first day of school

DSCN6092From June 22…

When I first arrived at school with the two other American volunteers, we had around fifty students following us and hundreds waiting for us. As we made our way to the director’s office it was like we were running through a pool of drying concrete. Every step through the swarming children took concentration to avoid stepping on tumbling bodies, and it only got harder as they flocked around us. After a few minutes we reached the door and a skinny old man came out with a whip. Shouting in Oromo, he slapped the children away from the door so we could enter.
Inside, I felt relieved when we shook hands with three business-suited administrators who looked like they could bring order to the chaos. In broken English, they asked how many students we could each teach. Hoping not to turn anyone away, we decided to first see how many students wanted to sign up. We were given blank sheets of paper and the green light. It was up to us to coordinate the registration of thousands of Oromo children, of whom we could only reasonably teach a maximum of 500 among the three of us.

We stepped back out into the chaos. Monika took grades 1-4, I took 5-6, and Sam took 7-8. Using the little Oromo we had learned, we tried to get the right students to follow each of us. I stopped on top of the front steps to one of the school buildings and was immediately surrounded. Students were pulling my hair, pinching my skin, screaming English phrases like, “Teacher! How are you? Are you fine?” and laughing hysterically. I found an advanced tenth grader whom I had met earlier to record names for me and tried to make the students form a line. That was absolutely impossible. Instead I physically pushed all the students off the steps and let them up one at a time to sign up. The students knew there would not be room for all of them. It became a battle of force as they shoved each other to get to the front. I had been choosing students from the front to let through to sign up (literally by raising my arm for a second), but I realized that I was selecting my students based on how strong or aggressive they were. I began reaching out my hand to students in the back to pull to the front. But how to choose? I made eye contact with ten students for every one that I could select. I never found a good system. I went on like that, changing my mind every few minutes about how to choose students. A few hours later I had registered 160 students and decided I had to stop. I would teach four classes of forty students every day.

I headed home with my students on my tail. On the path to the school we must cross a river by stepping on small rocks that poke out of the water. The water is blood-red—from animal blood. Crossing that river on the tedious rocks with students jostling me on all sides was like a horrible Frogger-induced nightmare. Fortunately I made it across and finally arrived at home where I left the students yelling at me from behind the front gate.



One response to “first day of school

  1. Rory,
    Your blog has been fascinating to read. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings. You are a keen observer of human behavior. I was particularly moved by your experience with choosing children to teach. I was impressed with your ability to problem solve in an emotionally laden situation with little to no preparation or resources. Sounds like you did the best you could given the circumstances. The children are fortunate to have you and you are lucky to be given the opportunity to be a part of their lives. We think about you everyday and I have forwarded your blog to many friends. Be well.

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