Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Laughter is the Best Medicine

"...Blessed are you who weep now: for you shall laugh."
-Luke 6:21

I like this because Luke doesn't promise you'll prosper or be saved. Luke simply promises that if you weep, sooner or later, you'll laugh.

Ghana has been one heck of a roller coaster ride for me. With so many ups and downs that I know, when I get off this ride, it will take me a little while to figure out what actually happened here. I've been filled with happiness, I've been overcome with grief, I've choked on anger and I've nearly died of boredom. I've struggled with my faith and I have gotten so angry, sad, frustrated, and annoyed at God through this journey. I actually wondered if I could ever reconcile with Him.

But let me start from the beginning.
For the past two months I have been volunteering at Anfaani Children's Home. A home filled with eight children who's mothers have died. They are all under the age of two and they are all completely brilliant.
Working (playing) with these children has been a huge joy. And though I don't always express it, I am truly touched by how much love these children show me.

And how much they teach me.

One lesson that the children constantly teach me more about is forgiveness. These kids have taught me how beautiful forgiveness can be. Sure, in Sunday school you are taught how important forgiveness is- but not how breath takingly beautiful the act of forgiveness can be. I wont give any specific instances, though I have many to choose from. THey are simply too difficult to describe. I cannot do them justice.

Something I truly love about these children, or any child really, is that the cry that pierces a heart is always replaced by laughter or a smile.

I believe that Luke was talking about the spirit of of a child in that verse. Children are blessed with the power to laugh, to forgive, to love, even after the most heart-wrenching experience they have ever met.
I am amazed at the level of children's forgiveness.
The measure of their love.
The power of their laughter.
I believe that laughter is the truest way of showing forgiveness and love.
That is why I choose to surround myself with the truly young at heart. They teach me, show me, how I can learn to forgive those who have wounded me. How to love those who I hate. That laughter will come and to remember that, even as I weep.

With children, you know you are truly forgiven when you can make them laugh again. That they really do love you and trust you. And that is something I need to do more of. I need to forgive. I need to let God make me laugh.

One Week. In one week today I will be leaving my eight little munchkins at Anfaani. These "socially disadvantaged children" have become my brothers and sisters, my babies, my saving grace and my home. They are so beautiful and I am going to miss them like crazy.

In three weeks today I will be boarding a plane heading to Canada. I will have two weeks back in Kasseh-Ada with all of our friends. I will also have a weeks time with my village family.

It's going to be weird. I'm excited, I'm anxious, I'm confused, I'm- everything.

I probably wont have a chance to update before heading back to Canada. So... I'll update you then!

Peace, love and pie


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Dear Ghana

Dear Ghana,

You, my dear friend, really know how to make an impression. You have taught me so much and opened my eyes to so many things.
I'm totally in love with you. I know, I know, to love a country is completely mad. You can never love me back- not in the way I love you.
You've intoxicated me with you smells and sights and sounds. The scents of tea bread and Milo in the morning make me swoon. Watching children dance and red earth rise in the wind captivates me. Hearing horns honking and the sellers in the market settles my mind (though I could do without the guinea fowl in the mornings).
You know how to celebrate, even in death. You know how to laugh and dance and sing and you always figure out a way to get me to join in.
You are beautiful. Beautiful in more ways than I can explain. Your tall grasses and flowers of astounding colours, your fruits of amazing flavours and your people of every shape and size are all a part of the wonderful kaleidescope that makes you such a beautiful place.
Now, before you let the flattery get to your head, you should know, sometimes, I can't stand you. Sometimes I want to leave you, to never see you again and to push you from my memory. When I sit at the hospital and see things that I would never see in Canada, I want to scream at you. When I see ribs on children, instead of clothes I want to cry with you.
Sometimes you cheat me.
Sometimes you take too many risks.
Sometimes you say the most aggravating and frustrating things.
You expose me to these things almost daily and you push me to a point where I think I am done with you completely.
But then you pull me back in.
Whether it be with a kiss from a child or with some really good wakeye, you manage to regain your hold on me and remind me why I love you.
You make me laugh and cry, and love and hate. Sometimes all in one day.
Ghana, I do love you. To quote Savage Garden- Truly, madly, deeply. The day that we will part from each other is coming closer, I know it will be a very sad day for me. I feel selfish in hoping it will be for you too. I feel conceited in thinking maybe you will miss me, when you have so many other things to focus on- other than a 19 year old white girl who lived in you for six months.

All I can really hope is that we will see each other again soon.

Well, that's all for now.

With much love,
Aryn Marie Otterbein

PS: Go Black Stars!!!!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


I know I know, I the point of a blog is for it to be updated.
I'm sorry I haven't written in a while.

And I'm sorry that this entry is going to end very quickly.
I really haven't been in the space to write about everything that has been going on in the past little while. I haven't quite debriefed my experiences for myself yet. But when I do, there will be a new entry.

But I will give a brief update on the more general activities that I have been participating in.

The last three weeks in the village were chanllenging, amazing, beautiful, sad and rewarding. I went through a lot of ups and downs in those three weeks and I'm incredibly sad that my time with my village family is over. My departure included hugs, laughter, well-wishes and a Fanta party.

The group and I were then off for travel time. This section of the program gives participants a chance to see more of the country and to learn about the past, the present and the future of Ghana.

First we learned of the past. We made our way to Cape Coast and we toured Cape Coast Castle. We learned of the architecture, Ghana at that time and of the horrible history of the slave trade in Ghana. We entered the dungeons where slaves were kept for a minimum of 6 weeks and we walked through the door of no return.

After Cape Coast we headed to Tamale, in the North. Tamale is where Mark and I will be doing our work placements once travel time is over. We spent the week there helping to prepare for a Christmas party that is hosted every year by Dr Abdulai, a great man who runs a free medical clinic. The party itself was a bit intense. I also visited my work placement, Anfaani Children's Home, and met the children and some of the staff working there. I also spent the majority of our time in Tamale recovering from a particularly nasty bout of malaria. Not a fun experience.

We then headed to Mole National Park. I'm pretty sure every white person in Ghana was at Mole while we were. It was bizarre. But we saw warthogs, baboons, antelope, monkies and ELEPHANTS! I love elephants and I felt like a kid in a candy shop when were stood about 20 metres away from them.

We then left at 4 o'clock in the MORNING to head for Nkoranza. We arrived at Operation Hand in Hand, a community for abandoned disabled children. It's a beautiful place which would explain why it was booked up. So the Flock moved to another hotel (run by the same management).

The next day, Caitlin and I made a rather spontaneous decision to go back to Kasseh-Ada to pick up our Christmas/Birthday packages. There had been complications with mine and I had to go pick it personally and if I didn't before Jan 2nd, they would send it back to Canada.

It was great to come home and see my family (who I had been missing very much).
We spent a day relaxing with Dinah (our host) and her neices and nephews who were with her for Christmas vacation.

We left the next day. December 31st/my birthday was really intense and I'm still not quite ready to write about it. You can read about it on Caitlin's blog though.

I've also posted new pictures on Facebook, as has Amanda.

I will write again when I'm settled again.
We're heading to an Eco village and then to Kumasi (boo!) for a retreat before we head off for our work placements.

I miss and love you all!


Monday, November 26, 2007

Back in Bedeku

Hello all!
I hope to find you all in good health and good spirits! I am in both right now. Life in Ghana (or at least the small parts of it I've seen) is beautiful. It's also ugly. I know, total contradiction but it's very true. When I look at the sky I see beautiful coconut trees kissing the clouds but at their bases I see garbage scattered all around. I admire my brothers beautiful black skin that it stretched over perfectly visible ribs. I revel in the strength of my beautiful mother but I have to remember that she must be this strong, just to survive.
Life here is so fragile- sometimes I fear one wrong move will shatter it completely.
There aren't as many young children here in Bedeku as I would like. But it seems that living as a child here doesn't last as long as it does in Canada. By age 6 or 7 you start heavy chores. My brother Jacob can carry a much larger bucket on his head than I can. It astounds me daily.
Even though we are in the dry season, it still rains at least once a week. I love it when it rains. Drops the size of toonies. My brothers and I lock ourselves in the cassava grinder workshop and we play games and talk. This is when I'm allowed to witness the moments when my siblings are actually children- until the rain stops. Don't worry, I still bring the children in them around to play and dance and laugh- and the adults don't argue. Sometimes my white privilege benefits the people around me.
We recently returned from a retreat in Nkawkaw- a very beautiful town in the Eastern region. While there we went to the Boti waterfalls (and swam, despite the danger signs), toured Kpong dam, and went up the mountains surrounding Nkawkaw. We were also educated on African traditional religion. It was a great time for us, spent laughing, planning and talking.
But I'm happy to be home. I was greeted with big hugs and beautiful smiles. Unfortunately for me, a very important person has gone to school in Sege, Gertie. Of course I am happy for her to continue school but now I'm all by myself and the selfish part of me wants her back.
A lot happened while I was gone, all of which I am still catching myself up on. It's good to be home though.
This is my last entry for at least three weeks.
Write me! It's nice to open your email to a big fat wad of emails from the people you love.
After the rest of our village stays, FLOCK will be headed off for travel time. Most likely Cape Coast and then to Tamale. When I return to technology I will update you on the adventures past and those still to come.
I love and miss you all!

Peace and groundnut soup,


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Moon in the Bucket

Look out there
in the bucket
with water unclean
A luminous plate is floating
The moon
dancing to the gentle night wind
All you who shout accross the wall
with a million hates
Look at the dancing moon
It is peace unsoiled
by the murk and dirt
of this bucket war

-Gabriel Okara

Monday, November 12, 2007

Ride on the Magic School Bus

"Do you guys only like me because I'm a bafoono (white)?"
"No. We love you because you are our sister."
-Richmon, my brother, to me

For anyone who has ever watched/read anything from the Magic School Bus series, they will remember Arnold. Arnold who always repeated, "I knew I should have stayed home today" as Ms. Frizzle shrunk her class down to the size of peas or white blood cells to help them better understand the circulatory system or how a polar bear stays warm. Regardless of the adventured Arnold would state that he "knew he should have stayed home" when a particularly rough leg of TMSB adventures began. Sometimes I have these moments.
I have been in Ghana for a month and a half. We are now in Accra, getting ready to go to Nkawkaw for a retreat and then we will head back to our homes/families for another three weeks. I have been living in the village for three weeks. I am in Bedeku, Caitlin in Luhuor, Mark in Gbantana and Amanda in Asigbekope (refer to their blogs for their adventures). But Bedeku is best. I am having the time of my life.
First, let me talk about my family...
I have three Yayos (grandmothers) that don't speak a stitch of English and think my attempts at Dangme (Dahngbeh) are hilarious (which they are). But according to Grace and Julie (friends in the next compound) the Yayos love me because I'm always smiling.
I also have Papa (Joseph), Mammi (Rebeccah), 12 brothers (Joshua 17, Samuel 18, Richard 11, Richmon 15, Jacob 6, Godson 10, Junior 10, Amateh 7, Joshua2 15, Richard2 17, Yona 11 and Christian 8) and one sister, (Gertie 16).
Joseph and Rebeccah are astoundingly amazing people (seriously, only Gertie, Richard and Jacob are their biological children). Joseph is a farmer of cassava, pepe, maise and millet. Rebeccah also farms with her husband as well as selling in Market on market days and is a hairdresser. The two of them have been astounding. They really comprehend why I am here and they have treated me with the perfect amounts of patience, respect, caring, humor and understanding. I can only hope that I've at least given them back a fraction of the warmth and happiness that they've given me.
My brothers. Are brothers. They are ridiculous, hilarious, stupid, sweet and disgusting. I spend a lot of time with them working in the cassava grinder and generally hanging out. They protect me (from annoying men), understand me (refusing to serve people who call me bafoono), teasing me (though I dish it out almost more than they do) and torturing me (capturing a bat and showing it to me after I expressed HOW MUCH I HATE THEM!!!!). I spend most of my time with Joshua, Richard and Ricmon but I love each of them. And the great thing about my little bros is that if one doesn't understand me, another is guaranteed to. Amateh and his inventions of very dangerous toys, Junior and his infectious laugh, Richard with his quite charm, and Godson with his paitence and teaching nature. Sometimes it feels like I'm living in a total boys club but luckily I fit in alright.
Gertie is the love of my life. She is the only girl in this mass of boys. At first she and I didn't know what to think of each other and now, we're almost inseparable. We just have to look at each other and we burst out laughing. She enjoys watching me struggle with Dangme and Banku and Fufu but eventually she helps me out. If I'm not with Gertie selling water in the market, we're lazing on the sleeping mats, reading through old school books or talking about nothing at all. She is totally beautiful and smart and she's a great resource for me when I have questions.
I have made friends, I have routine. I sleep later than everyone else (7am), eat, fetch water, bath, wash my clothes, visit friends/sell in market, come home, nap/rest, hang out with brothers, cassava grind/other chores, eat, goof around, bed (8pm).
I did get slightly sick at one point. I was put on Malaria treatment. I'm fine now. But it sucked because I didnt get to spend as much time with my family as I would have liked to. Laying in bed being sick as a dog was a definate "I should have stayed home" moment.
Don't get me wrong. I'm having the time of my life. But these moments sometimes come around and frankly-they suck! One day my Yayo called me over (remember, no English) but stated to me, in perfect English, "You bring my girl (Gertie) home with you. She needs a better life." I also found out through some detective work that I had been the cause of a series of cane-welts on my brother Richmon's back late for school because he was fetching my water for me when he realized I was too sick and weak to do it myself. I also cringe every time I hear "BRAFOONO!!" hollered at me and I feel like my white privilage badge is always glowing bright.
When I think about how the majority of my brothers are living with Joseph and Rebeccah because their parents couldn't afford them and Joseph makes an extra 60 pesewas (about 60 cents) a day with the cassava grinder, I am reminded of the fragile existence that I am living in.
I have moments where I close my eyes and hope when I open them, I will be standing in the Toronto airport and six months will be gone. Sometimes I think, "My life would be a lot easier if I hadn't even joined One World". Sometimes, all I want, more than anything in the world, is Cool Ranch Doritos. These are the moments when my inner Arnold is stating "I knew I should have stayed home today."
But then sometimes, (not always right away), I remember that at the end of the episode/book Arnold is smarterm and better off and knows more about the circulatory system or how a volcano works, more than anyone else because he lived it. He experienced it. Experiential learning through living.
So, even though I'm not the size of a pea or a flea or being baked into a pie, One World has been my Magic School Bus, and Ghana is my adventure that I am living and learning in (and like Ms. Frizzles class, sometimes I don't really belong in the situations I'm in). In the end, I chose this class and I am happier than I can ever remember being in my whole life. One thing I've learned from my village family is how to take the good with the bad. For that I am forever in debt to them.
Anyways, my time is up, I will be back at the end of the week so email me or comment down below! Tell me about home! Also, there are a few pictures on Facebook now.
I miss you and love you all!

PEace and Plantain,

Oh, Pamela, this makes you Ms. Frizzle

Monday, October 15, 2007

I Can't Think of a Creative Title Because it's Too Hot

This took me a lot longer to do that I had planned.
We couldnt get onto our blogs when we arrived in Accra (plus I wouldnt have known what to write at that time).
We are now in Bedeku, which is near Ada, doing our language lessons. In the mornings we walk to the school and take Dangme with the older students and then in the afternoon our teacher comes and we learn more. We are a week into the lessons and I still feel pretty useless. I know most of the important things I need to know and we get laughter and happiness when we can respond properly to a greeting but every so often we get one thrown at us and I just shake my head.
The day we arrived in Bedeku, Dinah (our village coordinator) threw four papers into the air and we each picked one. They had the names of the villages we would be staying at. Mine was Bedeku. I'm staying in the village that we are in right now. At first I was pensive about being so close to our village contact (Im literally a stones throw away) but now that I know the people around me and know the area (it's so totally fricken beautiful) Im really really really excited.
I better go because my time is almost up. I might write again at the end of the week with more details or I might not write for about four weeks. Im not sure. But just so you all know, Im healthy, Im happy and though I've already fallen off something that I was climbing (may have been our neighbours gate), I haven't hurt myself yet. This is a record. I've also found some small friends that live accross from us and man, these kids are so FLIPPIN cute!

Peace out for now,

Aryn/ Ouhi Dzifa (Jeefaah)