Saturday, 27 October 2012

Chi won the Spelling Bee!

October 26 is a new holiday in our house. It is a day celebrating Chi’s win of his first Spelling Bee. He answered words from a list of 50 and 10 more “mystery” words. He competed with children ages 9-12. And at 4th grade and only 6 years old, Chi was the youngest amongst them. Every parent’s joy is when their children succeed after working hard at something. I was very happy that he won, but my joy is deeper than that he spelt words correctly. My joy is that Chi, at 6 years old, competed with children older, bigger and assumingly wiser, but was not the least bit intimidated. He did not have any notions of fear or self esteem issues that can arise in such situations. He was poised, calm and enjoyed himself. The moderator tried to throw him off a few times. She mentioned his age (amazed at his abilities), his size and nicknamed him “Mr. Chi.” All of this extra attention could have thrown off any individual trying to compete and not be distracted by extra activities. And yet, Chi took it all in stride. As parents, I think our greatest achievement is raising stable, happy and emotionally intelligent children. Having children who can be productive members of society and not be a strain; physically and spiritually on the globe. My greatest achievement is having children who can contribute to the peace of the world; by first being at peace with themselves. Chi’s joy was not in having won the competition. He wanted to showcase his talent in spelling. His joy was that he spelled words correctly. And my joy was that he did it with the same ease and comfort that he does spelling at home. Each child was given a sticker for participating. Chi’s greatest delight was receiving his own, like everyone else.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012


If you have not already done so; do see the animation film Kirikou. I have seen it over ten times and find a teachable moment each time. The story is set during a turbulent time in West African history; during the Atlantic Slave Trade or the time of the Destruction. I would date that period to the 1800s. One main clue to this fact is that there are only two adult men in the village and one is very elderly. Another indicator of this period is that the men of the village were said to have been taken away by Karaba. Karaba epitomizes the evil plaguing the region. An evil that takes away the able bodied men and leave behind an elderly man, some women and more children; and an evil that no one understands. Since few people understood the dynamics of the global trade of African bodies, it is understandable that some people would think that the problem was a local “bad” person. The fact that the bad person was a woman, unmarried, and one who lived in isolation gives us clues to how gender was constructed during this time. Karaba’s gender is particularly revealing as women tended to lose power during and after the Destruction. Powerful women, which Karaba represents, were to be feared or demoted as witches. Their power was unholy, unnatural and a threat. It should be noted that powerful West African women were the norm, if not the rule, prior to the 16th century. One of the major contributions of the Destruction to West African societies was in the construction of gender. As the men were in the minority; they were perceived as more important as they were needed to help with reproduction and production. In this time of chaos, the important bodies were those who could produce and reproduce; to help society reach some sort of normalcy. As one man was able to help reproduction with so many women, polygamy became more common than before. It is safe to assume that polygamy was the activity of a selected few before the Destruction. In addition, the focus on reproduction also meant that if a woman was unable to reproduce, she would be labeled as “enemy of the state” or as a witch in some circles. During this crucial period, societies needed bodies who could produce ad reproduce; (any) body that was contrary to that was severely ostracized. Another major contribution of the Destruction in West Africa is the proliferation of villages. Before the trade, many people lived in cities and burgeoning coastal towns. These were some of the wealthiest parts of the planet before the 16th century. Kirikou’s village is the complete opposite of what was left from that period. Instead of being large and wealthy, it’s small and poor. The villagers had to travel, quite a distance, to the nearest wealthy city to trade pottery. Those people wore nicely designed clothing with fancy jewelry. People in Kirikou’s village did not have such luxuries. One of the more fascinating aspects of this city is that it was walled. High walls were hallmarks in West African towns during this period. Their construction was to prevent the Destruction. In contrast, the two “West Africas” Kirikou reveals is proof that people found ways to protect themselves. Those who were in the village were victims of the raids; since kidnappers tended to go in the interior to capture people unprotected. In addition, the wealthy city/town shows us that people had found ways to protect themselves which did not include running into the interior. The walls kept them safe. In addition, the walls would also give birth to the idea of “belonging.” Those who belonged within the walls would have constructed a look specific to their people. An idea adopted by all nations constructing an idea of us versus them; especially during a chaotic period.

Monday, 22 October 2012

I hear of another disappearance

I hate to let my mind wonder, but I fear, as a parent, that the growing global kidnappings and disappearances are not isolated cases. I hate to let my mind wonder, but as a parent, I fear that our children are victims to an evil mind on an unknown island in a part of the world not yet identified. I hate to let my mind wonder, but as a parent I wonder what 16th century West African parents felt. What did they call the dissppearances? Did they conceptualize an Atlantic Slave Trade? A Middle Passage? A Maafa? What information did they have as to what could have happened to their children? Had that mom just finished showering and kissing her angel when s/he disappeared? Had she just finished feeding him? Had put him down for nap when he vanished? How did she conceptualize his disappearance? Was it a ghost? The evil ghost? Had they known about the evil that was sweeping the world? The evil that would steal 2 year olds in the name of profit. I hate to let my mind wonder, but as a parent, I wonder if 2012 kidnapped children are not experiencing a similar fate. Victims, slaves, tortured in silence somewhere…somewhere so far, it takes a lot of imagination to wonder about it. So far, that their parents could not conceptualize what happened; only sit in fear of the idea that it did happened. Could the sugar, rubber, cafĂ©, rice, tobacco and cotton barrens be funneling our children to that part of the world? A new land. A new destination; away from freedom fighters and morals. Has the evil of money making truly been overcome? Is innocent blood still being spilled in the name of profit? After Haiti? Had Dessalines not thought them anything? Goodness does overcome evil, but I fear Yurugu does not give up. The restlessness for destruction is his nature. I hate to let my mind wonder, but as a parent, I fear that we are in 16th century West Africa. On the pulse of something new, something evil, and not sure how to contain it. Or what is allowing it to live.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Venting in Ghana

I am amazed at how Ghanaians do not respect nor fear each other. As a Haitian I believe that fear is the beginning of respect. Ghanaians do not understand this. If no one fears what others can (potentially) do, than no one respects others enough to do what they are supposed to do. To make it worse, people here are nonchalant at not doing what they are supposed to be doing. They are stunned, to say the least, when you question their behavior. (I shall return with a blog on mediocrity and lack of customer service in Ghana in the near future.) The professionals are the worse. From doctors to teachers, no one does what they are supposed to do at the time they are supposed to do. Ghana's foremost problem with education is that teachers simply do not show up. Yes, teacher absenteeism is one of the major reasons behind this country's failing educational system. And why don't they show up? Because they don't have to. No one will force them and they don't care enough about your children or you to do so. The same goes for doctors. I had a medical emergency last week. We went in to see the doctor. One nurse said the doctor was in. Another nurse said she could not find him. One said she had not seen him. One said she just started working here and does not know him. Another said, he just started working here and she does not know him. Another mentioned he was in traffic. She was not sure where he was coming from or how long he would be because she had not spoken to him directly. She could not find the nurse who had spoken to him. One suggested that I return home and they call me when he arrives. Another said that I should wait for him to arrive; it could be minutes or a few hours. All with a straight face that says, “I do not care about your emergency.” This goes for the lawyers as well. My in-laws have had a case pending since the 1980s with lawyers in Ghana. We’ve had to pay not only consultation fees each time, but weekly bribes if we want the lawyers to even “look” at the files. It’s not enough that we pay extra; our bribes are apparently not enough to keep them interested. It’s been over 20 years. So we are now looking for new lawyers. I am amazed at how this way of doing things is influencing everyone in Ghana. Your office calls you for an “important” meeting that you “must” attend because “everyone” is going to be there. You leave your newborn with dad to return in a few hours. Your office is 2 hours away. You arrive on time and only you remembered the meeting; those unable to make it call at 4pm to cancel. Why call at 4? Why not 2 so I can make alternative preparations? 4pm means you did not care, nor fear my wrath, enough to be courteous about cancelling at an appropriate time. The housekeeper you expect at 7am so you can make a doctor’s appointment at 8 does not show up or call. You finally call her at 7.30am and she is now leaving the house. She arrives at 10am flabbergasted at your annoyance. You cannot expect people to return calls, texts or send you info when they should. They have a 100 of excuses as to why they had not done what they were supposed to do. They ran out of units, they forgot, they are in traffic, the bus did not arrive, and they did not save your number, or the phone battery died. All of this with a straight face that says, “it’s not important for me to show up for you.” How can people be so nonchalant for not having tried on someone’s behalf? Isn’t that what humanity is about, trying/helping others? Isn’t my life connected to yours? Umbuntu? I am because you are. Not you are despite that I am. For the sake of a peaceful Ghana, let us all be the change we want to see.

Friday, 5 October 2012

World Teacher’s Day

Today is World Teacher’s Day. That means teachers the world over get a nod from the global leaders. They get recognition that states, by definition, that they matter and that “we” are paying attention. For so many of the world’s best teachers, this day will not include a discussion, durbar, conference or workshop on what you are doing right. There will be no apples left on your desk or principals waiting to hand out yet another certificate of appreciation or achievement to you. As a home schooling educator, your day is marked everyday with hugs, kisses and smiles due to the magic that you make happen every day. When your 6 year old is doing things that you are now learning how to do; you have achieved greatness that only a few can attest to. Was your child deemed a problem in the public system and now he is out performing his peers? Award and more awards to you! Does your child lay awake with a book that he “must” finish before sleeping? The Nobel Educator Prize goes to you! Does your child use new vocabulary on a daily basis? Well, the Priz de Monde goes to you as well. So the world celebrates teachers and the conversation will not include any of the above award winners. There is something immensely wrong with this picture. In fact, few teachers will receive any awards today. The day will be spent degrading the teacher profession. By professionals, experts and research analyst who think the problem with education can be solved with building more schools. No mention will be made of enhancing the capacity of teachers, but more on the dribble that more children need to be registered into schools…into buildings that may or may not have enough quality teachers/experts/willing to teach them. Education is winning big political points in Ghana by politicians seeking reelection. One party wants to provide free high school tuition to all children. The other party wants to provide more senior high schools. They agree that you need more schools and that free will provide better access, but no one is asking where the teachers will come from. I taught leadership class for three years at Ashesi University. Only 3 (out of 160 students) will ever “consider” teaching as a profession. I wait to hear from these politicians when they are ready for a real discussion on the problems. And as a home schooler, I will demand a State award. After all, I am educating Ghana’s bright black stars.

Monday, 1 October 2012

The Ghana National Book Fair

The Ghana National Book Fair ended on Saturday, September 29. It was eventful in some respects. We got to meet the Second Lady of Ghana, a librarian who was very excited to chat on home schooling with yours truly. She was impressed and supportive of the initiative. The Fair was launched with speakers from very important Ghanaians including Ebo Whyte. He, and the others, discussed how Ghanaian publishers need to publish materials that matter to Ghana and Africa. That they need to pay attention to materials in the local languages and use information from Ghana to get people excited and eager to purchase books for leisure reading. I hear this speech each year….and each year, publishers prove that they are not listening (or convinced Ghanaians read for leisure) as well as they should. We also met publishers from other parts of the world, mainly India and Australia. One group IAD from Australia publish materials on the Aboriginal population by the people themselves. They voice the Aborigines, using their own languages and world view. IAD also gave us free materials; which was very nice of them. We also visited EPP which is always a pleasure. I was very glad to have found Sedco. They are now the only publishers carrying the Junior African Writers Series (JAWS). I was able to purchase some new titles from them. I am not particularly impressed with educational materials coming from India and the UK. I find them convoluted. I find too much happening on one page; too busy for even the adult. One page can include information on different topics, written in different fonts, colors with new characters. It’s frustrating for the adult to follow the fine print, imagine the child. They turn me off. Unfortunately, these were the highlights on this week long Fair. As always, (I’ve been attending this Fair since 2008), attendance was poor. So the publishers did not make money and as a result, the authors. The publishers also suffered from poor printing. Some materials had massive editorial mistakes; including pages being stuck to each and blank pages. In addition, the materials were often irrelevant at best. There was one publisher selling outdated books on countries, and only 2 African countries were represented in the stack. To top it off, the books, which were published in 1998, were being sold for $4 each! This is a country where the average person makes far less than that…and they have to pay for outdated materials on top of it! How insulting. It was clear that those books were also not published by African publishers but rather purchased to resell. My aim in attending this year’s Fair was to find a book on Ghanaian/African plants and trees. No luck! Imagine that. The Ghana NATIONAL Book Fair does not have any publishers focusing on educational materials using Ghanaian local materials. I was able to find what you would be able to find searching through a US library sale. This is not to say that there were no materials of relevance. There were some materials in Twi; mostly story books. We needed workbooks. There were no science materials exploring Ghanaian plants such as Neem and other plants, but there were materials catering to the curriculum. Not even a book on Ghanaian birds…water bodies, and vegetables. What information is being passed down? The problem with publishers in Ghana is that they don’t have any faith in a reading public. They think those who need books will have to be students; trying to pass the test or schools purchasing for their students. They don’t believe that there is a public out there interested in purchasing books to read for sheer pleasure and to enhance their knowledge; unless works of fiction or romance novels. You would be surprised how many romance novels there were on sale. Until the publishers have more faith and respect for the reading public, they will continue to face problems of poor sales and low attendance on such fairs.