On Friday, following various complaints from teachers regarding the dirtiness of the school as a whole and the rooms in particular, one of my colleagues launched "Operation Urahafu Na Unono", or "Operation Cleanliness" in the school. This operation had already been decided upon by the town hall in Mamoudzou as a day when volunteers and schoolchildren would help clean the town, and she wanted our school to participate in its own way.
The idea was that for the first half-hour or so, teachers would keep the kids in the classrooms with them and clean the rooms together, picking up papers and cleaning windows and floors. Then, for the next hour to hour-and-a-half, we were to take them outside and clean the grounds around our classrooms.
In practice, as was to be expected - this is Mayotte after all - it didn't quite work like that.
First, we were to listen to a speech from the deputy headmaster. Unfortunately, his rather small microphone and amplifier system wasn't powerful enough to make him heard over 1500 shouting children. My kids screamed in my ears that they couldn't hear anything, and I couldn't get them calm enough to hear anything myself and then explain it again, so I took them back to the classroom and made it up as I went along.
Picking up the papers in the classroom took all of three minutes. It's a pretty clean classroom. Then, having no further instructions as to what to do next, I took them all outside and instructed them to pick up papers and whatnot. An outcry went up: we don't have any gloves, no way am I picking that up with my bare hands. I started picking up bits and bobs with them, explaining that it didn't matter, we would wash our hands later. About ten minutes later, a group of kids came round with buckets, sponges, a couple of plastic bin liners and two brushes. We took the lot, filled the buckets with water, got a few of the girls busy cleaning the windows, gave plastic gloves to everyone - one glove each, there aren't enough gloves to go round - and sent the others to clean up outside. They promptly ran off in opposite directions, so I discounted that as general mess, helped the girls who weren't tall enough to reach the tops of the windows and showed one of the boys how to sweep the floor without letting all the dust back in.
By the time that was roughly finished, I had lost about two thirds of my students and had spent the last half hour sending various kids to ask for a mop, answering all sorts of housework-related questions and dispatching kids all over the place to request more gloves, brushes, bin bags or whatever it was there wasn't enough of. I went to fetch my phone, which has been acting as a camera since last week's shipwreck claimed my real camera, and took photos of the kids I met around the school.
Kids here love having their photos taken, and Friday was no exception. They posed for me with gloves and bin bags, giggling and trying to squeeze as many of them as possible onto the photograph. I found they really entered into the spirit of the clean-up day, competing for the fullest bin bag and proudly posing with their huge bags. Unfortunately, stealing is never far from the minds of several Mahorese kids. Some of my pupils had succeeded in filling their enormous bin bag, but then they let it out of their sight. Next thing they knew, another group had stolen it. You see, there were prizes for the heaviest bin bag and for the cleanest classroom. They came wailing to me, then when I obviously couldn't do much about it, they philosophically filled a second bin bag. (Yes, you can fill bin bags philosophically!). It only weighed 4kg, though, so no prizes there.
We didn't get the prize for the cleanest classroom, either. My classroom is on the ground floor. The kids upstairs had "mopped" the floor of their room using the brush and plenty of water, and we discovered through the persistent dripping of dirty water down our classroom wall that the building wasn't waterproof. That particular room is now worse than it was when we started.
Emeline, Laïla, Chaharazadi and Nabaouya.