Thursday, 29 November 2012

Remembering Africa

Mrs Ngai stops me in the middle of the compound. The red earth, beaten flat by many feet. I am  surrounded on all sides by the dilapidated barrack-buildings of the village school.

She has a question. Which class am I visiting next? Do I need toilet paper? It doesn't matter. the answer will not suffice, our conversation will roam around the world and I will have to shade my eyes.

It's mid-August, the middle of winter, cool for Mrs Ngai. I pull the rose-pink silk scarf over my head, and turn away from the bright midday sun. I am burning, and must soon head for the cool of the mud bricked refuge that is the staff room.

My day's work lies on a desk beside the door. The notes for a seminar on teaching English as a second language, a copy of,  'The Musicians of Bremen' to dramatise for the primary class, and the makings of a science experiment for the learners hoping to matriculate.

I transfer the staff meeting notes to flip chart paper ... Seven bullet points in impeccable primary school,teacher's handwriting, learned when there were blackboards. My colleagues exchange opinions on the  day-to- day minutiae of school life:  same everywhere - the shortcomings of the District Office, the  achievements of the brightest pupils, the failures of the rest. I haven't a clue what's actually being said of course : It's all in Xhosa. I am aware of the unfamiliar cadences, the soft clicks; the sounds are rhythmic, comforting, and without an obligation to join in, I am far more productive here, than at home!

'Mary! You work too hard,' someone laughs, Mrs Soxiewa hands  me a cup of tea. Five weeks here, so much to do...

I guess some things did get done. At the end, the school threw a party for me. Mr Mjodo prepares the scripture and homily for the great day with special care. Psalm 91: The sun shall not harm you by day... ' everyone laughs.

Mr Mximwa, the school principal has the final word... ' Mrs Mary,' he looks at me and grins, 'Is a MAN! '

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