Saturday, 18 January 2014

A Day in the Life of...

Written on 5th October. Think I'll have to do another one of these sometime- the routine looks very different now!

5 am - The first hints of dawn are appearing in the sky, and filtering through my window. My watch beeps but the morning chorus of cockerels has already half-woken me. I stretch out in my hammock and wriggle out of my sleeping bag.

5.15 am - Start the day with a few exercises- it's the only time when it is cool enough to exercise without sweat pouring down your face.

5.30 am - It is now light enough to walk easily outside. I take a couple of buckets with me down to a large flat rock by the river. In one bucket is my dirty washing, soaking in soapy water, in the other is my towel, some shampoo, soap and a nailbrush. As I wash and bathe the forest becomes alive with the sound of insects. Sometimes I can also hear the haunting calls of baboons echoing through the hills. The water is cool but not cold, perfect, refreshing way to set myself up for the day.

6 am - On my way back the glow of sunrise begins to redden the sky. I say good morning to a few people who are getting up and busying themselves- fetching water or lighting up fires to bake their cassava bread over. I leave my flip flops- caked in orange mud from the river bank- outside and begin hanging out the washing.

6.15 am - Time to start preparing breakfast. During the week it is usually rice. The first step is to stoop down at the low tap to filter some water, then see how long it takes me to light the fiddly kerosene stove. My current record is 28 seconds but on average it's more like 2 minutes. Condensation on the match boxes makes it extra tricky in the morning. Whilst the rice boils I get a broom and sweep out the kitchen.

7 am - Breakfast. Ben is up now and we sit ouside to eat and wave good morning to passers by.

7.30 am - Get ready for work. Shave, change into a shirt and trousers, look over the plan for today's lessons. Stoop back at the tap to filter more water into my bottle.

8.15 am - Strap on my sandals and make the arduous, ten second journey next door to the school to sign in and set up the classroom. Not only am I a teacher, I am also the janitor and the cleaner. A family of bats live up in the roof of my classroom, and every morning I have to sweep out the scattering of bat faeces that litters the floor, along with pencil sharpenings, scraps of paper and sweetie wrappers that never made it as far as the cardboard box we use as a bin.

9 am - About half of my class are sitting in their seats, another quarter will turn up over the next ten minutes, but it is unheard of to see the full 22 in one go. Those that are here, with good uniforms and clean nails are awarded one gold star. The person with the most stars at the end of the week will recieve a small prize. "Stand up please grade  2" I say, and maybe four people stand up. After a few more attempts I have their attention. We say a morning prayer and sing a nursery rhyme.

9.15 am - Every day we start with English- it is the most important subject, and the one they furthest behind in because their creole is so far from standard English. It doesn't help that there are barely any books I can give them to read, and I have no textbook or guide to teaching English.

10.25 am - Those children that have finished their work, and haven't been misbehaving, go outside for a break. There is no boundary to the school compound so they always wander too far and don't make it back to school on time.

10.45 am - We leave our spot in the nursery building and take our books up to the grade 3 classroom in the 'big' school. Grade 3 have about 10 pupils compared to my 22, and even though I always carry a couple of benches up with me, there is a barely enough space for us. We are here to listen to an Interactive maths lesson on CD, as there is electricity in the big school. If it is raining or noise is coming from another class, it is very difficult to hear the CD player. Although it ought to take just 27 minutes, the amount of pausing required to keep the class focussed and give them time to answer questions means that we don't even finish on lesson before lunch at 11.35.

12 noon - After marking some books, I go up to the school kitchen with Ben for a plate of rice or chow mein. I much prefer the school lunches here to what were given in Britain, although perhaps they lack vegetables. I miss vegetables more than any other kind of food.

1 pm - "Grade two inside!" I get somebody to call out to the field, at the pavillion and under my house. Usually there are a few children who have simply disappeared, decided they would take a half day. The heat makes it difficult to concentrate as we go through some social studies of science. Lost and broken pencils always cause lessons to take twice as long as they should.

2.30 pm - Home time for grade 2. I usually hold back a couple, either to talk sternly about their behavior or to let them finish their work that they have not done because they were to busy climbing out the window  and crawling under the desk.

3.30 pm - I finish off marking the pupil's work and carry my things back home. Anything left in the school will be fiddled with or stolen as the nursery building has no lock. Ben and I change into swimming trunks and dive into the river to cool off and rinse away the day's sweat.

4 pm - Find some time to visit a friend for a chat, play my penny whistle for a while, or read from my kindle in the afternoon heat.

5 pm - Start work on dinner. We have the option of pulling some edoes from the ground outside our house to make a soup, or attempting to make roti. Usually though it's lentils or beans with more rice. If we are lucky somebody will have gifted us some vegetables from their farm, or a kid might have climbed a tree to pick a few ripe fruits for us.

6 pm - Sit at my little desk to plan lessons for tomorrow. Thte light begins to fade from the sky and we switch on our solar powered lights on to work by. The mosquitos also come out to irritate us, and the cockroaches start to invade the house. We slap them with our flip flops and keep a tally of how many we kill. In about a month so far we have squished 66 of them.

7 pm - Continue working with a cup of tea of some sort. Lemongrass grows locally and makes a delicious hot drink, or if we feel indulgent we use some cocoa powder to make hot  chocolate.

8 pm - After brushing my teeth outside to see the endlessly starry sky or watch distant lightening storms light up the horizon, I climb into my hammock, in the safety of my mosquito net, and listen to some music as I drift of to sleep.

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