Saturday, December 20, 2008

The end of the first term

Today marks the first day of the last week of our first term in Africa. While we are here, the rest of the world seems to not matter.
A new US president, a Vancouver municipal election, and the Canadian election? How easy it is for us to not care while deprived of the advertising and news. In Ghana, we just endured a national election last week. Officially, it’s a multi party system, but in practice the top two parties take 95% of the vote. The two sides were so evenly divided that neither party earned the 50% needed to decide on a president, and a re-election will be held in two weeks.
What economic crisis? We hear about this being the worst global recession in years, but somehow I think the street vendors who make do on about $3 a day selling oranges aren’t too concerned about that.
Recorded Christmas music blaring out of shopping mall speakers? I’ll gladly take a pass on that this year. Although this is the first holiday since we’ve arrived that we will share with our mother country, it is celebrated quite differently here. No symbols of Christmas here to remind us of the upcoming holiday; only the students’ preparation to return back to their families in their home villages and a Christmas celebration at the school later this week. In one mathematically geeky way, we’re similar to you in temperature-- 37 degrees. Here, in Celcius, for you in Farenheit (which works out to be around 1 or 2 degrees C).
Time does seem to stand still here. At home, I’ll browse the news on a daily basis to see what’s going on. Here, our sporadic, slow and relatively expensive internet connection make browsing anything on the internet a distant memory. The topics of the discussion among the locals are relationships and personal experiences, and time is relative to that. Even the weather slows down time. There are two seasons here—the rainy season and the dry season, so the granularity of a year is down to two from our regular four.
Tamale has been really good to us, and far from the big city, people are quick to befriend us, shake our hand, and greet us in the local language (to which the correct response is a Dabani word that sounds like “naa”).
Pastor Joshua and Auntie Caterina, whose home we stay in, have graciously passed on some of their 20 years of African experience with incredible stories that we initially couldn’t believe, but we later too realized were the African Way. Through them, we’ve learned to understand the Africans different priorities from our own—how family and their status in society means much more to them than anything else. For example, it is perfectly acceptable for an African to leave his work because his father has asked him to buy something from a store for him. For example, firing somebody from a job is difficult because it would be a terrible insult for them in front of their coworkers.

In the last four months, Tim has taught a three week computer introduction class, has taught about six weeks of Excel classes, taught the teachers some basic Java, has given a few DOS classes to interested students, has developed Access databases for storing student data, has created an Excel project for charting a teaching schedule, has disinfected probably 100 computers of viruses, including writing his own antivirus for one particularly persistent one, has resurrected numerous PC’s from a storeroom appropriately called the “graveyard” to restore them to operation, has installed a Windows Server 2003 domain controller to network 25 computers together, has installed some PHP web applications on the server to give the students a sense of what the internet is like (since we don’t have internet access at the school), and in this final week is teaching the teachers how to use the network with security in mind.

He has lead discussions on the purpose of life with his class, has given a two day class to share about the differences between North American and African friendship, and has visited the homes of many students to get to know them better.

For Dora, the time has gone quickly. She has spent time getting acquainted with the children and teachers of the school to write a suitable English curriculum for the primary school, made a number of resources to use for English and math, found, assembled and organized leveled readers from K-P6, made many classroom observations to help train a number of new teachers, taught some demo lessons, lead teacher training sessions on teaching phonics, improving the teacher’s English, teaching math and classroom management, gotten to know and visit a few teachers and students at home, and spent spare moments supervising children on the playground.

Although we can be confident that our presence here has made a difference in the lives of our students and teachers, there still seems to be so much more that could have been done if there was only more time. Four months in Ghana seemed long enough when we planned this trip half a year ago, but how long will our impact last? For this uncertainty, we must trust that God will continue His plan for Ghana through Pastor Joshua’s leadership at the school in bringing education and introducing a Christian perspective on hope, friendship, and family.

In about 2 weeks, we will be in South Africa to begin the next part of our mission. The locals all assure us that the bark is bigger than the bite, but Johannesburg's reputation is not without merit. Please pray for safety and security during our vacation time as we do a little travelling before we begin teaching there in the second week of January.

Merry Christmas to everyone. May your snow be cleaner and less grainy than the pervasive African dust.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Stepping back in time

Who remembers a time when gas was actually pumped by hand?

Posted by PicasaOr when grain and chaff was separated by wind?

(if pictures are not appearing, go directly to our blogspot address)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Journaling my Reflections on Ghana

Time is fleeting and there is only 2 weeks left before school holidays begin, and my work here ends.

I'm going to miss the safari ride to school on the dust trodden road. Leaving the compound gates and the crazy dogs that nip at the car tire. Peering into the tick tree forest to catch anyone by surprise using the toilet. The fearless goats and sheep that see our truck as an invasion to their sweet slumber in the middle of the road. They inch slightly to the right or left to let our car can pass. Young kids with big bellies and worn shirts hollering “suluminga” or “China! China!” to get our attention. Adults turn and stare until the dust obstructs our view. We cautiously approach the intersection where a ménage of bicyclists, motorbikes, trucks and wild taxis crisscross following their own invisible traffic lines. I thank God every time we successfully complete the left turn in this intersection. I inspect the view out my window, of women carrying all sorts of oddities on their heads. A bucket of water, bucket of buckets, bucket of an assortment of lotions and creams on sale, a bag of rice, construction materials of all sorts, a sledgehammer. Though I’ve seen it many times, I still nervously examine how tightly the young kids are holding onto their mother or father, as they sit on the back seat of the motorcycle weaving between traffic. Sometimes there are 3 or 4, sometimes they look only 3 years old. We pass the campus of T-Poly (Tamale Polytechnic), dodging large tree trunks that are blocking most of the road. “They’re protesting the “construction” of the dirt road,” says Pastor Joshua. “The newspapers announced the completion of the road 4 years ago,” he likes to remind us. Just before we make the last turn towards the ECG school, I crane my neck towards a huge tree to look at the hundreds of some kind of yellow bird fluttering beneath their hanging basket nests. Finally, just as we pull through the gates, I hear the eager shouts of children “Teacher Dora! Teacher Dora!”