So I arrive at the São João School at 9am sharp. We had to call the director on Friday to make sure he’d have the school open for me to install Etoys 4 on all of the computers, so I was pleasantly surprised when the school was open and ready to go.

I went into the director’s office and took out the computers among the stacks there. Only six to start, as I only had five functioning USB drives anyway. I brought them into an empty classroom, a small crowd of students that were hanging in the schoolyard following me. I make a mental note to get these computers cleaned up- or, even better, to have the students clean them with some damp rags. Even one of the kids following me asked if the computers could be cleaned, because they’re so dirty- that goes to show you that it’s not just me being a neat freak. The computers are just covered in dust, so much that they’ve taken on this really nice orange-ish color. I’m not as annoyed about it as I might be, though- the fact that they are so covered in pen marks and stickers and grime shows that they have been well used, and well loved.

Then I go to grab one of the power strips that the OLPCorps had brilliantly created for the students here. They made just enough for the students- I think there are about 70 or 80 outlets total that I know about. The outlets are a little bit sketchy, to say the least — some of them obviously do not work, as it’s just wire and metal and no plastic area where you plug in. Others are obviously burnt. But I give it a shot, anyway.

I plug the first computer into the first outlet and hold my breath. It works, thank God.

But unfortunately, none of the other nine outlets work until I reach the last one. On the second power strip, one outlet works. On the third, none. On the fourth, two. On the fifth, none.

Maybe I can put Etoys 4 on the computers without plugging them in, I think. But alas- the computers are all completely drained. They all need to be recharged, and now.

And that’s when I knew class would be quite different than we expected.

I think I successfully loaded Etoys 4 onto about five of the computers. However, at about 10:45am I ended up calling Dany in a rut. There’s no way around it besides getting new power strips. I asked Ned how much it might cost to buy new ones. “Oh, I don’t know,” he says. “Maybe 300?”

300 means 300,000 Dobras, or about $15 USD, or about twice as much as it would cost in the States (which sounds about right, as things that are imported- or about 90% of all things- are horribly expensive due to importing and customs fees). I think about his power strip which has about six or eight plugs on it. That’s going to cost me about $150, just to get enough outlets for all of the students at school.

Dany and I steal all of the power strips from the school and throw them in the bed of the truck. Our friend, Faia, comes too. We go directly to the hardware store, counting how many power strips need new plugs, how many new outlets are needed and how much new wire. We count about 16 meters of wire, 13 outlets (these are the plastic parts of the outlets that are ripped off the power strip, and do not include the outlets that look fine but still don’t work) and five new plugs (a number of the power strips don’t even have plugs attached to them anymore– they’ve been literally ripped off the wire). It all rings up to 775,000 Dobras, or about $39.16 USD. When we get home, Faia offers to fix the outlets for another 300,000 Dobras, putting us at a rolling total of $54.32 USD for about seven power strips with eight plugs on each. I’m quite satisfied with this price- it’s almost exactly the same as I would have paid in the USA, maybe even cheaper, and now I’m helping the São Tomean economy so I feel pretty decently good about myself.

But I don’t feel so good when there are 100 students facing me and I have to tell them that class is delayed one more day because, not of lack of electricity, but of lack of power strips!

We do get some good interviews with the kids though (although halfway through the teachers let the kids go play in the schoolyard so it becomes super loud and I’ll probably have to redo all the interviews all over again…BUT it was cool anyway). I asked them a few questions, including:

1. Their names
2. What they like most about computer class
3. Why they feel computers are important in São Tomé
4. What they want to be when they grow up.

Questions #3 and #4 were particularly interesting. A number of students hit the nail on the head about why computers are important in São Tomé. They didn’t say anything about wanting to learn how to type or be good secretaries. They said things like, “Computers help São Tomé to connect with the rest of the world,” and “Computers allow us to think in different ways so we can better our community.” These are 11 year-olds that are saying these things, it’s great!

When I asked what students wanted to be when they grew up, I was expecting a few mixed responses. But the kids had it all figured out. One girl wanted to be an accountant, another, a biological engineer. Two students wanted to be Portuguese teachers. A few of the boys wanted to be computer programmers/technicians. One girl said she wanted to be President. She smiled and blushed, and I told her she can do whatever she wants!!

I was particularly excited to see girls that wanted to be engineers and accountants. I haven’t had the best of experiences teaching females- in an English class that I taught last year for students who were in their late teens and early twenties, the females were very visibly disinterested in school. It was heartwrenching to see them having lost their spark for learning. But these sixth graders still have that spark, and they’re going onto high school. In many ways I am so happy, so thrilled. But in other ways, I feel even more pressured to keep up with them. To not let them fall through the cracks. To not let the fact that the computers are being left behind at São João hurt them.

I feel like I should go investigate the local high school and see what options there are for computer use there. Maybe I can help them grow their program a little more so students won’t feel left behind.

Leaving the school, I had remembered that I rode the motorcycle into the schoolyard (perfectly normal here in STP) rather than pulling over on the road, on the other side of the street, because the road was covered with rocks. Now I would have to pull out of the schoolyard and hang a U-turn without stalling out, getting hit by a car or making a fool of myself.

I made it out perfectly. I’m really getting a hang of this motorcycle, I think.

Little failures turn into little successes.

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