Thursday, November 5, 2009

Sisonke life has been very busy for this teacher.

Last weekend we had a fundraiser at one of the local hostels. It was Halloween and we dressed up and had a ton of games that I and the other American volunteer put together. I had the kids created the decorations such as bats and paper mache pumpkins. I also helped the children of my class bake cookies and muffins.
The games that we generated were “Bobbing for Apples”, “Mummy Wrap”, a guessing game of which we had the British volunteer where a large pumpkin, a “3 Legged Monster Race” and a “Pool Tournament of Doom”. These games along with the bake sale helped generate over R600!!! Thank you to all that participated in some sort of way.
The “Sisonke Stars of the Week” will kick off next week. This is the positive reinforcement program that the teachers agreed to try out. I am looking forward to seeing how this will go.
I have also proposed that we have a reading peer program. Not sure what we will call it but basically the Grade 4/5 children will go into Grade 1 and read to the children. The goal is to give the older kids a sense of responsibility and a sense of leadership. They will have the option of reading in Xhosa or in English and they get to pick the book that they read to the students. This will start next week.
For my own class, I we have set aside to work with the students that are struggling. This will give them some one on one time with me and the Grade 1 teacher that is training right now.
Also, I am doing some remedial work three days a week. That part is very rewarding.
The mother of one of the teachers here, whom of which is Xhosa, passed away yesterday. Prior to her passing, I offered the teacher help with anything that she needed. She told me “I would like for you to meet my mother.” I was extremely shocked and much honored. Unfortunately, her mother did not make it but, the teacher asked me to come to the wake. She wanted me to see a Xhosa wake. ..I was told that this is a very deep honor to be invited to a wake, especially since I am white. I accepted and I will be attending the wake this Saturday.
I am enjoying my time off of work. I have been in the jungle, swung in the trees, jumped off a cliff by a waterfall and got to see a river crab!
My heart is warm for this place and I look forward to going home and sharing that warmth with my children, my family and my friends. The best thing you can bring home from a lengthy absence is a smile and warm heart to share.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Health Care Experience in a Developing Coutnry

I woke up about 6:30am to my usual morning relief only to find, immediately following, I needed to repeat, which is unusual.
Got a ride into town, and queued up for the clinic about 8:00am and waited till 9:00am when they opened. All the HIV/AIDS posters occupied my thoughts while I waited to sign in. The waiting room was the typical waiting room. A receptionist typing away at a computer and calling on patients as a friend or family goes up to provide information and to translate the pain into words if somehow that would alleviate the patient’s symptoms. A television that played an infomercial that tried to convince its viewers that their pill was the pill to make them lose weight, feel good about themselves, get the woman of their dreams and feel young again. Something that no one in that room was remotely concerned about.
It was only R200 which is about 35 US Dollars which included any medication. Just as Paulo Coelho’s book “Veronica Decides to Die” was inspiring me to brainstorm my own novel, I was called in. The building was quite open. Windows let in the clouded sky and the doors allowed for the sick to get fresh air.
I was led to the doctor’s office where I was examined. In the States, the term “going to the doctor’s office” means you sit in a waiting room only to be called to sit in another room where someone checks your vitals and takes down your symptoms. Then finally the doctor’s Registered Nurse comes in to make the final call on your health, whilst the doctor is in the his “office”, of which you never end up seeing, doing the one thing that we know for certain, making money.
I sat next to his desk where he had charts, papers, stethoscope and files all about. He even had an exam bed, he did it all in his office and he was the only one that I had seen.
He walked me to the restroom in his office where on the side was one of those fabric partitions that reminded me of the TV show M*A*S*H*where all the patients were divided with. Inside the bathroom were some plastic bottles, toilet paper and a bar of soap. He rinsed out a plastic 4 cup measuring cup, kind of like the one I used last week when I baked for the students, and said “go ahead and just go in here.”
There was water still left in the cup before I had used it and there was no “sanitary napkin” to do a clean front to back sweep. The cup was so big that I could not actually squat over the toilet. So there I was standing in the doctor’s office bathroom, the window providing me the clouded light and with a measuring cup between my legs. It was the first time that I had wished someone was with me in a bathroom.
When I came out and let him know I was done, he dipped a strip into the urine and then, without gloves, poured and rinsed the measuring cup out.
Within a few minutes, my urinary tract infection was diagnosed. I was send out of his office, with just my weight taken and a prescription that was waiting for me in the next room. I headed back up the hill about 9:30 am by foot with a new sense of what health care is like in the majority of the world, how completely pampered I am of my own health care and how hard it is for me to get treatment in my own country. I would take a plastic measuring cup in exchange for an antibiotic any day.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sisonke school Work I have done thus far

I would first like to recognise a freind of mine Somer Goulet for all her efforts to help with the art projects here. She has rallied her friends and family and was able to get a ton of things for the children. Thank you so much Somer! The kids will love it!
Okay so here is what I have done for the school thus far. I just finished a teachers training session where I helped put together protocol for when a child is injured. I have updated the first aid kit and I have designed incidents reports to have record of the injuries. My mom, along with her employer, Kaiser, is going to help donate first aid kit supplies!!!
Next teachers training session I will be helping the teachers to come up with lesson plans that suit their goals for their students. It is a wonderful feeling to know that this school can come up with their own curriculum and the teachers can now have a solid foundation to be able to express themselves as a successful educator.
I have also suggested a positive reinforcement program where the children’s positive behavior will he recognized by a “Sisonke Star” throughout the week and then at the end of the week, during assembly, 4 Sisonke Stars will be drawn for a prize! These will generally be schools supplies, they love them 
I am helping out with a fundraiser here in town. It will be a Halloween party and there will be folks dressed up and bobbing for apples like in the good ole U.S of A!
Along with my main lesson, I assist the English teacher, do crafts for the students and every Friday I have a bake session with my class. Tomorrow we are baking chocolate chip cookies.
On a more personal note, I played with a band for the first time ever! I was lead guitar and it felt really good to hear my songs played fully out. Some times with a guitar you only get that level of the song and sometimes does not sound right, but when you get all the elements of the song going, its magic time 
I also had a bit of scare. I took a taxi bus from town back to the house and realized I had lost my phone. We called it and a woman answered and she only spoke Xhosa. So we went down to the woman that lives here on the property and had her call my number back . It was a woman and she found the phone and she said that she would give me the phone if I met her back in town. So Adam, one of the volunteers, walked with me and we got the phone back!!! I gave her R50. She said that she would have been happy with R10. She was more thankful for the money I think than I was for getting the phone back. I was very lucky.
This town is small and I already made friends with the owner of the only place to have your laundry done, the owner and workers at one of the local hostels, the folks at the internet café, the café to the right of the internet café and the curios shop to the left. As I was having a chat the owner of the curio place came up to me and said that she has a bracelet that matched my earrings and she thought of me when she got them in, I had to buy it 
Having fun feeling productive and missing my children!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

20 of my friends can help build a school!!!

The school that I am working at in South Africa had a bit of a problem about a month ago. The building owner decided not to renew their lease. This meant that the children would be out of a school. However, within a month’s time, the school was able to get some land and a builder told them they could have two round houses built by December. This however, would cost the school.
It is going to cost the school a total R30,000. They are also in need of desk which is a total of R6,000. The school has since raised a total of R27,000. Which they are short R9,000 which is about $1,900.00 US dollars. My way to help fundraise is to find at least 20 of my friends and family to donate at least $15 to the project. All you have to do is click here or on the link to the right and pay via credit /debit card or pay pal. That is all you have to do.
Now the school is to be finished by December, so it is important that if you do decide to help that you get your donations to the school. Like I said all you have to do is click here
If you can’t help out, please pass the word on to your friends.
Let’s help out this lovely school,
With my up most sincerity, thank you,

The Village

Okay, so I am defiantly NOT a hippie!
So this place is nothing like I have ever experienced and whilst I am in it, it does not seem crazy. Until I go to bed and recall my day and I think, “what the hell?!”
Let us start with the building I am living in. The fridge makes these sounds as though it is frothing milk for a cappuccino. It was very unnerving at first. But the dozen or so geckos that are kick’n it on the walls doesn’t seem to mind, for they just hang out and eat the large mosquitoes.
Good thing there is no light in the bathroom otherwise, I would have to look at the fact that the damn hot water handle always falls off when I go to adjust the boiling water that pours out. The candle in the bathroom seems to do the trick, until the steam fills the room and loosens the wax from the plate that it sits on, falls and then “POOF” darkness again.
The aroma of soft, wet old wood fills all corners of the house and the only way to escape it is step into the tropical forest that is just on the door step. Not even Victoria Secrets “Love Spell” can cover it up. Yes, I brought one bottle of body spray.
But I never thought I was would be so happy to return to this place after a night in the “Village” where I got this grape seed oil massage from a local. I will get to her in a second…
All 7 of us plus overnight gear, piled in this red Nissan truck that needed to be push started. That was the fun part. Getting my eye almost poked out by the antenna that is still trying to get reception for a nonexistent radio as I hopped in the front passenger seat that had a broken down box for a seat cover was not so fun.
We had only brought food for dinner Friday and breakfast Saturday for we needed to return by noon to get ready for a party Saturday night. I did not bring a jacket to the village, little lone on this entire trip because it’s South Africa. It’s hot here during their summer. Wrong I was…
After dinner, we all took note as to who was going to sleep where. I decided not to share the bed with 4 others in a room where the door does not close all the way. This door, as all the doors in the homes of rural South Africa, goes to the outside. I decided to share a bed with the Pippa, the pregnant gal who started the school, in the house right next door. When I say, “right next door”, I mean a small bush separated the two.
I felt somewhat safe in the mud built hut house. It had electricity that worked sporadically but somehow managed to keep going after I fell asleep watching TV for I woke up to my earplugs being overtaken by the sounds of a woman’s moans of pleasure. There I was in bed with a pregnant white woman in a mud hut in the middle of rural South Africa listening to porn!!! I did not look from under my blanket for I was cold and I was unsure if the pregnant woman was still awake, so I had to listen to the whole damned thing! The best part was that the next show that came on after the porn was some kid movie from back in the day. That is when the pregnant woman woke up and turned off the TV. Needless to say, I got no sleep.
I woke up with my neck sore. It had rained all night which meant no electricity for the house or the truck. Furthermore, which meant we were cooking nothing and going nowhere. Very hungry we walked over to a friend of the pregnant lady. This place was really amazing. They started this thing they call the “Project” where they teach people to live a sustainable life style and provide for themselves. Ironically, we needed them to cook our food.
We stayed there for the morning and it was said that we may need to stay there one more night. This worried me for we had no food. The others were a bit uneasy as well. But I played my guitar and hoped that all would work out and we would get out of there. Four o’clock had past and still no word as to our fate for the night. We, including the friends at the “Project”, needed to be at a surprise party at 7:30. We were not going to make it.
All of a sudden, a lady from the village came by. She had heard about my kinked neck and her trade was massage therapy. I was so thrilled. I asked her how much she said “whatever”, which ended up being a lie but I went for it.
She told me to take off all my clothes. Now remember, it’s cold and I am in a mud hut with broken windows and translucent curtains. But also remember, I am down with anything! So there I was in my panties with village massage therapist pouring grape seed oil on a plate in the middle of rural South Africa. Surprisingly it was great. I had an hour massage for only 25 dollars. And the best part, when I was getting my clothes on, someone said that we had a ride into town and we were leaving just then! I was so relieved. We got back to the gecko filled house, took a shower and made it to the surprise party by 7:30!! As I have always learned, things always work out and that mentality has gotten me through some of the scariest, uneasy situations. So it makes me feel good when they do work out
So why am I not a hippie??? Well there were some people at this party with dreads, tie-die, and Pocahontas attire that danced around the fire to crappy high energy techno in a fog of doobie smoke. As our group soon found it was not our crowd we left and it began to rain. I guess the rain dance worked.
I am a hippie at heart, adventurer at the soul and I beat at my own drum.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Durban- Local food: Bunny Chow

For most travelers, we always set out to find that one food where we can't get anywhere else. That dish that we can take pictures of and blog about and feel like we have been cultured somehow. Well my friends, I have just done that. On my way to Durban, we stopped at a gas station where there were many things to eat, KFC, pizza, shawarmas and burgers. I noticed, as I was walking back to the bus with my spicy hot wings from KFC,a sign that said, "BUNNY CHOW" and thought "man, I should have tried the rabbit stew". When I got to Durban, my host brought me to a dinner party where I met up with some couchsurfing host. They asked me if I tried "bunny chow" before. I told them my bus stop story which amused them.
Twelve hours later I was in the home a lovely Indian family and there I was eating bunny chow.

Bunny chow is a hollowed out quarter loaf of bread filled with a curry. You can have lamb, chicken or vegetarian curry. There are toppings as well. Carrot shavings with a chile and onion type of salsa.
No rabbit was harmed in the making of a bunny chow.
There were many stories as to where the bunny chow came from. But here is the jist.
Back in the apartheid, a legal racial segregation which ended in 1994, blacks could not be served in Indian or white restaurants. So a restaurant here in Durban, came up with the idea to have their food to go, or what they call "take-a-ways", for the blacks. It is eaten with your fingers and not with a fork.

It is traditionally a cheep way to eat, about R15 which is just over a $1.00, but can range in price to about R40.
My opinion of the bunny chow? I loved it. I did eat it with a fork and I could not finish it because it was so filling. Some of you may call me out on the fact that I hate wet bread (it makes me gag), I still enjoyed it and recommend that you get one if you ever visit Durban.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Transportation in Johannesburg

If you like a challenge, hit Johannesburg, South Africa. Public transportation is really hard to come by and is said to be not the safest.There are private taxis of which i did not use, they are very expensive and I am told that its better to be with a crowd than to be alone. There are the mini taxi buses with I found to be quite cheep and very easy to pick up once I asked around.
There is an etiquette to the mini taxi bus. You can stand just about anywhere and point your finger in the direction you are going and if there is room, they will stop. Once you get in the mini bus, depending on where you sit would depend on how you pay. There are four rows in the mini bus. You pass your money to the front and you say what row you are in. If you sit next to the driver, you get the privilege to collect the money and pass out change. The cost is usually about R9, which is about $1.25.
Also, if you sit near a door, you are the one that needs to get out and let people on or off.
Traveling long distance with a bus company is comfortable and a great way to see South Africa.
There are several companies which include Greyhound and Intercape. I used Intercape to get from Jo'burg to Durban. My couch surfing host actually arranged for the bus to stop just outside of Durban so I can attend a couch surfer dinner so I could meet some locals.
It was a 6 hour bus ride and was very pleasant. They stop at truck stops so you can get food and stretch your legs. The cost was R210 and both lines offer a student discount ( i always bring my student id, even if I am not enrolled), so it cost me R199 which is about $20.
The highlight of my bus trip,I got to sit up with the drive for a bit :)