By Rebecca Clement
Here’s a list of the great things that have happened here since you last heard from me.
1. We started doing our research and things are going very well. For the first week of our research, our mornings have been spent on what everyone has been referring to as advance work. Basically, what we have been doing is community research which will be further clarified in point 2 of this blog post. What I wanted to discuss right now though was the amazing group dynamics of our curriculum meetings. Pretty much this is a great group of people and I’m looking forward to moving forward with them as a group. I find that the way we work is extremely productive and fun at the same time. We’ve managed to stay professional, culture shock or not, and we’ve been really good with staying on topic. However our curriculum development meetings have only been 1-2 hours and the atmosphere might change with an increase of frustration and fatigue that comes with longer hours of work (which will come when the advance work is finished). Regardless though, I feel the need to say it, these girls are great.
2. Interviewing the surrounding villages and the nearby schools. Our advance work was based on collecting information about the schools and communities that are surrounding the construction site for the school. For the villagers, we wanted to know what they thought about a school being built on that plot of land since some of them used the land for farming purposes. All the villagers we interviewed were happy with the prospect of receiving a school that would be closer, especially the women who feared for the safety of their children and grandchildren. Right now the children would either need to cross a street with fast moving cars or cross a bridge that gets flooded and dangerous during the rainy season. Interviewing the people was a big moment for me since it was the first time that I felt I was doing something important and relevant to education. Though I couldn’t do anything for them about the land they would need to cultivate elsewhere, I was able to talk with them about the education of their children and ask them questions relevant to such a topic. It was also the first time I felt anything about being in Africa. I remember thinking “wow this is awesome” and actually felt it. For the schools that we visited (3 in total), we got to interview three head masters and observe classrooms in progress. In total I got to observe 2 standard 1 (grade 1) classrooms and 2 standard 2 (grade 2) classrooms and at least one per school. Since we’ve arrived, people have been telling us about the over packed classrooms of 100+ students. What I’ve learnt from my visits is that yes that each classroom has an approximation of 100 students but from what I saw, only 60-70 of these students are actually attending.
3. The dance around the fire with the local women. This was also a big moment for me since for one it was simply amazing and because it was the first time I was able to connect with the women of the village on a fun level. On the most part our interactions have been me testing out my Chichewa through passing greetings and simple requests (pretty much just asking for bath water). At the beginning, it was mostly the children who were dancing while they sang along with their mothers but then the entire thing turned into a dance circle where we would be pulled into the circled or singled out and made to come into the circle and dance. After a while, we tried including some of our own songs but found it difficult to find a good dancing song that we could all sing. Pretty much all we had to sing as a group was songs by The Spice Girls and “The One That I Want” from Grease. The women were amazing about it too. They encouraged us to share and were supportive when we faltered and failed. They even started singing “This time for Africa”. Over all it was a night of fun and laughter. For once, the girls stayed up past nine o’clock with me and I wasn’t the last one to go to bed.
Normally I can be content in any surroundings given to me since I’m pretty flexible and able to adapt well. However during the process of writing this blog I’ve realized one aspect I find hard about these living conditions. I am missing the alone time that I would use to just break out into song. As I type I’m listening to the soundtrack of Rent and am finding it extremely hard to hold back. This feeling of restraint is making me quite frustrated actually and I’ve come to realize that my downtime activity is not reading or drawing but singing. Even if I’m not that much of an accomplished singer, I love making a fool of myself in front of my dog by singing and dancing like a maniac. Though I’m sure many would find it amusing at first, I’m sure they wouldn’t have the same patience as my Bitsy baby has with me.