Sep 11, 2009

Another update

I've got a bit to catch up on here; I'm sure everyone is breathless with anticipation. I've finally got a day to sit back and use free internet, which is downright heavenly. Next week I should (keep your fingers crossed) have an internet-capable phone and have it hooked up to my computer as a modem so I go online whenever I like, but data is expensive. You don't buy a service like in the US, you buy data bundles, and 1 GB is about $80. It's amazing how far they've come here, though--in Marapyane, about 2 hours from Pretoria, you can get 3G (!). Since they didn't invest much in landlines, they're just going straight for wireless, which makes a lot more sense.

So training is nearly over. Yesterday I had my Setswana language test, which wasn't so bad (apparently it doesn't really matter at all). We've got a couple more sessions, then we swear in on September 17 to start our two-year service. Apparently there's only two months of training, not three as I was told before. Training has been a mixed bag. There have been a few very good sessions, mostly on specific technical things like cellphones and HIV, and a whole lot of awful ones on education. I'm glad that it's about over.

My two-year site was a bit of a disappointment, but I'm reserving final judgment for now. It's a tiny village in Northern Cape, close to the Northwest border. Apparently that bit of Northern Cape used to be part of Northwest, but they sliced it off because everyone was doing their shopping in Kuruman, which is part of NC, and they wanted those tax rands to be going to their own province... It's way out there. The nearest town with amenities is that same Kuruman, about 70 km south, and 40 km of that is lousy gravel roads. The water comes out of the ground and works about 30% of the time, though it does have electricity. Kuruman itself is a delightful little place, with some crazy spring called the "Eye of Kuruman" that has always produced something like 100 million liters of water every day.

Anyway, the school where I'll be teaching is an absolute disaster on first blush. It's an intermediate school, grades R-9 (R = kindergarten) I was there for two school days on a visit last week and there was only 1 hour of teaching done over that time. The first day they had a staff meeting for 4 hours during the day and then screwed off for the rest, and the second day all the teachers but one went to Vryburg in Northwest. The town had kind of Deliverance feel to it ("You ain't from around here, are ya, boy?"), and people kept speaking to me in Afrikaans (the language of the Afrikaners, which was mandated to be taught under the Apartheid regime--it's very close to Dutch). I had about a 10 minute conversation with someone in my town trying to convince her that not only couldn't I speak Afrikaans, I couldn't understand it either. It makes sense, I suppose, as most of these people have never seen a white person who couldn't speak Afrikaans, but it was obnoxious.

Still, I'm going to give it some time. Seems like people would be shy in a town like that, and maybe they'll warm to me after a time. I suppose teaching in a lousy school means that however I do, it'll be an improvement, but I don't want to be flailing in a write-off institution. On the plus side, I do like the area, which is next to the Kalahari. It's semi-desert, flattish, mostly a pastoralist place. I can walk for five minutes and be out in the bush (or as my language teacher Charles calls it, the bOOOsh). Everyone has goats, sheep, donkeys, horses, chickens (I now go to bed at 8 because the roosters wake me up at 4 without fail), and apparently a horse is the thing to have for getting around. Who knows, maybe I'll get one to see if they're as bad as everyone always said they are. My host family was quite welcoming, though they do drink a lot. Only beer though, not like stumbling whiskey-drunk.

I would have thought that everyone would have bikes, and some do, but I don't think the culture of bikes and repair shops have really developed like in Vietnam.

In any case, if it turns out to be truly awful, I can be moved to another backup site. Nearly every other volunteer was much more positive about their site than me (and I don't think it's just me being negative). I'll give it a month and see how it goes.

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