Saturday, October 20, 2007


updated (a little) my contact info


I’ve started teaching. I mean really started. Some of the other TEFL volunteers have not really started yet. Their first weeks were filled with classrooms with 2 or 3 students, if they were lucky and no students if they were even luckier (they got to go home). My first class was about 20 students, and being incalculably stubborn I decided that the sooner I got started the sooner kids would realize that they had to come to my classes even if they didn’t have teachers in their other classes. I started teaching. “Good morning class!” “…..” “How are you today?” “…..” “I’m fine, please sit down.” “….” (they sit but only because they get the hand motion.) Gestures are a huge part of teaching for me. The only reason my students do anything is because they understand the hand gesture. I act like I’m holding a pen and writing, they copy. I put my finger across my lips, be quiet. They quiet for about 5 seconds. I raise my hand toward the ceiling palm up (like I’m lifting a tray), they stand, the reverse, move my hand down, palm down, they sit. Finger to the ear and they pretend to listen, or maybe they do listen. I point to my mouth and move my finger forward, “say it, ‘It is a pen.’ Say it.” They look at me and fumble through what might be “it is a pen.” And what might also be “inhma anhm penahim” (cough bic cough). Students from other classes who come to my door tremble because they know to get the eraser like their teacher asked them to they will have to go through saying “I need the duster.” In english…
“What do you need?”
“Chiffon, si vous plait”
“What class are you?”
“Tu as besoin le chiffon?”
“Say it, ‘I need the duster’” (accompanied by hand gesture)
“I… chiffon”
“I need the duster.” (gesture)
“I need….” (squirm)
“I need the duster.” (gesture)
“I…. duster” (shuffle)
“I need the duster.” (gesture)
“I need …(shuffle)...duster”
“Very good, it’s on the table.” (point)
I don’t think any of the students put through this will ever volunteer to come and get the duster from my class again. But to be honest what were they expecting, I’m an English teacher, they need to speak English to me, honestly.
My students also are perplexed by having to ask permission to leave the class. They love that I’ll follow a student to the door and make them go back to their seat, until it’s them I follow.
“What do you need?”
“Je vais pisser.” (not sure of spelling but quite literally, “I’m going to piss”)
“You want to go out?” (they know ‘go out’)
“Teacher may I go out?” (gesture)
“May I out?” (hopeful)
“Teacher may I go out?” (gesture)
I’m sure you get the picture. They also don’t seem to understand why my class isn’t fun and easy, I mean English with the English speaker white person is supposed to be fun and easy right? songs, games, play time… not my class… not yet, so far they haven’t earned the right to sing, and honestly how many songs are there that consist of school supplies and greatings? Good morning copybook! I have a pen. This is a desk… that is a table, does not a great lyric make.
So perhaps now we get down to the nitty gritty… I have 4 classes of 6eme twice a week, which is 16 hours of class time a week, but only two lesson plans, with slight tweaks for the different groups. I never appreciated how much effort my teachers must have put into being teachers before now. Or how horrible it must be to ask a question in class and have your students give you a series of blank empty stares. Now I know, I suppose its probably vindicating to read this and realize that now I get it. “Do you understand?” (while pointing to the board where it says UNDERSTAND = COMPRENDRE in big friendly letters)
“Do you understand” They repeat.
“it’s a question, c’est une questionne. Le reponse est yes or no. Comprenez-vous?”
“Comprenez-vous?” they repeat.
“Oui ou non?”
“Oui ou non?” they repeat.
This was my first class with this group. Now they always respond with “YES!” which is not all that much more comforting. “What day is today?....Today is Monday.” “ Monday.” “do you understand?” “YES!” five minutes later, “What day is today?” “…….” (blink..blink). Oh yes they understand…

1st week copargo

So you never really realize how hard it is to move to a totally new place without much of a support system until you do it. Now imagine doing that in a language you can hardly speak and that your neighbors can hardly speak as well. Food is hard to find, your bathroom smells horrible, your not sure if your ever going to get enough water to stop being dehydrated, and all you want to do is hide in your house and mope and that’s the absolute last thing you should be doing. Books have never looked so attractive, and the idea of putting yourself out there and possibly being taken advantage of, of possibly making a huge mistake, of possibly discovering that the peace corps is not for you, is driving you to distraction, but not enough distraction to help you forget how lonely you are. This is the first week at post. It’s hard, really really hard. And the second week isn’t much better. There are some positives though, when you join the peace corps they tell you repeatedly to celebrate everything. So here are some things that I celebrated in my first week at post: Finding and buying eggs, beginning to get my own water from the well (I have more than I need now), getting the guts to go to my director’s house, and the pres. of the APE’s house and greet them etc., managing to get to and back from Djougou twice, no help (not kidding first time I ever flagged down a bush taxi all by myself), having enough water to be able to use some freshly boiled water in my bucket shower (so nice), and hitting all new levels of achievement on my computer games (maybe not something to be as proud of but hey, I’m really really bored).
Now on to the more concrete things about post, I live in a four room house, I have a study, and salon, a kitchen and a bedroom, (I walk into the study at least once a day just so I feel like its getting used). I also have a complete set of furniture, which is fantastic. I have no running water but pretty reliable electricity. I have a latrine in the back of my house, which shares a pit with my concession’s latrine which makes keeping the smell down really hard. A small bucket shower stall, and a back slab of concrete, walled in with a drain so I can do laundry and the dishes back there. There is a well in the middle of my concession about 10 feet from my front door, I get about 3 or 4 buckets of water from the well a day. You never realize how much water you need and how much you use it for until you have to haul ever drop of that water into your house; dishes: 1 or 2 buckets depending on what I make, laundry: 2 buckets, drinking and cooking: 1 bucket filtered and boiled (per day), shower: 1 bucket (per shower unless I wash my hair, then 1 ½), miscellaneous: 1 bucket (hand washing, cleaning etc.). Now what exactly does one bucket constitute in terms of effort? You might ask, after all its only a bucket. 1 bucket is approximately 2 bags of water pulled from the well. I usually pull two buckets at a time, this is four bags of water from the well, I take my two buckets out and then throw the bag down the well, the drop is easily 12 feet if not more, you haul the bag up, dump it in the bucket and then do it again, until the buckets are full, then carry the buckets into the house where I empty them either into the water filter, the laundry/dishes basins, or my large water container for later use. A bucket weighs more than my cat but less than oh I don’t know… my propane tank. This is how one deals with the water at my house, and while you might think I’m spending an excessive amount of time in this post on water, trust me, I’m giving this post an equal proportion of writing to how much I think about getting and using water.
So far Copargo has been a very nice place to be, everyone has been friendly and helpful, things are a bit far away, since I’m on the edge of town but its good exercise to walk or bike in for market etc. The area is beautiful, and while its still the pause between rainy (cold) season and dry (hot season) its been beautiful weather not to hot etc, and by the time it really does start getting hot I can look forward to harmatan (which I can’t spell) which will make things very cool in the mornings.
I haven’t started teaching yet but I’ll try to write up a post on that once I do, so far there isn’t much else to say about what I’m up to, really mostly sweeping, and hauling water, but I’m sure things will pick up next week when I start teaching.