Friday, December 31, 2010
Oh How the Months Go By!
Americans and Europeans who've travelled to this continent often speak of the relaxed and fluid nature of “African time” in comparison to the fast paced and productivity-driven “Western time,” but these past months have flown by as if I were in New York City. The school year ended on December 10th, when the St. Peter’s 9th graders took exams from the provincial government in every subject, two of which, Maths (as they say here) and Technology, I teach. Incredibly, although St. Peter’s is one of the higher performing school in the township, last year’s 9th grade class largely failed in several subjects. Since it is a private school and funding is contingent on performance, St. Peter’s scores were critical this year. Soon after I arrived in March, only one of the 59 9th graders had passed the first quarter Maths exam. The students and I set a shared goal that every one of them would improve their score by at least 10% on the fourth quarter exam. Some days, the students complained, “Maam Sarah, you are working us to hard!” And sometimes, after serving up a sizeable portion of homework several days in a row, I even thought perhaps it was unfair to require as much of them as was required of me in a private American high school. But we kept a sense of humor and fun about it. When we learned about speed, distance, and time, I took the students to the soccer pitch and every student (including one in a wheelchair) took their turn running from goal to goal and then calculated their speed in meters/second and kilometers/hour. They loved learning about probability because we turned the classroom into a gambling hall for several days.
In early December, they took the provincial exam, and we came very close to meeting our goal. Nearly every student improved their scores, and this time, about a third of them passed, which was incredibly encouraging. I can’t describe the joy I felt when student after student came up to me after receiving their marks with smiles and hugs and expressions of mingled surprise and happiness. Many told me they never knew they had it in them to achieve so much.
Next year, I’ll be leaving St. Peter’s to teach at a school with which the Sisters of Notre Dame are connected in Johannesburg. It’s been hard coming to terms with leaving Kroonstad, especially when I think of how much could be accomplished in another year and how much I’ve grown here— the main reason for the move will be that I’ll be able to discern religious life a bit more attentively in the SND community made up in part by young postulants. This past year, I was nearby but not actually with the sisters, but in a house with the two other American girls, so I wasn’t able to experience life in a religious community to the same degree. The school where I’ll be teaching seems to be a truly incredible place. The students come from rural areas across Africa and have sustained serious injuries in accidents, abuse, or torture involving the use of fire. Many became partly or entirely blind after their injury, so I’ll be learning Braille during my first week.
After St. Peter’s closed for Christmas holidays on the 10th, I embarked on a two week African adventure. I had saved up all of my allocated days of leave to travel this month, and my high school best friend Brian came to join me. On the 10th , Brian, my fellow volunteer Katie, and I took an overnight bus from Johannesburg to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city. On the 11th, we spent a day in Bulawayo with the local community of Sisters of Notre Dame (SND). That evening, we took a dilapidated but spectacular 1950s British-built train, complete with sleeper compartments and bed linens, to Victoria Falls on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a day I happily share as my birthday. We stayed in a very fun-funky hostel and spent the next days exploring the magnificent falls and taking day trips to Zambia and Botswana. The highlight was hiking into the massive gorge with a Zambian guide, who took us to a natural pool where we swam in the Zambezi with the falls thundering around and upon us. It was exhilarating. A close second was the incident that immediately followed that experience, when Brian and I became lost in Katie and our guide and were lost inside the Victoria Falls National Park, which had already closed, at night. We eventually found a thick barbed wire fence that led us to the Zambia/Zimbabwe boarder crossing, where about 15 Zambian truckers waiting for clearance held the fence as we army crawled (life jackets and helmets still on) under the barbed wire to “chat” with the armed boarder patrol who’d heard all the commotion and come running. Illegal immigration took on a whole new meaning! J We were given antiseptic for our cuts and beer for our nerves until our guide found us! As you can imagine, the events have been rehashed, the tale retold, to many people since that night.
Christmas found Brian and me in Cape Town for the tail end of the long break before I move to Johannesburg. We savored the best of Cape Town thanks to Brian’s generosity and job as an accountant, hiking Table Mountain, driving to the tip of Africa to stand at the edge of the cliffs at Cape Point, and enjoying a delightful Christmas Eve dinner at Cape Town’s oldest hotel. It is New Year’s Eve, and I’m resting, packing, and cleaning the converted schoolhouse where Katie, Kelly, and I have lived for nearly a year (they’ve both moved back home to the USA).
Christmas has filled me with a bittersweet sense of gratitude for loved ones and sadness at being far from them. Wishing each of you a truly abundant New Year!
Posted by Sarah Moran at 5:53 AM