Thursday, 24 March 2011

Third week in Cape Town - Twas brillig...

Monday was a holiday in South Africa. March 21st is Human Rights Day, commemorating the Sharpeville massacre of 1960. Six of us went on a “township tour”. I was a little suspicious of this – going on a walking tour of a township and taking lots of photos of poor people, and although there was an element of this it was also quite interesting. Needless to say the lives of people in the townships was pretty much as I expected it to be – poor quality housing, issues with clean water and electricity, high unemployment and HIV/AIDS, but I certainly got the feeling that people were happy. Or at least hopeful. The era of Apartheid is still recent enough for most people to at least still appreciate freedom and democracy and a sense of having ownership of there own lives. As with Robben Island I was left with a feeling of hope over expectation. I also got a glimpse into what Cameron's Big Society will look like. Lots of voluntary work going on with little State intervention or funding :)

Visiting a Township

Tuesday morning I went into school (with Jen who is teaching Maths) and all the teachers were in a meeting. We went to the Grade 7 block, just us and 180 students. As it was a Tuesday they were supposed to have a Year assembly. At 8:15 they all trotted out of their classrooms and lined up. They then spent 10 minutes singing first in Xhosa (pronounced Kohsa – it's a mesmerising language which utilises lots of clicking noises using the tongue – in fact to pronounce it correctly push your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Then flick it backwards and down creating a click noise, then say Kohsa). Then they sang the Lords' Prayer in English. Jen and I were the only teachers there. They had done this all without supervision and neatly and sensibly filed back into their classrooms to wait for their teachers. I've never witnessed anything like it (and I've taught in 6 countries) and I KNOW what students in my last school would have done if they had had an assembly and no staff had turned up.

They were then supposed to read in class for 20 minutes. They asked if I would read to them and gave me a copy of the English text book. I read them a synopsis of A Midsummer Nights Dream. Tracy would have been so proud of me. They really enjoyed it and were shocked that a father would be willing to kill her daughter. On the other page was “Jabberwocky”. A word of advice; If you're teaching Grade 7 English as a first additional language and they aren't really all that good – beware the Jabberwock, my son! Bitten off more than I could chew there.

On Wednesday night four of us went to the theatre. Sir Anthony Sher was in Arthur Miller's “Broken Glass”. I'd seem him doing some RSC stuff in Stratford -upon -Avon and he'd been in this play in London but now the Cape Town born actor had brought it back home with a South African cast. It was good and made a pleasant change from watching rubbish TV at the volunteer house. However, I counted about 250 people in the audience and only saw two black faces. Pre-theatre meal was a Pizza with honey on it. You don't get that every day do you?

This part of the world is beautiful.

My last couple of days at school involved helping out with the termly exams. Without much notice at all exams were thrust upon the class and we had two days of nothing but tests. I typed up the English exam for Mr. Mkuku and helped invigilate. Again often classes were left on their own and on more than one occasion I'd walk into a room to find the whole class quietly (indeed often silently) working away on their exam with no teacher present. There didn't seem to be any sort of exam timetable and we just went to whichever class we wanted and told them that they were now going to do their English exam. For me it was very interesting as most of the questions were based around what I and Mr. Mkuku had been teaching them the last two weeks. It soon became apparent to me that the vast majority of the students had not really understood very much of what either of us had been telling them. I'm not surprised for reasons that should be clear from my last post on the blog.

Baboons on the road to Cape of Good Hope.

But now it's time to move on. I'm posting this on Thursday night and first thing Saturday morning I'm setting off. It's time to get on the road and have an adventure. I've actually really enjoyed the three weeks I've had on the project. It's certainly opened my eyes to a few things and, although I'm sure I haven't changed anyones lives (at least not in a good way!) I've certainly learnt something and had some fun. But, obviously I'm now raring to go and although I'm quite apprehensive I'm also very excited. The whole of the last 8 months has been fantastic but there's something special (at least in my mine mind) of attempting to ride a motorbike through Southern Africa. I have no idea whether I will succeed, whether I've bitten off more that I can chew with this or even whether it's a foolish thing to be tying. But I've had it in the back of my mind since 1995 when I rode around Patagonia and I can hardly believe that I'm actually now going to have a bash at it.

Am I scared? Well, no not really. But I am most certainly excited, anxious, nervous, worried, thrilled and lots of other adjectives. (See Tracy I have learnt something from my three weeks of teaching English!)

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