Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Give and take

The past few days have been quite eventful all in all. On Sunday evening when a few people, including the project leaders had left to go and watch the football at a local bar, we discovered that they hadn’t thought to buy milk for that evening or the next day. We reasoned that with it being a Sunday, most of the shops in town would be closed, and so Annette wanted to go next door to see if we could buy any from them. So basically, her, Lisa and I went around about three houses, asking for milk, and I think they thought we were crazy. I don’t think borrowing a cup of milk off a neighbour is the done thing in Zambia. Eventually we knocked on a door which happened to be the house of the local pastor, and his wife sent us out with a man from that house, to go and buy milk from the market. This man was apparently a community police man, and spoke very good English. He said the market wasn’t far, but we ended up walking for ages. We did however manage to get some milk, and on the way back he tried to rope us in to going to their church, and attending a bible study class at the Pastor’s house. I hurridly, but gracefully declined both offers. Then for some reason when we got back and I spoke to DL on the phone, I got extremely emotional and a bit tearful, and it kind of hit me that I was in Africa, with three weeks to go before we saw each other again. I went to bed straight after we spoke though, and felt much better the next day.

Monday was the first day spent working at Dambwa basic school, and I learned a lot that day. The way the education system works over here, is that parents pay for their children to go to school, and the system operates on different levels of education, depending on how wealthy the parents are. So, Dambwa basic school is as the word implies. The children that go there are receiving the basic level of education, because their parents can only just about afford to pay for them to go to school. Those that can’t pay simply don’t receive an education, like most of the orphans for example. Some of our volunteers are also working at a voluntary school, where basically people volunteer to teach the kids that can’t afford an education whatever they can, and apparently the teaching there is even worse than at Dambwa. Corperal punishment is still in practice here also, and if the parents don’t pay the school fees on time, the children get beaten. Thankfully I haven’t seen a child be punished yet, although some of the others have. On Monday morning I was put in to a special needs class, and here they class everything from dyslexia, visual impairment, a little mental slowness, behavioural problems, to those who have a complete inability to learn as being special needs. Apparently the teachers go around the villages picking out those they think have special needs, and take them to the hospital to get it confirmed, goodness knows how. These kids are then put in to this special needs class, and are all taught together. I saw kids with varied abilities, and also a varied age range, the youngest being 8, the oldest a grown man, all in the same class. To be honest I found it extremely difficult working in there, because hardly any of them spoke English, and I had great difficulty in communicating with them properly. So in the afternoon we all paired up, and Cat and I went in to a class which had science and then an English lesson, which was great. I again got adopted by a little girl, whose spoken english was very good, but whose writing was poor, so I helped with her spelling an dtried to get her to stop fixating on my hair. She kept touching my face and saying, “Such a beautiful girl,” which was amusing. Then yesterday I was paired up with Kate, who I am getting to be really good friends with, and we had to actually take a class of 50 kids, without text books or anything. The way it works in the schools is that the teachers, if they bother to turn up at all, set the work for the kids, and then go out of the class room, sometimes for hours on end, leaving them to it. So if the kids don’t understand what they’re supposed to be doing, which is most of the time, they can’t do the work, and are more than likely punished for that. Some teachers also can’t spell properly, and in one maths lesson the teacher got 3 out of 5 fractions they were doing wrong herself, and so the kids got totally confused. It’s just crazy. So the class we ended up teaching had no teacher, and were just sitting doing nothing, and we did times tables and fractions with them for a couple of hours. The sad thing is that they are desperate to learn, but there is no structure, nor consistency with their education. So naturally they love it when we come to the school, because we try to be as proactive as possible and actually take an interest in what they are doing, which is more than most of the teachers do.

Last night we went to the house warming party of some other volunteers, and then afterwards went on to Hippo’s. We were having a fantastic night, Lisa and Jen went home so it was just me and Kate from our house, with loads of others from the house party. Kate is from Bradford, she is 25 and a teacher, and she’s lovely. We had quite a lot to drink, and Kate and I established that we had more in common than we thought. By this I mean that we don’t like going to bed at nine every evening, which is what the rest of the house seems to do, and we would actually like to socialise a bit more. Kate shares a room with Lisa and Jen, and I share with Annette, and we tried to work out a plan to get Annette to swap with Kate, so that we could share a room. It makes sense because we have to get up earlier than the others to go to the school, and if we come in late we disturb our room mates. Not sure if it’ll actually happen or not though, because how do you say to some one, “I would rather share with some one else?” We also had a great time in trying to establish if the guy she likes is gay, and if not whether or not he is interested in her. Anyway, here comes the awful part.

We left Hippo’s at around twelve, and were walking up the road to get a taxi with Dave, who also lives in our house. He walked a little in front to try and flag a taxi, and Kate and I were walking together. For some reason, something made me turn around, and although it was dark and quiet, I knew some one was there, right behind Kate. I was about to open my mouth to tell her, when a man jumped her, knocked her to the ground and stole her bag. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared in my life. When she hit the floor and screamed, I ran forward in the dark yelling for Dave, and it seemed to me like an eternity before he reacted and turned around, although it could only have been seconds. At this point the man was running away, and Dave had to virtually drag me over to Kate, and told us to stay together, and ran after the guy. I panicked completely because I didn’t know what he wanted, and I suppose my immediate thought was that he might have attacked us in an attempt to hurt or rape, and I didn’t want Dave to go after him in case he wasn’t alone. When I got to Kate however she said he’d stolen her bag, and we just crouched together at the side of the road in silent fear, waiting for Dave to come back. I don’t think I’ve ever been so frightened or felt so vulnerable in my entire life. Anyway, Dave did come back, with more volunteers from the bar, and they sat with us until Greg came to pick us up. We both cried all the way home, and some more afterwards, and went and sat in the garden with cups of tea and tried to get over the shock of it. Kate is gutted that her camera was in the bag, so all her photos have gone, and when she went to the police station this morning there was little they could do. The main thing is that neither of us were harmed, just very shaken, and we’ve spent time talking about it this morning which I think has helped us both, and we’re definitely not going to let it stop us from enjoying the rest of our time here. Saying that, this afternoon I was at the orphanage, and just really didn’t want the kids all over me like they are, and to be honest I didn’t really make much of an effort to play games etc. I also received a lecture from the teenagers about why I should become a Christian and believe in God, and when I refused their offer of going to church on Sunday, they spoke in Nanja and all the younger ones went away, so I think they’re boycotting the muzungu devil woman. Oh well, right now I’m past caring. This is the most home sick I’ve felt all the time I’ve been here, and the thought of having to do it all again tomorrow just depresses me. I’m going to have dinner and then curl up with a book before bed and feel sorry for myself, and eat chocolate if they bring some back from the shop. Good plan!

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