February 2, 2002
This is a letter I wrote to my friend Noelle's second grade class. They are my official correspondents, but I thought those of you with kids might enjoy sharing something written a bit more on their level.
Dear Mrs. _______ Class
I am so happy to share part of my life in Africa with you! My name is Kate Whitmore, and I am in the Peace Corps in Cote d'Ivoire, West Africa. My town is called Taabo. There are about 10,000 people here. I am the only American. In fact, I am the only person in the whole town with white skin!
There are lots of languages spoken here. Some people know a little English, but not very many. Almost everyone speaks French. Do you know any French? Maybe you can learn to say hello and goodbye in French like we do here. Hello is "bonjour". Goodbye is "au revoir".
Besides French, people speak a traditional African language too. The language you speak depends on where your grandparents are from. For example, maybe your grandparents were from the north, so you speak Dioula. Or maybe, like my next door neighbors, your grandparents live in the east, so you speak Abigi. There are more than 60 African languages in Cote d'Ivoire. Some people can speak three or four of them. How many languages can you speak?
I want to tell you about the kids in 2nd grade here, since that's what grade you are in. Second grade is called CP2. The kids have lives sort of like yours, and sort of different. Maybe while Mrs. ________ reads this letter, you can imagine in your mind what a day in Africa is like.
The kids get up around 6am and start cleaning the house. They eat the breakfast that their older sisters have made. Then they take a bath and get ready for school. Everyone wears a school uniform. For the boys it is tan colored shorts and a white shirt. For the girls the uniform is a blue and white checkered dress.
School starts at 8:00. At 12:00 the kids come home for lunch. They don't have to be back at school until 3:00, because it's so hot in Africa. From 12:00 to 3:00 is the hottest part of the day, so you just relax, stay in the shade, and try to keep cool. The kids come home and eat lunch, then they take a nap or relax, take another bath, and go back to school. If their clothes are dirty from playing outside in the morning, their moms probably wash their uniforms before they go back to school.
School is over at 5:30. The kids come home and help cook dinner or play. They play cars or house or running games, just like American kids. But the kids here don't have toys. No toys! Instead, they build toys out of sticks and cans, or make up games in their heads. They like to dance and sing too.
After dinner, the kids clean up from dinner, do their homework, and then go to bed.
Does that sound a lot like what you do on school days? Sort of? Well, let me tell you some differences that you probably didn't think of.
When I said the kids eat breakfast that their older sisters have made, did you think of cereal? Or pancakes? Or eggs? There is no special breakfast food here. Mostly the people eat the same things for breakfast as they do for lunch or dinner. That might be rice or potatoes.
When I said the kids take a bath before school, did you think of a bathtub? Or a shower? Here there are no bathtubs, and showers are only for adults. For kids, they fill up a bucket with water and soap. Then the kids stand outside in the backyard and take a "bucket bath." No one is embarrassed because they are outside naked taking a bath, because that's what all the kids do!
When I said their moms wash their clothes if they are dirty, did you think of a washing machine? No one here has a washing machine or a dryer either! They fill up a big bucket with water and laundry detergent, then wash everything by hand. To dry it, you put it on the clothesline outside and the sun has it dry in a jiffy.
Do you or some kids you know ride a bus to school? There are no school buses here. Some kids live very far from school and they have to walk more than one hour to get to school. But learning is so important for Africans that they don't complain. Are you wondering why their parents don't drive them to school if it is so far? There aren't very many cars in Africa! In my town, only about 20 families have cars.
I have a bike. Hardly any kids have bikes, and I am the only grown up lady in my town who rides a bike. People think bikes are just for men and boys, not for girls or ladies. Can you believe that?
So, that is the life of a 2nd grader going to school in Africa. Oh - one very special thing I forgot to tell you is that there is no school on Wednesdays! That's right. The kids go to school on Monday and Tuesday, then on Thursday and Friday. On Wednesdays the little kids play all day, and the older kids either clean house or do the cooking.
In my next letter, I will tell you more about Africa. I can't wait to get a letter from you to share with the CP2 class here. They want to have friends in America, just like you want to have friends in Africa!