It's the end of another term - only one left now. This term has gone by with little occasion. The last four weeks in school were slow and very little was done in terms of school work. After the week that everyone in the dormitories was sent home, we had a week and a half of revision; then a week and a half of end of term tests, and the last week was "records' week".
After the dorms were fumigated, only about half the students returned for the following week, and it was only by the end of the next week that almost everyone was back. Having missed out on essentially three weeks' worth of work, I must admit that I am far behind in the syllabus. Next term will be mostly taken up with extra lessons, I think. This term, Grade 9 (the year that I teach) were given projects to do for most of their subjects. The Maths project was not a difficult one and, admittedly with much explanation and encouragement, most students have pretty much completed their final draft. (It is difficult to explain to somebody who is used to the British education system the level these children are at in terms of comprehension and knowledge, but basically they are at least two years behind where they should be. This is mainly because of poor teaching quality in lower levels.) The project consists of four things - the students have to collect some information from fellow students; then draw a bar graph using said information, then write a report. They also have to have some sort of plan. You'd be surprised at how many of them struggle to draw a bar graph correctly. Anyway, I've spent a lot of time explaining the project to the students and at least now their marks are reasonable. The marks count for 25% of their end-of-year mark - they'll get an assessment by the Ministry of Education also.
In the second week of March, because so few of the children returned to school, the classes were again merged into fewer classes - each year group had also been joined into one class in the previous week. This means a lot of the time the teachers had spare time, so they sat in other classes to supervise. This helped me a lot with the way the students worked and behaved in the one class I struggle with. I actually managed to do some work, which was great.
That Saturday, 10th March, Emily and I decided to go for a walk to Bamboo Creek. This is a settlememnt about a three-hour walk away and has about 50 houses. You have to walk down the mountain, as if you're going to Yahwong or to one of the farms, and then for over two hours on a trail, i.e. the "main road" to Lethem. We walked with suncream and soap, and a bottle of water - that was all. When we arrived, we were nonetheless surnburnt, very hot and not really all too exhausted. We walked through the village to see if we could find somewhere to bathe but instead found the school compound. This is built under the shadow of a steep mountain in a clearing surrounded by rainforest. Inside there is a primary school - which is bigger and in a better condition than our main school building; accommodation for a medic/health centre; and teachers' accommodation. Luckily for us one of my pupils came running out of the latter and offered to show us around. Valentina took us to see the school building, then introduced us to her mum and her pet monkey, Jack, and then showed us to the creek - which we would not have found by ourselves. We bathed in the little pool - lovely and refreshing in the warm sun. Then Valentina took us back to her house, stopping at her auntie's house to get us some lemons, which were at least 10cm in diameter. When we reached Valentina's house, her mother had made us lunch, consisting of some boiled eggs, boiled yam, tuma (a sort of stew with greens and hot peppers) and cassava bread. We were full at the end of that and overwhelmed by our host's kindness. They also gave us (as well as the lemons) some papaya, a mango, a big bunch of spring onions and a bag of "buckbeads". These are small seeds which are dry and hard and can be threaded to make jewellery. These things we carried all the way back up the hill with us. After giving us these things, Valentina took us up to her sister's house, which is on top of a small hill and overlooks Bamboo Creek and a lot of the rainforest. The view is absolutely stunning! After this, we walked back to the trail and Valentina left us to return home. We walked back and returned in three hours; we had made it there in about two-and-a-half, but it started raining about 20 minutes before we reached Paramakatoi, so we were delayed. It stopped raining just as we reached PK again. It was really a wonderful day - despite the sunburn. I think I am fitter than when I arrived, too, because I didn't really feel all that exhausted.
In the last few years there has been a lot of construction work going on in Paramakatoi, and therefore some weeks ago a new church building was completed. On the 25th of March there was an official church opening where people from all over the subregion came to celebrate and worship. On Friday the church was painted and decorated so that on Sunday, when the celebrations began, it was green on the outside and the inside had a stage with a curtain as a background and about 200 balloons hung up around the church, among other things. It was beautiful. Being a member of the community, I felt it only polite to go to this service, despite being agnostic and definitely not a member of the Weslyan Church. Emily and I arrived at a church full of at least 500 people. We were seated and joined the congregation in being told "Praise the Lord" about 50 times by the same Brother. Then followed a four-hour service consisting of different speakers and singers. At the end everyone who had donated money and time towards the construction of the church was thanked - the church was built entirely of donations. The contractors were men from the village who had volunteered to help - one of them was a young man who was bitten by a snake during construction and subsequently died. One of the locals, Virgi (the shopkeeper), got quite emotional about this as he was telling the story. A lot of the congregation were very upset, too. After the service, there was a big meal for everyone. There was tuma, cook up, cassava bread, cassiri, paracari and plenty more. I was, unfortunately, not hungry at all, so I didn't eat anything, but Emily enjoyed the meal a lot.
There were services every morning and every evening from that Sunday until Thursday morning. It was only on Friday morning that the village was back to its normal population, though it seems a bit quiet since all of the students have gone home, too.
So now it's the start of the Easter holidays and we're hoping to get to Lethem for the rodeo. The contractors who are building the primary school are receiving materials via truck from Lethem, so we're hoping to get a lift down with them either today or tomorrow. I'll let you know next month how it all worked, of course.
Until next time, thank you for reading and take care,
Love, Antje xxxx