Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Things are going pretty awesome right now. I have lots of stuff that I want to do and none of it is really on a deadline, that’s really nice. I’m starting to chip away at my assignment. I’ve settled into some nice routines as well.
A few days ago I was walking back from my “gym” and a really nice SUV pulls up next to me. It was a man that works at the Switzerland Embassy with his wife from New Zealand and their kid who would be from India I think if you took the average. Basically they say, “You’re white, please help us.” They were looking for a kente store, what a coincidence. The store is off the beaten track, so in my Grand Valley mesh shorts and JCC Jets t-shirt I take this well off couple to the weaving centre and then the store. If I’m not working out I’m in business casual dress to at least look like a businessman, but they didn’t seem to mind. After they bought a considerable amount of kente they gave me a ride back to my house and gave me a bottle of South African wine because they really liked my tour, I think I like the Swiss. That research that I’ve been doing actually pays off. In the last 3 weeks I’ve found or had visitors that have moved 38 kente products. Doesn’t sound like much, and it’s not, but in the last 3 weeks we’ve moved 40 products. Mr. Agba likes having me around.
My dad said I shouldn’t just rely on me walking up and down the streets to get people to the store and I guess he’s probably right. So Monday I made a map of Kpetoe. It’s odd when Ghana doesn’t really do street names, “dumpster” made the map. Bless couldn’t believe that I made Kpetoe on Paint and calls me “the computer wizard.” All that time when I was little drawing baseball stadiums on Paint wasn’t worthless at least. I’m going to make brochures with it in them and put them in a few places that NGO people hang out at in Ho and in the Peace Corps offices in Tamale, Kumasi, and Accra. Small small steps.
I love my neighborhood. The adults are great but the kids are awesome. Michael and I play catch every afternoon now. It gets so hot that people just go under a tree and sit so we’re prime entertainment. Well for being 10 Michael is great at football and pretty good at playing catch. One shouldn’t confuse the 2 however. One time after fetching a baseball that got passed him he threw it up in the air and tried to head it to me like a football, ouch. Bless wanted me to explain all the rules and strategies of baseball to him. I tried to tell him that it’s a little more complicated than football but he insisted. I was like fine don’t trust me and started off with the infield fly rule and then some of the DH before he stopped me.
Only in Africa can an election on Dec 7th not have a result yet, they say final runoff results Friday. Atta Mills of the NDC is winning by .13% with just 1 of 230 contingencies unaccounted for. He will probably win and since like 82% of the people in my region voted for him things were pretty crazy here the last 2 nights. I decided to be crazy myself one night and try some canned beef in my red sauce. There should be laws against selling that crap. If mom wasn’t the primary reader of my blog I would have more beef with that beef.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Bless and I

The bench press I use until mine gets made.

Xmas Eve Pig

Neighborhood Football game that I dominated

Outside town

The epic Togo boarder as I understand it, I don't make any promises about its accuracy but they will.

Away in a Bungalow

Sometimes I think I should keep my big mouth shut. But if I did than I wouldn’t be able to laugh at myself as much. On Christmas Eve I told my friend that I missed her like I missed ham and cheese sandwiches. 15 minutes later I looked outside at what I thought was a bonfire, I was wrong. It was like a 5 foot pig covered in brush getting cooked. Before that on Monday, I wrote on Lisa’s wall about how we had food poisoning together exactly a year ago. 2 hours later I was going back and forth between my bed and the bathroom. Serves me right, especially with what I eat here.

Mr. Agba called that night and wanted me to meet him so I reluctantly went and met him. This followed:

Daniel! How is life, what will you take?

Hey Admiral, I am sick small small. I will take nothing.

No no, you will take.

Ok, I will take Fanta.

Fanta? Are you a woman? (to me) Psst, 2 Stones(to spot owner)

Stone is a heavy lager and bottles here are more than 2 back home, usually that’s a good thing.

Christmas started with a 3 hour mass and until the call from the family that was the only noteworthy event. Christmas is not a real big deal where I am but at least it exists. Most of my close friends here got stationed in the Muslim northern regions, aka no Jesus’ bday land, so I’m lucky. Lots of them don’t have power. Actually I’m probably the most spoiled PCV ever. I sometimes have a laptop, Ipod, cell phone, shortwave, electricity, and pipe borne water. Part of that has to do with the PC’s ability to adjust. Gone are the days of 2 letters and a phone call a year. There is no use in acting like technology is not here especially for a business volunteer, a lot of my job is to teach them how to use it properly. The most spoiling item I receive is my support from back home. Basically Christmas wasn’t all that bad because I know I have a lot to miss if that makes any sense. Sometimes it’s better to miss people than to be stuck with them all day, just kidding guys.

On Sunday they have the runoff for their election, it should be very interesting, and I’m praying peaceful. Being in a border town means lots of extra soldiers to make sure people don’t walk across. Here they vote by thumbprint and the ink is supposed to stay on for over a day. That means any African could walk up and vote if they’re in country pretty much. As much as I miss home, I’m just getting started here and don’t want to leave. I mean I’ve been doing research here and it’s like no research I’ve ever done. It’s fun to piece together broken language interviews, American reports, mistranslated articles, and questionable internet sources. Makes ya wonder where our credible sources do come from.

This morning I made my first big kente sale to a girl from Sweden who was lost in Kpetoe looking for a store. Mr. Agba was pretty pleased.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Welcome to Kpetoe

Computer Lesson number 1 to Ghanaians will be don't give your password to family members, they may post old photos of you. Thanks guys.

This is a holiday season that I’ll never forget. My time at site so far has been pretty legit. I’ve had 3 visitors already so the villagers think I’m the most popular American ever. Adam and Renee both at least they said they really enjoyed my 20 minute each way guided walk into Togo, I have a feeling I’ll be taking a few people on that thrilling walk. It even includes international waters, a 2 foot wide steam that marks the border. Renee brought me a box from my parents that was Christmas and birthday pretty much. I now am officially going insane because I listen to BBC and Voice of America everyday on the shortwave they got me. I’m also quickly turning into a huge football fan. English Premier League games are the closest thing to American sports so I’ve picked up Arsenal as my team and have a big cedi (90 cents) bet on today’s game against Liverpool. Actually I’m not sure when the game is, it might have been yesterday but they’re playing it on TV tonight. 30 pesewa (25 cents) gets you into the village spot with a TV to watch the game. I hope they win/won.

I also joined the local football team, a very Dan thing to do I’m told by another volunteer. I think they let me on the team because I’m white, they’re real good. They’re called Junior Arsenal but they’re all university aged kids which means 20+ years of football under their belts. Despite Cody, Darren, and Malcolm’s mentoring for 4 years of indoor soccer my footwork isn’t exactly with theirs yet. If we play on a full size field I do pretty well actually cause I can run and there’s room but when we practice everyday it’s on a basketball court sized field. The goals are cement blocks stood up on their ends. The second practice I figured out that you had to hit the block for it to be a goal rather than putting the ball between the block and a post a foot away, stupid language barrier, I thought I scored like 3 times the first practice. If you ever wonder why Ghanaian football teams are so good at offense and stink on defense it’s because this is how they play a lot and if you leave 1 man back, he can just stand in front of the block.

Renee and I found the best fufu we’ve both ever had in Ghana, it’s completely across town but I go there for dinner most nights. One night they didn’t have fufu and goat, both favorites, but rather banku and grass cutter (huge rodent), not both favorites but not horrid. The owner felt bad and now I have 2 cell phone numbers that I’m to call if I’m coming. If I don’t come they call me and make sure I’m fine.

My neighbors a chicken coup away are my favorite Ghanaian family here. Michael is 10 and the smartest Ghanaian kid I’ve met, so he’s not Kwoko but he’s still pretty cool. Bless is 17 and he’s always with me pretty much, he’s a good kid. Fidelis is 22 and a captain of the Junior Arsenal team. Bless and Fidelis go to school down in Keta so they’re just home until mid January. They also found me a “bench press and weights” to use while mine get built. I’m gonna try to put some weight back on, I’ve dropped 20ish since I got here, all that running and football and no Arnie’s food to steal. 177 is not a good weight for me.

As for actual work, boo, I’ve met the paramount chief who is really cool. Our huge kente meeting got canceled due to a neighboring chief’s death. Basically everything is being put off until the election is over which is nice because it gives me time to settle in and learn as much about kente as I can. The first 3 months we’re just supposed to be integrating but I doubt they’ll let me do just that. This election stuff does suck because I haven’t gotten mail in 2 weeks and I know I have at least a package or 2 waiting for me in Accra. I won’t be able to get them until January 3rd at the earliest.

Birthday’s and holidays away from home are just not fun but besides that I really am enjoying this stuff. Merry Christmas from Ghana!!

PS. I think I just set up a PO Box in Ho. This will be for letters only, packages should still go to the Accra address. I love the packages but they are very expensive to send so letters are probably best. My new address is:

Dan Vainner

Hp 345

Ghana, West Africa

I find it hard to believe it's that simple so I'll let you know if it works.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

B-Day Tradition

For any of you who have ever been to the Vainner house near a birthday you know of the tradition on the kitchen door. Think of this as the kitchen door for Danny this year. For those of you who have not seen the birthday tradition here's what happens. Each year Mom puts up a handful of pictures from growing up on a birthday banner. It's a great time to look back and see how everyone has grown, so Danny boy here is your kitchen door for this year. Don't mind the quality, we dont' use our scanner anymore so it's in the attic and of course now I could have used one, instead I had to take pics of the pics.

Playing a "guitar"

First day of school


No Danny is not posting about himself for his bday, the sis who posts pics for him is. So Danny I hope you get a chance to read this before your B-day if not it will make you laugh when you do. Here's bday memory from way back...with Danny's bday being so close to Christmas the one year Mom and Dad got some Sanata ice cream treats to go along with the cake and ice cream. By accident a plate with a few of them got left out after the party and over night, the next morning we were all shocked to find that they weren't melted or anything they were in perfect form and still looked like Santa. The pic above isn't of the exact product I can't remember those details but it's a similar product, makes you wonder what they're made out of. Seems like they could almost make it to Africa... Love ya and Miss you Danny boy! Happy Birthday on the 19th!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Monkey Sanctuary

My friend Maria and I

The Trainees Football Team

Time to get to Work, well after some Play

I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to go through training with for over 10 weeks. I wish I could get to know some of them better but it was time for us to actually get to work. For the elections we were all in “hotels” for the last few days together. Rather than spread out over 3 cities we were split up into 3 hotels forming a triangle with each leg about a 30 minute walk. I give the distance because it’s a sign of affection if in the middle of the night you get woken up to “Everybody Dance Now” and dancing. Adam has speakers for his Ipod and the first night in hotels Maria and him went into Andy’s room and blasted it complete with dancing. Andy bolted out of bed and joined in. He was like “Who’s next?” And thus the tradition started. They soon pounded on Mikey and me’s door and when Mikey opened it they stormed in. Maria was grooving on my bed and I had no idea what was happening. Once I got my senses I joined in. That night we woke up all 13 volunteers in our hotel.

The next night, the night before Swearing In, we got back from the spot at like 11, the latest I’d been up in Ghana and chilled a bit. Then we were like, let’s dance party EVERYONE. 11 of us started the 30 minute trek to Oshakotee Lounge at 11:40. One of our married couples thought we were robbers breaking in and were like “oh no!” but then quickly joined in our dancing. I’ll never forget Vince’s look after we turned on the lights and blared the music. Of all the people we Dance Partied there only Sam joined the crew for the trek to Grace Adu Hotel. Grace Adu was where all the rest of volunteer couples were staying, married or not. This made for perfect Dance Partying.

The first 4 rooms we hit were couples and they were absolutely hilarious. Even if they were mad at us for pounding on their doors, they instantly lost all anger when they heard that song and saw the quality of dancing. The 4th couple wouldn’t answer the pounding so I said, “Election Results!” They opened the door with one of them ready to evacuate! My favorite of the night that’s blogable had to be Alan and Marian, our over 60 couple. Marian answered the door and joined in the dancing while Allan lay in bed with his hands behind his head just smirking. Then we still had the 30 minute walk home through downtown Kukurantumi at 2 am singing to Journey and Hanson. I’ll never forget that night, we Dance Partied about 30 people.

The next day we had a very entertaining and HOT swearing in ceremony. We all got dressed up in our newest Ghanaian clothing and were joined by our trainers, current PCV’s, the country director of PC, the Ambassador, the regional elected leader, our host families, and basically everyone else we’ve met in the last 10 weeks. It was great to see everyone 1 last time. We tore up our dance and I thought the whole ceremony was pretty cool. During our oath I was like, wow this is pretty sweet. I was pretty proud of becoming an official PCV. The meal after I had to say goodbye to my host family and all the other host families I’d gotten to know. Mikey and my internship lady even got us 2 yards of cloth each. Nana gave me a big kiss on the cheek when we were announced; I think that means I have to visit when I’m allowed to travel in 3 months. It was touching to see just how many people we’d already interacted with.

That night we all went out and had a blast. It wasn’t until the next morning when people started to take off to their assignments that we realized this is the last time we’ll all be together until COS (close of service) which will be in November 2010. When we’d said goodbye to our friends and family back home we instantly met these people. We were basically thrown into a room and told to become friends cause for the next 2 years they’re all you got. Well it worked, we all have some pretty amazing friends and we just never put going to our sites together with leaving each other. That morning was a happy sad.

We got each other through training and were ready to go make small small differences but still. I walked back to our hotel after I was ready to leave to say bye to Adam, my next door neighbor for the last 10 weeks, and even though we’re the 2 big tough guys in our PC group it still wasn’t easy. I could get back to Jackson in less time than it would take me to get to Mikey’s or Adam’s site.

The rest of the byes weren’t any more fun. I’m proud to say I didn’t ball like I did when I hugged mom bye but that doesn’t mean we weren’t close to. The people going to Volta were the last group to leave so at least we got to see everyone off.

The 8 of us decided to take a 2 day break and go to Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary before going to our sites. It was a great little 1 night vacation and feeding the monkeys by hand was really sweet as was the way they just interacted with the village. Cynthia held her banana a little too high and the monkey had to jump to get it and scared the crap out of her, it was great. From there we said our goodbyes quickly as thankfully our tro’s showed up as soon as we got to the junction. Quick is the way to do byes if you have to.

Now I’m at Kpetoe and fully moved into my bungalow. I expected it to be sad but honestly the second I got out of my tro I got pumped, I really do love my site. I went “grocery shopping” at a few stands and even made a pasta sauce with room for improvement. Mr. Agba and I have a big meeting next Saturday with all the Kente weavers and players in the Volta region so that’s exciting. By the end of the week I should be fully settled in and will start my Kente lessons and start Mr. Agba’s computer lessons, yesterday I sent him his first text message ever. I’m already pretty known throughout my side of the village because I’m white. My full name is For Daniel Yao, meaning Brother Daniel Thursday Born, but I usually go by For Daniel.

I’m working on getting a PO Box in Kpetoe or Ho so that I can get mail weekly rather than just whenever I’m in Accra or my APCD or PCMO stops by. That means if I haven’t gotten a letter that you sent I probably won’t for a little bit. I’ll call Beth and have her post the new address as soon as I get it. You guys rock.

“I’m giving each of you one of these Gumbi’s, he’s like the Patron Saint of flexibility and God knows that’s what a Peace Corps Volunteer needs the most.”-Our Country Director at Swearing In as he holds up a 3 inch toy Gumbi.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Election Results and Swearing In

Electoral Commission sources quote 49.13 percent of total valid votes cast for Nana Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party, while Prof John Evans Atta Mills of the National Democratic Congress had 47.92 percent.

A total of 8,648,978 valid votes were recorded while a whopping 204,971 ballots representing 2.370 percent were rejected.

A run-off had been projected on Tuesday between Nana Addo and Prof Mills in the presidential race. Either man failed to obtain the required 50 percent of total votes plus one additional vote.

The Commission announced a date for the run-off of December 28.
(stolen from email from mom titled "should have voted for the chicken")

The election Sunday wasn't all that exciting around here. The results didn't come out until yesterday and the result was that they're going to have a run off on December 28th between the NPP and the NDC. There has been plenty of excitement in other areas of the country, including 15 to 20 deaths related to the election (insert mom freaking out). Don't worry mom, PC had us on lockdown. The real excitement will be during the runoff. The Country Director came and today and told us the great news...we'll be on "standfast" level during the surrounding days of the runoff. Those days are, no joke, Dec 24th to Jan 2nd. Standfast means that we are not allowed to leave our village, have to maintain contact, and have a bag ready to evac. All our Christmas and New Years plans went directly down the drain. Doesn't really feel like Christmas anyways, that doesn't mean I don't still LOVE Christmas though.
We moved out of homestays a few days ago so that means no Kwoko but I have some great pictures from our last day together. I get to see Momma Aggie and Nana tomorrow at our swearing in however. Our swearing in will be complete with American Ambassador, Ghanaian Politicians, language demonstrations and dancing by us! That's right, 2nd row 2nd dancer right here. Cynthia is right in front of me and she's pretty short and I can get my leg kick after the spin over her head sometimes. I hope the Ambassadors' impressed.
After tomorrow I'm officially a Peace Corps Volunteer, no more of the PCT stuff, it's PCV now. I'm happy training is over but will miss my buddies. I'm proud to say that we've more than doubled our euchre players throughout training. They all were trained by me so they talk smack, think the UP is like the Mecca of Euchre, and all want to table talk like Lisa and I used to. I won't tell them how to though however. Lisa, the PCT sitting next to me just saw her name and got really confused.
I've been in a great mood lately but it's hard not to be. We're about ready to start what we came here to do! Highlight of the week was definitely package from Katie Phelan. I didn't know Cinnamon Toast Crunch could be mailed internationally and the PCT's loved the Candy Canes.

Who's deal is it?
It's me's
Wow, we speak way too much Ghanaian English

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Done with training in under a week! Everyone passed their language test on their first try and 40 of our original 42 will swear in Friday, that’s unheard of. This group has a lot of character and a bunch of great people.
On Wednesday the Small Enterprise Development (SED) trainees put on our cross sector. Cross sector is when one group teaches the other 2 things that they specialize in. Environment and Water/Sanitation put on great cross sectors but traditionally SED’s put people to sleep. While it wasn’t thrilling by any account, Marcus, Allen and I presented a pretty solid idiots guide to bookkeeping that people at least said they really liked. There were 3 other stations that went very well too I hear. Marcus is our finance major, I’m our accountant, and Allan is just a bad ass.
Allan and his wife Marian both did PC way back in the day in separate countries. Years later they met while volunteering overseas in another country. Now they have a son who just finished PC in Eastern Europe and they’re giving another 2 years. They’re definitely role models for all of us and just great to have around.
Yesterday was the big final trainee vs. trainer football match. It rained the hardest I’ve ever seen in Africa just before we played, that made it so much fun. Of our top 3 players (and only soccer players), Steve was the only one who played. Omar had to go back to the States and Cameron has a growth of some sort that they had to remove from his back, so he referred. We pieced together a team but didn’t expect to do that well. The whole team played absolutely amazing. Everyone overachieved. We were never down by more than 2 and with 10 minutes left we were tied up at 3. We gave it all we had but we ended up losing 5-3 in a really fun game. I pulled off a hat trick with my first goal off a slide kick at the goal post as the ball was going out and the next 2 off pure luck. I want to set up a PC Togo vs. PC Ghana football match. We’d have a stacked team.
One of the amazing things that remains constant between the US and Ghana is the importance of sports. Almost all Ghanaians will tell you who scored each goal for Ghana when they beat the US in the 2006 World Cup. I love how much they love sports. I don’t get why people in the US basically stop playing sports after high school just because they’re not amazing at it. Sports are fun and a great way to get that competitiveness out of the system. I’m planning on joining the Kpetoe’s city team if I can make it.
There is energy like crazy for the elections tomorrow. Being here during this has been one of the most interesting things I’ve ever been part of. If one party doesn’t get 51% then it goes to a runoff and with 3 major parties and 5 minor ones odds that’s what will happen. That could happen anytime within 2 weeks. Mom wants me to get people to vote for the CPP because their mascot is a chicken, sorry mom.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Ghana’s been great lately. Our language class is actually doing really well; I think we all will pass the test on Friday. My host family is amazing. Emma and I sing the 12 Days of Christmas just about everyday and Kwoko is incredible at playing catch with his glove on backwards basically. We did family pictures with my camera Sunday before mass and they’re keepers I think. I’m really going to miss this family, they’re no Vainners but they’re great people.
The election is Sunday so that’s all any Ghanaian talks about. I really hope there’s no violence. My host family is very NPP but my counterparts are very NDC so I get to hear it all. My counterparts call me almost everyday to see how I slept and if my day is going alright. Ghanaians will call with absolutely no purpose just to check in on you. If they see anything that reminds them of you they call you. They can’t wait until I get back at site.
Getting anywhere in Ghana is always fun. In Ghana I’d say 90% of cars are either taxis or tro-tros. Tros are like 12 passenger vans that they jam anywhere up to 24 people into. It seems like total chaos and very intimidating at first, but there is a method to the madness. If you have your wallet that’s all it takes to go anywhere in the country. You just say the city you want to end up at eventually and they’ll get you to the right tro to get to the next tro and so on, or the mates in the tro are constantly yelling their destination. Any time the tro slows down plenty of street vendors will come by with stuff from water to bread to posters to flags, you can do your grocery shopping without leaving the tro. Tros are boiling hot when they’re at a stop but while moving the windows or lack of walls provides for ample air circulation. Many times you are joined by goats and chickens on your journey.
The bigger the vehicle the faster it goes here. They also cram more people into a mode of transportation than we would ever dream of. I’m still trying to figure out the traffic laws and I think they are too. I have seen 3 traffic lights and they all get me mad. That means you have to sit there and roast while it’s red. The best part about all taxis and tros is easily their names. Every small business in Ghana is named something religious. “Clap for Jesus Barber Shop”, “Love Your Enemies Provisions Store”, “Amen Tro”, “I’m Sorry Taxi Cab”, “God is Good Tailoring”, and “By God’s Grace Cell Phone Shop.” It’s hard to stop smiling sometimes. My personal favorite is a locally famous mispelled store name, "Crap for Jesus."

Monday, December 1, 2008

Mac and Cheese

My first american meal here, compliment of Mom. I only used 1/3 of the cheese, had to save it.

Host Family

Host Family

Host parents

Oscar and I at the counterpart workshop.

Home for 2 years

Welcome to Kpetoe

Goats on my loom, i'm getting one and naming it Tiny Tuttle