Thursday, May 7, 2009

Education, ceremonies and costumes

A month as gone by since my last post. Very busy. One of the things I did do last month was graduate from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa with a PhD in Agricultural Extension Education. And this event made me think of two things: education and ceremonies and costumes.

Let's start with education. It is a strange thing. By profession I am an educator -- a senior lecturer at a university. It is a mis-nomer because I rarely lecture. Mostly I create opportunities for students to discover. But that aside, although I am an educator, I have had little (no!) training in education. My PhD was partly in education, so at least I do have a smattering of the theory behind it. My work (or at least the part on education) was around curriculum and learning outcomes; and I had to develop a new method for evaluating and developing curriculum.

My fundamental philosophy for education comes from three passages from the Writings of Baha'u'llah. The first of these is: "Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom." (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 259)

The second is: "Out of the wastes of nothingness, with the clay of My command I made thee to appear, and have ordained for thy training every atom in existence and the essence of all created things." (The Persian Hidden Words, No. 29)

And the third is: "Man is the supreme Talisman. Lack of a proper education hath, however, deprived him of that which he doth inherently possess." (Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 259)

It seems to me that these three passages pretty much sum up education -- that education is about discovering the gems within ourselves, discovering that which we "inherently possess" and using all the atoms -- that is all creation -- as the vehicle for discovery.

This said, it is rather cool to think that students are 'talismen' in the making. Magical beings with supernatural powers that offer protection. And our job as educators is to awaken those powers. But the question is: powers of protection to protect what? Mankind -- the beneficiary of the the education of people.

And it is rather instructive that education as a mining (discovery) process should incorporate and understanding that what is learned (discovered) should be of benefit to others (mankind) and is meant to be shared (applied, put to work). And that is more or less how I go about my teaching work. It makes for interesting work... and it is generally a real challenge for my students who, for the most part, would rather just be told what to learn and remember it for an exam. But seeing as my first year classes have grown from 25 to over 100 in the last few years, and similar growth has occurred in my other classes, it is reasonably safe to say that beside all the protests... the students feel they benefit from the approach.

So much for education, what of ceremonies and costumes?

Well, this is far less heady... When I was a boy I loved wearing costumes. I had costumes for all occasions. I regularly changed costumes to watch different television programmes -- wearing a costume suited to the programme. I even had a (fake) leopard skin loin cloth for watching "Bomba". Now, many, many years after "Bomba", after living in his land, and having had to put on a costume for the purpose of graduation (it comes complete with really cool hat shaped rather like a velvet pillow)... having had to put on this costume I realised that costumes are the stuff of life -- and they are often linked to ceremonies. Consider first communion -- not that I ever had it -- but, from my wife I understand that it is a very formal ceremony with a costume. Consider dating, the ceremony is less formal (but it is there), likewise the costume (not fixed, but just the right ensemble is a must. Consider weddings. Very formal ceremony, very formal costume. Consider work: ceremonies and costumes. Court rooms: ceremonies and costumes. And the most obvious is royal occasions whether of the church or the state... all costumes and ceremonies.

So what does this tell me? It tells me that I had to get all the way through to a PhD to learn what I knew at 5 years old watching "Bomba" and "Doktari" -- life is very much about ceremonies and costumes. So Cameron... don't ever empty that closet. There is a ceremony waiting for each of those costumes.

I leave you with this thought: if you don't have any ceremonies in your life, then get some... and if you have ceremonies without the costumes... then you are really missing out on life... be conscious of the ceremonies of life and always, always wear the right costume... even if it is an imitation leopard skin loin cloth.


Friday, April 3, 2009


So it turns out that blogging is another activity that requires discipline! I hear somewhere that until you past a test in life, that test will continue to present itself. Discipline has eluded me from the beginning. Fortunately I have been able to mask my lack of discipline with energy and hard work.

Here in South Africa, we are heading for winter. The Baha'i Fast ended (21 March) as the sun crossed the equator on its way north -- ending one of the loveliest summers we ever had. Lots of sun but lots of rain ... which meant lots of green and a river (about 100 metres from the house) in full flood. To a house full of boys, long (14hour), warm, sunny days and a swift moving current is a real boon... out come the innertubes and off the boys go tubing down the rapids.

But now the sun has crossed the equator and the days are getting shorter and the warmth is rapidly being taken north... and we are not so excited about the river.

I have discovered the magic of the morning. I remember it when I was younger, before I had a house full of children (there have been 13 children through my house over the last 29 years). But at the beginning of the Fast, I gave myself a litte challenge. Most people who know me, know that I am not very sporty. I lifted weights and played badminton and handball (fives) in high school. Most people who know me also know that I am very prone to putting on weight (I understand it has something to do with eating too much). So at the beginning of this Fast, I decided I would challenge myself to walk for at least 30 minutes each day. Now understand, 30 minutes in my day is a lot. So the first question was where to find the 30 minutes. I found it in the same place I have always found time... under the blankets in my lovely warm bed. So instead of getting up at 5am, I now get up at 4:30am. It takes about 30 minutes to get my engine running... which I do catching up on emails between 4:30 and 5am. Then between 5 and 5:30 I am on the road.

Well, the good news is that since 2 March, I have not missed a day. The better news is that I have increased by distance covered from 3km to 4 km per morning. And the better better news is that I now jog (instead of walk) the entire 4 km. (I managed that for the first time this morning.)

These morning outings are great. So far I have not had any trouble with rain. A little fog, but no rain. It is very dark at that time, so the stars are heavenly (!). I get to watch the moon (sometimes set, sometimes rise) and I get to watch the sky lighten as dawn approaches.

And as I finish off at 5:30... huffing and puffing... I call my daughter Kiara to remind her to get out on her walk.
Perhaps...just perhaps, I am finally acquiring this virtue called discipline. And you know what... it's not all that bad.

for now,

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Today was the second day of the Baha'i Fast... a good day. We have had so much rain that most things were getting mouldy and muddy... but today was great. Sunny, blue skies and perfect clouds. The river by the house is in flood and is roaring away. Decided to work at home... opened all the windows and just let the fresh air do its work.

I wrote at least a dozen letters today.. and solve a dozen little problems at work. And my son, Sabelo phoned out of the blue... he recently moved to Cape Town (about 3 months ago) to take up a fantastic job in the provincial government; his first real job since completing varsity a year ago. It was nice to know that he was missing home.

Tomorrow is a Durban day... attending for the first time as a member of the Advisory Board for the Department of Agriculture of the Mangosutho University of Technology. Should be interesting... one of my former students in lecturing there. Cool fellow named Malose.

About the Fast... each year, Baha'is fast (no food or drink) from sunrise to sunset for 19 days, 2-20 March. It is a wonderful time to reassess and recharge while on your feet. It 'forces' you into a pattern of early rising and gentle living. Helps you to refocus on that which is really of value in life and to get a perspective on the world about us. It is one of my favourite times of year. Each year I try to read through a particular Baha'i book during the Fast. This year is a small compilation of the Writings of Baha'u'llah about the Station of the Manifestion of God. So far I am enjoying the clarity it brings. The picture is a nighttime view of the entrance to the Shrine of Baha'u'llah near Akka in the Holy Land. My family and I were recently there on pilgrimage.. the photo is mine.

I am looking at the clock and see that it is nearly 1 am and I must be up at 430am... so for now

sala kahle

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Getting started

So finally I have gotten a "round-tuit" and started my blog...
This is my 30th year in Africa... having arrived in October of 1979. Hence the name of the blog. You will see I sign off as "Farmboy" -- my nickname from my wife ('cause that's more or less what I was when we met)

I have spent most of it South Africa (including 17 years in the erstwhile Bophuthatswana) but have had a number of forays into other parts of this great continent.

Today is 1 March 2009. It is the last day of the Baha'i gift-giving period: Ayyam-i-Ha (Ah-yom-ee-ha). Tomorrow we start our Fast and the last month of the Baha'i year... and it seems to be a good day to start a new sort of venture.

I have no idea at this point what shape The African Wayfarer will take, but then, I suppose that's the point of wayfaring... having a basic plan in mind but looking forward to the unseen around the next bend or over the next hill.

My wayfaring has been driven by my affiliation to the Faith of Baha'u'llah (the Baha'i Faith). Hindsight confirms the rational wisdom of this otherwise wholly spiritually driven life choice. And it is with no small measure of wonder and gratitude that in a time and a continent beset with such difficulties that there is a general serenity in my life (which includes the chaos of a house in constant motion).

I was taught to be generous in prosperity and thankful in adversity. Neither have needed to learn too well.. my wife is most generous with my prosperity...and I haven't quite figured out what adversity is... for by comparison to the lives endured by so many (including many who have passed over my threshold) my life is a proverbial 'walk in the park.'
Today we will be in Mpophomeni (ignore the h) to watch a play called "Roots of My Hope" written and directed by my daughter, Kiara. She has been working with a group of youth (mostly Zulu and South African 'coloured') for the last 2 years. They have been using community theatre and drama to identify and discuss some very tough social issues... violence, child-headed households, drugs, sex, education in a failing system. One result is this play. I saw it yesterday. It was amazing (like most everything Kiara does).
After the play we have a party for the Baha'i children.. a favourite annual event in our community.
Sala Kahle