Tag Archive: South Africa


Everyone wants to know more about my travels and experiences in Asia, why haven’t I written so much about this specifically? Maybe I feel as if there is too much pressure, there is so much to write about and I have felt that I could not possibly do justice to the experience of it all and so have shrunken away from the task. No more though, I must and will share these experiences and they will shine through for what they are. Onwards then:

One of the first experiences that I must share is the experience of isolation. One of the reasons that I was comfortable with going on this long, interesting and new adventure on my own was that I thought myself to be one of the best subtypes of personalities to handle being alone and isolated for long periods of time.

I am an introvert and a thinker meaning that I spend most of my time, even when in my home country on my own digesting what my senses and intuitions have told me through the day. After a long day at work or varsity I have always enjoyed retreating to my own lonesome space to relax. Often during university vacations and school holidays I would almost entirely disappear in the eyes of the public – even somewhat to my closest friends so as to totally escape for a time while I ‘recharge’ mentally and spiritually (and sometimes physically). Thanks to a functional family and great social network (not twitter or facebook, the irl one) I am also no social recluse or am I otherwise socially dysfunctional, I just seem to enjoy being alone between social encounters more than most of (or at least half of) the population.

Not everyone could be a hermit or manage living alone in an isolated setting, I figured that if anyone could though, it would be me. This in part gave me the confidence to go on this Asia trip on my own – I was also interested in testing this theory out.

Now two months later I believe I have tested the theory out to at least some extent. I must explain the type of isolation I’m talking about here though, I am not far away from people, all I ever need do is stand on the balcony of my apartment at almost any hour of the day or night and I can see people moving about, so it’s not difficult to find people. Only one main thing separates me from these people though: language – English vs. Thai. I had expected there to be a second separating factor namely ethnicity, being a farang, a foreigner with curly hair and differently shaped face, however this has really not bothered me or seemingly any Thai people. We all seem to get on fine.

I am also not isolated from new friends and caring people, my missionary work colleagues have been the most welcoming and friendly people one could ever hope for when abroad, often translating and writing down meal orders for me to help me get my food, helping me when I was sick with a light case of bronchitis, referring me to attractions and teaching me how to use the taxis and trains when I first arrived. These new friends have made the difference for me and had I not had them the isolation would have been too severe.

The real isolation I am talking about comes through on the weekends, when I don’t have like-minded friends (and girlfriend) to share things with. I’ve found that the old saying really is true that nothing is fully enjoyed until it’s been shared (hence the facebook and twitter, etc. phenomenon). Even for the most reclusive introvert, a fair portion of the enjoyment of any thing or experience is in sharing it and one’s joy in it with someone, more so if they are like-minded and enjoy it as well.

I was fortunate to start dating the illustrator last year and since most of this year has forced us into a long distance relationship, we cultivated good communication habits early, speaking on instant messenger apps everyday and using google and skype video and voice call software once a week or so. She has been my greatest link to my home and my support system simply through the consistency of our communication (and her affection). Continued contact with my family and my good friend TUE on messenger apps and email have been significant in keeping me happy as well. It is so so key, I have found, to stay connected to the people that made you who you are.

The first major take-home I’ve gained from my adventure so far is the importance of friendships and relationships. Smart people like Viktor Frankl and Jesus and Ravi Zacharias have said this before me and now I must attest to their absolute truth in this – that relationships are a KEY factor to human happiness and purpose. Frankl includes the experience of love (importantly both given and received) as one of the 3 things that gives a man purpose in his book Man’s Search for Meaning. Jesus’ teachings and those of the apostles who spread them have their foundations in the relational nature of mankind, even depicted in the relationship of God as three persons in one – God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus being the same spiritual entity but having a relationship nature as well (mind melting stuff). Zacharias includes relationships among the 4 things one needs to be happy (also included in this list is a sense of wonderment – hence the popularity of movies and fantasy and fiction).

What do I miss most about South Africa? – my girlfriend, friends and family. Thankfully my girlfriend will be here to visit me and help me enjoy all there is here in just 1 weeks time. And TUE may possibly be visiting in November.

Advertisements

Ahh wow, Singapore – this city gets me, it understand me. It provides a 24 hour Starbucks 10 meters away from a pristine and perfect subway. It has clear and clean walkways for pedestrians and cyclists. It has the beauty of high rise buildings with their lights, blue tinted windows and gun-metal grey architecturally alluring angular walls, reaching for the sky in pure prideful self indulgence (buildings are tall here because they can be, that is all) and an atmosphere of forestry due to the beautiful green grasses, South East Asian trees and the many twisting lakes and rivers winding through the bright streets and shining cars and busses. This is what strikes me most and first about this country compared to South Africa, nothing is dusty. I haven’t seen dust in my 3 days here so far – everything is clean and nothing is any less than its true colour. Everything seems to be bright. The gray roads even seem to shimmer like silver and the sidewalks like precious stones.

image

Singapore city (c) JSB

Thud thud thud, went the sound of my feet as I took my first run through this concrete jungle this morning. I woke up early enough to take a 30 minute run and be back at st. Andrews village before breakfast. My brand new New Balance running shoes were perfect for the occasion, new like everything else in Singapore. This city is a shopping mall. Actually it’s like some grand city creator opted away from the cheaper brands and walked straight into the designer city chop, picked Singapore in it’s expensive packaging off of the top shelf and payed for it with a Platinum Credit card. Unwrapped it from it’s pricey plastic wrapper and placed it in the ocean for the amusement of the Chinese, Indonesian and other South East Asian people. This city is fresh like a Samsung Galaxy S3 right out of the box, comes with its batteries pre charged and like an Asus Transformer: Primed to go.

I run out through the automated booms unnecessarily guarding st. Andrews village from one of the safest places on earth. I take a left through a group of Asian school kids making their way to school for morning classes. I keep my pace up, measuring my stride by my breathing, not growing tired simply because of how entertained my mind is at the people, streets, buildings, grasses and Singapore river which has now come up beside me as I move through the streets. I am amused, I am very amused. 1.3 gadgets per person as I get to a bridge girded by purple flowers, I have never seen such a technology integrated culture before. I am reminded as I join the runners walkway next to the river of two nights before when in my jet lag I took a walk to an all night Chinese diner through dark alley ways and obscure corners in the shadow of the government housing apartment skyscrapers with my eight thousand rand tablet loosely in my hand, not a fear in the world. My South African nerves took a few minutes to calm and then the safety of this world sunk in. Thud thud thud, the feel of my feet hitting the perfect pavement still reverberating through my body as I pass old Chinese men and women stretching in Tai Chi stances against the railings by the river. I make a mental note: “stop to stretch in a tai chi fashion when you’re too tired Jeremy, that’ll be cool”.

“I should probably turn back” I think to myself, 07:55, I read the time on the watch of a 5 foot tall Chinese lady runner because I can’t understand her Mandarin when I point to my wrist in the global sign language of the developed world, noting that 25 minutes have passed and I’m getting quite far from my base. I don’t want to stop though, this is too good. A perfect running experience, the pain of the air straining through my lungs and the developing stiffness in my calves are a dull backdrop to the sights, sounds, smell, atmosphere of where I am. Dull like the streets of Pretoria – a whole nother world, more than a world away.

Soon I’m in the city, and an hour later I’m finally back at st. Andrews village. Having gotten lost in the city and circled around with the help of locals until I finally found myself in a familiar area and on my way back to Patong Pasir, my Singaporian home suburb.

“Glorious” I sms to a friend back home in South Africa. That run was glorious. This city is almost perfect. Only three days in and I am enthralled with what I have seen.

I began to work in Kwadinabakubo Secondary School just 3 weeks ago now. I hoped to be like Keating from Dead Poets Society. I think I am making head way.

First, an introduction to Kwadinabakubo Secondary School. One eventually gets used to saying the name, though it took me a few weeks. I have discovered something interesting about the rural third world, something old school and satisfying: when one is curious about something these days one need go no further than a simple Google search and the information is yours. In the third world however, you don’t get people with blogs or websites, so the information just simply isn’t on the net.

Crazy right?

Hence the resurgence of journalism. When Google fails, interviews become your search engine. Having just read an Isaac Asimov Sci-fi detective novel, I can’t help but feel a small sense of adventure when I seek information in this way. In any case, I digress, what I’m getting to is the meaning of the name of Kwadinabakubo Secondary School. When Google searches yielded nothing helpful, I began asking people in the area about the name. It turns out that the name comes from a traditional Zulu chief who ruled the area long ago. His name was Dinabakubo, translated literally as “To anger someone”.

So back in the history of this place was a boy who made those around him angry, yet rose to power and ruled an entire district. I hope I discover more about this story.

The school is a government township school, meaning that poverty grips the school with a corrugated iron fist and it shows. The school grounds are classrooms scattered over fields of knee-high overgrown weeds, sparsely interrupted by patches of red KwaZulu-Natal dirt. The kids adhere to a relaxed school uniform regulation, wearing as much of the uniform as they were able to acquire for themselves. Gray long pants and a white shirt, every 5th kid with a tie, every 10th with a school jersey and every 20th adorning a blazer. In classic South African style however, every kid has perfectly shined black school shoes. Every kid has a cloth they dearly guard and pull out at each available moment, placing each foot on a ledge to maintain that shine, ankles exposed, I’ve only seen 2 pairs of socks so far.

There is no bell and when the government disallowed corporal punishment, they put no alternatives in the hands of the teachers meaning that if there were a bell it would scarcely mean anything to the hoard anyway. When I first arrived, I though it was break time, but this is simply how things go all day in Kwadinabakubo. The problem is mostly with the teachers though. The kids are in class when their teachers are there, but my oh my how the teachers adhere to African time…

I am one of three volunteers who are working with CAPRO here with this mission to the school. I am joined by Ayanda and Sinesipho who teach English, they are beginning to set up a literacy program where they can identify and help the students who have managed somehow to hustle their way thus far through the school system thus far without being able to read/write/speak/understand english

I am teaching Mathematics. I am loving it. I can honestly hardly contain my excitement and enthusiasm following most school days. I have become that guy that loves his job. I always wondered if that was too high an aspiration to aim for, but here I am, each day as I walk from my final class over the weed patches, black-jacks clinging to my jeans, back to my car, I grin with a deep sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. I am working on the front lines for God, I am living out what I proclaim to believe (the teachings of Jesus), I am shaping young minds, I get to talk of interesting things all day and thrive off of a dynamic environment.

The beauty of a public/government school to someone like me is that I am free to do things my way:
– One must rely on an ability to think quickly on one’s feet, the labour of detailed planning is made unnecessary by the chaotic freedom in a school like this.
– The dynamic environment is extremely stimulating, being forced to juggle mathematical concepts, 40 different personalities, an improvised lesson and discipline all at the same time. One must constantly seek to hold 40 people’s interest, maintain order whilst allowing the small amount of chaos that catalyses the learning process and make sure to teach from the perspective of those whose attention one holds, one must teach and explain to their level.
– I absolutely thrive in this chaos.

The privilege of seeing that spark in the eyes of a kid as they suddenly grasp something that has been a mystery for years is invigorating. As they exclaim “oooooooohhhh!” and suddenly the motivation is shrugged off and they attack the next problem on the worksheet with new confidence. Knowing that you have just made an irreversible difference in a kid’s life like this is special. And I won’t grow tired of it quickly.

As relationships with the kids grow, other opportunities open up too, I shared a very enjoyable conversation on religion, apologetics, practical philosophy and Jesus with two matric kids just the other day.

Please leave any comments or questions you may have, I will respond as soon as I can,

PEACE.

Jack Figure (aka Jeremy)

%d bloggers like this: