Ronronner (Thursday, 2011 May 5)

May 5, 2011

Jenny‘s gallivanting off in the States right now, and I’m catsitting for her. Her cat’s a little dude named Aristotle (her rationale being that in Cameroon, she needs the assistance of the Father of Logic) and he’s pretty sweet now that we made it back to post. Pets and kids are a good combination, though (as with my presence) the novelty’s bound to wear off eventually. In the mean time I’ve learned a lot of cat-related vocabulary: griffe, "claw"; griffer, "to claw/scratch with claws"; un chaton, "kitten"; and of course, ronronner, "to purr". Not to be confused with ronfler, "to snore" — a distinction that is important both linguistically and biologically. (Personally I prefer the English "to purr".)

He’s an outdoor cat and it’s been a bit of a compromise figuring out how he can have free passage in and out of my house without it compromising the security of my house. Every window in my house has a giant metal grate on it, and in theory he should be able to sneak in and out, but he doesn’t like it. On the other hand, I’m not comfortable leaving my door open for him at night. He likes raw eggs (and I guess cooked ones too) and it’ll be interesting to have him here for a few weeks.

So that’s personally. Professionally I still have way too much to do and not enough time or motivation to do any of it (i.e. that’s why I’m writing this now). Partly that’s due to it being exam week, and needing to proctor exams. In French the word is surveiller, "to watch (over)", but in Anglophone they say "invigilate" (which, yes, sounds like a medical condition). It is hands-down the worst work a teacher has to do and borders on capital punishment. The job is to watch students take exams and make sure that nothing, nothing actually happens. You are condemning a person to being intentionally bored this entire time. Performing this duty for four hours in a single day is rough; six or seven is a Herculean effort that leaves you blurred and crushed, too épuisé to even think. Towards the end of the day, I tried to strike a delicate balance between trying to look attentive and secretly working on mind candy like how I’m going to write my solution to Project Euler problem 11, the product-of-numbers-in-a-grid one, in a functional manner. (Tentative solution: repeated indexing, none of this fold/filter/map nonsense.)

I’ve also spent a certain amount of time people-watching. I’ve been in classes this week that I don’t normally teach in, so I get to see students that I normally don’t pay attention to. Some general observations:

  • Each class tends to have one or two students with glasses. Wearing glasses is a tacit admission that you have mal aux yeux, ("eye pain"? "bad eyes"?), so Cameroonians don’t wear glasses unless they really have to. Which is a shame; in my culture, glasses are the norm and they are a tacit admission that how you think is more important than how you look.
  • There’s also one or two per class with slightly lighter skin coloring, with astonishing calico eyes, or gray. I have no idea of the genetics at work here.
  • From the shoulders up, students look terribly similar, especially since boys and girls are obligé to have shaved heads (the principle being that if you don’t have hair, you can study instead of arranging your hair). Even telling the gender can be a bit of a problem. At my lycée, you can glance at a student’s thighs — light blue means a knee-length dress, so a girl, and dark blue means a pair of slacks, so a boy. But some lycées put the girls in light blue blouses and dark blue skirts, or have other, more complicated color schemes (I’m sure I’ve seen all black, as well as tan top, purple bottom). A clue that seems to work pretty well is to check for earrings. Most, but not all, girls wear earrings, and no boys do.
  • One girl in one of the 5e classes reminds me soooo muuuch of the little girls back home; glasses, braids along the edges of her head, and a very studious look. She’s just missing the little barrettes and maybe a set of braces. Adorable. Not sure how she got around the head-shaving rule; maybe it’s because it’s the end of the year?
  • One girl in one of the 3e classes today had the word "LOVE" on her arm — but it didn’t look like it was written in pen, it looked like a scar (cicatrice) from a burn.

I just finally got my Internet back yesterday, so that’s another reason why I’m not doing any of the stuff I should be. I know I owe Rita an email, plus a kind of time-sensitive one to Chiz — I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’ll get to it soon. But in the meantime I still have seven classes of exams to grade that I haven’t even touched yet, so don’t be surprised if it takes me a little while..

Special ♥ to my parents, whose package included Peeps snowmen as well as hearts — vital medicine when, as they say, "The spirit wasn’t really willing any more, but the flesh was very very strong".

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