Monday, 14 September 2009

5th August 2009

an email i sent home:

Hi all

so I'm sitting in an internet cafe trying to savour my 1 hour of slow slow internet time. meanwhile the women who owns this shop is currently breastfeeding and im too western to interrupt. she already hates me as i always come in and ask 'is the link good?' if i wasnt paying her money for this service at the end of the day, i doubt she would respond. but im used to fast internet at home!

my volunteer work. this is the hardest to tell home about. mainly becasue my ngo (where i work in the afternoons) can do very little at the moment with lack of funding and internet and my boss having malaria that she refuses to get sorted out!I'm learning a lot by watching here. but in reality, im doing very little to help.

my work at Jana village pre school is draining, the kids are rowdy and it is hard to teach them when they dont understand english and have nowhere to sit but on the cement floor in the small classroom, with all donated teaching supplies lying on the other side of the room, also on the floor. nothing is out of their reach and so i spent most of my day trying to control 32 or more little hands from wrecking the place! the problem is that these kids are very cute and i want to cuddle them all the time rather than teach them to go to the 'naughty corner'. the greater problem is though that i am leaving tamale in a few weeks time, maybe to never return again in my life. how can i allow these kids to get comfortab

i am malaria and typhoid free at the moment thank G-d and will be going on a trip this weekend to the north of ghana to see some witchcraft village, and a project under the umbrella organisation 'Afrikids.' We're trying to budget it for a moment with our contact here Peter. Peter, much like my dad, doens't understand time and hopefully tonight we will be hvaing the meeting that has been postponed every night since last wednesday :) in ghana there is always hope.

i moved into the big house on the weekend and spent a lot of my sunday cleaning the kitchen and defrosting the fridge. hopefully, it is now typhoid free :) its not like uni here - if a place is dirty you cant just eat off the floor! and the fridge has been switched on and off by powercuts since we arrived that, now im in this house, i dont want to eat rotten food thank you very much.

i must go as im worried the people sitting around me in the cafe who are peering over my screen, can actually read what i am writing.

your ghanaian resident

Amy xxx

Monday, 7 September 2009

Tamale Relious Life

Ghana, especially Tamale, is a very religious place. The predominant religion here is Islam and everyone else is Christian, although traditional religions are incorporated, especially voodoo. The religious language and symbolism is everywhere - shop names, billboards, taxi windows and even the 'pure water' sachets we drink from. Every day we hear the call to prayer five times, and at the 1pm prayers I pass many small outside mosques on the steet, enabling to observe to my hearts content. Friday afternoons are also particualrly impressive as it is when everyone come out to pray. The big mosque in town has rows of people outside too and all the doors open.

Everyone in my office (all three of them) have decided they want to convert to Judaism despite them not knowing a thing about it, me telling them we don't believe in Muhammed and the fact that two of them have Mohammed in their names. Sulley actually used to be a Christian. I called him a religious slut but I think he did not understand me properly. Last week we invited our NGOs round on our Sabbath to show them what we do and they seemed to enjoy it a lot.

I have been into a few mosques but never during services. A few days ago I went with Amy to see the Church of someone from her NGO on a Wednesday evening. We walked in the dark for about thirty minutes through boggy land until we reached a field dimnly lit by stars and the far off lights on a building . There were five men standing around in a circle. We joined and Amy's friend Katherine was leading the service. She began by speaking briefly about thankfulness and asking us to think what we are grateful for (fans, broadband internet, pickled cucumbers, life) then everyone started pacing around a bit and muttering to themselves. Us four little white Jewish girls stood awkwardly. After a while the mosque kicked in to add to the oddness and so I decided the only thing to do was to mutter the Shema - one of the 'greatest hits' of Jewish prayers - loud enough for them to know I was praying too. This was followed by a lot of preaching from Katherine about Christ aimed exclusively at us although we were still standing in the circle.

Today our last Sunday in Tamale and I realised I still hadn't been to Sunday church service. Victor from Jonny and David's NGO invited us and so three of us went for another bizarre but very differnt religious experience. When we arrived, there was a keyboard making organ-like sounds and a full drum kit being played with a few microphones going around. The community was in a three walled tin roof classroom with rows of wooden benches. There was some good hymn singing and we were made very welcome immediately.
We had been picked up by the Pastor and out of curiosity had asked how long the service goes on for. He made a fuss of introducing us and talking about all of our names - Deborah the prophet, I didn't really understand what he said about Catherine but when it came to me he thought my name was Jasmine and started going on about jasmine rice and fragrance which somehow linked to god. Ghanains have massive problems pronouncing my name - most people think it is Jesscan, and on my last day of work I saw that my boss had me saved in his phone as 'Jasican'. The Pastor then went on about how we had asked him how long the preaching lasts and that in England everone walks out after half an hour so he was going to try to keep it down for us, which was slightly embarassing. As it went on he kept asking our permission to go on longer. At one point Dez had discovered a lump on her arm and I was inspecting and speculating when i realised he was saying "My sisters at the back are chatting - they are bored with our long preaching!" The preaching itself was interesting and went on for fifty minutes in the end. It was hard to follow at times because it was constantly being translated in to Dugbani and at random times in a sentance there would be audience dialougue interruption which went along the lines of:

By Jess

Early travels

We have been doing a bit of traveling since our brief stay in Accra. A group of six of us went to Mole National Park (pronounced Molay, you can imagine the imaginative jokes). We had to take a tro-tro on the worst roads in all of Ghana. We were being thrown about in the already overcrowded pathetic vehicle for a good four hours. All I can say it was a cultural experience.

The best story from our stay there apart from the safari walk and seeing elephants involved a baboon. Caroline went into our dorm room we were sharing with some American girls and was confused to see that her bikini was out and seemed to be smeared with peanut butter. None of us could understand what had happened until we were on the safari walk and one of the American girls was going on about how a baboon had come into our room and unwrapped her sandwiches and sweets and eaten them all and even had a go at her last peanut butter supplies. Mystery solved. I like to imagine the baboon holding up Caroline's polka dot bikini before smothering it in peanut butter.

Last week we went as a group to Bolgatanga up north near the border with Burkina Faso. Here we did exciting things such as stroking overfed crocodiles, eating, cultural dancing and drumming, visiting the projects of an amazing NGO called Afrikids, saw a goldmine and even a witch-camp.
Ghana had oil and gold and so really should be able to afford some tarmac roads between big towns. The impressive football stadium in Tamale was built by the Chinese in return for access to Ghana's oil. If the government had simply invested itself in oil, the money could be going into Ghana's economy. The same is happening with it's gold. We visited a little very poor village that is mining gold but cannot afford to process it further than gold dust and so the Chinese are building a factory and are going to employ locals and build a clinic. This is all very good stuff but once again the profits are going to be pumped straight into the Chinese economy, not Ghana's.

The witchcamp was also a bizarre cultural experience. It turns out that pretty much everyone in Ghana believes in witches, even my boss who has posters all over the office encouraging people to 'show compassion to women accused of witchcraft.' We had to bribe a chief of the main village first and all of us squeezed into his little hut. Peter, our African Tzedek correspondent for some reason decided it was necessary to tell this chief we didn't believe in witches, to which he replied something along the lines of, "If something does not exist, how can it have a name?" Although mutterings of 'vampires', 'unicorns' and 'Father Christmas' went around, we made the noise they make when something is understood - a much more enthusiastic pronunciation of uh-huh. Unfortunately we had a translator so we could not ask the witches our own questions and hear their responses. They have to 'admit' to being witches to be allowed to stay, but with threats of death or at least having their ears cut off in their own communities, their options are limited.

Cultural dancing was hilarious and some quality videos have been taken. There was an amazing little old lady who got on stage from the beginning and was a very enthusiastic dancer and ululater. Despite all twenty of us having to squeeze into a bus meant for ten, we had a great trip.

By Jess

The only vegetarian in the village

'Vegetarian' is not a concept well understood in Ghana and constantly ridiculed. I usually try and explain it along the lines of "I don't want to eat animals, I like to make friends with them" but this is just used as excellent banter material against me. Yesterday I held a debate with thirteen men sitting outside by my office which I am pretty sure I won although no one else agreed.

A couple of weeks ago I went to a village with Sulley my boss, did you usual necessary work, and as we were leaving he was translating the pleasantries ("Thank you for making the long journey to Ghana, may you take us back to your country so we can roam around there", etc etc) when suddenly he announced they were now going to slaughter a guinea fowl in my honour. My face sent him into giggles and he told me it was their tradition, because they had not fed us and tradition is very serious business in Ghana. Although they could not understand me I started whispering and hissing and waving my arms insisting that NO animals were to be slaughtered in my honour, which amused him even more. The end result was that we drove off with the guinea fowl tied up ALIVE to the front of the motorbike which was probably worse, so Sulley could have it for dinner with his wives (he has two, men here can have up to four.)
Another strange day in Tamale.

By Jess

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Some snippets from teaching at Morning Star by Madame Caroline.


My first day at Morning Star is one I won't forget in a hurry. West Africa still live in Victorian times apparently as they still use the cane. There were 3 children who received zero in a homework so the teacher (Paul) lined them up by the board to receive 10 canes on the hand each. The class chanted the counts whilst he caned the children. I'd never in my life seen these teaching methods before, where the teacher teaches his class to the rhythm of the cane. Anyway, after a week teaching with Paul and a brief chat with him about the negative effects violence has on children in the classroom, he hasn't used the cane once since last week. Paul and I share the teaching, but he keeps sitting me down at his desk and tells me to relax whilst he teaches and I have to frustratingly watch him spell Saturday, Seturday. He told me to do P E yesterday which didn't go down that well, as somehow it turned into an hour of playing drama games. Whoops. All in all school is a lot of fun, tiring but hilarious. And if I ever get bored of the children, many a goat and chicken are sure to visit me in my classroom throughout the day. The kids are great, I did ask them what the capital of Ghana was today though and they replied G. Hmmm, work in progress...


After a week at Morning Star, despite it being one of the most tiring jobs in the world I'm really enjoying it. I'm getting used to the structured days and the children asking me if they can 'free themselves' (just think about it literally). I have also decided to focus most of my attention on the teacher this week as I think helping him will be the most sustainable thing to do here. So we're working together most days, I evaluate his teaching and he tries to learn as much as he can off me. I was quite skeptical about doing this at first as I didn't want to stroll into the classroom as an educated white girl who claims to know everything, especially how to teach. To be honest I don't really know the foggiest myself. Due to no teaching training, this past week we have been focusing on planning lessons (a term he has never heard of quite shockingly) and also ways to keep the class calm. He no longer shouts and hasn't caned the kids since my first day. Laura, another volunteer at Morning Star takes my class once a week whilst I teach her class French. She commented on the improvement of the atmosphere of the class and how their concentration levels have increased. I understand that this is still a very small step towards changing the education system out here, however I truly believe that training Paul to become a more competent and well organised teacher will set him up to get a better job which is well paid and it will help him greatly in the long run.

I've been teaching quite a bit of french here also which is great, despite after the kids singing me a french song my response was, what language is that? The accent they are taught is entirely different so it's something I'm getting used to. There was no school today as it was pissing it down for 4 hours straight. And when it rains here, oh it pours...

This weekend a few of us headed to MOLE National Park. Around 5 hours away on the bumpiest road I have ever encountered. Another fascinating journey and the bumps were well worth it. We were greeted by elephants drinking from a watering hole and baboons waiting outside our dorm. We went on a 2 hour safari walk where we saw many a Pumba (Warthog) and antelopes. Needless to say the Lion King soundtrack was our sing song choice on the walk. There was a mystery incident however, involving a girl from california, her peanut butter, my rucksack and a baboon. I came back to my dorm to find my rucksack opened and peanut butter smothered all over it and my clothes. It turns out the welcoming baboon outside our dorm fancied some of the sweet spread and I guess he was looking through my bag for something to spread it on... A rather high maintenance baboon if you ask me.


Alex, another volunteer here in Tamale is working in a school where they have an amazing music and dance teacher. He arranged for some of us to have a lesson in traditional Ghanain dance and song. We were taught some dances equipped with drums, song, rhythm the works. The songs were quite similar to that of Rokia Traore - check her out, she's brilliant. We then went back to the same school today as some of the kids were putting on a performance. To our shock, when the kids had finished, the teacher got three of us up with him, and somehow we re-created what we learnt on Monday and performed it in front of the entire school. A truly embarrassing but hilarious moment. The crowd went wild...

It's been a bit slow at Morning Star this week as they currently have exams this week. Whilst they're completing their papers - equipped with painful spelling mistakes - I'm helping Paul with his reports. Feels a bit bizarre as I've only been in the classroom a few weeks. However, it has its benefits as its forced me to notice the really clever ones in the class and I'm making sure they get the praise and encouragement they deserve. Something which I feel is lacking in this school. It's really sad to think that some of these talents will be wasted in this society, due to lack of funding for further education. But don't worry I've already picked the ones which will be coming back with me in my suitcase...

Life is beginning to feel like normal now. This is something I thought I'd never feel at the beginning, but it's strange how you seem to adjust to even the most alien of environments.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Our Experience teaching at Morning Star School by Laura and Cat

The classroom: Three planks of wood. An aluminium roof. No electricity. And worst of all, the ‘toilet’ is anywhere you want it to be. With an open space substituting for a door we are frequently visited by a selection of farmyard animals, including goats, chickens and lizards. Our shacks resemble stables more often than classrooms. On one occasion, a pupil returned to class to find his seat was being occupied by a chicken laying an egg. When monsoons hit, the lack of windows, never mind glass ones, makes teaching virtually impossible. Our shouts are drowned out by thunderstorms and rain floods the classroom, whilst the opportunity is seized by the kids who take to the muddy pools and return, stripping off their clothes, leaving us to attempt to teach stark naked, soaking wet children. As comical as this may sound, reality is tragic. Lacking these very basic necessities is, in turn, a huge obstruction to education. Imagine what the standard of education in England would be if school ceased to function every time it rained? To think that in our school days we had almost expected resources such as electronic blackboards and Apple Mac laptops, and most certainly never even questioned that we would have a seat to sit on, a pencil to write with and four walls to keep us dry. Everyone knows of the poverty that exists in Africa, but nothing can prepare you for when the Oxfam faces of malarial, malnourished children now have a personality and a story behind them.

The teachers were more than delighted to hand over their roles to us. As far as they were concerned, summer vacation had started early. Ever since our arrival they spend their days sitting in the playground playing football, sleeping, distracting our lessons by blasting out their music, or disappear completely with the excuse of “town”. Nevertheless, they need only to return once in a while with cane in hand to ensure their superiority will never be doubted. On one occasion we walked passed a classroom where every child was sitting in absolute silence with their head on their desk. Confused, we sat them up only to be stared back by a sea of tearstained faces and scarred palms. Their teacher, who had left them alone all day, was angry when he returned to a noisy classroom. Although we make clear our distaste towards their method of disciplining through use of the cane, we fear that we are fighting a losing battle against a deeply embedded cultural norm. Since the children themselves accept this as the proper and natural part of schooling, it is not surprising that the older children carry their own canes to use against the younger children and why this tradition has continued to be passed on from generation to generation of teachers.

Although at first we were impressed by the children’s use of intellectual vocabulary, we quickly learnt that such fancy terms were merely memorised definitions with little thought for their meaning. For instance, they can robotically recite a dictionary definition of what a computer is and a list of its functions, though most have never actually seen one. When we pushed them to think creatively their stories again highlighted the disparities between our childhood and theirs. Whilst our childhood creative stories had always involved some magical land where the hero would live ‘happily ever after’, we were surprised to see how normal it was for their stories to end with death or famine.

Despite these emotional challenges our experiences have most certainly not been devoid of laughter. Whether it be teaching a class of seven to twelve year olds about the importance of protective sex to prevent against HIV/ AIDS on the first day of school, or being told during a lesson on ways to combat water pollution, ‘Madam, Madam, stop shitting in the water!’, our kids never fail to amuse us. In fact, despite western world presumptions that a childhood without proper playgrounds, footballs, or even a pair of shoes to come to school with is not a proper childhood at all, these children laugh and play with an African happiness that certainly transcends the stiff upper English lip.

Regardless of the school’s current imperfections its inspirational origins are humbling. The school was founded by Madame Cecilia who was herself orphaned and suffered many hardships in her youth. She originally set up the school in her garage for orphaned girls who were being sent out to work as street-sellers. She begged their guardians to let them attend her school for free. As the governmental schools were not as well taught as the classroom in her garage she was finally persuaded to take children of both genders orphaned and not. In 2005 she was forced to move to a larger rented plot of land due to the increase in numbers where we now teach and she is saving money with Tzedek’s help to build a new school with walls and floors and books.

One of the children Morning Star has provided for is twelve year old Mohammed; a boy with no father, a crippled mother, and an amputated leg due to a snake bite where he was left to die and only found three days later. This is just one of the many cases. The very fact that the children feel fortunate to have the opportunity to go to school here embarrasses us as we remember every attempt we made to play truant. Morning Star not only offers these children an education but more importantly allows them to fulfil their childhood which is a rare and precious commodity in this country.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Dezra iii- day to day...

I have a morning routine:
1) Brunch bar: scoff it down praying the doxycycline (malaria pill) won’t remind me of its existence all day long.

2) Surf through a pile of clothing: The majority of these, I swore I wouldn’t wear again before washing due to walks through the markets (I spend most of my time closing my eyes nose and mouth!) and the state of children’s hands. However when you’re desperate- it’s surprising what a nights sleep does to your memory.

3) Power walk to the other house: By power walk I mean stroll and at least have in mind that I should be in some kind hurry. Although this is only by Western thought, Ghanaians generally have no concept of time.

4) Avoid human contact: However lovely greetings are through out the day- they can be a source of frustration- especially when there’s more than 5 people demanding different responses at once. More importantly though, if you’re planning on sitting in close proximity to someone afterward, is avoiding our little neighbour -as cute as he may look. I learnt the hard way. Only the other day, seconds after Shuku climbed up my legs and wrapped his own around my neck did I have a man cycle past, stop, and point to me commenting in broad Ghanaian accent, “shit, you have shit on you” before continue on his way!

5) Travel to Jana village: More often than not is an adventure in itself. On a standard day we break down, but on more eventful ones we experience anything from being handed a random baby for the entirety of the journey, saturated by torrential rain as it enters the non existent widow to just having the cab driver arrested by the police.

6) Arrive in village and enter the little cement class room: this normally involves me failing miserably to hide my amusement at the parrot fashion greeting of ‘gooood mornin’ maaadam’ and the ‘we ah fiiine thank you’ that immediately follows (despite not uttering a single word).

Over the last few weeks, much has become same old. Today however it was not same old. And I wished it was. Today my morning saw me with a family shattered by the loss of their child, that tiny girl who only days before led me by the hand to the home of her sick friend. I stood speechless infant of her 8 year old sister who, only hours after was eager to learn with her peers. Completely out of my depth and unaccustomed to their traditions, I could only follow sheepishly behind our teachers who had been waiting for us to arrive so we could pay our respects to the family. As I took off my shoes and stepped inside, the hundreds of statistics I had previously heard at home vanished. These are individuals. This is reality.