Friday, October 31, 2008


“So, tell me what you think of Ghana. How do you find the people here?” Mr. Doh, the science teacher asked me this morning.

“Everything is so different here!” I said. “The people here are so friendly and welcoming.”

“What’s the biggest difference between the people?”

I hesitated for a moment before responding, “The biggest difference is the corporal punishment. We never use corporal punishment in American schools.”

I’m having the hardest time adjusting to this. They use corporal punishment here! If a student misbehaves in class, Monsieur Kofi does not hesitate to whack him or her on the head, or on the back. It bothers me to see this, but not as much as the cane.

The first time I ever saw a student being caned, I was quite shocked. I was walking past the library, and at the very moment I passed the door Mr. Barnabas struck a boy on the butt with a stick. I was quite disturbed to see this. Monsieur Kofi and Mr. Tony, who were standing nearby, laughed at me when they saw my reaction.

“Don’t worry,” Mr. Tony said. “See this African skin? It’s different from yours. It’s thicker. They need lashes to behave.”

I was quite appalled, but I kept quiet and said nothing.

Yesterday, something happened that almost made me cry. I was sitting in class 2B while Monsieur Kofi taught them a song in French. I could hear everything that was going on in class 2A, which is right next door, and I did not like what I heard, not one bit.

I heard their teacher yelling at them. I heard the sound of a cane being brought down sharply on a child. I heard a child crying, pleading with the teacher to stop. More lashes. More crying. “Please! Please, Madame! I promise, I’ll do my homework! I’ll do it!” The teacher yelled some more, and there were more lashes, and more screaming from the child. “Keep quiet! I said, keep quiet!” the teacher yelled, but the child couldn’t stop crying. When that child’s punishment was finished, the teacher called another student forward. I heard the same sounds. More yelling. More lashes. More crying and pleading.

I stared out the window into theirs, where I could see a faint silhouette of the teacher whipping a child that was so small his head didn’t reach the window. I was horrified. I could feel my eyes start to water. The children of class 2B turned to stare at me, and even Monsieur Kofi could see I was disturbed. After class, he apologized to me.

“But, they’re so good!” I said. (Class 2A is my favorite!) “And they’re so young! Did you hear them crying?

”I know. I think she’s too hard on them. They’re too small. But... she’s their teacher. I can’t interfere,“ Monsieur said.

Today, I was sitting with Monsieur Kofi in the back of his class, class 6, as he graded papers while class 6 had their math lesson. Mr. Tony had written fraction problems on the chalkboard for the students to copy. Apparently, one of boys had neglected to put a line between the numbers in the fraction. Mr. Tony was angry about this, so he sent the boy out. The boy returned a minute later with the cane.

”I gave you lashes last week for doing the same thing!“ Mr. Tony shouted. ”When will you learn? You must listen to your teacher!“ He whacked the boy across the butt.

My hands flew to my mouth and I gasped. The boy started balling. He backed up against the chalkboard, pleading with Mr. Tony to stop.

”Turn around! I’m not finished!“ he said. ”You never listen to me! You always forget to put the line! When will you learn? Turn around!“

Tears streamed down his face as the boy continued to plead with Mr. Tony to stop. Fortunately, Monsieur Kofi could see how disturbed I was, so he called Tony’s name to stop him. The boy ran back to his seat and sat down as the entire class laughed at him.

I was so distraught that I stood up and walked out of the classroom. I found an empty classroom and hid in the doorway, trying not to cry. I could never hit a child like that! I can’t believe that this is an acceptable form of punishment here! I can’t believe Mr. Tony could hurt a child like that. You see, Tony is such a great guy. He is always so nice and I adore him. How could he do this?

When I had calmed down, I went to the staff room. Apparently, news travels fast in this school. Mr. Barnabas asked me if I was upset about watching Mr. Tony giving lashes. Of course I was!Monsieur Kofi found me with Barnabas and told me he was looking for me, because Tony wanted to apologize to me. A few minutes later, Tony appeared and gave me a hug, saying, ”Sorry! Sorry.“

Mr. Tony, Mr. Barnabas, Mr. Moses, and Monsieur Kofi sat down and explained to me why they use corporal punishment. They seem to think that hitting a child is the only way to discipline.

”It’s in the Bible: Spare the rod and spoil the child,“ Barnabas said.

I refuse to hit a child. Not only does it go against my conscience, but also, I honestly believe I’m incapable of it. I’m not a violent person! I can’t even step on a cricket, let alone whip a child, however naughty he or she may be.

I explained some of the ways schoolchildren are punished in America... sticker charts, time out, detention, notes sent home to parents, etc. Mr. Moses was the only person in the room who thought my ideas might work. The others shrugged, saying, ”African children are different. I don’t think it will work.“

I hope my ideas do work. I wonder if there is a way to eradicate corporal punishment from our school. I want to make a change!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bored steps

“You have bored steps,” Sister Juliana remarked this afternoon as I passed her on my way back to the house.

“I have... what?”

“Bored steps. You know...” and Sister Juliana mimicked the way I was walking, my very upbeat walk with a bounce in my step. That’s when I realized “bored” was sarcastic.

“She means you’re enjoying life,” Sister Dorothy explained.

“But I am enjoying life!” I said.

“We can tell you’re enjoying life just by the way you walk,” said the man who had been talking to them.

I smiled, and listed some of the things I enjoy about life... the sky, the clouds, the sun, the moon, the stars. The sky is somehow different here. It looks bigger. It’s beautiful, I explained, and as I walked away, I didn’t walk... I danced.

Yes, I am enjoying life. I’m feeling much more confident about teaching. The classes that I’ve taught this week have gone very well. I no longer sit in the back and watch Monsieur Kofi teach... now, he sits in the back and watches me.

Oh, but yesterday, when he asked me to teach Class 1 (first grade) by myself until he finished eating lunch, I was so nervous. The last time I taught class 1 without him, when he had to step out for a few minutes, the kids got up and started running around the classroom.

So it was with much apprehension that I walked into Miss Lizzy’s class, where the kids all sat quietly. They stood up when they saw me. “Bonsoir, Mademoiselle Kate,” they chanted. I smiled and greeted them back. Then I began the lesson that Monsieur told me to teach... reviewing the letters of the alphabet. I wrote letters on the board, and called on children to recite the letter à la française. They remembered the French pronunciations so well that by the time Monsieur Kofi had finished lunch, I had them spelling the days of the week. I was doing so well that Monsieur just sat in the back and talked to Miss Lizzy while I taught the kids. I was able to keep the class in order. They stayed in their seats and for the most part were quiet. I was thrilled!

Maybe one of the reasons today was such a good day was that today I taught my favorite class: Class 2A. Class 2A is SO good! They’re so well-behaved and attentive. I couldn’t believe it! Last week, I almost cried when I taught the other second grade class, class 2B. The children of class 2B were so naughty! They refused to stay quiet and listen. I spent most of the class yelling at them to be quiet. I can’t imagine yelling at class 2A. They are angels! Angels, I tell you! We finished the lesson quickly, so I spent the last ten minutes of class telling them all about Halloween. They don’t celebrate Halloween here in Ghana, so they were quite fascinated by the idea. I was happy that I was able to share with them a bit of American culture. They were eager to learn about it.

Life is grand. I’m picking up a little Twi every day. Twi is the native language spoken by most of Ghana. My friends here are determined that I learn to speak it before I leave. They teach me a little bit every day, but they always seem so surprised to hear me speak it! I hope that I learn to speak it better before I leave. I’d love to just bust out speaking Twi one day to a stranger. I don’t know if a Ghanian would believe me. I can’t wait! Today, I learned how to say “let’s eat,” “let’s go,” and “see you tomorrow.” I so enjoy speaking Twi! It’s such fun!

Speaking Twi, however, isn’t as fun as drinking chocolate milk. I love chocolate milk, and I used to drink it almost every day. A few days ago, I tried some type of orange-flavored milk. It reminded me of medicine. I didn’t like it very much. I asked Sister Anne and Sister Bibi if they had ever tried chocolate milk. Neither of them had heard of it, so I explained it to them as best I could. Talking about it made me really want it, but I thought it would be impossible to find. I imagined 9 more months without chocolate milk. The thought made me sad.

Every day, Monsieur Kofi brings a drink for me. He usually brings a juice box, which I appreciate and enjoy. However, the day after I had talked to the nuns about how much I love chocolate milk, he brought me... chocolate milk! I know my face lit up when I saw it, a little box with a picture of a glass of chocolate milk and a happy-looking African family on the front. Today, Monsieur Kofi brought me chocolate milk again. It makes me so happy! He’s so nice to me.

So... beautiful African skies + Class 2A + learning Twi + chocolate milk = a girl with “bored” steps. :)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

So much to see

I’ve been here for three weeks, and I haven’t taken a single picture! I still have plenty of time here to take pictures... just under nine months. In nine months from today, I’ll be back in California!

I never thought I’d say this, but... I miss America. I miss living in a house with running water. I miss being able to sleep soundly without worrying about being bit by a mosquito and getting really sick with malaria. I miss being clean all the time. I miss paved roads and paved sidewalks. I miss streets that have names. I miss being able to drive wherever I need to go. I miss having endless choices of what to eat or drink. I miss being able to enjoy the sun without worrying about becoming sunburnt. Most of all... I miss having a cell phone and being able to communicate easily with my family and friends. I miss going out with my friends and hanging out with my family. I miss going out for coffee, or to the movies, or to a restaurant, or out for drinks.

So, yes, there are a few things I miss about America, but I’m still happy to be here in Africa to experience something new. Last week, I had sort of an emotional breakdown and just wanted to go home. Then I became really sick with a cold and realized that I’m not ready to go home just yet. There’s still so much to see and to experience! I’m glad I have nine more months here, even if they’re nine months without running water or paved sidewalks.

Ghana is still a developing country. There is a lot of poverty in this country. My school is in a middle class, suburban neighborhood, so I don’t see much of it, but I’ve heard about other places on the news or from people who have been there. The country’s leaders are working to develop it here, encouraging economic growth and trying to improve the living conditions. For example, new, bigger roads are being constructed, and presidential nominees are promising free secondary education. Ghana is still recently independent, having celebrated fifty years of independence from British imperialism last year. Ghana fortunately is a very safe, peaceful country. Everyone here is hoping that the upcoming elections will go smoothly so that their country remains a peaceful place.

There is so much to see here! People tell me of different regions and places to see. I don’t remember all the names, but I just really hope that I’ll be able to see everything!

Monday, October 27, 2008


So I was sick this weekend. I’m feeling better today but I’m not all the way recovered yet.

Yesterday made me happy, despite my sickness. Sister Dorothy made oatmeal for breakfast. Oatmeal is my comfort food! I always eat it when I’m feeling sad or lonely or sick, and it always raises my spirits. For lunch, I ate this food that reminded me of a panini sandwich. I was happy to eat something something that’s not rice, yams, plantains, potatoes, etc. It was a welcome change. THEN, for dinner, we had fried plantains and fried potatoes with some sort of tomato sauce. I love friend plantains, but it was the fried potatoes that made me laugh with joy. French fries! I rarely eat french fries in America, but for some reason, I was so happy to eat them last night. They were just comforting. The food here is so different. It’s good, but different. I never thought I’d miss American food, but apparently, I do!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Je suis tombée malade

Yesterday, I had a bit of an emotional breakdown. Today, I not upset. I’m happy to be here. I just feel really sick.

I woke up with a sore throat and a headache, and I’ve felt sick all day. I keep sneezing and I’m so tired. I was at the school all day, but feeling so blah. Now, I just want to go to sleep. I’m so glad it’s the weekend! Also, I’m so glad I don’t have homework! I remember being sick in college, and not having time to rest because I had a paper due or an exam to study for. Hopefully, with all the rest I’ll have this weekend, I’ll feel better by Monday.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I had an okay day

Today I taught my first class entirely by myself.

It was a disaster.

Monsieur Kofi had to step out, so he left me entirely in charge of the class. I was teaching class 2B (second grade). The kids were attentive at first, listening to me dictate les mois de l’année (the months of the year) and repeating each month after me, but somewhere along the line, I lost control. When it came time for them to say the months of the year one by one, they wouldn’t keep quiet while their classmates spoke. I told them again and again to keep quiet and sit still, but as soon as I turned my back to listen to whoever was reading, the noise volume went up again. They kept getting out of their seats, some fought over books or pencils, oh, and there was so much teasing going between them. They simply would not listen to me! Every time I managed to get them to sit quietly in their seats, the quiet lasted about ten seconds before they became noisier than before. I spent half the class telling them to be quiet, sit down, stop fighting, pay attention, etc, very nicely at first, but by the end of the class I was yelling at them. I felt horrible for yelling, but that was the quickest way to regain their attention after I had lost it. I came so close to breaking down and crying right there in the middle of class. I was able to keep my composure until the bell rang and their class teacher came in to get them ready for the other class. I was sure that the kids hated me for yelling at them, but much to my surprise, as they lined up to go to their computer class, they all smiled at me, shouting “Auntie Kate!” and touching my hands. I forced a smile and said, “Au revoir.” Monsieur Kofi came back from his errand just as I was picking up their text books in the now silent classroom. I handed him the stack and told him I was going home for lunch.

I didn’t break down until I was walking upstairs to my bedroom. I came in and threw myself on my bed, sobbing hysterically. A thousand questions went through my mind... what the hell am I doing here? What was I thinking? I can’t do this!

I don’t think I would have been so upset if I hadn’t already spent some time crying this morning before breakfast. I don’t belong here. I’m not a nun. I’m not a student. I’m not African. People here are nice to me, but after school, they go home, and I’m stuck at the convent with some nuns who are nice, but nuns nonetheless. All they do in the evenings is pray and watch TV. I want to go out, but I don’t have any friends with whom to go. Worst of all... I’m a horrible teacher!

I couldn’t understand it. Yesterday, I taught the other second grade class, class 2A, and they were so good! They were so attentive and so eager to please! What did I do wrong with this class?

“Ellen’s class, class 2A is very calm,” Monsieur Kofi explained when I told him what happened, “but the class with the old teacher, Theresah, class 2B, is not. They always talk all the time. They’re very difficult. They wouldn’t listen to you? That’s discouraging.”

Oui, Monsieur. It is.

I spent over half of my lunch break crying in my room before putting on my happy face for the rest of the day at school. I survived teaching class 4 and class 1 (with Monsieur Kofi’s help). Ugh, but do you know what I despise? Formalities. For instance... when someone asks “How are you?” you’re supposed to say “I’m fine,” even if you’re not.

“Miss Kate! How was your day?”

“It was fine. (No, it wasn’t fine. It was quite horrible, thanks for asking.) How was yours?”

When I have a good day, and someone asks me about it, I never say it was good. I usually have great days, or wonderful days, or fantastic days, or beautiful days. When I want to say “bad,” I substitute the word for something more positive... “okay,” or “fine.”

Today, I had an okay day. (In Kate-speak, I had a really bad day).

When I returned to my room after school ended, I cried some more. As I lay on my bed with tears streaming down my face, I wanted to give up. I wanted to go home. But I can’t. I can’t just quit in the middle of this. I said I’d come teach for a year, and I’m going to do my very best to follow through. It’s much too early to give up. I am too strong-willed to let a group of second graders bring me down.

But those fourth graders... they might be able to do it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A miracle

Wonder of wonders. Miracle of miracles. We have running water!

By “running water,” I mean that a trickle of water drips out of my shower. So instead of carrying the buckets downstairs, fetching the water, and hauling them back upstairs, I can conveniently fill them in my bathroom. Since Hanna normally fills them for me, I can’t fully appreciate the convenience. I’m glad that she has a little less work to do this week, however.

I do fully appreciate not having to fill the tank with water by hand every time I want to flush the toilet. It makes going to the bathroom much quicker. Unfortunately, this too shall pass.

Apparently, the reason why we normally don’t have running water is that, by the time the water gets to our house, usually the neighbors before us have used it all. For some reason, there’s enough water this week that it made it all the way to our house. It probably won’t last more than a few days. Usually, someone has to fetch water from a big tank outside and bring the water, bucket by bucket, into the house.

It’s weird living in a house without running water. Simple tasks, such as doing the dishes, throw me off. How do you do the dishes without running water? Allow me to explain. There are two buckets in the kitchen sink. Whoever washes the dishes fills the first with cold water, and the second with hot water (from the stove). Here’s what you do:

1. Place the dirty dish in the bucket of cold water. Take a rag and a bar of soap, and scrub the dish clean in the soapy water. If there is still food or grossness sticking to the dish, wipe it off into a pot before placing it in the soapy water.

2. Then, you place the soapy dish into the bucket with hot water. Rinse the dish with the hot water, then place it in the dish rack. (This is the hardest part for me, because I’ve always had a hard time putting my hand in hot water.)

Voilá! A clean dish!

They also make fun of me when I try to wash my clothes. Doing laundry is so easy at home! All you do is throw your clothes into a washing machine, take them out, and put them in a dryer. Even washing clothes by hand is somehow easier at home. You just hand-wash in a sink or bathtub, where there is easy access to water. It’s easy to drain the water when it’s dirty. So easy.

Here, the process is complicated, involving three buckets of water, a bar of soap, and a clothesline. Hanna helps me. I think she disapproves of the way I do it. I’ll explain it someday, but just thinking about makes me tired. I’ll explain someday when I have more energy.

I must say that I may not be alive right now if Hanna weren’t here. She taught me how to wash dishes. She taught me how to wash my clothes. She’s taught me quite a bit about life in Ghana just by her example. The first time I went out (to the Madina Market), she showed me what to do. The first time I went to church here, I was lost, but she guided me through it, giving me silent hints whenever I was confused.

I’ve decided to teach her everything I know. When she was helping me with my laundry, she was wearing this black skirt with a leprechaun pattern. I asked her if she knew what a leprechaun was, and she said she didn’t. They’re from Ireland... did she know where that was? No. It’s near England. She told me she’s heard of England, but she didn’t know where it was.

I offered to let her see my pictures some day, and she was quite excited by this idea. I told her that as soon as I get internet access on my computer, I will download a map of the world and show her where all these places were.

If I were to become a millionaire within the next few years, one of the first things I’d want to do would be to send Hanna to college. She wants to be a nurse when she grows up. I really hope she makes it!

Monday, October 20, 2008

What if?

Today I did something I haven’t done in a while. Today, I cried.

It started out as a good day. I taught my first class: Class 3 (third grade). They’re probably my favorite age, because they’re the best behaved of all. I handled it well, but afterwards, I was filled with dread. What if I’m not a good teacher?

“You are a good teacher,” Monsieur Kofi assured me. “You’re only going to get better at teaching with practice. I started out just like you. By the time you leave here in July, teaching will be so easy for you. Don’t worry. You did great.”

I felt better after he said that, but something was still bothering me. I wasn’t sure what it was until I sat in the staff room after lunch break, surrounded by four or five of the other teachers who were carrying on a conversation in Twi. I sat in the midst of them, staring out the window at a group of boys running around the playground, completely unable to understand their conversation.

That’s when it hit me... I’m all alone. I live with the nuns, who are so welcoming and very kind to me, but I’m not one of them. I’m there for the students, who adore me, but I’m not one of them. I work with the other teachers, who are friendly and helpful, but even still, I’m not one of them yet. I’m the guest, the foreigner, the stranger.

Then I made the grave mistake of asking myself “What if...?” What would my life be like if I had taken another path? I started to imagine myself in other situations. What if I had gotten the job I applied for in Japan? What would my life in Japan be like? Would I have friends there? Would I be as lonely as I am now? But I didn’t just stop with Japan. I wondered if I’d be this lonely had I ran away to Europe, instead, or New Zealand, or South America. What if I had gone straight to grad school?

There was, however, one “what if” that comforted me somewhat... what if I had found a job and stayed in California? I knew the answer to that: If I were still in California right now, I’d be very frustrated and want to be somewhere else. I’d want to be here, doing what I’m doing.

But I never expected to be so lonely here.

I didn’t cry until I was safely inside my room. When I had finished crying, I indulged in the one comfort I brought from America: John Mayer. Listening to his music has a way of making me feel better.

The only way to cure my loneliness is to make new friends and find a community of my own. Before I can do this, two things must happen: I need to get a new cell phone, and I need to learn how to use the public transportation system by myself. Until then, I’m basically stuck at the convent, destined to be lonely.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sister Anne

Sister Anne. I honestly thought she despised me the first week I was here. I hardly ever saw her around, but when I did, she always seemed annoyed to see me, like I was in her way. She never smiled at me. For a week, we lived in the same house without ever having a real conversation... I always felt like I was being interrogated. For example:

One day, I saw her as I walked back from the school. “Hi, Sister Anne!” I said, deliberately smiling, because in my experience, a smile is the best way to show good will.
“Hi. Where did you come from?” she asked, not returning my smile.
“I was at the school,” I replied.
“What were you doing there?”
“I went to the office to use the internet.”
“Who gave you the key?” she questioned.
“Sister Juliana,” I said, pointing at the house.
“Did the internet work for you?”
“Yes. It’s slow, but it worked,” I explained.
“It was good?”
“Okay. Bye,” and she walked away.

Even when she was trying to be nice, her conversations with me, however brief, still consisted of her questioning me.

“Good morning, Sister Anne,” I said one day at breakfast.
“Did you eat?” she asked, ignoring my greeting.
“What did you have?”
“Some bread and some tea.”
“It was good?”
“Yes, very good.”
“Are you going to the school now?”
“Yes, in just a minute.”
“Okay,” she said, and just walked away.

I sincerely believed she disliked me, and I wasn’t sure why. I hoped that if I continued being nice to her, she’d eventually come around and smile at me once in a while, or talk to me without questioning me. I knew there was the possibility that she’d always dislike me, but I didn’t want that to happen.

One morning, I was with Monsieur Kofi before classes began, and he wanted to buy some books. We went to a classroom that was being used as a little bookstore where students or their parents could purchase the textbooks needed for their classes. Sister Anne, as the person in charge of finances, was in there collecting money from some of the students. She seemed angry, almost. She yelled at the kids, and even had a look of irritation when one of the parents tried to buy some textbooks for his first grader.

After that morning, I was a little bit relieved. Maybe it wasn’t just me. Maybe she acts this way toward everyone. I thought she must be an unhappy person, for whatever reason. Is she harboring resentment toward someone? Does she have a secret that makes her angry and irritable? Maybe she hates being a nun?

One day, I learned something about her that explained the way she was behaving and the reason why I hardly ever saw her. She works at the school from 7AM until about 4PM. She spends the day cooped up in a little office taking money from parents and students or dealing with financial issues. After she closes the office, she takes night classes at a local university. I had no clue! This explains why I never see her at dinner, or at all after school. She doesn’t get back to the house until 9 or 9:30PM, and with homework and everything, doesn’t get to sleep until sometimes 11 or midnight. Then, she has to wake up at 4AM to get ready for the day and to say her prayers (she is still a nun, after all). When I found that out, I suddenly understood why she always seemed to be in a bad mood. I think I’d be, too, if I had her schedule.

Also, I learned that she’s originally from Kenya. I’ve never been to Kenya, so I don’t know what people there are like, but it could be that their culture isn’t quite as welcoming as Ghanian culture.

I wonder if that has anything to do with why it took her so long to warm up to me... yes, I am pleased to say that she has. She suddenly started to be much nicer to me. I don’t know why, but I’m happy she did. Now, she laughs, smiles, and jokes around with me. One of her classes is Business French, and I have become her French tutor. Today was our first session!

I love making new friends!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

2 weeks ago...

I ate breakfast this morning around 8:30, and as I glanced up at the wall clock above the freezer, I suddenly remembered what I had been doing exactly two weeks earlier. 8:30 AM in Accra is 1:30 AM in Los Angeles. Exactly two weeks earlier, I was at my parents’ house, sipping a glass of champagne, surrounded by my friends who loved me enough to come to my going away party. It was such a wonderful night!

This morning, two weeks after my party, I was sitting at a table with two African nuns, sipping hot chocolate and feeling very nostalgic and lonely. Sister Dorothy and Sister Bibi chatted about pear trees and hospitals, and I sat at my seat in between them. I picked at my bread and let my mind wander to people and places far away from here. (It’s very easy to tune people out in this country. Everyone here has such an accent, and if I’m not concentrating on what they’re saying, I don’t even notice the conversation.)

I’ve only been here for less than two weeks, and I already miss my family and friends quite a bit.

Write me a letter, letting me know you haven’t forgotten me, and send it to:

Miss Kate Deaton
P.O. Box AH 92
Achimota, Accra
Ghana, West Africa

...please. Oh, and please put something pretty inside, like a postcard or a photo or a picture from a magazine, something I can put up on my wall to make my room look nice. I think I’d be happier if my room were prettier, and I think receiving mail would make me feel like I still belong somewhere, like I’m not thousands of miles away from everyone.

Friday, October 17, 2008

My First African proposal

People in this country seem to be somewhat preoccupied with marriage and relationships.

Conversations sometimes go like this:

“Did you leave your boyfriend in America?”
“Where is he, then?”
“I don’t have a boyfriend.”
“What! Why not?”

Or like this:

“I bet your fiancé misses you.”
“Fiancé? I don’t have a fiancé!”
“You don’t? Why?”

What the hell?!

I don’t have a boyfriend because, well, I just don’t! It’s so weird being asked why I don’t have a boyfriend or fiancé. Um... no guy likes me enough to ask me to be his girlfriend? I’m not crazy about anyone? Everyone in America hates me? Does that work?

Actually, the real reason I don’t have a boyfriend is that I don’t really want one right now. I like being single. It would have been much harder to leave home and come here if I had left someone behind. Besides, I’ve never been in love.

I think the funniest conversation was with Sister Dorothy, after I told her that I have five brothers and sisters and that I’m the oldest.

“You’re the oldest? Why aren’t you married?” she asked.
“Because I’m too young,” I explained.
“When do you want to get married? In two or three years?”
“No, that’s much too soon! In five or six years, at least,” I said.
“You shouldn’t wait that long. You should get married before that,” she advised.
“Well, I want to wait until I fall in love...”

In another conversation, I was talking about all the places I want to visit when Sister Dorothy asked me out of the blue, “Kate, when are you going to get married?”
I was a bit taken aback. “Not now. I’m too young!”
“You know that you won’t be able to travel once you’re married,” she said.
“No, they have a choice,” Sister Juliana explained. “She can just marry someone who likes to travel.”
“But when she has kids, she won’t be able to travel,” Sister Dorothy said. “When are you going to have kids?”
“Kids? My word! Not for a while! Maybe when I’m in my thirties,” I said.
“That’s too old. It’s better to have kids when you’re young,” Sister Dorothy said.
“I’m not even married yet!”
“When are you getting married?” she repeated.
I thought it was a bit hypocritical of her to pressure me to get married. She never married. She’s a nun! I calmly explained to her, “First I need to meet the right guy. You can’t rush these things, you know.”

Although, this afternoon, someone did ask me to marry him.

I was sitting in the staff room talking to Mr. Barnabas when a man came in to talk to him about a sports tournament in which our school is invited to participate. After a few minutes, Mr. Barnabas stepped out of the room to get something, so I started talking to the man. His name was Sammy. We chatted for a little while about whatever, just small talk. Then Sammy began the usual conversation with me...

“Are you married?” he asked.
“Why not?
“I’m too young!”
“How old are you?” he asked.
“Guess,” I said.
“Um... I think you’re 27 or 28.”
“No. I’m only 22.”
“You’re younger than me! I’m 24.”
“Okay. I’ll be 24 in 2 years,” I said just to make conversation.
”Do you have a boyfriend?” he asked.
“Why not?”
“I’m not in love,” I said, then, deciding to turn it around on him, I asked, “Are you married, Sammy?”
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
“Why not?” I said, smiling mischievously.
“Because nobody loves me,” he said a bit pathetically.
“Oh. I’m sorry,” I said awkwardly.
“Do you have any sisters?” he asked, and I told him about my three sisters in America.
“Oh, they’re too young. I can’t marry any of them.”
“Yeah, sorry,” I said, unsure of what to say.
“I can’t marry you,” he said.
“Um, okay,” I said, not particularly heartbroken.
“I can’t marry you,” he repeated.
“Um, cool?” I said, becoming confused.
“I can’t marry you?” he said, and then I realized he had been saying it as a question, not as a statement. I just gave him a blank stare. He shook his head. “You don’t understand. I’m asking if I can marry you.”
“Do you want to marry me?”
“You just met me!” I said. “You’ve only known me for, what, fifteen minutes?”
“It’s okay,” he said. “We could get to know each other. We could wait two years to get married.”
“I’m not even going to be here in two years. I don’t know where I’ll be. I could be in Japan.”
“If you were in Japan,” he said, “I’d be in Thailand.”
“But I might not be in Japan. I could be in Argentina,” I said.
“If you were in Argentina, I’d be in Brazil.”
“I could be in Spain.”
“If you were in Spain, I’d be in Germany,” he persisted. “Come on. It would work.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. He asked me for my address, but I told him, truthfully, that I didn’t know it. He asked me for my phone number, but I don’t have a phone. I found the situation hysterical. It reminded me of all the other times I’d been proposed to. I started telling him about my first proposal, which took place at the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

“Ah, so you’re going to marry the French man,” he said, dejected.
“No,” I said.
I started to tell him about my second proposal, by an Italian boy who tried to use an onion ring to seal the deal, but again he interrupted, “Ah, so you’re going to marry the Italian guy.”
“No, definitely not.”
“Why not? Then why can’t you marry me?”

I was spared telling him about my third proposal when Monsieur Kofi walked in the room to get me. Class 5 had French class. After the class, I told Monsieur Kofi about my latest marriage proposal.

“The next time that happens,” he said seriously, “tell him that’s not the reason why you came here.” Obviously.

The funny thing is that before I came here, my friends all teased me that I’d end up marrying an African man named Simba.

“My parents would be happy about that,” I joked. “They’d get the bride price... goats and chicken and other livestock. Maybe I’d even be worth a cow or two!”

Well, I’ve just turned down my first proposal by an African man. However, I don’t think we’d have been a good match. I wouldn’t make a very good Ghanian wife. Apparently, what Ghanian men look for in a woman is someone who can cook.

I can’t cook. Sorry, Ghana.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


I spent another day following Monsieur Kofi around to each of his classes. He has sort of become my mentor. I’m like his little apprentice, watching him teach so to learn how to be a good teacher. We spend about eight hours a day together. I sit with him in the back of his classroom even when he’s not teaching. We speak together only in French, which is great practice for the both of us.

“None of my friends here speak French,” he told me one afternoon as we waited in the library for his next class. I had forgotten the French word for doll (la poupée), and when I asked him, he confessed that he had forgotten it too. He is originally from Togo, Ghana’s francophone, neighboring country, but his English is perfect (by African standards) after living in an English-speaking country for so many years. “I don’t have anyone in Ghana to practice with,” he explained, “so I’m very happy that you are here. I’m lucky to have you.”

I think we’re both lucky. Many of the French words and expressions I have forgotten after several months without consistent practice are returning to me. Having a language partner is mutually beneficial.

My French-speaking abilities aren’t the only thing that sets me apart. “You are my first white friend,” he told me. Of course, he didn’t use the word white. We were speaking in French, so he said blanche, his première amie blanche.

“C’est vrai?” I said, quite surprised.

“Yes. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to have a white friend. I don’t have the money to travel to America or Europe. When you first arrived last week, I was so happy to see you!” he said, squeezing my hand affectionately.

“But, really, we’re the same. The only difference is the color of our skin. On the inside, we’re both the same,” I reminded him.

“Yes. This is true,” he replied with a smile.

That’s what’s strange about being here. Normally, the color of my skin doesn’t matter at all. I never really think about it, unless I’m sunburnt or ghastly pale in the dead of winter. Everyone here, however, seems quite aware of it. I catch people staring at me all the time. Some of the kids at my school act as though they’ve never seen a white person before.

But I don’t think of myself as a white person! I just think of myself as a person. I’m a woman. I’m an American. I’m 22. I’m single. I’m a friend. I’m a daughter. I’m a sister. I’m an English major. I’m a student. I’m a teacher. I’m a writer. I’m an idealist. I’m an optimist. But I’m not white. Am I? What does that even mean?

I’ve never really been aware of skin color. Maybe this is because of the way I was raised, in ethnically diverse Southern California with friends and neighbors of all races and skin colors. I don’t notice the difference between myself and everyone here. Maybe it’s because I can’t really see myself, unless I hold out my arms or look down at my legs, but I think the reason is probably that I prefer what’s inside a person to what’s outside.

Most of the students here are quite fascinated by me. At first, I thought it was because I was a new teacher, but after sitting in another of Monsieur Kofi’s classes this morning, I think it’s more than that.

“Monsieur!” said a little first grader sitting in front of me, pointing at the giggling girl sitting next to him. “She said she wants to go to America and be fair!”

Monsieur Kofi couldn’t contain his laughter. “Do you know what she just said?” he asked me. “She said she wants to have fair skin like yours. She likes your color.”

I was a bit surprised. I really think that’s the first time anyone has expressed a wish to have skin the color of mine. In the US, my skin tone is generally considered to be too white. Growing up, I felt a lot of pressure to have darker complexion, because a healthy tan is what is considered beautiful in America, not pale skin like mine. I have since come to embrace my “porcelain doll” skin, deciding that although it doesn’t look like models’ skin in the magazines, it is lovely in its own way. I am quite comfortable in my body. I’ve stopped focusing on how I look on the outside so that I can work on improving my inner self.

Improving the self-esteem of others is something very important to me as a friend, as a sister, and now, as a teacher. I want every girl to love herself. I want every girl to recognize her own beauty. I want every girl to feel comfortable in her own skin, starting with this little girl.

“But her skin is so beautiful!” I said to Monsieur Kofi, loudly enough for the little girl to hear. “I really like her color. She is so beautiful.”

The little girl just giggled.

I hope that, eventually, the students will stop being so preoccupied with how I look on the outside and start to appreciate me for what’s on the inside.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

One week

Time is such a funny thing. I just realized that I’ve only been gone for a week, but I feel like I was just in California. However, I feel like I’ve been here in Ghana for so much longer than a week! I’m adjusting quite well to life in Africa. My body seems to be able to handle the different climate and food, and emotionally, I am doing great. I miss my family and friends, but I’ve been made to feel so welcomed here that I’m not sad. I’m starting to get into the rhythm of life here. It is very, very different here, but I’m enjoying the differences so much!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Role reversal

I spent the entire day, from 7:30 in the morning to 4:30 in the afternoon, at school...

As a teacher!

Almost. I followed the French teacher, Monsieur Kofi, to every class. I sat in the back and watched him teach his classes. After a week or two of shadowing him, I’m going to take over some of his classes.

I can’t wait!

I just hope I’ll make a good teacher. It’s really a strange feeling, not being a student anymore. It’s a role reversal that I’m not quite used to yet. I hope I can handle it!

I’m much happier, being busier. This job is going to be a lot of work, but I think these kids are worth it.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

African Churches

Ghana seems to be a very religious country. There are three main religions here: Traditional African religions, Islam, and Christianity. There are many mosques and churches all around, and I’ve noticed that many stores have names such as God Saves Salon, or Jesus is Able Electronics, or What a Blessing Real Estate, or Good News Mechanics. One of the government-required subjects in every school is Religious and Moral Education, in which the children learn about the beliefs of the three religions as well as a standard moral code.

I like European churches. They are all quite beautiful inside and out. I don’t like American churches very much. Before coming here, I wondered how African churches would make me feel. I was invited to go to church this morning, so I went along to find out.

We left the house at 6:10 AM to get to the 6:30 AM mass at Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in Madina. When I first walked into the church, my first impression was that I had just walked into a giant beehive. The walls were painted yellow, and had honeycomb-shaped holes throughout. Near the front of the church was a big LCD sign that flashed messages such as “2008 Annual Harvest. Date: November 2, 2008” or “Please turn off your mobile phones” or “Today’s readings: Isaiah 4:6-20.” It was quite the tackiest decoration I’d ever seen in a church. European churches still take the top prize for being the most beautiful.

Then the service started, and I realized that African churches are beautiful in their own way. The people are beautiful. They bring such joy. They’re so full of life! They wore such colorful clothing, especially the women in their beautiful, colorful African dresses. When they sang, they sang like they meant it. Their music was amazingly fantastic! Their voices bounced around to the beat of African drums. I never imagined that church music could be so energetic and enjoyable. It was quite indescribable.

I loved the music! Then, to make it even better, the people started dancing! They put a box on a stand in the front of the church for the collection, and each person who wanted to give money had to go up to put the money in the box. Most people danced all the way to the front of the church, and when they returned to their seats, they continued to dance in place. When they really got into the music, people took out handkerchiefs and waved them around to the beat of the drums. It really felt like a celebration. It was such a vibrant, amazing experience! It was ridiculously long, lasting over three hours, and ridiculously early (6:30 AM on a Sunday?), but I was so blown away by the experience that I didn’t even mind!

I wish I were better at writing descriptions! This is something that I can’t fully express in words. You’ll just have to come to Ghana to experience it for yourself!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Madina Market

When I first arrived and was driven from the airport to my house (at night, mind you), I thought Ghana was pretty much the same as everywhere else. Today, I discovered how completely wrong I was.

Ghana is different. Different from America. Different from anywhere I’ve been in Europe. Different from the places I’ve seen in Central America, even. It’s nothing like the Africa they show on television or in magazines. It’s just different. It’s amazing.

One of the students at the school, sixteen-year-old Hanna, lives in my house in the room next to mine. She stopped by my room this morning. “I’m going to the market,” she said, slipping a shopping list and some money into her pocket. “Do you want to come?”

“Of course!” I said. I slapped on some sunscreen, grabbed my sunglasses, and ran out the door.

What follows is the most amazing adventure I’ve had in a long, long time.

We walked from our house down smaller streets to the main road, which took about ten minutes. Hanna stopped suddenly and waited at the side of the road. After a few minutes, she shouted something to two men driving a van, and they pulled over and let us in. Away we drove down a little dirt road, occasionally pulling over to let more people in. I couldn’t stop staring at the view as we drove down road after road, finally turning onto the main street.

I’ve never seen ANYTHING like it! I’m sure my descriptions or even photographs won’t fully capture it. That doesn’t mean I won’t try! However, I’m going to need more time to process it before I can write about it. I was over-stimulated by all those new images. It was unbelievable! I didn’t have anything with me except my sunglasses and my key, but next time I’ll bring a camera. I haven’t taken any pictures at all since I’ve been here. I don’t want to look like a tourist! (Although, all the locals seem to know I’m not from Africa just by looking at me... I wonder how.)

When we stepped out of the van, I was actually quite relieved that I didn’t have my purse with me. The Madina Market was filled with people. I’ve been to street markets before, in Paris, in Nice, in Krakow, in El Salvador, even in the United States, but this street market was NOTHING like any of those. Just thinking about it makes my head reel. It’s way too much to describe in detail right now. Let’s just say that it takes a lot to overwhelm me, and I was a bit overwhelmed by it all. It amazed me.

I followed Hanna through the market like a duckling follows its mom. I was her shadow... a big, white shadow. It probably looked kind of funny; a tall white lady clinging to a tiny African girl (she can’t be taller than five feet). I definitely did NOT want to lose her. Not only did I have no money with me, but also, I had no clue how to get back.

We wove in and out of the crowd, careful not to fall into the sewers that ran between the sidewalk and the street. I had to watch where I stepped, and to watch my head so that I didn’t knock into any of the women balancing huge buckets or baskets of goods on their heads, and to watch where Hanna was at all times so that I didn’t lose sight of her. This made it difficult to look around and to observe the market, but whenever Hanna stopped to look for a pair of shoes or to buy a pound of corn, my mind was saturated with images! They sell EVERYTHING at this market! Second-hand shoes, bright red tomatoes, gold watches, packs of diapers, white underwear, bars of soap, heart-shaped pastries, whole fish, girls’ headbands, colorful buckets, plastic dustpans, live snails, children’s books, bootleg DVDs, sacks of rice, old clothes, costume jewelry, soft drinks, cell phones, mangoes... everything! It amazed me how so many people and so many goods could fit into such a small space. Not that the market was small... on the contrary, I’ve never been to a market so huge in my entire life. We were there for probably two hours, and I still didn’t see the entire market.

“Obruni! Obruni!” was something I heard a lot. It means “white person,” and is not intended to be offensive. I was the only white person in the entire market, and consequently received a lot of stares. A lot of people reached out and touched my hand or my arm. A few times, merchants grabbed my wrist to try to get me to buy their goods. They always let go when I pulled away and resisted, so I never felt unsafe. I was really annoyed at first, because I thought they were picking on me, the obruni, until I saw a merchant grab the wrist of a Ghanian teenage boy. I think they just grab anyone. Their culture is much more touchy-feely than American culture.

After Hanna had purchased everything on her list, we went to this place that resembled a parking lot, filled with vans and taxis. People piled into the vans, and after asking around to which van was going in our direction, Hanna led me to a big green one, and we scooted inside. I looked out the window, and couldn’t believe the scene before my eyes. People were everywhere. Women in colorful African dresses milled around, effortlessly balancing buckets on their heads while their hands were full with their babies or bags. Tro-tro drivers shouted at passers-by, trying to fill up their vans. The full tro-tros drove toward a little opening where the street was, nearly hitting anyone in their path who didn’t run to cross or stop to let them pass. Women came to the windows of our tro-tro with their buckets on their heads, trying to get us to buy biscuits or toothpaste or coconut candy. As soon as the tro-tro was full, we were off. There were eighteen people crammed in there, including the driver and the man in the back who collected the money. We bumped along the roads, until I finally spotted a sign with the name of our school: Ancilla Primary and Junior High School.

“We get off here,” Hanna said as the car jerked to a stop, and we squeezed past the other passengers, clutching her shopping bags, and jumped onto the road. It took less than ten minutes for us to walk back to our pink house, hot and exhausted, but quite happy.

We just went to the market. It really wasn’t a big deal. Hanna goes there all the time. For a visitor experiencing it for the first time, however, a trip to the Madina Market is SUCH an adventure! I feel like I haven’t described my adventure at all. Perhaps this is because the market, the tro-tro, the African landscape, all of it is quite indescribable. I’ll try to describe everything later, once I find the right metaphors and similes, and I might even take a few good pictures, but even once I find the words and take the pictures, nothing will compare to experiencing it first hand!

Iami desami wa a!

I have no clue if that’s spelled correctly. It’s Twi (one of the native languages of Ghana) for:

I’m happy to be here!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Convent life

Oh, yes. I live in a convent. What is that like, you might ask? Allow me to explain.

Great, I thought to myself when I first discovered they were putting me up not in my own place, but in a convent. Not only would I be living in a foreign country, teaching a foreign language, all alone, but also, I’d have the added strain of adjusting to life in a convent, possibly my worst nightmare. I envisioned a big, scary building with hundreds of rooms filled with grouchy, menopausal women splashing holy water on my head every time I said something wrong. I pictured a huddling alone in a tiny, lonely bedroom after silently eating dinner around a long, solemn table, something like Sound of Music or Sister Act. No wonder I was apprehensive about living in a convent!

I arrived in Accra, hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. I’ve found that living in an African convent is NOTHING like anything I expected. First of all, I don’t live in a big, scary building with hundreds of rooms. I live in a house. It’s a big house, with about six or seven bedrooms, and it’s painted PINK on the outside. Inside, the walls are white, with random pictures of nuns and Jesus hanging on the walls. My room is like a dorm room, except there is a picture of Jesus on my closet and a priest calendar hanging on the wall. I have my own bathroom down the hall.

There is no silently eating dinner around long, solemn tables. The table is set for eight, but usually only three eat there. It’s never solemn. Either we’re talking, laughing, or watching TV. I’ve watched more TV in the past week here in the convent than I’ve watched in the past year in the US.

The sisters here are nothing like the nuns in the movies or any nun I’ve met. Almost all of them are really nice. They don’t talk about God all the time. They don’t pray all the time. They’re just like normal people, except they sometimes wear veils and they never have sex. There aren’t hundreds, either. There are only five. They’re the new characters in my life story, and let me tell you, they’re quite characters.

Sister Juliana is the headmistress of the school, so she’s kind of in charge of the house, too. She’s big and sometimes loud, and I could see how she must be intimidating to the students and even the other teachers who make her mad, but she’s always very nice to me. We get along surprisingly well. I think this is because we both like to dance, and I say things to make her laugh. She lives upstairs, too, in the room next to mine.

Sister Dorothy is more of a grandmotherly figure. She’s supposed to be retired, but she teaches art and religion at the school. She’s very kind to me, although she seems to be the strictest of them all. She amuses me so much. She the kind of person who is really funny without meaning to be. She makes random comments about what’s on TV or what’s for dinner that make me laugh. Usually, at meals, only she, Sister Juliana, and I sit at the table. I’m not sure why.

Sister Bibi, the pretty Nigerian, always smiles and welcomes me when she sees me. She rarely wears her habit, that is, nun uniform. She usually wears a simple dress and a green, knit hat with a big pom-pom on top. She appears to be the most domestic nun, for I often see her in the kitchen, or cleaning, or doing laundry. She does all her chores with a smile, and is very good-natured. I’ve even heard her singing in the kitchen before.

Sister Anne is the bursar at the school. I don’t think she likes me very much. She seems almost suspicious of me. I feel like we haven’t had a real conversation. Every time we talk, it feels like an interrogation. She just asks me weird questions about where I’ve been or what I’m about to do. I’ve only seen her smile maybe twice. I wonder if I did something to make her mad at me. Maybe I took over her room or her place at the table. Maybe she doesn’t like Americans very much. Or maybe it’s all in my mind. Maybe she does like me, but just has a strange way of showing it? I think I can break her. Every so often, I don’t have a good first impression of someone, but I’ve learned not to trust negative first impressions. If I have the feeling someone doesn’t like me, I’m usually extra nice to him or her, and in the end, we end up liking each other. I’m going to try this with Sister Anne. I wonder if it will work.

There’s one more nun, who is very sick. She stays in her room all the time. I haven’t met her yet, but I’ve seen Sister Bibi bring her meals on a tray. She’s a very mysterious figure to me. I hope she gets better soon, because it is no fun being sick! I’m curious about her so I’d like to meet her, but at the same time, what if she hates me?

A sixteen-year-old girl named Hanna lives in the room next to mine. She’s a student at the school, in seventh grade. She’s very sweet and obedient, and seems to be something of a helper to the nuns here. She helps serve the food and clean up. She’s helped me a lot this week by showing me around the school and introducing me to the teachers. It’s really nice to have a non-religious person here to help me adjust to convent life. Hanna’s favorite color is yellow. Her favorite animals are dogs. Her favorite subject in school is science, and she wants to be a nurse when she grows up. She always seems quite surprised that I like Ghanian food. I’m quite fond of her.

The last character is Didi, the cook. She doesn’t live here, but she comes every day to cook for us and to clean the kitchen. She’s quiet, but she always smiles back at me. She is quite a good cook. I think we’re very lucky to have her.

So, I live in a house with six other women. During my senior year of college in Ohio, I lived in a house with four other women. We didn’t have a cook or television, although we did have running water. You know, according to city ordinances in the town where I went to college, it’s illegal for more than two non-related women to live in a house together, because they were trying to discourage prostitution. Technically, according to Steubenville law, our college house of five non-related women was considered a brothel.

So, if that’s all it takes to make a house a brothel... basically, I live in a brothel. The only difference is that we don’t sell ourselves for money, and the only two men in the house I’ve seen in the house so far were a priest and the refrigerator repairman. Oh, and there’s a chapel across from the kitchen.

Living in a convent really isn’t that bad. You should try it!

The new teacher

I was awoken this morning by a knock on my door and informed that there was a teacher’s meeting in an hour and that the headmistress of the school wanted me to come.

One hour later, I sat in the headmistress’ office, nervously shifting in my seat as the rest of the teachers filed in one by one and sat down in chairs throughout the office. I had met most of the teachers yesterday and the day before, but not all of them. Some of them smiled at me as they sat down, which put me slightly more at ease. For the most part, however, I felt uncomfortably awkward sitting there in the corner next to the headmistress’ somewhat cluttered desk. I could feel the other teachers staring at me. Not only was I the new girl, but I was also the foreign new girl, the white new girl.

I avoided their stares by carefully observing the office. The office is painted two colors: the bottom half is a dark blue, the color of the sky at twilight, and the top half is a once-crisp white that has become a bit dirty with the years. There are three windows in the office, draped with navy blue curtains, with blue-painted, diamond-shaped rebar behind the screens. There is a refrigerator against one wall next to some drawers and filing cabinets, but no freezer. The wall clock above the old-school copy machine is stuck at 2:35. There are two off-white sofas in the corner, now occupied by half a dozen teachers, who have now begun to speak.

I listened to them discussing last month’s teacher’s meeting, grateful for a reason to look at the other teachers as they spoke. After they corrected last meetings’ minutes and were reprimanded by the headmistress for not turning in the class notes when they were due, their attention was shifted to me.

“As some of you know, we have a new teacher this year,” Sister Juliana, the headmistress, said, smiling at me. I could feel all eyes in the room on me. I smiled and gave a little wave, then continued to awkwardly look at Sister Juliana as she talked about me in the third person. “Her name is Kate... I don’t know your full name. What is your full name?”

I could feel the stares, but somehow knew they meant no harm. “I’m Kate Deaton,” I said shyly, hoping to be loud enough for all to hear.

“Her name is Kate Deaton,” Sister Juliana continued, over-pronouncing the t’s in my name. “She has come all the way from U.S., specifically from California, to teach at our school for a year. Her interests are in French and English. She has come to experience life in Africa, and she chose to be with us here in Ghana. She is very adventurous, and would love to see as much of Ghana as she can, so if any of you would like to show her around, you know that you are welcome to.”

Then each teacher introduced himself or herself, although I unfortunately can’t remember everyone’s names. I’m sure I’ll learn them all eventually.

Hours later, well after the meeting had ended and I had eaten lunch, I was walking near the school when the man who had introduced himself as “Mr. Moses Mannieson” in a deep, rumbling voice, told me that a gentleman was waiting for me. I followed him into the teacher’s lounge. “This is the gentleman who wanted to see you,” he said, presenting me to a small, thin teacher sitting at the table. I remember barely being able to understand anything he said at the meeting because of his accent and the way he mumbled everything.

“Do you remember my name?” he asked.

“Yes. It’s Bright, isn’t it?” I said, and he seemed very pleased that I remembered.

“And mine?” said the P.E. teacher.

“Is it Barnabas?”

“Yes. She’s quite intelligent,” he said.

“We’re trying to plan next Friday,” Mr. Moses explained. “We want to take you somewhere. What do you want to see?”

“I want to see everything!” I said, unable to conceal my excitement.

“We’ll take you to the beach sometime,” said Mr. Bright.

“And to the waterfalls!” said Mr. Barnabas.

“Do you want to see the animals?” Mr. Moses asked.

“How about seeing more of Accra? I think she’d like that.”

I was quite thrilled by the conversation. When I first found out I would be teaching at a Catholic school, I imagined that I would be working with only nuns. As it turns out, only the only nuns working at the school are the headmistress, the bursar, and one teacher who is supposed to be retired. I was afraid I would have a hard time making friends who could show me around. As it happens, I have several coworkers who are willing and eager to take me places.

“It’s good that you’ll be here for nine months,” Mr. Bright said. “There’s so much to see in Ghana!”

I’m looking forward to seeing it all!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Mademoiselle Kate

So, I was feeling a little bit depressed last night and this morning. I asked myself, “What the hell am I doing here?” I was lonely. I doubted myself. How will I be able to last 9 months? What was I thinking?

Then I went to the school and was introduced to Monsieur Kofi, the other French teacher. He took me around to different classrooms and introduced me to more of the teachers and some of the students. I sat in on his French class for the very beginners. The children are so cute! They’re maybe six or seven years old. They all stared at me curiously as I walked in, and continued to sneak glances at me when they thought their teacher wasn’t looking. I watched as he taught them some numbers... un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six. They chanted the days of the week and the months of the year. They raised, lowered, opened, clapped, and crossed their arms at his command. At the end of the class, he told them to quiet down because he wanted to tell them something.

“When I came in to class this morning, I was not alone. I had with me this lady here. Her name is Mademoiselle Kate. Can you greet Mademoiselle Kate?”

“Bonjour, Mademoiselle Kate!” they chanted, staring up at me with their big brown eyes.

“Mademoiselle Kate has come here all the way from America,” Monsieur Kofi explained, and the children gasped. One little girl’s hands flew to her mouth, and she bounced in her seat with joy at the thought of America. I smiled at her. I smiled at them all.

“Mademoiselle Kate is going to teach you French...” and a squeal of excitement echoed throughout the classroom. “Would you like her to be your new French teacher?”

“Yes, sir!” their little voices rang.

“But, she will only teach you French on one condition: You must behave yourselves. You must be quiet and listen to her teach. If you are loud, and run around the classroom, she won’t teach you. Okay?”

“Oui, monsieur!” they said unanimously.

My doubts and fears vanished. I was filled with a sense of purpose. I shall soon have the privilege of being these kids’ teacher. What an enormous responsibility! Can I handle it? Only time will tell. I think that once I get into teaching, I’ll be kept so busy I won’t have time to be sad or homesick.

I’m also feeling optimistic about making new friends. The other teachers at the school seem to be very nice. Some of them look like they could be around my age, although everyone here looks younger than they are, so it’s hard to tell. Also, I was invited to go to a concert at the British Council tomorrow night by the father of one of the students. I said yes, of course. I’ve been here for two days, and I haven’t seen anything besides my house, the school, and the road from the airport. I’m quite excited about getting out of the freaking convent!

Also, I quite enjoy hearing people talk about taking me to places outside of Accra. They talk about forests, waterfalls, villages, beaches, beautiful places they want to take me. I hope I’ll actually be able to go!

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to shadowing the French teacher tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

More from my first day

Okay, so I’ve been here for a day, but I haven’t done much yet. They’re insisting that I rest for the next few days. Apparently, they’re afraid that if I don’t rest, I’ll get malaria. I don’t particularly care to contract a deadly, life-long disease, either, so although I’m anxious to get out and see the world, I’m obedient. I really hope I don’t get malaria! That would be counterproductive. One of my goals in coming to Africa is to better myself. I think that by having an open mind and creating great life experiences, I’ll become a more cultured and more rounded individual. I hope to be interesting to talk to. My biggest fear is that one day I’ll be talking, and then I’ll just stop suddenly because I’ll have told everything about my life. I never want to run out of stories to tell! I think the more crazy, ridiculous experiences I have when I’m young, the longer I’ll be able to talk. I want to be a delightful, engaging old lady when I’m eighty, not a dull bore whom my family dreads to visit.

I just put up a mosquito net above my bed. Its purpose is to keep mosquitos and other bugs off me while I sleep, but I’m enjoying the aesthetic value as well. It looks like a canopy over my bed. I’ve always wanted a canopy bed! I spread a pink blanket over my bed. Tonight, I shall pretend that I’m a princess in my pink canopy bed. Even though my bed now looks prettier, however, my room in general isn’t pretty at all. The walls are just plain white. The curtains are Flintstones, which may be a great cartoon, but on curtains, it’s just not very pretty. There’s nothing wrong with not being pretty, but I think I’d be happier if my room were prettier.

You know, running water is overrated. Just do without! For me, the most difficult part of living without running water is remembering to keep my mouth closed when I pour water on my head. My natural reaction is to gasp when the cold water touches my hair, but it’s not at all safe to drink the water. I’m learning to gasp silently, with my mouth closed.

The thing I dislike about not having running water is using the toilet. In order to flush the toilet, you have to fill up the tank by hand using a bucket of water. I’m not strong enough to lift the bucket, so I use a cup with a handle. It takes about seven or eight cups to fill the tank enough to flush it. It’s not a big deal, just time consuming.

Maybe the lack of running water would bother me more if I had to fill up the buckets with water and haul them upstairs to the bathroom. As I haven’t been asked to do this yet, I don’t mind not having running water... it adds to the adventure!

We do have electricity, which is great. I can see after dark. I can charge my laptop so that I can write and listen to John Mayer. However, this too shall pass. During the dry season, they have to ration the electricity, so we’ll have rolling blackouts. Wonderful.

Okay, the reason why I’m writing so much right now is because I’m bored. Convents are comfortable, but very boring. I want to meet people! I want to get out there and see what there is to see! I know I need to be patient. Once I am settled and get into a routine, I’ll be able to venture out. I need to get adjusted to my new environment and the time difference first. I do have nine-and-a-half months, after all. Once I make friends my age and learn the public transportation system, my life will be great.

I miss my family. I miss my friends. I don’t miss America yet. In fact, I was quite annoyed to see McCain and Obama on TV today, especially after watching a Ghanian political rally. The politician and his men started singing and dancing! Soon, the whole crowd joined in! American politicians are so... dull. They’re just a bunch of pompous windbags who will say whatever it takes to get votes.

Oddly enough, I’m feeling very, very homesick for Paris. I guess I’m subconsciously comparing my first day here to my first day in Paris. Paris wins, of course. Every time.

You know, if I ever were to get married, I wonder if I’d compare my wedding night to my first night in Paris. I wonder which would win.

My New Room

I woke up today in a new room. My new room has white walls and a white ceiling fan. My bed has blue sheets. My windows have Flintstone curtains. For the first time in over a year, I have a night stand, which makes me quite happy. There is a wooden wardrobe for my clothes and shoes at the foot of my bed. Opposite the wardrobe is my wooden desk and some shelves on the wall. I also have a chair. My new room is slightly smaller than a dorm room, but I have it all to myself so it feels bigger. It even has electricity.

I slept in quite a bit. Today they let me rest. So kind. I stopped by the school this afternoon. My pink house is RIGHT next to the school, which is quite convenient. I met some of the teachers and waved to the students. There were many people so I was a little overwhelmed. I don’t really remember many of the teachers’ names. Everyone was quite welcoming! “You are welcome!” seems to be the standard greeting here.

The kids are very adorable. I’m excited to get to know them all by name! I’m afraid that will be difficult, because they all look the same! Each child has the same short haircut, boy or girl. They all wear the same uniforms, except the girls wear dresses and the boys wear shorts. They seem to be very respectful. I hope it lasts!

When I told him I had decided to come to Africa, one of my best friends was worried about my motives. “Are you sure you really want this? Are you sure you’re not just running away from your heartbreak? Are you avoiding real life? Postponing deciding what to do in your future?”

“I’ve wanted this for years,” I told him truthfully.

But I realize that escaping real life and major decisions is a wonderful side benefit. Somehow, becoming a grown-up in America is SO much scarier than moving temporarily to a new country. I don’t know what I want to do with my life. I left my quarter-life crisis unresolved in America, and I won’t have to think about real life for a while. I’m not going to have time, anyway.

In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy life as much as possible. I’m going to live in the moment. I’m going to experience as much as I can. I’m going to make a difference. I’m looking forward to the challenge. :)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

I'm here!

I’m here in Ghana! It hasn’t hit me yet, though. I’m still completely exhausted from over 24 hours of traveling. My flights - from Los Angeles to Memphis to Amsterdam to Accra - were long, but uneventful. Oh, but I became SO excited when I looked out the window and saw the Accra city lights sparkling like glitter!

My very first thought when descending the plane was, “How warm!” I was wearing jeans, so my legs felt really warm, and the rest of my body was comfortable.

Blah, blah, blah, passport checks, blah, blah, finding my luggage, customs, blah, blah, etc. I found Sister Juliana, the person who was picking me up (she said she knew it was me, because I just sort of wandered out of the airport and looked around a bit like I was lost, but in actuality, I was just trying to take in all the sights, sounds, and smells of this new country), and we got in the SUV, which was some model of Toyota, which reminds me of all the Toyotas I’ve been in at home. Wow, I’m only in Ghana forty-five minutes and I’m already thinking of home.

I couldn’t stop staring all around me at all the sights as we drove around. MY WORD! Accra is like New York... crazy drivers! I would NOT want to drive here, ever. I would take a tro-tro instead. Tro-tros are these vans that are packed with people and basically work like buses. I haven’t taken one yet so I don’t know what that’s like, but someday I will and I’ll let you know.

It’s different here, but it’s basically the same, you know? Maybe. All I’ve seen so far is the road from the airport to my house, and it was after dark, so I actually don’t know anything yet.

The biggest difference that I’ve seen (so far) is that we don’t have running water. They have buckets of water in the bathroom, and we just use those. I took my first bucket shower today. It somehow feels more adventurous! I’m trying something completely new! I know that after a while, not having running water will either get really old, or really routine and not a big deal. I have a feeling I’ll get so used to it that I’ll stop caring, and when I go back to America, running water will amaze me!

Other than that, everything seems rather luxurious here in my house... er, convent. I mean, it’s very sparse and minimal, but clean and comfortable, and I don’t need much. We even have a cook! The best, best part so far about living here is that my house is PINK! I live in a PINK house! :)

But I’m so exhausted right now. I’m going to sleep. I’m allowed to sleep in tomorrow, but after I get up I’ll be able to meet the kids I’ll be teaching... lovely!

Monday, October 6, 2008

My life is a comedy

I forgot to mention one little detail, a plot twist, a change of setting, in my story.

I like to think of my life as an open book, with hundreds of blank pages just waiting for my life story to be written. I want my life story to be an amazing one, full of adventure, excitement, romance, plenty of surprises, the greatest love story of all time, and, of course, comedy. What good is life without a few laughs?

Little did I know what a comedic turn my life would take.

Okay, so when I first decided to come to Ghana and work at a Catholic school, I was told that I could go only if the sisters (nuns) here could find a place for me to stay. There was no room in the convent, but if they could find a place in a safe neighborhood close to the school, they would let me know. A few weeks later, I received an email saying that they had found a place for me to stay, so I could go. Lovely! I unquestioningly went forward with everything, booking a plane ticket and getting a visa. About a week or so before I was to leave, I sent an email asking about my living arrangements, whether I’d have my own apartment or if I had a room with a family or something. I wanted to know how much I should pack.

I received a reply the very next day: You’ll be living in the convent with the sisters.

All I could do was laugh. I sat at the computer, reading and rereading the email, laughing out loud. Me, Kate Deaton, living in a convent? With nuns? I think I might have been angry if the situation hadn’t been so hysterical. I’m being sent away to a nunnery!

My friends all found this turn of events quite hilarious.

One friend almost choked on her iced tea. “You’re living in a convent? When we were teenagers, we always joked behind your back about how funny it would be if you entered a convent!” she said when she had finally finished laughing. The reason why they joked about it was because of all our friends, I was definitely the least likely to become a nun.

“If I remember correctly, aren’t you a quasi-disillusioned Catholic? That makes it even funnier,” another friend said when I told him over the phone.
“The only way this situation could possibly be funnier would be if they put me up in a brothel,” I told him.
“That wouldn’t be good, Kate. If you lived in a brothel, the whore jokes would never end,” he said, laughing. “Who knows, you might end up becoming a nun. If you do, you need to tell me if the stories I’ve read of secret lesbian affairs in convents are true. I won’t judge.”

I think my parents, at least, are happy about my living in with nuns. I’m not.

Although I’m not particularly thrilled about the prospect of living in a convent, I do appreciate the irony. It reminds me, somehow, of a Shakespeare play: Get thee to a nunnery! Well, I wanted my life to be a comedy. I wanted adventure, a change of scenery, interesting plot twists, and new characters in my life story. I’m getting what I wanted, I guess.

Maybe it won’t be that bad. We’ll see.

WHY Africa?

I’m not sure what made me decide to do it. I give different people different reasons.

“I want to help people.”
“I’ve never been there before, so... why not?”
“It’s just a crazy impulse.”
“I was inspired by watching Oprah giving presents to South African orphans.”
“I’m sick of America. I want to experience a new culture.”
“I want adventure.”

But really, the only reason that really matters is
“I want to go.”

I wasn’t exactly sure why. All I knew was that I wanted to go. Once I set my mind to going, it was no longer optional. I decided that I must live somewhere in Africa after I graduated college.

I’m writing this from the airplane. I just said “goodbye” to my family and all my friends... no, not goodbye. See you later. See you soon. I’m coming home in less than a year!

I’ll touch down in Accra, Ghana, soon (and by soon, I mean about twenty-two hours, after two layovers. Soon is relative). I’ll teach kids how to speak French. Um... that’s about all I know for now. I don’t know what to expect, really. I’m just jumping into this without a clue, hoping for the best, trusting that everything will work out.

I’ve been telling everyone about my plan for years. People have mixed reactions.

“I’m afraid to go to Africa,” a Swiss acquaintance told me. “My ex-girlfriend went there a few years ago, and she got sick. She’ll be sick for the rest of her life. You shouldn’t go.”
Oh, shouldn’t I?

“Kate, why would you want to go to Africa?” my very rational friend asked. “It’s dangerous there. Why don’t you just stay in America and get a normal job?”
“I have the rest of my life to stay in America with a normal job,” I explained. “RIght now, they need me in Africa.”
“Why do you want to go all the way to Africa to help people when there are plenty of people in America who need help?”
“Because I can. I’ll help needy Americans if or when I ever settle down in America. If I don’t go to Africa, who will? You?” I said. That shut him up.

“My god-sister went to Africa,” one friend told me, “and she had to get twenty-seven shots. Are you sure you can handle that?”
Yes, I think I could. I only had to get seven vaccines, however (or maybe six? I don’t remember). Six or seven shots and three hundred malaria pills.

“I know a few people who have died of malaria,” another friend said when I told him about it. Great. “I don’t mean to scare you. I’m sure you’ll be fine,” he added.
I hope he’s right. I think he is.

“You’ll to die if you go!” my baby brother said before I left, with tears streaming down his face. He was convinced he knew something I didn’t know, but wouldn’t tell me what it was. I think he was just trying guilt manipulation to get me to stay in California.
It didn’t work.

Most people I’ve talked to have been more optimistic.

“Pourquoi l’Afrique?” my French friend Nico demanded.
“Je voudrais aider les enfants.” I explained.
“Ah! Tu es humanitarian?” he responded, his eyes widening in admiration. “Comment mignon!”
My humanitarian impulses are cute? (But then again, Nico thought everything I did was cute.)

“They’ll love you,” many people have assured me.

What if they don’t?!

“Of course they will,” my best friend said. “Everyone loves you.”
“They’ll love you because you’re different,” my Nigerian-born friend told me. “When I was in school, I really respected my white teachers, just because they were so different.”
“You’re probably right. They’ll probably hate you,” my younger sister teased.

“I’m very worried about you.”
“I’m so jealous of you!”
“I’m really excited for you!”
“I’m quite proud of you.”
“You are crazy.”
“You’re so brave.”
“You inspire me.”
“Have plenty of adventures, Kate, because I’m living vicariously through you.”

I’ve received such mixed reactions, but overall, people have been SO encouraging and supportive! I’m so grateful for my family and friends. How did I get so lucky to have such amazing people in my life? People have been sending me cards and messages, calling me to wish me luck, and making time to see me before I left. I’m so touched by all the good wishes and support. I couldn’t ask for more!

I’ve been thinking a lot about others’ reactions, but now it’s time to think about my reactions and emotions. It hasn’t quite hit me yet. It probably won’t until about one week before I have to leave. The only emotion I’m feeling right now is EXCITED! I’m just so excited to try something new. :)

On y va

My name Kate. Welcome to my adventure blog. 

Tomorrow, I'm moving from Cypress, California, to Accra, Ghana, to start my new life as a French school teacher. Does that sound adventurous? Perhaps. Life is what you make of it. I'd like to make mine an adventure. I think Accra could be a good setting for my true life adventure stories, don't you? We'll see. 

There are so many things on my mind right now, but the first is: SLEEP. 
The second is: I really should pack before I leave for the airport in the morning.

But sleep comes first. 

Good night, America. The next time I lay my head to rest, I'll be in a new country, starting my new adventure. I can't wait! :)