing, Eric hoe-ing on the side (of the pit), serious table-topping from all sides, a 3 - 1 current tally of wrestling victories to Mike over the great Sammy Gamson himself, sweet concrete-pouring in western Obodan, an absolutely delicious dinner of home-cooked rice, eggs and pepper sauce made mostly by Mira, and financial clarity (at least on paper).

The next day began when we finally decided to leave our room at the extra late time of 8am, only to find out that Sammy Gamson had been setting up workers for over 2 hours. Our first stop was in Obodan where we led a massive block carrying campaign with the help of eager children. Yes, cement/dirt blocks are very heavy and yes the kids are much better at it than we are, but we did our best! Kwasi Doi came was our next stop where we again aided in the digging process.

Skip to tonight and we spent the night in Fotobi and some Don Garcia magically appeared and tempted us to drink it. Which of course led to Mike and Sammy arm wrestling.

Well that's alsadbdf aiabmasd aawa *drool*

Eric, Mike, Mira, Marta (the 3 muskebeers)

Days 7 and 8: Doctors and Masters

Today the doctors came omg! It was great, we met Amelia, her husband Cyril, and Joseph. So we set up shop right outside school and started preparing index cards for each person, with a place to put their name, age, village, then sections for their heart rate, height, weight, blood sugar, etc., while we set up the stations at the same time. People started coming around 7:30 ish and the doctors started seeing people around 8:00pm. In total around 100 or so people came! Mostly middle age to older women and men. Mike and Mira even helped with taking down their height and weight so it was a full team effort. And the Queen Mother of Nsawam even came and said hi!
Anyways, we successfully poured concrete today in the north villages. Anyways, I include a picture of one of the villagers because he's hilarious. His english is only so so but he's just a character. He enjoys drinking which is why we always think he's drunk whenever he talks, but he is just really friendly. That's why the north village is one of our favorites, one because of this guy, another because they work really fast.
Tonight we again ate and drank at Fotobi and even learned how Sammy met his wife. It's a great story for another time :)

Today we met MARTA! Well first we had to go to Accra again. It was mindblowing really, after being in a village for a week it is kind of amazing to see not only other Obrunis (white ppl) but also civilization lol. We had yummy chicken sandwiches too.... double chicken sandwiches. Marta's great too. She's here to document the latrine construction process and how the community interacts with each other during construction. She's more an architecture urban design person so its cool seeing what she's done before in relation to construction in Italy (where she's from). We also bought groceries at a Shoprite today, and even looked at cribs for Sammy's newborn aw. We hope to make lotsa Ghanaian food in the coming days.
Then we saw Sammy's farm! Hella pineapples in every direction holy s***. They were unfortunately not ready to harvest yet lol but whatever.

Hopefully we'll get online soon because we are not doing these blogposts justice. at all.

See ya'll later,
Eric, M^3

Days 5 and 6: Fufu and Mark

Sorry for the long break but we've been really taking our sweet time here, not having checked our emails for a week hehe. But anyways, we started our 5th day here with yummy pineapple nutella sandwiches. Pineapples here are amazing to say the least...
We worked mostly at Kwasi-doi, one of 6 latrine sites in Obodan and its satellite villages, but without going into too many details, this site has been the slowest going. There are hella rocks in the pit and they find them too hard to dig through. What has been fun about this village though is this one mother who makes fufu for us, basically mashed casava, and even had us try it out. We also enjoy sugar cane when we get the chance. It's like gum cause you chew it but it doesn't last nearly as long, but it is quite juicy.
We also kept up with progress at the incomplete second pilot latrine, it still needs a floor slab and the superstructure, but it looks great. Nice plastered walls and everything...
Today we also seemed to have more time to chill because me and mike ended up playing... bamboo baseball on the soccer field in front of the school. The kids are just way too active for us haha.

Well the sixth day we had to start thinking about how we were going to meet the doctors for tomorrow, the 27th, but it ended up going very well as you will read about! Today we actually spent a lot of time in Accra. But first we had to make sure the villages were molding blocks and everything. It's actually a really quick process, they mix cement and sand and only a little bit of water then put it in this block mold and make sure it's all compact, then dump it in rows and let them dry. Quite cool. Plus it's less expensive and clearly more fun than buying blocks!
Anyways, we were in Accra most of the day too getting money for materials, etc., but it was interesting seeing the city life of Ghana.
There are still people selling stuff on the streets like in the villages but just much more densely populated, and crazy. We even have a private taxi guy who's been around since Steve Forbes rode with him, his name's Mark and he's awesome. He's only like 28 or so. But anyways, we saw a bunch of sites just driving around, and we met the Queen mother of the Nsawam region and even chilled at her place for a bit to chat and have soda :) We just made sure she would be in Obodan for the doctor's visit!

Well, again sorry about the delay in updates, but this is only the third or fourth time we've had access to blogspot...

Eric, Mira, Mike