13 November 2008

Decimals, pies, and zebras

Kaiao, Mike, and I went to the refugee's house again tonight - I fell asleep on the way there, since it was already dark. But I woke up to change into civies and stayed awake for the rest of the time. I brought up the pointlessness of Daylight Savings Time - a topic which had apparently been discussed at length while I slept.

When we arrived at the house, the Jehovah's witness ladies were there, and this time, a teenage girl was with them, helping the kids with homework, trying to explain to Pascal what decimals and rounding was. A graphic showing full bars and bars .9 of their height helped; I worked with him from there. It was difficult for him to see 3.9 as one number and not '3' and '9.' It took me a while to explain the difference between a decimal point and a raised dot used to indicate multiplication, but once he figured that out, we were home free.

Which meant we practiced English vocabulary - something he was very good at. When we got to the food section, we made frequent trips to the kitchen to point at what we were talking about: apparently there are no cherries or pears or - gasp! - pies in Burundi. So next time, I'll have to bring them a pie. It's Thanksgiving, all. And Pascal did know what 'gasp' meant. The man deserves a pie.

But when we got to animals, he knew exactly what zebras were. I asked him if he'd seen them in Africa, and he gave me a look like "Of course, you silly American." And lions and giraffes.

He had another opportunity to give me the 'silly American' look: ice skating. Since there's no ice in Burundi, I explained how we strap blades on our boots and slide around on the ice. I mean, when you think about, it is pretty silly.

But, silliness aside, there's something deeper here: this family had no time for ice skating or pies or even decimals. They had more important things to worry about. Namely, staying alive. They couldn't survive with distractions.

Can we?

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