Friday, June 25, 2010

Beating Algeria

Huzzah! I got a picture to load! This is me with my favorite class, as mentioned in the previous post. I'm going to miss the tabataba loatra little bastards.

I've had a great time watching the World Cup here. There are always people to watch the games with, and it makes for easy conversation. My Malagasy sports commentary skills are improving daily. I don't know if you guys get the same commericals as me, but I love the "say no to racism" commerical! And the "Let's go Africa" one.

On Wednesday, all of the students at the high school took their English exams. The exam time was scheduled too close to the USA game for comfort. I told the room I was proctoring that they needed to hurry because I wanted to watch the game. Only 3 of them laughed, and all three of them got a 100% on their tests (not because they laughed, but because they're smart, and they actually listen when I talk).
Anyways, the game. What a great game! I don't profess to know squat about sports, but I know those guys were playing their hearts out. USA kept getting the ball down to the goal and just barely missing. Algeria could barely get the ball down to their goal, but their keeper was keeping the game tied 0-0. The game was so tense and the players were playing as hard as they could (much better than against England). It was still 0-0 when they gave the game 4 additional minutes. In the last two minutes, Donovan got in there and won us the game. I jumped up and verbally expressed my approval of Donovan's command of the game of football, and everyone laughed at me. The American team exploded with the air of victory.
Earlier that same day, a rat was making its way down from the ceiling (normally they stay up in the ceiling, and I bear no grudge against them besides their incessant noise making, but once they figure out how to descend, we have issues) in the broad daylight as I was sitting there reading. Idiot. I told it what I thought of it when I chased it back up. So, I had a pretty good feeling there would be a rat waiting for me when I returned home from watching the game. I opened the door and saw all of the evidence of amateur rat exploration (knocked over things, things pushed around) and then spotted it across the room, chewing on a picture. I grabbed my big stick (which I keep around for just such encounters) and made to chase it up to the ceiling. The dumb thing didn't know what to do or where to go, and it took off across the room. I big stick in hand, and USA victory in my heart, took a valiant strike at the vermin, and clocked the little bastard on the first hit. I was so surprised that I actually made contact, but not only did I make contact, but I demobilized it enough to inflict another, this time fatal, blow. I ran over to my neighbors house to tell them that I killed a rat with my stick. They were less impressed with me than I was with myself. Really, I am a BAMF, and killing rats with sticks is just how I roll. There was more than one American victory on Wednesday. I posthumously named the rat Algeria.

This Saturday is Madagascar's independence day, so there will be lots of partying to be done. Things will be... why can I not think of the word in English, only in French and Malagasy... good work, English teacher...

Saturday, June 19, 2010


Ah the last week of school. It was... well...... On Thursday I had my last session with my worst class. They're uncontrollable, and I usually kick out a student every class (yes, I realize that this is a futile effort as it has not resulted in any long term change in behavior, but it makes me feel better, and sometimes I just can't look at them anymore). They were in a particularly rancid form (or as Beth would put it “more like monsters than human”) for their last class. I was reviewing for their final, and felt like a broken record of my former and all teachers before them as I said “You know, I'm not doing this for my health. I already know this; I'm just trying to help you.” I told them that if they didn't want to review they were free to go, but no one accepted my invitation and all remained, perhaps in an epic final game of Lets Try To Make the Teacher Cry. I'm not going to pretend I've never participated in such a game (Mr Tra.... whatever his name was... he only lasted 4 months at Stivers... and he and his little bell had it coming). My afternoon class was with my favorite section, and they were a joy as always. I don't know how two classes of students can be in basically the same room and with the same amount of students and in practice be so completely different. They aren't exactly quiet, but they make a lot of noise talking to each other in English (I heard a rousing argument over whether or not you can say “I Amn't” or “I'mn't”) and asking me questions. We had already completed all of my review tasks since they're always on the ball and listen to me the first time, so we did tongue twisters. It was a rumbustious task and very fun. I was trying to end class, when they started asking me a bunch of questions, like if I can stay and teach them next year, if I was going to come back to Ambanja to visit, if they could come home to America with me... I told them that the only ones who could come home with me are the twins (they both have earned a perfect 100% for all three trimesters), but that I would only take one, and they had to decide which. Then, as I said “Goodbye!” to dismiss them as usual, they stood up and serenaded me (spontaneously?) with “Hello, Goodbye” by the Beatles. If I had a heart, I might have shed a tear.
I also had my last English club this week. I showed them pictures of little Alex, who they declared to be the “strongest” baby they've ever seen, and asked when he would be visiting me in Madagascar. I will miss English club.
I love spending the World Cup in a country that cares about the World Cup. All three games are broadcast everyday on the one national channel. It beefs up my small talk to have a sporting event to recall. I've been watching a lot of the games at my friend's house. I'm cheering for Nigeria (which hasn't been easy). It seems like most people here are rooting for France or whatever African team is playing. If anyone needs a Brazil “RONALD 9” jersey for 2 dollars, I've got you covered.
My future here in Madagascar is still uncertain (i.e. I don't know where I will be living a month from now, or what they next months have in store for me) but I'm really good at going with the flow at this point, and not knowing barely even bothers me anymore. (but it would be nice to know...)

Oh yeah, and thanks to everyone who texted me with the news of touchdown jesus... Im glad that giant jesus statues burning the ground made so many of you at home think of me :) I got more texts about it than I got happy birthday texts! haha!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

random and not so random things

Here’s a list of random weird things that have happened recently:

I caused a fender bender… I was standing on my porch, drying my hands, and guy who was driving his car down the street in front of my house was staring at me hard, like I have 6 purple heads and such… well he was so busy gawking at my whiteness that he hit an oncoming car.

I tripped over a chameleon while I was fetching water and spilled my bucket all over. The chameleon looked back at me with its crazy little eyes as if I was an idiot until I reminded it that it’s very clever at blending in with its environment.

I am a master snail hunter and destroyer.

My house is apparently the cool place to be on Sunday afternoons. All the girls come over and wash their hair in my shower before they get it braided, and everyone watches Friends while we wait. Some of the girls have started coming over and requesting to watch Friends at other times too.

I went to a traditional Malagasy boxing event with my Rasta friend. There was a huge muscular boxer in an obviously women’s cut t-shirt that read “Silicone Free” across the chest. I couldn’t explain why I was laughing so hard.

I went with another English teacher to another school to have question and answer sessions with his high school students. I was in each class for 2 hours, and both classes asked me only the exact same questions: How old am I? Where do I live? If I am married? And what’s my phone number? Each class took two hours to ask these questions. If I wasn’t already so used to feeling awkward all the time, it would have been really awkward.

In my English club, I did the critical thinking puzzle with the triangle with triangles inside, and you have to count how many triangles there are. The education system here is completely devoid of critical thinking, interpreting, and analyzing skills, so I thought I’d try to get them thinking. No one got it right, but as I showed them all of the additional triangles beyond the obvious ones, it was as if I was showing them an amazing magic trick.

An owner of an Indian restaurant, who is friendly with all of the Northern PCVs, set up a World Cup party for us at his restaurant in Diego. We were sitting on a couch, watching the big screen, as the couch collapsed beneath us. We all agreed that it’s Katie’s fault.

I’m currently having quite perilous stomach issues… though that is neither random nor weird…

And finally, last week I gave all of my classes an exam. They, with a partner, had to write a dialogue about giving advice. They had full use of the notebooks, dictionaries, and any other resource, including me to answer any questions. About a third of them copied a dialogue word for word from their books, all of whom received a zero. About a third of them wrote something that was completely incomprehensible. But a third of them produced amazing gems like this:

Maria: Hi Tamia!
Tamia: Hi Maria! You know, I have a problem, because my boyfriend is left yesterday.
Maria: Why?
Tamia: I don’t know, but I think that he doesn’t love me.
Maria: Oh my god! You could go on vacation for sometimes?
Tamia: I won’t go on vacation.
Maria: Why you won’t go on vacation during sometimes?
Tamia: No, I can’t go because I am sad.
Maria: Then, you should seek a another boy.
Tamia: No!! I meant be with him forever!!
Maria: It’s difficult, love, I believe that you should reflect.
Tamia: Okay, I should reflect a long time, because my heart is so sick.
Maria: Yes, Good luck and good afternoon.
Tamia: Bye
Maria: See you

Amazing! Some of the errors make a lot of sense if you think about translating it directly from French. It has all of the grammatical aspects that I required, and follows a logical line of discourse. Also, I love that the advice for a sick heart is to go on vacation. Most of the exams left me banging my head on the table, but ones like this make me feel like my time in teaching high school in Ambanja hasn’t been completely wasted.

In other news, Im an aunt. Baby Alex was born during the USA England match... tonga soa vie namanako! Congrats to Shannon, Dan, and Grandma (haha)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

lots of teachery stuff

And now for a little insight into the Malagasy education culture...
My school received a massive shipment of math textbooks donated from Sweden. My principal (who speaks English) was telling me about it. He mentioned several times that “there are enough books for each student to have one book. There are as many books as there are students!” The teachers' lounge was abuzz with wonderment over this development. The principal went on to express their confusion over the matter of what to do when the teacher has a book and the students have a book- what are they supposed to do during class? Normally here, most of class time is taken up with the teacher writing the lesson on the board and the students copying it into their notebooks (in essence writing their own textbooks)- not very dynamic or mentally demanding on anyones part. I explained that in the United States you have a book for most subjects, and you read it as a class and discuss it, and the teacher goes further into depth. And for math in particular, you don't have to waste time copying problems, and the teachers don't have to make all the problems up. Everyone has the problem in front of them already, and you can do it together on the board. The teachers thought this to all be quite strange. They didn't know what to do in the classroom when there's a book. During Peace Corps training (going on 2 years ago now!), when we were told that the students and teachers had no books, we were aghast with what to do without one. Additionally, the principal told me that some of the answers to the math problems were in the back of the book. He announced this to me as if it was a scandal, or some kind of obvious oversight on part of the textbook publishers. I told him that that was typical of math and science books I used in school, and that the purpose was to check your answer to see if you had done all of the steps correctly. He asked if students just copied the answer without attempting the problem, which I was able to answer from personal experience; but the teachers just have to see if the students completed all of the steps to see if they had only copied answers from the back. (Of course if you're like me and can set up a math problem but it always falls apart at some point, the answers in the back are perfect!) I thought it was interesting how they didn't know how to proceed with a textbook, when most Americans can't imagine a classroom without one. Moreover, that while the donation from Sweden will certainly have a positive impact, that our western ideas for improving things don't always work within the context of other cultures.
Also on the education front, this week I'm teaching my favorite English grammar point: referential do (when “to do” is used to show tense when negating and forming questions in present and past simple tenses... still not with me? For example, to negate the sentence “I like cookies” you have to add “do” before the “not” even though nothing is being done (“I do not like cookies.”). And to ask if you like cookies, I start with “do” unless I'm asking about when you were young in which case I'd use “did”... don't worry, my lesson was a lot more clear than that.) But this rampant unclear use of “do/does/did & don't/doesn't/didn't” throws ESL learners off since they're trying to translate it, but it doesn't translate to anything, it just functions as a tense marker. There were multiple points during the lesson in each class when I heard students hit with understanding (“OOOOohh!”), and it warmed my icy heart.
This week at English club we learned “The Sweetest Thing” by Akon, Wyclef, and Lil Wayne. It was pretty complicated to explain, but everyone understood eventually. The song is pretty popular here, but the lyrics are too colloquial and full of slang for them to understand when they hear it on the radio. The chorus is “Dollar dollar bills, y'all, where my money at?” so I showed them the 5 dollar bill that's in my wallet ready to buy me a fast food lunch at whatever airport I fly into upon my return to the US. They wanted to know if it still works because Obama isn't on it, adorable. We also did “If I Was President” by Wyclef Jean, which is appropriate for the political situation here. The song mentions Christopher Columbus, so asked them if they knew who he was, and one kid shouted out “1492!” in French. Apparently that number has been pounded into their heads. It also mentions Martin Luther King, who they thought they knew, but they were talking about Martin Luther. And lastly it mentions JFK. I asked them if they knew who JFK is and one said “John Fitzgerald Kennedy, president of the United States” which was awesome. They totally understood the lyrics and were able to see how they are applicable both the Madagascar and the United States. It was a good English club.
I have captured a second disgusting long, fat tailed rat. It has been charged with larceny and disturbing the peace, and was hastily sentenced to death bypassing the formality of trial. I told it, “life's not fair and then you die...” really die. My friend came over, and I proudly showed him my new prize. He asked me if I was going to keep it in the cage on my bookshelf so I have something to be my friend and talk to. I told him, no thankyouverymuch, but that I would keep it at least for the morning to taunt and laugh at which provided more stress relief than you would think.

The next time I post a blog I will probably be an aunt! Good luck Shannon (and Dan!)!