Friday, December 28, 2012

More School Visits!

The Village School Program has 20 schools.  I have now visited 17! One is in Baboua, so I visited it first. Two weeks ago I went with the director and the assistant (who works with pedagogy) to visit 7 schools. (See the earlier blog entry about parent organizations.) Most of those schools are along the main road which is now paved. It was a long day and most of the schools were not in session by the time we got there, but we saw the buildings and talked to directors (principals), teachers, and some students. We drove about 270 km. (170 m.) that day.

December 19 and 20 the director, assistant, man who works with parent organizations, and I set off to visit more schools to the south of Baboua. The roads ranged from bad to tolerable to horrible. Many places the road was better suited to motorcycles (which use it more often) or foot traffic. The tall grass leaned into the road and the bushes encroach on it making it impossible to drive without having the plants (now pretty dry) scraping the sides of the truck. In places, the plants also grow in the middle of the road so they scrap the underside of the vehicle, too. Other places, I had to drive with some wheels on the road and others in the brush. Since it is the dry season, we didn’t have to worry about mud, but some places the road was rutted from previous rain. There are also places with rocks in the road that I had to go around or over. Yes, I drove the whole distance – about 360 km. (225 m.)!

Did you notice that I am back to talking about the roads again?!? I guess when they are this bad, it’s not surprising. I figure the Day 1 we averaged about 25 km (16 m) per hour. I thought that was slow, but Day 2 it was only about 15-20 km. (10-13 m) per hour. The good news was that we passed very few cars or trucks and a motorcycle only about every 10 minutes or so. As a result, not too much dust – except what we kicked up ourselves. Twice, though, we had to creep along behind a herd of cattle for a short distance – until they could find a place to move off the road. Once again, I couldn’t take pictures as I was driving, but I snapped one of a young steer in a village. Image this at least double in size and with 20 or so of its companions and you’ll have an idea of what we followed. (Adult cattle have very long horns, by the way…)

We also had the experience of driving past fires. People here burn the brush in the dry season. I asked why and was told that it cleans up the area, makes it easier to hunt animals, and is a tradition. One person said that many people now know that it is not good for the environment and causes uncontrolled fires which burn houses or towns, but it is hard to get people to change. He continued that now people often don’t know who sets the fires, that it must be pyromaniacs! (Personally, I find it easier to believe that it is a tradition that is hard to break.) Twice we drove past fires at the side of the road. It was at a fairly level place, fortunately so we drove past quickly. The heat was intense. Once a little of the grass in the middle of the road was also burning. We had no choice but to drive over it as quickly as possible. Fortunately, no problem! I have no pictures of the fires – I was too busy paying attention to the road to snap photos!! Later, I took a picture near my house of leaves that have fallen from the trees (not because of cold, but dryness) and the places where the leaves were raked together to be burned. I also took a picture of the side of the road (near my house) that had been burned. Notice that not everything burned; some plants still remain. 
This trip to schools took two days. Even so, because of the distances and poor roads, we could only visit about two schools in the morning each day when classes were to be in session (between 8 and 12). We went to other towns to see the principals (who also teach, so, head teachers, really, like we used to have in the US) and buildings. Our route made a circle – well, one with a tail (so that part we had to go up and back on the same road).

These schools had “hangars,” rectangular-shaped structures with wood supporting thatched roofs. The exception was one town where local officials build a 2-classroom brick building. We talked about enrollment numbers, what they have and need (lots!), and how things are going. We also took some old textbooks that are no longer used and to give as prizes to the students. When school was in session, everyone was present got a book to keep at home. When it was after hours, we left books for the teachers to use as prizes. The director of the Village School Program also made some blackboards that we delivered. He took wood, framed it, and painted it black. Through our travels we were able to distribute about 8 of these. Each time we had to unload the boards to get to the books and then reload those left as we started off to another town.

We stayed overnight in a village called Lamy Pong – where there is a brick building for the school. The traditional chief of the area invited us to sit in his compound while we waited for some women to prepare food for us. The compound is an area surrounded by a fence (part woven grasses and part wood/corrugated tin) that encloses two buildings. Women cooked outside (but inside the compound) over wood fires. There was a place to bathe and they heated water for us to use. It was good to see more of Central African homes. It is true that the chief is richer than many people, but it was not like being at my house in Baboua.

People were very welcoming. It was obvious, though, that I was treated differently as a white person. They brought me bottled water. They sent someone to ask if I eat African food. I said yes. They asked, “Even manioc?” I said yes, I would eat whatever they prepared and be very appreciative. Still, when the food came, they brought manioc (the ball made from the roots), another ball made from corn, and rice. I was the only one of our group who ate rice. They also prepared two different bowls of meat in two sauces. I enjoyed the meal even though it was served about 9 p.m. and I could have just gone to bed without eating at that point. Traveling is tiring, esp. driving on those bad roads…

As we waited, the chief put on the generator and the television. If you had no electricity during the day and could afford a generator, what would you power? I think lights would be high on my list (along with my computer, and Internet…) In this village, TV made the top of the list. There were no electric lights. I find it interesting to see the difference in priorities. We watched mostly news – in Sango, French, Arabic, and a little English – and a bit of music.

As the villagers arranged places for us to stay, they came to get one of the members of our group to go and check out the room that would be for me – special treatment again. It was very comfortable. I slept in a brick building with a corrugated-tin roof. They spread two (plastic) woven mats on the concrete floor and put a foam mattress on one. It had a sheet, blanket, and pillow. They also left me a small, bright, halogen light. There was a door that locked with a key and a window that closed with a wooden shutter. I slept very well although I know that I also had more niceties that most people in the village had.

The latrine I used was what is often called a Turkish toilet. Sometimes they are made from metal, but this one was concrete. Basically, it is a hole in the ground with a place to put your feet. The better ones have a cover for the hole. This one was very clean and surrounded by walls of corrugated tin.

I am very glad to have gone on the trips, despite the roads! As we start the new calendar year, there will be a new director and assistant for the Village School Program. (The man who works with parents will continue his work.) We will have to spend a lot of time considering the needs of the schools and the program so that we can effectively plan – and to help us all better understand the program as it is now. I don’t know how much I will be traveling to schools – that is yet to be decided – but I am very glad to have gone to the 17 I saw. I have a much better understanding of the program, in general, the strengths, and the needs. All of this will help me work with Central Africans to further the work.