Friday, 30 March 2007

For all you late comers...

For those pals of mine coming to this blog after the fact, a few tips for blog virgins. As you will see the most recent 'posts' are shown first so you will have to scroll down and click back to read from the beginning or you can use the box on the right of the screen.

Please excuse the poor spelling and grammar - I had to type fast, the computers I used were a nightmare and all was against the clock, taking hours sometimes to get to the correct page, there was often no time to go back and read posts let alone spellcheck.

Feel free to leave comments if you need to, as I can still read them.

Enjoy and thanks for your interest my lovelies.


Thursday, 8 February 2007

and finally...

Until this trip, I’d had a natural ability to detach myself from difficulty, from my own and others and I know why – it hurts too much. I’ve walked a mile in another man’s shoes and those shoes stink and they’re bloody sore - I’d rather have my comfy slippers on thanks. My pockets are not deep enough and my will not strong enough. Perhaps Mother Theresa wasn’t a great woman but simply a different kind of one? I think the Carolyn A, Miller School will always be in my life, but if I stayed there too long I’d be sucked dry as a chicken bone. I’m not a natural at aid work, my skin is way too thin, but I feel that didn’t stop me from doing a decent job – I’ll allow myself that much. I think I have made a difference, quantifying the measure of that difference I can’t do, but to make a girl laugh, to tell her she is beautiful; to give a young man pride in his personality, to say to him that he has a great future; to instil confidence, to praise, scald, touch and hug is to convince them of their worth and to say that someone cares enough to do so. We all can never have enough love.

Last days.

Monday: It’s very western to get impatient waiting for something. in Africa you have to slip into ‘African Time’ which is a vague ‘maybe’ness of scheduling which exists for many, many reasons; the heat, no electricity, no transport, being delayed by someone else, or as Karrus puts it, “a refugee mentality”, (that is, many have a ‘victim’ mentality which replaces a drive to get things done in preparation for the elusive move back to Liberia) that prompts an annoying but understandable lethargy in some. So, in order to complete the handover notes I want to leave for the next volunteer in my post, I need to wait for someone who knows where someone else is, to go get a key from a home somewhere – a key that will open a door to the room with the computer which stores my notes. That is, if I can find the printer for the computer, so the notes can be put in a hardcopy file – but the printer is in a different room that is also locked. That is of course, if I can find paper to print on as the supply cupboard is … you guessed it locked with the two key owners not yet in school. Mind you, the ink may have run out and finding Hewlett Packard cartridge no.21 is like finding a black, liquid gold. That is of course, if the electricity comes on to power the effing computer on in the first place! Amazingly, all came together in the end and all was done. I also began planning some proposals; I’ve been thinking about creating new volunteer posts for the school. The more vols, the more income as we all make a donation to be here. Mr Ballah would like a summer school where kids who’ve fallen behind can go for extra classes. Also I think a post for vols looking for less responsibility and a shorter stay would work, it’s for those with more commitments back home. It’d be more in the vain of our ‘classroom assistant’, to aid kids needing extra help or those who are more capable but currently unchallenged. I’ll work on these proposals from home.
Games club with grades 1 & 2 was a disaster; I’d lost my little toy plastic whistle, so had to speak (shout) instructions and also tried out a drama game I’d never taught before. fifty kids in the heat, distracted and hyper, they were like puppies too big for a box, cute but annoying – only just held it together. My final Girls’ Club; the theme for the term being ‘Sanitation and Hygiene’ they’re working on posters to tell children to put rubbish in bins, (bins made of wood donated by Pen, yet to be finished by the boys) currently everything’s thrown on the floor. Tried very hard to pretend not to be there at the start of the session, to see if they could run it themselves. “What’s first?” I said, there was a long, long painful silence before I caved in. An emotional end to the meeting, from me of course, when I told them how proud I was of each of them, I’ve never said truer words.

Tuesday: Was awake at 4.30am and waited in a malaise for the dawn. Went to the internet cafĂ© to weblog and check in with BA, but failed to do either due to the crapness of the place. Had a nostalgic last porridge breakfast with Pen at The Brotherhood, said goodbye to ‘broken leg chick’ whose leg is much better. Pottered around at school as had done all I needed to do the day before. I went to a teacherless classroom of crazed kids and made up a story, a bad cross between Rapunzel and Snow White, they where enraptured. Noticed whispers and badly concealed plans were being hatched for my departure. Did some faux ballroom dancing with the kids at recess, they found it hilarious for a while but then were quickly disinterested. All just passing the time until goodbye. Then all of a sudden, the kids are herded out into the courtyard to stand on it’s four sides, four rows deep. I angrily tell myself not to cry – crying is uncommon here, they say you only cry when your heart is broken and they are shocked if they see you well up. I stand in the middle of them with Mr Ballah and Pastor George (the Chair of the Board – all very African), with the rest of the staff – words are said and I’m handed a certificate. The children sing me a song – the sound is loud and yes, overwhelming. I still don’t cry, just leak a little. Speeches go on, I spot the odd face wanting a private wave and I oblige. I give them a photograph of Trafalgar Square, it’s wide and sepia and beautiful - I say this is London, where I live but my heart will be here with you, so look at it in the library and remember that I remember you. I’m given a gift of an African dress, the kids cheer and laugh and the staff say I look beautiful. It’s over and I’m relieved, I’m swamped by hands and requests for email and “don’t forget me Meez Dee!”. Then, there’s more murmurs. Pen tells me that the Social Club have planned their own ceremony – that’s what the boy’s were up to a few days ago. The library is re-jigged to set the chairs in rows and I’m asked to sit at the front with Pastor George and Karrus. Jerry, a twenty year old teacher who’s been supportive to me from the start leads the children in proceedings. Yessou, the taller than me, thirteen year old girl gets up to speak but breaks (she just been diagnosed with diabetes), I get up and hold her while she composes herself to speak, I say that my tears are infectious and I apologise, but that in my country tears can mean many things, they can mean you are happy, sad, or very proud, I say I am all of these. Then Elizabeth, a round faced girl speaks intelligently and articulately, she hasn’t attended many Club meetings because she has to cook for her family but I encourage to come whenever she can. Then Toklah Fah the handsome, stoic Chair of the Boys’ Club, shows unusual confidence in saying words that I will never forget. Rufus then hands me a gift from them – these kids who have nothing had pulled together to give me something. I shake with the effort of staying composed. It’s a gaudy necklace with wooden earrings and matching bracelet, exactly the kind of Mother’s day present that’s wonderfully awful and priceless. Mr Hunter, a sceptical miserable teacher vows that everyone will endeavour to continue the Clubs when I go, so if he’s cracked then there’s hope that the kids will get the support they need. I have to get out for a while so Moses, a Canadian newbie volunteer takes me to see the newly completed on-camp accommodation for future Ikando vols. It’s a welcome distraction and the neighbours have a cute dog that reminds me of mine and home. Then back to school and I choose to hang on for the start of Boy’s Club before leaving for the airport. I collect my bag and Pen offers to walk me back to the Holiday Feeling and see me off. The boys are working away on their waste bins, arguing over a wooden plane. I slip away, wanting to wish them a genuine ‘good luck’ for the future but knowing the thought would clamp my throat so I don’t even try. Yards away from them and almost home free. I hear a call, “Meezz Dee!”, I can only half turn and wave, reluctant to let my boys see my broken heart.
At the Holiday Feeling, Emmanuel and Brumskine (an artist who I commissioned to do a watercolour of the school) are there to see me off. I leave my clothes to the ladies who work there, but I’ve made a special connection with one of them, Theresa, she’s the thin, mouse-like woman with the story told earlier about leaving her brother at the roadside when she walked to Ghana. We would sit and talk together when she was without the other women and I was without the other volunteers. We would sit as people not divided by circumstance; the night she told me her story she sat dry eyed, even when recalling her children. I had given her some money days before, the only person I felt compelled to help financially in a substantial way, she has a quiet simplicity and integrity that draws me to her. Now we sat together in silence waiting for the car to come. The car was on ‘African Time’ of course, so I rechecked my bag and asked Pen to do all the things I’d forgotten to do - then Theresa suddenly called me into a room. She talked in her poor pigeon English and was saying something about the money I’d given her, I thought the inevitable request for more was coming but she then said clearly, “The money you have given me will pay for this…”, she pulled at the edge of her vest top to reveal a large, egg sized lump at the side of her small breast. “They will take a test to see what it is.” The lump looked hard, unlike a cyst. “Just the test?” I say, “How much to take it out?” she shakes her head, “Two point two million cedis.”. (An everyday meal for us on camp costs four to ten thousand cedis and that’s expenditure beyond their everyday pocket) She could never earn that amount of money. I empty my pockets giving her all I have. The car arrives and I’m saying bye’s. I hug Theresa. Her heart breaks as we sob onto each other’s necks. I get into the car and don’t look back.

Nuch Baker

Karrus Hayes, the founder of the school (see took me to meet a young boy who is HIV+. On the way we stopped at his home so I could meet his own three month old daughter, one of three girls. Karrus lives as most on the camp, one room in a house divided for others to share, his wife changing their daughter’s nappy on the foam ‘mattress’ on the floor. There’s just enough room in there for us to stand as I hold and coo at the baby. The conditions he lives in are a testimony to the fact that he sacrifices everything to help others.
We continue on to meet Nuch Baker, a six year old who’s mother had died due to AIDS in 2005. He’s being cared for by his mother’s friend. I don’t notice him at first, he’s behind a table selling bits and bobs with his carer beside him. He was sat quietly with knees together balancing a bowl of rice and potato greens in his lap. He was confused by my presence but politely waved a hello. He looked small, the build of a four year old, so frail and moving slowly, his skin like tracing paper. His hair was brittle and a strange colour, the tone of an elderly man before going grey. Karrus explained that he needs sponsorship for anti-retro virus medication and the fare to get it to the camp clinic. In all $9 per month, I figure that’s about £7? I’m already donating to the school and responding to some other stories that have fallen to me, so if anyone is interested in helping Nuch, let me know.

Sunday, 4 February 2007


It's true that every one has a story, we all have a past which helps form our present. Some have trauma, hardship or misfortune, some have sadness, pain or loneliness; some are blessed with love, joy and contentment. Most have a combination of the above gelled together by circumstance. In the diversity work I've done in businesses, we look at the factors that make us who we are. One piece of the puzzle - which is often glossed over - is Geographical Location, i.e. the place we are born and where we live.
The people of Buduburam too have stories, but the time of their birth and the random handout of fate meant that their mothers sweated and screamed to push them out into a continent of hardship and a region destined to give them horrors and displacement.
As people have got to know me, their stories slowly unfold only prompted when the moment is apt and with, I hope, sensitivity. On the surface you can fool yourself into believing that everyone is fairly ok, they mostly dress ok, they have an infrastructure of sorts and a routine, people seem to be getting by. But if you look deeper, really see that they're not slim but thin; look into their eyes and notice the desperation behind the greeting, the pride concealing pain. I could relate the details of where the stories were told to me, the atmosphere and silences; I could retell how they spoke with emphasis and colour or with muted awkwardness. Some spoke with great gesture, smiling to reassure that 'they're fine now', others find it harder to conceal the trauma and a flick of the hand from a heavy slouch gestures to their minds to halt the redding of their eyes.
I'm not a reporter - it's not my place to poorly regurgitate the truth of these refugees lives, but there is a commonality to the stories outside of 'Geographical Location': Violence. The ingredients may alter; my mother ... my sister ... brother ... me; I was abandoned ... betrayed ... captured; they mutilated me ... tortured ... killed. The stories can differ so, thus making them freshly horrific: The intellectual, confident 21 year old who has become a pal to me, he jokes while he says he was told to lie on a pile of dead bodies to be more easily shot, but his refusal to do so and ability to talk to his captors meant he instead became their 'pet', at the age of six. The matriarchal woman who we sometimes go to for food who was bound so tightly her upper arms bear the rope scars. The seventeen year old boy who quietly, bitterly confesses he has thoughts of suicide because his mother, brother and sister have not eaten for days again and he doesn't know what to do about it, feeling caught between boy and manhood. The gentle lady who works where I stay, such soft features and usually playful eyes - she was forced to leave her brother's body at the side of the road on the walk from Liberia to Ghana. He'd been bound in chains and set alight.
SO many stories; most are separated from siblings, parents or children but pray that wherever they are, they are 'doing well'.
Yes, all of us have a story, but the people of Budu are in the thick of theirs and are still hungry, still sick, still waiting for a miracle to take them away from Ghana.

Wednesday, 31 January 2007

Allow me to introduce you ...

The children are individuals to me now, no longer a mass of orange and black uniforms but separate faces and personalities. Particularly the kids in the Social club:

Rufus - so eager to please, one of the older boys who likes to take control, I was told he had terrible concentration which is true, during the drumming lesson i'd
arranged for them, he kept looking at me, waiting to catch my eye for a
grin, but he'd totally miss an instruction and be stupidly out of
rhythm with the rest. Yesterday he gathered the boys together to call a
meeting of their own - without me!!! What a milestone, I've been
pushing and pushing for them to work, think and create independently and with a week to go they're getting it. I said "what's the meeting about?", "Oh, we'll tell you after we've had it". Fabulous.

Yessou - a very tall stoic girl, voted as Chair for the Girls' Club, she immediately comprehends a situation and acts, most you have to repeat an instruction twice or three times, for the slower ones four or five, for those living on another planet, six or seven times, after that 'figure it out or copy her' times. Yessou can always be relied upon which is such a help, i'm guessing she has a lot of responsibility at home. At the moment she's suffering from
large sores on her body which could be due to infection or poor diet
and malnutrition, or both. the rare moments she breaks into a smile are

Gege - a handsome, camp boy who seems to be the butt of jokes sometimes, but he gives as good as he gets and has a warm sunny personality. although he tries and tries, he's totally usless at all the pratical things we've done - no rhythm on the instruments, usless with a saw but he's popular and kind. I saw him with his baby brother out of school and he approached with an unusual confidence that not all of the students have.

Meme - one of my favourites, I find it impossible to understand her verbally, she talks in a wild explosion of consonants and gestures but I think she finds it difficult to understand me too, so initially we clashed a little. But then a shared twinkle came into our eyes as i realised that she is a natural comic - the class clown. she mimics other kids and teachers hilariously, gurning her lithe, strong
body into odd shapes for emphasis. she's bossy but in a jokey way so
the girls love her. During their music session, like me, she has to
sing an octave lower in the high bits and does it with gusto, less to get a laugh but just to make herself giggle. We recognise the comedy in each other and she lets me
take the mickey out of her, for example one of the girls said, "Meezz
Dee!, take a pitchore!!", I said I couldn't because I took a picture of
Meme and it broke the camera. Realising, that it's a joke, Meme laughs
loudly first, well before the others who take quite some time to see i'm not serious.

A boy whose name i can't remember now - he reminds me of my friend Dale
back home, tiny and light skinned, a real charmer. His body is lazy to hit puberty but when it does, watch out girls! Again a joker, his size has made him so. One of the girls told me not to bother talking to him, with a dismissive flick of her wrist she said, "Meezz Dee, he's SO short!"

Josephine - a petite little thing with a protruding under bite giving her face a comic look. Apparently, she's the cleverest
girl in the school and I know it's true, she told me how to spell 'hygiene'.
Her smile is beautiful and she's always interested; her mother had to
be persuaded to let her attend Social Club because she, like many, has work at home. It'll be a travesty if she can't afford to go to high school.

Phillip - a gangley teenager, odd looking, steady and shy smiling. He wrote a letter to miss Pen (the boys have taken a shine to her! she gets gifts and long looks, not jealous at all...)in the letter he wrote his story, long
and detailed, perfect, painstaking hand writing. He told of his
father's death and his move to the camp with his mother and sister, of
how his mother fell out with her own sister and then his mother became
ill. after a year she agreed to 'wed' a man so he would get her well
and when she was better she had to 'wed' other men to feed Phillip and
his sister - she became pregnant and was turned out by the man. How she
finally reconciled with her sister and had a baby boy, but this aunt
believes that Phillip is a witch and has taken her 'travel key' that
she hasn't been anywhere because of him. that this aunt is spreading it
around that he is a witch and that he is desperate for help. of course
he is looking for the holy grail everyone here is 'SPONSORSHIP' - the elixir
of contentment; regular money from someone, somewhere. Phillip finishes
Grade 6 this year and will then have to find money for school fees to
go to high school - every child in the school, every child on camp is
in the same position, just maybe on different rungs of the ladder.

These are just seven of the 400 plus. The children of the Carolyn Miller School make me smile everyday, they are giving me so much, to say it's rewarding is an understatement. As I've said before, the adults are incredibly complex an difficult to fathom, the children are complex too, but they have an honesty and directness that is comforting. I'm at my happiest here when with them. yesterday a
new volunteer asked me what i felt about leaving - of course i want to
go home, I am not a natural at basic living and hot climates - but when
she asked me that question, for the first time I felt a huge sense of
guilt. These kids have come so far in such a short time, from not being
able to arrange themselves into a circle to planning private meetings
without me! They've responded so quickly to the team / confidence
building what could be achieved in a year? What could be achieved if I was here permanently. Don't worry folks, it ain't gonna happen, but that's where the guilt kicks in. I appeal to all the workshop leaders out there reading this, any playworkers, arts teacher's, actor's with corporate training experience to sign up and carry on this work - these kids need You!!

"Is the Army of God ready to march?!"

This was the cry of two late middle aged white women passing me at the
Holiday Feeling as I sat taking in my early morning Yorkshire tea. They
were addressing the group of young black men all clutching at their
Bible's waiting for them to arise for the day. These women refuse to
catch my eye for a polite 'morning' nod wishing to engage only with
those easily identifiable as maliable.
They are seriously one step away from a the twin set an pearls type,
all flowing skirts, cropped hair and earrings. One of them was also
overheard to say' "I'm no ORDINARY sponsor!" playing as written
earlier, into the deepest desires of the people here. I am of course referring
to The Missionary. Now, to say that the hoards of missionaries here are
truly preaching to the converted is a huge fucking understatement.
Every morning the Mosque belches out a cry followed not far behind by
the church services, now I'm talking 4am in the morning. But as one
women said, "if we didn't have Jesus, we'd all be crazy". My atheism is
kept private of course, the conversations following that revelation
would be like walking into a room full of mouse traps Tom & Jerry
style, funny but painful. So the few times I have been ask directly
(because I'm 'of colour' - they don't see me as black - they assume i'm
a Christian) I say I'm a Buddhist and very happy thank you and that
usually sends people off satisfyingly confused. But having said that, I
have huge respect for their right to religion and as requested ask the
of the Social Club to lead us in prayer after every session. The faith
in Jesus here occupies everything, all the shack store fronts are named
'In His Blessed Grace Goods' or 'Jehovah is God Fashion' or 'In the
Name of Jesus Sewing', in fact they are more inventive that my memory
here allows, most will preface and conclude a conversation with a
praising word for Him. There is a myriad of denominations from baptist
to catholic, Jehovah's witnesses to Islam, Rasta's to ... well you get
the point. Of course the organised religious groups here have also
brought money, the churches are used for social and community
activities and some of the missionaries not only preach but try to help the body as well as the spirit with practical assistance. But it's the missionary's
bashing their doctrines with blind insensitivity that i can't abide. A
steady stream of them arrive from the USA, all 'living in His glory'
and 'driving out the evil'. One of my biggest regrets in life will be
missing the opportunity to see Tom the Missionary do his 'thing'. He
was here for a couple of weeks, originally from California he's now
living in Israel as part of a mission who's 'thing' is to learn the
bible by heart. He was preaching at 'The BIG house' (BIG = believe in
god - i kid you not. the BIG house meaning something very different to
a Celt) I was desperate to go witness one of his TWO four hour sessions
of verbatim per day, but I messed up and then he was gone. tom looked
like a teenage Herman Munster and turned out to be easy to talk to as I
think he senses who he can preach at and when to just chill - a are
quality in a missionary. But most are like brainwashed automatons, armed with optimism, their version of the bible and the unwavering belief that they are RIGHT inviting swathes of young black, mostly men, back to their rooms at the end of the day for extra curricular
worship. It's like they're getting off on coming to the 'underdeveloped
world' to teach the natives how to be saved. Piss off. It'sracism and ingnorance at it's worst because it does not believe itself to be so. A Canadian, looking like an ugly Brian Adams said to us, "i'm a missionary, not a humanitarian." well, that says it all.