The Spelling Bee is Back

In a surprising turn of events I just returned from working with the Spelling Bee all last week.  If you remember, this past year I helped out at the National Spelling Bee in Accra.  We have now begun the qualifying for Nationals in February next year.  As a part of that we need to hold community bees for all the schools.  These are sponsored by various companies and NGOs.  The Brong-Ahafo Region (in the middle) of Ghana has their community bees sponsored by the Newmont Mining Corporation.  They’re based out of Denver but have locations all over the world.  As part of their community outreach they sponsor various programs and the spelling bee is one of them.

Last year when the students came to Accra, one of the pronouncers was American.  This made it very difficult for the students because of the accent.  When volunteers speak here we normally use what we call “Ghanaian English” to communicate because if we speak normal they won’t understand us.  Well the company wanted to better prepare the students by bringing Americans to the community bees.  So when the PCV helping organize the spelling bee for her NGO asked me help I said sure.

Since we were being sponsored by a multi-billion dollar mining company no expense was too large.  We were FLOWN from Accra to Kumasi then driven to their plant site.  Once we got there we had to go through more security than an airport.  I guess that’s to be expected for a gold mine.  After greeting all the important people we were then driven to our hotel which was by far the nicest accommodations I’ve had here.  All the perks of America with the best part being the food.  My meals consisted of fried noodles with shrimp, legit pizza (served in a box!), filet mignon (with real bacon!),  and wait for it…LOBSTER!  It was pretty incredible.

Now even though we were distracted by all this free food we did accomplish a lot.  Between the two of us we went to ten communities with over 200 spellers!  They were mainly held in churches (open air shelters).  We had a PA system and I had the word list.  Their teachers had already trained them (or were supposed to) and the kids had word lists to practice. Of course when I roll into town its like a famous celebrity.  Kids crowding you and yelling but once we got started everyone was quiet for the most part.

Pronouncing the word wasn’t the hard part, it was the sentences and definitions the kids would ask for.  The ones listed on my paper were very long and impossible for Ghanaian primary school children to understand.  I’m pretty sure none of them know that the hand consists of the metacarpus.  So we “dumbed” them down a bit.  We also had to omit words entirely like peach (they don’t have those here) or bunt (no baseball either).  I also changed the sentences to apply to Ghana so they involved a lot of football, fufu, and tro-tro references.

Despite my best efforts though students still couldn’t understand me.  For instance I know they can all spell “got” but when I say it they spell it “gat” and the same thing happened with “rock” they would spell “rack.”  They say they A’s like O’s which is not correct.  This was exactly why they wanted to bring me in so they could hear the difference and get used to it.  It truly separated the better spellers/kids who know English.

Nevertheless I was still very proud of all the kids and they of course were happy I came.  46 students advanced to the regional bee which will take place next week with six finalists from that going to Accra.  Now I am back at the office where I will be the next two weeks watching over the place.  During that time it will be GRE, GRE, and more GRE.  I have heard from back in the village that 21 latrines are finished with 27 left to plaster.  The artisans have left to finish another project and will return in two weeks to finish and hopefully start the school latrines.

Now for the biggest news…I’M COMING HOME!  My flights have been booked and now I just need to submit my paperwork to Peace Corps.  The plan is I’m home December 17-January 9.  Needless to say I’m very excited!  I will be in Chicago the whole time (minus a few days in Michigan for Christmas).  So start clearing your schedules and get ready for some fun 🙂

Steve

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