Oh it’s been a while. We’ve been cracking along here with various highs & lows, as you would expect…
We are feeling more settled in our house – we’ve bought a fridge/freezer (after a month of subsisting with the camping fridge, which was driving me potty – I could either refrigerate everything or freeze everything so we kept oscillating between the two depending on what was the biggest priority) and acquired a slightly worm eaten bookcase from the old chapel via the laundry, so we are fully unpacked.
The kids and me are falling into more of a weekly routine now, I think. They have swimming twice a week in Mthatha, which enables us to also do the shopping – while we can get most things in Libode 20 minutes away, there is a better range in Mthatha, & some products that you just can’t buy in Libode – like cheese. Ideally this would also include a library trip, but I haven’t yet braved the central library in Mthatha, & when we attempted a return visit to the university library everything was locked up, so our library system may need some fine tuning…
As of this week, the girls are also doing two days a week in school in Libode. We decided on this really for the social element, as there doesn’t seem to be a way outside school for them to make connections with local kids. I don’t want them to go back to the UK without having had some sort of cultural immersion here, & school seems the best way to achieve it! Unless they are very keen to go more days a week (unlikely I think!) they will stay at home 3 days so we can still cover the learning we think is important… We’ve signed them up the local private school, where the two other children who live on the compound go, mostly because it is English medium and the children who attend will hopefully have a better level of fluency in English than at the local government school. The fees are 460 ZAR a month (about £28) – not very much or an awful lot, depending on where you are on the scale of South Africa’s wide range of wealth distribution! The staff & children at the school have all been very welcoming, & the girls have enjoyed their two days there this week. Apparently everyone loves playing with their hair! I will try to post some pictures of the school anon…
We are finding more children in our lives in general actually. Some local boys – they live down the road from the hospital & walk through the grounds as a shortcut from school – have noticed our bikes, & come round hopefully asking to borrow them for a ride round the tennis court. Yesterday one of them (they told us it was another boy who they didn’t know who then ran away!) snapped the chain on Greta’s bike – it was rusty & old – so today they spent 5 hours after school finishing at 12, trying to fix the chain back again, having brought a screwdriver & pliers to help them. They were aged about 9-11, very polite & respectful, & gentle towards Johnny. It only seems to be boys, though, I don’t know whether the girls don’t venture so far from home, or are more likely to have domestic responsibilities after school? Nina & Greta play with the boys a little bit, trying to bully them into playing games of British bulldog, but generally the two parties mutually ignore each other! Nina says that at school boys and girls don’t mix at all.
We’ve also have several weekends away (“the weekends are great!” seems to be the catchphrase, as everyone hangs on to them as a respite from a challenging working week!). I think last time I posted we were about to go to Hluleka, a reserve 1.5 hours away from us on the coast, where we saw zebras & dolphins. It really tickles me to think of zebras just casually hanging out so close by to our home. We’ve also spent another two weekends on the coast at lodges, hiking along the cliff paths, surfing a little, and meeting new people.
Just a couple of little stories –
To fill in the application for the school I had to submit certified copies of their birth certificates, which the school secretary told me I could get done at the police station. Since I had no idea where that was, she extracted a student from his lesson to come along with us in the car and direct us (I love this sort of thing – can you imagine a child in a UK school being sent off with a random parent to act as as guide? It just makes me chuckle). He was a very polite Grade 9 boy (around 14, the last year of compulsory schooling in SA) who stays in the school’s boarding hostel (many schools have boarding hostels for the more rural pupils – this boy comes from Coffee Bay, about 2.5 hours away). At the police station I was escorted off to a little trailer with a queue of around 7 people standing outside clutching certificates. I joined the back of the queue – British – but my escort leapt back out of the office & beckoned me within, up to the desk. For some reason I was allowed to totally bypass the queue and get my documents stamped immediately (annoyingly they also stamped Nina’s original birth certificate, which now has a stamp from the SA police service certifying it as a copy…). This has happened to me a couple of times here & it always bemuses me. Does my general cluelessness signal that I am a foreigner, not a South African? Or would all white South Africans also be ushered to the front of the queue? I asked our white South African neighbours (the physio & the OT) about it & they said it doesn’t happen to them, so perhaps it is my cluelessness!
Again with the school, school nominally begins at 7.45 -although when I left it this morning at 8.15 there was still a sizeable stream of children making their way to school, so it clearly isn’t a hard & fast start time – & ends for most children at 14.45. The younger children finish at 14.00 but most of them seem to wait around. I came to collect Nina & Greta at 14.45 and was told by them that we were taking our neighbour’s kids home too. They normally travel home in a “school bus” – like the taxis that are actually minibuses this is a slightly confusing term, these are bakkies that parents can arrange to pick up/drop their children. There are hundreds of them on the roads at school run times, crowded full of children hanging out the windows etc. I would say it is highly unusual for children to be taken to school by their parents here, those that are too far to walk seem to rattle along in the back of a bakkie instead. The younger child (age 4) was waiting for us to take her home, but her brother (age 6) was nowhere to be found, & there was no adult taking any note of who was going home/when/where/with who. I swallowed my concerns, concluded he had probably gone off with his normal transport, & went home (kids in the back of the bakkie of course!), & of course it was all fine. I couldn’t help remembering the difficulties of trying to take home another child from school if their parent hadn’t explicitly told the school what the plans were that day for that child!
The roads. We are actually, I’ve concluded, quite lucky to be living on a tar road. Not only does it make our immediate routine journeys quicker and easier, but it also makes going to other places easier. We didn’t choose to be at St Barnabas, it was really just assigned to us, so there is always a part of me assessing other locations, wondering if we would be better off there – but the tar road is a big deal! However, because the road is tarred it has more, and faster, traffic racing along it. There are also loads of domestic animals on the roads… So there are also lots of dead animals along the road. Dogs seem the most common, but at the moment outside the hospital entrance is a dead horse, & just as you come into Libode there is a dead cow… Most of these accidents happen at night, I believe, but the driving in the daytime is pretty terrible too so it could be any time… My favourite bit of driving is the expectation that you will drive in the ditch in order to allow someone else to overtake you – after which they will then flash their hazards at you to say thank you. Or they may beep their horn at you, which can mean the usual negative messages but also means thank you. Confusing!
I’ve been intending on getting Harry to write a guest post (hah) about the work side of things, but pending that our friend Nisreen, who is the other British doctor working here, has written this blog post which you all may read, which includes medical info!
That’s all folks!