The instructions were simple: go to the Wikipedia website, choose a suitable topic and then do some research for Prepared Speech on Friday.
Gaspar was the first to put up his hand. "Teacher, can we talk about anything?"
"Anything", I assured him. "Well, anything except Facebook... please don't come up here and talk about Facebook", I added.
The class sniggered. And then came the barrage of questions.
Arnaud: "Can we talk about you?"
Veronique: Can we talk about your birthday?"
Roberto: "Can we talk about your sisters?"
Carla: "Ok. Can I talk about how much I love you?"
Me: "No, you may NOT speak about me, or my life, or me as a teacher, or my sisters. NOTHING about me. ANYTHING else".
So we get to the computer room and after helping some students get settled I see Ariana, a FRENCH-speaking student from Gabon who had been living in China for the past 7 years, reading up on her topic on the Wikipedia site in CHINESE, and then writing out her information in ENGLISH. I tell her that I may be somewhat narrow-minded in this instance, but I've never seen a black woman read or speak Chinese before and I ask her to read it aloud for me. She does, much to everyone's amusement. We pick up our jaws from the floor and I just have to whip out my old Nokia to take a photo:
We take a break, during which I come across a previous student looking less than happy. "What's wrong Juan?", I ask him. He says he's stressed and his t-shirt says it all. I just have to whip out my pathetic cellphone camera again:
Flight Board detailing Flight number + Destination + Information
I walk along the corridor to the canteen and come across a few of the male Congolese students on their break outside the rec room; looking all hardcore ghetto, buffed and pimped out with baggy jeans, over-sized t-shirts, Dr. Dre headphones dangling around their necks along with blinged out skulls and thick neck chains... and Celine Dion's "Because you loved me" blaring from their iPods. You've never seen anything like it. It becomes funnier when they're on their way home packed into their cars like gangsters on the prowl... with a medley of Celine Dion's hits echoing down the road. Je'taime Encore indeed.
I eventually make my way back to the classroom and find myself in the midst of a heated discussion between the African students. The Brazilians are sitting in the corner as spectators, cackling merrily at the unfolding drama.
"What's going on?", I ask. "They're arguing over Africa's problems", Ana-Maria tells me. "In Brazil, we have many problems, but no real concept of race. In Africa it's a little different", she continues.
"So what exactly is the discussion about?", I ask again.
"Teacher, we're talking about corruption and the political problems in the DRC and everyone blames the corruption on the white man... they're the real reason we have all these problems", answers Rosalind.
"Do you really think so?" I ask.
They all agree, including Paulo from Mozambique.
"But what about Paulo?", I ask the class... "isn't he white?"
"No, he was born in Africa, so he's not white", they all concur.
"Is it true Paulo? How do you see or define yourself?", I enquire.
"Well, my father is a white. And my mother is a white. So I am white too. But I am also African. And my country is hot. And I'm in the sun all the time. So no I'm not really white, no."
My sister pointed out to me that no matter what happens throughout my day, I always have a smile on my face when she picks me up to go home. It's never occurred to me before, and I have to attribute it to my students. All of them. There's some real love in these sentiments.