Seven weeks has flown. To some extent it’s because we’re all so busy, however I think the whole experience has become a part of our life. What will we come home with from being in Thaba Tseka? I’d like to feel that I’ll slow down my pace of life, spend the time cooking food instead of buying packaged stuff, walk that mile and a half to the shops rather than jump in the car. I’m not naïve enough to believe that everything can transfer, my ouzo from a Greek holiday never tasted as good back in Wales. That said I hope I’ll take that Basotho attitude to honesty and friendship, maybe give the time to people and lastly just enjoy the fact I’m healthy and happy.
Work is ever changing bringing a new sense of adventure and a playful attitude to teaching. How much fun can you have with primary children? Perhaps we’ve forgotten with exams and constant comparisons how intuitively inquisitive and creative young minds are. These children make their own wire cars, can use packaging to create little worlds. They have little formal technological development, but give them the opportunity and you can’t but embrace their joy. Using paint for the first time on their hands, building castles with draw bridges that work, potato stamping. If I’d been told I’d be in a class doing this a year ago I’d have laughed!
That said the maths is tough. They are so used to repeating a question before giving an answer, have little or no experience of practical applications or investigational work. When they get the chance we are fighting a reluctance to engage in anything where the information is not just given. That’s the challenge to let them see how cool a subject it can be. Grade five over the last weeks are looking at special numbers – Primes, Square and Pascal’s Triangle. We are learning ways of maybe giving these numbers characters as well as characteristics. Once it becomes, “I am a prime, I am one of the kings of numbers.”
Anyway over the last fortnight we went on our first outing. We’d met the HiJinx team in the chapter Cardiff last January and spent a day with a group of young adults with learning difficulties. Four had the chance to go out to Lesotho and work with some Basotho children putting on some dramatic work. In this group were Victoria from Tenby and Gareth from Cardiff. The amount of times that you hear “It’s a small world” in this case Victoria is known to a school friend, Gareth Evans, and Gareth is known to another friend from Aberystwyth, Lindy Martin.
The production was terrific, outside in a grass auditorium. A crowd of 400 primary school children saw one showing and later a secondary school. One excited youngster rushed up saying she’d been taught 5 years earlier by a Welsh Teacher from Dolen.
Morija was amazing. We saw the museum where we learnt that its better to have a daughter than a son as when marrying the local custom dictates that the future groom’s family need to pay 21 cows a certain amount of goats and one sheep. We also saw the first church in Lesotho built by the French, a lovely craft center run by a Canadian and best of all Dinosaur foot prints from – yes the Lesothosaurus! We took a 7 mile hike to the top of the highest local mountain, I have a photo of me as Rakiki on pride rock. Our Lodge owner was a lovely French lady called Brigitte, who had married a Lesotho man and lived there most of her adult life, investing in the local community through youth projects and education. Again how small is Wales. Brigitte is friendly with Anne Loughlan ( Dolen stalwart) from Carmarthen. As a note of interest Brigitte was enthusing about a group from Plas Mawr, school in Cardiff, saying how courteous and well behaved they were on their visit supporting local schools.
As for the journey, unforgettable is perhaps the best description. On the way down we caught a taxi. This is like a white van with 14 seats. It cruises around until they’ve filled up and then starts the 5 hour journey. After half an hour we were 19 and a baby listening to blasting gospel music. The return was a large bus from Maseru with a religious program on the radio, constantly punctuated by the statement “Quality time”. The roads are dangerous – a bit like the Alps but in battered buses. Ours was climbing some 40% gradient when we heard an enormous bang from underneath. Our last 4 hours was spent on our knees praying that it wasn’t the brakes and promising to spend some quality time. Interspersing all this was the constant shouting in my ear from a manic herdsman. He was leaning over grinning at me and saying, who knows what in Sesotho. After he had finally gone, and I wasn’t deaf any more, a young student told me that the gentleman really wanted to find out who we were and what we were doing. This is where you see the fact that these people love visitors.
From Monday it’s just been St. David’s Day. We agreed on a general mix of activities trying to combine songs, crafts and some research. Throw in a little storytelling through drama and you get the idea. Again it’s been amazing. Not just what they bring to the table as children and teachers but also how much I’ve learnt from Vicki and Alyson. I’ve drawn cathedrals, celtic crosses, dragons and infographics, but the most fun has been with the little ones adding daffodil potato stamps, hand prints on a dragon, a graffiti wall covered by sayings like “11 million sheep can’t be wrong”. The two highlights were grade zero singing Bore Da dressed as daffodils interspersed with some in Welsh costume and a manic inflatable leek, additionally the story of Gelert which was developed from Vicki’s Pie Corbett but narrated live with a troupe of actors acting out the key roles. The Basotho teachers were amazing, a short introduction on Welsh love spoons and suddenly grade 4 were presenting their designs and what they meant. “This shows I love God and I love my Teachers.” Another typical Sion concoction, a cardboard box castle, was trumped by these creative monsters with designs incorporating stairs, water towers, flower gardens and even a washing line! My friend from Ardwyn days, Michael Hogg commented on Facebook that it was like Patagonia transferred to Africa. I guess he was right. We are building on two years of global links in this area.
Alyson cooked the population of Wales in Welsh cakes the other day. Everything is a new learning experience for me. Never had I realized the importance of the proper margarine, why they may not rise, how much chaos a little flour creates. My designated role was quite basic as washer up, enviously looking at Vicki, enjoying turning over the cakes, while Alyson made the mix and generally barked orders at me!
We’re still living in harmony. We still eat together, cooking is mainly vegetarian ranging from pasta to risotto to soups. It’s a bit like being back in university halls. Today after Saint David’s Day the Thaba Tseka school invited us out for pizza as a welcome and a greeting. To say that we felt humbled is an understatement. We feel welcomed and appreciated and that’s a stunning emotion. These people don’t take us for granted, they tell us straight if they agree or not, but today they brought us into their family.
There are customs we are still getting used to. They think nothing of referring to each other as “you know the fat one” or telling you that it is ill mannered not to eat when others are. The children are just wonderful, from those who walk with you to school, insisting on carrying your bag, to those who sing along with you on the walk. The latest favourite is the Alyson Krause version of “Down to the river to pray”. We were fortunate to see some local youths teaching Loti school children a choral piece with a four-part harmony. These young men looked as if they were gangstas from the ghettos but boy could they sing. One had a full range from bass to alto.
It’s taken me the seven weeks to get used to the little people. By that I mean the little monsters under 1 metre who reside in reception and grade 1. These munchkins have a fascination with the hair on my arms, stroking them constantly as if I were an angora goat. They originally seemed like characters from Lord of the Flies with me as piggy, but I am now getting used to them rushing up and hugging me.
I wouldn’t have survived the prep for this week without Vicki who came in on my only day at Loti school to work with all the classes. Again it was lovely having finished at Thaba Tseka to walk over the mountain to Loti and tell them that Mme Alyson and Ntate David were going to see them all explain their work or perform their songs. We are still a team, still good friends and very focused on leaving our legacy. The next two challenges are the sports day and the WASH challenge. After that it’s a quick run down to Easter and our trips to either South Africa or Zimbabwe. I’m going to miss my three mates.
So back to Saint David. I tried in both schools to give his message about the “Small things in life” and at the end of the day reflected that it’s the small things that are helping us assimilate here.