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.


I have been quite busy lately and haven't had a chance to write a post about my attempt to introduce more extracurricular activities into my school through netball. I've been outside with the girls at lunch time playing netball everyday for the last week and a bit, with some mixed results.

Namedi actually has a girls netball time, although I haven't seen the girls playing without me. On our first day, we set up a half court game and established that the girls were a good bit better at netball than I am, although they were rather sweetly trying to teach me how to shoot. Unsurprisingly, I'm still a hopeless case.

Since then, I've always had a couple of girls wanting to play at lunch time, but attendance has been fairly low. I attempted to introduce mixed netball, but the boys got so rough, that after a girl was pushed face first into the concrete floor, the boys were banned from netball for good.

We have also had issues with the fact that Zanele, who is captain of netball gives the Grade 8 girls a terrible time for taking breaks for lunch and has banned two of them for good. I tried to see both sides of their argument and draw them to a compromise, but I don't really think it worked. Since we're now in our last week, there was not much I could do, since anything I say now will be ignored when I leave on Friday, and if anything it will be worse for the girls if I do fight Zanele over it. It was rather pitiful though, particularly when they told me that, "We don't want Zanele anyway, we want you miss."

My Grade 8 friend - Namedi's only camera shy student!
I had a rather sweeter moment today when the kids from the primary school next door were watching me playing netball with Lebo and one of the Grade 8 girls, eventually some of my older kids on our side of the fence called me over to say hi to them, and tell me how they were really excited because there was a white woman playing with the children.

To sum up, my netball experience hasn't been a huge success. However, it has been quite touching how the kids have worked hard to integrate me into their games, and the chance to get to talk to some of the younger girls has been really nice.


Since we're now in our last week, other than having had to break the news of the fact we're leaving to my kids - Grades 10A, 11E and 11F who I only see for three lessons a week aren't too upset, but 11A and 11B are devastated - I've also been working to get through the Warwick in Africa paper work, which includes the learner evaluation form. So about 120 forms later, I have some rather touching answers:

"I found it good communicating with people which are different from my skin colour. I'm going to miss them."
"I also want to be a mathematician who will help students to understand the concept of maths better, like Warwick has done for me [...] I am now eager to solve mathematical problems unlike before" - From the top student in Grade 11.
"I would love to someday to meet agagin with my lovely teacher and be working together or be a mathematics helper."
"I would love Miss Ann to be our Math teacher because she's really much fun to be around"
"I would really love to be a mathematics teacher because of the people who taught us mathematics, they gave me hope that I can make it in the future."
"[In the future I want] to visit Anna and have a lunch with her"
"I believe [the Warwick in Africa teachers] did well well because they provide us their all and as much as they possibly can"
"Travelling is my dream, because I am a future pilot and probably with God's mercy I'll reach England and meet with Mrs Novak again, thanking her for teaching me and motivating me to be who I would be in future."
"I want to further my studies, become a successful engineer and the best Formula 1 driver in the world, like I promised Miss Anna"
"If I was to rate them out of 100%, they deserve 110%"
"What was so impressed mostly is that they time keep (never late for a period)" 
 Most liked: "when they take us photos in the class. It kinda made me feel that I am realised in the class" 
 Least liked: "Seeing Miss Anna get furious in the class, talking about late coming.. It kind of hurt me seeing her like that"
"I did not know anything about relative frequency and now I even enjoy helping friends who don't understand."
"The fact that Ms Novak is so much patient and she was not rude when you asked her a question. She explained and ensured that you understood clearly."
"Maths used to be the most boring subject ever, now I am begging to like and love it with all of my heart" 
"[The Warwick teachers have changed my view on learning Maths] a lot because they were very patient even though you did not understand they gave us enough time to understand everything. I wish they could come back again." 
 Most liked: "When I see Mrs Annah Novak being so serious about teaching us. How she was so friendly to us. And I enjoyed when they took us photos at the same time we were learning with no stress or with no doubt and I think she must teach us for ever and ever."
 "I just wish to be an example to those who think they have failed in life. I want to chase my dreams."
"I am now excited to attend every maths period."
"I thought white people were better than us but that is not true because we all at the same level" 
 "What I didn't enjoy was when I wasn't at school, missing every word and lesson that other learners were learning"
"Before the Warwick teachers came to my school I would get so bored during maths lessons, but now I enjoy them and am even the first to get to class."
"The language we used, Miss Anna didn't understand but at the end we ended up all understanding each other and we loved it."
"Pretty says: Thank you for coming, it meant a lot to us. We all love you."

Monday, 27 August 2012


Hope and Steph witnessed on of their Grade 9's being stabbed at school today. Both of them are extremely upset and we're all shaken. I don't really know anything about what happened, how it came to happen or who started it. Just that somewhere in Soweto there is a terrified kid who ran off with a knife wound in his neck.

It's a horrifying reminder of what life out here is like for these kids. Of how much it hurts that we're leaving them, and that there's nothing we can do to help them. No matter how much you want to bundle them all up and pull them out of here with you, there's nothing that can be done.

Friday, 24 August 2012


I'm so proud of my kids right now, 11A and B had a Data Handling assignment last week and they have done fantastically. When I tested them on it a week or two ago, they averaged about 40%, which I was really pleased with. But they absolutely rocked this assignment, everybody got over 50%, there was a piece that got full marks, and I am incredibly proud of all of them right now.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Sha-Sha and Charlie

After school today, five of us went back to Kliptown to help kids there with homework. We split off into different buildings, so as to work with as many kids as possible. Since no one was around in my building, I ended up having a fantastic afternoon playing with Sha-Sha and some of the other kids.
Sha-Sha is a three year old orphan who lives at SKY, the other kids adore her and love to play with her and carry her around but when we first arrived today, they were fighting over who got to hold her and I could see she was getting quite upset, so I took her and sat with her for a little while. When we went inside to discuss our plan for the day - helping kids with homework as best we could, Sha-Sha came with me and sat on my lap playing with my watch. The house I was supposed to be working with was deserted so I ended up sitting outside with Sha-Sha for about 45 minutes. We had a lovely time playing with my watch and then my camera, taking pictures of the dogs and other things around us, then I was showing her how you can use the zoom, and we'd zoomed in on a group of older kids across the yard and Sha-Sha, who hadn't said a word so far, suddenly started telling me all about who they were and how they were her friends. We'd all assumed she couldn't speak English, if she could speak at all, but actually she was obviously just reserving speaking for when she felt we'd earned it.

Towards the end, we were joined by a whole group of other kids, who came along to see what we were up to and to join in the fun. After watching the second hand on my watch go round and shouting out the numbers in awe along with two five year old boys, I finally had someone come to me for Maths help. Charlie is a 12 year old boy, who loves Maths, and who also has a fantastic singing voice (he sung for us last time we were at SKY) and we had a fun half hour working out 10s, 100s and 1000s using imaginary building blocks, as well as learning tricks for how to do your 9 times table. I also worked with a girl called Nellie (I think, it is probably spelled completely differently) who was a few years older and was trying to write an essay on the consequences of irresponsible sexual behavior. As usual, the SKY kids are absolutely amazing, they seem to be way above the usual level for kids their age and are so full of happiness and positivity that it just radiates out of them.

Hopefully we'll be going back tomorrow, in the mean time I'm going to try and get a couple of photos online as my attempt to make my 3Gig of internet last all trip has failed and I am going to have to buy another batch anyway.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Dinner with Sam

Tonight, I met my friend Sam, who is in my tutor group back at Warwick, and his friend Olivia, who has just graduated from Uni, for dinner. Sam is out here working with God First, a religious group at Wits University that is trying to take religion in South Africa back to it's key morals and making it into an issue of belief rather than the corruption that goes on in a lot of churches out here. Pastors demanding money to bring people closer to God is extremely widespread, and there is a huge church in Orlando where a priest likes to use sex to exorcise demons from young women... mull over that one for a moment.

On Sunday, I'm going to go to a church service (I think, the description was a little bizarre, but I'll make sure to post all about it after I've been) to see what it is Sam has been working out here. Apparently newcomers get cake, so it should be good!

In general, seeing Sam, and meeting Olivia, was a really lovely break. It's great to see a familiar face and have a moment away from all the teaching and lesson planning for a night. I'm afraid our stories about nightmare teaching experiences might have put Sam off teaching though.

Monday, 20 August 2012


Mbali is one of my Grade 10s. I wrote about her a long time ago, during my first week in South Africa. She is amazingly gifted as a linguist, but struggling hopelessly with both Maths and Science. I gave her an extra lesson in our first week, and organised to see her for more help, but she never wanted to come back after the first week.

After my Grade 10s sat a test last week, and scored an average of around 25%, the school wants them to retake the test after some last minute revision to see if they can improve. As a result, we are back to the joys of Analytical Geometry, and once again I was working with Mbali. While we were doing financial maths (our topic for the majority of my stay here) she seemed to be understanding, although her test scores disagree.

Once I had the class started today, I went to sit with Mbali and we painstakingly went through how to find the midpoint between two points. The problem is, this is extremely difficult to do with a child who never understood the concept of coordinate points and can neither place them on a graph, nor understand the meaning of the x and y components. Despite this, when she starts to understand what you're getting at, Mbali lights up. Even when there's still quite a lot going wrong, she's desperate to keep trying and to have another go.

As she writes, Mbali has a tendency to press her nose close to the paper. When I asked she told me that she isn't short sighted, but watching her struggling with the numbers, I am convinced that either she is dyslexic or her eyesight is really weak. Things become jumbled and confused long before the actual maths begins.

Sitting with her today, I couldn't help thinking that I should have tried harder to make the most of my time here to help her try to catch up with the rest of her class, pushed her to keep coming to extra lessons, tried to make more of an allowance for how hard she was finding work within the classroom.

While she's so far behind, that I have doubts about how far she will ever get with maths, Mbali has so much potential and so much desire to succeed. And I've failed her.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Lesedi Cultural Village, Pilanesberg and Sun City

This weekend was one of the busiest we have had in South Africa. Warwick in Africa planned a weekend excursion for us, which we embarked upon on Saturday morning. Sadly, my version of this trip was slightly marred by the fact that I developed a nasty stomach bug overnight and spent all weekend feeling a bit sick with my stomach churning like crazy.

Our first stop was at Lesedi Cultural Village, here a selection of actors pretend to be members of various traditional African tribes, while a guide takes you around. Honestly, it's a little odd, but it was quite interesting. At the end they performed a variety of tribal dances which were, unsurprisingly, amazing to watch. I did, however, turn down the offer of friend worms, since I had limited faith in my stomach's ability to deal with it. Apparently, they taste a little like fish and are rather chewy and difficult to swallow.
Miniature Zulu Homestead
We then carried on to Pilanesberg Game Reserve. We had a little under two hours before the park closed to take our first drive through, in our own mini buses. We saw a variety of animals, including elephants, giraffes, antelopes and quite a lot of gnu. The highlight of the drive was definitely at the end when we came across a herd of giraffes grazing at the edge of the road, followed by a mother elephant with her two babies. Unfortunately, the mummy elephant appeared to object to flash photography, and decided to charge our bus which lead to some extremely quick driving away by Lewis, as well as some awesome photos.

After this, we went to a guest house close to Pilanesberg where we were staying the night. Most of the group went out to the casino at Sun City, and, I'm told had a really great night out, I took the opportunity to go to bed and try and sleep off my stomach bug.

While this didn't work too well, it did mean that I had had a reasonable amount of sleep when we got up at 6.30 this morning to go on a second game drive. This time we had two and a half hours in a large open ranger's truck, with Bert, one of the Pilanesberg rangers, who not only drove us around but told us about the flora and fauna we were seeing. Along with more of the animals we saw yesterday, we saw hippos, warthogs and came extremely close to two white rhinos.

The final part of our trip took us to Sun City, a tourist reserve which has hotel rooms, a casino, food courts, and an artificial beach. We spent the afternoon on the beach, enjoying the sunshine. I didn't go into the water much on account of still feeling rather poorly, but enjoyed my book in the sunshine, and I did get the chance to go on a wander with Mathilde and saw some really pretty woodland paths, and streams.

It was a lovely, if exhausting weekend. Now to try and get over this bug in time for teaching tomorrow morning!

Hair Straightening and Inappropriate Sexual Advances

Given the general obsession many of the girls out here have with my hair, I decided that I would make Numpty's day and straighten it last week. And before we go any further - yes, that is possibly the most awesome name any of my kids have.

While it was a hit with the kids (even the boys were amazed), while I had 11B clustered around me during our usual 10 minute wait for the classroom to be unlocked, I also attracted some more unwelcome attention. Namely that of the groundsman who happens to be somewhat taller than me, about three times my width and who grabbed me, pulled me up to him and announced he was going to marry me. When I suggested that my boyfriend might object, he responded, "Then I'll kill him", in a rather threatening tone. So, it's probably just as well you're several thousand miles away, Alan.

What actually sticks out about this event, is that I didn't really think it was too odd until I told Mummy and she panicked about it. This is the kind of thing that we have all learnt to take for granted out here. All of the girls have received proposals/threats of marriage, and the fact that women here are still viewed as commodities by much of society is really quite evident in our everyday lives. While the guys receive frequent invitations, and Pav's teacher is still in search of a "bombastic" african wife for him.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Soweto Kliptown Youth

Wednesday afternoon we went to SKY (Soweto Kliptown Youth) the orphanage/youth centre run by Bob Nameng, in Kliptown, which is a particularly poor area of Soweto. It is the first time we have been into one of the truly deprived parts of the townships, houses are replaced by tin shacks, and roads are just wider areas of dusty potholed ground.

In the middle of all of this, there is an orphanage full of some of the most amazing people you will ever meet. Bob spent time on the streets as a child, before being taken in by his aunt, a midwife, who raised him and his brother after his parents died when he was still tiny. He initially started a choir with girls in his area, and this quickly grew into an orphanage with youth centre programs.

Bob has amazing ideas on combating poverty, women's rights and morality. He tries to raise his kids to better themselves rather than to depend on help from outside. Growing up assisting his aunt with her midwifery apparently opened his eyes to hardships of being a woman in South Africa from an early age so Bob also conducts lesson on self-assertiveness and self-respect for girls, encouraging them to become responsible and confident women in their adult lives.

Setting up a programme like this in the 80s, when apartheid was still in full swing, takes a lot of courage and fortitude, but Bob sees working with kids as his calling and has always adopted a policy of never turning away a child. The staff in his centre are the first to go hungry if there is a shortage of food, and they sleep on the floor to remind themselves of the hardships their kids have been through when they arrive.

Natalie learning a clapping & chanting game
The kids who we met were absolutely fantastic, they were extremely polite, well spoken, and very open and accepting of us being their, the older ones happily chatted to us, as well as singing for us. While the younger ones (aged around 3 to 7) were thrilled to play with us, be picked up and cuddled as well as ride around on people's shoulders. Pete was adopted by a 5 year old boy who took one awed look at his 6'4'' frame before high fiving him and then insisting on being carried around for the rest of our stay. Pete was absolutely smitten.

Overall, the trip was simply inspiring, these kids come from awful backgrounds, and I was quite worried about how painful it would be to experience an orphanage out here, but Bob raises them with this philosophy of openness, and equality that is absolutely fantastic to see and the kids are absolutely inspirational. We plan to go back and spend more time with them next week.

Monday, 13 August 2012

"It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education." Albert Einstein

What makes a good teacher?

The answer to this question is extremely subjective, while most people agree it is a dynamic teacher, who inspires the children, creates a good learning environment and facilitates learning, views on how these things are achieved are extremely subjective.

In my personal opinion, the key element of being a good teacher is not how well you teach, but how well your students learn. It doesn't matter how exciting and dynamic your lessons are, if at the end of the lesson the kids haven't learned something. Particularly if you move on, under the impression that you having taught this subject is enough for them to have understood it.

I have only seen two lessons being taught at my school since arriving in South Africa. On my first day, I saw the final half hour of a Grade 10 Maths lesson. At the time I thought the lesson was well conducted, it showed signs of planning and the material was detailed. It was actually extremely dispiriting on my first day, as it made me feel extremely doubtful about whether I would actually serve a useful purpose working out here. The following day I taught the same class, only to discover that they were lacking most of the basic skills required to understand the material from the previous lesson, let alone the lesson's actual content.

The second lesson was an English lesson which we were very kindly invited to watch by the teacher. While he was obviously enthusiastic about teaching, I had some major objections to the way the lesson was executed. The learners were studying a short story, by which I mean one girl was put in charge of reading aloud, and she spent the entire lesson doing just that. Sir would occasionally interrupt to clarify what certain words or phrases meant, however, what little discussion of the plot that followed contained glaring inaccuracies (the story involved the protagonist raping a young teenage girl, the teacher told the students she was his wife, despite the fact that the protagonist's wife had appeared in the previous scene and was an older woman). Putting one learner in charge of reading for the whole lesson also allowed the others to zone out for the rest of the lesson.

The teacher in question actually obeys the rule about corporeal punishment not being legal. However, the result was a complete lack of classroom control, with the kids literally running around due to boredom. Since the learners in question were one of my Grade 11 classes, I am very much hoping they do not think that they can behave like this in my classroom.

I am quite aware that as a result of having had brilliant teaches at school, I do have extremely high expectations in the classroom. I also don't think for a second that I am a perfect teacher, I am extremely inexperienced and am having to learn by trial and error. However, both the teachers' failure to attempt to push for understanding and insight, as opposed to simply covering the syllabus and moving on, has been quite difficult for me to watch while out here.


While this is not strictly related to teaching, I had a fantastic conversation with one of my Grade 12s today. Johnson appeared in the staff room to ask for Maths help back in week 1, and occasionally brings me fun Matric paper questions as well as just coming bye to ask how we're doing; he's a really nice guy as well as being extremely academically able.

During a conversation about what he wants to study - he's hoping to go to Varsity to study Chemical Engineering - we got onto the fact that I am not actually studying to be a teacher, but that I'm two years into my Undergraduate Maths degree. This lead to a discussion on what we actually do studying Uni level Maths and how different it is to being at school. As well as the fact that Maths is not just a stagnant subject about which we know all there is to know.

While I don't think I changed Johnson's mind about the fact that Maths is only really good as a tool for other sciences, it was really fun to discuss some of the more recent areas of Maths and it's applications - he was really quite enthusiastic about fractals, after I explained the one on the back of my Maths Society hoody, as well as medical applications of Mathematics.

Above all, it reminded me of how much I am actually enjoying my degree, which is something that I very rarely pause to consider.

(Dear Tanja - if you are reading this, I am terribly sorry, sis. I will attempt to refrain from letting my inner geek out for any future blog posts!)

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Apartheid is exactly where it belongs - in a museum

On Saturday we went to the Apartheid museum in Joburg. It was a trip that came with a good deal of apprehension, as we all expected it to come with rather a large amount of white guilt.

Strangely, the apartheid museum is actually very clinical. For the most part I didn't feel particularly emotionally involved, it was like going to an ancient history museum, where it is quite acceptable to be completely detached from the subject matter.

During the beginning of my gap year, my family went to see Auschwitz in Poland. Visiting Auschwitz is something I would highly recommend, while it is a deeply saddening trip to take, it brings home the realities of Nazi death camps in a way that history books simply cannot. Whether it is the room of human hair, and goods manufactured from it, the little red shoes that you can picture a happy carefree girl wearing one day - only for her to be forced into a labour camp and probably killed, or the sheer scale and efficiency of the place - I do not believe anyone can go to Auschwitz and not feel chilled by the experience.

Museum Entrance
Comparatively, the Apartheid museum left me cold. There were certain elements which struck a cord, particularly the exhibition on how schools were made to teach in Afrikaans and learners were physically unable to gain anything from school, despite their attempts to educate themselves. Thinking about how some of my children were growing up in the final throws of Apartheid left me wanting to go back and take care of them more than ever, the background that they come from is horrific in many ways and I find myself feeling a strong desire to try and protect them, despite the fact that I know this is completely unfeasible.

On an interesting note, I met Colin Sparrow (Head of Maths at Warwick) at the museum. He is currently visiting us in South Africa, since he has been involved with Wawick in Africa since the start of the programme. We had a really interesting conversation about what it has been like to teach here so far, and what kind of training might be useful for people coming out next year. Something that I would particularly like to see an improvement in is help on how to deal with the problems children face outside of school, drugs, underage pregnancy and AIDS are all key features of the kids' lives out here and we need to know how to deal with this. To me, the most chilling statistic is still that a good number of the boys that I teach are likely to be rapists. It's a thought I have to actively surpress when I go into school; I need to continue to see my kids as innocent, or I cannot continue to work with them. There are also issues which do not concern the kids as individuals, such as the aftermath of apartheid, as well as how to deal with some of the sensitive personal questions kids will invariably ask.

I am however extremely surprised, and rather flattered, that the Head of Maths is reading my blog, not to mention the Head of Undergraduate Maths and quite a few members of the Warwick in Africa team. Thank you :).

Hare Krishna

Vijay, who also teaches Maths at Namedi, is the president of Warwick's Hare Krishna society. And, since Friday was Krishna's birthday, he invited the rest of the group to come to a local temple which was celebrating the event.

The event consists of a count down to midnight, during which the congregation chants

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare

at an increasingly fast pace as the night moves on. The words "Krishna" and "Rama" are two names for God, while "Hare" means holy. The effect is initially quite soothing, and after we spent the first hour sitting in the main hall, I have to admit I felt slightly drowsy through the combination of the soothing warmth and the rhythmic chant. During the chanting, members of the temple moved around with purifying candles, which worshipers placed their hands over before touching their heads to cleanse themselves. They them began to wash two of the idols with a mixture of water, milk and fruit. The idols are treated like living beings, and at this point the curtains were closed in order for the idols to be prepared into their festive dress for the night's event.

The Idols
After our first experience of the main hall, we moved back outside and were given food by the temple. The rice and curries we were given were lovely, although it is quite strange to adapt to eating with your hands.

Later, we went back into the temple, and joined the queue to make an offering to the idols. Each person is given a small bowl of dried fruit and nuts, which you offer to the idols, before being handed a small quantity of them for yourself from the priest. You then kneel on the floor and bow to the idols.

At around 11.30, the night began to intensify, worshipers stood up and the chanting became increasingly loud, building into a crescendo until midnight when the idols are displayed in their finery. The detail of the display is extremely impressive, not only are the idols dressed in beautiful silks, but they were surrounded by flowers, ostrich plumes and fresh fruit.

This style of worship is very different to anything I have experienced growing up in a Christian family, which is not strongly religious. My experience of worship in an Anglican Church is a lot more dry, and in some ways less personal. The repetition of a single mantra makes the ceremony into a much more personal experience than what I have seen in my own church.

Personally, I would describe myself as an agnostic, rather than taking the plunge into complete atheism, and my experience at the Temple has not changed that. However, I am honored and grateful for the opportunity to participate in the service, as well as for the warm welcome we were given by the worshipers on what is such a holy day for them. Despite the fact we were obviously unsure of what was going on, people kindly helped us to fit in, explained parts of the ceremony and arranged for us to meet and speak to members of the temple later in our stay. It was a very touching display of openness and acceptance of new people and it was a fantastic experience as well as an honor to take part in the ceremony.

Not White

Thursday night we decided to go out for some after dinner drinks on Seventh Street (a short walk from our guest house). Since Melville is a student area, there's a large variety of bars and clubs quite close to us. The first bar we went to was mainly white, with a quieter non-student clientele. Later in the evening we moved on to a second bar, which had a much more diverse selection of patrons. We spoke to quite a few people, and were generally well received although Harriet did comment that she felt like we were "The shiny white new toys" for quite a few of the men we spoke to.

While this was all good fun, the best part of the night came later. At around midnight, the majority of the group decided they'd had enough and wanted to get back to the guest house. Max, Mathilde, Alex and I decided to move on to a student club near our guest house.

Stones is a typical student bar, a room for dancing, a bar, pool tables and an outside balcony. Our main reason for choosing it was that it was still open at that time of night. I think we all had a moment of doubt as we walked in and found that we were the only non-black people there. We bought drinks and headed out to the balcony where we got talking to some of the local students from the University of Johannesburg, UJ. Despite our initial concerns, people were hugely welcoming and willing to talk to us.

It was a new experience to speak to people who've been through school successfully and are carrying on into higher education. The majority of people we spoke to were from middle class backgrounds, and many had attended white schools. A particularly interesting one was the Med Student who explained to me that despite her black heritage, she saw herself as an Afrikaaner. Given Africa's history, the oppression of Africans by the white Afrikaaners, the Soweto uprising in response to schools teaching only in Afrikaans, it was quite a bizarre notion to both myself and the other black student who she was explaining this to.

There is something quite refreshing about the fact that in South Africa it is acceptable to talk about race, given how inherently different we were to the club's usual visitors, quite a few of the conversations I had turned to the issues to do with race in South Africa. One guy was telling me about how in his family it would no longer be an issue of race, but one of adherence to family tradition and respect. How he would be quite happy to take a white girl home, as long as she was willing to show the proper respect for his parents, to help with cooking and clearing the table, as well as the crucial offer to make tea for his mother.

However, the most interesting moment in the night was when I was talking to someone about the division of races in modern South Africa, and he told me that I'm not white. Because a white girl would never walk into a black club and speak to locals the way I was doing. While I think it was meant as a compliment to me, it was also a hugely sad reflection on South Africa as a country.

On the whole, I had a fantastic night, I met some amazing people - students who renewed my faith in the country's ability to recover from it's ghastly history and move on into a brighter future, through their kind, reception of our group and their willingness to share so much about themselves with us.

The Cradle of Humankind

Our four day weekend has been an extremely busy one, which is why it has been since my last update. Hopefully I'll be back on schedule by the end of this evening though!

After finding out that the theme park trip which was scheduled for Thursday was one we had to pay for ourselves, we decided to go to the Cradle of Humankind instead. The caves at Sterkfontein are where the bones of "Little Foot", described to be half human, half ape are currently being excavated. The skeleton, which is over 3 million years old, is considered a most remarkable find as it is one of the oldest complete pre-human skeletons in existence.

The Sterkfontein caves are pretty, although some of the caves I have visited in Austria have been deeper or contained more exciting formations. The major theme of Sterkfontein seems to be people who've died tragic deaths. The reason Little Foot's skeleton is so beautifully preserved is because he fell into the cave through one of the small holes in its ceiling and proceeded to die of starvation in the cold. There's also a story about one of the divers from Wits University who's rope got cut while exploring underwater caves, and who was unable to find his way out. Six weeks later his body was found in the tunnels, next to a message telling his mother and newly wed wife that he loved them. It strikes me as a particularly lonely and terrifying way to end your life.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Too Little, Too Late.

Yesterday, we received an email from the Warwick in Africa team about behavior management within the classroom, it contained two power point presentations about effective classroom control, positive reinforcement and how to be an assertive teacher.

I have to be honest - too little, too late.

As tomorrow is Women's Day schools will be closed for the day, and of course we couldn't possibly go to school on Friday after having Thursday off. As a result, we're effectively half way through our time in Africa now. Taking into consideration that the majority of us are not trained teachers, and have had very little teaching experience, waiting until half way through the programme to give us any advice on this front is slightly ridiculous. Particularly since the moment for establishing ground rules has been and gone.

In a lot of ways I feel our preparation was inadequate for the experience of traveling to Africa. We weren't given preparation for how to deal with so many of the issues that are key out here. Dealing with naughty children being a classic example. Teaching is hard work, you don't just waltz into a classroom and rattle off a lesson. If that were the case, South Africa wouldn't need us in its schools.

Then there are all the social issues, essentially we were warned not to delve too deeply and be aware that there may be major issues going on with the kids at home. No one told Steph how to respond to the essay from one of her Year 10's about how she was raped by a teacher. We had no advice on how to respond to the fact that half our kids are on drugs, or in gangs. What to say when the kids lashed out at one of us for being white.

Apartheid has left huge scars on South Africa. I was reading an article earlier about a group of black men who murdered the family they were working for, including the eight year old child who witnessed his parents murder. One of the comments was that they could not blame Apartheid for the crimes since the men were only babies when Apartheid ended. How ridiculous. We can't just wipe out the country's history and pretend it's all fine.

The statistics on rape out here have truly horrified me, in Soweto girls are more likely to be raped than to finish school. Every 17 seconds a girl in South Africa is raped. A third of men admit to having been involved in gang rape. Corrective rapes to "cure" lesbianism are popular. And as if all of that wasn't bad enough, there's a common belief that the cure for AIDs is to rape a virgin - and how will you make sure that the girl is a virgin? Choose one that is only a few months old.

I had heard of the issue of child rape as a perceived cure for HIV and AIDs before coming to Africa, but there hasn't been much evidence of it in the western media for the last decade. Naively, I assumed that this might mean that the issue was being resolved. Actually, all this means is that in our usual fickle way, we got bored and moved on to the next celebrity scandal. The issue is as prevalent as it always has been.

Honestly, I am feeling extremely resentful of how little support or preparation we were given for the actual problems we would be facing on a daily basis.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

The Most Lovely Woman Ever

I am dedicating this post to the lady who cleans the building in the guest house that I am staying in. Very sadly, I don't actually know her name. Regardless, she is amazing. Not only does she put up with my constant mess and make my bed for me on a daily basis, as well as having given me double rations of milk for tea - no, she went way above and beyond the call of duty and, having noticed the pile of laundry I've been collecting at the bottom of my wardrobe, she waited until the boss wasn't looking and snuck it downstairs to wash it for me, since she knows that the prices the guesthouse charges are ridiculous and we have to take most of our laundry to a laundromat in town.

I am actually beyond touched by this, aside from the fact that I desperately needed to laundry, it was such an unexpected gesture of kindness and she is my absolutely favorite person ever.

Soweto in the Snow

Yesterday our teachers were complaining that since we got to Africa the weather has been getting colder. Today has been icily cold, I'm been rushing my kids into classrooms and yelling for the doors to be closed quickly all day. When you have no insulation and no central heating, you really can't afford to have cold winds blowing in. At lunch time, it started to snow, the kids were suitably distracted all afternoon. After much begging, I agreed to postpone the test my Grade 11s were supposed to be sitting, on the grounds of, "It's too cold to write without shaking".

Spent the afternoon doing very ad-hock lessons, trying to tie up loose ends and doing consolidation work, as well as discussing why we can't get any colder than 0 kelvin, how there's not much snow in England, my awful pronunciation of the African language and the fact that, no, I don't have any children.

I'm am a bit worried about my kids as about 90% of them don't have coats, and I'm fairly certain almost none of them have warm homes to go back to tonight...

Monday, 6 August 2012

Cape Town

Way back in our first week, Max, Vijay, Sarah, Mathilde and I decided that since this weekend we had no plans we would take a spontaneous trip to Cape Town. Despite my moment of "This was a completely mad idea, what were we thinking?" it was a completely fantastic trip.

We got up at 5am on Saturday morning to take a 7am flight to Cape Town. Once out there we picked up our rental car, ready for Sarah to spend all weekend driving us all over the place. As we landed it was miserable and grey, with the odd bit of rain. Imagine British summer and you've just about got it. By some amazing stroke of luck as we set off to drive down the peninsula, the weather started to clear. We made a handful of stops at seaside towns on our way down.

The first big stop was at Boulder's Coastal Park, the nature reserve for African Penguins. Despite Vijay's complaints that they are really quite boring, they are quite cute. And walking along the paths spotting their nests in the undergrowth is quite cool. That said - baby penguins are exceedingly ugly.

We went on to drive down to Cape Point, before riding up on the funicular to get to the light house - interestingly this is completely useless as it fails to actually light up the sea if the weather is anything less than clear. Still pretty beautiful up there though, with a view of white beaches, deep blue water and the beautiful nature reserve on the headland. On our way back up the peninsula, we drove through a group of baboons hanging around by the road, including some babies. They're really quite cute from inside a car, but apparently they're extremely vicious and have been known to literally tear apart cars.

After a quick stop at the ostrich farm, we made our way up the west side of the peninsula, including an amazing twisty cliffside road with absolutely fantastic views from which we watched the sunset (admittedly it was a bit cloudy at that point, still quite beautiful though).

We then headed back to Kommetjie, the seaside town where my old boarding house parents Patrick and Terri Minny live. The Minnys made us an absolutely amazing dinner including a grilled snook, boerwurst, roast chicken a cake for dessert and a lot of delicious South African wine. It was really lovely to catch up, as I probably haven't seen either of them in at least three years. We could not have had a nicer end to our evening than amazing company and dinner on a veranda which was literally on the beach.

After an overnight stay in a dorm in a backpacker's in Cape Town (including Max and Vijay's fear of falling off the top bunk being so bad that Sarah and I had to swap beds with them, as well as a lot of music and general noise from upstairs) we headed out into Cape Town for the morning. Cape Town couldn't be more different from Johannesburg, it is full of colonial architecture, tourists and, frankly, white people. Many Africans complain that Cape Town isn't actually an African city, and I can see this argument. It reminded me of many of the European cities I've been to, particularly in Italy, more than it made me feel like I was in Africa. Despite this, it is a very beautiful city and the waterfront is lovely. Not to mention all the smaller towns surrounding it. After searching in vain for a flea market near the football stadium, and wondering about the precise meaning of the sign which pointed left, right and straight ahead for the stadium, we made our way to Green Market Square, where Mathilde finally bought her coveted crocodile skin handbag.

As it had been a rather cloudy morning and the mountains were shrouded in mist we were having doubts about the feasibility of climbing Lion's Head Mountain. Table Top Mountain is the highest peak in Cape Town, but the cable car to the top was closed, and besides the clouds up there never cleared. We drove up Signal Hill, another sub peak of Table Top, which was totally misty. Before parking at the bottom of Lion's Head and starting our walk up. In terms of the weather - again we couldn't have been luckier; as we went up, the sun came out and by the time we reached the peak it was glorious. The clouds which began to gather on our descent, and the rain in the evening only served to remind us how lucky we'd been.

I'm going to be honest - I am genuinely so proud of myself for getting to the top of that mountain. It's a "moderately hard" walk, so you spend a good bit of it walking along ledges with steep drops to your side and scrambling up rocks. I did chicken out of climbing up the steep rock face using a chain at one point and went the long way round on the recommended route. I had massive vertigo, not to mention exhaustion by the time I got to the top, but the views were completely fantastic. Expect some extremely sexy photos of me bright red and sweaty on the top!

We finished our trip with dinner on the seafront at Camps Bay, watching the sunset and drinking cocktails to kill time before our flight back.

All in all, it was a fantastic trip with some really lovely people.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Hitler's Granddaughter

Today was not a good day.

I don't know what happened, my lesson with 11F wasn't great but we plodded through the material, but at the end, something just went horribly wrong and the kids decided that, due to the fact I can speak German, I must be related to Hitler. Followed by the suggestion that I should learn Afrikaans, "because that's what all the whites speak to us". Not to mention a barrage of malicious jokes in various African language aimed in my direction.

I tried to keep my act together, and not make a big scene about it but it really hurt. Personally, I have never experienced the hilarious remarks about my Austrian background implying I'm a Nazi, but I know my sister has had this while living in Italy and it's painful at the best of times. Aside from the personal insult and injury through hearing this. I feel like I've lost something major. Before this point I had complaints about the school, the teachers, the slowness with which the kids work - but I didn't have a bad word to say about the children themselves. I've lost that. And it hurts.

Monday, 30 July 2012


Many of you will probably have heard the term Malteaser/Crunchy to describe brunettes who act like dumb blondes. Well, South Africa has it's own rather more sinister version of this - coconut, a black person who acts white.

One of my Year 11's explained to me today, that she and her friends are called snobs, or coconuts, for speaking English amongst themselves. As schools, and more importantly exams, are in English, it's absolutely crucial for the kids to practice since even if you can do the maths, if you can't understand the questions, it's hopeless.

Speaking to our driver, Lewis, later in the day he explained that it's seen as snobbish to speak English to other black Africans, since you are bound to have a traditional language in common and speaking English is seen as giving yourself airs. The trouble is that this includes in-class interaction. The English teacher at my school added that many kids at Namedi are AIDs orphans, living with their grandparents or other relatives and receiving very little emotional support or encouragement to work hard at school work. Obviously, this makes fitting in at school even more crucial.

Sunday, 29 July 2012


I feel really sad right now. I want to go home and it seems like a long way away.

I can't see myself really making a difference for these kids, all I seem to be doing is fighting a losing battle to get them to speak English. They're so far behind with work, and I can't work on catching them up because of the stupid schedule that I'm supposed to stick to. Tempted to ignore it, and, if we get government inspectors, point out that the kids are too far behind for it to matter. Probably end up getting sent home in disgrace.

It looks like we won't be meeting the Alex group for the rest of our excursions, so I probably won't see Thea again either.

I feel really lonely.

Pirates, Chiefs and Pandemonium

Last night our drivers, Lewis and S'bu (pronounced See-bu), took us to the Orlando Pirates v Kaizer Chiefs Carling Black Label Cup football match. These are the two big teams in Johannesburg, and all my kids spent Friday trying to persuade me to support their team.

I'd been told that, in Africa, football is a black peoples sport, and rugby is for the whites; but despite this, I wasn't prepared for the experience of last night. The game took place in the World Cup Stadium, with over 92,000 people attending the match. I'd say we saw about 5 white people who weren't with Warwick in Africa during the entire event.

We arrived early for kick off at 7.30pm, since getting in the stadium is no small feat. As the Alex group came with us there were around 25 people to try and herd into the stadium. As we queued to get into the car park, we were surrounded with busses full of avid fans, screaming, singing and, of course, playing vuvuzelas. Interestingly, these sound slightly less painful in real life than on TV, but still probably not my favorite instrument in history. South Africa is very different to England in terms of football, while we carefully separate our fans to avoid rioting; here, fans are free to mix as they wish. Often groups of friends will go to the game, supporting a mixture of teams. As Lewis explained, "We don't fight, we just laugh as each other."

After parking, we had to try and cross the bridge to the stadium grounds, which was when things began to get hectic, the huge crush of human beings squeezing onto the bridge quickly tore the group apart. My voice is currently gone, and yesterday I was only able to speak in whispers, I had no phone and was quite terrified of getting lost in the throng. I managed to cling to Thea to cross the bridge, but it was unpleasant, being pushed and shoved as everyone was herded together and into the stadium, while the mounted policemen cutting off anybody trying to take short cuts into the stadium. Once over the bridge, we went to find our gate. The group quickly became separated, as people were cut off from those ahead of them by the crowd. The feeling of being alone in a sea of people is always quite terrifying, but when you're totally out of your element, and cannot speak it is extremely unpleasant.

Having finally found the queue, we got to the front to find our tickets needed stamping, so we got back out of the queue and went back to the kiosk to try and resolve this. As the ticket collectors had torn some of them, we had a harrowing wait during which it would be unclear whether these would be stamped. Finally the issue was resolved, only for someone to snatch the final ticket from Lewis as it was being stamped. Lewis ended up sending us in with S'bu, but was only able to see small parts of the match himself.

Once inside, it was no better as we chased around looking for our seats. After rushing up and down stairs, and being hassled by various sketchy characters, including the guy who pushed infront of me, and slipped his hands into both of Natalie's coat pockets, before being gone so quickly that I hadn't even registered what I'd just seen - luckily all he got for his trouble was some dirty tissues. We had more trouble, with people going for the rather expensive cameras that some of the group had naively brought along on the night.

As most of our group had picked up either Pirates or Chiefs shirts, and as, let's face it, we stood out we got quite a lot of attention. For the most part it was enthusiasm, people wanting to know who we were supporting and where we were from. But some attention was nasty, aside from the attempts at theft, we had girls being pulled away from the group by men wanting to photograph them and the general melee made most of us, especially the girls quite uncomfortable.

The match itself was a lot more exciting to watch than I had expected, given that I'm not a particular lover of football. The atmosphere in the stadium was excited and happy, and after the Chiefs scored first, the Pirates (who I was supporting as the guy in front said I should) managed to equalize in about the 95th minute. The Pirates ended up winning the game on penalties - if you care for more info about the game I recommend googling it, as I am not capable of anything more exciting. The only uncomfortable moment was when a fight broke out between two guys a few rows down from us. The crowd around them managed to separate the two, and S'bu said it was probably alcohol fueled, but it was quite scary. The consequences of being a group of mostly white students in the middle of a football riot in South Africa don't really bear thinking about.

Getting out after the match was a little less harrowing, but I think we were still all grateful it was over. The match was a life experience, but not one I necessarily want to repeat.

Pete was absolutely invaluable all night, having tried to keep the group together, staying at the back to make sure no one was left behind and physically pushing one guy away as he went for a camera. He spent the whole night watching over everyone, especially the girls, with the sort of fierce protectiveness that I have never seen in anyone except for my brother. So on the off chance you read this - thank you so much again Pete, it meant so much to me, and all the others there.

Rose Bank Roof Top Market

Today a handful of us went to Rose Bank Roof Top Market, there's a whole group trip there scheduled for later in our stay, but I'm really glad we did go today. Rose Bank is quite touristy, with different sections selling African Arts and Crafts, clothing and food, as well as The Mall and the Zone which has more upmarket Westernised shops.

It's quite overwhelming at first, as there are so many things on sale, and you want to start shopping as soon as you walk in. I was very good though and restrained myself from buying anything until we'd had a good look around. My plan is to go back through and buy gifts and souvenirs when we go back in two weeks.

Aside from from having an amazing lunch of steak sandwich, and an enormous amount of window shopping. We also saw the Soweto Marimba Youth League performing the kids are absolutely amazing and so enthusiastic that I just had to buy their CD. Also proceeds go not only to continuing their work teaching music to kids in underprivileged areas but they also help support other local charities. Music and videos are available on their website - go watch!

Friday, 27 July 2012


Today has been a day of absolutely fantastic food. But to give you a proper appreciation of why this was so amazing, let us take a short trip into the world of food at our guesthouse:
  1. Sandwiches - I am never a particular fan of sandwiches. I am certainly not a fan of sandwiches which are full off cheese, mayo or, you know, cold tinned sweetcorn. So far there has not been a single sandwich I eat, which has worked well for Pete, who is permanently hungry.
  2. No you may not have dietary requirements - The guesthouse has a set menu which has no choices and is often either strangely full of sweetcorn (we think the owner may have shares in a sweetcorn factory), involves burgers containing bananas, or is something several people in the group don't eat. Because she won't "cater to individual tastes" as she has pre-bought food (for six weeks? I hope not!) and, other than Vijay being a vegetarian and Hope's dietary requirements, nobody else's food info came through.
  3. 1100 calories a day - what Hope worked out we were being served everyday. We all wanted to go on a spontaneous six week diet, yes? No, not while teaching and being totally sleep deprived actually.
  4. Don't be Max - after Max has asked for special food not once, but twice (no fish, and could he have his burger in a plain bun)!! He has earned a special place on her list of most hated people ever.
So, after all this, you can imagine that when Vijay forgot his lunch today and we were about to tuck into half a peanut butter sandwich and a shared bag of crisps for lunch, we were absolutely thrilled when it turned out that the African Language teachers (who seem to have decided to adopt us now that we are a fixture in the staff room) brought us lunch. We had vetkoeks (or fat cakes) which are essentially like savory donuts, which you cut open and put a cut of chicken a little bit like Austrian extrawurst except cut about half a centimeter thick and with chili inside it (if you're Vijay and are vegetaria you omit this and fill your fat cake with sugar instead). It is amazingly yummy. Apparently this is an extremely common food for the poorest of people as fat cakes are very cheap to make, they cost about 60 cents (5p) each to buy.

After school we went to an oriental mall, where people were looking to buy football shirts for the match tomorrow. So Jack, Pav, Alex and I wandered off and found a shop selling fresh samosas in batches of 12 for R34 (£2.75)... Amazing.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

You don't need to be scared of us ma'am.

My first diagnostic test was a raging success - mean mark: 11%, taking out the kid who got a whopping 19/43 this left us with a mean of 9%. I've got my work cut out it would seem. So many of the kids have gaping holes in their understanding, they're on schedule with the curriculum but they don't actually have any basic understanding of, well, anything.

Otherwise, my day was relatively quiet, after quiet a busy starter getting the kids ordering themselves by height to do measures of dispersion and such, I ended up talking to them about myself and answering their questions. They want to know everything from where exactly I'm from, to what football team I support (awkward, Man U being the closest thing to team I support since Grandpa likes them), we had: what is teenage pregnancy like in the UK? Substance abuse (massive problem even within the school), Is your hair real? Can we touch it? Your legs are really white, Miss (did you expect me to turn darker half way?) Are you looking for an African husband? Why not? We hope you marry your boyfriend soon! You have the body of a black woman, Miss (hoping this was a compliment).

And finally, why are you so nervous? You don't have to be scared of us. It was somehow heart breakingly sweet, I thought I'd been doing a better job of covering up my general worry about screwing up as a teacher, but obviously they saw straight through that. It just highlighted the difference between here and home. The kind of "Are you scared of me, Miss?" that was asked at Westwood Academy was threatening to say the least, here the kids are actually concerned about us being happy during our stay. I talked to them about how I was really new to teaching - You're 22, ma'am! You look like you're at least 27! - and how it was really important for me to help them as much as I can while I'm here and that I want them to talk to me and work with me to get as much learning done as we can. They were thrilled by this idea.

In general the kids here never cease to surprise me, Mr R who was absent yesterday decided to make an appearance at school (not in my classroom or anything), but had lost the key to his classroom. Losing keys seems to be quite the fashionable thing at Namedi. So I sent one of the boys off to find me a room (which he did long before the staff sorted it out) he then proceeded to go on a hunt for chalk for me to write with, while someone else carried the armful of whiteboards I was lugging around to the classroom for me; when I insisted I was fine, I was told that "This is not how we do things in South Africa."Later, the kids who were on a free period next door was being so noisy it sounded like they were in my own room, someone else went over to get them quiet. And succeeded. It's amazing how much they care, how hard they work, not to mention the look of horror when told that children in England don't want to learn.

I also had my first extra lesson with Mbali (my struggling Grade 10 girl), we're slowly getting to grips with graphs but it's difficult. Turns out Mbali speaks 10 of the 11 official languages here. And she understands the 11th one. It makes me really sad how she's being pushed into doing things that she will most probably fail at when she's obviously a really gifted student.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Exit The Teachers

I decided to split this up into two separate posts, as a) it was getting hideously long and b) I will be writing all about my experiences teaching today in this post so it seemed sensible to give it a post of it's own.

So after feeling quite horrified about the day ahead of me, as well as rather unhappy with how much I was going to be able to help the kids I'm working with and having spent last night planning for 5 hours of teaching, today actually went quite well.

My first class, was a Grade 11 Maths Literacy class. Essentially, over here, the kids who are more able do Pure Maths, while those who struggle to Maths Literacy, which is maths applied to real life situations they may require in later life. In total, I am completely taking over two Grade 11 Pure Maths classes, along with doing three out of five lessons a week with two Grade 11 Maths Lit sets, and a Year 10 Pure Maths class. As we're working by a strict schedule, the advantage here is that I can plan more or less the same lesson for the two pairs of Grade 11s, so that's only three classes to plan for. As expected, the teacher resumed his seat in the back of the class with his Blackberry, so we played a game involving everyone throwing a big foam dice around and then using the data to find the relative frequencies of different numbers, followed by using tables to find probabilities. Weirdly, set E was really enthusiastic but didn't get much done while the second set I took was a bit unwilling but moved through the work at a rate of knots. I ended up teaching them hangman at the end of the lesson; it's not something they've ever heard of before but they're all getting quite into it.

Grade 10 was probably my best class, working on gradients. The got quite into the material and were working well. On a slightly sad note the lesson finished with one of my girls in tears because she wasn't understanding, I'd been working with her at the end of the lesson and we worked out she was really behind, and I'm going to try to teach her graphs from scratch as she currently can't even plot a coordinate. She and her best friend/spokesperson came to find me at lunch time to explain she was upset because her parents were pushing her to do Maths and Physics, which she struggles with, in order to be employable and that since she can't understand she's being teased by the rest of the class. We have a graph learning date in my free tomorrow.

Finally there was Year 11 Pure Maths, the first class did a lot of giggling behind my back, which was a bit off putting. I'm going to have to enforce more English in the classroom. I understand that for many of them the language has nasty connotations, and have been told that furthermore kids who speak in English are accused of giving themselves airs, but too much of what happens in lessons is incomprehensible to me at the moment. The second class was a lot louder than any of the others, which is a good thing in some ways, since the kids generally mumble and are quite unconfident, making it difficult to understand them - working on enunciation and speaking up is a definite plan for the next six weeks. I had quite a lot of trouble with talking from the start, and told them that I expect them to be quiet while I'm talking, as well as to respect each other when answering questions. There was still a fair amount of commotion, which finally escalated while I was righting on the board. I don't know exactly what happened, but from what I understand, one of the girls said something about one of the guys in the class, and he went for her. When I turned around several other boys were holding him back and yelling and there was general commotion. I separated the two of them, then stood in silence until the kids stopped talking, before laying down the ground rules that we will have respect for each other within my classroom, I will not waste my time trying to talk over them and I expect them to show each other the same respect. I told them that if they don't show me that they want to learn, I will refuse to teach them and they actually bucked up considerably. They got a little talky again later, but as soon as I stopped and was silent they got that I was being serious. Anna: 1, Kids: 0.

I also feel a lot better about the impact that I will have over here, actually working with the learners, it's quickly become obvious that they are not actually at the standard they should be. Simple things 1-2= -1 and simplifying 4/8 really threw them. So while they're on schedule, there are several patchy areas which I'm hoping to pick up and work on.

So, you might have noticed that I haven't mentioned what the teachers were doing aside from sitting at the back with Blackberries. Well this is because none of the other teachers showed up today. One was not even in school, meaning that his classroom was locked and I had to hunt for a free room; the other failed to attend our lesson at all. Obviously, the point of the programme is to work with teachers to help them improve their own teaching ability making the project sustainable after we leave; clearly, this will not be happening in my school. While I was warned about this, and am capable of going on on my own, what has impressed me less is that the teachers who's classes I only see some lessons a week actually expect me to set work for the lessons I don't take. The fact that I am a volunteer at this school, teaching 18 hours a week hasn't struck them. Having spoken to Corin, our coordinator about it, my solution is essentially that I have not set work and if challenged, I will point out I'm a volunteer, it's not my capacity and I haven't got time to plan their lessons. Nothing like unpaid holiday for the teaching staff during Warwick in Africa. Also I got into trouble for not coming to take Grade 10 Set B this morning. Which is funny because they're not my class and I wasn't timetabled to take them, so essentially he is just hoping to be completely shot of all his classes for the next six weeks. Not happening. Unlucky.

To sum up - kids, generally amazing, teachers not so much.

Day One

Hi everyone,

Sorry it's taken me so long to post, but the last few days were hectic. We met up in the evening on Saturday at Birmingham Airport, flew out to Dubai (7 hours) and then on to Johannesburg (8 hours) overall this means 24 hours of traveling, half an hour of sleep and catching a cold while I'm at it!

Miraculously we managed not to lose anyone in the airport, and after waving goodbye to the Alex Group, found our buses and drove to the Guest House.

Jean Jean Guesthouse is beautiful, and probably one of the more luxurious places I've stayed. Each room is equipped with a double bed, ensuite bathroom and heater - because Jo'burg gets cold. During the day, in the sunshine it's quite pleasantly temperate, and the teachers at school have been laughing at us for wanting to go outside. However, as soon as the sun sinks it becomes cold, dropping down to maybe 3-5 degrees celsius alarmingly quickly. Also, as we're rather far South, in the winter, sunrise is around maybe 7am and sunset (which is happening as I speak) is rather beautiful but sadly around 5.30pm. The good thing about that is by 10 you feel like it's really late and are ready for bed. Which, if you're getting up at 5.45 in the morning (might be graduating to 6 tomorrow - watch this space), is really rather necessary. I will be posting a whole lot of pictures sometime soon, but as I've, rather stupidly, forgotten my camera lead I will have to borrow an SD card reader from someone, so please bare with me.

Jo'burg from my balcony.
Jo'burg itself is a strange city. Arriving in the dark, the airport reminded me of Italy, the same type of manic driving and somewhat decrepit parking lot, followed by long stretches of motorway with arid grass on the banks beside - for those of you who have been to Malpensa airport, picture this. We drove through the city, which lit up at night time is really quite beautiful.

By day it's a strange mix of beautiful luxury homes, expensive cars with thick brick walls, barbed wire fencing, and guards often quite prominently visible. The drive to Soweto in the morning is maybe half an hour, although by the time we had dropped people off at all the other schools this morning, Vijay and I had been in the bus an hour and a half. Soweto has over a million inhabitants and driving around it we have gotten extremely lost. The South West Township varies between brick buildings with the compulsory barred windows to basic thrown together shacks. In some ways it is sturdier and richer than you would imagine when you consider a township, but even then the area is obviously one of extreme poverty.

The racial divide is clear, expensive cars are predominantly driven by white people while every single pedestrian is black. In my first lesson, one of the kids asked us about the weather in England, when I explained how it's much colder than South Africa, and how we rarely have sunshine, he grinned at me and answered, "So that's why you're so white!" Other Warwick in Africa teachers have had a much harder time of it, and have come home with stories of deep underlying anger and hatred which the kids still hold for white people. Trying not to accidentally cause insult is quite high on everyone's list, generally after you've said or done something really stupid. While explaining the rules of hangman, I had a sudden moment of wondering how appropriate the game was, Pete on the other hand managed to announce "I'll go first, because I'm white" during a game of chess mentally slapping himself in the face. So far, I haven't had much chance to chat to the kids about their lives outside of the maths classroom (other than to tell them that I'm not single, I'm not on facebook and I'm not giving one of them my phone number :S ).

I really regret not updating my blog yesterday, as I feel I would have been able to capture my emotions more purely after my first day. But I will try to recap before I tell you about today. After our first night of, frankly, far too little sleep. We woke up bright and early to go to meet the delegates from Ernst&Young who will be teaching alongside some of us during our stay here. EY are an important addition to the programme, providing more man power, the hopes of continuing our work during the entire year and a massive amount of stationary, whiteboards and pens to take to school. Corin, our on the ground contact met us and talked to us about the ups and downs of being in South Africa, the hardships involved in experiencing such poverty as well as warning us of the crises we are likely to face being frustrated with staff, each other and the importance of trying avoiding "the little seeds of romance blossoming in the Savannah" which are allegedly a key byproduct to working in a stressful environment like this for six weeks.

After this it was off to school, Namedi Secondary School is smaller than I imagined it would be, and actually a better structured building than you would guess using google street view. The school is split into a collection of different blocks, most of which are unlabeled - "We assume people will know where to go" - we met the head of Maths, spent a while discussing timetabling, arguing over how many lessons we would be able to teach (as far as the school is concerned - all of them) as well as being told about the class schedule for our time here. Gauteng Province issues a strict schedule, detailing exactly what should be taught each week for the entire year. This was somewhat disappointing news, as I was hoping to be allowed to structure my lessons according to what I felt the kids needed. Then, after lunch (a banana and some toast I had stolen from breakfast since the Guest House doesn't seem to have received the message that I don't eat cheese and have already nearly killed two people for not having informed them that they don't eat fish in advance, today's sandwich was something to do with sweetcorn, it looked like cheese so it was the second of what I expect to be a great many sandwiches that I am going to donate to Pete), Vijay and I went to observe two lessons with one of the teachers we are working with. We introduced ourselves to the kids but the teacher immediately sat at the back on his Blackberry, giving a fairly clear indication of what his input on our lessons was going to be. The kids seemed to be getting the maths, which was really positive; however, I finished the day feeling rather low about my chances of having a positive impact on either the learners (who seemed to be doing fine) or the teachers (who obviously see this as a paid holiday).

Yesterday evening left me feeling a bit like a tourist, going in to gawp at the poor people living so differently before coming home to my heating and my cushy double bed, rather like a Victorian lady at a freak show full of siamese twins and pygmies.