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Posts tagged ‘peace corps home’

A month in photos: November 2013

  • Walking adventures around the village and bee attacks
  • Lots of books
  • Some rad sports gear from a South African lotto grant for my school
  • More books, books, books
  • My first visitor to South Africa – Amy, a best friend from my hometown will be staying with me in my village for a little bit. Very excited!

Month seven: you can try to Americanize, but Africa always wins

Back in PST, as naïve little Peace Corps Trainees, we visited schools close to our training sites. We watched teachers write notes or exercises on the board with little explanation. How BORING for the kids! WHAT AN ABOMINATION.

Now we’re doing that.

Hypocritical much?

This is an observation the mini-Los Angeles Volunteer Support Network my fellow PCV bud George and I have made. (George and I enjoy discussing and helplessly laughing at school issues and reminiscing about Los Angeles taco trucks and freeways in our Mini-Volunteer Support Network. Angelenos thing alike, thank God there’s one here with me!)

I thought because I was different, I could do something different in the classroom too. I could make my own rules, my own discipline system, play games with the kids and make my classroom a mini-America. The kids would love that – something different, interactive and creative for a change.

ERRRRRR. These kids aren’t ready to handle “different” – whether that is because of their age or the language barrier. Now, instead of setting expectations before I jump into something, I am learning to mold my expectations as I go. I expected them to love my new style of teaching so much that they would be interested and listen, but now I just expect them to copy what’s on the board in a timely manner.

The learners really only respond to the board or violence. If I don’t want to deal with constant chitter-chatter, I must write exercises on the board or I could (but wouldn’t) hit them. Only busy work like that keeps them focused and on task. My learners even hand me the corporal punishment stick when the kids won’t be quiet. It took me less than a month to realize the genius idea that sometimes teaching is just making sure the kids are on task and at least attempt to complete classwork.

Last year, the infamous uncontrollable factors at Markham Middle School were helicopters, the fire alarm and lockdowns – most of legitimate concern. Here, the uncontrollable factors are a little different and of very little concern – teachers randomly popping into your class and making announcements, asking you questions while you are lecturing, yelling at the kids when you ever mention any problems to the teachers and my favourite of all – a student’s little brother that wanders the grade 5 class. Of course we can’t forget African time and time management – teachers not finishing their classes in time and using some of your teaching time, kids not able to follow a timed schedule, kids leaving your class to play soccer at another school etc. It makes me laugh writing this – I went from outside factors that really could involve life or death to factors that South Africans treat as if they are life or death situations, like signing a paper with an announcement on it. And I can control very little about it.

What I can control, I will control. As mentioned that my kids are far behind grade level, few are at the level of the grade 5 workbooks I have access to. I have taken upon myself to write two stories a week for the students with ten vocabulary words that are tested on on Friday. The stories will also focus on one grammar or punctuation concept.  It’s been hard so far, but I’ve only given them three stories. Eventually I won’t have never-ending writer’s block.

The story is about a boy, Umhaha (greed in Zulu), his best friend Thobile (humble in Zulu) and Amandla, a taking horse (power in Zulu). Amandla grants Umhaha three wishes. Umhaha’s first wish is to travel the world and see other countries. So after the horse hazes the boy, Umhaha will go off on this grand ol’ adventure through the world and I will show the kids where he travels to on a world map mural a health PCV painted at my school last year. Unfortunately, the stories aren’t illustrated so I had the kids enter a drawing contest and draw each character. We will use the winning illustrator’s drawings to illustrate the rest of the stories! Africa hasn’t won just yet on this one – their classwork is officially Americanized and that’s one thing no one can do anything about because no one can change my lesson plans or weekly structure focusing on the two stories a week.

Back at home sweet home, we can Americanize many more things. I’ve Americanized my hut with endless inspirational quotes and pictures of family, friends and former students.  I can semi-Americanize the way I dress – I still can rock skinny jeans and over-sized shirts here (the Liz style). These few things help keep my sanity here and are totally harmless.

Inspirational hut quotes!

Inspirational hut quotes!

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Pictures upon pictures

But there’s always a “but”. South Africa Volunteer Group 26 is the first group of Peace Corps South Africa to be “full-time” teachers. We are expected to teach at least two classes a day and be at school Monday-Friday from start to finish unlike previous groups. I am teaching a little less than that, but it’s how my principal and I worked out my schedule. Teaching even one class is extremely time-consuming, especially if you’re making up your own classroom material like I have been doing. It takes at least a full day to lesson plan for the week because we’re new at this and reinventing the wheel as we go.

Work comes home with us. Work outside of work is unheard of here – my host family doesn’t understand what I mean when I say I have a lot of work to do. “Weren’t you at school all day though?” is the common response I get. Yes, yes I was, but I was trying to juggle at least four different things at once (in my arena, my girl’s club, my library, my classes and helping my counterpart with her English class) so is it really possible for me to get everything done? Yeah, but I need sleep too!

In America, it looks good if we bring work home or do extra work. It shows we really care about what we are doing. Here, because people place so much importance on relationships, bringing home extra work means you’re too busy to spend time with people and don’t care to, which can be seen as an insult. And on the weekends, most PCVs want at least one day and night to ourselves to read (I am intellectually dead), watch movies, study for the GRE, relax and do absolutely nothing, blog or clean and do all the laundry after a long week at school. We don’t have much time to integrate into the community fully and most of the time we want our free time as our free time, not as the community’s. If a kid comes to my door on a Sunday and asks to visit, I generally will say hello and talk for a little, but after that I have to close my door because I’m busy with something.

I have Americanized my weekends, which may be detrimental to any community projects in the long run and my language exposure. I speak English at school Monday-Friday; Zulu gets a little peep. And I know I could push myself to an extreme, but I’ve also gotta keep my sanity. The new structure of our Peace Corps program sometimes makes me and other PCVs feel as if we are teachers abroad and not Peace Corps volunteers. I understand this is what the country needs, but our expectations as Peace Corps Volunteers in our community may not be the same as expectations of other education Volunteers around the world because our education program has become streamlined to teaching only. You think maybe America would win in this sense because I still get to have “American-me” time, but in my opinion, Africa won this battle too. Few Africans understand “American-me” time even after explaining. No matter how much or how little work we do, Africa will always win.

As Peace Corps Volunteers, that is something we must come to terms with because Africa has a home advantage over us in this upward battle. We can control a couple of things, but need to also be okay with the things we cannot control because this is not our home country.

But, at the end of the day, I can still come home to my Americanized hut. Mini-America does exist here after hours!

So far:

Liz vs. Africa

  • Classroom rules: Learners follow rules they have known in school their whole lives
  • Classroom incentives: Only few care enough to get sweets
  • Classroom crafts: TAKES WAY TOO LONG
  • Classroom decorations: Kids don’t use them for reference when writing
  • Classroom games: Kids get too riled up to control 40 of them
  • Explaining things in Zulu:They just laugh at me
  • Time management: Jokes
  • Coming up with my own story/curriculum: YOU GO AMERICA!
  • Reading outloud and acting out picture stories:  Kids can’t sit still
  • Keeping kids at break: Teachers have “break duty”
  • Explaining things in English: Language barrier
  • Doing extra work after school: Cultural misunderstanding
  • Doing work at all times: Cultural misunderstanding
  • Decorating my hut: GOD BLESS AMERICA
  • What I wear to school: Yea, you a Los Angeles wannabe hipster!
  • How I organize my lesson planner: Red, white and blue.
  • Speaking English: Native language!

As you can see, now that I’ve figured out few of these things I can really Americanize I will either have to make a hybrid plan or just deal with it. I call that cultural understanding!

Sorry I write so much. One of the things I never really learned in journalism school was how to follow a strict limit, somehow I always talked my professors and editors into giving me a couple more words…

IF Amandla the Talking Horse gave me one wish, it would be the ability to be in two places at once.

Yours in service,
Small heartLiz

Month two: around the village

When I walk outside my door, I no longer see palm trees, busy streets and freeways, smog, murals and graffiti. I no longer hear the tamale lady selling tamales early in the morning, the annoying ice cream trucks that cruise through South Los Angeles every day or Spanish being spoken on the streets.

Now when I walk outside my door, I hear people speaking isiZulu. I hear roosters crowing at every hour during the day and night (even at 3 a.m…) and cows mooing. I see vast grassland with clusters of houses scattered around. I see bright blue and clear skies.

Needless to say, I went from living in a hustling and bustling city to a remote rural African village. Two completely different worlds.

In my village, everyone knows everyone. Most people are related in blood or marriage. Teachers live close to learners (my host brother is a student at my school). Teachers attend all the same community events that learners attend. This is one apparent difference I keep noticing between America and here.
In America, there are very strict boundaries between teachers and students. Teachers can’t even give students rides home or to school because of liability. Teachers can’t get too personal with students due to sexual harassment accusations.

Here, boundaries are thin. I even walk to school with students, whereas in America a student probably wouldn’t wait for you at your gate before school. Most learners and teachers at school know where I live and can show up at my door whenever. In America, work can be so separated from your personal life, but in South Africa it’s all intertwined.

My village is very small and only has a tuck shop (small, small convenience store you can buy bread, eggs, but no produce) at, a church (that is practically everyone’s second home), a primary school, a secondary school, a liquor shop and a clinic.

The village has running water — there are hand pumps in various locations. Other households, like mine, have water taps in the yard, so you use a bucket to fetch water and bring it into the house.

Unfortunately, the village runs dry every so often — sometimes even for a month at a time. The water actually ran out for two days last week and I haven’t had time to buy extra buckets for water storage, so I am very thankful it came back on. I’ve never had to worry about water in my life and the possibility of water shortage is something that doesn’t cross many American minds. At least I’m prepared in some ways — my newly shaved head has become even more practical for my new lifestyle!

All of these amenities are definitely enough to survive, but I’m beginning to understand why South Africans place so much importance on relationships. With not much else entertainment, it’s everyone’s job to keep everyone else entertained and happy.

We have so much in America to keep us entertained — movies, malls, technology, bars, restaurants, sports arenas, you name it. We, Americans, can usually something different to do every so often.

Those in my village can’t and don’t. They do the same thing every day. Many are unemployed and live off government grants. For instance, my host mother sells airtime (the South African equivalent of pay-as-you-go cell phone minutes and SMS), sells electricity, sews torn clothes, sells baked goods, etc. Thus, on a daily basis people visit with each other, cook, clean, do chores, attend church and every funeral, wedding or birthday, or take a taxi to town to buy groceries.

And ya know what? From what I’ve observed, it seems like everyone’s pretty darn happy. These Zulu and Sotho people are proof that you can live with the bare essentials to survive and still lead a happy and fulfilling life. Now who woulda thought that back in Los Angeles?

It’s amazing how drastically life has changed for me in the past two months. This village is my new home now and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My hardest Peace Corps challenge in the village so far is facing the harsh reality that I can’t buy ground coffee at my closest grocery store. Hey, everyone needs something to look forward to and I look forward to drinking a good cup of coffee every morning — it’s a healthy addiction!

Want to send me a care package? (Hint: with lots and lots of coffee), here’s my new address.

And finally, here are pictures of my village, the main tar road and the vast grasslands:

Yours in Service,

SmallTransparentLogoLiz

Liz’s new home sweet ekhaya

We made it! I am finally living at my permanent site in the Battlefield Region of Kwa-Zulu Natal. We left Mpumalanga right after our swearing-in ceremony and arrived on Sunday night.

My new host family consists of a mama and two high-school-aged boys. They all can speak intermediate English and want to learn more from me. However, I want to learn more isiZulu so this will have to be a two-way trade! Unfortunately, my mama’s husband passed away last year. My mama speaks isiZulu because of her husband, but is Sotho. Apparently both groups live in my area. My principal gave me the African name of “umpho” (a gift from God in Sotho) to honor my mama’s heritage.

My host brothers are polite, shy and very curious about who I am and what America is like. Now that I’ve gone through this host-family thing once already, I can say it takes at least a month to really warm up to each other and to start understanding each other; there’s always that awkward transition phase. It also doesn’t help much that I was ill when I first met my family and neighbors and had a hard time talking because all I could think about was how nauseous I was (everyone gets sick eventually in the Peace Corps and I would of course get sick on my first day at site — ngiphetewe isisi (my stomach hurts). It’s also freezing cold and storming here, so I can’t help but curl up in my two blankets, onesie, jacket, sweatpants, beanie and three pairs of socks to try to keep warm. I’m not worrying too much, though, because I’ve got two years here — people will get used to me and I will get used to them.

Anyhow, here’s a glimpse into my new ekhaya (home in isiZulu):

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The Kwa-Zulu Natal Battlefield Region, ain’t it pretty?

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Home sweet home

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My bed, which my host family let me borrow and buckets for bathing, laundry and dishes

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My makeshift pantry and wardrobe because I have no furniture and my host family let me borrow extra stuff they had

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My makeshift kitchen. I’m living without a fridge for two years and cooking on hot plates. The buckets are filled with water I fetch from my yard for cooking and bathing purposes. 

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View from outside my house in the pouring rain. The main tar road is the only road that runs through my village to town.