Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Day in My Shoes



             What follows is an excerpt from my journal, with a few amendments where needed, about a normal day in my life.  It should be known before reading that almost everyday is different in one way or another, but this gives a fairly good example of the happenings of them; at least as pertains to days I teach.  Even these can change if there is an event like an assembly (Monday mornings) or a meeting.  There are days I am constantly busy with work in both primary and secondary projects and days that I spend with only my hobbies; days I have company all day, others that I am the company of
others, and even some where I see not another soul all day; days of work, play, and/or rest.  Majotoa! (Enjoy!)

Waking up this morning I was surprised by the silence outside my door.  The normal roaring murmur that precedes me entering the new day by the throng of students outside my house was not there on this particular morning.  This had me a little worried about what information I might had missed on the happenings of this day; what I thought was supposed to be just another normal day.  So rolling out of bed, I began to go through my morning routine of getting ready.  Living literally on the Lycee premises, I have gotten into the habit of waiting till the last moment to get up and get ready.  This is due mainly for the reason that I stay up late at night taking full advantage of my electricity; the late evening being the only time I have electricity during the day.  So waiting till the last minute to get up it should be no surprise that I am in a rush to get ready.  So as I rush about the house preparing for the day, I do so in only the pale light that tries to peek through the many cracks in my doors and windows as if to see when I will come out. 
Opening my front door I was immediately reminded that a cold front had blow into Vondrozo the night before and persisted still today.  By cold front I do not mean a freezing day like you would find in the States when one comes through; though it felt like it to us.  Our temperature had only fallen to 74 degrees, but to all of us use to the balmy tropical weather this was almost unbearable.  So after donning my hoodie I walked outside to see only a few students sitting around on the porches of the school.  It was 7:30, the time class was supposed to start, but very few students had arrived, there were no other teachers on campus, and the Surveillant had yet to blow the whistle for classes to start.  So returning back inside my house I decided to look over my lesson and waist a little time till it was decided classes were to start.  This time could not have moved any slower; the seconds seemed to tick away laboriously as if eternally slow.  Fifteen minutes later, or possibly a life time as it felt, the Surveillant finally blew her whistle.  During this time waiting, students were slowly creeping onto campus little by little in small groups.  There seemed to be most of them still gone, but as I had a full lesson to teach I grabbed my books and walked across the road to my first classroom.  Upon seeing me, my students that were sitting around got up to go to class and others came running down the street, as if hiding around the boundaries to see if class would actually be in session. 


After entering class, I motioned for my students to take their seat; they do not sit upon entering the class, but stand at their desk till the teacher tells them to sit.  I then wrote the lesson on the top left corner of the board and turned to my students to say, “Good morning.”  In which they, in unison, responded, “Good morning teacher.” “How are you?” I said. To which they responded, “Fine, thank you. How are yooou!?” Their voices getting an octave higher on the last ‘you.’  The class then proceeded with the lesson for the day.  This is accomplished much differently than a class in the States, at least to what I am used to.  The students have a hard time understanding what is said and so everything I want them to understand has to be written on the board.  This in itself is time consuming, but added to this is that the students will then copy everything written on the board into their books.  They are meticulous in every detail, as if they were Irish monks copying the remnant books of a lost ancient society.  They are careful not only with the words, but with any lines as well; pulling out their ruler to draw each and every line.  This lesson was learned early in my teaching when I drew a table in an exercise and then waited 30 minutes for them to copy it all down.  Needless to say that was the last table ever drawn in my class.  The class, on any given day, proceeds with a lesson (vocabulary or grammar) and then an exercise, a lesson and then an exercise, and so on.  Each of these, the lesson and the exercise, the students write in different books, so I must make it clear what is being done for fear of an uproar of confusion.  Today I taught only grammar points, but that is something that I enjoy over teaching vocabulary.  Grammar I find is much easier to teach; it has rules and those are easy, for the most part, to understand and follow.  So I wrote out the grammar points on the board and took a seat while the students wrote them down; getting up from time to time to translate a word or clarify what a word was.  Once they had finished copying it all down I then went over and explain what I wrote.  Today this went without a hic-up.  I felt fortunate that there was no confusion because I am not sure how I would have explained the point otherwise.  This is always the risk with teaching grammar.  I may go into a grammar lesson with an explanation that I believe to be air tight and solid only to find out after giving it that the students do not understand.  I am then put on the spot to come up with an entirely new explanation for a point I thought I had just given the clearest explanation of.  This is not always an easy task, but fortunately that was not needed today.  After the lesson is done I then wrote an exercise for that same grammar point for the students to practice; not forgetting to also write an example problem so that they understood the activity.  The students after copying it all down then set to working it out as I strolled through the classroom looking over the students’ answers.  I say stroll, but that is a bit misleading.  The size of the classroom would seat 30 students in the States, but is arranged with desks for 48 and seats 70+.  This makes the aisles between the desks tight and filled with student’s legs.  So as I make my way around the room I have to shuffle my way through as if making my way through a maze.  After the students have finished their lessons I then call on one student at a time to come to the board and answer the questions. 
Once the two hour class is over, I let my students out and walk across the road to my house to wash my hands and shirt of the chalk powder that has accumulated on them over the duration of my class.  As I mentioned earlier, everything has to be written on the board.  What I did not mention is that it is all written in chalk.  This takes a bit more time and if far messier than using dry erase markers, not to mention that the boards are not in the greatest shape and are hungry for chalk; eating up countless pieces till I am left only using stubs of pieces at the end.  Once the whistle is blown for the next class to begin, I proceed to a new classroom.  Here at my Lycee, each section (or class) has its own room and it is the teachers that rotate classrooms.  The proceedings of the previous class are then repeated with this next class and I am finished with classes no later than 11:30; although the second class is usually a little faster than the first since I have ironed out some of the problems with my lesson. 
Once my second class is done I grab my shopping bag from my house and set out for my daily lunch of compuse at Madame Caroline’s.  This walk takes me about 10 minutes to do and is uphill the majority of the way, but is a pleasant walk and gives me a chance to greet people along the way and talk with some of my students who are going into town.  After eating my usual two or three bowls of compuse and having my two glasses of juice (tamarind juice for today since she had no other), I made my way on my usual route through the market to see what might catch my eye.  I make a walk through the market everyday even if do not need anything, just to be seen as well as having something to do.  Besides, there is always fruit to be had and I almost never go home without some.  Having finished my route and not seeing much of interest, except for the new sakay peppers (a spicy pepper which I decided not to buy since I still had no mortal and pestle to make a sauce), I returned through a back way to where I had seen some green bananas.  Green bananas have become a favorite of mine to cook with as of late.  Being of the same consistency and starchiness as potatoes (not to mention that they are healthier), I have grown fond of green banana fries with a dash of Tony’s seasoning and dipped in Gasy Sriracha sauce as a snack.  So picking up eight green bananas for 100 Ar (roughly $0.03) I began to make my way back down the mucky, rutted out road to my house.  Making it only to the edge of ‘town’ I heard from the ‘Ambanivolo Stands,’ the porch of a storage building where people from the countryside sit and hangout, “Vazaha! Oooh vazaha!” (a term meaning foreigner of any sort, but most usually used for white people).  Ignoring them as usual I continued to walk on.  I have for a long time stopped responding to anyone in my town that calls me vazaha.  Though in these peoples defense, they most likely do not know who I am since they only come into town once a week, if even that. 
As I walked home, I enjoyed the cool weather and thought of how it was perfect for a bike ride into the country had the rain not made the roads so muddy.  The overcast of grayish white clouds and the cool weather reminded me of fall or winter and I was glad I was not having to deal with the freezing weather I knew people were having back home.  The overcast made the day feel a little gloomy though and I knew in the back of my mind that the rest of the day would probably be very unproductive for me.  Only teaching in the morning, Monday – Thursday, I have the rest of the time to pursue whatever it is that I want.  Some days I teach independent English lessons, have an English club, work with Club Vintsy (an environment group at the high school), and/or pursue hobbies of my own.  Feeling like a lazy day was upon me, I grabbed my Kindle and laid on my bed to read.  This was soon interrupted though by the arrival of the ‘Mbola Gang’ at my house.  This is a group of boys, their leader being Mbola and from whence they received that name, which live in my neighborhood and come by my house daily to hangout.  They are here everyday if it be to watch a movie on my computer, take pictures or videos with my camera or just sit and talk amongst themselves or to me (it always happens in this order of availability).  Today, having a full battery on my computer, I allowed them watch a movie for a bit.  So I set my laptop on a chair in front of my green metal trunk, while the boys piled onto the trunk almost sitting on top of each other for room and making two rows of kids; the boys in back peering over the shoulders of those in front.  They have very quickly learned how to navigate through my movies so once I set up the computer I returned to my Kindle to read; there are only so many times you can watch ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas,’ ‘Monsters Inc.,’ or ‘Tarzan’ (the kids favorite movies).  In this way I passed the next two hours; reading and listening to the kids as they laughed or talked about the movie. 
Slightly before 2 o’clock the kids closed my laptop and said goodbye because it was time for them to return to school.  Once they left, my computer still being on, I got up, opened it, and started to write this entry in my journal, stopping every now and then when students or friends would come by my house to talk or play my guitar.  They love my guitar and although I bought it to learn how to play as a hobby, it gets far more use by them.  I still can only play a few sections of a very few songs.   I passed the next two hours in this way, before deciding it was time to start preparing dinner.  I try to have dinner prepared, or at least almost done, before it gets dark.  My electricity usually turns on at 6 o’clock in the afternoon but since there is only one light bulb in the center of my house it is far easier to prepare food by the light of the sun.  So I pulled my bag of vegetables down from the wall; all of them being held in separate plastic bags but together in a bigger bag on the way away from the possible scurrying mice.  I then spent the next hour or so cutting vegetables and preparing my dinner on a gas stove under the watchful eyes and comments of students, friends, or neighbors.  They love to watch me prepare and cook my food and there has been very few days that I have not had at least one person here watching me do it.  The dishes I prepare and the way I prepare them is very different than what they are used to and so, like most other things in my life, gives them endless enjoyment to watch and comment on.  Once finished, I took a seat on the trunk where the kids had once sat, turn on a movie and ate while I watched. 

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