June 10, 2009. July 6, 2009. While these dates may mean little to most, they have great significance to a small group of Peace Corps volunteers (PCV’s) here in Ghana. June 10th marked 1 year in country and July 6 signified that we had completed 50% of our service commitment. So I thought we should take time for some reflection. Like how have we changed? What have we accomplished? What have we learned? And maybe most significantly how has our view of the world changed?
Chris and I will attempt to answer these questions in a series of blog entries by sharing some of our reflections of the first year. Here is the first one:
When I first arrived here I have to admit (at great risk of sounding like a very un-P.C. PCV) that everyone kind of looked the same.
Now before you judge me too harshly, let me add a few things to my defense. First, everybody, everyplace, and everything was new. I had a lot of mental sorting to do. Next, is a little obvious; everyone it seems has dark skin, dark hair, and brown eyes. Then add to this my primary project as a school teacher. All Ghanaian schools have a uniform code. Not only are the poorly lit classrooms typically packed with 40-60 students, but all of those students must wear the same dress, same color shoes, and the same cropped hair, the last item being regardless of gender. The girls must also even wear the same type of earrings – no identifying accessories are allowed at all! So while I know how bad it sounds, I have to admit that in the beginning to me they all looked the same.
Since then, of course, my perception of things have changed. I still don’t know half of my students’ names, but I at least I now recognize them for the individuals that they are. (And being teenagers, most of them are becoming very individual).
The first time I had to step into the classroom I was terrified! I’m in a foreign land. I stand out like…well like white on black. I’m a woman thrust into a male-dominated society. I have chosen not to have children of my own and I have never claimed “I want to be a teacher when I grow up”. And now the mission at hand was to deliver a lesson on HIV/AIDS to a room packed with over 60 teenagers that I had barely been introduced to and who think I talk funny. Yikes! What was I thinking when I volunteered to do this?!
Well, my first experience actually went fairly well and now I have survived my first full year as a teacher. I have pretty much gotten over the things that scared me then. There are plenty of other things that scare me now but they’re much different, like NOT being able to spend adequate time with the students in the classroom. I hate to admit it, but I even catch myself feeling a bit bored without the students around and almost miss those annoying pains-in-the-arse while we are on break. There are still a few students around right now though. And it seems that our home has become a magnet for some of them. For a couple without any kids, it sure seems like we have kids around a lot of the time.
The other day, one of Chris and my visitors was Victor. Victor is one of the four STARS students who traveled to Kumasi with us for the conference. He is extremely bright and a natural-born leader. He’s respectful and helpful, and a good-hearted kid. As is typical with visits, we sat on the sofa in our hall (living room) and chatted about several different things that were on our minds. We learned that over the school break, Victor planned to take an extra summer class and also help his mother at the little shop she runs in town.
The other day Victor showed his mother a photo from STARS in which our group of six was posed together. It took her by surprise. The two teachers in the photo were white! Learning that his mother’s shop was located on a main road in town I commented that surely his mother would have seen Chris and me before. We must have passed by dozens of times during our year here. While there may be an occasional short term volunteer at the hospital or orphanage, or even a rare tourist, we are the only obrunis that live in town. “Yes”, Victor politely explained, “this may be true. But to us you all kind of look alike”.