Tuesday, December 7, 2010

End of the First Trimester!

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed are my own and not that of Peace Corps.

This week represented my last round of classes of the year. The members of my Stage will be in Kribi next week for training, and after that we have two weeks of vacation for the holidays. This is great news, since the first trimester was very challenging. I had never taught before, I had never worked with children before, I had never had a job requiring me to speak a foreign language, I had never lived and worked abroad, and my allergies were killing me most of the time. It could be bronchitis too - I had trouble breathing at night and was advised to get a chest x-ray and blood work before Kribi. But regardless, I do feel like a major milestone has been reached, and it's all downhill from here!

The students were restless this week, probably due to the impending Christmas holidays. But I did have one good class this week. My first Seconde class actually started responding to some free-flowing discussion, the topic of which was WikiLeaks. Well, really it was how computers impact our lives (the subject of the chapter), but I used the recent news on security breaches as an example of stuff that wasn’t even remotely possible before the internet and the information age. That got them going, many instantly wondering if Assange was still alive (assuming he had been knocked off by an angry government). Others espoused strong opinions one way or another over whether releasing the documents was or was not legal according to the ethics outlined in the chapter. It wasn't sophisticated discussion or anything, but it was awesome to see some spirited interaction. Finally the class was opening up rather than the usual “Oui, Madame” and “Non, Madame”.

That particular class was also in a very good mood because they had done well on the test. 98%of them passed, and the average grade was around 15/20 which is very good. The other classes did not do as well, and were far less attentive. Though I may be mixing cause and effect here.

There was also another round of filling out report cards and other paperwork. After the paperwork of the first sequence had landed so late, I was not worried. I guess I should have been. I was called at home Thursday morning (only 3.5 days after the end of sequence, and 2 weeks before the ‘official’ deadline) to be told I was nearly the last person to do the work and I needed to come in asap. I was then told to schedule a meeting (even though we didn’t have all the grades yet) so we could finish since we were the last department to do so.

Sigh. I thought I had expectations figured out (paper vs. reality), but… nope! Live and learn.

I also had some little visitors this weekend. One of my students (actually my landlord's son) wanted to see his grade before the rest of the class. But he made up a pretense to come inside my house, along with his two sisters. So they wanted to play cards with me. Well, not really. They didn't know the rules, so the girls just passed them back and forth while he watched. But anyway, they were so cute I showed him his grade. And he literally jumped with joy because he passed!

So then I showed them stuff on my computer. The little girls were impressed by pretty much every paltry thing I had in my house. I think they were impressed. Their reaction to everything was, "Ay yay yay!" The colored pencils were a hit, so I gave them most of the ones I had along with my pastels.

This is completely tangential, but I can't think of a good segue. Today I looked out the window of one of my classes, and noticed a pile of trash. It was 3 months worth of students throwing their crap out the window, that led to the back of the school looking like a garbage dump. Yet in the middle of this, I noticed a mother hen, guarding her adorable, fluffy, yellow-and-black chicks under her wing. What an amazing moment. Suddenly two metaphors (‘under one’s wing’ and ‘mother hen’) popped into my mind. Honestly, growing up in a culture where chickens never run around freely, I never really connected either of those expressions with actual animal behavior!

Seeing them like that makes me never want to eat them again.

But anyway, that led me to wonder about aspects of development. There are wonderful things about Cameroon that are lacking in the U.S., and vice versa. Good: intimate moments with free range chickens. Bad: Piles of trash everywhere.

There are more and better examples. But are these the natural by-product of the country’s stage of development? Does developing mean landfills and clean streets while chickens all get stuck in tiny cages in inhumane conditions, and only appear as plucked, dismembered fryers? Can development mean taking the best parts of one's culture and adding to it with good ideas?

Really, I'm wondering if development in Cameroon can mean becoming more like Mayberry than Gotham City? I certainly hope so.

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