No More Teachers

Published by Brian on

I haven’t updated for a couple of weeks, but that is mostly because nothing that exciting has really happened. I’m glad to say that I am done with teaching for the school year, which is good because the last couple of weeks both the students and myself really weren’t that motivated.


We had our final exams, and calculated their final grades, which is a new experience. At the end of each semester the professors take a day where they call up the students one by one, have them bring up all their quizzes and tests for the semester, and then compute their grades one by one with a calculator. I, however, do all of this with a handy dandy excel spreadsheet, so by the time I calculate grades I actually have it all done. So for me this day involves calling them up and informing them of their grade, and then letting them contest it in anyway they want (they usually don’t).


I’d also not that a lot of these “calculations” are very, very, very simple. It generally consists of adding numbers and dividing by three. You don’t need a calculator to do them. In the classes I co-teach we still do it the Beninese way where we call everyone up one at a time, and often times I figure out the grade faster in my head than they do punching it into a calculator. People consider this more or less a miracle.


One thing about the school system that I really haven’t adjusted to (aside from the authoritarian power relationship that exists between teachers and students) is the complete lack of student privacy. The idea that students’ grades are private is incomprehensible here. When handing back quizzes/tests teachers normally announce the grades, followed by them throwing the student’s paper on the floor rather than handing it to them.


This semester my students generally got better grades, but that is mostly because I replaced a quiz score with a homework grade in my grade book, which is also never done here, and that helped bring up grades.


It’s nice to have the school year over though, I will admit the last couple of weeks I was fading, and the behavior issues were getting progressively worse. Also, a couple of weeks ago one of our blackboards was left outside during a rainstorm, which pretty much ruined it. Another one got knocked over by some wind and had a hole torn in it.


Also, great news, we put up a basketball hoop at the school and, not to brag too much, I am generally considered the best player in the whole arrondissement. This is more of a statement on their skill, not mine, and it does reinforce my new rule for playing sports: I will only play a sport if I am the only one who knows how to actually play the game.





About two weeks ago I was in my market town when I noticed a very strange sight down by the market, a bunch of me digging a ditch parallel to the road. After striking a conversation with them I learned the great news, my market town is getting running water. They’re putting up a water tower by the local government offices and have started laying down the pipes.


Now, to be clear, this doesn’t mean that they’ll be putting in toilets and fancy sinks and showers and all that jazz. They aren’t putting in any pipes for waste or “grey” water; the running water system will involve some families putting in a spigot. Still, it’s a step forward.


I think it will still take a couple of years for running water to actually get out to my village, which is still a couple of kilometers away from my market town, but it is interesting to watch the area develop. Even in the nine months or so I’ve been in village I’ve seen a lot of things change, development seems to be happening at a pace that can literally be seen.


I’ll admit that I’d thought about it before, and I honestly never thought that they would put in a water system, since the layout of the town always seemed to me to make it too difficult. A lot of houses and boutiques run right up to the road, in a lot of places it seemed like there wasn’t enough space to physically put in a system without tearing up the road or someone’s property.


Two things I didn’t realize, though, are that they don’t need to put in pipes along every road and everywhere. For now they can just put the system in where it is easiest, and Beninese people, who are already used to walking and carrying their water in large buckets resting on their head, will not consider it inconvenient to have to walk a block or two to wherever the nearest spigot is.


The other thing is that they have no problem putting the pipes in through already laid concrete. There are a few spots where they have just torn out the concrete to lay down the pipes. The bad side of this is that the boutique owners will almost certainly have to pay to re-pour the concrete themselves.


Lack of Commerce


Sometimes Beninese people aren’t very good at commerce. A couple of quick stories.


When I went to the market this week I decided to try and get some bananas. I found a lady selling bananas, she had a bundle of maybe 20-25 of them. I asked how much they cost and she gave some high price, I balked and she came down some. When I asked her how many I could buy for 100 francs, she seemed confused. Turns out she was only willing to sell all the bananas at once, and was not willing to sell only a few bananas at a time. It was clear that no deal was going to be made so I went ahead and walked away (when bargaining at the market I’ve learned that you always need to be willing to walk away).


A couple of weeks ago I went to buy some oranges. After asking how much they cost I was informed that I could by three for 50 francs, or five for 100 francs. If you do the math, that means I could spend 16.67 francs per orange if getting three, or I can spend 20 francs per orange if I buy five. Buying in bulk was a more expensive proposition. I went ahead and got three oranges, if I got hungry again I could just go back, spend 50 francs more, and get a bonus orange.




Speaking of oranges, pull up a chair and grab one because I’m going to teach you the Beninese way of eating them.


Here’s the short version:

Step one, take the orange in your hand.

Step two, smash the orange against your face until all the juice is out of it.

Step three, throw the orange on the ground and do something else.


The long version isn’t that much more complicated. You take an orange and peel away most of its skin, try to leave a couple of millimeters of the skin intact though. Then, you cut off a slice either on the top or bottom, exposing a section of the orange. Take this section and shove it up to your mouth. Now you want to start alternatively sucking the juice out of the orange and squeezing down the orange. There is some science to this part, as it is easy to make the orange burst somewhere, spilling juice all over to you. You’re also going to want to be careful of the seeds.


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