Monday, March 22, 2010

Tiger Kloof School

Hey, I got to check out Tiger Kloof School on Friday.

I've always been interested in it because the church and other buildings sit off to the side of the road on the way to/back from my shopping town. 

My curiosity was hightened still, after seeing a Dave Matthews/Tim Reynolds concert tee-shirt on a South African shopper in town.  The concert t-shirt said something along the lines of "A benefit concert for the Tiger Kloof School, SA."

Dave Matthews?  THE Dave Matthews of the Dave Matthews Band?  (He's a big, big rock star in the US and a very talented and gifted musician.)

The very same one.  And now I know that Tiger Kloof is a school.  What's the connection of this rock star to this Tiger Kloof School?

Well, it seems that Dave Matthews is the nephew of a most recent principal of the school and it seems uncle has asked favors of his rock star nephew.

Very curious, I am.

And then, I find out that one of my supervisors taught there.  I wanna go, I wanna go.

So my big whine got me a tour of Tiger Kloof School on Friday.  Emily/Lesego went with me, and speaking for myself, I had a grand, grand time.  A gentleman "in charge" of the school, I'll call him Mr. Z to protect his privacy, gave us most of his morning and early afternoon.

It's a wonderful, wonderful school, rich in history.  If you want all the information, be sure to visit their website:

I was curious about the title of the school: Tiger Kloof.  When asked, I was told that the original white settlers to the area found leopards.  However, they thought leopards "tigers" and named the kloof after "tigers."  A kloof is a large, very large, V-shaped valley that the school property overlooks.

(I also learned that tigers are not native to Africa and there are no tigers on the continent (save the zoos).  Tigers are native to India.)

I was impressed with all of the school but super impressed with the primary school and the library.  I was drooling at all of the resources available to the learners.

Although the school is a public school, it receives a great deal of financial support from outside donors.  (Hence, the rock star nephew.)  However, it receives support from donors all over the world.

The school has an organic vegetable garden and raises livestock.  I'm hoping to go back to see this operation, as we ran short of time.  I've also asked if I might come "help out" and maybe learn some techniques I can pass on to my village's community garden.

It was a wonderful trip for me, not only to see such a wonderful school but to have a gardening resource.  I hope to visit often, and I hope they can put me to work!!

More pictures are posted to my Facebook page at the following link.  You need not be a member of Facebook to see the photos:

Soon, Karen

ps. I'm off to training and may not be online for a week!  No worries!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

two new birds, grading papers, and, um, some awfulness....

I was hoping to write a cool blog, but now I'm at the library and my notes are back in my dorm room.  No unified, thematic story today--sorry!

I have two new birds to hang out with, and the photo credits are below.  The guy on the left is a Pin-tailed Whydah, or Vidua macroura.  Isn't he amazing?  Of course, he didn't look this dramatic this morning when I spotted him.

We're down to two remaining months of summer and the grass in the soccer field (outside my window) is chest high.  The tough, reedy grass is attracting a variety of new birds to watch:  they like to perch on the long stems and sway back and forth in the breeze.  They are so much fun to watch.

The other guy is a Kalahari Scrub-robin (Erythropygia paena) and he doesn't like to hang out in the long grass, but I spotted him under a large tree looking for stuff to eat (much in the same way our American robins do, but there are no earthworms here for them to eat.)  I love him for his white eye-brow and his rusty bottom! 

After another round of grading six grade English papers, I thought I'd again share some comments from student writing:

The assignment was to list 3 causes and solutions to illiteracy:  "HIV is not good to drink."  (I'll say!) 

The assignment was to write a paragraph about their family:  "When my Grandmother and Grandfather reproduce..."  (okaaaaaaaaaaaaaay)

My Grandfather is black.  My Grandmother is black.  My mother is white...  :-)

And my favorite: "I wonder what that says?"  (In regards to the question asked.)  :-)

My grading standards have changed somewhat.  Before, when I'm evaluating punctuation and the correct use of it in student writing, I look for how punctuation is used.

Now, when evaluating student writing for punctuation, I ask myself, "Is there any?"  :-)

I wasn't going to say anything but I guess I will.  I saw some shocking child abuse, oops, I mean corporal punishment this morning in a school.  Someone with more authority than the educators carried a 7th grader in by the shirt collar, threw him on a table and forced him to balance himself on the table edge by his front thighs while his punisher went to look for a switch.  (I could never imagine this as a kind of punishment; it seemed much more in line with torture than punishment.)

I did my regular, ineffective cowardly thing of freezing, popping into denial, "Is this really happening?" and then, "If it is happening, what should I do?"

The person issuing the punishment sensed my alarm and took the student into his office to administer the whipping.  I heard 8 whacks, smacks, or whatever you call the sound of a sturdy, thin, pliant branch hitting someone's flesh.

When I witness something like this, it is beyond horrible.  If I saw an adult treating an adult that way, it would be horrible.  But this is a child.

I definitely have a very violent, physical reaction when I witness these kinds of incidents (this is my second of the more alarming whippings): I feel as though I will vomit.

I am going to become very prayerful about what my role with this is: should I stay, say nothing, and model non-violent classroom teaching techniques?

Should I confront the abuser?  (If I confront the abuser, it will have enormous consequences for me, the school, the educators, the community, and the learners...)

Should I ask to be removed from the school?

Peace Corps cautions us to choose our battles carefully...

I don't know what the answer is, but will pray for guidance...  I think I've felt kind of stunned for most of the day...

I'm sorry to share this awfulness with you...

Soon, Karen

picture credits:

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

lost weekend, and then some...

Well, the good news is that from this point on, I know exactly what to do to prepare for my classes—both the college and the primary school—for the remainder of the year. And for next year, should I choose to teach again.

The bad news is that I lost about 7 days of my life getting “caught up” with my planning because it is:  THE END OF THE SCHOOL TERM.  (Hence, everyone is busy and tired.)

All of those months of standing around with nothing to do? I could have been doing all these things that I’ve spent the last 7 days doing. And we’re talking FULL days here: from 5:00 am in the morning to 9:00 pm at night--all weekend. I am very, very grumpy.

But, again, the good news is that I know exactly how to avoid this problem in the future—and WILL! The neat thing about being a teacher is that you can set up your own little world and carry on in the chaos going on around you. However, it is important to KNOW what you need to know to set up and prepare for your classes. Now I know.

So, for most of my weekend, I was working from my room. Any time I try to work from home, be it teaching or writing, I find tons of things to stare at (rather than the papers I’m trying to grade or the chapter I’m trying to write.)

Here are some of my distractions in the photos above:

I have no screens on my windows and I read at night and my "lights on" draws a variety of insect creatures.  Most of the insect creatures are not welcome.  But these guys, preying mantids, are highly prized and sought after.  These guys are AWESOME in the garden and a wonderful "insecticide."
Now, I hate it when these guys come in because they are likely doomed by my DEET-drenched mosquito net, so if they come in, I try like mad to catch them and release them.

Sometimes, however, they enter unnoticed by me and I don't discover them until days later, when their likelihood of survival is diminished further still.

So, it's Saturday, I'm working, and guess who pops his head at me when I look down at the table leg?  Yes, Mr. PM. I need to get him out. He wasn't happy about his capture, but he endured a photo shoot.  It was hard to get a shot because he was under plastic, but these two are good enough.  Isn't he lovely?  I was able to successfully let him go and hope he's in the garden feasting as we speak.

Back to work.

Oh, look!  It's time to feed the "dogs."  These guys begged their way into my life weeks ago. I thought I would "lose" them after leaving for a training week, but no, they remembered me.  They are just like dogs.  They'll land in my eye view, flop around, and make noise.  Or they will perch on the edge of the window and coo, their necks blowing up like bubbles.  But mostly, they just state at me until I feed them.  I eventually feed them.

Back to work.

And then this beetle guy flies in, sounding like a bomber jet.  I don't know what he is; he is new to me.  But I imagine when I find hordes of them in the garden, I will quickly come to hate him.  Capture, photo, back to work.

The photo of the specks in the tall grass are actually replacing the photo I accidentally deleted.  This shot is of goats grazing in the long grass.  On Saturday, at the hottest part of the day, a group of children gathered to play in the soccer field and I spent a lot of time staring at them.  I'm always amazed at how the people here don't drink water.  The children will play outside in the brutally hot sun, and even the college kids will play competitive matches, but no one drinks water.

How do they avoid becoming overheated or dehydrated?

And I remember that ridiculous trend a few years back, (gosh, I hope it's over now!) whereby the gas stations would sell those hideous cups that actually held 64 oz (a GALLON) of soda. Good grief.

Back to work.

Then I would stop and stare at my new treat, these wonderful peppers.  I'm not sure what kind they are, but boy oh boy, are they spicy!  I throw them in the pan with my eggs and the air is so spiced I can hardly breathe!  I love it! They burn all the way down!!

(Yet another aside. After my tour here, I will be quite proud of my eggs and soups!)

Back to work.

And then I play some more with my newly-arrived package.  Yes, you're seeing right: it's school supplies wrapped in underwear! Isn't it fun?  It felt like an Easter Basket with all of the colors. 

(An aside: You've endured my constant laments about not having enough money, eh?  I naively thought my living allowance would cover clothes replacement.  It does not.  Imagine my surprise when my wardrobe of brand new under things, bought especially for the trip, [new underwear will last two years, right?), fell to pieces exactly six months into service.  This, in and of itself, would not be such a terrible thing. However, my brand new shoes, bought especially for the trip, [brand new shoes will last two years, right?], decided to wear to tatters at exactly the same time.  FAMILY TO THE RESCUE!  Thank you!)

I can't wait to get the pencils to the kids.  They don't make pencils with erasers--or I can't find them--here in rural SA, so these will be a real treat.  (IF I can get them past the educators; the educators seem more thrilled with basic school supplies than anyone!  I took a handful of plain, wooden rulers to the school and the educators were all over them!  You would have thought I had brought gold!  Nary a child saw a ruler that day!!) 

Back to work.

And lastly, I shot of what I now call Mother Africa's "faux storms."  Almost every evening, around 4:00 pm, these wonderful thunderclouds move in with all the bells and whistles: black skies, thunder, lightening, and you really think we'll get a HUGE storm.  This dramatic show will carry on for several hours, and then around 7:00 pm, everything blows over and the sun pops out.  I've been known to call Mother Africa a "blow hard."

However, she can't be discounted or underestimated.  I've learned that she can sneak in, when you're least expecting, and give you quite a doozy.  These usually hit hard under the cover of a "simple rain shower": damaging winds, heavy rain, flooding, structure damage, and loss of life.  These destructive storms, at least one of them, lasted all of 30 minutes.

I don't tease Mother Africa much about being a "blow hard."  I've learned better.

Back to work! 

Soon, Karen

Ps.  Today was the last day of the worst of it: papers are graded and "moderated;" (am still not quite sure what this process is); term grades calculated, all papers "filed" (big to-do about filing papers here) and I'm ready to crash and burn.

Am very, very excited to have time to "crash and burn."  Am spending Friday visiting Tiger Kloof, a world-renowned school very near me, a night in my shopping town (a hotel there offers PC volunteers a discount--YAY, someone else will make my bed and cook my meals!!), and next week, all volunteers are off to a week of training in a FABULOUS hotel with FABULOUS food.  I'm so excited, I can't wait!

But the best of it, after training, I'm spending the weekend with friends who live very near PILANESBURG NATIONAL PARK, and are taking me to see it.  I'm so thrilled, I could cry! 

Finally, I will be having fun in Africa! 

And after that?  A two-week holiday in honor of Easter; guess what I'll be doing?  PLANNING MY CLASSES FOR NEXT TERM SO THIS TERM'S NIGHTMARE NEED NEVER BE REPEATED!!


Thursday, March 11, 2010

A tiresome day and an answer: Why DON’T I just go home?

I know, I know. I said no more birds for awhile. I can’t help myself.

This is a cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis). These guys aren't spectacular all on their own, and we have these in the States. What I LOVE about these guys is that every morning, between 6:30 and 7:30 am, these guys fly in  groups in similar time increments as the UPS planes. At any time I look into the sky I can see a flock of them fluttering in behind an earlier group. What I love about these guys is, when in flight, their wing patterns make them appear as if the group is shimmering like an effervescent school of fish. Within the group, they will move around and trade places, in the same way large schools of fish will scatter about. I LOVE THEM. It makes me very happy to see them. (Photo not mine, see credit below).

I wake at 5:00 am because I have to cook my food in shifts: my double hotplate kicks off the circuit breaker so I can only use one burner at a time.

I’m grateful to note that the water is back on; we were going into day two without it.

I’m enjoying my tea, watching the egrets fly in like schools of fish and open my package of pearled barley to find it crawling with tiny insects.  Yum.

From 7:30 until 9:30, I’m feeling pretty good. The college is in a flurry to prepare files for both the educators and the learners. All papers must be bound, in order, and clearly identified. I’m a bit confused (as are others) but am getting answers to my questions.

I’m trying not to feel resentful about the fact that in all those months of doing nothing, I could have used the time to attend to matters such as this.

Around 8:30 I get a text message to one of my supervisors from the South African Department of Education: Could she come by for a chat at 10:00?

I respond that I’m teaching at that time and feel unsure at not knowing the protocol for such visits: Does a visit from a supervisor trump teaching a class? Should I cancel my class? She responds that she’ll come at 3:00.

I note, to myself, that today isn’t the best day, as I’m teaching at both the primary school and the college AND desperately need to get to the market because I have nothing to eat.

But, I tell her, ok, come at three.

At 10:00 am, I arrive at the primary school to teach my normally very well-behaved sixth graders to find them restless and inattentive. We accomplish very little. Our sixth grade democracy was rebelling today.

After my class that didn’t go well at all, I rush back to the college to teach my 12:15 college class that I spent several hours preparing for. The students, who didn’t bother to come yesterday, show up after class as I’m locking the classroom to inform me they won’t be in class tomorrow either.

(It seems that almost anything trumps class attendance in South Africa: student elections, needing to have papers signed, a celebration, another educator needing my students at that time, etc.)

I feel very angry about this; after all, I have PLANS for my class and there are exams next week. (There is that word again: plans. I’m beginning to better understand the old adage: If you want to make God laugh, make plans.)

I’m all prepared to teach with no where to go.

I dash to the local market to pay twice the price for rotten fruits and vegetables that I will throw half of away. I’m harassed and panhandled repeatedly along my shopping route.

I wait 45 minutes in the hot blazing sun for a kombi to return me to the college. When one finally arrives, I hurl myself inside the van with my two heavy bags of rotten produce and crawl over 15 people as I make my way to the back of the bus. I was thrilled when the 6-year-old boy, rather than scoot over to allow me to sit in his seat, motioned me to the very last seat.

I mentioned how very kind he was.

I return to the college, run my groceries to my room, then dash to find a computer so I can compile a test for my sixth-graders; it is “due” tomorrow. I have one half hour to work before my supervisor calls.

She calls at 2:45 to tell me she’s running late. Good, I have a few more minutes to work.

She arrives and I go to meet her in the administrative building. I’m carrying all of my work, schedules, lesson plans, etc. from both schools, because I’m not sure of the reason for the visit.
To my surprise, we meet on the sidewalk (we don’t even go inside) and have a very brief chat. She was only making a “courtesy call.”

And I think, ok, couldn’t we have done this on the phone? :-)

I work another hour on my test and blessedly find a working printer on campus (the only one, it seems).

I then meet one of my campus supervisors to help her download/install adobe reader so she can read pdf files. I tell her it will “only take a minute.”

After an hour, the download is finally installed, it is 6:00 pm and I limp back to my room.

Along the way, I endure yet another round of college students mocking me, as they have been all day, as I have worn a lovely jumper with colorful roosters embroidered on it. As I have passed groups of college students congregating, all day, they have mocked me as I pass by, taunting and teasing with the Setswana word for chicken: gogo (pronounced: koe koe). I guess they think I don’t know the Setswana word for chicken, or perhaps they don’t care whether I know it or not.

In America, I’m certain my American students made fun of me too, they just weren’t so bold about it. This kind of teasing makes for a very tedious day and makes me not want to be around the college kids, which is not a good thing. My skin is tougher on some days, but it wasn’t very tough this day.

I go home to make what I now fondly call my “rotten vegetable salad,” because it is a salad, indeed, made of salvageable pieces of rotten vegetables.

I start thinking of a beloved family member who is soon to have a birthday and I want more than anything to be home. At home, not only do I have people who LIKE me, I have people who LOVE me. I have people who are happy to see me and never taunt or tease me, or make fun of me. Actually, they are usually very HAPPY to see me.

Why am I here? Have I lost my mind?

On my way to bed, I watch the earwigs (or whatever they are) do acrobatics in my rice jar. I’ve started using empty pop bottles as my food storage containers, hoping to keep the vermin out. Sadly, the vermin is in the food when I buy it, so it comes home with me.

I had the rice bottle on my counter rather than the pantry, I don’t know why. So, I was disheartened to see so many bugs crawling around in my food. They seem to be more active at night.  I've put the bottle back in the pantry.
(I may have to buy a blasted refrigerator just so I can use the freezer part to exterminate the critters in my dry goods.)

I crawl into bed, turn off the lights, and stare out my IMAX window at the beautiful, black, South African sky at all of the beautiful stars. I have my bed placed under the window in a way that makes me feel I'm camping.  Such a wondrous sight encourages me to try one more day.

The next morning, I check my email. I’ve heard from a dear friend I haven’t heard from in AGES. She tells me  she reads my blog every day and loves what I’m doing. I am an inspiration to her.

I crawl to my primary school to face the very same sixth graders who “ate me alive” yesterday. They are attentive, respectful, and engaged in our learning. We have a great time.

On the way out, a shy little sixth grade girl whispers to me, as I walk out the door: “You are a brilliant teacher.”

I can stay for one more day.

Soon, Karen

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Form over function, more on money/eating, and suffering animals

So, one thing I've noticed, since coming to South Africa, is that there seems to be a priority of "form over function."  For example, I was handed this binder with the request: Can you put these pages into page protectors?

Now, what this binder contains is all the information you could ever want to know about a campaign launched in 2008 by the South African Department of Education to help learners reach "milestones" or learning objectives in literacy and numeracy.  It was issued in 2008 with an end projection date of 2011.  I was handed it TODAY.  (March 4, 2010.)

So, as I'm placing each sheet into its page protector, I'm considering the state of education in South Africa.  There are four sections in the binder, one section for each term, each section about 140 pages, and the last two sections, for terms 3 and 4, are missing.

Since the end of Apartheid, the South African government has spent a lot of money and a lot of time to rebuild their education system.  It has certainly proved a daunting task.  What I've noticed is, there seems to be an excellent curriculum in place, and even more excellent initiatives, campaigns, etc., to explain HOW to implement the curriculum, but no effective way to actually IMPLEMENT the curriculum.

One of the reasons Peace Corps is here, is to help South African educators and administration find ways to implement the curriculum.

One problem I've noticed, that at least in the rural areas, that most of the educators aren't fluent in English.  Every word written about the South African national curriculum is written in English.

I have a supreme advantage over my colleagues of the primary school (and really, even the college) in that I read English fluently.  Even though I'm new to their curriculum, I can read it, and somewhat figure it out.  It's all there: you just must be able to read and understand it.  

It is somewhat cumbersome, because while the curriculum is there, it's somewhat buried under a lot of repetitive explanation.  Since I'm fluent in reading of English, I can somewhat muddle through the bulk of it and quickly find the necessary information.  My South African counterparts, however, because of the effort required of them to read and interpret the information, seem to feel quickly overwhelmed with the material and say, "to heck with it." 

I can't blame them there.

Also, the Department of Education, in order to ensure that the curriculum is implemented and functioning, has created a lot of "policy" to make sure things are running as desired.  As with the curriculum, the policy is written in English, and is somewhat tedious.

And also I've noticed, that there is a huge disconnect between the WHY the educators, supervisors, principles are asked to follow all of these policies and the having to actually follow them.

The heartbreak of it all is that the policies  are to HELP the educators/administration teach and run the schools more easily.  However, because they feel so overwhelmed with the bulk of the policy, they seem panicked and shut down about it.  It's almost as if they've adopted an attitude of "This is impossible, I'm not even going to try."  It seems very demoralizing to them.

For example, there is a lot to do about "lesson plans" and making sure that in our lesson plans that all of the learning objectives and assessment standards are met.  The educators hate doing them and I'll admit, it is a bit of work, but once the lesson is planned, the hard part (of teaching) is over.  You run the class as planned and all the goals/objectives are met.  Presto!

(Again, I have a supreme advantage over my South African colleagues: I read and understand English fluently.  What takes me 30-45 minutes takes them much, much longer and with a lot more effort.)

So, as I wrap each page in plastic I realize the information is not only 3 years too late late, but it is likely that once my task of "tidying up the binder" is finished, the binder will likely never be opened again.

Form over function.

Just like the educators' "files."  We all keep a binder with our lesson plans, year planner, etc.  But the most important thing about the binder?  COVERING IT WITH PRETTY PAPER AND PLASTIC TO PROTECT IT.  Are we worried about contents?  Of course not.  :-)

Another thing (but this isn't about form over function, but related).  Maybe it's because I was a Girl Scout.  Does South Africa have Girl Scouts?

If you knew that you needed to sign in, every day, with black ink, wouldn't you know to bring a black ink pen with you?  If you knew, every day, that you're likely to need an eraser?  Would you not bring an eraser with you?  If you're likely to need a glue stick?  Would you not bring a glue stick with you?  White Out?  You get the picture. 

I'm switching on you: new topic!

I've revisited this whole "living stipend" thing and have been in error.  Mea culpa.

I was in a mild panic about "I don't have enough money to live on" and conducted an informal survey of other volunteers and their living allowances.  Imagine my shock when more than one of them replied: I have over half of my allowance left over every month.

I was astounded.

Now, I thought I was eating modestly.  I eat beans and rice (daily), fresh vegetables (but nothing fancy: carrots, cabbage, tomatoes, onions) and fresh fruit (here too, nothing fancy: apples, bananas, pears), and  a dozen eggs twice a month.  I don't buy cold drinks and I don't buy snack food or sweets.  I've switched from buying olive oil to sunflower oil (and am still crying about it) and have started using other herbs and spices instead of black pepper.

I thought I was eating modestly.

And I was reminded: In Peace Corps, you're expected to eat in the same fashion as your South African community.  Ah, here is where my mistake lies.

A typical South African villager probably buys a sack of mealie meal (pap, bagobe) for R20 and a couple bags of chicken for about R200 and eat for R220 for a month. 

With my much more "affluent" diet of fruit and vegetables, I'm living much more "high on the hog."  I spend about R1200-R1400 on food.

As with the politics of food ability and healthy eating, "the rich" (me) eat better than "the poor" (the villagers).

And lastly, I'm feeling ever so tender about animals again, or still.  Last night, I was at the public phone and a brand-new, baby bird canary hopped up, as big as he pleased, and sat looking at me.  I was worried he'd think I was his mother.  He was all ruffled and awkward with big black blinking eyes. Students were milling about and as we were on the walkway, I was worried he'd be squashed.

I saw mom or dad nearby and shooed him away.

After hanging up, I examined the scene more carefully.  It was mom or dad and TWO fledglings.  My goodness, those two were all over the place.  Sure enough, a big predator bird (one of those Retz's shrikes, I believe) came swooping down and mom or dad and I frightened the big bad bird away.  You could tell he badly wanted his dinner.

I watched as long as I could, in the deepening dusk, wondering what sort of fate awaited these two.  They could not fly to the safety of their nest.  A cat?  Snake?  Another bird?  Squashed?  Eish.

And I've spotted a starving dog roaming around.  She's all bones and mange and scrounging for whatever she can.  When I see her in the morning, rummaging in the tall grass, I tell myself, "Don't look at her, don't look at her."

And I read a poignant piece of fiction last night about a dog rescued from abuse, but the story left the ending ambiguous.  Did the dog make it?  Or was the dog doomed to die or suffer more abuse?

Last night, lying in my bed, I was weeping.
Soon, Karen

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

last of birds, tourists, English, and disciplining children

Well, the last of the birds for awhile...until I find a new friend to share.

The photo on the left is of a yellow canary, or Crithagra flaviventris.  I'm not sure but I believe these are of the same species that you can buy in stores and have as pets.  And yes, their song is lovely.

(As with all the birds, the photos are not mine, but borrowed off the internet.  Web addresses are listed below.)

The next guy over is the long-tailed paradise whydah, or Vidua paradisaea.  You should see this guy try to fly--he's like a cargo container or a tank trying to fly.  He is very awkward.  But, he's beautiful.

The next guy over is the fiscal flycatcher or  Sigelus silens.  I love this one for his coloring: the dark "cap" of his head sits smartly on the brilliant white he retains in his belly.  I guess the fiscals win the prize for staying the whitest.

And the last is of a cape sparrow, or Passer melanurus.  I love these guys.  When I first looked him up for identification, I looked for a bird with a black face.  My field guide informed "the C-shaped marking on his face the clear marking distinction."  I hadn't even noticed the C-shape.  :-)

So, when I spent the afternoon at the Pretoria Botanical Garden, I met a couple from the UK who were vacationing in South Africa for six weeks.  When I met them, they were leaving for home on the next day. 

They were an elderly couple, white, and could easily pass as tourists.  They had come for a series of games (soccer or rugby, I think).  Our chat revealed this couple had been robbed 4 times.  FOUR TIMES.  As they continued the conversation, I did the math: four robberies in six weeks?

I couldn't leave it alone so I inquired further.  What kinds of robberies were these?  One was a slashed purse/camera bag strap and run; one was a pickpocket; one was a theft from the hotel room; and I forget the other (sorry!).

I kept thinking to myself, "If I were vacationing, and had been robbed FOUR times, at what point would be enough and I would decide to go home?"

So I asked, "Do you think you'll return to South Africa? The lady's answer floored me, because she said she would certainly consider it. Her husband shook his head, and said, "No, I think I've seen enough."

I met a gentleman in the garden last night and we had a bit of a chat.  (I learned, unfortunately, that this was the guy poisoning my birds!)

In our chat I mentioned that I was in South African teaching.  He seemed surprised and said, "Oh, I thought you were a student here!"  (Well, that was a nice compliment, considering how old I've been feeling.)

He asked what I taught and when I told him he was alarmed: "But madam, your English is so DIFFICULT!" 

So, my Setswana is difficult, my English is difficult...

On a good note, my primary school counterpart seems thrilled with my Grade Six English classes. She said the students are doing very well and "even picking up your accent."  Which is not such a good thing, probably...  Southern sounding South Africans?  :-)

So, my battle with corporate punishment continues.  My approach has everything to do about why it happens and about how we can stop it.

I learned in my teaching career that you can initially "set the climate" for the class at the beginning of the year.  I decided I would "frame" my class on the model of democracy (we all work together, deciding the class rules, participating in classroom management, etc.)  I tell them why South African children were initially beaten in schools (history) and how we can stop it (it is their responsibility to cease the abuse, their responsibility in that they can grow up to not beat their children).

I add Nelson Mandela into the mix and it seems to work really well.  (I hope it isn't some type of emotional blackmail.)  I haven't had to beat a child, haven't really had to raise my voice (even with 70 of them!) and they seem to understand what I am trying to do and are willing to cooperate.

I tell them over and over again, that they are the future of South Africa and that Nelson Mandela (and President Zuma) would be proud of them.

However, their current teachers still "whack" them.  I'm told I should "whack them, just don't abuse them."


I tell them I don't know how to do that: to whack without abusing.

So, what is happening, is the children in my class, while I'm teaching, are not beaten, but the children in my class, while with other teachers, are beaten or "whacked."

Today as I was entering my class, the former teacher was leaving.  But he was "rapping knuckles" before he left.  He held the children's hands and wacked their knuckles with the sharp edge of a ruler: OUCH!

The children, in their distress, pointed the whacking out to me, and surely hoped that I would stop him.

I could not.  I didn't and don't feel up to the battle of confrontation with my South African colleagues as my fellow PC volunteers often are.

I'm not sure if my approach is helpful or not.

I wish I were more courageous today.

Soon, Karen



Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Still more South African birds...

So, I can't help myself.  Here are more birds as I wait for my class to begin.

The drawing is of Retz's helmet-shrike, or Prionops retzii.  I like this guy because he congregates at the corner of my hostel in the evenings and sings a song that is similar to the bulbul's that were feeding from my window sill earlier in the season.  I miss the bulbuls, but enjoy the Retz's serenade. (See websites listed below for photo credits.)

The black guy with the long tail is a magpie shrike, or Corvinella melanoleuca.  Isn't he striking?  I usually watch him in the evenings in the back lot as he feeds.

His buddy to the right is a common fiscal, or Lanius collaris.  This guy is pretty popular all around and I see him everywhere.  Where I like him best is at my primary school, as he perches outside the staff room window and gives me a diversion from marking papers (grading = marking in SA) and choking on the DOOM.  (DOOM is the South African insecticide that everyone everywhere uses in excess but especially in my primary school.  The fumes of DOOM make me very ill.)

I also like him because his white belly is always very, very white.  I don't see how he can keep so white in the dust of the Kalahari.

To the right of the fiscal is a greater striped swallow, or Hirundo cucullata.  I like swallows, and this one is no exception.  At my going-away party at Bernheim, the nesting swallows stole the show!  They would sit up in their nests and peer down at us with their surprisingly human-like stares. They have the same "little people" smiles here, and I love watching them in the evenings as they feed and fly to their nests in the rafters.

Then below, is another favorite.  Are ALL the birds my favorite?  How can that be?  Anyway, the groundscraper thrush, or Psophocichla litsitsirupa, is a favorite because he reminds me of the American robin.  He hops about in the grass and cocks his ears close to the ground listening for bugs just like our American robins do (although I think our robins are listening for earthworms; the poor birds here are lucky indeed if they find an earthworm!!).  And his spots.  He seems to stand upright just so he can show off his beauteous spots!

And lastly, the pied crow, or Corvus albus.   The crow is dear to me because he is the first bird I noticed when I arrived in South Africa.  He's HUGE, and although his belly should be white, his seems markedly yellow.  Bright yellow!  I wonder why the fiscal seems to stay so brightly white, yet the crow gets a color change!  Perhaps a different diet... Perhaps the crows get "dirtier" in their eating.

He too, reminds me of the beautiful magpie I stopped traffic for while staring at it in Alaska.  (Why IS that lady staring at that magpie eating garbage?)  I have an affinity for common birds, it seems.

Oops, I have to do one more.  And yes, I LOVE THIS GUY!

This guy is a black stork, or Ciconia nigra.  One day, I looked out in the soccer field and I noticed a new visitor.  Whatever it was, it was too big to be a dog and there were a lot of them.  I ran to my room for my binoculars, only to be treated with a close-up examination of these guys.  There were about ten of them and they stayed for quite awhile.  They were eating something in the tall grass.

What I like too, about these guys, is they fly in a great bunch and remind me of geese (although they don't fly in a V pattern).  They fly very, very high in the air and like to soar.  I love watching these guys and we've been seeing a lot of them.  I wonder if they are migrating.

Ok, now it really is time to go teach my class!

Soon, Karen

more South African birds and more musings...

So here are some more of my favorite South African birds and, as usual, the images are not mine (see web addresses below).

The one with the red belly is a crimson-breasted shrike and I love him.   His Latin name is Laniarius atrococcineus.   I saw him regularly when I was with my original host family, about 8 hours north east of where I now live.  I miss him.

Beside him is the crowned lapwing, or Vanellus coronatus.  I see this guy where I live now. He likes open areas and I usually can see a few of them feeding in my school's soccer field in the morning.  He stands about 20 inches tall and when I first look out into the field, if there are a lot of them, I mistakenly think there is a group of dogs on the soccer field.  I like his red legs.

The nicely posed gray bird is the Grey Go Away bird and his Latin name is Corythaixoides concolor.  I don't see this one in my area now, and too, saw him in my original host family's area and I saw him again in an area northwest of Pretoria.  He supposedly makes a sound that "says" "go away, go away."  But I think he sounds like a carnival wheel that has hit a bad note.  I loved finding this bird perched in trees or in a Euphorbia because he reminds me of those kinds of birds I've only ever seen in a zoo. 

And then the red-faced mousebird, or Urocolius indicus.  This one lives in my area and for some reason, he likes to perch on chain-linked fences.  I sit under the pepper trees by the tennis court in the evenings just to watch him perch there.

And lastly, the African grey hornbill, or Tockus nasutus.  This guy makes a terrible racket.  I met him when I visited friends in the area northwest of Pretoria and he was obnoxiously noisy.  Remember the dog, Peanut?  (I snapped a picture of him with his eyes closed and it looked as though he was smiling?)  He would bark his head off when these guys flew over. They are in my area too, and once I was talking to my mom on the phone when they flew over.  She said, "What was that?"  The sound they make is indescribable, but it is definitely unpleasant.

So, no pretty pics to share today so I thought I'd find some on-line of my bird-pals.

And random things I've wanted to chime in on:

privacy: 1) the state of being able to be alone, and not seen or heard by other people; 2) the state of being free from public attention. (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English)

me: I have no privacy.

Did you know that you can "clean" your stomach of parasitic worms by eating certain foods?  Neither did I!  Neil Orr and David Patient of Positive Health suggest the following:

A handful of raw or roasted pumpkin seeds cleans many worms and parasites from your stomach.

A raw carrot a day...

Papaya leaves, dried and crushed then sprinkled over your food (like pepper)...  Or pour boiling water over a half a papaya leaf then drink like tea...

Two to three cloves of raw garlic a day... Or you can substitute onions, but onions aren't as effective...  (91-2).

So, I'm eating a raw carrot a day. Also I'm eating the onions, but not many.  I could eat the garlic but the resulting smell I would emanate would have South Africans ferrying me to the next plane to the States. 

Oh, I have to tell this story.  My worry-worts are likely to be rattled, but it's a great story. 

One day early last week, a group of young men woke me very early in the morning (around 3 or 4 a.m.) because they had gathered, as a group, outside of the hostel (hostel is what they call dormitories here) and were singing, whistling, and in general, making all kinds of loud noise.

Now, the last time a group of young men started singing so early in the morning, there was a student protest beginning and they set things on fire.  So, I was somewhat alarmed but could see nothing burning, so tried to go back to sleep.

I later learned, (hang on to your hats worry worts!), that the gentleman had found a snake in their hostel and were making noise to "confuse it and drive it away."  Apparently, this is a Tswana custom.

Now, I'm sure you are all freaking out by now.  The snake in question WAS NOT INSIDE MY HOSTEL. It was inside the men's hostel across the parking lot. 

Remember some photos from awhile back, that showed cattails growing 20 feet high?  I mentioned how well things were growing out of the effluent, and was sharply warned to stay away from the effluent?  That I had heard a "splash" over in that area, where the plants seemed vibrant and happy?  Hmmm, let's see...  Standing water, lush overgrowth... If I were a snake, that's where I'd want to be!!  And that is where the snake was: in the hostel that borders the wet, lush, overgrowth.

My hostel's border is dry and well kept. No snake would ever want to live in my hostel.

But isn't that a great story?  That the Tswana people come together as a crowd to make noise and confuse the snake?  I thought so.

And now, with living on my own, I'm getting on my own last nerve.  I've found that it's easy, when living with others, how the blame of irritating circumstances can be easily passed along to others.  For example, when wondering whose pee is collecting under the toilet seat?   It's my pee that collects under the toilet seat.  All of the stacks of books and papers lying around, the ones that I was proud of seeing in the film Sylvia?  (See, all great writers keep stacks of books and papers lying around!)  All of my stacks of books and papers lying around are on my last nerve.  Do I really need all FIVE pairs of my shoes out of the closet and lying about?  And it really is nice to have someone help with the cooking and doing the dishes.

I think that's enough for now.  I'm killing time before my class starts at 4:30.  grr.

Soon, Karen

Monday, March 1, 2010

Sunday, 28 February 2010 Musings from church…

Well, I was hoping to post some pictures of “my” church, but am awaiting permission. Here are some shots of homes in my village.

I love the one with the heart-shaped landscape. When the home-owner, loosely speaking, initially constructed this landscaping, the grass was short, there were no weeds, and the heart shape really stood out against the weed-free red dirt. You can still see the heart-shaped lawn here, but it isn’t as dramatic as it was. (I waited to long to photograph.)

Others are of “typical” structures you can see in the less-affluent sections of my village. Just like at home, there are degrees of wealth here. Also, just like home, the haves seem to have plenty while the have-nots nothing. There never seems to be a middle ground when it comes to wealth.

And the blue box is of a ubiquitous “phone store,” which apparently populated much of South Africa during their cell phone boom. These containers still remain, colorful, albeit quiet. Every once in awhile you see one open and can’t imagine how hot they must be inside, conducting their phone calls.

Oh, so back to church.

Since my church service is conducted in Setswana, I have no idea what is being said, so I basically have two hours to contemplate. Actually, since the service is a Catholic service, I have somewhat an idea of what is being said so I kind of know what’s going on. And it’s been pointed out to me that it would be very easy for me to find EXACTLY what is being said if I truly wanted to.

I kind of like to sit and contemplate among people who are praying. And the music is lovely. I love how ALL the people in the congregation sing, with full, vibrant voices. I always smile to myself thinking of one of the priests in a former church I attended admonishing the congregation for NOT SINGING.

But Setswana people sing boldly, loudly, and magnificently. Even and perhaps especially, the men, with their rich baritones run up and down the length of my spine. It’s beautiful.

This week I noticed that the Stations of the Cross are out of order. Their stations of the cross are small framed pictures of the scenes of the crucifixion, and they are out of order. For example, the scene of the dead Christ lying in Mary’s lap comes before the actual crucifixion. And he has risen before he is lain (laid?) in the tomb. I’m not sure if I should mention this or not.

I seem to have these on-going issues with the kneelers in the church. I’ve commented before about how they are plain 2x4s, unpadded, and sharp. Not only are they uncomfortable to kneel on (not that kneeling is supposed to be comfortable), but almost every single Sunday, a small toddler falls and cracks their face on the sharp kneelers. And since the toddler has fallen from the bench, the impact is pretty dramatic.
The child emits a high-pitched scream, a pitch never achieved by any other creature on the planet earth, except by a child who hasn’t yet learned how to communicate. You know the child is in intense pain because once they’ve exhausted the scream, they spend a full 30 seconds inhaling for the next of scream. They put every bit of their focus into these screams and exhales. It is heartbreaking to hear.

An aside: when my first-born son was only learning how to toddle, we were both in my kitchen and I was busy at the stove. My son was gleefully pulling himself up on my solid-oak, lathe-turned chairs when I heard this same alarming scream. Apparently, and I wouldn’t know this until days later, he lost his grip on the chair, while standing, then swung around in full momentum and cracked his eye socked on a detailed (grooved) leg of the chair. I tried to comfort him the best that I could without knowing what really happened, but as you can imagine, he was inconsolable. I wish I had known at least to put ice on it.

A day later his eye was as black as a prize-fighters and that black eye earned me some nasty looks from other shoppers in the grocery store!

So, back to the unpadded kneelers of the church. So, a child is injured weekly. Also, there is an absence of the polite gesture of raising the kneeler so that people can move freely in and out of the pews to take communion or offer gifts. What this means is that you risk a broken leg trying to negotiate your way to the alter.

I notice this lack of a polite gesture on the public taxis too. Rather than entering a taxi and moving to the back of the bus, the first seat is always taken. In this way, the last person to enter the taxi is the person that weighs 300 pounds and is carrying 7 large grocery bags and has to negotiate over all the people who have taken the first seats.

So, if we have a Sunday without children wailing and no broken bones, we are lucky indeed.

What else I usually notice is, when I look down at my lap, I think, “whose old lady hands are lying (laying?) in my lap?”

That’s because I’m having my mid-life crisis, I think.

I’ve been asked, “How do you get along with your other volunteers?” And I love each and every one of them dearly, but for the first time in my life, I’m often thinking, “I’m old enough to be your mother.”

So yes, I notice my hands are swollen, fat, and covered with age spots. Nice. And I notice too, that my pale skin is quite unlovely compared to the lovely tones of brown all about me. The Tswana people have the loveliest skin on the planet!

About 20 years ago, I learned to live “for one day only.” This was remarkable for me for many reasons, but I loved the fact that I no longer needed to make “New Year’s Resolutions.” What’s the point of trying to have goals for a whole year when you can do it a day at a time?

2010 was the year for me to “revisit” New Year’s resolutions. And although I don’t wish to call them this, I did make two, or set two goals to strive for: one was to quite complaining (am not doing well with this one) and two, to take Sunday’s “off.”

I struggle with my life flying by and I think it’s because I stay busy every single second of every single day. So, I’m trying to take Sundays off. But I’m not doing well with this one either, because I’m finding myself “working” a lot on Sunday, trying to get my classes up and running.

So this Sunday, I was relatively successful in having a Sunday “off.” I went to church, spent the afternoon doing things with my hands: laundry, sewing, and gardening. (Now you might count these as ways to stay busy, and perhaps they are. What I’m mostly trying to avoid on Sunday is “thinking” working: reading, school work, language work, etc., anything that requires me to “think” my day away.)

And Sunday was nice.

Here’s how spoiled I am as an American: If I lose a button or a seam rips, it’s off the store for a new purchase. When my pillowcases/lawn bags began ripping at the seams, I thought: “I need to buy new pillowcases.” It took me several days to figure out that I could SEW them instead. So, I spent an hour mending and replacing buttons. It was nice.

I played in the garden, but didn’t push myself. It was hot and I didn’t feel great, so I found a picnic table and laid down on it under a row of trees. I lay (laid?) there more than an hour watching the birds. It was wonderful.

So, that’s me on Sunday.

Soon, Karen