It is pronounced Yavo and is the Ewe word for White Man. Children shout it on the streets, from their yards, pretty much every where I go. It is not meant to be derogatory, but I do feel like I am constantly in a parade. The children shout Yavo in hopes that I will wave and say hello. They love to touch my white skin and soft hair, which are both mysteries to them.
After two weeks here in Ghana, I am starting to get settled in. I believe it was day three when it all hit me and I realized the seriousness of what I am doing. The doctors did a good job getting me paranoid about malaria before I left, which I now realize is the least of my worries. Malaria is actually like getting the flu in the US and is easily treated. What the doctors don't warn you about are the infections from a mere paper cut or the nasty skin irritations we're all battling. But diseases aside, this is hands down the best experience of my life.
I am teaching 2nd grade and am loving it. Things started out kind of rough as the students tested the boundaries and I tried to figure out what the heck I was doing. But, come to find out I am a natural born teacher! Not sure how I would do in the States as things are a bit different here. My classroom has dirt floors, most of my students can't afford a pencil, and many bring their drinking water in old motor oil bottles...or if they can't find those, vodka and gin bottles seem to work well too. After realizing that most of the text books were missing half of their pages, I created my own plan of attack. I teach a lot of English and Spelling...and I pound it into their heads. They haven't revolted yet, but I am sure the day will come. I gave them their first exam ever this week, which consisted of 5 spelling words. I had 6 of my 26 students get them all correct, which seriously brought tears to my eyes. These students are full of potential, they've just never been challenged before. Ok, I'm sounding like a real teacher now going on and on about my students :-)
This past Friday I volunteered at the hospital, which was a life changing experience of its own. There is only one doctor for the entire hospital and they currently do not have the funds to repair their only microscope. I had the opportunity to help out in the prenatal clinic.
Before going any further I should explain that there is this thing here us white folk refer to as the Yavo Privilege. This means that if you are white you get to jump ahead in line, and it can be assumed that you have the knowledge to do just about anything. So needless to say, I am able to do a lot of things that would never be allowed at home....like my day in the prenatal clinic.
I started by looking through women's medical records to get the basic information, but quickly moved on to the actual examinations. I learned how to find the babies head and determine whether or not it had entered the birth canal. You grab the head through the woman's stomach and shake it. If it shakes it hasn't entered the canal and if it doesn't you're getting pretty close to labor. I also checked for the babies' heart beats too. It was an amazing experience. There are dark sides to it all as well. Many of the women have HIV. There is a medicine out there that women can take to reduce the risk of passing it on to their baby, and then a medicine for the baby in the first 48 hours. But, unfortunately many women refuse it out of fear. There is definitely a need for education around here.
I have also been given the opportunity to revive a Women's Empowerment Program, which will help reduce the number of HIV cases in the area. In Ghanaian culture men are allowed to have extramarital relations...which means they bring HIV back home and pass it on to their wife, who then passes it on to future babies. So the purpose of the program will be to education and empower these women so they can support themselves and their families...giving them the ability to leave a harmful relationship, rather than feeling trapped. I will be teaching women basic accounting skills, marketing, PR, management, etc. so they can successfully sell their goods and services. It is a huge task, but I have a lot of support from locals and other volunteers.
So as you can see, I'm as busy as I kept myself in the US. Some of my local friends joke that I am the busiest Ghanaian in town. It is so amazing to directly see the results of my hard work. This is by far the most selfless thing I have ever done and feel so blessed to be here helping people who really need it. There is so much knowledge I possess that I have taken for granted for years, but now see that it isn't considered common sense for the rest of the world. I am seriously considering coming home and going back to school to become a nurse!
Adjusting to the third world has been challenging at times, but has gone surprisingly well. The hardest thing is the bathroom. We have Western toilets in our house, but honestly do believe they are the only toilets in town. The majority of people do not have running water, and the concept of a toilet or even an outhouse is foreign in these parts.
I have had the opportunity to do some very fun things too. My first week we hiked to a beautiful waterfall. Last weekend a group of us went to the ocean. It was gorgeous! Very different from anything I have ever seen, I guess I would compare it to the Pacific Ocean if anything. While there we did a canopy walk above the rainforest. We also visited the main slave castle of West Africa...quite an eye opener. After Auschwitz and the slave castle, all I can say is that my ancestors where a bunch of assholes.
This past week we took a rigorous hike to some old caves. After my tailbone incident in Jamaica I have learned to play things a little safer, so I did the hike but skipped the caves. They were so dangerous, it wouldn't be legal for people to visit them in the US. So I don't feel like I missed out there. I have had a few dance lessons and have learned how to make batik, which is traditional African fabric. I actually had some traditional African clothing made so I would fit in a little better. I even had a church dress made! Yes, that's right, Jenni D went to church this morning! My classroom teacher invited me to church with her and then back to her house for lunch with her family. Most church services run close to 5 hours long...I lucked out and got away with 2 hours. The entire service was in Ewe, so I didn't understand anything, but did use my time to pray. Then I went to my teacher's house, met her family, and had an excellent African meal. I am diving into the culture, which the locals love so they have taken me under their wings and take very good care of me.
Sorry to jump arond, but I almost forgot to mention the US election! It was very interesting experiencing it all over here. 99% of Ghanaians, and Africans for that matter, LOVE Obama. I think they were more excited about he election than we were! Everywhere we went, people would yell "OBAMA!" We started to get a little nervous, wondering what would happen if Obama lost...the weight of the world was litterally on his shoulders. I don't know if he even realized how much this election meant to the reast of the world. But he pulled through and won. In 24 hours the US transitioned from the most hated people to heroes. Obama was on the cover of the newspapers and Kenya even named November 4th a national holiday in his honor. It was awesome to experience it all through the eyes of Africa.
I realize this is getting pretty long, but I had some catching up to do...it's been a couple of weeks. So, I must say I have never felt better. It is so gratifying to actually see how much our group is changing lives. Now that I am getting into the swing of things I am seeing how much more I can do. I am scheduled to come home in a little less than 3 weeks. When I signed up, 5 weeks sounded like so long, but I now realize it isn't even close to long enough. I am going to try to extend my trip an additional 7 weeks, which leads me to the next task at hand, fund raising! You will all be getting an email from me tomorrow which will outline my plan of attack and ask for your generosity in my quest to save the world. I truly hope I am able to get the financial support I need, because it will make such a difference here. This experience puts a lot into perspective and if nothing else has made me realize how much we all really have. I will never again look in my closet and say "I have nothing to wear" because there are people who litterally don't.
I miss you all so much!