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.
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!
This morning, as a Wednesday, began with Worship. The kids sung hymns in small groups, listened to short Bible stories, and had the week’s “Memory Verse”, John 3:16 (one of the few that I recognized, thanks to the large amount of ‘Testamint’ candies I consumed in my youth) explained to them. Then they all assembled, one boy drummed a beat and the kids marched up, class by class, to the front of the group where one of the teachers held a bowl. They were giving offertory, which struck me as odd because many of them can’t even afford their school fees in the first place. Anyway, at the end, the total collections for each class were announced with much suspense, drama, and excitement. Class Four won with one cedi, 70 pesawas, and erupted into whooping, dancing, and singing with pride.
After Worship everyone went back to class. I began tutoring. Jonathan loves “Oh, the Places You’ll Go”, and Clifford wrote a great paragraph all about how he’d spent the holiday weekend visiting his family in Kumasi.
In the middle of our session it had begun to rain, and all of a sudden we were interrupted by shouts and squeals as about ten 8-12 year old girls ran desperately past the staff room and back into the school. Simultaneously, we saw Mr. Kabutey tear around the outside of the classroom with a cane, infuriated and whipping as he went, yelling at the girls that they should be in class. I saw Connie corraling a bunch of distraught, crying girls and instructing them to hurry back to class as quickly as possible. Connie then came in and explained to me that hey had left (at their teacher’s behest) to take down our laundry from the rain.
In Class Two Creative Arts, I read Beauty and the Beast out loud to the children, and then we listed all the characters, objects, and places in the story on the board. Then with colored pencils the kids drew their favourites. Gloria had a beautiful enchanted rose, and many of the depictions of Lumière were lovely. Unfortunately, I was distracted by the noise of intense whipping coming from Class Three all the way across the quad. I was relieved that the kids were fairly involved in their drawings, and did not seem to notice. Still, it upset me very much, and I wasn’t sure what the do. I briefly left my class, walked over, and saw that the teacher in question was Reuben, who teaches the computer class. Upset but hesitant to take action or call attention to myself, I walked into the staff room next door and shared a glance with Madame Annabe, who was struggling to tutor over the noise next door. Then I returned to my class. I couldn’t be sure, but I think that the other teachers in the staff room saw our looks of distress and disgust, because I saw one of them get up and speak briefly to Madame Theresa. I watched as she immediately came by the Class Three room, pulled Reuben out and spoke firmly with him for a few minutes. When he returned to the class, he waved all the students who had been standing at the front of the classroom to return to their seats. The period finished without further disruption. After class I talked to Kate, our good friend in Class Three. She is sweet, spunky, opinionated, and eight years old, little Baba’s older sister. She explained to me that they had had a computer test the day before, and that everyone got caned twice for each wrong answer (she’d had four as punishment for her 18/20). She complained that it wasn’t fair that the kids with 19.5/20 don’t get caned. She also said that three boys had gotten 9/20. That had been the appalling scene that had gotten my attention. She asked for me not to tell Madame Theresa, because then Reuben would want to know who had told and she was afraid she might get beaten again. I assured her that I would not let anything of the kind happen. Madame Theresa approached me soon after and told me that she’d been furious at what had happened, and that she had been bitterly clear with Reuben that it should not happen again. She said curtly, “A good teacher does not plan a 70 minute lesson where one hour of it is punishment for completing another lesson poorly. You must teach them what they do not understand if you want their tests to improve.”
Anyways, after school Sir Williams (most of the students add the ‘s’), Madame Kelly and I played around with Yona, Jerry, Kate, Baba, Abigail, and a few others. A man had come briefly and made balloon animals for the children, and everyone tried to burst everyone else’s with small splinters of wood.
Later, when most of the kids had left to go home except Kate and Abigail, the latter asked me, “Madame, how did you learn to become fair?” I was taken aback at the question and finally replied that my skin had always been this colour. The girls were shocked. Kate had an aunt who had moved to America, and she insisted that the aunt had turned “fair” afterwards. I was confused, and eventually realized that she had this impression because she’d seen pictures of her aunt’s children. And her aunt married a white man. I awkwardly tried to explain the concept of interracial marriage to Abigail and Kate, who could hardly believe that some kids turn out white AND black. They then suggested that as an experiment Kelly and I should marry Ghanaian men, but only if we were Christian. As it so happens we both are, but they were very skeptical of this, and insisted on hearing us recite the 23rd psalm for proof. When we both did (laughing a little at the force of the two proselityzing 8-9 year old girls), they cheered, giving us big hugs and trying to lift us in the air. Then they turned to Will. “Do you go to church?”. He calmly replied that he did not. “Muslim!!!” they squealed, but he shook his head laughing and said that he was Jewish. This puzzled them, and they stared at him, unsure how to react. I tried to diffuse the situation by saying that it’s kind of like Christian. They asked about Madame Annabel, who we replied was also Jewish. “So she is your sister?” Kate said to Will. We explained that there are lots of Jews in America, not all of whom are related. They nodded, finally satisfied.
After the kids had left we were a bit tired, so instead of running to Blueberry Road, the five of us all took a walk together through Community 25.
Community 25 is primarily a construction site of houses that are not nearly complete. Most are also far beyond what anyone living here now could afford. For the most part, the current residents (ie our students’ families) are squatting (“house-sitting”) inside the scaffolding and concrete skeletons, at liberty to live there for the next few years until the houses are completed. Around and between the houses is flat, overgrown grassland, in some parts with dense bush and others nearly bare with thin, scrubby trees. There are dirt paths winding through the area, as well as some paved roads around the perimeter, and all are covered in a layer of the rich, red colored earth. Because there are no trees, mountains, or tall buildings anywhere in sight, the horizon extends in an endless panorama. As a result, despite the somewhat haggard look of the incomplete houses and reluctant vegetation, the sunsets here are breathtaking. As we made our way, we saw the huge fiery sun beginning to descend towards the horizon. The clouds were pale, but seemed to reflect the rays of light in every possible direction across the sky. We paused and watched as the smouldering sun finally disappeared in silence.
We agreed that it was quite beautiful, but never too earnest, we took the opportunity to play a game. The sunset had reminded us of the opening scene of the Lion King. We decided that each child should have a part. Adorable little Baba was Baby Simba, obviously. Jerry, rambunctious and energetic, was initially cast as a hyena, but this was quickly revised to Rafiki, the monkey. Kate we cast as Zazoo, the parrot, because she is very responsible. Slender, silly Abigail would make a great Timon, we thought, and perhaps smiley, happy-go-lucky Clifford, with his round, dimpled cheeks and little belly, could be Pumbaa. We thought Felix, an incredibly sharp boy from Class Four would do a masterful job as Scar, and we jokingly cast some of the more difficult six year old girls in Class One to be the hyenas. Rita escaped this fate, however, because she was the obvious choice for Baby Nala. Class Four’s Nelson was an easy choice as Mufasa, and older Nala we gave to a lovely, soft-spoken, and incredibly intelligent JHS Two student, Rosalina. Suffice it to say, that the game was quite amusing, and our walk quite pleasant.
Today was very calm, which was quote a relief after yesterday’s excitement. We slept in, and after breakfast undertook a massive spring cleaning that produced piles of dirt from the floor of our two small rooms, as well as bags and bags of ‘rubbish’. Afterwards, Annabel got a gold star for her masterful trimming of Sir William’s hair (Dornuki even said she liked it, and she, our host sister, rarely says much at all). After dinner Annabel read, engrossed in ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’, Kelly and Will watched Memento (ahhhh!!!), and Connie wrote in her journal. I chatted up Dorniki for the first time, and was delighted that she seemed to really start opening up. For instance, she showed me her journal, which has lovely poetry in it. I think she may just be a little lonely, because (since she’s the daughter of Manye’s headmaster and far wealthier than most of the other children) she’s pretty far ahead of most of her peers academically, and pretty bored sometimes with school. She’s twelve, which is definitely not an easy age, so it was nice hearing her express herself and some of our feelings.
Also, before we went to bed, Nurse Emma informed us that the pears Kelly and Will had gotten we green inside, had pits, and were nearly flavorless. We soon realize that what they call pears here are actually avocados. We’re thinking of making dinner for Nurse Emma and Dornuki one night before we leave, and have decided that guacamole will definitely be on the menu.
We woke up early, leaving the hostel by seven am to head half an hour east, to the Kakum National Forest. When we arrived in the rainforest, we entered a small, government-run tourist center. A young boy tried to sell us water bottles filled with fresh palm wine, but we didn’t want to risk going blind (as Richard jokingly warned), so we opted for breakfast at the center’s small restaurant instead. Will got a steak sandwich and fries (it was 8am), but the rest of us enjoyed the breakfast menu. Annabel and I got French Toast, a risky choice that turned out to be basically deep-fried white bread, but that was pretty good. After eating, our guide lead the eleven of us (and a few other obrunis) up a steep stone path into the jungle. It lead to Kakum’s famous Canopy Walk, where 300 meters of rope bridge hang suspended from trees 40 meters above the rainforest floor. As we entered, the guide assured us the rope bridge could hold the weight of two elephants, but encouraged us nonetheless not to swing the bridges too hard. We along one after another of the narrow, swaying bridges, which are connected by little platforms around the trunks of especially large trees. It reminded me of an enormous treehouse network or an Ewok palace. The foliage seemed to extend to the horizon and the thick jungle around us was breathtaking. We wound through it on the bridges, high above the ground, enamoured of our surroundings, nearly dropping our cameras into the leafy ungrowth below every time we tried to snap a picture.
After we bought some souvenirs, we decided to spend our last few hours at the beach before we had to leave. We soon arrived just beside Cape Coast Castle, where there was a small touristy beach club with a deck of tables and chairs that overlooked the shore. We put our things down, and although the waves were huge and crashing, we decided to go in. The water was quite warm (I guess cause were in the tropics). We bought some strands of beads from a local vendor who came by, and soon a dozen or so children materialized, each carrying huge plates and bowls of meat pies, fruits, water bags, plaintain chips, and other goods on their heads. We bought a little, bit soon they took off their platters, rested them on a derelict fishing boat that had been left on the beach, and began to play. They set up an elaborate goal for soccer penalty kicks, some caught squid in the shallow water and brought them back, and others practiced backflips off the boat. It looked as though they were having a rollicking good time, and it was fun just watching their pure, unadulterated fun. We did notice, however, a really weird dynamic on the beach. Our restaurant had created a tiny, bizarre sort of touristy oasis/bubble on the beach, but only yards away were the fishermen with their long canoes, nimbly mending their green nets, local boys playing volleyball, and mothers washing their small children in the water. Directly in front of our restaurant it was ok to be the obruni in the bikini, but if you walked twenty yards away down the beach, people would stare at you (we made this mistake and some men even yelled, “You are not in your country! Do not bring that here!”). We quickly retreated back to our table next door, ashamed that we’d presumed such indecency was ok.
We soon left to get our van, and as we walked along the streets of the town, we saw dozens of people, many middle aged women, in beautiful white gowns, intricately woven with delicate black patterns. Harold explained that in Ghana, if someone is over seventy, everyone at their funeral wears elaborate white attire, celebrating the life of the deceased. We all thought the tradition was very uplifting.
We took a non-eventful van ride back to Accra, which got exciting when, around 6:45pm, we arrived and tried to find a tro-tro to take all eleven of us to Tema. We asked one man to take us, he agreed, and we boarded his van and he began to drive out of the Accra hub. A huge fight soon broke out among the other trotro drivers. They swarmed our van so that we could not leave, screaming at the driver, pounding at the windows and yelling at us in Twi. One even opened a back window of the trotro from the outside and started grabbing at Will and Kelly. Harold and Richard were trying to figure out what was going on, and our driver kept trying to plow through the large mob that was gathering of angry drivers. Before he could get out, someone drove an empty trotro horizontally across our path to block his escape. The infuriated driver got out of his car. The situation was rapidly escalating and becoming unsafe. Apparently, the driver we’d asked to take us to Tema was not one of the usual Tema drivers, all of whom pay dues for the right to drive that route. The other drivers had demanded that he pay them if was going to take us. He refused, which caused the mayhem. Of course, the emotion was severely magnified by the fact that we are all obrunis, and thus the Tema drivers also assumed we were rich and paying our driver far above the regular price (which of course, is not the case because a)we have Harold and Richard to assure that we dont get really cheated and b)we are starving college students, and have no money anyway). Nevertheless, the Tema drivers believed that they were being doubly cheated. As our driver got out of the van, the fight started to really get out of hand, and Harold yelled at us to all get out of the trotro asap. We did so (although the van had started moving by the time Kelly and I jumped out) and we quickly left the area flanked by Harold and Richard. By this point it was quite dark outside, and we were so grateful to have had them to deal with the frenzy.
In Tema, the cab drivers fought over us again, while we casually bought and ate plaintain chips from a vendor. We found it very frustrating that no matter where we go it seems, in Tema, Ghana, or perhaps even this continent, we will always be obrunis by virtue of our skin color, and thus, no matters how facile we get with the language, culture, or customs, we will always be treated somewhat differently. Anyway, wefinally got our driver, but unfortunately our motor-vehicle drama was not yet over. Near the entrance to Community 25 is Kpone Barrier, a military road blockade for which the village is named. As we passed, a young whipper-snapper military officer, probably about 25 years old, told our cab driver (who was definitely over 50) to pull over. The five of us had crammed into one cab to avoid to much drama at the Tema roundabout, but the officer was angry. He demanded our cab driver to tell him how many passengers he could legally carry. The police have very little authority here, and we were confident that if our driver just answered calmly the officer would let us go immediately, with a “warning”. Unfortunately, our driver was offended by the young man’s lack of respect to his elder, and began yelling at him. The officer, obviously trying to prove that he was not completely powerless, was infuriated and asked for the cabbie’s license. The driver did not have his license, but was so horrified that someone half his age would dare question his driving credentials that he absolutely lost it. He got out of the cab, dropped English and began yelling at the officer in Twi. They then left, the officer bringing him to talk to the head of the checkpoint. We were all shocked at the behavior, simply because to us, the first thing we had learned about dealing with the cops when we were kids was to be meek, compliant, and respectful, even if the officer is out of line. Anyway, our driver returned about ten minutes later, got in the cab, drove us home, demanded an exhorbitant fee, and left.Finally at home after a very long day, we collapsed into bed.
This morning we quickly packed our bags (meaning we threw a camera, a tube of toothpaste, sunscreen, our swimsuits, and five pb&js into a bag) and took a cab to Accra Mall to meet Richard and Harold (our Ghanaian Dartmouth liaisons/superheros) and the Asi Daahey girls, who had spent the night in a hostel in Accra. We took a number of trotros and finally ended up at a bus stop in Tema. It was almost noon, but we bought tickets for the 11am bus to Cape Coast, Ghana’s most popular tourist destination, and the town where we were staying briefly for the holiday weekend.
It is a coastal city about 150km west of Accra and the former capital of the Gold Coast, the British Colonial name for Ghana. Cape Coast is the site of two huge castles (one named after the city and one called Elmina) that served briefly as Portugese and Dutch, but primarily as British centers of export to the New World. Their principle good was African slaves, although Ghanaian gold, leather, rubber, sugar, and coconuts also left the castle on the same ships. Ghana, from the 1540s when the Portugese colonized it (and built the sprawling Elmina Castle) until the British abolished the slave trade in 1872, was the center of export for slaves all over Africa. It is a lovely seaside town, but it also has a heavy and important legacy.
Anyways, the 11am bus hadn’t left yet, so the eleven of us hopped on, quickly filling it. The three hour bus ride was calm and pleasant and fairly uneventful, although ten minutes before we arrived the Ghanaian man next to me (who had been trying to strike up conversation for the better part of the ride despite by determination to sleep and play Gin Rummy with Kelly and Will) asked me to marry him. Michelle had mentioned this phenomenon to us, and so although it was a little awkward, I casually declined and we soon arrived. Upon arriving in town, we headed straight to Cape Coast Castle, which really meant straight to the touristy obruni-friendly restaurant beside Cape Coast Castle. We ate a feast of burgers, fries, pizza, and pineapple juice which hit the spot despite being somewhat questionable.
We then toured the Castle, which was fascinating, as well as very moving. We walked through the dark underground prisons where thousands of men abd women had been chained, without light, food, water, or fresh air for months at a time. Many had died of cholera, malaria, yellow fever, and other diseases, but we also walked through the “Door of No Return” where the surviving ones had been marched out onto the rocky coast to board canoes that brought them to the slave ships. The ocean breeze made it cool and breezy, but the legacy surrounding us inside the white walls of the castle made it suffocating. Our guide spoke passionately and intently, and however tangible and excruciating the suffering seemed to us, we could imagine how much more emotionally resonant it was for him, upon whose ancestors the ghastly injustices had been perpetrated. One point of pride for the castle was a room in one of the dungeons where a number of prominent black leaders had placed wreaths, the most recent of which had been placed by President Obama and his family, just one year ago.
We eventually left, dropped our stuff off at the hostel (for which we payed the equivalent of five dollars a night for spacious, two-person rooms with kitchens, toilets, showers, and wardrobes), and headed to dinner. Our first stop was a hotel restaurant, that turned out to be startlingly fancy and out of our price range. We must be really tropicalized, because as we entered, the air conditioning made us extremely cold. Richard and Harold informed us that only the absolute richest Ghanaian tourists could afford to stay there, which wasn’t surprising. With the richly carpeted floor, crystal chandelier, huge spiral staircase and overpowering A/C, it seemed almost an ostentatious display of wealth and luxury. We promptly left for a casual restaurant on the beach next door, where we ordered spicy red snapper and fried rice with banku and some local beers to taste for the table (we’re all comfortably of age here). The fish was delicious, and by the time we finished about two hours later, it had gotten quite chilly (perhaps 65 degrees?). My goosebumps did not go away until I was thoroughly wrapped in my sheet back at the hotel. It seems we’re all getting really tropicalized, with the possible exception of Madame Kelly, who cannot always function when separated for too long from our fan.
Today was more or less a grand build-up to the Ghana-Uruguay World Cup Quarterfinals match. We headed into Accra in mid-morning, stopping first at the lab where Kelly and Connie had gotten blood samples taken to see if they had malaria. Kelly’s came back negative and Connie’s positive, although Will’s mom said it was likely that they both had had the disease, and Kelly’s had come back negative because a) she’d already started treatment, so the medicine would have killed many of the parasites that were in her blood, and b) she was taking her malarone, the preventative malaria medicine, which would also make it less likely to show up.
From the lab we took a cab to the trotro stop in Tema, where we took a trotro to the Accra mall, where we met Richard and the Asi Daahey girls. From there we grabbed a cab and headed into downtown Accra, ending up (about seven hours after leaving Manye due to traffic) at the Aviation Social Centre, a huge outdoor grassy, fenced-in area with an enormous television, and a host of riotous, enthusiastic Ghanaian fans. After installing ourselves in the few plastic lawnchairs that were still free, we investigated the food options. There was one stand of beer and Alvaro (our favourite Ghanaian soda, comes in curvy green bottles in pineapple and pear flavors), one stand roasting beef and sausage on skewers, and one stand of fruit. This one looked particularly intriguing, because in our experience, fruit here has been absolutely delicious. The stand had piles of mangoes, pineapple, guava, papaya, orange(the dark green variety), banana, apple, watermelons, and a few other fruits that I struggled to identify. It was run by two Ghanaian women who would quickly peel and slice the fruits and put them in a styrofoam bowl for you with a toothpick. I got two mangoes, two bananas, and a pineapple for the equivalent of about $1.25. While I was waiting for my fruit, I chatted with two other obrunis who were there: They were Tufts graduates now at Harvard for graduate school and working on spreading awareness about bed nets (to prevent malaria) particularly to the most vulnerable members of society, such as pregnant women.
Anyways, we soon reclaimed our seats, and for nearly three tense hours the action mounted. Ghana scored the first goal, which instigated a riot of people dancing, singing, and screaming throughout the whole courtyard. Unfortunately, however, the game went into overtime. And when a Uruguay defenseman blocked a goal with his hand during the last few minutes of play and drew a penalty kick on his own team, and Asamoah Gyan came to take it, he hit the goal’s crossbar. This was a heartbreak. Amidst tension and emotion, the Black Stars lost in a final shoot out. The place went silent, vuvuzelas suddenly stopped, music quieted, the tv screen turned black and before we knew it, we few obrunis were the only people left in the place. It was heartbreaking, as though the entire African continent were pursing their lips and closing their eyes. On the street outside, a number of men were rolling on the ground wailing (although I imagine they might’ve been trying to get our attention for other reasons). We headed home, downcast. It seemed as though the lights throughout the city were off, and the streets were completely empty. The Black Stars had an amazing show and made their continent proud, to be sure, Still, it was a rough way to lose.
Nurse Emma, Mr. Kabutey’s wife, works at a hospital in Tema. She cooks us breakfast and lunch before she leaves in the morning and dinner when she returns around six pm. She is soft-spoken, but a very talented cook, immensely intelligent woman and nurse, and quite kind and caring. Anyway, when we got back from Ada, Will, Annabel and I asked if we could help her make dinner. She was delighted, and invited us into the small wooden structure behind the stove that functions as her kitchen. As she began assembling bowls abd utensils, we were amazed at how orderly everything was, despite the fact that she had no cupboards, drawers, or closet in which to store any of her supplies.
We began by making our favourite sauce (for both rice and chicken). It is quite spicy and absolutely delicious, and Will and I were particularly eager to learn the recipe. We threw four small tomatoes, a small onion, about fifteen or twenty small green hot (not chili) peppers, two cloves of garlic, and a chunk of Ginger root into a bowl. She scooped some water into the bowl from a large nearby barrel filled with water (to clean the veggies), and we realized that her kitchen did not even have a sink. As she nimbly peeled, cored, and sliced all the small vegetables with a huge knife, we became more and more impressed. We blended the veggies, sauteed a little more onion in oil on the small stove, and added our blended mixture. Soon Emma took a huge tin of tomato paste, punctured the lid with her large knife, and began cutting open the can, slowly and deliberately. At every rotation of the tin, it seemed as though she was about to slice off a finger, but of course, never came close. Amazed, Annabel asked, “do you always open cans that way?” Of course, replied Nurse Emma. How would she otherwise? We soon added salt and curry podwer to the mixture and our stew/sauce was done. Emma had thawed some chicken and made some rice, so we assembled our dinner and brought it to the house. That night in particular, it tasted delicious.
The day began at six am, when we grabbed a little food and piled into a van, heading East to Ada, the region where Asi Daahey school, home to four other Dartmouth volunteers for the summer (Laura McFeely, Elise Smith, Andrea Imhof, and Isa Guardalabene). The headmaster of their school, a man we know as Dr. Nartey (he has a PhD in Linguistics) is the Chief, or King, of the whole region of “Big Ada”. With the help of another, older local chief, he arranged for about thirty of us (students, teachers, and volunteers) from both schools to take a boat ride on the Volta River so that he could show us his domains. When we arrived at the school, he looked regal, tall and thin, wearing black silk trousers and a long white, traditional robe embroidered with the symbols of his clan in black. He wore a black velvet hat that sagged forward over his brow. He had an ornately carved wooden cane, and as soon as we all assembled in the school’s courtyard, he announced that we were going to visit another chief in the area who had helped to finance our boat ride. He took off ahead of the group, walking briskly across street and navigating the narrow alleys of downtown Ada. The area is near the water, so there was a nice breeze. It seemed to be a much wealthier area than Communiry 25, and the other chief’s compound was no exception. There was a courtyard with a large painted house (the first two story house we’ve seen). We walked up the stairs into a carpeted ‘welcome room’. There wasn’t, however, enough room inside for everyone, so Dr. Nartey invited all the white people and some of the teachers in, while the rest of our party waited outside. The elder chief was seated at the end of the long room, dressed in fur and richly woven fabrics despite the heat. After greeting him, we all sat down on cushioned seats around the walls. Dr. Nartey (the new chief) sat down beside him at the end of the room. Despite using the utmost respect, the class distinctions hung heavily in the air between Mr. Kabutey and Dr. Nartey. The difference in education was stark when Dr. Nartey spoke, and even their clothing was extremely different. Neither man seemed fazed, as such hierarchy and tribal authority seems pretty organic to the culture here, but to me and some of the other obrunis, it was quite uncomfortable. Anyways, Dr. Nartey addressed us all in fluid, perfect English, remarking on our good fortune to have the oppurtunity to share the day together. We left presently, assembled the rest of our party and walked at the quick pace of the Chief to a nearby beach. The boat was not quite what we expected, but rather a sort of oversized, partially covered motorized canoe. We all piled in, and slowly began cruising down the Volta River. Dr. Nartey informed us that a chief is not supposed to speak directly to the people, but rather through an aide. His aide was sitting at the front of the boat, wearing a t-shirt with Dr. Nartey’s face and chief-title on it. Dr. Nartey made an exception to this rule for us, however, and soon began recounting the history of the region. We saw a host of islands grown over with thick jungles, and lots of round clay houses with thatched roofs on the shore. A number of fishermen were out in long, thin canoes, one casting the net from the front, the other paddling with a long pole from the back. Dr. Nartey informed us that they were fishing tuna and herring, two of Ghana’s biggest exports. Many of them were completely naked (it was quite hot and I don’t think people are nearly as self-conscious about nudity here), which we didn’t realize until after all of us obrunis took pictures of them…(All the Ghanaians, including the fishermen, found this hilarious).
Dr. Nartey proceeded to explain how Togo had been a German colony, and had been divided between the British (who controlled Ghana to the west) and the French (who controlled Benin to the east) after World War II. French Togoland became Togo, and British Togoland became part of Ghana, and is now almost entirely within Dr. Nartey’s domain. We finally got to the mouth of the river, where it meets the Gulf of Guinea and enters the Atlantic Ocean. Here we disembarked on the beach and walked across the sand dunes to watch the tide. The beach was lovely, but absolutely covered in litter. It was almost impossible to navigate without stepping on the immense amount of trash, the majority of which were the plastic square water bags from which people here get fresh water. No one said anything about it though, so we just walked along the beach, admiring the view and ignoring the thousands of pounds of plastic about to wash into the ocean beneath our feet.
Until we ran into two new obrunis. One was a Brit with a video camera, one was an Australian helping him out. Dr. Nartey called them over, and angrily asked what they were doing. They tried to explain that they were journalists on vacation making a free lance piece about the coastal regions of Ghana (they’d spent the previous day with some fishermen). Today, they were documenting the shocking environmental hazard of the beaches. At this point, Dr. N almost lost it. “So you are going to go send out this film portraying us as filthy people?”. No, they tried to explain, they wanted to inspire the Ghanaian government to establish some sort of trash receptacle system (there are virtually no bins anywhere in the country that we’ve seen). They also wanted to raise awareness about the possible destructive effect of just throwing “rubbish” anywhere and everywhere, which seems, regrettably, to be the attitude around much of the country because there are no social institutions or infrastructure to encourage otherwise. The chief was infuriated, and exlclaimed, “I have to protect my people! How do I know you are not spreading lies? How do I know you are who you say you are?” He kept asking for their passports (these were back in the hotel) and ids (one of them had a 2009 Alumnus ID from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, but the Chief said it was out of date and refused to consider it. Mr. Kabutey piped in, trying to demand that they send him a copy of the finished video, which they gladly agreed to give him the YouTube address for (despite the fact that we don’t have Internet access at the school). The one time we saw him briefly lose his temper, the Chief abruptly told Mr. K to be quiet in Twi and continued to harangue the two Brit obrunis. They said they would be delighted to interview him, as the chief of the region, with his opinion on the issue, but he angrily refused, saying that because of their lack of ID, he could not trust them. They apologized, and told the Chief that they were really hoping he could encourage the local government to invest in ZoomLine (a machine that cleans beaches) for Ada. They insisted that such huge amounts of rubbish washing into the ocean, from beaches in the UK as well as in Ghana, was the concern of the whole world. The Chief abruptly ended the conversation, saying, “We are just as civilized as you, and do not need your help. I do not like this mess either. But we can deal with it ourselves.” The Chief turned on his heel, and our party headed away from the shore. Will and I talked briefly with the two obrunis, who promptly left. It was a poignant and sad encounter, because although the two Brits appeared to mean well, the Chief felt strongly responsible for defending the honor of his people. The foreigners had unknown motivations, and quite possibly might’ve ultimately produced something that would have made the Chief look bad, if he’d let them continue. But nevertheless, it WAS his land that had been so carelessly treated, and thus he was partially responsible. But the problem is, the expense of instituting a trash disposal system throughout the region, much less the country, is almost inconceivable. Furthermore, the cost of educating the populace to value the correct disposal of trash might be even higher.
It was sad though, because as we were boarding the boat to return, there were a number of vendors at the launch: women balancing huge plates of bananas, bags of peanuts, and boxes of clams on their heads, and men grilling bits of meat on skewers. Some of the men and women in our party bought the food, and as our boat took off, the man directly next to the Chief threw his banana peel and empty water bag into the water carelessly. Some of the women on the boat had bought bags of peanuts, and as we made our way back, they threw the shells, and eventually the bags, into the water behind us. No one seemed to notice, even though, as the Chief said, “I don’t like this mess either.” And that’s not to say that a lot of people don’t litter in the US or the UK, but I think here, it’s not that people do it in spite of laws or social scrutiny, it’s because those attitudes aren’t really present. But I guess it’s hard to enforce luxuries like recycling bins when so many people (that we interact with every day) don’t have shoes, or paper and pencils for school, or even a roof over their heads.
Anyway, as we neared the mainland, we passed a number of houses that were along the coast that could almost have been modest vacation houses down the Shore or on the Cape. The Chief told us that these were the homes of the wealthiest families in the country, and with their waterfront views, small docks, and even some motorboats, they were definitely a far cry from any homes that we’d seen. As we reached the mainland, we thanked the Chief for the beautiful ride, and us Manye volunteers (and Mr. K, Dornuki, and her cousin Tetteh) piled into some cabs and headed for the nearby home of Mr. Kabutey’s brother.
A wealthy businessman, the other Mr. Kabutey owned a coconut plantation, and as we entered the gates, we drove through a forested path, beside a number of workers harvesting coconuts. We soon arrived in a small courtyard, greeted our host, and sat down in a covered area where a small radio was playing Carrie Underwood. (Our) Mr. Kabutey soon arrived with a wheelbarrow full of about twenty coconuts. He deftly peeled their tops with a machete, cut a hole in each, and handed them to us. The coconut water was lightly sweet, and very refreshing, and we drank it as though from a bowl. When we’d finished, Mr. Kabutey sliced them open with his huge knife (this scared me, because I almost cut off my finger once doing the same thing) and we scooped out the tender meat. It looked like egg whites and tasted vaguely like avocado, but certainly not of coconut. We’re not sure why (perhaps these coconuts hadn’t been ripened yet?).Eventually we headed home, tired from a fascinating day, and vaguely hungry after not really eating since six am (except the coconuts and a pb and j I packed for Kelly to eat with her Malaria meds because Will’s mother told us that they dissolve better when taken with lipids). Peanut Butter, by the way, is not at all hard to come by. In fact, it is very popular here, and called Groundnut Paste.
Later yesterday afternoon, while the girls were still resting, Sir William filled up a huge duffel with his dirty clothes and convinced Dornuki to teach him to do laundry. It was quite a spectacle, the male obruni struggling to do the traditionally female task. A lot of the oldest girls, as well as ten year olds Kate and Abigail, crowded around to watch and help as he learned to scrub the collar between his knuckles with the bar of detergent, dunk it into the soapy water and slowly move along the seams of each cloth, rubbing, folding, and dunking. Once it was sufficiently scrubbed, he would transfer it to another large bowl, this one of clean water, and try to rinse the soap out. I tried to help him, and sort of got the hang of It, except that you have to do all this while squatting around the bowl, leaning back on ankles and knees bent all the way. As an obruni, I was not used to this and quickly stood up because of the discomfort. (Will resolved to just sit Indian-style in the dirt). Anyways, soon Madame Theresa (the Class six teacher and Mr. K’s apparent successor) came over and laughed, disbelieving that we did not know how to wash clothes with this method. She pushed Will aside, and a host of the older girls took up the task, deftly and quickly working through all the clothes. Will wanted to pay them, but Theresa urged him to just buy them lollipops, which he did.
By that point, I’d walked off with Madame Annabel and some of the younger kids, Jerry, Yona, Abigail and Kate. Kate and Abigail found great sport in plaiting dozens of little braids into Madame Annabel’s long, red hair, while the two boys teased us and fooled around. Jerry paused to inform me, “You know, you’re not quite a full obruni. You have little spots of black,” and pointed to my freckles. They are also fascinated by our pimples (it is an incredibly dusty, hot climate, and showers are not always regular because the water often doesn’t work). Mr. Kabutey frequently asks us why we get so many mosquito bites on our faces, or whether we have a rash. Of course, everyone here seems to naturally have beautiful, flawless skin.
Anyways, Clifford soon came by to hang out, and the kids started talking about birthdays. I eagerly asked them when theirs were. Jerry thought his was next Saturday, but didn’t know the date. Abigail’s is on Tuesday and Kate’s was in February. Clifford told me that his birthday was December 14, which I excitedly told him was my best friend Ginny’s birthday. He sort of understood that this was not the same as Madame Jenii, who was a Dartmouth volunteer at Manye last winter, but he still asked me to tell my friend Jenny to come visit for their birthday so that he could make her Banku (he then proceeded to explain the minute details of Banku preparation, beginning with harvesting the cassava). As far as I can tell, the kids don’t have the luxury to celebrate birthdays, but they still get pretty excited about them. Sometimes they’ll have a family meal, or if they’re lucky, their mother might spare 5 pesawas (cents) to buy them a small toffee candy.
When the kids were leaving, the combination of the light breeze, scuffling of feet, and lack of rain lately made the air fill with dust in their tracks. As the dusk fell and they skipped away from the school, it looked almost as though the red earth were breathing.
Today began at about three am, with some very exciting middle of the night booting by Kelly and Connie (I slept through the mayhem like a rock, so I’m not exactly a primary source. Anyways, they woke up this morning with nausea and some muscle/joint pain, although their fevers had largely gone down. Nurse Emma, Mr. K’s wife, guessed that they both had malaria, and decided that they should come with her to work (she works at a military hospital in Tema) today to see a doctor. We called Will’s parents at the outrageous hour of 4am EDT, and they (as doctors) gave some pointers before we left. Will, Emma, and Mr. K accompanied the girls to the hospital, while Annabel and I held down the fort at the school (this consisted mostly of tutoring and reassuring all the teachers and students who had seen the taxi arrive that Madames Kelly and Constance would be fine.
According to Will, they soon arrived at the military hospital. As the girls went inside, a huge guard with an enormous machine gun slung around his shoulders blocked their path, saying “no foreigners here”. Nurse Emma dismissively waved him away and said deliberately, “I work here.”
The girls saw a doctor, who did not do any tests, but said that if they had fever and vomiting it was malaria. This lead them, and Will to be very suspicious of the diagnosis. After consulting our handy dandy medical guide, Will determined that he actually thinks it is a type of food poisoning called “Fried Rice Syndrome”, caused by eating fried rice that has been sitting out and cooled to room temperature (our lunch yesterday). Nevertheless, both girls were given anti-malarial drugs, and returned home with little incident. (They were not able to get blood, stool or urine test because the lab technician is away for the next few days for the independence holiday tomorrow.) They slept all afternoon after taking the first round of pills, probably because they are weak and pretty dehydrated. Annabel had her moment to totally shine. She and I ran Creative Arts for Class Two, then sat down with Will for a quick lunch. It was about 95 degrees and absolutely boiling inside the classrooms, and Will and I were feeling pretty exhausted. Annabel was an amazing sport, organized an entire lesson for Class One Creative Arts class, and taught it virtually by herself with brief assistance by me and Will. When we came in, I could hardly believe how quiet the six year olds were. Annabel had cast a spell over the usual riot. We were amazed. The kids were coloring, sitting for the most part in their seats, and listening to Madame Annabel. Over the entire seventy minute period, only one girl got punched (in the stomach), only two people cried, and no one got bitten. I think, for Class One, that’s easily a record. Anyways, no school from tomorrow till monday because July first is Ghanaian independence day!
The day began early, with 8:15am Creative Arts with Class Two. Sometimes it seems as though they are more riled up in the morning. Anyways, using my mother’s tried-and-true “first you wash and then you play” method, I entered the classroom with a large, clear ziplock full of the distinctive Popsicle sticks, squares of paper, glue sticks and black, red, green and yellow crayons that we’ve been using to make Ghanaian flags. Once the kids had seen and identified these materials, I assured them that they had to be quiet and listen for a little while before we made the flags. This worked swimmingly. I’ve been using the World Cup as an excellent excuse to teach Geography. I explained to them what a country was (this was rather difficult), and then how Ghana was the only African country to advance in the World Cup, and then we named the other five African countries that qualified. We drew a rough map of Africa on the board, and labeled the countries that the kids could think of (Benin, Togo, South Africa, and Cameroon were the favorites and mentioned repeatedly). We then made the paper flags, which were a huge hit. Then we went back to tutoring, which was tiring today because I worked extensively with Mary, who has trouble learning in class because she is more than twice the age of her peers, but really does not know her alphabet. It’s very difficult to teach someone who knows the alphabet song, but cannot tell one letter apart from another if you write them individually. I think we might have to back track.
Anyways, after doing a few hours of tutoring, the bell rung for first break. At break, a few different women with carts, bowls, and heaping platters of fruit on their heads stand in front of the school and act as de facto lunch ladies, serving the kids and collecting very moderate sums. We’ve avoided their foods before, simply because we doubt it’s prepared very hygenically and also because the kids laugh when we mention it and say “Madame, Madame, you cannot eat that. Will make you sick from too spicy.”. But Will got a heaping plate of brown rice mixed with the traditional spicy red sauce and well as spaghetti. I got a fresh green orange (“the oranges are usually green, Kate of Class Three told me, “why wouldn’t they be?”)
Will and Annabel tutored, but the rest of us had some free time before lunch, so we relaxed. We’ve found that it’s both ok, as well as necessary, to take a breather sometimes, retreat into our house for forty minutes or so every once in awhile, just to clear our heads. Sometimes it feels like we need a break during the school day itself, but we always feel that way by the evening. It’s interesting what funny, silly things each of us does to stay sane when were living in such close quarters, in such an emotionally demanding environment. We all read. A lot. Sometimes poetry, books we’ve read before, or new ones we borrow from each other. Connie loves making friendship bracelets, and often relaxes by teaching the older girls how to do them after school. Will watches the Wire, Kelly relaxes by the fan, Annabel loves to sit quietly and read, or sip tea. I recently began “the friendship bracelet to end all friendship bracelets”, which is a thick monster of thread that will probably take the next six weeks to complete. I also get to write on this blog. Recently, I made a Cat’s Cradle out of some string and rekindled my childhood love of knots and tricks and shapes that you can make. I guess peace of mind often comes from finding something pleasurable that engages the mind, but does not tax it too much.
However, most of the time were still teaching. We’re so lucky to have each other for that, because we all feed off of one another’s creativity. For instance, Kelly has an absolutely brilliant imagination. She thinks of the most fabulous projects for Creative Arts, and somehow always realizes them. She came up with the crocodile song, the Ghanaian flags, the popsicle stick butterfly activity, and recently a really cool underwater scene with seaweed and all sorts of creatures made out of construction paper. Connie is amazing at the tutoring. She has amazing patience and diligence when working with the kids. Annabel, who worked previously at a summer camp, is very good about commanding the attention of the younger kids. She is calm and patient, and has also been meeting individually with each of the Class Five kids to work on their poetry. She is also a tremendously good sport, and will always help out even when we’re all really hot or exhausted. Will has been working with the older kids, tutoring them in writing. He’s amazing at getting them to express themselves creatively, and has helped a lot of them to even write personal essays. He’s a soft touch sometimes, but he has a no nonsense attitude for kids who lie, whine, or pretend not to understand you when they don’t want to. This makes him a very effective disciplinarian. It’s really exciting working together, because we often collaborate for ideas. Will and Annabel also often help Kelly and I sometimes with our Class One and Two Creative Arts, which are often very rowdy.
Anyways, today Connie and I taught Creative Arts to Class Four today, but it was a lot more like geography. Connie taught them a song called “There Are Seven Continents” to the tune of “London Bridge is Falling Down”. We also taped a world map we’d brought to the blackboard, and the girls went head to head with the boys in timed competitions to name and locate all the continents. It was a blast. It seems that songs and games are definitely the way to their heart. They also really don’t have readily available maps, so being able to just look at the map of the world for the first time was really exciting for many of them.
We began the day tutoring English. We’re a little frustrated, because Mr. Kabutey just informed us that the Ghanaian Language and Culture teacher is on maternity leave, so we’re supposed to be teaching those classes too. However, we’re obviously not really qualified. We also explained that we’re pretty busy already tutoring and teaching Creative Arts. Still, he wants us to fill in and teach the kids reading during those periods, so before we began tutoring, Annabel and I got some books from a side room that is slowly becoming a library, and read from them aloud in unison with Class Two. It was difficult though, because only about half of the class is really able to read.
When we were done, we began tutoring. Rita and I started making flashcards with one capital and one lowercase letter on one side, and a word that started with that letter and a picture of it on the other side. Rita came up with apple, banana, elephant, ice cream, and other impressive words for a six year old for each letter. I gave her a toffee candy after, which made her very happy.
I was thrilled to see Mary back at school as well. Although she is fourteen, it is very difficult to communicate with her because she only just started school this year, and therefore only just started learning English (Twi is their first language, spoken at home). I finally learned (with some translation help by one of her friends) that Mary had not been absent due to the rains, but had been gone for the last week because she had had malaria. Her teeth were still a little purple from the medicine (which is applied to the lips), but she said she was no longer sick. We asked Nurse Emma about it later, and she said that every child gets malaria when they’re young, and not so many get it again when they’re older, but some do. Anyway, Mary had forgotten a lot of the alphabet, so we went back to work, one letter at a time.
When it was time to tutor Clifford, he brought me his homework, a few sentences about Ghana’s victory against the US in the World Cup (I later abashedly gave him 40 pesawas to buy the fan ice I owed him). Anyways, he had trouble reading his sentences out loud for me, which isn’t necessarily abnormal, but made me a little suspicious. I then noticed (thank you Dr. Gadd’s Forensics class) that the handwriting in the homework was slanted very distinctly to the left, and that Clifford’s has always before been slanted to the right. I started off gently, asking, “did you get any help on your homework?” No. I finally just asked him directly: Who wrote this? He hung his head and reluctantly admitted that his older sister, Christabel from Class Four, had written it. I had been about to reward him with a toffee for doing his homework, and he had blatantly lied to me. I was quite disappointed. I explained to him that even if every single word was spelled wrong, I would prefer it to something he didn’t even write. It is frustrating because the kids mean well, but have an almost deathly fear of being wrong. Many will hardly speak or express themselves, even if asked a direct question. Even when I beg them to ask questions after I explain something, they simply cannot. When we ask them to write their opinion about something, it is nearly impossible to prevent most of the kids from copying one another, something written on the wall or board, or copying from a book under their desks. The concept of original thought, value put on individuality and personal opinion, the luxury to make mistakes and the encouragement of questions are all educational principles that are glorified where I grew up and virtually absent from the educational experience of these kids. This is why we are teaching Creative Arts, I think. Not because coloring or making flags or paper chains are skills that they will necessarily use later in life to feed their families, but because the concepts of creativity and imagination are ones that we think are tremendously important ones that inform and enhance a child’s education.
For instance, in Creative Arts in Class Four, I decided to try to teach poetry (I had failed miserably after a few attempts with Class Two last week). I explained as simply as I could what a poem was, explained rhyme (which they picked up impressively quickly), and wrote a poem on the board, which we then discussed. I made up a short poem about Felix’s cat and dog on the board to show how you could write a poem about anything. However when the kids tried to write their own, most people’s were either the same as mine with different nouns substituted in, a short narrative with random line breaks, or various versions of one girl’s poem about a mango. By the end of class everyone had written a few (I gave them feedback as they finished each one), and by their fourth poem, some of the strongest kids in the class began writing things that weren’t necessarily entirely coherent, but definitely sort of resembled poetry. For instance:
Deborah’s poem was called “Fruits, Fruits, Fruits”:
Oranges, mangoes, and bananas/
All are fruts./
Eat a lot of fruits/
And get good health/
And get good health./
Aisha’s was good too:
“Mouse, Mouse, Mouse”:
Mouse, mouse, mouse/
Eating all my fish/
Where is my cat/
To cought the mouse for me./
The best poem in the class was Celestine’s. She seemed to grasp the concept of a poem well, but her subject was both a little disjointed and somewhat disturbing. It was titled, “If I were”:
If I were a frog, I will hop and hop/
If I were an aeroplane I will fly and high/
If I were a lady I will walk and walk/
If I were rich I will wine and dine and if I were poor I would cry and cry blood./
After school, I got out my camera (the kids were very eager to “snap”). Kelly and Will decided that Baba and Selassie’s usual “swing from any limb that is exposed” method was a little rough, and decided to put the kids on their shoulders. It was as though the kids had never seen this done before, and it was a huge success. Soon Annabel and I also had children on our shoulders, and Kelvin was directly a “Chariot Race” for us. We each rotated after ten minutes or so, carrying older girls, as well as the younger kids, because everyone seemed to want a turn. We also taught them Freeze Tag, which was a blockbuster. Jerry got particularly into being “It”, and sneakily sidled up to almost all if us when we weren’t looking to freeze us. Baba, Selassie, Heward, Clifford, and Kelvin had an easier time crawling through other peoples’ legs than the rest of us, but Kelly, Abigail, Connie, Kate, Jerry, Derrick and I made due. We were quite dusty afterwards, but it was a blast.
After yesterday’s fiesta, today was much more low key. It was quite hot, so we spent the day indoors reading and watching the Germany/England and Argentina/Mexico World Cup games. (Kelly as a resident of Brownsville, Texas and practically a Mexican citizen, was particularly devastated about the outcome of the latter.) We spent some time making friendship bracelets with Dornuki, did a lot of good reading, and ate the best fresh mangoes, pineapple, and fried plaintains that I’ve ever tasted. Annabel is reading a book called “the History of Love,” a novel that she contends is not a “gross love story”…(we’re not convinced). Connie was awarded a prestigious Tucker Fellowship, for which they have a required book each term. Hers ISA non-fiction book called “When Invisible Children Sing”, which she just finished and loved. Will is currently cruising through Salman Rushdie’s “the Enchantress of Florence”, which he says is great and appears to be a historical mystery/fantasy that takes place with interlocking stories between the height of the Mughal Empire under Akhbar the Great in its imperial capital, Sikri, and Florence during the High Renaissance with Machaivelli and the Medicis. It’s sounds great and I can’t wait to read it when he’s done. Kelly is reading a current New York Times Bestsellet, a mystery called “the Girl With Dragon Tattoo.”. She thinks it’s great (she read 500 pages today) but a little scary. I’m reading a book my mom gave me called Mandela’s Way. It is a very engaging book about Mandela’s leadership style as well as modern South African history. Anyways, reading is good way to relax.
Today, we also went for a run in the early evening. As soon as we left the school, a host of kids who were outside playing football started chanting “2-1,2-1!!!” Tomorrow’s going to be rough.
Because this is the first African World Cup, there is a LOT of pressure on Ghana, the only African team to make it to the second round, to win. It’s a particularly powerful Cinderella story as well, because Ghana came in to the tournament with a very poor ranking overall, and only fourth of the six African nations to qualify (after Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, and Nigeria). Also, their standout best player, Michael Essein has been injured and isn’t even playing in the tournament. Still, with sponsors like Shakira, Coca Cola, and (indirectly) K’naan (whose song, Wavin’ Flag is played on repeat everywhere we go and is impossible to escape), as well as an entire continent behind them, the Black Stars had a lot going for them going into last night’s match.
The excitement had been mounting for days, since the match against Germany. Will had trashtalked dozens of children and I had made bets withal host of others that typically involved me owing them Fan Ice (Ghanaian creamsicles) if my country was not victorious. In other words, the stakes were high. We left school around 3:30 on Saturday afternoon (the game was at 6:30 CAT). We took a tro-tro, which is basically a van that function as a cross between a cab and a bus. You cram as many people into it as possible, and each gets dropped off wherever they choose. Tro-tros are ideal because they are quite cheap, although the tried very hard to charge everyone in ours double because “there were obrunis in the car.”. We couldn’t take a cab, because there were eight of us with me, Will, Annabel, Kelly, Connie, and the three Ghanaian teachers who came with us. Eric (the Class Three teacher), Carriage (the Class Five teacher), and Emmanuel (JHS) all joined us, which was very helpful because it gave us a little street cred despite being blaring obrunis. They also knew where we were going, and are obviously deft at managing tro-tro transitions. We packed upwards of 15 people into the rickety truck, which I was very impressed about, although we were all a little nervous at first about the integrity of the vehicle itself. We arrived fine though in Community One, the closest thing there is to downtown Tema. Tema is the fifth largest city in Ghana, but is very sprawling. We live at its edge, in Community 25, but Community One is basically a huge outdoor market (Kelly prefers the term “Courtyard City). Anyways, there we walked to a tro-tro hub and boarded a much larger tro-tro that would take us to Sakumono, and suburb between Tema and Accra (for a variety of reasons, particularly the huge crowds and impossible traffic, we decided against going into downtown Accra). Sakumono is beautiful; it’s right on the beach, and so quite cool and breezy. It’s a much wealthier area than Community 25, and had brightly colored houses of every color as well as a huge church whose exterior was made entirely as a mosaic of colored glass. Nestled in the middle of this residential neighborhood was a fenced off area that, upon entering, very closely resembled an American or German beet garden. There were a few stands, one roasting and selling meat kabobs of every kind, one with beverages, one with bread and pizza, and one with traditional Ghanaian fare. The televisions were inside, high definition tvs in a sort of sports bar with dim lighting and cherry red furniture. When we arrived at five-thirty, it was already filling up. We scoped out eight good seats and Kelly, Annabel and I went outside to order pizza while everyone got meat pies inside, nervous about losing their seats. While we were waiting, we struck up a conversation with an older Ghanaian man named Daniel, who was grabbing a beer before heading home to watch the game. He told us he worked as a customs officer in Tema, so if we ever needed to get anything out of the port, we could just give him a call. Somehow I think Annabel, Kelly and I are rather unlikely smugglers, but hey. Anyways, Madame Annabel immediately fell in love with his “first-born”, a four year old boy named Gift from God (that was the Rnglish translation of the boy’s actual name, which Daniel correctly assumed we would not be able to pronounce). We told him that we were rooting for the US, because we were patriots, but that we would also be happy if Ghana won. He beamed at this remark, blesses us twice, and left with his son to go see the game.
When we came back inside the club, it was absolutely packed. We squeezed our way back to our seats amidst the deafening noise of shouting, excited Ghanaian fans armed with vuvuzelas, noisemakers, whistles etc. Ghana scored a beautiful goal early on, and the place went absolutely nuts. Half the people immediately poured out of the club and started doing laps around the courtyard outside, singing and screaming and draped all over in flags. Inside, everyone with a noise-producing instrument began using them at their peak levels, a huge, spontaneous dance party erupted, and a number of cheers arose from the crowd in Twi. After about twenty minutes it calmed down and everyone settled down. There was absolute silence when Landon Donovan scored his penalty kick for the US. When Gyan scored in overtime, another riotus celebration erupted. Quickly though, everyone froze for 25 minutes of collective breath-holding while Ghana killed the rest of the time. When the final whistle blew, it felt like the entire city jumped in the air, it was so exhilarating. Everyone who had been watching outside piled into the club, and a huge dance party began which lasted for over an hour. We stayed for about 45 minutes, but eventully left to get a cab before traffic got too bad. Wavin’ Flag seemed to be blaring from all directions, people on the street wrapped us in flags and hugged us, and there was general jubilee in all directions. When we finally made it home, it was close to midnight, but we felt tremendous adrenaline and excitement. We can’t wait to run it back next week. Bring it on, Uruguay.
Tensions are rising over the game tomorrow. Today I used Kelly’s flag activity with Class Four, and told them to write four sentences about why they love Ghana. Otherwise, I told them, they might as well just root for the US. This comment immediately provoked some very passionate sentence-writing.
Everyone wrote four of five sentences that began “I love Ghana because…”
Mavis ended her paragraph “…and we WILL score four goals.”
Deborah’s last sentence was “I love Ghana because we score too much.”
Charles wrote, “I love Ghana because Dr. Kwame Nkrumah says we will beat US tomorrow.”
Celestine, wrote about football, but also said, “I love Ghana because they don’t fight in the country.”
Prince finished his paragraph “Ghana will win this match. Ghana will score USA a thousand.”
George’s was particularly memorable:
1. I love GHANA because GHANA is the best of the best
2. I want GHANA to win U.S.A
3. I love GHANA because they are strong and bold and so they can score a goal.
4. GHANA is a good country so Madame I want you to support us
Anyways, they were charming. The match approaches.
Games period was greatly moderately by watching Madagascar in the staff room. Still, when we first emerged outside after lunch, we were swarmed by small children, billowing clouds of dust, “Madame, Madame, I need the ball”s, screaming, and tears broke out between Class One girls Yvonne and Nasif vying for prime place while clinging to Madame Annabel. Heward’s sandal broke, so I tried to tie it with string…I hope it lasts, although when he takes off his shoes, he’ll have to untie it. I hope he has another pair of shoes, because I know a lot of kids skip school for a few days when they don’t have shoes to wear.
That evening, we went with two of the teachers, Reuben and Gabby, out to a restaurant in Tema. The only thing they wanted to talk about for a long time was their dreams of coming to America and what it is like. They love Michael Jackson and Ludacris, the movie 8 mile, and Gabby told us he loves to play pool. At the restaurant, we tried our first authentic Ghanaian food: Banku. It is a large roll of cassava and corn meal dough off of which you rip off chunks and dip it in a soup of spices and meat. Will got his with goat meat, which was a very un-obruni move, but made the typical obruni slip-up of chewing his banku instead of swallowing it whole, which lead to Reuben (who is of the Ewe tribe, for whom banku is a staple dish) to laugh quite a bit at his obruni-ness. Obruni theoretically means “white person” or “foreigner”, but is used more closely to mean “white noob” or “lame non-native”. The older kids and adults don’t really use it anymore, except to tease us, but the littlest kids still shout it whenever they see us. We’ve learned that the appropriate reply (which has the added benefit of catching them off-guard because they don’t think we understand, much less speak, any Twi) is “obibini!” which means “black person” or “native”. They think it’s hilarious when we use this, and laugh at us as if to say, “yes, you silly obruni, of course we are obibinis…but you’re still an obruni and you can’t do anything about it!”
Despite losing to Germany, Ghana somehow managed to become the only African team to advance to the second round of the World Cup. Even better, they’re scheduled to play the US at 6pm GMT on Saturday night. Should be a blast. I’ve been losing no time to start smack-talking the kids. Everyone is getting extremely patriotic, but at least a third (primarily the younger kids) are openly rooting for the US, which causes lots of playful competition and harrassment. Today, for instance, I was tutoring Jonathan about long and short vowels. As an example of a short ‘e’, I used the word ‘bet’, which we promptly made on the outcome of the game. Jerry (very contraversially) publicly declared for the US, which caused a riot of eight year old boys in Class Two. For Creative Arts today, Kelly had the brilliant idea to have the kids glue small squares of paper to Popsicle sticks and the color them to make Ghanaian flags for all the kids (who are all wonderfully patriotic). It was a tremendous success. Next door in class two, I’d given each student a colored strip of paper that they were decorating with markers to describe themselves (most had their name, a Ghanaian flag, a picture of a bowl of rice, and a cat). When everyone had finished coloring their long strips, I taped them into rings and formed a long, beautiful chain, which the kids posed for pictures with and which we draped from the wooden rafter that supports the tin roof of the classroom. Anyways, Kelly began singing the Ghanaian National Anthem with Class One. I quickly put my fingers to my lips, and got one of those rare moments of silence where it seemed like all the kids were actually looking at me (usually, because of the large size of the class, their age, and the noise coming over the blackboard from the two next door classrooms, this is virtually impossible). I mouthed quietly, “you guys can sing it louder than that!!!” and on the count of three, Class Two unleashed the loudest rendition of the Ghanaian National Anthem that I’ve ever heard (I’ve now heard it three times). At the end, some of the kids jumped up and looked over the blackboard to Will and Kelly and Class One, saying “We win!!!” This caused a bit of a frenzy, and a number if Class One students running into our classroom to brandish their popsicle-stick flags defiantly.
School ended and most of Class Two left, except for Jerry, Samuel Sagoe (there is another Samuel that is friends with Clifford), Bridget (very cute,missing three front teeth, nickname:Akos), and a Class One girl named Benedicta. We made lots of Ghanaian and American flags with the leftover construction paper, and took some cute pictures.
. I drew a portrait of Jerry and of Sagoe, which they both liked very much. Then I sat down with some of the older girls (15-16) who were making friendship bracelets with Madame Constance. I made one in black, yellow, green, and red for the Ghanaian flag, which was a hit. I also played Wavin’ Flag for them about four times, and they all loved it. They are also huge Michael Jackson fans, and we had an impromptu MJ dance party, which was a blast. They really like the song “Black or White”. Later, the girls pulled out a deck of Uno Annabel had given them, and asked “Have you heard of Uno?” I laughed, and we played for awhile.
We also found a Twi/English phrasebook that has incredibly bizarre phrases in it such as “Your evil plot to evict me from your house is an open secret.” And “Shake not your hips at me in that way, you bad girl.” the kids find it hilarious when we try to pronounce the ludicrous expressions in Twi. I learned “mepe se meware Asamoah Gyan,” which means I want to marry…They think it’s hilarious, and ask me if “I have a fancy.”.
We’re bracing ourselves for the riotous mayhem of “Games” tomorrow.
Despite loosing to Germany, Ghana somehow managed to become the only African team to advance to the second round of the World Cup. Even better, they’re scheduled to play the US at 6pm GMT on Saturday night. Should be a blast. I’ve been losing no time to start smack-talking the kids. Everyone is getting extremely patriotic, but at least a third (primarily the younger kids) are openly rooting for the US, which causes lots of playful competition and harrassment. Today, for instance, I was tutoring Jonathan about long and short vowels. As an example of a short ‘e’, I used the word ‘bet’, which we promptly made on the outcome of the game. Jerry (very contraversially) publicly declared for the US, which caused a riot of eight year old boys in Class Two. For Creative Arts today, Kelly had the brilliant idea to have the kids glue small squares of paper to Popsicle sticks and the color them to make Ghanaian flags for all the kids (who are all wonderfully patriotic). It was a tremendous success. Next door in class two, I’d given each student a colored strip of paper that they were decorating with markers to describe themselves (most had their name, a Ghanaian flag, a picture of a bowl of rice, and a cat). When everyone had finished coloring their long strips, I taped them into rings and formed a long, beautiful chain, which the kids posed for pictures with and which we draped from the wooden rafter that supports the tin roof of the classroom. Anyways, Kelly began singing the Ghanaian National Anthem with Class One. I quickly put my fingers to my lips, and got one of those rare moments of silence where it seemed like all the kids were actually looking at me (usually, because of the large size of the class, their age, and the noise coming over the blackboard from the two next door classrooms, this is virtually impossible). I mouthed quietly, “you guys can sing it louder than that!!!” and on the count of three, Class Two unleashed the loudest rendition of the Ghanaian National Anthem that I’ve ever heard (I’ve now heard it three times). At the end, some of the kids jumped up and looked over the blackboard to Will and Kelly and Class One, saying “We win!!!” This caused a bit of a frenzy, and a number if Class One students running into our classroom to brandish their popsicle-stick flags defiantly.
School ended and most of Class Two left, except for Jerry, Samuel Sagoe (there is another Samuel that is friends with Clifford), Bridget (very cute,missing three front teeth, nickname:Akos), and a Class One girl named Benedicta. We made lots of Ghanaian and American flags with the leftover construction paper, and took some cute pictures.
. I drew a portrait of Jerry and of Sagoe, which they both liked very much. Then I sat down with some of the older girls (15-16) who were making friendship bracelets with Madame Constance. I made one in black, yellow, green, and red for the Ghanaian flag, which was a hit. I also played Wavin’ Flag for them about four times, and they all loved it. They are also huge Michael Jackson fans, and we had an impromptu MJ dance party, which was a blast. They really like the song “Black or White”. Later, the girls pulled out a deck of Uno Annabel had given them, and asked “Have you heard of Uno?” I laughed, and we played for awhile.
We also found a Twi/English phrasebook that has incredibly bizarre phrases in it such as “Your evil plot to evict me from your house is an open secret.” And “Shake not your hips at me in thar way, you bad girl.” the kids find it hilarious when we try to pronounce the ludicrous expressions in Twi. I learned “mepe se meware Asamoah Gyan,” which means I want to marry…They think it’s hilarious, and ask me if “I have a fancy.”.
We’re bracing ourselves for the riotous mayhem of “Games” tomorrow.