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.

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