Friday, October 10, 2008

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!

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