Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Teacher training & travel in Guinea-Bissau.

If you ever asked me if I'd ever visit Guinea-Bissau during my time in Senegal (or in the near future), my answer would probably have been no.  Not because I'm not curious -- because trust me, I am -- but because it wasn't necessarily on my radar.  And for geography's sake, Guinea-Bissau is the country directly to the south of Senegal.  Sure, one of my life's goals is to visit every country in the world, but I'd like to be brought to each country for one reason or another.

It's amazing how travel opportunities can present itself when you least expect it.  Rewind to December 2015 during the ATES National Convention in Kaolack.  One of the honored guests was Ali, Secretary-General of the English Language Teachers' Association (ELTA) in Guinea-Bissau.  English language teaching/teacher training was largely supported by Peace Corps Volunteers in Guinea-Bissau, but after some civil unrest, Peace Corps left in 1998.  ELTA was founded, in part, to continue supporting English teachers in their professional development -- and they wanted to use ATES as an example to further strengthen their organization.

After Michelle and I gave our ATES Pre-Convention Workshop on "Teaching Writing in English Language Classrooms," Ali approached us and said he would love for us to come down to Guinea-Bissau and give teacher training sessions to their English teachers...and then it started to unravel (in a good way) from there!

With a grant from the U.S. Embassy and collaboration with the ATES National Board, Michelle and I boarded a short flight to Bissau.  I always find traveling in West Africa to be such an interesting experience.  Flying here is very convenient but also very expensive!  When we arrived, comparing Dakar to Bissau, Bissau is so much calmer and even has a Latin America feel, perhaps because it's a former Portuguese colony.

Michelle and I arriving all sleepy-eyed on our flight to Bissau.  The statue is in downtown Bissau, and the picture on the lower left-hand corner is at the Azalai Hotel. 

We checked in to our fancy hotel, the Azalai, and spent the day catching up on sleep but also preparing for our presentations in the next two days.  For lunch, Michelle and I decided to venture out and find a bar/get some fresh seafood.  Interesting here in Bissau, almost everything seemed imported.  Beer, bottled water, and the like all came from Portugal.  I forgot to mention that Michelle and I speak no Portuguese nor Créole and it was a trip trying to order (which ended up being some of the best fish I've ever had!).  Fortunately, the waiter found an Ivorian guy, Alhusseine, who's been living in Bissau for a couple of years and speaks French. What was just a simple encounter ended up becoming a great thing, as Alhusseine was our sort of social guide/translator for the rest of our stay in Bissau.

The following day on Thursday, Ali and Baio (President of ELTA) had a whole day planned: visiting Tchico Té Teacher Training College to meet the English department; touring a few middle and high schools; seeing a number of private English language institutions; taking a tour of the U.S. Embassy's Liaison/Representative's Office in Bissau (as the Embassy is in Dakar); and walking around Bissau to get an idea of the city.  It was a packed day, but it gave us a better idea of the Bissauan context, particularly as we had our presentations the following day.  Later that evening, our fellow Fulbright ETAs in Ziguinchor (Eura and SJ) as well as some ATES National Board members came down to join us!  Reunion, for sure!  And with Alhusseine, we were able to grab some drinks and he was able to show us around a little bit.

The top picture is at Tchico Té Teacher Training College with some ELTA members and English Department professors.  The bottom picture is 

Fun picture of all of us in a toca-toca, typical public transportation here in Bissau. 

Friday was the big day -- ELTA's National Seminar with about 70 English teachers from all throughout the country.  I'll be honest, there were a couple of differences from how an event in Senegal would've started.  First of all, they started (for the most part) on time and almost everyone had shown up by the stated start time.  And while formalities and long introductions/speeches are the norm here in Senegal, it wasn't the same in Bissau.  Quick and to the point, so we could start with our presentations immediately.  Michelle presented on "curriculum development," I presented on "lesson planning," Eura and SJ presented on "English Clubs," and the other ATES members presented on "professional development and organizational leadership" as well as "writing grant applications."

Michelle, Eura, SJ, and I before the ELTA National Seminar Day. Looking fly, per usual! 

Me presenting on "lesson planning." 

I was impressed at how receptive the teachers were and they were asking some great questions, especially when it came to how they could implement these ideas in their classes!  We had a delicious meal afterward, and had a great night planned -- a dinner and concert out at the national soccer stadium with Alhusseine and his girlfriend, Annabella.  I will say that here in Guinea-Bissau, the rules are a bit more relaxed socially.  Dress is less conservative and there are more instances of PDA with couples, versus here in Senegal.  And the drinking culture is much more liberal here in Guinea-Bissau!  But it was a great night just to enjoy life here in Bissau and celebrate after a successful seminar.

Michelle and I after a long day of presentations.  But still smiling!

 Out with Alhusseine and his girlfriend, Annabella.  Awesome night with good people! 

The following day was spent exploring Bissau with Eura and SJ.  Like I said, it's a very walkable town so we were able to wander and get lost.  Highlights included finding a random Chinese restaurant and exploring the nightlife in Bissau a little more!

However, what Michelle and I didn't anticipate was that it would be a lot more difficult to return to Dakar.  You see, flights are few and far between here in West Africa, but especially to Bissau.  Because Senegal Airlines, our company, happened to dissolve during our time in Bissau, the next flight to Dakar wasn't leaving until a few days after our intended departure date!

The inside of the Guinea-Bissau International Airport. 

Long story short, we were stuck in Bissau but by then, Michelle and I knew how to get around by foot (very walkable and accessible town) and fortunately, less hassle from people trying to sell things compared to our experience here in Dakar.

Overall, a great trip to Bissau.  I would come back again -- in large part because of the delicious food and the hospitality of folks.  I'm quite jealous of the English Language Fellow they'll be sending to Guinea-Bissau next year, as there is a good bit of collaborative work that can be done.  But I know I'll return to Bissau soon!  Até a próxima!