Day 2 Ghana 2012: New Kids & House Bats

Sunday January 15, 2012
Here in Ghana there’s a 7-hour time difference from my home in Utah. In Ghana we are 7 hours ahead. Lucy’s having lunch at home while we are getting ready for bed. There’s no need for us to stay up late. The sun goes down and we all wrap things up and go to bed. There is no Internet. A single light bulb lights each room and it’s a small bulb. There are not a lot of distractions. We have 5 rooms, all of which were thick with the smell of mothballs. Honestly, last night I thought I was going to be sick to my stomach when I hit the mothball scented “wall” just entering the bedroom after dinner. “I’m not doing well,” was about all I said as I crawled into bed with no intention of brushing my teeth or putting on my pajamas.

Curry and Aaron asked the woman in charge about the white plastic balls scattered around the floors, in the sinks, and in every drawer. She said that they don’t have a bug or moth problem, but she said those are just placed to perfume each room so it smells nice. The guys quickly gathered up all of the mothballs and sealed them in a ziplock bag.

This morning we got up, got dressed, and headed to the local deaf school. School starts this week, so not all of the deaf children have arrived yet. They will trickle in over the next few weeks. We were able to meet the new headmaster too, and guess what? She signs!!! The old headmaster was close to retirement, but then she unexpectedly passed away. We heard that the new headmaster says that it is mandatory for the teachers to sign!

She invited us to an assembly tomorrow morning at 8AM so that she can formally introduce us to the staff and students. She also told Curry that she would like “more programs for the teachers.” This is a woman who gets it! Can I jump up and down and shout for joy? Yes, yes, I can!
Little changes can make such a big difference.

We went back to the school and spent time with the students. At any given time we each held court with anywhere from 3 to 30 students. They came running, hugging, signing of course, introducing, and asking, “Where’s Alex?” “Wow, Leah, you have grown up!” “What’s your name?” “Who is deaf?” “Is that your husband?” Can I just say that four years is a long time between visits, it’s just too long.

Usually the volunteers with Signs of Hope are individuals, they are singles, and it was cool to have family groups this time.
Ronai and Ellie are mother and daughter.
Carissa and Pablo are wife and husband.
Aaron, Rachel, AND Leah are husband, wife and daughter.
Jen is my first cousin.

The kids loved Jen’s blonde hair and they set to braiding it.

Jen gets braids

They loved Pablo’s wavy black hair.
They loved Curry’s shaved head too.

They were checking out anyone with visible tattoos, pressing on the skin and doing their best at deciphering the designs and sometimes attempting to replicate them on paper. I guess we are fascinating!

It was fun to stand back and watch Ronai(an ASL interpreter) and Carissa(a soon to be ASL interpreter), everyone really, as they sorted out the distinct differences between ASL and GSL. Like in GSL they sign FAMILY with “L” instead of with an “F”.

It’s Sunday, so the students are in play clothes. Emilia, the sewing teacher, took us on a tour of what they call the compound, we call it the campus. There were at least 10 bunk beds in each dorm room, that’s at least 20 children per room and sometimes they hold up to 44 students in a room. Sometimes the kids double up on one mattress, a mattress smaller than our twin beds at home.

“Curry, can we replace the mattresses?” I asked. I was happy to finally stumble on something we might leave behind that would make a difference. The mattresses are thin foam and many are falling apart, torn, full of holes, or stained from years of use. Curry said he would find out how much mattresses cost here. Twenty to forty kids in a room… I can’t imagine what it’s like when a flu bug hits. Yes, shaving heads for school attendance makes perfect sense.

Since school hasn’t officially started the classrooms aren’t set up and they are dirty and dusty from months of no use. The windows are always open so dust just blows in. There is still a coloring page printout of Alex and Leah taped to a cupboard in one of the classes. The students were excited to take us by the hands and show us that the paper is still there.

There are so many new students, “new” meaning brand new to the school, first year students. The new students usually can’t sign at all. Imagine being six and having no way to communicate. Imagine being deaf and having no around one to teach you anything in your native language. The students come to school and this is their first exposure to sign language, unless they happen to have deaf family members. Imagine having NOTHING for six years! Some of the new students just sign “A-B-C” because that’s something they have figured out. You sign, “Hi!” They answer, “A-B-C”. You sign, “What’s your name?” They answer, “A-B-C”. The new students are six or seven or even fourteen years old. It depends on when they became deaf and it depends on when their family even finds out there is a deaf school and it also depends on when the family can afford to send their child to that deaf school.

Once again, there’s a little guy here who has stolen my heart(already). He’s shy and seems so tiny. He mostly hid behind the older kids and peered out at me. I signed, “Hi!” He signed, “Hi” back, but I think he might just be mimicking. As I continued to sign with him he just signed, “don’t know–don’t know.” Another student came up and signed, “He’s new” and she pushed him aside, stood in front of him and began a conversation with me. I wondered if she remembered being “new” and being scared and being brushed aside. Maybe it gets to me because Leah was “new” at age one when we, her parents, realized that she was deaf, but right now this boy is 5 or 6 or 7 and has less than five signs, OUCH! He could have countless signs at his age. He could communicate like a hearing child his age, just through signs rather than through speech. I know that I can reach these “new” kids. I just hope to have the opportunity.

We left the school, picked up Cokes, Fantas, and fan ice (ice cream in a plastic pouch) from a little store and then we walked back to the hotel. Sometimes we just need to sit down together and decompress. You almost have to ask eachother, “Did that just happen?” because things feel so surreal.

There is such a crazy range of emotions that I go through but when I am at the school I don’t display those emotions. I come back and talk about it or I just work it out alone on paper with a pen.

I bet you can’t guess what we had for dinner…
We had heaping platefuls of chicken and spicy rice!! We had asked for smaller portions tonight, but they were not smaller. (Smaller portions? And you call yourself an American!)

I tried phoning Lucy three times on Curry’s satellite phone. Finally I left her a message. I showered, and discovered that our hot water works today, it didn’t work yesterday. I filled up a bucket from the spigot and then poured giant ladles full of water on myself. Perfect! It’s really hot and humid here, even at night. We each have a fan in our room and when we have power, as in electricity, the fan helps us be comfortable enough to get some sleep at night.

Telling myself that there are no spiders also helps me sleep at night. Last time we were here the spiders showed up like clockwork, always at the same time of night and always at the same spot on the wall. If there were no spiders last night then there are no spiders in my room tonight. Right? I’m going with that!

You’ll be thrilled to know that we have a house bat. The flying kind. He/she/it comes careening through the hallway at night, in a repetitive fashion. Our bat circles. Not cool. And then you hear conversations like this: “Hey, did any of you get the rabies vaccination?”
“Nah, seemed like a big waste of money when I was back in my bat-free home.”
So, we quote Ace Ventura’s sentiments about bats, and I holler and cringe when the bat makes it’s rounds and finally I go to my room and shut the door tight and I tell myself there is only one bat and maybe that’s why there are no spiders… and and so maybe having a bat is a good thing.
Good night.

PS: You can click on the photos to make them larger:)
~RC