You know that moment when you feel like an impostor? Actually those moments are many. What I should really say, is “those moments when you are actually caught being an impostor. When your 40 days are up….Siku za mwizi ni arobaini (a thief’s days are 40) and me I was on my 39th day – and I didn’t know. This was what happened on my first day of field work in Comoros.
Thus begins the day….
I woke up at 6am. I had successfully not given in to the big bad wolf the previous night – despite my thirst for something stronger than mango juice. I was to leave the hotel for the airport at 7am. The driver had not understood this. He thought he was to come at 8am. Mini-crisis, but it was averted. He managed to still get me to the airport on time. On the way to the airport I noticed the strangest thing. Lots and lots of women were walking around the city with yellow/white pasty facemasks on. Yes, proper facemasks in broad daylight. You know the ones I’m talking about. Every romantic comedy has a scene like this. Girl is chilling in the house in her most comfy “seng’eng’e ni ngombe” t-shirt, that leso that has a hole, a headnet and a green face mask. Unbeknownst to her, her Romeo is coming over to surprise her. Ding dong! She rushes to open the door – just like that – cause you know Nairobi is so safe, you just open the door without first carrying out a background check on the person behind it. Alas! It is her prince charming. He has come to surprise her with a bunch of roses and a pair of tickets to Paris! He had a crazy revelation when he was chilling drinking his Jameson with the boys at Tamasha. “She is all I need! I am tired of this life of debauchery, mismatched bedsheets, bachelor meals. I need to marry her now…..All this money I have been saving to buy a pro-box to use for biashara…..Yote ni vanity. I am buying us tickets for today to fly to Paris and propose to her on top of the Eiffel tower!” Later in the day you can see his love interest has gotten over her earlier mortification at being found with a green face mask on. They hold hands as they board their evening flight to Paris.
Ok. Snap out of it. Which African is this getting a visa in a day to anywhere in the world?
Ok, but you get the point – yes, that face mask that women only put on in the privacy of their homes to exfoliate, detox, open pores etc….some women in Comoros are walking around with it on the streets daily “to keep their skin from getting damaged by the sun.” That’s the official word on the streets, but I did tend to notice some tell-tale signs of bleaching in some Comorian women when I did see their faces and compared the color with their knees and knuckles….This bleaching thing is really affecting black people worldwide.
Anyway, we get to the airport and turns out the local consultant we have hired – he knows everyone in Comoros – including my driver.
It was a really quick flight to Moheli – on a small plane – it took around 30 – 45 minutes. Once we arrived at Moheli – we were picked up by the head of the teacher’s association in the island. He was a fiery old man – I really liked him. He was extremely passionate about education and required excellence and dedication from those working for him. You can imagine that this is no easy feat in a country where teachers’ salaries hadn’t been paid in over 3 months at the time of my visit. He immediately took us to a focus group meeting with other heads of the association. It was during this meeting that I heard snatches of conversation from our local consultant saying I would lead the interviews – which were to be in French. I thought I had heard my own things. We had agreed that he would be the French expert. We had questionnaires translated into French – he was to lead the interview and I would support given my limited language skills – especially when it came to issues such as vocational training, efficacy of the curriculum changes, teaching pedagogy etc.
I was screwed.
The next meeting started and I was told to start – it was so embarrassing. I couldn’t even pronounce half of the words on the questionnaire right. After a few minutes, the local consultant realized that he was indeed going to have to do his job. It worked out much better once we switched because then I could focus on listening to the responses, understand the meaning, take notes etc. – rather than sweating as I tried to understand what the respondent was saying, think of how to ask a follow-up question, take notes and wonder how I was going to get through the next question that had so many words I had never seen before in my life….Le sigh….Impostor
After this we had 2 more meetings with groups of teachers numbering 4-5. The local consultant had all sorts of questionable habits – like hitting on the female respondents thinking I didn’t understand what he was doing. We then went to another school, but as soon as we got into this village – there was a very somber mood everywhere. It turned out a 30 year old guy in the community had been unwell – he had just died and the whole area was in mourning. The school had even shut down for the day. I quickly learned how small and familial everything was in Comoros – everyone knew everyone; everyone was somehow related to the other or at most one degree of separation from the others. That’s not surprising though given the population on all the 3 islands totals up to less than 800,000 people. In this particular island I was on, the population was 54,000 people.
We went to yet another school – in this particular school – it took over an hour to find any teachers or the school directors – the head of the teacher’s association gave them a proper lecture. It was a bit awkward being there for this “Vous-etez parasseux”/”You are all lazy!” I pretended I didn’t understand just how much trouble they were in.
This was only halfway through the day and it was turning out to be very eventful….