Hi loyal followers!
We have just arrived to JFK and are about to make our way back to Franklin and Marshall College for an early start at classes tomorrow!
Here we are about to go through customs. We’ll post a blog tomorrow about our final trip thoughts and our plan to stay engaged throughout the semester so stay posted!
Your favorite obrunies,
The 2013 Ghana Crew
The end of our journey is here, dear readers, and from the bottom of our hearts we thank you for following The Heritage Blog so closely and for being such a big part of this experience.
You have all been in our hearts and in our minds every step of the way: from boarding the airplane at JFK to our final adventure back to Accra. We would not be here if it wasn’t for your love and support.
We have had many adventures that descriptions alone can’t accurately paint the full picture, so dear readers, join me as we delve in the realm of abstraction.
Our first night here at Jimmy com. we experienced a bit of culture shock when we noticed a live chicken tied up and stuck into a black plastic bag, with its feat and head out of it. This lead me to write:
Black Bag Chicken
Black garbage bag chicken
squawks and stops,
struggling to breathe
the soupy air. The crickets
keep it company.
A desperate push deeper
into the brush—an anguished
cry. The pink sky, sympathetic
to the sound of a baby’s cry
in the distance. Flutter and silence.
Does it know?
Can it comprehend the inevitable?
Feet tired, slowly suffocating.
The breeze breathes life
into the quiet night.
flutter and silence.
A lonely cricket shatters
the emptiness. The sky darkens
and the leaves rustle.
When we ventured to the North, and visited the Kintampo waterfalls, I could only describe it as:
Cascading quicksilver covers all
washes clean the ages of time
sand slipping through loose fingers
tears of faith
calling from below
waiting for the sea of change
smiling through it all
still leaves sink to the bottom
but trust hangs in the branches
the roots dig deeper
the camera catches what ceases to exist
and the changing tides disappear
and are never the same
And again as:
The screaming water and rippling voices
fall from the sun into darkness
bare feet brave the white waters
swim in natures chalice
diamond smiles and emerald
gasoline cans—spangled rocks of prayer
the divinity of nature
The haunting drive up to Elmina Castle:
Diamonds on the sky blue water
no line on the horizon where the heavens meet the sea
drifting on a memory of silent
waves splashing into far away lands.
Palm trees explode into the sky
fire green arms explaining divinity
for nobody who cares to listen. The Castle
on the hill sold Gods like dogs to men
who didn’t care to know the difference.
On the serene Coconut Grove beach:
Waves lick the sand
crashing down upon
the crushing vastness
foaming at the mouth
wild and untame
erasing the past
cutting into the future
each crest and fall
what is is no more
what will be
slowly revealing itself
how far is the horizon?
how many licks does it take
to break the stoic rocks
until they are nothing more than
grains of sand?
a child’s castle
imagine the vast kingdom
what power does a king have
compared to time
always ticking always licking
the unforeseen inevitable
a king with a cracked crown
from years of artificial power
diving right; God’s will
how could you be so wrong?
if you looked into the face
of God would you know?
time’s insatiable ticking
into the abyss beyond the breakers
what will remain except the crashing durge
the funeral procession of the waves crashing
time and time again.
On a Kakum bridge:
Inverted energies and
of falling up into the blue sky
The eagles mundane picture frame
looking through the infant eyes
of a sun bear
With feet on solid ground
the sublimity of divinity is realized
the echoes of crackling leaves under feet
crickets calling to nobody in particular
just making the music of Kakum.
On my final morning walk this morning; I met a man named Earnest:
Final hours lost in fog
an Earnest smile from
a stranger and a friend
the fog lifts and leaves love
the ties that binds are stronger
than our differences
the unity man lost behind closed
minds and tangled up
in razor wire
I hope this helped you, dear readers, to understand some of the incomprehensible aspects of the journey.
Peace and Love,
Having completed our teaching at Heritage, we had one last, full day to ourselves before flying home. Early this morning, Sydney and Jake accompanied Oduro to a gym in Ajumako, a fifteen minute walk from the guest house. And by “gym” we mean a wooden bench press with a mattress for a cushion and four cement weights in the corner of some abnormally jacked guy’s house.
We left around mid-morning with our young friend Kobe, a student at Heritage and a helper at the guest house, on an excursion to Kakum National Park, where we walked across rope bridges through the rainforest canopy. In the parking lot, we were surprised to meet a group of students from Elizabethtown College, which is no more than thirty minutes from F&M. It really is a small world! It was a brief hike up to the entrance for the rope bridges, which hang forty meters above the rainforest floor, providing wide vistas of the surrounding area. Although our reactions to the swinging, creaking rope bridges ranged from terror to amazement (all the while, planning elaborate escapes in the backs of our minds if the bridges gave out), we all survived and enjoyed this amazing adventure. Except Lilah, who tragically fell to her death attempting to do yoga on the bridge. Just kidding (but not about the yoga part)! As Anita put it, “I wasn’t sure whether the bridges were creaking because they were supposed to, or because it’s Ghana.”
Everyone agreed that today was a lot of fun, but one common low in our daily reflection was that the van ride to and from Kakum was hot, sweaty, and cramped. But, it was totally worth it. It was late afternoon when we returned to the guest house, and everyone reluctantly began to pack for the trip home (another low). Our cook, Theresah, prepared our favorite Ghanaian meal for our final dinner at the house: red red (a thick bean stew with plantains), rice, pineapple, and popcorn. With perfect timing, Mike finally finished the bottle of Tabasco he’d been using the entire trip. We already miss the wonderful pineapple!
Although we’re all excited for American food and to see friends and family, we are also sad to leave the country and school we’re just beginning to know. Both Ghana and Heritage Academy will stay with us forever. We hope we’ve been able to have a small impact on the students at Heritage and on the readers of our blog, and that the group of students who come next year enjoy their experience as much as we have. To anyone reading this blog and considering this trip (or a similar one), we’d encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and lend a helping hand, knowing it’s a unique experience you’ll never forget.
Stay tuned for one final, special blog entry from us tomorrow morning…
Sydney, Mike and Teresa
Have you ever thought about that teacher who changed your outlook on life and made you want to be a better student and person?
Last night, some of us gathered in the living room to speak with Oduro, Kwesi’s brother who is also a science and math teacher at Heritage Academy, to talk about the passion behind teaching. He commented on how teaching is hard work, but it is rewarding in that it will give you a long life full of pride and impact. Oduro remarked that teachers have a strong influence in everyone’s childhood and that no student should be taken for granted. All of the presidents of Ghana have been from villages, he continued, so that means that anyone from Heritage Academy has that potential. If a teacher, such as him or us, can have that impact or even turn that light bulb on for one student, perhaps change their perspective, our job is well done.
This came at a time when even in our eight days of teaching we have been struggling with our purpose as teachers. While it seems that some students really want to learn from us, learn about new cultures and different ways of thinking, some seem to also not want us here. This may seem unique to a Ghanaian classroom at the Heritage Academy, but there are students like this in every classroom all over the United States as well. There are the students that seek knowledge, understand the opportunities that education provides for them, and then there are the students who take it for granted. This has been happening at all levels from kindergarten to high school. In the kindergarten class, which Jake had the opportunity to teach today, the kids were brilliant – they were able to answer math problems that Jake didn’t learn until second or third grade. They could do division, multiplication and square roots, and seemed genuinely excited to get an answer right and would erupt in applause at any correct answer.
In the junior high school, where many of the F&M students have been spending their time, most of the students are hanging off of their seats, begging us to teach in their free periods. Since the Muhlenberg girls left today, there were a few vacancies in the schedule, so Jennie, Mike, and Lilah filled in because the kids came running out demanding us to “teach, madam, teach!” (in Michael’s case, sir, of course). These students not only spend time with us during classes, but also have been doing reading and critical thinking throughout the day. Some even read encyclopedias in their free time. We are so impressed with these students and know that they will rise to pass their national exams and go onto great things – maybe even to become Presidents of Ghana some day.
Yet, we struggle with the 10th and 11th grade classes. Many of these students haven’t grown up with the heritage mindset, built on the seven principles of the school: Knowledge, Integrity, Discipline, Respect, Responsibility, Simplicity, Hard Work. These students are ones that have come from other schools after passing the national exams and have been placed into classrooms with other students who have been at Heritage since day one. This creates a difficult dichotomy for us to deal with. There are many students who are attentive, diligent, and eager to learn, while there are some who would rather look out the window and daydream or talk. We, who walked into the classroom unaware of these struggles, now realize the level of commitment and dedication that the day in and day out teachers employ picking up the chalk every day and teaching on the front lines. All of us have developed a new found respect for teachers, both here in Ghana and back in the States, and we would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every teacher who we have had the privilege to learn from.
Although some of us don’t plan on becoming teachers, we have all appreciated the opportunity to stand in front of the classroom and empathize with the teachers we have given headaches to. For those who plan on pursuing education as a profession, like Alexis, who already has a teaching position in a charter school in Boston lined up for when she graduates, we are grateful that they have the commitment and drive to give the opportunity of education to all youth. Despite what we do with our future, our time here has allowed us to stretch our education experiences from behind the desk to in front of it, which will be a rewarding life experience.
So we encourage all of you, dear readers, to reflect upon your own educations and thank all of the teachers who have helped turn you into the beautiful people that you are today.
Peace and Love (especially for all you teachers!),
Lilah and Jake
For those who do not know us, we are the Muhlenberg Gals: Ali, Caroline, Bobbie and Jordan. Today was our last full day in Ghana; we have spent the past two weeks here in Ghana experiencing the thrill of exploring a different country, but today was by far our hardest day emotionally. We all struggled with leaving the classes we have so passionately taught, and leaving a country that we have all grown to love. Its hard to imagine that tomorrow at this time, we will be sitting in the Accra airport waiting to board our flight to Amsterdam and then on to the glorious city of Newark, NJ.
The walk to school this morning consisted of us discussing our cravings for various western foods such as Chipotle, Panera Bread, and real pizza (not the ketchup and goat cheese concoction that Ali and Bobbie ate on our trip to Kakum). Upon our arrival at Heritage, we were greeted by the adorable lower school kids, who until today, had been on holiday break. By now, we have all settled into the comfortable routine of reading, teaching, and spending time with the kids at Heritage Academy. As always, are nights were full of highs and lows about our experiences. Some of our highs from today included teaching classes that grasped the material more than we had anticipated, jumping into an impromptu Spanish class during an open period, seeing strong improvements in the reading of our students (even after only a week), having meaningful conversations with the High School students, and ground nut soup and rice balls we enjoyed for dinner. Yet, with highs, also come the lows. The Muhlenberg bunch was upset that this would be our last day at the school, and some of the Franklin & Marshall students spoke about misbehaving classes, and leaving special hot sauce at school (but since learning that said hot sauce is safe and sound – Anita is now extremely relieved).
Tonight before reflection, some of us were joking about how we should road trip it to Nigeria or Ivory Coast, and how that people often lump Ghana in with other African countries that suffer from political instability and ethnic conflict. When people picture Africa, they think of the images out of the Congo, Mali, Libya, or Somalia that are plastered across the front page of the New York Times. The Africa that we have been experiencing is so much different than mainstream media would like those at home to believe. There is no denying that Ghana is a poor country in terms of monetary and material assets, but it is incredibly rich in terms of the kindness and spirit of the people. Having the incredible experience of going into a school and the communities surrounding it, and meeting the kids and adults who live and learn there has proved that the future of this country, and the countries surrounding it, is incredibly bright. We were lucky to experience that first hand and will treasure these moments for the rest of our lives.
With love from Ajumako,
Caroline, Ali, Jordan and Bobbie
a.k.a. the obrunis from Muhlenberg College
Today we continued teaching, measuring height and weight, and distributing shoes. We experienced a wide range of highs today, including more pen pal requests, some great questions during lessons, and steady progress during reading periods. Jennie had a great time teaching 9th grade anatomy, and Jake and Teresa were impressed by a creative writing story including a full plot and moral. Anne had success introducing a new game into her French class, and Mike saw some great questions during lecture in both of his classes. We also had the opportunity to match some kids with shoes that fit well, and it was great to see how happy it made them.
Unfortunately, we were not able to give every student who got measured a pair of shoes that fit. We brought a lot of donated shoes, but the sizes were not distributed according to the needs of the kids at Heritage. We ended up with a lot of very small women’s sizes and a lot of very large men’s sizes, but most of the students needed something in the middle. It was hard to give kids the option of taking a pair that looked like boats on their feet or waiting until February, when a new group will come with more donations. Some kids very visibly sad, some were visibly frustrated, and it was difficult for us to feel so powerless. A few students kept looking at us expectantly as if we could pull out a perfect size from behind our box, but there really wasn’t anything we could do. That experience was a low for most of us today.
During our nightly reflection sessions, Lilah asked us why we were here. We shared tons of different ideas. We definitely had a few selfish reasons, primary among them wanting to take advantage of the chance to see a new country and get a taste of a new culture. Several of us also jumped at the chance to teach. Alexis and Jake both see themselves as future teachers, while Greg and Sydney wanted to challenge themselves by attempting to lead a classroom. A lot of us also wanted to spend our winter breaks doing something worthwhile, and teaching things we’re passionate about seemed like a great way to do this.
A couple of us did question how much of an impact we have had here. We know that we will all leave with a lot of wonderful personal experiences that will stay with us for a long time, but a few of us did wonder how beneficial this trip has been for our students. We have all noticed how difficult it is to teach, and with minimal practice in classrooms, we know that we are still learning ourselves.
Being from Ghana, Anita has a more unique view of our experience so far at Heritage. Anita had never heard of Heritage before coming to F&M, so she was interested to see what the school was like. She, along with some of the rest of us, was wondering how much impact we could really have in 8 days, considering most of the things we are teaching don’t come up on the national exams that the students are preparing for. She has been surprised by the contrast between the schools she went to in Accra, the country’s capital, and Heritage, a rural school. With such a divide so clear, it has become even more apparent how important education is for all students because it is the best way to close this gap in the future.
To lighten the mood a little bit, a fun moment for everyone today was watching some of the younger boys do headstands in the middle of the grass at the end of our reading period. The boys were able to hold headstands far longer than Lilah, our resident yogi. We wished the girls could have participated too, but their skirts made it difficult to try the pose decently. They were still excited to help count the seconds out loud for their classmates, especially because one boy reached 100 seconds. Everyone walked away laughing and smiling.
We will all continue to think about why we are here, and we hope to keep this dialogue open.
Kate, Anita, and Alexis
As our second and final week of teaching at Heritage began, we realized that Ghanaian students are not immune to “the Mondays.” Despite some understandable lassitude following the weekend, many of the students quickly regained their enthusiasm for another week of classes. Many of our “highs” in our daily reflection session centered on stories about our reading periods with some of the younger students. We all have two or three reading periods a day, during which we sit with small groups of students and read books from the library, working on pronunciation, vocabulary, and comprehension. Today we brought our first batch of new, donated books to our reading periods, which the kids were really excited about, because they’ve practically memorized the stories in their other books.
Many of our students, both from classes and from reading periods, have been asking for our addresses to become penpals. Today alone, five of us received such requests, which we happily obliged. We look forward to keeping in touch with these students when we return to the US.
This afternoon, spearheaded by Kate, half of us handed out surveys designed to gauge students’ opinions of the school environment, which will be compared against identical surveys completed by students back home in local Lancaster County schools. We surveyed the 10th and 11th graders, and succeeded in collecting 74 finished surveys. As a small prize for helping us out, we also handed out pencils, erasers, and highlighters, but pens were by far the most popular item. A comparison of the surveys completed in Ghana and the US will hopefully shed light on rates of bullying, students’ outlook on their schools, and performance by grade in these two countries.
The other half of us assembled in Heritage’s clinic to start the week-long process of measuring each student’s height, weight, and shoe size. As we went, we compiled the students’ information on index cards, which will be alphabetized and filed to track their growth over time. Today we measured the height and weight of all the eighth graders, which we’ll plot on growth charts to make sure everyone is getting sufficient nutrients. We also had plenty of shoes to distribute to the eighth graders, although our shoe sizer disappeared, making the process considerably slower! So we ended up more or less guessing their shoe sizes as we went, giving each student a larger or smaller size as needed. After plenty of trial and error, each eighth grade student walked away with a new pair of shoes. During the sizing, Jennie spoke with one student waiting in line whose bus was about to leave. Despite Jennie’s assurance that she could get shoes tomorrow, this girl chose to miss her short bus ride and walk 45 minutes home instead, with a new pair in hand.
Tonight marks the halfway point in our eight days of teaching at Heritage, and it’s saddening to think that in only a week we’ll be back in Lancaster, missing our Heritage friends. We’ve already met so many people and visited plenty of fascinating places in Ghana, and we’re excited to finish strong this last week.
– Teresa, Mike, and Sydney
After three surprisingly exhausting days of teaching, everybody was looking forward to a day of relaxing on the beach. In the morning, we piled into our tro-tro and headed back to Cape Coast. Our first stop was Cape Coast castle, which was constructed by Europeans around the same time as Elmina castle for similar purposes. We hit the gift shops, where Sydney and Jake bought drums and many of us purchased various gifts for our friends and family back home (get excited!). Afterwards, we headed to Coconut Grove Beach Resort for our ultimate destination, the beach!
The resort was beautiful, situated just beyond Cape Coast. Complete with an eighteen-hole golf course, ponies, and flushing toilets, we were all struck by its extravagance. We all immediately jumped in the ocean, surprised by how warm the water was, a balmy 80 degrees, about four times warmer than it currently is in the U.S. Northeast.
After enjoying the water, we settled down for lunch under a palapa. Mike put hot sauce on the resort food, which the rest of us found delightful. Greg thought that his pan-seared Sole was so good that he ate his portion…as well as Kate’s. We waited a respectable half hour before joining our resident Yogi, Lilah, on the beach for a quick session of beach yoga. We reapplied our sunscreen (no skin cancer here) and went back in the ocean to frolic in the waves. Jake fulfilled his life-long dream of getting a Ghanaian coconut out of a tree with Sydney’s help.
Elsewhere on the beach, Oduro (Kwesi’s 29 year-old brother), sat and rolled around in the surf like a toddler and enjoyed every minute of it. We watched him run around on the sand playing soccer and giggling in amusement. Everyone then joined in for a game of beach soccer. Shortly afterwards, we got our belongings together and left. Before leaving the grounds of the resort, Oduro had already fallen asleep, exhausted from his long day of play.
On our drive home, we were especially struck by the contrast between the resort and the outskirts of Cape Coast. The differences between the tourist filled resort and the unpaved roads surrounding it, filled with barefoot children, trash, and the smell of fish, was striking. This reminded us of our purpose in Ghana, reinforced by Kate’s enthusiasm to return to the classroom tomorrow, which she mentioned in our nightly reflections.
As we write this, the rest of the group is sorting through piles of donated shoes to give to the kids tomorrow as we take their height, weight, and shoe size as part of our after school project, accompanied by the background noise of Sydney and Jake enjoying their new drums. We’re all excited to return to Heritage tomorrow with renewed energy and excitement.
Love, Greg, Jennie, and Anne