Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Quick Updates

K, I'm about to head over to the southwestern side of the country to visit my awesome friend Dione's post -- yay!  Quick important updates:

 -- Yesterday, when I was showering, my faucet fell out of the wall.  Five seconds later, it was gushing water like a fire hydrant.  I grabbed clothes, ran outside, and started yelling for someone to turn off the water... but there was no one.  So I found the valve, turned off the water to the entire concession (I couldn't move the one for just me), and went to find the mason.  He laughed at me when I explained what happened... silly American.  All fixed now -- yay for quick-working plumbers!

 -- Sunday begins standfast, so I won't be able to update for a full week after that.  Just for warning.

 -- My computer broke.  I'm in the bureau right now, but my Macbook turned itself off during an episode of Glee and now won't turn itself back on again... I've removed the battery, done the SMC reset thing, and sent good vibes in its general direction... nothing's working.  Sad face.  Might try to search out the one computer store there is here... wish me luck.  :/

Saturday, February 19, 2011

First Semester Stats

In the entire school, there are 725 students. Out of 725, only 419 passed overall. Here’s the chart.

CEG Daagbé First Semester
Grade /Total Kids /Passed /Failed /Pass %
6eme /214 /152 /62 /71%
5eme /213 /142 /71 /67%
4eme /145 /101 /44 /67%
3eme /153 /24 /129 /15%
Total /725 /419 /306 /57%

I teach 6eme and 5eme, and our grades did fairly well. The scary one is 3eme – 85% failed their entire semester. We had a teacher’s meeting and talked about why that was happening, and everyone mainly just seemed baffled… I don’t have a better answer, other than it’s something about how much harder 3eme gets and how they don’t study/test well. I’m thinking of asking one of the other profs if he thinks a study skills session would help… I could teach that, I think, and since they don’t really learn different study strategies, it might help those who want to do better.

My First Semester
Grade /Total Kids /Passed /Failed /Pass %**
6eme M1 /45 /30 /15 /67%
6eme M2 /44 /26 /18 /59%
5eme M1 /43 /23 /20 /53%
Total /132 /79 /53 /60%

**Sorry, I know that's really hard to follow, but I can't figure out how to do a chart on here...
So I guess I’m in the right range, but not on target yet. I did see a lot of the other grades, and a lot of science grades and math grades were way lower than English, so that made me feel better. Also, the head English prof said that my grades were exactly normal for English classes… bleh. Sad. But at least I’m not crashing and burning, I guess.

Anyway, that’s where I am. I want to shoot for 70% passing in all classes next semester – it won’t happen, but it’s important to have goals. The short list of my other goals for next semester:

- Get my girls’ club up and running
- Have spelling bee, transition into actual English club
- Paint giant map of world on school wall
- Find a discipline system that actually works
- Teach students one Lady Gaga song. It has to happen.

Those are the big ones. More updates to follow… a week off now, then wish me luck for next semester!

Weekly Update: 2.18.11

Done With First Semester! All of the tests are graded, the grades calculated, and the calculations turned in. I have now completed ¼ of my entire career as a teacher. Thank God.

Music Class. I taught my 5eme class “Waving Flag,” the English version, because we just learned comparisons and the song has “older” & “stronger” in it. That’ll help them remember English grammar, right? Right?

Umm… What? This was the week of professors saying hilariously strange things. One of my fellow profs told me (in English) that I had pretty bracelets and nails and arm hairs, and then that my hands were sweet like honey. This is the same prof who went to my friend’s house to ask if I was married. Her response: “Yes, she’s married. Her husband is white and rich, and he has a gun.” I loved her from that moment on.

Umm… What? Part 2. I met a German prof I’d never seen before. He introduced himself (with all 8 of his names), and then said, “Your physiognomy made me cry.” I’m still trying to decide if he was insulting me, telling me I need to eat more, or creepily hitting on me. Sigh…

Bortomize – (verb) the action by which a woman poisons her husband to make him crazy; after bortomization, a husband will help her with the housework if she asks him to, because it would be ridiculous for him to do so without being bewitched in some way. Definition and word invention by a professor in a nearby school, who really, truly thought this was a real word.

I Have A Homologue! TEFLers are the only volunteers in Benin who get to pick their homologues, or work partners. I should have picked mine a long time ago, but I had to kind of break up with the one the director picked for me first… Anyway, so I finally did that this week. The breakup went well (he seemed relieved), and I got him to help me pick a good English prof to work with. We talked to Guy #2 (Epiphane), and he agreed to work with me/go to the PC training week in April. Yay! Huge weight lifted off my shoulders!

Short Bio: Epiphane is from Daagbe and actually lives here I think (unusual for my school, where most profs live in Porto Novo). He’s fairly young and unmarried, but he’s always been respectful of me and has never, ever hit on me… I really appreciate that. He’s a good teacher, wants to improve his listening skills, and doesn’t hit students all that often (I’m going to try to convince him to not hit kids with sticks ever). Plus, he just told me today that he can drink 15 beers without being drunk. He’s 5’2’’ish, so I’m pretty sure the weeklong training (April, Cotonou) will be entertaining if nothing else.

The PC Experience. This week my water and electricity each went out for 2 days straight again. Luckily I just started storing water in case of emergency, so I could still drink enough H20, I just had to bathe out of a bowl again and avoid dirtying dishes.

There’s a Petit for That. That’s a favorite saying of one of my fellow volunteers, and while it’s a little… uhh… politically incorrect, it does kind of speak to the cultural idea that kids should be doing everything for the grands (adults). I am a grand. Thus, yesterday when I was taking my nail polish off, four of the little girls in my concession called me outside, took the remover and Q-tips from me, and proceeded to remove the nail polish for me all at once. I’m not going to lie, it was pretty fantastic, and they were weirdly excited about it… they made it into a competition between them. I think I won.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Tissu Pictures!

K, so people keep telling me to post tissu pictures -- here you go.  This is mostly models, but I'll try to find pictures of my dresses (which I usually like more) soon.  Excuse the awkward angles and poses... most of these I took by myself, and my table isn't at the most flattering height.

Swear-in matching tissue back in September -- so cute!  L to R: Brittany, me, Elyse, and Jenny

This is me in my second model (moh-DEHL).  I look ridiculous because I'm trying to do my teacher face,
but that's difficult to do when there's no one staring back at you looking scared.

Bevin and I during stage, modeling our tissue.
My host family bought this tissu for me -- it's higher quality stuff called basin, so I got it made into a model for fancier occasions.  At first I felt like cotton candy, but now I kind of like it.
This is Lou, Sam and I at a church fete, all wearing tissu.  Mine, as you might be able to see, the yellow spots on mine are in fact portraits of the Virgin Mary, all of which are labeled (in French) "Our Holy Lady, pray for us."
Excuse my scrubbiness -- I had just worked for 8 hours and was a little grubby.  I just got this boomba made, and it has gorgeous embroidery around the neckline.  Pricey (I paid $14 for the whole outfit), but pretty!
My newest model -- green and turquoise with puff sleeves and a belt.  My
village friends tell me I'm very stylish in this one. :)

Weekly Update: 2.12.11

  • Important Health Discovery #1: Protein powder, as amazing as it sounds (complete protein!  just add to water!), tastes gross.  Unfortunate, as I just acquired a can of it from an ETing volunteer.
  • Important Health Discovery #2: I have bed bugs.  Ughhhhh.  They're semi-impossible to get rid of, according to a recent article in Time magazine, but Peace Corps isn't in the habit of giving new mattresses even if you're being eaten alive every time you go to sleep.  Their suggestions: spray your bed down every night with insecticide.  That failing, put your mattress in the sun in hopes that they'll die of heat (this, I'm pretty sure, won't work, as the inside of my house is almost always hotter than outside).  Other truly excellent Peace Corps medical advice:  Snakes are not puppies (meaning: don't play fetch with snakes).  Don't play with monkeys (AIDS, ebola, penchant for throwing feces in peoples' eyes... that actually happened).  Most importantly: it doesn't count as diarrhea until you've had 4 or more loose bowel movements every day for minimum four days.  Sixteen sprints to the latrine, and you can call the doc.
  • PC Medical Care is actually pretty great, I promise.  Just sometimes it's also hilarious.  Once, our doctor told us that if we didn't smoke cigarettes, we would all get to drive a flying car.  See?  Quality.
  • Explaining Technology. I tried to explain the concept of a washing machine to my neighbor Chancelline, as a way of excusing myself for sucking at handwashing clothes. The next day, her sister came by to double-check what Chancelline had told her: that I had a giant computer in America that could wash clothes. Umm... yes.
  • Chancelline Reads. Chancelline has a habit of coming over when I'm reading and starting to read out loud over my shoulder. Kind of annoying if I'm at a good part in the book, but sometimes fantastic -- this week, she read a part about puppies. Or "poopieh," as she pronounces it.
  • Monday Chat = Actually Productive!  I cornered my very-busy school director (boss) on Monday and had a quick chat with him about my projects.  Results: we're choosing a date for the spelling bee (probably March 9th), I've got a date and time for my first girls' club meeting (Wednesday at 5pm -- wish me luck!), he's supposedly talking to the accountant about cementing a wall so that I can paint a giant map on it, and I get to help teach computer classes!  (Note: I didn't know we had computers until about a month or two ago -- a French NGO donated something like 15 computers to our school in the past year or two, and so far no one uses them.  Gabriel, my professor friend with the awesome professor wife, is teaching the classes, and I'm going to go help out with basic program stuff -- yay!)
  • My Director Likes Me!  I overheard him talking to admin people later that same day, and he was giving kind of a lecture about how I left all my family and all of my friends waaaay far away to come here to serve.  He said "serve" about eight times, then talked about all of my projects and energy.  It's really good to know that he likes me, because I kind of thought he was getting annoyed with all of my club- and world map-related nagging. : )
  • Devoirs... Meh.  We just graded the exams from last week, and they weren't great.  My younger kids did alright (I think at least half passed), but the 5eme... I think 7 out of 44 passed again.  I can't even really blame them (I mean, I can -- I know some didn't study), because the test was WAY too hard for them.  Luckily, I think the head English prof realized that, since he had about the same results, so I'm hoping to push towards a conversation where we talk about what should be in an exam text.  One of my friends (Bevin) was told by a prof that they were supposed to test kids on what they hadn't learned yet to see what they could guess... I suppose that's one approach, but seems kind of dumb to me.
  • I'm Teaching Math... Africa Beware.  Not in actual classes, I promise.  I went over to my neighbor's house to buy akassa for my cat's dinner, and there was a group of kids practicing long division.  I started helping out on one problem, and ended up staying for two hours teaching them how to divide stuff.  I learned really quickly that multiplication tables are causing a lot of trouble for them, so I'm going to do what my mom did for me (thanks, Mom!): drill them until their brains are so fried that the answers are automatic.  They asked me to show up every Saturday morning at 7am... that's not happening.  But I am going to find time to help on a regular basis, because it's kind of awesome to be a Math Goddess for small African children.
  • Oops. I must have gotten mad too frequently in class lately, because somehow some of my students now know the phrase "Shut up!" and say it all the time. Except they say "Sharrap!", which is hilarious, so I can't make myself tell them to stop.

  • I made homemade pasta!  With non-homemade parma rosa sauce.  Delicious.
    My student Gerardine (left) with her brother Epiphane, modeling how they carry water. 
    I will learn how to do this at some point.  I will.
    My awesome friends in Houston painted ceramics and mailed them to me! 
    So, so sweet, and look at my elephant teapot!
    We had a fantastic, totally out-of-season torrential downpour on Thursday.  This is the mosque next to my house with the gorgeous clouds that preceeded the storm.
    One of my students, Martial, asked me if I liked apples.  I said yes, wondering how in hell he was going to find apples in our village, and he brought me a little bag of these -- African apples, I guess.  He's so nice!  And I feel like a real teacher!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Weekly Update: 2.4.11

  • Devoirs Are Boring.  Like, really boring.  The kids take exams that are really, really hard (the texts for English were way harder than the kids were ready for), and we have to stand there and try to keep them from cheating.  Basically half of their grade depends on the tests, so there's huge pressure... anyway, I just stand there for two hours glaring at kids who sneak peeks at their neighbor's test.  I'm great at the I'm-gonnna-kill-you look now, but that's basically all I gained from this week.
  • ...Except When There Are Goats.  Halfway through the second devoir I oversaw, two goats walked into my classroom, bleated, pooped on the floor, and walked out.  The students continued working.
  • Or When Someone Screws Up The Test.  The secretary of our school didn't copy the 5eme exam correctly -- there was a whole section where they were supposed to identify pictures of musical instruments by writing the English word.  Problem: there were no pictures.  After freaking out about it for half an hour and trying two different nonfunctional photocopiers, another professor and I grabbed chalk and sprinted around to all of the rooms drawing the instruments on the board.  I'm hoping my art skills were up to standard... either way, we looked like heroes.
  • Other Accomplishments This Week: I taught Dorothé to salsa (he's not very good -- yet), spent a day at my couteriere's house and started teaching her how to draw, accidentally insulted another professor (uh oh), convinced a 6-year-old boy that trying to breastfeed on me would not be a good idea (he tried), managed to not kill my cat when he peed in my kitchen for the third time this week (wtf??), read 2 books, and found a house that sells double-yolked chicken eggs en masse for cheaper than at the marche.  Not all wins, but not all fails either.
  • Uploaded Videos on Facebook.  I tried uploading them here, but the thing won't work... will try that later.  But for now, check them out on Facebook!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

More Pictures: Because Kids Make Me Happy

L to R: Gaultier, Doloresse, Dorothe, and the top of Toby's head.

Parfaite, Chancelline, Popsicle (who looks really happy), and Florence.

I have a mild obsession with Gaultier.  But doesn't he make you smile?
This (talking) is Chancelline, my neighbor who never, ever stops talking and asking questions.  It's really cute sometimes.  My newest way of dealing with it is to just take pictures of her while she talks... I have some winners.  Behind her is her older sister Florence.

Doloresse, one of the twins who stole my heart the first week in Daagbe.

Last Sunday's fete in Tchaada -- as you can see, a loooot of people, a lot of dancing, and lots of fancy tissu clothes.

This is Dorothe (left), Doloresse's twin brother, and his little half-brother Gaultier.  This picture makes me smile every time I look at it. :)