Day 5

Need I talk about the weather? Take it as read from now on that it is hot and sunny. The only likely change is that it might get hotter and sunnier. It will not rain for until July, or maybe June, by which time I’ll be long gone: home trying to cut the grass between showers, probably.

It turns out that classes begin at 8:30 and today I started with Year 1 ESOL – for three hours! The materials they use out here are all out of date and UK-centric. We started with going over the homework I marked, then I did some round-the-class work on Statements, Questions, Commands and Exclamations. They enjoyed issuing commands to each other: stand up and dance, put your hands on your head, leave the room and so on. After we had exhausted that, I followed Aunty Cole’s instructions to do dictation: a passage involving two boys and a pillow-fight ending with the floor strewn with feathers “like snow” – a completely alien concept. Then there were questions to answer on the dictated passage… Next we did pairs of related words – opposites (happy/sad, right / wrong) and also things like “bow and arrow”, “cup and saucer” – not a good choice as no-one knew what a saucer is! I was running short of ideas and we ended up comparing Scotland and The Gambia, bringing in seasons, months, music, customs etc. I was asked if Scotland is part of America and I’m entering my drawing of bagpipes for The Turner Prize.

A half hour break later, I was starting on spreadsheets with Year 2: they’d never used a spreadsheet and luckily I drew an outline on the board before they arrived because the power went off at the end of break and stayed off for an hour. My laptop came in handy as all 8 clustered round and took turns at entering data. I breathed a sigh of relief when the power came back on and they moved onto the classroom computers until 2:00pm. They seem quick learners, though, and we soon had some simple formulae in place. Like kids everywhere, they enjoyed creating graphs out of the fictitious class test marks we made up.

In the middle of the morning another teacher came in to remind the pupils that it was “meetam” tomorrow. I gleaned that meant no school Thursday or Friday and assumed some local religious festival, until it dawned on me that “meetam” is Gambian English for “mid term”! So, no classes for the next two days!

I tried to Skype Sonia at two, but it turned out she was about to go for her Yellow Fever jab so no success there. Perhaps Friday, if I can do it before the expedition.

After a quick bit of lunch, I helped Hassan until 4:15 in the Computer Lab with a “Computer Club”. Once again mostly girls, many from “Home Science” with little or no previous experience. When there are so many mistakes and misconceptions it’s difficult to know what to focus on. I wanted to more or less ignore English errors and concentrate on the IT skills, but that doesn’t seem to be the way out here. Some of the girls were typing up a Forestry Commission document about “Autumn Colours in Dumfries and Galloway’s Dalbeattie Forest”, complete with 6 figure OS Grid References! Another one was copying a section of a Philip Marlow detective story, which she simply didn’t understand at all: it was only a dozen lines long, but we had to work slowly through the passage for meaning before she could get anywhere with it. There must be better material somewhere.

Once gain, the industrious Aunty Cole has provided me with a selection of exercises I can pick and choose from for her ESOL classes next week. The materials look a little more useable – bought/brought, less/least, fewer/fewest (could do with these in UK supermaket queues!) and something called the “Past Progressive” amongst other delights.

Just back from “washing” some clothes, it seems to me there are more lizards about than usual: perhaps it’s just there are fewer / less people staying in the RPI than when the IRA are here, but the area at the bottom of the outside stairs is swarming with them. Little guys mostly. Not only that, the mosquitoes have obviously noticed I’m here and it’s very difficult not to scratch the top layer of skin off! Must remember to put repellent on my legs after my shower. I think there’s water just now…
The subject always comes up, so let’s deal with it.

The RPI’s bedrooms are all technically en suite, but don’t let the term fool you. Water is provided by a pump that is sometimes on, sometimes off. Today’s shower was a complete tease: a burst of water long enough to give confidence suddenly turned into a trickle and then, as I was beginning to be resigned to wandering around covered in unrinsed soap, the pattern would be repeated. Eventually it settled down to a “weak force” that ran if I held the shower head at foot level: not altogether satisfactory as I wanted to wash some bits higher up than my toes.

The best approach is to flush the toilet on a needs-must basis: that way, there is usually a cistern-full. On one occasion the other day, I had the tap on and ill-advisedly flushed the loo. The drain simply couldn’t cope and the shower / toilet room floor (there’s no shower cubicle – just what they call in expensive houses a wet-room) flooded with what I hope was water. Naturally, the system couldn’t cope with filling the cistern and supplying the tap at the same time, so it simply gave up any pretence of doing either.

The school part of the PIA has flush toilets – I’ve yet to pluck up courage to examine them this year – but they rapidly deteriorate as most of the students haven’t the faintest idea how to use them. I gather many of them stand on the rim of the bowl and squat as they have never used anything except the long-drop variety (if that!). I don’t fancy the job of giving demonstrations to them though.

Despite these sanitary limitations, Gambians are generally very clean – the Koran demands it, apart from anything else. Their clothes are spotless too – a miracle of technique considering the conditions. Once or twice in previous years, groups of giggling young women have grabbed clothes I was trying to wash, shooed me away and did it properly. I live in hope of that again this year.


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