So I have had a couple of requests to write more about my work at post here in this blog. The truth of the matter, however, is that things are just really slow to move along around these parts. The first three months at post are supposed to be for integrating into the community and for needs assessment, rather than starting new projects. Really I was mostly just overwhelmed by the whole moving to an African village all on my own thing. At the beginning there were days when buying beans and beignets for breakfast and then swinging by the daily market felt like a big accomplishment.
I have been here at post for a little over five months, now, though, and things are starting to come together more. Going to the market is not intimidating, I am getting more adventurous in trying new street foods, and even more importantly, I am finding more people to work with. I mean, I am not just here to eat koki and buy pagne, though I have done a lot of both.
The contact I am probably most excited about at this point is the director of the Youth Center here in town. The center currently has about 18 students, for lack of a better word, enrolled in a two year program to train out-of-school youth in things like literacy (French, English, math), technical skills (sewing, business planning), and health education (reproductive health, HIV/AIDS/STIs). I have taken over their English classes, since they had no one else to teach it, and I plan to start teaching life skills classes there as well. The director also actually has plans for other projects, and showed me his schedule of what he wanted to accomplish during the current trimester. He was already a little bit behind, but having plans and a schedule still puts him ahead of the curve around here.
I have also met with the director of the Women’s Center, as well as attended a few meetings of different women’s associations. My impression is that they tend to involve a lot of arguing about money, often followed by food and drink. I have a presentation on goal setting planned for later this month with the widows’ association, so hopefully that is fruitful.
The director of the Government Bilingual Secondary School I actually first met with back before In-Service Training. When I met with him again more recently to discuss what material I wanted to cover with his students, he was very adamant about how I shouldn’t just teach them to abandon their own culture and be like Europeans (I assume he meant Westerners in general). I assured him that the sessions I conducted would be based in local culture. He also wanted me to stress the importance of abstinence and denounce homosexuality as immoral and illegal. I had a cold at the time and was not really in the mood, but I diplomatically told him that if I talked about sex I would include a session on delaying sex and that I had not planned to bring up homosexuality (the reality being that it is illegal). That, however, is a bridge to cross next school year, since classes will basically be over in two weeks’ time.
I did have my first sessions at the bilingual school yesterday, on talking about what the kids wanted their lives to look like in 15 years. It was a struggle to get them to think abstractly, and most students just answered the very specific questions that I asked (What job do you want to have? Do you want to be married? Where do you want to live?), some more seriously than others. The anglophone class was much easier to manage, less because of the language, and more because there were only 8 students and a smaller age range. The francophone class must have been closer to 40 students, aged 11 to 25, all seemingly unable to resist talking to whoever was seated next to them.
In the afternoon, when I was teaching English at the Youth Center, I couldn’t help but be grateful for how orderly the out-of-school youths there were. Again, there were probably only about 10 students present in that first year class, and all closer in age, but there they were, learning about possessive adjectives in appropriate silence and responding when called on. Tomorrow, however, it will be back into the trenches of the Government Bilingual Secondary School, francophone class first.