Tuesday, July 7, 2009

"Nu maani howe." That's what a woman on our tro-tro told us was Twi for "no worries" on our way to the Volta Region last Friday. Four other volunteers and I (3 girls from the clinic and a volunteer from a neighboring town) traveled to Lake Volta to do some hiking. "Nu maani howe," which we later found out probably does not mean anything close to "no worries," was our problem-free philosophy on the rough road out to the Volta Region. After waiting for an hour for a 25 person tro-tro to fill up, the engine wouldn't start, and we crammed all the passengers into a 20 person tro-tro. With the five of us smushed into the back seat, we couldn't move, but we got a slight breeze from the back door, which was tied shut but rattled open every few seconds. A man on the tro-tro had this little clicky metal instrument that he held between a finger and his palm, and he used it to strike up a beat. Everyone on the tro-tro (except us) sang African songs as we rode.

Night in Ghana falls at around 6:30, so it was pitch black by the time this second tro-tro broke down at around 9:00. Everyone got out and milled about on the side of the road: it was a nice night, and we were in the middle of nowhere. Actually, I've never been happier to have a vehicle break down in my life -- I was about to pass out from lack of air. The others were still singing, and we figured: nu maani howe! The road was completely deserted until, eventually, an extremely nice charter bus came over the hill. We flagged it down and they let all 25 of us on -- it was even air-conditioned, and playing some sort of poorly animated Greek movie on TVs.

By about 11:30 (waaay past our Ghanain bedtimes) we got to where we were staying, at the "Mountain Paradise Lodge." Said lodge is actually located on top of a mountain, and also in paradise. Waking up with the sunrise there provided one of the most glorious views I've seen in Ghana. We embarked on a 3 hour unguided hike, which took us up and down some rock cliffs (they provided ropes) and past several waterfalls. Morale was very high until we got lost. Very outstandingly lost. Yes, I was leading when the lostness occurred, but that was pure coincidence. Anyhow, I was stung four times by what I have tentatively identified as African Killer Maniac Wasps of Death -- I'm not sure what the Latin name for that is. Their stingers were so large that the puncture wounds drew blood. Over the next several hours of wandering lost in a Ghanain jungle, I proceeded to give my bare legs and Chaco-ed feet a full tour of nature's biodefense mechanisms. We found ourselves wading through some sort of stinging weed, and every conceivable permutation of thorned plant. The battle scars from that walk left my spider bites (from sleeping on the floor) in good company. Anyways, we eventually ran into a cocoa farmer named Christian (who was rightly very amused by us) and showed us the way back to the lodge.

The rest of the weekend was considerably less painful. Lake Volta is beautiful, and we crossed it in big carved wooden boats. We got home early on Sunday, so I had time to leisurely prepare my lessons and do some chores. My new favorite chore is the Burning of the Toilet Paper. It sounds disgusting, and kind of is, but dousing anything in kerosene and lighting it with a match is exciting...and the closest to a Fourth of July celebration that I came this year. Sigh.

Yesterday I did "Picture Day" with my kids at the government school, which involved me taking pictures of each of them, three at a time so that I would have enough memory on my camera. Most of the kids have never had their picture taken before, and I can't wait to print the pictures for them -- though it will probably have to wait until I return to the States, and mail the pictures back. The pictures are also going to go to their new pen pals, once my sister and I get that organized.

At Kiddy Kare, we're organizing an exhibition day for the parents -- or for as many as show up. I'm not exactly sure how it's going to turn out, but it'll be a good exercise in any case. It seems as though my time here is speeding by -- I'm nowhere near ready to say goodbye to my kids, and I know the next two weeks are going to fly.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

teaching, etc.

Internet twice in one week! This is unheard of!

I will now attempt to describe my experience teaching. It's going to be difficult to do so without gushing and using a battalion of exclamation points, because I absolutely adore every child that I teach. I'm teaching both at Kiddy Kare, the school where I live, and the local government school, Abokobi Presbyterian Primary.

At Kiddy Kare, I teach English to Class 1, Art to all the classes, and other subjects here and there, as needed. For a while, I was teaching French to some of the upper-class kids, a fact that should strike you as extremely ironic, if you happened to talk to me during the one semester of French I've taken in my life. Anyhow, English is going amazingly well -- when I first arrived, my Class 1 kids didn't have a clue. They all speak Ga (and/or Twi), but can't read or write it, so they enter Class 1 basically illiterate and barely knowing the alphabet. When I first got here, I recognized that they would look at the first letter of a word and just guess -- whenever a word began with h, it was "HOUSE!!", with m, "MANGO!!!", etc. Thus I began an intense unit on rhyming words, figuring that that would be a good way to get them to look at the endings of words. For a long time, I got blank stares when I tried to explain rhyming words. I wrote them lots of poems, many about kids in Class 1, which they went crazy for. We worked on rhymes, spelling, reading, and handwriting for a long time, and the kids finally understand! Now when I read a story, they'll pick out rhyming words, and will sometimes tell me rhymes completely unprompted. During that time we also worked on certain sounds, just as ing, er, and ch. Now we're beginning to look at pot/pat/pit/pet, etc -- learning the sounds that short vowels make, and in the process, distinguishing between words that begin and end with the same letter. All of this is, of course, a curriculum that I created out of thin air, and though it seems to be working really well, if anyone has any suggestions I would love them.

The primary challenge with Class 1 is the drastic difference in ability among them -- a few of my students are way ahead of where they should be, and I give them extra work to keep them occupied -- on the other hand, I have one Autistic child, and another that I'm pretty sure is dyslexic. Not to mention the boy that, in the U.S., would be slapped with "severe ADD." Balancing the different abilities and attention spans is extremely challenging, and exhausting. The classroom is hot and dark, and it seems I am constantly covered in a mixture of sweat, chalkdust, and the battery acid that's used to make the "blackboard" black.

Art class with the Kiddy Kare kids is going beautifully. All the classes have now done leaf rubbings, and each and every child thought it was absolutely magical when they saw leaves appear under their crayons. I also taught them about the parts of the leaf, and put their drawings (which I framed with construction paper) up in the classroom along with a diagram of the parts of a leaf. There's hardly anything on the walls of the school, and the kids love to see thier work displayed. Tomorrow we'll be doing friendship bracelets, with a kit that my family was wonderful enough to send me from America. Soon we'll also do tye-dye with t-shirts and dye sent by my family -- tye-dye day is going to be a hectic day, but I imagine the kids will go wild for it, and they can always use whatever clothes we can give them.

At the public school, I have 80 kids in my one Class 2 class. Their ages are generally 7 or 8, but a few girls in the back are as old as 12 -- four years behind grade level -- and this creates an extra challenge, as the class spans fresh-from-the-nursery to entering-puberty. Tomorrow I'm bringing my camera to take "class pictures," which will be part of the penpal program that my sister and I are setting up between Abokobi Primary and an elementary school in our town in the U.S.

Okay, now to gush a little bit. I LOVE MY KIDS!!! They are all absolutely wonderful, and I don't know how I'll ever leave them. The kids in Class 2 and the upper class at Kiddy Kare are fond of writing me notes -- one girl, Mabel, drew a picture of me and wrote "This is Aunty Susan. She is so beatifly. Her hair is beatifly to much. I love you Aunty Susan. Love, Mabel." Another, Jonathan, illustrated me standing next to Amber (labeled "Aunty Susan and Aunty Amba"). He wrote "Dear Aunty Susan, Love Jonathan. I love you. You also love me. You are my mother." I'm not sure exactly where he got that, but you get the idea -- these kids are adorable and I love them all. Every day they ask "you come back tomorrow?" and one of my class 1 students in particular, Leeford, instructs me "you NO go away." He'll point to the sky and say "you NO go away to the blue and white." He means the sky and clouds.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I know I've been here a month and a half but...

So I realize that I only have a month left in Abokobi, Ghana, but I decided that starting a blog now would be better than nothing -- and the more I describe my life to everyone while I'm here, the less impossible a task it'll be when I get home.

I have officially moved out of my original homestay and I'm now living at Kiddy Kare, one of the two schools I teach at. I live with the headmistress, Mrs. Acquah. She loves me and, perhaps even better, feeds me -- she loves my profuse and entirely warranted compliments about her cooking, and goes out of her way to make my favorites: red-red, jollof, rice & stew, fufu, waakye... there is no shortage of delicious food in Ghana, and I supplement it with mangos. The markets sell large buckets of mangos for 1 GH cedi, or about 80 cents in the U.S. Even this is porbably overpriced, as they are literally dripping off the trees.

I sleep on a straw mat on the floor, which I roll out to sleep on at nights. My sleeping schedule is not a normal summer-vacation one: the sun sets around 6:30 here, so I'm usually fast asleep by 8:30, and awake without an alarm clock between 4:30 and 5:30 a.m. To get clean, I take bucket baths with water we collect when it rains: I try to ignore the mosquito larvae wriggling around in the water.

I am now teaching at two schools, and will continue the update on that soon!