Friday, February 3, 2012

Ghana Trip, Day 7

Late the previous evening, Jen had decided to take her braids out, because they were bothering her and she wanted a shower. It was a group effort:

Ever seen a blue-eyed lion?

Anyway, in the bright-and-early morning, we headed back to the school for a few hours to label more classrooms, hang out with the kids and for Rachel to get her braids done. Pablo also went to get his hair washed (lucky [expletive redacted]).

Classrooms labeled, Ellie, Leah and I were back in the last room, working on the kids’ names and labeling their desks. We also went back to using the colored chalk and teaching the signs for those (which they all seemed to enjoy.

We took some pictures with the kids, and I got the surprise of my life when covering animal signs, while Ellie and Pablo were in the hair salon and Leah was in the next room. See, the school has chickens, goats and sheep on campus.

So, we were working on those signs, since the kids could see them. The GSL sign for chicken is different than in ASL. Theirs looks like our sign AWKWARD, but instead of up and down, the bent-3-hands come together like in MORE. (ß See, I told you I was keeping up with my Linguistics homework) The signs for sheep and goats are the same, however there was some confusion among the newer signers that the sign GOAT may actually have been the sign for zebras. So, I’m pointing to the drawing of a zebra, and signing ZEBRA, and to a sheep and signing SHEEP, and one girl is repetitively signing GOAT, GOAT, GOAT.

Finally, frustrated, I point to the goat picture, sign it, and then sign FINISH, to tell her to stop. She persists, and the two quickest boys in my class start giggling. Then I notice they are staring behind me. I turn, and nearly jump out of my skin when I see a lonesome GOAT has poked his head through the doorway.

The kids all had a good laugh, and our morning lesson ended on a reminder to me to pay attention to Deaf gaze.

Rachel’s hair took FOREVER (not my kind of forever, but it was an awfully long time) so we hung around the school, watched the older kids play, and waited by the tro-tro.

We even went out for a spin to get a new battery before the big journey to the coast. Finally, we were all ready to go, and we picked up Rachel. We of course teased her (“You know, there’s something about you that reminds me of Emmy-nominated children’s performer Rachel Coleman. Has anyone ever told you that before?”) but the braids looked awesome.

Loaded up and as prepared as we would ever be, we set out towards the West Coast…of the Atlantic Ocean. The thought made my brain hurt.

Now, those of you who know me also know that I learned how to drive in Los Angeles. Then, I spent years driving in the San Francisco Bay area. So, coming to Portland, Oregon has been a trial for me in the traffic department (in that all the people here drive under the speed limit, will wait 10 minutes for each other at 4 way stops, and stop at yellow lights). In Accra, however, I learned that there is a polar opposite to Portland freeways, and can be found in West Africa.

It was gridlock mayhem. People were weaving in and out of south-bound traffic. Going NORTH. In buses and on motorcycles. I, quite literally, had to cover my eyes a few times, and just hide.


When we hit central Accra, the haze from the burning trash was so thick, we could barely breathe, and yet people were walking up and down the road, peddling their wares among the unpredictable cars. Plus, everyone had to pee, and we had to make the decision to see if we’d make it out of the 4-mile-an-hour traffic jam, or if it was really just best to get out, pee under an overpass, and get back in.

It took all our will not to beg for a change in the music (as Jen says, it has rather filthy lyrics in a thick accent, so it took about 2 hours to decipher, but then you couldn’t NOT hear it). By the time this had settled in, we were pretty punchy, so it became far more amusing than it probably should have been, especially since half of our group is sheltered and appropriate. ::wink::

Warning: Video has suggestive adult themes.

Eventually we stopped at a gas station that was equipped with both a shower and one toilet, and the majority of our van hopped out, and peed either in the bathroom stall or down the shower drain, depending on who needed to go, and how badly. When we got back in the tro-tro, Pablo asked us all, sweetly, who’d used the shower. A few people raised their hands, and he grinned wickedly. “Then I suppose none of you looked up?” A pause. “There was a spider the size of my hand on the ceiling.” A collective shudder ran through the obrunis, and D- and E- had to fight back the giggles.

I’ll spare you the details of the ride other than that. It was long (6 hours), exhausting, hot and gross. However, we were headed to the one “tourist” destination on the trip (the botel), and I was excited to be not doing something depressing in the very near future.

When we arrived and could have dinner (spaghetti for some; a “burger” for me and Pablo after discovering that the local understanding of “Club Sandwich” was chicken, egg and bread; chicken and rice for most) Jen poked a little fun at me, saying I was the most lighthearted and excited of any of the days of this trip.

It was true. This was a silly tourist attraction, complete with signs warning you not to lose your kids to the crocs:

There were crocodiles and birds and food and a clean room (at least for Pablo and I). But honestly, I was just happy to be away from so much heartache.

I had come, knowing the situation as well as one could without having experienced it first-hand, and my heart was being broken every day. Yes, I was physically tired and hot and uncomfortable, but seeing how these children were abandoned to the winds of fate, how they were ignored and shrugged off, even by their own peers, was just tearing at me. Despite the few spots of light, the new headmaster, some of the teachers, the excellent librarian and his wonderful wife, I couldn’t help but feel engulfed in a tide of powerlessness. Their situation broke my heart, quite literally, every day, and I’d spend part of every evening crying in my room. Their problem wasn’t that they were Deaf, their problem was the sheer cliffs of institutionalized discrimination they were facing now, and would continue to face long after we left. It hurt. Seeing them beat one each other hurt. Having one kid explain to me that we’d have wanted to pierce Julian’s eardrums and make him deaf, and then hide him and lie about his age so that he’d get to go to the Deaf school and no one would know there was something wrong with him, hurt.

My bright spot, up until that point had been talking to a hearing Ghanaian woman who I am choosing to leave nameless, who asked where were taking all the bags of supplies. When I told her they were bound for the Deaf school, she seemed puzzled, until I explained that providing their supplies was part of the reason we were here. I talked a little about the differences in Deaf culture and education in Ghana vs those in the US, and then said, “Well, for example, Leah is Deaf…” I wasn’t even allowed to finish my sentence.

“She is? But she talks so well. I thought you were all able to hear, and signed because of your work at the school.”

After a few minutes’ explanation on cochlear implants, and Leah’s choice to have one of her own accord, I was told that she had assumed the implant was just some American jewelry. “She seems to normal,” she told me.

“Well, she is. She’s as bright as any kid in the US, and smarter than most. She just can’t hear.” There was a pause. “It’s the same for the kids down there, except people don’t really understand that.”

She looked up at me with tears in her eyes, and asked if I thought she could learn A/GSL, to be able to speak with the coming volunteers, as well as the kids on the street. “We just don’t know what to do,” she told me. “You treat kids who have problems so differently.”

“No,” I managed. “We try and treat them just like everyone else.”

1 perspective shifted. Only 23,999,999 to go.

See why I was excited about crocodiles?

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