"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

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Brace Yourself It's a Long One...Exams, class parties, and vacation!

So I returned to site after my Thanksgiving trip and it was exam week, or rather, week and a half. Exams were held Monday to the following Wednesday. There was one subject per day, and Form 1, 2, and 3 all took that subject throughout the day. I had to invigilate (the overused word during exam time) on only a few of those exam days, but I was at school all of the days. The students would cheat, cheat, cheat. If I turned my head or looked down at my phone while they were writing, they would start looking at each other and whispering. Some of the girls brought answer sheets in the shirts and skirts to use during the exam. Unfortunately, teachers would be in and out of rooms or just not come on the day they were supposed to come, so cheating definitely occurred. I could only be in one of the rooms out of five while my students wrote their math exam, so I hope there wasn’t too much cheating. The structure was certainly lacking, as expected, during exam week. There were supposed to be 3 two-hour blocks for form 1, 2, and 3, but what happened was that they would never have the compound cleaned and the exams ready to distribute by 8am. By 9 or 930 we would start with the first exam, which led to shorter exam times. My students only got an hour and a half instead of the two hours I thought they were getting. It is what it is.

So how did my students do? The average on my final exam was about 40%, which lined up with what the other teachers were having also. It took me a couple days to grade my 120 exams, but when I would grade those several who had high scores it was encouraging. I had one boy ace it entirely and two girls miss only one or two points. I’m excited to see them progress. It’s weird to think, by the time those students get to form 3 and take the high school entrance exam, I will have been out of Ghana for a year. Somehow I will be in touch and keep tabs on the good students and ones I enjoy the most. Using Excel – which none of the other teachers can do – I found that my average final term grade is 52%, with a few 100’s and a few darn-near-zeros. When I get the computer lab going, I want to have a workshop to teach the teachers how to do a gradebook in Excel. Also, I found out we charged the students twice than what we need to for an exam fee. We collected something like 2 cedis and 50 pesewas from each student to cover exam costs, but I didn’t know that none of the teachers typed their exam and we paid the printing place to also type. I offered to type all the exams next time to cut the burden on the children and families in half, with the hopes of getting the teachers to type their own in the future so we don’t have to charge more to the students. Seems quite silly.

Some tidbits….

I was at the ATM one day and the guy using it had to call me up to help him. He wanted like 50 cedis, but didn’t know how to punch that in so that 50.00 is what he wanted. Hmmm…

More about the high school students rioting in Walewale. I found out that it was all of the students. The school is still closed and they didn’t finish the term. If any suspected high schoolers were still in town, the Tamale police who were roaming around would question them and do something. I found out, to some degree of truth, that one of the rioters who was taken to prison was beaten so hard he died. The headmaster who they were revolting against has fled the city. Apparently the students were angry that the headmaster was enrolling and accepting students from his hometown who had worse entrance scores than someone else from a different town. Also, he built a wall on the grounds such that it blocked the way that the students had to fetch water (that he required them to fetch), so it resulted in them having to walk much further. He paid for that wall instead of adding another boarding room, and since the school is already overcrowded, the students were pretty upset. They went about the whole thing the wrong way, but I definitely see why they were upset and fed up with how the headmaster was running the place.

For three consecutive nights, there was a crusade held on the football field just outside my house here at the school. The man and his group was traveling all around Ghana to enlighten people. Tough crowd here with the vast majority being Muslims, but he sure got a good turnout from the villagers. I guess whenever you bring in a bunch of speakers, a band, and singers aplenty then you will attract a big crowd. I think about 2000 people were out here for it all three nights, despite the power being out for two of the nights. Since the guy had a generator, his jams still went on, and was great entertainment for when the power vanquished. The first night I walked over to it, I was genuinely overwhelmed by the happiness of everyone there! It was quite the convivial event, and everyone from little kids to old grandmas were out dancing. Dancing and football…that’s what Ghana does. It seemed as if the villagers were having the time of their lives at this “concert” and I couldn’t help compare the whole situation to my favorite time at a concert in America. Part of the reason I wanted to do PC and have this experience was to find out how people get their happiness, mostly in the third world. If you had come to this crusade and seen these people and the happiness on their faces, you would NEVER be able to guess that earlier that day they probably walked over 5km in the scorching heat with a load on their head, farmed with their hands for several hours, fetched water numerous times, and whatever else they struggle with day in and day out. I’ll never forget seeing those 2000ish people dancing so happily as if there wasn’t a care in the world.

The weather report from Austin Jacob…. Lately it’s been great! Well, sort of. When I’m outside at 6am as the sun is coming up, it’s a frigid 65ish degrees. Also the morning brings some fairly strong winds. With some of the dead leaves blowing coupled with the chilly morning air, it almost smells and feels like an autumn morning in the states. By the afternoon, though, the wind usually dies down and the temperature skyrockets to about 95. It’s as if the air wants to be chilly, but being on the equator the sun still just heats everything up by the afternoon. The evenings after sundown also drop down to the 70s and it’s quite enjoyable out. There is almost always a dusty breeze and I have to cover my plates and things in the kitchen and also stuff in the house or it gets the dust layer blown in through the windows. Yes, I even have a sort of drapery.

We had a national holiday called Farmer’s Day. We didn’t have school, but nothing different happened in the village. The farmer’s can’t afford to take a day off and celebrate their farming or else they probably won’t eat.

That also reminds me about Mandela’s passing. My fellow teachers were aware, and even asked if I knew who he was, but nobody in the village really talked about it. Granted, I’m not everywhere in the village and talking to everyone, so maybe they are aware and talked some but I don’t think it was much for them to care about.

I’ve had some unfortunate strings of power outages lasting 24-48 hours. Sometimes are more inconvenient than others, but there are times where I resort to watching dogs chase donkeys, chickens fighting, and also an interesting dog-pig standoff. Another fun thing I got to watch some of was a group of boys with meter-long sticks throwing at the fowls as the flew so they could kill one. They would hit it in mid-air and it would be wounded a bit then they would chase it to the tree it went to and continue. I guess it was an OK hunting method. I’ve also seen little boys throwing stones and rocks at lizards in trees so they can eat them.

Something I’ve gotten used to and haven’t said much about is all the peeing on the side of the road, men and women alike. There is just no shame here. A guy can be peeing with any car to see as he passes. The women at least don’t have private parts that are exposed (well I guess they expose their breasts quite often in public breast-feeding) but they still squat with their dresses on and don’t use any wiping material. I was hitching in a car the other day with a man and woman who worked for a church and she just asked him to pull over so she could squat on the side of the road.

One of the exam days I wasn’t teaching I started talking with one of the groups of girls who were just sitting around “studying” and it turned into a singing performance by the both of us. I was asking them what Americanish songs they know (for instance they know Happy Birthday) and they were asking me to teach them American songs. I tried to explain a snowman and sing a bit of frosty the snowman. I did well with the beginning of jingle bells, and they wrote the words down to try to learn, but the English is too fast and tricky for them it seems. They were loving my poor attempts at singing, and also just begged and begged to learn more American songs. They even wanted to say the pledge three times! Hopefully this is a successful cultural exchange and not perceived by the parents as a white person infusing western ideals in their children’s heads. The students were the ones asking and prying, but who knows how the parents interpret what happened.

Lately I’ve been loving my trips to both the village market and Walewale market. I have my market ladies I will sit with for a bit and chat and buy their things, and people are always so surprised when I can speak their language. It feels pretty darn good sometimes, and I can see that they appreciate it and accept me a bit more.

The other night I approached some young guys in a little shop to ask if they had water, and I stepped on the mats that were right in front of where they were sitting. I quickly found out that those were their prayer mats. They were Muslim and that is the mat the pray on daily and keep impeccably clean. They weren’t mad but told me not to step there; I felt like an idiot. About twenty minutes later I still felt the need to go back and apologize again and they said it was all OK. I looked like the idiot white person that time, but hopefully I made it up to them.

Just yesterday I had quite the day activity. Another Peace Corps friend was passing on his way to Tamale so he stayed the day and night here with me. He’s from my training group and we get along well. He’s been here a few times and we always end up making quite the third-world feast. This time, we decided it was time to go from buying a fowl to eating the fowl…with no outside help. He said he had been a part of this activity once back in his village with a friend, but he wasn’t the one in charge. This time, he knew he would have to do the dirty work, because I said I would be standing by as too much of a whimp. So, we started the day off by walking around the village in search of a fowl for sale. It isn’t too hard, but we wanted to bargain a bit and try to get a good price from different people. We didn’t get the price we wanted, but a guy on the way to market pulled one out of his bag and asked 14 cedis for it. That’s about 7 dollars, which is actually expensive when it comes down to it. Anyway, we proceeded to bring the thing back to my house. I got some string and we tied it’s leg to my water bin so it couldn’t get away. A couple others came by to taunt it and one even picked a little fight. I felt bad for our guy because he was tied up! We gave him some bread and water to have for the afternoon while we got the other veggies and supplies we wanted for our stew. After delaying a bit, we finally got down to the rough part. Just out front of my house on the ground in the dirt, Bill slaughtered the fowl, plucked its feathers after we dunked in boiling water, and then butchered it all. I sat there and couldn’t believe we were actually doing this. I’d never seen a live animal go from running around to chopped up and put in a bowl to cook. We did it all though, added it to a stew, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Most importantly, I am saying this after completely safe bowel movements. Sorry, too much information, but I just had to add that I didn’t get sick watching it all happen and didn’t get sick eating it. The whole operation including cooking took about five hours. Well worth it.

OK the last thing. The whole red mark/green mark point system in my class of course finished with the term ending. At the beginning I told my classes the the team with the most points would get to come to my house to eat and watch a movie. At the time, I wasn’t sure if I would do just the winning team out of all three classes, or actually invite three winning teams over from each class. I decided on the latter so that the word spreads more and the students next term try really hard to win. So on the last day of school, when we didn’t have exams or anything, I had the three winning teams to my house in the afternoon. It ended up being 12 girls as the winners, and I was actually happy about that because the girls need a boost in school and a break from being worked to death. Before they came, I had most of the bean burgers already cooked. When they arrived, I gave them some of the flavored juice powdered packs added to water (thanks friends and family for sending) and they loved that. I had a huge watermelon also ready for them to eat while I finished frying the burgers. Before I served them, I had to explain what a sandwich or burger is. They don’t cook anything and put it between two slices of bread, so I explained and then showed them. I guess I’ll never know the truth, but I sure hope my cooking was seen as a reward to them rather than a punishment. They said they liked it, but I hope they just weren’t being polite! Later when we were watching our movie, the saw a sandwich in it and made the connection.

We came inside to eat and watch something on my laptop. I don’t really have seats or room for 12 girls but they piled in and some sat on the floor and even stood. They were blown away by the inside of my home, they kept saying how nice it was. The big thing to them was the lamp/light hanging from the ceiling. Yes, just a simple hanging light fixture, but they had never seen one and thought it was the coolest thing. Also, many of them kept looking at themselves in my mirror. If they even have a mirror, it would just be a small handheld one, so this one on the wall was really cool to them. I also have a string of Christmas lights up so that was quite the shock for them. I had a bag of mints and candy ready for them to munch, and I didn’t really expect them to eat it all, but they did! Oh well, they enjoyed. Aunt Jane – the Pop Rocks are always a hit!

We started out watching an episode of Life which is a Discover Channel type show about animals around the world. I picked one that had snow and they liked seeing that because they really haven’t seen pictures or video of snow and mountains like that. However, after about a half hour of that, they told me to change it to something with people and humans. I wasn’t ready for this. My movie selection isn’t quite tailored to the junior high Ghanaian girl. I quickly flipped through the movies on my hard drive and came to what I thought may be interesting in a weird way. Before I say what I chose, I want to say please continue to read on as I attempt to justify my decision! I chose Mean Girls…the Lindsay Lohan ridiculously silly and un-rolemodel-esque movie. Now, before you sit in horror and think I am a failure at showing proper American culture, let me first say that we only watched the first half hour or so. Second, the girls couldn’t understand a word of the English being spoken because it was too fast and different. Now, go back to the movie, watch the first half hour on mute, and you’ll see it isn’t that bad of a decision because it really depicts an American high school pretty well. For starters, Lindsay Lohan’s character in the movie has just moved from Africa to this American high school so she didn’t know what was happening there, so I explained that.

Some things that my girls would ask me about and point out as they watched… First, they didn’t even know the characters were in a high school until I told them that it was a high school. They then asked me right away why nobody was wearing a uniform if they’re in school. They couldn’t believe you could just wear normal clothes. I explained “lockers” and how each student gets one to put their things in at school. There are a few bathroom scenes and the girls couldn’t really understand that there were stalls, toilets, and several of them all next to each other along with several sinks. There is a scene where the principal walks into a classroom and he is black, so my girls were asking me if he was another teacher and they were surprised that he was black and still a headmaster in America. Yes, they know Obama is black and the president, but they were still surprised that a black person would be the headmaster of a high school. The cafeteria scenes were funny to explain to them. The movie does a good job of showing alllllll different types of Americans, especially in the lunch scenes, so the girls were loving seeing different people and how we eat in a big room like that together at school. One girl even pointed out that one of the white teachers in the movie was writing on the board with her left hand. I guess she thought that white people couldn’t be left handed or something. Of course they loved to see that football (soccer) was being played at the high school. There is a scene where Santa Claus walks into a classroom and the girls didn’t know what “it” was. They had never seen a Santa Claus. Another good thing they pointed out was that when Lohan got her exam back, there was a 98 on it so the girls realized she was smart and maybe it makes them want to get a 98. There are some scenes where it shows Lohan’s home, a pretty typical American home in a neighborhood so I got to explain some of that to them. There it is, my attempt at justifying showing these innocent little girls a piece of bad American culture. Hope it doesn’t backfire on me! They really did have a good time and I did as well. I honestly think that it may have been the first time since they could walk and talk and work that they have been served food without having to do any work for it. They ALWAYS have to cook their food, go to farm to grow it, and do the lengthy preparing leading up to cooking. I’m happy I could just serve them straight up. It also breaks some boundaries of having a male cook for females which is nonexistent here. It was an overall success and I look forward to next time.

1 comment:

  1. Austin, Did you turn on the music that comes with the Christmas lights? They play Christmas carols in a music box mode. I think they even play Jingle Bells.