The Job.

Enough people have asked about my job and the work I do here for me to actually feel enough pressure to let the cat out of the bag. I tend to skim over it or not really include it in my blogs simply because I don’t know what to say about it, or more appropriately, I don’t know how to talk about it without sounding a bit sullen.

So here’s the nitty gritty, broken down in plain text:

I work at the Kwara State College of Education (CoE), which is one of three CoEs in Kwara. This particular CoE is dubbed the “reform” college, meaning it has undergone serious administrative, curricular, methodological, and logistical changes in order that it will become the model CoE in Kwara, and theoretically in Nigeria.

My job is multifold. The bulk of it at this point has been training the existing teachers who work at the on-campus Early Childhood Development facility (ECD) and the Primary School. I train them primarily on learner-centered approaches involving the use of a variety of participatory activities and teaching aids. Most teaching practices in Nigeria still consist of “chalk and talk,” which is where the teacher lectures the students and writes a whole bunch on the chalkboard. This style of teaching has its time and place, but it is not an effective method when used all of the time.

So my job is to teach them other ways of teaching. I facilitate weekly training sessions which I attempt to make fun and interesting, and then I observe their classes throughout the week and give detailed feedback and suggestions for improvement. I really love the primary school teachers and and their students, and they seem to adore me, so this aspect of the work is quite enjoyable.

My work with them relates with the CoE because when the college students training to become teachers go out for their student teaching/practicum, they will have solid role models on which to base their observations and practice. At some point I will be going out to the remaining teaching practice schools in the area and provide support to them as well, but up to this point I’ve only been working in the two schools on campus.

Some other jobs that will likely happen in the future will be to work with the Early Childhood and Primary Education professors (called “lecturers” here) and support them in teaching the college students about learner-centered methods and techniques. This has not happened yet due to the strike.

Alas…the strike.

Read my last blog titled, “Riots, Broken Windows, and Naivete,” for more details about the hows and whys of the strike. The college staff and teachers have been on strike for half of my duration here. This doesn’t bode well for feeling like I actually have a real concrete job, especially when I walk around campus to the sound of bleating goats and my own footsteps. In fact, I’ve felt akin to a plastic bag whipped around by the wind: don’t know where I’m going, don’t know where I’m gonna land. Sometimes I feel like I have a real direction and purpose, other times I feel like I’m just grasping at an amorphous, cloudy goal of which I myself can’t even define. Some weeks I’ll have plenty of work, other weeks I’ll have next to nothing. Recently, it’s been erring toward the “next to nothing” side.

In several ways this is okay. The downtime has allowed me to take several trips to Abuja to work on a side project with the organization I’m here with, VSO. It has also allowed me to spend more time with my neighbors and other friends in the area. And since there is a strike, I can use the empty campus to go on my runs without being stared at like a lunatic oyinbo. On the whole, however, if I had to state a preference, it would be nicer to have everyone back on campus with the college up and running, keeping busier, and having a bit more direction.

But as all plastic bags in the wind do, I’ll just continue to go with the flow and see where I’ll land after all of this (if I land at all)! It’s not like I’m doing nothing, but I’m certainly not plowing through any 10-hour action packed days like I did back in America!

So that’s The Job. I’ll make sure to update you as things progress/regress!


Riots, Broken Windows, and Naivete

Do you ever have those mornings when you wake up and think, “something big is going to happen today”? I do, but yesterday wasn’t one of them. It was just your average roll-out-of-bed-and-schlep-yourself-to-work sort of day. But joy of joys, yesterday was actually much more exciting than I had anticipated! Unfortunately, it wasn’t exciting in a good way.

I’ll start from the beginning:

When I first arrived to Nigeria, the staff at the college I work at went on strike due to the perceived low teacher salary paid to them by the Nigerian government. They were on strike for nearly two full months (most of February and all of March). Finally, the government promised them a raise and assured the teachers that the new salary would be instated by the end of May. So in April the teachers’ union cautiously suspended the strike and returned to the college for work (but please bear in mind the word “suspended”).

So the students gradually trickled in and life at the College of Education settled back to a quasi state of normalcy. Semester exams had been delayed due to the strike, but were rescheduled and had just begun this past Monday, May 30th. Hmmm….May 30th….End of May….I see that your wheels are turning, right?

Bingo! You got it! The government did not come through with the new teacher salaries as promised. The teachers, as of June 2nd, declared that they would resume their strike indefinitely. Right in the middle of exams. Now, it doesn’t take an Einstein to imagine how the college students must feel right about now. They have already paid their tuition, they expect an education to be delivered to them, they can’t finish the year or earn their certificate if they don’t complete their exams, they’ve already had to deal with the previous two-month long strike….feeling angry yet?

So the students rioted.

Today I happened to be in the Administration Block, which is the main building where all the head honchos have their offices. We were right in the middle of a meeting when all of a sudden the Provost shot up and moved quickly to the window. Obviously the administration had been anticipating this. Within two seconds, every single person in the room was huddled around the windows. The one other VSO volunteer and I were just looking at each other with the naive, “Am I missing something?” look.

Sure enough crowds of students were forming in front of the building. Many had broken off large branches from trees, whipping them back and forth. Others were pushing around the security guards. Mostly, though, there was just a lot of yelling. The room cleared pretty much instantly, until only the other VSO and myself and another man were standing there wondering what to do (everyone else seemed to know already).

The other VSO and I went to the window and stared out at all the people. I could recognize several familiar faces of student acquaintances I have. They all began to yell, “NO MORE STRIKE, NO MORE STRIKE!” The provost was outside at that point, likely trying to calm them down. I took out my cell phone and snapped a few photos, considering I had never seen anything like this before, and assuming that the students were “cool” with me and knew that I merely represented the curious and harmless outsider.

Then, without any warning, I heard a huge BANG! and then a shatter. I instantly jumped back with a scream and realized that a rock had been chucked through the window we were standing at, missing our heads by a couple of feet. I then heard a succession of rocks being pelted at the building, probably about ten in total.

After a little while, the rioters settled down and many drifted away. When we felt it was safe to go outside, we did. I was escorted to my office by one of the undercover guards whose job it was to write down the names of anyone who threw stones or caused trouble. He told me several times, “No pictures! NO PICTURES! YOU UNDERSTAND ME?” Okay, OKAY! Got it!! No pictures!!

On our walk down to my office, he bent over and picked up two shiny balls which to me looked like little marbles from a Discovery Toys game or something. Turns out they were bullets! Could’ve fooled me! I quickly collected my things from my office and was given a ride home by a teacher at the college.

The situation is calm now, but the strike is on, which means the exams have been cancelled. My heart goes out to everyone in this situation, really. It shouldn’t have to be this way. I’m not going to share my opinion on the matter more than I already have due to the nature of a public blog, but it’s just so unfortunate. Thank goodness no one was hurt, as far as I could tell, except for one student who I saw holding paper to a wound on his eye.

As far as my work goes, I am still able to go about my business teaching at the Primary School and Early Childhood Development Facility located on campus, but the college has once again resumed “ghost-town” status, and my primary counterparts will not be around.

Today, as I was buying bread from my favorite campus shopkeeper, two male college students approached me, yelling at me in Yoruba. All I could understand was, “Yelling yelling yelling CAMERA yelling yelling CAMERA!” I understood what was happening, but played dumb and asked them to please speak to me in English. They told me that it was by the Grace of God that I wasn’t hurt yesterday and that the students pelted the stones at me intentionally because I was taking pictures. He continued to say that Nigerians hate picture-taking because they assume the snapshots will be used to implicate them. I told them I certainly meant no harm by it, that I’m not going to use those pictures in any negative way, and to please apologize to their friends and fellow students for me. They asked if I was just curious because I’d never seen anything like that at a college campus before, and I emphatically confirmed. As is typical in Nigeria, things went from tense to light-hearted in about five seconds, and all of a sudden they were shaking my hand, laughing, introducing themselves, and asking me to take them back to America, the “powerful country” where you can “take pictures freely.” Sigh.

All this to say that I am not happy nor proud about my naivete. I should have known better than to take those pictures. In fact, part of me did, but I ignored my instinct. I assumed that since I’m this cute, nice American girl that everyone likes, people would without a doubt understand and overlook my innocent and ignorant motives. This is not the case. I guess part of the reason I came out here was to learn about the “other” real world: the one that isn’t so peachy keen and ice-cream-dream. But what needs to happen is that I learn about this environment responsibly: not by testing the limits and expecting others to react the way I think they should, but by being cautious, observant, and sharp. Gosh, all this learning is starting to exhaust me!

Until next time, dear friends. Take care 🙂