first day of school

i’m staring up at the inside of my mosquito net, stomach churning, fully awake when my alarm goes off at 6:30am. these butterflies are not parasite-affiliated thank god, but rather of the first-day-of-school variety. i haven’t been this nervous since my first audition in eighth grade. thinking movement will help, i get up and into the bathroom, pour cold water over my head, and try to make myself look as good as i’ll get in this country. which is not great.

half an hour later i’m pacing, i’m checking my bag for the thousandth time, taking out the notes i’ve made, looking them over and putting them back in, racking my brain for last-minute fixes to lesson plans that will surely be terrible and what was i thinking when i wrote these? i actually feel queezy. not sure i’m going to make it.

7:15 and it’s time to go. one foot in front of the other. out the door and down the footpath, accosted by adorable dirty children giving hugs and sticking their dribbling noses in my nice clean skirt. down the road where women with babies strapped to their back come out of their houses to wave hello and stare at the muzungu. as we arrive at the school, there seem to be students everywhere, milling about, staring, some calling hello, none daring to come up and talk. in the teacher’s room, we’re greeted with friendly handshakes in three different languages. by this point the walk has helped, but as the minutes tick down to the moment when i will step in that room full of 40-odd eighteen-year-olds looking back at me, expecting me to know what i’m doing and be this amazing knowledgeable western teacher here to solve all their woes, my stomach goes from flip-flops to back-handsprings.

7:40. i need chalk. someone’s supposed to give me chalk and who is that exactly? all the other teachers have their own. why didn’t i think of this earlier?

7:45. the bell rings. this is it. lights up on the magic white english teacher. the classroom is full of whispers. here she comes. she’s walking in the door. she says good morning how are you and the students say fine thank you (they know this one, this is easy). now she’s shaking one of the students’ hands, introducing herself. that’s kind of funny because he’s scared stiff and he’s got a sort of puppy dog grin on. wait, now she’s shaking hands with another, introducing herself again. and again. pushing her way to the back of the class, making the students squirm and laugh at each other’s awkwardness. she’s crazy.

after my little hand-shaking stint (a huge success as an ice-breaker, especially since it seems a good percent of the africans in this village have the unchecked desire to touch me- my hair, my skin, my clothes), i tell them to get up and introduce themselves to each other, party-style. blank stares. you want us to leave our desks? you want us to talk to each other? with much mime and encouragement on my part and lots of embarassed shuffling on theirs, i get them to move around and shake hands with each other before beating a quick retreat back to the desks. that’s ok- don’t want to push too hard on the first day. some activities go well, some don’t, but on the whole i feel good. i move on to the next class, my hands and clothes covered in chalk.

by the end of the day, i’ve seen at least 200 kids, learned almost no names but recognized some faces, become frustrated with the bureaucracy of the school, the methodology of the teachers, the way the students are brainwashed with memorization, the lack of resources and the immense amount of chalk dust everywhere. i’ve been overwhelmed at the planning required just to get through a fifty-minute class, and been extremely grateful that there’s someone at home for me to vent to about all this. i’m exhausted and i only had five classes today and today’s only monday and i have no idea how i’ll ever get to the end of this week, but at least the butterfly stomach has calmed down. for now.

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~ by aliciawolcott on January 29, 2007.

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