What a way to make a living!

Trip Start Sep 14, 2012
Trip End Aug 16, 2013

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Flag of Senegal  , La Petite Côte,
Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I began my last entry by telling you that life in Joal had neither been hectic nor busy, and that it probably never would be. A month later and I've got lesson plans, to do lists and textbooks coming out of my ears! You all know that I love having a full timetable - right now I don’t think I could be any happier. I think back to 3 months ago; my life has been completely transformed.

The students at both CEM Lamine Senghor (Secondary School) and the Lycee (sixth form) decided they probably should start turning up to their classes and gradually lessons began. I am now the proud teacher of 3 classes at the CEM, one year 7 (beginners’) English, one year 9 English and one year 9 (beginners’) German. The lessons have been going swimmingly; my English beginners can chant the alphabet, tell you all about themselves and even sing the days of the week to the tune of the Eastenders’ themetune! They are so eager to learn English that my classroom becomes a jungle whenever we play a game of hangman! The year 9 English is a struggle as the students haven’t been taught too well previously and lack essential vocab but we’re working on it! As for the German beginners – those classes are a mental workout for me, never mind the kids! I teach German through French immediately after teaching English through French, as well as talking Wolof with the teachers at the break! It’s a linguists dream! I have taught the alphabet in 3 languages this week! At the Lycee I am currently assisting a year 12 class of around 60 students (most of whom are older than me) but am soon to be taking over! On top of this, I have taken on a year 8 English class at a local private school.
Classes last for two hours so are quite tiring, especially because a lack of resources means 'you are your biggest resource’. I spend the time trying to be the most enthusiastic, I LOVE ENGLISH, English teacher that these kids have seen! The resources we do have: a piece of slate painted black, chalk and a piece of sponge. It has been a challenge learning to write on these boards! We do have textbooks but they are, in my opinion, flawed, so I’ve been avoiding them. One brilliant thing about both Lycee and CEM is the staff. The other teachers have been so welcoming and are so eager for us to get involved – they feel like family now! One teacher has a ritual of shaking my hand, then taking my hand and headbutting it. In return I have to headbutt his hand! The teachers wanted to incorporate us so much that we were invited to their staff meetings and as a result were forced to endure two 4 hour slogs in one week! Very different to meetings in the UK, there was a moment of prayer to open and no solutions were found to the issues raised, including ‘there is no water in the school, and it really is unreasonably to work with a cow outside of your window’.

As well as classes, Amee and I run an English club and an Art club at Aicha’s (our host mum) primary school. Before our lessons began I assisted in one class there: one teacher, 200 students and all of them trying to learn how to write their ABCs. The students were crammed in 4 to a desk and it took half an hour just to take the register! Due to the incredible number of students, the teacher felt it necessary to use the cane – one of the hardest things to witness since I’ve been here and eye-opening of the Senegalese school system. On a lighter note, we are also running FAS JOM classes - education for girls who can’t read, write or speak French. These are so rewarding, as you watch a girl’s face light up when she has written a full line of ‘A’s or can successfully spell her own name. We are planning on running English and German clubs at the CEM and Lycee too, though I’m not entirely sure when they are going to fit in!

Outside of the classroom, Amee and I have been attending church choir practice 3 nights a week where we have sung in French, Wolof, Spanish, Latin and Serer! We sing at Saturday evening services and this weekend past I sang and Amee accompanied the choir at the Tamharite festival (Islamic New Year). I really want to get involved with the drumming at the choir – watch this space! Boy have I missed playing! Church itself is brilliant. It is very different to Ashwood church, my church in Kirkby, very traditional and catholic, but I can’t verbalise how lovely it to be in community with other Christians, to listen to the music and sermons (albeit in French & Wolof!) and feel a complete sense of peace and belonging. I’ve almost nailed the Lord’s Prayer in French too! Religion is such a quintessential part of life here – everybody is religious, either Christian or Muslim, and this influences what you wear, what you eat, IF you eat, how many wives you have. I have already had some interesting discussions about Religion – chiefly with Muslim men, about polygamy, gay marriage and Jesus. One asked ‘would you take one million dollars, or two?’ i.e. comparing one wife to one million dollars!

Amee and I also braved the local basketball club last week. Now I’m not the sportiest, but basketball is probably one of my favourites alongside rock climbing and winding up Amee with my Midlands accent. How perfect that there’s a club here and it just happens to fall on my free days!!! It was a little awkward at first – tackling a girl double my height who also turns out to be one of my students. However we are enjoying it immensely and are really looking forward to getting our own basketball kits – bright yellow? Oh yes they are!

On a further note, it seems that I will be coming home a domestic goddess! I have learnt to wash my clothes Senegalese style, to wash the dishes Senegalese style, to mop the floor Senegalese style (try wiping the floor with a cloth, WITHOUT bending your knees) and my Senegalese dishes now include: chips and popcorn! I did cook with Aicha yesterday, lentils and beef (made a nice different to fish, rice and leftover Tabaski ram!) and Amee and I nailed cake for Marieme’s birthday! We have been told that Sunday night is our cooking night – last week was a brilliant success (despite a malfunctioning oven) with the family gobbling up baguette pizza and my speciality, potato wedges!

Despite what I hear about the weather in the UK, I am going to take a moment to moan about how it’s getting cold here! Every morning I have to mentally prepare myself for my cold bucket shower and I have even braved my jeans a few times! Our fan stopped working in October so it’s probably a good job it’s colder – otherwise the nights would be unbearable. One night was spent rather sleeplessly however due to a rogue cricket getting into our room. If you have trouble getting up in the morning, invest in a cricket – the best alarm clock in the world! It literally made the loudest sound possible. The next night as it started to stretch its feelers, I tracked it down to a crack in the door and raged war on it with insecticide ‘ATTACK’ – there was no cricketing done that night!

Since taking my braids out, male attention has definitely increased. This isn’t a statement that I would like to be making, because male attention consists of ‘toubab, gazelle, are you married?’ ‘yes’ ‘well I love you and want to marry you’ ‘but I’m married’ ‘but I want to marry you’ and so on. Sometimes I even get tested on my *husband’s* name and where he is... Sometimes I think it would be easier to tell the truth! One guy was pestering me as I was walking home, I told him my name was Katti Wone and that I live in Caritas just to shut him up from asking then made my excuses and continued on my way! That night when I was out of the house, this same guy came to Caritas and walked through the whole estate asking where Katti Wone lived! I wasn’t in so he left his phone number with Aicha, who found the whole situation absolutely hilarious…  Fortunately he seems to have taken my silence as a hint and hasn’t visited since!

Amee and I have been enjoying breaking free from the evening lesson planning to walk and buy HUGE watermelons from the HUGE watermelon mountains. Can you tell its watermelon season? Our freedom is often celebrated with Amee singing Oliver! to me and us refusing a second dinner from the watermelon seller. The guy used to sell us bad ones so now we get him to cut out a chunk and make sure it’s good before we buy – so one night we were walking back with a huge watermelon, it’s cut-out chunk safely returned to its chunk shaped hole. From behind us, a HUGE guy (bigger than the pile of watermelons) took the watermelon, took my hand and walked hand in hand with me, watermelon under his other arm. I had no idea what was going on but tried to make small talk with this anything-but-small man; he soon lost interest in my not-quite-big-enough conversation and left on his way home, only we found that the chunk of the watermelon was missing! We spent a while retracing our steps only to find the crushed remains of a good juicy chunk of watermelon.

This past weekend we travelled to Dakar for an art exposition set up by the Peace Corps and stayed with Amar, Aicha’s brother. We took our first Dakaroise bus – an hour long and a little scary but 2000CFA cheaper than a taxi! The girl collecting money had one office job and a half sat in her little metal cage! I thoroughly enjoyed some proper pizza at ‘Sao Brasil’ restaurant and (eek!) Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough ice cream.  The exposition itself was held at the ‘International School of Dakar’, where there was a pool and large sports field – a far cry from the deteriorating classrooms of the CEM Lamine Senghor! However we were warmly welcomed by the Peace Corps and stall holders alike and spent some down-time perusing the traditional Senegalese goods. All of the products were made locally and we enjoyed chatting to the vendors about how they had made it. There was beautifully crafted jewellery, batiks, wooden ornaments, funky materials and a range of jams. Something possessed me to buy a crazy hoody (see picture) which is already giving Amee a headache!

In Dakar I also managed to pick up an advent calendar – it was funny to see Christmas items on sale (in the Sea Plaza Supermarket) because in Joal there is no sign of Christmas at all! It’s hard to imagine the hustle and bustle of the season at home, one that I love so much, because there are no sparkly lights, Christmas trees, carols, mince pies or tinsel! When we got home we were greeted with mounds of couscous for the Tamharite festival. We first ate couscous with meat and vegetables in sauce, then ate couscous with milk (tasted a bit like cereal!). After that I was dragged – literally! – by one of the neighbours outside. There, lots of the children from Caritas were… well, cross-dressed! The girls were dressed as Muslim men, complete with beard, boubou and hat! Some of the boys were wearing dresses, and all of the children were covered in white chalk. We went around singing, banging pots and dancing in the streets and in people’s houses (to gain rice and money!)  – Senegal’s version of trick or treating! It was bizarre! The next day was the Tamharite church service, open air church where we sang and took communion together, as well as praying for the Christian organisations in the community of Joal. After the service we did some more crazy dancing, although I think my dancing was more flailing and failing!

We have a very full December planned, on top of lessons and clubs there’s Amee’s birthday, a trip to Saint Louis for the ‘English Teachers of Senegal’ conference, a trip to Dakar for the British Embassy’s Carol Service (where Amee is accompanying!) and a wedding. We are then making the most of our Christmas holidays by spending some time in the Gambia with all the Senegal vols and then celebrating New Year at the Abene percussion festival with Amee’s sister. Am I excited? YES!! Bring it on!

That’s all for now, lessons to plan! Over & out xxxxxxx
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Corrin on

Love reading this and it is made so easy by how it flows so well! Glad you're enjoying it!! xx

John Pearce on

Great to see how your year is progressing! Well done, keep it up and all; the best is all I can add. It is deep snow here and not very pleasant at all.

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