Annelise Madison '14

Annelise Madison is a politics major from Roca, Neb. She spent the summer as a volunteer at Ghana Alliance for Community Transformation (Ghana ACT), working alongside members of the local community of Ho, Ghana, to educate and empower local underprivileged youth by teaching math, English, science and computer skills at a primary school.

Swish. Swish. No need for an alarm clock here in the village of Ho, Ghana. I'm woken up bright and early by the sound of sweeping. Groggily I check my watch: 4:30 am. As usual, the women in our compound begin their morning ritual of sweeping the rocks off the dirt in front of their doors when the sun begins to rise. The many roosters freely walking around town only add to the noise. I silently hope that today will be the day that their owners decide to come and find them, corner them and cut their heads off. I wish this not simply out of tiredness, but out of hunger for meat. Protein is a limited commodity in this land that subsists mostly off of fufu and banku--dishes in which they dip something that resembles bread dough into spicy stew. No wonder I dreamed about cheeseburgers last night.

I look over at the mat across the 10' x 10' cement room, where my cross country teammate, Molly Ortiz, is also waking up, but slowly, no doubt because she is considering the lengthy day before us. Our new African routine does not allow much time for rest. I begin to get restless because our fan cannot keep out the intense humidity and heat, even at this early hour, and even though it is the cool season. We both get out of bed and walk outside to the clothesline to find our dirty running clothes. (We still have not perfected the art of bucket-washing.) Our neighbor Annie greets us in Ewe, the tribal language: "Ndi! Efoa?" We simultaneously respond, "Me fo." She shakes her head and chuckles to herself, knowing that we are about to embark on our usual 10+ mile morning run to nowhere in particular. Exercise is not a popular pastime in Ghana.

Our run is event-filled, to say the least: As we trod on the red, rocky dirt roads, we dodge men who approach us with open arms saying, "Hello! My wife!" and women who approach us with concerns about our health saying, "You are tired. Go home and rest." We turn and wave to some of our students who shout, "Miss Annelise, Miss Molly!" After taking a bucket shower and eating a breakfast consisting of a fried bean dough sandwich, we signal for a taxi to take us to McColin's Primary School. The taxi driver, like the other villagers, is very welcoming, and seems excited to be driving "Yavus"--their term for whites, who are a rare sight in the village. He speeds around craters, dirt piles, trash fires, goats, chickens and pedestrians in the road in his beat-up Honda, while explaining that he would like to be friends. We exchange contact information and pay him the equivalent of 25 cents--the normal rate for taxis. When we get out of the car, the children of McColin's warmly welcome us. We greet them as well as the administrator, Harry, and the Headmistress, Momma Susie. This morning we arrive at the school early enough to play with the children using the sports equipment that we brought to the school, thanks to the W&L Athletic Department's generous donation. I help a boy practice proper shooting form at one of the basketball hoops that we built for the school, while Molly plays Ompi, a popular jumping and clapping game, with the children.

Around 8:30--time is not strict--the children and teachers assemble for the morning songs and prayers. The teachers carry a stick to ensure the children behave. I sing along with them during their patriotic song because yesterday the third grade class taught me the words. Michael, the third grade teacher, approaches me to ask if I would teach math this morning. I agree, and I spend the morning teaching fractions to third graders, music literacy to fourth graders, and Microsoft Excel to fifth graders. At the beginning of the period, the teachers tell me what subject to teach, and I spend the next hour teaching the kids what I know about the subject. It is exhausting to teach without lesson plans, and by lunchtime I am ready to relax with Momma Susie and Molly over some mpoto mpoto, a local dish consisting of yams and a red sauce. In the afternoon, I teach grammar to third graders during their English period and rights and privileges to the fifth graders in their citizenship class. After the closing assembly, which consists of more praying and singing, I am ready to coach basketball during the afterschool sports program that Molly and I started. Today it is the girls' turn to play, as the boys and girls alternate days. The boys take a soccer ball and play while I hand out the jerseys to the girls and take them on a short warm-up run. Molly and I stretch with them and then take them through some basketball drills. Yesterday I created a handbook of drills for Michael because he agreed to coach the boys and girls in basketball after we leave. The children are excited when we tell them that Mama Susie is planning to have cement laid for a basketball court--thanks to a generous donation from an Irishman--where they will be able to play full-court basketball with the hoops that Molly and I made for them. By the time we send all the kids home, we arrive home at 5:30 to find Linda, a villager who cooks for our volunteer group. She has cornered one of the mice in our house and has a broom raised to kill it. She misses and we tell her it is ok because he has become such a permanent fixture in the kitchen that we named him Stuart Little. I am surprised by how accustomed I have become to roaches, lizards, and mice inside our house.

Our neighbors, Sammy and Priscilla, have come over to eat dinner with our ten-member volunteer group tonight. While we eat banku, Sammy tells us about leaving his home country of Ghana to pursue an M.A. in Switzerland. He worked and studied so much that he only slept for two-and-a-half hours every night for three years! He told us that many Africans work themselves to death to support themselves and pay for their schooling when they move to Europe or America. He is glad to be back in Ghana, and he is excited to have a child, as he and his wife are expecting. After dinner, Molly and I do dishes for an hour with buckets of water and bar soap. Then the whole group--including Sammy, Priscilla, and Linda--play cards. Our guests excuse themselves relatively early, around 8:30, because they need to get some rest. Because my days start so early, I do the same. I have had a busy but rewarding day, and I am excited for what tomorrow will bring.

Being immersed in a different culture is unlike any other experience. It is a unique educational experience that supports and furthers the education that I have received and will continue to receive at Washington and Lee. Even though I am only experiencing one other little part of the world, this two-month experience has given me a chance to partake in a mutual exchange of culture. It also has helped me appreciate and love differences and yet understand the sameness of the human condition. The children that I teach in Ho love to laugh, play and sing just as the children in America; they just laugh at different jokes, play different games and sing different songs. This understanding and appreciation of other cultures will definitely play a role in my future career. After I graduate, I plan to go to law school and then work toward ultimately becoming a federal judge--an occupation in which exposure to, understanding of, and appreciation for different cultures is a must. I chose to come to Washington and Lee University because I thought it would enable me to receive the best overall education, and thanks to programs such as the Johnson Opportunity Grant, which allowed me to go on this trip, I have not been disappointed, but rather truly satisfied.

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