Editor’s note: This is an unusual post for us, but one we just had to share. The author, Eliza Hooper, is a Pasadena native, alumna of Mayfield Senior School, and the daughter of Hometown Pasadena contributor Jean Gillis, who has a related piece about a Pasadena author with a connection to the Street Academy on the site now.
Several weeks into my stay in Accra, I found myself back in the classroom of the Street Academy. Standing before the same group of students I had worked with in 2007, I attempted to fill in for an absent English teacher. The lesson of the day: adjectives. The children were unfamiliar with this word, so I asked them to look at me and tell me what they saw; the words they’d use would be adjectives.
“What do I look like?” I asked. “Am I white or black? Do I look happy or sad?” For a moment they were silent. Then a girl in the front row shouted,
“Long?” I repeated.
“You are long!” she said.
The rest of the students made noises in agreement. In my floor-length blue dress, I suppose I did look “long,” like a giant crayon. And while this was an adjective, it was not quite the example I was looking for.
“Good,” I started, “Long is an adjective, but when we describe a person’s height—”
“Fat!” Someone in the back row had continued to describe me.
“Uh, I’m sorry?” I stopped.
“You are fat!” another student offered.
“Yes, fat!” came another little voice.
This was definitely not the example I’d been looking for. “Hmm, let’s think of another word to describe me. Something more…accurate.”
The children all paused to think. Then, after a brief silence, came that word again, this time more forceful, like a war-cry. “Fat!” It was followed by a chorus of “Long! Fat! Long and fat!” I imagined them practicing this vocal ambush behind the school the day before, the girl in the front row pretending to be me, waddling around as the children gayly chanted “Fat! Fat! Fat!” after her.
“Fat?” I questioned, putting my hands up to silence them. Well, I’m not really fat, am I? I mean, in the grand scheme of things…chubby, maybe, but fat? Come on! I mean, fat? Really? Maybe you mean healthy?”
The girl in the front row ignored my ramblings. “Madame, you are long…,” she said, raising her hands high to indicate height, “…and fat.” This time she spread her arms wide, as if she were hugging an elephant.
“Long and fat,” chimed another student.
The children repeated this phrase to each other several times, agreeing that this was the best way to describe me, and proud that they’d come up with the proper adjectives in English. They’d delivered their verdict, and it was nothing to be ashamed of or insulted by, it was simply the way it was.
I sighed. “Well, fat aside, in English we do not use ‘long’ to describe a person’s height. We use the adjective ‘tall,’ instead.”
“Tall, ” they whispered to themselves.
The girl in the front row looked up at me, nodding her head. “Yes, madame, you are right.”
“About what?” I asked.
“You are tall. Tall and fat.”
Eliza Hooper is a Pasadena native and a writer and performer for the Upright Citizens Brigade and a production assistant for The Simpsons. You can see her in this recent video by her uncle Tom Gammill.