Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Full Circle

There is a Ghanaian proverb I was told yesterday, that every family has a third child, a Mensa. The teachers at Merton where I teach and the kids attend school, see that my shadow boy with the tears is no longer with me and they all ask, “What happened?”, “Where is your other boy?”. Or they see him with me when I pick up the other kids at the end of the day and they ask, “Why isn’t he here anymore?” How to explain: “He couldn’t cope. There were too many kids here and he felt overwhelmed. It was too loud.” I don’t think any of them really understand my attempts to explain, except the vice principal to a certain extent with the proverb he shared. The Mensa can fall into any order within the family unit and this child is always the one who has problems, or causes problems. If I understand his explanation correctly, I believe this child is considered a special child, at least this is how I am going to interpret it, because I know that for all his issues, Riley, our Mensa is a special little boy.

I believe we have nearly come full circle now since my last blog entry and my special boy is finally smiling again. He is back at Scholars International, the school that was always meant to be temporary, but the one which the kids’ are most attracted to. It is small and there is no pressure. Riley will not learn anything here, but he is happy again and that is all I ask for. I spoke with the director of the school, Siham, and she has kindly agreed to let Riley return as a special status student. He is allowed all freedom to come and go from the class and hang out with the 3 older kids at the school. Mainly he is doing art and cursive writing. There is no pressure on him for anything else and it is more like a confidence building child care. He is managing to be there without Lilianna, Josephine and Dezmond thank goodness, which we were not sure he would be able to do. Of course our other 3 kids are jealous of Riley being there, but they have been terrific in their understanding of the difficult situation we were in. Ultimately, they have to trust us too when we say that Merton is a better school for them. They will learn more there in spite of it’s Ghanaian educational imperfections.

Ultimately, it is because of what is lacking in the educational system here in Ghana, that we have decided to come home at the end of Terry’s 6 month contract. The kids are not enjoying school much at all so between now and June 30th, we are all putting our heads down and getting through it. I have to say though that there will be good memories for the kids even from their school days here. Josephine in particular is thriving: she’s doing better in Math then she ever did in Canada, building her confidence with it. She is also our little social butterfly having been to two birthday parties already. The following is a list of other good school memories that will always stay with us:

  • 7:45 AM assembly, singing the Ghana National Anthem, singing the Name Song, the Higher Higher song, the Wandering Song, saying prayers and marching to class.
  • Every Thursday being able to spend .50 pesewa at the school canteen as a special treat.
    Walking to school in the morning with Mom and Dad through the Asylum Down neighborhood, where everyone recognizes us
  • Walking home after school stopping to buy fruit from our fruit lady and popcorn from our popcorn lady on the canal. Also, buying either crepe, popcorn, muffins or peanuts for an after school snack and drinking from cold water sachets
  • Going for a swim at the Alisa pool once or twice a week after school.
  • Having drama class once a week with “Mom”
  • Birthday celebrations in Lilianna’s class in particular, every other day.
  • Big rains during the school day, which are few and far between
  • Hot school uniforms and colorful light PE uniforms

The plan is for all the kids to join Riley at Scholars for 1.5 weeks at the end of June. This is when I hope to be able to finish writing my play finally as my teaching at Merton has taken away any time for writing. Besides the Shakespeare work I am doing with eight level 10 students, I have taken on an ambitious project with over 500 primary students. Each class (2 per grade) is involved in a dramatic presentation of a story called The Talking Eggs, which I have adapted for the school. I have the music teacher putting music to lyrics I have written and the art teacher creating animal masks for the level 3’s. I have no idea whether I can make it work to keep this many kids focused at one time for the presentation, but I am plugging away at it under the assumption it will work and the plan is to present the play in their assembly hall on June 23rd. I call this blog “Full Circle”, but I don’t know if we will actually make it full circle until we get to the end of June and have all survived. Here’s hoping.

The following is a list of more people/places we have come to rely on and appreciate:

  • Emmanuel, the taxi driver we book to take us to Krokrobite beach. His English is limited and we have had the odd communication breakdown, but he always has a little giggle when I speak to him, he is one of the best drivers we have encountered (very important for our car sick kids), and he is a sweet young man who nearly always makes himself available when we need him.
  • Our popcorn lady and fruit lady on the canal.
  • The kids’ surrogate VSO uncles and aunties, Mike, Aidan, Katherine and Emily.
  • Jim and Sessi, the kids’ best buds who live downstairs
  • Madonna, a friend we met through Anna
  • Cynthia, our neighbor who continues to take care of all our sewing and tailoring needs for very little money
  • Rukia who cleans our house and does laundry once a week
  • Rukia’s baby, Rashid who the kids’ play with and “mother” daily
  • Big Milly’s and Krokrobite beach
  • The Alisa hotel pool
  • The soccer pitch and playground at the Swiss German International school
  • The breeze
  • Our balcony

Ghanaian Curves

This newest blog has been a long time coming because we started school and it seems to have thrown us a few curves. The title, Ghanaian Curves though has more then one meaning.

I have discovered that in Ghana, life moves in curves and circles as opposed to straight lines. All of the roads curve here in Accra. The main city road is called the ring road and is a semicircle off of which thousands of smaller roads circle off and around it. To find your way, you must rely on landmarks as the road names carry no weight or meaning for anyone here. I have often gotten lost walking because I think I am on a straight road, but when I come out I seem to be in the opposite direction of where I thought I should be. Rarely does one road lead to the road you think it will lead to. Always the road eventually leads to a familiar sight, a sigh of relief and pride that you have found your way. Along the path, there are times when I feel lost and fearful of whether or not I will find my way. I have learned to trust though that every road eventually gets you where you need to go and will invariably be an interesting journey even if at times very challenging.

Perhaps you see where my metaphor is leading……….
Our issues with school are still not resolved. In particular, Riley simply does not fit into the school system here. The other kids are challenged in their new school, Merton International, but able to cope and even learn. Riley however hit a wall last week; he says the classroom here is like a prison for him. There was nothing I could do for him as he sobbed and sobbed, I had no choice but to bring him home with me and try to decide what to do. The problem is, I am deeply ensconced in my own teaching commitments at Merton now and unable to simply be at home with Riley, plus I believe I would have a mutiny on my hands if he was given the choice not to go to school, while the others each had to continue. Terry and I have weighed all options such as putting the kids back at Scholars (the school where they went temporarily for 2 weeks), however we have spent money on Merton, I have students enjoying my classes and looking forward to their final projects, and Josephine is thriving at this school. We discussed putting only Riley in Scholars, but a big part of his issue is “separation anxiety” and he does not want to be alone at Scholars. In some ways it seems as though Riley has Terry and I wrapped around his finger as we try to do what’s best and make him happy. We worry that we are not being firm enough with him in our decision making. We need to be the parents and make a choice we can stick to in order to give him some security instead of always looking for his input into what is best for him. It is impossible though when you have a boy who is desperately unhappy in school and saying to me, “Mom if you gave me the choice between killing myself and going to school, I would rather kill myself”. This is a difficult statement to brush off. He said it sincerely and I realized that this was not just an issue of bad or spoiled behavior. Riley is miserable in school and becoming miserable in Ghana. I have not been able to get help from his teachers and we need to make some changes as soon as possible.

I was originally going to title this blog entry, “Some Things Are Meant To Be”. After our ordeal trying to find a school, we felt that Merton was finally the perfect fit simply waiting for us: after endless research into many schools here in Accra, we knew the kids would get the best education we could find at Merton and in order to help pay for it, the administration was excited to have me teach Drama at the school. It felt like it was meant to be in every way, especially when I realized that I would be working with grade 10 Literature students on Much Ado About Nothing. Like everything else though in Ghana, this road is curving, taking us in the opposite direction. I feel completely lost……and a little bit afraid for myself and Riley. At this point in time, Terry and I don’t know where this road will lead. I have to trust though that I will find a familiar landmark eventually….. hopefully soon.