It was just about 7 pm. I had just shut my door, locked it, and put the wooden bar across it. The wooden bar always felt like overkill but I did it faithfully every night. The Peace Corps Safety and Security Officer and my headmaster both insisted. At last I was settled in for the evening with my Kakuro book and a big bowl of popcorn.
Fifteen to 30 minutes after I sat down the lights went ou. I heard the usual roar of frustration brom the classroom block about ¼ a mile away. I took my cell phone of the table to use it’s handy flashlight. I lay it on the left side of my chest to illuminate the puzzle book and continues puzzling and eating. Nothing unusual about power outages. They are the norm in Sandema.
As I worked on my puzzle this outage began to feel strange. I checked out of my puzzle mode and into my surroundings. Ah the kids were still making noise. Usually they voice their frustrations they settle down and wait like the rest of us but this time they had been making noise for at least 15 minutes.
The noise began to come closer. In my mind I followed then across the playing field and back to the dorms. Why were they still being so noisy? They didn’t go all the way back to the dorms but settled in the midst of the master’s bungalows. I could not make out any of the students words the noise just sounded like a crowd at a football game. They stayed there for a time then I heard them head back toward the classroom block. They quieted down and I went back to my puzzle and popcorn.
The lights came back on. Madam Pat and Madam Francesca came outside and were talking. I didn’t listen what they were saying. It had been a busy day and I just wanted to shut out the rest of the world. Pat and Francesca stayed outside talking. That’s not unusual either. It was a inside and they were enjoying the cooler evening air.
Shortly after the lights came back on they went out a second time. Ab baa! Thank goodness for my handy dandy phone flashlight. Again the noise surged from the classroom block and traveled across campus. I heard my neighbors say “They are coming! Get in the house!”
Who are they? The students? Why are they coming? I found out when I heard rocks thumping against the walls of my compound mates. I turned off my torch and sat very very quietly. I ddin’t register any feelings. I just breathed one – two – three …… Then the stones hit the side of my house. The mob was shouting. They moved around the corner and started throwing stones at my door. After eight to ten stones hit my door they moved on towards the Kampusi’s.
I remained in the dark, using my yoga breathing to slow my rapidly beating heart. I don’t know how long I sat there listening to the mob roam the campus before I heard the shots. They came from the direction of the boys’ dorm. The police had come.
After about 30 minutes the place was calm. I crawled into bed and texted my neighbors. R u ok? Pat called me and said that they were. The Form 3 students had rioted but things were calm now because the police were here. She didn’t know why the rioted.
I thought maybe because the lights had gone off. During the past month three schools in the Upper East had rioted. I concluded maybe it was like a virus spreading across the Upper East.
Amazingly I slept.
The next morning when I woke up I went right outside. I met Francesca and asked her how she was. She said the Form 3 students had rioted because only their grades were posted but not Form 2 or Form 1. She reported that they had broken some louvers in their hall windows but everyone was fine.
She had just returned from Madam Paulina’s. Madam Paulina has a provision store and a chop bar. Her house is right next to the playing field. Francesca said that the students had stoned her as she was trying to close her store. They warned her to get into the house or she would be hurt. They then took the money from her store and chop bar.
Francesca and I then went to Kampusi’s to see how they were. When we met Perpetua the first thing she showed us was a large bruise on her left arm, up near her shoulder. It was the size of a saucer, turning purple and there were long gashes from the rock. Perpetua was scolding herself as she told us the story. She knew the students were coming so she pushed Dizzy, Shelly and the others into the house. But of course she wanted to close here store and get her money. “Why did I think that was important. I could have been killed” she interjected into the narrative. The students came while she was still outside. They threw a few stones -one hitting the mark. Then one student yelled “Why are we stoning the woman? What has she done to us?” Then they left.
Perpetua gave us the basic story. The evening before Master Clement had given the librarian the grades to be posted. Just last term SanTech began to post students’ grades for all to see. Many students were unhappy to have their grades posted. Not only the ones with low grades but also the smart students feared someone would put juju on them. Of course as an American I agreed with the students but kept that to myself. This is not a unusual practice in Ghana. Ghanaian educators believe it will encourage the students with low grades and it is a reward for those with high grades.
So the librarian, for what ever reasons, only posted the Form3 grades. This happened about 3:30 pm. A contingent of Prefects, including the Senior Prefect, brought the Form 3s concerns to the Headmaster. The Headmaster agreed that all grades should be posted at once. He contacted Clement. Clement was off campus and not returning til later that evening or the next day. He also tried to contact the Librarian but either failed or the librarian was also away from campus. The Headmaster said that they would take care of it. The student leaders said that something must be done by dinner or there would be trouble.
Obviously nothing got done. Both people who could fix the problem were away. So the Form 3 students made a plan. They would disable the lights on campus and go to Master Clement’s house.
So the first wave of the riot went to Master Clements. When the didn’t find him at home they broke in and destroyed some of his property including a TV, chairs, DVD player and some furniture. They then returned to the classroom block.
The electrician had figured out what they did and went to the spot where they disabled the power. He had whatever was needed to return the power to campus.
I don’t know why the students went on the second wave of the riot, but I think mob rule took over. They roamed all around the master’s bungalows, shouting and stoning the houses and any people they could find.
The police arrived about 15 minutes into the second wave of the riot. I don’t know who called them or when they were called or how long it took for them to respond. But they came, restored order and stayed for the night.
The next couple of days I got various reports from people on campus. Dizzy said she was really worried about her father. He had gone out and followed them to try to see their faces. They had turned out the lights so no one could recognize them.
The workmen on the new science building saved the building and the computer lab. The students started to try to break into the computer lab and the workmen stood up to them. They asked the students “What have those computers done to you?” and reminded them that computers cost plenty of money and that the students were going to eventually have to pay. When the wanted to come to the new science building the workmen turned them away.
Joshua said that he was trying to stop the rioting. He was with two other masters and Bartholomew from From 3. They were trying to talk to the students and even to physically hold them back. The Senior Prefect was running up the path to the dining hall towards them. Joshua thought “Good their leader is coming to talk to them maybe he can help us.” But the Senior Prefect ran right by them and joined a group of rioters!
Peace Corps needed to know what was happening. I feared that they would pull me from site. I only had one month left and wanted very badly to stay. I decided to hold off calling until I learned what the school administration was going to do with the Form 3s. That afternoon the administration announced that they were sending them home. There would be a commission set up to investigate and make recommendations, until that commission finished the Form3s would stay home.
This was the answer I was looking for. If the rioters were not there, I was pretty sure that Peace Corps would let me stay. I called Richard, the Safety and Security Officer. and told him about the situation. He called me back about two hours later. He had talked to the district police commissioner, to the police in Sandema. They assured him that the situation was under control. If I wanted to stay I could but I had to promise not to go out at night for a couple of weeks. No problem since I don’t go out at night anyway! I told Richard I felt safe. That my neighbors were there for me and we were watching each other.
A few days after the riot Rofina came to my house. She was picking up something she left behind. Joshua saw her and said to me “Don’t let this criminal come here!”
Later the next week I saw some Form 3 students at market. They greeted me and of course declared their innocence. I told them that the riot was the first time I was afraid since I have come to Ghana and what a bad impression I am getting just before I leave San Sec Tech for good.
The masters were of course upset. They always worry about riots because the students out number the masters at least 15 to 1. At the time of the riot there were over 700 students on campus and approx 35 masters and their families. Under the tree the talk was all about “How can we teach these students who have become our enemies?” They discsussed reasons. Some thought that the extension of High School to 4 years was the problem. Others blamed it on the rash of riots and that at one school the students only had to pay 15 GHC for all the damage. They were hoping the commission would put a high fine on the participants.
It did become a good teaching opportunity for the lower grades. My Form 2 science class asked me for some advice about their seniors who rioted. I took the chance to tell the story of the Montgomery bus strike. About Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. and nonviolent protest. I also told them that while I had some sympathy for those of you who don’t like your grades posted to the public – I no longer had any sympathy for the ones who resorted to violence. I suggested that they could have refused to leave their dorms – a sit in or that they could have refused to go to classes until the problem was resolved. I also said their seniors were too impatient. Expecting something to be resolved in two hours when both people who could resolve it were off campus was irresponsible.
At the last staff meeting of the term the headmaster said he would bring in counselors. The masters readily agreed until they found out it would only be for the students.When the Headmaster said that the teachers should just forgive the students and move on, I decided this was important enough for me to speak up. I encourage the Headmaster to consider getting someone in to talk to the masters. I told him if I were going to be here in the next year I would like a chance to talk to someone and a chance to tell the students face to face exactly how the riot made me feel and how I thought of them after the riot. I told him he might have a hard time finding masters to teach the rioters without some counseling for the masters. Many of the masters seconded my statement.
When I left Sandema for my home leave the commissions report still had not been published. I wonder what will happen to the rioters.