Carrying bricks

IMG_3016This is a brick. His name is Jack Foord. We created him as part of last night’s homework as Isaac has to carry him round for 3 weeks at school. If Jack gets broken, Isaac has to provide snacks and prepare a funeral. I was obsessed with making some tiny clothes and doing a massive beard, and Colin was obsessed with giving him dangly arms and legs and making him look like Spongebob Squarepants. Isaac was too worried about what people would say, so we have compromised. This little brick story seems like a good introduction to my blog today – it’s a collection of little culture shocks – our first batch of many I’m sure. It’s probably not very well written but I am struggling to find headspace for blogging at the moment as everything has been so intense.

Even as I write, I’m experiencing a weeny culture shock in the form of a little ant which has walked across my keyboard and disappeared down into the “!” key. I wish now I’d squashed him of course, because what if he breaks my computer… what could he do down there.. could he nibble some wires?? What if I can’t type “!!!!!” anymore?! Oh it’s OK, he’s out now.

Ants: they’re a big part of my life now. And early mornings.

On the first day at the boys’ school we dropped them off bleary eyed. The first thing they do every day is queue up for chapel in silence. If anyone is scruffy, has the wrong hair or is wearing the wrong uniform they have to do press-ups in front of everyone. Fin said 40 but I’m not sure if that’s an exaggeration. (He quite likes press-ups and does them for fun, so thinks it’s all quite a laugh. Isaac not so much.)

In the mall here and round and about the city, it seems it’s OK for kids to have bare feet! Going out in the evening for a burger – maybe just ditch the “WHERE’S YOUR SHOES, WE’RE WAITING??” and go without. Cool!

Teachers are a lot more shout-y and with the accent added in, they can sound a bit scary to us newbies. My youngest two are constantly scared of getting in trouble. I was like that at school even when people weren’t shouting in an unfamiliar accent so I sympathise. On the other hand I’ve seen two teachers cry already and they’ve accepted and given hugs! Makes us English look a little bit up-tight. Isaac arrived back home from camp at 10.30 on Saturday night to collect a blazer, driven by a teacher! In England we would NEVER let a teacher do that – not without filling in a lot of forms and allergy tests and police background checks at the VERY least! She was a lovely lady so we resisted handcuffing her and wrestling her onto her stomach over the bonnet of her car. Ha!

When Evie turned up at school on the first morning the teacher pinched her cheek saying “Hel-LO my girl, welcome! You’re the only Evie in the whole school!!” So it’s a funny mix – really formal and yet really informal.

We got Fin and Colin’s hairs cut by a lady with the only tattoo I’ve seen so far in traditional Bloem. She said prayers were said for her as people feared she would definitely go to hell for getting it…. ! And even more funny, after the cut, she turned on her hoover, grabbed the hose and calmly HOOVERED their heads to suck up all the stray hairs. It was one of those ‘making-an-everything-is-normal-face’ whilst inside you’re falling off your chair laughing’. Makes sense tho yes? You heard it here first….

The children at our schools acknowledge us adults as we pass , “Morning sir”, or “Ma’am”. We feel embarrassed and don’t know what to do. If you think about it, usually when somebody greets you, you say the same thing back, like so:

Shopkeeper: “Hello”.  Me: “Hello!” Or:

Postman: “Morning!”  Me: “Morning!”

Consequently this keeps happening to me:

Random school boy: “Ma’am”.  Me: “Ma’am!!” (D’OHH!!)  

On Isaac’s first day he felt his different-ness very keenly – the boys talked about rugby, cricket and fishing. One boy told his gang about how he’d shot a pigeon over the holidays and they discussed how to finish off a dying bird when it’s flapping on the floor. Bad times.

Talking of birds, we looked around our first house yesterday – we are hoping to rent but there’s not a lot to choose from. This place had a decomposing bird on the front porch, and a smashed window where it had met it’s maker. To give you more of an idea of this House of Horrors, there was a red G-string lying in rancid water outside the back door, where we ‘stepping stoned’ across bricks to get to the gate. Somebody call Kirsty Young and Phil Spencer, for one of those ‘How to sell your house’ programs, quick!!

The kids are carrying enormous bags ‘like being in the military’ Evie said – 15 textbooks, and 15 A4 exercise books, all of which needed covering (right, so that’s what the plastic sheeting was for) – but wait – some had to be decorated first before the plastic….. but we don’t have sellotape or scissors or nice pictures or decorations …. back to Kloppers we went! They also carry a sports bag and all sorts.. I honestly don’t know how they are managing it, as Col reckons those main school bags are 10 or 11 kg each. (He should know, we’ve wrangled our way through numerous check-in points this last few months!)

Trainers are tackies. Crisps are chips.  Chips have seasoning on them not salt and vinegar. Diet coke is Coke Zero. Traffic lights are robots. Roundabouts are circles. KFC is spicier. Wine is CHEAPER! That’s all quite good fun.

And the biggest one? CAMP, as in orientation camp at school to celebrate starting at high school? Well it’s not “Camp” as in bonfires and games and pranks, it’s “Camp” as in “Bootcamp”. Whaaaaaat??? Yes, Isaac and his year group were lifting tyres, having cold showers in their pants, doing laps around the field in the heat, and being woken up at midnight then 2am to do press ups and go for a run. And much much more. The idea is that the year group make it through together, and form a bond (hence this brick thing and many other things that are going on). The older boys are offhand with them as part of this sort of “initiation” for a few weeks. So Isaac has had a VERY bumpy start indeed, especially as it has taken us a while to understand what is going on. School won’t always be like his first week, he’s going through initiation with a year group (whereas Finn has slotted into grade 9 where things are just running normally). It is one of those things that is so normal here, nobody thought to explain.

It is easy as a foreigner to march in and say ‘well, this is wrong’ but take a moment to think. All cultures have their funny ways/ blind spots/ wrong bits. What do people think when they come to England? “Why do English people not speak to strangers or foreigners on the bus or underground or at the gym or the school gate? Why is nobody speaking to me?” And us English, we don’t really like it, but….. “it’s just the way it is”. Same thing here: nobody seems to like these initiations (in my tiny opinion poll) but “it’s just the way it is”. It seems initiation is part of the tradition of the Africaans people, and we are in a certain type of school in a certain type of people group. It has definitely been the biggest challenge so far and as a mother I wrestled with letting him go back on Saturday night with that teacher, as I could see he was crumpling (not to mention exhausted and sunburnt). We were just starting to realise what the weekend was about, and it was tough for us all. But Isaac survived, he’s made friends and he’s being as brave as he can be about it all. We are feeling our way in all areas, and I’d appreciate it if, when you reply with blog comments, you’d remember that these folks are our friends of the future, we HOPE!! Who knows, maybe when we’ve got our feet under the table we can start a campaign against orientation camp, or maybe Isaac will?? Just who knows.. ?!

There’s been lots of magical moments – like the kids on the first night sticking their heads out of the car windows in the balmy air at sunset, shouting “WE’RE IN AFRICAAAAA!” And the people we’ve met – helpful, friendly and polite without exception. It was lovely watching Evie’s swimming lesson yesterday sitting under a tree and chatting on whatsapp with a friend. The girls were delightful –  very sweet and young, discussing ideal names for kittens and helping each other get their swimming caps on. One said to me “Oh it’s so nice to meet you, your sunglasses are SO pretty! Is England completely AWESOME??” Too cute!

But yes… our son is carrying a brick for 3 weeks. I think we all feel like that. We expected it though so it’s bearable, and it won’t feel like it forever! We are off now to look at another house – let’s hope there’s no dead wildlife. I apologise to all bird-lovers out there for the 2 bird stories in this blog. Don’t give up on me, and I promise you some lovely African bird stories before too long x x x