Reflection – I am home!

The weather is cold here and the showers are hot!

It has been harder than I thought re-adjusting to home and remembering to do things like throw my toilet paper in the toilet and drink tap water. Reflecting on Ghana I realize what an amazing experience it was and how much I have grown from those twenty days. I realized that public speaking is only as scary as you make it and that I can teach and lead a class. I learned about a new culture and made friends that seemed so different at first. I learned how to dance Azonto, eat fish with bones in the dark, play drums, break up middle school disputes, navigate markets, laugh with strangers, sweep with palm fronds, make cinder blocks, pound fufu, enjoy cold showers, wear Ghanaian fabrics,  express local customs, think on my feet in class, and barter with market woman who don’t speak my language. The culture of Ghana is so different yet I found so many parallels with home. What I loved about Ghana was the sense of community and joy the villages held. They had chiefs and elders and everyone was responsible for their friends and neighbors. I felt safe and accepted walking through the towns to shop, hangout at the local dance spot, watch soccer, and visit where my kids lived. I have gained new found respect for the amount of effort it takes to live in third world countries and a slight disgust for how unfairly we live with our fancy electronics, kitchens, washing machines, cars, excess food, and clean water. Teaching the kids and seeing how driven they are while experiencing how they live has made me want to help give them the opportunities I have been given. I wish I could sponsor them all, but, I have chosen to sponsor Bernard, one of the many students I fell in love with. I grew closer to my Westtown friends who accompanied me to Ghana and became close with teachers I had never talked to before. In Ghana I learned what it was like and how to handle standing out in the crowd, I experienced the power of religion and a different code of ethics, and I became confident in my ability to handle myself in a new place. I have got the travel bug and I can’t wait to see where it takes me next.

TGIF!

In Ghana we get as excited about the weekends as we do at Westtown. Teaching is fun and I have been learning a lot, but there is no denying that it is exhausting and that by the time Thursday hits we are longing from a break from our energetic students. Ghana is a much slower paced place than America but that doesn’t mean there is a lack of work. Everything simply takes longer because it is done by hand.

On Saturdays we travel to visit historical places in Ghana. We take a cramped, bumpy van ride to the coast to visit slave castles or the rainforest. What I have found the most interesting about these trips, besides visiting the castles themselves, is seeing how the coastal village people live. Ghana has not caught on to the tourism trade and the slave castles have tours but they are not built up in the way you would expect to accommodate tourists; you get to see the local life and markets. The people on the coast live off the ocean, and you can smell the fish in the air. The men are thin and wired with muscle from controlling sails, and the woman are muscular from carrying the fish. Everyone is working hard. There are groups of young children sitting along the rocks sewing nets and drying fish and old sea-worn men patching sales in the shade. They live in grass and wood huts crammed together off the rocky shore. What I thought was really cool about the coast was the boats. They make long wooden canoes and then use a pole and patched together fabric as sales. They are beautiful boats and are often painted by their owners who move them with comfortable skill over the rough waves.

The slave castles dwarf the fishing towns, sitting high on a cliff. They serve as a sad reminder of what happened to Ghana not long ago. The tours are interesting and sad. We are taken through the dungeons and the rooms of no return before we go up and see the contrast of the governor’s quarters. After the tour, we get to shop before heading home for a relaxing evening of hanging out and playing cards with are local friends. This Saturday after touring a slave castle we went to the rainforest to walk on canopy bridges. The bridges are built high above the ground with just ropes and some wooden planks laid across ladders reaching from tree to tree. It was really fun and the people who felt comfortable loved to mess with everyone else by bouncing the rope, luckily we all made it out alive. Sunday is beach day!! We get to travel to one of the few resorts on the coast, eat pizza, swim in the ocean, and relax. I am nice and sunburned so I will have to lotion a lot tomorrow!

I can’t wait to get back to school tomorrow and see all my kids, I can’t believe this trip is almost over!

Erin

The Market

The food in Ghana is nothing like the food at home. It is not processed and distributed through grocery stores from huge farms like we are used to. Ghanains don’t have the variety we do either, they eat what is in season and there is no concept of “junk” food and “healthy” food. This is something I love about Ghana, how the people are so much more in tune with nature and where their food comes from than we are. In Ghana you would not get chicken and yam, you would get yam and chicken. The starch always comes first and many people leave out the protein all together. We have eaten a ton of rice balls and ground nut soup, fufu, plantains, yam chips, sweet bread, red peppers, boiled boned chicken, and pineapples. All of these meals contain the same staple ingredients: starch (rice, plantains,yam, bread), bean, red peppers, palm oil, and ground nut. The fruit I have had here has been by far the best fruit I have ever had. The bananas are smaller and have much more flavor and the pineapples are much more juicy and sweet. I could eat these fruits forever! It has made me realize how much flavor we lose in the chemically ripened and shipped fruit that we eat at home.

One of my favorite things to do here is go to the market. The market here is not for people who don’t like crowds and over-stimulation. There is so much going on and so many venders crammed together that it becomes a winding labyrinth that is easy to get lost in. Melissa has joked about how awesome a big town market would be to do an amazing race in because the scavenger hunt would be so hard. The market is full of kids, goats, and vendors selling everything from food to light bulbs. In the market, just like everywhere in Ghana, we stand out as the only white people. Most of the kids have never seen a white person before and the adults if any have seen very few. People love to stare, and the kids run up to us shouting “Obroni!”

In Ghana each person has a name associated with the day they were born. Because I am a girl and was born on a Saturday my name is Ama and because I am the eldest twin my other name is Bennie (Ethan is Kakra wich means younger twin). Since there are only seven days a week the market women shout to you random names and when you yell “Ama!” they all go “Eyyy! Ama!”. They are all so fun and enthusiastic and, surprisingly, they don’t try to force you to buy even though they associate white skin with money. The streets of the market are crowded with vendors crammed along the sides, women and men walking with ridiculous loads on their heads, and boys weaving carts of goods through the goats and people. You always have to be on your toes as cars and people will give you a warning shout or honk but that does not mean they will move for you (Jordan almost got hit by a car).

What I did not expect was the amount of fish sold here. It smells bad and looks unsanitary as people are holding trays of entire fish out in the hot sun. My favorite part of the market and the reason we go there is the fabric. I LOVE Ghanaian clothes. The energetic and crowded market is full of beautiful tapestries and fabrics. In Ghana you buy fabric in yards and then make your clothes from that. Two yards make a dress and they usually go for 5 cedis a yard. Once people choose and buy fabric, people would either make their own clothes or do as we did and call the local tailor to come a measure us. I can’t wait to get my dress back!

In the evening, all of the vendors pack up their goods and take them home or put them back in the shop and lock it back up like a storage container. The amount of work to unload and reload the goods in many of these shops takes entire families hours and the vendors have to do it twice a day. Most of the street vendors (the people without set booths) are children and they often talk to us in their scattered English about where we are from and ask us to buy the water pouches or yam chips they are selling on their heads (the yam chips are so good). What I have learned is that Ghanaian markets are great but exhausting and seeing where people go to buy and barter has taught me a great deal about the culture.

Teaching at Heritage Academy

Teaching has been challenging, fun, and rewarding. I never thought I would teach because I have always hated speaking in front of people. I took this trip to Ghana because I knew it would push me outside of my comfort zone. The kids at Heritage are adorable and facinated with the “Obroni” (foreigner) that are on campus. At first this was exciting and I loved to be swarmed by little kids.  After eight days it has become exhausting when I get swarmed walking from a class while the little kids are screaming “Obroni!” and fighting for my hand. I love them anyways and can’t resist hugging them and trying to communicate with them in their limited english.The fact that the kindergarden is taught under a tent makes this especially hard to control. One of my favorite things to do with the little ones is teaching them American nursery rhymes like Old McDonald and The Itsy Bitsy Spider (I will have to video tape it – it is adorable). 

My first two periods of the day are reading periods where I sit with a small group of kids and help them read a book. We learned quickly that the kids vary a lot in reading levels. To solve this the group of reader have set up a system where one person hangs back and picks out the kids that need extra help from our groups once we begin to read. The students favorite thing to read by far are the Disney Princess Story books and Junie B Jones. What we have been working on with the kids is reading comprehension. The kids are not fluent and may seem like they can read but most just sound out the words without having any idea what most of them mean.

My first class is the 6th grade in the shed and after lunch I teach J2a and J2b in the main building. I was nervous on the first day when I walked in and realized it would not be easy. The students are eager and have a lot of energy, the key is to figure out how to channel that into learning. They were excited to see us and introduce themselves, but, just like the sixth graders at home they were rowdy… jumping around, hitting eachother, and shouting. A tool that works is shouting, “If you can hear me raise your hand”. The windows and doorways are open, which makes sound travel extremely easy between classes making us have to talk in a louder than normal voice. I love how eager the kids are to learn. We have taught them grammer, poems, and are now starting on short stories and plot structure. Teaching here consists of a lot of copying and memorizing and it is hard to teach them to think forthemselves: to say write there own story or poem. I have loved teaching and even though it has been hard and discouraging at times when kids don’t get it I do feel that I have been able to teach them about creative writing and about my culture. I hope that I will be leaving here with some short stories they have written to share at home. 

My students love to write notes and everybody wants to be your penpal. Their favorite thing is to have their picture taken. They will ask in class and run up to you outside saying “snap! snap!” and all cram infront of the camera. In Ghana time is much more relaxed, us Americans call it Ghana time. Ghana time for Americans means calm down, class will start when it is ready. Periods are set times but they are just guidline, school periods start and end a bit differently eachday and people get there when they are good and ready. I have learned to be flexible and time has taken on an entirely new meaning (getting back to the Westtown schedule will be hard).

Teaching in Ghana has been amazing and has taught me so much. I love the kids and have learned a lot from them about their humility and kindness. I have loved becoming close to my students and the high school students here. Traveling into town to learn about their families, Ghanain culture, and food has been my favorite part of this trip. I love town because I get to see what my kids lives are like outside the classroom.

Obroni’s Arrive in Ghana

We have internet!

My first week in Ghana has been amazing. I had no idea what I was getting myself into but Ghana has welcomed me, suprised me, and taught me about myself and the world I am in. I was nervous to start teaching but have found it to be amazing (I will upload more about that later!). I have kept my blog in my journal so I can just pop it up on here as I get the time (I have to type it up and there is always a line for the computer so I can’t do it all at once).

Arrival

The plain ride was long and cramped but we all forgot about it as we stepped off the plane onto the hot asphalt of the runway (no more snow!!). The excitment was gone quick. A hot cramped shed awaited us as we took the long walk through customs, each lugging two suitcases (one of donations). Following customs we had our joyous reunion with Kwesi and met Alaska, Heritages driver. Ghahna is hot and the cars are like ovens. Are spirits however could not be stiffeled as we experienced Ghana for the first time through the few hour drive to Heritage.

I just want to say a little about the roads before I get into what I saw out the window. In Ghana the unsaid rule of the road is that you can only drive once you have five more people than you can comfortably fit in the car. Seat belts dont exist and I have seen few cars without cracked windows and mix-matched parts (just to say they would not be allowed on the road in the states). And not to say we don’t have bad potholes but they are nothing compared to the roads here. Cars weeve in and out as they floor it around other cars and bad pavement. It is kinda fun, like a rollercoaster.

I was surprised at how underdeveloped everything was. I had expected the city to look a bit more like a city, the main airport a bit more like an airport. Only a few unfinished highrises graced the air, the ground around them was littered with disorganized shacks. As we drove through the hectic streets I experienced the culture I would soon be immersed in through a window. I saw women with baskets on their heads, clothed in colorful patterned fabric. Men carrying pounds of fish through the market. What astounded me about Ghana was that there were so many children, they are everywhere. Six year olds with one year olds strapped to their backs, young boys playing pickup soccer in the street, girls selling to the cars carrying water pouches and plantain chips on their heads. Everything seemed so chaotic and young compared to my home. Children had a level of freedom and responsibility at age that I had never experienced in the United States.

As we got closer we drove through the villages that many of my students would be from. The villages had a main rode with small shacks that had stores in them facing outwards. Behind these spread out rows of makeshift shelters, roofs of old tin and sides of plywood or handmade brick, all leaning against eachother. Between them was a jumble of clothes lines, children playing or working about, and groups of adults vending, cooking, doing laundry, or simply sitting around.

The glimpses I have seen of this culture through the drive to the house have made me excited and nervous to experience a new way of life and to learn and teach. The poverty and filfth in Ghana is at a level I have never seen and experiencing it for the first time shocked me and humbled me. I hope I can build great relationships with these kids, learn about their culture, and help them throughout the next eighteen days and after.

Fanti word that I will be using: Obroni, it means traveler and is what the local call us white people.

Friendship Bracelets!

Friendship Bracelets!

I can’t wait to get out of this snow and leave for Ghana on Friday. I am finishing up my poetry and creative writing lesson plans with Jordan. While packing, Laura found a friendship bracelet making kit and since we both learned to make them at summer camp we are going to bring string and teach our students at Heritage Academy!

Erin