Saturday, July 26, 2008

Dwi Ga!

Moniatu’s father arrived on Sunday and took her with him to Liberia. She left without a warning, dressed in a jean jumper and a little white bucket hat. It was the first time I have seen her looking neat. She carried a broken umbrella, and a sorry, expressionless face which indicated she knew not where she was going, with whom she was going, or even that she was going at all. When I tried to say goodbye, she did not respond. Our house is silent, with a void that her giggles once filled. Liberia has claimed our alarm clock, our coloring buddy, and a bit of our joy.

Moniatu is not the only one who has left us. The four University of Njala students, with whom we were co-teaching our classes, have decided to quit and return to Freetown for the summer. Maryam and I are now trying to teach the extra classes we are able to, and reschedule the ones we aren’t. The greatest disappointment in all of this is not for us, but for our students. Many come from over ten miles away to attend the summer school, jumping at the free opportunity to enrich their education in a way that has never before been offered. Now, when they come, we must tell them the revised schedule, and that their teachers have left (and were not even respectful enough to tell the students themselves). Facing countless challenges, these students prioritize learning above all else, and yet, those who have made it to college and claim the title of teacher cannot even support them through this endeavor. I am frustrated with my colleagues, and disappointed on behalf of my students who I know work so hard to be here. What kind of message do we send our students if the teachers themselves are unwilling to be in the classroom?

We have however, in spite of all of this mess, managed to add one class which brightens every day. We have started a computer class, late at night, for the workers of the youth center. They have been unable to attend any of the summer school classes during the day because of their work. After our last official class leaves at eight, we go through the center rounding up the boys from whatever sanding or painting project they are working on and bring them into the small room in the back. Mohamed loves the computer (and has been watching us teach for the past month, so he know a lot of it already). He translates for three of the other boys who speak only Mende. Michael, who knows English quite well, goes ahead of the class in Microsoft Word to type sentences such as, “I love my mother,” while the rest of us are still trying to find the File button, or learning how to click and drag with the mouse. Stephen doesn’t know his letters, so the youngest member of the construction team (only 14 years old), sits beside him and together they type out assignments, finding the keys- clicking on the correct buttons. We learn in the darkness, at a time of day when we are (for once) completely alone and without spectators. Our classroom is a space of complete safety, comfort, and exploration, and I feel so joyful to work with my peers who have given so much of their time and energy to bring this center to life.

After the announcement of the election results on Wednesday, the Pujehun district had a big party, and Maryama and I experienced our first clubbing experience in rural Sierra Leone. We walked from our home in Gobaru to the Pujehun, down a road thick with mud from the rains that came all day. By the light of the moon and kerosene lamps on front porches we found our way to the town pavilion, and the mass of dancing Pujehun district residents. We danced for hours in the dark heat, a thick layer of moisture developing on every inch of human skin, as well as the cement poles of the pavilion. When our favorite song came on (“Put up your lighter, I want to see you fire…Fire fire fire! Fire fire fire! Fire fire fire fire fire fire!) we went mad with excitement (perhaps a bit too excited), and started up an intense flail dance. I think we shocked people a bit with that, but soon our girl friends were catching onto our infectious glee, and we got much of Pujehun flailing around with a movement unknown to this town. Sadly, an older man came up to me after the song, furious, and spouting a rhetoric of what correct African dancing consists of (apparently not flailing!). Now when we walk through the community, however, people shout out “fire fire fire, dwi ga (dance)!” and bust a move.