29 November 2008

Hooray for internet access!!

This time I have it because I'm visiting friends in Dori, even FARTHER north than my friend in Amsiya. Which means that mid-day here is still pretty darned hot, despite it being winter. In my site now the days are quite pleasant, and the nights are blanket-worthy.

Since my last post I've...hm, not done that much outside of teaching, honestly. It keeps me very busy. I'm afraid many of my students are frustrated with me right now, and the feeling is mutual. You see, by inclination and by training, my teaching style is oriented toward teaching students critical-thinking skills, not just rote memorization. And on paper that corresponds well with the Burkinabé approach. Unfortunately, in practice, the majority of education here is through memorization. Which has its place, I don't deny, but I try to do more than that. And the students aren't well-equipped to handle anything else. They just refuse to THINK about problems before responding! Right now I'm trying to teach them to start by making sure they're at least responding to the actual question being asked. Results are not encouraging...add to that the fact that I have 400 students (my earlier estimates of 300 were based on older roll sheets) and that French is not the first language for ANY of us, and the upshot is that the grades on my tests are not that great. Most recently I had trouble with my oldest class; some of the students told me basically that they didn't need the notes I was giving them. This despite having failed the last two tests. I walked out of class a half-hour early, fuming. But I now have a plan for Monday's class. I'm going to show up, take roll, and then not teach for the hour. I will give the students who DO feel they need my notes a real class that evening. That way we won't be bothered by the others. Can you tell I'm still mad?

On a much more positive note, I've had a couple of very good sessions with my 7th grade class. The Associate Peace Corps Director (APCD) for Secondary Education in Burkina Faso - in other words, my boss - came for a site visit. And happily the timing corresponded with my lessons in such a way that I was able to hold a PACA session - that's a tool used by Peace Corps to help the community discuss what their needs are (I've forgotten what it actually stands for). My boss was very happy to see it, and I in my turn was very happy with the results. I had the boys and girls split up and build typical daily calendars. I then used them to discuss the comparison of fractions and the need to convert them to the same denominator, in the process proving that the girls work a hell of a lot more each day than the girls. The guys were all shocked, despite how clear it was from the calendars (a typical comparison: 12h30 Girls - get water from well, heat, prepare lunch. Boys - sleep.) See above comment on critical thinking.

Anyway, I'm now in Dori celebrating a slightly belated Thanksgiving. And am I ever thankful to be here! I didn't realize how stressed I was until I was able to unwind with friends. The trip has been productive in more ways than mental-health, too. I got a great deal on a solar panel, which means I will soon have enough electricity chez moi for REAL lighting - I may even be able to run a fan off of it! I had resigned myself to not having one because I felt the expense wasn't worth it, but fortunately one of my friends has one he doesn't use, so he sold it to me at a good price. I am VERY excited. I'll also be making divinity tonight, as we have access to eggs here. I hope it turns out ok...I don't even love the stuff myself (though I don't hate it), but in the spirit of cultural exchange I'm sharing this Southern ubiquity with friends from more northern latitudes. I also now have New Year's plans to visit a part of the country I haven't before with two extremely cool (and incidentally beautiful) volunteers. They're both GEEs, and I love talking with the people from other sectors because it's fascinating how different their experiences are. I also love visiting other volunteers and seeing first-hand some of the differences between our sites. Which brings me to Dori itself.

Dori is a small city, truly in the Sahel: off of the one paved road, everything is sand. Large enough to have amenities such as internet and refrigeration, it is still small enough not to be overwhelming in the way Ouagadougou or even much smaller Ouahigouya can be. So far, of all the places I've been here (which in all honesty is not yet that large a number), Dori most closely matches the hazy vision I had in my head of what life in West Africa would be like before I got here. The market, on Fridays, made me think of Raiders of the Lost Ark - some outdoors, some indoors in large stone structures built for the purpose (MUCH cooler than the cement brick and tin or wood and straw-thatch of the markets of larger or smaller places, respectively - and I meant the word "cooler" to refer to temperature, but it also works in the figurative usage). Fresh veggies and brilliantly-dyed cloths catch the eye, and the vendors are mostly friendly without being pushy (a rarity!). The stalls and aisles are PACKED with people. The people here are mostly Puehls (as in the village of Amsiya described in my last post), which means, as then, that when people aren't speaking French I have small chance of understanding. On the plus side, this means that when I do come across a Moabga (the singular of Mossi), my Mooré is even more appreciated.

Need to work on that Mooré! And my French, though my boss said he was very impressed with my improvement in that arena. Nice to hear, as it is naturally hard for me to judge my own progress day-to-day. But when? School is all-consuming. But the trimester is over soon, and with my travel plans for New Year's as they are, I will probably spend the first part of Christmas break doing those things I've been wanting to do since moving in - study language, get my compost really cooking, and plant a garden. Personal projects, rather than Peace Corps projects for this break. Because come summer I've got plenty of secondary projects in the wings ready to go. More on that when the time for them draws near.

Short version: School is hard, but I'm coping. Fellow volunteers are always fun to hang out with. I like visiting new places.

As I often do, I will close by exhorting you to call, text, email, or mail me. I have really nifty cards to send in response to letters! Sally and Carson have earned theirs (though I still lack your address, Sally). Who else? Supplies are limited! No they're not, I can get more. WRITE ME!