Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Second Term Midterm

We had our midterm break on Monday and Tuesday, so I decided to spend my four-day weekend traveling Ghana. Sister Juliana had invited me to visit her during the midterm break, so I called her up on Thursday night and asked if I were still invited. Of course I was, and I should meet her in Kumasi on Saturday. Okay!

My students, might I add, are ridiculous. Some of them were crying when I said goodbye on Friday. I was like, seriously! It’s only four days! I’ll see you in five days! “Five days is a long time for me!” Ohemaa said, pouting her lips. (This is the same girl who, when I told her I’d be here for another five months still, complained that five months is so short for her!)

I slept in until almost 8 on Saturday morning, but I didn’t set out for my adventure until 10. My first stop was Circle, a station in the north of the city from which most of the buses and cars traveling long distances depart. I wandered through an enormous “car park” (the British/Ghanaian expression for “parking lot”) with trotros headed to cities all over the country, and upon asking a man selling phone cards, was led to a van going to Kumasi. The ticket was only GH¢4.50. I paid for the ticket and sat on the trotro, which departed at noon, and four and half hours later, I found myself at the big Kumasi trotro station.

There was something so refreshing about being back in the rush of a big city! Kumasi is the second largest city in Ghana, after Accra. I always want to live in a big city. Haatso, the suburban town where I live and teach, is too small and spread out. I’m not sure where I’ll end up next (after Africa, I mean), but I hope it’s a big city! Anyway, I called Sister Julie when I arrived, and she talked on the phone with the cab driver to direct him to........ ANOTHER CONVENT! (Can I ever escape?)

The Sisters who greeted me at the Kumasi convent were quite kind. They led me to the room that I would be sharing with Sister Juliana when she arrived, and I rested for a while until they called me to dinner. One thing I remember was that I insisted on doing my own dishes, and the dish soap smelled SO good! Sister Juliana arrived maybe an hour after I did, and I sat at the table while she ate, chatting with the other nuns who were there.

The next morning, the nuns had a meeting about God knows what, so I spent the morning relaxing on my bed with a book. It felt blessedly cool in the morning, and I really enjoyed the way the morning light colored the room I shared with Sister Juliana. I read, slept, daydreamed, read some more, and the morning was wonderfully relaxing! Normally I feel like I have too much to do to relax like that, but with literally nothing else to do, I felt no guilt about my morning in bed!

When the meeting ended, Sister Juliana and I went back to the Kumasi station and found a trotro going to Goaso, the town where she is taking her four-week education administration course. I sincerely thought I was going to die. This rickety old van was going SO fast! The driver was speeding down these really bad roads with horrible potholes, speeding through little villages with pedestrians and children strolling inches away from the road, speeding to overtake other cars and trucks, speeding everywhere! It was the scariest ride of my life! I was praying the entire two hours in the car. It was the kind of crazy driving that turns atheists into believers, when your entire life flashes before your eyes and, if you survive this, how differently you’ll live your life!

Guess what! I survived! It was some sort of miracle, but the trotro didn’t crash. I think God must have big plans for my life... that’s the only explanation. The trotro pulled over to the side of the road about three kilometers away from the town, and Sister Julie told me to get off. As soon as the van’s door opened, about four or five men jumped out and began pissing on the side of the road a few feet away from me, and I was really grossed out. I hate seeing that. It bothers me so much. Okay, so Juliana and I crossed the road next to a sign that read “Catholic Pastoral Center” and walked down a dirt road next to a plantain plantation, basically in the middle of nowhere, with a few buildings up in the distance.

One of these buildings was the guesthouse, where Sister Juliana has been staying for the past three weeks. It felt like a hotel! It was a very new building (I learned later that it was built this past November). Everything was very clean. Juliana’s room had two beds, a closet, a desk, and even a modern painting on the wall. It wasn’t a five-star hotel or anything (obviously), but after my recent living arrangements, it felt like one, especially since the bathroom had RUNNING WATER! My word! WHAT a treat! I’ve never been so excited to take a shower. The water still wasn’t hot, but it did come out of a shower head connected to the wall by a hose that I could hold above my head for a constant stream of cold water (rather than using a cup and a bucket as I’ve become accustomed to). So, yes, it felt very luxurious to me, indeed!

Also, the breakfast felt like a hotel’s. They served this Ghanaian porridge and bread, but the bread came with a choice of either a delicious chocolate-hazelnut spread or peach jam to spread on top, rather than just margarine like I’m used to. Also, we had the option of tea, Milo, or instant COFFEE! Of course I took coffee! I mixed it with Milo, added plenty of milk and sugar, and it tasted almost like a mocha. Okay, all of this may seem like it’s not a big deal, but imagine being a girl who lives for variety but who is living a life of culinary monotony... something as simple as peach jam and a mocha can totally make my day!

I spent Monday morning wandering the town of Goaso by myself. Sister Juliana recommended that I visit the cathedral, which was beautiful, she said. I thought the first church I came upon was the cathedral. It was locked, but I could look inside, and I saw a few dozen plastic chairs strewn around the inside. Ha! Not beautiful. When I had circled the church, I found another, bigger church... the cathedral. It was like an average American church. It did have simple yet pretty panes of colored glass in the windows, which delighted me, and a side chapel with a statue of Jesus that reminded me of a garden gnome. I took lots of pictures of the churches, then explored the town. There wasn’t much to explore. It was a small town, and it had a small town charm, although with a heavily-felt African twist. I discovered a little market where women were selling vegetables, fish, beans, etc, and the way the market women treated me made me really feel like a celebrity, except that I was the paparazzi taking pictures of them! I admired how sharply the colors of the vegetables contrasted with the dull brown of the wooden stalls, and everyone vendor wanted her picture taken. If the school’s internet is ever fixed, I’ll try to post them online, somehow. Anyway, after I wandered around the town for a while, I sat down at a bar with a bottle of Guinness and my notebook and wrote. There wasn’t anything else to do, and I was trying to kill time before lunch. Around 12:30, I got a ride back to the Pastoral Center.

Oh, as a testimony to how WEIRD my life has become... did I mention that all of Sister Juliana’s classmates were also nuns? Imagine me in a dining hall with about 20 nuns! Nuns of all colors! Normally in America the nuns just wear black, but in Africa, their habits (nun uniforms) can be a bright, royal blue, or a pastel orange, or all white, or shades of gray. All of the nuns there were very nice to me, so I didn’t really mind it so much. It was just weird. It seriously took a lot of restraint to keep from standing up on my chair and announcing to the room “MY LIFE IS SO WEIRD!” My goodness! Who just goes and hangs out with nuns?

That afternoon, after resting in the room for a little bit, Sister Juliana told me she was going to class for the afternoon session. “I’m going to Ireland,” I said, holding up my book (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce). I spent the afternoon reading, then dinner with the nuns, then back to the room, where Sister Julie employed me as her secretary. I typed up the minutes from a top secret nun meeting for her.... oooooh! I had no idea of the scandals that went on in the convent! Typing up the minutes was like reading someone’s diary. I sort of thought that life as a nun was all rosy and boring, but no... ridiculous things go on, and nuns get caught committing crimes that you’d never imagine from a nun, and even though it’s bad, I somehow think it’s SO exciting!

The next morning, I ate breakfast with everyone and said goodbye to the colorful nuns. Sister Juliana dropped me off at Goaso, where I found a trotro to Kumasi, where I found a trotro to Accra... that broke down three times! “You’ve got to be f***ing kidding me!” was all I could think the second and third time I found myself standing next to a van under the hot African sun. I was quite relieved when I alighted at St. John, a junction outside of Accra, where I found a trotro going to Madina. I got off at Haatso junction and walked the last twenty minutes of my journey, hot, tired, and really having to go to the bathroom. I didn’t get back to my house until just before 6PM... but I did make it back!

I was so happy to see my kids today at school! After such a relaxing, refreshing break, I returned to my job as a teacher feeling very calm and patient. My kids gave me dozens of hugs and told me how much they missed me. They were really good and quiet today, and it made me really love being a teacher!

I’m Miss Kate... a teacher. I’m also an adventurer. This was good practice for me, traveling alone. I mean, I’m used to traveling alone in Europe and America, but not in Africa. Now, when spring break comes and I have three weeks off school, I’ll be able to travel wherever I want! I want to see an elephant! In the meantime, I’m staring at a huge pile of laundry that I have to wash by hand. I’m thinking about all the homework I have to correct and the exams I’m supposed to have written. I have so much to do and I hope I have time to finish everything!

1 comment:

David said...

In Ireland's bloom
Sits the teacher Kate
Holding a copy
Of A Portrait.

All around does swirl
The great sweet seas,
Heralding return
Of lost Ulysses.