Thank You!!!!

THANK YOU to everyone who donated to my grant! I’m happy to say the project has begun, and was funded so quickly that some interested people weren’t even able to give! This coming week I’ll be working with the school carpenter to start the classroom renovations. This term is nearly finished, so renovations should be complete by the start of next term and we’ll begin our club then! I’m also really really excited to announce that we’ve now received official permission from the District Office of Education to transform this Vocational Club into a full-fledged Vocational department within the next year. This essentially means that the department will be recognized by the federal government, thus the school will be awarded extra funding for it and will be given the necessary permanent staff to keep the department running. This couldn’t be better news for me, the project, or the school, because it means it will continue after I leave! It also means that once the official department is registered, the students at my school will have another Post-JHS option, since it will be open to post-JHS students regardless of whether or not they pass their SHS entrance exams (which almost none do – no one from my school has since 2009).

So that’s where my project stands. The rest of my life is slightly more difficult. We’re now in the middle of hot season, which is……well……hot. Really hot. For example, I’m currently sitting in my computer lab with a student who I’d promised to let use the computers this afternoon. In order to get here he had to knock relentlessly on my door to get me off the floor, where I was lying under the fan with a soaked piece of cloth covering my entire body. My cat was in his usual place in the fridge and refused to get out when I opened it for a fresh bottle of water (he’s still in there…spoiled brat).

BIggie in his usual position

I attempted to follow the student up to the computer lab, but his pace quickly overtook mine and I was left in the (literal) dust. So, 2 more minutes of walking (dragging…or, what do sloths do? I was doing that) later, I arrived where I am now, exhausted, with a completely empty water bottle and a dry, panting mouth. I can’t think about the 2 minute walk back down to my house yet. It might actually be a one minute walk. Either way, it’s too far.

What else? I’ve been basket weaving with my students after school. And by that I mean I’ve been sitting with my students while they weave baskets. I try sometimes and we all have a good laugh and then they take out what I did when they think I’m not looking. Turns out basket weaving isn’t my strong suit. It’s been fun though, and is incredibly labor intensive. First you take the straw and rip it in half, almost all the way. Then you take the halved pieces of straw and spin them on your thigh until they are like double helixes (this is the part I REALLY can’t get). Then you take the double helixes and dye them different colors. And then ONLY then do you unravel them and begin to weave your basket. Once the club gets up and running this will be a more official activity – along with glass bead-making and tailoring – but for now it’s really informal.

I also held a cultural day at my school right after Ghanaian Independence Day (March 6th, for all you IGNORANT folk who don’t know Ghanaian Independence Day). Kids did their local dances, while others drummed and honestly, when they dance you’d have no idea they’re deaf. I, of course, did my usual mom-dance stint which made them laugh but also probably reinforced the stereotype that Americans can’t dance. My friend Melissa then fire danced for them (yes….my friend Melissa can fire dance. I’m learning, don’t worry, but I’m about as good as I am at basket weaving). I’ve never seen my students so excited. They made her do the whole routine twice and then pounced on her with hugs after the second round. Then they asked when I was going to do it and I had to explain that not every American knows how to dance with fire. In fact, very FEW Americans know how to dance with fire. I’m still not sure I got the point across because they still ask me about it. Really, though, I take it as a compliment, they must have really liked my mom dancing.

My student, Monday, showing off his traditional dancing skills

This was longer than I intended it to be, but THANK YOU again to everyone who has supported me. You’ll be receiving something in the mail someday in the future (hopefully soon, but you never know with Ghana)!


A Day in the Life

Of me, if that’s not already clear.

5:30– I wake up to the sound of sweeping, roosters and radios on full volume. On a good day, I get up and go for a jog, listening to a playlist that is predominantly Ke$ha (i dare you to judge me), and watch the sunrise over African savanna. On a bad day I stay in bed, think nasty thoughts about my neighbor’s radio, and throw pillows at my meowing cat’s head until 6:30.

6:30– At this point I put on some water for oats and coffee (if i have electricity that day…i don’t right now), and probably do the dishes I failed to do the night before. Sometime during this portion of my morning, Sumaila, a p5 student, will come knocking on my door and remind me, as he reminds me every day, to put my bowls in the kitchen so he can get me school lunch at 2. I’ll tell him, as I tell him every day, that the bowls are already there, and yes, I am going to teach p5 today. We part ways.

7:30– After I am cleaned, dressed, fed and caffeinated, I will make my way up to the school classrooms (about a 500 yard walk from my house in the teachers’ quarters). The students will all be lined up in rows according to their classes for morning assembly. This is the time to make any necessary announcements, and also when the students sign the national anthem and morning prayers. I enjoy watching the small ones the most because:

  1. they’re small and therefore cute 
  2. they don’t know sign language very well yet, so usually during the anthem just repeat the same sign over and over again and pretend they’re following along.

Once assembly is over the students MARCH in their lines to their classrooms. Again, I watch the small ones.

8:00 – First period begins. Let’s say this is a Wednesday, and I’m teaching my P5 ICT class. When I enter the class every student stands to great me “Goodmorninghowareyoufine” and we begin. Sign language is very good for some things – story telling, descriptions etc. Sign language is not very good for other things – like teaching ICT for example. I will begin my lesson using the small sign vocabulary there is for ICT-related words, sometimes making up my own signs for things like “hard drive” and sometimes just relying on the written form. Some students understand, some students dont but nod their head anyways, some students are signing to someone outside the window. Yes, the class is quiet, but MAN it’s still distracting when they try to sign over you. Dependable Sumaila sits tall in the back row, diligently copying down everything I write in his wobbly handwriting. Three students will come in late and I will scold them and they won’t care. Finally, I’ll tell the students that it’s Group 1’s turn in the ICT lab and the 10 group one members will peel off with me and enter the lab. I have printed out and laminated paper keyboards that I hand to the rest of the students with the intention they work on their typing even though we both know that won’t happen.

    side note: our computer lab used to be a tiny room with one working computer. It is now a tiny room with FIVE working computers thanks to my parents and sister-in-law donating old laptops and fellow PCV Travis taking the time to come help me set them up! Thank you guys for your help and donations, it’s made such a difference to have more computers! If anyone reading this also has an old laptop they’d like to donate to our school please contact me (via an email or comment).

Anyways, I have all my classes broken up into groups of 10 so they can fit in the lab. They will take turns doing whatever assignment I’ve made for the day, pertaining to whatever lesson I did on the board. Sometimes typing their names, using the shift key, saving and re-opening documents, or their favorite, making a Ghana flag in paint.

9:00 – breakfast time! Students head down to the kitchen for some cocoa porridge and the teachers gather under the mango tree. We discuss everything from politics, to American culture, to sick students, to whether or not deep massaging a breast will make it grow, to “church services” (ie eating dog), to the recent news from Bawku (a region about 50 Km from me that is currently undergoing tribal violence over the chieftancy). Don’t loose sleep over it, Peace Corps doesn’t let us get within a 30 km radius of the area.

9:30-12:00 – classes continue (or don’t as the case often is). Teachers not in class remain under the mango tree or make various trips to town. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I’ll teach ASL to the teachers, in addition to my other classes, which usually ends up being one of the highlights of my day.

12:00 – I’m not scheduled to teach my p4 art class until 1, but upon passing the room I notice half the class is sleeping on their desks and the other half are playing with the paper airplanes we made last week. I decide this is the moment. It takes about 15 minutes to wake everyone up (with very hard and painful looking hits to the head!) and collect the other ones who figured the school day was over and went back to the dorms. I’m feeling nostalgic today, so we talk about snow.This involves me acting a lot of things out, like shoveling, and walking and penguins. I look like a fool, the children laugh and everyone has a grand old time. I pass around some pictures of snow and then the questions start.

  • “me travel america die? (Translated: If I go to america will i die?)”
  • “someone tell me women old cold die! (I hear the cold kills old women!)”
  • “Me clothes more more more, ok? (if I wear a lot of clothes will I be ok?)”

The translations aren’t meant to make my students seem stupid – they aren’t (well…most aren’t) – it’s just proper ASL grammar vs. English grammar I’m using. People (including myself) forget that English really is a second language to the deaf, and tend to judge them when their grammar isn’t correct. Well, it IS correct in their first language – ASL. Essentially every class these kids take is a bilingual class, because nearly every teacher has to rely on writing on the board (in proper English) when their signing isn’t good enough (or when their signing is non-existent, which is an unfortunate occurrence at schools for the deaf in Ghana, see: my teacher ASL classes, above). These kids are dealing with a lot more struggles than initially meets the eye (and they’re not lacking in those either), and I’m learning to appreciate how strong and motivated they really are.

Back to my day… Finally, we talk about how snowflakes are all different and unique, and I hand out paper to have them each make their own. I leave class to 47 paper snowflakes being thrown in the air and realize the students think snowflakes are actually the size of paper….. something for next class.

2:00 – school is “over” although it’s likely there haven’t actually been any classes for a while. The students head to the dining hall for lunch, and I sweat my way to my house because at this point it’s too hot for me to think about anything but being stationary and horizontal on my cement floor under a fan (again, if there’s electricity). Sumaila brings me some school food for lunch (not great, but FREE!).

3 – 5 – Any range of activities including : laundry, sweeping my house for the 4th time that day, cleaning the mess my cats made, biking into my village for food or cellphone credit, working on Peace Corps grants/reports/stuff, writing more lesson plans, wiping the dust that layered itself on all my furniture in the few hours I was gone, hanging out with my teachers’ kids,wandering the campus and having students try to teach me the Azonto (a dance, look it up on youtube, it won’t let me post the video i have), going to America on the back of Agana’s motorbike, declining another marriage proposal, watching a football match with students crowded around one small tv the school owns, or remaining horizontal on my cement floor and sweating. This is also a time when the side of my house creates a nice shadow from the sun and turns into prime play territory for a lot of younger students. I’ve gotten quite used to the noises made by my deaf students, but when I have visitors it often catches them off-guard. It’s adorable and I prefer them to the jarring noise of a guinea fowl any day (if the students don’t play the guinea fowl take over the shade and like to be very vocal. I think the reason I like their meat more than a chicken’s primarily has to do with the fact that I feel like I’m getting my revenge…)

5:30 – DINNER TIME! Students head to the dining hall for dinner. I sometimes visit them, sometimes stay in my house and concoct some sort of meal out of whatever i have at the moment. It often involves lots of tomatoes, onions and starch, although I’ve gotten pretty good a mimicking mac and cheese using powdered milk.Peace Corps gives me pre-natal vitamins to fill in the nutritional gaps, don’t worry.

7:00 – Students return to classrooms for night studying. This time is intended for them to do their homework, but because they almost never are assigned homework usually just turns into a play time. I’ve found this is one of my favorite times to wander around and encourage them to take out their notebooks and answer the random questions they ask. Or, again, have them try to teach me how to dance (they’re just SO GOOD). If I don’t go up to the classes and hang out with the students I’m usually found in my house reading (or if it’s a night like last night, I fall asleep at 7:15 with my book open to the first page…)

9:00 – Night classes end, although many of the children have been sleeping at their desks since 7:01. If I chose to hang out with the kids that night, I’ll also head to bed and promptly pass out in a puddle of sweat.

And that, my friends, is my weekday in a nutshell!

This post is in response to a request. If there’s something specific you’d like to hear about, let me know!