Tag Archives: Ghana

Capture Bliss

Capture Bliss

Apparently someone posed the question on Twitter what bliss looks like and thousands of people promptly replied with links to pictures of small moments of bliss they experienced.

This is a picture of bliss. We all have worries, but for me the moments of bliss are when those worries become invisible–our mind is occupied with something much more enjoyable (i.e. bliss).

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Obruni State-Side

This obruni hasn’t posted in a very long time… He apologizes for that. But while the posts have been lacking, the experiences have not.

During the last year, I slaved away at eradicating the achievement gap for second graders in Brownsville, Brooklyn in New York City. What effect did I have? I’m unsure. While the data always came back consisting of average scores, I feel confident that my scholars are ready for the next grade. This experience was by far the hardest thing I have ever done, and maybe ever will do. However, while I left most days wondering why I had signed up for this experience I was reminded of my passions and my abilities.

I am a person who believes in the good of other people; someone who wants every individual to be given the opportunity to maximize their own potential. We walk by people in the streets unaware of what they’re capable of. Often, we automatically jump to fear of another’s capabilities, but why not assume that the person has the power to change the world for the good? Perhaps, with the right teaching and determination that individual will find the cure to a disease the world so desperately needs. That’s what I want to do…not find the cure to a disease, but inspire and give others the tools necessary to do so. I want to light a flame that will spread like wildfire. I want to make a small hole in a dam that one day will cave under the pressure of the goodness behind it.

I used to say I wanted to change the world and of course there were nay-sayers who thought this naive and foolish. However, I believe it to be possible. Perhaps having a tremendous impact on the whole world would be difficult, but I can changed the world of some people and hopefully create a model for doing so that can be replicated in other areas and eventually spread throughout the whole world.

This is what I’ve come to: I enjoy teaching. Waking up and coming to school every day to greet the scholars in my class is not a chore, but I want more. I need to go and do this where others are not willing to. The achievement gap isn’t limited to America’s inner-city children; there are millions of children across the globe suffering from lack of opportunity who need someone to give them the tools/resources to be successful. Over the last few months I have really reflected on what this looks like for me and I have come to the conclusion that I will open my own elementary school in either Ghana or Kenya. The school will initially house and educate students in pre-k and Kindergarten and then add an additional grade each year thereafter through high school. With the help of volunteers, missionaries, community members, and churches we will decimate the achievement gap in the local community and prepare an army of scholars ready to address the challenges afflicting their community and nation.

I have one more year left in my commitment to Teach for America–a year in which I will continue to develop my skills to prepare and qualify me to make lasting change in the community of my future endeavor. I look forward to pursuing this dream and sharing the process with you.


Part Two: Day 3: July 31

Well, the rest of my day consisted of making noises with my mouth to entertain the younger boys and playing “volleyball.” I also managed to work on some English lessons with four of the children.

Playing led to a photoshoot with the children who absolutely loved looking at themselves. I still have so many more pictures I should take, though. In the near future, I want to write a post about each of the members of the family, pictures of course will have to wait until I return to the states…

Dinner tonight consisted of a traditional Kenyan dish, Ugali, and a stew. I much prefer Ugali to its counterparts in Ghana; it was not as doughy or sour as Kenkey or Fufu–more like Omo Tuo (rice ball).

Following dinner, we sat conversing and Joseph brought up his eldest son who’s name is also Samuel (pronounced Sam-well) and mentioned that he is “mental.” When I met Samuel, I knew something was off, but I’m not too fond of the adjective “mental.” Currently he is on some sort of medication (tablets) that are not as effective as an injection he can get at the local hospital/clinic. Having only been here three days, I volunteered to pay for the injection, so hopefully we will notice a change after he gets that on Wednesday. I’m not quite sure why I volunteered to do this, I just felt compelled to help in one of the few ways that I could.

Despite this being such a unique experience, one where I’ve done things I would never do at home (i.e. handle feces), I can’t help but feel that I belong in some weird way–that really says a lot about my host family considering the short time I’ve been here…


Sankofa

In Ghana they had a term for “returning to one’s roots,” and this was Sankofa. I can’t help but think with my upcoming trip to Kenya that I am in fact returning to my roots. 

While I grow more nervous by the day, I can’t help but become overwhelmed with excitement at all the experiences I will have. This time, my experience will be a rural one. Based at Kimuka in the Ngong Hills, I’ll be about an hour and thirty minutes south of Nairobi. From the Ngong Hills, or “knuckles,” in Swahili, I will be able to see Nairobi on one side and the Nairobi Game Reserve on the other. I’ll be in the heart of Maasailand. Some of Africa’s greatest warriors will be my neighbors and my caretakers. The Maasai are known for the bright fabrics, beaded adornments, and prowess of the Great Rift Valley. I can only hope that I master the art of milking a cow or spearing a lion during my months stay.

While my time will be plagued with no electricity or running water, I am eager for the opportunity to realize just how blessed I am. With little electricity it goes without saying that there will be no internet. However, I plan to keep you up to date somehow, even if I have to visit an internet cafe every once in a while, which I’ll have to do to charge my phone. I guess what I’m saying is, I would love for you to take this journey with me, from the comfort of your computer screen of course… To the right there’s an opportunity for you to enter your email address and subscribe. Being a subscriber will get you an email every time I post a new post. This is probably your best bet for staying informed because my posts will be haphazard.

Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers as I prayer. Take the coming week or so to look back at my posts from my time in Ghana. Come up with questions to which you want answers and I can do my best to seek answers while I am there, that will make it really interesting.

Up next: How I’m Going. What I’m Doing.


Patience…

…is a virtue,

This I know…

but mine is wearing thin.

My opinion is that there are three stages to becoming an African at heart. 1) You’re a newbie so everything that could frustrate you, you excuse because it is a different culture. Stage 2) You still realize it’s a different culture but your frustrations are at an all-time high… 3) This stage is reserved for those who are aiming to live in Africa–for you there is no such thing as frustrations because you’ve adopted many of the native practices as your own.

I am clearly in Stage Two, but despite my frustrations I am still thoroughly enjoying myself.  A lot of my frustration comes from the fact that Ghana has rules that people are expected to abide by, but the enforcers choose when they want to enforce them.

The other day we were just trying to cross the street, but it wasn’t a cross walk because there are only crosswalks every like mile and the police were like turn around a go back where you came from; we’re trying to teach you. Bologna. Two hours later we were walking on this path that had been made in the grass and we get to this guy that says turn around and go back where you came from, you can’t walk here. Well clearly we were not the first people to walk here. He then wanted to charge us 20 GHC to pass there. I wasn’t paying his backpocket though…

Then later that night we were trying to go out and dance for someone’s birthday and we get to this place and everyone can get in except me because I am wearing shorts, nice shorts, though. My knickers were unacceptable… That was the final straw for me that day… Then some guy was like I’ll get you some pants and I said I’m not gonna pay you a lot of money for a pair of pants your friend is giving me. He said, “How much you pay?” Um, no more than 2 GHC. “Oh, that’s no good. Gimme 5 GHC.” Okay, fine… So he leaves and then 10 minutes later a different guy comes back wearing some pants that look like he just took from someone off the street and I just couldn’t do it… I’m sorry… So I just decided to sit outside under the steps and wait for the rest of them… They came out in like 45 minutes because they said it was super lame and just a bunch of wealthy Obrunis and Obibinis. We didn’t come to Ghana to associate with the elite group so we left… I probably wouldn’t have been so frustrated if we had just been able to get there but our taxi got a flat tire on the way there so I helped change that… That day was just like one thing right after the other. You know what I mean?

Yesterday we had a very relaxing day at the pool which we all needed very much. So today we woke up refreshed and ready to take on the day. Some people are going to the botanical gardens which I’m sure are gorgeous, but you could see those anywhere. I would much rather take in the culture in another way…


Language Barrier

Before leaving the U.S. I made sure to find out what languages the people of Ghana spoke; all of the information told me that most people spoke English in their daily business. NOT.

Most everyone speaks Twi (pronounced chwee) and they speak English as well but not very much. You could look right in someone’s face and say “Is the sky green?” and they would say yes and then five seconds later say, “Is the sky purple?” and they would agree yet again. And while most people speak Twi, they also speak their own tribal language. One day in school I asked one class to tell me what language they spoke and each student spoke a different language—it’s pretty remarkable actually.

Learning the language isn’t as difficult as I expected because EVERYONE wants to teach you… However, there are some sounds that are just hard to make; it’s like one letter is a combination of three sounds. As if that wasn’t hard enough, a lot of the meaning comes with intonation—you can say something one way and people will just look at you with a blank stare and then you can simply change where you put the emphasis and it’s like someone flipped a switch. Even English words have to be said the exact same way the locals say it or they have no idea. Take for example the word “Circle.” Kwame Nkrumah Circle is in the center of Accra and if you get there you can basically get anywhere else you need to go; however, if you look at someone and say, “Where are the trotros to Circle?” they’ll say, “Where?” And it takes about six times before you realize you have to pronounce Circle as “Suckle.” All jokes aside.

So, let’s have a Twi lesson. Please realize that I have no clue how to actually spell these words; I have just been writing them down by sounds so that I can remember how to pronounce them because often they words written don’t look like they would sound the way they do.

Mepaucho (may powcho) – Please

Medase (meh-das-ay)—Thank you

E te san (ay-tay-sane)—How are you?

Eye (ay-yay)—Good

Aye De (ay-yay-do)—Happiness is Here/The environment is enjoyable

Mache—Morning

Maha—Afternoon

Majo—Evening

Co—go

Bra—come

Cobra—go and come

Obwa—you lie

Oyare—Are you sick?

Neyare—He/she is sick

Shay hoon su yay—Take care of yourselves

Ti mi su ca cra—I don’t want Obruni price

An no mah—Bird

Ah fa fran toe—Butterfly

Ah coo coh—Chicken

Oguan—Goat

Oguantane—Sheep

Oo co scoo—Are you going to school?

Wo hubon se aponche—You smell like a goat

Acom di may—I am hungry

Ofugay—Mad dog

Didi—Eat

Asa—Dance

Tonyom—Sing

O free he—Of where are you?

Me free—I am from…

O te hey—Where do you stay?

Me coda—I am sleeping

Me koffi—I am going home

Meeni oh by ee—What’s for dinner?

Oh by ee—We are eating…


oh my lord.

Never did I expect such a reaction when giving a test.

Junior High here ranges between ages 13-18 and they are all different levels. I taught them two chapters and gave them a weeks notice to study for this test and they were lost… Earlier in the day when I went to borrow one of their textbooks to make the test one of the students said, “Make it cheap; cheap questions.” I clarified to make sure cheap meant what I thought, easy… I tried explaining to them that me giving them an easy test would do nothing for them as students; if they want to learn to think and succeed they have to be tested and pushed…

So, I made out the test: Four ID’s (basically you just write everything you know about something) and then four other questions that needed about a paragraph for each one. I wrote the questions on the board and one kid hollered out, “This is not how we do in Africa.” I replied with a casual, “Okay, well it is today,” and the student grumbled. I said, “If you don’t know or don’t remember something then make a guess–just try. However, do not let me see you looking off someone else’s test or yours will get ripped up and i’ll make you up a new one.” They wanted to test that last part. I started to rip one students and I think they got the picture. Little does that student know though that he will probably not even get half credit because he took it upon himself to mouth the answers to another girl. I asked them if they thought I was stupid and also reminded them that I was only 20 and was just in their shoes so I know all the ways of how teenagers try to sneak a peek at their neighbors paper.

I am going to have to give myself a couple of hours rest before I even begin to grade these; I’m gonna need a lot of patience! What really got me was that one of the teachers had written one of the answers on the back of the notebook and thought that I wouldn’t notice. I marched right back there and took that notebook from both the students who were rapidly trying to copy it down and kept it for myself and gave the other teacher a mean look. This was the same teacher whom the other day kicked the soccer ball and knocked a girl’s food right off her desk all over the floor and didn’t offer to pay her back or get her something else. 50 pesewas, about 25 cents, may not seem like much, but when it can buy someone an entire meal here…it is a lot of money. The girl was crying, REALLY crying. I just went and got her some crackers and water because I didn’t bring much money to school that day… But seriously? You call yourself a teacher. Oh, and now that I think about it, this is the same teacher that carries the whip when playing soccer with the kids and literally whipped one of the students when they went for the ball. Butthead. Forgive me.

Oh well, today was a good day at school for the most part! In Class 3 I worked on the tenses with them. We went outside and each person got three concrete squares and I would say a sentence and then they would determine if it was past, present, or future and write it with chalk in their appropriate square. I had fun, I hope they did too… Lol

Alright, well Spain just scored and all the other volunteers went wild (we have three Spanish girls here right now) so I better get off here and partake in the happiness!

Aha Yede (Happiness is here!)


refreshing in so many ways

This past weekend we traveled to the Volta Region (it is in the Eastern part of Ghana) for breathtaking scenery. At sort of the last minute we decided to take a trip to the waterfall there and see what else we could–we had no idea what we were in for.

Wli Falls is about a 350 foot tall waterfall and is probably the most beautiful thing I have seen to date. After about a 40 minute hike, you reach the pool that the falls drop into. It was a party. There were gigantic speakers, people dancing, and plenty of people swimming and taking pictures. It truly was one of the best experiences I have ever had. WE STOOD UNDERNEATH THE WATERFALL. Some of the locals showed us how to walk hand in hand with our backs to the falls so our faces didn’t get pelted with mist. Once we reached the falls we got in a circle and danced around–it was very surreal.  So many gallons of water pouring down on you at once, at times it was hard to bare. Afterwards however, I felt extremely clean–probably the cleanest since being here. All the dirt, grime, and dust had been washed from my skin and my hair was the softest it has ever been. Did I mention I did all of this in my underwear? I felt like a local for sure; they all swim in their underwear EVERYWHERE! When you get ready to go you just put your pants back on and go. I, however, wore my underwear out of the forest and then took them off and just put my shorts back on to avoid any unnecessary discomfort.

Before ever making it to the falls we visited the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary. This monkey sanctuary proved far superior to the one outside of Cape Coast. I fed a monkey from my hand! We also got to see two different groups of monkeys compete for territory. As they made their calls for their troops all the goats and chickens went wild; I felt like I was on an episode of The Wild Thornberry’s!

This was definitely a productive weekend–so, so, so surreal! Even the more trying parts of the weekend were miniscule when I remind myself that I stood under a 350 ft. tall waterfall and fed a monkey from my hand. We had “reservations” at a hotel, but reservations here don’t mean anything so we got to the hotel and he called his friend and tried to get us to stay elsewhere. I did manage to get us somewhat of a bargain at the hotel though…

I am now getting excited to go to the other two falls in the area–they aren’t as tall, but they’re supposed to be just as beautiful. I. Can’t. Wait.

If you ever make it to Ghana, Wli Falls is a must-see!


time flies

wow. the short time I have been here has flown by! i keep trying to soak as much in each day as possible so as not to miss anything…

On Sunday, myself and a fellow volunteer teacher were invited to church by the head teacher at school. We had no idea what we were in for… We were told he would get us at 8:30 and he didn’t come until 9 (this is typical in Africa) so we caught that tail end of the children’s service and then began the other service at 9:30 and were there for three hours and we left after Part I. Can you imagine being in church for six hours in one day? Craziness! The church was packed full of people and everytime the music began to play they poured into the aisles and danced with no inhibitions; I found myself gathering so much of their energy just by watching! The church service was a combine service both English and Twi and also French I think…so every time a scripture was read it was done in all three languages. Before beginning her sermon, the Reverend asked us to introduce ourselves. As soon as we mentioned we were from the U.S. they congregation erupted with “oooohhhhsss and ahhhs,” and “WE SCORED THE U.S. YESTERDAY! WE SCORED THE OBAMA BOYS!” People are still reminding us that we lost to Ghana…

School has been a little tiring these past few days just trying to figure out how we can make a difference… I spoke with the head teacher about beginning some sort of reading program which I think we will initiate tomorrow. A significant portion of the students have no idea how to read but yet they are still required to copy everything off the board; they have notebooks full of information but don’t know what any of it says–it’s a little disheartening. One of the teachers had been teaching for two weeks and thought the kids were picking up on things until she gave them a written assignment and realized that only two students of the 7-8 year old class knew how to read and the rest of the students were either copying or having those two students read the questions to them.

I tried explaining to the head teacher that no progress can happen until these kids know how to read and comprehend. You can try teaching them all you want, but all they are doing is memorizing the shapes and transferring them to their papers… Two volunteers don’t go to their sites on Fridays so I have roped them into coming to the  school to do some small group work with some of the students… We’ll see how it goes… There are about 9 students in Class 1 that can’t read, two in Class 3, and two in Class 5 that need significant help… I’m not sure about Class 2…

You can learn so much about Ghanaian culture just by sitting in a Junior High classroom and having a coversation with the students (ages 13-18). Today they asked me what would happen to a man in the U.S. if he raped a woman, I told them that the man would most likely go to jail for life and they were completely shocked… I can’t say that rape is culturally acceptable here, but the rules and opinions on it are much more lax. They also asked what would happen if a man slapped a woman and I tried explaining that he would be warned probably the first time and then after that he could continue to be punished more severely… They are full of questions; another question was, “Does the U.S. make condems?” And I told them yes… They then said, “Oh really? Because I heard the Chinese did and that they made them to fit their own penises and they’re too small for ours.” Wow. They asked if we had that problem and I told them we needed a new topic…

I am at the stage where I am giving tests to certain classes. Class 4 finished their citizenship book so I gave them a test on Monday and all I heard was, “Sir Sam this is too much.” I am sorry, but we have been talking about this for the past two weeks, no excuses. You would have thought I was asking them to recite the Declaration of Independence… The Junior High class has a test next Wednesday on two chapters from their book and I told them no multiple choice because they can just memorize facts and to expect about 20 questions and I got the same response… I’m not sure what they’re used to it…

Anyway, that’s all for now…I think I need a nap because today was soooo hot! and I just need to lay under a fan, fa’sho.


s-s-s-s-school

(6-14-2010)

Yesterday I decided to whip out some of the school supplies I was able to bring and declared the day Mechanical Pencil Monday. FAIL. Well, it wasn’t a complete fail; At least now I know to give gifts at the end of the day.

I began giving pencils out early in the day and the kids were extremely appreciative. For every one I gave I received a “Thank you, sir. God bless you.” The children guarded them like treasure and had big smiles on their faces; it was nice to see something that we would regard as a simple gesture to be received and appreciated so greatly!

With that said, the kids fought and fought. “Godwin stole my pencil from my pocket!” or “My graphite is gone!” Well kids, figure it out… I am not the pencil police and I’m sorry. I eventually just told them to put them away or I would collect them because it was impossible to get anything done in the classroom with the disruptions.

I wanted the kids to be able to use the pencils so I told them that I would see about getting more lead or graphite as they say. On the other side of Accra there is Accra Mall and it is basically a western mall; there are a ton of Obrunis there and high-class Ghanaians. It saddens me to think that many foreigners come to Africa and see only this side of Accra—this isn’t Africa; this isn’t the way most people live at all. Also, this mall is the only place where you will see children begging and they aren’t even African children, they are Indian children; I swear it is like something out of Slumdog Millionaire. They see you, come up to you, grab your arm and say “Master, a bite to eat; some money?” And they usually hang on for about a minute and while it is heartbreaking and can also be a little obnoxious.

Anyway, at the Accra Mall there are two big grocery stores that carry a variety of products, one of them being lead/graphite. We got to the aisle where the school supplies were and graphite was like 8 cedis (about $7)—UNREASONABLE. Everything is much more expensive there because mainly upper-class people go there, but for me that was just too much. Even deodorant was around 10 to 11 cedis ($9).

Today (6-16-2010) I apologized to the students for not being able to get graphite; however, I was able to get a couple of storybooks which made today’s Creative Arts lessons all the more worthwhile. Yeah, today I taught Creative Arts; it’s beginning to look like I am just going to be a go-to teacher for when another teacher doesn’t want to teach. I taught two creative arts classes, one math class on probability, and a social studies class on Ghana’s Cooperation with Other Nations (basically on participation with UN, ECOWAS, & African Union). I was exhausted by the end of it; I just woke up from a 1 hour and 20 minute nap and I feel good J

All of my teaching is done on the spot because I don’t have any of the books to prepare ahead of time and often I don’t even know what I am teaching until I am teaching it. In one of the Creative Arts classes we talked about the necessary parts for a story (characters, subject matter, title, audience, etc.) and then I read them a story and we then answered questions about what we had previously discussed. The next Creative Arts class was several years ahead of the last class so the book would have not been as engaging. Instead, we also talked about the different parts of a story, but this time they were supposed to come up with one of their own that they could act out for the class. We came up with the subject matter and four characters together, the rest was up to them.

It is extremely difficult for these kids to do anything on their own, as in think creatively or for themselves. None of the plays include what we had talked about as far as characters or subject matter go. In addition, one group found a play in their book and read straight from that and the other teacher actually encouraged this despite my instructions—that was a little disappointing. I am going to make it my personal mission to get these kids to somehow think for themselves when it comes to their writing and creative thinking. I asked for examples of subject matter and everything I got was HIV/AIDS, Drug Abuse, Obedience, Disobedience, Death, etc. I’m not sure they completely understood me when I said that stories could also be about fun/exciting things (i.e. playing football (soccer here), cooking dinner, a birthday celebration, etc.).

I actually just finished reading PUSH by Sapphire, the book that the movie Precious was based on. This book was an excellent read, especially considering my new mission of teaching these kids to THINK. In addition, the book simply teaches you to love. I would definitely suggest you read it, but beware because it is graphic at times.


Sam G

I absolutely dig adventure and travel!

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Mathematical

Madison's renderings of teaching and learning