Published: February 13th 2006February 2nd 2006
I was sitting in class the other day with a few others, listening to Ghislain lecture about the benefits and how-to’s of a tree nursery. Goes without saying that I was not paying attention. (Funny how as annoyed as I get being forced to sit in class, I still think of going back to school, even of becoming a professor…) Anyway, as I was not paying attention, I caught a word from The Boss saying something about how a fence is necessary to keep the animals out, animals that I usually consider being kept in fences, such as sheep, goats, cattle, and pigs. Although gardeners in the States have problems with rabbits and deer eating young plants, usually the animals are kept in fences and the plants are free to roam as they please. But hey, who am I to say how to do things? Here, the rabbits are kept in cages.
I have been having good conversations with students and teachers too. There is plenty of time to do that, since the teachers are on strike. The teachers have reason to strike, and the students and their parents understand. But I can only imagine what would happen in the U.S. if all public school teachers, kindergarten-12th grade, went on strike. Not only would the students wreak havoc, out of joy, but also so would the parents, if only to get their kids back in school and out of their hair. I honestly don’t think that a strike of public educators, nation-wide, could last as long in the States as it does here; that is, sometimes as many as three days per week, week after week, and year after year, each year gaining a small fraction of the demands. Maybe parents and students don’t complain as much because they’re used to it. That’s just how the school system works here.
Education is different in Benin. To have finished a university degree is very well respected. I, on the other hand, admire even the young students very much. I have never met so many students so eager to learn, working hard everyday, really caring that they do well in every subject. And all without textbooks. The language students learn everything without French-English/German/Spanish dictionaries. The perfect notes that the students copy from their teachers are their textbooks. I had the luxury of taking notes as I pleased, and double-checking my facts outside of class. I also never studied French without a dictionary next to me.
Education is important. No, education is not just important, it is a human beings’ right, just like everyone has the right to clean drinking water and a secure home. Education is what allows a person to make decisions concerning his/her world. The ability to read and write opens the doors to information and the capacity to find resources.
I was in Adjove this morning, a very enjoyable twenty-minute bike ride from my home. Adjove is not so much of a town or a village, but more like a hamlet. The first of three little dwellings before finding the Snake, I mean, Mono River. These three villages need latrines. Latrines are their top priority. I have a tree nursery project going with them to help raise money for the construction.
Sometimes I think I live in a world of denial. I get asked for money so often, that I have made a habit of saying no, and since I have “no” in my head all the time, I have to stop and remember that money is critical in building better lives. I also deny that I am living in the same community with people who do not drink clean water. I know people who do not have latrines, let alone toilets. I work with people who have to organize themselves into a team to work a few times a week, each time paying a due to go into a fund to buy plastic sachets to start the tree nursery. We want to start small, a couple thousand francs worth, which buys about a couple thousand sachets. A couple thousand francs equals a couple bucks U.S. And they’ve been collecting for a while.
A couple of bucks. As soon as my car is sold, if that ever happens, I will have a couple hundred bucks. I would love to just buy the sachets, and in all honesty, I will probably help out. But I don’t plan on telling anyone, because I am idealistic, and in my idealistic world (sometimes conflicting with my world of denial) people who work for their ends appreciate the finished project more than what might have been given. I also don’t like perpetuating the dollar sign associated with my white skin, and I would much rather be the feet, or bike-tires, for the project, than to be the bank.
Don’t think too ill of me for living in my world of denial. I have clean water and a toilet. All of my good friends have clean water, and most have at least a latrine. Living where I live makes it easy for me to be suckered in to my world of denial.
Another tricky thing about living in my world close to the river (that is, ‘de Nile), is that I don’t realize how much of the mechanized and industrialized world is known here. People know that there are machines and industry to help their work, but just as the world I am used to always has clean water, the normal world here knows work without machines. Life is tough, and not fair in many ways, but saying that hardly accomplishes anything.
I am not sure of exactly what the idea is behind this entry, other than I had thoughts I needed to spit out. Maybe what I can say is this: I appreciate that education and clean water are obligatory in the States. I appreciate that I have the capacity to make well-informed decisions and to follow the decisions being made by my representatives. I appreciate that I can protest against any kind of constraint on my rights, and I will be listened to. I appreciate that when, in Kansas, I say life is tough and not fair in many ways, I will take a break from my work and have a nice glass of water, throw my clothes in the laundry machine, and zap some leftovers in the microwave.