Sunday, March 13, 2011

When in Rome…

(Or in Ghana, as the case may be.)

Things are finally settling down a bit after a crazy two weeks of additional training for the teachers, which means I’ve finally had the time to sit and reflect a bit, on things like how I’ve assimilated here.  Just this past Thursday I was declared a Ghanaian by a colleague at the Metro Education Directorate.  In some ways, she’s probably right.  Having been here five months, I’ve picked up some of the ways of my host culture. 

In a cash-only economy like this one, it’s very common to carry around large sums of cash—hundreds of cedis at a time.  Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much use for any denominations larger than a twenty-cedi bill, making it necessary to find ways to organize stacks of tens or twenties.  For every hundred cedis, a Ghanaian folds one of the bills around the outside of the stack to separate the stacks and make it easier to count the money.  On Thursday, Liz needed to pay Benee for her almost-three-week stay here at the house, which required quite a few stacks of hundreds.  I did the logical thing and followed the Ghanaian way of sorting money before I put it in an envelope.

When I handed Benee the envelope, he took out the stack of money and stared at it for a moment.  He then told me, “I’ve never seen a Westerner stack money like this.”  I smiled at that and told him that just the day before, I had seen someone get reimbursed that way and thought it was a good idea. 

Telling this story to LJ later on, I came to the conclusion that I’m perfectly happy to adopt new practices when they make sense to me.  Stacking money in hundred-cedi increments is logical.  Writing letters the Ghanaian way is another example.  Ghanaians tend to write letters in which the line directly below the salutation is an all-capital-letters, underlined summary of the letter topic.  I need to write a letter to the Metro Education office and, since it will make it easier for the office to file a letter in that format, I’m happy to use it.

I’m not terribly thrilled about the content of the letter, though.  I’m being asked to recommend an ICT teacher for the role of School-to-School Coordinator for this program.  This topic came up in a meeting Thursday afternoon at the Metro Education Directorate Office.  The program I’m supporting is at a fragile time in its existence.  Without someone supporting it full-time, there’s a good chance that much of the foundation that I laid over the course of my assignment would be wasted effort.  This sense of urgency caused my manager to request more support from the Metro Ed office for this program.  The decision was that one of the ICT teachers would be pulled into this full-time role and I was asked to identify the person for that role.

Time stopped briefly for me as thoughts whirled through my head.  I was being asked to completely change a teacher’s life.  Whoever I named would be pulled from the classroom to teach the teachers and manage the program and would have to give up teaching students.  When I finally responded, I said, “I’m really not comfortable with pulling a teacher from the classroom.”  I was told that I would not be the one responsible for it, but that did nothing to lesson my sense of dread.  I managed to agree to give them a list of candidates that they could interview, which seemed like a workable solution.  They get the benefit of my insight into which ICT teacher(s) might be able to handle this role but the responsibility for the choice is where it belongs, with the main office.  In thinking about the situation, I realized that working for Ghana Education Service is a bit like being in the military—they can move their employees around at will and the employees (teachers) have to do what they’re told.

Further reflection made me realize that this decision-making is the sort of thing that managers do.  Given that my manager here was expecting to get “senior managers” for Pulse volunteers, I can’t be too surprised that a situation like this came up.  I can only hope that the teacher they choose is okay with taking on the role. 

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