Tuesday, September 14, 2010

all settled in

Time for another update and I don’t even know where to begin. It’s been three weeks since I stepped off the plane in East London. I am amazed at how quickly the time is moving already! I’ve pretty much settled into a routine now…but routines are always subject to change when you’re living in Africa. I wake up at 7 to catch a lift to Isaiah 58. There is a small school bus that picks up several of the employees to transport them to and from work. The staff at Isaiah insisted that they give me a lift and I thought it best not to fight it. I am brought home earlier than I would like and sleeping in is out of the question now, but being flexible and putting your own preferences aside is the only way you can function here. I’ve spent my first days at Isaiah helping out with the younger children. The childcare workers have a lot on their hands and need all the help they can get. Last week we did a coloring activity in which the children had to learn to cut out and paste their pictures. Teaching children to use scissors is definitely harder than I thought it would be. We also helped them to write their names but they are quite young so they can only write the first 2 letters or so of their names. But I must say, that’s pretty good with names like Simonhkele, Ambesiwe and Ayabonga. They still like to play with my hair but not as much and the frenzy is not as big now when they see me in morning. Good thing too otherwise I may be bald when I return to the states. I try to remind them every day that my name is Brittany but I seem to have adopted the nickname “lungu” (short for umlungu).

Last weekend, we attended the annual Mr. And Miss Zamani pageant at the day care in Duncan Village. It was the longest event I’ve ever been to. I was surprised at how seriously the little kids took that pageant. The parents and the audience were really into it as well. There was lots of dancing in between the judging. Once you’ve seen that dance, you’ve seen them all. And I’m pretty sure the music playlist was on repeat for the entire event. The kids had a lot of fun though. I got my hair done again by a million little hands and they taught me how to dance the Xhavata (that’s not spelled right but I know how to say it). After church the next day, Kathy took us to the lion park. We were a little too late to see them out and about but I did get some cool pictures. On our way home we stopped by the Calgary Transport Museum and were given a tour of the exhibits. It was a collection of buggies and carts that people would ride on during the early to mid-1900s in South Africa. Many of the innovations on those carts are seen in the modern day kombis (taxis) that zip around the streets. Anyways, I would never have thought something like that would make an interesting museum but it was pretty cool. Last week as I was walking down the street from the best fish n chips shop I’ve ever been to, I saw these two armoured trucks stopped in the street that had just come from the national reserve bank across the street. As I walked by I saw these guys dressed in all this bulletproof gear crouched behind cars parked on the street. But I wasn’t looking at their clothes. They were holding the biggest freaking guns I’ve ever seen in my life!! My limited knowledge on guns prevents from giving them any kind of name except freaking huge! They must have been protecting the trucks from anyone who had the bright idea to try and highjack them. I thought it was so awesome but no one else on the street even seemed to notice.

This past Friday, I was able to spend the day with one of the orphanage social workers. She explained to me the process of admittance to Isaiah and it is quite an ordeal. There’s tons of paperwork and dealing with the court and multiple social workers. You’ve got to be on top of everything and be extremely organized when you’ve got 100+ children to keep files on. But she told me that the most important part in the process of coming to a place like Isaiah is how the children are received—not only by the employees and social workers but by the other children as well. She said that at Isaiah, the children are so welcoming and inclusive of the new children that they will begin putting aside the problems they’ve just escaped in a matter of days. But I can’t even begin to image some of the issues these young kids have had to deal with and the circumstances that they have come from. I was briefly forewarned that many of the children have witnessed or been victims of sexual abuse. Their understanding of right and wrong can thus be very skewed when they first come to Isaiah. This just breaks my heart because it’s not their fault at all and these children are so young so be bearing such a heavy load. So this is where the hard part of doing an international field study begins—I’m learning that I need a way to deal with the frustration of feeling so powerless. Lately, I’ve turned to watching mindless, lighthearted television at night as a way to turn my brain off and just give it a rest. If I don’t have some sort of escape, I think my head would explode.

But despite the hard stuff, it’s easy to feel at home here. South Africa has many familiar comforts of home like facebook, KFC, and Miley Cyrus...Ahh the effects of globalization…But it’s important to not become complacent; because although I’m beginning to feel black, people are very aware of race, and I am very white. Pastor Mervyn, the manager of Isaiah 58 made an interesting comment to me by saying “your culture has made you colorblind.” I’ve been pondering this for some time now. In America, we tend to ignore skin color. Race is one of those sensitive subjects in which you must be “politically correct.” I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing because when it comes down to it, everyone really is the same underneath it all. But in South Africa, race defines you. Everyone notices race because it’s a big part of life and people talk about race freely. Apartheid was not that long ago and most people here lived through it. You cannot ignore this and pretend that racism never existed here. You cannot be colorblind here because no else is. I’m not an expert but I just think it’s a really interesting dynamic. Anyways the point of all this was to say that on the surface, culture here can easily be seen as the same as mine. But the truth is that cultural differences run very, very deep. For example, the way in which people treat each other here can easily be mistaken for incredibly friendly. But it’s actually much, much more than just that. As a foreigner, I have difficulty understanding it and explaining it sufficiently, but I know immediately when I feel it. They call it “ubuntu.” I guess the closest translation could be family or brotherhood or the feeling that you’re never really a stranger to anyone. Whatever it’s called though, I love it.

My weekend was quite eventful. Friday night there was a talent show at the church building where I attend services. I went intending to be merely an observer and ended up dancing on stage with my fellow American students against three South African teenage boys…a highly unfair competition if you ask me. Everyone knows white girls can’t dance. Good thing I don’t mind making a fool of myself. Saturday I went down to the mall because there were some celebrities there. Four cast members from a South African soap called 7 Die Laan (7th Street) were there to sign autographs and take pictures. The fans were also treated to some karaoke singing of Eric Clapton and some hip-hop. Saturday night we had a big braai at my host family’s home. This is like what we would call a barbeque—there’s lots of meat and booze. But I must say; for not being a very big meat eater, that was some damn good food! We had ribs, lamb, and sausage but meat has a very different texture here—the ribs are really fatty but you eat the fat and it’s easy to chew. Man it’s good though! After eating we spent several hours sharing stories and they talked with us as though we were their own family. I just love these people! And I have never received so many hugs from strangers in my life.

Tomorrow I will start tutoring children who are struggling to read at the school on the orphanage's premises. I have absolutely no idea how I am going to be doing this yet. People tend to assume that because I am from a wealthy country and because I speak English that I am a well qualified teacher and that I can "fix" things with all my spare money lying around. I think I surprise a lot of people when I tell them I am quite poor myself and that I have never taught a day in my life. So although I have no idea what I'm going to do when I step into the classroom tomorrow, I am not nervous because this isn't the first time I've been clueless here. But I've learned to just go with the flow and eventually I figure things out. Tot Siens!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like your having a great time britt. I am sure your doing great with your kids. I am taking a teaching class right now and if its any help they told us the fundamentals of teaching are 5 things
    1.be unexpected with your teaching(keep it fresh)
    2.give them choices
    3.use humor
    4. relate to your students
    5. enlighten thought(have them think about things and not just have you talk to them)

    I think your kids are pretty young so take these with whatever its worth in your situation. I broke my foot.