Tonight, there are no words for what I’ve experienced and the range of emotions I’ve been through today. Things were completely chaotic at school with teachers out, me being asked to teach 4th, 5th, and 6th grade at the same time in three different rooms, and kids being asked to do work that is way too hard for them… I felt really angry that there were four junior high school teachers on site, only two of them teaching, and a shortage of teachers in the elementary school. Two of the Jr. HS teachers milled around, while I was doing my three-room-dance. It’s an understatement to say that it was a bit chaotic in the three classrooms I was trying to cover. Wouldn’t you goof off if you were 12 and your teacher was nowhere to be found, and the one substituting couldn’t speak your language but for a few words, and you were really just starting to learn English? Yeah. Rightfully so.
Leaving the chaotic school day behind, Maxwell–who’s become my friend, anchor, and guide (not to mention translator extraordinaire), took me on his motorbike to the Palm Wine “factory” in the next village. Factory is a loose term here, since the process involves felled palm trees, a rod of bamboo as a “tap,” and old plastic jug, some fire on the end of a stick, and rusty barrels full of fermenting palm sap or wine (complete with foam and a layer of bugs on the top). “When in Rome…” still holds true, so I did taste the Palm Wine fresh from the palm, complete with soot, pieces of palm sliced with a knife that has been god-knows-where, and with who-knows-what. My stomach is rumbly and upset tonight. I cannot fathom why…
I was invited to a local Voodoo ceremony hosted by the village chief. Anyone who’d love to get more details let me know and I’ll gladly supply information (though if you’re vegan, I wouldn’t recommend asking). For now, let’s suffice it to say that I was relieved when it was over. The chief gave me his Voodoo blessing and said no harm will come to me in this life, and I will die a death of natural causes. Thank you. After the ceremony, there was–true to village form–drumming and dancing and drinking and more drinking. It was mostly those who were already drunk who had some more…
When I traveled to Africa last time, I remember the most common question from students and teachers alike was, “Without corporeal punishment, how do you control the students?” So, I would explain that we have other forms of punishment to hold students accountable. One Principal in Tanzania explained that it’s the treat of the caning that works; they don’t end up caning very often.
Well, at Masi Tsati yesterday, I witnessed more caning than I care to. Maxwell had to attend to some emergency business in the neighboring town, so the “Head Teacher” had all 6 classrooms (approximately 200 students) in his care. During the normal Wednesday morning routine of lining up according to class and having morning songs and worship for an hour, some of the students in the back were fooling around. A random group was selected to come to the front of the whole school to be caned and made an example of.
I could see a typical teaching life anywhere unfold in front of me (minus the caning); frustrated teacher, too much messing around, frustrated teacher takes action, and innocent students suffer the consequences. There is one boy that I’ve taken a particular liking to–he’s in 5th grade, but looks more like he’s in 7th. He’s really helpful in his village and has one of the saddest faces I’ve ever encountered. I was watching him during the morning routine, and he wasn’t messing around, though he was one of the students in the random group the Head Teacher selected for punishment. My heart hurt watching… He’s tough and will of course be fine, but there’s something so depressing about injustices.
P.S. There are many, many kids I’ve taken a particular liking to, not just the sad-looking one.
(Wed. July 11th)
The teachers at the school want the kids to be involved with the building of the new kindergarten wing to learn community service, so today, many of the classes helped dig and haul sand to the project site. Not only does this involve the kids in a community service project, but it also speeds things up for the handful of locals who work on the site on any given day.
(Thurs. July 5th)
At the end of the school day, the entire school gathered and a group of students where selected to do the drumming, dancing, and performing. The kids can most definitely out-dance me (by far!), but I did pretty well when one student challenged me to a handstand contest mid-dance. I got to try the drumming with a couple of tree branches–much more of an upper-arm workout than it looks!