Pablo and I had a nice leisurely morning filled with coffee and Milo and mate.
This whole place looks and feels like something out of a movie, especially given that we are taking our breakfast, of an omlet and the best toast ever, on the veranda. Breakfast completed, I filmed homework for my ASL class and took pictures of the hotel and its grounds while we waited for the others to return.
Pablo would not allow me to play Tarzan on the vines hanging from any of the trees (something to do with the huge bugs, I guess).
(I was not allowed to do this)
When they got back, we got ready to head over to the school, DemoDeaf in Mampong, for the first time. The walk there is long, especially in the heat, but we did notice the sign warning drivers to slow down (not that any of them would have seen it, covered in leaves as it was, or that they would have slowed down anyway).
We arrived, and met the librarian, S-, and he greeted us with much fanfare, and teased Curry mercilessly. One thing I thought was particularly funny was that when he realized how many of us didn’t have sign names (me, Pablo, Jen) he chastised Curry and told him to name us already. Curry then informed him that was a job for a Deaf person, and so that S- should go ahead and name us. S- then laughed so hard he almost had tears running down his face. Then he told us he’d take us to see the new headmaster, and we went off through the back of campus.
Throughout the conversation with S-, I was amazed to find out how much I knew. Ronai was voicing for him to Jen, but when she got stuck, I sometimes found I was able to feed her words or phrases as I caught them, and so Jen got a rough idea of what the conversation entailed. Of course, I missed much of what Ronai was catching, too, but I was just happy that my receptive skills were sharpening up to where I can be a 3rd party to a conversation and still understand it. Usually, I need to be talking one-on-one with someone, them right in front of me, to understand.
The headmaster wasn’t home, so we wandered over to the school’s central courtyard, and were attacked. About 100 kids just ran at us, asking our names, giving us theirs, and asking where we were from. Once a year, a group of volunteers from Signs of Hope International comes to their school for a few months, but it is a rare-enough occasion that the older children were excited (especially those who recognized Rachel and Leah) and the younger ones were absolutely astonished.
After more introductions than I will ever remember, we were told the headmaster had come back from church, and so we headed to the house. Curry had to tell all the kids to WAIT for us, and to STAY in the courtyard.
This whole time, for some reason, I’d been thinking the headmaster was a man, but when R- came out to meet us, she was a striking woman in jewel tones and gold. She signs, which is a wonderful thing as the last headmaster apparently did not, and she welcomed us warmly, if very formally. I forget how casual American culture is until I am in the presence of someone like this woman, and then I realize how much of a jeans-and-a-tshirt kind of place we’re from. After talking to us a bit, R- told us we could go back to the school and look around, get a feel for it and tour the buildings, and then go see the kids in the cafeteria. So, we headed back, past the chickens and homes of the teachers.
Since it was the Sunday before school was starting, none of the classrooms were open, but we were able to pop into the seamstress’ room (where E-, the woman who made Rachel’s dress, teaches vocational classes) and see the dorms.
The dorm mothers were very nice, and let us go in and look at where these children live 3 months out of every 4. We hit the boys’ dorms first. There were usually 11 bunk-beds with thin mattresses to a room, so 22 boys to a room, and a stack of boxes in one corner were each labeled with a boy’s name. Those 20 inch cubes held everything the children owned. The girls’ dorms were filled with the same amount of beds, but we are told that many times, the girls sleep 2 to a bunk, so that the room can house up to 44 girls. Seeing as the mattresses, such as they were, are about the width of those cots children in daycare use, I couldn’t even imagine how that was possible. My heart was just breaking for the children, who were thronging around us, even as they were so proud to show us their rooms and their beds. Given that this isn’t too different from how most people in the world live, I can remind myself that the living quarters are probably quite similar to the Presbyterian school down the street, but it was still a lot to take in.
The girls couldn't come into the boys' dorm building, and the boys couldn't come into the girls', so they took turns teasing each other and tossing stuff off the balcony at one another while we were dorm hopping. It was very cute, and the children were just so unbelievably playful.
We headed into the cafeteria to get out of the sun, and were just enveloped in children.
Jen had her beautiful, lion-esque hair braided by fifteen sets of adoring hands, just as Ronai did. Ellie and Leah found a table to sit at and chatted away, and Pablo got to explain his tattoo. Having seen it, the children thought it was an airplane, and so I told them that the boy in the tattoo was Pablo’s best friend who had died two years ago in the ocean, and then I tried to explain the shark. Neither the fingerspelled word shark or sign “shark” meant anything to them, so eventually, I described it as a huge fish with a mouth like a crocodile. They took this to mean that Tony had been eaten by the big fish, and Pablo and I shrugged and let it go. It was much closer than the airplane version of the story, and Tony would have loved knowing that somewhere in the world, 200 kids think he was eaten by a shark.
The kids found some of my tattoos, too, by pulling up my long pants to see my ankles, and dragging down the back neckline of my shirt to catch a glimpse of the tree. Like with Pablo, one I explained it to the satisfaction of the group nearest to me, I could see the ripple effect of it heading out into the mass of kids, as each one delighted in having information to pass on to the others. The nose-ring was also a source of mild fascination, but I explained I’d had it done once I’d finished college, and they seemed to find that acceptable.
As Pablo sat on a table, letting the kids pull on his curls and rub his arms, I wandered around away from the little ones until I found the high school boys. While any Deaf child with the funds or support can go to the Elementary or Secondary School in Mampong, only the top students can test into the high school, so these boys had the language down, and we could converse a bit, instead of every interaction consisting of the exchange of name signs, and my admission that I did not have one. These boys wanted to know who all the people in our group were (“Okay, so you know Rachel from Signing Time, right? Okay, that tall guy over there is A-A-R-O-N, A-twice-on-chin, her husband. Their daughter is in the glasses over there, L-E-A-H, L-twirled-by temple, etc) and why a bunch of white, hearing people knew how to sign. Then they wanted to know about each of our educations (2 year school or 4 year university? What did we study?) and which states we were from. I was embarrassed to find that they knew the vague placement of California (west and south), Oregon (above CA), Utah (in the middle) and Minnesota (north, center) better than most Americans, and certainly better than I can do with the African continent. They asked if Obama was really our president, and asked what he was like. I had to tell them I’d never met him in person, but that yes, he was the president, and that he was one of the most intelligent and educated men to hold the office in recent history, and much better than that last guy. They were thrilled, as Barack is apparently something of a symbol around here.
I get the feeling that married couples aren’t common among the volunteers, so when the kids found out Pablo and I were married, they wanted to know where and when we’d met, how long we’d been married, how many kids we had…everything. One preteen girl actually wanted a whole lot more information than that, but we managed to avoid the topic until it was time to go.
I broke up a few scuffles between the younger kids, and then noticed a little girl hiding behind Rachel and beckoning me over. When I approached, she got shy again, but mustered up the courage to point to Pablo and then make a P with her right hand, and poke her left palm with the right middle finger. I said I didn’t know that sign, and she smiled shyly, telling me she was offering him a name sign. Pablo had probably had 5 thrown at him already, but when he came over to talk to her, she was so sweet and so insistent that she’d found his name, that he took it as his own, and tanked her. R- (R on the wrist and then on the elbow) is just adorable.
Which is a problem. The kids are all so cute, and so starved for attention, conversation and love, that I want to “save” them all. One little boy, M-, from the first grade, dragged his best friend over, and told me that Pablo and I could be their parents in America, and that they would happily come with us. My heart just broke. Here are these kids, willing to give up everything they know and everyone they know, at 5, over a few minutes of conversation. I really wish I could take them home with me, all of them, but somehow I get the feeling that isn’t really going to be an option.
Just so you can see some of the beautiful children we met:
We left in the afternoon with promises to be back the next morning, and headed back to the hotel, stopping first for something called Fan Ice, which is like vanilla ice cream frozen in a bag. You tear the corner off of it and suck the ice cream out through the hole in the plastic. Odd, but very nice on such a hot day.
Back at the hotel, we talked about the plans for tomorrow, showered, and came down for dinner.
At dinner, we came to understand that Curry’s son is adopted from a Deaf school here in Ghana. He is Deaf-Blind, in part because of a surgery performed here in an attempt to correct a lazy eye. While Curry’s adoption was successful, we were cautioned and warned against thinking we could literally take any of these kids home, through a series of truly depressing anecdotes, one of which culminated in the death of a child.
It is hard to have dinner over stories like that. I guess our only option is to go to the school and love the kids while we're here.