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Liberian Bards

April 1, 2013
Precious and Neomie disguise themselves as men to try to save their husbands in the senior's inspired version of The Merchant of Venice.

Precious and Neomie disguise themselves as men to try to save their husbands in the seniors’s inspired version of The Merchant of Venice.  Kelvin, Ezekiel (in the sweater vest), and Jonathan look on.

My students are the most amazing people I’ve ever met.  They are determined and motivated and given a suggestion will carry it a mile.  That is exactly what happened last week as a hundred students formed a ragged but reverently silent circle as the Liberian Merchant of Venice was born.

Rewind.

I’m the 12th grade class sponsor.  That means it’s my job to know all their business and solve all their problems.  This can be “Ms. RB, I am sick and I want to go to the hospital,” or it can be “Ms. RB, Jonathan took my pen!!”  Two weeks ago it was serious.  They followed me from campus shaking their fists and demanding I do something.  “The literature man hasn’t visited our class in almost six weeks, Ms. RB.  Do something!  We are scared of WAEC!  Can you teach us?  Please teach us literature!”

Once I finished laughing (Me teach literature?  Me teach even more hours?) I agreed it was a serious problem, but I didn’t agree they had to be victims of an unfair system.  They could create their own system.  “Listen,” I said, “you are just as responsible for your education as the man is.  If you want something you have to chase it!  Tomorrow I’m bringing you a book.  Use your free periods and plan a drama to perform for the whole school.  Your younger brothers and sisters need your help.”

The next day I called Ezekiel to follow me out of class.  “They tell me you’re the head of the drama department.”  He nodded confusedly, “Oh, we don’t really do anything.”  I shoved the Penguin book of Shakespeare into his hands.  “Now you do.  Choose one and plan a drama.”  I have never seen him so excited and serious (he thoroughly hates math).  “We will do it, Ms. RB.  We will do it!”

Later that day he chased me down the street yelling, “I’m a changed man, Ms. RB.  A changed man!!”

Four days later they told me it was ready.  We arranged a day for them to preview it for me but before that could happen color day happened.  On color day they each pay $10LD and can wear street clothes instead of their uniforms.  “We have to do it on color day, Ms. RB.  I beg!” Ezekiel said.  I just raised an eyebrow and asked him to promise he wouldn’t embarrass me.

I can’t believe I ever doubted them!

The Vice Principal granted us permission to perform it right before they dismissed everyone for Easter break, a doubting smirk resting on his lips much the way mine must have looked.

He climbed the podium and made his announcements before turning.  “And now the seniors have prepared a drama for you,” he said with a laugh.  He looked at me.  I looked at him.  Then I frantically looked around.  Where were they??

Making palaver as usual, they had gone into a council meeting!  I banged on the door.  “Come out!  Come out!  I don’t care what’s happening!  Do your drama right now!”  Ezekiel poked his head out and made to shhhh! me.  “Tell them to wait small,” he said.  I knocked him on the head and turned back to the VP with a frown.  He shrugged and waved everyone out the gate and on to their break.

Ten minutes later the seniors emerged.  “Where did they go?  You should have told them to lock the gate!”  I just shook my head, “I am so mad at you.”  They still wanted to perform, though, so I told them to assemble the students who remained and preview it for me.  Out of the nearly deserted classrooms about a hundred students emerged and formed a circle in the courtyard.  What followed was one of the most hilarious and delightful experiences of my Peace Corps service.

They had translated everything into Liberian English but just in case that wasn’t enough Ezekiel leapt onto the podium every two or three minutes and explained what was happening.  “Ladies and gentlemen, you just witnessed… watch and see what happens next.”  The audience was rapt.  They laughed.  They yelled encouragement.  They shhh-ed each other.  “Oooh this is so fine!” I heard my neighbors mumbling.

Then, straight out of the Globe Theater, noise erupted on the side opposite me.  People started shoving and two girls came into view, absorbed in a vicious hair-pulling fistfight.  The actors paused to break it up then brushed themselves off and continued as if it was business as usual.

Taking a bow, they received a standing ovation.  “Thank our Peace Corps teacher, Ms. RB!” Ezekiel shouted.  I just shook my head and pointed back at them.  What had I done but plant the seed?  What had I done but given them a book and an idea?

“The next drama will be The Gods are Not to Blame,” someone shouted.  “Ms. RB, do you have book?”  I nodded and, with a huge grin, gave them my biggest bawk bawk (what we use to celebrate success during class).  The crowd dispersed and people rushed the “stage” begging for a part in the next play.

Just a math teacher?  Not for a second.  Never ever doubt that quiet encouragement can move mountains and set motivation in motion.

Song of the day?  J Ross Parrelli’s ‘Miracles’

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. blondie permalink
    April 1, 2013 3:34 pm

    Congratulations to your students! “you are just as responsible for your education as the man is. If you want something, you have to chase it!” Very true words! You have planted so many seeds, I’m glad you’ve already gotten to see many of them grow 🙂

  2. Andrea permalink
    April 1, 2013 3:49 pm

    If only students in America were so excited to learn. They are blessed to have a teacher like you to help them grow and be an encouragement!

  3. April 1, 2013 6:03 pm

    Wow. Amazing. I applaud you and your students. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Julie Simpson permalink
    April 5, 2013 2:19 pm

    RB its great to read your blog. you sound like an amazing teacher and are enriching so many students’ lives. they seem to be having a lot of fun too. it is so special for me to hear about Liberia and Sannequellie.

    • April 9, 2013 11:08 am

      Thank you, Julie! I wish we could meet when you visit later this year. I hope you and your daughter find an afternoon to visit the school. I think you will be inspired to see how much is accomplished with little more than hard work and hope. Thanks for reading 🙂

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