Slowly, slowly: The forced motto here in The Gambia. The past month has gone by no less than slowly, slowly. The open date of school was pushed back for teacher training, so I had a month of waiting. Due to the amount of time on my hands, I had goals of fetching my own water, hand washing my own clothes, and maybe even cooking my own meals. The plan was first foiled when my kind host family brought me every meal before I even had the chance to cook it myself, and most of it tastes delicious. A few weeks later, my host sisters saw me fetching my water for laundry and insisted that I bring them my clothes. I decided I would try to learn a better technique from them and then become independent in this venture again. As they were doing it, I tried to help, but they mostly laughed and didn’t let me do it. I was sold when I saw them take my brown t-shirt (from the dirt) and turn it white again. They are incredible, Tide could use them in their advertising. I still fetch my own water, but I’ll sometimes have them help me instead of taking multiple trips.
When I wasn’t trying to be an independent, strong African woman, I filled my time with reading, running, practicing my Mandinka, and trying to help out with one of the everyday tasks of my family. One morning, I went to the rice fields with my African sisters, and again…they found me hilarious. Not me, more my inability to distinguish rice from weeds. I also try to help pound rice or coos into a powder that they use for breakfast porridge, but they usually only let me do it for a few seconds. Again, they are incredibly strong.
Eventually, the first week of school came. On Monday (9/26), I went to the Kwinella Lower Basic School (grade 1-6) for my first day there. It was overwhelmingly chaotic. Teachers had just received their postings, and only 9 out of 15 teachers were there. The head teacher at the school was as on it as he could be, given the disorganization that begins from the Ministry. School starts at 8:20, but for the first hour and a half the students were on the field while my head teacher, Mr. Jarju, organized things, stressed out, and then spoke with the teachers and I. While it would have been nice if that could have been done ahead of time, he did give encouraging words to the teachers. He commented that people ask why he lets the best teachers leave (and that’s not up to him, the ministry does all the postings) and he said that ‘the best teachers leave and the best teachers come’ and that we are here for the students. His attitude is encouraging.
The next day, I went to Wurokang Nursery School (Nursery-grade 3) to meet the teachers there, knowing that things would probably be in a similar state. The school used to be an annex to KLBS, and also under the supervision of Mr. Jarju. However, it was just decided that it would be an independent school. The only teachers that were there was the brand new head teacher and one other. This was his first year as head teacher and he was extremely overwhelmed. He told me to ‘keep students busy’ and I did some mini lessons best I could, but it was frustrating to be the only person in any of the classrooms, especially since most students did not understand any of my English, or even the small amount of Mandinka I tried.
At least, now I have some goals and ideas in mind. I will have to continue to ease in and then decide which ones are going to work best.