Lost in Translation

I am sure I could have come up with something more clever for the title, something not already starring Bill Murray in a foreign country, but this is where I landed. So far, most of my experiences revolve around the use of very poorly spoken French, so it only seemed fitting....hopefully, I can paint the pictures more accurately in English. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Strock Time

There’s a common thought among those in the more highly developed countries that other, less developed countries operate on a different clock. Hence phrases like, “Oh, he’s operating on Hatian-time. It will be awhile.” Now granted, this idea of a different clock is not without warrant. A friend of mine tells the story of how her father’s village in Mozambique told time by the passing through of an evening train. Train came through…it was 7pm. That’s all they really needed to know. Fair enough. But what's more important to recognize is that there's no space to judge others for their concept of time. Who says we all have to be synchronized on a single, universal clock?

Anyway, let’s assume that Gabon falls into a category somewhere in between tight schedules and loose translations of time. I don’t really know yet how things work here. I’m sure there’s a large variance between the city and rural areas. But there is one thing I am certain of: no one was prepared for Strock Time.

Which bring me to the first day of school.

As a continuation of my verbal photo tour, today we’ll take a peek at the girl’s new school...so here goes.

Unlike good ol’ GLE with the bus stop on the corner, we have to get the girls to and from school every day. We wanted to make sure we allowed plenty of time to get there, especially on the first day, so before breakfast, we looked up the website to make sure we had all of our time right, and sure enough, school started at 7:30. Nora only goes for a half-day of pre-k, so I needed to pick her up at 11:45am while the older girls would stay until 2:45. And so off we went…

Fortunately, it’s less than a 10 minute walk from the hotel, just down the main street. Our walk takes us through crazy traffic, crowded sidewalks, detours around cars parked on the sidewalks, past restaurants, banks, a furniture store, a pharmacy, a few piles of trash, some larger puddles and roadside vendors selling fruit, cigarettes, sodas and phone cards.

The school compound is camouflaged into the cityscape with high concrete walls painted with flags of 20 or so countries and a large solid black metal gate, similar to the villas that line the next several city blocks. Within the gate, there’s a smaller door that we knock on to be let in by Henri, the security guard.

The school itself is an old Marine building; 2 stories with a large grassy yard in the back looking directly out on to the ocean. A metal fence surrounds the compound on the sides and across the back, inside of which there are some playground pieces on one side and a small basketball court on the other. The classrooms are small, but well-equipped.

Currently, about 50 students attend classes between pre-K and 8th grade, while an adult program serves more than 70 students every afternoon. Because of the small class sizes, pre-k and kindergarten share space, 1st and 2nd are together, 3rd and 4th, 5th and 6th, and so on.

This combined class model means, that entirely without my consent, Emma is in middle school. Was not ready for that. I was even less ready for the large, adolescent boys who came thundering up the stairs when the bell rang. They were all over 6 feet with tattoos and mustaches. One of them was carrying a gun, I am certain, but I was more scared by the mustaches.

Now to their credit, when I saw these same boys the next day, the had shrunk, shaved and had their tattoos removed, all of which I appreciated. I am assuming they did it out of respect for me as a mother. But still, middle school. It just seems too soon.

Middle school aside, the girls had a wonderful day. I am supposed to provide lunch and snack, which, of course, I did not have with me. So I ran back to the hotel after dropping them off, threw some things together and got back to Nora snaking Pringles from a classmate. She wasted no time in making herself at home.

All of the teachers seem wonderful. Nora has Mr. Gerard, who, I believe, is Gabonese. Ava’s teacher, Miss Lisa, is an American Army brat who graduated from JMU in 2005 (same year as JoJo and Steve) and had a sister at VT. Emma has a Math/Science/Homeroom Teacher, Ms. Mahdi (has lived all over, originally from North Africa, I think), and a Lang. Arts/Social Studies teacher named Ms. Camille, also American. In addition to Math, English, Science and Social Studies, both girls also have French, Art, Technology and P.E.

And if you’re impressed that they get all of this done between the hours of 7:45am and 2:45pm…you should be. You should be even more impressed that they ACTUALLY get it all done by 1:45pm. I certainly was when on the first day of school I arrived at 2:45 to find that the girls were the only students on the premises and had been hanging out with the principal for an hour. A driver had just pulled up a car to bring them to the hotel, assuming I was not going to show up…ever.

Strock Time. What are you gonna do?

Overall, it’s an impressive start for the school year and I’m thinking it will only get better from here.


  1. Love catching up with the Strock adventures! Hope the girls continue having a great school experience. Wondering, what is the time difference? Or are you really posting at 4am?

    Take care of yourselves!!
    Kristi & David

  2. I wouldn't be surprised if Anna was really posting at 4:00 a.m. but then again it is going to say that I posted this post at some other time then 2:00 in the afternoon too. We are in a time warp!

    But technically Anna you were "on time" right? The school just let out an hour early?

  3. Hey Strocks good to hear from you!

  4. BTW posting this at 8:14am 1/14