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Things Fall Apart

Chewing Batteries
23 August 2003

Hello! So, we are still alive after all. Had you going for a while there didn’t we?

 The truth is it’s just not so easy to get to the internet anymore. Plus, we’ve been quite busy with school this term. We think it’s hilarious how we don’t have a TV, movie theater, home internet access, social life or anything else of entertaining time-consumption value, and yet we still don’t have “time.”

 But alas, we have finished the second trimester and we have a two week holiday now. Since the holiday is so short and we have a lot of stuff we want to get done for school, we’re going to take the less adventuresome vacation this time. We have to go to Windhoek (the capital city) for 3 days for our mid-term medical then we’re going over to Swakopmund on the coast for a few days.

 Here’s the highlights from the last few weeks:

 Hmmm, weird…

I managed to contract a strange disease/infection/rash/? on my right leg. I tried the old ignore-it-and-it-will-go-away approach for about a week, but when that didn’t work, I called the Peace Corps medical people. I explained the symptoms and got a “hmm, weird, I’ve never heard of anything like that before….let me make you an appointment with the doctor in Ondangwa.” She made an appointment for me that very day. I went. I waited in the doctor’s lounge for a long time, somewhat enjoying the novelty of the experience. There were some pregnant women, some kids, some random people wandering in and out, only one receptionist but several other people behind the desk doing nothing. I was greatly interested in the computers that seemed to not be used at all—instead, the receptionist was writing everything down on paper. It made me a little nervous. My appointment was at 3, and around 4:30 I started getting a little antsy. But then they carried some old man in on a foam mattress like a stretcher, so I felt humbled and became patient again. Finally the doctor called me in and I again explained the symptoms. She too said she’d never heard of anything like it. She asked, “did you get bit by anything or sit on anything…?” Not that I knew of. “How did you get this, when all your colleagues are living in the bush and you have a nice house?” I don’t know. It’s ironic I guess. Finally, she had a look, and confirmed that she’d never seen anything like it. She gave me some ointment that is like super-hydrocortisone—it think it’s the old standby for mysterious skin diseases. So anyway, eventually the thing went away and my leg didn’t fall off or anything.

 Things Fall Apart

As you know, I taught Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart to my 11th graders this term. The book is a requirement for them to be able to take the HIGCSE exam, which is like the honors English as a second language exam, produced by Cambridge. They have two other options at lower levels, but I wanted to at least give them a chance to write the higher one. Our school just qualified for HIGCSE English this year, so I am the first one to teach it. It was a bit of an experiment, but at the end I can say I am quite proud of my learners. They actually learned something.

 For the exam, they had to write two essays on the book, then undergo an oral examination, meaning an interview with me about the book. 80 of my learners decided to write the HIGCSE exam and about 20 wrote the lower one. At the end, I am proud to announce that 50 of my learners passed the HIGCSE exam (those other 30 that failed? Collateral Damage). Of course, these are just mock examinations, the real one that counts is the one at the end of grade 12, so they still have a year to improve.

 The book was fun to teach, but it was also great to finally be able to see them really understanding and learning things. I taught them things like foreshadowing, irony, fate vs. free will, how fear controls the actions of the main characters in the novel, the meaning of misogynistic, etc. The best part was that they used these ideas in other parts of the exam that were not about the book. Meaning, they applied what they learned in one area to another area. That may sound like nothing to you, but it’s quite a feat here.

 For example, in the continuous writing section, one girl chose to write about her most memorable day. She wrote about the day her favorite cousin committed suicide. “But he wrote on his cell phone with big letters saying NO MORE LIFE and that was the foreshadowing to those who have seen it.” It’s almost poetic, in a tragic sort of way.

 The interesting part was really the interviews. Conducting eighty 15-minute interviews was a bit tedious, but what was interesting was learning about their opinions. If you don’t know, the book is about the traditional Ibo culture in Eastern Nigeria and how the missionaries came and destroyed the culture and paved the way for colonialism. The same thing happened here in Namibia. Most of the learners’ opinions towards the missionaries were the same: it’s bad they destroyed the culture and brought colonialism, but good they brought Christianity and development. Some learners who never spoke in class were suddenly articulate and opinionated when discussing the literature with me in private. Some were quite boring though, as they just responded with pre-rehearsed answers that didn’t really apply to the questions I was asking.

 At the end, when I collected their books, which were really just photocopies of the book, I learned the true meaning of the title.


When it rains it pours. A few weeks before Zac’s dad came, Schoolnet donated 2 computers to our school. Then Zac’s dad brought a donation of 4 laptops from Elon University. Soon thereafter, the Chinese Embassy donated 2 computers to our school. So Zac and I have been doing a lot of computer training, and it’s quite good to see the teachers enthused about ways to use technology to make their work easier and save time. They are particularly interested in Excel for their gradebooks. But when you’ve never used a computer before, it’s best to start with Solitaire, not Excel. But oh well. They’re learning quickly.

 Just the other day I was complaining about having to fill out this thing called a “schedule” which is a giant piece of paper where you record all the marks in all the subjects for your class, by hand, three times. Since it is an “official document” you are not permitted to make any mistakes. You must do it in ink, with no scratches or white-out. Hmm…seems like we could do this a lot easier on a computer. The teachers were really complaining about it and with the influx of computers, it occurred to many of them that there had to be a better way to do this. “Mrs. Arcaro, can you make excel do this?” Yes, of course. I got permission from the principal to take the task into the computer era and quickly created a spreadsheet. They were so happy they wanted to slaughter a goat for me.

 I soon found out that I created the spreadsheet a little too quickly. As soon as the teachers started working on it, I discovered several small errors. These errors are easy enough to fix when you understand excel, but when you don’t… So Zac and I had two days of headaches, helping all the teachers to work out the kinks. But I figure in the long run it will be worth it. I spent 3 hours today fixing everything so that it is almost fool proof now.

 A conversation between Zac and Frans (a grade 12 learner)

Frans: I brought the batteries to be charged.

 Zac: I have bad news. These are the wrong kind. They can’t be recharged.

 Frans: Oh.

 Zac: Frans, these batteries look chewed.

 Frans: Yes, they are chewed.

 Zac: What chewed them?

 Frans: I chew them.

 Zac: You chew them??

 Frans: Yes.

 Zac: Why do you chew batteries?

 Frans: To get the energy from them.

 Zac: Frans, that is dangerous, you should not even put them in your mouth.

 Frans: Yes, but it’s our culture.

 Zac: Look, they put mercury and lead in batteries. [Zac launches into a lengthy explanation involving several chemistry books]

Frans: Ok, I have learned an important lesson today. I will not chew batteries anymore.

 (I know this dialogue sounds fake, but Frans really does talk this way.)

 And finally, those gems of wisdom from the learners’ exams:

 –If you let a minute past, it will not be back for you.

 –“What is life??” Everyone will be confused if you end up asking each other like that.

 –Let me just say people let’s be serious and have fun after you do what’s right for life first.

 –Me as I am a human being I know what life is.

 –Let’s leave this thinking of how long or short a life is and work our works serious as we can.

 –Because life is something which is very scarce we cannot get it for the second time.

 –You know that we suppose to die but God permit it not.

 –The whole world has been destroyed in a nuclear war, behold people are dead like flies.

 –He is no more going to be what he wanted to do. He has changed from free will to fate.

–Maybe he ran out of his mind.

 –The one thing I will not tolerate is a continent, so I will not allow my world to be divided into continents because this can cause war.

 Love always, Sera

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