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Monday, September 24, 2012

Hold Your Breath. Now Dive.

It’s been about two years. I got rejected from 3 major job opportunities. I worked in manual labor. I moved…. multiple times.  My road to being a Peace Corps volunteer has been a long and bumpy one. Tomorrow, I will finally get the chance to take the literal long and bumpy road to my site to start my official service as a Peace Corps volunteer. 

Swearing-In Ceremony!
It’s an odd thing to explain to friends and family back home but I haven’t even begun my Peace Corps service. The past 11 weeks have been what we call “training”. Language classes, tech classes, and classes about teaching classes. I’ve learned a lot of great lessons within sessions and organized lessons but I’d wager that what I learned outside of these is worth way more. My host family and some new friends, that will last a lifetime, have taught me how to live in this whole new world (Disney reference intended).

Learning by doing has always been the best way for me to learn things and I’ve been using that to get me through my time in Guinea thus far. The key ingredient that made this all work was the people around me. When you have so many people around you who want you to succeed, it’s pretty tough to fail. It's how I got through college, how I got to Chicago and how I got to Guinea. So now I go, with the same support system but at an even greater distance, to Wonkifong.

Enjoying fun times.
Wonkifong. No matter how many times I say it, write it, or read it I can’t believe: 1. It’s a real name 2. It’s now where I live. I know that I’ve been there before but the whole place is a mystery to me. I’ve been staying in the capital for the past week and enjoying western comforts before going back to the Guinean way of life (without power and with lots of rice). We really have had way better of a time than I ever thought was possible in Guinea. I played pool at a bar, well the table was slanted and The Matrix: Revolutions was on the one TV. I got to swim in pool, well it was secluded in the compound of the Country Director and had a sketchy lack of chemicals. Finally, I got to eat pizza, well it was pizza-esque with an onion sauce, no tomatoes. So overall it really was an amazing week of comforts but still relative to Guinea.
For the first time, I’m going to say that I’m doing better than Guinea-Good, I’m feeling Guinea-Great. So I'm taking a refreshed attitude and a full-belly (finally) to Wonkifong.

So I did cut my hair like this for a bit. Loved it, but my boss not so much. Already buzzed the rest.
I know there wasn’t much action or stories in this post but I wanted to let everyone know that this is when the stories get real. Also wanted to say HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my one and only big sister! Hope you had a great day.

Dante


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Monsieur MOI!!!


Age-old advice says that you have to fall on your face before you can
run or something like that, I might be paraphrasing. Either way, I’ve
reached that part in my training process we so cleverly call “Practice
School.” Up to this point I’ve taught to a group of 4 of peers and to
a group of 5 avid Guinean students. So when I was told that I’d be
teaching a 7th grade class of 80 kids, I put up my hands to brace
myself as I would surely fall on my face. Lucky for me Guinean
classes, especially optional ones, aren’t exactly highly attended. My
anticipated class of 80 turned into a manageable 46, so much
easier……right?

I went into my first classes with high hopes and ready to take the
practice part of “Practice School” quite literally. I was scheduled to
start with an easy class of about 15 or 20 10th graders which wasn’t
any more of a comfort because these kids made it this far in school by
actually knowing French so I knew I had to be on my A-game. As advised
I stood in the doorway of the classroom until all the students rose
from their seats before I entered the class fully. An odd standoff
took place for what felt like hours but my glance of “levez-vous”
(with key use of eyebrow) eventually won them over.  I let fate take
the reins for the rest of the class because before I realized it, it
was over.  I actually had to stop and think if I had actually given
then entire lesson in French or whether I had slipped back into
English in my fluster. My worries were calmed as the students copied
notes and even asked me more questions. After a few questions answered
in broken French I walked out of the classroom with scenes of Dead
Poet’s Society (or Good Willl Hunting, or A Beautiful Mind, or Stand
and Deliver) flashing in my head. I was a teacher, vraiment!

My petty victory over the 10th grade class was short lived as I had an
hour before I had to teach the 7th graders. I knew that I had to win
them over quick so I had planned a lesson full of experiments where I
get to burn things. Guinean or American, little kids love flames,
explosions and chances for their teacher to get hurt.  I entered the
class the same way as my morning class but 46 7th graders are a lot
different of an audience, but to my surprise they all rose and even
recited some little phrase that I assumed was a pledge of allegiance
or something of the sort. For the most part the kids were better than
expected with only a few disruptive students. I had more participation
than one teacher can handle for every one of my questions. Each time I
asked for someone to read from the blackboard, my question was
answered with a loud chorus of “Monsieur MOI! Monsieur! MONSIEUR!
MOI!” and snaps to get my attention, all normal in Guinean classes. It
felt good to really control such a large class, guess all I could hope
for was that they understood what I was saying.

At the end of each week of practice school we have to give an exam to
each class we taught over the week and as any teacher can tell you:
when there’s a test, there’s cheating. Cheating isn’t anything new,
but the level these students take it to is. Blatant passing of notes,
using cheat sheets and even giving each other the answer verbally was
seen in every classroom. I did my best to be a stickler and even used
an A and a B form for my big class to deter cheaters, or at least make
it easier for me to see who cheated.

As the class slowly dwindled and students left after finishing, I
noticed that one student in particular had barely started copying down
any of the questions let alone answering them. I recognized him right
away as one of my problem students: loud, disruptive, pudgy with a
huge smile and dimples to match his overall careless behavior. I had
already taken a piece of chalk from him because he was writing on his
face as well as moved him multiple times so he had no excuse of not
Mamadou and Me!

being able to see. The second to last student left and he was leftalone. I could have stopped him right there because he had already run out of time but there wasn’t another class after this so instead I sat down next to him and left him to his work. After a bit he realized I wasn’t going anywhere and decided he would try the fourth of four problems with a little extra direction from me. He finished answering
the 4 part true or false question and did his best to avoid my eye contact. Before he got up to leave I stopped him to ask why he didn’t try the rest of the test. He answered, seeming shy for the first time, “Je ne sais pas.” I saw he had the same last name as my host family and I told him that I was named after a former French professor who used to teach at the same school.  Then I let him run off, hoping that my mini inspirational speech with guilt-trip undertones got to him in some way. Little Mamadou Diallo isn’t going to be the star pupil anytime soon but he loves to say hi to me now and he seems extra proud to show me he’s in class, whether he’s listening or not.

Littlest Host Sister....tough kid.

Practice school really has been the best learning tool so far in my Peace Corps training. I can tell my French is getting much better, I’m feeling more a part of the community and I like returning home a little more now. One day my littlest sister/cousin/general family member, who always comes running to meet me in the yard with the rest of the kids, was coming at me a little too fast. She decided to go for the trust-fall type of hug at my knees without me watching. I never broke stride and then turned around to find her getting up brushing off her bottom. I’ve adjusted back to the school schedule quite easily and I really enjoy being in the classroom so far. I can’t believe I’m
about to lose the training wheels (pun intended) and hope I can keep the positive vibe going as I get closer to my move to Wonkifong.

A beautiful night at the Training Compound. I'm not actually at a resort just had a beautiful sunset.


Hope all is going good for everyone back home. Football updates are necessary!


Dante.