Friday, November 14, 2014

Off To Do My Volunteer Teaching in Hanoi

The day of my trip as arrived. The Polar Express wind storm in Portland last night was brutal in some areas with lots of power outages and down trees. Today, Wednesday, the wind doesn't seem to be so bad, thank heavens but you don't want to be outside for very long. I feel sorry for those working outside this week. Tomorrow is suppose to be colder but I should be long gone by then.

Most of my thoughts and efforts today were spent making sure I had everything done before I left and packing. For the first time, I am planning to take just a carryon bag, no checked bag. Last year I took the same trip but almost didn't make it on the plane because of a huge error on my part. I went to check in with Alaska and she told me I didn't have a valid passport!! I thought, that is impossible. But I had accidentally brought my expired passport. WOW!! Into a panic program I flew. I had to go back home and get my current passport. Somehow I made it. So even though I had checked several times today, I was a bit nervous until I got the boarding pass. Now, I am waiting to board my flight to Los Angeles.

My two hour flight was FULL. Alaska Airlines encouraged anyone to give their bay/carryon to them and they will transport it to LAX and you could easily pick it up at the exit door. To me, it is a no brainer. Why would you want to hassle and wrestle putting your bag in the overhead compartment when you can just have them take care of it. I guess if you have very valuable items. Me, on the other hand, just took a few things out of my carryon, and checked it. It worked slick.

Now at LAX and getting my boarding pass to Hong Kong and Hanoi. While in line, I met a Vietnamese man who is retired but is going back to Hoi An to honor his teachers. WOW!! He goes every year. I think that is Great!! I told him what I was going to do too. After getting my boarding passes, I had to go through Security. Even though I have Global Entry Pass now, it still can be stressful. First, there is a looonnnnggg line. But it moves quickly. Some how as I get near the checkin part, I can't find my boarding passes. Eek! So then I begin to look around. I spot a employee holding someone passes. He asks me to tell him my name first. haha! I guess they slipped out of my bag while is was serpentining the masses of flyers. Moving into the real inspection now, I have my hand swabbed. I ask about it and he tells me they are checking for explosives. I don't think they do that in Portland. Later, I get swabbed again. Now, I go through the actually screening and I was chosen for a random screening. That made three times. Lucky me. But finally through and now waiting for actual boarding..

My 14 hour flight was good but always grueling to endure. I find it always difficult to sit for that long even though you can sort of get up and walk about. I try to sleep but no position seems very comfortable, so it is always interrupted sleep. I did meet a Vietnamese man who lives in CA and comes back to Vietnam to organize a special Teacher Day in his home town. He also brings clothing to the needy countryside near his home town.

My last fight was only 2 hours thankfully. There were many vacant seats which seems so unusual for me these days. But in this last flight I thought about how I really like to travel. I enjoy seeing the sights and meeting lots of different people. It makes me think about how blessed I am.

After I arrived in Hanoi, I had to get my Visa On Arrival. I had my paper work all completed already so I thought it was going to be just a matter of minutes. No No!! Welcome to Vietnam! Even though they took my paperwork second, I waited and waited for them to call my name. Here is where I have to practice my patience. Finally after about 45 minutes, my name was called and I was out the door to find the hotel taxi.

The drive to the hotel took about 50 minutes. It seemed like the traffic was less than last year. Hanoi is about to open a new airport in about 47 days, plus there is a new road to the airport that will open soon. All signs of an emerging country. I did sleep after checking into the hotel and now I feel rested. Weather is great as about 70 degrees with no rain but soon I will busy volunteering. Hopefully more to come later.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Weekend with Gonzolo and Family

I managed to find a professor at UTEQ who I originally meet in 2008. He is not an English teacher but teaches in another department. I also saw him in 2010 when I was here. At that time, he took me to his son Gonzolo's kindergarten graduation and then out to lunch, where I met his wife and other two children, Leo and Diego. So when I found him in his office during the week, he asked me if I had plans for the weekend. I told him " not yet" so then he asked me about going to a family gathering with him on Saturday. I agreed, so on Saturday afternoon, he picked me up at the hotel.

First, he drove to his house to get his wife and children. He lives in a nice neighborhood and has a modest house that was recently remodeled. His wife Lucy works too so they are quite busy. The children go to a bilingual school which teaches English, so his children could speak to me in English. Now, the children's ages are 8, 6, and 3. It was while I was at the house that I learned that we were all going to a family reunion.

It was a short drive to the reunion. This is a reunion the family has every year with Gonzolo's fraternal side of the family. We were one of the first family's to arrive but soon the rented hall was almost full. Maybe about 200 people. I was introduced to many people, like Gonzolo's parents, sisters and and uncles. All were very nice. All brought food, so it was like a potluck. I especially like the shrimp cocktail and spicy marinated pork. I did worry that the food might make me sick but that never happened. My other concern was the alcohol. I tried to drink very little but all kinds of drinks offered, especially tequila. I didn't want to be sick and hungover. haha! Later they sang songs-Karaoke-some amazing singers. Everyone seemed to get along and it was quite enjoyable..

The next day, the family took me to Pena de Bernal. This is the third largest monolith in the world. It was about one hour drive to Bernal. The town is small but full of little shops and easy to walk around. It was good to get some exercise and the weather was great, as usual. The hike up the mountain is quite a challenge and I only made it about halfway up. The path is not that steep but the surface is very uneven and some places it is like mountain climbing almost. Lots of people were climbing that day with us too. It was a good experience and I thought my legs might be sore the next day, but I felt fine.

Some volunteers have been sick in our group but so far I have avoided the malady, thank heavens. University students have been great, with a wide range of speaking ability. The teachers we are working with at the university are very happy to have us in there rooms too, so it has been a great experience. I would gladly recommend this city for vacation and travel. It is safe and very friendly..
In a few days, I will be home again. I hope the sun will be shinning in Portland. :)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

First week of teaching

This week has been chocked full of activities with teaching and everyday has a slightly different schedule, which keeps you on your toes. Some days start at 7 am with class, others at 9 am. On Wednesday, we went to a new univeristy which has just been built. UTEQ, a school I have been to twice before, seems familiar as I recognize many of the teachers and know the layout of the buildings. The students are new but seem the same as previous times. Some of the teachers remember me too which is nice as they have had a many volunteer teams here. One teacher at the school has lived in Portland and Alaska, but I have yet to meet her.
Generally, because we are such a large group of volunteers, about 4 of us go with the teacher to the English class. Then the teacher divides the class into four small groups, and assigns each volunteer one group. So generally, I am working with about 4 to 5 students during that hour. The students level of English can range from basic beginning to intermediate. Most are shy to begin with but it doesn't take long for them to relax and then they begin to try to converse. These students are getting an accosiate degree after two years and will work in manufacturing. Most all students are eager to practice their English and appreciate of having volunteers in the room. Some groups I have had twice now so I am getting to know them better. There are about 5000 students at the school and each student will take 5 terms of English out of 6 terms for two years.

In the evening, the group of us go out to dinner. It is always a challenge to find a restaurant that can accommodate us all. This city has many restaurants and the historic colonial area is easy to walk around but we are constantly lost or walking in circles. hehe! So far, we have always tried to eat ethnic and local. The other day, we ate polzole which is very popular with the locals. We have eaten enchiladas and tamales too. I think I might be eating too much and not getting enough exercise. hehe!

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013


I left Portland on Saturday, Feb. 9 for two weeks in Queretaro Mexico with Global Volunteers. My flight out of Portland was on time, landing in Houston for a connecting flight to Queretaro. United Airlines only allowed 45 minutes between flights which is great IF the flight is on time and you can manuever the maze of Bush Int'l in Houston. I worried that it would not be enoough time, so as I got off the first flight, I immediately ask about the second flight and where to go. United didn't really give me much help, just pointed me in the direction of the gate. So, I tried not to walk fast, talking moving walkways where I could. I did have to go ride the shuttle to another terminal first but then I saw the sign for the gate. I thought I was home free. But the distance to the gate was quite far. As I arrived at the gate, they were already boarding but at least I made it. On this flight, I thought it was strange that the airlines person spoke no Spanish.

I am staying at the Hotel Hildago, a very nice colonial hotel in the central part of the city. I am here with Global Volunteers to teach English for two weeks. I have been here twice before so it is nice to reacquiant with some of the teachers as before, and even some of the hotel staff. This team of volunteers is large-twenty two - my largest team ever. I know about 5 of the volunteers from previous GV programs, like Vietnam, Italy, and China. Also, I know the program leader so this makes it all easier. The weather here is ideal. During the day it probably gets to about 85 and at night I need a blanket to sleep. Sunny all day and everyday so far.

To get to the school, we all ride in a large university bus. The ride to the school is about 30 minutes on the outskirts of the town. Queretaro has a population of about 2 million, with 5 Walmarts, a Costco, and Sam's Club. I haven't been to these stores but I have seen some of them on the bus ride. At the school, the English teachers seemed thrilled to have volunteers in the room. Because there is a lot of volunteers, each teacher has about 4 volunteers then we each work with a small group of about 4-6 students. Pretty ideal and this may spoil me for other programs in the future. Hehe!

This is like a community college where students get an associate degree. It is possble to get a BA or BS but few do. Most try to get a job after two years. The students all have to take 5 terms of English and finish the two years after 6 terms. Even with 5 terms of English, most can't converse in English. In working with my students, they all seemed pleased to listen to me, but frequently, they didn't understand or had to have me repeat, which is fine. Some freely admitted to me that English was there most difficult subject but still tried very hard to speak to me. Generally , the regular teacher gave me free rein to talk to them about anything and everything. They were all so honest and open so it was very refreshing. Most of my students have been young men, only one group had a majority of women.

So far, I have only taught two days and 5 hours per day, but still fairly warn out at the end of the day. We eat out as a group every night. It is a challenge for us to find a restaurant that can accommodate such a large group. But so far, we are finding plenty of good food.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

I am home now, enjoying the cool weather, such a change from Senchi Ferry, Ghana. My three weeks in Ghana were wonderful and I would like to go back again someday.  Now that I am home, I find myself thinking about my time there.

So here is some of my reflections:
1. Water- everyday I had bottled water, as much as I needed. I couldn't drink their water as it would have made me sick. I even used water to brush my teeth. If I carried my water in my hand when I was walking, sometimes someone would ask for it. Or at the school, during break, maybe a student would ask me for it. I did give it away one day as I was leaving the school, but it didn't seem fair to all the others. In my walks through the village, I would see some common water source, like a pipe or pump. The pipe would be where nearby neighbors would come to carry water back to their house for cooking, or drinking or cleaning.

2. Food- These people eat a lot of cassava or taro root, beans, and rice. Not much meat, only occasionally. The goats that roam the village-and there were lots of them- are not milked but eaten after a certain age. I heard they had pigs but only saw a few. One day, on my walk to school, which I did every morning, I saw a man who had just butchered a pig. The only thing that was left was the head of the pig as he sold it all to his neighbors. He offered me the head! I said "no thanks". Later on my walk back from school, one woman offered me some pork that she had cooked that day which was nice but I couldn't take a chance on that either. Other food that seemed to be plentiful there are yams and mangos. Mango trees grow everywhere and I was there during that season. To pick the mangos, you generally use a long stick to know it off the stem, then try to catch it as it falls to the ground. I love mango and could eat it everyday so that was always like dessert for me and the other volunteers.

3. Weather- Everyday was hot, probably over 90 degrees. Luckily, we had A/C in the hotel that kept us cool at night for sleeping but during the day, there was no relief. My shirt and pants would be soaking wet after a few hours. Students would often ask me if I was cold sometimes. When I answered "no" , they didn't know whether to believe me or not because if the temperature dropped a few degrees below 90, they would wear long sleeve shirts and sweaters. haha! I was still hot and I was always looking for a breeze.. I will not be complaining about Oregon weather for a long time.

4. School - I was fortunate to work in three different schools while I was there. All were different yet the same in many ways. The first school, a private school, was the most crowded. Students there sat desk to desk with only one narrow aisle. This school rooms with thatched roofs but no walls. The teacher I worked with there was Daniel, who had been teaching for 7 years. I thought he was a very good math teacher who came to school on Saturday to teach those that need review or who ever showed up. He did this for free. His salary is only about $35 USD per month.  The other school had less students per class and more room structure, but very little lighting. So when it rained, the room was very dark, and the tin roof made it impossible to hear. The students in all three schools had to copy from the board the textbook, which the teacher had written during class. Generally, students had few textbooks. For the most part, they wrote everything in pen. If the teacher was not in the room, students monitored themselves with no apparent problems. There were break or recess times, and then the students would be free to leave the class. Many didn't eat breakfast and so they would buy food about 10:30 am from mothers who had set up food stalls outside under the trees. Some students might walk a great distance to find some favorite food.  One thing that is still used in the schools is "caning". Teachers can but not all do use a cane or switch to punish students for things like tardiness, or misbehavior in the class. I never saw it actually being done but others did see it.  One teacher told me he didn't do it to his students. Students do seem to have great respect for their teachers and behavior didn't seem to be a problem.

5. Machete- everyone had one or used one. Students often brought their machetes to school because another common school punishment was cutting the grass in the field with a machete. The lawn mower had broken at one school so entire classes were in the field hacking away on tall grass with their machetes. I never saw an accident or anyone use it in a threatening way. I saw some older students use it to chop wood. Another man used his for butchering the pig.

6. Walking or using the "tro-tro" is the most common way to get around. Tro-tro is a minivan that drives up and down the highway stopping for people standing on the side of the road.  These vans are well used, beat up looking heaps for the most part but still running. Drivers are interested in getting as many people in them as possible and driving as fast as possible. In the small towns, you could see vendors and tro-tro's everywhere. I saw lots of broken down cars, vans and trucks and some very serious accidents.

7. Everyone carries everything on their head. I saw propane tanks, sewing machines, and big water buckets, all being transported on their heads. Most of the time they use a small rag or cloth that sits on their head in a form of a circle. Then, the food or article is placed on top of the head and off they walk. I thought this must improve their posture as they all walk so straight. And they look very relaxed and comfortable doing it.

8. I don't know if all Ghana is the same but this was a very religious area. Every business sign was religious in some way. Like for sewing, a sign would say "God's working Hands". Or if you asked someone how they were , they would say "fine , by the grace of God".  In the school, there was worship for all every Wednesday for one hour and they often prayed in class, either with the teacher leading or a student.

I hope this gives you some idea of my appreciation and experience there. I met very few people who were not friendly and social. All the students were eager and friendly, almost thrilled to talk to me. I did feel somewhat cut off from the world because of no news or computer access. And at night, there was really nothing to do except read a book- one TV station with local Ghanian shows. But there is something about helping in this village that gives pleasure and satisfaction.

I may write more if I think of something else to tell you. I hope you can understand my thoughts. :)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Only a few more days left in Ghana

June 7, 2012

Today began as normal with breakfast, conversation, and then off to our perspective schools. Ann and I walked to the Methodist Jr. Hi. Today started out with Worship so all the upper grades congregated into one large room. Part of the service was given by a minister who had some visual aids to help the students follow the bible story. After the homily, some selected students started beating the drums and others came to the front of the room to dance and proclaim their deep faith. It was also at this time, that the collection plate was brought out.

After worship, I worked with Mr. Theophilus in one math class and one social studies class. Tomorrow the students will have a test so they have to bring their own paper or pay the teacher for a copy. The teacher will type the test.

After lunch, I walked back to the library. As usual Fredrick and his buddy Joseph came. Also, Mohammed who I met on my walk the day before. Mohammed had asked me for money so he could eat. I didn't give him money but I did ask him to come to the library so I was happy to see him. It has to be so difficult to learn when you are hungry. I did ask Samuel, the librarian, about him and he told me this is true.

Pam, our leader, took photos of all of us reading to the students in the library. Students were more than thrilled to pose for these photos. When I walked in the community, if I have my camera out, primary children ask me to take their photos and they are totally satisfied when I show them the photo.

After the library, I walked over to the only copy place in the village to get some copies printed of a few photos. I will pick them up tomorrow. From there, I decided to walk the long way home, I only walked a short distance, when a young woman comes out of a house yelling my name. I was in her class today and she wanted to know if I would be there tomorrow. So tomorrow, I will have to look for Barbara. Next to her house, was a young boy working a rather old loom. He told me he was making "kente cloth". It looked beautiful. He is really the first one I saw with a loom in the community. Then down the road, outside a church, there was brass band practicing. I think there were 5 young men with trombones trying to create music. They were working with a teacher but it sounded like this might be there first lesson.

I continued walking down the road which has light traffic when I hear someone yelling my name. I look back and see a man far away. I can't really see his face but I then started towards him. He starts running towards me with his machete and black rubber boots. I try to walk faster saving him some steps. Then I recognize him; it is Mr. Seth the headmaster of the private school. He joins me on my walk because he is going to his farm to check on the crops. I wanted to see his farm, but he said I was not dressed properly as I had on short pants, so we parted ways. As I continued on, I saw two groups washing there "tro-tro's in unique ways. One tro-tro was parked on a slope, with all the doors wide open. The driver was splashing buckets of water inside the van. Another tro-tro group was collecting water from the large stagnant puddles near the road but washing the outside of the van. Neither had a faucet with a hose which would make this task easier.

Finally, as I neared the guest house, I saw several men working on making a wood coffin. He was using a plane to shape and smooth the lid of the coffin. Maybe it was a coffin that was going to be used soon.

Thought for the day : Winding down but still trying to maintain energy until the end.

- Posted while traveling the world

My weekend retreat

June 4, 2012

Friday morning began with our usual breakfast at 7 am. Today, Bless's six year old daughter was in the kitchen but was too shy to talk to "abalones" or white people. Pam did get manage to talk to her for a bit though in the kitchen.

Today we were leaving for Coconut Grove Resort in Elmina which is about 5 plus hours from St. James Guesthouse. We were going there for the weekend. Isaac and George were driving us in an air-conditioned van. The drive began by going towards Accra so we were seeing some of the same scenery that we saw before but it still intrigues us. In Accra , traffic stalled to a crawl and Isaac's van developed a problem. After stopping and having a mechanic do some minor adjustments we were off again but without A/C. There were many several toll booths that caused traffic to snarl and come to a grinding halt. At one place, some students almost kept up with us by running along side the van.
We did have a pit stop at a nice gas station where we could stretch our legs. At about 3 pm, we arrived at our resort.

The Coconut Grove Resort was a good place to relax and enjoy the ocean. It is a nice treat for two weeks of semi hibernation in Senchi Ferry. Saturday, we had a tour of the Cape Coast Castle by Mark. We learned a wealth of information about the Slave trade which was started by the Portuguese and the British. Walking into the dungeons where enslaved Africans were held for three months and then taken by ship to Brazil, Caribbean or North America was difficult to imagine even today. Hearing about how they were treated, like living without light the whole time, or the human waste or the branding , it was hard imagine that anyone could survive. I think I remember that out of the 5 million slaves, only 40 % survived which then were forced to live as slaves in another country. A very sad and horrible era of Western history.

In the afternoon, Ann and I went to Kakum National Park. We went on an hour and a half nature walk. The park contains lots of mammals, birds, and butterflies but we saw only a few things, yet it was a wonderful hike through a tropical rainforest. Our guide James did a good job of telling us all about the plant life in the park. Lots of hardwood trees many of which are protected. One part of the park has a canopy walkway which I didn't do because of my phobia of suspension bridges but I did look at it.

The drive back to the hotel took some time because of traffic even though the driver had the peddle to the metal whenever he could. The countryside shows me the poverty, the difficult of eking out a minimal existence. I see only basic small rectangular adobe or cinder block houses, some with a communal water pump or wells. Goats , chickens, and sometimes sheep all graze freely for any vegetation. Some people smile and greet you while others remain stoic. None can escape the oppressive heat but all tolerate it with little complaining.

We ate another nice dinner at the hotel. I had the chicken curry which was quite spicy, the way I like it. Also, I had a big bottle of Star beer. It tastes so good in this hot climate.

Sunday morning, after breakfast, I walked on the beach. I met one local young man who told me he had a full scholarship to a college in Kentucky and was leaving in August. He seemed eager to talk and learn about the U.S. As I continued on my walk, I could see many very poor shanties, with thatched roofs or plastic tarps for roofs. The contrast of the local village and the resort didn't escape me. The sand on the beach next to the village looked black , maybe oil soaked and open sewer pipes running from the lean-to's. Other places had huge wood boats used for fishing as I could see people working to untangle the fish nets.

By noon, we were on the road back to Senchi. Traffic wasn't to heavy so only a few congested spots. Isaac, the driver took every opportunity to speed even after Pam's continual warning of "Slow Down". I did see lots of signs warning of "overspeeding" and signs saying the number of people who had died at different spots on the road.

At about 4:30 pm we were back in our guest house. I decided to go for a long walk. I met several of my students along the way and other strangers too. Many are friendly and helpful. One man I met was the former Mayor, Samuel Opoku. He thanked me for coming to his community which was very nice. Another student asked for my phone number but I don't have a phone here. Another told me they were coming to the guesthouse to visit me tomorrow. I will see if he shows up.

One more week to go in Ghana. It has been great so far. I would love to come back again, see more and do more. Often, the local people ask me if I will come back. I feel very blessed in my life after being here.

Thought for the day : The darkest hour is only 60 minutes long. Light a candle and do not curse the darkness.

- Posted while traveling the world