Its hard to wake up, and all I can think is how is it possibly Monday again. There is an empty nest in the bed that George left hours ago. I didn’t even hear him get up, but I can hear the coffee machine making its loud series of noises as it finishes filling the pot. The aroma seeks up the stairs and slowly drags me from my hibernation. I go through the list of things I need to do during the day as I head to the kitchen, the list is too long to think about this early. The sun is shining through the windows, its blindingly bright, and as I look at the time i’m shocked to see it’s only 6am- this has become “sleeping in”. I pour the first two cups of coffee; its our ritual, if George makes the pot, I pour the cups and vice versa.
We sit on the island counter in the kitchen talking and drinking coffee, planning our day. Then we take a stroll around our garden which is currently over flowing with new plants. The rain that comes without fail every sunday has perked up every cluster of leaves and the flower petals gleam happy with drops of water. We waste an hour or so each day with this routine; making plans for the garden, and walking around impressed with our progress.
By 8am we are both running late, and we quickly dress. Monday is suppose to be my day to work at home, but I rarely do. My list is too daunting for a Monday, and i’m not feeling inspired to create much of anything, so I opt to ride with George on his sales calls. I hope secretly he is going somewhere far away, which although i’ve been everywhere before, and nowhere is especially exciting, the long drives are nice and I feel like i’m keeping him company.
We are going to Piggs Peak today, my favorite part of the country. It is beautiful, with rolling mountains in every direction and narrow winding hills that create butterflies in your stomach with each dip. Trips to Piggs Peak always mean a stop by Mrs. Kuma, a family friend who owns a resturant on one of the many scenic overlooks. Mrs. Kuma is like an older version of myself, and believes that everything can be made herself if she can just get a look at how its done- I love this about her, and we spend hours chating about crafting and exchanging ideas over lunch.
The drive takes the whole day, and we only see two hardware stores. While George sells, I sit in the car and grade papers, read a book or more likely… play solitaire on my phone. When George returns to the car, on the good days, he has a list of supplies the shop needs; bolts, construction chemicals, door knobs etc. we sit with his massive catalog of prices and code every item. I know his products inside and out, even if I don’t know what they are used for, I can find them in his book. We sit in his mobile office for hours sometimes, coding and adding; its boring but I enjoy being his assistant.
We drive home over Maguga Dam at sunset. Just in time to see the water sparkle like diamonds, its my favorite part of the day.
I wake up a little quicker this morning. More time to walk through the garden. I’m feeling a little guilty for playing hookey yesterday and tomorrow I have school, which I have yet to prepare for. Today I MUST work. George leaves a little later today, lingering in the kitchen, asking “have one more cup of coffee before I leave?”. I can’t resist, so I stall a little longer.
He leaves once Lungile and Wiseman come in, our maid and garden boy. He walks Wiseman around the yard, giving him is daily instruction and I take Lungile around the house doing the same. After he leaves I turn on Florence and the Machine, my official work music. Something about this music makes me want to work. As much as I love this band on Tuesdays, the sound is as irritating as an alarm clock beeping, every other day of the week. I turn on my computer, get another cup of coffee, sit down, and make my list in my little book I always carry with me. Today i’m designing a menu for my favorite restaurant, that just happens to be owned by a group of friends. They pay me in food, but i’d more than likely spend my paycheck there throughout the month anyway. The chef studied in the states and often adds American flare to the menu. Number two on the list is a new calendar for my printing partner. Custom calendars are all the rave here and I know I will be overwhelmed with design orders for them by the end of the month. Next is a marketing plan for a new semi-arcade that just opened in the brand new Mbabane mall. They need EVERYTHING and this one will take a while. The rest of the list is scattered with return clients that need updates or a generic advert made for the newspaper.
I get to work, checking off my list one by one with red pen. Each checkmark is rewarded with a fresh cup of coffee and a short walk around the yard to catch the sun. its a simple routine, but effective. I am in a zone, and before I know it’s 3pm and the maid is leaving. I’m jittery from a caffeine overdose, and i’ve just realized I haven’t eaten anything all day. The house is spotless, except for the little nook in the corner where my desk is overflowing with papers. Now that I have been snapped out of my zone, I begin to get bored with work. My brain is tired and i’m starving so I begin dinner for George when he gets home. I feel so domestic these days.
My alarm goes off at 5am… then 5:15am…. then 5:30am…. the snooze only works 3 times and then you have to reset the alarm, which means staring at the blazingly bright screen of my phone. The pain occurred is too great, and its easier to simply wake up. Although its only 30mins before George usually wakes up, any other day, he can’t bare to drag himself out of bed, so I make the coffee while he sleeps a bit longer. There is no time for the garden walk today, we snoozed too long. I’m going to be late for work as usual.
I enter the school parking lot and all of the students are already lined up by grade outside for morning assembly. They are signing church songs as usual, and I wonder which one I will get stuck in my head today- I pray it’s not “father abraham”. They sing for 20 minutes, and close with the Lords prayer. Georges dad, the Headmaster of the school, gives a few remarks, which i’m sure where meant to be short, but he always gets side tracked. I giggle as the children stir and you can see their minds wander off to something else as his speech drags on. Sometimes I look at him and see a carbon copy of my George in 40 years.
Assembly ends with the “Marching song” and all the kids March 3-4 steps towards their classrooms and then run, into a riotous crowd of small bodies. This is my we to unlock my classroom which is also the computer lab. The outside door is gated with a huge, heavy iron gate that locks on each side and the top with 3 padlocks with 3 keys, and then has to be lifted up and out of its frame before I can unlock the wooden door to the classroom. It is my morning exercise. My classroom is always a mess from Monday and Tuesday- i’m sure the other teachers have parties in there the days i’m not at school. I clean up the clutter, and stack it on top of the piles of books in the corner, which still don’t have book cases.
My first class is grade 4. they are excited as they run in and sit at the desks. They love my art class, although my morning always starts with a lecture on responsibility because they never do their homework. Schools in Swaziland believe in Corporal punishment, and idea I just can’t get use to. If students don’t do their homework, they will get hit on the bum with a stick, or made to do “frog jumps”, or stand for 30 mins holding their chair over their head. I don’t do any of these things, so the kids don’t do their homework… i’m working on a solution for this.
Next is grade 3. these kids are tiny, and their questions throughout the day make me laugh. Somedays I draw with them, and even when they see me draw they don’t believe I did it. The students beg me to teach them how to draw like me, and I ask in return, “why do you think I come everyday??” they are a hyper bunch, always out of their desks and Banele, my biggest brown-noser in the whole school, falls out of his chair EVERYDAY.
They are followed by grade 5, my smallest class of 7 students. I know these kids well, and they love my class. I try to make lots of time for them to draw and I bring my computer to listen to music. I love it when they all sign to Adele together, it always makes me smile.
I know your not suppose to have favorites, but grade 6 takes the cake. Not only are they ALL amazing artists, but they do their homework, and I can tell they take the most time. They are of a curious age and we are always talking as they draw. By the end of class I always have a map drawn on the chalkboard, or i’m showing them pictures on my computer of life in the USA. After almost a year teaching at the school they are the only class of which I know, and can pronounce every name. One of my students has found a special place in my heart. He comes to school in an old raggedy shirt, i’m sure passed down through numerous brothers and sisters- its so old its nearly transparent. His pants are too short, and the seems are split in the back. His shoes are 4 sizes too big, and look like they belong to an older relative. I’ve inquired about him, and discovered he is living with a step-mother who could careless about his existence. His father owns several businesses and does well, but has lost interest in this child now that he has another family to care for. Despite all of this, he is the happiest, handsomest little boy. He always does 3x the homework I request, and has an irresistible shy smile as he shows me his work at the end of class. If I could, I would take him home with me in a second. He is still so full of hope and life, no complaints and never asks for anything. He has the personality that, which a little positive encouragement could do great things one day. I plan on keeping him close and giving him that little extra attention he is missing at home, and also slowly buying him a new school uniform, so he can feel proud while he is learning.
My last class after lunch is grade 7. every 7th grader in the country takes a national exam at the end of the year, and the results are published in the newspaper. It is a stressful year of endless studying and review. The class curriculum is based solely on revising past years lessons and retaking tests in preparation of the big exam. The students come early to school, stay late, study through lunch and come for extra lessons over the weekend. If I had schooled here growing up, I never would’ve handled the pressure of grade 7. the class is small, only 6 students, all transfers from another school, since our school is brand new. But transferring in grade 7 is hard, and I know these kids all have a story of woe. Accounting for all of this, this is my most difficult class. Art is not on the final exam, so they don’t care so much for my lessons, however they do enjoy a break from the dull, dark walls of their classroom which they see so often. I try to support them and help them with their other lessons, that they are so far behind with. Art class this term has turned into creative writing and english, even if its just talking so they can practice speaking proper english.
By 1pm, school is over. I’m covered in the red dust of Matsapha and sweating from the heat outside my concrete classroom. My black pants are covered in chalk, and I have an unquenchable thirst. George picks me up, and we drive away slowly as the children follow the car waving, as if i’m a celebrity. “bye teacher!” they all shout. I admit, it makes me smile a little.
If I have any left over work from tuesday I do it today, but more then likely I ride with George. This time we head south toward Matata. This is one of my favorite trips because of the perks. There is a great butchery along the way, with the best biltong (jerky) in the country, we always stop and get a bag for the journey, and it is always worth the 2 hour drive. Matata is a funny little town in the middle of sugar cane country. It has everything you could need, including a welder who makes my custom designed patio chairs and a little nursery that specializes in indigenous plants. On the way home we go through a dry, dessert like region which is lush with aloe and acacia plants. Last month several hundred aloe plants were cut down by the side of the road, which is starling because the are supposedly a protected species, indeginous to only swaziland. We decided to give as many of these plants a good home as possible, and every week we fill the back of Georges truck with the huge aloe trees. We can only lift the smaller plants, which are still sometimes as big as toddler. The larger plants can grow to a full tree and are too heavy to load. We have collected at least 7 different types of aloe trees so far, and have a collection of over 50 plants to date. They are the easiest plants to grow, even without roots- you just stick them in a hole and water everyday for the first week, and then they grow. It amazes me.
school again today. Assembly on fridays highlights each grades singing, and even offers a few solo performances. Its entertaining, especially watching the grade 7 boys try to act too cool while singing gospel songs. I unlock my giant heavy gate on the door and turn on all the computers, praying that the electricity works today. I’m dreading my first class of 1st graders and then second graders- although the second graders are growing on me. Grade 1, will be the death of me. Many of the kids don’t speak english well, and with my accent, it doesn’t help. It also doesn’t help that grade 1 and 2 have the most students in the school; I take half the class each week and half is still 2x the size of my other older grades i’m use to. The grade 1′s think all my computers are touch screen and don’t understand the concept of the mouse. They bang my keyboards, and are always touch the wires they aren’t suppose to. Computers break daily with them, and I spend most of the class screaming, “QUIET!”. Grade 6 comes after them, and they stand outside my door waiting for me to dismiss the small ones, laughing at my tantrums.
The older grades are doing very well with computers. They are learning how to type with 10 fingers, which is entertaining to watch. They are also writing creative stories as they type. The things these kids think of…. is beyond me. I spend the majority of the day fixing things they accidentally clicked on and spelling words for them on the board.
I’m done with school by 11am on fridays. George comes to get me, and we run errands for an hour or two. By friday we are exhausted, and unmotivated to do more work. We always finish by 3pm and head to the Albert Millin to cash in on some of my credit of food for design work.
if the sun decides to shine we end up with an impromptu braai. Friends appear from everywhere, and gather in our backyard around the small grill. We are drinking cider by 11am, and i’m in the kitchen preparing salads and sides for a dozen people. People love our new house and any excuse to come admire our extraordinary view.
One of our good friends recently discovered bee keeping as a hobby and has brought us our own bee-box so we can collect honey. This is pretty exciting and will also help our garden flourish.
my favorite day of the week, reserved solely for “plant jacking”. We start early in the morning, despite the rain that never fails to miss a sunday opportunity. Pack 2 shovels in the back of the truck and start driving. No place in-particular in mind, just driving. My eyes are watching the passing landscape like a hawk. Any sign of color or plant life we don’t yet own we pull over and start digging. We drive for hours searching and filling the back of the buckey. Sometimes we come home with one or two plants and sometimes we have plants sticking out the windows, and overflowing over the tailgate. Aloe, african violets, morning glory, elephant ears, monster plants, lilly’s, oak trees, jacaranda trees, coral trees, lemon trees, guava, avocado, mango, umbrella trees and species of plants i’ve never seen or heard of before.
When we get home, we start placing them all over the yard, where we want to plant them. We may plant some, and then leave the rest for the garden boy when he comes again on tuesday.
We spend the rest of the evening making our traditional sunday feast. George cooks the best feasts, or grilled chicken or fish in the oven, with potato wedges and veggies. I make the salads, because as skilled as I have become with stove top cooking, my patience for the oven is not up to par, and my only accomplishment is making everything I bake extra crispy.
While we cook, we step over the ever growing pile of dogs sleeping on the kitchen rug. When it rains, we let the dogs inside to stay warm. They are a spoiled group of dogs I admit, George calls them “lani” which means “posh”, and expression usually reserved for white people here. Our dogs are part of the family, like children, with different personalities and we love spending time with them. Frank is becoming my favorite. A HUGE Boerbull breed, with sad eyes. He is as dumb as a bag of bricks, but so cuddly. We call him statue for his knack of falling asleep sitting up, or sitting directly in front of the TV- watching or barking at the dogs he hears in the movies. We go to bead exhausted with red, mud stained hands. Not ready for monday again.