New site & Drakensbergs

New site & Drakensbergs
These are the mts from our village

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Season in South Africa

December 14, 2011
Another PCV in our group forwarded a very interesting article written by a recently returned PCV from Africa. The title “What The Peace Corps Taught Me About Failure” sounds negative but it is actually a very positive article and reflects some of the things I have felt working here in South Africa” Here is a link -

The weather here has continued to alternate between sunny days with highs over 110°F to cloudy days in the 80sor 90s.  Luckily the sunny days are usually low humidity.  I’ve been so busy at school that I haven’t had as much time to work in the garden.  The first plantings are more or less done (still getting some Swiss chard from the first planting) and the carrots I planted are now big enough to eat and pretty sweet.  I was surprised how big one was that I pulled up the other day.  New tomatoes about to flower, a second crop of dill and basil.  Richard found a rosemary plant that is doing well and I found some mint to transplant at a backpackers we stayed at on Halloween.  It’s good to have fresh herbs again.
In June Richard made a video of our house at his daughter’s request.  I don’t know why I didn’t think to post a link on here before but here it is:
Richard says “we” made the peg boards and shelves but it was a generous “we”.  I stacked the bricks and boards.  He did all the rest.  We have found we can be very comfortable in a much smaller space that we would have thought.  It makes those American mega-mansions seem all the more outrageous. The calendar on the wall is a Monhegan calendar (Mongegan is an island off the coast of Maine - one of our favorite places on earth).  We have already ordered one for 2012 to help us remember New England – especially when it is so HOT here.
The school year is over.  The last few weeks were very hectic.  I was told the Foundation Phase (grades R (think kindergarten) through 3) would be meeting regular classes through the last week of the term so I planned my lessons accordingly.  But once testing was finished, teaching stopped and many of the learners didn’t even come to school so I had trouble getting them all the cards in the alphabet sets.  I will give the ones who didn’t get their set to those learners next year when school starts again.
I was asked to help enter grades into the new data base all South African schools are now required to use.  I was surprised to see that the grades from the Grade 7 science exam I taught material for 3 days for and graded had been changed so that many more than 3 learners passed – almost ¾ of them now had passing grades.  When I asked about it, I was told the Principal had allowed them to retake the test. (?) The grades for ones who passed originally hadn’t been changed – so I guess they didn’t retake it (?)
Yea! The water situation at our house has been fixed and we are now back to original status which is that the water comes on at a tap in our yard 2-3 times a week for an hour or two.  The pressure is strong enough to fill all our compounds barrels and sometimes there is some left to put in the “dam” (black plastic tank) for the garden.  Richard doesn’t have to go fetch it in the wheelbarrow.
We are in Pretoria about to set off on an adventure to the Drackensburg Mountains for six days.  We are staying at two different backbpakers – one is right near the border with Lesoto (where we were supposed to be posted).  Then we go to Durban, a city on the Indian Ocean.  School doesn’t start again until mid-January.  Then in February my son, Adam, is coming and treating us to a 3-day safari in Kruger National Park.  For many reasons, I am very glad we are here in the Peace Corps in South Africa.  The saying “The hardest job you’ll ever love.” is true.
Merry Christmas!!!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving in South Africa

November 26, 2011
Happy belated Thanksgiving everyone.  Richard and I are gathered in Polokwane (the capital of the province we live in) with about 40 other PCVs celebrating Thanksgiving together this weekend.  There will be more food than we can eat, in true American Thanksgiving fashion.  Luckily the 2 weeks of days of 100°+ heat we had after my last blog was one of those weather fronts that jump a season ahead.  The rains are finally starting to fall about once a week and many days this past week have been cloudy and cooler – highs in the high eighties.

It’s hard to believe it is November and it is really strange to see Christmas decorations in all the stores when it is 100°+ outside.  It is also weird that the school year is almost over instead of ½ way through at this time of year.  Things have been a little crazy at school lately.  Grades 4-7 have stopped having classes and started taking exams about a month before the end of school.  I’m not sure what they will do for the last two weeks of school.  The lower grades are still having classes but are also taking end of the year tests.  I have been able to keep working with them and all the 1st – 3rd graders will have a complete set of alphabet cards to take home by the end of the year.  I hope the teachers are learning something from the lessons I am doing with their classes.

Remember the teacher we didn’t get to hire?  The classes the teacher who left was teaching ended up not getting any teacher for ½ the year (except the few weeks I taught Gr 7 Science).  The District decided that they had to take the 4th term test anyway.  I was asked to help Gr 7 for three days before they took the test.  They were just going to give the students the questions and answers but I said I wouldn’t do that.  I’d go over the material on the test but put it in some context.  Three students actually passed the test!

When we were in training one of our “how to survive as a Peace Corps Volunteer” sessions had a graph of highs and lows during your two year, two month time as a PCT (trainee) and PVC (volunteer).  It had a low point at the one year mark of being at your site.  We’ve been at site 9 months now and I can understand the low point better.  By then you realize you are not going to change things that much.  The educational system is really less than 30 years old and they still have a lot to learn about learning.  During Apartheid the schools for black Africans got 10% of the funding for 90% of the people.  The attitude toward education is very different too.  Many of the teachers didn’t really want to be teachers but during apartheid teaching was one job that a black with some education could get.  They often do not have the passion for teaching that American teachers have (at least at the beginning of their teaching careers).  This is especially true in the small villages we are in.  Once students are in 4th Grade they are expected to learn all subjects in English but they don’t really have enough English before they get to 4th Grade.  By the time they get to Grade 7 many have given up on school.  That is one reason why I’ve chosen to work with the younger classes.

The water issues mentioned in the last blog entry are still with us.  We bought a wheelbarrow to haul the water with.  At the moment the problem is even worse because the pump for the borehole that sends water to our end of the village is broken so we have to get water from even further away.  2 weeks ago, our host family mother arranged for a family member to bring a pick-up truck full of water jugs and we’ve been washing clothes and bodies with rain water so Richard has only had to go to the other side of the village with the wheelbarrow once to get our drinking water.

It’s hard to believe we are more than 1/3 of the way through our time here in South Africa – 10 out of 26 months!

I do miss hearing from folks back home and I do get email.  Richard can get a signal at his school and down loads my mail three or four times a week.  What are you up to?  If you email me, I promise I’ll email you back!

Take care,

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Blog Entry 11 - Springtime in South Africa

 October 23, 2011
Well, we have only just begun the 2nd month of spring here in South Africa but today it was 114° F in the shade at our house!  It is really weird when you go to pick up a drinking glass on the table and it feels WARM because it is at such a higher temperature than your body temp.  Thank goodness people say this is unusually warm for this time of year.  Unfortunately, from that statement I surmise that it is not unusually warm for the middle of summer.  Maybe we will acclimate but maybe I will end up dumping water on my head (even when I am fully dressed) to keep cool.  I’ve done that already today but just once because we have been short of water lately. 

There is something wrong with the connection between the town water that comes from a well and the outdoor tap in our front yard.  The river is not that far away but we have been told that the Olifant (Lapelle) River is one of (if not the most) polluted river in South Africa.  Also Peace Corps has told us to avoid swimming or wading etc. in any fresh water because of a snail larva that will burrow into our bodies and do nasty things we don’t want to have happen.  Luckily the problem seems to originate only a couple of hundred meters from the house.  So today we went a little further to a neighbor’s house to get water to fill our drinking water (10 gal.) and washing water (60 gal) barrels.  The mother of our host family suggested I come and help too - by carrying water on my head the South African way!  I got a couple of dish towels and a small bucket and went with her.  Richard had a wheel barrow with a couple of jugs in it too.  He took a picture of me and our host mother coming back to our yard carrying water on our heads. (See picture with this blog).  I look forward to having a “bath” and washing my hair this evening!

We have put the information we got at the Permagarden workshop to good use.  We now have 2 new compost piles that are actually getting warm in the middle! – a first for me.  I’ve created a seed bed as a nursery from which I will transplant seedlings into the bigger garden.  We’ve covered it with branches to keep the direct sun off to minimize water loss.  I’ve let most of the rest of the garden go because it had done its thing and been harvested (kale, broccoli, beets, chard, tomatoes) or it never really did much (zucchini, beans, peas, 2nd batch of tomatoes).  I have a good carrot bed, dill and basil and a 2nd planting of chard.  Those and the seed bed are about all I have water for just now.  The rainy season is supposed to be upon us but apparently it started late this year.  We had our first significant rain since May or June on Sept.30th and it has only rained 4 or 5 times since then.

We were not allowed to keep the teacher the principal hired but I did not pick up the Grade 7 science class again.  I am continuing to enjoy teaching English to the younger students.  I have at least sketched out lesson plans until the end of the school year which will be Dec. 9.  After that we have 5 ½ weeks of vacation.  We are planning a trip with three other PCVs to the Drakensberg Mountains (further south and higher than the ones in our backyard) and Durban (a city on the eastern coast of South Africa) during the break.  We hope to take a day trip into Lesotho where we were originally going to be spending our Peace Corps time.  We plan to be in a good cell phone reception area Christmas Eve and Christmas so we can call home.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Delayed entries

September 11, 2011
Well our transport came and I didn’t get the last entry out for quite a while after I wrote it.  The week with the teachers’ group was good.  I think we were able to share a lot with the SA24 trainees about our experiences so far.  The sessions gave us a few new pieces of information and helpful tips but much of what was being taught we had picked up in 5+ months in SA schools.  We learned the most from the “trainers” (who were PCVs from the teachers’ group that has been here a year or more) during the “off” times – over supper etc.  We were able to stay at the “staff” house with them rather than with the new trainees.
When I got back I was surprised to learn they were interviewing people for the open teaching position. The Principal had told me before that it can take up to 6 months to get a new teacher when one leaves.  Just before we left he said he had gotten approval to fill the vacancy left by the teacher who was elected ward counselor.  He told me a teacher would be hired within two weeks.  Knowing the pace of things here, I didn’t really believe him, but it looked like it might happen.  A new teacher was hired and started work on Wed. of that week!  Yea, I don’t need to teach Grade 7 Science any more!........ Oh, wait!  It seems that approval was given at the Circuit level but not by the District!  It is now up in the air whether she can stay hired or not.  The Principal is supposed to take teachers from the current pool of excess teachers not hire a brand new one.  The problem with that is that the pool is empty now and won’t have “excess” teachers until the end of the current school year in December.  There is no such thing as a substitute teacher, so if approval is denied, the students will be without a science teacher again unless I teach them till the end of the year.  That is really more than I want to take on.  I’m doubtful that many of them have enough English to benefit much from my teaching them.  Although my Sepedi is slowly improving, I’m still at very basic sentences with a very limited vocabulary.  So I think I will not pick that up again unless I hear from the students they would like me to continue…and maybe approval will come through.

September 21, 2011

I started this just before we left for a permagarden workshop we were at last week and get this out, but instead I spent my time visiting with all the other SA 24 volunteers in the evenings.  To continue the saga from above about the new teacher, it isn’t going to happen and I have been asked to help out with some data base work since the office volunteer left to go back to work in Pretoria.  I feel badly that the Gr 7 students won’t get science for at least the rest of the term (2 weeks) and probably the end of the year but I really don’t want to pick that up again.  I have my hands full with the library - which I now have open to 5 students a day during “long break” (they sign up each morning) and after school 3 days a week – the English classes and the administration work.  I have almost finished sets of alphabet cards for all the learners in Grades 1- 3. That’s (58+46+43) 147X26=3,822 letters glued to cardboard and cut out!!!!  The ones for Gr 1 have lower case and upper case letters and a picture.  The ones for Gr 2 & 3 are just lower case letters.  I use them to teach phonics and the learners are enjoying them and learning how to “write” English words.
Richard is leaving for an “IRC” meeting (IRC=Information Resource Center – i.e. Peace Corps library) tomorrow morning and he will send out the blog from there where there is free internet for PCVs.  It’s getting late  so I’ll close for now. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Kruger with 90 kids etc.

Blog Entry August 14, 2011
Time does fly by.  A lot has happened since I last wrote a blog entry. 
We are well in to Term 3. I have taught two sections of Grade 7 Natural Science.  The first topic of the term was not exactly an easy topic for a new teacher to come in on in the best of situations: Human reproductive system, pregnancy, STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections), HIV and AIDS.  Compound this with the fact that, although the students are supposed to be taught in English from 4th grade on, they really do not have very good English skills or vocabulary.  After 4 weeks of teaching these topics, I gave them a test.  It was mostly multiple-choice, true/false and fill-in-the-blank.  I was very disappointed to look at the results.  Fewer than I thought understood enough English to pass the written test.  I hope maybe they learned a bit more that what was reflected by the test – very discouraging.
On the other hand I am thoroughly enjoying my work with the younger learners.  I have helped kindergarteners make letters with playdough – some even spelled their names.  I’ve played word bingo with Grade 3 learners.  For Grade 1, I’ve been making them cards with upper and lower case letters with a picture.  They each have an envelope with their name and they get one letter at a time.  They have S, T, and P so far.  They learn the name of the letter and the sound it makes.  The next time they get O and we will be able to sound out and read lots of words: top, to, pot, stop, pots, tops, spot.
Two weeks ago we got to go to Kruger National Park with the primary school field trip – 90+ learners and ten adults in a double bus (the kind with an accordion section in the middle).  Kruger is a huge wildlife preserve.  It is a drive through park.  We saw a lot of animals: giraffes (they are incredibly graceful creatures), a rhinoceros (that was asleep and really looked like a large rock), lots of elephants (we saw a big bull elephant knock over a tree to get at bugs under the roots), hippos, a crocodile and lots of deer like animals of all sizes.  There are some pictures posted here and a link to a video.
                The garden continues to grow.  We had broccoli from our garden last Friday before we left for our current trip.  The carrots now have their first true leaves! 
Our current trip is a trip to Pretoria area.  We left Friday, Aug. 12 and had an “All SA PC Volunteer” meeting on Sat. and are going today (Sun.) for a week of training for education volunteers.  There is a new group of PC volunteers who will be placed in schools.  We trained with a group going into NGO’s and missed out on the training specific to teaching in SA.
We’re at Peace Corps Headquarter in Pretoria just now and I hope to get this up today.

Bye for now,