Socks and Underwear

Socks and Underwear: January 2010

Monday, January 18, 2010

Lost Blog Post Volume II

I visited a volunteer couple over the weekend. I get along with them quite well and it was certainly entertaining and worthwhile. It reminded me that I visited them during integration and wrote a post about it but never posted it. So here it is now.

Visiting Friends

I visited some fellow volunteers this past week and it was full of interest and relaxation. I got to see that despite their site being more developed it still faced a lot of the same problems I have faced. I also got to see that in some ways I have it pretty nice out in my village.

In particular, the volunteers there have had problems in one of their schools with corporal punishment. During my visit it had gotten to the point where they decided that they would give their stance on disciplinary practices and that if they were willing to change they would help otherwise they could be better spent elsewhere.

The actual presentation, which normally gets titled a workshop, was well done focusing on the major points. It is wrong and damaging to use corporal punishment not to mention illegal. They cited research and related that the 3 volunteers in the room were products of a school system without corporal punishment again giving personal, although anecdotal, evidence to the cause. They even gave several examples of alternatives although stopping corporal punishment is one task, effective discipline is an entire other topic. I was even hoping they would strike a chord with the claim that corporal punishment was used as a tool of Bantu education to produce unthinking, unquestioning citizens to the authority. In the face of all that there were some who openly mocked and scoffed the idea of not using physical force against their learners. In their view it was their right and it has worked in the past for them.

It was hard to accept. I will acknowledge that many good people came out of that system but it crippled, and is still crippling, many more. Even more upsetting to me, was not being open to the possibility of being wrong. It is possible, and even likely, that it was the only way they, the teachers, know to keep learners from misbehaving. It was the unwillingness to try something new or at least test what anybody else had to say. After witnessing the reaction and general response from the faculty I can see how my fellow volunteers think that their time is better spent at a school where they would at least try a suggestion before flat out denying its usefulness.

Beyond that, there was also the general lack of respect given to the volunteers. The meeting was delayed, there were other events scheduled where the volunteers were not aware of and requested to have open time. These sorts of things I have come to face but I am glad that my schools are open to having me help and possibly changing and that I don't have to fight against corporal punishment.

On a lighter note. I got to stay over at their home and thus had an excellent time eating all their well prepared meals. They like to cook and I like eating so I think this relationship can only become stronger. It is always nice to spend time with people who are going through a similar ordeal even if you don't talk about it.

Frog Update

It has continued to rain ever evening so the frogs are ever present. From the sounds of it now their numbers are gathering, mostly likely for a hostile takeover. Thankfully someone did the grunt work of finding out what I was up against here, it turns out they are:

African bullfrogs, or "Pixie" frogs. They dig holes, crawl in them, and make a watertight cocoon that they stay in until the rainy season, when they come out to mate. Apparently they are also very aggressive, and have big sharp teeth that they sometimes use on humans.
Until I figure out a solid strategy I will try my best not to upset them.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Demigod of Pop

Michael Jackson holds legendary status here in South Africa. More than a man but less than a god. When any male dances here, which is occasional, there is a 75% (hyperbole) chance that he will do a Michael Jackson impression at some point. There has been a commercial on the t.v. lately that has cemented his iconic status in my mind. The commercial goes something like this: flashes of headlines appear on the screen followed by video clips echoing the headline's events. Over this an announcer is giving serious commentary in the background telling how this particular news organization (SABC) has always been there for you over the years. The major events include the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, the Soweto Riots, Nelson Mandela being released from prison, the 9/11 Attacks, Obama's Election, Zuma's Election and...Michael Jackson's death. He made great music but come on, that's too much.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Push It Along

School Take Two

Today went almost exactly according to plan. I don't know if I did anything different or if I just was more in tune with a 6th grade mind but today went much better. There was interaction and communication, in fact I was put to the test to keep the class under control which perhaps was a good thing to do on the first day. To be honest I was expecting the roles to be reversed between the two schools. Where one school was a little subdued in the past it was much more active this time around and vice-versa for the other school. I guess I still have a long way to go before I figure things out.

During integration, I left Fridays open for community projects but have decided that I will spend time at both schools to make the science class run a little smoother. This means that Friday will probably be my most hectic day but at least I will get a lot of exercise. I will leave the afternoon open but we will see how to best make it work.


My walks to and from school always seem to be eventful. If you payed closed attention to my last blog you know that there was a heavy rainstorm yesterday. During these downpours, temporary ponds are created around my village. One of the larger ponds was packed with these huge frogs this morning. It put me in the scientific mood, I have so many questions.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Day one of teaching in the bag. It was...interesting. I definitely was ambitious for what could be done in one hour but better to be over prepared I'd say. Introduction classes are always kind of lame and there is almost no way around it. Learning rules and class outlines is dry stuff.

I started with an icebreaker to get everyone speaking which is always a struggle. I had everyone go around and say their name and something about themselves. This was just about the level of English most of the learner's could handle. Most people liked reading, writing, drawing, soccer or netball. My favorite response by far was "I like clouds", it was refreshing to get a unique answer.

Right after the last introduction as I was about to move on to the guts of the class, a bat flew right at my head. You read that right, a bat flew at me. I have certainly been aware that bats are pretty common in the village. I am sure there is a bat or two living in most peoples homes. I have only heard them and had never seen one and was certainly not expecting to be challenged. Having 48 pairs of eyes on me had put me into a state of hyper vigilance though so I was able to evade with lightning reflexes. Time slowed down and I could see its red eyes and glistening fangs, I could feel its shrill cries bouncing off my body. It was thirsty for human blood, my human blood that I keep in my neck and other parts of my body. If it wasn't that then it was probably just frightened, lost, and confused. Unfortunately we will never know the truth. Immediately afterward I looked around just to get acknowledgment that indeed a bat flew at me. Total blank stares and silence. I must have really put those kids into a coma that they didn't even react to a bat attack. To be fair, there were a few excited learners. One girl wanted to respond to everything I said but did not yet have a firm grasp of English so she would just say "yes" to everything. "Yes" was the reply to both "how are you" and "what does reward mean", at least she is trying, I am certain I sound the same way in Setswana.

The rest of the class time was me trying to get everyone to agree on the rules of the class along with the explanation of rewards and consequences. Ideally, the books say (Teaching for Dummies), the class is supposed to agree on the rules together but there was not a lot of feedback. Not only is English only somewhat grasped by most of the learners, my accent adds another layer of difficulty. So I basically went through it myself, better than nothing I suppose. The big idea for this term was a ticket economy, were I give out tickets for good behavior and work and then at the end of the term an auction is held for prizes. It worked for me in elementary school so I thought I would give it a shot.

My favorite part of the class was certainly the end when I handed out the science books. Directly after the class is a short reading period, which in the past was often skipped, but I will be monitoring this year. I was happy to see that without any prompting almost everyone plunged right into the book. I realize it was not a burning passion for science facts but just a need to have some form of engagement or entertainment and to fulfill their curiosity which after is the real driving force in science.

Tomorrow I will be doing the same thing but in my other school. I have a feeling it will go much the same. As I said, first days are just kind of lame and logistics just need to be taken care of but it is an important part of getting everyone on the same page.

The day ended with a most excellent rain shower. I have always enjoyed the rain but now it is also a relief from the heat. I think I would be OK with a rain shower everyday in the evening if it meant the temperature I have now.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Back to School

I have been back to school since yesterday. The teachers all start a few days ahead to prepare for school reopening on the 13th. I was actually quite pleased to go back. There isn't as much preparation as I would have thought but there are slivers of it here and there. Really it is mostly cleaning, some learners and some parents come in and give the school a good once over. It is certainly needed but I wouldn't say it is top priority. Things do get a little overgrown and dusty but that doesn't really make it impossible to teach. Not having a plan of action for what you are teaching though makes it sort of difficult. So I spent most of my time prepping for my Natural Science class, which I am excited about. I wasn't even sure I would be up to the task but I think that it will do just as much for my sanity as it will for making the Natural Science course understandable.

Along with my taking on the Science course (only for Grade 6), my goal was to revise the time table for the schools and to make sure they are followed. Both schools had some problems with their time tables which are basically the scheme of the subjects for the school throughout the day (Grade 4- Math then English then Lunch etc.). Along with that, there was also the subject allotment for the teachers. Not all teachers are suited for a specific subject but it would be nice to find ones that are at least mildly interested in the subject or know what they are doing. Additional problems were that in one school several teachers were responsible for 7 different subjects (out of a possible 9). In another school, some teachers were given the subjects that are very heavy in teaching time like English and Math. For example one teacher was technically supposed to be teaching all but three blocks throughout the week. One schedule had double blocks of subjects meaning 2 hours of Maths. It is hard enough to get people to pay attention to one hour of Maths, so that just wouldn't work. With some tinkering and lots of revision I was able to achieve a nice balance for everyone and make the schedule a little more approachable.

It was sort of just a challenge to make it before school ended. I was not really seeing it as a big fix for the school policy. Now I feel like I have actually done something because the schools are both making the changes in their schedules and I think it will be a step in the right direction for the schools to be more efficient and effective. There are some concerns and I get the feeling that some teachers are reluctant to change but I think the shake-up will be good for everyone. Having a solid routing is important and I hope we can stick to it. Having the schedule in place does not mean people will follow it, I became aware of the last year as I would often be misled as to who was actually teaching what subject at what time despite the schedule in place. I had a short talk with one school on the merits of respecting time in school and enjoying "Africa time" outside of school. They really like that "Africa time" part, they thought it was hilarious. At least they are aware that they the are not very time conscious.

In other news I had a very eventful walk home from school today. I saw a meercat, which makes the second meercat over all. Both times, I thought it was just a mere cat (WORDPLAY!!!!!!!!!) but then I realized no one out here owns house cats and I then see it a little closer and it is definitely a meercat. Cute little devils. I also saw a couple of donkeys fighting which was shocking and entertaining. I believe it is donkey mating season and these two male donkeys were just headbutting the bejesus out of each other while the female donkeys sort of trotted around in a circle. They are loud too, donkeys are really loud, don't let anyone tell you different. It was a spectacle, I actually stopped to watch it. Few things would make me stop in the South African sun instead of hustling home to shed my teacher uniform and sit in front of my fan, one of those things is a donkey battle.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Coffee Bay

I am back from vacation now and let me just say it was everything I wanted it to be plus others things I didn't want but decided I wanted them as they were happening to me. Great time!

Although this is a good chance to tell a great story about my vacation I have a real problem with recounting events directly after I experience them. I am working on it. You are all really after pictures anyway. So here are a few to wet your whistle. Also Happy New Year everybody!

The first day at the hostel. That's me there, not the one in the red shirt, the one jumping off the cliff! They make you do that to prove your loyalty. It must have been about 100 fake feet (maybe 25 feet). Wish I wasn't so paralyzed with fear to think to do a cool pose. Diving was out of the question, even to those who are not physically unable to dive off of cliffs.

An amazing beach, mostly unpopulated (except for the holidays where the locals flock to the beach in droves). Everything was just right.

A sundowners spot. The hostel was nice enough to bring beers along. Stunning view don't you think. I am pretty sure my family has the same exact picture of the Southern Ireland coast.

The Transkei, land of the Xhosa (the x is a click, of which there are three different types in the Xhosa language, see if you can figure it out). They have stuck to the rondavel which is certainly an interesting house to look at. Peoples' homes were scattered about with what seems like little rhyme or reason. They must be some of the most fit people having to walk those hills all the time. Also I don't know how I did it but doesn't this picture look like a scale model of an African village?

On the right is the famous Hole-in-the-Wall. You can tell because it is a hole in a wall. We all swam out because you can jump into the middle. This was a mission filled with danger, we all suffered cuts and bruises just from getting up next to hole. Only one person was brave enough to jump into the center. The ocean was rough that day and the waves coming through would smash you against the rocks if you didn't time it right. I jumped off but definitely away from the hole. On the swim back we were all bleeding into the ocean where a shark was spotted that day. We weren't told this until after we got back. Everyone lived!

Did some surfing out there. Tried the second day and was absolutely demolished since it was very windy and I was trying on waves far too big and I don't know how to surf. Much later in the vacation I tried again on a calmer day and on much smaller waves with more success. I stood up a few times but I like this picture because I am falling over on perhaps the tiniest wave there could be and in the background you can make out people surfing on the real waves.

Peace Corps SA20 Coffee Bay Christmas and New Years 2009. YEAAAAAAAAH! We are a special group.