Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ancient Greek and Government Sinecure

Best Beloved has decided to learn Ancient Greek. He has wanted to for a long time – both for the academic exercise and in order to read the Classics in the original, and when I told him that Sophia's and my teacher does Ancient Greek as well as Modern, he asked me to arrange lessons for him.

His first class was yesterday, and I took my car to show him the way, planning to leave after the introductions – he had errands to do in town. But her mother, a sweet woman, insisted that I come and drink coffee, so I did.

We chatted quietly in the kitchen, as behind the curtain I could hear Best Beloved explaining to Kyriaki that although he was proficient in Modern Greek, he had no idea of grammar. “I know what a verb is,” I heard him tell her. “But not much else...”

Androulla and I chatted about various things, and I used the occasion to find out a bit more about our teacher. She's twenty-four, studied philology here and went to Germany for her Masters', and has a variety of students from the area, both children and adults, locals and foreigners. “But that's great!” I said. “Teaching every day like that, both here and in others' homes, she's doing very well. Why on earth would she want to start teaching in a school, especially considering that she could be sent anywhere – Larnaca, Polis...” Graduate teachers here have their name added to the government's master list. Sometimes they wait years to be called to a post. Often they change schools, even districts, every two years – seems like a nightmare to me.

“But she hasn't been picked yet,” her mother said. “Her name hasn't come up on the list...”

“She doesn't need to,” I said. “She's a good teacher, and with a steady clientele, she must make a good living.” Don't forget we're talking mother to mother here, gossiping comfortably in Greek and Cypriot dialect, in the cosy kitchen of a village house.

Her mother looked a bit shocked. “Oh no, Asproulla-mou,” she said, shaking her head. “The benefits... We all hope that she'll be called as soon as possible!” And then I remembered. The vast majority of Cypriots aspire to government jobs. Government work is work for life. It includes health insurance, long paid holidays, guaranteed promotion... and pensions.

“My brother and I worked out that if he were to work in the Private sector,” Best Beloved told me the other day. “He would have to work for one hundred and twenty years to receive the same pension that he gets after thirty in Government service.”

That's why our government is so inflated. Everyone wants to hop on board the gravy train. Few people want to take risks in the private sector – even the brightest chose 'security' over the creativity and risk of their own initiative.

Meanwhile, we are selfishly hoping that Kyriaki doesn't get called any time soon. Best Beloved's text books jostle mine on the table, and I enjoy calling him my 'co-nerd', Sophia's looking forward to Greek lessons for the first time in her life “because I'm actually learning something”, and I'm having a good time as well.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

School Crisis

School is once again at crisis point. The Big Ones are at a private English language school, and have been for the last five years. In that five years we have seen the head teacher change four times and the premises change three. We have stuck with the school for two reasons: there is little choice, we were holding out for the move to the new campus – hoping against hope that all the promises we had heard would be fulfilled.

Each year the fees have gone up. September 2010 saw Secondary moved to a private afternoon college's building because the Department of Education revoked the license due to unsuitable facilities. We watched the new school a-building down the road with scepticism and trepidation – how could it possibly be ready in time?

It was ready – well, sort of. Classes started in the building site, but there were no electricity, no internet, no blinds on the windows, and none of the whiteboards, computer facilities, science equipment that we had been promised. Chemicals for the science labs were ordered two years ago... but they haven't been paid for yet, so students learn their chemistry and physics 'theoretically', without ever performing experiments.

The last days of summer saw the students sweating in glare-boxes, and winter finds them shivering now that the 'solar gain' of this, Cyprus' first ecologically designed 'green' school, fails. A directive has come down 'No hoodies or sweatshirts, scarves, or non-uniform jumpers.' ('But it's cold and the uniform's inadequate!' the children wail.) Oh, and there's still no electricity apart from the generator: something about the Electricity Authority saying that the school must pay for a sub-station, or the Church (who own the site) saying that the school needs to pay more. So the bargaining continues. And, no, there's no transparency, either.

When time came to choose courses for this year, Alex, in his second year of GCSEs managed a workable schedule, and seems happy enough with his course load of maths, sciences, and ICT. Sophia, beginning her GCSE's, was unable to take French, art, or Greek due to scheduling SNAFUs. We have to do those subjects out of school hours because she enjoys them and thus excels. She is less fond of biology and economics – classes that she had to take because of the aforementioned SNAFUs – not because she doesn't like the subjects, but because the teachers are way below par. All last year's biology students – who scored A's and B's on their mock exams – received D's and F's on the real thing: a reflection of poor teaching, and the cause of much angst and devastation among parents and students.

“I started the year determined to work even if the teachers were incompetent,” Sophia said during a tempestuous family discussion last week. “But I can't because I simply don't have time.” Her other extracurricular activities include Taekwando and swimming. “Even if I see the past papers, I am simply not getting the kind of feedback to know if I'm doing the right kind of work!”

Then, one of her two good teachers left just before Christmas. Despite being a department head, he was still on a temporary contract; his wife, also a teacher, was verbally abused by the head of the Primary School; and his children were refused a discounted education despite both their parents being teachers. No wonder he took the High Road and elected to join the ranks of the unemployed when his wife was offered a first class teaching package in the Gulf. His replacement, a young woman, cannot hold a candle to him.

So I am off to see the headmaster this week. I like him and feel sorry for him: he seems like a capable, competent, hardworking and genuine man, but I think that he is being messed around by the directors and will probably not last even the two years that his predecessor managed. I'm going to complain – not because I believe that it will do any good, but because more voices of dissent need to be heard. Those of us who have stuck with the school are really fed up.

In the meantime, Sophia is investigating boarding schools in Britain, and salivating at what she sees. She cannot change for September 2011, but can apply for 2012 when the GCSE course is over. I had my doubts when she broached the subject of leaving, but when we discussed it in depth, I realised that her conclusions mirrored my own when I was fifteen and knew that I would have to leave Hawaii or sink academically, emotionally, and socially. I wound up at Madeira, and never regretted my decision.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Media Fast

Friday is my media fast day. I don't use the computer on Fridays. However acute the temptation to check emails, read the newspaper, or research something, I resist.

The idea originated when we moved into this house and had no Internet. I used the Internet cafe in town and found that I had much more time to get things done at home. No excuse for procrastination lurked in the middle of the sitting room! Then our connection came through, and though I loudly advocated that we remain Internet-free, mine was a lone voice, and I recognised its futility.

I came across the idea of a media fast in Apartment Therapy, a website with something for everyone. My Fridays have been computer-free for about two months now, and it feels great.

Friday is also my no-gym day, so my 'doing' begins at 7.15 after I've put the Little Ones on the school bus at the end of the road. Yesterday was Friday, and I had got all the house cleaning done by Thursday and the garden was ready for weeding, so throughout the morning I alternated between yard work, laundry, cleaning the fireplaces and laying the fires, making olive bread and lemon rolls from Richard Bartinet's Dough.

(Did I remember to blog the news that we're off special diets? Although I heard from several reputable sources that blood tests can contradict bio-resonance for food intolerances, what swung my decision was that there had been no change in either of the Littles' 'symptoms': Zene's bowel problem remained, and Leo is as hyperactive as ever. Diet? What diet? “If it makes no difference,” D, my friendly neighbourhood child psychologist told me. “Don't do it!” Her own now-adult daughter is highly intolerant to many foods, yet her blood work and skin tests showed no allergies.)

Half an hour before the lunch onslaught began yesterday, I even found time to write. Usually my writing, such as it is, is crammed into a dawn half hour before the breakfast rush begins. On days when Best Beloved is not here, my phone alarm plays Lizst at 5.30 and I make coffee on the bedroom kettle and write until six, usually doing some sorts of warm-ups or prompts that I've found on creative writing websites – Writing Forward is a good one. Since I'm usually barely awake and suffering the dulling effects of the evening before's half-bottle of wine, some strange and straggly words often appear on the page.

“It's a great exercise, though,” my friend Lise told me when she suggested writing in the dawn. “It really clears your head out for the coming day.” And it's a great time to jot down dreams...

Another wonderful writing site that I've found recently is Check it out, it's truly addictive – and how I miss it on Fridays!

Blessed silence reigns during Friday mornings. The seething of something on the stove, the crackle and pop of the fireplace. I didn't get too much time to enjoy it before the Littles came rushing in to claim their lunch, but for the whole day I could enjoy the silence in my head: no emails to answer, no newspaper-inspired indignation. No Facebook updates...

Maybe I'll start fasting on Wednesdays, too.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Blog Trophy

Well I'm chuffed.

A couple of hours ago I was busy cleaning the sitting room -- since we found that the in-laws loyal Vietnamese helper has been systematically stealing from us for the last couple of years, I'm not keen to get any more 'help' in -- when my new Mac (Santa was Very Good to me) went 'Ping!' to let me know that I have a message.

The South African website Expat Arrivals was telling me that I had won a blog trophy!

Being of suspicious nature, I didn't answer the email, but checked with the website (How many cyber-muggers have tried to get account details in the past posing as unfortunate Nigerians? What's to stop someone adopting the new ruse of an expat website?) and discovered that the message was legit... The LittleWhite Donkey did not manage to make the Top Ten expat blogs, but is swinging along in the short-list!

What a great way to start the year!