Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fight the Good Fight: World Aids Day

If you know anything about me, you probably know that my uncle, Monkey Alan, died of pneumonia due to complications with AIDS. If you don't know me, but you're good at connecting dots, it's pretty easy to figure out that he's my constant inspiration - especially when it comes my work in Ghana. Tomorrow, December 1st, marks another year in the fight - the fight for a cure; the fight for universal medicine; the fight against discrimination; the fight for Monkey Alans all over the world.

Over 33.3 million people are living with HIV today; over 25 million people have died in the last twenty-six years - 25 million sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, uncles and friends. Twenty five million Monkey Alans.

Maybe you know one of them; maybe, like me, you've lost someone already; maybe you don't know anyone, but still support the cause. Well, tomorrow's your day to display your support: wear red, wear a red ribbon, volunteer to hand out condoms, attend a rally or a vigil or a concert. Do your part to support the fight.

And just in case you don't have a face to put to the cause, I'll show you mine - my daily inspiration, the reason I joined the Peace Corps, the angel over my shoulder - Monkey Alan:

In Loving Memory

   For more information, go to to see what America is doing for HIV today.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Speak the Truth: (Chimamanda Adichie)

I stumbled upon this video while browsing and I thought it important to share; it's a young female writer from Nigeria speaking on the dangers of adopting only one story to describe different people, cultures, and problems. It's kind of like the 'stereotype' talk, only deeper, and I think she has a wonderful point. It doesn't hurt that she's a great speaker, as well.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Existing in Excess

I know it might be slightly premature, what with a pending extension in the works, but I find myself thinking about what it'll be like when I come home. What I'm refering to here is the inevitable reverse-culture shock. I mean ... where to start? Reliable electricity (that I have to pay for), faster-than-lightning internet, trash-tv, produce aisles (hell, GROCERY STORES), fashion, private cars, movies and movie theatres, candy (and weight gain), the people I love, people I don't know paying absolutely no attention to me, running water, an existence devoid of any comic goat-related moments ... The list only gets longer ...

I just know it: I'm gonna turn into the crazy lady who has a bucket in her shower to bathe, uses only candles as light, and hordes any kind of container for water collection. I will also probably be incredibly cold. 90% of the time.

On the flipside, I'll (probably) overdose on fashion (it's inevitable, really), yell excited obscenities as I drive my own car down a real highway, and use up all my carbon-credit flying across the country to visit people EVERYWHERE. Basically, I'll be a terror; completely out of control. I imagine it'll be terrifying and awesome at the same time, kind of like the Tower of Terror.

What astounds me more than this inevitably loony behavior (almost, but not quite split-personality) is the sudden heightened awareness I'll have for anything in excess. It's going to drive me up the wall ... think about it:

I've not only watched, but experienced just how much effort's involved for most people to get access to water. I watch people walk miles, full basins balanced on their heads, in sweltering heat, for a daily supply. DAILY supply. How will I react when someone next to me in the bathroom runs the tap unnecessarily? Probably fly into an ugly hulk-like rage that ends in tears - mine, of course, as she walks around the crazy lady and toward to well-marked exit.

Can I possibly fight the urge to knock on every door in the neighborhood and tell them the merits of flourescent lights (the blue ones keep away bugs and induce groovy underwater hallucinations); or that they could simply turn OFF most of them to reduce their carbon footprint? Reading by candlelight is fun! And romantic! Besides, no light's gonna keep the hoodoo voodoo man away at night ... sorry, little Tommy.

Just contemplating our excessive nature (as a country) makes me want to curl into a whimpering ball. I've adjusted to my new life so well, it almost seems impossible to need as much as the average household uses (and wastes). Nevermind the crippling self-esteem issues I'll develop with such a drastic drop in marriage proposals and child-parades; it'll be like beating my fists against a brick wall. The waste potential of a produce aisle might make my heart burst! Which is likely, anyway, considering the sudden variety offered to me.

How do I prepare? Is there some kind of Peace Corps bootcamp where Billy Zane comes and beats my ass back into shape? Would I go back, given the chance, to a blissful existence, blindfolded to the rest of the world's struggles? The answer is definitely 'no.' I am going to voluntarily turn into a crazy, walking contradiction; a well dressed, philosophical wreck; a giddy, technology-crazed ball of simultaneous guilt and unbridled joy. This is gonna get weird ... you've all been warned.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Things My Dad Says

Compared to mum's visit, dad's was a whirlwind. I contribute this to two things: the coinciding of his trip to a national holiday - leaving us stranded in Accra for two extra days - and the fact that it was only ten days long. I guess he didn't take me seriously when I told him how long it takes to get to my house :)
After spending way too long in Accra (read: over 36 hours) dad and I (and a rather sturdy, retro-tastic suitcase filled with cheese products) scrambled onto the last bus leaving to Kamasi. The trip was largely uneventful, but I did manage to find and justify buying grapes: HIGHLIGHT. Our guesthouse that night was pleasant and equipped with a TV; I mention the TV because it completely distracted me from an early morning departure .... watching the original 'Last Air Bender' was totally worth it.

Being late meant a longer wait time, but dad got to overdose on culture so I don't think he cared. I have to admit, he was a pretty sneaky paparazzo. He basically documented everything - I think he took over 600 photos in 10 days. He was like a kid in a pile of toys he could secretly document. Referencing Hitchhikers almost non-stop for the entire trip, we arrived in Tamale safely (though a little cramped ... I swear I had eleph-ankles for an entire month).

Interesting fact: I stayed in the same room that mum and I shared before, but this time it was cheaper. Why? Because my father is a man. Nevermind the fact that they're my parents - a same sex couple always pays more. So weird ... anyway, until dad succumbed to his snoring, I read ' The Restaurant at the End of the Universe' outloud and fell into a peaceful, improbability-driven sleep. The next morning we rolled to Bolga (seriously - non-stop traveling at this point), and when I say rolled I ain't kidding:

So far, dad had basically seen the inside of buses and guesthouses. Naturally, neither of these things prepared him for my caddy-shack - pit latrine included. He was kind, though, during his documentation of it, saying things like, "yeah, Roo, it's uh .... it's really cozy ..." Obviously, my house appreciated his political correctness. He also kind of renamed my cat 'shit head,' as in, "What, shit head?" and "Get out of the way, shit head." Sometimes he just said the word 'shit head' as she sat, staring at him in that crazy, cock-eyed way of hers: BFF's for life.

Without slaughtering any goats, we managed to have a pretty successful welcoming party, during which dad (like mum before him) completely out-danced me and recieved a chief's smock. He definitely deserved it, look at him:
For that matter, look at her:

Basically my village LOVED my parents - they are always welcome. WIN.

Aside from having the same sense of humor, my dad has this uncanny ability to say exactly what needs to said, completely unprovoked. They're lightbulb moments, like, "I knew that was true, but only after you confirmed it, kind sir." He's kind of like Mr. Miagi; here are a few of his revelations:

1. Why wouldn't you go to school in DC? Rookie.
2. You need to stay far, far away from boys. Seriously. Wear horse blinders if you have to - you're too easily distracted. In fact, you need a sabbatical.
3. I know you like boys; I used to be the same with girls. Therefor, please see above ...
4. You inherited your horrible timing from me (but also my devilishly good looks - YOUR WELCOME).
5. I love you, Roo.

Okay, so that last one's a given, but the rest of it made up a weeks worth of great "life" discussions with my pops. On top of setting me straight, he managed to simultaneously intimidate and impress everyone he met; I kept saying, "See? Now you know why I try so hard ... just look at my parents!!" So true.

After roaming the village for a few days, I did the only thing possible to perfectly culminate his short trip: I sadistically subjected him to THE NIGHT BUS. Basically, I'm an asshole. And he was miserable. Unlike me, he was unable to curl up like a lapdog in the spacious bucket seat - he spent the night battling terrible, unsubtitled Ghanaian films and creepy Christian Gospel. I honestly don't know which is worse, but I'm fairly certain I won't be reminding him of my cruelty any time soon ... oh wait ... HI DAD!

In Accra we spent his last hours doing the only thing that brings me unadulterated joy: SHOPPING. The Cultural Center in Accra is an assault on tourists; luckily, I'm two things: obnoxious and honorary FraFra. After schmoozing all the Bolgatanga boys with my language skills, I learned how to say 'pain in my ass' and relentlessly recited it whenever they quoted outrageous prices. It worked - dad still got cleaned out, but it worked. I'm not sure how he felt about all of the marriage proposals, but he didn't punch anyone (and we saved a lot of money), so I see it as a clear victory.

We repacked (again) and hung out at Ryan's for happy hour (again) before making the trip to the airport. After a speedy check-in, he decided to go find his gate. I'm not joking when I tell you that one of his parting sentences was, "You know, I'm serious about a boy-sabbatical, Roo. Trust me, you'll be fine. (As long as you stay away from the boys.)" It's a story I've been telling people ever since - ten days in and my dad knew I was too distracted by boys; I should emphasize here that I live alone. It gets great laughs, mainly because it's true, and I can't think of any better way to sum up his trip: STAY AWAY FROM THE BOYS. Or was it, "You'll be fine, Roo"? hehehehe. I love you, pops!


Ps. Speaking of parents, I promised a shout-out to fellow volunteer David, so here it goes: Hey, Mrs. Fields! I can't wait to meet you when you come for a visit and thanks for reading!!! *HUGS*