Freedom Tower at dusk (Taken with Instagram)
This morning, Annabel, Kelly and I headed over to Reverend James’ house (next door to the school) after breakfast because his wife, Mary, had promised to braid Annabel’s hair in cornrows with Ghanaian flag-colored beads. Mary and her five year-old daughter Alexandra, who had no school, greeted us, and invited us into an unbelievable home. The outside was unfinished cinder block, still under construction and not very attractive, but the inside was like nothing we’d seen in Ghana, Community 25 or otherwise. The indentured servant, Emmanuel, showed us into a kitchen that might as well have been in American suburbia: linoleum floors, granite counter tops, a sink, fridge, a dishwasher, and an oven. I was dumbstruck. Mary had worked for two years as a maid in Hoboken, NJ (we bonded over the Jerz), which she proffered as an implied explanation for the startling wealth that had obviously stunned us, her guests. There was a pile by the door of what looked like hundreds of little girl shoes, and although Alexandra did have a younger sister who wasn’t home, it looked like more shoes than I have probably owned cumulatively in my lifetime. There was a living room with a large flat screen TV and a few couches next to the kitchen, and here we sat down to begin the braiding.
After Mary began, Kelly and I remembered that we had to finish our notes for the kids (we had decided to cut out hearts, or “loves” for each student in our classes, color each heart with a unique design in crayon that invariably included yellow, and then write them a brief note on the back congratulating them for their work and improvement during the term). Anyway, we needed to run back to the school to grab our hearts, paper, scissors, and crayons, and Alexandra asked to come with us. The three of us skipped the few hundred yards back to the school, but as we approached, a huge lump rose in my throat. All the kids were at Break, and thus not in class but rather playing outside the compound. The girls were clapping, dancing, singing, and sucking on bags of rice, while the boys played football, wrestled, and playfully stole things from the girls. A few kids were trying to convince the FanIce vendor on a bicycle to give them the bagged ice cream for free.
Kids began to turn around, however, and the moment they saw us, they froze and stared. First they stared at Alexandra, with her perfect braids and beads, shiny earrings, crisp, ironed white blouse, fluffy hot pink skirt, paten-leather buckled shoes and white socks with delicate ruffles at the top. Their eyes followed her arms, which were raised and her hands slipped carelessly into Kelly and mine on each side. And then they stared at us, their beloved Madames, holding the hands of this alien princess girl and skipping with her and smiling at her. The little girl was, of course, not white, but with her attire and her house (every student knew where she lived), she might as well have been white. Perhaps that’s why Madame Kelly and Madame Georgia were holding her hands, the eyes said as they pierced ours. She’s like them. Luckily, Alexandra was completely oblivious to the cultural tsunami that was rearing up to crash violently into the pepper-patch shore at our feet. Instinctively, unintentionally, I sharply released Alexandra’s hand and distanced myself a few yards from her and Kelly, before I even realized what I was doing. I was so ashamed I could not meet Kate and Abigail and Esther’s eyes as we headed up the path towards the house, Kelly still holding Alexandra. I wanted, selfishly, to disappear, could hardly mumble a response to the awed, “Madame”s that greeted us, and as the children fell away, leaving a path before us, instead of their usual uncontrolled swarming, I felt acutely that I had betrayed them. The sickening feeling got worse as we brought Alexandra up the stairs and into our small house. No student was EVER allowed into our house. EVER. And while it was a great relief to escape the children’s’ stares and whispers, I knew that bringing this wealthy, foreign child-creature into our house before our own children’s’ eyes only served to compound our guilt.
Leaving the house was even worse. I delayed as much as I could, hoping Break would end, but alas, it did not oblige, Madame. We left the house carrying lots of paper and scissors. Alexandra had asked to carry the crayons, so she appeared, to the awe and jealousy of 150 pairs of eyes looking from every direction, holding an enormous, bulging ziplock bag of crayons in every color conceivable to the adolescent imagination, and I daresay a considerable amount more. Lexi did not look at, much less address, any of the multitude of children her age and older that gaped so shamelessly at her, and I hurried us all back to her house as quickly as I could.
When we arrived, Alexandra removed her shoes and exclaimed to her mother, “Mommy, the dust got my new shoes all dirty!” She was not at all a spoiled child, but the shoes were only imperceptibly dusty (if at all), and her comment, in light of the condition of the shoes worn by scores of children whom I loved (much more dearly than Alexandra herself), who were only a stone’s throw away from Alexandra as she spoke (albeit in an entirely different world), made me cringe.
We entered the living room, where Mary’s nimble fingers navigated Annabel’s bright red hair deftly and the tiny braids were multiplying. We greeted them, and Kelly and I sat down to our colouring. Alexandra decided against drawing, and instead turned on the large television to an episode of Teletubbies. She began singing along to the songs, shaking her hips in unison with the cartoon creatures, and generally having quite a pleasant time. Her father walked through the room and smiled at his lovely, twirling, beaming young daughter, and pinched her cheek with pride. The scene was so normal, so typical, and so like my own childhood that it ought to have been heart-warming for me. Unfortunately, the effect could be more accurately described as nauseating. I almost began to cry at the thought of Jerry and Clifford and Baba and Mariama and all the dozens of kids next door who would never just watch cartoons, or dance to Teletubbies, or have parent casually pinch their cheek, or even have electricity in their house much less a television on which to watch Teletubbies in the first place. And as Alexandra giggled and jumped and spun around, I couldn’t help watching how carelessly her clean, bare feet squished into the thick, soft rug beneath them, a feeling I never really appreciated until that moment, when I thought of the scores of children whose feet would never be free from dust, and who would never, ever know what it is like to step bare-footed onto a clean, soft rug.
Kelly woke up this morning with severe chills and a 103 degree fever, so we decided to head to the hospital. For my part, I had a 100-degree fever and didn’t feel great, but was in decidedly better condition than she, at the very least. Will was to accompany us to the hospital, and asked Mr. K to call us a cab immediately at 7am when we awoke, because we were pretty concerned about Kelly. After a leisurely “small small bite for the tummy,” Mr. Kabutey determined that he was ready to go, and his cab finally arrived at 9:30am. Will’s mother had talked to Dr. Nartey, the Chief of Ada, who recommended the Nahr-Bita Private Hospital in Tema as the best in the country. We instructed Mr. K and the cab driver to take us there, and a bona fide trail of tears ensued. After waiting to see Dr. Nahr himself (one of the most famous Docs in the country), he told Kelly and me that, if we had fevers, we both had malaria. While Kelly’s malaria could theoretically have relapsed from her first case two weeks ago, I had no reason to think I had malaria, and, considerably dubious about the accuracy of his diagnosis, we went to get our blood tested for the parasites.
We entered an outdoor room with a roof and a few rows of crowded wooden benches, and Mr. Kabutey told us to cut the entire “queue” (which made us very uncomfortable). We were afraid of any needle-puncturing-skin operation, but the nurse took the needles out of double plastic wrapped individual containers right in front of us, so our fears were assuaged. After pricking us sharply, the nurse told us to sit and wait, and sent us away. The nature of the prick was not one that would easily stop bleeding. I began to ask for a Bandaid, but she looked at me like I was speaking Swahili so I stopped, and resigned myself to a little unavoidable bleeding onto the margins of Gone with the Wind as I read and waited.
Twenty minutes later, the nurse handed Kelly and me small slips of paper with the words “No MP detected” on them, and sent us back to the main building to Dr. Nahr’s office. Dr. Nahr glanced at our slips, declared that in his opinion, we still both had malaria (despite the absence of the parasites in our blood), and began to write prescriptions for us. Kelly was a bit out of it because of her high fever, but I protested, calmly responding, “I do not think, Doctor, that I have malaria.” (I had no interest in paying 12 Ghana cedis for a prescription that could save someone else’s life when I had a cold and simply wanted someone professional to tell me to drink tea, get some rest and have a few Tylenol.) He looked at me with a hint of surprise, as though he had not previously considered the possibility that I might not, in fact, have malaria, and replied, “Oh, ok,” and threw away the prescription he’d been writing me. I could not help thinking that this was probably the most highly regarded doctor in the country, and I, the patient, had just matter-of-factly told him that I did not have malaria. Oh dear.
Anyway, we proceeded out of the office to another nearby half-outdoor building that was also full of packed benches, where we waited for Kelly’s prescription for about a half an hour. By this point, Will and I were very concerned that we had no reason whatsoever to think that Kelly actually had malaria, and yet we knew we needed to treat her because she was obviously extremely ill. I find it frustrating that because malaria is the Ghanaian equivalent of the common cold (although obviously much deadlier), even the most highly qualified doctors do very little else than tell people with fevers that they have malaria. With native Ghanaians, they are usually right. And if they’re not, malaria medicine is cheap so they might as well prescribe it just in case at first, and figure the rest out later. We were pretty sure, however, that Kelly’s 103 fever was not malarial, and we wanted a doctor to actually look at her medically and examine her symptoms and diagnose her without the obligatory malarial assumption.
Anyways, we traipsed back up the stairs to see Dr. Nahr a third time. He spoke on the phone briefly with Will’s mother, a doctor who formerly specialized in Infectious Diseases, and she was exceedingly underwhelmed after the conversation (and, as a result, she became even more concerned about the situation). To appease us, Dr. Nahr began writing Kelly a prescription for nearly every drug/antibiotic in his arsenal, and handed Will a paper with eight different medicines written on it. I suggested to Dr. Nahr that perhaps Kelly ought to just take Ciproflaxin (which we already had a considerable amount of from home), and he nodded and said “That might be good too.”
We went back to the pharmacy to pick up all the drugs, but they were out of seven of the eight Nahr had prescribed, and Will and I were pretty sure they weren’t really necessary anyway, so we just left and went back to the big testing room where Nahr had sent us to get more tests done on Kelly. Her stool test came up negative for Typhoid, which was not surprising because she’d been inoculated for it before we left (we had tried, and failed, to explain this to the Doc). The nurse then decided perhaps the finger prick had been an insufficient blood test for malaria, and that the inner elbow (where there are bigger veins) might yield “better” results. On her third try at inserting the large needle into Kelly’s arm (she missed the vein each time) the nurse wiggled it around and finally punctured the vein. The blood, however, still tested negative for malarial parasites. We went back up the stairs and reported the negative tests to Dr. Nahr. As we turned to leave, he said that Kelly, of course, would be staying as an inpatient for three days so that he might monitor her condition, and thus she could not leave. Kelly’s fever had gone down a lot, and we were all acutely aware that she would probably receive much better medical treatment at home with Nurse Emma than at the hospital, so we protested and were finally released. We returned to Manye a little after 2 pm, exhausted frustrated, and dehydrated. Kelly immediately took some Cipro, and was feeling dramatically better by the evening, although a large, dark bruise had already spread over her left inner-elbow.
This morning, Will woke up exceptionally sick, vomiting and feverish. We diagnosed it as the infamous FRS (Fried Rice Syndrome), i.e. fancy food poisoning, probably from his Geotess’ dinner the night before (it was a bit of an obruni move to order fried rice though, to be fair…). The rest of us headed to church with Kate and Baba Akologo. Kate was dressed in what looked like a pink princess dress-up gown that was fluffy, frivolous, and quite becoming, at least compared to her usual shredded hemline brown-checkered dress/uniform. When we arrived at the half-completed Avork Model High School, we sat down in a small, open, cinder block classroom and waited.
The service begins loosely at 8:30am, but people don’t necessarily arrive until 9:30 or 10, so there’s a lot of singing/dancing/collective praying to bide the time until then. Soon the classroom’s plastic chairs were full of about 30 people. Two verses from Luke, Chapter 10, were read (about Jesus visiting the home of Mary Magdalene and her sister), and then the young preacher got up and began a call and response-style sermon that lasted almost an hour and a half. It was quite hot, and his preaching was incredibly physical, so the pastor seemed quite exhausted when he finished. We sung lots of hymns, with the accompaniment of a drum set and an electronic keyboard that were installed in the corner of the room. All of the hymns had multiple verses and included various complex clapping patterns, but the entire congregation, including our kids, seemed to know them all by heart. Towards the end of the service, the head pastor made an announcement, saying that the church was hoping to raise 300 Ghana cedis with which to purchase an electric guitar. This attitude was tremendously alarming to Annabel, who rightly noted that such an immense sum could be used to send a half-dozen children to school for a term, and that if people here spent nearly as much money on education as they pour into their churches, the society might be a bit better off. In that same vein, the church also bought Alvaro sodas for the entire congregation (we feared perhaps due to our obruni presence) that were distributed after the service. Although it was a nice treat for the kids, the frivolity of such spending, probably costing nearly 50 Ghana cedis, was really frustrating to us.
When we eventually returned home, we ate lunch and headed into the teachers’ lounge for the Annual PTA meeting that was to occur at 3pm. It was a good thing I brought Gone With the Wind, because few parents showed up before 4pm, the meeting went for two and a half hours after that, and was conducted almost exclusively in Twi. The five of us volunteers sat in the back observing, and a woman near us periodically explained why she, like some of the other mothers, was yelling at many of the men present. “They don’t pay their school fees, but they keep sending their kids here,” she said. (Mr. Kabutey always dislikes sending kids away for financial reasons, even though the school is practically underwater and cannot possibly afford to subsidize any more kids). The yells and accusations persisted for a while, but it was all in Twi (because many of the parents do not speak English) so we were pretty much oblivious to the nuances of the argument. Eventually, I stood up and gave a brief speech (as Mr. Kabutey had requested of me earlier) concerning the singular value of education and how even in America, parents struggle to pay their fees. Moral of the story, education is a priceless investment in your child’s future, so don’t give up on it, or them.
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 a long day, hot and muggy inside the classrooms and dusty outside. It was punctuated nicely by brief breaks during which we could read (we’ve all become very avid readers lately, and I am particularly enjoying Gone with the Wind), make friendship bracelets with the kids, and get teased by Dornuki for no reason in particular.
After school, Jerry really wanted to take us to his house, so he, Yona, and Abigail lead us through the circuitous, muddy paths of Community 25 to where he lived (Kelly, always a trooper, somehow managed to carry Baba the entire way). On the way we met Jerry’s sister Erica, who speaks only Spanish, because she is too old to go to school and grew up in Guinea. She is 18, like us, and chattered a little with Kelly as we passed her, all the time non-chalantly balancing a huge bucket filled with water on her head. I never cease to be impressed at the immense quantities that nearly every woman here seems to be able to carry on their heads, to balance, walk with, bend down with, etc. regardless of whether the weight of the coconuts or watermelon halves or waterbags is evenly distributed in the large bowl. We then met Jerry’s mother, who speaks only French and Spanish. I chatted with her a bit in French to discover that she is from Equatorial Guinea, and that Jerry had been born there. The family had also lived in Mali and Mauritania since then, but moved to Ghana about five years ago because that is Jerry’s father’s nationality. I was impressed to learn that Jerry understands French fairly well, and he is certainly better traveled than any of the other kids I’ve encountered, even though his family is quite impoverished.
As we were walking back to the school, I teased Jerry in French, which he found hilarious, but he also acted very embarrassed that he was able to understand me. A little while later, Jerry and Yona began to press me to take them back to America with them. Jerry said, “I will tell my father that you want to take me to the States and he will love for you to take me. You will take me ok? We can fly far far away.” This conversation was a really hard one, because of course it wasn’t that simple, and although I love Jerry, I couldn’t imagine taking him away from his home and his family. It was also upsetting for all of us when the two boys kept repeating how much their families not only wouldn’t object to the idea, but would be supremely delighted.
Kelly, Annabel, and I decided to go for a short run after our walk, and Jerry put us to shame by easily keeping up, even in his torn flipflops. When we got home, it was just getting dark, and much darker in the house. The power had been out all day, and Connie was reading inside with a flashlight. We managed our bucket showers with our beloved headlamps perched on the concrete windowsill of the shower, and somehow, Nurse Emma cooked us dinner in the dark. Dornuki and I did a little bit of “the History of the World,” but it was short lived because, once the power returned a few hours later, Mr. Kabutey insisted that the five of us write reports on the progress that each of the kids we tutor had made in English during our eight weeks of tutoring. Dornuki read Anne of Green Gables, which I recently gave her to read, and watched, amused, as we lingered over the reports, frustrated and unsure what to write for some students who we fear have made little progress. Mary, for instance, the oldest girl in First grade (she’s 14) whom I tutor (and who spends more time bullying the 5 year olds than studying, according to Madame Kelly, who teaches that class) began knowing very little English and not much of her alphabet. She knows some of it now, but certainly not all of it, and I often feel as though perhaps I have failed in some way but not succeeding in teaching her the whole thing. Still, none of us are perfect, and for the next two weeks, as for the past seven, we’ll continue to try our best.
School today was a bit bizarre, because after the bell rang for first break, not a kid seemed to move, and none of the usual noise, eating, fighting, and chaos that we’ve come to expect ensued. We soon discovered the reason: Apparently there is to be a PTA meeting on Sunday afternoon, and Mr. Kabutey was going around to each classroom with a large cane, handing out invitations to each child to give to their parents, and threatening them what might happen if their parents failed to show up.
We were also shocked, and not particularly happy, to see that today, instead of caning the children who were late, Mr. Kabutey sent each and every one back home to get a note from their parents explaining their tardiness. They were not to return without such a document. Unfortunately, many of the childrens’ parents had left for work, and nearly all are illiterate anyway. This resulted in severely diminished attendance across the board, notably with only 6 out of 25 in the oldest JHS class. This was particularly frustrating, because the year’s cumulative exams are next week, and this week is an incredibly important one for review. Clifford and his sister Christabel were also sent home towards the middle of the day for “improper attire”, although this confused me because I had talked to both of them earlier, and each had on leather shoes (this is a rarity), white socks, and functional (although, obviously, worn) uniforms. None of us was sure what inspired the crackdown.
During second break, the children also were not released. Instead, the “doctors” who Mr. Kabutey had told us about last week finally arrived. Upon sitting in on their lecture (the blackboard separating Class One and Class Two was removed to form a larger space to fit more of the students), we soon realized that neither of the Ghanaian men who had come were doctors. Furthermore, they were not, as we had been previously told, going to “examine every child for diseases.” Rather, one was a spokesman from a toothpaste company called “Close Up” who showed a tube around to all the kids, defined words such as “gums” and “fluoride”, and tried to encourage the students (many of whom already have rotted teeth) to “paste” twice a day with “Close Up”. The man with him was just a friend who’d come to see the school.
In Class Four Creative Arts, we began working on “Self-Portraits”. I’ve been wanting to do them for awhile, but saved them to the end because I wanted them to be the best the kids could do. I’ve even been toying with the idea of bringing the portraits home to display somewhere, either in Princeton or up at school, to help raise money to fund the kids’ school fees (which almost none of them can afford). After explaining what a self-portrait is, and handing out white paper and coloured pencils, the kids began, tentatively. Many copied pictures from the fronts of their notebooks, almost all of white people that looked nothing like them (for instance, none of the kids here has any hair, because they get it shaved regularly so as not to distract them, particularly the girls). A few kids copied one another and others refused to continue once they’d “made a mess of it, Madame.” Still, the operation was more of a success than I’d anticipated, and I promised them we’d finish the portraits in class on Friday.
After school, Annabel, Kelly, and I went running. As we were leaving the school, eight-year old Tetteh (Dornuki’s cousin who lives with us because his father is in the US) ran out to join us. The only shoes he has are over-sized plastic slippers, and he had to hold up his shorts the entire time because they have no button. Nevertheless, he managed to stay with us for almost 15 minutes. He walked with us the rest of the way, and we even showed him “Plank” at the end (which he somehow managed to do for a minute and a half) because he said he was no longer tired.
After dinner, a good bit of power-reading (Kelly just finished “To Kill a Mockingbird” for the first time, and I am currently trying my best to crush all 1,448 pages of “Gone with the Wind”), and some refreshingly cold bucket showers, Dornuki told me she wanted to start History. I had told her I’d teach her lessons at night if she wanted, but assumed she wasn’t interested because she hadn’t mentioned it in over a week. Evidently I was wrong, however, so I got out a piece of paper, pencil, and the maps of the seven continents that I’d brought, applied lots of bug spray, and we began in the weak light on a wooden table outside the kitchen. I decided to shamelessly entitle the course “the History of the World According to Georgia,” and so it began. We began with the Big Bang and the Dinosaurs, and probably covered more Geography, Archaeology, Biology, and Biblical History in our first lesson than typical history itself, but it was really fun. Dornuki particularly enjoyed learning what “latitude” and “longitude” were, and how Tema, our home, is also the closest human settlement to 0° latitude and longitude, and therefore to the center of the world.