Blog Entry June 17, 2011
Again, I am surprised that it has been so long since I’ve found time to write a blog entry – almost 6 weeks! Life here is very full! If I thought Peace Corps was going to be an extended vacation – and maybe I did a little bit – it isn’t. Well I knew it wouldn’t be a vacation but I thought I would be less busy than I am at home. I guess I fill time no matter what or I guess I don’t have blog writing as high on my priorities list as I might. Anyway…..
How do I spend my time? A typical day is: wake up to the alarm at 6:00; out the door by 7:00 for a 20 minute walk to school (15 if I’m late and in a hurry). The school day ends at 2:00 on Mon. & Tues. and 1:30 Wed. – Fri. but educators are expected to stay until 2:30. (Teachers are known as “educators” here and students are called “learners” until college level, then they are students.) I get home about three and check on my garden – water everything, weeding, transplanting. I read email if Richard has downloaded any while at his school; play g few games on the computer; prepare supper and eat about 6:00. If Richard cooks, I do dishes & vice versa or we do both together. In the evening we’ve been playing cards together almost every night. We’re usually in bed by 10:00.
On weekends we usually go to our “shopping town”, Hoedspruit on Saturday. This means getting out the door a bit before 7:00 to walk to the main dirt road in the village to catch a “taxi” (ie mini-van that is used like a small bus). An hour or so later we arrive in Hoedspruit and have until about 2:00 to do all our errands including going to an internet café that has reasonable connections where I will post this. We carry our groceries to the taxi rank (bus stop) or sometimes we can call the driver who will make a stop at the grocery store so we don’t have to carry the groceries (except when we get home). Sunday is laundry day, which takes most of the morning as it is all done by hand. My host mother (who si 20+ years younger than I am) had to give me a lesson in how to wash by hand as it was clear that I hadn’t had to do it before and had always had a machine. I’ve learned there is a way to scrub that really does get out most stains – some that even a washing machine wouldn’t. We obviously line dry – although I did that in the states except for the coldest part of winter. And that is a typical week. Yes, I could make time on a more regular basis to write blog entries and will work on finding a regular spot in my schedule. I do want to feel in touch with you back home. There is a tower going in at a sight ½ way to Hoedspruit that may significantly upgrade our signal for cell phone and internet but it isn’t operational yet and we are so tucked into the mountains, it may not help much.
The garden is frustrating but I still love trying to make things grow. The wind here is absolutely incredible!! The Lapelle River comes through the Drakensburg Mountains about ½ mile from our house and from May until August very strong winds come during the night and don’t end until mid-morning or later most days – although there have been a few spells of 3-5 days without the winds. This means many of the seedlings I had started got buffeted about and broke off at the soil line. Then a LARGE branch of a pawpaw tree(different than American pawpaws) fell on my tray of broccoli, kale, basil and tomato seedlings and I had to plant many before I thought they were ready. None of the tomato or basil seedlings survived but the kale and broccoli are growing slowly. The green beans we planted directly are doing better. There are a lot of baby green beans about 1 ½ inches long but some of the plants look like they might have a virus and I’m afraid I’ll lose the plants before we get any big enough to eat. The dill is doing great! Which is nice because I can’t find any dill weed in the stores only dill seed (for seasoning). The soil is not only rocky it has very little organic matter, thus nutrients for plant growth. I have made a compost pile and add manure (I look at cow dung in the street very differently now) and turn it every weekend. I’ll call this first pile big enough in a few more weeks but it will be another couple of months before it is ready to add to the garden soil.
School as well as the garden has its joys and challenges. Since the beginning of May, I have spent some time each week with the Kindergarten through 3rd graders. I’ve been teaching the younger ones nursery rhymes and children’s songs. We have great fun with “Head, shoulders knees and toes”. And the kindergarteners are a riot doing “1-2 Buckle My Shoe” with the motions. 1st grade has 58 learners and one teacher!! No matter how good a teacher someone is, it is hard to meet the needs of 58 learners. The sense of time and the importance of educators being in the classroom are very different than in the states. Workshops involving all the teachers can be held during the school day. There is no such thing as a substitute teacher. If an educator is absent, the learners spend the period alone with a teacher peeking in if the room gets too loud.
Also during May I spent a morning observing each of the classes starting with Kindergarten going up in order to 7th grade, the highest grade at Kgopong, to get a sense of what skills they have and for the older grades (4th & up) to find out how well they understand English. The learners get some English instruction in 2nd & 3rd grades but not a lot and then starting in 4th grade all their instruction is supposed to be in English! Many of the educators use a mixture of English and Sepedi, especially in 4th & 5th grades. By 7th grade I think most of them have a basic knowledge of English but their learning is hampered not only by large classes, absent educators but having to learn in a language that is not their “home language”.
The first three months at our site are called Phase 2 and we are allowed to leave your site one weekend a month. Last month we did get out to Polokwane the capital of our province for a get together with several other PCVs from our group. One of the PCVs is working with the city government and the “house” they found for her to stay in is a two room “rondeval” on a city owned game reserve. I’ll put up a few pictures. The only animals I got a picture of were the ostriches but we saw zebras and many different herbivores that Richard called “DLA”s – deer like animals. The reserve has giraffes and white rhinos but we didn’t see any even on our early morning walk. The only other “wild” animals we’ve seen were some baboons crossing the road in front of the taxi going to Hoedspruit about 3 weeks ago. In our village pigs, goats, donkeys and cattle more or less roam free. Everyone has a fence around their piece of property.
The only other thing of import since last blog entry is that on May 25th I turned 60 years old! I had a bit of a hard time with that big number but it’s hard to feel too old when you’re a Peace Corps volunteer half way around the world (well 1/3 of the way) from home. I would have turned 60 back in NH too. I look old when I look at myself in the mirror but I don’t feel that old – “old” has gotten older and older as I’ve approached it each time. Now 80 is really old but then we have one volunteer in our group who is 79 and will be over 80 before she ends her service. I guess you are as old as you let yourself feel.
More later and sooner than 6 weeks.