Thursday, August 12, 2010

It was here. Did you feel it?

As quickly as the excitement came to my village and—what seemed to be—all over this Rainbow Nation, the World Cup has now passed. It’s memory and the stories are like the sounds of the vuvuzelas—growing more and more distant by the day. It’s sad to think that all of the enthusiasm was short-lived for only a month of international fame and spectacle. However, aren’t we all too familiar with the sensationalized and over-commercialized clout that surrounds events like the World Cup, the Olympics, and the well-known International Clogging Festival?

Well, it was here, we felt it; and now, things are practically back to normal: I’m back to getting assaulted by more aggravated mother hens, strikes are once again in season, and the power has miraculously decided to go out, time and time again (strange how it worked just fine during the World Cup, hm…)

During and after the World Cup, people here and in the States asked me, did you go to any of the games!? Sadly, no, I did not. I had no interest after my ticket attempts failed miserably. That’s OK, though. I’m not much of a soccer spectator (more of a fair-weather fan, to be completely honest) nor do I enjoy large crowds, expensive concessions, or freezing in the stands. I enjoyed the games I did see from the comfort of a warm living room in front of a TV. In this blog, I’d like to share with you how I kept my self busy while school was on break and most everyone was in hibernation in my village. I needed to stay sane and this is what I did…

(Oh, if I can interject here for a second—I want to announce that I am indeed evolving as a technologically advanced blogger: I realized that my photos were just a tad too small for those that don’t have eagle-vision or a microscope handy when reading my blog; also, the formatting is a nightmare when this blog goes from Windows Live Writer to my Blog, then to either email, RSS reader, or Facebook. So, I’m working on that one…Wow, I’m still debating whether all these forms of communication are obnoxious or impressive… Please bear with me while I work out these technical glitches.)

(Funny story—I just discovered that to say, “Please bare with me,” which I thought was right until just now, is a request for you all to take off your clothes with me. Woops, that explains that one time... Please keep your clothes on for the remainder of this blog. Thank you.)


The Computer Lab

I made some real progress with my computer lab. After opening up these computers that sat dormant for three years, I got some help and a air compressor to blow out all the dust from the machines. (I think I got the black lung after we were finished. It looked like an industrial vacuum exploded in that room.)

P1120699 (480x360)The school’s “library” houses many things other than just books: supplies, a microwave, the new computer lab, and a lot of dust. Clearly, a work in progress.

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Every day for a few weeks, I would spend my time here, putting together the computers, matching hardware, and getting them up and running. I had to reformat a few corrupted hard drives, install the identical software on all of 11 computers and get them running as smoothly as possible. In the meantime, I invited a few eager learners to come in and use the computers while I worked. It was great because it kept them from suffering from School Break Boredom (mind atrophy), I had someone to talk to, they had a chance to use the computers (which they’ve been chomping at the bit to do), and I got to find out which typing and training programs they enjoyed the most. I’ll use their feedback to help me tweak my lessons. They are now virus-free, clean, and ready for classes!


Village-wide World Cup Spirit

The week before school was let out, the Grade 5 Class Teacher organized a World Cup Party for the kids on Friday. Throughout the semester, the kids brought in as many 5-Rand-cent coins (a little less than the value of a penny) as they could. With that, the teacher set up a party with cakes, treats, and drinks for them. A few other educators and I helped him set it up that day. We all had fun—it was a great day. Here are some photos:

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In preparation for the 50 kids that were anxiously waiting and watching from the windows.

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Here, a staff member is showing me how to blow out of a vuvuzela. I got it after a while, but then my lips went numb.

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After the party, I took my camera around the village. Everyone was in full Bafana-Bafana mode, kindergarteners and high-schoolers, alike.

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After school let out for the break, the primary school looked like a ghost town.

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Over the winter break, this building got a new roof, new cement floors and a new paint job—something it was needing for quite some time.


World Cup Warmth in Winter 

I thought it would be a fun idea to have the community gather in the community hall to watch the South African team play. I tried to organize TVs and a braai (BBQ) for the first three games. However, logistics didn’t work out in our favour, but at least at the last minute, we got a small TV (thankfully with reception!) and some chicken to grill. Not a very successful event, but at least it was a gathering!

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Many people don’t have electricity to watch the games or even a TV, so this was surprisingly a well-attended event. Yes, that’s a 20” TV propped on a set of chairs.

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It was cold! No heat in the hall, but we still had diehard fans!

P1130276 (480x360) People found ways to warm up while helping to cook the chicken.

I spend some time visiting some friends in Vryburg who let me stay to watch some of the WC games with them. They had heat, but it still got chilly at night.

P1130279 (480x360) Even the family dog, Xena, had to come inside and bundle up for some surprisingly cold weather in Vryburg.


American Patriotism, Peace Corps-style

For the Fourth of July, I celebrated the best way I knew how! Sparklers, a buttery American meal, and the movie Drop Dead Gorgeous, which I watched with my friend, Lorraine at her house in the village.

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Lorraine and I enjoyed the magic of burning chemicals on a stick and a very patriotic, American movie. She now understands Minnesotan humor and our lovely accents thanks to Kirsten Dunst and Kirstie Alley.

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Yes, that’s fried fish, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob (“mealies”, as they call them here), and the only American flag I could find in my room. God bless America.


Normal Once Again

The World Cup came and went. I’m happy to find out that no major incidents occurred here like many had worried would happen. When school started back up again, we all exchanged a WC few stories, but mostly, our conversations went back to talking about the weather, daily life in the village, and basically anything else people casually chat about. Life’s back to normal in this post-World Cup South Africa: South Africans put away their Bafana-Bafana jerseys and life continues on, sans vuvuzelas.◊ Salang Sentle—Stay Well

Monday, August 9, 2010

It’s Been a While…

Welcome back! Or rather, please welcome me back to my own blog. It indeed has been some time since I last wrote (in May, I believe). I can’t say I was caught up in the fanatics and hype of World Cup 2010. I suppose you can simply chalk it up to another bout of inconsistent blog-authoring rooted in wishful thinking that I’d unearth some  inspiring passion for new hobbies such as blogging, novel-reading, or even dabble in painting while spending my two years here. Sad to say, it’s pretty apparent it’s not working out that way! But, to make up for my literary lethargy, I offer this:

There’s been a seriously rumored teachers’ strike on the horizon (Tuesday, I believe) so I won’t be teaching, obviously, until it’s sorted out. I assume I will have a lot of time this week to put together a few blogs (with pictures!) to share with you all about life in my village for the past few months over our moderately quiet winter. (Let’s call my recent blogging sabbatical a sort of hibernation.) But don’t worry! I won’t be sending new blogs out every day—I’ll stagger them so I don’t flood your inboxes like my Facebook notifications do to me (note to self: I really need to turn those off…)

In my pocket, I’ve got blog-topics-galore: lions, kites, traditional dances, 150 year old missions, homemade gadgets, robots and much much more (now in Technicolor)! OK, I lied, no robots.


First up… GO! Overseas interview

A few weeks ago, I was asked to interview with GO! Overseas, an online travel resource that focuses toward those wanting to teach, study, and volunteer abroad. You can check out the interview by clicking the link below:


Cloud Photo Intermission!

The Egg & Swan: these photos were taken in my back yard in March, 15 minutes apart from each other.

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Email to my family

The other day, I spent some time writing an email to my family, filling them in on life here on the borders of the Kalahari and realized this was something I wanted to include on my blog, so I did a little creative editing and cut out all the juicy family gossip (not that there is much other than a request for nice pens and good, old-fashioned Target-bought white t-shirts. See? Really not that juicy).

I wanted to send you a little note this chilly spring morning. Spring here is nothing like spring that I know and love back at home. My village’s spring is merely a windy transition between winter and summer. The short cold winter killed most of the plants and dried up all the greenery. What remained is the white dusty roads and sand. The wind shifted once again from a cold southerly wind to a warmer northern wind from Botswana. This wind also kicks up that white dust and covers the bare shrubs and trees with what looks to be a light dusting of snow, but we know it's not. The vehicles that pass also churn up more white faux-snow and if you breathe it in, it leaves you coughing and your throat, slightly irritated. I remember that feeling from when I came in September. Luckily, summer is soon to follow and the white dust will soon stay dormant once again for nine months, replaced with sweltering hot, sweaty days. But that's not until the end of September. Until then, however, we are stuck with it. What's more, the sudden change in season and temperature (cold mornings, warm afternoons) brings sickness and "flu" (colds, mostly). I even felt it this morning when I woke up and as I nurse a warm cup of tea writing this email. But then again, I suppose weather transitions like this bring similar sicknesses back at home as well, so it should be nothing too surprising. The plus side—I did notice some fresh sprigs of leaves budding from some of the trees; it’s strange to think that the same trees just dropped their leaves a little over a month ago.

Enough talk about the weather. (Though this, I've found, is universal human nature, even here--to chat about the weather when there's nothing else to talk about as if it's a surprise every season. Go figure.)

I've been working on a few projects and have really gotten moving on some new proposals in the pipeline. It's true how they say that something unexplainable happens about a year into your PCV service: they say that things just start clicking, projects get off the ground, and that's when the real PC magic happens. It seems to be working in my favour (touch wood, aka “knock on wood”). I'm awaiting word from my principals who will meet to discuss use of the school-hosted computer lab for the community and the other schools' learners and the liability that comes with putting eager youth and expensive objects together (potentially a crisis waiting to happen). I have gotten two internet modems connected to each of the schools and working wonderfully. These modems had been sitting idle in boxes at either school for about a year. They were given to the schools by the district office but never were able to set them up. What's more, these modems were set up to work with a cell phone network that doesn't have reception here in my village (that took some time to figure out!). So, I reconfigured them to work with the one working network, Vodacom and voila! Great success! So now comes the part of getting the school to budget for internet usage (we pay per MB here) and getting the staff and educators set up to use email. Currently, if they have to do any type of correspondence, they have to either a) make an expensive phone call (an equivalent $0.50/min during business hours), b) drive 25 km to the nearest town to fax documents, or c) pay for a minibus taxi to drive 2 hrs to the district office and hand-deliver documents. Email is a blessing in disguise and I hope it works out in the schools’ favour.

Cloud Photo Intermission! (Part deux)

Living in such a flat area on the outskirts of the Kalahari, I have developed a slightly unhealthy obsession for clouds here. Even though I never grew up with mountains as a child, I have a long-standing fascination with them. And because of that, I jokingly say that the clouds are my mountains. It makes the flat not so…flat.

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(Back to the story!)

Another project I'm proposing  is a PC World Maps Project, a very successful and simple painting of a 12' x 6' world map painted on the side of a school. The learners help trace and paint the countries. We are also going to make a large South Africa map as well as the school emblem. This will be for both the primary and secondary schools. The World Maps Project was started in 1988 by a PCV in the Dominican Rep and has caught on like wildfire throughout the countries where PCVs serve. I've seen a few on the sides of nearby village schools where former PCVs have lived. Should be a fun project :)

While we're getting our hands dirty with paint, I figured we could incorporate another proposed project of building picnic tables for the school courtyards. Currently, they have no adequate, comfortable place to sit, study, eat, and socialize outside. It's nice for the learners to be outside during the winter to avoid the cold classrooms and to be outside during the summer to avoid the hot, stuffy classrooms. Plus, it can help alleviate the overcrowding of the classrooms. So, I'm working on a formal proposal hoping to get all wood and hardware donated from local hardware stores. I'd like to have all the wood pieces pre-cut so it's easier to transport and so that we don't have learners cutting their fingers off. I thought each grade could assemble the tables as part of their technology class and paint them as they chose. Then, they could take pride of something they built that other future learners will benefit from. Fingers crossed (not cut) on that one.

Trash pickup is not a common theme from what I’ve seen—many youth just throw it on the ground after they’re finished with a wrapper or plastic bag. It's scattered around the streets and fields. What isn't laying around or eaten by goats is burned in thick black smoky fires, which smell of burning plastic. I called a few recycling centers and am working on making arrangements for either us to pick up and bring recyclables into the nearest large town or, if they're willing, to have them come out and collect on-site. I think with the combined help of area schools, we can make it worth their while to come out and pick up our glass, plastic, paper, and cans. Again, fingers crossed!

Cloud Photo Intermission! (Last one, promise)


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Sunrise, sunset (ok, who’s singing Fiddler by now? I am.)

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(And, we’re back!)

When I'm not busy working on these projects, I'm still giving assistance at the schools, showing how to make tables and worksheets on the computer or substitute teaching if an educator is sick or is at a workshop for the day. But what I really look forward to every is teaching my class every week. I am really, really enjoying my time with my Grade 5 Technology class. We're starting to make breakthroughs in communication, understanding what we can expect from each other in the classroom and speaking more English. I have more structure for them to follow on a weekly basis this quarter and in turn, they are excited to participate and not so embarrassed to speak up in class. We meet 3 days a week, 4 periods in total. Tuesdays, I give them new vocabulary words for the week related to what we're studying that week. Our unit this term is Computers. Each week we study a new part of the computer and learn how it works. We review the words and read the definition for each in preparation for Friday's vocab quiz. I also post pictures of the week's Mystery Technology. They love guessing what that mystery technology is. I have them ask educators, family, and use books to research what it is. Past weeks’ objects were a solar panel charger, a jet engine, an electrical pole transformer, and a ball from a ball-point pen. They need to tell me what it is and what it does. The first to guess correctly gets to be my assistant the following week. I can see they really get excited to win. Wednesday is a double period where I teach lessons related to the vocab words and that week's parts of the computer. After the lesson, I have them work on an in-class activity that I mark and record. Having weekly activities, I can make sure we're all together. At the end of this term, instead of a project like the last two terms, I will have them write a test, preparing them as we go. Fridays are fun days. We begin with the vocab quiz that I reminded them about earlier that week. It's short, worth 5 marks, and only takes 5 minutes for 5 fill-in-the-blank or multiple choice questions. After the quiz, they are rewarded with two activities, ranging from maths puzzles, mazes, logic puzzles, or a spelling bee. The first to complete both activities successfully wins some Pop Rocks (from America)! It's amazing how eagerly, quietly, and quickly they will work for a cool prize like Pop Rocks. I know I would!

And that, my friends & family, is my week. I know I haven't really shared too much about what I've been doing lately, so I figured it's about darn time I do so! Hope this gives you a better idea of what I'm doing and how much I'm enjoying my work here.

I'm re-reading what I've just written and if you don't mind, I'd like to tailor this email into a blog to share with others. People always ask “So how's South Africa?” “What kinds of things are you doing?” I figured this may be a good way to let people know what I'm up to other than just sharing about my adventures outside the village. But just know that these words were originally meant for you. :)

Assuming that the teachers’ strike doesn’t set us (the schools and I) back too far, I hope to get going on my projects ASAP—I’ve got the go-ahead by the schools to start looking for paint and lumber donations. So that’s a good thing.


Final Thought

Whew! I appreciate it if you made it this far in reading my words—such dedication! Or, you’re just scrolling to the bottom hoping to find some more really neat cloud photos, right!? Well, if you are a scrolling cloud-enthusiast, you’re in luck!

P1120766 (480x360)  Don’t they kind of look like mountains?

(Lastly, I just have to say that if you enjoy digital photography and take way too many photos like I do, check out FastStone Photo Resizer. It’s a great free program that is really easy to use, with a ton of settings, and does batch edits in a flash.)

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Well, that’s about all I have for today’s show. Stay tuned for our next episode, It was here. Did you feel it? coming soon to a blog near you! ◊ Salang Sentle—Stay Well