Have you ever been woken up by a rooster? If not, know that movies lie to you. The quintessential lone rooster perched on a roof top letting out a single caw to let the world know the sun is on its way up would be lovely. But it’s never just one call. It’s never just one rooster, and they begin their quest to wake the world up long before the first streaks of sunlight hit the night sky.
My day usually begins with an army of roosters screaming to each other in an argument that will never be resolved. If I was lucky enough to have electricity during the night, meaning I can sleep with the blessed coolness of a fan, it will turn off at exactly 5:30 a.m., just as the sun makes its appearance over the Indian Ocean.
After a breakfast of powdered milk, bread, and a mango, a quick review of my lessons for the day, and a hopeful attempt to get enough signal to check Facebook it’s time to leave for school. The 30 minute walk from the village I live in Mahali, to the village I teach in, Harembo, is peppered with greetings from every person I pass.
There are countless ways to greet someone in Shinzwani and the villagers are never content with just using one. If they feel I haven’t been sufficiently greeted after two or three “how are yous” in Shinzwani they might try one or two in Arabic or French. After asking how I am, if things are good, and if I woke up well they might then also ask me if my house is good, or if my job is good.
At 7:30 my first class of the day begins. Thirty students cram into a tiny class room, three to a desk. The students here are used to teachers that do not engage them in the lesson. The typical method of teaching here is to put the lesson on the board, make the students copy it, lecture to the students about it for a while, tell them to memorize everything, and hope they remember enough to pass the exams.
So when I came in with my songs and games and made them do things like stand in front of the class and speak they didn’t quite know what to do with me. I would ask for a volunteer and they would practically sit on their hands trying not to be picked. Getting a student to speak a handful of words out loud was like pulling teeth. But things changed, slowly.
I taught my students a silly song, complete with gestures, last week to help them remember prepositions. For that entire week I could hear kids running around the village yelling the song, teaching it to their families, greeting me with it to show they were learning. Adults even caught on and picked the song up from the kids, proud to be able to say something in English.
After I have finished teaching for the morning I head to my village family’s house. My favorite person in the entire village is a little two-year-old, Rafael. He has a hard time with the letter S, so he calls me Gaga. For months Rafael watch his mother and aunt bring out the one plastic lawn chair the family has, place it on the porch for me, and then bring me a cup of water. One day I was lounging on the porch floor with everyone and looked up to see little Rafael hauling out the chair, easily twice as big as he is. He put it down next to me and pointed to it, grinning up at me and pleased as could be with himself.
I’ve spent countless hours sitting on that back porch, surrounded with kids, talking with the two sisters who run the house, eating fried bread fruit and fresh fruit. Communication is work, but we have found ways to understand each other. Through a mix of English, French, and Shinzwani we get the point across. We talk about food a lot, we talk about family, we teach each other new words, we play with the kids, and sometimes we just sit and enjoy the companionship of being close to someone.
On my busy days, Mondays, I head to them at 11:30, just about time for lunch. I’ll help finish making the meal and them we all sit around one giant bowl and eat. After lunch usually comes a language lesson with Abou, the husband of one of the sisters. He is working very hard to learn English and has told me he must be fluent by the time I go back to America.
Early afternoon is the hottest part of the day and prime napping time. Lunch is done, it’s too hot to be outside working, and the women have several hours before they need to start preparing dinner. So I am usually instructed to take a nap before I have to head back to school for my afternoon class. No complaints here.
They will wake me up after an hour so, give me a cold drink and snack and send me back to school, with strict instructions to return for dinner. No Comorian believes me when I say I know how to cook and they seem to be in constant fear if they don’t feed me I will go hungry. Again, no complaints here. This means if I don’t want to cook, I never have to.
The evening meals with my family are my favorite. It’s the one meal everyone is usually home for. Everyone is ready to relax a little, language lessons are done for the day, the heat starts to ebb, and the food is always good.
It never fails that I head home content with life after a dinner with my family. I leave to the sound of all the children yelling goodbye, calls from the sisters telling me to come back tomorrow, a full stomach, and a good amount of happiness.
By the time I get home it will be 7 or 7:30, at which point I am ready for a shower, aka a bucket bath, and bed. I tuck myself under my mosquito net by 8 or 8:30, maybe call another volunteer to compare days, watch a movie if there’s electricity, and drift off to the sounds of the waves hitting the shore.
The days bleed together here, and time slips past in a strange way. There are days it feels as though time is rushing past and there’s nothing I can do to slow it down, and then there are days that seem to last for weeks. The highs of a good day are golden and make everything worth it. It’s the memory of the good days that carry you through the hard days, which there are plenty of.
Life here is not glamorous and it is not picturesque. It is hard, and sweaty, and at times confusing and frustrating. But it is also deeply satisfying, and filled with love from my Comorian family, and an experience I will never regret signing up for.