13 hours of plane rides, a tight layover, and a bag full of Toblerone chocolate later, we finally made it back to Columbus! I was extremely happy to see my mom and sister after almost a month apart, and my sister even made us a welcome-home cake! We gave them all of their gifts from Ghana, including wooden elephants, giraffes, and dolphins. I already miss all of the students and other people that I met during my stay in Ghana, but I have to admit that it felt pretty amazing to take a hot shower, raid my kitchen pantry, and sleep in my own bed. I may be back from Ghana, but the adventure most certainly does not end here! I made sure to collect contact information from several people at every school that I worked with, and I hope to continue to strengthen my relationships with the schools and organizations, even though I am now on a different continent. Who knows, I may even go back someday to check in on them in person!
Today we drove from Cape Coast to Accra, where we will be flying out of early tomorrow morning. We spent the majority of our afternoon at the Accra Arts Centre Market at the Centre for National Culture, which contains stalls that are practically bursting with wooden carvings, textiles, instruments, clothing, jewelry, and more. I had been looking forward to this visit for almost our entire trip, and it did not disappoint! We purchased several beautiful pieces of art, some as personal souvenirs and others as gifts for family and friends back home. We informed one of the vendors that we were searching for a dolphin for my sister, the mascot of her sorority, and over the next two hours I think we were shown every fish and shark in the entire market! However, part of the fun of shopping in these types of markets is searching for the hidden treasures among all of the other pieces of art. I am an expert at negotiating prices by now, and I managed to cut down the price of a giraffe from 120 cedis to just 60! After we finished shopping, we headed to our hotel in Accra and had a late lunch before carefully wrapping up all of our new pieces of art and adding them to our luggage. We're heading to bed much earlier than usual, as we leave for the airport at 6:30 in the morning tomorrow!
Today was my last day of teaching in Axim. Even more depressingly, it was also my last day of teaching here in Ghana! I was lucky enough to end my journey with two wonderful final lessons. At the Axim Library, we again spent the day on Wikipedia, and I asked the students ten questions on Wikipedia and ten more on Wikipedia for Schools. My favorite question was "Where could I find a living dodo today?" Of course, this is a trick question, as the dodo bird has been extinct for many, many years. However, I had a lot of fun with the kids before I revealed the answer! They guessed countries and islands from just about every continent in the world, and they grew more perplexed every time I said that the guess was incorrect. I finally asked one of the kids to read the first line of the Wikipedia article out loud for the class, which starts off by stating that the dodo is extinct. I then asked if anyone knew what the word "extinct" meant, and, as I had guessed, they all said no. I took this as the perfect opportunity to tell the kids that if they do not know the meaning of a seemingly relevant or important word in their readings, they should use Wikipedia to look it up! I had one of the students look up the meaning of "extinct," and the students finally understood why none of their guesses had been correct - a living dodo cannot be found anywhere today because they're all dead! The kids all laughed when they understood that it had been a trick question, and I was glad that they were not upset that I had put them through it. I definitely think it taught them an important lesson for any of their readings in school or later in life. At the end of the lesson, I thanked them all for being such patient and eager students during every lesson this week, and then it was time to say goodbye! After a quick lunch, we went to AGSHS to teach my final lesson. We did not have electricity, but I had grown quite used to this state of darkness by now! I started off the lesson by giving Jerry and Arloo one of the more difficult multi-step questions to solve in front of the students, and I set my timer for five minutes. The girls had a great time laughing at their teachers as they struggled to find the answers on Wikipedia and Open Street Maps, even with the students shouting out the answers that they spotted on the board! Ten or so minutes later, after Jerry and Arloo finally answered their question, it was time for the girls to ask the questions that they had come up with themselves. Group 1 gave its question to Group 2, Group 2 gave its question to Group 3, and so on. Most of the questions were very well thought up, and the girls did a great job answering them. The one notable exception, which was actually quite funny, was Group 2's question. Group 3 was having a very hard time answering this question, and even I was unable to solve it from my dad's computer in the back! I finally asked Group 2 to assist Group 3 with their question, and it was revealed that they actually did not know how to solve their own question! They were simply asking about a book that they had read in school earlier this year and had not bothered to see if the answer could be found using the Internet-in-a-Box! We all had quite the laugh over this revelation before Jerry jokingly "disqualified" Group 2 from the competition. After finishing up the lesson, I thanked the girls one last time for being such great students and told them to continue to push themselves in everything that they did. The assistant headmaster thanked us on behalf of the school and gave my father and I each a thoughtful gift, and then the girls decided that it was picture time! Before I could even respond, my phone was whipped out of my front pocket and immediately passed around so that everyone could get a picture with me! Once I was finally able to pull myself away and say my last goodbyes, we left the school and started our drive to Cape Coast. We spent our second-to-last night in Ghana at Kathryn's house in Mpeasem, which brought us full-circle to the beginning of our journey almost a month ago, although Kathryn, Maureen, and Monica were noticeably absent this time, as all three of them have already traveled back to the United States. We leave for Accra tomorrow morning, so we simply spent the night relaxing and finishing up our packing.
We got to the Axim Library an hour early today to upgrade all of the XO laptops before my lesson. With the help of my dad and an extremely efficient assembly line setup, we successfully updated almost all 20-something laptops. We were unable to install the updates on three of the computers because the power went out about halfway through, and these three laptops did not have fully-operational batteries. However, the computers were all ready to go by the time the students arrived, and the lesson went very well as a result. I gave the students some simple Wikipedia questions, such as "What is the population of China?" and "What is the capital of Canada?," and then I gave them some time to think of their own questions to ask their peers. The kids loved it, and they came up with very good questions. Some of the kids loved answering the questions so much that they would work together to find a question, and then one of them would ask the question and the other would give the answer almost immediately. It's hard to call out ten- and eleven-year-olds for cheating, so I only gave them some slight teasing once I caught on. At least they were very into the IIAB competition! Or maybe they just liked having everyone clap for them when they answered the question correctly… Oh well. At Axim Girls Senior High School, we faced a slight setback when the generator refused to power my projector, but my dad pulled out his old electrical engineering skills to get it working. For the actual lesson, I split the girls into four different groups of four or five people and then had each group take turns coming up to my computer to answer a question. Every question contained multiple parts and required using at least two of the IIAB programs (Wikipedia, Project Gutenberg, and/or Open Street Maps). The groups all did very well, with some of them finding even faster ways to solve their questions than I had intended! At the end of class, I unplugged the projector and gave each group five minutes to come up with their own multi-step IIAB question. That task took us to the very end of the lesson, but I told the girls to be ready to ask the rest of the class their questions first thing tomorrow! From AGSHS we headed over to Jerry's house, where his wife had prepared one of the local Ghanaian dishes for us for dinner! My dad and I both enjoyed a delicious plate of red red, which consists of black eyed peas and plantains, and, at the end of the night, Jerry presented my father and I with a traditional African shirt and dress as gifts from his family. It was the perfect way to spend our last night in Axim!
We finally had power for today's lessons! However, the lesson with the kids did not run as smoothly as hoped. Many of the XO laptops still would not connect to the Internet-in-a-Box, and many others had separate issues. After the lesson, I went through all of the laptops and "reflashed" those that I could, meaning that I updated the software and fixed several bugs. However, I was only able to successfully upgrade seven of the laptops, leaving over twenty without the update. I was also unable to upgrade the firmware on any of the laptops, so I took home two of the XO-1s to work with later and see if I could figure out why the upgrade was failing on those computers. My afternoon lesson with the high school girls went very well, and they were all very excited to finally use the IIAB on their own computers! I started off by giving them more questions on Wikipedia, and then they answered questions using Project Gutenberg and Open Street Maps. For the last bit of the lesson, I had all of the girls take the first typing lesson on Powertyping. As I told them before, practice is the only way to become better at typing, and being a faster typer allows one to use a computer much more efficiently. We also met with the headmistress of the school, who again thanked us for the work that we are doing with her school and its girls. After dinner, I got back to work on the XO-laptops. I tried upgrading the firmware on the laptops before re-flashing them, using just two of the many flash drives that I had prepared and downloaded with files before leaving Ohio, and this time I tried using a slightly different technique for upgrading the firmware. After much trial and error and Skype-messaging with Adam, I finally succeeded in upgrading the firmware, and immediately afterwards I successfully re-flashed the laptops! It was such a relief after a great amount of frustration with these XO-laptops. Tomorrow before my morning lesson I plan on upgrading and reflashing all of the other XO-1 laptops that I failed to fix earlier today.
Update: Apparently the cats weren't satisfied with the amount of food we were dropping by accident - tonight at dinner one of them reached up and stole a piece of garlic bread off the plate. And that was before it jumped up on the table and grabbed an entire chicken kabob. At least it shared with its friends...
Today there was again no power in Axim, but both of my lessons ran without a hitch! In the morning I taught the younger kids how to use Wikipedia, starting with me asking them to search terms like "Ghana" and "Axim." I also had them search "Columbus, Ohio" so that they could see where I live, too! Once they got the hang of it, I gave them time to explore whatever they wanted. It's always fun to see what they choose to search, and today's kids looked up everything for "God of War video games" to "China." They were very sad when I eventually told them it was time to shut down, but I promised them I would give them more time to explore during tomorrow's lesson. In the afternoon I was back with the girls at AGSHS, and we also focused on Wikipedia. However, I gave them questions to answer using Wikipedia and called them up one at a time to find the answer using my computer. At first, they were very hesitant to volunteer, but after a few questions people were very eager to try answering a question. The girls enjoyed cheering each other on as they attempted to answer the questions - after all, the computer that they used was projected on the wall for everyone to see! At 5:00, just as I was saying goodbye, the power came back on in the school, and the girls all begged for us to continue the lesson using all of their computers. Unfortunately, we all had other places to go, but I told them to be optimistic and hope that the power would stay on for tomorrow's lesson. However, I was so happy to see that they are all very excited to finally begin using the IIAB on their own.
Today was my first day of teaching in Axim! First I taught a group of 24 fourth and fifth graders from several different schools how to use the newly installed Internet-in-a-Box in the Axim Library. My lesson was scheduled for 9-11 AM, which meant that I ended up teaching from 10-12 (time runs much differently in Africa - the first "hour" of my scheduled lesson was spent waiting for all of the students to arrive). Once all of the students arrived, all that I had them do during today's lesson was turn on the XO-1 laptops and connect to the Internet-in-a-Box following a five-step list that I had written out on the whiteboard. Turns out, this task is easer said than done. The power was out when we arrived, and none of the computers were charged. While the librarian was attempting to turn on the generator, I gave the students a brief summary of the sites that I will be teaching them, including Wikipedia, Open Street Maps, and Project Gutenberg. However, even once the generator allowed the computers to finally turn on, our problems did not end. Many of the laptops were unable to connect to the IIAB Wi-Fi, several had broken touch pads, and others simply froze when trying to open a new browsing page. An hour or so later, I had sorted out the working computers from the less-than-functional ones and paired the students up so that they were each sharing a working computer. Finally, around 11:40, all of the computers that were still operational had connected to the Internet-in-a-Box and accessed the home page of the server. Then I had the students shut down their computers, concluding the first lesson. I sincerely hope that we got all of the issues out of the way today and that tomorrow's lesson will run much more smoothly. After lunch and a short rest, it was off to Axim Girls Senior High School for another two hour lesson. Fortunately, this lesson went very well, despite the lack of electricity in the school. Since all of their computers are desktop PCs, none of them could be used for the lesson, but we were able to run a projector for my laptop off of the school's backup generator. I asked the girls how familiar they were with IIAB because it was installed at their school back in January, and I learned that they were all relatively new to the server. Therefore, I gave the girls an overview of the programs on Internet-in-a-Box and showed them the basics of Wikipedia, Open Street Maps, Khan Academy, and Powertyping. These girls are the most outgoing that I've worked with so far, and I am very excited for the rest of my lessons with them this week.
We started Sunday off the same way as every Ghanaian Christian - by going to church. We attended a Methodist mass, and it was a very interesting and rewarding experience. Every person was dressed in their Sunday best, and their clothing was distinctly African and beautiful. The women wore wonderful patterned dresses and the men wore colorful tops and pants. Most of the women also wore African head wraps, many of which matched the patterns on their dresses. It was very different from any religious mass that I have ever attended, but I was also amazed with some of the similarities to western mass. They spoke many of the same prayers as those recited in the Roman Catholic mass with which I am familiar, although some were spoken in English and others in the local language . These people live on the other side of the world from me, but we speak the same prayers and worship the same god. During one of the recitations, I recognized the exact prayer which they were speaking due to its rhythm, but I did not understand any of the words in that language. In that moment, I had an amazing epiphany. Hearing them recite this prayer in an unknown African language, I realized that it does not matter where a person is from or which god they worship. We all live on the same planet and we all believe in the same thing, even if we do not understand each other or speak in the same tongue. Despite all of our differences, we are one people.
After church, our full day continued as we did a bit of sightseeing in the areas just outside of Axim, starting with the Nzulezo floating village. The Nzulezo village is built entirely on stilts above the water of a lake, and the only way to reach it is by a 45-minute canoe ride through the wetlands. Local legend says that the ancestors of the village migrated there hundreds of years ago on the word of a snail that served as their god. The main occupations of the Nzulezo people are farming and fishing, and there are a small school and Catholic church in the village. After our canoe ride back to land, we visited the birth place and first burial ground of Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana. Ghana gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1957. President Nkrumah died in 1972, and his body was later relocated to Accra, the capital city of Ghana. However, his original tomb remains in the village of Nkroful.
Side note: We made friends with some cats at the hotel. Apparently they like people who accidentally spill their food. I'm too afraid to touch them, but they're awfully cute.
Saturday morning we headed out to the Axim Girls Senior High School to install wireless adapters and drivers that will give their PC computers access to wireless connections, including the Internet-in-a-Box. It all went very smoothly, and then we went to the Axim Library to set up our third and final Internet-in-a-Box system! I learned how to solder two wires together, and we had the server up and running in no time at all. The only issue is that the Netgear, which allows Adam and Tim to access the IIAB server from North America, is running much slower than desired. We brought a back-up router to replace this slower one, but we have not yet installed or tested it in the library.
Today we packed up and moved out of Cape Coast! Next stop, Axim. Unfortunately, this meant saying goodbye to Kathryn and Maureen (and Monica, Maureen's travel buddy who arrived on Wednesday). We promised to keep each other well updated of the other's work in different parts of Ghana. Three hours later, we arrived in Axim in the afternoon and were soon joined by Jerry Kwofie and Evans Arloo, the main TLC guys (technology learning coordinators) here in Axim. Jerry is an IT teacher at Axim Girls' Senior High School and Arloo is the operations manager for the Western Heritage Home. They gave us a detailed tour of Axim to help us get an idea of where we will be spending all of our time in the following week. We visited the Western Heritage Home, AGSHS, the Axim Library, a new building site for AGSHS, and drove past the local hospital where Jerry's wife works. We also drove along the coast of Axim, which is a very crowded and vibrant place because fishing is the main business in the town. We also had the chance to meet both of their wives and adorable babies! Jerry has a fourteen-month-old son and Arloo has a three-month-old girl named Maryanne after the head and founder of Ghana Together, which supports local schools here in Axim. I can already tell that Axim is very different from Cape Coast, as it is much more rural, but the dedication and passion of those who are working to improve the education of high school students here is no less than that of Cape Coast.