Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Week at the Veld School

This past week I was the teacher chaperone of 30 Grade 6 learners at the Veld School in Aus, which is a tiny little town about an hour from Luderitz. This school is like a mini-outward bound for the kids. And again I was back in the world of hiking. Aus is nestled in a very hilly part of the south, and hiking is a huge component of this school. Oh also, pretty sure this little camp would definitely not be allowed in the US. Every time the kids misbehaved they either had to run up a mountain, get dropped off in the veld and have to find their way back to the hostel, or they didn’t get food at the next meal time. We had sessions on life skills topics – pollution of the body, the mind, communication skills, problem solving, and map skills. Tuesday morning we had the map skills session, and this was probably the first time these kids learned how to use a map with coordinates. Immediately following the session it was time to put these skills to use! Oh but right before leaving the kids learned about the wild animals in the veld they could encounter – cobras, puff adders, hyenas, and leopards – and they were instructed on what to do if they faced them. Although those animals really are in the area I thought this was more of a joke than anything, meant to scare the kids – that is until later when we were walking along in the veld and realized we were following massive paw prints, then it got a bit more real. Anyway, the kids were dropped off in teams, and given their current coordinates, and coordinates to Point B, where they would need to find their flag, food tickets for dinner, and the coordinates for Point C, which they needed to reach in order to meet up with everyone and get dinner before we climbed a mountain. The teachers were also dropped off in the veld with coordinates of Point A and B. This team was myself, an institutional worker from my school, and two teachers from the other primary school in Luderitz that came with us. Now I don’t consider myself very gifted in map skills, but I quickly learned that I was a bit better than my teammates in deciphering where we needed to go. Unfortunately, no one seemed to want to let me look at the map or listen to what I had to say. This resulted in some wandering, and a couple disagreements [ayyy teambuilding!!!!]. Finally I convinced the other guy from my school we needed to try heading in a different direction, and he soon found one of the flags for the learner-teams, which from our map told us we were going the right way. We then got the other two teachers to join us, and about 45 minutes later, we found our flag!
Southern Nam
Sadly the kids did not fare as well, and in fact 6 of the 7 teams basically gave up without really trying. The leader of the camp found 3 groups on the tar road waiting for him… he was not pleased. The next few hours were spent in the bakkie ushering around kids, helping them find their Point B flags and then Point C [because by this point it was dark]. I may have taken a tiny bit of pleasure at the sight of the distraught faces of the boys in Grade 6 who normally torment me daily. As we pulled away in the bakkie leaving them in the pitch dark a couple screamed “MISS N! MISS N! PLEASE MISS N!!!!” They had been dropped off around 1 in the veld, and we were supposed to get to Point C at around 5:30/6. Instead we arrived at Point C at around 9:30/10. Only one of the teams successfully found their food tickets, and only 2 others found any, so about half the group went hungry that night. And what followed has now become the scariest hour of my life thus far. We were told it was time to climb the mountain in front of us. Ok, acceptable enough. Then the leader told us to leave our torches [flashlights] behind, we would be climbing without them because it was safer. Ummm, wait what?!!?!?!? I guess sometimes this would be ok, but this particular night there was no moonlight to assist us, and I have truly terrible night vision. I literally couldn’t see ANYTHING. And I was supposed to be in front of the kids?? A few girls tried to grab onto my arm, and I quickly told them to let go unless they wanted to tumble down the mountain with me. For about a quarter of the mountain we were on all fours climbing up because it was so steep [on the way down I slid down on my butt, which entertained the girls alongside me to no end].  When we reached the top the leaders spoke about how it was a lesson in not giving up, believing in yourself etc. The PC Volunteer who works at this camp said no one has ever fallen while night climbing, which I honestly find hard to believe! I made it all the way down the mountain before falling once on the solid ground, didn’t see the hole I stepped into. At the bottom the man in charge was hiding in the bushes making scary animal noises [they were pretty convincing]. I said a quiet prayer of thanks that I made it down alive.
Last task of the obstacle course: face fear of heights

The next day those 6 of the 7 teams were dropped back out in the veld and had to do it over since they had given up the previous day. Then on the last day the kids completed an obstacle course where they had to work together to get through each task. That afternoon we had closing ceremonies, where all the teams came forward and sang a song they made up, and each learner gave a speech about what they learned throughout the week. As usual, the boys hadn’t prepared anything, and it meant trouble. The man in charge told the kids that they had all failed, and they would have to stay another 14 days, and live in the veld too far from Aus to be able to see the lights at night, with no tents or nice food, working on their map skills. These kids were so gullable! I had to cover my face because I was laughing, but I kid you not ¾ of the girls and ¼ of the boys even started crying! Some of the girls were just openly weeping, and seeing tears stream down the boys faces was something else! Good times. About 10 minutes into this spiel the leader finished the joke, saying that the place they were getting dropped too far to see Aus lights was in fact… Luderitz. Surprise! Some of the kids actually still didn’t understand and were asking me if we were going home still or staying later on.

That night we had a braai. The other female teacher and I got the roosterbrood ready, and then we went outside to start! The second biggest accomplishment of the week followed. We asked the male teacher from the other primary school if he would be in charge of braaing the meat, since obviously the kids couldn’t do it themselves [it was dark, there were 60 kids, chaos would have ensued]. Well, he replied ‘no I don’t want to braai for them, they should do it themselves.’ … to which I could only sigh in frustration. So all of a sudden I became in charge of the braai for these 60 kids, despite never having managed any kind of braai before, let alone one for a huge group of people – whenever there is a barbeque involved the guys I’m with always seem to take charge. No longer apparently! Four girls from my school volunteered to help me, and with help from my flashlight, we successfully braaied mutton, boerwors, and roosterbrood for everyone! Luckily the other guy from my school helped us too once he came outside. The girls helping me thought it was hilarious that I kept burning my fingers while turning the roosterbrood, and burst into laughter everytime I made a face or jumped in pain, but after two hours it was all done, and oh was it lekker! We were some proud people that night. After enjoying our meal we watched The Emperor’s New Groove, which I discovered went over everyones’ heads [joke-wise and also the characters just speak really fast in that movie] as soon as I realized I was the only one hysterically laughing at the jokes… anyway, the next morning we left and I can safely say the kids and I were all extremely happy to be home sweet home.

1 comment:

  1. Your narration took me down memory lane, as I fondly remembered my own experience of the veldskool about 16 years ago. Although we were there for lesser than a week, it really caused some of us to look at the world and life differently. If only the community, parents and teachers, build on the lessons learned at the veldskool its impact might last longer to make a real difference in the lives of the learners.