Monday, June 25, 2012

The Sheet Is Falling! The Sheet Is Falling!

Two days after high school graduation I boarded a plane to Africa and spent the summer teaching math at the Jesus Grammar School in Dawhenya, Ghana. While I was there I fell in love with the country, the people and the culture - but mostly the children. The following is not about the heartfelt lessons or mature moments of clarity experienced there, however, this post is about the language barrier. 
Ghanaians, like most Africans, speak multiple languages. In the little village I lived in, Dawhenya, the population spoke Dangme, Twi, English, French and a few other nameless dialects I couldn't differentiate between. 
I only spoke one language. 
Luckily, English is one of the many tongues of Ghana. 
Unfortunately, it is not the same english I remember learning in the states. The African accent is heavy and places emphasis on all the wrong syllables. African vowels make entirely different sounds than American vowels and for some reason the Ghanaian vocabulary consists mainly of words the U.S. has chosen to leave behind or define much differently. 
My first week in Dawhenya I heard the following tattle-tale from a number of children 

Naturally, I assumed the child meant the students were exposing themselves to eachother as per the standard definition for "flash".
 I was shocked.
Here I thought the American School system was being eroded by an over acceptance of moral relativism in the name of universal acceptance, and my pedestal students at Jesus Grammar School were flashing one another. 

What I thought happened: 

What Actually Happened: 

Clearly I was mistaken.

A few days later I was in the market shopping for mangoes when I struck up a conversation with a native Ghanaian who was roughly my age. He was friendly and I was lacking in adult interaction so I let him take my phone and enter his contact information.

*Side note - while most Dawhenyans live without electricity in plywood shanties sharing a single communal water spigot that is only functional 13 days out of the month - they all have cell phones, facebook and an uncanny knowledge about american celebrities.

He handed me back the phone, smiled and told me to "flash him"
Now I had learned from the previous school yard miscommunication that "flashing" wasn't an indecent mardi gras hoorah - it was flatulence in the general direction of another person.

I was still confused.

What I thought he meant:

What he actually meant:

Apparently Webster's dictionary hasn't made it to Dawhenya yet, If I ever return, I plan to take one and clarify once and for all the correct definition of the world "flash". 

 I did not speak African English. 

Grades 2 and 3 were held in a makeshift structure haphazardly enclosed by rows of ruggedly cut sticks and covered by a leaky grass thatch roof.
Because I feel my paint skills are especially lacking in the drawing of class 2 and 3, I've included a real picture. If you want to see said real picture click here

Grade 2 happened to be my favorite class. 
One day, about two weeks into my African Adventure, I was teaching in grade 2 when the children started to make a ruckus. 
I did not know what "falling sheet" was, but apparently it was a big deal. 

So I asked.
The problem with asking second graders to explain something to you is their inability to speak one at a time. All the sudden I had fifteen children all yelling out, in various degrees of correct english, trying to explicate exactly what this mysterious "sheet" was. All I was able to ascertain is there was something in the roof and somehow it was all Peter's fault. 
Peter was a trouble maker. 
I now understand the complicated relationship between trouble maker and teacher. While the child is mischievous and disruptive in class, teachers find them secretly funny and sneakily able to win them over despite poor behavior.
 I secretly thought Peter was hilarious. 

I racked my brain for a proper definition of "sheet" and came up with two possibilities. 
Either there was a literal bed sheet holding up the thatch roofing or there was a sheet metal lining to serve the same purpose. 
Peter must have been pulling down this structural sheet, threatening the soundness of grade 2's classroom.
I went to investigate. 

I couldn't see anything beyond the mess of palm leaves and grasses that comprised the roof. 

The second problem with second graders is their lack of ability to distinguish between auditory and visual stimulus. While I was busy looking for bed linens in the ceiling, the entire class started to point and shout "Sheet! Sheet!" as if their cheering would motivate me to see better. 

My eyes were not motivated. 

I still saw no sheet. 

I began to believe Peter had duped me yet again, and gotten the rest of the class to go along with it. 
 I confiscated the stick from Peter and prodded a bit myself, feeling for the enigmatic "sheet". 

I found nothing. 
Conclusion: it was a Peter prank. 

I thought I had settled it.
No touching the roof. 
Sit in your seats. 
 Problem solved and Shenanigans neutralized. 

But the children persisted. 

And so did I 

Francis (the only teacher for all 6 grades at Jesus Grammar School), hearing the commotion across the stick barrier separating class 2 and 3 came to settle my class for me. 
When he heard the children shouting "Sheet, Sheet! Sheet on mees Weenties head!" and saw my perplexed expression he couldn't stop laughing and I was even further out of the loop. 

I then learned that there is no "sheet" involved in the making of a thatch roof. 
There are, however, little animals that often make their home in the thatch, and often poop in their homes. 
"Sheet" is the Ghanaian pronunciation for the 4 letter "S" word for feces. 

I unwittingly poked and prodded feces from the rodent infested roof and into my hair. 

I was a sheet-head. 

I also allowed an entire room of 8 year olds to chant profanities.


The End. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Failing at Finals

I have been in college for a total of nine semesters (including summer semesters), 168 credits and four years; you would expect me to be at least proficient in navigating collegiate courses. 
This is not the case.
While I have gone through finals week 8 times before now, I have yet to master the art of acing a final. 
 Sure I pull off good grades (depending on your definition of "good" - I have yet to receive a 4.0) but when the end of the semester approaches... I fall to pieces.
This may be due to the fact that I doodle in the margins of my notes during class instead of paying attention or writing down pertinent information.
It may also be due to the fact that any class before 9 a.m. I find excuses not to go to at least once a week, or it may be attributable to my study approach: Start studying one day prior to test, cram all night and pray you remember something. 

If this narrative doesn't clearly explicate why I am the last person you should ask for study advice, the following illustrated time line of a typical finals night should. 

This is a true story.

To preface: I cannot study in rigid chairs or perched at a desk surrounded by other studious scholars, my approach to studying involves being sprawled out on a bed or couch with all necessary study materials scattered around me.

We begin.

18 Hours to test time: the studying commences.

I always start out strong. 

This assertive initial plunge lasts for nearly an hour; all synapses are firing, memory bank is open and functional and all information seems intriguing. It's during this fervent beginning I wonder why I didn't just pay attention in class and retain it since the material seems oh so comprehensible. 

Then, all the sudden, it stops. I hit a concept that just won't click or linger on a problem slightly too long and the productivity comes to a screeching halt. 

...and then I start to wander.

At first, my wanderings are short lived and I'm able to refocus quickly. 

But I decide I need a reward for my ardent efforts. 

Which means I get a snack break. 

I return to studying but the zeal is lost. I am not longer excited about chemical equations and organic mechanisms. 

I start to get sleepy... 

And succumb to the somnolent sensations. 

Ironically, If I had studied effectively for physiology I could tell you exactly how melatonin influxes cause those drowsy impressions, but I'm not very good at studying... so I can't. 

As I'm drifting off I'll negotiate a 15 minute nap with myself before returning to academia. 

I always end up sleeping much longer than planned. 

When I wake up 2-3 hours later, usually with keyboard marks on my face from sleeping on my computer,  I panic. 

The panic spurs new determination and a short lived kick for my study drive. 

But the panic subsides and my resolve goes with it. 

 I take a snack/caffeine break....

And a bathroom break....

Then weakly attempt to get regain my study ambition. 

Which usually fails, leading to yet another snack break. 

At this point I am nearly 5 hours into my study cram session, the test is a mere 12 hours away and I have managed to waste 4 of the last 6 hours. This begs the question, what did I do with that time? Which spurs the inevitable existential life crisis. 

I re-realize that I hate chemistry and biology and physics and school. 

I start to question myself. 

My brain, fried from the full 2 hours of real studying I did, turns on me. 
My entire college career now seems useless and futile. 

My sad conclusion induces a full scale depressive spiral. As always, ice cream is involved. 

An ice cream induced hang over follows, which consists of me regretting eating 2 pints of rocky road all by myself, contemplating buying another carton and eating the top layer so my husband doesn't find out I ate 2 pints of rocky road all by myself and staring at the ceiling planning an escape to South America to find "meaning" in my life. 

My depressive state persists until someone, usually mom or husband, find me in my pathetic state and convinces me I am doing something useful with my existence. 

This typically occurs at around T minus 9 Hours. 

An hour of re-coup and restoration work on my faith in higher education lands me back in the study seat, once again reluctant to actually study. By now I have wasted half of my allotted cram time table and have little to show for it. 

The remaining 8 hours prior to test time are filled with flustered bouts of studying, fueled by caffeine from nearly an entire 12 pack of diet coke, and random snoozing sessions. My memory usually retains the information just long enough to regurgitate it on the exam just before my body collapses from mental and emotional exertion affixed to 24 hours sleep deprivation and a massive caffeine overdose. 

Finals week destroys me. 

The moral of the story is, if you too are still navigating your way through college, learn from my tragic tale. Do not wait until 18 hours before a test to learn everything meant to be absorbed throughout the 12 week semester. Do not succumb to tricky mind games your subconscious plays to get out of studying;  do not stop for snack breaks every 10 minutes and consider studying in a public place so any and all meltdowns are mitigated by the fear of being that hysterical student on finals week.

The End.  

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