I Still Go To School

on teaching, learning, travelling


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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…

 


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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.

 


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“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…


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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?


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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 🙂


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Chronicles of a Goat

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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6 Things that will happen to you when you visit Africa

I am aware that some of these are stereotypes, but also they have been reported to me by a few other people who had been to Africa as well.

1. You will be proposed to

Be ready for proposals! (pic from http://c.tadst.com/gfx/600×400/marriage-proposal.jpg?)

No matter if you’re a girl or boy, some people will want to marry you, and they will be very open about it. I was just buying a simple pencil when the cashier put down a paper and told me straight to give her my number so she can find a lady for me. I declined, but still got the pencil for free. Second instance, I went out to eat at a restaurant (table with umbrella and gas-fire) with some colleagues. My friend translates that the cook has an eye on me. When I ask him to give her my regards and tell her I don’t have much money, she replies that it wouldn’t matter, because I had white skin.
Best way to escape is to say you’re too young to marry and run away. 😉

2. Your transport will be wrecked or scratched or break down

public transport is a timebomb. here people are waiting for a new Baka (bus)

public transport is a timebomb. here people are waiting for a new Baka (bus)

Taking public transport is a roller coaster ride. Meaning it’s scary, but you will get used to it. Only difference is that roller coasters are safe.

Not a day has passed where I haven’t been nervous when taking transport and I have not been disappointed in that fear so far. Many rides you take have this eerie contrast of chill reagge music interrupted only by shouts and curses directed at other drivers by the chauffeur, paired up with his dismal driving skills and genuine disrespect for traffic rules (traffic wardens are easily bribed). On top of that, the roads are often in need of repair, the bumpholes are numerous and deep enough to break the rusty axle of your bus or at least burst your tire.

Once there is a problem, the driver will tell everyone to wait, the problem will be solved in 10 minutes. This is your hint to hand him the fare and make for a different transport. I stayed once, when our school bus broke down. The driver called his friend. That one failed at analyzing the problem; therefor, he called his other friend. 90 minutes later there were 4 mechanics, and no solution. He admitted that it might be ok if I took a taxi home then.

3. You will celebrate Christmas with drums and dances

We had our school’s Christmas party on Friday! That meant lots of food, ice-cream, dance and presents for the kids. We also played secret santa, only that the santas were not secret. Yeah it was a bit strange. And it’s funny when the kids had picked a person they didn’t like and struggle so much with buying something for that person. But finally, after some threats by other teachers, they comply.

It’s a Christmas Dance! Here you can see the elementary school kids and some of my kids dancing and drumming.

The Kindergarten group dressed up as Joseph and Mary (sitting), angels, three wise men and the shepherds.

Two students (from India) singing their hearts out!

Black Santa with the happy kids after gift giving. Sadly that’s where my camera ran out of battery.

Black Santa and happy kids singing Christmas charols

Black Santa and happy kids singing Christmas carols

It was strange to see Christmas celebrated in a tropical country, but with central European traditions (and the CocaCola Santa Claus). The big malls have their Christmas lights out, and plastic Christmas trees are sold there. Why on earth would Santa wear a wooly costume if he delivered presents in Africa? And what does that have to do with the meaning of Christmas anyways… well that’s an entirely different story. I don’t think Africa has to develop it’s own style of celebrating Christmas, but merely copying Europe will not blend. It was cool to see a bit of a mix with the drums.

I am happy I could make it to the celebration and say bye to the kids and wish them happy holidays. I almost didn’t  make it to the party, because…

4. You will catch Malaria

yummy! The middle box is the ripoff, on the left is what I actually wanted. On the right is the acute treatment

yummy! The middle box is the ripoff, on the left is what I actually wanted. On the right is the acute treatment

The entire duration of my stay in Cote d’Ivoire (14 weeks) I never took medication of any kind, including Malaria prevention, and was not sick a single day. As it had to be, I started feeling a bit funny on Thursday. Already in the morning I had a terrible headache. It got worse at school, and round noon I had to cancel and get back home. I was sweating more than usual, so I laid down. I really wanted to go to the Christmas party the day after, so I thought I’d better focus on getting well again.

Thing is, if you are feverish and have a headache, alarm bells are ringing. As I am not so familiar with the disease, I believed what people told me to do. So I went to the pharmacy on Thursday and said I wanted some maloxine. They decided to give me Mephaquin instead, which is the sevenfold price. I’ve been ripped off by a pharmary-nurse. Anyways, fool me once, shame on me. Mephaquin, 4 pills, 5000 CFA. Maloxine, 3 pills, 600 CFA. Coartem 24 pills, 5000 CFA. And then the smear-test: a blood sample is put onto an indicator paper, showing if your blood carries Malaria parasites (plasmodium falciparum). My test was p. falciparum negative. I ask the guy if it’s completely accurate. He says yes, 100%. So I went to the Christmas party, yay! On the party, people I talk to tell me it’s possible that the test was invalid. Checking online later, I see 3 tests are recommended. Why, pharmacy, why do I trust you? I get sweaty and drowsy, go to bed after taking dinner with three Mephaquin pills (“mefloquine is associated with adverse neuropsychiatric outcomes.“).

I could barely sleep that night, mainly because of the effects of the drugs. Serves me right for not reading everything about tropical diseases before going there. Not all side-effects kicked in, but sleeplessness, fever and headache did. The medication package says “It might be difficult to discern between the symptoms of Malaria and the side-effects of Mephaquin”.

I woke up in the morning at 4, feeling quite fine. But as I got up, I started sweating like crazy, my nose starts running and I felt really weak. I laid down, immediately the symptoms vanished again. On/Off – On/Off. (I actually tried it out three times).

Ouatta and I at the airport! Must be the cleanest place in the whole country, it was surreal!

Ouatta and I at the airport! Must be the cleanest place in the whole country, it was surreal!

I had to head out in the end to catch my flight, so I packed, took a shower, said bye to my amazing host family (shame I don’t have a picture with them! will take one upon return) and took a taxi to the airport for 2000 CFA. We pick up Ouatta on the road. As we arrive, the driver wants 5000 CFA, we give him 3000 and leave.

While I was travelling, I felt weak, but I didn’t sweat; neither did I feel feverish, nor did I have a headache anymore. So I am not sure if I actually had developed Malaria or not. It will remain a mystery…

5. You will experience a culture shock when returning back to your country

Looks like a picture from Mars, but it's actually the desert as seen from the airplane

Looks like a picture from Mars, but it’s actually the desert as seen from the airplane

My journey went smoothly.

most peaceful place on earth: above the clouds

most peaceful place “on” earth: above the clouds

I enjoy flying a lot, it more than literally lifts me up and gives me the time and perspective to reflect. What’s remarkable is that only a few hours flight separate Abidjan from Paris. It’s remarkable in the way that you are 12000 feet above ground in a metal bird, watching a movie, while the most hostile of environments, the Sahara desert, passes underneath you. And while I was looking into the distance, I even detected streets! In the middle of nowhere, there were some villages.

People are amazing!

The desert is huge. It takes ages to cross, even by airplane. I was looking down and saw nothing but sand and rock. The Sahara Desert – the biggest sandbox on earth – actually is inhabited.

Such were my thoughts while the stewardess handed me ice-cream on the airplane, kilometers above ground, listening to Mahler.

Arriving in Vienna, I realise all the differences to Abidjan. When I arrived in Africa at the beginning of September, I was ready for it, there was no shock or anything overwhelming, because I was simply mentally prepared for it. But I was not ready for Vienna. Everything seemed so quiet, gray, dark, and cold – in comparison to Cote d’Ivoire. I felt like a stranger in a foreign country. Fortunately I was picked up by my dad and my sister 🙂 I arrived at my home village, Gaflenz, at round 2 AM.

I took the next two days to reflect. Africa was real. I had stayed there for 14 weeks straight, living, working, enjoying, learning, and getting to know the culture and its people. What seemed surrreal to me was being back in Austria. At least there is only little snow here. So while it’s snowing in Africa (Egypt) and the middle east, here it’s sunny and relatively warm. How strange is that?

Not only the contrast of climate, nature and people hit me, but also how a few hour’s journey away, 40% of the population are in absolute poverty. These places may seem distant when we watch them on TV, but we are basically neighbours.

6. You will go skiing with your dad

At the Forsteralm, skiing with my dad.

At the Forsteralm, skiing with my dad.

To enhance the quality of your culture shock, it’s advisable to engage in national cultural activities, such as Skiing. 🙂

Right after skiing I had our national (soft-)drink, Almdudler, and Wiener Schnitzel with potato-salad. Metamorphosis complete? Not quite…

During my time in Africa, I tried to immerse myself in the prevalent culture. If in Rome, do as the Romans; if in Africa, do as the Africans. But as we know there is a big difference between “do as” and “be as”. I saw that I can never “be African”, whatever that may mean. I can adapt traits, habits, morals, but I cannot say I have been able to fully adapt. What I can do is learn to love the country and it’s people, and for that, I do not have to “be African”, yay!

a good place to reflect is nature

Hiking in the woods of Gaflenz!

I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year! When I arrived at Paris, the travellers were welcomed by a choir singing Christmas carols. People from everywhere in the world, coming and leaving, stopped to listen and enjoy. I hope this song can give you a bit of a Christmas feeling.