Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The end of our time in South Africa looms large #ibmcsc South Africa

Wednesday dawned with the education team being the only one still to deliver its final report to the project sponsors.  We had a meeting set for 10am with our 2 sponsors due to come and meet us at the hotel so we could present our findings and recommendations to them.  If there is one attribute that I have learnt over the last month to be of critical importance it is flexibility, particularly where it relates to schedules.  Today was to be no exception.  Early in the morning we get a message that another meeting means that our main sponsor won't be able to make the meeting.  It is important that he be there so the meeting is rearranged for 1:30pm.  At around 12:15 or so we decide to get some lunch ahead of the meeting and head out of the hotel to make the usual pilgrimage to Woolworths.  Just as we are walking across the car park we are hailed by someone behind us…. our main sponsor has arrived for the meeting!

Slightly awkward in that his colleague is set to arrive around 1:30 but never mind, we head back into the hotel and sit down with him to discuss our report.  Our findings and recommendations are well received which is good to hear.  A bit before 1:30 we agree to head over to the Mugg and Bean in the mall for some lunch and to continue our discussion.  The second of our project sponsors arrives around 1:30 and joins us so we take him through the outline of the report as we wait for lunch.

Lunch over we grab a quick group photo outside the Mugg & Bean

All in all a very positive end to our project with the department of education.  I'm pleased with the progress we were able to make during our time in South Africa and am confident that we have produced a set of recommendations which, if implemented, will help to see TeachersTryScience adopted more widely in the schools.

As an added bonus the trip to Mugg and Bean gave me the chance to add to my burgeoning collection of "Mayorships" on Foursquare - I'm going to have some very fond memories triggered over the coming months as I am notified about others "stealing" my mayorships.

With all of the teams having done their final presentations and in light of this being our final evening in the Stayeasy we thought a group dinner was in order.  The ever helpful and accommodating staff at the hotel agreed that we could take over the central seating area and rearrange the tables for our meal.

Setting the table

The basic idea was that everyone would contribute something that was appropriate to their nationality.  Woolworths were out of trifle but I did manage to get a custard tart ( looked very much like this ) and a "Mess" which was somewhat along the lines of an Eton Mess.  Other contributions included BBQ ( US), spicy rice and curry (India), Sushi making (Japan) and the hotel kindly provided us with some South African pap as well as bread rolls.  All told quite a feast.

Here is the before photo as we gathered before digging in…..

... mandatory group photo before tucking in...

It will be sad to leave Pietermaritzburg but this was a great way to mark the end of our time there and the bonds that we have built inside the team over the last 4 weeks.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Visit to University of KwaZulu Natal and preparing for final presentations to our sponsors #ibmcsc South Africa

Continuing to catch up on my blog posts from the final days of our trip to South Africa…

Last Tuesday we headed back to Durban to visit the School of Education at the University of KwaZulu Natal.

KZN University
School of Education at KZN university

Having looked at how could be used to support teachers who are currently working in schools we also wanted to understand how they are trained at the university and what scope there might be to include TeachersTryScience in that process.

It's a pity that we were only able to connect with them at the end of our time in South Africa as it felt that there would indeed be some good possibilities for collaboration.   Something for us to hand over to our local IBM colleagues in South Africa for them to follow up on when we are gone.

Back to the hotel and some focussed attention on completing our final report and presentation that we would be delivering to our sponsors on Wednesday and to the IBM team back in Johannesburg on Thursday.

We pretty much finished the work around 7:30pm so headed over to the mall for our dinner.  We were joined by others in the group for a "Wakaberry walk".

Group outing to Wakaberry

Trying to use up loose change

And then a walk back through the largely deserted mall.
Food area

Central area has had cars in it and now rugs

Including passing by the "outside" seating for one of the restaurants, have to say that it always felt a bit odd on arriving for a meal when they asked us if we wanted a table "inside or outside" !
Would you like to sit inside or "outside"

Hard to believe that the whole project is coming to a close and Wednesday will be our last day in Pietermaritzburg.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

School visit and learning about education centres #ibmcsc South Africa

We were interested in understanding more about the education centres that exist where teachers can access resources to help them with lesson planning and materials for use in lessons.

There was to be an event at the Ekuphileni Primary School ( which is a little outside Durban) to officially launch their library.   The Senior Manager for Library Services and Education Centres was going to be there so this was a great opportunity to meet with her and see another school in action.

We arrived and parked up on what is usually the school netball court.

Ekuphileni Primary School
I did find myself wondering how much time they spend retrieving the ball from down the hillside when the court is actually in use.

Ekuphileni Primary School

The school was better equipped and maintained than some others that we have seen but is built on a fairly steep hill which gives a lot of topographical challenges.

Round the back of one of the classrooms they had a large pile of car tyres that had been donated to them …

Ekuphileni Primary School
….which were being used around the site to build retaining walls, such as here where they are building a play area behind the new reception classroom…
Ekuphileni Primary School
… they are also used for decoration at the edges of their flower beds whose plants are donated by local nurseries. They don't help however to do anything for the problem of rain damage on a steeply sloping path.

Ekuphileni Primary School

In our meeting we learnt more about the 60 education centres that there are across the KwaZulu Natal province and how they can help to support teachers as well as individual learners and provide services to the broader community.

From the school we headed back into Durban to visit the KwaNdengezi Education Centre

Kwandengezi Education Centre

As you can possibly tell from the photo this centre is based on a converted house.  It was initially set up through collaboration between the local community and the Pinetown branch of the Rotary Club.  We met the centre manager who gave us an overview of the impressive range of services that they provide from such a small site.  They help to support the 9 schools in the local township providing access to books and a few computers ( though they lack any internet connectivity). Non fiction books are in a small library in the main building and fiction can be found in a "wendy house" in the grounds.  As well as the centre staff they have a range of volunteers from the community who come in and assist.

Kwandengezi Education Centre
They also have 3 converted shipping containers in the grounds which provide classroom space
Kwandengezi Education Centre

To put it mildly they are not an optimal shape for teaching and I suspect liable to get rather hot but a good example of improvising and making good with what resources that can obtain.

Kwandengezi Education Centre

It is very humbling to look round places such as this and hear them talk about the great things they are doing to support learning, working with what they have.  I don't think we heard a single complaint about lack of facilities or resources during our visit just a clear vision of what they were doing and plans for how this could be built on in the future.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Sunday in Wartburg #ibmcsc South Africa

Back home in the UK but catching up on blog posts for the last few days of my time in South Africa…

Here's what I got up to last Sunday.

Yumi, my new friend from Japan, turns out to be a skilled organist amongst her other talents. She had featured in a local newspaper on Saturday talking about the City Hall organ in Pietermaritzburg and had been invited to play an organ at a Lutheran Church in Wartburg. Wartburg is in a German influenced region about a 30 minute taxi ride from Pietermaritzburg.

Myself and 3 others from the group had the privilege of being her posse for the day. We were unsure exactly what to expect - would the congregation be large or small? Turned out that this was a special service as they were inducting a new pastor for the church.

Wartburg Lutheran Church

Congregation probably numbered around 200 or so. The service oscillated between English and German ( with the Latin Kyrie Eleison getting us to a trilingual service). Even in the hymns we'd sing one verse in German then one in English and then back to German. The service sheets helpfully provided translations of the verses in both English and German, you sang whichever language was in the bold typeface.

With the extra elements the service was longer than usual at around 2 hours. When it had finished we were invited to join them for coffee and some delicious home made cakes with a number of people recognising Yumi as the person who'd appeared in the paper the day before.

Someone noted that they weren't sure they'd ever had visitors from Japan, US, India and the UK on the same day ever before !

After a while we headed back into the church and the chance to have a look at the organ.

Wartburg Lutheran Church

Church Organ

After a "tour" …
Getting a look inside the Church Organ

… and a quick change of shoes, Yumi got to play the organ and opted for Bach's "Passacaglia in C" and did a very good job of it. I have a video of the whole piece but that file's a bit on the large side so here is the final couple of minutes ( video quality is good but apologies for the crackle on the sound track - can assure you that it is down to the recorder not the performer).

Organ playing done we were offered the chance to have a look round a local sugar cane farm which we eagerly accepted. First we stopped off at a local hotel to order some food in their restaurant so it would be ready for us after the tour. then it was off to the farm. We were introduced to the rest of the farm owner's family and some of their large menagerie of dogs, birds, rabbits, etc

Yumi and Bhairavi meet some of the dogs

Lou and new friend

Exploring aviaries

Then we hopped on the back of a pickup for a bumpy tour of the farm. Learnt lots about the whole process of growing and harvesting sugar. Over the last couple of weeks I've been driven past a lot so sugar cane so it was terrific to get this insight into how the farming process works.

We learnt that burning the cane before harvesting makes the process easier but you only have 3 days to get it gathered and off to the mill. This means you need to do it in small patches which is one reason why there are regular gaps in the planting so you can just burn one part of the field at a time.
Touring a sugar farm - burnt cane being harvested

Following burning and harvesting the cane regrows from the roots but every 10 years they replant using lengths of sugar cane laid horizontally in trenches and then chopped into 3 pieces ( which will then yield the new plants). This pile is ready for planting and is a day's work for 5 people ( to include laying in trench, chopping and then backfilling with soil.
Cane ready for planting - that pile is a day's work for 5 people

Here is a short video taken from the pickup as we drive round the farm - see if you can spot the dogs running on ahead of us.

Safely back at the farm we grabbed a quick group photo ….

At the end of the tour

… and then transferred back into cars and into town and the Wartburger Hof hotel where they had our lunch ready for us.

Great food and company and we even got a tour of some of the hotel's rooms. If you are looking for a place to stay in Wartburg, on the basis of what I tasted and saw there, you might want to consider the Wartburger Hof.

One of the defining features for me of this whole trip to South Africa has been the warmth of the welcome that we have recieved wherever we go. Today that welcome was at an extraordinary level. 

Eventually though it was time to leave - time for one more group photo and then the drive back to the StayEasy Hotel.

 Group photo outside Wartburg Hof Hotel

South African wildlife and culture #ibmcsc South Africa

Last Saturday 7 of us decided to have a day trip to see some South African Wildlife.  Lots of options but what would be the best place to go?  Answer contact a tour guide that some of the team had used the weekend before in Durban.  Cliffy had done a great job showing them round Durban so we got in touch and he offered to put a day together for us of places to go, bring a vehicle that could take us all and act as our guide/driver for the day.

We agreed and so after an early breakfast ( the second time in the week when I was the first person down in the morning !) we were collected by Cliffy in his van.   Our transport for the day

The first place we went was the Tala Game Reserve.

We arrived at the start point and looked out over the reserve, the animals are out there somewhere…
At the start looking at the view

For this part of the trip we were to transfer into an open 4x4 and be driven round the reserve by one of their rangers.  
Here comes our ride and ranger
This would give us a great view of any animals we came across and a knowledgable host to inform us and take us to all the right places.   We had a fantastic time going round the reserve and saw a wide range of animals including..


White Rhino
  White Rhino
Water buck
  Water buck
  Impala hiing in the trees
and many more ….

It was a wonderful place, as well as the wildlife that we were able to see it was also a place of tranquility.  When the ranger stopped the vehicle and turned off the engine you could just hear the noise of birds in the area and animals.  The lovely sunshine also helped.

Next stop was the Natal Lion Park.  Driving through the park we saw some elephants in the distance  and then came to the lion enclosure. Somewhat underwhelming in that this was actually a comparatively small area inside a strong fence ( for obvious reasons) that you go in to and drive around.  It did afford good views of the lions - pleased how the photos came out as I was shooting through the glass of our vehicle.


This one was rather ominously standing over what looked like a trophy hub cap!

Lion wiht trophy from a pervious visitor

Our third and final stop for the day was the PheZulu Safari Park.  Here we got to see some aspects of traditional Zulu culture.  Sitting in a traditional hut

Demonstrating traditional Zulu cooking
and then watching some Zulu dancing against the backdrop of the "Valley of 1000 Hills"

Zulu Dancing display

and the chance to take some photos with the dancers….

Team with some Zulu dancers
Andrew and 2 of the dancers

After some lunch, a visit to their crocodile park, and the obligatory shopping in the gift store it was time to head back to Pietermaritzburg.

A truly wonderful day.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Visiting the Casino #ibmcsc South Africa

For a change of scene on Friday evening a group of us decided to take a trip to the Golden Horse Casino and try one of the restaurants there.  It's another hotel owned by Tsogo Sun like our current home the Stayeasy but just a tad more towards the premium end of the market.  Put it this way.... we understand that when he was in town the King of KZN stayed there - we got to meet some of his security detail who were staying at our hotel.

A short cab ride and we were at the casino and admiring its impressive fountain.

Fountain - Golden Horse Hotel
Fountain detail - Golden Horse Hotel

 Had an explore around and settled on trying Rockafella's buffet restaurant. From our table we could look out over the racecourse ( largely in darkness) and beyond that to the twinkling lights of Pietermaritzburg.
View from our table at Rockerfella's - Golden Horse Hotel
The food was good and all from a self serve buffet so you could mix and match and return as often as you liked. Got to try a crocodile stew of some description which was rather good. I was to learn later that when you eat crocodile you are only eating the tail as the rest is toxic. Or perhaps to put it another way, if you are fed crocodile and it is not from the tail then the person serving you does not have your best interests at heart! Wonderful breadth of choice for starters, mains and desserts - here is a section of the dessert buffet for example, yum .....
Dessert buffet in Rockafella's - Golden Horse Hotel

We probably didn't rank as the hotel's best customers that evening as once we were finished dining we wandered though the casino floor looking at the various slot machines and couple of gambling tables that they had running but didn't wager any of our rands.