One Last Time…I Swear!

I know that I’ve been somehow bad at keeping everyone updated on the work I’m doing in Ghana. Most of the reason for that is that all of my projects are still on-going, so I haven’t wanted to talk about them much quite yet. Don’t wanna jinx them, ya know?However, I’m about to spill some beans. Get ready!

Last year I had a minor surgery and was stuck recovering for almost an entire month in the capital city of Accra. And I was really really BORED. Bored to the point of tears. Bored to the point of getting this brilliant idea to organize a youth leadership and empowerment camp for the girls and boys in my region.

Camps are a great way to get a bunch of kids and educate, empower, and get them all pumped up about the kinds of topics that all PC volunteers believe to be important for future generations…like leadership skills, self-confidence, gender equality, income generation, a variety of health topics, and any other important and empowering thing you can come up with. Kids love camps. PC volunteers love camps. PC itself loves camps. The only problem is that they’re a lot of work and stress to organize, so there hasn’t been a camp in my region for a while. And I honestly never even once considered it to be something that I would want to get involved in. But then I got BORED.

So I occupied myself by sending out a few preliminary emails to see if anyone else in my region was interested in having a youth camp happen and got a lot of great responses! Fast forward 7 months and I am part of a four-person planning team and we are ears-deep in planning a multi-region GLOW (girls leading our world) & BRO (boys respecting others) youth camp that will be happening in April 2016 and will include up to 60 boys and girls, both hearing and deaf, a bunch of young Ghanaian adults to serve as role models, a bunch of local and NGO presenters, a bunch of PC volunteers, and lots of bunches of fun! This will be my very last project as a PC Volunteer because I will be finishing my 27 month of service and departing Ghana three short days after the camp. WHADUP!

Anyway, so this is what I’m up to right now. We are currently in the process of receiving applications for the camp, planning the schedule of sessions and events, as well as fundraising. And this is what I’m here to do, one last time, I swear! We’ve been able to raise almost all of the money that we need ($7016 out of $7292) and are left with only $276.05 left to raise. So if you are in a position where you can spare a few dollars, we would appreciate it a ton. All donations are tax deductible and no donation is too small. $1.52 provides a meal. $5 provides food and water for one student for the entire day. $26 will feed and water a student for the entire camp. $40 will feed, water, as well as transport a student to and from camp. Anything helps! For real. Here is the link to the PC grants website, where donations can be made securely: Ghana Let Girls Learn GLOW & BRO Camp. The donations page is in the name of another volunteer (Trujillo, G.), but it’s the correct project, don’t worry. The PCV listed is part of our four-person planning team and is in charge of all the money for the camp, which is why he is the one listed on the project page.

Anyway, I’ll stop my soliciting. I love all of you guys and I hope that in the next few months I’ll have more things to update you on, as I start finishing up my projects.

Oh, and in other news, I just found out that I will get to meet my replacement (the volunteer who will replace me in my village and live here for 27 months after I leave) in less than two months. How wild is that?! I can’t even imagine someone else living in my tiny little village. Just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes. It’s all coming to an end just like that…

Ok. Hugs and kisses everyone.

Bye byeoooo (for now)!

School Library

About two months ago was the “opening” of our small school library at the primary school in my community. When I first started this library project, I came to my teachers and asked them to call a PTA meeting so that I can talk to the school and the parents about the potential of supplying the school with some books. At the meeting I announced that I had a way of getting ahold of approximately 800 books for the kids (through a PC grant started by other volunteers), but that in order for me to do so, the school and community had to supply me with a space for the books, bookshelves, as well as pay for the transportation from our regional capital, Tamale, to the community.

Education has a pretty low priority in the part of Ghana where I live, so I was worried that it would be really difficult to get the parents to contribute the money, as it oftentimes is, and that it would also be difficult to find shelves for the books because wood is really expensive here. But during the meeting the teachers announced that we could house the books in the school office and that they can empty some of the shelves in the storage room and use them to house the new books, so all that was left to figure out was the transportation cost. I suggested that every student contribute a small amount to pay for it, but all of a sudden the PTA chairman and another elder of my community stood up and announced that they will just use their personal money to cover the transportation cost. This was a hugely generous move and it made me extremely pleased and proud of my community.

Some few months after the PTA meeting, the books finally came. It was the middle of the rainy season and my counterpart and I traveled to Tamale to pick up and transport the books. We got a taxi, packed all of the books into the back, and transported them to my lorry station where they were loaded onto the top of my lorry. It was pretty nice and hot outside the entirety of the day until, of course, about 20 minutes into the drive to my site. Twenty minutes into the 1.5 hour trip, it began pouring. Not just misting or sprinkling or even normal raining, but straight up pouring bucket-loads…right on top of the books on the roof of the lorry. I freaked out and made the lorry guys pull all of the boxes off the top and into the lorry, but that really didn’t help much because turns out, my entire lorry is completely riddled with holes. So basically it was raining inside the lorry almost as much as it was raining on the outside. There were streams of water coming down the windows and walls of the car and small streams of water coming through the holes in the roof. Keeping those boxes dry was almost impossible. Keeping ourselves dry was definitely impossible. My counterpart and I were completely soaked by the time the car stopped in front of my house.

As soon as the car stopped, I jumped out and ran to my house to open the door, sloshing through mud and puddles in the pouring rain. Then I ran back and together with my counterpart and a few of the village boys started carrying the boxes inside my house. After we were done, we were all soaking wet and covered in dirt. I sent my counterpart and the boys home to clean and dry off, closed my door, changed my clothes, and then got busy unpacking the books and spreading them on every dry surface I could find, in order to save them from destruction.

Some time after the books were transported, unpacked, dried, and sorted into different categories, I approached my school about finally emptying some bookshelves and moving them into the school office to create a “library”. The older kids in the school cleaned up the office, moved two of the bookshelves into it, and cleaned them of spiders, dust, and mouse poop. Everything was set and ready for the books to be moved, except for one little thing: The bookshelves didn’t have locks on them, which worried me because I was afraid that the books would eventually get stolen from the school. I could have easily bought the locks myself, but I didn’t feel like it was the right thing to do at the time. I generally try as much as I can to avoid being looked at as a money bag, so I decided to ask the school to supply the locks as part of their contribution to the project.

I approached the school headmaster to ask him about having the school buy a couple of locks, but after a 40-minute conversation didn’t get anywhere at all and left really frustrated that they refused to spend a couple of cedis (<$1) on the locks, while they could afford to purchase plenty of other completely useless, expensive, and impractical things for the school (like whiteboards). But I didn’t wanna give up so the next day I approached the NGO working in my school with the same question, but once again had a really long unproductive conversation with them, at the end of which I got told to write a letter requesting for the locks and maybe, hopefully, by God’s grace, one day they could give us some (once again, two locks would cost this NGO less than a $1 total). So needless to say I was reeeeally frustrated by this point, but I was still not willing to give in and just buy the locks. I felt like that was taking advantage of me in a way that I was not comfortable with. So I decided to wait and see what happened with the books – whether they started disappearing or not.

The following week we called a PTA meeting to officially transfer the books into the school’s possession and “open” our tiny little library. The PTA meeting was a huge success and a lot of parents showed up for it. The transferring of the books took a while, with a bunch of people making speeches about this or that and making me make speeches about this or that and looking at books and thanking God for allowing me to bring these books for the school and taking pictures…..until finally all the things were said and all the books were officially transferred. Yes!

After the meeting was over the kids and I transferred all of the books into the school office and spent the next two hours organizing them on the bookshelves. It was really ridiculously hot in the office with so many people and I was sweating like crazy. A few of my kids noticed that and grabbed a couple of cardboard pieces and started fanning me. And they fanned me non-stop for the next hour and a half while I was organizing the books with the other kids. It was sweet and awesome and hilarious and I felt absolutely loved by them. They didn’t have to sit there and fan me, they could have gone and played football, but they didn’t. The sat there and annoyed the crap out of me with their noisy comments and questions and suggestions and jokes, while fanning me the entire time. And it was loud and rowdy and exciting and fun and dirty and sweaty and tiring and possibly one of my favorite memories from my time in my community.

And to add onto the days success and excitement, once we were done organizing the books and everyone was satisfied, the school prefect (a boy of about 13-14 years), who’s also acting as our librarian, closed the doors of the two bookshelves, took out two locks out of his pocket, and locked them! I was schocked. Where did the locks come from, I asked? Well, turns out, my students were excited about the books and saw the need to lock them up in the cupboards on their own, so they went around the school and had every student contribute a small amount of money and then went to the market town and bought two locks. Without either me or the teachers asking them to do so! So now the students hold full responsibility and ownership over the books in my school and that may be the best thing that I could have possibly wished for when I set out to do this small library project.

And now a couple of months later, every single day I see students walking around with the books I got for the school. And my small girl, who was not able to read when I first got to site, now comes to me almost every day, asking for my help with helping her read. And our library log is full of names of students and teachers, taking and returning books on a regular basis. And it’s awesome and I’m really happy, and I hope that our library continues to be used even after I leave the community!

Help Us Raise Money!

My dear family and friends!

As many of you know, I’ve been fortunate enough to get involved with the Operation Smile mission here in Ghana. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Operation Smile (, they are an international organization dedicated to providing FREE surgeries to people born with cleft lips and cleft palates. They conducted an incredible mission in Ghana back in April, where more than 90 people received these life changing surgeries (and I got to watch one of them!). And they are coming back again this November to conduct an even bigger mission with the hope of helping out even more people than last time!

As Peace Corps Volunteers, we are trying to do our part in helping the patients have as smooth of an experience as possible, since receiving surgery can be really stressful on its own. At the last mission we noticed a need for providing people with mosquito nets to help protect those undergoing surgeries from malaria, which can be especially dangerous when your body is put under stress, such as after surgery. So we are trying to raise money to purchase mosquito nets for the upcoming mission, and we need your help to do it! Please please help in any way possible, whether by donating money or just by sharing the link below and spreading the word! Anything helps!

Here is the link to the Peace Corps page where you can donate money:

I love you all very much and thank you for all of your support!

On Running a Marathon in Ghana

For those of you who don’t keep close tabs on my life (shame on you), approximately a month ago I ran my first marathon ever! And if you know me, you know that’s a HUGE deal since I am generally known to hate running.

When I first came to Ghana, there was a lot of talk about people running a marathon. At that point in my life I was still strongly of the “I will never ever ever run a marathon in my whole entire life, marathons are stupid, I have better things to do with my time” camp. Well, that changed quickly in Ghana as I found myself sitting in a village of 400-ish people for three month with not a whole lot to do. So I started running. And then I started thinking that maybe I’ll just do the 5K and then I started think meh, I’m sure I can do a 10K, and then I started toying around with the idea of maybe doing the half at some point down the road, until eventually one of the other volunteers was like “Just suck it up Olesya and do a marathon.” and I was like, “FINE.”

So that’s how I decided to run a marathon. Almost a year went by before I was able to sign up for one, but in June of this year, I was sitting on my parents couch in Utah and decided to just commit myself and purchase the marathon package while I had internet fast enough to do it. Then I figured I should probably start thinking about training, but I was in America with plenty things to do and lots of food to eat, so let’s be realistic…I didn’t. I postponed it till my return to Ghana.

A few weeks later I was back in Ghana, undergoing a surgery. It was a fairly minor surgery, but invasive nonetheless and my recovery was long and really annoying. I definitely couldn’t exercise for a whole month. When I was recovered enough from my surgery, I finally started training. It was July by that point. A week or two after beginning training, I developed some really big infections on my leg out of nowhere. The infections made it painful not only to run, but to even walk, and then shortly I also started getting sick with a fever and other cold-type symptoms. After doing a blood test, the PC doctor announced that I have a blood infection and put me on antibiotics. So training for my marathon was not going so well at this point.

After recovering, I once again attempted to train. I was going pretty strong until about the middle of August when PC sent me to a really intensive two-week training in Senegal. We were in sessions almost 12 hours a day during this training, with very few breaks. So running 6-13 miles every single days was really difficult, mostly because of lack of time. After about one week of trying to balance training and sessions in Senegal, I started hating my life and slacking off. I figured things would get better once I returned to Ghana…but they didn’t. By the beginning of September I had come to the realization that training for this marathon was making me hate running again. So after some debating, I decided to stop training and just run the marathon anyway. At that point I had about 3-4 weeks until the marathon and the longest run I had ever done in my entire life was 13.1 miles, or half of a marathon. So I just had to double that during the race, no big deal.

So I spent the next 3-4 weeks prancing about, not even thinking about attempting to run. And then a week before the marathon I fell sick with an upper respiratory tract infection (Are you catching a theme here? I get sick a lot in Ghana haha). I was in bed for about 3 days without getting up, and then a few days later I packed my bags, jumped on a bus and went for a 15-hour trip to the capital city of Accra, where the marathon was held.

The two days before the marathon were spent attempting to recover (I was having a hard time breathing and my nose wouldn’t stop running) and relaxing with my fellow PCVs, all of whom were also running the full or half marathon. The night before the marathon I was really nervous and it was extremely hard to sleep. And I wasn’t alone in that. I think all of us only got about 3-4 hours of sleep, despite going to bed really early.

We got up around 2:30 am the morning of the marathon and made our way to the pickup point by 4 am. We were picked up by a bus and driven to a different city (Prampram) on the coast, where the marathon began at 5:30 am -ish. The entire time I thought I was going to throw up from nervous or at least most definitely die during the marathon. I couldn’t fathom running 26.2 miles. But then the gun went off and we started running.

I kept a slow pace from the start. I didn’t care how fast I ran in comparison to other runners, all I cared about is finishing. So I listened to music and tried to zone out. The first part of the marathon wasn’t so bad. We were running on the highway with traffic, but it was early enough that there weren’t too many cars and it wasn’t hot yet. There were also water stations almost every two miles and the marathon was organized and the route was signed pretty well. In fact, I ran my first half (13.1 miles) of the marathon like it was nothing. I wasn’t really even that tired. The only thing I wanted to do was go to the bathroom and when I reached the half-marathon mark, I had to ask if there were a bathroom somewhere I could use (we were told there would be a porta potty at the half-way mark). Turns out I had JUST passed it and so I had to turn around and run back. That was a little annoying, but whatever.

After going to the bathroom, I began my second half of the marathon, feeling good. The next 3-4 miles however took a different turn. I had heard that at some point around miles 16-20 people “hit the wall,” as marathoners call it. This is the point when your body depletes its glycogen stores and has to find energy in other places (breaking down fat, protein, etc.), so you pretty much feel just like you hit a wall because you simply just can’t move anymore. But you have to keep moving. Well, it being my first marathon and not having trained much, I expected to hit the wall early on. So that’s what was kind of slowly going through my mind as I made it past miles 14 and 15. The other issue was that from mile 13 to about mile 16 or 17 or maybe even 18, it somehow got really really hot. The sun was blazing and reflecting in my face off of the pavement. And in addition to that, the path got really hilly (and I’m not used to running on hills) and there were also no water stations for about four miles. Around miles 16-18 I started getting pretty dehydrated and looking for a water station. When I finally saw one, I crossed the road to it in excitement, but when I ran up to it with an empty water bottle in my hand, the two kids sitting at it said “the water is finished.” YUP. I heard that this happens pretty much every year when you run the marathon here in Ghana, but against all odds I was hoping that someone finally learned and remedied the situation. But nope, with about 10 miles to go, the water was finished. So what did I do in my dehydrated state? I threw the empty bottle of water I was holding onto the ground super dramatically and in a very exasperated fashion yelled, “COME ON!”, and then started running down the road again.

I was feeling pretty pissed and dehydrated there, but lucky for me an ambulance must have witnessed what happened, and drove up to me with a small bottle of water. I can’t even tell you how grateful I was, though I probably didn’t look like it because I was too busy trying to rip the plastic cover off the lid with my teeth while continuing running all dehydrated and stuff. So after drinking some water, I felt better and my spirits were high again. I was somewhere past mile 16 and still not feeling too bad, yet to hit the wall. The huge bummer was that of course there was not a single water station left along the marathon route with water in it for the next 10 miles. Luckily though, I had thought to bring some coins with me just in case there was a water shortage, so that I could buy my own water off someone’s head. Unluckily though, there weren’t any water sellers that I could see until at least mile 21. So I was getting pretty dehydrated again. And on top of that, I finally hit the WALL around mile 20-21.

I’ve heard about the wall so many times and I tried to imagine what it would be like so many times, but I didn’t anticipate what came my way. I was doing just fine (except for being dehydrated) until about mile 20-21. Tired and all that of course, but not too bad. And then bam, I didn’t even know what hit me. All of a sudden my thighs cramped up and I literally just didn’t think I could move them anymore. I had to stop for a second to let them uncramp before I could continue my motion. At that point I started singing “just keep swimming just keep swimming” in my head. That’s what kept me going for the last 5-6 miles of the marathon. I had to keep swimming, that’s all I had to do, and eventually I knew I’d reach the finish line.

Something amazing also happened to me a mile or two after I hit the wall. I was still going without any water and struggling pretty bad with dehydration. And then a Ghanaian guy, wearing the official marathon shirt, pulled up next to me on his bicycle. At first I was pissy because I don’t like running with people and he kept asking me questions about whether I was running the full marathon and if I had done it before and blah blah blah. I was trying to tune him out. Couldn’t he see that I was practically dying and didn’t have any energy to waste on being polite and talking? Well I guess maybe he did see that because he asked me if I wanted some water. I’m pretty sure I sounded like I was crying when I answered “YES!”

So he rode away and brought me back a 1.5 L (HUGE) cold bottle of water with ice chunks floating in it. I opened it and drank as much as I could without throwing up. Then I handed the bottle back to him because it was too heavy for me to carry, thinking that he would leave me alone. But he didn’t. He took the bottle and carried it for me while riding his bike alongside me. When I realized that he was going to be my personal water carrier for at least a little while, I didn’t care that he was annoying me with questions anymore. I had access to water. YES.

So for the last few miles of the marathon, the biker (whose name I actually never even asked…RUDE) rode alongside me, giving me water and reminding me to drink regularly and in small amounts. At times my legs cramped up to a point of where I couldn’t move them anymore and I had to stop and let them uncramp. And he would say encouraging things to me, like “walk small” or “drink some water”. Pretty simple and maybe not that encouraging hearing them in the comfort of your office or home, but pretty great and reassuring when you’re barely functioning anymore.

So I ran for a few miles with the biker and then at about 2-3 miles from the finish line we hit the absolute worst part of the marathon. Up to this point, we were running along a highway and then through a university campus, where there weren’t thaaaaat many people. And then we hit a town. The marathon literally took us through the middle of a town on the outskirts of Accra. I wish I could somehow discribe to you guy what that means. Towns in this part of Ghana are congested, stinky, dirty, loud, busy and people are pretty obnoxious and rude a lot of the time. Especially if you’re clearly very foreign and doing something the locals don’t understand, like running. So here I was running mile 23-24 through this congested town with a ton of people and trying really hard not to die. Because this area is so congested, the marathon also didn’t block out any space for us runners. There wasn’t like a route that we could run. We just had to run through the town with all its people and traffic and goats and sheep and chickens and children moving every which way. And we had to run up and down sidewalks or on the road trying not to get hit by traffic. At one point two drunk (at least I think they were drunk) men were walking towards me and one of them pushed the other into me and I almost fell into the gutter (that’s full of trash and sewage and piss and gross green slime and probably a hundred undiscovered diseases). But I was too tired to even react to that event anymore. I just had to keep swimming. Just keep swimming.

Moving up and down sidewalks was too painful so I ran on the road whenever possible, dodging cars and motorcycles. At one point I was crossing a street and it got so congested, that I just couldn’t run anymore. My path was blocked and I couldn’t move ahead, so I gave up. I couldn’t do it anymore. I stopped and let the cars and people blocking me clear a little and somehow made my way through and around them. And then I just didn’t have it in me to keep running through this congested area anymore. My brain and my body couldn’t handle stopping and going like that. Switching pace was really painful. So I walked the next half a mile or so until I got out of the most congested area. And then my biker told me that I should try running slowly.

So I did. I picked up pace again and started moving. It was really painful at first, but after a minute or two I got into the rhythm again. And I knew that I was getting close, which helped. At some point, about a mile off, my biker said, “See that orange billboard over there? The finish line is somehow near there.” That was all I needed to hear. I could grasp the concept of the finish line and it was enough of a kick to keep me going that last mile, which was tough. The last mile of the marathon feels like it lasts forever. You have more energy because you know you’re about to finish, but you’re so tired that time seems to be barely moving anymore.

After what felt like an eternity, I finally saw the finish line off in the distance. And then I saw my biker turn and ride back and start talking to someone else. Turns out there was a guy closing in on me. A guy that I had passed a long time ago. Seeing him and feeling him so close behind me gave me extra energy. While I didn’t care how fast I ran the marathon or where I placed, I didn’t want to be passed by someone right at the finish line. So I started running as fast as I could, which I’m sure wasn’t actually that fast, but I felt fast, so that’s what matters. And he never caught up to me. He was close, but I still crossed the finish line ahead of him and then I WAS DONE. DONE. FINISHED WITH MY FIRST MARATHON.

I was super delirious and could barely move when my friends came to me to hug me and congratulate me on finishing. And I was sooooooooo happy. It’s probably one of the happiest I’ve ever been. I felt incredible. I turned around and shook my bikers hand and said, “My friend, you saved me. Thank you so much! I don’t know how I would have done it without you.” And that’s the truth. He was there for me at the toughest time and I probably owe this marathon to him. I never asked his name because I was too delirious and I couldn’t find him when I finally came to my senses, but I’ll probably never forget him. He was a huge part of a really important and tough experience.

After the marathon, all of us half and full-marathoners relaxed, ate some food, collected our medals, got some free massages, drank some coconuts, and talked about our experiences. Everyone said that this was the toughest marathon they had ever done and that if I can do this one, I can easily do any marathon in America, ESPECIALLY if I train! So who knows what the future will bring, maybe I’ll become a marathoner😉 (just kidding, we all know that’s not gonna happen).

Anyway, here you have it guys. I ran a marathon. And I didn’t even die!


Until next time,

Your newbie marathoner.

America, The Mid-Service Crisis, and Some Other Things

Hey guys! I’m sorry for not posting anything for such a long time. Sometimes it’s hard to believe how fast time flies here. And living without electricity makes blogging a bit difficult. Lately all of my solar chargers and lights broke, so I’m really without electricity now. I wake up with the sun and I go to bed shortly after the sun sets (because otherwise it’s reeeeeally dark and I just end up running into walls in my house) and I limit my electronics use because charging is a bit difficult.

In addition to the no electricity thing, I’ve also now been in Ghana for over 20 months and I only have 6-ish months left. I am having a really hard time wrapping my head around it. That being said though, Ghana no longer seems like anything new and exciting, so it’s kind of just difficult to find things to write about. I remember when I was first in country, one of the older volunteers told us that eventually you get to a point where you’re talking on the phone with your mom and she asks you what you did today, and you tell her “nothing”, while you probably just got back from delivering a baby in someone’s mudhut. This is of course a bit of an exaggeration (if that wasn’t obvious), but after living here for 20 months, I get what that volunteer meant. Nothing is something to write home about anymore, you know?

Anyway, now that I’ve given you some excuses for why I haven’t blogged, let me do a little bit of updating. Since the last time I wrote back in April, I’ve had the chance to visit the U.S. It was a wild experience, being back in the land of the plenty and seeing so many faces that I love and miss so much. The food was incredible, the washing machines were amazing, and the cool spring air and the ability to wear short shorts again was more than I could have asked for. All in all the trip was great.

When I left Ghana to come to the U.S., I was in a slump of sorts. Most volunteers go through this slump. It even has a name – we call it the mid-service crisis. I’m not sure what it is, but for whatever reason, almost every volunteer in Ghana feels it right around the mid-point of their service. We get depressed and angry and pessimistic and fed up with everything. Peace Corps seems pretty pointless and Ghana seems really stupid. All Ghanaians piss you off, the food sucks, and the prospect of another year in country seems like the most daunting idea ever. It takes a while to get out of this slump, but we do eventually come out of it, or at least most of us do.

So when I visited the U.S., I was just barely getting out of that slump. And I’m sure most people who saw me and asked about my PC experience could see that. I probably seemed really tired, worn out, maybe occasionally over PC….and the reality is that I kind of was. Peace Corps is not an easy experience. And it’s not easy for all the reasons that you probably wouldn’t even think of when you’re filling out your application, or packing your bags, or stepping on that plane. No matter what you think, Peace Corps will probably find a way to surprise. In good ways and bad, of course, but surprise you nonetheless. I could probably write a novel about my woes – every volunteer could. I have endless things to say on getting sick (I’ve managed to have two blood infections while here…), the crazy amounts of time that you spend waiting for things to happen and how inefficient everything is, the insane heat, living on a carb-based diet without fruits and vegetables, being considered the rich “white man” everywhere you go, and how Ghana always always without fail wins in the battle against you. But the reality is that this is what I signed up for. Nobody said it would be easy, everyone said it would be extremely hard, and I still signed up. And I think that the mid-service crisis is when you hit some threshold of how much stuff you can take before breaking, and then maybe you break for a while, but the important part is that after hiding in a dark hole and licking your wounds, you climb back out. And at least for me, that’s the beauty of Peace Corps. It forces you into these situations where you hit some really low lows and have to find a way to get back up. I, for one, am really glad to have been forced to do it. Over the past 20 months I’ve learned how to be completely on my own in a foreign environment, how to function completely without language, how to get by on nothing, how to navigate a really different culture, how to succeed, and even more importantly, how to fail and then get up the next morning to try again or to try something new. I feel stronger, more confident, and more resilient now, and it’s a really good feeling to have.

So when I visited the U.S., I was just barely starting to climb out of my mid-service slump, and it was really hard to leave the U.S. again and force my butt back onto the plane. But I did it, maybe I almost cried a little bit, but when I got off the plane in Ghana….it felt good. I remember walking into the Accra airport and getting this feeling that “yeah…I recognize this…I know how to do this…this feels like home.” And ever since then, I’ve been happy to be back and feeling good. The last four months since I visited the U.S. (yes, it’s really been that long already) have blown by at record speed and now that I only have six months left, I’m starting to panic because I’m not ready to leave. I have so much to do here still, so many ongoing projects, and so many ideas. I’m starting to realize that I can’t accomplish everything that I want and that I’ll have to leave some of it for my replacement. Two years just doesn’t quite feel like enough anymore, and I can’t even believe I’m thinking these thoughts.

That being said though, I do still have half of a year here and that’s still some time to accomplish things. I know some of you in the past have mentioned wanting to help my community in different ways – financially or by sending me supplies. And right now I am finally in a place where I feel comfortable enough to accept that kind of help. So if you are still interested in helping somehow, please contact me and let me know. I’d be happy to share my thoughts and ideas with you! I’ll also make sure to write a few posts on my projects over the next couple of months to let you know what I’ve done with my time here.

So stay tuned!

Love you all a bunch,

Your seasoned volunteer.

Traveling around West Africa – Benin Edition

The promise of seeing pythons in Benin was the thing that brought me on a 10-day journey with a couple fellow PCVs. I already told you about my Togo journey, so let me tell you a little bit about our adventures in Benin.

We left Togo on a lazy afternoon and made our way to Ouidah, Benin – home of the Python Temple. I think all of us were really excited and looking forward to this mysterious temple, but when we got there we were a little surprised at how small it was. We paid the somewhat overpriced entrance fee and got a tour of the inside. The temple consisted of a couple small rooms, a fetish shrine, and a round room with pythons in it. Sorry to say, but I wasn’t impressed. But that’s ok because I did get to pet some pythons and even put one around my neck! And the priest also told us that they open the temple gates at night and let all of the pythons out. The pythons leave the temple and go hunting for food throughout Ouidah and then return to the temple in the morning. So they don’t have to be fed – they take care of themselves – and I think that’s pretty freaking awesome!


Playing with a python at the Ouidah Python Temple


After the temple we walked around Ouidah a little bit and then decided to head to Cotonue, the economic capital of Benin. Cotonou is definitely the biggest West African city I have ever been to. And because it is a big city, there is a lot of traffic. Most of the traffic is in the form of mopeds and motorcycles. But there are also plenty cars. We got around Cotonue on motorcycles and I’m gonna just go ahead and say that it was absolutely terrifying. Ghana traffic seems so calm and slow in comparison, so I loved this new crazy busy side of West Africa.

The traffic that most of you are probably familiar with is the ordered traffic of America. Even if it’s busy and even if it seems crazy, it’s probably not like it is in this part of the world. When you get on the back of a motorcycle in Cotonue, you immediately merge with a flood of other motorcycles and cars that are driving every which way because there are no lanes and no rules except that when you see a space, you take it. Everyone is constantly honking, speeding up and slowing down, yelling at someone, and this entire time you’re probably only inches from the next guy over and you’re not holding onto your driver. Because at least in Ghana, Togo, and Benin, it is not culturally acceptable to hold onto the driver of the motorcycle you are riding. Seems dangerous? Probably is. But nobody seems to care. People here have developed a really impressive sense of balance – they can sit on the back of a moto, going at some crazy speed, with the driver constantly and suddenly slamming on his brakes or stepping on gas, and the passengers just don’t seem to even notice. They just sit there with their hands folded in their laps, yawning (well not really, but that’s how it seems to me). It’s pretty incredible.

The morning after our arrival in Cotonue, we decided to go see Ganvie – a stilt village located on Lake Nokoue in Benin. If you don’t know what a stilt village is, it’s a village where all of the houses are built on stilts standing in water. So people are living on water, not on land. Ganvie has a population of approximately 20,000 people and is considered to be one of the largest (possibly THE largest) stilt villages in all of Africa. Our tour through Ganvie lasted about two hours and we got to get off our boat and have a beer in a local drinking spot! I would try to describe this place to you, but I think in this case pictures will definitely speak better than words, so let me allow them to explain:

Our last night in Cotonue we met up with a group of Benin Peace Corps Volunteers and had dinner on the beach. And the next morning we loaded into a few taxis and headed to Grand Popo, a favorite beach spot of the Benin PCVs. We spent our Christmas on the beach getting to know the PCVs, eating food, and dancing to drums around a bonfire with a bunch of locals. The next few days we relaxed on the beach in Grand Popo, ate some amazing French food cooked by a real Frenchman, swam in a pool, in the ocean, skinny dipped, released 2-day old baby turtles into the ocean, stayed up all night around a beach bonfire, and danced up a storm every single night.

We had such a great time, met some really cool people, and created memories we’ll never forget. I’m so glad I joined this trip. It was a really great way to spend my first Christmas in Peace Corps🙂


There was a fire in my community today. I was in my room when I started hearing shouting outside. 

“Buɣum! Buɣum! Buɣum!”

“Fire! Fire! Fire!”

I walked out of my house to see what’s happening and saw a big dust whirlwind sweeping through the village and a huge fire coming from a house across the road. And all around women and children were running to the house with buckets of water on their heads. And men were sprinting to help put out the fire. And everyone was yelling.

I looked around at my neighbors who were standing around, watching what was happening. I asked what to do and they said the only thing I could do was try and help carry things out of the house. So I started running.

The fire was burning down two thatch roofs in the house and thick white smoke was spewing out of the doors and windows. It was hard to see and breathe and there was a constant stream of people going in and out of the house. I tried to enter in order to help but heard people shouting that water is coming through and to move over. I stepped out of the way to let people pass and realized that there was no way I would get in the house without being in people’s way. So I stepped away and then saw one of the small girls from the house standing nearby sobbing. I put an arm around her and she hugged me and started sobbing harder. I led her away from the house and the smoke and walked around to the back of the house to see what was happening there and if I could help.

I’ve never seen people come together like they did today. People from both of my villages were carrying water and mixing it with dirt and men were on top of the rooms trying to put out the fire and disassembling the burning roofs. Everyone was wet and covered in dirt, straw, soot, and sweat. 

I never really thought about what it would be like to put out a fire burning down a roof made of dry thick straw and wood in 100+ degree dry desert weather in the peak of the hot season in the hottest part of the day without running water and with only one borehole in the area, some distance away.

No matter how much muddy water was poured on the roofs, the straw just kept re-lighting itself on fire and the white smoke kept getting thicker. And the men kept working through the smoke and putting out the fire and pulling the straw off as fast as they could. Every time the fire would reignite, the women would shout in high pitched voices, letting everyone know the fire was still going – a local alarm system. This went on until the roofs were completely disassembled and the rooms destroyed.

Right after the fire was put out, I saw young boys and men racing on motorcycles and bicycles from all the neighboring villages to say their condolences and offer help. Girls and women carried water from miles away.

I walked home with my neighbors, walked inside my house, closed my door, and broke down. I don’t have any idea why I couldn’t stop myself from crying. Maybe it’s because I felt completely useless and helpless and lost in such a dire situation. Or maybe it’s because my heart hurt when my little girl was scared and sobbing because her house was on fire and I felt the emotion I saw in the tears of other people’s eyes. The world just felt so unfair and for whatever reason I couldn’t handle it.

After a little while I forced myself to pull my shit together and stop crying. I wiped my eyes and decided that I had to do something to help. So I went to my neighbor’s house and told them that I wanted to go fetch water (this is nothing new – I’ve been learning to fetch water on my head for some time now) and carry it to the burnt house with them as a gesture of help. And I also decided to give the head of the house a little bit of money to help purchase new straw for roofing.

Fetching water took two hours. Not because we had to carry it a super long distance or anything, but because our entire community ran out of water and we only have one borehole. 

A single source. Too many people.

When we first walked up to the borehole and saw the number of women and children sitting and waiting for water, my ten-year-old smallgirl Asana turned to me and said, 

“Ooooooiiii! Nwonyama ti sa yen kuli biauni.” 

“Ooooohhh! Nwonyama, we are not returning home until tomorrow.”

And I laughed, because she was being funny, but I also knew that her comment wasn’t that far from reality – women are still fetching water in the dark of the night tonight and starting again early dawn tomorrow. 

If nothing else, today has been a big reminder to count my blessings and to never forget why I came here in the first place.     

My beautiful wonderful amazing village bff Asana