May 152011

Each morning I wake up at about 6:30am like clockwork. I’ve discovered that even if I’m tired, my body has somehow gotten used to that time and it’s no use to just lie there in bed with my eyes closed but mind awake. It gets light really early (and dark really early too for that matter…about 6pm!…maybe b/c we’re below the equator…barely, might I add) and I can always hear the cook in the kitchen preparing breakfast. I usually head off to school around 8am making sure to “look smart.” This is a phrase commonly used by the gatekeeper of the guesthouse that I chuckle over each morning. The first day he exclaimed, “Ahh, you are smart today!” with a thumbs up sign I thought he was referring to the fact that I had figured out how to lift the padlock off the gate myself and open the door (as I had seen another guest do). I just smiled and said, “Well, thank you.” He continued to say it everyday though until I thought, “Thanks, but it’s really not rocket science to figure out how to get outside ;)” I finally realized after being told by some teachers at school a few days later, “Ahh, you’re dressed very smart today!” that he was referring to my clothes and not my intellect. I actually decided to test the theory one day by walking out in a t-shirt and jeans…yep, no ‘smart’ compliment. He’s not the only one at the guesthouse who watches out for my appearance though. My first day of school as I was leaving the breakfast room one of the housekeepers tugged on my dress and led me by the hand to a room and pointed at an iron. In my defense, the material was the type that was supposed to look wrinkled anyway but I obliged her request to iron it. I find it ironic that my students can come to class barefoot with uniforms covered in red dirt but I have to dress as if I’m going to a business meeting. (Just as a sidenote- it is not required at all to dress professionally with a button-up shirt everyday, in fact my coordinator recommended jeans. I’ve got to be honest, I do enjoy getting the “smart” comment though 😉 ).

It takes me about an hour to get to school each day give or take 30 minutes. The ride to school involves changing taxis three times. Each “taxi” (actually a mini-van) waits around until it can get passengers before it takes off towards the designated location. Once it is fully crammed past capacity with people practically sitting on each others’ laps it is time to go. The mini-vans are how everyone gets around in the city and, I must admit, are pretty reliable. That said, I can never get out of them soon enough. I prefer the fresh air of the motor-taxis (which bring back fond memories of my time living in Thailand) but they are quite a bit more expensive. Another note about the mini-vans: the ones I take are plain white with a yellow stripe across the side. However, I have seen some (no idea where they go) that are brightly colored and covered with all sorts of graphics. There’s the Ten Commandments van, for instance, that has pictures all over the sides of Charlton Heston’s movie portrayal of Moses. There’s also the Chuck Norris van. I’m sure there are many more.

This past week I have picked up on the term, “Mzungu” which means foreigner. The ones I hear it from the most are little children who will point, smile, and wave (if they’re at a distance) or latch on (if they are close by). Everyday I must walk down a long dirt road to school after getting off of my third taxi. The road is lined with farmland and houses made of mud and bricks with elderly women and children sitting on the steps watching passer-bys. There are four little kids (probably about two or three years old) at the beginning of the road that have caught on to my schedule. They wait for me each morning and excitedly shout, “Mzungu!! Mzungu!!!” and chase after me and hold my hands as I walk to school. I was actually surprised how far they followed me at first but evidently all the people we pass know that I am the foreign teacher and seem to trust me because they just smile as we go by. As we approach the school grounds, the kids release their grip and run off laughing.

As far as school goes, I’ll I can say is I’m ready to challenge anyone to Pictionary or Charades as soon as I get back home. There are no worksheets or workbooks…just my acting and chalkboard drawing ability. I’m sure it’s quite entertaining to watch me dramatically act out various jobs or places in the community (the lessons this past week). I think my favorites are butchery and police station. Butchery involves dancing around like a chicken and mooing like a cow on all fours…then cutting them up on a table and (just to make sure they comprehend the end result) rubbing my stomach and saying, “Mmmm! Yum!” as I eat off an imaginary plate with my other hand. Police station was harder than I thought to explain. “Police keep us safe.” (blank stares) “If someone is BAD… “(surely they must know this word I thought – opposite of good, basic vocabulary…) then I have an imaginary fist fight, etc. “then POLICE come…” (act out being arrested – looking REALLY sad) “and take them to the POLICE STATION” then I draw a picture. When they all finally act like they understand what I’m saying, we move on to the next job. I’m not completely sure how high the rate of retention is though. We had a quiz and more than I would care to admit put that a doctor works at a butchery. Really? I suppose that’s not entirely false if you’re considering a surgery room… 😉

There are a few teachers that will walk in my room and help me out sometimes. Sadly, two of my favorites are leaving this week because they were just here to student teach for a few weeks and now are going back to finish their studies. On Friday, one of them showed me a paper booklet he had that was a prospective students’ guide to some university in Virginia (most likely left by some other volunteer). He flipped through the pages of smiling students participating in all sorts of activities on the perfectly manicured campus. “It is beautiful, yes?” he smiled. “Yes, it is, “ I agreed, “I actually work near here…” and pointed to Washington DC on the map of the east coast on the back cover. “Heather, can I ask you a question? When are you getting married?” “Umm…I don’t know…” I answered awkwardly. He probably noticed the surprised expression on my face and quickly said, “because I hope I can come to your wedding. I want to come to America. Will you tell me when you get married? Please do not forget me.” “Sure,” I laughed, “I will remember you.” The other teacher also pleaded that I not forget him. He brought a few photos to school of himself to show me and said I could have one. “But only one please. These are the only ones I have.” I was touched by the fact that he would let me have one his only photos and could tell that he didn’t entirely want to part with them when I saw his face as I picked up one saying, “This one’s nice.” Instead, I told him that I could take a photo of the photo and that way we could both have it. He later sent me a text message expressing his gratitude for our time together and said that I was the first “white person” he had ever talked with and promised he would never forget me.

I HOPE that I am leaving the same lasting impact on my students who still can’t really pronounce my name, haha.  As I mentioned before “Padilla” became “PED-rah” so I decided to have them attempt my first name…the result? “Ca-do.” Yes, Ca-do. How this sounds like Heather, I have no idea… Believe me, we have done tons of enunciating every syllable and sounding things out to no avail.


Cado Pedrah, signing out until next time 😉


First Name

Last Name

Your Email

Join the GVN newsletter

© 2011 Volunteer Journals Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha