So I was down for awhile, I apologize if you thought I was dead or something. The truth is that my internet phone went down hard about two weeks ago and I’ve been waiting for it to be fixed. Apparently the volume up and power button are all part of the same little plastic widget which has a critical connector running through a 1/8’’ of ethereal plastic, and when that breaks, both buttons are kaput. Anywho, it’s fixed now, though you might want to steer clear of the Nokia 3600 slide (though about half the volunteers in our group bought one, and mine is the only one that’s broken so far).
So I recently attended a peace corps training in Mpumalanga. In typical fashion the training was scheduled for the second week of school, though we are all working in the schools in some way. They assure us this won’t happen again. The training itself was actually pretty fun. Though I felt bad for leaving the school, it was hard to muster up too much guilt. Seeing the whole group together again was a lot of fun, though people seemed to gossip pretty hard. One more volunteer had left for home, but according to Peace Corps we’re doing extremely well compared to the average. Cooler people than me organized a couple theme parties (including a “Peace Corps prom”) that were way cooler than I thought they were going to be.
The training sessions themselves were the same mediocre Peace Corps crap I’ve come to expect here. It was terribly hot, but I didn’t mind them too much as I usually brought a book or nodded off. One of the better ideas was to allow those of us that wanted to visit our old host family back in Marapyane. Unfortunately mine was not there, but it was still interesting to hang out with some friends’ family and see how the place had changed. I’m glad to be in Northern Cape—Mpumalanga is really humid. I can take that desert heat a lot better.
After the training we headed back to our villages. I couldn’t really feel like I had settled in after vacation, as the training was only a couple weeks later, but now I feel like I’m starting to get the hang of it again. I had my birthday ten days ago (thanks to people that sent me birthday emails). I didn’t have a party or anything, but it was still a pretty good time. I got to meet some friends in town, plus my kids sang me Happy Birthday in Setswana and English. Having a summer birthday was unsettling in a deep way, especially since the US seems to be getting hammered everywhere with record snowfall.
I’m still hobbling along with my teaching. My reward pathway program was a partial success, but not as much as I hoped because the same 5-10 kids tend to get all the goodies, while the rest just will not shut the hell up. I’ve started a new policy of holding exceptionally noisy kids after class. This works surprisingly well, because I write their name on the board (and give them checks if they keep it up) and they hate that. A weapon to threaten them with is great (that isn’t hitting them, anyway).
I have to admit I’m sorely tempted sometimes to just smack the kids like the rest of the teachers do—it works like a charm! Other volunteers seem strongly affected by corporal punishment, but it doesn’t really bother me. I suppose that makes me a bad person. Joking aside, I would describe the corporal punishment in my school as roughly equivalent to a childhood spanking--I don't think I could be so cavalier about real thrashings. No long-term damage and certainly nothing anywhere close to the torture practiced under Bantu Education (or still in some places today). It’s usually an eraser on an upturned hand or a switch across the knuckles. No bleeding through three pairs of pants. I do realize (in fact, I’ve seen) how hitting the kids doesn’t help their learning one iota, and in fact breeds resentment and anger. But no learning is happening when 27 kids are screaming at each other at the top of their lungs either, and howling prepubescent voices just put me in a homicidal mood. (I’m going to make a great father.)
I hear the US is buried under thirty feet of snow or something. Hope everyone has got power and heat.