Monday, December 3, 2007

Animal pictures...

So.. I'm in Africa...

which means that there are lots of animals....

I've decided to show you the more interesting photos I've taken. At left you see maybe the cutest animal in the world.. a baby donkey, which you see all over the place. Donkeys come in any different colors, from white, gray, brown, and black.

Below you see a dung-beetle which are quite plentiful as you get out of town, but that requires a long walk. He's actually pushing the dungball with his back legs, it's really funny to watch.

Here you see a rather interesting pair. A meerkat snuggling up against a 3 month old puppy (Boerhound, I believe is the breed). The two love chewing on each other, which is kinda fun to watch.
During our swearing in ceremony, we stayed at a beautiful game reserve, which was quite amazing, just 30 minutes from the capital city, there were we, among lions and springbok... to name a few of the animals that were there. The lions roared at sunset, it was really cool sounding.

The lion keeper was something else.

So I did the same with a smaller animal...

He actually is quite social and plays with you, nibbles on you, sleeps on you, eats any insects in the house, will squeal when he doesn't see you. He'll also chatter when he sees a snake.. and then attacks it and kills it. Quite useful... I want one....

And on weekends at my schools, these are the kids that hang out there... I'm out of internet time now... but this will be updated soon...

Sunday, November 25, 2007


So this past weekend, I went another funeral, it’s my fourth in as many months, and no, I didn’t know any of the deceased. Funerals are written into the fabric of Batswanan life. (Quick language lesson one person from the Tswana tribe is a Motswana, the plural is Batswana). Anyway, Saturday mornings are funeral mornings, I have seen three funerals at once in the same graveyard. It was rather interesting to watch as the ministers would trade off and the songs would alternate.

Funerals begin with vigils at the house of the deceased. On Friday, the day before the funeral, there is much hub-bub as a cow is slaughtered, a tent set-up, massive amounts of food is prepared and an overnight vigil of singing begins. Sometime during the week the grave is dug by the younger men of the community.

In our training village, I was there as the vigil was beginning, which takes place when the coffin is brought back to the deceased house. The coffin must come in the front door, and as the front door hadn’t been used in years, we had to remove the lock in order for it to open. Then some prayers are said over the coffin, a kind of last goodbye and in this case, the coffin was then taken back to another house, because two brothers had died and the preparations were taking place in the other house.

The coffins were carried in. First, through the men who stood on the outside of the house and then through tent, where the women were all holding candles and singing.

Jackets are required of men and women’s heads are supposed to be covered throughout the entire funeral process as a sign of respect. It doesn’t matter what the jacket or covering looks like, but they must be there.

Friday nights you can hear if there is a funeral near you by the singing. The singing isn’t too mournful, but it’s not joyful either. At times, it is somewhat eerie, at other times almost comforting to realize the sense of community here.

The morning dawns and the services start. During winter, the services start at 7 am, during summer (now) the services start at 6 am. Funerals are one of the few events that actually start on time. The service usually takes place in a tent and consists of several speeches, prayers, and songs for the dead, outlined in a program. The service can last anywhere from an hour to two and then the coffin is brought to the waiting hearse, which can be a van, a modified truck, or a khumbi with seats removed.

The procession proceeds to the graveyard, with some people walking and others driving their cars.

At the graveyard there is a tent for the family and the rest of the people gather round, usually separating by gender. The minister/priest continues the service there. Singing and a few speeches are made. Depending on the funeral, some speeches actually make the people laugh.
As the casket is lowered, songs continue. The men of the community, as a sign of respect, share four to five shovels between them and take turns filling the grave. Singing persists thoughout this, however at one funeral, as the casket was being lowered about six people burst into tears and left the graveside to wail on the perimeter of the graveyard.

Sometimes many funerals are going on at the same graveyard, so there is cooperation between the ministers on who sings when, with the other congregation staying silent while the other sings.

After the grave has been filled and covered with rocks, it is time for the unveiling of the tombstone, if there is one. This literally involves taking cloth off of the tombstone and then putting it in place.

Then the crowd breaks and heads back to the house, where the feasting begins. Traditional food is served. Pap (Porridge from Corn meal, kind of like grits but more solid), meat, and some kind of vegetable salad thing. Drinks include fruit juice and in my new area Gemmer, a ginger drink that is quite sensational, literally. It kind of burns while going down, but leaves you feeling very refreshed.

In my training area, we had traditional beer after the funeral, which was really thick and seemed like a meal and a half in itself. It was brewed during the week of the funeral and tastes like a combination of sorghum an beer, but it's not bad. It seems some community brew this beer, called bojalwa, and others do not, as I haven't seen any at my site, but it was at the funeral in our training village.

Funerals on the whole are quite different from those in the states, being more a community event than a private affair. Rather that have the graveyards on the outskirts of town, the graveyards are small and part of it. It seems from every house, there is a cemetery within walking distance.
These graveyards dot the landscape making it very evident that death is just another part of life here.
I'd like to thank my friend Adam for the use of one of his pictures... it's the one at the top, when the grave was being dug. I wasn't around for that, hence I have no pictures of it.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

All Saints Day

A couple days ago was all Saints Day, which meant I attempted to go to church. Actually not only did I attempt to go to church, I actually made it there while the service was still going on, however because there was no taxi (I’ll attach a picture sometime of what is loosely defined as a taxi) that I could take at that time, I arrived after having walked 45 minutes there. However, the service seemed to be rather nice from what I gathered. Afterwards there was a procession to the nearest graveyard (there are lots of small graveyards here) where I’m pretty sure we said a rosary and then (this I’m sure of) placed candles on graves. I placed mine on an unmarked grave that was probably that of a child, as it was smaller than most of the others. It was beautiful as we the sun was beginning to set and we could see the candles panning out over the graves. (The candle I placed is the one directly behind the priest.)

Funerals here are common, I’ve been to three so far, and despite the somber connotation that someone has died, it is a rather social event, something that nearly everyone attends on a Saturday morning, but funerals themselves are enough for an entire entry (with pictures).

Sundays are days when everyone goes to church. Services last anywhere from 2-4 hours and I still have yet to determine exactly what time the services start. I've been the only one there when I arrived at 9, so when I arrived at 10:30 the next week, thinking I'd be on time, they let me know that the service actually started at 9. Announcements can also be notoriously long, I attended about 1.5 hours of mass, and then 1.5 hours of announcements.... Again church will be another entry, this is just an intro.

The only problem with this weekend arrangement is that I need to do my shopping for groceries, and the best bet for groceries is the nearest town… 23 km away, so occasionally I take off right after the funeral, or wait to see if some day in the week my host family is taking their truck to town.

Picture is of the all Saints day blessing of the graveyard.

Bringing the internet to Rural South Africa

Today (actually about three weeks ago, now, but I just posting it now) both of my schools received a connection to the internet courtesy of the Department of Education. The idea is that my schools don't have regular efficient communication with the head office (one of them doesn't even have a phone). However, it’s one thing to have it, it’s another thing to use it or even know how to use it. The internet connection essentially consists of a modem/router that attaches to the computer via a network cable. The modem has an antenna kind of thing, looks like an older wireless router, and uses a SIM card, much like a phone does.

I was not aware that this was going to happen today, but when I arrived at my far school this morning, my principal said there was a computer workshop in a neighboring town and would I go with them so that if they didn’t understand something I could relay the information to them when we arrived back at school. So I was expecting an introduction to databases, word-processing, etc.

The session was supposed to start around 8 AM and we were told to bring the school’s CPU. We arrived at 9:20 or so bringing the entire computer (before I had arrived, they had thought the monitor was the CPU). We also picked up several people along the way, normal for my village in South Africa. If you have a car, it is a taxi. There are no paved roads in my town, so due to the recent rains, the road was rather bumpy. It great to go with a local, because they know pretty much where all the worst bumps are (I can compare it to driving on Kirby in Houston, except the road here is dustier and has more ridges that make you feel like you got a free massage with your ride.

The people from the department did not arrive until after 10. When they did arrive, there was little order as some teachers had wandered off. Very few of them knew how to connect a monitor, keyboard, etc, so some of the seminar was spent on that after rounding everyone up.

The instructions on how to connect the modem were clear to me, but not to my coworkers. There was a lot of miscommunication and disorder in the workshop, but in the end, at least some of the principals and teachers understood (or had written down) the instructions.

In the end, it was useful to see what kind of training the teacher’s were receiving, so I’ll be able to work from there. Unfortunately, there was a language barrier (not only English, but basic computer lingo, like CPU, mouse, etc.) between the presenter and the teachers, so I do feel that many teachers just jotted down the instructions without trying to understand them. Unfortunately, that is what many students do here as well. But, on the upside, it did make the question and answer session very short, which is quite unlike Peace Corps, where Q & A sessions are notoriously long (hours long at times).

Many educators (teachers) here have expressed feelings of frustration in regards to the computer and not knowing how to use it, which makes me a popular fellow and helps me to establish rapport.

Some of the teachers have also “taken” computer courses, but learned nothing. This is mostly due to them not reading the assignments, but copying the answers from another person who took the course years back. When my host mom asked me for help with the course, she was dismayed that I wouldn’t just give her the answers. After all, she could then get the certificate. I was, shall we say, diplomatic in my response.

Tomorrow, I’m headed toward the further school again, so I’ll begin to realize yet again, that it probably wasn’t such a great idea to teach the kids the High Five….

And we’ll see how the information superhighway affects the schools.

And the picture is me studying by oil lamp… during one of the power outages weeks ago. As the storms have dissipated, so have the disruptions in internet and electricity. I just thought it be a good idea to include a picture with each entry. Oh here’s a picture of a storm where I lost electricity as well..

Sunday, October 21, 2007

This entry is really for Friday

So today was a banner day for being a Peace Corps Volunteer as I was probably a little socially obtuse, incredibly resourceful, and appreciated by a random stranger. So this morning was great! The headache that I had had the previous night was gone, I was up before my alarm and the sunrise was amazing.

Another Peace Corps Volunteer called right after I finished talking with a friend that called from America, so I hurried up a bit and caught a taxi. As I was waiting for the taxi, the children walking to the closer school (Maikao) waved said hello and asked when I would be coming back. They've decided it's really cool to great me in English and Setswana, so I get to 'practice' both languages. So after a 10 minute or so taxi ride (the taxis are VW mini-bus looking things, and you ride with 14 other people, usually) I arrived at the stand and walked to the school, where some of the kids already knew my Setswana name, Thabiso (pronounced T-habiso, there's no th sound in Setswana, making for very interesting English pronunciation. Thabiso means bringer of happiness). Evidently our principals hadn't told the other principal that we were coming, so we met the principal as he was leaving for an appointment at the nearest optometrist (1 hour 15 minutes away). So we kinda wandered around until someone, who happened to be the deputy principal, showed us around. She stressed several times that we should call before our next visit, but I think we made a good impression. I did get the impression from some of the teachers that if we were working at other schools, why were we visiting theirs?

So after about a 40 minute tour, we were suddenly done with what we had planned for the day, so we walked the 50 minutes back to my school that is pretty much right next to my house. (town is the opposite direction of my far school, so that was out of the question). We could have taken a taxi, but it's also a good idea for us to walk, since we usually bounce ideas off each other. It also helps people realize that despite the fact that we are about the same, age, height, aren't black or Indian, have similar Setswana names (Kagiso and Thabiso), we are not the same person.

I briefly showed him one of the schools where I work, he'll get a better tour on Tuesday, and then we walked to my house, where we hung out on the roof, admiring a bird's nest and my handiwork in patching up a place where the concrete had cracked and was letting water in. I headed to school, where I attended a really long staff meeting, without even falling asleep!!! I did speak at the meeting, introducing them to the internet (courtesy of the Department of Education's project to get us connected, I'll blog that story as well) and letting them know that yes, I was here to help, but I had the same 24 hours as everyone else and that I like to sleep (which they did laugh at, yeah for humor).

After school I helped draft the language policy document for a school in the area, whose teacher just happened to be around. This consisted of me mostly asking her the right questions, in the end, she realized she had done the entire thing by herself, and complimented me on my teaching, and was blown away at the fact that I was 22. Many of my teachers have kids that are older than me, it's weird.

After that, I went home to find I was locked out of the main house, so I cleaned until they came home. As a volunteer I'm supposed to take two desks from my school. But since they are already overcrowded and short on desks, I couldn't bring myself to do it, but then I found about the storeroom (or junkpile) and got permission to use whatever I could find there since they just keep dumping more stuff on it every year. Using my host families pick-up we drove to the storeroom (literally an small abandoned two-room cinder-block house next to the school that was packed full with broken, old frames of desks and the wood that they use to make the desks).

I put the key in. It wouldn't fit. After about five minutes of jiggling the key around it still wouldn't fit. So I climbed in the window frame, and tried the key on the other side of the door. Wrong key. Luckily there was only one other person with me to laugh at me. Since I already looked like a thief (climbing in the window) I figured that actually doing what I came to do wouldn't be that bad. I was there, and I had the pick-up so I rummaged around and found some really nice looking frames and not so nice looking boards to use as desks. So I spent the rest of the evening making the boards look nice, washing them, sanding them down and making them into desks.

My host mom came out and was shocked, her classroom is one that is overcrowded. Over 40 1st graders in one class, sitting three to a desk at times, and all it took was a little time, sandpaper, soap, and screws to fix? Which means some will support me when I go to the principal and ask for a teacher work day to fix up everything that is broken in the school (well, not everything, but a half day would do wonders...)

And then lo and behold, it's time to eat/cook and check email. I get an email from Julie and leave the soup on the stove and run and get my computer. When I come back, the soup had boiled over, and the other pot was getting dangerously close. Of course my host mom comes into the kitchen at that point in time and kinda shakes her head and laughs as I explain in Setswana that yes... I made a mess. But the soup was good. My host sister was playing on the computer/ watching the rugby world cup. South Africa plays tomorrow against England, so naturally I facebooked Father Justin, the chaplain at the Rice University Catholic Student Center who is from England and played rugby, to ask for forgiveness in rooting against England.

However, this side of the Mediterranean Sea, the entire TV was just a giant celebration that they've come this far and that they might win and so people are composing songs, dances, etc, just for the final. It's madness; it's great, esp when you get to cheer in at least three languages (and your rugby mascot is a wild antelope/deerlike looking thing called a Springbok). My host sister even told me that her blood was green. Great time to be here!

Go Boks!!!

Sidenote: The Springboks won!!!!

Another sidenote: The picture is actually a sunset, not a sunrise, but you can kinda see why this area is called "the Texas of South Africa."

Friday, October 19, 2007

We interrupt this Peace Corps experience

.... to say go Springboks go!! (in at least three languages!) Half of the news today was devoted to the fact that the South African National Rugby Team made it to the finals... and is playing England tomorrow in Paris. My host sister told me today that her blood was green and started singing one of the numerous songs that have sprung up for the occasion (Leon Schuster has one, I think he's the only one anyone in the states would recognize), but you turn on the TV and all the newscasters are wearing jerseys. It's great! We talked about it a bit a school, but not for long, but there is definitely some excitement, at least among the younger kids, here in rural South Africa.

The person that I associate with rugby, Fr. Justin, is rooting for England most likely, but I've decided to root for the Boks, because I really like the songs and who could root against a Springbok that plays rugby?

Go Boks GO!!!

p.s. I'll return to a more normal Peace Corps experience after the IRB Cup is over.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

So what am I doing again?

I assume many of you are wondering a bit what exactly it is I am doing. I’ll let you know as soon as I do.

All joking aside, beyond the three main goal of Peace Corps (provide trained individuals to interested countries, promote understanding of host country nationals to Americans and promote understanding of Americans to host country nationals) my project has four main goals.

1) Assisting teachers in improving their teaching and classroom practices in all subjects

2) Complement the Department of Educations training of teachers and school managers

3) HIV/AIDS awareness and education both in the school and community

4) Working with educators, parents, and community members to strengthen the partnership between schools and communities

And … whatever else I decide to work on. In Peace Corps lingo that is termed a secondary project.

So right now my job consists of observing teachers while they teach, all in all, establishing rapport, and making detailed notes on any ideas they might have to improve themselves, and ideas that I might have. Needless to say, I’ve written a lot in both categories.

Why is this necessary?

To begin with, I’ll give a short history of apartheid education. To save on time, I have not included annotations to any of my sources, as many of them are oral. To begin with, Black education (please note that the term Black as used here is not by any means to be degrading, I would say Native Africans to be politically correct, but that is going too far, because doesn’t science claim that we share African ancestors? Please note that South Africa has a number of races, ethnic groups, etc. I use terms to describe people as they describe themselves, I personally dislike labeling people, but to make generalizations, one must, thus, I return to Black education) before the advent of missionaries was not the formalized training that one is used to in the Western world. Much of what was learned was learned from the communities, with an initiation ceremony (which could be quite painful) into adulthood in initiation schools which were taught by elders or one approved by elders to teach the youth. Initiation schools were only a few months and only right before initiation. This way, people knew their roles in society. Shaka Zulu did change this practice, but that is another long tangent.

Missionary Schools began to operate with their goal being the salvation of the soul of the African. Intellectual and white superiority in the terms of “civilized culture” were often taught as well, asking the Blacks to give up their indigenous beliefs for the purposes of being civilized. The two main groups of whites (term used here to describe those of European descent, who have fair complexion, straight hair, etc.) were the British and the Boers (or Afrikaaners), who did educate the Blacks but largely through Mission schools. That changed after Apartheid policies were adopted (following the 1948 ascension to power of the National Party).

The 1953 Bantu (Word formerly used to describe Black Africans) education act essentially changed the schools from being state-supported mission schools to being directly under the control of the government. However, some mission schools continued operating without help from the government, among them the Roman Catholic mission schools (the Seventh-Day Adventist and United Jewish Reform Congregation were the other mission schools that continued without government funding).

However, the other schools that had been registered/handed over to the government were soon to be put under the policy of the Department of Native Affairs. Here’s what the brainchild of this Bantu education act had to say about it:

Excerpts from Minister of Native Affairs Dr. H.F. Verwoerd:

“There is no place for [the African] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labor. It is of no avail for him to receive a training which has, as its aim, absorption into the European community.”

“Until now he has been subjected to a school system which drew him away from his own community and misled him by showing him the green pastures of European society in which he was not allowed to graze.”

So, to make a long story short, Bantu education focused on forming productive workers that knew how to follow orders and not question them, to only aspire to a certain level, as that is the limit their racial background allowed them to reach. Their schools were also funded 1/7 as much per pupil as pupils in white schools.

This policy started in the 50s, meaning the educators today are largely a product of the old system. Even though they have been re-trained in new techniques (i.e. encouraging critical thinking) it is easier to revert to the old ways, after all, it got the teachers where they are, why make more work for them?

Education and thus community involvement in education was actively discouraged as well, so, in a nutshell that is why I am here. To facilitate. To empower. I’m ready.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Arrival in Africa

As promised, it's time to flip between memories and the present. We arrived in Africa after being in the air for about 18 hours. I was pretty exhausted, having met my second cousin Anna-Lena in the airport in Frankfurt and not having slept much either in Philadelphia (where we had two days of paperwork prep for South Africa) and the wait in JFK was horrendous (Can you believe there is no way to send a package from JFK? You can only send letters, which means I had to send my sister her car keys from Germany)

I had dreaded leaving for Peace Corps, I was excited about the job, but really dreaded leaving. My Grandmother had just passed away, I hadn't really had time to grieve with family and saying goodbye to friends and family, especially Julie, was excruciating. I knew it was best, but the realization of the length of time was not something I looked forward to. The morning I left, everything was in a fog, all I really did was put one foot in front of the other, my vision was blurry pretty much the moment I stepped out of the car. It didn't really stop being blurry until well into the flight to Philly, probably when I started sleeping.

Needless to say, the next few days were a mixture of emotions. It was great meeting new people, but I was more concerned about what was happening in Houston than with what was going to happen for the coming months. Probably not the best way to start a new job, but there wasn't any way I could not be concerned. So it was in that state that I landed on African soil. Emotionally drained, tired, kind of in survivor mode more than new job mode.

But we (all 90 or so of us) loaded ourselves and our luggage (90 people packing for two years is a lot of luggage) and headed off to our orientation center, better known as Mankwe. After leaving the airport there were definite signs we were in Africa, a troop (I think that's the right word) of monkeys scampering through the veld, billboards with South Africanized English, etc.

As we pulled into the training center the people soon to be known as our LCFs (language and Culutre Facilitators) sang a song of greeting. Zebras were just on the other side of the fence, the ubiquitous red dust was beginning to creep into our belongings and I was headed for bed.

Note: I didn't take this picture, someone else did... but I was still there.

Sunday, October 7, 2007


Today, Saturday, was a day of doors. I got a new door and we took the car to the car guy (really not sure what to call him). He promptly disassembled the door, worked with some wires and in the end the door worked as good as new. No ordering of parts, no waiting in a building, no offering to change the oil/windshield wiper fluid/ brake fluid/suspension/ catalytic converter etc.

I didn’t realize installing my new house door would take all day. Why a new door? Peace Corps likes to keep us safe, and so when the door wouldn’t shut because it had gotten bigger during the rains, it was time to take a trip to the only place in town that sells doors. (I also ripped the handle off trying to close the door)

The store is an Afrikaaner-run (Afrikaaner = descendent of the Dutch settlers that colonized South Africa back in the day) hardware store in the main shopping district. And by main shopping district, I mean the clinic, a tavern, the post office, gas station, etc. only two real stores. One is the hardware store, the other is a Chinese shop run by the only two Chinese gentlemen in town. We’re are not quite sure how they ended up here, but until my communication skills improve (I think they speak broken Setswana) I won’t be able to find out. There has got to be a good story there. To clarify, the town where I live is nearly all Black South African. The exceptions could be counted on my fingers in a village of upwards of 10,000.

Upon first asking they said they were out of doors (no pun intended), but as I was asked by another cashier what I would like someone remembered they had two doors left. So I got one, along with the necessary equipment and then spoke with the owner, who was delighted to have a visitor from Texas. He was even more delighted when he found out that I spoke German, as he was of German-descent himself and spoke German. (Afrikaans is somewhat like German, so he could converse in both languages). He invited me and the other volunteer out to his farm for beers and steaks. We've decided to wait a bit before taking him up on the offer because we don't really know our schedules and we don't want to appear to be preferring the company of the better-off people in the village, as we are here for the entire village.

When we brought the door back, is wasn’t quite what my host mother had in mind… she had wanted something fancier, but I told her we could make it fancy later, let’s put it in before the next storm.

Of course it wasn’t the right size. I found out that power tools would really save time. Everything we did was done by hand. What would have taken 15 minutes with a circular saw took at least two hours as we had a conventional saw and a plane. As we were working on the door, we had visitors, and I divided my time between working on the door with the ranch-hand, getting visitors drinks, and cleaning up my room since I had unexpected visitors. The work took all day, but in the end I added a coat of varnish and let it dry before closing the door… and the door closed, it was great.

I’ve been doing a lot of settling in here in my permanent site. I live with a host family of a married couple and their ten-year-old daughter. The ten-year old goes to one of the schools I work with and my host mother teaches at that very same school. They have a daughter that goes to boarding school and another daughter that is already out of school. They also have a dog, cows, sheep, and goats. Since it is spring, it’s great to see the lambs, kids, and calves running after their respective parents. Part of this settling in has been pointing out the leaks in my tin roof, which ended up in a trip to that very same roof where I found the problem, an exposed beam. While I was up there, I also spotted a birds nest. The eggs were still warm, but I didn’t have the heart to cook them, but I did end up cooking dinner for the family because my host mom was tired. While I was cooking, the family in Texas called. It was great. After dinner I managed to chat with many of you, and Julie sent me songs, which were amazing. ( I can’t get “Come back to Texas” by Bowling for Soup out of my head). A great end to the day of the door.

Interspersed with these current episodes will be flashbacks to earlier, when I didn’t have a blog. I’ll try to make sure to label which entry is which, but just thought I’d give ya’ll a heads up.

Thursday, October 4, 2007


And welcome! Glad you made it!

You may be wondering how a Peace Corps volunteer is updating his blog from rural Africa, so I have one word for you: cellphones. The village that I live in has no public phones, and perhaps two landlines, at a clinic and at a school, however, it is not uncommon for families to have two or more cell phones. I’ll write more on cell-phone etiquette later… oh wait… my cellphone’s ringing, I know I’m in the middle of talking to you or a meeting, but the call must be more important. Let me go talk for a few minutes, still stand in front of you…


The great thing about cell phones here is that some of them can be used as modems for computers, which is exactly how I can be nearly anywhere in South Africa… and still poke someone on facebook. (and it’s free for me to receive calls!)

So, do I feel that this isn’t the “real Peace Corps,” that I’m living an American’s life in South Africa? Well, no.

This isn’t the Peace Corps of the 60s, we aren’t as detached from the global community; the world has gotten smaller. Technology has reached these areas and we should use it, especially since one of the Peace Corps’ three goals is to provide Americans with an insight into the various host countries and one of my programs particular goals is help the erase future inequalities in education

To begin with, what am I supposed to be doing in South Africa? I was selected for the School and Community Resource Project and so I’m here in a rural village in the North West Province of South Africa working with two primary schools, which on the government’s scale of poverty, rank among the poorest schools in the nation. The schools are not allowed to charge school fees because unemployment is over 75%. Houses do not have running water, some don’t have electricity. There are school lunch programs because some students do not get enough to eat at home.

It’s very difficult to give an accurate description of why I’m here without giving a background in the recent history of South Africa. Until 1994, South Africa was ruled by a white minority, which had conceived of a system of apartheid. Apartheid was a notion that the races had developed separately for many centuries, so they could continue to develop separately by creating racially homogenous sections of the country. These sections would be “self-governing,” similar to Native American reservations in the States. It wasn’t the original land, they had had, but it was some land. However, this system was systematically used to exploit the non-white populations. The most striking example was a powerplant built in a black section, in order to power a white section. Black workers worked in the power plant; however, none of them had power in their own homes, which were right next to the powerplant.

During this time, a system of education was implemented in the Black area in which Blacks were prepared for their position in life, which was one of subservience. They learned by rote learning, and were educational spending on each Black learner was one seventh of that which was spent on a white learner. Critical thinking was de-emphasized and little effort was put into maintaining standards in these schools by the central government. I’ll go into that more later.

One thing that you must remember about South Africa, is that the country could have literally imploded in the early 1990s when the decision was made to transition to a truly democratic South Africa. Luckily, leaders from all camps kept the turmoil to a minimum, and that’s why South Africa is the country it is today. However, there still are glaring socio-economic and racial divides (usually the two go together) and that is part of the reason we are here.

So I’m here to work with the schools to improve the education they are offering their learners (as students are called here). Both of my schools have a computer, and lots of educators (as teachers are known here) didn’t even know how to turn it on. I’m also tapped for my Math, Science, and English skills. However, I do find it incredibly rewarding to be in the schools (both of my schools are primary) and see the curious faces of the children as I tell them that I flew in an airplane (the Setswana word for airplane is eropleini ~ something that I found amusing). Some of them walk around barefoot which I find amazing in a place with thornbushes.

I live with a host family. I don’t live in their house (which has running water and electrical outlets, I live in two rooms in a house just behind theirs. Unfortunately, my outlets don’t work… nor do I have running water.

The area where I am is known as the Texas of South Africa and yup, it kinda looks like it. I see people riding horses, windmills and lots of cattle. They even have a hat that kinda looks like a cowboy hat. So, I must work again tomorrow, so I’m off to bed. (Btw, the stars here are just incredible)

Sunday, September 16, 2007


The views in this blog are my own and do not represent those of the United States or the United States Peace Corps.