Day 29

Yesterday (aka Wednesday) morning, I woke up earlier than normal. As a result of having that school-wide rehearsal the day before, I had to reschedule my meeting with Class 6 for 7AM—the only time slot that worked for them since they would have exams to complete later in the day. Though I was waiting in their classroom promptly at 7, it wasn’t until 7:20 that most of the class showed up. This worried me, as I had to have them back at school by 8:30, and one hour did not seem enough time to do the field trip. By the time I passed out all the cameras and briefed everyone on the trip rules, it was 7:35. 

To put my mind at ease, I gave the class two options; we could either continue to do the trip that day (having less than one hour to do it), or reschedule for Thursday (when we’d have a full hour and a half). As I expected, the students were shortsighted and preferred to take the trip right then and there. We gathered our things and were out the school gates by 7:40.

 Jesse, Desmond, Farouk, and Prince photograph a trash-filled river.

Jesse, Desmond, Farouk, and Prince photograph a trash-filled river.

 Precious and Paa Kwesi photograph a carpenter's shop on our way to town.

Precious and Paa Kwesi photograph a carpenter's shop on our way to town.

As I had done with the other classes, we took the main road from the school to Alhaji. The kids had a great time running around to the different people and vendors that they passed, and we made pretty good timing—arriving at the Alhaji bookstore (our turn-around point) at exactly 8:00. I was optimistic, thinking that we’d have ample time to take photographs and then make our way back to the school. Unfortunately, just as I thought this, it started to rain. What started off as a drizzle (in which I tentatively allowed the students to keep shooting), quickly turned into downpour. I wasn’t sure what to do, since I did not want the kids to have their cameras out in the rain, but I needed to have them back in time for their exams. We ran from overhang to overhang before the rain stopped, about halfway through our journey home. Acting a bit dangerously, we decided to take back roads home instead of the main road, which we knew would most likely lengthen our time. I decided to take the risk regardless, as I wanted to give the students the chance to see and photograph different things than they had already passed on their way to town. We speed walked through the back roads, taking a “short cut” that the students proposed. Much to my dismay, the “short cut” landed us back at school five minutes after our deadline… though, of course, after the students had already returned their cameras, I discovered that their morning exam had been canceled.

 Alberta, Alberta, and Emmanuella wait under an overpass for the rain to end.

Alberta, Alberta, and Emmanuella wait under an overpass for the rain to end.

 Finally, the rain stopped! (You can see the side of Brainbirds in the top right corner)

Finally, the rain stopped! (You can see the side of Brainbirds in the top right corner)

I left Class 6 to head back to my room so that I could eat some breakfast and prepare for my 11:00 class with Class 5. On my way, Sir Gideon intercepted me. He asked me if I’d like to join the students on their “excursion” (as everyone kept calling it) to the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation. They were leaving right then, so I’d need to decide quickly. I hurriedly weighed the pros and cons of accompanying the kids on the trip but, ultimately, decided that it was totally a good idea to go. I was offered a free trip to an extremely notable place in Ghana, where I would no doubt learn a lot more about the country than if I had hung back to eat some cereal. The cherry on top was the fact that the GBC is located directly across from the Ghana immigration office, where I was planning to go anyway in order to pick up my visa. A free trip and a free ride (that would eliminate the need for a three-tro tro journey)? I’d need to figure out when to reschedule my time with Class 5, but I was in. I quickly grabbed some crackers and a few cheese wedges from my room, stuffed them in my camera bag, and then ran through the (now on again) rain to the Brainbirds school bus.

 En route to the GBC.

En route to the GBC.

I sat in the back of the bus, eating my breakfast and chatting with the surrounding kids. They helpfully pointed out the landmarks that we passed and told me all about their parents and siblings. Sir Hayford sat in the middle of the bus, while Mariana and Sir Cornelius sat in the front. We arrived at the GBC about 20 minutes later, where we met up with Madame (aka Mrs. Nti, the owner of the school), who had driven separately. It was pretty funny for me to witness the students’ change in attitude the second that they saw Mrs. Nti. Where they had been yelling and squealing just a minute before, they quickly became dead silent and would remain that way for the majority of the visit. Though a pretty extreme difference in temperament, I cannot say I wouldn’t do the same—Mrs. Nti can be very intimidating when she wants to be. 

After Mrs. Nti explained how important it was that the children properly represent their school, we all walked up to the GBC entrance. Here, I was told that I was not allowed to bring my camera in, so I quickly took a group picture to commemorate the trip and then locked my bag in the back of Mrs. Nti’s car. Mrs. Nti, her son (?), and Cornelius waited for me to do this, while Mariana, Hayford and the students had already followed the guide into one building or another. Though I don’t think I took long at all to put my bag away, it was immediately clear how quickly the students had gotten away from us, because our group had a lot of difficulty locating theirs. While we searched for them, I borrowed Cornelius’ cell phone to call the immigration office. To my joy, they told me that my visa was ready for pickup! I told them that I’d be over soon, perhaps around 11AM.

 Madame, Hayford, Cornelius, and Mariana stand with the kids in front of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation. 

Madame, Hayford, Cornelius, and Mariana stand with the kids in front of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation. 

After wandering around for a bit, we found everyone in the radio department. We arrived just in time to hear the guide tell the students that they would have the opportunity to record themselves and be featured on the radio later that day! They were obviously thrilled about this news. As the kids quietly celebrated, Mrs. Nti asked another GBC employee if we’d also get to be on the television. The employee said that she didn’t think so, to which Madame replied that, “if she needed to pay money (to make this happen), she would.” I had a good, silent chuckle over that one, since it honestly was unbelievable that she would not hesitate to pay to have the children featured in a quick television spot (when most of these kids don’t even have televisions to be able to view themselves), though she clearly has great trouble paying for our electricity. The students sang their school anthem (followed by “you’re listening to Unique FM, 95.7) in the recording booth, and then the technicians played the tape back for us. It was too cute! Sir Hayford recorded a video of the kids as they sang, so I really hope that I am eventually able to get a copy of that.

From the radio department, we moved on to the television department. Here, we had the opportunity to see the set of a morning talk show. Mariana, Madame and I sat on the show’s couches while the kids crowded behind us and asked the guide questions about the cameras and lights. Though the guide did his best to answer their questions, I think he was not used to explaining his job to young children because he used many complicated terms that the kids clearly had trouble understanding. Thankfully, there was enough of an overlap between his film terminology and my photo terminology that I was able to translate for the kids. After viewing the TV set, we moved on to the editing room, control room, and then a news set. While I didn’t have much previous knowledge about broadcasting, the guide spoke mostly about recording and editing—actions I am quite familiar with—so the most interesting part of the tour for me was actually to see how outdated the technology is that they are working with. For example, the video cutting software that they were using was two editions behind the recently released one, which I found surprising since I’d imagine that American broadcasting companies upgrade their technology whenever they can. Maybe this is not the case, though it was certainly thought provoking to note that the biggest radio and television producer in the country might not have the means to obtain updated software.

By the time we left the station, the rain had thankfully let up. It was around noon at this point, and I had just convinced Sir Hayford to ask the bus to wait for me while I quickly ran across the street to grab my visa. While I had originally planned to go to the office on my own and take tro tros back to the school, Mariana persuaded me to try to take the bus back since it should be quick for me to run in and run out, and the bus was cheaper and quicker than the tro tros would be. As I was about to enter the bus, Madame graciously offered to take me to the office herself. I climbed in the backseat while her son (?) climbed in the front, and we drove over to the office. She found a parking spot across the street, and I ran in.

When I walked in, I was confident as I handed my slip to the man at the desk. He asked me to have a seat, and I happily sat, thinking that it couldn’t be more than five minutes before I was called up to claim what was mine. Just as I thought, it was only a few minutes before I was called back to the desk, though reality played out differently than my fantasy when the man emitted the dreaded words, “Your visa isn’t ready.” What? Not ready? This couldn’t be. I had just confirmed that it was. Okay, so I was an hour later than I thought I’d be. Did my visa regress from complete to incomplete in that hour? I was so confused. I explained to the man that Mr. William had confirmed for me that it was ready just this morning. I don’t think that my new friend even knew who Mr. William was, because he asked me to come back to check on my visa later. Stubbornly, I explained, again, that it was ready—I knew it was. Couldn’t I have it now? Eventually, I convinced him to call Mr. William himself and, when he did, he informed me that Mr. William would be on his way shortly.

I was slightly panicked. What does shortly mean? I had already been at the office for half an hour, and I was feeling extremely guilty thinking about Mrs. Nti sitting in her car and waiting for me. To clarify, I asked the man at the desk, “does Mr. William have my passport with him?” In response, I was told to sit down. Please, I asked again, does Mr. William have my passport? Again, I was told to sit down. I asked again. This time, I received his most honest response yet: I don’t know. “Okay. Do you know where my passport is then?” “I don’t know.” Great! I love when people misplace the only document that will allow me to leave this country and return to my own!  I sat back down, nervously waiting for Mr. Williams’ arrival.

Thankfully, it was only about ten minutes before Mr. Williams showed up. He had my passport in his hand, and explained that he wanted to keep it on him for safekeeping. I was elated! I graciously shook his hand and exited the office all smiles (probably the first time I’ve ever left a government agency feeling happy). When I got into Mrs. Nti’s car, I was extremely apologetic. I felt so bad that she had waited for a little over half an hour, when I had promised her that this would be a five-minutes-tops trip. She was sympathetic, though, and couldn’t believe that I was originally told that my passport wasn’t ready. I mean, seriously, is that what they’ll tell anyone when they just don’t care to locate your documents? Regardless, I was in a great mood and didn’t even mind that Madame played an aggressively Christian radio show the whole way back to the school.

I arrived back to the school around 1PM and had surprisingly beaten the school bus back. I used this time to eat a quick lunch, and walked across the street to grab a drink. Though I was only out of the school for several minutes, when I tried to get back I noticed that the gate was locked. This was really strange, but I had one of the kids let me in and didn’t think too much of it. I finished eating my usual lunch of peanut butter and jelly, and then walked over to visit Mary in her shop so that she could make a tiny alteration to one of my shirts. Again, I was gone for only about ten minutes, but when I got back the gate was locked again. Normally, the gate is open from 6AM until 9PM, so I could not understand why it was being locked so frequently all of the sudden. I asked Dennis about this after he let me in, and he said that Madame had requested it remain closed at all times since she was being bothered by too many parents who let themselves into the gate in order to speak with her. Never mind the fact that no parents had been to the school since dropping their kids off that morning, nor the fact that visiting parents would also have to be allowed into her office to speak with her… what Madame says goes.

Mariana and the rest of the excursion group got back around 1:30, as apparently their bus had broken down for half an hour. I felt so bad for Mariana, who had been stuck on the bus with screaming children all the while. I cheered her up by telling her about Madame’s weird new rule, which she got a real kick out of. Then, I gathered my pageant girls to rehearse in the assembly room.

 Chelsea, Tracy, Emmanuella, Sandra, Princess, and Ruth strike a pose after giving their individual introductions.

Chelsea, Tracy, Emmanuella, Sandra, Princess, and Ruth strike a pose after giving their individual introductions.

 The girls perform their group dance.

The girls perform their group dance.

We had quite an audience yet again, and the girls loved the attention. For the first time, I took pictures of them as they rehearsed (as you can see below). The girls get better and better every day, and it is so exciting for me to see it all come together. All in all, I’d say the only setback in the afternoon occurred when Madame stuck her head in to watch, and the girls became so shy that their dancing suffered. Thankfully, when she left they resumed with their previous enthusiasm. 

 The girls watch as Chelsea performs her talent.

The girls watch as Chelsea performs her talent.

 My beautiful babies!

My beautiful babies!

When the rehearsal ended at 3PM, I took the opportunity to discuss an idea with Sir Gideon. I had been given advice from another teacher at the school to display a small sampling of the students’ photography work at their graduation, so that the parents might have a taste of what they were learning before seeing it all at their exhibition in September. I thought this was a great idea when I heard it, and came up with a creative method to display the photographs by hanging them on the school’s clothing lines (like photographs in an old darkroom). Gideon loved the idea, and I excitedly told the Class 3 teacher, Mr. Forson, that his idea had been a hit. Weirdly enough, I think that he was quite out of it because he did not seem to understand what I was talking about and kept discussing the pageant with me. Apparently, he thought it was okay but that the girls could work on their modeling skills. 

On my way back to the girls’ dormitory, I photographed Mariana doing her wash, some eggplants that the cooks had laid out on a tarp (for some reason or another), and a bowl of beautifully saturated chili peppers for my #AccraFromAbove Instagram series. When I finally got back to my room, two things occurred. First of all, I found Derby and Mercy (two Form 1 girls) on my bed. They were sitting there, chatting with Mariana, though when they went to stand up I heard an awful cracking sound. My bed frame, which had already been somewhat broken before, then completely broke, with one side at its normal height and the other side completely flat on the ground. Great! Second, Mariana informed me of an unsettling incident that had just taken place.

 The day's #AccraFromAbove contenders (I ended up selecting the bottom two, though hope to get better pictures of washing and rooster-reflections for future posts).

The day's #AccraFromAbove contenders (I ended up selecting the bottom two, though hope to get better pictures of washing and rooster-reflections for future posts).

At the end of our field trip, Emmanuella, Peace, and Alice had pooled their money to buy two bottles of orange soda. As they waltzed into the school with their bottles, Becky apparently took it upon herself to take their drinks from them. She had evidently explained to Mariana that she needed to “punish” the girls for refusing to study for their exams earlier, though Mariana doubted Becky’s true intentions since, instead of temporarily confiscating the sodas with plans to return them later, Becky started to drink the soda herself. Becky is jokingly referred to as a “goat” by the school’s cooking staff since she will pretty much eat anything she can get her hands on… so it seemed likely that Becky cared less about punishing the girls and more about having a free drink. The girls were distraught and, as Mariana explained all of this to me, they were bawling several feet away. Hearing this story upset me, as I often feel that the girls are punished much too harshly. I asked Becky why she took the girls’ sodas, and if she could please return them. I pleaded with her, explaining that the girls don’t have much money and so, since she was drinking their sodas, they probably wouldn’t have any extra money to buy more. Becky has a paycheck and the ability to leave the school whenever she wants; the girls, on the other hand, are given a very limited amount of money from their parents and never have the opportunity to leave the school and buy things for themselves. Becky did not even attempt to understand my reasoning, and spitefully placed one of the sodas in the freezer—guarding it with her body so that I would not be able to steal it back. I was really annoyed with the way that Becky was acting and tried, alongside Mariana, to rationalize to her why the girls should really have their drinks back. Like, come on. If the girls really weren’t studying, send them to bed a little early. Take their drinks away until they study, and then give them back. Don’t drink them, in front of the girls, and refuse to buy them replacements. Becky laughed as I pleaded with her, explaining that this was just “how they do things in Ghana.” I responded saying that, just because something is common does not mean that it is right. Becky concluded her argument, saying that I'd "understand once I have kids of my own." This was rich, as Becky doesn't have kids either. I dropped the topic, returning to my room so that I wouldn’t become even more frustrated.  

I calmed myself by preparing (another) peanut butter and jelly for dinner, and then proceeding to go through Class 6’s weekend assignment so that I could have the photos graded before I’d see them in class the next day. Naturally, my “relaxation” could only last so long. I was a little over halfway through my marking when I saw a picture that stopped me cold—that caused the blood to drain from my face and for me to hurriedly switch to the next picture, looking around to see if anyone else had seen what I’d just seen. As you might have guessed, I saw a photograph of a young man’s… business. 

I struggled to process what I had witnessed. The student who used the camera is one of my best students; he is nice, polite, and always follows the rules. I could not believe that he’d take an image like this, knowing that I’d be looking through his camera. I found him and pulled him aside, asking what he knew about this photo. As I was hoping he would, he told me that someone else must’ve taken his camera from his backpack and taken the picture without him knowing. Though this is what I wanted to hear (so I wouldn’t have to blame this angel child), he was so unconvincing in his delivery that I was resigned to conclude that it had been him after all. I told him to fetch this other boy and meet me back at my room. He brought the second boy, as well as a third “witness,” and I ushered the boys into the dormitory. 

While the room in which I live is considered a girls’ dormitory, a room in which boys are never allowed, I found it fitting to break the rules just once as my room was the only place I could achieve the privacy I’d need to conduct this conversation. Mariana and I were the only women in the room, so there was no one sleeping, getting dressed, or doing anything else that the boys should not bear witness to. Despite this, Becky barged in and started screaming at me. Still on her power trip from earlier, I supposed, Becky hollered that the boys needed to leave the room now. Again, I pleaded with her. Couldn’t they stay since there were no other girls in the room? I needed privacy, and none of the rooms in the school had both doors and windows that closed. Nope. Becky insisted that we leave, so Mariana and I took the boys to a far corner of the courtyard. 

With everyone together, we tried to get a straight story out of the boys. It took a while, but we eventually pieced together that Boy A (the boy whom had been trusted with the camera), was hanging out with Boy B and C when Boy B had to use the bathroom. When he was finished, he jokingly kept his pants down and walked up to the other two boys, and Boy A took his picture. The entire thing was incredibly uncomfortable for me—both while the boys explained what happened, and when Mariana explained to them how much trouble I would be in if anyone else found out about this. As she noted, had I not screened the homework carefully enough, I could have ended up showing this photograph to my entire class or, even worse, to the students’ parents at graduation. Though we didn’t plan to get any other adults involved in the situation, this was technically child pornography… and I had it in my possession! I shuddered at the thought of what could have been, and did my best to impress upon the boys that, though I was very disappointed in them, this would need to stay between us. Never mind the consequences I could suffer, I thought of the boys and how badly they would undoubtedly be beaten for doing something so inappropriate. I reminded Boy A that, as his teacher, I needed to trust that he could use his camera responsibly, so as his punishment he would be excluded from our next class together. He seemed to see the punishment as fitting (honesty, he got off the hook pretty easily), and I left him with the promise to briefly revisit the conversation on Monday. 

When I walked back to my room, I helped Mariana to transfer some photos from her phone to my thumb drive. This seemingly simple task took a lot longer than expected as, whenever Mariana and I are in our room, there are consistently about eight young girls vying for our attentions. Before I knew it, it was 7PM and time for our Wednesday night movie. I put Finding Nemo on for the girls, and then escaped to the bathroom (the only somewhat private place that did not require me to go outside and risk a million mosquito bites) to call my parents. 

Where I had called my parents frequently when I first arrived in Ghana, it had been weeks since my last phone conversation with them. I had been promising to call them for several days, and this opportunity seemed as good as any—especially considering how eventful my day had been. In hushed tones, I told them all about the Becky drama as well as the camera incident. They were really supportive of how I handled myself in both situations, and this meant a lot to me. We talked for about an hour as I caught them up on my life here, and they on their life back at home. When I was finished, I caught the end of Finding Nemo with Mariana and Alice (Emmanuella and Alice were passed out at this point), and then continued grading Class 6’s assignment (thankfully, with no other sightings) until I tried to fall asleep on my hilariously damaged bed.