Thursday, November 18, 2010


What is “WanChiton” you ask? Why it’s the capital of the United States of America! Well, that was the best answer I got on the bonus question of a recent Chemistry test. Some at least guessed places in the USA: New York (spelled “Noy Ork”), Los Angeles, Miami, California... Others were way out in left field: Malaysia, Beijing, China, Madrid, Mexico, Italy, Europe, Brazil, Botswana... Some of them were convinced they were right. Once came up to me after class, “teacher, it’s Italy! What?? You sure it’s not Italy?” “WanChiton” got half credit. To be fair, I doubt most Americans could name the capital of Mozambique.

I add bonus questions like that to give me a laugh while I’m grading. Otherwise it’s a depressing activity. Some students are doing well but a majority are not improving like they should be. I had high hopes this time around since I sacrificed several lessons to review, gave multiple after school extra help sessions, wrote study guides, coached them on study skills… It makes me think that some just don’t care and others have had their brains cooked by 8-12 years of rote memorization. Tests are rough, but when I look at their performance on individual topics almost everyone has shown improvement. Extra help sessions make me the happiest. More than once I've had a struggling student start hooting and hollering and dancing when he finally got something right. It’s a great feeling. I concentrate on the small victories.

I’ve gotten used to the way of things at school but sometimes it’s frustrating. Tuesday morning was a typical example:
I went to school two hours before class so I could print some lesson plans and tests. There is one working printer in the office and it only takes discs. The disc drive on my computer is broken so I took my flash and a CD to the computer lab in the other building. It had rained, so there was a field of slippery mud in between. I got to the lab only to find it locked so I traversed the mud back to the office. Apparently someone had just taken the keys so I went back to the lab. No luck. Back to the office. Apparently the keys were with the director who was nowhere to be found. I went back to the lab, muddy and annoyed, and found it magically open.
Another teacher said, “why don’t you ask a student to carry the printer from the office up here to the lab?”
“I’m afraid he will slip in the mud and drop it.”
“Oh, you’re right. Then we wouldn’t be able to print anything!”
My disc took 25 minutes to format and then I finally made the transfer. Right as I got back to the office and stamped the mud off my feet, the power went out. I talked to the secretary. “Yeah, someone has to go to town and buy more electricity. It could be a while.” At this point I had 40 minutes until class. I went to the side of the road and caught a ride to town then walked to a place with a printer and computer. As soon as I sat down the computer crashed. I left and walked to the other end of town to the only other public printer. After paying 4 meticals per page, I looked at my watch. 10 minutes until class. I sprinted to the chapa stop only to find the chapa already full.
“Are you sure you can’t fit one more?”
“No, look, it’s full.”
“Please? I’m in a hurry!”
The driver nodded and I dove in head first over the front row. My back was arched against the roof and they closed the door on my butt. The woman whose face was in my armpit didn’t seem to mind.

When we arrived at school, they opened the door and I fell out backwards. I handed the driver 5 mets. He demanded 7 so I gave him the rest without protest and ran to class, arriving just in time for my 2:00 pm class only to find out that my students were still working in the kitchen… They showed up 15-20 minutes late and some didn’t come at all. This happens often enough that I’ve learned to adapt, though between that and the slow pace of learning I have only gotten through a fraction of what I hoped to cover this semester. And what I had hoped to cover is an even tinier fraction of the national curriculum. Those students who expect to finish my class with a 50% average and then pass the national exam have another thing coming!

On a brighter note, the water came back!! Perhaps you saw my blog about pumping water. That went on for the better part of two months. Last night at our study session a student burst in the doors and said “water’s running!” The class erupted in cheers and singing and dancing. Students lifted each other up in the air and shouted for joy. One said, “good! I haven’t taken a bath in almost a week!” The hand pump we were using is a real pain. It’s broken so most of the water comes out the sides. It's the only working pump for the school, the professors’ neighborhood and two villages behind the school so there are always a lot of people there with all of their water jugs. You have to wait your turn. The water itself is disgusting, briny and cloudy. Josefa asked me to stop wearing white clothes because they were coming dirtier after the wash. Anyway, now our 20 minutes of running water three times a day feels like a huge luxury!

Other good news: I'm coming home! My family bought me a plane ticket so I can go home for Christmas/New Years. I'll be arriving Dec 6th and leaving Jan 5th. I'll spend most of the time in Maine but also a week in Florida and a few days in Vermont. If you'll be around I'd love to see you! Just e-mail me or call my house.

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