Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My Day-To-Day Village Shenanigans

I realized the other day that I haven’t done a very good job at keeping you all in the loop about what kind of activities I’m involved with here in the village on a day-to-day basis.

This blog will be rather brief (probably not, actually, seeing as how I tend to get lost in the details once I get going) and will probably contain a few typo’s because I don’t have the energy to re-read my work this time. (I am recovering from a cold that wiped me out and kept me in a reclusive—and somewhat vegetative—state for the past few days. Aside from sleeping most of the day, I’ve been enjoying episode upon episode of the Simpsons, lots of tea, basic meals [no interest in doing too much cooking lately], and more sleep.)

Needless to say, I am craving social interaction, and believe me, Facebook just doesn’t cut it. Spending too much time on Facebook actually has made me feel like Jeff from Rear Window; once I came to that realization, I figured it was time to lay that beast to rest. Instead, I hope at least that a one-sided dialogue can help satiate my cravings for the time being. Here we go…

I wake up most mornings between 6-7am, and start my days out pretty consistently with a cup of coffee, breakfast, and emails. Yes, I have extremely consistent internet access, contrary to popular belief of life in rural South Africa (a belief held by both, Americans and urban South Africans alike). I cannot escape the grips and demands of modern technology. But despite my griping and complaining that I can’t get away from it, email has proven to be one of the most useful means of communication for practically anything I need.

After breakfast, I typically head to either the primary or secondary school. At the primary school, I am currently working on setting up a previously non-existent computer lab in their library. We have 11 working computers; the plan is to have them fitted with all the basic typing tutorial programs and MS Office applications. These are dinosaurs of computers, running Windows 2000 with 65MB of RAM on old Pentium II processors. The hard drives are about 4-6GB. But they'll do the trick. So far, I’m just at phase of installing the correct software. The plan is to set up computer classes, first, for the educators and learners; then for the community, we’ll charge a small user’s fee. I have one eager counter-part from the village that is working with me. Our hope is to eventually turn things over completely to her, and turn her voluntary position into a paid position using the fees. Furthermore, I’ve asked the educators and learners who are familiar with using computers to assist others, working with them in pairs or small groups. Thanks to the great efforts of past PCVs in South Africa, they’ve created some outstanding self-guided computer tutorials that step the new user from turning on the computer to designing presentations in PowerPoint! And, they’ve made these lessons available to all PCVs. Why reinvent the wheel, right?

I also am teaching a grade 5 Technology class for four periods a week at the primary school. Thankfully, it’s not a common occurrence that kids fall out of trees or get sent to the hospital. We have fun and are working on some great hands-on projects.

When I go to the secondary school during the other part of the day, I am busy with writing a simple computer program for the educators to use that will give the learners student ID cards. I also assist the educators with typing documents. I’ve transitioned from clerk (secretary or typist) to teaching them how to type their own documents. While the educator and I are working on the computer, we both realize that it’s a slower process for that person to type the document while I stand by and assist, but the easy solution of me finishing a document in a fraction of the time would not be serving the long-term purpose of me being here. But I appreciate their patience and determination in learning how to make tables, columns, highlighting, and copy&pasting.

Every few days during the week, I get a request to assist someone in the community. It could be doing research for a bursary (scholarship), application for a business license, information on starting their own business, or other job/education-related topics.

One thing that came as a surprise to me upon coming to my village is that as “casual” as it may seem to have so many social interactions and side conversations during my work day (what American bosses would frown upon as “personal conversations”), they are, in fact, adding to my work experience by learning about the community, the culture, and language through our “water-cooler” chats. I have learned to appreciate these conversations and include them as integral parts of my workday; these interactions help me understand the community better and allow them to understand me as well. But as nice as these chats are, they are exhausting. It takes so much more energy to choose my words carefully, clear up my diction and annunciation, and use phrases that a foreign English speaker would understand, avoiding any colloquialisms.

Before I know it, my day’s finished, I’m exhausted, and I prepare to go home, ready to do it again the next day. Thankfully, as routine as my “rounds” are at each school and in the community, I am thankful for the variety of the day: the conversations I will have, who will ask for my assistance, or which projects will take priority for the day. The routine keeps me sane and level-headed, but the variety makes time just fly by. ◊ Salang Sentle—Stay Well

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Unlucky St. Patty’s Day

I found this blog sitting all alone, tucked away in the dark crevasses of my computer. Perhaps out of sheer neglect or more likely out of memory suppression, I forgot to post this blog I share with you now. Here it is, two months late; yet it’s still just as laughable at the irony of my misfortunes on a day that should be bringing good luck.


How many disastrous things can go wrong in a day, let me count the ways…

One—I woke up in pain from a reoccurring ailment that just wouldn’t leave me alone.

Two—I felt slightly nauseous from the medication meant to relieve the pain.

P1110843 (240x180) Three—I got out of bed and stepped on a small, prickly thorn that I wrote about in Animal House, back in March. So far so great. Not.





(At this point, the morning’s not going as well as one might conclude.)



image I made it to school without a piano falling on me or falling into quicksand, luckily.





Four—my grade 10 learners were absolutely wild and uncontrollable in Physical Science class when I arrived. They were yelling and upset that I wasn’t in class the other day, because I had to go to Vryburg for the medication last minute. I informed the staff and principal, but the word must not have gotten to them. P1120648 (180x240)So, when I didn’t show up for the planned lab experiment I promised them, they sure let me have it that morning. Then, I explained that they had a test in two days, which evidently they were not informed about either. They were not happy campers and became very obstinate and difficult to work with for the rest of the—not one, but two—periods I had with them. They also didn’t like the fact that we had to reschedule the lab experiment for Saturday because there was no other time to do it.

Five—upon leaving my class, flustered and aggravated, I was called into my principal’s office to discuss a matter of the grade 10 Physical Science class (the one I teach). It turns out that the learners have collectively requested (strongly) that they would like their original educator to return to teaching them. I was taken aback by this because I thought we were doing some great work and that many were doing very well, showing in their improved test scores, typically smiling faces, and attentiveness in class. At first, I thought it was a personal thing, that they did like me or my teaching style. But, after reading through their group letter to the principal and upon further discussion with the learners, I found out that it was simply because they have a hard time understanding me. I speak in a different accent than what they’re used to, and I don’t translate any of my lesson into Setswana, which is very tempting to do by educators to ensure they understand the lesson. I also have high expectations for them, expecting them to do homework on time and take their education seriously and become responsible for their own learning. My personal opinion is that, not only did they not understand me, but also, they just didn’t like how much I made them work for their education. But, I could see improvement in their test scores that they were learning. Overall, I do understand and sympathize with these learners—I can see how challenging it would be to have a new teacher with a new accent, with new teaching methods, and new expectations. Children are very adaptable and flexible, yet they need structure and consistency in teaching, and to have 10 years of one style be disrupted all of a sudden can be a bit of an educational culture shock for them. So, in the end, I relinquished my class and handed back the chalk to the original teacher. However, I am still going to maintain involvement in the class informally in and outside of class. This was upon the request of the educator and principal. I’m happy to know, at least, that it wasn’t due to my teaching method or that I wasn’t performing adequately. After speaking with some of the learners a few days later, I found out that the request to switch teachers came from only some of the learners (the ones that were having a difficult time understanding me). It turns out many had no problem and actually enjoyed me teaching their class, but they had to appease the rest of those that were struggling. Completely understandable. I will miss teaching them, but am glad that I had the opportunity to have them as my learners.

So far, not much good news…

Six—I gathered my things and headed to my grade 5 Technology class. We were learning about Energy Sources, so that day, we were outside discovering the joy of wind energy by flying a kite. The kite found it’s way to a tree and got tangled up on a tall branch. While I was busy with the string, some boys scurried up the tree with hopes of getting to the troublesome branch. Turns out that this particular branch is safe for no more than one boy at a time because two boys climbed out onto the branch and it was the crack and thud that caught my attention to look up. image The branch had broken from the trunk and sent two boys falling 10 feet to the ground on top of the fallen branch. They luckily were ok, judging by their laughter on the ground. A few minutes later, I was informed that a little girl went inside the classroom and was crying. Figuring it was because she didn’t get a turn to fly the kite, I went in to investigate. I found the girl sitting in a chair crying and holding her back. It was the daughter of the principal from the school from where I just come. She told me she had gotten hit by the branch when it came down. She wanted to go to the clinic across the street (we don’t have a nurse at our school), so when she got there, they called her father, the principal. Oh boy, the American just had a meeting with him about resigning from one of his classes, then his daughter gets hurt in his class an hour afterward. Geez, how bad could that look, right? Your boss’s daughter gets hurt under your supervision. Wow. To make matters worse, they can’t find anything wrong, but she’s still in pain, so they send her to the local hospital…in an ambulance, no less. image A bit extreme in hindsight, but at the time, I was just getting information bit by bit. Turns out there’s nothing wrong, thank goodness, not even any bruising, but just a shocked and frightened young girl in a scary situation.

Let’s recap so far: in pain, nauseous, thorn in foot, no pianos or quicksand, obnoxious teenagers, lost my class, learners fell out of tree, and boss’s daughter goes to the hospital. And this is all before noon.

The one good thing of the day: I finally get my wish—computers that were stored in the secondary school finally get transported to the primary school where I can begin to set up the primary school’s computer lab. As much as I should count my blessings, I couldn’t quite get it to brighten my day. Any other day, I’d be overjoyed and it’d make my day. But not today, unfortunately. I’m just thinking that this bit of good news helped to not make me completely lose it.

But I was close, so I decided to just go home before anything else happened. On my way home, I decided to stop by a friend’s house to share my day, vent, then hopefully laugh about it.

Seven—on the way home from her house, along the path which I had walked many, many times before, I passed by a house with two decent-sized dogs (*dogs pictured not actual dogs, but just as terrifying). imageDogs here usually bark and defend their territory up to the fenced-in yard. That’s about it. These dogs saw me, started barking, then came running toward toward the fence. I figured they’d stop at the fence like most dogs do. However, by the time I had realized they had more in mind than just verbally harassing me, they had already jumped through the fence and one latched on to my ankle. And not in any playful manner either.   imageThat bite sent me running—running faster than I had ever run before. There were two of them, so I didn’t think it was a good idea to turn around and defend myself. I probably ran close to half a soccer field in length through beach-like sand and in sandals, staying just inches ahead of them, with them literally nipping at my ankles. They eventually stopped, and I gave myself a few extra meters of safe distance before I slowed down. I got home to view the damage on my ankles. Only a few scrapes but they drew enough blood to make me worry about rabies. It could have been worse I suppose.

The owner saw me get chased through the window of her house and came to see how I was. She apologized and I asked her if she knew if the dogs were sick. She said she didn’t know, and they lived on the edge of the village, near the forest, so I didn’t make any assumptions that they were rabies-free.

image To someone else, I’m sure it looked hilarious to see the American booking it down the path with a look of pure terror plastered on his face. And in hindsight, it was a funny story to tell since I wasn’t mauled by dogs.





Luckily, that’s the end of my not-so-lucky St. Patty’s Day. As my Peace Corps supervisor mentioned to me after telling her the story, let’s hope this was the worst day of my service, and that it can only get better from here. Fingers crossed. ◊ Salang Sentle—Stay Well