School was over for the year on Dec. 10 for kids and Dec. 12 for teachers. The new school year starts on January 19 for teachers and January 21 for kids. In between, is what I call the “doldrums.” It is a long period of time to fill up in positive ways (or not) and when the Peace Corps wants to know where you are and limits the amount of “away time” you can have. It is also “holiday” time and a time when you are missing the activities that you, your family and friends often do together to celebrate. It is also time when Zulu families get together, people return to rural areas from the cities, and there is good food and family time. You, however, are away from your family and are not part of the Zulu family life, so it enhances the aloneness. Except for ads on TV (yes, I have a TV), there is really not much evidence of Christmas hype–no lawn decorations, no house lights, no reindeer, no Santa ringing bells on the street. Of course, there is absolutely no evidence of Hanukah anywhere at all, including TV. I am appreciating the lack of Christmas hype.
I have been “at site” (home) since Dec. 6 when our 10-day training ended. I was able to see how the last week of school was conducted. There were very few children at school on Monday and Tuesday because the teachers weren’t teaching (they were doing year end report cards) and no food was being served. Any children who did come (about 50 out of 470), played outside all day long. I was able to help a few teachers with their reports and attendance registers. There were a few meetings to finalize the “duty load” for next year and to create the new teaching schedule. The average weekly teaching tIme is about 20 hours at the intermediate (Grades 4-7) phase. Teachers go from class to class in the intermediate phase; students stay in their one classroom.
On the last day of school, students come to school for an hour or two. No classes are taught but attendance is taken and there are morning songs, prayers, assembly, a speech by the FP (Fabulous Principal), and certificates given to the top ten learners in each class. The learners go to their home room teacher to receive their report cards. They are handed out to each student and then there is a mass exodus of children going out the gate to their homes. Some are hugging and dancing and shrieking with glee. They passed! A few others are not so happy — they will be repeating the same grade!
I will be teaching English Grade 5 (68 learners, 5 hrs/week), English Grade 7 (51 learners, 5 hrs/week), and Social Studies Grade 6 (41 learners, 3 hrs/week). There is a standard curriculum to follow with student workbooks. As long as you teach the required curriculum, you can use any materials but it turns out in reality that teachers use the workbooks. The curriculum goes in fast-paced two-week cycles with no time for review, repetition or catch-up if there is a holiday or illness or assembly or whatever. With that many kids in each class, I wonder how you can get to know each child’s learning style, reading level, and area of strength or difficulty.
I have been hanging out at home except for one delightful sleepover with friends in Manguzi. I have been trying very hard to stay positive and fill the long, long hours with interesting or productive activities. Most of the time I am successful.
I have started a garden. Well, the garden part will come much later. I have blocked out a 4 ft by 8 ft plot against an existing fence. I dug a trench around the other 3 sides. I looked online under “building a fence out of plastic bottles” and got some good ideas. I started by collecting a lot of 2 liter plastic soda bottles. If you have read my earlier blog posts, you will know that this area of KZN is a virtual garbage dump. I have had no trouble collecting bottles and now folks are bringing them to me, stopping me and handing them to me. My fence at the moment is 3 bottles high but I am now convinced that this prototype needs changing. A stray cow will have no trouble leaning over and nibbling any little green thing I choose to plant. I cut off the bottom of two bottles, nest them inside each other and then use one uncut bottle for the top level. The ground here is cement hard, poor, heavy, no worms. I used some water to soften it up so I could get the shovel into it. I went around the neighborhood and found some fairly straight sticks to set in the trench to support the bottom level. I backfilled with dirt from the trench when all was in place, for support. I also tied them together with yarn. (See photo.) I now have almost the entire three sides enclosed, a lot of the inside dug down about 4 inches, added some sand, added a bit of composting food waste. It has been raining a lot so now the soil is wet and heavy and muddy. I need to go up a few more levels and to figure out a “door.” This may sound tedious but it isn’t. It is semi-hard work, it is using trash in a good way, it takes a lot of time which I have a lot of, and if my back holds out, and the cows, goats, chickens, geese and pigs are kept out by my designer fence, I may someday be able to grow veggies. Whew!
Today, I dreamed up a new time-consuming project! I started a rock entryway to my house. I collected small flat rocks from the vacant lots around the area, laid them out like a jigsaw puzzle in the front of my rondaval, filled up the cracks with sand, watered and swept, and there it is! It can be expanded at any time and in any direction. (See photo.). Two little girls came by to visit and they helped carry rocks. I rewarded them with chocolate chip cookies (not homemade).