Sunday, March 18, 2012

Mali Trip: No Go

A little down today because I think I'm not going to be able to go to Dogon Country in Mali, which is one of those trips that everyone says is the best they've taken in West Africa. :(  Two friends and I have been planning for months to go, but because of project timelines and money issues, they're not going to be able to go with me. 

Just found out last night, and since we'd have to turn in vacation forms next week and start on visas really soon, I'm now not sure if I'll be able to go at all... it's not a good idea for a woman to travel up north by herself.  Sad face.  Throwing some hail mary emails all over the place, but unless I find a volunteer with a lot of saved-up cash and vacation days, I don't think it's going to happen.

So a little bummed.  But at least I have something to do (school!) this week, right?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Updates: 3.12-3.16 (Boredom, the Strike, and Egoun!)

- Frustrée (adjective): frustrated. I learned this word on Monday. Why? Because I had to explain why I was pissed when I got kicked out of school FOR THE THIRD TIME.

I called two people the night before class to ask if I should teach. They said to go and see if other profs were teaching. I went. Two teachers were working. I taught my very rowdy, unfocused students. I went to say hello to my administration...who admonished me for teaching on a strike day. Ugh! I am trying SO hard to do whatever I'm supposed to be doing. I'd teach, I'd stay at home, whatever. Could somebody PLEASE just TELL me what to do???

- Reading Rampage: In related news, I'm working on my 5th book in the past week and a half. 100th book, here I come.

- Mangoes are now the size of tennis balls! Just thought you should know.

- Ahhhhh! I woke up early Tuesday morning and grabbed my pagne to take a shower. Out of it launched this black thing that scuttled across my floor and under my dresser. I then realized that I'd been screaming, loudly and in an unladylike way, for 30 seconds straight. My poor neighbors. There was a chase and a cat, and when it all came down to it, Popsicle got some fresh mouse meat. Uh oh. Where there's one mouse, there's an exponentially reproducing family of them. Will be spending some time blocking up holes in my ceiling very soon.

- The President Issues an Ultimatum (Tuesday): According to a snippet of news I saw on a television this morning, YAYI Boni said that if the strike's not over in 72 hours, he's going to call an année blanchee (blank year), which has apparently already happened in several surrounding countries. Your move, teachers.

- Strike Struck Down (Thursday). As of this evening, it's official: the strike is over, and the President has won. I'm not a huge fan of that news, given that a large number of my friends are professors, but hey, it is what it is.

Everyone will be back in school on Monday, and the people not there won't get paid for any work after January. It's good that we're going to be back in class, I think (much better than calling a blank year), and I'm excited to get back to girls' club finally. Plus, library stuff will be SO much easier if there are students present to haul books around for me. :)

- Egoun on the Town. Egoun is a voodoo fetish, or spirit, and he's one of the least scary and most fun. My village, apparently, has an occasional Egoun "festival" wherein the fetish comes out and just kind of walks around and sings and talks to people in a hilarious Louis Armstrong on helium voice.

He's dressed in what appears to be a very large, multiple-piece, beautifully embroidered blanket, is noticeably stumble-y (I'm guessing lots of sodabi is involved), and does absolutely nothing threatening. Occasionally he asks people for money, but he wasn't mad when I didn't give him any. Actually, he started talking in Nigerian "small small" English, and giggled (in the Louis Armstrong voice) when I complimented him on his mighty command of languages.

Voodoo, despite oro and bad gris-gris (magic) and all of Hollywood's interpretations, is pretty cool as a religion, and can be hilarious to be around. Egoun, you get my thumbs up.

Updates 3.2-3.10

- Still On Strike. I tried to go to school twice this week (mini-vent: NO ONE KNOWS WHAT'S GOING ON OR CAN TELL ME WHAT I'M SUPPOSED TO DO). Once I was asked a billion times why I was late and then told I probably shouldn't teach anyway. Wednesday I went to school, taught a third of my class for 30 minutes, then was kicked out again. The school's now really closed (the three rooms with doors are locked), so I've been sitting at home trying to keep busy. Mainly I've been staring at the walls/the street a lot.

- Fun Summertime Game: Ant, Sweat or Hair? You feel something tickling the back of your arm. Quick: is it an ant, a drop of sweat, or a loose hair? You can usually figure it out if you pause for a second and see if it's moving, but that's cheating. Gut instinct, go!

- Library Plan B. The French NGO has taken way too long in assessing our application, and the don't even seem close to getting books together. This has to be done by the end of the school year, so we're moving on to our backup plan: buy books in Benin! Hopefully secondhand. A little tricky because pricing changes depending on who's haggling, but we'll figure it out.

- International Women's Day! I got to go to my friend Victoria's village on Saturday to help out with her Int'l Women's Day event- she is such an amazing organizer. There was a girls-only 5k race, which is unheard of here. They LOVED it -- they each got a race-day t-shirt and a pink headband, and they had a lot of fun with the competition. There was prize money for the winner ($20!), and then local students and nurses did presentations on nutrition, malaria, and family planning. It was such a fun day, and seeing all of the other volunteers who came to help was fun, too.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Rollercoaster Week: 2.29.12

Updates from Daagbe: 2.28.12

- Teacher's Strike Continues. The permanent professors are still on strike and seem to plan to stay that way for a while. Figured out more of the reason: according to my fellow English profs, the president raised the salaries of all civil servants, except for the teachers (who also work for the government). They're mad, and the president doesn't want to give in because he raised their salaries a few years ago.

Whatever. The more immediate problem for me is what's going to happen to the kids and the school year. If the strike keeps going a long time, the government and/or UNESCO might declare an "année blanchee" -- a blank year, meaning that this whole year would be erased and they'd start again next year. That would royally suck, nor only because all of my teaching work this year would be void, but also because projects would get way harder to finish. Girls might have trouble coming to girl's club if they're not already at the school, and getting into the library would be tougher (but still doable, and I am getting that thing done by June).

Luckily, most profs I talk to think we still have time to resolve the strike before that (cross your fingers). We have lost a LOT of school, so they might extend the school year a few weeks or a month, especially since now the permanent profs have decided to work only Mondays (before it was Mon and Fri). That would mess with project/camp dates maybe, but hopefully not too much.

So that's the state of the strike at the moment. Sucks for the kids, especially since the school year (once you take out exam weeks, days off and breaks) is about 6 months long to begin with. Throw in several months of striking and... Yeah, it is kind of a blank year.

- Other Bad News. One of my students, a smiley 13- or 14-year-old girl named Melanie, dropped out of school over the last week and a half. She's pregnant and, according to her classmates, now living at her husband's house. Husband. Heartbreaking. My amazing professor friend Florence told me she plans to go to the house to try to convince her to come back to school at least until the baby's born, but that's not terribly likely... Often the husband doesn't allow the girl to go back (because she'll think too much and become too "emancipated"), or the parents won't let her because it wouldn't be proper. Other times it's the girl who just considers that part of her life over, and she quits to become the grand lady she wants to be. I hope she comes back, and if it's a forced marriage, you can bet I'll be on the phone in two seconds to get her help, but unfortunately, I can't hold my breath.

- Now That I've Thoroughly Depressed You... My library has shelves! And we got all of the school's books out of the boxes and put them on the shelves. It looks pretty cool already, and administration is suddenly really proud of it. :) Entertainingly, the second we started taking the books in, everyone suddenly became an expert on library organization. I told one of the administrators how we were going to organize the books, and three minutes later he stopped me to give me a mini lecture on what we should do...repeating word for word what I'd just said. I imagine that if it continues, the advice will get annoying, but right now it's just showing how excited and into the project they are, and how ready they are to run it correctly when I leave.

- Tissu Invite! My friend GbloGblo came to my house to see if I wanted to buy matching tissu with her family for their upcoming party. I guess that's not a huge deal, but she's inviting mainly her good friends to do so, so it's one of those little victories that I love. I'm one of them, y'all!

- Breaking News 3.1- I just got kicked out of school for the day. Not just me, I mean, all of the teachers who were still teaching classes. The permanent teachers who are striking are now increasing the pressure on the government by closing schools entirely for part of the week. In my school, there are now no classes Monday through Thursday, which is unfortunately all of the days I teach... So until this strike is over, no classes for my kids. I was in the middle of class today when the professors arrived to tell me, and when I told the kids to go home, like 12 of them surrounded me to ask if I could please please please do makeup classes. :( I'll try, but finding a classroom on Friday or Saturday will be tough. They're so worried about exams... Sigh. No comment. At least I'm still allowed to do girls' club. This afternoon: Sex Ed, Part 1: Puberty and Periods.

*Later* Sex Ed Part 1 went so well! The girls had lots of questions and were really happy to have things explained. We're even going to do an extra girls' club on Monday, just because we can. :)