Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I'm Home!

I've finally made it back to the land of the free and the home of the brave. From Senegal, we traveled through Mauritania, hung out with cool RPCV Jacque, Then a lot of long bus rides through the mine field, into Western Sahara and to Morocco. Marrakesh was cool and eventually I caught the ferry from Tangier to Spain and visited Ana in Granada. Jack went his own way, Barcelona and then Portugal. I flew from Madrid to Dublin and spent a week visiting Sarah and her family, and this morning i flew back Dublin to O'Hare. I'll stay with Drew here in Chicago and see some friends before going up to Madison for Halloween weekend. Ultra brief summary, but it does the trick. ask me for the details, there are plenty.

I'm oh so happy to be back, jet-lagged and overwhelmed, confused and anxious to see what i've missed and who still remembers me here. I'll get home to my parents house in Point next week and then properly relax for a time before looking for the next step in my life. I'm still putting off decisions on that front for now.

I hope to see lots of friends in Madison this weekend and beyond. I don't have a phone yet, so fb or email me so we can get together. If you want me to come visit you where you are, let me know and i'll see what i can do. I still have some money and my freedom. Eventually i'll have to get a job, apartment, school, life, all that.... but not yet. not yet.


PS. eventually, maybe soon, I'll get around to putting up some pics from my last days in ghana and my travels afterwards. promise.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Back to the beach in Dakar

After a long dusty train ride and and an even longer bus ride we entered Senegal. We had trouble with the Mali immigration check point, who insisted that we buy the mali visa again because we didn't have our reciept from the first time. We had to walk a half hour in the hot hot sun and then back again to the police station to argue with them. During that time, our bus driver got tired of waiting for us and threw our luggage off the bus. We yelled and pleaded but there was nothing we could do and the bus left. Feeling dejected, i had to hitch back into town to the police and pay for the visas again. On the way back i stopped at the bus station and explained my sad plight to the friendly station master. I assumed that there was nothing they could do, but he sent a young guy out on a moto and he came back a few minutes later saying that there was a bus in the next town and that we should hurry up and go now. We rushed over and found that it was the same bus! Apparently, after leaving us behind, some of our nigerian friends on the bus convinced the driver to wait 2 and a half hours more until we made it. We thanked everyone profusely, borded the bus and proceeded with our 20 plus hour journey.

We finally arrived in Dakar at 5 am and slept in the bus station on our prayer mats. In the morning we began to explore Dakar, and it is really something. Dakar is like a bigger, nicer, frencher version of Accra. There are fancy hotels, highways along the beach, fancy restaurants, aggressive street venders, and a giant statue of some africans boldly pointing westward (built by the North Koreans, of course.) Jack and i hooked up with a big group of senegal pcvs who were all in Dakar for a sector summit and we stayed in their very nice regional house. Free lodging meant we had more CFA to spend on food and drinks. I also went to the beach, a fancy club with a swimming pool, and a cool Kewl Garul dance party. I also drank too much tequila. Overall, a great time in Dakar.

Now we are on the move again, going north now and heading for Europe. We are prepared and being cautious but we won't stay too long in Mauritania or Western Sahara; but push on for Morocco. I'm looking forward to some cooler weather, but i suppose i'll have to wait until after we cross the desert.

Take care all,

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Je ne parl pa

So far, all good things about francaphone africa.

Bobo is a very relaxed town and we had fun wandering the big market and chatting with people. food, they put everything in baggettes here and make a sandwich. In ghana, it's only the egg sandwich that is recognised as legitimate, but here you can throw what every you have into some long crusty bread and eat it that way. We also met a nice lady on the bus who wanted to introduce us to her daughters. We accepted of course, and ate with her one night, and the daughters drove us around on motos.

On a map, the trip from Bobo to Bamako doesn't look too bad, and the roads are all good, so it shouldn't take 14 hours, but it did. After crossing the Mali border, our bus was repeatedly stopped and made to wait at "security checkpoints" where the driver and conductor had to deal with officials who occasionally wanted to actually check the bus for something. The conductor took a collection on the bus to make up for all the bribes he was paying. Overall, almost half our time was spent waiting at a standstill for approval to continue. Eventually we got to Bamako.

Bamako is a very nice city and Mali just celebrated it's 50th birthday so everyone is happy and the place is all decorated. The only downsides are that it is really hot and beer is hard to find. Also, Jack is getting tired of bagettes and brochettes. But i'm not, and my antibiotics are making me feel powerful. Tomorrow we will take the train to Kayes and from there continue on to Dakar and the beach. I'm looking forward to the water.

All the best to all my bestest,

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

COS travel plans

So, I officially ended my peace corps service on August 19. I got all my medical checks upped, signed all the forms, interviewed with the boss and wrote up my Description of service official report. I'm done, I'm free and i can do what ever i want. up to a point of course. RPCV!!!!!

Jack is from Berkley CA and he and i are both without detailed plans when we finally get back to the US, so we are traveling around West Africa before we leave and having fun. After COS, we traveled back up through Ghana and visited Sonya, Brenden, and the TSO before getting to Serena's site. We went to a yam festival with her and had a good time before we continued from there into Togo.

Serena's sight is right on the border of Ghana and Togo, so it wasn't too long of a trip. When we got the border, we tried to buy a visa there and the one lonely togolese immigration officer said we couldn't do that. After a wait, he simply stamped our passports and told us to go to the next Border town and get our visas. Our plans didn't include going to that town, so we didn't. We hung out in chill town called Sokode and then went down to Kpalime, which had mountains and waterfalls of which we saw a little on a short hike. Mostly, we took it easy, tried the local food and beer and tried to hit on the local women. Togo is a lot like Ghana and we felt right at home, but with French influence so they have better food. Both Jack and I speak passable french, and we get by alright. We traveled to Lome and looked for Togolese pcvs but only found one on our last day in togo. We were going to go to the beach near Lome, but decided to save it for Ghana because we know those beaches better. We tried to cross back into Ghana at Lome, and there encountered minor problems. The immigration guys were not so friendly and not amused that we didn't have visas. One guy told me he wanted to slap me, but he didn't do it. They sent us to another building to buy the visa we should have gotten upon entry, but on the way, the Ghanaian officials saw us and waved us over to start entry procedures. They always like us because we have residency permits. We thought we had gotten through without having to pay when a big Togolese official came looking for us. He made us go back to the Togo side where we got yelled at and then had to wait around for a while before they took us the the other place where we bought our visas and passed through. The ghanaians where confused as to why we had left and come back, but still happy to see us.

Back to Accra, we hung around and looked into what it would take to get a visa to Cote D'iviore. Eventually we turned in the paperwork to the cold-as-ice reception lady at the CI embassy. We met some other fellow travelers and hung out with them in Accra: Jimi the Nigerian and Hans the German, cool guys. It's too expensive in Accra, so we went to the beach to wait for the visas. A few days at the Hideout turned into a week and suddenly we realized that we would have to rush back to get to the embassy by friday, or stay the weekend, so we did. Stay that is. We didn't spend much because we ate in the village: Lobster and fufu. Also, the group of omnibus pcvs after us had their COS conference that week and afterwards a bunch of them came to the beach we were at, so we stayed and had fun with them. Eventually, after a total of 10 days at the Hideout, we came back to Accra to leave for real.

Back in the Peace Corps office people kept seeing us and saying "I thought you were gone!" I've said goodbye to some pcvs so many times that it's a little ridiculus. Jack and i got up nice and early and went to the Cote D'Iviore embassy to pick up our passports only to be told by cold-as-ice that we were rejected because we did not have a ligitimate hotel reservation in Abidjan. That was true, we didn't have one because all the hotels there were too expensive. So rejected by Cote D'iviore, means we don't have to worry about how expensive and maybe dangerous it is there. Instead we decided to go back to Burkina.

Originally, I did not want to pass through Burkina because i have already been there three times and the visa just increased to 10 times the previous price. Our grand plan is to travel across west africa to Dakar, Senegal and then up to Morroco and cross into Europe. Get out your atlas and you will see that there are a number of ways we could go from ghana to senegal passing different countries along the way. From Bobo-Dioulasa in Burkina, we will go to Bamako, Mali and then to Dakar. Long bus rides, but only if we get the burkina visa. which we did, in only a few hours and the consular was very nice and the receptionist was cute too. Burkina is now clearly superior in Embassy services to Cote D'Iviore, the only downside is that the visa we got cost 100 USD and is a 5 year multiple entry visa. So I'll be coming back. And yes, they required it to be paid in US dollars, although Burkina uses the CFA.

Tomorrow, we will start again and travel up through Ghana again to Wa. from there, leave and never come back, at least until next year. But we are really going this time, promise.

That's a summary of the travel so far and the tentative plans i've got. It will undoubtedly change, but such is life. Wait, we are going to a bunch of francaphone countries. Se la vie! If you live along the way, i'm coming to visit you, otherwise i plan to be back in WI by the end of October and in Madison for Halloween. oh yeah.

love and kisses,

Friday, August 13, 2010

The end

Dear friends,

I haven't posted anything in a while, sorry about that. I suppose you all have gotten used to me not being around and don't miss me much anymore. Well too bad for you i'm coming back! Actually i won't be back for some time, but i'm getting to the end of an era here in Ghana.

July was very busy with the end of the school term, and preparing to finish my service and leave my site. I got through as much as I could with my classes, we finished Plant Reproduction and even looked at some real flowers and seeds in the classroom. It's such a challenge with no science lab and too many students to get in depth hands on study. I've been teaching all of the first year students, four classes and about 180 students and i try to meet with each group 2-3 times a week. We do the best we can with what we have. I set my exam questions and helped the secretaries type up some exams. Always impressive that i can type 50 words a minute. You forget how valuable/useful a skill like that is until you are in a situation where you are the only one with it. Like during a zombie attack and only one guy knows how to fly the helicopter, but he just got bit, oh shit!

I also took a bunch of photos of my students and me standing with my students. I wanted them to have a picture of me to remember me when i leave. I printed off a bunch of them and handed them out. Digital photos are expensive to print here, but it was worth it to see how happy they were to get them. I guess in the US you just email your photos to walgreens and get 'em for like 3 cents each, but here it takes a little more legwork, and ligiri (dinero). On the last days of school, I took a lot of pics of my school, students, and staff, and I arranged with some of the students who have film cameras to snap pictures of me and those who didn't get pictures before. It was really hard to say goodbye to so many good people that i spent so much time with. My students will miss me and I will miss them. so much.

Bismark and other staff planned an end of the year party to say goodbye to me and Headmaster (he's retiring, mandatory at age 60). We had light soup with goat and took one bottle each ( I took two Star). There was time for some speaches and they presented Head and me with smocks. It's my third smock and it is Packer colors, sort of, so I'll wear it to the next tailgate party I go to. Shauna et al. think it unlikely that i will every wear a smock in the US. They are right, but that won't stop me from treasuring them forever. It was great to sit with my coworkers and friends one more time. The week before we had a dog party, that was fun too.

I went to a goat roast at Shauna's and to the big Wa party and said goodbye to a bunch of the other volunteers. It doesn't seem so final or sad to say goodbyes to other PCVs, I know that in the future i will be able to keep in contact with them and see them if we want to. It's much sadder for me to goodbye my friends in the village and people here who i may very well never see again. I do want to come back. I promise I will come back, but I cannot be sure of seeing them again, and it can never be like this again.

After all that, I went back to site for a few last days to pack up all my stuff and say my last goodbyes. I gave away most of my small stuff lots of little things to my students and other crap to all my small girls and boys, but my big backpack is full and probably weighs 100 lbs. I have that plus my small backpack. I also sent some stuff back with Shauna and with Vicki, so i'm bringing plenty of crap home. There'll be something for each of you, my dear friends. Along with my stuff, I needed to pack up my PC water barrel and filter and bring it back to Tamale Sub Office, since i'm not being replaced (I hope they do send a volunteer to my school again in the future). It took some doing to lug all my stuff to Bolga, where I said more goodbyes and picked up more crap.

Now I've finally made it to Tamale and i can leave a bunch of it here. I have said goodbye to all the people and places that have been important to me for the last two years. I left Sirigu for the last time and Bolga for the last time. It was harder than I expected and I felt a really good sadness, so I knew that it is a good thing that is ending now. After a few failed attempts, I cried about it, but it didn't make me feel better, rather i felt more miserable. As Jake would say, it was ugly crying. I'm glad that i started my goodbyes plenty of time in advance and I think I did as good a job as I could getting to everyone and tying up loose ends. I know my village will miss me and I will miss everything here. so much so much.

The end. And also a beginning. I will go to Beth's wedding tomorrow and then to Accra where I'll have my interviews and etc. and then officially COS. Afterward I will not be affiliated with the US gov and then i can do WHAT EVER I WANT! Jack and I are still planning to travel, but we haven't decided what routes to take. more there later. The world is about to open up and i guess i have to dive back in. some traveling will be good before i'm forced to re-enter US culture, my "normal" life, and job/school or whatever. oh man, i'm not ready to think about what i'll do when i get back. let me know if you have ideas. and if you want me to come visit, i will. I don't even need a bed, i can sleep on the floor, i'm really good at it now.

Do good, be well.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Happy Fourf!


Difficulties involved in aquiring the neccessary materials for a more traditional celebration of the birth of our nation (dinomite is not the same as fireworks) resulted in some brainstorming and Shauna came up with the excellent idea to build a trebuchet for 4th of July. Jake had a pretty big gathering and we had great food, including burgers, hotdogs, and a variety of cold salads that did not contain lettuce, so the mood was set.

The mention of siege engines inevitably brought out a few others who were into (or too into) that sort of thing, so we went to work. I was quite satisfied with our result, although we did not have the endurance to figure out the proper way to make the sling throw rocks in the right direction (not back in our faces or onto the roof). We settled for the basket-type catapult-treb-cross. As evening drew near on Independence day, and the William Tell Overture swelled in the background, we sent flaming projectiles far afield, to the delight of all. A coke bottle of petrol only costs a cedi. We got some cool videos that Beth promised to post eventually.

I can safely say it was the best 4th in a long time, plenty of oohing and ahhing. It is pretty cool how well a coffee can full of rocks and dried grass will burn when it is doused in gasoline. Also, I'm happy to report that there were no serious injuries incurred.

I hope everyone is well at home. I posted some random more photos on facebook, check 'em. That's all for now.

Do good and be well.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The home stretch

Hey all.

This font i'm using is called trebuchet, which is a great name and i was actually just looking up trebuchets on wikipedia before this. everyone should have a trebuchet or two.

My last term of teaching is in progress. I've got about 3 months to go until i'm done with my pc service and on to other exciting things. I'm excited to be almost done. I love it here, but i'm looking forward so much to getting back to all my loved ones and places. I'm feeling a sort of senioritis here, but i can make it the last bit. I've come this far afterall. I've got enough to do here, with saying goodbye to everyone and packing up and giving away all my stuff, making sure i've tied up all loose ends. It will be over so fast.

World cup weekend and my birthday next week! the world accelerates as i experience it.

love, toby