Hello world! I'm on the way back to site from Mamou, where we held our In-Service Training (IST). All of the Guinea Education volunteers were reunited for the first time since our swearing-in in September. In between our numerous training sessions, we shared both horror and success stories from our time at site so far (4 months, ah!).

This past month at site has been fast and busy, complete with visits from the Prefet of Lelouma (my Prefecture, kind of like a district), weddings, more hair braiding, more weddings, and cooking lessons.

The first week after the Christmas vacation was a scramble to finish exams and the reporting of grades required by the Department of Education here in Guinea. With a new system for grades implemented this year, my colleagues struggled to finish calculating and organizing all of our school's grades by January 10th, the day were we given to "proclaim the results". Each teacher charged as "Professeur Principal" of a grade (7th-11th) had to hand copy, average, and rank each students grades in each subject on serval master copies, then fill out what is basically a report card ("bulletin de notes") by hand, for each individual student. With dozens of kids with the same names, no excel spreadsheets or grading program dozens, and sometimes ninety students to a class, this task isn't easy. I helped with the workload, and we were scrambling to finish the subject rankings until the last five minutes before we were supposed to start proclaiming the results. The parents of the students who had come to the event could still see the hundreds of numbers we had scribbled on the chalkboard when they arrived. Next semester, one of my colleagues is handing over the responsibility of "Professeur principal" to me for the 11th grade class. Citing that it would be a "good experience" for me, I accepted happily, but I'm sure the other teacher is also happy to lighten his workload a little.

I've been visiting several small villages that my students are from (several miles away- some of my students actually do walk five miles to school each day, uphill both ways, in plastic flip-flops!). I spent a recent Saturday in one small village where I was given gifts, taken to the elementary school, shown inside lots of houses, and had my hair braided one again- this time over the course of four hours! I felt like a princess, especially after the cheers of parents on my arrival and after one of my students told me, "Mme, tout le monde est content de vous avoir ici!" (Mme, everyone is so happy you're here!).

Another visit to a different village for a student's wedding involved me biking behind my teacher friends' motos up a rocky, unpaved mountain trail. I arrived finally, sweaty, disgusting, and out of breath, while my colleagues smiled, amused from their motos. Following the Peace Corps "no moto" policy is no funo sometimes. Being the early afternoon, it was extremely hot, and we we're fed numerous meals as we visited the bride and grooms families' houses. When my stomach was stuffed with more African rice, yogurt, and potatoes than I ever thought I could handle, I was charged with carrying back all the gifted bananas given to the teacher group in my backpack, back down the mountain on my bike. The ride was a little scary, but if I didn't break at all over the rocks, I found I could go faster than the motos back down to our village. Take that, lazy moto riders. The next day, a member of the wedding party came to see us with another meal in our honor, and the teachers gathered together to eat more, once again.

Besides being stuffed by the community, classes are going well in the new year, and my students are getting more adapted my different teaching methods. I got my 8th graders to rap about amoeba division in biology, and my chemistry classes are competing to balance equations, which isn't even a part of the Guinean curriculum, but it's something they should know (in my professional opinion.)

Books for this month have varied from the deep and moving (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) to the culturally important (The Real Face of Islam, Jane Austen stuff, Persepholis) to the culturally not-so-important (Twilight 4- Breaking Dawn). Oddly enough, four female volunteers in the Fouta (me included) had never read the Twilight series before coming to Guinea, but we've all caught the romantic vampire bug since moving to rural Africa. Tensions ran high at IST, however, with the four of us scrambling to finish the books and pass them on to each other. Knowing we won't be able to see the last movies for the next few years is a little disheartening, now that we've all jumped on the Twilight train (after resisting for so many years). The crazy dreams from my anti-malaria drugs are definitely a good substitute for the movies now though. In them, I've seen more than enough vampires, not to mention man-eating crocodiles, house invaders, hunger-games-esque competitions in Guinea, and spacemen.