lundi 26 novembre 2007

Je vais ajuter

I forgot to explain the title of the previous entry. The classrooms dont have lights and board visibility relys on the very particular ratio of light from the door and windows. The students are always disagreeing back and forth between the sides of the classroom about which exact windows should be open and if the door should be open etc. . . this is always a source of amusement to me becasue the students become very angry and window and door openess becomes an important issue. "Madame! On ne peut pas voir le tableau!" "Madame! Ouvre le porte! Il fait chaud" back and forth . . . back and forth. The two sides battling it out until just the right combination of windows are opened and i am able to continue teaching. "Ok classe! Haha. Ca va aller! Haha. Ce n'est pas grave! Vous peuvez regarder le cahier de vosvoisins" War inevitable breaks out no matter what i say. Eventually they let me teach.

Madame, I Cant See the Board

It has been requested that I explain some of my actual job to all you faithful blog readers. It's just a lot of info but i will do my best to give you a picture of what it is like.

First, the Lycee is a typical West African lycee. The buildings are made of cement blocks or mud bricks and then plastered over. There is no glass or wood or screen for the windows and doors. Instead the square hole or "window" or "door" is equipped with metal slats like blinds that open and close. Each class/grade has their own classroom and the teachers move between the classrooms. There is no electricity. There are no bathrooms. The students sit in 2's 3's or 4's at bench-like desks. Some of them have the text books some dont. They all love to write in blue ink (which is deteste!). They all have notebooks. There is only the chalkboard which often has a crack and the teacher as resources. My Lycee serves 42 villages and many students bike to school from 10k away or more. School begins at 7am, there is a break between 12 and 3 and then it continues until 5pm. They arent in class the whole time though, some afternoons they have off etc. There are about 70-100 kids in a classroom. A classroom is about the size of an average american living room.

They take biology, english, history-geography, french, math, PE, the older kids also take physics/chemistry and philosophy. All of this is really challening for the kids to actually comprehend because it is essentually impossible to do experiments with the kids (no electricity and a class of 100 students - yeah thats what i call impossible). So they rely on their abilities of memorization. Critical thinking is really hard for the students because the lack of resources makes it difficult for them to be able to synthesize and understand the information.

Some kids (the ones who are better off and dont worry about having food and water) tend to value their educations. They want to learn and they see what can come from having an education. The poorer kids have to foremost worry about their families work in the fields and the pressing needs of the home (getting water, making food etc). This means that the poorer female students tend to be taken out of school or fail out at a young age (the age for girls to marry is around 17 - hint hint). This is why Peace Corps has an entire sector of volunteers who work for the empowerment of women. The roles and attitudes of the two genders here is very much like victorian america. Strangely the literature of Jane Austen and its themes applys to life in West-Africa.

Lets see . . . the schools operate on a trimester system that accomadates the rains as well as Muslim and Christian holidays (Ramadan . . . Easter etc). In village, education is secondary to the harvest and God. Age and grade are not very correlated - you can have an 12 yr old and a 15 yr old in the same class and it wouldnt be that strange. They three grades a trimester and each grade is over 20 points. Students are happy with a 10 out of 20 - in fact thats a pretty decent grade. They pass if they get an overall score of 7 out of 20. The Ed system is really different than what im used to.

I like teaching. As far as Peace Corps goes it is an easy way to be effective. Other people have assignments that are completely ambiguous but with teaching it is very clear what and how to be an effective volunteer. But we also have a ton of work - last weekend i had to correct 300 hand-written tests. Eeek! I teach 12 hours a week. The average teacher does about 15-20 hrs depending on the subject they teach. I actually do not find the classroom of 70 african kids who speak french to be that scary. At first it was frightening. I'll never forget the dread and terror i felt just before i walked into my first official classroom. They behave as well as 13-15 yr olds can be expected to behave. We laugh a lot. I however am not cut out to handle 70 15yr olds and it wears on me - patience not being one of the traits granted me by God. But it could always be worse. At least its not 140 kids.

This was a bunch of info but i hope it gives you and idea of what i do. I am in village most of the time. About every two weeks I go to the capitol or to a friends village and i speak english, sit in air conditioning, and eat tasty food for the weekend. I do need my little America fix. Honestly, the best thing about Peace Corps is that I can say, for the first time, without any hesitation that yes, I am immensely proud of me too. I dont know how or why but I can do this and it really isnt that difficult for me. Challenging but very do-able. You just never know what you are capable of.

The "Entergy" of Village

It's 7pm in village. I step out of my hut to dump my leftover onion and bread bits in the compost. "What is that light?" I search for the offending light post in vain . . . that light is the huge, smoky and still luminous moon. Life without electricity makes you in-tune to so many things you would never notice otherwise in your bright, air-conditioned den with the reflection of the tv screen on the windows. I do not miss electricity at all. Sure, some nights i wish i could plug-in a fan . . . maybe i iwsh it were easier to charge my ipod and cell phone but thats all. In place of "Entergy" in village we have the glorious luminosity of Monsieur the Moon. Do you have any idea how bright the moon is? I thought i did . . . you know from being at the farm or at camp etc i thought I knew how brilliant the moon and stars could be. I was mistaken.

When you live in a place where the production of light is a small miracle you cant help but be startled at the moon and stars capability at flinging their endowment haphazardly towards your mud hut. They are like people with an immense natural talent that they dont appracitate and squander. During the growing half of the moon, the full moon, and then a little bit of the diminishing half one cannot help but want to chastise the moon for his waste. "Hey Moon, cant you spread out this light distribution? Hell, at this rate in two weeks you wont have anything left to spend and then i wont be able to find my latrine in the dark!" I get so excited when the full moon comes back. You can walk around village without a flashlight at night, i can find my latrine in the middle of the night without having to light my lantern, and of course not to mention how beautiful the moon is.

The light breeze at night after the ridiculous velocity of the afternoon harmattan winds, the tiny cheerful pinpricks of the stars like GOD is filtering the magnificence of heaven through a collander, the fluid Milky Way which winds carelessly languidly over the roof of my house, and then the audacity of the moon. I drink a cup of tea. I take a deep breath. I enjoy the marvelous pyrotechnics of the night village sky. These are things you can only see when the nearest gaudy artificial light is 80k away.