SAT Tutoring, Usual Ghana Delays, and More Generosity

I want to just skip over some of the events of the weekend and then tell some interesting stories that are rattling around in my head. I’ll start this one off on Friday morning.

I wake up like usual this morning, except my back is still not feeling 100%, so I don’t want to go fetch water again until I fully heal. When I have a back or knee ouchie, I don’t even pretend it’s smart to push them at all. That means I take the extra time and focus on wrapping up Expo stuff for the week and preparing some material for next week. I also get some reading in and I am still making good progress on the book. I’m torn because I’m happy that I can make such quick progress on a book, but I don’t want this one to end. I think I put the book down around the 50 or 60% mark. Today, I’m traveling to Kumasi to get my Malaria medication and then to the office to meet Spencer to get some SAT center stuff done. First, I remind Daniel that he said he would repay me the money I gave to him for him to pick up a voltage regulator. He ended up just giving me his, so I told him earlier in the week that I want the money back sometime this week. Then last night I told him that I’m leaving for Kentinkrono in the morning and I want the money before I leave. I told him I would leave at 09:00 and he agreed that would be plenty of time. Well, it’s 08:30 and Daniel is leaving for the clinic. I ask him if I should meet him at the clinic to get the money. He says that his senior brother is picking up the money and bringing it to him, so he will call me when that takes place. Acknowledging Ghanaian time I expect to receive the money by 10:00. At 9:20, I call Daniel and ask him if his brother has gotten there. He says that he will call me back in 40 minutes. 10:45 comes around and still no call, so I just leave for his office to see him in person. I haven’t been to the clinic since the first day I came here with Adam and Spencer to ask Daniel about living in the compound. I greet the people at the front desk and they tell me to sit down because Daniel is busy with a patient. He comes out and tells me to come in his office with him. He tells me that his brother is by airport roundabout, which is just outside of Kumasi. That means he will probably be another 40 minutes, depending on traffic and if he’s actually in a car or still looking for one. I take a deep breath and just relax and study my surroundings. For some reason there are a ton of women around and Daniel and I are actually the only two men in the group of about 20 people busily walking around. I recognize one of the nurses walking in the distance and greet her as she passes. Then I notice Fad in one of the offices and I greet her as well. Another one of the younger nurses walks by a few times, but doesn’t seem to notice me. She sits down at a desk next to me and puts her head in her hands. I call her and greet her, trying to cheer her up a little bit. She is speaking only Twi as she normally does when she visits the compound and I can’t quite understand what she’s asking me. She repeats a few times and I think she’s asking if I’m married. That question seems so out of the blue that I just answer no and try to hope I didn’t just insult her mother. It’s more common for random women to ask, as a joke and some times seriously, if I’m married, but no one I know really asks me that, so I continue to think I insulted her mother. Then one of my ladies at the end of the road out of town comes in and greets me. I’m totally shocked to see her and stunned a little bit at seeing her anywhere but her normal booth that I pass during the week. Then I see Natural, the wife of Kingsley, the man who fixed my sandal for free, come in the front and we greet each other also. Just happy to see my friends, I almost forget why I came to the clinic in the first place. After greeting my friends, I start to look around at the facility. The walls are colored with very soft pinks, blues, and greens. It reminds me of the colors you would paint on the walls of a newborn’s room. I suppose that’s fitting since there are mostly women here and the majority of them have small children tied to their backs. It’s a very small clinic like Daniel mentioned, with probably only one room to see patients. However, this is the only clinic within the next few towns, so it really helps out those families who don’t have enough money to travel a few towns over to visit the doctor. The front of the building has a big manicured lawn with flowers and other plants strewn about. They really did a good job designing the building to be soft and relaxing.

After about 30 minutes or an hour of waiting, Daniel says that we will go and catch a ride to Kumasi to meet his brother. Apparently he is not able to travel to Antoa. My premonition was right that he hadn’t even found a car to get to the roundabout; instead he just was intending to go there. To me, those are two different sentences with two very different meanings. We wait by the front for a taxi and I’m a little disappointed because I like to take Tro Tros long distances because the Taxis charge far too much. At this point, I will pay a little extra just to get this money back and get to the office to help Spencer. After about another 20 minutes of waiting for a car, we finally hop into a taxi. After some time driving, we pull up in front of the bank to meet his brother. Surprised he paid for my fare in the taxi. I think he must feel bad about making me wait. Then, we sit and wait in the bank for his brother for about another 30 minutes. This is pretty typical with getting things done in Ghana. Every step of the way will be delayed with the sluggish infrastructure and peoples’ acceptance of that fact. We finally meet with his brother and then we figure out that Daniel and I are heading to the same place so we catch a Tro Tro. I still don’t have the money, but now we’re in public and I’m very cautious to give any sign of the tip of an iceberg of wealth. There are people who show off their money, but people assume their wealth ends beyond that. When they see a white person, even with a 10 Cedi bill, people will assume that they have 100 more where that came from. We finally get to Kumasi and Daniel pays for that ride too. Then as we step out onto the street he hands me the money and I quickly take it and stuff it into the nearest pocket. He didn’t seem to care much about being discrete. I don’t blame him though, we’re just coming from two very different perspectives. He grew up with little money, so he’s proud when he can make a display of money, while I’m trying to hide any trace at all that I have money. We walk through the busy streets and split off to take care of our different errands.

Spencer calls me as I’m walking up to the Post Office and reminds me that an ex-patriot friend invited us to come take a tour of his Guinness brewery. Feeling a little panicked I pick up the pace to the post office. Not only did I miss the office hours, but also almost forgot about the brewery tour. I make it into the post office and immediately go to the desk as I’ve learned. There is a huge line, but I don’t pretend to know where or what I’m doing so I skip everyone just to ask the person where I should go. They tell me to go to the building next door. Good thing I didn’t wait in the line only to be told that. As I’m walking to the office I’m remembering that Spencer already was here once and they couldn’t find the package for him. I’m hoping it goes smoothly, so that I can still make the tour. I give the man a piece of paper with all the needed information to find the package. He opens up a notebook with all of the incoming packages tracked, in pencil. Okay, I know that Ghana is still catching up to the big developed countries, but I would think if they had internet cafes, they would have a computer to keep the files at the post office. He scans down a few pages and tells me that he can’t find the matching number. Trying to resist insulting his ancient form of accounting, I tell him that the package has to be here. He goes to the back to either look there or just sit somewhere and pretend that’s what he’s doing. I’m leaning toward the latter. Already accepting that I’ve missed the tour, I just relax and try to find some compassion for this guy. He’s not the one who built or funded this office; he’s just the person working at the front. I see this guy as the same as the man in the immigration office. They’re both playing roles far down on the ladder of a blatantly broken system. He comes back and tells me he still can’t find the package. I repeat that it has to be here and I received a call to come and pick it up. Then, he turns to the file cabinet to his left and searches for a couple of minutes before he pulls out my package. Relieved, I thank him for making such an effort to help. If I hadn’t insisted multiple times for him to continue to look, my package would have rotted forever in the drawer two feet from the front counter. Surprisingly, they didn’t even make me pay a duty on the package. The last package I got, they made me pay 40% of the total cost. I put the package in my bag and ask the clerk and the next woman talking to him where I should go to pick a car for the brewery. The woman points in a direction and tells me to find “Hello FM.”

I’m now walking back down one of the main streets trying to find a woman with a baby to ask how to get to Hello FM. For some reason women with their babies make me feel like I’m getting more reliable information. So far that has been the case and I’ll stick with it until I’m proven wrong. Not finding any, I ask an elderly man walking next to me. He points straight ahead and tells me to when I get to the train tracks to ask someone else. Since he didn’t have a baby I only half trust his answer, so a few blocks down the road I start to ask other people. I ask another younger man in a religious shirt and he confirms that I keep straight to the train tracks. I get a few more blocks down and don’t know what they’re talking about, so I ask an older woman on the side of the road. The young man with the religious ad on his shirt tells me to follow him. Apparently he was following me to see if I got lost. I fall into formation behind him and he takes me another five blocks to the bottom of the hill and there is a railroad. I thank him and ask which direction I should head, expecting for him just to point and to ask someone else when I get to the next landmark. Instead, he takes the lead again and I continue to follow. He turns to me and tells me something in English that I can’t quite understand. It sounds like he said something about liking my bag, but it just seemed like such a random statement out of the blue. I ask him to repeat and he tells me to keep a close eye on my bag because there are a lot of criminals in this area. Wow, this guy is going above and beyond with helping me now. He walks me over to the Tro Tro station and I ask him a few times where to go to make sure I don’t get lost and get to the brewery on time. He walks me to the exact car and even tells the mate that I’m going to the Brewery and to make sure I get there on time. I turn to thank him and he’s already a few steps away walking back the way we came from. I make sure to thank him loudly and enter the Tro Tro. On the ride to the Brewery I tell the mate probably three or four times that I’m going to the Brewery and I need help with where to stop. I get off and he points in an obscure direction for where to go. I get off and a man is half a step behind me, which isn’t odd getting out of the Tro Tro. He gets off and asks if I’m trying to go to the Guinness brewery. I confirm and he walks with me on the street and explains to me in detail how to get there. He asks someone else walking and the three of us are now walking side by side all talking about the best way for me to get to the Brewery. If someone saw us walking and didn’t know better, they would think we are all friends walking and having a conversation. In reality, none of us actually know each other and these two men are discussing how I will make it to my destination. The man from the Tro Tro crosses the street and now the other man is walking with me and pointing to exactly which Tro Tro I should board. I seriously feel like I’m in a movie or something right now. I’ve literally had different people follow me to a new destination and then pass me off to another stranger as they continue the path to get me to my destination. I feel such a comradery with the people of Ghana it’s amazing. I’ve never felt so close to people I don’t know, ever in my life before. Even some of my friends in school wouldn’t go to this effort to help me. The generosity expressed by these people makes all the frustrations worth it. When I run into problems like not being accepted by some people, just slowed down by the impossible infrastructure problems, or crouched naked pooping in a bush I just think about these experiences and I can smile even in the worst of times. On my last Tro Tro ride, my mood is changed when a small 10-year-old boy is acting as the mate. I can’t help but wonder why he’s not in studying for school or playing with his friends and how often he has to skip school to continue this job. I ask the woman to my left to tell me when we arrive at the brewery and she looks at me like I’m speaking Spanish. Okay, that’s a pretty good possibility actually, I often think of Italian or Spanish words when I’m searching deeply for the right Twi word. I don’t pretend that I have a handle on any language other than English and I’m still mixing things up. I don’t know how people like Fad, who speak 10 languages, keep everything compartmentalized. The man behind me taps me and tells me he will be happy to tell me when to get out. He calls for the mate a few miles down the road and points me to the Brewery.

I meet Spencer and we go through their regulations before we get to the main office. We are lead into a room that looks like luxury airport bar with leather couches and wood grained tables. Apparently that’s the wrong room as we’re called out into a boardroom. We missed the group orientation, so one of the employees catches us up. We take a safety test and for some reason I can’t understand some of the questions. The English is very strange and it just doesn’t make sense to me. Apparently I’m the only one who is having trouble because Spencer and the other person with us finished and got everything correct. He leads us around the facility as we look for Steve. He teaches us about the stuff he thinks everyone already went over. As we make a lap around the same part for the third time the guy starts asking people for Steve. We finally find them in another room on the second story of one of the warehouses. Immediately I notice that everyone has empty glasses with a small trace of head. We missed the sampling! Not being the wiseass that I am, I reserve any comment about us not getting any beer samples. Steve then takes the group and leads us around through the same tour we literally just had. It was interesting to see the assembly line and hear about the operations and different tastes they look for in the beer. Then he takes us back to the office and we close for the day without any more beer samples. I’m slightly disappointed for not getting a beer out of the deal, but at least we got a free tour and learned a few things.

From there Spencer and I immediately head back to the office to drop some things off and get a beer. Being held in suspension of the beer sample made us both thirsty. He both ordered a club beer in spite of the Guinness presentation. I’m not a big Guinness fan anyway. We head back to Kentinkrono through the rush hour and arrive home a few hours later. I spend the rest of the night reading and getting further in the book. I don’t remember what percentage I was at this point, but I know the book is only getting better.

The next day I wake up early and continue to read some more. I must have been somewhere around 70% of the book done. We head to the office and walk over to a nearby school for the Saturday tutoring. My job was to time the testing of a few students. That means that for about 4 hours I would be sitting there telling them to switch sections every 25 minutes. That sounds like a perfect opportunity to read some more. I take that opportunity with pleasure and when we end the session I’m 90% of the way through the book! It’s getting so good and I just found out why they call the book “The Watchers.” I love when a book title is intriguing, but not obvious and then they explain the complex idea behind the title that is directly related to the themes of the book. A few times I had to quickly stop myself as I began to yell out, thinking I was actually in the story. Yeah, it’s that good of a book. At the end of the session I had a, small, Twi break through. When Spencer’s Peace Corps friend asked me how I was liking the food, I told him that I was mostly eating… All I could think of was buyaray and boodeay. I had to pause and take some effort to translate those words back to figure out the English word. I finally found the words and told him yam and plantain. It is a small breakthrough, but still one nonetheless.

Around 15:00 we head back to the office and I grade the tests of my students at Kumasi Academy (KUMACA). It starts to rain so I get a few other things done after the grading and then I leave the office to head back to Antoa. I walk from our office over to the main road and then after a few minutes of waiting I just continue to walk to Dr. Mensa. It starts to rain and I join some people under an awning to hide from the pouring rain. It’s getting into the dry season now, so it generally rains hard, but for a short time. Well it stops raining hard, so I continue walking to the station. The entire walk it is still drizzling and I’m walking for about an hour, so it adds up and by the time I get to Dr. Mensa I’m drenched. As usual there is a long line to wait for the Antoa car. I get in the very back and hear someone call Matthew. Okay, I know this person knows me very well, so I look around and see Fad hiding under an awning with her baby. After about an hour in line and some more spits of rain, I get to about 30 people from the front. A man comes over to me and asks if I’m going to Antoa and after I say yes, he tells me to come with him to the Tro Tro. Right before I get to the car I realize I don’t want to leave without Fad, so I turn around and call her, but she doesn’t hear me. I finally get her attention and then we both head for the car. Right as we start to walk everyone else in the area realizes that car is going to Antoa and everyone swarms the car. I laugh and turn around to get back in line. Hopefully they will let me get back into my old spot. As I’m walking back up the same cop that has helped me skip the line twice before, calls out my name. He tells me to come up next to him at the front of the line. He tells me to get on the Tro Tro and I tell him in broken Twi that I’m with another person. He asks who and I point at Fad. She starts to walk up to the front of line with me and I let her go ahead of me to make sure that she gets on the car. As the policeman is distracted some people try to run up the right side of the line and cut into the car. The police man screams and out of nowhere pulls out a long stick and, like he’s sword fighting, jabs it between the people and their seats. He and the people start screaming at each other and I’m worried about Fad and her baby, who are in the middle of it all. I step up and get very close behind her, ready to stiff-arm someone away if they get too close. I’m sure she can handle herself, but her baby is brand new and I don’t want to take the risk of anything happening. Finally we get on the car and I sit one row in front of her. She takes her baby off of the tie thing around her back and hands me her purse to hold on the ride. Not feeling a bit embarrassed, I start laughing at holding a giant purse on my lap for this long Tro Tro ride. Joe told me to never hold a purse, but I know that this would make Jennifer very proud. She teased Joe that she was going to get me to hold her purse, which she did a few times after he left. Before we take off I call the policeman, “Akwesi!” I tell him in Twi, thank you for helping again and that we would meet again. He smiles as the doors close and we take off. The woman to my right seems to recognize me from somewhere called C.C.C. which I don’t remember at all. She asks me where I’ve been and I come up with some lame excuse and use Twi to sweeten the situation. Then the man in the front turns around and it’s the guy who always gives me a ride from Krobo to Antoa in his empty school bus. I greet him and am totally elated now at the whole situation. Even though the people in our row are squished with an extra person, I’m having a great time. We’re so squished that I have to learn far forward because my shoulders wouldn’t fit between the people on either side of me. We finally make it home and I carry an extra bag that Fad had as she takes her purse back. We don’t say much on the walk back to the house, but I always enjoy being in Fad’s company. I could have asked about a million questions about being from the upper west, her languages, or anything else, but sometimes silence all you need when you appreciate someone’s company.

After we get back I get some food and immediately break out my book to finish the last 10%. I get lost in time and don’t realize what time it is as I finish the entire book. It was a pretty good ending, but the whole book made it as intriguing as it was. Realizing that it’s far past my bedtime at 22:00, I fall asleep quickly with the satisfaction of the weekend and my accomplishment with finishing the book.

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