It rained this morning which means we shouldn’t expect class to start until at least an hour and a half later than it would normally. The other three DukeEngage students and I who are helping in the school were completely unaware of this and so find ourselves wet and confused perched on the floor outside the classroom. After a while, students begin to trickle in until eventually the person upon whom we all depend arrives. It’s the 12 year old girl who has been given the responsibility of unlocking the classroom and bringing all the laptops every single day and for the first time ever she has forgotten the key. An argument quickly breaks out, which to the students probably feels more like an honest yet passionate discussion, and soon one of the younger students is sent off down the mountain to fetch the key. It starts raining again almost immediately after he leaves and when he returns after about 30 minutes is absolutely drenched. He also arrives empty handed, admitting only now that he had no idea where to find the key. Suddenly another student remembers that he might know where a spare is kept and sprints off into the torrential downpour in a completely different direction. Fortunately enough, he was right and about when we’d normally be finishing, we are able to enter the classroom. We send someone out to ring the gong to round up any stragglers and then attempt to calm down the students who’d been running and playing in the rain for the last hour.
A collective chant of “heello ser” marks the beginning of today’s class. “Hello, how are you?” I reply robotically to the 20 students standing to greet us. “I am welle, how are you?” they retort. I end with “I am fine thank you” and this process is then repeated for each of the other three Duke teachers, including a “heello mem” variation for the two girls amongst us. As usual, we start with English lessons. The plan today is to revise introductions, classroom objects and the alphabet song and then hopefully begin learning pronouns. The introductions are everyone’s most confident part and so we can test them all, except for the couple of very young children who don’t speak French either and are mostly there because their siblings have to look after them. They stand up in pairs and go around the room asking and answering the three questions: “what is your name?”, “how old are you?” and “where are you from?”. Apart from the majority of people stating “I am dwelven years old” for their age, this part goes very well. Before we can move on however, the rain picks up even more and is so loud against the corrugated roof that there is no chance anyone will be able to make themselves heard without screaming at point blank. We therefore decide to abandon the English and move on to what seems to be main reason for students’ attendance: the IT lessons. We signal to the girl in charge and she swiftly takes all the laptops from her bag and arranges them on the desks with today’s typing exercise on a piece paper next to it. As usual, the text is a short paragraph about the Second World War with today’s focus being the French surrender to Germany. Apart from both of these countries having colonised Togo at one stage, the relevance or significance of this information to the students remains pretty unclear. Nevertheless, after turning the laptops on and locating Microsoft Word, they begin typing it very eagerly. Meanwhile the four of us are spread out to give the occasional reminder to add a space or to help find the ‘é’ key. Each student gets about 15 minutes of typing which can translate to anywhere between 5 and 30 words and then they save and close their document to make way for the next. Although typically very calm patient, the rain today has encouraged the rest of the students to wreck havoc outside while they wait since it remains impossible for us to stop them while the roar of the roof continues to make everything else inaudible. It therefore takes bit of effort to find and drag the next student from the mud each time but their reluctance soon fades once they get started. After every student has had their opportunity to type, the class finishes and we delegate to the girl in charge once again to organise the clearing of the laptops and classroom before she locks up and we brave the road-turned-river back up the rest of the mountain to get home.