Thursday 26th September 2013
I arrived a week ago today. A few days ago this place was very bewildering. It’s still bewildering despite the many people I’ve met and the things I’ve done.
I’ve now met all the classes at the school. Ages range from 12 – 23 years. After school on Tuesday I was very depressed. It was the day I taught Form 1 and couldn’t hear myself or the children because the teacher and the students in the form next door were so noisy.
This was not unruly noise, just the exuberant noise of a class enjoying the subject and teacher and children being expressive.
The difficultly was that there is no proper dividing wall between the classes. It’s just a screen. When the two classes are running the quieter of the two suffers.
I was also timetabled to teach this class for two hours. These are 12-14 year olds who are expected to sit and be attentive for two hours at a time. Fortunately I was doing practical things with them – creative writing. I had pitched the exercises way too high (compared to British standards) and many of them were confused. After a slight restructuring they were better able to cope.
I’m using the same exercises for Forms 1-3 all 12-16 year olds. I had a better grasp of it by the time I taught it to Form 3 yesterday.
The difficulty they are experiencing is that only English grammar is taught. Almost all of the subjects are factual and delivered in a ‘chalk and talk’ manner, how it used to be so many years ago in Britain.
What was depressing was that I know they are doing the best that they can with very limited resources, but it seems so woefully inadequate. Even if the building is brought up to scratch and each class has a classroom of its own there is still the issue of teaching style and consistency of teachers.
The school relies heavily on volunteers. This morning, for instance, the only three teachers for the first session were volunteers, two of whom are young and not trained as teachers. Their level of commitment is amazing, but they question their efficacy.
In my own classes my biggest challenge is trying to get the children to think creatively. They are so used to being told what to do, how to do it and to get right or wrong answers that they are afraid to express themselves imaginatively.
Also on Tuesday as a result of delays I was unable to register my document with the police as we were too late getting there and the office was closed.
It had been a particularly wet day and my thin raincoat had barely stood up to the constant drumming of the rain. Yet, I will now have to make this journey again as it is a legal requirement that my papers are registered, and even more so with the impending elections on Monday.
We have been warned not to travel outside of our district as many soldiers and extra police officers have been drafted in to monitor the streets and to quell any disquiet if it arises.
‘It is unlikely,’ the director said in our meeting on Monday night, ‘but please take the precaution of staying close to home as there may be the odd over-zealous official who is looking for some means of exercising his powers.’
By the end of Tuesday it felt like I was carrying weight of Cameroon’s problems on my shoulders. I wanted to go out and show them that there’s a better way, that it doesn’t have to take four people in the supermarket to sell you one item. That by getting to places on time you waste less time and are able to do more things.
By today, after a good rest and some reflection, I realised that I’m not here to change anything. I’m here to do what I can, to learn as much as I can, and if something changes as a result of me being here that’s a bonus.
My card today was the humming bird, which means ‘lighten-up.’ In the spirit of the card I’m going to collect some garments being made for me in African fabrics. I’m going to stop stressing about how messy the house is, about how long everything takes and about setting Cameroon to rights.
I’ve finished work for the day. I’m going to lighten up.