Tuesday, April 26, 2011
The Grass? Not Always Greener
Instances are rare that I am overwhelmed with undeserving gratitude for the conditions of my school and village. I definitely feel like I am supposed to be here, in this exact moment, doing what I am doing, but the day to day taxation that is my village inevitably wears on me. Every now and then I can manage to separate my thoughts from the twisted perception that is my village, I can step outside of myself so to speak, and be thankful for what I have instead of being aggravated by every little thing. It usually takes some form of incomprehensible mishap for me to feel this way, and this instance was no exception. Today, for the first time since I’ve lived in my village for four months, I visited the primary school.
Feeling especially inspired after a five day training conference in beautiful Kibuye by Kivu Lake, I asked one of my colleague’s wives; a primary teacher in my village, to help me learn Kinyarwanda. This being my third language I’m learning, I’ve found it’s normal to hit a plateau of vocabulary and phrases when speaking. I’m determined to take my Kinyarwanda skills to the next level so I asked Regine for help because she had offered graciously when I first moved here and like a snobby egomaniac I said no. The problem with this arrangement is that she asked me to meet her at her school, in the middle of the day, when all of the kids or savage little barbarians as I see them, are hanging outside the school during “recess”. Luckily on my way out of my own school’s compound I ran into Regine’s husband who said he would accompany me to the school. I was so relieved, no matter who I was with the kids would have taunted me, but being with anyone was better than being alone. Or so I thought, as we approached the gate of the primary school my colleague shook my hand to bid me farewell and apologized for not taking me directly into the school, at which point I was thinking why are you apologizing you have the ability to change that fact right now? Even he did not want to deal with the pandemonium that is the primary school recess hour. I stumbled up a hill and walked through a dust covered haze of stares, screams, laughter, poking and prodding. Children love to try and pull my skin off, and touch my hair, I’m so different from them. Also if any of you reading this blog know even the slightest about me, I don’t like kids. So naturally I became an English teacher in Africa. But when I say kids I mean dirty little rascals running around asking me for money with snot hanging halfway down their faces. I actually like my angsty teenage students.
After making my way through the confuddled masses another primary school teacher grabbed my arm and pulled me into a doorway, like a spry young man saving an old woman from being hit by a bus. The teacher led me to Regine, who took me to her classroom where we had our lesson. But before she had a chance to shut the mongrels out they were busy passing around a bucket and dipping their hands, spoons, cups or whatever other foreign objects they had into the bucket and using that as a vessel to carry “food” into their mouths. I finally saw the true product of free education in this country. I couldn’t believe how frustrated I was over the fact that my high school students were forced to eat rice and beans nearly every single day, when these children were eating something completely unidentifiable by my standards and out of one communal bucket while sitting on the dirt floor. This is poverty. My students have a cafeteria with tables and chairs and individual bowls and utensils. My students are royalty to these poor kids just 15 minutes down the road. The reality is the my school, a boarding school, has more funding than what is typical so they have amenities like a cafeteria, a library, they are even building a chemistry lab currently. Also the higher your grade level the more expensive your school fees are in this country. This means that those kids slurping mush out of a bucket are paying next to nothing while my students are taking ¾ of their parent’s salaries – if they even have parents that is. But undoubtedly the saddest thing about this whole experience, the way the primary students behaved, was how normal this routine had evidently become. So in this experience, I saw what was on the other side and swelled with relief thinking about my situation at my own school. As far as the Kinyarwanda lesson, I really enjoyed it. We mostly worked on pronunciation and new vocabulary. I hope I can commit to regular lessons with Regine or anyone else willing to help me, so that maybe for a few minutes every week those kids can see that I am a real person. They can stop being afraid of me and stop taunting me and maybe see the way I carry myself and behave. And maybe in five or six years they will be diligent and sophisticated enough to attend my high school on the other side.