Yeah, I know it's been a while since the last post. I'm not going to apologize. I don't know, the internet just means less and less to me anymore. Sometimes I go a month or two without ever thinking "Hey, I wonder what's waiting for me in my email?" If I'm going to sit down and write something, I'd rather write a letter to someone than a blog post. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I don't know. I'll let you decide.
So some things work out and some things don't. The science club was definitely my most successful project last semester. The World AIDS Day thing worked out, but not as well as I had hoped. And the Camp UNITE kids hardly even got off the ground.
The physics professor I was working with (Djeri) is a rockstar. That's one of the big reasons the science club worked out so well. The kids were all really motivated and genuinely interested in the activities we were doing. We kicked the year off by building an electrolyzer and then using it to do things like separate water into hydrogen and oxygen and make bleach. We also did an activity where we measured the volume and mass of different materials to figure out their density. But then toward the end of the semester, we started to run out of activities to do. We did math and logic puzzles one day, and the kids seemed to like that. But the biggest problem with this club is just a sheer lack of resources. It's not like Djeri can go home and look up activities on the internet. Even when I get a chance to use the internet, it's hard for me to find things to do. So Sekou, a volunteer in the Maritime Region, has a book full of science activities. The only problem is that it's in English. So he said that one day he's gonna come up to Tchamba, sit down with Djeri and explain the experiments to him. Then we can re-write the activities in French, and make a document to send to volunteers and high school teachers all over the country. And that's the best part about Djeri- he's brilliant. If I explain the general concept of an activity I read about on the internet, he'll understand and can stand up in front of the class room and just rock the session like he'd been doing it for years. So this semester, we're going to keep the club going but I think we might just meet every other week instead of every week.
-World AIDS Day-
The idea was great in theory. In practice, it didn't really work out the way we had expected. Heather and I organized a group of middle-school kids to have an event for World AIDS Day on December first. In theory, it was supposed to work like this: The latter half of September and all of October was to be spent on teaching our kids all about AIDS. All the stuff they normally don't get to learn about. How the immune system works, what a virus is and how they work, the life-cycle of the AIDS virus, and what makes AIDS different from other viruses. And the kids loved it. They don't usually get a chance to ask a lot of questions (the school system here isn't the most interactive of media through which to learn), and with us they got to, and Heather and I were really responsive, which I think the kids really appreciated.
Then every Wednesday in November, it was their turn. They had four weeks to organize an event for December first. We reviewed all the information they learned and we showed them games they could play and skits to help them illustrate the different concepts pertaining to how AIDS affects the immune system, etc. They broke themselves into groups and assigned themselves to different subjects. Then each group practiced teaching the stuff they learned to the rest of the groups to prepare for World AIDS Day (which we moved to December second for logistic reasons).
December second was the beginning of the end. First of all, we were going to have teachers from the middle school policing the kids to help keep them in order. Heather and I knew we didn't have enough authority to keep a crowd of middle school kids under control. But then the morning of the event, we were informed that there was a big school board meeting that all of the teachers had to attend, and that they wouldn't be available to come to our event. Great. And we got a DJ to come so we'd have a microphone to help us organize and music to play during the games and stuff. Then there were no plugs close enough to where we were to plug anything in. It took us a while to find an extension cord to run all the way across the school grounds so we could start the event.
We had been working with our friend Moctar, who had helpfully written a proposal to PSI to give us some stuff to give out. We got T-shirts, condoms, pamphlets, and stuff like that in addition to a huge box full of toys that my third grade teach, Mrs. Schilling and her class had donated (Thank you Cathy!). Little did we know that this would be our downfall.
The kids did a great job leading their classrooms. They taught their classmates all of the stuff that we had taught them the month before. They asked questions and wrote stuff on the blackboard. Each group of our kids had their own classroom, each dedicated to a different subject (immune system, prevention, stigmatization, etc). Heather and I devised a system to verify which kids had visited which (and how many) of the four rooms. We gave stickers to our student-teachers to put next to the subject they were teaching on a piece of paper given to each participant. But what ended up happening was that the kids went berserk about the stickers and didn't even really care about what they were being taught, they just wanted a sticker next to every subject.
Then after the formations were over, our goal was to ask the kids questions about the information that they learned, and to give out prizes if they got the answers right. This is about the time that the earth split open to release all of the deamons from hell. Their animal instintinct kicked in and they went clinically insane for the rest of the afternoon. Nobody cared about the questions we were asking, they just wanted a football or a box of condoms or whatever was on the table to be given away. We got swarmed and lost control pretty quickly. This was one of the reasons we wanted the teachers present. I felt like I was in a cartoon, like I had just crawled out of a dust-cloud with tattered clothing and two black eyes only to be grabbed by the ankle and dragged back in.
After the event, Heather, Emily (who came to help out), Moctar, and I went to the bar to have a beer or three and to reflect. It wasn't a lost cause. I'm sure some of the participants learned some useful information and I know that our student-teachers got a lot out of it. Not only did they learn a bunch of stuff about AIDS, they also got to experience what it's like to run a classroom. Maybe now they'll have a little more empathy for their teachers.
-The UNITE Kids-
The wings fell off of this one before it even got the runway. We got a good number of Camp UNITE participants from the area together for one meeting at the begining of the year. We talked about some possible projects we could do and they wanted to do a sensibilization in a nearby village on the subject of gender equity. We got as far as actually going out to the village (Alibi I) to talk to the director about when we could do it, and that's about when the kids stopped showing up for meetings. The only time during the week they had free was Wednesday afternoons, and neither Heather nor I could come because that's when our World AIDS Day class was. I don't blame the kids for not coming, I mean, I'd rather play football with my friends than organize a sensibilization too. And I can't really blame myself, cause it's not like I wasn't doing anything- I was busy at the middle school every wednesday. So, I don't feel too bad about losing that one. I think the lesson here is that if you're going to organize kids as peer-educators, you need to give them a ton of structure and just have them fill in the gaps.
That's what I spent most of my time doing last semester. I'm sure I did a lot of other stuff that classified as "work" as far as Peace Corps is concerned (like building a school in a little village 40 kilometers away), but none of them are big, long-term(ish) projects like the aforementioned.
I had my 12-year-old host-brother from training come live with me for a good two weeks. It was tough. I felt like he was bored the whole time, but I'm sure he had a good time. He had keys to the house, I let him come and go as he pleased. We had a good time cooking together and listening to music. But I think the most important thing he got out of the trip was experience. He's never traveled more than a few kilometers from his village, so there were a lot of things up here that he'd never seen before. He speaks Ewe in an Ewe-speaking village, so for him to hear people speaking Tchamba and Kotokoli was something completely new. He asked me "Why do you keep saying 'aieeyo'?". "That's how you say 'no' in Tchamba". And it gets cold up here at night- well, reletively cold. I shiver if I don't wear a hoodie after the sun goes down (not until after my grandmom sent me a thermometer did I realize that it only goes down to 72 at the absolute coldest). So that was new for him too. And he asked a lot of questions about Islam: the writing, the calls to prair, the washing, etc. He wasn't entertained every minute of every day, but I'm sure when he got back to Agou, he wouldn't shut up about all the stuff we did and how different every thing is.
And that's about it. After a fun-filled (yet tiring) break between semesters, I'm winding back up for the second half of the school year. I just got back from teaching some women how to make liquid soap and tomorrow I'm going to start making phonecalls about Camp Informatique. Emily and I are taking a trip up to Ouagadougou in the begining of February and then were on stand-fast (we're not allowed to leave post) for a couple of weeks in March for the election. That's about all I have on the agenda. Keep sending letters, I appreciate every one that I get. You'll hear from me the next time I feel like typing up a post.
Some random things that have happened that I don't feel like writing out:
My cat died mysteriously and I bought a new one.
Spent a week in the Med-unit.
Organized a girls' soccer tournament in Wassarabo.
Published an issue of The Griot.
Took a trip to Ghana with Emily.
Had a phone pick-pocketed, then a really nice woman named Paulina gave me hers.
Biked a good 10 or 15 kilometers at night with no flashlight.
Biked to Sokode and back in the same day (70 kilometers).