Monday was the first day of November, All Saints Day, or “Toussaint” in French. It is a catholic celebration for all the saints, created in the VIIIth century. It is a public holiday in France, but not here in Zambia. All Saints Day is nowadays commonly amalgamated with the All Souls’Day, or “Jour des Défunts” that should be celebrated on the 2nd of November, but that one is not a public holiday for the majority of the West.
34 minutes for 9 km to go to school, and 38min for 9.7km for the return. Well, the sky was indeed cloudy this Monday, and I was glad to avoid the scorching sun of the previous weeks.
I was going faster and getting happier with myself, even though I realized that I’m cycling at the same 15km/h average pace than my cousin… me on 9km cycling, and him on 20km running…
I arrived a bit before 8am, and the kids were gathered in the courtyard, like my first day. I asked the teachers during the morning break what it was about, and I understood that the school was organizing a gathering in the courtyard every Monday and Friday. On Monday, the teachers announce the program of the week and any particular event that could occur, and on Friday, they resumed any major event of the past week and the ones of the week to come. I entered the classroom at the same time than the kids, and John wanted a hug to say hello… why not. He was one of these kids that didn’t hesitate to speak up with confidence, but he was wrong 1/3 of the time. However, he was recognizing his mistake quickly and it was funny to see. Wiseman was not in his office, I was thinking he should have been busy finalizing a sponsorship dossier that we discussed together, to build proper toilets and buy enough student desks for all the classrooms.
//Aparté on Zambian Toilets, because it’s worth it: I don’t think I ever mentioned it, but seriously, coming from Paris, I was amazed by the toilets here. Whether it be at the airport, or at a mall, or at a restaurant or even at Chikumbuso, the toilets were very clean and odorless… except at Safe World though. The toilet hygiene seems much better in Lusaka than in Paris! Not that it is much difficult… Japanese wouldn’t be as surprised, I guess.
The same ritual than last week for this school day: I delivered the tests they passed last Friday, logic tests prepared by Wiseman. The average was excellent at 18 (mmm… suspicious I agree, or the test was too simple). Indeed, the only weakness of this class students I saw this week was the mathematics, with an overall average below 10 for the class. Even though they were capable of much less simple math, handling the negative numbers (-2-10 or -100+50) was a real struggle, even for Adella who was the best in class. I hoped I would make them understand before the final exams…
This week, I launched the “debate”, as the director advised me last week that he wanted to improve this skill for Grade 7. I was surprised by the fact that he also wanted the students to find an exercise that would stimulate and open their mind before their final exams, even though it would not be directly useful then. It was indeed a nice way to relieve a bit the stress before the final examinations. I asked the students to propose the themes they would be most interested in to debate, and their choices were miles away from the European kids of their age:
- A girl child is more important than a boy child – unanimous vote!
- A pregnant girl should be allowed to go to school – 22 votes
- Private schools are better than public schools – 18 votes
- Life in urban areas is better than in rural areas – 13 votes
- How can we reduce child abuse – 7 votes
I hadn’t mentioned before that I had 10 boys and 17 girls, from 12 to 16, most of them being 13 years old. I organized 6 groups that had to prepare to support or to oppose the statement. I set up some rules at the beginning that were: 2 teams would defend each position every day, and the class will vote for the team they would find the most convincing. This winning team would remain to continue defending the same position against a new team the day after, and this would last the whole week, with a winner declared on Friday. Truthfully, they were very passionate, and the debates were really heated. However, the whole class agreed that it got a bit boring at the end of the week because debating on the same theme was too much to last a whole week. Nevertheless, it allowed me to confirm which students were orally outstanding… and we agreed on new rules for the week to come.
To mark the end of the hottest month, I witnessed for the first time a little storm here in Lusaka, with heavy refreshing rain that lasted 20 minutes. I was lucky enough to have already arrived at the 37d gallery next to the house, where I headed by foot after taking a shower on my return from school. I was having my lunch on the terrasse, that was hopefully covered…
Tuesday, the weather was not so hot anymore, and it was really agreeable to go to school by bike, even though the black smoke coming out of the cars or little buses were never far away. This country doesn’t seem to have much of the 2 wheels culture, either motorized or not.
On Tuesday morning, there was no test planned, and I didn’t know the writing level of the class. So here we went, I decided to go for an improvised dictation of 20 proverbs that were already in the English book I borrowed from Wiseman. To be honest, I didn’t know all of them, so I’m happy to share:
- The early bird catches the worm.
- Out of sight, out of mind.
- Send a thief to catch a thief.
- Charity begins at home.
- You cannot eat your cake and have it.
- Out of the frying pan into the fire.
- Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
- Don’t put all your eggs in the same basket.
- Strike the iron while it is still hot.
- Curiosity kills the cat.
- No news good news.
- Penny wise pound foolish.
- Don’t count your chickens before they have been hatched.
- He, who pays the piper calls the tune.
- Cut your coat according to your cloth
- He laughs best, who laughs last.
- Blood is thicker than water.
- Birds of a feather flock together.
- It rains cats and dogs.
- The world belongs to the early birds.
As all the tests were multiple choices questions like the final examinations, I was not sure what to expect. I was relieved to see that most of them were actually quite good, but 3 of them had issues, whether dyslexia or something else. They couldn’t write a single sentence correctly…. Wiseman knew it already as their homeroom teacher of course, but it seemed difficult to do anything, less than a couple of weeks before their final exams.
Upon my return home, I was about to head to the gallery when I saw the gray clouds, I thought I might as well wait a bit at home, and I was right indeed. A micro storm started at exactly the same time than on Monday, at 2:30pm. Well… I was nicely inside, and had 26 dictations to correct anyway! Ah… if your children had daily or very regular tests, I would bet their teachers cared a lot about their students. The time spent to correct and prepare those tests are endless, however, it remains the best and quickest method to know each individual student from a big classroom.
As soon as I got home, my ritual is to say hi to the chicken and quails then head straight to the shower. Still no eggs…
I wanted to go for lunch at the gallery again, but the sky was getting darker and darker. The rain was imminent. So I prepared myself a Bo Bun at home instead (yeah, kind of…) and ate at the terrasse of the house around 2pm, just before the little storm and heavy rain started.
On Wednesday morning, I still enjoyed a refreshing bicycle ride to the school, except for the water which overflowed some part of my way. With everything that poured for the last 2 days, it was expected. It was actually surprising that nothing was visible the day before.
And as planned, we started with the math test. As the final exams were less than a couple of weeks away, I proposed to Wiseman to continue daily tests to keep the pupils sharp till then. Funnily enough, these students were welcoming very enthusiastically any tests, and always eager to participate to the corrections.
Actually, this class was enthusiast for anything… a dream for any teacher, I guess! When the class was about to end, another storm started with a light hail but incredibly loud on the metallic roof of the classroom we couldn’t hear anything else. I seized the opportunity to have all the class take 5 minutes sleep! They were so heated from the debate that we just all needed a bit of calm…
Listen to the rain…
When it was time to go home, around 12:30, rain was still pouring heavily. Wiseman was kind enough to arrange a car to take me back home, but I told him I would manage with the bike, as I can have a shower at home. In the end, I got super lucky, as the storm only started heavily when I arrived at the home’s gate.
On Thursday, I got more prepared this time, and put on the plastic boots that I brought in my luggage, with 3 other pairs of shoes: all-weather-runners, heels, and ballerinas. They revealed to be very useful as I couldn’t avoid putting both my shoes and the bike in the heavy mud near the school!
This morning was the Science test, which was a bit less well prepared than usual, as they were some diagrams and graphs missing to accompany the questions, and even several questions were missing out of the 50 that would be also the count for the final exam. But we managed to have all the questions done. Then, I initiated a “poem” or “song” contest. The theme was: “The Rain”. In less than 30 minutes, I got incredible results:
On Friday, we ended the week with the Social Studies test. And one of the test questions made me think of a certain CEO: “What is the quality of a bad leader?” Answer: “He is alone to take decisions.”
And this 2nd week with Grade 7 ended joyfully:
Whatever the circumstances… these kids are happy ☺️