Saturday, July 21, 2007

More Donations from Generous Americans!

The nicest part of American culture that gets exported overseas is our tradition of charity and our recognition that most of us are fortunate as Americans and live in a world where there are many who are far less fortunate. Most of the residents of Tweeling, and definitely the students at Refeng-Thabo, are far less fortunate than all of us who are reading this, and I've been blown away by how much Americans have wanted to do to help the school and the community.

One of the most impressive demonstrations of the American tradition of charity came from Maria Ade, a close family friend who works in Allendale Schools in New Jersey. Maria learned about the conditions at Refeng-Thabo and started collecting donations from teachers in her school. Maria collected $375, which goes VERY far when I buy supplies here.

Maria did this as a completely altruistic, unsolicited gesture because she wanted to help.

Most students here honestly cannot afford to buy a new pen or a box of pencils. Students "repair" their broken pens by stuffing paper into the broken end and sharpen their pencils by rubbing them fast against the brick wall of their classroom. With some of Allendale Schools' donations, I bought a new pen and pencil for all of my students, which I distributed to them in April. Some of them are still using the same pen.

Refeng-Thabo supplies each student with a subject book (like a blank workbook) for each class, but ran out this year and could not give books to the 8th grade. I give my 8th grade students PILES of work to keep them under control, so they finished their small workbooks, that were meant to last all year, in 4 months. With both Allendale's donated money and the last of Booth-Fickett's collected funds, I bought a brand new workbook for each of my grade 8 and 9 students.

The smiles are for real, they were extremely thankful and relieved that they did not need to find a way to get enough money to buy a new workbook. (A new workbook costs the equivalent of 50 U.S. cents)

I spent the last of Allendale Schools and Booth-Fickett's collected money on equipment for the Drum Majorettes (it's like a dance squad or a drill team). I was nervous to spend donated money on pom-poms and batons, and when the director asked I initially said no, but these girls practice every day after school for HOURS. This team is also one of a very few ways that Refeng-Thabo's kids get to leave Tweeling and brings alot of joy into the girls' lives.

The teachers and students at Booth-Fickett have gone the extra kilometers and, as a team, have made a huge impact at Refeng-Thabo. As soon as I showed Booth-Fickett's faculty the conditions at Refeng-Thabo, several teachers offered to make large donations to get computers installed (the strike held them up, but they are coming this month), to collect books for the empty library, and to collect money for anything that I think the school might need.

Booth-Fickett's librarians have collected and shipped hundreds of books to help fill Refeng-Thabo's empty library. I asked these 8th grade students to help me unpack the books when they arrived last week (they were shipped in April!) and they were so excited that we were starting a "real" library.

None of these students have books in thier homes and they asked if they could each choose a book that could be "theirs." I started to try to explain that, if the books are in the library, they could check them out anytime, when I realized what they were asking. These kids wanted to have a book at home that they could read, so I helped them each choose a book that would be right for their reading level (and gender). I've seen these kids walk around with their books all week.

Fulbright had asked Refeng-Thabo what Booth-Fickett could do to help and one of the things that I didn't think we'd be able to do anything about was Refeng-Thabo's request for uniforms for the sports team.

I was COMPLETELY wrong. Deanna Harris came through HUGE and is now every Refeng-Thabo soccer player and netball (it's like basketball) player's hero.

Deanna and her brother purchased, printed, and shipped t-shirts for the boys' and girls' soccer teams and the girls' netball team. The shirts are the school colors of powder blue and white.

On the sleeve (being modeled by Nani, one of my 9th grade students) is printed both the Arizona flag and the South African flag and the words "Arizona and South Africa, working together to achieve success."

The students were allowed to wear home the t-shirts on the day that I turned them over to the coaches so that they could show their parents. Students were told that they needed to turn them back in so that they could be kept nice for the matches. Every single t-shirt came back.

Mr. Radebe, Refeng-Thabo's principal, called the shirts "an incredible blessing."

When Amy and Todd Whited were planning their trip to visit us, they asked if it would be OK to bring some of their children's (Drew and Aidan) old clothes to give out to the neighborhood kids. We said that it would be wonderful and they brought an entire HUGE suitcase full of clothes, shoes, crayons, bubbles, candy, stickers, clay, and colored pencils.

And, of course, Cleveland Cavaliers t-shirts. The Cavs have never had so many international fans.

Fana and Mandla both dug the "light-up shoes" out of the giant bag of shoes that Amy and Todd brought. They stomped around our house to light up the shoes until their little minds exploded.

Andy took some of the art supplies to the township's preschool. He was treated to an art show and a sticker party as a thank-you.

The kids had never played with bubbles before, and had an absolute blast.

We've re-filled the bubble containers with soapy water several times.

All of these donations have had a great impact on the community and the kids that received the clothes, uniforms, books, or school supplies were genuinely grateful. Very few of them have a real idea of where the donations have come from (America is VERY far away from Tweeling), but they do understand that they are gifts from people who want them to succeed, and that means alot to them and to Andy and me.

Family Vacation!

The Farkas/Riener, Whited, Mahady/Farkas team went 0-for-3 on returning undamaged rental cars on our South Africa family tour. Avis and National Rental Car Companies have no idea how much fun we had in their cars (unless their reps are reading this) and will likely have to raise their rates to cover our good times.

The first car suffered the most extensive damage of the trip when we drove it all over Hluhluwe-Umfolozi National Park. Hluhluwe-Umfolozi is a huge and beautiful park, but it was not meant for Todd’s Nissan rental, and by the time we left the park, parts of the undercarriage were hanging off of it.

Amy was the big game spotting winner at the park, catching all of the big five (rhinos, lions, buffalo, elephants, and a leopard) and loads of giraffe, impala, warthogs, wildebeest, and even 2 cheetahs.

The team also scored huge points by spotting the elusive black rhino on a night drive. (This photo is of the more common white rhino.)

We left Hluhluwe-Umfolozi and flew to Cape Town, where Kate damaged the second rental car. Kate brutally scratched the brand-new rims trying to get onto our on-the-sidewalk parking spot.

Kate and Mark delivered Emmy-worthy performances pretending that they had no idea how the damage had been done and that it couldn’t possibly have been done by us…

All members of the team agree that Cape Town just might be the coolest city in the world. It is gorgeous and funky, diverse, and right on the ocean. We rode the cable car up Table Mountain, visited Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years) and drove to the Cape of Good Hope.

We also drove into Boulders to see a goofy group of African Penguins.

After two short days in Cape Town, the team descended on South Africa’s tranquil Winelands.

We tasted and bought lots of wine and avoided certain massive damage to the rental car by booking a wine tour. The tour actually brought us to the winery that makes one of Kate’s favorite wines in America, Goats Do Roam (a play on Cotes du Rhone) wine. Kate bought the t-shirt, but was disappointed that they didn’t have any job openings…

We said goodbye to Amy and Todd from Stellenbosch, as they bravely boarded a plane for Hong Kong the day after the wine tour.

The most minor, but also the most obvious, damage was done to the third car, which fell victim to rocks flying off of trucks on the highway as we started off down the Garden Route. The first rock hit was we were leaving from our SHARK CAGE DIVE in Gansbaii.

The Shark Cage was completely terrifying and freezing cold. We were loaned sticky wetsuits that had holes in the hienies and dropped into the freezing Atlantic winter water in a cage that had HUGE spaces (we were warned not to stick out any body parts that we wanted to bring home with us). The “Chum-Master” dumped fish blood and rotten fish parts to attract the sharks, who smashed into the cage TWICE when Ashley and Kate were in, getting a huge reaction from those in the cage and those watching from the boat.

The sharks were huge and, even though they were very scary, were beautiful.

The “chum” was in the water all around you, so everyone agreed that they got some in their mouths. The waves were also wild out on the ocean and, even though she had taken two Dramamine, the combination of chum-taste and Perfect-Storm-sized waves were too much for Kate, who was the only member of the team to heave over the side of the boat.

We drove straight from Gansbaii to Knysna, a quiet and sweet town on a lagoon that is known for its oysters. We had no car trouble ourselves, but learned about Ernie Els’ driver, who crashed the famous South African golfer's car into the lagoon, and then swam straight to the waterside bar for help and a drink. The owner of the bar, who told us the story, swears that Ernie doesn’t know about it and that he has seen the driver since, with Ernie, and that the driver is always nervous that the bar owner will drop the dime on him.

We narrowly avoided being stomped by an elephant at Addo Elephant Park (car damage that we definitely would have been charged for) when we came upon a group of elephants in the road.

We visited Addo’s reptile and Raptor Center, where Kate and Andy are shown being squeezed by anacondas…

And Mark is holding the VERY poisonous tree snake.

All members of the team donned the glove to have owls and falcons land on their arms.

We got our second, and bigger, windshield chip on our way from Addo to Grahamstown. Grahamstown is home to the National Arts Festival, which was described to us more than once (by more than one person) as “just a big party.” The small town of Grahamstown takes on a Tucson-Gem-Show feel, with people selling all kinds of what-nots all over the place. It is also the time that new plays and shows are premiered and we were able to get tickets to Blood Orange, a one-man-show about growing up as a British South African during apartheid. It likely won’t be showing anywhere outside of South Africa, but we enjoyed it very much.

We had to say goodbye to Ashley and Mark after Grahamstown and Kate and Andy continued on alone to Plettenberg Bay, where we visited Monkeyland and watched surfers.

We left the coast for the Karoo, the vast inland desert that reminded us very much of Arizona. People were surprised that we could appreciate the dry and rough landscape, but were touched when we told them that it reminded us of our home.

We stayed in a town that had a population of thirty (at the most) and drove along beautiful mountain passes.

Andy and Kate made one last stop in the Winelands, where they bought a case of Simonsig wine that is on its way to Tweeling via the ultra-reliable South African Postal Service.

We also visited a winery that paired wines with chocolate. It was as good as it sounds...

All of this driving was done without incident, and we were very surprised that the car was not stolen when we had no choice but to park it overnight on one of Cape Town’s busiest streets.

Even though both windshield chips were at exactly eye level on the driver’s side, making them impossible to miss during the inspection, we got the “double thumbs up” from National Car Rental’s motivated car inspector, who told us that everything looks great and to have a nice flight back to Johannesburg. We were very pleased with our vacation, and with ourselves, and headed back to Tweeling to start the third term at Refeng-Thabo.