craziness in the bush

when the going gets rough, do something truly nutty. in the last week and a half i’ve laughed myself to tears three times. it’s a great antidote to the lower moments, of which i’ve had more than i should lately. here’s an exerpt from a venting email i sent to a fellow vso:

‘not everything makes it onto the web, and i’m having a hard time doing anything more than just teach in the school. yesterday i found myself screaming and hissing at a classroom of 48 students to be quiet and pay attention (a group activity gone awry). then i realized it was pointless and i just walked out of class and stood in the grass for a few minutes until they noticed i’d left. last week a student in senior 5 asked me ‘teacher, what is red?’ and i almost pulled my hair out. the director has just put up a fence down the middle of the school with no door in it. the teachers spend a full five minutes walking around it between classes. today i sat through a four-hour meeting that was announced this morning and had nothing to do with me. but i left feeling lucky because, since it was in french, i didn’t have to deal with the spitting translator, the english teacher i’m supposed to be working with here, who always leans into my lap and smells terrible, who has asked me to marry him, to get him a visa, and to fund his fees at an american grad school. as the term gets up and running, i’m feeling more and more busy. all the things i want to do- start an english club, run an IT workshop for teachers, talk to the director about cleaning up the virus-strewn computer lab- seem to fall to the wayside when faced with absurd curriculums, low-ability students, and monstrously difficult national exams.’

so to counter some of the frustration, it’s often necessary to go a bit batty. a good laugh gets the kinks out, releases tension, and makes for a good story (particularly when these incidents are observed by rwandans who already think we’re crazy). here’s a couple:

on wednesdays i only teach two classes and its a nice mid-week day on which i often treat myself- i relax with a cup of tea, i heat up water for a hot ‘shower’, i wash dishes and mop the floor and do laundry (cleaning relaxes me). i look forward to this down-time. i need it. but you might note that all of the above require one thing. water. and when the water’s out in the whole town (again) and has been for three days, long enough to deplete all stores, these small comforts become luxuries i can’t afford. but hey, i’m a big girl, i can handle this, no big surprise. so this wednesday i bucked it up and sacrificed my tea and my shower to the man who forgot to pay the electric bill on the water pump.

then a miracle occured. it started raining. i mean cats and dogs. amanda and i ran outside with all the empty buckets we could find, all the pots and bowls and tupperware and anything that would hold water, and placed them under the eaves of the roof to catch runoff. but why stop there? we threw on old t-shirts and grabbed the shampoo and showered in the back yard (in full view of the neighbors, i might add, about seven of whom stood safe and dry under their porch and watched in horror as the mazungus soaped up in the rain). the rain continued full strong and we thought, might as well go the whole nine-yards. out came the dirty dishes. by the time the rain eased up, after an hour of running around sopping wet, every dish in the house had been washed, the two of us had scrubbed and shampoo-ed for the first time in a week, and we’d managed to collect approximately 90 liters of rain water.

rain dance

another anecdote comes from just last night. i spent my ‘jour de pedagogie’ (or day-off) in musha for the first time in a month, hoping to get a huge pile of papers graded. (i’d had all 200 of my students write a two-page story about a young person who felt afraid- lots of good creative stuff came out of it, and even some adorable pictures, but that’s a lot of reading to do.) i had gotten through about fifty of them before a nearby vso volunteer showed up on her way to kigali. our door is always open, and we had a good chat, but my papers didn’t get graded. at about 6:30pm, she and amanda politely retreated to the kitchen to cook dinner and give me some work time, when a fellow colleague popped in. another hour of chit-chat and no work. after dinner, i’m about to escape to my room and my pile when, oop, here’s one of my students come by to say hello. (it’s my own fault, i invited him, but i didn’t expect him at 8pm on friday night). basically a whole day of work wasted.

i’m feeling frustrated and there are visitors to entertain and i’m not in the mood and…. amanda comes to the rescue. she has spread out empty rice sacks across the floor, and is making posters for her biology classes. these are not dry boring posters, but colorful fun funny posters. she holds the digestive system up, head turned so that we can see the resemblance it bears to her. i gradually let the frustration of my unproductive day slip away and finally lighten up. she is drawing up the respiratory system next. she lays the rice sack on the floor and jokingly lays on it sideways. i grab a pencil and begin tracing her entire body in this absurd pose, giggling while my student looks on (i can imagine him going back to the dorm: ‘yeah, i went over to the mazungus’ house and it was crazy- one lay down on the floor while the other one traced her with a pencil onto a rice sack’). a few photos and lots of giggling later, amanda has finished her masterpiece, thrown it over her head, and is dancing around the house (‘yeah and then she danced around the house with a rice sack over her head’), we’re laughing hysterically, crying, the camera jiggling so much my pictures are fuzzy. here they are. i’m sure you had to be there, but this is the best i can do.

the respiratory system by amanda (marker on rice sack) an artist in action 

so i didn’t get many papers graded. ah well. life goes on.

~ by aliciawolcott on May 19, 2007.

5 Responses to “craziness in the bush”

  1. I don’t think that only the Rwandans think you’re a bit batty given those stories… Although at least your craziness comes out in utterly hysterical yet productive forms!!! Thanks for the early morning laugh. If I didn’t have running water this morning, I guess the current Seattle rain might tempt me outside just because it’s good to be zany.

  2. Hi there,
    It’s the first time I’ve been on in a long time, sorry about that. It sounds very real and gritty at times. But still, what an experience. The very very green pictures reminded me of Dziadzi (grandma’s father). I believe you met him, but may not remember much of him. Anyway, when grandma & grandpa and I used to visit him in Utica, his TV was always a shade of green. Grandpa would fix it (since he was one of the early TV engineers) but it would be green again when we returned a few months later. Then, Dziadzi came to live with us when Babci died. Sure enough, our TV turned green. Well, I think that was a bit much for grandpa. After a long day of work, it was frustrating to have to fix the TV. So why did Dziadzi do it? Turns out that Dziadzi made it green because it was soothing to his eyes. It reminded him of the green fields of Poland where he grew up. I’ve been to at least one place almost as green as your pictures — Indonesia — and I remember thinking that about Dziadzi and how soothing green can be. So channel your ancestors when you get lonely… and take care. We’re thinking of you! Alexandra turned 1 this week, and Ben will be 3 in a month.

  3. It works in the Rainy City too.

    The last week in the world of mathematics was very frustrating and exhausting: in short, too much math and not enough sleep. With only one more week in the quarter my reserves are down, and already by Wednesday morning I was frayed enough to break down in tears. How do you go giddy and dance in the rain, when it never rains but always spits and drizzles? Well, Wednesday night, in spite of the work needed to be done, I went out to a drum-and-bass/electronic music show, and my roommate Dan and I danced so much we made our own rain (he had to wring the sweat out of his shirt a few times). Then Thursday night, to preface an all-nighter, I went to a harcore noise rock show and did the same. Then Saturday (the sun was out!) I went to a free folk/world music festival, where I danced like a madman to zydeco and then… Hungarian folk music! And then an “armor-piercing Balkan brass band” lead a crazy parade of dancers around and around the huge fountain near the Space Needle – musicians and dancers getting soaked over and over again. I bet I was feeling the same thing you were.

  4. oh yeah, then there was the day that a fellow math colleague and I decided to paint our faces before the school day, and carry on as though nothing was out of the ordinary.

  5. luke — hello from another one of those crazy dancers around the fountain 🙂

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