Hey friends, sorry this post is a little later than normal. I drafted it up and went to post it about an hour ago, but my internet went out and I lost everything. I am re-writing now from memory, so hopefully I can do the original post justice. Also, I'm sorry that there are no pictures here! I didn't really leave the school yesterday, so I didn't have the opportunity to take any. Despite not going anywhere, I still had a pretty eventful day.
My morning started off with my powdered milk experiment, which was a great success! I had the milk with stale cornflakes (which weren't so bad after they soaked in the milk for a bit) and a plantain. All together, it was a very delicious breakfast.
After I ate, I joined the kids for their assembly and stayed after for the teacher meeting. Apparently they do have these every morning... whoops! At the meeting, Gideon mentioned that we will be trying out something new at the school next week in which the teachers will be swapping classrooms for a week in order to offer an objective perspective on how the classes can be improved. I will still have my photography classes but, when I am not teaching photo, I will be teaching kindergarten! The kindergarteners here do not really know much English yet, so I am really hoping that I can be intuitive enough to understand them and offer them help.
I had class with grade 5 from 8-9:20AM and, this time, they were much better behaved than last. Unfortunately, I think this had something to do with the fact that, before my class, Isaac came in and threatened them with punishment if they misbehaved. While I wish that it did not take something so extreme to earn the kids' attention, I suppose that I cannot complain since no one actually got into trouble. Because the class was so attentive, we were able to get through a lot of subject matter. In addition to teaching them about all of the camera settings, I also gave them their first assignment. The assignment, titled, "What You Should Know About Brainbirds," is a fictional news story for which they will each have to take photographs. I broke the kids up into groups of three or four and, in their groups, they came up with headlines (i.e. Brainbirds Has Amazing Teachers, and Brainbirds Has Great Food). They also came up with storyboards that depicted how they would tell their story in images. Though I know that storyboards are not common practice in photojournalism, I think that they were really helpful in preparing the kids to create their photo essays. We did not have time to take pictures before class ended, though we will start doing this on Monday.
After class ended, I went back to my room to take a nap. Since it is technically Ghana's coldest time of the year (though, trust me, it is still pretty hot), a lot of the younger kids are coming down with colds. I think that they have passed their colds along to me, as I am getting much more fatigued than normal and also have a very runny nose. Hopefully this passes soon so that I can have all of the energy I need to deal with the kindergarteners next week.
I napped for several hours and then woke up to see Auntie Esther bringing a student from class 7 into our room. While I cannot remember the girl's name, I do know that I have her for one of my photo classes. Esther handed her a tampax pad and then left. I expected the girl to go into our restroom to put the pad into her underwear, though she just stood there and looked extremely confused. I walked over to her and asked her if she needed help. After she said yes, I asked her if this was her first time getting her period, to which she replied yes again. I want to point out that, throughout this whole interaction, this girl looked terrified. She was not happy to be getting her period. Instead, she looked worried, confused, and concerned. I tried to explain to her that it is so exciting to get your period. This is a big deal! You're a woman now! You're part of the sisterhood! Nothing I said seemed to cheer her up, so I decided to stick a pin in my enthusiasm and then showed her how to open and use a pad. What is crazy to me is that she was never taught this! She did not learn this in school, from her mother, or from Auntie Esther before she left her alone. This situation, among others, really reinforced for me how fortunate I am to have grown up with such a great school system and with such a great family. In my school health classes, I learned about periods way before I ever got mine. What's more, I have a mom that was so cool about it that I was more excited than I was scared. While it did not seem practical to explain to her all of the inner workings of the female body right that second, I hoped that my words of support changed her mindset a bit.
One thing I am starting to learn about the kids here is that the grown ups in their lives are not easily impressed by them or their accomplishments. By this, I mean that in the 10 days I have been here, I have never heard the teachers compliment a single student. No "you look great today," no "wow, you're such a good basketball player," nothing. Because of this, the kids don't seem to fully understand how great it is when they do something well or when they reach a milestone in their young lives. I tried to tell this girl as much as I could that getting her period was a good, important thing, though she did not seem very convinced. I am really hoping that, when she goes home at the end of the day, her mother takes a similar attitude to my own, though unfortunately I think it is likely to be more similar to that of the unmoved teachers.
I experienced a similar need to praise the students later in the day. When I sat in on the students' dance class (which Mariana was choreographing), I had a chance to see Emmanuella serving as the group's dance leader. I did not know this before, but Emmanuella is such an unbelievably amazing dancer. When she moved, she shined, and I really had to try not cry happy tears as I thought about how amazing it was that such a little girl could be so talented. When the practice was over, I couldn't stop telling Emmanuella how amazing she is and how proud I am of her. Based on her reaction, I could tell that Emmanuella does not hear these things very often (though she, and all kids, deserve to hear them). These situations reminded me that, beyond teaching photography, I have a greater purpose to serve when it comes to these children. Though America is often criticized for praising kids too much (I mean, it is kind of ridiculous that even kids in last place get a trophy), I do think that praise is so necessary. How else will these kids gain confidence, feel loved, and be inspired to keep working hard?
When the school day ended, I watched The Wizard of Oz with the girls. They loved the movie so much and really got a kick out of the munchkins' funny voices. The end of the movie prompted an unexpected reaction, though. As Dorothy repeated, "there's no place like home," Emmanuella simultaneously left the school to go home for the weekend. This upset Alice a great deal as her parents did not come to get her for the holiday weekend (Friday is Republic Day, so there's no school). Mariana and I tried our best to console Alice, but the little girl was heartbroken... she could not understand why her parents did not want to see her. We repeatedly told her that she would go home so soon, that we were further from home that she was, that this was her second home, and that we were her second family. We also promised to bring her food and candy so that we could have a girls night, and eventually she started to perk up. As Mariana and I left to go get the food, we discussed how it really is so ridiculous that Alice's parents never come to see her. Her family lives about half an hour from the school so, while this might be too far to drive every day, we do not think that is too far to drive every weekend or even every holiday. It is so apparent how upset Alice gets when her parents do not make an effort to see her, and this is so hard to witness as a third party. This, again, reinforced how necessary it is for me to show these girls love.
Mariana was in the mood for meat, so we walked to the nearby town of Alhaji to get some. We found a man selling cuts of beef, goat, and chicken on a little barbecue and decided to get some beef from him. When I think about what all of my friends and family at home would think about this guy's set up, I literally laugh out loud. Basically, this guy is just pushing meat around an open fire with his hands (no gloves), and then using his hands to handle money, etc. His operation would seem pretty suspect on the streets of Philadelphia, though it is commonplace here. Mariana told me that she has eaten meat from him several times before with no problem, so I went for it and bought 5 cedes (a little less than 2USD) of meat, which he wrapped in a newspaper and gave to me. We also picked up boiled corn and fresh pineapple and then headed back to the school.
As promised, we shared our food with Alice who was, thankfully, already in a better mood. I also gave my corn to Peace, after I tried it and did not enjoy it much (it is much starchier and harder than the corn we are used to). In giving the girls food, I am really trying to teach them the habit of saying thank you... for some reason they were not already taught this?? Anyway, the meat was good and, though I only ate about a quarter pounder's-worth of it, I was so full. One thing I am noticing here is that I eat so much less frequently than at home that I think my stomach is shrinking a bit. I get fuller much quicker, which I don't think is necessarily a bad thing (since I'm basically a human garbage disposal at home). Hopefully this habit carries over this three month period!
Stay tuned tomorrow for a very picture-filled blog post!!