The End of Term 4. One year of Teaching in South Africa. 17 Months of Living in South Africa.

A Chance Meeting with a Local Artist

I met an artist, right here on the main road through my village!  I was taking a walk in the bush and was coming down a dirt road that ends at the tar road.  At that junction, I noticed (for the first time!) a fenced yard with some interesting and unusual structures. I walked closer and noticed further that two of the structures had walls made of soda bottles! (I thought I was the only one around here using the trash for construction.) One small building had soda bottles filled with dirt and was held together with carefully attached wires. The other was a small outdoor “sitting area” that had filled soda bottle walls and a canopy of unfilled bottles (light!).

As I was taking photos of these structures, a man walked up from a house behind the compound and said he was the one who built these structures.  He was a wood carver and offered to take me into the yard and show me around.  Inside the large structure were some hanging pieces of wood that he had sewn together with a needle and string.  Room dividers!  Various pieces of hand carved wooden sculptures were on the walls, the floor, in the yard, on a table.  He told me his name was Thulani Mhlongo (I hope that is right) and when I said I was Ms. Fine from Okhayeni he knew immediately.  He has children at the school and we both praised the wonderful principal.  I think I had one of his children in my grade 6 class.  I am saying “I think” because we were speaking to each other in English but I am not sure I got the true content of everything he was saying.  He also had about two hundred large snail shells on the ground in one designated area.  They are the same kind I have been collecting.  Unfortunately, I didn’t understand his explanation of his collection although he really tried hard to tell me the significance.   When I was leaving, he took down a small sculpture of a boy playing soccer and gave it to me as a gift.  So sweet and kind and generous.

A small structure with walls made of dirt-filled soda bottles

A small structure with walls made of dirt-filled soda bottles


A small gazebo using dirt-filled soda bottles with a canopy of soda bottles


The local artist within his hanging room dividers


Wood carving of a soccer player

My Rondaval

For my benefit and yours, I have taken pictures of the inside of my rondaval, all one room.  I love my little house and don’t want to forget what it is like.

My bed, with hanging mosquito net, sleeping bag blanket

My bed, with hanging mosquito net, sleeping bag blanket

The "vanity" and TV (covered with a cloth).  Bottom right door is the dry food cabinet

The “vanity” and TV (covered with a cloth). Bottom right door is the dry food cabinet

he kitchen (fridge, stoven, school desk), wall of photos

The kitchen (fridge, stoven, school desk), wall of photos

Bricks and boards shelves, wall of photos.  Under the dish rags are the dishes.

Bricks and boards shelves, wall of photos. Under the dish rags are the dishes.

Water filter, book shelves, pee bucket and TP

Water filter, book shelves, pee bucket and TP

Wardrobe with towel, robe, pinafore, underwear drying.

Wardrobe with towel, robe, pinafore, underwear drying.

Water buckets, pitcher

Water buckets, pitcher

.At this moment in time, however, I am wishing I could get away from it–there are a jillion flying bugs at night, the squeaking of bats is constant at night, and it is very hot both day and night.  On December 21, it will be officially summer in the Southern Hemisphere but temperatures have been soaring for at least a month already and as I was told last year at this time, “just wait until January.”  There is a drought, water is scarce, and it only rains occasionally and not enough.

In 2 weeks, I will get away.  I am meeting Sumaya in London on December 18 (winter) and then on December 22 we will fly to Morocco where Lori will join us.  I will be with good friends!  I will stay in places with flush toilets and running water and sinks and showers!  I can get clean!  I can eat in restaurants!  I will be with friends!

This time of the year is the “doldrums” at school, especially for a volunteer with no specific assignment.   Term 4 is short with very little time for teaching and learning despite the curriculum requirements.  There is a much longer time for assessments, marking, recording and report cards plus paperwork required by the district and department.  Children play outside while teachers spend hours on paperwork, without a computer.   The food service ends a week and a half before the term officially ends (What? Children stop being hungry? Who decides this nonsense?).  Because there is no food and no teaching and learning, children stop coming to school even though the term has not ended.  They will show up on December 9, 2015 to get their report card and see if they will go on to the next grade.

Farewell for Grade 7

Today was the day that the school held the annual “farewell” (not graduation) for Grade 7 and for Grade R (kindergarten).  I tried all day long to have a positive attitude, to help out where I could, to understand what was going on.  But, to tell the truth, I hated most of it and was extremely relieved when it was time to walk home.

It was another too-long (4 hours) Zulu ceremony, starting two hours late, people talking and paying no attention, very long speeches, lots of time spent cooking a meal for 500 people, all in isiZulu.  I felt like an observer, a drone, a critic, an outsider.  I swept the hall and the walkway.  I peeled carrots and chopped cooked beet root.  I took some photos.  I waited around a lot not understanding any conversations nearby and no one bothered to speak to me.  It was hot and dusty and the wind blew.  Kids were everywhere running around.  [The delightful part was the kids’ performances–dancing and singing.]  No one thanked the teachers for all their hard work.  The day ended with teachers “dishing” the food.  I scooped sticky rice into over 100 styrofoam (yikes!) takeout containers.  The typical Zulu meal was served: beef, curry chicken, rice, samp, cole slaw, beet root, butternut.  I left when we ran out of styrofoam containers and had filled my container to take home some food.

Mam Mabika getting her Grade R learners ready for their performance

Mam Mabika getting her Grade R learners ready for their performance


Grade 7 dancing their way into the hall for their farewell program


Mam Ndlovu (principal) cooking beef in the school kitchen

The good part is that I will never have to do this again.

Updates and Introspection from Peace Corps life in rural Kwa Zulu Natal province

***Electricity Money

We got the grant! Again!  From Massmart (WalMart).
This time it is for R20000 but without the added transport costs (R3000).
We do not yet have the money but it has been granted and the grant now needs final signature by Massmart.

Soon you will be asked to donate money to a designated Peace Corps site so that we can complete the job of bringing electricity to the school.  Writing the grant is a big hurdle for me but I will try very hard to learn how and post it eventually on the Peace Corps site in Washington, D.C.

****What am I doing here?

Perhaps it is my own disease or dilemma or rut, but I am always wondering what I am doing here.  Granted, at home in California, I was doing the same thing.  I have recently been told by colleagues that I am thinking too much, that I look far away, and they try to bring me back.

I am thinking that year two in Peace Corps is much more difficult than year one.  The novelty has worn off.  The bright, new, different, curious events are fewer and the routine is paramount, especially for a school teacher.  Every weekday you are off to school, teaching the same kids, trying to make the curriculum accessible, seeing the same people, coping with the frustrations of life in rural South Africa.  This is what it is like for an outsider living a long time in a foreign country.  Although you are forever an outsider, you are somehow also a part of the fabric of life in your school and your community.

After the one-year mark (July or September depending on how you count), you know you will be home in America in a year or less, depending on your chosen Close of Service date.  It has an effect on your mind, even when the days seem so routine.  Personally, I am ready to be done right now but there are still 8 plus months to go.  I don’t really see what extra good staying half a school year into 2016 will do.  But…I am not yet ready to go home. Going home has its own pile of uncertainties.   Odd, isn’t it?

So what am I doing here?
* Teaching English and Social Science to 155 children and wondering if any progress has been made.
*  Playing card games with children and wondering if this is the only human contact I will have all weekend.
* Teaching children to crochet and wondering if they will ever learn to say thank you for all the yarn and crochet hooks I have purchased.
* Meeting some wonderful new people and wondering if I will ever be invited to hang out, have dinner, go for a walk, talk about things we might have in common.
* Being the sole white teacher and resident in my area, and wondering if my presence will alter how anyone thinks about race.
* Being one of a group of 120 or so Peace Corps Americans living in South Africa, wondering what that presence will mean to the development of the country.
* Being an older woman, riding on taxis, walking to/from school, wondering how that will be interpreted.
* Learning about a new culture and language but not really being any good at isiZulu.
* Learning to live without indoor plumbing.
* Learning to live with water scarcity. My province has been declared a natural disaster area due to the drought.
* Learning to live alone, and without close family and friends.

These thoughts are ongoing, random, troubling, and ultimately without answers.


I am here to help children learn to read, write and speak English.  It is an uphill learning curve all the way.  There are huge classes so it is difficult to give any individual attention.  They hear very little English outside of their one hour/day with me.  Although all their other classes (except isiZulu) are supposed to be in English, they are not.  The children do not know enough English to learn content in English.  The teachers do not know enough English to teach content in English.  They translate into isiZulu to assist the children.  The exams are in English so they don’t do well on the exams.  Lose, lose situation.


Two girls from Grade 5 happily sharing “The Princess and the Pea”


Three boys from Grade 5 also happily sharing “Stone Soup”


Neighbor kids sitting on Ms Fine’s porch reading books!

****Corporeal punishment

There has been an incident at my school that really bothers me.  Five of my Grade 5 learners (girls) came to the office crying.  They just sat for a while, sobbing, unable to talk.  For one hour/day, these are my girls and I care about what happens to them.  I took each one of them aside and heard the same story: their teacher (a male) hit them on the head with a stick.  I do not know what provoked the punishment. However, corporeal punishment is against the law in South Africa.  No teacher is allowed to hit children.  But…from what I have heard from other volunteers, it does happen at South African schools and rarely prosecuted.  I now know it is happening at my school.  The school administration knows that this is happening and the teacher has been advised that it is not allowed.  However, the teacher has not been fired or put in jail or any other obvious punishment.  The principal says she will seek advice on how to proceed from the ward manager.  She took me aside to explain the situation.  I am worried about the possible physical and psychological effects resulting from children being hit.  It makes me furious!  There is nothing I can do about it.

****Painting the school

Our school was chosen to get a new paint job!  It really needed it!  The job was begun during our last term break (one week).  Things were taken off the walls, furniture was moved into the middle of the room or away from the walls.  The smell of paint permeated classrooms as Term 4 began and the job was nowhere near completion.  Our school is to be repainted, yellow and green.  The green paint was not available.  A few workers come each day to do a few hours of work, then leave.  They leave behind the paint fumes and an as yet unfinished paint job.


A half-painted school building, waiting patiently for the arrival of green paint to go on the bottom half.


The outside top-half of the building has been primed, spackled, touched up and painted with yellow. Someday the green paint will arrive. No one knows when.

During the term break, the office was wired for electricity and sockets and light fixtures installed.  Wonderful!  However, the already cramped space has gotten more cramped as the boxes, library book shelves, copiers, tables, etc. were pushed toward the center for the walls to be painted.  Three of us are sharing a desktop for marking and prep.  The principal has less privacy than before.  The paint job can’t be finished, of course, because there is no green paint.  The children do not have access to our small library. I do not do my library job.  All because the paint job isn’t finished.


The office is crammed with boxes, copiers, desks, books all pushed into the center.

The American in me wants to grab a brush and just finish the damn job!  Work all day long!  But, of course, there is no green paint.

****Kitchen update

Remember those photos I posted long ago of the women working in our school kitchen? They now have an updated work area: fire pits outside place to do dishes standing up.  Still no electricity or modern appliances or plumbing but an update nonetheless.


Behind the kitchen building are the fire pits that use wood to heat the pots for cooking food for 500 children each day.


Inside the kitchen, there are new places to put the cooking pots. There is also a washing up area with inserts for the plastic buckets to rest in.


The women who cook and clean for break time each day are hardworking, friendly mamas.

****Garden update

Nothing at all is growing in my garden. Nothing grows in a drought.  I replanted after the cows ate everything.  While I was gone for Term 3 break, there was a terrible heat wave and the person designated to water my plants couldn’t provide enough water and the plants collapsed and withered away.  On my return, I kept a few going but they didn’t thrive at all.  Then we had 40 hours of gale force winds, nonstop, and the fence collapsed at one end.  I was disheartened.  I decided to rebuild the fence, partly because I don’t know what to do with all the bottles.  While I was out behind my house rebuilding the fence and weaving the yarn/string in and out for reinforcement, the peacock was on my porch, eating my radish plants I had started growing in a yogurt container.  That was my “tipping point”: I fumed, I cried, I despaired, I vowed not to grow one more thing!  But, even as I was crying, from loneliness and frustration, I thought, “it is just a radish plant!  Think about people in the world who have real troubles!”

I now have 6 yogurt containers with plants growing in them.  Four are in the house, away from the peacock. I let them see real sunshine every day, safely behind the burglar bar door. They are prisoners.

****Good People

In September, South Africans celebrate their heritage.  My school did not have any specific event but various teachers wore traditional clothing with Zulu beadwork or African fabrics.


My friend and Intermediate phase Head of Department, Mam Zulu (on the left), and my friend and Principal, Mam Ndlovu (on the right) dressed in traditional clothing and looking beautiful.


Me! I designed and hand-sewed the blouse I am wearing.

A Much-Needed Break from School

It was often the standard joke in the US that the best things about teaching were June, July and August.  Here in my part of South Africa, where families are large and less affluent, long relaxing, educational or cultural vacations are not possible.  Scarce money is used to help your children with educational expenses, to put petrol in the car, buy food for the family, pay for funerals and weddings, buy clothes, buy cell phones and airtime.  I feel so privileged and fortunate to have enough money to go on vacation where and when I want, above and beyond my Peace Corps stipend.

In September, my cohort met in Pretoria for the medical staff to give us a cursory medical checkup, send everyone to a dentist, and then attend Mid-Service Training.   For the last three nights we were at a posh resort outside of Pretoria, with lovely rooms, excellent food, pretty grounds with a reservoir.  A treat for the 22 out of 24 left from my original cohort of 35.

After the training, I went on a week’s holiday with Catherine and Carolyn.  We toured Johannesburg on the hop on-hop off double decker bus (don’t bother) and toured Soweto with a private tour guide (definitely do this).  Soweto has much historical and sociological significance for South Africa.  It is a huge area now with many divisions, housing both low, middle and upper class black Africans.  We toured the Hector Pieterson Museum and learned about the 1976 uprising of the local students who didn’t want Afrikaans to be the language of instruction in their schools.  The ensuing tragedies of that protest are documented in chilling photos in the museum.








Soweto Museum

It was nice to be in cities, with restaurants and running water and first world life going on all around.  It was nice to be with my Peace Corps friends and hear their stories, share a bit of their lives.  In Pretoria, the jacaranda trees were blooming everywhere making whole streets and hillsides carpets of blue flowers!

On Monday morning, the three of us collected our car (a Honda) from the rental car agency and drove south on the N3 to the Drakensberg Mountains.  It took longer than anticipated and we got a little lost, but eventually we found our way to Amphitheatre Backpackers where we stayed for three nights.  It is a lovely open area with a great view of the mountains and a half-hour drive to Royal Natal National Park.


Drakensberg Mountains

On our first day, we went to the park, hiked on the easy paved Cascades path and enjoyed being outdoors in nature with commanding views of the mountains.


On our second day, we took a one-day tour to Lesotho, a mountain kingdom totally surrounded by South Africa.  The young guide drove the taxi up gravel roads to the high pass (Monantsapas) between the two countries and then down a very steep road into Lesotho to a small village near the border.  There we met students and teachers at a small primary school partially assisted by Amphitheatre Backpackers and then went on a difficult steep hike into the mountains above the village.  Beautiful!



After our time in the mountains, we drove to the area near Vryheid where we had lived during training (over a year ago) and visited too briefly with our host families.  Mama fed us a chicken dinner, I brought them fruit, cake, and juice.  And I had photos taken.  I loved seeing this warm family again and I hope I will get to see them once again before I leave South Africa.


Original Host Family

One of the things we were able to do with a car was get lots of groceries to both Catherine’s and Carolyn’s sites, something so difficult to do if you are traveling by taxi.  I got to see where they were living.  It is hard not to make comparisons; my house is a 100 times nicer than either of theirs.  However, they are living fairly close to each other and can go on excursions into town together.  Nothing’s perfect.


Catherine and Carolyn in the Drakensberg Mountains


Me and Carolyn

We dropped the car off in Vryheid on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, there we all were at the taxi rank, going back to our sites. They went west. I went east.  After waiting an hour and a half for my taxi to fill, everyone got out, changed to another taxi, and off we went to Pongola.  90 minutes for 100R.  Change of taxi in Pongola but not a long wait because it was just about full for the jaunt to Jozini.  60 minutes for 70R.  Change of taxi in Jozini to get home.  35 km for 27R.  So the trip cost not quite $20 but I was traveling for 5.5 hours.  Getting to and from anywhere is “difficult.”

Term 4 has now started. I didn’t go to school for the first three days of the term because I was very sick with stomach cramps.  It was my usual syndrome (all my life) but worse because of nausea and dehydration.  Some caring teachers from my school drove me to/from the doctor in Jozini and I was soon better and back at school for teaching on Thursday and Friday.  I found out how kind and concerned my new friends and colleagues are and that is so good to know.

On October 20, I turned 70!!!!!  Although I had pre-birthday anxiety and depression, the actual day turned out to be great!  There was a birthday party during our break time.  I provided cake, soda, juice and apples.  The staff wrote me a lovely heartfelt letter of appreciation and gave me a gift of some beaded Zulu jewelry.  I gave a little impromptu thank you speech.  I also invited six of my favorite colleagues to come to my house after school.  I treated them with cut raw veggies and honey-mustard dip, cheese and crackers.  This is very unusual fare in these parts!  I gave each of them a thank you and appreciation letter plus a small gift.  (I explained that one of my favorite books was Lord of the Rings and that Tolkien had created a whole world, including the race of hobbits.  Hobbits give others gifts on their birthdays.).   My new friends were so kind and loving and didn’t stay long.  They had to get back to their full lives of husbands, children, families, cooking, washing, etc.  I was mentally and emotionally exhausted by then.  I felt deeply satisfied.


Interesting Developments Locally and Nationally


In my last blog, I told the story of the invading cows and their wanton destruction.  I posted a photo of what they did to the Ancestors’ House.  Since I am only the observer of the events of my host family, they come to me in pieces, from observation, and in answer to my questions.   When an ancestor’s house has been damaged, the family needs to repair the damage.  First, they remove the ancestors to a “safe” place while repairs are taking place.  A goat is sacrificed at the beginning of the process.  Last week, a goat was slaughtered here in the yard, a bit away from my rondaval because my host mom thought I would be freaked out.  There was a lot of unusual activity going on outside that evening with the dad and his sons but I wasn’t told anything and really just stayed in my house.  The next morning, I noticed the older boys were near the cook shed with a large knife.  I asked what they were doing.  Mfanelo (20) told me they were cutting up the goat they had slaughtered and were going to cook it.  I asked if I could see and could I take pictures. They were fine with that.  I was not freaked out at the sight of a dead goat being cut into pieces.


Mfanelo cutting up the goat

Mfanelo asked if I ate goat and I said I never had but would like to try a small amount.  He was so gracious and wanted very much for me to share in their tradition. He said he would let me know when the food was ready.  Thulile (host mom, wife #1) told me that a goat is slaughtered rather than a cow when it is just a family event and they are not feeding huge numbers of people.  I brought a bowl and spoon and tried some goat (very salty, rich) and pap.  The boys (brothers all) were eating in one room of the “new” house and the women (wife #1 and #2 plus a sister-in-law) were sitting and eating on the floor on grass mats in another room.  I joined the women.  I sat awhile, then thanked everyone for including me, and went back across the yard to my house.  Dad (the policeman) was working in Ingwavuma at the Reed Festival (virgin girls parade before the Zulu King).


Qhawe washing the goat meat prior to the cooking


Mfanelo with the tray of cooked goat meat


Family women eating their meal of goat and pap. Notice how handy their cell phones are.

The repair began on Monday and by Friday, the Ancestors’ House had a gorgeous new thatched roof with a concrete top. It was done by a couple, working both alone and together, and they did a fabulous job.  It was fascinating to watch this “work of art” be completed.  Thatching is definitely a skill that should be taught to the young so the tradition can continue.


The woman is layering the lower levels of thatch over the solid grid structure underneath.


The man is outside laying on and securing the thatch with wire. The woman is inside feeding the needle back to him as he moves around the hut.


Qhawe is watching and occasionally handing the man bundles of thatch.


This is the finished Ancestors’ House. It is so beautiful!

Apparently, another goat is to be sacrificed when the ancestors are returned to their place in their repaired dwelling.   [The house appears empty.  When a person dies, their spirits are invited to come and live in the house.  At times, people can go inside and the ancestors are consulted on certain issues.]

Now, we MUST keep the gate closed all the time so the cows don’t get in and eat the new roof!


As I have reported, the ANA was scheduled for mid-September and teachers around the nation spent much of August teaching to the test in hopes that their learners would pass the literacy and numeracy exams.  A week or so before the test, rumors were flying, and teachers were getting messages from the largest teacher’s union (SADTU) indicating that they should not “invigilate” the tests.  The union feels that there are many problems with the assessment, including that it is used to target and punish low-performing schools, that it takes a huge number of hours to mark (YES!), that the tests are poorly written and don’t assess the skills the children are learning, and it is given too often so the children don’t have time to completely learn the material.  Just one week prior to the scheduled administration of the test, the Department of Basic Education announced that the ANA was cancelled and would be postponed until February 2016.  They felt the union actions would be too disruptive to the schooling of the children.  They said they would investigate the issues the teacher’s union raised.  There would be a Task Team assigned to work on it.

ANA test packets were taken out of the safe at school and returned en masse to the local Circuit Office.

Apparently it costs R300 million to produce this assessment. Whew!

Reaction at my school was mixed.  The children were disappointed because they had been getting ready for it for so long.  The teachers were both relieved and disappointed.  They wanted to see how the kids would do.  They were relieved not to have to do the marking and moderating.

Reaction among Peace Corps volunteers was just relief.  Everyone agrees that the tests are poorly written, poorly designed and skewed towards city kids with more worldly experience than our rural children.  There was a small part of me, however, that even knowing these truths, wanted to know if my English learners would show any advantage.  (Ego.)

Then, just yesterday, the DBE announced that they have changed their mind and ANA is now to be administered in the first week of December 2015, at the end of fourth term.  Surprise!  One of our volunteers heard it on the radio and sent a Whatsapp text to all of us.  I showed my principal who was surprised to hear the news.  I again heard it on the evening SABC news.  The union rep said that DBE has declared war against the union.

The drama continues to unfold.  I am an observer because I am not in the union.  I am a participant because if we have to administer the damn tests, I will have to mark them.
65 English Grade 5.  50 English Grade 7.


I interviewed Sifundo’s  (our wonderful teaching aide, my tutor and my “son”) gogo (Rosina Mkhabela). Sifundo was the translator.  He adores his gogo because she took care of him when he was a small boy and gave him lots of love.   She is 85 years old according to her ID book but that number may not be correct.  She lives with her wheel-chair-bound husband in the family home.  She agreed to answer my questions about her life but in reality doesn’t remember too many details especially regarding dates or ages.    Not only is she old but the culture does not put much emphasis on “time.” She didn’t smile much or give very detailed answers to my questions.   Here are some things she does recall: she got married after she had the first six children and then they had four more, 4 boys, 6 girls; two of her children have died; her family grew all their own food; she did not go to school and can not read or write; all her children went to school; school cost 10 cents/year and you had to buy a slate as there were no exercise books. She mostly stayed home and thinks that one big difference for women now is they work for themselves.  They also have their own homes and don’t stay home working in the garden.  She lives in a more modern world now: she has a cell phone, the government gives her a pension, water is delivered to the tank, and she and her husband have a full-time caretaker.  Her husband recalled that in 1947 he walked to Johannesburg with gume (corn) and water as provisions. He does not know how long it took.  He worked in the mines and stayed in housing for mine workers.  She doesn’t recall anything specific about the apartheid years.

Gogo now mostly sits, cooks a bit, talks, and goes to church.  Gogo was amazed that I walked so much. She agreed to the interview but thought I was going to be a man. I was also the first white person to come visit them in their house.


Sifundo (22) and his gogo (85) at her home.


Sifundo’s grandfather, Sifundo, and his grade 8 sister.


Me and his sister and his gogo.

Local again:

My host mom, Thulile, invited me to attend a “traditional” Zulu (and Shembe) wedding.  A cousin was getting married.  The wedding, on September 20, was held just across the road, easy walking distance from our homes.  I walked over with her, in the rainy misty weather, about 11:30. She had already been there a long while, helping with the cooking.  The cousin being married was about 45 and had been living with his bride-to-be for a while and they had several children already.  He had grown children as well, from a former wife, now deceased.  While we were walking into the fenced yard, a “band” was playing and young dressed-alike men were dancing a traditional dance.  The band was a drum and vuvuzelas.

Thulile introduced me to some women who were helping with the cooking. I had a sip of traditional beer made from maize.  Then she left me to continue her jobs. I waited alone awhile and then stood in the misty rain with some of my grade 5 boys, Qhawe, and then Mfanelo came to say hello.  I was content to watch and people were both surprised to see me and very welcoming.  I overheard some whispered explanations, “she is a teacher at Okhayeni.”  I was the only white person there.

The ceremony started with a group of Zulu men, wearing Zulu attire, coming outside the house with the groom, to dance. (Very stylized, rhythmic, careful, slow steps.) They were accompanied by a big bass drum with 2-liter soda bottles for drumsticks.  Perfect!  Then the bride and her women’s contingent began dancing toward the men, carrying interesting objects, such as a knife, reeds, a hatchet, a lantern.  The two groups went forward and back barely mixing.  Eventually, the bride and groom were dancing next to each other.


Zulu men dancing with drummer.

When the dancing finished, there was a large circle of spectators.  At the center of the circle, two grass mats were stretched out on the muddy yard and the bride and groom kneeled together to begin the vows.  There were friends/relatives holding big umbrellas over them to somewhat protect them from the increasing rain.  A few “pastors” assisted with the vows, putting their hands on a Bible passage, and an exchange of rings.  Then there was ululations from the crowd, some dancing in and out of the circle, a circle of women around the seated bride, and then a dance where the the newly married couple flirted with each other a bit, dancing close enough for a quick butt bounce and a shy smile.  That was the only time I saw them smile.


Bride and groom dancing.


Kneeling Couple doing vows.

I had a good view because early on, I was spirited away across the circle to stand with some church elders, including my host dad.  They made sure that I could see, that the hood on my jacket was protecting me from the rain, that I knew I could take photos, and I was enjoying the event.  Very solicitous.

Fortunately for me, about the same time as the ceremony ended, I had had enough of activity, noise, rain, mud, and the crowd.  I walked home in the slippery mud and was grateful that I had been invited, that it was so interesting, and that I could so easily be at home when I was ready.

An update from KZN, heading toward the end of Term 3

Being in the Peace Corps is often quite difficult.  There are many challenges that are difficult or impossible to overcome.  You are often challenged by your own personal emotional crap you brought with you from the easier life of the first world.  You are challenged by trying to find your way in a culture you don’t know, don’t fit into very well, and oftentimes find distasteful.  You are a servant of a system (government and/or education) that doesn’t function easily and is mired down by its own paperwork, corruption, and bureaucracy.  But you are a representative of America and just the mere fact that you are from America is awe-inspiring (even when some folks don’t even know where America is). You wonder how this can be but still try to be a polite, respectful, tolerant ambassador from your country who has had a program for 50 years to land and support volunteering Americans in foreign countries who have asked for our assistance.

This past week has been difficult for me personally for all the above reasons.

1.  Two nights ago, a neighbor’s herd of big, hungry cows came into our compound (yes, the gate was left open) and began munching on everything handy.  One cow came onto my porch and was headed for my five yogurt containers of plants.  Of course, I heard the damn cow, banged on my window to head him/her off, and while the cow backed off, I went outside, got the containers and brought them indoors (saving the few tomato sets, lettuce, wildflowers, and lavender).  Outside, the munching continued.  One very large cow trumped right through my plastic bottle fence, tearing some of it down, and proceeded to eat all my plants–the kale, the tomatoes, the alyssum, the cosmos, the other flowers.  I was sad, angry, heartbroken, and had no skills to get rid of the damn cows who were destroying all my hard work. I am a city person!  What do I know about herding cows? (It has since been explained to me that the cows will be afraid of me if I yell at them, wave a broom at them, throw stones at them. They will move if I tell them to, loudly.)   Yeah, I know that it was inevitable; I have worried about goats and cows from the start.  Yeah, I know it was a spindly little nothing of a garden that barely survived on infrequent and inadequate doses of dishwater and laundry water and bath water. But it was mine!

My trampled fence. I have put it back in place but haven't yet wrapped the yarn to secure it.

My trampled fence. I have put it back in place but haven’t yet wrapped the yarn to secure it.

My garden area, without plants, following the cow vandalism.

My garden area, without plants, following the cow vandalism. “The cows were hungry,” I was told. Should I replant?

Cows still in the yard, still munching.

Cows still in the yard, still munching.

The ancestors house, after a cow attack. The loose straw has been raked into a pile and has been burned.

The ancestors house, after a cow attack. The loose straw has been raked into a pile and has been burned.

2.  My Cherry Pie in July book group, with Lori as the coordinator, has sent me five boxes of “stuff” since I have been here.  (THANK YOU TO ALL THESE WONDERFUL WOMEN!). The last four have been mostly books, wonderful books, fabulous books.  Inside the 5th box were a few “non-book” items, including chalk, soap, and 3 frisbees.  There were also two small baggies full of an assortment of ballpoint pens.  You want to know what the most desired things were?  The pens!!!  Free pens from America!  Different colors! Different designs!  Teachers were SO happy to get them!  (America! America!–wherever that is!) (The pens are probably all made in China–wherever that is!).  The wonderful books got barely a glance.  I was heartbroken, again.  Of course, this says as much about me as it does about them.

3.  In South Africa, teachers are required to follow the state-mandated CAPS curriculum.  There are textbooks for each subject and each grade level, with all the curriculum and assessments (called Tasks) that the teacher must do within each term.  I have these textbooks for Grade 5 English First Additional Language, Grade 7 English First Additional Language, and Grade 6 Social Science.  We do not have enough textbooks for each child; they share.  The English textbooks (even FAL) are way too difficult for my learners.  They are also poorly written and there are errors in English.  If I only used the textbook, they would be totally lost.  I supplement or change some of the reading passages and all the spelling words to make it more accessible.  Even when I use material from a lower grade level, many are lost.  There are mandated assessments (11 this term for Grade 5) in Listening/Speaking, Reading/Viewing, Writing, and Language/Conventions/Structures.  I am getting behinder and behinder.  I haven’t finished listening to all 65 Grade 5 learners read to me.  I have given up part of every break time to do this because I want class time to be teaching time.  I have three weeks of Term 3 left and haven’t started the next round of assessment.  It is a similar situation for Grade 7.  There is an assessment for writing an Agenda for a meeting.  There is an assessment for writing Minutes of a meeting.  There is an assessment for a narrative essay and a descriptive essay. When am I going to do these things?  And teach the jam-packed daily curriculum?  When?  For the first time, I have been told that you just can’t do it all!  I get sad for the children, anxious that I can’t do it all, angry that the department is even thinking it is possible to do this, curious as to how other teachers are handling the dilemma, and stressed by the entire package.

4.  The Annual National Assessment (ANA) will be held in mid-September to assess all South African learners in home language (primary), English and Maths.  We are all cramming the learners full of “teaching to the test” activities.  We all also know they will not do very well. Fortunately for them, the pass rate on an exam is 40%.  Unfortunately for them, the rest of the world considers 40% failing.  How will they take their place in this competitive world if they have a poor education?

5.  As you know if you read my previous post, Grade 7 is a problem.  I am now working with them on Saturday mornings trying to get them prepared for ANA and high school.  They do so poorly on any independent assignment that I really need to go back over it and have them redo their work. But, is that a good use of time?  Should I complete the assessments?  Should I give them a “skim the surface” approach to test preparation?  Having taught in a school for high-achieving and gifted kids may be a disadvantage.  I go fast!  I have high expectations! I expect a lot!  Wait!  That is good!  Right?  Yes. But the kids aren’t used to it.

Nombulelo came to show me the wire car she made. These wonderful creations are about the only toys I have seen children playing with.

Nombulelo came to show me the wire car she made. These wonderful creations are about the only toys I have seen children playing with.

Phakamile (Grade 7) and Lungelo (Grade 4) are off at my house. Phakamile comes to me for

Phakamile (Grade 7) and Lungelo (Grade 4) at my house. Phakamile comes to me for “things” like yarn and crochet hooks. She is in my class and a good student! Lungelo checks out a new library book every day at school, brings me water, and once brought some lettuce. She comes to my house to read books and even to do some writing! We often walk to school together.

Okay. Grade 7.

Friday afternoon.  Second time with Grade 7 that day. Their other teacher was absent and I explained to them that her mother was seriously ill and she needed to take her mom to the doctor.  They wondered why they had to have English twice.  I was filling in and catching up, I thought.

I lost control.
They lost self-control.
They acted like adolescents.  The age range is 12-17.
I acted like a tired, fed-up, almost-seventy-year-old.
I was SO tired of saying “Please sit down and be quiet.  Please make a line and be quiet.”
30 times (perhaps).
I was SO tired of being a cop rather than a teacher.
I was trying to read and mark their papers in class, give immediate feedback.
I should have stopped the on-going activity and gotten the class under control.
I wanted to complete the week’s curriculum.
I forgot that you can’t teach if no one is listening (or cares).
I forgot about mob mentality.
I asked them if they wanted me to call in the principal.
A gasp.
No. They didn’t want that.
Okay. One more chance.
They immediately blew it.  Couldn’t shut up or sit down or make a line or correct their mistakes.
I sent a calm student to get the principal.
She arrived soon enough and got them to sit down, be quiet and tell her what was going on.
They all admitted they were misbehaving.
She told them to come to school on Monday with a parent.  They were told they would be sent home to get a parent if one didn’t come.  Meeting at 9 a.m.

I was upset, shaking, practically in tears as the school day ended.  I left the classroom and went to the office and apologized for losing control and resorting to calling her in.  It was my responsibility as the teacher to maintain control.  The FP (fabulous principal) talked to me, telling me not to blame myself, that I was new to South Africa (eight months on the job), new to that grade level (true)(but what about the 21 years of teaching experience?), and that it was their responsibility to behave while I was teaching.  True.   But…..

Tough weekend.
Thinking about teaching.
Thinking about teaching in South Africa.
Thinking about teaching seventh graders–they are tough everywhere.  I have always thought that successful seventh-grade teachers should be given Medals of Honor.
What was I doing here anyway? Maybe I should go home.
They win!

Monday morning.
I taught both my Grade 5 and Grade 7 classes.
Grade 7 behaved themselves.
Meeting started at 10:30 a.m.  Only 10 parents attended.  Three were teachers at our school.
No one was sent home to get a parent.
51 learners. 1 principal.  10 parents.  4 Grade 7 teachers.
Everyone got an opportunity to speak.  Only one person spoke in English and that person had an IsiZulu translator.
The children were told by parents, teachers and principal that their class performance, homework and behavior were not good and they better get serious about their schoolwork. I told them, with the principal translating, that I hoped that at sometime in their growing up that would learn to behave properly because it was the right thing to do and not just because someone was yelling at them or hitting them.   I realized that would take time to learn.  Parents told them to behave in school and listen to their teacher and take advantage of the opportunity of having an American coming to teach them English.  And, it doesn’t matter whose period it is, just be ready to learn!

They acted beautifully on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  By Friday, they were once again chatty and doing crappy work.

Passive culture.

I don’t want to.
I won’t do it.
It’s not important.
I will just put down any old answer.
I forgot my homework at home.
I forgot to do my homework.
He stole my homework.
I will do it while she is walking around collecting the papers.

Do they think we have never heard this crap before?

I am not leaving.
14 more months.

Should I teach Grade 7 next year?


An error in the last blog, now corrected.  There is hardly any water pressure at the tap at school.


Guess who came to Africa!?!  Guess who wowed the welcoming Kenyans!?!  Here he is, on my TV that only gets yellow, blue, gray and black colors.

My garden is doing a little better.  I have kale and two almost red tomatoes and cosmos and alyssum, and wildflower seeds coming along.  Kale and cosmos and allysum are unknown in these parts.  Will the tomatoes taste soapy because they are only watered with dish water and laundry water and bath water?

Luyanda came home from boarding school for a while in June/July.  Before she returned, she came over to my house and we made vanilla muffins together for her to take with her when she returned to school.


These two beautiful young women came to visit me for one night.  Mikayla on the left (a PC volunteer teaching near Nqutu) and Kim on the right (a PC volunteer teaching near Manguzi) were delightful company.

Mikayla and Kim

Nombulelo is 12 and lives near me with her extended family.  She is in my Grade 6 Social Science class.  She is curious and kind and helpful, always willing to bring me water, carrying it on her head.  She sometimes takes her little nephew around on her back, tied with a towel, as women do here everywhere.  She is not shy about practicing English and communicating with me!


And then, life went on…far, far away from California…

Term 3 has started and it is interesting, rewarding, insane and quiet right now.  Interesting because it is new material.  Rewarding because there are eager children ready to participate (grade 5).  Grade 7 is not much interested in anything and I will have a future blog devoted to them.  Insane because the Formal Assessment schedule requires 11 different tasks for grade 5, not realizing that with 65 learners it is nearly (or really) impossible to complete those assessments in a two week period and teach at the same time.  Quiet because most of the teachers and learners are busy working.  This is the term of the national standardized tests and teachers are busy preparing the learners (teaching to the test).

It was lovely to greet everyone after the long winter holiday break.  There were so many questions about how my family was, did they enjoy their trip, are they back in America now.

There is now running water from the tap at school!  It is a miracle! Not really. After many years of working on it, the water scheme is “complete.”   However, it does not run with a lot of pressure because (so I’ve heard) they are still using old and inadequate pipes and pumping equipment.  It is slowly coming to neighborhoods along the main highway.  It is about 2 km from where I live. I wonder if it will reach the tap in my yard before I leave.

Maureen (another older Peace Corps volunteer) visited me August 1-2. We went for two long walks in my area, meeting adults and learners (children from my school) along the way.  Everyone waved and shouted “Sawubona Ms. Fine” or just “Hello!” and one woman offered us stalks of fresh sugar cane.  She used her machete to cut it in small pieces and peel the outside.  We also met up with some of the kids from my class/extended host family.  Here, everyone is a brother or sister if they are a blood relation.  I asked one of the boys how many N’s there were.  He didn’t know a number but said that if they were all there they could eat a whole cow at one meal.

This is a photo Maureen took of all of us together.  The children are all cousins (our word) or brothers and all from a polygamous family.  They are all Shembe/Nazareth believers.  They are wonderful children, all very bright, fairly good English speakers, hard workers, and all wanting to go to university some day.


Along the way home, we encountered a woman carrying wood for her cooking fire.  She let Maureen take her photo.

We also saw a dry stone wall built around an old seemingly abandoned house.  It was not in good condition and will not last like the stone walls of England and Ireland.  But, I was stunned to see it!  There are rocks everywhere but this skill/art does not seem to be prevalent in this part if the world.

I want to show you some of the plants that grow around here.  This is really sort of a desert, very dry and hot for much of the year.  There are cacti, aloe, thorn trees (acacia) that all thrive in this environment.  It is winter here — winter wildflowers here are very different from what I am used to.  Can you identify them? Let me know if you can!

1. Some sort of Aloe, blooming now everywhere.  Here are two views:


African impatiens. (I think).  There is not a lot of it but it is delightful to find it along the track.

Another kind of succulent, about knee high or a bit more, blooming everywhere now.


Another hardy succulent.

A low-growing cactus

Broad-leafed plant near water

Small dusty plant with yellow “berries”

I think this is a fever tree.  It has a yellowish-green bark.

Thorn tree (there are lots of varieties).

Gigantic tree with gigantic pods.



End of Term 2 AND “The Visit”

Amazingly enough, there are a few things that just don’t bother me the way they did previously.  Here is one: for the last few weeks of school, the teachers are very busy marking exams and doing the learners’ report cards.  The children are quite often outside playing or inside their classes without a teacher in the room with them.  If the teacher is in the room, he or she is not teaching and may or may not be controlling behavior.  Imagine 65 grade five learners on their own!  Sometimes I just walk by and cringe when I look in the window and see them acting out “lord of the flies.”  I try and teach my one hour/day at each grade level, but I do not offer to spend the day monitoring the wild behavior of 11-year-old children.  “That is just the way it is in South Africa,” is the most common response to many of my questions, said in a resigned manner, implying there is nothing we can do about the obvious insanity we are discussing.  Last term, I was astonished and worried sick that so much time learning hours were being wasted.  I have now joined the program!  “Isn’t it nice that the children are playing?

Here is number two.  I worried and worried that I was failing too many children, that I wasn’t doing a good enough job (probably true), that I wasn’t teaching what they needed in order to pass the yearly ANA test (probably true).  I hate teaching to the test.  I wanted to teach them English and have them understand me and the reading passages.  I naively thought I could make changes in the method and content.  No!!!!!!  I can’t.  The system is flawed, the methods are entrenched, few are interested in making change, the standards are appallingly low, and I am an outsider.  It takes years to learn a language well.  In 24 months, with one hour per day (sometimes) of instruction, holidays, and 8 weeks of exams and marking, most of these kids do not get enough class time to become proficient in English.  I must be here in South Africa for another reason. [An ongoing discovery.]

Almost all the above was written before June 24, 2015!

*July 3, 2015. One year ago exactly, I arrived in South Africa and began this adventure.  I have learned so much over these past 365+ days.  Some days were/are depressingly slow.  Other days seemed like “normal” time.  And sometimes I wondered how the “visit” weeks sped by so quickly.  However, it is still daunting that I have 15 more months to go to complete my Peace Corps service.  I am still determined to do that.

On June 24, 2015, my son, Ian, my daughter-in-law, Caitlin, and my granddaughter, Sadie, drove into the parking lot at the KFC in Jozini. I was “impatiently” waiting for them inside.  They have warmed my heart, eased my mind, provided love and companionship and hugs in ways that no one else can.  What a treat it was to see them, hold them, talk to them, travel with them, be in the same space with them.

Being me, I anticipated their departure with dread. But how could they stay?

My fabulous principal had waited with me at KFC and met the family.  She was almost as excited as I was! We said we would see her in the morning, and drove off (in a car!) in the dark to my little house, about 34 km north of Jozini.  An easy half-hour drive later (in a car!), we arrived.  I gave them the tour of the kitchen, bedroom, living room (all in one room!) and showed them the toilet way across the yard.  We were set!  Then Thulile and Luyanda came over to greet them with warm hugs and smiles.

They were exhausted and jet-lagged from their long, long journey from San Francisco to Frankfurt to Johannesburg to Jozini to my house, and after a quick snack meal, we put the borrowed sleeping mat on the floor, covered it with the borrowed warm blankets, and Ian and Caitlin went to sleep!  Sadie and I were all cozy together in my double bed. We read a while and then she slept.  I was so keyed up and amazed and excited that I didn’t get much sleep.  (I am sleep-challenged anyway!). Here they were!  In my little house!  In South Africa!  The long wait was over!

They came to school with me on June 25, the second to last day of Term 2.  They were celebrities!  They were introduced at the staff meeting and photos were taken.  They were introduced at the Parents’ Meeting.  They went to each of my classes and answered and asked questions.  I had prepped the kids the day before and they were ready with questions for Mr. Britton, Ms. Sweeney and Sadie.  The kids were delightful and respectful and welcoming.  Some kids took Sadie with them to “talk” and “hang out” and other kids just wanted to stare at the amazing white American family right there at Okhayeni.   It is exhausting to be that “on” for so many hours and with Mam Ndlovu’s permission, we went back to my little house to rest.


School staff and the family, a formal portrait


My family with a few staff members outside at school


Ian answering questions from students in the dark classroom


The family with their new “brother” Sifundo, my new and delightful “son”

I had a text from Marianna (a Peace Corps friend) inviting us all to come to dinner at their place near Manguzi.  It was possible–in a car!  We accepted and decided to pack up everything and stay at Thengani Lodge rather than drive back at night to my cramped, showerless abode.

After a nice afternoon walk with Luyanda in the neighborhood, we set off for Manguzi. Term 2 was over for me!  I was off on another adventure!  We had no problem getting nice rooms at the Lodge and taking showers.  There was a delicious dinner and good PC friends to meet and greet.  Maureen (my Peace Corps friend) came too and at the end of the evening Ian and I drove her home (in a car!) to her two-room PC dwelling.


Sadie and Luyanda on our walk around the neighborhood. Luyanda is my host daughter, now 13, and home for the holidays from her boarding school.

We spent two nights/days in St Lucia (hippos!) and two nights/days in Swaziland.  Lots of driving (in a car!) to get to these places and during our one full day at Mantenga Lodge in Swaziland we all agreed that it would be a no-driving day (no car!) and we would walk to the Swaziland Cultural Village, waterfall and crafts center.  The Lodge had a magnificent view of nearby Execution Rock, a place where convicted criminals were marched to the top and pushed off to their death. Humans are an interesting lot!


Sadie was brave enough to go swimming in the Indian Ocean at our stop at Sodwana Bay.


I love this photo of Sadie at the Lighthouse Restaurant in Sodwana Bay. It is also a great restaurant–a California style menu!


Sadie is dancing with the wonderful Swazi dancers at the Swaziland Cultural Center.


There is a lovely waterfall near the Cultural Center, now, in winter, with less water than at other times of the year.

From Swaziland, we drove to Jo’burg and then flew to Gabarone, Botswana.  We visited and traveled with Ian’s high school friend, Thea, and her husband, TK Khama, the Minister of Environment, Tourism and Wildlife for Botswana (and the President’s younger brother).  The President of Botswana is Ian Khama.  We were living well in Botswana and felt welcome.

All of us traveled the next day to eastern Botswana to Tuli Safari Lodge.  It is one of those lovely high-end tourist lodges with luxurious tent-cabins, daily safari rides into the bush, meals included.  We saw lots of elephants, giraffes, hyenas, impalas, duiker, kudu, eland.


Caitlin had a close encounter with a curious and bold elephant. Caitlin was very brave.


A nursing baby elephant at Tuli Nature Reserve.


We stayed in unaccustomed luxury at Tuli Safari Lodge. Beautiful rooms with white terry robes, huge showers, soft towels, comfortable beds. Definitely NOT Peace Corps.


Thea and TK Khama with our safari guides.

After two nights, we left for the next spot, but first Caitlin, then Ian, and finally Sadie were detoured/felled by a disgusting 24-hour illness (nausea and vomiting). It was in succession rather than all at the same time which was convenient for care-taking and long car rides.  Ian and Sadie and I saw the rhinos at Khama Rhino Sanctuary and only Thea and I went to Serowe, the ancestral village of the Khama family.  I saw the tribal center, the graves of Sir Seretse and Lady Ruth Khama, and toured a small interesting museum with exhibits about the village, the Khamas, and cultural displays.


Gravesite of Sir Seretse Khama, the first president of Botswana, and the father of Ian Khama, the current president of Botswana and TK Khama, our host.


Gravesite of Lady Ruth Khama, the British wife of Sir Seretse Khama, mother of four.

Back in Gabarone, we were all well for a short tour of the city, lunch with the Khamas at Mugg & Bean, and for some, a movie night in town.  Not me!  I did not want to see a Terminator movie, even though Ian’s name was on the credits (!!!!!) and I haven’t been to a movie in over a year.


My family, on the couch at Thea’s house.


My family and our wonderful hostess and friend, Thea, in front of a statue of Sir Seretse Khama, in Gabarone.

We left Gabarone on a Monday afternoon, after a delightful hike up the rocky hill by Thea’s house.   Sadie was weak but finished with vomiting and able to fly.  Thea and I never got the sickness.  Ian claims it was because we are “Africans.”  The hard part came at the airport, when the three of them went to the left marked “international transfers” and I went right to passport control.  Hugs.  Hugs.  Hugs.  Goodbye.

An incredibly quick and satisfying and comforting visit from my dear family was over.  I won’t see them again for 15 months, which as I have said before, only seems fast in hindsight.  The visit did not make me want to quit the Peace Corps.  I am still resolved to complete my service no matter how hard and lonely it is at times.  I actually think the visit helped me.  I saw them. I hugged them.  I was with them.  They are in the world.  I will see them again. They assured me I am loved somewhere by someone.

Ordinary Sights in Rural Kwa Zulu Natal

This is going to be a bit different from prior blogs.  I am posting photos of ordinary sights in my area and writing a brief commentary about each photo.  It might give you a better picture of ordinary life hereabouts.

TaxiThis is a taxi for short and long distance rides.  It can usually sit 16-18 people (not comfortably) and their myriad possessions/groceries and small children.  For short rides, you pay when you are let off.  The driver will stop anywhere along the road you indicate.  For long distance, you sign a rider book and pay the fare ahead of time.  Taxis don’t leave the taxi rank (the start of the trip) until the taxi is full.  Sometimes there can be a long wait before you get going.  Getting out can be frustrating and ridiculous as numerous people have to move themselves and their stuff as the rider climbs out with their stuff from the last row.


Pigs roam the neighborhood eating what they can.  There are not as many pigs as goats or cows or chickens.  My host dad (a cop) says pigs eat small children.  Really?


Nomfundo (right)(grade 5) and Amahle (left)(grade3) are posing in front of the community JoJo, kept in their yard.  Sometimes there is water and it is a busy place.  Too often there is no water in the JoJo.  Water is delivered to the JoJo by a water truck.


A neighbor is wheeling a wheelbarrow loaded with two empty water containers.  In the background are two outhouses (toilets).


Laundry is drying on the wire clothesline.  No pegs are used.  Often these clothes (belonging to my host family’s teenage son) are blown onto the ground by the constant wind and then covered with the ever-present fine dust wafting from the dry bare ground.


This is our nearby “tuck” shop.  It has a small amount of staple food and snacks and sweets and household supplies.  Notice there is no sign to indicate that it is a store or its hours of operation.  People just know.  Inside it is dark and there are metal bars between the store and the customer area.  I rarely find much I want to buy here unless I want a maize snack with trans fats and salt or a Stoney (ginger soda).


This is where we put our trash, in an area close by but outside our compound.  Someone (?) burns the trash occasionally but never have I seen the area cleaned up.  There is no garbage service in our area.


Water buckets and barrels are used to collect and store water from the JoJo.


Goats are everywhere, all the time, constantly eating or crossing the highway to find more to eat.  You can see my late afternoon shadow and my little pink house (middle) and the ancestor’s house (right) in the background.  Surprising to me, there is no dairy industry for either goats or cows–no milk, no cheese.


Cows in the front yard are munching on the grass.  I never knew before how loud a cow can be when he/she is munching grass right outside your window.  These are not my family’s cows.  They are owned by some neighbor.  Cows are also free to roam at will on either side of the highway, crossing when they feel the need for greener bites.


This is a dead cow boneyard.  The bones are dumped in an area in the nearby hills by a local butchery business.  Beef is a staple of a Zulu diet.


This is a “traditional” Zulu house, made of sticks and mud.  Some people still use them for a living space even if they also have buildings on their compound made of concrete blocks.

Singing Competition and Education Concerns

Zulu events go on and on. In between the long waiting periods, interesting things could happen. On April 29, 2015, I went to the singing competition in Skemelele with over 120 of our learners. They were mostly grades 5, 6 and 7, so my students would not be in class anyway.   I went.  Choirs from about 15 different schools sang required songs and songs of choice.  They came with their choir directors and were all dressed neatly in their clean and ironed uniforms.

We all left Okhayeni after 8:00 sometime in six very full taxis.  In my taxi, there were 17 kids, the taxi driver and me.  The driver turned on his radio extraordinarily loud and the kids were happily rocking out so much the taxi rocked from side to side. I told them to sit down and be safe and save their voices for the singing.  One person on the taxi thought they would lose their mind and hearing forever.  You can probably guess who that was!

The return taxi trip was louder and it was all I could do to keep them seated. They danced and sang and hung out the window in time to the loud loud loud music!  That same one person was never so happy to exit a taxi at 5:00 pm and walk home.

Choir presentations began with the youngest at about 10:00, after a group prayer and then a request for 2 rand per adult and 1 rand per child.  There were 3 judges, an emcee, a pianist, a DJ playing music during lulls, and some clerks.  Some folks were in the courtyard lining up the “next” choir for their turn to sing.  All day long, one after another, choirs filed in, sang, and filed out. They were dressed in turquoise/white, black/yellow, maroon/white, green/black/cream (us), orange gingham, yellow/maroon, plaid/blue, blue/black, green/yellow/chartreuse.  Almost every choir sang fabulously.  I would hate to be a judge of this bunch.  By the time the very talented high schoolers sang, the audience was cheering, raucous, enthusiastic, wild.

Our students won two firsts (a trophy),  two seconds (a smaller trophy), and certificates (third place).

The pictures are blurry because I used the iPad and the lighting was poor.

The Okhayeni Primary School choir led by Mam Khabela

The Okhayeni Primary School choir led by Mam Khabela

The high school choir of my host son, Qhawe

The high school choir of my host son, Qhawe

Traditional Zulu dancers from Okhayeni

Traditional Zulu dancers from Okhayeni

I posted this photo on Facebook.  It is some adorable smiling Grade 5 kids looking through the classroom window

Some adorable smiling Grade 5 kids looking through the classroom window

Dancers practicing at school the day before the competition

Dancers practicing at school the day before the competition

This is now term 2. Because of sports practice (the actual game was postponed with two day notice), music practice, and chess practice, we have been on shorter-day schedule almost the entire time.  There have also been two national holidays (no school).  Yet, we are told to complete the required CAPS curriculum in its planned two-week cycles.  There are no provisions for shorter hours, holidays, review or assessment.  No way will I get the curriculum covered at this rate.  It eats at me because the majority of my 155 learners have poor to middling English skills and I am unable to cover the material, listen to them read individually with any effect, assign meaningful homework, be consistent in my lessons and have effective classroom management.  There is always an interruption with precedence over their learning in class.

I worry.  Then I wonder if I am the only one.  No one else seems to be worrying. Over and over I hear, that is the way it is in South Africa.  Well, damn it, it isn’t working and it has to change if these kids have a ghost of a chance of getting an adequate (forget excellent) education.  The world is moving ahead and these kids are being left behind, neglected, ignored, and someday it will backfire when they realize that their 40% pass rate is “fail” in America and Europe.  We spend weeks not teaching while we give them assessments that they can’t pass because we are spending weeks (8/year) not teaching but assessing! The curriculum is very difficult for them to understand with their limited English skills (it is all in English starting in grade 4; except isiZulu of course), the teaching methods are ineffective (copying words off the board doesn’t mean you know anything and can explain it in your own words), and the time is inadequate.  I worry for the future of South African citizens.

Anyone with extra money sends their children to private/public schools, boarding schools or private day schools.  They know they have to pay for smaller class size, computer availability, science labs and equipment, school buses, field trips, audio/visual resources, physical education with adequate sports equipment and facilities.  We don’t have these things in my deep-rural school and neither do the surrounding schools.  It isn’t fair and it isn’t just. It is just the way it is for poor people everywhere.

But if it was fair, just and adequate, South Africa wouldn’t need Peace Corps English teachers.  I wouldn’t be here.

Being a US citizen, I am “somewhat” protected from the political/social uproar in SA.  We have been given alerts as to what areas to avoid.  Many of you have probably read about the xenophobia in various areas of South Africa.  There were riots and killings in Kwa Zulu Natal, my province, but nothing in my area.  It seems to have abated now and there have been peaceful marches all over the country against xenophobia and the insane violence against foreign business owners.  There have been public statements from President Zuma, artists, sports figures, politicians decrying the xenophobia.  They all have a similar message: all Africans are brothers and sisters and Africans in many countries helped the freedom fighters during the years of the oppressive apartheid government.

I am working hard at school.  I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of Ian, Caitlin and Sadie at the end of June. I am attempting to write a grant to get some donations from you to electrify our school.   The days are cooler now, quite comfortable, as we head towards winter.  The daylight is shorter too.  I am hanging in there.  Some days it is hard and I want to pack up and go home.  Other days, I am totally sure I can make it through another interesting 16 months of service.