“You Will Become More of Who You Are”

Everyone told me this trip would change me, but my friend Arline Saturdayborn, the mother of one of Waynflete’s finest, put a different spin on the saying. “You will become more of who you are, Sue Stein.” That’s what she said. I think I know who I am now. I am a teacher.

While in Zambia I visited several schools. I finally saw what my students have been talking about.

At each school I have had glimpses into what students have been telling me for years. Being here is giving me a slightly better understanding of the jump students and their families have made going to school in the United States.

There are government and private schools in Africa just as in the US. Students in Zambia (and it appears similar in Rwanda) go to Primary School for what would be our grades 1-6. At the end of Primary School, there is a test before beginning Secondary School. (In Zambia education is compulsory only until grade 7.) Secondary School is divided in two parts and after Secondary Three students again take another test which sets them on the course for their university or college selection. Many students end their formal education then, however, according to an article in the New African (May 2013) there is a “booming demographic” of young people in sub-Sahara Africa, and while now only roughly 30 % of students are completing their secondary education, that is up from 9% in 1975 (“Investing in Africa: A Future of Boundless Opportunity,” 13). At the end of Secondary Six students who “win” and achieve good scores are chosen by the government and earn a scholarship to the Government University. In Butare, I was given a tour of the National University of Rwanda by Paul and Letitia Runyambo’s cousin Celestine who is studying to be a lawyer.

Photo of Celestine Ruhanamilindi Mutabazi and I taking a break from our tour of Butare, Rwanda.

Célestin Ruhanamilindi Mutabazi is a student of law at the National University of Rwanda. Here we are getting out of the rain and discussing his studies.

Celestine is full of life and energy and explained to me how it is the Constitution and the upholding of it that makes his country different from others. He proudly tells me there is no capital punishment in Rwanda because the law is meant “to instruct, not punish.” Quite an approach from a country with such a painful recent history.

I have been told classrooms have 40-60 students per room, and students have many subjects to study like: Commerce, Agriculture, Business, English, Geography, Design. I have paged through some notebooks of students and seen meticulous renderings of the teacher’s exact words copied with precision. There are artistic renderings to accompany the notes. It is detailed and rote. Students are expected to memorize exactly what the teacher says. When tests are given to secondary students, they are expected to recall minutia derived from a wealth of possibilities. It is not like the SAT or ACT. It is a test directly derived from facts and information learned over a student’s lifetime.

Being at Kablunga Girls’ School gave me the opportunity to see a small slice of how that information is delivered. I was surprised they even let me in, but I just walked into the school, found the headmaster’s office and asked if she would consider letting me observe a classroom. She was a bit leery at first, but I kept talking and suddenly this big smile came over her and she said, “Fine.” My heart leapt up (to change the verb tense from William Wordsworth’s “My Heart Leaps Up”). I was going to be in a classroom! I was led to the teacher’s room where I met Nancy Moono and observed a team of professionals grading stacks of papers. I had 20 minutes to prepare a lesson on illiteracy in Kenya. I was interrupted in my rapid preparation by a teacher who explained that government schools suffer because private schools take all the best students, but later Nancy said she did not necessarily agree. I walked into a classroom of about 55 girls and began like any totally unprepared teacher from America would, “So, who knows where Maine is?” We went from there. At the end of class (thankfully, Nancy let us move rather quickly through the dense passage on illiteracy) I offered students candy or a pencil. Down to a person, they all wanted the pencils. I had to come back and give them more because I hadn’t brought enough. I walked “home” on a cloud. I had been in a classroom again. I felt alive.

I felt the same way yesterday taking a walk in Kibuye, Rwanda when I met some children on the road. We began talking (me practicing my Kinyarwanda, them their English), and they were excited when I told them I was a teacher. I asked if I could take their photo and they agreed. I have a beautiful picture of them holding a Waynflete pen, but after I took the photo an adult (and every adult here looks out for the children) said, “No photo” so I do not want to publish it. But oh the delight from a pen.

Let me end this entry with a poem Arline’s daughter Caitie Whelan (class of ’02?), sent me on the eve of my departure. It captures how it feels to know who I am again.

Change
by Rilke

Want the change. Be inspired by the flame
where everything shines as it disappears.
The artist, when sketching, loves nothing
so much
as the curve of the body as it turns away.

What locks itself in sameness has
congealed.
Is it safer to be gray or numb?
What turns hard becomes rigid
and is easily shattered.

Pour yourself out like a fountain.
Flow into the knowledge that you are
seeking
finishing often at the start, and, with
ending, begins.

Every happiness is the child of separation
it did not think it could survive. And
Daphne, becoming laurel,
dares you to become the wind.

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30 thoughts on ““You Will Become More of Who You Are”

  1. Page says:

    Susie – Your blog is a real treat to read and thanks for sharing it with us. You are a natural blogger – who would have thought! :-). Keep it coming – I can’t wait to hear more.

    • I know. I’m telling you I just needed to come to AFRICA to get myself technified……I still can’t believe it myself, but I’m telling you, I’m a new girl. I may even join TLC. Wouldn’t that be a gas???

  2. roy w says:

    Sue, Thanks for your compelling and descriptive words. I know that’s new for you as is enthusiasm. (LOL). Keep us all informed on your travels and self realization.

    • Man, I am just loving hearing from you so much. Thanks for the big brother dig and yes, I plan to keep going. Today was spectacular. I can’t wait for tomorrow. I love you so much.

    • OK Michael, you know I’ve always adored you. Now I adore you even more. Thanks for saying that. Just you wait. Just you wait til you get here. It is AMAZING!

  3. Barbara says:

    Sue, I love everything about your blog entries. And I’m so happy that this trip is turning out to be what you have wanted it to be. One bonus is that it is also educational and enlightening for all of us!

  4. Patrick E says:

    I’m hooked! The images and descriptions are wonderful and reminds me I still have so much to see in this world. You are living it and I am so happy for you to feel the lifeblood of the people you are meeting and the places you are visiting. I am sure they are getting a lot from meeting you and your genuine love for people.

  5. Kim says:

    Sue, Thank you for sharing your blog address with me via email. I had seen it on one of your facebook posts, but lost track of it and have been so eager to read along. I’m so happy to hear that you feel me with you when you wear my skirt. As you so eloquently describe your days and observations, I feel I am right along side you. Your pictures are also breathtaking! Thank you for taking the time to share your wonderful journey with us! Love and miss you!

  6. One of the reasons you are such a fine teacher, Sue, is because you are a student with all the openness and enthusiasm so necessary for learning. You are collecting and connecting all these experiences and seeing not one of them as more important than the other and cumulatively–well, you’re giving us a glimpse of life that we ordinarily would not be having if you weren’t so wide awake. Merci beaucoup.

  7. Beverly Freeman says:

    Oh Sue…I am so happy for you! Sorry I didn’t see this yesterday, but it is truly beautiful. You ARE becoming more of who you really are….teacher, sister, blogger, helper, sage, describer and I could go on and on. This adventure is truly the opening of many things for many people. Thanks so much for all your entries. Keep em coming!

  8. Arline says:

    Dearest SueStein,
    I am going to print this out so that it is the last thing I read before I go to sleep.
    My soul, spirit, heart and mind are so deeply nourished by your words and images that I need to take them to the dreamer in me. Thank you for so beautifully sharing your adventure with us all. May all be well , Big Love,
    Arline

    • Arline, you know you have been so instrumental in helping me think differently about myself, about life, about the world. You inspire me. Thank you for those kind words.

  9. Wendy Cramer says:

    Sorry I am so late to comment! I love reading all your entries! They are great and I am so happy for you and a wee bit jealous too! Love you!

    • You will be taking more trips my dear sister. As soon as those great kids of yours are gone you too will go an adventure. Maybe we could go together??? There is so much more I want to see and I would love to go with you. Think about it….

  10. E'nkul says:

    Hey Sue, nice to hear from you and while in Bujumbura, please check Hopital Prince Louis Rwagasore where Cynthia and Kevin were born. Cynthia, Axel and Mike went to school at la Colombiere, no sue if the private school is still. Safari jema. E’nkul from Portland.

    • E’nkul! I love the photo of Axel and Cynthia and just found out I am minutes away from Athnee school. I plan to check it out as soon as I can and I will see if I can find the hospital too!! I love being here and knowing I am so close to where three wonderful students who I adore lived! I will let you know if I find it!!

  11. Beth says:

    Oh Sue,
    I LOVE reading your blog. You seem to be truly in your element.What an inspiration you are for living your dream. Xo

    • I am so glad you contacted me, Beth! It makes me feel like my friends are here with me! This is amazing trip I’m having. I still can’t believe it’s all happening.

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