A Long Long Road – Ghana 05/08

Wednesday May 14, 2008

On the way back from Cynthia’s I took pictures of butterflies.

Butterfly in Africa

Everyone was returning to the deaf school. On the way back, Deb and I took a detour up a dirt road to see some guesthouses that are for rent. We walked and walked for a long time up a dirt road. I started to get nervous.

Rachel Off RoadDeb off Road

We saw a restaurant that claims to serve pizza. We kept walking. We found the Nevea Guest House. The Reception Door was shut and locked. There was a phone number on it. We looked around and the grounds were beautiful! As we walked back to the road we saw a man standing in the yard, some ways away. I started to walk toward him. I stopped when I heard snarling and barking dogs. The dogs moved toward me and I backed toward the gate, through it and onto the road. In a skirt and flip-flops I had plenty of room for bites. The dogs caught the man’s attention and he called another man to greet us. This man took us through the guesthouse, which was quite nice. Some rooms were 25 cedi per night, others 20 cedi. I have no idea how those prices compare to what we pay at the Shanti Guesthouse.

Flowers in AfricaFlowers in Africa 2Small Home on Path

The signs on the main road had indicated a second guesthouse was nearby. Deb and I walked and walked. We passed houses with schoolgirls doing laundry. They called “obruni!” we smiled and waved. There were chickens running in the yards and beautiful bushes and flowers lined the roads. Most of the homes have walls around them and some have barbed wire or broken glass on top of the wall.

Keep out! Glass on WallSecurity System

We continued to walk. A little girl came out from behind a wall where we could here a dog barking. She asked us where we were going and we told her, she said, “Follow me! I will take you there!” We walked and continued to here children yell, “Obruni!” as we passed.Our little guide laughed and explained, “They call you obruni because it means white man.” I smiled and said, “But I am a white woman.”  She said, “We only have a word for white man. They call out obruni because it makes them happy to see you here.You can call them ‘obibini’ it means black man.” I thanked her for the info. 😉 I asked her if oburunis ever stay at this guesthouse. She said, “No.”

As we got closer a pickup truck came by and two men inside called to us. “Come here I want to talk to you!” I looked at Deb, she stayed put and I took a few steps closer. We were a long way from the road and way out of our element. I looked at our little guide and she didn’t seem concerned. “Yes?” I asked.

“Are you two missionaries?”

Deb and I started laughing. Yes, two white women off the beaten path in skirts. But I have never been confused for a missionary before. “No, we are working at the deaf school.”

“We would like to come see you tonight.”

“Thank you, no. We are both married and we leave in the morning.”  This seemed to be enough. They drove away.

We finally found the guesthouse. I gave our little guide some orange tic-tacs and she skipped off. The madame was in the back yard tending to dinner over a fire pit. “Hello,” I hollered, “we are interested in seeing your guest house.” She apologized for her clothing and went inside to change. She came out in a beautiful African dress and then she led us upstairs. The rooms were dark. The power is out. The prices were low but it is not a place I would stay. We thanked her, took some pictures of the incredible view and then made our way back down the road, without a guide this time.

View From Guest HouseView From Guest House 2

Now it was becoming dark. Panic set in as I realized this is it, this is our last night. We still had to grab a taxi and get Deb’s drum in Aburi. I hadn’t seen Sylvia. Deb and I had only been to the school once and most of the children were not even there! This trip was too short. (Didn’t I say that last time too?)  After taking a taxi to Aburi and asking the driver to wait while Deb purchased the drum, we bumped into the rest of our group as we walked up the road to the school they were walking down the road. The power was out and the night was dark. Curry said it was almost 8:00 but since the power was out the children were going to bed. Deb and I continued toward the school in a hurry. When we arrived the children were excited to see us. The only light was from the moon. Because of our light skin the children could see our signs in the moonlight, much easier than we could see theirs. It was too dark for pictures. We signed and shared as much as we could until the dorm mother came out with her switch letting the children know that it is bedtime. She told us that since it is so dark many children fall or stumble and get hurt, so they go to bed before their curfew when the power is out.

We said our good-byes. Sylvia had already gone to bed. I left a message with Priscilla to please tell Sylvia that I am sorry I missed her. She had not yet arrived to school when we came the other day.

Deb and I walked back to the guesthouse in silence. Deb sighed and said, “Wow.” Only one word, but her voice was shaky. I just quietly said, “Yeah, I know.”

Both Deb and I have spent much of our deaf daughters’ lives fighting for their rights and education. When Leah was about to start preschool at age 3, we lived in Los Angeles. When we looked at school options we had two choices, oral or total communication.  Aaron and I knew the pitfalls of both these methods. We told them we wanted Leah to be in an ASL environment, which would require a fluent teacher and another fluent signer in the classroom so the children would have the opportunity to “overhear” conversation as you would in a hearing class as well as see their language in action. Deaf children miss out on so much information because typically their hearing teacher speaks to another hearing adult in the room, rather than signing to them. We were told in no uncertain terms that the program we wanted did not exist and we HAD to choose one of the two programs already in place. I asked, “How can I in good conscience choose an educational program for my child when the only programs you offer are guaranteed to leave her unprepared for life? Your programs will not support her in becoming the fullest possible contribution to society. You admit that statistically my child will graduate from high school with a third grade reading level and yet these are the only programs you continue to offer? You cash your paycheck every two weeks knowing full well that you are literally failing generations of deaf students!”  There are aspects of deaf education in America that are unconscionable. If you were to tell someone that their child would graduate with a third grade reading level because they are blond, or black, Hispanic, or short, or have blue eyes, or a Christian, there would be a public outcry. No one would stand for it. No one would believe it. Yet it is somehow a believable and acceptable outcome for the deaf child?

A child who cannot hear only lacks the ability to hear, they do not lack the capacity to learn. It makes me sick that some people actually believe it is true that a deaf child cannot learn. In a way, I guess it has been my personal mission to guarantee that Leah is “not that child.” My daughter does not get a passing grade because she is deaf, but because it is the grade she has earned.

As Deb and I walked in the dark, in Africa, the sadness and happiness and helplessness and hopefulness of these incredible cultures and countries weighed on my mind. How can you continue to judge another person as less just because they cannot hear?

6 thoughts on “A Long Long Road – Ghana 05/08”

  1. As usual, your post fills me with a range of emotions~ from smiles and giggles to holding back tears. Look at all you’ve been able to accomplish just because you didn’t want Leah to suffer from the education that was offered. As I look over at William, I smile, because of what he has been able to accomplish in great part due to everything you’ve done.
    Thank you friend.

  2. I am so proud of you Rachel. Sounds like your walk was quite interesting experience, one I am sure you will look back on and always remember.

  3. Very moving! I feel there is a book here, hmmm…”The Memoirs of Rachel Coleman’s travels.
    It is amaing how many lives you are having an impact on; in Ghana as well as here.

  4. As a mom of an autistic child I know about proving that your child is not THAT child. Keep fighting th good fight, you are doing wonderful work!

  5. I agree with the other posts — I smiled/laughed out loud at the reminder that they would call out obruni to you 🙂 But then “A child who cannot hear only lacks the ability to hear, they do not lack the capacity to learn.” made me tear up and made goosebumps pop out all over. You’re an amazing spokeswoman, and I’m glad/grateful you’ve been given the light to shine.

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