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That’s Zed to You

May 1, 2012

Small Mary

School was ok until I got to 11B.  About ten 12th graders came to campus and I watched them work problems for each other on the board while quietly answering other questions in the back.  But in 11B the numbers were high and they were wild.  The chemistry teacher was trying to give his test today and had chosen my period.  I got him to leave, settled the kids, and started my notes.

But I was exhausted and my brain, somehow, kept forgetting that we’re in Africa.  We were solving a problem with x2yz as a term and I accidentally said “zee” instead of “zed.”  This always kills them and today was no exception.  “You want me to speak very American to you today?” I said in my clearest English, “Fine.”  (I usually speak quite a bit of Liberian English in class.)  I continued saying “zee” and they continued losing it.  Then it started getting ugly and I could hardly get them under control.  Newton was very vexed.  He shot his hand in the air with a frown.  I couldn’t hear a word he said.  I got them to quiet down and called for him to try again.  “Ms. RB,” he said, shaking his head, “zee is a bad word in Gio.  That’s why they’re acting so.”  They erupted again, disappointed the secret was out.  (I speak small Mano, but almost no Gio and they know that.)

I waited again.

“My friends,” I said, “your WAEC is in one year.  We have three years worth of material left to learn.  There are ten students over there right now,” I pointed across the courtyard to the 12th grade room, “who are taking their math very seriously.  You would do well to follow their example.  They have one more week with me.  You have one more year!

It got silent.

Everyone has seen the 12th graders around campus in their colored clothes, whispering seriously in small groups.  WAEC is like the Voldemort of Liberia.  It is something to be feared and respected, to speak about in hushed voices.  I had their attention and managed to keep it, careful to hit every single “Z” as a “zed” the rest of class.

I’ve mucked through it with the 12th graders this year.  My expectations for next year are much higher.  Something tells me it will come much quicker than I, and they, expect…

Festus walked in while we were solving today.  The handful of students there turned and clapped, “Good!  Our mathematical dragon is here!”

Love it.

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