Saturday, March 24, 2007

"Ever pull the wings off a fly? Care to see the fly get even?"*

So here I am. Again. It's the end of the first week of 'work' and the size of the job in hand is, well, a little bit intimidating.

A wise man, unbearded, once said, "anyone can eat an elephant, it's just a matter of how you go about it," and what we've got here is a positively planetary pachyderm. All I've got is a plastic handled fork, whose tines are made of the weakest metal known to man and whose handle has already fallen off. Some would say I had a challenge on my hands, others would stick their head in a bucket of lard. There are others still who would compose a sea shanty and mallemaroke their way around northern latitudes.

The first group would be those closest to the mark, though the jury is still in session, and if I see any Right Whales I'll be sure to let you know.

This week has been a week of firsts. I could list them but it would be a little on the boring side; suffice to say, there were many of them and they ranged in excitement from the first warts'n'all use of the latrine to the first pursuit of monster centipedes from the premises. The latter did not enduce the former but had the former not preceeded the latter then the latter's desire to scale my leg may well have had such an effect. If you catch my drift.

The vultures have been conspicous in their absence, in the same way that a praying mantis who guards my door by night has not been. And the flies must have been in cahoots with the daddy longlegs.

What indeed is the plural of daddy longlegs? Is it daddys longlegs, making sure not to throw in a rogue apostophe; that's to say is it of the same plural class as mothers-in-law. Nothing derogatory meant there, just happens to be the only one I can think of at the moment.

The house is decorated as best I can with the tools available to me and I've been blown away by the sheer amount of dust. People in glass houses should, quite obviously, be discouraged from lobbing lumps of rock around. People in concrete floored houses shouldn't even consider walking about them unless they make Legolas look positively leaden footed. At the current rate of erosion, I reckon I'll be through the earth's mantle by about Tuesday next.

Why the elephant? Well having spent the last week observing my colleagues, their charges and generally being absorbed my scholastic life here, there are so many things to note and areas that can be changed, that it's impossible to know where to start. The fact that there are not jobs for those children who do go through the whole education system is, possibly, one of the fundamental problems, but the others seem all that more important, and that little bit easier to address.

My job is not one of culture change. By that I mean culture with a capital C. There's changing culture and there's changing Culture. One is what makes us British instead of for example French. The other is what makes us, we, the global north understand that gender, colour, religion, race or creed are wrappers (of 'brownpaperpackagingtiedupwithstring' as opposed to 'gangsta' variety) and nothing more.

The border is both broad and blurred and comes bound up in a sea of varying shades of grey. You say /tə'meɪteʊ/ I say /tə'mɑ:teʊ/ etc etc.

I am somewhere in that big sea of bluriness. There are things which I want to change but know that to try and do so would take someone a lot greater than me. In fact it would take an entire nation and would probably take the form of a bloody and violent coup.

Before I got here I had been told, and was generally of the impression that, the children here enjoyed school, wanted to be there and, therefore, were hungry to learn; were hungry for an education; an education to help them progress through life, to get them out of the interminable daily grind of wondering whether this meal would be their last. Yes they want to be at school but they're not there for the learning. They're there because if they weren't they'd be watching over a flock of sheep. They're there because their friends are too and they can avoid taking on any responsibility until they find someone/two/three/four to marry and have children with.

The school itself is a secondary school, which according to the law of the land, is for children aged between 11 and 14. Some of them are nearer 20, and at least one of them is married and expecting her third child. How do I know this? She's my neighbour and she very kindly - in a moment of grave concern at my lack of wife and offspring - offered to give me one of her children, should this next crop be twins.

For the girls they go to school because the laws regarding the rights of the child and the millennium development goals state that, and I paraphrase, by 2015 all children will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling. They're not there because they want to be, or have huge career aspirations, they're there because a well meaning bureaucrat said they should be. They're there to tick the box marked "Girls receiving primary education". For many, as soon as the senior male in the family decides it's time that they were married, that's what they'll be. Baby making machines, consigned to a lot against which they have no voice. A vicious circle that ensures that they never benefit from 'development'.

The question: Is this culture with a small c or a big one? Is it both? Where, as I said, do I start?

I could go on and on and on and on, but I won't, partly because there's so much to say that this already monologous (is that a word?) diatribe is already getting out of control, but also it makes the beast seem that much more indigestible.

Just to say that there are a huge number of challenges in front of me. Some of them I hope I can help CES de Godola and the town itself overcome. Others are going to take generations. The first morsels of elephant will soon, I hope, start to slip down. A nice chianti wouldn't go amiss, but a cold beer is what beckons and so it is to that that I shall go.

Elephant season doesn't start til September ... that's when the gloves come off and the 'real work' starts. It's a task of Sisyphan proportions and I'm well aware of my own limitations. I know too that the smallest things are going to make a barely discernible difference ... but they might just start something.

But at the same time, and I quote ...
"J: All right, I'm in, 'cos there's some next level shit going on and I'm OK with that. But before y'all go beaming me up there's one thing you gotta remember: You chose me ... so you recognised the skills. So I don't want nobody calling me son or kid or sport or nothing like that. Cool?
K: Cool. Whatever you say, slick. But I need to tell you something about all your skills: As of right now, they mean precisely ... dick."*

I know how he feels.

* The quotes are both from Men in Black ... Quite possibly the best film ever. I know many of you will disagree, but ya-boo sucks to you.


  1. relockhart@btinternet.com10:50 pm

    Just wiped out all the comments I made - strupid useless machine!
    Sounds all a bit of a learning curve!!.Vultures at Dawn and Giant Centipedes - Keeo your bed off the floor and prop up the ceiling with a pole is the only advice I can think of - apart from shake your shoes before getting into them.
    All sounds a bit Spartan, but the neighbour's offer of a child or two will no doubt keep you busy. I wouldn't rush the fives - maybe one evry 6 months will see you out.
    It does sound like a big mountain to climb from the educational point of view and it will I guess take a lot of patience and no end of set backs to begin with. But in a way - any little improvments will be rewarding tobegin with and the mouthful at a time elephant dining technique is really all there is to avoid indigestion.
    Its the 200th anniversary of the Mr Wilbeforce and his efforts today. It makes you ponder on the relativity when your local realities are poverty and a hopelessness that all the freedom in world can't really change for some people.
    Keep blogging - they're great
    TOM - work it out!

  2. "Interesting job you guys have..."
    Sounds like you've ordered everything on the menu there mate! But you know you haven't signed up to change the world so pick and choose a few dishes you like.

    Any thoughts as to what you're going to name your new child?

  3. Hey Lex!
    Sounds like you've got your work cut out! Sorry to hear Jeff is hanging around - lucky the baptists didn't let him in. When thinking WWJD - go to Cameroon for a couple of years was not at the top of my list...shows how little I know, maybe the sainthood is not a close as we all thought!
    Went to Brighton with Maz yesterday, was lots of fun and we made anchovy pasta...yum, put maz in charge to ensure that the anchovy to tomato ratio was just right - I still can't seem to get it perfect...booo!
    Hope you're ok and enjoyed the sit down loo and meatfest!
    Big love and tanti baci captain!

  4. Anonymous11:09 am

    My Brother

    Keep eating. just brief to avoid useless words, just written you a postcard from South Africa, todays date 3rd April 2007, posting time 13:09 local time. let me know when you get it. Interested to see how good the transafrican postal service is.

    Keep eating the elephant and look after the kids.

    Lots of love

    Christo & Milly.

  5. Anonymous11:09 am

    My Brother

    Keep eating. just brief to avoid useless words, just written you a postcard from South Africa, todays date 3rd April 2007, posting time 13:09 local time. let me know when you get it. Interested to see how good the transafrican postal service is.

    Keep eating the elephant and look after the kids.

    Lots of love

    Christo & Milly.


Thank you for your comment. Thank you for your patience while we moderate.