You’re familiar with Nike, yes? It’s the brand that has the famous slogan, “Just do it.” Well, I’ve adapted their slogan and transformed it into my own personal mantra: “Just wing it.”
Scenario: You’re a teacher and you’ve planned a special event for your students in celebration of International Education Week. You enter the classroom you reserved and see a group of students waiting there. Not knowing if they were going to have class or if they were just hanging out, you decide to ask them. You try to strike up a conversation:
(Smiles) “Wa’aleikom salam!”
Solution: Just wing it. If you’re in Sub-Sahara Africa in a country where 85% of the population is Muslim, and nobody understands English, French, or Susu (the local dialect of the coastal region in Guinea), try Arabic. Just wing it – find whatever works.
Follow-up: The classroom I reserved had, in fact, not actually been reserved like I’d requested. I had to find another free classroom and move the event there. (Just wing it!)
International Education Week: November 14-18, 2016
I invited two recipients of the Mandela Washington Fellowship to be guest speakers and talk to students about their experience in the U.S.:
Scenario: You’re in the middle of teaching when a new student walks in and joins the class. You briefly say hello and introduce yourself, then continue with the lesson. After the quiz at the end of class, the new student walks up to you and tells you he is not a student, but your new assistant sent to you by the Head of the English Department. You had not been warned that you were getting an assistant, let alone asked if you wanted one.
Solution: Just wing it. Even if the whole situation strikes you as odd – especially the part where your supposed assistant joins the class as a student – just put on a kind face and accept what you have been given, whether you’re okay with it or not.
Follow-up: I checked with the Head of the English Department, and yes, it was true: from that day forward, I would have an assistant. Furthermore, since he’s a recent graduate with no experience teaching, he’s going to be my intern and I should teach him and involve him in the teaching and planning processes before, during, and after class. More work for me? …Yay…. (I’ll just wing it.)
Scenario: Your assistant shows up to help you with class and announces that he has prepared an activity for the class. It is unrelated to today’s lesson, and he needs 20-25 minutes to conduct the activity with students, even though they are already a half day behind in the syllabus.
Solution: Just wing it. Speed up the lesson so that your assistant has time to do his activity. But at the end of class when you’ve left him 30 minutes to do an activity that he said would take 20-25 minutes, and then tells you that it isn’t enough time, you tell him to JUST WING IT!!!!
Follow-up: That class is now a full day behind the syllabus, and the other class my assistant helps with is half a day behind the syllabus. We most definitely will not get through all the material I had planned for my courses, but hey, that’s the least of my concerns at this point.
My assistant teaching:
Scenario: This is the fifth week that you’ve been teaching your second- and third-year students. You were told that your first-year students would start two weeks ago, but the date kept getting pushed back – or, rather, you kept asking when they would start and nobody knew, until you received a phone call the night before, telling you they would start the following morning. Two weeks after their supposed start date, your first-year classes finally start up. You arrive to school and have no idea which classroom you’re supposed to be in. After asking a bunch of students (as if they know), you finally figure it out. But only 4 students show up to a class that should have 100+ students.
Solution: Just wing it. Any planning you do in a situation like this has to be completely disregarded, because what is appropriate for a group of 100 students is not at all appropriate for a class of 4.
Follow-up: Apparently, the first-year students have been coming to campus for the last couple of weeks, but because the teachers haven’t shown up, the vast majority of students stopped coming altogether (can you blame them?). Meanwhile, we teachers had been told that students weren’t starting until this morning! My afternoon class was cancelled because the Head of the Department wasn’t there. I’m not sure why that’s a requirement for holding class, especially when the Head of the Department isn’t teaching class, nor has anything to do with the class, but that’s what I heard had happened. Worst, still, is that the 4 students from my morning class were told to go home because their class didn’t have a teacher. They have German class on their schedule, but there is no German teacher at the university to my knowledge.
Coming from a culture where everything is planned, and things like providing class rosters and schedules – and, you know, actually having a teacher for courses in which students are registered – are considered to be basic, essential requirements for running a successful program (that, and actually providing electricity in the classrooms). “Winging it” takes on a whole new definition in Guinea, as you can see. It’s the only way to survive here.
Luckily for me and my partner, we have befriended some people working at the American Embassy and we’ve enjoyed spending time with them as an “escape” from Guinean life. Here are some highlights:
The American Ambassador’s party on Election Night (November 8, 2016):
Party props at the Ambassador’s Election Night Party
The 241st Marine Birthday Ball (November 19, 2016):
Thanksgiving Day (November 24, 2016): Turkey, stuffing waffles, mac ‘n cheese, baked veggies, candied yams, mashed potatoes, gravy, and salad!
Day trip to Kassa island, a 30-minute boat ride from Conakry:
- Hiking in the mountains in Dubréka with some of the new Peace Corps volunteers
- Embassy Art Fair on December 8 (my partner sings in the Conakry Chorale, which will be performing there)
- Attending my colleague’s wedding on December 11
- Embassy Christmas party on December 17
- Christmas at the Sheraton or Palm Hotel
- New Year’s Eve party on Roume Island with Embassy friends
- Mid-year conference in Dakar, Senegal the week of February 14-19
It’s the Americans who have everything planned out over here. I’ve also been invited to various Guinean people’s homes and holiday festivities, but I have no idea when or where any of them will happen. I’ll just have to wing it.
As always, Rachel, I thoroughly enjoyed your blog. Hearing about your daily (hourly) frustrations makes my job seem easy! Thanks for taking time to write about your experiences. Love, Mom
This is so interesting – thanks for sharing your experiences. You are still sounding so upbeat about the challenges you are facing. Can’t wait to hear more. Hugs, Iny
You continue to amaze us, Rachel, for the way you are handling a seemingly difficult situation with such patience and tolerance. Valuable lessons for a lifetime! One of our friends pointed out the upcoming interesting and rather exciting experiences ahead for you. Hope you enjoy each one of them.
We love you!
Grandpa and Grandma Heim