Thursday, September 15, 2011

Important Information that Could Save Your Life Someday! And an Update. In Reverse Order.

So, the teaching has begun. And boy, is it an experience. A lot more kids came to classes on Monday… so when I walked into class on Monday, my heart stopped for a second, there were SO many faces staring up at me! And at that time, there were only 54 kids in class. Today there were 61. And there are supposed to be between 68 and 74, depending on whether some of the kids can pay school fees or not. And that right thurr… that’s a lot of kids. So it’s a little intimidating.

I’ve started teaching Math and English—In Math I’m teaching my fourth graders how to isolate variables… which I thought I learned in middle school, but anyways, we’re working through that, and they seem to be getting it ok! Which is a great confidence booster. And in English, we’re working on sentence construction—things like to start every sentence with a capital letter and every one with a full stop (which is what they call a period over here). And then we’re working on when you put lists into sentences, using commas and an “and.” Today, I could tell that they were really getting into it, because when I asked them, “What does a builder need to make a roof?” they gave me 10 different materials that a builder could potentially need. It covered the ENTIRE board. Apparently lake sand is essential to housebuilding in Uganda. FYI. But I think the funniest was today, I had to teach them about the differences between words that sound the same. Which would be much more understandable, except with our accent, these words DON’T sound the same. The words I had were bin and bean, tin and teen, ship and sheep, chick and cheek, bit and beat, and lip and leap, among others. SO funny because they’re SO clearly different words in American English. But not so for Ugandan English. So I would pronounce them, sounding different, and they would say them back to me, sounding exactly the same. I couldn’t help but laugh in class. I know you’re “not supposed to laugh or smile in class until Thanksgiving” but sometimes, things happen that are just WAY too funny. (I try to channel a certain junior year History teacher… but I just don’t have the ability to hold in laughter like he does).

As for my schedule, a couple of the teachers finally figured out when they would have me teach. I am supposed to teach for a half hour near the beginning of the day and a half hour at the end of the day Monday through Wednesday, and then half hour near the beginning of the day, and an hour and a half at the end of the day on Thursday and Friday. But I have yet to actually teach that little. Monday through Wednesday, I definitely taught at least two or two and a half hours each day. Which I am definitely ok with, because a. it’s difficult to get anything accomplished in a half an hour, and b. I would be REALLY bored if that’s all I was teaching. But it’s an entirely different teaching atmosphere. Some teachers definitely teach at the times they should, but it’s much more the norm to teach kind of whenever you feel like it. So sometimes I’ll have a kid come into the staff room and say, “Madame Anna, there is no teacher in the room.” And I’ll go in and teach them. It’s just an entirely different system. And it can definitely be frustrating, particularly those days when the kids are particularly acting out and I’m supposed to have someone come in and teach right after me, but then no one comes to relieve me. But for the most part, teachers are teaching when they should. Although, as Shane pointed out today, “for the most part” would definitely NOT fly in America. So that’s different.

As for discipline, well, it’s been a little rough too. I don’t want to cane my students, but because that is how "discipline" is defined for them, they think I’m a big old softy of a teacher, and they can get away with most things. So it would be nice to be able to redefine discipline as easily as I define the word cheek, but sometimes it’s not always that easy. After school today, I asked some of the girls who come up and always ask for homework after class why the kids don’t pay attention to me as well as they do for some of the other teachers, and their responses were, “It’s because you don’t hit. Madame, you should start hitting. All the time, every person, and they will respect you.” Yup, that sounds like exactly what I want to do. Not. Sounds a little Machiavellian. So if any of you have any ideas on how to help this out, please drop me a line!

But overall, I’m loving the experience (I know, I know I’m SO experienced, a teacher for a whole week and a half! But this is just current reflections, so don’t judge me too harshly!). These are just the more frustrating parts. But overall, the feeling that I got when the first student was willing to ask a question in class was one of the greatest feelings ever. Because they are taught not to ask questions in general. And to have a kid ask me a question… wow. It was great. And a couple of times where I’ve been able to explain things so someone would be able to understand in a new way, and seeing that understanding was mega amazing too. I definitely am really enjoying it so far! And each day gets a little bit better too, every day I feel I have just a tiny bit better grip on how to begin to do what I’m trying to do.

So, now what you’ve been waiting for… the information which I hold that could very well save your life someday: how to get away from angry, potentially killing animals….

Leopard: Definitely one of the scariest to get away from, apparently. They’ll run after you, and when you’re running away, just keep dropping whatever you have with you, because they’ll pounce on it and tear it apart, buying you a little bit of time. They have a difficult time getting cloth out of their claws too, and they won’t run if they have anything stuck in their claws. So take that as you will.

Crocodiles: Serpentine running, all the way. And pray.

Snakes: According to the teacher, you don’t really have to be scared of snakes, they are really nice. Just don’t step on them. And even if you can, don’t walk directly in their paths. (I’m sorry, but yeah?!)

Lions: I am not sure I’d keep my head enough to actually do this, but… Run almost directly towards the lion running at you. Because lions hunt in packs, and they’ll try to run you right into their trap of their pack. So you’d rather run away from one that you have a little momentum on already than take on 8 waiting for you. Also, according to the teacher, only lionesses kill. So if faced with multiple lions, run towards the one with the megamane. But just hope that they’re satisfied, cuz then they won’t attack you.

Cape Buffalo: These are actually really mean animals. If you’re standing up, they’ll hit you right in the stomach and kill you. If you’re running away, they WILL catch you. And then hit you. So what you do, is just crouch down, and they’ll keep rolling you (so basically, what I gathered is…just do a bunch of somersaults) and then as long as you can stay in that position, they can’t hit you, and will eventually get tired of you.

Angry monkeys: In East Africa, in the bush area, dogs have bells around their necks. Monkeys fear dogs. So if you can get close enough, (I thought this was really clever), tie a bell around one of their necks. All the other monkeys will run away from this one monkey (reverse Pavlov’s dog psychology), and this one monkey will keep running towards his friends to be with them.Typical.

So thanks for reading and increasing your knowledge of how to survive wild African animals! And thank you so much for all the comments and emails and support from everyone... It really means so much. So until next time, webale! (Thank you!)


  1. I had someone try to argue in class today that violence is human nature. This is such a deep seeded belief and unfortunately such a strong societal norm. But people like you are so important to this world. Teach them that violence is not right. I don't know how, but you will find a way around caning. And when you do, you will have touched the lives of 68 or 74 kids that all-too-often are exposed to violence in this world. Keep up the amazing work Nanana.

  2. Amen, Corbin! it happens one transformation at a time. both of you are seeding the world with love and new possibilities-- keep it up!

  3. ok, and also, PS regarding survival in Africa
    in the wild, it sounds like a person should
    take acrobatics classes so they can drop,
    somersault to the closest monkey, drop the
    bell you carry with you around it's neck,
    and steer clear of any snakes on the path
    while tossing a bit of goat meat toward the
    lioness... at which point all the animals
    will be laughing at you so hard you can
    quickly get up and run away! good luck
    with that, Anna! glad you shared so when we
    go on safari we'll both be I
    have the strategy down right?

  4. uh oh, I don't think I can live up to these previous comments!So I guess I just have one question-what if you tie a bell around your own neck? Will all the monkeys run in fear from you? You should suggest this to those who are in charge of strategizing (strategizizing? strategy-ing)the ways to get away from animals. Also, don't be afraid of snakes?!?!? What?!?! Have they ever read the Poisonwood Bible?! (or Poison something Bible...having trouble with words today :))

  5. Way to have them ask a question ... Socrates would be proud ...

    Now about the discipline... Maybe you should bring in a video of Brian Kelly going ballistic on a receiver who ran a crossing route without looking for the ball... you can show it to them, and then say in a loud voice... "Don't you make me go Brian Kelly on you cuz I can and you know I can and it won't be pretty because I will SO go Brian Kelly on you!"

    Go Irish


  6. I don't know what the level of expectation is that they are in class - ie if there is further punishment for not being in class - but if they choose to be disruptful, they are choosing to leave and will not be given a chance to make up work...

    Another idea, a little easier to manage 70 is break them into groups (maybe 7 groups of 10 or 10 groups of 7?) and give rewards when the groups are working together and united. This will make the group members manage each other a bit more and since they cannot hit each other they'll develop their own form of control within each other. Perhaps each week/natural break for you give the group with the most points some reward they want (no homework, extra banana stuff you ate...something that they find appealing and would work for in a group.

    Those are things I do - but Uganda and the teaching environment is different for you...It's a rough dance to figure out what will motivate that you are comfortable doing.