On Thursday morning, I missed assembly yet again in favor of taking my time with my bucket “shower” and eating breakfast before my classes began. I have recently learned from Mariana that, though the teachers can be judgmental about many things (such as leaving the school often, coming back to the school late, etc.), one thing that they have not criticized her for is missing assemblies every once in a while. This was really great information to know. Though I will try to make as many morning assemblies as I can, it’s not going to be every morning that I’m up and ready to go by 7AM. I’ve even started to appreciate not having a set teaching schedule, as it means that I can make my own class hours (within reason). Though the assembly ended at 8AM (meaning that my kids would be free any time after then), I decided to make my first class at 9 so that I could lounge around a bit before beginning my workday. Of course, this did not stop Mercy, one of my Form 1 students, from walking into my room while I was still in a towel (no knock, no apology) to whine that they were ready for me, though it was about twenty minutes before 9 at this point so I assured her that I’d be right there.
As promised, I met Form 1 in their classroom at promptly 9:00. We first went over the previous Alhaji assignment, and then I introduced their newest project. This week, all of my classes would be taking their prior caption assignment a bit further by conducting mini interviews, while taking pictures, in real time. I explained to them that, in my work with newspapers, it is my job to spot interesting things happening, approach the people that are doing those things, introduce myself, ask if I can take their photograph, and then record their personal information for the caption. I asked the kids to do something similar: instructing them to introduce themselves to at least three different people on the street before recording their name and taking their portrait. I gave them half an hour to complete this task, and I am thrilled to say that they all did quite well. Each Form 1 student was very good about walking up to a variety of different people, and they each took a lot of pictures! I am very excited to go through their shots in a few days.
My class with Form 1 ended at 10:30, and I had another class with Class 6 at 11, so I spent the half an hour in between classes hurriedly copying all of the Form 1 photos to my computer, and then formatting their memory cards so that Class 6 could have as much memory space as they wanted. Though I wanted to take time in the beginning of the class to go over Class 6’s final projects that they had shot over the weekend, as well as their Alhaji assignment that they had shot the day before, we ended up waiting so long for all of the students to show up that I promised we would go over the photos next class. I passed out the cameras, withholding one from the student whom had taken that inappropriate photo over the weekend. Thankfully, he did not make a fuss about being excluded from the assignment, and no other kids asked why he would not be participating. Another student named Joel was not feeling well and asked if he could be exempt from the assignment as well, so he kept the other student company. This worked out perfectly, as I have 16 students and only 14 cameras (meaning that 2 students normally have to share with others). Everyone was thrilled to be able to have their own cameras for the assignment and, after giving them the same caption assignment that I had just given Form 1, we left the school around noon. About three quarters of my Class 6 students took the same initiative as my Form 1 kids had—going up to strangers, boldly introducing themselves, and snapping away—while the last quarter lollygagged (as was evidenced by the fact that four separate students returned with only two pictures on their cameras). Though I hadn’t directly accompanied any of my Form 1 students around as they completed their work (I just wandered back and forth on the street to make sure that the kids were staying out of trouble), I did stick pretty closely to Ruth in Class 6 as she was so shy that she needed constant prodding to talk to people. Instead of photographing the kids working, as I had with Form 1, I decided to take some of my own pictures of the neighborhood residents (see below). Despite one instance towards the end of the half hour, in which I found about half of the students past the limit I had marked on the street, I’d say it was a pretty successful outing.
After collecting the class’ cameras, I retired back to my room around 12:30. At this point, I had an hour until I was needed at Miss Brainbirds rehearsal, so I took this time to eat some lunch. When I had finished eating and still had more time to kill, I took the opportunity to try and fix my bed (which had given me terrible back pains the night before, after trying to sleep with my left side raised much higher than my right). I temporarily considered notifying Gideon or Dennis of my situation and asking if they could be of help, though I thought about it and realized that there was no way that the school was going to have a welder come in and re-attach the broken metal frame rod, nor were they going to buy me a new frame. If anything, the school’s solution would be to problem solve, which I could totally do on my own. I eyed the difference between the non-broken rod and the floor, and then asked Kofi (one of the school cooks) if I could please steal a few small pieces of firewood from the kitchen’s stash. He happily obliged and, after stuffing two pieces under the bed slots on the right side of my bed, my mattress was looking pretty close to level. Auntie Lilly helped me to even further my fix by providing me with a small brick that I placed under the rod itself. It wasn’t perfect, but it was close! I’ll admit: I was quite proud of myself for forgoing help and repairing the bed all on my own. I guess it helps to grow up with an engineer for a dad!
When 1:30 rolled around, it was time for my daily Miss Brainbirds practice. This time we were not able to practice in the assembly room again, as another group had claimed it, so we instead rehearsed in the empty Form 1 classroom. All of the girls were present except Meghan (from KG) who we could not seem to locate. After asking around, we figured out that she was in another rehearsal with Teacher Albert, and he refused to let her leave his to come to mine. Though this was a little annoying to me (since she has been practicing his choreography for weeks longer than mine, and thus needs much more pageant practice), I didn’t push it. We began to rehearse and, after a few minutes, Sir Gideon popped his head in the window to ask if we could speak. Apparently, the teachers had decided that Meghan’s talent song was not entirely appropriate and would need to be changed. While I didn’t necessarily agree (as far as the inappropriateness goes), I said that was fine. The only issue was that Meghan already needed work on the dancing she did to her old song, so she would now need much more work on the dance for her new song (which she didn’t even know she had yet). I explained this to Gideon, who agreed that Meghan should probably be present for our practice. In fact, without me saying anything, he even admitted that it was pretty annoying that Albert refused to share her since Meghan already knew the KG dance he was teaching in her sleep. Of course I did not say this out loud but, honestly, it felt great to have another teacher agree that the rehearsal scheduling issues were pretty irritating.
Thanks to Gideon, it wasn’t long before Meghan waltzed into the room. We explained to her that, unfortunately, we would have to change her talent song. When we played her new song for her, she looked so lost—the poor girl! Though she only ever did one dance move, over and over, to her original song, you could tell that her little six year old brain had spent a while thinking up that dance move, and to now ask her to come up with another was a lot of work for her. The older girls tried to show her some sample moves she could try. They showed her move after move and she imitated them perfectly but, as expected, when it was her turn to dance by herself she froze up and continued to do the same move over and over. I suggested that maybe she could try counting to ten in her head while she was dancing, and when she reached ten she could switch to a different move. I prompted her to try this out and, to my dismay, realized that Meghan took a little over 30 seconds to count to ten, meaning that her minute-long dance would feature mostly one dance move with a sprinkling of another. She is so young that I didn’t see any reason to fight it; even if she only does one dance move in the final show, I know she’ll still look so cute doing it.
For the remainder of the practice, Auntie Alice sat in as a guest coach and was able to offer some great, objective advice for how to improve the pageant. As each girl took her turn practicing her talent, Auntie Alice made tailored suggestions (such as to utilize bigger arm movements, or switch up the dance moves a bit). At the end of the hour and a half, I thought that the girls were doing much better and I was even more excited to see it all come together at graduation the following week.
When practice ended at 3, I spent some time cleaning my section of the room, writing, and playing a little Sudoku. By 5PM I was starving, so I prepared to walk to my favorite fruit stand to get some mango for dinner. Mariana needed to walk the same direction as me to get to a local Internet café, so we walked to Israel together and then parted ways at the stand. To my dismay, my Twi-practicing partner, Na Na, was not there, though another woman had taken her place. She was very nice, though she didn’t know much English, which limited our interaction to the few Twi phrases I knew (Good evening. How are you? What is your name?). I gathered that she did not have any mango that night, so I got pineapple instead as well as a few bananas to eat the next day. From Israel, I then walked the half a mile to Alhaji and bought a sausage for dinner as well. I mean, if ham and pineapple are a thing, why can’t sausage and pineapple work as well? I munched on some pineapple during my walk, bought my sausage, and then went back to the room.
As I sat on the edge of my bed and ate my dinner, Emmanuella sat opposite me, whining about how she didn’t feel well and was really hungry. Through asking several questions I was able to determine that Emmanuella didn’t seem like she was actually sick, and I suggested that she go next door to the kitchen and eat the rice and stew that Auntie Esther was currently serving up. Emmanuella whined that she didn’t want rice, she was tired of it, and wanted something else. Essentially, she hinted that she didn’t want the school’s food, she wanted mine. Mariana and I had just discussed the day before that we were worried we were spoiling the girls a little too much, and this interaction proved it. Mariana confided in me that, when she first arrived, they never asked for anything and were always grateful for whatever she offered; now, however, the girls ask for food and drinks all the time and are upset when their specific requests are not fulfilled. This change was a dangerous one as, in just two months, there will be no one at the school who will offer them any food. This gave us a tricky situation to navigate, as we have so much love for the girls and want to provide them with anything we can… but, they cannot get accustomed to a life of small luxury when, so quickly, they will be back to having to eat rice every night (and without complaint). I told Emmanuella that she would have to suck it up and have rice like all the other kids were having. She was not too happy with me, though we were going to give the girls a large surprise at the end of the evening so I knew she would not be upset for long.
A short while after I finished my dinner, the power went out (surprise, surprise). I asked the other teachers if they knew whether it was “lights out” (when the whole neighborhood loses power), or whether the prepaid was finished (when only we do not have power, because Mrs. Nti has not paid enough for our electricity). They told me that it was lights out, though the school had the power generator turned on for their Thursday night church service. I jumped at the opportunity to charge my near-dying electronics, and headed towards the school library.
I arrived at the library around 7PM, when church activities were in full swing. Though Auntie Lilly usually leaves the library key on a ledge just inside the room’s window, I couldn’t find it, nor Dennis, who carries a second set of keys with him. I nervously recruited Sir Cornelius to help in my Dennis search (I felt really badly pulling him away from church, but he offered), and we both wandered the school looking for him. When we couldn’t find him, I decided to get into the library the only other way I knew how—by climbing through the window. At this point Sir Albert had walked over to chat with me, so he helped me to get a chair and held it while I climbed in. Ironically, just as I swung my second leg over the ledge and jumped into the room, Sir Albert found the key—on the very ledge I had just mounted. Regardless, I was already inside so I plopped down on a couch while Albert let himself in the old fashioned way, by using the door.
Albert is one of my favorite male teachers at the school because he has such an undeniable passion for learning. He is quite well educated, but always searching for more information. From the second I first met him, he had a lot of questions for me regarding America and Judaism. I try to answer his questions the best I can, and we’ve had many great conversations since about the misconceptions that many Ghanaians have about other cultures and religions. In the library, him and I discussed religion again, joking about how all of the other teachers were probably mad that I was next to the church services, though not actually attending them. I recounted to him a conversation that I had last week with Becky, in which she begged me to come to church with her. I replied, saying that I’d go to church with her if she went to a mosque with me. “But I’m not Muslim!” She exclaimed, “Why would I go to a mosque?” I answered, “But I’m not Christian. Why would I go to church?” Albert and I had a good laugh about this one, and talked for a while about how we cannot believe that, despite Jesus being Jewish, and though the Old Testament is the same thing as the Torah, many teachers and students at the school have never even heard the word “Jewish.” For example, when some teachers first found out that I’m Jewish, they asked me why I did not wear a scarf over my head. After discussing this for a bit, Albert left for church services and I sat down to look through my classes’ caption assignments.
About an hour into my work, Emmanuella, Alice, and Peace came into the library. Church had just let out and, now, Mariana had told them that we were ready to tell them about the surprise. They excitedly dragged me from the library back to our room, and then we sat them down to tell them.
(As an aside, I’d like to take a moment to run you through a brief timeline. Next Saturday is the school’s graduation. On Monday, just a few days later, Mariana and I leave for our two-week safari, returning on August 15th. Brainbirds’ summer school runs from August 1st until September 5th, so during this period of time the students that we know and love will be home with their parents, enjoying their vacation, while new students come for summer classes. Since Mariana is leaving Ghana for good on August 25th, this means that she will leave before our students come back, and thus will be seeing most of them for the last time at the school’s graduation. Because next weekend will be dedicated primarily to the graduation celebrations, Mariana wanted to do something special for the girls this weekend as a sort of last hurrah. I loved the idea, and was happy to pitch in.)
With the girls on the edges of their seats, we told them: since they loved Finding Nemo so much, we’d be taking them to see Finding Dory at the Accra Mall movie theater this Sunday! Emmanuella shrieked. She was thrilled, and quickly asked if Quasi would be coming with us (she is unnaturally fond of him, for only having met him twice). Mariana said that she’d try to convince him to go, and Emmanuella shrieked again. Peace was also quite happy, though not as happy as Emmanuella. Alice didn’t really say anything. Though I was disappointed to see that the girls were not all as excited as I thought they’d be, I had an inkling as to why this might be the case. I asked the girls, “Have you ever been to a movie theater before?” Emmanuella answered that she’d been once or twice with her mother and brother, which explained her excitement. Peace and Alice, however, had never been, which explained their general lack of excitement—they didn’t really know what a movie theater was. I tried to explain to them that, while we were used to watching movies on the floor, using my laptop, that a movie theater had rows and rows of comfy seats and a screen as big as a whole wall. Now, Peace started to get excited, though Alice was still silent. When I went to investigate, I saw that Alice was actually sleeping, which was hilarious to me since Alice loves movies more than anyone else at the school and didn’t even know the exciting news she was missing out on. We made it clear to the girls that they couldn’t tell any other students where we were going—we didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, because of course we’d take all of them if we could afford to—and that, if they did tell, they wouldn’t get any popcorn or candy at the theater. They excitedly agreed. After they fell asleep, Mariana and I joked that we were even more excited to take them than they were to go. I ate a few saltines (unfortunately, the late night snacking habit that I developed at Drexel is now starting to creep its way into Ghana), and then Mariana and I fell asleep as well.