A Day in the Life

I have published a lot of writing and photography depicting vignettes from my time living in the village and while on the road traveling. However, I realize a lot of you might be wondering what it is that actually, like, do, besides take pictures. (Admittedly, I do that a lot.) With that in mind, I give you Tuesday 14 August 2012:

06h00 Alarm goes off. Semi-conscious but fully-pissed, I hit snooze.

06h15 Morning routine: do 100 pushup & situps, make the bed, apply sunscreen, and get dressed.

06h45 Breakfast: French press coffee (from home!) and cinnamon-sugar oatmeal.

07h30 2 km walk to Tolamo Primary School.

08h15 Kwetsane, my co-teacher, and I engage in our daily panic to rearrange the grade 6 time-table so we can teach our natural science lesson together.

08h20 Teach two sections of grade 6 natural science. Our textbook includes no information on today’s learning objective presribed by the work schedule – the importance of Earth’s atmosphere – so I wrote up my own reading exercise the night before.

09h45 3 km walk to Lot Mashiane Secondary School.

10h00 Lunch at the secondary school: pap – a thick cornmeal porridge – and soya mince.

10h30 Administrative Assistant asks me for help with the computer. The trial period on Microsoft Office has expired, so I authorize it with a *completely legal* copy of the product key.

11h00 Finish, print, and copy the day’s worksheet for grade 7 maths: a review of triangles, quadrilaterals, and plotting points.

11h45 First section of grade 7 maths.

13h15 Second section of grade 7 maths.

14h15 Prep for afternoon’s Scout programme: following woodcraft signs, which includes walking around the village to set up arrows and other signs using sand, rocks, grass, sticks, and beer bottle caps.

16h00 Official start of Scout programme. No Scouts yet.

16h20 Scouts have finally arrived. Programme begins. Early, by African time!

17h45 Scout programme concludes. Patrol Leaders remain behind to debrief today’s programme and discuss next week’s programme: stalking.

18h00 Clean up and bathe while dinner is cooking: Thai lentil curry with brown rice. The circuit breaker trips. Twice. Gotta remember: can’t have the stove and the kettle going at once.

19h00 Councillor Phalwane, the community councillor, drops by my house to discuss his concern with the high level of unemployment and low level of education of the youth in the community. We agree to hold a youth meeting at the community centre on Thursday to better understand how we can address youth needs in the community.

19h45 Ma Grace returns from work at the BMW factory; she’s been gone since 04h00. Phalwane, Ma Grace, and I chat for a few minutes before they excuse themselves.

20h45 Eat dinner and watch two episodes of Arrested Development. Wash the day’s dishes.

21h45 Plan lessons for Wednesday: using graphs to calculate speed for grade 7 maths and the layers of the atmosphere for grade 6 natural science.

23h00 Read a few chapters of A Dance With Dragons before falling asleep with the lights on. Time for bed: another big day tomorrow.

A common perception seems to exist that Peace Corps Volunteers have lots of idle time on their hands: “Bring an instrument,” they say, “You’ll need something to pass the time.” This experience has not been my own: I split the day teaching at two schools, facilitate Scouting or basketball all afternoon (admittedly, I haven’t devoted as much time to the latter since Scouts has grown), and plan lessons and mark work all evening. If my family doesn’t take me to attend a funeral or to talk to the ancestors, I spend Saturday doing my laundry. Even with the lure of a tall, frosty Castle, I avoid trips to town: they take all day, and talking to the drunk guys on the taxi ride back is wearisome.

While no two of my days here are exactly alike, this day was pretty busy, but otherwise fairly typical. I reckon the daily schedule I follow here closely resembles the daily schedule I followed while I was a teacher at Spartanburg Day School, though I do spend a good deal more time sweeping, hauling and heating water, greeting people, and walking places.

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9 responses to “A Day in the Life

  1. I think your experience may be unique ’cause you tend to put a lot of yourself into your projects. In turn, it looks like you get a lot out; it’s a big deal for a community leader to approach you to help address a community issue. So mad props are due to you my friend.

    PS: Did you get my loooong letter? Try to take a minute or two to write back if you can spare the time.

    • I think my experience is fairly typical of PCVs in South Africa, especially those working in schools. Those PCVs that have taken over classes tend to be quite busy. (If I could do this year over, I would not have taken over a class. I should have been doing what I’ve been doing at the primary school: team-teaching. The complexities of organizing a schedule for two schools and teaching maths to/managing 40+ grade 7s with a poor foundation of basic arithmetic and a profound language barrier have been….frustrating.)

      I have not gotten your looooong letter, but apparently the local PCV that collects our mail has some mail for me. May be that your letter is there. I hope so! If so, I’ll write a response this weekend.

  2. Howell, thank you for sharing “A Day in the Life of…” was so interesting! I think I’d be ok w/most everything you do except eating porridge and hauling water…and if I had to go to a funeral every Sat I’d shoot myself (oops…another funeral!). I love it that you’re introducing Scouting. I owe you a care pkg…will ck in w/you to see what you would like when I get back to Dallas. Been in Hou for 2+ wks w/John’s mom who is in the hospital…and will be here awhile longer until she gets out of hosp.

  3. Thanks for sharing – a day in your life sounds anything but mundane! Kind of made me tired reading it… and also realize that I can’t complain about being tired in Berlin. At least not until I start doing 100 push ups in the morning ;)

    • Perhaps not mundane, but not especially exotic, I suppose. Heading off to Africa as a PCV sounds exciting, and I guess it is, but I spend my days doing pretty ordinary things.

      Hope you’re well in Berlin!

  4. We’ve just started another school year here at SDS and the kids still ask about ‘Mr. Burke’ and where he is now and how he’s doing!

    • Not every day is this busy. There are days when my lesson plans are derailed by last-minute sports vents, meetings, memorial services, etc.

      Meat is expensive and hard to keep, and makes cleanup a hassle. I only eat meat for Friday lunch at school and Sunday lunch with my family, and any community functions I might have to attend.

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