Back to School with a little bit of travelling....

Trip Start Jan 23, 2007
Trip End Feb 23, 2008

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Die Opstal

Flag of South Africa  ,
Friday, February 8, 2008

Back to prove to my Father I'm not a Fool! I don't know if we have any Billy Madison fans in the crowd, but we went back to school... and the party just came to a crashing halt... at such a blinding speed my mind was left in New Years.

Some things have remained the same since Sarah and I started school: I still get up at 6:30 when the sun comes over the mountains and into my bedroom window... now I just have to stay awake, the kids are still monsters hiding behind cute smiles, and they tend to attack us with a starvation for attention that runs much deeper than food.... Other than that we really have been having lots of fun and trying to enjoy ourselves though we've been jostled around a little bit by the time crunch that we are under...

The stress of the situation looms over us like dark clouds on the horizon... it has nothing to do with "not wanting to come home" (though who would want to leave a simple paradise to return to bills, 9-5s, bosses, stress>>) but the ever looming return is a bit stressful... there were presents to be bought, last minute sights to be seen, wine to be drank, wine to be smuggled, and hugs to be handed out!

School did start with a bit of a blitzkrieg back into the reality that I talked about earlier. Close to the first week of school, Mr. Kearns, one of the 6th grade teachers, lost his mother-in-law...So to do a favor, I stepped in and taught 6th grade for about 6 days. Now this has a lot of underlying issues that seemed to be smashed together in a violent collision of prejudice, finger pointing, and blame... but that would be a massive digression, so I digress:

I have learned many things while traveling... the first being that looking into someone's creation; at all its intricacies, beauty and imperfections is quite an honor. You can see the choices made by those who created this thing or in our case lifestyle: how they built the foundation, how they grew, how life after a while takes a toll on everything... the stresses, and strains... Africa is one of the most amazing places to watch the way people interact... the intricacies of the dialogue, the references to new and old South Africa, and which one of the speaker believes was better.

The only problem that we have as travelers is that we are always watching from the seaside; looking inward at the land to see what the new people are doing, and the scary part is that eventually when you stand on the beach too long the tide comes and washes you away. This is when you feel lost and homesick, when you are really confused as to whom are your friends and who are not. But, hopefully you get thrown back on to the beach, and you try to watch again. Each time building a stronger foundation so that eventually when the tide comes in you can weather the storm.

Lately Sarah and I have been weathering the storm. We took about 10 rounds of jabs... now we figured out how to put are guards up... actually we have started jabbing back. By no means have I discovered the keys to salvation for Africa... well maybe if some of them asked WWJD... but Sarah and I have had 4 months of exposure to areas and issues that are not very soft. With the added benefit of living and working in polar worlds many people's true colors have come out in different ways. The hidden prejudices or what seem to us to be obscure ways of thinking have taught us a lot about the people we associate with. Personally, like most sensitive subjects, we have come to the true conclusion that there are always two sides to every story... somewhere in the middle is the truth... and most of the time everyone should be carrying some of the blame.

The main arguments that we find ourselves in basically surrounds the "difference between people" and the fact that here everyone seems to think difference stems from some sort of color: be it blue or green or some of the many shades of brown that cross over all of humanity (Really light brown to very dark brown). There is a lot of finger pointing over who should be the one to blame... who's fault it is that people were not educated in the past, economically enslaved to the cast in life, or that now they have no role models, that most of their teachers are 'failing' them, and the same people who fought for the right to end oppression, are now the ones responsible for oppressing the masses, running corrupt governments, and failing to achieve everything that great people once fought for.

At the end of the day we can see who we agree with and who we don't. Sarah and I have the chance to look past the hate and maybe we do not have a better perspective (by any means... our little 4 month stint here has taught us a lot and I doubt that in years and after much studying that I would be able to form a better perspective...), but ours just seems to be a bit more objective.

So we have done what everyone has told a us not to do... we talked about government, poverty, oppression, and racism with a South African... and I came to realize that for every word exchanged I enjoyed the country more and more... It seems that amidst chaos and conflict of opinion, you can really understand people better and appreciate the life.

The end (of the digression).

So I should say most of this started after I was teaching for couple of days (I mentioned it a couple paragraphs ago... its okay, just scroll back). Sarah and I opened our eyes more to the methods of teaching here at Nederburg, and we found it odd that we did more lesson planning than the rest of the staff some time!!

Soon enough a routine settled in as I taught 6th grade and Sarah discovered a new girl that she is planning to smuggle away in her luggage. I have tried to tell her that you can't check a 7 year old but I give her credit for trying. The girls name is Britney... and like so many others, she has glued herself to Sarah's leg and has yet to let go...the effort has its perks: Britney normally gets our left overs, Sarah carries her around after school, she can count to ten in English and Afrikaans, and if we are playing on the computers and reading in the Library...Britney is playing on the computers and reading in the library from Sarah's lap!! This did become a problem when Britney didn't come home one day and her mom had to send her older sister to school to pry Britney off Sarah's leg. She has become a permanent member of our after school club!! This I must say, though, is not doing so well.

Paarl is an oven! About 4 degrees from hell, the afternoon sun normally scorches from above at around 40 degrees Celsius (102 F) which has plagued our after-school kick-ball club... the pavement is too hot for the barefoot children to even stand on and 15 min water-breaks are more than necessary; needless to say I am normally sweating my butt off running around with the kids for an hour, meanwhile this activity is perpetuating the fight against my mortal enemy: The Farmers Tan if only one could still look cool with his or her sleeves rolled up over the shoulders!!

We try to find times during the day to beat the heat... so that normally means hiding in the Library or working on the computers... but in the end the oven always wins and we all just bake away waiting for the sun to set!

So that is school and roughly what life has been like since January 16th... however I do have some stories from our personally adventures around SA

The weekend of the 18th-21st Lizelle took off work and we headed out for a good old fashioned road trip up the west coast! Now at this time our particular version of what a South African coast is like had been shaped by about a dozen or so different trips to beaches of Sun, Sand, and always a roaring breeze! So, Friday we started to pack as we waited for Lizelle and her "friend" Lourens (the wine maker) to come pick us up... I happened to be down stairs when Sarah motioned me to come up post haste! So I casually strolled up stairs thinking nothing was very wrong and I opened the door into a furry of fanatic yells with a filial of arms: this is Sarah in max freak out mode. The only thing she kept saying is WE ARE ILLEGAL

What happened here was that we needed to return to the home affairs office one month after our application was placed and before the prior visa expired... that day was Friday... the office closed at 4, the realization that we totally and completely forgot was about 5...Sarah was sure we were going to be deported.

One big bear hug later from me and some calming words from our German friends, we decided that a little white lie could help us out on Monday when the office opened again... until then we were off to the West Coast

And we took off... Fugitives on the run... your regular old Bonnie and Clyde or Billy the Kid seeing that we just came from Argentina!

We set out to Paternoster... this little Dutch fishing town tucked in the a tiny bay lost in time, where little white house and bright colored boats lined the shores... the only sounds where the ocean... the only people were fisherman who left the house at 4am to head out for the first catch! Our home base was at Lizelle's Great-Uncle, if there is a term, Francois... Imagine the man that hunted Moby Dick... Captain Ahab, the Tall, weathered man, two different color eyes, wind swept white hair and a mangy beard, thick skin tanned by scars and labor rather than the sun, a half a glass of wine next to him with the bottle in reach, and a pipe in his hand. Do you have the picture in you head... okay now imagine he has a fisherman vest on and a pair of crocs with some cargo shorts... this is the man we spent weekend with... the perfect sailor from the year 2008.

We spent the first night in Paternoster on the beach with a large group of people braai-ing and drinking wine by moon light... only this beach was a campsite turned hostel and had the only cash bar for about 13kms. It was a perfect night, the only problem was the weather... see the west coast is all the Atlantic ocean whereas the southern coast and into Cape Town relies on a bit of a warm breeze fed by the warm currents for the Indian Ocean... well No warm currents meant no warm air... meant Sarah and I wore Lizelle's jeans, hoodies, and anything else we could find to keep us was like 52... and after 102, it felt like freezing~!

The next morning we took a day trip out to Longenbaan, it was definitely not as cold during the day time but the wind was sandblasting my legs as Lorenz schooled me in a game that I think we call Bocce Ball...and they call Boulle! The wind made for a difficult day, but the scenery was perfect... I ate Oysters for the first time, and the wind turned out to be perfect for the Kite surfers all 179 of them... yes kite surfers... the guys that attach themselves to parachutes while 79km/h winds pick them up off the ground and push them across the water at close to 65 mph with a surfboard attached to their feet... somehow 179 of them all left form the same beach... only 2 people got tangled... and they headed off for a 17k race out through the bay... very cool too watch, however I came to the realization that any sport where I have to strap myself to a parachute and stand on a beach while I learn to not get carried away by the wind (and this process takes months) is way too time consuming... definitely cool... but too time consuming.

This just so happened to be the same time that the twins came home; first Arno who had been home earlier in November and then Hein who had not been home for a year... Wonder how that felt? The boys came home from London for some prospective job interviews (strongly supported by a mother who was hoping they would come back home) and for the simple fact that it was their birthday!! It was nice having the guys around... I had two lifting partners and Sarah and I had some extra company for a couple of weeks. We spent their birthday at a local German restaurant that served proper German Beers... Liter size only... so after a round we headed back home and out to the Water Gat. I have mentioned this place in past Blogs... the two stepping farmer club... techno music with waltz steps... typical farm boy place... check the 2nd blog. Anyways for all of those of you who remember, we decided to make this trip to the club a little more interesting than the last seeing that it was a birthday night and all! I took it upon myself to play the fool for everyone else's amusement. Basically under the context that we were about to enter the cultural center of homophobia for the Paarl Winelands area, I thought it was ultra fitting that I should go to the club in a Fish Nets meet gold sequence ensemble with the hope of keeping a straight face through out the night...and possibly starting an unnecessary fight for the twins birthday! Beside some awkward stares, everyone seemed to take it okay, and in fact I was not part of the Great Boora War that took place later on that evening. Some semi-pro Rugby player who tested his manliness at the bar all night long with brandy now felt he needed to demonstrate his manliness on the smallest pudgy kid in the club. It was one, two, and down as the pudgy kid punked this mammoth guy who didn't even know what happened before he hit the floor and everyone and their friend tried to get a sucker punch in. I don't think I have ever seen someone smile as much as our David did while he sat and watched Goliath get thrown out of the bar, bleeding from his head, and reminding everyone that he will kill them... "And their ma... and their pa... BANG BANG"!! It must be terrible to see an entire club full of people laughing at you while you make idol threats... Cheers big guy, I hope you felt manly when you woke up in the morning!!

This was a long day... by the time we made it home it was 3 in the morning... exactly 24hours hours since Sarah and I woke up.

Ok for those who didn't realize... I'm pulling terntino on all of you... I started with the beginning and now I'm working backwards and forwards at the same time so that by the end hopefully you will know everything we did, but you'll have to watch the movie again to get the order.

So 24 hours before the great Boora war I was preparing myself for battle, though I don't know which one was worse? A 3am alarm clock ring reaches people on different level than the 5am or 6am. When I hear an alarm at 3am I am normally sent in to shock set on by an intense feeling of one of 3 things: FIRE, ROBBERY, or DAMN IT~!!! I have to go run and any run that necessitates a 3am wake up is not a short run. So Sarah and I were off on the hour and a half drive out to Fish Hoek at 4am, in the dark of NIGHT out to the coast on about 4 hours of sleep!! I was competing in the Red Hill 36.2 Km run about (22 miles). It was a beautiful 5 am start as the sun came up over the clouds... Sarah caught some amazing pictures. She really is a trooper about the running thing: I wake her up early, drive her out to the middle of nowhere, keep her around after the race to see if I win the lucky draw, and then drive her home. She is my cheerleader and most of all my spiritual running partner- cause while I am running 22 miles, she is right there sleeping in the car for a couple hours while I am gone on a 3:09 run

The race was great... I have a bit of running coach, who goes by the name of Mr. Marathon. See what happens is that I run in the same shirt every time... (the lucky BA shirt)... well the same 1000 people that run every weekend and surprisingly enough you just get recognized... well one of the these said runners is Mr. Marathon who just so happened to be the coarse record holder for the race that we were running...he gave me some pointers and lets just say he's fast, but thanks to the tips I had a great finish.

Later that day we were watching a fight at the club... all in all perfect day!!

The Last little bit of our interesting month was what I would like to call our quick renewal of faith...

Let's start with the lapse in faith... not necessarily a religious faith, it was more the faith in the work that we were doing. The week with the 6th graders did not help create the feeling that either Sarah or I were accomplishing anything. In fact, I pretty much believe that 50 children vs. Me is not a classroom environment at all, yes that is 50 children in one classroom... most Universities have better odds than that and they are not dealing with language barrier or irresponsible and rude 11 or 12 years. I have talked about the challenges that we have teaching here in fact the problem starts with the hello... commanding the same level of respect from the children that call you "Dan" rather than Mr. Stanton... or see you as a buddy and a free day in the class room, rather than the lesson planner looking to achieve some sort of outcome! Again I fell into a rut...stressing myself out over the children, letting them get the better of me...

However, promptly after Mr. Kearn's return Sarah and I were given the opportunity to hang out with some of the exceptional kids outside of the classroom. The primary schools around here have a program called "The Prefects" which is a child that has demonstrated an ability (I'd say exceptional ability... but then there wouldn't be enough kids for the program, so just the ability) to be a role model and do well in their school work. The kids are chosen after 6th grade however overall input is given to all of the teachers.

This special little group gets to go on "life skills"/ self-esteem building 4 day retreat to help instill a lot of hope, belief, unity, and maybe by the end they see something inside themselves that the people around them never took the time to even notice.

We played camp games... team building egg races... pool relays... toss in some good old fashioned camp food and we would have thought we were back in the U.S.

The camp ended with the typical end-of-the-retreat concert filled with songs... skits and some personal embarrassment for the kids. We ended with a nice walk into town for some ice cream... something none of these kids have ever done... the pictures say thousands of words and the bonding we got to do will hopefully last a little while.

Today its movie night... we are sweltering in the heat- tomorrow we are going shark diving...

Ps. We were never deported- After a frantic review of our story, Sarah and I boldly walked into the Office of Home Affairs willing to purger ourselves in front of a customs official...the official never asked what happened... he stamped out passports and we walked out after being officially illegal for 24 hours... sorry Mrs. L (Nancy...Mom), I had to tell you story.

Chau and peace for now!!!

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