"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

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Ghana livin' for 5+ months!

I have given my first test. They tried me in every way possible to see if I could detect their cheating or if I would do anything about it. They would peak at their notebooks in the desks to see the multiplication tables over and over even after I took several people’s notebooks. They were looking at their neighbor’s paper which is incredibly easy because they are sitting two to a tiny desk. I was as vigilant as could be, and I think they got the message so next time won’t be as bad. How were the scores, you may be wondering? I first graded my slow class – the ones who were sent back to primary because they can’t read and then sent back to JHS because they didn’t want them at primary again. As I was marking, I was getting quite depressed. In class, I thought they had somewhat understood and were able to do the work, but when it came to a test they all failed miserably. Side note - since we can’t print, I just write the test on the board and they answer on paper.  The test was 15 questions, because that is essentially all I could fit on the board, and it ended up being out of 30 points. The average for my poor class: 4/30 and the highest was 15/30. After spending quite a depressing chunk of time grading those, I decided it would be best to jump to my smarter class to see if any of them actually understood my teaching. Thank the Ghana Gods, they had an average of 16/30 with the highest two scores being 25 and 26 (both from girls FYI). I can deal with that. My third class was somewhere in between.

I forget what I have described here about my teams in class. Essentially I have had them pick four people they want on their team, they chose a team name (almost all are European football club names) and I typed up the names and got it printed out in Walewale. Quite fancy, I know. The kids love seeing their name in typing and part of a team like that. For every little good thing they do, I give a green mark next to their name, and for bad things they get a red X. This whole thing is completely foreign to them, but a couple weeks in and they are loving it. I’m able to control the classroom better even though I don’t/can’t use the cane. If they are acting up I just tell them they will get a red mark, and they are responding. If they get a perfect homework, a top-3 test score, take good notes, are quiet in class, take good notes, answer correctly in class, and various other things, they get a green mark. They’re all wanting the green marks pretty badly now and I’m really happy with how it’s catching on. At the end of each week, the team with the most points gets candy (they go crazy for candy) and the individual with the most points gets a pen or something extra. I told them that the team with the most points at the end of the term will get to come to my house and eat and watch a movie on my computer. They seem to be thrilled about that. It is all more exciting for me too, and I should’ve done this from the beginning. It’s a simple teaching method but is totally new for these students to see. And it’s not only the students who are noticing; the teachers now see the teams and printed paper I hang in class when I enter, and maybe in the future they will realize it works and do the same. It’s a pretty ambitious and probably unachievable goal, but if when I finish my service, the teachers are rewarding good things and not just caning for bad things, then I will be incredibly happy. Rewarding the positives just doesn’t happen here; “This is Africa” they will say.

There have been some small qualms amongst the staff members. I wasn’t even aware it was happening, but we had a meeting and they all began hashing out some personal issues that were apparently out there. Part of me feels I should have been more aware to notice, and another part of me didn’t want to even get involved because I am friends with all. It’s a bit sticky but nothing serious.

I finally greeted the chief. The way it works is that you can’t just go straight to him, you have to go through the person who is above you and then they go to the Assembly Man and then to the chief. My headmaster is the one above me, so I had been asking him since I got here, but he is incredibly busy and didn’t find it pressing enough, and I also kind of forgot. Anyway, it finally happened one weekday, and it was quite anticlimactic. His hut is just a ten minute walk from school, and a fellow teacher and I went together after the proper permissions. The chief was sitting out front of his home on a log. Sitting and staring and pondering who-knows-what. He is in his 70’s I believe, and was wearing an incredibly beaten up smock (legendary) some ragged pants and was barefoot. The bottoms of his feet looked so thick and leathery that I feel as if I couldn’t even stab a knife into them. His teeth were stained with tobacco and Cola Nut (look this up) juices. As my thanks, I brought him 5 of the Cola nuts. As you approach the chief, you squat down all the way and gently clap your hands – but don’t make a noise – and say “Naa, Naa, Naa” as he greets. He spoke a few words in English, but my friend talked most in Mampruli to him and translated my message and what I am doing in the community. I used some small Mampruli which he appreciated, but couldn’t carry a conversation with it. We sat for maybe five minutes and then left. Maybe in the future I can go sit with him and stare off in the distance like he does, and talk “small small” as the Ghanaians say.

We had a Friday off school because it was All Saints Day and we are a catholic JHS, despite the fact that the vast majority of students are Muslim. I spent the day bicycling around from Gbimsi, out in the fields, and into Walewale. I took advantage of having nothing to do but run some errands, and I simply sat with some of my previous acquaintances as I went along. I sat with my tailor for some time, Jacob at the barbershop, my friend at his shop, and ran into some other people along the way. I spoke and learned some Mampruli and was happy to chalk up that day as a truly Ghanaian hanging out day. They all sit at their shops all day and do their thing, and it was nice to be able to join them. It’s days like that I realize I have a pretty cool job.

Quick observation….my tastes truly are adapting! The street meat – goats and guinea fowl – are becoming quite tasty, and even sodas and such that I didn’t like at all when I got here are becoming quite the treat. Those treats sent from home are still on a whole different level of tasty though, thanks friends and family for sending!

I have graduated from Cockroach Wars now to Scorpion Wars. Yes, I saw, battled, and killed my first scorpion here in my home. For you insect lovers, I’m sorry to admit that it was indeed minding its own business in the corner of the room feasting on some spiders and crickets probably, but it just posed to much of a threat. It wasn’t one of the big ones, it was maybe just two or three inches, but I’ve heard that the smaller are more poisonous. Apparently, they are more common now that we are entering the dry season, and I’m sure there will be more. It is what it is. I also have seen my first mouse running around here. I think it’s time I get a cat.

As you all have entered fall and the leaves are falling, the same is actually happening here. The leaves aren’t falling because it’s getting colder, though, but more so because there is zero rain and the winds have picked up. The season here is called the Harmattan  (sp?) and it signifies the winds coming from the Sahara and blowing all the dust and sand around. The afternoons are annoyingly hot and windy, while the dust and sand inevitably gets in your eyes and all over. The heat is perpetual. I can’t wait to go down south in a few weeks to catch a bit of a break, although it won’t be much. Go ahead and look up the 10-day forecast for Walewale, Northern, Ghana, yes it does show up on my Weather Center app. It will say 0% chance of rain for every day and 100+ Fahrenheit. Interesting stat: The Celsius temperature is probably higher here than your Fahrenheit temperature there. It will only be getting hotter.

Were any of you able to see the partial solar eclipse there? I’m not sure where it was visible, but we had a pretty cool experience here. It was on a Sunday, and I didn’t know about it until the Friday before, at which time it was too late to plan anything for the students. Regardless, I had a little experiment by myself and the neighbor girls. With the help of google, I was able to assemble a telescope-type thing to view the shadow on paper. It started at about 11:30 am and we could see the moon just coming in front of the sun. By 1pm, when it should be nearly impossibly to stand in direct sunlight because of the heat, we were able to comfortably stand and it even felt refreshing with a breeze. It wasn’t noticeably darker, maybe more like a sepia look outside, but the temperature dropped and about ¾ of the sun was covered by the moon as we could see through my thingamajig. I snapped some pictures into it and it is noticeable to see even in the pictures. It’s quite possible that the vast majority of people working out in their farms didn’t know it was happening, but I can’t be sure of that. Maybe they had heard from the news and/or could feel the reduction in heat.

I had a nice favor done for me, several kids showed up with water for me and filled my barrel to the very top, which I never do. Problem is, I can’t even see my finger if I dip it in. I think they retrieved from the open-air well instead of the borehole that I usually retrieve from. I guess I will be treating all this water with multiple means like iodine, bleach, the filter, and the good ol’ sun. I’m not trying to mess with stuff that grows in dirty water. Hopefully it’s all OK and I can get from the borehole next time. I’m a bit worried that maybe it was borehole water and it’s just getting dirty now for some reason.

Anyway, I’m healthy, the kids are responding, and I appreciate all the support from back home.


Peace.

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