I got my big welcome to the Ghanaian rain season last night at around midnight. Lightning, thunder, rain and very strong winds. Besides thinking about the laundry on the line that I had forgotten to retrieve before going to bed, I couldn’t help but think about all of the mud block and thatched roof houses we pass on our way into the schools – most likely where our students live. Even in a solid house with windows that can be shut, I was still a bit scared. I want to say that I’ll never, ever complain again about a wet basement or downed limbs after a storm, but sure as I’m typing this, I know I’m lying. I will, however, think about that storm last night the next time I experience a big storm at home and will remember those mud brick houses that we pass every day and hopefully will remember that there are others who have it far worse than I could even begin to imagine.
The road we take to get to the schools was muddy and difficult for our driver to navigate without getting stuck, making our 40 minute drive a lot longer. Even in the muddy conditions, with standing water in the ditches on both sides of the road, we still saw women carefully navigating the mud and the puddles with goods on their heads and flip flops on their feet.
We passed groups of kids along side the road with large metal bowls (like the one I use to do my laundry in) collecting mud. Our driver said they were likely going to use it to fill in the erosion around their houses from the strorm. After seeing that, I wasn’t the least bit surprised to see that many of the kids were absent from school today as they were needed to help their families make the necessary repairs and reinforcements to their homes.
We lost power with the first crack of lightening, which meant we lost our fans. The temperatures had dropped considerably, so the fans weren’t all that necessary, but I have found that I have grown so accustomed to the white noise that once the storm passed, the room felt far too quiet for me. Our room is big and there are only 3 of us occupying it, each of us with our own entire bunk. The white noise of the fan along with my mosquito netting that drapes from the top bunk and is tucked into my mattress, really gives me separation from the others in the room. It feels like a tent to me. We all 3 feel the same way about our tiny spaces, and really look forward to getting in, turning on the fan and tucking in the netting for the night, which is getting earlier and earlier. Tonite I’m tucking in at 7:15 and will write and read until 9 or so. Much earlier and we’re gong to have to ask Joe, our cook, if he could go early bird on the dinners for us! Because I stay up later to read, the lights are usually out around 8:30, at which point my head lamp goes on and the real camping begins. I sometimes forget how emotionally draining this work can be and it takes me more time to recharge my battery so early to bed it is. I’m also up by 5:45 though, so guess tucking in at 9 or 9:30 isn’t all that late.
There was a group of girls cleaning up the storm debris of leaves and branches in the school yard this morning, using brooms that were made of dried grasses. They were working, unsupervised, with such cooperation and focus. Gender roles are very defined in Ghana, with the girls doing the “housekeeping” chores and the boys with the heavy lifting, manual labor chores. What struck me as unique was not only the lack of complaining on the girl’s part regarding the fact that they had to do the chore in the first place, but that they were totally OK with the fact that the boys continued playing while they did all the work. The sense of community is a way of life for the people of Ghana because it’s a necessity. They have to rely on the help of others to survive. I see the cooperation, respect and helping one another already coming into play with even the 5 year olds. There is a lot that Ghana lags behind the United States as a developing country, but I truly think there are lessons we could learn from them in cooperation, humility, respect and kindness. It seems to be a part not only of their education at home, but something that is stressed in the schools as well.
While a group of the older girls were waiting in line for the vision screening (10, 11 and 12 year old range), several began to giggle and point fingers at one another. I had a pretty good idea what it was simply by their gestures and was right. Someone had farted. Kids will be kids will be kids. There are some things that are universal. I loved it even more that it was the girls and not the boys as the girls that age seem so poised and graceful.
As much as I enjoy the younger kids (Kindergarten through grade 2) as they are so affectionate and sweet around us, I have discovered the older girls in the past few days and find them to be absolutely charming. There was a group of 12 to 16 year olds, with one 18 year old, all 6th graders, who wanted to know our names and then in unison, would try pronouncing them. They all told me they thought my name was pretty and actually pronounced it properly with the “au” rather than “o” sound. I then tried to pronounce their names, but with a language that is tonal, I struggled. I tried to explain to them that we simply don’t have the sounds that they do. I showed them photos on my phone of my family and friends and they got so excited with each one, holding their hands over their mouths in amazement. They looked puzzled when I showed the one of my 11 month old grandson and wanted to know what was in his mouth. It was a pacifier. They had no idea what that was. They also got a kick out of Thea’s water bottle that has a button you push to release the lid. They wanted to take turns opening it and passed it from girl to girl to take turns. I was absolutely charmed by them and the affection and kindness they showed one another with a gentle touch on the shoulder or arms linked or even holding hands. It was girls supporting girls in one of the richest forms I’ve ever seen. Their class happened to be mostly girls, unlike most, which seemed to run boy heavy, and I could tell they really liked it that way. I said something about “girl power” to them, which had them all breaking out into cheers and smiles.
This was our last day of testing at this school and we had promised the kindergartners a piece of candy as they were feeling left out as they were too young to conduct the screenings on and had seen that the other children were getting a piece of candy when they completed the test. So we brought candy for them today and passed it out, but were surprised that so many of them weren’t eating it. Come to find out, they didn’t know how to unwrap it. One boy was getting ready to put the whole thing in his mouth, wrapper and all and luckily I got to him in time and was able to get the wrappping off for him. I handed the unwrapped candy back to him and he took it then took off running. And fast! He ran until he was out of sight. Cassy and I looked at one another, not sure what to do, then continued helping the others get the wrappers off the candies. A few moments later, the boy came running back with a piece of sugar cane that was about 2 feet long. I’m guessing he ran home. It was the strangest thing. Did that little piece of candy remind him that he really liked sugar and so he ran home to bring back the real deal? Or did it whet his sugar appetite? The other kids seemed unphased. I was later told that they eat quite a bit of sugar cane, so yes, the candies were a treat, but the sugar itself, not so much. The sugar cane kid, by the way, is one of the skinniest kids I have ever seen and struggles, even with a belt, to keep his shorts pulled up. He’s always got the biggest smile on his face.
A 2 week break for the kids at this school will begin next week. The junior high and high school students are already out for the break as they wrote their exams yesterday and the day before. Today and tomorrow, they all go to their teacher’s farms to help them plant the crops then for the rest of their vacation, they will help their families plant. The teachers are not paid well, but it seems like the free help from the students must be taken into account. I like the idea of the students putting in their own sweat equity in order to help their teachers. I had to wonder what would happen in the school system my children were in if they were not asked, but TOLD they had to help their teacher paint his/her house or help plant their garden or add a new deck to the house instead of heading to the beach. I’m guessing there would be push back.
And finally, the electricity came on just before we left this morning and on the drive over, I realized that although I had posted my last post, I had forgotten to complete what I had started to say about names in Ghanaian culture and then the whole no electricity then no internet happened, but I’m good on all counts now so will finish that explaination and correct my blunder.
The first name a child is given is the day of the week in which they were born. Kofi, as in Kofi Annan, indicates not only that he is male but was born on Friday. Ghanaians have several names and when I ask the kids what their name is, they always will tell you their family name first and then might add their given name, which always grab my attention. Song, Bless, Surprise, Righteous, Forgive and my favorite, Perpetual (a girl, whereas the rest were mostly males) caught my eye today. I love the intention the parents are giving to their children when they bestow them with such hopeful names. I couldn’t help but wonder though, what it would be like to grow up with the name Forgive.