Friday, February 28, 2014

Childhood books

You have a lot of time to think here, and as a result I probably over think everything now, but something that's been on my mind lately is just why am I rereading a bunch of books from my childhood when I have thousands of new ones to read?

I've reread the Chronicles of Prydian by Lloyd Alexander, as well as the Artemis Fowl books by Eoin Colfer. I've been craving to get my hands on copies of Tamora Pieces's Tortall books, Farley's Black Stallion novels, as well as the Dark is Rising series. Recently I got copies of Diane Duane's Young Wizard Series and am in the process of reading Harry Potter for, oh maybe the fourth time (total, not since I've been here!) and am delighting in reading a book and then watching the movie with Dani.

She is totally a Ron Weasley fan, because of the faces he made in the second movie. And while Dani doesn't always understand what's going one (something that's making realize that despite how many movie lines were taken from the books, the books do a lot better as explaining things, and setting them up so you have less surprises) I'm please to say she demands I pause a movie when she has to do something instead of letting it play like she will with other flicks.

But still, why in the world am I revisiting all these childhood worlds?

I wonder if it's cuz I miss home, still, even after having been here pushing 20 months and thinking about how weird sleeping in my childhood room will be when I go home. Back to the States. What did that historical romance about immigrants I just read say – we come expecting to go home, but then here becomes home. It's very similar here. I have friends and family here and as frustrated as three day power outages are, I know I will miss Huruta dearly. It has become as much a home to me as Wellington where I spent a semester. Though, I would much rather move there to live than return to Huruta. It's a rough, though lovable life.

These books though, they're familiar. Maybe that's why I return to them, because as homey as my compound is, I do live in Africa and that's very different than Michigan.

Or maybe because all these books and series, all fantasy (aside from Farley's works), are things that aren't found here. People don't know of dragons or magic or faeries. I know of people who saw an ad for Pixar's Cars and thought that cars actually talked in America.

Pretend, make believe, imagination, creativity are rare here. I asked students to create characters, and a third of the class simply filled out the profile format with their own demographics and self-portrait. There is no magic here, people don't dream or set goals. I love Duane's works because in it words control the world. In Rowling's series, you can see the effect of the individual. Pierce's characters are women fighting against stereotypes, Alexander writes about growing up and shedding childhood selfishness, Cooper about standing up to evil and temptation. Themes that all hard to find here. Maybe I'm seeking out what I miss in these old childhood friends, and turning to them instead of new books because I know they're reliable.

Then again, I'm probably just over thinking again.

Friday, February 21, 2014

English Club

Last semester, for various reasons, despite wanting to have my student English club every week it was only every other.  This semester, I really want to have it every week, but I had no idea it would be such a hassle.

First off, when I arrived at school 90 min before club on Wednesday, I realized there was a student meeting to address student behavior. Kay, no big deal. I just had to find the teacher with the key to the chemistry lab that I use for club.  Only, he wasn't with the Amharic students. Or the Oromic students. Or in the staff room. Or the tea house.

Right, I'll use a different classroom. Or rather, a different room because the conference hall is the only spare space in the school.  Except, yes, there was a district staff meeting going on in there. No can do.

What followed was a search through the school compound for a spare blackboard that I could prop up somewhere so I could teach outside. Failing to find that, I went looking for an exterior wall that I could write on with chalk.

When the student meeting ended, I was standing in the small garden around the staff building wondering what to do.  I sorta hoped that students wouldn't come, but nope, here were two of them on the other side of the fence asking 'where will we be?'. They had no doubt seen me pull uselessly at the chem lab lock and crisscross the grounds several times lugging my supplies.

I made an executive decision and pointed at three blue painted cement blocks in the teacher's garden. “Come sit here.” And so I proceeded to pull out my speaker and other supplies and used a piece of A4 paper with a folder as a brace for a blackboard. It is really hard to write on your own chest.

I have to give my students lots of credit for coming to club. We obviously were in an unusual setting, and had also gotten started late due to the meeting.  And yet, they threw themselves into my story lesson on characters.  Picking them out from books and then creating their own, they all stayed an extra half-hour to work despite noon and lunch being two hours past.

While I am here to improve the country's English skills, it's not a goal my personal thoughts have aligned with. Many people in Huruta will never see another foreigner, or if they do will never have a conversation beyond “Hi! What is your name?” There are more important things to teach them than the English language.

But apparently, I can do that through English.  I can inspire a desire to go above and beyond an assignment.  My club students are learning to enjoy lessons. They are also learning creativity and critical reasoning, something this country is solely lacking. These are cross-subject skills, what I have wanted to inspire in students for ages.  It's nice to see my frantic thoughts of trying to make things work here have benefits.