Friday, February 24, 2012

A change of websites!

Due to unforeseen technological difficulties, I was forced to change from blogger to wordpress. This means that all future blog posts can only be seen at

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A weekend with the Principal

Just like we planned, Saturday morning I went to the Middle School to go with the learners to Sports Day.  I arrived at 7am, the appointed time and the bus was (shockingly) already there.  We waited for the Principal and a few members of the SGB, and finally left school at 8:15.  I went with the Principal instead of on the bus.  We had to stop in the next village to help a teacher get ready for the day, waited while she ironed her clothes and ate breakfast.  We dropped her off at the stadium, drove on the track looking for a back gate, and finally parked.  I saw Mpho and his schools, we climbed to the top of the stadium seats to talk with him a while. 
Grace had to go back to Delarey for a first aid kit and I went along thinking I could speed her up.  The first thing we do in town is drop off her truck at the car wash.  We walk to the grocery store for snacks, and to the chemists for a first aid kit.  She explains what she wants to the pharmacist, and he gets out a plastic box and starts to fill it with gauze, band aids, disinfectant, and everything else we might need today.  I don’t let Grace stop and admire the new purses or anything, we’re in a rush to get back and support our learners.  We walk down to get bottles of water and go to pick up the car.
At this point, I’m proud that we’ve quickly moved around town and have everything we need.  The car wash people are another matter, they are painfully slow at wiping down the truck, and go over every section 5 or 6 times.  Grace even told them “Oh, I wish you would be finished” and they looked at her like she was crazy.  We spent as much time waiting on a clean car as we spent shopping.
When we can finally get back in the truck and go, Grace tells me that we must first stop by her house to check on her girls.  Her husband is gone to a funeral today and the 7th grader is going with friends, so the 3rd grader will come with us.  We also collect her cooler and her tent so we can have a shade - if only we can figure out how to put it together. 
When we finally get back to the stadium, we park and start to assemble the tent.  Grace kinda knows how it works, and with the help of half a dozed learners we get it up in less than 20 minutes.  The time, noon; the temperature 35°C or 95°F.  Then Grace remembers that she didn’t buy any ice for the cooler.  So off we go again, to buy ice at a local gas station.  She also realizes that now would be a good time to pick up lunch for all the learners who are competing from our school and all the educators who are supporting them.  She’s called the restaurant in a nearby village, and miracle of miracles, the food is all ready and packed up for us to take when we arrive!!  We load it into the truck and head back to the stadium.
Even though the food is in the truck and the learners have come over to the tent to relax, it’s an hour later before Grace decides it’s time to eat.  She passes out boxed lunches and cool drinks and we all dig in.  Afterwards, we all piled our empty lunchboxes and leftovers in the corner, and some local kids can and had their own feast.  Our tent was set up in the parking area, so we really don’t see any of the races or competitions, but we can hear the crowds.  Everyone who walks from the seating area to get a snack or drink passes our tent, and everyone stared at me like I was an alien or something.  When Grace asked why they were staring I used one of my mom’s favorite reasons “they’ve never seen this much beauty in one place before” and she laughed until she cried.
The 3rd grader with us played with my hair all afternoon, and a 9th grade girl joined in.  The Sports Day lasted until after 5pm, and then we had to wait over an hour for the bus driver to show up.  We finally were able to leave the stadium and made it back to Grace’s house exhausted.  I continued to let the little one play with my hair, we ate a light dinner and started to drift off to bed.  The little one and I were lying on my bed watching a movie when she fell asleep, I carried her to her bed, went back to my room and fell immediately into a deep sleep on top of the covers.
Sunday is Church day, the whole family goes to another town to Church.  I don’t know what denomination it was, but the men sat on one side, the women on the other and children in the middle.  I sat in the middle with Grace’s kids.  We were about 20 minutes late, they were already singing, and 2 hours later the singing stopped so the preaching could begin.  I didn’t understand anything, but it was a very passionate delivery.  The preacher read a little card with my bio on it that Grace had written, and he asked me to stand up to be welcomed.  Then he asked me “couldn’t you just call home and have them send us a little something?” while making money hand gestures.  After church outside I heard some woman saying that “now Obama would send them money to live better.”  Unless President Obama reads my blog, I highly doubt that happen. 
We went to Grace’s in-laws after Church.  I greeted everybody and that was the last anyone said to me for 3 hours.  We sat in the hot living room, watched My Sister’s Keeper (I did get asked if I was “getting flu?” when I sniffled at that movie) and ate a nice lunch.  It was 40°C or 102°F inside the house.  I’d asked about doing some grocery shopping while I was with Grace in town, and she had to call her husband to leave early so I could go by the store.  Back at her house we opened all the doors and windows for the breeze that a storm was blowing in and relaxed with the Disney Channel. 
Side note: I’m amazed at how the kids and the adults love Disney Channel and other “kids programming,” it’s like the adults get more satisfaction from a Disney show than the kids do.  I’ve seen my host mom watching Cartoon Network when there were no kids in the house, she likes that stuff.  Adults seem to rather watch it then anything else. 
I tried to show the girls how to make friendship bracelets with embroidery thread a friend had sent me, but they gave up too soon and said they couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t even convince them to try, to keep going.  The parents grilled out and dinner was amazing.  The little one fell asleep on my bed again and had to be carried to hers.  I went to bed early knowing that I’d have to get up earlier than usual to get to the village for school. 
All in all it was not a bad weekend, just a little more stressful than if I would have stayed in the village or went to town on my own.  I appreciate getting away sometimes so it’s nice to have a supervisor willing to host me for a weekend. 

Frustrating Friday

Friday I was going home after school Grace, the Middle School Principal.  I dropped my bag off at her office and told some Grade 9 Learners that I’d be by later to read their journals.  I went to the Primary School and discovered I was being sent to Vryburg with the SGB to make up for them not going on Wednesday.  So 5 of us crowded into a small car and hit the road.
I was under the impression that we just had to drop off our book at the auditors, I would buy a couple of power cords for the computers in the staff room, and I’d be back with plenty of time to read journals.  Alas, it was not to be.  We spent an hour organizing the books at the auditors, the computer store didn’t have everything I needed, and then we had to go to the chemist, the butchers, the grocery store and two different banks.  South Africans walk slowly and are never in any kind of hurry, and everyone in the car also wanted to run their own errands.  I tried to tell the driver that Grace woouldn’t wait on me, she’s always in a hurry to get home Friday afternoons, but no one seemed to take me seriously.  I spent over an hour at the big bulk grocery store watching a cart as a couple men went back and forth across the store collecting food.  It was the first of the month, payday, and so many people were out it was nearly impossible to actually push the buggy through the store.  Did I mention I really don’t like crowds?
We finally finished all our errands, but a trip to town means a treat for lunch, and everyone was excited to eat at a restaurant.  I tried to push for KFC or something fast, but we had to go and sit down at this chicken place inside a gas station.  Classy, I know.  I just pointed to the first thing on the menu; everyone else poured over their 4 options for 20 minutes, and finally ordered.  Then we waited, cooks and cashiers are in no hurry here either, and it felt like forever.  By this time it’s after noon, it’s over an hour drive back to the village, and I believe Grace has left me.  I sent her AA a text complaining, and dug into my meal.
Some friend of the driver’s joined us for lunch, he’s a lawyer and was excited to be talking to an American.  He lives nearish my village and says he’ll take me out for lunch sometime.  I was just like “sure, come by the school and I’ll see you there.”  Not holding my breath for that one.
When South Africans eat, it’s the food first, and then the drink.  So you have to enjoy your meal, then sit back and slowly sip your cool drink (pop) before you can even think about moving on.  It was after 2 before we left Vryburg.  At 3:30 we arrived back in the village at the Primary School.  I tried not to be rude as I grabbed my computer cables and said my goodbyes.  I wanted to rush next door to the Middle School and see if there was anyone still around.
At the school gate I saw a girl walking with the bag I’d left that morning at the Principal’s office. Walking closer, I see she’s with my mom.  Mom is walking back from the clinic with Resego tied around her back and an umbrella protecting them both.  A couple of middle school girls have been recruited to carry her purse and my bag.  She tells me that the middle school is empty and locked up, and that a teacher saw her walking by and handed over my bag when he left school.  So I’ve definitely be left behind in my village. 
We walk home, Resego has an eye infection so he’s really subdued, and Lebo has friends over so I have the evening to sulk.  I watched a couple TV shows on my computer and tried to relax after my frustrating day.  Later that evening I talked to Grace and we decided that I should accompany the Middle School Learners  who will compete at the Sports Day tomorrow, where the Principal will meet me and I can go home with her afterwards.  At least the whole weekend wouldn’t be wasted. 

Long long week

Last week was incredibly long for me.  I think it was a lack of sleep and a lot of new things going on.  Monday the Grade 9 English Educator asked me to help him, so Tuesday we passed out notebooks to all his Learners, explaining that this is a personal journal or diary, to be written in every day.  I wanted them to practice English and see that writing can be fun and therapeutic.  I said I’d read them once or twice a week, leave notes, and ask for more information from them.  Most kids just rolled their eyes at the extra homework and put their books away.  A few asked me questions; journaling is a totally new concept here.
Tuesday was also the first Boys and Girls Club meeting.  I hosted the first meeting of the village’s new Boys and Girls Club.  Percy is going to help me with the Boys part, and sometimes we’ll meet together and sometimes we’ll meet separately.  I’d announced Monday morning at Assembly that all the Middle School students were invited.  Out of 870+ students, 5 came to the library with me. 
It was definitely a smaller group than I’d hoped for, but we had fun.  We made name tags and told a little about ourselves, I explained how I want this club to be a safe and fun place to talk about anything, and then we played cards.  I amazed these girls with my shuffling skills.  One girl showed us a card “trick” (she had us pick a car from a grid pattern on a table and asked us which row and column it was in, and then she magically chose our card) and so I decided it would be safe for me to show one too.   Mine was a bit more complicated and left the kids speechless. 
I’m planning on a Boys and Girls Club meeting every Tuesday at the local library.  The women who work there seemed excited about it, I think they are supposed to be reaching out to members of the community but they don’t know how.  They asked me lots of questions, got an attendance list of our meeting, and offered to help in any way they could.  I’m excited about all this.
Wednesday marked five years since my dad died.  I went to bed thinking Tuesday night about it and woke up Wednesday morning feeling really sick.  I went to school and sat cross legged in a chair in the office reception area with my head in my hands.  The deputy Principal sent a teacher to buy me some antacids and decided that I’m too white to handle this heat.  Right.  I was supposed to go to Vryburg with some of the SBG members, but the only guy who had a car is this really sleazy man who no one really likes.  When the Principal saw my face he pulled me into an office to tell me how they were going to stall the trip and I should please go home and rest.  He even called the Middle School Principal to tell her I was unwell.  I gladly went home, changed into shorts, turned the fan directly on me and slept the day away.  Maybe it was all in my head, but I’m glad I got to relax that day and my supervisors understood.  I ate a special dinner in memory of my dad that night.
Thursday I went back to school to find that it was Sport’s Day, and that all 4 schools from my village would gather in a field behind my Primary School to race and determine the team of Learners who would go on to compete at a Cluster Competition this Saturday.  So I walked around a little and then sat under the tent the teachers had put up in the middle of the field.  The men were all out organizing races and the women were all under the tent recording runners and statistics.  I just sat, watched the 2000+ kids, and got stared at a lot by the kids from the schools I don’t work at.  The kids crack me up, they don’t care, no modesty, I saw boys and girls just strip and change their clothes in the middle of the field.  No big deal.
Friday deserves its very own post.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Saturdays are my favorite!!

I know I've mentioned the Middle School AA, Percy, a 20-year-old guy here in the village who would be my best friend if men and women were allowed to be friends in this culture. (If you are “friends” with the opposite sex it means you're sleeping with them.) Anyway, he has older sisters, girls close to my age. I've been missing just hanging out with friends, I miss going to hang out at someone's house for movies and games. So I've been bugging Percy to introduce me to his sisters so I can have friends my own age; Lebo is great, but conversations with 10 year olds leave a lot to be desired. This Saturday Percy finally agreed that I could come over. He gave me vague directions to his place, but a pink house isn't too hard to find around here. There were some middle-school-aged cousins in the yard who only giggled at me, and 2 sisters inside. One woman has a 2 year old boy, and he ran around like mad, humming as he pretended to drive a car. He found his mom's phone and tried to take a picture of me, so she took a picture of us together for him.
The little one's mom seemed shy, or unsure of her English maybe, so she didn't have much to say to me. The other sister, Vinnette, talked with me some, and Percy joined us to watch a couple movies. We had Coke and cookies, since guests must always be given some food and drink, and enjoyed a James Bond movie and a chick flick. The little boy fell asleep on Percy and didn't wake up until I was leaving, even then he was still too bleary to care if I stayed or went. Percy walked me halfway home, with a short cut to my house that allowed him to stop by a shop before he went home. It was a casual day, really laid back, but it was so nice to have a reason to walk around a new part of the village and have somewhere else to be. I like my family, my house and my room, but there's nothing like getting out and having plans with friends.

Walking home I passed a wedding and was called over by some of the guests. By that time of the day, the only guests left were old men and young couples, drinking away. A few people talked with me, the level of English skills and drunkenness was really amusing. I only stood outside the compound gates and let people come to me, I probably really offended the family by not coming inside, but since I was trying to get home before dark I never made it inside. A man who's somehow related to my family came out and offered me a ride home. He was only slightly drunk, and our ride was uneventful. He stayed to visit a few minutes to visit my parents and I went outside to play Uno with my brothers and one of their friends. It was a great day.

Week 2

Week 2 began this way:
At the Primary School I showed the new AA all the computer systems I've been working with and definitely overwhelmed her.  The Principal, like most South Africans, cares too much about looks, he wants everything to be pretty (First World gleam over Third World reality) so he had the two of them spend all morning making the perfect cover pages and pasting wrapping paper on the jackets of notebooks.  Seriously used ToysRus Christmas wrapping paper to cover the books the department sent.  I've seen almost every kid's notebook similarly covered, so I know they get taught this young.  When I pointed out that they were wasting valuable time, making the school's Log Book look unprofessional and giving this toy store free advertisement, David looked sheepish and held off covering the rest until I'd left.
Mrs. B wants me to teach her class, so I asked to look at her lesson plans.  Luckily for her, the DOE sends out lesson plans now for all Primary Maths classes.  Sad but true, she hadn't even opened the binder yet.  Four days into the school year and she was surprised to learn that her students were supposed to be practicing multiplication tables with flash cards.  Once I explained what flash cards are and how we could have the students make them, she decided I should go alone to class and do that.  Again, I explained Co-Teaching, and she decided I was gonna be too much trouble to work with.  Too late, I'm asking her everyday now what classes she has and if she's ready for them.  This was our last conversation of the day:
Me: Mrs. B, why aren't you in 5A maths right now?
B: The period is over.
Me: No it isn't, not until 10:50.
B: I think the period is over.
Me: You had me type up the schedule 5 times last week, I know this period isn't over until 10:50.
David started laughing and she got embarrassed.
B: I have to go to a meeting.

At the Middle School, the Principal was already gone to a meeting, and when the cat's away the mice will play, so most of the teachers were goofing off in the copy room.  I helped the AA register a few new learners for school and then sat in the staff room to be sociable with the most calm teachers.  Sitting near me was one of my favorite teachers there because of his fun attitude and personality, but he still seems to get work out of the learners.  We started talking about the Bible and moral issues and I'm sure he thinks I'm a terrible person.  What I said conflicted with everything he's grown up believing in and he didn't know how how to handle it.  I said people should honor their own sexuality and respect their bodies by limiting their partners (few black South Africans are monogamous and some of the middle school teachers here brag about their own adultery).  Also I defended gay rights.  I will probably be stoned when I walk into that school yard tomorrow.  Not really, but I am for sure the only person in this village who'd say such shocking things. 
Speaking of adultery, another of the (married) male teachers came in and asked me to help him with Grade 9 English this year, since that teacher up and transferred schools last week.  I said I'd help, I'd Co-Teach with him.  So he bent down until we were eye-to-eye, put his hand on my shoulder, and said he could bring me the Grade 9 English book to my place tonight.  No words can adequately capture my horror and disgust, but I kept it professional with something like “I'll look at it here tomorrow.  What class are you supposed to be in right now?” 

Since there was no work for me to do and I felt like I needed a hot shower, I went home about an hour before normal where I continued the massive re-organization of my room and put the finishing touches on my mosquito-net-turned-window-screening I'd started yesterday.  Resego came to play catch with me, we didn't have a ball so we used his hat.  I was left home alone for a while and somehow the gate opened and our sheep and the neighbors cows came into the yard.  I'm an expert shepherdess now, so that was no big deal to me.  After dark, 2 boys came for homework help.  They brought their classwork assignment, but no pen or paper to write on.  We borrowed supplies from Lebo and mom had to translate, because even by Grade 8 most kids here don't have the English skills to communicate effectively.  Which really sucks come test time, since all the exams are written in English.  Anyway, they had been given questions but no lecture, no answers, and no book.  I ended up telling them to come for help during daylight hours next time, to talk to the teacher in the morning and if they still needed help to meet me after school and we'd go to the encyclopedias at the local library tomorrow.  Another Monday, another fine start to the week.

Hanging out with Americans

Technically Vryburg is my Shopping Town, but for Mpho and I, it's easier to get to Mafikeng, the capital of the North West Province.  Last week was only the second time I'd ever been there, but we met up for a very nice day.  We walked across the city, for me it was a reminder of where the Game Mall and other shopping centers are.  Mafikeng is phenomenally better than Vryburg, it's ashame that not more PCVs can get there with us.  We ate sushi and decided to go explore another mall that Mpho's former PCV told us about.  The walk was at least a three kilometers, partly across this narrow bridge that didn't leave much room for pedestrians.  We passed a stadium that hosted a couple of games from the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup and ended up in Mmabatho, another city.  The mall there was big, but obviously had seen better days.  Still, there was lots to see and several grocery stores.  We stocked up and prepared for a cookout at his place later, caught a local taxi to the rank in Mafikeng and waited.  It was the last taxi towards our villages and we were only harassed for money 4 or 5 times in the hour it took the taxi to fill.  The ride was eventful, lots of people talked to us, the taxi hit a bird, almost hit a schoolgirl, and avoided oncoming traffic in construction zones by weaving through cones and ditches.  I'd been BBMing with Dineo, Mpho's girlfriend, as she was trying to surprise him when he got back from shopping.  There was a slight misunderstanding and the taxi ended up blowing right by her as she was waiting outside Mpho's village, and she had to walk the 2k to his house.  Sorry, Dinny.

It's a hassle getting in and out of my village, but I love going to Mpho's place to hang out.  It's so amazing to be with other Americans, to speak at a normal pace and not have to explain everything all the time.  Mpho, Dineo and I played cards and had a good time together.  Mpho's a professional chef compared to me, and he made great tuna melts for lunch.  Tshiamo came in the afternoon and brought us snacks, fruit and cheese and crackers.  We had an amazing time, food and friends is really all it takes to make PCVs happy.  We played Balderdash for a couple of hours before I had to go.  The car back to my village had a little trouble, we never got above 40 kph and had to stop twice to pop the hood and let the men poke around.  But I made it home before dark.

A calm Sunday followed, with me doing some laundry and teaching Lebo how to play Uno.  He understands it well, but gets easily distracted and has to be reminded that it's hit turn to play.  I enjoyed it, and am looking forward to more Uno filled evenings.