I believe that last night was the full moon, right? My last full moon in Africa, and I couldn’t even see it. The clouds, which sometimes make the sky even more beautiful and entertain me with their endless parades, last night were the ugly type, the kind that are soggy and gray like an old sweater dragged through the mud, clouds that served to hide the stars and the black and the full moon, that made going outside to enjoy the view quite pointless. When I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of rain pounding on the rooftop, I turned off the alarm on my clock. Why wake up at 5AM to go jogging when the dirt roads would have turned into mud roads and I’d spend 40 minutes being drenched with rain water? I slept in until 6:30. I had to trek through a muddy compound to get to school this morning, and during worship service, it began to pour. It rained off and on the whole day, and during the “off” the sky remained cloudy, with the ugly type of cloud that just dampens your spirits.
The weather matches my mood perfectly.
Yesterday, it wasn’t quite as rainy yet, but something worse than rain happened. At morning assembly, they had “inspection,” which happens from time to time, in which the teachers inspect the children to make sure they are following the dress code of black shoes, white socks, and a belt. Usually, those who haven’t followed the dress code are called forward and points are deducted from their teams (the school is divided into 4 teams, but I’m not sure how that works). But yesterday, instead of deducting points, they LASHED the children who weren’t wearing socks or who had forgotten to wear belts (the boys). Can you imagine being lashed with a stick for forgetting to wear a belt? I was too upset to watch, so I went into the classroom and skipped the rest of assembly.
Later, I was told that Sister Suzy was in the next classroom (4A) lashing the children who had forgotten to bring handkerchiefs to clean their desks. What the hell? I went into the classroom at the very end of her class to start my English class, just in time to see Sister Suzy calling forward three students who had gotten some of the answers wrong on their homework. She gave them all hard lashes, and when she finished with the last student, Martin, she said spitefully, “That will teach you to get answer wrong, you and your ugly face!”
Martin went to his desk and hid his face in his arms, and there were tears on his cheeks. May I remind you that this boy is ten years old?
“Martin,” I said, loudly enough for Sister Suzy to hear, “You have a wonderful face. You are so very handsome.” He peeked up and gave me a small, sad smile.
Immaculata was also crying. I went to her desk to comfort her. I whispered into her ear, “I’m so sorry. You don’t deserve to be lashed, just because you got the answer wrong. Sister Suzy is wrong to do that to you! She’s just a wicked witch. Don’t mind her.” Because Sister Suzy is seriously such a wicked witch. The way she treats these children is evil. She lashes them if they get any answers wrong, or if their parents didn’t sign their homework. They line up in the front of the class to receive their lashes as she calls them forward, one by one, for getting 4 out of 5 questions correct on their homework. One time, she told them to learn a certain prayer, and those who didn’t have it written down in their jotters were lashed. Um, what a great way to get children to want to pray, by lashing them if they can’t recite or don’t write down the prayers!
When I went to the other class for their English lesson, I learned that Sister Suzy had lashed everyone whose desk was dirty. “It’s not fair,” Elorm complained to me. “We had R.M.E. (Religious and Moral Education) right before Maths, and because we were drawing, there were eraser marks on our tables. Almost the whole class was lashed.”
No wonder there are so many problems in Africa. From such an early age, children are taught not to respect themselves. The culture here doesn’t allow for individualism, for innovation, or for anything different from the norm or “tradition.” The children are told that they can’t behave unless they are caned, and they believe it! They don’t respect their classmates, their teachers (they only respect the cane, they’ve admitted several times), the environment (as evidenced by the vast amount of litter everywhere you go), time (we’re on “African” time, where everything and everyone are always very late because they have absolutely no respect for time), and worst of all, they don’t respect themselves. Because, I tell them, it says in the Bible to love your neighbor as you love yourself, or treat others the way you would have them treat you. If they treat their neighbors with such disrespect, that’s how they wish to be treated as well.
I’ve tried so hard to teach them self-respect, but I feel like it hasn’t worked. They wouldn’t stop talking in my English class both yesterday and this morning. Oh, some of them were really good and quiet, but there was so much noise going on, so much bickering amongst themselves, so much humming, so much talking while I was talking, that I looked around and wondered where their respect was. This morning I sort of broke down a little bit. After telling them to keep quiet for so many times, I tried guilt manipulation.
“Why don’t you respect me? I’ve been so kind to you. I never lash you or make fun of you if you get the answer wrong. I bring you candy when I can, and I give you stickers when you do well on your homework. You don’t appreciate me at all. I came here all the way to Africa and left everything I knew in America, just to teach you. What have I taught you?” Here’s where they interjected “conjunctions,” or “full stops,” or “prepositions.” I silenced them. “Ah! What does that matter? If you can’t learn to respect yourselves, you will never become what you want to be. Without self-respect, you will never go to the university and become doctors, lawyers, businessmen, etc. If I haven’t taught you how to respect yourselves, then what’s the point? Why did I even come here? I feel like the past 9 months have been a waste.”
I guess it wasn’t entirely manipulation, because that’s how I feel. What difference have I made, really? Right now, I’m really doubting that I’ve helped anyone at all. I haven’t touched any lives or changed anything for the better. When I leave, everything will be the same. The children will still be lashed, and this cycle of lack of respect, or rather, respecting only “the cane,” will continue. And actually, the children have become so used to the cane that they are hardened against it, and it has so little effect on them at all.
My prayer lately has been for some sort of sign that my time here hasn’t been entirely wasted, a sign that I have made a difference here, however small.
Anyway, to top it off, I have sooo much to do this week (and I actually shouldn’t even be writing in here, but I can’t even concentrate with all of this on my mind), and yesterday afternoon was basically completely wasted. I had two objectives: to pick up a letter from the National Museum approving my request to take my class there on a field trip, and to stop by the post office. Fred had called the night before saying that he missed me and wanted to spend some time with me, and when he learned of my errand, he offered to drive me. He and his cousin came later than I had hoped to pick me up, and when we got to the museum, the place I needed to go to was already closed so I would have to come back the next day. I asked a museum guard where the nearest post office was, but instead of listening to my directions, Fred said he had never heard of a post office being there, and turned too early. There wasn’t any place to make a U-turn for several blocks, and by then, it was too late; the post office would have already closed. It took a lot of effort to keep from expressing my annoyance, but I know that guys take driving criticism very hard, so I didn’t say anything. I was pretty upset that I had failed in both of my objectives, though! Then, to top it off, instead of driving me straight back, Fred drove around town to do an errand, then we had to drop off his cousin at his house, where we went inside to greet his uncle’s family so Fred could eat fufu. I was feeling very frustrated that I had already wasted so much time, and here I was wasting even more time waiting for Fred to eat when I could have easily gone back by trotro on my own. The guy sitting next to me on the couch was being very rude to me, too, which was making me even more upset.
THEN, something wonderful happened. It was definitely the best part of the day, and the best part of the week so far. On the television was Michael Jackson’s memorial service. About five minutes after we arrived and I sat down to watch, an extremely good-looking white man walked out onto the stage with his guitar. He played a stunning rendition of “Human Nature” on his guitar, and I’ve never been happier to see someone. I breathlessly explained to those present in the room that this was the man I wanted to marry. Fred complained that I was seated on a couch with four other men, but all I could talk about was that man on the telly, and I quickly shushed him. I wanted to listen to the music. I’m convinced that John Mayer is God’s gift to the world, and particularly to me, and the comfort I received in just seeing him play on TV reinforced this conviction.
Thank you, God, for the gift of John Mayer’s life. Amen.
Anyway, Fred finally dropped me off around 7:40, which meant that, besides the few minutes I spent watching the memorial service, my entire afternoon and evening were wasted, as I accomplished nothing. Today, however, I left school early so I was able to pick up the letter from the museum and stop by the post office. I still have so much to do, though. Sorry, for this long rant, but I just needed to vent, you know? I actually feel a lot better now after having written this!