The weekend after school went back we spent all our time covering school books – there are 50 school age children, and an average of 15 books per child. All books have to be covered in paper, then plastic. We taught the older kids to cover their own, then the secondary kids helped the adults cover the younger ones books. It took ages!
Now I am settled back into the normal routine; long days and teaching again. School days often begin at 6am when I assist some children to help finish homework or get something from the classroom for them before breakfast. During the day I have lessons to plan, training programs to prepare – I continue to train Lilly in the Crèche, and I am starting to train Gregory (who had some teacher training many years ago) in primary teaching this year. I am also researching and preparing a document on behaviour management and discipline for the Centre, as well as getting the educational files for each child up to date for their new grades. Then when the children come home from school it’s teaching and homework from 3pm to 8.30pm (with an hour break for tea). It’s really busy, but at least on the weekends I get it a bit easier because I only do a morning and afternoon session each day.
One day I cooked a bread and butter pudding for the local workers, took it over to where they all have lunch and they shared their pap with morogo (like spinach) and I shared the pudding. Because they sometimes cook food for me, I had promised to cook some different things for them. Well they liked it and asked for the recipe, which I gave them, but many can’t read English. A few of them asked if I could show them, so last Thursday I had them over to our place, and gave a cooking demonstration! They brought their lunch with them but most were too embarrassed to eat because they use their fingers, and they were in a white person’s house – where none of them have ever been before. I said sometime soon I will prepare a lunch for them. One lady asked if we could use knives and forks, but then a few others said no, because they haven’t used them before and might be embarrassed. So I said I would provide different foods, some to eat with utensils and some to eat with fingers, and they could choose.
Then some of them tried to wash the glasses but we said no, we’ll do it. And two of them said it’s our job to clean for you. It took a while for us to explain they were our guests, and we would never expect them to clean up after us. Once they understood that was not our expectation they were all beaming. When they left they made comments like how exciting it was, how it was the first-time they’d been invited to a white persons house, that no one has ever cooked for them before, how kind we were, etc. It is humbling to realise that it is the simplest of things that can make such a difference. Under the apartheid rule they were given very little respect or consideration, and that is still reflected in their attitudes and views on many aspects of life.
Fran Hewitt, a teacher from Hobart, is volunteering at Holy Family in South Africa, supported by Palms Australia, the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (OLSH) and AusAID.