I am now moved in with my family from the school, and I am so, so glad. Living alone at the hotel (alone in the room and sometimes being the only guest staying in the whole hotel) made me so homesick. The staff eased my loneliness, trying to make me American dishes, letting me cook with them, and escorting me to the market. Martin and Kate, past teachers at the HFLA, thankfully dropped by often, as well as Stephen, the principal of the primary school, Seth, the assistant headmaster and Richard, the owner of the Hotel. I have been teaching Martin how to play the ukulele (rather we have been learning together, as he had already advanced beyond my expertise within the first week). I’m afraid to have another lesson with him because he is going to make me look bad. Thanks a lot, Martin.
Kate took me to Thursday’s Market Day and saved my life a few times from the tro-tros and motos, as well as the many carts somehow squeezing through the crowd. I was shouted at a lot– though there was a lot of shouting in general– and people were getting angry that I was not responding to their, “Yavu! Adona roba?” However, I feel that responding to “Foreigner! Do you speak Ewe?” with silence answers their question.
The next day we met at the school for a staff meeting to prepare for the school year, and before I left I dared to check the state of the classrooms. It was pretty bad. Papers, bottles, bugs and dust, dust, dust, since the windows are just barred screens, inviting the outside particles to congregate inside. I asked the administration when we planned to clean, and they said they would clean when the students arrived on Tuesday.
“Don’t classes start on Tuesday?”
“Yes– we shall clean when the students arrive.”
“. . . shouldn’t we prepare classrooms before they arrive?
“ . . . (chuckles), no, no . . . no . .”
So, I started cleaning, with a chorus of, “no, no, madam, please rest!” following me from room to room. After about an hour the administration started to leave campus, so I had to abandon my efforts. I left frustrated, but a couple days later my OCD was appeased by a call informing me that after some discussion, they decided to have an all-staff clean-up day before school began. I was happy that my voice was heard, but knew that this was the beginning of a continuous struggle I would fight throughout the school year– trying to introduce ideas to the teachers and administration without being disrespectful to their authority and culture. Already I think I’ve upset most of the staff at some point, stepping in on lessons and calling them out on purposeless and, frankly, lazy teaching practices (with tact, to my best ability). Nevertheless, I remind myself that I am not here for 3 weeks this time– sustainable change is possible in 10 months. I will press on because our students deserve a school that is run with their best interest in mind, rather than out of ease. So, we cleaned (many begrudgingly), and I was taught how to sweep because I was “not doing it right”, and eventually was relieved of this duty by someone who could do it correctly.
I did my laundry by hand like a straight-up PILGRIM. I accidentally ate a whole pepper from my soup in the hotel’s dining room, and the other hotel guests tried to take a picture of me dying. I bought some milk from the concierge to ease the burning and then I spilled it everywhere– again, in front of the other guests. Nice. I tried to rescue an injured chick who had been chosen as the sacrificial offspring by her mother, pecking away at the chick’s already open wound. I treated her injury and offered her cap-fulls of water, which she would attempt to faint in (to my distress). She was eventually adopted by another of the hotel chickens, but did not end up making it. I was sad.
My last day in the hotel I prepared student tablets with reading games and put together binders of dry-erase phonics activities, as well as took leveled inventory of all the materials I had brought. It was pretty mind-numbing, so I went outside to play Frisbee with the neighborhood kids. When I stepped out, they all chanted a song in Ewe for me and would not tell me what it meant– “Yavu, Yavu, soomething, something something sooome-thing!” I just went along with it and danced by. I was then kidnapped by some children I had not met before and paraded to their family. It was great.
The next morning I went by motobike to the Catholic church to meet Martin. I however could not find him, so I wandered the perimeter of the pews, sheepishly and pretty irreverently. I settled with a pew in the back to minimize the stares and witnessed the liveliest Catholic service I have ever attended. Classic hymns jived with African beats and most members danced and/or waved hankies. I eventually found Martin playing in the band, and waited with some children as they tore down. They were all sweetly cuddling me as we chatted, and I asked one what they wanted to be when they grow up.
“. . . (mumbling) . . .”
“I can’t understand you, you have to speak up!”
“. . . (mumbling) . . .”
“Okay, I really can’t hear you. Say again?”
“ (in my ear) . . . Give me money.”
Ah, pure love. No ulterior motives here, just like the kids that hold my hand and ask for toffi or a small gift like an elephant or car.
After church and a storm (accompanied by a lengthy power-outage), I packed and left the hotel to live in my new home. We arrived to an industrially-gated house, guarded by the biggest and friendliest dog I had met in Akatsi and shaded by a mango tree that is about to come into season. I was ecstatic. I opened the door to my room and saw freshly-painted blue walls, with a framed bed covered in a flowery sheet. I had a couch and desk and screened windows and a ceiling fan– I was astounded! In the coming days they even added a wardrobe and a mini-fridge. And the best part– a chamber pot. Why don’t we use them in America? Probably because in America you don’t have to brace the forbidding wilderness to pee in the middle of the night, but hey– they’re phenomenal.
They serve me meals in a tiered platter and surprise me with bananas, guava and popo, and even apples and grapes imported from the states! They have been so kind to me, inviting me into their family but treating me as an honored guest. And the dog and I are BFFs– I give him all of the loves and he in turn guards me from the spiders, frogs and lizards while I shower. And let’s not forget the fearsome GIANT SNAILS. Or giant worms.
Then came the first day of school– a long, exhausting but joyous day. I remembered many more kids than I thought I would, and surprised many students by calling them by name. I was sad to see that many of my old favorites had left to go to other schools, but still many remained, as crazy and sassy as I remembered. I was confused to hear that the students were attending the classes they had in the previous school year, because they staff were not ready to switch over yet. I inquired about it, and by the end of the day students switched classes, ceremoniously, yet nonsensically bringing their chairs and tables with them as their new room was emptied by the previous class, carrying their class’s furniture along, etc. When I asked about this, I was met with more chuckles, so I let it be.
I visited each class throughout the day, taking notes on things to touch on in our future staff meetings and hesitantly stepped in if things were going too poorly or if I had a sudden idea. Nearly every class I sat in on repeated, repeated and repeated. In one class, the teacher read a health passage for 15 minutes, then picked a student to recite it again for another 15 minutes to the sleeping class. Another room was working on computations, and when the student said the answer, the teacher had her and the class repeat the answer louder and louder about 10 times. It was difficult to hold my tongue but I reminded myself that change is a slow process and I can’t do everything.
On my second day, I was walking past the classrooms and peered into an especially loud room. There was no teacher, but I assumed they were out briefly so I walked on, after lecturing them on not acting a fool when unsupervised. About an hour later I walked past again to find a clamoring, teacherless classroom. I asked a passing teacher where their sir went, and was informed that he, “went into town for some materials”. I asked the administration about it, but they were busy registering incoming students so they did not have an answer for me. Thus I taught class 4 the remainder of the day, replacing their Ewe and French blocks with some phonics and music.
We had a short rhyming lesson followed by a group rhyming competition. Transitioning to music, I took ideas for song topics/phrases from the students, picked words from the phrases to rhyme, made rhyming lists with the students, and we eventually wrote a song called, “We Love to Be Kind”. After we finished each verse, the class would cheer. A few kids suggested different melodies to use, and when they rang the bell to end classes, a few students remained, furiously scribbling down the song in their notebooks. It was great.
The first nights of the week, I still had all of my materials at the house, so my room became a library for the family. Shine, her kid brother Mawuko and her older brother Vincent would appear in my room every night, to read books, do puzzles on the tablets, and have DJ/dance/boxing/yoga/basketball battles.
The third day of school we began building and organizing the library in the resource center. There was a stack of about a dozen books already sitting, but the rest we pulled from the office. They had a sort of library there, but in the mix were old textbooks, half-books, random pages of books, old report cards, a information packet on a nuclear plant in Ghana, a set of poems about an unsolved case of a serial murderer, a manual for accounting from the 60’s, a PLNU 2014-15 course catalog, books in Spanish and German and many books that were simply illegible. I did find some gold in the search, and recognized some books I had donated in the past (many with “Stefanie Macias” scrawled on the inside cover, making my heart smile) but some of it got thrown away. A boy from the junior high school helped me take them to the bin, and when we were done, I turned back to see him sifting and taking some. He told me he would read them at home to check if they are good or not. It was sweet but also sad. We took the usable books and organized them by difficulty, and as it came together I felt so proud. It was so much more accessible and enticing, and right away students started coming in before and after school and during breaks to read. My heart was so happy.
That night I went out to the shops and ran into Jessica, a very excited class 4 student that led me to another excited student’s house, Gifty from class 5. I stayed and chatted for a bit, but upon my departure it was dark and I admittedly got lost on my way home. I was a bit uneasy, but as I called my family to get directions from where I was, I ran into Kate and she saved me (she tends to save me often). She led me to the house safely and I was so thankful.
I was told there were more primary books boxed at the senior high school, so today we went to collect them. We arrived to find boxes on boxes on boxes of textbooks, and after opening a couple dozen boxes, we accepted they would not be found today. I decided that I would spend a couple hours every Friday morning at the senior high school to organize the books from the boxes in the library with the librarian. It will be a strenuous task, but I can’t bear the thought of those books sitting stacked and gathering dust any longer. Plus, perhaps we’ll run into some primary books along the way.
When we got back to the primary school, I wrote some tests to measure the reading level of the KG-5 students. I wanted the teachers to decide which students needed help, but that was met with confusion and administration doesn’t have testing records from the past school year, so I have to do it the hard way. We started testing KG2 today and it actually went pretty well, most of them acting confused upon the mention of alphabet, but began a robotic recitation when we initiated. The resource center teacher watched me proctor initially, while I explained what I did (and why), then did it herself with my help, and by the end of the day was doing it on her own, allowing us to test two students at a time (and giving her proctoring strategies to use when I eventually leave). I was really pleased with that.
Now, I am a bit sick and my body hurts, but I’m so happy. I never had siblings, and having these little people running in and out of my room in their underwear, beating each other up and putting on shows for me every night is so much fun. I feel adjusted (though my body is lagging behind) and am so thankful that God is using me here.