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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Third Time's the Charm

With the school year two weeks old, I finally had my first full classes during the third week. This means classes ranging from 45 to 80+. It’s not as bad as I thought it would be due to the fact that all the kids are squeezed into such a small classroom, no one is really that far away from me to be able to get away with being a bad student. I’m still working on establishing the discipline in my classroom but constant threats to leave if they don’t stop talking is doing pretty good. Also if there is ever a real problem with just one student I don’t even have to be the bad guy. They have a guy on staff whose sole responsibility is to punish the bad kids.

Yes! I managed a photo!!!!

Our school actually just got a new one of these guys too. He shows up one day on his moto wearing gray slacks, a white dress shirt, an overly-large American flag tie and brown-tinted Aviator sized glasses. He looked more “American” than I’ve ever looked in my life. This outfit, which I assumed was his best, was quickly out shown by his appearance the next morning. I arrive at school to find him in the middle of yelling at some students. I have to laugh because I can’t believe what he’s wearing and that amazingly the students are able to take him seriously from behind his porn star glasses which are accessory to his metallic silver suit! He glimmered in the morning sun like a newly polished Mustang corvette. I shook his hand to say good morning with a genuine smile of my face. I walked to my class shaking my head wondering, one, how could I get a picture of him in that, and two, why do I work with the Silver Surfer.
He is just one of many characters I see on a daily basis. It’s hell trying to memorize the students names because it’s pretty often they have the same first name and 80% of the students have one of four last names (Bangoura, Soumah, Sylla, Camara). This results in many doubles and so in one class I have four Bangaly Camara’s and each is numbered one to four. I have thus settled on giving as many nicknames as possible, even if it’s just for me. There’s the look-a-likes: Tina Turner, Seal and Wanda Sykes. There’s the pop-culture references: Ninja-Turtle, Rizzo (from the movie Grease), and Captain Guinea (like Captain America). The nicknames keep coming and I would love to be able to provide photo evidence of each but I’m not sure how professional that would be.
Sadly, no big plans this weekend. Saturday is now laundry time, yes I need the whole day for it. Go home and appreciate your washing machine, do it for me.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Let's Give it a Second Try

After the “first” day of school was a disappointment, I was ready to see if the reassurance of student attendance would be fulfilled during our second week of school. This time around we get about half of the students to show up, which still makes for a pretty large class. I felt ready to teach and got started with my “introductions” lesson plan. It included simple stuff like: who am I, who are you, name cards and classroom rules. The main activity of the lesson was to write down your name, your village, your grade, your favorite subject and a dream for the future. I, being na├»ve to the Guinean thought process, figured all of this would be pretty straight forward.  Sadly, the last question about their futures turned into the hardest question of the week. The most common answer being something about studying. I did my best to encourage them to consider things for a career or at the very least after school. They couldn’t do it. It’s the biggest problem I face every day in school. The language barrier does slow us down but the fact that they can’t answer a simple open question or form an opinion of their own accord is the most frustrating. It’s sad really because these students have been beaten (sometimes literally) into the rote system of learning and at this age have trouble changing that thought process. I’ve been doing my best each class to give critical thinking questions but easing into them. If anyone has any good critical thinking games, I would love to hear about them.

The yard at my school.

My second week of school was also highlighted by the appearance of my principal. I’ve neglected mentioning that since August when I was assigned to the College in Wonkifong the principal had been suspended. This is a new principal and he’s bringing lots of changes, which is great to see someone working to better the situation. He’s even trying to get them to show up a half hour before school, we’ll see how long that lasts.
Two weeks of school have now passed and I still haven’t really taught anything. They have a schedule like a college in America so they only have chemistry once a week. Overall the schedule is pretty weird because they only have two or three classes a day between 8AM and 2PM but the school week is Monday to Saturday. I’m no logistician but I’m seeing some flaws here.
 Hope everyone is doing good at home. I hear that I’m missing lots of sports excitement at home so email me updates! Oh, and I guess I want to hear about your day too.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Back to School

So long Issiaga Diallo, enter Monsieur Issiaga Bangoura. I changed last names to match the popular name in my village; literally close to 60% of the families are Bangoura. They clap when I say my name and it’s the only one they know because my American name is a secret, per the advice from other volunteers. The week between my arrival and the first day of school flies by and before I know it I’m heading towards the school with nerves and energy to teach all 350 students.
 My excitement was met with a lackluster attendance of 10 students and less than half of the teachers. I’ve never heard of a country where the first day of school is taken so nonchalantly. After the first 20 minutes of awkward discussions about the lack of presence from anyone, my assistant principal sent home the other teachers and told me to go ahead and teach the class of 10 students who decided to show. So ironic to my enthusiasm to teach the whole school, I actually did teach the whole school.
Being a mix of all the grade levels, a chemistry lesson was out of the question so I was a bit lost at what to do. I started with an introduction of myself and why I’m there. After this brief 15 minute lecture, I offered that we should play some games. My brain scrambling to choose a good game for 10 students and I landed on the classroom classic, Heads-Up, 7-Up. After several rounds (one in which I cheat) of perfect guesses I decide that they are all cheating and that I should up the ante a bit. I then propose the game beloved by high school conference goers and Christian Youth groups alike: Mafia. I proceed to explain the rules multiple times, slowly. With hesitant faces, we start the game. A few rounds pass with a few people “dying” off, when I reiterate that the job of detective that he is supposed to find the “assassin”. He sends me a look of realization and very decidedly points to the proposed “assassin”. He is, of course, correct, and the game comes to an anti-climactic finish. I try to get them excited about winning when one student leans over to me and says “I don’t think we get it.” Defeatedly, I offer that I could start an English lesson. To my surprise, this idea is met with cheers and so last few days of the “first week of school” were filled with off –the-cuff English lessons.

View during a random bike ride.

It was nice to have such a small class and also really funny to hear students attempt to say “What’s up?” Unfortunately, I know that this won’t last long being as my projected classes range between 45 and 80. I guess it’s nice that I’m prepared (at least lesson planned) for the next week! Going to see some volunteers and a huge waterfall again this weekend! Love the mountain views!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Hitting the Ground Running

…and we’re off.  I’m living alone in an African village. It’s a hell of a thing when you think about it, still a shock when I stop to think about it. It happened pretty quick. The night before leaving, as evidenced by my late night blog post, I didn’t sleep much. I slept for most of the car ride to my site. After a brief meeting with a few officials I was unloading my belongings in front of my house. Next thing I know my Program Director (essentially my boss for the next two years) says good luck and goes in for what was an extremely awkward hug between two men who barely know each other. Lucky for me it was followed by some encouraging words and tight embraces from 3 other volunteers who would then have to pile back into the car and head off for the rest of an 8 hour journey. It really was the band-aid technique. Do it quick and deal with it!

Some of welcoming party.

Things went a lot smoother than I expected they would for the first week. It was the first time that I truly appreciated the slow pace of Guinean life because that means I had plenty of time to settle in on my own schedule. Outside of having to greet random neighbors when they stop by I had most the time to myself to set up my house. With the few things that I have it really didn’t take all that long but moving is stressful in the States so multiply that by Guinea and the task gets a little larger.
I also didn’t have to wait long to have my first visitors. The first Sunday I was at site another volunteer stopped by to see how I was adjusting. It was nice to see another American so quick after getting there as the feeling of abandon was setting in. I got to play tour guide as I showed off the village that was entirely new to me too but she politely followed along as I pointed out obvious landmarks. My second visitor was a friend named Cisse. He is the only person I can honestly say is my Guinean friend. He’s really great about my inconsistent French and is able to have arguments in French or English. It was really nice to have him visit because he unknowingly helped me celebrate my birthday. I know I’m getting to the point where birthdays can pass without needing too much of notice but it was nice to not be alone.
Coming up much sooner than expected is the first day of school. I haven’t had a first day of school (syllabus week doesn’t count) in so long but I can still remember the jitters of the first day. Fresh notebooks, newly sharpened pencils and planning (and pretending you didn’t) your outfit. I feel like I’m going back to middle school, which I technically am, but this time I’m a teacher and the students are Guineans- who are sometimes older than me. Wish me luck!