It has been some time since I have posted here and I am sorry about that. This term had some challenges for me and I stopped doing some of the more fruitful things I do such as posting on this blog. I have actually had a lot to say and some interesting stories but I was lacking the motivation to keep this going. In the coming weeks, since the term is now over, I plan on going over some of the things I did the past month or so.
For now, however, I have some current events to report. Some close volunteers and I have been evacuated out of our sites because of an ongoing strike in the area. Let me just say that I am safe and there is no reason to worry...mom. Now, let me brief you on some of the details. As you may remember, I must first go to a nearby village "T" (7 km) to get transport to either the larger town "V" (90 km) or to a smaller but closer town/village "G" (30 km) to get food. All of the roads from the larger towns V or G to T are dirt roads. The people in the villages in this dirt road area have been asking for an asphalt road, or a tar road as it is called here, to be put in for some time. I have heard that they had been promised this road for years. Apparently it was all set to happen this year and the money was even allocated. Then the money was unallocated by some unexplained event and now the road is not going to be built. This made people angry, above all it made the taxi owners and operators very angry. The taxis don't last very long on the wash-boarded and rutted dirt roads which end up costing more for the taxis than travel on the tar roads. Money is a powerful motivator and the taxis were fed up so the next step they decided was to strike.
Last Sunday I saw and heard a man drive by in a truck with a megaphone basically rallying troops to the cause. I didn't think much of it at the time because my village is pretty small and I didn't really see a strike getting much attention or support. On Monday at about noon my principal informed me that some people from the strike were coming and that I should prepare myself. I wasn't sure what that meant and was confused as to why they were coming out to the school. I found out that they were coming to shut the school down and take people with them to go to "T" and join the mob. I was still confused and somewhat troubled as to why they would decide to involve the school. I don't really know how the other teachers felt about the people coming but they didn't seem too distressed or concerned with keeping school going. If there is one thing most every school has, even the poorest of rural schools, it is substantial security fencing. I thought maybe we could lock the gate and call the police but that was not taken seriously by anyone. It really was not a good time for school to be let out because all of this week the 3rd, 6th, 9th, and 12th graders are taking national tests. So I felt that we should at least try to let the learners finish the test. Alas, about 5 minutes later a bus stopped by and about 30 or 40 people came out and about 5 or 6 came into the office. They then had a brief conversation that I somewhat understood. Basically, they politely threatened to do bad things unless the school shut down. The students were sent home, which the students were happy about, and I watched on broodingly. I felt powerless and resented the fact that they were dragging people into their strike. As I said, the teachers were not very keen on keeping the school going and it really wasn't my place to get involved anyway so I watched in silence. In retrospect, it was probably a good idea to just shut the school down anyway, even if all the teachers did want to keep school going, we would not have lasted long against a bus full of angry people.
Since then, the schools have been closed and there have been regular protests bordering on riots in "T". They have been burning tires and blockading roads as well as burning tires outside of the post office and government halls and even burning some schools. There were many arrests and some people were shot with rubber bullets. I have heard lots of rumors but I can't be sure of their validity so I won't repeat them here. It sounds much worse than it actually is. I walked to the post office yesterday out of curiosity. I didn't feel unsafe but I didn't hang around very long because there were a lot of people not from the village there and I only let the locals shout out "lekgoa" (white person) to me. There were lots of police trucks around as well monitoring the area. As a side note they were these mini versions of the military vehicle called a casspir, pretty menacing up close.
My thoughts on the whole situation are somewhat mixed. I do think the strikers/rioters are partially justified because the money they were promised for a fairly important project was mysteriously spent elsewhere. I don't think this was a particularly good time or way to go about showing their discontent though, almost everyone's attention and most of SA's money is being funneled to the World Cup so I don't think they will see anything until July. Moreover, why set fire to the school's and the post office? That seems like they are only hurting themselves or at least their own community but I don't know much about effective riots.
Well today I was shipped out by Peace Corps for safety's sake. Not really for safety from violence but because I wouldn't be able to get out of my village if things did become violent or for any other reason like if I ran out of food. So now I am in my shopping town along with a couple of other volunteers waiting out the storm. I'll keep you posted on what comes next.