Monday, February 23, 2009

January 27, 2008


Today I only have 13 days left in Kpando. I’ve been doing a lot of reflection in the past few weeks. It’s wild to think about all that has happened since August. Some really incredible changes have occurred.

First, the weather has changed. We’re currently in dry or ‘harmattan’ season. Without rain or humidity, this town is DUSTY. During dry season, many farmers (Kingsley says only the lazy ones) set fire to their land so that they wont have to do as much weeding at the beginning of next crop season. Also, most of the bigger rubbish piles are set on fire during dry season, because they burn so easily when they aren’t damp. Fires are burning in this town all day and all night. At night and sometimes during the day, winds from the desert blow through the town, picking up dust, leaves, ash, etc. and generally making a mess. Everything is covered in orange dirt, including my hair. These winds are known as harmattan winds and they are cold. It’s funny to see everyone, myself included, shivering and dressed in any warm thing we can find: sweatpants, sweaters, raincoats, hats, gloves. It hasn’t once gone below 70.

Ghana’s new president, Professor John Atta Mills, was both elected and inaugurated this month. More importantly, to me, the U.S. elected and inaugurated a new president as well. People in Ghana take pride in comparing the results of their election to ours. Mills, a democrat, was elected after an eight-year term with a republican president. I was a little sad that I wasn’t home to experience all of the Obama-mania, but I'm glad I at least got to share the sense of excitement and hope for the future that most people here felt about the results of this election.

The orphanage has changed a lot, with the help of other volunteers that have been through since I’ve been here. We’ve painted the hallways and the living room. We have created a playroom for the kids. Now they have a place to do their homework and keep all of their toys. With the help of donation money (big thanks to the Gomorys) the cafeteria will finally be finished.

The children have changed too. Their English is SO much better. After living with two yovos (or 'whites') who can’t speak their language for five months, they’ve been forced to develop ours. All of them have made gigantic leaps in language development. Love and Cecilia still have a ways to go, but they are both in the phase where they repeat any English phrases they hear, which is a really good start. Love is constantly talking about his ‘thing’ – we haven’t figured out exactly what it, or they, is/are yet, and he starts almost every sentence with ‘she say dat.’ Most of these sentences make no sense but it’s very cute, and while he laughs at himself when we can’t understand, he does keep trying. It is Mawuli, however, who has made the most extraordinary changes. When I first got here he seemed so sad, he was very easily frustrated, had no interest in schoolwork, hardly spoke any English, and cried all the time. Now, he is the silliest, giggliest, most bubbly of the bunch. His laugh is one of my favorite sounds. All of a sudden, it seems, he speaks English fluently (not really, but the change is drastic). He and I are able to have full conversations where before it was nearly impossible for either of us to get anything across. The kids look older. When I see pictures from a few months ago, or last month even, they just look so much bigger and smarter. My babies are growing up.

I’ve changed too. Somewhere in the midst of all of this, all this joy, pain, beauty, determination, struggle, and success, I think I’ve grown a bit older, and perhaps even a little more wise. I have learned to take more pride in myself and to be more appreciative of the things I have. This is a culture of pride and resilience. Here, they don’t have the time or luxury to entertain insecurities or self-deprecation. As a result, these people are able to embrace what life gives them in a way that most of us will never be able to. I think we (Americans, Westerners) are trained to always aspire for greatness, which is undoubtedly a good thing, but gets confused when we lose site of all that we have already. It has been really good for me, cleansing I might say, to be around this culture for so long. Finally, I've been able to prioritize a few things in my life.

I’ve certainly learned a lot about love. I love these kids in a way I’ve never loved anything else; nothing has ever really been so important to me. They have shown me so much about the real stuff of life. Generosity, happiness, kindness. They don’t have any of the judgment (of self or others) or censorship that I have always displayed. They’ve taught me to share, to be more open – with myself, and towards other people. I don't think I'll ever be able to find the right words to describe what I've learned from the children. Suffice it to say that I feel I'm a better person for having known them.

At the end of the upstairs hallway in the orphanage, is a window that looks out on the backyard, where the kids cook and play. Here, I can quietly observe them, I can see them as they are when I’m not around. Mostly, they behave exactly the way they would if I were there. Last night, I watched Wisdom holding Love in his lap (they are brothers), and tickling him. The rest of the little ones took turns jumping on Wisdom's back. All of them laughed together. I thought about how far we've all come since August. My life will never be the same. As I watched, I finally admitted to myself, as I've always known in my heart, that they will be OK without me. They will laugh, cry, play and learn just as they always have. As sure as the sun rises, these kids will continue to go on.

I’ve been tearfully preparing the children for my departure and assuring them over and over that I will be back as soon as is earthly possible. The response is the same every time, after a momentary expression of sadness, each will say ‘OK, well when you come back can you bring me ________?’ (insert – bike, pencil, toy car, t-shirt, socks, etc.) I told them they have a deal.

Love to all,
Morgan O. Hanson
January 7, 2009


It has been much too long, and I'm sorry for that. There's been so much going on! I hope that all of your holidays were wonderful. First of all, thank you so very much for everyone who donated to the Christmas fund. Sarah and I raised about $10,000 in one month, which, needless to say, is pretty incredible, and it is all thanks to you. The feedback for this was so amazing and inspiring to me.

We fully decorated the house for the holidays. The kids made popcorn strings with (red and green peppers instead of cranberries - it actually looked better than the ones at home). We made a Christmas tree out of palm fronds that we decorated with flowers, lights, and ornaments that the children made. It was beautiful, before the kids ate all of the popcorn off the strings and it fell over 4 times. Christmas was great. We made an American breakfast for them: banana pancakes, scrambled eggs, and sausage. They loved it.

Everyone got their own stack of presents. They each got new church outfits, pajamas, a pair of sneakers, a book, a notebook for drawing, pens and pencils, and one or two of the things they asked for (toy car, airplanes, spy glasses, etc.) We had them take turns opening presents, so each person got to sit in front of everyone else, like a king or queen, and show what they recieved. For every present unwrapped, there was a round of applause. Even for the pens and pencils. One of the kids, Emmanuel, literally kissed his shoes, he was so excited. We also bought a new computer for the house. This was definitely the favorite gift.

Because there was so much donation money left over after all of these things were purchased, Sarah and I decided to start an education/scholarship foundation for Ryvanz-Mia. It will involve starting a NPO, I think. I couldn't be more excited about this. For right now, the vision is directed mainly towards these 15 children. We would like for Wisdom and Kingsley to spend some time studying in the U.S. for high school, college, or both. Eventually, though, our hope is to include the other 2 orphanages in Kpando, and some of the children from Delta School, where I teach. As we are starting from the ground up with this, any comments or suggestions are gladly welcomed. My plan is to begin working on it as soon as I get back in February.

For a while before Christmas, I was nervous that I would be sad being away from home for the holidays. Now, I really can't imagine having been anywhere else. To be around such genuine and wholehearted appreciation was something I don't think I've ever experienced before. This is something I will forever remember and be grateful for.

New Years was really good too. Sarah and I went back to the resort that I visited in Cape Coast when I first got here. On New Years Eve, the locals hosted a dance and drum circle. If I didn't already know it, I am now truly convinced that African people, on the whole, have more soul and spirit than most Americans ever will. I've decided that I want to learn how to play the drums (save the hippie comments Trav - you'll be jealous when I can play and you can't). It was nice to relax on the beach for a few days, and to spend some time contemplating the past 5 months. It's only a month before I leave, that seems so crazy to me.

I have to cut this short, because I am preparing for visitors. Tomorrow two of my aunts will arrive, to stay for 10 days. It will be really good for me to share all of this, my life here, with some of my family. I will write more soon.

Thanks again, from everyone in Kpando for all of your generosity. You helped to make Christmas really special for the children.

December 7, 2008

Hi Friends and Fam,

It's election day here today. The polictics here are still pretty confusing to me, but I've gathered a few tidbits of information here and there. Apparently, the person in power now, Nana Akufo Addo, is corrupt. His party is the New Patriotic Party. The opposing party, the New Democratic Party, was in power just before this one. Both parties have a huge following, so this is an important election. Mostly, the villages are all either one party or the other. Kpando is NDC. I held a political discussion in one of my classes the other day, and had only one NPP supporter out of all of my students. Bless him, though, he stood his ground, and over all of the shouts and protests of the others insisted "Madam, we have to SUBSIDIZE." The parties, it seems, are mainly identified by colors and symbols. In the smaller villages I've visited, that have no electricity, these are the most qualifying factors in determining support. This is certainly the way children have learned to identify which party to show support for. All around Kpando, for the past week, there have been cars with loudspeakers attached to the front preaching about this party or the other. I took the kids on a run yesterday, and a car supporting NPP drove by, saying, as Kingsley translated for me, "tell your parents to vote for NPP." The children all responded with a resounding "NO!" Minutes later an NDC car drove by and they all stopped running to jump up and down and cheer, even Love! The commercials on TV, though, are the most fascinating, more biased than you could ever imagine: John McCain has nothing on NPP. Witnessing all of this has definitely made me appreciate American politics a little more. It has been so interesting watching all of the time leading up to this and will be even more so in the following days, as teh results are announced.

On a more depressing note, we had to say goodbye to one of the kids, Nicholas, yesterday. I mentioned him once before, he only just arrived a few weeks ago. The story is long and sad but I hope that writing it out will help to put it into perspective for me.
For the past week, Nicholas had been leaving the orphanage during the day. This is forbidden, and both Mama and Sarah (the other volunteer) had talks with him about it. I can't say I blame him: we weren't able to enroll him in school for this term, because there was only a month left when he arrived, so he was sitting around the house bored as nails all day long for the past few weeks (though not alone, his brother Emmanuel was there with him). Anyway, after the second time he left, the kids started to tell us little details about it all. He would tell them that he was "going out to town" and that we couldn't stop him, and basically that he could do whatever he wants. Yesterday he went out for a third time, and while he was gone, Emmanuel led Wisdom and Kingsley to a spot in the backyard where Nicholas had been hiding things that he was stealing. It was a plastic bag full of junk: crayons, broken sunglasses, Love's belt, toy cars, birthday candles. Incidentally, alot of the stuff was Wisdom's, and I could tell he felt really betrayed by it. While it was, in fact, crap, the kids don't own much, so anything that they can actually claim ownership for is naturally important to them. Wisdom brought the bag to Mama Esi who dumped it out on the concrete in front of the house to go through it. She went through all of his clothes too, because she swears that someone stole money from her last week. It seemed so obvious to me, as I watched, that all of this behavior was a cry for attention. He didn't steal anything of much value, other than a soccer ball and pump which he hid in town, according to Emmanuel. He just wanted someone to pay attention to him. When I tried to say this, that the things he stole were of no value, and what he really wanted was attention, that it made no sense other than this, I was quickly dismissed. "Yes, but he's a theif," Mama said.
As all of this happened, fourteen little faces, fourteen noses rimmed with peach fuzz, fourteen sets of eyes sat on the steps and watched. The children, my children, stared intently, inquisitive but judging, innocent but accusing, as this plastic bag of broken things and worn clothing was dumped out on the ground; all of Nicholas' earthly possessions strewn about and torn through. When he finally came back from town, his things were packed and ready to go - he had to leave. According to everyone else, this was a choice he made on his own. And so, Nicholas left, with all he owns in a plastic bag. He went back to his grandfather about 45 minutes away from here (I console myself with the fact that he actually has a family member to go back to, this makes it a little better). We all watched him leave. The children stared with unforgiving eyes as he walked out, and I walked inside. Nothing I could have said or done would have allowed forgiveness for his actions, and so, I did nothing. Part of me was heartbroken to see him go, and an admittedly shameful other part of me was relieved to see the whole thing over with. This was a sad situation, a more extreme version of many others like this since I've been here, over which I had no control; I was nothing more than a passive witness. I think I've had to adjust the way my heart works a little bit here. There is so much sadness that I have to ignore for fear of what affect it will have on my spirit. I acknowledge the sadness and move along. I'm much more wary here, about who I fully open up to. I have already given all that I have to fourteen children, in particular. Thus, I only have a certain amount of sympathy to spare, and if I gave it to every situation that deserves it here, I would be left with nothing at all.
Truly, the most upsetting part of the whole thing for me was that his own brother ratted him out. I talked to Kinglsey about this, who has become my 15 year old voice of reason in most topics here. He said "my brother would never do that to me, but I would never steal." It's understandable though, isn't it, that they would find the bad things about a person and focus on these to in order to make their leaving less painful? I can't blame them, I think this is a natural human reaction. I understand why Mama and the kids reacted the way they did. The adjustments that I've had to make with my feelings and sympathies are things that they have been trained to do. In a place where phsyical belongings are so few, I think morals are really all a person has to hold on to. Here, things are either right or wrong, a person is either a thief or not. That is the way judgments are made, in black and white. If this is the way they have learned to reason, I must respect it. After all, I haven't been through half of what any of them has.

That's all I've got. Sorry for putting a damper on things.

[spoken with sincere gratitude]: Thank you so much to everyone who has donated money and/or sent things so far. If you are still interested in helping out, please let me know and we can figure something out.

Morgan O Hanson
November 29, 2008


I hope Thanksgiving was as wonderful for you all as it was for me. We had a full holiday celebration last night. We cooked for 33 over a fire and in a wooden closet oven. There were 5 full chickens, 29 thighs, stuffing, mashed yam, green beans, gravy, apple pie, banana bread, the works. The children loved it, and I couldn't have asked for a better place to celebrate Thanksgiving.

I'm currently at the mall in Accra, so this email will be short, because being here is weirding me out (it's actually a serious mall!). I just wanted to write quickly because I've gotten several emails about sizes and shipping, etc. Sorry for the lack of detail in my last note, hopefully this will clarify a few things.

1. shipping address:
Morgan Hanson
c/o Regina Esime Djentuh
Ryvanz-Mia Orphange
P.O. Box KP 161
Kpando, Volta Region
Ghana, West Africa
2. shipping is, from what I hear, pretty costly and it takes about a month for larger packages to get here. If you are considering sending things, keep in mind that smaller packages are cheaper and quicker.
3. sizing: this question poses a problem, because all of their clothes are either handmade or entirely too large. Therefore, I think the easiest thing is to shop in age range. They are all generally size appropriate for their ages. Apologies, in advance, that this makes it a little more confusing.
Love (4)
Cecilia (5)
Mawuli (6)
George (6)
Atsu & Etse (7)
Christabel (7)
Mary (9)
Eric (9)
Israel (9)
Emmanuel (9) - he's a newcomer and very sweet
Comfort (11)
Komla (12)
Wisdom (14)
Kingsley (15)
Nicholas (16) - older brother of Emmanuel, he is such a good kid, and so sweet with the younger children
Note: there are 12 boys and 4 girls, so boys clothes are in higher demand. The girls LOVE fashion. We looked at a Vogue magazine the other night and pointed to every picture of a girl and said "this is me." Socks and underwear are always helpful. Also, any size of children's clothing is helpful - they are planning to expand the orphanage over the next year, and we've already gotten 4 additions since I've been there.
3. soccer gear - I measured their feet in inches. I don't have the list in front of me, but I'm pretty sure these are right. (Mom, reply to all with corrections if need be)
Kingsley - 10 in.
Nicholas - 10.5 in.
Israel - 8.5 in.
Eric - 8.5 in.
Emmanuel - 8.5 in.
Atsu & Etse - 7 in.
These are the ones who actually practice and play every day. The other boys aren't as into it, but would be excited for shin guards or that kind of thing. Kingsley, Eric, and Israel are the ones who I would definitely like to get cleats for.
4. games: creative problem solving is severly lacking here. Things like puzzles are really difficult for the kids, and and they glue the pieces together once they complete them (we're working on it, though). In other words, games like Monopoly or Life would be a little difficult at this point, but Trouble, Candyland or any like them, would be excellent. The kids make cars out of sardine cans, slingshots from branches, and tops out of twigs and bottle tops; they can make up games all day long if they want to. So the propensity for imagination is clearly there. I would encourage these donations more than any other because they need things that inspire and cultivate creativity.
5. used donations: these are always welcome. Keep the cost of shipping in mind though.
6. $$ - If you are interested in sending money for Christmas presents, please contact Deirdre Lewis ( and she will help organize depositing money into my account. I came to the mall today to scope out what's available for this reason. [Mostly everything is here, at a cost - it's more expensive and, in some cases, of lesser quality, but might even out in terms of shipping cost and time]. I would be more than happy to take specific requests for gifts and get them here if that makes it easier. For those of you interested in donating towards water purification or solar panels, please contact me separately, and we can figure out what makes the most sense.

That's all for now, more soon.
Lovings, moh
November 22, 2008

Hi, I did it! I saw an elephant. Three to be exact. Also, almost got attacked by a warthog and sat on a crocodile. All in all, I'd say the trip was great! We started off the trip in Koforidua for one night, there is a really awesome bead market there, where many of the merchants in Ghana get their supplies. Then to Kumasi for the 2 following nights. Kumasi is the other big 'city' here, besides Accra, so it was interesting to see what it's like. It reminded me of India for some reason, even though I've never been there [I'm reading a book called Shantaram right now, that takes place in Bombay, so India has been on my mind]. We went to some museums there, and a place called 'the Magazine' where you can purchase basically any and every car part that ever existed.

After Kumasi, we went to Tamale, where we stayed for one night before heading up to Larabanga, the village right outside of Mole National Park. From Tamale onwards, all of the places we went are predominantly Muslim areas, and thus had a much different feel and style to what I've been used to in Kpando. The houses are made up of several small mud huts with thatched roofs, one for each room, which are all enclosed by a mud wall. Larabanga is by far the coolest village I've been to here. It houses the oldest mosque in Ghana. We slept in a mud hut on the compound of a non-profit school organized by Hassaan and Alhussein Salia, twin brothers who were born and raised in Larabanga. We ate our food by the fire and walked around guided only by the moonlight. I loved it. The next two nights we stayed in Mole Motel which is actually inside of the park. It is built on a hill overlooking the watering hole. We went on safaris both days we were there. I saw babboons and lots of other little monkeys [I wish I could bring one home]. Monkeys and warthogs walk around the hotel grounds. Walking back to our room one night, I told one of the warthogs I was going to sit on him. He didn't like that very much, but he pretended not to pay attention until I made a kissy kiss noise at him. He immediately perked up and grunted and started running towards me. Thankfully I got to my room in time. It would have sucked to lose a battle to a warthog tusk. [We've been watching too much Lion King at the orphanage, I think, and Puumba just seems so NICE!]. Our last safari was the most successful: towards the end of it, when we'd already resigned to not seeing an elephant, we came upon one, who led us to her mate and their baby. We got to watch them bathe from about 15 yards away. It was incredible. Getting to Larabanga is not pretty. We took a school bus, also known as a clapped out death trap, that seemed to be from 1972 on a 5 hour ride along a dirt road. It was worth it.

After Mole we went to Bolgatanga. This is another cool town. We stayed in a guesthouse owned by a most lovely older gentleman who took great care of us and made sure that we weren't overcharged or taken advantage of. Bolga is about 40 mins outside of Paga, the crocodile village. In Paga, we went to the chief's house, a slave camp, and the crocodile pond. All of these places were amazing. The pond is located in the center of the village, and the crocodiles walk around and do as they please. The villagers swim in this pond daily and encouraged us to do it as well. Unfortunately, I can't say I did, but I did feed one croc a live chicken. I had to hold a crazy old man's hand the whole time, but I did it. The entire time he was literally shouting in my ear to CROUCH MY LEGS AND SCRATCH IT! And as the crocodile turned to go back into the pond, he yelled to PULL HIM BACK and RAISE THE TAIL, RAISE IT! I couldn't do it. Feeding the damn thing was enough excitement for me.

From Bolgatanga we made our long journey back.The kids greeted us with open arms. I was as excited, if not more, to see them as they were to see me. They loved looking at our pictures. I wish we could have taken them. Gigi Bon kept wanting to look at the baboons again and again to point and say 'see the buttoss.' Wisdom, Kingsley, and Mawuli watched my video at the crocodile pond about 10 times and laughed at how scared I was. The trip was amazing, but it was even better to come home again. I missed them.

I hadn't been feeling well at all this week, and yesterday I started feeling dizzy, so I went to the hospital to get it checked out. I waited for 3 hours to be seen. For the entire time I was there, and who knows how much longer, there was a woman across from me who had the tip of her finger hanging on by a thread. She had the hand wrapped in a pair of children's underwear which she kept opening up. It was not pretty. Although the sight of it made me even more nauteous [or nauseated, Annie] than I felt already, I was greatly impressed by how quietly and patiently she sat for the whole time. After having blood work done, it turns out that I have typhoid. Please feel free to look up how this sickness is contracted. It's charming. Needless to say, I won't be eating street food for the rest of my time here.

A few people have emailed me about possibly donating. In light of this, and the upcoming holidays, I will end with a tentative list of suggestions for one to put money towards, if one is feeling generous.
1. toys [cars, 'spy glasses' - as per Atsu and Etse's request, a dollhouse - George wants one, don't ask, 'guns' - Israel brought it up and immediately the rest yelled AND ME TOO GUN, anything spiderman - for Love, or Yove as Gi calls him, boxing gloves - better than the head punches they give each other all day, etc. etc. Please note that literally anything will be put to good use]
2. art/school supplies [pens, pencils, notebooks, crayons, markers, bookbags, all dat]
3. games [any at all]
4. clothes [I'd like to get them each a new outfit for church, as of right now they are quite the motley crew, what with shirts, pants, dresses that are too big, and shoes that are dirty or uncomfortable - Bernice and I keep saying 'shoe or no shoe you will praise the Lord']
5. soccer gear [jerseys, cleats, shin guards, balls]

Note: all of them take sick pleasure in chewing small plastic toys to death, so small figurines are not needed.

Last, and most importantly: I am presently beginning to fundraise for a water purification system and solar panels for the orphanage. If you are feeling especially generous, which you should be, please contact me and I will give you more details as they come to me. I have contacted several local businesses and am waiting to hear back from a few before I choose which to work with. Next letter I will offer more information.

Please let me know if you are considering making a donation towards any of this. I can give you about 4,395,564 reasons why it would be a good idea. Get in the Christmas spirit, people!

Love to all, Morgan O Hanson

p.s. You might think Obama's grandmother was from Ghana the way people act over here. Throughout our whole trip up north, strangers would yell Obama at us from down the street, upstairs, out the window, or come up to me and say 'OBAMA?' All I had to do was reply 'OBAMA!!' and I had a new friend.
November 4, 2008

Hello! The task of describing these lil hoodlums was much harder than I assumed. I should have known better. To be clear, those whom I've written less about are no less wonderful and amazing than any of the others. It's just that I wasn't able to come up with an anecdote about them that could possibly encompass all of the complexities of their personalities.

Wisdom is 14, and the older brother of Love. He's a really good artist. He isn't into sports as much as the rest of the boys. He knows what he wants and what he likes, and he doesn't go out of his way to please us or appeal to things he thinks we might like or want. I like that about him. He is so sweet with his younger brother. To watch any of the siblings interact is really beautiful, one can only imagine what they've experienced together, but to watch Wisdom with Love is amazing to me. Mama mentioned once to me that Wisdom has essentially been Love's primary caregiver from the time he was born. I think this role came naturally to him.

Komla, 12, is at that awkward age of not yet being one of the big kids or little anymore. Because of this, it's hard for me to understand/empathize with him as much as some of the others. The other day we were all sitting outside and Komla was showing off his bubble blowing skills. He can blow ones the size of his head. Naturally, the younger kids found it hilarious to pop them. He kept blowing and they kept popping until he had gum all the way behind his ears. He was genuinely surprised every time. He loves everything to do with music; playing, listening, dancing. He's a really awesome dancer. When he thinks no one is watching, he busts out the sweetest moves.

Israel, 9, is the brother of Christabel. These two actually aren't orphans. Their mother, Bernice, 'cooks' and 'helps out' around the house. They live next door, but are around every day, so I include them with the rest. Israel is really really smart, he tries hard. He is the most consistently well-mannered of the bunch, which speaks well for him, because they are all incredibly polite. He was careening through the house the other day, and as he reached the table where I was sitting, he skidded to a halt, to nod and smile shyly at me, and then continued on.

Christabel, 7, is very lovey. Most of the girls are pretty independent, and seem to find physical affection awkward and unnecessary (I am convinced this can't possibly be true and try to show them so as often as possible). Christabel, however, wants to be held and hugged all the time. This is very interesting to me, considering she is the only one who still has her mother.

Eric has a lisp. It's hard to say no to that. He is also 9, and he and Israel have become fast friends. He loves to play soccer. He's a little more sensitive than the rest of the boys, he gets his feelings hurt easily. He recovers just as quickly, though, which is more than I can say about the rest of them. Eric is a storyteller. I often see him at the head of the table, telling some story that has all of the other children completely enraptured.

Mawuli, where to begin? He's 6. He gets frustrated very easily. His mother was (is?) mentally disabled and they aren't sure who the father is. His frustration, therefore, is entirely understandable, and makes me love him all the more. He is also the most unknowingly entertaining of them all. He's so NAUGHTY. He gets into everything. He ate half a raw onion off the table the other day and tried to deny it: "I no have onion," mhm. He snuck up the second floor where we sleep the other night, which is strictly forbidden (by Mama), and scared me half to death. I thought he was some kind of large African rodent. He laughed as loud as I screamed and proceeded to find the one toy we have up there, a scooter, and ride it up and down the hallway. As naughty as he is, he does try really hard to be good and to be helpful. I still remember, it was Mawuli, when I first arrived who took my bags from me and brought them upstairs.

George is 6 and he's my boyfriend. We have so much fun together. He rolls his r's in a sort of Spanglish accent, so he sort of reminds me of Rosie Perez. I taught him to sashay, just like I taught Harry, my little brother. He loves it, he's such a ham. He rolls up his shorts and tucks in his shirt and struts around the yard saying "sashay, shauntay."

Mary is 9, my sisters' age. She likes being girly. Helen, one of the other volunteers made all of the girls bracelets, and Mary puts hers on when she comes home (they aren't allowed to where jewelry at school), and lovingly admires it. Mary likes to know what is going on, who's doing what, who's getting in trouble, etc, at all times. Whenever we give out candy or presents, we can count on Mary to make sure that everyone got one. She's very generous in that way. She is also a really good storyteller. She's eager to please everyone, and, inevitably gets in trouble for it. Mama once said to me, as though I would agree, "that girl never likes to stay in the kitchen, she only wants to play."

Cecilia, aka GigiBonBon, pronounced explicitly in a French accent, is the younger sister of Comfort. She likes to be in the center of things. "And me too," she says, when she wants to partake. She's wild and crazy and I think she's found her match in me, because I will sit opposite her to make faces at each other for as long as she will. She's still trying to figure me out, I don't think she's sure whether I'm funny or insane. You will never win a battle with her. At 5 years old, the child cannot be beat. She makes her own decisions, period. Mama says "that girl is afraid of nothing.'' It's true.

Atsu and Etse, 7, are twins. Etse is quietly determined. If you ask him a question, and he doesn't know the answer, he will mull it over until he finally comes up with one. Sometimes not until 10 minutes later. Atsu is funny. He laughs if I talk in a silly voice to the other volunteers even when he doesn't understand what I'm saying. Both of them work really hard to obey the 'English only during school time' rule. They are really good translators; I like to have them give me lessons in Ewe. The rest of the kids, when they want to show you something, say "see" instead of "look." For months now, Atsu has been patiently correcting them. The other day the twins and I were outside doing laundry, they were helping me, like they always do, and Love said "see" about something. Atsu pointed a finger at him and said, firmly, "Last time. [pause] look, not see." Still not quite sure where he got 'last time' from, but it was genius.

Love is pretty darn cute and he's the youngest, so he gets away with murder. He's remarkably self-entertaining, more so than any four year old I've ever known. Love doesn't need anyone to play with him, but he will allow me to if I must. He does, however, love to be held. He thinks any lap belongs to him. He doesn't speak any English at all, except to say "speet English!" and he's started to say "I beat your buttoss," (buttocks) which, unfortunately, I think I taught him.

Comfort is only 11, but you would never guess. She is essentially the glue that holds the whole group together. She cooks every meal for all of them. We rarely get to spend time with her outside of the kitchen, except to help with homework. But I've been trying to help her make dinner more often, I think she likes that.

Kingsley is actually 15 (not 12, which I suspected). He's been with us for about a month now, and he's already the leader of the pack. It's hard to fully explain what an awesome kid he is. It's as though he is my wise and experienced grandfather and my sweet little brother at the same time. I took Kingsley to the hospital the other day because he hurt his foot and could hardly walk. He insisted on walking there, rather than take a cab, and he saved the candy I gave him in the waiting room to share with the younger kids. I think he came from a smaller village than most of the rest, and therefore is used to having less and making more with that less. I was helping Christabel do her homework about gardening the other day, and Kingsley was able to fully explain the process of planting and caring for each plant that was listed. I think this about all of them, but especially Comfort and Kingsley, that they are so beautifully practiced at the work they do; cooking, washing, cleaning, gardening. I could just watch their hands working for hours, and wish, the whole time, that mine will someday be as skilled.

Every single one of them is a genuinely good kid. They all greet us when they get home from school: they come and find us, wherever we may be, including the bathroom, to say 'good afternoon.' They always make sure that everyone gets a candy. They share food with eachother (sometimes they trade sauce for rice, or a piece of fish for a green bean. I love to watch them barter). If any of them has to use the toilet at night, one will accompany another just to hold the flashlight. I am continually impressed with these children. I see their frustrations, I admire their small victories. Time spent alone with any number of them is infinitely valuable to me. It is so cool to see them interact. This one major setback they share, orphanhood, is precisely what allows them to interact so nicely. It's what enables them to feel comfortable, and laugh with each other, and have a family again.

Tomorrow I go on a 10 day trip up North. Get out the old atlas. We go from Kpando to Koforidua to Kumasi to Tamale to Larabanga to Mole National Park back to Tamale to Bolgatanga to Paga and then back home again. Say a prayer that I find the elephant I've been dying to see, because otherwise it's a 10 hour tro for nothing. Paga should be pretty interesting too, the villagers cohabitate with crocodiles. There has never been a reported attack by either party in the entire history of the village, and killing a crocodile is considered a homocide. Apparently the big thing for tourists to do there is sit on a crocodile and have your picture taken (Kat, I'm getting one special for you). I'll let you know how it goes.

love and Obama,
Morgan O Hanson.

p.s. We did Halloween with them the other night, which was so great. They had never celebrated it before. They LOVED it. We had them walk down our hall and knock on each of the doors to get candy, and they would scream "chickacheeeeeee."

p.p.s I'm staying til February. Send me a postcard or something.
October 12, 2008

Hi all.

I haven't written in a while because there hasn't really been an event that tops a fist fight since I last wrote. I've been waiting for something really exciting and out of the ordinary to happen to inform you of. Not much to update about school. It is a daily battle there that becomes slightly easier to fight with each passing day. It has been hard for me to come to terms with the fact that I won't be able to change the Ghanian school system in 3 months. Most, if not all, of my students have never had a teacher that really believed in them, or made learning fun, or even knew how to write in English correctly. While it's hard for me to keep this in mind as I struggle to get them to open their notebooks and be quiet, it really isn't fair for me to expect that they would have taught this habit to themselves. I have been trying to get them to write for 15 minutes at the beginning of each class. Not as easy as I thought. Alot of them don't have paper or pens. After wallowing in sadness and disgust with the unjustness of it all for a few days, I came up with the bright idea to get them notebooks! For 10 cents each! I got a nice round of applause for that one. I told them now they have no excuse not to do their homework, and Bernard (one of my faves) said "O Madam that is tricky." Thankfully, I have my mother, who is always full of good advice, to send me different ideas of writing assignments for each day. My goal is to get them to start thinking about the importance and value of their own opinions and beliefs. I think that this practice is overlooked in most households here. If nothing else I say gets through to them, I hope that I might plant the tiniest little seed for self-reflection.

There are things here that remind me so vividly of home that I sometimes forget I'm in Africa. A cup of tea tastes the same, even with powdered milk. I've taken to having at least 4 a day. The sound of my computer powering on. The smell of rain on asphalt. The pleasure I find in making a child laugh. These things haven't changed a bit. It's funny too, the things I found so foreign when I first arrived seem so normal now. For instance, I've learned to just keep my eyes closed as much as possible on the tro tro, or bring a book. It's better not to look. I've accepted the fact that personal space/information is not commonly acknowledged or respected here. I've had people practically sleeping on top of me in the tro before. One of my students raised his hand in class (of 45+ other students, mind you) to ask "Madam, are you a virgin?" Appropriately, I just had someone reading this over my shoulder.

Unconsciously, at first, I began to think of the adults here as characters in a book. I found that makes it easier for me to figure them all out, really. It's so interesting to just be plopped into a world that is completely different than your own and try to figure out a way to coexist effectively. I find this especially pertinent at the orphanage, and with Mama Esi. Living there, day in and day out, I see the good and bad the ugly. There are things that Mama does that make me furious, and those that I have great respect for. I'm thankful for it all, though. I feel I've really been able to get an idea of what life is like for the children. I've heard that Ghanian parents are the strictest in the world, and I don't doubt it. The older kids do all of the cooking and cleaning for the rest. They do the wash. They get up at 4:30 am every schoolday to start the fire for water to bathe the younger ones and help them get ready for school. Even the littles have to do their own wash sometimes, and they are always in charge of carrying their own shower bucket to the fire to be heated, and fanning the coals. The girls must always be within earshot of the kitchen in case they are needed for something. [Mary, who I feel especially akin to because she is 9, my sisters' age, doesn't get to watch TV when the younger ones do because she has to help chop vegetables or do other chores for cooking]. There is very little affection used, from what I witness. This has been hard for me, because how can you not hug and kiss these precious little children all day long? And tell them that they are smart and that you are proud of them. In the end, though, I am a visitor in their house. They have survived for 2 years at the orphanage without me, and will do so long after I leave.

Resilience is a word that I continue to think of. I have a new appreciation for the meaning of it since living here. I think of it walking through my village in the morning, as I see people walking to and from the well, or starting their fires to heat up water for cooking and bathing. I thought of it when I visited the hospital with our youngest, Love (diagnosis: malaria, bacterial infection), and waited with everyone in an unairconditioned waiting room for 4 hours only to have the doctor send us somewhere else. Mostly, though, I think of it with my kids. These are children who have lost their parents. Usually, you wouldn't know it. They play games, do homework, tease each other, laugh at cartoons, all the same as anyone else. There are sometimes when each of them gets more upset than they should about one thing or another, or whines for too long about something silly. It's during these times when I am most reminded that they have a history I will never be ably to fully understand or make up for. We had two new arrivals, Kingsley (12) and Eric (9), last week, and it really hit me then, that wow, they just lost their parents. They are brothers, which makes it a little better, having someone to hold on to. You could tell when they first arrived, how hard it was for them, and obviously upsetting. But even this week, they are already much better. They have acclimated to the situation and get along excellently with the rest of the kids; telling stories, wrassling, surviving. All of the kids react similarly to injuries. They are much more brave and stoic than I have ever been. Fall down and quickly get back up, that's what they do here. There's not time for much else, the coals need to be started for cooking.

Next time, I will try to prepare a bio for each of the kids. I feel like I've left you all in the dark a little about what they are like individually. Pictures, sadly, I think you'll have to wait for. I doubt this little old computer can handle it.