Day 6 Ghana 2012: Botel, Braids, and Chicken Bones

Thursday January 19, 2012

We are now at Hans Cottage Botel (that’s not a typo) in Cape Coast. Our four-hour drive took six hours. It was 6 hours of breathing red dirt and diesel fumes without air-conditioning in a van with 10 other people.

The windows were open, for better or for worse. If I end up with emphysema, I know why. I brought one bandana with me and I gave it to Leah to wear over her nose and mouth, because, I am a mom and that’s what moms do.

We arrived at the botel, checked in and I dare say this is the first time I’ve checked in somewhere and found rat droppings on the bed sheets and headboards. Ronai’s shower is full of bugs and more rat droppings are on the beds on her room. I finally found the giant spiders! There’s a big one in Aaron and Leah’s bathroom. Would you believe Curry had actually upgraded our rooms when he checked in.

We were all hot and sticky with layers of dirt plastered to our faces, arms and hands. We had dinner and Leah promptly threw it up, over the railing and into the pond. At least the crocodiles ate well that night. Leah may have overdosed on carcinogens for the day, who knows. Maybe it’s the Malaria pills… which is a medication that we discovered is only taken in this large quantity to keep people Malaria free AND this dose treats certain STDs. (What? Yes, that’s why the pharmacist was looking at us funny.) There you have it!

Aaron did get an electric shock while in the shower tonight. I wore shoes in the shower, so I think that’s why I escaped that excitement of getting shocked this time. I learned my lesson four years ago.

I guess I should start by writing about this morning. This morning started with our daily egg. I skipped it and had a Probar. We have polished off the coffee packets, but thankfully we grabbed a box of Starbucks Via while in the JFK airport. I had a headache when I got up this morning at 7am, as if my brain is trying to figure out WHY ON EARTH I’m getting up for the day at midnight??? My body seems to take a 4-hour nap when I hit the sack, but that’s because it’s 5pm at home and so I sleep just long enough to thwart a good night’s sleep. So… coffee, Probar, Advil and off to school I go!

This morning, Emilia measured Leah in the sewing room for a wrap skirt. The five other skirts for everyone else were already finished!

I went over to the L’Oreal Training School (it has been here for 3 years) and I got my hair plaited. They started working on my hair at 8am.

They finished at 2pm. I’m not kidding!
I had such great conversations with the two teachers who were training the high school students. The teachers kindly shared their lunch with me. Three spoons, one plateful of chicken and jollof rice. I learned so much from talking to them and listening to them. We finished lunch and they asked my why I had not eaten the chicken bones too. I wasn’t sure how to answer that:) I said, “I didn’t eat the chicken bones because it has never crossed my mind that I could or should eat chicken bones.” I now know that “you get your calcium from eating the bones.” (I still didn’t eat them.)

I was a little worried when they brought a flame to my hair, but Aaron was close by and promised to “stop-drop-and roll” if things got out of hand.

I may have had concerns about the giant scissors too.

My braids look awesome!

Meanwhile the rest of the classrooms were labeled by the Team and the students were taught that everything has a name and a sign. Everyone took a turn teaching. It was great!

Carissa and Pablo delivered the school supplies that we had purchased for the SOHI students. They packed up all of the things that we had purchased at the Koforidua market, and loaded them in a taxi and brought it all to school.

Joyce, who oversees the hotel and our dinners, had a long chat with Carissa, “you are not missionaries trying to save our souls, are you? You are all many different religions aren’t you? So, why are you here?” This lead into a lengthy discussion about deafness in the US 30 years ago, and deafness in Ghana today. Joyce suggested to Carissa and Pablo that she could learn GSL and care for some of the deaf children on break whose parents don’t come back for them.

She had told us that her mother’s name was Lucy, when we told her about our daughter Lucy Joyce. Aaron showed Joyce our family photo and explained spina bifida and cerebral palsy to her. Later, Joyce told Carissa, “their daughter Lucy is as beautiful as art, “ but she said that she was glad that we had not brought Lucy with us to Ghana because people here see her as a burden and they would offer to “help” with her. “They mean, ‘to take care of the problem’ forever.” (That’s the part where the color drains from my face and I feel sick to my stomach.) The phrase, “Don’t do me any favors” has new meaning.

We had asked Lucy if she wanted to come with us to Ghana. She thought it over. We talked about what it would take to make sure she had clean water for her medical needs, the immunizations required, and that we would mostly carry her on our backs when the dirt roads wouldn’t work for her manual wheelchair. Her power wheelchair is not an option. Lucy thought it out for days. Ultimately she chose not to go. Lucy always knows best!

Day 5 Ghana 2012 Continued: Everything Has a Name

January 18, 2012 Continued…
After the Signing Time posters were all divvied up, I slipped out and caught up with the teacher who was left with none of the supplies. “Listen,” I said, “don’t lose heart!” I told her to watch for Lucy in Signing Time. “Yes, I have two special kids. Carissa and Pablo have two special ones as well. We are all in your classroom for a reason. It’s more than where our hearts are, it’s our daily lives.”

I promised to send what she needs with the next group of Signs of Hope volunteers in May. Then I found Curry and told him that we needed glue, markers, and white paper. (The teachers didn’t have these basic things in their classes.) Curry went to town to get the supplies, while everyone else was helping in Special Ed. I popped my head into another class and offered to help. The teacher said, “Yes, please teach this lesson on cultural diversity and religion.” (GULP!) She handed me the manual and a piece of chalk and she took her seat at her desk. (Double GULP!) I hope you are laughing. I wasn’t.

It turned out to be a lesson in cultural diversity and religion for me too- and before you go to your automatic “file” about we should all know about religion let’s remember that “we aren’t in Kansas anymore.” It’s one thing to teach the lesson and another to teach it in Ghanaian Sign Language.

The Muslims call Him _________. (Allah) <---that one I knew, but before you Google Search the next ones, remember that I had NO internet access. So, TRY to fill in the following blanks (and sign it if you dare). The Ewes call Him _________. The Gas call Him __________. In our language we call Him _________. (Clearly no separation of church and state.) Well, I did it, and let’s say I was sweating bullets because it was noon and 90 degrees in the shade. Yeah… that’s why I was sweating.

The bell rang for break and snack time, literally a hand-held bell. Curry returned with the white paper, markers, and glue. We jokingly asked if he had just gone to the nearest Lakeshore Learning Center or if it was Utah Idaho Supply. We found scissors and went to work labeling the Special Ed. classroom, just as Aaron and I had labeled our first apartment when Leah was a toddler.

By the time snack break was finished the room was thoroughly labeled and I was ready to move on to the next room to do the same thing there. I figured our Team could give the students the signs, context, etc., for what had just happened to their classroom. Curry stopped me and said, “Rachel, will you now give this language to the kids?” About a zillion things went through my head like, “Dude, some of these kids didn’t know how to fingerspell their own names yesterday, they can now because of the Team, but…” I stopped and wondered what I was resisting. Would you believe I STRESS about being put on the spot? I thought about the conversation with the staff just a few hours earlier and saw it, I knew what to do and what to say- “Put your money where your mouth is Rachel Coleman,” I thought, “word, sign, concept/object. GO!”

I began signing, “what did we do?” I swept my hands towards the labels.
“What do these mean? Hmm, I wonder! My name is R-A-C-H-E-L. My name sign is ‘R’+smile.” (signing my name sign)

I came up to a boy and signed, “What’s your name?” Thankfully every shirt is labeled with the child’s name. Since he was “new” he was trying to remember how to fingerspell his name, so I helped him, we fingerspelled, “I-S-H-M-A-E-L” then I asked him, “name sign?” He showed me his name sign. Then I repeated it, telling him, “Your name I-S-H-M-A-E-L and your name sign is ‘signing name sign.’ You have a name and a sign!”
I went to the next child and signed, “what’s your name?” He fingerspelled “J-A-C-O-B” and he showed me his name sign. I smiled and responded, “you have a name and a sign too!”

Then I went to where we had glued a label to the wall and signed, “This is W-A-L-L” and then I signed wall. “It has a name and a sign too!” I then showed them all of the walls in the room, and that they all were labeled “wall”.

I moved on to the windows, the buckets, the bowl, the desks, the chairs, the door, the cupboard, the lights, the blackboard, and the fan. I showed them each label (the written word) and then we fingerspelled each word together, and then I taught them the sign. “Everything has name and a sign!” The students understood.

Ok, it was exhilarating! I was so excited that I was almost frantic. I asked the students to stand up and find the names and the signs. They naturally broke up into groups and began searching around their class. It was awesome!

…and here is my all time favorite picture from the day:)

Jen and I moved on and began labeling the next classroom. We kept at it until the bell rung for lunch. Then we gathered our group and started to walk back to the Courtyard Hotel. Carissa, who has a tough time complimenting me, said “Rachel, that was genius! We were trying to figure our how to connect the labels, but ‘you have a name and a sign, and so does everything else’ it was genius!”
Genius or not, it worked. Ok, I’ll go with “genius” 😉

When you consider the ground that we have covered in the last three days, this trip has already been worth it.

Some of our Team dropped off fabric to Emilia, the school seamstress and sewing teacher. She is making wrap-skirts for Jen, Ronai, Leah and Ellie. We also visited the new “L’Oreal Hair Academy” that is now here on the campus and set up hair appointments for tomorrow morning for me and for Pablo. It’s a training school for the students.

We had lunch and set out for Aburi.

Aburi

Joyce, who works at the hotel, came with us. Carissa, Aaron, Joyce, and I got in one taxi and went to Joyce’s seamstress at Modern Fashions. Carissa and I picked out dress patterns and got measured. We met up with the others at the wood district, where we bought, bartered, laughed and said “hello” to Alfred, and another artist who has done a lot of custom work for Curry, named Sammy.

Aburi Wood District

We spent a few hours browsing. I picked up a few things that I will sell for the Signing Time Foundation when I get home.

I bought this necklace for myself and I bought a second one for bidders on Ebay

We are still about $4,300 shy of covering ALL of the costs of the trip and the service project. We have raised enough to pay for the students sponsored by Signs of Hope and we have paid for their supplies.

We returned to the hotel for dinner and for a presentation by the past president of the Ghana National Association of the Deaf. The power was out before dinner, so he almost rescheduled his presentation. The power came back on just in time. The presentation was great. He shared all about being a deaf individual in Ghana and told us that in 2006 Ghana passed a Disability Act. He also told us that there are only 24 interpreters in all of Ghana. There is only one high school for the deaf in Ghana and it is the one that is right here in Mampong. When we were here four years ago there were 150 students who had tested into the deaf high school. There are now over 300 students attending the deaf high school. This is such great news, it’s proof that teachers who can sign, are reaching the students who are deaf. Progress!

Day 3 Ghana 2012: Setting Up Class

Monday January 16 2012
We were up and having breakfast at 7:30am. There was a country song playing on a continuous one-song loop. Americans, love country music, right? Breakfast was a giant omelet, two pieces of bread, and coffee or hot cocoa. Leah doesn’t eat eggs, because once she had the flu and the last thing she ate/first thing to come up was eggs and she has never eaten them since… hey it was chicken fajitas for me once when I was 9 years old. Leah had a ProBar and some of the other “supplies” we brought like fruit leather, beef jerky, cashews, and red vines… you know, just the stuff you need to survive 10 days.  Then we were off to school. It’s about a ¾ mile walk to the school.

We saw Dora and Sammy. Dora who had taught me to carry water on my head (or tried to teach me) and the one who had introduced us to, the often poisonous, brain fruit.

We waited in the Headmaster’s office and she once again was so impressive with her signs and her clear requests for us to respect their culture. She is sharp. The students lined up and she signed to them (without voicing). Some in our group commented that what they just witnessed here in Ghana was more signing than they see in some of our deaf schools in the US.

The Headmaster introduced us family by family. She told the teachers that we are here to help and implement programs that will help the teachers reach their students. She stated that the staffs’ focus should be the same as ours, reaching and teaching the students. The students were dismissed to help clean and set up class. The students are also responsible for keeping the school grounds clean and bringing water to class.

We divided up and set out to do the same.

I think that some teachers were surprised at our willingness to wash, sweep floors, dust and carry water, but in my view we are here to serve and support. We are not here to stand back, judge and criticize.

Washing Dishes


Sweeping Floors


Dusting Toys with a Paintbrush

Aaron, Leah and I finished everything that a lovely teacher had asked of us. We moved on to find Ronai and Ellie doing their best at managing a class of about 12 kids. The teacher had left for a staff meeting and Ronai was left in charge and had been instructed to, “Teach them something.” At first we just watched Ronai try to wrangle kids. Finally one student handed Ronai a ruler and tried to show her how to really command a the students’ attention… enough said. She quickly put the ruler down.

Aaron, Leah and I came in to help and we divided up the students into groups. These were THE NEW KIDS!!!! I began by teaching my group, “Hi!” and answering, “Hi!” Then I taught them table, chair, sit down, stand up, socks and Ronai taught them shoe. We continued with wait, stop, and jump. In a matter of minutes they had over 11 signs.  THIS is what I am great with.

The Dorm Mother came in and said it’s snack time. She sent the children out and asked that we not allow the children to hug us, or hang onto our hands or arms during their snack time. This was a new request. I think I understand it. The kids would rather be with us than attend to whatever they are supposed to be doing. We are a distraction. I have other guesses as well, like it might make some people uncomfortable to see us so loving with deaf children. Or it might be uncomfortable that the students aren’t as affectionate with those adults that look after them.  Some of the attitudes toward the deaf are so hurtful. We had conversations with people in town who looked disgusted that we were interacting with the deaf and that we are here to teach and support them.

I had been talking with some of the boys in secondary school. I told them about my family, specifically about Lucy. They told me that there aren’t wheelchairs for children with physical disabilities and that’s why you don’t really see these children. They told me that anyone born with a physical disability grows up to be a beggar. “That’s their only future.”

Then the boys both told me that their dream is to come to America once they finish high school. They said that in America the deaf are not held down and a successful life is possible.

Hmmm. So I wonder- is it beneficial for these teens to view their only chance at success as fleeing the oppression in their own country? Or is a different perspective needed?  Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

It wasn’t that long ago that deaf Americans were oppressed and many might argue that a degree of oppression still exists.

It can be difficult and exhausting to create something new, (trust me on this) even a new perspective. Much of the time your vision is misunderstood by others, you may be mocked and unappreciated but that doesn’t mean you stop, quit or give up. I’m not just speaking to those deaf boys; I’m speaking to everyone (even myself). If we only have this life, we should make it count. We can make a difference for ALL of the “new ones” who can learn from our path and our experiences. Running away may effectively free you, one person, just you. By staying and creating something new, you can impact generations.

We left the school, went to the hair salon in two taxis, we (those in the taxi with me) missed our stop and almost started an international incident when I was unsure if our taxi driver should be paid per person or per trip.  Curry to the rescue.  He grabbed another taxi and tracked us down.  Together  we started to walk back to the salon, which our taxi had passed.  It was hot.  We were all tense after I had my stand-off with our taxi driver.  While we walked we were approached by the town drunk who came straight at us saying, “Money! Money!”  Finally we arrived at the hair place.  Some of our group got their hair braided. Some didn’t. Some got grumpy. Most of us received an awkward 45 minute lecture from a traveling preacher who was speaking two-languages and sounded very serious as he read passages from the Bible and called us all to repentance. We were all exhausted. I went looking for fabric. A local man invited Aaron into a bar and bought him a soda. We walked a lot and we sweated more.

Update on the funds that we raised, we have been asked not to paint the chalkboards. Instead they would like to take the money we raised and buy whiteboards for each class. We are rolling with it.  It is Africa.

The headmaster asked Curry to do a program for the teachers on Wednesday morning, instead Curry offered that I put on a Signing Time mini-program… so… that’s happening. No pressure, right? I brought some ABC & 123 posters for the beginning classrooms and some Baby Signing Time wall posters. I brought a set of Signing Time board books and a Series One DVD set to give to the Headmaster, so she can choose to use them at home, at school or not at all. She will make her choice and I can trust it is a good one.

I saw Hannah today! I was standing on the steps at the entrance to the great room at the school and Hanna came out and greeted Curry and the team. She looked at me and said, “Who is this?” She looks like Rachel!” Curry, smiling said to Hannah, “Ask her name.” Hannah looked at me, “What is your name?” I smiled and answered, “I am Rachel.” She had a large bowl in her hands, since she oversees the school’s kitchen. She looked around quickly and ran down the stairs away from us. She ran across the courtyard and set the bowl down. Then she ran back with her arms open to hug me. She had tears in her eyes. I did too. Hannah told me, “we talk about you every day, Rachel. You taught me how to sign with Signing Time!” Four years ago when we first met, Hannah and Marco were in love, but her family would not allow her to marry Marco because he is deaf. She is now Marco’s wife and Marco says that Hannah’s mother just adores him. Little changes can make a big difference!

Marco is now on break from school, so he is here in town. She let him know that we are back and shortly after that he arrived at the school to say hello us and made a visit to say hello to the Headmaster who was his interpreter in college!!

Day 2 Ghana 2012: New Kids & House Bats

Sunday January 15, 2012
Here in Ghana there’s a 7-hour time difference from my home in Utah. In Ghana we are 7 hours ahead. Lucy’s having lunch at home while we are getting ready for bed. There’s no need for us to stay up late. The sun goes down and we all wrap things up and go to bed. There is no Internet. A single light bulb lights each room and it’s a small bulb. There are not a lot of distractions. We have 5 rooms, all of which were thick with the smell of mothballs. Honestly, last night I thought I was going to be sick to my stomach when I hit the mothball scented “wall” just entering the bedroom after dinner. “I’m not doing well,” was about all I said as I crawled into bed with no intention of brushing my teeth or putting on my pajamas.

Curry and Aaron asked the woman in charge about the white plastic balls scattered around the floors, in the sinks, and in every drawer. She said that they don’t have a bug or moth problem, but she said those are just placed to perfume each room so it smells nice. The guys quickly gathered up all of the mothballs and sealed them in a ziplock bag.

This morning we got up, got dressed, and headed to the local deaf school. School starts this week, so not all of the deaf children have arrived yet. They will trickle in over the next few weeks. We were able to meet the new headmaster too, and guess what? She signs!!! The old headmaster was close to retirement, but then she unexpectedly passed away. We heard that the new headmaster says that it is mandatory for the teachers to sign!

She invited us to an assembly tomorrow morning at 8AM so that she can formally introduce us to the staff and students. She also told Curry that she would like “more programs for the teachers.” This is a woman who gets it! Can I jump up and down and shout for joy? Yes, yes, I can!
Little changes can make such a big difference.

We went back to the school and spent time with the students. At any given time we each held court with anywhere from 3 to 30 students. They came running, hugging, signing of course, introducing, and asking, “Where’s Alex?” “Wow, Leah, you have grown up!” “What’s your name?” “Who is deaf?” “Is that your husband?” Can I just say that four years is a long time between visits, it’s just too long.

Usually the volunteers with Signs of Hope are individuals, they are singles, and it was cool to have family groups this time.
Ronai and Ellie are mother and daughter.
Carissa and Pablo are wife and husband.
Aaron, Rachel, AND Leah are husband, wife and daughter.
Jen is my first cousin.

The kids loved Jen’s blonde hair and they set to braiding it.

Jen gets braids

They loved Pablo’s wavy black hair.
They loved Curry’s shaved head too.

They were checking out anyone with visible tattoos, pressing on the skin and doing their best at deciphering the designs and sometimes attempting to replicate them on paper. I guess we are fascinating!

It was fun to stand back and watch Ronai(an ASL interpreter) and Carissa(a soon to be ASL interpreter), everyone really, as they sorted out the distinct differences between ASL and GSL. Like in GSL they sign FAMILY with “L” instead of with an “F”.

It’s Sunday, so the students are in play clothes. Emilia, the sewing teacher, took us on a tour of what they call the compound, we call it the campus. There were at least 10 bunk beds in each dorm room, that’s at least 20 children per room and sometimes they hold up to 44 students in a room. Sometimes the kids double up on one mattress, a mattress smaller than our twin beds at home.

“Curry, can we replace the mattresses?” I asked. I was happy to finally stumble on something we might leave behind that would make a difference. The mattresses are thin foam and many are falling apart, torn, full of holes, or stained from years of use. Curry said he would find out how much mattresses cost here. Twenty to forty kids in a room… I can’t imagine what it’s like when a flu bug hits. Yes, shaving heads for school attendance makes perfect sense.

Since school hasn’t officially started the classrooms aren’t set up and they are dirty and dusty from months of no use. The windows are always open so dust just blows in. There is still a coloring page printout of Alex and Leah taped to a cupboard in one of the classes. The students were excited to take us by the hands and show us that the paper is still there.

There are so many new students, “new” meaning brand new to the school, first year students. The new students usually can’t sign at all. Imagine being six and having no way to communicate. Imagine being deaf and having no around one to teach you anything in your native language. The students come to school and this is their first exposure to sign language, unless they happen to have deaf family members. Imagine having NOTHING for six years! Some of the new students just sign “A-B-C” because that’s something they have figured out. You sign, “Hi!” They answer, “A-B-C”. You sign, “What’s your name?” They answer, “A-B-C”. The new students are six or seven or even fourteen years old. It depends on when they became deaf and it depends on when their family even finds out there is a deaf school and it also depends on when the family can afford to send their child to that deaf school.

Once again, there’s a little guy here who has stolen my heart(already). He’s shy and seems so tiny. He mostly hid behind the older kids and peered out at me. I signed, “Hi!” He signed, “Hi” back, but I think he might just be mimicking. As I continued to sign with him he just signed, “don’t know–don’t know.” Another student came up and signed, “He’s new” and she pushed him aside, stood in front of him and began a conversation with me. I wondered if she remembered being “new” and being scared and being brushed aside. Maybe it gets to me because Leah was “new” at age one when we, her parents, realized that she was deaf, but right now this boy is 5 or 6 or 7 and has less than five signs, OUCH! He could have countless signs at his age. He could communicate like a hearing child his age, just through signs rather than through speech. I know that I can reach these “new” kids. I just hope to have the opportunity.

We left the school, picked up Cokes, Fantas, and fan ice (ice cream in a plastic pouch) from a little store and then we walked back to the hotel. Sometimes we just need to sit down together and decompress. You almost have to ask eachother, “Did that just happen?” because things feel so surreal.

There is such a crazy range of emotions that I go through but when I am at the school I don’t display those emotions. I come back and talk about it or I just work it out alone on paper with a pen.

I bet you can’t guess what we had for dinner…
We had heaping platefuls of chicken and spicy rice!! We had asked for smaller portions tonight, but they were not smaller. (Smaller portions? And you call yourself an American!)

I tried phoning Lucy three times on Curry’s satellite phone. Finally I left her a message. I showered, and discovered that our hot water works today, it didn’t work yesterday. I filled up a bucket from the spigot and then poured giant ladles full of water on myself. Perfect! It’s really hot and humid here, even at night. We each have a fan in our room and when we have power, as in electricity, the fan helps us be comfortable enough to get some sleep at night.

Telling myself that there are no spiders also helps me sleep at night. Last time we were here the spiders showed up like clockwork, always at the same time of night and always at the same spot on the wall. If there were no spiders last night then there are no spiders in my room tonight. Right? I’m going with that!

You’ll be thrilled to know that we have a house bat. The flying kind. He/she/it comes careening through the hallway at night, in a repetitive fashion. Our bat circles. Not cool. And then you hear conversations like this: “Hey, did any of you get the rabies vaccination?”
“Nah, seemed like a big waste of money when I was back in my bat-free home.”
So, we quote Ace Ventura’s sentiments about bats, and I holler and cringe when the bat makes it’s rounds and finally I go to my room and shut the door tight and I tell myself there is only one bat and maybe that’s why there are no spiders… and and so maybe having a bat is a good thing.
Good night.

PS: You can click on the photos to make them larger:)
~RC

Day 1 Ghana 2012

Saturday January 14, 2012
When I stepped off the plane and my lungs and nose filled with the smoky air I was taken aback by how quickly I had forgotten, forgotten something as ever-surrounding as the air. “Oh yeah, when we get home we will all have little coughs.” Forgetting is quick… and so is remembering.

As we gathered our bags, exchanged our US dollars to Ghanaian cedis and headed through customs, Curry instructed us to keep moving and don’t meet the eyes of any agents. “Move forward unless they physically pull you aside.” Like eight little chicks following our Mother Hen we obliged. Eyes down. Move forward.

With the airport exit ahead of us more instructions came. “Hold onto your bags. Do not let go. Don’t let anyone touch your bag. Don’t take anything from anyone. Follow me.” The nine of us moved forward, single file with bags in tow. Curry had told us that this would be the only time that he would be instructing us to be totally rude.

If someone touches your bag they expect you to pay them for helping you even if you do everything to keep your bags away from them. If they touch it, pull it or lift it, you owe them money. When we visited Ghana four years ago we had that happen. With so many Americans carrying so much luggage someone is bound to let go of something eventually while loading in the tro-tro(van). Four years ago we had some very angry “helpers” demanding money for their “services” that we had not asked for and had all but fought off.

This time only one man followed us insistent on helping. A police officer actually pulled him away and told him to leave us alone. As our bags were being loaded the man returned trying to help, asking for payment, and asking for “American Magazines” that we may have brought. Once the bags were loaded the driver wiped down the dusty benches in the tro-tro and we took our places, three to a bench, for the one-and-a-half hour drive to Tutu. It was 80+ degrees and humid. There is no air conditioning, so we slid open the many side windows of the tro-tro, which after an almost two hour drive, leaves a layer of red dirt/dust plastered to our sweat. Oh well, it is Africa.

I was surprised by different things this time. It wasn’t the chickens and goats or food stands or thick smoky sky that caught my eye, but the new glass building that seemed to have shot up from nowhere, and seemed to have been completed in record time. There was a lot of new construction and there was roadwork being done everywhere. There are so many freshly painted buildings. Explanations of all this came in conversations like, “there’s a new president”, and “Ghana has more money now”, and “much of this was done in anticipation of President Obama’s visit to Ghana”.

The vehicular traffic slowed and the human traffic increased. To our right and left the road was lined with people selling everything: fried plantains, wall maps of Ghana, spade and trowel sets, stacks of bootlegged music CDs, bags of water, eggs, and loaves of bread. These wares passed on both sides of the vehicles. Yes, the buying and selling of goods occurs though the vehicle’s window, it’s the ultimate “drive-up.”

There is a lot honking, not out of anger, just communication. It’s a “hi there!” or “I see you!” or “coming through!” – HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK!

I ate a ProBar*, drank some water and leaned back on a suitcase and listened. The sensory overload and amazement of my first visit was mirrored in my travel companions conversations, gasps, comments, and photographic attempts to capture EVERYTHING. I remember the feeling of not wanting to forget and of trying to decipher the cultural differences. Wondering why it is that we grow up thinking that one thing is normal and that across an ocean they grow up thinking that something totally different is normal and amazingly we both are right!

The tro-tro pulled over and Curry jumped out and bought a few flats of water. The flats were loaded though one of the sliding windows in the back of the tro-tro and we were once again on our way.

We passed Bob Marley’s home/recording studio. Sometime in the past four years a fire destroyed much of the structure. The roof now has a gaping hole in it. I wondered if Rita Marley was living in it at the time or she has many other homes in many other places. I can’t help but wonder if there is cool Bob stuff that is just sitting in there, getting rained on. I’m not really up for trespassing.

As we continued I noticed newly painted homes and businesses even in the smaller towns. We arrive at a steep hill, we drive up it and arrive at The Courtyard Hotel. This is not the same place where we had stayed before. This is a multi-story building that once was a private dwelling. Each room is large and has it’s own bathroom.

Bedroom

We don’t have kitchen access but there is a fridge in Curry’s room. So far the power/electricity seem reliable and we are supposed to have hot and cold running water. There is a bucket in the tub and I am wondering if it is for bathing or flushing. We will see. Last time I was in Ghana it was for both.

Shower

We all got settled, not really unpacking. We keep the suitcases zipped because we don’t want to bring home any “friends”. The luggage that has food in it has to stay closed too or the ants will come marching, cockroaches too. So, by settled, I guess I mean we brushed our teeth, changed our clothes and wiped the dirt from our faces.

We all went for a walk into Mampong, there were a lot of people along the streets selling goods, cooking food and listening to loud music. The music seems to always be just load enough to blow out the bass speaker. We bought oranges and when it became dark, we turned around and came back to the hotel for our dinner… The infamous chicken and spicy rice!

Chicken and Spicy Rice AKA Dinner

Dinner and our anti-malaria medication was rinsed down with Fanta or Coke. They did bring a few bottles of Malta (remember the healthy malt beverage for all ages brought to you by Guinness?) Now there’s some smart marketing. None of us opted for the Malta.

I dare say I am not experiencing jetlag like I had four years ago (famous last words). We finished dinner, brushed our teeth with “bottled” water (the water we purchase comes in a clear bag) and we all hit the sack by 9pm. At 3am I woke up. I stared at the darkness for a while, then I got a flashlight and checked the walls for those spiders, yeah, the big ones. I didn’t see any. I went back to sleep waking up at noon on Sunday. (See! No jetlag, waking up at noon on Sunday is pretty standard)

*Special thanks to ProBar for donating a couple hundred meal replacement bars for our trip.

ProBar anyone?

Let the Singers Sing – Let the Quilters Quilt

Last year my daughter Laura and I were at a craft boutique, “I wish I was crafty” she said as we walked up and down the aisle of beautiful, creative, crafts. “Laura, let the singers sing. Let the dancers dance, and let the crafters craft. We can’t be great at everything. That would just be unfair.” We shared a laugh because she is a dancer and a singer. I am a singer and a song-writer and I don’t think either one of us would really be willing to trade our current talents for some other ones, even for crafty ones.

But, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I was a stay-at-home mom with a toddler and an infant, and I was CRAFTY! I know, you can’t believe it can you? I was a scrapbooker and even before that, I was a quilter!

Fabric is a great medium and when I chose to make one of my very first quilts I went with a motto that seems to come up often in my life as I embark on brand new adventures- “Go Big or Go Home.” (sort of like when I decided to run a marathon as my first race)

My first quilt was a king-sized, tumbling block design and I didn’t know enough about sewing or quilting to actually work smarter, not harder– meaning I sewed EACH piece together (those of you who sew, know to sew in strips when you can and you are cringing on my behalf, aren’t you) Here is my very first quilt, made in 1996 when I was expecting Leah.

Don’t get too impressed. It’s still NOT finished. It’s only the top, and I am just about ready to hire someone to create a back and finish the thing for me because it is 15+ years-old now. (Any takers?)

Perhaps I bit off more than I could chew? Perhaps??? Realizing that, I moved on to smaller things… Baby quilts! I completed a whopping three baby quilts before I took my own advice and I let the Quilters quilt.

In 2008 I had an idea. When I went to Ghana, Africa the second time I purchased fabric while I was there and when I came home I made three baby quilts. These three quilts are actually finished (gasp) and are NOW available for your bidding pleasure on ebay. All funds will go to The Signing Time Foundation for our upcoming trip to Ghana, so go bid wildly. Just click on the quilt you want and you’ll go to straight the eBay auction! These auctions end on January 12th and we leave for Ghana on January 13th.

Yes, these really are handcrafted by me, Rachel Coleman. Talk about limited edition, I’ve now made six baby quilts and one giant unfinished quilt in my entire illustrious quilting career. What a career! Happy bidding~

There are only 11 days left before we take off to Africa, if quilts aren’t your thing you can still “join our party” by making a tax-deductible donation to The Signing Time Foundation. You can also chip-in here: (If you don’t see the chip-in widget, just hit refresh)

Or if you are weary of on-line donations you can always pop a check in the mail:
The Signing Time Foundation
c/o Ghana 2012
870 East 7145 South
Midvale, Utah 84047

I know that going third world is not for everyone, so how about we let the travelers travel and the givers can give.
~Rachel Coleman

Going To Ghana 2012


It’s true!! It’s true! The Signing Time Foundation is partnering with Signs of Hope International for a ten day humanitarian mission to spend time with, support, and do service projects for the deaf students in deaf residential schools.

We will be leaving the second week in January, yes time for all of those fun immunization shots again:) Right now there is a team of nine that are going. You will see all kinds of fun and crazy fundraising opportunities coming your way, I am sure something will speak to you. In our fundraising efforts we will be paying the tuition for 9 deaf Ghanaian children to attend the deaf institution. We will also be providing these students with their school supplies for the year.

Plus, what great timing!! It’s almost the end of the year and I am sure there are folks who could use a tax deductible write-off (Yes, The Signing Time Foundation is a 501C3) so empty the coins out of your couches, and ask the organizations that you work for if they would be willing to chip-in. It’s a good thing for some of the most forgotten children.

When we went to Ghana three years ago, I was surprised how many people thanked us for our willingness to actually get on the plane and go, and they said it was something they would never do, but they were happy to make a donation and stay safely at home:) Don’t you just love the honesty?

Going to Ghana in 2008 altered me deeply. I recognized what a “consumer” I was. These deaf children had two outfits and one pair of shoes and that was it. When I returned home, I sat down on the floor of my walk-in closet and wept. In Ghana if you are chubby or fat it is a sign of wealth. You are only lean if you are poor. You are lean because you are hungry and you are doing manual labor and running from one place to another. You are lean because there is no excess. I tried to imagine the Ghanaian children’s response to seeing me running on a treadmill to lose weight, how absurd it might occur to them. Going to Ghana in 2008 gave me the first glimpse of the possibility of transforming my own life and my own body. I promised myself that when I returned I would not be seen as “rich, lazy, and comfortable.”

Leah was also altered when she returned from Ghana in 2008. As soon as we landed in Salt Lake City she declared, “I love my family! I love my school! And I love my country!” She was able to see how blessed she really is just to be born a deaf female in the United States.

Whether you give a lot or a little, it will make a difference. So many of the children were just happy to have a hug and someone to sign with, happy to have others who understand them.

You can make a difference right now by donating through paypal right here: (If you can’t see the chip-in widget, just refresh the page. If you still don’t see it, you can click the paypal donate button) Even small actions can cause huge reactions. Please spread the word and join us in our commitment to put communication in the hands of all children of all abilities.
~Rachel Coleman





And THEN There Were Crocodiles

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away… (Actually it was just a few years ago and right here in Salt lake City) …I had received a “cocktail” of yellow fever, measles, mumps, rubella, meningitis, and Hep A, as well as B! That sounds worse that it was, especially out of context. It also sounds like I should have been admitted to the Center for Disease Control, but I wasn’t. I was just leaving our country and going third world.

Yes, just a few years ago- Alex, Leah, Aaron, Derek and I (plus a few more) were in Ghana, Africa working and playing with deaf children there.

Did you know I have another blog? Yep, I kept a journal of both of my 2008 trips to Ghana. So, in your spare time :) hop on over there and have a looksy and take a box of tissue with you.

Those trips to Africa still impact my life. There was a part of Ghana that inspired me to stop being such a consumer. I became painfully aware of the bags of garbage versus the bags of materials to be recycled that we took to the curb each week. We began recycling more and started buying less packaged food and more real food.

In Ghana, all of the students were so lean and strong. (hungry?) They do chores early in the morning. They walk to school. They study and play soccer. They carry buckets of water on their head’s without using their hands. If you are “soft” it is because you are wealthy. Your soft because you can afford to be fat, where most cannot. Let’s just say I was tired of looking wealthy and knew that if that wasn’t enough to motivate me, I have a daily reminder that someone else was depending on me being physically strong… Lucy. I changed my eating habits, my physical exercise habits and health habits. I began my personal “1 pound per week challenge” which is how I ultimately lost over 30 pounds that year. Sometimes when I am on my treadmill, I try to imagine what the Ghanaians would think of it. I imagine they would be baffled at the idea of people running on treadmills or lifting weights in a gym. For some reason, that makes me smile. On the days I don’t want to run, I just think of my cutie in her wheelchair and I tell myself not to take anything for granted… On those days I say to myself, “Rachel, run because you CAN!”

Before I went to Ghana I often found myself looking around and feeling that there wasn’t enough _______. (fill in the blank) Or we didn’t have enough __________. Coming home, I was no longer complaining about what we didn’t have, quite the opposite! I was suddenly embarrassed by how MUCH we had, even though nothing had changed except my perspective. We cleared out excess clothes, shoes, coats and toys from our closets and we donated them.

I still receive emails from our friend Marco and I’m proud to say that last year The Signing Time Foundation helped pay for part of his college tuition in Ghana.

Going to Ghana also pushed my adventure limits. Nothing like eating unrecognizable food,

having nowhere to wash your hands and “showering” with gray well-water.

There were giant spiders that came out at night.

A chorus of goats and chickens and taxis honking throughout the night. There were tearful braids and men with machetes.

And of course… of course there were crocodiles and a broken paddleboat.

My performance schedule for 2011 is too full to go to Ghana this year, I really do not have a ten day window available. I am working with Signs of Hope International to confirm a date for 2012. Signs of Hope is always putting together groups of volunteers to work in the schools in Ghana, you can also help from home, by donating to help pay for a deaf child’s schooling.

Overall they are a cool group doing a good thing.

FAQ: When is Rachel coming to perform in MY town?

FAQ: When is Rachel coming to perform in MY town?

Yes this question is only second to “Why does Rachel have colors on her fingers?” With the ease and access that is now available through social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook the frequency of questions along the lines of “When is Rachel coming to my town?” are putting the color-coded finger question to shame.

There is no quick and simple answer to the first question but, I will try… The answer is this- I am not on tour. I am not coming to your town unless YOU, or someone like you makes it happen.

Generally, it is an organization that brings me out to speak or perform for their conference, expo, workshop, or community event. If you are involved with an organization who is putting together an event and you want me there, have that conversation with the people organizing it. Put them in touch with us.

Sometimes it is an individual who makes it happen.

Two weeks ago Ronai B. raised $2,500 for her Signing Time Community event in Maple Grove, MN and she sold over $2,500 in Signing Time products that day. Her goal is to raise $3,500 next year so that the Twin Cities can count on an annual Signing Time event. (While I was in Minnesota we had a community concert, two story time events and I even got to visit Super Fan Gracie who has been in the hospital since last fall.)

It's Signing Time with Gracie!


Hey, I’ll go anywhere as long as the costs are covered. I’ve been from Fargo, ND to Abilene, TX and even Yucca Valley, CA three times. Remember my trip to Klamath Falls, OR? There is only one airport with one or two flights each day in Klamath Falls. Lisa D. put that trip together because she wanted me to speak to their Teachers and Special Ed. Dept. She was adamant that they hear my message about communication for all children of all abilities even though the Board told her they could not possibly cover my fee and travel expenses. So, Lisa held car wash fundraisers and sold the bulbs from her garden! She asked local business for donations of $1000 and when they said “no” she asked, “Well how about $500?” And if they said no she asked for $250 😉 Get the point? She ended up raising $6,000 for her Signing Time Event in Klamath Falls, OR.

This actually reminds me of a lesson I learned a few years ago. We had been invited to go to Ghana with Signs of Hope International. The folks at SOHI really wanted Alex, Leah and me to come interact with the deaf children at residential schools in Ghana Africa. I told them, as soon as we had $25,000 in The Signing Time Foundation we would go. I waited for more than a year and surprise, surprise… no one mailed us a check for $25,000! Not one person or organization in an entire year sent us a big fat check like that! See! I was right. We couldn’t go to Ghana. (SIGH) 😉

And shortly after that I was in a seminar about Money. One of our homework assignments was to ask someone for an amount of money that makes you uncomfortable and it needs to be for a cause you believe in. Yikes!
Before walking out of the seminar that night I knew who I would ask. I knew the amount that made me uncomfortable. I even knew the cause. We had a week to complete the homework.

Seven days went by and I hadn’t done it. I had almost dialed the number, but then I thought better of it. Hours before I was going to be driving to my seminar my sister Emilie called. “Did you do your homework? She asked. We were in the Money Seminar together. “No.” I said.
“I did!” She was excited.
“No way… who did you ask? What happened?”
“I was leaving the office and there was only one person there who didn’t work for us, so I knew he was the last person I would even see before our seminar, so I asked him. I asked him for a thousand dollars for The Signing Time Foundation so that you and Alex and Leah can go to work with deaf children in Africa and he said yes!”

Now, I wouldn’t say I am especially competitive with my siblings, but in the world of seminars and homework, I was not going to be one-upped by my big sister. I got on the phone and made my call. My plan all along had been to ask for $1000 for The Signing Time Foundation too. The homework assignment was not about getting the amount you asked for. The assignment was simply to ask. People could say “yes” or “no” and your assignment was complete.

One hour before my seminar began, I also got a yes.

Suddenly my eyes were opened! We hadn’t received any donations because we hadn’t asked! We hadn’t even told anyone what we were up to and what we wanted to accomplish and NOW we were two for two with little to no planning! I mean, Emilie just asked the last guy in the building!

The result was amazing. We kept asking. Some people said yes. Some people said no. They weren’t saying no to me. They weren’t even saying “no” forever. In fact one of the biggest, most embarrassing “nos” I received ended up funding a second trip to Ghana single handedly.

In a matter of weeks we raised the entire amount for the airfare, visas, vaccinations, ground transportation, food and board!

And we went to Ghana.

So when people say that they would love to have a Signing Time event but they could never raise the funds. I smile. Because I know they are right… you never get the things that you do not ask for.

For more information about creating a Signing Time Event in your community please visit The Signing Time Foundation.

Signing Time Foundation Featured Today

I am happy to share that the Signing Time Foundation is one of the featured foundations of the day, TODAY on GoodSearch and GoodShop. GoodSearch will give 1 cent to the non-profit of your choice (hopefully us!) for every internet search you do, every single day.

Goodshop is even better! When you shop on-line a portion of your purchase price is donated to our foundation and it costs you nothing! All it takes is a few extra clicks. I could not believe how many online partnerships Goodshop offers. If you buy tickets and travel from Delta or Travelocity, a portion can come to us! If you send flowers, shop clothing retailers, send gifts… please visit www.goodsearch.com and select The Signing Time Foundation as the foundation of your choice!

Look for our Signing Time Foundation logo and link in the upper left-hand corner of your screen on www.goodsearch.com and www.goodshop.com today!