Prior to contemplating my involvement with CAPI, I found that I had created a lifestyle and routine that I was extremely comfortable with. I had lived in Victoria for nearly four years and fallen in love with both the city and beautiful greenery that surrounded it. I was, and still am, in my fourth and final year of my Child and Youth Care degree at the University of Victoria and was constantly engaged with new material at school, but learning confined within the four walls of a classroom wasn’t quite cutting it for me. I knew that I needed a new experience, one would push me out of my comfort zone and challenge me to grow.
“Think of discomfort as currency –
it’s the price you pay to learn some pretty crucial things”
Now, many emotional months later, filled with nerves and anxiety intertwined with an abundance of excitement, I am halfway around the world in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, completing my fourth-year practicum at a township primary school. Today marks a month and half since I have arrived in this foreign country and I can report that YES, there have been many moments of discomfort that have challenged me to think critically and expand from traditional ways of knowing and being in this world.
When I reflect on my time here thus far, one of the notable challenges that I have encountered is the difference in school structure. When I say structure, I do not mean the physicality of the school, but as you probably suspect, Slangspruit Primary School is quite contrasting from the Elementary schools that I have been involved with in British Columbia. The classrooms complete several long buildings that open outside to account for the sun that radiates year-round. The tall yet dilapidated fence that encloses the property has barbwire circling the top for protection, however, this doesn’t prevent the chickens and goats from wondering through the school yard, taking a peek inside the open classroom doors. So yes, Slangspruit is different from schools in Canada, but there is a raw purity to this school that presents a unique beauty.
Rather, what initially challenged me was the difference of internal workings within the school. The teachers do not have designated classrooms and nor do the children. As classes change throughout the day, the teachers find an empty classroom and the children will find their teacher, or vice versa. Being a Canadian who is used to methodical schedules this appeared to be a patternless system that was stressful and overwhelming for me to comprehend.
During my second week at the school, I began teaching art with Emily, a friend and fellow intern. This was quite a scene as we carried our boxes of art supplies and trekked around the school searching for the students. Once we found them we would search the school again for an empty space. At first, I wondered how the teachers managed this every day, but soon I learned that there was hidden organization under what initially appeared to be chaos.
As time went I on, I learned that most of the teacher’s do have classrooms, but because there is not enough space, they must share and move accordingly. I also learned that certain grades can usually be found in certain areas of the schools, so I eventually knew the general area that I should look for them. If all of this failed, the most useful tool was the children themselves. Ask any child, and they will lead you exactly where you need to be. This was clearly their stomping ground and they knew this school inside and out.
One of the key distinctions I have recognized in South African culture is flexibility. As I have seen at the school, nothing is set in stone, just like classrooms, but rather adjusted when needed without fuss. This pertains to class times, meetings, and all social plans. This flexibility is paired with a relaxed atmosphere, that truly decreases all stress (if you are able to let go of Canadian ways). The narrative of “African Time” has been truly been a faithful story.
When I am work in the classroom, I spend time assisting the teacher with marking. There are 40 kids in each of her classes so this can be quite a large task. If I am marking frantically she will say to me, “no stress,” and explains that stress is not good for the body, so, “no stress”. Similarly, a friend who drives the interns to and from the school will always respond “no problem” to any problematic situation. He spends his day driving and stuck in traffic, but his positive, laid-back attitude is never shaken.
This relaxed attitude built around flexibility has made me think critically about structure. The people I have interacted with here in South Africa are overall quite happy and grateful even though many have experienced things that I cannot fathom. It appears that this positive and laidback attitude creates little judgement and with that, the pressure one puts on themselves decreases, leaving more time to enjoy each moment for what it is.
In Canada, I find that my lifestyle has always been built around strict schedules, arriving on time and meeting deadlines, with failure to do so resulting in judgement or harsh consequences. This lifestyle is bound to produce stress, and for me, as a student and as an employee, it has. I have put immense amounts of pressure on myself to “do well” and “be better” which takes away the enjoyment of what you are doing. What was once something you loved or were excited about, can quickly turn into a chore.
Even though I am only halfway through my placement, I am concerned about transitioning back into such a rigid lifestyle, where life becomes less about your passion and more about expectations. So for now, I will continue to embrace the African ways. Hearing the words “Hakuna Matata” might help some of you understand this attitude more succinctly, but here Kwazulu-Natal, the traditional Zulu people say, “Ayikho Inkinga.”