Another week has passed in a haze of meeting new people, driving blithely at full speed over hidden speedbumps, and a gradually, infinitesimally smaller number of people turning their heads to stare at the white girls in the powder-blue Chevrolet. It gets to midweek before I’ve even realised it’s Monday, and Friday and the weekend seem to creep up on us before we know it. It’s still winter here, but the only clue to this being the case is the adverts on the radio for ‘winter warmer’ deals: it’s absolutely boiling! If this is winter, I don’t think I’d survive the summer.
We haven’t been wasting any time on the work front; we’ve managed to meet with more principals, visit all the volunteers in their school and after-school placements, be introduced to the governing head of one of the schools (in both name and character, he was Magnificent), go into our school placement for a day, set up plans for next week to deliver a skills session in the library, take lots of PR pictures, visit another NGO (shockingly managing not to get lost on the way), and start our research into how we work in primary schools and careers options in Mpumlanaga. Whew. We also had a fantastic meeting (though perhaps meeting isn’t the right word) with Thembi, the owner of the guesthouse where past volunteers have stayed, who has the actual most adorable granddaughter in the whole world. She only knows about two words (‘this’ and ‘go go go go go’), but she seems to understand a lot of what is said to her. She loves doing ‘on your marks, get set, go’ in a race, she’s great at high-fiving, and someone at some point has taught her to blow kisses, to devastatingly cute effect. Something tells me we’ll be finding a lot of excuses to go there over the next five weeks.
Some days here just feel soooo long and tiring, especially with all the driving around, and there are days when by the time we reach the end of the day I am no longer able to form any sort of coherent words and sentententences. But it’s just the kind of work that I really want to do; I love the feeling of having accomplished something by the day’s end, and the end of the weekend doesn’t fill me with dread but excitement. What other job provides the kind of variety we get here: one day being invited to dinner with a tribal chief, the next helping teach a class of Grade 6 students, and the day after that delivering a skills workshop to the staff of a community library?
It’s been good having a day each week when we go into school ourselves, to get our own insight into what the volunteers are doing with their time. This week I was working with the Grade 6 English teacher, who was very open to having assistance from a volunteer, and is full of enthusiasm about the school library. So much so, in fact, that when we were just going into third period, she popped out after setting up the lesson to ‘show Rachel the library’ and, well, didn’t come back. Luckily the kids were very obliging and didn’t seem to mind that it wasn’t their teacher delivering the lesson, but a slightly bemused volunteer. We were also very kindly given “lunch” by the teachers, who had popped out to get KFC on a break (I can’t say lunch without quotation marks when it is eaten at half 9 in the morning). One of my favourite things of the day, though, was helping to sort out the library: I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours moving books between shelves and browsing the variety of titles – not only the full Enid Blyton collection, Huckleberry Finn and George’s Marvellous Medicine, but also that age-old classic, Boyzone: Caught on Camera. Such fun.
The volunteers having been getting on well in their homestays: the boys went to a wedding party last weekend with the family, and got asked about apartheid a lot; the girls went to a market in town on Friday with Clara and bought some nice jewellery (and Clara got us bracelets as presents as well! WHAT A GREAT GAL).
Our SiSwati is not improving very much, despite our considerable contact with native speakers – I bought a SiSwati phrasebook last weekend though, so the intent is there… only the book hasn’t actually left my bag yet. The standard few phrases have served us well though; people are always so pleased (and surprised) when you greet them in SiSwati, and though there’s always a delay of a few seconds whilst we try to remember the appropriate phrase to reply with, it’s always appreciated (and usually laughed at) when we do get there. The security guards and checkout assistants at ShopRite think we’re hilarious.
This weekend we’ve been entertaining ourselves a bit better than last, having disovered that planning is key. We went to an elephant sanctuary on Saturday and got lots of humorous selphies… selephies… basically selfies with elephants. The trainers (ours was introduced to us as Wise Man, no joke) encouraged us to touch the elephants, which was really cool (they really do feel pretend), but it all got a bit too much when he said ‘and now you can touch his nipple…’ We also all got an elephant kiss, which was a lot less cute and more muddy and gross than it sounds – though it did lead to some entirely hilarious photos, so may have been worth it in the end.
Today we headed out to Matsulu with Netto for our first proper South Africa brai. What better to do on a Sunday afternoon than sit around in the sun with beers and a barbecue? Absolutely. Nothing. The peace and relaxation of the afternoon was only slightly marred by the arrival and set up of an enormous speaker system, which then began blasting out house music at full volume, but once your eardrums got adjusted it was easy enough to tune out. We headed back home before dark, but not before we got accosted by the guy who was going to be DJing in the evening, imploring us to stay and ‘play’. We politely declined, and headed back home to Lekazi. Weekend well spent.
It’s a public holiday tomorrow, so an extra day off, score! But really it also means a chance to catch up on paperwork and finalise our plans for tomorrow’s customer service workshop that we’re holding at the Msogwaba community library – pretty exciting stuff! I. Love. My. Job.