Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Right now, now-now, just now, later

One of the first lessons that I had to learn when I got to Cape Town was that when someone says "I'll be there just now" they don't mean "now." Sometimes, they don't even mean "soon." Instead, that phrase is reserved for some time floating in the undesignated future. Meanwhile "now-now," which sounds to my untrained American ear as "immediately," is actually referring to some time soon-ish, usually before "just now."

Now that I understand these non-intuitive phrases, they're actually proving to be quite useful as I balance actively doing my project in Cape Town (RIGHT now), organizing the rest of my time in South Africa (now-now), planning the second half of my Watson (just now), and starting to brainstorm what I want my life to look like after August (later).

Right Now in Cape Town:
This past month, I've gone on a few school visits around Cape Town, giving my usual interactive talk and engaging with kids in my standard way. I've seen a variety of schools in several neighborhoods with varying resources and school infrastructures as well as a diversity of student populations.

All of the schools I've visited are "public," but most schools still charge fees, and the school decides how high the fees are. In some ways, it reminds me of my home in Montgomery County, Maryland, where there is a wide range of public schools, in a variety of neighborhoods. The difference is that schools in the Bethesda/Chevy Chase area are still technically free and therefore the same cost as schools in Silver Spring or Wheaton, even though they have more resources and typically nicer facilities. In Cape Town, you can clearly see the differences those higher schools fees make, with smaller class sizes, more resources, after-school clubs and so on.

In addition to school visits, I'm attempting to also think outside the box, and engage with kids in more informal settings. In my original Watson proposal, I envisioned times when I would chat with kids and families in public parks and not always need the formal educational structure of schools. In Chile and Nepal, lack of green spaces, language barrier, and my own uncertainties prevented this from happening. In South Africa, I have no excuses, and feel determined to follow through and make it work.

So, this past weekend, I went with some friends and a bag full of crafts and supplies to Green Point Park, my favorite urban park in Cape Town. When my mom was here, we were amazed by this expansive, intricate, and inclusive park. We joked that it looked a little like Sesame Street, with kids from all backgrounds playing and working together.

As a first attempt, it worked fairly well. Some kids came over, and while painting a rocket or planet on their face, we'd talk about what they knew about astronomy. Usually they said things like "the moon is made of cheese," (it is, right?) but sometimes other spurts of creativity and imagination came out. I'm hoping to do this at least once more before leaving Cape Town, improving with more time and better quality face paint.

Last week, I also visited the Cape Town Planetarium and Cape Town Science Center, reminding me how much I adore these types of informal education spaces. I hope later on to go back and observe how they work with visiting school groups to see what the experience is like for kids.
Standing on the Western Cape in the Cape Town Science Center.
Now-now: My trip across South Africa
Tomorrow I'll leave for a cross-country, multi-city, solo adventure around South Africa, visiting planetariums and observatories in large cities, but also stopping in small towns and hopefully hosting small star parties and perhaps visiting schools. The route will look something like this:

While I'll miss the routine and community I have in Cape town, I'm looking forward to a change of pace and the chance to explore this country through the lens of my project.

Just Now: Watson Ahead
The latest and greatest update is that I've officially added Ethiopia to my project list. I'll be going just for a short three week visit from late March to early April. Who knows why, but I've always wanted to travel to Ethiopia. (I credit the Ethiopian community in the D.C. area as well as the Ethiopian art in my grandparents house.) They have a burgeoning observatory and professional astronomy community there, and as a consequence, outreach is continuing to grow. I'm looking forward to exploring a very different part of Africa and learning how astronomy education is developing there.

After Ethiopia, I'll be back in Cape Town briefly, hopefully with a quick jaunt to up Namibia for a week (stay tuned). Then, in mid April, I'll finally push off to New Zealand. As I've cut into my time there dramatically, I'm working to plan my time there as best I can to make it as productive as possible.

Later: Post-Watson thoughts?
This area of planning is still very open, very theoretical, and very far away, as far as I'm concerned. My project, though, is making me think more and more about my life after August. I am certain in my passion for using astronomy to make the world a better place, but this is so open-ended and my path to making that happen could go many many ways. Should I pursue a higher degree in astronomy? Should I instead think of studying global education? National education policies? Science communication?

One of the many wonderful things about working with the Office of Astronomy for Development has been being mentored by Kevin Govender, who is so generous with his time and sharing his infinite wisdom on these matters (usually in exchange for a loaf of freshly baked bread). For now, he's advised me to consider not what I want to be, or what I want to do, but instead what I want to learn, and taking it from there. I'm hoping for some time to reflect on that fantastic advice as I spend the next weeks in buses, seeing this country and reflecting on my time here.

As always, thanks for reading! If you have any, comments are always greatly appreciated.

1 comment:

  1. MAYAMY!

    Erica here, your long lost Catoctin friend! How the freak did I not know you've been doing this for the past 6 months?? We are the worst at keeping in touch! The woes of not having a facebook! In any case, I just read your blog from beginning to end (not end, just current), and looked at all your pictures, and read all about the Watson and your project, and I am just FREAKING OUT this is all so cool! I'm extremely jealous/proud of you. I guess right now you are on some awesome South African coastal adventure, so I don't know how much access you have to the interwebs, but I would love to hear from you/tell you more about how excited I am for you! This is an incredible project. You are an incredible person! Can't wait to hear more about your adventures!