So far, a smooth trip. I successfully crossed the Atlantic with three suitcases. There is a layover of about 2 hours in Amsterdam. One suitcase full of ibuprofin, neosporin, and a lot of first aid material. That should relieve a lot of headaches and falls (thank you Aunti Mary!). Another suitcase has several ipads, a laptop, and several smartphones (all loaded with Khan Academy for math and reader programs) and a video camera. The third suitacase has a full set of Pegasus’ old uniforms along with a couple of balls, mini-white boards, and basic school suppies. The Thunder is going to roar at Crossover. I can’t wait to be Santa! To everyone that chipped in, “thank you!!” and stay posted.
Day 1-Tuesday March 31
So many things happened today that I don’t even know where to start. Dave and I had a long discussion last night about how to best move forward but as he was talking, we both realized that I needed to see the new school and get a lay of the land. Plus, today was the last day before Easter Break so it was a big day at Crossover.
The school building itself is actually better in person than it looks in pictures. The colors are vibrant, it has a sort of regal vibe when walking the corridors, and the inside has cool beams with a that corrugated steel roof. It is a modern school that stands proudly in the Ghanaian countryside.
Today, the building was much more than a simple structure. It served as a gathering point for the entire community. Crossover plays soccer in a district league with 23 other teams. They finished the season in first during the season and today was the semifinal game with rival school Thalas Academy. While it wasn’t quite the World Cup, it was exciting. The entire community was out there watching the game! There were vendors and a lot of adults from the community cheering every good move by Crossover and groaning at every opportunity by Thalas. For good measure, there was one heck of a shouting match between the ref and the coach of Thalas. The game ended in a draw, so they will play again next week. No penalty kicks here.
After the game there were probably 300-400 people hanging around singing and dancing. The other team even hung out for a while. And then it started raining……really raining. Everyone then went inside the school and hung out, for a few hours. In one of the hardest sustained rains that I’ve ever seen, people comfortably hung out in the school. They resumed goofing off and singing inside. I couldn’t help but think… the last time I was here, that rain would have spelled disaster. This time, it just meant the singing and dancing moved.
Tomorrow, we will be addressing three things. First and foremost, we are going to look into different sustainable food options. As recently as last week, they faced severe food shortages again. The dry season wreaks havoc here and food is hard to come by. We will be investigating the possibility of cows. We will also be scheduling visits will solar power vendors. If time permits, we will finally try to get a deal on some desks.
Day 2-Wednesday April 1
Welcome to Ghana! Today was appropriately April Fool’s day. It seemed that around every corner was an unanticipated surprise. The first was the continued power outage at the hotel and in the region. The hotel I’m staying at has no power and even the generator is intermittent. So, they served up a couple of healthy slices of bread for breakfast and off we went. The first order of business was to go to the internet cafe to investigate more solar options. Surprise, the cafe had no power. So, next up was a trip to the bank. I couldn’t get money inside, and at the ATM, you guessed it, no power.
No power, no problem. We did some calculations about the wattage needed to power the aquaponic system, the satellite, and a computer. Then, we eventually talked on the phone to a couple of solar companies about the possibility of solar power, we were able to get an idea of the systems available. It looks promising.
The next order of business was looking in to the possibility of buying either chickens or cows to provide food. There isn’t enough space on the Crossover site to accommodate a cow or cows. The only available space is “over bank” on the other side of the river. But, that area has been taken over by machine gun wielding drug lords. They will rent space, for a cut of the production. Ahh, yikes, we moved on! No cows, no problem. We next looking into chickens or something called guinea fowl that are a lot like chickens. A guy near Dave was raising them recently and had 600 of them. All was going well until one day he got up and all 600 had died. Apparently, a wave of some type of avian virus/flu went around knocked out all the domesticated birds. Strike two! In Ghana, nothing is easy and nothing moves fast. Tomorrow, we will be fetching “some metals and some woods” to give to the desk maker. He will make samples for us before I leave and we will try to negotiate a good price for a bulk order.
There is good news to report at the site. The well is much more than a well. It is a complete water system. There is a big poly tank that can hold a thousands of gallons right in the middle of the site. Under ground, water is also piped to the bathrooms and all the way over to the old Crossover site where they currently cook food. So, no more waterborne disease and kids can wash their hands easily and often. The school and water delivery system is a gargantuan positive change for Crossover! We have brought shelter, comfort, and health in a big way! I’m glad tomorrow isn’t April Fool’s day.
Day 3 Thursday April 2
Woo-hoo! This morning, I woke up and the fan was going. That could only mean one thing, power! Just in case, I brought some instant Starbucks coffee packets with me. Right now, for the first time in 5 days, I am enjoying a cup of coffee. It may just be the best cup I’ve ever had. Wow, wow, wow! Today is a crazy busy day in the market in Djemeni. We will be meeting the desk guy later. With power comes the ability to research different solar companies too. Dave is on the phone now setting appointments.
There is another interesting possibility for food. Way in the North of Ghana is a city called Tamale. It is 500 miles from Crossover but you can get bulk corn and gari which can stay in a bag for months for about 1/4 the price you can get it locally. We are looking into a bulk purchase. Even with the cost of renting a driver and a van (super cheap relatively speaking), it should reduce the price of food. It looks feasible to arrange for a quarterly delivery and that will reduce the overall price of food. Corn and gari can be mixed with cassava to make the staple food of Banku. Cassava can be obtained locally for cheap but alone, it just doesn’t provide enough nutrition.
Djemeni is the only port town around. Recently, there has been an increasing problem with drugs coming through the port. As a “yevo” or white guy, I present some problems. Am I there to rat them out or am I there to buy? When I approach anywhere, calls of “yevo, yevo” (white guy) can be heard and distrustful eyes dart my way. It is a different vibe from the normal happy go lucky vibe of most Ghanaians. The overall situation seems similar to what is happening in Mexico, but not as bad, yet. Dave is also the king of goodness in a region of wickedness so we are quite a pair. He is insulated through some shrewd moves on his part though. We have plans to navigate the waters and I am off to do just that….
We confirmed a little earlier that a sample desk will be made. We should have that some time in the next day or two. When I get the photo, I’ll post and share. We are further investigating solar options now.
Day 3 Thursday April 2 night
Today was a day unlike anything I have experienced. Djemeni is eclectic, vibrant, poor, challenging, scary, dirty, and invigorating all at once. I saw all of the following, most being sold from rickety wood framed box stalls; a tire shop, a shoe sole vendor, a guy sharpening machetes, an iron worker, a bike shop, a guy planking wood, a woman weaving bright colors, I met a bank manager and the local councilman, sugar cane sales people (with a mountain of flies), dried fish, broken outboard motors, a thousand plastic bags on every street (sorry Algalita people, its horrific), a coca cola vendor, bright beads, funky soap, and finally the desk guy. Wow! never seen or smelled anything like it. By comparison, it makes Tijuana look like South Coast Plaza. Walking that market is an experience. Ghana/Africa is its own animal. The people are mostly either cool or totally indifferent to me.
I learned more about the water system we had installed. It is seriously awesome. Dave now has a big tank outside his house. That has allowed for a bathroom with a toilet, a shower, a kitchen sink, clean water to cook with and clean water to wash hands with before eating…and all the kids do! They use the old Crossover site for cooking/eating and it has become a beacon of health and fresh water! There is also a hose bib right outside his gate. The villagers come up and fill up with water also. The bore hole has brought fresh water to a ton of people and they are super stoked with Dave. I sat and watched in awe today. The last time I was here, they used lake water for cooking and drinking…they bathed in the lake and they suffered all sorts of diseases from it. Truly a fantastic gift!!!
Tonight, I’m typing from a “bug hut” type of tent in the structure that we had to build before the school. I’m doubled up on merry mats and its pretty dang comfortable. If maybe it was 95 degrees instead of 450 degrees, I could even call it cozy. I’m praying my battery operated fan lasts through the night. The mats are good, and I’ll be fine. All the funky noises and clanks on the walls and roof? I’ll get used to it and hopefully fall asleep soon. Everyone at home should sleep well. The overall situation here is super good and I mean SUPER good compared to what it was. As a collective group, we have made an enormous impact.
Day 4 Friday April 3 Good Friday
Today, it is a holiday. Everyone in Ghana celebrates Easter in a big way. We will be going to a service later tonight. It is only 3:30 now and I have eaten two big meals today and I’m feeling like a king. The second meal was beans, gari, and fried plantains. Oooh, oooh that was good! Veggies, fruit and meat are pretty rare, especially in any quantity.
The big news today is that we may have experienced a break through. Cows, away from the wicked drug lords could be a good option here. They are very inexpensive to raise, they produce milk and cheese, and they can be sold for good prices, hopefully after multiplying. It is a long term investment that appears to have a type of compund interest. It is encouraging.
Day 5 Saturday April 4
It is early morning here and I am awake because I can hear a church service. How am I hearing a church service in a rural African setting, far from a church? It is weird, they have old WWII style megaphones that are perched high up on telephone polls. They are loud enough where the entire village can hear the broadcast. The guy is speaking Ewe so I cannot tell what he is saying but there is a steady drone tapping out, sometimes he is yelling, sometimes momntone speaking, sometimes singing, but it has been going steady, every minute that power has been on. This whole adventure is surreal, impossible to capture with words. But right now, it is sort of eeery. I am alone listening to the steady message. While I know that it is a message designed to be positive and healing, the method of delivery and the fact that it is in a foreign language creates a distinct feeling. It feels like I am in North Korea or maybe communist Russia where the government dictates propaganda. At the moment, it doesn’t take much imagination to see how a steady dictation from a megaphone would influence people, especially people with limited education or people fearful of their government. It is something that is unexpected from a community pf mostly old dilapidated homes, most without electricty. In Africa, I have learned, nothing is what you would expect, no matter what you expect!
Today, I have learned incredible news. Always, I knew that Crossover was a strong academic institution. However today, I am going to quantify it so that everyone can share the pride. Crossover is situated in the South Dayi District in the Volta Region of Ghana. There are 175 basic schools in the district. Each year, students are tested in 7 subjects. The tests are a series of tests called the BECE (Basic Education Certificate Exams). The 7 subjects are English, Mathematics, Integrated Science, Social Studies, RME (Religious and Moral Education), BDT (Basic Design and Technology), ICT (Information and Communication Technology). All 175 schools take these government administered exams, both public and private schools. To pass the exams, students need to earn a score of 65% or higher.
For three years running, 100% of Crossover students have passed all 7 subject areas exams. In addition, for three years running, their aggregate scores place them FIRST out all 175 school. They have placed FIRST in aggregate scores for three years running. They are academic GIANTS!! Even more, ALL of the students, in each subject, have earned scores in the 80th percentile or better. They are nothing short of amazing…..and they are our sister school. Dave said “because of the help (from the Pegasus community and Wings for Crossover) in the form of educational materials, computers, the satellite, and everything else, it has transformed Crossover totally.”
Even better, last year there were 9 students that graduated from Crossover. Of the 9, five of them got full scholarships to Bishop Herman, the highest rated high school in the Volta Region. The other 4 received partial scholarships and are also attending Bishop Herman. They are being lifted out of the shackles of poverty. This year, there are 14 students that will be leaving Crossover. Dave expects similar results. Most will get full scholarships and some will get partial. Even with the partial, they are able to attend a good high school. Remember, ALL of these kids are orphans, many former slaves. When they get to Crossover, Dave instill a sense of confidence in them, a sense of “you can do it.” He tells them “education is emancipation.” And, then he shows them how.
They also just played soccer in a semi final match after emerging from a league of 23 teams. I am humbled and honored to be a part of something so wonderful!!!!
Day 6 Easter Sunday, April 5th
Today started with the megaphone again. It was still dark and when the messages began. Not only was the megaphone going, but people were up and walking around. Today, everyone is in their best traditional African clothes and there is palpable excitement. The clothing and traditions are cool to observe. Dave is the leader of this community in every way. With the chief and several elders in attendance, he led a long and powerful service. His message was that of commitment and discipline. He is an amazing speaker and it is abundantly clear that everyone looks up to him. The last couple of days have been pretty inspiring. The work we are all doing at home is really helping here. Monday here is still a holiday, a day for picnics. One thing I really admire about Ghanaian culture is their ability to patiently and happily just hang out together. I find myself just sitting with the kids often. We don’t say anything, we just be. It is a very mindful experience. Ghanaians as a group are very friendly, but they are not chatty. Its pretty normal for a large group of people to just kinda hand out and be. I like it.
Later this afternoon, there is a big community futbol match by the lake. Apparently all the women play first. They never practice or anything so it is supposed to be pretty entertaining. I’m looking forward to it.
Day 7 Monday, April 6th
Early today, I saw the water system in action. The old Crossover site now has a bathroom with two toilets and a shower connected to a septic system. Over the last few days, I’ve used the toilets and the shower. While there isn’t hot water, the overall situation for hygiene is pretty darn good. Last time I was here, they carried lake water to a big tank that they used for bathing and cooking. The bathrooms (if you could call them that) were dirt walled and simply holes in the groud. The old site also has a kitchen, a pretty real kitchen. It has a sink and cabinets to store the big pots they cook with and the plates/cups that the kids use to eat. Last time I was here, cooking happened outside, like when camping. All kitchen stuff was stored in a bamboo-like outdoor shed. The improvement is significant.
I also got a look at the electrical system. The new Crossover has a large transformer, larger than the transformer for the entire village of Tongor-Attokrokpo. It can power the school with bulbs (there are only cfl bulbs here), fans, power the water and do much much more. The transformer has literally changed the community. There are currently three homes being built near Crossover because people know that power can be obtained (of course that is when power is actually available). There are also two new roads, one running parallel to the school and the other perpendicular. Dave also has made a community source of water so lots of people can have fresh water. Dave is not just a leader here now, he is a hero! People come and get their water and chat and seemingly exchange things. The new school has facilitated community development.
Beyond the infrastructure type of stuff, a lot of people have started playing volleyball here. Volleyball wasn’t ever played by anyone around here three years ago but they made a net at the old site and that setup was moved to the new site. Today, a good natured volleyball game broke out in the late afternoon. Its clear they enjoy volleyball. More positive vibes around Crossover. It is It is super cool! We are off to look at the desks.
Day 8 Tuesday, April 6
Today, we will be investigating solar seriously. Over the last few days, we have been networking and speaking to people about solar. We have a guy coming to look at the site and give us a bid. We are supposed to meet with another company as well. Wow, doing two things on the same day in Ghana, that may be ambitious. Over the years, I have dabbled a bit with a mini solar system to power my personal electronics and we have solar panels at our house. I’ve also read and studied enough to feel like I know what to look for. I am excited to see what we can do.
Today, we could not meet the desk guy. He doesn’t have a phone and he wasn’t there when we went there. We did get a look at rival school Thalas Academy. Compared to the huts at old Crossover, it is pretty nice, but the new Crossover is WAY nicer.
With each passing day, I feel a little more Ghanian.. But something histerical happened that surprised Dave and I. We were doing a question and answer ffilm session outside with plenty of space around. He was seated about 5 feet away from me and out of nowhere A goat came literally flying between us. The thing jumped about 4 feet in the air and did a flying karate move. We both looked at each other and burst out laughing, then watched the video about 10 times.. My gut still hurts from laughing…..Off to see what we can do for solar.
Day 9 Wednesday April 8
Today was a true baptism in Ghanaian culture. Initially, I thought the desks wouldn’t be too difficult. But that would ignore the fact that we are in Ghana. Desks here need to be made from scratch. That means a welder, a painter, and carpenter were involved. Each required a separate negotiation as none of them had ever made a desk. Dave had a photo of what we wanted and we worked off of that photo.
With each guy, we had to discuss both the material that would be used and the workmanship price. Of course, each guy started with high prices so Dave and I had to “good cop, bad cop” them. Dave did the initil negotiation, then I’d come in and say “we can have this done in Accra through my connections for cheaper.” That strategy generally worked! Prices magically came down. But we also had to walk from the carpenter, to the welder and back many times. Of course we probably chose the hottest day to do so. There are no mini markets in town and absolutely no possibility that I would eat or drink anything in town so it was exhausting. After about an 8 hour day, we did get a desk made! Woo-hoo. They seem to think they can actually make 3 desks a day. It is a lot of work.
For a week now I have been sleeping at the school. It absolutely poured rain yesterday. It may be the hardest rain that I have ever seen!! The good news is that no rain gets in and it remains comfortable. The bad news is that the metal roof seems to radiate heat and it gets crazy hot inside iin the late afternoons. Witthout power and fans it is a tough to bear for a yevo (white guy).. Off to check out Dave’s boat..
Day 10 Thursday, April 9
Each day, there are a lot of things that I could write about. But today, I am going to write about food. LLast night was my 7th night at Crossover and it was another night without power which means no fan….and that is tough. If it doesn’t rain the metal roof radiates heat and that lasts into the evening.
Most nights, we eat banku. It is a mixture of maize and cassava dough and it has the texture of uncooked bread dough. TThey serve it in a bowl with a type of spicy soup. You eat it with your hands and dunk the pieces in the soup. It is really filling and pretty tasty, if you like spicy food. IIn the mornings we have tea and bread, pretty similar to an American breakfast. Dave is ppurposely giving me a large variety of Ghanian food and yesterday morning we had something called coco. It was almost like a watery gel of semi-fermented maize. The taste was ssour and a bit bitter and the consistency was unlike anything I’ve had. Coco was the only thing here that I had a hard time eating. For breakfast we’ve also had rice water which is similar to rice milk at home but lumpier. One morning, we also had something pretty close to oatmeal.
For lunch we have had something called beans and gari with plantains. It looks a little like refried beans and it tastes sorta like lentils. AA little goes a long way. IIf you eat a serving about the size of a baseball, you will be full for hours because when you drink water afterwards, it totally expands in your stomach and you feel full for a long time. TThe also mix spagetti and rice with a spicy sauce sometimes for lunch..
They are eating like kings with me here, both more often and with way more variety…ffor my benefit. A normal day would consist coco in the morning and banku at night, two meals. They typically will eat those two foods only, for a week or more at a time. It is inexpensive. Rice, plantains, oats, and pasta are not eaten often because of cost. Right now, especially because it is the off season for fishing, food isin high demand and more expensive. Off to have breakfast, hopefully tea and bread. 🙂
When I packed my bag, I included several bags of beef jerky, bags sunflower seeds, granola bars, bags of mixed nuts, and a bunch of vitamin packed powered drinks. I held out all that stuff until tonight. You should seen their faces when I broke out the beef jerky and they tried it. They absolutely loved it! After passing it around and enjoying, the immediate reaction was to get on Skype to tell mom Pam to send boxes of it! Haha, it is the little things in life.
Day 11 Friday April 9
Today was another amazing experience! Crossover is located within walking distance of the town of Djemeni. On Thursday, people come from “overbank” or the opposite side of the lake. Others come from as far away as 500 miles. The reason? It is the only real port town along the Eastern shores of the lake. People come to bring their wares and barter for a whole host of things that I have never seen before. When boats pull up, people rush to the side to see what is inside. Seemingly anything could come out of the boat. I saw all of the following come off a boat; cows, charcoal, smoked catfish, tilapia, giant bags of pepper, sheep, ground nuts, colorful cloth, cassava, a motorcycle, okra, sandals, gari, baskets, wooden spoons for making banku, some sort of pastry, plastic bags, European soccer jerseys, garden eggs, palm roots….Wow! The sights and smells were amazing.
Throughout the adventure, kids from Crossover, neighbors to Dave, the guy from the bank, police, and all sorts of people came up to us. One guy had to really examine how a white man could have black hair on his face. Anyway, it was the long route to securing future desks and a stop at the bank. It is my last night at Crossover tonight. I am really bummed to be leaving. Dave’s family, the villagers, and the people of Crossover have really grown on me. They are smart, resourceful, and generally happy in spite of some incredibly difficult circumstances. More than ever, I have profound respect for what happens here. With success in school, the kids of Crossover will not be bartering along the lakeshore, living in mud homes. They will become, bankers, teachers, nurses, doctors, architects, and maybe even solar salesmen or aquaponic business owners.