Tuesday, February 2, 2010

When Life Gives You Lemons

When life gives you lemons (instead of the oranges that you thought you were buying at the agro market), eat them anyway and be glad you’ve staved off scurvy for another day! This is my philosophy.

Yesterday was the first day of school, but not really. At the last possible moment (I found out today, Tuesday), the Ministry of Education announced that because Monday was Heroes Day (Veteran’s Day), there would be no school, even though my Headmaster had told me unequivocally, just days previous, that school started Monday. Thanks for the heads up! In the states we somehow manage to get a week’s notice for trick-or-treat night, which is insignificant, completely arbitrary and changes every year; it’s not like Heroes Day snuck up on us; it’s been up there on the calendar this whole time…

I waited outside my classroom yesterday for a whole 45 minutes before I gave up and went home. Throngs of students were everywhere, and as per usual, they were all extremely eager to find out my marital status, but the offices were closed and there was nary a teacher in sight!

Today was the actual first day of school. And by “actual,” I mean that for some reason, even though I was scheduled to teach today, I still didn’t have class. Class just didn’t happen—this is one of the many mysteries I’ve encountered during my time here. It’s like trying to uncover the meaning of life or decipher an ancient scroll written in a dead language—except that some of the people here kinda speak English and still can’t give you a good reason for the things that happen.

Since my school is one of the premier science boarding schools in the country, my headmaster cracks a mean whip and demands that the students be present for the first day of class, instead of trickling into school the first two weeks a few students at a time (as in most Rwandan schools). To ensure that students arrive on time, an exam is given the first day of class, which counts as a fourth of the grade for each of the three terms.

Two weeks ago, I was informed that I would be giving an exam. Four days ago, I was again informed that I would be giving an exam. Four days ago, I obtained the course curriculum for this year, as well as for last year, and I wrote up an exam based on material taught last year. Today, I was outside my lab at 7:45 to proctor my 8:00 exam. At 8:00, my lab was still locked; I happened to notice an inconspicuous piece of paper posted in the courtyard: According to the Ministry of Education, classes were to begin Tuesday (now you tell me!) and students were to be administered a 2-hour exam, starting at 8:15. Ha!—thought you got me with that one, didn’tcha? Not so! Although I was only scheduled to teach a 50 minute class, I had plenty of test to give, and it was haaaard! At 8:15, I met my fellow biology teachers and received my first tour of the lab—still no students. I mean, there were students in other classrooms, just not in mine. I told my fellow bio teachers that I had an exam that I was just itchin’ to give (it was soooo haaaard!), and asked them if they knew if I was supposed to be giving an exam today, and if not, who was giving it? I was escorted to the Academic Master who informed me that I should be administering an exam today, but that exams were taken in the classroom, not the lab.

I received many different directions for classroom Senior 5 MCB, but haven’t yet located it. For one second, I thought I had found it—I had walked to a classroom located in the far corner of the courtyard, as indicated by one of my colleagues. It was full of students, but there was no one at the helm—this must be IT! No such luck. The unmanned class was an English class; the teacher was MIA. However, the helpful students indicated that my classroom was located in the opposite direction. I introduced myself before investigating my new lead, “Nitwa Emma! Muraho and goodbye!” I exited the classroom, the echoes of uproarious laughter following after. Another total fail—I had been directed to the Senior 6 classrooms, not Senior 5. It was now around 8:40. As I wandered around the courtyard, I saw nary a student or teacher. Everyone was in a classroom, either silently writing an exam on the chalkboard, or diligently copying the exam into a notebook. Alas, alack, what was I to do?

Then, in the distance, who did I spy? My Headmaster! Surely he could tell me where my class was! I related my problem to Father Jean Claude and he responded, “Who told you that you were giving a test today?”

“You did,” I said.

“Some of the classes have been combined. This test is very serious for the students. You are not giving a test today. You will give a lab practical test the next time you teach, but today you should relax and mingle.”

Soooo, I decided to go back to my lab and take an inventory of equipment and supplies. Sigh. It wasn’t looking good. I checked out the few microscopes we had and found them to be severely lacking. Sure, they magnified at 40x (the lowest magnification) just fine, but crank them up to any higher magnification and everything was a hot blurry mess. These were the “good” microscopes. I investigated the microscopes that had “not so good function.” Broken is what I would call them. Completely, unusably, BROKEN. I didn’t see one decent microscope in the bunch, and guess what Senior 5 Biology Practical is all about? You guessed it: cytology, histology, all my favorite microscopy stuff, but without one decent microscope. Thankfully, I had a few good microscopes of my own…except that I had left them at home in the States, pending an actual address to ship them to. Time to get on my horse and have Ben ship them, pronto! And don’t even get me started on the tangled mess of prepared slides or the “reagent cabinet….”

At this point, the Academic Master entered the lab and asked me where I was giving my exam today. It was past 9:00. I told him that the Headmaster informed me that I wasn’t giving an exam today. The Academic Master looked confused, left the room, and never came back. Fifteen minutes later, two of the biology teachers came in and asked me if my exam was over already. I informed them that Father Jean Claude had told me that I wasn’t giving an exam. I was asked, “Why not?”

“Becaaause….,” I searched for an answer, “I don’t know!”

I threw my hands up, defeated, and they laughed.

Tomorrow, a day or two after the official start of the school year, I will attend the first teachers’ meeting. I am hoping for some answers to my myriad questions, but like the oranges that turned out to be lemons, but may still indeed be oranges (I can’t be sure, even after eating one), some things are bound to remain a mystery…

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