Saturday, July 27, 2013

When You Need A Bit of Home...

My time in Ghana is wrapping up. Just a few more days. And for the most part, I've had a blast and I'm a little sad about going home. I love, love, love my host family and I'm sad about saying goodbye. And I've begun to build some very good friendships that I want to continue to build.

But there have definitely been times when I have really just missed home. Missed my everyday life, or just missed having someone who really knows and gets me around. The week in Cape Coast was especially tough. While I enjoyed the slave trade, batik and dance lessons, I just felt extremely homesick that week. I not only missed my life in the U.S., I also was missing my family in Accra badly.

Oddly, one thing that got me through was listing to Todrick's single "It Gets Better." It was nice to hear a familiar voice in my ear, and the message of the song was always nice. No matter how tough things got, things do get better. (He coincidentally updated the song while I was gone and did an acoustic version.)

The coolest thing, and a way that proved how much God loves me and seeks to comfort you in your lowest moments, is that I would fall asleep with my iPod playing and every morning when I woke up, Toddy's "It Gets Better" would play within seconds. It was the perfect way to start each day.

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I LOVE to brag on Todrick. The kids on the trip quickly learned it to as I showed them his YouTube videos and played my morning anthem for them. One of the students already knew the song and had it on his phone, too! Sweet bonding momemnt. And I was bursting with pride, like Todrick belonged to me or something.

I've always been proud of Todrick, and just in awe of how much talent he has from dancing to singing, to composing songs and plays. We're not as close now, but I feel blessed to have known him for over 10 years.

In case you haven't heard the song, here's "It Gets Better."

Monday, July 22, 2013

Finished Batik Design

Here are all the Batik designs made by the students and I:

My finished design

Flo's design

Dahlia's design

Miranda's design

Gladys's design

Ivan's design (and yes, I realize that it's cock and balls)

Rodrigo's design

Joceline's design

Lauren's design (she chose to stick with just one color)

Claro's design
Most of them were done with design drawn and cut out by the students themselves. And a few have incorporated designs done by the owners of the shop. It took us a week to work on these, but we loved every minute of it and are proud of our work!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Batik 101

As part of the "study abroad" portion of our AFS trip to Ghana, the students and I got to participate in Batik lessons. Batik is a wax-relief way of creating fabric design. It's quite popular in a lot of African cultures. The process itself is simple enough, although we learned quickly that there is a high level of skill needed to achieve the perfection you ultimately would want.

But, it is something that I think I'd like to try on my own at home. Or just do again as part of a workshop/class. For those of you who are more into arts and crafts, here's the process if you want to try it at home.

Step 1: Concept Creation
First, you need to do a bit of sketching to come up with possible designs you want to see on your fabric. It's best to come up with at least two different ones. Something we didn't realize as we were drawing is that you want these to be bold and be able to be somewhat large/big. If it's too small, it because an issue later.

Step 2: Copy your designs on to foam
Below are the two designs I came up. The first was just a bit abstract shapes and lines. It was actually almost too small (it might have been better if the lines were a bit thicker). For the second design, I just put together some ancient Adinkra symbols--the one on the left means "strength and humility," the middle symbol means "except God/except for God," and the last symbol means "faith and trust in God." To do what I really wanted these should also have been a bit bigger and spaced apart more.

Step 3: Use a blade to cut out your designs
The parts that are in color were going to stand out, while the white was going to be cut out. That way when you stamp the fabric later, you see the designs clearly. This is hard to do if your lines are super small. And you have to make sure you're digging into the foam in the right direction, otherwise you may actually cut off your design. This step was the hardest for all of us. I actually didn't even end up cutting out mine... our teachers did it for me.

On my Adinkra pattern, I had actually wanted the outside two symbols to stand up and have the inside symbol simply be outlined (so I would have dug out the center of the symbol). But because they were so close together and my lines were pretty small, that wasn't going to work.

You can see the shapes cut out in my Adrinka patter and in the ones the students made toward the back.
A few of the students had to scrap their initial plans and just go with one of the ones the shop already had cut and used in the past. So, if you're trying this at home, expect to make some mistakes and try again!

Step 4: Dip the foam into wax
You'll need to have hot wax (not sure if there is a specific type of wax that's needed, but I'm sure that's not difficult to figure out) melting over a fire. And then you'll dip the foam into it. If it's new foam, it needs to be soaked into the wax a bit and then hit against a table/smooth surface. Basically you want to make sure that it's gotten a bit "old" so that the wax truly gets soaked up into the foam when you're ready to start printing.

Our instructor and shop owner dipping my foam into the wax

Here's she's pressing my foam against the table to get it "aged"
Step 5: Begin stamping your fabric
You start with a white piece of fabric (we all had between 1 and 2 yards). Start with one of your pieces of foam and begin stamping your fabric in whatever pattern or style you want. I learned the hard way that you do NOT want to PRESS the foam down (you get a nice puddle of wax), but you also want to lightly move the foam about to make sure that the entire print is capture (especially when yours has small lines like mine did). The sections of my fabric that look the best are the ones that our instructor did. And when I finally got the handle of it, I also realized that I wasn't very good at making straight lines or keeping even spacing.

Her stamping

Me stamping
Step 6: Time to Dye!
If you plan to just do one color, then you'll actually want to stamp your second print onto the white fabric. But if you'd like to have two different colors in your finished look, then it's time to do your first dye. She did the mixing... but basically it was dye, caustic powder and salt. I'm pretty sure if you buy any fabric dye and follow the instructions you'll be fine. Once the dye job is finish, you'll need to let the color "bleed" out by hanging it on the line and let the fabric dry.


Once that's done, you get to repeat steps 4-6 with your second pattern. Something that wasn't explained well is that your first color needs to be lighter than your second color. You can't do the same color twice. So I wanted a gold fabric and choose gold as my color... but then for my second color, I had to go darker and had to go with orange :-( If I had understood the way the dying worked, I would have chosen yellow as the first color and then did the second dye job gold.

Stamping on my second pattern
Fabric drying so the second color can soak in/show

Step 7: Melt off the wax
You've printed, you've dyed. Now it's time to get all that wax off so you can have your final product. You'll want to make sure your dye has had time to drip through the fabric and you'll want to make sure your fabric isn't soaking anymore. Damp is okay. Then you want really hot water. They actually just had a pot over a wood fire so that the water was constantly being heated/staying hot. Each piece of fabric was then dropped into the hot water, one or two at a time. Sometimes they would stir it around a little bit. And then they would get a small cup to pick up all the stray wax pieces that were coming off so they couldn't re-stick to the fabric. Once no more stray wax pieces were coming off and there were none to pick out with the cup, the fabric was transferred to cold water. It was hand washed (no soap) to get any last bits of wax off before transferred to another bucket of cold water to sit in for a bit. Then it was hung back on the line to dry.

Putting the fabric into the hot water

Taking out the wax pieces

Washing out any remaining wax and then letting the fabric sit in cold water
Step 8: Let it dry and you're done!
The fabric hangs on the line and once it's dried, you can take it to a tailor or seamstress to get sewn! I got a dressed made, another student made shorts, one made pants. Not sure what the others will do with theirs. But it was definitely a fun experience. Here's all of our fabrics!

The designs the kids created

My completed fabric design

Monday, July 15, 2013

Ghana's Greyhound

One thing that my dad insisted I do while I was in Ghana is see Kumasi--the city he called home during his years in Ghana. It wasn't in our plans for the AFS program, so it was something I had to figure out on my own. And of course, since my dad seems to know someone everywhere on the planet, it wasn't too difficult of a task.

It started with a phone call to a Reverend in Accra. Rev. T said he'd get me to Kumasi over the weekend. He planned to stop over at my host family's house on Thursday to meet me and discuss the plans in detail. He wanted to take me on Friday and return on Sunday. I was hoping for more of a Saturday day trip or leave Friday night and get back Saturday evening. I was already a bit hesitant about who I'd be with in Kumasi, but I also really love my family in Accra and sort of felt guilty at the idea of "ditching" them for a whole weekend. I also had to be ready to travel to Cape Coast by 11am Sunday morning.

Anyway, Rev. T comes by on Thursday and I happened to be Skyping with my dad. They go off in Yoruba about things I tuned out and when they are done Rev. T tells me that he'll come get me Saturday morning at 6am, with the plan of me returning to Accra early Sunday morning.

Saturday, six o'clock rolls around and I'm ready to go. I get into the car and he begins driving. That's when I discover he isn't actually taking me to Kumasi. He's taking me to "the station." My first thought was train, which, while I was surprised, kind of excited me. But no... it was the bus station.

As we drove through the city towards central Accra, an image of a crowded lorry (called trou-trous here) came to mind. I was not happy. How was a bus NOT mentioned in all the plans? He always said, "We" or "I'll take you" and things like that when we spoke to Kumasi. I didn't realize I was going to be on my own. And on a trou-trou?! I sat in dread, which only increased when we drove by the main bus station and he goes, "We'll go to the other one... this one's a bit rough."

When we arrived, I slowly began to relax. There were no trou-trous in sight. Instead the parking lot was lined with coach buses. Ghana's Greyhound is run by luxury buses (Note to Nigeria: Pick it up!). Not only were the buses neat and nicely kept up, but the whole system was organized. The "mate" sold you your ticket, which gave you an assigned seat number. Luggage could be stored under the bus. And the buses themselves were clean, had reclining seats and a foot rest, a TV (which they showed Nigerian and Ghanaian films on), and air conditioner. It was better than the real Greyhound! In fact, it was better than the Megabus!

The five-hour drive was pretty uneventful. I enjoyed the scenery and marveled at the good roads and ease of travel. There was even a rest stop that all the buses traveling stopped at to let passengers use the restroom and grab a snack or meal, if necessary.

The only stressful part was the barrage of taxi drivers who practically accosted you as they sought to claim you as a client. Both when I arrived in Kumasi and returned to Accra, I was grabbed at and jostled quite a bit. They are too busy trying to win you over the others that they ignore your initial protests and declaration that you already have someone coming to get you.

All-in-all, it beat any other bus ride I've ever taken between cities.

Ghana's Greyhound gets two thumbs up.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Average Days in Accra

Each morning, I wake up around 6am. I lay in bed and listen to the constant chatter and occasional laughter from my two host sisters, my host mom and whoever else is awake. I'm tempted to roll out of bed and join them, but generally stay in bed until 7:15 to catch them before my host mom takes the two girls to school.

I say my farewells to the ladies. Sometimes get online to check my e-mail. Chat with my host brother (and sometimes dad, if he's up). Share some pleasantries with my host mom's sister who stops by each morning. Get hot water to take a bath. Get dressed. Take my 500 gazillion (or five) vitamins. If it's Sunday, add another vitamin. If it's Thursday, add my malaria pill. I put in my contacts. Go eat breakfast. And then either catch a ride, take the trou trou (Ghana's public transportation system, which must have a blog post of its own), or walk to meet the AFS bus. Generally nothing eventful happens, except this morning my breakfast was stolen by a monkey and then I had to sit in the bank and try to retrieve my ATM card after the machine decided to "retain" it...

9:15am: AFS bus picks me up and I head to my volunteer site with the others.

10am-1pm: We paint. And paint. And paint. I've ruined two shirts and one pair of jeans in this process. Which is fine. Except, when I was packing I thought our volunteer project was solely teaching. Somehow when relaying the message to us they left out renovating the Kindergarten block. So I picked my two oldest shirts to wear each day, and have worn my oldest pair of jeans every day, too. My new tennis shoes are ruined with yellow and brown paint (because I didn't bring my old ones since I didn't think I needed to worry about keeping the new ones nice). And well, let's just say it's a good thing I bought two new packs of socks before coming.

1pm-ish: We eat. Food is delivered to us and is a variety of African food. While there are other options available (banku, yams, spaghetti, etc), rice is on the menu each day. Which makes me and my Mexican kiddos happy. The black and white kids on the other team are not as thrilled by this.

2pm-ish: We get back to work. And are often a million times more focused and productive. Each day we see how transformative our work is to the building and we get more excited and more inspired. I still remember the initial reaction after day one: "We're making more of a mess than making it look nice, Miss..." and now, "It's looking REALLY good!" This project reminds me that a) Rome wasn't built in a day and b) things slowly, but surely, get better if you're focused, determined and your heart's in the right place.

4pm-ish: We close for the day as the bus comes to get us and drop us back at our various locations. Sometimes we all head directly home. Other times, people want to go to the mall or to someone else's house or out to eat. The three times I've decided to NOT come directly home, I've gotten lost. I'm able to make it TO the University campus, where I'm staying, but somehow get misdirected once inside and can't find my host family's actual house. This has led to some pretty interesting encounters with skeezy taxi drivers, a fawning graduate student, and a not so happy dog as I walked through an endless string of bungalows.

6pm-ish (or more like 8-9pm, if it's a day I got lost): I'm home, I eat dinner, I chat with the various members of my host family. School, books, and American fashion (which I am a disappointment on for my oldest host sister) with the girls; random moments of our day with my host brother; linguistics, culture or practical life things with my host mom; religion, politics and entertainment with my host dad.

10pm-ish: I'm in my room, reading or sometimes online, winding down for the night.

Sometime around midnight: I'm asleep.

And then it starts all over again....

Each day does have its schedule and pattern, but each day has also brought a new story to tell, a new experience to learn from and share.

Average days in Accra, that are actually not all that average.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Schools, Parks and Things That Are Nice

Today was the first official day of our project. We are renovating the kindergarten block of a government school in a low-income part of Accra. The work had been interesting as we are sorely equipped for the work.

First we tried to scrape and sand down the walls of the building. It was hard and mostly seem to produce a lot of dust. We gave up after about an hour and decided to just begin painting. Except then everything peeled off. We eventually figured out that the rollers were the problem and stuck to paintbrushes. It went smoother after that.

Afterwards we went to Rufus Park which was amazing! Life size chess set, Ludo board and some other game. We see-sawed and played on the swings and just ha a good time hanging out. We need more parks like this in the United States (or at least in my corner).

Now we are at Peter Pan restaurant and the kids are gorging out on burgers and smoothies.

Overall, it has been a good day.

I definitely thankful for the group of kids I have with me. They have such great attitudes and are embracing every bit of our time in Ghana. Trying new foods, actively learning about the culture, and even attempting to speak the local languages. They do have silly moments. Like one of my kids was disappointed that her host family wasn't poorer (she feels she isn't getting the real African experience). 

We are here with another group of kids who are not all as embracing. They aren't BAD kids, but I would be stressed if I had some of them under my wing. Just a bit wild and reckless at times. Especially for being in a foreign country. In Africa.

But ultimately, it is important to me that my kids have a good time and see Ghana (and by proxy, the rest of Africa) as more than the poor, third world stereotypes that tend to abound. 

Between the school and the park, I think they got a good dose of balance. And each day is a new memory to cherish together. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

That Awkward Moment When...

I love connecting/spending time with other Africans. There's just this automatic bound and shared experience that I enjoy exploring. But with older Africans--teens or older--there's always that awkward moment when the subject of marriage comes up.

The African: Are you married?
Me: No.
The African: Eh?! Why now? Are you at least dating someone?
Me: No.
The African: You mean you're telling me you don't have interest in anyone?!?!
Me: No. (although, if I'm honest, this is a semi-lie)

And with that response, I can feel their absolute disappointment in me. Or if they are the creepy old African men we all avoid, I can feel their hope that they've met a desperate girl who will fall for their cheap lines because she doesn't want to be an old maid.

've learned to take this reactions with grace and generally not get irked by them. They are just more awkward than anything else.

I had this same conversation with one of the volunteers with the program we were here with in Ghana. At first he thought I was 21, so after the first two questions, he was slightly pardoning. But somewhere between question 2 and 3 my age came out. And being unmarried and unattached at 27 is apparently not acceptable at all. I thought I had braced myself for the awkwardness to follow, but then the guy made sure to get my local number and told me, "Well, I will get married when I'm done with school. I'm 27, too."

The way he said it, and the way he looked at me as he said it, made me pause. Did I just get an awkward dating proposal? Or what? :-/

I thought I was being paranoid, but then kept calling me that night trying to reach me. And so now I'm kind of worried. I (luckily?) won't be interacting with him again (unless he continues to call/text) since he's had to return to his actual town. But yeah...

It was awkward.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Oh the places we'll go...

There is so much I've neglected to write about over the last two weeks. There are still tons of little Costa Rican memories to shares, I have some summer reading that I've knocked out and plan to review, I went to a professional development and learned a lot of cool things, I was able to knock a few things off my bucket list, and now I'm on my way to spend the next month in Ghana.

Yes, Ghana. Yes, a month. 

I'm ridiculously excited! But, I won't lie, there is also some level of trepidation. I'll be living with a host family, be a group leader for nine YES Prep high schoolers, and well... what happens to my life back home? It's not like time will stand still for me. What might be different when I get back?

It's silly, I know. But I can't help to wort a little bit. Ultimately though, this is like a dream come true and I plan to make the most of this opportunity. And regardless of what fears I have, the best things happen when you step out and take risks. You grow from moving out of your comfort zone. And I seek to constantly grow and be a better me. And my life has been due for a bit of a shake up :-)

One thing is for sure. This summer has, and continues to be, one great adventure for me. So here's to the next adventure, and I'll fill you in along the way!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Costa Rica Vignette: The Discovery of Coffee

Costa Rica is known for it's coffee. But coffee wasn't originally grown in Costa Rica. In fact, for many years, Costa Ricans didn't know what to do with the plant. It just sat around and looked pretty on the countryside until some European showed that it'd be a good way to make some money.

So, who first discovered that coffee could be a delectable drink that can give you a burst of energy to jump start your day and keep you moving when you're sluggish? Here a retelling of the tale I learned:

Once there was a young African goat farmer. Each day he would guide his goats across the mountain ranges, allowing the to graze on whatever plants were available. Life was simple, and each day passed with little activity.  
One day, however, he noticed one of his goats was a little more active then the rest. She bucked and kicked her back heels up a lot. She nipped at the other goats. And she always seemed ready to play, instead of lazily grazing like the rest of the herd.  
The goat herder was confused and slightly alarmed by this anomaly. At first he feared that the devil must have possessed one of his goats, and was ready to throw her off a cliff and rid himself of the terror. But he soon realized she wasn't the only one. A few other of the goats had begun to pick up on the crazy behavior.  
Being a goat farmer was all he knew how to do, if he threw them all off a cliff, what would he do? How would he continue to survive? So he decided to watch these group of goats a little bit more carefully, while he prayed silently.  
After a few days, the young goat herder noticed something different about these goats. The tended to graze a little further away from the rest of the herd, and the plants they were eating had little brown bean-shaped fruit spouting on them. The goats, it seemed, not only at the green leaves, but also ingested the curious fruit that grew on the plant.  
Intrigued, the goat herder decided to try one. It was a bit bitter, but he enjoyed the overall crunch and texture. Gathering some more, he decided to roast them over his morning fire. Soon a rich, heavenly smell began to rise from the fire. Pleased by the smell, the goat herder decided to suck on few of the roasted beans, dropping the rest into his cup in attempts to flavor his morning tea.  
Having enjoyed both culinary experiences, the goat herder added a new task to his day. As the day passed, the goat herder followed his goats' lead, gathering the beans from the plants along their grazing path. He was excited to share his new findings with those in his village at the end of the day. As he gathered, though, he began to notice that he too was feeling a bit strange. More energetic, more lively. He wanted to jump, skip, and sing from the mountaintops. He was drowsy like he usually was after lunch.  
He felt he could herd his goats for the next week without resting. There was only one explanation for this sensation: it was the beans. They gave the goats an abundant amount of energy and were making him feel just as manic.  
He knew he'd discovered something monumental that would change the day of every working man (or woman) forever. He began collecting the beans and planting them behind his house. He harvested them and sold them to his neighbors. Soon the village began trading them with other villages. The kingdom began trading with other kingdoms. Until thousands of years later, almost everyone has had coffee and many rely on it's rich smell and flavor to help them kick start their day and provide that extra boost of energy.

 And that was how coffee was discovered.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Never Say Never

Our flight landed two hours ago. I'm finally have handed off nine 11- to 14-year-olds off to their parents, paid $45 for parking, and I'm in my bed at home. And I'm happy.

We had a blast in Costa Rica--I'm so glad that I decided to do this trip and offer this experience to my students. But, let's face it: being responsible for kids who aren't yours in a foreign country is a lot of stress.

How can you not be stressed at learning the day before departure that one of the students signed up for the trip will not be joining you because she never got her passport? How do you not get stressed after discovering one of your students locked in the bathroom and in tears because she occasionally can't hold her bladder, is sure the other girls have been making fun of her, and her skinny jeans are glued to her legs because we had just spent two hours riding horses in the rain? (We had to use a pocket knife to cut her out of those, fyi). How do you not stress out about an absolute walking disaster who had a new scrape or cut each day, consistently dropped things or left them behind? And how do you not stress when this same walking disaster comes to you after spending three hours at the beach and three hours in the pool with a rat's nest in her hair that took two days and about four pairs of hands to brush and comb out? (Let's just say the little dear is also missing a good chunk of her hair, too.) How could you not stress out when you'd been grouped with a bunch 17- and 18-year-old who smoked, drank, and penises in the sand?

And of course there's just the general stress of making sure they fill out immigration and custom forms correctly, didn't lose their passports, didn't blow all their money on the first day, and on and on. Basically, I was Mommy for nine days. Considering I don't have any kids of my own and have only really babysat or nannied kids under the age of 7... I think you get my point.

The biggest bit of stress came rolling in on Day 3. One of mys students broke an antique statue in front of the fireplace at the hotel we were staying at. We had just come in from horseback riding, had showered and warmed up with hot cocoa after being soaked to the bone. I had just finished cutting one of my little dears from her jeans, and had suggested that another one dry her shoes by the fireplace. She took my suggestion, but decided instead of leaving her shoes at the hearth, or at least sitting in a chair while she held them up to the flame, that she'd perch on antique man. I was talking to the manager and happened to glance at her and thought I saw her sitting on it, but wasn't sure. The plan was to walk over and check once I finished my conversation. Instead, I hear a deafening crash. And when I glance back, the antique statue is in shambles under my student.

I was horrified. She was blase. She kind of just walked around to the other end, with absolutely no fear, concern or remorse crossing her face or evident in her attitude. When I asked her what happened she said she was trying to walk around it and it just fell (other chaperons/adults confirmed they saw her sitting on it, but she swears she wasn't). After cleaning up the scrap she got from the ceramic, I sent her on her way and faced the manager.

Now, we're in the middle of nowhere Costa Rica. As lovely as Monteverde is, it's definitely small town. The hotel didn't have Wi-Fi. They had one computer with Internet access at the front desk. You couldn't dial out on their desk phone. They didn't have a credit card machine. In fact, they had never had a situation like this before. After a lot of back and forth between the manager and the owner, they decided that the price of the statue would be $220 (apparently it was really worth thousands of dollars, but that was all they'd charge her). So... we call mom. Who first ignores our calls. Until we text her and say it's an emergency. And then she calls and is all panicked. When I explain the situation she wants to talk to her daughter. And then the manager. And then she tells him that she would like to talk to her lawyer first because how can they hold a 12-year-old accountable for damaged property (if you're thinking WTH?!?, so did I). When I call her back about an hour later, she acts like she never said that and said she was just waiting for her husband to get home. Daddy gets home, they call back and want to give a credit card number... but we're in the middle of nowhere, no credit card machine, remember? And the banks in the town don't open on Saturdays or Sundays (this was a Friday). So then the manager wanted me to pay for it and have the parents transfer money into my account. Suggesting this to the parents started one of the biggest minefields I've experienced in my teaching career so far.

Somehow, their daughter breaking something became my fault and dad tells me, I quote (with my thoughts in parenthesis): Don't you have money on you? (No. Not that much.) I can't believe you left the country with 10 kids and don't have thousands of dollars to pay for this? (Excuse me?) If I were you, I would have brought thousands of dollars and weapons... (Well, if you'd like to deposit thousands of dollars into my account, that would be great. And weapons?!?! Obviously you've never been on a plane before.)

Let's just say I was fuming, and as they continued to try and rip a new hole into my butt, I eventually got mad at sort of yelled back. I made it clear that if they didn't trust me, they shouldn't have sent her with me and if they'd like we could try to get her on a plane right now so they can be responsible for their angel, who could do no wrong.

In the end, they deposited money into my account and then acted like I was holding money hostage from their child and started to beg me through three e-mails and three phone calls to please make sure she has money. Which she did. And even had the audacity to come up to me and ask for more money on the last day so she could get a specific souvenir she wanted (which I'm not sure where she thought it was going to come from. I'm not your mother. Nor am I your personal ATM. If you finished the money your parents gave you, your bad).

I had a moment after this event (and all the other stressful ones) that made me think: Never again. Never again.

But honestly, I'm already excited for next year. Because even though it's easy to focus on the negative, there were tons of bright spots.

All the hugs I got every day from most of the little dears. Meeting other students and teachers and bonding. Learning about a new culture and seeing new places. The new adventures. Fitting into one of my student's skinny jeans when I needed a black pair to wear. Laughing at how five of us where too light to tandem zip line and had to be taken in groups of three with a guide. Hearing the kids say, "I don't want to go home. Can we stay one more day?" And seeing the welcoming party of parents, who stopped to hug and thank me for giving their daughters this opportunity. And one even writing me a very sweet thank you card with money tucked in. I think I wanted to cry more in those final moments than I did throughout any of the stressful ones the nine days before.

Yes, it was a lot of stress. But, the bright spots made it worth it.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Costa Rica Vignette: So Close, Yet So Far, From Home

In many ways, Costa Rica reminds me of Nigeria. The abundance of buildings with the simple concrete facade and tin roofs. Crude wooden or metal signs to alert you of the presence of a shop or restaurant, advertising the availability of wi-fi, satellite TV or fresh fruit. Narrow roads that look like they could not possibly support for two-way traffic, yet somehow they do! Along with bicyclists, pedestrians, and the occasional cow or two. Men ferrying women and babies on motorcycles, school children looking crisp and sharp in their uniforms.

Differences? Oh, they exist. For one, this is no savannah. In Nigeria, I would not be on a long mountain road full of precarious twists and turns. Each bend in the road would not open up to a breathtaking view of thousands of trees and an abundance of vegetation. There would not be waterfalls, or clouds of steam billowing out of volcano craters. I would not be looking down on homes and businesses below, or experience the fog that settles on the road as we cross the continental divide. The road feels smaller, more dangerous, as I observe the smooth slopes formed from an earthquake landslide. I shudder to think of what it would be like to be caught up here as the earth shook and trembled. But it becomes increasingly beautiful, and I can't help but sigh with delight, to also witness the new growth of plants that spring forth to replace what was destroyed and lost.

Yes, it is different from Nigeria. But as we pass mango trees, guava trees, pineapples, papayas, bananas, and palm trees bearing coconuts and palm nuts, I am reminded of my childhood. And even though I'm an ocean away, I feel like I'm home.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Summer is Here!

Rays of sun streamimg through the window. The hum of air conditioner as cool air blast from its vents. Summer hits to rock out too, endless reads to curl up with. Fireworks, hot dogs, burgers and fries. Plays in the parks. Freedom.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Fun in the Land of Photography

I enjoy taking pictures. I'm not 100% sure when photography became a hobby of mine, I just know that once I had a camera in my hand I would take 100s of shots within minutes and have always been fascinated by beautiful shots.

I especially like shots of people. I can spend hours looking through pictures of weddings, babies, family portraits, and stuff like that. Scenic stuff is cool, too. But seeing images of people living life gets me the most excited.

I think what appeals to me the most about photography is that each picture tells a unique story. And as an aspiring storyteller (or as my friends and family would say, a born storyteller), I've always been intrigued by the art of storytelling. I'm never one to turn down hearing (or seeing) a good story. And I'm constantly asking myself: What makes a good story? How do you tell a good story?

Like writing, I probably do not spend as much time taking pictures as I should. I go through bouts where my camera is glued to my side and then times when I've practically forgot I own one. But to my family and friends, I am a photographer. It's become expected of me to have my camera for any event that takes place--big or small.

And occassionally, friends reach out to me to take personal shots of them. So far, I don't charge. It's like my editing work for friends pre-, during, and post-college. I'll read your essays and papers for free because I enjoy the art and craft behind editing. So I take pictures for free, too. Plus, I still have a lot to learn on the photography front, so I feel a bit hesitant charging for a craft I'm still grappling with.

Anyway... recently I took some pictures of a friend for her birthday. This was the "unoffical" shoot. We decided to explore some artsy stuff in Houston, and by default I began snapping pics. We still have to schedule the real one, although I think these are pretty good and I think she looks wonderful.  But... I had so much fun taking these shots and I'm itching to take some more!

She posted her favs on her blog, but here are mine:

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Do Something, Part II

Inspired by our senior signing day keynote speaker, the school has decided to encourage all of our high school students to do something this summer. They've mapped out guidelines to help them, but ultimately, it should be things that allow them to serve, grow, and become more of an impact on their communities and the world.

In the Fall, they'll have to share how they did something over the summer--in a blog, a video, a powerpoint/Prezi presentation, or in a trifold. I just volunteered to be a sample for a blog, so while I've been slacking on the blogging lately, you're all about to be seeing (reading?) a lot more of me over the summer and hopefully beyond.

I'll admit I'm a bit nervous to share this blog. I mean, it's personal. And for the most part, my personal life is very seperate from my professional life. And not that I truly air out all my laundry on the web, but over the last few years that I've been writing here I have shared my joys and sorrows, ponderings and new discoveries, with little inhibitons.

And now I'm about to open that up. Ah!!!

But, I'm doing it because I really am going to be doing quite a bit of somethings this summer! And I'm pretty excited about it all, so why not share?

On my summer "Do Something" List is...
  • Beginning my role as course leader: I just got offered the position to be co-course leader for 6th grade Social Studies next year. This means I get to help shape our curriculum, and I'm very excited about that. Once school ends, I have a lot of planning and work to do. And I get to go to a Middle School Pre-AP summer insititue at Rice University.
  • Summer Reading: I keep buying books. And I haven't read them all. And the pile of new books keeps growing. And I'm sure to buy some more new books. (What can I say, this addicition is a hard one to kick.) So, there should be tons of reading happening. My plan is to actually write some reviews about them like I used to do when I first started on this blog.
  • International Travel: Yup, that's right... last year it was Britian, France and Germany. This year it's Costa Rica and Ghana! Both trips are with students and so in a sense, I am "working." But this should be super, super fun. Plus, I've never been to either (and have always really wanted to go to Ghana since my mom was born and raised there, my dad used to preach there, and I hear it's just the model for West African nations).
I think it'll be a fun adventure. Hopefully whoever decided to follow along this summer isn't bored :-)

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Do Something!

Today was Senior Signing Day.

This is the day where all the seniors in the YES Prep system come together and share their college decision with their our community of students, teacher and parents. I think it's pretty cool, and most teachers claim it's their favorite day of the school year.

They each come up on stage one by one and then announce that in the year 2017 they will be graduating from.... [fill in college name]. I always love seeing the list of colleges they got accepted to and then trying to guess which one they actually chose. And I love the excitement from the 6th-11th graders from each campus, who go wild and cheer them on.

It's really a fun day. And it kind of is that moment each year, where no matter how rough things have gotten, you are confident as a teacher that it was all worth it to see this. To know the students you teach (directly or indirectly) are going to do something with their lives. That they are excited about the next chapter and plan to leave their mark on the world in a way society thought they never could.

This year, the keynote speaker challenged the seniors (and in turn everyone else) to DO SOMETHING. While many of the things he said were pieces of encouragement you hear in almost every inspirational speeches, something about that mantra stood out.

Maybe it's because he made them repeat "I will DO SOMETHING!" a million times. Or maybe it's because those two simple words really do define what we are here on this earth for. To do something. It doesn't matter how big, or how small. It doesn't matter if it impacts the world, or just one person. If you're doing something that goes beyond you, you've made a difference. And that's what you should do.

It's really easy to have the "drum major instinct," as Dr. Martin Luther King describe in one of his lesser known sermons (I first heard of it from the keynote speaker). To "want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade." But as King points out, having the drum major instinct can be a problem. It can lead us to do more hard than good.

Not that we shouldn't seek to be great or excellence. But we need to redefine our definition of greatness and excellence. But true greatness and excellence comes from being an servant. And everyone can be a servant. Whether you plan to go to Yale or the college down the street. Whether you make A's, or simply scrap by with C's. Whether you make millions, or minimum wage.

"Everyone can be great, because everyone can serve.You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant."

All you have to do is ... DO SOMETHING.

All I have to do is do something.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Discovering Hope

3...We also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance, 4 which shapes our characters. When our characters are refined, we learn what it means to hope and anticipate God’s goodness. 5And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need because the Holy Spirit that was given to us has flooded our hearts with God’s love.

Romans 5:3-5 (The Voice)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Why I'm Single...

... in the words of Jaime Grace (who was totally reading my mind).

Absolutely hilarious and perfect video.

In general, I feel a lot of pressure to be in a relationship. Part of it comes down to the fact that my unofficial part-time job is "wedding attender." There is at least five weddings a year in my life. And there was the year I went to 10 (and had been invited to more). And at every wedding, I sigh with a lot of happiness for the couple, but also a little bit of longing for myself.

But a huge part of it is that every Nigerian auntie wants to question me at every event possible (especially weddings) and during their questioning I get this niggling feeling that I'm not meeting expectations. That it doesn't matter that I have two degrees, or that I'm working my butt off teaching 6th graders, or that overall I think I'm growing into a wonderful woman. What matters is that I'm still single. And that makes me a failure.

I don't truly believe this, of course. I know that I'm not a failure. But in those moments...

So not only did a laugh out loud at the video above, but I also said a lot of "amens" along the way. Because even if I have that deep longing inside me, and even if I'm not measuring up to the expectations of all the Nigerian aunties, when I date... I want it to be more than just for fun, or to fulfil misplaced interests/desires. I really do want it to be with intention.

Yesterday I had dinner with a friend and we were talking about "lists" girls create to help them set standards for the guys they date. And how often those lists are so long and so specific.. .it's kind of a joke. So we decided to take the advice of the Millionaire Matchmaker (who I've actually never watched) and come up with Five Absolute Non-Negotiables. Five things that we know we couldn't live without in a partner. Five Things that would be absolute deal breakers if they were lacking. Since it was kind of on the spot, I'm not so sure how true my five are, but here they go...

1. Relationship with Christ/ always seeking to grow--this is a given (or at least for me), but I want more than just someone who is a Christian. I want someone who is constantly seeking to know more and grow more in Christ. I want it to be okay to disagree on things spiritually, and sit around and have deep theological discussion... not to prove the other person wrong, but just for us to think and explore our faith more. Each day is a quest to draw closer to him.

2. Family-Oriented--family is super important to me, and not just immediate family. And I'd like to know that whoever I'm with would put those relationships first.

3. Decisive/Definitive/Responsible-- I'm a hot mess. I'd like to think otherwise, but it's so not true. I'm horrible at making decisions and I am easily plagued with uncertainty... so I feel like I'd need someone to balance that out. Basically, I want to be able to feel confident that things aren't going to crumble in our lives because I'm a scatterbrained ninny.

4. Healthy Ambition for your career and mine--I hate work-a-holics, but I also don't want a bum. I want someone with dreams for me to encourage and who in turn will encourage mine. I'd like to know that we each are reaching to be the best we can be and do new things and not settle in mediocrity, and that we help each other do that.

5. Best friend--I know couples who are not best friends, and I know ones that are. And I know that when I first start dating whoever, we won't be best friends from Day 1. But by the time we get engaged and decided to become married, I want to be best friends with my spouse. Simple as that.

Anyway, like I said, I came up with these on the spot. Which my friend felt meant they were genuine, if they are the first things that came to my mind. And I do realize that I, of course, have many other preferences and desires in a spouse. But these are among the most important. And if I keep these things in mind, it'll help me be intentional about dating. And I guess I'll stay single till then!
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