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It's a Long One

I am warning you in advance that this is a long entry. Good luck. Special Note: It is now Dec.1 at 11:34. Crazy how long it took to find a working computer.

13:17 November 30, 2005
So here I am in my room, listening to Les Miserables (while the actual book sits behind the computer screen) and writing the blog that I haven’t even had enough time to think about the past few weeks. Sorry about that by the way. I have honestly wanted to write the past two weeks, but it hasn’t really been feasible. Here is my explanation:

The administration of the school has decided to become more technologically oriented. This would usually be a good thing, but they didn’t have enough pre-planning to realize they would have to teach the older teachers how to use the technology. So all of the professors have to put their grades in the computer. There are about 50 teachers and three computers with the program on it. They didn’t have the program until two weeks ago and grades are due on Friday. In France, you not only give number grades, you also have to write a paragraph on each student explaining why their grade is the way it is (lack of participation, poor comprehension, great ability to communicate ideas, etc). I know that doesn’t sound too scary considering these teachers teach about 16 hours a week (18 being the legal maximum) and only see probably 4 or 5 different classes of around 20 students. However, there are seriously teachers here who couldn’t type their full name if you gave them a minute to find the keys on the keyboard. So this is how come it has taken them ages to get all of their grades in the computer. Plus, no one explained that you could . . . Let’s just say no one explained the program to these poor people. It is really incredible how dumb an idea it was.

In general, this wouldn’t explain why I have been so incompetent at writing in my blog. However, if you consider that there are only three computers in the school with the gradebook program on them, and that they don’t always work, and that they are also the same three computers the teachers have to do all of their regular course work and internet searching on, and that two of them are attached to the only two printers available for the teachers who did manage to get their work done at home, it really limits my availability to get on a computer. Then, I had the added benefit of the ridiculously stupid technology guy deciding this would be a good week to start shutting the internet off after 6pm when the teachers leave – consequently forcing me to only be able to use the computers during the day when everyone is trying to use the same freaking three computers …. Oh, and he has also been absent all week so I can’t even ask him about why the internet is going off at night. (I am using the term "absent" loosely, because he forcibly only has to be here 18 hours a week too, and therefore is rarely here in a week where he doesn’t cancel 6 of his office hours.)

I hope that is a significant explanation of why things have been so backwards lately. Now on to what I have been doing.

Last week being Thanksgiving, I cooked a full four-course meal for three English teachers, two other assistants, the principal, the school manager, and the manager’s family. Twelve people in all, and I have never been more exhausted. I won’t tell you everything that we had, but it was enough that there were significant leftovers. I only burned myself once – which I consider a serious achievement considering I was using the huge cafeteria oven and had forgotten my oven mits. Everyone really enjoyed the meal, and it was everyone else’s first Thanksgiving. I was really proud to be able to share our traditions with them.

This past weekend I was in Paris to celebrate Thanksgiving with Roger and his family. As usual, they were incredibly generous and loving. It is almost like being with super extended family. Their little girl, Olivia asked to be excused the second day I was there, and her mother said no, because there was a guest at the table. She looked around and asked who the guest was. It was so cute. Sunday I helped her with her piano lessons. It was really interesting, because she is using the same book I used as a child. Also, I think my French is better with the kids, because I am significantly more relaxed. Olivia and I are seriously on the same level in language, because I have been studying the language for slightly longer than she has been alive. She asked if I knew all the words in French yet, and I told her that of course I didn’t. At first she was a little shocked. Then she looked up at me and with a straight face said, "Neither do I, yet." It was too cute.

When I got home Sunday evening, there were three partially melted snowmen in the garden. We got 20 cm here in Charleville. Snow totally makes the cold bearable. I ate Thanksgiving leftovers and prepared my lessons for this week. I’ve been teaching about World AIDS Day, which is tomorrow. If you have some, please wear a red ribbon for the rest of the week. Since freshman year the HIV/AIDS campaign has really meant a lot to me, and it is really interesting to bring the cause to France. The United States has been actively involved in the campaign against AIDS since the late 80’s and the memorial day was established in 1988. The UN took over responsibility for the worldwide campaign in 1996 and gave the program to an independent country this year because it has gotten so big. However, like its neighbors Italy and Spain, France wasn’t actively engaged in the prevention campaign. It only started recording and reporting cases of HIV infections in 2003. Spain still doesn’t and Italy only reports in 7 of 20 districts.

One of the most interesting aspects of the anti-HIV/AIDS campaign is the AIDS Day Quilt. It was started in 1987 and includes more than 40,000 12’x12’ panels (5,760,000 square feet – enough to cover a small state I think). At USC I got to help make panels each year to add to the state quilt. That is the tradition I wanted to bring here. We are making a paper quilt that I am going to hang on the wall in the English hallway. We are going to learn all about the history of the day and about the disease and prevention, then they each make a rectangle that I am going to attach together at the end of the week. Next Wednesday after school I am going to show the movie Philadelphia. If you haven’t seen it, it is an Academy Award winning film staring Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, and Antonia Banderas about AIDS and discrimination. Interesting side-note: the music is by Howard Shore. Cool huh? Anyway, I got permission; now all I have to do is make sure I can hook up my computer to the projector in the big hall. I think the school nurse is going to come and be available for questions afterwards as well.

Okay, enough about that. I am going to try to give you quick updates on the past few weekends.
The weekend before T-day (Nov 19-20) I had a big volleyball tournament that was far away. We lost, but it was a great experience and I got to see a whole lot more of the countryside. Volleyball in general is going really well. I love going each week. I wish I had more opportunities to practice actually. I am going to ask one of the PE Teachers if I can borrow a ball from the gym and keep it in my room to practice my setting. Since I am now setting full-time, I think it is really important that I get really good at it. I can’t wait until Caroline comes so she can show them how people really play volleyball. I am never more amazed then when I watch that girl slam a ball down – something that I can’t really do here, because I don’t have anyone to really set me. We’re working on it though. I’ll get used to it.

The weekend before that (Nov 11-13) I was on the choir retreat at Abbaye Notre Dame D’Igny. Because this is one of the longest blogs I have ever written, I am going to put the details about this in a different entry. So, see Champagnules Retreat at the Abbey.

And, I am pretty sure that brings us back to when I was still writing everyday. At least I have been writing in my journal though, so I’ll still have the past few weeks. Oh – and don’t forget to read about Fumay which is where I was on Halloween. (No point in calling this blog about my adventures if I write about everyday stuff and never mention the cool day and weekend trips!)
Okay, I am seriously going now, because I have a meeting in a half an hour to make Christmas cards (fun stuff!). When I get home, I am going to try and get on the internet for about five minutes and post this message – so don’t expect the one about Fumay and the Retreat in the same time … just remember for next time. Then, I have to cut up the red ribbon I bought for my students to wear tomorrow (enough to make 52 ribbons – 1.74 euro – definitely worth the expense if it saves even one of them). Followed by writing the other two blog entries I owe you, dinner, and then volleyball practice. I told you I’ve been busy. Really quickly, speaking of that … I visited the Intendant’s (school manager) wife today, she is the amazing woman who helped me prepare Thanksgiving. She was telling me how strange it was that I fixed Thanksgiving and then moved on to planning the film and ribbons for the kids. Her husband was astounded at it. I’m not saying this to yank my own chain or anything, just that things that would be normal in the states – a project a week – seems like an obscene amount of work here. I wonder what they would say if they ever spent a day in Residence Education and saw how many programs we have in one building at USC. Or if they were to wander into a guidance office in any American high school and see the services available to the students. I think they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves. Yeah for America and our amazing ability to provide a variety of resources for our students. (Figuring we don’t really teach them as well, I think it is really good that we have these other opportunities.) Anyway, this poor blog is coming up on 3 full typed pages and I stopped being used the American keyboard a few weeks ago. I love and miss you all and hope to hear from you soon (if you haven’t died in exhaustion trying to read this entry). Hugs and Kisses, ~Heather

(It is 14:16 now … phew … less than an hour to type all that!!!)