Intro thoughts from early September

Dumela! Nnda! Avuxeni! (Hello! In Setswana, Tshivenda and Tsitsonga)

Hey all, I’m writing this ahead of time and saving it on a chip so I can use my limited internet time just to upload.  This way I can actually have some time to compose my thoughts and tell you how things are here.  The bad part is this will be more whatever occurs to me than a response to things you may have been sending, but I’ll respond as best I can tomorrow in the post script.

Gezz where to start? Despite never having seriously travelled anywhere I feel like I’m adjusting to life in SA better than most of the other 55 PCTs (Peace Corps Trainee; Peace Corps LOVES acroymns).  I’m still 100% healthy, still excited and curious and I’m starting to get a handle on Tshivenda even though everyone in our village speaks Setswana.  PST (Pre-Service Training), which is what I’m doing now will last until September 9th, then I get posted in Northern Limpopo where people actually speak Tshivenda and I’ll actually be teaching on a regular basis.  Until then, it’s more intensive language sessions, as well as somewhat boring “just-going-through-the-motions” introductory stuff, and once a week we visit a middle school.  The trainees are divided into 3 clusters, and the clusters are divided into groups according to post location and language.  My Tshivenda group includes me, two other fresh-out-of-college twentysomethings (Zach and Hannah) and a middle aged lady named Joni.  We’ve visited Ramoabi Middle School three times now.  Maybe you’ve heard this already, but our first visit gave me a thrilling, sink-or-swim intro to teaching.  We were individually observing (“shadowing”) some teachers as they held class, so I went to one 8th grade math class which was unimpressive, then the teacher took me to the next, which was “Natural Science”.  We go into the classroom and he says to me “Oh, the teacher for this class isn’t here today.  I guess you’re doing it”, then he immediately leaves and I’m standing there in front of 40-something 9th graders!  “So class, does anyone remember where we left off last time…..?”  Fortunately for me, this days’ subject was astronomy.  I managed to provide somewhat relevant info and answer questions for the whole period, and it was tremendous fun!  The students were really excited to have a guest teacher, and I’m positive it was just as much of a surprise for them as it was for me.  Most of them are local kids, so now I’ve got a great reputation going in my section of the village.  It kind of kills me that this isn’t my permanent site and I’ll just have to leave in 2 months.  The teachers at Ramoabi don’t seem to understand what we’re doing now, even though we met with the principal and explained that this is just training.  They think we’re here as supplimental staff; last visit I had a math teacher expecting me to supervise and grade his two 8th grade classes during exams.  A bit about schools in South Africa:  WAY understaffed, under-funded, most teachers generally do not care, teachers being absent is fairly common (hence my instant astronomy lesson), and there is a total lack of critical thinking.  This is really what kills me: the students are not given any material that encourages them to think on their own, it’s purely fact regurgitation from day one until matriculation (graduation).  This goes for the instructors too; they rarely put together a lesson plan or even prepare for class.  They will simply open the textbook and start reading aloud, which half the students can’t even follow because they can’t read English because the English teacher from last year only showed up half the time, etc. etc.  Anyway, next Thursday is my visit where I’m actually scheduled to teach a class, and I lucked out again, I’ve got a science class again and the subject material is light!  I’ve already got a lesson plan and hands-on demo set up.  Life in the villiage is really fun.  I helped my neighbor (who speaks zero English) make a chicken coop last week, I’ve been playing guitar for my host sisters and their friends, almost all the kids recognize me; they’ve given me the nickname “Uncle James”.  I have a neighbor named Hitlar (yes, pronounced just like that) who’s my age and just a hilarious, awesome dude.  He wants to take me out to party and I’m really tempted to take him up on it, but PC said if we do stuff like that it will reflect poorly, and it’s dangerous, and we shouldn’t do it.  Also, we’re never supposed to be out after dark, apparently it’s really dangerous.  South Africa is so bizarre like that; it reminds me of the Eloi and the Moorlocks from H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine.  In the day, everyone is so friendly and generous but when night falls everyone you see is scary and has the potential to hurt you.  All the buildings here are extremely secure: steel bars in all the windows, solid doors and locks, iron gates and fences with sharp tops that you cannot easily climb over.  This unforgiving, industrial, prison-like architecture is a legacy of apartheid.  So is the nightime crime and the impovershment of the education system.  It’s pretty crazy.

I’m enjoying my adventure so far, but PST can be pretty demanding.  I really can’t wait to get to post and actually start my own agendas.

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