Musings on my adventures around the world and my ties back in Texas as well as some of the the ideas I have to adapt and create to keep those places close to home.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

South Africa's Bill of Rights

...may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientations, age, disability, religion,conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.

A pretty strong statement you must admit for a bill of rights...although you do have to realize it was written in 1996 after years of struggle to end apartheid and introduce equality for all the various people in the country. Just think what would happen if all people would apply this to their life.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Not really experiencing a new country

Fenced in
Originally uploaded by ccarlstead
While it is true that I'm in South Africa, I can't really say that I feel like I'm experiencing much of a new country. I have ridden in a car from the airport to the American International School of Johannesburg (AISJ) where my program is taking place, gone to the mall for supplies, and wandered around campus. That is pretty much it. The majority of my time is going to be taken up with coursework and reading (gosh it has been a long time since I was a student). The few things I have noticed have mostly been from out of the window of the bus. The country is dry and brown right now, although I can see how it could turn quite lush during the wet season. I'm glad I'm not having to deal with the rain, although it is a bit odd to be in the middle of winter. Everything is fenced in. And much of the fencing seems to be electric. I can't figure out why this is. If they just feel like they need to make it that imposing, or if the fencing is also to keep out some sort of wildlife (really, I have no clue). I'm also struggling to adjust to being a country where everyone speaks English. I didn't realize how much that effected my daily interactions, but it does. I find myself having to hold back Turkish daily phrases and am working to make sure that I actually greet everyone I come across.

It looks like my program is going to be pretty intense. What can I expect for only 3 weeks? There is an interesting group of fellow students. Among them a Brit living in Uganda, various Americans living in China, Japan, and Cameroon, a woman from Nigeria, a Cameroonian, A Ugandan who is on the Olympic (national) swim team (500m freestyle), and a man from Zimbabwe, as well a few people that are working at the school here in Johannesburg. Its a good mix and makes for some interesting conversations. I think we'll be going out on some field trips this weekend, so hopefully I'll get to see a bit of what Johannesburg has to offer.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Euro 2008

Last night when I finally made it back to my lojman I flipped my television on because I knew that Turkey was playing in the quarterfinals of the European Cup against Croatia. I thought that as it was nearing midnight I might just be able to catch the final score before I headed off to bed. It turns out that while I did miss the first 89 minutes of the game, I did manage to watch the most exciting 40 minutes of the game. Yes, it was tied 0-0 at the end of regulation play and so went on to overtime. During the overtime period Croatia scored and I almost turned of the TV, but there was only 2 minutes left so I thought I might as well hang on a few more minutes. Good thing I did, as Turkey managed to pull of yet another late game score (their pattern all tournament) to tie up the game again. So on to penalty kicks and a win for Turkey! I hadn’t realized that I was that invested in the spirit of football here, but I guess I have been caught up in some of the nationalistic pride that is accompanying the Turkish national football team on their tournament play. A unifying force that is sorely needed in the country right now as a counterpart to all the other political tensions that exist. I had to laugh as I headed to bed and heard car horns blaring and shots being fired in the air. Yep, Turkey is celebrating their win loudly!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Erase it!

Originally uploaded by ccarlstead
I’ve spent a lot of time the past two weeks watching my students take exams. During my time staring at them I came to realize that they use an eraser a lot. It’s not unusual to see them groping on someone else’s desk for an eraser (groping because they want to make it clear that they’re not trying to cheat) or tossing an eraser back and forth. It’s really quite interesting to me. In the US I had to force my students to use a pencil for math and even then it was just as likely that they’d cross something out instead of erasing it. Here I seldom even see a pen and students want to do scratch work on their desk so they don’t mess up their paper. During their English exam they would go back a paragraph and carefully erase a few words to rephrase it. I’m not sure I ever took that much care during a timed written exam (although perhaps I should have). It’s just an interesting cultural difference that seems to be the half way point between crossing out in the US and the re-writing of a completely clean copy that happened in Guinea.


6 June 2007
Originally uploaded by ccarlstead
This past week has been all about exams. We finished up our last few days of normal exams on Wednesday. Today the moment our 12th graders have been stressing about for the last 12months has finally arrived – they took the OSS – the university entrance exam that will determine their future for at least the next several years – this morning (I look forward to actually seeing them a bit relaxed and free on Friday). The education ministry has also decided to change the system for grade raising exams (exactly what it sounds like – an exam that gives students a chance to increase their year average) and responsibility exams (for those who have failed courses and now get a one test chance to reverse that). The only real effect for me is that we’ll no longer have any kids showing up Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday (not that many would have come anyway now that exams are finished). I’m afraid it may mean a shorter summer holiday for many of my colleagues who will have to stay to proctor these exams (right now I’m glad I have a plane ticket out next Saturday).

Tuesday, June 10, 2008 like a game of whac-a-mole

Proctoring exams is like a game of whac-a-mole. At least thats what comes to my mind as I sit and stare at my students for 80 minutes. I'm always scanning the room looking for the next head that is going to pop up. The trick is to make eye-contact with a student as soon as their eyes come up from their exam so that they know you're watching them. I figure that prevention is so much better than having to actually deal with cheating. And if you're looking at you most of them will think three times before trying to sneak a peak at some else's exam. Really it is like a game of whac-a-mole in the quick reflexes it takes to catch them as soon as they pop up. Now if only they'd give me a nice rubber covered mallet proctoring would be so much more entertaining.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A trip to the grand bazaar

My weakness
Originally uploaded by ccarlstead
Anyone who knows me well will realize that the Grand Bazaar is not my idea of the best time to be had in Istanbul. It’s not that I don’t like to shop – but I’m much more interested in getting a deal and I am often overwhelmed by all the shopkeepers trying to get my attention. With the right person, and for the right amount of time, the bazaar can actually be fun though. Yesterday I had a good experience their. Not only was I in a mood to sort of float through the crowded streets and admire the riot of colors on offer but I managed to combine the three things that I find necessary for any fun trip to the market. The first element is to be with someone whose company you enjoy. Since I wouldn’t venture into the market except for someone I like, that is pretty much guaranteed for any of my trips there. The second element is feeling like I have found a new corner or been introduced to yet one more of the long list of vendors that have a “Koç connection.” This happened in one part by chance – the place where Jessica ended up buying her tavla (backgammon) boards ended up being the store co-workers had told her about…we just happened to stop in there and find what she wanted – and one part by introduction – when we went to a vendor I do know Jessica asked if we could be taken back to the storeroom to see the rest of his stock. Wait, you can do that? I never knew that they had storerooms around these five corners and back in the small courtyard. It just made it seem like I was discovering a new element of the Grand Bazaar. The third element is, of course, feeling like I managed to bargain to a good deal. Even
though I wasn’t *planning* on buying anything when we went in I still managed to do this as well. I actually think that sometimes it is easier as tourism season starts up. That is the time when it helps to spend
some time with the vendors, to attempt to use the bit of Turkish I have to establish a connection and of course play the Koç card. In the end I’m never really sure if I’ve gotten a good deal, but as long as I’m happy with the price I pay I guess it doesn’t really matter…and I know I paid less then some as I watched a tourist pay more for the exact same thing while I was there.