Saturday, January 31, 2009

Interesting day

Today was... interesting.

I went to my second PTA meeting. My goodness! Is this what PTA meetings are like in America? It was completely ridiculous. Everything was so formal. They spent about half an hour making corrections to the last meeting’s minutes, nitpicking every little mistake in wording. Everything had to be “moved,” like this... “In the absence of further corrections, I move to accept the minutes.” Nothing could happen until someone seconded it. They had the inauguration of the new executive members, who were elected at the last meeting. It felt like a wedding, with candles and a priest and everything! The new members had to read a solemn vow, holding a candle, and a priest was there to pray over them. So ridiculous. Also, I’m sick of Africa time... the meeting was supposed to start at 9, but I sat around waiting until 10. It didn’t end until 1:30! I’ve never been to a PTA meeting in America, but if they’re anything thing as ridiculous as this... no thank you. This meeting made me never want kids, but if I ever change my mind, I’d definitely make their father go to the PTA meetings.

Right after the PTA meeting, Sister Juliana dragged me along with her to visit her boyfriend. She told me that he lives in a friary and that he’s a Franciscan priest, which made me happy because I went to a Franciscan university for college and I’m quite familiar with them. The friary (which is like a convent for priests), had a quiet, beautiful garden. There was a rose bush with a single pink rose on it, which was the first real rose I’ve seen in Africa. Pink roses are my absolute favorite, so of course I took the time to stop and smell it, but unfortunately, it didn’t have a very strong scent. I was, however, so overjoyed just to see a rose that I didn’t mind that it didn’t smell lovely. There were so many beautiful flowers and trees there, which made the hour-and-a-half drive through heavy traffic worth it.

Juliana’s “boyfriend,” Fr. Charles, was in a horrible car accident about a month ago, and is still recovering. He stayed in his bed most of the time we were there. As I sat on the chair in his room/office, I looked around at the books on his very full bookshelf. I saw a few Italian titles, and some “Learn to Speak Spanish”-type books, so I asked him, “Hablas EspaƱol?” And we began a conversation in Spanish. I tried to explain to him why my Spanish is so poor (because I lived in France for six months), and he started speaking to me in French! We kept talking, and I learned that he speaks ten languages. TEN! English, Spanish, French, Italian, Swahili, and five Ghanian dialects. I was very, very impressed by this. He reminded me of Alex, the Parisian man I used to date, who spoke six languages and was having trouble deciding which language to take as his seventh (Chinese or Arabic?). Since meeting Alex, my personal goal is to become quad-lingual, which isn’t as impressive as seven or ten, but I still have a long ways to go even to reach four. Fr. Charles was explaining to me how he learned each language (by spending several years living in five countries on three continents), and wow... what a super cool guy! He is definitely the most well-cultured person I’ve met in Ghana so far. For a few days after his car accident, the only language he could speak was Spanish. Isn’t that strange? Fortunately for him, there were some Cuban doctors at his hospital, so he could communicate with them.

The reason I went along with Sister Juliana was that I wanted to spend time with her today because she’s leaving tomorrow morning to take a course in a town near Kumasi for four weeks! I don’t know what I’m going to do without her for four whole weeks! Sister Juliana is easily my favorite person in Ghana. She treats me like a daughter and makes me forget I live in a convent. She invited me to visit her during the midterm break, which I definitely plan on doing. In the meantime, I only have three allies at my house: Sister Anne, Sister Dorothy, and little Sister Germaine. The other three nuns who live here hate me. Well, maybe they don’t hate me, but they’re not particularly nice to me. I can’t tell if they’re not nice people in general or if they’re just not nice to me.

So much has been happening to me, and I have so much to write about... the kids, the weather, the election results, etc... hopefully I’ll be able to find time this week!

Friday, January 30, 2009

African Fireworks

It lightninged tonight. What a beautiful display!

Fred stopped by this evening (and he brought me chocolate... what a sweetheart!), and I rode with Sister Julie to drop him off halfway to his house. It rained all the way there, and I believe it was the first time I’ve been for a night ride in the rain since graduating college. I didn’t pay very much attention to the conversation in the car because I was too distracted by the sky. The clouds lit up every few seconds with hidden lightning as if there were a slow strobe light tucked away inside. As Juliana and I crawled through the night traffic, the rain stopped, and somehow, covered in rain, the world felt more peaceful.

When we returned to the house, I went out on the roof. The air was fresh and cool and smelled like rain. The clouds covered the stars, the moon, and the black of the sky, but I wasn’t worried... after the amazing night I had the previous night staring up at the beautiful stars, I felt very assured that the stars were right there waiting for me, still shining behind the clouds. Also, before it started raining tonight, when I was walking from the school to the house, I looked up and was completely overjoyed to see the moon, a little crescent shining bravely next to the brightest star. I haven’t seen the moon at all in at least a week, and my joy upon seeing the moon again after such a long absence reminded me of how I feel when a dear friend comes back from a much-too-long holiday. As soon as I entered the roof, I looked up to say hello, and although the moon was hidden by the clouds, I knew it was still there shining for the rest of the world to enjoy, and this knowledge made me smile.

I stood on the roof (unwilling to sit down in a puddle of rainwater) and watched the lightning in the distance. At first, it just lit up the clouds like a camera’s flash, and I enjoyed the pulsing brightness for several minutes. Just as I was about to go inside, the the lightning broke through the clouds, and I could see the thunderbolt, a white zigzag in the sky. I decided to stay on the roof, waiting to see if it would lightning again... and it did! Flash upon flash snaked its way down the sky, lighting up that corner of the clouds. It reminded me of a fireworks show. I think fireworks are one of the best parts of life, along with brass bands, grass, chocolate, sushi, and John Mayer, so I was completely thrilled to have my very own fireworks show, just for me! I felt with total confidence that this African fireworks show was just for me, that God sent this storm just to make me happy. It made me feel very loved.

The school’s inspection was today. Last night, I stood on the roof and prayed that the inspectors would not come into my classroom... I’m still quite inexperienced, and what if I blew it for the whole school? I prayed and wore my lucky ladybug underwear to school... and either the prayers or the luck, or maybe both, worked. The inspectors didn’t come into my classroom, and my kids, after being severely warned by Mr. Tony to behave extra well today, were much quieter in class. The inspectors had some things to say about the school, but I’m too tired to repeat it now. Good night!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sweet and Sour

Tonight, I experienced something completely amazing.

It’s called “Sweet and Sour,” and it’s allegedly a type of apple. This African fruit looks, however, absolutely nothing like an apple. It is bigger than an apple, probably about twice the size, and it doesn’t really have a shape, like a roundish beanbag that someone has recently sat on. It is green, slightly lighter than an avocado but much darker than any apple I’ve ever seen. It is covered on the outside with soft, curved, matching-green spikes.

Sister Dorothy had cut off a slice of the fruit and invited me to do the same, so I carefully cut a slice the size of an egg and it collapsed/flopped onto my plate. Inside, the fruit is an off-white color. I don’t know how to describe the texture. It is softer than a pineapple. The inside is almost wispy, I guess. The center of the fruit is slightly firmer, but still melts in your mouth. The seeds hide inside the wispy part of the fruit like a child wrapping herself up in sheer curtains during a game of hide and seek. The seeds are a similar shape to an apple’s seeds, but much, much bigger, darker, and smoother. I’ve never seen anything like it... but the taste!

Oh, the taste! I don’t think it is possible to describe the taste. The first two seconds the fruit was in my mouth, it tasted familiar, but before I could figure out which fruit it reminded me of, the taste changed completely. With each bite, the tasted changed! And after the first two seconds, the changed taste was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I laughed out loud with delight at the amazing, magical fruit in my mouth. Then I bit into the center of the fruit, and the taste changed drastically. It was so surprising that my eyes widened and Sister Juliana asked me if I had bitten into the center. I nodded, and when I swallowed, I couldn’t stop talking about how amazed I was by how the fruit changed in my mouth. “That’s why they call it sweet and sour,” Juliana explained.

It was such an incredible experience that I had to write about it. I haven’t had time to write lately because I’ve been SO very busy. My room is a complete mess and I have no clean clothes because I haven’t had time to clean or do laundry. On Friday, some inspectors are coming to grade the school, so I’ll spend the rest of the week getting ready for that and for the PTA meeting on Saturday! Hopefully once I get caught up on all the marking and lesson notes and everything I need to do I’ll have more time to enjoy life.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I don't hate puppies

I don’t hate puppies anymore.

When I first came here, there were three puppies, and I secretly thought they were really cute. However, when their mother, father, and five other dogs attacked me, the puppies were also there barking at me. After the dog attack, I hated ALL dogs at every stage of life.

As time passes, I’m slowly becoming less afraid of the dogs. I still won’t walk by myself after dark, but I can now walk around in the afternoon/early evening without too much fear, especially if I carry a stick. The three puppies are nice to me. They don’t bark at me. They just look at me and let me be. I’m not afraid of them, even though they’re getting big and are almost full grown, because I know that they never bit me. I’m not sure which dog bit me, but I know it wasn’t a puppy.

Okay, this is how I know I don’t hate puppies... you see, two of the other dogs had puppies about a month ago, so there are about a dozen tiny puppies in the backyard. Now that they’re old enough to walk around, they occasionally wander out of the dog’s domain and lie down next to the kitchen door. One afternoon, as I was drying my dishes, I looked out the door, and saw four of the puppies lying together, piled on top of each other, sleeping in the sun. They were just so cute. It’s impossible for me to hate them!

It is, however, quite easy to hate their mother. I call her “the bitch with the saggy boobs,” or “Satan,” but the rest of the house calls her “Only You.” She always, always barks at me or growls and bares her teeth, even if I’m just standing innocently in the kitchen or looking out the window of a car. She sometimes chases me if I’m outside. I hate her. I’m pretty sure she hates me back. I don’t know why! One day, I went for a walk and I forgot the cane. When I came back in, she ran up to me, barking, growling, snapping at me, this close to biting me, until Hannah came out from behind the house and chased her away. She’s an evil, evil dog.

I still do not like dogs, but I don’t hate puppies anymore.

The good news is that the dog bite finally healed. It took over two months for the wound to close up all the way, but it finally did, and now all I have is a big, ugly scar about the size of a nickel and a mortal fear of unleashed dogs.

However... I still wish that our house were in danger of mice instead of thieves. I love kittens and I love cats. Cats are clean and polite and beautiful, and who has ever heard of a cat making a woman unlovable and unmarriageable? Hmm... I’m still looking for man who is sexually attracted to women with African-made scars, and I’m still doubting that such a man exists. Who could love a girl with huge scars on her legs?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Miss Kate's class

I am the Class 4B teacher. There are 21 students in my class. I teach them English and Writing eight periods a week. I also teach Class 4A English as well, but I teach them separately. Together, there would be 42... too many to teach! Monsieur Kofi is now the class teacher for Class 4A... but he’s always running around to other classes, so I’ve been sort of responsible for both at once, which is difficult. They can be quite challenging sometimes.

The first day of class, I wrote a list of class rules on the chalkboard. It looked something like this:

1. Peace Classroom - NO FIGHTING
2. Tranquil Classroom - NO TALKING
3. Green Classroom - NO LITTERING
5. Obedient Classroom - NO CANING

I promised them I would never cane them... but they need to be obedient and listen to what I say. Whenever they become too rowdy, I remind them of the rules, writing “Tranquil Classroom” or “Winning Classroom” or whatever rule they’re violating on the board.

I refuse to use corporal punishment, and I really hate having to punish them at all, but if they talk in class, I make them stand by the wall for a few minutes. If they break the rules, they either have to sweep the classroom after class, or stay in during their lunch break or snack break, and once I made two kids write “I will not read storybooks in class” 18 times each on the chalkboard. I prefer to reward them for good behavior. I notice the students who are quiet in class, who are punctual, and who do their homework, and I praise them for it. Yesterday, for example, I wrote the names of the students who were good on the board and drew stars next to their names.

They’re no longer allowed to call me “Auntie Kate” like they sometimes used to. “I’m not your aunt,” I remind them. I also don’t like them calling me “Madam...” I’m not married! They may call me “Mademoiselle,” since I used to be their French teacher, or “Miss Kate.”

Luckily, the situation with the two problem children sort of worked itself out. Between the two of them, the class was constantly being disrupted, which was unfair for the other kids. I’m just not capable of dealing with both at the same time. I was thinking about asking Monsieur Kofi if one of them could switch classes, but I didn’t know which one to switch, and I wouldn’t know how to break it to whichever one I chose. This morning, one of them, the girl, asked me this morning if she could switch to the other class. She has friends in the other classroom. I explained the situation to Monsieur and he agreed. YES! So now I only have one problem child, Nathaniel. It’s much more bearable with just one troublesome student than two and with only half the interruptions. That kid does interrupt quite a bit, however and he can just be so naughty sometimes!

Teaching still much more difficult and stressful than I thought it would be, largely because the other teachers are flakes and don’t always show up for classes, which is often because we still don’t have the timetables completely worked out! We are working on it, and hopefully everything will work itself out very very soon!

Although teaching is more challenging than I ever imagined, it can also be more rewarding than I ever imagined, and that’s what keeps me going every day, what brings the sunshine to my world, what makes all the sacrifices I made to be here worthwhile, what makes me say “Iami desa me wa aa...” I am happy to be here.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Guess who's back

Today, I took a walk around the neighborhood, and I was smiling the whole time. I took a different route than usual, and I noticed every beautiful thing in a world of dirt roads, open sewers, and chicken shit. Oh, there is this beautiful pink plumeria tree down the road, reaching over the wall surrounding a green house. Another house has nice grass between its cream-colored wall and the gutter! And the sky... oh, the sky always makes me happy. Of course I received many stares, but instead of letting them bother me like I used to, I just waved to the kids and some of the women, all of whom seemed quite excited to see an obruni in their neighborhood.

I’m back, I think. I haven’t been my usual happy, positive, sunny self at all lately. My world was clouded with this strange depression, but the sun is finally breaking through the clouds. If it weren’t for the rain, I say, there wouldn’t be any rainbows. The rainbows are here.

I felt so guilty, being depressed! I wasn’t at my best. People depend on me to cheer them up and bring joy, and I was letting them down. I could only think about myself and my problems instead of thinking about how I could help other people. I believe that the world deserves the best I have to offer, and whenever I give less than my best, I feel such a strong sense of guilt and shame. Today, I gave my best, and although it still wasn’t quite as good as I’m normally capable of, it was the best I could give today, and that’s all I can do. Tomorrow will be better, and the next day will be even better than that, etc. 2009 will be such a great year!

I just started my second week of being a Class 4 teacher! The first week was a bit stressful, but I think once we sort out the timetables, it will be much better. Most of the kids in my class are really great, but there are two with behavioral problems who are constantly disrupting the class. I’m not really sure what I’m going to do about them. Oh, but most of the kids are so sweet! I can’t help but adore them.

Now that I’m back, I think I’ll be writing more. That’s the main reason why I haven’t been writing in here lately... I’ve been depressed. I’ve also been busy writing other things, working on other projects, which will continue to keep me busy, but hopefully I’ll still be able to find a few minutes here and there to write about my hopefully happy life for your reading pleasure. Enjoy! :)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Lucky me

Okay, this has to stop. NOW.

I will stop crying. I will do whatever it takes to raise my oxytocin to a healthy level. I will stop dwelling on everything wrong with my life and start appreciating all the good things I have.

I’m so lucky. Really, I am. It could be so much worse. I could be in Gaza right now.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Hmm... it has been a while since I’ve written here, hasn’t it? To be honest, my new year hasn’t exactly been very happy. I’ve been quite sick since January 2nd, so unfortunately I was unable to spend my Christmas break traveling like I had hoped. I’ve basically been stuck at the convent for most of 2009 with stomach pains and headaches... it’s so isolating. I consequently have been feeling a bit depressed and lonely, missing my family, my friends, and my students. I don’t have my usual comforts to help me through, so I’ve been trying to make due with the few comforts I have... basically, Herbert (my pet bat), chocolate, and John Mayer. That’s about it.

Also, the internet has been down at the school for almost a month now. The phone company that we use for the internet was bought out, and the new company is redoing the cables. Apparently, they don’t anticipate finishing for another two to three months! If I want to go online, I have to go to an internet cafe, where I have to pay 60 pesewas an hour for an agonizingly slow internet connection in a little shack frequented by creepy Ghanaian men who blast dirty rap music as they chat with slutty foreign women online and who can’t seem to understand why I’m not completely eager to marry them. And yes, that will be my only connection to the outside world for another two to three months! I’m so bummed because I’ve taken so many pictures that I would love to share, but the connection is so slow that it would take probably an hour to upload one. I’m so discouraged that I’m thinking about giving up writing blogs altogether. Worst of all, I feel so bad for taking so long to respond to messages from my friends! I’m so sorry!

So the first ten days of my 2009 have sucked... but after such a crappy start, it can only get better from here, right? I’m really looking forward to starting school again on Monday. Once I’m busy again, I’m sure I’ll be much happier. They’re my favorite part of being here, you know... my students. I absolutely adore them, and I’ve missed them so much. Being a teacher can be so rewarding, and I think that once I’m with my kids again, everything will be better, and my new year can start to be happy. I still have 355 days to enjoy the rest of my 2009. It will be a great year.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! Happy New Year! Happy New Year! Happy New Year! Happy New Year! Happy New Year! Happy New Year!

That’s what my new year’s celebration was like... I celebrated 7 times.

I had no invitations, so I was like Great! I’ll be alone!

I didn’t want to be alone on New Years, so I bought a bottle of wine for company. The plan was to be completely smashed when the clock struck twelve so that I would forget how lonely I’d be.

Then I remembered what Mator said about how Ghanaians celebrated New Years... at church. She told me that everyone spends the night praying until midnight, then everyone shouts and celebrates.

Spending my New Years Eve at a church?! But look at the alternative... alone, shit-faced, in an African convent, kissing a bottle of wine at midnight. Besides, I’m trying to embrace Ghanaian culture, and if their culture is to pray the New Year in, I should at least experience it once. I have the rest of my life to party.

But I still wouldn’t be able to celebrate with my family and friends... or would I?

My New Year’s celebration started at 4pm, Ghanaian time. As soon as my cell phone’s clock changed from 3:59 to 4:00, I shouted out, “Happy New Year!” Everyone stared at me like I was crazy. I returned their stares. “It’s the new year in Hong Kong!” I protested. “I have friends in Hong Kong. I’m celebrating with them.”

I walked to church with Sister Anne at 10:00. At 10:50 or so, I got up and went outside. I sat on a little wall and looked up at the stars until it was 11. I ran out to the bush and shouted “Happy New Year!” to all my friends in Europe.

Church went on, as usual, except that the benches in front of me were covered with sleeping children up way past their normal bedtime. At five ‘til, the priest asked everyone to sit down and pray. He told us to think about the year past, to thank God for the year we just had and for the year we were about to start.

In the last five minutes of 2008, I thought about everything I’ve been through this year, the good, the bad, the wonderful. It was definitely a volatile year, full of ups and downs, quite the roller coaster. I thought about the lows: seasonal depression, a broken heart, a quarter-life crisis, my first car accident, being attacked by dogs, being a stranger in a foreign country, spending my first Christmas away from home.

But the highs were so high. I had some fantastic accomplishments and some wonderful experiences. The biggest accomplishment, of course, was graduating college. What a high! That was such a great feeling! I also managed to travel a bit in the US, and I spent a lot of quality time with my family and friends. Some of the highlights of 2008 were my summer job working for EF, the John Mayer concert, and learning to forgive my worst enemy. Then, of course, I fulfilled my life goal of moving to Africa as a volunteer. That was an accomplishment, wasn’t it?

I said “Thank you” to God for such a great year. Even though some not-so-great things happened to me, I learned from them, and I have no regrets. A year without regrets, I say, is a good year, indeed.

At midnight, the priest asked the choir to give us a song to welcome the new year... what a song! What a party! For twenty minutes, the choir played and sang only the most lively, most upbeat of all Ghanian church hymns, with their joyful voices, African drum beats, cow bells, rattles, etc, while the rest of the church danced around, greeting everyone, wishing everyone happy new year. It was actually pretty awesome! Happy New Year, Ghana!

When we got back to the house, Sister Anne popped the Robby Bubbles (sparkling banana juice!), and we snacked on popcorn, groundnuts, and this interesting type of chip, until we were too tired to stay up any longer. I went to sleep at around 2, but I didn’t sleep for long.

At 4:55, my alarm went off. I woke myself up to get ready to ring in the new year with my friends on the East Coast and my sister in Jamaica. Happy New Year! And by 5:01, I was sleeping again.

I woke up again at 6 to celebrate with my friends in Arkansas. Happy New Year!

I don’t know if any of my friends are living in the mountain time zone, but as I was already awake at 7, I celebrated anyway, just in case. Happy New Year!

I decided to celebrate BIG in the Pacific time zone, since that’s where I’m from. I tried to open the bottle of wine, but the corkscrew broke, and it really wasn’t my fault... it was cheap! So I still have an unopened bottle of wine on my desk with a piece of wire sticking out. I turned on my computer and watched as the second hand on the computer’s clocked ticked the seconds closer to 8AM. Finally, when the big hand was on the 10, I counted down with all of the West Coast. I imagined watching a big ball dropping on TV in New York, 3 hours delayed, knowing that every person in the PST zone was chanting the exact same numbers as I: 10... 9... 8... 7... 6... 5... 4... 3... 2... 1... HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! Oh, counting down with California made me feel such a connection with them! I felt so jubilant for about 5 seconds, then I became really sad that I was alone, no “happy new year” hugs from my friends, no one kissing me at midnight.

But still... 7 “Happy New Years” in 16 hours... not bad.

Welcome, 2009. Please be good to us.

Happy New Year to all of you!