The gentleman who had been our director last year was due to return in October -- but he never did. We were assigned a new director, with whom I spoke right away. He was enthusiastic about my club plans, right up until the time that he got re-assigned a few weeks later. For a while, we had no director, and then #3 came along. I was certain I was off to a bad start with him when in our very first meeting I had to ask off for Thanksgiving.
Then this director disappeared. No one really knew where he was. The surveillants (disciplinarians) and teachers begrudgingly had to schedule our Trimester 1 exams ourselves. I returned from December break to a still-directorless school. With no single person in command, week after week I could not get approval for my club.
February at last marked the return of Director #3. My next task was trying to make this man understand what exactly were my intentions. It's amazing the amount of red tape there was to go through at a school with only seven teachers. The director said I needed to talk to both "coordinators." No one had even told me we had such a thing!
But after many conversations and repeated explanations, plans were laid. While in Boghé I typed up and printed out formal invitations to the club for a total of 20 of my best students in 3rd and 4th years. I presented these during class, calling out each one's name for all to hear. These kids never get any kind of honor or recognition for their hard work, and I wanted to make it seem like a big deal, something they should be proud of.
Each school day runs from 8-noon and then 3-5, so I figured if we had club directly after that, all the kids would already be there anyway. Many of my students live in nearby villages, not in Dar El Barka, so they have to walk long distances to get to school and back. So my idea was to meet every Tuesday at 5pm.
But that was only an idea... The very week I'd set to begin, the school decided that from now on, we'd have classes from 8-2 straight and be done. Meaning that now my 5:00 club was NOT immediately after school. Wonderful. Like I could really expect kids to trudge all the way back to school in the worst heat of the day -- for an optional activity? I started counting the strikes against me.
The big day arrived. I left my house and walked to school, entirely prepared to be let down one way or another. I had informed the director, both so-called coordinators, the head surveillant, as well as all the kids... but I expected to find an empty schoolyard, and no one around to open the gate. "Oh, you meant today?"
But I found the groundskeeper and after a few minutes I was in a classroom. I checked my watch. Still a few minutes to spare. I sat down at a desk to wait. On the chalkboard in front of me was a science lesson taught previously that day. It was about electricity. It seems cruel to make kids learn about it if they don't even have it. But I digress.
I totally psyched myself out: It's so HOT right now. And anyway, they probably forgot. I didn't even remind them! It was over a week ago that I gave out those invitations... But, one girl had seen me earlier that day and asked me about it. So maybe if just she comes, at least it'll be something...
My thoughts were interrupted by a skid in the dirt just outside my door.
One of my kids, on his bike.
It was all I could do not to LEAP from my chair. And he opened a small floodgate. Sixteen kids showed up! I was beside myself!! I wanted to hug every one of them.
We've now met twice. It may be the highlight of my week. Mainly I've been teaching them how to use a French-English dictionary, so that we can do more fun activities using them. I've accumulated seven dictionaries now (but I humbly beg you to send more!), so I drag them all with me in my backpack. These kids have never seen a dictionary in their lives. They're 16 years old and don't know what alphabetical order is. These books are magical to them. On my way out of the schoolyard, I walked behind two of my boys, chatting to each other in Pulaar: "Dictionnaire ine moyyi dee!"
My own rendering? "How sweet is that dictionary?!"