Friday, March 19, 2010

Week 2: The Reality of It All Sets In

Saturday, February 20, we finally left the hotel for our new digs. We were all very excited to see and settle into our new “home away from home”.

The apartment is spacious, well furnished, bright and in a relatively quiet family neighborhood compared to where we were at the hotel. We are on the second floor with a great view of palm trees and get a daily breeze on the balcony.

It has lots of fans and we live close to a pedestrian walkway beside what I call the canal. It is actually an open sewer with little bridges over it, but we all have very good imaginations for seeing the canals of Venice on these walks and we are becoming proficient at breathing through our mouths. It is actually quite nice because it is an “unofficial pedestrian zone” without traffic and there are plenty of chickens, goats and dogs (which the kids stay away from). We walked along it to get to Church last Sunday. Church here is done in English and Twi so it is 2 hours long. We made up for missing on Sunday the 14th and this Sunday we will make up for Ash Wednesday. Then I guess we only need to go every second week…..just kidding.

We have spent this past week settling into our place. That first Saturday we were lucky to have a dinner invite as we were not even close to being set up yet. The woman who hosted us is Ghanaian and her name is Anna. WE LOVE ANNA!!!!!!! We are so blessed to have her as our friend. She is a physiotherapist who worked in Edmonton with a Mom, Audrey, from Holyrood whose son has play dates with our boys. Sight unseen she responded to an e-mail I sent her the night before we left, inviting us to stay at her place if we need to and then Saturday’s dinner invite. She lives far from us, but picked us up, fed us an amazing meal, then dropped us off with lots of leftovers. She is easy to get along with and has been immensely helpful as we get on our feet here. She picked us up on Sunday in order to take us to the mall to get groceries and supplies. Then she got her hired driver to pick us up after he dropped her at work, so that he could take us to the market and accompany us for some good bargaining, then he took us shopping for more household items. She has also supplied us with an extra single bed so that Riley and Dez don’t have to share a single bed, some extra dishes, a huge fry pan, a microwave, towels and pillow cases. She is away this weekend, but has talked of taking us to the beach next weekend. What an amazingly kind and generous woman. There is no awkwardness only good intentions. We met her niece at dinner last Saturday and this niece was studying in Edmonton having only recently returned. Now talk about a small world, she recognized me from a Bikram Yoga class last October. WOW. Another coincidence is that in this huge city, we are living in an apartment about 2 blocks from the home Anna grew up in. Her parents have passed away (her mother only last year) and she now rents out the house. She has a young man named Hameed looking after it while she looks for renters. She has tasked him with looking out for us, which he has been doing with things like finding us an electrician to fix 2 of our fans, finding us someone to help with laundry and cleaning (a story in itself), and tomorrow he will walk with me and the kids to a store that sells toasters in our price range, and to the station where we can fill our propane tanks (we have a propane stove top).

We are learning how to live in this strange new world. Terry has been at work all week and I have been cleaning out more dust then I ever thought possible…..thus the hired help. Hameed’s girlfriend Abigail came for 3 hours yesterday. I had her wipe down all the windows (there are 8 slats of glass that remain open always protected from the wind and dust only by a screen), doors and light switches, while I swept and washed the floors of all the rooms, banged all the cushions on our furniture, swept underneath the cushions and wiped with a rag. You can imagine all the wiping down I have been doing in cupboards, shelves and closets. Yesterday me and the kids had a stay home day and got it finished, even wiping down the balcony floor and furniture. During all the cleaning, the kids have kept busy with games, reading (Josie has become the new bookworm of the family), journal writing and playing with the local kids. We have had to stop inviting the local kids in as the landlords don’t like it. It is a difficult dilemma, because you invite 3 inside and there are 20 yelling up to the balcony creating havoc on our street. Once our kids are in school we will have to pick and choose their friends based on who they can trust the most and whose company they enjoy the most. It is so hard though. I had to turn a young girl away today who I know was sweet and had a baby on her back, but we have to respect the law of our apartment mates who I know are giving us sensible advice.

Speaking of schools, we have now checked out 4 schools and have narrowed it down to two. It is a difficult decision. One is a 10 minute walk over the canal from us and is far more affordable. Many of their new friends in the neighborhood attend this school. Hard to tell how good the education would be, but it would be the experience of a lifetime. The other school is still within our budget although much more expensive. They would have to travel through busy traffic each day to get there, but it is Catholic with a Church on site (we will go to this Church on Sunday this week), and clearly a higher standard of education. Both schools are filled with Ghanaians, but from 2 different worlds, lower class versus middle class. The Catholic School would start in May and the local one would begin as soon as we are ready with a month of holidays in April. Both schools terms finish at the end of July, then the new school year resumes in September. I have written a letter to the headmistress (a nun) at the Catholic School asking permission to enter. We may be refused or they may not have space for us until Sept, so we might end up having no choice in the matter. Now that the house is clean though, I want to get into the habit (until they are in school) of leaving the house with the kids when Terry goes to work to run errands like the market, the grocery store or just general exploring, then come home in the heat of the day for journal writing, French and maybe eventually Math (I’m not prepared yet for Math).

One of the schools I checked out is a Swiss German small international school very close to us. They have a playground and a café, which welcomes visitors like us. I had a good talk with the administrator early Tuesday morning and she mentioned that they are looking for volunteer Kindergarten teachers. They would pay for your accommodation if you made your own way here. Anyone interested????? She got me thinking about opportunities and I am going to see if they want to hire me to teach a Drama class in their next term to help cover our expenses. I won’t get my hopes up, but it might be a nice in for a place to hang out and do my writing once he kids are in school.

So here we are nearing the end of our first real week in Accra feeling extremely blessed. The kids are amazing at adapting, more than I ever imagined. They just go with the Ghanaian flow. Their toughest moments have been car sick rides in various modes of transport, our first night in the apartment (mosquito nets that were like heated tents with no air circulation and were sprayed with poison which got on their skin and burned). I was the only one to get any sleep that night with the heat. All have diarrhea but me. I am actually fairly regular surprise surprise (I think I was meant to be in the tropics). Time sometimes stands still here in Ghana, but although I thought this would bother me, it seems to wash over us all. The kids and I sat in a warm vehicle waiting for Hameed to find Abigail parked on a busy street in central Accra for about ½ an hour after having driven ½ an hour to get to this place that without traffic would have taken 10 minutes to drive to. But we were all lost in thought watching the world go by taken by the Ghanaian transcendence of time. They control time here, it does not control them and we are finding our way within this.

We allow ourselves special treats because we are in a big noisy smelly city. We have found a hotel across from the Swiss School with a pool we can use (for a cost – can’t make it a habit), we made it to the Alliance Francaise Cultural Center last Wednesday where we saw an amazing performance of dance, singing and drumming from a group from Burkina Faso (the country north of us). They have performances from various groups every Wednesday evening plus an artist exhibiting their work (we have an artist living below us, Henry who will have a show in May. Dezmond and Riley had a sneak preview of his work today and said it is amazing). Terry and I have cold beers each night on our balconey. It is the only drink I really crave besides water. It goes well with the sweet bananas. We hope to get away as many weekends as we can. We will stay close to home this weekend, but will go to the “tourist beach” for the day on Saturday. Can’t wait. I think I get to join some of the VSO gals for a girls only wine tasting on Saturday night – lucky me. The kids really appreciate the little things here like cereal (cornflakes and bran flakes the only ones affordable for us), cucumbers and sandwiches, which they were so sick of at home, now they can’t get enough of them. They loved setting up their rooms. We have wonderful talks when we walk. Soccer is the God of all sports here. The kids are rock stars in the neighborhood (not sure if this is a good thing, but for now it boosts their ego). Each of the kids is quietly finding their way (with a few ear pulls and discipline here and there – the heat can make everyone a little stir crazy at times). I was in heaven today when we found a street of “Greenhouses”. I bought 3 small tropical plants, 2 that flower purple and orange. I managed to bargain about $5 Canadian for 3 plants, 3 broken pots, and 2 bags of dirt for our balcony. The kids were as excited as I was. Mirrors, shelves, baskets and tables have so much value to us here. I am so glad I threw in a small photo album, felts, paper, tape, and scissors.

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