This week is the first week of school. However, that is apparently not sufficient reason for students and teachers to actually physically come to school.
Even though only a small percentage of my students seem to be showing up, I can already see how much of a challenge this is going to be. Classes are huge and unruly. Students wander into class ten minutes late, and are generally disruptive and disrespectful. This is not particularly surprising, but it is still irritating. The second I turn my back on the class – to write on the board, for example – students completely lose focus, start talking to each other, and begin mocking me. It's bad enough with 40 students in the class; it's going to be a disaster if the rest of them start coming.
I don't want to resort to the techniques of the other teachers – having students spend every class period copying down notes off of the board – but copying seems to be the only thing that will make them shut up. On the other hand, I think that part of the student chattiness is just the novelty of having a white teacher who doesn't do things the way they are used to, and hopefully that will wear off to an extent. I was frustrated today because every time I wrote something on the board, students would start blabbering excitedly, and after a few minutes of mayhem, somebody would ask if they needed to copy it down. “Are these the class notes?” kids kept asking. No, I wanted to say, white people just like writing on stuff. This is how we entertain ourselves in the US. You like playing soccer; we walk into a room full of people and put up notes about the scientific method.
But as ridiculous as the students' questions seem to me, I'm sure that something I'm doing is equally as bizarre and stupid to them. It would be nice if I could figure out what it is so that I could either stop doing it or somehow otherwise address it.
Peace Corps, by nature, produces such a funny mix of conflicting emotions. On the one hand, I'm really embarrassed by the attention and gratitude that people have expressed to us here. The national newspaper and radio repeatedly ran stories about the arrival of Peace Corps in Liberia, and everywhere I go, people are genuinely welcoming. I want to say “please don't thank me, I'm doing this for myself.” Because that is the truth – I am 100% sure that I will get far more out of this experience than I could ever give back. I'm skeptical that true altruism exists, but even if it does, this is definitely not it.
At the same time, being here is hard – the heat, the lack of running water, the heat, the dust, the heat, the fact that food items rot and attract bugs almost instantaneously (or so it seems), the heat, the stresses of bartering, the constant attention – and did I mention the heat? So when the very people you are supposedly here to help make a point of laughing at you to your face, and ignoring your efforts, it's hard not to be irritated.
Oh well. I guess it would be far more disturbing if the teenagers here didn't . . . well, act like teenagers. And as funny as I am to them, I would be lying if I said I didn't think some of the stuff they do is pretty funny also. The punk with the huge silver belt buckle and the collar popped on his pink uniform shirt (pink shirts, maroon pants for all students here); the kid trying – and miserably failing – to imitate what I can only describe as a (please excuse my whiteness as I type this) “gangsta walk;” the fact that the local dance club has a giant mirror along one wall and the preferred method of dancing appears to be grinding with oneself – if they can forgive me for thinking that these things are amusing, then I supposed I should find it within myself to forgive whatever the hell it is they think is so hilarious.