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

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