Dec 1, 2008

School, Thanksgiving and sacrificed goats!

Life continues to roll at Pobe. School is keeping me pretty busy. A few weeks ago I gave my first test. Correcting nearly 300 was not particularly fun but it definitely kept me busy! It was wonderful to see the students who studied and understood the material do well. I gave candy to the top 10 students in each class and the smiles on their faces and sense of pride made it all so worth it. It was difficult though to see the students who not only didn’t study but clearly don’t understand or pay attention. Asking a simple question like ‘What is your name?’ and having their answer look like Ancient hieroglyphics rather than English is not a fun feeling. Cheating is another huge problem; students were constantly looking over at their neighbors’ paper. I even took away the test of one student who was cheating so bad throughout the test. On the other hand, when you are squished elbow to elbow with four other students at your desk, I can imagine how hard it would be NOT to take the occasional peek. Despite feeling upset over the students who clearly weren’t getting it, I always manage to find even a little humor in some bad. I couldn’t help but laugh to myself while correcting when, asking students to look at a picture and describe what the people were wearing, I had one student who could only remember the word for shirt but seemed to forget how to spell it. His answer? “This is a black shit. Awa is wearing a black shit and Karim is wearing a red shit.”
Disciplining 100 plus students in each class continues to be my biggest hurdle. I knew I would be working with many of these kids more frequently outside of the school through clubs or sensibilizations and what not, therefore I wanted the students to be comfortable and relaxed around me. I initially approached teaching wanting to be the “Cool Aunt Em” type. This has totally backfired on me. It’s hard to get the students to settle down and be quiet when I ask them too. Lately I’ve been kicking students out of class or docking points from their test, which seems to be helping the situation. But learning to have a balance between authority and fun has been difficult.

Recently in Pobe there was the “Fete du Chef” but since the Chief is dead it was more like a memorial celebration than anything else. It was definitely interesting. People came from ALL over the country to honor him, I had never seen Pobe so crowded with people. Women were all dressed up, music played, a show was performed in the evening. But the highlight for me was when I went to visit the Chief’s home to find a dead goat and chicken, throats’ slit and the blood splattered around the door. Apparently the sacrifice was done in honor of the chief. The funny thing is that when I don’t think that it's blood, the colors in the picture are actually quite nice!

In other news my friend Sita, whose family owns the compound I live in, is now my new neighbor! He just built a house directly behind my own. Seeing the process of building a house was fascinating. From getting water at the local pond, making mud bricks and "African cement" (mud and water), how the whole community came together to help build the home. There was food, music, dancing. Who knew building a house could be so fun!

I also held a community meeting recently that gave me a chance to tell the community exactly what I’m there for and how I could help. It also enabled me to hear from the community and assess their needs. Honestly I only expected a handful of people to come. But with the help of Hamidou, who served as my Moore translator, I was pleasantly surprised to have about 70 people attend and it was all sorts of villagers, men and women, young and old. I learned a lot about their needs and things I can (and cant) help them with. It made me happy a couple days later when Sita told me how so many villagers were coming up to him talking about it and saying how happy and excited they are to have me there. It definitely made me feel appreciated but again, right now it's all talk. If I am successful in actually getting things done, then I can be proud.

Recently I’ve been having very minor health issues related to protein deficiency, not eating enough meat…(sorry if goat meat that’s been sitting out all day and covered in flies isn’t appealing to me). My family has been great about sending canned meats like chicken and beef. But there is good news in Pobe. A new little “restaurant” was built where they set up tables and chairs, just outside of Pobe. With the help of a generator I can listen to loud music and get cold drinks and beers. But recently there’s been a man that has starting selling pork once a week or so. It’s delicious! I told Sita I didn’t understand why a man would chose to sell pork in a mostly Muslim community but apparently even some devout Muslims will secretly come out in the dark of night to buy the meat (and even beers!).
This arrival of pork comes at a great time. I recently had a strange (but oddly fitting) dream:
I was in this tall skyscraper building crowded with people. A Godzilla-like creature was terrorizing the city, destroying buildings. The police were trying to evacuate the building I was in because the creature was right outside and if he knocked into the building it would crumble and kill us all. While thousands of screaming people pushed and shoved to get out of the building, I adamantly and stubbornly refused to leave. Why? “I have to finish my shopping!!” I said. I was with my mom who was petrified but refused to leave me alone so she followed me as I marched up the stairs to the top floor, level after level, while people shoved us around trying to get down. We finally arrived to the top floor of the building. What was on this top floor? A meat department. I grab my shopping cart and proceed to load it up with every meat possible, chicken breast, ground beef, steak…you name it. So as you can see, the arrival of pork in Pobe is a wonderful thing.

My first Burkina Thanksgiving was a lot of fun. Several volunteers met up at the home of married volunteers’ Amy and Aaron Rose. They had bought a pig and several chickens…which volunteers (not me) actually killed themselves! With the help of the Roses’ Burkinabe friends who cooked the meat, we had delicious kabobs, pork, chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, string beans, banana bread, cookies and brownies. To me Thanksgiving is all about being surrounded by great company…and getting stuffed! Thanksgiving in Titao was exactly that. Amina!

My Christmas plans include the Roses and several other volunteers. We’re planning a 5 day hiking trip in Dogan Country in Mali. I am so excited as it is supposed to be absolutely beautiful! I’ll be sure to update the blog with details and pics of the trip.
A bientot!