Day 10 Ghana 2012: Leah’s Wisdom

Monday, January 23, 2012
Last night we stayed up late and packed. We still have no running water. It was a really hot and miserable night. Jen and I are sharing a room. I woke up and saw that she was all cocooned up in her light blue sheet, (we brought our own sheets to use on top of the hotel bedding). The power was on and the fan was near her, so I said, “Jen, if you are too cold and want to kill the fan, go for it.” She peeked her head out and reached over and hit the “off” button. Immediately were hit with hot and humid air. It was so fast! “Ah!” I groaned, “or… you can feel free to turn it back on!” We both started laughing, as she quickly turned the fan back on.

Today is our last day. Curry, Aaron, Leah, Jen and I got up early and went to visit the deaf school in Koforidua. It’s very different from the school in Mampong. The Koforidua school has two vocational programs for their students, one trains them in the art of batik fabrics. The teacher walked us through the process.

I told her that Leah is an artist and the teacher suggested that Leah could stay with her for a few months and learn to do batik. I, for one, cannot think of a better option if Leah has rough teenage years. It’s nice to have an open invitation to a third world country for vocational training and a reality check, that’s for sure! The fabrics are beautiful and some of the designs are hand drawn in wax, while others are stamped, with carved wooden stamps, that have been dipped in the wax. The school sells this fabric to help pay for the cost of the programs.
(Click on photos to enlarge)

Every year, Signs of Hope visits and purchases large amounts of the batik fabric. Last time Curry came and purchased their fabric, the program used that money that to buy a new serger. The school also has a leatherwork program. The students are trained to make sandals, wallets, and belts.

This deaf school also has a special education class, the children are taught to Batik as well. We were told “their work is not perfect, but it’s still a good opportunity for them to learn.” Today was the first time that I saw children who have Down syndrome here in Ghana.

Today was a special day, because I was able to meet up with Amma, who is the mother of Shirley, who follows me on twitter. Shirley had seen me tweet when she found out about our Team going to Ghana. Her mother happened to be there already and had brought Signing Time DVDs with her for their family members. Amma met up with us at the Deaf school and took the tour with us. She has started the Kentucky Academy a Kindergarten program that also feeds the children. They currently have 100 children in their program.
It was great meeting Amma and she was excited to see the deaf school too. She and her husband have a group of volunteers that come from the University of Kentucky and she said that in the future their volunteers could stop by this deaf school when shopping for fabric. She asked me how, with all of my fans, I even saw the tweet from her daughter, let alone took the time to respond. I told her, it’s because I am not “a real celebrity”, it seems that “real celebrities” just collect followers, but rarely interact with them.

We went back to Mampong and made a hurried visit to Aburi. I stopped by Modest Fashions and got my dresses.

Then we went to the wood district and got the Wooden Probar.

I rushed across the road to see how Lucy’s wooden lollipop was coming along. My wood-carver was nowhere to be seen, but his Uncle handed me a cell phone. “Madam, I am sorry. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make the lollipop.” I was pretty bummed. The one thing Lucy had asked for and I wasn’t going to deliver. I walked back across the street where Aaron was still talking to Sammy. When I told them what happened, Sammy said, “I will make you a wooden lollipop by three o’clock!” We left for a few hours and when we came back…

We went to Mampong for lunch and had the most delicious chicken, rice and fried plantains. We all ate until we were stuffed!

We went back to the school for our last visit.

We hugged the children, told them goodbye and many of them pointed to the sky and told us that they would watch for us in an airplane flying over their heads.

As we made our way from the school grounds to toward the road we noticed a young woman who was signing and then we noticed that the person with her put their own hands beneath hers as they replied. Miracle of miracles, it was Sylvia! Leah and I went over and began signing with her. She was pretty confused at first and asked for her translator. Then Sylvia put her hands on Leah’s and Leah told her, “I am Leah.” Sylvia touched Leah’s face and hair, and recognized her, “Leah? You have grown! Your hair is braided too.”


Sylvia told us that she is now in high school, she passed the tests and is now the very first deaf-blind student all of Ghana to enter high school. We congratulated her, talked a little more and then really had to go. We needed to pack, load the tro-tro and get to the airport. The rest of our Team had moved on without us, but it was okay. Leah and I said our goodbyes to Sylvia and then, I took my daughter’s hand and we walked down the dirt road to the street. My eyes were full of tears and I glanced over and noticed tears streaming down Leah’s cheeks. She was smiling. I signed, “What is it?” She signed back, “Mom, she’s the proof. Sylvia is the evidence that anything is possible. She’s a deaf, blind, Ghanaian girl who is now in high school and plans to go to college. Mom, it’s not our circumstances that keep us from reaching our dreams. It’s our excuses that keep us from reaching our dreams.”

I put an arm around her and we walked. The sun was setting. The sky was smoky. We were both hot and tired. I couldn’t help but think back to the day in 1998 when Aaron and I found out that our one-year-old toddler was deaf. I had cried. I wept. That day, I imagined many, many different things, things that my baby girl could never do. I also imagined many things that I would have to give up, like writing and performing music. Honestly, what I couldn’t do back then was imagine all of the wonderful things that would happen to us. I couldn’t imagine the countless friends that we would have around the country and around the world. I couldn’t foresee how many lives we would touch, or how many children we would help with their communication. I had no idea of the many, many lives that would impact ours.

“I’m going to come back, you know.” I said to Leah.
“I know, mom” she said, “I’m coming back too.”

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 4 Ghana 2012: No Means No, Everything else means Yes

January 17, 2012
Some days feel longer than others, but for different reasons. I take that back. Every day feels long. We were at breakfast (our daily omelet and two huge pieces of bread) by 7:15 and off to school by 7:30. Aaron and I offered to support a Primary 1 Class (Elementary, first grade). The teacher was great and she was teaching new signs and the written word. She was clearly demonstrating the concepts. They were tough concepts since the curriculum is not written for deaf students; it’s the mainstream curriculum. It was a Math lesson and she was teaching about objects, things that have a “curved face” “corner” or are “flat”.

Pablo came by and said that he and Carissa were a bit baffled by the students in their class. I went in to see what was happening. They were working with “new students” but many were older, there were teens. This was the students’ first experience in a deaf school, so they had to start somewhere and that “somewhere” was this class. Most of the students knew their alphabet, so we took on numbers. Showing the sign for “1” and then asking how to spell it. “O-N-E”.” Leah would write the word on the board and then we would set out to discover examples of “1” in the classroom. “One blackboard!” “1 teacher’s desk!” and so on, until we moved on to the number 2 in the same way. Two of the students (both looked older than Leah) knew the concepts and could communicate very well. But, this was their first year, so here they were in a beginning class.

The teacher had said that this class and the teaching of it is “very tedious.” She left for a while, leaving Carissa and Pablo in charge. When she returned, Leah, Aaron and I were also helping in her class. I talked to her for a bit and then she asked, “Where’s Alex?” I laughed, “You remember?” She said yes and told me that on the school break she had borrowed “Signing Time” DVDs from the school library and learned a lot! I asked, “It’s here? It’s in the library?” I didn’t know!” She told me that ten or eleven DVDs are here. As if reading my mind she pulled a little lollipop out of her pocket and said that someone had delivered “all of this candy on break. No one would’ve known about it, but the Headmaster counted out enough for each student in each class, and I got one too!”

In the past, very few things that were delivered or brought for the students ever made it to the students. It was up to the headmaster to either deliver these things or keep them for herself and her own family.

I told her that I was asked to present in the morning, which still makes my heart pound at the thought of it. Why? Well, like I really need to be stressed about causing an International fiasco! There are SO many cultural differences and the default goes to the local culture, not mine. I’ll just keep that left hand away, except for when signing (you do not use your left hand in Ghana, not to wave, not to hand someone money and not to give something to another person, it is considered VERY rude and insulting). I am kicking myself for not bringing my Ghanaian dress or even my wrap skirt. When the headmaster spoke to us and introduced us, she wore a scarf of the American flag around her neck as a sign of respect. Would that be reciprocation if I had traditional clothes? I don’t know. It’s all of the “I don’t knows” that keep me up at night- also jetlag.

After awhile the students had their snack break. The dorm mother had asked us not to let the students hang onto us during their breaks. They need to go eat and we are a distraction. If the students aren’t doing what they should be doing they get “corrected” (with a stick). It was explained to us that this is one of the biggest cultural differences and that it is not abuse, it is simply an effective way to control 250 students when there are very few adults around. Sometimes the children knowingly choose to be with us and take the “correction” and that is just TOO much for my heart and head to grasp. So, we quickly redirect them toward the common area as they come to drape themselves all over us. It feels terrible, but in the end it is kinder.

Curry had a meeting with the retired Religion Teacher who is still his Signs of Hope contact. When we met him (Daniel) he remembered us and I told him that I had never forgotten his, “New Year ~ New Life ~ New Blessing!” presentation. He was blown away! We were at Sammy and Dora’s house when this conversation took place and since Sammy is the school librarian I asked about the Signing Time DVDs. He said, “Yes, we have 10 or 11 of them.” I asked if I could get a list of what they have so that I could send the rest.

Earlier I had a conversation with one of the teachers and she asked, “Will you come back here again?” This is the worst question! In their culture, if you say anything other than “no” it is a promise to come back and wow, we sure seem to have a hard time giving a firm “no” in our culture. If you say, “maybe” that’s a YES. “I’d like to” is also YES. So I said, “since 2008 I have wanted to come back and that took four years… The airfare alone is very expensive. Of course I would love to come back, but I can’t promise.” #EPICFail Crap! I think I just promised to come back within four years! (I guess I had better start fundraising again) How do you explain an $1800 airline ticket to someone who makes $150-200 a month?

The water pump at the well broke and is now replaced with a number of giant black poly containers and water comes out of spigots. I wonder if it seemed magical to twist that handle and have water rush out with minimal human effort?

In the central courtyard is a large generator that another group from another country had fundraised to purchase and then they shipped it to Ghana and had it installed. I imagine they took their photo, patted each other on the back and went home. The generator is now fenced off and falling apart. It worked and provided electricity through its first tank of gas, but the school does not have the funds to purchase more gas for it. So, when the power is out, the power is out, even though there is a generator in the courtyard (SIGH). This is why Signs of Hope International (SOHI) is SO adamant about not delivering goods. We might think we know what’s needed, but we don’t always see the full picture. When you consider the cost of the generator, the cost to transport it from Europe and now it is essentially lawn art? Sheesh! That amount could’ve educated, fed and housed many deaf students for many years to come.

This is the local gas station

SOHI also has a policy not to hand over cash. They pay the school the fees for the students that they sponsor, this now incudes a “PTA fee” and a “National Health Care fee” (nice going USA;) and we took the money that we raised and went to the market place and purchased the students’ supplies ourselves. The government subsidizes the education of deaf children but the supplies that they need in order to show up and start school cost over $250 per child.

We left the school at lunch and waited for the tro-tro. We loaded in and drove to the market in Koforidua, which is about an hour away. One word: WOW! Four years ago we experienced a similar marketplace in Accra. Sensory overload, a maze of buildings, vendors, and people. We stuck close to our Ghanaian guides. I imagine in Accra, since it is the capital, they see more white people than in Koforidua. When we stopped at any storefront, a crowd gathered.

We divided into three groups, each with a list of school supplies, an envelope of cash, and a local guide. I am sure it added amusement that we were purchasing things like 40 bars of soap, 30 rolls of toilet paper, 12 toothbrushes, 12 spoons, massive amounts of feminine hygiene supplies, plates, scrub brushes, 12 flats of juice boxes, local sauces and grains all listed on the students’ Back to School list. Each child needs a three-month supply and we were buying for all of SOHI’s sponsored kids. The list also states: “mattress if they don’t have one”. A mattress is $40! Remember when I said that a teacher makes $200/month? No wonder families have to save up to send their deaf child to school. The school could use new mattresses, 250 of them, but at $10,000? Really? Let’s see… a generator that is all but useless or mattresses that aren’t falling apart, stained and soiled. But, then it comes down to $10,000 toward bedding or $10,000 toward the education and school supplies of deaf students…

Today was also a fabric day. We bought some fabric at the market and then after dinner, Joyce, who manages the hotel, took us to her friend’s fabric shop. We walked and our way was lit by flashlights and headlamps. We all bought some great stuff and the fabric that I purchased today is SO different than anything I bought four years ago. Joyce has the best dresses! Tomorrow after school we are going to her dressmaker.

I swear we squeeze every minute out of each day here. It was already dark when we went to the fabric store and darker still when we returned. I was feeling sick to my stomach from our earlier 2-hour round trip inhalation of fumes to Koforidua and back. I “showered” with my 5-gallon bucket and giant ladle and then I fell asleep.

I heard Aaron stay up after 9:00pm to call Lucy. Actually, it must’ve been after 10:30pm since she gets home from school at 3:30. He said that Lucy sounded great!! She had her baby cousin Eliza over to play. So far Lucy has been a champ. The week before we left for Ghana, I would be on the phone or just sitting at the kitchen table and I would start crying, worrying for Lucy. I didn’t know if we’d be able to call her at all. The first time we came to Ghana, Lucy was home with a sitter and she became so ill that my mom moved in and stayed with her too, through the entire trip. She had a high fever, broke out in a rash and hives, and she was violently ill, weak and pale. I think she went to school one day out of the eleven days we were gone. My theory is that when the people she loves and trust the most leave, it’s just too much for her system. We are the ones who care for her every day. We feed her. We love her. We keep her alive.

This time, I instructed her caregivers to check her into the ER if she stops eating, drinking, or if she refuses to have her daily needs met. Hey, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do! Thankfully, Aaron was met with, “Hi Dad! Eliza is here and I’m playing with her, so I can’t talk too long.”
PERFECT!

Want more Ghana?
Read Jen’s Recap on the Signing Time Blog

Read Ronai’s recap on the Signing Time Blog

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

46 Days and Counting

The countdown is on! We leave for Ghana on January 13, 2012.. yes, that IS Friday the 13th, so… that’s just… great.

First of all a HUGE thank you to those of you who have donated to The Signing Time Foundation (501c3)! I know you didn’t know it, but if you donated $50 or more, you will be getting a handwritten “Thank You” “receipt” from me, with a photo of us in Ghana. (Obviously that will be coming to you after the trip) and that offer still stands, just click the donate button… Warning: It feels good!





Secondly… we have yet another way for you to contribute!!! Check out our limited edition, Signing Time Foundation Ghana 2012 pewter pins! We are making a limited number of these (because that’s what “limited edition” means) so when they are gone… they are GONE! The best part is that this is a very affordable way to make a difference, each pin is $10 and that includes shipping to your U.S. address – and that means that just about $5 of each purchase goes straight to the Ghana 2012 trip. YeeHaw!

The Hopkins Pin and The Rachel Pin

There are two designs to choose from, Hopkins the Frog and THE Rachel “ILY”. Plus we’re using Paypal to make it really easy to order. Your order will ship in 4-6 weeks. To buy single pins visit www.signingtimefoundation.org (but really… why buy 1 when you can buy 2?)
Warning: Buying things for a good cause makes you a good person… be prepared! (results not guaranteed)

(Ok grownups, these are clearly not meant for young children, so… use your good judgement and good sense about things with small removable parts and sharp points <--- that was my Public Service Announcement and was probably better than saying things like: "don't be a ding-dong")And as always you can Chip-in for Africa below, and yes, I know the chip-in doesn't count the "donate" or "buy now" buttons, but we are also aiming to raise $20,000 not just $5,000. If the chip-in widget doesn't show up, just hit refresh, and it should! Hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving~ and that you enjoyed Black Friday and Cyber Monday! MWAH ~Rachel

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.