April 16, Clarkston, WA:
This morning I visited the 4th grade calss of David Eberle (RPCV Liberia 1988-90)at Highland Elementary School in Clarkston, WA. The students were all so enthusiastic and curious, it was obvious that Mr. Eberle had spent some time talking to them about his experiences in Liberia. When I asked how many of the students had heard of the Peace Corps, all of them raised thier hands!
I showed them some slides and fielded thier bombarding questions as effectively as I could. The most interesting part of our discussion, came when one of the students asked about jails and if they have them in Ghana! Of course Ghana has its own prison system and thier own law inforcement much like we do here in the States. But I felt I had to elaborate on the justice system, which opperated in the more remote parts of the country where I spent my 3 years. The Northern part of the country is less Westernized and although prisons and police exist and opperate in these areas, a much more effective, cultural form of deterence exists. It has a lot to do with the tight knit communities, that comprise the villages in the area. I explained a bit about life in one of these open communities, where everyone knows what everyone else is up to. In these parts acceptance within the community is identity. I then got into the story of ritual stoning or beating of criminals. This fascinated the students to no end as was evident of all the curious hands waving all over the room. I took an example of a thief caught stealing in a community like this. Seldom do the police ever get involved and they are certainly not the first points of contact. Justice is immediate and the public are the judges, jurrors and execusionists! A thief in a village where people have little is a very serious offense. The thief, once apprehended would be marched through town, attracting the attention of all the villagers. The thief would be displayed for all to see, convicted of his crime and then sentenced by stoning or beating to near death. This is quite a spectacle to behold, especially coming from a western culture, where criminals are dealt with a little more mercy. I suddenly became aware of how shocking this can seem when I looked across the classroom at all the expressions of disbelief. I wanted to take back everything I had said, as if I was presenting a bad image of the country and culture I had grown to appreciate and respect so much. I found myself defending the practice. And trying to make it sound less barbaric. This type of justice is a message to all who witness that within the community such activities are not accepted. Crime was not much of a problem in Bongo?
Soon my presentation was over, kids have a funny way of asking good questions, one student asked me why I was riding a bicycle and not just using a car? I had to wonder myself!