Thursday, June 12, 2008

my usb cable is here!

finally! here is the video of Sbu and Khanyiso from our last day at Fezeka. i miss them so much! enjoy :)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

who needs american idol?

this was our goodbye present from the choir...

stay tuned because as soon as i get my new USB cord in the mail i will upload the video of Sbu and Khanyiso who sang a special piece they did just for us!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

memories last longer than dreams.

after monday i only made it to the computer lab once or twice for less than 30 minutes. as you can tell, it takes me a lot longer than 30 minutes to write an update. so here ya go. 5 pages (in microsoft word) of a weeks worth of activities.

the view of Norfolk from the flight back.

well, i'm home.

It feels weird and normal all at them same time. It kind of freaks me out. My parents picked me up at the airport yesterday and it was like I just left. These past 3 weeks have gone by too fast. Way too fast.

I left off (a week ago, sorry) telling you about the workshop we were putting together for Tuesday. It went really really well. We didn’t know where we were going to hold it until 1130am…it started around 130. We found an empty classroom that was probably the size of my living room and about 120 students showed up for the workshop. The first 45 piled in and we thought that was going to be it. No problem, right? Our Life Orientation classes were about that size and sometimes bigger so we weren’t sweating… yet. We started the talk about sex and HIV/AIDS awareness then the doors opened again and a flood of students walked in. The first group had chairs but this second group did not. That means about 75 students were standing in this room. Wall to wall. We started to sweat. In the middle of our sex talk when these kids came in you could probably hear a pen drop and we all looked at each other like “uhhhhh. Crap.”

It went so great though; regardless of that surprise. We had a PA system but we didn’t always use it because the discussion was flowing so nicely. We had students come up to the front and speak about their views on xenophobia and what was happening around them. One girl wrote a poem and came up to recite it. I think Crystle has a copy of it so I’ll try to get it from her and put it up here. It gave me goosebumps. Another girl, who will probably rule the world one day because she was an amazing public speaker and so smart and assertive came up and spoke about xenophobia saying, “We are ALL African. We need to live together and respect each other and not be divided by hate and violence”. Goosebumps again.

We handed out rulers and pamphlets from rape crisis and gave them all pens for the famous question and answer session. More disturbing questions and a few ‘thank you’ notes. We answered almost all that came in.

After school we had an appointment with the school board downtown. We met with the finance office, two men. We brought LuLu, one of the teachers from Fezeka. Those teachers never get the chance to be heard, especially by the big wigs downtown. She let them have it and it was awesome. Every question we had was “not their job” and they directed us to the District Office for further assistance. THANKS for nothing. At least they heard us and you can rest assure that was not the last time they will hear us.

Wednesday we went to Stellenbosch University, 30 minutes north of Cape Town. It’s an Afrikaans college. Very traditional. We met with the theology department and some grad students and faculty. Jen’s friend Richard is a professor there so he introduced us to everyone and conducted a forum to just discuss what we’ve been up to and how xenophobia has played a part in our work sites. It was nice to talk about our work with people who are living through this situation first hand. After the meeting Richard and his wife took us to one of the wineries a few minutes up the road. There are lots of wineries in that region and the one we went to made us feel like we were in Italy or Spain….not Africa. It was gorgeous. I loved the first white wine we had (yeah I went to a wine tasting! I know Mrs. Bernstein is jealous).

Liz and I painted the book cart. Remember I told you it was a black box that had about six or seven books in it? Well, drum roll please, here it is now! In the next few we will be in contact with Fezeka and see how we can start getting things together to start a book donation contact and also working on grant writing for the library.

the book cart before

book cart after!!!

pretty sweet stars huh?

Friday, Linda from District 6 gave us a dinner party at her house. The food was delicious. Grilled chicken, pasta salad, salad, cake, a spicy sausage I sampled from Liz’s plate. Yum yum yum. We got home around midnight and crashed.

me and my AMAZING roommate ashley.

Saturday morning Meredith and I woke up early, well, she was supposed to wake me up at 845 to leave by 9 for the local record stores. Turns out she woke me up at 820 and we got down to long street by 840…..the stores don’t open until 9. Do you remember me saying there aren’t any clocks in the guest house? Thank god for ipods with the time on them. So we just walked around until 9 and checked out some local shops. I got my dad a Jimi Hendrix record that he doesn’t have! How did that happen? We got some cool stuff from the African Music Store. And I bought a new wallet from the surf shop on Long Street….it’s Volcom. I went to South Africa and bought a Volcom wallet…..sue me.

That afternoon a few of us went to another beach to try to get one more surf session in before we left. Myrtle and Hester came with us! They are so cool. Did I tell you about them? Hester is the president of the Domestic Workers Union (the organization my professor works with and that’s what she did her thesis on and why she lived and worked in South Africa since 1995) Myrtle is a member of the DWU and she is a firecracker. We went to a new beach and found out they didn’t have any place to rent boards or suits. It was getting to be around 2 o’clock so we didn’t have time to go to our old beach since they stopped renting at 5pm. We were bummed but the beach was still beautiful…..until we saw dr. fish come around the corner holding a surf board! I automatically yelled, “please don’t tell me you robbed a kid of their board!” she laughed and told us she found a local and told him our story and he was going home to get his stuff for us to use. Wet suits and boards! It turns out this guy was the long board CHAMPION of cape town. His name was Mark Hoyle. He surfs everywhere, even in California and Australia. His sister is married to one of the band members from YES. What a kind soul. I told him people in Virginia Beach would never do what he did. Have I told you it’s just a different world there?

this is the group that went to the beach. Nicole. Meredith. Liz. Ashley. Me. we went to a little pub down the road and sat out on the deck. a 3 story deck that i dropped my camera off of. it landed in a flower bed. not a scratch on it.

Saturday night we all went to the African Café. A few other special guests attended. Myrtle, Hester, Val (our amazing house keeper), Oliver (her son) and Vuyo (Jen’s host brother from her first trip to SA!). The whole group was there. The dinner was called a ‘communal feast’ that means they bring out EVERYTHING on the menu for you to try and then if you aren’t stuffed to the gills and still want more you can order what you like. I tried a little of everything. Some stuff was spicy and sweet but it was all good!

hester and myrtle

liz and i with val (our house keeper) hester and myrtle.

That night after the café some of us went back to the guest house the others went out to the club one last time. Oliver and his friends Glen and Ivarr came over for one last hangout before we had to leave. We met them the first weekend we were there. They are all our age and so much fun! They are definitely our South African friends. Not just contacts. We sat in the courtyard all night laughing and playing cards and just talking then they told us (me, Meredith, Ashley and Nicole) that they wanted to take us somewhere we haven’t been yet. It was about 2 in the morning so I needed a bit of encouragement and incentive to go and not just walk upstairs to my room. Then they told us if we don’t go then we can’t say that we have experienced Cape Town. I changed and we got in the car. We drove about 15 minutes through some really nice neighborhoods that reminded me of Bay Colony in Virginia Beach. We ended up at this little cut of bushes and rocks. Walked up a little pathway to an opening with huge boulders all around us. There was one boulder right in front of us and we all climbed up (more like stepped up and sat, it wasn’t as big as I’m probably making it sound haha). As soon as we stepped up I looked out and all I could see was this beautiful view of the beach. We were on the side of a cliff over looking the ocean. Above us was an estimate of 8 billion stars and you could see every single one clearly. The sound of the waves and the cool breeze gave me butterflies in my tummy. It was amazing. I’ve never seen a view like this one. The smell was so clean and the air was infinite. The seven of us all huddled around on the rock and just sat. We sat and talked and laughed. We came home around 5 in the morning and had to say our tearful goodbyes. I couldn’t cry because I remembered my last night at home before I left….i spent the night out on the beach with three of my best friends….until almost 5 in the morning. I knew this meant something. I knew this wasn’t going to be the last time I saw them but I still hugged them as tight as I could for as long as I could. They drove off and we came inside to do some last minute packing and went to sleep for a few hours. More like a nap since we had to be up at 815.

me and ashley's room

Sunday morning was hard. We woke up and everyone knew the clock was ticking. We had so many goodbyes to say and so little time to do it in. We gave presents to Val and the other house keepers and our driver. We met as a group one last time and I said I would go first for the last dialogue….

For those of you reading that don’t know why Saturday May 31st was significant to me, I’ll tell you. A close friend of mine was killed in a car accident a year ago on Saturday and going into this trip I knew I would be missing her memorial show here at home. So all day Saturday I wore purple (cayce’s favorite color) and I told my group they really helped me that day. All the fun and laughter and beauty that Saturday held helped ease the pain of not being able to be home for my friends. I said my thanks and the next person started talking. Then the next and the next. We all gave our thanks and recalled memories and then realized we had to get going. Some of us thought about how we could sabotage our flight just to be able to stay a few more days… names will be mentioned.

The airport was yet another cluster of mishaps. They checked all of our luggage under one girl. She can only claim 2 bags so that meant the other 14 would go unclaimed. They ripped the tag off my bag so I stood there and said ‘I’m not leaving until I see a claim sticker on my bag’ this was after, before and during the process of them asking who’s bag it was. I told them it was mine at least 17 times. And they asked 17 more times throughout the process…it ended like this.

Man: “who does the red bag belong to” (it’s sitting on the floor, the same spot it’s been the whole time’
Me: “me. Katie Elder. It says Elder on the address tag. That’s me. Elder. The red bag right there.”

Man: “ok. So you’re Elder?”

Me: “……………YES”

my bag still sits and he goes to print out my tag…but never puts it on my bag. Then more girls in the group chime in about their bags and how this process is ridiculous and the lady at the counter says we’re “difficult” and we can’t stand there anymore.

Oh, no no no. I wasn’t going anywhere and my professor said I didn’t have to move. So the lady told me to move and I said, with a smile on my face…

Me: “uh no, I’m not going ANYWHERE until I see a claim ticket be put on my bag. Right there. The red one.”

Man: “ok, what is your name?”


The guy hands her the ticket and she looks at it and says

Lady: “Elder. Oh this is the first one that was printed, I can see why you would be upset.”

Me: “yeah, something like that. Thanks.”

A total of 15 minutes.

The plane ride back wasn’t so bad. It was longer than the flight there but it didn’t feel like it. We went from Cape Town to Johannesburg (2 hours) then Senegal (just to re-fuel, we didn’t change planes) to New York (17 hours) then NY to DC (not even an hour) and DC to home (maybe 35 minutes). I had two empty seats beside me so I got to sleep a lot. I watched some movies too but mostly slept.

i forgot to fit in here that i played soccer with some kids from one of the townships.

I miss everything and everyone already. I want to go back right now. There is so much more I want to do and so much more work that needs to be done. I wanted to save this part for last because it was the hardest part of the trip……saying my goodbyes at Fezeka on Friday.

We brought all of our donations and gifts in the morning. Did some last minute work in the computer lab and then just hungout around the school with the kids. They were playing a soccer game in the courtyard and everyone was watching. They were doing exams that week so I think they were all done. We went to the workroom to attend our goodbye assembly the teachers put together. Pumi and the principal and alex and some students from the book club and LuLu all spoke. They told us how much they appreciated our work and we told them thank you for letting us come into your world and experiencing this life with them. Then Pumi rolled in the piano and a few kids from the choir sang a beautiful gospel version of Lean On Me…my eyes watered up but I couldn’t start crying because I knew I couldn’t stop if I did. We all hugged and talked and got email addresses. We walked outside to find our choir boys because Liz and I had special goody bags for them. Their faces lit up when I gave them pictures of themselves. Sbu asked me about 7 times when I was coming back and Nicole told me when I wasn’t around he was asking about me and even asked Dr. Fish when were coming back. Sbu and Khanyiso sang a special song they arranged just for us. I never found my cord but I just ordered a new one so as soon as it gets here I’ll load the video. I’ll save you the tears for now though.

Leaving them was so painful. Not knowing when I’m going to see them again or if they really believe that we will be back. Those kids have been through so much and they are still strong and kind and gentle. I have never met more amazing kids than this group. They are so welcoming and funny and sweet and want nothing more than a high five or a hug. I’m afraid I might have bruised Sbu because I hugged him so tightly and told him how much I was going to miss him and the other boys. And Pumi and Swallows for that matter. They are all my new best friends and apart of my family. They all hold a piece in my heart and I will see them again someday. I have to. I don’t know when or how but I know it will happen. I’m stubborn enough to do whatever it takes to make that happen.

me and pumi! the choir director/english teacher/department head/amazing wonderful person with a heart of gold

me and swallows! IT teacher/comedien/new best friend also with a heart of gold
swallows! in the comp Lab

liz and i with our boys. Vuyo, Thando, Khanyiso, Sbu.

some of my website team kids (and dr. triplett)
some of the website kids!

last but not least. me and my Sbu.

This trip has been so life changing. All the little things about life at home that made me mad don’t matter anymore. The pettiness of fake friends or fake people doesn’t matter anymore. I know who I love and who I care about and I know who loves me and cares about me. I know what I want to do with my life. Maybe not when I’m going to do it but I do know I want to do the kind of work that I’ve done for the past 3 weeks. I have so many pictures and stories but no one will ever really know how amazing this adventure has been. I’ll do my best to tell you all about it but forgive me if I leave out anything…..or I may have to hold back some special moments because they are just too precious to make public. Thank you all for reading and following me on this life journey.

“the world is truly round and seems to start and end with those we love.” –Nelson Mandela

Monday, May 26, 2008

sorry for the delay...

so after that wednesday blog the week made a complete 180. or 360...but that usually means you are back to where you started...and that's definitely not the case.

thursday was great. i don't remember all the details of what we did at school but i do remember when we were in the workroom in the morning Sbu and some of the other boys came in looking for their teacher and he asked me if i brought the soccer ball. i told him i had it but i had to pump it up and i'd meet him in the court yard after school. i had a sharpie in my hand and told him to sign the ball, and his friends too, i told them they could NOT break any windows with it and they had to share but i told Sbu he could keep it when they were done. you would have thought i told him he just won the lottery. his face was priceless. i met up with them after school and kicked the ball around with them for a little bit (they're REALLY made me feel a little old so i didn't play long). oh! i remember now, Liz and I taught the grade 10 sex education class. we did the questions again and got tons of new topics. it was a little disheartening because this class was not as open-minded as the previous class and they definitely were not as active in the discussion. they didn't think homosexual relationships were right. the boys (there were a lot of boys in this class) said they wouldn't care if a girl asked them to wear a condom, they would just move on to another one. and they were just as clueless to STD's as the other class. sigh. we had a lot of explaining to do....

saturday we made history, again. we were in a march to end violence against women and children in the community! yes, it's true, i was in a peace march in south africa. i'm pretty sure it doesn't get any cooler than that. they had guest speakers on top of a big convoy with a PA system. people from all different organizations working towards ending violence towards women and supporting the domestic workers union. there was a rap group of 3 guys who were really good. before and after all the speakers the would say "VIVA! rape crisis center, VIVA!". it was awesome. i got goosebumps on my arms from almost all of the speakers. they told stories of women they've worked with and how their efforts have failed and we need to do more as a community to come together and fight against the law system who lets rape cases go on and on for months and even years without bringing any justice or peace to the victim and families.
this lady was sitting on the curb and i asked if i could take her picture. she was so tickled to see her image on my screen. very photogenic.
this is me and my roommate ashley. she's amazing. the best roommate anyone could ask for. and she doesn't even read this blog so you know i'm telling the truth.
we had to get off the march at city hall. they were going to parliament but we had another appointment to meet with four women refugees. i took this picture after we got out of the march. i was going to keep my sign but instead i handed it off to one of the kids who skipped school to be apart of the march. there were seriously tons of high school kids still in uniform participating.
there was dancing and singing and chanting. it was so powerful and uplifting. VIVA!

after the march we met with four refugee women from Congo, Rwanda and one other country i can't remember. they are doing bead work with one of our professors friends and we were meeting with them so they could work on their "people skills" because they have been displaced from their homes and very shook up by what is going on. which leads me to my next topic. we are all safe here. i know the news makes it sound like there is violence in the streets (which there is, just not near us) and it's very sad. we went to a church service on sunday and they spoke about the xenophobia and how it is effecting the community. today in school a group of girls came up to liz and i and asked us how we felt about it. i summed it up by saying, "well, i think it sucks." along with some other choice words that were a bit more classy. two boys told their teacher they witnessed some men beating and killing 2 other men from Zimbabwe this weekend in their front yard. it's ridiculous. people, kids especially, should not have to go through this. we have read about, heard about and seen the stories of refugees and the stories of those being effected by xenophobia. just keep them in your thoughts, please.

lighter notes.

i went surfing on saturday!!! here is the proof.
it was SO fun! i stood up a few times but only for .32846 seconds and then i fell off. my mom says that still counts. we are trying to go back this saturday, meredith and i will have to sacrifice seeing Cape Point but i think the whole coast is beautiful and we've seen a lot of it already so i wouldn't mind trading that trip in for another surf outing in south africa.
actually in the water incase you thought i put on that wetsuit and grabbed a board just for the photo-op.
meredith. crystle. me and jen (dr. fish). gnarly.

sunday we took the boat to Robben Island. i got to see Nelson Mandela's cell, that was pretty awesome. i took a few pictures but ended up deleting them. i don't know, i just felt weird trying to glamorize a place of pain and suffering for some glossy photos. it was a very interesting place. all of the tour guides are former political prisoners like Mandela. we took a bus tour of the island. it looks like a ghost town but 50-80 of the staff member live on the island. it was so foggy and gloomy that we couldn't see back to the mainland but i saw pictures and the view is incredible. we heard about how they made the prisoners carve out lime stone for no reason but to do busy work. that's why Mandela's eyes are so bad now, 24 of his 27 years in the prison he was working at those sites...for no reason. they said he went in very angry and hostile and came out a completely changed man...i still don't understand how a human being can be so peaceful after being put through hell for so long. i'm just glad there are people like that in the world. it makes it easier for me to continue to have hope.

sunday we saw the choir preform at the church. it was a loooong service. we stayed for about 2 hours and left around 1230..the service is probably still going on. the choir sounds even better in the church with the proper acoustics. i love those kids. i can't even think about leaving them yet.

today was such a great day at school! even though we did have to be there by 745am to be at the monday morning assembly....with no starbucks. i met with Swallows in the lab after the assembly and he had 9 students ready for me to work on the website with them. i set it up and gave them a tutorial about the site and how to change things. some students went to classes after that but some stayed so i decided to do some other work until i heard "katie! can you come here." it was one of the boys from the group. i walked over and he had the website page open and was working on it already! i was so excited. he asked me some stuff about it and went back to working on it for the next 30-45 minutes. it was so cool. i helped them create email accounts on Gmail and i made them all add me in their address books. as a tutorial exercise of course. i already have 3 new messages.

our workshop is tomorrow afternoon. we're going to talk about sex, peace, empowerment, awareness and knowledge. it spells out SPEAK if you didn't pick up on that...haha. the main focus will be about xenophobia, HIV/AIDS, rape/abuse, plans for the school like the book club and working on the website and of course the infamous question and answer session.

i'm sorry i haven't had the chance to update in so long. i wish we had a computer at the house so i could tell you what was going on all day! i think i've said that before. at least 5 times. thank you to everyone who continues to be a committed reader! as soon as our plans and ideas are solidified for the book club or donations i will let everyone know. these next few days are packed with meetings and trips and saying our goodbyes :( it has flown by and i'm not ready to leave. i miss you all but i feel like there is so much more to do here and i have already become attached to these kids! laura was in the lab when i was working with the website kids and she looked at me and just said " should be a teacher. you're so good at this" i just laughed at her and said "yeah, i've heard that a few times."

i love you!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


here are the kids from yesterdays class!


i thought i would start with the uplifting stuff because it's kind of downhill from here....

today was VERY frustrating. i woke up and got dressed and went to eat breakfast. i usually eat in my PJs then get dressed but i was so ready to get to school i thought if i got dressed first time would go faster.

we stopped by the Rape Crisis Center on the way to school to pick up a million pamphlets to hand out to the class today. i brought one of those inflatable globes to pass around during the question and answer time. i was planning on showing them Norfolk on the globe.

we got to school with all of our materials and headed for the workroom. we sat down and started planning for the workshop we're going to do next wednesday after school. it's basically going to be like the Life Orientation class but it's totally open to whoever wants to attend and we're going to have an open forum for questions. we decided to pass out index cards and pens (for them to keep) to write down their questions if they don't want to stand up.

*thanks to everyone who donated so many wonderful materials! we have some awesome ideas as to how we will distribute them :)

we got our plan together and went to the principals room. he was about to meet with two men but we insisted it would only take 2 minutes. we even told the men they could time us. we walked in his office and quickly told him our idea and he was so happy with it and totally supported it. he gave us the name of the woman we would need to talk to in order to have an announcement made and to get help with the logistics; venue, time, day, etc. as of now, it is set for next wednesday. KEEP YOUR FINGERS CROSSED!

that's one thing i think i have failed to mention about this entire process. south africa is so different from america because they are not on a structured time schedule. they call it "africa time". you take your time, you might not call someone back, plans fall through, contacts fall through and it's pretty much a go-with-the-flow kind of place. this is very frustrating to us because 1) we've been raised on a schedule all of our lives. even the most laid back person knows it's important to meet with someone when you say you're going to meet with them at a certain time. 2) we are only here for another week and a half. we don't have time to "talk about it tomorrow" or "we'll figure it out later". i've come to learn that this service work experience has a lot to do with playing a waiting game. one day we sit around for 3 hours but then end up having a private concert with the choir boys and the next day we teach a class. anything can happen at any moment and you have to be ready for it.

i guess that is a good introduction to what happened today. we waited all morning to teach the class at 1235. stacy and ashley (the girls working for Rape Crisis) managed to get away from work to bring more literature and rulers to pass out to the kids and talk to them about the crisis center. we were all SO ready to go in there and give those kids the best advice and guidance we could muster. (that's a weird word but it fits right now haha)

we walk to the class room and knock on the door. we were 5 minutes early and hoped we could just hangout with the kids before class starts. the teacher opened the door and said something like they had to do some work today and we would have to do it tomorrow or next week. my heart sank. i was so mad. i've been flexible this whole time and i've been grinning and baring it but this was the straw that broke MY back. i felt defeated. the teacher had a meeting right before this class and found out they had something they had to do (i really don't know what it was, a test or something) so i know it's not her fault but i'm still upset.

the crappy thing is that tomorrow its a different class. it's not the same class as yesterday and they aren't on the Rape unit yet. we will be giving the sex talk again. which is fine and i'm looking forward to that of course, but we spent so much time preparing for todays lesson and had some really great things to talk about. we'll just have to do it next week...sigh.

Swallows was not in school today. the lab was locked so i couldn't get in there. i'm planning on starting to build the website at one of the cafes just to have it done and when i can get on their computers i'll just link it as their homepage and then show them how to use it/edit it. .....that's the goal/dream/hope/please god i want this to work/idea/plan.

Alex told me she was in the lab earlier and students were on YouTube. DAMN IT. i blocked it friday and the block was working fine. i'm assuming when the internet was down yesterday and they were running new cables to fix it, it must have reset it....sigh again.

so today has been tough. really tough. you can definitely feel the spirit of the group dropping and i am refusing to let that happen. yeah this sucks not being able to come in and do everything we want to do but that's the process. the sucky process and i refuse to give up.

we did get to see the library, FINALLY. there is a big hole in the ceiling and a few broken chairs and some ovens in the corner (not working, just there for storage). lots of boxes and there are actually shelves on the walls with books! tons of encyclipedias. why is this room locked up?! the group decided we would be taking this project home with us. the plan is to get the appropriate contacts and write grants when we get home. Liz and i really want to come back in december (winter break, their summer break) to help paint and put things in action. we'll be looking for sponsors and donations. as soon as we have a proposal i will let everyone know how they can help if they want to. you guys are great, have i mentioned that?

it's time to head back and make some posters for the workshop and start drawing up plans for this library and the book club. i have no idea where my USB chord is for my camera....

i just need to go back to bed and start over in the morning....nah.

i love you!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

a good rainy day.

i probably look like the biggest goof in this internet cafe because i have a huge grin on my face due to the excitement about writing this blog!

today was great.

we got there around 915 again and went to the workroom to meet Alex. she proposed we make an exam template for the upcoming and future exams. they only have 2 more weeks of school before the winter holiday. their exams never have a 'cover sheet' like we know in the states. Name. Date. Grade. Course. so we sat in the lab and typed one up with a border and a logo of the school. it looks pretty spiffy if i do say so myself. we even wrote up some general instructions like "read each question crefully" "answer easy ones first" "take your time" and of course "try your best!".

we walked around the school again, this time with name tags on, and i don't know if it was because of the tag or if they have really good memories but i heard a few "hi katie!'s" around campus.

ruth and jen walked us into school today to see what was going on. yesterday was a slow morning so they just wanted to make sure we had something to do. they talked to one teacher and it turned out she was teaching a Life Orientation class at 1250 and would love our help. it's like a "family life" class. she welcomed us to come in all week and help out. so today after the lab we ate our lunch and waited around a few minutes until it was time for class. we practically ran there because we were so excited. we walked in to a room of probably 50 kids. same size as yesterday. it was already getting stuffy but today was a rainy day so it felt nice to me. the teacher gave us their text book to look over before class. today's subject was Teen Sex: Is Everyone Doing It? we knew this was going to be good.

it's not hard to believe but i have been appointed the 'speaker' of the group....because i'm loud. i don't think i'm loud.....i just have a lot to say and i want to be heard. anyway, so i told the kids who we were and why we were there and then introduced myself. after we all said our names we got right into it. it was the 4 of us in front of this room of 50 faces just staring at us waiting for us to speak. crystle opened to the first page and it was about Dating. we asked the class how they defined dating, love and relationships. we asked if anyone has been in love (one boy has been in love 3 times), what type of qualities they look for in a partner and if it was OK to date outside of their own culture. then we got to the sex talk. we discussed a few things out of the book like being pressured to have sex, if you should make a boy use a condom or what boys would do if a girl asked them to wear one (they all said they would). this group was totally blowing me away with their honest answers. they knew right from wrong. until we got to the question and answer portion. i asked them if they had any questions that we could answer for them. anything at all about sex or their bodies that they were not sure about. myths, if you will.

the room was silent.

so of course i said " you guys know EVERYTHING about sex already?!" and the room errupted with laughter. one boy stood up and asked a question and then one girl did. then the silence came back and i knew we were losing them. so i used my loud mouth again. "...ok. if we pass around some paper will you write down your questions and pass them up and we'll answer them? no one will know who asked so please write ANYTHING you want!". their faces lit up. i passed out the paper and they couldn't write fast enough. we discussed some other issues while they were formulating questions at their tables and some kids even got out their own paper to write down questions. it was great! i went around and picked up the paper and read the questions out loud then the 4 of us answered them. most of the questions were normal teenage questions about sex and masturbation and different bodily functions but i read one piece of paper to myself and tucked it behind the others because i wasn't sure how to answer it yet. the question was, "where does HIV/AIDS come from?".

*if you have an answer for a teenage girl or boy in south africa that would totally clear that up for them please let me know. thanks.

so i read the question like the others and we all kind of looked at each other. i started with, "this is a really hard question and i'm sorry to say we don't have the answer for it. there is no pin-point location as to where HIV/AIDS was originated and there is no cure right now. (they were all staring at me, nodding their heads, so i thought i should keep going) but there is a way to prevent it from spreading. ANYTIME you have sex use protection, take birth control and make sure you and your partner get tested even before you have sex. if you get tested and you are positive it's not the end of the world. i promise. first of all you can feel good because you are saving so many lives by getting tested and knowing for yourself so you don't infect anyone else. (still nodding) there are medications out today that you can take to help you live a long and happy life even with HIV/AIDS. i wish there was a cure and i know millions of people who wish the same but until we find a cure we have to protect ourselves and each other." then liz told them a story about her friend who has been living with HIV for over 30 years. he takes medicine and has a great life. i think they really liked hearing that story and knowing it's possible to keep going. i told them i lifeguard and if someone has a cut on their foot i have to put on gloves and take all of these precautions before helping them because i want to ensure their safety and mine. i'm almost 22 years old and i have to say, that was the best sex talk i've ever had.

after class we hungout with them and asked if we could take a class photo. they jumped out of their seats and formed a pyramid in the middle of the class. squished next to each other, sitting on desks and standing on chairs! i forgot my USB chord today but i will upload it as soon as i can. after the class photo EVERYONE wanted to take pictures with us. it was such a surreal feeling. "can i take a picture with just you and me?" "will you take a picture with me and my best friends?" "i want to be in the picture!" so cute.

with all ups there are downs.

in the midst of the photoshoot excitement a girl came up to me and was speaking so softly i could barely hear her. i leaned in and said "please say that again" and she did but the only thing i could hear was "i have a problem..." so i asked her to step outside with me. we shut the door and walked down the sidewalk a bit and i asked her again "ok, what were you saying?". she proceeded to tell me that her "friend" has been sexually abused for the past 5 years. they wrote a letter to Oprah and haven't heard anything and they don't know what to do.


i asked if it was by a family member or boyfriend and she said a family member.

shit shit.

i told her some of the people from our group are working at a Rape Crisis center and if she wants, i would get information for her tonight and bring it to her tomorrow and she could talk to my professor if she wanted to. she said she would love that. i told her it would be OK and i would do anything i could to help. i don't know if it's going to be OK but i didn't know what else to say. i gave her a hug and told her thank you for telling me and she can tell me anything she wants and ask me anything she wants anytime she wants. she said thank you and we turned to walk back to the classroom and i noticed she wiped away some tears but she was still smiling. she's about 14 or 15 years old.

we left that class and headed back to the economics class and i took the same seat next to Caroline and Olivia. their teacher never showed up for class so we sat and talked with the rest of her table. they asked me questions and i asked them questions. one girl asked if i go to church. i told her i didn't and she asked why. i told her i just haven't found one that i agree with yet and she nodded her head and smiled and said "i understand, you just haven't felt you have connected with one yet". brilliant. i laughed and said that's exactly it. they all understood. i've been given weird looks from so many people at home because i don't believe in a conventional god or accept any certain religion but these girls totally got me. they didn't judge me or think i was a bad person for not going to church. they knew i had my reasons.

we got to hear the whole choir today. i got goosebumps again.

well, we're going to head back for dinner. hi jess and becca! i'm so glad you're reading! i love you and miss you and i hope the surfing thing works out too :)

i'll get those pictures up soon. i hope everyone is doing well!

i love you!

Monday, May 19, 2008


two days in a row? nice!

as you know, i was VERY excited to go to work this morning. we were dropped off around 915. it was only the four of us. crystle, laura, liz and myself. dr. fish and dr. triplett went with the other groups to their first day and an important meeting the Stepping Stones group had. so we were on our own!

the entire school is outside, there is no "building", just rows of classes. i can't think of a school at home that looks like it but i hope you get the idea until i get some pictures. we drove through the barbed wire gate and got out of the van. walked through the front hallway and ran into Swallows, he informed us that the internet was down. oh no! my mind started racing; thinking about what i was going to do all day. if i couldn't get on the internet i couldn't do ANY work that needed to get done. we went into the teacher work room and sat down to wait for alex and pumi because we were supposed to meet with them to see what we would be doing for the day. alex came in a few minutes later to talk to us. she didn't have much work for us to do because she had to turn in her portfolio tomorrow and was busy with that. we looked through a few text books and scanned over some papers for about 30 minutes.

3 hours later...yes, 3 hours of sitting around in the teacher work room. we decided to get up and walk around the campus by ourselves. walking down the 'hallways' (cobblestone sidewalks) we passed classroom after classroom of broken windows and open doors. it was about 75 degrees today. every class we walked by yelled and waved and we waved back and smiled and said 'molweni!' (mole-wayne-eee) this means 'hello' to a large group of people. if it's just one person you say 'molo!'. we felt like celebrities....again. a boy from one class we walked by asked us if we were from New York. that made us laugh.

after our tour we found an economics teacher in the workroom who agreed to let us sit in on his grade 11 class. the students were already there when we showed up. i didn't count but i would guess upward from 35 in a room smaller than my moms at school. no air conditioning. the broken windows and the open door were the only source of circulation. but with the door open there was so much noise in the courtyard even i was distracted. i don't know how they do it.

anyway, we got to the classroom and introduced ourselves. i was last.
"hi! i'm Katie. i'm from ODU and my major is psychology...and i'm really you can tell." they all laughed and gave me and the rest of the girls a huge round of applause after each introduction. then the teacher told us to take a seat and one girl at the back of the class looked so excited and was waving at me so of course i went and sat next to her. she cleared off the seat beside her (they have to share a bench which is connected to the desk). her surname is Caroline. i have no idea how to spell or pronounce her Xhosa name, sorry. next to Caroline was her friend Olivia. again, a surname. they were so sweet. after the lesson we got to talk to them about why we are here and what ideas we had for the school. when they heard about the idea of a book club they lit up! we passed around a piece of paper and got everyones name who was interested. this was the last class of the day so they left after we talked, you would be amazed at how a wave and a "goodbye" from us made them grin from ear to ear. i get chills just thinking about it :)

we went back into the computer lab after school. Swallows was already gone because he and the other teachers had to attend a workshop this afternoon. we sat around in the lab for awhile to see if the internet was working again but it was still down. we really hope it isn't capped for the month yet. did i mention they have a cap? they only get a certain amount of download bites (gigga, mega, i don't know what it's called) and with all the unnecessary downloads like youtube and music they lose that really fast. back to the story, crystle and i met a boy named Mawande (muh-wan-day). he is in grade 12. he wants to be an engineer. we told him to apply to ODU and i wrote down our email and the schools email. i hope he looks into it. he asked us a bunch of questions and we just chatted for awhile. he asked if we have visited the townships and we said yes. he asked if we walked around them and we said yes. he asked if we walked around for a long time or a short time and we said for about 20 minutes. then the conversation went something like this...

us: "we walked around for about 20 minutes."
him: "really? ....i wouldn't do that"
us: "uhhh.....why?"
him: "that place is dangerous. no, not even dangerous, i don't know a different word, but it's more than dangerous."


i'm sure he meant that about the night time and of course if we were by ourselves. which would NEVER happen. to hear him say that just broke my heart. he lives in the townships. i'm not sure which one. he was such a nice boy. we asked him what he liked to do after school, if he had any hobbies or anything. he basically said he did homework and sometimes played soccer in the streets; anything to stay away from the gangsters and drugs and violence because "that stuff is bad". they are actually called "gangsters" out here. not like 50 cent or tupac. real gangsters that rape and murder and steal. these kids face that everyday when they walk home from school and in their neighborhoods. we're going to meet up with him tomorrow after school so i can create an email account for him to stay in touch after we leave.

now for the happy stuff. see how i leave the uplifting things for last?

Fezeka has an AMAZING choir. i mean, AMAZING doesn't even begin to describe them. after the computer lab it was about 315 and we weren't being picked up until 430ish. we were sitting around in the courtyard and saw a boy from the economics class walking towards us with his friends. of course we yelled for them to come talk to us. they mentioned in class that they were in the choir and we even tried to beg them to sing for us during class but they were too we asked again. the courtyard was empty and it was just us. they all had huge smiles on their faces and you could tell they were blushing but Sbu (sboo, this one is hard to sound out but just squish the S and the Boo together) told us to wait there and they were going to practice for a second in the classroom.

we waited for a few minutes then heard this booming sound coming from the classroom across the courtyard. i swear to you it sounded like someone was either playing a CD or they had more than 4 boys in the room with them. it was neither.

Thando (ton-dough), Sbu, Vuyo (voy-yo) and Khanyiso (he let us call him Kanye)

Thando and Vuyo are twins. Thando means "love" and Vuyo means "happiness". awwwww. Sbu means "blessings". i'm not sure about Kanye yet. they talked to us and sang for us for an hour and 15 minutes before the van showed up to get us.

did i mention they are all 15 years old?

they gave us all Xhosa names. they named each of us after one of them. i got Sbu! kind of ironic if you know my views on organized religion, but i love my new name. Sbu is my boo. that's the new joke in our group. he has a crush on me and it's pretty cute. i always fall for the music men.

we have a date to see the whole choir tomorrow!


we had our first dinner at the house tonight. well, the first catered dinner. there was a LOT of curry. my mouth was on fire. i've never had curry before. i think she said she uses it a lot in her dishes so i might be eating salads for dinner from now on. we'll see. by the way, i thought i was going to lose at least a couple of pounds on this trip. it's impossible when we eat ALL the time and there is a quick mart up the street from our house. seriously, this culture is all about food. all the time. and good food. we get snacks and treats and meals all day long. it's so hard to resist! and it's not like i'm not hungry and don't want to be rude, we work all the time and we are constantly doing things so we're starving by the time the next meal arrives. sheesh. oh well. when in rome....or south africa.

Ndiyakuthanda! (that is "i love you" and i'll let you sound that one out for yourselves)