Gone to Ghana

The End January 19, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — slrussell @ 6:21 pm

I’m home! I arrived in Calgary on Saturday afternoon to be met by most of my family, complete with signs and everything.  I’ve always wondered what that would be like! Thanks Joshua, Caleb, Steve, Sue and Susan for the beautiful colouring and the rest of the family too for racing to the airport two hours early since I managed to sneak on another flight.  It was very exciting.  The weekend has been great with lots of time visiting as well as a bit of sleeping and eating.  I can’t believe how much Ally has changed.  Thanks Steve and Sue for coming down so I could see her right away.  What else could a girl ask for? Now I will spend the next two weeks ‘adjusting’ and then it’s back to work.  I think this will be the end of my blog, now that I’m not “gone” to Ghana anymore.  Plus, what could I have to say at home? Thanks to everybody who has kept me company with your comments.  Hope I will see you all soon! 


So, How Was It? January 16, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — slrussell @ 10:03 am

In exactly 11 hours I will be on a plane that will, hopefully, have already departed.  (We, okay so I’m the only one, call it DTD here instead of ETD….desired time of departure.) Anyway, yes, I am very excited to be on my way.  Not excited about the 30 hours to get to Calgary, but still excited to be on my way.  In anticipation of the first question I will be asked by everyone, here is your answer.


So, how was it? It was great actually.  I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here, although yes I am ready to come home.  In many ways though I wouldn’t mind if I were home for a visit and then coming back.  It really is too bad it is so far and so expensive to fly between the two.  I just felt like I was starting to adjust about the end of November and that’s when the work thing kind of fell apart because of the election and the Christmas break.  


So, would you do it again? Yes.  Not sure if I would choose to be as remote as Jirapa but yes I am interested in working internationally again.  I was sooooooooo fortunate to make some really good friends in Wa, but I recognize that this is quite uncommon when you are so isolated.  Not sure if I’d push my luck twice:)  And although I think that teacher training is the way to go as far as development, I really missed teaching and so I would probably prefer to have a class of my own and do some workshops on the side.


What will you miss the most? Wearing flip flops in January.  The laughter.  Saying good morning to everybody, followed by how was the night.  T-shirts in January.  Buying a whole pineapple for a dollar, all cut up for you into a little bag while you are walking down the street.  (I won’t miss the rest of the food or cold showers every morning though).  Sister Marcelina and the girls at the convent.  Louisa and the women at the office.  Riding on the back of a motorbike.  Riding my bike to work every day.  Mel, Merilyn and the other volunteers I got to know.  The worst part of making friends is having to say goodbye.  I will probably have to make a new list in a week once I get home because that’s when you realize what you miss the most.


On that note, I have to sign off.  Hope to see you soon!

(Happy Birthday Mom and Sue!!!!)


A Thousand Words January 15, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — slrussell @ 11:56 am

Lessons From Timbuktu January 12, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — slrussell @ 9:07 am

Phew, we are back.  I am actually all the way down in Accra now for a meeting with my director today and then a week of sitting.  If I end up staying here you will get the full update on the trip.  If I end up travelling on the coast you will have to wait until Saturday (!!!!!) when I get home.


So, yes, we made it to Timbuktu.  I wasn’t actually sure if we would even try since there are a few warnings from various countries’ foreign affairs departments not to go there.  Okay, so all of the countries I checked (Canada, US, UK, and Australia) said absolutely do not go but you only live once right? (Just kidding Iris, we were very careful.  Hope you feel better soon!)

Here are a few things we learned along the way.


#1: Timbuktu is very far away.

#2: There is nothing in Timbuktu.  We were there for New Year’s Eve and were in bed by 8:30……some serious party girls, eh?

#3: Even though you are expecting to be robbed you should still take plenty of money.  We had this brilliant idea to leave one visa card and enough cash to get us back to Ghana at the hotel we were leaving from (and returning too).  The only problem was that the only bank machine in Timbuktu was out of order.  We were only there one day, New Year’s Day, when the bank was closed so it couldn’t be fixed.  Everything was VERY expensive in Timbuktu.  We had just, and I mean just, the right amount of money to get back to Mopti, the nearest bank machine.

#4: Never joke with a Malian about not being able to afford dinner.  While arranging our taxi from Timbuktu to the port for our boat trip down the Niger back to Mopti I mentioned, sarcastically, that the price was so ridiculous that we wouldn’t be eating dinner that night (all of this in french don’t forget).  Ten minutes later I got a call back from the guy who was making our arrangements to say that, no worries, we would eat at his friends house that night.  Oops!!!!!

#5: A little french can be way more dangerous than no french at all.  Of the three of us I was the “expert” and I will say that I surprised myself with how well I did.  Every night we found a place to sleep and food to eat.  We managed to negotiate plenty of buses and pseudo buses and vehicles that can’t even be called anything close to a bus.  I even managed a few phone conversations too.  But on two very memorable occasions Merilyn came through with her expertise in drama to fix the situation.  One of our first days one of the girls was trying to get milk for her tea.  Lait did not seem to be cutting it so Merilyn proceeded to act out milking a cow, complete with sound effects, and we had success.  I also think that man will never, ever forget us.  On the second occasion I was sent to see if we could get the wine and cheese we had bought into the fridge at the hotel.  After a very confusing discussion I returned to the room with the items still in my hands, unchilled.  Merilyn then had no problem going to the restaurant and saying, “Fromage.  Vin.  Brrrrrrrrr.” Items in fridge.  Unfortunately, when she came back to the room she ran into a man who was looking for me because apparently I had sent for someone to come teach me how to make cheese.

Ah, so many more stories, but I can’t focus very long anymore:) Yesterday’s bus ride was 13 hours (still not worse than the one to Kelowna) but I do have a new “worst bus ride ever.” That will have to wait until tomorrow.


Joyeux Noel! December 25, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — slrussell @ 3:04 pm

Bonjour! I am sitting in a cafe in Ouagadougou for my first Christmas away from home.  We left Ghana on Monday morning and have had a blast so far.  Since I can’t be with my family, I am so happy to be with Mel and Merilyn.  They are so much fun and hardly a moment goes by without a laugh (or a snort!)

Just a couple of quick highlights:

  • arriving at the Ghanaian/Burkina border and discovering that the french I learned in high school did not cover most terms asked on a customs form
  • missing the bus from the border to Bobo.  Fortunately the guy Merilyn had arranged to drive us to the border was allowed across to take us on a quick chase for the bus.
  • my first hot shower in three and a half months
  • riding a moped that requires pedaling to start.  Unfortunately I got the bike that had the spark plug pop off every ten minutes or so so I am now very good at starting the bike.  We did make it to the waterfall though and both the journey and the destination were a highlight.
  • my first pizza in months
  • my first chinese food in months
  • a swimming pool!

Tonight we are off to the Moulin Rouge for supper again, hehe.  It was great last night and I think I will have pizza again.  Can’t beat my favourite food for Christmas dinner (only because Mom has promised me a turkey when I get home).  Then we are off to Mali in the morning and will see how far we actually get.  There is beautiful hiking in something called Dogon County and a great mosque in Djenne.  From the sounds of it catching buses will get significantly more challenging from here on and the food will be, well, more like “home” in Ghana.

Thanks so much for the notes Kim, Fred, Wendy, John, Sandra, Kirsten, Shanna, Kristen, Bev and the others I have missed.  Don’t think I will have internet again for quite some time so Happy New Year! See many of you soon!


Au Revoir! December 20, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — slrussell @ 10:10 am

It has been a busy week of packing, finishing up projects and saying goodbye.  On Thursday night a few people met at the convent for some drinks to say goodbye.  They had simply told me they had a “presentation” for me, but I was not prepared for what was yet to come.  I’m not sure if you know this but I don’t really like being the center of attention.  Actually it is really weird because I don’t mind it if I am speaking but if I am just being looked at I am very uncomfortable.  I think that’s why I can’t get married.  The marriage part would be no problem (ha, yeah right!) but I couldn’t do the wedding.  Walking down that aisle (four times!) as a bridesmaid has been hard enough.  Anyway, so when they handed me a bag on Thursday night and told me to go change I knew this was trouble. 


In the bag was a brand new outfit that they had worked hard at the office to get made.  Natalia had spent Wednesday going from the weaver where the cloth was made to my taylor where she sat all day prodding Vero to make the perfect outfit for me.  So…..tada! 

As I came down the stairs the group stood and clapped and proclaimed “how beautiful.” Oh my.  This was followed by speeches by everyone at the table.  So kind, but so not my comfort zone. 


Yesterday I, of course, wore the outfit to work and had to say my goodbyes to everyone in Jirapa.  It was a very weird feeling because I don’t yet have the excitement of going home and there is still a full month of transition time.  I have really enjoyed Jirapa but also don’t feel like I was there long enough to make really close friends.  So, mixed feeling about going but looking forward to the next phase.  Tomorrow we head to Burkina Faso and I will begin my attempts to communicate in French.  For three weeks.  I am the expert in our group.  Wonder what country we’ll end up in!


I don’t expect I will have internet very often so I will pass on my Merry Christmas and Happy New Year now.  I hope you have a wonderful, relaxed holiday.  See you in 2009!


A New Career????? December 18, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — slrussell @ 9:46 am

I’ve been working on a new rendition, what do you think?

I’m dreaming of a sweaty Christmas,

Not like the ones I’ve ever known,

where the armpits glisten,

and children listen

for breezes yet to blow and cool.

I’m dreaming of a sweaty Christmas,

with every blogpost that I write.

May your days be sunny and hot,

And may all your Christmases be sweaty.

(It actually isn’t that hot here right now, and the breeze is definitely blowing, but we’ll just call that artist license, right?


Thank you to those of you who sent me Christmas cards here.  That was great! Julie, Mrs. Ratcliffe, and Kris, you guys made my day.  I only sent one (to “The Family”) and we shall see if it ever gets there.  Hmmmm, I just realized that I should have told you all that I sent one and then blame it on the mail system……oh well.  As an aside, I have become good friends with the lady at the post office and I think she will genuinely miss my daily visits to see if there is anything more for the white lady.  She is actually looking for a penpal and wanted me to find her one.  If anyone is interested, let me know.


Yesterday when I got back to the convent the sisters gave me a gift.  I was so touched I can’t tell you.  They had a very nice Christmas card and a piece of fabric.  It really felt like the true meaning of Christmas.  It was not given out of expectation and they also really thought about what to give me.  It has been a running joke here how much I like the fabric and how often I get new things made and so it was only fitting that they give me fabric.  Thank you so much to Sister Marcelina, Sister Joyce, Sister Lizzy and all of the girls working at the convent.  I have been so fortunate to have known you!