Sunday, February 10, 2008

Rapula is on the Move

Ok...I am finally fed up with Blogger. 90% of the time, google will not recognize that I am trying to login. It simply freezes up. When I can log in, it takes forever to do anything. I think that it is too complex for a dail-up modem. After not having the internet for two or so weeks due to the swimming accident (I was pushed into the pool at our In Service Training for Peace Corps with my cell phone in my pocket, among other things), I simply have had enough. So I have decided to move this blog. The new blog is at Come over and follow my adventures. I hope that it will be faster and better than blogger.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Cradle of Mankind

First, I'd like to send a shout out to my Mathletes at SSFS. I heard all about your work and I am very proud of what you have done. Great job to all of you and to Liz. You all rock and I can't wait to get my t-shirt. Miss you much.

The second to last day of school for the year. Today, Robi and I went to Maropeng and Sterkfontein in what is called the Cradle of Mankind. We went on a school field trip (called an educational tour in South Africa) with one of our schools, Charles Mamogale Primary School. It started off by us arriving at the school at 7am, when they said we were leaving. We noticed that most of the teachers were not there, only the SGB members. So, we had an assembly and basically waited around for two hours. The bus showed up at 9am, and we boarded at 9:15am for the trip. Asking one of the teachers, we were told that it was a three hour trip to Maropeng. Yikes. Looked like it was going to be a long day. On the bus, the students did not sit down and were all over the bus. Robi and I feared what would happen if the bus got into an accident, God forbid. Some students were even sitting on top of the head rests, facing the back of the bus. Very scary! During the bus ride, the bus had some technical difficulties. During the whole trip, I never saw the driver use first gear, and it appeared that the clutch didn't fully disengage when depressed. For anyone who doesn't know about clutches, this make it very difficult to get in or out of any gear. Not using first gear made starting an adventure. We didn't really have major problems until we stopped just outside of the Maropeng entrance on an uphill. The bus would start, but then stall once put into 2nd gear. Or it wouldn't start because it was in 2nd gear and the clutch was engaged. I sat with frustration, knowing that I could do nothing to help the problem (driving a motor vehicle, except on annual vacation, is an immediate administrative separation). We finally got the bus going again by rolling down the hill far enough to turn around, then rolled down more to pop the clutch and start the bus. Certainly an adventure. So we arrived, mostly in one piece.

Maropeng was a museum dedicated to fossils and the evolution of man. It started with a big entrance that showed the essential natural resources needed for mankind; water, air, fire, and soil(aka food and sustenance). The first stop was a boat ride that depicted the development of the earth, through fire then the ice age. (Unfortunately, there was no explanation of this fact for the kids.) Afterwards, there was a long hall with a bunch of interactive exhibitions about the development of the earth (Pangea, anyone?) and the development of mankind, with special attention paid to how all human have 99% of the same genes. (This I really liked, because people in our village are always looking at us as saviours and geniuses simply because we are white. In our nearest shopping town, we have encountered more racism of a special sort. Black in South Africa are genetically inferior, but not blacks in North America.) At the end of the hall, there was a separate entrance to the fossil collection, with a metal detector. We didn't go in and I think that was the right call for 100 primary school students. We spent an hour and a half in the hall, but I wish we had twice that time to really look around and experience the place. Really neat stuff. At first we thought that this was the only stop on the trip. It seemed that we had travelled two hours to be in the museum for an hour and a half. At which time, we went to have lunch for about 45 minutes. Then, we thought, another 2 hour trip home. That didn't make any sense. Surprise, surprise, there was another stop, which we were told about right after we order lunch from the food cafe. So, we got our food to go, and got back on the bus. Off to Sterkfontein.

More bus difficulties, but no major breakdowns. Sterkfontein are the caves where the most complete example of an Australopithecus was found in 1996. They are still working on excavating it. So, we were led into a quick museum about the evolution of man, which had a great overview of how all the major religions look at the creation of the earth and man. Then we went on a guided tour with a very enthusiastic volunteer through the Sterkfontein Caves. He explained about the great find in archaeology, such as Mrs. Ples – the Australopithecus Africanus skull found in 1947. An interesting fact is that we never found the rest of the skeleton of Mrs. Ples because they were using dynamite to excavate the remains. Huh. In the caves, he explained about stalactites and stalagmites and how the caves were an old mine, so most of the stalactites and stalagmites were cut off. We got to see the underground water reservoir, which reminded Robi and me about a trip through an underground reservoir we did in Spain a few years back. By the end, the children seems very interested and tired out from a long day. It was about 3pm and time to go home. We loaded back on the bus and headed for home. More bus problems, but again no major breakdowns. As we got closer to home, we stopped to drop off a teacher, then another, a slight detour to drop another by her home. Before we knew it, Robi and I were the only adults, save the driver, on the bus with about 30 students. So we decided to do some work. Once the return trip had commenced and before we dropped off the other educators, we had gotten to the point were we felt that the learners needed to be told how to act on the bus. So, we started to ask them to sit down. Very quickly, the children figured out how to behave. It was marvellous. But the attention span of a primary school student is not very long, so we frequently had to turn around and remind the students to sit. After about three times, another educator started to get in on the action. I think she started to see how the students were reacting with respect and behaving better and she seems to take our lead. Every time that Robi and I turned around, she would turn and ask the students to sit. Some good modelling going on. Then, all the educators left, and we decided to take it up a notch. We decided to keep an eye of the students and it worked really well. It sort of started to turn into a game, where we would turn around and some students would stand up. When we turned back around, they would try to sit down as quickly as possible so as not to be caught by us. We moved some students that tried to play the tough guys, then they would try to crawl back to their original seat with their friends. Of course we caught them with our teacher vision. As the trip neared the end, I moved back and sat with the learners, playing funny faces and keeping them occupied in their seats. It really is necessary to interact with the students to remember how great teaching is and why we are here. These are great kids and very eager to please and learn. I feel that they are starved for attention and nurturing from adult figures, so I hope that we can make a difference and really show the teachers the learners needs.

At the end of the trip, all the students had been dropped off and we walked home from the school. It was a great day, much better than I had expected at the start of the day. But that seems to be what usually happens. It is now 9pm and we are going to bed. This week has been crazy. Particularly the last few days. On Monday, we found out about the death of a Grade 2 learner at Mmatope Primary School. It was not a sudden death, but still not something that anyone wants to hear about. Yesterday, Robi went to the funeral, getting up at 5am to be at school by 6am for the bus. I originally was supposed to go with her, but I have gotten another cold (swollen glands and the normal stuff) so I had a restless night and wasn't able to go with her. Then we had to go to Brits, our shopping town, to transfer money from my account to the accounts of two hotels where we will be staying during Xmas vacation. (They don't pay for lodging over the phone with credit cards for the most part. Instead, you can set up transfers from one account to another and then do the transfer from your cellphone. Incredible.) Today was a long day. Tomorrow, we are going to the mines for World AIDS Day to put on a Drama for the workers. I am in the drama, but it was rewritten in the last couple of days, so I don't know what my part is. In the first incarnation, I was a mine manager who was unfaithful to my wife with a mine worker, bringing HIV into my house. I think that this time through, I am a IV drug user who shares needles and someone who sleeps around recklessly. In both cases, I get HIV, trying to show that HIV/AIDS is colour blind. It will be interesting to see how tomorrow goes without any practice. On Saturday, we are going to a beauty pageant in Brits for the regional finals. We have three participants from Jericho in it. We were judges for the Jericho village beauty pageant a few weeks ago, but that is a different story. I don't think that we have anything to do on Sunday, but the week isn't over yet. Busy busy busy.

Well, that's all for now. Thanks for all the comments and email. Keep them coming. I am working on answering them all as soon as I can.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Merger update and other tidbits

Hey All,

I know that it's been a long time and that I sort of dropped a bombshell on the last post. Sorry about that. As it turns out, it is not the end of the world. The DoE is screwed up and said they made a mistake. The two primary schools that we work with are not going to merge. Oops! Instead of saying that Mafale PS, Mmatope PS, and Tsogwe PS are going to merge into one Primary School, they meant that Tsogwe was going to dissolve and the learners from that primary school were going to be divided among Mafale and Mmatope. So that explains that. Unfortunate for Makopye More MS, they are going forward with the restructuring of the grade levels. Maybe not in January, but probably by Jan 2009, the primary schools will be grades R through 7 and the high schools will be grades 8 through 12. This means that Makopye More is not in the long term plans of the DoE. Also, the merger of the high schools is still going to happen, but again, it may be in a year's time. (I still say that this is a good idea. One high school is very large and a great facility and certainly has enough room for all the learners.)

In other news, I wanted to talk about the tombstone unveiling. I don't remember what I have told you about it, so I'll start from the beginning....

Before Robi and I arrived in Jericho, we were told that our family was going to have an event, a tombstone unveiling, about a week after we arrived. Because of this event, the family was going to need to use some of the house where we would be staying. We figured that this would not be a problem, and for the most part it was nothing big. It was a little more complicated because there is no ceiling and any noise travels very well throughout the house. Additionally, the family needs to use the front room for the food supplies and for storing the traditional beer. The beginning of the week was calm and relaxing (as relaxing as a completely new place can be). Then the end of the week and the mad frenzy to finish everything for the unveiling. We slaughtered a cow. This is traditionally a man's job and women are not allowed to help out. Robi didn't want to partake in the slaughtering, but wanted to see how it was done, at least once. The slaughtering of the cow was an interesting experience that I don't know if I'd like to do again. I know that it is how we get beef, that I really enjoy eating, but is was a little much. I helped a little.

Samuel, the "Uncle" who works at the house most days and takes care of a great many things, got a lasso around the cow's neck. Then the cow, know that this was not good, started to try to get away. This is where I was able to help my little bit. About four men got on the rope and eventually were able to tie the cow to a tree stump in the corral (called kraal). The cow was immobilized and it's head put to the ground. It was slaughtered by simply cutting its neck. Unfortunately, the knife was not very sharp and it was not a quick kill. This was the part that I really did not like. I talk with people after the fact and asked about the process, saying that I know that Kosher cows are slaughtered humanely and quickly, as well as bulls in Spanish bullfights. I wondered if rural South Africa could learn something from them. (Sounds a little funny when I actually put in down on paper.) But I was told that they slaughter the cow in a ritual manner. Everything is done to make sure that the "ancestors" are not angered. A section from the cow's esophagus (I think specifically the Adam's apple) is taken out and hung in a nearby tree as a sacrifice to the "ancestors". (A little background: It is believed that when people die here, they go to heaven (or the sky). Then they are the link between the living and God. So the ancestors have the same faults that we do. Since we can't talk directly to God ourselves, we have to be nice to the ancestors so that they speak nicely of us to God.) After the cow was slaughtered, the blood had to be covered so that they other cows, who were watching the whole time, didn't go crazy at the smell and sight of blood, which they supposedly do. So we then had to drag the slaughtered cow through the fence, into the next section of yard, where we put the cow on to metal and skinned it. Very interesting to see how they used every part of the animal. I would have enjoyed the experience more if there was no killing in the middle. Well...I'm running out of time for now. I will pick this up later.

Next on the list....Brewing traditional beer and the actual event.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Department of Education News

This past week, we have gotten some interesting news. Last Monday, there was a memo sent out by the Provincial Director of the Department of Education stating that two of our school would be merged with a third school just outside of town. Our two schools, Mafale and Mmatope, have 339 and 440 students, respectively. While the DoE has been talking about combining schools for a little while, it was always about merging schools with under 300 students. To make things even more interesting, the merger is to take place in preparation for the new school year, January 1, 2008. That gives the schools 3 months to work out the logistics of the merger, and probably build a few new buildings at Mmatope to house the 900 students that they will have in Grades R through 7. At first, we were in shock, then can to believe that it was not a possibility on such short notice. Everything went back to normal.

Today, I was working at Mokopye More Middle School and came across the continuation of the story...It looks as if the DoE has only 280 students at Mafale, allowing it to be considered for absorption, and there are no less than 20 merger that will take place about our area. The two High Schools will be merged (which is actually a sound decision due to low enrollment in one school which has an enormous building with many used rooms) and they will add Grades 8 & 9. So, the primary schools will be Grades R through 7 and the high school will be Grades 8 through 12. Doing some quick math, I don't see much room for a middle school, do you? Again, this is to be implemented as of Jan 1, 2008. Being selfish, that means that I will be losing both of the schools I was supposed to help, within 4 months of arriving. Not such a great thing. Thinking beyond myself, both principals at Mafale and Mokopye More may be out of a job or relocated. For both of them, this is not good. They are well established members of the community. It would be a big loss for the community and not such a nice thing for them to go through.

With all this happening, the rumors are flying. One I heard was that the North West Provincial Director of Department of Education is getting back at the Principal of Mafale for speaking up in a meeting. Another is that the principal of Mmatope is in on the preparation and has been building new buildings in preparation. Both rumors seem to have no substance. We will see how this plays itself out, but I am worried that it is a big political mess.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Useful Links

To start with, I would like to thank everyone who commented and emailed me through this blog or directly. It is very comforting to connect back home. Also, Robi has come across two great websites -

1. The International Book Project - There goals are right in line with why we are so far from home. Check out there site at
2. Waterless Gardening Irrigation System - One of our schools has a big garden that they will use to feed their learners (as well as provide food for disadvantaged families of learners at the school). Coming out of the drought, they have been given money to get a Drip Irrigation system. Really cool and it uses grey water, like your bath water and the water you used to do your dishes. Here's their site for the Hippo Roller (a way to transport water larger distance) , a link to the Drip Irrigation System , and to read a review of it, here is a link through the Peace Corps.

In addition, my mother sent information on another project called the Mother Bear Project which will help children affect by the HIV/AIDS problem in Africa. Here is the website -

Please check them out a see what you can do to help.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Photos online

Good news. I have been able to create a website through Shutterfly to show you all pictures from South Africa. Bad news: you can only see it if you have the password. Email me for the password. The link to the website, called "The Travelling Rawlburys", is on the right. Enjoy and let us know what you think.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Chasing Pigs

We continue to get settled. We are starting a garden and my back is killing me from turning up the soil. Robi has been planting seedlings small containers and storing them in the cabinets. Yesterday, in our second day with electricity (YAY!), I was working in the garden and talking with a student who wants help studying for his matriculation exams, when the three pigs opened the gate and ran out into the yard. It was time to chase them down and get them into the pen. One problem, they are huge, at least my size, if not bigger. So we (Me, Samuel, Romeo, and Robi) chased them around for about 30 minutes and finally got them back. I must say that it was an experience that I did not expect. But fun was had by all. Always a new experience in South Africa.