First Day of Class

So, this morning at 10:00 I met my class for the first time. Here is the classroom

Classroom 2

I took this at the break so most of the students are outside, but when they were all there it was full about halfway back.

I managed to get my list of 50 “dossier” topics together last night – this is the only assignment students are going to do during the class. They are divided into groups of 10-15, and each group gets a topic – wo for 600 students there are 45 groups and I came up with some extra topics. In the event, I let more than one group do the same topic. When I arrived at the university about 9:00, Mme. Ilboudo wasn’t in her office, so I went up to the Sciences Humaines office, found the assistant director outside, and he showed me how to make photocopies. They have a nice quick photocopier but it doesn’t collate. I’m spoiled, no doubt. Presumably, 20 years ago one had to make dittos, which I have also done.

So, armed with my list of topics, I walked to the classroom. Mme. Ilboudo caught up with me outside the classroom and went in and introduced me. She said “if you have trouble understanding him, you have to ask questions”, which renewed my self-doubt about my French accent. I repeated the comment in my turn, but nobody asked any questions.

Turns out that the class has a strong internal organization, with groups already pretty much set up and the class as a whole has its own delegate, a very sharp young man named Ali Sawadogo (don’t know if he is related to the university finance guy – it is a common last name). Anyway, they are apparently my graduate students in the sense of my helpers who are going to help me manage such a big class. Can’t ask them to grade papers, though, unfortunately.

Anyway, after some introductory chit-chat, I presented my expectations for the class – the groups should be useful for study as well as for writing the group “dossier”, people should ask questions if they don’t understand, and I am intending to cover all of US history starting with the Indians crossing the Bering Land Bridge 25,000 years ago, so don’t expect me to get to the Constitution anytime soon (even though the title of the class is “Les Etats-Unis depuis le fin du XVIIIème siècle”. And they presented their expectations, to wit, they want a textbook. I told them I didn’t have one and if I did, they couldn’t afford it. That’s not stopping them. Finally, I agreed to print off my Power Points, as I finish translating them, and they can use those at least to follow along. This is something that Chavanne Peercy told me about my original placement in Guinea that apparently holds true for Burkina as well; the students buy photocopied sets of notes that take the place of the classic textbooks that they can’t afford. Photocopying must be cheap. I’ve got about 10-15 Power Point slides a week, or something like 300 pages of material for the whole year. I’ve got about 50 pages translated, so I will run those off and let Mr. Ali figure out if his fellow students really want to shell out for that much photocopying.

So, taking the mike in hand, and seating myself on the front of the table on the stage at the front of the class

Classroom 1

and set to work. That’s my hat, laptop, and shoulder bag on the floor next to the table. I didn’t have a projector so I couldn’t put my Power Point slides up on the blackboard (no screen). So I had to do it the old-fashioned way. I had to communicate. I think I was able to get my point across.

After about an hour and a half, only a couple of students were asleep that I could see (one guy in the front row). This despite the fact that they had been sitting in the same seats since 7:00 a.m. (they have a bunch of classes right in a row on Wednesday and Thursday because of scheduling issues that appear to be at least as confusing as those found at Mount Angel Seminary). I decided to take a break anyway. Going outside, I bought my first “sachet” of water – they sell water in little plastic bags here, in addition to the water bottles. Cuts down on waste, but my first thought was that it was just tap water. Assured that it is in fact the spring water or filtered water advertised, I decided to give it a shot. Tomorrow I will probably be able to tell you if it was a good decision.

Returning from break, I noticed that I had lost some of my audience, but not too many. There were probably still 400 or so left in the classroom. The ever-helpful Ali told me that the missing ones had gone to the “resto U” dining facility across the courtyard to grab some rice and sauce and would be right back. As indeed many people did filter in as I was talking. I got through my introductory lesson on Indians through the era of conquest, and I think most of what I had to say got through to those who stayed awake. It is about all you can ask for.

Ali was quite complimentary afterwards. Who knows if he is just telling me what I want to hear but it felt good anyway. So, I left with a bunch of work to do but at least some sense of accomplishment. And on the way out I bought a Burkina Faso soccer jersey.

Oh, and the air conditioners you see in the photos are for ornamentation. Temperatures topped out at 37 today, which means mighty damn hot, especially in a room with 600 other people. The ceiling fans do work, though, thank goodness. I needed that nice cool plastic bag full of water.


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