Posted tagged ‘teaching’

“I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up that I was not happy.”

September 9, 2018

I slept late, until close to ten. I swear it is because subconsciously I knew the weather was the same as it has been. That I had to snuggle under the warm comforter last night was reason enough to stay in bed, but I dragged myself downstairs, let Henry out, started my coffee, went to get the papers and fed Maddie and Henry. The morning ritual changes little from day to day. The grey clouds change little from day to day. The dampness changes little from day to day. This is my world right now. The only bright spot, figuratively as we haven’t seen the sun in eons, is I have more books to read, more books to take me away from the daily chores and the weather.

Every Sunday I chat with my sister in Colorado. Today she asked me if I had done my laundry yet. I haven’t.

When I lived in Ghana, I never had sloth days. I was always up early and dressed early. Coffee was first then breakfast then teaching. It was a daily pattern just as my days now have a pattern, but every day in Ghana and the pattern of every day was amazing. Roosters often woke me up. I could hear my students sweeping the school compound then I could hear water flowing from the taps into their metal buckets as my students stood in line for their morning bucket baths. I often had my second mug (giant mug) of coffee sitting on the steps in the front of my house. Small children walking to school stopped and greeted me. “Good Morning, Sir.” English was new to them, and they were learning greetings first, the same as I did in French and Spanish. Their teacher was a man. If it was market day, I went into town. I loved market day. It was like a country fair and even more but without the rides. I loved wandering among the tables, among the rows selling everything: fruit, cloth, chickens, eggs, vegetables, juju beads, pots and pans and bruni wa wu (used clothing translated as dead white man’s clothes). Sometimes I found a treasure. Once it was a small watermelon.

“You don’t need magic to disappear, all you need is a destination and a great hostel!”

July 21, 2016

Yesterday was the perfect day: sunny, warm and dry. A breeze from the south kept my house cool. It will be warmer today, but this room, in the back of the house, is still dark and cool. I’m going to be out on the deck today with a good book and a cold drink. My outside table is perfectly shaded by branches from the scrub oak. Gracie lies in the shade at the right angle formed by two sides of the deck. She sleeps deeply and sometimes even snores.

When I was teaching, I was usually traveling in July and August. I was one of those backpackers who slept in hostels, on overnight buses and sometimes in parks. I bought bread, peanut butter and jam and ate sandwiches to save money. Sometimes I bought a cooked chicken and tomatoes for a fancy dinner sandwich. I had a Go Europe guidebook which listed free food at happy hours. I’d nurse a drink and eat my fill. Overnight train travel was my favorite route between two places. Sometimes I’d just buy a seat and try to get comfortable enough to sleep, but a couple of times I bought a couchette and was able to stretch out on a mattress and sleep.

Traveling in Europe was a huge adventure for me. I got to see all the places I’d only read or dreamed about. One summer it was five weeks in England, Scotland and Ireland. Another summer it was six weeks traveling in Finland, Russia, Denmark, The Netherlands and England. The big trip was eight weeks in South America. I landed in Caracas and left from Rio. In between, I traveled from country to country by bus, car and planes. The best plane ride was over the Andes from Lima to Cusco. I saw the shadow of my plane on the mountain tops covered in snow. In those days few Americans traveled in South America. We met only one other in Paraguay who asked to join us at an outdoor cafe. He had heard us speaking English. He was the head of Pan American Airlines in South America and was on his farewell tour of Pan Am offices before his retirement. He told some great stories including one about Eisenhower visiting South American and having to extend runways for his plane. I think that trip was my all-time favorite.

Eight weeks from now I’ll be in Ghana.

“alone doesn’t mean lonely. It just means alone. It just means that for now, you’re on your own, and that’s not a terrible thing.”

August 30, 2013

Somewhere off in the far distance, I can hear a dog bark, barely hear that dog bark, but Gracie feels it is her responsibility to respond. That she is standing on the deck directly under my window is of little importance. A dog does what a dog wants to do.

Last night was so chilly I shut my downstairs windows. My feet were even cold. Yesterday was fall. I don’t care that it is still August. Fall drops in now and then to get the lay of the land and last night was one of those visits. Today isn’t much better. It’s still chilly and damp. School should start on a day like today.

My friends are leaving for Ireland on Tuesday. My other friends are going to Ghana in the middle of September. I feel like the poor relation. I haven’t even been to Hyannis lately.

I called Rose Atiah, one of my students, this morning. I needed a Ghana fix, and Rose is always good for a conversation. She said it was getting ready to rain, and I could picture exactly what Bolga looks like with an impending storm. Rose said she was doing nothing, and I told her I was doing nothing as well. We chatted a bit more, and Rose said she would pass along my greetings to Agatha, Francisca and Bea. Hearing a Ghanaian accent always gives me a bit of a lift, and I love that Ghanaians pass along greetings.

Sometimes I feel like a bit of a hermit. With no reason to go out, I don’t bother to get dressed. I make my bed, brush my teeth, do a cursory wash of hands and face and then let the day while by me. Today could easily be one of those days, but I have no choice but to go out to the pharmacy. Gracie gets to come because it will be cool enough in the car for her.

When I finally got to my house in Ghana, I was living alone for the first time in my life, and it was a difficult transition. During Peace Corps training, we had been herded and kept in large groups, and we had each other, but now I had no one to talk to about how I felt, no one who understood what I was going through. I was homesick, doing a rotten job in the classroom and an object of curiosity for my students and just about everyone in town. I fled to books and checked for mail every day at least a couple of times. I was starved for conversation and companionship. I was miserable. I don’t know when that began to change, when I knew I was home, but change it did. I loved living alone. It was fun going into town and to the market. People greeted me all the time, and I returned their greetings. I was madam, a teacher at the school, and that was all.

Talking to Rose today brought a lot of that back. She still calls me madam.

“Reach high, for stars lie hidden in your soul. Dream deep, for every dream precedes the goal.”

August 18, 2013

This morning I woke up early to go to the bathroom. The bathroom window was open so I rested my arms on the small sill and looked out. It’s the same view as from this room but so much higher, a third floor view. I was in the trees. I could see movement in and around the branches, but I couldn’t see the birds. I could smell the morning air, a combination of so many things. I could smell dampness, not the sort a moist cellar brings, but the sort which comes from humidity and a wet driveway and dewy grass; the sweet aroma of flowers was strong, mixed as it was with the dampness. It seemed to circle me on all sides and come from all the gardens. The best smell of all, though, was the one only a morning brings. It was the smell of freshness in the air, the smell of a new day, of another start. I stood for a bit at the window, took it all in then went back to bed. The morning was still too new, too early. Fern and Gracie hadn’t moved. They were both still asleep in the same spots on the bed as when I’d left. I slid in between them and fell back to sleep.

Today is dark, cloudy dark, with a chance of rain, but I don’t think it’ll rain. Today will stay humid and close. Right now nothing is moving in the dense air, and it is quiet except for Gracie’s every now and then bark. She sounds so loud I keep wanting to hush her. I want the quiet I love so much.

When I was little, my dreams were enormous. I thought I could do and be anything. The worse part of growing older was learning I had limitations. Math was out of reach. Once it got too complicated for my fingers, I knew it wasn’t for me. I loved nature and bugs and snakes and all sorts of crawly things, but I didn’t want to learn about them from books. I wanted to watch them crawl and slither. I learned early, third grade, that I couldn’t hold a tune so singing was out. I had begun whittling the list of what I could do and be. Amazingly I wasn’t disappointed that some doors had closed for me because I figured there were plenty out there just waiting for me to find them, and when I did and turned the door knobs, I knew I’d find treasures. I started to like some things over others and was better at the ones I liked. I tolerated the ones I didn’t. Soon enough, I got to pick, and I chose to study English. It was the best of all choices for me. It gave me the world.

The first time I ever taught was in Ghana. I remember those first few months. I was awful. I stood in front of my students day after day, and they had no idea what I was saying. I spoke too quickly, and they couldn’t hear my English accent though they spoke English. I was having the same trouble but in reverse. Somehow, though, over time, I stumbled into teaching so that we all learned. Franciska still remembers much of what I taught her. The best thing she said was I told them the sky was their only limit. They could do and be whatever they wanted. They just had to keep reaching.

I still do that-I still keep reaching.

“They may forget what you said but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

October 28, 2011

Yesterday we had a torrential rainstorm most of the day and night, and with the rain came a cold to the bone chill. The sun is shining now, but it does little to dispel that chill. The sun has the look of winter about it when its sole purpose is to light the day. Some parts of the state have already had snow. Winter has its foot in the door.

Francisca is here. I picked her up yesterday. We hugged for the longest time then we talked all the way down to the cape. She looks forty years different, but her laugh is the same. We are both amazed that we have finally found each other again. She told me she speaks of me often, and when she and my other students get together, I am always mentioned in their conversations.

It is seldom that a teacher finds out the impact she had on her students. You stand there in front of class after class and hope that your words have taken hold and found a home. It isn’t just the teaching of English that happens in the classroom. It is helping your students realize that there are no boundaries. I learned way back when never to underestimate a single student, even the slowest of learners, and I learned that encouragement and faith are far more important than a simple sentence or the uses of adverbs. Francisca was among my brightest students and she went far, even to a master’s degree and becoming, for a time, a government minister. She is filled with energy and enthusiam even though she keeps telling me she is old. Francisca is, as she said, only six years my junior, but I am her mother.

Today we are taking a cape ride so I can show how beautiful it is here where I live. I already know how beautiful it is where Francisca lives.