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Showing posts from 2013

Pamoja tswasonga mbele

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I have an acute obsession with museums so I decided to visit another museum today. 

The idea of museums is a strange one. This is a definition I found when I looked up the word museum:a building in which objects of historical, scientific, artistic, or cultural interest are stored and exhibited. My acute obsession with museums began when I visited the East London museum while I was in prep school. We visited the museum regularly throughout primary school whenever our work related to an exhibition that was in the museum. I never questioned the concept nor the content of a museum. Who decides what is of interest and is worthy of being exhibited in a museum?

The Nairobi National Museum has a colonial character even though the work features the history of Kenya, the history of humankind, birds of East Africa and two exhibitions featuring the work of contemporary Kenyan artists. There's also a photo exhibition celebrating Kenya's 50 years of independence. While wandering around I wond…

A country club, giraffes and a museum

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Today was my first time visiting a country club. I’ve always heard about such spaces and they never really entered my imagination. Places where rich people hang out and play golf and network. My friend’s mom is a member of the Karen Country Club so we had lunch with her after her round of Sunday golf with her golf buddies. I’m sure many people have written about country clubs and the narrative is that of privilege, networking and middle-classness at its best.
I spent most of the time at lunch people-watching. Families and friends were gathered around tables waiting for lunch and drinks to be served. There was a mixture of black and white families being served by black waiters. I was told that the white community in Kenya is referred to as the KC, “Kenyan Cowboys”. There were a few tables of KC families and the rest were what one might call the African elite. My favourite table was a family that took up three tables. Each table represented the three generations that exist in the famil…

Visiting Kenya

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I’m visiting a friend in Nairobi and while I’m here I’m going to try and blog about the experience. I haven’t travelled much (that’s if I’m comparing myself with some of my friends). The first time I ventured into the continent was a trip to Mozambique last year with friends. This time I’m travelling alone visiting a friend who moved back to Kenya after studying in South Africa after many years.
I never have high expectations when I’m travelling. This time around I travelled to see a good friend and to make sure I’m not at home come New Year’s Eve. When I booked the ticket to Kenya I knew it was time I travel alone and navigate an airport in another country all by myself (I hate airports. I always feel like I’m the only person who doesn’t know what’s happening and I’m paranoid until I sit in the aircraft).
Once I landed in Kenya I decided to follow the crowd that was in my flight. Passport control was mayhem and I eventually found a familiar face as I had made small talk with a woman…

A love-hate relationship: writing and teaching

I wish I could have written this reflection before the 5th of December. If I had, there would have been no pressure to meet the expectation that I must have a profound reflection that relates to tat’uMadiba. I shan’t be writing about uTata. But the fact that I can write, that I am educated, that I can claim a voice has a lot to do with the icon’s life. It’s no mistake that I write. It’s no mistake that I’m a teacher, either, but 2013 has taught me that I may have chosen two passions that often send me to a dark place, an existential crisis.
The year has been long and tiring. I wish I could have written more. This must be the lament of every young, aspiring writer: I wish I had more time. The irony is that the reason I have not been able to write as much as I would have liked to, is one of the things that also brings me great joy: being a teacher. The will to write has been affected by my will to stay afloat in the business of being a teacher.
Writing and teaching are second cousins: …

Becoming a woman in my black skin

I’ve been reading a book by Paula Giddings, Where and When I enter: the impact of Blackwomen on race and sex in America. Reading a book about the history of African-American women led me to consider my own narrative of what it has meant becoming a woman at a time when people are rushing towards a post racist society as though history had no bearing on our present.
I first encountered the narrative of resistance amongst African-American women when I read Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a woman”. It’s a stirring piece from a speech she made in...It was the first evidence I saw that slaves in America didn’t accept their fate at the hands of slave owners. They resisted. Understanding the resistance of black women through a slave narrative has widened my perspective on the importance of being a woman and I how I make the rights I have a real life experience. Once upon a time women were at the bottom of the food chain where they were mere objects that could be bought and sold. The children they…

Train stories:Part 2

As soon as I entered the carriage this morning I couldn't help but notice there was a conversation that was happening that I couldn't be a part of. So I decided to eavesdrop instead. It was a group of "mamas" (older black women who remind me of my mother and aunts) who decided their conversation was going to dominate the morning's train ride. I heard their voices but throughout the trip I never saw their faces. I couldn't tell what they were wearing, I couldn't tell if they were beautiful, plain or had troubled looks upon their faces.

They were talking about the murder in Khayelitsha. The story goes that a bar/tavern owner of a place called Emaplangeni (in Litha Park, Khayelitsha), opened fire after an altercation broke out amongst the customers. I haven't followed the story, but I glanced at it in yesterday's Cape Times. The mamas expressed their disbelief at the whole incident. One contributed an interesting piece of information: the fight isn&#…

Train stories: Part 1

My first trip to Cape Town was in 2009. A friend and I needed to get visas from the American Embassy. We made it to Westlake with the help of a friend and when we were granted permission to enter USA we decided to find our way around Cape Town by using public transport. We took a taxi from Westlake and got off in Retreat. From Retreat train station we headed for the southern suburbs where we would get off in Rondebosch to meet a friend at the University of Cape Town.
This was my first encounter with Cape Town’s public transport system. When we used the taxi in Retreat people weren’t shocked that a white person (the friend I was travelling with) used public transport. Neither of us knew where we were going but fortunately I speak isiXhosa and Afrikaans and we managed to get where we were going with ease. The train trip was the most interesting.
It was quiet. It was a mid-morning train after the hustle and bustle of rush hour with people getting to work. I was confused by the silence.…

Surviving term three and school camps

Third term is almost over. It’s been a crazy term with school camps, debating competitions, hosting the Open Book Festival at our school, disciplinary hearings (I wasn’t involved), interpersonal challenges with staff members, failed tests and assignments, performances of Macbeth with bursting flames in the school hall and endless shouting monologues addressed to teenagers (who don’t listen to crazy teachers anyway) and good doses of laughter some of the time.
Third term is a trying term. It’s the most exhausting for everyone, teachers and pupils alike. It’s my least favourite term. The kids struggle with understanding why they should care about learning when there are no exams. The momentum and interest in work lags and teaching is like sucking blood out of a stone. And not to mention all the marking that still needs to happen.
In the efforts of infusing some excitement in the kids, school camps have been the remedy. The Grade 10s had a leadership camp and the Grade 9 girls had a thr…

“I hit her with my tie”

Recently I walked into my Grade 10 class and witnessed one of the girls viciously throw a pencil bag at one of the boys. Let’s call the girl Sarah and the boy Luxolo. Anger was written all over Sarah’s face and the humiliation from the rest of the class didn’t make matters any easier. As one of the cool boys in my class, Luxolo was innocent in the matter as Sarah looked like the hysterical girl that needs to be controlled. Or simply needs to calm down and sort out her mood swings.

I investigated the cause of the fight and I was told that Sarah and Luxolo had an altercation because Sarah was sitting in Luxolo’s chair. Luxolo bumped into Sarah to get her attention but Sarah was offended by this. According to Sarah, Luxolo slapped her, twice. So Luxolo was the woman-basher. According to Luxolo, he used his tie to hit her because he had been taught never to slap a girl with his bare hands. When pressed about hitting Sarah, Luxolo responded “I hit her with my tie because I’m not allowed to …

Walking from the train station

A while ago I was having a conversation with one of my Grade 8 students. We were both walking from the train station heading for school at 7:30am, a dark morning in Cape Town. We exchanged the usual pleasantries and I asked her how's she's doing. I was expecting her to bemoan the early morning or tell me how tired she is or how much she hates school. But she didn't. Instead she responded "I'm inspired!".

I was taken aback by this response. What business did she have being inspired at 7:30 in the morning? I asked her what the source of her inspiration was and she responded with enthusiasm that she'd been reading poetry. As we closer to school we had a conversation about the form of poetry, sonnets, limericks and which would be easier to write. She promised me she would write a sonnet and show me.

Not all my students are as enthusiastic and curious as the student I mention above but it is a comfort to know that as a teacher I can be inspired while walking f…

What if marriage wasn't anti-feminism?

I’ve been contemplating marriage. Not as an abstract idea but as someone who has come face to face with the prospect of marriage. My partner and I have always spoken openly about marriage and after running away from the relationship for five years I’ve decided to consider marriage. While trying to make sense of the women who has taken over my body and having conversations about marriage on my behalf, I’ve been reading Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex: one of the most groundbreaking texts about the position of women. De Beauvoir articulates the plight of women by looking closely at the historical context making a case for feminism in the 1940s, when the book was first published. Central to de Beauvoir’s treatise is an exploration of marriage and the role it has played as a social practice that is an example of patriarchy. It’s impossible to write a book about the liberation of women without talking about marriage. And it’s impossible to identify as a feminist and not wonder about t…

Comedy of errors: xenophobia and public safety in Cape Town

What began as a quiet morning on the public holiday Monday unfolded into a day that involved a police station, an insolent police woman and a crazy cab driver. My day began at lunchtime where I visited the Long Street baths for a quiet swim.
Instead of rushing home with the 14:45 train, I decided to stay in town and meet up with friends. We met in Roeland Street proceeded to a corner shop in Harrington Street to purchase some drinks so that the rest of the day would be spent pontificating the joys of our youth over a glass of wine. While waiting outside the liquor store in Harrington Street, we witnessed a street brawl. It didn’t look too serious and the trusted “Public Safety” Officers who roam about Cape Town’s CBD wearing neon coloured vests were present giving the impression that everything was under control. But what began as three men jostling each other and using a beer bottle as a weapon, spiralled out of control. We were innocent bystanders but ended up witnessing a violent a…

12 lessons I learned in school

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Recently I've been cerebrating my own school days. While contemplating the woes of exams I began to contemplate some of the lessons that couldn’t be examined in a two hour exam. While there is much criticism about the relevance of school in a fast changing world (thanks Sir Ken Robinson) we forget that there are schools where there is more good than harm and I can think of a lesson I learned between Grade 1 and Grade 12 that have been relevant for the “real world” in spite of going to a school that was an English enclave with colonial traditions.
Grade 1: I discovered I was a writer. My first story was published. It wasn’t published because I was a child prodigy but because the school magazine was an anthology of all the learners’ creative work. In the form of a black and white paperback, my story (about Carly and her kitten) appeared amongst other pieces of writing riddled with all the writing errors Foundation Phase teachers have to make sense of in the process of teaching childr…

The thinker

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I started writing this poem while pretending to invigilate an exam. After three weeks of invigilating exams, I'm learning the art of observation.

He assumes the position: slouching over the wooden desk, sinking into the black plastic chair. I place the question paper in front of him. His eyes blink countless times. He bites his short, dirty nails Chews what he can Before he reads the questions Searching for the answer Change the following words into antonyms by using a prefix. Wrinkles and creases form on his forehead. His eyes gaze at the blank wall. His hand rests on his cheek as if to support the heaviness weighing on his heart and mind. He scratches his head furiously as though he were getting rid of lice Scratching in the vain hope that the answer will be released from his head and present itself on the answer sheet. Quick glances at the clock which ticks slowly, reminding him of life, real life, passing by. The rain outside is constant and creates the background melody to the scribbling p…

Beautiful surprise

There are certain moments that I think many teachers live for. The moment when we witness the light bulb moment in our students and all of a sudden what we've been teaching makes sense. It's always a bonus when this moment finally happens because this can keep a teacher's energy from lagging. I was lucky to witness this recently when some students and I attended the Franschhoek Literary Festival. I watched my studenst blossom outside the confines of a classroom. In the midst of the exam period, a moment of enlightenment is always appreciated (I don't think of exams as a moment of enlightenment, least of all for the teacher who has to mark all the scripts).

Last week Friday was the Franschhoek Literary Festival and I was invited as one of the speakers. I was part of a panel "Rising Eighteen" alongside Sam Page, Nik Rabinowitz, Fiona Snyckers and Osiame Molefe. I travelled to Franschoek with 11 Grade 10s who were handpicked by default because they weren't …

Whose language is it anyway?

The language question has reared its ugly head again. Recently Rebecca Davies wrote an article about research that confirms “English is leading the way as the most preferred teaching language”.  As an English teacher this ought to make me happy however, I am not convinced that the findings from this research account for the complexity of language use. In other words: umnqwazi wam awuqini. Statistics about who speaks what language don’t take into serious account the context, the so-called “new” South Africa.
I am a language teacher who is able to negotiate three South African languages to accommodate the language diversity that my learners bring into the classroom. I am also an avid reader of isiXhosa literature and my favourite poet is Nontsizi Mgqwetho. My double consciousness allows me great fun in my classroom. Anyone eavesdropping into my lessons might say I am a bad English teacher because at any given time learners know they can pipe up in isiXhosa (and Afrikaans, though this is …

The scourge of the single-mother

As a teacher I have come to appreciate some of the challenges that teenagers have to face: teenage pregnancy, drug-use, sex education in relation to the myths they hear from friends! All these ills are often clumped under  the portmanteau word: peer-pressure. Beyond these challenges, access to quality education and opportunities that will ward off poverty also form part of the teenage-question. In truth, the list is endless.
What is also often included in the list of the many social ills that plague young people is the question of family structures. For many working class teens the prospect of being in a child-headed home is a real possibility or a home where the mother is the primary care-giver, raising a child (or children) alone. As someone who was raised by a mother who opted for divorce and a grandmother who raised six children alone, I am often uncomfortable when single-mothers are lumped into the list of social ills that I’ve listed above.
My purpose is not to glorify the exp…

R50 000 and homelessness

Last week Sunday I visited SA National Gallery in town. The current exhibition, Umhlaba commemorates the Land Act of 1913. I find it a strange thing to refer to the process of remembering the Land Act as a commemoration. I have always thought that commemorations are meant to celebrate rather than draw memories back into a dark past that still lives with us today.

A week before visiting this exhibition Mama had called me telling me about the new tv she had acquired. My mother is unemployed (and has been since I was 7 years old and thus depends on my sisters and I for support).I asked her where she got the money from and she told me my Grandmother's claim from the land commission had finally come and the money was divided amongst her and her sisters. I was seething with anger. Initially I thought I was angry because she had bought a tv and some clothes for her granddaughter, my niece, and had decided to save very little of the money she had received. But this is not the reason for m…