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Congo :

I am a 1st grade teacher !

You certainly read the page "The Belgian School" already, haven't you ?

So I continue with my class where I had left it, on the first day :

The famous meeting had just ended.

My class and me on the second day
It's a German tradition: my German pupil
(the small blond-haired with the big paper cornet)
brought candies and his mom took a class picture.

16 smurfs

Waited for me at the door of my future classroom, still empty, and as for me, I didn't expect all this in any way...

I was actually quite annoyed because I had only 16 pupils and my memory : no material, no books... That day I even had no schoolbag, no exercise book nor a pen !

So I improvised for the rest of the morning with my 16 blond heads - er, you see what I mean - eager to learn.

They were of 9 different nationalities (Zairean, Rwandan, Burundian, Pakistani, Korean, German, Italian, Belgian and Quebecer) and if that also worried me a little, it turned out so enriching...

Fortunately, we had given the afternoon off to the pupils, so I was able to get organized and prepare something more substantial for the next day. On the following Saturday, I crossed the border of Rwanda, not to run away but to phone in Belgium and ask that one sends me the additional material. On Sunday, I searched the reserves of the school for some materials our predecessors would have left.

The first days were little "draft" but I quickly put myself in the 1st grade rhythm, and from the second week we were on the way to a beautiful school year without problem. Hahaha ! I'm so funny, sometimes ;)

October 16, 1990

One and a half month after the beginning, I was well used to the "routine" of the school. Three days before my 24th birthday, I was furthermore "a little bit blissful" (yes yes, that happens to me) and finally, I had just finished lunch at this beginning of the afternoon and I looked at the butterflies near the entrance of the school while doing my duty, welcoming the pupils who returned from home and watching them.

When it began to rain a few minutes before 2:00 pm, I hurried up towards my class only because my pupils waited very wisely in two rows in front of the door. By the time I crossed the 50 metres which separated us and that I open the door with my gigantic key, we were all dipped...

Bah ! We were then under the cover of a strong roof and concrete walls.

Nevertheless, the wind which got up began to worry us, especially by the speed with which it increased in force. Outside, it was at the moment a true torrent, and it is soaked that a friend and mom of a pupil entered and told me "Come on, you have to get out from there ! Come with the children in the big building !"

At that time, I wasn't really thinking any more... I answered her (so-so because the wind was making a hellish noise) "Not ! It is too risky !" And she went out back towards the main building.

While closing the door with difficulty, I saw a very big branch smashing behind her, who ran, and couldn't prevent from imagining that we would have been in this place if we had gone out...

Without shouting but with an apparently effective tone, I told my pupils "everyone under the desks !" And at once, all my smurfs dropped on their 4 paws under their desks, which were big wooden tables with enormous strong feet.

During the few seconds that followed, I saw my pupils floundering and laughing under the desks and I wondered why I had told them to do that ?!


No time to think more about it : I dived myself under a desk, and the world collapsed around us.

At first a noise of crackle on the side, then above us, then objects falling on the tables which protected us, finally torrents of water drenching us to the bones : the big tree which was next to the entrance of our class had been unearthed by the tornado which had gone by, and had fallen down directly on the poor small building.

We all went out unhurt, called the parents, reassured the children (some had nightmares for months) and dismissed them.

I went back home, gulped half a bottle of whiskey (I who hate strong alcohols) and then I returned to the school to assess the damages.

Beautiful example of solidarity: two construction companies belonging to expatriates, among whom one had no link with the school, sent at once men and machines (bulldozer, hoist, chain saws, scaffolds...)

They worked hard (and took enormous risks) to loosen the tree and secure the playground.

After having removed the tree, one of the workers pushed on the walls to test their resistance. He was lucky that day and wasn't crushed : there will be nothing left above windowsills...

In what was left of the classroom, before they tear it down, I found several concrete blocks on the benches, where the children would have sat if they had not been under the desks...

Of course, all the materials (exercise books, books, posters, furniture...) was good for the trash.

The former Belgian consulate, which we used as a classroom during the 3-months reconstruction of our destroyed class.

So it was necessary to rebuild the whole thing, bad luck for the school which was not supported by the Belgian cooperation any more. It's my very dear friend Danielle who took care of it with the workers of her husband, and who lost there more than one hair.

In the meantime, I settled down with my smurfs in the former consulate after having notified their leave to the cockroaches who had guarded the place for years. The room was so small that I could not pass between the desks !

Five days after the tornado, we resumed the courses. Of course, the pupils were still "a little shocked" (me too by the way).

So you will understand our strong displeasure on November 20, early in the afternoon, when the earth began to shake... Other disaster, other action : "Everybody outside !" I said, and once again the pupils obeyed me... I must be really convincing ;)

There you will probably not believe me (either?) but anyway : at the height of the earthquake, whereas the small consulate next to which we stood "went down", I saw the main building "rising" as high as our windows, while normally both buildings were at the same level ! It was my first (and last until today) earthquake, and I keep a very intense impression of it : as if our good old earth became an stormed sea, falsifying all the marks... That did not last for a long time, but for my pupils,
1st grade + war + riots + tornado + earthquake
was becoming... A bit too much.

As for the workers who were reconstructing my previous class, they did not appreciate.

Let's finally mention that my apartment was a mess, big cracks having appeared in the walls, and all the cupboards (which were closed with bolts !) emptied of their contents...

You still want some ? On December 2 : floods ; from December 5 till 8 : riots and plunders ; on December 12 : floods ; etc.


My classroom is rebuilt (in January if I remember well) and I can reinstate it with my smurfs : it is much more beautiful and better fitted out than before, we will be able to seriously get back to work and make up for lost time.

These pupils have to learn to read, to write, the 4 operations... I have to respect the Belgian curriculum ! Furthermore I have some pupils a little weaker, and a deaf one.

My "new" classroom.

Cute, aren't they ?

Let's go !

I had a formidable class and I was full of spirit, so it was "easy" (hahaha, that's a good one too). We ended the year by having studied the whole curriculum, in depth, and I admit that I'm proud of it. Proud of the children too, who followed me in all these adventures every day without stumbling.

A regret ? Not having been trained at teaching school concerning the learning disabilities. I had two dyslexic pupils and I didn't realize it. Without Suzanne's help, experimented schoolteacher who arrived later in the year, these pupils would have dragged these difficulties for a long time...

Fortunately, numerous lessons given in the first grade had taught me the ABC of this crucial year, from "how to teach a pupil to correctly hold his pencil" to "what to do with a pupil who planted his pencil in his neighbour's hand" (in that case I nevertheless got a blame from the committee, because the small hooligan, whom I punished with "two days in the reading corner" was the son of a VIP ;)) and "how to explain to the class that Hussein (one of the pupils' first name) is not responsible for the Gulf War and that Saddam Hussein, as for him, will not come all the way to Goma" (the teachers and I were getting the news from CNN during recess, thanks to my pocket TV).

Angel-like, aren't they ?

I stayed in touch with some pupils.
Sone of them found me recently thanks to this site.
The Quebecer parents invited me to Montreal and Quebec in 1992...

It was a great year !


Next page : Around Goma with my Jeep

Page créée le 12 mai 2001 -  Mise à jour le 7 juillet 2002

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