Patricia Fleming's blog

Final Week

October 4th, 2014 8:01 AM

Hi Everyone,

I am now down to my final week here.  It has felt like a very long time.  Not so much while I’m at work, but when I am alone the hours feel like days.  My sore throat developed into a horrible cold but I haven’t missed a day of work.  I am for sure being tested on this trip.

Amelie, from WUSC in Montreal, and I went to see Cape Coast and Elmina Castles.   We left early in the morning, taking a cab to Kaneshie Market.  Then we boarded a Trotto for the 4 hour drive.  Hard to describe how many people are here, and how much traffic.  There doesn't seem to be any rules or laws to driving.  If they do stop at a light, then the car is surrounded by people at the windows trying to sell things.  Most of the people carry things on their heads.  I saw one man with at least 8 suitcases balanced and am amazed at the ones who are carrying eggs!  We saw three bad car accidents throughout the day.  An ambulance was trying to pass us and the driver just sped up.  I'm sure he was going 150 km/hr, but he wouldn't even move over for the ambulance.  It was crazy.  I just closed my eyes.

At one time there were 160 castles along the coast.  The two we visited were about 20 minutes apart by cab.  We went on both tours and then visited the museums.  So interesting, but so very sad.  What those slaves went through was barbaric for sure.  I put some pictures on my Facebook.  There is one picture of me standing beside the plaque from President Obama’s visit, and also the door of no return.  Hard to imagine that once they walked through that door, they would never see their homeland again.

In the villages we walked through, the children are adorable.  They all wave and smile, and love to have their picture taken.  The living conditions of some people are much worse then I imagined.  But it doesn't seem to matter to them.  The children are playing in the mud or running, but always laughing and happy.  The British influence is very dominant here.  It seems that everyone is dressed very nicely each day.  No matter their status, they appear to look after themselves.  I don't know how they can reside in a lean-to, but dress so nicely in clean clothes.

I now have three days off and I was going to go on a trip but it seems no one else wants to do anything, and I’m too much of a coward to venture out on my own.  As a white female, I feel like a huge target that stands out.  This makes it difficult to walk along the streets or look at things because everyone tries to get your attention to buy things.  They all want my name and phone number, and want to know if I’m from Toronto or Vancouver.  They all want me to go with them on trips to different places, so it is hard to be polite but turn them down as well.  Sundays are very quiet because everyone is at Church.

John’s mother wanted to meet me so we discussed travelling to see her but John said it would be too difficult as it is a 4 hour drive on very bad, bumpy, dirt roads.  We did a few of those roads on the way back from the Coast and it is not fun.  In some areas I was sure that the Trotto was going to tip over, so I think we made a good decision.

I've been able to make lots of changes while I've been here, so am feeling much better about things.  I’ve been able to help out two families with a few purchases, thanks to some help from family and friends.  Also, the Director lost all his files on his laptop and luckily I was able to find a way to retrieve them for him.  He was very relieved and grateful.  No one at the office has a backup copy because they can’t afford to buy USB sticks.  Also, the website is almost complete which will help everyone at NFED, I hope.  And they fixed the air conditioning in my office, which made a difference for all of us.  The people I have met at work give everything they can, each day, to try and teach with no tools, and they never, ever complain.  I need to learn so much more from them.

Since Monday is another holiday, Islamic Christmas, and yesterday the power was out all day, I will have to work double time next week to get the website done.

Thanks for all the emails, messages and comments.  It sure has given me strength to keep on going, knowing that everyone is helping me through this trip.  Have a great weekend!

Still Alive

September 26th, 2014 8:03 PM

Hi everyone,

I did it again.  I just wrote an update and then tried to post a picture and it all went away :(  So here I am again with a new attempt to blog.  Must remember to keep saving.

I haven't been able to write this week because I've been really busy at work trying to get the new website built.  We have over 40 pages now and it's all coming together.  Now we are into reviewing the documents, updating and editing, and verifying the statistics with source information.  Then we get to do the fun part of making it look attractive and adding pictures etc.  I've been working hard with the IT here at NFED so that they are learning how to do everything and will be able to maintain the website after I leave.  Big thanks to our Brad who has found me free software and is even going to host the site for them.  He has a huge Heart.  I'm hoping to have the website up and running within the next 2 weeks, God willing.  They are all Christian here, or Muslim, but all religious.

I met with all the department Heads the other day and they listed all the things they would like me to do for them.  I had to explain how much time it takes to just do a website, and then I gave them all the documents that I needed reviewed, so now I think they realize.  They have switched their thinking and are now developing a proposal to keep me here, or to bring me back, LOL.  I'm still not sure if I will make it through this trip....

I've been sick since I got here so I haven't eaten much at all.  My weight will be down for sure.  Happy :)  Now I've developed a sore throat to add to my stomach ache.  Not a hardy traveller afterall.  A couple of nights ago, Ken and I worked until late so he walked me home as it was pitch black.  They do not have street lights here.  BIG mistake, now I have hundreds of mosquito bites on my legs as I didn't have any protection.  I better not get Malaria to add to everything....  Cholera is the real problem here right now.  Still no Ebola, so that's one thing I don't have to worry about.

During the week, the driver for one of the Heads drove me all around Accra.  Had a tour of the National Theatre, browsed for an extended period at the Art Centre, and then on to visit the Beach which was not what I expected at all.  My new husband John, who is all of about 30 yrs. also came to escort me.  John is a photographer for NFED.  Needless to say, he probably took 100 photos of me at all the places we went to.  I had to beg him to please stop.  Then he bought me a beautiful "black stone" neclace.  When I receive some of the pictures, I will put them up.  Everyone was trying to sell me things, so John kept them back, protecting me from them so I could at least look.  So that is why they all thought he was my husband.  I told him that it was great for me :)  Not so good for him.  Maybe Jenn?   Don't panic JB, I meant my daughter :)

On Sunday I am finally going to see the slave castles at Cape Coast.  Can't wait.  More to come soon.... 

Moved Locations Today

September 19th, 2014 6:28 PM

I just found out that Monday is a holiday.  A long weekend already. :)

Today I moved into SSNIT Guest House which is a block away from NFED.  I chose to move to save on time as it took me 1 1/2 hours to get to and from work when I was in Haatso.  Ken, the IT guy that I am working with likes to start work early and leave late and I was always having to leave early to get home before dark, and then arriving late because of the traffic. The cabs are 20 Cedis each way, so I started taking the Trotto for 2 1/2 Cedis.  That's an experience but so are the cab rides.  The other day we watched a car pull over right into a motor bike and today while we were in the cab the driver tried to squish between 2 cars and scraped both sides of his car and their cars.  There doesn't seem to be any rules on the road.  They didn't even stop and exchange names or anything.  Just kept on driving.  They can't fix it.

I've adjusted to the power outages each day, and am adjusting to the way they live.  Last night I wasn't well though, so I haven't eaten again for the past 24 hours.  I need to toughen up.  They eat a lot of rice, chicken and stews here.  I'm always a bit nervous because I never know what the stews are made from.  I tried Red Red yesterday which is one of their favourite foods.

In the new place I can walk to work in 10 minutes but I have to be careful as it's not safe here being O'Brunie (meaning white).  The only time I am safe is if I am walking with an O'Bibini (meaning black).  Everyone has been great though.  The men usually walk me everywhere and carry my bag.  I could get used to this very easy. :)   I'm hoping that this new place will be better.  It is just a room and washroom, but it looks clean and has everything I need, air conditioning, tv (LOL), internet and hot water.  There is even a tennis court outside, just in case one wants to play tennis when it's 100 Degrees!

It's a beautiful day today.  Very hot but nice blue skies.  Yesterday was extremely humid and rained a lot.  I met another volunteer who has been here almost 2 years now and she is teaching me the ropes.  She is only 28 and plans on taking me out on the town next week to show me the fun spots. 

I'm also going to be travelling with Ken to the Central Region one day, and then the Western Region on another day. Both areas are about a 4 hour drive in different directions so I am hoping to see a lot more of the Country.  Ken is going to bring me to meet his family who live in the middle of nowhere so that should be an eye opener for me.  We need to go and collect some information for our project.  The information could be sent through a computer if they had one in the regions, but they hardly have any equipment working at the head office.  The funding has been cut for over 4 years and most of the people working at NFED don't even have a computer.  They write notes or type them on an old typewriter.  The computers they have are also ancient and with all the power outages it is very hard to keep the server up and running.  And I'm going to create Webpages for them. If anyone has an old version of DreamWeaver that they can send, it would mean a lot.  Or better still, if someone wants to donate a new copy.  I had no clue how bad things were here and yet the people are always positive, happy, thankful and hopeful for the future.  I wish I could give more to them.

Hope everyone at home is doing well.  Oh, did I mention that they want me to stay for the year?

WUSC Orientation

September 15th, 2014 5:09 PM

Great start.  I plugged my laptop into a new surge protector, into a converter plug and then into the wall socket. Everything blew.  In panic mode now!

Today I had my orientation at the WUSC office and was introduced to all the staff.  Then they took me for a late lunch and helped me buy a sim card, phone time, and a dongle to increase my internet speed, and a new converter for the laptop.  All is good again.

Grace, a young woman at the office said that she can't stop looking at me because I am so pretty, and she loves my hair colour. I was taken back because so many people keep staring at me and I was thinking they didn’t like the way I looked.  She sure made my day.

Tomorrow they are driving me into work for my first day. This is so different then what I even imagined. I will try to put some pictures on Facebook and my blog today, but the power has gone out three times in the last 24 hrs, so who knows how much time I have online.

Day 1 in Accra

September 15th, 2014 4:49 PM

Hi everyone, I made it.  What an exciting trip so far.  The first thing I’ve learned is that I don’t get out enough.  I was stunned at how big the Atlanta airport is and how many people are in it.  Like another City.  I took a subway train 5 stops to get to the next terminal.  During my wait for the next flight I had a glass of wine and after the hectic week it was so nice to wind down.  I chatted with a nice young woman who was heading back home to Australia.  Then she had to run and catch her next flight but she gave me a hug when she left J So nice when you are all alone in a new place.

On the next flight to JFK, I met a man from Peru who was very interesting to talk to.  Once we landed, it took 45 minutes to drive to the terminal.  Another huge airport.  I will never complain about our little Toronto airport again.

The final flight was much better than I had anticipated.  I was seated in the middle of a bunch of children who were all fighting.  Then I realized that it was because one of the children didn’t want to sit down the aisle, so I asked if she wanted my seat and we would switch.  To my relief, the children ended up very happy, and I ended up sitting beside a very good looking, young US Navy man.  He is coming to Accra because they are doing research on Malaria.  Very interesting discussion.  I also managed to read all my paperwork for my Mandate and watch 3 new movies.  A very productive trip.

The heat hit as soon as we stepped off the plane.  Only took 3 minutes to walk from the steps of the plane to the terminal, and I only saw 1 other plane so it was far different than the other airports.  It did have an air conditioner on the wall in the main area while we went through Customs.  I was met by two men from WUSC who drove me back to the hotel.  What a trip that was.  I felt like a 5 year old with lots of excitement, anticipation and curiosity as we drove through the streets.  Not many roads are paved, no sidewalks, no stop signs, traffic lights or street lights.  Cars were going every which way and if there was a 3 foot gap, then you pulled in with a beep.  Not a nasty beep but just a courtesy beep.  People, chickens, goats and cows were also on the road.  Amazing to see all the people carrying all kinds of supplies on their heads.  I even saw one lady on a motorbike with a basket balanced on her head.

It was so nice to arrive at the hotel where I had a much needed sleep.

Preparing for my leave...

July 30th, 2014 8:57 PM

I am starting to get anxious as there is so much to learn before I leave.  What to pack?  What to wear to work?  What will I be doing?  What equipment and software do they have for me to be able to do the job?  What will I be eating?  What, what, what?  I also have to ensure that I leave the office, and the house, in good shape while I'm gone for a month.  I can say that I survived all the vaccines needed to travel to Ghana and my Visa is set up.

For all my friends who are worrying about the Ebola virus, it is not in Ghana, and I will wash my hands just in case.  I've met with several people who live in Accra, or have spent time there and the stories that they tell make me excited about the trip.  

Have my Mandate

May 13th, 2014 2:27 PM

The pre orientation weekend is complete and it has now been confirmed where and when I will be going.  So excited to be going to Accra, Ghana on September 14, 2014 for a whole month.  I'm already preparing for the trip.