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Posts tagged ‘rural zulu village’

Just another day in the Peace Corps: my school’s fridge is being held hostage

Peace Corps Volunteers all over Africa love sharing TIA stories (#TIA). TIA means “This is Africa”, which entails every random, absolutely ridiculous, bizarre and hilarious thing we see or experience. Nothing can explain the odd things we experience except…THIS. IS. AFRICA.

The one day I wasn’t at school last week and instead attended Paige’s Grassroot Soccer training, an EPIC TIA moment happened at my school.

Our fridge hadn’t been working. My school’s security guard mentioned it to someone in the community he knows can fix appliances. The man showed up to my school unannounced, fixed the fridge without even consulting my principal or anyone else. After he fixed the fridge, he demanded 800 Rand (equivalent to 80 USD, but that’s a lot of money here) from her. My principal is an intelligent and stern lady, and can tell right from wrong in an instant. She questioned why she should be paying him 800 Rand when:
1) She didn’t consult him to fix the fridge.
2) She never got a quote from him and others.
3) He did it without her permission.

So, the man did what any normal and logical handy man would do. Him and his friend picked up our fridge and lugged it off school grounds, across the street and somewhere to the top of my village. Teachers and learners apparently could see this site through the windows (WHY DID I MISS THIS DAY?!)

During morning meeting on Friday, I heard a bunch of Zulu, “iFridge” and “Simpiwe” (the school security guard), and looked over to see a bare wall in the kitchen. I thought it had been taken for repairs. Later, my counterpart told me/translated the whole story; I couldn’t stop laughing.

OH – and I must mention that this is the ONE week, the ONE week, during my service where I actually needed to use the school’s fridge. I needed the fridge to store polony (gross, I know) for the kid’s lunch at my Grassroot Soccer Camp this week. Oh, you know, but the one time I need the fridge, it’s being held hostage. No big deal. No big deal at all.

I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. This is just one example of the absolutely ridiculous things we experience here. But, at least every time I think about this story I laugh out loud. A sense of humor is mandatory as a PCV…

I’ll let you know when the fridge makes a triumphant comeback to my school.

Yours in service,
Small heartLiz

Month 10: success is counted sweetest when…

Emily Dickinson, one of my favorite poets, once wrote:

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Failure in life is inevitable – especially when you’re working in a foreign country. But that doesn’t mean you can’t experience what success feels like. It’s just all about how you decide to measure success. As my girl Emmy D said, success is counted sweetest by those who don’t succeed much; they are able to comprehend and appreciate it so much more – and as parched, they taste that sweetness and juiciness of a nectar like no other.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll say it again: English development is challenging for my kids. Learners learn in home language until grade 3, then switch to English and curriculum work is equivalent to that of an American English standard.

Thus, how am I going to measure success during my time here? Quantitatively? How my kids score on the upcoming nation-wide exam at the end of term two? How much homework they complete? No way, Jose. I’m almost positive not much of that is going to change. Call it failure on my part, I don’t care. Failure builds character, strength and courage. Numbers aren’t everything, and success can be measured qualitatively, too.

One of the ways I’ve decided to measure success is analyzing my student’s English speaking and listening abilities. It’s only the middle of term two, and I already see a drastic change with how my students communicate with me.

Buhle and Zanele, tow learners who didn't speak in the beginning but are getting more comfortable with trying

Buhle and Zanele, two grade 5 learners who didn’t speak in the beginning but are getting more comfortable with trying

Most – or at least my mediocre and top learners — are speaking English to me, even some of the ones who can’t really speak. They are trying to have conversations with me. They follow my instructions. They respond to me in complete sentences. They come to my hut on weekends to visit and speak only English. Some can copy down word-for-word what I say to them. And the best part is – they aren’t scared to talk to me. They are confident and trying because they know I won’t laugh at them.

Even if it’s the most broken and ungrammatical English ever spoken to me, I’m somehow now able how to decipher what they are trying to say and then say the sentence appropriately to them.  Of course being around this daily has toyed with my English ability and I speak the slowest and loudest possible English (my village voice) and enunciate all contractions — “DO — NOT — TALK” or “I – AM — GOING — HOME”. I usually catch myself talking in my village voice to other Americans and people back home. Don’t even make me think about what I’m going to sound like after another year here…

My learners know well enough now that I will NOT translate to Zulu for them, and I will not speak Zulu to them. Yes, this means my Zulu isn’t top notch – but I’m here to make sure these kids get English exposure. If I wasn’t doing this, these kids would never get this much English exposure. Everything at school is done in Zulu – except grade 5 and up classes – but those classes are a mix between both languages. The educators only speak in English because the classwork and teacher’s guides are in English. However, as soon as they’re done with the class books – hello, Zulu!

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of spending a weekend at one of my co-worker’s home in Nquthu, our shopping town. Her little 5-year-old, Wendy, was visiting home for the weekend from boarding school. When I first met Wendy in November 2012, she couldn’t speak a word of English. I still played with her and spoke little Zulu to her, but there was a huge language barrier. Wendy left for boarding school last January to start grade R (kindergarten) and was thrown into an English-only environment. She still takes a Zulu class because it’s her home language, but is taught in English.

Cute little Wendy after getting her hair did!

Cute little Wendy after getting her hair did!

Common knowledge: Kids thrown into a language at a young age will catch on quickly. Wendy has done just that. This month when we had a sleepover, played games and coloured, she spoke to me in English. She even taught her older brothers how to play Uno in English. Her vocabulary is advancing as if English was her first language, and this all developed within five months of school. FIVE MONTHS. And you wonder what would have happened if my grade 5 learners were taught in English from grade R and up? They’d be fluent. Many probably wouldn’t be failing. Oh, if only…

Too bad that’s not a reality for my kids or any other rural kids. So, in my case, success is sweetest when the learners try to talk to me. If they’re already chattin’ away with me this much, what’s it going to be like a year from now? We’ll be even better best friends!

There is one spoken English issue here that everyone who learned English as a second language says and drives all the Americans crazy. In Zulu there is only one verb for “lend” and “borrow” so everyone says, “Please, borrow me ______.” My PCV friend who teaches grade 8 English even saw this phrase used as a correct English phrase on a district exam once, which is hysterical but makes me also face palm.

I have this jump rope I brought from America the kids love to use. If they say, “Please, Miss, borrow me the skipping rope?” I say, “I will if you say, ‘Please let me borrow the skipping rope.’” Most grade 5s have caught on and now will only say to me, “Miss, may I please borrow the skipping rope?” OH SWEET SUCCESS!

There are plenty of setbacks in the Peace Corps and South African schools, but depending on how one decides to interpret success, you can get a little taste of that luscious nectar Emmy D was talking about. Take what you can get, and treat it as a great triumph.

Yours in service,
Small heartLiz

Ubuntu: a bittersweet bathroom

South Africa is a diverse country – there are multiple languages spoken and cultures that reside here, but also contrasting ways people live. I live in a rural village of South Africa with electricity, but no running water.

Just about 50 km away you can find a town where practically everyone has such amenities. Or, I can go to another PCVs village about a 15 minute drive down the road to a village with no electricity. Mind boggling.

Rural villages are becoming more “advanced” as time goes on – some villages in my area have sanitary pit latrines provided by the government (mine has yet to receive this delicacy), most have electricity, most have water taps also provided by the government, and few families have running water.

My village got electricity in 2005. Everyone in the village has access to electricity if they can pay for it. People have to recharge a card with electricity to have it turned on in their houses. Then when the card runs out of money, their electricity goes out until they recharge it.

It seems as though the progression of development in the village goes like this: electricity –> pit latrine –> running water.

As of today, my homestead – the Mathebula house – has running water in the bathroom! My host brother, his father and uncle have been working on installing water pipes for two days. They somehow connected the water pipes to the tap pipe so the water can flow to the bathroom. I tried to have my host brother explain it, but was lost in translation. I got a little too excited about it because it was so neat to watch them do all that work that we would just call someone to do for us in America. Every handy-man, fix-it, type of construction projects are done solely by those in the village or family members, no matter how daunting the task may be.

The pipes connecting to the bathroom

The pipes connecting to the bathroom

The front yard all dug up to somehow build new pipes and attach them to old ones

The front yard all dug up to somehow build new pipes and attach them to old ones

My mom bought a bathtub, sink and toilet two or so years ago. I remember one of the first days at my family’s house she gave me a tour of the house; I saw a bunch of bathroom supplies just sitting there ready for installation.

I later found out how the story goes: her husband died almost two years ago from a sudden heart attack. Before he died, they bought a bunch of stuff to re-do their house that he was going to construct or install. Then when he passed away, everything just sat there. Since I’ve been here, my mom has been filling up her house the way her and her husband wanted it. Now my mom is finally getting the house her and her husband dreamed of, even if he’s not here.

Anyways, it’s 2013 and my family just now has access to a bathroom and is one of the few in the village that do. And when my 23-year-old host sister was 15, they got electricity. The little things we take for granted in America and don’t even think twice about are such a milestone for people in my village.

Will I get to use the bathtub? Nah, I don’t live in my host family’s house; I just live on the compound in a hut. I’ll still be splashing around in a bucket. Two years of crouching over a bucket isn’t bad, but my mama’s done it her whole life. Time for a bubble bath! You go mama!

Small heartLiz