Sunday, November 27, 2005

Salif and the school of hard knocks

Coming on the tales of my latest post about salif i don't want to continue with criticism so i'll start with a good story about him

- the most popular sport in the world -
Coming here, my sporting options have been quite limited. There is no basketball, baseball, hockey, and quite regrettably no american football. I have been forced to endure that sport that we americans have been religiously avoiding for the past century. My foray into what the rest of the world refers to as football (a blasphemous insult on the far more entertaining american version) began with the Europe champions league final last may which I miraculously watched in Bassi during my training. During the game Liverpool came back from a 3-0 deficit (virtually insurmountable, in real football terms think buffalo bills comeback versus the houston oilers only in a championship game) to beat AC Milan on penalty kicks in overtime. I talked to one of the other volunteers about it the next day and he said it was the greatest game of soccer he had ever seen, which was kind of upsetting because it would mean that it was all downhill from here. The first game I ever watched would be the best.
Nonetheless I continued to follow the sport especially since we were at the exciting time of world cup qualifications and I watched burkina play a few times as well (the locals got really excited when I cheered after burkina scored). And occasionally I would read up on the latest soccer news and inform salif about it which he seemed to appreciate.
Just during this past couple of weeks I arbitrarily chose a favorite player - Herman Crespo. He's an argentinian who plays for Chelsea (the best team in the English Premiership League) and who scored 2 goals for milan during that first game of soccer I watched. This pleased Salif to no end and now we constantly talk about the merits of crespo and ronaldo (salif's favorite player who is often regarded as the best player in the world). I generally make stuff up for these conversations as I know very little about it.

Now for something completely different. Salif has only one son who lives with him (the other lives with his old girlfriend far away) and that son is barely a year old. However, there are a group of little kids who hang around salif's shop (mostly other family members, probably relatives of salif's uncle who owns the place) and run errands for him (and occasionally me) and generally work at the shop as well. They all go to primary school but salif takes his own time to instill some education into them as well: mostly french and math. Here are his reasons. There are too many kids at the school. He wants them to get jobs that require an education (he once told me that he wanted his son to be a doctor or a teacher). He thinks that they are far behind. He thinks that it is wrong that they don't get hit in school anymore.
Back in the day, apparently primary school students were relentlessly beaten if they did poorly in school and salif and his friends have recounted to me tales of beatings. Salif thinks its impossible for the kids to learn if they don't get beaten. So he hits.
I had heard him talking about it before but I had never seen it till last week (i actually went to see him at the beginning of my sadly unsuccessful quest to find a turkey). The kids, boys and girls, were doing work on math and french on tiny little chalkboards made of wood. Salif would write a problem or a phrase or word in french and they would have to fill in the answer, the blank, or just read alound the words. He also has a big wooden chalkboard that he uses for bigger problems and for conjugation of verbs. Everytime they made a mistake he would give them a hard knock on the head and it clearly hurt. They're are strong believers in negative reinforcement in burkina. Some teachers read off the scores on all the tests when they hand them back just to embarrass the kids. And then they ridicule them. Which brings me to another topic.

- the perils of grading 500 papers
I just recently finished grading 500 papers for my classes (4 tests and 1 homework for the sixieme) and it is a hellish experience. What makes it so frustrating is that they don't read what they write down, especially in the lower grades. They try to regurgitate whatever I put on the board, and if they can't remember all the little connecting words they just leave them out or sometimes they use a word that sort of sounds like the other word but means something completely different. They don't read over their response and think about it and notice that it is utterly ridiculous. Which is why I get answers that define a cell as a petite sac that contains (contient) all other living organisms instead of constructs (construit) all other living organisms. Things like that are a huge problem in the lower 2 classes. The quatrieme and the troisieme however generally know french but they suffer from their own problems. The quatrieme refused to ask for explication of a confusingly worded problem with the result that only one person out of 80 got the questions from that section right. They told me later that it was forbidden for students to ask a question about the test in the burkinabe system. To which i quickly replied that I was not a burkinabe (they all laughed at that) and that they know what its like to have an american teacher as they already had one for 2 years. For the troisieme, a significant portion of the class makes no effort for the test because they know that their grade does not matter, only their grade on the BEPC (a test they have to pass to go on to the next level). Nothing I can do about that but I did tell them that if they didn't care to tell me and i would give them a 5 on the test (out of 20. they get grades out of 20 here and passing is 10) for saving me the trouble of grading their test. Anyways,
Nothing else major to report. I've done some more reading lately and I highly recommend the book Pale Fire by Nabokov. Thanksgiving was good. A lot of hanging out with other volunteers, watching movies and just relaxing. No turkey though.
Happy thanksgiving.


Blogger boukary said...

pale fire is an epic poem by a robert frostian type poet but the real story of the book is told in the footnotes by a fictional editor which tells about the editors own madness and the poets death.

4:51 PM  
Blogger boukary said...

I wasn't being totally honest when I said that there was nothing else to add. Burkina actually went through a huge event a couple weeks ago.

4:55 PM  
Blogger boukary said...

Burkina has never had a democratic change of power, all new leaders have been installed by coups. This made the recent election pretty interesting to say the least.

4:56 PM  
Blogger boukary said...

i went with salif to vote. at the booth the ballot was a big sheet of paper with all the candidates pictures and their names and parties. There were 13 candidates. Not exactly a united opposition.

4:58 PM  
Blogger boukary said...

salif was voting for the man already in power as were most of the people in kompienga. According to a recent consistutional change, this is the last presidential election he can stand for. I asked one supporter what would happen at the end of his term and he assured me that the prez would change the law so he could run again. He's probably right.

4:59 PM  
Blogger boukary said...

for the voting, after you registered (you had to have a voting card) you went into a back room, touched your thumb to an ink pad and then touched the inked thumb to the picture of the candidate you supported. Then you put your ballot in a box and then dipped your thumb in permanent ink so that you couldn't vote again. I tried to vote but they wouldn't let me without an i.d.

5:02 PM  
Blogger boukary said...

unsurprisingly the man in charge won around 60 to 70% of the vote. Was it fair?

5:03 PM  
Blogger boukary said...

As far as i know, the election was fair. I heard of no major scandals over the election.

5:03 PM  
Blogger boukary said...

the campaigning certainly stretches the popular definitions of fairness. The winner spent millions, delivered hats and shirts and pagnes to everyone, and came to speeches in helicopters. He even had campaign banners that had superimposed his face over a picture of indiana jones complete with whip and knife and hat.

5:05 PM  
Blogger boukary said...

the opposition came into town on donkey carts (not literally, but they might has well have). Their chances of winning were slim to none.

5:06 PM  
Blogger boukary said...

slim left town a long time ago.

5:06 PM  
Anonymous Erin Claire said...

no comments about your wonderful girlfriend back home??? i miss you so much!!

7:25 PM  
Anonymous Kurt said...

I agree. Not with Burkina Faso. I have no clue about Burkina Faso. But Pale Fire is an excellent book. You should probably read Lolita too. Has a similar kind of unreliable narrator and mystery to solve.

6:24 PM  
Blogger Arkansas's Swiss Family Imholz said...

Tulane University has spent quite a bit of money (millions) of their own to repair hurricane damage to the campus. They have cut down on the number of professors and sports curriculum as part of the recovery process. They're pulling themselves up by their on boot straps. I give them a great deal of credit for their own initiatives without waiting for hand outs. This has nothing to do with your blog except that I can tell you're one of their graduates. :-)

10:50 PM  
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4:17 PM  

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