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!

It’s been one month at site and I’m doing great! There have been so many moments when I’m biking back from market, the sun is setting over the Tongo hills and the weather is starting to cool down, I dodge a baby goat sleeping in the middle of the road, the naked kids in the house near my school run outside to greet me excitedly for the 5th time that day and I think, “I’m SO happy to be here right now!” Of course, there are the other moments when I’m being shoved around the crowded, smelly Bulga streets by old women with sharp elbows and surprising strength, and my sweat-drenched clothing is starting to weigh me down and I think, “I’m about to pass out or vomit.” Luckily the former thoughts far outweigh the latter.
I can tell I’m integrating becuase of many changes I’ve undergone. No, calm down, my voice hasn’t dropped and I’m not sprouting facial hair, hold your horses.

  1. I kind of enjoy handwashing all my clothes now…. My back no longer aches from bending over the buckets, and I think it’s kind of relaxing (what?). I still cut my fingers open though.
  2.  I now sweep my house every morning like a real Ghanaian woman.
  3.  I no longer get homocidal thoughts when it takes a tro 3 hours to fill. In fact, I also find this somewhat relaxing, and I’m starting to think it’s endearing that Ghanaians take a long time to do things.
  4. I find it extremely hard to not sign when I speak.
  5. I plan ahead for my walk to town to take me an hour instead of 30 minutes because I have to stop and greet everyone and ask how they are/their husband is/their house is/their maize crop is/ their sick mother is etc. If I bump into someone new the conversation usually goes like this: “Silomina, how are you? [fine] What is your name? [Lauren, but we both know you’re just going to call me Silomina anyway] Where are you from? [America. Not the German kind] What church do you attend? [Protestant. Yay, Jesus] Will you come to church with me? [No, I won’t spend 5 hours of my Sunday in church, but you will continue to ask me unless I tell you that I will pray in my own house. I will pray in my own house] Will you marry me? [Not unless you’re royalty] Will you marry my brother/son? [Not unless they’re royalty].” In that order.

School has finally started. Ok well, it technically started on September 13th, but clearly that didn’t happen… It’s Ghana. Kids trickled in for 2 weeks, and when we hit about 75% capacity we “started” classes. However, we didn’t have a schedule for classes so everyone was still confused and not much teaching was actually done. Tomorrow, October 10th, will be the first day of teaching, with a schedule, and (almost) all of the students present. In a way, I’m extremely grateful for the slow start because teaching terrifies me and this has allowed me to get the hang of the school, watch some other teachers in action, and figure out a few lesson plans. I’m teaching Art and ICT to grades 4-6. ICT will be interesting because there’s currently only 1 working computer and my class sizes range from 30-45 students…
I enjoy my fellow teachers immensely. They’re a pretty funny and energetic bunch and I’ve been having a wonderful time sitting under the mango tree with them and listening to them chat (it mostly involves them making fun of each other). The new headmaster of our school has also now officially started and I’ve had some great conversations with him and Godfrey about my projects over the next two years. It sounds like we’re on pretty much the same page of focusing on creating a vocational program at the school for post-JHS deaf children. As of now there are only 3 options for deaf students who pass the national exam at the end of JHS (and not many pass because they take the same exam as the hearing population and often don’t have an interpreter at the testing site…): 1. To attend the one senior high school in Mampong, Ashanti Region, 2. To attend a 1 or 2 year vocational program at either Bechem or Wa schools for the Deaf (also a long trek from Upper East) 3. Give up on furthering their education and find a job in a city or go back home. Given the fact that there are 13 deaf primary/ junior high schools, and only 3 available programs for post-JHS deaf students, you can imagine the drop-out rate. Not to mention ALL 3 of the options are halfway across the country from Upper East. I, of course, will not be able to set up an entire vocational program in 2 years, but I’m hoping to start with the glass bead-making the previous volunteer worked on and slowly add different vocational skills as the program (hopefully) grows and starts generating some money. In the meantime I’ll also teach the kids very basic economics and marketing, which they can apply when they sell the goods they make in the program in the Bulga market.  I’m REALLY excited and inspired by this project so I hope it works out.
I had an incident with a mad woman while I was in the Tongo market. She followed me around the entire market and kept stepping on my feet and staring at me with glassy eyes and saying unintelligable things. I told her to go away in English, in Talen, and in ASL and she didn’t seem to understand any of them. When she started to follow me (and continue to step on my toes. Rude.) as I made my way to the path back to my house I started to get a little freaked out. Luckily, there was a gang of school children nearby who I called over and recognized the panicked look in my eye. They took action immediately. One of the older girls started dancing around the mad woman, and stepping on her feet (HAH, serves her right). The other children quickly joined in until the woman was surrounded, then they yelled, “RUN SILOMINA,” to me (Note: The word for “white person” is Silomina in the North. I’m no longer an Obroni. This may seem insignificant to you but believe me, it’s not). They looked like they had the situation under control so I decided to heed their orders and….run. I literally ran away from an angry mad woman and left children a fourth of my age to risk their own toes and distract her….. Not my proudest moment. Apparently this woman is a staple in town, though, so the children were familiar with strategies to get rid of her. And I was happy to provide them with the day’s entertainment. I do that a lot it seems. The other day I biked straight into a pole while attempting to sign “Good afternoon,” to some students. Cool, Lauren.
I left my site for one night to go to the Peace Corps sub-office and pick up packages, and when I came back the kids acted as if I had been gone for weeks. I crossed the gate into the school with 3 kids from the village who helped me carry my things (thank god, I was already drenched in sweat), and the students came RUNNING over to me, excitedly asking me how the trip was and what were in the packages. One girl told me I had done well, and that she knew computers must be in the boxes. Apprently white people have a reputation of always bringing computers to Ghanaian schools. Weird, huh? (But really…we need computers. Get on it white folks). They fought over who would help me carry my things to my house, and then three girls who didn’t get anything to carry paraded behind me, dancing. It was the best welcome I’ve gotten from one night away ever.

That’s it, let me know if you have any questions about Ghana, or my life, or deaf babies,  or mad women, or Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.

HAPPY CANADIAN THANKSGIVING!

I still miss cheese.