Lattitude Blog

Week 3 Beginning – Tai Chi, Pizhou, New Apartment.

Sorry for the lack of blogging and pictures lately; I have been rather busy getting used to a fair bit. Since my last blog, we have finished our teacher course, the volunteers have all separated into pairs to travel to different provinces. I have left Kunming, and flown through to the other side of this large country, to the north eastern province of Jiangsu, into the small town of Pizhou, where Alexi (fellow Aussie-English teacher) and I have moved into an apartment right next to our college where we will be living and teaching for the next 3 and a half months.

Before I delve into Pizhou life, I can successfully say that, after having vowed so, the following day after my last blog, I went for a run again with some of the other volunteers and we tried Tai Chi!! We stumbled across a class of about 7-10, mostly elderly, along the banks of Green Park Lake, where we melted into the session. The instructor switched on a track of soothing, traditionally sounding chinese music, (of which I have finally found on youtube and is already engrained into my brain) and in the sun by the lake, we spent a beautiful 10 minutes (maybe longer, not sure!) performing tai chi. Not that any of us volunteers had any idea if we were doing the right thing or not! It was probably the strangest site for passers by to see white people taking part in this. It’s definitely something I’ll never forget.

Anyway, back to the travels. After a 2 hour flight from Kunming, instead of mountains, it was farmlands and fields in a much greyer sky that we saw when landing in Jiangsu. This was going to be vastly different to living in a city. We met Susan, our link teacher of our college, a lovely kind smiley person who speaks VERY good english. Something we’re hugely grateful for. Susan drove us to our placement, where on the way we discovered the common vehicles that are around in Pizhou. Bikes. So many bikes. And Tuk-Tuks (tiny mini 3-wheeled trucks) which I’ve seen in Kenya as well, which are slowly becoming my dream vehicle of all time. The streets are always busy and hectic, crowds of people. Packed with small markets and of course, street food stalls. Typically ran by elderly locals who are the masters the giant pan over a small fire, the meals range from pancakes, wraps, noodles, broth, the list goes on. The grittiness of it all is what makes it such a spectacle.

We had been shown our apartment through a Facebook video by former volunteer Josh Gilbert, so we had a vague idea of what we were going to be met with when we arrived at the front door for real. It was slightly bigger than I expected, but little did we know about the things we were to be experiencing for the first 2 weeks here. The place is tucked away in a small alleyway beside the busy streets. The walls leading up to it are laden with literally hundreds of numbers and chinese characters, which we believe are workers doing their best to advertise their services to others. It’s unbelievable. Eventually, you get to our door. Unfortunately is more or less the same as outside, with the exception of a few warm days, mostly 2-5 degrees. As I’m writing this post I am currently sat in my room in 3 thick layers including thermals, a beanie hat, and slippers. Warm enough. I have a good room, with a nice double bed, with which I can also achieve a toasty temperature, and a heater that does next to nothing. It switches off after about 20 minutes. We have a TV with one english channel, hence, Alexi and I have mostly been resorting to movies on my laptop, so far, ‘Blades of Glory’ and (culturally immersive of course) ‘The Last Emperor’. Our kitchen was flooding small puddles for a day or 2 after switching the tap on for the first time; there was a leak, and it’s not until we got it fixed and the mopping stopped that you finally appreciate running water! The same goes for hot water, of which we had none for a day or two, and was glorious to have when that was fixed. Having a shower is still proving to be a bit of a problem, there’s usually quite a bit of mopping up involved there too. But don’t worry. We’ve scrubbed the place up well. We have also restarted the foundations of something that the previous volunteers here began: the beer wall. Covering a whole locked door with stacks upon stacks of empty cans. We’re only 6 beers in. We’re also going to attempt to incorporate a rice wine stack: the Bastion of Baiju, put our own twist on it. We’ve stocked up on house-keeping stuff, various snacks, and our fridge has everything we need (a single jar of blueberry jam and beer), we eat out, or at our school cantine most of the time.

Blog about our trip to Nanjing 2 weeks ago will also come soon, as will more shenanigans about life here in PIzhou, and whats its like to teach a class of 60! Lots to post about!

Watch this space!

Week 6!

This week was spent working towards our first big community health awareness event. We organised a football tournament between schools with the aim of gathering around 300 people on the football pitch where we would be promoting good personal hygiene through hand-washing demonstrations and talks along with information about what we are doing as volunteers in the community. A highlight was a sponge throwing game where children were asked questions related to hygiene, for every correct answer they got to throw a soaking wet sponge at a volunteer!

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The day before the event we walked through the village with our banners with Sammy and Kweku on drums, we gathered loads of kids and had a great time meeting people, singing and dancing through the village.

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On Saturday morning we set up the field, making goal posts, marking the field and constructing the canopy. We had a break for lunch when it began raining hard, the sound system was uncovered so we had to move the canopy to cover it, one of the funniest moments so far was watching all the children running underneath the canopy as it moved across the field! Luckily the rain stopped not too long after our first match was scheduled. The rest of the event was a great success with over 500 people attending over the two days

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After the football we had a bit of a rest period - teaching, finishing up on data entry (HURRAY!) and exploring the area around Abro. On Tuesday we walked along the Komenda road to see a cave that was once used by locals who were escaping from British slave-drivers. Looking at the tiny, dark hole in the rock-face it was sobering to think of their desperation and the cause. The walk back along the coast was stunning, and we spotted some cows and a farmer willing to sell us fresh milk – this with cereal was a particular highlight of the week!

 

Week 5…

Week 5 and we’re halfway through!

This week was all about working towards our mid-placement review with the Cape Coast Team.

It has been a really good opportunity for us to stop and see how much we have done so far in Abrobiano. In the schools we have managed to build curriculum content from our in school test report and have added extra-curricular lesson within the schools. We have numbered and surveyed every household in the village and have begun entering the data – not far to go now! Once data entry is complete we will be able to look at our statistics and develop our  health education awareness programmes to help solve issues and development factors within Abrobiano.

On Friday we travelled to the Volta region for our mid-placement review, we stopped at Accra Mall where the girl’s screams when they saw actual chocolate brought the supermarket to a stop! (after 5 weeks it was well deserved!)

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We spent Saturday completing our mid-placement review with the Cape Coast team and reviewing what each team has achieved so far and what we are aiming to do, we got ideas from each other, worked hard all day and then spent the evening in the pool relaxing and playing volleyball – a much appreciated break!

This week ends with our football health awareness event, everyone is working really hard to get everything in place – sign-up sheets were distributed in schools and teams have been selected at random according to age. We’ve printed posters, flyers and made announcements in school and on the street over the P.A system, we are planning a walk through the village later this week which we think will attract a lot of attention and a lot of kids! So all in all a lot done and a lot to look forward to!

week 4!

This week we went to visit the volunteers in Cape Coast. Our first stop was Kakum National Park where we did the canopy tree walk. The walkway was very high and unstable scaring a few volunteers but the view was incredible!  IMG_0422

We arrived at the football centre and were given an amazing welcome by the Cape Coast volunteers. It was great to see them again and hear about what they have been doing on their project.

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After a close fought football match, in which we were unluckily beaten by one goal (boo), we had a delicious barbecue of chicken, beans, plantain, sausage and fish, they even got us sodas!

After our meal we headed off to Oasis beach resort, some of us went for a swim but the water was much stronger than it is here! Others played volleyball on the beach. When we got tired we went for a shower and on to the bar to sample Cape Coast nightlife. It was a good night and everyone danced. Although the whole night was accident free, James ran into a bit of trouble on the way home. wandering along the pavement not looking where he was going he suddenly found himself waist deep in a gutter at the side of the road. We got safely back to the football centre, washed James down and went to sleep. The next day we looked around the markets in Cape Coast before leaving for Abrobiano in the afternoon.

The rest of the week has been taken up with teaching and writing lesson plans but we have also been writing reports for the mid placement review which happens on Friday. It’s strange to think that we are halfway through already. This weekend will be fun and hopefully for James a bit less smelly!

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Saturday Anigyie!

No matter where you are in the world a 5am start is horrendous, as you stare through bleary eyes in disbelief at the alarm clock and its daunting display. With dawn breaking, Cape Coast is cool as the breeze rolls across the Atlantic and the chants of football teams on an early morning jog spark you into action. Full of toast and Milo us volunteers find ourselves in a taxi hurtling towards the football centre where we run our activities in a whirlwind of dust and dazzling sunlight.

It’s Saturday morning and the children arrive en mass for the core soccer program, bursting with energy and enthusiasm for the weekly event. The coach shouts ‘play soccer’ to the crowd of expectant faces who scream the centre’s motto in reply, – ‘PLAY FOR FUN, LEARN FOR LIFE’ – shattering the early morning silence. Split into three age groups the children rotate through short lessons of social, health and football sessions that focus on fun activities with an educational edge. Our group delivering the social session is tasked with the topic of teaching about friendship and we begin with a discussion on the qualities of a friend and the boundaries they should respect. We revitalise the group with some more physical activities- a relay, wheelbarrow and piggy back race introduces the importance of working hard for your friends, but fails to exhaust their endless energy supplies. By 9am the volunteers are exhausted but exuberant, as the children are split into teams for a football tournament. Outrageous skill, dogged determination and natural flare are all on display as the teams clash and chase the ball.

By late morning the children continue to play football on the sakoro pitch as the volunteers are free to enjoy their weekend. We retire to the beach or to decipher the madness of Kotokraba market after a second week of fulfillment and fun on the Gold Coast.

By Andy ‘Mogumbo’ Smith, a Lattitude volunteer in Ghana working with Football For Hope.

The volunteers running the Core Soccer Programme

First Blog in China

It’s only been a week, but I feel that I need to start posting more than one blog every week; we’ve simply done SO much. I’ve since been doing my teacher training here in Kunming (For anyone who’s heard about the incident of last night on the 1st, don’t worry, we’re all fine) with 20 or so other volunteers, and in our free time have experienced the most amazing things: from visiting da Temples to buying da noodles!

After a total of 11 hours flight, it was rewarding as we were greeted by the hills of Hong Kong that I’d seen in travel guides, and after a further 3 hours flight, the hustle and bustle of Kunming streets. We had finally arrived. Since then, I have grown fond of this place, because of the fact that each street is different when you turn into it. Whether it’s lined with kiosks of street food: kebabs, omelettes, sticks of freshly cut half pineapple, spicy tofu, or varieties of busy commercial shops.

The street food, and ‘off the beaten track’ restaurants have been amazing, because of such surprisingly tasty stuff, and is one of the things I’ll remember from here. Our first meal was spent at ‘Across the Bridge Noodles’, in which the main dish was a huge bowl of broth, to which you add heaps of raw veg, meat, and noodles, later followed by (a bit too much on my part) spice. It was colossal. My roommate Alexi, with the largest appetite of us all, was the only one who impressively polished it all off. Dumplings have also been a favourite for us all. There is a tiny place that sells them, 2 minutes walk from the school, where you can sit in the sun, on tiny kindergarten-like chairs and tables, eating dumplings, that I’ll miss when I leave Kunming in 3 days time.

Having experienced the (non-existant) road safety in Saudi Arabia, I thought I had seen the worst. How wrong I was, as China is a place where stopping at zebra crossings, seat belts, slowing down for pedestrians, or giving way to anything at all, have clearly never been heard of. The roads are also lined with hundreds of silent and deadly motorcyclists and scooterists, all but 5 of them I’ve seen wearing helmets whilst I’ve been here. Chinese roads are ridiculous.

Learning Mandarin is challenging, but immensely satisfying when put into action, and you successfully buy you a kebab or two from the local lady’s kiosk. Surivival phrases such as ” zhu ge, duo shao qian?” (how much is this), and “wo yao mai?” (I would like to buy) and learning numbers have been helpful, and I want to learn more. But make sure you know the pronunciation for hamburger correctly, because if not, you could just end up asking for ‘an idiot’ with extra cheese. Seeing a white person speaking Mandarin is something that fascinates the Chinese, they seem to really love seeing us try. After thanking a woman for a bowl of tofu that I brought, I turned around to find a small crowd staring in wonder with huge smiles on their faces, hopefully for the correct pronunciations. It’s a funny, although I think I should be prepared for more, as the next place I will be spending the next 5 months in, Pizhou, is apparently where foreigners are extremely rare. That’ll be interesting!

Staying and living with the other volunteers has been fantastic, making some close friends, but will be hard when we all depart for our different placements.

We recently visited the Golden Temple, and Huangtong Temple, where my camera remained glued to my face for most of the time, but even just standing lens-less and taking in the phenomenal, intricate rooves, gardens, stone dragons, makes you feel so so privileged to be here. Plenty of photos of these following. It is also mesmerising and a privilege to listen to people praying within these temples, even if you are completely ignorant of their religion. Our hotel is 5 minutes from Green Lake Park, a small but stunning place to be. The park is filled with willows and miniature temple-restaurants with bridges leading over the water. I also discovered, whilst early-morning running with Honor Main, the hundreds of locals who go there to practice martial arts, basketball, and badminton. Lots of badminton. Word on the grapevine is that Tai Chi is practiced on Mondays, so I’ll try to have my next blog feature us attempting this; most likely accompanied by middle aged women, as they seem to be the only ones who practice this too. However, don’t try finding your way back through this park in almost pitch black at night. Not nice.

Experiencing Chinese markets are fascinating, almost like a Chinese version of Camden in London. The variety of things being sold was huge, from swords, to creatures of all shapes and sizes. It’s quite weird and disturbing to see animals locked up in such claustrophobic spaces in an open market, I was not expecting to see turtles. Nor tarantulas. These I was particularly keen to avoid. (shudder).

Although in the future we will teach our lessons alone, our trial double-teacher lesson that Alexi and I planned was great. We were meant to structure it around a couple of pages in their chinese textbook, all about what things we would put into a time capsule for the future. We created a vocab list, made it practical and had lots of interesting ideas for the students. Planning this lesson was almost like writing a story, and as I love writing, this was great. Putting it into action was also great fun; unlike a performance in a play, you very much depend on the students as well to make it work. It was the first time they and been taught by us, so they were fairly shy, but as I’ll be teaching a different class for 4 months soon, I’m hoping the new students will become more confident and comfortable around me. I’m positive about how all this teaching malarky is going to work out, glad I’ve got this going.

The orientation here in Kunming has been great but has felt more like a holiday than the start of 5 months teaching. When I arrive in Jiangsu in 3 days time, I think it will all sink in just what I’ve got ahead of me. Bring it on! Photos will follow.

Ecuador and Me

My First Blog!!!!!!!

28/2/2014

Ecuador, it has to be said, is an amazing country. The diversity of life, the kindness of its people and the constant flow of life makes it the best place that I have been so far in my short life.

My name is James and I have begun one of the biggest challenges so far in my life. Living in Cuenca, Ecuador for the next 5 months. As this is my first blog (hopefuly not my last) i am just getting to grips with it so, apoligizes if it gets a bit boring or you cannot help yourself but laugh at my naivity as I am starting a new chapter in my life.

I landed in Quito on the 7th of February 2014 (yes my blog might be a little late), and I have had many challenges and experiences since I have arrived in Ecuador, hopefully this blog will be a portal into my time in Ecuador.

I feel that I should start by letting you know a little about myself, I am a 19 year old student who has lived in the great city of London all his life and is looking to expand his horizons, in all senses of the word. In september 2014 I am headed to University, to study Chemistry for the next four years at the University of Southampton. I have studied spanish in the past but, admitidley, it is not up to scratch, but as i have found through my first few weeks in Ecuador, you soon pick it up. I was also helped in the language department by attending a two week spanish course in Quito before I left for Cuenca, this was invaluable as it eased back into the language after a few years break.

As mentioned earlier I spent two weeks in Quito learning spanish but, more importantly, I saw many of the sights that Quito had to offer whilst I Lived there. I am not going to bore you with all the sights that I visited, I shall name just a few of the highlights that Quito has to offer. Firstly, the day after I arrived I went up the Teleferiqo. A cable car that takes you from 3000m to the top of the Pinchincha Volcano at 4000m, the ascent was completed in just under 8minutes and the views from the top are amazing. There are amazing views of Quito, but due to the length of Quito you cannot see the entire city. At the top I had photos with llamas in traditional gear consisting of a poncho and a hat, then walked a little further to get better views of the city, it is a little chilly up the top so you need a jumper handy. If you do struggle with the altitude when you arrive then don´t go on oyur second day, wait a few days before ascending. Another of the attractions to see when you are in Quito is the market in Otavalo. The market is a few hours away by bus but the variety of goods on offer at the market is outstanding. It varies from jumpers and t-shirts made from alpaca wool, to rugs, paintings and small hand crafted figures made of wood, stone and cloth. The market is a lot cheaper than the markets in Quito so bargain hard, I managed to get a jumper, painting and a mask all for $35 so you dont need to spend grand amounts whilst you are there. Finally, and probably the most beautiful place that you will visit whilst in Quito, is the Laguna de Quilatoa or the lake of Quilatoa. Quilatoa is an extinct volcano whose crater has slowly filled with water to form a vast crystal clear lake. When you arrive you are at the top of the crater, so there is a bit of walking involved, as you need to walk down roughly two kilometers to the lake shore. However, going down is the easy bit, its the journey back up thats a little more difficult, but my return journey was easy as there are plenty of donkeys ready and waiting to take you back to the top.

I beleive that I have rambled on plenty for my first entry, I shall be posting most weeks so look out every weekend for a new post.

Play Soccer Army invade Cape Coast

 

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Third week into placement and things were really getting exciting…the Street Walk was the first of our events we had organised and it was a key method in raising awareness of the re- launch of the Street League programme- one of the main programmes at the centre that target unemployed youths. We had decided on a street walk as it would grab people’s attention and with the aid of leaflets, put across our information immediately.

Around 9am on Saturday after our 2 hour core soccer programme we gathered the kids in a massive rally. This wasn’t a considerably hard task as the kids tend to follow us everywhere! We were amazed at how engaged and energized the kids were about going on the walk. We had been scared initially as the UK volunteers had ever organised an event quite like this and we had a severe lack of drums and whistles- there was no need to worry, the kids made it! From start to finish they bellowed out different chants and songs, accompanied with make shift drums and instruments.

Armed with a 70 child army, 2 banners, whistles and various instruments and led by our very own Abraham , we owned the streets of Cape Coast for over an hour- stopping traffic, chatting to locals and sticking leaflets anywhere that would hold it. The atmosphere was electric and unlike anything we had experienced before.  Through fountains of sachet water children could be seen dancing and singing like their lives depended on it! It really hit us how surreal the experience was when one of the centre staff, Coach Ali, was running up and down a busy road hailing at oncoming traffic and throwing leaflets in taxi windows…unreal!

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This walk demonstrated how different things are here, it would be hard to get the kids parents to agree to their children participating, never mind local councils letting us take over the roads! The culture here is so relaxed and allowed us to have a great event and really spread the word about the programmes at the centre. One of the best days here easily!

- Thenneh and Johnny UK Volunteers

 

 

 

 

 

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Meeting our host familys- by Lysette Hacking UK volunteer

We’re on our last day of in country orientation today and all i can think about is my host family. There’s so many questions flying round in my head; who are my host family? will they like me? is there children in the family? I just can wait to meet them and find out. We were on our last lecture before dinner and all i could think about was the host family, its effecting my concentration. After the lecture our project coordinator asked if she could have a word with me and my counterpart Cat, She took us to the Lecturer, Elvis and told us that he would be our host father. I can’t begin in tell you how much this put my mind at ease, to know that our host father was actively involved in the project so he knew the in’s and outs of hosting volunteers.

So the time had come we were on our way to Cape coast, i cant wait now, 2 hours and i would be there!

We arrived at the center, i just couldn’t believe how wrong my preconceptions were, this place is amazing! There’s a solar lit astro-turf, a fully furbished computer suite, a library its unbelievable! Now all thats left to do is actually see our host home and the rest of the family.

Our host father arrived to pick us up from the centre about 7pm, the suspense was killing me I just wanted to get there. On the way we drove through a school, our host father explained that this is the oldest school in Ghana and that it would be the shortest route to work for us. After about 10 minutes drive we turned down a dirt track, we were nearly there! As we arrived at the house I couldn’t believe my eyes it was massive and it was purple my favorite colour, we walked through the door and where greeted by 3 children and our host mother Catherine. The children were very shy and just hid round a corner butthe Catherine ensured we had a warm welcome. Elvis then showed us to our room to get settled. I couldn’t believe my luck with the room we had wardrobes, plug socket and an ensuite with shower it’s better than my room in England!

All that was left to do now was to get acquainted with the family, I was sure I was going tolike it here.

 

Again, difficulties with internet have led to a lack of Abrobiano blog posts, here’s some from the past couple of weeks…. enjoy!

5th February 2014

Over the past week we have been focusing on completing our surveys. This task was made more difficult by the fact that several parents were unable to remember their children’s names, ages and even how many children they had actually had. We also noticed that the majority of the population went to the toilet on the beach – making us think twice about going swimming in the sea!  However we are making good progress and hope to finish this week! Also this week we finalised the tests that we gave to our pupils. The tests were designed to gauge the knowledge of our students before we started teaching them. Also this week… we started teaching! After a bit of panic over planning lessons everyone has settled into their roles. The topics we are focusing on are Health, Malaria and, for the Junior High School students, Sexual Health. It is a lot of content to pack into 8 weeks of lessons but we are all feeling confident about it.

This week has been as much about planning ahead as it has been doing things in the present. We have arranged to play the Cape Coast volunteers in a football match on Saturday the 15th of February, which promises to be a competitive fixture. We have also drawn closer to choosing a destination for our mid-placement review, where we will be travelling to the Volta region for a couple of nights. We are looking forward to clean sheets and a proper shower. On week 6 we are hoping to put on an awareness-raising football tournament involving local children on the Abrobiano football pitch. This will happen over the weekend, and we hope to draw people’s attention to personal hygiene – hand washing, tooth brushing etc. Other plans include a talent show and the re-building of steps for one of the local primary schools we teach in.

Patrick and Emma :)

12th Feb 2014

The past week has been as entertaining as it has been challenging. Our schedule has been packed – making lesson notes for our classes, teaching and finishing off the surveys. Some of the UK volunteers have found the language barrier a bit of a struggle in their lessons, but everyone is working really hard and coping fantastically well. Proud of us! As well as our lessons, we’ve been training for our football match with the Cape Coast volunteers this weekend. Since their placement is focused around football we are at something of a disadvantage. We’re determined to surprise them though, so we’ve been working on being deadly in the box and strong at the back, like a donkey. Kweku has been a brilliant coach, despite his insistence on warming up before every session (surely a warm up is redundant when the temperature never drops below 25 degrees?).Of course during all of this we’ve had hanging over us the cloud of entering data gained from the surveys into an immense spreadsheet. Sometimes you look at the number of surveys and wonder if we’ll ever finish. We will though – just a bit of a slog at present!

On Monday we had an ICS Learning Day presentation from Emma and Kimbrela. They said they were going to talk about litter and, sure enough, their presentation was absolute rubbish (sorry). They spoke very well and got us all worried when they suggested that, at our current rate of consumption, Britain would run out of space for landfills in 2018. They also closed with a useful ‘Four Rs’ system for disposal of waste: Reduce, Re-use, Recycle and Recover. The Cape Coast lot also came up with a novel way of re-using their empty water sachets – weaving them into a volleyball net that they plan to donate to the centre for future matches. We’ll be sure to look out for other methods because litter really is a big problem over here.

On Tuesday we visited Komenda market! We wandered around Komenda for most of the day. Something like a larger Abrobiano – the same assortment of shacks and shops and traders – surreally interspersed with European architecture, remnants of the colonial days. Komenda Fort is the third-oldest in Ghana, and was used for the gold and slave trades. Some of us bought some cloth to get made into clothes back in Abro. When we got back we had a wee celebration of Emma R’s birthday – a card and a smiley mango. Next week we are visiting the Cape Coast volunteers for the weekend. They’re promising a pretty good time so there will no doubt be some interesting blog content as a result. Until then, chaps!

Patrick and Emma