Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Week One: Reality Check time!

Whew! I have been here one week and one day, and already I am exhausted! I had a rather tumultuous start to my trip, but every day things are getting better and better.

To start, when I landed in Ghana after traveling for 20ish hours, there was no one from my organization at the airport to pick me up. I was in Accra, alone, with a ton of luggage and looking very vulnberable indeed. I got approached by several different men all trying to scam me into one thing or another, to pay them for calling the hotel, moving my bags, trying to get me to take a taxi. I felt so ridiculous, like I had a giant sign on my forehead:


Needless to say, it was quite scary. However, and Australian girl and her Ghanaian boyfriend eventually came to my rescue after watching me flounder around the airport lobby, totally overwhelmed. The assisted me into a taxi, who took me to the hotel I was instructed to go to if no one showed up. The desk clerk helped me call my program coordinators, and I got a hold of them. It ended up just being a mix-up, they somehow got the impression that I had changed my arrival date to match with Micah's, which is in February. Woops.

The next morning, Mr. Pius from CATO arrived and picked me up. He helped my buy water and a phone, and took me out to the orphanage. Ah, the orphanage. Here is where it gets interesting. It is a good orphanage, however I learned later that the founder and head of the orphanage did not know I was coming that day, and was not there to meet me. I was taken to my room which is right smack in the middle of the grounds, next to the office. I was under the impression that I would be living off-site, however that is not the case. It is nice in a way, because I am around and can easily help, however it also is not so good given that I am always around 128 yelling children. That day I rested, and then the night came.....

It was dark. It was hot. And there were animals EVERYWHERE. Rats clattering and fighting on the tin roof all night long. A mouse nesting in the foam mattress under me. A GIANT cockroach who managed to get into my mosquito net and scuttle across my pillow. And the kids were up until 1.00 AM yelling and playing. Needless to say, I did not sleep. Instead I had a total breakdown and called Mican bawling my eyes out saying Forget it, I'm coming home. Keep in mind that I had slept maybe 3 or 4 hours in the last 48 hours.

The next morning, things were a little better. I realized that the reason I completely fell to pieces was partly due to lack of sleep, and partly due to some faulty preconceptions I had subconscioulsy concocted about this journey.

When Jim (my brother) and I were little, one of our favorite games was "Poor Kids", where whenever it rained, we would go into the backyard in our bare feet with and umbrella as our house and plot our survival tactics, which were basically sneaking into the house 'stealing' food. It was really fun. However, I think somehow I got this idea that I would go and "play poor" for three months, and that it also would be really fun. Ahem. Wrong. Very wrong. It's not a game. And it's not fun at all. It's dirty, and chaotic, and exhausting. Just washing dishes takes no less then 30-40 minutes of hauling water,pouring, scrubbing, and rinsing in the hot hot hot sun.

However, now I am doing much better. I figured out how to arrange my mosquito net so bugs won't get in, and when I met Naomi, the founder and "mother" of the orphanage, she made me feel so welcome and immediately cleaned and arranged my room; instantly I did not feel so alone and overwhelmed.

The third day, I began teaching. It went something like this:
Cynthia (orphanage staff): "Ok, let's go the classroom, and you can watch the teacher to learn how we teach here and look at the lesson plans"
Me: "Alright, great!"
*walk over the sections of concrete separated by bamboo lashed together and roofed by a tin slabs*
Cynthia: "Here is the class, we are giving them to you. Oh, the teacher is not here. She was not here yesterday."
Me: "Um, ok."
Cynthia: "This is your class now, teach them something."
EXIT Cynthia.
Me: " Hello, my name is Madame Susan, I am your new teacher." (inside thoughts are frantically racing) "Give me your book."

I took one of their English workbooks, and upon glancing through it saw that almost everything was wrong, and furthermore their former teacher had marked the wrongness correct. Ai! So I spent the day correcting it on the chalkboard and having them explain to me how their day goes.
After pestering various people, I finally got a lesson book and a scheme of learning and am able to write lesson plans.

In essence, teaching is incredibly difficult for a number of reasons. First, I requested 6 and 7 year olds. My class ranges from 8-12 years of age, very hard ages to teach. Also, there is a shortage of everyhting because the kids lose the few materials that they have. Furthermore, the textbooks themselves are full of errors and typos, explaining why many children are very far behind. The kids are on all different levels, some can't even really read, write, or speak English, and some are reading and understanding very well.

On Sunday I ventured out into the town, Kasua, where the orphanage is. I attempted to find an internet cafe and use it. To make a long story short, I finally found it on my second trip into the town with other volunteers from Germany after a failed first trip based off vague directions. It was closed. In between the trips, I made a friend though, a young man named Abubake Sadique. Say that four times fast:) He is 27 and owns the gas station across the street from the orphanage. In Ghana, people will just sit and chat with strangers for tens of minutes to an hour. This is what we did, and now we are friends. I went and visited him and his gas station last evening, it is so nice to have someone to talk to outside the orphanage. He's very relaxed and intelligent, so he makes a great person to converse with.

Overall, this first week has been full of enlightenment, tears, loneliness, new friends, adorable children, an inspiring woman (Naomi), and just learning how to get along; something that is much harder than I anticipated. I am very eager for Micah to come, he will be visiting for 4 weeks in February. We are planning to travel for 1 week while here is here, and it will be very nice to have a vacation. I am working very hard, I wake up at 6.00 every day and am exhausted by 9.00 PM.

It will be a long three months, but I believe the endurance I will gain, the things I will learn, the people I will meet, and the strength I will have to find will all be worth it.

Thanks everyone for your support, I am doing my best to make every penny and every prayer count!


  1. Susan,
    I'm sorry to hear how difficult and disorganized everything is! It sounds like you're making the best of what you've been handed & I'd be sure you're adjusting better than most people would. You're an amazing girl & capable of so much more than you think! Remember when we said our basic goals in life were to make a difference in this world? You're doing it & I'm so excited for you! It's only been a week & you've got a big challenge put in front of you (besides simply adjusting your life haha :) ). I know you can organize your classroom & begin teaching effectively.
    I'm sorry you feel lonely & overwhelmed. You have soooo much support here in California. We love you & believe in you 100%! You're great at making new friends & I'm sure it's only a matter of time before you feel a part of the team there. Also, there's that God guy too... he's there.

    I know you're probly pretty busy there but remember you brought your camera! There's something in your free time to do to keep you sane :)

    Anyways, I love you & miss you & I'm so proud of you! I wish I could be there cheering you on like a little leprechaun on your shoulder with mini pom poms & a megaphone. I'd yell things like:
    "Yeah teach those kids real good english! Teach em!"
    "Yeah fill up those buckets of water! Fill em!"
    "Yeah arrange that mosquito net! Arrange it!"

    You know... real encouraging things :)
    Soooo you should email me an address I can send out a care package to. Also, is there anything I'm not allowed to send? Like candy or a puppy?

    I <3 you sooooo much!!!!
    <3 Buttney
    p.s. if you find yourself making friends with a baby elephant, name it jimbo for me?

  2. Hi honey. I am doing a test right now because the long comment I made before got lost somewhere. I will rewrite later. i love you!

  3. Hi Susan,

    What an amazing adventure you're having! I am awed and humbled by your passion for making a difference with the children there. They could not have a better teacher!

    I'm sure Micah wanted to jump on the next plane when you called him that first night, but I'm glad things have smoothed out a bit. I imagine there will be a few more bumps in the road, but each day you will get more comfortable with the people, the work, the living conditions, etc. and each day you'll get stronger. Hang in there!

    Thank you for keeping us up to date. You're a great writer and your stories are wonderful to read.

    You have lots of people who love you and are praying for you :)

    ♥ Lisa

  4. Susan:
    Finally, you are in Africa. Something you have wanted to do since you were 15 after meeting Pastor Tucker. A dream come true..but dreams coming true in this life on Planet Earth require hard work, perseverance, stamina and faith. This I have come to learn.
    I am sorry that your start was not smoother, but it sounds like things are working out. The critters sound awful...do you want us to send roach hotels?
    I am sure you are going to grow immensely from this experience, and you will stretch yourself. You are one of the strongest people I know. Notice I didn't say woman, but one of the strongest persons, hands down.
    The children will make it all worth it. Only God knows the impact of you having chosen to go there on the various lives, but I know He will use you..mostly because you are willing.
    I love you and miss you so immensely. I am taking good care of Poof. I am bursting with pride over you..I can't help it. I am your mom. So...let me know if there is anything you want sent, don't get sick, wash your hands a lot and pray. And we will pray. We will see what God does..but I mostly want Him to bring you home safely to me. He will watch over you. (Psalm 91) With all my love. mama

  5. Susie-Q!

    I am SO proud of you I could just bust!

    Not just for going, but for overcoming all of the obstacles to getting there at all, and also for working through all of the difficulties of now actually BEING there!

    I agree with Britt BTW about the camera, take LOTS of photos. Not only will you treasure them, but I (and others I'm sure) will really want to see them when you come home to us.

    I also agree with your Momma, there's no telling what God and and will do as a result of your faithfulness and hard work. May each of these children always remember "Madame Susie" and her love and dedication to them, and may they pass whatever blessing they receive on to other as you are doing.

    I'm really glad you've made a friend! That will be a big help to just get away from the noise and the craziness for a bit now and then and have a nice peaceful chat with an interesting person.

    Great job sticking to the family motto when you found yourself stranded at the Accra airport, keep up the good work!



  6. Susan, I am amazed at the fact that you traveled to the other side of the world to make a difference in these children's lives. You are a genuine hero in my book. To obey the call from God to go where you have to completely trust in Him to get you to the right places. I so happy that you found a friend and that Naomi made you feel so welcome.

    Love, Aunt Janice

  7. Hi Susan,
    So glad to see you made it safe and mostly sound....I know exactly what you have been through, I've been to India, Mexico and Africa on mission trips and you just learn to expect the unexpected. Thank God for those folks in the airport that helped you get to the hotel, maybe they were angels!

    You are already making an impact as I am inspired by you today! I know those kids will learn so much from you and they will never forget you. You also will never be the same after this. I really admire your perserverence Susan. It took an awful lot of work and determination to get this together and you did it! Looking forward to seeing some pictures soon!

    I'm sorry we couldn't hook up to get that paper to Ghana in your suitcase but I am going to get it to your parents for Micah to take.

    You keep looking up girl, and thank you for the inspiration today!

    God bless you in all you do!

    Love, Kathy

  8. Hey Susan!
    Sounds like you are having quite the adventure indeed! As I read your blog, I got more and more excited for you. Certainly things are not going to be easy and you'll have frustrations everyday, but God is molding you into an even more wonderful and loving person than you already are! I am sooooo excited for the growth you will be experiencing and the new abilities and experiences that you will be able to bring to the table as difficulties arrive at every stage of your life. You will be stronger than you already are, more courageous than you already are, and more generous than you already are!
    Know that I am praying for you everyday, you are constantly in my thoughts! I admire your spirit and the love you have for people, especially these children you are influencing in such a magnificent way! Enjoy every moment you are there, every moment of pain, of frustration, of tears and, of course, joy! Take care!
    Jonathan Florence

  9. Dear Susan:

    We've been getting a blow by blow description of your trip from Micah, but it was great to get your blog and hear it from you personally. It sounds like you'll have many a memory from this trip. We've found that the unexpected and difficult times are the most memorable -- the one that'll make you laugh and maybe even cry years later. These are the times when God shows Himself most vividly and for which you will be most thankful. Count them all joy!

    Looking forward to your next blog!

    Vic & Chemi

  10. susan, it is so good to have some kind of connection with you! i'm so glad you're going through everything that you're enduring. i know you will learn & grow so much. and if nothing else, be able to identify with the uncomfortable life so much of the world experieces. i love you loads!