What matters in the end?

I have enjoyed an eventful last week in Abidjan: going to the local Zoo, visiting a Reggea Club, celebrating July 4th at the US Embassy, go-karting, and visiting many friends.

Unfortunately my mobile phone got kidnapped by a friendly taxi driver. I realised it was not with me immediately after I left the taxi and it drove off, but when we called with a different mobile a minute later, he had already switched it off. Had to happen 4 days before I leave :( I got a cheap replacement and Orange replaced my SIM with the same number. The guy who gave me the SIM was happy to speak English to me, so he didn’t charge me anything, so I had got that going for me, which was nice.

 

So anyways, I lost my pictures from the art market “CAVA” (Centre Artisanal de la ville d’Abidjan), which is a completely underrated artisan village close to the shopping center “CAP SUD”. It’s literally a village, where the artists are in wooden huts or outside of them, creating all kinds of art: painting, many carvings, jewellery, decorational weapons, traditional masks and much more. It’s the best place to get ripped off and spend lots of money as a tourist! Not everyone overcharges you, but I just tell you: beware the Senegalese ;) So best visit the place with a local friend, whose mere presence already makes the artist/merchant nervous and lower the price. Anyways there is also the arts market in cocody, which is much smaller though, and less authentic. I recommend going to CAVA to anyone interested in traditional African art, or who wants to get a souvenir.

Another must is spending an evening at Parker Place, Abidjan’s best Reggea club. It’s not too overpriced, plus the live bands on the weekends are rather amazing. They play classics as Bob Marley, national music as Tiken Jah Fakoly or Alpha Blondy, as well as their own songs. Rastafaraay feeling all inclusive (excluding the drugs, no smoking in the place!)

Abidjan’s Zoo is bit of a sad place. Not only because there are animals in captivity (for preservational reasons), but because during the civil war, many animals died, as there was no caretaker for them. So the lions are gone, and there is only one elephant left, and one python. Else, they got lots of monkeys, crocodiles, chimps, a leopard, some birds and one of the few remaining pygmy hippos. Because of policies (greediness), visitors have to pay to take pictures. Didn’t want to reward that silly policy, so we only took a picture in front of the gate.

Friday, on the evening of my departure, Lorette was invited to the Independence Day party at the embassy, as she’s been working there a long time as a French/English teacher.  The US Embassy has wide grounds in Abidjan, and the building is rather humungous! But – no pictures allowed. You find something on google, though. The Independence Day celebration was quite nice, with the Embassador giving a speech, the Stephane Wrembel Band playing their jazzy tunes, and snacks for the attendees.

After the celebration we arrived back home just in time for the World Cup game Brazil – Colombia. It was fast-paced, and a bit too foul, but many great moves and nice goals. The better team won in the end :)

But then it was time to say goodbye! So many people took care of me during the 10 months I spent here. I got to know new faces and have made many new friends.  This is what matters most in the end!

Now that I’m back in Austria, I will take some time to settle back in. I’m on a holiday until September, when I will start teaching physics/chemistry at a school in Vienna. So I will continue writing the blog, as surely there are many more things to be experienced and written about. And who knows where else I may end up teaching for a while…

 

Endspurt

It is done!

Friday, students were allowed to come in casual clothes, and they brought food for everyone.

Friday, students were allowed to come in casual clothes, and they brought food for everyone.

My year of teaching English in Abidjan has officially come to a close.

We had our graduation celebration last Sunday at the big event hall of the Police School. It was a nice event, a very positive vibe going on and lots of people (over 200). For me, it was an enjoyable occasion, though it also meant saying goodbye to the kids, whom I will miss a lot.

The last couple of weeks very quite intense, having to finish the report cards, and many of the kids finally waking up to the reality of school: If you don’t do any work, it will show in your results. Some understood that when I told them, others were honestly surprised. So most of the time in class I was moving from student to student non-stop, corrected their work during break and lunchtime and handed it back the lesson after. I did not sit down for a minute!

I have learned so many things this year about being a teacher and understanding African culture! These experiences will help me in my future teaching, and remain nice memories. My point system for discipline worked out quite well I believe, at least for 70% of the class. Some improved their behavior a lot during the year, some stayed the same, but none declined, which is nice! Additionally, I could make many connections and find really good friends in my colleagues, a fact which cannot be taken for granted!

I have only 10 days left in the country, 5th of July I will be leaving :(

With my students: Maryvonne and Yan Ting

With my students: Maryvonne and Yan Ting

With my students: Maryvonne and Roseline

With my students: Maryvonne and Roseline

My students: Grade 8 Graduates!

My students from Grade 8: Graduated!

The Highschool graduates giving their speeches, and many tears are shed

The Highschool graduates giving their speeches, and many tears are shed

Pierrick and I

Pierrick and I

With my bro Willie

With my bro Willie

With the sports teacher, Eloge

With the sports teacher, Eloge

With my bro Armand

With my bro Armand

I will try to get more and better pictures of graduation when the official photographer arrives.

Meanwhile, the rainy season has started quite dramatically, from months without any rain during the day, to an entire week of torrential rain. The effect of rain on society here is immense! Think of it equivalent to snow in London: public transport stops, few people show up to work, markets are closed. When it rains, everything stops here. To top it off, sometimes electricity breaks down, so even working inside on your computer is not possible, unless your place has a generator (not many places do).

 

Moi et mon frere Wisdom, at his home for dinner

Moi et mon frere Wisdom, at his home for dinner

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His daughter, who tried taking pictures and succeeded after some tries :)

I visited the home of Wisdom, a friend I made in Palmerai. He is motivated to find a good job as a driver, and always on the search, but even with an agency it’s tough. If you have a car, you can hire someone privately for about 80.000 FCFA (€122,10) a month, to drive you around at any time to any place you want. You need to be lucky to find someone who pays decently. He told me he wants to work for white people, because they pay well and on time.

Anyways, he invited me for some spaghetti africaine. I think it’s amazing how easy people can trust you here and invite you into their homes, feed you and everything. And you find many who really just want to give out of a good heart, not because they want money from you.

What will I be doing until I go back to Austria? I want to try to visit different places, but most probably within Abidjan. I hope everything works out and I can tell you after :)

One thing that is sure:
I have started working on a website for the school, to give it more publicity and make the information for the parents more accessible. For now I’m gathering information and pictures.

 

The Old Gods and the New

The Old Gods

One of the many busses with "Dieu", many other have Bible verses on them. Ignore the bullet holes.

One of the many busses with “Dieu”, many other have Bible verses on them. Ignore the bullet holes.

At our school, we have kids who are Christian: Catholic, Protestant. We also have kids who are Muslim, also some with Jewish background. The dialogues are quite interesting, considering that the school provides a Christian American curriculum. Sometimes the Muslim kids complain about having to study about the Bible and Jesus. They tell me (mostly when studies are tough),

“I’m a Muslim, I don’t need to study the Bible!”

I ask them, “So then why are you at a school with a Christian curriculum?”

“My parents put me here.”

“Are your parents Muslim?”

“Of course!”

“Then they are wise people.”

As of 2008, 38,6% of Ivorians are Muslim, 32,8% Christian, and 28% African Indigenous (wiki). Generally speaking, in Westafrica, the North of the countries is majority Muslim, and the South mainly Christian. The cities, especially Abidjan, are completely mixed, though.

Especially these days when you hear about groups such as Boko Haram terrorizing in the name of God, and the killing of Muslims in Central African Republic, having kids of different background, nationality, ethnicity and faith in the same class truly crosses borders. With the right sense of mediation, this kind of coeducation helps to prevent future misunderstandings and conflicts.

Quite striking when arriving from Austria is the quantitative jump of church attendance here. Sunday morning is Church Time. The pastors are like rockstars here. The Archbishop Duncan from Ghana has an own police escort plus three Escalades and a Hummer. While we were stuck in traffic, police ploughed his way through the masses. Truly a man of God, with the purse of a King (the former may be debatable). On TV you may watch some preachers putting their congregation into trance and people fainting when he touches their heads. They have definitely developed their own style of worship, with dances, drums and chanting. I would recommend to anybody to partake in a service like this, even just for the experience. As the pastors are rockstars, the service becomes a rock concert ;)

The New Gods

“And the white man comes directly after God!”

is what a friend told me recently. “Because they can do so many things that no black man can do!”

“But what is it they do?”

“They can build roads; all the companies for construction, they are not from here!”

The new God: Jack Bauer!

The new God: Jack Bauer!

 

"Thank you, mother". You may not fear God, but you better fear your mother ;)

“Thank you, mother”. You may not fear God, but you better fear your mother ;)

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Lacoste, Gucci and DG are popular brands to show off your money. Of course you can buy them at the market for 2 €.

While the tourguide at the national heritage museum was mourning the disappearance of African Indigenous religions, others welcome the change and see it as development.

So I ask the questions:

  • Concerning the growing middle class, who try to copy the “European (middle class) Dream”, how will secularisation affect the local culture?
  • Is the decline of spirituality inevitably connected to the rise of wealth? Why (not) in Africa?
  • In the perspective of diversity and preservation, should indigenous religion and culture be encouraged and developed?

 

The busyness of a holiday

Easter has come, markets are selling chocolate and candy for the season (mainly from Switzerland, Germany and Austria). No idea which Easternest will survive the scorching sun out here, but it was interesting to see yet another imported heathen tradition from central Europe ;) But some churches and followers did remember the more religious significance of Easter and joined in a march through the city.

carry the cross

Et moi, I just thought travelling a bit would be nice! The local UPF Secretary General suggested I accompany him to the ceremony of appointing new ambassadors for peace in the city of Gagnoa.
Having had work experience with UPF before, I gladly accepted and thought it’d be interesting to see how UPF Austria and UPF Cote d’Ivoire work differently… or not.

Having endured a whole day’s journey by bus, we arrived at our hotel in the late afternoon. Yeah… I did feel a bit uncomfortable with the place’s name. Nobody else seemed to get the unfortunate connotation: “It means ‘New House’! Hehe…”

 

Welcome to the Hotel (,) Casanova

Welcome to the Hotel (,) Casanova

Anyways, there was warm water, a good bed, AC, TV, and free wifi internet… never take that for granted!

Sunday we started the preparations for the ceremony. An “Ambassador for Peace” is a person who receives such title for being active and helpful in the local and wider community to achieve peace. It is honoring and further motivating those who are appointed.

The venue was the town hall of Gagnoa; sound, seats, food, everything arrived on time and was actually quite well organized. I just helped out with the electronics, as usual.

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Looks quite bad, but that is normal for rural areas: DIY electrical plugs! They add fun and suspension to any event, especially when some cables for the projector melted. Luckily we had a fitting spare cable from a laptop.

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More than 250 people attended the event, from both the government and private sector. Twelve new Ambassadors for Peace were appointed.

 

the local UPF representative giving the introductory remarks

the local UPF representative giving the introductory remarks

 

There was a short entertainment program, with a singer and a comedian group.

Speeches were made, certificates were given, the banquet was feasted upon… it was a good day.

 

the outsides with lots of food for everyone!

the outsides with lots of food for everyone!

happy hanging out after the event. I have no idea what I'm doing, but i'm getting numbers and business cards.

happy hanging out after the event. I have no idea what I’m doing, but i’m getting numbers and business cards.

We travelled back to Abidjan via Yamoussoukro, and paid my friend Roger a brief visit. It’s a must, that if you pass a village where you know someone, you better say “Hi!”

On entire highway between Yamoussoukro and Abidjan, round 250km, there is only one fuel station. So, the locals help each other out by opening their own fuel stations: Diesel in white glass bottles, Super in green ones, a gas container and some oil for the travelers.

Buying a drink? nope... it's fuel.

Buying a drink? nope… it’s fuel.

Speeding past the misty tropical forest in the early morning hours.

 

tranquility of a morning's journey through the forest... at high speed :)

tranquility of a morning’s journey through the forest… at high speed :)

The remainder of the holiday was spent in Abidjan, meeting friends, relaxing, reading. I got my ticket back to Europe (Munich is cheaper than Vienna) for July 5th.

So there are only around 2 months which I have left to spend in this beautiful place. School ends by June 20th, and I’m already making plans on what to do before leaving. :)

 

 

You Shall Not Pass! (on first try)

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We just finished the second of three terms at school, and I handed out the report cards showing the grades. Everyone passed. But the reason is, simply put, because there is no possibility to fail.

Our school works with the homeschooling system. The student can study at his/her preferred speed. Some of my students finished two grades within one year, or two within three years. It sounded amazing to me, as it seemingly only depended on your level of motivation, when you finish your grade.

But there are some hurdles which are quite tough to pass:

Dilemma 1: Haste

Frequently, my students tell me: “Mr teacher, I cannot do this, I am too stupid.”

And I ask them, “What do you have to do, and what is the problem?”

“I don’t know what I have to do.”

“Did you read the instructions for the task?”

“No, I just want to do it. I want to do the tests and finish my grade!”

The problem is simple: the pressure is on finishing tests and grades, not on learning a language properly and doing your work well. They end up leaving out tasks which they don’t understand or feel like doing. They get angry with the teacher when he/she tells them that they cannot skip tasks: “Teacher, you are blocking me from advancing, I want to finish my book!” or “Ah, teacher, you don’t like me!”, as if working well and studying was a punishment.

Dilemma 2: Buddy system

The setting would be perfect for a buddy system, where students help each other out: older students, or those who are more advanced already, could help out those who are struggeling. I’d love to utilize that system. Problem: “buddy” too often means they hand over their books and copy-paste the results, including errors. Learning progress: zero.

Another problem: conflict. Maybe that’s just my class, but there are verbal and manual (to the face) fights nearly every day. Buddy system means communication, and communication means noise, that is unavoidable. I’d be fine with that, but sadly whenever I gave it a try – the noise happened, but the work didn’t. Furthermore, instead of helping the other person, the older buddies make fun of the younger students, resulting in a fight.

Dilemma 3: Multiple-choice tests

It’s no news that our educational system is seldomly testing knowledge, abilities or intelligence, but rather only the ability to regurgitate temporally stored information.

We study, not to learn, but to pass exams.

This contradiction reaches a new level when using multiple-choice tests. Now you don’t even have to just learn how to remember things, you can basically stop understanding them at all. In fact, you can pass tests without even having read the questions.

For grade 6-8, which I teach, there are 20 questions on the test. There are three possible answers for each question.

The lowest you could score is 35%, a clear fail. Now the real problem is that students can redo the test without the first try being counted, and being allowed to inspect the former (identic) test sheet. The theoretical score is 70%. Voilà, you passed!

Cheating slips used to be hard work to create, and enhanced the learning process of the author. With multiple choice, a slip that will get you 100% may look like this:
“11323213311123123323″.

Easy to forge, easy to hide, and no enhancement whatsoever.

Resumé:

The homeschooling system does not give freedom. It just switches positions of teacher and student.

In the classical school system, the teacher is literally and also figuratively in the front of class. He is deciding the speed of learning. If you can’t keep up, you’re left behind and fail. But not matter how fast you think you’re going, you can never really catch up with the Achillean tortoise.

Homeschooling puts the teacher behind the student - again both literally and figuratively. The student decides the speed of learning; The teacher stands behind him, looking over his shoulder and helping him solving problems. But it does not end there. The teacher also has to be like a bulldozer, pushing the student to advance.

So even though it seems that homeschooling is meant to be students doing work in their books on their own, and the teacher just passively in the background in a supportive role, it really is MUCH tougher for the teacher than being in front. He has to rely on the student’s motivation and will to study, and their maturity. Now… how much maturity and eagerness to study can you expect of an average 11-year-old? How about a 6-year-old?

 

On the bright side:

It’s mango season :) There are around 4-5 different types of mangoes at the local market, with different origin, taste and colour.

I got this beauty (they say it’s a Nigerian Mango) for FCFA 150 (€ 0,23) from across the street of my home.

When a mangoes to Africa he'll go bananas for some fresh fruit. (I apologize)

When a mangoes to Africa, he’ll go bananas for some fresh fruit. (I do apologize)

Otherwise, I’m fine, and recovered well from the Malaria. The kids suspected I had Ebola and recommended I took milk with honey, because that’s what their doctors always tell them.

As I will be enjoying a week of holiday until May 4th, I have some travelling planned. This weekend I will be going to a UPF conference in Gagnoa,  northwest of Abidjan. It’s a smaller place, and I usually enjoy the peace and quiet of such places. I’ll keep you updated!

 

 

Do agric, it pays!

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Staying in bed for five days straight, glucose infusion with quinin tied with shoe laces to a hat stand, and this boy pretending to be a doctor… I was glad when it was over.

Sorry for the great delay of the post. Reason was I got sick and had to undergo the Quinin treatment for Malaria. I had a doctor visiting me at home, so it was alright. The most annoying thing about it is having hallucinations from both the sickness and the medication; furthermore, the combination of feeling sick, anemia, insomnia and fever really drains you. But since people have Malaria many times around here, everyone was calm and everyone had extra advice on what to do :)

 

 

Africa is often associated with desert, famine and draught. While for some regions that is true, the west-African region from coast until the Sahel provides an immense potential with its arable land and stable climate. Many African countries try to skip the step of succeeding in agriculture in the race for becoming an emerging country. 400 million Africans live in extreme poverty, of which 70% live in rural areas dependent on agriculture. Yet, how much do governments invest into the sector? Only 8 of 54 countries of the African Union have kept their promise of the Maputo declaration of JUly 2003, to invest at least 10% of the annual budget into agriculture.

Remarkably, the multiplier effect of agricultural growth in sub-Saharan Africa is estimated to be 11 times greater in reducing poverty than in other non-agricultural sectors, such as utilities and mining.

- Dr Sipo Moyo, Africa Director of ONE (http://www.one.org/)

Just about an hour’s trip from Abidjan’s market and bus station Adjame is INPRAT (Institut PRive d’Agriculture Tropicale), a school for secondary and tertiary level education on agriculture. Since arriving in Cote d’Ivoire I’ve always wanted to see tropical vegetation and how agriculture works here, so I visited my friend Mafoya at INPRAT.

The change from city to countryside is immensely refreshing for all senses: no bad smells and exhaustion fumes, less rubbish on the streets, less people yelling and running about. All is replaced by a peaceful tranquility, balm for the mind of a stressed teacher ;) The school grounds are in the forest, but students live in a village across the street.

I asked for a full tour, though I’ve forgotten to take pictures of the actually school buildings. But anyways, they are just buildings like in the city. At the school there are around 500 students from age 16 till 27, who all chose their preferred field of expertise in the sector: fish-farming, cow-herding, breeding rabbits; cultivation of plants such as maize, yam, cassava, rice or plantain; the extraction of rubber from Hevea plants – and all the theory that goes with it.

When we arrived on Saturday, we met the headmaster of the school, who made little effort to greet, but much more effort to advertise the agricultural sector: “Agriculture is good money! Welcome to our school.”

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African rice fields!

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almost ready to harvest!

Here we are at a rice field. Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire used to be self-sustaining in their rice industries until the 90s, when government deemed the crop’s quality not good enough and changed to import, mainly from Vietnam. In a slow struggle, rice is making its way back, and you can find “Riz local” at the market.

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well planned plantain plantations

Plantain is a type of banana that’s used for cooking. It’s tough and less sweet than the common banana that we find at the supermarket in Europe. Plantain is either cooked or fried, and usually served with fish. Aloko is one of the favourite national dishes.

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As you can see the school actually plants the trees in rows… which is not the case when you go to the fields and plantations of the farmers of the village. Only the big food producers use land that systematically.

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A football field… the cows are not supposed to be there, but they seem to enjoy their outing. The cattle is a rather small species, their shoulders barely reaching our hips. The main purpose is meat.

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The machine for the rice-shredding. Yeah, it’s rather ancient. In the back you can see the stalls for rabbits and quail. Unfortunately all but one quail got eaten recently… by forest ants. Damn nature, you scary!

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The beautiful lake which is providing the water for the fish-farming.

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New piglets, just couple of months old. They reach maturity so fast!

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Hevea Brasilensis, the rubber-tree is a new trend in west-Africa. After about 20 years of growth, the tree’s circumference  is measured 1 metre above ground. If the circumference is beyond 50cm, the harvest of rubber can begin: with a very sharp machete, the farmer cuts the bark of the tree in an inclined way, so the sap flows down into a bowl. Having produced rubber in a chemistry laboratory, seeing rubber being extracted from trees seemed like magic to me.

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A peaceful little hut in the forest :) It turns out this is an illegal distillery run by the village. They distill palm wine here. Looks neither safe nor clean – and definitely illegal; therefore hidden in the bush.

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Refreshing ourselves after the tour with some cold, bottled water. The water from the tub is also drinkable, but tastes of soil. The fruit in the foreground is used to produce the orange-reddish palm oil, the most common oil for cooking in west-Africa.

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These two students, friends of Mafoya, repeatedly asked me to search for Austrian wives for them, and vehemently proclaimed their being serious about it. So, any takers? ;)

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The president of the student’s union was working hard cutting some bamboo for building. He did not fail to tell me about how agriculture is the best, and how it makes a lot of money.

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A cocoa tree in the middle of the village. When the fruit becomes orange like the one in the center of the picture, you can harvest the crop. The inside is eatable, but the main product is the seed, which is dried and exported to Europe for processing. Cote d’Ivoire is the world’s #1 cocoa exporter.

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Finally, a nice meal before going back to Abidjan: Soy beans, tomatoes, white pepper, onions and garlic, with palm oil and rice. All ingredients from the village market, all natural and pesticide free. It tasted amazing as well.

Agriculture surely is a sector to be watched closely in the following decades, concerning the constant fear of overpopulation and undernourishment. It is essential, though, that African leaders don’t sell out their farmers and arable land, else they will end up producing cheaply, and importing the products of their own produce all over again.

“Here in Africa, we beat our children!”

Classroom discipline is one of the most important, daily responsibilities of a teacher. Yet there are barely any courses on how to achieve it, neither is the problem really recognized by the public. As a young teacher, you are thrown into the lions’ den, and then God help you.

This was also my feeling when I started teaching at Jina school in Abidjan. I had no real concept for keeping the class quiet and neat, or what kind of punishments apply when rules were broken. I just handed out the school rules, which included good behavior and respect towards the teachers, and thought that this should do the trick. I even went as far as most websites and books on discipline suggest:

  • have a classroom discussion about rules
  • create rules together and discuss what kind of punishment is fair and just
  • print them and put them up in class
  • apply the rules with great consistency and hold students accountable

As you might guess, that’s by FAR not all that is needed to create a classroom atmosphere where students behave and feel motivated to study and treat each other respectfully. The classroom continued to be loud and there were no 5 minutes of focussed studying. I am not even exaggerating. The punishments for misbehavior were in order of graveness (after a warning):

  1. copying the rule you broke 10-50 times into your book
  2. kneeling at your desk
  3. being sent out of class for the remainder of the lesson
  4. being reported to the headmistress
  5. being reported and your parents get a phonecall

The students know these and have seen all of them carried out. Still, no change.

Then one day, student Timmy (name changed by author) goes too far. He is on his knees already, copying the rule he has broken, and just starts insulting a student behind him until that one gets upset and they start an open fight in the middle of class. I have to interrupt my lesson, go inbetween the two students who had started strangling each other, and bring them to the headmistress’ office. Together, we decide to give the parents a call. Having had teaching experience in Austria, I thought, “Anyways, what’s the point of telling parents, they don’t really care.” I was so wrong. We got the mum of Timmy on the phone. After a few sentences of explanation, she just answers, “Ok, I’m coming.” and hangs up. 20 minutes later she is with us in the office. I explain to her what happened in class, and why we had given her a call. And she looks at me, not without anger, and said,

I know that in Europe, things are different. But here in Africa, we beat our children”

And she did. In front of the headmistress, the secretary, and myself. On the head, the back and shoulders, while talking to him angrily why he was humiliating his family. When she was done, I took my leave to continue teaching in class, with TImmy being left behind in the office. Besides the anger I felt for him disobeying and fighting in class, seeing him getting beaten in front of everyone I actually felt pity for him.

The incident made me realize a few things:

First, African kids fear their mothers more than anything else. Nothing will scare them, no extra work, kneeling, being sent out of class. But you mention their mothers, and they will budge.

Second, despite having followed and carried out the disciplinary measures, less than half the class followed them and went through a week without being punished.

Third, I want to find a way how to manage my classroom without beating kids, obviously. But is that my arrogant Western-European attitude, my inability to adapt to the culture? If I want the kids to succeed in studies, they need to be disciplined. I just have to find a way how. So I created a behavior scale with different measures. Every student starts with 100 points, and when they break a rule, I deduct 2 to 6 points. When their points reach below 80, the office will call their parents. At the start of a new trimester, the points are reset to 100. There is also a reward system, if they do really well or when they hand in extra work.

The system is working quite well, except for some kids. I wondered why, and saw that it’s connected to the punishment. If at home, they get beaten, but at school they can “get away” with easier punishment, they will take advantage of it. Some students behave like angels at home, they are calm and respectful; but once they enter school, hell breaks loose. They become bossy tyrants, and disrespectful towards any authority.

Just beat them!

Is what the behaved kids in class say.

I’m waiting for the day you will beat one of us!

Is what they say themselves.

So for now I can say that discipline is still a great issue in my classroom. I fight with it every day, and it’s making me tired. Now two students are permanently outside class, and another joined a different classroom. There is only one single teacher in the entire school, where the students are (almost) quiet and respectful. And you can guess, why…

Know Thyself

Tuesday to Thursday we had a teacher’s conference at school, the first one for me to ever participate in. It was productive, and in general everybody felt it helped them to improve their teaching and to know the students better. Also it helped to get misunderstandings out of the way and find a common goal and purpose again: to help the kids achieve the best they can and to support them on every possible level.

Wednesday was free, so our secretary, Gloria, invited me and some Japanese missionaries to visit the Museum of Civilisations Cote d’Ivoire. I was excited about finally getting some input about the history and culture of the place, for the first time NOT from the outside, but in the country itself. I vividly remember going through the Slavery Museum in Liverpool and seeing handcuffs, chains and little figurines from Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. It was impressive and depressing at the same time. I felt so sorry, yet angry, for what had been done.
I was really curious how the locals would present their own history, interpreting it from their own perspective. How did they cope with their past, and what do they focus on?

Here we are in front of the building. It is part of a small botanical garden in Plateau, one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Abidjan.

entrance to the museum

entrance to the museum

We got our own tour guide, who spoke a bit of English. Halfway through the tour he said he had to leave, so he was replaced by another guide, who spoke a bit less English. Both of them were enthusiastic about the African heritage and the objects displayed in the museum, but neither seemed to have studied them properly. Officially, we were not allowed to take any photos, until he asked us to take a picture together.

the group with the elephant skull and ivory, the symbol of ivory coast.

the group with the elephant skull and ivory, the symbol of ivory coast.

sneaky shot of two tribal war masks.

sneaky shot of two tribal war masks.

The mask in the center has bullets on the rim, but our tour guide dated it “yes, maybe 15th century”. The mask on the right is worn when there is a fire in the village. The mask to the left is also a war-mask, ornated with fur and skin of wild animals. It’s not necessarily the eldest or village chief who wore the mask, but someone who has gone through the required rituals.

Goddess of fertility

Goddess of fertility

There used to be a kind of polytheism. Every need you had, you carve a statue and pray to it. This one is used when a woman seems to be infertile. She needs to sleep separate from her husband for one night, with the statuette next to her. Whichever tribe you belong to, your corresponding god will be different. A Baoulé god of fertility is different from a Beté god, and you cannot use theirs. So, since I do not belong to any of the African tribes, none of the gods would help me!

currency of old

currency of old

Before the introduction of the franc by the French occupation, little objects like these, made from copper, were used for trade.

car of old

car of old

Being a king always has had it’s little comforts. This is a king’s “car”, carried by his slaves on the top of their heads. This was the only way of travelling for high-borns, no mounts such as horses or mules.

to every king, his throne

to every king, his throne

Throne with the brush symbolizing spiritual power, the sabre symbolizing military power, and the crown symbolizing political power. Everything used to be golden, but unfortunately the museum was looted during the recent civil war.

dowry for a happy marriage

dowry for a happy marriage

“If you wanted to marry, you could have as many wives as you wanted, it only depends on your pockets. It is still the same, now”

, our tour guide commented. These dowries made from copper were rather expensive. The massive thing on the left is a bracelet, btw.

“Cause if you like it you should have put a massive bracelet on it!”. Reminds me a bit of these leg shackles, and probably had about the same effect ;)

What is marriage to you?

The other dowry is an axe, symbolizing that you will protect your new wife from any harm. Both in symbol and monetary worth, these dowries meant a lot.

Attieke and Chicken! My favourite African food!

Attieke and Chicken! My favourite African food!

After the visit, we had lunch at the museum’s restaurant, which was about the same size as the museum itself. The food was definitely not disappointing!

It was strange to see such a little place supposedly representing what has been some great empire before. Little to nothing had been said about slavery, or the times of the Ashanti empire, to which the Arkan people of Cote d’Ivoire belonged as well. It was an interesting exhibition, but there are great lacks in both the knowledge of the tourguide (everything was “maybe 15th century”) as well as the size of the exhibition. It helped to at least get a little more insight into the culture and the spiritualism of West-Africa, and to see why still today there are places where this spiritualism, Voodoo and Juju are practiced. Our tour guide even went so far to say that,

“This is Africa’s big problem, that Christianity and Islam have replaced the original religions.”

Is it really a problem? How strongly is the African identity connected with this spiritualism and the tribe mentality? Is there an ambivalence now concerning which identity to choose? Is there a future for African culture, or will people still be judged on how europeanized (= civilized) they are? Or maybe there is a need for an entirely new identity?

It’s half-time, not break-time!

March 2nd marked the completion of my 27th year of life, and 6 months of living and teaching in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, – a perfect occasion to reflect a bit and update you on what I’ve been up to.

1. I went to visit the big Universite de Cocody (which is – guess what – named after Felix Houphouet Boigny) together with my colleague and friend Armand. It’s a huge campus, with nice gardens, lots of nature and places to relax. Having studied at a site that’s somewhat tiny and has no outsides to relax, I could really envy the students passing by. But that feeling changed quickly when hearing of all the troubles students are facing here on a daily basis.

abandoned student accomodation

abandoned student accomodation

student apartments left empty

student apartments left empty

student appartments -  "Access prohibited for students" hmmm

student apartments – “Access prohibited for students” hmmm

The spacious gardens of the campus

The spacious gardens of the campus

Lecture room for economics

Lecture room for economics

University tract for middle- and highschool teachers. They earn quite well (CFA 250.000) and are needed everywhere!

University tract for middle- and highschool teachers. They earn quite well (CFA 250.000) and are needed everywhere!

So what might be the problem? Basically since the new presidency, students cannot use the university grounds for accomodation anymore. Nobody could tell me why, but anyways the new president said so. So half the campus is actually empty and it feels like a ghosttown.

2. How’s school?
It’s been seriously intense. But let me show you a bit of the work, that my students are doing. All books are to be done by the students on their own, with teachers supporting when needed. It’s the homeschooling system, and directed towards native speakers… which most of the class actually aren’t. Some don’t even have A1 proficiency, honestly speaking.

Grammar books grade 7 (age 12-13)

they are not shy to use the proper terms. Around 5% of the kids actually understand what they mean.

The authors are not shy to use the proper terms. Around 5% of the kids actually understand what they mean.

Go on, fill out the exercise! Mind the antecedent!

Go on, fill out the exercise! Mind the antecedent!

Civics, Grade 8 (age 14)

Amercia, the land of opportunity... the ONLY one, and BEST

America, the land of opportunity… “There is more ambition in America than in any other country in the world. That is because every boy and girl has a better chance in America than in any other country in the world.”

Spelling grade 8 (age 14)

I honestly haven't seen most of these words until after highschool. Plus they serve them without any kind of context or hint.

I honestly haven’t seen most of these words until after highschool. Plus they present them without any kind of context or hint.

To sum up, it’s an understatement to say the books are bad. They seem like they aren’t even made for kids! There is nothing on actual writing of coherent texts, no reading exercises connected with the new vocab, no examples. There are barely any illustrations either. The only mark counting on the final grade is a multiple choice test in the end of each unit, or in the case of spelling it is to spell all 20 words of the unit correctly. Many pass the grammar test with 100%, but have not a clue what an action verb is.

So much for the academic side of the school. I will be writing more about student behavior and local teaching culture in my next post.

3. How’s Africa? Are you African yet?
So I’ve been here half a year. I can truly say it’s been a very good decision to come here, and that both professionally as a teacher as well as personally I have learned a lot and now see things from a different angle as well.

Some examples…

  • Colonialism has ended in the 60s, but the phantom continues within people’s mentality. Whites are seen as superior. Even among blacks there is racism against those with a darker skin.
  • There is such a great diversity between the countries and tribes in Africa. By now I can differentiate between some of the tribes, like the Malenke and Baoulé. Abidjan is so different from Accra, and probably other cities have a different feeling as well.
  • Everything is about relationships and being social. Strangers call each other “older brother/sister”, “mama”, “friend”.
  • Kids imitate their peers and elder, in the good and bad ways. In a way a classroom is a miniature of society, reflecting cultures and norms, but without the adult ability of adequacy. They speak out freely what their parents think and do at home. If they get beaten at home, they often beat their schoolmates in class. This is how they think respect works, by physical superiority.
  • Teaching takes your entire self. If you are distracted by other things in your personal life, or overwhelmed by how different things are, or distracted by the heat -  you will fail miserably.
  • Teaching is a FULL TIME JOB, even in my free time, everything focusses on how to improve my teaching and on preparing lessons, revising my policies for classroom behavior, classroom English, and so on. I sometimes don’t even feel I am living in Africa, but I am living at school. I leave the house every day at 6am and come back at 6pm.

I will be staying in Abidjan until the beginning of July, so there’s still much to learn and to see. I will keep you updated :)

Chronicles of a Goat

first meeting

I’ve made a new friend: Panda! But actually, it’s a goat.

When we first met in the backyard at home, he was screaming and baaaahh-ing all the time. I just patted his head, and he immediately calmed down and laid on the ground.

Here he's already relaxing again

Here he’s already relaxing again

I found out the following day that Panda was a gift to Papa Aka, the dad of my homestay family. So for those who don’t know what to get me for my birthday… a goat would be pretty cool!

There he’s out on the front yard munching fresh grass and some hay as well.

There he’s out on the front yard munching fresh grass and some hay as well.

He recognized me!

He recognized me!

and the next day…

*****THE END*****

yummy!

yummy!

To avoid any misunderstanding, I absolutely do not enjoy animal cruelty. Unfortunately it’s not a dimension considered much here in Africa. The killing of a goat requires a specialist who cuts the throat of the animal with one clean cut while it’s still alive. It looks (and sounds) horrible, makes you think twice if you really want to eat delicious goat soup.

One kid told me with a glowing smile, “Goat-meat is the beeeest!!” Probably it’s my cultural setup that taught me not to see a goat as meat, but as a cute animal in a zoo or a farm animal for milk and cheese.

If you’re interested in how they prepare the goats, I recommend watching the documentary “Workingman’s Death” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhpNeG2MlaA

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