Sunday, 20 March 2011

Second week in Cape Town and some BIG news

My first weekend in Cape Town saw me doing the touristy things – up Table mountain and over to Robben Island. Both were good, Robben Island particularly interesting of course ( in case you are either under 20 or senile, you will be aware that Robben island was a prison Island during Apartheid. Mandela and others were held here). I actually found it quite moving to be taken around the island. Our guide was a former leader of the PAC (Pan African Congress – an off shoot of the ANC) who relayed the stories with enthusiasm and dedication. He continually thanked people/countries who had supported the anti-apartheid movement and it made me feel proud to have boycotted Barclays and South African oranges when I was a student. 

Cape Town from a hazy table mountain
Top right corner - Robben island

I was particularly struck by the constant reference to “truth and reconciliation” made as we toured Robben Island. How South Africa has managed to deal with it's past without resorting to a bloodbath. It's easy to forget but many were predicting, in the early 1990s, that South Africa would collapse into civil war and tear itself apart. But this didn't happen, main duly to the policy of truth and reconciliation which allowed people to admit their crimes, and, as long as they were truly remorseful, they would not be charged with anything. This was all based on the ideas and beliefs of the “big three M's” as our guide called them - Mandela, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. You would expect that visiting a former prison would be a depressing or upsetting experience, but I left Robben Island actually feeling good about humanity for once in my life. (Not something a History teacher can often say)

Table Mountain from Robben island

Nelson Mandela's Cell

Prison on Robben island, S.A. Flag and Table mountain

On Sunday there was a cycle race in Cape Town. It was coming right past our house so all the roads were shut and there was little to do but watch the race. It was quite amazing, for 5 hours thousands and thousands of cyclists streamed along the road. (35,000 in all) I walked down the road towards the beach. The Noordhoek beach was quite stunning but the water was much colder than I had expected. No swimming here.

Largest cycle race in the world

It was like this for about 5 hours

Noordhoek beach. Lovely but the water was 11C

It's been really interesting being in Ukhanyo Primary school this week. Where do I start? The students are really very well behaved. They appreciate being taught and are keen to learn. Often classes are left alone and they just seem to get on with something and work quietly on their own. They respond to praise and are a pleasure to teach. The school seems to be doing a reasonably good job with limited resources. The photos will show you more of what the place looks like.

One of the Grade 7 classes

Mr. Mkuku's tech lesson

Silent reading at the beginning of the day

Mr. Mkuku, the English teacher is friendly and helpful. He's an enthusiastic teacher and has been very open and welcoming to me turning up out of the blue for three weeks. Whilst he is usually friendly and supportive towards his classes he is not afraid to use corporal punishment and this can leave me (and no doubt his students) confused.

Classrooms are in prefab huts

Man with stick enforces order in the playground - honest

I have to honest, though, and some things have been difficult to deal with. Corporal punishment is rife here and it's hard to witness students being hit with sticks for failing a test. Classes often seem to be left unattended as well and the timetable seems to have incorporated clashes which means that I should be teaching two classes at the same time. Also, often in the middle of a lesson the class will just get up and leave as it is there time to go to the kitchen for some fruit. I suppose on one level the school is there to provide a safe haven for young people during the day and it's just as important that they get an apple to eat as is conjugating a few verbs. I was quite shocked, annoyed and confused by this all in my first week but now I'm getting used to it. I have to change my expectations and rigid attitude towards things if I'm going to survive in Africa and this is a good introduction to all that. 

At break time the students rush to the (locked) school gates where food is sold through the bars.

Chicken feet are popular

It helps to be the biggest

Grade 7, who are 12-13 year olds, get 3 hours of English a week (They also have lessons in Xhosa the local language, Science, Maths, and Geography.) Grade 7 is the top class in the Primary school. If they pass they year they move on the High School. I'm hoping to have a day in the High school next week just to check it out. As I have said the students (or learners as they are called here) are nice but they are also quite shy and stand-offish. It's quite hard to strike up a conversation with them. They are very keen to please and this means that if I ask the class if they have understood something I get 36 voices shouting out “Yes Teacher”. Except it sounds more like “Jess Teacher” with a deeply ironic undertone to the “Yes”. It's just the way they pronounce English and they don't mean anything by it but it is quite amusing. 

At breaktime boys play football - Girls play quietly together. Some things are universal

PE lessons are based on speed and agility not games -bare foot.

In the afternoons this week I've been helping out in the Library with High school homework club and Primary school reading. My reading is coming along quite well but I was absolutely no bloody use at all with A Level Physics homework. Sometimes I play chess with primary school students in the library. I'm pleased to announce that I always beat them!

But the big news is that I got a call (well and email) on Thursday saying my bike was ready for me. I phoned the guy up and he very kindly offered to come and pick me up on the Friday morning. He did and by 11 a.m. I was at the depot watching a folk lift truck bringing my bike round the corner.

There she is!

Once I'd got the bike out of the crate I reconnected the mirrors and wind shield and then I connected up the battery (which I'd bought new just a few hundred miles before - but it had been sitting on the bike for 2 months.) I expected it not to work.

I turned it on and all seemed good. The lights all worked and the ignition started but when I hit the ignition switch it turned over but didn't fire up. I assumed no fuel was getting through. I tried this for some time. Eventually I decided that perhaps I didn't have enough fuel in the tank. I had only 10 miles left on the indicator, perhaps 1 litre. So I found a guy who went off to the petrol station to get me 5 litres. He can back (an hour later!) and I put it in. Nothing had changed and now the battery was getting flat. So I called the BMW garage and they sent a guy out with a trailer. He picked me up and we went to the garage. (This trip took 20 minutes and I reckoned with the call out charge I would be looking at at least $100 for this – he charged me $35.)
Not how I wanted to leave the depot.
The BMW guys thought the battery was flat and that was the issue. (True enough by now the battery WAS flat). Very kindly (It was now 4:40 pm on a Friday before a long holiday weekend) they changed batteries with a newer one, agreed to charge my battery and said I could come back in a couple of weeks when I wanted to change it again. Very nice of them.

The bike now started fine. I put my jacket, gloves and helmet on and was just about to sit on the bike when it cut out! The mechanic came over and said it was probably because the bike was on the side stand and the fuel intake is on the right side, so we put it on the centre stand and it worked. I was a little dubious about this as it had never happened before I was also so excited about actually having a working bike again that I just got on it and headed off.

It's hard to describe the feeling of actually being on the bike again – and in a brand new continent. The last time I ridden my bike was on January 12th through the streets of Panama City. The last time I'd ridden without Tracy on the back was when I rode into Mexico City on 22nd November. It was now March 18th and I was in Cape Town South Africa. All that waiting (not to mention the cost of shipping) now seemed worth it. And I'd chosen to ride back to my volunteer house along the beautiful Chapman's Peak road along the rugged windswept Atlantic coast. It reminded me of the North Californian or Oregon coast and for a moment I'd actually forgotten I was in Africa. Oh it was a wonderful 9 miles.

And then she cut out. Fuel just stopped getting through and the engine died. It was 5 p.m. on a Friday....

Broken down on the coast road

I phoned Steve “The bike collector” who said he was on another job and in traffic and wouldn't be with me for at least 2 hours. I phoned the bike shop and spoke to Shane who immediately thought the problem was a dodgy fuel pump. Now I don't want to pretend that I know anything about motorbikes or anything. But I had suggested this when I had arrived at the dealership. Mainly because I'd heard BMW suffer from fuel pump issues and it was on my list of expensive spare parts to take that I didn't have with me.

Shane jumped onto his bike and turned up at 5:45 p.m. with a spare second hand fuel pump. He changed it over and the bike worked fine. The old fuel pump (original one?? - the bike has now done 67,000 miles) was chipped at one end. He didn't even charge me for it.
Ah that's where the fuel pump lives.

Certainly looks old

Chipped at bottom corner (Photo specially for Nevil)

Saturday I had a day out on the bike. I went down to Cape of Good Hope and then around to Boulders beach to see the Penguins. It's just fantastic to be on the bike in a totally different continent. And it takes some getting used to to be riding on the left! I've never ridden this bike on the left hand side before. Feels weird, even though I should be used to it.

Look close - in the shadows - is it the Vashta Nerada?
 Sorry - Dr. Who joke - limited audience. For the rest of you. Can you see the penguins in the shadow?

On Sunday I did a 320 mile round trip to Cape L'Aguhlas. It's the southern most point in Africa. Question. What's the difference between (North) America and (South) Africa? Answer: At the Arctic Circle they have someone there to take your photo for you, give you some information, have a chat and wish you a good day. At the southern most point of the continent of Africa they have practically zilch. There is a sign but you can't park near it so the furthest you can ride/drive is some dusty little car park. No sign, no welcoming committee nothing. Although the actual area is stunningly beautiful (even on a windy day like I had) it must be somewhat of a disappointment if you've ridden ALL THE WAY down Africa.

That's it.

As far south as I could ride.

The guy who took this says he does wedding photos. Really?

Anyway, I parked Heidi as far south as I could and took a couple of pictures. Some guy offered to take my photo for me, so he did. I then got on, said something like, “Let's go to Nairobi” and headed north.

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