Saturday, October 2, 2010

The One-Year Anniversary of the Turkmenistan Thing

Hello all! Sorry I have not been updating things here for a while. It is getting pretty hard to describe everything that has been going on over here in SA. I wanted to write a little bit about what happened last year and how I see things now a year later.

So, around this time last year I was in Philly and sent back because the Turkmen government did not want PC volunteers. Four months later I left for SA. Those days in Philly were some of the most disappointing days of my life and the subsequent four months were really strange for me. After saying all these goodbyes and closing everything up in the states and then returning only a few days later was just difficult. Then, waiting that week or so for the PC to find me another spot was really stressful because I had no idea where or when I was going to go.

Now, a year later and about 8 months into my service, I can look back upon those times and think about what that experience taught me. Sadly I think I will always be a bit cynical about everything after being disappointed so much in Philly. But I think it really did turn out for the better, as I am now in SA and doing a lot of really cool stuff. Overall, I feel that I have overcome so many difficult obstacles and disappointments to come to where I am now. I do feel that, having gone through all of that, I can really succeed at any goal I set out to accomplish.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Game

How are you all? Sorry for not writing here for a while. I have gotten back from my World Cup trip and am pretty happy to be back at my site. I was able to attend a game on the 10th of July--the one game between Germany and Uruguay.

The game was held in a city called Port Elizabeth and it was really cold there! It was also raining. I have gotten used to the whole opposite season thing here in SA but it is still strange to say that it's cold and raining in July. The country really has prepared for the games and there were many services for people watching the games. First of all, there are designated fan parks where people can go watch the game on a big screen. These are sometimes located at cricket or rugby fields. There are also many buses and taxis that are there for the tourists. My friends and I were able to walk from our backpacker to a point where the bus would pick us up and take us to the stadium.

It is difficult to describe the atmosphere at the game. During this whole WC there has been a huge amount of excitement and pride in SA. While there was no African team playing in this game, there were still many German and Uruguayan fans. We were able to get really good seats for the game and saw all the players and coaches. I'm sure that if you have kept up with WC news that you have heard about the "Hand of the Devil." This is the guy who ruined Ghana's chance of going to the finals by blocking a goal with his hands. Well, this guy was playing at the game I was at and whenever he got the ball the entire crowd (except for the Uruguayan fans) booed. When you sat in your seat the stadium was not too loud. However, if you went back into the outer part of the stadium, the vuvuzelas made a really loud echoing noise! The German fans went berserk whenever Germany scored. It really was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I have seen a lot of SA now and it really reminds me of California. There are parts of the coast that we drove on that remind me of Big Sur and the coastline between San Luis Obispo and San Francisco. I also stayed for a bit in Durban, the capital of the Kwa-Zulu Natal province. It reminded me a lot of San Diego, if you substitute Indian food for Mexican food. If you were a tourist and went to any of these cities, you would go away with the impression that SA is just like any other Western city. The poverty in the villages is not readily visible in these cities.

Well, now that I am back I have to get back to work! The school year has started and I will be going back to Rooikoppies to teach and help out. My organization has applied for many grants and it hoping to hold events and campaigns to raise awareness about human rights. After being on the road and traveling it feels good to come back to Tzaneen.

Time of the WC

How are you all? I hope that you have watched at least one World Cup game and heard the constant blaring of the vuvuzelas. People in South Africa are now obsessed with the games, and, since the national team has been eliminated, are rooting for Ghana to win the cup. It was pretty sad when the US lost but Ghana really did play well.

On the 16th I was able to participate in a really fun concert put on by a non-profit group run by classical musicians! A woman named Sally is the director of an organization that runs music programs in rural schools. She and her husband both play piano very well, and Sally can also play many of the wind instruments. I was fortunate enough to play with her and her friends one day and it was just like being back at school in a chamber ensemble. This concert was scheduled for the 16th of June, which is a national holiday in South Africa.

That day I arrived at the school where the concert was going to be held as was amazed to see so many people, especially children. There must have been at least 100 students in the choir; these children had been provided special transportation from the villages to come and perform. The program was extremely varied—it included choir pieces, instrumental pieces, drumming, and monologues. It was really amazing that an organization could put on such a program. And, it was all about music! The children had a great time and it was all due to the efforts of this musical organization. I got some pretty strange looks when I pulled out my clarinet but I have gotten used to being stared at here in South Africa.

I do have a ticket for a World Cup game and will be able to see everything live. I must admit that I have watched more soccer over these last two weeks than I have ever watched in my lifetime and it has slowly grown on me. I’ll be sure to take a lot of pictures and write about my experiences when I return!

Friday, June 11, 2010

The World Cup!

The World Cup is starting here in South Africa and people are running around in the streets in excitement. It really is infectious! Every page in the paper is about soccer and every commercial on T.V. is about the Cup. Yesterday there was a concert in Johannesburg to open the WC and it seems that everybody in SA was watching it.

Today SA will play Mexico at Soccer Stadium and everybody, including me, will be watching the game. South Africans really like blowing the vuvuzela, a plastic horn-looking thing. You can hear them blowing them from 5 AM to 9 PM and tonight they will probably be going for a very long time. Although I love Mexico and especially Mexican food, I really hope that SA beats them. If SA wins tonight is going to be really crazy; the following games will be crazier. I am going to a friend's house to watch the USA v. England game and cheer on my home country (everyone thinks that the USA will lose). Whatever. This is a very exciting time to be here in SA and I'm really happy that I was placed here. Take that Turkmenistan!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Ek Praat Afrikaans

(I speak Afrikaans)

It is May and it's cold! I am not used to the opposite season thing here in SA yet but I'm sure that will change. When I arrived in late January, it was really hot and I never imagined that I would ever be needing a jacket.

I thought that today I would write a bit about my learning Afrikaans. Back during my training we had learned a couple lines of Afrikaans to introduce ourselves. Our main focuses were on Zulu, Siswati, Ndebele, and Tsonga; not many people in PC SA speak Afrikaans. There are many reasons for this, but a big one is that most volunteers live in villages where there are no Afrikaans-speaking people.

The history of Afrikaans is really complicated but interesting. The language is a descendant of German and Dutch and was originally brought by the European settlers who came to SA. Forgive me if any information here is not the most accurate; I'm kind of writing this off of the bits of information I've seen and read over here. The language was influenced by many immigrants, including Asians, English, French, and German speakers. Afrikaans, therefore, has many borrowed words and sounds from eveywhere in the world.

Things get complicated with the Anglo-Boer War in the beginning of the 20th century and the subsequent rise of the Afrikaaner-controlled government. Much of the prevailing attitude was that Afrikaans should be spoken to Afrikaaners, not English. Blacks had to learn or at least understand Afrikaans; many people still say "thank you" to me in Afrikaans, even though they know I speak English.

Now, in the new SA, the Afrikaans language is in a strange place. It is seen as the language of apartheid and many people I've talked to do not like the language at all; they prefer English as a second language (after Zulu or Sepedi). However, many schools, especially ones with a large number of white children, still teach Afrikaans. Afrikaans is still widely spoken in the Cape province.

I am starting to learn Afrikaans for several reasons: many people I know speak it, my supervisor speaks it, and I might be moving to a school where they teach in Afrikaans. I think that this experience will give me a better understanding of the Afrikaaner perspective of SA; I've already talked to many of them who feel their culture, language, and lifestyle is under attack by the new government. That will be a whole different entry altogether.

As for now I'm listening to an Afrikaans radio station, reading children's books, and studying from language books. The sounds in Afrikaans are similar to German and it sounds so cool when you yell! I hope you are all doing well and hope to hear from you soon.

Monday, May 3, 2010

English and Mats

Hello to you all! How are you doing? I am seeing reports on CNN about a bad oil spill in the Gulf Coast. Is there anything exciting going on in the US?

As you may or may not have guessed from the title, I thought I would write about education here in South Africa. While the word "math" is spelled the same here, people pronounce the word as "mats." When many African languages are written using English letters, the "th" is often pronounced as a "t."

But anyway, the school that I help teach at two days a week is a small farm school with about 25 students. My village was built by a timber company to house the workers; the company also built a school so that the workers' children could go to school. Because the school is so small, it would not be cost-effective to send many teachers there. There aren't enough teachers, it seems. So, the two teachers at the school split the children up into groups. There are kids from grade R to grade 7 (about 13 years old).

As many people here in SA will tell you, the education system is in very bad condition. I was really amazed by this fact: the level of passing for every subject except one is 40%. Anything above that and the child will pass the course. In English, the passing threshold is 30%. So, the standards here are extremely low and yet many children do not pass their classes.

One big reason for this, as I have seen and heard, is that education from 4-7 is done in English. For a students this presents a very big problem: if you are not very good at English, you would have no chance at the other subjects, especially math. Many of the children can hold basic conversations in English--this is easy to practice. But conversations and vocabulary about math? Who does that? So, math comprehension is not what it could be. The same goes for many of the other subjects.

While the language barriers are very tough, I think that the greatest barrier to education (at least in my village) is an economic one. I have seen several schools here and many of them have ample resources for their students. My school, on the other hand, does not have much money or resources.

So what does one do at a school like this? At this point I am still thinking about what I can do or achieve here. While I can teach the students here and help them pass their tests, the goal of a PC volunteer should be to implement sustainable change. At this small school, finding a sustainable project will be very difficult. I'm sure I will write more about teaching here, but for the time being, I'm trying to get the students to khrema (memorize) their times-tables. It is a good review for me as well!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Birthday Weekend

Thank you to all of you who wished me a Happy Birthday! This weekend was really fun with the highlight being a HOT SHOWER. I went and visited a friend who let me use her shower.

I guess I should provide some background on why I loved this shower so much. I do have a shower but have no hot water. It is getting into winter now and so it's pretty cold at my house. The water is even colder. So, when I take a shower at night, I get in, start shivering, get out of the water, put on soap, quickly rinse off, and then quickly dry off before I lose feeling in my fingers. So when I was able to take a hot shower I was really in awe. It was a luxury beyond description. It really was heaven on earth. I was speechless.

When I look back upon this past year I can see how so much has happened and changed. Yesterday I remembered that, for my birthday last year, I went to Disneyland with my roommates from Poly. I miss them a lot! The following year I was in South Africa in the Peace Corps, having graduated from Cal Poly and having been rejected from Peace Corps in Turkmenistan. These past 3 months have been especially crazy and eventful, with every day holding new possibilities. I wonder what things will happen tomorrow...