Sunday, March 31, 2013

Time Flies When You’re Having Fun!! 

I apologize for not writing in such a long time!!  Fourteen students from Kimberley House, including myself, took what was supposed to be a ten day road trip across the country!

The first couple days were mostly driving with little sight-seeing.  We stopped in Knysna the first night and East London the second night just to sleep.  Though both places were beautiful, we continued on.  The third and fourth nights were spent in Coffee Bay. 

Coffee Bay is a rural area with one backpacker and two restaurants.  The first day we arrived, we toured the backpacker which had two bars, a few small rooms, and a huge deck where most people spent their time.  We then headed to the gorgeous beach which was about a 10 minute walk from the backpacker.  The second day, one other girl and I were up early to take surfing lessons before our all-day hike.  The surfing lessons were absolutely hysterical.  As most of you probably know, I’m not the most coordinated person on earth so I was pretty positive it would be an epic failure.  But, it was my friend’s birthday and apparently that meant we were surfing at 7am!!   After about an hour of instruction, we both were able to get up on our own and ride a wave completely into shore.  By the end, I was so astonished I could actually do it, I was getting too excited to actually balance anymore!  After surfing, the whole group went on a 6-mile hike through the rolling hills of the villages.  It was a guided hike, so we were able to meet some of the people, learn how to make bricks for the huts they lived in, and play soccer with some local school children.  Ultimately, we walked to “Hole In The Wall” which is a village named after a massive rock wall near the shore of the ocean with a hole in the center where the waves come crashing through.  We played in the waves for hours, until it was time to be driven back.  We all piled in the back of a pick-up truck and were driven back to the backpacker.  We were all absolutely exhausted after the hike and swimming that most of us fell asleep right after dinner.   The next morning, we were up at 6am again and out of Coffee Bay!

The next night we stayed in Durban, but didn’t have much time to explore the city.  The following two nights were spent in Johannesburg.  In Joburg, we spent the entire day touring townships and museums.  We spent the morning touring a township called ‘Soweto.’  This stands for South West Township of Joburg. (get it?! I thought that was pretty clever!)  This is where Desmond Tutu currently lives and Nelson Mandela lived with his previous wife Winnie.  We were able to go in Nelson Mandela’s old home because it has been turned into a museum.  During this whole day, we had tour guides who explained everything about each place we went.  Without them, the day could have been terribly boring.   We learned about Winnie during the time Nelson was in jail and were surprised to find out that Soweto actually supported Winnie more than Nelson.  During the time he was in jail, she was the community ‘mom.’  She was always willing to stand up for anyone and, being a tomboy in her youth, was also willing to fight the police off if needed.  The most interesting thing I noticed about this township was its size.  Soweto is so big that it has a distinct upper, middle, and lower class.  The upper class homes were big, beautiful, brick homes with larger, green yards.   Around these homes, there were absolutely no children playing outside because these families have the money to buy TVs and Playstation for their children.  The middle class homes were similar to those of Cape Town, like the one I am currently living in.  But, within the exact same township, the lower class homes were shacks made from any material that could be found.  I thought this was interesting because such huge houses with such privileged children lived so close to these run-down shacks with children who have nothing but each other. 

After touring Soweto, we headed to the Apartheid museum.  The apartheid museum was completely overwhelming and I cannot even begin to describe the amount of knowledge that was shoved into our brains.  I felt like my head wasn’t big enough to even absorb it all.  I could have spent 4 hours in that museum, but it was limited to about 1.  At the very beginning of the museum, they began by splitting us into “whites” and “colored.”   Though we ended up getting to the same museum, it put into perspective the fact that you couldn’t even walk with those of a different race during apartheid. 

Our next couple nights were spent at a game reserve just outside of Kruger National Park.  We went on a private game drive the first night and spent the entire next day in Kruger.  We saw elephants, lions, rhinos, giraffes, hippos, impalas, and many more animals.  The camp we stayed at was absolutely gorgeous and a wonderful change from the backpackers we had been in the previous 7 nights.  On Sunday, during our drive home, the truck unexpectedly broke down.  After sitting on the highway for about two hours, we missed two flights out of Joburg and were no longer able to get back that night.  We stayed at a gorgeous hotel in Joburg and were flown back to Cape Town finally at 3pm Monday afternoon.   I have never been so happy to get back to KHouse and see the rest of my housemates!  It was an absolutely amazing trip, but it was just about time to stop living out of a suitcase after 11 days!

I still can’t believe how many amazing people we met along the way who we will never see again!

After getting home, this week has been a blur.  On Tuesday, at service, I entered grades into the computer and put together students’ report cards.  Thursday began their midsemester break so I will not be needed at Hlengisa now until April 8 when they reopen.  So the vacation continues!!

Holy Thursday and Good Friday I spent with my RA, Kholeka.  Because no one else in my house was attending any services, I tagged along to her Xhosa, Methodist services.  Being the only white person in the entire church, I felt a little out of place at first.  By the end of the services though, I was dancing and singing in Xhosa with everyone else.  I couldn’t help but smile the entire time.  The church was on the University of Cape Town’s campus so it was full of students dancing and singing with loud drums and tambourines.  Today, she decided to come with me to St. George’s (Desmond Tutu’s Cathedral) for a Catholic mass.  I am so blessed to have her this Easter because she brought a sense of family to the last few days.

Thank you for the prayers and support.  Our travels went fairly smoothly and everyone was kept safe and well!! I hope everyone has a blessed Easter!!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Not much has changed in good ol’ Africa.  My students and I are both going through mid-semester exams so life has been pretty busy.  If you would have told me last year that while taking course exams in Africa I’d also be correcting South African English exams, I would have never believed you. 

All the students have been writing letters for their English exams.  During this time, I have pulled certain students who I have seen struggling in order to help them pass the exam.  I was working especially with three 9th grade girls in the past week.  When I realized that their letters were just jumbled words, I knew they could not pass this exam any time in the near future.  First, I gave them three questions to answer that went along with the directions to the letter they were supposed to write.  They still could not even answer the questions.  So, I asked them to read the directions to me.  Although I thought this was a simple task and they would just not be able to understand it, I quickly learned these three girls could not read.  They cannot read Xhosa or English.  Suddenly, my job just got a lot harder.  I had to come up with something on the spot because I had another hour to spend with these girls before I went to teach my next class.  I finally just said, “alright, you’re going to teach me your language and I’m going to teach you mine.”  This has to be the only way for us to communicate.  They seemed happy to see me trying to learn.  It seemed as if as long as I was trying my hardest, they would also try their hardest.  The past couple days, though frustrating, have been back and forth…just trying to learn the sounds each letter makes in each language…. Who knew the alphabet could be so difficult.

Though these days have been a little discouraging, I have begun to pour my heart and soul into this school.  I may not have gotten through to them previously because they couldn’t understand me, but I am now finally getting to know individuals and learning names. 

This past Tuesday, I was supposed to be in my 5th grade class for a half hour of review because they are writing their exams this week.  The teachers for their next two classes never showed up, so I ended up staying there for an hour and a half.  By the end, the kids knew the material on the test inside and out!!  All I could think was “FINALLY!” I had made progress with someone!!  Though doing so consisted of me jumping, running, and making an idiot out of myself, the students were all laughing, engaged, and learning.  Nothing is more rewarding than a class laughing AND learning. 

The sixth grade reading club has become my family at Hlengisa.  I am finally learning most of their names—clicks and all!  They even come to eat lunch with me instead of with their friends and hang out with me in their free periods.  I focus on one table each day and have each person at the table read to me.  I can already tell how much the students are improving.  They are all able to read almost every word in the library books.  The only hardships they have are with names of people and countries. 

UWC has also been going very well. We made it through our first papers and exams.  The entire house is beginning to get sick, though.  Certain people have been missing school and service on random days in order to make doctor appointments and catch up on rest.  We leave for a 10 day road trip tomorrow in a huge bus so just pray that the entire group doesn’t end up sick by the end of that!!

Some people at home have also been asking me if they can help me in any way.  Unfortunately, it costs a ridiculous amount of money to send things all the way here and it takes about 3-4 weeks to receive.  Also, most things are also cheaper here anyway.  I would love to get a rug and some pillows for the library so that students do not have to sit on wooden chairs every day while they read.  I would also love to get some more fiction books for the students because many of the books are about technology and computers that they don’t have access to anyway.  So, I have set up an account at Village Bank and I will use all the money solely for service purchases.  The children at Hlengisa and I would appreciate any donations possible.  Even $1 goes so much farther here than at home.  Checks can be made payable to me and be sent to:

Jeffrey Modena
Village Bank & Trust
311 S Arlington Heights Rd
Arlington Heights, 60005

I will never see the checks or who sent what, everything will be anonymous through Jeffrey.  Every penny of this money will go toward the children—for the most part, the library that I am still in the process of ‘opening.’

There are also a few girls in my house who are teaching at schools that do not even have paper or pens for the students.  Any left over money will go toward buying supplies for these schools.  I would love to get any donations by APRIL 30.  This should give me time to buy everything and bring it to the schools.  I will also be looking for local donations from the Cape Town library and local businesses. 

Thank you again for all your thoughts and support.  Anytime I’m feeling in over my head, I always have family and friends behind me.  It means more than you could possibly imagine!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Routine has hit

I am now unwinding from my last week… Thank God for country music helping the process!!

Last Monday (gosh, that was still February!!) I ventured to the city with a couple girls.  We walked around the city, looked at venders, wandered through the Company Gardens, and stopped in Desmond Tutu’s Cathedral to light a candle and say a prayer.  Downtown was a nice little venture after classes!
Tuesday and Thursday I was testing 200 students for English all day both days. I sat in the back of the classroom with a stack of rubrics and listened to presentations.  Tuesday they each brought in a newspaper article and read it aloud as I graded their reading abilities.  Thursday they each brought in another article and they could not look at it while they presented a summary.  Some students read and presented extremely well—gestures, loud voice, a poster as a teaching aid, etc.  Some students went to the front of the classroom and stood there until the teacher sitting next to me said “Okay, zero.” 

While going through my class list on Thursday, I learned that some of the 9th grade students are older than me… (good thing I never told them my age).  I asked the teachers about this and they explained to me that students stay in 9th grade until they pass.  Some of the students have been in 9th grade for 5 years and still cannot speak English.  English is necessary to graduate from the school.  It killed me to watch a student go to the front of the room and stand there until they received a zero.  The teacher kept saying “I can give out zeros all day, they’re easy to write.”  It was interesting to hear this perspective whereas my teachers always told me that the 100% are the easiest to grade so strive to get 100%.  I could feel my usually smiling face drooping as the day went on.  After I realized how many students can’t even read English, I asked Gaji (the teacher with me these days) if I could take small groups and help them pass 9th grade.  He looked at me and said “YES, PLEASE!” as if that’s what I should have been doing all along.  I took the weekend to think about how this would work because I have such full classrooms to teach all day.  I asked him today if I could do this in my one free period and lunch break.  After some discussion, he told me I could work with smaller groups of students during the English class and instead of teaching the 40 students each class period. I’m excited for this because this could be a much larger help to the school and community than babysitting a classroom when half of the students don’t understand a word coming out of my mouth. 

Today, the 8th and 9th graders all had the same assignment in preparation for their term exam next week.  The assignment was to write a letter to your sister who is at university and tell her what is going on at home since she left.  Usually, when assignments like this are given, I am instructed to walk around and simply correct spelling errors in red pen and move to the next student.  Today, after reading a few of the first 9th grade classes letters, I decided to collect the rest.  I was engrossed in these letters during every break today, including lunch.  I didn’t pick my nose up out of this stack of letters that kept growing and growing with each passing period.  I now have about 100 papers left to grade, but I am learning more than ever about these students’ lives.  They wrote about things they have seen in the past couple weeks or months.  Some of the violence that was just casually written on a piece of loose leaf in front of me made my jaw drop.  Not only can I not imagine having seen one of the things some of these students have seen, but I can’t imagine coming to school the next day and being expected to just forget home and learn.  I am starting to understand why some people just don’t seem to care about school.  They will stand at the front of the room and receive a zero, but this could be because they saw their friend murdered the day before.  I am really, quite convinced I can never complain again in my life… ever.  

The 6th grade reading club has been going wonderfully.  I am finally getting to know these students and they are enjoying being in the library every Tuesday and Thursday after school.  I finally was able to move some tables and things around in the library so I have enough seats and tables for my whole class.  I would love to get a rug for students to sit on in the container and possibly have them reading to smaller children one day.  Many of the books are also informational books about technology and such, which is good sometimes but they really enjoy fiction stories.  I am hoping to get some of these books either donated or cheap from somewhere around my neighborhood here.  The library is still a work in progress, but the students are absolutely LOVING it.  They were coming up to me during the day last Tuesday wondering if they could come to reading club right away.  Though it was only 1:00 and school didn’t end until 3, it was great to see their excitement for the club!

The reading club has also started teaching me Xhosa words.  I am learning about 5 per day for right now… we’ll see how that one goes!!  I never thought clicking would be so difficult!!  This gets them excited too, though.  They really like when I try to understand their language and connect with them in other ways.  Thank God that my day ends with “Ufunda Club” because they never fail to bring a smile to my face.  As I walk around and listen to individuals read English aloud, I can already tell they are getting better and better as time goes on.  Even within these past two weeks, they have not been asking as many pronunciation questions and been reading more fluently.  I can’t help but be overjoyed by this progress.  Their future truly depends on English so this is one of the most helpful things to them at this point in time.  In order to get out of the townships or advance in school, a person needs English.  The rest of the country is very English based outside of the townships. 

Friday we had our Marquette classes and I had a presentation on The South African KAIROS Document.  As many of you know, I lead Kairos at St. Viator so I was very interested in this document to begin with.  Although it was a pretty long document, I just wanted to share a few interesting points.  During apartheid, the Christian church (most of South Africa at the time) was not only separated by denomination but also by race.  For example, they had a black Anglican church and a white Anglican church.   Because of the violence, segregation, and oppression, the blacks came together and decided something had to happen.  They related this time to Israel.  Israel rose out of the enslaved people in Egypt.  They were ‘liberated by Yahweh’ and Israel was born.  South Africa, in the KAIROS Document, completely related themselves to this bible affiliation.  South Africa was oppressed and the whites enslaved the native South Africans when they came to colonize the country.  The South Africans saw this time as God’s time for liberation (KAIROS).  They believed and hoped that if they didn’t take advantage of this time of oppression, it would be lost time.  This is a time of true hope that God will come soon to liberate them and bring them out of their oppression.   Though the original KAIROS Document was written in 1985, there are still being responses written to the Document.  One priest, who is currently in a Church Leadership Group that is writing the second response to the KAIROS Document, came to discuss this Document with us after my presentation.  These people never cease to amaze me with the things they have been through.  I couldn’t imagine going to a church and being rejected, let alone if it were my own religion and I was rejected because of my race. 

Just another reminder of how blessed we really are!!  Everything is going very well and I never go more than a minute without smiling in this beautiful country.   Thank you for all the messages and mail from home, it brightens my day…or week for that matter!! I couldn’t be more blessed and thankful for each and every one of you.