My adventures serving in the Peace Corps

Saturday, May 30, 2009

School's out for summer

Here it is, almost June. School is finally 100% over (save for an end-of-the-year staff meeting which I am told might not happen until sometime in July...?) and I am officially on summer break. Only this break doesn't feel as magnificent a summer breaks used to feel: the new free time is only being added to an already substantial amount of it, and there are still plenty of projects and responsibilities I have to tend to over the summer. However, I am definitely glad to be done with grading, lesson planning, and rowdy students for a few months.
I had my last classes with my students on Tuesday and Wednesday, where I gave out final grades and gave prizes to the best students. It was a bittersweet occasion, some classes more sweet than bitter! I was happy to report that many students' grades had gone up from the first semester. Every one of my classes gave me a round of applause and asked if I could be their English teacher again next year. (Classes stay the same from year to year, although many changes are inevitable at is is common for students to be held back a year or transfer schools. I don't plan on following any of my classes to next year, though, as I want to start fresh with a group of kids so that I can use different teaching and discipline methods. I wish I could hand-pick a certain few students to keep, though!) I put together prizes from the various school supplies M. Vess' classes had sent me, and I even had enough to give every student a little something. In my two older classes the top three male and female students got notebooks and stickers while everyone else got a pen, and in my younger classes the top six got notebooks and crayons while each student got a pencil. I thought that these prizes would just be a nice gesture, thanking them for hard work in English throughout the year, and for the most part that's what they were. Most of my kids were extremely happy and grateful. A few students, however, got very angry that they “only got pens” and some even refused to take them. This was really frustrating because I know for a fact that nice, American pens are a really nice gift and that some families can barely even afford the crappy Nigerian brands they sell here, not to mention I was probably the only teacher giving out prizes to my classes at the end of the year. Other students who had done well but were not in the top three were upset that they didn't receive notebooks or stickers. I even had a few students come up to me saying that they were too poor to afford notebooks and I therefore needed to give them one. When I asked them how they got their notebooks for this year they simply giggled and said “please?” Afraid that I had made some cultural faux pas I went and asked my homologue if the prize-giving wasn't a good idea, and he just laughed and told me that the kids were being greedy and that the prizes were fine. Indeed, at the end of the year party the school gave lots of prizes to the top students in every class.
The end of the year party, called Cultural Day, was yesterday at the school. Students met very early in the morning in the market place and paraded throughout the village on their way to the school. They didn't have to wear their uniforms and were dressed to the nines, may sporting new hair weaves, hats, or gaudy jewelry. They had set up a few tents for everyone to crowd under, and the ceremony consisted of drawn-out speeches (shocker there), bizarre sing-along and dancing performances (another shock), comedy sketches where students imitated various teachers (both to my disappointment and to my relief they did not imitate me!), a long and not too informative talk on contraceptive methods, and finally prize-giving. I was pleased that some of the top students were girls and that the top boy and girl cinquième students were in my classes. I was even called up to give the awards for the top girls in every grade! This was somewhat awkward since all of the other award-givers had long speeches, so I, unprepared, clumsily mentioned something about how I love to see hard-working girls. The prizes were followed by beer and sandwiches for all the teachers, and I was amazed by how much these people could put away when it was free. I saw many teachers rapidly drink four beers and eat three sandwiches. I was even ridiculed for only taking one of each! The teachers then mostly headed home, and the students remained for an evening of games and dancing. (I am told that the end of the year party results in a huge number of unplanned pregnancies since everyone is dressed up, happy, dancing, and often intoxicated.)
I also FINALLY picked up all the donated books sent from home this week! My homologue and I went all the way to Bopa on Monday like the woman at the post office told us to... only to find her not there. Apparently she was at a meeting, all day. So, we came all the way back the next day and picked up three huge bags of books! When we got to the school and opened them, people were elated. The books are a great mix of levels and subjects, and people have already picked out their summer reading. Especially the other English teachers were excited. My director wanted to me to express his sincere thanks to everyone. Apparently Amanda's visit prompted her mom to get some books together to send, too! Funny anecdote: the first book lifted out of the bag was called "The Slave Ship". It looked like it was from the 1950s and had loin cloth-clad Africans on the front. Ha.
Other then finishing the school year, this week hasn't been so great. As soon as I got home from the cooking session last weekend (which was fantastic), I felt really sick and on Sunday I couldn't even leave my house due to a high fever and stomach pains. I have only felt so-so since then and have a sneaking suspicion that the anti-parasite meds didn't work for all three types that I had. It has also been freakishly hot, as in 93 degrees in my room by mid-morning. It didn't even usually get that hot during hot season! Nearly every day the sky turns black and the winds pick up and I get excited for the cooling rains, and then it briefly sprinkles and turns sunny again, barely cooling things down a degree or two. I even had a heat-scare with Belle this week when she somehow climbed her way up onto my tin roof at about 1pm and then started panicking because of how hot it was. She was running back and forth and hyperventilating, making a really weird noise. It took her a long time to calm down enough to figure that she could jump into my arms. Between the heat and the illness, I have slept terribly recently. I hope this mini hot season ends soon! I also finally switched cell phone networks so that I can get reception around the village and in my house, but I'm not too happy with the new company. First, the SIM card was supposed to come with a decent amount of credit on it and when I put it in my phone I found out that someone had already removed it. Everyone told me that the woman who sold it to me had sold me a bad card. When I went to ask her about it she just got really mad and then quiet and wouldn't look me in the eye, and offered no explanation or compensation. Then, I found out that phone credit expires much more quickly with this company, so I have to be careful about when I buy credit, and have to use it fairly quickly when I do. It is free to text and call other people on this network which is nice, but hardly anyone else is on it. It costs a fortune to call and text people on MTN, my old company. The final annoying thing: sometimes when someone from home calls, my phone rings and I see who is calling, only to answer it and get a busy signal. When I hang up it keeps ringing and giving me a busy signal, meaning the person calling thinks they are not getting through. I talked to other people who have this network and they say that unfortunately this just happens sometimes and it usually goes through by the second or third try. So if you are calling me and it doesn't go through the first time, wait a few minutes and try again! I had this problem a few times this week but was able to talk to Leah, Sarah, and Mitch! I also talked to my family on Memorial Day, extremely jealous of the very American BBQ they were having! It was so good talking to people after an almost 2-month hiatus! I now get full reception, even in my house :)
Today I am in Lokossa using the bank (thank goodness we finally got paid again, I was so poor!) and tonight Michelle and I are making homemade ravioli. Tomorrow, I am heading to my friend Jordan's post. Jordan is the one running Camp GLOW this year, and she is going to get all the documents to me and show me how things work so that I will be equipped to run it next year. I will be back in Lobogo on Monday, only to go to Cotonou sometime during the week next week to see the doctors (see if I got these pesky parasites taken care of) and turn in some forms. Oh, and get excited: I leave for my trip in ten weeks and one day :)

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