Saturday, 29 September 2012

Saturday 29th September – feeling more at home

I have had several emails from friends concerned about my various difficulties here in Ed Damer, particularly the water situation and lack of privacy.  I am glad to say that after a couple of weeks, I am feeling far more settled.  Guida, the headmaster’s wife, cadged an excellent plastic urn with a filter from a relative which now has pride of place in the teachers’ accommodation specially for my use.  I have a large supply of plastic bottles that I carry around with me full of (easily replenished) filtered water.  Privacy is still an issue, but I do realise that this is a cultural difference that I just have to adjust to. 

In spite of the language barrier, I feel a rapport with the two teachers who share the accommodation, Esan and Waheeda.  We get by with signs and telling each other Arabic and English words.  The students are still wildly excited whenever they spot me and some descend into giggles if I speak to them. I wonder how long it will take for me to seem normal to them.
I have spent the last two nights staying with the headteacher.  Yesterday Guida and I went to visit a relative of Osman’s who is about to leave on the annual Haj pilgrimage to Mecca.  This is a once in a lifetime event, so is celebrated with a big meal.  The house was Osman’s family home and is built in the local style (single storey, mud-built, flat roofs with several rooms separated by courtyards).  It is permanent home to several branches of the family, who all live together as a small community.  The relative who is going to Mecca is a woman, so this was a women-only party.  There were several babies, all being breastfed as we ate and lots of slightly older children, many of whom spent their time peeping through the windows at me and disappearing whenever I looked at them.  As everywhere, the food was very good.  I am getting quite accomplished at eating with my right hand now.
As next week is exam week, the students and many teachers came into school today for revision lessons even though it is the weekend.  This morning I had a revision class sprung on me with only ten minutes notice.  The exams are completely written, with no oral section.  My role was therefore purely to jog their memories about vocabulary.  I used my strategy of getting the silent majority of the class to contribute as much as possible.  In spite of the rather uninspiring nature of the lesson, the students still behaved afterwards as though I was the best thing ever.
Once the exams are over, I want to tackle the struggling students in a more focused way.  I am therefore reading materials for inspiration.  I keep coming up against the major hurdle of lack of general knowledge about subjects outside the immediate area.  There is a limit to how many times I want to discuss their families and locality with them.  I would love to get them inventing stories around the class, but suspect this will fall flat due to lack of understanding.  Any suggestions gratefully received.


  1. Perhaps you can ask them to tell you about the stages in a Sudanese wedding, what they like to do in their free time, how to be a good friend, accomplishments they are proud of, their aspirations, their heroes, favorite singers, etc.?

  2. Hi Susanna, Thanks very much for your suggestions. Unfortunately they will be beyond my students. Since I wrote this entry I have realised that the levels of English are even lower than I first thought. They have virtually no spoken Enlish beyond 'Hello', 'Good morning, Teacher' etc. The text books are appalling, and teachers just soldier through without taking into account practise or understanding. I have come to the conclusion that I might have to model very basic conversations for them using my hands as puppets (two people) plus lots of mime and getting them to copy me.