Friday, December 20, 2013
This morning Madame Emma was still gone in Saon. I quickly ate some fried bread and cabbage for breakfast and headed outside into the steaming heat, already mounting by 8am, as the Harmottan (dry season) has not come this year to cool things out. Most Ghanaians attribute the conspicuous absence of the Harmottan in recent years to climate change.
A consistent refrain I heard throughout my first week back was “Madame. Do you know how to dance? Do you know any songs? Teach us.” The kids effectively were gauging my intelligence and/or quality as a teacher/human based on my ability to sing songs and dance dances without reference (also to teach and implement fun games involving no preparational materials).
The Travers’ beloved “Family Car Songbook” notwithstanding, the cultural emphasis on singing together is much less pronounced, I think, in the US. It seems to me that the skills of an average (esp. white) American at following and learning a tune, memorizing scores of lyrics by heart, and being able to dance easily, fluidly and un-self-consciously are distressingly poor. Realizing that these are critical abilities to have in order to make friends in Ghana, I was overcome by a wave of gratitude to have a) gone to hymn-rich church services every Sunday for 17+ years and b) had a weekly music class at PDS since I was five, that evidently was quite effective because I still remember the words to “The Cat Came Back,” “We Shall Overcome,” “Kia Ora,” and “Wade in the Water.”
I had been struggling since my arrival to come up with good songs (that I know by heart) teach the kids. The problem is, as with poetry, the vast majority of the songs I know involve concepts or vocabulary that would be very foreign (Irish drinking songs, Berkeley fight songs, songs from Camp Wohelo, Danny Boy, Camptown Ladies, I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad, etc). “Lundi matin” was an early hit, although still I’d had to translate every French word for the kids except the days of the week.
In one of those strange incidents of karmic luck, I had a dream that the night before that I should teach them the hymn “All Things Bright and Beautiful.” When I awoke, I was astonished at how perfect a suggestion this was (Thank you, subconscious!). I know at least four verses by heart, easy tune, simple vocabulary, religious message that the kids will love that isn’t so strong I feel uncomfortable teaching it.
So I taught that, line-by-line, until we could sing it in a round, to kids of all ages on a blackboard in the yard, and then went inside to get some water. As I was drinking, in walked Dornuki, who had walked from the Koforidua bus stop back to Manye and snuck into the house unnoticed by Mr. K.
We sat and talked for a long while, catching up, and then I went outside where the kids were having a dance competition between classes using the speakers we’d borrowed and Mr. Appiah, one of the national service volunteers, as the MC.
When I appeared, they insisted (naturally) that I “do a dance” for them. After showing them the basic steps of salsa (thank you Fernando, my dear Brazilian friend and Latin dance Jedi of Oman!) and demonstrating that I know all the words to “Chop My Money” (thank you, Fia, Eddyne and Nicole, my Burundian friends in Dubai, who exposed me to the global music sensation that is P-Square!), I received the uproarious affirmation “Oh Madame! Madame can dance!” closely followed by the incisive (as only a faux-incredulous 11-year-old smart-ass like Jerry can deliver) “So Madame, can you do anything else useful?”