Friday, October 31, 2008

Professor Bullallah

Teaching is an amazing profession.

As most fresh graduates lamented over the fact that they’d be posted to schools to teach for the Service year, I was delighted because I’d always wished for an opportunity to teach. An opportunity to impart knowledge in fresh, exciting ways. No need for cramming, people; just come into class with your unfilled heads and I’ll fill them up with easy-to-understand knowledge (Picture Smiegle of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ saying the ‘easy-to-understand knowledge’ part and you’ll get how crazy I am about uncomplicated knowledge… my precioussss).
I had always imagined my students listening to me, absolutely captivated, as I gently opened up their minds to new ideas; as I carefully laid block upon block on a solid foundation… In my mind’s eye, I was the perfect, enjoyable teacher- ready with a key joke or analogy that would not only make the students laugh, but serve as a link between The Everyday and The Abstract.

This is what I experienced instead:

"When an acid and a base react, they form salt and water only. Kun gane ko?"
"Ok, that’s good. So if I have an acid like HCl reacting with a base like NaOH, what products am I going to get?"


"What two products will I get?"


"I’ll get a salt and…."

Silence."A salt and water naaa! Weren’t you girls listening? When an acid and a base react, you get salt and water"

"Aunty, ee!"

"Ok, what if I have an acid like H2SO4 reacting with a base like NaOH?"


"Acid and base equals salt and water. Zainab, what did I just say?"

Silence, then: "Aunty, ban ji ba"/"Aunty I didn’t hear"

Hm. Is it that I’m talking too fast? Not using enough examples? Too boring? What???


Most students will be excited and relatively well-behaved in the presence of a new Malam or Malama, but novelty can only take you as far as two weeks, tops. After that, you’re on your own. It’s now time to think of creative ways to motivate the students to pay attention and learn. Teaching tactics are now employed, like using everyday examples to introduce new concepts, (because learning is really just a process of building on a foundation that has already been laid); like giving assignments and quizzes to make the students serious; like injecting educational games to lighten the atmosphere a bit; like rewarding good performance, and many other tactics.

But WHAT IF the foundation that has been laid is horribly flawed?

After a short while I began to experience what the older Corpers had often complained about: very low morale.
I wasn’t transferring much knowledge… and was it my imagination that Hussaina, Shamsiyya, Jamila and Aisha were always falling asleep (or falling ill) the moment I walked into their class??
I complained about this to the HOD so he followed me to class one morning. He pointed out that I sometimes explained while the students were busy writing, which is wrong. I took correction, but didn’t get much better results, so I was back to my initial questions- what was I doing wrong? Abi these young ladies were really hopeless?
Another teacher shed more light on the issue: He said most of the students in the school are suffering from Ba Turanci Syndrome(that is, No English Syndrome). Why? Because they never attended Primary School! They were admitted into Secondary School straight from Islamic School or even from home (and in Islamic School, they are taught in Hausa). The result is what you see in class:

-they cannot speak English, or just manage to string words together. To get through to them, you need to speak Hausa to them (the new students coming in are improving though)

-they mostly show interest in Hausa, Arabic, etc. (Not surprising. I only liked the subjects that "made sense")

-they hate reading and doing assignments (No excuse for this one; it really vexes me)

- they are permitted to dubb during tests and exams, but the strangest thing is that with all that 'xeroxing' they still fail (WAEC and NECO are the worst; they write the answers on the board for them to copy)-they doze in class. Tell them to sit up, stand up, kneel down… posh’ti ka fan! (heehee, that’s my language for they don’t hear)

Good and fine. While this was vexing news to me, I knew it didn’t apply to my case, because most of my students often impressed me with their good command of English. So in which area lay the problem, Mr. Holmes?

CAUTION: Northern Mentality in Progress!

Auren Soyayya!

In the extreme North, there must be three allotropes of oxygen- normal oxygen, ozone and marriage oxygen. So how do you expect a core Northern girl to withstand the great pressure to marry early when she’s been breathing m-oxygen since birth? Or more importantly, why should she withstand it? Isn’t marriage a beautiful thing? Who is to say that being married to that elderly Alhaji is not the very purpose for which she was born? Who says all this boring, abstract education thing is really necessary for a good future? Besides, even the Mallams are checking her out during free periods (some don’t even go to class to teach because they are waiting for her). Wallahi, it’s not easy to be hot cake. So please, all that matters is the Alhaji- he likes her enough to want her to be his latest amarya. Aiyiriiiiiiiii!

And couldn’t the POOR EDUCATIONAL FACILITIES have something to do with it?

This week, I enjoyed my classes very much. Why? Because the girls were moved out of their ‘containers’ and into impressive new classrooms. Let us now wave bye-bye to the following bad rubbish:
Bye bye excessive heat! Hello spacious, learning-friendly rooms! We even have fans! 11:10 to 1:45pm lessons may not be sooo bad afterall!

Bye bye tables with ‘collapsible’ tops and chairs that we fall off when one of us stands up too fast. We have solid desks now, and our chairs dey kampe!

Bye bye dim containers; hello well-lit rooms. Maybe I’ll pay more attention to what’s on the board afterall. Teacher, you’ve got an extra ten minutes to "bring it" before I tune out, okay?

The students in the school I’m serving are fortunate enough to have such classrooms. They are fortunate to have a Princi that is concerned and connected enough to upgrade their facilities. Imagine what other students are going through. The Government school in Tsafe Local Govt., (which also serves as the temporary NYSC Orientation Camp) is a perfect example of what bad facilities can do to the human psyche. Those students are something else: ruffians, thieves, and…. I lack words to describe them in fact. Now when a human being starts to behave like an animal, you must either help get him back on the road to humanity or…

Send in Bullallah (Ph.D)

Students who refuse to behave are flogged regularly. It seems to be the only thing the students will respect. A dozing student threatened with being sent to the Mallam specially employed for lashing gives immediate results. I’m not against lashing (it showed me the light when I was unserious) but the manner, rate and purpose of lashing matters. We were going for CD one day, and met an ex-student in a taxi. He complained about the lashings he received in his school. He said there was this boy who was given 100 lashes, straight up. No way I can confirm that story, so let’s just leave it as "them-say".

I wonder whether we are trying to correct negative behaviour, or (unconsciously) trying to encourage the animal within the students to grow... it's not really a mystery, anywayz.

So, you’ve read my little bit on the educational system in ZM. I’ll conclude by saying there’s certainly room for improvement. I know that I sat tall on my high horse a few times, and I apologise for that. Thanks for reading!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Safety First

Case One: Labai, Let’s Go Bowlin’!

The Driver sighted the man in his well-known brown Road Safety gear from afar and cursed. He swore even more violently as the man began to flag down his car:

“Ga wancan shegen banza *$#@#@! Zan nuna mishi wani abu, wallahi!”

“See that bastard * * *! I’ll show him something, wallahi!”

Having said this, the man put his foot down hard on the accelerator and smiled a wicked smile.

Impact Time = 10 seconds.

The passengers watched; some with rising excitement, others with trepidation. What was about to happen very fast was a joke, shebi? As in, the Driver had good brakes ko? And the Road Safety official. He had quick reflexes… ko?

Impact time = 5 seconds.

The official began to understand the crazy driver’s intent.

Impact Time = 3 seconds

Joke or not, the official didn’t wait to find out. Twas a case of “safety first”, as his instructors had drilled deeply into his head. He flew off the road at the same instant the Driver swerved violently to the left to dodge hitting him.

“Hahahaha! Shegen b*#@*&! kawai” he whooped happily as he sped away. The “shege” had been taught a lesson. Some of the passengers congratulated him, laughing with him over this accomplishment. All looked back to catch glimpses of the dazed Road Safety official gathering his wits about him. Allah ya isa! God it is enough! The hazards of this job are too much he was probably thinking crossly. Well, at least he lived to tell the story. A true story.

Case Two: Wrestling Match In Front Seat
You know how Police/NURTW/VI officers sometimes stop drivers who park wrongly (or overload the vehicle) and insist on taking the driver to the station to pay a fine? Well this was a similar case, but dealing with this guy was going to be more difficult than anyone assumed.
The officer had succeeded in stopping the driver and seating himself in the front seat with a friend of mine. He told the driver to start driving. The driver obeyed. Good. The driver and official then began to argue hotly, (my friend understands Hausa small-small, so he didn’t know what the argument was about). Finally, the officer had had enough. He grabbed the gear stick roughly and the car swerved to the side as the driver glared at him. He too grabbed the gear and the wrestling began.
My friend was stunned at the turn of events, but he recovered sharply as he noticed the car swerving dangerously to the left and right. Ha! On a busy Federal road?! Babu babu! No time for staring; time for action. He grabbed the wheel and began to control the car while the two men struggled and the other passengers screamed and begged. Seconds later, he was in control of the car while the two Who Is More Thoughtless? contestants slowly came to their senses.
Fortunately no one was injured, but unfortunately, it is yet another true story.

[I apologise for being MIA for so long. I have been having a few issues lately. I’m back to tell you about the peaceful State that is called Zamfara. Today’s post is about ZM drivers’ attitudes, and it doesn’t flatter the State at all.]

Most ZM drivers do not respect road laws, and they know how to speed… recklessly. E don’ pass “be careful” stage, as my ex-roomate would say.

As the Commander-in-Charge of the Federal Road Safety Corporation (FRSC) said during our last Community Development mtg, “it seems like the drivers wake up everyday and ask themselves, 'how many people am I going to injure today?'” It is disturbing. Most do not have a clue about road laws (neither do I but that’s why I joined the FRSC :-)) - they overtake carelessly and kill so many people as a result. But don’t take my word for it; it has been said that ZM has the highest car accident mortality rates in Nigeria. (I'll do some research on it soonest).

Because of this poor understanding of road safety, instead of passengers telling the drivers to slow down, they encourage them (by their silence – “shuru ma amsa”) to keep it up. While I’m on this topic, I might as well add that I have also noticed a Boot-Riding thing here: you can find up to three passengers riding happily in the boots of taxis or buses. No wonder Northerners are often referred to as animals.

There is plenty room for improvement, that’s the summary. FRSC, NURTW, VIO, Cofas... we all need to work together to change these trends. Address/re-educate the drivers, pedestrians (and even NURTW and Road Safety workers) regularly, make road signs, speed bumps, enforce strict laws… and so on. It’s just that Nigeria is so corrupt. (Not a pretty way to end a post, so lemme sing the Nigeria Go Better song: “Nigeria will survive; my people will survive. Nigeria go survive O, Nigeria go better!” It starts… with YOU :-)

PS: Next week I’ll be talking about ZM’s educational system in Professor Bullallah. Till then, have v. good days!

Muna Lahiya Lau


This bit about ZM falls in the “trivial” category. However, I’m yet to experiment with this in places other than Kotorkoshi, so you can take this one with a grain of salt:

The ZM populace willingly accept Nigerian notes regardless of the state of the notes. As in, they can accept a torn, squeezed and generally maltreated naira note very willingly. Me ya same shi? they’ll ask in puzzlement when you ask them if they’ll accept your brown, tired, super-delicate, tissue paper-soft N50. HOW-EVER, THIS BENEVOLENCE DOES NOT EXTEND TO THE N20! It’s almost an insult to offer them a partly torn N20. A-a! Bazan karbi wancan ba/No! I won’t accept that they will tell you strongly. After that they’ll most likely face the other side and mutter/sulk. End of story. Hmm…

Weather Status
The much-talked about harmattan is finally upon us, and indeed our lips are testifying to this! Moisturizers, Vaseline and Chapet have come out of their hiding place. Our jackets, sweaters, and mufflers are about to find and fulfill the central purpose of their ‘lives’ (that’s the title of a deep book by Os Guinness sha). We have heard that the cold here is intense, but I secretly doubt that it’s colder than Jos. If it is indeed colder, it’ll probably be because of the desert-like characteristics ZM has. In any case, I’m about to find out for sure. Yay!

… and a little bit on dressing:

You can always tell a Corper (and most non-indigenes of ZM) by their dress:

- Of course there’s the obvious green khaki, jungle boots and other abunga, but that counts only on CD/PCD days or when you want to collect a query from the NYSC Secretariat :-)

- Indigenes wear hijabs of varying lengths. (Most) Corpers love no such thing.

- Indigenes can wear trousers, but only as long as it’s accompanied by classy kaftans. Corpers can wear such a fashionable piece, but mostly they prefer to wear trousers with t-shirts, tame body hugs, etc.

- Male indigenes hardly wear jeans. Corpers wear jeans fala-fala.

- You can never see an indigene exposing her hair in public (a-ah, babu babu). Corpers? Well, there’s the spiky weave-on, million braids, feather braids, Anita Baker cut… take your pick, or better still, come up with something more chic.