Abrama: We are chatting to Ian Lentoor, a teacher born and bred in the most beautiful Cape. Ian, how did you manage to leave that place?
Ian: It was not easy to leave that pretty mountain and to search for luck and good fortune in a strange place. You know I was born in Steenberg and grew up in Grassypark in the Cape Flats where I also went to teacher's college.
Erik: Why did you choose teaching, Ian?
I: My family supported me in that. Everyone on my mother's side of the family is in the teaching profession. But today I feel it was my calling. When you are young, you don't really understand, you just go with the flow and do not always comprehend things working in the background.
E: But then you were probably so relieved that your parents approved of your choices.
A: You speak Afrikaans at home.
I: Yes, actually we speak ‘kombuistaal' which is unique to the Cape – an original mix and match of English and Afrikaans with Cape Malay influences.
A: Please say something in this wonderfully unique language.
I: Ja nee da kom ‘n taxi jong. Kom nou nou ry gou ry Mowbray toe.
Klim in klim in julle da onner. Wat maak julle? Ko stap aan stap aan.
Hello Antie, jy't darem ‘n mooi rok aan vedag. Antie, vi wie gat jy vedag jouself wys? Haai Antie vi jou issit net R2-50. Vi die aner seniors issit R3 ma ommat jy vedag so mooi is, Antie, vir jou R2. En wie is die pragtige klonkie wat saam met jou is? O Antie. Jou broerskindjie. Vi hom vra ons net 50 sent. Gewoonlik issit R1, ma hy kan inklim, Antie. Waantoe gaat Antie? Bo-Kaapse parade? Lieflik. Dis waartoe ons almal na toe gaan. Klim in Antie. Hallo kom julle wat da aankom. Wat, het julle eiers onner julle se voete? Kom, maak aanstaltes. Hie gaan ons, hie ry ons.
A: How lovely! Makes us all long for the Cape. Let us talk about being a teacher.
I: Well, you know, when you have finished your training, you are still not really prepared for the real teaching world. You know all about the curriculum and so forth, yes, but they do not teach you the real truth of what is happening out there. I found out that being a teacher entails being a parent to the kids because during the school day you teach kids about right and wrong. Like…no, it is wrong to swear at someone else. Do not push other kids around. That is not good manners. You know, the things a parent would teach their child. And then you have to be a policeman as there is so much violence going on in our schools. Kids who hit one another and get into fist fights think that is the norm. That is how they have grown up and what they see happening around them. They think it is acceptable to resolve conflict in his way.
If I may mention one case [in South Africa] where a boy came running to me for protection with another chasing him, knife in hand. There is no time to think, you just react instinctively. I just had to keep him safe and tried holding off the other boy and the shiny blade of the knife is waved in front of my face, but the young boy had a chance to jump over the fence and get away.
A: Wow, I have been a teacher too, but have never experienced this kind of thing.
I: Yes, you have to be strong and just hang in there. Those kinds of experiences make you a better and richer person. And then you have to be a priest. You have to teach the kids a good sense of right and wrong and to love their neighbours. Well, the sad part of it is that then and only then are you able to get to the curriculum – for the last 5% to 10% of the school day!
E: That shows how impossible it is for people to live with that kind of sadness and brokenness in their lives. They use their intelligence just to survive. I reckon that the 90% that you do for them in this area, means much more than book knowledge in their lives.
I: You are a role model for many kids. If dad is using drugs or sits in jail, the child cannot look to him for guidance. My experience as a teacher taught me that a child who does not have a role model to look to or has been disappointed by his role model does not have any direction and lives by his instincts.
A: It is wonderful, Ian, that you are able to live your calling every day and make a difference in these kids' lives. But please tell us how you got employment in Oz.
I: My visa allowed me to find work in regional Victoria only, then you look for the biggest town and go and try your luck. We stayed with my brother and his family in Frankston and I remember so well…it was a Wednesday (during school holidays too!) that I took the ferry over to Geelong and started knocking on doors at schools. I reckoned school principals are usually at the schools even though it was holidays. Well, I visited 40 schools, but found only a few principals in their offices. Thus it was late afternoon when I found myself at the primary school in Torquay and the crows are even yawning on the roof so quiet is it. Nothing is happening there. But I knock on the door. I started turning away when the door opened behind me. The principal, a woman all by herself, even invited me in, recognised my Afrikaans accent, of course, and we started chatting, about her daughter who is married to a Free State farmer and Mandela. She had a quick look at my resume and then offered me a position. I was very privileged to work there.
But there are difficult days too. I look at these kids who are so fortunate and have too much to eat and I think: What the heck am I doing here? What difference can I make? The wastage of food really annoyed me so much. And then I started talking about kids who go hungry for days. I started telling them stories about the kids on the Cape Flats. And they listen and go back home and tell their parents who come to thank me for what I am teaching them. If they can at least realise that there is a lot of hardship in other places and be grateful for what they have it makes me feel as though I have made a difference.
A: Ian, you share things from your heart and people recognise that. We wish you lots of good fortune in the years ahead.
Abrama and Erik's show is broadcast on Radio Pulse 94.7FM every Wednesday at 6pm.
Read the full transcript of this interview in Afrikaans http://www.sabona.com.au/articles_detail.ews?articles_detail.ewdid=519