Note: If you haven’t seen my previous blog post, I’m running a half marathon next month to help raise money for a Peace Corps Volunteer started organization Kgwale le Mollo to help send two rural South African kids to one of the best high schools in South Africa. Please consider helping me with a donation! Thanks.
One of the things I’ve been doing since the beginning of the year is taking the kids on my street to the town pool once or twice a week. I’ve known about the pool since my first few months here, but until December of last year never checked it out, however since then I’ve been trying to swim once or twice a week. I actually feel sort of bad about this because there are so many things in the community I could be doing during this time after work; such as volleyball or playing trombone at the Salvation Army, both of which I used to do but now don’t have the time for. There’s not enough time in a day for everything I wish I could do, so one must pick and choose and at least for the remainder of summer the pool will win out.
It’s R10 per time at the pool or R100 for a family membership which lets you bring 6 people in for a month, figuring that even if I couldn’t go to the pool 10 times in a month I could at least take the kids on my street as my “family”. I started out swimming laps on Tuesday and Thursday and taking the kids to the pool on Saturday. Weekdays the pool is almost empty and I can swim a kilometer or so is relative peace. The pool officially closes at 5pm but on weekdays that’s never really upheld and I’ve stayed in as late as 5:45. I don’t really understand how it all works because the manger always leaves at 5pm but the old man in charge of maintenance seems to never leave and I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually sleeps there. It’s not quite like doing laps at UVA’s pool back home but swimming there on weekday afternoons is relaxing and a great way to clear my mind.
Weekends on the other hand are completely different. At anyone time on a Saturday afternoon there are about 150 kids at the pool. Keep in mind the fact that there is no adult supervision, no lifeguard, and many kids don’t actually know how to swim. I’ve seen so many things that make the part of me who grew up going to a Northern Virginia community pool all summer cringe just watching. Like the dog who remembers the now none existence electric fence every time she approaches the edge of her yard; every time I see a kid running on the slippery deck, doing back flips into the shallow end, or standing on someones shoulders right next to the pools edge I some how expect the lifeguard’s whistle and yell of “NO RUNNING”. But it never comes and some how amazingly I’ve yet to see a kid hurt themselves. You can read into that what you want, either how an overly litigious and precaustous American society needlessly hampers kids free play or how kids here are so much better at doing things with out hurting themselves even though there seems to be so little attention payed to personal safety. My guess is that its a combination of both.
Another hallmark of my childhood pool experience draconianly enforced by the very same lifeguards which would be just as impossible to enforce here is the hourly “break” where all kids under 14 had to get out of the pool. On weekends when the pool is swarming with kids the manager and maintenance Baba (as far as I can tell the only two people that actually work at this pool) start telling kids to get out around 4:30 and continue to do so for the next 45 min or so before actually succeeding. A far cry a whistle quarter till the hour signaling all the kids to stop having fun in the pool and get out. As so many kids do, I remember spending most those breaks siting at the edge of the pool eagerly anticipating the next whistle indicating I could jump back in. Now if the first time kids here went to the pool and there were lifeguards to enforce the rules and signal break time, I believe they would be even more well behaved then American kids. In everything from the schools to family life kids are taught to be unquestionably submissive to adult authority and power.
Ngiyakushaya (I’m going to hit you) is one of the most common things a child here’s growing up on my street and in the schools I work in. It’s used so frequently that kids respond to little else other than that. Ask them to pick up the trash they just dropped on the ground, close their door, or any number of other things and they normally wont. Tell them you’ll hit them if they don’t and they will. It’s interesting how the use of physical force makes the authority weaker not stronger. In schools a teachers authority is obeyed not out of respect but fear. Often kids have been scolded and even hit enough times for wrong answers that they are fearful even to try in classroom. Obviously, there are other forms of discipline besides physical force that are more beneficial to all parties involved, but if all a child knew was physical discipline you can’t really expect them magically understand this, it has to be learned.
All that is background for the story that happened last week. As usual I took the kids to the pool on Thursday and when 4:45 came around I told them it was time to get out and get ready to go home. Most of them got out but one of my favorite little boys, Mafera, refused to get out of the kids pool (he’s deathly afraid of the deep pool and even though on our street he’ll jump from an 8 ft wall into my hands he wont jump for the pool edge to me when there’s 4 ft of water around). He just looked at me with this silly grin that partially said your going to have to make me get out and partially showed how much he was enjoying still being in the pool. He kept jumping up as high is he could and falling backwards into the water. Even though I was amazed at his simple joi die vire just to be alive and jump in the the water I’d been in the pool for the last 5 hours and was quite tired and easily irritated. I guess at this point I saw how easy it would be just let my annoyance turn to angle and physically pull him from the pool like he expected me to do. Instead I told him if he didn’t get out now he wouldn’t get to come to the pool on Saturday. I’m pretty sure the full meaning of this didn’t sink in as he continued to goad me into getting him out of the pool. After watching him jump about 10 more times and asking him to get out after each I finally turned around told him that was it he wasn’t coming on Saturday. Again, the full meaning of this didn’t sink in, but he understood that the game of trying to get me to come after him was over and there wasn’t any more fun in it so he got out.
Come Friday night when I was telling all the kids to get be ready to go to the pool at noon the next day I told Mafera he wasn’t going because he wouldn’t get out of the pool the last time. Now the full meaning what I said on Thursday came to him and it was heart breaking to see his face at this understanding. The next morning at 9am Mafera shows up at my door asking if he’s really not going to the pool, “Not this time, but you can go next time” I tell him. As I got ready to go do math at the high school he followed me around trying to appease me. Asking if he could take my bike out of the garage, “Yes, but you still can’t go to the pool” or if he can carry my backpack “Yes, but you still can’t go to the pool”. This is where the tough love comes in. It was much much harder for me to enforce the consequences I’d set up for him then it would have been just to hit him on Thursday at the pool and go on. Personally I wanted him to go to the pool and I told him that, but I also told him his actions last time meant that he couldn’t (in the end I did give him a two tennis balls to play with while we were at the pool, little consolidation given all the other kids on the street were gone and he had no one to play with).. However hard it was on me, and how ever much he hated me that Saturday morning I’m confident that he learned more from that experience then he did at school since the beginning of the year. And next time I ask him to get out of the pool, it won’t be a game of trying to get me to force him out, he’ll understand that there are consequences beyond, and worse, then physical force. And maybe, just maybe, someday he’ll apply this lesson to something of much bigger significance and because of that he won’t get HIV, won’t start smoking, or will achieve better in school and in that case I don’t regret that his long sad face as he stayed behind and we all walked to the pool
This entry was posted on Monday, February 22nd, 2010 at 6:25 pm and is filed under Peace Corps SA. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.