Top Two

Last night, Terry asked us each what our top two moments from South Africa are. After three weeks here, there are many. I’m sure I’ll be boring friends and family with stories from South Africa for many years to come. But this has not just been a vacation. The best moments were those that an ordinary tourist wouldn’t have seen.

fruitThe township tour probably had the biggest impact on me. It was our first full day here, and seeing acres and acres of infomal housing — literally shacks made out of scrap wood and metal — cannot fail to have an impact on any visitor. The living conditions reminded me of the Plimouth settlement. There would typically be 3-12 people living in a single room. Many of them don’t have electricity much of the time. If there’s running water at all, it’s cold water only. Most of the cooking is done over open fires, and nothing goes to waste. There are a million people or more living in these conditions in the Cape Town area. These are the people we’ve been working with over the last three weeks. The teachers and the students live in conditions like these.

It’s scary, in hindsight, how quickly it starts to look normal. We got used to the townships. We were desensitized to the trash laying around everywhere. We saw goats and cows by the side of the road each morning — some alive, some cooking, some in the very graphic stages between. We got used to the barbed wire, and the trucks packed with day laborers on the way to some job, and the shipping containers on every street that had been turned into produce stands and hair salons and cell phone repair places. It wasn’t until today, as we were driving through the townships for the last time, that we viewed them with the same eyes we used on our first trip. A lot has happened since then.

The second most memorable thing was working with this group of people. For the most part, we met at the airport in New York. Most of us didn’t know how this was going to go. Sure, we all have our strengths, and our leaders did a great job of putting together a good team. But Sharon and I had only met a few days before. Zac and Ian joined us as we were checking in at the airport. Jody was delayed but made it in time for the flight to Africa. We immediately got along like old friends. When we landed, Noble and Terry added another dimension to the group. By the time we finished our first meeting, we were all on the same page, working together as a team.

It’s still humbling to see them in action. Their ability to involve the participants at every stage of the workshop in active participation is phenominal. Their pedagogical skills and techniques for both the content and presentation of the workshops is second to none. Their ability to think on their feet, make changes on the fly, deal with the political and technological stumbling blocks, and never let the blood pressure go up, is unbelievable. I’ve certainly learned far more from my team than I’ve contributed to it. I’d love to bring them all into my school district for a few days. They’d knock everyone’s socks off.

Today, we turned our attention to Kenya. Ian left to join his family, and the rest of us are flying out to join the other team tomorrow. I’m looking forward to meeting Lois and working with her. We have a new set of challenges in Kenya, but there’s no doubt that this group of people is going to do phenominal work there.

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Author: John Schinker

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