News From The Front!
So much in the way of news to share this week, I hardly know where to begin.
To start, three weeks running now I’ve somehow neglected any mention of the nationwide teachers union strike that has crippled the South Africa education system and just this week spread to all government- and service-union employees. Whoops.
So, about that… I must start with the doubly frustrating caveat that all of what follows is opinion only (specifically, mine) and, unfortunately, a self-censored one at that. The teachers union here is Herculean in force and effect, so much so that it is dangerous to cross it.
Background: it’s “striking season” in South Africa – apparently this is the time of the year when strikes (of any kind) usually occur. The teachers union, heavily tied to the ANC (leading political party) and itself more of one than a representative body for teachers, is asking for approximately an 8% raise, in addition to some ancillary benefits. Their position in SA is so powerful that once the union democratically votes to strike, all public school teachers are forced to abide and those that don’t often suffer intimidation and physical violence. [In general, unions enjoy positions of real power and popularity here.]
Moreover, their power has extended to the private sector where they have been successful in shuttering many private SA-can schools, mostly through physical force. This week, hospital nurses and doctors have also joined/been forced to join in the strike – so completely that the government is now staffing hospitals with army doctors and nurses to prevent complete closures. What jogged my memory (to post) today was the attempted closure of a highway in JoBurg by the strikers that ended in a hail of police-fired rubber bullets. Wow, right?
Okay, so all that sounds serious and intense and, to a degree, it is. Let’s not forget, however, our little caveat above. This is striking season and both sides are losing lots of face: the union, as you may have guessed, doesn’t make many friends shutting down hospitals and the government isn’t exactly in the best position after throwing gobs of cash around to host the World Cup. The popular sentiment is that both sides privately want the strike to end while publicly proclaiming positions of power and legitimacy (yay alliteration!).
In the meantime, our site visits have been postponed and our training schedule has been adjusted (we were previously meeting in small groups in local schools for our technical sessions but now travel each morning back to the large college of week 1 for sessions with all 52 of us). What do I think about all this? Email me. 😉
More good news! Today, despite being unable to visit them next week, we all received our permanent site announcements during a rousing game of The Site is Right (oh yeah, PC makes even the most suspenseful news goofy and fun). Here’s the lowdown on my placement, verbatim from the slip I was given:
“Village: Steenbok. Shopping Town: Naas – 15 km away. School: Gebhundlovu Primary School & Bhambhatha Primary School. (They have had two previous PCVs, both women, and I will be closing out the standard PCSA cycle of 3 volunteers to a site over a six-year period.) Activities: Teach English and Literacy, Reading Classes, Extracurricular Activities like life-skills development camps. Living Arrangements: Two-room house in a family compound, separate from the main home. The family has hosted the previous PCV and is happy with the prospect of hosting again. Family: [Redacted, out of courtesy.] Notes: Steenbok is a medium-sized community close to the Mozambican border. IsiSwati and Tsonga are the languages predominantly spoken in the village. They have a large immigrant community, especially in the nearby vibrant and colorful (but small) town of Naas. The site has been recommended by the previous PCV. There are a few minibus taxis running for transportation between towns during the day and your family has running water and electricity.”
Exciting! Here’s some more: Steenbok is in a small pocket of SA just West of Mozambique, North of Swaziland, and just South of Kruger National Park. I’m less than 100km from one entrance to Kruger and the area is supposedly very green, wet, and hot. I will be on malarial prophylaxis, unlike most other PCVs, because of the mosquito-friendly climate. Also, there are four other PCVs from my training group in our little neck of the woods: Andrew, Meg, Kristy, and John. I’ve developed good friendships with them over the past five weeks and consider myself lucky they’ll be within an hour’s kombie ride (some volunteers are HOURS away from another PCV). Also, allegedly Naas is a fun little town, with lots of music, art and culture and a hopping social scene.
I know I promised to relate a certain epicurean story last time, but this pre-written post is cruising past 1am, so I need to wrap things up. The short version involves adjectives like chewy, fatty, gritty, and pungent and ends with me fighting through the heavy odor of fried excrement to successfully cross a cultural barrier. Whomever said it’s about the journey never walked that trail.
Speaking of which, check out some photos of the trails I have been walking these past few weeks. That’s my host mom Elisabeth and myself moments after meeting each other on July 14th. And that’s the street I live on, house just out of frame to the right. That’s one group of neighborhood children who tend to follow me home from the bus drop-off every afternoon. We sing World Cup pop songs and communicate in broken isiNdebele and English. The next is my siSwati group with LCF (fancy PC acronym for teacher) Hlobisile. Finally, that’s a panoramic of some local mountains a group of us hiked last Sunday.
As always, thanks for all your warm wishes and friendly emails – they brighten my day! More to follow soon…