Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Absent From Class

I made it all of three weeks before I missed a class. Teacher absenteeism happens a little bit in Ghana and I was determined to make it to all of my classes as best I could. No long naps, no sleeping in past the appointed hour for me, no sir.

And as far as things were going today I was right on time for my 10:30 class. But none was forthcoming. Class number four was absent and I was left alone for about 10 minutes waiting for them to show up. This was odd as I have not had a class be anything but eager to come to the lab.

I went out to look for them and found them in their classroom with a teacher whom I have talked with on several occasions. I called him over to the door and asked if this class was not supposed to be in the ICT lab. “No, they have this time with me.” Then a student spoke up and said that they had gone to the lab but I was not there. At eight.


The teacher then said that the time tables had been changed for the school year and that some classes had moved. For some reason I was the one not in the know about this so I got to miss my first class of the year. I will try to teach them again tomorrow night when they have prep period (kind akin to a study hall for the students) at seven. Oh the shame of a teacher cutting class.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Happy Birthday To Me

[Belated post]

So why the belated post? Well, as I write this post at 10:30PM I have gone about fifteen hours without power here in Hohoe. This is the first time I have experienced a blackout that has last this long since the 2004 Great Brown Out that happened in the northeast U.S. From the moment I woke up there has not been even the glimmer of a spark here. All on my birthday no less.

So I was going to post my greetings at the computer lab when I arrived to prepare for my Monday class but the hour never came. I just waited around the house for the power to come back on and was sorely disappointed.

I still had a good day though. Two PCVs were in town and stopped by to wish me well before heading back to their towns and that cheered me up nicely. I had two youngsters visit me and sing me their Ghanaian happy birthday song which for the record is identical to ours but after the second stanza of, "How old are you now," they add a "God bless you now," third stanza. Same tune and everything as our own. So this wasn't a bad day by any stretch. I am betting there are some messages left on email that I will get tomorrow, but in lieu of reading those I did get to hear from a few nice people back in the States who were thinking of how old I must be now. Very.

Other than that, I swept up every room in the house today, I washed my clothes and almost got them dry before the torrential rains came. I painted two more sides of my room with a first coat of paint; I am no longer doing corners now but the broad surfaces of the walls. What else did I manage to do? 

Oh yes, I ate Mac 'n' Cheese for lunch with a helping of tuna. Thanks again for those care packages! Man that was good. I close with the sounds of crickets chirping, bats flying in and out of the crawl space above the ceiling after a night of eating bugs, and a very dark night on the campus of St. Francis. Monday will come early again for certain.

Thanks everyone for the birthday wishes and presents. Your PCV appreciates all of them.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

My Birthday Comes Early

My first birthday in Ghana won't happen until tomorrow but sure enough, some people in the U.S. remembered well before I did that it was coming and sent a care package to my doorstep.

Thank you!

The visit at the post office went much better this time, I didn't even have a chance to get into the book that I had brought along for the wait. I was hoping to get the box that I had the slip for but the man behind the counter gave me a second slip to my surprise. Sure, I'll take it.

They open the boxes there of course to inspect them and I could see some of the goodies inside. Not nearly as many ants found these boxes, though some smelled something delicious inside and were foraging about. Luckily they did not get into anything.

Aaron, you rock. The birthday card and the birthday treats were completely unexpected and apparently you know me as the two tins of coffee were well received. I also will make good use of the highest quality paint brush now currently in Ghana that you sent; it will do well when finishing up my room. I will not be showing that off to anyone else here lest they think of taking it for themselves. I loved the card too, and I took great pleasure in knowing that you think of me often – twice every other month as you wrote. I was smiling quite a bit. There were other goodies in the box as well, and all will be eaten, drunk, chewed, and read as the days pass by.

Mom and Mark came through with a box stuffed full of treasures in digital, paper-back, and food form. The added spices and Tabasco sauce will be used in short order, and the beef jerky and cheese sticks, well they are already gone. I should have savored the taste more instead of wolfing them down, but that was how good they were.

My digital life now has a sense of security in that they sent over an external hard drive. I won't feel like I am one power surge away from not seeing my digital photos or lesson plans ever again. The back-up has been made and my sense of ease is 50% higher now. Oh, and the Nano too? Bless you both. I used it already this morning while I painted the room and good gravy is that a wonder of design. I only have to hide it well so that prying eyes do not see it and start coveting. It almost holds my entire music library which is four or eights times more than the one I brought here which is dying. Again, thank you for the kindness and now I owe you both big time when I get back to the states. I will start Christmas and birthday shopping a year in advance and don't be surprised to find some Ghanaian gifts under the tree in inside the presents.

I am not homesick, but just seeing the copies of Sports Illustrated and Consumer Reports makes me think of the usual stuff that I don't have here. The connection to the web is great, but often I hit only a few sites each day and talk online with friends, I forget that there are things going on back home. I am plenty busy here though so most of the time it passes me by without much notice, but the care packages remind me a lot of the simple pleasures of living in America.

Thank you to Aaron, Ma, Mark, and Damla (last week's birthday box) for sending these packages to Ghana. I owe you big time!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fresher Games 2010

Let the games begin. And they have, actually they started on Monday. The Fresher games are competitions held on the campus here that pit the first-year students against each other, broken down by dormitories. From what I can tell there are four blocks that the students belong to, House 1 through 4. After classes each day this week they get organized into their team colors and bring along their respective cheering sections to the playing field. It is a lot of fun to watch to say the least.

I have been prone to sitting by the basketball court which allows for the volleyball net to be set up and watch the games there. The students set up a canopy for people to watch under which proves useful in the late afternoon sun. The games are run rather professionally as there is an up referee who sits on a chair and sees the action from on high, and there is a down ref on the opposite side of the court who makes calls too. I got to be the down ref for the women's game on Tuesday but I failed to make a few calls. So many lifts, but fortunately 80% of those plays didn't make it over the net to be of any consequence.

That is volleyball, but there is also soccer. Yes, here it is called football and that is very hard to correct when I tell someone that I don't play soccer, err, football back in the states. Today there was a fairly large dispute on the field due to a call not made by the referee and one of the teams walked off the field in protest. They were losing 1-0 at the time and I highly doubt they would have done the same thing had they been leading 2-1, but that is the way it worked. People take football very seriously here.

One enjoyable part of each day is that after the volleyball match is over (best of of three games) then there is a pick-up match where I can play. My timing is severely off and many of the people on the court are not used to playing 6-2 offenses, let alone having a setter dedicated to taking the second ball, but it is fun just the same. I haven't hit one hard yet, but I have used a block to my advantage on a couple of occasions. Good times here still. I gather that I will be playing outdoors for about twenty-two more months in Ghana. Lucky me!

I have sunscreen at the ready and knees that might just last that long.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Having A Good Day

Yesterday was fine, just fine. I had the pleasure of waking up at my usual 7AM and being motivated for some odd reason. It lead me to get the paint out and do another section of my bedroom wall. Even though I am still doing the corners and trim this is now the second coat of paint and I can see that this will look nice when I am finished. Photos are being taken during the stages too so I can recall what took me forever to finish when I am old and gray.

After that was finished I took note of the bright early morning sunshine and figured it was a good time to get caught up on some laundry. Out comes the giant orange plastic tub and in goes the detergent and a bar of soap. I can tell that I am getting better with this job as the suds build up faster in my basin of water, and most of my clothes come out cleaner than when they went in. An added benefit is that my fingers are no long raw when I complete the task. Onto the line in the brilliant sunshine for a day of drying the old fashioned way. I was hopeful that it would not rain an hour later of course, forcing me to bring all the clothes back inside and make an impromptu drying line in the living room.

Onto some sweeping and then I rearranged some furniture in my bedroom to give me some more space. I am contemplating putting the desk that currently sits unused in the living area into my room. I might need help for that task as the desk is a bit awkward to move around.

Then off to the computer lab to catch up on the world and give a few students some computer time. They are not yet coming to me with questions as most who arrive know exactly what they are going to do. Check their mail, then go to Facebook and see what all their friends are doing. Not that I blame them, the site does get a bit addictive but I was preparing myself for endless questions of how to do this and what software does that. I am sure that will come.

At three o'clock I came home and had the pleasure of talking to a student who had walked home with me for about an hour. After our chat was finished I made my way to the basketball court to see a game of 5 on 5 volleyball being played. That felt so good to be back on the court and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of play; some of these students know how to crank the ball down. Not all the time of course, but when the bigger hitters were gearing up you had better be ready for a smash to come your way. I got to play for about an hour and was thoroughly drenched by the end of play as the sun was setting. My counterpart showed up too and I learned that he has quite the talent for volleyball as well.

I concluded my day by stopping by the computer lab again and video calling a good friend back in the states to see how her day went. This ranks right up there as one of my better days in Ghana. Just a joy to do things and have a great time.

Today I will finish off my lesson plans for the week but before I did that I wanted to recap my good Saturday and figure out how I could make Sunday just as fun. I'm off to try that right now.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Your Package Is Here, Please Wait

A special care package arrived in Hohoe a day or two ago and I was told to go to the post office to pick it up. I didn't have a slip but I did have an I.D. card that lets all know that I am who I say I am. With classes over for the afternoon and my counterpart manning the lab in my absence I was off to town to fetch my box of goodies.

I made sure to arrive before 4 as that was the time I thought the offices would close. Just after 3:30 the man behind the counter saw me and said he thought there was a box for me, and to wait.

Sure enough he said there was one and that I should take a seat on the long wooden bench inside the building. No problem so far.

He walked around a bit, asked a few questions to others there in the office and came over to explain to me that I had to wait now for the Custom's official who would inspect the box to make sure there was no contraband shipped into Ghana. I was reassured that he would be back.

Now, I know that the Custom's man is only in the post office on Wednesdays and Fridays, so I had made a point to be there in the afternoon after 2 (which is when he arrives) so I could get in and get out.

The first half hour goes by and I realize that not bringing a book, a magazine, anything whatsoever to read was a mistake. This could be a while, and pretending to play with your cellphone to make it look like you have something to do only lasts so long as a diversion. I really miss the iPhone here at very specific points and this was one of them.

What bothered me during the next half hour of waiting was that no one knew where the official was. I was hoping someone maybe had the cell for the gentleman so he could be called or flashed (meaning to call and hang up so that the person will call you back) and be informed that a very nice, quiet, kind man was waiting to receive a parcel. Alas, no. That never happened.

After 4:30 someone called me up off the stiff, uncomfortable wooden bench to let me know that the official was here. I walked to the table that we would sit at and his first words to me went something to the affect of, "Ah, you should not have come so late." I could not tell if this was in jest or not so I just let that sit there unanswered. I realize that it is best not to disgruntle the person who will be looking at your packages for the next 23 months and deciding if they are to be confiscated or not. Biting your tongue works. At least I hope it does.

Box in hand, my very kind friend Damla packed the care package to the brim with books, candies and clothes. It was entirely worth the wait, and then some. I am now off to consume candy corn by the handfuls!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ten Percent Attrition

Some things were meant to last ages. Some last only fleeting moments. And then there is the lifespan of a power supply in the new computers here at the lab. One computer was running on Friday and then never woke up again on Saturday. I am going to go out on a limb and guess that it is a bad power supply, but I never heard anything from it; it just never started up when I came in one day.

The most recent failure was the one I just tried turning on. I pressed the power button (more of a peg since the plastic button that should have been there fell off or was never installed at the factory) and a minor gun shot rang out. I can't figure out what caused that to happen other than a timid little wire that was not meant for a long life in this world. There was one other person in the lab at the time, a teacher checking his mail, and he had the unfortunate position of sitting directly in front of the computer that I tried to turn on.

Twenty computers came brand new. One power supply failed upon arrival but that was fixed when the wireless router came from Accra. That means three bad power supplies and two non-functioning machines are now in the lab. I would hate to see the lab become a shooting gallery when students come in to turn the machines on for class, but maybe that is what one can expect from the machines in the near future.

Monday, October 11, 2010

First Official Day Of Teaching

So begins the teaching days of my life. So far so good, though I believe I could stand to improve a bit on my craft. Still, you need to start somewhere and I gather starting at the bottom and working your way up is one way to begin.

We have only one class scheduled for the first years on Monday so I can at least breathe easier now that this class is closed and I am reviewing what went right and what went wrong. Most of the wrong came from not having a perfectly set out list of topics to cover. I had a note of an introduction to the lab saved, but did not have it printed out for my own personal review, and the copy of the file on the computer which I brought was not something that I could easily refer to. Something that can be easily fixed in the next lesson.

My syllabus will consist of getting the students up and running on the computers, teaching the basics of working with files, folders, and applications and the like. Then from there we will head straight into the big applications that they must learn on the computer: word processing, spreadsheets, and then presentation software. With time we will crack open Access on the PC and do databases, but I need to read up on that before getting too involved there.

Just the same, the first steps were good. I can trace the start of this journey back to around July of 2008 when I got the crazy idea stuck in my head some early hour in the morning. That started the idea of applying for Peace Corps, and by August I was typing up my essays and thoughts on why I really wanted to do this.

I am in some small corner of the world trying to teach computers and if not for the distance of my family and friends, I would say I found a very happy spot in which to be. We will see how the next class goes.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I Taught A Class Finally

In fact, I taught three separate classes on Friday. What a good time, and what an eye-opener it was.

First things first, my counterpart had to leave Hohoe and visit his family and asked the Principle to depart on Thursday. He asked me to cover for him on Friday as he had a second-year class that started at 9:30. I figured this was a good first time chance and gladly agreed. It was also going to be on a simple topic: set up an email address.

I have this covered, but I did make sure to do a small amount of preparation work for the job. The day before I wrote out a brief lesson plan with what I wanted to leave the students with - three things that they should know without fail when using email.

Great, everything was set. Nine-thirty came and I saw no students whatsoever. After about ten minutes one student did arrive and asked if I should bring the students to this lab for the lesson, and I said that was correct and off he went. We started about fifteen minutes late, but the lesson was to run an hour and a half so I had some room to spare.

We started by defining what email stood for, and right off the bat I got the impression that I was not using culturally appropriate definitions. My hunch now is that many people here don't receive letters or bills in the mail. Putting the word electronic before mail to create the term email was a bad way to start the lesson. Off we went though to a few sites and I had settled on Yahoo's site to create email accounts for the students. Out of 30 students, maybe three or four had email addresses already.

From that point forward though, the internet and the new computers in the lab would be taxed quite a bit for the considerable future. On a good day at the lab the download rate is about 60 kilobytes per second. That means you can download a file that is a megabyte (1024 kilobytes) 20 seconds. If we have twenty computers all asking for a web page at the same time, that 60 kilobytes per second rate goes down to 3 kilobytes per second. That equals a very slow speed.

As the class moved along the slow speeds started to affect the students' ability to create email accounts. As the time for the end of the class approached, I had the feeling that many students would not be getting their email addresses during the time allotted. No matter, they had a half hour break after the class was over to catch up. By around 11:30 I was ready to close up the lab and send the students on their way when another student walked in.

He was from the next class.

There was a next class? Yes, there was indeed a next class of second-years who would need their email addresses created in the lab. I called the counterpart and confirmed that it would be two sessions to teach, but the same subject. I just re-did my first lesson and started to slim down things as this class said they only had an hour.

A huge pain in this current lab is the physical layout. The computers are set up row after row along a wall so there is only one path to visit the computer on the far said of the row. That means each hand that gets raised means a trip from where I currently am to the row where the student is, and then a walk down the aisle where students are sitting to see what the problem might be.

It is less than efficient to say the least. And if we didn't have all the new computers that can access the internet scattered throughout the rows (of which there are seven in all), I would be scrambling around a lot more than I already am. In the end though, some of those students in the shortened lesson were able to create their emails.

It was now one o'clock and I had yet to have lunch when another group of students came for their internet lesson. I had three classes to teach without even knowing it, and felt by the third lesson I had at least nailed down what I was going to cover. Out went the meaning of email, gone was the discussion of the many sites that we could use to create an email account and in its place was essentially, "Go here, type this in, hit submit."

Streamlining was the name of the game.

By 2PM I had no more classes to teach and could finally get out of the lab. I realized a few things. Students are very eager to learn all they can about the computer and that is a great thing. Any word or phrase that I use that comes directly from knowing a computer has a 90% chance of not translating. "Click on the icon," "refresh the page," "launch the application," these just won't communicate the action that I expect and I must find alternate ways of clearly communicating an action. I need a projector so I can demonstrate to all of the students in a visual manner what needs to be done.

Lastly, I know that I need to explore a bit with the router to disable Facebook.com while class is in session. I had a bit of a problem with that during the first class and by the third class I found my comfort zone. Kick anyone who was using Facebook off of the computer. That worked nicely.

I may have more classes to teach on Monday but we shall see what the day brings. It was fun and I am ready for more whenever I get the chance.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Dear Mother Sheep

You know who you are. You probably know where I live as well, at least you should by the sounds of your offspring bahhing for you throughout the entire morning. Yes, you are the one I am looking for.

How could you? Leaving that young lamb all alone for so long in a strikingly short proximity to my bedroom window at 5AM. You have plenty to answer for and I realize that sheer embarrassment will keep you from showing yourself near my house any time soon. Where were you this morning? Off chewing your cud with the other ewes over at the Demonstration School were you? Maybe gossiping about who went off to the slaughterhouse yesterday and oh the short lives you lead here?

Still, when the young one calls for you, should you not be close enough by to hear the bleats, the very, very repetitive bleats? Yes, you should. We all know the father isn't around for long but what are you and I to do about that? Not much. No, it is you, the ewe, who must be responsible. Honestly, I doubt that Little Bo Peep really had any trouble finding her sheep if your child was any gauge. I could hear her 100 yards away.

Please do keep better track ma'am. I had the chance to sleep in this morning and you can see by my letter that I could not take advantage of the opportunity at all.

Kind regards, etc., etc.,

Monday, October 04, 2010

Classes Will Start At Some Point

Just one more week of waiting to go now.

The day started out early enough with a friendly wake-up call from my first friend on campus, Eric, at the gentle hour of 5:30AM. I had already awoken to the alarm on my phone but when it rang I figured it was a teacher making sure that I did not miss the opening ceremony. I told him that I would be at the church (this is a Catholic school so this seems a logical place to get things going) at precisely 6:29.

I guess my phone was a bit slow since I arrived and there was already someone speaking at the lectern. Eric waved me in and I took my place at the very front of the church with the rest of the staff. I think I only had a small breach of protocol by not making a bow to the alter before walking up the small steps. You live and learn and my hope is that no one noticed it.

We sat there listening to announcements and then the Principle came in at about a quarter before the hour. It really is like the President coming for a visit since everyone gets up to show respect. We all sit when told to of course. More announcements and then the Principle was asked to address the students. He made mention of the second-year students returning and the first-year students getting accustomed to the new surroundings. He then made introductions of the staff and I was the first one to get a welcome. The students were more than kind and clapping but I bet that was more a nod to the Principle saying, "He prefers to be addressed as Koku David." Many people get a kick out of that.

With most of the ceremony done the staff moved over to the administration block for the regular Monday morning staff meeting. That went until about 9:30 at which time there was nothing left for me to do. I will be teaching the first-years and they are going to be in an orientation all week long to understand what is expected of them. With my free time I got in a very light nap before the torrential rains fell. That woke me up to the point where I needed something to do indoors. More paint on the walls was the decision. I am almost done getting one coat of paint up around the edges of all the walls in the bedroom. Soon I will get to painting the whole walls which feels like an accomplishment.

The rest of the day was spent in the computer lab getting more computers ready. Some day I will be done with this task, and by that time the students will charge in and give me new challenges. That will be next week.

That leaves plenty of time to get the old lesson plans in order. On to that next.