Friday, November 27, 2009

Centre de Sante. . .

Over the last weekend Adrien had a series of really high fevers. When they kept coming back, we assumed in was malaria. Malaria is very common here – sort of like the flu – and it’s not nearly as dangerous for the average African as it is for the American, because their bodies have adapted after hundreds of years of fighting the disease. When he didn’t over come the malady on his own, I decided he ought to go to the health center.

“Ok, let’s go,” he said. I was a bit confused. I figured he would go alone, but it turned out that he wanted my company. So we went there as a family – it’s not too far from my house. Sarah even followed us and patiently waited in front of the building the whole time.

A few (3) words about health center etiquette in Benin: There is none. Really. All the things that I would expect to be normal in such a place were absent. The aid sat Adrien down in a chair in one of the main rooms. She put a thermometer in his armpit and then promptly left us. During this time, five or ten people passed us. Each one asked Adrien what was wrong and wished him “bonne guerisson!”

The people passing by were filing in an out of the room next to us where they were watching two Fulani who had just had an accident. It turns out they were on their motorcycle and hit a cow. Those of you who know Fulani, might understand how appropriate this particular accident is for their culture. Even Adrien peaked in to see what was up. I didn’t look, but it turns out they were pretty scratched up.

After a long wait, all with thermometer in armpit, the nurse came in to consult. Nurses function as doctors here. First Adrien was chastised for not always sleeping under his mosquito net. He had him lay down on an examination table, which looked more like a morgue table to me. It was hard and metal and I’m not sure it was up to hospital cleanliness standards. The nurse poked at Adrien’s stomach and then diagnosed him with parasites after he cringed a little.

In the end the nurse scribbled a prescription on a piece of paper. Here in Benin, you don’t need a prescription to buy medicine, but if you want it at cheap, American-subsidized prices, you buy it at the health center. In the end we were given coartem, the standard, best malaria treatment, some drugs for parasites, and a record book that Adrien is supposed to bring with him every time he goes to the health center. All that and the consultation for 850 francs (2 dollars)! Seriously, thanks first world subsidies!

Sure enough we went to the pharmacy right at 8:00pm. Sure enough, the medical secretary had already left. After spending an hour plus waiting for the diagnosis we expected, Adrien couldn’t even get the medicine he wanted. The next morning he managed to get them, and a few days later, he was back to normal.

The view from up here. . .

The seasons are slowly changing. The bright sun is now covered by a golden haze in the morning, slowing the heating of the earth throughout the days. In the mornings I cover myself with a sheet and remember the good old days when I slept under a comforter no matter what the season was. I love the four seasons back home. Here I’ve had to adjust to enjoy the change of the seasons.

It’s strange how a year ago I was sitting around, waiting for the seasons to pass, and this year I’m not sure if I’ll even have time to check my most recent quiz. Relationships built over the last year are finally flourishing, and for the first time in my Peace Corps experience, I have just enough to do.

My school year started out innocently enough. I was excited to teach again. The students I followed to this year kept me energized from the start. The new students kept me challenged. By the time I gave my first test, I felt like we were finally in sync. Everyone understood my expectations, and a lot of them worked towards them, finding pretty spectacular scores in the end. Just like last year, many students aren’t on the “English learning” boat. I try not to leave them behind, while at the same time, I try not to stall the class because of them. It’s hard keeping that balance when you have 50-60 kids in a class.

Then I was elected chair of the English department. Shamelessly, I suppose, I nominated myself. After last year, a year full of useless meetings, I talked to a few other teachers about becoming the “Animateur Pedagogique,” and they all seemed excited about the idea. So, I ran and I won. That vote of confidence made me happy. The teachers weren’t happy with the “status quo.” They showed that they wanted more from our meetings. A higher quality English experience at my college.

Thinking of something to do at every meeting can be a headache. So far we’ve had sessions about reading, test writing, class discipline, and American Music. The test correcting and writing is the hardest part. Every teacher is supposed to propose a “devoir,” for each grade level that he teaches. I correct them, and choose one to give to all the students of that grade level, a sort of standardized test within the school. When there are 10 classes and 4 teachers of one grade level, it can be a bit of nightmare to synchronize their learning.

For the last year, my colleagues had been talking about starting an English club. Finally my homologue and I sat down and made a plan. It was almost impossible to find a time when several classes were available, and in the end we chose 5:00pm on Wednesdays. I was sure no one would come. Of the 6 classes that were available, who wouldn’t want to go home after hours of school? Wrong. The first session, 90 students showed up. The second was about the same. Finally the third week, only about 70 students came. We’re hoping that numbers will slowly diminish so we can actually do fun, hands on activities without being overwhelmed.

Our sessions have been interesting. Our club involves sharing a lot of English lexicon while speaking in a lot of French. Last week, I brought in nine strange kitchen utensils. We put one at each group of tables and asked the students to guess what the crazy white teacher did with it in the kitchen. These involved: a garlic press, a meat grinder, a measuring cup, a bottle cleaning sponge, a potato peeler, and more. I think the students were more than amused by the strange things we Americans do in the kitchen.

I’ve also “team-taught,” a little bit. This is one of Peace Corps’s clever ideas for transferring skills to local teachers. We plan and teach a lesson together. My homologue and I have been working together in 3eme, which is the superior class in the first cycle of the French system. Working with these students inspires me, because there are some who have worked very diligently to get to this point. They are really dedicated to learning the material. At the same time, there are some clowns that by some stroke of luck, or by repeating previous grade levels many times, finally made it to 3eme. Balancing the two in one class can be a bit of a challenge. I think earlier level English class is by far harder. They have lots of vocabulary, grammar, verb tense to memorize. In 3eme, you can assume they know all that, hopefully.

On top of all of this, I’ve also made a few class visits to have “Q&A” session with History-Geography students. I told my teacher friend that I was available to talk about my life, culture, and country at any time. To my surprise he took me up on it! In one class, we spent two hours talking. They asked very interesting questions for their level (5eme, about 8th grade), about industries, climate, pollution, and even the color of my skin.

I’ve been trying to make myself more available to students. One afternoon a week, I’ve been coming to school to help those who want to come (10-15 students) with homework and review. I feel bad for students in classes of 50-60 students. I know Adrien often doesn’t understand his work until he goes directly to a professor to ask for help. The students are starting to see that I am here for them. That makes me happy.

Last week, I was literally at school every morning and every afternoon. I’m happy when I’m busy. I feel successful when I have something to do. So far the start of my second year has been fantastic. Now my mind is racing. What can I do in the coming months?

Friday, November 6, 2009

A midwife's perspective. . .

My sister, Ann, has been fighting the internal battle of self-expression verses self-absorbtion, and self-expression has finally won out! I'm really excited, because she's a great writer and has some really interesting perspectives on life, midwifing, wifing, and mothering. Check out her new block Heart and Hands. . .

And while you're at it, I might as well give a shout out to Maria, my other sister. She's been blogging for a while about her life as a theologian and mother, and how the two compliment each other. It's pretty catholicky. Check it out TheologianMom

As for my brother, Jeremy. Well, we're waiting.