Just Beyond Hamattan

About a few weeks ago the Hamattan season finally came to an end. The Hamattan is the dry season here in Ghana. Let me tell you it was dry! In the beginning it was wonderful. The winds started blowing from the North and everything was cool. I mean I would find myself shivering at night and after my morning shower.(BTW my classrooms at Skills were often times smelling rather foul because the boys didn’t want to bathe in the cold air. It may have saved them some discomfort but in the long run we all suffered.)
Of course it was pretty darn funny that I found the weather so cold when it never really got colder than an average Fall day in the Mid-West. I realized how good it is that I will be returning to the U.S. during the summer. I think I would die if I came back in the winter, or just get sick immediately.
Unfortunately, there is a downside to the dry season. Yep, you guessed it! It is unbelievably dry. Because the winds bring with them tons and tons of dust from the dunes of the Sahara desert. This dust blows over all of West Africa and even reaches over the ocean to parts of South America. The dust gets everywhere. You can wipe your window clean and five minutes later there will be a brand new layer of dust there. When you drive around town you can’t believe the condition of some of the cars, the ones that are out of commission. They look as if they have been just recently exhumed.
Everybody suffers from colds during the dry season. You will see people using all sorts of products to keep their nasal passages moist, but most of the time it is all in vain. Everything just dries out and you end up with bloody noses and cracked lips. It can be a dreadful ordeal depending on where you live. The further north you go in Ghana the worse it will get. On days when the Hamattan was heavy all the way down here in the Western Region I could only imagine how the people suffered up in the Northern Region as well as the Upper Eastern and Upper Western Regions.
All the while during this wretched weather school was going on and things were going well in the classroom. It is so funny how in the beginning I never thought I would learn all the names of the students, but now I know so many, more than some of the other teachers I believe. Of course, it took time. Because of the new reform I am spending much more time with the first years. Instead of having English once a week we now have it three times a week. On Mondays we do reading and spelling work, on Wednesdays we do grammar, and on Fridays we do reading comprehension and essay writing. I am pleased with their performances, but it will take an act of God to get all of the assignments in on time.
The problem is so many of the students miss at least one day of school a week. Some miss whole weeks of school without notifying anyone. We have no idea why they miss school sometimes and when I ask I assume they are telling the truth. Sometimes they have to leave and work for a while so they can pay for school or so they can help out their family. Sometimes they just don’t feel like coming to school. Most times they are sick. It is quite a slap in the face when you realize how difficult it is to learn when you are sick so often. But we use the time we have together as best as we can….I think they enjoy themselves.
I did a couple of small projects earlier this term. I brought a world map from home and I purchased a Ghana map, a West Africa map, and an Africa map to put up in the Library/Staff Room. With the help of a couple of the Carpentry teachers, Br. Mathew Sabogu and Mr. Paul Damoah, we were able to make the inexpensive maps look quite nice in some glass enclosed frames. (I wanted to make sure that they last through a few Hamattan seasons.) I try to make use of the maps in my classes as much as possible. The boys really love looking at those maps and gaining a more accurate picture of how the world is arranged.
My other project was to refurbish the small library that we have for our students. It is made up of fiction books that I read during high school. From what I understand they were all donated by Br. Tom Dillman. We also have a rather large selection of reference books including a complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica. Unfortunately, the reference books are all dated and are not in the best of shape…but it’s something. So after reorganizing the library at Skills I began distributing books to all of my different English students in Forms one, two, and three. Some might think I am crazy to give these boys the books since they aren’t famous for their responsible behavior, but it’s better than letting them just sit there to collect dust.
I think that the boys have become quite used to my style of teaching. They ask questions freely now, which is great, whereas before they we just sit in silence and say “YES BRO” “NO BRO”
I have never been interested in discipline, but sometimes I have no choice. Mainly I have resorted to corporal punishment and made the boys do push-ups like crazy. Other times I just throw them out of class and tell them that if they want to come back they need to write me a letter explaining why they think they should be allowed in back in the classroom. One time I threw a kid out and gave him those directions. He looked at me with his puppy dog face and begged me to let him stay, but I sent him out.(He deserved it don’t worry.) Anyway, I wondered where he went to so I walked outside the classroom and he was nowhere to be found. I walked past the next classroom down and there he was sitting in the empty classroom writing his letter furiously. It was a great feeling.
These boys can definitely be troublesome, but one needs to realize that they do need extra attention. Many of them could really benefit from some professional counseling(true of us all) and although none of us are licensed counselors we try our best to help these boys who are underdogs in every sense of the word.
It is almost March now and the weather is HOT! We haven’t had any rain for about three months save for a couple showers here and there.(When I say a couple I really mean it.) Time is flying and I have become immersed in the life here it is sometimes hard to imagine what it was like back in the U.S. I try not to spend too much time thinking about that now; there is still quite a bit of work to do here. Quite a bit.
Thanks for reading.


Brenda said...

Thanks Jay, for the stories.

Erin said...

Sounds like you're doing a fine job in the classroom Jay... tough love; sometimes it's the only solution.