Tuesday, 20 April 2010

a brief interlude

So with a Whole School Development workshop providing a perfect excuse we have left behind the 'gas mark 6' temperatures of Soma and returned to the Kombos. A month and a half up-country means we return and view everything through new eyes. For instance I didn't actually bring my jumper, but I can imagine wearing it here - or is it only cold in comparison?! There are shops here that sell vegetables and alcohol and nice things. Not that I am completely scabby now, but I bought a foot scraper and nail brush in the posh chemists shop. We have eaten out at every opportunity and paid a hefty 60 Dalasi (£1.50 ish) for a glass of white wine. I treated myself to a nice coloured glass plate to put girly things on in my bedoom - thanks Riss for my birthday Dalasi's! Now we sit trying to arrange a hotel for the Saint Louis Jazz Festival in Senegal in May. Think we may have left it a little late, hotels respond to email enquiries in French and I have to drag Lucy in to reply. We're converting one unknown currency to a lesser known currency and I'm crossing my fingers that my flat sale will complete sometime before May so I can actually afford to go. It's ever so stressful this volunteering lark.

Any views expressed are my own and are not representative of VSO.

Friday, 16 April 2010

imagine if you will...

  • Not having the mad rush that is the start of term. Instead a more sedate beginning where you may still be travelling back from your holiday.
  • Needing to write "pupils should not be sent on errands such as buying cigarettes or ganja".
  • Examining pupils in a language they can not speak.
  • Leaving your classroom to greet a visitor for the whole lesson.
  • Having a class comprised of two different year groups in your room and teaching them entirely separate topics. One at a time.
  • A child having work in their book that they have written but are completely unable to read.
  • Trying to improve the teaching in an area where around 50% of the teachers are untrained and unqualified and don't earn enough money a month to buy a bag of rice.

Any views expressed are my own and are not representative of VSO.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

self preservation

Sanity at least partly restored after our weekend away, where we were spoiled rotten, drank plenty of beer and aired our mutual frustrations of the work situation so far.

Thursday evening started early and we had a lovely salad, cheese cake and rum cake courtesy of the Peace Corps, who were still sitting around at 10.30 despite our yawns and lack of conversation! Early start on Friday and we were in a 'Sept Place' on our way to Janjangbureh by 9.00. Arrived by 11.00 and dropped our stuff off in the Forestry Commission Lodge where Liz and Pete had arranged for us to stay. Idyllic spot on the river, plenty of trees and insect noise in contrast to the desert scrub appearance of Soma. Found sleeping a little difficult though with the number of insects around and woke regularly to shine my torch around the room! Had a really lovely weekend and took full advantage of being cooked for, complete with chocolate spread, condensed milk and banana pancakes on Easter Sunday! Had a really touristy visit to Janjangbureh 'monkey' camp, which was cool – am trying to upload the video onto facebook, but may be still here at midnight!
View from the back of the 'sept place', there are 4 more passengers you can't see!


I think we all agreed that we're finding the whole experience quite difficult at the moment. Individually, each aspect is perfectly tolerable, but in combination it can get quite depressing. We could cope with the complete lack of anything to do in the evenings and rubbish food, if we were actually doing anything at work, but we're not – and that's hard.
On reflection - for any eagle eyed re-readers - I have edited this post. Draw your own conclusions to that!

Any views expressed are my own and are not representative of VSO.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

busy doing nothing

Well work this week has been a challenge, but not in the way I had been expecting. Our role here is to work with the region's teacher trainers, to identify training needs and provide in-service training as appropriate. Region 4, where we are based, is divided into 6 clusters and has somewhere in the region of 80 lower basic schools. Some of the furthest out schools are roughly 100km away on dirt tracks so will require an overnight stay when we visit. We have been unable to ride our motorbikes so far, due to lack of licenses, so have been restricted to the Education Office, a ten minute walk from our compound. There is however absolutely nothing to do.
A typical day is as follows: leave home at 8.30, arrive at the office where everyone is sitting around outside chatting. Go through the rigmarole of greeting everyone who is sitting around, then go an sign in. Sitting around continues until 9.00 when the electricity comes on. At this point there is frenzied activity as everyone switches on their computers and air-conditioning. Sitting around chatting is then swiftly resumed. We then wait a while until someone decides to insert the magic dongle that provides us with wireless internet. A day of checking emails and facebook and blog writing then begins in earnest. At some point around mid-morning the daily hell of having to go to the toilet beings. This is delayed until point of bursting is reached. The toilet at the office is so unpleasant it actually makes me heave, so we have the continual dilemma of whether to drink water or not. Clearly in temperatures of 40+ it is unavoidable, so this is one more little event that makes my day more interesting. By about 11.00 we have completely run out of things to do. Lunch doesn't happen here unless there is a workshop running, so at some point we might walk to the local bitiko to buy a Sprite. We then sit around getting increasingly frustrated at the lack of work being done, until the electricity goes off at 3.00 and we leave. Not that those are our official working hours you understand, but there is not a hope in hell I am staying here to 5.00 twiddling my thumbs. So we gather our things and walk home in the heat of the day. Lunch of some sort is then thrown together (bowl of cornflakes, bread and butter, soup, bananas – the possibilities are limitless, oh sorry, that's limited) and then there's a couple of hours of sleep, reading, washing, fetching water, until the electricity comes back on at 7.00 and we think about dinner.

A slight depression has set in this week as a result of this mind-numbingly boring routine, with the only saving grace being the trip to Janjangbureh we have planned for the Easter weekend to see Pete and Liz. We were planning on heading back to the Kombo after this to eat ice-cream and other self-indulgent activities, but this was firmly vetoed by the Director yesterday who told us in no uncertain terms that we were expected to be in the office on Tuesday. Not that he'll be there you understand, or Mr Bah for that matter, and there still isn't anything to do, but it's the bums on seats game around here. This was such a disheartening piece of news that a walk into Soma for an emergency beer was required last night. We might have bought Pringles as well. Ho hum.

So one more sleep before our trip. Prior to that longed for sleep however, we must entertain the Peace Corps some more. Earlier in the week we received an invite to Jacob's birthday dinner. As antisocial as I am, this sounded like it would make a nice change one evening, so we readily accepted. This was then followed with a request for us to host the birthday dinner due to our larger houses. Lucy agreed, being the laid-back person that she is, I started picturing the washing-up and people who won't leave when we needed to pack for our dawn start in the morning. It will definitely be nice to see them, in Lucy's house.

On Tuesday, we actually had an outing to see some schools. We were driven to 6 schools to meet with the Headmasters on an inspection visit. None of the pupils had lessons as the schools finished for the Easter holiday on the next day. The Headmaster's offices varied to some degree, but were mostly concrete sheds. Mr Jawo, who accompanied us, was checking on policies, registers, handover notes, asset registers and other crucially important things. Generally, each office was covered with pieces of sugar paper stuck to the walls, there was the weekly timetable, the termly staff attendance records, and the teacher and pupil codes of conduct. There were certain little gems amongst these codes; boys must tock their shirts in, girls must say no to sex, clothes should not be transparent, do not bring mirrors to school. One headmaster was asked about discipline (the law has recently changed here making corporal punishment illegal, but it still happens so the directorate must check), he explained to us that if a child needing punishing at his school, they may be made to go and water 4 or 5 mango trees. I think we could learn a lot in the UK. I can only imagine the response from certain individuals, whom shall remain nameless, if this was suggested mid-lesson!

And so to April. I received a phone call from VSO earlier explaining that our licenses were now ready and although we don't physically have them (or my NGO number plates) we can now use the bikes. There are police checks all over the place up-country, so I asked Ebrima what I should say if we are stopped (NGO plates usually get waved through, but I don't have them!) he said to phone him. So that's okay then. On return from JJB our biking adventures may commence. Not that my bike has seen any oil for what looks like forever and on our one little experimental outing wouldn't start very reliably..... We shall see. Things can only improve from here. There will be a lot of Julbrew drunk this weekend.

The road to our compound.

We've moved out of Mr Bah's tiny dustball of an office, into this larger and slightly cleaner one.
Clearly there's a phenomenal amount of work going on.

Saturday was a highly eventful day. We did a crossword, follwed by some soduko, played hangman, squares and then cards for a while, and rounded all of that of with a sleep before dinner.

Have I mentioned the dirty feet issue? You may think that's a tan line, but on closer inspection you can see it's just dirt. That's not to say I don't wash my feet a million times a day. The orange is actually ingrained and feet will only get really clean with a scrubbing brush. I wouldn't dream of putting a picture of my heels on the internet, they're another story altogether.

Any views expressed are my own and are not representative of VSO.