10 June 2011 – Thoughts on 3 years in Ghana

Today marks the end of my third year in Ghana. Seems like a good time to reflect.

Would I do it again?

Yes. Positively, absolutely, yes! Most likely I will volunteer for Peace Corps again through their Peace Corps Response program.

What have I learned?

How to take a bucket bath.

How to hand wash my clothes.

How to let the sun clean some of my clothes.

How to eat fufu and tee zed.

How to make jolloff rice, Wakeye, tee zed, banku, tomato stew, groundnut soup, palm nut soup, gari foto and crème caramel.

How to eat in a shared bowl with my hands.

How to squat and pee.

How to face a class of 70+ High School students.

How to speak Buli.

How to speak Twi, small small.

How to say a few words in German.

How to stay cool in 110 degree heat.

How to wear a two yard.

How to shop at a Ghanaian market.

How to get along with less.

How to dance High Life.

How to do traditional Ghanaian dances.

How to buy the best spring rolls off someone’s head in Kumasi on the road to the Peace Corps sub-office while riding in a tro tro.

How the people in Sandema rebelled against the slave raiders and won.

How to use gray water to flush my toilet.

What have I accomplished?

I can only have hopes about what I might have accomplished. My first hope is that I have inspired some students out of the 500 I have taught while here in Ghana like some of my teachers have inspired me. Mr. Grant, Mr. Farnsworth, Dr. Wilson and Grady Spires all contributed to my love to learning, I hope I did that for some students here.

I hope that I have given a positive snapshot of an American to the people in my communities.

I hope one person listened to me when I said that America is not the Promised Land. There are poor people there. Immigrants struggle and often take the worst jobs. I hope they heard me when I said it’s good to travel to broaden your experiences but where ever you go there will be obstacles to overcome and challenges to face. (Maybe this sounds anti immigration but really most Ghanaians I meet here think if they go to America they will get rich and that all whites will be as good to them as those who come here with NGOs or volunteer organizations.)

And I hope the friends I made here will remember me as long as I remember them. Even though America is not the Promised Land I hope at least one of them can come to see my home as I have seen theirs.

My Peace Corps service has been an awesome adventure. Like all adventures it has had some rough spots but these have been three unmatchable years.



4 June 2011 – How to make glass beads; Ghana style!

Step 1 – Collect plenty of glass bottles.

Step 2 – Wash them well

Step 3 – Smash them to small bits. (This could be therapeutic!)

In front of the hands you can see two molds with broken bits of glass in them, ready for the oven.

You can now go to step 4 or you can do 3a, 3b, 3c

Step 3a – Put the smashed bits into a pestle and pound them with a mortar.  (This looked like fun!)

Step 3b – Sieve the powder to get only the finest particles of it.

Step 3c – Add some dye to clear glass powder

Step 4 – Coat the mold with white clay to keep the beads from sticking to it.

The white ball is the clay to line the mold.

Step 5 – Put the small bits in the mold of your choice.  or

Design a bead using the powder. This looks a lot like sand art. These picture show my guide, William, using a wooden tool to push the dust out of the funnel. He uses the flat end of the tool to shape the dust in the mold.

The shot glass shows the pattern he made in the mold. The shot glass will not go in the oven it’s just for illustration.

Step 6 – A stick goes in the center of the powder beads before baking. They are too soft after baking to keep a hole made then.

Step 7 – Put the molds in the oven.

Step 8 – Baked them for 30 minutes up to 2 hours depending on size of the bead and materials used.

Step 9 – Remove them, poke a hole in the beads made of glass pieces, and let them cool for up to two hours.  See how they are coated with the clay?

Step 10 – Wash and polish them with sand and water for 15 minutes.


The molds are made with clay they buy in Koforidua. The clay is rolled into cylinders and then 2 inch pieces are cut off.

The mold is shaped using a wooden paddle.

Then a wooden shape is pressed into the mold.

The molds dry in the shade for three days, then in the sun for another three and last are baked for about 30 minutes. When the come out of the oven they weigh less, much less. One that wasn’t baked had the weight of a rock its size, when I held it and the baked one felt like a piece of bread that size, maybe a little heavier but it felt airy.


The oven is made of mud from a termite mound. The shelf inside the oven use to be clay as well but it kept falling apart in three or four days so now it is metal.


The campus is lovely, filled with trees and shade.


4 June 2011 – I love traveling in Ghana!

Today I traveled north, small small. I went to Kpong and Odumase in the northern part of my region, the Eastern Region to buy beads and visit Cedi Bead Industries. My next post will be what I learned there, how to make glass beads, but first I want to share my enthusiasm about traveling in Ghana.

Yes, I have often wondered if the rusty jalopy with the spiderweb of cracks in the windshield and the rocking seats would make it down the 3km road to my site. OK, the roads are often worse than a Maine back road full of frost heaves. And sure sometimes I have had to wait in the hot sun, more than an hour for a tro tro to fill but the people are what makes it wonderful. The following three things happened to me today when I was traveling.

I was getting off the tro tro in Kpong. My bag was big and heavy and I was struggling in the cramped quarters of the tro tro. The Ghanaian women, about my age, who was sitting in front of me, chastised the tro mate in Twi. He came right in took my bag and then helped me down the high step off the tro. I don’t know what she said but I did recognize the tone!

Later I was standing by the side of the road, waiting for transportation to take me to Dan’s bead, just outside of Kpong. A man asked me where I was going. When I told him he said I should go to the station because I would get a car faster. As I was crossing the street he shouted at me to come back. He had a share taxi that was going in that direction.

After I visited Dan’s beads I was again waiting by the side of the road for transport. There were also 4 men and a small child. Tro after tro went by us and didn’t stop because they were full. At last an empty taxi stopped. I hung back because the men were there first but they all piled in the back seat of this subcompact vehicle and urged me to sit in front. I made “I can’t possibly let you all sit in the back seat noises’ and shook my head but they insisted. They were so scrunched that when I looked back to thank them again I couldn’t tell what arms went with what person.

I am gonna miss Ghana!



19 May 2011 – Campaign Posters

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18 May 2011 – Vetting

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This evening we vetted the candidates for the prefectorial elections. Prefects are school leaders. There are various areas of leadership like the dining hall, the compound(or grounds), entertainment, and then the heads of the prefects the senior prefects. There is a male and a female for each position and then also an assistant for each position. These are elected positions but the candidates are screened or vetted before they are allowed to run. This is the way elections in Ghana are also held so this is a practical lesson in Ghanaian democracy.

The Headmaster, Senior Housemaster, Senior House Mistress, a representative from the teachers and me, a volunteer representative. We rated them on appearance, composure,verbal expression, knowledge and self confidence each aspect was worth 10 points. If the candidates earned an average of 25 pts or higher they were allowed to run for office. Although during the vetting the students were challenged that they didn’t follow the school rules they were not rated on this. Our headmaster once had a teacher who had faith in him, even though he didn’t follow all the rules, so this was applied to our vetting procedure as well.

The candidates were very different from American children. When they entered the room they greeted us, very quietly, then most waited until they were offered a seat.  After they were seated most waited with lowered eyes for the questions. Most had to be told more than once they needed to speak up so we could hear them.

The first candidate we interviewed, Vincent, surprised me. He was running for Senior prefect In class he is outspoken, often answering without being called on and eager to help other students in the lab. Here he set the pace for shy and quiet responses. He answered most of our questions with one sentence even when given a softball question – Tell us about yourself- he had very little to say.

My final score for him was 10 pts less than three of the other panel members.

Later on a boy, running for Dining Hall Prefect, came who looked us in they eyes while he waited for questions, spoke loudly as he answered the questions and said he wanted to be a doctor when asked his future plans. I scored him 10 pts higher then two of the other masters.

My cultural biases came through here. In Ghana respect, show by the lowered eyes, and humility, shown by not talking too much about your self are valued highly, even when going for a leadership position.

I am not sure all their shyness had to do with respect and humility because when i helped to vet the prefectorial candidates in Sandema the students were more outgoing. These JHS students are younger, self confidence usually grows from JHS to SHS. They High School students had a better command of the English language so spent less time understanding our questions and forming their answers.

Now that they have been vetted they will start their campaigns.


The photos in this post were taken after the fact. The head master saw me taking photos of the campaign posters and was so excited when I told him about blogging that he set up a mock vetting so I could also have photos of that.