Friday, March 29, 2013

Teaching in the Eastern Cape

I recently stumbled on this moving account of a young woman who has sacrificed everything to be a teacher and faced incredible obstacles at every turn. With South Africa facing a never-ending shortage of qualified teachers, state-sponsored bursaries to study are plentiful but jobs still elude graduates. Even in the Eastern Cape, one of our most under-resourced provinces, I almost can't believe that they would turn passionate young people willing to work in rural areas away. I say 'almost' because I suppose working in education has taught me better.

As I work toward Puku's isiXhosa Children's Story Festival, it's stories like this that leave me feeling hopeless but also quite hopeful. Hopeless because it sometimes feels like things will never change. Hopeful because every now again, I look away for a few weeks or a few months and when I look back, some small and almost imperceptible change has happened and - viola - something is different.

Tembela Mahebe, a 27 year old temporary educator at the Barkley Circuit, in the Eastern Cape is a product of a developing school. She obtained her Bachelor of Education degree, majoring in Economics and Business Economics from Walter Sisulu University. She says when she walked into her first practical class in a local high school in Whittlesea, she knew that was it and never looked back. It was her mother, a single parent of two who funded her higher education through loans and annual sacrifices of her bonuses.

Mahebe started working as a stipend teacher in November 2009, earning R3000 per month. She only received her payments in January 2010. That contract ended in March. From then until July, she stayed at home as she could not find work. At every door she knocked on, she was told that the department was not hiring even though it was obvious that some schools needed a commerce educator. She defines that period as her worst ever. It reminded her of how tormented she was at university because of her choice of speciality.

Read the rest of Tembela's story

Monday, March 18, 2013

A different kind of digital for Africa

I was asked to contribute to a cool French digital/music/lifestyle mag recently about my opinion on the future of African digital children's publishing, as part of a Digital Africa publication within the mag. I'm never really sure I'm the best person to contribute on such broad topics but it was fun to write a short piece on some of the organisations whose work I so admire:

More Africans have access to mobile phones than to water. This puts the mobile phone at the heart of the African digital publishing revolution. Despite the exponential increase in the number of Africans now online thanks to mobile technology, there is little content created by Africans, few applications developed in Africa and even less online material available in indigenous languages. However, a new generation of African digital natives demands new local content and many organisations are taking it upon themselves to produce, publish and distribute the content they crave.

Whilst writing, I realised that all the 'digital innovators' I was pimping, are either non-profits or social entrepreneurships. Is that because corporate African trade publishers are unwilling or unable to innovate (due to cost structures, or a perceived lack of funds, or a global slowdown in publishing)? Or is it that civil society has seen a gap and taken it?

Or maybe it is just a selection bias on my part: I'm only writing about what I know and I don't know enough about what publishers have in the works? I honestly have no idea but for future readers and writers, I hope that trade publishers, especially in sub-Saharan Africa start looking at what Paperight and FunDza and ReadeaBookSA have done and start realising that they can reach new audiences through new media - they just need to work out how to make money from that. Not an easy or quick win but certainly something worth figuring out to reach the vast untapped market for whom traditional books are just to expensive and their cellphones already represent the way they interact, discover, read, is well worth the effort.

I'm really interested in reading the other African perspectives on the possibilities of digital publishing. I'm told that the publication will be available for download in English and French soon so look out for it.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Sleep? What's that?

When I need to write a review for my blog but I also have a funding proposal to finish, four picture books to review for work, freelance corporate work to do, six books delivered this week to read for said blog, an article to write for a French magazine, and a two birthday parties and a braai this weekend, all I want to do is maybe go to sleep for a week until it's time for Paris Book Fair...

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

My Review of the still-good-but-kinda-overrated Every Day

The Book: Every Day by David Leviathan

And it's About?

Every day a different body. Every day a different life. Every day in love with the same girl.

There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.

It’s all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with—day in, day out, day after day

In a Word, it was... Whelming

This 20 Things I Hate About You reference perfectly describes how I felt about Every Day: I wasn't underwhelmed, I wasn't overwhelmed, I was just kind of... whelmed.

I ordered this book from the US in hardcover because I actually just could not wait for it to be available in local bookstores, and really couldn't wait until the paperback was published. Initially, what had really excited me about the book was just stumbling on the blurb. A different body? Every day? No gender, no race, no home or family - and yet in love with the same girl? Most interesting for me was the question of if and how one girl could love someone who could be anyone and anywhere every morning? Spoiler alert: with great difficulty.

I flew through the book in one sitting, devouring it over the course of a few hours. Often, it occurred to me that South Africans are quite preoccupied with concepts of self-identity and self-identification. I think it's part of the perspective that informs our progressive constitution but also much of what fuels our continued other-ing of anyone who self-identifies as a different race, gender, sexual orientation, whatever. I'm not making a statement on whether that other-ing manifests in a constructive or destructive way but I do think that the idea of being Other from every other possible category of human being and starting to think about how you would handle that on a day-to-day psychological level is a useful thought experiment for everyone and certainly for South Africa's born-frees: a new generation of SAFAs who have so much to benefit from redefining how South Africans self-identify and group-identify. More than these kind of meta issues, Every Day featured complications beyond the love-struck teens and their unique philosophical quandary to keep the action going. The plot was paced very well, answers given only led to more questions, the love-vibes between the young characters were that great YA cocktail of awkward, stumbling, reckless, limitless longing. The writing was lyrical but not verbose. You came to have a sense of familiarity with A even though he/she was a stranger in every chapter. Everything was appropriately swoony or appropriately heartbreaking or appropriately thought-provoking but.

But, at a certain point, A's body-snatching started to feel quite staged. It is a novel so, technically, all of it is staged, but this was sort of after-school special, Public Service announcement, kind of staged. Maybe one day A is a drug addict, maybe then A lands in the body of someone with an eating disorder and then someone who is obese. So the reader gets to learn about the complexities and difficulties of being an addict/having an eating disorder/being obese and it's all very PC and many lessons are learnt and we all grow as people but it's a little boring after a while, you know?

I can't take away from Leviathan's skill and creativity as a storyteller. I also can't take away from a great premise and a love story with all the makings of the Time Travellers Wife: Teen Edition. I didn't exactly like A but I did feel for his situation and I certainly would have Rhiannon, his/her love interest, over for a glass of wine and some light snacks. Still, I don't really like being preached to, however well-meaning or worthy the sermon is. Scanning the overwhelmingly positive reviews on Goodreads, I saw that the less than impressed reviews had much the same concerns as I did.

So would I recommend it? To a teenager, sure. To someone who is a little more A than Y? Probably not. Definitely, a worthy read. More specifically, a read worthy of its praise but also worthy of its criticism.