Sunday, March 20, 2011

one last time on Ghana

(Friday) A time of butterflies

My fingernails look like I’ve been digging in rich black soil. It’s not that Hohoe is dirty. It’s hot here, and so dust turns quickly into dark mud on your skin. Oh, oops, did I say “it’s hot here?” That’s wrong. I’m not in Hohoe anymore.

I’m sitting at the Accra Airport waiting for my flight out of Ghana. How could it be? The air is cool, the food is plentiful, the wines, unleashed, flow at the snap of a finger – how could this be? Hohoe is only four hours away!

Snap of the finger. Did you know that in the Volta Region of Ghana, you don’t just shake hands in greeting? You snap your finger against the finger of the one you’re greeting, to form a mutual snap. It’s tricky until you get the hang of it.

In a week, I came close to getting it right most of the time. But not all of the time.

Yevu, yevu – those words will be in my head for a long long time. It’s an especially touching greeting, if you consider the history of the white person in Africa. But the little ones don’t know that. All they understand is that if they see a white person, this is the way they express both curiosity and a welcome. White person! White person! I respond with a wave and sometimes a greeting. Ndi (in the morning), ndo (in the afternoon). But it’s the wave of the hand that is crucial. So that they can wave back with all heart and smiles.

Yevu, yevu!

Akpe kakakakaka – thank you so very much.

Friday. My last full day. I’d been told: don’t prepare a full morning for the kids. Friday is game day. After the first recess, they go out and play games.

I teach my last class. It’s super over-prepared. We do the math, the reading, the letters of the alphabet. I’ve constructed this module where we talk about opposites and I have this plan to end with a very subjective pair of opposites: if the line isn’t long, it’s? ...short. But with respect to time, what is short? Is a minute short? Yes! Is a year short? No, it’s long! How about a week? Short!

The regular teacher sits with the students during my classes

Yes, short. But I tell them, in one week, look how much you can do! In our short week, we have read eight books, learned six new songs! We’ve talked about the crops and climate of Ghana and America, about ice fishing and butterflies. Hand clapping games, jingles about numbers. Drawings, letter hunting, Complicated sums, backwards counting, imaginary animals, sign language. And we added friends. Mine is a rich pool. Twelve children in a school in Hohoe.

Oh, how I miss them already!


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the littlest one

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8 years old and always the first with the right answer

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the oldest in class

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one of the twins

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the other

I mean to end on this theme of friends. We sing a song – a new one that they learned just this day – one that’s quickly risen to a top ranking in their estimation. ...Circle’s round it never ends, that’s how long I’m want to be your friend!

Recess. I see the older kids going off with a soccer ball. The preschoolers are out, too. I suggest that they line up for one last photo.


I pack up my papers, thinking – field games now. But the teacher tells me no – that’s for the older kids. I can have another hour and a half. The school director joins the class. They wait expectantly.


What now? I have no more curriculum!

Alphabet. We ended in the middle, let’s play alphabet games with the remaining letters. I buy myself ten minutes of planning time, even as I write words that kids are shouting out in answer to the letter game.

I can read two more books. I’ve brought extra ones. Sing one more round of make new friends. Some number tricks. Minutes pass, we’re good, we’re good. Half hour left.

I say to them – did you ever think of writing a book? What would you write about? This strikes them as somewhat nuts, but I persevere. I suggest we write one right now! Why not?! I have a whole half hour!

The previous day, I had seen something that perhaps was one of the most poignant moments for me (out of a week full of poignant moments). The littlest one (age four) had finished a drawing early. The other kids were still going strong, but she was done. I asked her if she wanted one of my story books to look at. She nodded. I gave her the book and she hesitated. Could she really hold it, look at it, examine it, all on her own? I placed it in her hands. Have those little hands ever held a book before?

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Often at recess, she lingers proudly over her drawing and a bevvy of preschoolers comes out to watch her. She just recently moved up to this next level of schooling and they like to admire her desk and anything that she may have in it. (Though typically it's empty. The children here have no supplies. The teacher lends them pencils and in my week, I've handed the paper.)


Now, as the idea of “writing” a book is taking shape, the littlest one pipes up with her usual “I cannot.” She says it always in the same way: I cannot draw an animal. And now – I cannot write a book.

I tell them about the little engine that could, changing it to a Hohoe van, going up a hill. The teacher and directress catch on to the idea – I think I can, I think I can – they chant with me.

And so the kids tell me the topic and the setting and I start a sentence and they take turns finishing it for me. I cannot emphasize enough how difficult this is for them. It’s a crazy idea and there are no right answers. When they come up with sentence endings, they say them in hushed, timid tones.

And so we have a book of sorts and it's about children hiding and the teacher eating too much pineapple.

And my time in class is nearly over. One more story about a butterfly. I ask each child to come up to the blackboard and draw a butterfly. I cannot draw a butterfly – my littlest one pipes up. I think you can.

She does. As do the others. Our blackboard of butterflies.


There is a lot of hand holding and hugging as I walk to the car. The headmistress presents me with a pair of Ghana earings. It is, predictably, a very difficult moment of leaving. [Will I be back? Maybe. I'm coming away with at least a few ideas on how they can go about building up their resource base. I would like to spend time exploring this more. And, I would love to see the children again.]


In the afternoon, the volunteers are all over Hohoe: one last trip to the market. (Note to commenter: no it's not only batik. Though in my own purchases, I preferred batik, because it's made locally and I like to support the women here who print it.)


To the art shop of Courage. Names here are so often aspirational! Wisdom. Bright... And shop names are frequently with a religious motif:


...To the seamstress. To the Internet Café, where I e-sign a counter to the offer on the condo.

Late in the evening we go to the Obama Bar. It’s our first and last beer drinking evening. Ghana beer is tasty – of the pale ale kind. At midnight we walk up to where the woman has her street stand with egg sandwiches. She fries an egg, sprinkles some combination of peppers and ginger and garlic and places it between two rounds of a bread that is somewhat pita-like. Most volunteers wont eat street food here (for good reason), but we break the rule for this. Delicious.

By Saturday morning, most of the volunteers have left to catch early flights. Only four remain. We’re booked for evening departures.

Saturday in Hohoe is laundry day and as I walk one last time to check email (my condo is sold! closing in May!) and pick up some last things that are still with the seamstress, I see the lines and fences draped with wet garments. Many have to draw water from wells and use basins outside and I am reminded of laundry days at my grandparents’ house in the Polish countryside, where my grandmother used a scrubbing board and well water too to do her laundry.


And now it’s time for our last meal at the base. I’ll miss having someone cook good food and clean the dishes after all the meals. It’s a tedious task in Hohoe, especially since there is no warm tap water. Our cook is not terrifically bothered by this, but I know it can’t be easy preparing food and scrubbing it all clean afterward.


I finish packing. All to the sound of loud music that appears to be playing steps away from the base.

There is a church there – one without walls, so that sound carries easily. We walk over to watch the dancing...


...and this is our final moment in Hohoe. But let me end the Hohoe page with a photo from my last walk through the village. Yevu, yevu, they cried out. And waved. And posed.


At three in the afternoon, a van takes us to Accra. My flight takes off at ten in the evening and I am so tired that I fall asleep as we take off. I miss everything – the food service, the sound system -- all of it. I wake up a number of times, but immediately doze off again.

By seven I am in Amsterdam and by nine I am in Paris. Just for a night. I need a good long walk. I just wish it wasn’t so cold. The fifties. Completely disconcerting after the heat of Ghana.