Day number 7 today - can't believe that this time a week ago I was in Heathrow, just getting on the plane to come here and so so nervous! The strange thing about coming here is that it makes you think, well if I can master the art of bartering, visa collecting and travelling here (not to mention taking a class of over 100 pupils...) then I can manage everything; and at the same time you are convinced that you will never manage any of these things because at the beginning they seem so extraordinary. Life for people here is not easy, Mama has been telling me some stories about her childhood, and shocking is the only word to really describe it. Likewise at school - it's not surprising at all that there are 22 year olds in what is technically a school for 12-16 year olds, when you consider the environment and way in which they are expected to learn here.
Will talk more about the school when teaching really gets under way as atm it's devoirs surveillés (think I might have said this already) which are tests done in silence for this week. But just to give an idea of these conditions... The school is split into 4 year groups - 6è-3è - and each of these is split into 3 or 4 groups, labelled A to D according to age. This in theory is to reduce numbers and make it easier for teachers to teach, but in one of these 16 or so groups there are over 100 children. So far I've had classes of 39-75 and these are considered as middlingly large. The desks are old and mostly tip up at the slightest movement, the blackboards are covered in old work so it's hard to tell which is the old and which is the new. There are no proper windows, just vents in the walls. The walls themselves are decrepit and there are holes in most of the roofs so when it rains... And it rains with FORCE in Togo! The floors are uneven and most have holes all over the place. The children tear pages out of their cahiers (school books) to write these exams on and many many cheat beyond belief. Another volunteer found 3 separate copies prepared by one child in one exam, just to cover all possibilities! The corporal punishment is also hard to come to terms with as they punish for trivial things, like a spelling mistake, yet leave larger problems like cheating. Will tell you more about it when I've bitten the bullet and done a class!
Had the first PA volunteers Tuesday the day before yesterday, which is a chance for 'cultural activities' with the rest of the volunteers. Met some other English-speaking people which was a nice break! The acitivity this week was fufu-making, what fun! This is a traditional dish of Togo and is basically pounded yam, which they usually have with some kind of sauce, usually spicy. Looks a little like chewing gum when is nearly ready and can't say it's my favourite but I liked it better this time than the last. Although perhaps that was only cos I'd worked up an appetite! The fufu-making noise is one I will never forget, as we hear it at least every night and almost all day on Sundays! There is a definite technique to it - don't think I'm quite a master of it yet... V hard work but such a unique sight. One lot of fufu takes two people, who each pound the yam with a huge rounded stick and have to coordinate so one goes down while the other goes up which is what makes the characteristic noise. Il faut un grand effort! Will try and put some photos somewhere soon but not quite sure how or when yet. We got to eat the fufu afterwards which was much appreciated and as there was no cutlery had my first meal totally African style - what an achievement!
My Ewé lessons are to start soon and can't wait! Have learnt new word today - amaton (with stress on the ton) means 3. Had thought it meant third finger but apparently that's just what Mama was demonstrating with... Doing my first excursion on Sat to Togoville which isn't that far away but you have to get a kind of canoe thing (it appears I can't escape it Daddy)... So excitement all round here!
Hot and sticky here atm but this is COLD for Togo - all the children wear extra t shirts under their uniform and everyone is in long trousers and sleeves except me who is wearing as little as possible and is still hot! Mentioned that it was hot to the principal of the school yesterday when he asked me how I was finding Togo and he died of laughter. March is the hottest part of the year here and he kindly told me with great delight - 'Tu vas souffrir!' Oh how I am looking forward to that..