Well, this is the second time I'm writing this out!! I'm such a goon-I write out my emails and my blog on a computer in the school and then copy and paste it when I get into the internet café, as it's sooo slow! Anyway, so INSTEAD of pasting in my blog last time, I pasted in an email to my uncle and aunty, and deleted my blog….so anyway, round 2!! I'm warning you now, it's going to be loooooong as I have time to kill before lunch and a lot to say, so be prepared to get square eyes if you can last till the end!!
So, yes, for those who don't know-I'm currently in a Catholic Boarding School! We've been here for over a week and leave on Friday to go to Cape Coast and then back to Gbogame for the last 2 weeks! When we first arrived at the school, you should have seen our faces! After a month of bucket baths we were buzzing when we discovered that our new home had showers and flushing toilets-not to mention the creamy buildings on green land with long washing lines hung across trees. If we'd come here straight from the UK, yes we'd be excited, but we wouldn't appreciate it as much. I can imagine thinking "awww, the showers are cold" and "there's no mirrors!!" Ha, it's funny, we haven't seen a mirror in so long-if we want to know what we look like we have to rely on shadows, photographs and one another!
Anyway, so once the initial excitement of the luxuries wore off, we realized we had a new challenge-rigid structure, after a month of village life. Instead of our lives revolving around buckets, it now revolves around the bells that are rung throughout the day-7am mass, lessons, lunch, lessons, end of school, dinner, prep (homework sessions), bed at 9. Plus we have a 6pm curphew so we have no time to unwind or essentially "escape" from school grounds apart from between when school ends and dinner is served. I questioned how the students could separate themselves from work when they're stuck in the place they do it. I recall the comfort of coming home from school eating a bowl of cereal on the sofa with a cup of tea unwinding from the day-where is that escape here?! It is so regimented and even though Sister Cecelia and Father Moses are friendly and warm people, you can tell they hold this sort of silent authority that's rarely, if ever challenged. Yet the students do seem happy. They are always singing! When your falling asleep at night and the students are walking to their rooms they sing hymns-then as your waking in the morning you wake to the sound of hymns again-harmonies and everything! They sing as they sew, crochette hats outside of class time (Bernice made me a yellow hat, I'll show you when I get back!)-and they seem generally pretty jolly to be honest!
Yet surely they must feel frustrated at times with how disciplined and held back they are?! Or maybe I'm just comparing it to my educational background and culture and perhaps you just accept what you know? But it is a good experience to be here and sample what it's like!
I've taught a couple of English lessons (chalk and blackboard style-quite scary and how much does your arm ache writing things on the board for an hour and a half!?); I've been learning how to sew and attempting to learn how to crochet; and I've sat in lessons too-those lessons are funny! Father Moses gets the students to run around the classroom twice if they don't get an answer to "wake them up" and it's proper "jug and mug" method of teaching-pouring knowledge into the students with the only time they speak is when they are asked and they stand to answer. You can tell the students are almost sometimes scared to speak, unless they get it wrong and will have to run around the classroom! It was funny when he came into my class and saw all the students in groups with matching exercises and mini whiteboards-but I know from my experience I find it hard to learn by just copying things off the blackboard. Oh, and Sarah and Mike have been teaching me basic arithmetic-after being sat in a Maths class it hit home that I need to get my maths sorted-so they've been setting me little tasks each day and, mum-I'm getting there! So, going back to school does have benefits!
Anyway, we leave the school on Saturday to go to Cape Coast for the weekend and then go back to Gbeldi Gbogame to work in the school and build a poultry farm for 2 weeks and then we leave! So, I'll have to squeeze my last 5 times up the mountain in there too! Totally mixed feelings about only having 3 weeks left. One part of me-quite a big part of me at the moment-is really starting to feel ready to come home. Partly because I feel a bit run-down (these early starts and cold showers!!), have weird infected bites and am just starting to generally miss the comfort and familiarity of home. I keep visualizing getting to Grandma Pat and Grandad Jims where I'll stay before getting the train up to Manchester-big hugs and hot showers. Then I visualize meeting dad at the bus stop in Manchester and getting the ol' faithful Witchway bus back to Nelson whilst I'll probably chew his ear off all the way home. I visualize walking in through the door and into the warmth and comfort of 150 Beaufort Street, hugging everyone stupidly hard, dumping my bag in my room and slumping on the sofa with a beast of a mug of tea. And then I can't wait to be able to speak to the rest of my family and friends without the divide of miles of sea and land! Oh and how can I forget the promises of red wine and cheese-ha! This part of me just wants to get back, take the reins so to speak and start to feel re-rooted back home!
Then the other part of me feels almost panicky that it'll be over so soon. I know it'll fly by as the time is broken up by the Cape Coast visit, and we'll be busy in the village. It freaks me out a little that this, me writing this now, will be a memory and I'll sometimes get that ache for Ghana-it's warmth and friendliness. I'll miss the group more that I can imagine now-literally as I was writing that Josh came in and gave us a slice of sponge cake he made in the catering department-Mmmm, it's lush! Anyway, I'll miss the newness of everything, the escapism from everyday mundaneness and the overall randomness of this place!
We have all kind of adapted to being here now and it is only in the times of randomness that we think "woah-as if we're here". For instance, a few days ago we saw a massive bush fire. We were walking on the way back from the village to school and saw this glow of orange and loads of smoke in the direction we were walking. When we got to a clearing we saw this massive fire on one side of the road, literally right behind some houses! The flames were massive and it was spreading like…bush fire (ha-no, Hannah)! You could hear and see the flames just ripping through the bush and trees. We felt helpless and clueless and slightly confused as no-one was reacting to it. As we stood there almost frozen staring at the speed it was spreading wondering what to do, people were just walking past saying "evening" as if the road wasn't swamped in smoke! We were worried more about the houses as it was so close, and spreading so fast-especially as we knew Christiana, the dressmaking teacher lived in one of them. And then, to add to the surrealness she literally appeared out of the smoke in the road-we rushed over to her bombarding her with questions-"What's happened?", "How did it start?", "How can we help?", "Where's the fire bricade!?" But she was as blasé as ever and just sort of shrugged it off "It's ok. It was big, but it's fine now" as the fire still ripped away behind us. She ensured us that her house would be fine and said "see you tommoro-I'm going home now" and off she went into the smoke again. So bizarre.
We never did get a full answer, but the fire kept spreading and after a while of being surrounded by such indifference about it we went to sleep with the smell of the smoke in the air and the sound of the flames still crackling away. Since then, I've spoken to a few people about it and it turns out bush fire is very common in the dry season. People sometimes deliberately start them to get rid of the dry grass for when the new grass comes through, or to scare out the bush meat so they can eat it or sell it. No-wonder it's one of the Ghana Wildlife Societies aims to educate people about bush fires-it's so dangerous! And destructive! And yet everyone just accepts it and even kind of sees it as part and parcel of the dry season. And it's moments like that, that remind you that you're here as it something you'd never see back home.
Something else that highlighted the cultural differences here was a bit of a communication breakdown I had with some locals, back in Gbogame. I met them when I stumbled across them playing Ludo and they invited me to join. I remember the game from when I was younger, and remember enjoying it so I jumped at the chance-yet this was the craziest game of Ludo ever! They kept changing the rules constantly so it became potentially never ending. It thankfully ended one guy got bored/upset that he felt he was loosing and just swept everything off the board with a blasé sweep of his hand-I say "blasé" a lot…people here are often blasé.
Anyway, so when I left they invited me to eat with them the next night-rice and egg, as I'm a vege. So the next night, I turned up at the planned time and they were sat out on the road watching the world go back and there was no food in sight. I didn't want to ask or hang around in case I seemed rude, or in case they'd forgotten so I chatted to them for a while and left. The next day the crazy-Ludo-swiping everything off the board-guy stopped me in the village telling me he was really upset that I'd not come back to eat! "You must come and apologise to Franzisca tommorow" which I did. "I made nice food for you and you didn't come back" she said, and she looked genuinely upset, like. "I was so upset. Why did you disappoint me?" I tried to explain, but mainly just appologised-I felt terrible! I wouldn't stand someone up back in the UK never mind in Ghana-where it takes hours to prepare food. I was really quite worked up-I'm a worry wart at the best of times! But Ebenezer, the project leader reassured me. "Ama!" he said "you worry too much!" and then went on to explain that in Ghana people are very straight forward and honest. If they feel upset they will tell you and then they'll be fine with you. 'they'll even say 'how would you like it if I made you pay?' to make their point, but they won't actually expect money from you" he added. It's all very confusing, but I guess that back in the UK if I didn't turn up to dinner to a stranger's house I'd met over a surreal game of Ludo (can you image?), they would probably say-"no worries", "honestly, it's not a problem-the food was eaten anyway" but might still feel silently disappointed.
Anyway, next time I walked past them as they sat there watching the world go by again, I made a point to go over and chat to them-appologise again and that Franziscas' sister then invited me to her house for dinner! "nooo" I thought. "not round two" and tried to politely decline. "You don't like me?" she said "no" I replied, thinking she had said "You don't like meat?" So, after an awkward yet warm conversation I ended up sat at her house talking about farming, families, life in England and cooking over the glow of the pot eating the biggest bowl of rice ever. As I left, she asked for my name and I smiled at the fact she'd just fed someone whose name she didn't know. So, yeah it's events like the bushfire and the ludo-egg and rice situations that kind of remind me I'm in Ghana, as they reflect the relaxed, honest yet welcoming nature of Ghanaians.
Well, I'm pretty aware of the fact I have actually written a dissertation here so I'm just going to throw down some random things that I and a few friends of mine would call "bubble moments" before I get back to actually experiencing the trip rather than banging on about it: Heart to hearts on the bamboo bench under the tree palm wine bellies; doing the "half-way-there" dance up the mountain and then realizing NDC had won the elections simply by hearing the cheers all the way from the top; our strange encounters at the bar/hut; riding on the back of Hanson's truck with the wind and dust in out hair and faces; conversations with the always entertaining Lois AKA the "palm wine chief" about "jiggerment"; calls home which always leave me feeling comfortingly connected yet encouraged to make the most of the little time I have left; Chris AKA Junior Jesus AKA J.J. bringing us girls breakfast in bed wrapped in his bed sheet, Jesus Style; my series of piano playing missions constantly failing; goats on roofs of trotros; trotros in general; snakes in bushes; lizards on bedroom walls and the rat in our toilet that the boys mistook for a "floater". Good Times!