Radical continuity, that somehow describes the past few months. So much is different, so much is still the same, all-in-all everything here feels predictable. I’m surprised that the calendar says January 2009 and like the past two years, I am shocked speechless by the passage of time. How it flies?
Ok, ok, I do know about the election. Wow!! Historic!!! Wish I had been there, moreover, wish I was going to the inauguration. Here, we’re still in the midst of the presidential election runoff, hopefully the finale is tomorrow (January 3, now 6 days later and all is ok).
I know why I can’t track the passing of time; it is this absolute lack of seasons here. I’ve been hypnotized stupid. Day after day, one after the other, exactly alike, carbon copies (wonder about that, is it really carbon?? Hmmm, anyway….). While I have always loved the changing seasons of the temperate latitudes, I never recognized the influence on my sense of time. Here, there is only equatorial la-la time—now I call it the Prozac latitude. Surely that explains Gauguin’s later years. He became happy eating watermelon and painting. Similarly, I have become happy eating pineapple and gazing at the rainforest with the crazy insect sounds. So, you say,”years have passed,” and I say,”oh, really, I didn’t notice??”
Life in the village pulses forward with the clock and the calendar, but always for me at the pace of my feet. The slower pace is joyful and I have never been happier with my daily tempo. But don’t even think that means that I don’t think about anyone there. Quite to the contrary, I think of everyone and everything there all the time--my parallel universe/dual reality.
Not much has happened since last writing, nothing will ever compare with the cobra incident, but life forges ahead here. Mostly I’ve been busy working. Unlike the first year and a half of not-much-to-do, now I don’t seem to have enough hours in a day. Work in the park has evolved into serious cerebral stimulation (SCS). Due mostly to the arrival, or I should say appointment, of the Visitor’s Relations Officer (VRO), Tina. She’s Ghanaian and a delight—bright, sweet and funny. We have laughing fits together. She went to Forestry School and focused on conservation education. We complement each other and now I understand what “building human capacity” really means. It is the big goal of Peace Corps, the transfer of skills and abilities by working WITH people, and it goes both ways. I’m learning, too. It is joyful. In addition, I feel fully integrated into the Wildlife clan and believe me, they are clannish. I now have about 70 big brothers looking out for me, it doesn’t hurt that they carry guns. No one would dare to harass me in or around the village/park. Feeling safe is rare for most Peace Corps volunteers. I am lucky and grateful.
Besides work with Tina, recently I helped write two grant proposals for the park with the Senior Officer for law enforcement. The grants have nothing at all to do with law enforcement per se, but rather they aim to establish a baseline on the forest elephant and monkey populations in the park. I’m hopeful about the prospects and especially the possibility of some “real” fieldwork in the forest. As many of you know, I can cheerfully sit for hours and watch things—another one of those lovely skills that never appears on a resume (and, probably shouldn’t). That reminds me of that overused quote about the seeming zaniness of bird watching because it includes rising at dawn, sitting in dreary places like bogs and contending with the horrors of nature—yet, we love it and can’t wait to go again.
Work at the park is largely what has sustained my interest for the past year. Much of the work I do there is capacity building at the management level, somewhat like mentoring. Actually, I do a lot of listening, then nudging, somewhat like personal coaching. In addition, I get to research all kinds of cool things—like butterflies and medicinal plants. In the park we have butterflies that use termite mounds symbiotically (yes, those weird stalagmite structures). Did I mention we have over 600 butterfly species in the park? I try to photograph all that I can locate, even those stuck in the grills of cars, which makes for some interesting conversations while snooping around parked cars. If that’s not weird enough, imagine me hopping and jumping around trying to capture butterflies in a butterfly net. Looks easy right?? Butttttt, not easy at all. Somewhere I read that butterflies have 6 or 7 different flight patterns, all detected in wind tunnel experiments (does that hurt the butterfly? Marilyn B. comes to mind), and it is the reason they have few on-the-wing predators. Clearly, a middle-aged woman is no match for that type of agility, but I try (you know it is bad when your dogs laugh!!). Regardless, I have more than two-hundred butterfly photographs and no guidebook--perhaps a project for my dotage??
While on the topic of age, let me just say that I don’t feel like I’m 52 years old. I feel 26 years old, ok, half my age. Fortunate for me, nothing creaks or cranks too hard. I’m still running and biking several times a week. Physical activity is my Prozac, there’s good scientific evidence for that notion. Having said all that, I must note that just last week I twisted my ankle. I actually heard my ankle cry-out in pain—a mix of crunching and tearing. It is now swollen and discolored, but healing, albeit slowly. Finally, am I menopausal?? I can’t tell about the sweating. I sweat all the time. The Ghanaians give me an odd look, part pity-part amazement. They could wear long-sleeved black polyester velvet pantsuits under the noon sun and they couldn’t create the gallons of moisture that I can.
While sweating, I still teach in the village, at two different schools—one private and the other is public. This year the public school has 31 pupils in the JSS3 class and the public school has 21 students. They are as different as night and day. Last year’s test scores express the simplest difference: the public school scores started where the private school scores ended, 6-19 and 21-39 respectively. The private school draws all the promising students in the village and nearby environs. Folks in the village, even those without electricity, will submit the necessary funds to send their wards to the private school, leaving those without good scores or financial means in the public school. Thus, in the public school there is no such thing as the brighter students pulling the lower-functioning students higher: the brightest aren’t that motivated.
This year for the first time in three years, I have JSS3 students who can’t read English. If they can’t read English, then their performance on the national exam will be poor, since it is written in English, Ghana’s official language. I’m just stunned and I keep asking why, why, why???? The townsfolk claim that the, “public school is no good.” They also say that the children aren’t trying to learn. But, I believe it is combination of factors, not the least is poorly educated parents. Parents, who certainly care enough, but without education themselves, know nothing about what education requires of their children. They don’t know that the children need time to sit with their books, their homework—never mind any other enriching mental stimulation. That is not to imply that Ghanaian children are dull, they are not, but their informal education does not relate well with the formal education process. I can weep for this…. There’s so much to say about education, but I’ll stop there. Every day, I see that we are so blessed in the U.S. by having free education that rewards critical thinking.
I’m running out of gas and there’s more to tell. I wanted to write a long travelogue on my September-October trip to Morocco and Egypt, but that will have to wait. Suffice to say, I had a great time, but like any travel, I have endless stories to help put some people to sleep. I especially loved the High Atlas Mountains, the Berber culture in particular (their food, their rugs, simplicity, etc). I hiked to the top of Mt. Toubcal, North Africa’s highest peak. Very different from our mountains, somehow the Atlas’ are taupe, the whole place in one color—somehow calming. But Egypt was nearly as difficult as rewarding. I was so hassled that I finally added a head scarf and that made matters much better. If pictures are worth all those words, then I’ll cut this short and try to post pictures (http://www.flickr.com/photos/dxebird/ ).
Some of you, I’ve already told, for others my decision to stay here another year will be news. The primary reason is again the work at the park—it is the most fun I’ve ever had at a job…. I know some of you want me to come home and it should be comforting to know that Peace Corps has a cap on the years a volunteer can serve—it is 4 years. So whether I want to quit or not next year is the end….
Even though I like it here, I hope to come back to the U.S. for a visit in March. I don’t think I want to meet snow, I need to remember why I will move back there and spring is far more seductive.
Well that’s my story for today. I send you all big hugs.
As always, healing thoughts to Jen and anyone else.