This morning, Heba and I woke up at the ungodly hour of 5:40am and sprinted through the darkness to a breakfast of hard-boiled eggs, slices of deli ham, a Rice Krispies knock-off, and grits. I think either the ribs at dinner yesterday or the amount of chocolate I ate from Choppies had made me feel a little under the weather, so I snuck a bowl of plain Rice Krispies with me back to our room and snacked a bit there.
At 7am was assembly, as it is every Tuesday (forms 1-3), Wednesday (forms 4-6), and Thursday (everyone). Two of the four Princeton in Africa Fellows, Anya and Murph, who have been here for a year are leaving tomorrow, and the ten-minute assembly was devoted to thanking them. Some of the kids made a really sweet video for Murph and a student presented them both with gifts. It was a relief that we Harvards got to sit and chill this time, since the past two assemblies we had to get up and introduce ourselves in front of the kids. Even while split by form level the students can be quite raucous during assembly, with lots of cheering and clapping, and the ~750 of them in one room this morning buzzed with excitement (this photo was taken while the video was playing, so it looks deceptively calm).
Day 5 of the 6 day rotation is uncharacteristically light for most of the interns, so we spent a good chunk of the early morning yesterday in the library reading—a super relaxing way to start the day that all of us really enjoy. We're a bit like public figures in the school, so in a visible place like the library students stop by to introduce themselves and chat for a bit. We're also STILL trying to finalize our travel plans for this summer, and we got some solid tips from students who have visited some of our destinations.
Next up for me was tutoring! I was introduced to a young student for the first time yesterday with whom I'll be meeting quite regularly throughout the summer. He grew up in Gaborone, but lives in an extremely insular Chinese community and has been struggling with English. Since today was our first session, and I both wanted him to be comfortable and also didn't know exactly where he was at, I casually suggested we walk around the school and he show me where everything is. This was GREAT (for me, at least) because it was a nice sunny day and now maybe I won't get lost as much anymore. The student was enthusiastic and super polite (always calling me "ma'am"), and we talked about how his mom prepares fish and a tv show he was watching and his favorite subjects at school and an app that comes on his phone that automatically whitens people's faces and clears them of blemishes (??). We ended the lesson on a bench, since he wanted to show me his favorite funny video on his phone, and I had him translate everything word by word from Chinese to English. I think he had fun watching the video, which I thought was funny so I enjoyed it, and it seemed productive! Along the way, we ran into these pretty flowers (the student instructed me in which angle to take the photo from so they looked best) and he pointed out to me inspirational notes that an unknown student leaves on people's lockers:
Next, I returned to the library where I met with Jack and Austin about the upcoming Mega Bowl's promo video. Then a lunch of a plain pasta dish (shaped as long, thin tubes) and mixed peas and carrots (amen). There was also meat, like at every meal, but I was still feeling a bit sick from yesterday and tried to stick to basics. I sat with a group of students whom I really like, and they gave me the lowdown on why KFC is closing in Bots and about which fast food places to try. And finally, I spent some time with the same student with social troubles I met yesterday, whom I'm supposed to meet every day.
And now...onto the two big events of the day! Service and scrabble.
Since some of the students (either form 5 or middle form 6, I can't remember) are in the middle of exams, one SPE called the Tshwaragano Library was short on volunteers. So Jazil, Heba, Jocelyn, and I jumped on board to participate in the interns' first off-campus service activity! A school bus drove us about fifteen minutes away from MaP to a primary school, where we'd be practicing reading English with children.
Along the drive, the teacher with us told us about some political drama unfolding at the school. Apparently, a library was donated for the kids, but when the teachers went on strike, they stopped really opening the library for the students' use, and also refused to work after school. Full disclaimer that I'm DEFINITELY grossly simplifying that and only really heard a few sentences about it, but what matters there is that the students don't get as much practice reading as they could.
As Jazil, Heba, Jocelyn, and I got off the bus, all the school children stared; and it made Heba and I reflect later how the kids at MaP are so used to diversity and international people coming and going, but a few km's away this is not the case at all.
Our group entered the library, where about twenty six-year-olds awaited us. When told to join one of the MaP students, a little boy ran right on over to me and grabbed my hand. He was SO CUTE and I love him, and it broke my heart a little bit when he chose two books with white, blonde kids on the covers. I ended up reading with him and two girls, which went smoothly until they caught sight of the puzzles we had also brought for the last fifteen minutes of our time there. I had to be a bit of a disciplinarian and take the puzzle away until we finished two more books, which made them frown (so adorable), but then the puzzles came out and they were happy once again.
During this time, one of the girls I was reading with (who had SUCH a difficult time putting together any pieces of the puzzle!) began patting my bun, and before I knew it someone else brought over their comb and then all of a sudden I had a little entourage of hairdressers. A small challenge was that the students spoke Setswana, even though they were reading simple English, so I couldn't learn about them as much as I would have liked. Another mishap was checking my phone for the time—fifteen kids swarmed on over and pleaded with me to let them hold it and take selfies. And finally, when one boy asked for some of my water I gave him a sip from my water bottle, but then of course everyone else wanted one too! All in all, the most adorable hour I've spent at MaP so far, and if this SPE didn't conflict with Community Art (which Susan, another Princeton in Africa fellow, wants me to take over), I would love to come back.
We had been warned throughout the week about this event, and it made for such a lovely night. Mr. Taylor, the MaP Principal, invited the Harvards, Princetons, a few TAs (Jack, Austin, Donald), and some teachers over his house for dinner and scrabble. He broke out wine and beer and frozen pizzas and Nando's chicken and A HUGE SALAD WITH SO MANY VEGETABLES and Belgian dark chocolate and fresh mango and grapes and it was a FEAST. The catch was that before you ate, you had to tell a funny story about your time at MaP. A few highlights (including a few great stories from after dinner) were:
- Heba's trip to the South African embassy in Gabs, where she got asked for bites of her chocolate bar from the security guard, the woman behind her in line, and random other passers-by until she only had one square left for herself.
- The MaP employee at the gym being thoroughly disappointed when he found out that Harsh, who is from Alabama, is not a cowboy and does not know how to ride bulls.
- A collection of tales about crossing the South African border and having to declare or sneak across items. A drama instructor told about her friend trying to take across a laptop or something, being stopped by border patrol, pointing at the sky and asking "What's that?!", and then grabbing the laptop and SPRINTING to where her parents were waiting to pick her up and yelling "GO GO GO!!!". A woman who works at the front desk also described buying 60 bottles of champagne for her birthday party, which she packed into a suitcase underneath some of her five-year-old nephew's clothes, and then having him help her wheel it across the border. All of these stories made that TERRIFYING customs lady Harsh, Jazil, and I ran into so make much sense, and I'm now scared of driving into South Africa.
I told the group about a Form 6 student convincing me that there were lions on campus and that if I heard sirens I had to run inside and close all the doors and windows.
Onto the actual game of Scrabble itself... people were NOT exaggerating when they said it was intense. There was yelling and challenges and it was a lot of fun. While my team won (woo!), it was mostly thanks to Anya, a Princeton fellow, who was comfortable being aggressive and fighting for a spot at the table while the rest of us drank wine and ate chocolate in the background. The most contentious words of the night were "farcing" (who knew "farce" could be a verb as well as a noun??) and a name (possible "Chloe"?) that someone put down and then tried to define using Urban Dictionary.
After a lovely evening, we left around 11pm and only slowed ever so briefly on our walk back to the annex to admire the super bright stars above us. By then we were exhausted, which explains why I'm writing this post from my bed this morning and pretending that it's still yesterday, while crunching on a pear for breakfast.
So that was my first service activity here and first scrabble smackdown! Looking forward to many more of each. :) And now off to begin the day...