Thursday, January 26, 2012

GRE Victory!

My darling mother,

Hi! How are you? Please don't be too sad about the state of my school. I'll try to send a photo from this week. Oh, wait. I can't from this computer. Well, sometime sooner or later. I'll send a nice photo and you will see my beautiful kids and your soul will be placated. 

Also, wahoo! I got dad's call. Tell him "Thanks!" I love hearing his voice. What # did I get on the essay? Like is 96th percentile a 6 or 5? Thank you for being proud of me.

Poor cats. When they sneeze, aww, it's so pathetic and adorable. That said, don't let them infect my princess, please. She's so dainty. I love that you set up the humidifier for the cats.

I would love you to come whenever. Can you take a day off class at all? It's a solid 17 hours of travel so it'd be best for longer. Maybe also check the flight prices. So, yes, I would definitely love you to come (I could get a week off teaching), but I want to be sure that you really want to and think it's a good idea as well. That said, I legitimately worry that I may be bald before you come. My ponytail is paaaathetic.

I've kept notes on what I want to email you.

1. Biology-related: Some of my students have sores around the sides of their eyes and mouth, is this AIDS? Second, when I sweat now, I smell straight-up African, is this due to my African diet or, as I recently learned that sweat is caused by bacteria, is the change in sweat-smell due to the fact that my normal American bacteria have been replaced by African armpit bacteria? Also, I've vomited my second time since arrival. This time, like the last, it was a short period of feeling ill, an easy vomit, then feeling quite fine upon completion - does this mean food poisoning? Does this mean it's not a big deal? Finally, as I've mentioned the water only runs from about 1-3pm every couple days. This is not a huge deal except that it means I can't flush most of the time and, unlike toilets in the states, putting a bucket of water in the bowl does not induce a flush. This is all to tell you that I wish I could poop only when I really wanted to.

In vaguely related news, guess who gets coffee now??????????????????????


My students, as always, are wonderful (and irritating and bright and dull and interesting, etc). My fifth graders did their first speeches this week. They had to write a script as a character (tree, rock, corn, rich man, frog, etc.) and perform it. 47 of them! I had Godwin and Dima (she is the only white person for ages, like me. On that note, guess what? My dream last night only had black people in it, interesting, huh?) come to judge and the 3 best got chocolate bars. They were so excited. That said, both my grade 5 and 4 students read at about a 2nd grade level (picture books, essentially). It's a bit hard (emotionally).

Though, worse, I was watching one of my students write in his journal and he wasn't writing anything. I suggested he write his age, "I am 11 years old." He didn't know how. At all. I started to spell it for him and when I said, "I" he wrote "r." Poor love. How hard to be put in grade 4 and not even know your alphabet. I want him to come get help from me, but he's the cool kid bully, so, we'll see. Poor love though. On that note, I've gotten new students. My 4th graders range in age from 7-18 and my 5th graders from 8-18. Whew! Fourth graders worked on poetry this week and dominated at syllables. Also, Elom (the handsome Togolese french teacher who, per one of my students, "enjoys the cane" so any handsomeness is squashed) did SO well in English class. I'm going to his village Saturday and he's buying me coconuts. Sunday Dima and I will go to Accra to visit the national museum (hopefully)!

Other than that, the African Cup of Nations is on and Ghana, apparently, has a good chance of winning. I've been watching and feigning interest in my attempt to be accepted. :) Truthfully though, I anticipate there will be a kickin' party if they win, so I legitimately hope they do.

On that note, there will be a funeral in town tomorrow. I hear funerals are also kickin' parties, so I'm excited (strange to say, huh?).

Also, Ghana is EXPENSIVE. I paid about $25 for contact lens solution. Holy cow, mom. Ho. Le. Cow.

Did I tell you about the food here? It's pretty...boring, in fact. While the ingredients are all nice, everything has the SAME exact sauce which makes every item taste just the same, which gets a bit dull.

Also, there are goats everywhere. That no one/everyone owns and wander the village paths. It's interesting. Also, people litter everywhere and burn to get rid of it. Also, no one uses toilets, really. They just go "in the bush" if you will.

Anyhow, time is up. I love you lots.

Also, I’m still very excited at the prospect of teacher-ship. :)

Friday, January 20, 2012


I have class Monday - Friday from about 7am until 12 or 1. It changes
based upon the day, but, on average. The weekends I have to myself.
This weekend, one of my students is taking me to see some fishing lake
nearby on Saturday and Sunday another boy in town is taking me on a
grand tour of the village (I anticipate this shall not take long).
Other than that, I'll be doing a TON of lesson prep and reading. I'm
reading A Short Guide to Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. I'm really
liking it. You know, all that studying for the GRE has made me so
information-hungry I'm about to explode. The book is stuff. It's thick.

Probably like 50-100 people live in my village. But about 100 kids
live at the boarding house at the school, does that count? It's tiny.

There are no businesses, no restaurants, no markets here. The nearest
market is in Kasseh Ada. HEY, that's a town on some maps! You can find
that one (if you're curious). The market there is on Tuesdays and
Fridays. On those days our student number drops a lot because the kids
ditch to go sell or buy things. It's more a problem in the senior
high, but my little kids have to go too sometimes.

I would love a letter from Maya. Also, I've already started thinking
about things I'd like in a care package, but, I'm still so new here, I
figure I should wait until I'm really desperate (note: I shall be
requesting jawbreakers, I've never had such a craving in my life).

Perhaps we should go wig shopping even if my hair comes back (still
falling out, I shan't have much to donate, I fear). We can get afros.
Eh? Did you not hear my voicemail or did nothing come at all?

Some things about Ghana that I did not know:
1. There is a totally cool handshake that I am not good at. Next time
you shake someone's hand, as you're pulling away, take your middle
finger and thumb and follow their middle finger to let go with a snap.
That's it. It's very hip. I am still not hip, but I try!
2. The season now is Harumbah (that is NOT
it at all, but I am blanking). It is kind of a winter (I'm still
sweating constantly), but moreso the sky is constantly hazy so the sun
is never beating down.
3. Like I said, very little English here. And, very poor English by
the teachers at the school. Oof!

I taught my first week, success! My first day was the 4th graders, who
range in age from 7-15. The night before the first day I was up with
fever and shivers so I was not awesome (my 5th graders range in age
from 10-18), but it was okay. I puked later and felt much better. With
both classes I'm having them do journals which I read after they write
and write notes back to them. They're fascinating kids. Some talked
about wanting to be nuns, some talked about how much they disliked
caning, some spoke about their polygamous and, well, one little girl
wrote "when I grow older, my husband will not have three wives. he
will only have me and he will be happy."

The culture of polygamy here is interesting. Some are very pro, some
against. Even though everyone is Christian, they're all over the

Oh! I should back-track. I went with Dima (she's the other volunteer
here, she's from Lebanon and nice and will leave in February) on
Sunday to Accra to buy notebooks for the journals. The market there is
huge and hot and not touristy. Ghana overall is NOT touristy at all.
So, what was perhaps most exciting about the journals to the kids is
the notebooks. They went nuts. Mind you I got 200 notebooks for $60 so
I wasn't that spendy, but apparently they are very cool.

The poetry unit with the 4th graders is going alright. I had them
write a letter poem and read some poems. Next week, haikus and love
poems. The drama is going well with the 5th graders. I'm having them
perform and write a script as some item, like corn, a stone, the sun,
a rich person, a cow, etc. Some of the things they're written are
absolutely brilliant. They'll be performing on Wednesday.

I am also teaching the senior high French teacher English. He's from
Togo and, mom, he's terribly handsome. Whew! So, 3x a week we're
meeting and I'm working with him as well. That said, I am feeling far
less bored.

Today was a tough day. As I was teaching the 4th graders, from the
classroom next to me I heard a student being caned. To hear the sound
of the stick whipping down on his little 3rd grade self and to hear
the shouting from the adult male teacher and the sobs and hysteria
from him was too much for me. Needless to say, perhaps, I started
crying and had to leave the room. How is it okay for an adult male to
abuse a child like that? How can you do that and feel okay? What was
the grand offense - not paying attention in class, not finishing your
homework, not getting an answer right? How can a society see that and
think it's alright? How can you stand by and watch?

I've decided to abandon my original goal to Get the Kids Really Good
at English and will take up a new one - Love Them Like Crazy, Just the
Way They Are. Not to suggest, necessarily, that they're unloved, but,
I think it takes a LOT of love to make up for so much hurt. Ugh.
Crying again.

I'm also teaching Lemuel English. He's the one whose classes I'm
teaching. He sits in on mine. He wants to talk on Monday and I'm
pretty sure I'm about to hear a lecture about how the kids are crazy
in my class and they need punishment. What he will hear, of course, is
a litany of counter-reasons from me.

I can't stop the school from doing it, but I sure as hell will not let
anyone lay a finger on the kids while they're mine.

I know I said hell, but I'm standing by it.

My room is simple. I'll send a photo.

I love you.

Are you going to come?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

I'm wearing long pants and a long shirt, but sweating. A lot.

Hi Mom,

I love you still and miss you too. It's such an adventure here. I'm
proud of you for making a Power Point for your students, you are very
hip. :) Book the ticket to Austria! Anytime after I'm back. I am so
eager for you and dad (though more eager for him, as you might guess)
to go visit.

There is a cat in the house here. His name is Chirpy. He's very
skinny, but well treated. He's got a hugely annoying meow.

So, I'm thinking I should start at the start in telling you about
things here, huh? So, my school is in a small (very dirt road, very no
stores, very full of nothing) village. The classes run from preschool
to senior high. The school was started by Godwin (whose computer I am
using and lives in the same house as me) when he came to visit this
village 10 years ago because his grandmother lives/ed here and, one
time, while visiting, he saw loads of little kiddos playing outside
during a time they ought to have been in school. He asked them why
they weren't in school and learned that a. school wasn't pushed in
this little village and b. there were no schools around. So, he quit
his job and started teaching a little class, then, needless to say, it
GREW and GREW. In the school now there are about 40 kids per grade in
gradeschool, 80 per grade in junior high, and 240 per grade in senior
high (HOLY COW). The classrooms are packed because they want to let as
many kids as possible attend, but, building-wise there's just no room
so they turn lots of students away. There are over 1000 kids in our
district alone that aren't going to school solely for the reason that
there is no school to go to and, for the record, my district is a
small, homely district. The kids are really great. When I was
volunteering in Guatemala, the volunteers there always commented on
how "well behaved the kids are" and, to be honest, I found them
lovely, but, normal impish characters. The kids here though are REALLY
well behaved. Perhaps due to the use of caning (I assume you know that
I've banned it from my classes and I'll assume you know that the
Africans are opposed to my ban) or perhaps due to the culture.

My classroom is in shambles. I'll see if I can attach a photo. But,
really, shambles. There are some actual decent cement buildings
started, but there is no money to finish them, so we stay. The roof is
tin and blows off during class. The rooms are all in a row with a
non-complete plywood board between the grades making it very, very
loud. The walls are half gone and the kids are squiiiished. The senior
high is in a nice (albeit hugely cramped as well) building, but we've
not gotten anything like that yet. Mom, I may be asking you to donate
at some point, just so you know.

I'll be teaching grades 4, 5, and 6 English. There is a teacher for
the classes, Lemuel, and he's a local high school grad, but he needs
some help. He's a sweet, very deferential character who cleans my seat
before I plop my butt down anywhere. His English isn't great and his
teaching is...not great either. He leaves class randomly every time,
he stops class to talk to one student about unrelated things, he asks
the students to leave class to clean up litter during class time, and
he only teaches very dull grammar. So, I'll be teaching grade 4 with
him watching and grade 5 alone. During the time I am teaching grade 5,
he'll be working on English homework that I've assigned him. (On that
note, I told him my plans and said that I'd be having him read a big
book. He asked how big and I made a gesture to indicate about an inch.
He said, "ohhhhh" in a slightly concerned way. Minutes later, on our
walk, he sheepishly asked me, "Madam Nix, does the book have pictures
in it?" I laughed and said, "Goodness, of course not!" and then he
told me that he's never read a book without pictures before. Whew! I
have him reading The Wind in the Willows and 1984 is next.) Then grade
6 he'll be the lead teacher with me checking his lesson plans before.
He is a nice guy and genuinely wants to be better, so I think it'll be

That said, I start tomorrow, so we'll see. Eep. I'm nervous, of
course, and planning the best I can (Godwin referred to me as
"bookish" today and I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that.) and
have the full assumption that all my fabulous plans with be tossed
aside when I get right into it.

This week I am planning on a poetry unit for my 4th graders and the
start of a 3-4 week long drama unit for my 5th graders. That said,
I've not a clue how to teach drama. This is why I'm on the internet.
Googling - "How to teach drama to 5th graders" :)

I'm going to learn so much. I've no doubt that this will make me a
much better teacher and, also good news, I'm still loving it.

ALSO, my hair is falling out. I assume it's from the malaria medicine.
The confirm, it will grow back when I return, right? Also to confirm,
you'd love me just-the-same if I were bald, correct?

I'm eating loads of food. It's nice, but kind of all exactly the same.
I am already eager to go back to vegetarianism.

I'll tell you about Ghana next email, okay?

Please give Maya a good belly rub and dad as well if you're feeling romantic.

OH, also, I left a VM (I accidentally wrote BM there, thank GOD I
noticed it) for you. I have a hip, new cell phone. You can call me
anytime (after school hours please). The number is: 0249785798. I
don't know the country code though. It costs me nothing for you to
call me.  :)

This is a rambly mess.

Veritable novel.

Is there snow on the ground?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Still Here! Still Well!


Repeat of same message, with the I Am Not Sure About The Internet
Situation as well. But, briefly, it's great. I will be teaching
English to grades 4, 5, and 6. Though English is the official language
here, the kids don't know it. They speak their native language only
(remember how I thought I would practice Spanish here? Ha! I shall be
learning Dangme instead) and so it is ESL. The classrooms are very small
and each have 40 students. The rooms are...well, like you'd imagine in rural
Africa, broken down, dingy, and all cramped together making it
impossible to hear. That said, the kids are really well behaved and
quite bright.

Godwin is excited for you to come. Please do!

However, no coffee and no vegetarianism. Be aware.

The electricity is constant, but water only comes every few days (when
we quickly run to fill our shower buckets). I've been reading a lot
and, to be honest, have been pretty bored as I don't yet know how to
amuse myself or what I should be doing, but I am learning more every

Love you!

Also, I'm anticipating that internet use shall continue to be a thing
I get to do only weekly or a couple times a week. I plan to get a
phone within the next few weeks so you can call if you're itching to
chat and have a budget for it.

How are you?

Here! Well!

January 9th, 2012

Not entirely sure about my internet-ing. Mom, it's WONDERFUL here. I
am so excited to be here and learn.

Will email more when I figure things out.

Love you!