(Painting the Abaarso Village school)
One blog every week? I guess that is just not the Ode way…and despite my furtive efforts in getting away to my room every so often, I have somehow been ransacked, every time, with other work that was utterly imperative to complete. And from time to time, it’s just nice to convalesce by oneself somewhere in quiet.
Jonathan has already be gone a month! And with him gone I’ve become Kiette’s right hand woman, helping out with all the tasks and minute details that come along with managerial work, which, if not done assiduously, get overlooked and potentially lead to chaotic situations in the future. Although substantially more busy than beforehand, I by no means feel encumbered, but rather find the work and all my random little jobs quite meaningful.
I’ve since become head “disciplinary” in the school, a type of principle if you will. We’ve also pretty much won the Battle for Respect, even though we fight new fronts every week and the combat continues incessantly so that we don’t lose any ground. It’s definitely a challenge, running a co-ed boarding school – where the religion forbids the boys and girls to talk to each other –, but I feel we’ve made a lot of headway and come to some sort of arrangement: boys and girls can talk to each other during the school day hours – only if it’s related to school work, committees or clubs – or under the supervision of teachers outside school time hours. (The religion aspect of things can be bit difficult for me at times, especially because the students are at the age where they don’t fully understand their religion; it just seems like blind, overly pious, adulation, which isn’t the case with the adults, who are well versed and educated in the Quran and seem to have a more dynamic understanding of it). Other than that, we’ve officially been eschewing the boys and girls from each other. The role of disciplinary at times makes me feel a little despotic and like the students will end up fearing me…but I’ve since realized that this is not the case whatsoever! We all make each other laugh on a regular basis, and I’m always making sharp snippy jokes (which aren’t actually snippy, but highly entertaining to myself and them… and I love the fact that the students are crazy about my dark, sinister and extremely sarcastic jokes…muahaha). Amal, one of the Ag. Club members, told me the other day that I should enter our upcoming talent show as a stand-up comedian: “You should go in the talent contest because you always make the mean jokes to the students,” after which I responded that it wouldn’t be much of a talent, standing in front of the whole school with one student whom I would jokingly give a hard time to. I’ve told them that I joke with them in a “mean way” to toughen them up; “You won’t get stronger if I coddle you…so it’s tough love,” at which point they just laugh at me. But I do like hanging out with the students outside of school, and find it energizing to laugh together about silly things…like I’m a thirteen year old again (perhaps that’s why we get along so well…THIRTEEN FOR LIFE!).
It’s interesting but I almost feel as though I’m a few different people; when I’m the disciplinary I have a certain terseness about me with the students; when I’m “at leave” I find I’m my crazy thirteen year-old self; and when I’m teaching the boarding school students or the adult business school students I find I’m some combination of the two. It’s sometimes difficult to teach and live here because of some differences, which are so fundamentally cultural, religious, or social. It’s unfortunate to say, but the work ethic here in Somalia/Somaliland is simply non-existent. Of course there are exceptions to every rule (with people such as Mahamoud, our handyman around campus who essentially fixes everyone’s problems – including making a weight set for Anthony without being asked –Muuse, our driver/go-to man who knows everyone and can get us/do absolutely anything, and many of my adult students who are extremely prominent people here in Somaliland) but generally, people don’t know how to: a) work b) work hard. c) show up on time d) show up… and the list goes on beyond w, x,y and z, and beyond mere incompetency. There are a number of reasons for this, which I won’t get into now, but the khat addiction is definitely one of them (as well as the country having been under a dictatorship for so long, then in a civil war, and subsequently, completely undone and living in chaotic disorder with no infrastructure for years to come). So when it comes to teaching the younger students, we have a lot of hurdles that we need to leap; torpid students are a problem and keeping them motivated, energetic and enthusiastic definitely keeps teachers on their toes…luckily different projects help in this regard. There’s also the problem with the lack of respect for anything; this in large part is due to the inexistence of private property for the longest time, the fact that, in the clans, everything was communal. Unfortunately this has created an innate disregard for everything material, which means that things are destroyed and don’t last (which is not ideal in a situation where funds are limited, like in our school). We are working arduously at breaking the students’ sordid habits; teaching them how to take care of things and treat them (as well as each other) with respect; and trying to get them to keep the school, their rooms, and the grounds clean. It all relates back to the Broken Window Theory that Kiette always talks about (that she got from a specific book, although the name escapes me…and she would be so happy to see me alluding to it in my blog!) where the physical appearance and aesthetic of the environment around you plays a huge role; for example, if there is a broken window in a school, which does not get fixed, the rest of the school will start getting disregarded and “broken.” However, if a school is properly maintained, the students are more likely to want to take care of it. And we’ve totally experienced this to be true! Agriculture Club planted the courtyard in the middle of the school. And since there have been flowers and plants in the courtyard, the school is relatively garbage-free. The nice courtyards have made the boys more hortatory; the members of each dorm room, (both dorm rooms overlook the courtyards), have come up with ground rules on their own, from taking off their shoes before they enter the room, to cleaning it every day, to making sure the courtyards are clean, to not being loud at night or playing in the room etc. We’ve got some really amazing kids. And behaviour issues aren’t nearly as bad as here they are in some of the public schools in Canada (and don’t even get me started about the U.S.) and we have no toadies or sycophants who annoyingly flatter the teacher to gain favouritism; I find such brown-nosing scornful and irritating. Are kids are pretty awesome and brimming at every moment with personality.
It’s refreshing to see things change for the better, even if, at the beginning, it’s extremely taxing. Although students, to start with, almost seemed antipathetic with regard to discipline, school work, respect (towards people and school property), etc., the problem has almost been absolved.
To have said before (in my previous blog) that the campus is transforming was a gross understatement. And it’s not only the campus (warning: the following is going to be a tad sentimental); when the incandescent light from the morning sun reaches the school and the landscape around, I find it all an almost foreign sight to behold, and it bewilders me every time. The aridity which once consumed our little hill and valley has subsided and with the rainy season arrived, the desert has now been permeated with rain; the dusty knolls are now covered in green. The school is undergoing construction and buildings are being erected with such speed.
Even the general attitude is changing, for the better. At one point it seemed that a cloud of negativity was hanging over the students and the teachers, but now, only a skimmer of that negativity from beforehand is still there, and happiness pervades the entire campus. I find I’m learning so much, especially from the students, who have their own vast knowledge and well of experiences that they impart on me through there writing. Some of what they have seen and experienced in their lives wouldn’t even begin to be understood by Western youth. We also printed our first school newspaper! What’s funny is that it’s probably more official looking than some of the other newspapers here in Somaliland. I chose some of the best writing from my class, had a writing competition for writing an eyewitness account about a football match that the school had against the Abaarso village team, and started an official newspaper committee. Collin, with his considerable talents in technology, did all the design, formatting and putting together of the newspaper. I should be able to put it in my blog by this week . I’ve even put the newspaper in my blog! It’s the version that we printed, so it’s up to you to read it in order following the page numbers in the bottom right of the page.
It’s amazing to see the students become writers. Classes are going fantastically and students are improving (both in the adult business class and the writing class), which is always so nice to see. I always find my classroom a very voluble place and the discussions that occur are always very fascinating. My adults are barely even making preposition or article mistakes (single tear of joy) and we did speeches in class; one of the students said that he's already been able to apply what he learned about speech writing/giving in his work place, because he gave a speech about potable water and he said that this was different than all the other speeches he had given before, and that he felt confident during the entire speech.
There’s something truly satisfying about teaching and feeling that people are actually absorbing, learning and using what you have taught them. It brings this warm fuzzy feeling to my heart…(uber cheesy, I know). It’s crazy, but because of the living situation here the teachers aren’t merely teachers: they are adoptive parents, and in a weird way, almost like pedagogues. It’s vital that we be an example and not teach them anything that interferes with their religion, which is more challenging than you might think.
And the dream of the eco village is making progress! Ag. Club has started composting and we’re starting a huge garden! Abaarso Tech has also just got the largest wind turbine in Somalia/Somaliland (Google “largest wind turbine in Somalia” and see what comes up!)…trees are still being planted, vegetables growing and Ag club is as exciting as ever…
This past Tuesday we had a fieldtrip, and not just any old journey: it was a Prodigious Trip.
The weather was foreboding but we had high hopes that it would prove propitious. Asha, one of my adult business students, had invited us to visit her farm again, but this time with the illustrious Ag Club. The journey there was challenging but Muuse drove with skill, and although the bus veered back and forth in the mud, we made it to the farm in one piece...and without killing any tortoises seen along the way. The farm was as picturesque as I remembered it, except for this time we found ourselves in the eye of the storm: with lighting rays seen at a distance and the subsequent thunder all around us. We could almost feel the earth tremble, which just added to the excitement of our fieldtrip. As we walked around the garden our shoes got heavy with mud, but the students were excited by the prospects of what Abaarso Tech could possibly look like in the future (viva the eco village!). After all was said and done, it was high time to leave, as the clouds looked more and more menacing. Asha and her husband, Abdi, once again gave us salad (oh sweet salad!), cabbage, oranges, guavas and papayas. The rain started coming down in torrents and the bus had some pretty close calls. But then suddenly, behind one of the bends, we saw a pick-up truck carrying close to twenty Somali workers, stuck in the mud! So we had to swerve, last minute, out of the way, consequently getting stuck in the mud ourselves, just beside the pick-up. The rain was now trickling and the sound of newly formed rivers, from the rain, could be heard flowing, as well as the constant Somali chattering, shouting and chaos of the situation, which was a rhapsodical event. At first we hadn’t even realised that our bus was stuck in the mud, and we were trying to push the truck out of the mud with the old Somali men; the women were just looking at us foreign women and students, caked in mud, trying to heave to truck out of the mud, in awe. But then in dawned on us that our own vehicle was in crisis (Muuse told us), so we dug the mud up from under the wheels and managed, in all our strength, to free the bus from its shackles! We were off a little distance, to higher and safer ground, about to continue onwards, when all of a sudden we heard the others yelling after us, asking us to help them with their pick-up truck. At that point, Kiette, the Ag Club members and I screamed “AG. CLUB UNITE!” and ran like our lives depended on it, with our sleeves rolled up and sprinting through the mud and the storm and the yelling – bodies caked in mud, clothes blowing in the wind, lighting coming down all around us, roads flooding – to save the other vehicle in need. And save it we did. The pick-up truck rolled away with its workers utterly amazed by the event they had just witnessed, and Ag Club members left the scene feeling satisfied and happy, ready to share grand stories of adventures, escapades and triumph to their friends.
We got back and I gave oranges and other fruit to a frenzied crowd of mad students, who peeled the fruit asunder, leaving the floors of the school covered with their remnants and the smell diffused throughout the halls and classes.
Such epics are a daily occurrence and there are almost too many to recount; I merely chose one among the plethora...so until next time,
I hope you all made it through to the end.
Perhaps I’ll write another blog before a month elapses.