Tuesday, May 24, 2011

“Back to life, back to reality”

Last week was full of activities that are part of my transition back to life in the US.  I’ve had the opportunity to speak to three very different groups of people on my experiences: my colleagues at work, this year’s PULSE volunteers, and a kindergarten class.  That last group was the first “talk” of the week.  A friend of mine helped me connect her son’s kindergarten class with a Kumasi KG class.  This side project was really an excuse for me to make regular visits to the Kumasi KG class where they treated me like a rock star.  It reminded me of the Intel commercials with the tag line “Your rock stars aren’t like our rock stars.”  (I even had the tech gear, like a laptop and flash drives, to make me a credible tech star.)  I was happy to come back to the US KG class and tell them about my experiences in such a different place.  I also had gifts for them—two separate art projects done by the 60+ students in the Kumasi KG class.

I brought a tri-fold board with a smattering of pictures from my assignment, which I created primarily for my presentations at work.  My friend’s son had apparently talked up his friendship with me, which prompted the teacher to introduce me by asking the kids, “When you heard about Michelle, did you know that she was a grown-up?”, to which I piped up with “Sort of.”  As soon as I set out the board and sat on one of the little kid’s chairs in front of the kids, who were seated (mostly) quietly on the floor in front of me, the first question I got was about the soccer players.  When I pointed out that Ghanaians call soccer football and asked if any of the kids had known that before, a couple of them had, not surprisingly the Hispanic-looking kids in this multi-ethnic class.  I also showed them a Ghana Black Stars jersey.  My friend’s son leaned over and, in a very loud whisper, asked me to tell everyone that I had brought him and his brother a shirt like that one.  Being the good friend that I am, I told the class, which caused one of the kids in the back to pipe up, “You should go back to Ghana and get 23 shirts!”  Not coincidentally, there are twenty-three kids in the class.  It’s good to see that kids are the same everywhere.

I had a couple pictures posted of the slave castles at Elmina and Cape Coast.  Of course, one of the kids asked about the castles.  I said that they were from when the Europeans first came to Africa, at which point I trailed off and looked to the teacher for help.  She said, “I think that’s probably enough for them,” leaving me off the hook from trying to explain to a multi-racial group of 5- and 6-year-olds what the purpose of the castles was. 

Another question was about what a picture of a baby animal showed.  I said, “I think it’s a baby sheep,” which elicited a round of “Aww” from the kids, leading the teacher to say that I really would have been a hit if I had brought it with me.  (I had this mental image of smuggling the lamb on the plane and trying to get through customs with it.)  One of the little girls was fascinated by the baby (human, that is) that I saw in the Muslim part of Kumasi, which gave me a chance to point out that they learn about different religions in school there.  They also picked up on the pictures of a couple weddings I attended, one for a head teacher’s daughter and another for the caterer at our house.

The learning wasn’t a one-way street.  When I spoke about not being able to drink the water and having to buy water in bags, which they called sachets, a little girl in the back of the room raised her hand and asked, “Do they come in different flavors?  Where my mom is from, you can get them in strawberry and watermelon and like twenty other flavors.”  Turns out that the little girl’s mother is from somewhere in Puerto Rico.  Given that I have work colleagues who have worked in Puerto Rico, I’m wondering if they had that same experience.

All too soon, the school day ended and I had to make my exit before I was mobbed in the hallway by the kids leaving school.  My friend asked her son if he wanted to leave with her, but like all little kids, he preferred to stick with his normal ride home.  I’m really glad I had the chance to visit the class.  I need to follow up with the school in Kumasi and see if they’ve had a chance to read the class letter that was sent over.

More about the PULSE volunteers and the work talk in another post.

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