Saturday, September 3, 2011


I'm home. Weird.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Upcoming Changes

I have 11 days until I leave Kaleo in the Upper West region of Ghana for the last time. I will play my cards close to the chest on that topic, but I'm sure there will be a certain amount of nostalgia as I leave my home of the last two years for the last time.

I will be heading south to Accra to finalize all of the administrative details of my service (Peace Corps has its fair share of paperwork) and to make sure that I am not leaving the country with any strange parasites or diseases (fingers crossed on schistosomiasis). If everything goes according to plan, on August 4th I will cease to be a PCV and will begin life anew as an RPCV, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.

I will not be returning to the states immediately. I will spend a few more weeks in Ghana with a gothilic jezebilo before finally boarding a plane to NYC on August 23rd.

I predict I will be back in the redwood forest by about September 13th. w00t.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


When exercising for the first time after a long period of sloth, our bodies rebel. Every movement is labored and each breath is painful. The naive self image of ourselves as athletes quickly crumbles. And, once we work our way through that first workout, the next day is even more torturous as muscles take revenge.

Then, we adapt without even realizing it. Two weeks later, what we once thought was impossible becomes easy.

Why, dear reader, am I talking about human biomechanical adaptation? In the upcoming transition period the internal adaptations I have made will come to light and decide the manner in which I will land in cultural America, rubber down or in full Pixies style "with my feet in the air and my head on the ground."

Fortunately, I have allowed myself plenty of time for these discoveries. My greater concern for this moment is an essential question that every volunteer struggles with to varying degrees in their years of service: has my time here been worthwhile? I am not speaking in the evaluative sense. The question--have I done enough?--simply begs a higher question. I am speaking in the realm of ideals: is Volunteering in a foreign country to help it change a worthwhile endeavor?

Even asking this question may seem callous to many, but after completing two years of such volunteering, I think it is deserved. Answers to this question, on the part of volunteers, tend to run the gamut. Answers supporting "yes, it is worthwhile" speak to the personal development that occurs, the relationships built with people, the effects on those individual people, and the "best practices" they have been able to share. Answers supporting "no" tend to doubt the actual effects of their projects and address the lack of long term sustainability and the frustration at working to help people who don't necessarily want to change themselves or many times even help each other.

I have come to terms with my own service with a combination of the "yes" answers. I have been teaching chemistry and physics for two years. I have most likely improved the future prospects for at least some of those students. I have provided HIV and health education to a large number of students. I have made a life here with some good relationships and I have certainly grown.

But, there are always these niggling doubts. The adaptation to a workout requires both something to adapt to, a challenge, and motivation to push through that challenge. Are we simply trying to unnaturally force adaptation while simultaneously propping up systems so that they do not need to adapt?

If I had not been here for the last two years would the administration at my school organized itself to find a permanent chemistry teacher? Have I, by helping my current students, delayed help for all of the following students?

Isn't all of this volunteering a moot point in the face of unfair trade agreements and outside meddling from a bevy of "developed" countries?

The answer to these doubts is different depending on who you ask.

As I said, I have found my small victories, my time here is probably worthwhile if at least one person goes on to university because of me or if just one person avoids contracting HIV. I would even be happy if just a single person developed a more critical mind under my tutelage.

Yet, I cannot help but wish that all these small victories, from all of the volunteers, are developing towards something grander. I will continue searching for the answer.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

If you're wondering what I've been up to.... can be summed up with: teaching chemistry, co-organizing and running a health and leadership camp for junior high school girls, paragliding, completion of service conference, all-volunteer conference, more teaching, STARS Conference and as of tomorrow, teaching again.

If you're wondering, "What is a STARS conference?" check out I designed the site, and while its not absolutely complete, it's getting there. During the last week I updated the STARS Team blog daily with a hopefully excited and optimistic tone. I also uploaded some testimonials from students and mentors. Check them out. STARS Team Blog

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Je ne parle pas francais ou l'arabe

I am in Morocco for a week for ambiguous reasons. I will be spending my time mostly in Rabat, a very lovely city. Yesterday my lunch was some sort of Tajine, my afternoon snack was falafel and my dinner was a McChicken sandwich at McDonalds. The first was a new experience, the latter two were just amazing. This morning I ate croissants and real oranges for breakfast (despite the love affair some PCV's have with Ghana oranges I find them to be repulsive). It is very cold here... high's in the 60's lows mid-40's. I am freezing. I have grown accustomed to weather that never dips below 80.... Luckily, I brought flannel with me and the hotel where I am saying has some serious blankets (at least six inches thick).

One thing that has struck me about this city is the quiet. There are cars, there is honking, and there are many people, but compared to Ghana (where the volume always seems to be turned to 11) I feel very peaceful. Maybe it is the wide streets or the grand architecture that absorb the sound, or maybe it is a cultural difference that prevents yells from coming and going in every direction. Either way, it is a nice break.

Oh, and attending to the title of this blog's post, I don't speak french or arabic, the two languages that are spoken commonly here. I am getting by with pointing, pidgin french and the charming smile. Last night I wanted to buy soap. I went to a small store and said "soap", then did the motion indicating washing hand to which the man said "sabon?" "Yes! I mean oui! Sabon!" Repeat ad infinitum for every interaction. I have to say, it is kind of fun.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Applications Complete!

Yes! Doing this with slow internet was an adventure. It took me 53 minutes to upload the files and submit for a single application. But yeah, it is done. I am currently doing a happy dance. Now it's time to give some tender loving care to and

Sunday, February 6, 2011

New Camera

Therefore, pictures. My sister is amazing and sent me a new camera. My old one was defeated by African weather. I am so excited about the new camera that I'm posting some pictures from the last few days of overzealous "snapping."

This is one of the new classrooms I teach in. Agriculture track, Year 2, Chemistry.

Meet Gromit, my cat. The name came with the cat. Gromit's interests include hiding underneath things, meowing incessantly, licking hands and feet and eating lizards. Call 555-meow if you'd like to have some live kitty talk.


Chemistry is a much harder subject for the students here in Ghana than back in the US. First of all, they are required to learn a large amount of material for the WASSCE, an exam at the end of high schools that is nearly the equivalent of the British A levels. This means they need to learn many more details than you would find in any US chemistry syllabus. Not to mention, most students come out of junior high school with only a moderate grasp of the English language and a woeful science/math background.

Part of this ultimate high school examination is a practical portion (worth 40 percent of their final exam score) where they have to perform a titration and some exercises in qualitative analysis. This is difficult when there are either no supplies or no teachers qualified or willing to set up these experiments for practice. My school is a bit of a mixture of the two. Middling supplies, few teachers.

Anyways, we just reached acids and bases in the syllabus so it was time to do some simple titrations involving neutralization reactions i.e. we mix a known concentration of acid with an unknown concentration of base and, using some mathematical trickiery called stoichiometry, calculate the concentration of the base.

These are some students who helped me set up the lab. I was sleepy.

And they actually did a pretty good job! Here is the lab, set up in all its glory. Each table outfitted with two stands, two burettes, some acid, some base and a wash bottle for every boy and girl.

They were pretty proud of themselves.

The students were so excited for the practicals that they crowded forward. "Back!" I yelled, "Back! Back!" But they could not be stopped as they rampaged forward in a fit of hands-on education.

This picture does not well communicate the craziness that ensued after we actually started the practical. Unfortunately, I had to run back and forth helping people and couldn't take any more pictures. It was chaos.

After the storm, everything was cleared and Solomon remained, one of my best students.

Alright, that's enough for now. Acid-base titration: Cleared.