Saturday, June 29, 2013

Reflections and Images

The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

The end of my service in Ghana is now just over 30 days away and I must begin looking at a plan for turning over my site and leaving.  One of the superb leaders I worked for in the Navy never let us start thinking like "short timers."  I can still hear, "We are not short timers, we will keep working until relieved, we will leave the work site orderly, and we will enjoy our success when we get home."   Woe to the person who lost focus or began slacking off  as we neared the end of deployment. 

I still have numerous tasks to do and now with a replacement Volunteer scheduled to come to the school, I am often reminded of his demand.   Without losing focus on the remaining days, these are some reflections and images on my time here:

Physically this has been a life altering experience.   
August 2011 with my Language Teacher
May 2013 less 60 lbs.

The Peace Corps doctor says I have likely improved my health and my Granddaughter said, "you sound like Papa, but you do not look like Papa!"

During an information session on preparations to return home, some Volunteers who had gone through the experience of returning told us that it may be more difficult to adjust to coming home than the adjustment to Ghana.   I will find out, but how difficult can it be to hug my children and slowly enjoy a strawberry smoothie?

Why did I do it?  Reflecting on joining the Peace Corps, I can only say there was not a single reason.  It seems like God's providence allowed a number of circumstances that provided me the opportunity:  good health; supportive family; personal circumstances; need for change; another challenge; a feeling of loneliness; an opportunity to serve.    As a typical human being, I decided to join on my own and then asked God to bless my decision.  Despite that failing, He has been gracious to me.

Did I ever feel like "packing it up" and coming home? Yes, once near the end of the initial 12 weeks of training, living in a Ghanian home, with the intensity of preparation to pass the required oral interview in the local language, and a nightly series of uncomfortable coughing spasms from the dust that interrupted my sleep.   In addition, a sawmill located about 100 meters away began operating during the hours 11 pm to 4 am to avoid paying the electric bill.  They had jumped the meter and so only operated at night.  But I remembered, "Woe to the person who lost focus."

Stay focused.  You will not be a short timer.
This a picture of my land lady who brought me the cough "stuff ?" in the middle of the nights that allowed me to get some rest.  I am sure my coughing plus the sawmill had her entire family awake.  

What were some unexpected things?  It has been more challenging than expected.   I missed my children even more than I had anticipated and decided to go home for a visit at the one year point.   It was an excellent decision.   I also found that I had to readjust the definition of success a couple of times.  Measuring the retained knowledge of mathematics skills by my students was not sufficient, but inspiring them to work hard at their tasks, value education, and discipline themselves was a better objective.  I already feel that twinge of missing them but know I still have the task of staying focused to prepare them for a strong finish for this academic year.   

What do I feel best about?  Certainly not my language skill, my lack of ability to remember all the names of a 120 students or to eat any Ghanian food from a kiosk on the roadside.  It is an event for which I only made my fellow teachers aware.  Operation Smile is a non profit with Headquarters in Norfolk, VA and known to me through my daughter Joni's volunteer work with them while in High School.  They do amazing reconstructive surgery to repair cleft lips and palates and other facial deformities, around the world, for free.   In Ghana, you do not see these children as they are often kept hidden and sometimes believed to have bad spirits.  When I heard Operation Smile was coming to Ghana, I told the teachers of their amazing work and asked that they use our students to get the word out to the community of this opportunity.  Two days later, a young mother came to the school with her very young baby, wrapped so that you could not see the obvious facial deformity.  Using my cell phone a teacher immediately called the contact number and did all the work to set up an appointment and the possibility for corrective surgery.   It all got done, and a month later the mother returned to the school with her son and their beautiful smiles.  Life changing is hardly adequate to describe what had happened.  I cried.

The school girls mowing the school yard with cutlasses. 
Mother and child.

What is next?  Not sure of all the details, but I will work until the new Volunteer arrives, leave my site orderly, and enjoy being back home in the United States.

Have a great Independence Day!    


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