Though speaking in Afrikaans so Courtney, I, and the three other passengers couldn’t understand, it was easy to tell our ranger was getting excited and we were getting close to something. Then, just in front of us appeared two cheetahs, gracefully walking through the savannah bushveld, beautiful and majestic creatures. For three days now we had been searching for the cheetahs which seemed to be leaving no traces or tracks around the reserve, and here they were finally. “Now we can go,” Courtney and I agreed.
Our cheetah sighting marked the end of a three night safari Courtney, my friend from home, and I had at the Thornybush Game Reserve in South Africa. We both were blown away by the amount of animals we saw: rhinos, elephants, leopards, cheetahs, lions, warthogs, impalas, giraffe, wildebeest, zebras, tortoise, kudu, monkeys, baboons, water buck, buffalo, mongoose, inyala, steinbok, jackal, crocodile, vulture, hippo, and even a chameleon. It was hard to complain about much of anything during those few days. We would get woken up at 5am, have tea and coffee, go on a 3-4 hour game drive until about 9am including a tea and coffee break out in the bush, return for a breakfast buffet, have the entire afternoon free to relax poolside and watch visiting animals at the nearby watering hole, another safari drive at 4pm including sundowners and then returning to the lodge for a three-course dinner. Our lodging was amazing, the staff amazing, delicious food, incredible animal sightings sometimes getting so close it makes you a little nervous, a truly amazing safari experience.
After the safari, Courtney and I headed to Cape Town for the rest of the week. I was totally not prepared for such an abrupt arrival into a first world city! Immediately upon getting picked up from the airport by the Konkols, a family my parents met on a trip to Poland, I quickly realized this was no longer the Africa I was used to. There were real, paved, multi-lane highways, grocery stores and shopping malls, huge houses, it was strange hearing so much English and not being the only white person around!
Spending the evening with the family, I soon noticed that the pace of life I had grown accustomed to was much much slower than theirs; just their speech and conversations were so much faster and wilder, I had a hard time keeping up! They discussed popular culture that I had heard nothing about, seemingly confused when I, an American, didn’t know that such and such an American celebrity was getting married or had not seen that episode or movie that just came out.
I was sitting there, still in Africa, but in a house that could not be more different than mine in Murrupula. Yes, it was a nice break and I am in no way complaining about having had hot running water, constant electricity, television, wi-fi, a refrigerator, washing machine, dish washer, etc., but it was all a little overwhelming to walk in to. Honestly, it’s a feeling that is really difficult to explain, and it took me a few days to really feel comfortable living like that again. Just a preview for when I return to the USA at the end of this year.
With the Konkol’s generosity, Courtney and I were able to do and see so much during our five days in Cape Town. We went to the famous Long Street which reminds me somewhat of San Francisco with its narrow streets filled with clothing stores, antique shops, and cafes. We went to the W&A Waterfront (a big shopping mall) and rode the ferris wheel, drove to beautiful Hout Bay and Camps Bay, walked through the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, took the cable car to the top of Table Mountain, one of the new seven wonders of the world. We went wine tasting and drove to the southwestern-most point of Africa, the Cape of Good Hope. We visited the historic Robben Island and saw where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. We window shopped, ate until we could barely move, explored, and relaxed. Cape Town is really an incredibly beautiful city, complete with beautiful beaches, incredible mountains, great food, and friendly people.
Then it was back to real life again in Murrupula. I guess after a three month summer break, it was time to leave vacation mode and start working again. And so began my second year of teaching.
The first week of the school year 2013 was no different than my experience last year, only this time I was more prepared for what to expect – no students the first week and about half starting to show up week two, an undetermined school schedule and students still enrolling in classes, and the usual surprises you can’t do much about. I went to my schools during the first week to find out what grade and even what subject(s) I was going to be teaching. Turns out, this year, I am teaching only computers, six classes each with about 50 10th graders.
Last year, I loved my Biology classes and some of my favorite memories involve those students and teaching them about the living things that exist in the world around them. I was definitely disappointed when I found out that the school no longer needed me to teach Biology. It just kind of felt like I was a wasted resource, a wasted free resource at that.
But I am trying to and am going to make the best out of my situation. Standing in front of my classes last week, introducing myself and discussing the plan for the year, it really was pretty amazing how much easier everything was. First off, I could actually communicate confidently! I still warned the students that I was fairly new to the Portuguese language and that I would inevitably make mistakes, but I didn’t have to write out my entire lesson word for word before class and could just…speak. What a relief!
But most importantly, this year, I know what to realistically expect from my students. I gave a survey my first lesson hoping to learn a little about their backgrounds and interests and, not surprisingly, the vast majority of students had never even seen a computer before. Though dealing with unpredictable electricity issues, a ridiculous student/computer ratio, and students who’s learning method has never included practical application skills will all be challenging, I really am excited for this next year as a computer teacher. With computers, you can see a physical improvement in the students’ abilities and it’s a practical skill that, perhaps not many, but some will hopefully be able to apply in their futures when they someday own a computer.
This week, we have a conference in Maputo, our mid-service conference where they do medical and dental check-ups. More excitingly, it will be the first time all the volunteers from my Moz 17 group will be together again since last January! This mid-service conference officially marks us as being over halfway done with our service!