Thursday, March 26, 2009

No more teachers dirty looks (almost)

Our final day at Aurora is tomorrow. It has been a jampacked three months here, bringing the school into the age of computers. Prior to our arrival, the school operated in a paper-only environment where student details were stored in binders in a filing cabinet, and monies brought in to the school were manually tallied each week and debited when items from the tuck shop were purchased. Attendance lists and mark tallies were hand written in books with ruler-created gridlines. Now, our student records are stored in a networked Access database system where the staff can look up monies stored in student accounts and quickly print out class lists or export them to Excel. We've issued students ID cards on which their student numbers are encoded as barcodes to make purchases from the tuck shop quick and relatively secure.

Two staff members, Agnes and Sipho, after being trained to use the tuck shop scanner

Previously, communally watched videotapes on a TV held seniority as teacher of mathematics (none of the human teachers here like teaching math), but now students can watch the videos at their own pace in a 9-computer Windows 98 computer lab through a web site which holds 60 hours (40gb) of mpeg video. The same videos have been backed up to VCD to allow for both conventional DVD players and the cd-rom equipped computers to still be able to play them in the event of a network outage/hard disk crash.

I've installed the "Tux" line of open source educational programs in the lab to help me teach mouse dexterity, math, and typing three times a week. Our school fees are very low, but extra-curricular activities, such as computer lessons, are fee-based, so student order is determined via a loose FIFO algorithm combining the date of their last payment and their latest computer lesson. It remains a very popular activity, as the waiting list is about 2 weeks long.

To celebrate the last day of school tomorrow, Dora and I will host a dance contest to show off rhythmic skills of the kids here (seriously, everybody has rhythm here).

Dora's a little busy sleeping now, so she'll post her report "just now" (South African for "eventually").

Sunday, March 22, 2009

On Friday, a thunderstorm released buckets of water upon our school. The first photo is just minutes after the storm began and some of Dora's students were navigating the newly formed river back to their classroom. Later on our way home, we saw piles of snow! (well, hail).
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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Not Springfield

When we first arrived in Johannesburg, it seemed strangely familiar...
Cooling towers resembling a nuclear power plant...

Jebediah Springfield

But then we find this in our bathroom sink to remind us we're not in Springfield anymore.
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You Canadians have it lucky

It was under a full moon that we experienced one of the most physically grueling trials of our lives—summiting Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. And it was under a full moon that I prepared for the most emotionally testing trial in South Africa—applying for an extension to our 90 day visa (we’re in the country 100 days). In Canada, the most stressful part of the ordeal might be finding parking downtown prior to waiting in line at the passport office. Here, a combination of factors makes it much more eventful here.

The Department of Home Affairs takes care of all things related to passports and visas. When I asked where that was, nobody was able to give me an address. The locals remember locations by directions rather than maps and addresses, so I needed to be taken to the office in the nearby town of Germinston at 9pm Wednesday night. I had read about not stopping at red lights (locally referred to as red robots) at night, but in the Edenvale area of Joburg where we stay, it’s not an issue. In Germinston, it is. There is virtually no traffic at 9pm (it’s like Vancouver at 2am), and the route to Germinston was straightforward, but my guide and I kept our eyes open as we cautiously rolled through intersections. Stories of smash-and-grabs (glass of car smashed as purses and etc. are grabbed in the commotion) ran through my head as I readied myself to take off at the first sign of somebody running towards our car.

Eventually we reached the office, where my guide explained the strategies involved in seeing somebody the same day that I arrive. The queue would be filled with refugees, mostly from Zimbabwe, and I would have to get there early. There are two other teachers at the school who’ve had to also line up, and they got to the office at 4am, and didn’t leave until noon.

At 5am Thursday morning, a mere 6 hours after I got home, I returned to the office. I found I was already number 23 in the queue, as I added my name to a sign-up sheet. Not so bad, until you consider that many of the names belong to agents who represent 20 or more clients whose applications need to be processed individually. I returned to my car to get a bit of rest before returning to the queue at 6am to add my name to a second official list taken by a security guard. A few people hadn’t returned, and I became number 20. At 7:30, the office opened, and the queue became a mass clogging up the front door while the security allowed those in who had registered properly to proceed upstairs to the office where we once again queued up. We were split into two lines—one for applying, and one for collecting. I then became number 4 in line as those collecting would only be served after those applying. The line for applying moved one every 30 minutes, and by 9am I was served. 25 minutes later, I was out. Yes, it took 25 minutes to make sure the forms I brought were properly filled out, that I had brought the correct documentation, and to print out a receipt (which alone was 10 minutes).

At least I got to leave before lunch time. But that doesn’t console me for my return to the office in two weeks when I need to pick up the visas.