February 26, 2012
Once again life as a Peace Corps Volunteer in our little village in South Africa has become very busy. After Sophie’s big party that I wrote about last time, the last week of our holiday break went really fast. We are now well into our first term of the new school year. This year I am teaching Gr 4 Maths (not “Math” – here it is “Maths”) and English for Grades 1 – 3 for a total of 14 hour of teaching a week. I am enjoying the Gr 4 Maths a lot. We have overcome the language issue (my lack of much Sepedi and their lack of much English) by havening a regular teacher at the school co-teach with me. Some of the learners are really bright and catch on to new concepts quickly but many others are struggling. I’m surprised at how many do not know how to carry or borrow when adding or subtracting. They do not really have a good grasp of place value. I’ve been demonstrating with cubes and towers and squares for units, tens and hundreds but some are still not catching on. It is hard when there are 55 in a class!! Finally we just have to move on. I know most of them will get passed on to 5th grade and will be even further behind next year. I hope my co-teacher is learning that concrete demonstrations and lots of practice problems can be helpful. The teaching style I’ve seen mostly is lecture once and do a few practice problems. Give the right answers so the learners can write “corrections” and then move on to the next topic. Richard ha said that at the high school, the Department checks the learners notebooks to see that all the topics have been taught and educators (teachers) are judged to have taught well enough if the material is in the learners notebook never mind if they have actually learned anything. And they wonder why so few pass their senior year exams!
Life here (as anywhere) continues to be a challenge. I am writing this blog entry by candle light because our electricity went out about mid-afternoon (no obvious reason why (no storm or high winds?????). We have an alcohol “gel” stove that we can use to cook on when the electricity goes out – but it is a pain. It happened more often when we first got here but hasn’t happened for months. Last week it took me 4 hours to do 5 days laundry (and the bed sheets). That doesn’t mean throw the clothes in the machine and come back an hour later to throw them in the dryer. We wash everything by hand and hang it out on the line. Everything smells really nice but it is a lot of work.
Adam came to visit the first week in February and brought his girlfriend Lisa. We had never met her since he started going out with her after we left. We had a wonderful time. They flew in on a Saturday and we spent the night at our fellow PCV’s place on a game reserve (where we had Thanksgiving last year). We saw a few animals there – monkeys, zebras, several deer like animals and some neat birds. Then they came back to our village and Sophie cooked a traditional African meal for them. Below is a picture of Adam and Lisa with our African family.
The next day they visited both our schools and met some of the learners and educators we work with. Then Adam treated us to a 3-day safari in Kruger National Park. We went with a very knowledgeable local guide and got to see many different animals. We saw lots of my favorites – the giraffes, and lots of elephants. One herd had a little baby who was hard to get a picture of because momma kept herself between us and the baby but I finally succeeded.
I had been disappointed my two previous visits to Kruger because I hadn’t seen any of the “cats” – lion, leopard or cheetah. This time we saw a leopard two different times. One was a young one beside a river.They are truly awesome creatures. The other we saw EARLY in the morning as we were heading out to take a guided dawn walk with a ranger. Usually you are not allowed to go wandering around in the park. You can only get out of your car at specific viewing spots or picnic areas but on this walk we were walking through the bush. At one point the ground was very uneven with big depressions - they were elephant footprints (!!) made in the mud when we had a record-breaking rain storm in mid-January. Kinda cool to be walking in elephant footprints.
The most exciting part was when we came upon a herd of elephants crossing the road. Most of them went across the road and kept going into the bush but one VERY large male decided to walk down the road toward our vehicle as if to say “This is my road! Are you sure you want to be here?” Our guide was a bit nervous which made us very nervous. We backed down the road and he finally wandered off into the bush but there was no doubt whose road it was.
We left Kruger and Drove back to Johannesburg, taking the “Panorama Route” and staying overnight in a little town called Dullstrom. The Panorama route has many stops where you can view interesting “natural” phenomena from waterfalls to rock pinnacles to potholes made by two converging rivers to wide vistas of the lowveld. We stopped at some but not all of these. We spent the last night at a nice guest house in Johannesburg and said goodbye to Adam and Lisa on Saturday morning when they left for the airport to take a plane to Cape Town on the other side of South Africa, where they spent another week before flying back to the States. We headed back to our village and another week of school.
In 3 ½ weeks we have our groups MST conference (MST=Mid-Service Training) where we reflect on our first year at site and plan for our 2nd year. It will be good to see everyone from our group again – or almost everyone. Ourgroup was special in that we were only the 2nd out of 23 where everyone who came to training was sworn in as a volunteer – no one left during training. So far only 6 out of 46 have left, which is a pretty good retention rate. The ones who left did so for a variety of reasons but most of us have stuck with it and from all reports are glad they have.
My garden has not done so well I the 100°+ heat we have had as a high almost every day this month but I can still get fresh mint, & basil and we would have had more chard if the goats hadn’t gotten to it first.
Enjoy spring. It’s my favorite season. I miss being there this year as we swelter in the African summer. We will see some relief toward the end of April. We bought a big fan last month which helps as long as the electricity is on. (which it is now – I’m writing this the evening after I started it.)
I’m certainly glad I am here and believe I am making a bit of difference in a few lives but I will be glad to be back home when I get there.