Archive for January, 2008

care package ideas

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

Just in case you were thinking of sending me a care package and you weren’t sure what to send, here are some ideas.

  • Falafel mix
  • chickpeas
  • Mac and Cheese mix or powdered cheese
  • Yoga or workout DVDs
  • movie DVDs
  • Clothing catalogs (JJill, JCrew, Title9, etc)
  • USB thumb drives ( to give as gifts – they can be the small ones you get for free at trade shows)
  • spices (black pepper, rosemary, basil, parsely, cinnamon)
  • index cards ( for language flashcards)
  • Reeses Peanut butter cups
  • raisins or dried berries
  • Throat Coat or Throat Comfort Tea
  • Anti virus software
  • Any Open Source Software in French

Things I can get here:
Tomatoes, onions, garlic, rice, cloves, notebooks

Teachers and Girl Students

Sunday, January 13th, 2008

I have had several conversations in the past in which someone has introduced a new idea or way of thinking to me and I was resistant because it was new or different.  I thought they were wrong, and maybe even told them so.  But the idea settled and became comfortable, and years later I have come to see the wisdom or value of the ideas I was originally opposed to.  I rarely have the chance to go back and tell them they were right; maybe they wouldn’t even remember the conversation, as they were gentle talks and not argumentative or tense.
I hope that some of my conversations here are like that.  I hope that if I can gently say “Things can be different.” some people will think about options and make up their own minds.  Even if right now they are saying “No, they can’t be different”.  Subjects I find myself hoping will have this kind of belated response are often about democracy, beating children, or male teachers sleeping with their girl students.
It is very common here, even in the best schools like the ones I work with, for girls to sleep with their teachers.  Note who is active in the previous sentence – the girls – while the teachers are passive participants.  This is the Togolese way of thinking about it.  The girls do it to get good grades, or to get their school fees paid for.  The girls who choose to sleep with their professors get something out of it, they imply.
I brought the subject up with a school director and someone I consider a friend.  What would he do if he discovered a teacher was sleeping with a student?  Well, back in 2001, he said, one (married) professor was sleeping with too many girls and the girls started to fight in school.  Since the problem was brought into the school, he had to let the professor go.  But in other cases, he said, as long as the girls don’t fight in school, it is between the professor and the student.  But, I said, one girl told me that when she knows a professor sleeps with students that she is uncomfortable asking him questions, because she thinks he is picturing her naked.  And, I continued, if the teacher is an authority figure, how do we know it is really the girl’s choice?  He replied that sometimes when a girl says no the teacher will wonder what boy she is sleeping with and will start giving that boy bad grades or being harsh on him.  In cases like this, the students should come talk to him, and he tells them that.  He also said that often parents are aware of the situation before he is, and they don’t have a problem with it.
So here I am, the day after this conversation, thinking of all the things I should have said, how I should have argued more and harder and all the things I didn’t point out (Things that you are probably thinking as you read this.)  But at the time it felt like I had pushed the point enough for a comfortable conversation.  How do I know if I’ve said enough to make him think about it a little more?  How do I know if I haven’t said enough or made my point well enough? At what point am I being a change agent for good and when am I being a cultural imperialist?   … it is impossible to know.  This is the challenge of a Peace Corps Volunteer.

I’ll take advice on teaching

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

I know there are teachers and others involved in educating who read this. I find that my main role here is that of teacher; in various levels of formality.  I’ve never had any instruction on managing a class or inspiring my students.  I also find that my style of teaching (American) is very different than what students are used to.  I ask questions and expect them to guess or figure things out.  Here teachers dictate and the students memorize.  Add my lack of experience teaching to the cultural differences and then factor in the language differences and you can begin to imagine that it is a challenge.  Oh yaah… and no text books.  So, please anyone; give me advice on teaching : particularly inspiring students to try new things, to speak in class, but without losing control of the classroom.   


Merry belated Christmas

Friday, January 4th, 2008

Sorry for not writing about Christmas; it kind of snuck up on me.  It certainly isn’t a big holiday here.  Even the Christians thought it was a day “for children” and didn’t as much as plan meals with the family.  I did see a few toys for sell in the market, but there is certainly nothing resembling the American celebration of Christmas.  I do know one family of young boys who each received a toy car for Christmas.  I rarely see kids with toys, even though I see kids ALL THE TIME as they play – seemingly unsupervised -  in the dirt streets.
 I celebrated Christmas by going to Catholic mass in the morning.  (I imagine several thrilled relatives reading this).  This is quite fun with singing and drumming; I can sit in the back row and watch everyone else instead of being stared at myself.  Plus I absolutely adore the neighbor woman who invited me to join here.  A primary school teacher, she is energetic and endearing.  In the evening my site-mate and I made dinner for her and her two sons as well as a colleague.  We played a version of the White Elephant/Yankee Swap gift exchange with little things my site mate and I had received in care packages (chapstick, hand sanitizer, gum).  The game doesn’t have the same flair when all participants are simply thrilled to receive anything at all; the notion of swapping didn’t really play out.
  In contrast to that experience, I also went to a friend of a friends house, whose aunt lives in France and has constructed a beautiful home here with a swimming pool.  I was invited to take a dip and it was wonderful.  Most people from Sokode have never been completely immersed in water, and don’t know how to swim. I was unable to persuade my friends to join me in the pool so it was just me and the boy who lives there.