Why did the chicken cross the road?

Because that’s what chickens do in Guinea. And dogs. And goats. And cows, sheep, and a number of other living creatures.

Imagine walking down a steep hill next to a herd of goats, with a baby strapped to your back (using just a piece of cloth), while dodging potholes, puddles, and rubble, holding a toddler’s hand on one side and gripping a live, upside-down chicken’s feet in the other, and balancing a large, heavy load on top of your head. Without tripping or falling. Or complaining.

This is your typical Guinean woman. Strong. Aware. Attentive. Dignified. Flawless posture. Impeccable balance.

Me? I’m struggling to balance my duties at Barack Obama University and the secondary projects I’ve initiated. And I get to sit while doing it!

Actually, it isn’t that bad. It’s just been a busy couple of weeks as we gear up for the semester to begin (FINALLY!). I’ve had to prepare curricula and materials for the four courses I’ll be teaching, which are General English and Initiation to Writing to first-year students, American Studies to second-year students, and Business Studies to third-year students. In addition, I conducted a staff meeting two Saturdays ago to assess the needs of the English Department on both the program and instructor levels. I did this in order to know what kinds of training my colleagues need and want as I’ll be conducting faculty trainings and workshops every Thursday afternoon. So, really, I’ll be teaching five courses if we include the trainings.

I’m excited! I’ve really enjoyed preparing for all of the above, and I’m looking forward to meeting my students and starting the courses next week. The first-year students won’t begin until a couple of weeks later due to the Guinean system of student registration. Apparently, the government has total control over who studies where. They want to ensure that students are fairly distributed among the public and private universities. The problem with this system is that not all students will be able to study what they want to study. For example, students who wish to become doctors or nurses may not be able to do so since the medical degree programs are very costly to the government, which subsidizes their education at public universities. Since Guinean students can’t afford the high tuition at private universities, they may be forced into a totally different program and career.

This process is currently underway. Once it’s finished, then the students can register for courses at their respective universities. That is why I won’t be teaching the first-year students until November while the second- and third-years start next week.

So, why am I struggling? Well, part of it is my own fault. The head of the English Department at my university had sent me my schedule months before my arrival in Guinea. At the time, it didn’t register in my mind that they have me teaching 21 hours a week at the university. That’s a great schedule, really. The issue is that according to my English Language Fellow contract, I should be at Barack Obama University 20 hours a week. This includes teaching hours, office hours, the hours I spend observing and training my colleagues, and the hours I spend planning my lessons and grading student work. If I’m teaching 21 hours, that is already one hour in violation of my contract, and it excludes all of the other time I need to spend preparing lessons and trainings, conducting trainings, observing my colleagues, and meeting with students during office hours. In essence, this has turned into a 40-hour work week, which leaves me literally no time to devote to secondary projects.

Unfortunately, with classes starting tomorrow, it is way too late to do anything about my schedule. I’ll just have to come to terms with it and move on. I’m honestly excited about all of the work I’ll be doing at the university, but I am disappointed that I won’t have time to work on other projects. The bright side is that I’ve already accomplished some things up until this point considering I’ve been here for 6 weeks and my primary duties haven’t officially started yet.

However, I will be reporting this issue (and contract violation) to the English Language Programs so that it will not be repeated next year for the new Fellow.

So, that is the “balancing act” I am currently failing at. Badly.

But the Universe, which I truly believe has its own system of checks and balances, came through for me and restored my belief in such balance. It happened just this morning. Up until now, I had only seen one mosquito (which was, strangely, inside the American Embassy). This morning at 4 am, I woke up to two itchy bites on my arm. This familiar sensation could only mean one thing: there was a mosquito in our apartment. I drifted back to sleep with the thought of putting up our mosquito net today. Upon waking up later this morning, I opened my eyes and saw the mosquito resting on the wall above my night stand. I reached up, smacked it, and saw its guts smeared on the wall. Mosquito: 1, Rachel: 0. Thank you, Universe.

I will be extremely busy these next few weeks. My next post will come with my next wave of inspiration, which will most likely be next week, but I need to focus my time on my professional duties right now. It’s about balance, after all.