Friday, March 24, 2006

the early part, 6AM-9AM

Day begins early here. A few hours before the crack of dawn a learner beats on a steel hoop usually around 5AM give or take 20 minutes. I will wake only long enough to realize I don’t need to get up and enjoy the pleasure of my little temple of sleep -- all ensconced in my mosquito netting like a princess. At 6:00 my alarm goes off and I have to thread a hand through to snooze it for a bit. The net is effective but I use it more to ward off other bug landings, such as when moths arrive in vast numbers, like some ancient pestilence out of the Bible. I do get quite a bit of mosquito bites, especially on my feet and ankles. I have even gotten bitten on the palm which is disquieting.
At 6:45 I’m at school (a two-minute walk away). My principal likes to have the staff meet in the morning but it’s mostly small talk in Otjiherero so I sometimes go check email or make copies. We have assembly outside on Mondays and Thursdays – the learners stand in lines by grade and gender, recite the Lord’s Prayer by rote and the principal might say something to some learners about absences or leaving the hostel grounds. Around 7AM class starts. I am responsible for the Grade 6 class which has 51 learners. The classes are forty minutes long and periods are marked by the clanging of a learner beating on an iron tire rim.
At 9:00AM we have a thirty minute break – the kids are given a snack, usually bread with jam and can buy “fat cakes” which are like hush puppies except the size of a fist. The three female matrons, who ostensibly take care of the 400+ learners, usually hang out near my flat with these for 50 Namibian cents which is worth about a dime. I guess I’ve just gotten used to it but the image is kinda surreal. The heat is serious, and they’re wearing this elaborately constructed outfit with a dozen petticoats and traditional cow-horn headdress, laying lengthwise on the ground.
Meanwhile the kids also run side hustles selling “sweets” and I have to stop them from this in class. Even worse than the little wrapped candies is the trade in straight sugar which runs about 10 cents for a miniature cupworth. The kids sequester this in pockets, a la Napoleon Dynamite for later consumption. Sometimes when I catch them I make them eat it all at once. Some of the learners think that they’ve gotten away by destroying the evidence except that they’ve got it all over their face.
Learners will tell me with a straight face that they haven’t touched my chalk when they’re got chalk all over their lips. (“Teacher, I didn’t eat the chalk,” Will: “Kungeri, you have chalk all over your face.”) I also have a recurring problem with learners eating the margins from handouts. I’ve had days where after giving kids time to work on a sheet all class I collect ones who have any picture colored in and the margins eaten away, but with nothing in the way of actual answers. It was nice to hear that other teachers had exactly the same experience. Not sure how I’m going to get them to stop eating the paper as they are fed nicely at the hostel (I will often eat lunch in the dining hall).

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