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Monday, November 28, 2011

Lumba did that

Only highlife legend Daddy Lumba can evoke a genuine unifying moment as such:

Former President J. A. Kuffour dances with former first lady, Nana Konadu Rawlings (wife of Former President, J. K. Rawlings) Oh yeah, Lumba still got his cornrows and check out the complimentary Ghana peace signs in the back... Priceless.

I grew up listening to Lumba (though my parents try to front as if they only played gospel music our whole lives, smh) and had an early appreciation for his creative spin to highlife beats. Seems to be one of the few Ghanaian artists that can still bring the house down to its knees and even get the heads of state swaying their hips. Though I wasn't at the concert, Lumba is still is a part of my Ghanaian experience. It's quite convicting to enjoy a wonderful worship song on Sunday morning radio and later in the afternoon/evening, find yourself humming to a naughty Lumba song on the same radio station. Hey, it's Ghana.

You're a classic Lumba. Thanks for the good music!

I don't think my Uncle Kofi cared much for Lumba music and it's probably more befitting to choose a gospel  jam to dedicate to him, but I will dedicate both this song and the one below it to him. Just because, this Lumba jam makes me feel really melancholy and mellow. But when I hear "Soon and Very Soon", it makes me want to jump up and praise God like Uncle Kofi. It kind of signifies the series of  feelings I have at the moment. Enjoy!


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Work hard, Play hard

I remember when I was in middle school, we had to do the dreaded one mile run. It was seventh grade...
I didn't want to run the mile at all. I just couldn't bear the last lap (or so I thought). So I, uh, lied to my P.E. teacher. I told him I completed the mile when I really finished 3 laps. My time was 7:32 (which wasn't so bad for almost a mile now when I think about it). I told him I finished and he asked me, "Are you sure?" I'm like, "Yeah!" He said, "That was a good job." I walked away with a sheepish grin and relief that I wasn't caught in my lie. Or so I thought...
Three weeks later, I saw my name on a poster in the gym. I didn't read the sign so well, I just saw my name. Later on, I asked my P.E. teacher, why my name was on the poster, he said he entered me the school's annual track meet because my time was so... good. I didn't say anything. I just stared at him. He stared back, with a glint of satisfaction in his eye.
I lost, woefully.

So, when I had the chance to survey our school's inter-hall sports tournament, I did so with nostalgia, good envy, and excitement. School sports games are always fun to partake in; I think I do a better job at spectating. I am still a poor runner, still a bit traumatized, but I am impressed with the enthusiasm and endurance my students have at playing all sorts of sports.  We had competitions in volleyball, netball (basketball) and the ever favorite, football (soccer). It was girls v. girls and boys v. boys and it was a great two days of fun and no classes:)

It just reminds me of the amazing talent this country (this continent) has when it comes to physical sports. They play for competition and pleasure with such passion and frenzy, you can never get bored. Freddy Adu ain't got nothing on my students!

I may not  pick up running again but after these games, I would love to get physically active again, regardless the sport. We'll see...
Women's Netball

Men's Volleyball

Hall Four Won!

Complimentary candid shot

I have a video of the music/noise that usually accompanies African sports (if you watched the World Cup last year, ya know). I hope I can get the chance to upload it. All that was missing was the vuvuzela.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

My Uncle Kofi has been left behind

In Akan culture, it is very unlikely that you will hear someone say, "_______ is dead" in exact translation. The reference to death is too difficult to face and confirm so other phrases will be used instead. One that stuck out to me suits this situation: "m'wofa bi na ɔaka [waka] baabi [bææbi]" My uncle has been left behind somewhere... But it's really strange for me to state the truth, and post it.

My Uncle Kofi is dead.

My mother and father divorced when I was very young. I, in turn, lived with my mother and eventually, my mother and stepfather. My stepfather was the blessing God prepared for me before even my conception. He was my "Wofa" (uncle) for a few months and before I knew it, I found no hesitation in calling him Daddy. He just became my Daddy. He made me tacos for my 6th grade project on Spanish culture. He cooked the best nkrakra (lite soup). He called it Canadian soup. He hasn't made it since I was 11. He made us listen to countless African gospel songs. So much, I believe I was converted to the Christian faith at age 10 after listening to Sonny Okosun nonstop for 5 hours. My Daddy gave me what I always wanted, a family. With his presence, I got a chance to be a big sister to three younger siblings. Because of him, I got a host of aunties, uncles, and cousins that came with fun outdoorings, Thanksgivings, and weddings. My mother's family doesn't live in the States; I didn't get too involved with my biological father's family as I saw my father on occassion. My "Daddy Uncle Joe" gave me a childhood, a life seasoned with true family memories. I love him for that.

With Daddy came Uncle Kofi. Uncle Kofi was the uncle you didn't want to cross but didn't want to ignore either. His flamboyant personality was something to be amazed at. I remember when he came from Canada to live in the States for the first time. He was tall and lanky and wore his pants belted above his waist. He, at least he thought, was the best dressed Ghanaian in Northern Virginia with those hiked-up pants. He would sleep on our living room floor, talk on the phone for hours, and enjoy Nickelodeon with us at night. He started to go to church with us and was quickly immersed in church activities. People loved this guy. He wasn't shy, he spoke his mind, and was especially conversant with the ladies. He eventually became a prayer warrior and his arresting tongues-speaking was the highlight of the children's room on Friday nights. My parents are Pentecostals and part of the Pentecostal-Ghanaian-way-of-life is to attend late night services on Friday. There, people will join to hear the word of God and pray for hours on end on various things. That will sometimes include a deliverance service where the pastor/elders will lay hands on church members. To children, it just looked like a fun fest that allowed you to shout in someone's face, pour oil all over their head, and force them down with a passion. Since the kids weren't allowed to bother the parents in the main sanctuary, we would have our own fun in the children's room. There was a role for everybody. Someone was designated to be the pastor; a group of kids were the elders; the stronger kids had to be the people who stood behind the members who were supposed to be pushed down; there were the kids who needed prayer to begin with; we had ushers to lay the blankets on the kids who fell down; the general congregation who would be in the background making noise; and then there was one person who got to be... Uncle Kofi. That one person was lucky as heck because she got the chance to prance around and yell out tongues in rapid speed. She was the one who had to bring up songs for the congregation and she was the one to institute when "the falling thing" began. That person was me. I was the only one in Sunday School who can do Uncle Kofi's "boo-da-ka-boo-da-ka" tongues in rapid, raspy speed to perfection. I knew all of his favorite songs. And I was the most dramatic when it came to praying for the kids during "the falling thing". I knew all of this because I was fascinated when I watched Uncle Kofi in church. It seemed that he knew who God was, how God worked, and how to get Him to work for others. The guy was a force to be reckoned with. Later in life, when I first spoke in tongues, it sounded nothing like his, but I couldn't help thinking of him. And how proud I was to have come to know God the way he did.

Uncle Kofi eventually married, had children, (son named Lord and daughter named Shekinah Glory. No joke.) and moved to New Jersey to start his church. I never knew how serious his diabetes was. Every time I saw him he did seem a bit tired, he was graying, but he always was on his phone and he was always on the go. And he would sleep on our living room floor when he came over and will be on the phone at 4 in the morning praying "boo-da-ka" on the prayer line. He was my Uncle Kofi, little brother to my dream of a daddy. The playful, fast talking uncle that everyone loved to have around.

I will remember you. And not just for your tongues. I will remember how much my daddy loved you; you were all he had in this country. 

Ghanaians know how to honor the dead. It has been reported that Ghanaians would go into debt to bring on a huge and magnificent funeral. The size of the funeral shows the "care" and "respect" for the late relative and since funerals are an open occasion, they need to be big to accommodate those who randomly want to attend. I have been to few Ghanaian funerals in my life but they were never of close relatives.
Now that I am in Ghana, I've been invited to almost 3 funerals, parents of my colleagues on campus. I didn't go because 1: I do not like funerals. 2. I don't know these people personally. 3. I never have black or red ntoma to wear. 4. These funerals can go on all day. 5. I just did not plan to attend a funeral whilst in Ghana.
But today, I write with grave, strange pain as it is the first time I have experienced the death of someone close to me and close to the family that I love. I will not be home to attend this funeral and to mourn with my family and my step family. To hear the loving words that people will say and I know they will mean. To see that old church family again that raised me along with my Uncle Kofi. I will instead, sew a black cloth here, travel to Kumasi to visit my step family and mourn with them in representation of my mother and my father. The baby of the family, the cherished of them all... is gone.

Damfira due! You lucky man, now you and Sonny can sing along in God's presence.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Chew and Pour: It's Testing Time

Next week, out training college will have their first supervised test. Something like midterms. Students are tested on the material they have covered for the first 9 nine weeks... I'm kind of worried. It's hard enough to present material with out a reference book but at times, I wonder if these kids really get a chance to study and digest the material fed to them. This is their typical day:

wake up at 4:30 am (I'm for real ya'll)
bathe at 5:00-5:45 am
prayer service at 6:30 (mandatory but I like it)
classes begin at 7:00 am
breakfast at 9:00 am
classes commence for lunch at 2:00 pm.

If a teacher fails to meet with them during the morning classes, they have to meet in the afternoon after lunch. So let's put in there a possible 3:00-5:00 class. If there is not midday class, they have a one hour break and do their daily chores. There are chores to do everyday. You will see student weeding away, washing clothes, scrubbing, gardening, and more. Then at 7:00-9:00 pm there are mandatory preps-- basically, an evening study hall. Again, this is the opportunity for teachers to make up classes they were absent for or to move along with the syllabus. I've perused preps to do reinforcement lessons but only for an hour. I feel that they are too tired for an intense 2 hour lesson; I am too, but I've done nothing in comparison to their labor.

In spite of this jam packed daily schedule, they are expected to perform up to par now that testing season is here. The teachers are all good about it; from what I can see, no stress on their part. No administrator down their throat; no obsessive group meetings on test prep (though I think teachers should collaborate more here). It's the students who are biting their nails. Funny how I thought I was getting away from a testing-crazed culture in the States but it's a whole 'notha ballpark over here. Students live and die by the test. They cheat and cheat by the test. They sweat and slave for the test. They chew and chew and chew so that they can pour out their best responses at rapid speed... for the test. (Ask a Ghanaian what I mean by "chew and pour". Shoot, ask an African...) Teachers kind of just write out the exam questions at random and don't think twice about whether they covered the material or not. If the student passes or fails, it doesn't seem to reflect on the teacher much. The teacher doesn't give a darn. In fact, they just see it as, "ah, we've done our part ooooo.." It's the student's fault. They were lazy and didn't study enough. Never mind the fact that they sit in classes for hours everyday and are subjected to strenuous labor (which even cuts into their class periods at times!) Never mind the fact that the teachers speed through the curriculum to "cover everything in the timetable", not providing enough time for students to comprehend the material. Never mind that the teachers-in-training are taking all sorts of classes (like high school), not focusing on one subject which at times gets distressing and confusing....

So the students really stress out about examinations because whether the material was covered in class or not, they are expected to know the answers and get it right. Majority of the questions are not multiple choice and free response is still expected to be practically verbatim to get the points.

I don't care about the examinations much (I'm becoming a Ghanaian teacher!!! Argghhh. Not.) I just want them to make sure they understand the content (Told you I was not.). English is the hardest subject for these students for obvious reasons explained in previous posts. Instead of spitting out a doctored answer, I want my kids to be aware of their answer choice and provide a personal explanation. I want them to apply it in life: when they read and when they write. So that's why I'm behind in the syllabus.... I've been spending a little too much time on grammar. It seems like they never really understood it before. I don't blame them, I didn't really get it until I took a grammar course in undergrad. I don't mind being behind but I don't want them to freak out when they see a question on the test about conjunctions and they don't remember what it is because we didn't cover it yet. I've been too busy making sure they know how verbs function and how to spot indirect and direct objects... Really, you should be in my class. This is fun stuff. It's amazing how multicolored Expo markers make learning and teaching fun.... I digress.

Just help me keep my students in prayer. I didn't think I would be put on the schedule to teach English but if that be the case, I want them to get the most out of English language and literature that any of my students will get back home. It's hard when you really want to encourage an appreciation and understanding for your content area and you somehow can't because there isn't enough "time". Not enough time to break down this amazingly written short story because you have to know how to break down a multiple choice question instead? I was hired to teach you how to test and not teach you how to understand what you just read? Cmon now...

This is a shoutout to all my colleagues at my old middle school. Keep your head up; I'm on the other side of the ocean and it's hard out here for a teacher too.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

It is because I'm black...

I never thought I would say this! (

When I envisioned coming to Ghana, I thought there would be a band of drummers and trumpeters playing jams in my honor. I envisioned dancers grooving to a cool "Akwaaba" hit...
Well, I really didn't think this would happen but in all, I did think that Ghanaians would be impressed and excited to have me "back" to serve the beloved country. Okay, maybe I did wish for a band... I digress.

Though the lack of a colorful band, I have been received very well. People I meet are excited to know that I am Ghanaian and interested in why I have come to teach. They are eager to throw some Twi my way once they realize that I can't speak it fluently. I think it's my charm that keeps them interested. Otherwise, I would just blend into the crowd of Ghanaians, possibly mistaken for a university student and not a foreigner. My fear of too much attention has been quickly thwarted because of one person....

My roommate: meet Andy. As in, Yaa Asantewaa Andy.

She is a PCV (Peace Corp Volunteer) and she teaches ICT on campus. If I did not have Andy here, I would die of boredom and loneliness. We share a great passion for puzzles, FanIce, and talking about annoying colleagues on campus. It's a great pleasure to room with her and experience Ghana together. In a sense, I needed her here with me. I needed the companionship and learning buddy.

Andy gets all the attention here. You know, the kind where Ghanaians stare longingly and at times, gape without abandon. The kids cry, "Obroni, Obroni*"; the adults, "Akosua, Akosua*!"  I don't even get a second glance. The kids marvel at the white person in town and the black girl walking next to her is... either just a black girl (Black American) or her Ghanaian escort.

It's kind of cool to be both:)

I have to muffle my laughs and at times, my grimaces, when they call me "Obibini-Broni**" or "Akata**".

Andy gets such special interest and attention from Ghanaians here that I am beginning to think that Ghanaians just have a thing for foreigners, but especially the white ones. Andy and I went out to town to buy some foodstuffs, the marketwomen immediately began calling out to her and bargaining. They would say something in Twi a little too fast and Andy will look at me with questioning eyes. I, in turn will have to translate... Funny thing is that I have to think fast because I'm kind of learning the language too! That's what I mean when I say my Twi seems to be coming from nowhere. It's interesting (another phrase Ghanaians overuse).

My neighbor's kids used to come over a lot to say hi and chit chat. They will sit down with me and I would give them juice and cookies and encourage conversation. It would be very difficult to get these kids to talk to me, they just seemed interested in the food. Anyway, of late, they have stopped coming by to see me... they come to see Andy. They will sit for hours with Andy and color in books and chat. They would talk to Andy. And at times, they would leave thank you notes for her, thanking her for the snacks and free time.


After all the juice boxes and cookies I have shared with them? Not even one thank you!??!!

After a quick moment, I only realized that I don't get such praise because... I'm black. No party here!

Go freaking figure.

This is by no means to rant against Andy or white people, it's more or less one of my Mabel moments where I write in the way I speak when I'm surprised at something. Imagine reading this in a voice that peaks the more excited I get. Overall, I'm okay with blending in. It's probably better for me.

*"Obroni": white man/foreigner in Twi; I think it literally translates like such: "abro" means corn. "Nii" means person" in Twi. Ama Ata Aidoo mentioned in one of her books that the term, "Obroni" translates to "a person with corn-silk hair"....
"Akosua" you should know from previous posts-- girl born on Sunday. A white person will be referred to as Akosua or Kwesi because whites are said to have brought Christianity, hence the Sunday reference. You're loving this history stuff.... me too.

**You already know what Obroni means. "Obibini" means African. Akata.... a reference term for African-American. I don't know the contextual history. Anyone?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Life as a Madam

I am Madam Nana Ama.

, "May I have your attention please?" doesn't really get their attention. I usually say, "Hallloooo???" And they respond, "Hiiii!!"

I have a student escort me to my next location by holding my books for me. The thing is that, everyone wants to hold my books.

They think I'm the coolest madam because I give them 10 minute breaks. Seriously, I can't teach for 2 hours straight. I need a break too.

Every weekend, a couple of students come by my place to wash, clean, and at times, cook for me.

I leave the last 15 minutes of class for twi lessons. They get a kick out of that.

I kind of feel huffy and slighted when a student doesn't greet me with a "Good _____ (morning, afternoon, evening) when I walk by. I know, I'm already enjoying the special treatment.

None of the kids hit on me. That's a relief.

It may be hard work but I love it all the same. And I can't stop but smirking when they call me "Madam". My students are so respectful and eager to learn, it's wonderful.

Random shot: my pet rooster, Wontshutup. That's what I call it on my way out.

My level 100D students, not the best picture but probably my best class. They make me laugh all the time.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The ever-present comparison....

There will always be a standing comparison to our "sister" country, Nigeria. Is Naij really the sister country to Ghana? We're always talking about each other so I dunno...

Either way, there are plenty of Nigerians in Ghana for various reasons but in regards to this educational statistic,  I'm surprised, interested, and kind of worried....

I cannot speak for Nigeria and its society, I am not Nigerian, nor do I know much. Plus, I'm kinda scared because Nigerians are highly patriotic and I don't want to say the wrong thing in my analysis.... But I know many upper class Nigerians send their children abroad for schooling. At my uni, I met many international students from Nigeria; my future hubby was one of them:)

All the same, I have heard stories that bemoan the Nigerian educational system. This is a sad white elephant in regards to how much potential Nigeria has for supporting its people. For such an influx of Nigerians in Ghana for studies, it must show a positive reflection of Ghana's higher educational system. If the lions of Africa are coming to Ghana for the "keys to a nation" (that which is proper education), then I guess I should say that Ghana is doing something right. Like all things, it needs work. But I pray they work hard to get off track and go higher.

Click the link to read and ponder.

Welcome to Linda Ikeji's Blog: Nigerian Students in Ghana Pay N155 Billion as Tui...: According to the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Malam Lamido Sanusi, 71,000 Nigerian students in Ghana currently pay an annual t...