Day 21

On Tuesday morning I had class with Form 1, so I woke up early enough to give me time to go through the photos that they had taken over the weekend. I hate to say it, but I was sorely disappointed. From one student, I only received one picture. One. And it was blurry. Another student took three pictures following the assignment (photographs of her mother cooking), and about thirty pictures of the school building. Another student decided that her project (pictures of animals in her neighborhood) would be best completed by taking pictures of her television playing Kung Fu Panda and documenting drawings of animals in a textbook. And, another student spent the entire weekend taking selfies of himself lifting heavy objects and posing shirtless in front of a car (cue eye rolls).

Needless to say, I was not thrilled. However, I wasn’t sure what to do about it. At the school, the go-to punishment is caning… which of course I was not going to do. Other than that, though, I’m not really sure how to punish the kids, or if any other punishment would even be effective. Mariana suggested that I bluff and tell the kids that, if they continue to not do their work, I will take the cameras back home with me instead of leaving them at the school. I wasn’t sure if this would have any effect on the kids (and I actually really wanted to leave the cameras with the school), so I approached Sir Gideon to ask his opinion.

I explained to Gideon that I feel like, no matter what I say or how many times I say it, the kids don’t listen to me. In response, he asked if he could punish them for me. I told him that I really didn’t want the kids to get caned, but he insisted that it was the only way (and that it would happen, whether or not I wanted it to, since that is how they deal with things at the school). While I regret that I cannot say differently, I agreed and watched him march up with a stick in hand. I was too afraid to watch, so I waited downstairs until I felt like it was over. Unfortunately, when I walked up there were still two more students left and I watched him hit them several times on their behinds. I’m cringing now just thinking about, several days later.

Though I really wish it didn’t have to come to what it did, I do have to admit that the kids were so much better behaved after Sir Gideon left the room. They were polite, quiet, and agreeable. I was feeling really great about how they were acting, but I was still upset to share with them how I thought they did on their assignments. I explained that it was hard for me to trust them to take home the cameras if I didn’t think that they could actually do what was asked of them. They assured me that I could trust them, but immediately went back on their words when I asked if they had done the writing homework and they lied, saying yes, when most had not even started it. I was really not happy with how things were going, but I still gave them their Brainbirds Assignment. I was very clear with them that this project could either win some of my trust back or lose it completely, so I am hoping that they took this assignment a little more seriously.

When my class ended at 9:30, I finally attended to my damp weekend clothes. I didn’t have time to wash them the day before, unfortunately, so I had instead let them soak in a bucket of detergent-filled water. At this point I tried my best to scrub them clean and think that I was mostly succeeding, though I am not yet good enough at this hand washing thing so I don’t think I was really cleaning as well as I could… and I wouldn’t be surprised if a faint moldy smell lingered. While I was in the middle of my load (and desperately missing my washing machine), Sir Isaac placed a plastic bag at my feet. I was confused and asked him what was in the bag and why he had given it to me, and he answered that it was Mrs. Nti’s clothes and that she wanted me to wash them when I was done with mine. This was really weird to me since Mrs. Nti was literally sitting right next to me as I did my wash and she never asked me if I could do this, nor did she speak up and say anything while Isaac explained. I looked at her to confirm that this was really something that she wanted me to do. I couldn’t believe that she had never asked me if I would do this for her, but had someone else place a bag at my feet with no explanation. If she had asked if I would mind please washing a few things since I was already doing it, I think I would have with no problem. However, the fact that she refused to acknowledge her request, and that she assumed that doing her laundry was part of my duties (as a volunteer teacher) here, was bewildering to me. I asked her: didn’t she have a washing machine at her home? She denied. I asked her again… I knew she had a washing machine! She said no. I asked one last time and she admitted that she did, in fact, have a washing machine. I was then even more confused. She had the ability to painlessly wash her clothes in her own home, yet chose to bring them to the school so that an unpaid teacher could do it for her? This was just one more thing to show me that she really does not treat her employees with the respect that they deserve (and, of course, while this was all going down she had several students waiting on her hand and foot—bringing her a tray with food, then clearing it when she was done). I dropped the matter, and honestly was going to do her wash without further complaint, though Isaac came back to get the bag (and I didn’t care to stop him).

I finished my laundry around 10:30, and then Mariana and I headed to the Accra Mall. I still had no Internet, so I needed to go to the Vodafone store to get my router “topped up.” With traffic it took about an hour to get there, and I then (thankfully) had a relatively pain free experience at the phone store. From there, we grabbed a few groceries at the Shop Rite and then went to M.A.C so that Mariana could check the price on foundation (for the record, it was way too expensive—even more than it would be in the U.S.).  At this point it was already around noon, so we stopped to get lunch. Mariana got a salad, and I got a yogurt parfait (Protein! Fruit! At last!). One thing I didn’t realize, and I’m not sure if this is a Ghana-wide thing or just a very specific instance, is that the yogurt in my parfait would be frozen yogurt. So I guess it wasn’t as healthy as I had hoped, but I enjoyed it regardless. We took our time enjoying our lunches and then sat in a ton of traffic on our way back to the school. Sadly I got back to the school too late to hold my pageant rehearsal. And, the power was out. Again. So this was our third day without power and water. This time the power was out at the school as well (not just in my room), but they had the generator on so I was able to go to the school’s library to charge my phone and do some work on my computer.

Mariana and I sat on the library’s couch and plugged our phones in, but it wasn’t long before Mariana squealed and jumped up. Some fire ants had worked their way into the couch and one had bit her arm. Sir Phillip, another teacher, was sitting on the couch too (before we got there, even), but he hadn’t felt anything and hadn’t noticed the ants at all. I don’t know what it is about Obroni skin that the bugs love so much better than Obibini skin, but seriously… these ants and mosquitos barely touch the students and teachers but eat Mariana and me alive! I didn’t feel any ant bites just yet but, when I went to plug my phone into a different outlet, I suddenly felt a sharp pain on my elbow. I looked down and there were dozens of fire ants on me. Like, so, so many. I had no idea how they got there! I franticly brushed them off and then looked around for an explanation. It was at this point that I noticed the rows of ants crawling from the window, down to the library floor. Do you know that scene in the second Harry Potter movie where Ron and Harry see the spiders crawling along the floor and out the window, into the forest? This was exactly like that scene, IRL. When I followed the trail, I noticed that it lead to a black plastic bag on the floor—presumably with someone’s forgotten lunch inside it. I swear, these ants can smell forgotten food from a mile away. Note to self: keep a close eye on your food in the room.

After I had calmed down from this obviously semi-traumatic experience, I worked on my computer a bit more before one of the students came to call me. Sir Gideon wanted to see me in the office, so I gathered my things and met him down there. He asked if I could get my camera and take a nice picture of the school for their new billboard. While he had mentioned this task before, and I was so happy to do it, I had not expected to do it right that very second. I felt a little overwhelmed, as I am a chronic planner and get unnecessarily stressed out when things come up that do not fit into my perceived schedule or plan. We would need to move the basketball net out of the way, get the kids together to ensure that they’d stay out of sight, and move some lunch tables around. It seemed like there was a lot that needed to happen right then that I had not prepared to do, so even though I literally had nothing else to do I felt dazed. Of course, in retrospect I can see that Gideon’s suggestion was not a big deal. It’s not like I threw a fit or anything, but I still should have been much less taken aback at the suggestion that I take the photo without prior notice. ~Going with the flow~ is something I definitely need to work on a little (or a lot) more, so I’m hoping that this incident can be a reminder for me to take it easier in the future. After discussing the photo a bit with Gideon’s friends—a designer and photographer who are in charge of putting the billboard together—I took the picture, edited it for proper perspective, and then handed it off. I’m very excited to see the finished product, so I will definitely show you guys when it’s made! For now, here is the photo I took:

When I was done my editing and everything, I just barely had enough time to get ready for dinner. The Turkish restaurant that Ayse had suggested was by the Accra Mall, so I wanted to leave an hour before I had to meet them so that, considering the traffic and the unreliable tro tro “schedule,” I could be there in time. I took one tro tro to Lapaz, and another to Madina. My Madina car had a television inside it, which was the first time I had seen something like this in a tro tro. The TV was playing a Ghanaian show, which was evident to me based on its inclusion of tro tros and grilled street corn. The show weirdly featured an excessive amount of violence against women, and one of the first scenes I saw was an attempted rape. Later, women were slapped, yelled at, and stolen from. I was horrified as in none of these scenes were the men actually reprimanded at all. Other passengers in the tro tro even laughed as the episode progressed. This was really disgusting to me, though I told myself that maybe the show would make more “sense” if I could understand what was being said in it. This is what I’m going to tell myself at least… because I cannot find any other way to wrap my head around the fact that violence against women can be perceived as entertaining. 

I hopped off the tro tro around the mall, and then attempted to hail a cab (since I didn’t know exactly where the restaurant was, only that it was close by). While I was trying to negotiate prices with a driver, a man tapped me and told me that my “friends” were calling me. I thought he might have been trying to sell me something, or maybe he had me confused with someone else, but he was right. Ayse, Dom, and Toby had just passed me in their cab and Dom had jumped out to grab me! I jumped into their cab and went the rest of the way to the restaurant. 

Ayse helped us with ordering from the menu (if you didn’t guess: she’s from Turkey), and I ordered a beef kebab wrap at her suggestion. It was delicious! I ate most of it and passed the rest on to Dom since I was too scared to bring any home what with our ant situation. Dom got a beef kebab wrap as well, and Ayse and Toby got something (I’m forgetting what it was called) that was like a chopped up beef kebab wrap that was soaked in tomato sauce and featured sides of rice and yogurt. I tried some and it was delicious as well, though I was content with my order (since it was much cheaper, and I had already spent so much money that day on my new Internet plan, groceries, and lunch). We chatted about how their medical school is going, the drama that went on in their group and in my school, and about our future travel plans. They mentioned that they are planning to see Finding Dory next week, which I am excited to see with them since I’ve heard amazing things about it. 

As our dinner winded (wound?) down, the three med kids discussed taking a taxi home. I was surprised to hear them say this because they live pretty far from the restaurant; a cab would be so much more expensive than tro tros. When I expressed this, they looked confused. I asked them, do you guys not take tro tros? They answered with guilty shrugs. I couldn’t believe it! To take cabs everywhere is so expensive, especially because cabs here do not run on meters and can thus name their own prices (and Obronis will be charged much, much more). I tried my hardest not to be judgmental, but suggested that they might want to try tro tros a few times if only to receive a more authentic Ghanaian experience. In my head I lamented the fact that there are so many people in this country living in complete and utter poverty, and these people didn’t seem to realize how lucky they were to have the finances to take cabs every day for weeks on end. I posed the question (as delicately as I could), “If you come from a place of privilege and move to a third world country, only to maintain the level of comfort you are used to, are you really learning anything?” My question hit them a bit harder than I intended it to, and they scrambled to come up with an answer. Finally they agreed that I was right and tried their best to figure out how to get home via tro tro, though it was proving too difficult and I assured them that I would not think any less of them if they took a taxi home. I felt badly that I had guilted them into trying to take another way home, and I wanted to make sure that they knew I was not trying to alter them, only give them another option should they choose to take it. Though, even a few weeks ago, I was so headstrong about my way of doing things that it was difficult for me to accept anything different, I feel that I am now at a place (after all of my talks on homophobia, “anti-christs,” and the like) where I can voice my opinion without forcing it, and accept if someone feels differently than I do. Tro tros aren’t for everyone. I do think that it might be good for my new friends to try them out (I now think they’re an ingenious form of transportation), but if they want to continue taking taxis I will not fault them for it. 

I said goodbye to everyone around 9:30 and took my two tro tros home. Unfortunately my car was stalled at Lapaz for quite some time before it actually set off towards the school, so by the time I reached Brainbirds it was just after 11PM. Normally Dennis closes the gate around 9PM, so I was totally locked out. As I’ve done before, I called Dennis to see if he could let me in. When he didn’t answer, I called Sir Isaac. No answer. I then tried Mariana, twice. No answer. I wasn’t sure what to do. It seemed that Dennis and Isaac both turned their phones off, and Mariana must have been dead asleep if she couldn’t hear her phone ringing (and did I really want to wake her up?). I could only think of one other option for getting in (indulging a secret fantasy of mine simultaneously): scaling the wall. I determined a suitable foothold, hoisted myself up once and then again, and before long I was straddling the stone wall around the school (in a traditional African dress, might I add). I threw my backpack onto the ground as gingerly as I could, and then tossed my phone onto the pack so it would serve as a cushion. All the while a neighbor was watching me and didn’t say anything (what if I was robbing the place?), which I thought was pretty funny. I swung myself over, landed on my feet and then, quickly, fell to my butt, and hopped up. The wall was only about 10 feet tall (rough estimate), but it was still a rush to break in somewhere (even if I lived in the place I broke into). I dusted myself off, applied some hand sanitizer to a small scrape I had received on my forearm, and then crawled into bed feeling overly cool and accomplished.