Monday, August 31, 2009

Cultural Sensitivity: Where do you draw the line?

So, I got off the plane on Sunday evening, and after dealing with a baggage fiasco all of Sunday night and Monday morning, I started up teaching again on Tuesday at 7:30 sharp.

Its both good and bad to be back in the classroom. What I like about teaching is that its social. I get to interact with the youth in the community. I also like the fact that its structured. Theres a set time that people actually abide by (im talking about class time, meetings are another story), so it makes life a lot easier. Now that its been 4 months, i feel like Im getting to know my students as people.

Since I focused on grammar for the first quarter I taught, I planned this quarter around literature. I assigned E.B. White's Charlottes Web and John Steinbeck's The Pearl . I feel that reading a language is a fun and useful way to learn it, but Im dissapointed to see that most of the students dont seem very interested in literature. (I also think I may have made a mistake with Charlotte's Web, there are a lot of expressions in it, and the vocab is above the students level, even though there are pictures included). The students in one of my classes asked me if I was going to teach them "business English". I told them I hadnt planned on it, but if it was very important to them, I would consider it. I'm sencing this echoed sentiment that business and making money are all thats important, and everything else in life, especially the arts and social sciences, are a waste of time. Its such a fallacy and it drives me nuts how many people buy into that crap. I dont know how to open peoples minds to other possibilities, other professions besides banking and administration. Ok, Im done with that rant.

So, the reason for my title. On Friday, while I was teaching a lesson to Senior 4, the principal walked into the classroom with a pair of scissors. He didnt say a word to me as he walked in, just out of nowhere started walking around the room and cutting the students's hair. I was horrified. For one thing, he wasnt sitting down and giving them "haircuts". He was nipping little bald spots into the students hair, both male and female, who were struggling to get away from him. He was most agressive with the students who resisted the most. When they leaned away from him he made it a point to cut bigger bald spots in their hair. I was honestly a little shocked and didnt know what to do; I mean, Im a white female foreigner who is younger and obviously of lower status to a school principal. I finally got up the nerve to approach him and asked him if it was really necessary to waste class time with this, and he told me yes. He continued throughout the classroom, and ushered half of the students out so that they could be given full haircuts. It was very difficult to get back to the lesson after all that drama. Neither I nor the students were really up for it, but I did my best. The students who were taken out did come back in, with their hair shorter but also uneven, i mean, paper scissors arent really made to cut hair. It was also a huge distraction when the students came back in, trying to cover their heads while the other students examined them.

I know I am supposed to be culturally sensitive. I know that there is a rule about hair length in schools in Rwanda (and Kenya, Uganda...) and I had even heard about teachers at other schools cutting students hair. My principal is not a bad person. He works hard and I know he cares. But where do you draw the line? Maybe Im being dramatic, but I really am disgusted with how this went down. Especially due to the fact that these students arent really kids. Some of them are in their early twenties, some are even older than me. What right does one adult have over another adult to do something like this? I also feel a little guilty because I have long hair, and although I tie it back, theres no way im cutting it short like the students and as a teacher, I know I dont have to. I didnt approach the principal to discuss how I felt, because if my previous experience with students cutting grass has taught me anything, its that there is already a system in place, and my Western thoughts or feelings about it conflict with that system. Expressing my thoughts doesnt do much to change a longstanding tradition. I still feel like there could be some middle ground, like giving the students a strict warning that they cannot go to class with their hair long, or have a rule that they must tie it up/ have it covered. I just dont know. Im open to any thoughts, advice, or suggestions my readers have on this. Amahoro (peace)


So, Im back in Rwanda, and I have to say that coming back here after two weeks (well, more like 12 days) in France was a lot easier than I had anticipated. Ive therefore encouraged my fellow PCVs to go see their families this Xmas, if thats an option. It was a really good refresher, since I was starting to feel a little claustraphobic lately.

Being away has actually made me appreciate Rwanda way more than I did before, and I realize that although there are some things here I wont EVER get used to (extremely slow internet, flaky people who dont show up or get back to you, the amount of religion) Ive realized im pretty lucky to have ended up in Rwanda. Its small, beautifal, and most people are very friendly. Ive never been anywhere in Africa besides Rwanda, so I keep comparing Rwanda to Western Europe; the US and even India, but Ive realized from doing some research and talking to people that Rwanda is ahead of a lot of other African countries. First of all they are developing EXTREMELY fast. In just the two weeks I was gone a lot has changed. The bank downtown is totally different, they now have two teller booths dedicated to Western Union alone. A lot of the buildings in Kigali that were covered up with green construction netting are now uncovered and almost finished. One downside to the rapid growth is rapid inflation. Transportation costs more than it used to (all the busses and taxis have uped their prices) and the menu at Bourbon is brand new, and about 500 RWF more for each item. Such is life.
I guess I also need to take into account the fact that I live in Kigali, and Kigali is a bit particular. As far as I can tell, it is growing and changing much more rapidly than the rest of Rwanda. A lot of the rural areas get left behind.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Je suis en France

So im actually writing this entry from a relatives computer.... in France! I cant tell you how good it feels to be here, among family and amidst a culture I am familiar with, with the ability to communicate in a language I can speak fluently! I realize that this may be a bit taboo, but, to be perfectly honest, being in France has made me realize that I feel very constricted in Rwanda, for a number of reasons. I feel like there are so many rules and regulations, cultural taboos, and I dont feel the freedom I feel in France. I miss dressing the way I want, cracking crass jokes that people understand, and just being a 23 year old. I often feel like Im back in middle school, with a bunch of responsibilities but not a whole lot of say.... I dont know, its complicated. I just really like making my own decisions, and im not used to so many restrictions.
Thats depressing-- let me tell you aboutwhat ive been doing in FRANCE! So ive been seeing my family of course. My grandmother held a welcome party at her house, with my aunts, uncle, and three of my first cousins and my parents of course. It was really nice. Ive mostly been partying with my cousins, either going to bars and dancing or going to friends houses for parties. Its a lot of fun. Ive also been stuffing my face silly with food-- clafoutis, crepes, tarte au mirabelles, sushi, middle Eastern food, Thai food, striped bass and salmon, frites moules,.... ooo la la. My mouth is watering. Oh and I also saw the movie Bruno, which I highly recommend.
Leaving here is gonna be really hard. Im happy here.