When we are not at our "jobs" (Anna at one of four weekly women's savings group meetings and I at our local health clinic), drinking tea with the neighbors, hauling water from the pump down the street, or at our host family's house hanging out, we try to keep busy with other small projects. One such small project was painting a world map. One time-honored Peace Corps tradition is to paint a world map in a local public space or school. After getting permission from the school director, we were given the wall space in the sixth grade classroom to paint ours.
Why a world map? Other than the fact that we like maps and it was a good way to keep busy for quite a few weekends, it creates a simple educational tool that will stick around in our community for a handful of years. Education in our town is quite robust compared to nearby villages and towns, but is nothing like what we have in the States. Most classrooms are spartan cement buildings. This particular sixth grade classroom holds 74 students, 1 teacher. Students copy all subject matter by hand from the blackboard into a notebook. Textbooks and other materials are almost non-existant. Couple that with most peoples' lack of travel, and you get a limited geography knowledge. For example, I am frequently asked questions like, "how long is the bus ride to America?" or when gone for a long weekend, "how was your trip home to America?" and even more frequently villagers confuse the United States and France as the same place.
We spent quite a few weekends working on our map. Like most things here, it ended up taking longer and being harder than planned. I have to admit that I thought my geography was pretty good before this, and was a little surprised by how little I actually knew. Here is a quiz for you - Without looking, name the following: one island between the African and South American continents; which countries replaced the former Yugoslavia; where is Azerbaijan; what countries border El Salvador; and which US state is closest to Bermuda. If you got two of those right you know more than I did.