In Which I Am Frowned Upon by German Society For My Poor Choice in Footwear

Let me preface this post by pointing out that as of today in Berlin, it is bone-chillingly cold. The last few days have been positively spring-like, but last night took a turn for the worse and snow has been coming down in flurries every few minutes. As of now, snow covers the ground and everything on it, and it doesn’t show signs of stopping.

Since I arrived I have been taking note of many cultural differences between Germany and the US, but I haven’t experienced them firsthand until today. I brought with me two pairs of Embassy-appropriate shoes, and chose to wear the more sensible of the two, a black pair of loafers which unfortunately exposed the top half of my foot. I saw nothing wrong with this, except for the knowledge that my feet would be a little uncomfortable during my walk from the apartment to the train, then from the train to the embassy and back again that afternoon. Continue reading “In Which I Am Frowned Upon by German Society For My Poor Choice in Footwear”

Obronyis

A bunch of stuff has happened since the last time I posted anything, so let me fill you in. We met the only other white people in the area, taught a few more classes at Heritage, visited Kwesi’s other school: Ochiso, got to know the town of Ajumako a little better, visited Kakum National Park, and Almino Slave Castle.

The other Obronyis (Fanti for foreigner, but more often used to describe white people) in the region turned out to be Germans, who are teaching for a year in Ghana to fulfill their mandatory service. It’s been nice having the opportunity to practice my German, which is unfortunately really rusty, even though they always answer anything I ask in English. I guess I should just be glad that I have the chance to speak German at all in Africa. Bella, Malinda and I also speak German to one another sometimes, so that we can convince persistent street vendors that we don’t know any English. One of the German’s offered to join Harrison, Danny and I on one of our morning run, and let me just say, that was definitely a mistake. Harrison chose that day to sleep in and Danny (because he’s a sprinter) left the run a quarter of the way through. This left me alone with Toben, who is significantly faster than I am, and I felt bad each time I told him that “Ich kann nicht so schnell gehen, aber du kannst so schnell wie du willst gehen, weil ich den Weg nach Hause kenne”.

Classes at Heritage have been going better in general, although I’m starting to feel a lot of sympathy for anyone who has to deal with large groups of young children on a daily basis. I definitely feel as if the children in the reading groups are learning new vocabulary, but I’m still not convinced that they can fully comprehend the stories. In each of my groups there is one kid who struggles significantly more than the others and I know that he would greatly benefit from some one-on-one time, and the other kids would also benefit because it would mean they would be able to move onto more complicated books. In general, I’ve found that I can get the kids much more involved and interested in reading if I can relate the vocabulary and the stories to things they can see around them, to things they know, and especially if I ask them to translate the words into Fanti. If they explain the Fanti word to me, then I can tell if they know the proper definition of the English word, and I get to learn a word in the process. I started this strategy on Friday, so the only word I know so far is Aho (pronounced Ahoo), which means bubble. My story and book making class is also going well and according to plan. The kids have created stories that have morals, plots, and well-developed descriptions of the characters and settings. They have also made some really amazing drawings to accompany their stories, which is especially impressive because none of these kids have had an art class of any kind in their life. I took time this weekend to correct the grammar and spelling in their stories and then on Monday I will have the kids start transferring their stories into the final books.

After lunch on Friday we visited Kwesi’s second school, called Ochiso Heritage Academy. It’s located in the bush, about 45 minutes to an hour away from the other Heritage Academy, and it serves a completely different community. One would expect the kids in the bush to be even more excited to see white people, because they’re even more isolated than Ajumako, but oddly enough they didn’t seem as interested in us as the kids at Heritage did. We said hi to everyone, then the boys played soccer with some of the kids, while the girls got mobbed by the other kids. Playing soccer with 30-40 little kids is obviously fun, but the 95 degree weather was not so much fun.

On both Friday and Saturday night a few of us walked into Ajumako (one of the local towns) to see what there was to do, and to do a little exploring. Friday night wasn’t so exciting, but on Saturday, we ran into some kids from Heritage who gave us an impromptu tour of the village. They took us around to their houses and we met their parents, all of whom were incredibly nice. It was really shocking to see where one of the boys lived. He is taller than everyone else at Heritage because his parents have enough money to provide him with a sufficient amount of food, yet his brothers sleep outside on the concrete porch with only a thin blanket underneath them, and he sleeps on a small bed frame. His bed doesn’t have a mattress, only an old square of carpet and a few pillowcases instead of a pillow. It’s difficult to believe that this is where one of the wealthier kids lives.

On Saturday morning, we all visited Kakum National Park, which is located about 2 hours away from Heritage Academy. The park is home to animals such as forest elephants, antelope, leopards, monkeys, and various insects. Unfortunately, the park was once used for logging, and was only recently turned into a wildlife sanctuary. Because of this, the animals are very skittish and almost impossible to find. We didn’t see any animals today, but the forest itself was breathtaking and different from anything I’ve seen before. After visiting the Kakum, we traveled to Almino slave castle. It was built by the Portuguese about 500 years ago, but was later taken over by the Dutch, then the English, and finally the Ghanaians. It was definitely an eye-opening experience, and is as important to remember and visit as the Nazi interment camps in Germany and Poland.

On Sunday we’re planning on attending the headmaster of Heritage Academy’s church in the morning, and seeing a local soccer game in the afternoon. Monday through Friday will be more teaching days, and then we visit Cape Coast next weekend.

Hopefully, I’ll get a few more posts up before I return home.
Kevin

P.S. Those of you who are expecting postcards: They will come, but since they take 11 days – 6 weeks to get where they’re supposed to go, you probably won’t get them until after I get back.

Day 3 in Germany

Today is day three in Germany (my project got off to a bit of a late start due to a stomach bug) and it’s awesome. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to understand anything, and even though I have to ask everyone to speak slowly,it’s going pretty well. I am constantly surprised at how well everything works here. Everything is on time, and everything is in order, especially at the SSB workshop. There, they take subway cars (which come in pairs), strip them down, and rebuild them completely. Here’s a little bit of what I’m doing (they have me doing something different everyday):

Day 1:
tour, general repair, rebuilt a pneumatic suspension system with guy named Andy, who thought I was from England

Day 2:
milling, turning, drilling
they have huge CNC mills (awesome)
huge computer controlled lathes (also awesome)
and a drill press taller than I am
In the afternoon, we drove to a park where there is a miniature railroad for tourists, scoped out a rebuild for one of the engines.
They all think I’m from england!
in the car one guy asked me if it was weird driving on the wrong side

Day 3:
spent in the machine shop, where they build custom parts for the subway cars, because the company that built them (165! sets) went out of business

Heading to Paris tomorrow for the weekend!

More to Come,
Jack