Joan and cute dogs Mini (bulldog) and Flap Jack (Jack Russell) enthusiastically greeted us and we moved into a place with an enormous comfy bed, shower with steaming water, a lovely garden on 5 acres, electricity that doesn’t go out every day and weather that doesn’t make me break out in a sweat constantly. South Africa in luxury! Les and poured over the newsletter that boasted about the girls’ achievements in model UN, dance company tour, scores in maths, and lots of huge accomplishments in only their fifth year of existence. I helped Joan with dinner and had a lovely conversation and soon we were sitting with Ann, a glass of wine, a parrot named Paula in the next room making dog sounds, whistles and small phrases, and sharing stories about travel and commonalities.
|Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls|
I was so impressed with the full, powerful sounds of the choir. They were exuding pride, happiness, and self-assurance. Ms. Van Zyl cordially addressed the audience, and the dean of academics called out the African names for a plethora of awards with only one snafu. Impressive! The girl beside me won an academic award and an award for greatest contribution to the school community.
After the ceremony, two fascinating and remarkable girls guided us on a tour. They told us about their goals to continue to break the cycle of poverty in their communities and how they believed in this process that will change their culture’s views about how important and valuable is educating girls. All of them board. They all start in 7th grade with no newcomers and very low attrition. They took us down the street of learning and showed us the tree of living, pointed out “Ma Oprah’s” home and peeked in the bright dance studio while we watched the art studios get cleaned and the tuck shop (snacks) close up on our stroll. One thing that I loved is how much the staff is all one. Teachers are staff, as is the maintenance, grounds and kitchen crews. The girls get to know them all—maybe because they originate from a poor class. In fact in order to be eligible, you must be poor. Imagine that. We went back to our accommodations to see if we could make plans for our next few nights couch surfing, and a walk in the garden before coming back for the DANCE CONCERT! This time we sat next to a girl who won a few awards, including the theater award, who was delightful and generous in engaging us in conversation.
The music was a cover of Lennon’s “Imagine,” and the lighting was sensational with saturated color for backlight and fog to bring out the patterns of the gobos. Word had it that the Dwanna, the teacher, designed and made many of the costumes. The concert featured the dance company and was supported by the classes. Well done! The audience response was surprisingly cool, and I asked our “learner” friend (they call students “learners” here) if she was taught how to respond at this dance concert or if this is normal. She said that because it’s a formal concert the girls would give it a more polite response than if they were in the street. During the final bow, Dwanna asked for a more enthusiastic response to acknowledge the hard work the performers did. Afterwards I caught her to express my support, and she said the company was going to the US next year. Maybe we can host them for an assembly? She was sure glad that she was done after today, as I can imagine.
Sam Blake saw us out the door with a couple good stories and we were off to our new couch hosts: Adrian and Louise with daughter Siobhan and dogs Crackle and Oskar.
Unbelievably, they offered to make us a delicious lasagna dinner! We finally snuggled into an incredibly comfortable bed, in a beautiful home with a pool and nice yard, in a great neighborhood.
1—Louise made me an egg on toast, and we had a good time swapping stories until we took off with their GPS unit to Soweto.
|The student revolutionaries never made it to the stadium|
We walked down the street with Audrey, an old woman going to church who asked us all about where we were going, how we were getting there, where was our car, where are we from, and all that, and then she told us she lives across the street from the Mandela home. Now I kick myself for not asking HER tons of questions about life here during her time!
Meanwhile, a little boy asked her if he could sing us a song for money, and we saw another boy clinging onto the back of a city bus for a ride.
Back at home we rallied to go to a place where I got to have rabbit! Suddenly I felt my energy come back, my cough wane and I felt like dancing! Who knew! I loved hearing stories about how Adrian and Louise dodged danger as police officers, and how her 6-week training changed her from a cowering victim to a problem-solver. I wonder if police training would be good for Emma Willard girls?
December 2—On our way to the Apartheid Museum, we stopped for a few groceries and I looked at a phone. It seemed like a good one, but I had to think about it. Les got a SIM card for his and hopefully now we won’t be paying thousands of dollars on his international roaming.
|Johannesburg city from the museum|
We spent a very long time at the Mandela exhibit, that shed light on his incarcerations, his family history, his transition to a deeper thinker, the negotiations he made, and the miracle of reconciliation that made South Africa transform out of the apartheid era.
Astounding! As we were finishing there, we found that the museum was going to close in 30 minutes. Impossible! We’ll have to come back if we want to see it properly.
The education of the last two days has me thinking about the US culture and how isolated the middle class people are from one another in general. Adrian said that it’s common in Africa that the less one has, the more generous they are with what they have. The people with more guard it and fear losing it. I’m so fortunate to have a community at the school where I live. It’s unfortunate that our culture is so litigious that we have to question our acts of kindness to see if any harm could possibly come of it before we proceed. Risk taking in acts of kindness—hmmmm. Couch Surfing is one of those risks that have been totally worth every bit. Such richness has come from these interactions. Adrian asked me if there’s a way to connect with the poor people around where I live, and it got me thinking about homestays for the girls through couch surfing in Albany. Too risky for our school, but maybe there’s some deeper connection that could happen through Girl Scouts. I do think we should figure out a way to bridge the socio-economic gap in some substantive/somatic way.