Sunday, 20 October 2013

Cross-Cultural Smiles.

Have you been wondering how my class are doing? Was I too exhausted to Blog at the end of the week? Well, yes and no. I have just endured a week of no Internet access at home, which severely cramped my mood and style. Before that, yes, I was hitting the week-end on my knees and crawling back to standing by Monday morning.
Slowly, slowly my lovely class are creeping forward, towards semi-civilised academic behaviour. Last week was very helpful as we had National holidays on Monday and Tuesday. Three day weeks are a great boost to morale. This week, it's only Monday that is a National holiday. But never mind, the following week is Half term. I think I can manage to soldier on !
On the Tuesday National holiday I took a trip to Blue Bay, with my housemate (to celebrate her 60th birthday). Accompanied by Deo my long suffering Kirundi teacher and Alli's long term friend, and his 6 children.
Alli and I turned up to pick up Deo + kids, to be met by a very familiar situation. Teenage strife! It is amazing how similar parental angst sounds, whether in English or Kirundi. I didn't understand a word of what Deo was saying to his teenage daughter, but I so got the jist of it all.
And the body language is so much the same ! It's amazing.
Blue Bay is situated on Lake Tanganyika. Lake Tanganyika is beautiful, but is home to two major forms of wild life. Hippos and crocodiles. Last year I went along happily with the line of thinking that the risks of swimming in the lake are somewhat minimal. Crocodiles, I reasoned did not like open clear water. Hippos steer clear of places where there are a lot of people. An unfortunate side effect of having my son in Burundi with me, is that he is more passionate than ever about dissuading me from swimming in the lake. He says that the crocodiles love clear water. They just lie on the bottom and wait for something to swim over. Then they launch up with enormous power and snap you out of the water. At our recent visit to the zoo, he also very kindly alerted me to the fact that even close up, they are very hard to spot when they are under the water. A fact with which I sadly had to concur. It was indeed very hard to see them when they were just feet away. Imagine how hard they would be to see in the lake. Thus it was on Tuesday I found myself having a not-so-relaxing swim in the lake. It was so hard to resist the temptation to keep looking down through the water, just to check! Fortunately the water is very clear. But I couldn't persuade myself to swim out of my depth. According some people the deeper you go the safer it is. As the crocodile needs the bottom to launch from. But I just knew that if the littlest stick or debris in the water would so much a brush my foot or leg, I would drown through sheer panic. I'm not sure how much longer my I-will-swim-in the-lake resolve is going to hold.
I did however, have a great moment sitting on some rocks looking out across the lake. Listening to the waves lap on the shore. One of those over-whelming moments, where I am shocked by the amazing reality of my life. Here I was, on a 'Bank holiday' outing, sitting in the African sun, looking out across the waters of Lake Tanganyika at the Democratic Republic of Congo. Contemplating the dangers of being eaten by crocodiles or hippos. Me, living my life ....unreal ......but real.
Every so often I get those 'pinches' that remind me that I have escaped the culture of my life time and am now a world away.
Not all of the 'pinches' are quite so pleasant. A couple of weeks ago, I was slowly trudging across the dusty playground of the Junior school. It was the end of another long day of battles with 6L. When up pops a voice from the benches outside the Year 4 classroom. " Hey, Mrs Liz you look BIG." Emphasis was very clearly on the big. "Oh, do I." My slightly choked reply. I'm desperately hoping the reference is in fact to the large rucksack on my back. " Yes. There is more of you." All hope faded. I have nothing repeatable or respectable to reply. " You look different to last year." So I smile weakly, and feel my whole body ballooning out to match the image of myself that is formulating in my mind. I obvioulsy went home to England and got as fat as a house. So slunk home the fattest woman in the world! I know, I know, it's cultural. My heckler was a Kenyan, and she saw no insult in her words. She probably meant it as a compliment. I have yet to learn how to find being told I look fatter, a compliment!
At King's School a House system has been introduced. Recently we had a House Day. I belong to Ntangwa (Green) house. The idea is to help the children build a sense of community and corporate identity. To give them an incentive to behave well. Also we are looking at ways to give them opportunities to reach out into the community and make a positive contribution to Burundi. At the end of November Ntangwa house will be visiting some old people at the Mother Teresa Home in Bujumbura.
 Poor old Ntangwa though, we are struggling in the points department.
 In Year 6 we have introduced 'Friday after school Detention' for those pupils wishing to push the boundaries over the limit. The House day was also the first ever detention day. Of the four attendees, one was the Ntangwa house Captain and two, were the other year 6 Ntangwa boys!
One last cross-cultural smile. On my walk to school every day I pass a whole host of men going to work at a building site, that is en-route. Every so often, one of the passing builders is wearing a lovely pale blue blouse with red roses. I have to smile because I have the exact same blouse hanging in my wardrobe, back in England. It actually suits him and doesn't really look that wrong.
Hang on I've just thought of another last cross-cultural smile. Beware of accepting snacks from genuine Indian pupils. I was offered some popcorn by Shrey a new addition to King's School. He is one of my little rays of sunshine in 6L. I love popcorn, so I accept the proffered gift. Whoaa! it was good, but it nearly blew my head off! Spicy popcorn. Shrey's face was a picture of concern and joy at my reaction and a keen offering of more!
So all in all, yes my class are getting better. We are beginning to have the odd moment of fun learning together. I am starting to see the odd aspiration to achieve higher standards. I am beginning to find myself thinking it's going to be worth all the tears and tiredness, eventually. But maybe I should reserve judgement until after our first 'Field trip'. Bujumbura Post Office, watch out! 6L are coming.
Drawing a picture to give to the old people.


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