Three Sundays ago, I was on my way home from the port in Conakry after spending the weekend on Kassa Island. We stopped at a gas station (none of which are self-serve) and then started driving away. My driver noticed that the needle on the gas gauge didn’t budge, so we turned around and went back to the station.
Didier, my driver, got out and started yelling at the employee who we had paid to pump the gas for us. He insisted that he had filled up our tank and that our car was “broken” since the needle hadn’t moved. The station manager came out and got involved in the yelling, fully supporting his employee and claiming that Didier is crazy and that our car is broken.
We pulled into their service station to take a look at the car to ensure that it’s working properly. The yelling never stopped, and now three servicemen were involved in the spat. Five minutes later, I got out and yelled at all of them. I ordered one of the servicemen to remove all of the gas from our tank, which there was very little of (proving that they had, in fact, not added any gas). We turned on the car. The needle indicated “empty.” I then ordered them to add the gas back into the tank, and to add the gas that we had paid for. We turned on the car. “Full.” And yet, the station manager continued to insist that our car had been “temporarily broken” and that he and his staff were honest people. We drove away, vowing to never return to that station.
You can’t find this level of blatant corruption in the developed world. Welcome to the so-called “Third World.”
I got home that evening and relaxed, fully prepared to have a more restful week as we had just finished the first semester and would not be starting the second semester until at least one week later (with no anticipated start date in sight). During the three previous weeks, I had taught 33 hours a week (that’s actual contact hours in the classroom, excluding all the time I spent planning, grading work, and doing end-of-semester paperwork) and I was exhausted. I was looking forward to catching up on my sleep, working on my secondary projects, and taking the time to do absolutely nothing!
I got a call Monday morning asking where I was, because my students were waiting for me.
I had been told that we would have AT LEAST one week off, that there was no planned start date for the second semester, and – worst of all – nobody informed me when it was decided that we would be starting on Monday. Moreover, the students finished their final exams for the first semester that Saturday. They were off Sunday, and then started the second semester on Monday. They had one day to rest. ONE DAY. How did the teachers find the time to wrap up the first semester and plan their syllabi and materials for the second semester all in one day?!
I was so annoyed and frustrated that I said I had things to do and wouldn’t be able to start until the following week. The response? “OK, no problem.” Really? It was THAT easy all along?!
I enjoyed my week, but I didn’t do much resting. I was busy preparing my syllabi and making workbooks to use in my upcoming courses. Since my university has some kind of agreement with a local print shop, which results in massive discounts, I asked my colleague to help me print and make copies of my workbooks (I had asked for their contact information and/or location so that I could do it myself, but they insist on doing everything for me. I didn’t have a choice but to ask for their help.).
When I went back to school the following Monday, the workbooks for that class were waiting for me when I arrived. Great! We got started right away.
On Tuesday, the workbooks were ready and waiting for me, but only 10 were made. There are 16 students in that class. I was told that I would get the rest of them the following week. Nope. Since not every student has a book, I can’t assign them any homework. We are already a day behind in the course program because of that.
On Thursday, there were no workbooks. Not only did I have to wing-it for the full 3-hour class, we were already a day behind in the program.
Before class was over on Thursday, I received an official notice from the university (the first-ever notice physically printed and distributed to teachers) stating that we are required to double up our teaching hours in order to finish the second semester by the end of May.
So, while the first semester dragged on for 5 months, with us doubling our teaching hours in the last 3 weeks just to be able to finish up as soon as possible, we are expected to conduct the entire second semester in 8 weeks?
Yes, apparently so.
For me, it’s a 6-week semester because I started one week late and in May, I have to take a one-week trip to the interior of Guinea to conduct teacher trainings. The university was well aware of this even before the end of the first semester.
Absolutely infuriated, I informed the university that I am not able to comply, but that I will assign additional work and projects for students to do outside the classroom in order to meet the required 48 semester hours. The reply I received was asking whether those hours would be fulfilled with the students at my home.
What?! That is not what “outside the classroom” means, and why would students come to my home to conduct research and prepare group presentations?!
This is the third week of the semester. Only, I’m at home today. And I’ll be home all week. Why? I got an email Sunday night informing me that the university will be closed this week for Easter break.
So, instead of having a week of between the two semesters and cancelling Easter break, which was the original information I was given, they cancelled the break between semesters and reinstated Easter break — all of which were decided at the last minute. And I mean that quite literally.
The worst part? All of my fellow ELFs working in other African countries are off on vacation this week: France, Israel, South Africa, and other exotic locations. Me? It’s too late to go anywhere, because every country here requires a visa for which you have to apply in advance. Had I known that we would be off this week, even just a couple of days in advance, I would’ve still had time to plan a trip somewhere.
The silver lining in this situation is that I have one more week to buy paper.
On Friday, I went to the “mall” to do my weekly workout and grocery shopping, where I was going to buy some paper. Every once in a while I buy a pack of computer paper, because my students don’t bring their own. (The excuse is that they are “too poor,” though their families can somehow manage to pay the school fees.) If I don’t bring paper, then students don’t take notes, don’t do classwork, and don’t do their homework. Yes, I even give them paper to take home and use for homework.
The grocery store has a whole aisle of school supplies, but they had no paper. None at all. Odd. I went to the paper shop – whose ONE AND ONLY job is to sell paper – and they were out, too. I went to the print shop and begged to buy a pack of paper off them. They were out. I tried the Xerox kiosk. Out of paper. Nobody had paper. I panicked. How will I get my students to do their work next week if I don’t provide any paper?
Well, school is cancelled for the week, so problem solved. I guess.
The other silver lining is that I won’t be teaching at the university in June. Since I’ll be leaving Guinea on July 7th (that’s the official date, as of today!), I’ll have a whole month to wrap up my secondary projects, tie up any loose ends, and take a vacation – FINALLY! While the other ELFs have had a Christmas break and now, Easter break, I’ve been teaching. Or, I’ve been at home due to random cancellations, strikes, and other Third-World problems.
My least favorite Third-World problem is not being able to plan anything, because it can all be cancelled (or scheduled!) last-minute. However, I do have a tentative plan for the remainder of my time in Guinea, which is as follows:
April 27-30: Teacher training workshops in Kamsar (a town in the mining region)
May 4-14: Teacher training workshops in Kankan (in the mountains) and Mamou (not far from Conakry)
May 25: Last day of the semester/end of the school year (also the day before Ramadan starts)
Beginning of June: School trip to Sierra Leone (Inshallah….)
Mid- to end of June: Vacation! (Details to come)
July 5: Independence Day party (my partner was invited by the Ambassador to sing the national anthem)
July 7: Back to the First World!
Things I’m looking forward to: electricity, running water, air conditioning, real showers (no more buckets!), public transportation, paved roads, and…
Very excited to hear of your “coming home” date. May and June sound to be an interesting change to what you have been experiencing – hope that holds true and that 3rd World Situations do not interfere.
No matter what our situation will be, I’m confident that it will be an upgrade in one way or another!
Rachel, I really enjoyed reading this. You write so articulately and vividly, I could feel your pain with the last minute schedule changes, no paper anywhere in Conakry (what!?), bucket-o-water showers, etc. I am so happy for you that you will be going home soon, and starting an exciting adventure in a beautiful place with all the creature comforts of home. Thanks for sharing these blog posts!
Kelly, thank you for reading and for your very sweet comment!