Sunday, December 28, 2008
It was lovely to see the ocean again! The Atlantic ocean is an old friend... we met for the first time in 2007 at a cove in Royan, France. Although I occasionally wave as I pass by when I travel by airplane, I haven’t seen it since Royan. When I ran into it today, however, dipping my toes into the foam and kicking the waves with my feet, it was like no time had passed at all, and we picked up right where we left off.
The beach was so lovely... a much needed indulgence! I ate a lunch at a beach-side resort restaurant... a really delicious cheeseburger (my first non-Ghanaian food in almost three months!) with pineapple and Malibu to drink. It was an expensive meal by Ghanaian standards (GH¢5 for the cheeseburger and GH¢6 for the drink), but after the week I had, I felt that I deserved it.
It was so relaxing, the beach! There were so many other obrunis there that no one stared at me. I spent several hours there at the table under the shade of the umbrella, listening to music on my iPod, writing in my journal, people watching, losing myself in the waves... :)
Friday, December 26, 2008
I’ve never thought of Christmas as something to be survived until this year. The wonderful news is that I survived my first Christmas away from home! Amazing! If I can survive that, I can survive anything! Even more amazing is the fact that my Christmas was almost completely merry and joyful!
I’ll start with Christmas Eve. I had to do some last minute Christmas shopping, so I went by myself to the Madina market. As I sat crammed in the back of the trotro on the way there, all I could think of was that I was probably the only one of my family and friends who was doing her Christmas Eve shopping at an African street market. This would be my only Christmas in Africa. I might as well embrace it and make the most of it!
As the day turned to evening, I suddenly became very excited with that overwhelming Christmas Eve anticipation I’ve experienced every December 24th since 1986. I danced around the hallway humming “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” calculating that he was probably somewhere in Asia at the time, until we all piled into the car to go to church.
At eight o’clock, there was a Christmas Eve service at the local church which started with a little Christmas play put on by the Sunday school kids. It was cute, except the girl who sang the Christmas songs could not sing. It was like listening to a bad American Idol audition... but since I love Christmas songs in every circumstance, I didn’t mind. One of the wisemen was played one of my favorite students, Kelvin from class five. He’s really smart and well-behaved, but what I love about him is that he has the best dimples, so I always smile at him at school just to see his dimples when he smiles back. After the play, he sat behind me during mass, and everytime I looked back and saw his adorably dimpled smile, I was so happy.
I didn’t expect to enjoy Christmas Eve, but something mysterious happened during the church service, and I was just filled with so much joy. I can't explain it. Even though I was thousands of miles away from everything I knew and missing my family and friends, I couldn’t help but be completely overjoyed. It was Christmas Eve, after all. I sang and danced, as exuberant as everyone else, remembering the real reason for the holidays.
When church ended, seven ladies piled into the Rav4. As I squished in the back seat with three nuns, I laughed at the irony of my situation. I sat there, crammed between the door handle and a nun, watching Sister Dorothy dancing in the front seat to “Kung Fu Fighting” on the radio with Hannah on her lap as the car bounced along bumpy dirt roads, and realized that I will never forget this night. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to hear “Kung Fu Fighting” again without remembering my Christmas Eve in Ghana.
When we returned to the house, I burst through the doors, dancing the whole time and singing Christmas carols. I picked up my cell phone and saw that I had five missed calls from my family, so I called them back, ridiculously happy to talk to them. I literally danced around the house the whole time I was on the phone. When I had finished talking, I went to the parlor, where the rest of my housemates sat around eating and drinking next to the Christmas tree. I joined them, snacking on pancakes and Almond Joys while sipping some hot wine, until midnight. Merry Christmas! They passed out the presents, and mine was a lovely piece of local African-print cloth for me to make a dress. We stayed up late, way past my bedtime, and when I had snuck downstairs to hide two presents from Santa Claus under the tree, it was 1:15 in the morning. I haven’t stayed up past midnight since I’ve been in Ghana, but it felt so wonderfully normal to be up late.
When I woke up on Christmas morning, I jumped out of bed right away, knowing if I stayed in bed to dwell on the fact that I was alone, I’d be too sad, and I didn’t want that. We had fried eggs and toast for breakfast, and when we had finished, I went upstairs to get ready for my day at Osu Children’s Home!
When I arrived at the children’s home, I was directed to the babies unit. I spent Christmas morning holding and loving the little orphaned and abandoned babies. What a very special way to spend my Christmas morning! Jesus came to earth approximately 2008 years ago as a little baby just like them! The difference was that Jesus’ parents were so happy to see him, I’m sure. They loved him and would never have abandoned him. He was such a lucky kid.
As I held the babies in my arms, I realized that for many of them, this was their first Christmas. Their mothers should doting over them, dressing them up, taking pictures of them, giving them presents, just loving them. Instead, these babies are spending their first Christmas abandoned, squished in a crib with one or two other babies in a place where no one notices when they cry, where they are fed and bathed on an assembly line, then dropped into their cribs until their next feeding time. It was really sad... but I felt the most sorry for the babies’ mothers. The mothers must be going through something terrible to have to give up their babies like they did. If the babies are better off at the children’s home than with their mothers... those poor women! It makes me understand why some women have abortions, although abortion wasn't really an option for these babies' moms (it's still illegal in Ghana). I loved the babies as best I could, smiling at them, holding them, rocking them, wishing that Santa Claus could bring them parents for Christmas. If I could have taken one of those babies home that very day, I would have... but I know that I'm in no way ready to be a mother just yet.
Once the babies were put down for their naps, I went to see what the other children were up to. It turns out that Father Christmas had come, and he was handing out presents to the children! He had a pile of toys on the ground, and the children came up one by one and picked out a toy. I was really happy to see that they had presents. They excitedly showed me their toys... stuffed animals and baby dolls and toy cars and lego sets and Barbie dolls. It reminded me of my childhood, of the countless Barbie dolls I’ve received for Christmas in the past. I congratulated the girls on their dolls that were so beautiful, just like them.
After Santa Claus left, I hung out with the kids for a little while until the party started. Some people had brought in huge speakers, and a DJ was spinning a type of upbeat Ghanaian music called hiplife. Some very kind, generous people had brought drinks and special food - fried yams, with a choice of chicken or fish - and I helped serve it to the kids. A couple of the kids became attached to me and followed me around everywhere I went. They were so adorable! I hung out with the kids, playing with them, dancing with them, having a really good time! I was enjoying myself so much, completely amazed by how happy I was!
My Christmas was quite merry, until I made the fatal mistake of looking at the time and doing the math... it was Christmas morning in California. My whole family would be gathered around the Christmas tree, without me. I was suddenly filled with a deep sadness and loneliness. I looked at all the kids, and I realized that however lonely I felt, they must be feeling a thousand times lonelier. There were so many kids there, around 200, being cared for by temporary volunteers and people who were paid... no one at the orphanage could truly love these kids the way they deserve to be loved, they way their mother or father could have loved them. I tried not to think about it, but the sadness became so heavy that couldn’t stay any longer.
As I walked toward the main street to look for a trotro, I pulled out my iPod. The first song that came on was “Blue Christmas”... the soundtrack to my life. Even though it was getting dark, I pulled on my sunglasses, attempting to hide the tears in my eyes, but they overflowed and streamed down my face, anyway. I cried the whole way back to the convent, squished in the back of the trotro, wearing sunglasses at night that couldn’t hide the tears on my cheeks. I can’t remember the last time I felt so alone and sad.
I made it back in time for a Christmas dinner of rice and stew. Sister Dorothy gave me a Guinness to cheer me up, but before I could finish it, my phone rang. It was my family again! I talked to them for about a little over an hour, which cheered me up considerably. Afterwards, I called a few of my Ghanaian friends to wish them a merry Christmas and talked to my grandma on the phone. I was so tired that I crashed into bed when I finished.
So, my Christmas was very different and almost completely merry. I’m actually really impressed that I only had about three hours of sadness. I had expected to be sad the entire day, but besides those few hours, I had a really amazing day. I’m glad I spent my Christmas at the children’s home. If given the choice, I definitely would have chosen my family over the orphans... but since I didn’t have that choice, I would definitely choose the orphanage over staying at the convent or even traveling to other parts of Ghana.
When I talked to my family, I promised I’d be home for Christmas next year. That’s only like 364 days away! I can’t wait! Oh, and before I went to bed, I went onto the roof and said a special Christmas prayer for my family and friends in the US and in Europe, that everyone would have a fantastic Christmas. I miss you all very much. You were definitely in my thoughts and prayers on Christmas day! :)
PS: I took some pictures at the children’s home, but the school’s wireless internet is still down, so I can’t share them just yet.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
I just wanted to wish all my readers a very merry Christmas!
I hope your holidays are SO happy and joyous and that you can spend them with your family.
Me, I would give anything to spend the holidays with my family... but since I can’t, I’ve decided to spend my Christmas doing something really fun...
I’m going to spend my Christmas at Osu children’s home. They’re throwing a party for the orphans who live there, and I get to help! I’m excited because I know if I’m with the kids, I’ll have a merry and fun Christmas. Of course, I’ll miss my family like crazy, but if I’m thinking about other people, I’ll be much happier than if I were sitting alone at a convent just thinking about myself.
This one time, when I was in Bosnia with some friends, I helped throw a St. Nicholas day party for some Croatian orphans at a castle in Medjugore. Nancy, the crazy lady we were staying with, gave all the girls garland for our hair and white sheets and told us to dress up like angels. She made us come out of one of the castle’s turrets flapping our “wings” and singing “Angels We Have Heard On High,” which was kind of awkward, but at least the kids loved it. We served the kids pizza and soda, while a man dressed up as St. Nicholas handed out the presents that we had wrapped the night before. We spent the afternoon playing with the orphans (some of whom really believed we were angels!). That was the best part of the weekend, and what gave me the idea to spend Christmas with the African orphans.
I’ve been suffering from holiday depression, which has NEVER happened to me before because I love Christmas (it’s my favorite holiday!) and I’m usually the queen of Christmas cheer. This year, just thinking about spending Christmas away from my family has literally been giving me headaches, and I’m liable to burst into tears at any given moment. Facing a Christmas alone has definitely been the hardest, hardest part about living in Ghana, and there have been moments when I wonder if coming to Ghana was a mistake. What was I thinking, spending Christmas so far away from home?
When I talked to the orphanage’s director on Monday, however, she told me that I would have very fun Christmas partying with the kids, and I finally became excited about this Christmas!
So, even though I’m thousands of miles away from my family, I think my Christmas will be merry. I really hope yours is, too!
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Something ridiculous happened to me last week. I had gone to town by myself to run some errands, and when I returned to the school, I found it was empty; everyone had gone. I started walking to the house when, to my complete and utter horror, I saw one of the dogs roaming the playground. I bolted to the staff common room and locked myself inside, not wanting to think about what would happen to me if the dog got a hold of me again.
I peeked out the window. The dog was still there. I realized I had two choices: spend the night in the staff common room, where I would miss dinner and surely be eaten alive by malaria-bearing mosquitos; or make a run for the house and surely be eaten alive by the wickedly vicious dogs.
I spotted a stack of broomsticks leaning against the wall and decided to make up a third choice: leave the school, walk around the corner to the house gate, which was a shorter distance to the house door, and sneak past the dogs, hoping and praying that they didn’t see and attack me, and fight them off with the broomstick if they did.
I grabbed a broomstick and stepped boldly into the hall. The dog was just walking down the corridor at the end of the hall. I froze, terrified, praying that it wouldn’t see me. The dog walked past without noticing me. That was the scariest moment... I honestly felt like I was in a horror film, trying to escape before the dinosaurs or zombies or monsters or whatever horrible creatures of the film found me. In my life’s horror story, those monstrous creatures are the dogs.
I cautiously crept forward and peeked around the corner where the dog had just gone. I didn’t see it anywhere. I made a run for the gate in the opposite direction, and let out a sigh of relief when the school’s gate clanged shut behind me. But I wasn’t in the clear yet. I still needed to get into the house somehow.
There were no dogs to be seen outside the school gate, so I set off on the five-minute walk to the front of the house, zigzagging through dirt roads, jumping across gutters, dodging the chickens and goats that wander freely in my neighborhood... carrying the broomstick the whole time! I held it horizontally at my side, and the the people I passed stared at me. I know what they were thinking; There goes the village witch!
Great! Not only am I the village witch, but I’m also the white village witch... in Ghana, how many stares does that merit? In my experience, quite a lot!
Carrying the broomstick, I really did feel like a witch! The only difference was that, if I were a real witch, I could use my broomstick to fly, and I’d fly right over those nasty dogs straight to the house, landing on the doorstep without a scratch. Actually, if I were a real witch, I could do better. I’m sure I’d know some pretty good spells and potions. Maybe I could brew a potion to poison the dogs in their sleep? Or better yet, maybe I could turn them into nice, lovable creatures, like butterflies or kittens, who would never bite me. Alas! As convenient as that would be... I’m not actually a witch. I still needed to get past the dogs without dying.
When I finally reached the house gate, I pushed it open just a crack and peeked my head inside. There were no dogs between me and the garage... but there was a dog around the corner, at the other end of the house. Oh, shit. My horror story wasn’t over yet. I calculated how fast I’d have to run to get to the garage to escape the dog if it chased me, and decided in a split second that it was now or never. I ran as fast as I could, broomstick in hand, and threw myself into the garage, slamming the door behind me. I panted heavily as I staggered to the door to the house, weak with relief. When I came to my room, I collapsed on my bed, loathing the dogs with all my being.
The dogs have kind of been ruining my life. My leg still hasn’t healed all the way from where they bit me last month. I’m starting to despair that it will never heal, that I’ll have a hole in my leg my entire life and no man will ever love me or want to marry me. Worst of all, I’m afraid to go out of the house alone when they’re around. I hate them!
And those horrible nuns always take the dogs’ side! They seem to think it’s my fault that the dogs hate me. The dogs really do hate me. They always bark at me and chase me. I think they’re racist dogs and they don’t like me because I’m white. The nuns think it’s because they can sense how scared of them I am.
When I wanted to go out today, little Sister Germaine gave me the most brilliant piece of advice: carry a big stick. The dogs are afraid of the cane, she said, so if I carry a cane, they won’t bother me. She handed me a big stick. I decided to give it a shot.
To my delight... her idea worked! Beautifully!
Two of the puppies and their mother were lounging in the school playground, and barked at me when I entered the compound... but I whipped the stick on the ground, and they stopped barking. (To be safe, I didn’t walk near them; I passed on the other side.) Later in the day, Sister Anne accompanied me to the back of the house, the dogs’ domain, but when the dogs saw the stick, they ran away. The barked at me from a comfortable distance. Oh, I was still terrified of them, but I felt so powerful with my weapon!
One of my friends in America, who has also been attacked by dogs, gave me this advice: if I don’t want to befriend them, I should make them scared of me, become the “alpha-dog.” Of course, for all this time, I had no clue how to do this... bark at them? Bite them? They have sharp teeth and I don’t... I’m scared of them. Some people have suggested I carry pepper-spray, but the problem is I don’t have a very good aim, and I have no clue where I would find pepper-spray in Ghana. But with the cane... muah-ha-ha! They’re scared of me, now! I could never cane a child, but I would have no problems whatsoever with lashing these dogs if they tried to attack me.
However... it will only work during the day. If the dogs saw me sneaking up to the house with a stick in my hand at night, they would think I was an intruder, and that would really be the end of me. So... I still hate puppies, and I’m still terrified of dogs.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Today was the last day of school before Christmas break!
Usually, I love Christmas break, but this year, I’m dreading it. I almost cried when I said goodbye to the kids. I told them I’d miss them so much. What would I do without them for the next three weeks? I received many goodbye hugs and Christmas wishes, and sadly saw them off.
The kids are the best part of being here. And now I won’t see them for three weeks, during the time when I most need them. They’ll spend the next three weeks celebrating the holidays with their families, and I’ll be alone.
I was on the brink of breaking down, but I had to pull myself together for the staff Christmas party. Once I had eaten some fried rice and drank some white wine, I was able to have a good time. Moses set up some speakers and music, and to my delight, everyone was dancing. In most American parties, only the young people dance. That’s one of the greatest things about Africans... they know how to dance, they have a great time doing it, and they don’t know when to stop.
When they did stop, when the party ended and everyone loaded onto the school bus to be dropped off at their homes, something tragic happened to my composure: I lost it. As I waved “goodbye” to my co-workers, wishing them a merry Christmas and a happy new year, all I could think about was how they would be spending their Christmases with their families, and I wouldn’t.
Sister Anne noticed my watery eyes, and asked if I was crying. I shook my head. (I was lying.)
“She’s crying because her friends have all gone,” Sister Juliana said upon observing my face. “Or maybe she’s crying because she’ll miss the kids.”
I didn’t trust myself to open my mouth, because I knew my shaky voice would betray my true feelings; otherwise I would have corrected her.
Yes, I was sad that my friends were gone, and yes, I know I’ll miss the kids, but that’s not the reason I broke down and burst into tears when I returned to my room.
I was crying because I miss my family so much. I was crying because I’ll be all alone on Christmas. I was crying because this year, for the first time, I’ll only be home for Christmas in my dreams.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
I was sitting in Class Six with Monsieur Kofi, helping him record the marks (grades) for the class, when I heard a commotion outside. Apparently, two of the boys had just beaten the drums that signal break time, which was bad because first of all, it was the wrong time (they were just doing it for kicks), and secondly, only one student has permission to beat the drums... the others are forbidden. Mr. Tony had two canes in his hand, and he was calling the culprits forward to give them lashes.
I rushed outside and pleaded with Mr. Tony to stop. “Please don’t beat them. You really don’t have to! It was a mistake!”
“They beat the drums when they weren’t supposed to! How can you call that a mistake?” Mr. Tony said. “If I don’t punish them, they’ll just do it again.”
“Give them another punishment, then. I know! Have sweep the entire classroom by themselves, without any help. That’s a good enough punishment,” I said. “It won’t happen again!”
Much to my surprise, Tony hesitated. “Monsieur?” he said, addressing Monsieur Kofi, asking for his advice. Monsieur shook his head.
“Okay,” Tony said. “They can sweep. But it better not happen again!”
I quickly made the two boys pinky swear that they wouldn’t do it again, and they both kind of rolled their eyes when I made them kiss their thumb. They’re eleven-year-old boys, after all.
I couldn’t believe it! I had prevented an unjust corporal punishment from being inflicted upon these two boys! I felt so... victorious. Need world peace? I’m your girl. Sign me up, UN. I’m ready to fix the world!
A few minutes later, Tony showed me his hands. “See my hands? They haven’t lashed anyone at all today. They’re itching to cane someone. It’s because of you that I didn’t.”
I was feeling quite pleased with my victory over the cane when I returned to my seat next to Monsieur Kofi. A few minutes later, a group of Class Three girls and boys found me and sat around me, begging me to sing a Christmas song. I started singing all the Christmas songs in my extensive Christmas repertoire, and was still singing forty-five minutes later.
After I had finished a song, one of the girls in my Class Three audience, Georgia, tapped my arm, saying she wanted to tell me a secret. I expected her to say something like “I know a good Christmas song,” or “You have a nice voice,” or “Lawrence said he wants a toffee,” or something like that. I was not prepared for the secret she had to tell me.
“My daddy beats my mommy,” she whispered into my ear.
I wasn’t expecting that at all. I was stunned. What do I say to that? I paused for a few minutes, searching for the right words to say, but all I could think of was, “I’m sorry.” I put my arm around her, and whispered the question whose answer I dreaded to hear: “Does your daddy ever beat you?”
“Yes,” and she grew silent. I hugged her closely and held her quietly, but after a few minutes, she again whispered into my ear, “My daddy beat my mommy, and he hurt her on her eye. She had to be in the hospital...” she stopped talking, looking like she was about to cry.
“I’m so sorry,” I whispered back. “He shouldn’t do that. Is your mommy back from the hospital?”
“Yes, she’s been back a long time...” Georgia said. She paused for a moment, and said, “My daddy beats my mommy, and he beats me, too. That’s my secret.”
Suddenly, my victory over the cane felt as significant as a victory over a housefly. I had prevented two boys from receiving two lashes each, but how can I prevent Georgia and her mother from being beaten in their own home? What am I supposed to do? Go to Georgia’s dad and ask him, politely, to stop beating his wife and children, please? There is nothing I can do about.
All I want is peace. Peace on earth. Peace in Ghana. Peace in little Georgia’s home. If we were in America, I’d call the child protection agency, but here in Ghana, what do I do? Would anyone here even think it’s wrong? Here at the school, the children are beaten by their teachers on a daily basis. If the teachers beat the children at school, why can’t their dads beat them at home after school? While he’s at it, why doesn’t he beat their mother, too? If the mother is really bad, give her extra lashes, on her eye. Send your wife to the hospital, that will teach her to misbehave. Beat your wife, in front of your kids, maybe they’ll learn a lesson, too. Okay, excuse my language, but this is really, really fucked up. The worst part is, I can’t do anything about it.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
This is the first year Ancilla school has decided to put on a Christmas program of Nine Lessons and Carols. Each class was to present a lesson and sing a Christmas carol, and I was drafted to teach some of the classes Christmas songs. I taught “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Jingle Bell Rock” to Class Six, and “What Child Is This?” to Class Five. As I was rushing to lunch, Ellen, the teacher of my favorite class, said that her students were asking when I would come teach them. I can’t resist Class Two A, so after lunch I taught them “Angel We Have Heard On High.” I say “taught” because most of the kids had never heard any of those songs before, which surprised me quite a bit. By the end of the day, my voice was shot from a combination of singing and yelling at the kids to get their attention when they were talking amongst themselves.
Today they had their show. The children brought their chairs to the playground and arranged themselves by class under the shade of the trees. A representative of each class, dressed up with colorful African-print fabric wrapped around them like an Indian sari, read a bible verse, and some of the younger students dressed up and acted them out. After each lesson, a class sang a carol. It was so precious!
I took many pictures... but unfortunately, the school’s wireless internet is down, and I don’t know how to post the photos from the internet cafÈ, so you’ll have to wait to see them.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
I remember one day last summer, my dad called my brother and me outside to teach us how to change a flat tire.
“I don’t see the point,” I said. “I’ll never have to change a tire.”
“What do you mean?” asked my dad. “What if you’re driving somewhere and you get a flat tire?”
“Someone will stop and change it for me. I’ll never have to do it myself,” I said.
“Kate, someday, you could be in Africa, in the middle of nowhere, miles and miles away from civilization, and your car could break down. Imagine, you’re in the jungle with lions, and no cars ever pass there. What if the only way to survive was to change the tire yourself?” my dad said.
“Someone would come help me,” I said confidently. “They always do. I will never have to worry about that.”
Sure enough, I sat daintily on the curb, trying not to dirty my white dress, and watched as my fifteen-year-old brother did all the work in changing the tire.
“Wouldn’t it be a good idea to learn how to change it yourself?” my dad pleaded, changing tactics. “Just in case?”
“Um, no. I’m much better at being a damsel in distress than changing a flat tire,” I said. I winked at my brother, my knight of the day.
I thought about that conversation today when I found myself, like my father warned, on the side of an African road with a flat tire. I was in the Rav4 with Sister Juliana driving, speeding down the road from Kumasi to Accra, basically in the middle of nowhere, when we heard a loud popping noise and the car swerved a bit. The back right tired had blown out. Juliana eased on the brakes, and we slowed to a stop. I remembered my dad’s admonition... but then I remembered my rebuttal, and I wasn’t worried.
I didn’t have to stand next to the car pretending to read the manual until someone pulled over to check on me. I didn’t have to put on lipstick and my best damsel face and wave a signal of distress to approaching young male drivers. I didn’t have to do anything at all.
We just happened to have stopped in a tiny, tiny village that covered, at most, a quarter of a mile of the highway. Sure enough, before we could even open the car doors to get out, several sturdy villagers surrounded our car. I think the fact that Sister Juliana is a nun and I’m an American made us automatic damsels. The men quickly changed the tire for us, while we stood next to the car and watched along with the small crowd of villagers who had come to see what the commotion was about. I waved at the village children who had all gathered to gawk at me while whispering amongst themselves something about the “obruni.”
Oh, and this crazy old man kept waving at me, calling to me. I couldn’t tell if he was saying “wifey” or “whitey,” but I kind of took offense to both, so I ignored him until he came up and grabbed my hand. “I’m called King Solomon!” he ranted. “Please do not forget me! In the name of the almighty God, do not forget me!”
“Um, okay,” I said, and was a bit relieved when they had finished changing the tire for us so we could go. I waved goodbye to the villagers, thinking to myself that our stopping there must have been the most exciting thing to happen all day, and actually, since I’m white, possibly all week.
Once we were on the road again, I told Sister Juliana the story of my dad’s unsuccessful attempt to teach me to be self-sufficient in automotive matters.
“We’re lucky we stopped in the village,” she said, “otherwise, we would have had to change it ourselves.”
“Nope. Someone would have stopped and helped us,” I said with all the self-assurance in the world. “They always do. I make a pretty good damsel.”
Saturday, December 13, 2008
On Friday night, Sister Juliana announced that she was going to her village in the morning to sympathize with sister who lost her child. She hinted heavily that she needed a travel companion, but I had so much to do this weekend that I didn’t volunteer. Finally, she full out asked me to go. I really didn’t want to go, but six or seven hours is a long way to drive alone, so how could I say no?
I was feeling quite resentful when I had to wake up extra early to spend half the day in the car. Then I was like, Wow, Kate! You’re such a bitch! Juliana’s one-year-old nephew had died, and I was grumpy because I was missing a Christmas concert to comfort the boy’s mother. What was my problem?
Once we had stopped for food and I had eaten breakfast in the car, my headache went away, and I decided that moping about a Christmas concert and stressing about everything I had to do was not a good way to spend my weekend. If I was going to spend a total of about 14 hours in the car that weekend anyway, I might as well make the best of it. I only have about seven-and-a-half months left in Ghana, after all. Let’s make this an adventure.
Oh, but it would be a sad adventure, I knew. I’ve found Sister Juliana before with teary eyes, deep in thought, telling me that she saw a baby jumping around who reminded her of her nephew who died two weeks ago. My little friend, Small Boy, was the third child in his family to die. "I just really hope my sister doesn’t have any more kids," she said, sadly, "and I hope her four remaining children survive."
When we arrived at her parents’ house in Homasi, it was quite a different atmosphere from the first time I went. It was much quieter. I looked out the car window, and saw some baby girl clothes drying on the clothesline... they must belong to baby Juliana. I sadly wondered what would happen to small boy’s baby clothes.
When I saw the boy’s mother in house, I told her I was so sorry. I’m not sure if she heard me or not, because she didn’t respond. Instead, she pointed to the kitchen, where two of her sisters were calling to me as they cooked. "Ey, Yaa Asantewaa!" (Everyone at that house calls me by my Ghanaian name, Yaa Asantewaa)
I hope she heard me the first time I said it. I didn’t have the courage to say it again.
I can’t stand sadness, so I chose happiness. I spent most of the weekend playing with small boy’s older brother and sister, Kwesi and Becky. I don’t speak enough Twi to converse with them, but we communicated without words and still had a good time.
I told the oldest boy in the family, James (age 15), that I was sorry about his brother. But "sorry" was too hard for me to say to small boy’s grandparents or aunties, so I just played with Becky and Kwesi while the grown-ups in the room talked about small boy’s funeral in Twi.
On Sunday morning, when I was saying "goodbye," Sister Juliana’s father shook my hand and thanked me for coming, saying he hoped I would come visit their family again before I go back to America. He thanked me for playing with the children and for bringing happiness to them. I smiled when he said that. I wasn’t very good at sympathizing with them, but if I could bring happiness to the children... well, I guess that’s something to smile about.
Friday, December 12, 2008
You see, every year, I have a new favorite Christmas song which sort of becomes my Christmas theme song of the year. This year, my Christmas theme song is “Blue Christmas.”
I’ll have a blue Christmas without you.
I’ll be so blue thinking about you.
Decorations of red on a green Christmas tree
Won’t mean a thing if you’re not here with me.
I’ll have a blue Christmas, that’s certain,
And when that blue heartache starts hurtin’
You’ll be doing all right with your Christmas of white,
But I’ll have a blue, blue Christmas.
Christmastime is my favorite time of the year. I’m normally extra happy and joyful, and I infect everyone around me with my endless holiday cheer. This Christmastime, however, is completely different. There are no decorations, no holiday baking, no Christmas shopping, hardly any Christmas music. Worst of all is anticipating my first Christmas away from my family. I honestly never thought I’d ever spend a Christmas away from home, because my family means so much to me and missing Christmas with them seems like the worst experience imaginable. I knew it would be hard to be away from my family during this time of year, but I had no idea it would be this hard.
I felt sad all day yesterday. My 2008 Christmas theme song was playing in my head all morning, and I felt like I was on the brink of crying all day. I remember thinking that if only I had some sort of Christmas decoration in my room, I would be so much happier, but I don’t have very much money, and I don’t even know if there’s any place where I could buy Christmas decorations around here. I put on a happy face for my kids, but the entire day, my mind was miles away.
In the middle of the day, Sister Dorothy sought me out and handed me a package, and I was so excited when I finally returned to my room to open it. It was from my dear friend and former roommate Becca. I’ve never received a better care package than what was inside: a Christmas stocking, a Christmas garland, Christmas straws, a very sweet card, some pictures, and three balloons (Bartholomew Jr, Tommy, and little Elaine).
I was SO happy! I honestly never expected to receive any Christmas gifts in the mail, so I was so touched to know that Becca hadn’t forgotten me. The package arrived just in time, on the day I needed it most. I blasted Christmas music (NSYNC Christmas, to be exact) in my room as I strung the garland and hung the stocking on my closet door. I feel so much more joyful now that my room is decorated! I’m finally getting into the holiday spirit!
Thank you, Becca, for spreading Christmas cheer to this lonely American in Ghana. Your thoughtfulness means more to me than you’ll ever know. I love you more than all the sheep in Scotland, and I miss you very much, triplet! Mele Kalekemaka!
Thursday, December 11, 2008
I was beaten.
After watching the kids march to their classrooms, I noticed across the compound that Mr. Barnabas giving a boy lashes. Barnabas struck the boy across the butt so hard the boy cried, begging for mercy. He received another few lashes before he was allowed to go, and I watched him stumble across the playground, blinded by tears.
I was furious about the injustice of this. First of all, I completely disagree with corporal punishment. Secondly, the boy clearly got the message with the first lash... were those other lashes really necessary?
When I came to where Barnabas was standing next to Mr. Tony, I saw that the cane was still in his hand, and he was about to whip another boy. Apparently, the boy had left some of his books in the compound overnight. For this little, careless mistake, Barnabas and Tony were going to give him ten lashes, two lashes per book.
“Please!” the boy pleaded, “I didn’t mean to! Someone took them out of my bag and put them all over the compound. I was looking for them yesterday, but I couldn’t find them. Please don’t cane me!”
Sister Dorothy came over to vouch for the boy, that he had been looking for them yesterday, but Tony insisted that the boy receive his punishment. They all agreed that the boy was too careless, that he should have kept better track of his bag, that he should have looked for the missing books more thoroughly.
“Please don’t lash him!” I cried, trying to intercede on the boy’s behalf. “It was just a mistake!”
“It wasn’t a mistake; It was carelessness,” Tony said. “He needs to learn that he can’t just leave his books wherever.”
“Please, don’t lash him! Give him another punishment instead. Have him stay late to clean or keep him inside during lunch break... anything!”
“Sister Juliana told me to give him this punishment,” Tony said.
I tried to gently ease the cane out of Barnabas’s hand, but he held it firmly. “Please, don’t lash him. Look at him,” I said. Tears silently streamed down the boy’s face. “Look at him. He’s remorseful. He’s already learned his lesson. He won’t do it again. Please, don’t lash him!”
“Okay, we’ll only give him two lashes instead of ten. How’s that?” Barnabas said.
“No... how about none? He really doesn’t need to be lashed!” I said, but Tony told the boy to hold the bench, and Barnabas delivered the first lash. The boy cried out, and began sobbing.
“Okay! One is enough! He doesn’t need the other one. Look at him! He’s really sorry! Please, don’t lash him! Jut have mercy on him!” I pleaded, my eyes welling up with tears, but Barnabas ignored me. The boy’s hands were covering his butt, and he didn’t remove them when Barnabas told him to, so Barnabas whipped the boy’s hands, too, and the boy’s sobbing grew louder.
I felt like I had just been beaten. I burst into tears, sobbing almost as much as the boy.
“Come here,” Barnabas said to the two JHS girls who had also forgotten their books at the compound. The first one turned around, and Barnabas whipped her twice on the butt. The girl didn’t cry out, but I saw the tears quietly dripping onto her lovely cheekbone. “Turn around,” Tony commanded the other girl, but I couldn’t watch. I turned and walked several feet away until I stood facing the wall next to a plumeria tree. I could hear the lashes, and a quiet sob after each one from the other girl.
I’m not sure how long I stood facing the wall as I cried. Sister Dorothy found me and told me to stop crying. “Go back to the house, wash your face, put on your powder and lotion and everything. Just go.”
I cried all the way up to my room. I can’t explain it. Physically, I was unhurt, but emotionally, I had been lashed. I guess my problem is that I’m overly empathetic. I don’t imagine what other people are feeling; I feel what others are feeling. When something really great happens to my friends, when they are ridiculously happy or I excited about something, I feel ridiculously happy or excited, too, as if I were the one who had just moved into to the perfect apartment or received 5 million dollars to make a movie or just arrived in a foreign country for the first time. The flip side is when someone is sad or angry about something, I feel sad or angry, too.
Today, I felt... beaten.
Corporal punishment is a part of their culture, but it’s not a good part of their culture. I want to stand up for these kids, because no matter what they did, they don’t deserve to be beaten. Whenever they fight, I tell them that they’re disturbing world peace, that if they want to get rid of violence in the world, they must start with themselves. But look what kind of role models they have! Their teachers have no faith in them, assuming the worst, using violence to get the kids to do what they want. It makes me so mad.
What infuriates me most of all is seeing the teachers beat the girls. Whenever I hear about a little boy hitting a female classmate, I become so angry. “NEVER hit a girl!” I tell the boy. “Us girls, we’re all the same. If you beat one of us, you beat us all. Would you ever hit your mother? What about your sister? Would you hit me? When you hit her, it’s like you hit me. When you hit her, it’s like you hit your mother and your sister and your future wife and every other girl in the world. NEVER hit a girl, EVER.” The idea is to instill a respect for women in their early years in hopes of ending domestic violence. I’d never want any of my girls to be beaten by their husbands or boyfriends, and I’d never want any of my boys to become those abusive men. But after I tell them how wrong it is to hit a girl, they see their male teachers lashing their female classmates. What?!
I’m still working up the courage to stand up to the other teachers. I’m still the new girl, and according to them, I don’t understand how bad African children are. Maybe that’s true, maybe I don’t understand how bad African children... but they don’t understand how good African children can be. A child is a child, whether African, American, French, Japanese, Russian, Peruvian, or Canadian. Children just want to be loved. They want someone to believe in them. I believe in them. And I don’t believe that violence is the answer.
Maybe I need to give my “never hit a girl” speech to the teachers, too. While I’m at it, how about my “world peace in this classroom” speech? Somehow, I doubt either of those would work. Hmm... I need to think up a plan...
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
“It’s because of the elections,” Sister Juliana explained. “Once the elections are over, you’ll see more decorations up, but for now, all everyone can think about is the elections.”
Elections were December 7th. They went very well... that is, there wasn’t any violence or problems. After the polls closed, the electoral commission started counting. Citizens throughout the country stayed up late into the night, eagerly listening to the results on the radio. The numbers trickled in, little by little, so little, in fact, that I really thought they were announcing each individual polling station.
From the Odotobri constituency, NPP 178, CPP 31, NPC 13, NDC 142, DFP 2, DPP 2, Independent 0
Etc. Over and over and over again. The same three-letter parties, followed by slightly different numbers. I spent election day with Fred, and when he drove me home, I noticed that the streets were empty. We could see people gathered in store fronts huddled around radio sets, anxiously listening to the early results.
“Well? What happened?” I asked the next morning at breakfast. Still counting. I asked again at dinner, and at breakfast the next morning, and at dinner the next night. Same answer. Still counting. Still listening to them announcing the results for all eight candidates in the same, monotone voice. You wouldn’t believe how boring it is.
When they still hadn’t announced the winner this morning, I gave up. “They’ll never finish counting! They’re tricking us. Ghana will never have a new president!” I said in despair.
“They’re announcing it today at 2,” Mr. Sackey said when I found him in the computer room, searching the election news on the internet as though it hasn’t been all everyone’s talked about for the past few months.
I was in the dining room at 1:59, finishing up my lunch. Someone was watching The Last Holiday, and at 2PM, the TV station took a break to go to the news. It was finally 2PM, but STILL no results. AH!
At the school’s closing, I found some of the teachers gathered in the headmistress’s office, talking about (what else?) the election.
“Have they announced the results? Do you have a new president?” I asked.
“They’ve announced the results,” Sister Juliana said, “but we don’t have a president yet. It wasn’t one touch.”
Apparently, NPP had 49.14% of the vote. Because it wasn’t 50%, the majority, because of that ridiculous 0.86% of the vote, they have to cast their votes again. This time, it will be between NPP and NDC, which had 47.something% of the vote.
“The new election day is on December 28th. So it looks like Ghana won’t really celebrate Christmas this year. Sorry.”
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” I silently screamed. (Actually, that’s the edited, family-friendly version of the four-letter word I screamed in my head when learning that the country in which I’m currently living is essentially CANCELING Christmas because of the damn elections!)
We were supposed to travel on December 27th to the north for a big Christmas celebration in Sunyani. I had hoped to use this time to go to a game park and see an elephant. Now, because of politics, we might not go anymore. Freaking elections are ruining not only Christmas but also possibly my chances of seeing an elephant in the wild.
Why December 28? Why couldn’t they have had the elections much earlier, in October or November, or later, in late January? Why do they have to have it at Christmastime? I’d much rather see Christmas love on TV than more campaigns! The only reason I can think of is that Ghana must love Jesus as much as I love elections... that is, not at all.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Starting in January, I’ll be teaching less French classes, instead taking over English, math, science, and citizenship education for class 4, and I’m pretty excited about it. Right now, I teach eight classes of 24 to 40 students in each class. I’m only with each class 1 to 3 hours or so each week. I don’t have the chance to get to know every student personally. I don’t even know many of them by name. With my own class of 20 students, I’ll be able to really know my students well.
What is Class 4 like? I probably know them the least well of any of class. They only have French once or twice a week, and since their class is so big it seems impossible for them to stay quiet. They can be overwhelming, so Monsieur Kofi usually teaches that class while I sit in the back correcting homework. As their class teacher, I’ll have tons of work to do planning out lessons and correcting homework. It will be really challenging, I’m sure, but I like challenges. Facing challenges is the only way to grow as a person. I just hope I’m ready for this challenge and capable of overcoming it!
When I walked into their classroom this morning, however, I realized how difficult this challenge could be. Lunch break had just started, and I was on my way to the house when some of the students grabbed my hands and pulled me into the classroom for help. Two of the class 4 girls were fighting. Fighting. Going after each other, punching, slapping, hitting, as the rest of their classmates watched and shouted. I yelled at them to stop fighting as I rushed forward, but they didn’t listen to me. I got in between them, taking a few blows to my arms, and pushed them apart, yelling for them to calm down.
“Seriously! What on earth?” I said when they had stopped fighting. “What on earth?”
One had insulted another girl in the class, so the friend called her a bastard, and the other hit her, so she poured water on her head, and then they were fighting... I don’t know. I told them I didn’t care why they were fighting, but I just wanted them to stop. Cool off, calm down, take a drink of water, walk outside, just please, stop fighting!
“Haven’t you been watching the news lately?” I asked. “Everyone wants peace in Ghana. We want world peace, ladies. Come on. It’s almost Christmas. Peace on earth, goodwill to men! And women!” I looked around, and noticed that the entire classroom had become silent as each student hung on to my every word. When two other fourth graders walked noisily into the classroom, their classmates quickly shushed them as I continued talking.
“Peace in Ghana. Peace on earth. World peace. Starting right here, in this classroom. World peace starts right here. If you want a peaceful country, and a peaceful world, you must start with yourself. World peace starts with you. When you fight with your classmate, you’re disturbing the world peace! You’re disturbing my peace, and the peace of everyone else in the world. Please don’t fight. Fighting is not at all becoming of young ladies like yourselves. Just go outside. Take a drink of water. Eat your lunch. Cool off.” I looked around at all the fourth grade faces staring at me with a look of wonder in their dark brown eyes. “I’m going now, but please, stop fighting... world peace, people! World peace! Peace on earth, goodwill to men and women.”
And as I walked to the door, the strangest thing happened. The kids started clapping. The whole classroom burst into applause. I suddenly felt like I had just delivered a speech on world peace to the UN or something. I didn’t really know how to react. Should I take a bow? I just smiled shyly, waved, and said, “Thank you.” They were still clapping when I had walked out of the door and down the hall.
Fred has always told me I should work for the UN. I don’t know about that, but maybe I can help spread world peace here in Africa, starting with the students in my fourth grade classroom. Maybe I can influence these kids for the better. Maybe I can make a difference.
They won’t know that their class is going to be divided until we tell them next week, after exams. I have a feeling that they’ll all want to be in my classroom. I hope they don’t fight over who will be in my classroom and disturb world peace!
Monday, December 8, 2008
Until today. Right now, I feel like a prisoner in my own house. Here’s why...
I’m terrified of dogs now, especially the dogs here. I believe my fears are justified... I still have scars and holes in my legs where these dogs bit me last month. For a month after I was attacked, however, I never saw the dogs. They’ve been locked up in cages or chained up and were never allowed to roam around. I think it had something to do with some vaccines they’d received, but I’m not sure. Normally, I’d feel really sorry for any creatures that had to be locked up all the time, but I never felt the slightest bit sorry for them. I was glad they were locked away.
Now, they’re allowed to roam around free. The first time I saw one of them, I almost cried. I was afraid to walk from the garage to the car, even though Sister Julie and Sister Anne were standing right there. Last night, when Fred dropped me off, I was afraid to get out of the car. I clung to Fred’s arm as we called Robert, the gatekeeper, to walk me to my own house.
It’s the afternoon now, and I want to get out of the house, to go to the school to do some things or to take a walk, but I can’t, because they’re all outside just waiting hungrily for me to walk into their midst. I really feel like a prisoner in my own house! The jailers are the ugliest creatures I’ve ever seen, and they have sharp teeth and mean spirits. I hate them. I despise them. I loathe them. I have no compassion for them whatsoever. If they were drowning in a pool, I wouldn’t bother to save them. They could all drop dead this very second and I think I’d actually be happier.
When I think about them in my head, I never just think dogs. It’s more like, Those f***ing dogs are outside and I hate them and I wish they were dead!
Saturday, December 6, 2008
December 7 is the day. The day everyone has been talking about for the past two months I’ve been here. Election day.
I cannot tell you how sick I am of all the campaigning that has been bombarding all of Ghana in every medium since I first arrived two months ago! NPP, NDC, CPP, PNC, DPP... there are eight presidential candidates all together. The three major ones are NPP, NDC, and CPP, and CPP doesn’t really have a chance, so it’s between NPP (New Patriotic Party) and NDC (National Democratic Convention), basically.
Nana Akufo-Addo is the presidential candidate for NPP. He looks like a short, serious man when you see him on TV, but in all his campaign posters he wears a big, goofy-looking smile and round, wire-rimmed glasses. His campaign is all about “Moving Forward,” and his supporters have this forward-thrusting hand motion they do with both hands that kind of reminds me of an Egyptian hieroglyphic. Like all the big parties, NPP has a few theme songs, one of which goes something like, “The sky is the limit.” It’s a cool hiplife Ghanaian song, and I enjoy listening to it on the radio. Their colors are red, white, and blue, which reminds me of France, and their symbol is a blue elephant, which reminds me of how much I love elephants.
Professor John Atta Mills is the flag runner for NDC, and Dr. Paa Ndoum is for CPP. Their parties are similar. Ever since Barack Obama won America, both Atta Mills and Dr. Ndoum have started this “change” platform. CPP’s hand motion is rolling each fist over the other almost like the front of a conga line, and the NDC’s is the same except with the forefingers sticking out. NDC’s colors are red, white, green, and black, and CPP has the same colors except not black.
“What are the differences between each of the parties?” I asked.
Sister Anne hummed the campaign theme songs and did the different hand motions... moving forward... change... change...
“No, I mean in their beliefs and manifestos? On the debates they all say the same thing.”
“There isn’t much difference between the parties,” Sister Juliana said.
Then why all the commotion?
Almost everyone I know here is for the NPP, particularly Sister Juliana and her family, since her brother Emmanuel is an NPP Member of Parliament (a senator) and is running for reelection. When I met him in Homasi, he gave me a campaign shirt with a picture of his and Nana Akufo-Addo’s faces on the front. Also, the current president, John Kufuor, represents the NPP, and he has apparently made a lot of good changes for Ghana. If I had to choose, I think I’d vote for him, too, just from everything I’ve seen on the news. (This could be because the TV station we usually watch is biased toward the NPP.)
Sister Bibi is for DPP, which is a really small party that has no chance of winning. Their presidential candidate definitely looks the coolest of all of them. He has a big, white, curly beard, like a thin, black Santa Claus, and wears cool, traditional African clothes. I’ve met him a few times. He goes to Our Lady of Peace church in Madina, and sits in the same row as us. I like him. He’s nice, and his beard is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. Sister Bibi is his biggest advocate. She’s convinced that he’ll win. The funniest part is that Sister Bibi can’t even vote! She’s Nigerian, not Ghanaian. She’s his biggest supporter and claims she’ll make up for her inability to vote by convincing others to vote for him. As far as I’m aware, she has yet to recruit anyone. Because their slogan mentions God (“With God all thing are possible,” or something like that), Sister Bibi swears that God will create a miracle for him to win, that all the angels are voting for him. I just laugh.
PNC has a palm tree on their flag and a female running mate. That’s all I know about them.
NDC scares me, from everything I’ve seen and heard. Most of the political unrest comes from supporters of NDC. Their campaign ads are hostile to other parties, attacking their rivals instead of promoting their own values. There was talk earlier in the campaign about how some people in the NDC had attacked some women. The idea was to make women feel unsafe, so that they would be dissatisfied with the current NPP government and vote for NDC to make a change. I haven’t heard anything about that in a while, so hopefully they’ve dropped that plan. Also, on the news last night, they talked about how someone has uncovered a plot to drop packets of ink into the ballot boxes, which would ruin the ballots and the votes inside. The plan allegedly was to target polling stations in Kumasi, which is heavily NPP. I hope they’ve figured out a way to put a stop this.
The NDC was in power was in power for 19 consecutive years, before John Kufuor became president in 2000. From what Sister Juliana tells me, when Jerry Rawlings was president before Kufuor, you couldn’t talk badly about the government, even in your own house. Your children could report you, and they’d come into your house, take you away, and kill you.
“That’s tyranny!” I exclaimed when she told me.
“Yes. But they have to win. If NDC loses, they’ll cause problems. They’ll try to start a civil war. They’re hungry. They want the money in their pockets. They want to eat, but they don’t want to work,” she said. “Did you see their rally on TV last night? They started singing, ‘Christian soldiers, march to war.’”
From what Sister Juliana says, it seems that Ghana is screwed either way. If NDC wins, they’ll have a tyrannical government. If NPP wins, they’ll have a civil war.
However... Atta Mills is NOT Rawlings. He’s the same party, but a different person. If he were to be elected, hopefully he wouldn’t be as corrupt as Rawlings. Also, most people are optimistic that Ghana will remain peaceful no matter who wins.
Fred invited me to his place tomorrow. “Don’t worry about the elections. Nothing bad will happen,” he assured me on the phone.
I prefer to believe Fred.
Well, whatever will happen will happen. I can’t do anything about it, except to pray for world peace. And tomorrow is the day...
Friday, December 5, 2008
“From Agnes to Mad
am kate” on the front.
It is about ^ Kate
Madam kate I love you.
do you also love me,
Yes or No.
Waht waht What you
have done for us in
class, You are wondelforee
girl, and a prinsses
beacaus of the drawing
that is why. And that
okain kant you start
your mouth small,
Thankyou madam kate
There was also a drawing of a Christmas tree inside. I don’t know exactly what everything in the note meant, but I was touched. I gave her a big hug and whispered that, yes, of course I loved her.
I was talking to her teacher, Ellen, the next morning about their class. “They’ll never forget you,” she said. Suddenly, my job felt more important. What kind of an impact can I have on these kids’ lives?
Yesterday, I was delighted when a group of Form 2 (eight grade) girls approached me, asking me to tell them a story. I ended up sitting on a chair, surrounded by about a dozen Form 2 girl and boys, answering their questions about my life. They were particularly interested in what I liked to do when I was a teenager. I love culture-sharing, and I’m so pleased that I can share my culture with them. It struck me that, for some of these kids, I might me their only link to cultures outside of their own. I told them stories about when I was in El Salvador and France, hoping somehow to spark an interest for cultures of the world. They were quite an attentive audience. I’m quite fond of a few in particular who often come up to me to talk to me and ask me questions about America. They’re around my sister Kelly’s age (13), and they’re all quite adorable.
Oh, yesterday, the children approached me again and again. After the Form Two students (eight grade), a group of lower primary came up to me and started talking to me. Some held my hands as we talked, or came up and spontaneously hugged me, and I felt very loved.
When I walked in on four class six students in an empty classroom, they begged me to sing them a Christmas song. The first song that came to my head was “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and please would I teach it to them, so I did. I wrote the words on the chalk board and we practiced it dozens of times. Two of the girls stayed behind to practice some more, and when I came in half an hour later, they were still practicing. I told them I’d bring my iPod on Tuesday and let them listen to the song with the music and everything. They both gave me a huge hug and thanked me.
Moments like this make me love being a teacher! :)
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Left, as in, moved away, to another convent hours and hours away from here. AND NO ONE BOTHERED TO TELL ME until about 7:30 the night before she left. Apparently, she didn’t know she was leaving until two days before she left. She’s going to a medical community in the north.
I was so upset when I found out I almost started crying. “Why is she leaving?”
Sister Juliana shrugged. “That’s our life. When they tell us to move somewhere else, we go. Obedience.”
Which is one good reason never to become a nun!
Sister Bibi was the nicest of all my housemates. Apparently, Sister Constance is replacing here. Sister Constance has been here off and on for the past few weeks, but I hardly ever see her, which is a good thing. I don’t think she likes me. She barely acknowledges my existence. It’s like she thinks I’m below her, like I’m not worth noticing or talking to. I didn’t realize she would be staying here for good! I thought she was just visiting.
Sister Bibi came to my room last night to say goodbye, and I wonder if I’ll ever see her again. She gave me her cell phone number and Gh¢10 to buy credit for my phone, but talking on the phone is not the same as living with her and seeing her every day! :(
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Sunday, November 30, 2008
“My little friend is sick?” I repeated, unsure of what she meant.
“Yes. Small boy. The one who was scared of you in the village,” she said. “My sister’s boy.”
Small boy. I can’t remember his real name, because it was an African name I’ve never heard before, and everyone in the house just called him “small boy.” But how could I forget the little boy who was afraid of me? “Oh, yes, my little friend! He’s sick? That’s too bad,” I said.
“They took him to the hospital, but they don’t know what’s wrong,” she said. She seemed really upset, and got up suddenly from the table and went straight to the chapel.
I didn’t see her the following morning at breakfast, but I could hear her talking on the phone in the room next to mine. When I went down for lunch, I saw that Sister Dorothy was the only person at the table. I sat down and served myself some kenkey and stew.
“Sister Julie’s small boy died this morning,” Dorothy said with the air of commenting on the weather.
“What?” I said, nearly choking on my food.
“The one who was sick, Sister Julie’s nephew, he died in the hospital this morning.”
I just stared at her. Then I looked down at my food and stared at my that. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t speak. He died?
“Stop crying and eat your food,” Sister Dorothy said when she saw that my eyes had begun to tear.
“But, it’s just so sad! I can’t believe he died! How terrible!”
“It happens. That’s life. People die. There’s nothing you can do about it,” Dorothy said. “Stop crying. You’re not supposed to cry when a child dies. If you cry, another child will die. You’re not supposed to cry.”
“I’m sad that he died! I’ll cry if I want to!” I shouted at her. “If I’m happy, I laugh. If I’m sad, I cry. That’s life.”
When Sister Juliana finally came down a while later, I gave her a big hug and told her how sorry I am. “There’s nothing we can do about it now,” she said sadly. “He’s already gone.”
She told us that Small Boy is the third child to die. His mother had seven children altogether. The first and the third, both girls, died when they were young. Now him. Only four remain.
Sister Germaine, the sweetest nun I’ve ever met, was lunching with us, and told me that her sister once had three daughters, but each of them, one by one, died unexpectedly in their sleep. The girls’ mother was so devastated when all of her children had died that she divorced her husband and swore she’d never marry again. “That’s a big problem in Africa... child mortality. It’s sad, but it happens often.” She studied me intently for a moment and said, “When it’s far away, it’s just a number, but when it touches you personally... that’s a different story.”
The water in my eyes threatened to overflow onto my cheeks, and I couldn’t smile. Sometimes I wish that I didn’t feel things so intensely, that I were sympathetic instead of empathetic, and this was one of those times.
He only had so many days to live, maybe six or seven hundred, that’s it, and I had caused one of those days to be spent crying and screaming, scaring him with my white skin. His aunts told me that I was the first obruni he had ever seen, and chills ran down my spine when I realized that I was the only obruni he ever saw in his entire life.
I remember sitting in an armchair in their living room on the last night I was there, playing with his brothers and sister and cousin. His next brother, who was about five, had climbed into my lap. Small boy ran up to us, screaming and wailing, as usual, and pulled his senior brother’s arm until he jumped down off my lap. Small boy tried to climb up, but he was too little, so I picked him up and set him in my lap. I hugged him close and rocked him back and forth for a few minutes, until he squirmed out of my arms to play “lion” with his big brother.
When I visited him last, his family was having a big celebration in honor of a new life, the little baby Juliana. Now, his family has to hire a carpenter to build the tiniest coffin. Their next family gathering will be a funeral marking the end of such a tragically short life. Suddenly, child mortality in Africa seems infinitely more than just a number for me.
Having an African romance would make my life story more interesting, don’t you think? My friends drop hints in emails, asking me about my love life. Is there anyone special in my life right now?
I hate to disappoint, but my marital status is the same as it’s been for the past twenty-two and a half years... chronically single. No African boyfriend for me now, and after getting to know the culture here, I’ve decided that I don’t want an African boyfriend, ever.
African men only have one thing on their minds... marriage!
Really! They’re only looking for one thing: a wife. And not just any wife... the perfect wife, someone who would spend every day in the kitchen cooking Ghanian dishes with his baby strapped to her back, someone who will break her back sweeping the house three times daily and fetching water from the neighborhood pump a few door down. A good wife, they believe, is loyal and submissive to her husband, even to the point of putting up with his unfaithfulness and abuse.
Does that sound like the kind of attitude I’d be attracted to?
Since I arrived in Ghana, I’ve already been proposed to twice. Ugh. No Ghanaian boyfriend, and definitely no Ghanaian husband, for me. Sorry.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
I haven’t quite been myself lately. Normally when I travel, I’m fearless... a brave woman, Asanetwaa. I usually follow wherever my impulses lead me, because I’ve noticed that when I follow my impulses, only good things happen.
Here, I hardly ever go out by myself. This fear of wandering alone is SO unlike me! I don’t know why I’m so afraid here, but today, I had no choice. I needed to go back to the clinic to check up on my leg, and I had to go alone.
I hadn’t even walked to the end of the street in front of the school when a man pulled up in a car to ask me if I knew where David Street is. Of course I had no clue, since as far as I’m aware, none of the streets here are marked with names. He asked me where I was headed and offered me a ride. I hesitated for a few moments. This man was a complete stranger. Should I really get in the car with him? Oh, but he seemed nice, and for some strange, unknown reason, I trusted him. I followed my impulse and opened the car door.
“As long as you don’t kidnap me,” I said, as I buckled up.
It turns out the man is a neighbor. He lives in the same house as Williams, the bus driver, and Monica, a friend of Hannah’s. He was very nice, and we had a really good chat as he drove me to Legon. He’s from Nigeria originally, but he moved to Ghana four years ago to escape a failed relationship after his ex-girlfriend cheated on him. Apparently, he hasn’t gotten over his heartbreak, and he hasn’t been able to trust women since.
“You sound like me!” I said. “I used to hate all men!”
“You hate men, and I’m scared of women. We should get married!” he joked.
I was really bummed when I learned that he planned to move back to Nigeria in a couple weeks time. I think that since we’re neighbors and we got along so well for the fifteen or twenty minutes we drove together, we could have become good friends. He dropped me off at the clinic, and continued onward to a wedding for which he was already two hours late.
As I waited at the clinic to be seen by the doctor, I realized how much I miss being a little bit reckless like that. The truth is, I used to accept rides from strangers all the time. I don’t accept rides from every stranger, obviously, but if I have a good feeling about the driver, I trust my intuition, and it has never lead me astray. I thought back to the time I hitch-hiked halfway across the country, and you know, I’ve been way too cautious lately. I think the reason why I’ve felt frustrated is that I’m scared of a world outside I should go explore.
The doctor said that I don’t have an infection, which is good. He also said it won’t leave a scar. I don’t believe that for one minute. I think what he meant is that it won’t be a raised scar, but I’m sure there will be some kind of mark.
That night, I took two trotros by myself to get to Antis junction, and walked from there to my house. Now that I know how to get back by myself, I feel much more confident about setting out alone. Now, with my newly-regained sense of recklessness, all of Ghana is open to me!
When I was first attacked by the dogs, I asked myself, “Why?” Why did this happen to me?
My first thought was that God was angry at me and punishing me for something. That seemed like a logical explanation, except that I’ve been really good lately, extra good (how much trouble can I get into living in a convent?). I haven’t done anything bad, so why would God punish me for nothing? No, that can’t be it, unless he’s punishing me for something I haven’t done yet? Maybe I’m about to do something wicked and he just wanted to get the punishment out of the way? That’s possible.
My second thought was that it must be karma. I was probably really mean to those dogs in another life. Maybe I stole eggs from them or made fun of their haircut or maybe I even bit them first. In this life, I’m the tall, white teacher who sits at the table and eats good food, and they are the dogs who eat fish heads and leftovers and live with chains around their necks. They finally got their revenge by biting me and leaving five scars, and I am just getting what I deserve for being mean to them in a former life. The thing is, I can’t imagine myself ever biting anyone, in any life. I don’t know. I guess all I can do is be really nice to them, and to everyone else I meet, so that I’ll have better karma in my next life.
I also considered that maybe it’s just my luck. I’ve had such good luck in my life, and so many good things happen to me. Maybe this was just my bad luck catching up to me. Being attacked by dogs is BAD LUCK. I hope that this incident used up a lot of my bad luck, so that I’ll have only good luck for a while. I prefer good luck to bad luck any day.
It also crossed my mind that maybe it was fate. Maybe it’s my destiny. Maybe there’s a reason why I was attacked by dogs. I can’t imagine what the reason is in the big scheme of things, other than the fact that with scars on my legs I am completely unlovable and no one will ever want to marry me. Maybe that’s the reason. Maybe I’m destined to become a spinster.
Sister Juliana suggested a different destiny for me. “If no one will marry you, you might as well become a nun,” she said one evening at dinner. “We’ll give you a veil and you can become one of us.”
“I could never be a nun!” I told her. “There are three reasons why I can’t be a nun: poverty, chastity, and obedience.” Those are three vows every nun must make. Sister Juliana just laughed.
When one of my best friends found out about that I was bitten by dogs, she assured me in an email that my true love will still want to marry me. “He’ll probably be the type who thinks African-made scars are sexy!” she wrote. Could that be it? Maybe I’m destined to spend my life with a man who is turned on by African-made scars, and if it weren’t for these dogs, he’d never fall in love with me!
Then again, maybe not. Maybe there is no significance whatsoever, and no reason at all. Maybe the universe is not subject to some greater force or a higher power, maybe there is no God or karma or luck or fate, and everything that happens in life, dog bites included, is just coincidence.
Either way... if any of you know a man who is attracted to women with African-made scars, and if he is tall, dark, and handsome, let me know. He could be my soul mate.
I suddenly have much more sympathy for Elmira Gulch. I think if Toto bit my leg, I’d want him locked away, too.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
This morning, Ellen, the Class 2A teacher, wished me a Happy Thanksgiving, and later she sought me out and handed me a little present: a necklace and matching earrings. I was so touched by her thoughtfulness I almost cried. I gave her a big hug and said, “Merci! Merci!”
When I got back to my room this afternoon, I cried for reals. I’ve been so sad all day. All I can think about are my family and friends in America who are getting ready for their Thanksgiving Day feast. I haven’t spent a Thanksgiving at home in four years, but I’ve always celebrated it, usually with my second family, the Williamses, in Indiana, Pennsylvania.
Last night, Sister Juliana said we’d have turkey and something special, but I knew she wasn’t serious. When I came down for dinner, I saw that we had yams and bitter leaf stew... probably my least favorite Ghanaian food. Sister Juliana felt sorry for me, so she sent Hanna to buy us Guinness to drink.
I think being here is harder for me than I’m letting on. When I have a problem, I have no one to talk to about it. Sometimes I end up crying in my room, all alone, but usually my problems go straight to my notebooks. I try to get up half an hour earlier each morning to write my “morning pages.” I’m much more homesick than I thought I would be. I never felt this way when I lived in Europe, although I do remember feeling like this sometimes when I lived in Ohio. I often wonder if I’d feel like this if I lived in Asia. I really wanted to move to Japan for a year, but I’m not so sure anymore.
Okay, but really... the point of Thanksgiving is to remember all that you are thankful for. I am thankful for SO many things.
I’m thankful for my everyone in my family. I’m thankful for each of my friends. I miss and love them all very much. I’ve been so blessed to have such amazing people in my life!
I’m also thankful for the sun, the moon, stars, clouds, grass, flowers, trees, water, diamonds, music, telephones, big cities, John Mayer, Christmas, books, coffee, language, diversity, ingenuity, chocolate, smiles, laughter, thoughtfulness, the internet, colors, peanut-butter, ice cream, soap, electricity, transportation, education, spirit, life, happiness, muzzles and leashes, clocks, calendars, chapstick, girlfriends, guy friends, best friends, sisters, brothers, students, teachers, amusement parks, crêpe stands, street performers, bridges, beds, toothpaste, purses, dresses, lotion, mosquito nets, windows, airplanes, Indians and pilgrims who get along, milk, musicals, blankets, cars, cats, cologne, Paris, and elephants.
I think I’m the most thankful for love.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
I hung out at Fred’s house on Saturday after the PTA meeting. He told me about something horrible that had happened earlier in the week. Apparently, a warehouse in another region of Ghana had collapsed suddenly, and at first no one knew why. After some investigation, the cause of the collapse was determined; during “lights off,” someone had lit a candle to see in the basement of the warehouse, and somehow the basement caught fire. There were firearms and bombs in the basement, and the explosion they created caused the structure above to collapse, killing some of the people who were in the warehouse and damaging the buildings and homes that surrounded it. It was a mystery how the firearms got into the basement. The man responsible was licensed to sell firecrackers and toy guns, not bombs. How did he manage to smuggle those into the basement?
When I heard this story, I became really sad. I felt so horrible that all those people had died. “It’s such a tragedy!” I murmured.
“It’s a good thing,” Sister Juliana said, and I was shocked. She explained, “That man wasn’t supposed to have those guns. He was planning something bad. He was probably going to cause trouble after the elections. Now since this happened, maybe there won’t be a civil war. If there were a civil war, we’d have to send you back to your place.”
This scared me quite a bit. Ghana is known as being a really peaceful country... it would be horrible if a civil war broke out! I’m supposed to be here for another 8 months or so. I don’t want to go home just yet!
“Don’t worry, Kate,” Fred assured me. “There won’t be a civil war. Everything will be okay.”
I believed him, until this morning at the school’s weekly worship service. Every Wednesday morning, instead of going to assembly, the older students meet in the conference room to sing worship songs and to listen to one of the teachers lecture them on moral issues, usually telling them all the horrible things that will happen to their life if they don’t listen to their elders when they’re young. This morning, however, Monsieur Kofi made them close their eyes and pray for peace. He kept bringing up the fact that with the political tension being as it is, a civil war could break out after the elections. He spent the entire thirty minutes talking about a civil war, telling the children to pray for peace! Pray for peace!
Then I was really scared. I’ve never experienced a civil war, and I never want to. I don’t want to go back to America yet, but if things became unsafe here, I’d have to be sent back. I’m worried about what would happen to my students, to the nuns, and to my other friends here. I want there to be peace on earth!
“Don’t be scared. Nothing bad will happen,” Monsieur Kofi said when he saw how freaked out I was.
“But you just spent all that time making them pray that there won’t be a civil war!” I exclaimed.
“It’s good to pray for peace. It’s all in God’s hands. But Ghana’s a peaceful country. This election won’t change that,” he said.
So now I’m confused. I know that Ghanaian adults like to say things to scare children... maybe they think of me as a child to be fooled. I guess no one will really know what will happen on December 7th until that day arrives. Most people believe it will peaceful. I really hope they’re right.
Either way, it’s good to pray for peace. I like peace.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
Okay, I’m done complaining. It’s 8:53 right now and I’m ridiculously tired and in a bad mood. Sorry! Maybe I’ll feel better in the morning.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Green lawns in their front yards? Grass is hard to come by here in Ghana, the good kind, that is. I can’t tell you how much I love grass... walking it in, sitting in it, lying in it. I miss grass almost as much as I miss ice cream, peanut butter, and running water. Some people cut through the front yards to pass more quickly to the front of the parade, and I hesitated on the edge of the gutter, torn between my longing to walk on the grass and my respect for other people’s property. Respect won, and I stayed on the dirt road with all the other characters.
And would you believe the characters I saw in the parade? Most people were dressed in their Sunday best, which means lots of vibrant African prints for both the men (as dress shirts, shirt/pants combination, or sometimes just a huge piece of fabric draped over one shoulder and wrapped around the body like Lady Liberty) and the women (who wear their African prints in different styles of a matching shirt and skirt combination that looks deceptively like a dress). Then there were the different choirs, who look like they’re about to graduate. Here, some of the choirs wear caps and gowns when they sing, their little tassels swinging about when they get really into the dancing. Other musicians dressed in normal clothes carried their instruments in front of them. They blew their trumpets, beat their drums, shook their tambourines, dinged their bells, and played their trombones while the people around them danced. There was a group of women wearing what looked like fifties nurse uniforms - little off-white skirts and jackets with turquoise trim and cream pillbox hats with turquoise buttons. They all wore black pumps and white socks. There were half a dozen or so men dressed in strange black uniforms, carrying swords and wearing funny admiral hats with a big white feather across the top like old-fashioned soldiers. When they marched, it looked like they were attempting to step in unison, but they failed miserably. They were right behind a group of nuns and priests. What a crowd! Every person present was dancing, clapping, singing, and waving their handkerchiefs in the air as though they had just won two million dollars.
And I was a part of it all! Me, the only obruni for miles around, dancing ridiculously with young and old under the hot African sun.
As we neared the church where we started, I couldn’t take it anymore. I followed Hannah over the gutter and stepped onto the grass. I took off my shoes, and felt the beautiful feeling of grass beneath my feet. The people who passed gave me strange looks, glancing at my dirty shoes in my hand and down at my bare feet that were half white and half brown from parading through dirt roads. I didn’t mind them. Green grass is also on my list of the top ten most wonderful things in the world.
I’ll admit that by the time we finished the procession, I was quite tired and very happy to sit down in a shady place. It was, however, quite an experience, and I’m glad I could be a part of it. I love trying new things, green grass, brass bands and dancing to them. This is why, when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance!
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Friday, November 21, 2008
I sat on the cream-colored sofa in between Auntie Rita and Sister Dorothy. As I looked around at all the other people in the room, I remembered the last staff meeting I went to two days after I arrived in October, when I was introduced for the first time. I was the awkward new girl in a room full of strangers. Now, I know everyone by name and many of the teachers have become my friends. I felt much more comfortable this afternoon than I did the very first staff meeting I went to.
As I sat on the sofa waiting for the meeting to start, something amazing happened. It started with the curtains. The curtain behind me brushed against my hair, then was lifted high above my head. The wind blew through the open windows so strongly that I had a hovering veil of white behind me. Then I heard a loud, loud noise from outside... it was raining! But it wasn’t just any rain... it was an African storm. The rain here is so strong and so loud. We closed the windows, but it didn’t do anything to muffle the sound; the rain pounded hard against the glass, and I thought about the “rain stick” my grandma had when I was little. Thunder came next. When I was little, my grandma told me that thunder was just God moving his furniture around. That’s what this thunder sounded like... giant bookshelves falling over right above us. Then we had “lights off” - a black out, which happens daily here so it wasn’t a big deal. With the lights out and the clouds covering the sun, it grew dark in the room, until little flashes of white appeared on the ceiling that looked like a camera flash, but no one was taking pictures. A few seconds later, another one of God’s bookshelves fell over, and I realized that the camera flashes were actually lightning!
I sat inside the headmistress’s office, surrounded by teachers discussing salary raises and the upcoming PTA meeting, but all my attention was directed outside. I listened to the wondrous sounds of the rain and the thunder and felt the breeze coming through the one open window. I was completely in awe of the power of the storm. Like all the storms I’ve seen here, this one was very intense, hurling rain at the windows for about fifteen or twenty minutes, and then it stopped as suddenly as it started. The sun came out, and all was quiet except for the sounds of children playing and the teachers’ voices. The storm was the best part of the meeting, and when it ended, I found that the rest of the meeting bored me somewhat. I thought about the daily staff meetings I had for my job at a language camp this summer, and it made me miss each and every EF pal so much, but... we never had rain like this in Long Beach!
“Boom! Boom! Boom!
Mr. Brown is a wonder!
Boom! Boom! Boom!
Mr. Brown makes thunder!
He makes lightning!
Splatt! Splatt! Splatt!
And it’s very, very hard
to make a noise like that!”
- Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?
by Dr. Seuss