Thursday, January 31, 2008

Why I'm the Worst Teacher Ever

This month’s update drought comes from distraction, not a lack of electricity or internet.

When I last updated, I was about to start teaching. After a dull New Year’s in village – my fault for failing to seek out the parties – I taught three classes. Then I went to South Africa.

I knew before Christmas that I would have to go sometime in January for certain health expertise unavailable in Togo. I expected more notice. Peace Corps called on a Tuesday afternoon, and by Wednesday evening, my travel buddy (who was actually in physical pain, whereas I was in vacation mode) and I were on a plane from Accra, Ghana to Johannesburg.

I spent exactly a week in Pretoria, living every Peace Corps Togo volunteer’s dream – a painless med-evac to “Africa Lite”. The Peace Corps houses med-evacs in a luxurious guesthouse, and I mean luxurious by American, not Togolese standards. I took hot showers, watched many bad movies on TV, ate granola and yogurt AND an egg dish every morning and swam in the pool twice. Between doctor and hospital visits, we frequented two malls, a flea market, the Peace Corps’ internet and Pretoria’s “White House,” the Union Building. I went to the Botanical Gardens, and I ate almost everything I’ve missed in Togo, except for a cream cheese bagel. Apparently, “cream cheese” in South Africa means something different from American cream cheese. So I had a bagel with melted cheddar. Also tasty.

I believe I actually had more language mishaps speaking English in Pretoria than French in Togo. At the Pick ‘N’ Pay grocery store, I heard the man at the check-out ask me if I wanted a packet (I think he actually said, “Plastic”).

“A what?”

“A packet (or plastic)… gestures at plastic bag. What do you call it?”

“Oh. A bag.”

A few days later, another incident at a different grocery store. I asked an employee at the entrance if there was a toilet. He went outside, and I followed him, expecting him to direct me to another store. He grabbed a shopping cart, went back inside and pushed it through the turnstile. I was still following him, thinking it was kind of rude to decide to clean up and then answer my question. He pointed at the cart.

“You can use that.”

I must have given him a WHAT-are-you-talking-about face.

“You wanted a trolley, no?” Um. No.

After making an idiot of myself all around Pretoria, I headed back to Togo in time for CHAP’s three day Project Development and Management (PDM) seminar. It took place at the Peace Corps Training Center in Pagala. It’s basically a retreat center with bucket showers instead of running water.

I got back to village Friday, went to a prefectural cultural fest in Mango on Saturday, cleaned my filthy house on Sunday and quit teaching on Tuesday. During the three classes I taught, I quickly realized that I can’t teach grammar. Maybe with training I could, but I feel it’s unfair to the students to have me teach instead of the director, who knows what he’s doing and is good at it. I realize it’s also unfair (and pitiful) to agree to teach, and then quit after three rounds, and I feel rotten about it. So I’m going to try out an English club and tutoring instead. Maybe we can have more than three meetings.