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The Sweetest of All

April 23, 2012
Yada Plum

Plum (mango) season started a few weeks ago. Two for $5LD, about three cents each. It’s pretty sweet, apart from them falling on my roof all night.

I finished my work this morning and lugged three heavy bags to campus.  I heard the “tap! tap! tap!” of the typewriter as I approached Mr. Demy’s house.  I poked my head in the cramped office and he beamed, ushering me inside.  I emptied to contents of one of the bags on his desk and he fell back in his chair dramatically, “Ohhh thank you JEEsus!”  I showed him the thirteen-page mock WAEC I’d painstakingly written two copies of.  I glanced at the typewriter and cautiously asked if we were mimeographing the tests.  The typos and poor printing would make grading arduous to impossible.

“Mr. Demy,” I said as nonchalantly as I could, “What if I typed it on the computer?  Could we copy it…?”  He pursed his lips and closed his eyes in a way I’ve learned means, “No.”  He said it would be too expensive.  I expected that so I backed off and handed him my exam even though I’d already started typing it.  “Look at the diagrams, though,” I pointed, “how should we do those?”  He pursed his lips again and opened his eyes wide in a way I knew meant, “Oh God,” and, “I’m changing my mind.”  I showed him the cube roots, matrices, sigmas, and triangles.  “I worry I am giving your machine hard time,” I said, gesturing to the typewriter.  “How much would photocopies cost…?”  I was seriously about to pay it myself and be done but suddenly he nodded, “We will appeal to them.  But only for your class.”

I am the only teacher not getting paid extra to teach study class (the students had to pay), but I’m also the only one who shows up regularly.  So it’s only fair.

Thank god.

I excused myself and his son walked me across the field and unlocked the gate.  Festus and Garrison joined me, Festus recounting in detail how he’d solved an age problem on the practice test a few weeks earlier.  “It came, Ms. RB!  And I solved it exactly!  Musu is 6!  Oh it was good.”

Everyone else trickled in and I taped my Pascal’s Triangle on the wall, “You remember this?”  We spent an hour and a half using it to expand binomials, but were moving slow.  Our numbers had swelled close to twenty and people were coming in late so I kept repeating myself.  Festus was bored, “Ms. RB, are you going to keep doing this?  I want to go eat plums.”  I told him it was Sunday and I didn’t care what he did so he got up and ran out the gate and around the side.  I helped everyone else solve for coefficients while watching him lob giant sticks into the tree just outside the classroom, its branches heavy with plump mangos.  “Plop!  Plop!” he got some.  Fifteen minutes later I moved to the Binomial Theorem and he raced back in licking his fingers.  “Oh, that was good, Ms. RB.  Math is sweet every day, but plum season is the sweetest of all!”

I finally packed my bag and left at six to photocopy more applications with them.  Maima had spent the day putting new screen doors on her shop and painting.  It looked good.  I asked if she’d cooked.  She nodded but made a face.  “Pepper soup, but I na know if you wan’ it.  No cow meat today so they gave me mostly intestines and liver.”  I gave her a grateful, knowing smile and promised to come tomorrow.  If I went home to cook now I wouldn’t eat until 9:00 so I bought some bread and went to the club to wait for the woman to come grill meat.  Nathaniel brought me a beer and I read an article about Kazakhstan in the National Geographic that came in my last box.  It highlighted the new capitol city, futuristic and other-worldly.  Imagine!  I could be doing Peace Corps there!  Actually, I couldn’t imagine.

My new dance partner, Prince, wandered outside.  He’s in second grade, maybe seven or eight, and lives at the club.  I waved him over and handed him a loaf of bread.  I’d bought too much out of habit.  He sat and we read the magazine together, him cracking up uncontrollably at a picture of a man in Papua New Guinea, “Ahhhhahaha!  Dat ugly butt der!”  Then we read The Very Hungry Caterpillar (apparently I’m a mobile day care now too) and I got some sheets out asking if he wanted to draw.  He stared at me confused and shook his head then jumped up and disappeared inside, “I’m coming!”

He emerged with two copybooks and beckoned for me to get the pen back out.  We sat for another hour while he copied his ABCs and various things from other pages.  He kept insisting he couldn’t read even though he was writing.  I didn’t believe him, but the truth of this became clear as I watched him literally draw the words on the paper, clueless what they meant or how they related.  “Oh god,” I thought, “How many of my students do just the same??”  My honest guess is about 25-50%.

Finally at 8:30 I was confident the computer had finished charging so I collected it and headed home.  Another successful day.  So proud of them all.

Saye, my mathematical underdog, continued to shine this week.  His new found confidence in his own abilities has him solving almost as fast as Festus.  I tapped his notebook, “Perfect.”  He threw his arms in the air and stomped his feet, still in awe some himself.  Gave me my biggest smile of the day.

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