Thursday, December 18, 2008

Please, spare the rod!

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.

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