Monday, 5 November 2007

Teaching in Ghana (2007 Year Out Volunteer)

OK so after nearly a month at school and 3 weeks teaching i feel like i am starting to make some progress.

Continuing on from my last entry the first few days were rough. I was feeling pretty bad about it. I almost felt like a failure and i felt very overwhelmed by the level and range of ability of the classes. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were shocking. I managed to gain the students attention and i like to think respect - there is always the odd naughty kid who is sent to the corner or outside. But even though they would pay attention and do the work the work in their textbooks which im meant to teach them is way too advanced for them. I will read a passage, and then get the class to individually read paragraphs yet when they answer the comprehension questions they randomly copy words from the passage into the answers. I needed to go back to the basics - the alphabet and sounding out the words, even full stops, capital letters etc. yet i had the responsibility of teaching them the syllabus. I thought that i could split the lessons in two except the kids take alot of time to complete simple exercises.

However by about Thursday the children were already improving, not drastically but it was a start. It is really sad though when the kids listen all lesson and dilligently do their work only to get every question wrong. It breaks my heart because they are all really sweet. There is definently a naughty kid in each class though.

Now 3 weeks down the track alot of the kids have improved vastly. Those who would stumble over simple words or worse not be able to read at all are slowly starting to read. I held extra classes during break and used flashcards starting with very simple words and i focused on 'sounding out' the words. It brought back memories from kindy. Seeing the kids smile when they get a question right or recieve a sticker for working well is very rewarding. They walk back to their desks with a bounce in their step and an air of arrogance. Its very cute. They also love learning games as i dont think they have played them before. I also bribe them promising to let them use my colours once all their work is done.

A conversation with one of the teachers upset me. She tried to explain to me that the reason the kids struggled could be blamed on their low intellects. It is obvious though that the main problem is the language barrier. In the village few of the adults speak english very well and are illiterate thus unable to provide a nurturing environment or help. Alot of kids will pop into my house for help with their homework.

The kids are very helpful and sweet. Often they bring me things like mangos, organges, pies etc which either themselves or their parents sell. I feel bad accepting it but they get very upset when you refuse they do not understanmd you want them to keep it for themselves. As i walk to school they will run out and carry my things for me. There is often a mob of children following us chanting 'madam madam how are you?'. Some of the older boys who are about 16 but still in yr 6 are almost flirtacious. Its pretty funny they will be like 'sup madam?' and wink. There are often faces at the windows while i teach. Wether its one of the older boys or some of the younger ones who have taken me 'as a friend' they are all shood away. If i drop something in class about 4 kids will rush to pick it up for me and there is oaccasionally a fight over who will clean the board. Ther are alsoo a few teachers pets. Surprisingly its a struggle sending everyone on break. In Australia once the bell goes the kids are out just as fast. In my classes i have to beg them to go to break. There is often a bubbling mob surrounding my desk and the windows. No matter how cute and funny they are sometimes its a little annoying and i need some space.

Some lessons are hell. The children will not be quite and find it funny when i punish them. There are a few teachers pets who will try and help me buts sometimes they will just not be quite or do their work. One lesson i had a child in each corner on their knees with their hands on thier heads and 3 outside and the rest of the class still was not quite. I was so frustrated that i blew a whistle and told everyone to stand up and put their hands on their heads. They stayed like this for 15 minutes while everyone else went home. The next lesson they were angels. If a lesson is going really badly my last resort is picking up my things and pretending to walk out it makes me feel bad but they run after me 'madam i beg, i will be good, madam i beg'. It also makes me feel bad as when i let the naughty kids return to their desks they say 'thankyou madam, god bless you'.

On thursday Cosmos one of the boys i sent to the corner thought it would be funny to sit in the cupboard. He then burst out, i was about to send him outside when a mouse jumped out after him. There is also occasionally the odd goat, chicken or naked child which will wonder into the classroom from the village.

The rain also makes it hard. Once the rain begins it gets very dark - as there is no electricity and the sound the heavy rain makes on the tin roof makes talking an impossibility. I often resort to handing out my textas to prevent the students from taking off their clothes and playing in the rain which happened the first time it rained.

The teachers are also all very sweet even though i dont always agree with their views and they are sometimes slack with attendance. One day i was the only teacher left in the school. Each day one of the kids will run in with a treat from one of the madams. One teacher bought me hairclips, one baked me cake - definently appreciated as an oven is a rarity. Madam Florence is particuarly generous. She drops in at our hope reguarly and brings with her bread, pineapples and soft drink which are very generous gifts by Ghanian standards.

So after almost 3 weeks the kids are finally responding and improving. Even though some lessons are awful and i feel like leaving, the bad times are evened out by the good. The standards are very different to Australia but im finally adjusting to the random lesson interruptions such as drumming, worship, soccer and rain. The thought of leaving is unbearable and there is now only one month left with them.

Weekends Away in Ghana (2007 Year Out Volunteer)

We never have any expectations allowing our destinations to blow our mind. At first when we arrived i was frozen in a state of anxiety due to the utter chaos but its crazy now we we seem to slot right - almost, our white skin does still stick out in a crowd. We bargain and negotiate our way through some full on situations and its a really good feeling when you finally safely reach accomodation, sort of an accomplishment. haha.

Sometimes we have to scream at Men 'Mem Piew' i dont like you. This is pretty effective at making marriage suitors and beggars leave. However 'Mem pow' which sounds very similar to 'Mem Piew' means i like you and i will admit i accidently said this to a man and was almost whisked away. I will just stick with 'Mempe Saa' I dont like that, from now on to prevent any other slip ups.

We have been visiting coastal villages and resorts. The white sanded, palm fringed beaches seem like tropical oasis's after being inland in our dusty villages all week. The mornings are spent visiting tourist destinations such as slave castles and national parks on 35m high suspension bridges. Afternoons are spent exploring the fascinating villages each new and exciting and filled with mostly smiling people thrilled to see westerners wearing ghanian clothes, speaking snippets of twi and with braids. We also chill at the very cheap but amazing beach resorts. We have had our fair share of nights in seedy accomodation however.

Last night we stayed at this beach called kokrobite. Its this mad hippie/rastifarian resort. All the guys have dreadlocks and wear red,yellow and green and are pretty chilled. Think Jamaica. They r sooo funny and are actually really nice but its still good to be careful. Its not a good idea to take any valuables onto the beach - 2 girls we were with were actually mugged, but they r fine. We spent the whole day chilling on the beach. It was surreal, we were lieing amongst these traditional boats and fishing nets chatting and playing with some of the village kids - im now a pro at their clapping games. As the sun began setting a reggae band set up and we stayed there watching the sun set and well into the night. We then slept in a massive tent on the beach for $2.50.

Apart from Kokrobite i feel really safe travelling in Ghana. The people are amazingly helpful, friendly and hospitable. People will often come up and help you. There are con artists out there so we are always careful but its really reassuring that people are always willing to help. We are also very careful with valuables wearing money belts etc. but theft in Ghana is strongly looked down upon. If someone steals they will usually be beaten or stoned to death before the police arrive. Obrunis are pretty respected in Ghana so if someone stole from us hundreds of helpful Ghanians would run to our aid. When Chels was hit by the crazy lady many people ran to our aid.

Transport is sometimes hair raising but we grit our teeth. Ive been on a tro tro which would not pass rego in Australia, speeding along a bumpy dirt road crammed with 26 people. There was sweat from the lady next to me dripping onto my thigh. Before i knew it one final passenger had boarded and there was a basket with bloody, foul smelling fish heads in line with my face.

On our way home from Busua - a small coastal fishing village with a strong hippy influence i was in the back of a tro tro when the seat i was sharing with three big african mummys suddenly came to a crash on the floor. I then noticed the boot did not shut properly and feared we would slide to our deaths on the road behind us. When the tro tro pulled over on the side of the road due to rain i informed the driver and we decided that once the rain stopped we would find a new tro tro.

Next weekend we are going to the Volta region and climbing a mountain and visiting some waterfalls. That is our second last weekend away as we will soon be leaving our families for our final 3 weeks of travel. The time has flown and im feeling pretty sad.

First 2 Weeks in Ghana (2007 Year Out Volunteer)

Its already may the 5th. i can't believe how quickly the time has flown. The past 2 weeks have blown my mind. Ill try be brief........

Our first week was spent in Accra and was a subtle introduction to life in dusty, hot life in Ghana. We stayed at a hostel - air conditioned which seems like such a luxury now we have left. We were shown around by our guide Charles, who we all became friends with and our trusty driver Isaac (affectionatley known as oh chi chi which means big crocodile). Our week consisted of markets, traditional drumming and dancing, language lessons, the beach and clubbing Ghana style. I cannot get sick of my surroundings as there is always something interesting going on. The landscape is barron and dusty but scattered with coconut trees and brightly coloured houses and shops. The Ghanians have so little yet their hearts are huge. Everywhere we go we hear 'obruni where are you going?' obruni is a white person and means from the horizon. We shout back 'obini where are you going?' which means black person. It sounds cruel but they think its hilarious. A few times a day someone will tell us they would like to take us as a friend. We have all picked up bits and pieces of Twi. The phrases 'GYE SAA' which means stop that and 'mempe saaa' i dont like that come in handy especially when 4 men surround you saying they are going to marry you.

I have now however moved into my my village. Its called Gomoa Bezedes and is tiny. Its situated about 15 mins out of a small town called Swedru. My Ghanian family is amazing and their hospitality is overwhelming. I have been given the African name Adjuia which is based on my day of birth. I have also been given a family name, a church name and a name from school all to follow this but i cant pronounce them let alone remember them. I have however only just been able to work out my family as everyone that comes over is an aunt, brother or sister. My mother is Mary. She has lots of children but I have 2 brothers called Kofi and Wofa who are 14 and 12 and I have a sister called Mena who is 11 who live with us. I then have a cousin who is 20 and her 2 children who are 4 and one week old. On Monday we are invited to a traditional naming ceremony for the baby.

Our house is one of the central homes in the village. Our is a courtyard house which means our main living area is an outside courtyard which all of the other rooms feed off. We have a pit toilet and a bucket shower. Despite what you all might think these are not to be feared. The bucket shower is actually refreshing in the heat. Our Mum is the best. Even though she can't speak much english everytime we come home she gives us big hugs and has food waiting. Ghanian food is amazing. The majority of the cooking is done outside and we also eat outside. Did i mention that we eat with our hands? A bit worried about what my manners will be like when we return. By Ghanian standards we are too thin and our family is aiming to fatten us up. Our serving sizes are about 4 times something we would be served in Australia. When i finished all my rice yesterday Mary cheered. She is teaching us how to cook. Yesterday we returned the favour and showed her how to make french toast. The only problem is our family does't let us help. Every now and then i manage to convince her to let me help clear and wash plates. They say it makes them happy to be able to help.

We wake up at 5 every morning. Every third day we hand wash our clothes. It is pretty labor intensive but rewarding. I stand back and look at my clean clothes on the makeshift clothes line with pride. Our mum supervises and often takes over. While we wash some of the villagers come to watch and clap and laugh. Any adoption of their culture we undertake they think is great. Yesterday at 6am a lady arrived to braid our hair. It took her 2 hours and cost us 20 0000 cedes which is about $2. Swedru which is the nearest town is 15km away but takes 5 minutes in a taxi and costs less than 50 cents. The alternative transport is a tro tro which is a van which can squeeze 17 people in. The roads are chaos and each time i enter a vehicle i have to shut my eyes.

Swedru is very overhwelming. The infastructure is poor and the city is very disorderly. Along the side of the road there are gutters which can be up to 2m deep. Sewage runs freely and they are also used as rubbish bins. The smell is a little off putting to say the least but surprisingly we are getting used to it. Taxis and tro tros block the roads and the sounds of the drivers shouting their destinations adds to the chaos. There are people everywhere carrying different products on their heads - africans can carry anything on their heads. Africans don't really go to shops they buy most of their stuff in markets or on the roadside. You can buy anything from fruit to stationary. Yesterday we bought 6 mangos for about 20 cents. The Ghanians manage to eat them on the street without peeling them so we thought we would try too. To say the least it was a big mess. Each time we are in Swedru i wish to return to my family and my village. Its strange how easily ive adapted and Africa is beggining to feel like home. I definently miss lots from Australia though.

There is rarely a moment when we aren't covered in sweat. Everyone has experienced travellers stomach. When we were having a language lesson in Accra one girl said she didn't feel well and before we knew it she had thrown up on the door on her way out. We all wondered how we would get out. The Malaria tablets sometimes make us feel lousy.

School is from 7-2 and some of the local kids wait in my courtyard and we walk to school together. On my first day one girl told me that she would like to be my best friend because she likes me so very much. This week there havent been any classes and the students have been "cleaning the compound" which means bringing their blades to school and cutting the grass. On monday we will start classes. Im excited to meet my class but am hoping they will be goood.

We are also regualrly visiting the local orphanage. There are about 60 kids there ranging from 1 year to 16 years. The children share two rooms and one shower and one toilet. There isnt much food and when we are arrive we are swarmed but all they want is hugs. Its obvious they crave affection that every child should get from their parents. Each time i leave i have tears in my eyes because they are so happy despite their hardship. We are all scheming about something to fundraise for them.

Sorry this was so long but internet is over an hour away. Sadly dont expect regular emails, the internet is impossible here!

Welcome to our New Blog!!

Welcome to the first post of Antipodeans Abroad's brand new blog!

We have been sending people away on our educational and volunteer trips for over 15 years now, and for over 15 years we have been hearing amazing stories from our travellers about their experiences overseas. You've told us on emails, on the phone, on feedback forms and in person and it has been fantastic to hear what everyone has gotten up to and how much you have learnt, grown, achieved and enjoyed. We have decided it is finally time that we have a place to share all your stories and memories. Hence the launch of this "Tales from Antipodeans Abroad" blog!

There's no rules at this stage for what we will put up here, but for sure we will start by publishing some of your great stories and pics from abroad. Keep up to date with what your fellow volunteers and travellers are doing, or if you are new to Antipodeans Abroad, then feel free to browse the posts and see what you could potentially be doing!

If you have any suggestions for improving the blog or want to contribute, then feel free to leave a comment or email Enjoy!