Thursday, June 25, 2009

A weekend away

I’ve still been getting headaches. Early in the week they were worse, but for the past few days they haven’t been as long or as painful. I think they’re caused by anxiety. It’s SO unlike me! I’m usually really easy-going and happy-go-lucky, but lately I’ve felt anxiety, and I’m not even sure why. When I arrive at school to find a classroom of noisy, disrespectful students who won’t listen, I feel terribly overwhelmed and stressed out. It’s weird and annoying and needs to stop. Today was actually much better, so that’s good. :)

In this past week since I last wrote, there were a few days that I felt such anxiety that all I could do to cheer myself up was to go out to the shopping mall and lose myself in the bookstore before treating myself to a nice cup of coffee or a milkshake. I think a part of my problem was my impending exodus from the country, having to leave by 30th June but not being sure of where I would go or how much it would cost.

Yesterday, I stopped by Ivory Coast’s embassy to apply for my visa. I have to go back tomorrow to pick it up. It was 5000 CFA. I had NO idea how much that would be in a currency with which I’m familiar, so I was nervous that it would be really expensive until I went to the Forex Bureau. 5000 CFA was only Gh¢16, which is about USD$12 or so. That’s not bad at all!

So it looks like I’ll be leaving Saturday. Right now I’m searching for a place to stay and trying to figure out how to get there. I’m kind of in a rush because Fred will be coming over any minute to hang out. Anyway, I don’t know if I’ll have a chance to come online before I leave for Côte d’Ivoire. I’m planning on spending a day or two in the Western Region of Ghana on my way back. We’re having a midterm break early next week, but school resumes on Thursday, so I’ll be back in Accra by Wednesday night. See you then?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


I’ve been getting headaches lately. Horrible! At times they can be so debilitating. I’m behind on correcting homework because I couldn’t concentrate today with this headahce. Today’s headache is one of the worst I’ve experienced here. I took some Motrin in the morning, but it didn’t help at all, so I took some Extra Strength Tylenol after lunch, which helped a little. Now it’s about 4:30 and my head is hurting really badly again. I don’t know why! I’ve been getting them a lot, and it sucks.

Another “headache:” On Monday night, Fred called and said he made a mistake, that actually, the Immigration Office only gave me 30 days extension. When I went to the office yesterday to pick it up, I saw that they had only extended it to 30th June! Somehow, Fred got “3 months” and then “30 days” from “30th June,” but it sucks. Now I have to go to Togo or Côte d’Ivoire before the end of the month. Oh, it would be nice to explore a new country, but it will be expensive, I’ll need to pay for a visa to get into these countries, and have to deal with exchanging the currency and finding a place to stay, etc.

Wow, I just realized how pessimistic that was. Headaches like the one I have now really alter my personality and make me hate the world. I should be happy to see a new country. Stop whining, Kate.

Okay, I think this is my cue to rest, which sucks because instead of getting things done, I’m stuck in bed. I hate headaches!

Monday, June 15, 2009

By the way...

I can’t believe that we are halfway through June!

Nor can I believe that we are halfway through the third and final term. Incredible! Time is passing too quickly.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Lights Off

Saturday was mostly a really shitty day for me. So many crappy, frustrating things happened to me that I called my sister Kara at 10 PM almost in tears and vented to her in a long rant that included more seven-letter adjectives beginning with “f” in the first ten minutes of our conversation than I’ve used the entire eight months I’ve been Ghana. Luckily for me, she’s such a great sister and listened quietly so that I was able to get most of it out so I don’t feel the need to burden my blog readers with every little detail.

Right now, as I’m writing this, I’m sitting in my room in the dark. One of the less crappy events of Saturday was a “lights off” (a power outage) that started at around eight in the morning and still affected the entire neighborhood when I came back to the house last night at a quarter to ten. The power was still out all of this morning into the afternoon. Now, I thought I was used to power outages. They’re quite common here in Accra, but they’ve become so much more common the past few weeks. When I first arrived, it felt like we experienced lights off once every week or two, at most two times in a week, and they usually lasted anywhere from fifteen minutes to two hours, and usually during the day when I was at school and barely even noticed. Lately, as in for the past month or two, however, they’ve been occurring at least three times per week, and instead of depriving us of electricity for only an hour or two, the “lights off” of late last the entire day for twelve hours or so.

Oh, but yesterday’s lights off lasted all day, all night, and all day again, well over twenty-four hours. When there’s an all-day lights off on the weekend, I’ve discovered, I don’t have much choice but to leave the house. The heat becomes too much for me in the house without fans, so I went to the Accra mall after lunch and spent several hours browsing their air-conditioned bookstore. When I came back to the convent around 7:30, everything seemed to be well-lit, so I happily sat down for dinner. I noticed that the nuns weren’t watching TV, and I found out that we have “low current,” which means only half the house gets electricity. Upstairs (where my room is) is the half that doesn’t get it tonight. It’s my second night in a row groping around my room in the dark!

Okay, time to look on the bright side. What can be positive about not having electricity? I’ll tell you.

With the “low current,” the outlet in which the television is plugged wasn’t working, so instead of watching TV, the nuns had to find other ways of entertaining themselves. Sister Juliana was lying on the couch, reading aloud from the user manuel to the brand new treadmill they had purchased this morning (which was a gift from one of her friends... I’m telling you, these nuns get so many free things given to them, even treadmills!). It’s really cute how excited all the nuns are about this new exercise equipment, by the way. They call it their “chingalingy machine.” Haha!

Anyway, after Sister Julie finished reading it, she started saying the website. “W W W dot...” Sister Anne picked up, “dot com dot yahoo dot UK.” I started laughing. “No,” Sister Anne said, “W W W dot, what’s the name of the company? Try-jam?”

“Trojan,” Sister Juliana said, also mispronouncing it slightly, something more like traw-jen. “W W W dot Trojan dot com.”

I couldn’t help but laugh.

“Are you making fun of the way we’re pronouncing it?” Sister Julie asked.

“Kind of,” I admitted, “and also, Trojan is also a name brand for another type of product...”

“Ah, you mean the condoms?” said Sister Julie, catching on quickly.

And the next thing I knew, we were all sharing our best condom stories. Of course, they were nuns, so the stories had to do with condom mix-ups, but still, we were talking and laughing about them. All I could think in my head was, “What the hell? I’m sitting at the dinner table in a convent in West Africa with five nuns chatting away about condoms!” It was one of those situations I never imagined myself getting into, something that completely added to the comedy and irony of my living situation and well, my life, I guess.

See? If Accra had electricity 24/7, we would have been doing something typical like watching the evening news. Now, thanks to low current, I have several funny nun condom stories to share with whomever is interested... just ask!

Friday, June 12, 2009


I’ve found a fun way to get the class’s attention when they’re making noise. :)

They’re kids. Sometimes the noise volume in my class becomes too high to teach, which frustrates me quite a bit, but now that I’ve found a method of quieting them, life is good.

I simply raise my hand in the air. The few who are paying attention to me will follow suit. Then I do things with my fingers, making different hand signals... one finger, two, three, four, five, thumbs up, thumbs down, just my pinky, just my index finger, all five fingers, spread apart, fingers closed, into a fist, open, waving, etc. Just silly little things. The kids paying attention try to copy what I’m doing. Once the talkatives realize what’s going on, they become quiet to concentrate on following my hand motions. When I can see that the whole class is quietly paying attention to whatever I’m doing with my hand, I swoop my arm around and bring one finger in front of my lips... “Shh!”

The next thing I know, the twenty-one Ghanaian school children in front of me have one finger to their lips, and all is quiet.

“Thank you. Now, back to the lesson...”

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A true story

“Good morning, class. Hey! Please keep quiet. Please, be extra good today. I’m feeling so, so sick right now. I think I have a very bad cold. Can’t you hear my voice? I can’t shout. My head is paining me, and when you make noise, it makes it worse. I had to rest all morning, and I couldn’t teach 4B this morning, but since we didn’t have time for your classwork yesterday, we have to do it today. Please. If you’re quiet, I’ll tell you a story. It’s a true story of something that happened to me. Please, keep quiet and listen.

“Do you remember how I had to leave early on Friday to go to the immigration office? I had to go drop off my passport so they can fix my visa so I can stay. Do you remember when I got a phone call on Monday during class and had to leave? Let me tell you what happened.

“The lady there wanted to talk to me. She asked me why I was here in Ghana, and I told her, but she said I’ve been here too long, and I have to leave. She said I could only stay until 30th June.”

Cries of protest went up throughout the classroom.

“Shh! Keep quiet! I’m not finished with the story yet! If you make noise I won’t be able to tell you! Okay, that’s better. Well, I told her my plane ticket is for 27th July, and that I needed to finish teaching you English until the end of the term. She didn’t care. I begged and pleaded with her, ‘Please! Please! Please!’ but she didn’t care. She said she was sacking me from Ghana. She would only let me stay until 30th June, and if I stayed longer, they might put me in jail or something.

“Oh, you don’t know how upset I was! I was crying! But still, she said, ‘No.’ When I walked to the trotro, I was crying the whole time. I don’t want to leave yet!”

Their faces were grave as most of them listened silently. A few looked like they were about to be sick. Akyena pretended to cry.

“Shh! The story isn’t finished yet! I was so upset that I cried on the trotro and I stopped by Shoprite to eat some ice cream so I would feel better, and I sat crying eating ice cream...” Some of the class thought this was really funny, and laughed out loud. Most were too anxious to know the final outcome to laugh, and quickly shushed the offenders.

“I called my friend Fred, and told him what happened, and he said he’d call his friend who worked there. They thought it might be possible for me to go and come to Togo or Côte d’Ivoire, but we weren’t sure. So I didn’t know if I could stay until 27th July or if I’d have to leave early on 30th June.”

“Oh! Miss Kate!” I heard.

“But then, this morning, when I was in the house, resting because I’m sick, I got a phone call from Fred. He said he had just talked to Evelyn, his friend at the office, and she said they’re still working on it, but they don’t know yet.”

The little faces looking up at me were grave and serious, particularly those belonging to my favorite students. I smiled.

“Then, about 30 minutes later, when I was still at the house in my bed, resting, Fred called me back... and he said... ‘Congratulations! They’re extending your visitor’s permit.’ That means I can stay!”

A great cheer of victory went up, and several students got out of their chairs and danced around happily. I felt very loved. I didn’t tell them that they had given me another three-month extension. If I had told them that, they would have wanted me to stay longer, until September 7th, but I’m definitely set on touching down at LAX on July 28th. I’m lucky to be friends with Fred, who is friends with Evelyn, who took my case to a senior consular to get the job done. Very lucky. I’m also very happy that I don’t have to leave early!

“Miss Kate! Question. How long will you stay in Ghana? Forever?” Ohemaa asked hopefully.

“No, sweetie, only until 27th July, and I’m so lucky I can stay that long! They wanted to sack me out at the end of June! But now, I can stay until 27th July. I’m so happy! But I’m still sick. So please, keep quiet. Kwabena, sit down! Priest, stop drumming! Shh.... okay. Once everyone is quiet, we can begin our classwork. Thank you. Who remembers what we learned yesterday about prepositions?”

Monday, June 8, 2009

Expat woes

During my first English class this morning, I received a call from the immigration office telling me I needed to come in for an interview, which had never happened to me before. I had dropped off my passport on Friday to get another extension on my visitor’s permit to make my stay in Ghana legal. Usually I just drop off my passport with Fred’s friend Evelyn, and she takes care of everything for me and calls me up when it’s finished.

I left right after lunch, and arrived at the office at 1:30. I didn’t think it would be a big deal. I thought she’d just ask me a few questions, smile, and hand me my passport. I stopped by the Western Europe office where Evelyn works, and she directed me to the lady I needed to see, telling me that she wanted to know when I was leaving.

The lady sat me down in front of her desk and asked me what I was doing in Ghana for so long. I tried to explain, but she told me that I’ve been here too long and I have to leave. Visitor’s permits are only supposed to last 6 months, and she wouldn’t grant me another extension. I pulled out a copy of my itinerary for my flight home, promising her that I’ll leave on 27th July. She didn’t care. That was too long, she said. She said she’d give me ‘til the end of the month, and then I had to be out of here. So what if my plane ticket doesn’t leave until the end of July? I’ll just have to change it. So what if my students won’t have an English teacher? There are plenty of teachers in Ghana who could replace me.

I’m still surprised by my reaction, because it’s something I normally never do in front of strangers: I started crying. I never cry in front of strangers. I hardly ever cry in front of my best friends! I can count on my fingers the number of times I’ve cried in front of my best friends, but strangers? I guess I was in such a state of shock and so upset that I didn’t know what to do. I pleaded with her to let me stay, just one extra month! But, no! She was adamant. My time is up. She’d give me until June 30th, no later. I pleaded and pleaded, but she told me she was through with me wanted to eat her lunch. I should just get out now.

“But, my visa is for two years!” I pointed out. “Why can’t I stay?”

“It’s a multiple-entry visa, to come and go,” she said. “You can’t just stay here for more than 6 months straight.”

“What if I go and come? If I go to Côte d’Ivoire or Togo, and come back? It’s multiple-entry, so I can come and go for two years!”

She considered this for a few minutes, but I think I had already pissed her off enough, so she said, “No. Only if you go to the United States and come back.” F***ing bitch!

She kicked me out of her office, foreshadowing my being kicked out of the country.

I tried to calm myself down, and went back to the Western Europe office.

“Did she give you an extension?” asked Evelyn.

“No!” I said, trying to keep my voice level and the tears from leaking out of my eyes. “But would it work if I go to Côte d’Ivoire or Togo and come back?”

“If you do that, they’ll give you a new stamp that allows you to stay for 60 more days,” she said. I wondered who was right, her or the bitch of an officer who “helped” me.

I was still crying as I walked the few blocks to the nearest bus stop. I can’t tell you how upset the prospect of abandoning my students makes me feel! I promised them I’d stay until 27th July! I can’t leave them early! I needed to talk to someone, but I knew I’d get no sympathy from my American friends, who miss me and want me to come home as soon as possible. So I took out my phone and called Fred. I cried to him as I walked, telling him my problems. He told me he’d call me back in 5 minutes.

I decided to stop by the Accra Shopping Mall on the way back. After the merde of a day I just had, I deserved ice cream. As I was about to get off the trotro, I received a call from Fred. He had called Evelyn, and repeated what she said about visiting a neighboring country. Fred said he had a friend in or near Togo who could help me get over the border and come back in with a new stamp allowing me to stay for an extra 60 days. I shouldn’t worry, he said. “Let me see you smile!” (how on earth could I let him see me smile over the phone?)

I spent about an hour browsing the bookstore, which calmed me down quite a bit. I had two scoops of ice cream from Frankie’s, crunchy hazelnut and chocolate. It was served like gelato, except soooo not as good. Oh well, ice cream is ice cream, right? I wasn’t satisfied, so I also bought a little coconut cake. Then I was calm enough to go back to the house.

I “can’t wait” to go home and see everyone again. When I say that, what I mean is I’m really looking forward to going home... but I can wait. I’m not ready to go just yet. I still have 7 weeks left with my students. There is still so much more I need to teach them about English and French and life. I’m counting down the days until I can see everyone again (50 days left!), but I still need these days I’m counting down if I want to finish everything I want to do in Ghana. I want to leave on July 27th, not one day earlier, not one day later. That’s why I am determined to do this legally. The only thing that could possibly be worse than having to leave early would be if they detained me at the airport and I was late coming home.

I think that Evelyn was right about how I can leave to Togo or Ivory Coast and come back and be fine, but that bitchy lady did say otherwise, so I’m not 100% sure. I’m looking into it right now. So, I guess it’s possible that I’ll be seeing you at the end of June, but, (please don’t take offense to this) I hope I don’t.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

My African Union Day Weekend in the Volta Region!

They say a picture is worth a thousand words... here are 60,000 words for you.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

What I think I should do and what I really want to do

Sometimes, what I think I should do and what I want to do are two different things. Which should I go with? What I think I should do, or what I really want?

I’m having to make some serious decisions about my future that will affect the course of my life. One of my best friends who was counseling me pointed out my problem: I’m torn between what I think I should do and what I really want. She recommended that I go for what I really want. I think that’s a marvelous idea.

I want to apply this same principle to blogging. I haven’t been blogging very much at all lately because I feel like I should write about certain experiences like my safari, the wedding, my three-day weekend, etc, but I don’t really want to write about that right now. So much has happened! Whenever I sit down to start, I become overwhelmed by everything I want to say, and this task of describing the indescribable feels too monumental, so I end up not writing at all. Writing becomes something I feel like I “have” to do, not something I want to do.

So... I won’t write about my travels yet. I’ll write about whatever is on my mind, which lately has had more to do with my students and my mixed feelings about leaving than my travels. When I’m in the mood to write about my travels, I will. If I end up writing a book about Ghana (you never know, it could happen someday), they would definitely find their way into there, so you’ll just have to buy the book! If not... ask me about it when I come home, and I’ll tell you all about it in person! Wouldn’t that be even better? I’ll post pictures soon, hopefully, and give you the link, but in the meantime, I’m going to do what I really want to do. I missed lunch today, so right now, I really want to eat dinner. Bye!