Sunday, March 17, 2013

Another Day in Paradise…

Typically, the format of my blogs consists of a rundown of the latest happenings in my life (in varying degrees of detail).  For this post, I’ve decided to give you the ultimate, the highly exclusive “Day in the Life of a Peace Corps Volunteer.”  Even after reading my ramblings for months now, I get the impression that many of you don’t have a firm grasp on what my day-to-day life is like, so I’m hoping this will give you a better idea.  Enjoy!
My day starts circa 6 AM when cross-eyed Pa Abu shouts the call for prayer outside my window (remember I live next to a mosque?).  I fall back asleep and wait for my alarm to go off at 6:40 AM, which is about the time that all of my neighbors are shuffling out of the mosque.  They’re  always jibber-jabbering at this time; I have no idea what they have to talk about, because they all saw each other before they went to bed for the evening prayers the night before.  Either way, I snooze my alarm and listen to the commotion which at this time my little Lucky jumps on the bed and proceeds to lick/bite my entire body.  I push her away and close my eyes for a couple more minutes.  If you know me well, you know I’m not a morning person, so I didn’t get out of bed until 7 AM.  First thing I do (after I tinkle) is open up the back door that leads to my compound.  I greet my compound-mates who are sweeping and warming up their rice leftovers for breakfast.  I proceed with my usual morning ritual which consists of dressing like a conservative 40-year-old woman, listening to the BBC World Service, preparing my lesson notes and making some kind of breakfast.  On this day, I ate oatmeal with sugar and cinnamon, which I make a lot.  I gave Lucky the leftover rice with a leafy sauce from the day before and some of my leftover oatmeal.
I live close to the school, so my morning walk is only about five minutes.  I greet every family in their respective languages (Krio, Limba, and Temne – unfortunately, I can’t get pass the greetings with the latter two).  When I reach the school, I go straight to the staff room, where all of us teachers have to sign in for attendance.  You are considered late if you come in after 8:06 A.M., but most teachers just lie about what time they come.  It’s actually quite funny, because they have this unspoken pact about lying about the time.  The first teacher who comes in, even if it’s considerably before 8:06 A.M., will write a time some minutes before he came and the next teacher does the same and so forth.  I guess they do this so when the late teachers come they aren’t all putting 8:06 A.M. on the dot.  I purposefully come in late (and because I like to sleep) just so I can put the correct time and screw up all the teachers that come in after me.  The other teachers don’t like that.
Morning assembly is an interesting time of the day.  The students are supposed to arrive at 7:45 A.M. and I believe assembly is supposed to start at 7:50 A.M., but it rarely does.  When it does start, they first have a student do the “devotion.”  Usually he reads a passage from the bible and misinterprets the meaning… for 15 minutes.  Then, the students do the Christian and Muslim prayers, the national pledge, the national anthem, and the school song.  After the singing and chanting is finished, there are announcements from class leaders and teachers.  At this time, I reminded my girls’ club president to announce that we have a meeting today.  A teacher reminds students that they should be on time, which, let’s say, isn’t the first time they’ve heard this.  While people are making announcements, at the rear of the crowd are students getting flogged for coming late.  Often, the students’ backs are turned from the stage and looking back at their classmates getting their late-comer’s lashes.  The principal came up to threaten the students that he would be coming around taking attendance, which, again let’s say, this isn’t the first time they’ve heard this.  One of the senior students makes an announcement about an upcoming quiz competition that will take place in the boarding home.  All in all, it was a pretty typical morning assembly.
Sometimes morning assembly goes into the first period, which begins at 8:30 A.M.  However, on this day, there were five minutes left to go do my “form mistress” duties.  A Form Master or, what my fellow teachers insist on calling me, “Form Mistress” is a teacher who is in charge of a class, sort of like a homeroom teacher.  My class is SSS 1 Commercial (10th grade and the Commercial is for the kind of classes that they take, i.e. Accounting, Business Management, etc.) and there are 84 kids in the class.  Every morning and afternoon I have to mark if each student is absent or present, then I have to do weird calculations with the percentage absent, how many girls compared to boys are present, etc.  Apparently, a mysterious person from the government looks at these documents, but who knows?  I think I would have to say this part of my day is my least favorite.  It seems as if as soon as I walk into the classroom with the register in my hand the whole class agrees that it is the best time to have a conversation.  It’s extremely frustrating!  If a student wants to leave school early or is going to be absent, they have to let me know.  One girl takes an excuse to attend her grandma’s funeral.
I returned to the staff room to find most of the teachers busy grading the last exam.  My first class on Mondays is a double period of Biology with my SSS 2 Arts (11th grade) kids (each class is 40 minutes long).  They are by far my favorite class and it’s nice to start the week off with them.  I give them their exams back and we go over the correct answers.  The test was on respiration and excretion in animals.  After the revision, we go back to our topic we started last week, which is circulation.  I gave them some notes on the various blood vessels.  I made them all check their pulse, which was fun because most of them had never felt their pulse.  One student asked me what high blood pressure was, so we got in a discussion about that.
My next class was a double period of Mathematics with my SSS 1 C students.  I gave them their last exams back and needless-to-say they were not happy.  I really didn’t think the exam was going to be that difficult, yet most of them failed.  I tested them on fractions and in fact, one question read, “Circle the numerator.”  Some students couldn’t even do this one… *sigh* The whole class was complaining because I didn’t let them use calculators.  They think I’m evil for not letting them use calculators all of the time.  I’m trying to wean them off their calculator dependence.  If they have the device, they will use it for EVERYTHING – even the simplest of calculations.  I once had one of my brighter students at the board solving a problem.  In the problem, he had to solve 25+27.  Low and behold, he reached for his calculator to perform the addition for him.  It’s amazing!  I tried to explain my reasoning for the rule to the class, but they were not having it.  Despite their incessant grumbling, we reviewed the exam and they were able to see where they made mistakes.  After class, some students came up to me saying that I had made mistakes grading their exams.  Upon further inspection, I noticed that they had changed or wrote in answers.  Such little sneaks!
At this point I’m already exhausted and the day is only half over.  I slowly walk to my next class – JSS 3 White (my school assigns colors to the various junior classes).  JSS 3 is my least favorite class, but I think I’ve explained this to you before (they have the junior version of “senioritis”).  I returned their exams and we went over the answers.  Their exam was on the carbon cycle, the nitrogen cycle, and nutrition.
The bell rings at 11:50 A.M. to break for lunch.  One of my favorite lunch ladies, Mrs. Bangura, was serving her usual boiled cassava root with beans and fish balls.  I splurged on the Le 1,000 (25 cents) plate.  Yummy!  Unfortunately, the only bill I had was the largest one in Salone currency – Le 10,000 and Mrs. Bangura didn’t have change.  I had to wait there under the tree for some minutes while she fought with the other lunch ladies to give her some change.  I always like sitting there watching this group of ladies.  They compete with one another, but at the same time work together.  At the end of the day, a fish ball’s just a fish ball, I s’pose.
My class after lunch starts at 12:20 A.M. and I had return to the block of zoo animals a.k.a. JSS 3.  I swear after this experience, I have decided that every Junior High teacher deserve sainthood.  I had the other class, Red, for a whooping double period of Integrated Science.  Like the other classes, I passed back their exam and we went over the answers.  Our last class we started doing a bit of physics, so we talked about forces and energy and all of that humble jumble that I resented my junior year of university.  We were did some classwork and a student came to the board to do a problem.  He accidentally stepped on Lucky who was laying underneath the board.  He jumped back and Lucky cried herself over to the corner of the classroom.  Of course, there was an uproar of laughter and everyone joked about the boy being ungraceful. 
I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but Lucky follows me EVERYWHERE.  If I go to one side of the school, there she is along my side.  If I go to use the bathroom, there she is guarding the door.  If I go into town or for a run, there she is, panting along.  I have yet to test the theory, but I’m fairly sure if I jumped off a bridge, she too would join me in the descent.  God bless her faithfulness.
Finally, the time has come!  The last class of the day!  I’m scheduled to teach Biology to SSS 2 Commercial.  When I walk in , the kids look just as tired as I do.  The poor things have to sit in the same desk in the same classroom all day.  And it’s March, the hottest month of the year, so the heat trapped in the concrete walled room isn’t the most pleasant of situations.  I sit on the desk at the front of the classroom.  You know how cool teachers do that in movies “to get at the level of their students?”  I wasn’t feeling too “cool” at the time, just hot and tired (H and T – some of you will get this inside joke).  I pass back their exams, we go over the answers, and call it a day.
In case you haven’t realized, all of our classes take their exams at the same time.  For a week and half, all of the students will sit their exams for all of their classes.  I marked all 436 papers over the weekend and that is why I had exams to give to each class.
The bell rang at 2:20 P.M. and everyone storms out through the gates.  It’s eerie how somewhere so lively one minute can become completely so desolate the next.  Although I remember thinking that in high school, so it must be a common theme among schools.  As I walk home, I greet the same families in their same respective languages just changing the “mornings” to “afternoons.”  First thing I did when I got home was change out of my teaching shoes into flip flops, take out my braid and put in a ponytail, and un-tuck my shirt – it’s all a part of the latest after-school chic.  I turned on the radio to see if anything major has happened in the world while I was teaching mischievous African youth.  I grabbed the latest book that I’ve been reading, which happened to be “Me Talk Pretty One Day” by David Sedaris.  I ended up snoozing for a little on my couch in the parlor.  I abruptly woke up realizing I only had a few minutes until the girls’ club meeting.  Luckily, I ate a big lunch, so I wasn’t too hungry and just golfed down some crackers. 
I head back to the school as we have our meetings in the library.  I greet the same neighbors for now the third time, but exchange the previous greetings with “evening.”  I pass through the boarding home area, which always frightens me.  It just doesn’t seem right to have 50 teenage boys and 50 teenage girls living in the same area.  If you ask me, it’s a recipe for disaster.  I remind some of the girls that we have a meeting.  We always have our meetings on Monday at 5 P.M. and it has been like that for over a year and half now.  Still, the girls seem to forget!  Unfortunately, the attendance was pretty low with only four girls showing up.  There was a soccer match going on, so I think some girls went go watch their boyfriends.  Also, a teacher was having students shovel manure on his farm.  Unfortunately, working on a teacher’s farm is one way to pass at my school.
Despite the low attendance, we carried on with the meeting.  We just hosted a neighboring town, Kukuna, for a soccer match over the weekend.  The match was on International Women’s Day, so we were celebrating women’s empowerment and stuff.  The scoundrels beat us 3-1.  We talked about the loss and I gave the girls who played certificates for trying.  There was a bit of a scuffle after the game between players of both sides.  It was mostly just meaningless trash talking.  One of my favorite girls, Kadiatu, told me that one of the opponents said they won because their team is all virgins.  Not sure what that has to do with playing a mean game of soccer, but good for them I guess... Of course, the girls want a rematch, so they can show Kukuna who is boss.  We’ll see how that goes. 
We also talked about doing a drama over Easter weekend.  We came up with the plot together and assigned roles (mostly to girls who weren’t there and wouldn’t have a say on which role they got).  The plot’s kind of like that movie “Freaky Friday” but instead of a mom and daughter switching a husband and wife switch places for a day.  The intention is to bring light to some of the gender issues prevalent in society here.  I think the girls just thought it was funny, so they agreed.  They also developed the storyline before and after the switch, which resembles something from a cancelled, old soap opera that only Moms watched.  ‘Tis their club, so ‘tis their drama!
After the meeting, I stopped by the local cookery, where you can buy prepared rice.  I bought a plate of rice with leafy sauce for Lucky for Le 2,000 (50 cents).  When I got home, I gave half of it to her then and saved the rest for breakfast.  Usually, if it was a training day, I would go for a run, but Mondays are my rest days.  (I’m doing a half-marathon in May, In’Shallah.)  Instead of sweating, I went over to my namesake’s house to relax there.  I met little Rachel bathing and having a ball – she loves water!  After she was all cleaned up and dried off I was holding her when all of sudden she vomitted/spit up on me.  I immediately handed her over to her mother.  After that little episode, I took my leave and headed to the radio station which is right across the street.  I went to go greet some people there and then went home.  I was met by one of my students who came to talk to me about her exam.  She said she failed my Math test as well as her English exam.  At my school, you have to pass either Math OR English to promote to the next class (I’m hoping ‘or’ will change to an ‘and’ at some point in the near future).  She was concerned that she wouldn’t be promoted.  I reassured her the next exam wasn’t going to be as difficult and that she still had three tests to bring up her grade.  Hopefully, things work out for her.
I went to take a nice lukewarm bucket bath.  After I stopped sweating, I doused myself in baby powder and me and the Luckster hit the hay.
Just repeat that for two years and you got yourself a genuine Peace Corps Service.  I’m exaggerating of course, but that Monday was a pretty standard weekday.  Although Mondays are my busiest days at school – no breaks, it’s rough.  I hope this has given you a better idea what a day is like for me.  Maybe you want to join the Peace Corps now?

p.s. No quote this time and no pictures.  I accidentally deleted all my pictures yesterday.  I hope I have them all backed up. : )

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