New site & Drakensbergs

New site & Drakensbergs
These are the mts from our village

Sunday, April 29, 2012

April 15, 2012

The weather has broken!!  We weren’t sure when we got back whether the cooler weather we had in Pretoria was because it is at a higher elevation of if we had entered Autumn.  Instead of highs in the high 30’s C (high 90s -100+) they have been in the high 20s to low 30s and down to the teens at night (20C = 68F). – a really nice change.  I’m afraid it won’t last yet.

April 29, 2012

The cooler weather did last for a while.  In fact we had one day where the high was below 25C (77F) and a night when it got down to 13C (about 55F) but it’s warming back up again.  We are on a welcome looong 5-day weekend from school.  We spent Friday planting in the garden.  The cooler weather made Richard decide to get some peas in the ground and I planted some green beans and carrots.  We started a new compost pile.  Our host family has been using compost now when they pant new seeds.  I hope they will keep making compost after we’ve gone.  If not, at least the soil will be better for a while.  We’ve added quite a bit of compost in the year we’ve had the garden.  It’s interesting having been here a year now we can look back at what the weather was like a year ago and have some concept of how the arc of the weather will be.

We’re now visiting a couple we met last month.  Didi was a PCV in Botswana in the early 90s where she met Kobus a South African man. They married and now live outside of Hoedspruit on the side of a mountain in a beautiful house with a gorgeous view of the lowveld.
Here is a picture from their porch:

Kobus is from an Afrikaaner family that has been in the country since the 1700s.  I have found someone to play “word” games with!  (Richard is not fond of word games) I think Didi and I have played 6 + games in the two weekends we’ve spent here.  Kobus is just starting up a spring water bottling operation as a business venture.  They have really good water from a well that puts out a lot of litres per hour.  We’ve enjoyed good conversation and laughs.  Didi said she knew how hard it is for older volunteers to get to know people in the Peace Corps.  It’s nice to have English speaking friends outside our Peace Corps group.

Next weekend is the regional gathering and Richard and I have been asked to share some of our successes and challenges in the garden with the PCVs at the gathering.  We’ve asked another person to help us, hoping it will be more like a seminar than a “presentation”.

Shortly after that my daughter Megan arrives for 2 weeks!  Also Richard’s daughter, Hannah is coming at the end of June.  I think she may come with us for part of our trip to Botswana &/or Victoria Falls.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Midway Point

April 2, 2012
Sorry no blog entry in March.  Teaching so much means I have lesson plans & preparation to do almost every night.  This is something else I’m trying to model.  Educators here are supposed to have lesson plans but I’ve not seen much evidence of them.  Most have been teaching the same classes for years and feel they don’t need to plan or change their approach even though the learners are failing to learn much.  I have been assigning homework to my Gr 4 Maths class and checking it at the beginning of class.  My co-teacher was helping but marking wrong answers as correct.  I’m not sure if he was just not looking carefully or really didn’t understand the topic (fractions) any better than some of the learners.  The end of Term 1 everyone takes “Common Tests” written by the Provincial Education Dept.  I was disappointed that even my best learner only scored 48% and only 8 out of 55 scored well enough to “pass” – 40%.  Learners are already so far behind by 4th grade!!  Richard’s Gr 9 Maths did even worse and he was very disappointed and down for several days.  He feels he has to keep up the pace of topics in the work schedule even if the learners don’t have the background to learn the material.  He wishes he could spend more time and teach fewer topics with some remedial work so they could really learn something.  When material is taught so fast in such large classes and a learner fails, the next year they get the same stuff they didn’t learn the first year at the same pace.  It is very frustrating!!
We’ve had a break from school the last week + because we had our Mid-Service Training in Pretoria.  It ended Thursday but we are still here (on Monday) because Richard had his 2nd cataract operation last Tuesday and has a follow up appointment today.  It seems to have gone well but it will be several weeks before he can get a new lens for the 2nd eye.

MST was good.  It was wonderful to see everyone from our training group again and hear their successes and challenges both in our formal sessions and just catching up.  We did some typical “look back at your 1st year” and “imagine your COS (Close of Service)” exercises that were actually quite helpful.  I realized in a more significant way that my strength in teaching is one-on-one, rather than in a classroom situation.  I knew that on one level but will try to do more of that during my 2nd year.  My biggest success has been little successes with individuals.  I’ve been tutoring the two 2nd graders in our host family and Promise can now put all the letters of the alphabet in order and knows the sounds of all but a few.  She has also learned to sound out three letter words well and can read several stories in a US 1st grade reader. Her “uncle”, who is less than a year older, has a bit more trouble but he is coming along.  I have also been working with one of their cousins, a Grade 6 girl.  She can speak English pretty well because her father spent a year or two in the States in graduate school but she could not sound out new words or read well at all.  She told me before we left for MST that she had tried to sound out some of the words on her end-of-term English test.  I asked her if she could and she said, “Yes, and my teacher told me I was #1 in the class!”  I’ve been helping a few Grade 7 non-readers after school and have seen some improvement already.
We were told at MST that the 2nd year will go really fast.  It’s hard to believe that we have been at our site for a whole year.  We don’t get to see the rest of our group as a whole until our COS conference in December but the volunteers have planned a Provincial get together in May so we’ll see some of our friends and some of the PCVs from other groups in our province then.  Another thing we realized – if we only have a year left, we only have a few more vacation times.  Three weeks in June - We think we want to do a “Zim-Zam-Bot” tour (Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana) which would include Victoria Falls.  Many PCVs do that and there are several option of how to go about it.  We have a week + in October which is too short to go far so we haven’t made plans for that yet.  Over the big break next Dec/Jan quite a few of our group are going to Cape Town – a must see before leaving S. Africa.  There’s an overnight train which sounds like fun and a plane ride back. But that is all yet to be seen.
Most exciting is that my daughter, Megan, is coming for a 2-week visit in May!!!! And Richard’s daughter, Hannah is coming in June/July.

Here are some recent pictures.  A walking stick to show how big some of our insects are.  There are really big praying mantises too! 

Some of the neighborhood kids who come by “draw”.  If they draw pictures and have me write the English words for them, they get a “sweet” (a gum drop).  The girl in the back can now write - house, flower, tree, apple, carrot, person and several other words in English by herself.
The last picture is of Promise being carried by me over some wet cement In a “home improvement” project at our house.

Bye for now,