Coming Home from Ghana


I can’t really put all of the experiences I’ve had in the past 2 and a half weeks into words. I’ve seen and been through so much. Even though it’s impossible to sum it up I thought that the best way would be through pictures because a picture is worth 1000 words. RIght?

Being back has been so surreal. I’ll be sitting on the couch watching T.V. and it will suddenly occur to me “Wait… about 48 hours ago I was in Ghana.” The first meal I had being back was a cheeseburger with fries and a milkshake and I can tell you that a burger and shake has never tasted so good. Although I do miss a lot of the friends I made I’m really glad to be home and share all of my experiences from the past 2 and a half weeks. With these pictures I hope to do the same with you.

Everyday we would have classes and then when we weren’t teaching we would help with the reading program where we would basically sit and read with the kids for about 50 minutes asking comprehension questions in between. 

This girl was one of my best friends from Heritage Academy. Her name is Felicity and she was in my 7th grade class. She is extremely smart and talented. Reading with her was always a breeze. She was one of the most kind selfless people I met on this trip. Everyday when we would come to reading period we would write each other notes. By the end of the trip these notes started turning into gifts and now we both have friendship bracelets we made each other to remember one another. Felicity unlike most people never asked for a gift or a letter. She always gave but never expected something in return which for someone her age in her environment is pretty remarkable.

ImageThese little cutie’s names are both Esther. I met both of them pretty late into the trip since I didn’t have any classes or reading periods with them but they became two of my favorite kids by the end. Every time they saw me they would run over and give me a huge hug. It made me feel really appreciative that someone was so happy to see me because I was just as happy to see them.
ImageThis was one of my other reading groups and they were always super fun to read with. Their names from left to right are Hannah, Dorcas, Samuel, Abigail and Abigail. They would always come up with creative ways to make reading more fun. For example, their favorite book was called Biscuit which was about a dog named Biscuit. Every time the book said “Woof Woof” they would have to say it as if they were actually a dog. By the end we would all get excited when we turned the page and saw that we got to say “Woof woof!” Hannah since she didn’t speak english very well always enjoyed the “Woof Woof” more than the others because it was easy for her to read. ImageThis is Hannah in the bus that took 600 kids to school everyday. Although this bus can seat probably about 25 kids about 60 kids would be shoved in at a time in order for everyone to make it to school on time. Traffic laws never really applied in Ghana…
ImageWhen we weren’t teaching we got to do some sightseeing! The bridge I’m on in this picture is at Kakum National Park. These bridges were about 300 meters about the ground. ImageThis was the Coconut Grove Beach Resort we got to relax on during the weekends when we weren’t teaching or doing community service.

Well that’s about it from me. There’s a lot more to say about this trip so I hope you read some of the other’s posts because we each had our own unique experiences. Although, at times, this trip was really difficult I know it was definitely worth it because it really did change my life. I want to thank all of the seniors and faculty who were also on this trip for being such a great group and really adding to this amazing experience. 

Until next time!


Spiders Are Your Friends (No, Really)

Today was my last day at the museum, and was, except for an afternoon adventure which I will later detail, a very normal day, which opened with (finally) my obligatory selfie with Sue. For those of you who don’t know, Sue is the resident T. Rex, and is kind of a big deal because she’s the largest, most complete, and best preserved T. Rex fossil in the world.


(She’s also cuter than me… look at that smile.)

Anyway, I walk in every morning and try to break through the throng of Sue selfie (Suelfie?)-takers to get to the paleo office. On day one I thought the craze was a little stupid. By the middle of the second week, I thought it was a bit cute. I woke up on my last day with an urgent need for a Suelfie.

Following that, I spent my morning struggling to reassemble an enormous and completely shattered brontothere tibia. We broke at noon for a much-needed cheeseburger break, and somehow got onto the subject of bug phobias. I mentioned that I’d never had a problem with spiders (put a wasp anywhere in my line of sight and I will scream like a four-year-old watching Saw II, but that’s another story).

My co-intern immediately said, “Oh, she has to meet Jim!”

“Who’s Jim?” I asked.

“A tarantula,” explained my manager.

“Well,” my co-intern elaborated, “Jim’s technically the tarantula’s owner, but the tarantula’s Jim too. Little Jim.”

I was game, so immediately after our lunch break we went upstairs to the entomology department, where I made a few friends. Big Jim was cool, Little Jim was startlingly fluffy and docile (he hung out on my hand for a bit)…


(My new arachnid BFF)

…and I learned that scorpions would have a great time at an EDM festival. Confused?


(It’s because they glow under blacklights. Seriously…check him out.)

That left us with about three hours to work on the tibia again before we said our goodbyes and I took my last slightly shady, gospel-music-blaring taxi ride back to Ogilvie Station.


(Just as the snow was starting to melt…)

Overall, a very cool time. Over & out,



Dinosaur Poop

Over the end of last week we powered down and finished most of the smaller samples that we had to get through. During my last week, we’re finally going to break into the specimens that got the “dinosaurs and oversize” department its name. There are some things that I’m still not really experienced enough to do much with, like these brachiosaur vertebrae:


…but I did get to attempt to fix about half of a rib and the lower quarter or so of a femur, which was cool.


We also found what we thought may have been an egg until my manager informed me that it was a coprolite which added a little, uh, excitement to the morning.


(Coprolite = fossilized poop, for those of you who don’t know. That there? That’s a turd.)

We spent the entire afternoon on Friday and today cleaning this massive pelvis. It hasn’t been identified yet, but my manager seems pretty sure that it’s a brontothere, which is a mammal from the Eocene that looks quite a bit like a modern rhino despite being a much closer relative of a horse. We’ve had a lot of scattered pieces of brontothere teeth, ribs, and even a few reasonably intact leg bones, so it’s definitely a possibility.

I talked about cleaning fossils in my last post, but apparently that sort of cleaning is reserved for the weaker bones. In this case, you wash it as usual in the big industrial sink, but for bigger, sturdier fossils, especially ones that are as caked in mud and sandstone as this one was, that’s only step one. While the matrix around it is still wet, you scrape off everything you can with a dental pick, and then let it dry overnight (or, in this case, over the weekend). Then you squirt it with acetone to dissolve any glue that might have been sprayed on it on-site to keep the fossil in one piece.


(Acetone is really intense and you have to spray it in the industrial sink because it will destroy the paint, the floors, your nail polish, and your soul)

Then you go at it with the dental pick again. Once everything that can be removed has been removed, there’s a chisel and a high-powered hose that you attack it with. We didn’t have to use the hose–since it’s so aggressive, it’s something of a last resort. After it’s at its best state, you rinse it in water, then in acetone again, then in water again. Then it has to sit for an hour or so (time for lunch break) and then we have to glue all the pieces back together that fell apart during cleaning. You end up with something like this:


(That’s the rib in front, for some scale)

Anyway, going into my last week here. The second of the two cousins that I’m staying with just started his spring break, so we’re going to a local ice cream place as a welcome home. Adieu,



Broken Bones and Anachronisms

Returning to the museum after a weekend downtown with some of my friends made for a definite change of pace and sleep schedule, but today and Monday still managed to keep me on my toes. Yesterday was spent dealing with several boxes of small mammalian carnivore fossils that had been found but unprocessed in the mid-nineties. There were a few skulls in startlingly good condition, but for the most part we had a lot of repair work to do. So, that looks like my week.


Fun fact: getting those two pieces consolidated took most of my morning, or at least what of it I spent actually working.

That wasn’t all that much time, though, since tomorrow will be opening day for a new temporary exhibit on biomechanics. Definitely a very different scene than fossils, but one that’s also very cool. We spent our lunch break at a staff-only lecture with the curator, after which my manager gave me and the other intern an hour off to go through it before it opened to the public. The exhibit operated under less of an assumption that we knew anything about biomechanics than the lecture, which was good, since my understanding of that field is very low, but they were both really interesting.



Day One and a Half

March 2, 2014

The first day of our Senior Project began with Qdoba, at least for a few of us. We thought of it like our last hurrah. Our last American meal. After our last supper (or lunch), we drove to Westtown where we proceeded to pack our bags, say our goodbyes, and board a school bus. Of course, the bus had some technical difficulties, so we switched buses, along with our thirty some suitcases. We spent four hours on our way to JFK International Airport, managing to see some of the city on our way. As there typically is on a Saturday afternoon, traffic kept us on the road for a little longer than anticipated, so we rushed through the airport to catch our 9:00 flight.

Check in and security were a breeze. Other than the fact that my walking boot (I had surgery on my foot a few months ago) had to be tested for explosive material residue. We walked what seemed like miles until finally getting to our gate. Of course by this time it was around 7:30 and we were supposed to board at 8:00. The rush to get food was incredible. Luckily most of us managed to snag a burger and milkshake at Shake Shack.

My ticket was scanned, and I was off. All I wanted was to be settled into my seat with nothing but the ocean separating me from Ghana. I had an aslie seat but still my legs couldn’t find anywhere to go. I enjoyed a movie before falling asleep with my heaad on the traytable (this left my classmates in awe). Sleeping on a plane is never easy, and our ten hour flight had quite a bit of turbulence, so my eyes constantly opened and closed. After a few naps and movies, the screen finally showed that there were only 30 minutes of flight time left. I asked for a coffee and glued my eyes to the completely unexciting scene outside of the window. In what seemed like seconds later, we were on the ground in Africa.

I was hit by a wall of heat as I left the comfort of the air conditioned plane. We walked across the scathing hot blacktop of the runway to the airport. You could smell the heat. It was everywhere. We waited in line after line and finally reached the front. Right as I walked over to my customs desk, a man touched my arm and asked, “Americans?” I nodded and he smiled and walked away. I guess we stick out like sore thumbs.

After collecting all of our bags we headed to the van that would take us from Accra to the Jimmycom guesthouse: our home for the next 18 days. Men surrounded us as soon as we stepped out of the airport, wanting to help us with our bags. We were warned by the group leaders to say no, as they demanded ten dollars continously if they lent a hand. After losing them we stopped for lunch at the beginning of the ride at a very nice hotel. I savored every slice of pizza before we hopped in the van again. The ride was unbearable in every way. No leg space, 17 people crammed into a space hardly meant for 14, and heat. So. Much. Heat. It took us around two hours. Thankfully, we were introduced to the culture as we rode. We saw many people carrying baskets full of merchandise on their heads, pushing it through peoples windows trying to make a few bucks.

When we arrived at the Jimmycom guest house, we were pleased to see our beds. We got settled, took showers and ate dinner. It was delicious. We hung out for a while, but after a short group meeting we were pooped. It was bed time. I fell asleep to the sounds of goats and the rustling of the wind in the trees. We were finally here.

Party Time (Members Only)

Tonight is the much-anticipated weekly Members’ Night at the Field Museum! What that entails is the museum staying open late so that members can tour the usually behind-the-scenes parts. I think there may also be free food involved, but I’m not sure on that one.

Anyway, we spent the last few hours today setting up for that. We’ll be displaying an Uinathere (if you want a good laugh try to pronounce that) jaw and a cast of a full head…


…as well as a few other things showing steps in the fossil prep process, including an example display assembled by your humble narrator! I couldn’t stay late enough to be at the event itself, but having one of my displays shown was definitely the highlight of my day.

The last couple days have been a bit crazy. Now that my newbie training’s over, I’ve still been doing a lot of cataloging and numbering and making displays, but I’ve also been washing and repairing fossils which is super rad and much more hands-on. Basically, when fossils come in, they’re not the neat little (or huge) bones that you see behind glass. They’re almost always in these weird plaster bags that are full of dried mud and rocks (and maybe a tooth somewhere in there). You have to put this chunk of stuff in a sieve and run water over it. Most of the silt comes off pretty quickly, and as it goes from one big thing to a lot of little things, you have to decrease the water pressure so as not to damage anything. Eventually you wind up with a sieve full of rocks and fossil bits, which you have to separate, and then the fossils get another rinse before being set out to dry. It beats dinner wash any day.

Repair, which was actually the part of my internship I was most excited about, is a total pain in the you-know-what. After all the bone bits are clean and dry, they get organized into boxes by site and then you have to repair them. This translates to: sit and stare at a box of bits of things and try to figure out how they fit together, if they were even from the same animal to begin with. It’s like the most frustrating jigsaw puzzle ever, except there are three different puzzles mixed together and half of the pieces are missing and there’s no picture on the front of the box. If the three of us working down there can get more than five or six matches in a day, it’s pretty successful. We got a whole rib (about two feet long) pretty successfully fixed up on Wednesday, and my manager bought everyone lunch.



Not Very Old Turtles

After a flight up on Saturday and a Sunday filled with grocery shopping, I got up at 5:45 this morning to get in to the Field Museum early so as to fill out my HR paperwork on my first day. The hour-long train ride in was delayed a further twenty minutes due to negative temperatures and snow (the weather in Chicago is not my favorite part of the city) but I somehow made it in by 9. After sitting in an office and signing a bunch of forms, I met my supervisor and was led through the basement of the museum, which was clearly designed with intent to restrain a minotaur. I’m definitely going to get lost every day this week. Finally, though, we made it to a door which displayed the following sign:Image

It looked promising, to say the least. Full disclosure; I abandoned all pretenses of maturity and was grinning like an idiot and looking around at femurs twice my height so fast that I think I may have given myself mild whiplash. 

Of course, I wasn’t put in charge of anything that important on my first day. For now I’m labeling a new shipment of fossils and making and organizing display trays, which is actually sort of fun if you’re the type of person who gets very excited about hot glue and Xacto knives. 


These are my very scientific supplies. 

Basically, what you do to make a display tray is you take a piece of styrofoam and a template and cut it out. There are approximately 11,000 sizes of templates (probably closer to 15, but math has never been my forte) so you have to do a bit of eyeballing to figure out the size you’ll need. Then, you cut off a square inch from each corner, take an appropriately sized box, and squish the styrofoam in as a lining.

The fun part comes after that, all of which takes about 15 minutes to do your first time and maybe 30 seconds by the end of your first day. The fossils themselves are in little boxes, organized by animal, and you have to arrange them in the trays, label and number them, and make little dividers around them. You end up with something like this:


Incidentally, I asked my supervisor how old these fossilized turtle legs and claws were. His casual reply was, “Oh, not very. Only from fifty or sixty million years ago.” 

So, yeah. Welcome to paleontology time, where sixty million years is barely vintage.




One-Hundred and Four Years Later… and Here I Am!


Hello, everyone! My name is Emma Leibman, and over the next month, I’ll be in Easton, Maryland, renovating and restoring the old house where my younger brother, Atticus, and I grew up. Almost three years ago, my mom took a job in Frederick, Maryland, and the house has stood vacant, apart from an odd weekend here or there, since then. As much as we LOVE this house and would hate to get rid of it, a second household – particularly one we’re not living in – is an increasingly unbearable financial and logistical burden, and we’re likely going to have to put it on the market. 😦

The small, beautiful 1910 Sears Kit Foursquare of my childhood is located on Winton Avenue in the town’s Historic District. This is lovely and convenient… until you’re trying to rent or sell your home from across the state, work full-time and raise two kids, one of which is three hours away at boarding school (kudos, Mama!). The rental codes in town are very strict and specific, and the house would need some work in order to sell for what it’s worth, and either scenario involves availability and an investment of time and energy that my family hasn’t had — until now!

Over the course of the next month, I’ll be living at the Winton Avenue house and working with a former neighbor, Ginna Tiernan, (and my mom, on the weekends) to start the work necessary to get the house to be in selling condition. Mom did a large-scale renovation of the property herself almost ten years ago, after flooding from Hurricane Isabel forced us out of the house we’d previously been renting, and her diligent, loving fingers have since touched every square inch of it. Fortunately for me, this means that most of the projects on my to-do list are manageably small-ish (i.e. painting/varnishing, sanding, paint stripping, patching walls, simple carpentry, etc.), because many of the largest projects don’t have to be taken care of again right away. I will be blogging at least every few days, if not at every major milestone, with plenty of renovation stories1 and before/after/in-the-process photos, so that you can all see the progress as it takes place!

Although I’m not traveling anywhere new or exotic, this Senior Project holds tremendous personal value for me. Between my family’s move and the past two and a half years I’ve spent at Westtown, I’ve barely spent any of my adolescence in the place I truly consider “home;” I can feel at home in many places, given the right circumstances, but this is the only physical location that has always, consistently been home to me2, and I can’t wait to spend an entire month there. While I’m in Easton, I’ll be returning to worship at Third Haven, the Monthly Meeting where I officially became a Quaker almost 17 years ago, and getting together with old friends and mentors before moving into the next chapter of my life. These closure and reconnection pieces of my Senior Project are as important to me as the gathering of new, practical skills and the doing something for/with my family, and I intend to share updates from this part of my Project, in addition to posts about the renovation’s progress. 

If you have any questions or comments for me, there should be a space below to post them. Thanks for reading… I promise not all my future posts will be as long as this one, so hang with me, here! 🙂


1I’ve watched enough HGTV and remember enough of our reno to know that there are ALWAYS renovation stories… so stay tuned!

2Westtown and wherever-my-family-happens-to-be are the next-closest things, but my favorite place is the Winton Avenue house, without a doubt.

3If my last name sounds familiar, you might know my dad (Greg Leibman ’78)… it’s a small world, especially when you’ve gone to Westtown!

Lights, Cameras, Action!!


My name is Geoff, and I’m about to embark on my senior project. With only a few days remaining until I go, my anticipation is building with every passing moment. For my senior project, I will be spending three weeks in New York City interning with Jigsaw Productions, a documentary film company that has won Academy, Emmy, and even Writer’s Guild awards for their work. Over the course of my internship, I will be partaking in activities such as photologging, transcribing interviews, running errands, and attending daily question and answer sessions with the staff of Jigsaw.

This project is a dream come true for me. Ever since I was young, I have been fascinated with the art of storytelling, whether it be through writing, artwork, songs, or film. In addition, I have also been passionate about activism and spreading awareness of various social and environmental issues such as hydraulic fracturing. Documentary films in particular have piqued my interest as a way of accomplishing both. They allow you to tell a story while also spreading a message to others. In addition to the content of my project, I am also excited about the location in which it is taking place. The constant energy of New York City has never ceased to amaze me, so I look forward to spending three weeks immersed in it.

My hope is that this internship will help me to know whether I would like to pursue a future in film making, or if this isn’t really my calling. I also hope to gain insight on the film industry and how documentaries are created, from concept to reality. For instance, how do you attain funding, who do you pitch your ideas to, how do you assemble a crew, and how do you make your vision of a film into reality? On the other hand, my main concern going into this project is that I won’t get the depth of knowledge I’m hoping to attain. However, I know that regardless of my exact experience during my senior project, I will learn an innumerable amount about myself through this internship. For this reason, I am incredibly excited to start my senior project and to delve into the film industry.

A mere three days until my project begins. Let’s get that camera rolling!



You’re Ghana Wanna Read This

Hi everyone!

My name is Arielle and I’m a senior at Westtown School. I’m super excited to be one of the lucky 14 people this year who get to travel to Essiam, Ghana at the Heritage Academy and teach! I’ve travelled all around the world and visited about 30 countries during my lifetime but I’ve never been to Ghana or even Africa before.

From 2006-2010, I lived in England with my family and attended an international school there. This allowed me to travel the world and have Europe at my doorstep. Of all of the places I’ve visited though, which range from Mexico to Dubai, I know that Ghana is going to be a completely different experience. I really don’t think anything could compare and that’s why I chose to sign up for Ghana. I know for someone like me who has seen many parts of the world this would be the only trip that would be truly life-changing because Ghana is so different from any place I’ve ever been. Continue reading “You’re Ghana Wanna Read This”