Monday, November 7, 2011

Five Months In

I apologize for not writing for such a long time. To be honest, this last month has been a little rough and I didn’t really feel like reiterating my struggles to you all. But, don’t worry I am doing fine, it is just starting to sink in that this job is not going to be easy. Not that I expected it to be easy, but now the specific challenges are arising and the problems of gender inequality and a struggling education system are no longer abstract concepts, they are my everyday life.  I am still figuring out how best to tackle these challenges, and right now I am just doing a lot of observing , which can be frustrating when I just want to jump right in and start making things happen. But I understand the importance of knowing the culture in order to make any change relevant and sustainable, so for now I am just taking it all in.
School is going, slowly. SSS I started coming last week, so now I am teaching two classes of SSS I and two classes of SSS II Biologyin addition to the three classes of JSS II Integrated Science. With four periods per class, I’m one busy lady.I really enjoy teaching the SS kids. The classes are smaller, they are better behaved and I really like teaching Bio. Most of my students at the SS level are boys, so they all try to impress me, like their 15 year old selves have a chance, but hey if it gets them to study, I will continue to keep making a big deal out every right answer. I have some really bright students and I’m excited to be their teacher for two years. I think it is getting easier for them to understand me too which is a bonus. Now that SS I has come I have to remind myself to speak extra slowly again. I forgot to do that at first and they looked at me like I was speaking Chinese. Speaking of SSI, I am happy that they are here, because now I have all of my students, but at the same time, I now have eighty more names to remember, and they are hard names too. It is really difficult to remember a name that I can barely say, but I try and they appreciate that. Plus, learning their names is necessary for classroom management; I need to be able to call people out when necessary.
JSS is a different story. They are let’s say, energetic. The classes are larger, they have a much harder time understanding me and they are less interested in school. It is a little crazy how the school system here slowly cuts down the number of students from year to year. JSS I currently has over 400 students, but SSI only has 80. I try not to think about where those other 320 students went and just focus on teaching the kids that want to learn, but it definitely is something to get used to. I do have one JSS class that I really have come to like. They do all of the silly comprehension checks I ask them to do. We laugh together when I make them say big words like commensalism and ampere and they can’t get it the first few times. And there are a few kids who I think really like science and are excited to learn. At least I hope it is that and not just them trying to impress the white person.
Community life has had a few ups and down recently. On Friday, one of my neighbor kids died. It was a real shock to me. When I got home after school on Friday I was told that Lamin had fallen down with convulsions and they had taken him to the Catholic mission. Later that night I was woken up at 1:30 in the morning by wailing of multiple people. I could make out some of what they were saying and from what I had heard from other PCVs I knew that this meant that Lamin had died. I had no idea what to do. I decided to stay inside and wait until morning. On Saturday morning I woke up and it was confirmed that Lamin had died. I went over to their house and sat outside with a congregation of women while the burial arrangements were being made. They were just finishing washing the body when I went over there. When they carried him out of the house covered in a lapa, I almost lost it. Lamin was only four years old and one of the kids that was always on my porch, break dancing, laughing and eating all of the weird American food I cook. I still can’t really believe that he is gone. And his parents, I can’t imagine what they are going through. His dad is a teacher at my school and his mom is one of the women that I talk with every day, one of the most kind and sweet people I have met here. She is currently about seven months pregnant and has a one and a half year old to take care of, so there isn’t much opportunity for her to grieve. Lamin was their first born son, so that, compounded with his age and the suddenness of his death makes his dying even more of a big deal here. The part that really breaks my heart is that my next door neighbor boy Arnold, who is four also, has no idea what happened to his best friend. He talks about how they ‘don put Laminna di gron’ but I don’t think it has really sunk in because he has been so happy these last few days. It’s going to be so hard for us all when he finally realizes that Lamin isn’t coming back.
The same day that everything was going on with Lamin’s burial, there was a wedding in my town, which is a huge deal because not many people can afford to have a big wedding ceremony. I accidently joined the church choir, so I had to go, which ended up being a good thing for me, to get out of the house and be surrounded by people that were happy and celebrating. The marriage took place in the Catholic church, so it followed the format that I was used to, but apparently the actual, traditional part took place a few nights before in the village of the woman. One of the teachers at my school was explaining to me that there is this process of the man giving the woman’s father money and cola nuts, very old school dowry business. But the mass in the church was the same as any Catholic marriage in the U.S. I loved seeing everyone done up in their fancy Africana and all the women with their hair all done and decked out in jewelry. After the church part there was a reception, that I missed most of, but when I showed up around 10:30 they were bringing out the food, so it was perfect JAfter the food, there was dancing of course. It was fun, but a bit strange because a lot of my students were there and more than one of them tried to dance with me. I’m still getting used to the fact that my SS III students are mostly my age or older. At least I don’t actually teach them, I’m just their form master, so I’m in charge of taking attendance and doing their report cards. But still, it was weird seeing them drinking and dancing and everything else that happens at jams. I left early, around 1, so I think it was a good compromise between having fun and still being a respectable teacher.
Overall, I’ve learned a lot this last month and I’m starting to get into the routine of teaching, integrating and trying not to make a complete fool of myself. My strategy is to keep smiling and working hard. Love and miss you all.

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