Catherine in South Africa

Friday, June 11, 2010


While no one has been able to give me an accurate definition of this word, "ayoba", I've figured out that it means something good. It's either said while laughing, smiling, or dancing. I think it's one step above "sharp" (another word I can't accurately define). For the last couple of weeks during assembly at Kwasa we've said it, sang it, and danced with it. When asked who will win the World Cup the kids scream "BAFANA BAFANA!!!" It's been lots of fun and even I have become intrigued with this whole World Cup thing.

Sadly, Kwasa broke up for the holidays on Wednesday. For the kids it was much like a normal day except everyone who had a Bafana shirt wore it. For me it was a day spent with just as much hugging and laughter with the addition of fighting back tears. While I'll see some of the kids again at church or on one of Kwasa's Fun Days to be had over the break, I won't see them all together in the same way. Those of you who have been here or have done something similar know how difficult it is to say goodbye to all of what a place like Kwasa is and represents.

I hope to talk more about that, but since it's 7:30 in the morning and the vuvuzelas are already blowing outside my flat (it's been my alarm clock for two days now), I think I'll turn my attention back on the World Cup....

The teachers spoke often about how South Africa will win the World Cup. I'm not sure if they were joking or not because statistically Bafana Bafana is not the favorite. But you wouldn't know it if you were here right now. Flags are everywhere, hawkers are selling vuvuzelas, t-shirts, and hats with horns on them. I don't have a TV, but every commercial I've come across has been about soccer. Schools that are normally very strict with uniforms and dress codes have allowed kids to wear South African paraphernalia on Fridays.

Someone told me that if Bafana Bafana wins, it won't be because they are more talented than another team. It will be because of the overwhelming support given to them by their fans and their country. It will be because people believe in them. People are praying for them. People have saved their money for months to buy a ticket, or more realistically a shirt.

Isn't that sort of how life works? People don't normally become successful on their own. They need support and love. At first I applied that to the Kwasa kids who are learning and playing and eating in a safe and loving and nurturing environment. It is the hope that many of these kids, with support, will be able to choose their future and use their gifts and talents to help themselves and the world around them. Quickly I extended this to me. And to pretty much everyone I know. Very few people can say they've become who they are without the support of others. So, the South African soccer team? I suppose stranger things have happened.

This is an excerpt from the LA Times....

Everyone is backing the Bafana Bafana. Even dead people are picking the South African soccer team to win its first match Friday with Mexico.

The Sowetan newspaper asked leaders in a variety of religious traditions their opinions on the World Cup opener and they all picked the home team to win. But none were as strong in their conviction as the township sangomas.

Sangomas practice herbal medicine, divination and counseling and their philosophy is based on a belief in ancestral spirits. And the spirits are calling for an upset.

"I see Bafana winning their first game 4-0," Nomusa Magwaza, a sangoma from Green Village in Soweto told the newspaper. "They will win all their group matches until they reach the quarterfinals. But that is where their journey will end."

Who can argue with that? So I think now I need to put on my green jersey and find a TV and watch this match with the rest of South Africa.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"A Child Reminds Us..."

"...that playtime is an essential part of our daily routine." -Emerson

As summer is winding down, and fall is quickly approaching, it’s also apparent that routine is very much part of my life here in South Africa. It’s kind of strange to take a step back and realize I say “petrol station” instead of “gas station” without thinking twice, or that I know Thursdays are the best days to buy fruit at the Spar, or that while Kenneth (my neighbor and the gardener) has not changed his absurd habit of waking up at 4 in the morning, I can now sleep through the noise.

I’m enjoying feeling part of the community. Not just a visitor. I LIVE here! While I’m all for the next adventure, I actually find comfort in this routine. It’s so fun to spend day after day with the kids, especially those in after care. Since I’ve been here, I’ve been able to learn their strengths and weaknesses as well as set goals with them. The sticker chart for the fourth graders is working quite well! We’re learning a lot from each other. The kids had to learn the hard way that cheating is just like lying. Unfortunately, a few of them did not get stickers today. You can be sure I got some mean looks when it was time to go home! Patience will always be a virtue I can continue to learn and sometimes the kids are so happy to help me practice!

Some things we have learned in the last few weeks: how to make a homemade volcano, the funky chicken dance, and how to write a proper letter (well, that part is still a work in progress).

Now that the newness is in a sense behind me, I feel like I’m really understanding how I fit into life here. I’ve been so blessed to LIVE in the greatest places in the world: Roper, NC, Camp Kanuga, Sewanee, and now Springs, South Africa. The next few months of my life are sure to be incredible and unforgettable as they are sure to be filled with new adventures, experiences, and playtime.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

After Two Months of Blog Slacking....

Christmas and the surrounding traditions, fun, and obligations surrounding it was fantastic. While I honestly didn't want to leave Sunny South Africa and the Kwasa kids, I was very excited to see my family and friends. I got to see family whom I haven't seen in years, watch a movie in 3D, eat mom's spaghetti, and see some of the most wonderful friends in the whole entire world. It was wonderful to end my "vacation" at St. John's and listen to and attempt to answer great and thoughtful questions from the Church School. (By the way, the kids LOVE their pen pal letters and we're working on responding!)

Immediately after landing in Johannesburg, I hopped on another flight to Cape Town. The next four days were so fun! It was gorgeous and warm (the antithesis of Atlanta and DC when I left them) and a great way to reenter the country. Meghan, a friend from here, was my travel companion and she graciously allowed me to be a tourist (hopefully I wasn't the obnoxious kind). We rode the cable car to the top of Table Mountain (I want to hike it next time), visited Robben Island, rode on a sunset cruise, ate Cape Malay food, and went on a wine tour while riding bike (the highlight of the trip for me).

Just as exciting was returning to Springs and work. I had convinced myself that all of the kids had forgotten about me and would have no recollection of my being there. Fortunately, I was met by dozens of smiles and hugs my first day back to After Care. The kids in the Pre Primary school weren't sure what to think of me at first since they are a totally new class. We're slowly getting there.

More to come soon. There is a mosquito buzzing around me and it's much quicker than my flip flop.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Slow Down. Be Still. It's Advent.

Jesus is coming! Jesus is coming! I say this with the same excitement as Steve Martin in "The Jerk" when the new phone books arrive. The season of Advent is one of my favorites for lots of reasons. 1. Purple 2. No more Pentecost 3. More candles in church 4. Lessons and Carols 5. Advent Hymns 6. Preparation for Christmas

Today was the first of two Kwasa Christmas Concert performances. I wish you all could have been there to watch. Luckily for you, I have pictures. It was great to see parents, grandparents, and other care takers there supporting their child - everyone was so proud! Tomorrow is the last show and at the end, the grade Rs will receive their graduation certificates. I will be sad to see them go because that's the class I've been working with, but I'm so excited for what lies ahead of them!

Things are slowing down and speeding up simultaneously. It's strange to think that in less than two weeks, I'll be in America. I've only been here a couple of months! Time has definitely flown by. The schools have stopped giving homework, so after care has been more fun and games and less maths and reading. One of the highlights of my week was toy shopping for 150 kids with Sharron. Toys are great. Sharron is great. Kids are great. So obviously I had fun picking out trucks and pens and play dough.

Something you might find funny:
As we were driving to the zoo, we passed Carnival City (a casino). When the kids saw it, they all shouted "Father Christmas! Father Christmas!" I asked them why, and they told me because that's where Father Christmas lives. Who knew? Santa has to make his money somehow I suppose.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

It's All Happening at the Zoo...

Friday, for work, I got to chaperone 19 six year olds at the Johannesburg Zoo. It's a tough life.

Seriously though, I love LOVE the zoo. Aside from the normal excitement, uncontrollable grinning, and need to see everything, my joy was heightened each time I looked at one of the grade Rs; it was their very first visit to the zoo and they'd been thinking about it for over a week.

A company (I don't remember the name) donated money for each child to go to the zoo, have lunch, a snack, and a christmas present. And they needed adults to go along. (I'm an adult!)

We got to see two elephants, a hippopotamus, crocodiles, zebras, lions, monkeys, tigers, snakes, polar bears, and others. The monkeys were the biggest hit. There was one chimpanzee that sat against the glass and allowed the kids to have their picture taken (see facebook for visual aid). I felt sorry for the polar bear. It was out in the heat and surely it was uncomfortable. I was glad though that the kids were able to see it. I will show them where the North Pole is on Monday.

Another fun part of the day was the kiddie rides. The zoo had the kind of rides you would find at a county fair, and one of the men from the donating company gave us enough money for each child to have two rides. Not only were they experiencing the zoo for the first time, but also theme parks (sort of). Even Sesi, the teacher's assistant for grade R, got to ride for the first time. She screamed much louder than the kids which was amusing.

At the end of the day, we all hopped on the bus and a good number of the kids were fast asleep before we left the parking lot. What a great day.

Kwasa Break-In Numero Dos

Earlier in the week, Kwasa was victim to another robbery. It was a bigger break-in this time. Windows broken, computers stolen, and pots and pans taken from the kitchen were among the missing. It's so frustrating, because people work so hard to provide things for this community and it can so quickly disappear. It was also a little frightening to see that the security bars on the windows were bent so that a person could crawl through; I imagined them being a little sturdier. Since the pots and pans were MIA, the kids could only have one meal for two days: bread. No pap or soup.
However, by the end of the week, the culprits were found. I'm not sure what's happening at this stage, but these men had stolen from Kwasa before, received a second chance, and used it to steal again. This makes me sigh. The good news is many of the items taken have now been found.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

November Blues

Dear November,

I know you're used to making me wear scarves and gloves and causing me to ponder if I really should be walking to class in this sort of weather instead of comfortably snuggled under my covers...but I'm in South Africa now. Please cooperate. There is no reason for these frigid temperatures when I only brought shorts and sundresses.



Ok, so today was a fluke. It's actually been quite pleasant here as far as weather is concerned. This is why I'm having such a hard time believing that Christmas is about a month away. Seeing Christmas cakes and bathing suits in the same store (which is weird to begin with) really makes me double take. Christmas has always been surrounded by snowmen, warm clothes, and way too much shopping and traffic. So far, not a single kid at Kwasa has told me what she wants for Christmas. When I asked who knew Father Christmas/Santa Claus, only a few raised their hands. For lots of people, Christmas is just another day...only with no school.

We're currently practicing for the Kwasa Christmas Concert which is going to be awesome in case you were wondering. We're singing songs about "disco hair", "crying gorillas", and a strange variation of the hokey pokey only it's to Celtic music. I know you're all intrigued. Maybe I'll take pictures when I tell you more about it.

Have a spectacular day! Oh, and Mom, I cooked dinner for myself tonight. Pasta.