As the orange glow of 5am enters my bedroom and the incessant honk of a flock of guinea fowls outside my window erupts, the African Wood Bee that crafts its daily stead within my roof beams, my students crashing in and out of my house as they gather their things for morning prayer, and the neighbors preparing their children for school all add to the chorus of reasons why I am almost never able to sleep-in to the desired time of 6am.
As I start my morning with the usual cup of tea and either an egg sandwich or pancakes, the students outside begin sweeping the footpaths, tossing a cloud of dust that settles over every surface in my house, including adding a dusty flavor to my tea. Just as I settle in to take my first bite of breakfast, I hear a knock at my door. Today it’s Sumaila coming to collect my bowl for lunch. I know because he always knocks continuously and even tries to open my door, even though he knows I always keep it locked. One soft knock and a grunt means Karim, another student, coming to fulfill that task. The conversation is always the same: Goodmorninghowareyoufine. Bowl? Yes. Thank You.”
With that over, I am able to return to my breakfast. I take a few minutes to journal about yesterday and relax before I start my day. As I wash the dishes with my allotted 3 cups of water, I boil a half liter on the stove so I can have a nice warm bucket bath. When the water comes to a boil and dishes are done, I pour out precisely 6 scoops of water (about 4 liters) into a bucket and take my warm bath by scooping water over my head then soaping up in between pours. The whole process is an indecisive hot-cold-hot-cold that lasts only about 4 minutes with my now 18 months of practice. I dress, brush my teeth, and am out the door at 7:30 for morning assembly.
The assembly is entirely run by the students. The sports prefect hangs the Ghanaian flag, signaling everyone to meet at the grounds. The classes all line up according to height and class, making an interesting pattern that starts with the youngest and shortest in the front right and ending with the oldest and tallest in the back left. Teachers meet near the Kindergarten class and gossip as the proceedings are run by that week’s prefect on duty. All students sign the National Anthem, and pledge, then announce anything that is necessary. As the young students get unruly, the older students discipline them with sticks and turn their backs to deal with another dispute over who pushed who. The classes are dismissed individually, KG running and fighting all the way to their room, Primary 1 being led by the very enthusiastic Wepia, who must be the leader of his clan or be ready for the fight of a lifetime (let’s be glad he is short and by birthright, claims the leader spot), and the older students attempt a synchronized march to their classrooms.
As teachers move around and students ready their things, the only sounds are the scuffing of shoes on concrete and the occasional wail of a child being beaten by his or her peer. With everybody in their place, I call my first Vocational Class and move to my classroom, surrounded by 2 unattended classes of kindergartners. As I draw nearer, strangely enough, the volume and intensity of their screams increases and all of the bystanders rush to tell me who hit who. Now somehow in charge of 3 classes, I enter my room with my students and attempt to begin the day’s lesson.
I set my class to retrieve and ready their sewing machines just as the first complaint comes to my door of a child knocking another’s head with a rock. As I go to remove the student, it is clear they ran away to hide from me and their punishment of sitting in a corner of my room for as long as I deem it. I enter my classroom again to discover 4 sewing machine needles had been broken in my absence and move to replace them just as another complaint comes from another child. None of the KG children know how to sign since 14+ weeks in to the term, their teacher is still teaching them the 123’s and ABC’s. This cycle continues throughout the class and is the main reason why I have come to resent many teachers here.
As I am intermittently able to teach my class, I constantly have to flap my arms around to gain attention or toss around a foam ball at those more stubborn. Today’s lesson is to practice sewing straight lines in fabric and all of the students need to be monitored closely to prevent needles from breaking, theft of materials (which happens often in this most opportunistic of communities), and to break up the disputes in the KG classrooms. By the end of the hour, I am exhausted and ready for another breakfast.
Luckily, today is Monday and my favorite millet porridge is served. It is a thick, gluey, spicy, and slightly sweet and sour drink that I have come to crave. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, all of the teachers meet under the mango tree to take “our favourite,” joking about who will take the most cups and overthrow the previous captain of porridge. They all know to keep a few cups aside for me, since my record is 4 cups in one morning, enough to make the usual person sick.
With my second breakfast and morning class over, I now have a couple of hours free. I walk around school to observe the situation in each classroom. Some teachers are just arriving, two hours after morning assembly, others are asleep in their tables as their students jot notes from yesterday’s lesson, some newer teachers simply don’t know sign language so they only communicate by writing and pointing, and commonly half of the classes may be entirely empty a whole day. This is a very sad realization that still hasn't come to feel normal after 18 months, and I see no end in this behaviour as administration turns a blind eye to it.
|Made from about 800 recycled pure water sachets|
I take a short break at home to sit down and read a bit, relax in my hammock and watch an episode of something on my phone, or complete some chore like washing clothes or prepping for supper.
I return to teach my afternoon class and run into the same thing from the morning. Both KG teachers have showed up by this point but they are both sitting in the same room, leaving one class empty of supervision and instruction, opening them up to bickering once more. I have another exhausting hour then retire home for the rest of the school day.
I prepare my usual lunch of fried sausage with onions and green peppers on garlic bread just as Sumaila returns with my cache from lunch, a bowl of school food, usually under seasoned or swimming with weevils. I used to feed the food to my cat (who was killed) then my puppy (who died), but now it eat it by adding my own flair to it with ground tomatoes and peppers, which usually do the trick. The younger children gather under my windows where there is ample shade from the hot afternoon sun, often disrupting any reading or focusing I try to accomplish.
After lunch, I usually go around to my classroom to allow students in to repair their torn clothing. As they work, I play frisbee outside with mostly boys, who have picked up the idea that humans are fun targets to fire at. This leads to a melee and sometimes ends in blood, like when one boy had his eye slashed open by a stick a girl was using to shield herself with. My classroom inevitably becomes packed with students that all want their clothes repaired and I have to come in a chase many out as means to prevent theft and damage to the machines. 5:30 rolls around and the prefects round everybody up for supper, allowing me time to ride into town to buy supper or food to cook with.
|Not my photo but an accurate example|
About a 2 kilometer ride takes me into town where I repeatedly greet: Ne tuma. Na ba. La wal la? La so ma. (Good afternoon. Acknowledgement. How are you? I am fine). I buy my food, today was kenkey and sardines, and ride back home to cook.
I make a salsa by grinding tomatoes, peppers, garlic, onion, and lime if I can find some, then add in chopped onions. I heat up the sardines and drop them into the grinding bowl oil and all. I pinch a bit of kenkey, a sour and firm corn dough, dip it into the peppe and swallow it all whole. The sour and spicy flavors go extremely well together. In total, the meal costs me just over the equivalent of one US dollar.
After I wash my dishes, it becomes clear that I need to fetchwater. I take my 25 liter oil can and strap it to my bicycle using a long piece of rubber, ride it to the borehole at the front of my school, and wait in line as dozens of children all crowd to fill their buckets for bathing. My container is pushed to the front of the queue under “Teacher Privilege” and I stubbornly relieve students from pumping my water. An average of 40 pumps fills the container and puts quite the strain on ones forearms. Then I carry the container to my bike, strap it standing up, and ride it back to my house where I pour it in my tank. Formerly, my students used to deliver my water, making it necessary to rely on them to bring it, often leaving me with days where water was scarce. Since taking up this task, I now appreciate the effort to fetch water more and find some sort of enjoyment from the exercise involved in the task.
I spend the last hour of the day visiting the students in their various classrooms. The KG children all meet in one room and playfight all night long, the primary students sit in cliques and chat, and most of the JHS students flirt with each other or study as mandated. I walk room to room, playing with some students, picking on others, or tutoring the small amounts I am able, usually by signing unfamiliar words.
As my night comes to a close, I return home to wash the day’s dirt and sweat from my feet and face before falling into bed with a book until I fall asleep. The chirps of crickets and distant radios of villagers and neighbors lull me to sleep, but I know it won’t be long before the chorus of the morning wake me and I start the whole process over again.