Monday, January 18, 2010

Matters of Grammar

Validation for my grammatical errors, hooray!

When I was in Wesley Girls' High School, the worst crime you could commit was make a grammatical mistake while speaking. It was not your teachers that made you miserable. It was your classmates.

An error in grammar was like firing a shot. You make a mistake and someone yells out "Bullet!" Girls duck under tables and yell "Well dodged!" so loudly that the cry is taken up in neighboring classes and everyone wants to know who this terrible person is. Such is the passion when the colonial language becomes sacred. St Peter might very well deny you entry into heaven if you make a mistake. And woe unto you if you're a teacher. You'll have a memorial long after you've gone.

My typing teacher once slipped and said:

"Let the paper faces you!"


She was doomed. From that point on, if we saw her coming, we yelled "Let the paper faces you!" We ran into hiding, laughing.

Another teacher said, "One, two...three; both of you, follow me." Ai!

The interesting thing is that some of this comes from our own language. For instance, I speak Fanti, and in Fanti, there's no gender in pronouns. So if I want to say "He is coming", I'll say, "O reba."  (Actually, the letter is a C turned backwards, but I can't get it here)

'O' stands for 'he'. I'd say the same thing for "she." So when I'm speaking English, I tend to mix the two up. Not because I don't know the difference but because, psychologically, I think of he and she as one. I can't get rid of it. I've tried. It happens more frequently when I speak, though rarely when I write. My American-born children laugh at me when I tell a story. I get interrupted with "Mummy, I thought it was the man, now you're saying she", whereupon I snap, "You know what I mean!" Sometimes, the poor sods are genuinely confused.

So I find myself making a deliberate effort to think about gender. But when I'm excited, all bets are off. He/she bullets fly out of my mouth. Hearer beware. But yesterday, I felt so good when, at a Ghanaian church, the pastor did it:

"When the woman came to me, I looked at him and.." I looked at my daughter. We giggled. Now, the pastor was Ashanti, a people known for interchanging the "l" and "r" sounds in their dialect. The younger generation manages very well, but the older ones trip now and again. Without warning, he said:

"Let me erabolate my point further".

I knew I was in God's house and it wasn't his fault for saying erabolate when he meant to say elaborate, but I couldn't help laughing.  With affection, of course.

Shiboleth, Siboleth; who cares?

Friday, January 15, 2010

In Ghana, you can be buried in a shoe...

If you don't believe me, check out these pictures:

Or a snake, an eagle, a turkey...

You can go as a missile, a pepper or a rooster...

Or even a crab.

Just ask the coffin makers, they'll do it for you.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Our TEACH expedition in Ghana

Dedicated to Orlando Holness

The main artery of the University of Ghana
(click on pictures)

As I mentioned  before,  in August 2004, I led a team of US science educators to Ghana on an expedition. What I could not have forseened was that one of them would die an untimely death four years later. The gentleman in the foreground, with rasta hair, Orlando Holness, passed away recently. He suffered from rhumatoid athritis and probably died of drug complications. He was a close friend who invited me twice to speak at his school, Lansing Residential Center for girls in Ithaca, New York.

Thanks to his efforts, I mentored two girls who became dear to me. Orlando was so committed to his vocation that he would not quit despite the special challenges he faced daily. He displayed my art work in his classroom and would always take me to the dinner and then to the airport. The last time I saw him was when I waved good bye to him after going through security. Standing there looking long at him, I had an urge to run back to him and hug him.

I wish I had.

And now, let me take us through what we did in Ghana. We had a blast!  When we first got to Accra, we stayed at Erata Hotel (can't find the picture). Our flight from the U.S. was long, eight hours to London and six and half hours to Accra. If we had flown direct, it would have been only about 9 hours. The Prime Meridian passes through both London and Accra, so Accra is about the same distance from New York. as London is.  Our first day was a day for resting and touring parts of Accra.

I figured I might as well tackle death in one post:) This is the mausoleum where President Kwame Nkruamah is  buried. He led Ghana to independence in 1957. The sides of the monument are curved to represent the sword resting, a symbol of peaceful leadership. Ghana has been blessed not to have any civil war in its history.

This is a common sight in Ghana, and a tame one at that. At any traffic light, you're bound to see peddlars selling anything from drinks to, ahem, condoms. They lean at your windows and try to tempt you to buy grilled fowl, toys or doughnuts, anything at all. In this picture, the vendor in the foreground is selling "PK", chewing gum. The lady at the back is carrying plastic bags of plantain chips.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Beautiful Ghana!

Time to share some pictures with you! This is Commonwealth Hall of residence from my alma mater, the University of Ghana, Legon, the oldest in Ghana. When it was established, the intention was to follow the pattern of the London system with schools like the London School of Business, etc. However, in time, it became a complete university though it has retained the original name. Out of the different schools sprouted other universites. There are now many universities in Ghana, but naturally, I think mine is the finest!
This picture was taken in 2004 when I visited Ghana as an International Affairs Specialist. I was accompanied by several U.S. educators featured in this picture. Stay tuned :)