Saturday, May 30, 2009

The World’s On Our Wall

Today’s Friday, and we have just finished our third week of Term 3. Guess how many classes I taught so far…… If you guessed two, give yourself a nice punch in the ribs because you are correct. Two classes! Students spent Week 1 weeding the school compounds; students spent Weeks 2 and 3 building a fence for the soccer field. I’m not going to harp on this much, but let’s just put this into perspective: There are only 12 weeks in Term 3, and the first three have been wasted. Talking to my headmaster, I learned that this term our school is hosting sports on week four and having culture week (2 weeks of no classes) sometime in June. Counting revisions and exams, during 8 of the 12 weeks in Term 3 there are no classes. I hate how much my school is like a treadmill- everything about it is preventing me from making progress.

As an outlet to all the cancelled classes, I plucked one of my students, Prince, from a group of other students building the soccer fence. I instructed him to put together a rag-tag team of painters, and then we got to work on the World Map Project. Prince is one of the school’s artistically inclined students, having a penchant for drawing what he sees (he’s the one who helps me make science posters). Since the World Map Project requires precision, I figured he’d be perfect for the job. He, Barbara, Ahunu and Boapea have been working for almost one week now tracing grids, drawing outlines, and painting. I even snuck in some math, having them do measurements and use a protractor to get a perfect 2x4 meter rectangle. What they have so far looks amazing, and next week we should be finished. Given the amount of freedom they had while working on the project, a few mistakes were made. We would work from 7 to 1, or until the intensity of the sun phone checked us to stop.

As it stands, Guatemala is under water, the Koreas have been cloaked (ha ha Park), several countries, including Germany and France, seem to have been swallowed by Italy and Spain, and Israel (to some people’s delight) doesn’t exist on our map. The last thing really is to finish the Peace Corps logo and put a few major countries on the map. One of my PCV friends here also decided to paint the World Map Project, and this weekend I plan on helping her out some. Two World Maps should keep me slightly preoccupied from the nagging thoughts of cancelled classes.

Going back to school affairs, last week, no one, not the headmaster or the teachers were at the school this one day; but 80 students did… and me. Two teachers hadn’t shown up for two weeks. After finding out that eight of the twelve weeks of classes will be cancelled, I got in my first argument with my headmaster, whom I am very close with at my site. I argued that there is no structure at our school- teachers come and go as they please, there was no schedule for going to class or completing a projects dealing with sports or culture, and many students either stayed home or sat idle during school hours. What sparked the argument was when I started haranguing the headmaster about the need for extra classes, even though they were cancelled because students no longer had to pay for them. I said I’d do them for free, and he remained obstinate until I reminded him of the test I gave during the first week. This test was given to my Form 2s during an informal class- it had 40 questions and assessed their math skills at the basic level- addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, fractions, exponents, square roots, simple algebra and simple word problems. Everyone failed; mostly all the students couldn’t even subtract a negative number by a negative number. Based on my students’ performance during previous terms, I knew my students would fail. The point was to bring them back to reality, to squash their cockiness.

I convinced the headmaster to allow me to hold mandatory after school classes for 30 minutes to go over one part of the Math Basics Test (like subtraction or fractions). To make it more appealing, I paid for exercise books for every student, and pitted the Form 1’s against the Form 2’s. I would write four questions and go over each one. Then I would give another four and time the students to do the work on their own. Then, after 10 minutes, I stopped them and randomly chose a boy and a girl from each form to come to the board and write their answer. So far, these classes have been going well, but it’s only been two weeks.

I’ve also shifted my focus from formal classes to informal reading classes, which puts less pressure on the students to memorize, and they get to have fun learning. I started them on a chapter in their science books, one we won’t get to cover due to time constraints, and then we discuss it. I’m hoping to have labs like this. You might ask why I don’t just teach what I’m supposed to- well because the students and I don’t know when the next class will be. If I see the students aren’t doing anything I jump on the opportunity. Reading comp is something my students need to work on, and since it’s not for a grade, my students actually like to write what they read in the books. I emailed this company [Darien Books] to donate about 30 pounds of middle-school level books to us (they specialize in sending books to Peace Corps volunteers), but I have to wait 3 months for the order.
Next week the new volunteers, or trainees (not trannies), are coming in for training. I wish I could be at the airport to see their wide-eyed faces while we lob Ghanaian goods at them like every group did before us. I can't believe we've been here for one year, and that we are now the "old" group. At the one year mark, Peace Corps issues us orthopedic shoes, a cane, and gives us epson salt bucket baths on the weekends.

A little after arriving in Ghana, the new trainees are given five days to go, on there own, to a volunteer's site to see what life is like there- this is called Vision Quest. On top of staying with the PCV, the trainee is to observe and record what they see at the volunteer's site. I remember my Vision Quest host, Phil, in the Volta Region. Phil isn't a teacher, he is doing agriculture with the farmers in his community. He took me around town and gave me some pointers and background into being a PCV in Ghana. In about a week, it will be my turn to show the trainee around my site and be the host with the most. Luckily, the person I'm paired with is in science education.

This year, training and host families will be in the same place as when we were trainees- in and around Kukurantumi. When we were trainers, some of the Senior and Junior HS volunteers took turns coming and helping the Peace Corps staff with training. This year, instead of just education volunteers, the new group is double our size and has education, small business, water sanitation, and environment volunteers. A few of my friends in my group will go this year to train the new trainees. Training the new group takes a lot of time away from site, and since I'm so far behind at my school, I did not sign up for this year's training, though I really wanted to do it. On the bright side, the training site is about 2 hours from my home and I can crash it whenever I please.

Also, just in time for the trainees, we convened last week in Kumasi to put together and publish the first Ghana JHS teacher's manual. The manual was started 6 years ago by the first group to teach JHS, and contains the words of every JHS volunteer so far in Ghana, each contributing a section or tips. I wrote a section on professional relations with the school staff. Other sections include a year at the JHS, a day at school, a brief background into the Ghana Education System, and tips for teaching math, science and ICT. After reading the manual, I'm envious of the new volunteers.

Back at my site, I have a new way to relieve stress- weeding. I had bought this really nice machete to help my neighbor cut bamboo (we were building a new gate for his goats as well as a new kitchen), and found that I could take out several blades of 7 foot high grass with one swing. One of the women in my town who comes to the school and gives me fruit and home made food always jokes that we'll one day go to farm. I took her up on it, and we walked all the way out to her orange tree field now inaccessible due to the new elephent grass the rain brought. I loved every minute of weeding, and the motions reminded me of playing tennis back home. But the amount of sweat pouring out of me got my friend nervous, and after about two hours she pleaded that I stop. I told her I wasn't tired and it helped relieve my stress- she thought I was nuts. I found out she has a bad leg, so whenever I'm in town on the weekends, I've decided to go with her to her farm.

A few days later, I got a knock at my door, and when I opened it there was this little old man, with loads of kontummere (the elephent-ear looking leaves I love to eat) in his arms. The man spoke good English, and a whistle escaped the gaps in his teeth to accompany every word. He had the shakes as well, reminding me of Jell-O. Shaking and whistling, he introduced himself as Papa Kofi, and explained that he heard from people around town that I loved kontummere, and that he would like to pick some for me whenever he went to farm. I myself go and pick kontummere after school, which grows like weeds in some areas at my site. I thanked the man, and found out he lives right behind me. I plan on going for a visit sometime soon. Man do I have it made in the shade here.

A few days ago, a lizard the size of a small iguana had found its way into my house, and as I chased it to release it back into the wild, I saw this huge insect, something I've never seen perched, yes it was big enough to use the word perched, on one of the halwway's windowsills. The entomologist in me immediately told me to apporach with caution, but capture it no matter what. It was a fly the size of one of those large moths, with what looked like a probiscus that could suck a pint of blood from even the most thick-skinned of animal. I thought it was dead, but when I poked it with a rolled up magazine (Science, haha) it flew at me and I almost broke my skull falling on myself. Despite swatting and killing it, I was able to preserve the body. Then I stared at it for maybe 10 minutes, followed by a photo shoot- the bug might have well been a bikini model, I was taking so many pictures. I later found out that it is harmless, and doesn't even feed as a fly, it gorges itself as a larva, then mates in the adult stage. I think it was called a soldier fly. Good name for such a frightful insect.

Lastly, STARS is coming up in a few weeks. It dawned on me that I should invite the high school student I helped with Biology over the break- she's bright and told me she wants to go to college to become a doctor. STARS would be the best forum for her to go out and meet students with similar ambitions. Luckily, I was able to give her all the forms on time. I'm finding fundraising going much better now compared to when I started. I'm in Accra now sealing the deal with a company donating 100 STARS t-shirts and another providing cash donations. It's almost the 11th hour, but it looks like this year's STARS is going to be quite successful.



Life’s What You Make It- Talk Talk
Lovely Day- Bill Withers
Change- Sean Kingston
Think- Aretha Franklin
Here Comes The Sun- The Beatles
Disorder and Disarray- Rancid
Pull Up The People- M.I.A.
Don’t Let It Get To Your Head- Nat King Cole
Rogues- Incubus
Black Velveteen- Lenny Kravitz
Moi, Mon Âme Et Ma Conscience- Paris Combo
19th Nervous Breakdown- Rolling Stones
Hangin’ Around- Counting Crows
Bollywood to Battersea- Babyshambles
Don’t Believe A Word- Thin Lizzy
So He Won’t Break- The Black Keys
Bullet and A Target- Citizen Cope
Salute Your Solutions- The Raconteurs
Get Ready- The Temptations
Ooh Wee- Mark Ronson

Flowers in bloom


Ghana lawnmower

The Bush Samurai and his lady

Let's make...a fence

World Map outline

Painting the World Map

Almost finished

Found this amongst the paint guards we used

Lord of the Flies

Another beautiful sunset in Otumi

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