Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Tanksgiving!!!

Booyakahshaw- I’m in Kumasi for Thanksgiving: Part Deux. Thanksgiving: Part One was held at the US ambassador’s house, which I’ll get into later. I’ll try sticking to a chronological order of events, though…..

Sunday 11/16

My neighbors presented me with a nice and large and dead black scorpion that wandered out from the bush. It looks like the innocuous emperor scorpions commonly seen at pet shops, but I’m not going to try my luck with a live one. I was too lazy to run and get my camera at the time, so I’ll leave it up to you to go and see one at the pet shop or local zoo.

Monday 11/17

The headmaster and the keys to the book room were nowhere to be found this morning, which was troubling considering I NEEDED the math books for my Form 2s. So instead of proceeding with a lesson I had planned over the weekend, I instead improvised by explaining how easy the new unit was going to be, and put up some practice problems they would be doing over the next few weeks. But I was flummoxed as to why my headmaster was absent more than present at my school over the past few weeks. I’m hoping this won’t be a trend, since I need him to help me out with students sometimes.

I had one student stay with me a half hour during lunch (my first detention), and in talking to him, learned that he might very well be illiterate, which would explain his frustration with my classes. This is tough for me because I do not want to leave the student behind, but at the same time I would have to allot possibly an inordinate amount of time helping him to gain at least a basic ability to read. I’m hoping I can help him build confidence in himself; his mother I know all too well (she makes me fried yams almost everyday) and she laughs whenever I plead with her to get involved with her son’s education.

To lighten the mood for this entry, let’s talk about what I introduced to my school today: American football. The students were all up for it when I made mention of it last week, and I purchased a ball while I was in Accra over the weekend. To compliment my hype of the sport, I found a Miami Dolphins book (pre-Marino) among about a hundred books donated years ago to the school. The book was a boon in the sense that it got everyone excited about learning a new game, and a bane because it had pictures of some Fins making some serious tackles against their opponents, going against my rules that you are supposed to do two-hand touch.

After showing the students some of the rules on the chalkboard, as well as teaching them the concept of getting open and making plays, we went out to the field to put what we discussed into practice. Everyone did much better than I had anticipated, and even the girls were able to hold their own, almost too well. There did come a point where the boys would tackle and, to some of the girls’ complaints, feel them up, so I threatened to kick anyone who did that out of the game. After proving to my students that I do not use empty threats, not one boy hassled the girls after my warning. Alls I can say is my students made me proud today.

Tuesday 11/18

Day 2 of American football worked out splendidly. I helped the students some more with throwing and catching, and again played QB for both teams like yesterday. After practice, my headmaster taught me how to put on a funeral cloth on, which I had upgraded to 8 yards and then tailored the previous day. Putting the cloth on by myself was surprisingly easy, and after a few tries I got it down pat.

Wednesday 11/19

Today was particularly tough for me. Right before going to school, I found out my ex was going with one of my best friends to this Peace Corps prom going on during the all volunteers’ conference. I still don’t know why this got to me, maybe because I was so stressed about classes or I was just being a big baby.

When I got to school, I convinced some teachers to let me teach in their place since plan on spending the next two days in Accra for Thanksgiving, as well as attend the all volunteer’s meeting in December for about a week. I taught 5 classes and covered a lot of the material, but at the cost of me being so tired and stressed that I had a nice cry session with myself in the office. Thank god none of the teachers saw me. I felt pretty down over the past few because I realized more and more that I was not going to be able to finish my Form 1 Science on measurement, a rather lengthy section (no pun intended), as well as some ICT sections I wanted to cover with my Form 2 students. My Form 2 students are also well behind in Math, mainly because the math teacher didn’t show up for weeks on end while they were supposed to be learning.

After crying some, I made up my mind that my will-o’-the-wisp goals were in the beginning unrealistic considering it was my first term teaching. I called up some of my friends who taught here for about a year, and they told me what I covered was fine; this lifted my spirits a bit.

Earlier in the day, I allowed my students for the first time to grade their own math quizzes, showing them that I had the capacity to trust them, and helping them see where they might have made mistakes if any were made. The good news is everyone was honest with their grading, which surprised me when I went to enter the grades. Even the students who I know try to get away with cheating put themselves down as having missed a problem or two if they had gotten it wrong.

Towards the end of school, a beautiful green snake, quite possibly a green mamba, graced our school with its presence; shortly after, my students chased and clubbed it to death. I felt bad for the snake, but people here in Ghana are deathly afraid of snakes, and for a good reason. Despite the fact that most snakes will turn tail from any approaching person, the species in our area are notorious for their deadly bites to humans.

Today also marked Day 3 of football; after school we spent another 2 hours tossing the ball around, and I let the students play on their own, choosing captains and having their own QBs. After the game, some of my students wanted to show me the bush path they take back to their home in the neighboring town of Anwiem. The trail is beautiful, and you have to go through some heavy bush before getting to a large dirt road flanked by palms (see picture below).

Thursday 11/20

Yahtzee! This is my 4th time having giardia in Ghana, and let me assure you it is not fun having to run 10 minutes from school to home with a completely rational fear of dumping your pants. To make matters worse, the power and water’s been out for two days now, preventing me from showering and thusly exercising, as well as maintaining my equine diet of delicious oats.

My Form 2 students also tried my patience to the point where I had everyone sit on their knees in the hot sun while I vented my frustrations with them. Talking was uncommonly incessant among all my students, so I punished the whole class. In retrospect, I could have planned the lesson better, making it slightly less frustrating for my students to learn, but that was no excuse to let them disobey my requests for them to stay quiet. When I allowed my students to go back in the room, we spent the rest of class discussing how to prevent wide-spread class disruption. After turning down several students’ calls for me to start caning, we came up with a system where certain students would take down the names of students talking while I’m trying to write on the board, and those on the list would either have to stay after school, do a chore, or be kept from playing football for a week. Sounds like a plan.

Friday 11/21

No power and water makes Darren go something something…The food in the friedge is starting to turn, and I haven’t been able to cook or wash up in almost three days!!! I left for school feeling disheveled and hungry.

Classes were cancelled early today so students could play sports. I was fuming because I had scheduled the local tailor to come in so we could do measurements as part of the Form 1 Science unit on Measuring. Guess I’ll have to leave that for next week. While the kids played sports (I have two students in charge of watching the football), one of my student’s parents made me complimentary meal of plaintains

When I got back home, my water and power were back on, and I quickly set out to cook a stew using all the vegetables that had been sitting in my friedge for the past few days. I chopped up some vegs while some beans were boiling, then noticed when I was about to throw the rest of the ingredients in that the water was no longer at a boil. Curses! The power went out again! I went around to my neighbor’s house and had to use their fire to cook the rest of the stew. The fire turned my orange pot black, but it did the job. After eating, I got some exercise, shaved and showered to make up for the past few days.

Saturday 11/22

I promised my students that I’d be at school most of Saturday and Sunday if they needed help with anything school related, but before I left this Saturday morning, I desperately needed to do some laundry. I was nervous though to leave out almost all my underwear, socks, towels, etc. on the line while I was away at school because I feel like I’m flaunting my affluence whenever I do laundry; in this case I was afraid that someone might take my clothing while I was off at school, though this was highly unlikely. I had no choice, though, and I got home to find all my clothing still hanging on the line.

While at school, a few of my students showed up, and I helped them with their math for a few hours. I prefer to work with students one on one because it helps me see precisely where possibly other students might be running into problems. We were doing basic algebra problems, but the students seemed to have trouble doing easy division, multiplication, and addition of negative numbers. This prompted me later to reexamine my math lessons for the week, including my science lessons for my Form 1 students dealing with measurements.

After school, I was trying my hand at cooking plantains, and while in the process of frying them, this random guy came over and made things quite awkward. My front door was open to let in the nice breeze from outside, and I noticed this guy was standing in the doorway when I looked in that direction. There was nothing menacing about the guy, but it was strange that he was just standing there. He looked to be about my age, and I’ve seen him before. Today he asked if he could come in to talk, and even though I wanted to have some downtime alone, felt obliged to be a good host. He sat down and talked while I was cooking, and I offered some of my fine plantations I was cooking with some brown sugar and palm oil. The guy goes to college in Kade, about an hour from Otumi, but by on weekends when he’s out from school. The guy is nice enough, but our conversations are not the most engaging, and it was mostly awkward while he was over. The power went out again, and I ended up falling asleep in bed while trying to wait it out until the power went out again.

Sunday 11/23

In the morning, before going to school, I talked with one of my friends teaching at the high school level. Apparently one of her teachers seemed to be sleeping with his students, and although she had no proof of this, it looked fairly obvious. This story echoes what my other friend told me just yesterday about her coworker sleeping with the middle school students. In Ghana, teachers that sleep with their students is not uncommon, and in many cases if they are caught, are just relocated to a different school (as in the middle school teacher’s case). Both of my friends are now talking to the students about how what these teachers are doing is wrong; when I asked why they didn’t bring it out into the open, I was told that the teachers might be killed for their actions. So it’s either kill the teacher or relocate them; otherwise prosecution is lengthy and usually nothing comes of the sentence.

When I got to school to further help students who needed it, I ran into my headmaster and we talked at length about teachers sleeping with students. I hadn’t suspected any of our teachers sleeping with the students, but my headmaster said it was a national problem, and little is done to the perpetrators. My headmaster also talked about the most random things like grizzly bears and the problems with indoctrination in religion and education.

On Sunday, after talking with my headmaster and helping some students with math, I tossed the ball around with my neighbor and some students. People were milling about because of the NPP political rally going on in my town, and right after I made plans with my headmaster and some other people to go with them to the rally, it hit me that as a Peace Corps volunteer, I was disallowed to attend any political rallies for a myriad of reasons. I didn’t end up going, but I had really wanted to check out the scene.

Monday 11/24

A lot of the students were missing today during my first period, and when I asked where everyone was, the students who did come told me they skipped school to avoid getting caned for some nonsense. Today was the first time my class openly asked me how I felt about caning, and I told them I abhorred the punishment, though the students know what not to do, yet they do it anyway. Today, they were getting beat for coming so late for morning campus cleanup, but many of them were telling me getting a vehicle out to the school sometimes made them late; for now I’m holding back on stopping the teachers from hitting my students, but it won’t be too long until I protest. I know I keep harping on this caning thing, but readers, if only you saw what I witness daily!

During my Form 2 Science class, in the spirit of learning about water, I had students take me to the nearest river, which according to my headmaster and many of my students, was not more than 5 minutes away from my school. I grabbed one of the teachers who was free for the period to help chaperone my students on the way to the river. It turned out that the river was over 15 minutes away, and in my teaching clothing I went through thick tropical forest bush before reaching our river. Once we got there, we further discussed sources of water and water purification. On the way back, I was a sweaty mess and took a student up on his offer of a piggy back ride. We passed a ton of houses while I clung to the back of this fairly large student, to the open amusement of my village.

Tuesday 11/25

At the crack of dawn, I woke up and took a car to a neighboring town to visit a very sick student who’s been out for a few weeks. When I saw the student, she looked miserable, but said she would try to come by Friday. I told her she needs to take it easy and not go anywhere. Before I left for school, she asked for me to pray for her, and I told her I would as I was leaving to catch the next car to my school. But she meant I would pray with her then and there. It was very awkward, but I said a quick and hopefully convincing prayer for her. If there was any room for humor, I would have done it in Hebrew.

When I got back to the school, I asked my students to contribute money, fruits, or vegetables for their sick classmate, but at the end of the day not one person contributed anything. I was really disappointed.

After school I visited Chihiro at the hospital in Kade, then went to the District Education Office to type up my term exams.

Wednesday 11/26

For the mot part, uneventful

Thursday 11/27

Headed out early for Accra (danke schon, Dubin, for the earplugs) and ate a delicious dinner at the US ambassadors. Before dinner though, I went to the Peace Corps office, I saw Jack, Stephen, and a number of other friends I haven’t seen in ages. I also met for the first time the new Peace Corps trainees set to swear in sometime soon. We left around 12 for the US ambassador’s house, and had a grand time chatting, swimming, and eating a real Thanksgiving dinner. For dinner, we had the typical Thanksgiving items available, with an incredible chocolate pecan pie among the desserts. As tasty as the food was, it did not touch the Thanksgiving dinner we had in Kumasi two days later (more about that below). After dinner and swimming at the ambassador’s, I headed back to the hotel, where we watched some movies and fell asleep.

Friday 11/28

Today I woke up early to visit the dentist about matters concerning my jaw. If the dentist detected any signs of infection, I would go back to the States for surgery; if nothing was found, I would remain in Ghana and deal with the problem after completing my service here. The prognosis: no infection could be found, and the weird sensations, though alarming at times, are in no way harmful to my health- meaning I aint going nowhere.

When I got back to the Peace Corps office, many of my Peace Corps friends were still in town before heading back to town, though my two best friends were planning on going to Kumasi around noon for Thanksgiving at the Peace Corps office up there. On a whim, I decided would go and enjoy a second round of Thanksgiving with my friends. I felt hesitant at first since I told my students I would hang around school Saturday, but I needed a vacation and had yet seen the Kumasi Peace Corps sub-office (KSO).

At noon we headed out from Neoplan station in Accra and went straight for Kumasi, but not without having a few heart-stopping moments on the ride up there. The driver drove like a maniac, flying down the road and beeping the horn like that would make up for his ineptitude to drive safely. I struck up a conversation with a PCV I met a while back, Gray, who sat squished next to me on the four and a half hour ride up. Happy to step out of the lorry alive, we walked a short distance to KSO.

KSO is amazing, and the sign on the front door of the house nicely sums the place up- “The home away from home”. The spacious quarters is complete with 4 bedrooms with bunk beds, living rooms, a beautiful kitchen stocked with cutlery, cookware, every spice imaginable, a stove, and whatnots that satisfy the decent chef’s heart. Many of my friends in Accra ended up going back to their sites, but a few of us went on to KSO. I met a few other friends who did not come to Accra because of their location. Thanksgiving was being held at KSO, Accra, the Tamale sub-office, and other offices in the northern regions of Ghana for Peace Corps volunteers on Saturday. Today we spent the day lounging though.

Saturday 11/29

Today, before attending Thanksgiving at KSO, I went with Stephen to his previous headmaster’s funeral in Sarpe, about a half an hour’s ride from KSO. I never met the man, but he was a friend of my own headmaster, and in fact I broke the news to him three months ago that the man passed away. My headmaster told me about how well known the deceased Mr. Ntiamoah was for his munificence and concern for student advancement. A good number of people showed up to the funeral, and Stephen and I were ushered with the rest of the people into a room with the man’s corpse, propped up to allow loved ones to cry out for him. Stephen had on a black button-down with dark pants, but having gone to Kumasi on a whim, did not bring my 8 yard funeral cloth and therefore couldn’t kit myself out correctly.

The funeral procession lasted until around noon, and just as Stephen and I were about to leave, one of the nieces of Mr. Ntiamoah asked if we wanted to have lunch and stay until five (a typical funeral procession in Ghana is followed by joyous music and dancing to celebrate the person’s life). Stephen and I ended up staying until one, and showed up about an hour late to Thanksgiving dinner back at the KSO. This was fine though because there was plenty of food to go around, and it wasn’t formal in any respect. What the dinner lacked in formality, it made up for in the palatable dishes that covered the dining room table: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, stuffing, salad, potato salad, pumpkin pie, lemon bars, chocolate chip bars, jell-o, fruit salad, fudge, and banana cream pie were all made by PCVs and consumed by myself. Friends, it might be hard for some of you to imagine how great it is to eat a delicious thanksgiving dinner, scratch that, TWO Thanksgiving dinners, after months of eating mostly Ghanaian foods. I’m usually eating a good variety of foods at my site since I have so much to choose from at my market and I can easily go to Accra and get Western food; some of my friends have only tomatoes, rice, and okra available in their towns, and I can only imagine how good their Thanksgiving dinner is sitting in their bellies.

I am so tired right now that I’m calling it quits and going to bed. I feel like I'm pregnant with 8 pounds of Thanksgiving meal madness. I’m waking up tomorrow to somehow meet up with Chihiro in Kade, although this is my first time in Kumasi and I have a vague notion of how to find my way back. Hopefully in my next post I’ll write on how everything worked out alright in the end. All is well though, and it was a very good Thanksgiving indeed.

Next week, I’ll be teaching classes, Chihiro will come Tuesday to watch my students play football, I’ll go to Kade to type up my report for Peace Corps, Thursday Jack will come to my site and Friday we’ll both leave for the all volunteers conference for five days. I might be able to post an entry while over there, depending on whether my friend’s internet is working on his computer. For now, etre yebihya (pronounced yebishyia- we’ll talk later).

Music and wine to accompany this entry:

I'll post that at a later time (too tired to think at the moment)

"Students, this is American football"

Football: Day 1

Football: Day 2

Soon after this picture, the students attacked my camera

V for Victory!

The way home for some students o' mine

Some fly slop on the burners

Ralph in the newspaper

Where's the funeral?

Posing with what very well might be a green mamba

Poor/Beautiful snake

Part of the trail to the river

Squinty Mcgee, Kyle, and Erin at Thanksgiving '08

The US ambassador to South Africa(left), fool (center),

and the US ambassador to Ghana (right)

My store room at school

(aka: The Batcave or The Place Where I Go to Cry)

The funeral

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