We had our third week off school as the inspectors were coming to see if the accommodation was ready for the new teachers, and the director of the school didn’t want the inspectors to refuse to send them if they saw we were there! Bit of a shame to have wasted one of only twelve weeks we have teaching, but it was nice to relax and have some time to ourselves.
This week was easily the best yet; we were allowed to teach the older grades, who have a much better grasp of English, so on Monday I became the Grade Five teacher. They are a dream! Well, compared to what we’re used to… The fact that they can understand most of what I say is a big help, but they are also lovely to just chat with and can hold a proper conversation. As is often the way in Zambian schools, their maths is very advanced but their written English (either reading, writing or spelling it) is very limited. I’m really starting to appreciate the role of upbringing in learning to read and write, and just how much my parents did for me in teaching me to read before I started school. These children, living in isolated rural areas, mostly do not get any help with their education as their parents are often illiterate and unable to assist them. Consequently, it is not unusual for me to have taught an 11 year old who couldn’t read. It’s not that the parents are unwilling by an means; many have asked the school to introduce night-classes for exactly that purpose, which I think is a brilliant idea that would really help the children in the long run. It’s also a matter if resources – if the school doesn’t have any class sets of books, the children can’t have reading time, so when exactly can they practise reading?
Back to Grade Five though, it’s such a relief to have overcome the language barrier issue and I love being able to write examples and questions on the board! I’ve managed to teach some fairly advanced lessons including expanded notation (adding six digit numbers), the solar system and family trees. The children are also very well behaved; they understand when they need to be quiet, raise their hands to answer questions and stay in their seats (most of the time!). Respect for elders and people in positions of authority is a significant aspect of Zambian culture; the children courtesy at the knee whenever I give them something or vice versa and must crouch at my feet to ask to leave the room. It’s a little difficult to get used to, but I can’t tell them there’s no need to do it as it will be an important aspect of social interaction for the rest of their lives.
Other triumphs of the last week including being taught how to cook Nshima, Zambia’s staple food, by the head teacher who also lives on site. I have tried to describe Nshima before with little success; it’s essentially just another carbohydrate similar to stodgy/sticky rice (with a sort of doughy texture, it looks like mashed potato…) It’s very cheap and we have 10kg to eat up before we leave so it’s good to finally learn! We are one third of the way through our time at the school which is quite crazy to consider. Recipe for Nshima coming soon.
A rat ran into our kitchen cupboard while we were washing up one evening, so we got one of the men to come and put poison into his holes and nail some boards over them – another one bites the dust! We think we got a very clever rat (it refused to be caught in the trap or eat the poison no matter what we hid it in), but sadly there is still at least one more we need to deal with. Our latest plan is to create a channel from its hole; I will block the hole as soon as the rat is out, and Saffron will be at the other end waiting to catch him with our washing basket… Patience is a virtue!