Wednesday, May 11, 2011

AllVol: Incriminating Photos Will be Taken ...

So, I'm sitting in a bank, watching time pass and it only makes sense that I forgot my book. Lucky, I brought my handy-dandy pocket journal (and was smart enough to bring a pencil or this might be worse). So, ladies and gents, as well as clocking the time (and enjoying the air condition), I'm going to tell you about All Voll in the only way I can: the handy-dandy pocket journal pre-blog (it's kind of like pre-gaming, but with a lot less alcohol ...)

Getting to (and from) AllVol was probably the worst part. It always is. It involved 12+ hours to Accra (kind of like the cousin you don't want to acknowledge, but have to in order to win Gran's approval - AllVol is Gran in this situation). On the updis, beside being uber-expensive, I did have some amazing ginger Talapia and some cheap draft beer (thanks to Becky Pfleuger's cravings). Unlike most Saturday nights spent in Accra, it was an early retirement for us ... we would be leaving for Volta early the next morning.

I was impressed, not only with the fact that I can now *deftly* navigate Accra, but the swiftness with which our tro filled on a Sunday. It's a strange phenomenon I've stumbled across: there are never any Ghanaians in sight, but the moment a mass purchase of tickets by travelling o'bronis occurs, it is almost always followed by the sudden appearance of enough Ghanaians to fill all remaining seats. And it is glorious. Every time. So off to Hoe we went ...

The ride through Tema is beautiful (and quite jarring, considering it looks like a suburb of Beverly Hills). Though my ipod was dead, I'm happy to admit that I've grown quite accustomed to staring out of tro windows for unbelievable amounts of time (and with the efficiency of a mule pulling its cart without needing to be whipped for motivation ... the verdict is out on whether or not this is a good thing ...) Aside from having a driver who's childhood dream must have been Nascar, stunt-double, or any other profession where wreckless driving is acceptable (bank robbing?), we got there in one piece. DPT Rob Moler's greeting: "Wow! You all look so healthy!" was met with a quick inventory of existing limbs and a nod of agreement ... if our driver had only had his way ...

Chances Hotel: swimming pool - need I say more? I was poolside before my pack hit the floor. What ensued was the kind of catching up only pool-giddy volunteers drinking palm wine in Ghanaian sun can pull off. Beers were discounted. And we celebrated. I had a girl's night, of course - three to a bed and a channel dedicated to only American movies. It was bliss (and we didn't even need the air conditioner).

Monday began with news of Bin Laden's death, as we crowded around the TV in silence (a few muffled 'Murica's' made their debuts) and shuffled into meet the biggest breakfast most of us have seen in months (three: count them. THREE cups of tea for your's truly). The thing you should know about AllVol (besides the food, and the pool, and the air-conditioning, and prom, and the talent show ...) is that it is, first and foremost, work. They just butter us up first :)

This year was PEPFAR - next year is food security. Though also an opportunity to meet second year volunteers (and reunite with first years), it's a chance to re-energize and motivate to keep going strong. It's exactly the kind of break needed to do both - you'd be hard-pressed to find a volunteer who isn't ready (and excited) to go home after AllVol. (Wow - I just call my site 'home' - teehee!)

Now, I don't want to brag, but WatSan pretty much kicks ass at PEPFAR and HIV-related activities. This being said, it was nice to learn a few things - get new ideas and access new tools. Peace Corps is punctuated, always, by the ability to learn something new. Like a session on MSMs (Men Sleeping with Men) and how to support (or identify) them in rural as well as urban settings. Or getting to experience 'Theatre for Change' and how interactive theatre can be used to teach Ghanaians in a creative, fun way (they do love their drama ...)It was really a great time, regardless of being unused to the 8-5 grind and power-point presentations. But that's not the best part.

You know what the best part of AllVol is? The good ju-ju between old and new volunteers. We had some seriously positive energy; we were 'gellin';' there was a lot of love being thrown around. There was also excitement as we, the newer volunteers, realized we would soon be the 'big fish,' so to speak - the next group comes in June for training.

I couldn't believe it'd almost been a year since I set foot in Ghana, that we would soon be the same fountain of information that the second years were to us (and that the second years would soon be homeward bound - sad face). I suddenly found myself really excited to be welcoming a new group of fresh faces ... and then there was the talent show (and the craft fair) ... (and prom) ...

I was a little disappointed in the lack of a 'bromance' duet from CD Mike and DPT Rob, but we did get bonafide American candy lobbed at our faces so ... it's pretty much a give and take. I decided to make a cheeky re-write of 'I will Survive,' PC Ghana style. It was pretty much a lesson in what happens when rehearsal is limited ... I credit the fun I had fumbling through it to my supportive and forgiving audience (and a purple diva boa). The show as a whole was hilarious and ended with a second year flash dance - an idea I'm pretty sure I'm going to steal next year ... The craft fair left me broke, but happy in a way that only shopping can - I am currently wearing at least two pieces bought that day. And prom was ... well prom. There are plenty of incriminating photos that I will treasure forever and it involved enough dancing that the only way to cool off was to jump into the pool fully-clothed. On at least three seperate occassions. Eventually we ditched the dance floor all together for a dance party in the pool because, in the Peace Corps, we are efficient.

I went to bed sober, but way too late for an 8am departure time to catch a tro to Kamasi. Away from air-conditioning and suffering from severe lack of sleep (let's face it, conference or not, *this guy* likes to socialize), my heat rash made an angry come-back and my mule-like efficiency disappeared with the presence of a toddler who fake-cried for FIVE hours straight on the way to the KSO ... I think Connor honestly considered tossing him out the open window at least a dozen times. None of us would have blamed him :)

I wish we could have stayed at the KSO longer - we were all still feelin' the love, but my AllVol reboot left me anxious to get home (plus I really missed my kitties). Being that any kind of travel in Ghana leaves one exhausted, I passed out in Tamale and barely found the motivation to haul my ass to Bolga the next morning. Home at last, I've had a kitten attached to my lap at all times (and both have taken to following me to the latrine, lest I disappear again). My support group meeting yeilded 50 shining faces and some real bonding time.

I am currently committing myself to no long trips until my mum comes to visit (hi mum!) and I'm happy to be back in the groove. There's nothing like going away for a while to make you realize where you really want to be. And where your kittens really want you to be too. And that, my friends, is what All Vol is all about.

I should also add here that our Youth, Gender, and Development group raised over seventeen hundred cedis with their date auction - when PCV's love, they really LOVE ... by the way, Rob: I'm winning that date next time!

Until next time