So far, I’ve done Early Grade Reading Assessments for 45 P4 pupils. I’ve found that about a quarter of them don’t know how to read at all. The remaining 75% know how to read (at varying levels) but cannot comprehend what they read. Today, all the pupils were busy taking end-of-the-year subject exams, administered by the government. The exams are entirely in English and nobody understands the directions. What kind of cruel joke is this?
The Worst Kind of Dreams
Today, I had a dream about my brother. We were sitting in his room in a familiar silence, each in our own world but comforted by the presence of the other. He was on his laptop and I on mine. Every once in a while, he would turn to me excitedly to tell me about an article he was reading or a song that I just had to listen to. I don’t know even know if I can call this a dream since it’s a scene we’ve perfected over many years. I woke up with a deep ache in my heart – a sadness caused by nostalgia. The worst kind of dreams are the ordinary ones.
There’s a pupil at the school named Edson. He is 13 years old and comes from a broken home, the details of which has not been entrusted to me…yet, but the words “abuse” and “stepmother” have been thrown around by the other teachers. There’s something about him that immediately reminded me of my brother. Maybe it’s the bursts of silliness that comes out every once in a while or the self-assured way he carries himself or the fact that he wants to be a pilot. Either way, it helps to think that even though I miss my brother terribly, I have a piece of him here.
I spent all of last week at a Youth Technical Training Workshop with my counterpart Gladys and two of our pupils – Edson and Brenda. The workshop was aimed at forming youth-adult partnerships and fostering youth leadership. Session topics included agriculture, HIV/AIDS, Malaria, youth empowerment, etc. While Edson is silly and outgoing, Brenda is the opposite – shy and withdrawn. Being at the workshop, I was happy to see her come out of her shell a little bit. One of my proudest moments with Brenda was during an HIV Prevention session in which the facilitator was teaching the kids how to say no to unwanted sex. The facilitator asked for volunteers to act out a scene in which a boda boda man tries to seduce a young girl – a common occurrence in Uganda. Brenda volunteered, to my surprise, and I watched in awe as she stood in front of a group of her peers and showed more attitude in 2 minutes than in the 4 months I’ve known her. I almost cried when she told the kid acting as the boda boda man, “what part of NO do you not understand?”
Ugandans love to be in pictures. However, as soon as the camera comes out, their faces fall. Instead of smiling, they take on a stony look. I have many awkward selfies proving this phenomenon – me with my huge grin and squinty eyes accompanied by the blank faces of my Ugandan coworkers. I finally addressed this problem with Gladys. I told her, “When I smile, my eyes, they disappear. That is how you can tell I am happy.” She laughed at me for at least 2 minutes but now she smiles for pictures. Always.
I am thinking about a boyfriend I had
(once upon a time).
I was going through a rough time and
I said to him that I always felt as if I was fighting something
-the societal and cultural constraints that I was bound by
-the gray area between my American nationality and my Bangladeshi ethnicity
-the ominous figures of my nightmares
-my parent’s disappointing gaze.
I was exhausted.
Why can’t things be easy for once?
He told me
that to stop fighting was to give up.
It’s in the fight that you realize what’s important.
And if things were easy,
He kissed my scars.
There is something so satisfying about dirt under your fingernails from an afternoon of digging, planting and nurturing.