“Beep Beep Beep!” the alarm on her watch rang. 6:30, school started at 8 hours. She pushed the snooze button and pulled the blanket up around her neck. Cold season was starting to set in. She knew it would never snow but she had been unprepared for the chilliness of the nights she was experiencing now.
“Beep Beep Beep!” 6:45. I could push the snooze button one more time…
She rolled off the bed and slipped her feet into her chacos. Coffee and hard boiled eggs were on the breakfast menu. Feed the dog, too. Daisy was curled up sleeping.
She finished eating, put on her pink skirt, wrapped herself up in a chitenge and started off towards school.
A few minutes before 8 and students, dressed in navy bottoms and light blue button down tops, started to assemble around the flag pole. Some of them were staring, a few of them waved, but none of them came up to greet Chelsi and she stood in the shadow of the school.
“Ah, Ba Chels!” Ba Gilbert came up from behind. “Mwabuuka.” He clapped his hands together in the traditional way.
“We are so glad you could make it. This is Ba John.” He gestured to the oval faced man wearing glasses standing next to him. “He is the student teacher.”
“Mwane, how are you?” he extended his hand for a hand shake.
“It does not seem like many students have come today.” Ba Gilbert continued. They looked out over the students. About 30, were starting to organize themselves around the flagpole. “But let’s get started, shall we.” Walking towards the students he began clapping loudly and chanting down from 20. The students fell into line and clapping and chanting. After reaching zero he greeted the students as a group and starting introducing Chelsi in Kiikaonde. “Now we know her name, Chelsi. We do not shout ‘Foreigner’ at her.” He turned to look at her. “Say something to them.”
What?! She stuttered, trying to think of something to say. “Jizhina jami ne Chelsi. Ne wipaana bunjimi bwa masabi…” There was a long pause and Ba Gilbert eventually took the hint.
“Okay everyone, into class.”
“Did you bring any program for the class today?” Ba John said turning towards her.
“No. I just want to watch.” The students started filing in to the building.
“Chelsi, did you bring any program for the class today?”
“No. She has just come to watch.”
“Okay, well come in, come in.” Three students were seated per bench, but there was a bench in the very back on the right side that was missing a desk top. Chelsi went and sat down in the far back corner. The students were chatting very loud between themselves, they were stealing pencils and bits of paper out of each other plastic shopping bags but there were few students with book bags, brightly colored with cartoon characters. Ba John and Ba Gilbert finished up their conversation just outside and Ba Gilbert disappeared in to the office and Ba John stepped in to the classroom. All the students dropped what they were doing and stood up. There were a few loud crashes and seat benches flew of their frames and on to the floor.
“GOOD MORING SIR! HOW ARE YOU?”
“I am fine. How are you?”
“WE ARE FINE!”
“You may sit.” The students sat down and a few more lost their benches. “The first and second graders need to be sitting on this wall,” he instructed the students, “the third and fourth graders in the middle and the fifth and sixth graders on that wall.” The students started shuffling around, more seat benches crashed to the floor. Ba John divided the chalk board in the three sections and wrote the respective grade’s section at the top. He changed the date. Just as things started to settle down among the students a couple of boys sitting on the fifth and sixth grade side shoved another little boy of the bench they were sharing. The little boy tried to sit be down. The other two continues pushing him, but it was till they started yelling at him the Ba John looked up and paid attention.
“What is going on?”
“He’s in the fourth grade, he can’t sit on this side.” Hearing this Chelsi looked at the row next to her. All the seats were taken. She thought she heard Ba John say something to this affect but the older students continued to protest. After a little more back and forth between the students and Ba John, the younger boy was shoved off his bench for the last time and he retreated a bench where some of his peers were squeezing themselves more tightly together to make room for him.
Okay, let’s get started, Chelsi thought to herself. Ba John wrote Maths up at the top of the board. The students rustled out their pencils and papers. Each student produced either clean, if slightly battered notebooks or magazines and church pamphlets, where they started to write the lesson in between the printed lines. The fifth and sixth graders were learning to add fractions, the third and fourth to subtracted three figure numbers and the first and second what qualified at a set of numbers. Chelsi had heard mixed reviews of school and Kamijiji and how effectively it actually taught it’s students, but besides the continued chattering between students and the occasional crash of a desk top or seat bench slipping to the ground, the lesson seem promising.
When he finished writing up the lesson and a few practice problems for each grade, Ba John approached her. “Did you bring program for the students today?”
“No,” She hesitated a bit confused. “I’m just here to watch.” He turned back around and mulled around the front of the room before approaching her again.
“Did you bring any chalk?”
“No, I don’t have any chalk.”
“We have run out of chalk.” The chatter among the students started to grow in volume. He turned about “Quiet down! Do your work.” Then sat down next to Chelsi. “It’s hard teaching so many grades at once.”
“Maybe, but I thought you were off to a great start.” Really, she thought to herself, it wasn’t the teaching of multiple grades at once but the utter lack of discipline in the class room. The noise level remained constant.
“You,” Ba John pointed at a boy sitting just in front of us. “Go find us more chalk.” The boy stood up and left the room.
“You know, I have heard of a way to make chalk using egg shells. If you’re interested in learning I can teach it to you.” She looked over at him. He was staring down at his smartphone.
“Oh,” he replied with a thick layer of disinterest. Looking at his phone screen she could see that it was just 8:30. The boy that had been sent out came back.
“Kafwako.” He was empty handed. He sat back in his seat as Ba John stood up. For a while he just wandered around the room, before pulling a red pen from his pocket and began what Chelsi believed to be grading the first and second graders work. Finishing the row, he walked back to his desk picked up a notebook and sat back down next to Chelsi.
It was notebook of lesson plans, learn objectives and the term calendar, he explained handing her the book. She flipped through it. “Is this how you do it in America?” Students were beginning to wander around the room, the falling of the desk tops and seat benches increased.
“Yes,” but no. Why aren’t you up there teaching? You don’t need chalk to teach.
“How is America?”
“There’s good and bad things.”
“How much did it cost for you to come to Zambia? Like 20 million?”
“Peace Corps pays for the ticket, but I’m sure I wouldn’t be able afford it on my own. But less than 20 million I think.”
“What do you want to teach?” he was staring down at his phone again.
“Well, I’m a fish farmer.”
“I would like a fish pond. And what about gardening? And chickens?”
“Come to the fish farming meeting on the 30th, at 14 hours here at the school.” He didn’t saying anything, but stood up. Looking at her watch it was 8:50. He walked out of the room and into the office.
Chelsi leaned over to ask the students, “Break, kimye ka?”
“10 hours,” they replied softly.
When he returned he was holding a stack of English books. Well, I guess that’s it for Maths.
The books were passed out to the respective grade level and each grade was told to which page to turn their attention. Chelsi peered over the three girls sitting in front of her to their books. There was an activity. The students were to match a description to a picture of gifts Judy brought for her grandmother: a cane, a blanket and a cup of tea. Below was five statements with a blank that had to be filled in. The girls started drawing the pictures in their notebooks and copying the lesson pages down verbatim.
Over the course of the next hour Ba John wandered in and out of the classroom, smartphone in hand, students yelled at each other and pushed the benches out from under their peers. A boy sitting a few desks in front of Chelsi started quizzing her on the Kiikaonde words for animals pictured in his English book.
“Bring your books up so I can look.” Ba John instructed as he took a seat in the only straight backed chair in the room. When the three girl who had been sitting in front of Chelsi returned they proudly should her the 5/5 marks. When he was finished with all of the students he instructed them to collect the books and put them away. He walked back to where she was sitting. “What do you want to do now?”
“Let’s take some new snaps, then I have to go.”