Nov 9, 2008

Bored no more!

First things first: Yeah Obama! All day Nov. 4 and into the wee hours of Nov. 5 I sat glued to my radio listening to the elections on BBC and Voice of America. It was so interesting to hear the opinions of people across the globe. It seemed the whole world was celebrating CHANGE! I for one was pretty emotional. My dad called me at 3 am to give me the good news. To hear him say that after having a great grandfather a slave, and my father himself having to drink water from separate fountains and sit in the back of transportation because of the Jim Crow laws, that he never imagined seeing a black president in his lifetime….how could I not get emotional? Which is exactly why, when my mom called me 2 hours later, I bawled like a baby. It’s just amazing to be apart of such a momentous time in history.
SO…to celebrate I threw an Obama party! I bought a chicken which I watched Sita kill, pluck and cook into a delicious soup which we ate with village bread. Also, I cant get vegetables in my village but I was able to find wine in a box! So we ate chicken soup and bread while drinking boxed wine and listening to cassette tapes from Sita’s boom box that he had charged with an old car battery. Good times!!

I’ve mentioned over and over the roller coaster of emotions that I find I go through here. If you’ve read my last posting about boredom, this new posting will prove it. Lately I’ve been super busy with lots of different things going on, like school.
During the first week of the start of school I went over to the primary school to observe and see if I could help the teachers out a little bit. To be completely honest, my first impression of the primary school: complete and utter horror! I was horrified on so many levels. The conditions of the school. The walls are dirty and cracked. The desks, which should seat 2 students but seat 4 to 5, are completely falling apart. Of the 500 students (aged about 7 to 12), every single one is too skinny. Most are malnourished with bulging bellies and knees twice the size of their legs. (Our school is lucky to have the help of the World Food Program, where students receive a free lunch meal of rice or couscous. Having this program actually drastically increases student enrollment. For most, this is their only meal of the day.)The majority wear the same old, torn and ratty clothing day after day. Half of them have shoes to wear. In class they have limited school supplies. The children receive a couple notebooks and pens. None have textbooks. Those that can afford it have rulers and such. But the teachers!! I don’t know if it was because it was just the first week of school, but the teachers were so unmotivated. In the classes I observed the teachers would constantly leave their classroom full of students to go chat with another teacher. During break or after lunch they would arrive up to an hour late to their classes. Worst of all…the beatings. I heard during training that some teachers hit students. But I never expected what I observed. One particular teacher would hit, smack, slap, and actually whip students (her preference is with this rubber whip-like object with little metal teeth.) And she would do so for no reason at all. During my week-long observations she spent more time beating students and no time teaching any type of lesson. In one case a young girl was so scared she peed herself. I thought the teacher would at least let her go clean up. Instead she made the girl turnaround and sit back in the desk, crammed next to another 4 students, and had to sit like that for the rest of the day. During their break time the children have nothing to do or play with, not even a single ball. They just stand around, others chase and hit each other (what else are they going to do?). It was really tough to see but gave me some ideas in the future. For example a tutoring club to try to help out the (hundreds of) students who don’t understand a lesson and get left behind. Also just getting a soccer ball for the kids to play with during break. After that first week of negative observation though, I needed a little change of scenery so I went to the secondary school (CEG) to if it was better. To my surprise, it was much better.

Thanks to a foreign NGO the CEG has a new building and supplies. The students are older and appear a lot healthier. After speaking with the school director, however, I learned that they were short 4 teachers so for much of the day students just hung around outside. He asked me if I could help by teaching English. Technically I’m not supposed to teach since that’s not what Im here for, but we were able to work something out. Basically Im “teaching” English by holding English clubs during the class times of three different classes. 2 Classes are learning English for the first time and the third class is older, this being their 3rd year of English. Teaching has been challenging yet so fulfilling at the same time. It’s challenging because the class sizes are enormous. 2 of my classes have more than115 students! Also challenging because there are so few supplies and resources. The students don’t have a textbook nor supplies asides from notebooks and pens. But this has forced me to be imaginative and creative in the lessons and teaching. The disciplining aspect is not fun, but overall I’ve had such a great time teaching. It has also helped me in the GEE aspect because Im meeting so many female students and developing bonds/relationships/trust with them. They are the ones I hope to be working with and forming Aids/sex ed sensibilizations and clubs with in the near future.

Also, I no longer live alone. I think Hamidou was sensing my boredom a while back so one day he surprised me with…a puppy! I now have a 2 month old puppy who is so cute and fun. At first I had named him Naba, which means Chief in Moore. But after a couple days I was told I should change his name because I had insulted quite a few members of my village (note to self: don’t name the dog Chief when your village’s own chief recently died!). So I let my friends rename him and my puppy’s name is now Dounia, which means “the world” in Moore. While Dounia is currently going through what appears to be his “terrible twos”, biting and chewing everything in site (including peoples toes) he’s so much fun and definitely keep me busy.
I've also discovered many Burkinabes enjoy the taste of dog. While its prohibited in the Muslim religion to eat dog, there are many "lax"Muslims in my village. Almost every day my friends come to tell me how nice and fat Dounia is getting and how delicious he will be. They are joking, but still, I cant help but wonder about Dounia's fate after I am gone. (One particular villager was surprised to hear Americans dont eat dogs. He asked me "What are hot dogs made out of then?")

This weekend I came down to Ouaga with a couple other volunteers for SIAO, the bi-annual, world renown art festival. It was amazing. Lots of beautiful and colorful art from vendors not just from Burkina but all around W. Africa. Bargaining with the vendors, trying to get them to reduce their outrages “white foreigner” prices can be a hassle. But I ended the day with some great purchases and an even greater love of African arts and crafts.

I will be coming back to Ouaha in early December for more GEE training and to talk to my supervisor about the specific programs and ideas I have. I have so many ideas now, including building a library, forming clubs, holding sensibilizations and helping teach local women and girls that never attended/dropped out of schools an income generating skill or activity. I know not all these ideas will pan out but Im just excited to get started!