Tuesday, July 28, 2009


I've found my Ghana stay a bit stressful of late. I think the many inconveniences are getting to me a bit. I'm also a bit lonely. I'm pretty much on my own here except for when I go to the school where I volunteer. I see Barry once in a while but he's traveling around doing his research. While I've made friends with the other teachers, I find it difficult to really communicate. Most people speak English in formal situations like school but they speak Twi at home. What that means is that they can have a very basic conversation in English and for me that means difficulty in communication. Hence the loneliness. I can't really express myself as they don't understand me, especially my pronunciation and I barely understand them. Also, I feel a bit as though I'm being seen as 'Miss Moneybags.' Any time one of the teachers sees me with this or that item, they say that I need to leave it for them when I leave Ghana. That includes things like my digital camera or some of my knitting notions or even my earrings. I brought many gifts to give away as I knew this was expected, but I didn't expect the envy with which each of my possessions is greeted. That includes innocuous things that you wouldn't think twice about. It gets a bit annoying as I keep having to scrutinize what I wear or carry as I don't want to be asked for it.

I'm definitely going through a homesick phase at the moment. Actually, I've been so homesick that I've changed my flight so that I'll be leaving Ghana next Monday rather than in another 2 weeks. The school is closing for summer vacation this Friday and with no job at the moment, it made sense for me to leave now rather than travel around more. Also I might be able to find some temp work on my return to London until I head back to the states.

A few other things have gotten to me:

- Caning

I am definitely not a fan of caning students and even more so after the past week. I think on some of the days, the teachers were moody and hitting kids for no reason. They had exams last week and I kid you not, after the exams were graded some of the teachers said you should have gotten at least 90% to all the students and then pulled out the cane to lash the students the difference between the percentage they got and 90%. So if you got 80%, you got 10 lashes. I was disgusted by this and went and complained to the headmaster. I think that the caning makes teachers a bit lazy in creatively getting the students' attention. Do this or I'll cane you seems to be the general motto and I nearly cried at times for the reasons that some students were caned. Especially the really little ones. Even though the school is middle class, the nursery kids do nothing most days. Today, we did some coloring and I had to break each crayon into 5 pieces so that each kid had a small piece to color with. And then I cut up pieces of paper and drew some basic triangular sorts of things for them to color. The thing is though, with nothing to do, the kids get bored and start playing or running around and then they're caned for it. It's all a vicious cycle and really hard for me to take.

- Sanitation and Hygiene

Things just aren't really clean here. I literally walk around with anti-bac and handy wipes and I don't think I'm that 'precious' a person. The nursery kids have a bucket outside of the classroom and that's what they pee in. This occurs at many local businesses as well. There are no toilet facilities so they use a bucket and empty it at the end of the day. There are no facilities for them to wash their hands and the whole thing is just a little gross. I think one thing I really appreciate after my Ghana experience is running water. I visited a teacher's house and while there was a toilet, there was no running water so you had to use a bucket of water to flush the toilet and then wash your hands in another bowl of water. And I think to shower they have to use buckets of water too. This works ok if you have running water nearby but lots of people have to travel a bit to get water and then take it back home. Some of the people living near the guesthouse where I stay come over and get water from there. I can't imagine having to live life without water whenever I needed it. The thing is, these are middle class folks. I shudder to think how much harder it is for the poor folks.

Sorry about such a negative post but everything has really been getting to me recently. And the funny thing is that Ghana is an African success story. They're doing really well compared to other countries in Southern Africa.


Diana said...

This last semester I took an anthropology class. We learned about ethnocentricity. When I read your post it reminded me of my reaction to a book and film we had to watch in class. I was shocked at some cultural practices foreign to me, until I stopped viewing them from my cultural perspective. How did things get to be this way for people in Ghana? Are they doing their best with what they have to work with? You and I live in such richness and opportunity. I feel your sadness. The distance between you and Ghana is now cultural or emotional not physical. Hang in there, the work you are doing, in-spite of your recent feelings, is helping others. Thank you for sharing your successes and struggles with us on our blog. I wish you strength. Know you have some internet friends out there.

Caryl said...

Thanks for your comment! It's nice knowing that there are people out there reading. I'm feeling a lot better today. It probably helped to just write down how I was feeling. Overall the people are lovely but having been here for 5 weeks now, it's not always a bed of roses and I needed to vent.

Farm Groupie said...

It sounds like a pretty stressful stay, but you're keeping your wits about you! I am sorry that you're feeling so homesick.

I hate even the thought of the kids getting caned. I hope that you get to have lovely and expressive conversations with some friends soon....


Catherine said...

Hi - probably don't remember me - met over a spindle in Coventry. Anyway, just perusing your blog for no particular reason. Reading about the caneing I can sure understand your distress at that time. I heard a program on WNYC Sunday (internet radio) and it SO contrasted with that - a man being interviewed who ran a project in Harlem NY to educate parents - it was SO successful. He had to convince many of them to stop hitting the children - they were convinced only when they saw how the alternatives worked. Same would probably apply in Ghana and other places with thumping authorities. Got a few wallops myself as a child - did no good :).
So I'm sorry to read that you were upset and, at the same time, glad to read that you were. Expect you are having a better time by now.
All the best,
Catherine, in Ireland