Fran Hewitt: Term 4 in South Africa

Term 4 just started, and I got up early to see the kids off to school, and give them their new pencils and pens. They were all looking so fresh and excited, in clean and repaired uniforms; they are really lovely – I enjoy mothering and looking after them. I have been into the village to the schools a few times now. Once was for my first SGB (School Governing Board) meeting, which was on at 5pm one Wednesday at the high school. However, it was postponed that afternoon and no one thought to let me know. So I spent the time waiting talking with two secondary girls who were passing by. They told me all about themselves; they are in Grade 11, one is 20 and the other 17. Both of them live in the village, without parents, and look after younger siblings. Their mothers live in other places where there is work, and come to visit about one weekend a month. These girls are responsible for their families, do all the washing, cooking, and cleaning, and have a meagre budget to live on. They catch a bus into the nearest town every few weeks to buy groceries, they make sure their brothers and sisters get to school, do homework, etc… I was amazed at what they were doing, and they agreed it was a big job to be both mother and child, and still try to do school and study. Apparently this is not a particularly unusual situation.

The children’s reports came home last week, and while many are good there are many more that aren’t so good. I went through each child’s report with them, (all 59 of them – it took a whole afternoon and evening) to explain what it meant and how they were going. Many of the teachers have limited training and classes of 50+ are common. When teachers don’t turn up for school, there is no extra staff to look after them or teach them. Corporal punishment is supposedly not allowed, but is used regularly. I have had a few general meetings with the two principals (primary and high) this past month, and they admit that education in South Africa needs a lot of help, and that their job is a constant uphill battle. I am focusing on literacy and numeracy for all the children, and will try to help lift the standard in those two areas.

I am continually learning more about the local culture here, and have to admit that I am in a country where the scars of oppression still run deep. This, compounded by poverty and lack of education, and a strong belief in witchcraft, make for some terrible social practises. There have been some incidents around here lately which mean we have to be extra security conscious. A white farmer shot and killed a black boy for stealing, and sometimes the blacks do revenge killings, so we just had to be extra careful for a while.

Fran's friends: Florah, Nomsa, Florah, Emma and Lucy
Yet on the other hand, the flip side of this country, is the many, many lovely kind and friendly South Africans I have met; and I am getting to know, and be accepted by, the local women who work here on the mission. Since my Sepedi classes have been stopped the girls and I have been focussing on me learning about, and tasting the local foods. The women in the kitchen have been giving me samples of pap (the maize stodgy stuff) and acher (green mangoes chopped up and mixed with oil and chillies). Florah made me some khodu (mashed mealies and pumpkin – delicious) and Betty makes me morogo (a green plant similar to spinach, tomato, and a ton of salt). The first lot of morogo had a strong odd taste, and may have had some offal juices in it maybe? I don’t know but the second lot at the weekend was very tasty although extremely salty. I’ve also been drinking mageu, which is a thick sludge drink made from maize. The children have brought me lerapas to eat, which is fruit that grows in the bush, is the size of a grapefruit, but has a skin which looks like a watermelon but is hard like a coconut. It has seeds inside like a mango, but much smaller, which you eat the flesh off and then suck – it’s quite a nice taste, a bit like banana. The next thing they (the women and the kids) are going to get for me is fried grasshoppers and beetles, which apparently everybody loves. But I have put my foot down for any meals with offal in them.

Best wishes and love,
Fran xxx

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The poor themselves can create a poverty-free world —
all we have to do is to free them from the chains that we have put around them. - Muhammad Yunus