Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside!

On Friday, we flew to Durban and spent a wonderful long weekend in Umhlanga Rocks, a seaside town about 20k north of Durban.The weather was beautiful and we had a room with a sea view.The vegetation was thick and lush; banana, date and coconut palms, giant tropical bushes, colourful flowering trees. The crop in that area is mainly sugar cane, rolling up and down hills, right to the coast.
We hired a car and drove along the “Dolphin coast” (no sightings) then inland to see the grave of the Zulu King Shaka who was stabbed by his brother in 1828. There was a very good museum there and we had a personal viewing of the AV presentation. We also watched an Indian wedding at the Town Hall in Dukaza. The wedding outfits were exquisite; the groom had a white suit, white shirt and red cummerbund and tie, with a huge long silk scarf that reached right down to the ground. The bride was in red and gold, full makeup and mendhi on her hands. There were a number of tiny children there, all beautifully dressed in traditional Indian dress. In Durban city centre,we went to an indoor meat and fish market which was gross! Sheep’s heads, pigs trotters, gizzards, lungs, it was like a mortuary! Yuck! It was a bit like the markets we saw in Hong Kong, although at least in Durban the fish were dead before the stallholders chopped them up! A breath of fresh air was needed, so we headed for the beach to watch a surfing competition with live commentary broadcast by a local radio station.
This is a strange week. Monday was a holiday and this coming Thursday and Friday are also holidays, so many people are taking Tuesday and Wednesday as annual leave, getting 10 days off for just 2 days leave .Les has closed the factory for the week as so few people would have been in. Today I was at the school again and in the afternoon we went shopping. Tomorrow (Wednesday) we are going to Pretoria to visit the big museum there (after the gym, of course). On Thursday, we will need to do some housework as we may have a guest coming on Friday….all the way from Oz, that philosopher extraordinaire, Mr Martin Barnes has cashed in his savings to purchase a ticket to sunny SA. But his efforts to get here have been fraught with difficulties, such as public holidays in Oz, computer problems at the travel agent and RBS refusing to release him his money, thinking he has been robbed in Australia! So we wait and I won’t actually believe it until I see him coming through the arrivals gate!

Busy busy busy

We have had a busy time!
Last week, I spent Tuesday morning with a reading group in a local primary school. They are in our equivalent of Primary Two, but most can’t read or write. Because they start school at age 7, they are 8 or 9 years old and really struggling with a series called Kathy and Mark much like the old Peter and Susan books,(or Janet and John if you’re a Terry Wogan fan!).
On Wednesday, I was invited to a literary competition for the brightest kids from the local municipality. From the ridiculous to the sublime! These kids were aged between 12 and 18 and were divided into groups according to age and language (the competition was offered in 4 languages). The children had read a number of prescribed books and had to answer questions in a series of elimination rounds before the grand finale, where a prize of R2,000 was on offer in each age group and in each language. What a day! There was a gospel choir, a local TV celebrity, various speeches and an excellent hot lunch. But most amazing of all was the serious nature of all of the competitors, including a huge number of boys! Would it work in Grangemooth? If only!
On Thursdays, I seem to have talked myself into running a homework club at the public library. These kids are all so eager to learn, asking for help to spell and pronounce words correctly in English. They are all black children who are bussed in from a local township. They live in shacks and definitely value education, seeing it as their ticket to a better life. I spoke to a number of senior boys and girls, aged 16-18, who were all really keen to get the best mark at school. Most wanted to be accountants but they still find time to read, both for information and for pleasure! What a pleasure it was!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Why I don't like cats!

This morning, it was a lovely sunny day so I opened the patio doors whilst I was doing some housework. What a shock I got to come into the kitchen to be confronted by a big black and white cat! Sitting there as though he owned the place! How long had it been there? What had it been doing? And I had just finished cleaning in there, so now I need to do all the surfaces again as he might have walked on them. Now I don’t much like dogs, either, but a dog wouldn’t be roaming about in the first place and wouldn’t come uninvited into your home. But even if he did, he’d most likely make some noise, either a “woof” or those clip clop toenail sounds. So you’d know he was there. But this creepy thing had come in unannounced and uninvited and had been creeping around for God knows how long, doing who knows what! What a cheek!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Foreign Language

There are 11 official languages in South Africa. These are: Afrikaans, English, Zulu, isiXhosa, Sepedi, isiNdebele Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda and Xitsonga. I have learned a few Afrikaans words but not much else. In particular, Xhosa is quite a difficult language, as there are many “clicks” rather than what we would recognise as letters! Zulu seems to use a lot of soft “sch” sounds, a cross between “loch” in Scottish and “Schloss” in German. Many towns and cities are now being renamed from English to an African language, so Pretoria becomes Tshwane, Johannesburg is Egoli and so on. But even English can be confusing! For example, “I’ll do it just now”... Now I would think that means, “I’ll do it right away”. But it doesn’t. It means, “I’ll do it soon”, or in a short while. If you want to say what we mean by “Do it just now”, you must say “Do it now- now.”
Also, like our southern European cousins, there is a “Manyana” tendency! It can be quite frustrating. I have made contact with several schools who seem eager for me to visit, but so far only two have actually delivered! First it was, “Wait for the new term” (that was in January). Then it was, “Soon it will be Easter”, then they had three weeks Easter holidays! So hopefully I will get a few more visits underway in the next couple of weeks! The reading programme starts this week and so do the school visits to the library where I volunteer.
This manyana tendency has extended to the car. As you may remember, we had a few difficulties with the BMW. It was to be fixed “just now”. However, it proved more difficult than the hire company expected, so they gave us an Audi which was very nice. Then on Friday, when we were setting off to Mpumalanga, the BMW was still not ready, so they exchanged the Audi for a Mercedes! Not than I’m complaining! I will find it difficult to go back to an ordinary run around when we get back to Scotland!
We enjoyed our weekend stay in Sabie, which is a bit like Aberfoyle. The whole area is commercial forestry, so although it was very green, it had those huge blighted areas common in the Trossachs , where the trees have been cut but new trees are not yet big enough to make the area pretty. There were some lovely villages with lots of craft shops, forestry and mining museums and so on. Further up the Escarpment (no sign of Tarzan) the scenery was very dramatic. At some point we were above the clouds and could see mist and cloud like ribbons along the mountain sides across the valleys. We visited a famous viewpoint called God’s Window but unfortunately he had his curtains closed! The mist was so thick we couldn’t see a thing, even the roadsides were obscured and that is not a good thing when you are 4300metres up a mountain with a sheer drop on one side, believe me! We spent a lot of time following, then overtaking huge logging lorries, some with a trailer behind making them double length. Every time we stopped to look at a view or a battle site from the Anglo Boer War, the damned things would get past us and we’d have to wait for a straight stretch to overtake again! The hotel had wonderful entertainment on Saturday evening. All the kitchen staff sang, danced and played local instruments including a huge drum. I loved the drum, in fact I bought one on Sunday, much to Les’ dismay. It will make a nice side table when I get fed up of beating it, or more likely when Les gets fed up of hearing it! The area is famous for trout fishing and although Les didn’t get to try his luck, we bought some pate and smoked trout from a farm shop for dinner on Sunday night. The trout were originally destined for somewhere else. The man who brought them in the early 1900s had trout eggs on ice but the ice began to melt before he reached his planned destination so he released them into the lakes and rivers of Mpumalanga. Duh! Ice melts in the African Heat!!! But it has turned the area into a huge holiday resort, for which the locals are no doubt very grateful, not to mention the tourists like us!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Wednesday 9 April already!

Wow! How time flies! Forgive me, readers, for I have procrastinated; it’s been ten days since my last blog.
To be honest, nothing much has happened during the last ten days, just the usual; sitting in the sun, going to the gym, sitting in the sun, out for dinner, sitting on the sun etc. The schools are on holiday for three weeks, so I haven’t been doing my volunteer stint. We are going away this weekend, to the area around Sabie in Mpumalanga. (Just say it as it looks!). Two different people had suggested it and a quick look on the internet brought up some reasonable accommodation, so off we go on Friday afternoon until Sunday night.
Last weekend we went to the cinema to see Vantage Point which was very good. It is about an assassination attempt on the US president The same scene replays several times from different characters’ perspectives, which may sound boring but wasn’t at all. It uses the same premise as the cult Japanese film Roshomon. (Impressed? Well actually I wouldn’t know it from Winnie the Pooh; I read it in the papers and thought I’d put it in here!) However good it was, it was a “man’s fillum”. I long for a chick flick, but the two people over here I’d be most likely to go with tend to go on a Thursday morning and I am at the philosophy school then. I am just thinking of the Hagen-Daz and Chocolate nights I’ll have with my pal when I get back to Scotia’s shores, as 27 dresses and PS I love you will be out on DVD by then!