So what is it like to revisit an experience that changed your life. I guess the answer is different but strangely comfortable.
Having felt at a loss coming back from Lesotho, I was lucky to get the chance to go out again this year. That feeling of loss was primarily because I felt that there was work to do and that I had no sense of closure. Perhaps that’s what this work is … a constant feeling that it will never be finished.
The experience this time is different, no team of three, no one to whinge to when the day has been a disaster. There’s also that missing company when you finally sit down for a meal and realise that you’re looking at one knife, one fork and a single lonely little spoon. There’s no one to palm off the dish washing to either!!!
Evenings are longer and the trick is to somehow make it seem that there’s a constant conversation going on or that I’m busy. A good trick is to sit in one chair say something quite outrageous, maybe about Brexit and then swap to a different chair and argue the alternative. Interestingly REMAIN always seems to win in this argument!!
Obviously another difference is that you are starting from some previous knowledge of what to expect and more importantly relationships with people. It’s been lovely seeing teachers who last year started so formally giving me a warm bone crushing hand shake and then an all embracing hug. Teachers who came to Wales on the LTPP calling round with their husbands for a chat, maybe to check if I’m fine.
Perhaps most refresh are the constant greetings from the children who I met and taught last year. A funny experience was a casual conversation with a child from Loti school as I took a hike on a Saturday.
“ you look like Ntate Sion”
“ I am Ntate Sion”
“ Oh …. welcome”
For a surreal moment I thought I was Kirk Douglas re-enacting Spartacus. Groups running up and giving you a hug, the calls across the valleys…"Ntate Sion how are YOOOU". The look of disbelief that you came back.
Work has been good it’s not as constant as last year where there was that anchor of Thaba Tseka and Loti schools. I’m in the four schools for only half a day each and then facing a new challenge with three new schools in the rural village of Montsenyane. What do I think I will achieve with a day in schools at the most? I’m not sure but they the teachers are keen. The three schools I’ve seen in the town are organising themselves, e-mailing me what they want to team teach, what topics they want to chat to me about. It’s much more driven by them and I think that’s a really positive development.
I’m a little tentative about working in the mountains. There is an hour bus ride followed by the best part of half an hour on a dust track. The distances make a daily commute impossible so I’ll be staying at a Catholic Church centre. I have no idea what the accommodation is like, what the facilities are like - even if there is electricity. That said the chance to support some teachers up there and help in classes with the children is too good to pass. The one visit I’ve had already was a joy. A small three teacher school in Mahlong. In Lesotho three teacher school means 157 on role. The kids were lovely, what made me laugh was them at the office door not knocking but saying “knock knock teeeecher “ when they wanted to come in.
The children are still beautiful. The lessons are great, they want to be involved, to articulate, approval. Talking to a friend on FB and saying that they beam when you say how good that piece of work is, or explain that with a slight change they will get the correct answer. She came back with that there’s no measuring the actual difference little acts of kindness make in a person’s life. She could well be right.
Staff have also changed. Those that we worked with last year are up and about, dynamic, moving around the class when the children have been set a task. Maybe what my colleague Mandy said last year about just being here makes a difference is true.
The other big change in work has been the warm reception by the DRT (school support officers). One of them Mme Mputswe came to Wales last summer and she has galvanised the others to reassess how they work in classrooms with teachers. We had a really good workshop which started cautiously and with an element of “what is this about” and ended with them participating, doing problems, asking questions and plenty of appreciative OOOHOO’s. I always feel that that’s the moment that we are on the same side. That said a course starting at 9:00 began half an hour later - Basotho time is a local constant.
That joy they have in success makes me smile. While waiting to start at the DRT, we were aware of wild screams, the hooting of horns, and that murmur of a song in the background. Going outside I could see the whole of Ntaote High School - yes everyone staff and children outside dancing and singing in celebration of their achieving best school status for the District. Maybe the school league tables in UK are bland and outdated … this seemed a lot more fun.
Elsewhere the teachers they are looking after me. Making sure I eat, checking I’m careful on my walks. Chess sets that friends have donated are being used and the children are starting to play what they’ve up to know only learnt about on paper. The accommodation is great, I have the run of the chalet and aside from 'no electricity Thursday’ I’m enjoying the space and quiet to read, watch a bit of football sit in the garden and prepare lessons. My evenings are shared with a little cricket who is hiding somewhere in the kitchen and who at 8pm sharp starts communicating with every one of his little mates outside. Boy is he loud.
The saddest thing is still how hard life is here. You don’t see it from the interaction but you feel it. Three months without water and there are no greens. Two little girls I taught last year in grade 7 and who should be in High School, who chatting to me on the road, when asked why they were not in school said they did not have the money to pay for the quarter. These were bright girls. The government have done wonders for education in making primary free, but high school still entails a cost. The people are amazing though - proud, resilient, family orientated.
I’ve been here a fortnight already and another month sees some friends come out to do some specific projects for a fortnight.The weather has been hot and dry and windy and dusty - there was a local South African warning not to drink too much tea, coffee or alcohol. Also not as they said to take a cold bath in case you get the stroke!! What I know is that when I’m out there walking to work looking at the mountains, trying desperately to remember the odd greeting when somebody greets me, I understand that this slower pace of life is what I need!