Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Class 3A

I would like to welcome you to class 3A, The experiences I've had here are both countless and undescribable... but allow me to attempt to relay a very small bit of the activity!Here's some things that you will hear the teacher say on a regular basis, these are exact quotes but other variations of them are fair game too...

The teacher asks for one student to bring her health book to use as an example for another class, finds the work unsatisfactory and insults the student and several others who bring their health books forward... then she calls on another student in the front row (who has been univoled until this point) to bring hers, the student confrims, "my health book?" to which the teacher replies, "Look at this big fool, she sits in the front and cannon hear!"

One morning as the class was getting started a little boy was mindlessly tapping his pen on his desk. The teacher starts down his row, "Is that your pen noise!?" he freezes, she grabbs his face in a very common violent cheek pull that I can usually nearly feel in my own, then proceeds to throw his pen on the floor and shouts, "stupid!" as she walks away.

I am not trying to villianize anybody, I am just continually amazed by the tough African culture here and the contrast between my school experience and the Cameroonian norm. Countless times in a day I hear "look at that big fool, "What a big empty head!" "What is wrong with this child!?" "Read! or I will whip you well!" and witness teachers herding students with branches, pulling cheeks, slapping, hitting, banging heads with rulers... Yet through it all I have only seens tears once, back home I feel, with drastically more tender treatment, I would almost expext to see tears in this age group daily. One day when I was handed a list of "noise makers" by another teacher and instructed to "punish these children" I looked at her totally blank and gave a dumbfounded gasp/laugh as I almost whispered, "how?"

Today when I was done teaching my two classes (that went very well :) ) I came back to spend the rest of the afternoon with class 3A. The teacher handed me their reader and said that I should read their reading assignment today, a sentence at a time and then they read after me. So I stood at the front of the classroom and began... It's a continued story, today was scene III, having NO IDEA the kind of story and taste of African culture I was about to experience... This is the exact story I found myself reading to 6-8 year-olds today... and I was the only one who didn't find the content completely normal.

The Broken Calabash

Scene III

At dusk. Grand Mama sits in front to the hut, trimming a basket. Titi is inside the hut, perhaps eating or doing some other thing. The cock crows and Grand Mama suddenly becomes time conscious. Nightfall will soon approach, she thinks. Then, she trims faster.

Grand Mama: Titi! [She calls out]
Titi: Grand Mami, I was winnowing the beans. [She lies]
Grand Mama: Learn to be busy always. It’s good to be busy. When you are busy, you lack nothing to eat. But I was not happy with the way you worked in the farm.
Titi: Big Mami, you know I’ve to learn gradually. In the city, we do no farming.
Grand Mama: but at your age, you must know how to make a ridge. Your must know how to make a big ridge which can take the seeds. Your ridges were like large pits.
Titi: I will do better next time.
Grand Mama: A promise is a debt. And in all this, I blame your mother. What does she think will become of your life? You’re already ripe for marriage, and who is that husband that will accept for a wife one who cannot make a ridge?
Titi: But Big mama, I won’t be a farmer in future…
Grand Mama: What would you be?
Titi: An office worker.
Grand Mama: And if by some misfortune, you fail as an office worker, what will become of your life?
Titi: I will be a trader.
Grand Mama: What if you’ve no capital to start a trading business?
Titi: [Silent.] I will…
Grand Mama: Look my daughter, the earth is for everyone. We shall all return to it in one way or the other. The earth is like a mango tree behind the house. We must all return to it when hungry. Work in the office can come to an end, but work on our ancestral farmlands is eternal. [a young adolescent boy approaches from the small footpath that leads to the hut. Titi is instantly gripped by fear. The boy is timid, probably afraid of Grand Mama.]
Titi: Welcome. [The boy keeps observing the old woman’s face.]
Grand Mama: Who are you, my child?
Boy: I’m Jacob…
Grand Mama: Jacob is no name!
Boy: I’m Komofor Jacob.
Grand Mama: You’re Komogor’s son?
Boy: yes, Big Mama.
Grand Mama: Your father is a good man. Whenever he comes here, he reserves a cola for me. He lives in peace with us. But his second wife is a proud she-goat. Whose son are you, my child?
Boy: I’m the son of the first wife.
Grand Mama: That’s good. That one is a good woman. She greets people well. Even though, she has never given me anything, she greets me quite well. She may not because she does not have. The second wife behaves like a queen. She sways her large buttocks at us. She dresses like a coastal goddess, and behaves like a foreigner meanwhile she is our own daughter. My child, does she fare well with you at home?
Boy: Yes.
Grand Mama: What of your brothers and sister?
Boy: they are all well.
Grand Mama: Komofor is a kind man. So my child, what have you come to my house to do?
Boy: Big Mama, I came to greet Titi. We are students of the same college in the city. [Titi glances at Grand Mama, noticing that she is not happy.]
Grand Mama: Titi, is it true what he says?
Titi: Yes, Big Mama.
Grand Mama: But I will accept him only for today because his father is a kind man. I do not hate you my son. But I will not like you to visit Titi because you might be tempted to do what is bad in the eyes of the gods. And if that happens, it will be a disgrace to all of us. So keep away from her and you should all know that whatever you do behind my back, I will know through the soothsayer. I can allow Titi to have a girlfriend and I’ll still be there to control their activities.
Boy: I’ve heard, Big Mama.
Grand Mama: Good! So you can go and help in the household work. You can accompany your grandfather to the fields. He’s a great hunter. He will teach you how to hunt the leopards and the panthers. You can also learn how to tap palm wine and you get initiated in a good cult where you learn the ways of our ancestors. Have you been circumcised?
Boy: No!
Grand Mama: You have to. You have grown big and you need to be initiated in the ways of our clan.
Boy: Big Mama, I have to go….
Grand Mama: Good. Greet everyone for me.
Titi: Bye!
Boy: Bye!
Grand Mama: [She draws closer to Titi.] You’re not being honest to yourself, Titi. You can’t cheat yourself, can you?
Titi: [Surprised.] What’s the matter?
Grand Mama: The young boy whose footprints I’ve seen for the first and the last time can do no good to your life.
Titi: He’s merely a school mate. I didn’t even know that he was here.
Grand Mama: That’s not important to me. I have to make things clear to you. I don’t want him here again. Tell him to stay at home and be useful to his parents. He’s no good to you and maybe to himself as well. But he must learn to be useful to himself or to his parents, so to say. [Titi nods in approval of her counsel, but she seems dejected and confused. The scene gradually black out on them.]

Scene IV
The scene is Nkeh’s shrine. He is the oldest soothsayer in Lankong. His hair is as white as human teeth and his beard is very long. He is too old and looks very fragile. He wears black sandals made of rubber. His costume is quite similar to the boubou of a Moslem Man. He is stout and perhaps owner of many wives and children.

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