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Black Hiawatha

February 15th, 2009
This girl got me. I don't know here name because everytime she finger-spelled it, it changed. She'd randomly add letters to the end, something different every day. I think about her every day.
 
 
 
Gary wasn’t surprised when I called him from JFK and said, “I’m a different person, and I’m going back to Africa.” He said, “I figured you’d say that.”

Let me give you the details. I worked in a deaf school, for a charity called Signs of Hope. No, I don’t sign well, but I know enough to get by. Mostly I just played with the kids, painted the school, and helped them pump water. The hardest part was pumping the water, because I tried to carry it on my head like they do. No, the hardest part was leaving the kids. I cried like a baby, and I’ve never been the same since.

I named my favorite girl, Black Hiawatha, because nobody could figure out her name. Every time she finger-spelled it to us, the letters changed. But it consistently started with an “h.” Don’t ask me why I gave her an American Indian name. It just seemed to fit.

I loved all the kids, but she was the one who got me the most. I tried to steal private time with her, but it was next to impossible because the kids swarmed me every time I set foot in the school. Nonetheless, “H” and I connected on a  level that surprised me. The eyes really are a window into the soul.

About two percent of the population in Ghana is deaf, mostly due to heredity and disease. The government is doing all they can to help the people, but because of the numbers, the deaf schools are crowded and inadequate.

Thousands of deaf, school-age kids wander the streets because their families can’t afford to send them to school. What’s more, they have no way to communicate because most families don’t sign. I was blown away at the number of kids I met in the school who had deaf siblings and parents.

So I’m learning to sign for real now. And I’ve joined the founder of the charity as the marketing/communications person. Once we get our press kit out, you’ll be seeing a donate now button on Gary’s blog.

Oh yea, I did see a few Africanesque things while I was there–an elephant in the wild, a bunch of crazy monkeys, many thousands of beautiful people, and a rainforest full of snakes, spiders and a freaky suspension bridge.

Check out the photos. But I have to say, they don’t do the country–or the people–justice. I’ve been to a lot of places around the world, but nothing can compare to what I saw in Ghana.

I’m smitten.

 

Meet Akwea. Her grandmother, mother and uncle were also born deaf.

Meet Akwea. Her mother, grandmother, brother and uncle are also deaf.

This is Akwea's grandma and brother. They are sitting at the door of their house in one of the remote deaf villages.

This is Akwea's grandma and brother. They are sitting at the door of their house in one of the remote deaf villages.

The boys in the school were tough and confident.

The boys in the school are tough and confident.

The kids line up for breakfast every morning. If they're late, they pay for with hunger and sometimes a hard slap to the head. Then they turn around and take it out on their friends. I noticed early on that few tears are shed over physical pain.

The kids line up for breakfast every morning. If they're late, they pay for it with hunger and sometimes a hard slap to the head. Then they turn around and take it out on their friends. I noticed early on that few tears are shed over physical pain.

 

The kids work and study hard. I told my boys the girls could easily whip them in just about everything.

The kids work and study hard. I told my boys the girls could easily whip them in just about everything. By the way, the girls have their heads shaved--mostly because of lice.

 
 
I've never been around happier people.

I've never been around happier people.

Seeing this elephant in the wild made my heart skip a beat.

Seeing this elephant in the wild made my heart skip a beat.

 

 

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Ghana: “Africa for Beginners”

February 4th, 2009
Sue going native with some of the kids.

Sue going native with some of the kids.

Gary here.  Below is the first installment of several trip reports from my wife, Sue, just back from Ghana, Africa.

* * * *
I stepped off the plane in Accra, Ghana (after being in the air for 16+ hours) and was immediately struck by the air pollution and oppressive humidity. January is Ghana’s cool season, but the air was thick and I wasn’t prepared for it. Needless to say, I started to sweat–I mean really sweat.
 
  Street market in capital city, Accra
 
Before I could say, “where am I,” we hit the Accra markets. And I’ve never been the same since. The markets are insanely chaotic. Just keep in mind that there are about 21 million people in Ghana, which is roughly the size of Oregon. And ten percent of those 21 million live in and around Accra. The number of Africans, taxis and tro-tros (imagine being smashed into a small van/can) is staggering.
 
But it wasn’t the chaos that threw me. It was the smells–an unhealthy mix of exhaust, burning garbage, sweat, fried yams and plantains, grilled bush meat (various rodents), fermenting gari (will explain later), and sundried Tilapia. Let’s just say the plantain chips I tried lost their appeal early on.
 

 

The women work harder than anyone

The women work harder than anyone

Did I tell you I was sweating? So I  grabbed a couple of handkerchiefs off a woman’s head and paid her 40 pesewas (roughly 40 cents). The “sweat rags” are sold all over Ghana. Despite the fact that most Ghanaians live without running water, they are very clean and conscientious about their appearance. Everyone carries a cloth to keep their face clean and sweat free. I quickly learned to follow suit.

 

I was happy to get out of the busy city of Accra to the more primitive village where I spent the rest of the trip. That night, I was lulled to sleep by the sound of bullfrogs and awakened by the loudest roosters I’ve ever heard. I’m usually not a morning person, but in Ghana all of the noises outside got me up and going pretty early.

 

Nice change from Accra/Mampong countryside

Nice change from Accra/Mampong countryside

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New friends in Mampong
New friends in Mampong

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Unlike most adults, the Ghanaian kids love to have their picture taken

Unlike most adults, the Ghanaian kids love to have their picture taken

 

 I quickly learned to fish murky water out of the well and give myself a spit bath. That will explain why I spent five hours in an African salon getting braids and extensions. It’s just too hard to wash your hair and it doesn’t get clean anyway in the dirty water. Believe it or not, I learned to relish my nightly well water ritual, despite all of the frogs, lizards, spiders and snakes. Travel trip: if you go to Africa, bring a sturdy pair of flip flops…

Lesson in the art of carrying water from the well

Lesson in the art of carrying water from the well

 

Washing clothes with the high school girls--not easy

Washing clothes with the high school girls--not easy

 Tomorrow I’ll post about the Demonstration School for the Deaf–the real reason for my trip to Africa.

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