Hi everyone!
I can’t believe I have finally found an internet! Sooooooo much has happened since my last post! I am currently in Kosi Bay with my GAP partner Nina. We are visiting the other two GAP students. Getting here has been a trip and a half! Nina and I got into a bus taxi in Inguvama (where I am staying). The thin with these taxis, is that they don’t go anywhere until the taxi is full. Lucky for us, we only had to wait about 20 minutes, however, at the beginning of the trip, there were 20 people crammed in to the one taxi bus! It was crazy! Once we got down to the bottom of the mountain (and our ears were finally popped), Nina and I got into another taxi and headed out to Kosi Bay. We got picked up by Eliza and some teachers working at her school. It was, by this time, dark and, in true African style, Nina and I had to sit in the back of the ute…sitting under the bright moon and shinning stars, we had a real ‘moment!’

Anyway, I mst try and hurry along with this – everyone else wants a go on the internet too!

For those of you who don’t yet know, here is some info about my placement:

I am sharing a room with Nina in a teachers house which is about 20 minute walk from the school. The room is tiny (just big enough for two beds and a tiny wardrobe). We share a kitchen, which is really dirty! The fridge didn’t work very well so they have recently got another one. It is much smaller and des not fit everyones food in it! The inside of the micowave filthy. The stove does not work so we have a camp-like stove with 2 hot pates on it it. I tried the oven when I first got there and I caused a blackout within the house!

Best of all, we have NO RUNNING WATER! This means we cannot flush the toilet and have no water to wash hands (thank goodness for hand sanitiser)etc. We have to bathe in a really small tub which we fill with cold water befoe adding water that we boil to make it warmer. The tub is so small – I have to sit in it with my legs right up to my chest and then squeeze the face washer over my body. To wash hair, I have to kneel on the floor and dunk my hair into the water! It gets really really cold as I am obviously not under warm running water!

Clothes washing must be done in the same tub – hand washing so hands get very sore by the end after all the ringing. Nina and I still find that we can’t get all the soap out of the clothes!

Anyway, the following are excerpts from my journal entries I have been keeping whilst here:

Monday 20 July
Today was our first full day of life in South Africa! After rising at 7:30 for breakfast, we walked to the Church hall where we were spoken to by an Australian working for the Australian High Commission in South Africa and a South African Travel Doctor……..

We were then spoken to by travel doctor, Dr Maarschalk. I found this talk extremely interesting and obviously very beneficial. Dr Maarschalk talked to us about a variety health issues, one of them being HIV/AIDS. In South Africa alone, it is recorded that 5.6 million people are currently living with the disease. This equates to 21.5% of the population, a dramatic increase from the 7.6% in 1997.  In 2006, 370 000 South African deaths were attributed to this disease, which equates to 1000 deaths per day.  Furthermore,1 in 5 South African women infected with the virus will not live to see their 30th Birthday.  When compared to Australia’s 22,000 recorded cases, it is clear that this is a serious epidemic; an issue that is still not understood by a large proportion of the South African people today.
* Fact: 36% / 1 in 4 people in Kwa-Zulu Natal (the province my placement is located in) is infected by the HIV/AIDS virus.
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Malaria is also a major concern within the African community, with 95% of malaria related deaths occurring in Africa, equating to an annual death rate between 1.5 and 2.5 million people. Whilst there are four different strands of the disease, it is important to note that only one of these can cause death and that it must have been as a consequence of being bitten by a female mosquito as male ones do not bite!

The issue of water was also raised and, it may surprise many of you to find that the water in South Africa is in the top 8 of the world’s cleanest water! This means that I have been drinking tap water in Johannesburg. I will however, need to reassess the situation once I am living at my rural placement in Ingwuvama.

Thursday (arrival at placemet)
Upon arrival, we were briefly shown around the school grounds. School had just been let out so there were kids everywhere! Quite a few of the younger ones stopped us in our tracks and hugged us, there wide smiles and big eyes glaring up at us! What was amazing, was that almost immediately, I was asked by some girls if I could give them my earrings and even the hair tie that was around my wrist!
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I must admit, this was all a bit overwhelming when we first arrived. How on earth am I going to survive for six months without running water – without having a shower, without having water to wash my hands after going to the toilet, having to pour water in to the toilet after every time I go, having to scrub and hand wash my own clothes, having to either boil water or buy bottled water…the list goes on!

After the initial shock, and now reflecting on it whilst sitting in bed, I realize that this is going to be an experience I will never forget! I am going to learn so much and begin to appreciate life and what I have at home so much more! I will also be able to say that I have lived in a way that many people know to be the only way – in poverty and with less than the bare minimum. After already seeing how so many people live in Africa, I can already appreciate that where I will be living for the next 6 months – this small dorm, with no running water, crappy bed mattresses and a squashed cockroach on the floor beside me, is actually not so bad when compared to where many Africans live. Some will spend tonight sleeping on the side of the road in the freezing cold, or if they are lucky, in a slum, but with no water, no electricity, no food and very little clothes.

Anyway, I better go – it has been a tiring couple of days and I need to get some sleep. But first, I REALLY need to go to the toilet! I have been putting it off…but you can only put something like this off for so long! Wish me luck!
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FRIDAY
the students were at times, a nightmare! It was incredibly hard to control them, particularly because they were older and therefore more independent and apparently ‘in-control’ of themselves! In particular, there were a couple of boys (some as old as 19 and 20) who would not behave – they never did any work and continually disrupted the rest of the class. At times though, this was quite funny! One boy had a leather jacket on and was doing dance moves across the classroom so as to impersonate Michale Jackson! Another boy sat at his desk and stared at me, deliberately popping his eyes out as far out of his head as he possibly could! In both instances, both Nina and I had to keep a straight face and at least try to stop them and get them to do some work! At the same time, there were also a couple of very studious workers in each class.

After these classes, we were then fortunate enough to listen to the school choir practice…OMG! This was absolutely fantastic experience – another ‘moment’ in South Africa! Words cannot describe the atmosphere that their beautiful voices created! It was exactly as you can imagine – boys and girls joining together, harmonies and all, to create a fantastic African inspired sound that was incorporated with movement. Both Nina and I had shivers constantly running down our spines. And, I don’t know why on earth why, but we were both close to tears. Nina and I still can’t understand why considering I never get emotional), but there was something so special about the sounds and movements we experienced that was overpowering and emotive!
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before we knew it we were bombarded by some younger students, all of whom wanted to speak and play with us! I took this opportunity to show them the photos I brought over –they loved seeing my friends and family and wanted me to say what each and every persons name was so they could say it back to me! I showed them the photo of me at my friends at my 18th Birthday party – they were surprised at how many friends I have! After this, Nina and I taught them some clapping games. The ‘thumb war’ was the most popular; even when we were walking out of the school gates at the end of the school day at 2:30, we saw kids everywhere who were teaching it to each other! It was amazing! 
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Nina and I then walked up to the local ‘CBD’ to finally buy various item…
We must have spent ages in the shops as it was 4:45 by the time we finished and went outside with a heavy trolley overloaded and full to the brim!
Now the challenge – to someone get back to our house. Because we had bought so much, we needed to be driven home. We asked the only taxi around at the time, but he was going in the other direction. We then asked another car full of people. A lady from the car was so kind and went around organizing a lift for us. In the meantime, we had no idea when or how we would eventually get home (even though it was only a 2 minute drive away!). Would it be dark by the time we got home? Was it going to rain? Were we going to freeze? Would we even get home tonight! Eventually, we were directed to a gentleman in a ute (yes we hitched hiked – but there is a really nice story to this – he is starting up a youth/poverty program and whats our help!)
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Going to bed feeling like this is going to be a fantastic experience. I am not as anxious about it anymore. Now that we have conquered the toilet, shower and cooking (with water issues etc), both Nina and I now feel like we can definatley do this – whateer comes our way, for the net 6 months! I’m excited and wouldn’t want it any other way!
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Tuesday 28 July
For the classes prior to morning tea, Nina and I assisted with grade 1. All of the students were so cute! All of their big eyes were on us as we walked into the room and took a seat at the back of the class. To begin, the students stood at the front of the class, said their prayers and sung a ‘halleluiah’ song. They then practiced their handwriting, before moving on to math. The math sums were very simple (e.g. 17-7, 12-2), yet for some students, it felt like I was trying to pull hens teeth out! There was one girl who particularly did not understand; no matter how I tried to explain it to her, she just didn’t get it. Even when we came to an answer together, I told her to go back to her desk and write it down, she would come back with a completely different answer, not even moderately close to the real answer!

From this mornings lessons, I can somewhat understand why teachers teaching at these remote schools, all too often ‘give up’ on their students. Sometimes, it just seems all too hard; too much effort, worry and attention for a child who just seems to not get anything, no matter how hard you try. The grade 1 teacher this morning, said something to me that exemplified this. Whilst marking students handwriting, I asked whether I should send one of the children back to her desk to re-do the letters she was writing incorrectly. The teacher responded with: ‘Oh, no, just fix it up for her now, this girl has always had problems with her writing.’ For me, this implied that the teacher no longer bothered with this child – that it was all just too hard…

After recess, I had intended to go back to the grade 1 class, however, one of my students from a class I took yesterday cam up to me and asked if I could help her with her homework. When I questioned her as to why she was not in class, she said that she has computer technology, but she was just sitting in the library doing nothing. Apparently, the teacher who normally takes this class moved back to Canada at the end of last term. So, from then on in, all of his students have been unsupervised, without any work, direction or supervision by a teacher! When I heard this, I went straight up to the library and attempted to get the class in to the computer lab so they could work on their ‘computer skills’ (when I asked the students what they normally do in computer technology, they said ‘play games, like cards…’). So, I now had a large class of ratty children to take care of. To top things of, NONE of the computers worked and only three students had other work they could go on with. This meant that I had to think of something to do with them…and FAST! I decided to play ‘round the world’. This is a quiz game, whereby two students compete at a time. The first to answer the question I ask moves on to compete against the next student and so on. This game proved really popular! It kept the boys on task the whole lesson! What amazed me though, was their lack of general knowledge, even about their own country! They could not tell me what the colours on their flag represented or what Gandhi’s first name was. One boy hadn’t even heard of the word ‘koala!’

Wednesday 29 July

This morning Nina and I helped out with the grade one class again. I hesitate to say ‘helped’ though, as the teacher pretty much stood in the corner of the classroom whilst we marked all of the kid’s writing and maths questions. Just as I did yesterday, I spent considerable time with this one girl who was struggling with her maths. She didn’t even have her book out to start with, even though a few other kids had already finished their maths! When I finally got her on task, it was, once again, like pulling hens teeth out. She struggled so much; she hardly ever got any of the sums correct and when she did, it was because she had spent a considerable amount of time on them. By the end of the class, she was in tears; the teacher said she had had enough and that she didn’t want to do any more. I can understand how frustrating it must be for her, but the teacher did not seem to help with matters; she once again, dismissed the child and didn’t bother trying to encourage her to keep on going or praise her for the work that she had done.

Periods 4 and 5 consisted of Nina and I teaching the class that, up until we arrived, had no teacher computing). Because the computers do not work, Nina and I led a game of ‘Round the World.’ As per yesterdays lesson with the grade eights, the class stayed focused the whole time. Of course, there was a group of boys who had to ruin things –they didn’t even come to class!

Nina and I asked a variety of different questions, from a broad range of subjects. Listed below are some of these questions and some of the answers we received!

Q: What continent is Egypt in?
A: Asia

Q: What is the order of the four seasons, starting in the month of January?
A: Summer, Spring, Winter, Autumn

Q: Who invented the light bulb?
A: Albert Einstein

Q: What is the capital city of America?
A: United Kingdom

Q: What animal is NOT an Australian animal? Koala, Kangaroo or zebra?
A: “A what?…what is a koala?”

Q: In the Northern hemisphere, there is the arctic circle. What is in the Southern hemisphere?
A: The North pole

I knew the academic standard of the students in a rural community like Ingwavuma would be low, but I could not have imagined just how naïve they are, particularly to the rest of the world! Whilst these types of answers do give me a bit of a chuckle (and I am sure, you!), it also displays an extremely serious predicament confronting the South African education system.

After these lessons, Nina and I are now motivated to make these lessons count; to use this time to teach them about things as simple as what continent Egypt is in!  What has previously been a bludge lesson, will now be transformed into a fun, interactive and informative lesson, where every student WILL learn something! It is my goal, to help these students become 100% more aware of the rest of the world, as well as simple, general knowledge about a variety of different subjects.

Nina and I have now got text books lying on our small bedroom floor, ready to use as teaching resources. Yes – we did manage to find some books in the ‘library’ (if you could call it that). The resources are, however, very basic children’s encyclopedias etc. Nevertheless, they are able to provide us with the information we need to teach the students. I have already made up some worksheets (fill in the gaps, mix and match, diagrams) etc for next weeks classes. Nina and I also intend to incorporate quizzes and weekly tests that incorporate the lessons topics etc. We also have the vision of decorating the computer room with student work, posters and colourful pictures – we want to make it ‘our’ room where students actually want to come to learn!

This afternoon, we were invited by the SPAR manager, Leon, to watch the beautiful South Afrcan sunset! This was absolutely AMAZING! Normally I am not one to sit around essentially doing ‘nothing,’ but I have to say, it was soooo relaxing and sooo worthwhile! According to Leon, we were actually on top of the mountain that was technically part of Swaziland (i.e. where the South Africa and Swaziland borders meet). Now I can add something else to my list – illegally entering another country!  One thing that amazed me about the South African sunset, was how orange the sun became and how quickly it set!

Thursday 30 July

I really enjoyed school teaching today! I took Walter’s classes as he was away at moderation. Mr Walter teaches social sciences – right up my ally! I taught grade 7, 8 and 9 subjects such as the industrial revolution and capitalism versus communism. Since I have learnt about these topics, I really enjoyed being able to expand on the information given in the text book.

After Nina and I walked home from school, I decided to do some clothes washing. By the time this was done, I had five minuted to spare before a teacher from Nansindlela, Francis S came to take me for a run! I was so excited about this but also a bit unsure on how I would cope, considering I have not run for the past 2 months due to a back injury from my car accident.

We ran up to the Swaziland/South African mountain which borders both countries. This was approximately 7km and took us about 35 minutes to complete. I cannot begin to describe how beautiful it was ot be running in South Africa! If you can begin to imagine, we were running on dirt roads, in th middle of no where, with a spectacular view once we reached the top, of Swaziland and th magnificent suset. Of course, this afternoon was not the time to sit and enjoy the view – we ran the whole way and did not stop. I was really pleased with this considering I have not run for a while. Once back at my house, I continued on down the hill to the hospital, where I met Nina. Nina was watching a soccer game, which was on top of another mountain (next to the tennis court). Once again, a spectacular view awaited me!

What made this run most exciting was that Francis has competed in both Commonwealth and Olympic Games for the marathon! In 2000, he was selected to compete at the Sydney Olympics and came 23rd! When I asked him to tell me about this experience, he began to relive it and talked about it the whole way back home! Unlike most marathon runners in his race at the Olympics, Francis was not a full time professional runner. He still had university study and teaching and so quite often missed some of his training runs. So to come 23rd in a group of full-time athletes is obviously such a huge achievement.

I truly felt honored that he had offered to run with me. By the end of our training run, he said that I had done very well and could tell that I was good at long distance running. He said when he has taken gapers before, they stop at the top of the mountain, saying they need to ‘stretch’ (i.e. they are stuffed!). I must say, this 7km was a lot more difficult than 7lk at home! It has so much more hills; just as you catch you catch your breath going down a hill, you are faced with another rise! He also said that the high altitude makes it harder than if we were running at the bottom of the mountain.

Francis says I am more than capable of training up to the half marathon which is happening in Ingwavuma at the end of September/beginning of July. It was my goal to compete in the half marathon the minute I heard about it, however, Francis has inspired and motivated me even more to make sure I do pursue this goal and do it!

I am so excited and can’t wait to have completed my first half marathon in a foreign country, in rough terrain, high altitude and amongst some of the spectacular views in the world! Yay!

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Ok – please excuse spelling/grammatical mistakes – i have not even looked over this or formatted it. I hope you all enojy reading about what I have been up to!

I am really enjoying South Africa – having such a great time!

Hope all is well in Australia!

Love you all

Ashlee
xo

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