Sunday, 11 March 2012

Stale train lager

Sitting in the aisle inbetween carriages on a train back to Bristol. Not travelling in the style I'd like to for the price of £33. It's overcrowded and there are no real seats anywhere. There's me and 5 others sharing the area between the carriages, and no-one seems delighted about it. Nonetheless, I'm embracing it.

My legs are stretched out, and an empty beer can has rolled next to my knee. For all I know I'm getting covered in stale Carling, but somehow I think it befits the style I'm travelling in. Consequently I've been too nonchalant to kick it away, although the past 5 minutes have been spent deciding whether to or not.

It's dull, its Sunday evening, and the sense that it's all too close to Monday morning is the over-riding emotion in the air. I feel I can smell it, and its oddly similar to the sickly smell of stale Carling soaking into my jeans.... knew I should have kicked it away earlier, probably no point now.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.7.4

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

teaching Shakespeare to orphans

"Right, so open your books to the opening Prologue in Act I: Scene I".

Nobody moves. Mostly a language barrier issue, for some, trepidation at what is to come. I repeat myself in the vain hope books will be flung open. Students are whipped up into a frenzy by dramatic irony and iambic pentameter.

No. Students are not coxed into a frenzy. My Chichewa, the mother tongue of the majority of the 50 students in the classroom, is not fluent. It stretches to greetings, getting what I want in a market and describing myself. Admittedly I've picked up a fair bit. But what I do not know the Chichewa for is 'ambiguity' or 'rhyming couplets'. Nor can my Chichewa lexicon articulate the dramatic implications of protagonists speaking in verse or prose.

By strict Malawian government guidelines, all lessons, except Chichewa, are taught in English. A language that perhaps 10% of the class are genuinely proficient in. The other 90% are at varying levels of utter bewilderment, vague confusion, and everywhere in between.

So we begin by explaining the animosity between the Montagues and Capulets. My opening 'bite-sized chunk' of information. Seems to have been gobbled up.
"Chabwino" I figure it's only fair for me to reply 'Okay' in their language. Hope the government isn't watching.

We soldier on through Act I in about a week. It culminates in a test. Four or so of fifty perform well (above about 55%). The rest are shit. The buck stops with me. I have failed them.

Apparently not. The Headmaster is delighted with my results and progress, and recommends me to stay for the year. Confusion ensues.

As it turns out they have had results much worse than that ever since Romeo and Juliet was introduced onto the Malawian curriculum. The problem lies with the teachers understanding what they are teaching. It would appear that having a teacher that has a vague understanding of Shakespeare actually enriches the education of students. Who'd have thought? I've written notes for the teachers on the whole play so they can teach what actually happens in the play.

My placement finished after one term and I managed to finish up to Act IV. Will Romeo and Juliet be together for ever? Will the Friar's plan work? Will the Montagues and Capulets settle their differences?

Guess they'll never know.

More alarmingly however, is why Shakespeare is taught in the first place. Malawi seems intent on mirroring the education system of its previous colonial occupiers. The beauty of Shakespeare after all is in the language... which they don't understand. The clever imagery, jokes and nice rhythm are lost on all but a few, and it becomes a case of just teaching plot. Which is difficult enough.

I happen to enjoy a bit of Shakespeare. Not everyday, but I'll watch the odd play. And in exceptional circumstances I'll fork out in a vain attempt to feign literature knowledge to impress a date. Drinking during the interval can add to enjoyment.

The students ultimately quite enjoy it. But that maybe lies in their teacher having novelty white person factor and being naively enthusiastic when teaching..... Or maybe they're feigning interest to impress me.

Hello! wedding? Try Malawi style.

In Malawi, there's not a lot in the way of celebrity based literature. Needless to say, the impending nuptial of 'our' Prince and Kate Middleton passed me by.....

Okay, so they both seem nice. Hello! magazine (sittingly smugly on the dining table) can't help to shove that into my face upon my return. Never have I felt more distanced from aristocratic wedding ceremonies however. In Malawian weddings, the happy couple sit there as their friends, relatives and other hapless visitors who've managed to slip in gve money to a wicker basket while dancing round it in a circle. Nobody understands what is going on. The whole process takes the best part of a day, but all in the name of setting up the newly weds in their new home.

Call me cynical, I am, but the photos in Hello! magazine suggest Prince William and Kate Middleton need no assisstance in setting up their home. I'd hazard a guess that they've already got five. Still, they've earned it.....

This does not bother me exceptionally. They're better natured people than I am and have done far more for the world. Something niggles though. Talking about the first time she met his family. The first time he met her family (or serfs). His proposal to Kate on holiday in Kenya. "As any guy will know, it takes a certain amount of motivation to get yourself going." As any guy will know? Yeah, Prince, I'm 'any' guy, just like you.

Maybe it's just jealousy at seeing successful people happy. Yeah, bitter jealousy. Bitter, bitter jealousy.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

back in the UK

The familiar bump of plane wheels on tarmac. 29th November.

5:30 a.m.

What would normally be conceived by any normal human being as 'a bit early'.

Not however if you've spent the past three months waking up at 5 a.m to go to a church service, or, Devotions, as the locals liked to call them. Presumably calling something by such a title as 'devotion' would convey a sense that you wanted to attend it. Indeed, why wouldn't you want to devote every ounce of your soul to a theistic service at 5 a.m every week-day morning? Namely, because you're tired, the temperature is beginning its inexorable rise to 35+ degrees, and you're as devoted to religion as you are, say, catching plague.

I digress. That's all over. The UK and border control are calling. I'd be glad to be back, if it wasn't for my returning to unemployment, no fixed abode, and it being freezing. The icy daggers sticking into me as I step off the plane become my most immediate concern, pushing the fact that I'd rather be in Africa to the back of my mind for the time being. It's soon to be December, there's snow on the ground, and I don't belong here.

Border control checks my passport and sends me through to baggage collection. It helps none towards feeling like I belong in the UK, but at least I'm legal. Everything in the UK will be the same, and although I don't feel like 3 months has particularly changed me, I do feel that I'd rather be in Malawi, enjoying my simple life of teaching English and music, living with friends and savoring Africa Time.

This Is Africa (TIA), no more. Trouble is, I'm not sure what I now want "This" to be do I want 'this' to be? I feel overwhelmingly obliged to start living responsibly, cut daytime TV out of my life, end my infatuation with "the woman off Countdown", and start proper. Although I also feel like I want to start Uni all over again.

Cheers Malawi, its been fun.
Cue job sites, McJobs and Guideline Daily Allowances. Where did 3 months go?