Updated: Feb 11
Day 10 – Goodbye! May 9, 2013Today, we are going to the embassy to try to secure student visas and a visa for Dave. I will say “bye bye” to brother Dave later…and will write more when I am able. Some bye bye photos Hang’n with the kids Mr. Conti with Mr. Yayravi and his family. Mr. Conti with Dave…. Right after this photo was taken, I handed him all three Peg-ahhh-seusss shirts I brought. He liked that! And the last video from Crossover…Caution, this is hard to watch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QM7S6P3oHhg&feature=youtu.be Advertisements REPORT THIS AD Leave a comment |Day 9 – Leaving Crossover May 8, 2013Mr Conti left Crossover today (Thursday). The video below is the first few minutes of the “goodbye”. This is the first 3 minutes or so….Mr. Conti’s personal writing is below describing the scene that followed this video and lasted 45 minutes until he drove away. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zaeUDzhe-tY Whoa…yesterday. One of the best and toughest days of my life… The day started like other days at Crossover, lots of smiles and joy. They insisted that I play futbol with them. It was the older students vs the teachers. We wore the unis Chad brought. It was a blast! The kids play fast, and well. We played two thirty minute halves and the kids beat us 3-1. They LOVED watching me play and pretty much every time I got the ball, they cheered. I have video which I’ll share if I have time. Then, we took pictures. There are some fantastic pictures with me, the teachers, the kids, and Dave’s family…I’ll send later. I taught them to say “cheese” before taking the photos and it was hilarious! They sang “cheeeeeeeeeeeeese” instead of saying it. When photos were done, the sense of the end was near and a sadness was underlying the next event, which was the planting of two trees, one in my name (a mango tree) and one in Chad’s name (orange tree). (See video). When that was done, all the kids were waiting for me to give a farewell speech in the hut. The mood was somber, but also they really wanted to hear from me. I feel good about what I said, but looking at their faces was hard…they were obviously sad. I kept it together though and said some good things. The last part needs some setting up. On the way to Crossover, you turn onto a dirt road. The distance from the turn in the dirt road to Crossover is about 1/3 of a mile, so it takes a bit to walk it. The kids and Sampson sang a song called “til we meet again.” In the beginning it was celebratory. The kids clapped at sang. But one by one, after about a minute into it, some began to cry. The video I showed is very early, only a few were crying. But as time went on, more started crying. The girl in the pink, one of my favorites, completely lost it and was wailing, which was hard to see. Then some of the older girls and boys started crying…hard. I was escorted through the hut while they were still singing and crying to the car. At this point, it was overwhelming…but really, it was the beginning. All 250 kids lined both sides of the car as the car inched its way out of Crossover, to the road. On both sides of the car, kids were scream-crying…flows of tears but still singing. The kind of cry that seems almost impossible to sustain, but they did…all 250 of them. I held my hands are arms out the window so they could touch me, and hold hands. We inched along that road while emotion poured and poured. Even the teachers were crying and singing. Eventually, we came to the turn in the road and they swarmed while bawling….finally the teachers broke them free and we drove off…. I didn’t film or take pictures. Honestly, I didn’t even think to do so….8 hours later, I am still rattled. Dave and I didn’t say anything in the car. At the hotel, he said “prince filmed the whole thing, I will bring it to you tomorrow.” Not sure I if can ever watch it…. video of tree planting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yc3LvisKhk video of playing futbol: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBvW53-l4tY I told them…I America we ask kids to say “cheese” and told them why….this was their response http://youtu.be/TAEpn1B8j6U Leave a comment |Day 8 – Teaching May 7, 2013Just when I convince myself that the experience cannot get any better, it seems to get better. We have developed a sense of familiarity now and with familiarity comes comfort. Today, I taught three different ages of students. For the little ones, I borrowed a lesson from Mrs. DiCato and the first grade. It was an interesting experience. A LOT of them were missing teeth. So, as I began to read and interact, we had an immediate connection. The Crossover students fully got the message that while people and culture all over the world are different, we are also the same in the human experience. It was an excellent exercise in cultural anthropology. For me, the highlight was spending time with their middle schoolers because it is my comfort zone. The kids were awesome! They were really eager to learn and they asked a lot of questions, just like Pegasus students. The entire session was about 2 hours. As you watch the video, look how close they are to each other and how much they touch. It’s just the way they are…If you are curious about the content, watch the videos below. They would have let me continue all day. Dave even said he would give me a job there….for $40 bucks a month! At lunch, I had a chance to learn some rhythms on the drums. I LOVED it! Just when I thought I had a rhythm down pretty good, they would speed up or add a wrinkle. At times, I followed, but wow are they fast. I have to say, it was a proud moment when I kept a rhythm going long enough that a lot of kids danced and fully busted their African moves right in front of me. Woo-hoo!! Here are the videos…I’ll add photos in a little while. I have found a downside to Ghana. When people say Ghana time, it means WAAAAAAY slow and late. Food takes an hour at least here and Dave has been at least 1.5 hours late every time we have met. Its just what they do. A couple of photos from today…. Kids playing “Go Fish” Learning a rhythm http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FlVFpvgDPNU Where is his tooth? Hoops! Dave sent this picture to me before I arrived, but I didn’t realize what it meant. I just found it so I put it on this blog….this is the classroom, but the boys also place their sleeping mats here at night. It is the boys dorm…simply overwhelming Tooth story videos Livingston http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdct0v-DKoQ Mary http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dsvuO5PLhW4 Thank you to Mrs. DiCato http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8MsBrZmwUQ Mr. Conti teaching culture at Crossover http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfU-qDfR4fw Mr. Conti trying to teach little ones about tooth stories http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRRGZ9CJtGg Mr. Conti talking to older students about cultural differences and similarities The middle schoolers asked me a lot of questions. My response here (video below) is to the question “how are we different from them culturally.” I thought it was great that Angelo asked that question. Angelo is Dave Yayravi’s son. Notice how many kids have their arms around each other and how natural It is for them to do that. They always touch each other and it is not a distraction. They hold hands a lot too. Actually, when we talk, there are never any distractions. Often, they say “very interesting. Please more, sir.” This session lasted 2 hours…it only stopped because I was boiling and needed water….but all of them walked with me to get water and say “please, more sir.” I have seen soooo many acts of kindness that I have begun to question my own sense of kindness. Coach, you would be so proud of the character that these kids show, all of them. At times, I’m humbled by it because it is so natural and so easy for them. They never are afraid to show their feelings because nobody would ever tease them when they do. It is beautiful. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_xyP_Oiqvk Leave a comment |Day 7 – Ghanaian Nomenclature! May 6, 2013Today was a totally different sort of day. It started with a meeting to discuss the possibility of tilapia fish farming. Like chocolate and tea before it, tilapia is a huge product in Ghana, but not for the locals because it is too expensive. Instead, fish is farmed, then frozen and shipped to global markets. Today, we saw a cage being harvested and there were literally hundreds, maybe a thousand from one cage. Nearby vans with ice waited as fish were cleaned and packed. It took a lot to even be able to see the harvest. The locals involved do not want to share their fish farm secrets. Further, almost all fish cage owners are foreigners because the locals cannot afford the startup costs. Tomorrow we have another meeting. At some point, I’m hoping to get an idea how much a cage costs. Dave would not be able to get a meeting with the company without me. Clearly they produced a ton of fish. At Crossover today, it was an educational day and it was really interesting. See the lesson below about Ghanaian names. Its pretty funny, their accents are so heavy that I say something in English and Prince repeats what I say…in English! They can’t understand me otherwise. See if you can understand Dave. Ghanaian Nomenclature You can use the info below and Dave’s video to create your Ghanaian name. Your name depends on the day you were born, the order in which you were born and several other characteristics. Search below and see if you can figure out your Ghanaian name. Dave’s video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFOV-u0wg4U&feature=youtu.be Days of the week that you were born are added as follows Monday male kodzo female Addo Tuesday male kobla female abra Weds male Koku. Female aku Thurs male yaw. Female yawa Friday male kofi female afi Saturday male Komi. Female ami Sunday male Kosi. Female akos Twins Both boys.. first is etse, second Atsu Boy and girl boy Atsu girl atsufe Both girls first born is ata. Second is Atawa Birth order First born boy-add efoe First born girl-add evui You add “vi” to second born males and ad “vi” to second born females You add “tse” if you are the last born son Only one born-akogo Yawtse Jim Conti I am the last son, born on a Thursday One more link for today…just one of the many happy moments I saw today.This is the older kids on their way to get lunch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cPd7zaHMUf0&feature=youtu.be Bye for now… Leave a comment |Day 6 – Another Warm Welcome May 5, 2013 Today, we were met with another fantastic Crossover greeting. This time, after the warm welcome, we had to attend to an important matter. We had not officially arrived at the village yet because we had not met the chief of the village. We met him and his wives today. Meeting the Cheif and his wives, the handshake is tricky… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNByOqW5AMo So, in case it’s not clear in the video, after the “secret” handshake you snap middle fingers to symbolize the “knot is tied” and the bond is sealed. Sometimes they will say, “it is done”. Apparently I am pretty good at it and the Chief and his wives are pleased by my handshaking skills. After meeting the chief (he was very soft spoken and friendly), we were led back to Crossover by a group of girls doing a traditional dance. They wore traditional clothing and danced for a really long time. The cultural experience was a prelude to the “feast” we had today. At the debate on Saturday, the OCDL donated proceeds from snack sales to Crossover and we used the donation to fund a meal of chick en and rhice. All the kids had big bowls that were full, as did Chad and I. The difference was Chad and I had eaten chicken many times before. Most of the kids at Crossover had not eaten meat often, and some never have eaten chicken. Several of them said “we want meat, we want meat.” When they got it, this was the scene Think they liked it? I can’t remember which Pegasus student donated them, but one 8th grader donated a bunch of sunglasses. Its pretty funny, the boys are stoked to wear the glasses, even ones that are women’s sunglasses. We no longer have to guess what it is like when it rains. Right after we ate, a big wind came and within a minute it was raining. We all bolted for the hut, and it rained pretty hard. Under the hut, I gathered all the boy PenPals and filmed them greeting their Pegasus PenPals. That was a blast! However, several times, I got nailed by big blasts of water that leaked through the hut….the same one the boys sleep under and night. At one point, the oldest and biggest Penal Pal went to sit in the filming chair…and as he went to sit, about 4 of the really little ones (maybe 5 years old) pulled the chair out from under him and he fell!! We all yucked it up on that one! The kids all really wanted to say hi to their PenPals. Some of it is pretty good, but the video will take a while to upload. While at the feast, Chad and I were given traditional Ghanaian clothing to wear for the feast. I felt pretty African wearing my kente clothing (8th graders, remember when we studied kente cloth). Somehow, we don’t look that African, but the people at Crossover sure got a kick out of it. The food at the feast was surprisingly good. Some of the rice gets crunchy because it is at the bottom of a giant pot. I liked the crunchy….. After the rain, all the boys gathered buckets and went down to the lake. They took lake water and filled a giant container so that everyone could bathe. They bathe with soap daily, which is a good thing. They seemed pretty content to do their daily bath routine. The rain quickly turned everything into mud.. By far, I got the dirtiest today…I’ll add photos and videos now MY NEW LUNCHMATES.. The next two links are short videos of the cultural dance through the small town of Dzemeni on the way back to Crossover. Dzemeni http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PxYUZJv-_2Q http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5EayDJHwbJk This is Sampson, the music genius! He teaches music and social studies. He can make any song in seconds and may also be the most rhythmic guy I’ve ever seen (sorry Hartwell!). Within minutes of Chad handing out t-shirts to the Crossover kids, Sampson had created a thank you song and arranged for all the kids to sing it to us. Sitting with the kids, while Dave talks about the upcoming feast. I think I hear their tummies growling. This is Prince, Dave Yayravi’s Son. Heir to the Crossover throne… So, everyday when Chad and I arrive to Crossover we are greeted. The video below was today’s greeting. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVwKzDsn8Bo Leave a comment |Day 5 – Day of Rest May 4, 2013Today is Sunday in Ghana and Sunday is a day of rest here. It has allowed me the opportunity to really reflect and try to share what I am learning here. The overwhelming message is this….Ghanaians are the happiest, most loving people I have ever met…(let’s forget about the poverty for a minute). At Crossover, they are a tight community and they love each other. When they sit and talk, they sit close to each other and they touch a lot. The bonds are tight. They are also quick to smile and laugh. “I love you” is something that is said often. Sonia’s friend, who I had never met, looked at me with glowing eyes and said “I love you dad Jim, please take care of everyone.” When she said it, I felt the love…Even as I type, a feeling of love and comfort has come over me. I love her too! The same is true for the kids at Crossover. When they look at you and smile, you feel good. Kids always hold my hand, sometimes three or four hold one hand. When they do, I feel a positive charge of energy. It is easy to dismiss what I am saying by thinking “of course they love you, you are giving them things.” But that thought would be a huge injustice to all things Ghanaian and especially all things Crossover. You have to experience it to know, but I’m trying to communicate. Nancy Wilder, Kathy Dicato and a few others seem to have caught on from home. One of my goals going forward is to try to tap into that source of love and happiness and bring it back. Thank you, congratulations, I love you!! To balance this feeling of love and positivity with reality, I’ve included two pictures of the girls “dorm.” They sleep on the ground, on these mats….Chad asked Dave “there are 120 girls, why are there only about 20 mats.” Dave just kinda shrugged and said “four girls can fit on one mat.” We are near the equator, I can only imagine what it is like when it rains. Extra highlight The link below is to speeches done by all of us after our fantastic greeting. The boy who speaks first is named Angelo, which is short for Michelangelo. He is Dave’s son and I think he is 13. When I asked, Dave said “he has prepared for about 30 minutes for his speech.” The singing of “saving grace” just happened spontaneously. There are more like this, but they take a long time to upload. Enjoy. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5RXXu_sGh4g&feature=youtu.be Leave a comment |Day 4 – Mawuko High School May 3, 2013Today, we didn’t travel to Crossover. Instead, we visited Dave’s daughter Sonia at the Mawuko all girls high school in the city of Ho. Sonia is a senior, about ready to graduate. When I asked, she said that she wants to be an economist. Given where we are and who she is, that seems to be a good goal. We visited Sonia because she has been a hugely positive influence on my daughter Mia. Sonia and Mia have been in regular email contact for some time now. I don’t always know what they say to each other, but I have seen some of the things that Sonia says to Mia. She regularly says things like “study hard….help your parents…be good…and of course, I love you.” Her words are powerful and she is a wonderful young lady. The gifts from Crossover come in many forms. Ghanaian happiness is starting to wear off on me. On the way back, we stopped at the mona monkey sanctuary. The youtube video below says it all…If anyone is curious, my daughter made the designs on the shirts was made by Mia and printed by Mrs. Schmitz in art class. Did she have her baby yet? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWj6GC6lCPs The one event that I was worried about missing while I was gone was the OC Championships for debate. As it turns out, I didn’t miss it! Anthony in the tech department used a school laptop and Facetime to bring me into the event. I was able to see Elijan, Gabi, and Sam win the championship!! Not only that, I was able to give them a little pep talk before and be part of the celebration after. That was special! To the entire team I say, “good work, I am very proud of you!” Elijan, Gabi and Sam were fantastic last night.I even spoke to the crowd via Facetime. Technology is amazing…. In my mind, I am singing (Crossover style), “Pegasus, Pegasus, Peg-ahhhh-seuss…we are proud to know you….Pegasus today, you are great!” Pegasus, Pegasus, Peg-ahhhhh-seuss…we are proud to know you….Pegasus, today you are great!” (repeat many times). See link below from Crossover for guidance http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sv52YjcJxSw With better technology, maybe one day in the future, the kids at Crossover will be in the audience as well. The Orange County Debate League was kind enough to donate the proceeds from sales of snacks at the OC Championships to Crossover. We raised $271, thanks in part to a large donation by Mr. Zurn, that was the most expensive Pirate’s Booty ever! The money will be used to have a huge feast on Monday. All kids will have chicken, rice, beans, and a desert. They almost never have chicken. Anyone want to join us? I can’t wait! Leave a comment |Day 3 – Boating May 2, 2013So today, we went to Crossover by boat. The boat was one of those colorful canoe-like boats that are associated with West Africa. When in Rome….After about a minute, I looked down and saw a fairly significant leak. No problem, that what buckets are for…and away we went. When we arrived, we were greeted with more song, dance, and about 50 kids sporting their new new soccer unis. We proceeded to dance our way to Crossover. It was so cool! Today, Chad brought food (bread, jelly, nutella, cookies). Those kids were so thrilled. Each one that got a Famous Amos cookie took about five minutes to eat it. They literally savored every tiny bite. Most had never had a cookie before. I have about twenty photos of kids thrilled to eat something new. The girl in the pink is a favorite. She is lively, confident, happy, and eager to please. After a nice snack (what could typically be their entire calories for a day), we needed to have some fun. Because of donations from the 8th grade, kids at Crossover played soccer (donated unis, balls, and cleats), frisbee, basketball, and lacrosse. A couple of kids picked up lacrosse pretty quick and it was fun to watch. Others had clearly been practicing their dribbling skills. These kids are so thrilled to do anything and we have opened a lot of doors for them. This court is almost like our gym…funny thing is, it might as well be. I was pretty surprised how quick they picked up the frisbees. They threw them pretty accurately right off the bat, and of course had a blast doing so. The most important part of the day was the filters. We built and got 3 filters running. As Dave said yesterday, the filters are extremely important for health purposes. The kids even knew as much. They crowded around the buckets immediately and started saying “wow, wow, wow.” They say that when they are happy. Here is Dave talking about it… http://youtu.be/bhELmQ_yqpw Here is an example of the “Whoa, wow, wow” they say when they are excited! http://youtu.be/rCzokePRjYE I’m tired…one more picture Leave a comment |Day 2.5 – Back Again May 1, 2013We just returned from Crossover. There are no words to describe what happened today. As we approached the school, a group of about 30 kids greeted us in the back of a truck singing and we were paraded through town. As we approached the school, more kids lined the road with signs and were singing. When we finally arrived, the gates of the truck opened and we were mobbed by 250 kids (see the pictures and video). At any point today, if I stood for a moment, a kid would come up and hold my hand, then another, then another….usually it was four to a hand. They sang and we all danced for over an hour before I could say anything. I’m currently uploading a song they made called….”Pegasus, Pegasus, peg-aaaaa-sussssss. We are proud to know you.” It will forever be in my head. To all kids that gave something, even a silly band, you cannot imagine how much they appreciate it. Today was the happiest I have ever seen a group of any people. It was so special to be a part of…Please know that every thought, every action, every word we say to these kids matters. And also know, they are so warm, so loving, so happy, it is hard to imagine. After the 1.5 hour mobbing, I read to about 150 kids. I read three Anansi the Spider stories off of one of the donated kindles. It was as if i was the pope addressing the masses. They sat quiet, laughed, cheered, and clapped at all things in the stories. Then I had older Crossover kids read instead of me. Watch out Pegasus 8th graders, if these guys had a debate team, we’d have some competition. The kids read with intonation, fluency, and spirit. They even acted out parts of the stories…None of this is possible without the e-reader donations. From the bottom of my heart and on behalf of Crossover, THANK YOU! Later in the day, we erected basketball hoops and set up a court. We nailed a hoop to a tree, created a makeshift court on the dirt and they got their first taste of basketball. I quickly realized that the game is hard if you’ve never played. ALL of them had trouble dribbling, but they sure had a blast trying and laughing at each other. When trying to show them how to shoot, my first shot was an airball, but I made my second. Of course, the chants and mobbing started again :). I feel like I have enough dirt on me to start my own supercross stadium and i have not eaten since my two eggs this morning (it is 8 here now). Last thing…The kids at Crossover get their water from the nearby Lake Volta. Tomorrow, we will try to established the Hurley filters I got on Earth Day. These kids, according to Dave, regularly get cholera and dysentery. I can’t imagine how horrible that must be for them. After tomorrow, they won’t have to worry about that for ten years for more as we donated 5 filters. Dave was almost in tears when he realized what I was saying about the filters. As a collective group, we have done a lot of good and we will continue to do so. On Saturday, we are meeting with a tilapia fish farming company. Tilapia fish farming is supported by the UN, the Ghanaian government, and many organizations as a means of poverty reduction and sustainable development. I learned today that Dave’s entire budget for the school is based off of his sales of tilapia fish. Anyone interested in becoming a tilapia fish farming expert? Sounds like a Pegasus/Crossover collaborative to me! I wanted to give an update and will write more later…WOW! Try this…they met us in this truck about a mile outside the school http://youtu.be/3Kb12lmBgBA When we got there, this happened http://youtu.be/PrERDUsSyiM
Leave a comment |Day 2 – Meeting Crossover May 1, 2013It is early in the morning here and I slept for a total of about an hour last night. The time difference is tough and I am anxious to get to Crossover. We will be at Crossover all day today. Dave is low key and easygoing. But when I showed him the suitcase full of the stuff that all of you donated, we was beaming like a little kid. He actually played with the finger puppets and eraser buddies and was giddy. His laugh is great…I’ll try to get it on film. Dave left all the contents of the suitcase for me to share tomorrow except the ereaders and the laptop because we was just too excited to leave those. Dave has one functioning eye. He lost the other in a fight trying to save a kid (that kid was a favorite of Dave’s and the boy died last year). Because of his eye, he LOVES the adjustable font on ereaders and he loves the fact that the ereaders can read to him. For those who don’t know, the ereaders are full of West African proverbs and literature as well as a lot of k-8 educational books. There are many stories involving Anansi the Spider. If you are curious, look Anansi up and read some stories, they are engaging. All contain a moral. I can only imaigne Crossover, but that will change in about an hour. I’m pretty sure, my life perspective is also about the change. Leave a comment |Day 1 – 16 Hours of Flying April 30, 2013Well, I am one hour into 16 total hours of flying, but I am connected to the internet and I have been communicating via email. Dave said we will be served a healthy dose of Ghanaian hospitality when we arrive. Ghana At the moment, it is hard to believe that I am really doing this. A few cool tidbits I’ve learned about Ghana… 1. Dave txted a little while ago to say “Welcome to Ghana—the Center of the World!” Whenever Dave something, and I’m not sure what he means, I look it up. Sure enough, Ghana is the closest landmass to the “artificial center of th9e world created by the intersection of the Equator and the Greenwich Meridian.” 2. Ghana is also known as the safest and friendliest country in Africa. I already feel very welcome as I have gotten a few emails entitled “akwaaba”….look up the team, it is interesting That’s all for now Leave a comment |Day 0 – The Day Before the Journey April 29, 2013It is the day before my trip to Crossover International Academy (CIA) to meet Dave and the students. Exhilarating, inspiring, engaging, challenging, big, scary, cool….It is all those things. Hopefully, I’ll be able to blog daily, film, and photo the entire experience. You should get a glimpse into Crossover and life in rural Ghana. The school is located in a small village about 30km from the city of Akosombo. The school is located on the shore of Lake Volta, one of the largest man made lakes in the world. All of the students at Crossover are orphans, most victims of child slavery in the fishing industry on Lake Volta. The kids are now safe and learning with Mr. David Yayravi, founder of CIA. It is astonishing what they know. In my class, we often talk about different perspectives and we try to investigate all angles .The communities connected in this trip are about as different as is humanly possible, but I am sure that in the end, we will find our common bonds. Leave a comment |
Visit to the new school-Second Visit to Crossover
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.
The women of the Easter church service
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.