Saturday, May 11, 2013

You Talk Like a Ghanaian!

Well, if you are reading this, congratulations! You still check this dead blog, and that means a lot to me.

I had a series of experiences directly after posting my last blog that are still changing me. The last post is offsetting and embarassing, but it played a role in triggering those experiences. I am not proud of what happened in that classroom. In fact, I am striving to not be proud at all...

If you are interested in that, it's something I prefer to discuss in person.

To the point, to the point! The past three months were full of spiritual searching, struggle (and eventual failure) to teach seven-year-olds raised in a communal culture, traveling (beaches, monkeys, border of Burkina Faso, with a few outbreaks of food poisioning and one terrible sunburn), bonding with members of my church, and transitioning from the role of exchange student to the role of "pioneer volunteer".

You Talk Like a Ghanaian! (Cont 1)

Through all of that, I have changed in ways I can't see. Just today, on my way back to Kumasi from Bolgatanga (way, way north) I met a Canadian volunteer who was surprised to learn I am an American. "You talk like a Ghanaian," she said. I grinned like a little kid at that comment, and Nans caught me!

I don't have profound conclusions to share with you, but I've come to realize how unecessary they are. Live life, and maybe before you know it, you'll talk like a Ghanaian!

Monday, January 21, 2013

My Pride, My Joy

On January 21, 2013 something occured that clashed my culture with Ghana.

If I had a fatal flaw, it would be pride. I eat up all the perks and prestige bestowed upon winners of the American academic system. (You say no one can take six APs and still have a 4.0? Watch me...Just you wait and see the scholarships I get...I bet I'll even get one to study in Ghana...I can't wait to put on all my medals at graduation...and even though there's no place for vice-salutitorian, I know it's me...3rd out of 700...) I don't say any of this, but it's on my mind all right. I bask in the rituals of academia, the rituals that are completely absent in Ghana's education system.

When someone tells me: "Sarah, you are a great writer," I beam inside, with joy. But my joy has hardened over the years and become pride. I put my heart and soul into my writing...and you better like it or you have no sense!

It was this fervor that I wrote a story for my English exam at the end of last term.

My Pride, My Joy (cont 1)

I went all out, using poetic enhancers and forshadowing. In the back of my mind, I knew I should hold back. My classmates were writing in their second language, a language from a continent far north of the Sahara. But the joy was so sweet...the words just spilled out. I relish writing assignments, and I'd missed them over the past months (trust me, the transition from AP Humanities to a grade B Ghanaian school is far from smooth).

So I walked away from the exam exhilerated, and of course, proud. The teacher would love my action-romance set in Mexico.

After Christmas, I received my English exam. I opened it, thrilled to see my teacher's comments.

Written in red ink at the bottom of my wonderful story was: "You coppied".

Excuuuuse me! Vice-saluatorian, winner of the Anschutz Scholarship, and one of 55 YES are saying I copied? Worse, you are saying I "coppied"?

My Pride, My Joy (cont 2)

Maybe if I had been accused of copying I could have bitten my pride and turned the other cheek. But "coppying"? The American rebel in me woke up.

"Madame," I said, firmly but calmly, "I did not copy from anyone."

"No, you copied from a book."

I don't know if I was furious or flattered. "English is my language," I said. "Writing is what I do for fun."

"If that is true, why did you miss so many of the comprehension questions?"

I looked at the section, and sure enough I had missed several. They were questions that asked you to replace a word with another word. My answers, I could see were rather unconventional. In Ghana, unconventional is incorrect.

"Madame," I said. "I don't care about the mark. I just want you to beleive that I didn't cheat. Accusing someone of cheating in my country is like calling them a liar and a thief."

"I believe you. I thought it was one of theirs." she looked around at my classmates.

My Pride, My Joy (cont 3)

My rebellious spirit fizzled out. My pride sunk into a deep, deep hole. This was not the direction I'd been hoping for.

"No student at KSTS could have written anything like it," she repeated. "It was perfect. No mistakes. You are all lazy and need to get to work." She continued to compare my work to theirs, and I tuned her out.

If it was culturally acceptable, I would have burst into tears, but there is nothing Ghanaians hate more than crying. In a stupid display of pride, I had caused the teacher to bully my class for something they couldn't help.

All year, I've been realizing just how much of my intelligence I owe to the American education system. I'd always believed the writer was within me. But if I had grown up in Ghana, would anyone have taught me how use words? Would the ideas be burning without any channel?

The teacher's words didn't cause the angry sting of a false accusation. They gave me the deep pain of an unfortunate truth.

My Pride, My Joy (cont 4)

There is no way the Ghanaian education system could teach anyone one fourth of what I learned at the CLPs and Poudre.

How am I supposed to react to that? School is my life. It always has been. I'm not sure I can be happy unless I am learning constantly. My classmates seem happy...but shouldn't they have the right to be educated at the highest level?

I won't fall into the trap of "Oh, God, thank you for putting me in America while so many others are not." That type of thinking has rubbed me the wrong way all my life.

In spite of that, I truly believe every person was born where they were for a reason. The reaction of my classmates to the teacher's speech was not one of anger, it was one of respect. They all wanted to read my story, and not one of them was jealous of it. Actually, they had fun reading it. Maxwell and Ivan, two of m friends, used this as an opportunity to learn how cheating is viewed in my culture.

My Pride, My Joy (final)

I don't have any startling conclusion to draw from this experience. It really muddles everything about pride and education into a puddle. I have to leave you hanging, because I'm still hanging.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Deeper Life Bible Church

"What do you want to be?" my host dad asked, on our first day together.

This is an easy question for most people, but for me it is particularly tough. I'm proud of what I'd like to do, but I'm aware it is unusual. My calling is personal and at times I prefer to keep it to myself.

But I decided to answer. "I'm considering going to seminary."

"Really? I'm a pastor."

One of my main goals in applying for YES was to grow my faith. At that moment, I realized exactly how God would use YES. My host father and I bonded that first day in a way I never dreamed.

My first two weeks in Kumasi were spent praying over my host brother Caleb. I saw the eager, fervent way my family prayed. They'd lay hands on him and then alternate between shouting and fast whispering in Twi. I prayed along, in the quiet of my own mind.

In my host parents' church, the prayers are conducted in much the same way. Dad yells the prayer as everyone whispers their own petitions ecstatically.

Deeper Life Bible Church (cont)

I now pray aloud quite often, whether in company or alone. I find that the "quiet of my own mind" is not so quiet, and stray thoughts easily distract me.

The sermons my host dad gives are perscribed--they are all written by the church's head pastor in Nigeria. Much of Ghana's learning is done from pre-written curriculums. As an American indivdualist, I do often find the sermons generalized and a bit dull. (That's not say I've learned nothing from them. Nor is my Ghanaian father a boring man.)

The church has several yearly gatherings which involve all 15,000 church members in Kumasi. I attended one in my third week in Ghana. The experience impressed my fresh mind greatly. Every member of the church was dressed their best--which in Ghana implies bright colors and flashy patterns. It was only at the big gathering that I realized members of this denomination take Paul's statement about women covering their heads literally. (See 1 Corinthians 11)

Deeper Life Bible Church (cont)

My Ghanian mom wrapped my head in a silky green scarf to attend the gathering. She had never bothered during our villiage services, but with so many thousands of members gawking at me, it was a requirement. (I say "gawking" because what else will 14,999 Africans do to someone who looks like me? I was the only white person at the meeting)

Now imagine all 15,000 of us praying the way I described above. Incredible! Doubt was drowned completely.

Theologically, I have no quarrel with the Deeper Life Church. In the realm of prayer, I actually revere it. But the truth of my restless, lonely nature cannot be ignore.

Skimming on the surface of many verses does not do as much as getting the heart of one story. Listening to a two hour sermon without significant song, without peace sharing, without communion actually makes me spiritually lonlier than not going to church at all. So I gave it a good try. My host family knows I believe, they know I care about and respect their church.

Deeper Life Bible Church (cont)

They understand also that I worship in a different way.

It took some intense life discussions with Emily, Lydia, Nans, and Lucie for me to realize I needed a home for my faith. In the past month, I have found said home. Holy Trinity Lutheran church, of the ELCG (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Ghana), is on the way into town from Boko. I think I knew I'd end up there at some point this year. I'm even more Lutheran than I thought I was!

On special occasions, I still attend Deeper Life church with my family. My love for them has strengthed as they've supported my desicion to be a part of the Lutheran community in Ghana. I am honored to share faith with people such as the Adinkra family.