Freedom Tower at dusk (Taken with Instagram)
Breakfast at the hotel the next morning was only slightly more successful than our initial attempt at dinner the night before had been. We paid a bit too much for cornflakes, powdered coffee, a few pieces of hard, toasted butter bread and some milk that was highly questionable. Afterwards, we took a cab to Makola market, the large, central market of Accra. Unfortunately, it seemed to be in quite a bit of disarray, with fabrics all over the place, soaps and plastic watches and shoes coming and going in all directions. It was probably easily navigable for someone familiar with shopping there, but it was a little overwhelming for us, so we instructed our cab to carry on, and bring us instead to the Accra Arts market, which is outside of town, near the mall.
When we arrived, we visited Faisal and Jimmy’s stores, and bought some jewelry and a few more trinkets to supplement our previous visit. I made friends with a Nigerian woman named Regina, who proudly explained to me how you could determine her tribal origins from the unique pattern of vertically and horizontally cut knife-scars on her cheeks and forehead. She succeeded in masterfully overcharging me for two necklaces, because they were distinctive, and she accurately guessed that I really wanted them. Afterwards, I complimented her on her excellent salesmanship, and she gave me two beaded bracelets for free (only then did I realize bemusedly the extent to which I must’ve been ripped off).
After we finished shopping, we decided to head over to the mall for some lunch, and maybe a movie to relax (if we could drag Will to see the Twilight sequel, that is). We crossed the half dozen highways, entered the shock of air-conditioning, and ordered Diet Cokes, pizza, and a few burgers. I even managed to coax two cups of ice (for Kelly and myself) out of the man behind the register at the coffee shop. After lunch, we checked the movie times, only to be pleasantly surprised to find not just Twilight, but also Inception (a Leonardo Di Caprio movie that Will really wanted to see) playing shortly. After moderate consternation, Will used his boyish charms to convince the ticket lady that we had, in fact, been foolish enough to get our wallets stolen at knife-point from a tent on a beach in Kokrobite, and that as a result, we did not have our IDs to prove that we were students (and thus eligeable for a four-cedi discount from the standard ticket price). I guess we’ve become somewhat cheap, quibbling over a few cedis, but it was satisfying to be vindicated. We bought little tubs of popcorn and supplementary Diet Cokes, and heartily enjoyed the movie.
On our way home, there was a considerable amount of traffic, because a government tractor-trailer had broken down in the middle of the Tema roundabout, leaving little room for cars to navigate the already-choked transit hub. As we finally emerged onto the highway past the roundabout heading towards the barrier, our taxi-driver looked apprehensively at the miles of immobile bumper-to-bumper traffic headed the opposite direction. Above them, the huge African sun (it seems significantly bigger here, for some reason) was heading for the horizon in breathtaking Lion King style.
Luckily, we didn’t admire it for too long though, because all of a sudden, two cars came careening down our lane (of the two-lane highway) in the wrong direction. Our driver casually squeezed into the already-crowded right lane in the nick of time, muttering something about how the traffic wasn’t bad enough to drive on the wrong side, but he shrugged, nonetheless. We were all frozen, the cab never having slowed below 70 miles per hour, the left lane of the highway now deserted as far as we could see in both directions. Luckily, we returned home to Community 25 without further event, and were delighted to see Madame Emma’s warm, comforting smile as she finished preparing a delicious dinner of vegetable and chicken pancakes with French fries.
We spent the morning typing up the last few straggler exams, and discovered, to our chagrin, that Reuben and Stella had stayed late the night before, re-formatting all the exams we’d typed. Despite our protestations and explanations, Mr. Kabutey insisted that our exams were not spacious enough for the children to “relax between questions,” so he had instructed that our extensive work to shorten them be undone. This was disappointing, but we couldn’t do much about it, so we helped undo all our work from the day before.
After school, Will, Annabel, Kelly and I had decided to head to Kumasi for the weekend (Connie wanted to stay at home and spend more time with the kids). Kumasi is the business and trade center of Ghana, capital of the Central Ashanti region, and about 3-4 hours bus ride north of Accra. Kumasi also has the largest open-air market in Ghana, so we were excited for the prospective shopping. When our cab dropped us off at the bus stop around 2pm, however, we were informed that we would have to wait till morning for a bus to Kumasi, because they had canceled all the ones for the rest of the day. The lady also told us that the state-owned bus station, a five-minute walk down the road, provided only bus rides to Kumasi, so we might try there.
When we arrived, the big room was packed with people, some sitting, many standing in a long line that knotted and snaked around the room. We went up to the ticket counter, and the man told us to get in the line if we wanted to go to Kumasi. When we asked where the line went and what it was for, the man, as well as all the Ghanaians within earshot of our silly obruni question, laughed heartily. We finally devined correctly the location of the end of the line, and a sympathetic British man (who had overheard our interaction at the ticket window) came over to explain the situation. “The buses to Kumasi are supposed to come every half-hour,” he explained, “but something’s a bit off, I think, because I’ve been in line now for four hours, and not a bus has come by. The line does not go anywhere, per say, rather you just stand in it till the bus comes, and then everyone rushes to buy tickets, and then you wait again in a separate line outside, hoping enough buses come so that you’ll get to use the ticket that you’ve bought, if you were able to get one in the initial scramble.” We thanked him, and waited for about a half an hour in the line to nowhere. We soon realized, however, that even if the bus arrived soon, and we somehow got on it (this was merely to humor ourselves, for the notion was exceedingly implausible), and it somehow arrived in Kumasi without breaking down for any of a number of reasons, we would still not get there till at least 8pm (it was almost 4pm by that time). Since we would have to leave extremely early on Sunday morning to assure that we were back in time for the 3pm PTA meeting that Mr. Kabutey had told us about, this would mean that we had only one day in Kumasi, and perhaps it was not worth the trip for so short a time. And anyway, it seemed very unlikely that we would get a bus anytime soon, if at all.
We soon resolved to spend the night on the beach in Accra (in a hotel this time, for a change), and a cab driver brought us to “the Rising Phoenix.” The Rising Phoenix was a hotel with seven small guest houses perched at the top of a huge, craggy cliff, overlooking the ocean (the beach in Accra is not really accessible for sunbathers). The view was breathtaking, and I imagine it would’ve been priceless in the US, but we managed to secure one of the small guesthouses (with a bed, an extra mattress for Will, and a bathroom!) for only 40 cedis for the night. The rest of the hotel was a vast, open cabana, with dozens of tables, chairs, and decks made out of what appeared to be a cheaply-painted bamboo with a coconut-grass roof for shade. The place had live music a few nights a week, and the size of the deck seemed much more appropriate to a large crowd than to the seven small bedrooms in the back. However, there was no music tonight, and it seemed rather empty. The menus had both Ghanaian and American offerings, and the luscious delicacies got us all quite excited. We ordered a vegetable pie, guacamole with pita, hot chocolate and Irish coffee from the extensive menu. Unfortunately, we were informed by the stout, somewhat odd Dutch proprietor that none of those particular items were available at the moment, so we soon left to get dinner at another restaurant, Osekan, which was a few minutes walk along the cliff.
As we headed in that direction, we stopped to buy a snack of plantain chips (we prefer the yellow, which are made with unripe plantains, to the brown, which are made with ripe ones). We also passed a tent with singing coming out of it and an enormous crowd assembled around. When we managed to peer in, we saw a half-dozen middle-aged women, faces covered with intricate patterns of white paint, chanting loudly. Each had a purple cloth tied on as a skirt, and nothing on top, and they danced vigorously as they sang. The other onlookers explained that the women were fetish priests, and we were intrigued that on a street corner in Accra, the performance of their rituals might draw such a large crowd.
Because the path down to the restaurant was invisible from the main road, we were unable to find it at first, and three Ghanaian men eagerly offered to walk us there. We felt somewhat uncomfortable and did not particularly want their company, but they walked with us for about ten minutes nonetheless, until we arrived at the steps that lead down the edge of the cliff to the restaurant. Before we descended, their friendly banter changed sharply into demands for us to buy them drinks and give them money. Annabel flatly refused, and angrily criticized their false generosity. They immediately called us all “evil racists” who would not be kind, would not be friends, etc. This was very frustrating, we felt quite uncomfortable, and they were causing a scene, so Will handed them each a cedi or two and bid them leave us in peace.
Dinner was quite pleasant, and Will joked with the men at the table next to us about how many goats they would offer him in order to marry Kelly and Annabel. In the bathroom, another man approached Will and told him that I “look like I have a kind heart” and asked whether I was his wife. Will explained that I was not, in fact, married. Kofi (he later introduced himself) then asked if I were “complicated,” because he liked things to be simple. Will regretted to say that he could not weigh in on this particular attribute, and concluded the conversation. After our meal, the waiter approached our table and told me that a man at a nearby table wanted to buy me a drink. Will pointed out Kofi, who was jumping up and down and waving eagerly. I ordered the largest beer on the menu, and a few cups, and we all enjoyed it during the 45 minutes while we waited for our check. Kofi eventually approached the table and introduced himself. He was shy and bashful, so I resisted telling him that, unfortunately, I was, in fact, quite complicated, as he had feared. He insisted that we put his number into our phone, and then left. We soon returned to our hotel, and, since there was no live music, we spent the night quietly reading (how curiously civilized for four Dartmouth students!) and went to bed early.
After a finishing my black tea, bowl of rice milk, and two slices of butter bread, I went outside to brush my teeth. Behind our small house, I found an older girl, perhaps about 12, hiding. Often, when the kids come a few minutes late, they hide behind the house and wait for a good moment to run the 50-yard distance into the school compound, because the teachers stand outside brandishing their long canes, eager to apprehend and punish all the late-comers. Unfortunately, this often results in a build-up of a half-dozen or so kids behind our house, who stand there until about a half an hour into school, when they can usually run inside undetected. The best way we’ve determined to combat this problem is to pick a large book from inside, bring it out back, and then walk into school with the kids, under their teachers’ noses, pretending to read and discuss the book. Anyways, I ran inside, found Charlotte’s Web, and explained the plan to the girl, who introduced herself as Erica, from Class Six. As the commissioner of quite a few personalized friendship bracelets from “Busy Bee Bracelets, Inc.”, I happen to know that Erica is both one of the most talented weavers and the VP of manufacturing. I complimented her on her work and she struggled to repress a smile as we sauntered past the teachers and into school.
As I was returning to the house, I saw that the teachers had put down their weapons and gathered in a circle around a small boy, who I recognized was Charles, from Class Three, who Annabel tutors (and regards quite highly). Everyone was praying in soft voices with closed eyes, and finally Mr. Kabutey began a louder prayer for the exorcism of the evil spirits from the boy. One of the teachers had had a dream that he was possessed, so they were performing an elaborate prayer ritual to cure him. I saw Charles look up as I passed, and I waved, despite myself. He mouthed, “Good morning, Madame,” flashed me a huge grin, and looked down again before anyone noticed his movement.
We tried to begin tutoring as normal, but when I went to grab Philip from Class Four, he beat his hand against his desk and got up so angrily that I was a bit startled. I asked him if he wanted to remain in class to review for exams next week, instead of reading with me, and he nodded grimly, so I left. Mr. Kabutey soon instructed us that we were not tutoring today, but rather typing up the exams, because there were so many to do. We knew that Reuben, the computer teacher, and Stella, the KG teacher, were proficient typists, and I imagine some of the other teachers were too, but they neglected to admit as much and eagerly loaded each of us with eight exams to type up, from Class One all the way to JHS 2 (8th grade). Will began with Math, the typing of which was easily the most difficult, because it involved graphs, formulas, and figures that we did not really know how to draw on a Word document. Kelly typed up General Science, each of which were 80 multiple choice questions and a host of free responses. I began typing up ICT, or Computer exams, and had to restrain myself from getting frustrated that Reuben, the computer teacher, handed me his tests, told me he was busy, and proceeded to lounge around the room, looking over our shoulders and examining the music Will and I were playing on my laptop to amuse ourselves. Annabel typed up English exams. Hers were exceedingly frustrating, because although most of our exams had various grammatical errors in many of the questions, we were able to casually and inoffensively correct them as we typed them up. Hers, however, were riddled with improper grammar, and many of the multiple choice questions had no correct answer or made no logical sense. Ever since Madame Theresa, the English teacher, left, there hasn’t really been a proper English teacher for the students, so Madame Janet, the Class Two teacher (who is lovely and very sweet, but not quite as strong an English speaker), had to write the English exams for Classes One-Six. Gabi, the JHS English teacher (and some relation to, perhaps brother of, Theresa), and the only person at Manye with a University degree, neglected to write exams for his classes and instead informed Will and Connie that they could write them and he would “approve” them.
Anyways, despite our frustration, Will struggled through the math exams, and Kelly and I remarked upon how Classes One-Four cannot really read (to varying degrees), and as a result we had no idea how they would possibly face the abstract exams we were typing up. (I think Kelly’s expression, in reference to the Class One Science exam was, “When someone gives this to little Kelvin, I’m afraid his head might explode.”) Furthermore, the questions (particularly on the ICT exams that I was typing) seemed horribly irrelevant to the kids, as well as somewhat useless knowledge. I couldn’t imagine asking one of my Class Two boys to tell me “What number row is the Qwerty Row on the keyboard,” “what does ‘DOS’ stand for,” “what is a modem,” or whether a computer is an instrument for communication, information, technology, or electricity. The kids have never heard of the Internet or E-mail, and certainly do not have access to it, and even if they could possibly have managed to read the exam, the abstraction of the questions frustrated us considerably.
We typed in the hot computer lab for about 5 hours, from 8am-1pm, when we retired to the house for lunch. Annabel had calculated that, between 8 classes of approximately 25 students, each being tested on Ghanaian Language, Science, ICT, English, French, Math, Citizenship Education, and Creative Arts (they insisted that we write up exams), we would need to print out a total of 1600 exams. Most of the ones we had typed were about 4 pages long, but the French teacher (the only one who had typed his own)’s and the Ghanaian Language exams were about 10 pages long each. Reams of printer paper cost about 6 cedis, and we were going to need about fifteen of them to accommodate that amount of printing. That would be enough money to have kept about 5 more students in school this term. Annabel had been working on Mr. Kabutey’s accounting after typing, and had remarked at how, once kids racked up a few terms without paying at all, they were sent home, no longer able to attend the school (which is by far the cheapest, and poorest, in the area). Annabel explained that she wasn’t normally anymore “green” than the next person, but that the money saved by reducing each exam to one or two pages (by removing spaces between lines, reducing the font size of the header, slightly increasing the margins, and putting all the multiple choice answers on one line) was enough to pay for a number of students’ education. We were none too pleased to return to the computer lab, but agreed to spend a few hours reformatting all the exams that we’d typed so as to waste less paper. It may not sound like the difference between a two and a four page exam is necessarily a big deal, but when you multiply it by 25 students, by the number of classes, and by the number of subjects, it certainly adds up. Connie even took the trouble to double-side her exams, even though the manual re-feeding of the paper almost invariably caused the temperamental printer to jam, and the process of printing out her 25 JHS 2 English exams took a number of hours by itself.
When we finally completed all the exams we’d been given and school had been let out, we decided to go into Accra for the evening. After a delicious dinner at “Sunshine2Go,” an obruni-friendly diner where we’d been once before (I was charmed when the waitress remembered my order), we walked to an outdoor bar that had been recommended to us called Bywel. After paying the (fairly steep) entrance fee of 4 cedis, we relaxed and a live band played lots of mellow oldies, ranging from “Somewhere over the Rainbow” to “Hey Jude”. Soon everyone was dancing, and we met a friendly group of Austrian tourist obrunis who were leaving in the morning. We were a bit disappointed to have missed the “Singles Mingle” that was advertised prominently for the night before, but we passed a pleasant evening nonetheless, and returned home rather early and in a decidedly better mood than when we’d left.
Today was fairly low key, although, of course, still pretty exhausting. Connie discovered that a few of the girls in Class Six were taking string and making bracelets in their company activity, but hoarding them and not giving them back to the company when they were finished. Connie used it as an opportunity to explain “embezzlement”, but was still very frustrated at the kids’ behavior. It can be hard too, she explained to us over a lunch of jollof rice, boiled plaintains and spicy chicken, because the ones stealing the string are the older, bigger girls. President Dornuki, whose job it is to prevent that from happening, is only 12 and can’t always stand up to the bigger girls.
Trust has definitely been something we’ve struggled with here. Clifford, for instance, finally admitted that his sister Christobel had written his entire homework because he had to cook. He’s cheated before, and it’s really upsetting. Furthermore, a lot of times a kid will get close to us, sometimes one of our favourites, and then slowly begin asking us to buy them things. It’s very discouraging when you think you’re actually connecting emotionally to a child and then they just try to use you for money. But it’s a fine line, because we’re very generous with them, so it’s hard to blame them for trying to get things from us.
Kelly and Annabel recently devised a great Creative Arts idea: cutting out construction paper crowns, reading a Disney story to the kids, and then having them illustrate and decorate the crowns. It was a huge hit in Classes One through Four today, so much so that Kelly had to promise the kindergarten teacher that she’d do it with them tomorrow. It’s really wonderful to see all the kids marching around school proudly, wearing their elaborate crowns and asking us each individually if we think they’re beautiful. I wish I had brought a copy of “A Little Princess”, Frances Hodges Burnett’s masterpiece, in which the heroine, Sara Crewe explains to her best friend, a slave named Becky, that “Every girl is a Princess.”. The boys did some of the most beautiful crowns, and many wrote their names on it. I found “the King Kingdom” and “the King Prince” to be particularly charming.
After school, we played with the kids and took pictures. Kate was fascinated by my watch, so I told her she could borrow it till Wednesday (this turned out to be a mistake because there are few clocks around and I need to keep track of time in class and while tutoring). She also bought us FanIce and biscuits to thank us for taking her and her siblings to the Mall on Saturday, which was a very sweet gesture.
The water is broken indefinitely, so we took more half-hearted bucket showers and began dinner. It was banku dough with cold corned beef, which Annabel liked, but the rest of us were a little skeptical of. We complemented it by purchasing some pineapple alvaro sodas, digestive crackers, and bread to make pb and j. After dinner we painted our nails with Dornuki. The only colors we had were three that Kelly brought, a disgusting green, hot pink, and a pretty pink. Dornuki tried to throw away the green, which was hilarious.
This morning Annabel, Kelly, Connie and I resolved to go to church with Madame Emma. We put on skirts and dresses, and after some tea with bananas and rice milk, we headed out. Madame Emma looked positively ravishing. She wore one style of traditional Ghanaian dress that involves a skirt very tightly fitted from waist to knees and then bell-shaped below the knee. Her top was a narrowly tailored blouse with a lovely neckline and cupped sleeves. Both had been sown from the same fabric, a richly colored cotton with an elaborate grid/stripe/swirl design. It was primarily a deep, bright orange, rich emerald green and royal blue, and had touches of red. Over her left shoulder she wore a golden silk scarf with small bright red and green squares, in a much simpler but complementary pattern to the dress. A brilliantly green scarf with gold highlights of yet another print was knotted expertly around her head (although not to cover her hair), and she wore golden earrings, a fine golden chain, and a necklace with matching bracelet of chunky gold and blue beads. When she emerged from the house, she looked radiant and regal, as though she were some sort of Ghanaian Empress.
We walked proudly with her for twenty minutes to her church, the Presbyterian Church of Saki, a nearby town. The red clay road was very uneven and very wet, both with large puddles and with deep mud. Although her hemline was barely off the ground, Madame Emma navigated the terrain smoothly and elegantly, as though wading through mud while wearing such an exquisite gown was a perfectly natural activity. We finally arrived after almost a half an hour walk. She explained that the service had started at 9am, but because today was a harvest day, the service would be very long (the congregation needed to go over the yearly budget etc), so it might not be over till noon. We arrived at 10:25.
The church was a small concrete building with a tin roof and large door/windows down both sides for ventilation. It was overflowing with people, and many of the teenagers were sitting outside. The entire congregation, however, was on their feet, clapping, dancing and singing at the top of their lungs. There was a small Yamaha keyboard at one end of the long room that served as the organ, but it was barely audible (even with the medium sized speakers that they had) over the singing. Half of the congregation was in the center aisle, dancing up and down it, clapping, dancing with one another, and swaying while many held young children in their arms. The dancing/singing continued for awhile, and two of the female assistant priests danced their way over to us and secured us good seats (plastic chairs) near the front of the congregation. Madame Emma had disappeared, but we weren’t too concerned. There was a man wrapped in a Gandhi-esque toga of beautiful black and white embroidery playing an instrument that looked sort of like a large wooden maraca covered by a net of thick beads. A man beside him in Western dress was furiously playing the drums with unbelieveable alacrity. Many of the muddle aged women and mothers of the church were wearing Ghanaian gowns of beautiful, brightly colored patterns, just like Emma. The younger girls wore dresses and skirts, almost indistinguishable from the sort of clothing a teenage girl might wear to church in the US, except many were in bright, bright colors. Some had scandalously revealing hemlines or necklines, but no one seemed to care or mind, they were so fully invested in the joy and exuberance of the dance going on around them. Many of the girls and women were wearing heels, and it soon became clear to us that this was a much wealthier church (and general neighborhood) than anything where we live in Community 25.
When the music finally ended and everyone sat down, a young lady emerged from a back room of the church and read the first passage, from Deuteronomy. Many people in the congregation had brought Bibles (in English), and tried to sort of follow along as the passage was read in Twi. Then, from the back room, we saw Madame Emma appear to read the next passage, from Colossians. She spoke in Twi, but so slowly and clearly that we felt almost as though we could understand her. The Gospel was read in English, and was the parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke. After it was read, there was another parade/hymn around the church, kind of a fluid, high energy Conga line mixed with African gospel music. Afterwards, a short, stout middle-aged woman who had been sitting at the front of the church stood up. She was wearing the most beautiful emerald green dress with black and gold trim, and her hair was wrapped in a huge bright yellow silky scarf. She began preaching in a call and response style, asking the congregation what makes a faithful person. She spoke for about twenty minutes, primarily in Twi, but occasionally lapsing into English for a few words just often enough that we could sort of follow the thread of what she was saying. When she was done, she rolled a small wooden trolley to the front of the church. The drums and the music began loudly, and lots of people from the congregation began dancing down the aisle and putting money in one of three boxes: tithe, program offertory, and regular offertory. There were young children, teenagers, young men, many mothers and older women (some carrying babies), and a handful of elderly men. All danced down and back up the aisle with spontanaiety and enthusiasm. We had all forgotten to being money since we’d sort of just rushed out of the house with Madame Emma. We felt particularly self-conscious, because we had been asked to stand up at the front of the church right after the sermon and formally introduce ourselves. And now everyone was staring at us, wondering why the rich obrunis (they assume we are all unbelievably wealthy because of our skin color) weren’t giving offertory. The woman next to me asked me a number of times what day of the week I was born on, and couldn’t believe that I wasn’t quite sure. She thought I was lying, so I finally guessed. “Maybe Friday?” I said. She frowned and yelled to the woman behind her (it was quite loud during this procession) “Friday!”. I knew that in Twi culture, children are given one of seven first names, depending what day of the week they’re born on. But I had no idea why she wanted to know mine so badly. I also felt bad, because she (and everyone else) seemed thoroughly convinced that it wasn’t possible that we didn’t speak Twi, and thus it was inexcusable that we didn’t know what was going on. Everyone was very friendly towards us, but it was definitely sort of awkward.
The procession lasted for about 45 minutes. Everyone would dance down the aisle, give money, and then dance back to their seats and sit down. Then a different group would stand up and do the same. They kept switching groups and dancing and processing, and each time we thought the drums had ended and the music stopped, it was just a pause while another group congregated at the back of the church before processing down in a fluid dancing fashion. When it finally did end, Madame Emma stood up at the podium, and read aloud the financial statement for the church for this year in English. She was obviously both highly respected and important within the church community, something we had failed to appreciate the extent of before we saw her in action. When she was finished, she announced the Peace, and everyone milled around the church, shaking hands and saying “Peace,” very much like what we do in the US. After a few prayers in Twi and one more hymn, everyone got up and began to leave, so we gathered that the service was over. It was 1:45pm (it had started at 9am). We were all impressed that without any hymnals, leaflets, books, boards or anything except the keyboard, plastic chairs, and offertory boxes, the service had run so smoothly for so long.
On our way home, we thanked Madame Emma profusely for taking us along even though we were clueless obrunis, and also peppered her with questions about what had happened. She explained that the offertory is done in groups of people who were all born on the same day. Each group that had assembled at the back of the church and danced their way down to donate money was comprised of individuals born on a particular day of the week. Thus there had been seven processions, and everyone was wondering when we’d go because they didn’t know what day we’d all been born on. Unfortunately, we didn’t either. We expressed our concerns to Madame Emma, who assured us that our lack of donation had not been a problem at all.
When we arrived home, Will had just emerged from an interesting run-in with the Pastor who preaches to children at our school on Sundays. After she had finished speaking to the kids, she approached him. His recount of the conversation went something like this:
Pastor: “So do you go to Church?”
Will: “No, actually I’m Jewish.”
Pastor: “You mean Muslim?”
Will: “No, Jewish. You know, like, Jesus was a Jew.”
Pastor: “How dare you! He was nothing like that! Do you at least take Jesus Christ to be your Lord and Saviour?”
Will: “Um, no, I guess not…”
Pastor: “Then I am sorry, you are damned to Hellfire.”
Will was a little shaken by the encounter, but we cheered him up with a delicious lunch that Emma had prepared of yam chips (fries) and fried(ish) chicken. It was almost like chicken tenders and fries at home.
We chilled out for the rest of the evening, watched the World Cup final and relaxed. After dinner, we made a quick run to Mr. K’s brother’s little store nearby and bought oatie digestive cookies, vanilla FanIce (bagged ice cream), and pineapple Alvaro soda. Kelly and I made exceptionally delicious ice cream sandwiches by squeezing out some of some of our FanIces onto the digestive crackers. Also, DK informed us that the water wasn’t working, so we all took bucket showers, which Dornuki laughed at me for being completely awful at. She couldn’t believe I had never taken one before, and I felt a little embarrassed for having spent my entire life under the assumption that I could simply take a shower from an overhead spicket whenever I wanted. Despite their waist-length hair, Kelly and Annabel were both pros at the art of the bucket shower in no time, and even managed to condition-as well as shampoo-their long hair. It was quite impressive.
Today was probably the most wonderful day we’ve had here. It was stressful and frustrating at times, but mostly just positively delightful.
Our plan sounded simple; we were going with Dornuki and one of her friends to see Toy Story 3 at Accra Mall, and maybe go shopping in a market or visit the nearby Cadbury Chocolate Factory afterwards. But life is rarely predictable, and things did not go as planned.
We were ready to go by noon, when the kids got out of school (they have a few hours on Saturday mornings). It was drizzling hard. Mr. Kabutey and Madame Emma had gone to Cape Coast for the funeral of an uncle, so although we had their permission, we didn’t have them as a resource (ie to call us a tro-tro so we didn’t have to walk to the stop in the rain). We tried to use the yellow pages, but the only phonebook DK (that’s our nickname for Dornuki) could find was about 15 years old, so we resolved to just brave the elements. The plot thickened however, when Dornuki told us that not only her friend Gifty (age 13, DK is 12) but also Gifty’s three siblings and cousin were coming, because “we couldn’t just leave them”. DK said that Tetteh, her cousin (8 years old, who also lives with us Chez Kabutey because his father is in the US) was also joining us. We were initially thrilled; Gifty’s three siblings are some of our favourites, and the whole Akologo family seems to be very kind, thoughtful, and bright. There’s 11 year old Martin, a Class Six boy who both Will and Connie work with and greatly respect, 9 year old George, a favourite of mine from Class Four, and possibly the best student (he’s Gifty etc’s cousin), 8 year old Kate from Class Three, who is very sharp but also full of spirit and energy, and of course Baba, their adorable 5 year old brother from KG. And then there’s Tetteh, who’s also 8, DK’s cousin, and friends with Martin and George. We five obrunis were excited, and then we thought of the appalling difficulty of navigating public transportation, the mall (where none of them but Dornuki had ever been and which is filled with immense and gaudy displays of wealth), and the movie theater with seven small children. In the rain. And of course our plan was incredibly fluid, we only sort of knew where we were going, and had little idea about how long everything would take. And of course, it was our treat, because the kids couldn’t afford the movies, and we were inviting them anyways. But we were all basically out of cash. And it was raining. And we had no clue where the kids were, but we knew we needed to leave asap to have any hope of making our movie. Deep breath.
I guess there are moments as we mature where we distinctly perceive ourselves taking after one of our parents. When faced with the aforementioned daunting situation, I am quite confident that I behaved just as my mother would have: I made food. At home, we tease Mummie by calling her “Three Squares”, ie she cannot function without her three, solid daily meals. She would also be the first to tell you (as the seasoned mother of four) that when dealing with young children, if they are hungry, they get exponentially more difficult. So I ran back into the house, grabbed four ziplock bags (that Mummie had insisted I bring), the “groundnut paste” (translation: peanut butter), blackcurrant jam and white bread that was on our table, and whipped up four PB&Js, put them in my ziplocks, stuffed them into my purse, and returned to my battle station outside, in the rain, helping the others corral the kids. Dornuki told us that we couldn’t find out the showing times of the movie till we got there (no Internet access, no functional phone lines or automated answering machine anyway), but luckily I was able to call my parents who, all the way from Annapolis, Maryland, googled the showtimes for Toy Story 3 at the Accra Mall Movie Theater in Tema, Ghana (Robin is also a champ when it comes to using The Google). There was a 2pm showing and a 4:30pm showing. Snaps for technology.
Gradually assorted kids began to appear. We had a photoshoot for awhile with Baba, and Tetteh played basketball in the staff room with Madame Kelly (using a soccer ball, obvs)…until they knocked over the radio. Anyways, by 12:40 we had corralled the troops - twelve in total (us five and seven kids) - and headed towards “the Barrier” ie the busy street outside of Community 25 where there is a tro-tro stop.
Tetteh lead the way, showing us a “shortcut”. Bad move. We should’ve known better than to blindly follow an eight year old boy, but hey, they don’t call us obrunis for nothing. Tetteh lead us on a narrow, dirt path, winding through tall, thick grass/bush, occasionally having us squeeze between the concrete wall of a partially completed house and a steep drop. And although it had stopped raining, the “dirt” path was inches deep with mud. And we’d all made the obruni move of wearing improper footwear, ie flipflops. Not only were our feet and legs all caked in mud up to the ankles, but our sandals were slippery, and both Kate and I almost faceplanted in the muddy undergrowth a number of times. It was tremendously difficult to maintain balance with a purse over one shoulder, much less carrying Baba (Madame Kelly soon put him down, and unsurprisingly, he ran right to the front of the group without difficulty). George could hardly walk because the deep mud had broken his sandal, detaching the heel strap of his teva-esque sandal from the sole. Tetteh and Martin plowed on ahead, leading us over the wooden plank that served as a makeshift bridge over the river where the previous bridge had been washed away by the flood. We joked that we were playing the ancient (wonderful) Oregon Trail computer game from our youth, and that we might contract dysentery or get chased by buffalo. Will had joked earlier that with so many kids, our 30-minute walk to the Barrier was going to be like the Trail of Tears. It was remarkably not far off. At times we could hardly walk without face-planting, due to the inclines and depth/slipperyness of the mud. We told Tetteh we hadn’t signed up for extreme wilderness cross-country walking. He laughed at us. When we finally emerged from the undergrowth onto a gravel road, our feet, shoes, ankles and calves were coated in mud. Baba yelled from Kelly’s shoulders with glee, “Hey Madame Georgia! Your legs are dirty!” Yes, Babs, no kidding.
Our feet were heavy with mud when we finally arrived at the tro-tro stop on the main road around 1:30pm. All the tro-tros that came by told us we needed to take a tro-tro to downtown Tema, and catch another one from there to the mall. We knew that such a transition was inconceivable with our caravan in tow. Soon a nearly empty tro-tro came by, and we convinced them to give their two passengers to another Tema-bound tro-tro, and instead take us directly to the mall for 25 cedis (almost double the normal fare, over $15). But we decided for time and simplicity’s sake, it was well worth it, and we piled in. We headed out, and I tore up the PB&Js, distributing them among the kids. Everyone was pretty skeptical at first, but I assured them it was every American kid’s favourite lunch food, and after tasting the creation for the first time, their eyes lit up and they were converted. They had been a bit hungry, and the food made everyone settle down (one point for Mummie).
The peace didn’t last. After we’d been going for about five minutes, we heard a huge bursting sound, and the entire tro-tro shook and tipped. Our driver immediately slowed and pulled over, still barely off the highway and somewhat still an obstacle to oncoming cars. One of our rear wheels had exploded. We had been really lucky that the rickety van hadn’t swerved out of control or tipped over. Will got out and talked contingency plans with the driver. We determined that, as we’d expected, the 2pm movie was out of the question. The kids were freaking out. Out of nowhere, Madame Constance began singing the “Continents” song we’d taught them. It was a stroke of brilliance. All the kids chimed in. We followed it up with Kelly’s immortal “Never Smile At A Crocodile” (motions included), Row, Row, Row Your Boat, and Annabel’s Shark Song. The mood had done a 180. Everyone was joking, happy, and exhilarated. We let the kids take pictures with our cameras (they took dozens and were beside themselves with joy), and I played Wavin’ Flag on my iPhone (always a crowd pleaser here). Kate, Tetteh and I played what felt like a hundred games of Rock, Paper, Scissors, but they never got bored. Gifty and DK braided Annabel’s hair like there was no tomorrow. Baba amused himself by climbing from row to row of the van, tickling everyone and modeling his purple, sparkly terrycloth hoodie for the crowd. The tro-tro was only half on the road, and thus fairly tipped over. After about 20 minutes, a new tro-tro that our driver had called came to retrieve us. We all gingerly exited the broken vehicle and boarded the new one.
When we finally arrived at the Accra Mall, the kids were dazzled, even from afar. Their eyes lit up at the sheer size of the building. Our driver promised to return at 7pm at night, gave Will his phone number, and we headed in. We all grabbed a buddy, figuring that would be the most effective way to keep track of so many children. George and Tetteh paired up with Madame Annabel, Baba jumped on Connie, and Gifty and Dornuki stuck with her. Kelly and Will served as support crew, and Kate and Martin each grabbed on of my hands. Kate insisted on also carrying my purse, which she liked very much. The kids had never before felt air-conditioning, so although we warned them that it would be cold, they all shuddered as we entered the mall. Then their eyes alit as they saw the stores filled with beautiful gowns, sneakers, TVs, footballs, and toys spread out before them. The abundance was overwhelming. The awe dissipated quickly, however, and we headed towards the ATMs (without which, the day would’ve been decidedly less eventful). All of a sudden, Martin and Kate started jumping, whispering, and pointing with excitement. They told me what it was. I was standing about two feet away from one of the best players on the Ghana Black Stars National Football team (World Cup Quarterfinalists, 2010), Sulley Muntari. He was wearing beige Aviator glasses, carrying his daughter (who was dressed in red and white stripes like a Ghanaian Pippi Longstocking), and speaking to an older, dignified woman in a shimmery gold sheath who we took to be his mother. He had a small posse of Ghanaian men wearing dark jeans, white button-downs, and the same Aviators, standing nearby. I felt silly not to have noticed him, because he was making quite a scene: every young Ghanaian in the vicinity was clamouring for a picture with him. Martin was too shy to ask, so as Muntari turned to go, I asked (somewhat abashedly, I always feel sort of bad bothering celebrities when I see them) for a picture. Kate, Gifty, Martin, DK, and Baba all struck a pose around the football star, almost bursting with pride and delight. When we met back up with George and Tetteh five minutes later, they refused to believe that we’d seen him until they saw the photo.
Madames Annabel and Kelly played with their buddies on a sort of jungle gym outside that was in the center of the outdoor food court, and Martin, Kate and I browsed, looking at some cool shops. Martin loved the Nike store. When we entered, the manager addressed him in Twi, asking why he was with us. He said we were friends and teachers. They looked at us and smiled, until their eyes settled on our feet. You get a lot of respect around Accra Mall, just by virtue of your being white, but evidently not if you’re caked with dirt. We left immediately, and headed for the grocery store.
The kids had never seen a grocery store before, and were in awe of all the food. Because Accra Mall is a hub for tourists and wealthy Ghanaians, the grocery store was filled with all sorts of curious obrunis. We had told the kids we’d buy them candy, and had intended to buy each a candy bar of their choice, but when we asked them to pick one out from among the huge selection in the candy aisle, it soon became clear that none of the kids had ever tasted any of the candies, and thus had no idea what they were pointing at and whether they would like it. I decided to just get a bag of fruit chews, a bag of mini Mars bars (ie Milky Way), a large box of Smarties (British M&Ms), and two large Cadbury chocolate bars, one with caramel inside and one with crunchy mint. Although there were 12 of us, we probably still didn’t need quite that much candy, but I hadn’t eaten chocolate in awhile myself, so I figured it was a good investment. I also got three bananas so that we didn’t feel too guilty about feeding the kids loads of junk food. As we were checking out and simultaneously trying to keep five highly energetic and excited kids calm (Connie and Will were with the others), a tall, slender Ghanaian man wearing aviator sunglasses, a beautifully tailored, sleek black suit and what appeared to be quite expensive cufflinks, turned to me (he’d been checking out with his wife in the aisle next to us) and put out his hand, saying, “Do you remember me?” I was startled, and assumed he was just a wealthy weirdo trying to talk to some obrunis. Without removing his sunglasses, he said, “You know, Gottfried?”. Immediately we recognized the man whom we’d befriended briefly at our restaurant in Sakumono before the USA vs. Ghana World Cup match a few weeks before. He’d bought us a round of Guiness, prayed for us to root for Ghana, handed us a sheet of paper with his phone number on it and left. We could not believe that we’d run into him again, nor that he’d been able to recognize us. We also hadn’t gotten the impression that he was quite so wealthy when we’d met him before. Still without removing his sunglasses, he said, “You never called me!” We laughed off his comment awkwardly, telling him we’d had our hands full, and proceeded to introduce him to the kids, who were in complete awe at the situation. We waved goodbye to Gottfried, paid for our food, and promptly left the grocery store, ShopRite.
The kids devoured the bananas and I gave each a few pieces of candy. When they were done, we made a mass bathroom run before the movie. When Kate and I got to the front of the line, she did not know what to do. I explained that she should go into one of the stalls, and that I’d be right next to her. After some hesitation, she agreed. It hit me like a ton of bricks: she’d never been in a bathroom before, or used a toilet, sink, or hand dryer. When she was done, I showed her how to wash her hands by pressing the faucet, and how to rub her hands together under the hot air so that they’d dry. It was a strange feeling between disbelief, melancholy, and hesitant joy, seeing my beloved Kate so mesmermized, enchanted, and uncertain in the face of something as mundane (to me) as a bathroom. But the feeling quickly translated itself into pure delight and compassion. We all felt it; we were overcome with an intense wave of puzzling joy. Kate was freezing cold in the air conditioning, and was wearing a very oversized windbreaker that Connie had brought, in anticipation of that exact problem. I swooped down and engulfed Kate in a big, warm bear hug. We all buddied up, and headed to the second floor of the mall, which is the movie theater.
We bought tickets and popcorn (you can pick sweet or salty popcorn here, although there’s only one size). All the obrunis got salty, all the kids got sweet. We headed into the theater, ensconsed ourselves, and began to eat. The kids all wolfed down their popcorn in a matter of minutes, so I distributed a generous amount of candy and some water. We took lots of pictures, and soon the movie began. It was an absolute delight. The kids were completely entranced, and the five of us, who had all actually seen the previous Toy Story movies, loved it. The kids’ comprehension was mixed but enough to make the film highly enjoyable. The only question George asked me was to read the subtitles when Buzz Lightyear started speaking in Spanish, because he couldn’t read the English fast enough. By the end of the movie, all the popcorn and most of the candy was gone. Kate was huddled in a ball, shivering but wearing a huge grin, and everyone was hungry. Everyone had loved the movie, particularly us. We told the kids that they’d had PB&Js, one American food, and we were going to treat them to one last one for dinner before we left (the movie got out a little after 6pm).
At the crowded food court, we jostled for position and barely managed to nail ourselves a table amidst all the people. Four of the kids sat down, and we gradually siphoned off other chairs till almost all of us were squeezed tightly around our table. I ordered three large pizzas: veggie, everything, tomatoes and cheese. We bought two bottles of soda, and after much consternation I convinced them to give me seven small plastic cups so that the kids could share the soda. When the steaming pizzas arrived, nobody moved. We encouraged the kids to have as much as they wanted, but everyone hesitated. Most had heard of pizza, but only Dornuki had ever tasted it. Finally one of the boys dug in. The three pies were gone in a matter of minutes. The kids declared that they “loved American food,” and we laughed. Everyone buddied up, and we shepherded them outside, to the place where our car had promised to meet us. The phone number the man had given Will did not work, and after 15 minutes, we reverted to Plan B. We didn’t want to get a tro-tro, even though they’re much cheaper, because that wouldve meant going into Tema and switching to a new tro-tro at the hub there. In the dark. So we opted for three cabs, haggled the prices down to be somewhat reasonable, and headed home, directing our drivers through the winding, overgrown roads of Community 25 so that we were dropped off near the school. The kids’ older cousins had come to pick them up, and we parted till Monday, beaming at the unadulterated happiness that gleamed in the kids’ eyes as they hugged us and headed home. We’d each spent the equivalent of about $40 to give the kids what was manifestly one of the best days of their lives. It had seemed like a lot of cedis at the time, but we agreed that it was undoubtedly some of the best money we’ve ever spent. Annabel put it well: “It’s not much to spend at all, if you see it as making up for the 65 birthday parties they collectively never had.” It was undoubtedly one of the best days in each of our lives, too.
On Friday, during our tutoring session, Clifford sung this song for me!
Thursday was fairly calm. It began notably when Connie was writing down the names of the teachers and asked Dornuki how to spell the Class Five teacher, Carriage’s name. Turns out it’s actually Courage, and we’ve had it wrong this entire time. Oh boy.
During tutoring, Philip cruised through the Cat and the Hat. Maybe we’ll try Charlottes web tomorrow. Adorable little Rita, who had been absent all week “because of mosquito” (ie malaria) was strangely silent and sad for our session, and would talk or smile at all until I read her a book about a goat who wants to eat human food instead of tin cans and furniture. At first break, two wonderful little tykes from KG, Emmanuela and Heward, confronted me, desperately begging for homework. They both sort of know their ABCs, and want more than anything to be taught. It struck me, because I come from a generation of American kids who defined the first few years of their education on poems like Jack Prelutsky’s “Homework! Oh, Homework!” and regarded school as a necessary evil at best. I wasn’t really sure how best to give homework to two four year olds, but I equally couldn’t imagine denying them of it, so I wrote out the alphabet for them, and told them to copy it on the other side of the paper for homework. They were thrilled.
During Break, a hungry Sir Williams bought some of the spicy pasta mixed with rice, something the older girls find absolutely hilarious because they don’t believe his stomach can handle it. Clifford excitedly wrote down his phone numbers for me so that I could “always reach”, and Dornuki started Artemis Fowl.
The highlight of the Day was definitely Connie’s immensely successful Class Six Creative Arts Period. She began by teaching the kids the fundamentals of simple business and management, from profit, revenue, cost equations to the different authority roles within a company. The kids had been learning to make friendship bracelets, and by the end of class, they had formed a company to market, manufacture, and sell their product. They purchased string, rented scissors, and had elections for the Board of Directors. Dornuki was elected President of the company. Connie had been a bit nervous at first, but the lesson was a huge success. They plan to sell their bracelets here, but also send some home with Connie to sell in the states on their behalf. It was really exciting, and the rest of us hope to be as successful in our classes!