Initial Tests With Wonoo, Teaching a Neighbors Child, and Being Put In My Place

The schedule today consists of simply going to the Wonoo JHS and giving all the students the pre-test to kick of the tutoring program. There isn’t any teaching going on today, so how hard could this really be?

 I leave the house at 11:30 to make sure I have time to walk the whole way and get there by, latest, 13:30. Yesterday when I made the copies of the JHS tests, for some reason I only got half of what I entered in the copier. I blame the copier and not my lazy absence of a double check. I really hope to pick up a Tro Tro and get there by 12:30, in case anything goes wrong with the copying, or electricity for that matter.

 As I’m nearing the edge of town I greet my ladies as usual. There is a hilarious group of women on the way out of town that have set up a few shops. The only men that are ever there are very old, what they called agya (pronounced Aja). The gy is always pronounced like the j in Jury. As I get to the last group of women one of them, slightly younger, calls me over. She says “bra bra”. The r is slightly rolled so it when you say bra it almost sounds like a machine gun sound. She makes a hand gesture that looks like she’s catching a bug right in front of her, while pulling her hand back in toward her. Apparently that’s the general term for come because I’ve seen many other people do that. I walk up and now join the circle of women at the last stand before the desolate road. The one that called me is now asking me a lot of questions in Twi. I can’t understand some of it so she calls a child over to translate. She wants me to come and teach her children on my way back from Wonoo. She said that her children are in primary school. That is one level below JHS. Without hesitation I tell her I will do it. My day is already easy enough, why not top it all off with some easy tutoring. After all, if the JHS students are learning basic math, how hard could teaching a primary student really be? Well, I don’t think very hard at all. As I walk down the road excitement fills my every pore. I am able to start to accomplish what I am here for. I came to help these students become educated and now I can help a school and a local family. All this excitement is putting a spring into my step.

 I don’t think I’ve ever walked this part of the road toward Wonoo. I have always received a ride of some sort. Not only is the excitement of helping the local students still palpable, but now I realize I’m on another new adventure. I’m practically running at this point. I walked through this next town yesterday on my way back from Wonoo. Other than that, it is so small I hadn’t noticed it the other times we passed through. This time through, I am paying very close attention to the details of the people and the buildings. The buildings are very traditional. I was taught from Moses, on the trip to Amber’s site, that the new buildings are made out of brick and look very nice. He said the older ones are very easy to identify because they look like they were made out of mud and sticks. Actually, that’s exactly what they were made out of. It’s pretty amazing that a building made out of such basic materials are still standing, and other than the cracked looking exterior, are still in pretty good condition. Excuse my ‘nerding’ out for a second. Even though they are still standing the R-values must be awful. I’m sure it was pretty good at one point, but over the years of erosion, I bet the walls let heat go right through. I’m now passed that town and heading the familiar junction town where I often get dropped off. A young man behind me yells out. I turn around and he is waving. I wait for him to catch up and he has a huge smile on his face. He asks me all kinds of questions about the States and tells me that he grew up in the small town we just passed. He says many times that he hopes we can be friends. He tells me that we just passed his turn, but he wants to walk me to the next town before he turns back. He is very nice and seems genuinely interested in being friends. Then, as we part ways he says “I’m hungry, please give me some food” as he gestures his hand toward his mouth. It caught me by such surprise I ask him to repeat. He says again that he has no money for food and that he wants my food. What a way to kill my high. A feeling of unease sadness wash over me. I tell him that I have no money and I wish him luck with his search. Unfortunately I don’t have the money or resources to start to feed the people of this area. You might be thinking well, you can certainly feed this one boy, especially since he was trying to be my friend. Actually I can’t because this place is so small that once I feed one person, everyone will know. They will either want me to feed their family or some will think that I am from America and I have a great amount of wealth, especially if I am willing to give it out to people. This is the same reason I haven’t taken any pictures yet. Most people I meet make some comment about me being from America and how that makes me rich. I have worked hard to show people that I don’t have extra money and should not be thought of in such a way. Even though I really don’t have much extra money, I still can’t show any of that to the poor people of the area because then I will be a target and all of a sudden many activities will become unsafe.

 I continue to walk to Wonoo, a bit perplexed at the whole situation. I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing, but my first priority is to keep myself safe. In college, I was in a situation where my house became a target for criminals and I didn’t feel safe at home. That was the most stressful time of my life and I am quite apprehensive to do anything that might resurrect that situation, especially living in a foreign country. Don’t get me wrong though, mom, I am very careful and totally safe. I have been very careful and nearly the whole area loves me and wants to protect me.

 I am now one town away from Wonoo and the Tro Tro is finally coming up behind me. I still need to take it because it’s 12:30 and I want to make sure I get those copies made. As we are pulling up to the bus stop I peer out the window at Helda’s place, hoping she won’t see me, and of course she is waving frantically. I go over and greet her. I tell her that I need to go to school. I say “me ko a ba,” which means I will go and come. But, say it all at once like mekoaba. The copies went easily and I get to the school at 12:45. That’s a little earlier than I wanted, but better that than a little late. The tutors show up and we wait for the form 3 class to get done. Then someone rings a bell and yells “extra classes!” I’m up! I’m not feeling nervous, just a bit anxious to start my first day. I’ve never dealt with a full class of 15-year-old students, but I didn’t want to take it lightly. Even though Joe warned me that they will be almost too obedient, I want to be on my toes. I walk in the class room with the tutors at my heels. I greet them and all at once they say “Hello Sir.” I nearly jumped out of my sandals. I just had a quick flash of Band of Brothers for some reason. I feel like I’m addressing Easy Company. Except, I would never feed them spaghetti before Currahee. Oh, and if you don’t get that reference than you should go watch Band of Brothers. That one makes it top on my list of any movie or series. Out of some weird instinct I ask how they all are. They all respond, again in unison, that they are fine and ask how I am. Before I hand out the tests I start explaining the program and expectations for the rest of the term. As I start talking I realize how loud the room next to us is being. The students were in transition to extra classes and were basically all screaming. I’m not really sure what to do here. I could easily tell my class to quiet down, but it is the one next door that is making all the noise. One of the students raises their hand and tells me that they can’t hear me. Great, I’m tanking in my first two minutes being a teacher. This is quite a bit harder than I expected it would be. I step close to the class and start using big gestures because that always makes you louder. I now am yelling at the classroom. I yell “A rusty bayonet!? How do you expect to kill the enemy with a rusty bayonet, soldier!?” The class next to us begins to settle down, but now I’m in a groove and I keep yelling. Some of the kids in the front lean back and suddenly I realize that they aren’t soldiers and I can talk normally and still be heard. After I explain the program and the plan for today I hand out the tests to the JHS students. There aren’t enough desks for the tutors, so I try to plan quickly what I should do. Alright, I will have them monitor the class with me and then they will take their tests afterward. Then a few minutes in I realize that their tests will take an hour and I can’t ask them to be here for two hours. Then, I quickly change plans and ask them to pick a desk and sit next to a JHS student to take their test. Yes, it’s not ideal, but I have to deal with what I’m given. I need to have the students all in the room, so that I can monitory them and make sure they don’t cheat. These students are very respectful, but cheating has been reinforced in their school culture and I need to be very watchful. As I pace around class I spot a few students cheating. I take away what ever it is that they are cheating with and ask them to use their brains only. I can’t punish them because this test is to check for their progress. I don’t want to discourage them from continuing the program. I even catch one of the tutors cheating. That’s very disappointing. The bell is rung to finish extra classes and the students jump up and run out of the room.

 The tutors stick around and I talk with them about the expectations of the program. There are four tutors and I tell them that only three can make it to the program. They were very disappointed that they can’t all stay, but I tell them that our program can’t afford to pay all four. I give them the option to all stay, but then the pay for three would be dispersed amongst the four. They prefer to challenge each other for the three spots. They ask some very good questions about the program and then we close for the day. I think that session overall went pretty well, but there are many improvements I can make for the Antoa program. I also didn’t feel very connected to the students and that is very important to me. I know I’m not their direct teacher, but I still want to feel a positive connection with them. I know when I feel connected with my teachers I am more motivated to learn. With that said, I want the tutors to become good role models for the students as well. The goal is to get the tutors to be mentors to these JHS students in and outside of the classroom. I will tell the tutors this next week. I want them to be aware that these students are looking up to them and I want them to act like that in every action they take in their life. I want to reinforce to them that this point in their life is powerful because they can have such an immense affect on others, especially those younger, as long as they live their life truly, with passion and motivation to achieve their dreams.

 The walk back is very nice. I am coming back later in the day than I have ever been on this road. This time kids are home from school and parents are home from work. It is like a giant block part all along the once quiet road. Everyone is family and you can see that through their joyful interactions in the streets. As I pass by one house off in the bush, they stop me and ask me to buy them paano, or bread. I use my broken Twi and say me nante efirise me nni sika. I have no idea if that is the correct order of words, but I just put some vocab I have heard together into a jumble that makes sense to me. I said I walk because I have no money. Which is partially true. I don’t have money to pay six times the price for the shared taxi’s, but I do have enough for the Tro Tro, I just would rather walk and pick it up along the way than to wait in one spot for them. I also get to meet great people along my walk, so there are may benefits. Two children walk out of the yard of the ladies who are still yelling at me to bring them bread. They follow me down the road and we introduce ourselves. There was a little boy and little girl. They said they are in primary school. They must be about 10 years old. They are adorable and actually very sharp. Most of our walk they would describe things in English and ask for the English word. Their motivation to learn is quite outstanding. As I get back to the junction town, I talk to an old couple. As I am talking I look behind me and realize that I have a bit of a following. There were about 5 kids behind me, asking for money. Then the closer I get to the other edge of town they start to drop off. As I leave town a vehicle pulls up next to me and asks if I’m going to Antoa. I happily take the ride and get back to town quickly. As we get near the edge of town I ask to be let out where I spoke with that young woman in the morning. I thanked them for the ride and start looking for the woman, so I can teach her children. She’s not in her usual spot so I ask one of my other friends where she is. They tell me to follow them up to her house. We walk away from the road up toward the residential area. I greet the women I’ve been looking for. As I do people in the area start to stir from the doldrums of their activities. I now have an audience of about thirty people, gathering around to look at me as I talk to this woman about teaching her children. I’m not really used to this, so it feels a bit awkward. I seriously felt like a celebrity standing there that everyone wanted to just get a peak of. Well they were certainly doing more than peaking. Everyone from 2 feet away to 30 feet away, all standing at different heights, like they were in stadium seating to watch me talk to this woman. This is all a bit surreal.

 I am lead down to the Primary classrooms, where the woman leaves me with two of her daughters. A very nice man walks in and greets me. He says that he just graduated from University and is back in town before he looks for a job. He is a substitute teacher at the Primary school. He says since the two girls are at different levels in Primary, he would take one to the other room and teach her. I look at her notes and she is learning about definitions. There are definitions for math terms like sets or finite and there are other definitions like for science and equivalent. I slightly smile to myself, knowing this will be even easier to myself than I thought this morning. I grab a marker and begin. I ask her to define set, and like an army private she starts sentences with sir and ends them with sir. I’m not even kidding here. She recites the definition for science like she’s reading the paper I’m holding. I’ve heard that the Ghanaian teach with the British system, using memorization with call and recall structured classes. I ask her to explain what she just said in other words and she doesn’t say anything. I ask what her favorite food is and try to use that to explain what science is. I use the words of her definition with her favorite food to give an example. I tell her that science is the process of observing plantains growing on a tree and as a reward for observing well, they get to eat the plantains and then study that. Right about now I’m thinking I’m a genius. I start to daydream that I will have this girl running back to the house to teach her parents about science and plantains and be excited to come back to school to observe other processes. My daydream is then shattered by the wrecking ball of reality. Her face showed a complete blank expression. After trying to explain science and plantains a few other ways I moved on to sets. I drew four groups of plantains. The first and third group had 2 plantains and the second and fourth had three plantains. Quite masterfully drawn if I might say so my self. I ask her what sets are equivalent to each other. She points to the group of three and the group of two. I ask her to count each group of plantains for me. Then I ask her again and she says the same thing. I then have her count it again and ask her to write the number below the group she just counted. I now ask her which ones are equivalent. She point to both number twos and then to both number threes. I ask her why those numbers are there and she says because they are equivalent. Patience… I ask again, why did you just write the number three here. She has no idea what I’m asking. An hour, and my set time to teach, passes in a flash. I had spent an hour with her trying to get her to think outside of the box, instead of just reciting definitions. The idea might sound good, but my methods were very shaky. I then realized that she didn’t even understand half of what I was saying. There is a language and a learning barrier between us. Overwhelmed, I thank the substitute teacher and tell him I’m heading home. He thanks me for trying and tells me that we should hang out sometime. He asks me on our walk out if I could help him get to America. I laughed, a little uneasy, and told him that I’d try. He was so nice and genuine. His gaze had the innocence of a child and yet the determination and passion of an adult. He seemed like he was genuinely interested in being my friend, wanted to serve his people with his spare time, and wanted to explore the world. It makes me a sick knowing that I have been born with that privilege. I am a white male having grown up in the United States in an economically and politically progressive state. Relative to the rest of the world, there’s not too much better than that. At the same time there is this young man, so driven to escape from so many of his brother’s fates, that he makes it to University and actually gets a degree. Now he has to move back home because he doesn’t have a job, but he’s still willing to help out the small community where he was born and raised. I’m not saying that I haven’t worked hard for where I am or don’t deserve where I’ve ended up, but there is something to be said about the ease with which it came about. I was slowly drifting through life not really having a defined path, until I reached my second year of college. That’s when I really developed my passion to achieve my dreams to learn about and travel the world. This young man has had that dream since he was physically developed enough to have complex thoughts like that and there is a good chance he will never get that opportunity. Wow, I think that actually answers the question of why I’m here. I don’t know if it’ll be my whole life, but if I can spend some time helping young people achieve their dreams, I could turn my guilt into action and give people the tools to fight through their predispositions to realize they can achieve anything they put their minds to.

 After I climbed off of my thought pedestal, I briskly walked back home. It is 6 now and I don’t want to be late for dinner. I can’t help but feel a bit helpless with my hungry friend, I met on my walk this morning, or that Primary aged girl that I probably only confused more. As Daniel and I sat down for dinner I expressed my feelings to him nonverbally. He asked what I did today and I told him that on my way back I taught a primary aged child of a neighbor up the road. I say nonverbally, because that is all I told him and he seemed to address my true feeling inside. He told me that teaching Primary students is very difficult and requires a different skill set than I have acquired. He said that they are in the stage of still being taught how to learn. In order for me to make a real difference in those children’s lives, I would have to teach them more extensively and certainly on a regular basis. He said that my mission in coming here is to help JHS students pass their tests and High School students afford their current schooling and maybe even their University. He told me that if I don’t first focus on completing that goal, then I will spread myself to thin and I won’t make the big difference I want to make. He really hit the nail on the head there. As much as I want to help every aspect of this town, I am only one person and I came here for a specific reason. I can’t possibly meet everyone or solve every problem I come across. From now on, I will just file away those in my head either for reference or to be dealt with later. After our talk, I am feeling much better about the whole situation. I think it’s easy coming to a place like Ghana, from a place like California and see everything as something that needs to be improved. However, it is very hard to ignore those things and focus on the main purpose for travel. That I will need to get better with. I’m going to take Daniel’s advice and focus on grading these tests tonight and get ready for the second day of the program tomorrow.

4 thoughts on “Initial Tests With Wonoo, Teaching a Neighbors Child, and Being Put In My Place

  1. I’m not sure how many people got the full reference to Band of Brothers, but I laughed until I cried, Lt. Sobel. Great stories today. It is a difficult discipline to stay within some kind of boundaries when you want to help everyone. It sounds like you are figuring it out.

  2. Matt its Adam. For the “give me bread,” they say that to everyone. Just fire back “bring my your money,” or “breh-meh-woh-seeka.” they’ll get a kick out of it. Its a double edged sword, their frankness. Sometimes its cute and adorable, and other times frustrating. The “bring me bread/money” is just them joking/trying their luck. Just get good at firing back. Something with some wit or a way to put the ball back in their court works well.

  3. You have a giant heart. Most of the time it’s a great thing, but sometimes it can be discouraging when you can’t help everyone you want to help. It seems like you are getting good advice, though. Stay positive.

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