Monday, 3 September 2012

"It's goodbye for now, but one day hope to see you again" Mzwakhe Thine Ndlovu, 11E

So here we are, two nights back in England and I've had enough sleep to start feeling vaguely human again.

My last day at school was bittersweet, Vijay and I wrote evaluation forms for each other as teachers working together (apparently Vijay likes my great use of English both most and least about me :S ), we had a goodbye party with his 10B. 11E had a surprise leaving party for me in my free period, probably organised by Mr Shetlele. Sipho, who is an untrained opera singer, sang for me. The video doesn't begin to capture the quality of his voice, but even so it is fantastic and I will be uploading it onto my blog as soon as I can. 11E had prepared a goodbye speech for me, and several of them wrote poems for me. One of which is quoted in the title of this post. I will be scanning and uploading the others soon too. They also gave me an amazing picture frame containing goodbye notes from all of them and some of the pictures we'd taken on my last Thursday. I spent my last lesson with 11F (and 10A who tagged along wanting photos with me) outside playing football/netball and chatting to the kids one last time.

Pauline, Sabatha, Thabiso and Neo
Lunch time arrived before I knew it, the maths department gave us leaving presents and then I went outside to celebrate spring with 11A - as promised. They had warned me this involved throwing water at me, but I underestimated quite how much water they were going to throw, six large buckets of water later I was wet through, and retaliated with a good deal of hugging people while sopping wet.

Me, soaking wet
My kids gave me some amazing presents, including the poems from 11E, Pauline's favourite hair clip, one of Neo's scarves, which still smells like Africa... There were many more tears and hugs while saying goodbye. And I have been receiving a barrage of emails and facebook messages about how much they miss me and want me to come back. And if there was any way I could, I'd be right back there.

I don't know how real teachers deal with the intense feeling of loss, when you have to leave kids that you have seen grow and mature and gain confidence. If you'll excuse the terrible cliché, I left a large part of my heart in Soweto.

Africa feels so far away, but at the same time England seems strange, for one thing, it's really really white. I think we've got to the stage where we're so used to everyone else being black it's bizarre to be back here. Nothing seems to have changed in six weeks away, except for me. I am indescribably lucky to have had the opportunity to go to Soweto and work with the kids at Namedi, each one of them touched my heart and inspired me in some way.

The issue of whether or not to reapply for Warwick in Africa next summer has been on my mind for most of the trip, but after seeing the impact I made on these kids I feel like I have no other choice. Not even in terms of maths, but in terms of showing them that they have potential to succeed, that initial failure to understand does not spell total failure, and that, to paraphrase my evaluation forms, black and white people are all on the same level. At the same time, they have taught me about how it's possible to be positive and have fun, no matter what your situation in life is. That even if there are language barriers between you, playing a game is enough to make friends and laugh together. I've seen my kids show incredible fortitude in difficult situations, and they have inspired me.

Ngiyabonga kakhulu, thank you very much, students of Namedi. I am missing you.

Thursday, 30 August 2012


This morning I said an emotional goodbye to my Grade 11A and B. I won't lie - they are my favorite two classes, particularly 11A. I had 11B first period and was already feeling somewhat tearful as I said goodbye to them, so when 11A arrived I ended up crying for most of the hour I had with them.
Grade 11A
We took a lot of photos of the two classes, and I spoke to them about how proud I was of their achievements - how it wasn't me making them do it, they'd had the potential and they just had to remember to let it out. I also told 11A that their average in their assignment was 80%, way above what they're used to expecting.

One of the boys talked to me about how when I arrived I was just some teacher, and how I'd become their sister and mother as well, and how much they admired me and had gained hope for the future, and how while we were working on financial maths and discussing all this money they don't have but maybe in a few years time they will have jobs and they'll look back on me teaching them about compound interest. It was much more touching than I can possibly put into words, and I honestly can't really capture the spirit of the moment through what I am writing. They had me in floods of tears all lesson, and even writing this now is making me cry. I am so honoured to have worked with kids who have so much potential and who have come from such terrible backgrounds and are still so inspiring.

Sabatha and her goodbye message
The girls sang for me, while Khutso read me a poem he had written, and Thabo - who used to turn up to every one of my lessons high and is now working so hard - gave me a huge hug. Sabatha sang the beginning of "I will always love you" and the other girls rescued her when she had a fit of shyness. Then they all danced for and sung, and ended up inventing a chant which involved the boys shouting "Miss Novak" while the girls chanted "Anna".. quite a few of the girls were in tears along with me, and  Mandisa, who has been really quite quiet for most of my lessons couldn't stop crying.

I made Clarence promise me to keep working, and to get in touch with me if he ever needs anything, because he has so much potential, he is so so far above all the other kids.

I feel like none of this even comes close to expressing how much love I feel for these kids right now, and how heartbroken I am to be leaving them.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012


Dineo, in Grade 10A, is one of my favorite students, partly because she works hard and always puts a huge amount of effort into classes, but mainly because she looks like a tiny little duck. She's about five foot tall, has a big quiff of straightened hair that sticks out of the top of her head, small features and large lips. She's absolutely adorable, in short.

Today was the last time I teach 10A, and sadly the lesson didn't really go to plan. About ten minutes into the lesson, Dineo put her head down and cried. When I tried to find out what was happening, she wouldn't say but continued to shake and cry. Eventually, she asked for her sister and someone went to fetch her. Dineo then got worse, dropped onto the floor shaking and crying and beating her wrists - asking for the spiritual bracelet which she appears to have lost. The other girls told me that she was having problems with the spirits of her ancestors, and needed a tribal healer. After much begging, I managed to persuade the other kids to ring Dineo's mother, but there was not much else that I could do.

Before long, Dineo was having a fit, shaking and going limp one moment, and stiff as a board the next. Whenever she stiffened she'd throw herself back on the floor, and we kept having to catch her to stop her head smashing into the floor as she went down. Eventually, one of the teachers gave her something to smell, which caused her to get even worse. And somehow the only thing I could think of was how tiny the shoes she'd kicked off were.

The girls responded to Dineo's fit by grabbing a lock of her hair and twisting really hard until suddenly Dineo slipped down into a faint. They then sang and clapped until she woke up dazed and disorientated.

I don't really know what happened, initially she reminded me of myself while I am having a panic attack. It was terrifying to watch, and it made me feel completely powerless being unable to help her.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Bosmont with Corin

On Saturday, Corin, our on the ground contact for Warwick in Africa, took us to Bosmont to see where he grew up. Corin classifies as coloured, and is descended from a huge collection of different ethnic backgrounds. During Apartheid, Bosmont was the area which was zoned for everyone who classified as coloured. While they had a tentatively higher status than blacks, coloured people still suffered immensely under apartheid, and had the added difficulty of not being accepted by any of the other ethnic groups in South Africa.

Corin took us to meet the family of one of his childhood friends, who is from a Malay background, she and her children told us about their heritage, before feeding us a huge amount of food, ranging from samosas to cake. We then moved on to play a variety of children's games with the family. These generally seemed to involve throwing tennis balls at people as hard as you could, and people who got hit being out.

After this, we moved on to have quarters - essentially a quarter loaf of bread, filled with chips, cuts of meat and any sauces you fancy. Before moving on to visit Willa who makes beaded jewelry. She taught everyone how to make bead angels before leaving us to experiment with the beads on our own. Finally, we went to have dinner with another one of Corin's friends, who had provided an enormous selection of curries, and other dishes, along with a lovely chocolate cake for dessert.

You may have noticed the abundance of food I've talked about - this is because we never stopped eating all day, and all ended up going home feeling rather full.

It was nice getting a chance to see Corin outside of the usual hassle of school, particularly since he has a knack of visiting just as I'm about to kill my Grade 11s in their pre-lunch mania and I'm feeling rather frazzled. The opportunity to get a feeling for someone's childhood is always special, and this was no exception.


On Sunday night, Sam invited me to a Church service, at Godfirst, where he is working for the summer. As Sam in in the Church band (which consists of electric and bass guitars, a keyboard, drums and a singer and plays modern versions of hymns) his friend, Olivia, met us and took us into the service which was held in a lecture theatre at Wits University.

The service started with half an hour of singing and dancing along to the band, before an hours service, concluded by more singing. During the service, new people were asked to identify themselves (so they could be given vouchers for free cake) and we received a huge cheer - in general the congregation was extremely open and inviting and everyone was thrilled to see us there.

The pastor spoke about the meaning of spirituality and a personal journey to become the best person you can be and how to grow closer to God and it wasn't actually overly concerned with issues of Christianity. It is also the first time I have ever seen a Church service conducted on a power point presentation.

Altogether, it was a huge change from Churches I have visited in the UK, everything was louder and more engaging, and it was a very cool experience.