The South African Series

The Good Stuff

I’ve discovered that it takes about a week to settle into any new environment, and I’m happy to report that we’re finally settled! But can I confess one thing before I move on to the ponies and rainbows? My confession is this: I dread rainstorms in South Africa. Previously, the thought of a night spent with raging winds and the rain pounding against my window inspired romantic feelings of longing and a desire to cuddle. Now the thought of rain terrifies me. All I can think of is those colossal spiders seeking shelter from the deluge outside – in my house. Last night we had a wicked storm, and when we woke up, there were no ghastly critters in the house. Nuh uh. Instead, the girl’s room was flooded, the kitchen was flooded, and the foyer was flooded. The roof leaks all over the house! (Money Pit.)


The best part of the trip so far has been working with the kids, which is why we’re down here. We have 3 townships that we’ll be working in for the summer: Kurland, Qulwayne (pronounced click-waynee) and Kwanokothula.  The kids in Kurland are in the Learning Center and are on track to go to university after high school; we will be working at an orphanage in Kwanokothula; and the kids at Qulwayne are my pet project. I’ve taken over the 4,5 and 6 year olds (because I don’t spend enough time with that age range at home.)

Reader, if you’re not familiar with South Africa’s history, in which education is a synopsis:

South Africa was colonized by the British, became a republic under the Boers, who brutally oppressed the natives and provided them with just enough education to become a field hand, gardener or a maid. This was Bantu education. South Africa hasn’t gotten much better, 15 years after apartheid. (Google the gaps.)

Here’s an example of what makes my days so good: Today, I pulled the grade R kids (kindergarten) aside and tried to find out who knows their alphabet. In a “class” of 15, 2 kids knew the majority of their letters, which is what I had been told to expect. Well, since I was going to be playing teacher, I had to know my students’ names, right? Xhosa names are sooo different from (simple!) Akan names, so I put on my listening ears, wet my lips, flexed my tongue, and started from left to right. The kids are very particular about their names, so I did my best to get it right. Fortunately, they were all wearing name tags, which should have made my tast even easier.

Sovuswe is about 6 years old, and is one of the kids who knows his alphabet. He is eager to show off. He repeats his name twice, and I finally get it right. So-VUU-zwe.

The cute little girl with light brown eyes sitting next to him name tag read Okhusle. Ha! Simple enough.

“My dear…what is your name?” I asked, furtively reading her tag. “O-koo-sle?”

She looked up at me, smiling with missing teeth.

“O-qlick-swqlick-le,” she said.


“O-click-le,” I said confidently.

She shook her head.

“O-qlick-swqlick-le,” she repeated.

“O-cleeck-le,” I said with finality.

Her smile faded. She looked annoyed. If she coulda cussed me, I’m sure she would. Look you dumb mutha f*cka, I already said ‘O-qlick-swqlick-le’ like 6 times. It’s real simple! 2 qlicks (not ‘click’) and roll your tongue like THIS. Oh MY GOD, you dumb, fat sow!!

After reading her thoughts, I stopped trying; which is just as well, because it was time for the kids to eat. The lunch lady interrupted our oral spar as I fixed my mouth to try again. We eyed each other measuring one another like 2 boxers going to battle knowing that we would have to have face one another again soon. We were stuck in the same lot until August.