Tuesday, August 16, 2011

"Boyfriends I want to be with at one time"

This post is the follow-up to today's original post about why today was so excellent.

I have a Form A maths student named Boitumelo. She has always seemed kind of infatuated with me. Always coming to talk after class, smiling awkwardly... telling me that her mother is American (not true). She's kind of funny. Smarter than most, very hard working, and her English is great. No doubt her future is bright. One day she asked me if I'd assign her an essay topic which she would write for homework, then I could edit it. Naturally I obliged, and I assigned her something dull to write about. She wrote a page, and after I marked it the next day, she asked to do it again. The next day, same thing, and on it has gone, to this day.

Nowadays I have to dig deep to think of new topics. Usually I give her a choice of two or three topics and she tells me they're all awful, but chooses one anyway. Yesterday was no different; I gave her three choices and she grumbled about them. One was "How many boyfriends do you want to have at one time?" It felt like a dumb topic, one which I thought of only because I'm constantly preaching monogamy and thus it was in the front of my mind. I couldn't imagine how one would even answer such a question, and was confident this would not be the topic she chose.

I was quite wrong. Not only did she choose that topic, but she wrote by far her best paper ever. The language was clear, the ideas were more developed (there's even humor!), and most importantly, I was blown away by the wisdom of her answer.

Below, here is her essay in its entirety, unedited. Anyone who has taught here can confirm that this quality writing from a Form A is stunning. As for the content, maybe she's just been so indoctrinated at this point that she's merely regurgitating what she knows I expect. But I'm gonna choose to buy its sincerity.

Boyfriends I want to be with at one time

I don't want to have any boyfriend because when I have a boyfriend my mind will go crazy and I dont want to be craze. I like when my mind is still, not thinking too much. And when they are many I will be mad and when I have to choose for one I will go crazy and I'll not know who to choose and who to loose because I've loved them in the first place.

I'll rather stay a virgin than to have a boyfried or rather be an L.S.B.L [note: I learned today that this means lesbian]. I'll go crazy expecially when they are many. Because when I have them its easier for me to get HIV/Aids because guys don't care. Then when I have one Ill get the baby, and I hate babies, it's like I wasn't a baby.

And I dont like to be known all over because if everyone knows me with bad things like having lot of boyfriends that is not good. And guys bites they will just tell you that they love you but they don't love you they just want to have sex with you and then walk away I don't like that and I dont want to be a part of it.

But lot of girls like that and thats why they have HIV/Aids and lot of them died just because of they din't care about their lifes.

Thank God I am not a guy, and I am not that girl who loves boys too much.

A great day at school

I'm racking my brain, trying to think if I've ever had a better day at school here. It's tough to think of anything... at worst, I could count those days on one hand. Today was great. I'll explain.

The day started off well when I overslept but still got to school on time thanks to some leftover dinner that served admirably as an instant breakfast (usually I make this weird hot cereal thing called Morvite which takes more time). I got to school in time for morning assembly, after which a student of mine, Tlalane, approached me.

[Some back story before I can continue. I've recently been able to obtain scholarships for nine of my brightest students at school through the Lesotho RPCV community. Tlalane is one of the nine. She's new to the school, she's in Form D at only 16 years old which is on the young side. I came to be close with her early in the year, after realizing she was smart but that she had fallen in with slacker-ish students. I could tell it was affecting her work in Maths and Biology, so I challenged her to do better. She responded full force, becoming one of the top students in the class. She also began seeking me out to chat on a daily basis. I soon found out that she had a little baby. I decided she ought to be a scholarship recipient, because a little extra cash would surely go a long way for a 16 year old mother. I submitted the scholarship money to the school yesterday, and told all the recipients they should write letters of thanks to the donors ASAP.]

Tlalane said to me, almost in a whisper, "Sir, I'm sorry that I have not yet finished the thank you note for those people." This was no problem, though, because no one else had either. Then she added, "But this one is for you," and she handed me a folded piece of paper. It was profoundly gratifying. I won't write the whole thing, but here are some excerpts...

"It has been a while not knowing what to say. I am extremely delighted to write this letter to you, Sir."
"My family and I was over the moon when I told them that the scholarship you promised before was approved. First of all I thank you for showing your hardworking job as a volunteer teacher at this school keep it up! :)"
"I did not write the exams of June very well because my mom was very ill at that time, so we did not sleep at night..."
"My dream is to go far away with Biology because that's my favourite."

Such acknowledgments are few and far between for PCVs, and as such they carry a lot of weight. So the day was off to an excellent start.

In Biology class, I moved speedily through a short lesson, then gathered everyone around to watch a movie. I always loved movies in class when I was a student. But it's even better here, because honestly, I believe this is the second time it's happened in my students' lives. We just got electricity at school, meaning I can bring my computer to class. I've been teaching all about plants, so we watched the episode of Life about plants. It's incredible, and they loved it as much as I did. Fun, and educational!

As I left class, some boys followed me out to tell me how much they enjoyed the show...

[More back story: Yesterday when I was out running after work, I ran past a student of mine, Tsepo, who was also running (this was a first, Basotho don't often run for exercise). We chatted for a while, and I noticed he was wearing tons of sweaters, coated by a rain coat and rain pants. I asked why he was wearing them, and he told me he wanted to be thin. Extremely unusual, and also, not healthy. I told him we should talk tomorrow, ie today.]

...one of them was Tsepo. We began talking about why running in a coating of plastic is unhealthy. This led to a very enjoyable conversation about how to eat and exercise to be healthy and (hopefully) also look good. I demonstrated lemon squeezes on the dirty ground, which drew laughter from female passersby. But the boys were eager to brush off my backside for me. It's a testament to how long I've lived here that I didn't find it unsettling. 

Later on, my principal pulled me into his office. I was unsure what it was about, but he just wanted to take a moment to thank me for getting those scholarships. Odd. Those who've spoken to me know have surely heard about the sort of person he is, and how uncommon it is for a teacher at his school to be treated with dignity. But alas, he liked that I brought in nearly $1000, and I appreciated the gesture.

And finally, maybe the best thing that happened today. Actually it warrants its own post, so I'll do that.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


Before my last post (for which I must apologize on account of its mopey-ness), I actually took a pretty incredible vacation. My friend Rory and I went to Johannesburg, where we ate tons of great food, tempted fate in the taxi rank (not as frightening as people wanted us to believe), and I took the GREs. We took an overnight bus to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique (it's written "Moçambique" there, and as this is my first opportunity ever to use ç, I don't want to pass it up, hence the blog title).

For anyone who ever wanted to see Africa, I strongly recommend Mozambique. It is an amazing place. A very interesting blend of traditional African culture and European influence (which is not unique at all, most countries were colonized by this or that European power. Portugal, in this case). Great music, interesting architecture, awesome food, beautiful beaches, vibrant atmosphere. One of the more stable and faster developing places in Sub-Saharan Africa, too.

We spent our time in Maputo meeting locals and other travelers, and indulging in local food and beverage (highlights - fresh fish and seafood, avocado the size of a child's head, fresh loaves of Portuguese bread for $0.15, and high quality dark beer on tap at an outdoor market for $0.90). Mostly, we were just idling around, waiting for our other PC Lesotho friends to arrive, which they did after 2 days. From that point on, our travels around Maputo and Tofo have already been expertly chronicled by another Lesotho PCV and fellow traveler, Shanthi. I invite you to read all about it and enjoy some pretty pictures here. Sorry not to be writing it for myself, I guess I'm a bit lazy. Thanks Shanthi!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Today's Story About Why Lesotho Schools Are Depressing

Today is the 2nd day of classes for the 2nd semester. Yesterday, I returned last semester's exams to my students. Nearly every one failed, both in Form A (8th grade, ages 12-18) and Form D (11th grade, ages 16-23) Maths. In Form D, the class erupted in laughter when they looked at their scores (the average was about 25%). I admonished them for laughing at their own failure. They held it together after that, though I think more to make me feel better than anything else. After I returned their papers, they spent class working on corrections under my supervision. Their homework was to finish their corrections at home, so that they could submit them to me today. (Today, I returned part 2 of their exams, and the uproarious laughter resumed).

In Lesotho, you submit assignments by turning them over to your class monitor, who brings them to the staff room. I told all 3 classes today to submit their work at break time. Pretty routine. Everyone understood. But... I received 0 papers. From THREE classes, ZERO students turned in their assignments. Perhaps the saddest part is that this is so common that I wasn't even surprised.

A short while after, I got into a discussion with other teachers about what a sad state of affairs this is. We all agreed that the students' only motivation is the fear of punishment, and that since I don't beat them, they don't make the effort (All other teachers beat students, and indeed, they do get better homework completion, though not by much). We commiserated about the frustration of watching our students revel in their own failure. They claim that when they were students, it wasn't like this.  I told them that if 11th graders' only motivation to work is to spare themselves punishment, then they're beyond my ability to help. Bear in mind, I'm not just talking about the troublesome students, or the slow students. I'm talking about 3 entire classrooms of adolescents and adults. Strong students, weak ones, well behaved ones, and troublesome ones. I've spent 1.5 years doing everything in my power to motivate these kids. The amount I have to show for it is, to be honest, embarrassing.

Next time in Why Lesotho Schools Are Depressing: Harassment, Corruption, and Transactional Pedophilia.