Saturday, August 1, 2009

Last Weeks in Village

My host sisters KaDi, Sata, and Fatim

Our last few weeks at site were busy but somewhat uneventful. I spent a lot of time going through my things, giving away anything I didn’t want to neighbors and students of mine. I have a feeling the community will thank me more for giving away clothes than for anything else I did in Mali. We had final exams, which were somewhat of a joke. Here’s an example of a 7th grade Civic and Moral Education exam:

1. This man was arrested, along with his wife, outside the presidential palace on March 26, 1991. What is his name?

2. This man is the president of the most powerful country in the world. What is his name?

3. This large, West African country has a city named Segou. What is the country, and its capital?

4. What day did you begin the 3rd trimester of the school year?

Despite these insanely easy questions, almost all students completely bombed this test. They also had the nerve to tell me during the test that the questions weren’t fair because they hadn’t studied the subjects in class. Even I knew all the answers. The first one should have been easy, because Mali has only had, say, 3 presidents in its entire history, and the one in question was actually a dictator that was ousted by the current president. On top of that, there are streets everywhere in Mali named after the date of his overthrow. My favorite answer for this one was: Andrew Wallace and his wife Lassina Diarra (the teacher, actually a male). As for the second question, despite Obama mania here, most students seemed to think that the Malian president was the most powerful person in the world. For question three, even Andrew’s parents could answer that one, since they’ve been to Segou, seeing as how it’s in Mali. You’d think that with only a few countries in West Africa to begin with, that would have at least given them a clue. Nope. Lots of kids think its Brazil. Not a single person out of 103 students was able to answer the last question. Everyone just wrote the day’s date.

First, it’s really disappointing to even see stupid questions like that on a final exam, and second, that the students couldn’t even answer the really easy ones. But you have to try to see the humor in it. For example, on my health test, when asked to describe the role the testicles play in the male body, one student wrote: “The testicles on a woman are varied and live in chateaux (castles).” When asked to define fertilization, one student remarked that it was a “very serious disease for women to have.” Obviously, in West Africa it is a serious disease, especially if you’re passing on those genes. Sorry to be mean, but it’s so frustrating to think about how much I worked with the kids for an entire year, doing everything in my power to make things as straightforward as possible, and 90% still didn’t pass the test. It was infuriating, because I used all the same questions from previous quizzes I’d given throughout the year, so it should have been easy for them.

Lamini, the headmaster at the school, did a lot of work to give us a going-away party. There was a boys vs. boys soccer game, followed by girls vs. girls. Each team represented either me or Andrew, and both my teams won. I got to give the opening kick! After the games, my theater group presented several skits for the village, including one on health, one making fun of Muslim men during prayer time, and one imitating me in class teaching. It was really sweet and touching and made me feel good, because the students themselves decided to put something together before they even knew there was going to be a party. I have to say that’s probably the best example of someone taking initiative I’ve seen my entire time in Mali. After theater, Andrew and I presented certificates to the students who had done a good job during the year. This was a completely new idea to them, and everyone loved it, including the mayor and the doctors from the village. The kids were so happy, and it was a big change from what normally happens. Usually the teacher just reads out everyone’s grades at a public meeting, and the kids who do badly basically get ridiculed in front of everyone. This seemed to work better, and maybe some kids will try harder next year, especially since now they see that you don’t have to be one of the top three in the class to be recognized (we gave out Most Improved, Best in Subject ____, and Best Behavior awards as well). After certificates, we hosted a spaghetti dinner for about 30 people from the village. Everyone complained that I didn’t put enough salt in the sauce. Which just goes to show that Malians will complain about everything. Later that night, after the dinner, the kids had a dance party.

The girls' football team who fought (and won!) for my honor

Andrew giving out student awards

My last week or so was spent trying to get everything organized and packed. I managed to fit my stuff into two bags, though one was overweight and I got charged $65 to bring it back. My neighbors cried the morning I left, which was really uncomfortable. Malians don’t usually cry; even at funerals it’s a “fake,” dramatic cry. But these people actually did. And there’s nothing I could do about it. My car was waiting and I was trying to say goodbye, but my neighbors wouldn’t even look at me. We didn’t really cover this in cross cultural training. We did cover how to answer the question, “So when are you coming back?” but even that training didn’t really help me. I tried, as kindly as possible, even joking about it, to tell them that I wasn’t planning on coming back except maybe when Andrew and I have kids and we want to teach them to eat their vegetables, because, you know, there are starving kids in Africa (I only ever saw 1 or 2 starving kids, but that’s because Mali doesn’t have a lot of the problems the rest of Africa has).

Peuhl Sheep Festival

I’ll end this update for now, because I will give a vacation update and a general Peace Corps update in later emails, and I don’t want you guys to get too bored. In the meantime, enjoy these photos.

Me, Lamini, and Andrew at the airport

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