Saturday, September 29, 2012

School in Savusavu, Fiji

August 6 - September 7, 2012  

Tamsyn and Griffyn attended three weeks of school in Savusavu at Khemendra Primary School, a public school.

On the Friday (August 3rd) before they attended school, I went to the principal's office during school hours to ask if I could enroll my children. The principal said, "Yes, no problem." I asked him a couple questions about which grade they should be. Griffyn would be in Level 1 (like Kindergarten back home, although at the time I thought it was 1st grade). Tamsyn would be in level 3 (again I thought this was like 3rd grade.) They had final exams starting on Monday and I didn't want Tamsyn to be taking 3rd quarter exams for 4th grade since she was technically only beginning 4th grade in September - so she was assigned to a class at Level 3. The principal made no mention of money so I offered him a $50 donation (about $25 US) - the amount another ex-patriot parent had suggested. I figured they would only be in school for two weeks. The cost of school per student is $30 per term (4 terms per year), so to have our kids in school for one 10 week term would cost $60 (about $30 US). And the principal said not to worry about the uniform, it didn't matter for two weeks. (What a difference from New Zealand! - They charged U.S. citizens $1000 per month for two kids in public primary school, not including books, or uniforms.) 

I asked the principal what they should bring, he said their teachers would tell them what they needed. And the interview seemed to be at an end. I asked him if he wanted their names and a phone number - and he said, "That would be fine, give them to the her" (the office assistant.) So I helped her spell the names and told her to contact Waitui Marina if she needed to reach us. And I encouraged her to call if Griffyn proved difficult. She just smiled at me in the most understanding way and said, "he is a boy." 

And off I went, back to the boat to get Tamsyn and and Griffyn. We needed to go shopping for a dress that would be appropriate for Tamsyn and some shorts that didn't have stains, patches or holes for Griffyn. I bought Tamsyn a pretty summer dress that covered the shoulders mostly and a white shirt that she could wear under her other sun dresses. I found some green draw string shorts for Griffyn. He had two button down shirts that would do. 

Sunday we packed their back packs full of lined note books, (one for each subject), extra writing paper and pencils, erasers, pencil sharpeners (and crayons for Griffyn). We packed water bottles, toilet paper, and soap (generally public bathrooms in Fiji do not have soap, towels or TP.) We dug out the insulated lunch sacks Wendy had bought each of them for their trip to Mexico (way back when we left the U.S.). We laid out their clothes and made of list of things that they must do before we left each morning. It has been a long time since we have had to get up early and out of the door for school by 7:30AM. The principal said to be there between 7:50 and 8:00AM. The school was only a couple blocks from the marina, but they were both so excited and nervous, they wanted to be early that first Monday (August 6th). 

When we arrived I couldn't see a teacher anywhere, the classrooms were all chaos - in one a boy was crying. I went up to the principal's office to see about ordering lunches for them. One of the teachers (they were all up there signing in and waiting for their teachers meeting,) told me where the canteen was and how much it cost. So I went over and ordered curried chicken for Tamsyn and chips (french fries) for Griffyn ($2.50 each). Then there was nothing more to do. The teachers were still meeting upstairs far from the classrooms, the kids were running around or sitting at desks or all crowding around Tamsyn, the new white kid. There were a few caucasian kids in the school (of 700 students) but, whites are definitely the minority. Tamsyn was the only in her class and so was Griffyn. I was excited to have some time to myself but found it hard to leave them. I finally made myself leave the grounds after checking in on them one more time. 

And I was free. I went back to the marina and took a shower and rowed back to Madrona. I had such expectations for all of my time without them on the boat. Yet that first day I remember having a long conversation with Owen about "Game of Thrones" and his great grandfather, the famous caribou hunter. It was great to have some time to connect with Owen during the day. I was ecstatic, what would I do with myself for the next two weeks? Owen had a sign job to finish and I planned my 1st visit to Sisi. 

School ended at 2:50 PM. Griffyn came out of his classroom with two buddies arm in arm. He was swinging a plastic bottle around wacking things drunk with happiness. I couldn't remember the last time I had seen him so thoroughly elated. He came running to me with his friends as we met Tamsyn. She was almost as nervous as when she entered school that morning. (Granted she had a bandage on her face from a puncture wound, with which we were being extremely cautious - puncture wounds in the tropics can easily get infected - and on her face!) She was very self-conscious about the bandage. And she was trying so hard to be like everyone else which just wasn't possible. The school is predominantly Indo-Fijians (Fijians of Indian descent) who all have long black hair and brown skin. Girls wore their hair in two long braids looped and tied with a white ribbon to match the school uniform which is blue with white. Tamsyn's blond hair was barely long enough for braiding and even with all this sun, she is pale. 

That afternoon we all went for an ice-cream cone. I treated Griffyn's friend and his older brother, who tagged along with us. We ran into Bligh and he joined us too. Then we bought food for more school lunches and after some play time on shore all went back to the boat. The Fijian boys loved the dinghy ride and Griffyn loved showing them all his toys and around his home. He told them how to us a marine head, he told them where he slept (a settee in the salon), he showed them the V-berth and talked them around topside. Finally it was time to bring them back to shore and eat dinner. That night before bed I asked Griffyn about the slight black eye I had noticed when I picked him up after school. He said some boy poked him in the eye during the fight in class (while the teacher was not there.) He said two boys started fighting and then someone jumped on him and the whole class started fighting. He said he also had a cut on his elbow from when he fell down at recess. I noticed that his new shorts were covered in mud.  He said he fell down a few times when he was getting chased by an older boy at recess. I asked him how he felt about school, he said, "I love it, I wish school was 20 hours a day and sleep was only one!" and promptly fell asleep.

There were two more days of exams for this term. Tamsyn's experience of school was quite different from Griffyn's. She was so nervous and the girls and boys were so excited about her - wanting to know everything - that she felt crowded and on display. The exams were not challenging for her and the classroom environment made her miss Lynndale Elementary. Her teacher handed out exams and left the classroom, she was gone most of the day. She began to retreat while Griffyn blossomed. Before bed, the second night of school, he said he'd, "made friends with everyone in his class." Tamsyn said she felt awkward because she couldn't pronounce or remember anyone's names, nor could they remember or say her name correctly. We talked about it over dinner.

After exams (3 days) Tamsyn was allowed to read her own book (Wind in the Willows) in class in the mornings and in the afternoons, the class watched a movie. The teachers corrected exams during class time, the teachers made copies of exams during class time, the teachers had teacher's meetings during class time. I don't think the teachers had homework. By the third day I began bringing the kids to school after 8 AM. Griffyn said his class brawled before the teacher arrived. According to the principal, students should arrive at 8AM but were not late if they arrived by 8:30AM. I figured it was because the students who took busses rode city busses (there are no school busses.) Students got priority rides or everyone else in the mornings, but some busses got kids there later than others. Kids seem to come as late as 9:00 AM (and the teachers as well.) Taking the city bus to school was free for students (it used to cost 35 cents for students - but that was recently changed.) So we began to show up later also, I wasn't sure how I felt about Griffyn in an all-class brawl every morning. His behavior seemed wilder than usual and Tamsyn wasn't eager to be early either.

On Friday Tamsyn had a uniform (from Sisi) to wear and that made her feel much better in class. She has become very conscious of her appearance and it meant a lot to her to look like everyone else. They both brought their exams home at the end of the 1st week. They both did well. In health science, one of the questions Tamsyn got wrong was - 'what to do with used bottles and cans?' She entered 'recycle' them, the correct answer was 'burn' them. Another one she got wrong had to due with pest problems and how to treat them, her answer showed a cultural difference in how pests are treated - as with recycling. We talked about the exams and it was nice for me to see how they measured up after not being in school for 18 months.

The second week of school (the last week of that term) was almost treated as a holiday. Tamsyn brought in her Harry Potter movies and her class watched them each day. Griffyn's class did some reading/writing, but also watched movies. On Thursday, they had a sports day, similar to our track and field days. Griffyn really wanted me to be there and watch him, so I stayed a while after classes began. Everyone wore clothing according to a certain color, for games, rather than uniforms. Tamsyn was on the blue team and Griffyn was yellow. Each team had all ages. After everyone changed into their team colors, there was an assembly. The principal spoke while the students stood on the grass in long colored lines. Tamsyn and Griffyn looked tired and pale and it wasn't just their skin color, Tamsyn looked especially bored too. I remembered what school assemblies were like when I was a kid. There were times when I remember being incredibly bored. Then a teacher lead the school in the school prayer, sung in Hindi. The kids slogged through all twelve verses. I couldn't believe how long it was. Then the sports teacher began releasing students into the field slowly and orderly. The 6th through 8th level students left to play rugby against one another. It seemed to be all boys. Then younger students were sent to stations. They're were long lines at each of six stations where students waited to performed simple field exercises, like throwing a ball at a ring (for net ball, our basket ball). At each station a couple older students helped the younger ones perform each activity. All the helpers seemed to be girls (from levels 6 - 8). 

The day was very hot, the sun was intense and the kids just cooked. I went back to the boat to cool off. Griffyn seemed to be enjoying himself. I came back early to see how they were doing, they were supposed to play team sports in the afternoon. When I got there Tamsyn and a bunch of girls were making flower bracelets and necklaces and Griffyn was harassing older students playing net ball. They were kind to him, but he was so hot and sunburned and dehydrated he could hardly function. I brought them home and decided they needed a low key weekend with lots to drink. Friday Tamsyn didn't want to go to school, she had a cold. Since she had done little more than read her own books and watch Harry Potter all week, I had no problem with that. I was told that only about 100 out of 700 students would show up for the final half day of the term - to clean the classrooms and grounds. Griffyn wanted to go, so I brought him and found him later around noon running wild around school grounds with a couple of other boys.

The next two weeks were break (no school). So we home schooled. Tamsyn had discovered that her classmates although behind her in many subjects, knew their times tables better than she did. Griffyn and I began his reading lessons again. He took to it much easier than before as long as we started directly after breakfast. Going to school in another country had been wonderful for Griffyn. Fiji seems to love it's little boys and has no expectations about their behavior. "Boys are boys," I heard repeatedly. Tamsyn's class gave her a card, signed by all the students and her teacher and a frame for the class picture we took. It was their way of thanking her for the movies she shared. She didn't make friends the way Griffyn did, but she did make some connections and was able to say hello to girls she met in the street. The conversations we had after looking over her exams about cultural differences seem invaluable to me - hopefully she will feel the same some day.

During break we met Louis and his mother, Ruth from Australia. Ruth, a single mom and her 7 year old son, were traveling around the world together. She was house sitting and they would be in Fiji for 5 weeks. She had just enrolled Louis in Khemendra and he was in Tamsyn's class. Tamsyn was excited to be in class again. After break the kids attended one more week of school at Khemendra. During that week, they were expected to have certain work books, so I went hunting for the right exercise books (the post office sold them.) Griffyn was told he would get a smack if he didn't behave (in class). He was scared to go to class the next day. But he went and never did get the smack. Tamsyn was still reading her own books in class at times and another white boy showed up in her class and monopolized Louis. She felt left out despite all the attention she got from everyone else. She said the teacher would write an exercise on the board and then leave while they solved it. Her teacher was out a lot and when she left, the kids would crowd around her. We couldn't leave Fiji yet, Owen was quite sick with a fever and we still had the water tank to clean out. 

We weren't sure about school next week, but on Saturday (September 8) we noticed head lice on Griffyn. He was covered with nits and scratching badly. I had been scratching too, but not realized why until then. That night we treated Griffyn and myself, picking nits out of Griffyn's head until midnight (then Owen looked at me.) Griffyn had been sleeping in the V-berth with me since Owen gouged out his shin (he took skin off exposing the bone when he slipped descending the mast. It was much too painful to kneel - and get up into the V-berth - so he was sleeping on the settee in the salon.) Our weekend was defined by nit picking, laundering sheets and administering lice treatments. Owen didn't want to send them back to school. I couldn't argue, he was sick and needed to get well, not to deal with more problems. So Monday morning we walked to school and entered each of their classrooms and said our goodbyes. Tuesday we began home schooling again.

After attending public school in Fiji both Tamsyn and Griffyn appreciated home schooling more. We discovered a local library and found simple readers for Griffyn. He reads one book to each of us every school day now. Tamsyn has checked out a series of books on Merlin's (of King Arthur legends) younger years. She loves the library with it's air conditioned and peaceful atmosphere. I love the Young Scientist series and am inspired by new resources. We all miss the fabulous teachers back home at Lynndale Elementary.

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