Grading Tests, Selecting Tutors, and Meeting the Students

The plan for today is to run the second program day at Wonoo. The actual tutoring will start next week, so today we will just be getting into groups. Before I do that, I need to finish grading the tests from yesterday.

 I tried to finish the tests last night, but got too tired after dinner and the talk with Daniel. We always have long talks at night and last one was especially long. It gave me a lot to think about and I’m glad he is challenging me to make the most impact I can. His passion for Antoa is very obvious and inspiring. I don’t think I ever took time to describe this man. He is the clinic physician in Antoa. I believe the only one. Daniel is one of the few Ghanaian I have seen with a beard. A lot of guys have scruff, but he actually has an intentional beard on his face. He stands about 5’10’’ and is bigger than most men his size. He has a joking side, but stays serious most of the time. He grew up near a place called Stadium, near Kumasi. His family is from a small village. His grandparents and many more extended family still lives out in the village. He is really a jack-of-all-trades in Ghanaian terms. Meaning he knows about city life, village life, medicine, politics, teaching, and I’m sure much more I have yet to discover. He is very honest. He will be the first to talk down about a group of people that he belongs to. I have heard him say, many times, that black men are not to be trusted. He also says that Christians are the most evil of them all. By the way he is a black Christian. He explained it all as being a product of the corrupt political leaders. I know it doesn’t apply to everyone because look how genuine and giving Daniel is to Antoa and his family. Often times he will talk about how poor the conditions are in Ghana and finish by telling me how much better they are than most part of Africa. He is very knowledgeable about other Countries in Africa. He said that the old DR Congo president had more money than his entire country did and Nigeria has all of its wealth in the top ten percent or so. Anyway, he’s painfully honest and I enjoy that. I’m very grateful to be living with him and learning as much as I can from him.

 I finish grading the tests and it is quite depressing. The highest score is a 30%. These students are all Form 3 and that means they will all be taking their high school exams at the end of this year. Needless to say, the tutors and I have a lot of work ahead of us. There is even one student who got a 0%, and he is the oldest. Okay, he’s going to be my target. I know my program is designed to have the tutors connect with the students to help them raise their grades, but I want to see if I can help with this student at the bottom. I at least want to spend some time with him and get to know his situation. I guess this isn’t all bad though. This is the reason we are here and it is better than targeting a group of students who don’t need the help. Next, I group the tests with similar scores into the same group. I want the tutor to be able to cater to them all at the same time without having 6 totally different problems to work on. All the tutors passed easily, except for one of them. That tutor bombed the math portion of the test and struggled on the English portion. They actually called me this morning and I broke the news to them right away. The three tutors are now picked. I try to call all three, but only got a hold of one of them. That means that I head to Wonoo early to track the rest down in the town. The great part about that is that pretty much anyone around town will know exactly where to find them.

 I begin my walk to Wonoo and right around the same spot the big truck picked me up, I heard a smaller car slowing down next to me. This time it is American Man and his wife. I gladly hop in the car and greet them. I explain that I only walk until a Tro Tro comes and then I take that the rest of the way. They drop me off at the junction town and I’m on my way to Wonoo. Again, I got out of a different car, proving my immense number of friends to this town. They must think I’m very lazy. I think this town sees much more traffic than most because the people are not as forward about meeting me. Or maybe it’s because they figure I already have enough friends with all the people who have dropped me off. At least that is the case when I pass by in the morning. Remember there is a whole different crowd out in the evening time. However, ever time I pass through there is a group of old men that greet me toward the end of town. This time they really questioned me as to why I am walking. The ringleader wishes me a safe journey, but tells me I shouldn’t be walking on the roads. There was a taxi parked next to them, so I have a feeling they were just trying to make some money. I have never felt unsafe on my journey to or from Wonoo. I actually feel the opposite. I am obligated to make the walk. I have friends along the path that expect me and I enjoy our conversations. Today the walks feels much more humid than normal. The humidity here is actually quite pleasant. It leaves a warm coat over you, but it isn’t suffocating. There is almost always a breeze, so that counters any sweaty feeling. However, whenever I stop walking the sweat catches up and makes up for not happening the whole walk. That’s probably the worst part. Earlier in the week I got home from the walk at about 18:00 and I didn’t stop sweating until about 20:00. It’s like being a hemophiliac, but with sweat. Once you start sweating here in the daytime, it pretty much doesn’t stop until you go by a breeze or until sometime after you fall asleep. This isn’t even the hot season either. Amber was warning me that you sweat 24/7 in the hot season. She said sometimes she would wake up and the bed would be thoroughly soaked with sweat. So far it is the worst at night because it doesn’t cool down and there is no breeze, like when the sun is out.

 I arrive in Wonoo and need to find the two tutors that I couldn’t reach over the phone. As I walk into town I notice there is a big building on my left that sounds like it is the hardest working place in this sleepy town. There is always a lot of noise coming from there, but I’ve never actually gone and peaked in. Well, today is the day I see for myself. Maybe someone in there will know where the tutors are. I peak in and I see a bunch of wooden machines that people sit in and weave cloth pieces with. Then I think a tailor will take that cloth and create clothing or other useful things. The fabric is wound up in a bag about ten feet from the machine. There are two pieces of string that come from the bag and connect to either side of the machine where the person is sitting. All of the string being used is brilliantly colored. I didn’t see anyone stitching a gray piece of cloth. There was mostly blues, greens, and reds. I didn’t see any colors like pink or orange though. Now that I think of it, these colors look a lot like the traditional clothing worn by many women. I don’t think I can give a description that would give justice, but I will travel around with a small notebook and write down more of the subtleties in the future. The men were moving their hands back and forth so fast I could barely see them. I just saw some cloth coming out of the other side of the machine. I will definitely try to get a picture of this place.

 The men looked very busy, so I didn’t want to bother them with any questions. I found a young boy and he said he would take me to the tutor’s house. I found the tutor behind his house operating one of those weaving machines. Uh yeah, I’m going to have him teach me ASAP. I give him the news and he looked like I just reminded him that it’s Christmas morning. That really made me happy that he is so appreciative of this opportunity. I’m sure that will bleed into his work with the students. That same kid also knew where the other tutor lived and offered to lead me there. We found the home and the mom was not really making much sense with her actions. I got a different number from her and figured I would deal with it on my own. It seemed like she was done helping me anyway. I walk between the buildings toward the road. The ground around the houses is very uneven and like Accra you can find yourself in some trouble if you don’t keep one eye on the ground. There is also the stench of urine everywhere. Everywhere outside is a urinal in Ghana, for men and women. I get some food and head toward the school at the end of town. Near the edge of town there is an old man that has been on his porch every time I pass. I make it a priority to stop by and chat with him. He always looks so happy to see me and has a pretty good handle on English. One day soon, I will sit on his porch with him and find out more about his life. I got a hold of the final tutor and he said he was trying to get back to town.

 At 14:00 the bell rings for extra classes to start, I’m up. I walk in and greet the class. I go over some basic stuff about the program and explain to them that I will break everyone up into three different groups with the different tutors. I planned it so that the tutors would read off the names, so that I wouldn’t have to pronounce the names. Well only two of the tutors showed up, so it looks like there will be a lot of laughing today. I tell the students that they are in the group with the tutor that reads off their name. Without me even asking, as the tutors read off the names, each student stands up. Then it gets to me and I read off the first name. In the lessons with Genevive I have been learning pronunciations, so I’m feeling a bit confident. I get no correction or laughter and the first student stands up. The second student has an English name; this is going to be easy. Before I’m done pronouncing the name everyone bursts into laughter. I have the Twi pronunciations down, but they pronounce English words slightly differently than we do. Didn’t see that one coming. I finish reading the names and the students break into their groups. I really want the groups to get to know each other and their tutors so I write down some topic ideas on the board. Little did I know, they went through each student in order and ask each of my questions, in order. This is a much different schooling system than I am used to. I also read from some Expo documents that the students have a hard time speaking up in front of groups. So I made sure that each student presented the answers in front the group to get a little practice. I will be coming back to this skill as the term progresses. My sixth grade teacher forced me to give a speech every month and it has benefited me immensely in every part of my life. I picked the older student, who got a 0%, out of the crowd pretty easily. He was four years older than the rest of the children. Four years is a very big deal when you’re 14. I watched him as he gave his answers. He was very shy and was harassed a little by the rest of the students to speak up. He walked to the front of the group and tried his best to project. He is able to laugh at him self and by the end you could tell he was a little bit more comfortable then when he started answering, sitting in his desk. I only asked them to be there for half the time today. The time flew by and with five minutes left, I answered the questions myself in front of the class. I told them I would be happy to answer any questions about the program or my culture. I actually got very reasonable questions, like what is my sir name and how many people live in California. When I was on an Alternative Break trip to Tennessee, I was asked if I surf to school and how many celebrities were my close friends. These students seemed to have much more of a grip on reality. The session ended and I asked the tutors to stay after to discuss the JHS tests.

 Before the students left, most of them came up to me to ask me more questions. Then one of the students, who got a very low score, came up to me and asked a question that really caught my attention. She asked my why we were meeting two days a week. Great, these students are already questioning why they have to be here. I said to her that I want to make sure they are prepared for their tests at the end of the year and one time a week wouldn’t be enough. She stared at me for a few seconds without saying anything. Then, she said “well yeah, but why don’t we meet everyday of the week?” I am so shocked by the question, I am a bit speechless at first. Here is one of the weakest students in the class coming up to me and asking if she could have extra time studying. Wow, I don’t think that thought ever crossed my head when I was school. That question is by far the most touching moment I have had on this trip. I have to try my hardest, standing there in front of the students, not to shed a tear. The terrible pass rates aren’t because the students are lazy, but they exist because of a lack of resources, teachers, motivation, or infrastructure. I’m not sure exactly what the problem is, but I know it isn’t from the students. I tell this sub group of the class that I would be happy to travel to Wonoo on Sundays to run extra sessions if they were able to round up the rest of class to attend. Now, this is extra time that will be well spent. This is exactly what Daniel and I were talking about the other night. Spending this extra time will improve the result of my over all mission in Ghana. I would travel to Wonoo if it were just one student, but there is a group of them and I think I might be able to leverage them to get most of the other students in class. Then one of the other students in this group asked me how they could get to California. I purposely repeated the question and then rephrased it back at the group. A bit exasperated they said “yes, that’s what we want to know!” I want to make sure I have all of their attention and some more students listening in the background. I tell them that it starts with their BECE exam, they have to try their best in High School, and finally put their best effort forth in University. I can’t tell you how many times I heard this throughout school and most of the time I just rolled my eyes because I’d heard it too many times before. I expect these students to give me the same reaction. Well, as you’ve probably guessed, they didn’t give anywhere near the same reaction. As I began to answer they all leaned in a few inches. Instead, they all said in unison “ooohh.” I don’t think they’ve ever been told the importance of education. The students left and the tutors and I sat down to discuss the exams. I gave them the problems that every student missed and made sure they got plenty of examples of these for next sessions. I want to take each of these problems and spend a whole session nailing them down. I told them that we should also spend some time helping the students with their homework.

 I leave the school and walk down the dirt road back into town. Somehow I feel lighter, the air smells fresher, and there is a new spring in my step. Not only is this program desperately needed at this school, but most importantly we are wanted by the students. I can’t imagine a better situation. I am being spoiled early in my development career.

 I know I probably should leave this post on a positive note like this, allowing everyone to bask in the potential for positive growth. Well, that’s not going to happen because I have a story from dinner that needs to be recorded.

 So this particular night, Daniel is gone in Kumasi. I’m sitting in my room at about 20:30, thinking about how I don’t have much of an appetite. In fact, I almost feel like my stomach is a bit queasy. I could probably eat, but it doesn’t seem like that’s on the schedule tonight, which is completely fine with me. At a quarter till 21:00, food is announced to me. I come out of my room and they tell me that I’m eating Kenkay. It looks like little squares of tofu cut up into a pile. It is the same pale beige color of tofu. Next to it is a small bowl of stew. It looks like thick salsa. It’s a very deep red with chunks of tomato and various vegetables. I’m always very excited to try new local food. I take the first bite and it is a bit hard to chew, but the stew is very good. As the second bite is about to enter my mouth the spice of the first one hits me. I nearly drop the piece in my hand. It is by far the spiciest thing I’ve had since being here. I get a few more pieces down and I start to struggle. I take a few minutes break to collect myself, just as one of the room doors opens. The nurse staying here comes out. She takes one step out and with her mom instinct asks if I’m not enjoying the food. There is something about Ghanaian women after they’ve had a baby. They seem to have a sixth sense. Jennifer also could tell the minute my stomach was bothering me, back when I was in Accra. Now this woman could tell the one meal that I struggle with. It wasn’t even that I was eating more slowly or anything that obvious. I’ve also noticed that most women I’ve run into that I know are moms have a softer look on their face. I can tell when the women are younger or haven’t birthed because they generally hold a lot of tension in their face or are less receptive to communication with me. It is almost like when the mom’s here see me, they know I’m far away from home and I have a mom somewhere across the world that is worrying for me and they can relate to that if their child was in a similar situation. However this nurse at the compound is very gentle and graceful in a motherly way. Ever time she looks at me she has this look of deep joy within her. This is very hard to express in words, but something that I have been picking up on since the beginning in this country. I will pay closer attention to it in the future and make sure to write down the subtleties in my traveling journal. Okay, back to the food. She walks back into her room and I continue to eat. I start to get over the spice a bit after I grab some water to quench the flames. Then before I get half way done with the food I start to really notice the flavor of the Kenkay. It has a sour background and something very intrusive about the overall taste. Now that my tongue doesn’t feel like it’s going to burn off, all I can taste is the Kenkay. It would probably help if I were hungrier for this. I power through a few more bites, but my body is starting to reject the Kenkay. I actually find myself gagging a few pieces down. Now I’m sweating because of the spice and the mental effort to finish this meal. There is no way I’m going to leave food on the plate. I know it will just be thrown away, so I am determined to finish it. Right then I remember Kobioshie and Joe Chestnut at the hot dog eating contests. I put a few pieces in my mouth and flush it with water. That is probably the worst idea I’ve ever had. Now I have a mouth full of food and water and none of it went down my throat. I’m gulping the food and liquid down and as I gag, I am trying not to chock or throw up. The food wasn’t really that bad, I just think the combination of no hunger, a new food, my mental weakness, and my stupid Kobioshi techniques, the food is hard to get down. I’m sitting there in total defeat now. I have 4 more huge piece and one small one to go. I have food all around my mouth and water all over the front of my shirt.  If the nurse comes out now she is going to try to resuscitate me. Right then I get the most brilliant idea, I think I’ve ever had. I lean down and take the four big pieces in my left hand and in one swift move get up, like I need to use the toilet. I decide that I’m going to throw the pieces of Kenkay over the roof so that way it looks like I didn’t waste any food. I’ve accepted at this point that the food is not going into my stomach. I figure that I at least can salvage my reputation with these people. That is if I don’t get caught throwing them over the roof; that would be a bit hard to explain. I get over to the alley by the toilet and I look up toward my target. Uh oh, there is a huge problem. The roof is about 12 feet tall and it hangs over the alley on both sides. I only have about a four inch gap to make all four of these pieces through. If I hit the side of the metal roof, it will make a huge noise and the food will probably explode and shower all over the place, only for the nurse to come out and see what happened. Talk about being hard to explain. I cock my arm back and throw one piece. It makes it through fine. The second went in the same place. Right now, I’m very grateful I decided to play baseball in High School. I go to throw the third one and I hear the nurse stirring about in her room. I pick up the pace as I throw the third one over. The final piece! I give extra concentration and huck the last piece through the opening. I made it! Relief is washing over me. Now, I realized where I am and what I’m supposed to be doing. So, I go into the toilet and close the door. There is no light in there, so I have always brought a flashlight in there at night. That was the last thing on my mind this night. Okay well now I’m in the bathroom and she probably heard the door close. I have to make sure I pee now, just so she doesn’t think I am barfing… or throwing her food over the roof. I can’t see anything, it’s completely pitch black. I remember my hands are covered in the stew, so I take my shirt in my mouth and try to get my button undone. Wait, my mouth is covered in stew also, great! I can’t get the button because my hands are covered in stew and slippery. I finally get my pants undone and hesitate for a half a second. Okay I’ve used this toilet before I know where it is in the room. I trust my instinct and release the pee hoping to here water on water contact. I hear nothing, at all… Where is my pee going? Oh geez, this is not a good time for the Larium to come back into my life. I shift slightly and can hear it now hitting something solid. Definitely not the water in the toilet. This situation is going downhill quickly. The only thing that could be worse at this point is if the town elder came to the front door to tell me my Kenkay hit her in the head. That would be just my luck too. I finish in the toilet and come out acting completely natural. Except I’m covered in sweat, I have stew all over my shirt and crotch of my pants, and I have a crooked smile on my face. Some how the nurse didn’t come out and I immediately went into my room to avoid make any more of an embarrassment of myself. I have to end with this, just so people don’t get me wrong. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the food provided and the fact that I am being cooked for. I think that’s why I went to all that trouble in the first place. Anywhere else I would have just said I was full. Alright well now it’s time for bed before I offend anyone else.

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2 thoughts on “Grading Tests, Selecting Tutors, and Meeting the Students

  1. That was hilarious!! I can picture you in this situation, with you covered by food and pee. That totally needs to be written in a tv show or something. I hope some dog doesn’t find the food you threw over the roof and bring it back around to the front door or something.

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