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Murphy, Thomas H. (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Volume 77, Number 2 (Jan. 1976)

Hansen, Barbara E.
In a bright corner,   pp. 12-15


Page 13


In A Bright Corner
months. The men also wear tradi-
tional dress when out of the mine.
Along with beads and an occasional
feather, men will wear several layers
of cloth from waist to knee, topped
with a short loinskin. Often this will
be combined with a dress shirt, wing-
tips, and perhaps a Frelimo button,
for an interesting mixture of old
and new.
  All students are required to wear
uniforms; jumpers for the girls and
khaki trousers and shirts for the boys.
But when out of class they are into
the same fads as teenagers all over
the States: short skirts, pants and
platform shoes for girls and that world-
famous "Levi look" if you're a guy.
And just like American kids, they
like to boogie, watch Shaft movies,
and avoid schoolwork. But they have
a deep fear and respect for teachers,
which is definitely lacking in Ameri-
can schools. Remembering how
we terrorized our teachers in junior
high makes it much easier to cope
with their harmless, and usually quite
funny, shenanigans.
   They are as fascinated by America
as we are by their country, and
have just as many misconceptions.
The most common one is, of course,
that all Americans are rich. They
are very interested in the blacks'
role in the U.S.: How many blacks
are there? What do they do for a
living? Are they still slaves? While
encouraging one female student to set
her sights on medical school in the
States, I was surprised to see her
quickly shake her head in disgust.
"I am black," she explained, "and they
will kill me if I go there."
  In spite of all the seeming naivete
about the rest of the world, they are
acutely aware of the black position
in colonialist Africa. It can be a
tricky position for a white teacher,
and some students will call us racist
simply because we are white, and
aren't all whites racist? It is hard
for them to understand why we are
here. They realize teaching is a low-
paying job, so why would a white
who has everything come to Africa
to teach them? Surely we must be
here to exploit them in some way.
It is very difficult for a teacher to
teach South African history without
being identified with the Boers. And
they can ask some questions that
are very hard to answer: "Why is it
that when the white men came to
Africa they had the Bible and we
had the land; and now they have
the land and we have the Bible?"
   Considering what they are up
against, all my sympathies lie entirely
with them. English is the language
in which all subjects are taught.
Learning in a foreign language handi-
caps anyone, especially with the class-
room providing the only contact with
that language. Not only do they
The marketvlace.
Photos by the author
learn in English, but in Swazi, Danish,
American and British English, which
differ considerably and confuse me.
SiSwati is easy enough to learn,
but I am having the damnedest time
picking up British terms, and the
students know only those. While
carefully explaining sound energy,
using the car horn as an example,
I couldn't comprehend why I was get-
ting nothing but blank stares. Finally
I was informed that cows have
horns and a car has a "hooter." While
I slowly pick up siSwati and British
English, the students are quick to
learn such Americanisms as "cool it"
and "groovy."
   Since their English is somewhat
less than perfect-as with most foreign-
language students-their comprehen-
sion is much better than their com-
position. In their eagerness to use
new terms, they often misuse them.
Large words, especially scientific
ones, hold a unique fascination for
them. After studying reproduction
in science class, a history student was
asked to explain why Stalin was called
the Man of Steel. The reply was
"Stalin was the first man to intro-
duce reproduction." In explaining
Archimedes' Principle it was said that
the naked Greek ". . . looked down
and saw his displacement in the
water." If it isn't always accurate it
is nevertheless colorful. A note to
me from two motherless students
asking me to be theft "mummy" be-
gan "Opportunity and pleasure has
made this pen of mine to twice dance
on this automatically paper. Con-
cerning life I am well and how is
yours?" How could I refuse anyone
with such distinctive literary style?
   The most difficult adjustment for
me here was getting used to the
child/adult relationship. Coming from
a youth-oriented culture, it was frus-
trating to see the kids cower in
front of me. Children should be seen
and not heard, and when answering
an elder they should bow down, with
eyes downcast and speak softly.
This may be ideal around the house
but is impossible in the classroom.
The best solution to the problem
is to lecture in that same manner for
awhile; they quickly see that it is
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