The School, Thunder and Lightning

Monday
Now we’re feeling the effects of the rainy season. It was only 80 degrees when I woke. Angie and I went for separate runs in the relatively cool air. By mid-morning the temperature had dropped and it felt like imminent rain.

At ten, during school recess, we met with the teachers in the large schoolyard while children played volleyball and soccer or socialized and horsed around. This was an opportunity for us to learn more about the staff. Though none them have more than a sixth grade education themselves, most have attended teacher training—a couple of weeks, three months, nine months. Mostly, they’ve learned to teach by doing it.

They teach in spite of tremendous challenges: lack of materials, no textbooks, and inconsistent attendance. UNICEF used to provide the students with writing notebooks, book bags, pencils, chalk and other materials, and remaining supplies are cherished, but they have nothing to replace them with so they make do with mostly oral work and sharing materials they do have.

The rainy season also means planting and cultivating, and much like it once was in the Midwest, children are kept home from school to help with the planting. They may be in school for a few days, or absent for a week or more. And when the rain comes, hard, they stay home as well. Last fall, as the rainy season ended, the school population was over 700, now it is only 500. Some families move nomadically between villages to follow the rain. If it’s too dry in their area, they bring the cows closer to rain, then move them back when their area improves. So those children are be in school only when they are nearby.

Angie, who has a Masters in Special Ed, works with students and the teachers of her students in Minneapolis. She asked if there were village children with handicaps, learning problems, and other issues that require special attention. There is a deaf child, a hearing-impaired child, a number of children with learning difficulties, and there may be others who don’t attend school because there is no way to help them in the current system. None of the teachers have had any training in working with children with special needs. Angie has permission to observe the classes and work with the teaching staff if she finds some areas where she could help.

Back at the JDF compound, we inventoried the bags and boxes that I stored in one of the containers last November. I recovered the seeds—maize, beans, peas, tomatoes, onions, zucchini, green onions, watermelon, lettuce, collards and kale. There are several tractors in the village that have tilled large garden areas. We’ll find a gardener to get ours started as well. There’s always a risk of losing the crop from too much rain or too little.

The temp dropped suddenly, the wind picked up, and the smell of rain filled the air. Angie and I zipped up the window flaps and lifted suitcases onto the beds, hoping to have a drier outcome than during the last rain. Then I realized that I’d never secured all the tent guy wires. There weren’t enough stakes, and the ground is so soft that the stakes aren’t secure. Abraham, one of the nurses, put concrete blocks on some and suggested I have Daniel do the rest. But it didn’t get done, so just as it began to pour, with the wind whipping around me, I scrambled to the block pile—thankfully close to the tent, and juggled solid concrete blocks and wet, whipping cords to secure the tent. Then we grabbed our electronics and ran to the dining hall.

At one point, Angie thought our tent had gone down, so I went out to discover one pole had been flattened by the forceful wind. There wasn’t much I could do but sigh and scoot back to the dining hall. After about three hours, it let up for a bit, so I checked the tent. Miraculously, the tent pole had righted itself. Inside the tent looked pretty good except that we had a large puddle in the middle of the floor where the plastic table had been (we took it apart before we left) and where the tent pole had lain, allowing the rain to pour in. Our foam mattresses are wet—the rain blows under the rain cover and drips in through the screened roof. The rain lasted close to four hours.

I mopped up a third of a bucket full of water from the large puddle on the floor; Victor brought us new dry mattresses from the container and we put the wet ones inside until it dries up enough outside to dry them out.

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