Reading in a Tree

Akonyure, the “fazzer of Aneemahls” in Yua, took me by bicycle to see the bull I bought two years ago.  The family’s bull died from a stone being thrown and Ayamdoo tried to save him but couldn’t.  We just kept him out of pain.

The family was devistated because they love their animals and teach all 25 children (OMG!) to be kind to them. The new bull’s name is Wene-etebe which means, “God is doing wonderful things.”

When we arrived the front of the house was a menagerie of curious pigs, goats, ducks, dogs and chickens.  All fine with a stranger arriving.  Unusual for them not to run away.  I had just arrived on Noah’s Ark.  When the father saw me, he let out high pitched “oh,oh,ohs” with outstretched arms. His grin showed a few teeth and his thin body jumped up from his chair.

Seeing Wene-etebe walk towards me through the huts with a small boy holding him was astonishing.  The bull was mellow and it was obvious he had stood in this small space before to eat his peanuts (ground nuts).  He was about 5 feet from me with small boys leaning on his horns, on his shoulders and petting him (I am sure some for my benefit).  The fact that he stayed so relaxed told me he had been touched by loving human hands for a long time.

I asked for a bucket to be moved so I could take a picture without it.  The bull then moved to the large pile of ground nuts in front of me.  His huge head with long horns were about a foot from my face. His presence was grand and his energy was peaceful.

I was reminded that I promised to buy them a donkey if the bull looked healthy and gently handled when I returned.  So, now I will be buying them a donkey.

It just so happens that Benedict, one of the more educated students in the reading group lives there.  He is one of the sons.  He was half way up a tree with a book in the upper branches when I arrived.  He told me he reads up there quite often.











When there is compassion amidst so much poverty, it breaks a heart wide open to incredible joy.

A Shock for Teachers

Two trained teachers, NuHu and Simone had quite the shock today when I showed them how far behind other schools these students really are.   I was watching NuHu tell the students he would teach them internet next week, “Do you understand?”

“Yes, Sir, we understand.”

He says, “Good, then you will learn to use a mouse.  Do you understand?.”

“Yes, Sir, we understand.”

I said, “Excuse me, may I speak?”

“Yes, Madame.”

“Someone please tell me what you just understood.”  No one raised their hand.  “You all said you understood, please tell us what he said.”  Again…silence.

NuHu’s face was dropping and he clicked his teeth in disbelief.

“How many of you know what a file is?”   No hands.

“How many of you know what a word document is?”  No hands

“How many of you know how to type?”  Only 3 hands went up, and they were students who were in my class two years ago when they drew keyboards on paper.

More clicking.

After some more questions, I asked, “What did you understand?”

“We understood that when Madame is here, we must not say we understand if we don’t understand.”

NuHu stood with his jaw dropped.  I said, “Don’t be disappointed, otherwise, you will be disappointed every day here.”  We stood outside the classroom when he said the students should have learned all of this in Primary 3.

I said, “Well, they didn’t.  This is where they are and this is where you must begin.”

I had this conversation in depth with NuHu and Simone, the science and math teacher.  When I told Simone that it is important to make sure all of the students know how to make electricity with their dry cell batteries, he looked at me and said, somewhat bitterly, “They should have been taught this in the Primary School.” 

I informed them that it is clear that the Primary School teachers are not even teaching the students English, let alone the other subjects.  The students are, “Yes sirring and We Understanding” all day long and the teachers are accepting it.

It took awhile to convince Simone that this is an opportunity for him and all of the teachers here to create their own schedules and syllabus.  “You may not ever get to do this again in your career. You must take advantage of this time and teach in the way you think they will learn and not what some schedule or syllabus tells you. We have permission from the higher ups to do what we want.”

It is quite amazing to be given this permission to teach however we think they can learn rather than follow some old formula that hasn’t worked for these kids since the schools were built. I emphasized to the Primary School teachers how important their roles are in building a foundation of learning.  I let them know that having children who cannot speak any english by the age of 7 or 8 is not okay.  All of the teachers, “Yes mammed” me.  We will see what happens.

With the birth of the “READING GROUP,” perhaps the readers and listeners will improve their skills. The Junior High students will read to the Primary students.  I had 3 days to teach them how to read out loud to a group.  Eye contact, intonations, ask questions to engage and consult a dictionary when needed.  Some did better than others, but only one boy had a good understanding of how to decipher a word.  I ended up teaching phonetics.  Who knew?

Things are winding down although we still have Sex Education, Gentle Handling in the lower school and a meeting whereby 2 students and 3 teachers will speak to some parents, elders and other administrative Poo Bahs. They will talk about how this teaching and learning will improve the students’ abilities to comprehend and perform better. We are hoping at least one student will pass the tests with high enough scores to go on to Senior High.

Julius,the head teacher is totally supportive of the whole program and said he would keep encouraging Simone to “trow da sylleebus ayway.”

It is a great honor for me to be given carte blanche at the school.  Both weeks, Ayamdooh and I could walk into any classroom at any time and teach.  There was no red tape and no proper channels to wade through every day we showed up.  Pok believes that in 3 years time, this will all catch on naturally.  We pray that he is right.

Gentle Handling

No matter that all of the days at the school and meeting with villagers go well, I always dread getting back on the road.  Not knowing what will be in the back of a truck or hanging from a bike.  I have learned a greater appreciation for praying.  Whether or not it gives me what I ask for, which is peace and lack of suffering for these innocent creatures, it allows me an outlet to do something when really there is nothing else I can do except write in my teeny tiny book that I always have with me.

This morning, I cried

Like a child

I want to be God

And swoop down

From Heaven

Untie the donkey

From the rack

Of the moto

Tie the man

To the rack

Let a child drive

Gently carry

The donkey in

My arms

All the way

To Heaven


Clementina’s school

As planned, Pok, Ayamdooh and I went to see where Clementina goes to school and to see her report card.  On the way, I told Ayamdooh that Clementina was only being allowed to go to nursing school.  He said, “Oh, I can fix that.  Let’s wait and see.”

Old School Desks RIP

Akunz paid for her first year, books, uniform, school fees, etc.  The cost is about $500 a  year.  She boards here though and must tolerate pretty uncomfortable living conditions. She refused to take me into the toilet block because of the smell. She said, “only one more year then I will go to a better school.”

I will take over the payments from now on and Ayamdooh will make sure she is doing well.  She wants to attend computer classes during the Christmas Holiday.  For one month, it will cost about $150 for 6 days a week.  She was excited at the prospect of having a certificate from that class.

Clementina is a gem and tries so hard to do well.  She had typhoid from a bore hole near hear mother’s house in Yua.  I will be giving her my “Lifestraw” which I don’t need here and explained that she and her mother need to drink only out of the bore holes, Engineers Without Borders dug and tested.  The water was pure in all three.

On the way home as we passed beautiful trees covering the road like a canopy, I spotted a child whipping a donkey who was hobbled on his front leg, not understanding where this child wanted him to go.  So, he kept going in circles.  We stopped, a person came over to translate. He told the child  no matter how hard he whipped, the donkey can’t go straight with the front leg hobbled and has no idea what you want of him.

The boy tied the back leg instead, I took the whip which had tire rubber on it and the boy hit the donkey’s face with rough rope.  When asked, he told us he was swatting flies.  The translator laughed and I felt exhausted.  The donkey followed the boy home, who knows why.

There are more shops than ever before and more technology than I have seen here.  We could actually get some color copies of Gentle Handling photos laminated.  We made three sets of Gentle Handling flash cards for Ayamdooh’s class.

Again, dinner and collapsing were in order.


The Road to Yua

Dogs with tongues hanging out

running in volcanic heat

My umbrella blocking the sun

Heading for home….. any home

Guinea fowl gliding across the road

Timing their run to avoid the growling monstors

School children in bright green uniforms riding bicycles,

walking  ,laughing,  chattering

A donkey on the back of a motorcycle

Tied and bouncing, suffering

We stop and stare, silent

in shock and prayer

For his imminent death

Which Ayamdooh promises

will come soon

More silence

A man running along side his donkey…no whip

He has to keep up with his animal

We laugh in joy and gratitude

A donkey with a full cart…

no whip and no owner

Electricity Pole

Knows his way home

His owner knows he knows

All, while we bumpity bump

In crater size pot holes on the dirt road

Dodging large rocks and small lakes

Ayamdooh honking at women carrying water,

people on bikes, motorcycles, cars, anything

Saying,”Here we are, we are coming

Get out of the way.”  Ayamdooh

Pointing at a dog here, a sheep over there

A child playing, a bridge in front of us

Quietly talking to God praying

That they should all be safe.



A Surprise!!

Pok and I were sitting in my room talking when there was a knock at the door.  A girl peeked in who I didn’t recognize.  She had a huge smile on her face and said, “Clementina.”  I jumped up from my sick bed and hugged her without breathing. We had been planning to show up at her school tomorrow.  I couldn’t believe she came all this way. We were both so happy to see each other and I was shocked she found me.  Her mother told her that I had been in Yua and was staying in Bolga.  She called her auntie, who owns a guest house here, which happened to be where we first stayed. She asked if a “Mama Jan” had stayed in her place.  That is how her sleuthing began and ended here in my room sitting next to me looking so beautiful and happy.  

She speaks english much better than when I saw her two years ago and understood me when I spoke.  

She had been going to Accra for holidays to study with a tutor, but hadn’t gone the last few holidays. First she said she had come down with typhoid but they cured it. Then, she got shy and wouldn’t look at me.   I knew something was wrong.  I pried and she didn’t want to answer.  I asked if she would tell me tomorrow when we would be alone and she said she would.  

We talked about her school and whether she would be able to become a doctor.  She said that the government would only let her be a nurse.  She will be a great nurse though.  I gave her some learning tools from my many bags of supplies to help her with her math and english.

I showed her a “funeral pocket,” made by Jaime (Planned Parenthood) and her friends. They are made of cloth sewn together with a flap that can be pinned under a dress or shirt. They each have a condom inside.  I asked if it is really true that girls mostly get pregnant at funerals, she said, “yes.”  So, I gave her one and she said, “But, I don’t need it.”  I was so happy for her.  Here in the villages, remember that pregnancy means no opportunities anymore.  I told her to give it to a friend that could use it.  

Many times while she was here, she patted her heart and I knew what she meant.  I feel the same way.


Quiz Competition Day


I woke up feeling better but my throat was still sore.  I couldn’t spend another day in this bed.  I also missed teaching and being with everyone.  So, I went and luckily didn’t cough or sneeze until I got back.  I wore a small mask just in case. The only thing I worried about was the smell of bat urine coming from the small office next to us.  Seeing the fat bats walking on the ceiling and hearing them squeak every once in awhile was not as bad as smelling them.  Thank goodness it had been cleaned up.    

After class we would be heading to a Quiz competition.

The truck bed was filled to the gills with boys. Legs hanging over the sides, their excitement palpable.  I said that only girls could ride in the back seat.  It always seems the scales are tipped towards the boys.  On our way to the school sponsoring the quiz, I showed the girls slideshows of some of my dogs and cats sleeping together and playing.  The girls were surprised at how a dog and cat could get along.  I told them that if they were nice to their dog, he/she would be their best friend.  This, after one girl said her favorite photo was of Chelsea standing on my paddle board with me.  

Of course upon arriving we waited….and waited….and waited.    Four small school benches right out of Little House on the Prairie, were set in a semi circle with the men running the show up front and center.  This was the first time this had been done and surprisingly an NGO pays for it.  It is a fabulous idea.

All but one school, with two girls had one girl and two boys as the contenders.  The MC’s were kind and encouraging to the kids.  They were saying things like; “don’t give up,”  “just take a guess,”  “good job,”  “keep trying.”  I knew these people had been coached by foreigners.  There is no way this is what takes place naturally in the schools here.  In fact several times I dodged having my eyes poked out by a teacher with a tree branch: wielding it like an untrained swordsman to keep kids in line.

As the contest continued and the encouragement was continuous, I felt that I had and ally somewhere out there who is teaching the same principles as I am.  Pok is going to find out who they are and I want to get to know them.

The questions were so similar to the examples I discussed with the teachers.  The MC’s speech was very poor and the kids had a hard time understanding sometimes.  I also found out that a cow doesn’t “moo,” it “lows.”  Many of the kids said “moo” when asked the sound a cow makes.  They were told they were wrong.  Well, of course I had to tell the M.C. at the end that a cow does moo and the kids were correct.  “I am not sure what animal “lows,” but perhaps in this country one exists.”  He said next time he will read his notes more carefully before beginning.

I was so proud of the Yua kids.  They came in second to the winner by only 2 points. Every time the Yua kids answered correctly, I was like the person at a  football game doing the happy dance which prompted loads of laughter.   So, sick and all, I am happy I went. Afterwards, I was greeted by the hundreds of familiar yellow birds that chatter in the trees at the hotel like happy monkeys.  Then I collapsed into sleep.



Today was the second day of working with the teachers.  Monday I spent convincing the Head Masters that this teaching of mine is a good idea so that students can start passing the exams to allow them to go on to Senior High (and of course become compassionate veterinarians).

The assignment on Tuesday was to take a book or game and teach someone how to play it or read to someone or several someones.  Then, we did something they don’t do here.  We talked about the experience.  Getting away from reporting the things they did was a bit of an effort, but soon the teachers understood that more happens with students then just repeating what they have learned.

When I first introduced the idea of using “things” to represent numbers, one of the teachers asked, “Where would I get 5 papayas from?”  That is where he learned about an imagination and what a powerful learning tool it could be.

The Home Economics teacher, Benedette, told us that she took the addition flash cards and only when she used examples of stones or papayas, did her older daughter find the answers. She told her youngest to go outside and actually gather the stones and put them in two piles and then bring them together and count them.  Her daughter then found the answer.  When I asked how old her daughter was, she said, “five.”  All were shocked.  In the primary schools they don’t expect much of the students, so not much is asked of them or given to them.

The Head Master reported that when he asked his young children what they saw in the picture of the book he read, they saw things he hadn’t even noticed.  When another read Barack Obama’s book written to his daughters, that teacher said, his mother and he had never imagined that such a powerful man would say, “I love you” to his children.   “They don’t say things like that here much,” he explained.
Again, I went to the students with flash cards to practice spelling, making sentences and identifying parts of speech.  A few students studying their books, quickly became a full room with children peeking in through the holes of the concrete walls trying to hear.  When I showed a picture of an ice cream cone, the whole class was silent.  Without electricity in the village most of them have never seen this before.  But I knew that someone had.  I gave them hints that it is cold, made from milk and sweet.  A tiny girl standing outside by the door, shyly raised her hand and whispered, “ice cream.”