Sunday, March 19, 2017

An Epic Battle

There were two big events this past week at my school. After qualifying in the regional competition last month, the football (soccer) team traveled to Castle Bruce on Thursday for the next level of the primary school tournament. While I understand we won some games there, we unfortunately did not qualify for the next stage. This is the same situation we found ourselves in last year. Oh well!

This story is not about an epic battle on the football field. It is about an academic battle between two primary school intellectual heavyweights from vastly different backgrounds, who fought valiantly until only one prevailed. In these two contestants, one can see them as a representation of the battle that many of us around the world face. But before describing this battle, let me describe the whole day.

I did not go with the football team this year, because I had accompanied the footballers to Castle Bruce last year. This year, I opted to help chaperone those children going to the French Festival held on Wednesday at a school near the capital so that I could get a different experience. I'm glad I did.

Various schools from across the island convene at a school so large that it has a separate auditorium. Several officials from organizations such as the Ministry of Education gave opening remarks. There was a parade of flags for all Francophonie countries (places that have some sort of French influence). A number of these countries are similar to Dominica—our official language is English, and we were a British colony prior to independence, but the local Creole language is related to French, and at times prior to the end of the 1700s, Dominica belonged to the French. That is apparently enough for the French to lay claim to us.

Our school was assigned to do a display about St. Lucia, another Caribbean island with a similar background as Dominica. The French island of Martinique (which is definitely French) lies between Dominica and St. Lucia, but both of us were primarily controlled by the British. I was a bit surprised that we were working on a display for an English-speaking country for the French Festival, but that is just how it worked out.

We (meaning the staff with some involvement from the students) did a lot of work for our display (our first grade teacher pictured above is also the French teacher for the upper grades). We created a paper-mache rendition of St. Lucia's most famous landmark, the twin volcanic spires known as Petit Piton and Gros Piton (read about my grueling hike to the top of Gros Piton in 2015 ). A couple of the Seamester college students who are artists were enlisted during their one-day visit earlier in the month to help create the background for a diorama.
One of the teachers (shown above) created a doll dressed in traditional St. Lucian clothing. One of the parents prepared a nice plate of fig and saltfish, a common meal there (as well as in Dominica). I drew a St. Lucian flag furling in the breeze, created a freehand map of the rugged coastline (and cut it out), painted the diorama (except for the background), and did lots of calligraphy for our signs. I think it all came out pretty well, if I do say so myself.
However, the last and biggest event of the day was the French spelling competition (that is the official program shown above). Students who are selected to represent their school are given a list in advance of nearly 500 French words to memorize, and they must spell them while designating the proper accent marks. Needless to say, it is a lot more difficult than a traditional spelling bee.

Our little school is so small (just 34 students) that we had no sixth graders last year. Thus, our top fifth grade girl competed last year. This year, she was back again as a sixth grader. She did an excellent job as one by one, the other competitors were eliminated until only two remained—our girl from a small “country school” in the far northern corner of the island (with overall substandard test scores causing some to look down on us), and a local boy from this large, successful city school that has been hosting this major event over the years. As a native of rural West Virginia, I could really identify with this match-up! Indeed, it is the essence of a classic struggle faced by many people throughout the world.

The two of them (pictured above with him sitting as she provided an answer--the official reading the words was standing just out of the frame on the left) went back and forth for several rounds as the tension built (now I know how my parents felt when they came to watch some of my College Bowl competitions). Each time I was so nervous before she gave her answers, and then so excited after she answered successfully. To put it in sports terms, could our girl actually pull off this “Cinderella story” upset of the host school favorite?
Alas, there would be no Disney movie ending to this story. She finally got tripped up by a word, giving the victory to the boy who goes to school where the event was held. However, she was awarded a nice trophy and gift bag of school supplies for second place. In the photo above, the winner is on the left, with second through fifth--there must have been a tie for fifth--arrayed in sequential order towards the right (note that only the top three got trophies and the bigger gift bags).

I'm so proud because she conducted herself with such poise, such grace, such brains—she truly is an incredible young woman (she is the same student who wrote the message in the sand to me in this blog story). Personally, I'm okay with how it ended—I was getting so wrapped up in the “underdog wins” storyline that I probably would have cried tears of joy for her, and the kids didn't need to see a grown man get emotional like that!

Afterwards, we took the students over to the KFC (which I had done last year with the football team). This is the only American restaurant on the island, and is very popular throughout the Caribbean. Just like last year after leaving Castle Bruce, I bought a bucket of chicken for everyone to share, and french fries for all the students. Above is a picture of a few of them standing by our bus enjoying their KFC treat (I think they were going for a "gangsta" pose). Then as we were leaving town, we stopped at a convenience store and I purchased ice cream for everyone. Those two stops cost me over a hundred dollars, but it was worth every penny. They are all good children, and it had been another memorable day on this beautiful island.

P.S. I just wanted to urge my readers to donate towards building a playing court for my village, as part of the matching funds to the grant I won (described in this previous story).

For anyone leery of donating via a website using your credit card (the instructions for the electronic donation process can be found in the link above), it is also possible to donate the old fashioned way. You can mail a check to Courts for Kids, and just note “Thibaud, Dominica community court” in the memo line. Make the check out to “Courts for Kids” and mail it to:

Courts for Kids
PO Box 873786
Vancouver, WA 98687

Thank you for at least considering a donation, whether electronically or by check! It will make a big difference for my students and others in the village.

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