The Horse, The Kids, and The Haircut

In this week’s edition of “What am I Learning? Eh, Not Much”, there isn’t anything too ridiculous to report.  I think at one point my Politics of International Economic Relations professor told our class of mainly Ghanaians that Ghana doesn’t have much to be proud of.  So that was charming. Also, his name is Bossman. What’s up with that?! Other than that, the main development that happened was me willingly participating in my History class!! I’m pretty sure I hadn’t raised my hand in class since High School.  Granted, the question was really easy (When did European colonization of Africa escalate?), but I think I deserve some kind of praise for opening my mouth and managing to spew out words coherently.

On Wednesday after class I took a painful fun trip to the post office to pick up a package of clothes my mother sent me 4 weeks ago.  A 30-minute tro-tro ride later, the package was finally in my hands! Wait. No. There’s 90 minutes of exaggerated misery to discuss! After figuring out where my package was within the office’s storage, running around looking for a place to photocopy my license, and having to rip open the box with a small knife so they could see if anything dangerous was concealed in my undies, I was finally allowed to leave! After paying a 15 cedi “service” charge, of course. For that money they could have at least spared me the humiliation of struggling to use any dangerous weaponry and knifed open the box themselves! At that point, I was too flustered and ashamed to argue with a taxi driver for charging 18 cedi to get me back to campus.

In other, more wonderful news, the orphanage this week featured the usual awesomeness I now come to expect.  I only spent 4.5 hours there Tuesday afternoon (the fact that 4.5 hours is my short day is definitely a problem), but that was not even close to the amount of time required to try getting a 4/5 year old to play board games correctly.  After about the 12th time I tried explaining the correct position capital “Ts” are supposed to be in, I decided any future effort would be futile. The heck with it! If they wanna have their Ts upside down, then who am I to stop them? It’s not like I’ve come close to mastering the English language.

No matter how many times I showed them what a “T” is supposed to look like, this is what would happen.

After feigning disinterest in staying to watch a movie with them that night, the worst thing that could happen ever in the world made its sinister appearance: Power Outage. So instead of watching a movie, I had to deal with miserable children afraid of the dark.  Luckily my phone has a flashlight app (thanks, App Store!), so I spent the next hour with about 8 kids piled on me trying to remain in the light. The walk that night in complete darkness to look for a taxi was only slightly more terrifying than it normally is.

On Thursday, things were back to normal in terms of how much time I spend there (over 12 hours).  Last week I mentioned how as an intern I’m supposed to be doing something slightly more substantial than just playing (shucks), so I was asked to work on Beacon House’s blog. I happily agreed and was set to start a post this afternoon (I feel like a traitor since it’s on blogspot), but, naturally, the password I was given to access the site was invalid.  Oh well!

I’m also going to work a lot with one kid and help him with math. Not to brag or anything, but I was basically the math prodigy of elementary school. Nobody could do basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division better and quicker than me! Seriously. I won all the math games played in 3rdgrade. So I figured helping to teach a kid how to subtract 16-9 would be right up my ally! Wrong. So wrong. I had no idea how to explain what to do.

Teaching him might be like pulling teeth sometimes, but he’s a good kid.

He was using his toes and I was trying to get him to just count backwards 9 times from 16 (since you can’t take off your shoes in class forever, as I explained) and things were just deteriorating.  I think the fact that it seems so easy and obvious to me made it harder to explain to him. But thanks to my new-found patience (the lack of attention span can be rough) there was noticeable progress by the afternoon.  Repetition and positive reinforcement are extremely important (at least that’s the conclusion I came to), so once I brought out the stickers, I knew everything would be alright. Who doesn’t love sticker rewards?!

During Thursday’s nap-time, I decided it was time for me to do something I had been dreading since I arrived in Ghana: get a haircut.  Since my hair is basically the one part of my body that I don’t have some unhealthy issue with, I was a bit terrified of what it would look like.  I asked the barber beforehand if he could use scissors instead of the buzzer and to keep it not too short. He smiled, nodded, assured me that he’d do whatever I wanted, and proceeded to pull out the largest buzzer he possessed (he tried using 2 smaller ones but my hair requires, as they say, the big guns) and cut it shorter than it’s ever been.  Since I’m the most dramatic person alive, I actually had to fight back a tear as my hair was being evisceratedcut.

Cut Right? More like Cut Fright

Afterwards the kids expressed dismay over not having as much hair to yank off, but about 20 other people told me that it looks nice.  Leave it to me to assume that they’re just all being kind and secretly think I look worse than I did before. Just as I was starting to accept that maybe it doesn’t look so bad, my aunt tells me on Skype today that it’s the worst haircut she’s ever seen.

On Friday I made the more-difficult-than-necessary decision to only stay at the orphanage for a few hours in the morning so I could go to the beach in the afternoon. The fact that I had to debate whether to spend my Friday with screaming children or lounging by the water is slightly questionable.  But it was a really great decision.  Once you look past the fact that the water is polluted with garbage (“Those aren’t plastic bags! It’s seaweed!”), it’s a really beautiful beach.  Looking back, I can’t believe that I willingly swam in that water, and if this were a beach in America it would probably be condemned, but the weather was perfect, the people were great, the beer was nasty alright, and there were horses to ride!

Me actively exploiting a probably abused horse. Look closely, and you might be able to see some trash in the ocean!

For $2.50 I decided it was too great a deal to pass up.  Afterwards, as I looked into the miserable, bloodshot eyes of the sunburned horse, I hated myself more than ever for exploiting him like that.  Sorry, little guy!

Yesterday all of us attended the Ghana vs. Malawi football game. It was some kind of qualifier for the Africa Cup of Nations. Or something like that. Anyway, it was extremely entertaining, with all the added benefits of being in the “VIP” section. Here is what I and the other “VIPs” got to enjoy during Ghana’s 2-0 victory:

Not sure what the purpose of this was, and not sure how the police didn’t do anything to stop this from happening. Seems a bit hazardous.

Not sure what these people are.

After a long week, it was nice to spend today (Sunday) relaxing and doing some reading for class.  As I write this I’m watching the US Open finals where Serena Williams will (hopefully) defeat Victoria Azarenka, the b&%^* who beat Maria Sharapova in the Semis.  While I know Maria would have had her wig snatched in an even more embarrassing fashion, I’ll just choose to not dwell on that.

And what better way to cap off a wonderful weekend than to have a grilled cheese sandwich!

Possibly the greatest thing to enter my mouth since I’ve been here

Thank you all for reading, and have a wonderful week! Happy birthday mom! ❤

My best friend sent me this video, and I hope you feel the same uncomfortable mix of awe and self-loathing for not despising a song performed by Miley Cyrus.

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Ghanaian Children > Everything Else

Sorry about the delay in updating, but honestly, I didn’t have much to say and I have a feeling nobody wants to read about me having 5 days off from class and doing basically nothing, and then having 2 days of class where virtually nothing happened some more. I’m ready to learn whenever you’re ready to teach, University of Ghana professors. Seriously. In one class the professor didn’t even show up and his Teaching Assistant just read the syllabus to us. In case we couldn’t do that ourselves. Oh, and my laptop broke. Who knew Accra had an Apple Store?!

I was really starting to feel restless, and to be honest, a little miserable. When I didn’t do much for so long my thoughts turned towards home and how much I’d rather be doing nothing there. At least there are pizza and bagels at home!

But then Thursday August 23 happened, and now my life is being taken over by the children of Beacon House orphanage.

Beacon House from the outside. So beautiful.

Those who know me know that I’m not one to speak highly of youth. And truthfully, some kids really are assholesintolerable. But some of my most cherished memories are of me working with kids at summer camp (Coleman Country <3). It’s been almost exactly 5 years since I’ve last worked there (August 22, 2007), and I’m not going to get into the reasons for why I left, just that I couldn’t see myself ever going back without certain people being there too. Also, I spent 10 summers there. I’d say I was justified in wanting a change. And I wouldn’t have been able to do all the amazing things I’ve done these past 5 summers if I hadn’t left.

Me at 15 during my last summer working at camp. Those kids are now 15. Boy, I’m old. I also look exactly the same, just without braces. Yikes.

 To say I’m bit a rusty when it comes to dealing with kids would be an understatement (not that I was really any good to begin with).  I also only have experience with 9 and 10 year old boys, and while Beacon House has a few of those, there are also much younger boys and girls there. And babies. Babies! I had never held a baby before, and that was giving me the most anxiety.  Some thoughts included: “What if I drop him/her?” “Babies are gross!” “I better not have to touch their poop!”

I was once kid-like! My cuteness level peaked at age 6.

 No babies were dropped, they were the complete opposite of gross, and no poop was touched. On the contrary (I’ve always wanted to write that), I surprised myself with how much I loved interacting with them.  I hadn’t really considered myself a paternal person, but I found myself, instinctively I guess, picking them up, spinning them around, and even held one up like Simba (he begged me to).

Look at the cute babies!

Alright. Enough about babies for now. The kids. Man, only cute children and puppies have the ability to melt my heart, and for the 18 hours I’ve been at Beacon House so far, I was complete mush. I’m sure a psychologist would enjoy figuring out why usually the only people I like dealing with are 12 and under, but I think what it comes down to is their simplicity; Their problems and requests are so basic, it takes so little to get them excited (and sad). They aren’t burdened with miserable, silly adult problems that make me cringe. And selfishly, it felt amazing to feel completely wanted and appreciated.

I decided to break up my experiences into different categories, starting with “Awww! Y’all Are So Cute!” Here are some highlights:

  • When I first arrived on Thursday, the kids were starting snack-time.  This began the first of many instances of hearing “You’re invited!”, which seems to be the universal Ghanaian way of saying “Come eat this with me!” After squeezing myself onto a bench at their table not meant for someone of my physical stature, I was offered crackers. From everybody.
  •  There’s a trampoline outside that is the main source of entertainment for the kids. And boy, do these kids love their trampoline. They all wanted me to “jump them,” probably because I’m one of the largest people they’ve encountered in a while, so my ability to launch them into the air is unparalleled. Unfortunately, I don’t have the energy of a 5-9 year old (I’d say it’s closer to that of a 68 year old), so that trampoline left me winded really fast. But do those kids care? Nope!

    Really hard to say no to these faces

  • My shoes, watch and hair really fascinated them. I never realized how large my feet are until I saw a 4 year old attempt to walk in my shoes. I’m also not sure how many Jews these kids have encountered, so my so-called “luscious” (to me, unruly) locks were a source of awe. They want me to let it grow forever. Yeah. Sorry kids, don’t think so!

    Gah. So cute. Also, my feet are huge.

  • They love to learn! Before class-time, the kids marched around the grounds of the house chanting “We Love Our Class!” while holding a poster that bears that mantra. I was lucky enough to help one of the kids, Ben, with his math. It was beyond cute when he would get the right answer but write the numbers in reverse (71 instead of 17). I would tell him he made a mistake and he would be so confused, and then embarrassed when he realized what happened. Aww!
  • They garden!! They help take care of tomatoes and other vegetables that are used for food.

    Ben ruining (or improving?) the picture

The next category is “Well, This is Overwhelming/Uncomfortable/Unsettling”:

  • My first overwhelming moment happened Thursday afternoon after their 2 hour nap. One boy wanted to play with me with a Frisbee, and one girl wanted me to go on the trampoline with her. I was standing in the middle with each holding one of my hands, trying to pull me in the direction they wanted. Patience isn’t something every 5 year olds possess yet, and when every kid wanted my attention at the same time, thoughts of running away/curling into the fetal position crossed my mind.
  • Kids scream. If they don’t get what they want, when they want it, shit really hits the fan. Having only worked with 9/10 year olds before, this wasn’t really something I had to deal with until now. And it’s really the worst. If I say “Don’t worry, you’re gonna jump in a few minutes” that basically means nothing to them. But hey, at least I learned I’m more patient than I thought I was!
  • Kids cry. See above reasoning.
  • Kids ask a lot of questions, and some of them can be really weird. Some examples:
    • From an 11 year old girl: “When are you getting married?” Me: “Uhhh…not for a while, I don’t think.”
    • From a few kids at various times: “Why are you crying?” Me: “I’m not crying. Just sweating.” Seriously, Ghanaians don’t sweat. We’re on the equator, guys. Give me a break!
    • From 11 year old girl again: “Do you go to church?” Me: “Not anymore.” Girl: “Why?” Me: “I don’t know…” Girl: “I want you to come with us.” Me: “Uhhh…maybe eventually.” Not sure how she would have responded to me saying “I’m Jewish!” If there’s one thing I know, it’s how to avoid conflict.
    • From Mary and Joshua, both about 5: “Will you teach us and the other preschoolers? Please? There’re no teachers here for us. We swear we’ll listen to everything you say!” Sometimes I forget that these kids are orphans. They play, they laugh, but at the end of the day, they lack things that so many people take for granted, myself included. I didn’t know what to say to them. The thought of not being able to go to school is something so foreign to me but is a real problem for so many kids. Really upsetting.

The final category, to end on a lighter note, is “Oh My God. Heart May Explode!”:

  • The kids begged me to stay for the night to watch a movie with them before they went to bed. On Friday I agreed (partly because the movie was Free Willy), and they were ECSTATIC. They all wanted to sit on my lap. I ended up with a sleeping 16 month old girl’s head on one leg and another baby trying to climb onto my back at various times.
  • When I came Friday morning, a few of the kids ran over and immediately hugged me. Aww! One of them wanted to be picked up (“I want to go on your stomach!”), and that turned into him sleeping on me for about 30 minutes. AWW!

    Well, this is cute.

  • “I want you to stay forever!” That was pretty wonderful to hear.
  • A few of the kids wanted me to read to them, so I ended up reading about 5 semi-ridiculous stories. I had never read to a kid before and one of them fell asleep on my lap during it! AWW!
  • Before the movie, prayer/singing happens. Irene, the house “Mother” is this really wonderful and religious older woman who made them repeat a few times that Faith, Hope, and Love are the three most important things. She ended with a prayer for ME, thanking Jesus for bringing me there and asking him to look after me on my way home.  I was really close to tears at that point. She had all the kids come over to me and say “Shalom!” (thought that was just a Jewish thing) and hug me/shake my hand. That was just the greatest.

I really can’t believe I’m getting college credit for basically playing with kids all day. Getting fed two meals by the really beautiful staff is an added bonus. And just to make things even more wonderful, there’s a dog! I really didn’t expect to love working there as much as I have so far. It might have taken 3 weeks, but for the first time since I left home, I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

And that’s just swell.

OH. I also went on a day trip to Boti Falls and hiked to Umbrella Rock. I’m kind of tired from writing all this, but I’ll just say that the falls were beautiful and the hike was…kind of treacherous. I’ve talked about my borderline-hatred of hiking, and this was really a doozy, but miraculously I didn’t suffer any injury! That’s pretty astonishing, I’d say. And wearing a white shirt? Not too bright.

Our 10 year old guide had us walk around the rock perimeter of the falls. Still not sure why…

Umbrella Rock! We finally made it!!

Alright, sorry for the length. I guess I got a bit carried away while gushing over cute kids! Next weekend we’re traveling so my next post may take a while. Thanks for reading!