"Life in the Peace Corps will not be easy. There will be no salary and allowances will be at a level sufficient only to maintain health and meet basic needs. Men and women will be expected to work and live alongside the nationals of the country in which they are stationed—doing the same work, eating the same food, talking the same language. But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps—who works in a foreign land—will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace."

-President John F. Kennedy

Sunday, June 30, 2013

June 24, 2013:

I have now had over a week in the Ghanaian classroom. As part of training, we have two full weeks teaching classes at various schools. PC really lets us jump right in and get going so that they can evaluate us and then we work on those things for the rest of training, while also learning language. I figure the best way to describe things is to walk you through a typical day for last week and this week. When I do this I am able to recall certain details and elaborate on parts further. Here goes.

4:42 am: Asleep! The loudspeaker deal no longer wakes me up. I can also manage to sleep through most of the chickens, roosters, and goats making noises.

5:30 or 6am: Wake up. Just like I’ve already explained, all my family members are already awake and outside doing chores and whatnot. I come out and greet them and usually have to go straight to the john. I usually do not have to greet my cockroach and lizard friends in the latrine, we usually only chat when it is dark out and I visit in the middle of the night. I take my bucket bath, which I’ve now become a pro at. I already forget what a shower feels like apparently because the bucket baths feel so good. Just as an FYI, I am able to use about ¾ a typical size bucket worth of water to bathe each day, kind of crazy right?

6:45 ish: Mother has already prepared my breakfast, it is usually bread with egg. I also usually get tea. I eat this on a little table outside by myself (like I said, nobody eats together in Ghana) and fend off a million flies and chickens.

7 am: Usually a couple guys come over and my aunt will pour them a huge shot of some type of liquor. I asked some PC people what the deal was with this and it is pretty typical for the farmer men to have a shot before they go out to the fields. Although I can’t figure out the timing because I thought they went to the fields at about 5:30 when the sun rises. My father is always gone in the morning as he is already at the field. Sometime I will go see what his plot of land is like.

7:30 I’m dressed and ready to go. I take the short walk, about 1 minute, to the entrance of the village and greet people in Twi along the way. At this entrance where the main dirt road runs, a couple taxis wait to take people into town. I meet my fellow PCV and the two of us will go to the same school to teach our classes. The taxis are the most beat-up, junky cars you can possibly imagine. The interior is almost always stripped; radio, lights, inside door panels, are usually always gone. On top of how crummy and tiny these taxis are, we almost always fit 6 people, 7 if you’re unlucky and 5 if you are lucky. 7 people means four squished in the back, two people squished in the front passenger seat, and the driver. It is the most uncomfortable ride. The Ghanaians are all about packing people in so they can make less trips, or just make more money for each trip. Sometimes we have to wait 15 or so minutes until enough people come to the taxi to fill it up. You won’t go until it is full. So we cram in a taxi and head out on the dirt road. There are essentially no rules when driving in Ghana. No speed limits, no traffic lights, no stop signs even, and you will oftentimes drive on the other side of the road, that is, only to avoid the rough terrain of the roads. We will be barreling down the road on the left hand side while we see a car coming at us, but each driver knows that we are just trying to dodge the massive potholes and rocky areas. Now, when I say “barreling down the road,” I really would say we top out at about 40 miles per hour. The cars don’t go much faster because A. They are junk, B. They have 7 people weighing them down, C. You can’t go much faster because of the crappy roads, and D. I am guessing at 40 mph because neither the speedometer nor any of the other gauges ever work. We will dodge the occasional goat and person along the way. Half of the drive to school is actually on a paved road, although the quality is still very poor. About 20 minutes of this mayhem they call driving, Emily and I get out at our school, pay 1.50 (about 75 cents), and walk up to the school.

8 am: We arrive at our Seventh Day Adventist Junior High School. We greet many little children who are running around near the primary school and yelling “Obruni!” at us. (I think I discussed previously how this means “white person” and we are constantly being called this by all ages of people everywhere we go).  Emily and I will sit in the teacher’s lounge and wait for our first class to begin. Wait, did I actually just call it a teacher’s lounge? Let me explain…A table is placed outside of the classroom and the few teachers sit there. That is the teacher’s lounge.  The school consists of three classrooms. These rooms have a metal roof, dirt floors, wooden desks, and open windows, and no doors. There are about 30-40 students in each of my two classes, one science and one math. The students, for the most part, are middle-school aged kids, although some of the boys do seem like they should be in high school. All students in Ghana wear uniforms. This school wears blue shorts, a skirt for the ladies, and a collared shirt tucked in. The kids clean up pretty nice.

8:55 am (Or some time around this since there isn’t really a strict schedule they follow): I walk into the classroom and all students stand. Dialogue as follows:

Me: Good morning class
Unison: Good morning sir!
Me: How are you?
Unison: We are fine, and you?
Me:  I am also fine, thank you, you may now sit.

The students are very obedient and well-mannered. I have directed them to call me Mr. Austin (which sounds fabulous in Ghanaian pronunciation, they emphasize their t’s), but they will call me sir mostly. I have two 70 minute classes each day. A teacher there has provided me with the topics I need to cover in the two weeks I will be teaching, and also the proper textbooks (which the students do not have), so I can build my lesson. The students will have a separate maths (they say maths and not math, which actually makes sense because it is short for mathematics) or science notebook which I direct them to get out. This class actually has a whiteboard that is hung on top of the blackboard that used to be there. The board is incredibly important because the students, for the most part, do not have any textbooks, so whatever I put on the board is their sole means of learning. PC stresses blackboard management because however we write on the board they will directly copy into their notes. I divide the board and write on the board so that how I write it, they will be able to match in their notebooks. The main issue with learning in Ghana is that the students do not know how to think critically. Open-ended questions result in blank stares. They are so used to a teacher simply copying the textbook onto the board and then they copy straight into their notes. Things usually are not discussed or explained, so we as PC volunteers are told to really engage them and get their wheels turning. The students basically never ask a question, they won’t speak up if they don’t understand, and if I say “2+2=6, right?” They will almost always reply “Yes.” OK that last part was a bit of an exaggeration, but the point is that they are trained to say “yes, sir” almost no matter what. For example:

Me: Do you understand?
Unison: Yes, sir.
Me: Do you really understand?
Unison: Yes, sir.
Me: Can someone please explain what we just discussed.

No hands go up.

Me: OK so we must not understand then!

And I have to go back and explain again.

Now, that being said, let me praise the students. They do always raise their hand when I ask a simple question or want them to read something off the board. They love coming up to the board to answer math questions. They are obedient and always write things down that I write on the board. When a student speaks, he or she must stand. So when I call on someone, they stand up and answer the question. For certain things, I will say “Clap for him/her” and they have a specific clap that they do: Clap-clap, clap-clap-clap, clap. For the most part they are attentive, obviously we get riled up at times and they may chatter a lot, but for the most part they are engaged. It is hard for me to compare the level they are at compared to American junior high schools because I simply do not have the experience in America. There are topics I have taught where I have to slow down or teach some more background info that is needed in order to do the problems in the section of the book I am to cover. However, I assume this is the same in many classrooms in America.

Let me explain briefly their form of punishment in the classroom. I’ll be blunt, Ghanaian teachers “cane” their students. Yes, that means they use a cane and hit their rear ends. I have not seen this happen yet because I haven’t seen a Ghanaian teacher teach, but it is the norm here. As PCV’s, we are obviously not allowed to cane. Because of this, we have to come up with other ways of punishment for talking out in class or not doing your homework. We have been given a list from PC of acceptable methods of punishment we can utilize. I can make them run over to the urninal and back…five times. I can make them stand outside of the classroom. I can make them stand in the middle of the room, which they find embarrassing. I can make them kneel next to their desk on the dirty floor for several minutes. These, and more which I will learn later, are all perfectly acceptable and make the kids behave. If they speak Twi in the classroom I am also allowed to punish. When in school, only English is supposed to be spoken. They do chatter in Twi quite a bit. On my first day there, I spoke the little Twi I knew, and they got such a kick out of it. They were screaming laughing when I asked “How are you? What is your name?” Other than that, I can’t speak Twi with them. As a sidenote, I forget if I mentioned this or not, I will be learning the language Mampruli for my two years of service here. Mampruli is one of the many dialects in Ghana and it is spoken in a small area in the northern region. Since I was told this is the language I will learn, I do know that I will be living up north, although we are not yet told our official “sites.” I learn of this in a few weeks and get to visit my permanent home  for a week while still in training.

10:05 am: Class ends. My schedule isn’t the same every day, my two classes are at different times, but in between class times I will sit in the teacher’s lounge and prepare tomorrow’s lesson plans or relax as I watch a million kids run around outside. As I mentioned, there are three class rooms. When the students aren’t in class, they are out in the yard running around playing. From what I can see, the students are running around playing more often than they are in class. They don’t really follow a strict timetable. When my class is “supposed” to start at say 10:30, I have to tell some of the kids to go round up everyone and get them to class.

For each of my classes these two weeks, a peace corps staff member sits in and evaluates me. Since it is most of us volunteer’s first time teaching full classes, the feedback from the staff is very helpful.  They go over the feedback and give us tips and such after each of our classes.

I usually eat my lunch that mother packed for me. She gave me noodles with red sauce one of the first days and I liked it and told her so she keeps making this for me. Sometimes an egg comes along in it, and maybe some fruit such as tiny bananas.

After my second class, we head back out to the main road, usually in the early afternoon. We start walking along the side of the road until hopefully a taxi drives by with two empty spots (or maybe it has 5 people and we make it 7). We have to travel the opposite way from home because the taxis are only going toward a main town. It is only a few minute ride to this town, New Tafo, and here we wait for another taxi to fill up that is heading to our village Addo Nkwanta. We usually have to wait here 20 or 30 minutes for enough people to come fill the taxi that need to go to our village or somewhere along the way. The same chaos on the roads continues. The foliage from town to village is actually quite beautiful. There are some hills off in the distance, and the bush is as green and full as can be for as far as you can see.

We arrive back in Addo Nkwanta, pay our 1.50, and I walk toward home. Once my little brother and sister can see me coming, they usually come running out of the gate to get me and excitedly escort me home. That feels pretty good. I’ll usually relax for an hour or so, maybe do some laundry by bucket, write in this, or just sit on the porch. In the late afternoon, I have a language lesson in a church in the village. It is only me and one other girl from our group learning Mampruli. The two of us have our own Ghanaian teacher, Adam Mahama, who is awesome. He is PC staff, and lived most of his life up north, which is why he knows the language. I need to learn more about what he has done with his life, because he is actually quite old it seems. Some of the other language trainers and PC staff are young. My language lesson is every day and lasts a little under an hour. By 5pm I am either heading home or heading to the “spot” to meet a few of the other volunteers. In Ghana, a bar is called a spot. The spot in this village is basically just a guy with a fridge to keep some cold beers in and a fenced in area for people to drink. I will get a Ghanaian beer and chat with the volunteers about the day. At 5pm, there are no locals there, and I have not been later in the evening at like 7 to see what it is like. I doubt much is happening, it seems that most people have their own liquor they made at their homes.

By 6 or 7 my mother has dinner ready for me. I eat alone, and I really don’t even know when my mother eats. I’ve never seen her eat. My father eats late at around 8pm usually. A couple times he has “invited” me over to sit with him while he eats. That is how personal eating is, you must be invited to come near someone when they are eating.

I will usually finish my lesson plans after dinner. If I am already done with them, I will just sit outside with my brothers and sisters and they just gather around me and sit. Only one of them can speak English – my 13 year old brother named Dennis. Usually we will play cards, I taught him war, go fish, and slapjack. We played uno a couple times. FYI, things I have discovered that he doesn’t really know:

Doesn’t know what snow is or how it comes down.
Doesn’t know that we landed on the moon.
Doesn’t know what a rocket or space shuttle is.
Doesn’t know what the Internet is really or how it is used.
Doesn’t understand that a building can be 100 stories tall.
Doesn’t know that I can do my laundry by a machine in America.
Doesn’t really understand or know that there are 7 continents, and that Africa is one of them.
Doesn’t understand just how far away America is, and imagine trying to explain how fast a plane can go to get me here.

That being said, I want to praise him. He speaks English very well. He is so happy and smiley all the time, even if he has a forty-pound huge bucket of water on his head that he carried ten minutes from the well. He does seem bright for a student his age. He is so good at soccer, at least with a little tennis ball in the yard here. He’s a hard worker, my main translator, and has a huge heart. I posted some pictures on facebook of pictures he drew me. “To my best brather Ostin.” “I love Ostin.” Etc.

I bring out my radio and they love that. It charges by a hand crank, and it is apparently the coolest thing for them to crank. So my radio always has power thanks to them. By 7pm it is pitch black. By 8 or 9 I am dead and things are winding down around the house so I brush my teeth in the yard and go to bed. I always wish I had a fan, because it is so hot and there is never a breeze through my room and the mosquito net blocks all fresh air from the window. By the mornings, I have my sheet over me and it usually isn’t that hot, or I have just gotten used to it over night. If I’m lucky, I’ll make it through the whole night without having to hang out with my cockroach pals in the latrine, although the spicy and interesting foods in my stomach usually want to pay them a visit.

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