Wednesday, September 5, 2012

School's Starting Part 2

19th August - Present
So far my time in Bodada has been uneventful, but pleasant.  I live in a nice-sized, EP church-owned compound with ten rooms, and two of them are mine.  My bedroom is about the size of a dorm room, and it's pretty spartan.  I have a bed, 2 plastic chair, and as of yesterday I have a desk provided by EPJHS.  My second room will be a kitchen/dining room, but it's still under construction.  The carpenters have to pour new cement for the floor, the room needs painting, and it needs a ceiling.  I'm told that the ceiling will be wooden beams with woven mats placed between them to "Keep the lizards out of the soup."  Sounds good to me, right now lizard soup doesn't sound too tasty.
The first day I arrived my counterpart Godwin and I went into Hohoe (the second largest city in the Volta Region) to buy a USB modem, voltage regulator, and other supplies.  I impulse bought an electric kettle on the recommendation of my shadow visit host, Mike Shoup, and I can honestly say that it competes with the USB modem as my favorite purchase.  I mostly just use it to heat up water for my bucket bath, and after my first warm bucket bath I couldn't remember how I tolerated bathing without warm water.
Since my kitchen is still under construction I didn't buy a propane tank or a stove which cost almost 150GH₵ combined.  This means that I get to use the pastor's stove (same setup as I would buy) whenever I cook something, which is nice but I would prefer my own space.
My second major adventure was to the Tuesday market town of Kute which is located on the border with Togo.  Although it's listed as 5km away from Bodada on my information sheet that I got about my site, it took almost an hour of traveling to get there.  The drive was beautiful: there were mountains, forest, farms, and small villages along the whole way.  Like Bodada, Kute is between two mountains, but the mountains that form the border with Togo are noticeably larger than the Ghanaian ones.  The town is small, but market itself is large because Togolese and Ghanaians both buy and sell there.  Nothing too interesting happened there, but it was nice to get to use my Ewe market skills.  Unfortunately I don't think I'll go there too much (at least until I buy a bicycle) because traveling there costs as much as traveling to Hohoe (which offers a larger market with better prices).  Jasikan (the town that really is 5km away) has a large market on Fridays, and it's large enough that I buy most things regardless of the day of the week.
My third adventure was meeting Kate Pote in Hohoe for shopping and meeting other volunteers.  Kate is the closest volunteer to me (about 30 minutes away from me at Akpafu Sec. Tech.) and is a science teacher there.  Akpafu is on the Hohoe-Jasikan road about 10 minutes from Hohoe, so whenever I end up going there I'll probably see what she's doing.  We just went to the market and then met up with Scott and Nathan who are also PCVs in Volta.  Scott teaches art in Hohoe, and also helped open up a store called Our Talking Hands which sells traditional Ghanaian art products made by students at a Deaf Art School (in Ghana all people with mental disabilities who go to school go to "Deaf" schools...sad but true).  Scott is really committed to this place, and he helped the owner create a Facebook page and a website  Nathan lives in the Northern part of Volta, and was just swinging by before his trip home to California.  I probably won't see him too much, but he's the head malaria dude in Volta so we'll be in contact.
My fourth and final adventure was school!  It started yesterday, 4th of August, but we won't start actually teaching until next week.  Schools here don't have janitors or grounds crews because they have lots of free labor at their disposal.  That's right, school children do all the sweeping, mowing (called weeding and done with machetes), and cleaning.  The first week is dedicated to getting the school presentable and in full working order.  Tomorrow we'll be reviewing last year's exams, and it'll be a good chance for me to gauge the actual level of the students.  These last two days have been pretty slow, I just show up, talk with the other teachers and the headmaster, and then go home at the end of the day.   I'm still not sure what my teaching schedule will be because the headmaster hasn't even figured out the schedule yet...such is life in Ghana. 
The last two weeks and a half weeks have been pretty slow going, especially compared to the schedule we had during training, but it's been very relaxing.  I've met a lot of people by going to church and many more people come over just to talk with the pastor.  I've been out on the town a little, but not too much.  Mostly I've just spent time with the people who live in the compound (Pastor Jean-Paul, Sarah, Patricia, and Michael), and spent a lot of time reading too.  I recently finished the last two books of the Hunger Games series, and I'm on to the fourth Song of Fire and Ice/Game of Thrones book.  I'm really happy that school has started though because it will give my life a little more structure, and I'm really looking forward to meeting the students and teaching.  I do know that I'll be teaching all three grades ICT (computer class) and Godwin and I will split the math (known as maths here) and science classes.
I'll try to blog more too. Let me know what you want to know about via Facebook, email, or comments.

School's Starting!

Wow, it's been a really long time since I've posted anything.  Sorry to the 7 people who regularly read my blog.  Anyway, I'll give you an update on my life, and hopefully I'll revisit the food blog soon.
End of July through 15th of August: 
My life revolved around learning Ewe.  Everything I heard about the Peace Corps language program before joining was very positive: it's total immersion, you become fluent, and it makes integration a lot easier.  I feel like by being assigned to Ghana we missed out on these opportunities.  Ghana is different from most countries I know about because the official language English is only used in schools and government.  Everyone who graduated from senior high school speaks English well, but at the junior high level and in the villages they don't speak English so well (if they speak it at all). 
Ghana is also very split concerning the local languages; the government only recognizes 7 local languages, but there are over 100 distinct dialects.  For example the language they speak in Bodada is Lelemi.  Everyone here speaks Lelemi, and it's in the Akan family of languages (same as Twi- the most widely spoken native language).  Lelemi is not officially recognized by the Ghanaian government because so few people speak it.  Most people of Bodada also speak Twi and Lelemi, but they all grew up speaking Lelemi, so it's their best language.  Because the government doesn't recognize Lelemi, the local language part of the BECE and WAECE exams (where students from small villages usually score the best) don't offer Lelemi.  0 of 13 students passed the BECE last year at my school.  The grading is from 1-9, 1 is the best, and anything below 7 is considered a passing grade.  I have my work cut out for me. (And so do my students because they don't even get a freebie from Lelemi being on the test.)
So beside the fact that I don't know the local language of my village, I couldn't even be immersed in Ewe (considered the language of the Volta) because we were in Eastern Region where they speak Twi.  The British were better at colonizing by the time they got to Ghana.  They had a basic idea of what worked and what didn't based on past colonizing ventures (North America and India to name the big ones).  The British did do some development (they allowed people at the local level to rule themselves).  Do I think what they did by creating a colony was good? No.  Maybe it's the same in South America, but I am under the impression that the Spanish did a better job eliminating local languages and people.  Do I think that's terrible? Yes, so many years of tradition and unique history have been erased forever from human knowledge.  Do I think the local language learning would be easier in a country with a single unified language? Absolutely.
Peace Corps sets the required level of language fluency at Intermediate-Mid, and in Ghana we have 5 weeks to get there.  Inter-Mid means that you can form complete, grammatically correct sentences and a sympathetic listener can understand you.  I learned vocabulary and grammar for Ewe so I could get around in a few different situations: extended introduction, market adventure, asking for directions and directing people, and travel scenarios.  I passed the test, and I actually had a pretty good grasp of Ewe (I didn't just memorize some dialogs like some do).  I can put my own sentences together which is more than most people, but I've been told I have a chip in my brain that helps me learn languages.  If Peace Corps graded me on my Spanish level, they would give me something like Advanced (and I'm definitely not fluent).  I guess different people of different ideas about language fluency *cough cough* Sam and Paul! Keep taking Spanish, you know more than you think you do! *cough cough*
Most Peace Corps programs have language and technical training together for the whole 10 weeks, but due to the Ghanaian school schedule and our arrival time we do all of our technical training (teaching) first, and then we move on to language.  Basically we had 5 intense weeks for each, and that forced us to cram really hard to pass the language test.  There was a lot of unhappiness in our training group related to the language training schedule.  But at the end of the day we teach in English, and even in villages, enough people know English that you can get by without any other language.  I do plan on learning Lelemi, and it's amazing how little Lelemi it takes for people to love the fact that I'm trying.  They always tell me I'm doing great, and I can only say the greetings right now.
16th of August: Swearing-In
This was a lot of fun.  Everyone's homestay parents, prominent members of the community, other PC volunteers, all of the PC staff, and even the US Ambassador to Ghana were all in attendance.  My mom, her sister, and I were matching in our outfits and I'll get some pictures up soon (there are some on Facebook already).  We only lost 2 people to early termination during training (really good compared to PC as a whole), and one of those people didn't even show up in DC.  24 of us swore in and took an oath (very similar to the President's Oath of Office) to accept our roles as Peace Corps Volunteers for two years.
That night I exchanged gifts with my homestay family.  They gave me a bunch of pictures from swearing in and other occasions, and I they gave me the cloth for the outfits to match my mom.  I had my mom (real mom from America) mail some stuff, and my family loved it.  They especially loved the candy, soccer ball (football here), perfumes, toy truck that makes noise, and baby clothes for Kwaku Peter Vanney.  They were a really good family, and we got along well.  I plan on visiting them sometime during my service.
17-19th August
Our whole training group went to Bunso Coco College for two days to learn about Peace Corps Ghana's other sectors Agriculture and Health.  This was a lot of fun because the sessions were led by current volunteers, so we got to meet more people!  Then we all went our separate ways to go to our sites.  I need to get going to school now, so I'll give you the rest of the updates later today.