By Roseline Souebele
According to the Congolese system, students must pass state exams in certain years in order to advance through the grades. Elementary students have to pass the Certificate of Elementary and Primary Education to move on to middle school. At the end of middle school, they have to pass the First Cycle Study Certificate to move on to high school. Finally, they have to pass the high school diploma or baccalaureate to go to college or university. Children start school at age 6, and it takes 12 years to finish high school.
Schools generally open in October and close in July each year for the long dry season, which extends from June to September, with September being the warmest month. During much of the long dry season, it is cold enough for people to wear sweaters, and even get sick with a cold, cough, or flu.
The long holidays are met with joy by students who have spent nine months studying hard in what are sometimes extreme conditions, often without resources or libraries for research, and with poor internet connectivity.
Depending on family resources, students make vacation plans. Some attend vacation work camps to learn skills ranging from computer science to pastry. Others may open a small business, such as selling oranges, or frying and selling sweet potatoes on the street corner. For some, holidays mean activities like Girl and Boy Scout camps and outings. Some young people may travel out to the villages to stay with grandparents or other relatives. These teenagers travel alone, or perhaps with younger siblings in tow. Sometimes adults go with them, other times not.
Life in the villages is fun for the young people. They can fish, hunt, swim and dive in the river, and sit around the wood fire at night, enjoying the tales told by the wise men of the village. And everyone enjoys the nice weather away from the pollution of the big cities. The long vacation periods are times of great reunion. Many students travel from villages or other rural areas to large urban centers to attend school, and stay there throughout the period school is in session. So for these students, the long holidays mean returning to the family, enjoying the love of parents, and tasting the succulent dishes prepared by their mothers. Favorites for many young people are made from beans and rice, or chicken.
But the holidays are not synonymous with pleasure alone. There is the noise and bother of younger brothers and sisters, and the bother of housework. Many parents who gave students a break with chores during the school year, so they could focus on their studies, demand more help during the holidays. There is dish washing, grocery shopping, and sometimes cooking, depending on the age. Students who have been waiting for vacation to sleep in long hours and spend time doing nothing but playing with friends may sometimes be disappointed by the reality. But in general, everyone is happy during the vacation. Parents have more help at home, and children have less pressure, and more fun. Long live the holidays!
Roseline, former Hope House resident, now lives independently in Portland, works as a Certified Nursing Assistant and as an interpreter at the House of Languages, and is a nursing student at Southern Maine Community College.