Always in the deep woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place there will be, along with the feelings of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is an ancient fear of the unknown and is your first bond with the wilderness you are going into. What you are doing is exploring. -- Wendell Berry

The TRIP: GUINEA - wonkifong --> MALI - bamako, djenne, douentza, Dogon Country --> Burkina Faso - ouagadougou, bobo-dioulasso, bala, ouagadougou --> GHANA - tamale, mole national park, tamale, yeji, volta lake ferry, akosombo, accra, green turtle lodge, elmina, cape coast, accra, hohoe and wli falls --> TOGO - kpalime, atakpame, lome --> BENIN - cotonu (transport stop) --> NIGER - niamey, tahoua, agadez, camel trek in aiir mtns, niamey --> BENIN (abomey, grand popo, ouidah, ganvie, cotonou) --> CAMEROON (douala, buea, top of Mt Cameroon, limbe, sangelima, yaounde, kribi, douala) --> MAURITANIA (nouakchott, atar, chinguetti, camels into the sahara, terjit, choume, ride the coal train, nouadhibou) --> MOROCCO (western sahara, dakhla, agadir, essaouira, marrakesh, imlil, summit of jebel toubkal, fes, chefchaouen) --> cross the Strait of Gibraltar --> Malaga, Spain --> fly to Geneva, Switzerland --> Les Grangettes, France
Click for a map. Updated April 30, 2007

jeudi, novembre 23, 2006

The First Test (November 21, 2006)

The room is packed – 88 students in class today. Two by two on a bench they sit. The seats had been assigned and in front of each student was a piece of paper holding their name and an “A” or “B”, a pen or two and a ruler. The A’s alternated with the B’s across the row of benches.

“But Monsieur Franck, why do we have to have different tests?” a student asks as he looks up to the board to see two different tests written in various colors of chalk. Cheating is rampant in Guinean classrooms, which may be caused by the number of students crammed into the classroom, the understanding that test scores and results can often be bought (Guinea was recently listed as one of the Top 5 most corrupt nations in the world), or other reasons. I have never given a test to this many people at once and it is difficult to keep chaos under control – a Guinean classroom of 80+ students is one of nature’s attempts to let entropy loose to its own ends.

It is 10:45 by the time students calm down enough to get going on the test and the heat of the day is beginning to set in. I watch as sweat begins to bead across the heads of the students: anxiety or heat? Walking through the rows of benches is almost impossible since they are packed so close together and these are not small children. The most common age is 16 though there are a few 20 year olds in the class.

The Guinean testing system is based on the French model of 20 points for a test. Students need to have an average of 10 or more to continue to the next grade level. I warn the students that any shifty eyes, talking, etc will result in a -5 and some test me right away. After a few -5 are doled out, the class settles into the test and an hour or so later students finish and leave the class. I am left with 88 papers to grade for this class and then the 176 for the other two classes.