Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Not the Budget Speech...

What is it about African cockerels? They crow all night. And should they stop for a moment, the dogs take over. Please ... Don't get me started on the geese... .

August 2002. I am fifty-one years old, and this is the greatest adventure of my life. I have a very impressive title. I am a 'Global Teacher' I have a Millennium Award that has trained me and let me loose on Lower Kroza Junior Secondary School, 50 k from Mtata in The Eastern Cape of the Republic of South Africa. My role is to enable the Senior Management Team to implement their School Development Plan. ' the mundane failure of this grand enterprise, I will draw a veil over.

I am the first Westerner to stay in the village. I am aware of a deep sense of privilege. My host, Mrs Nomtombani Molimbile is a seventy year old Xhosa farmer. She is also ,the widow of an Archdeacon in the Anglican Church. Her home, a traditional kraal with cattle, sheep, poultry and a mealie patch, also boasts a rondavel and a five-bedroomed bungalow that wouldn't have looked out of place in Weybridge. This was NOT what I was given to expect during the year-long induction phase. I was prepared for a mud bricked roundhouse with a thatched roof - like every other house in the village.

I quickly adjusted.

That's the background. My aim in this post is to describe a typical day from a very untypical experience.

Mama ( a title of respect) would knock on my bedroom door at 6 am. She would leave in the 'bathroom' opposite two plastic buckets, one of hot water, one of cold, that had been heated on the propane gas heater in her own 'flat' elsewhere in the kraal.

I became adept at performing all my ablutions on four buckets of water a day. In the evening, I would fill the cartwheel-sized bowl that served as a bath, with a few inches of hot water and wash my hair. Then I would sit in the bowl and wash my body. In went more hot water, and some 'Surf' washing powder and my clothes, which I would leave overnight to soak.

The following morning, I would wring out my clothes, pour the dirty water into the 'toilet' bucket, then have my morning wash. Then I'd rinse out my clothes, ready to hang out in Mama's garden, out of reach of the goats.

Breakfast: 'weetbix' and Xhosa tea, which is like English tea, only made with hot milk.

At 0730 Mr Landilesa Mximwa, the school principal would drive into the kraal in his shiny new 'Backie' and sound his horn. I was always ready, and I always sat in the cab with him. Mrs Mda and Mrs Ngai, would be accommodated in the flatbed behind us.

The drive down the rutted mud road to the school was taken slowly for the sake of the ladies in the back.

The school bell rang at 0745, and the 300 or so learners gathered in the compound encircled by the three mud and corrugated iron classroom blocks.

The memory of what follows still has the power to bring tears to my eyes. At a signal from the staff member responsible for assembly that day, the children would burst into song. I cannot describe the beauty of the harmonies, the power of the spiritual songs and prayers that sprang spontaneously from the throats of these talented youngsters.

After the worship, the learners would be subjected to a daily harangue, which is a kind way to describe the exhortation, in English, which I am glad to say, few of the young people would fully understand.

Lessons began around 0800 and followed a similar pattern in every class. The teacher would chant a fact, and the learners would repeat it over and again, until it was committed to memory.

Older children had pages and pages of information to copy into exercise books from the blackboard. The teachers were bored, the children were bored - the situation was dire.

Around 1130, school would stop for lunch. A lady from the village would come in to butter bread that would be served to all the children with jam. This, known as , 'the Mandela bread' was the main meal of the day for some of these children.

Poverty was evident in the broken shoes ( or absence of them) the cheap, I'll-fitting uniform that was often too large, or small, and full of holes.

The school was struggling to deliver a highly ambitious curriculum with virtually no resources.

I had to leave one class in tears when I saw six-year olds on tables of eight, given the task of drawing a house. They had one crayon between them that passed from child to child.

The afternoons seemed to hardly get going at all. The school was supposed to close at 1400, but most days everyone had drifted off by 1330.

At 1400 I would run a staff workshop - on identifying and helping children with learning difficulties, on sexual health, on teaching English... Most importantly from my perspective, on training teachers to teach interesting lessons, and to treat their learners with kindness and respect.

I would 'foot' home about 1700, to a dinner of chicken, potatoes, rice, butternut squash, cabbage, carrots and gravy. The same every day. I asked Mama not to go to the trouble, but she pointed out that I was not the proper shape for a grown woman, and she saw it as her duty to do something about it. The agency that placed me in the village paid for my keep.

After dinner, I would sit, wrapped in a blanket (it was winter, and the evenings were cold) watching American soap-operas which were a favourite with the adults on the Kraal. Surreal. The kraal did not have running water, but it had mains electricity and a satellite dish...

I was in bed by 2100. Trying to snatch a few hours sleep before the cockerels, dogs and geese conspired to keep me awake for another night under the fabulous African sky.

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