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Saturday, August 22, 2015

English Camp in Thies

I'm writing this while sipping iced café au lait on a shaded restaurant patio in sunny beautiful Thies.  I left site and came up here to help with a weeklong English camp at Lycee Malick Sy, a local high school.  The camp ended yesterday, so my plan was to wake up early, pack up my stuff, corral my new garbage kitten Mallory, say goodbye to my dear friend Liz, and be to the garage early enough for Mallory and I to get the just-after-sunrise car to Tamba.

Mallory the garbage kitten is very studious and very adorable.
 She's my hail Mary to take down my hut rat.
I have no idea how she was a street cat; she's the friendliest kitten ever.
That plan did not happen.

There are absolutely no consequences for that plan not happening.

Peace Corps work is notoriously nebulous and hard to define.  I do not have a formal work supervisor in village, and the counterparts I do work with often only agree to help me because I dog them so aggressively.  The "work" I had to get back to village for was self-assigned and will still be there upon my return tomorrow.  To assuage my lingering guilt, however, I decided to write a blog about my week.  You are now reading that blog.  Thanks.

So, how did camp go?  Well, I don't know.  I think the kids had fun, but I don't know how much English they learned.  When I get blank stares in response to things I say in village, I usually assume my baby Pulaar is to blame.  This week, however, I got a similar number of blank stares while speaking my native tongue, as slowly and simply as I was able to.  Kids were largely unable to follow simple commands like "make a circle" or "stand in line," but they correctly spelled "decision" and "mythical" during the spelling bee, and knew "octopus" and "antelope" when confronted with badly drawn pictures of them.  It was baffling.

So the campers and I didn't really speak the same language, and we also didn't really have the same definition of what the camp should be.  Since it was only a half-day, from 9-1, with a half-hour break in the middle, Liz and I were trying to get the most out of every short minute.  I've happily embraced "Africa time" in village, but this was not village - this was a formally scheduled city camp, with students chosen for their academic potential, with set start and end times.  It was frustrating trying to compromise between a slow, viscous Senegalese culture and a tight, rigid American one.  Even though the campers did, miraculously, all arrive at 9, when the camp was scheduled to start, it took at least 15 minutes to get the first activity underway, and all subsequent activities also required several long minutes for the campers to slowly transition, as though all their movements were done in a vat of honey. 

Our Senegalese co-facilitators were wonderfully encouraging, perhaps to a fault.  A typical interaction went like this:

"Should we do the vocabulary game or the fill the bottle race next?"
"Yes!"
"Which one?"
"Whatever you want!"
"OK, how about vocabulary?"
"Yes! That's OK!"
"Is inside or outside better?"
"Yes! Whatever you want!"
"Outside there is more room."
"Yes!  Outside!"
"But it looks like it might rain."
"Yes!  Whatever you want!  It is OK!"

Eventually we just started leading the sessions on our own, which was fine, but not ideal because we didn't really know what we were doing or what the students' English abilities were, so we didn't know how hard the activities should be.

By the end of the week, we had it mostly figured out.  In case future English Camp teachers happen to be reading this, here are the week's most and least successful components.  Read and learn, because by camp time next year this girl's gonna be sippin' sangrias stateside and won't be around to help, suckas.

MOST SUCCESSFUL:
  1. Fixed teams.  We split the kids into four teams first thing, and had them design a flag and a cheer.  They kept these same teams all week, and we could see cohesion strengthening as the week went on.  At the end of each camp day, we formally tallied the day's points and updated the special scorekeeping chalkboard.  We also impulsively added or subtracted points for behavior, which helped with management and (bonus!) made me feel like Professor Snape.
  2. Themed races.  We did a three-legged race, fill-the-bottle race, egg spoon race, and dizzy race. Everyone participated, everyone laughed, nobody spoke any English.  Meh.
  3. Running captions.  I drew several crazy pictures (an elephant on a skateboard with a chicken in a spacesuit drifting overhead, a shark in a party hat eating a birthday cake, etc.)  Each team sent one person to look at the picture, then that person had to go back to their team and describe it.  The team had to submit a paragraph describing the picture, then we gave the team a score of 1-5, completely arbitrarily because we were flying by the seat of our pants and hadn't fixed any sort of scoring rubric.
  4.  Spelling bee.  Oddly, the entire group was so transfixed you could hear a pin drop.  When I said "That is correct" they all erupted in cheers; when I said "That is incorrect" there were audible gasps.  It was suspenseful.  The winning word was pineapple.
  5. Scattergories.  We did this as an impromptu last-day activity because we had an unexpected hour to kill, and everyone loved it so much we wished we would have done it earlier and on purpose.
  6. Hokey Pokey.  I think they mostly just liked this because they liked watching a Toubab dancing badly.
  7. Vocabulary Chain - We formed a circle and said a category, like "animals" or "vegetables" or "countries."  As we went around, if a student repeated an answer or couldn't think of one, they were out.  It was fun.
LEAST SUCCESSFUL:
  1. Charades.  The kids refused to act anything out, they just repeatedly mouthed the word while standing still.  The words weren't hard - dance, glasses, soccer, camera - so they were probably just embarrassed.  When Liz or I acted out a word, they happily guessed, but refused do it on their own.  Frustrating.
  2. Question Box.  The idea was to let the students write down a question for Liz or I on a small piece of paper, then for us to draw a paper at random from the "question box" and answer it.  The Senegalese teachers recommended this because they thought the kids would be too shy to ask questions in front of their peers.  Instead, we got questions like these: 
    Bottom left - no.  All others....man, IDK.  Does anyone K?
  3. Sketch prep.  The first two days, we gave the students 20ish minutes to work on sketches for the last day's group presentations.  Instead of working, the students either put their heads down and napped or flirted with and grabbed at each other. The final group presentations were random improvised hard-to-follow theater sketches, and I don't think that all the practice time in the world would have changed that.
  4. This is a half con.  The kids had to choose an English name the first day, but they had a tough time thinking of anything original, so there were two Beyonces, three Chris Browns, a Justin Bieber, and two Rihannas.  This was confusing (con) but adorable (pro.)  There was also a Barbara who chose to be named after me. 
    Barbara and Barbara.
     
So, seven pros and three and a half cons!  Overall, it was a really good week, and I definitely recommend it to any other PCV.   Here are obligatory cute pictures.