Thursday, March 17, 2011

from Ghana, continued

(Tuesday) more lessons

I feel more confident, more prepared in the hot little classroom outside Hohoe, Ghana. I graded all their “paintings” (all got star stickers and comments of the type we all are so used to giving back home – nice work! good job! My impression is that teachers are less carrot-y here. I don’t think the parents would like me for a permanent position; they favor tough discipline.)

I also have a lesson plan for today: a list of songs, some arithmetic ideas, reading games, alphabet scrambles.

these three always try to understand and do what is expected of them; only one lives at home.

Most kids are strong in one way and weak in another. The littlest one is always quiet at the beginning. She never engages until at least an hour into the morning. The young boys are terrific drawers. Three kids are math stars, understanding the tricks I put to the problems instantly. Writing is tough for most everyone. I wonder if I should do more writing with them. The teacher surely has her own teaching agenda, but she uses this week as time to back away from it. She is curious what I do on my own.

The headmistress sits in for a while and now I have the teacher sharing a seat with a child and the headmistress too, squeezed next to a little boy who seems quite used to sharing space. (Did I mention that they can easily squeeze a family of ten into one taxi?) Everyone participates. My age range has suddenly grown: from 4 to 52.

I write a lot on the board and I notice my hands are becoming completely black. Why is that, I wonder. The chalk, after all, is white.

Oh, I get it. The eraser. It’s a small, hand sewn pillow and it has seen many many dirty little hands. I ask the teacher if there is water to rinse off the black. A one word command from her and a boy is up and running. In a minute he is back with a pail of water and he pours it on my hands, a little at a time so that I can rub them clean. Or cleaner. I smile and tell him thank you, that’s fine, but he keeps on pouring, small spurts, until the bucket is dry.

And now I talk concepts. Pretend and real. Five legged unicorns. Cows that fly. Imaginary animals. A lead-in to reading them a Dr. Seuss book. Man, I love Dr. Seuss books! Left foot, right foot, high foot, low foot.

I ask them to draw pretend animals. I tell them to put feathers on goats and ten legs on cows if they want. Against my better judgment, I draw some examples on the board. It’s an invitation to ignite the copying instinct rather than to set the imagination rolling, but drawing animals had invoked, for the first time, concern. Teacha, I can’t draw animals. I show them how easy it is to draw a sitting cat. Two circles. Even the youngest one can do it and she does. The ornamentation she gives that cat is something else!

Recess. I breathe a sigh of relief.

Put away your drawings, we’ll finish them later.

But recess becomes interminable. My teacher has gone off on her break and my little class is filled with even younger kids, preschoolers, who have come to touch yevu yevu.

the preschoolers at Happy Kids do not wear uniforms; too much money.

They all want the hug, and I switch them to high five so that we don’t trample each other down all recess long. Some of the little ones pick up the drawings tucked into the desks of my own class group and they fold them and scrunch them and I am thinking – I have thirty kids here, some of them quite rambunctious. A young girl (11 years old) comes over and introduces herself. Ah. She is a recess monitor. She is charged with “looking after things.” She is one of the orphans here (she describes herself as living at Happy Kids) and she knows all the kids very well. She helps with the youngest, I redirect the preschoolers, but really, I would very much like recess to be over.

In Ghana, time floats. 

The fifteen minute recess is now reaching close to an hour. I nudge the helper, and she finally nudges the toddlers' Madame and we return to our class spaces.

Stories, colors on paper, complicated addition, easy reading games.

And by lunchtime, we’re in the van and heading for home base.

Yes, it's true, there is an afternoon plan today as well for the volunteers – it’s to go to the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary. Troops of mona monkeys live here and they are so sacred to the people of Ghana that they have survived for centuries, even as other herds failed. They had the luck that the locals saw in them their ancestral spirits and this, for years, made them untouchable. When imported Christianity eroded the traditional beliefs, the troops of monkeys dwindled, causing them, by the end of the last century, to be virtually extinct. Only in the last decade, in part as a result of contributions and encouragement from the international community, the forests were preserved and the monkeys were left to reside in peace there.

There is a burst of rain on our drive over to the forest, but it disappears around the bend in the road.


We buy bananas and we are told how to feed a monkey should we see one emerge from the forest: hold the whole banana! Don’t peel it! They want to do this themselves.

We are so very lucky. Sometimes they hide so perfectly in the forest that a only a several day visit can guarantee a sighting. But our staff knows the good hours, and well, we’re just lucky. The monkeys come out to the clearing and, attracted by our bananas, they saunter over to snatch them away, scampering off to eat them up in the bamboo trees.


DSC06040 - Version 2


DSC06060 - Version 2


DSC06068 - Version 2

It's an intensely beautiful sight.

The village here is a traditional one, where people make a living out of agriculture and kente weaving.


We see many of the mud and bamboo huts in this region. A few of the better huts have spaces outside to shower, much like here:

DSC06095 - Version 2

We pack into the repaired volunteer van. Or maybe not so repaired: it breaks down seven times on the return trip. Ah well, it gives us a chance to get out and take a look around at the scenery. This, just outside Hohoe:


One of the (older) volunteers and I are dropped off at our own village’s kente weaving hut to look more closely at the densely woven strips of fabric that is so much identified with West Africa and especially Ghana. I wish I could always keep in my head the rhythmic clacking sound of the skilled weavers moving their threads back and forth. (Note the rubber band on his briefs. Obama and Oprah are commercially important in Ghana.)

DSC06102 - Version 2

And now it’s time for an evening meeting with an invited guest to our home base – a social worker who monitors child labor practices and child trafficking in Ghana. I am immensely interested in this and the hour is so very well spent, even as it reaches a stupendous crescendo outside as another storm gives a violent sweep through the region.

The power has been out for most of the day and though the home base has a generator, it, too fails now and then. Lights flicker, but at least we have that. Water is unavailable as well and we’re all used to it. There is a barrel with water from a well and you can carry some in with a bucket to take care of the basics.

After dinner, I do my now routine walk in the dark night to the village, to make sure all electricity is off there as well. It is. The street is shadowy and people walk aided by the light from cruising taxis.

No internet tonight. Maybe the next day. Or maybe not.