Monday, November 23, 2009

where did my week go?

hello everyone,

I'm at an internet cafe in Accra, so I thought I'd give a quick update on the last week - -which went by very quickly!

The week's sessions went well ... on Friday it was nice to have my professor's father, Rev. Dr. Apea, come visit. He just observed quietly, and before he left he gathered all of the students, speaking to them in Twi about the importance of literacy.

Like I said in my last post, I've really enjoyed getting to know the students more and more. In Level 2, especially. There is Sister Comfort, who is older and very serious about her studies. On Tuesday she interrupted the class, standing up to "speak on behalf of her sisters." She explained that they were not able to finish their schooling and "had been praying for an opportunity to further their education." She was so grateful for the program!

And then there is Sister Helena, the woman who sells plantain chips. She is round and smiling, with a little rim of facial hair under her chin. Sister Josephine is very clever and quick. She has been asking about the test next week, and has decided to postpone a trip to visit family to make sure she can write it. She said she needs to write the test because she plans on "topping the class." I see her at the tro tro station and at the market, selling a variety of goods. She'll be carrying a bowl of "pure water" (mineral water in little bags), or a platter of bananas on her head.

And Sister Sophia is very sweet, but honest. Last week I was chatting with her after class, and she asked me, "What are the benefits of learning this?" The work can be difficult for her sometimes, and she wanted to be reminded that it was worthwhile. I asked, "What do you think the benefits are?" Sister Josephine was sitting nearby and jumped in. "There are lots of benefits! Let me give you some examples..." and went into a little list. You can tell Josephine sees opportunities and takes them. Since that conversation, I've tried even more to link literacy to the "real world." Reading Bible passages together. On Friday I photocopied an interesting newspaper article, for us to read and discuss together. I even cut out job postings and added them to the photocopied paper -- every single one of the jobs asked for good English!

Anyway, on Friday Sister Sophia surprised me with kindness. Somehow during the previous session, I had misplaced my hankerchief (these are necessary, as you are always dabbing at sweat or wiping away dust!). On Friday Sister Sophia told me she had found it, and returned it to me freshly washed. From the nice smell, Felicia and I concluded that she had even sprayed it with perfume. After the class, she gave me a plastic bag. Inside, were two new bars of fragrant soap in nice packages. There was also an envelope, sealed closed with the words "to Sister Erica" on the front and "From Sister Sophia" on the back. Inside was a new hankerchief folded neatly, and two one cedi bills, crumpled but smoothed out flat against the hankercheif.

I found out that she had given the other Level 2 leaders envelopes as well, with a one cedi bill inside. When she gave Felicia hers, Felicia asked her why. She responded that she was grateful for the program, and knew that anywhere else she would have to pay for this kind of teaching. She's older, and she said she doesn't have a job, but this is what she could offer.

I was so touched. This kind of sincerity stands in stark contrast to others I've met, who seem to see a foreigner and instantly see "money!". It's a reminder that you can't focus on people like that, when there's this kind of generosity here, too.

Speaking of generosity, Suzanne and Michael invited me back to Mampong for the weekend, and of course I took them up on the offer! So I'm heading back to town today, after enjoying a weekend in Mampong. Poor Suzanne is recovering from malaria, but we still had a good time hanging out in the kitchen, drinking tea together, and of course lots of talking! It's nice to live with a family on the weekends -- the guest house can feel a little lonely. So it was fun even just to help with normal things, like taking out Aba's braids and helping give the girls a bath.

Also -- Michael tells me the harmattan has come. A cold front blowing all the way from Europe, picking up dust as it travels over the Sahara desert. It can get very dry, the lush greenery turning brown. The dust can sometimes act as a trap for the heat, making it hotter -- or the harmattan can make the weather cooler, especially the mornings and evenings.

Already I can see its effects -- as we drove up to Mampong on Friday, the sun was burning orange and yellow through a haze of dust, a haze that settled on horizon and clouded the hills from view. Michael explained that people looking at our location, from far away, see this same haze, even though we can't see it up close.

Mampong is in the mountains, so it's cooler to begin with. But even this weekend I can feel it's gotten cooler. Even though it's still hot in the afternoon, in the evening I actually wrapped my blanket around myself while watching TV on the couch. Michael had to snap a picture -- me in Africa, bundled up in a blanket, sipping hot tea.

My skin, too, is getting a little drier already. Good thing I brought lotion! :)

Suzanne said the harmattan always makes her think of Christmas. It's strange -- being here, I don't even see Christmas coming. Obviously my usual weather and surroundings are different. But in Canada, the Christmas commercials and billboards fly up immediately after Halloween, it seems. And so you hear about Christmas for about two months before it actually comes. But this year I'm going to fly back to find my Canadian Christmas in full bloom, to enjoy it just in time.

So right now I'm in this strange mix of emotions. Watching my time here dwindle, I'm getting panicky and sentimental, trying to savor everything. "I have to get a picture of this! I have to remember this!" but at the same time knowing that it will be wonderful to go home and see everyone again.

The question on many people's minds is ... what about the program? I'm praying that it will continue, and it seems that both students and teachers are willing. Six weeks of instruction isn't enough -- and i hope it is a trigger for something bigger and longer-lasting. Especially for poor Level 1 students. They've diligently learned their alphabet, its sounds and its letters ... they've begun to put those letters and sounds into words, working with simple and short words ... and then the program is over? I feel like they'll be left hanging.

So there's a prayer request, I suppose. Pray for direction. Pray for students and teachers to have the motivation to continue. Even if it's something small -- like once a week instruction for level 1, or the students of level 2 organizing an English Bible study or book club ...


gotta go head back to town :)

i love and miss you all <3



  1. Okay, I havne't actually read the blog yet... I just wanted to have THE FRIST COMMENT!!


  2. I really enjoyed reading this blog. It was so sentimental and heart-felt. I will definitely keep the program in my prayers. It's amazing to read of the how much you and the teachers have accomplished in such a short time.

    See you soon!

  3. Hi Erica,

    I actually got quite teary-eyed reading this latest blog! As you've described these precious women, I feel like I've come to actually know them. It will make it so much more special when I finally get to meet them! I agree 100% with you that this is just the beginning of their education. Maybe you can get some of the more serious, motivated ladies to arrange a book club that meets once or twice a week? We'll also be praying that their hunger for education will only grow.

    Love ya,
    MA & PA

    PPS Savour EVERY day you have there, Erica! Make the most of it during this wonderful opportunity the Lord has given you!!

  4. Hi Erica,
    What a wonderful account of what must be such an emotional time for you. I get the feeling you are definitely going to be an advocate for these ladies...there is so much work to be done and I know that I now have an ally!
    God bless you richly...
    Wish I was there!

  5. Say hi to your mom from all of the wolin family :)