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Welcome and Helpful Hints

Hi everyone,

If you've been linked to this journal, you're probably aware that I will be spending 6 weeks teacher assisting in South Africa from March 17th until April 30th, 2007. Since I probably won't have many opportunities to call people at home while I'm there, I set up this journal so those of you who are interested can keep up with what's happening while I'm gone. I hope to have access to the internet frequently and will do my best to post updates and pictures if possible. During the next couple months before I leave, I'll be updating about our group's pre-departure meetings and other preparations, as much for my own preservation of the memories as for your possible interest in the potentially mundane details :)

This entry will always stay on top of the page for new visitors, so be sure to scroll down the page past this entry to see if there are any new entries after this one. Aside from this entry, the newest posts will always be toward the top of the page, so start from the bottom if you're visiting for the first time and want to get caught up. You may need to click "Go Earlier" if there is more than one page of entries in order to get to the beginning.

For those of you who are reading but do not have a LiveJournal account, you can set one up for free if you'd like one, but you don't need an account in order to leave me comments. Just click on "leave a comment" and you can leave an 'anonymous' comment. Just be sure to add your name to your comment so I know who you are :) I hope you will all comment on my future entries so that I will know how you are all doing while I'm gone!

Thanks, and happy reading,
Meg
Just wanted to make a really quick update to let everyone know I made it home safely. I'll post another update tomorrow sometime about the last day in Stellenbosch and the flights back home. But for now, I have slept about 45 minutes out of the last 48 hours, so I should probably go to bed now!

We leave tomorrow night... one last update

I haven't felt like I've had much to update about lately, and suddenly I find myself with a few days worth of stuff to write about! I have 38 minutes left on my internet account that I'm going to try to use up today, so we'll see how that goes.

The last place I left off at was before we went on our tour of Rhenish Primary School. This is the school that most of our host families' children went to or still go to. It was an amazing school. The principal gave us a tour and talked to us a bit about the school, and he said they are the only school in the area to have a 100% pass rate on their external assessments. The students there all learn 3 languages, English, Afrikaans, and some Xhosa. There are a little over 700 students there, and over 350 of them are involved in their music program, the average student learning about 3 instruments. They have a waiting list of between 300-400 students wanting to get into the school, and it's a public school but parents still have to pay a small amount to send their students there, which is apparently somewhat common in this country. The principal explained how people are so desperate to get their kids into such a good school that it's entirely common for 5 mothers to get together and rent a house in town close to the school and take turns caring for all 5 families' kids one week at a time just so they can live close enough to the school. All in all, this school is incredible, and the students are all brilliant. One interesting little thing we learned is that although the students wear uniforms, on their birthdays they are allowed to wear jeans and t-shirts. So on any given day, the principal can be walking down the hall, and know who to say happy birthday to based on what they're wearing. Another note of interest... we walked into a classroom, 3rd grade I think, and the principal asked the students to try to figure out where we were from, so Jake steps up to one little girl and says "Hi. My name's Jake. What's your name?" And she looks at the principal and says "They're from America." It was very cute. Sheri said "How could you tell? We don't have accents!" and the little girl giggled and said "Yes, you do!"

Anyway, so yesterday, a bunch of us went into Capetown for one last time. We started out at the District Six museum, which we had all already gone to before, but Sheri had not, so Missy stayed with her and went there, and Wynand, Ericka, Eric, Tara, Jake and I walked around town a little bit. It was pouring rain, so we decided to duck into a little coffee shop and have something warm to drink. I was happy to know that hot chocolate is hot chocolate no matter what country you're in. After the coffee shop, we went back to meet up with Missy and Sheri, and we drove over to Green Market Square which is the huge outdoor craft market. Because of the rain and the fact that it was a public holiday, there were very few tents set up, so we didn't stay there long. We decided to grab lunch at a little restaurant right next to the Square, and we all got HUGE portions of food. I ate less than half of my sandwich and was stuffed, so Jake finished mine for me... and then he had some of Missy's... and then finished Sheri's pasta... and then we all split his chocolate cake. We were all pretty much rolling out of there we were so full! After lunch, we drove over to the V&A Waterfront, where there is a massive shopping district. We went to a place called the Blue Shed, which is kind of like an upscale, indoor Green Market Square. We bought a lot of cool things there, and then we went to the Red Shed, which turned out to be pretty much the same exact thing, so we didn't stay there long. We ended up in a mall, where I finally found my cricket jersey I'd been looking everywhere for, and they actually had one small enough to fit me. Nevermind the fact that South Africa lost to Australia pretty badly the other night, I'm still pretty excited to have my jersey!

Anyway, so after that, we headed back to the van and Wynand drove us home, where we stayed for a short while before heading back into Stellenbosch to meet up with everyone for dinner. We went to a place called the Fish Monger, which has very good seafood, and Ericka and I split a dish called Seafood Thermidor, which ended up being kind of like a fish stew of some sort, with salmon, a cream sauce, cheese, and mushrooms. Yes, mushrooms. I apparently can tolerate them now! Anyway, so we split a dinner, and then we also split a dessert, which I can't remember what it was called, but it amounted to chocolate ice cream covered in a chocolate shell with some kind of cherry-flavored liquor sauce. Then of course, we had our Dom Pedros with Amarula. I'm going to miss those drinks a lot when we get home, so I hope I can figure out how to make a reasonable attempt at making my own. Anyway, so dinner was good, and it was nice because our host family's daughter Amy came to dinner with me, so I was glad to get to hang out with her a bit more since we're leaving so soon. We had to say goodbye to John and Liz on Friday morning because they went away for the weekend, and won't be back until after we leave Africa.

Anyway, this afternoon, we're all getting together at Missy and Ericka's house to burn DVDs of all of our pictures and to finish off some bottles of wine that we don't want to pack in our suitcases, and then there was talk that we might have a braai (barbeque) there as well. I might hang out at their house tonight and watch movies or something, I'm not sure yet. Then tomorrow, lots of last minute packing and heading to the airport. This will be my last update until I get home. I'll probably make one more entry on Tuesday to let you all know I've gotten home safely.

I just want to say thanks to everyone who has been reading and commenting on this journal, emailing me, giving my mom money to put in my bank account, and all the other ways you've all supported me going on this trip. It really means a lot and this trip wouldn't have been as enjoyable without all the contact from everyone! Thanks again, and I can't wait to see everyone when I get back! Love you all!

See you soon!
Meg
Today was our last day at the Ark. My kids made me a card, sang me a goodbye song, gave me tons of hugs, and it was a good day. One of my students cried, which I was not expecting, and several of the Grand Valley students cried too. I did not. I will miss the kids, but I don't feel I was there long enough to grow too attached to the place.

I don't have much to update about right now, but I did want to let everyone know that in case they haven't noticed the comment my mom made on my last entry, my family is having a get-together for me the weekend after I get back (Sunday, May 6th) in Bay City. If you happen to be on that side of the state, or if you just really really want to see me badly enough to drive to that side of the state, you're all welcome to come. It will just be a small get-together at a church community room, and I'll be sharing my pictures and stuff there. There's no specific details set in stone yet, but if you're interested, let me know and I'll get back to you with details when I get them.
Today was long and kind of tiring. Last night, our host family's son Jonathon came over for dinner, so we sat and talked with him for a bit, and when he went home, I went to bed and Tara and Eric went over to the Greener's to take some pictures for them of a birthday party. So I went to bed pretty early again, around 9:30 I think. Woke up in the middle of the night to a raging thunderstorm and couldn't fall back to sleep, so I didn't end up getting much sleep until I finally fell back to sleep at about 6:30, right around the time I was planning on getting up. Ended up sleeping until about 8:10 and we get picked up around 9:00, so I didn't have much time to get up and around before school today. School was mostly uneventful. My teacher read the book I gave the class, and the kids really liked it. I didn't do anything with the students in my class today, but after my class went home for the day I went into Karly's room again with the students who wanted to stay after school in her room, and played games witht them. It was fun, but exhausting. When it's time for us to leave at the end of the day, the kids don't want us to go, so they start hiding under desks and stuff, and it's impossible to clear the room of kids until our bus driver arrives, and then they follow us outside and hang on us, begging us to stay. It makes us all feel very valuable but it's extremely tiring.

Tonight will be yet another uneventful night. We were dropped off downtown after school and I've been down here for a couple hours, at the internet place, and at the payphones, where I finally got to talk to Jeff for about an hour until my phone card ran out of time and it dropped our call with no notice :( After this update, I'll probably head home soon so I don't walk home in the dark. Then tomorrow, we have our last day at the Ark, and supposedly we're doing our tours of the Rhenish schools on Thursday. Wynand is taking some of us into Capetown on Friday, but we won't all fit in his van, so I'm not sure if I'll get to go or not. I'd really like to, because I want to get a cricket jersey before I come home. Yes, strangely enough, we've all developed somewhat of an interest in cricket here, since that's pretty much all anyone watches on TV since it's the world cup right now. Anyway, I'm not sure what is happening Saturday or Sunday during the day, but Sunday night our flight leaves to come back home. It's coming up quickly!

See you all soon!
Meg

School stuff

Not too much to update about today. We went to the school this morning, and I sat back and watched completely mystified as the teacher tried to demonstrate to the kids how to do 2-digit subtraction completely incorrectly. She understood enough to know that in the ones column if the top number is smaller than the bottom, you need to borrow from the tens column, and she explained that part well. Then she moved on to the tens column and completely disregarded whether the top or bottom number was larger, and simply subtracted the smaller one from the bigger one. For example, she wrote down the problem 26-41, subtracted the 1 from the 6, and then subtracted the 2 from the 4. It's bad teaching practice to correct a teacher in front of her students, so I didn't say anything, and never got a chance to talk with her about it later in the day, so tomorrow, I may have to find some time to sit down and show my teacher how to subtract. This type of thing is common at the Ark.

After morning break, I pulled a few students outside one-on-one just to try to see how much they know about letters, phonics, and reading in general so that I could attempt to help them in the areas they individually need help in. I was mystified once again when one little boy could not tell me the names of any of the letters I pointed to, nor could he tell me what sound they made individually, but I could point to a word and he could tell me what it said, and yet if I said a word and asked him to show me where it was on the page, he couldn't do that. My only logical guess is that he has memorized a select few words and they just so happened to be the words in the book I was working with him with. Overall though, I felt much more accomplished today after working individually with students. It is nearly impossible to work with even a small group of these students at the same time, because if I ask one student to figure out an answer to a question, the other 3 or 4 students are shouting the answer in his face or showing him their own paper. That's common with children anywhere, but it's especially prevalent here.

After my class went home, I went into Karly's class and just read with a couple girls for an hour or so, and then it was time to leave. This afternoon, I'll probably just hang around town for a little while and likely go to bed early again tonight. The school days always make me pretty tired. I'll be back on here again tomorrow after school.

Until next time, love,
Meg
Sorry it's been a few days since I've been able to update this journal. The day after I updated last, we went into Capetown and met up with Harold Herman, a professor at the University of the Western Cape, who also worked at Grand Valley for a year previously. He took us on a tour of some elementary and secondary schools, as well as the University of Capetown. I, unfortunately, stayed in the bus for the majority of the day because my allergies had gotten so severe that I couldn't go anywhere without a kleenex attached to my face and was sneezing so frequently that I was beginning to get lightheaded. So I didn't really see any of the schools other than a Catholic school that we stopped at because Sheri had another Grand Valley student to check up on while she's in Africa, who is student teaching at that school. Anyway, so that day was rather uneventful and miserable for me, so when we got back into Stellenbosch, I went straight "home" and went to sleep, only to wake up for dinner and then go back to sleep again.

Luckily that only lasted a day, and yesterday I felt much better. I got up in the morning and walked into town to do a little bit of last-minute shopping and get a phone card to call home with. Sorry I couldn't call anyone but Mom, but I figured nobody else would appreciate being telephoned at 5:30 in the morning :) After running those few errands, I walked back to the Lansdells' and got ready for that afternoon/evening, and then the Greeners (Missy and Ericka's host family) drove us all to the Taylors' house to start preparing for the Thank You dinner that night. We made Mexican food, and everything went really smoothly. We were done cooking everything fairly early compared to what time we were expecting to finish, so it was a nice relaxing day without too much rushing around. That night, all the host families came to dinner and everyone loved the food. Dana, you'll be happy to know that your bean dip recipe is a huge hit in Africa :) After dinner, Eric and I went home with the Lansdells and Tara stayed out for a bit with Ericka. I went to bed pretty early and got lots of sleep just to avoid another sick day, and this morning I got up and attempted to start packing away a few things that I don't think I'll need to use again before we leave.

This afternoon, Wynand took us to the beach again... this time to a SAFE one with actual sand and no high tide. I didn't go anywhere near the water this time, just layed out in the sun and played frisbee with Jake for a little while because he's like a little kid who can't sit still for 5 minutes and was bored out of his mind. I learned today that not only is tennis not my sport, neither is frisbee. I almost took Sheri out about 5 times because the wind kept catching the frisbee in mid-air and whipping it the opposite direction of where I was aiming, sending it sailing over where she was sitting with Missy. Oops. It was a nice day though. Any day spent just laying around on the beach is a day well spent in my book. Then, of course, after the beach we got ice cream again because pretty much not a day goes by here that someone doesn't suggest we stop somewhere for ice cream. I got a vanilla soft-serve with hardened caramel topping and it was wonderful. I wish I could pack some of them in my suitcase and bring them home, but something tells me they probably wouldn't make it back in the same form.

Tomorrow we're back to the Ark again. I think we will only be there 3 more days because we still have another day of school tours to fit in somewhere. Not sure yet what day that will be, but we're assuming Wednesday since Sheri will be on the east coast of the country tomorrow and Tuesday to check on another student who's student teaching over there. I'm sure I'll be back in town tomorrow after school, so I'll update again then. Miss you all, and looking forward to seeing some if not all of you in a week or two.

Until next time, love,
Meg

A little bit of everything...

Once again, running short on time, so just a quick update. Last time I updated, I think I said something about meeting Sandy for ice cream before she left. Well, after that, she also invited us to get dinner with her later that night before she headed to the airport. So in the meantime, I went home with Katie, Dan, and Jake, and we went to the tennis courts and played tennis. By "played" I basically mean Katie tried very hard to teach me, I failed miserably, and Jake and Dan likely tried really hard not to laugh at me. Lesson of the day... tennis (or anything requiring hand-eye coordination) is not my thing. So after tennis, Jake walked me back into town and then he left and the other 7 of us met up with Sandy and Sheri and Wynand and Donelle for dinner at a place called Sosati, where Katie and I had also had lunch a few days previous. It was sad to see Sandy off, but Sheri is fun too so it is okay. We'll see her at the airport when we get back because she's coming to meet us there.

Yesterday, I ended up not going to school because I had a bad migraine, so the day was very uneventful. I slept until about 2 p.m. and then read for a little while and then went BACK to bed until about 6, then had dinner once Tara and Eric got home, and then went back to bed at 8:00 and slept through the whole night. I feel a little better today, but not much. But I can't complain, because things could be much worse. Poor Ericka has a kidney infection right now, so she's spending the next few days going into the doctor every day to get an IV. Doesn't sound like fun.

Tonight, most of us are going back to Moyo, that really awesome restaurant I talked about last week. We're hoping the band that played last week will be there again so we can buy CDs from them. But even if they're not, it's worth going back to. The food was great and it was a beautiful place, and Sheri wasn't with us last time we went, so we're excited to take her there.

Tomorrow, we won't be going to the school because we're going into Capetown to tour a few other schools just to see what they're like. Then this weekend, we're having our "thank you" dinner for the host families, so we get to cook for them and meet everyone else's host families. Next week, we have 3 days at the school, one day of other school tours, and then we have Friday off for a holiday. Saturday will probably be spent packing, and then we leave on Sunday. It's coming up pretty quickly. I'm really looking forward to being home and seeing all of you! I love it here, but I think I'm ready to go back. See you all soon, and I'm sure I'll update again soon.

One little hug makes all the difference...

Just a short update. We're meeting Sandy for ice cream in a few minutes, so I've got a bit of time to catch you all up on the day.

Today was much like yesterday at the school, although my morning started out a bit more optimistically when I sat down in the classroom and my little 2nd-grade friend Manfred (pronounced with a rolling R) came up and gave me a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. He was quite happy to see me today, and spent much of the day coming up and talking to me and Katie after school. He informed us that he has 10 sisters and 20 brothers, and then proceeded to list off all their names... they were all the kids in his class. Since it's an orphanage school, many of the children live there, so their classmates are like their family. It was very touching, and funny at the same time.

I also managed to remember a couple of the random things I've been meaning to update about. I did indeed eat zebra while I was in Namibia. I also got my hair cut and highlighted last week for $40. It would have cost me about 3 times that much back home. Don't worry, it's nothing drastic, just a trim, some bangs, and only a little bit lighter. I still look like me. I'm also fairly tan compared to what you're all used to seeing, so I'm hoping I stay that way for the next two weeks so you will all believe me when you see it. The weather's turning cold here though, so I'm afraid it will probably fade by then.

I suppose I should get going now. No major plans for the night other than ice cream. Possibly tennis with the students staying on the other side of town, but only if the people on my side of town go so I don't have to walk home alone. We'll see. I'm sure I'll be back to update tomorrow.

Until next time, love,
Meg
This will have to be a quick one... we're all in desperate need of a nap right now. Went back to the school today and I don't think any of us were ready for it again yet, so we're all pretty tired.

I just figured I'd write to let you all know that you can rest assured that we all survived the beach yesterday. I had my doubts for a while. Wynand said he's never seen the tide as high as it was when we got there, so none of us were planning on actually swimming, just laying out on the beach and maybe walking up and down the coast. Well, we all found this cool little cave area down the beach a ways, so we walked down there to check it out. Meanwhile, Katie and I decided we didn't want to hold on to our stuff anymore, so we decided to walk back to the starting point and drop it off with Sheri. As we were walking, the tide decided to get a bit angry at us, and swept through up onto the beach, knocking us both off our feet and pulling us underwater for about 20 seconds. One minute there was nothing but sand and the next minute there was water about 6 feet deep, then it disappeared as fast as it came. Katie's fairly expensive camera is now ruined, and she got a bit banged up on a rock. I'm fine, just a lot of sand in my hair and saltwater up my nose. It was pretty scary though. Then throughout the day, pretty much everyone else in our group sustained minor injuries trying to walk back to the beach as well. The ocean is not a friendly thing. One guy broke his toe, another girl dislocated her kneecap, and about 3 or 4 others have big scrapes on their legs. Needless to say, we won't be revisiting that "beach" any time soon.

Today was less exciting. School is a bit of an energy drain on all of us. We never feel prepared when we get there. Some days we sit there and do nothing and other days the teachers leave the room and expect us to take over completely. Today, my 2nd graders did nothing but color all morning, and then after break, they came back and the teacher spoke to them in Afrikaans for the rest of the day so I had NO idea what was going on other than the occasional references to Jesus and drugs. Very confusing day. Then we spent the rest of the afternoon in their "library" which is basically a room covered in dust and books that are falling apart at the bindings and not organized in any way, shape, or form. So we cleaned in there for awhile and helped sort books so they can start to form some resemblance of a library for their school. Normally my sinuses would be going crazy right now, but I think they're still so full of salt-water that they don't know the difference :)

Tonight, I think we're just going to go home and relax. Jake was thinking about playing tennis later tonight, but it's kind of cold outside so I don't know if we'll go or not. Tomorrow and the rest of the week will be spent at the school in the morning and afternoon, and then maybe downtown Stellenbosch in the evenings. Tomorrow night, Sandy heads back to the States, so we're meeting downtown after school for gelato (we've found a gelato shop here that we're all addicted to, so we eat ice cream practically every other day.) Other than that, there's no big plans for the rest of the week that I'm aware of, but I'll keep you all updated whenever anything interesting happens.

I keep remembering interesting little things that I keep meaning to write about in here, and by the time I get to a computer I've forgotten them. I'll work on remembering to write them down from now on, and will let you all know if I remember any of them soon.

For those of you who are interested, Jeff emailed me about my student teaching placement for next semester. I'll be teaching 1st graders at a Grand Rapids Public School somewhere near Wyoming (the city, not the state). I'm excited that I finally get to work with young kids.

Until next time, love,
Meg

A nice relaxing day

Today was pretty nice. Ericka has an older sister who happens to have a friend who lives in Cape Town, and this woman had some things she wanted to send back to the States with Ericka for her sister, so she met up with us today and picked up Ericka, Missy, Eric, Tara and me and took us into Capetown for lunch and just to spend the day there. We went to a place called Blues which was right across from the beach... beautiful view. I had Crayfish pasta with fennel, chili powder, and lemon butter sauce or something. I don't remember what all was in it, but it was pretty good.

After lunch, we walked across to the beach at Camps Bay, which is beautiful. I think we might be going back to the beach somewhere tomorrow as a whole group, so we didn't spend much time there, just walked down to the water and took in all the scenery for a few minutes. After that, she drove us out to this HUGE mall. It made Rivertown Crossings look like a joke. I have been trying to watch my spending for the last couple weeks of this trip, so I didn't buy anything but alcohol, hahah. The malls here are really weird, they have grocery stores, liquor stores, etc. in addition to all the typical clothing and trinket stores. So I bought a bottle of Amarula, which is a cream liquor that we've had in a drink called a Dom Pedro, which basically tastes like vanilla-caramel ice cream. Really yummy. And apparently really rare and expensive in the States, so I'm bringing some home with me.

The internet cafe is closing soon, so I need to get going. Tonight, our tour guide's son Wynand is having a braai (barbeque) so we're going to all hang out at his house tonight for awhile. Our other program directer Sheri is flying in tonight, and then Sandy will be leaving on Tuesday which is sad. We're going to miss her, but Sheri is cool too. Probably going to the beach tomorrow, and not sure what else. Hopefully I'll have time to update then.

Until next time, love,
Meg