On Monday, August 2, I went on a “field trip” to visit another school. The school was about two hours away in a town called Stella.
The trip was arranged by fellow Peace Corps volunteer Matson Contardo and Matson, thank you very, very, much, for graciously supplying the photos for this blog post because I had forgotten my camera. Thanks so much Matson! I should know better than to leave my camera at home when travelling anywhere in South Africa. You never know when someone might say, "I know a gentleman nearby that keeps lions. I've phoned him to see if we might pop over to see the lions feeding. Would you like to go?"
This is exactly what happened at the end of our school visit. Matson, Emily (Emily was along for the trip!), and I kind of looked at each other and said, "SURE!"
As spectacular as the school was, the lions, well, as you can imagine, snagged the spot of "wow factor" of the day. I was expecting to see a lion or two in a cage: I had NO IDEA we would see a group of lions almost sixty in number!!
But I must speak about the school visit first, so bear with me.
The point of the field trip was to visit a rural South African School with a 100% pass rate. I was very excited about this prospect because the pass rate in most rural, South African schools are well below 100%. I was told by my deputy principal at "my" primary school that the pass rate was 50% (which is considered a high pass rate, by some).
I wanted to see this school and learn their "secret." What were they doing for their learners that might help ours?
Well, I was more than a bit disappointed to learn that we would be visiting a "white" school. And I thought to myself, "Well, there is your reason for a 100% pass rate!"
How racist of me! But it's true: the school has resources, books, qualified educators, classrooms, extra-curricular activities, involved parents, computers, learners with both parents, learners with full bellies--you name it--they had it!
I asked if the school "had enough money" and was told, "No, but we fund-raise to make up the difference."
And there is the sticking point: This school is able to fundraise because their fund-base (families of learners) has money to give. In my school, the fund-base is families living in poverty, so the families have no money to give. My families want to give and want to support their children's schools, but the families are usually struggling to pay the standard school fees, purchase the required uniforms, and shoes for their kids. (This without even mentioning their struggles to pay for food, electricity, water, etc., basic living needs.)
It's really heartbreaking. So, I'm asking any and all, Do you know of any effective fund-raising strategies to employ for people living in poverty?
But the school was great, the kids were great, the administration was great, the educators were great. It was a wonderful day and I'm glad to have gone. And, after all, Afrikaners are a "different" people too!--yet another group to live with and learn from... And they were excited, I think, to encounter a group of Americans and learn a bit about American culture.
I have yet to blog about the "White Tribe of Africa" but hope to be brave enough to do so one day...
Okay, okay, the lions.
So, we drive to a private property with signs everywhere: "Lions on Property: Enter at Your Own Risk!" We drive onto the property and see herds of gemsbok (pictured) and other wild antelope. We scan the landscape in search of lions and our host, Cristo (that's him with the camera in one photo, photographing a very grumpy "alpha lion" that was not happy with our intrusion to their feast), would assure us, "The lions are caged."
And then I saw it in the distance: this enormous, fenced in area and could see the lions pacing about inside. As I mentioned previously, I expected to see one or two lions and to see so many was nothing short of spectacular.
We arrived before the dinner truck and the lions weren't especially excited about our presence. We sat for awhile and I was completely content to stare at these amazing beasts, lounging contentedly in their cages, basking in the sun.
However, the time came for "dinner" to arrive and the lions were certainly keen to an approaching scent (the same scent that we would not be so keen about in a few minutes) and raised their heads in the direction of the approaching vehicle: the dead cattle were hauled in.
I asked about the cattle used for feeding the lions: were they killed specifically for the feeding or where they random corpses gathered as "trash removal"? Well, I was hoping for the answer to be the former, but it was not: the cattle fed to the lions were indeed those having died and the farmers wishing their removal.
The lions, familiar with the routine, became very excited at the appearance of a pick-up truck, with on carcass in its bed pulling a trailer with two more dead cows in tow. The lions came near the food-loading area of the cages and paced wildly and rubbed on the bars of the cage with their massive heads. They're behavior was very house-cat-like: a lot like our felines rubbing our knees in the kitchen at the sound of the can opening.
I anxiously watched all of this action unfolding, prayerfully hoping for the strength and integrity of the cage: we were literally inches away from these hungry lions. For the very first time in my life, I appreciated the horror of the Roman spectacle of "feeding one to the lions."
When the beef was loaded, the cage secured, and the feeding-gate raised, the lions entered. It wasn't as violent or as gory as I expected; but after all, the beef was already dead, there was no kill necessary, and the cattle certainly weren't bleeding. The lions simply surrounded the dead beef, lay down, and began eating. There was ripping of flesh and crunching of bones, but the feeding was amazingly low-key. Every once in awhile, some lion would grumpily growl if another lion was munching too near and of course, the alpha male was aggravated by our presence the whole time and snarled at the cameras. He must have fed well at an earlier feeding, because he was much more content to focus on us than the food.
Although it was certainly amazing to be so close to such magnificent beasts feeding in this way, I came away feeling sad, much in the same way I leave a zoo after a day of visiting animals. I find it inherently sad to see such animals, especially predators, being caged and fed. These beasts, as with all others, should (ideally) be living their lives in the wild, hunting and killing on their own.
Hmm, I wonder if the gentleman, who owns the lions, would consider it an option to charge admission for watching the lions feed. My primary school could certainly use the funds!
Soon, and thanks again Matson, for the amazing photos,Karen