The past couple of days I've had a growing sense of frustration combined with feelings of incompetence.
It took me awhile to put my finger on it. In part it's my failures in dealing with the students, many of whom still don't understand my English, don't give a fuck about what I'm trying to teach them, and make every effort to cheat, lie, and generally sneak their way out of any actual work or learning. But I could deal with that as part of the difficult-but-rewarding challenges of being here, something to be worked at and overcome, or at least learned from.
A bigger part of the crumminess I'm feeling, I've realized, is the fact that I don't have a lot of interaction with people during the day. I have 3-5 classes a day, which is a good number, and in between I sit in the teacher's lounge or the library and try to work on lesson plans or grading. But it's a very solitary exercise; I almost never see other teachers in the teacher's lounge, and even though there are generally others in the library, I'm not working with them. So I feel like, although I don't have the problem of many Peace Corps volunteers of not having a well-defined job, the job that I do have actually isn't doing much to insert me into the community, or provide me with the social interaction that I need to stay sane.
I can't help but compare myself to fellow volunteers, who by my own observations and from what I've heard are doing a great job of making Liberian friends. We all came here at the same time, I tell myself. So what is wrong with me that I am now struggling to find people to spend time with, and things to do to fill the time, while others don't seem to have these problems?
Fortunately, if this lack of social interaction is truly the root of my frustration, it can be fixed. I can talk with the principal about having more classes in the morning and not having class in the afternoon, which would free me up to do other things that will help me to meet other people, such as help out at the midwifery school or volunteer at the hospital. Or I could talk with my housemate about spending more time helping out students at her place of work, the library. At least, if nothing else, those things would provide a change of scenery. I think it would also help with the paradoxical issue of having too much to do (with 80 to 100 students in a class, I can always fill the time with grading) and yet not enough (grading sucks and I would rather spend the time doing something more interesting and worthwhile).
But in the meantime, I feel pretty shitty. And it's crossing over to other aspects of life, ones that I felt pretty good about even just a week ago. The puzzle of how to motivate the students to work harder and learn better, which seemed like an interesting and intellectually stimulating challenge, today seems like an overwhelming task that I lack the skills and cultural understanding to successfully undertake. The 60-minute round-trip walk to school, which I sometimes make twice a day, seemed like a good source of exercise; today, I felt like I had to drag myself step by painful step. And I could write a whole separate entry about the issue of body image – the transition from average (albeit nerdy and poorly-dressed) American girl to dirty, sweaty, greasy, sunburned, bespectacled, mop-haired hippie.
Anyway. There are bound to be ups and downs in any job, and like I said, I have some ideas for how to pull myself out out of this mini-rut I'm in before it gets any bigger.