Don’t share your blanket with strangers.

Prior to arriving in Jo’berg I looked online at hostels that seemed to be not too too far from the airport and hopefully in good areas of the 12.2 million people city. All I have ever read about Jo’berg has been that it is incredibly dangerous and that you will get raped and/or mugged if you go out past sundown. This seemed awfully similar to my life in Uis so I thought that I shouldn’t have a problem!

I arrived on Saturday afternoon and the airport arranged a taxi for me, which I assumed was legit and reputable given that the gentleman was wearing a bright yellow taxi vest. Everything seemed to be peachy however once I got dropped off at the prison like hostel with its barbed wire entrance I felt like perhaps I should have done a better google search. Upon walking into the reception area the woman at the front, Beauty, asked me how much I paid for the fare. I told her I paid $600Rand and I think she nearly fell over. Good. Apparently taxis are not supposed to run the meter in Jo’berg however mine apparently did. Fail #1. Next I asked if the hostel had wifi as it advertised on the website as I needed to get in touch with family as they arrived in a few days. No wifi apparently however it was getting late and I was exhausted and hungry. I decided to take a walk and Beauty suggested a nice restaurant a few blocks away which apparently had wifi.  I was planning on doing some research to find another hostel in the area that had this ammenity.  The restaurant, Doppeo Zero, didn’t have wifi either but the restaurant manager, after seeing me sit alone and eat half of my meal alone decided to sit down and join me. We got to talking and he was gracious enough to find another hostel/backpacker for me and call to see if they had availability. It was so unexpectedly sweet that it turned the taxi/prison hostel situation right around. I was going to move the following morning to the Backpacker Ritz which seemed to be good from the online photos which the manager told me.

The next morning I walked in and was greeted by a grizzly sized man who said “Good Morning Peach!”. Fabulous. Steve Baines and his wife and three children all lived at the backpacker. They bought the property in 2006 and since then welcome travelers day in and out. Their three kids, ages 12 and 13 were adorable and were either watching tv with me, skating around on their inlined skates or playing their trombones or trumpet. When I arrived, I met two nice girls Jess and Zoey from the UK. We immediately hit it off. This felt comfortable, friendly and the perfect place. Most of the people in the backpacker seemed amicable, greeting you as you walk by. There were couples, a few young girls and then a few stragglers, typically men. I noticed that there was one particular man who was always carrying around a glass of wine regardless of the time of day. He seemed a big curious but I just decided to keep my distance. No problems on Day 1.

The following day I spoke to Steve and his wife, and decided that I would treat myself to a manicure and pedicure because my feet looked similar to that of a cavemans. Even the other volunteers commented on the state of them (the boys commented not even the girls!) Patrick particularly gave me a hard time. Grrr. So they gave me directions and off I went! I hate to admit this but the woman who did my pedicure went through FOUR pompous stones. FOUR. I don’t think I could have been more embarressed. The salon was in a mall very similar to Copley Plaza so I felt like I was right at home. The only thing that was missing was my best friends by my side. I was especially missing Jo and Weez as we always make a routine of doing this at least twice a month. I miss you both! As I was walking by the chic shops and boutiques I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and I couldn’t help but think of the scene in “Into the Wild” where the main actor is essentially homeless and sees himself in a suit in a bar. I saw myself in the reflection and I did look quite desheveled. But I thought I am on the road to recovery with this mani/pedi. Over the past few days I have pampered myself and feel revitalized and refreshed. I also found a yoga studio near the backpacker and have been going daily.

Life back at the backpacker has been anything but stress free however. On Monday evening the German man who had been carrying around a wine glass all day/everyday had been particular rambuncious. On Monday I was sitting on the couch and he moved right next to me and proceeded to ask if he could share my blanket with me. I said no politely but he seemed utterly offended. Later on as he was simply sitting next to me he decided to throw his phone to the other side of the room causing it to break into many pieces obviously. I don’t know if he wanted attention or what but his behavior seemed to be gradually escalating. The British girls and I were also feeling increasingly unsteady with his behavior and mentioned something to Steve and he reassured us that he was fine and had been at the backpacker for a few weeks already without incident.

The following day, the girls and I decided to go and grab breakfast at this amazing bakery close by and then upon our return were met by the German.. again. Per usual, wine glass in hand, he mentioned something about being, “good with us” and then proceeded to pour his newly full glass all over one of the girls. Steve who was sitting at reception, was like an African leopard attacking its prey and immediately jumped to his feet. Next thing I knew the German was on the ground and Steve had his hand on the back of his neck and his face on the ground. Steve dragged him out of the backpacker and he was to have someone come and retrieve his belongings as he was not allowed back on the property. I decided to go to yoga at this point and later upon my return learned from the girls that the German, Dimitri (later learned his name), had called the police on Steve for not giving him back his belongings. Apparently he was arrested and his mother later came to take his things. We found out that the mother had been paying for him to stay at the backpacker and that she wanted her 50 year old son to go to jail.

All in all quite the interesting time at the backpacker. Never a dull moment.

Village Debrief & Reunion

I can’t believe it has been two weeks since I have last seen all of my kids in the classroom. On one hand, I feel like the time has flown due to traveling to Windhoek for a few days for my mid-service and then to Johanessberg.

As I left Uis, I had a flutter of emotions. Nostalgic for familiar faces of the other volunteers yet a little sad to be leaving the comfort of the village. As we arrived in Windhoek, I was tackled by Jordan. Truly the best welcome I could have imagined. Over the course of the afternoon more and more volunteers trickled in and the hugs and stories became bigger and longer. Add some libations to the mix and it turned quickly into quick the reunion.

The following day we spend debriefing on classroom stories, classroom management and generally how village life was treating everyone. It seemed that Jordan and I were the most similar with our behavior issues within the classroom. We commiserated and she gave me a few very helpful tips on what she has been doing that seems to be working. I am looking forward to going back and integrated some of the concepts from the mid-service as well as some positive reinforcement into my daily routine with the kids.

The second day ended with dinner and then karaoke. I am not keen on karaoke however…..TIA. I don’t think the karaoke could have been more fun. The laughs and dancing was over the top as was the amount of alcohol consumed. Also, I must note that African music is about 5-8 years behind US music so there was a lot of Backstreet Boys and similar artists. At one point all of the boys from the group were on stage singing “I want it that way”. I was particularly impressed with Patrick’s solo number. Not only a good teacher but quite the showman.

The last day together was more suggested tips and logistics and then everyone was off to enjoy their holiday. The whole group, except for me and another couple were going to travel on Saturday morning at 5am to Botswana. While I was planning on going to enjoy some alone time in Jo’berg. It was bitter sweet seeing the combi leave with all of my friends but I was looking forward to getting some time away from school, structure and just to reset myself before my family arrived. Now off to Jo’berg!

Bitter Sweet

Friday was the last day the hostel was open for the kids and I was thrilled to have a nice and quiet evening. I was flooded with a mix of emotions, happy that the kids wouldn’t be up all night long yelling across the hostel but also sad that a few of my favorite Grade 12 learners were leaving. The two that I am going to miss the most are Rauna and Esther. Both girls come into my flat from time to time just to talk or hang out with me. Recently they were chatting with me through my bedroom window which opens into the courtyard in the hostel and insisted that they must reorganize my closet. I have observed that most Africans, Loretta not included, are very particular about everything being precisely organized and clean. Although in general people have little in terms of posssessions, they are perfectly organized and kept in perfect condition. In our flat we have no rugs just the cement under our feet and Ms. Armas sweeps and cleans nearly everyday.

As soon as the kids left I was so happy to have some peace and quiet although that was immediately cut short when around 3pm a whole church group of 50 arrived to stay not in the 4 other available hostels, but Ms. Armas and mine. It was a noisy weekend to say the least.

The weekend and this week has and will be spent marking all 160 finals the kids completed last week. I am nearly done this morning and feel incredibly disappointed with how the kids did on their exams. A few of my best learners did fine but the majority of the kids, particularly in Grade 8 did poorly. The average for all of Grade 8 was 20.5% and the average for Grade 10 was 48%. From my practicum and orientation with WorldTeach they prepared us to expect similar results however I can’t help but feel badly about this outcome. Some of the other teachers have reported similar results but still I feel awful about the outcomes from my kids.