My adventures serving in the Peace Corps

Thursday, March 25, 2010

I'm back!

Sorry it's been a while since my last post. The only time I was at a computer since my last post was when I was down in Cotonou for Kate's memorial, and I wasn't much in the mood to spend time on the computer.
That weekend was really nice. Volunteers were housed with expat Americans that live in Cotonou, mostly people who work at the embassy. Myself and two other volunteers were housed with a young couple (and their adorable black lab!) in their beautiful house. Not only did we have a whole house full of airconditioning to ourselves, but we also had internet, satellite TV (read: the Travel channel, CNN, E!, etc.), and free reign over their whole kitchen and pantry, which included any kind of American food you can possibly imagine. They also had a housekeeper contantly making us quiches and other yummy things. So, it was a nice place to go back to and unwind after a few long, emotionally draining days.
The actual service for Kate was quite nice. Several volunteers read excerpts from her blog, and some read a short bio about her. Maria spoke a bit about the memorial that they were holding in Kate's village, and the US ambassador read a message from himself and the current Director of the Peace Corps. A RPCV from Kate's year played some music and our country director read some poems, and the service was capped off by a really nice slideshow. Afterwards, we all wrote in a book to Kate/her parents. Lots of tears were shed, but we laughed a lot too, and overall it was a really good and cathartic experience for all of us. The one picture is of the sort of altar we set up, and the other speaks for itself: things we'd like to say to Kate. (Other pictures are of some of my favorite concession girls, what a roadside boutique looks like, a sign denoting land ownership, how laundry is done here... jealous?, and my colleague in front of his new house.)
Life at post has been going really well. I have actually gotten to spend a decent amount of time at post lately, which has been a nice change of pace for me. School is absolutely flying now that it is second semester- we've already had semester midterms! Speaking of second semester and those midterms, I have been pretty angry with the other English teachers lately. When it came time to submit our proposals for the midterms, we all had to disciss where we were in the curriculum. (Preface to this story: for whatever reason, every class of the same level has to take the same exam, regardless of their teacher.) Now, all of first semester, I was significantly ahead of the other English teachers since I actually showed up to class every day and used time efficiently. Well, Beninese teachers get this syndrome where they panic when second semester hits and decide that it would be best to start covering material RIDICULOUSLY fast, literally cramming four lessons into one, without a care whether the kids are getting the material or not. So, magically, the other teachers are now a decent chunk ahead of me in the curriculum, and were "shocked" that I had "fallen behind". In fact, I was so far behind that I had to write a seperate exam for my students, which the other teachers were NOT happy about. I, on the other hand, was extatic because it meant that I could give my kids a well-written exam based on material that we have thoroughly covered in class. So far I have graded my quatrieme exams, and the kids did wonderfully! While this made me really happy and proud of my kids, the other teachers who saw some of my grades got huffy anf I could tell they thought that meant that my exam was just too easy. I don't care what anyone else says, I am really proud of my kids! They make me so happy this year; it's going to be hard leaving them! (Speaking of my favorite students, I proctored an exam for my favorite class from last year, and they all started cheering when I walked in! They also behaved perfectly during the exam, which was really nice.)
I also typed most of the English exams for this round of testing, and seeing the exams that some of the other teachers submitted was really disheartening. I won't go into details, but the texts were filled with grammatical errors, the questions on the text often barely even related to the texts, and some of the grammar points were so inticate that even I would fail. It's amazing to me that students who can barely greet me in English are asked to write en essay on combatting corruption in modern governments, all in English. When I pointed some of these errors out to my colleagues, they told me that those kind of errors are unavoidable since they don't get proper time to prepare the exams... apparently 2 weeks is not long enough. Hmm. I also noticed that a few nit-picky grammar rules are being taught incorrectly, but when I try to correct them, I am told that "I must not have been taught" that particular rule. No matter I'm a native speaker, right? All that being said, though, there are of course some really bright students and dedicated teachers who don't fall into those categories.
Speaking of those dedicated teachers, I did two neat things with one of my colleagues in the last few weeks. First, we went to his class at a different school and just had an open question and answer session, in English. It was fun answering questions like "Why would you LEAVE America to come live in Benin??" The kids asked some really insightful questions and their English was surprisingly advanced. I also participated in the broadcast of a weekly radio show where they translate a popular and meaningful English song into French, and listeners from all around the region can call in with questions and dedications. It was fun hearing some of my students call in! The songs we dealt with were "War" by Bob Marley and "We are the World".
Other than that, nothing major has gone on. I'm pretty sure both of my cats are pregnant again. Power cuts have still been a problem, but not nearly as bad as before. It has still been very hot, but raining a bit, which has cooled it down a little. I have been really busy with school and also Camp GLOW. I have finally received the money for the camp, so we're now in the process of making down payments and ordering things like the camp tshirts. Once again, thank you SO MUCH for all who donated! We also had a youth camp idea sharing session the weekend of Kate's memorial, where all volunteers who are planning camps came together to brainstorm and share ideas and best practices.
What else... oh! one to make your skin crawl: I visited my colleague's new house, which is quite nice but kind of in the middle of nowhere, so it has lots of bugs. He told me that recently, he was wrapping a towel around himself after a shower and hadn't shaken the towel first, and was promptly stung by a scorpion... on his penis! OUCH! He was able to get some injections though, so he was ok. On a total subject change, there is American woman living in a nearby village for a few months, so it's weird running into her periodically at my market- she's only the second white person I have ever seen in my village!
Anyway, tomorrow I'm heading up north for our huge volunteer fundraising weekend, aka "Peace Corps Prom". We all get dressed up and have a charity dinner and silent auction, all to raise money for gender-related projects here in Benin. We also have a date auction. It should be a really fun time! I will get back to post on Sunday, only to turn around and leave again on Wednesday, since one week from today I'm leaving for Ghana!! It's looking like this vacation is actually going to happen (knock on wood) :) We're also going to be able to meet up with those brasscasters I've mentioned for, and hopefully go to church (in English!) on Easter. We're also going to eat real sushi in Accra, go to a slave castle, and spend a few days at a beach resort. Should be amazing! So, my next post will probably be about my awesome trip! Happy Spring and see you 4-5 months...!

1 comment:

loehrke said...

A scorpion sting on the penis. Yeeee-owch. I think I speak for all of your male readers when I say that!!!
I am assuming that you are feeling much better by now; don't leave us hanging with these posts where you are in bad health. We worry about you....a LOT!!!
It sounds to me like you are an amazing teacher and I am proud of BOTH you and your students. It's better to master a smaller piece of knowledge than not learn anything.
Have fun in Ghana!! I really hope that the trip HAPPENS this time!!
Blessing on you and blessings on Kate's family.
Mark Loehrke (Carly's dad)