Saturday, 23 February 2008

A busy week!

First things first - this blog is coming to you live from my new favourite place EVER! It turns out that whilst I've been schlepping into central Dakar everytime I want to use the internet, there's actually a place literally round the corner from me, that's far nicer than any other I've been to, with better facilities and is half the price - score!

Anyway, this week seems to have had many ups and downs, but I'm fine now, enjoying myself and even have company to endure the heckling from Dakar's finest sleazes - all in all, a busy week!

First off, straight after I wrote my last blog I attempted to get home via the bus, which is my normal chosen method of transport and usually very reliable. Alas I waited an hour for a bus that never came. In fact not just my faithful no. 10 bus didn't arrive, but none went past at all. Eventually coming to the conclusion that there were no buses at this specific bus stop, I walked to the next one, where I also proceeded to wait a further hour for a bus that never came. The frustrating thing was also that no one seemed to know why there weren't any, and more annoyingly so, didn't seem as bothered about it as I was.

Thus my only option was a cab, that I stupidly shared with a seemingly respectable man going in the same direction. He then proceeded to come on to me for the entire (and ridiculously long) journey home and I was forced to come up with a false name and claim I had a fiancé (don't feel I'm old enough to pull off husband yet). I'd made the mistake of trying to make conversation about the reason behind the lack of buses, and he then wanted my name, number, address and to escort me home once we'd reached the bus terminal. Senegalese men really don't have a subtle manner in this field and the ride was truly uncomfortable, made worse by his leaning over me at every opportunity, and a conversation he had with the cab driver (in Wolof so I couldn't understand) which terminated with the cabby reaching round the back of his seat to hammer in the lock on my door. Though I was convinced I was going to get raped by two horrible men in an unknown suburb of Dakar, I did get home fine and with some strong words on leaving the cab, managed to not be accompagnied/followed home. However I'm not too stubborn to admit that the incident did shake me up slightly. Incidentally, on returning home I discovered the cause of the road blockages/lack of buses, was due to a march against the release of two homosexual men suspected of marrying as being gay is technically illegal in Senegal.

Anyway, the next day I braved Dakar again, not wanting to lose my confidence of exploring alone and be reduced to a solitary existence consisting of school and my house(!), however this was again a bad idea. The buses were, thank goodness, running fine, however I did seem to get hounded more than usual by Dakar's street sharks and even got followed half-way down the road near Place de l'Independence with a guy trying to pull the 'Remember me?' scam that all the guide books warn you about -- if you don't stop to talk to them and let them mug you/sell you something, they call you a racist for not recognising them and thinking all African people look the same. Anyway, it caused me to turn off on to a street I didn't know and get hounded by even more people. Normally I'd be fine, but coupled with the incident the day before, I'd had enough and got the bus straight home.

The street hounding is part and parcel of Dakar's 'charm', however no matter how much you're prepared for it to happen, I think you can't know how much it's going to bother you until you're here and desperate for the chance to explore the streets un-hassled. Ignoring them just doesn't work. Yesterday a guy attempting to sell men's hawain shirts (--no idea why he'd think I'd be interested!) actually grabbed me, and today another pulled my hair and called me a racist for not wanting to talk to him. It really can all get a bit much sometimes but it's definitely ten times better when you're with someone else, and together you can laugh it off/scream for help if need be. It really does grate on you after a while though!

Sunday however was a good day! I did my laundry as usual and then started planning a geometry lesson for school. I figured geometry was quite a good maths topic to cover as it's visual and hopefully more easy to comprehend with limited communication skills! Anyway, my dictionary was lacking such useful words as 'quadrilateral' and 'parellogram', so Alain lent me one of his old school textbooks which was so useful. It gave me loads of ideas and definitely cheered me up - a sad existence you lead when a french maths book cheers you up.

Anyway, even more exciting than that, I received a phonecall that evening from another volunteer who had arrived the week after me and who wanted to meet up and maybe hang out a bit for the next few weeks. I was over the moon at the prospect of company (loner that I was pre-last weekend!), and we met up on Wednesday. The meeting almost didn't happen thanks to those crazy Dakar students clashing with the riot police over some nonsense - the buses weren't running again for fear of having their windows broken by the inevitable debris that gets exchanged - however I got a cab into town and the Institut Français where we met was all calm. Anyway, the girl, Helena, turned out to be really nice and totally on my wavelength in terms of exploring at the weekends and working hard during the week. Thus yesterday we ventured to Ile de Gorée...

Ile de Gorée is a tiny island about 20 minutes off the coast of Dakar and is famous for its 'Maison des Esclaves' - House of slaves. Gorée played a role in the Euro-African slave trade and the history there is quite moving. I definitely couldn't help but feel ashamed and slightly awkward at reading of Britain's role in the trade. Aside from the museums though Gorée is also a lovely spot to get away from Dakar's hustle and bustle. Though there is still much heckling from the street sellers there and the rather pushy tourist market that seems to cover much of the island, it was still nice to get away for the day and feel like I was seeing more than my school, suburb and an internet café!

Today we went out again, this time just to town, but had a nice lunch at an African restaurant, and then pootled along the streets in search of a sports centre Helena had heard about. We found it, but alas this was after the hair-pulling, racist calling incident! Perhaps because there aren't as many tourists on a Sunday, we got more hassle than usual, but regardless it was pretty unpleasant. One guy did call after us that we were 'bad people' though, which was quite funny. Anyway, after finding the centre eventually, another good discovery was a lovely little ice cream parlour right next door - definitely somewhere we'll be visiting again! Then after realising that most of Dakar closes on a Sunday, we ventured by bus and taxi to Point des Almadies, on the northern tip of Dakar where there are apparently nice beaches and good shops/bars/restaurants. We were a bit disappointed but found a potentially nice restaurant where the use of the pool is free if you buy a meal. Anyway, all in all, quite a packed weekend!

Helena and I have also made provisional plans for my remaining weekends here, which I've suddenly realised totals only 3! There's so much I want to do now I'm not limited by being a solo traveller, but it looks like a trip to Lac Rose next weekend is on the cards (a salt lake that shimmers pink!), and then the following weekend a couple of nights away exploring the Petite Cote south of Dakar (lots of nice beaches, fishing villages, piroque trips and horse riding/cycling!). My last weekend I want to go to Ile de Madeline, which is essentually a nature reserve on an island. The swimming there is supposed to be amazing in lovely rock pools! Will see though. The main thing is I have things to look forward to at the weekends now which makes the teaching more bearable.

Which brings me on to the reason I came here - to teach! Teaching this week has been a lot more hands on, though I still feel like I could be doing more. I got moved to an older class in the school, with the ages ranging from 11-14, and these are the children who want to go to the lycée after passing an exam in June. The teacher, Monsieur ? (can't remmber his name!) has been quite enthusiastic at my presence in the class and likes to show off the few words of english he knows. Anyhow, this means I've taken a few classes on English, and on Friday did my first after school lesson for 2.5 hours!

The lesson started well, with props and everything - I'd brought in globe-patterned balloons that my boss at the British Council had given me, and used them to show the kids just how many countries speak english. I was however slightly worried when they didn't seem to have heard of Australia and New Zealand!

The rest of the lesson was semi-successful, however I can't help but feel that perhaps the Senegalese should really start learning English earlier then High School. Not that I think everyone should learn to speak english, but starting aged 13 or older is really too late - their pronunciation is dire! And discipline wise, they've caught on to the fact that I won't hit them, and are far more boisterous than they would be with Monsieur, who can be quite vicious with his 'cravache' (riding crop).

On Friday morning whilst taking them for PE (which in itself was quite amusing), I explained to the 'élève responsable' (class president), that I thought hitting them was wrong and that regardless I felt I shouldn't have to beat 12 and 13 year olds to get them to stay quiet. Anyway, they all thought this was quite hilarious but the girl must have passed this info on to the teacher, who then passed on a message in my after school class, that I should write down the names of the pupils who play up and he'll deal with them (i.e. beat them) on Monday. Obviously this wasn't what I wanted to do, and so I simply threw out the kids who were playing up. Perhaps if there were less kids I would have let them stay, however trying to control 50 kids is at the best of times trying, but when some are playing up it's impossible.

Whilst I'm fairly confident that teaching isn't the right career for me and being a corporate lawyer is a far better use of my time, my respect for teachers is most definitely increasing! My sister is a teacher and works all hours of the day, planning, marking and generally working bloody hard, and so I already knew it's not the easy job some think it is (-- ''but you get the school holidays!''), however until now I never understood how difficult it is. It's not just the planning and time that goes into your lessons - it's having the creativity to present it in such a way that gets through. My geometry lesson for example, went largely over their heads - judging what content is suitable to their level is quite tricky, especially having only been with that particular class a week. Still, I'm hopefully going to get to do some more maths this week so we'll see what happens.

I have lots more to say but this entry has taken me so long to finish, and though I'm still not happy with its writing/structure, time is running out and soon I'll have a whole new week of stuff to write about!! Plus some quirky Senegalese tidbits that I'm keeping note of! So, until next time... :)

1 comment:

Dot said...

Hair curling! Glad you've now got someone to go round with at the weekends.
Yes, my respect for teachers soared when I had to do some teaching!