This past Thursday started off as quite an exciting day for me, as it was my first “field trip” with one of my photo classes. I decided to take the trip first with Class 5, as they are my most energetic class, and I figured that if it worked well for them that it would be a piece of cake to repeat with classes 6 and 7.
After I re-explained the purpose of the trip to the kids (to capture what we do and don’t like about Alhaji), we discussed how a project like this could be helpful in showing people our views and opinions on issues. I went over some general safety, grabbed Sir Hayford (who had volunteered to give me a hand with the trip), and then ventured out of the school with sixteen students in tow.
It is not often that the students have the opportunity to leave Brainbirds, so it was really amazing to see how excited they were to venture around. From the second that we left the school grounds, they rushed around and took pictures of everything. Most students had said that what they don’t like about Alhaji is how much trash there is, so the kids had ample subject matter everywhere they turned.
We walked from the school to the main road, and then traveled single-file until anyone asked to stop, at which point we waited for them to take their shots and then continued on our way. We spent about half an hour in the busy section of Alhaji, photographing trash, traffic, shops and people, and then we started to walk back to the school using an alternate route of back-roads. Though the first half of our trip was definitely more exciting since it was so hectic, the walk back was quite nice because the students were able to spread out all over the road without fear of getting hit by the tro tros. On our way back we met many animals and saw rivers and footbridges. By the time that we got back to the school about an hour and a half had passed, though the kids were still bummed that we couldn’t spend more time taking pictures. It was really amazing for me to see them so passionate about my class, and I can’t wait to look through the photos they took.
I got back from the fieldtrip around 10AM, and read a bit to pass the time before my next class at 11:30AM. While I normally only have one class on Thursday, I had arranged to have one of my Friday classes (with Form 1) switched over to Thursday so that Mariana and I might have more time to go to the beach the next day. I packed up my things just before 11:30 and walked to the Form 1 room, expecting to see my students sitting at their desks. To my surprise, the room was completely empty. I asked around to see if anyone knew were my kids were, and I was eventually told that they were upstairs at choir practice. I walked up and saw that, indeed, that’s where they were, and I thought that the practice must have run over accidentally and that the kids would probably be getting out soon. Unfortunately, this was not the case at all and the kids were supposed to be in choir practice for at least another hour. I was a little upset that this was occurring as I had confirmed my class schedule with Sir Gideon and my students just the day before. In my opinion, this situation seemed like just one of many in which it was so evident how little scheduling occurs at the school and, by that same token, how little respect they have for the teachers’ time.
I asked Sir Gideon how this mix-up could have occurred and, to me, it seemed as if his response was a bit dismissive. He explained that this kind of thing happens all of the time… that there is no way to avoid it because, unfortunately, there will always be a teacher who isn’t happy with how the schedule turns out. At this point I got a bit defensive, as the problem wasn’t about how the schedule was made; the problem was that there wasn’t a schedule made. If I had been informed about this choir practice, I would have absolutely moved my class to another time. However, I was told that 11:30AM was an okay time to have my class, and so it was now a bit annoying to hear that that wasn’t the case. I explained to Gideon that I’d really appreciate it if we could make a more concrete schedule to avoid the students getting double-booked in the future; Gideon could see that I was getting frustrated, so he ushered me off to a side hallway so that we could have our conversation in a more private place.
In retrospect, I can see that I was definitely overreacting and acting inappropriately during this conversation. However, I unfortunately could not see that in the moment and continued to express to Gideon how frustrated I was that there was such a lack of order at the school. This was not the first time that I had confirmed to do something at one time, but was told last minute to do it at another. Of course, Ghana is much more lax with their timing than America is, so that sort of thing is not a big deal for them here. It’s a new thing for me, however, as someone who is used to having to show up at work at a specific time and at class at a specific time; what’s more, Brainbirds puts so much emphasis on their graduation preparation that it seems to me like actual education falls to the wayside. By this, I mean that I have continually seen students pulled from their regular classroom activities to participate in a dance rehearsal or choir rehearsal. Mariana and I have discussed this many times, and how we think it doesn’t make sense that the school values the children practicing the same songs/dances over and over again, to be performed on one night and one night only, when they could be learning new things in class to be utilized in the future. To see my class moved in favor of yet another choir rehearsal was frustrating, and I complained to Gideon that I thought the students should be spending more time in the classroom (since I have one Class 6 student who can’t even spell the word dirt… like, no lie, he keeps spelling it “deat”) and less time on graduation. We talked back and forth for a bit and I reiterated to Gideon that I felt my opinions weren’t taken seriously at the school. As in that teacher meeting I spoke up at, it seems that Brainbirds employees would rather explain their actions as “that’s just how we do things here” than consider an alternate method. Gideon was very good about listening to me and, when I was done, he talked to the choir teacher and convinced him that the students should be released to me.
As an aside, I would like to take this point to explain to you, my readers, that I now see how inappropriate it was for me to assert my opinions so firmly to the school’s headmaster. Though of course we are all entitled to our opinions, I don’t think that I went about expressing mine in the right way, nor at the right time. I really haven’t been here long enough to even have the authority to comment on how the school goes about things, and it was disrespectful (not to mention condescending) for me to try to do that. Mariana tried to explain this to me after my conversation with Gideon, though unfortunately I didn’t have the humility to actually apologize to Gideon until later in the evening. I’ll discuss that later, but I did want to tell you guys that I do know I am way too outspoken at times… and I know that this is something I need to work on now and in the future. I am here to learn first and foremost, and I cannot understand how/why other people do things the way they do if I am so stuck on continuing to do things exactly as I always have. Basically, I realize that I screwed up.
By the time that Gideon and I (emphasis on the I) were done talking, it was already noon. I had a shortened version of my class with Form 1 from 12-1PM, in which we discussed their Brainbirds assignment and also learned how to write captions in order to better explain the stories we are telling with our photos. After showing them several examples of captions from the New York Times, I gave them mini assignments of writing captions about certain students/teachers in the school, and they spent 15 minutes conducting small interviews in order to write accurately. All of the students really caught on to what I was saying, and the captions they brought back were great! The only setback in the class occurred when three of the students (one of which was assigned to write about Auntie Mariana) spent 15 more minutes than they were supposed to quizzing Mariana on her boyfriend and her life back home in Brazil (which obviously wasn’t part of the assignment). It took a little while to actually see the girls back in the classroom, though fortunately when I did they at least had some good work to show me. I am thinking that I will take my field trip with Form 1 next week, so that I can give the cameras some time to charge between Class 5’s field trip and Class 6 getting the cameras to take home for the weekend.
Following class, I had a quick lunch and then rehearsal with the Miss Brainbirds girls. We practiced the entire pageant from start to finish, and it was great to see everything finally coming together. This time, we avoided the inevitable students-poking-their-heads-in by conducting the rehearsal outside, by my dorm. This new location also gave us our first audience, as the cooks were eating their lunch right beside us. The girls did amazing under pressure and put on a great show. Despite their success, some of them asked if they could change the song they each picked for their talent. Downloading the songs the first time around majorly killed my Internet data, so I am not sure that I’ll be able to download any new songs… I told them that we’d see!
At 2:30, I ended practice and got ready to go back to the immigration office. I had gone there for the first time two weeks prior to apply for a different visa that would allow me to travel to Kenya and Tanzania, and the office asked me to return on July 13th. I was busy on the 13th, so I wanted to go the next day. I had to take three tro tros to get there: one to Lapaz, another to Circle, and then another towards Labadi. As I’ve said before, I hate going to Circle, and this leg was definitely the most frustrating of the trip. All things considered, it took me about two hours to get to the immigration office, and by the time I got there I was tired from my commute. I walked in and gave the men at the front desk my slip, to which they told me to take a seat. I hadn’t been sitting there for long when they called me back up, this time telling me that my visa was not ready yet.
Not ready? I couldn’t believe it. How long does it take to print a piece of paper? Especially when that is the only task your desk serves? I asked the men when it would be ready, though they could offer me no concrete answer and only suggested that I “try again Monday.” At this point, I’ll admit that I started speaking a bit patronizingly. I explained to the men that it took me 2 hours to get to the office, so if I had to do the same on Monday and were told that it still wasn’t ready that I would not be thrilled. I asked if they could tell me when it would probably be ready, but they couldn’t do that either. Finally, one of the men told me that if I came back to the office on Wednesday and saw him personally, that he would make sure it would be ready for me to pick up.
I thought to myself, “this is great! I finally have a set date.” In the back of my head, though, I was still apprehensive. What if I returned Wednesday and could not find this guy, and the other people working told me that they didn’t know what I was talking about and that it still wasn’t ready? I didn’t want to take the chance, so I asked this man if I could please have this in writing in case he wasn’t here. He enthusiastically refused. I rephrased and asked if, instead, I could simply have his name so that, when I returned, I could ask for him at the desk. He refused again. This second time I was more confused. I couldn’t have his name..? The best he could do was offer me his phone number, which I thanked him for but said would not be much use to me since I cannot call Ghanaian numbers from my phone. Turning down his phone number was obviously offensive to him, because he quickly withdrew the offer and said that I could not have his name or his number.
It had been a long day. I was tired. And this visa situation seemed hopeless… why couldn’t this guy tell me his name?? All of my emotion bubbled up inside me and I cried. Right there, in front of everyone at the immigration office, I cried. Other officers were quick to rush over. They asked me why I was crying and I explained that this guy wouldn’t give me his name, and I didn’t know why. The original officer became extremely defensive. He started pointing a finger at me, saying how ridiculous I was behaving and that this was my fault since I wouldn’t take his number. He made fun of me for crying, at which point I, of course, cried even more. Everyone else was trying so badly to get me to stop, that another officer wrote down his name and number and asked if I could please call him on Monday and he could tell me if my visa was ready. I wiped my tears and, embarrassed (yet still not happy to leave without my passport), I started my two-hour journey back home.
I’d like to pause again… this time to say, again, that I screwed up (again). Admittedly, I have this really bad habit when I am frustrated in which my speaking becomes more self-important. I cannot fathom why these frustrating things are happening to me, so instead of nicely trying to figure out the problem and cooperate with whomever I am dealing with, I am rude and impatient. Yes, it was annoying that I traveled so far and was still not able to get my visa. But, no, I did not have to repeatedly explain how inconvenient it was for me to reach the office in the first place, nor did I have to turn down the first officer’s number. What does that accomplish? I am learning so many things here, though sadly some of those things are regarding my personality, and things I need to fix about myself ASAP.
Despite my troubles I was not at the office for very long, and left after fifteen minutes to commence my journey home. I endured another two-hour trek and arrived back at the school just after 6:30PM. Mariana was at the seamstress checking up on our most recent commissions, so I went over to the shop to meet her. I was so pleasantly surprised when I arrived. The seamstress had made the alterations to my top and had also finished the skirt that I had tacked on only the day before. I tried both on and they fit beautifully. They were a bit tighter than the outfits I normally wear back home, though not unflattering. Hopefully, they will only get looser as I am here longer (since I am hoping to lose a little weight). Mariana was really happy with her alterations as well, and before we left we dropped off additional pieces of fabric so that we could have more cheap clothes made. I played with the seamstress’ adorable six-month-old baby and then we headed back to the school.
On the way back, I told Mariana what had happened at the immigration office. She considered what I said for a minute, and then asked if she could tell me something. Speaking very candidly, she pointed out that sometimes when I am frustrated with someone I start to speak sort of aggressively, and that this can sometimes escalate the situation and makes me seem rude. Of course, this was not an amazing thing to hear, though I really appreciated her honesty and totally agreed with what she was saying. I had had two conversations during the day in which I did not act appropriately, and I regretted this. Though I don’t mean to excuse my actions at all, I am hoping that at least acknowledging my shortcomings can help me to be more patient and understanding in the future. At this point, I reached out to Gideon to apologize and promised that I would try a lot harder to be more even-tempered in the future. Thankfully, he was very forgiving.
Mariana and I continued our “real talk” throughout the rest of the night. We discussed the differences between our time in Africa and our time in other countries. Conclusively, we agreed that we were learning so much more in Africa than we had elsewhere, and that we felt our time here was more meaningful. In discussing my time spent in the Czech Republic last summer, I explained that, while I had an amazing time eating, drinking, and site seeing, I didn’t come away from the trip with major realizations about myself, the world, and life. I had an amazing time, don’t get me wrong, but I learned about where to get a cheap pastry and how to get to a swimming pool… I didn’t learn about patience, acceptance, race, and privilege. My time spent traveling elsewhere has been amazing, though not life changing, and now I feel that I’m at a point where I can literally feel my life changing before my eyes. Only 3.5 weeks into my journey here, I know that after this trip my mindset will never be the same. How exhilarating is that?