Today was such a fun, varied and interesting day. It began with me attending school with Myriam. When we got there, I prepared for the classes I was to teach by photocopying the materials in the staff room. As you might imagine (I'm sure Ben can), it's the centre of activity before the school day begins. While there, I ran into several of the teachers I had met the first day and had snippets of conversations with each. It almost felt as if I belonged there; they can really make a person feel welcome and having not done too badly the first time, I think I have built up some 'street cred.'
Myriam had prepared a lot of potential exercises but after twenty minutes into the first class, I realized I would only get through about a quarter of what she had prepared. (But, as a teacher, it's always better to have too much than not enough.) The first class was with Christine's 8 and 9 years olds. They did not know the shapes very well so worked slowly. As always, there was quite a range of abilities so we needed to ensure we kept everyone up to speed. I taught while Christine assisted the students who needed extra help. After an hour with them, I made a beeline for Myriam's class, had two minutes to pause and then began again. She had been prepping her students beforehand so most of them were quicker. We got farther along this time but she could really see that this was a challenging lesson for them. Vincent, the third teacher, with the highest grade (10 year olds), was particularly ambitious and had expanded the grid to use all letters of the alphabet and numbers into the 20s. Myriam rolled her eyes and said I was going to have problems. After the hour was finished in her class, I met Vincent in his room, a bit dubious about what lay ahead. However, it seemed he knew what his class was capable of and he had prepped them well with knowing the shapes and letters so they picked it up really quickly. For one exercise, it was necessary to have the kids pair up; as there was an odd number, Vincent suggested I be the partner for one of the students. I knelt by Antoine's desk and we began to work on the task. After a couple of minutes, Antoine realized I was bending down and he graciously got up out of his chair and offered it to me. I refused, saying it wasn't necessary, but he insisted we change spots. OK, this guy is going to grow up right, I thought. Chivalry is alive and well after all.
I also met a real charmer in Myriam's class the first time I was there. He's this cute little guy (they're all little, at 9 years old) named Valentin (she calls him 'mon Valentine' behind her back, with a bit of a wry smile). Valentin's desk is purposely situated directly in front of Myriam's desk, within easy reach. He's bright but has a real tendency to talk and distract himself and others. In fact, when he called for some help last week, and I went over to assist, while I was checking his work, he took the opportunity to ask me if I would be eating in the canteen that day with the students. I told him I wouldn't and then directed him back to his work. After lunch, he snuck a quick look at Myriam and asked me in a lowered voice if I had eaten well (a French pleasantry). I quickly answered, smiled and put my finger to my lips to warn him to be quiet. Unfortunately, Myriam saw my gesture and cracked down on him with a sharp 'Valentin, parle pas!' She reluctantly admitted afterwards that he will likely grow up to be 'charmant' but right now, needs tending to.
One of the teachers drove me to Emmaus for my shortened shift in the afternoon. In fact, I was just in time for them serving the hot meal so enjoyed it with a few of the regulars. I am actually starting to feel like I've been accepted as a fixture as two of the old timers came by at various times during the lunch and spoke with me for a few minutes. It didn't seem to bother them too much that I could only understand half of what they said. It's sort of taken for granted in this atmosphere by the native French speakers. Amirouche, the 'grand chef,' and I also discussed weather -- always a good topic. He and I compared notes on Algerian and Canadian winters. He showed me pictures of the snow in Kabylia; it reaches 3-4 metres high even though it doesn't really get too much below zero there. I couldn't believe the pictures as the roads there just look like narrow tunnels in the massive snow banks. Sort of like the Maritimes once they've recovered from an Eastern snowstorm.
Since Mabinti was off today, I had to work alone in the clothing area for several hours. It was really good practice as I was forced to answer everyone's questions even though I had to bring in the big guns, Jean Paul, a couple of times. It actually afforded me more chances to have in-depth conversations. One father enquired as to where I was from and we got into a chat about language and such. Another man asked if I was Spanish (of all things) and when he found out I was Canadian, he wanted to practice his English (one of 5 languages he knew). When we talked further, I discovered he was a university Mathematics professor from Morocco! I had to share my love of and history in math with him of course; at that, he looked quite dismayed and said , "But why are you working HERE? You should be working with your math in another profession. That's really important!" I was able to assuage him by explaining the situation.
As the store quietened down, Jean Paul and I talked about Africa. He said the biggest problem there in the work world is quality control. As in, there is none. They will skimp on everything to get the most profit. He worked in the computer industry and he said his boss would promise everyone the moon to get them to sign a contract and get the upfront money and then ask his workers to do impossible things in the way of software and hardware support (sort of like IBM, I thought). He also said everyone has a "good deal" on something "their cousin made" and the 'knock offs' market is so strong there it's gotten to the point where a proprietor of an official HP store even sold HP knock offs in his establishment. When the HP rep came by to check him out, they closed him down because of it.