Sunday, August 12, 2007

Apartheid, Durban Brother's Convalescence and My QwaQwa Boss Hassles, 1987

1987. Sentinel Primary pupils, Mark Esslemont's poorly resourced classroom, QwaQwa

After ten days, Fraser emerged from his coma. His wounds healed, but he had amnesia, and he hyperactively wandered wards and streets in his pyjamas. He wandered Durban beachfront past XL tearoom, along South Beach to West Street. Citizens directed him back to Addington. Nurses made a sign and hung it around Fraser's neck. It read:


Doctors moved Fraser to a drug addicts' ward, where a male nurse said, "Fraser will never be the same as before his accident."

Doctors moved Fraser to a geriatrics' ward, where some patients were brain-damaged by accidents, strokes or senility. Some were fed by intravenous drips. One old man had one leg. A spastic man dribbled when jerkily feeding his contorted face. Most of his food fell onto his bed or on the floor. A young man perseverated, twisting bed-grilles, trying to loosen them, so he could wraith around Addington.

One weekend, I found agitated Fraser curling foetally on the floor of a dark ward. "Look after me," said Fraser. "I need to hide." Nurses hadn't even noticed.

Next weekend, Fraser lay abed convulsing, his limbs rigid. A doctor shooed me away. A nurse shook her head whispering, "Fraser has convulsed for two days. It would be better if he died. Fraser has a high temperature, but doctors have stopped Fraser's antipsychotics, which will lower his temperature, and stop his convulsions."

Fraser lay abed for months, speechless, his fit muscles wasting, contracting, pointing his feet, like a ballerina's. His right hand clawed, his right wrist stiffened inwards. He sweated, shat, stank. His tanned skin paled, like a dead fish. Nurse-fed food layered his teeth. His mouth stank. He lay abed - rigid, staring.

Harold I Kaplan and Benjamin J Sadock in Clinical Psychology, Williams & Wilkins, Hong Kong, 1988, said that side-effects of antipsychotic drugs dispensed to brain-damaged patients could cause convulsions and life-threatening high temperatures, called Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome: usually striking males. Mortality rate: 15-25%. Doctors never mentioned that to me.

Modinger didn't teach, but asked for my teaching records. Later Modinger sent me Koekie's gaudy schemes-of-work file with a blackmail note: "Your records is bad. We insist you put coloured plastic file-dividers in your schemes-of-work file. See Koekie's file. Koekie are a new teacher. Her work are excellent. She jist completes her teachers diploma. She travels from Kestell every day. You lives in QwaQwa. You claim twelve years teaching experience. You have not checked all class registers. You must improve!" (Paraphrased). Modinger being principal of an English-medium school was ridiculous.

Du Toit lingered in Modinger's office. Oooompa! Oooompa! Ooompapa!...

My note to Modinger: "Some staff didn't hand in their registers, so I couldn't check all registers."

Modinger called me to her office. I wandered past two Sotho girls polishing the floor on hands and knees. Shine-shine-shine-shine... Modinger sat behind her desk, drinking white koffie. "Yarr rrecorrds an' rregizderr checkin' iz nod goodanuv!" she said.

"So what?" I said. "I was told at my job interview that I'd get a Bult house. That hasn't happened. Du Toit says we must leave our Tshiya Street house at year's end, or we can buy a house in a dorp or Exclusive Suburb." Modinger rolled her eyes. "After arriving in our filthy medical house, we cleaned kitchen, floors, walls, garage and khaya. Garden grass was a metre high."

"Vhy didn' youz cuddud?" Modinger gulped her koffie and choked.

"I did. Du Toit and QDC wasted months finalizing our rent agreement. Renoster wasted weeks before unblocking our sewage pipes - a health hazard. You've ignored my science budget. Science and ECA sports aren't important at Sentinel. Pupils often break toilet roll dispensers, and I must fix them. Ergo Leah and I have boils."

"Izzid?" Modinger's eyes bulged, her Adam's-apple bobbed up, then slid down.

"Sentinel doesn't have an adequate water-supply, and your two taps are a health-hazard. Quotidian my pupils frisson while filling plastic bowls with water and Milton cleanser to wash their hands in class. Some pupils don't know how to brush their teeth!"

Modinger flushed.

"Luister! You hold me responsible for your teachers' registers. Some are too lazy to do them. Others can't balance registers doing simple arithmetic. They shouldn't be teachers. And register balancing is your secretary's job. You compare me unfavourably with inexperienced Koekie whose spoken English is poor. You only have three native -English speakers in this so-called English-medium school."

Modinger sucked her breath in, hissing between clenched teeth: "Youzzz marrk bookzzz durrin' azzembliezzz!"

"Correct. My lesson preparation and marking time was wasted while I was taxi driver. You hadn't the courtesy to ask me if I minded using my van as a school taxi. My van was rubbished!"

"Jy praat te veel!" shrieked Modinger. I walked out - purged. The corridor shone. Zhine-zhine-zhine-zhine ne? A thunder-storm raged outside. I cycled through muddy streets, past piles of stinking rubbish. Eh! Kwa! Dammit!

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