Sunday, February 21, 2010

Our First Week Feb. 13 - 20, 2010

So where to start……..

Life here is moment to moment, in the street and with an easy pace to match the weather. The humidity is so beautiful along with the people, the palm trees and the sweetest mangoes I have ever tasted. As Terry said, we were spoiled that first week at the hotel with all our meals cooked for us and a pool to jump into to keep cool. I became Dezmond’s swimming teacher and by week’s end he was able to keep up with the other kids in the pool, even swimming and jumping into the deep end unassisted.

One of the VSO volunteers from India got me then to teach her the Breast stroke (quite hilarious, me a swim instructor, hee, hee). I did manage to improve my stroke though. I have decided that hotel pools are definitely the right size for my style of swimming.

Our first Sunday (Feb 14) was overcast which was a blessing and it allowed us to leave “the compound”/the hotel and venture on a tro tro (public transport here – rickety old, run down mini vans) to central Accra for an eye opening look at the beach the locals use downtown. Everywhere we went people smiled and practiced their English on us. A group of beautiful young girls (one carrying her baby nephew on her back) engaged with us and toured us through a shanty town which led to their beach. Since it was our first day, we were unsure whether or not we could trust these girls in this extremely unfamiliar and dodgy part of town. A young man joined the girls and tried to entice us into a little bar where they have “drumming and dancing lessons” for Canadians and Americans. We went with our gut instincts following the girls, leaving him behind. The girls then informed us that he was a “thief” and to stay away from him. We never felt threatened, but it was good to have this experience early on to remind us to remain aware.. All our subsequent experiences with locals have been nothing but positive, proving that what the books say about safety and friendly welcome in Ghana/Accra is true. The beach was packed with locals, cows, horses, goats, and garbage. In spite of this it was a beautiful sight. They were all so happy to be there each in their own way. These were the shanty dwellers and we stood out like sore thumbs. We thanked the girls and found our own way back, happy to get a taxi back to the hotel for some air con and pool action.

We had amazing Ghanaian food paid for by VSO while we stayed at the hotel. It was always a buffet with many choices some western, but mostly some spicy local cuisine – yummy.

Our week at the hotel also consisted of language lessons with Terry, which was great. The locals love it when we practice our Twi on them. Lilianna especially gets the smiles. Josephine was super proficient at writing all our new language down. Besides the pool, Terry and I managed to do some early morning runs which were a great way to explore and get a workout. The humidity makes it nice, so that the heat is bearable to run in………….it helps too that I love to sweat. Got lost a couple times coming very close to having to grab a taxi after 1 hour of running, but managed to find my way back by asking many people for directions. One thing about Ghanaians we have learned is that they don’t like to admit that they don’t know something and they have no concept of distance, so you can get many different answers when asking for directions.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Our Journey Begins

I am writing this on March 24th one day shy of the six weeks since our Journey began. Truly though our Journey began on a beach somewhere in Thailand as Terry and I mused that some day if and hopefully when we have children, we would like to take a similar year off to travel, but to try and set down roots in one place. That was in 1996 and over the years as we had our children, we began to talk of going to work and live in a developing country.

We realized how important it would be for us and our children to learn the value of what we have and be able to discern between needs and wants in our attempt to become better global citizens, educating ourselves in a place completely foreign to the world we know in Canada.

Then in the fall of 2007, I was blessed to be able to work on the play Rabbit Hole at ATP in Calgary. We picked up our family and lived in a wee bungalow in Hilhurst, near Kensington where all four kids shared 1 bedroom and we used our camping dishes along with borrowed odds and ends like a microwave from Katelyn, a kitchen table and chairs from Vanessa, a bed from Kevin, a TV from Lyle and Heather etc. - all supportive, generous family and friends.

We loved our time in Calgary! It opened up a whole new world for the kids and we spent more time together as a family away from the usual hustle and bustle. One day we were driving towards Bragg Creek, looking at the monstrous homes in some of the new developments. They were beautiful, but living in our little love shack, we saw all too clearly how unnecessary it was to work towards buying the perfect home or the dream car or the biggest and latest in plasma TV’s. Terry and I made a pact then and there that we would work towards our dream trip instead and set a departure deadline of either September 2009 or January 2010.

We came pretty close to our goal by leaving on February 11, 2010. The morning was a flurry of activity. We needed to leave town by 2:00 PM in order to get to the Calgary airport by 5:00 for a 7:30 PM flight. All of mine and the kids’ things were packed, and our closets emptied to make room for Katelyn, so I thought it would be easy to wash sheets and towels and get the house cleaned. I even treated myself to a run that morning before the kids got up. The kids were beside themselves with excitement and Terry had a lot of packing and finishing of odds and ends with his work.

Time disappeared as we had Skype calls from Greg and Dave Coyes, then Papa Coyes over for lunch and finally a last farewell to Rhea, Sebastien and Georgia. Many smiles and happy tears later we were in the rental van late by ½ an hour with the vacuum literally in the middle of the living room, the belt having come off (the one thing I was unable to finish cleaning for Katelyn – among other things like unorganized crumby cupboards and closets).I love the start of journeys!!! We were finally on our way after weeks and weeks of 18 hour days working through every detail of our journey while we were finishing up our work and tying up all loose ends in Edmonton. Hitting the highway for Calgary with our small lives packed into 9 suitcases and 8 carry on bags, was the best feeling ever. I remember saying bye to Rhea that morning and trying to express in words this feeling I had of having no idea what the next few months would bring, but not feeling worried or anxious, only aware of some impending life that we would find and embrace. We got to Calgary and said our final goodbye to Joel and Eve who met us at the airport and took our car seats off our hands. We were on our way!

Our kids are in love with British Airways. Each of us received a little bag with a travel toothbrush and paste, an eye cover, and socks. Riley still talks about the food and drink and his own personal TV to watch Home Alone. We arrived in Heathrow at 12:30 PM London time and got on the tube for central London. The kids handled the jet lag very well falling asleep any time we sat for more then 5 minutes then springing to action when we needed to move.

After dropping off our things at our charming little hole in the wall bed and breakfast, we walked to Buckingham Palace and played British Bulldog in St James’ Park.

Then we were lucky enough to meet up with our good friends Jessica and Neve at the pub for dinner. Jessica is a colleague of mine in Edmonton who is an actor and drama instructor, and is currently getting her masters in London then back to Canada to become a director. She is inspiring with her hard work, ambition, talent and the ability to do all this while raising her beautiful daughter Neve, who is almost 3 years old.

The kids got to know Jessica and Neve when she watched them one year while I rehearsed Christmas Carol. We all love Jessica and Neve and felt so privileged to be able to visit them in the midst of their big adventure in London. The kids were also pretty thrilled to be able to hang out in a pub.

We went back to our digs where the kids slept through the night some on the floor and some on beds all in one tiny room, while Terry and I lied awake with jet lag from about 4 to 6 AM. Next thing we all knew there was a knock at the door at 8:15 AM for our “Proper English Breakfast” of fried eggs, coffee/hot chocolate, bacon and stacks of white toast (the kids favorite – they never get it at home). We walked to see Big Ben, the Thames, the London Eye and Westminster Abbey. Then back to our B&B for bags and off to the airport on the Tube again.

We flew off to Ghana at 3:00 PM once again taking full advantage of the free food, drink and movies (thank you British Airways). This time the kids each got a zip up pouch (perfect for pencil cases now), filled with an activity book, crayons, playing cards and more eye patches, socks and toothbrush/paste combos. I think Riley plans to buy stock in British Airways. We stepped off the airplane in Ghana and the moist evening air embraced us. We made it, and that funny feeling of having no idea what comes next started to play out.