This is not a paper I would turn into grad school that was proofread, spell checked, and cared about but never or barely read. This is a blog that people will actually read but not grade. I write like I think and talk, which is not organized or correct in many ways. I was diagnosed with chronic sarcasm as a child, its genetic.

The views expressed on this website are entirely my own and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sassy Sami and the Secondary School

It’s hot. Damn. I want some cold drink, think I’ll go get some Tab.
                Reasons why that thought is all sorts of weird:
1.        “cold drink”
2.       It is going to get a lot hotter
3.       Wanting cold drink
4.       Tab

So the week or so I have had some blog moments, but chose to not relive them. I have spent some time at the secondary school which was overwhelming, depressing, but also exciting, hopeful and fun. A teenager fell in love with me and another called me fat. I made and devoured French toast, puked my brains out (not in that order), and had some very good conversations with several people at Bathuseng (the org I work for) which were very frustrating but overall promising.  

Secondary school:
Arranging work at the secondary school has been less than awesome. The broken appointments and general poor attitude from admin and teachers should have given me sufficient warning to how this last week ‘observing classes’ would go, but I still show up every day refusing to accept the bullshit as normal. Tuesday was my big day with the 12 grade learners, so I show up to the school at 8am and stand in the back of ‘assembly’ (all the students stand in the courtyard and someone prayers, they sing some, most don’t pay attention and sometimes there are productive announcements) waiting for classes to start. The first class I am supposed to be a part of is at 9am, so I sit in a random room a couple teachers share as an office. <teachers don’t have their own classrooms so they keep their things in an office> The teacher that I am supposed to be with is not around, she is still at home. No one is surprised or seems concerned. I ask the other LO teacher (who I am supposed to be observing later that week) what we are going to do about it. He seems to think I will teach that class, and all of her other classes (including Afrikaans and geography). I am very aware of how many the schools work and classrooms filled with learners and no teacher is normal, but, I like to be a pain in dumbasses and ask questions. I ask what would happen if I was not there, where her lesson plans are so I could teach a proper lesson, and ask if it is against any rules for a teacher to not show up without warning or reason. That didn’t go very far. 

Next thing you know I am standing in front of a classroom of 12 grade learners, ages ranging from 17 to 20-something. The room had broken windows and an aluminum/tin door that did not shut, and on that windy day was very annoying. We ended pushing 3 bricks and a desk to try and keep it from disturbing us too much, but I couldn’t help but think about when these kids start eating me alive it will take longer for my crying lekgowa ass to escape. Luckily for me, the students were great. It took a solid 25 minutes for me to get them to answer any type of question, I tried not to push too much and made sure to explain what I was doing carefully remembering the general teaching style is lecture and silence from the class. After we went around introducing ourselves and giving one fun fact they lightened up a little, and I got some information from them. We talked about school, challenges, successes, what they want to do after they finish secondary school, and what they want to change in the community. Most people do not make it to 12th grade, there is little incentive to stay in school and plenty of reasons to drop out, so these learners are more likely to be model students simply because they have made it this far. It was wonderful to hear what they want to do after school, most said either doctor, nurse, or social worker and several explained that the community needs these services and they wanted to be the ones to help. I am not a pessimist by nature, but it was also a little sad when we were talking about it because there was a clear disconnect between what they wanted to do and what they thought they could do, and although I think they have the ability to become a doctor- it is not likely. Especially when no one is willing to teach them. 

An example of the defeated mindset was when we were talking about school conditions and one girl said “I am not mad at the school, we are in a rural village, we can’t have things like other places.” AAAHHHH!!!!!! Was how I wanted to react, but I chose to contain myself. That mindset is so widespread, and I am afraid has gone from the apartheid generations to the first free generation. I think many young people understand they deserve better, but I think people have been desensitized and there is little fight or motivation left. So maybe the ones who know they deserve better do not think it is attainable, or have no idea how to reach it- so feel hopeless. 

SO ANYWAY, after that class was lunch. I sat and ate my apple, and about 1/5 of the food they put in front of me. The teacher finally showed up, and informed us that she will not be attending the rest of her classes because she doesn’t want to, and she thinks I will teach, this was of course was not in English and I had no idea what was going on. Again, I found myself in a classroom by myself. So for the next two classes had discussions with the classes and actually did really well with one of the classes. I had them do a little exercise about how they can all solve a problem in the community, next thing you know I am like some motivational speaker that the learners are listening to and asking questions. Where did that come from? Not sure but it was cool. After the last class I found the teacher and tried having a little discussion. Fail. Worthless.
When I went to the school today to observe another LO class, the morning prayer went to 830 which is dumb but typical- class starts at 8 so the first period many times just doesn’t happen. So go to the teacher I am observing. He asked what the plan was, and I reminded him. He then informed me that there is no LO today, its PE b/c it’s Friday. That of course made me chuckle because he is the one that told me to show up at 8 for LO. Worthless. Part of our convo went something like this:
Him: today is PE because it’s Friday, I don’t know what we can do. Maybe you can teach them, you know aerobics, no?
Me: yes, I do know aerobics, however, I did not prepare anything because you told me I was observing your LO class this morning.
Him: but there is no LO class today, its PE
Me: I understand that. Why do you need me to teach PE, who is supposed to do it?
Him: I am. Its my class.
Me: ok, so it is your class. Not my class. I do not understand why I should teach it. I will observe LO next week, and we can all meet again and discuss the next step of our plan.
Him: you are leaving?
Me: yes. I came here to observe LO because you asked me to help make the classes better. Since there is no LO class I am not going to waste my time. 

The rose colored Peace Corps goggles that most new PCV wear, the ones that can make lazy co workers look hardworking, well those faded away about week two at site, but I still refuse to accept the irresponsible behavior that is standard at too many organizations and schools acceptable. I have been walking on egg shells, trying to be so damn culturally sensitive and not offend anyone since I got here and I am kind of over it. Being a horrible worker is not a cultural difference, and I feel no need to be sensitive about that. I am 100% aware that the reason many of these problems are around is because of the history of South Africa. Let’s be real, the white people really F’ed things up. It is the old oppressive government at fault for the horrible education system and much of the poverty, but continuing to excuse this attitude will not help anyone and the young generation needs some role models. 

Well, so I have a lot of work to do at the schools. As much as I would like to give some of the teachers the bird and leave, the students deserve teachers. If I can help them study for their national final exam which decides if they graduate (8 ppl passed at this school last year), then great. Maybe I will meet some other teachers that are motivated and we can work together. Maybe stars will align and some of the not so amazing teachers will improve, I have to try. 

So that was my week at the secondary school, sorry for the rambling. I could have gone on for a couple more pages, but I’ll stop. Now on to a brief summary of the good things that happened at Bathuseng this week! YAY! I had a really good discussion with Mma Baloyi (manager) about some major changes that need to happen at the org. I explained my frustrations with the organization and certain people and she was supportive. Without getting into the details, it was really good. Done with egg shells.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

extrordinarily ordinary

August 17, 2011

I need a date book
<but don’t send me one>
Reason #26 why I need a date book, I just remembered I am a Master International student and I have all sorts of stuff to turn into USF. Whooopsies.
Reasons 1-25 range from
            #5 to make me feel important
#7 because I am working at 2 different schools, Bathuseng, and trying to write two different grants all while refusing to lose sleep or miss an appointment
# 11 I am supposed to be training for a race in November and another in March
# 13 So people think I am busy
# 3 Something else to doodle in

So I guess with all this extra money that I do not have laying around I will make my way to a stationary place, I hate datebooks. It’s a big commitment, usually a whole year! Oh life is such a struggle.


Things are starting to pick up a bit. The secondary school wants me to help with grade 11 and 12 ‘Life Orientation’ class. By ‘help’ I mean take over, but I am learning from my peers and standing my ground. Explaining ‘sustainability’ and the Peace Corps goals as reasons why I won’t take everything over gave the teachers and principal a glazed over look, but what the hell, I tried. Not to mention I have zero training, but that doesn’t seem to matter. 

From what I understand Life Orientation (LO) is a catch all for subject matter that teens need but are not getting in other subjects or from home. Things such as health, stress management, possible career choices, human rights, and any other subject you can think to throw at teens. I am excited for this subject; I think there is a lot of potential to make it interesting and really helpful. I am most excited about the health stuff and the potential to throw in some gender/youth empowerment and gauge interest for after school clubs. Maybe I’ll actually use my degree? Maybe. High hopes for now, hopefully they don’t eat me alive. 

The primary school principal wants me to work on the curriculum for a couple different subjects, it’s not looking promising. There was an education volunteer here from 2006-2008 and after talking to her I realized they asked me to do exactly what she did. Not only is that school not my primary assignment, but I have no education training and reinventing the wheel seems semi-pointless. Mah. 

My workshop series with the OVC carers is going well. Not exceptional, but good enough. We have been working on goal setting and program planning. I had to extend the number of sessions after I realized just how foreign these concepts are. Now I know why I am here for two years. 

Another reason why I love it here: the OVC carers are sick of fetching water, so they hook up three different hoses to stretch across the road to the municipal tap and fill up a giant Jojo bin intended to catch rain water. But sometimes still walk to the tap and sit there for 45 minutes to get away from the Centre when our staff pissed them off. They also fill me in on the dirt of what is going on. You go girls. 

August 21
It's Sunday. whoop whoop. lived another week. This next week I actually have some legit stuff to do, tomorrow I am supposed to be meeting with a couple teachers from the primary school, too bad the principal still hasn't told me what time this meeting is. Tuesday I will be shadowing the secondary LO class and working out a teaching schedule. They asked me to lead the morning prayer and sing, i said no. They thought I was joking, i then said 'absolutely not' and i think they got the hint.

OH. so friday was supposed to be the carers first planned activity with the kids. didn't go perfect, actually almost didn't go at all. i ended up just playing frisbee with a bunch of kids while the carers played volleyball amongst themselves. ill write about it later and post some pics, despite it not going how it was supposed to i had fun. at one point there was a baby on my back. whats not to love?

My favorite carer is on leave for the next two weeks, she speaks the best english and actually has interest in improving the centre, i think i might alter the workshops while she is gone, do some review of what we have been doing. i also am giving more responsibility to the coordinator, so we'll see how that goes.

I have a 'bagobe' (pap) lesson wed, haha. The favorite carer (Mokgadi) is coming over and we are going to cook pap, i am also cooking her an American breakfast. Should be interesting. I am not all too concerned with learning how to cook but I figure since i ultimately don't have a host family or anyone around me ever i should try and weezle my in somehow. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Oh hey, I'm still alive

Bloggy BLOG BLOG. 

I realized I have not written in a while, and I am also behind in e mails to friends and family- this is mostly because I don’t really have anything exciting to say. BUT I suppose I should give a general update on life. I have received some more questions from people making me realize I have done a poor job of trying to explain what I am doing here, how my living situation is, and just how I am in general. I will do my best to explain this with an edited version of life in PC SA. 

I am now out of the ‘Lockdown’ phase, which was our observation phase. During that time we had to complete a needs assessment. I did mine pretty well, there are a couple things I could add too to make it better, but I am confident that it good enough. I turned this in almost two months ago to Peace Corps, considering this was supposed to be a big deal I hoped it would be at least read by someone, commented on and maybe we would get a little feedback, however, this has not happened.  I guess I am still in grad school mode, and need to snap out of it. 

ANYWAY, so lockdown is over, ‘real’ work begins. 

The first mountain for me to climb is getting the DIC (drop in centre for orphans) more productive. We currently have motivated caregivers and (some) food to feed the kids. Drop in centres are supposed to also work with the kids of life skills, fun activities, homework – and other things like that. Apparently once upon a time this centre did that, but now there are no activities and kids are not coming consistently making it difficult to start activities. So, this is where I come in. The caregivers told me the biggest challenges are 1)the inconsistent timing of children coming/kids not coming at all & 2) not sure what to do with kids/having no activities. Seems to me if we can get some activities going then maybe the kids would have reason to come, and they wouldn’t come just to eat shortly before we close. So, that is what we are doing. So I am doing a series of workshops with the caregivers about all of that. I am focusing a lot on planning and goals. I hope to eventually have them making daily lesson plans, weekly and monthly plans. This is something that is pretty standard for DICs, but has not been done here. I am also trying to tap into my creative side and am teaching them activities we can do with the children that do not need resources. For example, we are saving newspapers and will have a fashion show and contest who can make the best wardrobe out of newspapers. We are also making a volleyball net out of old plastic bags. I have to admit these ideas are not original- they are out of an awesome book I bought. It is exciting though, after the first workshop I did with the carers about the importance of play and how to facilitate they were already playing with the kids that afternoon.
One very, very important step I am taking is meetings with another DIC. A PCV (I would like to give a shout out to Elizabeth/Metja of Moshate) who is another SA 23- her and I are having monthly meeting between us and our respective OVC/DIC Coordinators. These group meetings make it easier for us to share ideas and I think make it easier for the staff members to express ideas and learn from each other. It also holds them/us accountable for changes we say we will make. 

Another project will be working with the primary and secondary schools. This, however, will be challenge to say the least. It is exciting but scary. The primary school wants me to pretty much get the teachers to teach and implement lesson plans, haha, oh yea no problem. The secondary school I think wants me to teach, which I am very willing to do if we can get the schedule to work out. I would most likely be teaching some health stuff which would be awesome! BUT we’ll see. 

Long term project for me is a mentoring/afterschool program. This is a major project that will take a lot of planning, and I will need to get a grant. My plan is to train some of the secondary school students to be mentors, have them mentor some of the primary school kiddos and ppl here at the centre- and also have them be able to train more mentors. This will also be an afterschool program focusing on all the fun stuff that we should be focusing on. Ya know, female empowerment, physical activity, passing school, HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, fun stuff, sex ed… all that good stuff. There is currently nothing to do here, so, kids have sex and drink a lot. The sex ed is sub par and there are very few good role models. The challenge right now is finding some good counterparts to work with- once I can figure that part out I can write the grant. Oh yea, and I have to find a bunch of other donations and plan it all. No problem. But this will be the big project that when I walk away from here, if it is successful and looks like it can run without me being here- I will be happy. 

What other questions have I had? 

Missing home-Yes, I miss home, a lot. August in MI has always been my favorite, this will be my first time not spending at least half of it there. Shame. I miss everyone very much, but feel very lucky I have access to the internet so I stay semi connected. 

What do I eat?- A lot of rice. A lot of eggs. A lot of beans. A lot of apples. A lot of junk food if it is around, although I am really trying to cut that out. I recently did some real grocery shopping, so i have had some more veggies, and made some wonderful hummus. I cook over a propane stove which is pretty awesome. My workout regimen is improving, so that is also good- but damn, I miss running on bayshore. I MISS ELTON (my bike) SO MUCH!!!

Water/bathing- I fetch my water using 3 buckets and a wheelbarrow. It isn’t too far away so not bad. I go usually every other day. The municipal taps are spread out around the village, but rarely work so I go to a house that has a bore hole and buy it for 1R per bucket (25 L). The family is nice, doesn’t really speak English but sometimes they don’t make me pay which is cool, but really that price is super low so (for me) isn’t a factor. My limiting factor for water is laziness. I use buckets to bathe, I have got myself down to using very little water. It is a pretty pathetic game I play seeing how little water I use. 

How is language going?- its not. My tutor is not nearly as awesome as our language teachers during PST and the ppl at my org are more interested in learning English than teaching my Sepedi. I understand this, and support it. They have to write all reports in English (which is stupid), and if they ever want a better job need to have better English, so it is important for them to know English. I am still trying to learn more, but am struggling. My PC experience would be DARASTICLLY different if I spoke the language, it’s frustrating, but whatever I guess that’s life.

What else have ppl asked? I don’t remember. But please feel free to continue inquiring about whatever, I am happy to answer!!! 

6 months down, 20 to go.