It now seems like a blur; it all happened so fast.
It actually started with frantic last minute preparations the day before when for the first few hours everything seemed to go wrong. Our car broke down so we had to walk to work, the truck with doors and windows for the teachers houses (and one last piece of roof for the latrine) was stuck on the road from Libreville, it started raining so we couldn’t paint and then 35 students arrived with nothing to do but mill around.
But the sun came out. We picked up our tools and went to work. We finished painting the last of the teachers houses, Drew and Claire put up the blackboards, the students cleaned out the classrooms and picked up debris outside (lots of it), Christian and Nico went to work on the windows when they finally arrived, and volunteers from town were cutting the grass in front of the school.
Then the people from Libreville started arriving. These included Bob and Gaston, our principal organizers, as well as the committee of people from Sam who were now living in Libreville and have been very supportive of the project.
Inauguration day started leisurely, something we were not so used to after six weeks of early rising and off to work. We ditched our work clothes and headed to the site for readiness. By the time we got there, desks and chairs lined the outside just as palm fronds lined the entrance to the school. The Gabonese workers were putting in the windows on one house. Then we realized we hadn’t put up the name of the school, or the plaque, so Drew and Christian got to work on that.
We set off for Doumandzou to celebrate the completion of the school latrines and the world map mural. Dick explained various aspects of the latrines and Nguema demonstrated the “tippy” for washing hands after use. These turned out to be real models of sanitary latrines for schools. Incredible effort, and Dick made sure to mention our sponsor, Water Charity, in his remarks.
After a toast, we hopped into the caravan of cars for the 30 minute drive back to Sam. People were waiting for us as we pulled up. In one of the classrooms was a tremendous feast with drinks for everyone. As the last group of Sam dignitaries arrived, people formed a long receiving line. Drummers led a women’s choral group as we all walked up to the school.
Then, a surprise. Emerging from one of the teachers houses came a dancer in a white costume wearing a traditional mask. The place became electric: children shouting, people getting out phones and cameras as the dancer and his handlers cleared a path for his approach to the drums. Part jokester, he approached people to dance with him, and Gaston, Drew, Giselle, Mary and Claire obliged to everyone’s amusement. (That video will go viral.) A major highlight.
How do you top that? You don’t, but we tried to with speeches. Boniface (the head of the local committee,) the representative from the Ministry of Education, and John made brief presentations. Drew helped Giselle unveil the plaque. The plaque mentions Marshall Erdman, the original designer of the Peace Corps schools, so, at the request of people in the crowd, Bob explained a little of the history of the first Peace Corps schools with the young architect from Wisconsin who came to Gabon to come up with a practical, aesthetic design that still stands out across the country, with buildings readily identifiable as “les ecoles Americains.”
Then the feast and the farewells. Both lasted into the night and moved around the village. When we collapsed that night, we were tired and overwhelmed. Too many emotions.
A day later, we are in Libreville, preparing for our departures tomorrow. There are a few remaining touches that our Gabonese counterparts will finalize over the next week or so.