Last weekend proved a serious case study in how to do nothing and enjoy it. We headed back to our favourite place, Nelspruit Backpackers, and were welcomed back like relatives. We quite happily sat around all day in their garden, playing with the dogs, sunbathing, reading, and using their sweet, sweet wifi. We just about roused ourselves in the afternoon to traipse round the botanical gardens, which were very lovely but quite literally a bit dampened by the fact that it had begun to rain a bit (trust our luck!). We were given the number of the dubious sounding taxi-man Antonio as transport, who had seemingly failed to understand that when Billy told him there were six of us, he meant that there were six of us, and was only mildly bothered when he showed up in his 5-seater car. We all duly piled in anyway, with April pretty much just bracing herself in the middle against all the people and the front seats, with nothing to actually sit on. After the gardens we went out for dinner together and then headed back to the hostel with our pal Antonio, swiftly stopping off at a shabeen (like a bar) in the dodgy downtown area to buy beers as all the shops had shut. We chilled out for the rest of the evening, playing cards and scrabble and drinking those long-awaited beers (which made me so happy even if James, with his dodgy taste, had got us Carling black label). It was pretty great.
Fast forward to today and it’s the end of week 1 of project, with the volunteers having been released into the wild.
They have just had their first week in their placements, and are all breathing a sigh of relief and having an extensive and well-deserved lie in. It’s been a real challenge for them, going into their assigned primary schools, and trying to establish themselves as teaching assistants, when that role as a concept doesn’t particularly exist in South Africa. But they’ve all persisted, shown themselves to be willing and able to help, and every single one of them has made progress this week. Apart from a few minor wobbles (such as Billy having to hurriedly text April to ask what was vertical and what was horizontal), it’s by and large been a success.
The schedule of the school day has been a bit of an obstacle in some ways: waking up before 6 to be in school around 7, having lunch served around half 9 and the school day over by 2 o’clock. It has left them knackered and wanting an afternoon nap when they arrive back home, like old ladies (or uni students). Both pairs are thoroughly enjoying their homestays: Lindiwe seems to love having the boys around to add to her large family, also made up exclusively of boys (there are all sorts in and around her house: sons, uncles, grandchildren, it’s all very confusing), and will pretty much do anything for them provided they get her some chocolate (with no regard for her diabetes…). Whenever we’ve gone round to the house to pick the boys up for training or to pay the homestay expenses for the week, there’s always a bodyguard stood solemnly outside, a family member or neighbour, so it feels very safe. This week we also met Thando, the youngest grandchild, who at two and a half is already adept at terrorising adults – last week apparently he threw somebody’s mobile phone in the fire, very much to his delight. Adorable, but dangerous.
As to Clara, every time we go round to see her and the girls, she greets us with a beatific smile, and rarely lets us leave without showing us some new project she’s working on in her garden, or a gift of vegetables to give to Toockey. We love her. She refers to Tabi and April as her children, and seems to treat them as such, so again they seem very happy and settled there (and the guesthouse is just so lovely).
As for us, we’re getting on just fine as well – the days are still long, because we often can’t resist getting more work done after we’ve come back into the house when the daylight hours are over, so we’ve sometimes filled our early evenings with writing evaluations and filling in the budget for the day, though we make sure never to miss our daily fill of Come Dine With Me. We’ve also now discovered that there is a daily episode of Friends on the Sony channel, and if that isn’t enough to cheer you up after a long and mildly stressful day, then I don’t know what is.
We’ve been making sure to start our day at roughly the same time as the volunteers (or else we would feel guilty!), but they are much less structured than theirs. Some days we start out with paperwork (oh the joy of risk assessments), then we might ring up some important people to arrange meetings for later on in the week, before driving out to visit schools or non-formal placements, our partner organisation ORT or a local NGO. This week we met with people at the Department of Education, which is not a sentence I ever thought I would say, and they were so incredibly lovely and supportive of the project and what we do, I was struck again by what a genuinely good organisation Tenteleni is. For the people who set the curriculum in schools to be so fully behind a UK-organised project is a pretty big deal, and it just shows the progress that has been made over the last 16 years. It’s a pretty great thing to be a part of!
Yesterday we went into town in the morning, to sit in our favourite place (the Mugg and Bean café next to the Spar shop, which has wifi and bottomless coffees), to send some emails without fear of using up all our data, to write evaluation material up, and to look at the project development plan. Also to relax a bit. Unfortunately, our relaxation was cut cruelly short, by the discovery that not only was the toilet out of order, but the water for the entire complex was cut off, so no toilets for anyone. We thus embarked on a desperate quest for a place to relieve ourselves (cursing the Mugg and Bean bottomless coffees), ending up at the Riverside Mall and praising all the gods for well-maintained shopping facilities.
Our relaxing morning thus cut short, we quickly popped in to Vodacom to buy some more data for our dongle (we’ve barely used an internet café since USBgate), and with that we headed back to KaNyamazane to finish off our errands for the day, reimbursing and paying various people. By our working standards, we’d practically begun the weekend early, only waking up at 7 and finishing work by 4.
This weekend looks set to be a very low-key affair, staying mostly in and around the community. We’re set to go round to the boys’ homestay later and watch the football, but first off to Kapschehoop for a taste of freedom (and probably some more of those delicious scones we had last time). Tomorrow we’re bracing ourselves for another go at church, which should be an interesting venture, and we might even see if we can squeeze in another cinema trip at some point as well (I can’t get enough of the cinema here! And at £2 a go it’s not exactly surprising).
So the weeks are passing swiftly and enjoyably, and it’s all looking good. Who knows what the next two months will bring!