Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Watching paint dry was never so interesting

There are two ways to draw a world map. The first is with an overhead projector: you make a copy of the world map and then just project it at the wall. Simple, easy, concise. It requires an over-head projector and electricity in the art space to work. We have neither. So we’re doing the second method – the grid method. Using meter sticks to measure out 7cm squares across the 2mX4m space and then using the world map drawing provided by PC, copy each individual block onto its corresponding grid box on the map. After drawing the initial blue rectangle (mirroring creation, we begin the world with water before shaping land masses), we drew the first vertical line (not grid, the first LINE) along the side and the first horizontal line along the bottom in three hours. We didn’t have a leveler so each line had to be measured every inch or so to make sure it was still straight and then compared with hanging weighted strings to make sure that the vertical line was still straight. To repeat, two lines took 3 hours. Three hours. There are approximately 100 lines on the grid. The assistant principal stopped by to see our progress and politely and quietly explained that if we wanted to finish the grid, not to mention the entire map, by the end of this year, we should try something new. Taking the string we were using to check vertical straightness, we covered it with classroom chalk, stretched it across the wall from our starting to our ended points, then snapped it against he wall. The chalk on the string bounced onto the wall and made a perfectly straight line between the two points. Then all we had to do was trace along the chalk lines with pencil. Three of us working non-stop finished the entire grid in another three hours and on day 3 we could actually begin drawing the map.

The World Map Project began in 1988 when a Peace Corps Volunteer, Barbara Jo White, while waiting for a bus in the Dominican Republic was inspired to get kids interested in geography by drawing a world map on their school wall. The idea spread across the Dominican Republic and then across the PCV community until it became an iconic part of the PC organization. Until this year, each PC training group in Turkmenistan was required to draw a world map at their training site school. The program stopped when schools who had hosted multiple training groups mentioned they were running out of wall space. I am the first volunteer in Baharly, however, so this is a new task for us all.

Thankfully, I’m not taking it on alone. Although PC provided all of the materials and I’m the only one who can read the instruction manual, the project is being led by my English teaching counterpart and local Wonder Woman, Altyn, and carried out by her three student recruits: Batyr, Shamahammet, and Yurin, two 10th graders and one 8th grader singled out for their artistic ability. Working an intensive five days, three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon, we drew in the continents and countries with pencil, went over the lines in Sharpie (our efforts hampered by having only one marker for the five of us), and then painted in the nations. As I write this, we’re nearing completion of the final stage: writing in the names of the countries in Turkmen. We had hoped to finish up last week, but my first bout of major stomach illness (the doctor thinks it was salmonella) sent me to Ashgabat for two days of recuperation and map efforts stalled in my absence.

Throughout the process I’ve been reminded of how important this map will be for the kids and for any visitors to the school. During the pencil outlining stage, one of my artists got off the grid by two squares, twisting China into an unrecognizable shape and making all of SE Asia appear on the wrong side of India. And here’s the clincher: no one noticed anything wrong until a good two hours of work was completed and I finished class to come check on it. Anyone with any familiarity with the shape of the world would have noticed that something was up immediately and double-checked the grid numbers. Our biggest blunder, ironically, occurred with the placement of Turkmenistan: one of the artists was so excited to draw his home nation that he forgot about Afghanistan and all of Central Asia was pushed out of kilter. We didn’t notice the problem until after we’d gone over it in Sharpie so Turkmenistan and its neighbors are a bit messier than the other parts of the world. After seeing what happened to SE Asia, I drew all of Africa myself to make sure that it got the appropriate care and attention. My drawing skills aren’t spectacular, but, like so much of this project, it’s the thought that counts.

My hope is that this map will inspire children to learn more about the world around them, ask more educated questions than “is Germany a neighbor of America?” and begin to see their lives as part of a greater landscape than their immediate surroundings. It’s possible that I won’t see the effects of the map within my brief time here, but hopefully future volunteers here will reap the benefits of students and parents with a greater world perspective and wider ambitions.

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