Welcome to a new school year in Cotonou! If you are wondering why does the school year start this late, it is because summer is the harvest season here. So even if there was school going on during the summer months, the families would not send their children at all. Still for those urban students as ours, there is a full month of summer courses between August and September to catch up and polish for the following year. Even if they are not collecting crops, the students are always busy working, either helping their parents in whatever business they have, uncles, neighbours, the younger ones taking care of their siblings, cooking and tending the home… children of all ages are working hands here.
The school year started with so much energy and the school grew a lot also! I arrived 1 week late and what a joy it was to see my last year students approaching me with big smiles to welcome me back.
The hardest task for me is to memorize their names. The boys look all very similar to me, and the girls change their braids every two weeks, which doesn’t help either. I have the equivalent to 10th, 11th and 12th grade in Canada, so, full adolescence going on there. But once you get under those though faces and attitude of “we don’t care about the world” (and sneaker models and braids styles), they are really deep in so many senses and thirsty for life!
To start the year I asked them 10 questions. Some wrote one-word answers, consistently with their personalities, others wrote entire novels with details, hypothesis and whatever else you can imagine. Here some of my favorites:
1. The last thing I think of before going to bed is… My future…
2. I am afraid when… I am close to a beautiful girl / when I open myself too much with others/ when I don’t live to the others’ expectations/ when my dad arrives home
3. I am happy when… I play basketball because I forget about everything else when I am there / when I listen music because it brings me to a good place / when I dance because I can be whoever I want / when I am with my family because they are pretty cool / when I work well in class…
4. My summer vacations…were fantastic. I didn’t do anything special or went anywhere, I helped my uncle at his shop everyday. But when I was not there I was with my girlfriend. I adore her, she makes not only my world wonderful but the world where we live better also with her kindness and attention to others. She has a shine of joy that makes me feel alive, I admire of her even her faults because they make her imperfect and therefore closer to me. Madame: does true love exist at 16? If she was a star, I would be her fan #1…
5. Your questions to madame Monica:
– What are the non-negotiables to succeed in life?
-How can I be braver?
-Can I risk everything for a dream?
-What is your favorite meal?
-How can I trust those around me?
-Is it ok to be always alone and calm?
-What do you think about me?
-How was your idea of Africa before coming? And now, has it changed somehow? How?
-Why isn’t life as we want it to be?
-How do can I master speaking in public infront of a crowd?
-Do you have any friend who is a pilot? Because I am looking for information on the career
Teenagers but not that far from us “adults” after all eh?
So, if anybody reading this post has any good answer to any of the questions above, I am all ears (well, eyes). If you wonder how I spend the lunch break at the school, it is usually on the playground or at the picnic tables drinking pineapple juice and talking about these things with the students. Or the shoe brands, or the braid styles. I do must of the listening though, but I enjoy very much being among them. These kids are full of energy and potential, they are with no doubt the hope for their country.