Two Months From Leaving South Africa


1.  As of April 27, 2016, there is work being done on the new container building but it is not completed.  It is very close though.  I have no idea why it isn’t complete.


This is the container classroom before the roof was put on.



The roof pieces are assembled and are then put in place.


The workers are finishing with the final roof work.

2.  As of April 27, 2016, the paint job has not been completed and no one has been coming to work on it.

3.  The motivation letter we wrote about the need for an administration clerk did no good.  All such positions are frozen and no hiring is being done throughout the district.

4. A woman from the Ed Dept came to tell our principal that they want to electrify the school!    Of course, no time frame was given but since that was going to be done by us with the MassMart grant, we now need to find another use for the money.   There are plans to build an admin building; perhaps it can be used there.  I just hope the grant doesn’t fade away because of lack of use!


**Another Funeral

I went to another funeral on April 17. The boy who died, Lindelani, was in grade 7 last year at our school.  He was 17 and had been sick a lot with kidney problems his whole life, missing a lot of school and spending a lot of time in the hospital.  He seemed to be getting the treatment he needed and seemed to be doing better.  But he didn’t make it.  The family is very large and poor and no one is working.  They survive only on government grants.  Teachers collected some “condolences” money (R400) and the family was grateful because then they could feed people who came to the funeral.  I went there at 5:15 am with Mam Ndlovu and we stayed for about two hours.  There was singing, praying, a calm sermon, chanting, a procession out to the yard for the burial, more singing, chanting, praying.  I was happy to see and greet a few learners from last year’s grade 7.

**Reading Competition

I helped to prepare a small group of learners (4) to compete in a district-wide reading competition.  There were six books, two in isiZulu, four in English (24-59 pages).  Obviously someone else (Mam Khabela) prepped them for isiZulu.  They did “Storytelling” which is summary.  Each school was allotted 15 minutes to cover all six books, about 2.5 minutes per book.  There were 26 schools participating.  We arrived “on time” at 8:30 a.m.  However, things didn’t get started on time and it took a very long time for the judges to listen to all the schools.  The children waited all day long in an outside tent.  It was about 100 degrees that day, April 21.  The teams were brought into the air-conditioned room at the Jozini Education Centre where the judges and teachers were sitting all day.  From watching other schools, I realized right away that I did not prepare them properly.  They did not win any of the top five slots. They were shy, too quiet, forgot their speech, sounded too rote, and had no gestures.  The winning school, Emanyiseni, put on a brilliant performance, with gestures, change of tone, hand movements, and a clear, loud, complete summary.  Food was served, finally, at 4:30, kids last, and we got home just before dark.


Before going to the Reading Competition, I got a photo of the team: Thembeka, Nkosingiphile, Senzeko, Olwethu and their Grade 6 teacher, Mam MKhabela.



Inside the Jozini Education Centre, our learners lined up and presented their six summaries before the judges.


Since term 1, I have been working with 29 struggling Grade 1 and 2 learners on a special phonics program called SOUNS.  It is funded by Rotary Clubs and each Kit of large sturdy plastic alphabet letters costs about $250.  I have been teaching the sounds of each letter in isiZulu, along with very simple directions in isiZulu.  IsiZulu is a phonetic language so it works well.  I also have them spell some English words with the same vowel sounds as in isiZulu.  The grade 2 learners are given time to make their own words too.  I have been hearing that some of the struggling learners are now catching on and being more engaged in class.  I have also been able to identify a few who need A LOT of extra help.  I work with these 7 small groups on the floor of our tiny library area.  The kids love to come see me but most have the attention span of a flea and do not always behave well.  I get stern and send them back to their class and they don’t like that much.  The hardest part for my ancient body is getting up off the floor after our 10-15 minute session!


A few Grade 2 learners are making words with the big plastic letters from the SOUNS Kit. I have encouraged them strongly not to put them in their mouth or sneeze and cough on them.


These Grade 2 learners are enjoying playing with the letters and making their words.

**Water Buckets

The SA Army folks were so impressed with our school after their “health” visit, that they wanted to know what else they could do to help.  They were advised that water is a big problem in our area.  They set a date and time to return and did exactly as they planned! With a donation from a trucking company, UNITRANS, they brought and distributed empty 25  liter water buckets (R43) to every child and teacher at our school.  They also brought water in a truck and filled our JoJo containers.   They gave a speech about water usage, took photos, and left.  Well-planned and well-executed! It can be done in South Africa!


The South African army team came early and were totally prepared to give water buckets to 530 learners for use at home.


After getting their water buckets, Grade R and Grade 1 learners posed for a group shot carrying their treasure.



Nomvelo helped with the distribution of the water buckets. Here she is giving buckets to some of my Grade 7 learners.

**Teddy Bears

Through the amazing work of Amy Berman who began The Mother Bear Project, I distributed hand-made teddy bears to all of the learners in Grade R, grade 1 and Grade 2.  This is a Minnesota-based nonprofit and the bears are made and donated by very crafty and artistic knitters and crocheters.  Postage to South Africa for our four large boxes was over $100 per box and the boxes all made it here in record time.  I only had to pay the SA post office fee of R39 per box.  What a deal!!!!!  I also had to take a photo of every child with their bear and email it to Amy.  She will make sure the bear maker gets the photo.  The children, especially the Grade R group of 71, looked miserable in their photos.  One explanation may be that they don’t have toys and are quite unused to being given gifts.  They may be afraid it will be taken away from them.  They don’t smile easily but I saw them loving and treasuring their gift.


Lerato is one of my SOUNS kids, Grade 2. She gives me hugs at the end of our sessions. She was reading to me the other day, sounding out each word carefully! Success!


Londeka, Grade 1, likes to hold my hand as we walk from her classroom to the office to do our SOUNS work. She has settled down a lot, pays better attention and her class teacher has noticed her improvement. Success!


The Grade 2 class is showing off their beautiful new teddy bears.


I have been busy at school this term.  That is a good thing because I am counting the weeks until I can get on that airplane and come home.  I miss my family.  I miss my friends.  I am lonely here.

I do have a good friend in Mam Zulu.  She didn’t go to her home in Nongoma last weekend.  Because she was in Jozini, she invited me to come stay with her and the kids.  I went to her house Saturday afternoon, shopped at Shoprite, made dinner for them, ate with them, slept in their house, and enjoyed being part of a family.


At Jozini Dam, I took photos of my dear friends: Nomtha (Grade 12 matric student, second rank in her high school), Siya (Grade 7 learner at Jozini Primary School and Mam Zulu’s wonderful grandson), and Mam Zulu.


Nomtha took a photo of me with my dear friend, Mam Zulu. She calls me Karen or Ms. Fine. I do not call her Thembeni. It isn’t done.

Stories Continued and Stories Added

March 17, the bad news

The saga of the admin clerk position continues.  Today, my principal got a call from the district office.  They said there is no money to hire an admin clerk.  This is after the job was posted, this is after 150 people submitted their CVs, this is after the chosen seven short-listed candidates came for an interview, this is after the principal and SGB members spent one full day preparing questions and conducting the interviews, this is after the candidate was chosen and was set to start April 5.

The district said the school could submit a “motivation” letter.  This is an odd use of the word but it means provide good reasons why our school needs an admin clerk.  Does that mean that if you convince someone that you really need a clerk, there actually is some money?

I was stunned!  I can still hardly believe it.  I am stunned at the timing.  I am stunned at the disrespect of people’s time and effort.  I am stunned at the inefficiency.  I am stunned that there is doubt that we need a clerk.  I am appalled that they say there is no money.

Mam Ndlovu asked for help.  After thinking about it (and quietly fuming) for about an hour, I knew what the letter should say.  I told her and she handed me the computer and I sat down and typed a motivation letter listing 20 reasons why we really need an admin clerk.  I read her all the points, she added some items, she printed it and took it to the appropriate office.  I have no idea what will happen now.  I do know that she is exhausted by trying to do her job and the clerk’s job plus trying to teach her IsiZulu classes to grade 6 and 7.  The kids lose out every time there is a time crunch.

The interview process was interesting and astonishing to observe.  The seven candidates all showed up at 9:00 am and sat in the office for two hours doing nothing, all dressed in their nice interview-appropriate clothes.  The interview panel was busy preparing the questions.  At some point, someone provided the candidates with a snack of juice and muffins.  Then they went as a group to the room (grade7) where the interviews would be held.  They met the panel (SGB, HOD, principal) and were told the procedures and were told to chose among themselves the order of interview.  They returned to the office to sit and wait.  Interviews went on until late afternoon, one by one.  I was struck by how different job interviews are conducted in the U.S.  There were no individual appointment times.  Again, a time issue.  You certainly couldn’t have done anything else with your day.

There may be one very unhappy person out there who was first selected and then told no, we can’t hire you.

March 17, the good news

A large truck drove through the gate loaded with huge metal pieces.  The driver came into the office and explained that we were getting a portable classroom and the rest of the pieces would arrive shortly.  It was a surprise to us but later Mam Ndlovu said she knew about it because someone had come to choose the site.  She had requested four classrooms but we got one.  Better than nothing!  Thinking about the still not finished paint job, I asked how long it would take to assemble the classroom.  She said it could be done in one day!  Oh I am so cynical and skeptical!  I will believe it when I see it! (As of March 31, no building!)

An additional classroom will allow grade 5 to be split.  There are 77 learners in grade 5.

March 24, 2016

The admin clerk story continues, sadly.  Our admin clerk discovered that the resignation paperwork she filed with our local circuit office was never sent on to the correct office.  She has not received a proper teacher’s pay yet from Gauteng and is still being paid as our admin clerk in KZN.  Gauteng province won’t pay her until KZN clears up the mess.  As she investigated further, she found out that her resignation letter and other paperwork was actually lost and she has to start all over submitting the resignation, sorting out the pay problem, sorting out the ensuing taxation problem, and the medical insurance problem that covers herself and her daughter.  It is a nightmare that has cost her the entire two weeks school holiday meant to be spent relaxing here with her family, has cost her money to travel to the various offices to sort out the problem, and so much stress on her mind and body.  This all could have been avoided if someone (?) had done their job carefully and efficiently and correctly.

My question is: Is this nonsense happening all over South Africa?  If so, the country is in big trouble.

Note: Mneli went with our principal, by car, to the offices in Ulundi  (many hours and kilometers from here) to see the only person (apparently) who could get the papers filed.  Doing it by fax from here did not work.  The papers have been submitted.

Term 1 — Holiday Adventures

I spent three days with Marie, another older volunteer, at a lovely BnB in Mtunzini.  It is an up-scale pretty village at the coast (Indian Ocean) next to the Umlalazi Nature Reserve.  We were able to go to the beach and several restaurants and walk around in the forest and see the largest ever Palm leaves–the Raphia palm.

photo (1)

photo (2)

We walked to the Indian Ocean.  After climbing a steep sand dune, we found a totally deserted beach.  Exquisite!

We also had car trouble, on the N2 toll road, heading towards another supposedly beautiful beach, Zinkwazi.  We called our host at the BnB and he called the people who do repair and rescue on the tollway. They arrived within an hour and were kind and helpful and they called a tow truck to come get Marie’s car.  All these guys were of Indian ethnicity and were willing to talk about their difficulties in the new South Africa and to ask questions about life in America.  (There is a quota for each ethnicity applying to get into South African universities.)  The car was towed to a repair shop owned by the brother of the tow truck driver in the city of Stanger (renamed KwaDukuza about 5 years ago).  This brother had just had a heart attack at age 42 and was in the hospital. His family was helping to keep his business running.  We had to leave the car there: it was Good Friday and they were closing early and wouldn’t reopen until the following Tuesday.


Marie watching her car get attached to the tow truck.

One of the women of the BnB host family had been in Durban that day and came by Stanger to give us a ride back to the BnB.  It all worked out and everyone was kind and helpful.  We, of course, were extremely grateful.  The young man’s heart attack put everything in the correct perspective.  A car is a fabulous convenience but it is a machine that can be repaired.  The man was recovering in the hospital and he was dearly loved by his wife and two children and it would have been a tragedy if he had died.

Marie and I were back on taxis for our transportation.  Our hosts at the BnB had NEVER been on a taxi and thought we were incredibly brave to be relying on them to get around.  As wealthy white South Africans, they had always had a car of their own.  We took taxis from Mtunzini to Empangeni and from Empangeni to Hlabisa and from Hlabisa to Nongoma.  We waited outside Shoprite for Mam Zulu’s cousin to fetch us in a car.

The road to Hlabisa goes right across/through Hluhluwe-IMfolozi Park.  All along the road there are “Wild Animal Crossing” signs with warnings to take care.  And then, right in front of the taxi, a HUGE rhino crossed the road!!!  Amazing!  Too fast, unfortunately, to get a photo.  From then on, we were on the lookout for wild animals and saw elephants, many rhinos, water buffalo, and zebras, all in the distance.

Marie and I were welcome guests at the home of Mam Zulu.  She is the HOD of the Intermediate Phase at my school.  She is also warm and welcoming and funny and wise and the mother of five grown children (4 girls, 1 boy).  Her husband is the induna (person in charge) for that tribal area.  Their second daughter, Zama, was getting married on Easter Sunday, and we were invited to this pre-wedding event.  They waited for us to arrive before beginning!


Mam Zulu and her husband, the induna.

In Zulu tradition, the bride dies in her family of origin and is reborn into the family of her husband.  She may not go stay at her mom and dad’s house ever again without special permission from her husband and his family.  She must transfer her loyalty to the new family.  This ritual we attended was the “funeral” of Zama, saying goodbye to her mother.  Because it is a symbolic death and rebirth, the mother cannot attend her daughter’s wedding!  Everyone else can.  Zama and her two attendants and two (unmarried) of her 3 sisters dressed in traditional Zulu clothing.   Zama’s face was covered with a yarn veil and money was safety-pinned to a cloth on her head.  She carried a small shield and a kitchen knife.


Zama and attendants

Her father and other men of the family came into the rondaval as a group, chanting and singing.  They stood in front of the women and told them what was happening to Zama.  They called on the ancestors to take care of Zama as she leaves her home and goes to live in a new place with a new family.  Then the men, followed by all the women, went outside and across the yard to the cattle kraal.  The women formed several lines and danced and sang, practicing for the wedding where they would dance and sing for a longer time.  The front line of women knelt down as Zama’s father paced in front of them, calling on the ancestors and telling them what was happening and asking them to take care of her.

Behind Zama and her friends is the “kist”.  It is a chest that she will take to her new home and keep forever.

Zama has been with the “groom” for many years.  They have two daughters aged 11 and 6 months).  She is a primary school teacher near Ingwavuma.   He works in Jo’burg and they will visit once or twice a month.  Her new home is in Jozini, near the house where her mom stays on weekdays. She will see her mom often!


The men came into the rondoval to speak to the ancestors and to get Zama and her women attendants to take them to the kraal.



The women danced and sang. Then, Mr. Zulu spoke to the ancestors. Notice the women on their knees.



These are the two unmarried sisters of Zama, in traditional Zulu attire. Nomthanda on the left (a bright, grade 12 learner, who wants to be a doctor) and Sanele on the right (a bright university student studying to be a social worker). The oldest child of the family, Smangele, is 8 months pregnant and declined the Matron of Honor position. She was told by her husband’s family that she could not go to the wedding. Njabulo, the only son, was helping with preparations.

Mam Zulu and other older women in the family sat on mats on the ground, watching the ritual.  She was both sad and crying as well as happy for her daughter.  Marie and I were on chairs nearby.  Mam Zulu was not allowed to sit on a chair.  That’s for men (and guests).
Some women ran forward and back ululating and dancing in front of the young dancers.


Mam Zulu sitting on her mat.


A woman dancing and ululating during the ritual.

After the ritual, the meal was served. First the older male friends of Mr. Zulu were served, at a table in the dining room.  Then other men and honored guests (Marie and Karen) were served.  It was the “same” meal.  Marie and I sat in the living room.  People are served by age and sex groupings. Children are second to last.  Mam Zulu is last!  She makes sure all people have what they need.  When she brought food into the dining room to the men, she knelt down. (Marie and I watched closely and tried hard not to let our prejudices show.)

We left soon afterwards and got a ride to Pongola, where we stayed at my home-away-from-home, the Pongola Country Lodge.  We were exhausted with all these events happening in one day!  There was so much to see and hear and learn!

I returned alone to the Zulu family on the wedding day. I spent a quiet day with Mam Zulu, a few female relatives, Smangele who lives across the road, and all the little children who couldn’t attend the wedding.  It was very special to spend a day inside a very active family compound.  We cleaned and cooked and rested and visited.  I returned to my rondaval in Matayini on Monday.  I will leave Friday for another weekend adventure.


The main house at the Zulu family compound. It has a living room, dining room and 3 bedrooms. The kitchen is in another building. There is no water tap. Water is delivered by truck and put in the JoJos.


The rondaval at the Zulu family home. Family meetings are held here, people sleep on mats here, women and children congregate here.

Term 2 starts April 5.  My last term in Africa.