Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Ups and Downs

I’m not sure why I think things are going to stop surprising me here or that suddenly I’ll feel and exhibit such amazing patience that the Pope will call to discuss canonization.  Warped optimism, I guess.

When I left for work today, I jammed a piece of cardboard in the door to keep it shut.  When I got to school I looked back toward my house and saw it swinging open.  An invitation in a culture where everything belongs to everyone.  Stuff is good.  Palagi stuff is the best.  I tried not to think about my stuff sitting there, available.

The other teachers love the end of term.  I hate the end of term.  Weeks are spent doing very little of anything with educational value.  We, kids and teachers alike, go to school.  The children take tests then run wild.  Teachers eat and gossip.  That’s this week.  Next week, kids will run wild all week while teachers eat, gossip and do report cards.

 I’ve become a renegade.  Since I don’t have a classroom of my own, I’ve taken over the office, where the computer is housed.  I show movies, mostly Disney, although I found out today that the kids are WILD about Mr. Bean.  I show phonics music videos and the kids sing along.   We do flash cards.   This morning, while all the other adults were enjoying breakfast, I did an impromptu math game to get the kids ready for their maths test.  By the way, they call it maths here, not math.

I also join the kids on the playground for the hour long recess.  Duck, duck, goose continues to be the crowd favorite.   They’ll make a circle of 100 kids from ages 5 to 15 and patiently wait, hoping to be the goose.  I’ve tried making multiple circles so more kids are actually playing but the problem is that I’m the big draw.  The kids only seem to think it’s fun if I’m playing in their circle.  Giant circle it is.

I was on the phone with PC for part of the recess.  I was walking across the playground, trying to seek a bit of quiet, which was impossible.  I was surrounded by my fan club of Years 1 – 3.  As I talked, I’d lunge at the kids and they’d run, screaming and laughing.  They could have played that game all day.  I would have had heat stroke, besides, my phone call and patience were done. 

Cultural differences aside, I totally get why the other teachers don’t play with the kids.  It is the tropics.  It is hot and humid.  We are close to the equator and the sun is brutal.  Add a tight, floor length polyester puletasi to that and the patience to do much running fades quickly.

My low point of the day came when I overheard another teacher ridiculing some of my students because of their poor answers on the English test I’d given them.  Here’s an example.  One of the questions for the older slower learners was “Where do you live?”  The correct response was “I live in Faga.”  Theoretically, they learned this 6 years ago in Year 1.  But the problem is, the kids can’t read well, if at all.  Some put no answer at all.  Some copied the question in the space for the answer.  Some wrote something in a language that is neither English nor Samoan.

The teacher was calling individual students and reading their incorrect responses, saying things (in Samoan) like, “What, do you live in a toilet?  You are so stupid you don’t know where you live?”  He did this in front of not just their class but another class.  Everyone thought it was very funny.  Except, of course, for the students being humiliated.

It is part of the culture to shame people into better behavior.  That means teachers “encourage” by hitting and humiliation.  I’ve been ridiculed for my poor Samoan language, among other things, since I arrived.  I’ve called a couple of people on it, and they seemed hurt. 

“I’m just trying to encourage you!”

 “Telling me I’m stupid just makes me want to stop trying.”

 “No, it should make you want to try harder so I’ll quit telling you you’re stupid.”

 “No, it makes me want to hit you with a big stick.  While yelling at you in English.”

That was a conversation I had one day with a dear friend.

Between the unlocked house and humiliated kids it wasn’t a stellar day.  But I talked to a friend and after school took a bus ride the long way home.  About 45 minutes of incredible scenery.  I happened to be alone on the bus with the driver for about 10 minutes.  As has happened before, he offered to be my boyfriend.   I laughed and said I wanted a husband.  He said that would be fine.  Then a woman got on.  A teacher from another school who knows me.  The bus driver involved her in the discussion of our pending nuptials.  She informed me (big surprise) that he’s a liar and is both much younger and more married than he said he was.

More women got on and they all knew me and were very friendly.  They seemed impressed that the driver stopped at my fale without me having to ask.  I rule the busses here.

When I got home I saw my 7 year old sister standing in my house.  I was not happy.  But wait, she’s standing in the front door that wasn’t able to be opened previously.  Yes, they were working on the locks.  They were currently taking a break, so I put on my shorts, t-shirt and lava lava and went for a swim.  I’m also tired of swimming fully clothed, but the water was cool, it was cloudy and it was lovely.

I walked home with a fresh attitude to find locked doors.   My brother also fixed the problem that caused my shower not to drain.  And the baby laughed, giggled and continuously planted his face in the mattress in glee when he saw me. 

All’s well that ends well.

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