Photo by Teresa Rafidi

Photo by Teresa Rafidi

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

14 Down, 12 More to Go. . .

12 Months in the Bush

As of September, we have been living in our village for one year, and have been in South Africa for 14 months. I can't believe how fast the first year went by. It seems like we just arrived last month. Some days it feels like we've done a lot in our first year and some days it feels like we haven't done anything at all. We have three really supportive principals, one of whom is like a father to us. We have a host-mother who isn't necessarily a good substitute for our real mothers, but nevertheless whom we have grown fond of. We also have some really good friends here in the village. People who we hope to be able to keep in touch with after we leave. They have been great confidants, teachers, and friends. We've seen births of children, deaths of co-workers, weddings, funerals, birthdays, and so much more. We have taught people a few things, but we have also learned a lot. We continually navigate the complicated South African school system as well as the day-to-day tasks of rural village life. All in all, the first year has been good. Now we are gearing up for our second year. Lets hope that the second year is just as good, if not better then the first!

Cow Dipping, Not Cow Tipping (Article by Robin)

Mondays in the village are cow days. Literally all of the cows in town from both the A-side and the B-side of the village come to the dipping station not far from our house. Here they dip the cows and sometimes even the dogs for ticks. Ticks are a real problem here in South Africa as tick-bite fever also known as Rickettsia (also related to Rocky Mountain spotted fever in the US) is highly prevalent here. In the one year that we've been living in the village, both Woody and one of our cats have contracted African tick-bite fever (a bacterial infection transmitted by ticks). Dipping day makes walking to our high school on Mondays very interesting as I mosey past what feels like every cow in the village.  There is a lot of 'Mooing' in the air on Mondays.  It starts early in the morning around 5 or 6 AM.  We can hear the Moos all the way from our house as we get ready for school and eat our breakfast.  Actually it's more like wailing than mooing.  It sounds like an episode from the TV show Land of the Lost around here.  Before moving here, I never knew that cows could sound like dinosaurs.  It often sounds like we have a Tyrannosaurus-Rex on the loose in the village. 

Then as I head toward school, I find myself walking through herd after herd of cattle as they make their way to the dipping station. They often block the road and slow down the traffic of cars who are trying to get to the B-side of the village. Along with the cows follow the cattle dogs and their owners who heard them.  Among the many breeds, the two main types of cattle here in South Africa are the African Nguni cows and the Indian Braman cows. 

As you may or may not be aware, cows do not like to swim. So getting them to jump into a vat of water is not easy. The herd-master has to smack them with a stick to get them to jump into the pool of dipping fluid. When they emerge completely soaked, they walk around making a muddy mess. After a few hours of this wet mucky business of dipping, the cows finally head home to graze while waiting for this all to start over again next week...

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish (Article by Woody)

For the things of this world cannot be made known without a knowledge of mathematics. ~Roger Bacon

So I'm finally in the classroom. It only took a year, but now that the setup for the computer classroom is done at one primary school, and I've had a chance to observe some of the math classes at the high school, I'm actually in a position to co-teach the computer classes and some math classes.

The computer classes at the primary school are going well, about as expected. The kids were a little confused the first couple weeks, but I think they're finally getting the hang of it, mouse clicking like pros, and some even topping 30 words-per-minute time on typing practice (granted only typing the letters F and J, but still not bad). It took a little trial, but we figured out a schedule that would work without overwhelming my main counterpart, Mr Mhlaba. So when classes resume in early October, he'll be in charge of the curriculum, but will only be teaching the grade 7 and ABET (Adult Basic Education and Training - think GED in the U.S.) learners. Three additional teachers have agreed to take over the grades 4, 5, and 6 classes. At the other primary school we're just ironing out the kinks in the schedule, but should be able to begin in October with a similar schedule, only it may involve working with 4 main teachers to cover grades 4 to 7, and 4 backup teachers. All together hopefully this will be a good learning experience for the kids and for the teachers as well.

At the high school, I'm mainly working with the teacher in charge of mathematics (or “maths” as they call it here) for grades 10 to 12. Most of his classes consist of the kids who are studying the science-major track offered at the school. I'm a little concerned because it seems the curriculum, or maybe just the lesson planning used at the school, is a little scatter-shot. Also, the kids seem a bit confused by the material and lack some basic arithmetic skills that I would normally expect to see well ingrained by those grades, having to depend on a calculator for everything from division to basic addition. Since I'm only at the school 2 days a week, it's difficult to judge, but as far as I can tell it seems that the kids will be studying something like geometry (shapes, area, volume, etc) one day, then 3 days later be working on something like statistics and probability. On the other hand, being there only 2 days a week, and coming into the classroom so late in the year, I may have just missed the earlier, more structured lessons. So my goal for next term is to spend more time with the teachers, helping them organize their lesson plans and pick out homework assignments to ensure that they hit the ground on a slightly better footing at the beginning of next year.

Nghala Means Lion or “King of the Road” (Article by Robin)

Singing on the bus
About once a year, each school usually hosts a school trip. This year, one of our primary schools opted for a trip to Kruger Park. About 200 kids from the school attended plus about 15 staff members including teachers, general works, Admin staff, SGB members, and two Peace Corps volunteers. As we piled all of the kids into the buses in the morning around 9 AM, there were parents and community members standing outside seeing them off. The parents get almost as excited as the kids about the trip. Well, rightfully they paid good money to send their kids on the trip and they also want to be sure that their kids make it onto the bus and don't get left behind. The kids all waved goodbye to their parents as we took off on our journey to Kruger. It took us about 45 minutes to drive to the Paul Kruger gate on bumpy, dusty dirt roads, the whole time the kids were singing at the top of their lungs. As we entered the gate, the excitement hung in the air. Once inside, we were taken on a tour of the Kruger museum and library that talks about the history of the park and the area. On our drive around the park, we got to see lots of game animals including kudu, impala, bushbucks, waterbucks and more. We also got to see elephants, hippos, buffalo, wildebeest, zebras, and giraffes. We occasionally stopped at the allotted rest stops (the only places in the park where you are permitted to get out of your vehicle) and took breaks for lunch, bathroom and snack breaks for the kids, and so on.

Lion traffic jam...
As we came to the close of our visit in Kruger and started heading toward the exit gate, we soon encountered a lion traffic jam as we found several juvenile male lions who had decided to sit in the middle of the road. This was the highlight of the whole trip. At that point, Woody and I had moved from riding in the bus with the kids to riding with our Principal in his personal car. Since we were in a private vehicle, we got up close and personal with these lions. Several times they walked right past our car and stared at us through the window. It seems these lions had decided that it was their road and they were going to sit in it. They picked a less then opportune time to do so too, because we were on our way rushing to the gate before it closed at 6 PM. Well, needless to say, we didn't make it to the gate on time. Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in Africa. It covers over 19,485 square kilometers and is roughly the size of Massachusetts. It's a huge park. It took us about 9 hours to complete our school tour and we finally made it home that night about 8 PM. It was a long day but well worth it. Now we're ready for next year's trip!

Photo shoot!
View from our rear-view dashboard

Check out our Picasa photo album for more pictures of our trip to Kruger with the kids. 
Books, Books, Books, We Need Books!!
Do you have books that you no longer want? Donate them to a great cause! In light of our upcoming Literacy Centre project at the high school, we would like to host a book donations drive. Please join us in raising needed book donations for our future library at the high school. You can donate individual books or organize with your school, church, scouts group, community group, or host a drive at your place of business. Ask your local library to adopt our library project. We'll be giving up-to-date info on the progress of the library build. Donated books can be either new or used. Our request for books will continue from now until the library is officially open, which will be several months from now. What better way to help this growing community than to support education and literacy? To see a list of books and get ideas of what we need for the high school, please review the past June 2011 post or contact us directly via email. Books can be mailed to:

Robin & Woody Al-haddad
U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers
Schools and Communities Resource Program
PO Box 1174
Thulamahashe 1365
South Africa

With support from you we will be able to enhance and expand the high school's impact on the lives of the students and within the community.

As always, we appreciate your support!!! 

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