Wednesday, February 8, 2012

keep up with me

i looked legit. no, im not saying that im some american stud. (although ive never been one to decline a compliment) but for the first time in my life, i was about to stand on the other side of the teachers' desk. id get to decide what we'd learn and how we'd learn it, who would pass (and who wouldn't), and i was the one tasked with the daunting challenge: teaching learners and shaping their educational  quest--and as if the challenge weren't daunting enough, need i remind you that me and these learners share very little (aside from that unbreakable bond called the human race ;). our first language, life experiences, and cultural context would never see light of day in the center of a venn diagram. and yet, none of that matters anymore. slowly that middle area is being shaded in as my identity is molding to fit in the namibian context.

so i stood there, along with the other teachers at our school, in front of the learners outside on the "field" where we have our weekly assembly. this time to welcome the learners back to school on their first day. i had the look of a teacher. confident. inspired. prepared. unfazed. it was then that i realized our fascination with a teacher. a teacher was always prepared. and why shouldn't they be? they only work like 6 hours a day? oh how i longed as a child to be on the other side of the desk. no homework. end the work day at 2pm. grades don't matter. 

being on the other side offered me a glimpse into a teachers head as i espoused the confident scowl to the chit chatty learners. uncertainty.  anxious. excited. inspired. and about that short work day and lack of homework…well, perhaps teaching is perhaps the only job where you don't get even a moment off (sorry, barack even you get a breather here and there) 

so thats where the parallels with american teachers starts and ends. because whats perhaps unique is that as we prepared to send the learners off to their classrooms on that ever-memorable first day, the following questions had yet to be answered: what subjects am i teaching? which grades? how many kids are in each class? which classroom will i teach in? but in nam, these (seemingly futile) questions will be answered…in time. so in the meantime, ya just go with it. and thats exactly what i did.  

so fastforward (an hour) and i became a register teacher for grade 8A, the grade 8 math teacher (4 classes in all) and grade 9 english teacher (another 2 classes). so what is a class teacher you might be asking in your head? a register class  is synonymous with homeroom--and though peace corps advises against us from taking on this responsibility, i decided that the extra work was worth the inevitable rewards. i came to nam as an education volunteer with one central focus: to educate and grow young minds through active mentorship and trust based on love and not fear. having my own register class to be responsible for could only accelerate that goal. plus, how else could i remake the arrogance of DRtothePR if not a register class of my own? since in nam the school day never goes precisely as planned, its just best to…well, go with it. and always be prepared. so homeroom lasted a bit longer than the allotted 15 minutes….it lasted 3 days. so what did we do for 3 full school days? well i wont fill your screen with too many details but heres a glimpse…

in the spirit of enhancing self-esteem and leaner ownership of their classroom and their education, i had each learner trace their hand (took a few demonstrations for them to get the hang of that) and inside each finger they wrote someone they admired (some already admired me…clearly trying to get on my good side…yes, it worked), goals for their future, their favorite singer, and adjectives to describe themselves. heres how one learner describes himself "i have a tung and 5 fingers on my left hand" (difficult to argue with that) and one girl proudly announced "i am short and fat" so together we hung the hands around the classroom. and the classroom (slowly) transformed from one with walls falling apart with one that evidently had bright young minds encompassing it. 

as i finally got to meet with my other classes (200 learners in all) they each traced their hands and filled in the fingers. ok so i wont go into each lesson for each day (though i know you're craving the fine details.) but heres what i do want you to know: each friday, i have my english classes write a creative essay on a prompt that I provide. it serves 2 purposes. the learners get to improve their biggest weakness: writing. and i get to literally chuckle (al right ill be honest its a more like my laugh during the 'hey mmmmm hey' she's the man scene) so i was scrolling through them trying to decipher their handwriting all while listing to one of 2 mixes syd made for me. so the first assignment was to write their autobiography. i wanted to learn about my learners. ya know, like their dog's name, their favorite color, and who their friends are. what i didn't realize was that these learners shared more personal and truly sad details about their life than i could have imagined. many have already lost a parent. some to AIDS and others because of lack of proper medical care. others dwelled on their impoverished life style seeking to escape. and then one girl wrote,"God put us on earth to play a game. thats all life really is. so we can only play the game were born into" truly brilliant. it was then that i needed a moment of comic relief (something that only roseanne barr--who by the way announced her candidacy for president of the united states and soon after i offered her my endoresement--could provide at the moment)  but then i read one girl's essay "i was 3 years when my grandfather kicked the bucket and when i was little i was always in hot soup when i didn't help my mother with the chores." gotta love those idiomatic phrases. 

my goal for my learners (other than the obvious) is to create an atmosphere where they feel willing and comfortable to express themselves, and to enrich themselves, grow and continue to learn. half of the 540 kids at are school live full time on the school grounds. the majority are OVCs (orphans and vulnerable children due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and/or to economic hardship) and thus they are just craving that support that, in turn, will yield the best educational results. sometimes its not what you do but its what you don't do that makes a difference. when a kid asks a question, it means not turning our head and shrugging. when a learner doesn't understand a topic, it means not degrading their apparent lack of intellect. it means when a learner requires help, not turning a blind eye. it means when it comes to teaching, not viewing it as a job that ends at the ring of a bell. and thats why the line from an essay the learns wrote about a wish they had truly struck me. "i want to be a teacher like mr. francolino. he doesn't get angry or yell like the other teachers. he just teaches like i will in the future (spelled feature)" 

so remember when i talked about how in nam, ya just need to learn to go with it. (also if you don't remember, then perhaps there are other problems that we should be discussing instead) so let me explain another one of those "go with it" moments. in nam, one of the most hyped events is "athletics" which takes place during the first 2 months of school (?). i was excited to learn what exactly went on during this ambiguously titled month long list of activities. so one afternoon, i walked to my friends--some teachers at the school--and i just nonchalantly asked "hey so what exactly is athletics?" some shrugged. others nodded. and the most descriptive answers i got were essentially telling me that the kids "run." so thats when i decided to ask the teacher who is running the month long event. "the kids run and jump" so that was at least some more detailed information. i could be down for this. and despite not really knowing what was meant by athletics, this i knew for sure--team red (my team) would for sure have the most pride. step one: we wear red every day. 

so heres the deal: schools basically revolve around these track and field events for these 2 months and so in the afternoon, kids "train" (which means they are weeded out), classes are spontaneously canceled to increase the amount of training (weeding) and that brings us to this weekend. our school will be competing in the regional finals in the track and field items. im judging. should be interesting. 

speaking of my fellow colleagues (i like using that word--it makes me feel mature and smart) lets give them a little time on the blog. so as you know, i now live on the school premises--which is in itself its own community. 220 learners live here. as do 12 of the teachers. so i finally just got a housemate and his name is joseph. he also just graduated from college and he's become the perfect roommate. on his first night i made him rice and we watched 'how to lose a guy in 10 days'--couldnt think of a better way to orient our new teacher. i took the newcomer around our village and it was then that i realized---"woah, this is my home..and it feels as such" waving to locals, taking him to the shop, and then for a drink--it made me appreciate the home that ive come to have. 

on his second night, syd and i along with a few other teachers took joseph to a local bar and we were, of course, flanked by kiara. no thats not a local woman who is courting me (although i can see why you would think that)--thats my puppy. and now that i mention being flanked by kiara--i ought to let you know that my puppy has become a staple of our community--she follows me to school, to staff meetings and routinely interrupts our class, luckily the kids love her and…more importantly, people here respect her and never beat her, they know how much i love her. 

alright so back to my social life in the village. my one best friend--ms muyenga--had me over one night for dinner and a movie (hmmm now that i mention it….) and we watched a movie called "ousofia in london" about a nigerian man who finds himself in london and his culture shock is quite amusing. thats when she decided she wanted to film a movie called "matt in ndiyona" and we all know my desire to be in a feature we'll see how this works out. but life in our community is so open. so serene. perfect. (i have a photo of a rainbow over our school that will prove the latter point) teachers just come to my house to hang out. people constantly visiting others. my favorite is when kids come to my door. i invite them in. they dont speak english. i don't speak rumanyo. then we watch full house together. kind of a  pattern. and of course, i still visit my homestead family as they always venture over to my place. i feel like im their son who has grown up. and then i blush. 

*****this subsection will be creatively and appropriately titled: bugs. (thats the best i could do for a transition…oops) so i came to nam being like "alright im not gonna be one of those ignorant americans who automatically pictures the creepiest and squishiest bugs possible when i think about africa." i arrived in nam and my convictions were cemented. then i went to my village. heres a brief description of what ive encountered in the past week: walking into my house requires the same routine: cockroach squashing--literally hundreds of cockroaches have invaded so i spend each morning and night putting those little beasts permanently to bed.  there are enough mosquitos in the room to get 219 mosquito bites in one night and of course i don't have the discipline to not scratch them--so the teachers always rub my sore wounds in curiosity, awe, and disappointment (always accompanied by a slight chuckle though as well). fleas attacked my puppy--thankfully the girl's a trooper. a one of kind breed of wasps (that makes them sound pretty cool) that sting any time you walk by them (my sting count is up to 4--including the top of my head) an insect that was literally 4.5 inches long on my shoulder (a photo will soon follow). oh and did i mention that i swallowed a fly. and that a cockroach came crawling out of my ear. sorry mama, i should have advised you to skip this section :)

so lets discuss life when im not busy changing the world (im conceded…shhhhh…i hope that sarcasm can translate well on the screen.)  last weekend--ludacrew (well most of us) had a much needed reunion. i mean, cmon, we hadn't all been together in a few weeks. syd came down to my village and even got to see me teach a few lessons (you can ask her for preliminary reviews unless they're already up on rate my professor) and we made mac and cheese for some teachers, ended the night with cut the rope (i promise thats a game) and then headed to our reunion the next afternoon. so this time the crew headed to tsumeb…aka the las vegas of nam. well thats mostly attributed to the fact the vegas lives there. so the reunion was necessary--laine (did i mention how much i love laine? she's amazing and perfect in every way…thats for you girl ;), vegas and i got to sing our adele-esque version of 'someone like you', chris and i concocted our plan to get our shot at reality TV on the amazing race, syd got to catch up with me on episodes of survivor and that was when we fell in love…with kim and ethan, respectively, then, per usual, we debated productivity vs. fairness, and then learned (pay close attention to these words of wisdom) that if you cook bread for too long, it can burn..and turn black. 

many times traveling around nam can be more eventful than the actual trip itself thanks to the need of hitchhiking. this trip back home was a little more low-key. but we did do one thing worth mentioning. syd and i played around the world on the side of the road as we waited for a hike. typicaly the game is played with a basketball and a net. our version required an empty yogurt container and some stones. still just as fun. then as we reached rundu, we said another emo goodbye. till next weekend, of course. 

i could go on. but its my turn to make dinner for the roommate. mac and cheese. again. but i wouldn't do my post justice if i didn't mention the sixers (who just beat the lakers i might add) and their dominance thus far. kinda reminds me of rick santorum. this time i wont even risk you not getting the sarcasm. that was sarcastic. 

peace and much love