Friday, June 11, 2010

Cultures colliding celebration

I serve two villages, which are about 7 k apart from each other. I live in one and walk to the other. Although these communities are close to each other in distance, they might as well be worlds apart, in some ways.

One barrier that prevents collaboration is lack of transportation. Most people use donkey cart, bus or local taxi for travel, as owning a vehicle is too expensive. There is almost zero opportunity for employment in each place, and many are pensioners or young school children. For example, in the village where i live, there is one primary school, housing grades 1-7 with just over one hundred total learners, one bottle store (with a jukebox, which is technically not allowed, so don't tell) where beer is sold, one general store type shop run by bangladeshis, and one preschool. And houses, farm animals and some shrubby trees. Anything that happens takes place at the school. This leads to my next point, that none of the school teachers live in the communities where they teach. The government has set up the system in this way. Lack of integration between the major community centre and its leaders is built into the rural education system. Thirdly, the apathy that comes from a culture of poverty rears its ugly head around every turn. Lastly, one unique challenge is the rapidly approaching retirement of one of the school principals, from whom the tone of everything is set, and she is not ashamed nor quiet about her readiness to exit.

In a previous attempt to join these schoolteachers and principals (community leaders) together, i invited another volunteer to come and help me facilitate a workshop for the group. The workshop was great, but only the hosting school's teachers were in attendance. I can't remember the reason the others didn't come, but the following week, they asked me to give them the same workshop. I did not, and explained to them why. There were no hard feelings, and there are so many weekly fires to put out, the topic was quickly forgotten.

The second attempt occurred when we hosted a workshop for all interested volunteers, their principals and counterparts about libraries. That principal again had an excuse why she could not make it. Not to be deterred, i had the idea to host a party, in my home, for both schools, including non-teaching staff and the parents groups. Everybody loves food, and an excuse to have fun, right? The idea came to me after several months of feeling like i needed to do something about the situation, but not knowing exactly how to proceed. I pitched the idea to the reluctant principal first, to give her the opportunity to help me choose an appropriate date and time that would work for the end of the term. To my surprise, she was excited and did just that, help me plan.

(Ausi: SGB member, me: volunteer, Mmoloki: General Worker, Keitumetse: Typist)

With logistics taken care of, i started menu planning. There might be 25 people attending, so what could i make using my limited resources? This is one of my favorite parts of being a hostess. The more challenges, the better; stress brings creativity to a shiny apple glow. I utilized a recipe my sister loves but i have only used since coming to south africa, the no-bake cookies one from the peace corps cookbook. South africans have major sweet teeth, so i knew that would be a hit. I made one batch with cocoa and dessicated coconut, and the other with only peanut butter. For the savory treat, i made martha stewart's delicious egg salad recipe for tea sandwiches. The tea was inspired by something my mom used to drink called 'constant comment.' Water steeped with orange peel, clove and black tea. A friend of mine owns a shop and donated the bread, spices and cocoa for me. Menu planned, shopping done, house cleaned, party time!

(Kebo: Principal, me: volunteer)
At first, i was concerned that word of my party had spread throughout the land, and EVERYBODY and their grandmother and dog would come. What would i feed them, where would they sit? After half an hour after the designated party time had passed, i began to wonder if ANYBODY would come. True to south african form, one hour late, mostly everyone i invited arrived (except the other principal- she had an appointment with a doctor, no worries). I played johnny cash's greatest hits on my ipod docking station, and finished the sandwiches while everybody mingled and had tea and cookies. I was so happy to see both communities represented and enjoying themselves! My enlightened principal says, 'now that you have us here together, say something.' i love this part, because it is always inevitable. I never say very much, but always make it meaningful. "somebody asked me the other day if i was going home for the long school break. I looked at him and said. 'what do you mean? I am home!' i want to thank you for making me feel so welcome, for working together, sharing food, songs, and cultures. Here's to another year of working together!"
(Mma Sebusho and Rra Sedumedi, SGB members)

I recieved hugs, help with dishes, requests for the next party, songs of thanks and a really nice speech and prayer, led by my wonderful, enlightened principal. It was truly an event to remember.
(Ipeleng: Librarian, Mma Sebusho:  SGB member, Tumiso: Library Volunteer)

(Kebo: Principal, Kgomotso: Senior Teacher Grades 1-3, Ausi, Motlalepula: Teacher Grade 1)

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful celebration and story of community! We're so glad your mother was a fan of Bigelow's Constant Comment tea ... and that you were inspired by those flavors. Congratulations to you on a job well done!
    -Deb for Bigelow Tea