Athlone, South Africa: I’m Back :)

Q: How is it like being back in South Africa?

A: I honestly feel like I never left. Everything just feels familiar, almost normal, like home. I think what is helping me with such a smooth transition is that I am staying with a family I met last year during my study abroad experience and they have treated me like one of their own.

Home Stay Family Braai

Q: How would you describe your home and mode of transport?

A: I am currently living in Maitland, which is a low-income urban city that predominantly consists of coloured people. (Coloured is a term used here to mean people of mixed race.) It’s a relatively safe neighborhood as compared to others found in Cape Town (such as Manenburg or Langa), but there are places in Maitland that even my home stay family would not catch themselves taking a walk through.

To get to St. Rapheal’s every day, I either get a ride from my home stay mom from last year or I take Uber. So far I have been very fortunate that my home stay mom from last year, Auntie Carol, has offered to give me a lift during my stay. She picks me up every morning around 7:30 am and during my short 15 minute ride we take the time to catch up and talk about current events in both the States and South Africa. Again, this is another factor as to why my transition has been so smooth. Seeing familiar faces has made me feel more comfortable during my here. Furthermore, if Auntie Carol is busy, I simply can call an Uber to the school. 

(As a side note, I have talked to some of my drivers and many of them are from Nigeria,  Zimbabwe, or Malawi because they came to South Africa to look for jobs and better opportunities. However, I have also talked to locals and there is a lot of Xenophobia towards these “foreigners” because they claim that these people from other African countries are pushing them out of their homes and jobs. Hmmm sounds familiar…)

St. Raphael’s RC Primary School Entrance

Q: What’s it like volunteering at Saint Raphael’s so far?

A: Nothing like I expected.

On the positive note, when I first walked onto the school’s campus, I was shocked and so happy to find that a lot of my students from last year remembered me. Some kids had their mouths open when they saw me and then they asked, “Jessica? Is that you, now?” And then they would all run up to me and give me a hug. That certainly made me happy.

However, once I was introduced to the faculty/staff and partnered with a Grade 7 teacher, they immediately went to work, and it started off with some sad news. The mother of a teacher at the school had passed away over the weekend. The principal shared a prayer with the staff and then she encouraged them to give their support to the teacher. She repetitively said to them all that everyone at St. Raphael’s is family and that they must support someone in the family when they are in great need. This was a beautiful moment indeed.

Then, class began, and wow. As they would say in Cape Town, “Yoh, it was hectic.” The kids could not be controlled. They were out of their seats, talking to their classmates while the teacher tried to go through his lesson, and they even gave him back-talk when he tried to scold them. All I could do was just watch. The teacher apologized later to me and said that they like to “perform” when there is a visitor in the classroom, which I can understand, but this was extreme. I felt bad for both the students and the teacher because this misbehavior was interrupting their learning opportunities.

Thankfully, as the week progressed, the class has gotten used to my presence and were more well-mannered/ respectful. Additionally, the teacher has given me opportunities to lead class lessons, as well as incorporate new activities. For instance, on Tuesday, members of Parliament were having the first ever secret ballot to see if they could kick out President Jacob Zuma and dissolve his cabinet. This was BIG news in South Africa, so I wanted to hear the students’ thoughts on this. Therefore I assigned them free writing activity, where they had to argue whether or not Jacob Zuma should stay or go. And the answers were interesting. I cannot share them due to privacy issues, but it was an activity that the students enjoyed. Also the teacher and I have plans to do more free writing activities about current events in the future.

Overall, I’m excited to see the students grow as learners and I’m interested how J can push myself to be a better teacher.

(Side note, Jacob Zuma survived the vote. He will continue to be the president. If he had lost, then he would have had to immediately leave the office and his entire cabinet would be dissolved, which would have caused chaos in Cape Town, both happy and destructive. Then, the Speaker of Assembly would have stepped in as the temporary president for 30 days, until Parliament could choose a new president.)

After-care shenanigans

Q: What public holiday was celebrated on August 9th?

A: On Wednesday, August 9th, South Africa celebrated Women’s Day, which commemorates the 1956 march of approximately 20, 000 women in Pretoria to petition against the country’s laws that required South Africans defined as “black” under The Population Registration Act to carry an internal passport, known as a pass, that served to maintain population segregation, control urbanisation, and manage migrant labor during the apartheid era.

The school did something special to celebrate the day, particularly the male teachers did something special for the ladies. All of the 8 male teachers got together and created a small party for the female teachers in the school’s library. They  said a few prayers to the women and then they acted as our servers, passing around delicious samosas and chili poppers and filling up our cups of tea and coffee. They were even offering free shoulder massages! It was such a cute surprise that had all 30 or so women impressed.

Selfie time đŸ™‚

Other interesting notes…

  • Most of the students are coloured/black and can also speak IsiXhosa, and most of the teachers are coloured and can also speak Afrikaans. I find this interesting because the students prefer to speak IsiXhosa to their classmates rather than English. Also the teachers prefer to speak Afrikaans to each other. However, in class, everyone is being taught in English. The diversity of languages here is beautiful. I have even heard some Portuguese spoken by students from Zimbabwe (which used to be colonized by Portugal). At the same time, I find it sad that there lacks racial diversity in the classroom and in the teaching staff. I understand Athlone is a predominantly low-income, coloured/black community, which shows in the student population. However I find it interesting that there is only one or two black teachers, and no white students or staff.
  • Many students do not know where the United States is located. They have heard of the States, but many of them do not know where it is in the world. One reason may be that there are no world maps in the classrooms due to low funding. Also they do not have access to the internet so they never had the chance to look it up. Once I showed them, however, they were shocked by how far I traveled to be with them. 

Stay tune for more updates!

– Jessica Lew-Munoz

Devil’s Peak

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