Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday, March 25

Now that I've been home for several days, it's time for reflection and thought about how to move forward and incorporate my Ghana experience into my teaching and my life.  I spent a good part of yesterday uploading all of my pictures and reading all of my emails from when I was gone.  I was very disappointed that my students here at South were extremely immature and ran my substitute teacher off within 5 days.  I  planned so carefully for the absence and am frustrated that at their age, they can't engage a bit more in their own learning.   I look at these girls in Ghana who literally spend 9-10 hours a day in their classroom (3-4 of those without adult supervision) and they don't destroy their materials or mutilate the furniture or abuse each other.  They simply work together to be as successful as they can possibly be. While I was gone from South High, my own students pulled the safety shower twice, dismantled at least 4 lab drawer locks, did their best to kill the fish, and filled every sink with trash....and all while adults were present.  What does this say about the future leaders of our country?  What does this say about the way we're raising our children?  What does this say about our expectations for young people?  Right now I'm feeling very hopeless and pessimistic.  I just have to keep telling myself that, unlike Ghana, in America we have the goal of educating EVERY child, not just a chosen few.  But in the back of my mind, I wonder if seeing education as an obligation rather than a privilege isn't killing our kids' futures....?  It's certainly putting a damper on my own motivation to teach.....and innovate.  The more innovative I become, the more  disruptive the students.  If I lead the class like a concentration camp, the students really work hard.  But I don't want to teach to a bunch of automatons.  How do I do the exciting strategies that get kids to think critically and interact positively without always having 3 or 4 who are destroying something?

There are 4 days remaining in the quarter.  By Thursday, I'm halfway through teaching physics for the first time.  I'm learning so much from teaching a new course and expanding my horizons.  The labs are so nice because there's very little material preparation, unlike biology.  I still think it's a crazy idea to do that half year of biology and half year of physics.  It'll all come out in the wash in two years when we'll have to re-teach it all to the juniors who are actually ready to learn.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Thursday, March 15

Today was our last official day at Accra Girls Secondary School.  First thing in the morning the headmistress assembled all of the girls in the courtyard for a presentation to us.  They thanked us for coming and honored us with some beautiful gifts.  They gave us each a cloth, designed by the visual arts students, that has Accra Girls School on it.  I wrapped it around me like a skirt and the girls cheered.  We each had the opportunity to say a little something to the girls and they were very enthusiastic and warm.

Later in the afternoon we worked with Jonathan and Osman in order to facilitate our ongoing communication between ACSS and our students.  Pete, from Wisconsin, gave Jonathan his Bloggie to use to tape his girls and send videos to us.  In the afternoon we had the opportunity to visit some more classrooms.  I attended a Foods class that was discussing the nutritional properties of various forms of flour: wheat, corn, cassava, potato, millet, etc.  It was fascinating!

Inside a girls dormitory at Accra Girls Secondary School

Student laundry drying

Dormitory at Accra Girls Secondary School

Afterward, since I'd received so many questions concerning the dormitory situation, the head housemistress generously hosted a tour of the dormitories for us.  She took us to one of the 3 large dormitories and showed us several of the girls rooms.  The girls sleep in triple-stacked bunk beds.  There were about 5 beds along each side of the room, totally sleeping arrangements for about 25-30 girls.  Each girl had 3 school dress uniforms and 3 afternoon uniforms.  The afternoon uniforms look like plaid pajamas.    The girls wash their own clothes twice a week.

After our tour, our hosts Jonathan and Osman, wanted to host us for lunch since this would be our last day together.  They generously took us to a wonderful authentic meal at a nearby restaurant.  I had red red (beans) and plantain.  Yum!
Plantain, red red and chicken

AFter a long lunch where we all shared our life stories, we made it back to the school, said our goodbyes and Isaac, the school driver took us back to the hotel.

Saying goodbye to Headmistress Veronica

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wednesday, March 14

I've just gotten out of a long, cold shower after an extremely hot, dusty, exhausting, absolutely thrilling day!  It felt so incredible to get all of that filth and sweat off my skin.

This morning Jonathan met us at the hotel to take us to Aburi Botanic Gardens.  We began by catching a "trotro" on a street nearby.  A trotro is a small van that seats 16-18 people VERY snugly.  They are Accra's version of mass transit.....except there's no systematic way to know where any particular trotro is going or what it will cost.  Jonathan somehow knew which one to catch.  The trotro then took us to a central station where there were hundreds of trotros parked in a gigantic lot, alongside a huge market.  We then bought tickets ( 4 tix cost 8 cedis - equivalent of about $5) to go to Aburi, which is about a 90 minute ride.  Once the van was filled, we took off.  I was seated next to a very nice man named Moses and we chatted along the way.  He bought some plantain chips and shared them with me.  When we got to Aburi, we walked the path through the village to the botanical gardens.  This is one of Jonathan's favorite places, so he wanted to share it with us.

Aburi Gardens was established by the British in the mid-1800s on a piece of land set aside by the missionaries for a sanitorium.  We had a very nice guide who showed us trees of various spices like cinnamon, bay leaf, and allspice. Part of the garden sits on a piece of an old cocoa plantation.  Situated right in the middle of the garden is a dilapidated helicopter that was used by the first republic leader, Kwame Nkumrah.  It looked like a major safety hazard to me, but that didn't stop Randy and me from climbing in for a photo opportunity!

After our tour and a bit of walking around, we headed back to the village of Aburi and caught the trotro back to Accra - a very hot, dusty ride.  We had to stop in Madina, which is on the outskirts of Accra to change trotros at the "station" - which is really just a big dirt lot filled with hundreds of vans.  After catching another trotro, we went to Jonathan's favorite lunch spot for a "bite" to eat, which ended up being a gigantic plate full of wonderful Ghanaian food.  I had jollof rice with goat meat.

We then took a taxi to Accra GSS because a US military band was scheduled to be playing there.  Huh? Anyhow, we got to the school and hundreds of girls were surrounding the events hall at the school, peering in the windows.  We were then introduced to the band, but I was taken aback as I assumed a military band meant a marching band with drums and horns and flutes. No, this was the Air Force ROCK band!  We were put in the seats of honor in the front row and treated to an hour of ear-splitting rock and roll and girls screaming and dancing.  It was one of the most surreal experiences of my life:  I'm dirty and sweaty and tired sitting in a gigantic room filled with screaming, uniformed Ghanaian girls listening to a US military rock band.  Of course I got into the mood and waved my arms along with the rest and danced with the girls.  

After recovering from the excitement of the event, Jonathan hailed us another trotro and took us to his neighborhood, Osu, because I needed to change some money.  Then we hailed a cab and came back to the hotel.  In total, we rode 6 trotros and 2 taxis today.  We were travelling Ghanaian-style!  

I immediately peeled off all clothing and took a long, cold shower.  It may have taken several minutes for the water to run clear because of all the dirt running off.  I know folks: TMI - but that's me :-)

Add caption
It was a wonderful day. But I'm sure to sleep well tonight.  

Tuesday, March 13

Today at Accra Girls Secondary School we three US teachers spent the morning connecting a computer to a projector and figuring out how to make a room dark enough to present some PowerPoints that we (and one of my students) had prepared.  After quite a bit of troubleshooting, we proceeded to present 3 or 4 times to large groups of girls.  We told them about what life is like in our schools, what our students are like and how it is to live in our areas. I had the opportunity to share Anna's Powerpoint and the girls were really interested in her life.  Several had questions for Anna.  One, in particular, was inquiring about her relationship with her father.  The Ghanaian girls tell me that oftentimes their relationship with their father is one of power struggle and conflict.  I want to write more about today's lesson, but must meet host teacher Jonathan.  He is hosting us for dinner at his home tonight.  I will post more later....and some pictures from today

Pics from March 13

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sunday, March 11

After the grueling bus ride, heat and activity yesterday it was heavenly to get to sleep in a bit this morning and relax.  I had a nice, leisurely breakfast with colleagues and got caught up on emails, uploading pictures and working on class assignments for this program.  At noon a group of us went to the market at Osa to do a bit of souvenir shopping and a light lunch.  It was another hot, humid day so I sweated through my clothing in about 10 minutes.  I would hope that if I lived here for a time, my body would get used to this heat and I wouldn't sweat so profusely.  The Ghanaians certainly appear cool and dry most of the time -while I look (and feel) like a wet washrag!

This evening Jonathan met us at the hotel to take us to Osman's home for dinner.  Osman's wife, Amina, had prepared a traditional Northern Ghana meal for us.  Osman proudly introduced us to his extended family, most of whom live in the same "compound" in the Muslim area of Accra.  The compound was down a little side street.  To get to his home we went down a small alleyway into a courtyard strung with colorful rows of drying laundry.  Several children were playing happily and looked up curiously as the 3 Obroni (white people) entered.  Osman then introduced us to his wife and toured us around a small part of the neighborhood including the communal bathhouse.  We then returned to Osman's house (which consists of 2 small rooms) to eat the meal prepared by Amina.  Dinner consisted of a large helping of cassava (sort of like a doughy mashed potato), soup, fish, and chicken - all eaten with our hands.  We ate it all by dim flashlight since the electricity in the municipal region was not working.  Honestly, I have never felt so honored and welcomed into a community in my life.  These people live so very simply, but they're so happy!  Osman was clearly so proud of his home and family and situation and wanted to share it all with us.   I continue to be amazed and delighted by the generosity and humanity of these beautiful people.  We have so much to learn from them and with them