"Life in the Peace Corps will not be easy. There will be no salary and allowances will be at a level sufficient only to maintain health and meet basic needs. Men and women will be expected to work and live alongside the nationals of the country in which they are stationed—doing the same work, eating the same food, talking the same language. But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps—who works in a foreign land—will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace."

-President John F. Kennedy

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Days 2, 3, 4 capping off first week of school...no classes taught!

Days 2 and 3 of school:

On Day 2 I walked over at about 8am and sat with headmaster while we waited on people to show up. It was a rainy mess again, off and on, for the morning. By 9 or 10 most of the teachers showed up, and the kids were running around somewhere. I found out that this was the day where the parents bring their child’s report card from last term to discuss with the teachers and headmasters. Many of the parents are illiterate and are unable to know what the report card says, so they come to have it explained. I wasn’t really a part in any of this, I sat by and watched parents come and go. If a student’s grades weren’t good enough to be able to promote them to the next grade, it had to by run by the parents to hold them back or not. Many parents do not want their child to have to repeat a grade because it is embarrassing for the parent to have their child not advance…or at least I think. It makes sense to hold a child back. If they aren’t doing well, then when they get to the final (third) form of junior high school and take the national exam, they won’t score well enough to be able to go to high school. So if the student is held back then they will hopefully learn what they missed and then be on a better path to be able to go to high school. Parents don’t seem to understand this though.

There is an underlying issue that is arguably bigger than the parental issue. Headmaster was explaining to me that even if all the parents did agree to let their child repeat a grade, our classrooms won’t be able to fit all the students. For example, if out of 150 students, we want to hold back 50 of them, there simply are not enough seats or space to add all those students to an already large incoming class. The primary school is sending us a huge number of students to enter form one of JHS, and we aren’t able to hold back any of the students to repeat form one and join that large class. We have already had to hold classes (last year) in rooms that are technically for the primary school grades. In the future I will be able to give you solid numbers on how many students are in each grade, as well as how many classrooms we can use in our little structure. When I start teaching I will probably take pictures of my students crammed into the classroom and you will be able to see how cramped we are. I’m not sure if the school has been overcrowded since it was first built, or if we are simply gaining more and more students. If we’re gaining more and more students, I wonder if it is because people are coming from further away, or if there are just more kids being born and put into schools. I’ll figure this out sometime.

Despite these issues, in the afternoon I had some fun. It turns out the headmaster’s wife brews the local alcoholic beverage called pito (sp?). It is a version of a palm wine and I don’t know exactly how it is brewed. One of my fellow teachers met me in Walewale and we went over to his house to chat and try it. It was nice to get to talk to another teacher, and to get out and chat with other new people. My headmaster wasn’t around it turned out, but his wife was nice, and there were other people around their home. Later in the evening I cooked some awesome bean burgers and onion rings…it was certainly a success.

Day 3 of school…I showed up at about 8 again and another teacher was already there! The rest of the teachers also showed up before 9 I believe. All the students gathered for their morning assembly, where they all stand in lines outside and sing the national anthem, say the pledge, and pray. Then I got my first real look at how ‘caning’ takes place. I don’t remember what I have already discussed in my blog about caning, but please understand that in training we were told over and over that we won’t be able to stop the caning. If we try to intervene and get the teachers to stop, then we will be ostracized and become ineffective at the school. Down the road when I am established, I may be able to talk with the teachers and see if they agree to try alternative methods of punishment and see if they work, but for now I am told to let it happen. Basically what happened is that a teacher went around to each and every student (maybe 200ish so far have showed up) and determined whether his/her hygiene was acceptable. If it wasn’t, which was most of them, he would use a stick/branch from a tree and whack them on the head with it a couple times. It’s so weird to watch. I feel so guilty and terrible for the kids, but it is actually something they are used to and accept in good fashion. Oftentimes the others will laugh as it happens to their friends, but then when it happens to them they shush up and wince and you can tell it hurts enough to get them to behave but obviously not injure them. The teachers know that it isn’t done in America, but they claim it is an Africa thing and this is how we do it here. I walk a very fine line trying to advocate against it, but hopefully I can get it to change somehow in the long run.

After that long ordeal, the form 2 students had to take two one-hour exams on maths and English so that we could grade them and be able to promote them to form 3 or retain them in form 2. I walked around in the classrooms some while the students took the exam, but the other teachers had written them and are grading them for tomorrow. We will then be able to determine who/how many will be placed in what form. Hopefully that is all sorted out tomorrow and over the weekend so that I can begin teaching on Monday. Still haven’t had the teachers meeting to sort out the schedule of teaching. I’ve advocated for maths and ICT. I forget if I’ve mentioned or not, but by 2pm school “closes,” although it seems like it never really opened in the mornings anyway, and I go back home. I came back today and gave some of my music to Jacob for his enjoyment and to play at the barbershop.

Day 4:

Friday. Some more parents trickled by to discuss the report cards, the exams were graded, headmaster was able to start compiling some numbers for who would be in which form. No staff meeting yet, hopefully that’s Monday and maybe, just maybe, I will start teaching on Tuesday. I know they told us in training over and over that the first week would be frustrating and nothing would happen….but man was the first week frustrating. I got to be around the kids a little bit and also talk a lot with the teachers, but it amounted to a whole lot of nothing.

Today is Saturday, it rained basically all day off and on. I did a lot of housekeeping like cleaning the kitchen, my water filter, washed all the rags and such, fetched water, and relaxed. Hopefully next week I’ll have some more substance to post here.

Tomorrow I will have swore-in one month ago…seems like forever ago but also seems like the time flew from then until now.

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