Monday, July 19, 2010

Where Did Clancy Go?

I’m back after a long hiatus from the blog world. I won’t try to catch you up on the last month and a half, but I will try to explain my lapse in posting. There’s no good excuse really, I was just in a slump. My motivation was lacking and I was feeling all the symptoms of burn-out. I’ll explain the frustration I was feeling at that time. Don’t get me wrong, there were still a lot of bright moments – enlightening conversations, wheels turning in the classroom, having fun with friends, travelling to the beach, watching the World Cup… But it’s important to tell the whole story, the ups and the downs.

It started towards the end of the semester at the Agricultural School. Things were dragging. Attendance at REDES was dwindling. Girls lost interest towards the end of the semester and wanted to go to town on their free afternoon instead of attending meetings. The corn and pumpkin in my garden failed miserably and my neighbor didn’t hesitate to explain, after the fact, all the things I did wrong. The semester ended at the Agricultural School so my REDES and permaculture projects, which didn’t have much momentum anyway, went on hold for two months. In the meantime I was still teaching English at the other secondary school. The students there are known for being challenging and it was wearing on me. I felt like I spent hours planning a lesson only to have it flop because troublemakers would waste huge amounts of class time despite my best efforts at classroom control. A few students were really motivated, but the whole class got dragged down by the others who would shout ten or fifteen minutes before the bell, “teacher, time is over!” “teacher, I’m hungry!” “teacher, I need bathroom pass!” In addition, they all seem to have the attention span of a six-year-old and it’s extremely hard to keep them on task. Sean attended one of my classes during the last week of school and accurately described it as “teaching high school and preschool at the same time.”

In addition to work-related burn-out I was getting tired of the stresses of daily life. Everywhere I go I am noticed. It’s like being a celebrity. People know where you are and what you’re doing at any moment, they gossip about you… Everyone wants to talk to you, wants your attention, there’s no escape. I can’t walk down the street without saying “hi” to everyone and stopping to have conversations with anyone who wants to. It is a charming aspect of small town life but it gets tiring. Sometimes I want to go from point “A” to point “B” and not deal with anyone, but that would be unacceptably rude and could hurt my reputation in the community.

On top of my celebrity status there are constant reminders that I stick out solely by virtue of my skin color. I am often addressed by people as “mulungo” (“white person”). It makes sense. What are they going to say? “Hey, you in the hat!” Often I’m the only white person around. But it gets annoying. What’s harder to deal with is the negative attention from children who see me as some strange animal. They chant “muluuuungo!” or shout it rudely “hey mulungo! hey mulungo! hey mulungo!” For some reason they don’t feel the need to respect me like their other elders. Both children and adults ask me for money. If not money they ask me for other things – my clothes, my stuff… Men unapologetically ask me for my body. It’s constant. You can get used to it, but it still wears on you and after a while your patience wears thin. The only true escape is in my house. Sometimes I hole up and try to find peace in that sanctuary, at which point the neighbor children begin banging incessantly on my door wanting to borrow building blocks or paper and pens, wanting to show me what they’ve drawn, asking me to take care of a boo-boo and give them a band aid…

I was in serious need of a vacation. I’m writing now after a week of travelling in Swaziland with Sean. Swaziland is so peaceful, people generally leave you alone, the scenery is gorgeous and you can see all the African big game. It was just the escape I needed, but I’ll post about that later. Sean’s been here for two months and will be writing some guest entries. He’s helping me put everything in perspective. This is all pretty new for him, but we’re having a great time. Next on our itinerary is a trip up the coast to see the beautiful beaches of Mozambique. He’ll leave right before I start the next semester at the Agricultural School. I’ll be teaching Biology. No more English. I’m hoping to have renewed energy and motivation and get a strong start to the new semester. I also plan on continuing my regular blogging, so stay tuned.

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