Waiting and Working
Over the past two weeks, we’ve been continuing teacher training, working with the kids in short shifts (remember, we only have 4 XOs), and working on our Malagasy. It’s not much, but it’s something. Today is the last day of school for the kids at Lova Soa, and we’re holding a parents’ meeting to discuss the XOs and our computer camp.
Teacher training has been, in turns, frustrating and satisfying. Yesterday was a particular high note – the teachers found, in Browse, pictures from the space shuttle Columbia to a picture of broadleaf tropical forests that happened to be taken in Madagascar! We also used the maps to show our journey to Madagascar. The teachers – yesterday we worked with only three, Madames Julie, Irma, and Lanto; generally, we have around 5 – would click on a picture and ask, “Excuse me, what is this?” And I would explain the Taj Mahal in my best simple English: “It’s a castle in India built a long time ago. A man built it for the woman he loved.” The first sentence brought furrowed brows; the second, laughs. It was using the XO for more than just its technical abilities to add and and subtract and type; it was using the XO to expand curiosity. But there are also times when the teachers hit the frame repeatedly, and it keeps popping up in the middle of an activity, and we explain again what the frame is and how it works. It was intuitive to us – it’s a Start menu, we tried to tell them. Well, no dice when a few of the teachers have only used a computer once or twice before. But patience is a virtue, and we’ve got some more time to continue with everything. The teachers have really taken to Speak, Write, Calculate, and Maze. Oddly, Maze took about an hour of explanation, and I still don’t think a few of them get it. The arrow keys (used to navigate the maze) are less intuitive than I thought. Implode is nearly impossible for the teachers, although one now loves it (I’m basically an addict – for those of you without an XO, Implode is kind of a reverse Tetris game, where you try to clear the screen by clicking on groups of blocks).
We’ve been down to the school with our four XOs and worked with about 40 kids in shifts of 8 (2 / computer). This is so far less than ideal. The kids get about 10 minutes on the XO each shift. They don’t get to use their own XO. They have to leave quickly, and don’t get to explore the interface. And they’re still shy with us and the computers (though some of the girls have been brave enough to touch my skin and then run away – it’s curiously adorable). But when the choices were, “kids never see the computers until camp” and “kids at least get to play with the computers somewhat”, we chose the latter. And the kids are starting to get excited. On Wednesday, one took the heretofore unheard of step of asking me to open TamTam Mini (a simple program that allows the kids to click on pictures to create a variety of sounds, like laughing, a car starting, drums, or a cow). I happily did so, though the cacophony that ensued was less than lovely. It made the kids laugh, though. Wednesday is a half-day for Malagasy schools, and our TamTam Mini station gathered quite the crowd of not-ready-to-depart students.
Customs: The customs issue is so complex and so freaking frustrating that I’m not quite ready to put things down. Basically, bureaucracy is inefficient (that is a ridiculous understatement) and there are so, so many issues. We’re apparently the only OLPCorps team without the XOs – how’s that for a prize. It makes me want to kick things. We might be able to get them within the next few days, but I’m certainly not holding my breath, considering nothing to this point has worked at all.
Parents’ Meeting: is today at noon (the parents are coming in to pick up the report cards). We’re not sure how effective our note home was. Many of the parents are illiterate, so even if we had settled on the perfect phrasing (we discussed the note in English with Kathy; she discussed it in French with Mme Raline, the principal; Raline wrote it in Malagasy), it’s unclear whether the impact got across. Regardless, we’re hopeful.
We’re looking to proceed with camp in two weeks – if we do manage (by some miracle) get the XOs soon, we need to nandblast them (a process that allows us to update all 100 at once, rather than going through with a USB to each), set up the server, test them, label and catalogue them, set up the access points to create the school network, load server content, and cross our fingers that power works out. We want to have a big presentation ceremony for the students, parents, community, and school board on the first day, and then basically have the school open for the kids to come and play with the XOs whenever they wish for the first two days. Then, we’ll settle into a schedule of 3 mornings a week, and the kids can start taking them home the second week. Three mornings a week sounds sparse, but it doesn’t seem like the kids can come every day, nor can the teachers. We’ll also have 30 minute sessions at the end with the teachers every day of camp, as well as a full training session once or twice a week (to be determined with their input).
In other news – it’s the weekend. That doesn’t mean much because we live in the middle of nowhere. I read other OLPCorps blogs that are like, “today we went to a bar, and danced at a club” and it is pretty sad. There are no clubs, bars, or restaurants in Ambatoharanana. We go to the outdoor market once a week and we have to walk an hour – that’s our grocery shopping. We eat rice at every meal. We are vegetarians because no one wants to buy freshly slaughtered zebu (in either unidentifiable or all-too-identifiable parts). There are three shops in the village, and shops is really a generous term. One we call the “cow store”, and that’s where we can get our sugar fix of Coke or Fanta. Every time we get Coke there, they laugh at us for some unknown reason. It’s called the cow store because it is seemingly in the middle of a farmyard. Goat store or pig store or chicken store would all also be accurate. Then there’s Madame Rose. We bought a bunch of Coke there two weeks ago and she hasn’t stocked up since. We might be offending her by frequenting the cow store but she has no Coke, so oh well. Then there’s “other store”. Other store sometimes has carrots, so if we run out of veggies to go with our rice, we can buy them there sometimes.
Other than that – we play a lot of Spades (so much Spades) and are trying to learn Pinochle. We’re watching Battlestar Galactica on Sean’s computer, which is spectacular. I’ve actually started taking horseback riding lessons with an incomprehensible Frenchman. It’s 10 000 Ariary ($5)/ lesson and I’ve got my second one on Sunday. I went over there to meet him and he said some things in French and then all of a sudden I was riding again! He wanted to test that I could ride (I rode for about 8 years when I was younger), which apparently I did to his satisfaction.
Fingers crossed that next week is better, and that customs answers come soon.
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