Thursday, April 15, 2010

The time has come!

Since September the junior high school 3 students (essentially 9th grade) have been studying VERY hard for their BECE exit exams. This set of exams determines their high school placement. If you don't score well cumulatively you don't go. 1 is the highest score, 9 the lowest. They are taking tests in 7 different subjects. The tests include 40 multiple choice questions and then a set of essay questions. Each test is 2 hours.

First term they had extra classes before and after school, starting at 7:00, ending at 5:00pm. Then they would go for prep EVERY night after dinner/devotion until 9:00 to study some more. During second term they have been writing practice mocks. Which is essentially past test questions from previous years. They will spend most of the week taking the tests, then the next week revising and discussing the answers.

The time has come for their exams. They start on monday and last until next Friday. Please pray for their focus, retentive memory, honesty of examiners and graders, and protection from any sickness! There are 27 students. There names are: Patrick, Anita, George, Eric, Roberta, Yeenu Sr., Yeenu Jr., Joshua, Sampson, Beatrice, Samuel, Martha, Philomena, Mary, Abass, Stephen, Isaac Ayensu, Daniel, Agnes, Isaac Boateng, Foster, Emmanuel, Stella, Selina, theophilus, Alex, and Michael.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Happy Birthday to you...

Last Sunday it was Dana & Dawuni's birthdays. They are twin brothers who were turning 18. They are in high school, so they are attending school off campus. I have not gotten to see them much as they only come on school breaks. I went to their house in the afternoon and told them to come and make some cookies at my house for their birthday. Dawuni (the quiet one) was busy writing a sermon that he found out that morning he would be preaching that night. I could tell I caught him off guard, first in knowing that it was his birthday, and second for offering to come make cookies. I told him to find his brother Dana when he was finished and to come on over. After about 30 minutes he just decided to send his brother over to make the cookies. Dana had never made cookies before, and was enjoying learning how. He did a great job making them! He made what I called mountain cookies, they were huge...but tasted great! He told me that he had only received a birthday present one other time in his life, in 2006 and that his brother Dawuni had never received one. I was shocked. 18 years and no one had ever given him anything on his birthday. Dawuni never came, so we took some of the baked ones back to him along with a mineral (coca cola). He was a bit shy to receive it. He was watching a movie with his house, so I left after dropping it off and didn't think much of it. The next day he brought me a letter that I will never forget. He told me that I had broken the curse. He had thought there was some sort of spell on him that he would never receive a birthday gift, or even well wishes on his birthday. He was so surprised I even knew the day of his birthday, and confused why I would show him such kindness. Sometimes simple gestures are the most profound.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Let Them Say

This morning I awoke to a pleasant rain and sea breeze. I decided it would be a perfect morning for a job since it was not too hot. As I was jogging I amassed the usual stares and shouts of "Obruni" with a few mixed "madam chelsea" along the way. Sometimes I let the stares deter me from venturing out for a jog. Somehow the children never tire of shouting "obruni" at me, even though they see me weekly. I have decided to go with the popular Ghanaian motto "let them say." Which simply means, let people talk and say what they will, just go about your business and dont mind them. I went exploring down on the coastline between the hotel beach areas and discovered a serene and secluded section just for me. I reveled in the drops of rain and wind whipping the waves and my hair. I think it reached into my very core to bring fresh air. I lost all sense of country and culture and just absorbed the ocean in all its glory. What a big God we serve. It was one of those moments that I felt so insignficant, and God felt so infinite. I am thankful for the moments when I am reminded of such.

I walked back through town, just soaking it all in. Somedays I am still somehow struck by my present reality. It hits me that things have become normal that used to be so foreign. I was the lone white person wandering down the streets of a small rural fishing village in Ghana, West Africa. Women sweeping with straw brooms, goats and chickens running free, children playing simple hand games, men sitting on benches under trees talking, the smell of fish being smoked, rickity wooden tabels ladden with half-spoiled produce... The sights and smells of village life. I continue to feel like an invader in this scene. "One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn't belong..." Their is a genuine quality about life here that is fascinating. The sense of community is inticing. I am quite aware that I will never blend in, my skin just doesn't have the capability-but perhaps in time they will stop being surprised to see me.

There were three small children peeking through the wooden bars of the gates to the White Sands resort. It is an extravagant resort located in the midst of this impoverished fishing village. It is overpriced and patronized by only wealthy foreign businessmen. It hit me that this depicts a striking picture of the reality of their lives. Catching a glimpse of a life that is just out of their reach. The high rock walls provide quite a barrier between the two realities. Most developing nations suffer from these extreme ends of the economic spectrum. I would like to think that what we are doing here at the VOH is bridging that gap. These children will have the chance to do more than just peek inside the gates.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Mistaking Africa

In the past two weeks I have heard two children say that "whites" are better than blacks. It broke my heart to hear them say it, and to think that they really believe that! Neither of them were taking to me, I just happened to overhear it both times. I had quite the heart-to-heart with both of them about racial equality. They perceive whites as better because our country is more economically advanced. Unfortunately it seems that many Americans seem to have the idea that we are better for that same reason. Or that Ghanaians are stuck in some childlike mindset, incapable of progress and efficiency of business and government. Such opinions are never stated directly of course, but rather are implied by the way that they often just seem to know better or tend to speak down to locals.

Tommy brought me a book when he was here last titled "Mistaking Africa." It addresses all the misconceptions and stereotypes produced and reinforced in American media and literature. Most of it is consistent with what I have found of people's assumptions of my life here. I get asked questions about wild animals, tribal warfare, running water, etc. The national geographic photographs have permeated the American mind to the point where many Americans think of nothing else when they think of "Africa" than mud huts, wild animals, starving children, and tribal conflict. The truth of "Africa" is so much deeper. I just started the book, but it is already quite thought provoking.

We tend to stereotype things and people we do not completely understand, in order to put some sense of association or placement. Africa is a big place, but it tends to be lumped together as one singular country with a single history and culture which is so untrue. Even in Ghana there are 57 different languages and a whole variety of tribes and cultures. Their background is so diverse, it is not so simple as learning Ghana's history, let alone the rest of Africa.

I am so thankful that I am teaching social studies here. It has given me the opportunity to look in depth at the history and national development of Ghana. It has given me a great understanding and appreciation for their struggles. They suffered much at the hand of Europeans, and it has crippled their economy and perspectives in economic progress. As a relatively new country (53 years old) they are still working to develop their government and economy.

Reading the book has caused me to stop and analyze my own perspective on Ghana and Africa as a whole. I want to make sure that I am not allowing any negative conceptions to be part of my mindset. I never write stories on my blog about interesting events or stories to be told at the expense of locals. I am not poking fun at the differences in culture, merely sharing my experiences but I want to be careful not to perpetuate any stereotypes. It is true that most of the stories that you hear coming out of Africa are negative or condescending in some way. I want to make more of a point to tell you success stories of Ghana. I will never be able to fully understand Ghanaian culture, but I am enjoying the pursuit of a greater appreciation for who they are as individuals and as a nation.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

fire out

There is nothing better than time spent with friends. The last two weeks my dear friends Amy and Megan have been staying with me. I have had absolute blast! I have laughed more and slept less than I have in months, and loved every minute!

I kept them quite busy I'm afraid. They went to all my p.e. and reading classes, after school reading program, and evening tutoring/classes. While they were here we taught lessons on Oklahoma, the USA, and the Oakdale school (which is Hope Christian Academy's sister school in Oklahoma) to ALL of the primary classes. It was pretty interesting some of the stereotypes and misconceptions that came out in the questions. The kids have never been officially taught anything about the USA, and much of what they know comes from assumptions and myths regarding what American's lives are like. Amy was so eloquent in teaching about the 5 civilized tribes and the flat land that stretches for kilometers and kilometers! They also tried their hand at using a machete and carrying water on their heads. Neither with real favorable results. I loved cooking with the power off, staying up for late chats, watching them read to/play with kids, and watching the kids fall in love with them.

We went to the Kakum rainforest and Elmina slave castle. Amy and I might have had too much fun making Megan nervous on the canopy rope bridges. I was so thankful they were with me for Ma Victoria's funeral on Saturday, although it was a rough day for them. We left at 1am Saturday morning, and returned at 12:00 midnight on Saturday night. It was a long, culturally challenging and emotional day for all of us. It threw them into the heart of a seriously cultural event in many ways. The bus ride was a challenge on its own! It was about 13 hours of the day in the bus on some bumpy roads, with the only pit stops being side of the road. (Go ahead and ask Meg about that one...)

I am so thankful for their willingness to give up their vacation time from work to come and encourage me and the kids here! I miss them already!