For the first time, Rehaba moved fast with freedom in her body, energetically hitting target. For the next thirty seconds she laughed loudly, dancing in a way she only would around a group of women. Melita speaks with her eyes. She is focused on the lesson, responsive when concepts click, and sweetly appreciates our initiative to be here. Tsolofelo speaks up first when she can answer a question, and makes sure we know how this learning is affecting her daily choices. At the start of class, everyone greets every individual with a hello and how are you. Facing the class when we speak, we stand next to an interested and talented young translator from the communities. We’ve narrowed down to three regular translators to make sure our classes run smoothly. These young women have no easy job. We say part of a sentence in English, she translates in a similar tone in Sepedi. We finish the sentence, then she does. This has allowed classes to stay at a learnable pace. We remember Thato saying, unprompted, to the classes on day one: “Listen, anything you chat about in this room will be translated to the teachers!” These girls even make sure everyone is kept up to speed on jokes said in the other language. Hats off to Thato, Lebo, and Naomi.
We have been holding classes for the volunteer caregivers of centers that feed vulnerable children after school. As I’m sure you guessed, they are women with big hearts. Over the past five weeks we have been in six different areas, teaching twice a day, six days per week. It has become clear who is invested in understanding the material we have to offer. Many women walk a couple miles in the heat, ready to learn. Some have raked the rocks out of their center’s large yard and set up chairs and a table with cups for water before our morning arrival.
In the first class at each center our students answered a questionnaire so that Krysti would be teaching at their level, not above or below (e.g. bar charts were understood but percentages were not). Then the students were given a fifteen minute introduction to training self defense, including reminders of the possible sensitivities of this type of training, to always listen to the safety-in-training tips, how to encourage/support training partners, to clean up any blood, what bodily weapons we have, and the prevailing principles of Krav Maga (self defense).
Each group is given a nutrition presentation in the first half of the week and a Q&A session in the second half. Presentations have included an introduction to the application of modern nutrition, the digestive system, the job of proteins, types of carbohydrates and benefits of fats. There have been practical discussions on how to apply this knowledge. Other questions have been about preventing and dealing with illness, diabetes and fatigue, as well as improving their existing composting. Local government-provided dietitians recommend specific changes in these women’s diets, such as eating less sugar, without explanation. Hopefully Krysti’s course is giving the “why” behind health choices.
What we are all learning is that though there is little money in the area, there is room to redirect how it’s used. Simply knowing more about food’s effects has the women wondering how they can shift their current diets in small ways, such as using less mayonnaise, soda, and white bread, while choosing the less processed peanut butter, and adding more beans and fruits. Some of the women have been vocal about how much different the diet is in their home now that they have been learning.
Self defense classes run at a different pace than in the US. Finding their body in space, following these types of directions, realizing what it takes to improve physical techniques, and engaging in fitness are mostly new experiences. In order to find the aggression needed to stop an assailant and hit target, we began with skill practice in groin kicks, palm strikes, hammer-fists, hooks, elbows, and straight punches. We train wrist releases, choke defenses, redirecting a punch, being grabbed from behind, and haymaker blocks. Coming up will be turning into face the fight while doing damage, and schoolyard headlock. 100% of the women and 98% of the teens have never done organized sports. Finding their body in space is new, exciting, and a sometimes a bit messy. For example, in the US I’ve had no problem showing the single step taken to face left or right, whether explaining with my words or solely my body. The first class I tried it with here ended up looking more like an off balance dance troupe. The second class got it. We have seen success both in deep and simple explanations, and learning through experiencing a movement. So both Krysti and I introduce a topic a few times in different ways until it sinks in for all. Over the past nine years I’ve taught because of that moment when something clicks, when someone gets it. Due to the amount of effort it takes here, and the newness of the material, those moments are just the sweetest!
Even though topics have been discussed around listening skills, remaining sensitive and serious about the material, and being able to talk to me if need be, many students need regular reminders. Yet when one woman drew blood she immediately stepped back from the group and stated that she was not sure if she was HIV positive or not (which is illegal to ask another in this country). It was good to see that if there is blood, they know the dangers and speak up.
Violence truly is woven into these societies, yet both the idea of fighting back, physical activity, and progressing beyond natural talent is new to most. And when someone has never released physical power in a safe space, laughter is nearly unavoidable. The translators and myself do not laugh inappropriately, giving room for serious training.
It is very clear that violence is engrained in normal life, so if I would create a teacher, I would need to know they not only agree that violence is only meant for defense but also be able to stand for that message. I specifically approached the self defense classes in a way that remains culturally sensitive. I did not reprimand mothers for beating their kids, or the dog for that matter. I explained that everyone has their line. Just yesterday I opened up to explain that I do not personally approve of any form of physical violence, as it can teach children that it is an acceptable means to maintain dominance. These women face communal and familial problems if they fight back, so fighting back will always remain their choice. Yet now these women know what they are capable of, so we have one thing in common: we would not hesitate to defend our lives. The message has gotten across: respond without hesitation and give it your best if you do choose to respond.
There are innumerable moments we could share, but here are a few. Some have been mentioned on Instagram and Facebook as well:
- Krysti’s three hour workshop to fix a door was full of learning. A man tried to come in and take over, then realized Krysti was actually taking the time to teach these women how to properly saw, use a screw driver, measure, mark, disassemble, align, reassemble and reinforce. He eventually was learning how to use the tools right alongside the women.
- A nurse we became friendly with wanted to learn how diabetes works in the body by taking a class from Krysti.
- No student has ever looked at a food label before. Like stated earlier, it turns out they can afford the slightly better brands 🙂
- True successful self defense stories are being told since we have begun the trainings.
- Lives are truly being changed.