My second year at the primary school has officially begun. Well, school actually began on 15 January so this post is only about a 1/6 of a year late. As you know, I was present for a bit of the beginning of Term 1 but most of the first couple weeks I spent – probably less guiltily than I should have been – away from my village and school, traipsing the country with my brother. Once he left on 29 January, I experienced perhaps the lowest point of my service (don’t you dare feel guilty, John). I can definitively say that 30 January was the worst day I’ve had since leaving the States in 2012.
Imagine being able to cling to a family member, smoothly ride in a rented car, and not constantly defend your culture or actions for almost four blissful weeks. Within hours, cut to: cramped public transport, incessantly loud Zulus, and being poked and prodded on a 6-hour ride from Johannesburg back to a rural area…not my fondest memory of Peace Corps. Within one day, I couldn’t face all of that and being alone in my hut, so I zoomed straight to Katie’s village where she comforted me with tissues, hugs, and chocolate – thanks, bud! The curious and wonderful thing about bad times is simply that they end. At some point, a bad spell will get a little less bad and a little less bad, increasingly so, until you ultimately find yourself laughing as you wrestle your host brother
in the front yard. I knew that was the moment I had to get to in order to be okay and, though it took over a week, I got there. From then on I was stoked to be back in the village, with my family, and nailing down my involvement in the primary school. I doubt that extreme lows are always followed by extreme highs, but I was thrilled to experience unadulterated joy in all aspects of my service again: giggling with Mama as we did the weekend house cleaning, being amazed and humbled by chats with Baba, bopping around the community visiting people, and actually being excited to go to school in the morning and see all my little buddies (some of whom are taller than me).
The Peace Corps Education programme has different goals for the two years of service. The first year the Volunteers are to be teaching in the classroom and the second year they’re to be working on teacher training (in hopes of sustainability once the Volunteer leaves – a sometimes fruitful, sometimes fruitless effort). In all truthfulness PCVs kind of do whatever they want, whatever they perceive as most beneficial to the school, but these are the loose guidelines mandated by Washington, D.C. Last year, I taught two sections of grade 6 English and enjoyed watching the learners s l o w l y improve in their command of the language within the classroom (activities, journals, test scores) and outside of the classroom (games, homework, conversation length and depth). I also organized and opened our school library, distributed Mother Bears to learners in grades R-4, facilitated GrassrootSoccer with grade 7, fundraised for and received Books For Africa, and started the World Map project. Woof.
This year has a bit of a different tone at school, and I’m not complaining. I’m still involved with many of the above initiatives, but I’ve finagled it in a way that works better for me, my timeline, and my goals. It’s eerie to work not on starting and maintaining projects, but rather on wrapping them up or getting them ready to hand off to the next PCV. (I can’t believe I’m already talking about the “next PCV.” Didn’t I just get here?!) I will leave my village in early September and have a loose outline of what I’d like to do up until then – emphasis on ‘loose’…this is still Peace Corps, you know.
In Term 1, I’m focusing on getting the BFA books handled as well as teaching every single learner the library system in hopes that they can self-check-out by the end of the term (the last week of March). I have sorted the 2,000+ books into the appropriate reading levels and am in the process of acquiring carpal tunnel as I add them to the Excel book register. (While sorting, I took out unsuitable materials such as the odd romance novel or two. Took them where? You’ll never know. But, yes, Cassie did rope herself a Montana millionaire.) My counterpart, the other English teacher at our school, and I devised a timetable that allows me to use part of her English periods to see every grade
twice a week. As I said, I’m currently teaching them the ropes of the library as well as practicing conversational English (perhaps the weakest skill amongst rural learners). Soon they will be helping me stock the BFA books, and should be self-checking-out within a few weeks. Last year I always felt a little odd spending the majority of my time with one grade so, this year, I have really loved seeing every single child in the school – and I almost know all of their names! If she can spare the time, my counterpart joins in on the short sessions and has already told me she’s gleaned a lot about the library as well as how to communicate with the learners. D.C. would be so proud of me.
In Term 2 I’ll continue meeting with each grade twice a week, though the lessons will shift from library protocol to simply practicing English. We’ll do reading/writing with personal journals, listening/speaking with activities and games, and really anything I can think of that involves English implementation. Since BFA should be done by this time, I will happily take up the World Map project again as well as doing a GrassrootSoccer intervention with the new grade 7s. Those will be accomplished before the end of term in late June, which then allows for a three-week holiday. Around that time actually marks my last Peace Corps training, the COS (Close of Service) conference. Eek! After those emotion-filled days and poop-filled cups (legally required for the medical office), and maybe some light travelling, I’ll be back at site for just over a month before packing up and leaving the village and the school. I cannot believe that I just wrote my activities for the next seven months in two short paragraphs. Sort of hyperventilating over here.
Yesterday as I was walking home from school, I experienced a time of sheer tranquility. You know those moments where you stumble upon a conclusion about something…before you even realise you’ve been pondering it? Yeah. I noticed how at peace I felt with what I’m doing: living in a village community, attempting to teach English but mainly enjoying personal connections with youngsters, and simply soaking up this corner of the world for awhile. There’s no need to get sappy yet, as I still have seven months where I am, but there is a need to truly live with intention and try my best to take pleasure in every day, despite the inevitable hardships and frustrations. I still have many things bouncing around my noggin that I’d like to blog about, and I’ll try to keep the posts frequent. If I lapse a bit, leave me a fiery comment about how short people can’t write good well. Then I’ll really let you have it. Until then, signing off and walking tall.