Day 340: English Work

Well, another week has passed in this gorgeous place. Claire and I were joking about how we always find ourselves little bubbles to live in (Stanford, our houses etc. etc.), and this gorgeous happy place is no different; but then as we spoke a little girl passed outside who is pretty sick with HIV and another with a severe eye problem that she can’t get treated, and we realized that our definition of “bubble” has become a bit skewed over the past year.

We are adopting a sort of routine, and are trying to make this little apartment a home, though our appliances are constantly ganging up against any complacency. Our oven that takes 4 hours to heat a yam, also burns my “high tea scones” (ahhh…colonialism!) within 4 minutes; and our refrigerator that held steady at a good 78 degrees when we first got here has now begun freezing everything. Between that and our continued struggles to find milk that is edible, things are trying on the kitchen front, but then so are we.

Now the challenge has become finding a balance between our own obligations and what is requested. We have disappointed about 7 people around the place who somehow thought we were here to just help them, and we keep having to beg off additions to a growing list of daily obligations. We cannot for example do reading tutoring, computer skill teaching, and a running club all between the hours of 3 and 6, as has been requested by various people at various times as the only time slot possible for these essential activities. So we learn how to say no politely, learn who you cannot say no to (Lara has been offending the elders by missing 2-hour long impromptu luncheons with excuses like “deadlines), and learn slowly what it is that really needs to be done around here.

Aside from running, English tutoring has become a priority and happily one that we feel well qualified to do. They all learn English in school, so through lots of charades and over-annunciation we can communicate fairly well. However, we feel that our skills are still needed when our new friend Hannah comes home from school, and knocks on our door to show off her work for the day, and I read that her teacher has corrected her work to read:

"The girl has THE A short hair."

And other African sentences like:

"The lion has killed THE MOST giraffe."

But while what we do all day, namely editing people’s English writing, we consider good preparation, we found last night that it is not actually considered “work” here. When I explained that no, of course we do not wake up as late as 10! We have already been working for HOURS by the time we open our door…the girls laughed and said “what work?” They then began making little typing signs with their hands and giggling.

They proceeded to illustrate the point that I do not do real work by playing this great new game called “Pain” in which you hold someone’s hand, palm up, and then slap it as hard as you can. They illustrated the game with me as a willing and ignorant victim, then explained that if I did “work” my hands would not be so “soft and delicate.” I took their point, said a cordial goodnight, and then whimpered within the confines of my apartment to Claire and Jonathan, fellow “non-workers,” who even as we speak are sleeping well past 8 AM.

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