Thursday, January 14, 2016

Another Day in My Life


I woke up this morning the same way as every other day, by the sound of rosters crowing and pigeon’s feet stomping out their morning dance on my ceiling at 5 am.  Waking up this morning I was confronted with the question of what to wear today and was answered with a shrug from a pile of clothes sitting on the floor.  I had planed to wash the clothes “tomorrow” for the past few days; putting it off because “I did not have the time for them to dry.”  In hindsight it seems that was a mistake now that the rains have started and there is even less chance for them to dry.  So there they remain a testament to my laziness until a later, sunnier, moment presents itself.  The question still
remained though, “What will I wear?”  I had class and so I needed to “dress up.”  Dressing up does not really mean much.  It just means that I would be wearing pants, not shorts, and a polo, instead of the usual t-shirt.  The problem lied in that the pants and shirts I would normally wear lay cozily in that pile on the floor.  “I could always smell test them and check if they looked dirty,” I thought to myself, but in the dim morning light that peaked through my window shutters there was no guarantee I could really see if they were clean and I already knew when the thought occurred to me that they were dirty. 
So I went for the clothes that never see the light of day and lay hidden away at the bottom of my ‘dresser.’  I grabbed first for the blue jeans that I loved to wear so much in the States, but found unforgivably hard to hand wash here in Madagascar so fated them to obscurity. They, too, had seemed to grow and hung desperately to my hips only with the help of a belt; threatening any minute to rebel and run away from the job.  I then went for my old school polo that lay latent on the bottom of the dresser shelf.  It having already been slightly too big when arriving to country was now exceedingly large; draping across me like a large orange sail. 
In this way I made my way across the street to my only class of the morning to present the test review for their upcoming English test.  After multiple complains about the review being too hard and the test going to be too long, the students settled in to finish the review.  Once they had finished the review and the corrections had been made on the board I was surprised when I looked at my watch and saw that only 30 minutes had passed.  The review was not long by any means.  It consisted of only five sections with twelve questions between them, a sample of what the actual test would look like, and the answers were mostly short, but for it to take only 30 minutes was a shock.  Malagasy students are notoriously slow and meticulous at their writing, but these students had copied and answered the questions in what I deemed a record time.  So I went on to explain that “The exam will be the same as this” and “No, the questions will be different and there will be more. There will be 20 questions (the grading system here is out of 20, not 100 like in the States),” which was followed by groans of protest.  “You also can not leave, talk, or cheat during the test,” which was followed by laughter by the students.  Cheating here is epidemic, blatant, and accepted to a degree by the teachers who turn a blind eye to it.  In their defense though, it is a problem that is hard to fight in small classrooms filled with about 70 students. 
Releasing the students from class early, I returned to my house across the street, replaced the oversized clothes for more comfortable ones, and made my way into town to eat and go to the market.  The rain had stopped, for now, but had turned the dirt road leading out of the Lycee into a veritable slip-n-slid.  Navigating my way up the road into town took much longer than expected, as I had to wind my way across the less muddy spots and towards the better footholds.  Running into the Mayor half way into town, he having come from teaching a class at the private school that he also owned, we walked the rest of the way talking about a recent death in town.  Parting ways once in town, I went to get my daily fix of compuse and juice.  Being overly full and exceedingly happy about it, I made my way to buy credit for my phone.  In Madagascar most people pay-as-you-go when it comes to phone and internet plans and I am no exception.  I had run out of credit and had become completely cut off from the outside world. 
The rain had begun to lightly fall again and I wondered to myself why I decided not to bring my raincoat.  I made my way into the market and to what cover I might find there as I made my way through.  The rain had cleared out most of the vendors and made all of the ground into a slush pit of mud.  As I tread through the market and the mud squished over the ends of flip flops and over my toes I wished that I had wore my Chaco’s instead.  I had put them away under my bed long ago for being harder to take on and off and more cumbersome than my flip flops, but as I stepped into muddy puddle after puddle, time and time again, I began to rethink their usefulness. 
I really needed nothing from the market and the trek through reminded me of that quickly.  It had become routine to make a daily walk through the market.  It was something to do and I wanted to be seen.  It was so much a routine that, like now, I made the trip rain or sun, if I need anything or not (I could always buy fruit), or even if it was market day.  Market day is my least favorite; it being on a rainy day would only make it that much worse.  On this day, every Monday, people from all around come to town and the usual market area that on a regular day is almost full swells to overflow into the streets and is packed shoulder to shoulder with people. 
After buying a clove of garlic, because I felt that I should at least buy something since I had put myself through another market day, I made the long return journey back to my house.  The middle of the day for me, like most Malagasy people as well, is a very lazy part of the day.  In most of coastal Madagascar the world shuts down from about noon to 3 pm; it is just far too hot to out and about.  Stores close, people go home or hangout in shady spots, and life just chills for a time.  I spend this time of the day at home for the most part hanging out with the ‘Mbola Gang,’ a group of neighborhood kids that have made my house their daily haunt.  Today we watched X-Men for the millionth time, but really just the action scenes (this is all they care about since they can not understand the dialog).  Everyday would be spent in this way if the kids had their way, but I sometimes have to “write a Peace Corps report” and so they are forced to take on other activities like drawing, dominoes, or Frisbee.
            The kids finally left for class at 2 pm and was given two hours to prepare for my evening class.  Most days this would mean looking over my lesson plan for the day, but it being the end of the trimester and I was giving an exam, I simply had to make sure I had all of my supplies.  Testing here in Vondrozo is nothing short of nerve racking for me.  For starters I have to write the whole exam on the board which takes a considerable amount of time.  The kids then have to copy the test onto their paper and answer the questions.  This is where things take a turn for the worse.  Cheating is horrible and blatant here and in a small classroom of seventy students it is impossible to stop all cheating.  There of course is an expected level of cheating in these types of conditions but I stay at my wits end trying to keep it to a minimum.  Once the last student finally turned in his test I was free to return home and begin preparing dinner.  In the dim, fading light of the day I cut up some vegetables and began to cook a sweat and spicy vegetable sauté served over rice while I watched from my kitchen window as the sun set over the corridor.  

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