You know when you’re in heavy traffic and you’re sitting in the same spot for several minutes, then you get to move forward a couple of meters only to slam on the brakes again a few seconds later?
But for that brief moment when you think traffic has finally cleared up, it’s such sweet relief! You think to yourself, “Yessss! I’m outta’ here!” … and then the car in front of you slams on its brakes, forcing you to do the same, and you just feel so frustrated and defeated because there is no end in sight to your commute.
My life in Guinea is like stop-and-go traffic. I always have a million things to do, but I’m constantly encountering a variety of roadblocks. No pun intended.
Now, place that same scenario in Conakry, where roads are often unpaved and have major potholes, and traffic rules are generally not obeyed – at all. Throw in some other variables, like people crossing the street (there are no crosswalks), vendors walking between cars, markets spilling out into the street, chickens and goats wandering around, and broken-down vehicles that have not been moved to the side of the road. Imagine stop-and-go traffic in such conditions.
Your commute doesn’t sound so bad now, does it?
Getting from point A to point B in Conakry is always an adventure full of unknown variables. It’s the perfect metaphor for my experience here in Guinea. (I appropriately came up with this metaphor while in stop-and-go traffic in Conakry.)
I was supposed to start teaching at Barack Obama University on October 18th. I had been working around the clock to prepare my syllabi and materials for all of the courses I’m teaching. There was a steady flow and sure destination in that scenario, just like driving on a highway without any traffic and seeing your exit coming up.
When I arrived on campus the morning of the 18th, I was informed that the first day of class was being postponed until further notice. No indication of how many days or weeks it would be.
I ended up sitting around with nothing to do for two weeks. Keep in mind that those two weeks were in addition to the two months I had been waiting to start teaching since my arrival in Guinea. I could have begun working on some new projects, but I would’ve had to abandon them as soon as classes finally started since I don’t have much free time with the heavy course load I was given. With so much I was wanting to do, but with so many unknowns with regards to the start of school, I certainly felt like I was stuck in a never-ending traffic jam.
Halloween night, at 9:40pm, I received a text message from a colleague saying that classes would start the following morning.
I showed up Tuesday morning ten minutes late, because my driver was late picking me up. No students in the classroom yet (no surprise there; I figured nobody would be on time). I went up to my office to print something, and my colleague offered to print it for me so I could go back to the classroom and wait for students. There were three students then, so we chatted while we waited for more to arrive. My colleague returned empty-handed because he saw what I wanted to print, and came to inform me that I had prepared for the wrong class.
They changed the schedule and didn’t tell me. Great. I almost don’t have any students, and I’m totally unprepared to teach, but I’m here and I’ll just have to wing it.
By the way, I was never given class rosters or even told which classrooms I’m to use. I had no idea where to go or how many students I would have in any of my classes.
The class started with three students, and others trickled in over the next two and a half hours (each class session is three hours). I ended up with seven students in the end. The last one came in at 11:20. Class was over at 11:30.
To be fair, it wasn’t necessarily the students’ fault that they were late. Apparently, in addition to registering for classes weeks in advance, students also have to register (or re-register) at the front desk when they come to campus for their first official class session of the semester. Yeah, I don’t get it either.
I was supposed to have 24 students, but – apparently – in Guinea, for the first week of school, only a small number of students actually go to class, and then they report back to their classmates as to whether the class is worth going to or not. So, actually, it didn’t really matter that I wasn’t prepared for the first day seeing as nobody in the country takes the first week of school seriously.
My first day teaching at Barack Obama University left me mentally exhausted and very confused.
My second day was last Thursday since I’m off on Wednesdays. (By “off” I mean that I get to stay home, but I’m planning lessons, grading student work, and organizing teacher trainings for Thursday evening, on top of side projects and other administrative duties that go along with my Fellowship.) Thursday went much better because I was actually prepared for the class and most of the students arrived closer to the start of class rather than in the middle or towards the end.
Today, Tuesday, was the second day of my American Studies class, and since I (think) I know my schedule now, I was well prepared for it. But the books I had made for my students and which my colleague had printed for me using an external printing service ran out, and two students didn’t get a book.
I came to find out that some of the students are third-years (the class is given in the second year only). This means that some students are not officially registered in the class, but they’re coming just to be able to learn from an American teacher. That’s cool, but then a student roster would really useful in a situation like this….
The classes have gone really well and the students are extremely motivated, so I feel satisfied with that aspect of the job, at least. My first-year classes haven’t started yet, because, apparently, first-years begin a couple of weeks after the second- and third-years. While I’m teaching American Students to second-years and Business Studies to third-years, I’m simultaneously waiting around to see when my first-year courses, General English and Initiation to Writing, will start.
I have a feeling that the announcement will come the night before the first-year students’ first day. Again.
In the meantime, I’m hanging on for dear life during this wild and crazy stop-and-go ride. I’m exhausted just writing about it. It’s time for me to take a rest now.