On Friday after class, Alex and Yousef got into a fight.


This is my main problem as a teacher, or one of them: I have stopped thinking fights are a big deal.  You either grow up with them as part of your culture or you don’t.  Most people who grow up in urban Ghana do; most students I’ve ever taught did.  I didn’t, so I don’t understand the importance, and it’s a really difficult mindset change.  I’m willing to let people settle their problems the way they feel they’re best settled.  If there are weapons involved, or victims–people who haven’t agreed to a fight getting caught in one–my stance totally changes, but in terms of a hand-to-hand brawl between a couple of angry, resilient teenagers, who cares?  Whose business is it?


This view has probably been helped along by the physical desire to do violence that has increased over the time I have been in Ghana.  When I cap my Obruni Capacity for the day, I start being ready to deck and injure anybody who calls out to me.  Be that a two-year-old inside her mother’s shop or a young man blocking my path.  At the moment these feelings aren’t particularly healthy, but they put me more in sync with desperately testosteronical adolescent males.  And they’ve instilled in me a desire to learn  boxing and/or self-defense when I get home, which I think will be favorable to my human development.


Anyway.  As a teacher, I have to act like I care.  This can make life difficult.  Especially because I’m a female teacher and not very physically strong or imposing.  Most of the other students were involved in separating them, Samuel taking the lead, many of the girls involved in trying to calm Alex down.


Yousef is a reject.  I’ve known that since he came to his first interview.  Something drew me to him, and I admitted him to the club.  I’ve seen moments of spark, but I’ve also been a failure, overall, at Drawing Out His Potential or whatever it is that an artistic teacher is supposed to do with introverted rejects.  I cast him as the King in our play, but Ghanaian students, unlike American students, think it’s perfectly appropriate to say to the full assembled group, “Madame, I think we have to change this actor, because he cannot do it!”  As Annie did the instant we finished our first read-through.  (Of a play that the kids created themselves, are directing and designing themselves, and have added an extra day to their weekly schedule to do dance training for, that last entirely of their own volition.  Just to make clear that I have accomplished something.)


Annie, in fact, found it appropriate to call me up two nights ago and say, “Madame, you must forgive Alex, and you must speak to Yousef’s headmistress and tell him that we do not want him back in the club!”


I responded, “Well, actually, Annie, I am treating both people involved in the fight equally.  I’m speaking to both their headmistresses, and I am speaking to both of them, and giving them one more chance.  As long as they do not get into a fight again, I want both of them to stay in the club.  I spoke to Alex today, and I went to speak to Yousef, but neither he or his headmistress was at school.  I’ll go there tomorrow.”


“Have you forgiven Alex, Madame?”


“Yes, I have.”


It was all true except for the part about the headmistresses.  I have no intention of speaking to either.  Both boys claimed the other started it.  Most of the class sides with Alex, but I wasn’t there (I was cleaning up the space after class when I heard the commotion outside), and they’re all so hostile to Yousef already that I don’t trust any of them on this.


Teaching is confusing, and teaching teenagers is more confusing, and it doesn’t get any less confusing because the teenagers are Ghanaian.  I write this post simply to say that.