Thursday, February 21, 2008


The last two days have been pretty eventful and super hot! Yesterday during our WAC course we got a tour of campus by a woman from a museum on campus. She told us a lot about the historical context of Rhodes, which was interesting. The main building on campus (the clock tower) was a military base in the 19th century. We learned that part of campus was a military prison and another building was a military hospital. She also pointed out some buildings in town that are historically significant. That was interesting.

After the tour Grace and had dinner with Jason to talk about volunteering. It was a great dinner. He took us to Gino's, an Italian restaurant in town, and surprisingly a restaurant we haven't been to yet! We all got pizza and talked briefly about volunteering then we just vented about the huge differences between America and South Africa. We all appreciate the culture here, but a lot of things that take place here could NEVER happen in the States, and for good reason. Power cuts, brown water, and poor service would never be tolerated at home and it's hard to put that behind us and deal with the situation here. It's easy to get worked up by everything. Right now my biggest woe is no air conditioning. It is so hot. I don't think I've ever been this hot before indoors. It's inescapable, which is something that doesn't exist at home. You can always find AC. This conversation led to us teaching Jason about our secret phrase, "T.I.A." It's from Blood Diamond. It stands for, "this is Africa," and it's the perfect phrase to mutter when anything goes wrong. Power's out? TIA. It's 91 degrees with no AC? TIA. It's genius.

Jason offered to bring us to Amasango (the street school) to see the school and meet the kids, so we went this morning. The walk is mostly down High Street, but on the other side of the Cathedral things get a little shady. The school is behind a set of railroad tracks and this morning the tracks were sprinkled with people walking from the township to work, or into town. It was really interesting scene, I hope to get a picture next time. We had to be let into a locked gate and immediately we were greeted by the students. Many of the boys were from the shelter that we visited last week. They were all very sweet and introduced themselves to us. Jason took us around to the classrooms and to meet the teachers. The teachers were all very kind and welcoming. The classrooms, on the other hand, were a lot to handle. In one room the chalkboard had a big gash in the middle of it. The board was just missing. Many of the desks are broken and the chairs are uncomfortable and not sturdy. I didn't see textbooks or supplies. Meanwhile, I recall complaining in high school about there not being enough room in the hallway, or not having a copy of The Great Gatsby. Things like this would never be a concern here. For one, Grace and I spent a little time reading with two boys ages 16 and 17 (the age when we're taught The Great Gatsby) who read at a 6th grade level. These two boys were out of a handful of boys in the 6th grade classroom. Jason asked them who wanted to read before Grace and I left and they raised their hands. While the rest of the class sat back fooling around these boys read to us from a book of Nelson Mandela's stories. It was really eye-opening. Jason also took us to the art room, which was surprisingly the nicest classroom of all (something that definitely wouldn't be the case in America). There were ceramic projects everywhere. The school has a kiln and the kids get to work a lot with clay. I was very excited to see this. I'm going to work on painting and drawing with them, so it should be a little bit of a change for them, but hopefully still exciting. We also got to see the kitchen, where breakfast was not being served today because of a lack of food. This made my stomach turn. When we left the kids waved from all of the classrooms that we passed. It was a nice goodbye.

Jason walked us back a few blocks, until we reached a nicer area. As he was turning to leave he ran into one the boys he used to work with, Mango. Mango is a troublesome boy who has been known to be very violent. Grace and I kept walking as Jason talked to Mango. On the way back to campus we stopped for muffins at a bakery and Mango came in behind us. As I paid our 15 rand (approximately $2) bill for our muffins and water I noticed Mango at the other end of the counter begging for yesterday's leftovers. I offered to buy him a fresh roll and he gladly accepted and chose a roll that cost 80 South African cents (or less than 10 American cents). Mango thanked me and left the bakery. He went outside to share the roll with a friend. As we walked away we marveled at the fact that the kids at the school were not served breakfast, meanwhile that roll cost me less that 10 cents. It's a sad concept. There are many street children begging in front of popular spots in town all day, every day. They all ask for money for food or for a drink, but we've all been made well aware that this money goes to drugs. However, unlike in the States where we have this problem, these kids openly accept food. Last night at dinner I didn't eat my pizza crust. When the waiter came to clear my plate Jason had him wrap it. I then gave it to a kid on the way home. I couldn't believe I was giving this poor child the scraps of my food. It felt so degrading, but the two kids I gave them to were so happy to have them.

This evening we were treated to a trip to the bell tower in the St. Michael and St. George Cathedral in the center of town. The husband of the woman from the museum who took us on the tour of campus is the bell ringer so we got to attend a ringing. It was really cool. The view was beautiful. Grace and I may go back on Monday to start taking lessons and in a month we'll be able to ring the bells which would be something pretty exciting to tell. I believe he said that they are the oldest bells in Africa. It looked like fun and it's something to do! I love the cathedral. I think it's so beautiful. Even though I'm not religious I would like to attend church in it just once because it's so big inside and it's difficult to imagine how a service is run.

Tomorrow morning after classes Grace and I are taking a cab to the township high school to see Jason's English class. He teaches there twice a week and he says it's a big contrast from Amasango. The children there aren't violent and are there to learn, he says. That will be exciting. We haven't really seen the township too much.