Monday, October 19, 2009

We are the Champions

Friday night Ghana played Brazil in the 2009 Under 20 World Cup championship match in Egypt. The kids were exstatic that Ghana had made it that far in the tournament, having followed the tournament over the course of the last month. I went over to the Prestoncrest Girls home to watch the game. There is nothing like watching a football (soccer) game at one of the kids houses. They go crazy at each saved goal, or attempted score. The game was incredibly tense, with Ghana playing down a man for most of the match due an early red card. (unfairly awarded according to all who were watching) The game ended at a 0-0 tie. They went into overtime. The first 15 minute overtime saw more shots on goal than the prior 90 minutes. It was so intense, the girls were going nuts. It also ended scoreless. A second overtime was played, again scoreless. It went to penalty kicks. Ghana barely tied Brazil in the penalty kicks (3-3) so then it went to sudden death penalty kicks. Everyone was so nervous, hardly daring to watch. The first Brazil shot was blocked by Ghana's goalie, and Ghana's player made the shot. The room absolutely erupted. The girls screamed, clapped, cheered, jumped, hugged, danced... Children ran outside banging pots and pans, dance lines formed...It was incredible. They calmed down only because the award ceremony came on. The golden shoe was awarded to one of Ghana's players for the most goals scored throughout the tournament. That player was trained at Feynoord, a Dutch soccer training facility one mile from the VOH! He also won overall most outstanding player of the U20 World Cup. This is the first time an African nation has won the U20 World Cup. I am so glad that I was able to be here to watch the game and share in the victory with the kids! I was just as excited as they were!

the proposal, the spider, the flashlight

Well it happened. Not at all in the way that I always thought it would, but I was proposed to. I was asked to marry a man in the same way that someone would ask if you wanted to buy bread. It happened on Saturday afternoon while I was in Fetteh getting some eggs & plantains. I was talking to Esther, the woman whose food stall I always visit on weekends. She had a visitor from up north sitting with her. He began asking me about what I was doing here, the usual questions. Then he said something about it being harder to go visit the states than it is for us to come here. He said that often you have to marry an American. He went on to talk about his brother that lived in Ohio. Then in the middle of the conversation he popped the question, "Could you and I get married?" It caught me quite off guard and I just stared for a second, then he said "Maybe I am too old for you, I am getting on to 50." It took me an awkward second to say that yes that wouldn't work. He then asked, "What do you think?" As if I hadn't just rejected him. I replied that I was not ready to get married. He said he was probably too old anyways, and that maybe I had a financee back in America anyway. He said next time he was in town he would bring me some plantains and yams and we could just be friends, and that he would ask for my phone number. I finished the conversation as quickly as I could and tried to make it away from the stand with a straight face. Wishing someone else had just witnessed this marriage proposal.

Back at home that evening I was doing something in the kitchen when I noticed the largest spider I have ever seen on the floor in the corner. Slightly unnerved I grabbed a nearby broom to do some damage. Unfortunately he saw me coming and made a run for it. He narrowly missed my blows each time. I was pretty sure I had struck a fatal blow, but then he dissapeared. Sadly, I have yet to find him. Beleive me I tried. I would rather not think about the fact that he is still loose somewhere in my house. He is not the first unwanted visitor in my house. A few weeks ago something was jumping up out of my shower drain. I never did quite figure out whether the something was a lizard or a snake. I went to get someone with a machete, and by the time I returned it too had disappeared. (back down the drain, not into my house thankfully)

Last night after church I was doing my usual evening tutoring when the electricity went out. Not that unusual around here. I finished the rest of my tutoring by using the light of my cell phone. Several girls had asked me to teach them multiplication. So I then went to their house and once again pulled out the cell phone to teach them the concept of multiplication and practice making groups with them. It all seemed quite normal to have 5 of us huddled around the light of the cell phone practicing multiplication on the steps of their house. That is, until I was walking home and realized how funny it is that teaching by light of a cell phone (or flashlight) now seems quite natural. In America we would call it a night if the lights went out, but the kids pull out any light sources they have, (including a light up frisbee one night) and continue on.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Picked Last for Gym Class

Surprise! I am now the junior high P.E. teacher! Who would have guessed? I found out that they have not had a P.E. teacher for the 5 junior high classes since school started, so I volunteered. I always thought being a P.E. teacher would be fun. Today was my first day as an official P.E. teacher. I had two periods of it today. I just taught them some basic warm ups and stretches, which they thought they were SO funny. They were giggling and laughing and shouting the whole time. I almost went hoarse from yelling over them. Most of the noise was coming from those who forgot their p.e. kits (i.e. p.e. uniform) today. They thought everyone else looked hilarious running with high knees, doing lunges, etc. I have to admit, they did look funny. Especially those who were somehow turning their stretches into dance moves. These kids have such a sense of humor. I am really going to enjoy P.E. It will certainly be an adventure.

I looked over the p.e. syllabus for each level this morning, and found them quite amusing. The first subject I am supposed to teach to JSS 1 (7th grade) is pole vaulting. If anyone has any ideas for how I can teach pole vaulting without any supplies, please fill me in. Ha ha. I also am supposed to teach rhythmic dancing, javelin, shot put, wresting, gymnastics, high jump, tennis, ping-pong... I laughed as I turned through the pages trying to imagine me teaching wrestling or rhythmic dancing. I may modify that a bit.... football (soccer), volleyball, basketball, running, ultimate Frisbee, sound more manageable. I am excited, but at the same time realize its going to be a bit of a tough crowd. Hopefully my summers of directing sports camps for Skyhawks will come in handy. I only see each of the five classes once during the week, I wish it were more often. I feel I have the best of both worlds, teaching both p.e. and social studies!

I had the brilliant idea last night of doing reading intervention during the school day. I am not sure why it hadn't previously occurred to me that I could pull students out of their classes for reading tutoring like Title 1 or lab classes in the US. I am going to coordinate with teachers to pull out a few students from their class during their "library" or reading teaching periods. I am going to focus on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade students. That way they have intervention early enough to proceed to the next level with proficient skills. My school schedule is quickly becoming full. And with such a variety of roles. I certainly don't mind that though. It is fun to have variety in my responsibilities. I go from teaching social studies, to organizing the library, to reading intervention, to teaching P.E. all between 8:00 and 3:15. I work with students from 2nd grade to 9th grade through the course of the day. Life is certainly never dull! Good thing Ma Millicent now sends me a lunch every day in a cute little green box with a spoon, I don't have time to go make something!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Saved by the Bell

I realized I have not shared much about my teaching experiences thus far. My teaching schedule has continued to evolve since the first week. I think it is finally set in stone-with 4 periods of social studies per week to two different sections of 6th graders. The first couple of periods were trying, I was stretching the material to make it last the full period. I was always so releived when the bell ringer clanged the bell and yelled "change classes please!"

The students are having a hard time understanding me. The words and phrases I use are different than their own. I will spend 10 minutes explaining something, and then someone will say "Madam, please, we don't understand." I am trying to speak slowly and explain more thouroughly. Teaching is just all together different here. In my class we have no textbooks, no projector, no tv, no supplies. The only materials I have to teach with are the whiteboard and the notebooks the students use for notes & homework. I have some art supplies I can use from time to time with them. There is a copy machine at the school, but it is only for special occasions. All copies have to be approved and then submitted to the clerk who makes the copies days in advance. So, its not like I can print off worksheets/maps/articles to hand out each class period. I have used the copy machine twice and both times felt like they thought it an inconvience to make copies of things for my class use. So....I am trying my best to be creative with what I have, but it is difficult sometimes. They end up having to copy down notes and homework questions more often than I would prefer. It is hard to creatively present material without many resources.

We have been learning about enviornmental problems in Ghana. Not exactly my area of expertise, but I am doing what I can. Last week we were discussing water pollution, and the dangers of standing water. As a project we took shovels and went down to the soccer pitch to cover up standing water around the edges. It was great to see them take ownership and apply what they had learned about mosquitoes breeding and bacteria growing in standing water.

I am considering trying to find out a way to buy some textbooks for the kids. Not that I love always using textbooks either. But they need a resource, and so do I since the material is all new to me as well. Some of the kids have various social studies texts, but is only a few in each class, and the books are all different. We are just now getting into material that can be more interactive. Yesterday we were discussing land degredation and the negative effects of deforestation. The class suddenly had so many questions about replanting and taking care of trees. They couldn't beleive when I told them you had to a have a permit to cut down a tree in America. And that you are supposed to replant three seeds for each tree you cut. I had to cut them off due to a lack of time, but it was great to see them so interested in the material.

I am slowly adapting to the learning needs and styles of the students. There are so many small things about the school system that are new to me. It is just taking time to learn. The grading system is really complicated and involves a lot of averaging. No such thing as plugging grades into the computer for calculating. Many of the things I have been trained to do in teaching simply don't apply here. I am learning a whole new side of education.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Prestoncrest Girls

I thought that I was getting up early to exercise before school each morning. Then one of the mothers, Ma Millicent (from the Prestoncrest Girls house) asked if I would go jogging with her each morning at 4:30am! There is no way I wanted to get up that early every morning, but no way that I could tell her no either. There is no other time that works for her, and I definately wanted to honor her request. I don't mind the running, I just mind the 4:30 part! Today was the first day that we got up to jog together. Thankfully she doesn't go too fast, its an easy pace I don't think I could handle sprinting that early in the morning! I was so releived after we finished when she said, "We will not go tomorrow, but Wednesday." It looks like it will be a Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday routine. At least I can sleep in on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday till at least 5:30! I may have to find a nap time somewhere in the day.

Ma Millicent has started inviting me to their house for supper regularly, and even has the children bring me lunches somedays at the school. Today they are bringing me red plantains, rice, and beans. Saturday I ate red-red with rice with them. I found some fish skins in with the red-red sauce, those of you who know me well know I have nothing to do with fish. I don't eat them in any form. It made it difficult to keep eating as I smelt the fish in every bite. Last night's supper of jolof rice was much more pleasant, with only one chunk of meat. I am not quite sure what animal it came from, but I didn't really want to know. I am guessing goat, but I didn't want to ask.

I went over to their house Friday evening and brought the movie Cinderella with me. The girls had never seen it before and started squealing, clapping, and cheering when they saw what film I had brought. Americans have given them books, clothes, and backpacks with the Disney princesses on them, but they have never seen the movies. As they were all settling down to watch it I pulled out a sucker to give each one of them as a treat. They were all ecstatic. One little girl said, "Chelsea you will live long on earth," another "I know you will go to Heaven." I couldn't help but laugh at how grateful they were for such a small treat and a movie.

Friday, October 2, 2009

the new normal

The students arrive at school at least 30 minutes if not one hour early (usually before the teachers). There are children running everywhere making all sorts of noise. The school is built in such a way that all there is nothing to absorb the noise, and it seems to just reverberate through the courtyard. (It is a u-shaped complex) Each morning at 7:50 the bell ringer clangs the bell and yells "De-vo-tion Please!" and all the kids go running into their classrooms. Then commences the singing. Each class has their own separate devotion before school begins, and each sings a different set of songs. Therefore you can hear 16 different songs at one time. The walls to the classrooms are not solid, with screens for windows making up most of the side walls, therefore sound carries. It is a wonderful chaotic chorus of songs. I can't help but enjoy it. At 8:00 the bell ringer then clangs the bell again yelling "Start Classes Please!" And lessons begin (or at least they are supposed to). This is Africa, most things don't start quite on time...

It is funny how certain things become normal that were never a part of life back home. Things like chasing lizards out of my house, drinking water from a bag, walking to roadside stands to get my eggs and bread for the week, cooking everything from scratch, being called Madam or Obruni (or Sister Chelsea, as if I were a nun), waking up with the light, going to bed early (who knew I could even go to bed before 10?), not driving anywhere, washing dishes by hand, wearing skirts every day, hanging my clothes on a clothesline to dry, snapping fingers at the end of every handshake... There are so many sights and smells that are now familiar. It seems quite normal to see people carrying water, sticks, baskets of corn on their heads. It seems quite normal to see kids weeding the grass with machetes. Life has taken on a routine and feels quite normal. Being here for a longer period of time than I have previously has given me an insight into their culture in ways I never understood before. Sometime I will have to share with you all the unique and interesting things I have been learning about Ghanaian culture. But not today.

A typical day looks like the following for me:
5:30-6:30 wake up and exercise
6:30-7:30 make breakfast and prepare for day
7:30 walk to school
8:00-3:15 teaching, grading, working in the library (or trying to be otherwise helpful)
3:15-4:40 reading program MWF, tutoring on T, TH
4:40-5:00 talking and playing with kids on my way home
5:00-6:00 cooking and eating dinner
6:00 church (on Sun, Tues, Wed, Fri), house devotion on M, TH)
7:00-8:30 tutoring at a different home of children each night (reading and playing educational bingo)
8:30-9:30 talking with the high school students, reading/undwinding
around 10:00pm fall asleep exaughsted!

Life feels full. Full of challenges, full of joy, full of reading and tutoring, but full in a wonderful way.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

You are Invited

This is a phrase we Americans reserve mainly for the front of cards for birthday parties. Here in Ghana you are not invited to parties, you are invited to people's food. I have received many invitations to people's food. I will enter a home and someone will be eating dinner and they say "you are invited" and offer to let me join in the eating of their plate. People here eat from the same plate quite often, and usually without utensils. I so much as walk by the night guards while they are eating and they invite me to their plates.

Yesterday I had to stay in the classroom through part of my lunch break with several kids in trouble serving time on the wall. Every child in the classroom proceeded to invite me to their food that they were eating. They are so gracious! One little boy offered me some of his chips, I took only one, knowing they are a luxury here. He then came back and told me he wanted me to take the whole can, because he had another one. I hardly know this young boy, and yet he wanted to share his special treat with me!

The preacher at the VOH church, Noah, invited me to his home a few weeks back. He is an educated, intelligent, and friendly man. He asked me intuitive questions about my cultural transitions and the work I am doing here. He and his wife sell bread and eggs to staff at VOH (because there is no food source close by). He told me that anytime I want bread or eggs to come get it from them without paying, because of my sacrifice to come here. I am completely humbled by his gracious offer. I didn't go get any from them last week, feeling badly for taking income from them when they have so little. He reprimanded me on Sunday for not coming by during the week for bread or eggs and told me not to let it happen again. I am completely humbled by his hospitality and generosity.

I am learning so much from the kids and staff here. They are incredibly gracious hosts. Taking hospitality to the extreme. They make sure I have a chair to sit in, a song book to hold, a water to drink, wherever I go. I came to serve them, and often find myself as the recipient of the blessings and sacrifice.