In Ghana, Interaction Is Critical



7-24-10 @ 12:50p: I’m looking forward to the memories of right now...

One of the students went home yesterday. Sad situation. She’s been feeling sick since arrival and after a five-hour doctor visit with her we found out she does not have malaria, as she thought. But her parents weren’t satisfied with the diagnosed and changed her flight. It’s unfortunate because this experience is one that cannot be replicated. To think when I was selected to be in the first cohort of this program, it was because someone dropped out. I would have been quite disappointed if I was an alternate and a student returned home, disallowing me the opportunity. But, you must take care of self first. She’s a really nice person and hopefully she benefited from an amazing three weeks.

Many of the students have hit the middle ground of traveling and are missing home tremendously. It’s hard to see them so sad. I remember when I hit this phase in South Africa. I wanted to go home so bad. But then it levels out and a neutral place is reached. Hopefully they will have the same experience as me and it will level out.

We did our last community service project on Thursday. We went to a school in Community 18 near Tema. Tema is like driving to Bloomington from Minneapolis. We were charged with painting a portion of the school. Before arrival it was hard to envisage exactly what we would be painting. I imagined cement walls with open windows and little shelter from the sounds outside of the walls, like the previous school we worked at. Most of us were surprised to see the learning environment. Dirt was under the students’ feet from the ground, wood planks made the walls and rose to chest height, poorly crafted desks, and absolutely no shelter from the outside distractions. The school has been in existence for 17 years, started by an elderly woman and serves students with little money to pay school fees. Many of the students are orphans. The Head Master told us that it is hard to make improvements on the structure when they target that population of young people. They were in exam week just before a month break. As we painted the walls just outside of their classes, I could not help but to think of the immense distraction we were. But they paid attention with a keen interest and focus that I have never seen in a US classroom. I thought about the worst schools I’ve entered in the US or seen on television. Eastside High in Lean on Me cannot compare to these conditions. The paint was mixed with polyurethane so that we could cover more wood. As we painted we slowly floated higher and higher from the smell.

After we finished painting it was lunchtime. The entire school rushed into the courtyard to greet us. Students ranged from kindergarten to 12th grade. The schoolgirls surrounded our girls and played games and danced in circles. The boys played soccer with a small ball the size of a softball and extremely soft like a teddy bear. It reminded me of a ball you get in a machine at a restaurant (the ones that you pay $1 and use the hand to pick up a teddy bear. But you never win, unless you’re Omari at Denny’s). I played soccer with the boys. Initially we were passing the ball back and forth, and for some reason every pass had to come through me. Then I dribbled the ball and put a move on one student. It was ON. Every man for himself. There were at least 20 students, one tiny ball. 10 legs in a circle kicking shins and attacking the tiny ball. Finally I learned that the ultimate prize was to get it through someone’s legs. This was after they had megged (got it through my legs) about 8 times. Finally, I put it through a students legs and everyone cheered and gave me high fives.

We went to lunch and returned for a discussion with the older kids. We split into groups of 6 and visited the high school classrooms. They told us about their future aspirations and we asked them if they knew the steps it takes to become a doctor, nurse, teacher, or accountant. Much like everywhere else in the world, many of the boys want to be professional futbolers. We probed about their life after futbol. Then we played games. Heads up seven up, Simon says, and Gorilla/Ninja/Cowboy. The last one is a game I learned in Young Life, it’s just like Paper/Rock/Scissors but with your entire body. They loved it and the entire school watched and cheered for their candidate to win the entire game. We lifted the winner in the air as if he was a pro athlete and had just made the winning goal in the World Cup.

This interaction is critical in a trip like this. The barrier of being on a bus was lifted, the dichotomy of us and them, the other. Or simply looking in a classroom and smiling. The mystery of these foreign people coming in to help with painting or building a library was gone. Names were added to faces. Aspirations were added to bodies. States were added to a country. Of course our students had mixed reviews. Some students said the interaction wasn’t meaningful. Most agreed that it was great. I was delighted to hear one student draw connections between the games played by the females here and at home. They sang gospel songs and played schoolyard games. And the rhythms and actions were almost the same as in the US. The student said they originated in Africa but they have remained virtually unchanged for so many years in the exploitative land across the Atlantic.

We’re headed to the Volta Region of Ghana on Monday. It’s to the North East of Accra. The Volta Region used to be a part of Togo. However, opted to become part of Ghana some years back. Illenin schooled me on this history just before departure. I was hoping to be headed to Togo right now but waited to long to get a Visa. Maybe it will work next weekend. And I might spend a night in Amsterdam on the way back (can’t remember if I mentioned that in another blog).

Last night I was out and there was a robbery attempt on the neighbor’s house. Seven men. One jumped over the wall into our complex and some of the students are pretty nervous about it. I’m not so worried but it’s getting to be a big deal. We’ll see how this plays out. Hopefully the watchmen won’t get into trouble. I’ll keep you updated. [...]

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by Abdul Omari

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