Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Home in Transition

Bums in the Attic
A chapter from The House on Mango Street
By: Sandra Cisnero

I want a house on the hill like the ones in the garden where papa works. We go on Sundays, Papa's day off. I used to go. I don't anymore. You don't like to go out with us, Papa says. Getting too old? Getting to stuck-up, says Nenny. I don't tell them I am ashamed--all of us staring out the window like the hungry. I am tired of looking at what we can't have. When we win the lottery....Mama begins, and then I stop listening.
People who live on hills sleep so close to the stars they forget those of us who live too much on earth. They don't look down at all except to be content to live on hills. They have nothing to do with last week's garbage or fear of rats. Night comes. Nothing wakes them but the wind.
One day I'll own my own house, but I won't forget who I am or where I came from. Passing bums will ask, Can I come in? I'll offer them the attic, ask them to stay , because I know how it is to be without a house.
Some days after dinner, guests and I will sit in front of a fire. Floorboards will squeak upstairs. The attic grumble.
Rats? they'll ask.
Bums, I'll say, and I'll be happy

"The House on Mango Street" is a book about the Latino section of Chicago, her writing has provided a lot of insight on my time in South Africa. It is a vivid depiction of life in contrast between two worlds. I can relate to the While I won't be having bums in my attic anytime soon (I am somewhat of a bum in transitions staying in my parents house) I connect to the child in the story's feelings of frustration of false hope. Sometimes I don't feel understood as to how I view life, or my own ambitions.

I am also living in the house on the hill, I do enjoy the comfort of "Nothing wakes them but the wind." It has been like a weight lifted from my shoulders not having to think about whether the door was locked to the car, the house, the gate. I am not driven at every moment to be of help.

The anticipation of a life that blends both worlds is tangible now as I have been able to find what it is I want (working to set up education systems in developing countries). While I know what I want, there is a gap; filled sometimes with anticipation, sometimes fear of falling short, and sometimes faith in God and in my pursuit to do the work I know I can do well.

"One day I'll own my own house, but I won't forget who I am or where I came from." Friends I will have made will ask, Can I come in? I will say of course. We will sit at the table with my other friends, and engage in meaningful conversation that goes beyond socio-economic and cultural boundaries. Are my ambitions as far fetched and dreamy as the child in the story. I don't know, but I'm determined to find out.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Monday, September 7, 2009

Too long

So, I looked at my blog today. I haven't written since may. In that time a lot has happened. It is always difficult to summarize 3 months of work. I'll give a bulleted outline of events.

* Artfest: Every June we have an arts festival that has world wide recognition as being the biggest performing arts festival in Africa. It is in Grahamstown. The unfortunate reality is that most of the kiddos that live in Grahamstown don't get the opportunity to see many shows. Untill this year..... After a brief letter to the Arts Festival director, I recieved tickets to over 20 shows to take kids from the After School Programme. After the first two days of shows, I realized that some of the shows may not have been appropriate, and I didn't have time to ferry kids to all 20 shows, but the following are a couple highlights. -Ten tickets to see the ballet with Nomamyasi, and Tombekaya and 8 9 year old girls and boys. (Several left during the intermission not knowing there was another hour of fun!!) -Took 5 of my boys to their first rock concert. (their ears were ringing and they didn't get home 'till 1 a.m.) - MaRavan was a traditional dance show that was incredibly unique. -Shosholoza a play about the life of mine workers around Johannesburg.

*One Laptop Per Child: Being in the right place at the right time, I had an opportunity to help with a grant to get 100 children's laptops to 100 kids on Grahamstown. Sounds like a possible nightmare of logistics, but with adequate help from several volunteers and well run programmes in Grahamstown (Monastery after school programme and St. Mary's daycare center) it has been a roaring success. Kids get computer lessons. These child friendly laptops, have wireless internet, video cameras, and play mp3s. On top of that they are waterproof! General Mills (make cereal and fruit roll-ups) are big sponsors and did a photo shoot which was awesome. Look for kiddos from Grahamstown on fruit roll-up boxes in the states in the coming months! To see details on one laptop per child: Check out the website: one laptop per child. http://laptop.org/en/

* Reading Camp: I was involved in preparation and planning of Reading Camp, a week of learning and fun for 18 grade 4 learners from the Township of Grahamstown. We selected students from 10 schools to send their top readers. These kids were then pampered over the week with four meals a day, learning centers in the mornings and adventures in the afternoons including game drives (looking at elephants and rhinos and hippos) night hikes, exploring the beaches and obstacle courses. To be brief, it was a successful endeavor.

* 6 weeks in the classroom: After being out of University for 5 years, I was aching for an opportunity to learn from more than just my mistakes and experiences. I wanted someone to teach me. I enrolled into a course put on by MSF (doctors without borders) and Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. The course was a diploma in humanitarian assistance and took place 10 kilometers from Kruger National Park. It was amazing what I learned about the world. Most people there (me being the only americans) hated the USA. But I was given immunity having been in South Africa for 2 years. I learned about the politics of humanitarian aide and hitories of struggling countries in africa. I also learned the practical things about setting up refugee camps (digging toilets, supplying food and water etc.) I left with a distinction and energy to save the world.

*Hit the ground running: I'm now back in Grahamstown and am back in the routine of peparing for the end of the year and transitioning out of my position with GADRA at the end of the year. After hiking the remainder of the wild coast in late November, I am a free agent, looking for opps. to work in the area of education in emergencies (setting up schools and safe places in refugee camps post war and natural disasters.)

*10 months and going: Zinzi and I are doing well. She will be working in Johannesburg as a programme manager with the Art Therapy Center starting in December.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Off He Goes

My ten year reunion is this year. As it approaches, I have been thinking a lot about my last ten years, especially my last 5 years and all the transitions I have gone through. While sitting in the company car darting around to all my schools, and contemplating my next year that may include training in Humanitarian Aide work, the lyrics of a Pearl Jam song playing set me back a moment. I'd never listened to the lyrics and then thought of how stop and go my life has been.....for a long time. Below are the lyrics.

Off He Goes lyrics

1, 2, 1, 2...
I know a man, his face seems pulled and tense
like he's riding on a motorbike in the strongest winds
so i approach with tact
suggest that he should relax
but he's always moving much too fast
said he'll see me on the flipside
on this trip he's taken for a ride
he's been taking too much on
there he goes with his perfectly unkept clothes
there he goes...
he's yet to come back
but i've seen his picture
it doesn't look the same up on the rack
we go way back
i wonder about his insides
its like his thoughts are too big for his size
he's been taken... where, i don't know?
off he goes with his perfectly unkept hope
and there he goes...
and now i rub my eyes, for he has returned
seems my preconceptions are what should have been burned
for he still smiles...
and he's still strong
nothing's changed, but the surrounding bullshit that has grown
and now he's home
and we're laughing like we always did
my same old, same old friend
until a quarter-to-ten
i saw the strain creep in
he seems distracted and i know just what is gonna happen next
before his first step
he's off again

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Reading Camp Photos

Reading Camp

Two weekends ago, myself and Kary Maconachie organized an overnight camp for 18 grade 4 learners from the township. We had all the materials that we use for the week long reading camps that we will have once a year, so, materials and structure were easily adaptable from the week long reading camp.

The intention of the reading camp was not to teach children to read over night. Rather, we wanted to give the students an opportunity to see how fun learning and reading can be. The first evening, we played games went for a night hike and ate good food including the roasting of marshmallows over a fire and a bedtime story. The following day we broke students up into 6 groups and did reading centers. Students were in groups of 2 and three and received 1 to 1 support. All was done in the playing of games. The students were well behaved. One student who was sick started crying because he did not want to go home. We let him sleep in the corner of the room.

The greatest joy we had was seeing kids laugh and play and enjoy learning. The students were overwhelmed with the amount of love and care they received. The reward was in the smiles on the kids faces, and the amazement at their excitement in choosing books to sit down and read to themselves or helpers. The camp was run by volunteers. No one was paid, and everyone left contented with a job well done.

Easily amused

One of the great pleasures of working with kids is watching them play. When i pick up the boys for worship, Masixole (seen in picture) is still young and finds the simplest things to play with. Sometimes it is his bowl and fork, and others the spray of the windshield wiper on the car windshiel that amuse him. His life on the farm is safe. It is evident in his joyful play. The food may be simple and he may not have electricity, but he has a great joy in being a kid. That excites me.