Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Well we are about to head off to the Wild Coast for 10 days of fun and sun relaxing on the beach! But before we go I wanted to compose the traditional fake Christmas letter, I'm not going to attempt to write about what the rest of the family is up to so it will be even more egotistical than ever...

Dumelang Family, Friends, and Peace Corps Blog Stalkers,

At the end of 2008, we left our heroes Thabs and Lebza on their way to the Outer Banks for another New Years Eve extravaganza with brother Thom and his posse. After narrowly escaping being swallowed whole by the ocean miles away from the nearest road only rescued by the internet's knowledge of Suzuki gear shifts, they returned to dusty Tucson to finish their studies at The Academy for Superhero Studies (known to laypeople as The University of Arizona). They were blessed with visits from both of their families which, contrary to expectations, were actually quite fun. In May, they earned their masters' in Bilingual and Multicultural Shapeshifting and Teaching and Tail Growing Education.

They left Tucson after destroying all their opponents at Himmel Park at one last kickball game and all the beers at Bob Dobbs' (well Thabs did, Lebza was still taking a unique shapeshifter medication that did not allow the consumption of alcohol.) They trekked across the country, accompanied by their magical kitten Omar who entertained them by whistling 'The Farmer in the Dell' the whole way. They stopped at such exciting destinations as the Grand Canyon, Arches National Park, Vail, and some Days Inn in Nebraska.

They spent a month in Ohio and a month in Virginia using their newfound skills to rid the dangerous streets of South Denmark Road and Spring Beauty Court of crime for years to come. Numerous side trips were taken to relax from all the crimefighting they were doing in the peaceful and crime-free spots of New York City, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Richmond, and Islesboro. Lebza made her first foray into the great white North gambling the night away at Niagara Falls.

Finally, they felt their training was complete and were ready for their next challenge. Under the guise of Peace Corps Volunteers, they undertook the journey to South Africa. Though they easily could have teleported themselves directly to their training site, they chose to undertake the 18 hour flight so as not to reveal their identities to their Fellow PCVs.

After two months of nightly crime fighting practice at their training site, they were well versed in the ways of the supervillans of rural South Africa, and they moved to their permanent site. There they began to delve into a number of crimes committed by unruly giraffes and hungry hungry hippos. During the day, they continued their front, working with the schools and district office. They actually managed to convince some people that they knew something about education when they were really plotting their revenge on their giraffe adversaries.

Now we must leave our heroes again until next time as they head off to the next adventure, a week of shark fighting on the Wild Coast. Will they be able to fight off a pack of hungry great whites? Will Thabs ride a dolphin to Atlantis? Will Lebza ever stick to one eye color?

Until next time, sala sentle...

Thabs & Lebza

P.S. This is obviously not true.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dont worry becca hasnt gotten rid of me...yet

I grabbed a wild monkey by the tail.
Opening an old age home is a huge priority.
I realizes that the Steelers have a four percent chance of getting into the playoffs but I still believe.
Finally understands cricket but still doesnt “get it”
Is surprised that there not more statements like “That was a master piece of fielding by Alistair Cooke.” (starter for England Cricket team) are made especially because cricket can be 3 days long.
They call me mister Thabs.
Two words for tonight Crazy Games
My favorite part of the holiday season is watching 7 year olds with firecrackers throwing them at each other.
I have a pet frog named Omar.
I am convinced that Botswana is going to be exactly like South Africa.
Nobody reads this blog.
I am surprised that since so many people like Kenny Rogers and chicken that Kenny Rogers Roasters is not as ubiquitous as KFC.
I think President Obama should accept my invitation to visit me during the World Cup.
I want the rancheros and I want them bad.
That is what she said

Friday, December 11, 2009

what is development?

I know it's crazy...two posts in two days...but I've been contemplating this for a while now, and James is off at a meeting for who know how long so I've got plenty of time to post.

Two weeks ago a girl was hit by a police car and had both of her legs broken. She and many other middle and high school students were out in the streets celebrating the end of exams. The ambulance came and took her to the hospital. She'll be fine and ready to start 10th grade in a month. In Chad, she would have been crippled for the rest of her life unless her family was one of the richest in the village and could afford to take her themselves to the hospital in Kelo or Moundou. It led me to start thinking about how I see development in terms of my experience in one of the richest countries in Africa compared to one of the poorest. So here's some of the differences I've noticed.

Electricity - In South Africa, electricity comes from the power company. It goes out some times, and you call them to come fix it. Everything uses electricity...refrigerators, tvs, stoves, toasters, hot water heaters (geysers), kettles, fans, heaters, lights, computers, fax machines. When the electricity goes out, everyone complains about how boring it is. In Chad, electricity comes from generators if at all. It is used to power lights, to charge cell phones at the local shop, to power the one blender in the village that makes smoothies (if you are lucky) and the one refrigerator in the village that keeps soda cold.

Building - In South Africa, tin roofs are for poor people, tile roofs for the more well off, and thatched roofs are for safari lodges. In Chad, thatched roofs are for poor people and tin roofs are for the more well off. In South Africa, people have cement patios and plastered houses (if not brick). In Chad, people cement half way up the wall just to show that they could afford that much cement.

Water - In South Africa, there are water faucets in people's yards and houses. The one well that you have to pull from yourself is a funny anomaly at the Catholic church. The water may not come, but the infrastructure is there. In Chad, pulling from the well is a daily reality and carrying water from the water tower back to your house is a luxury.

Towns - In South Africa, towns are places with industry, chain shops, malls, restaurants, and grocery stores where people live in flats or houses with electric fences. In Chad, towns are bigger versions of villages with bigger markets, where you may be able to buy vache qui rit (Laughing Cow cheese) if you are lucky.

Transport - In South Africa, taxis belong to taxi associations. They have routes and must follow certain rules. There are never more than 13 or 14 passengers in a taxi. People travel all the time to go shopping in town, to visit relatives, to go to work. People commute hours every day or week or month. Many people have their own cars. In Chad, taxis are piled high with baggage on top and usually 20 people inside (or in the back of the truck). People hardly ever leave their villages and if the do travel they stay for months because of the cost of the trip. No one has a car, but those who can afford them have motorcycles.

Police - In South Africa, the police are people that are looking out for the best interest of citizens. You can file a police report and they will investigate it. They are seen as an asset to the community (except to our host mom). In Chad, the police sit around drinking tea, harrass and sometimes arrest people for no reason.

Schools - In South Africa, teachers are monitored and receive support from the government. They are constantly being encouraged to attend workshops, given new information about the curriculum, and encouraged to use participatory learning. In Chad, the curriculum for each subject for each grade is a page long and references books the teachers have never seen before. They don't receive much support from beyond the principal and there is no effort to reform the educational system.

And these are just some of the many blatent differences that strike me every day. I don't want to say that South Africa is a better place than Chad because I don't believe that at all, but instead to look at how development plays out in the everyday. I think people have a tendency to look at South Africa negatively because of the huge gap between rich and poor, yet there is so much going for this country even in the rural areas that people take for granted. They have the tools to close the gap that it will take poorer countries years to develop in infrastructure. That is one of the reasons I am so excited to be working here as I feel like I can do a lot to be a part of that in a short time. I hope I can take what I learn here and bring it with me when I return to work in countries that do not have these resources.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


After 6 days electricity free, Eskom finally came and fixed it for us this evening. It was kind of amazing since we had kind of gotten to the point of thinking they weren't coming at all. Mma tried to seduce them into coming with lies about us having very important work to do on computers. James tried to attract them over from the neighbors' yesterday with his impressive Setswana skills. But we still had to wait our turn and they got to us on the list around 6 tonight. It's crazy how dependent you become on electricity when you have an electric stove, kettle, fridge, tv, etc, but after a week of sandwiches we are definitely happy to have our electricity back.

But I shouldn't say we haven't been eating only sandwiches. The week has been full of parties. On Sunday, we attended a confirmation party for Mma's brother's granddaughter also named Lebogang. It was in her home village, a bit south and west of here (it's not that far, but it took 2 hours on a taxi since we had to go to our shopping town and then there). It was nice to meet more of the extended fam as Mma has lots of brothers and sisters and various cousins, nephews, nieces, and grandchildren were also there. We didn't go to the actual confirmation, but showed up at the house around 11 thinking they'd be back from the church by 1 (there were lots of people already there when we got there cooking and hanging out). They didn't end up getting back until 3:30 and we had to leave shortly after the big entrance (people love to parade into parties and it's super fun. They have a brass band and you dance down the street) to make it back before dark.

Then we've attended two farewell functions at our schools this week. These involve 3 to 5 hour programs with lots of speeches and performances by the children followed by lunch (one was at a reasonable 2 o'clock, but the other wasn't til 3:30 or so and I was about to die of hunger by that time). At one, we made the program and I gave out awards to the best children in each subject. One of my potential friends was there (the mother of one of the children and a former school governing body member) and I asked her if she would help me with the service learning club I'm doing with the 6th grade next year and she's super excited about it. Tomorrow we get even more free lunch as we are both going to all day planning meetings with two of our schools.

Things have been really falling into place lately. We're excited for our plans for next year, and the principals also seem pumped. A few of the curriculum specialists at the area office are really interested in working with us and have already asked us to do specific things. The education support center coordinator has a long list of programs for next year that she wants us to work on with her. We're helping the learnership kids and some community members to start an old age home (or trying to help). We may be a bit overwhelmed next year, but it's in a good way. Though we haven't done much in the way of work in the past three months, we've really started to find our place here, and it's just crazy the relationships we have already built and to think how much more time we'll have to build on them.

As for the near future, we're excited to go to a wedding in Botswana with our host mom, 2 of the principals, and some other friends then off to the Wild Coast with Peace Corps friends. And for the immediate future, we have to catch up on all the soapies we have missed with no electricity the last week.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Gearin up for T'giving

Well I tried to hold out and wait until James wrote a blog, but he says he doesn't have enough material yet. So hopefully, you will hear something witty from him soon. For now, I'm bored so you, faithful reader, get another rambly one from me.

Last week was quite a bizarre week. First of all it was cold and rainy. Well the first part of the week was just cold, but it basically rained all day and night Thursday and Friday and the normally hard ground became one giant sinkhole. I wore pants and all of the teachers at one of the schools were so shocked, they were like 'oh you need to wear pants more often, you look so sharp'. I find it funny that I dress more conservatively than most of the teachers and than everyone under the age of about 50. I've decided though that dressing like a gogo (grandma) is a good thing because everyone respects gogos. I do have one skirt that is just below my knees, shocking I know. That's what I wear when I want to dress like someone in her 40s.

So the cold was nice, but by the end, I was happy to see the sun come back out on Sunday and the warm to return. Saturday was the funeral of a friend of our mma's who was sadly murdered by the guy who did work for her around the house (they caught him) and there was another funeral for a baby who died on Thursday so poor Mma was out in the cold and wet cooking for these things from 3 a.m. Thursday and then Friday morning and over Friday night into Saturday. We were going to go help, but she decided it wasn't worth it because everyone was just standing around Friday afternoon waiting for the vegetables to show up. When they finally did, it was late and she and another lady were the only ones there so they stayed up all night chopping. The whole ordeal meant that she got sick and has been taking it very easy since. At the funeral, she was telling all these ladies that we stayed there over night with her (just because she thought it was funny) and now some of the middle school kids have told us they heard we spent the night at the funeral, so I guess the rumor is spreading. Though it was a really sad occasion, it was a chance to see that we have come pretty far in getting to know people in the village as we knew quite a lot of people there and no one felt the need to stop everything and introduce us. We have been asked to give a speech at a wedding Saturday though so I guess our newness hasn't worn all the way off yet.

This week we're taking it pretty easy. We've gone to work but there's really very little to do. I did help with invitations for one of the school's end of the year party and James was attempting to help with timetables for next year. Tomorrow we've got lots of cooking to do and then Thursday we're off to some other volunteers' site for Thanksgiving. It should be fun as we're getting together with a pretty big group of everyone who is in the area. Next week, we have our big meeting with the principals about what we are going to do next year so we're crossing our fingers that that goes well, and our vacation got approved so we're excited to be off to the Wild Coast in a month!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

la gripe

The best part of being sick is not being sick anymore, and being sick in Africa is not so exciting when you have a cold or flu as when you have malaria, dysentery, or cholera (which are things we are not likely to acquire here in SA). So we fell sick after a fun visit to one of our Fellow volunteers Anne who lives up in the mountains outside of Rustenburg. Though it's not very far from where we live (driving, it's maybe an hour and a half, but taking taxis it was more like 3 hours), it's a totally different world, beautiful green rolling hills, tall trees, monkeys, and a swimming pool. But we started to feel a little sick even then (well mostly James did) which made the trip back and stop at the grocery store a bit hellish. It was so nice to get home and crash.

So James spent the first part of week in pain, and it caught up with me on Thursday, but by Friday we were both well enough to go to work. Spending the day at school (and at one of the schools we haven't spent much time at yet) was quite a shock after a week of doing nothing. It's kind of weird how big the village is that we can spend the whole week at home and aside from the kids who come to check up on us, most people in the village aren't even aware that we're incapacitated. In Chad, if I was gone for the weekend, everyone knew, but here, we are almost anonymous. I say almost because of course we really aren't, but we can definitely fly under the radar.

Our host mom has been home for the past week which has been nice. She should be home permanently pretty soon as her daughter's baby is growing, slowly, but it's growing. Maybe by the beginning of December. We have so much fun hanging out and working in the garden with her. Watching the fruit grow is one of my favorite pastimes and I think it won't be too much longer before we are eating figs, mangoes, and peaches.

Though we've been working on our plans for next year and completing our assignments, we've also been distracted by planning our life after peace corps (taking a quiz online of what the best city for you to live in is and looking for jobs in West Africa), our upcoming vacation to the wild coast for Christmas and New Years, and my parents' visit in April.

Anyway, I feel like this update seemed much more interesting in my head than it is in reality so I will stop. Next time, James is going to post so prepared to get enthralled.

Oh by the way, I did not really like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I like Pride and Prejudice a lot and I felt like the whole zombie thing was not funny after like the first 10 pages so then it was just annoying intruding into Pride and Prejudice so yeah that was disappointing.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

more pics

on facebook http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2135679&id=7600008&l=b215da62f2

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

songs with the word november

all I can think of right now is november rain and gone til november. November Rain is a bit more appropriate as we've been enjoying rainy season for the past few weeks or so. It's much greener in the village especially around the river bed that runs through town. The weeds in the garden are thriving and I feel like we are constantly weeding. We have amazing rainstorms that make me extremely happy for some reason, but the thunderstorms can be scary.

This week at school marks the beginning of end of the year exams so today I proctored English and maths exams. It's funny how kids everywhere still try to work their teachers. They all kept asking me clarifying questions hoping that somehow I would give them the answer. Then they would go back to their work as if they had the answer somehow, but still didn't know what they were doing. Cheating doesn't seem to be taken as seriously here as it was in Chad so there are quite a lot of children with the same answers. It will be interesting to start marking the English exams tomorrow to see how they actually did. Yesterday, I had quite an extraordinary day. The IQMS (which is the evaluation system for teachers and schools) coordinator for our area was at the school all day, and I was told to help her to print and copy some memos. We ended up sitting and talking for like four hours about anything and everything...it was just this weird time where you feel like you are on the same page with someone for once. It was quite the refreshing day.

Today we went to the post office to check to see if our package from my parents had arrived (it did!) It was funny though because we caught the tail end of pension day. At the beginning of the month, pensioners (who include retired folks and single mothers) come to pick up their money. So we waited in line for quite a while, but not nearly as long as the pensioners wait.

We're both preparing our plans for next year. I've been putting together some workshops and James has been focusing on the curriculum for an after school club. James has also started writing a novel as November is novel writing month. Though baseball is dominating ESPN international (go Phillies!), I'm winning our fantasy football league and am more excited about the good start to the Wizards' season. Also, we started watching Sports Night right after Studio 60 and have realized they are actually exactly the same show in a slightly different venue. Of course, we're reading quite a lot...recently I've read Death Comes for the Archbishop, Cry the Beloved Country, the Moonstone, and now I'm reading Sister Carrie.

And really that's all for now. The electricity has gone out because it's windy. Who knows when it will come back on. And no, Telkom never showed up last week. We're going to post pictures soon because it's almost the end of our data bundle which means we better take some more pictures.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

home again home again jiggity jog

Well I'm home from school today for the second day in a row, and I actually am bored enough that I wish I was at school (which is kind of shocking since it's been a bit difficult for me to have any desire to go lately). Yesterday, we had to take care of some things. Today, Telcom (the state run phone company) is supposed to come to fix Mma's land line phone. The RDP (reconstruction and development program) trucks hit the phone line when they were delivering bricks to our neighbor's house (they are in the process of constructing them a little brick house as they've been living in a shack...the shack is actually one of the nicest I've seen, painted pink and black and not too small, but they call any house made out of tin a shack.) So now the phone doesn't work and Telcom is supposedly coming to fix it "this morning". After many days waiting for the phone or cable guy in America, I know it's unlikely they'll be here before the afternoon or even at all, but I can't just leave on the off chance that they do show up. So I wait.

Though I've gotten the chance to teach every day last week and this week, it's been a bit crazy. I haven't gotten much time to plan (though the teacher I'm working with did show me her lesson plans/let me know what to teach about) so my lessons haven't been terribly creative. The kids still have seemed to enjoy them despite the classroom management issues that I feel are beyond my control as basically a substitute teacher. In your own classroom you can set up a routine and a system of rewards and consequences, but that's a bit harder to do when you are approached and asked to teach a lesson about the Earth's rotation in 10 minutes. It's been fun though, and I've gotten to know some of the kids better because of teaching. We now have a steady, but not overwhelming, stream of visitors almost every afternoon.

We had a visit from the Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams on Sunday. It was awesome getting the chance to speak with him. He seems like a great guy who will do a lot for the Peace Corps, and it was fun just to have the chance to sit and chat with him for an hour. We had an eerie number of connections...his son graduated from TJ a few years before me, we know the woman who replaced him at his site in the Dominican Republic, and he was sworn in as a volunteer by Jack Vaughn (the second director of Peace Corps who we met in Tucson last year). Overall, it was a great day and reminded us how much we cheesily love the Peace Corps.

Well I really can't think of more to say right now, but all continues to go well here in Afrika Borwa. Hopefully I can find something to entertain myself until Telcom gets here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I am not good at blogging

I have found R18 in 5 cent increments since being SA

I now know T- Pain, he is in my ninth grade English class.

I found a universal remote on the ground in my shopping town the other day it had batteries and was still in the box

I ate a samoosa the other day and it was delicious

I learned from South Africa's got talent that a career in ballet in England logically leads to isolation at a game lodge in South Africa.

I really disappointed a crowd of 7th graders when my volcano science project failed to erupt.

I found out that you can make vegan BBQ sauce to add to textured vegetable that has only been soaked in water without electricity.

I have confirmed that God cursed the papaya to taste like poopie diapers because it was the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.

I have been asked if I like tripe more times than I ever have before which was never.

I think that the Cleveland Browns could use my help because I would not only have traded Braylon Edwards but would trade every other skill player they have for some conditional picks from the Philadelphia Phantoms and a bowl full of freshly cut papaya, see previous comment

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Chad, the Bop, and Townships

So again a week has gone by and I think I'm going to make James update this next time since it's been a bit one sided lately. We had a good though rather long week. We both spent the week in one school (me in the closest primary school to our house and James at the middle school). We're supposed to be working with one teacher for a month, teaching with them. The teacher I am going to be working with was not ready for me so I spent the whole week observing foundation phase (K-3) classes which are almost entirely conducted in Setswana. It was actually a really good experience to spend so much time in each class and really see how the whole day goes. I did get to teach one English class to grade 3, and this week I will begin working with my assigned teacher in grade 4-6. James did get to teach almost every day this week and is helping to coach the soccer team as they are preparing for some youth world cup related activities. So some random thoughts...

What about Chad?
The most common questions we have gotten from other PCVs are how South Africa and Chad compare and how is Peace Corps different the second time around. In terms of how they compare, well, it's pretty darn different. The infrastructure here and there don't compare, etc. Culturally, it's very different. You can really see the difference in the way that the British and French treated their colonies as people here are not afraid to use their language which is wonderful. Peace Corps the second time around (or maybe because we are married) is much less stressful and emotional. We feel like our life here is much more connected to the rest of our lives not like we have been separated from who we are or where we come from. We are older and more comfortable with who we are and why we are here.

But what I really think about in relation to Chad a lot is what I perceive as the 4th goal of peace corps (at least for us) to share knowledge of Chad with South Africans. Though most South Africans have an idea of America (and you can argue how accurate that is) from TV and movies, they don't know anything about Chad. Most have not heard of the country though they are familiar with Cameroon and Nigeria since there are Cameroonians and Nigerians living here in South Africa. It's hard to explain to someone when they are concerned about your well being in the village that you've lived without much less amenities. I feel like we had one of our first successful conversation about Chad the other day as we showed some friends pictures of our friends from Chad. They were shocked that not all of the school children's uniforms matched (in Chad, they just had an assigned color for shirts and pants or skirts whereas here you have to buy the whole matching outfit...there are dresses, shirts, pants, skorts, knee socks, track suits). They were interested to learn that everyone ate from one plate (and exclaimed that that would be nice since there wouldn't be so many dishes to do). I hope we'll get to have more such conversations in the future.

The Bop
During apartheid, the Batswana lived in the Bophuthatswana homeland. Unlike some of the other homelands, it was scattered across rural areas inhabited by the Batswana not just one contiguous area. Marapyane, where we had our training, was part of the Bop as is where we live now even though one is Mpumalanga and the other is the North West. The Bop had it's own government and in our village there are people who used to be in parliament. Though I don't want to get into politics too much, we've found that it's very interesting to see that many people express that they thought things were better then as the Bop government build roads and schools and valued education. Though we can't know which government has done more for the people, we are constantly coming into this conflict between the old and new South Africa.

James apparently knew more about townships than me before coming to South Africa, but if anyone is as confused as I was, I feel like you get this misleading idea of what a township is when you hear about them from America. People are always talking about the contrast between life in the cities and in the townships which led me to believe that townships and shanty towns were practically the same. Though there are shanty towns outside of the major cities, townships (like villages) have houses that range from metal shacks to nice brick houses, nicer brick houses than you find in most villages and more of them. The houses are closer together than in a village and there's more amenities...the closest township to where we live has a KFC and a Pick n Pay (grocery stores) as well as banks and other businesses. Within a township, you will see economic disparity just as you do everywhere in South Africa. Soweto, the most famous township, is actually a thriving cultural center (or at least that's what I've heard, we aren't allowed to go there).

Alright that's all from me for now.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Life in Anecdotes

We've been busy for the past week and instead of writing a narrative, here are some anecdotes/things we've learned or seen, etc

There are many private game reserves near to where we live. We visited the biggest this week for a braai (bbq) in honor of the school governing body at one of our schools. It's kind of creepy to enter the world of vacationers while with friends from the village. But we know just a 20 minute drive from our house there's mini golf, swimming pools, and various other luxuries.

The national park down the road is a little less fancy. On an impromtu tour with one of the teachers who is also the chief's brother, we saw giraffes, warthogs, monkeys, impala, and water buffalo.

Vuvuzelas (the toy horns that are controversially a staple of South African soccer games) are not just popular at the stadium. They are often heard around the village. In fact, vuvuzelas, roosters, and house music are the top noises heard in villages.

When you cook for yourself, you miss South African food. When you eat South African food three days in a row, you miss protein (at least for us veggies).

In the same week, we had a conversation about how factory farming was unnatural and found out they are building a feed lot right outside of the village and are excited to start raising fat cows who aren't moving around to graze.

All you need to start a brass band are empty two liter bottles, deodorant containers, and wire.

Catholic church is still only an hour and 15 minutes in a place where all the churches last anywhere from 3 hours to all day.

We're not the only people in the village who get excited to talk about gardening, compost, and pest management.

A conversation about what age to teach children about menstruation can really derail a meeting.

Gogos (grandmas) are the best people to hang out with, and suprise gogo birthday parties are the best.

But the biggest lesson of the week is just that what you expect when you wake up in the morning is rarely how the day turns out so go with it.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Hangin Out

We're in the midst of a week and a half school break (the 3rd quarter just ended, they have school here all year round with longer breaks in December and June) so we've had lots of free time. Our host mom is still in Rustenburg with no word on when she'll get back so we are holding down the fort. She asked the man next door to come over and sweep the yard so he's been doing that, but we've kind of taken over garden duty. There seems to be a neverending need for weeding. We're waiting for to get back to ask her about planting some of the seeds we have but we did just start some herbs in some pots. James is digging a hole that we are going to use for compost.

There's a mulberry tree in the yard with lots of ripe berries so we decided to try and make some mulberry jam. The process was flawed from the start. As we were picking we noticed that it was hard to get the berries without the stems (because they'd explode all over our...gloved...hands) so we just picked them stems and all. Then instead of removing the stems right away we crushed them, thinking that would somehow make it easier to get the stems out. Well it made it much harder, and I gave up after about 10 minutes leaving James to spend the next two hours removing stems from mulberry mush. And for some reason the smell of the mulberries made me nauseous so that didn't help. As he was hulling, I took over the cleaning of the bright purple mulberry juice that seemed to get on just about everything. After we had stemless mulberry mush, we put it in the refrigerator to deal with later. Then we began cooking it following a combination of different recipes for mulberry and other berry jams made without pectin. It was going well, it started to actually smell and taste good, but in an effort not to undercook it, we completely overcooked it and created mulberry paste. Sadly we had to throw it all away. The question now is will we ever make mulberry jam again. I think so as James is determined to get it right.

Well you would think that we'd have more interesting things about our community to report. We have met some great people. We've visited the youth center (though we haven't been inside because it's closed right now, we've met the peer educators who work there) and the Lighthouse foundation (a USAID project that does HIV/AIDS education). We stopped by the Catholic church last weekend and will actually attend mass this week (it's at 7 AM!). We got invited to a funeral this weekend too. Next week, when school starts again, we'll be observing classes.

We were just commenting to each other yesterday that we haven't really felt uncomfortable here. Our home is wonderful and we do feel at home in it. Everyone in the village is very welcoming, and they are used to having Peace Corps volunteers around. The one difficult thing will really be making friends. People are pretty content to leave us alone when we are at home, and we have to go out of our way to go out and meet people. It's going to take us a while to find people who we can go visit with in our free time.

A note on soapies...It's somewhat ridiculous how addicted we have become. Yesterday on Rhythm City, this very exciting event was supposed to occur and literally I had been looking forward to it all week. I don't think I ever imagined that I would choose to watch soap operas every night of the week. Also, we've been watching Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip on the puter and that's really good. Not a soap opera.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Volunteers (again)!

This Thursday we swore in and are officially peace corps volunteers again. We both passed our language test doing better than we thought we would. Now, we just have to keep it up and actually improve. After the swear in ceremony in Mafikeng (the capital of the North West Province), we traveled with one of our principals and our closest volunteers, Kristen and Gabi, to our site. We got in just before dark and had a delicious dinner that came straight from a can (it was a vegetable curry thing with TVP and beans). Yesterday, we went to our shopping town (which is about a 45 minute taxi ride away) and got groceries and the few things that we needed for our house. We had some Chinese food, and the restaurant owner promised she would call us when they get in some fresh tofu :) Stupidly, we got off the taxi on the main road (we live down a big road maybe 1/2 a mile from the paved road and then a little bit off that road) and then watched as the taxi turned down our road while we had to walk the whole way home with some heavy heavy bags. We've had to do some extensive carrying of bags everyday for the past week, and our shoulders are ready for a rest for sure.

So a little background on our village. We aren't supposed to share the name, but if you want to know, e-mail us. It's pretty big with about 13,000 people. It would take us about an hour to walk to one end from our house and 30 minutes to walk to the other end. Villages here are pretty spread out in general, people have big yards and sometimes gardens or corn fields. There's a dry river bed that runs through the middle of the village so there's a strip of land that is unoccupied around that. We've got a post office, police station, clinic, a number of small shops, and lots of bars. There's also an internet cafe, but we haven't checked that out yet. I've heard they have 2 computers. We're close to Pretoria, only about an hour in a car but we won't be going much. We are working with 4 schools, 3 primary and 1 middle. We haven't split up who will be working with which school yet, but we have lots of time to work on that as it's now phase 2 of training where we have different assignments to do every week for the next 3 months.

Everyone has been super nice and welcoming. Our Setswana names are Lebogang (that's Becca's) and Thabo (James) so it seems that lots of people already know them as everyone says "dumela Lebo le Thabo" as we walk down the street. Our host mother is wonderful, she's a retired domestic worker and she lives alone (well not anymore). Right now, she's in Rustenberg with her daughter who just had a baby. So we're holding down the fort, but when she comes back, I think she'll be bringing the daughter and baby with her. Our house itself is wonderful, she lived in it up until a few months ago even though her house is much bigger than ours. We have a bedroom and a living room/kitchen. It was already furnished when we got here since she has lots of old furniture. We're very spoiled as we have a normal sized 4 burner stove/oven, a full sized refrigerator, and a microwave. We don't have running water though and have to either use the latrine or the bathroom in our host mom's house. Even in the big house, water is sporadic so we've been taking baths in her bathtub with water from a bucket.

Everything is going well, and it's weird to think back on the anxiety we both felt when we first arrived at our sites in Chad. I think that we definitely feel more secure as we have each other, but even beyond that, we are more sure of ourselves in what we are doing here and how to go about integrating into the community.

We have a new address and phone number, but since this is a public blog, I'm not going to post it here. E-mail us for either or both. We hope to be updating more frequently as we have much more free time now than we did in training. Now off to watch Bafana Bafana hopefully kick some Malagasy butt at soccer.

Friday, September 11, 2009

some pictures


hopefully we'll get to upload more soon

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

An update from James

Lazy Saturday today. I am sorry that I have not contributed to the blog yet but life is going quite quickly here and time has been hard to find. Our host family is avid fans of these late night soaps and I am “forced” to watch them unless there is a relevant soccer match on. I have become a full fledged fan of the Orlando Pirates because they seem to be the maple leafs of SA football because they are always disappointing every season and they have a great fan base. It is also fun to poke fun at the best team in south africa the kaiser cheifs, who I have dubbed the kaiser thiefs, because they have stolen all of their championships because of the rampant corruption of the soccer officials, just like in the states.

We are getting along pretty well. The big stir is that a new grocery store has opened here and they have brought things such as exotic cheeses and cow tongue. It was so packed the first that it opened that people were not allowed in and it took about an hour to check out. This morning we got to go to two funerals and it was a really interesting experience. I am really in love with the fact that people bury their own dead here. That is something that I am always going to want to do for myself and for the people I love the most.

As you can tell this is some sweet stream of consciousness stuff that you get from me. Becca will give you the bigger better picture if you want it. We are about one week away from learning our site and I could not be more excited. I have been telling everyone that it is the time when you find out who your real friends are going to be for the two years because now you will know who you will have to put up with. This monday is also our fantasy football draft. We are doing alive draft during our lunch break and then we are going to enter them in online. This makes me extremely happy because even though I have been here a month my only contact with sports has been one day we kicked around a soccer ball for a little while. Hopefully, this will be a sign that I will get to be a little more active.

The last thing I will report on is that we went to a mall last week in Joburg and wow. I am really creeped out by that place. I cant even describe how much I did not like it. Good thing we will be far away from there and not have to do with such silliness.

Thanks for listening

Thursday, August 13, 2009

First Post from SA!

Well, we've been in South Africa for approaching three weeks and are having a great time so far. We moved in with our host family after the first week here, and they are awesome. Our mother is in her 50s or 60s, and then we have two host sisters – one who is the same age as us and the other is in her early 30s. They each have 5 year olds (a boy and a girl), and then their other sister who lives in Pretoria has a 12 year old son who lives with us as well. There's also a brother who lives in Pretoria, and his daughter stayed with us for a week. The house is definitely female heavy and so James is basically the man of the house, except that they don't really treat him like that so we mostly sit around in engage in the exciting activities of watching soap operas and playing with the kids. There's a cat who had two kittens except one of them was murdered possibly by another cat down the street so the other kitten is very timid. We were playing with it the other day, and one of the kids decided to pick it up and bring it to us in a very violent manner. So we are working on being nice to the cats, but of course that's not normal here. The house itself is a lot like a house in America. People hang out inside a lot more than they do in Chad (partially because it's been cold, the first week we were in hats and gloves every day, but now we just need jackets in the morning). We mostly eat in the living room in front of the teevee sitting on the couch. The kitchen has a sick, refrigerator, stove, etc. It's nice. The bathroom is also great though we don't have a shower hose so we mostly take bucket baths in the bathtub to save water. Our bedroom is more spacious than our bedroom was in the US.

The village we are staying in is more like a large suburb of Pretoria (though it's an hour and half away). We've heard that there are 250,000 people there, and we believe it. It's big and sprawling but very rural. Most everyone has a field in their backyard so the houses are pretty far apart. There are paved roads going through the village but our house is a few back from the road so you have to go on a dirt road to get there. There are some houses that are far from the paved road. We live in clusters of our language group. Our group's trainer, Charles, is hilarious and great at teaching us Setswana. He has tons of funny stories so our language classes are very fun. I think our favorite was when he got 5 rand as a child (less than $1) and went to the store and described himself as being like a “mining magnate” filling his cart with tons of candy. It's hard to learn Setswana since everyone speaks English, but we have the basic grammar down and are working on improving our vocabulary.

We went to a wedding this weekend which was very interesting since we thought we were just going to watch people prepare food and then come back for the actual wedding. We ended up helping our host sister's (who lives in Pretoria) social club cater the wedding and worked a full day. It was quite the experience, chopping vegetables, serving food, and then being asked to give a toast and dance with the bride and groom. The funniest moment was when James asked everyone to raise their glass to toast only to find out that the champagne had not been poured yet. There was a lot of traditional dancing, and the wedding was a mix of the traditional and the modern. The bride wore a white dress and then changed into the traditional outfit. People hear are very proud of their culture and want to share it with us which is quite different from Chad where you had to get to know people better before they would share their traditions.

In terms of training, we've been visiting South African schools. We aren't doing as much teaching as we did in model school in Chad, but we did teach a lesson today and will teach again one day next week and the week after. Today we team taught with another volunteer about similes. It went pretty well. Though there is an effort here to make instruction more learner centered and interactive, change comes pretty slowly. We've seen a lot of enthusiasm on the part of the teachers, and we are excited to get to our site and get to know our community and figure out the best ways for us to get involved. We have the option to teach, do trainings for teachers, help the school management, and help the school governing bodies or any combination of those things. We'll spend the first three months at our site figuring out what we are going to do and getting to know the community. Other exciting stuff is that we'll find out our site in two weeks, we're going to be able to get a SIM card soon, and we're going on a field trip to the apartheid museum in Johannesburg tomorrow. Alright, that's all for now, hopefully future blog posts will be more funny and less all over the place.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Almost There

Well the past two months have flown by, and we'll be boarding a plane to Johannesburg on Thursday after staging (like orientation) in Arlington on Wednesday. It's been surreal saying goodbye to people almost everyday, packing, taking care of personal business, and just having a relaxing, fun summer. The anticipation is definitely different than the first time around since we have a much better idea of what to expect and we'll have each other, but it is still pretty difficult to wrap our heads around being out of the country and away from family and friends for the next 2 to 4 years. We're definitely looking forward to visits, and once we get a better idea of our school holidays, we'll let people know so you can start booking your tickets!

Once we arrive in South Africa, we'll continue on to our training site which is about an hour north of Pretoria. The first week we'll live in dorms, but then after that we will move in with our host family. We'll be learning to speak Setswana in addition to technical and other training. Training lasts about 8 weeks and our swearing in will take place on September 17th. We should get our site placement about halfway through training. During training, we won't have much access to the internet, and I'm not sure when we'll be able to get a SIM card for our phone, but we'll update when we can and probably more often when we get to our site.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

welcome to our blog

I decided that since we've started telling people about the blog, we might as well post something on here. We graduated Thursday and are now the Master Cramers though I won't believe it until I actually see my diploma. This weekend we will be saying our farewells to Tucson which is a lot harder than I thought it would be, we've really had a wonderful two years here and made some amazing friends. Tuesday we start the trip to Ohio via the Grand Canyon, Moab, across Colorado, and then the not quite as exciting states of Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana. We'll be in Jefferson Saturday where we'll hang out for about a month minus our trip to Maine and other fun excursions including Niagara Falls. Then we'll head to Virginia and spend about a month there as well, take trips to NYC, Philly, Richmond, and possibly Chincoteague. Then, July 21st is our staging, probably in either Philly or DC though we won't find out until a month before that. We'll be on a plane out of here on July 23rd.

We're super excited for South Africa. We're ready to get out there, explore, and finally continue our Peace Corps experience. We probably won't update much more before we go, but we're hoping to be able to update pretty regularly while we're there.