Well, it’s perfect blogging weather. I’m enjoying a drizzly Saturday in central KZN and, because the air isn’t blazing hot or dripping with humidity, I’d love to update you all on my first week of official teaching in the Peace Corps. My brother Zweli and I just cleaned off my goat-pellet-carpeted porch, so I’m chilling with some chai tea (thank you, dear Ty) and reflecting on the past couple days. All KZN schools began their 2013 school year this week…Week One and, as the title suggests, I’m happy to report that I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of a Week Won. Many schools in South Africa, whether with a Peace Corps Volunteer or not, can have rocky starts to the new year as the principal and teachers arrive and realize that the school is not ready – for learners, for teaching, for progress. I was seriously amazed by how few hiccups my primary school encountered this week; it was really inspiring!
Throughout my integration period last spring (autumn for most of you) I observed that, above all the potential alterations to be made, there was one change that stood out as pivotal for my school to become more efficient and effective: time management. Back in November, I drew up the 2013 timetable (schedule) for all the next year’s classes – six teachers spanning the six subjects of grades 5, 6A and 6B and the nine subjects of grade 7A and 7B.
Earlier this week, all teachers reported on Monday and Tuesday to get the school ready for Wednesday, the first day of classes. I took the staff through the timetable, posted one in each room, and politely stated that when time for grade 6 English rolls around, I would go to the respective room and expect to be able to start teaching. We all agreed that this was appropriate and thus far it has worked like a
dream. On Wednesday most of the learners arrived, we had assembly, introduced a new teacher (nope, not me, someone else!), and actually began first period on time. –I know– I’m imagining your faces right now and I agree wholeheartedly. I asked my dear and kooky principal, Ma’am Khumalo, if it was in the budget to get a clock for each room and she leapt up, squealed about what a great idea that was, and said that she’d have them on Monday. A fellow teacher even took the initiative to have a learner clang a bell at the end of every lesson. I’ve been so thrilled all week!
As far as my time in the classroom goes, it’s been really quite great. In the spring I spent time working with grade 5 so now those same learners comprise my grade 6 soldiers in the fight against monolingualism. They’re split into two sections, so I’ll get five hours a week (an hour a day) with each group. My school is rather small, so the fact that I have two classes with 15-20 learners in each is unheard of for a rural school. I’m so psyched to be working in such intimate settings; the individualized attention and personal exchanges are going to be integral in how much I can offer them and how much they affect and teach me in return.
In the three days I saw them this week, my learners were extremely well-behaved and excited that we’re together this year. The past couple days, we agreed that we are a grade 6 family, came up with classroom rules and consequences together (I’ll make a poster this weekend and have them sign it in agreement on Monday), they decorated nametags with markers my lovely Aunt Em sent me, completed a crossword puzzle I made about our classroom rules, did a worksheet to activate last year’s learning of past/present verbs, and I also taught them Hangman just for fun. Although they got to know me a little bit in the spring, I used this week largely to gain trust and build a foundation for our relationship this year. Next week marks the beginning of the true curriculum: I’ll be coming at them with a spelling list (tests on Friday), stories about colours to work on listening and reading, activities so they can actually get up out of their chairs, and potentially some American-born prizes. This week has been fabulous and while I know that next week could be a completely different animal, so far, so good.
Village life this week has also been ridiculously great and I’m happy to say that I feel more integrated than ever. I am fully at home here. I walk my little brother to and from his school on the way to mine, leap into my Mama’s arms when I return from weekend trips to town, take incredibly meaningful and conversationally-rich walks with my Baba, play and laugh with my siblings, and visit with my neighbours. Personally, I’m taking more liberties in my actions and overall enjoying a feeling of calm contentment and peace. Of course, to be able to receive this new great output, my input has consciously changed. I’ve begun to be more generous with things: my time,
games I have, food I make, goodies I receive from America, etc. and it’s been neat to notice how much more I feel like part of the community – as an actual contributor. Generosity and love are reciprocated in amazing ways with unbelievable timing…the ways of the world are pretty cool. Yesterday the new teacher at my school, Jane, who just moved to this area, invited me to her home after school to meet her family: her husband, the new pastor for the area, and her five children in grades 11, 10, 9, 7, and 1. We all spent hours together; eating, talking, and coming back to my home to visit with my family. I gave Jane a handmade soap from America (again, props to Aunt Em) and she left me with a container of meat, bread, and a huge glass bottle of Fanta. Ubuntu is gloriously alive. Peace Corps is full of upswings and downswings, of which I’ve witnessed many and will witness many more, but right now I am loving my ride at the pendulum’s zenith!
- My first morning of school was interesting: I was awakened at 03:00 due to a dogfight outside my window which seemed to set off every four-legged creature ever born so I wasn’t able to fall back asleep. After school that day, Zweli came to give my house “ichela”, which is a ceremonial spraying of water with a small broom to ward away bad spirits and ensure a good night’s sleep. It worked perfectly.
My “isiphandla”, the goat skin bracelet, I learned is a symbol of acceptance of, and protection by, the ancestors. Baba told me that our homestead was the first built in the village and that my little abode houses the ancestor’s spirits. He says that my arrival is “not so amazing because [I] am from the ancestors.” Woah.
- Tuesday night, before the first day of school, our family had a ceremony to “start the year fresh.” We sang, gave thanks, prayed, and surprised the boys with new uniforms. When Baba walked me to my house (10 feet away, but they do it most nights) he told me, “Tomorrow I will wash the boys on the outside and then, Thandeka, you will wash their brains.” That man is becoming so special to me.
I’ve got some more stuff, but I’ll save it for next time. I want to thank you all for your encouraging and overly-generous comments; they are great confidence boosters and reassurance for me being/staying over here. If you have questions, need clarification, or want elaboration on anything please do not hesitate to ask. So, from my current swamp of a village, infinite hugs and love to you all! Smile big and cherish the small things.