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.