Thursday, January 26, 2012
Saturday, June 18, 2011
All those who have declared it their mission to spread Christianity to Ghana hail from such countries. By coming to Ghana, they have no choice but to bring along their straight edge ruler notion of time. Naturally, when these missionaries built churches in Ghana, they equipped them with bell towers that rang out periodically. Although most are currently out of commission, they're impact on the native mindset is evident in a language spoken by more than a third of Ghanaians. In Twi, to ask what time it is you say "Abכ sεn?" This translates to "How many have struck?" which is quite literally a reference to the time-keeping device imported from abroad.
The native notion of time, at least in Donkorkrom, like other measures, is less abstract than bell towers. In most instances, time is more accurately likened to the notion of ripeness. This may have something to do with the agrarian lifestyles of the townspeople and is again evident in their language. In Twi, to ask "What time...?" does such and such happen, you would begin "Bere bεn...?" In this case 'bere' is a noun, but the same word is also a verb meaning "to ripen" or "to tire." The phrase best translates to "At what stage of ripeness/fatigue...?" does such and such happen. The answer to such questions hardly features measurements as much as processes of observable progress. You eat the avocado when it is ripe. You harvest the yam when it is fully grown. The bus leaves when it's full. Class starts when everyone's ready. The meeting starts when enough people show up. You top up on phone credit when you run out.
To me, the fact that time is viewed differently here is most surprising in reference to age. When creating our student register at school, I was surprised to see, when asked their age and date of birth, some students had to deliberate before arriving at estimates. If you follow soccer in America, you may remember the controversy a few years back about the age of a certain D.C. United player, Freddy Adu. Turns out he is from Ghana, a country not too focused on birth documentation.
In Ghana, death is the motive of choice for year-round celebration. Before a town center becomes a dance floor and the town road network a crawl-way, the funeral is announced on roadside signposts. Funeral announcements often feature a picture and the age of the deceased. Having seen a few ages that should land a person in the Guinness Book of World Records, in a country where the life expectancy is more like half the record held by the oldest person, I've been inclined to believe I'm reading something less than honest. I figure such bold claims are more a reflection of the respect the family has for the person than the actual number of years they lived.
Saturday, May 21, 2011
As a newborn, it’s just something funny you do to imitate everyone else. You place whatever you can on your head to catch a glimpse of the feeling but quickly lose it not knowing that keeping it up there requires real skill. You begin to find your center on the walk to and from school. Whether you think your hands are equally if not more suited for the task, you’ve inferred that you’re expected to, so you balance your books, bags, and math sets on top of your head. You start to appreciate the usefulness of the practice when you are first able to simultaneously peel an orange and balance your school supplies.
But it’s not for another few years, having spent about ten on the planet, that you begin to notice the necessity. You spend hours out of school fetching water from the nearest source-well, river, lake, or ocean-to keep the barrel at home full. Early mornings, you follow your family members to the farm making several round trips to bring home the harvest. You spend years honing the skill by supplying your family two of life’s basic essentials. With enough prayer and good fortune, you may have even brought home a surplus.
Fortunately, your talent has you well-prepared to enter the local job market. You realize there’s profit to be had at the nearest market, tro station or roadside. You bring your surplus harvest or other goods there the best way you know how. Whether you intend to set up a stand or keep on the move, you add a jar that will serve as your till to the basket, box, or bin overhead. A customer on foot calls at you as you reach your destination, and on either end of their transaction, helps you dismount and mount your load. This is good warm-up for completing sales requiring more agility. You are circling the vehicles in the station repetitively calling out the name of your product. You begin a transaction through the window of a tro and, the vehicle starts to move as you are changing the payment of your customer. By this point, you’ve had enough practice to balance your product on your head while you chase down the customer and complete the sale. Over the years, balancing becomes so second-nature that you find yourself doing more complex tasks at the point of sale including de-shelling hard-boiled eggs, chopping coconuts open, or fixing sandwiches. These are your hay days. You feel you can do anything with something on your head.
Your healthy physique, due in part to your proficiency as a head-porter, is among the reasons you’ve attracted a mate and are expecting a child. If you’re a woman, this doesn’t slow you down. In fact, your enlarged torso before birth and your newborn, which you fasten to the small of your back with a piece of fabric, after birth both serve to lower your center of balance. You’re able to carry heavier loads precisely because there are more mouths to feed.
As a veteran, there are specialized tasks requiring your expertise. You carry home a piece of bamboo several stories long with which you’ll extend the antenna of your radio or TV. You carry an assortment of dishes to serve during lunch break at the school canteen. At your age, you notice your child rediscovering the method. In a few years, the bulk of the burden will be handed down a generation. Your loads become much less than you can manage and you forget them as quickly as a royalty forgets their crown.
Friday, May 13, 2011
First, PCV. So the third term of the academic year is underway and it stands true with exceptions that kids have little affinity for math. I like to believe however that my students do enjoy coming to class and that they all learn at least something each class. At times it's hard to say, but I really do enjoy teaching them. We're going to paint. I've started registering interested students to enter their paintings in a contest meant to raise HIV/AIDS awareness. The contest is sponsored by the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR, yes, there's an acronym in that acronym). The Plan supplies students with painting materials in exchange for their finished works all of which should depict a certain HIV/AIDS-related theme. This years theme is "Protect Your Dream." In our meeting, we've discussed how contracting the virus can interfere with accomplishing your dreams and, subsequently, ways to avoid contracting the virus. The twelve best paintings from children throughout Ghana are selected by a panel of judges and featured in a published calendar. We want a library and computer lab at the school. We have loose plans to construct a building at the school that will serve as a library and computer lab. The aim of the project would obviously be to raise proficiency in English and computer use for those with access to the school. Stay tuned on that one. You will most likely have the opportunity to contribute. Ghanaian languages are interesting, so interesting to some of us PCVs, that at least one of us has spearheaded a project to document a lot of them in the form of language-learning audio. I've joined the Celebrate Language Project (CLaP) to help with the editing. Here's an example of what we're working on(coming)
Now, as a stranger experiencing culture shock. This is more of an I.O.U. than an update. I have a number of fascinations with Ghanaian culture that I've started to put into words. I plan to post them as I see fit in stand-alone posts. So, expect to see more of those.
Now, as a person with hobbies. My name appeared again in the Problems section of Mathematics Magazine, here's the full article and my solution. During last school break, I spent a good number of hours writing a java applet that animates a four-dimensional cube. The applet is more or less proof that I learned something during the research project I did senior year at St. Mary's College. Partly in preparation for getting myself together to apply to grad school, I've gathered these things and more into a personal website.
By posting shortly after Hallie, I've stolen the space at the top of this page. If you haven't read it already, scroll down to read about Hallie's work with Ghanaian female youth.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
As you may have read in Hallie's last post, recently someone close to us suddenly passed away. His name was Lordson Egloh. He and I were coteaching form 2 math at Atakora as well as attending Peace Corps trainings and workshops together. His death shocked everyone in the community since he was only 26 years old and visibly healthy. I was present when he collapsed and later died. Here is my account of what happened:
On Valentine's Day evening 2011, during a break in our volleyball match, I heard someone call “Ambulance!” I looked across the court to a crowd around him laying on the ground. Rushing over to see what was happening, I looked down at him visibly in pain. “Is he having a seizure? an asthma attack? I never knew he was epileptic or asthmatic. That is probably what's going on here. I've seen a friend recover from a seizure. It looked like this to start. He'll probably be fine. It may be just a matter of minutes before whatever attack he's experiencing leaves him and he is sitting on the sideline drinking water.” I froze. I let others try what they can to snap him out of it. They splashed him with water, tapped his chest, planned to rush him to the hospital in town on the back of a motorcycle, before finally one player picked him up and ran the 100 meters to the roadside. A car was flagged down and, aware of how my perception of time was altered, I'll nondescriptly say minutes had passed since he collapsed before he was in intensive care. I trailed behind by bicycle. I thought it best to show my support at the hospital. Regardless of my being there, he'd make his recovery and I'd visit him at his house tomorrow. The last thing I expected was to hear a student say “He's dead.” “Are you asking me or telling me?,” I said. He was sure of it. Had the doctors not tried?
The cutoff for a passing percentage on a graded work in Ghanaian schools, at least up through high school is 35%. Does the same standard apply in the medical schools that trained the doctors that treated him? Did they complete a thorough curriculum incorporating practical learning and were they not responsible for at least a majority of knowledge and practices they were taught? Would they have saved the majority of people that entered that hospital under the circumstances that Lordson did? Or 35%? I'm told he died before entering the hospital. Would he still be alive if we/I acted more quickly? Living in a different culture, I've adopted a greater tendency towards inaction. In a lot of scenarios, as a foreigner, I simply do not know the expected behavior. Did this tendency bleed into a situation where a human life was a risk? These are the thoughts that wouldn't leave my mind in the following days.
Add to the list of those shocked and dismayed: the students of Atakora school, the teachers some very close friends and coworkers of three years, Lordson's grandparents who have already lost several children, and Lordson's newly pregnant fiance. In the weeks following we teachers and students came to school but classes were not in session. We welcomed many visitors from the community who came to offer their condolences. Some teachers and the majority of the students spent those days marching around the school chanting and making noise in Lordson's honor. On the day after, we played a volleyball game on the very court where he collapsed. Grieving was done head-on. Although most Ghanaians associated with the school consider themselves Christian, they would still agree that witchcraft and juju exert a real impact on earthly happenings. Part of the reason, we were chanting and making noise, I believe, was to ward off any bad spirits. Lordson's guardians-his grandparents-and his wife live in a different region of the country than Lordson did. A few days after his death, they visited Donkorkrom. Hallie, another friend, and I stopped by where they were staying. Something his grandfather told me during our short visit was that he is “sure that somebody did this to him.” Traditional African beliefs are more residual in the elderly; he's talking about juju. A week or so after, the teachers gathered at the school for a vigil conducted by a pair of devout men. That night the men were able to 'identify' the specific avenue a force of witchcraft has taken.
We are preparing to travel to Lordson's hometown this Friday for the funeral. Like me, you may have been surprised to learn in the culture section of you Intro Spanish class that the death of loved ones in not cause for mourning alone. I'm thinking El Dia de los Muertos. I've yet to attend a funeral in Ghana but I've heard the tone of the event probably has more in common with our(US citizens) American counterparts to the south. During a cross-cultural aspect of pre-service training, a trainer was sensitizing us to the type of humor we could encounter in Ghana in reference to death. By his advice, I shouldn't be surprised to overhear someone poking fun at a friend of Lordson's with “What's the matter? You couldn't feed him?” Death is viewed in Ghanaian culture different than I'm accustomed. Our headmistress addressed us teachers the other day with the issue of how much money we will contribute to Lordson's family. During the discussion I brought up that I've yet to attend a Ghanaian funeral. Her response was “Yɛbo nsa” meaning “We drink liquor.” Apparently donations to the family and memorializing imbibition are custom at Ghanaian funerals. Before leaving Chicago, Hallie and I saw a documentary, Glorious Exit, about a Nigerian funeral that would offer a good visual of something similar to what we're in for. Although, I intend to post pictures/videos of the event afterwards.
Lordson had aspiration and intention. He would go over his life plan as if half revising, half fantasizing. While a teacher at Atakora he was enrolled in a long-distance courses leading to a diploma. He dreamed about finishing his degree right about the same time his wife, living apart from him, would finish nursing school. He would transfer to a high school in the same town as his wife. He would teach agriculture and she would become a nurse. The sacrifices he was making as an investment for his future added up to an undetectable strain on his life. Perhaps he was prone to serious health problems for years and some preventative health care such as a routine physical could have saved his life. It's a shame that he's gone. I hope it's all uphill from here for his friends and family.
Above, Lordson is next to me.
(May 13, 2011) Here's a video I took from Lordson's funeral. I think the moment highlights some cultural differences from the viewpoint of someone outside Ghana. The video is a short clip from the viewing during which his body was positioned to appear as if he is seated upright writing in a book, an activity teachers often do. Various women are loudly lamenting his death. I remember my grandparents' viewing being much more somber events.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
- baskεt bככl:basketball
- posuכfese:post office
- baebae oo:bye-bye