Saturday, April 24, 2010

Site Visit & Spelling Bee fun!!

It was the first week of my final trimester as a public school teacher in Madagascar. A lovely feeling. Attendance during the first week of the term has been predictably terrible. I've had attendance rates as low as 33%... It's another one of those mysteries of life here. Often the teachers don't start teaching until the 2nd week of the term. Are so many students truant because they anticipate the teachers to be amiss, or are the teachers AWOL because attendance is sometimes 33%?... mystery status: unsolved.
Some of my more curious students took advantage of the time away from school to find hilariously random English to ask me about. For example: “Tumble dry on low,” “hand wash,” “air dry,” (presumably all found on clothing labels) “know your roots,” “lag behind,” “the odds are low,” “my love is slipping away,” and some interesting vocabulary words: abandon, admonish, arisen (I didn't realize until just now that those are all A words, and the inquires were made by all different students). I love this stuff... explaining “tumble dry on low” to someone who has never seen a washing machine or dryer is somewhat daunting; although “hand wash” and “air dry” are quite easy to explain as there are no other options available.
Speaking of my students and randomness, here's a little ditty: I am currently addicted to having clothes (particularly dresses) tailored. My friend's neighbor is a tailor, and I've been a consistent and loyal customer. I just draw up a little sketch, give her fabric, and she makes it exactly like I want it and exactly measured to fit me. It's amazing and quite cheap. So I'm at her house trying on a recently finished dress and twirling in the mirror to express my delight, and one of my students walks in the room- awkward! Apparently my tailor is his mom. Someone could have mentioned that at some earlier point... haha. I must remember not to childishly twirl in new dresses at her house.
This week was more exciting than your average week because I finally got a site visit! (This is when someone from Peace Corps comes to your site and sees how everything is, helps you with anything, and takes you out to eat... everything is fine, and I don't need help with anything, so really I was just excited to go out to eat and speak English.) The head of the education sector came on Wednesday, and he had some work to do developing new sites in the area. I accompanied him to a proposed health site that's 45k away from Ambanja. Wow, let's get serious here for a moment, if that was my site, and I was being dropped off there for two years, upon seeing it for the first time I would cry at least a solitary tear of joy. It was the kind of place that should have flowery gates and with butterflies released upon passing through while someone throws flower petals before you as you walk to the serene sounds of a trio of harps. The name of the town translates to “on the long beach” which was no exaggeration... white sand, palm trees, clear blue water, mountainous islands in the distance, this is the stuff dreams are made on. Not only that, but the village itself was a good size, and everyone we met was incredibly nice, and no one stared at me. We ate lunch at the beach-side hotel. There's something so eternally satisfying about eating a fish that you pick off a boat as it comes ashore to deliver its spoils from a morning at sea. The fish was grilled whole with citrus marinade. Usually everyone fries fish here, but I requested grilled. It's funny how much it still looks alive when it's grilled as opposed to when it's fried. The eyes were still whole and glossy. I'm fully sufficient in eating whole fish now. The entire time we were there, there was a group of kids playing soccer in the surf of the low tide as happy as could be. The air smelled of salt brought in from the cool breeze off the water. It's a Peace Corps Volunteers dream.
Once we returned to Ambanja (I still love the place, but was feeling a bit raw about it after cheating on it with this other magical village), we had steak, french fries and ice cream for dinner. I bet that dumb beachy site doesn't have ice cream... points for Ambanja.

Plans are coming together for the Spelling Bee that I'm planning at the high school. I know, I know, Dorothy throwing a Spelling Bee, hahaha, etc. Anyways, I wanted to give my advanced students an opportunity to have fun and compete for Englishy prizes in a way that could be appealing for spectators, thus the idea for a Spelling Bee presented itself. I know what you're thinking if you're an RPCV... first, a Spelling Bee? That's going to be a horrible mess and crash and burn in the most horrible way that you can't even foresee, and second, that's not sustainable at all & what's the point? Ok, I give you that the first is certainly a concern, but allow me to persuade you on the second... I agree, it's not particularly sustainable, but it allows the students to do something active with their English skills and will hopefully generate interest in English. In between rounds there will be musical performances (I'm pushing for some skits, but everyone just wants to sing. So, if they want to sing, I say let them sing). There will be PCV and Malagasy judges, I will MC and announce, any student at the high school will be given an opportunity to participate, and everyone is welcome to watch. I hope to get some parents in the audience. My principal has been more than supportive and wants teachers to be able to compete too! I'm still thinking that one over. The biggest departure from a traditional Spelling Bee is that the students will write the word instead of spelling it out loud (their accents will interfere too much and it is their 3rd language after all) and I will implement a time limit for their response. The prizes will be dictionaries, English grammar workbooks, school supplies, and for the top 3 winners, a pizza party with me, haha! Anyways, the point of me explaining all of this is to get some fresh input (particularly from RPCVs). What do you think of this idea? Any ideas of how to make it better? I welcome any input on the matter.

All right folks, that's all for this week.


Anonymous said...

They do some crazy spelling bees here to raise funds for the schools. There are teams, and they have balloons at their tables. When they miss a word, the "Killer Bee" comes and pops one of the balloons. When they're all gone, you're out of the game. The teams have costumes and the referees are "Beekeepers." I've served as a referee, worn the hat with the veil an ascertained spelling. It was a hoot. Dunno if that's helpful, hope it's amusing.

Kristin said...

hi! my husband and i are currently PCVs in Swaziland. we are COSing May29th and will be in Madagascar for travel June 2-29th! we will be visiting Morondava, down to Tolaria, and to Ile St Marie...and all in between. we'd appreciate any tips for where to stay, what's great, etc. Please contact me at if you get a chance. thank you so so much!!!