Megan, Ghana

 

Megan Volunteered as Teacher in Ghana

Below are some reflections and observations Megan wrote during her placement. These selections relate to her time while on placement and day to day life in Ghana. 

 

Akwaaba (means welcome.. i think)
I made it!!! I am exactly two weeks into my Ghanaian life, and I feel like I’ve already had an amazing experience!

My first impression of Ghana, stepping off the plane was a bit confusing as I thought I had mistakenly entered a sauna. The heat and humidity (especially) are the two things that you can run, but not hide from. I have found that at all times I am covered in at least 3 of the following: sweat, stick, dust, an oily layer of sunscreen, sunburn, a layer of mosquito repellent and probably a few other things… I wouldn’t say that you get used to the heat, rather you just accept the fact that you are and feel disgusting and will be so for the next five months.

Putting that aside, Ghana is an amazing place. It has taken some adjusting and getting used to, but has been growing on me every day. For the first solid week and a half I was jet lagged, culture shocked, hot, sticky, constipated, exhausted and wondering why I ever decided to come here. Thankfully, all of those are decreasing (except for the hot and sticky bit). But the people here are fantastic! I’ve made some great friends with the other volunteers, and every local you pass wants to know how you are, what your name is, where you’re from, where you’re going and how you are liking Ghana! The Ghanaians are extremely friendly and hospitable people, though the guys can often be too friendly (and extremely forward).

Another thing is that everywhere you go you are followed by the never-ending call of “obruni!” which means “white person”. The response that usually ends those calls is “obibini” which means “black person”.

Absolutely everything here is completely different from home. Where I’m staying there is no running water (we have to get it from a well), so bucket showers are the new thing for me, the water comes in 500ml sachets which you can get for only a few cents, the power cuts out daily for a few hours (usually at night when you need it most), and the driving here is terrifying. On our second day here, our bus of volunteers almost collided head on with another huge bus trying to pass a line of traffic by making a third lane in the middle of the road!! Don’t quite know what they were thinking, I guess they weren’t. It’s funny that they are such peaceful people with a laid back lifestyle,, but as soon as they get behind the wheel it all changes into an aggressive competition of how many cars you can pass//who can go the fastest! Yikes!

 

Takoradi
Helloo hello!! I would love to give you my location here, but I am still not completely sure of it. Though the city I am by is called Takoradi, which is in the Western Region of Ghana. To get to the centre of the the city (the market circle) from my house it takes about 7 minutes by Taxi (with no traffic) that costs 80 pesewas. Still haven’t trotro’d into town yet, but that is coming! A trotro is the cheapest and most popular form of transport here in Ghana. It is basically a big van with four rows of car seat benches that they pack full of people, with a pleasant aroma of sweat. Three of us girls took a trotro to get to Cape Coast for a weekend. It was a two hour(ish) ride there and thankfully the driving was uneventful! Anyways, the main street that I am really close to is called I.ADU street.

Takoradi is an interesting city, it isn’t touristy at all which I am liking because it allows you to see how the locals live, eat, shop, etc. It has taken some getting used to I have to say. It is quite dirty and the smell in the market circle is overpowering at times. There are open sewers everywhere and close to the circle all you can smell is the strong stench of fish. Thou that is the only negative part to it,, the pace of life is very relaxed and things happen “all on God’s time.”

In market circle (the center of the city) there is always something happening. It is pretty much an actual circle with vendors on the outsides selling almost anything you can imagine; fruits, rice, fish, clothes, dvd’s, fans, electronics, jewelry shoes… and inside the circle part is a never ending maze of even more sellers of mainly food (fish, fish and lots of fish) and clothes. People are sitting everywhere chatting, laughing, trying to get you to buy a fish head that they just cleaned. My friends, Georgia and Chloe, have a go-to supermarket called “All Needs” where we stock up on breakfast foods, snacks and juice. This store is a few blocks away from the market, and not far from there is the internet cafe! We are getting lots of walking in over here!

 

Interesting view points
The school (and all of Ghana for that matter) is extremely Christian. At my school, Peter Pipers, they have long worships Wednesday mornings, pray before and after school and study R.M.E (Religious and Moral Education) in class. This is all great and fine but I have noticed that it has carried its way into their science textbooks. For instance, during the first week I observed a natural science class where the students were learning about water. Not only was it stated in the textbook, but also supported and clarified by the teacher that “Rain water comes from Heaven, therefore rain is pure because God has given it to us.”

Another teacher was explaining to my partner Georgia that if a person has cancer or a serious disease it is because one of their grandparents/someone further back their relative line had sinned at one point during their life. So when you marry you want to make sure they have a clean family history. Bizarre. It is frustrating because you really can’t say anything to oppose them because they are so set in their ways, there is actually nothing you can do.

 

Food
Food food food. If you’ve got a big appetite then you’ll like the meals here! The portions are huge here and the meals are pretty much all carbs.. Rice is the most popular I’d say. At most street food stands/Chop Bars you can get a giant portion of either Plain/Fried/Jollof Rice with a chunk of chicken and spicy sauce sided with a small amount of coleslaw. Traditional Ghanaian dishes that I presently know of include Fufu, Banku, Kenkey. Fufu is made by boiling starchy vegetables like cassava, yams or plantains and then pounding them into a dough-like consistency. You then pick off small parts of it and dip it into an accompanying sauce or stew. Kenkey is like a sourdough dumpling (according to Wikipedia) and I found it to be cold and sour and I didn’t enjoy the one that I had. Oh well, I’ve still got lots of time to adjust my taste buds some! At my placement I am getting two meals a day, lunch and dinner. My host mum is an excellent cook and all of my meals have been delicious and tasty, not to mention spicy! So far I’ve had plenty of rice (fried or jollof), stews, Yam (mashed or chunks), Potatoes, Chicken, Sausage, a few veggies, lots of spicy curry-like sauces, sausages, beans, occasionally noodles and my absolute favourite, Plantain. With plantains I’ve eaten them boiled and fried (the best), and they are also dried and made into chips which are delicious and my new weakness. It’s all quite heavy in your stomach, and it has been slightly uncomfortable to be eating such hot & spicy food when it is 35-40 degrees already and you are pretty much melting in your chair. The fruits here are absolutely delicious mangoes and Pineapples have never tasted better! Usually we buy some fresh mangoes/pineapples at the market and eat one for breakfast. Fruit here is eaten more for digestive reasons & benefits. Veggies are hard to find and expensive when you do, but completely worth it! Sugarcane is another neat local food/sweet. You bite/chew on it and a sweet nectar fluid gushes into your mouth and it tastes like cantaloupe!

A note about fish- when you order Fish out at a restaurant, they give you the whole entire fish. Head, skin, fins, bones, eyes… though they do gut them for you which is appreciated! That being said they are very tasty and enjoyable once you figure out how to eat it!

 

Peter Piper’s Learning Ways Annex
Peter Pipers Annex is the school I’m teaching at. There are about 60 or 70 kids here. There is a creche, nursery, kindergarten 1, kindergarten 2, Stage 1, stage 2 and stage 3. There are 5 teachers for the Kg1-Stage 3 classes. Georgia and I just received our teaching schedule this week but we’ve pretty much been everywhere in the classes. Often a teacher leaves as I come to teach for the scheduled time, and then “forgets” to come back. Interesting, is all I can/should say on that matter. There are great teachers here who really care about the kids. The kids are fantastic and so eager to learn and play. I’m teaching English, Math, ICT (Information and Computer Technology.. one class was spent teaching them how to play solitaire), French, and Creative Arts. Every student has a text/exercise book for all their subjects which is a lot more than plenty of the other schools have. Although no student ever seems to have pencil. That seems to be the only issue supplies wise – they lack writing materials and working coloured pencils/crayons are hard to come by, so the ones I brought are much appreciated! Another thing, the kids here go absolutely CRAZY for stickers!! Stickers have been a lifesaver for me, because I prefer to encourage effort and good behavior with stickers than cane them after misbehaving (which is completely relevant & has been offered/suggested to me that I take up). Overall, I think I am learning much more from the students than what they are learning from me. These are great kids here with lots of stories and they deserve so much more.

 

Lights off
Lights on. Lights off. Lights on. Lights off. Lights on. Lights off.
Just about every day the power shuts off at some point for a few hours (if you are lucky). Here power outages are called “lights off.” The other day the “lights were off” pretty much all day. It’s not so bad during the day, but the nights get to a whole new level of discomfort when you are melting into your sheet and your mosquito net is sticking to you. Just the other morning I could’ve used a spatula to get myself off of the bed. Care package, anyone? 

 

Hangman
The other day I walked by the youngest kindergarten class in the school and noticed they didn’t have a teacher (turns out she just left, from the school for good). I thought it’d be nice for the kids to do something fun for a change so I decided to teach them how to play hangman and have a game or two. Now this is a class of 20 four or five years olds, I’m talking about some of the cutest kids you’ve seen in your life. After a basic explanation of the game, I’d chosen the word school – simple enough, or so I’d thought! “Alright, now can someone guess a letter? Give me ONE letter from the alphabet!” Ten of them stood up, “Madame! Madame! ABCD! ABCD!” “Ahh, great. Now pick one of those letters!” **Blank stares, followed then by the biggest smiles ever** “EFGHI!” Then another kid stood up, “JKLMNOP!!! Madame JKLMNOP!!” Oh boy. They were so happy it was hard not to fall over laughing. Turns out (a neighboring teacher told me) that none of them even understood what I was saying, other than “alphabet.” That’s good to know, would’ve been nicer to know that half an hour before! Back to the drawing board for me!

 

Cape Coast & Elmina Castle
A few weeks ago, on a school field trip, we visited the slave castles of Cape Coast and Elmina. The Cape Coast Castle was one of the largest slave-holding sites in the world during the colonial era. As the educational part of the field trip, we all went on a guided tour of the castles. The guides were brutally upfront in their recounts of the lives and inhumane treatment of the slaves once inside the castle. They didn’t beat around the bush or hold back anything from the students (some were quite young), so it was very shocking and disturbing for them (and me) to hear and realize the reality of where they were, and the awful events that happened on the floor on which they were presently standing. Deep into the dungeons we went together, where they had crammed thousands of slaves in over the years. The air was warm, damp and heavy with history. It was a very powerful and moving experience being there, not to mention ranging from slightly to immensely uncomfortable being one of the four white people on the tour with 100+ young Ghanaians. At one point I was approached by a couple of girls who reminded me that “my forefathers did horrible things to their people.” Nothing I can do about it, but Yes ma’am, they certainly did.

 

Books, books and more books
I walked into Class 2 one afternoon with an armful of picture books. The boy, Prince, who opened the classroom door for me literally dropped down to his knees and threw up his hands in the air upon seeing them and said, “THANK YOU GOD! THANK YOU! God bless you Madam!!” And then he gave me one of the biggest hugs I’ve had from a kid since I’ve been here. Before I knew it, the whole class was around me in one huge vertical doggy pile! They were SO excited to read all these books!! **lots of Clifford the big red dog, Berenstain Bears, Magic school bus…** I loved it so much and was so happy that I almost started crying. Awww. When they finally sat down I read them stories for an hour, but could have kept reading with them for whole day. Seeing their faces light up like that made my whole week, we read now almost every day

 

Where’s Waldo?
Greetings loved ones, Shall I reintroduce myself, or do you still remember me? I am very pleased to inform you that I am still alive (though there was one close call with a warthog a few days back) and busy going on wild and slightly insane adventures, having the time of my life, and learning lots with every passing day. For the past two weeks I’ve spent my time (and money) travelling around the country with two crazy girls who just so happen to be my best friends. I am lucky to have the whole month of April off of teaching; my school has two, one-month long breaks throughout the year, as opposed to one, two month long break, so it’s been GO GO GO LET’S DO EVERYTHING!!! for the past while. I do apologize a little but for not blogging, though the question has not been “is there a decent Internet cafe in this city?” rather the question was, “Internet cafe or Waterfall?” “Internet cafe or Lake?” “Internet cafe or largest market in West Africa?” “Internet cafe or elephant?” Hands down, I’ve never asked myself an easier, not to mention satisfying, question in my life.

 

Madam
Good afternoon friends, how are you all? I suppose it’s due time for an update on the Madam Megan teaching situation. Let me assure you- it’s been very busy!

Since the beginning of May I’ve been teaching everyday (except 1) usually from 8:15am (or 9 when our bus was broken) until seeing the kids off at 2:45-ish. Break is from 10:30-11:15, then Georgia and I get lunch between the times of 11:45-12:30.

As thrilling and adventurous as the weekends have been, it’s the weekdays that melt my heart. I confess that I have fallen in love 100 times over with all the children in this school, it’s hard not to when their charm is never-ending.

I know, as teachers, you are not supposed to have favourites, but saying that I have collected a few. My absolute favourite is Emmanuel.. he is 4 years old, in KG 1, has the highest voice I’ve heard, and always compliments me on my dress! Then there are a few little guys in the nursery named Benjamin and Francis who are adorable and always fall as they go up the stairs. The classes I help teach are class 2 and class 3. Generally I’m in class 3 for 3 days and class 2 for 2 days (and no, I didn’t do that on purpose!!)

I am still teaching plenty of English, some Maths, and lots of French lessons as well. The French that I’ve offered I believe has been the most beneficial, as no teacher in the school can speak it. One even said if it wasn’t for me he’d throw out their textbook! It’s nice to know I can at least teach them a few new things!

Lately I’ve been doing plenty of creative arts with the kids. We’ve made finger puppets, fortune tellers, and friendship bracelets! The friendship bracelets were the hardest task, as even after I explained and demonstrated how to make them multiple times (about half the class got it) I was shown about a dozen strings tied into clumps of knots followed by complaints and demands for more thread to take home. Perhaps that was a one-time-only craft? Was worth a shot anyways! Now the fortune tellers have become all the rage. In fact I spent the last three school days folding paper.. I don’t mind the work-suppose it is a lot to ask of a 5 year old!! They love it, and so do I. It’s been impressively cute to having my “fortune” told. Yesterday I had, I “will be blessed by God,” “will go to Heaven,” “will become a princess,”  “will get a chicken,” and “will meet a nice boy.”

To most students of the school I’m known as Madam Megan, but when I venture into the nursery classes, they tend to get a bit more inventive with my names and I get everything -BUT- Megan.. the latest ones are Madam Maiden, Maggie, Mega (my favourite), May.. once I even got a “Madam Bacon!!”

Time is ticking, and BAM I’ve only got two more weeks left in Ghana.. hmm.. not quite sure how I feel about leaving- as much as I want to go home, I have made a life for myself here that I love. This coming week will be my last week of teaching, and I know I am definitely not ready to leave these kids!

 

Crowd Surfing Baby
Before my time comes to a close here, as one of my final posts I would like to leave you with what may be my favourite story of the trip. **It’s tough to officially give it the golden title, so just to be safe I’ll rank it rightly in the top three.**

Somewhere between the beginning and the hazy end of the Worst trotro of my life, my sanity was saved by a baby. The undesirable situation at hand included Chloe, Georgia and I wedged onto the back seat with two full grown Ghanaians, our feet tucked up to our bums and chins resting on our knees, (pretty much) hot boxed on a 6 hour trotro from Techiman to Tamale. **central region to northern region**

Layered in sweat and dust, our bladders full with no feeling left in our legs, in the claustrophobic air we were just one factor short of throwing ourselves out the cracked and duct-taped window.
“Bus stop!” I’m guessing one woman said in the regional language, as the bus jolted around before finally stopping at the side of the road.

The woman got out of her place leaving her baby lying on the seat, as she climbed over top of the four rows of travelers ahead of her to exit the tro; she proceeded to go halfway behind a nearby tree for a pee. In the short time she was gone, the driver had let on an additional 10 eager passengers, who immediately took up every spare inch of available seat and breath of oxygen.

When the mother finally returned to the bus, she sat down on the front row next to the driver without a second thought. Four minutes ago she may have been able to climb over the rows, but there was no visible way of doing that with our new friends on board. Needing something to distract me from myself- I focused my energy on wondering how this mother and baby were to be reunited. Sensing my concern (okay okay- probably not, but maybe she did), the mother turned around and – to the man beside her content baby said, “Pass me my baby.”

With no more than a nod of obedience, the man picked up the small unbothered baby by its middle and looked on to pass it forward. Getting the path going, he nudged the man in front of him in the back with the baby’s head. “Oh.” said the next man, as he proceeded to grab the baby by its arms.

I watched in fascination (with a bit of worry) as this poor baby was being passed up over the length of the trotro, turned sideways, upside down, passed headfirst, feet first, grabbed by the head, legs, dangling from one sweaty hand to being supported by six. I can most accurately describe that scene as a cross between a game of Hot Potato, and Crowd Surfing. Except instead of a ‘hot potato’ or an enthusiastic fan, it was a few-month-old baby we had on our hands… literally!

Chloe, Georgia and I had been holding our breath, but as soon as the baby was safe, all that air was let out into gasps of hysterical laughter. Quite honestly it was one of the most hilarious things I’d ever seen. Apparently, the humor we’d found in the situation was not shared with the rest of the Ghanaians, as we were flashed dirty looks and requests for quiet, we were to “stop disturbing them..” We tried to ‘contain’ ourselves for a while, but sat beside each other and having just seen a group of 20-25 grown adults play a combo of Hot Potato/Crowd surf with this emotionless baby (it didn’t even cry!), Chloe and I let the laughter take over; allowing ourselves to enjoy the much needed humor for the remaining hours of the ride.

You’ve got to take every opportunity to laugh when you can; especially when crowd surfing babies are in the room.

 

See ya, Kids!
Five long months of being Madam Megan it has been, in which time I feel I have grown into a stronger and more patient person. Along with myself, my heart has grown four sizes, though it shattered over the hard concrete floor on Friday when I said my final goodbye to the kids. Of everything that has happened here (lots and lots and lots), saying goodbye has been the toughest thing I’ve had to do. Many tears were shed, by my students and even more by me; it was quite the emotional day.

I had written short letters to each of my students, and then ones to both classes. Though I wasn’t able to read out the letter myself, my message was given and received that teaching them has been the biggest pleasure and privilege of my life. Immediately after my gifts and letters were handed out, I was thrown about 25 cards and letters, scraps of paper with little sayings, prayers, drawings and thank you’s for me to keep. One girl wrapped up her old Barbie pencil case for me, while another gave me her storybook that she flat-out refused to take back.

To be honest, I’m not sure how much I really taught anyone, and five years down the road I can’t tell you if they’ll remember their obruni Madam Megan. What I can tell you even less of is how much everyone here, especially the kids, have taught me…way more than I ever could have hoped to learn about life and love from small school of kids. I sincerely apologise, but I am at a complete loss for words when it comes to explaining what I’ve learned from these 3 to 10 year olds whom I’ve shared four of my last five months with. What I can do is show you 500 pictures and videos of perfect, smiling faces and cheeky grins. Perhaps that may be best.

Since I have physically left Peter Piper’s Annex, I have been missing the kids and teaching like crazy. It’s given me some time to reflect back on being Madam Megan – and all the fun, stressful, tough, inspiring and demanding moments included. From hand clapping “Double double this this” for hours, to reading stories, to giving math tests, to creating artwork, to Worship Wednesdays, to making poor Chariden cry with an unfortunately drawn ‘smiley’ face on her paper.. I have been through a lot with these kids.

My plan is to write the school/class(es) a letter every now and then… try and keep in touch. A few students have my phone numbers; so far I’ve been called by Vincentia, Kelvin, Deborah, Daniella, Erica and Emmanuella. Little Deborah and Vincentia took it on her to call my home phone and ‘introduce themselves to my nice mother and nice sister.’ How sweet!! Nightly I am reminded that no matter how far away from them I may be – in an African dress with flip flops or not – I will always be Madam Megan to them.