importantly, there was our shared water spigot, a true luxury.
I was very fortunate to have sympathetic neighbors. They
came to my rescue many times, including one night when bats
snuck into my house. My full-size electric fan was my most
valuable possession in Koupéla: I could hardly sleep without it
(although many of my fellow volunteers managed without such
extravagances). The electricity would occasionally cut out at
night, and I would immediately wake up drenched in sweat.
Koupéla is located at a regional transport intersection, so every
morning after my oatmeal breakfast, I’d hop on my bike and ride
down the busy interstate road to the school where I taught.
In many ways, teaching in Africa is similar to teaching in the
United States. You get up in front of
a class, talk about chemistry, draw on
the chalkboard, try to encourage some
student activities, assign homework, con-
duct tests, and try out labs. I taught two
sections of what would be roughly the
equivalent of 8th grade physical sciences
in the United States. The school was for-
tunate to have a small science lab with
some glassware and even a few essential
Previous Peace Corps volunteers had
put together a booklet on local methods
for science experiments, which served
as a useful guide. We
did distillations, talked
about the planets,
and played with bat-
teries and light bulbs.
My classes in Koupéla
had about 80 students
each. All the students
rode their bikes to
school (like I did), but
all the other teachers
rode their motorcycles
to school. Don’t expect
to operate motor
vehicles as a volunteer,
wever: the Peace
ps strictly forbids it.
taught my science
sses in the morn-
and ran the school
mputer lab in the
ernoon. The com-
puter lab was the only room in the school with air conditioning.
The computers were ancient: they had been donated a few years
back by a non-governmental organization, or NGO. Despite the
organization’s efforts to train teachers to maintain the lab, the
computers had quickly fallen into disrepair and disuse.
I fixed up the computers as best I could. I started holding
regular hours and training student leaders to manage the lab
by themselves. At first I didn’t give much thought to my fellow
teachers’ lack of interest in the lab. It wasn’t until after several
months that I learned that one of the lead teachers ran the private for-pay cyber-café (computer lab) down the street from the
school, creating a serious conflict of interest. I suppose this fact
LEFT: The author teaching chemistry in Koupéla.
CENTER: Students hard at work on their
morning chemistry studies.
RIGHT: Students participating in the afternoon