Tuesday, April 20, 2010

South African Road Trip

March 31 began my 2 and 1/2 week holiday.

As many of ya'll know, Tyler's (my fiance) little brother passed away. He was 18. Ross had been fighting leukemia and passed away in Texas where he went to see Tyler graduate from Air Force boot camp. I find myself asking why this has to happen to me again and it is hard to know that it is part of God's plan. Tyler and I have both lost our younger siblings. Ross was a brother to me and Victoria was a sister to Tyler. I just ask daily for God's strength to get through this rough time and come to acceptance.

I received the phone call about Ross on my way to Cape Town. I tried to change my return flight but there were no flight from Johannesburg to Washington DC for 8 days because of Easter holiday. I ended up having to book another round trip plan ticket that went through Germany. I don't care about how much that one ticket cost me because I wanted to be home with Tyler and his family. Tyler and I have been together for so long that his family is also my family. I flew back to South Africa the following Friday.

I arrived in Johannesburg Sunday afternoon and the people I was traveling with picked me up at the airport. We spent two nights at Kruger National Park. We were very fortunate in that we saw the Big 5... elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo and rhino. We also saw many monkeys, baboons, vultures, zebras, impalas, kudu, etc...

The next day we went to the Jane Goodall Chimp Eden. I was amazed at how smart the chimps were!

The next day drove the Panorama Route. We went to the Mac Mac Pools which are natural springs. The town we stayed in was having a strike so the water had been shut off. So we had to use the Mac Mac pools as a shower J Next we went to the Mac Mac waterfall. Next we went to God’s Window which is an amazing view of the landscape. We were so high up that we were in a cloud. Unfortunately the cloud blocked the view in our pictures. Next, we went to Blydes River Canyon. It was really fun to hike around the potholes and again there were amazing views.

The next day we went white water rafting and horse back riding. I had never ridden a horse before so it was a lot of fun! We trotted and cantered through orchards and by streams for two hours. Needless to day, my legs were very sore the next day.

On Saturday we went to a Super14 rugby game in Johannesburg. The Joburg Lions were playing the Durban Sharks. The three other people I was with bought a Lions jersey. They didn’t have my size, and since I was wearing a dress that was the color of the Sharks, I was the lone Shark fan. Like all the sporting events I have been to here, it was a blast. I wish I understood the rules of the game better. Fortunately, the people around us were kind to explain some things!

On Sunday, we started the long trek back to Grahamstown (8 hours!). It is nice to be back here and back to routine. Tomorrow only the staff reports to the school for meetings. Tuesday begins my last week of teaching. I cannot believe that my time here is coming to an end.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Life's Precious Resource

Grahamstown has run out of water....

You never realize how fortunate you are to never have to worry about losing something that you depend on and use everyday until it is gone. South Africa has been in a drought for many years. Many rivers are dry and farmers are struggling to keep their crops alive.

You cannot drink out of the tap here. The only water I drink is either from the store or the spring. Diana and I have been saving our water jugs we buy so that we can fill them at the spring. I also save my water bottles and fill them at the school I teach at because they have filtered water. Going to the spring is quite an experience. Since Grahamstown water has been deemed "poisonous" to drink, everyone depends on spring water. Last weekend we waited in line for an hour and a half to fill 3 water jugs.

Yesterday morning, Grahamstown ran out of water. The drain that pumps outside water into the reservoir apparantly broke so no water was going into the reservoir. That means no shower, no washing clothes, no washing dishes, etc...

One of the teachers at my school asked how often this happened back in the U.S. My answer: well never. How fortunate are we to always have fresh clean water? For me, water restrictions means not being able to water your lawn everyday. Here in South Africa it means all water being shut off to your house for days.

So often in life we take for granted the things we have everyday. We don't a "right" to clean water in our homes. We are privileged. We are fortunate. Next time you enjoy safe water from the tap think of those who must walk a mile from the townships just to fetch clean water. Then have to haul it all the way back home. With no car, but maybe a wheelbarrow if you are lucky.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Work hard, play hard

So I have been seriously lacking on my blog posts... life has been super busy. Since half term, which was at the end of February, I have been teaching all three math classes and Food Tech. That is a lot of lesson planning to do EVERYDAY! However, all the hard work has trully paid off. I have reassured myself of the fact that I love mathematics...yes that is the true nerd in me. For every lesson, I try to think of a fun activity to do to enhance the learning. It can be challenging to think of a fun activity on converting mixed numbers to improper fractions. It is a true google hunt to find ideas!

I have received some of the best compliments from the teachers. The teacher of one of the math classes I teach told me that it was clear I had a true passion for teaching and knew my mathematics very well. It is compliments like that that keep me working hard. Coming to South Africa has deeply strengthened my confidence in the classroom. If I can walk into a completely foreign enviroment and make it out on top, then I can handle any classroom!

So what have I been up to this past month?

First off, teaching, teaching and more teaching! Since all the COST students and myself have been busy at the schools, we haven't done that much traveling. We also have a lot of university work to complete before we leave. Since I leave for Cape Town in a week, I want to finish all my work so I can enjoy my vacation!

Last weekend was Foundation Weekend at Kingswood. The school had many festivities planned for the students and alumnis. It was also the 17th birthday of my host families' son. On Friday night, we went to a cricket game in Port Elizabeth. It was the final game of the Pro20. The game was packed and tons of fun. The fans here are insane! Everyone was dressed up and dancing. There is like a DJ at the games with people dancing on the stage. There is also a marching band. So you are constantly moving, cheering and dancing the whole game. On Sunday, I went to the grade 6/7 girls first hockey game of the season. And no, not ice hockey either...they play field hockey.

This past week I helped coach hockey. I have never played hockey before, but luckily I was able to catch on quick. I just had to learn a few rules and basics of the game and I hope none of the students picked up on the fact that I was totally clueless :) I will be helping with net ball (which is kind of like basketball) next week.

This weekend, we stayed in Grahamstown again. Diana and I went to a social with the Rhodes squash team. It was fun to meet some Rhodes students and experience how South Africans have a social. The social was similar to a social I would have with my sorority. The theme was "Anything that starts with a S..." This weekened was also the hockey and rugby festival. I spent all Friday afternoon watching hockey. Yesterday, we went and watched out first rugby game. Man, is that sport rough. I always heard rugby was rough but actually watching it in person was something else. I am sure many of those boys are going to be super stiff and sore today!

From Monday afternoon to Tuesday afternoon, I am going to Kwandwe private game reserve. The headmasters' wife's family owns the reserve. They are giving Auburn and I a complimentary night stay at one the luxurious lodges, including four game drives and all meals! I am trully spoiled! This one night trip would probably cost around $1,000!

In the picture above, is Diana, Auburn, Aegean, and I. Aegean is the 17 year old who lives at the house Diana and I stay out. He is quite the basketball star at his school!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

My extended vacation is halfway over :(

I cannot believe that I have been here for over 2 months and will be leaving in a little over 6 weeks. I have mixed feelings about leaving. Of course, I cannot wait to see my family and friends. However, on the other side there is still so much for me to do here. Grahamstown has the 2nd largest festival in the world in June. And of course the World Cup is in June/July. Coming to South Africa has given me the traveling bug. I want to see the world that I have seen so little of. I hope Tyler gets an overseas placement!

Last week, Auburn, Diana and I visited a street school in Grahamstown. Visiting that school made me realiza how sheltered I am at Kingswood. I have been blinded to the realities which exist just beyond the railroad tracks. The school is for homeless, poor, straving children. Students come and go as they please to the school. Most come for the food. However, once the students walk into the school, the doors are locked and no one is allowed to leave until 1:00 when school ends. At first, I didn't understand way they locked the children in. The school has 7 grades. The grades are not by age but ability and time in school. For example, in grade 1 there are children ranging from 6 to 16 years old. Many of the children have stunted growth from malnutrition and starvation. Seeing and witnessing this in person has made me so grateful for all that I have. And I have way too much. I have already decided that when I go back to the U.S. I am going to donate most of my clothing.

Last week, a new COST student came to Grahamstown. Sam is working at a public elementary school. She has turned out trio to a quad. I cannot believe that there are only 3 weeks left this term, then I have a two week holiday. After I will return to teach one more week then I go home. It's bitter sweet

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly...Port Elizabeth

From Thursday to Sunday, the two other COST students and myself went to Port Elizabeth. We stayed at a backpackers called Jikeliza. It was in the center of Port Elizabeth and close to the beach. Before coming to South Africa, I thought backpackers (aka hostels) were dirty places that I wouldn't want to stay in. However, they are actually very nice. Now you don't get your own room and bathroom like a hotel but you can't beat a 3 night stay $30!

On Thursday, it was raining so we went to the mall. There isn't a mall in Grahamstown so we enjoyed getting to go shopping. That night we went to the Boardwalk for dinner. The Boardwalk had a casino so we went and gambled like 10 rands (about $1.50) just for fun. There is a sports bar connected to the casino that had karaoke. We didn't sing or anything because half the songs were in Afrikaans. Luckily we met some people who were able to translate. One of the girls I went with named Diana is Italian. On our way out she saw a guy with a Roma jersey on. She went up to him to ask if he had ever traveled there before. We ended talking with these guys and it turned out they were professional cricket players, aka the South African version of the MLB. We were planning on going to the Rugby game Friday however they offered free tickets to the cricket game so we couldn't turn that down!

On Friday, we spent the day chilling at the beach and watching people surf. I am determined to learn how to surf while I am here! Friday night we went to the Cricket game with some other people at our backpackers from Europe. Wow, cricket is so much fun to watch! I entered the stadium not knowing how the game worked or if it was going to be any fun. I left a huge cricket fan. They played a version of cricket called 20-20 so that it is a short game. A cricket can last up to 5 days if they don't cap the overs. 6 "pitches" is considered an over. So by capping the number of overs, they are capping the number of pitches. At the game there was a small marching band and a concert band. So there was tons of music and dancing! So enjoyable! After the game, we went out with the team... I felt like a local celebrity with them!

On Saturday, we went on an all-day game drive! We got picked up at 9am and didn't return until 10pm! We went on 3 game drives. The first was a 2 hour game drive at Addo Elephant National Park. There we saw elephants, monkeys, kudu, leopard tortoise, etc... Next, we ate lunch and went on a 3 hour game drive at Schotia private game reserve. Here we saw giraffes, impallas, warthogs, zebras, wildabeasts, and rhinos. Next, we had an excellent dinner and went for a night drive. On the night drive we saw a whole pride of lions. 3 males and 5 females. It was absolutely amazing to be only 5 feet away from the lions and all the other animals we saw. Of course, we were sitting high up on a jeep so we were in no danger. It cost around $150 to go on all 3 game drives, lunch, dinner, tea, and all-you-can-drink! Totally worth every cent!

The only down side of the trip (giving the bad and ugly part of the title of this blog) was I got my wallet and camera stolen :( So here is what happened: Everyone here knows to leave absolutely nothing in your car because people will smash your windows and take it. Well, on Thursday night I accidentally brought out my wallet with me and forgot my purse. So when we got to the boardwalk, I decided to keep my wallet in the glovebox because I didn't want to carry it without my purse. Well when we got back to our backpackers, I forgot to take it out of the car along with my camera. We also didn't know we could, and needed to, take the radio plate out of our rental car. So some time between 3am to 6am someone smashed our windows to steal the radio and while they took that they ramaged through the car and took my wallet and camera. Even worse was that I had taken out my rent money and safari money so I had about $400 in my wallet. So stupid of my to ever carry that much money. LESSON LEARNED! and of course I now don't have a camera and lost all my pictues. Luckily we had already booked our safari but hadn't paid so they let me go complimentary because of what happened.

So despite getting my wallet and camera stolen, I had an excellent trip to Port Elizabeth!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


New term learned these past few days:
Foofi slide means zipline

This past Monday and Tuesday I went with grade 6 to an overnight camp to the African Imprint. Each grade from 5 to 12 goes on one camp a term (there are 3 terms a school year). The camps last from one night to a week depending on the grade and term. The goal of these camps is to work on teamwork and uniting the grade. Since Kingswood is private boarding/day school, many children attend the school from grade 1 to graduating. There are always a few new students every year too, so the teachers and students work hard to make sure they feel included. On the first day of camp, we went canoeing and did an obstacle course. Before leaving on the camp I promised all the students that I would do all the activities with them. Little did I know that the obstacle course would require army-crawling through a mud pit and trying to jump across a 5 foot pool that everyone fell in. Despite the ruined shirt and shorts, I loved every minute of it. The second day we went foofi sliding aka zip line. The zip line went halfway across the river. A boat would fetch you from the river and then push you into the water. Again, tons of fun. It was my first time zip lining too. Of course, I couldn't show any fear because many of my students were scared so I went first to show them that they would be okay.

Tomorrow is a short day before half term begins. There is a swim gala (meaning swim meet) in the morning from 8 am to 10:30 and half term begins after that. I don't have to return to the school until Tuesday. The two other COST students and myself are going to Port Elizabeth for half term. While there, we are going on a day safari, rugby game and a prickly pear festival. A prickly pear is a fruit the grows on a cactus. I haven't tried one yet...

While we are in Port Elizabeth, another COST student is coming to Grahamstown. She will be at a public elementary school until May. I am so excited to meet her! Our trio of Americans will become a quad :)

Something I found to be interesting at camp is people put warm milk in their cereal... maybe it's just me but when I first ate my cereal I thought I had old milk that had been sitting out too long haha Also people but syrup in the cereal...yes like pancake syrup. To me it's weird but to them it's weird that I have never done it before. I have to remember that I am the foreigner :)

Thursday, February 18, 2010


What a busy busy week this has been! I am teaching full time now, which means I am teaching Afrikaans (well leading the class with worksheets at least since I can't speak the language), sciene, book education, EMS, maths and swim. By the end of the day my desk is completely covered with papers to grade, hand back, copy, etc... Yet despite all the chaos, I still love it. I love the humor of the students. Here is a priceless quote I received on Monday:
student: "Miss Heil, why do they call them roofies?"
me: "Pardon?"
student: "I think they should be called floories because you are more likely to end up on the floor than on the roof."
me: "Are you quoting The Hangover right now because I do not think that movie is appropiate for 6th grader."

The students also keep me on my toes. Since I am new to South Africa, I do not know what the students have learned in previous grades. It is not like the US where the teachers have an outline on what all they must teach. On Monday, I got observed teaching fractions. My teacher told me to start with the basics for a refresher. Well, I am glad that I made sure to have plenty of things to do in my lesson extender because when I gave a worksheet on matching a fraction with a picture (which I planned for lasting 25 minutes with a discussion), the students told me it was super easy and finished it in 5 minutes tops!

Some of my students have started a list of South African words that I don't know so that when I hear them I understand. Some of the new words they added to the list this week:

kyf means stole "Miss Heil, someone kyfed my pencil"
yebo means hello in Xhosa
skwif means skew "Don't skwif the story"
ayoba means cool

This weekend the other COST students and myself have decided to just chill in Grahamstown. Next week, we have half term from Wednesday to Monday so we only have to go to the school on Monday and Tuesday. I am going on camp with grade 6 to the African Imprint so I basically have the whole week off. Thursday we are leaving to go to Port Elizabeth for 4 days. While we are there we are going to watch a soccer game at the new Nelson Mandela Bay stadium built for the World Cup. We are also going to watch a rugby game. I have been told that people "tailgate" here too. They don't call it tailgating though.