Tuesday, December 7, 2010

busy bees

Wow things have been crazy for about the past month and will continue so for the next week and a half until we're off on vacation. Here's just a few of the highlights:

Party for our host mom - The schools threw a party thanking our host mom for all she does to host us. Each school's principal came as well as a teacher and a member of the SGB (like a PTA). They braaied some meat and among other sides was our favorite - chakalaka which is like a spicy bean salad. Everyone had such a nice time that people keep asking us when we'll do it again.

Two parties for my clubs - For the community service club, we had a party at school, and I made everyone little gift bags with candy and snacks inside. They were most excited by their certificates and showed them off all over the place. For the magazine, it was another party at our house. They raised money selling magazines so they were able to buy some meat to cook. The boys took over the braaing which was very cute to see them very excited about doing a job normally reserved for men (there were no men there until James arrived late), and I made a chocolate cake. We played Sardines and Red Light Green Light and it was super fun.

A trip to the snake park - As you might remember, we really enjoyed a field trip to the snake park last year so we were excited to go back again with a different school. The animal situation was as ridiculous as ever - jaguars and lions pacing around their cages, ready to pounce on you if there were no bars, and a Western Diamondback Rattler also ready to strike, but other things were a bit crazier. I agreed to take kids photos and print them if they paid me the cost of the printing which turned into a disaster with kids throwing money at me and no paper in sight to write a list on. I'm still mucking through the photos trying to figure out which ones to print.

Learnership Dinner - We invited our friends who did a learnership with the department of education over for dinner to congratulate them on their year of service (though now they are doing the same job without getting paid.) It was fun for them to try new things (we made french onion soup, flatbread, pasta with a red wine based sauce, and apple cobbler for dessert) and most of them liked the food even though they really thought we were going to have meat.

Thanksgiving - We had a quiet Thanksgiving at home with two other volunteer visitors. Though we'd didn't do actual thanksgiving until Saturday because we were busy at school Thursday, it was a lot of fun and we had a LOT of food.

Water project - After being turned down at the bank the first time to pick up my money because I didn't have proof of residency with me, I was successful the second time around. The girl at the bank felt bad when she saw me again because she could tell I had been pretty upset by the whole situation. We bought everything we need, and now we are just waiting for it be delivered to install it.

Making beer - We've been making lots and lots of beer for this New Year's party we will be attending in a different province with our host mom. We have to keep the bucket of brewingness in our refrigerator so all of our stuff is regulated to the frig in the house. And we probably won't drink any of the beer ourselves, oh well it's a different kind of community service.

Camp - We've been crazy busy getting ready for our camp next week. It's ended up being much more of a headache than we could have guessed because we forgot how busy this time of year is with other things. It seems like the camp is not at the top of people's lists. Oh well it seems to be coming together at least sort of, and as long as kids show up on Monday it will be fine.

So after the camp we'll be off to Botswana and Victoria Falls then to the New Year's party. It's crazy to think 2010 is already coming to a close.

Monday, November 22, 2010


I decided to leave school a few minutes early today because of some omninous thunder and clouds. When I got home, James was already there and we thought we'd have time to run to the shop for some bread. When we left the house, lightning struck less than a mile away. When we got to the shop, we felt a few drops of rain, and as we began to come home, it started pouring. We ran home but did not succeed in staying dry.

It rained so hard that our yard became just three or four giant puddles. A non essential part of our roof blew off (like this wooden thing around the side, not the roof itself). A door frame stored on the roof almost blew off, and various pieces of tin from next door ended up in our garden. Branches ended up on the other side of the yard. For the first time, we experienced three leaks in our roof.

Amazingly the power stayed mostly on and is still on now. The mess even made it's way into the house as dirt from the rafters is now all over the place and there was quite a lot of water to mop off the floor. The door mat is dripping on the line.

But the municipality probably still won't turn on the water. It's been 3 weeks for us, 9 months for others in our village.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

last day of the week!

I'm writing this early on the assumption that nothing crazy will happen for the rest of the day. I hope that people enjoyed reading these, but I'm glad to be done writing them so it will probably be a while before we update the blog again.

7:00 - good morning, electricity is on (it went out late last night during a storm) and we're ready to start the day.
8:45 - we leave too late for church. james is convinced that the confirmation started at 8, but I think it was 9. either way we can't be there until 9:15
9:15 - before sneaking in the back, ask someone and find out they started at 8, oops. sneak into the back row. the sermon is already starting. count the number of people sleeping in church (a lot) and watch these kids rocking out to some music in their headphones. more people come in late including a teacher and her daughter who sit next to us. they normally make people give offering based on section of the village, but since it's confirmation, we give it based on the person who we are the guest of. offering is fun because you get to dance up to the front and back to your seat.
11:30 - the teacher whose son is getting confirmed who invited us to their party (not the one who sat next to us) asks if we want to leave early and head over to her house. we say yes since we don't know where she lives and she has a car.
11:40 - meet some of her family and sit in the living room watching music videos waiting for everyone else to get back from church. a teacher from another school shows up and is excited to see us.
12:30 - people show up and we dance into the house with them. a few short speeches and grace and it's time to eat. sit with the important ladies and eat. accidently get this salad with liver in it and feed it to our host's really cute great nephew. after food (beets, butternut squash, rice, pap, chakalaka (bean salad), and salad), cold drink (soda), and custard full to the brim.
2:10 - the former principal of one of our schools announces she has to go to a neighboring village so we ask her for a ride home. right as we are leaving the host father of the old volunteers finds out where we live (we did not tell him he was wrong when he thought we lived at the catholic church).
2:30 - make it home right before it starts raining. enjoy the rain and look forward to relaxing the rest of the day...talking to our parents, checking fantasy football stats, watching the biggest loser australia and getting ready for another week to start tomorrow.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


only one more day of this after today, yay! (I am really only continuing because I am stubborn, it's nowhere near as fun as I thought it would be)

5:45 - funerals start early so we get up early. quickly get dressed and eat and notice how incredibly messy the house is.
6:10 - off to the funeral, on the way see a lot of cars going the other direction (to another funeral) and wonder if they could possibly be on their way to the cemetary already.
6:40 - arrive to find out that the funeral hasn't even started yet (shocking) because of an issue with the funeral parlor and it's not going to start til 9. great, we have to be at the talent show at 9:30.
7:30 - the funeral starts (I guess 9 was just a guess). we are actually sitting where you can see (rare because we normally stand in the back) and it's a pretty difficult funeral. we did not know the guy, he was the cousin of one of my co-workers, but his friends are in tears talking about him.
8:40 - we sneak out because we have to stop back home before going to the talent show. too bad we stick out so just about everyone saw us leave early. there are lots of people there by this point, a few hundred and at least 50 cars. get a ride part of the way back from people who were anxious to go to the cemetary early. on the walk the rest of the way, see an old lady who is scared poopless of us. she crosses the street to get away from us and then stands there staring at us for 5 minutes as we continue walking.
9:00 - change clothes and get what we need for the talent show.
9:15 - walk to the talent show
9:40 - show up and help clean the hall.
10:00 - the show is supposed to start but the girl in charge has disappeared to get some stuff from her house. so we begin waiting
11:00 - get some fat cakes (beignets/friend dough) across the street. keep waiting.
11:30 - the teacher helping shows up. we think things will start. keep waiting.
11:45 - the teacher and girl in charge go away somewhere. keep waiting. play with some kids.
12:15 - they have a microphone. can we start? james falls asleep.
12:40 - actually start. james takes pictures, i judge the acts.
3:30 - it's over and we head home, getting a ride part of the way from one of the other judges and her NGO.
3:45 - our house is dirty. start cleaning.
5:45 - finally time to relax. there will be dinner, leftover cake, and tv. how long can we stay awake tonight?

Friday, November 5, 2010


7:00 - get up go
7:50 - stop by the school by our house and make sure the kids take the magazines to sell over the weekend and that the camp application forms will get passed out today. get serenaded happy birthday by the principal and 5 kids in the computer lab. there was dancing too.
8:30 - walk to the middle school to meet James. say hi to people along the way including an ethiopian salesman and contemplate all the different kinds of people I see in the village.
9:00 - help James finish up the recreation centre business plan and make the programme for the talent show tomorrow. get asked to be a judge for the talent show. distribute the camp applications to the middle school kids. they are freaking out excited.
11:30 - stop by the area office to say hi to people working there and then go look for a taxi to brits.
12:30 - get to brits starving. head over to the mall (now the old mall because there's a new mall but it's a far walk and we didn't want to take a taxi), afraid that the italian restaurant has moved to the new mall but really just moved across the corridor. pasta and salad makes for a delicious birthday lunch. other errands bring us to some clothing stores, stationary store, electronics stores and the hardware store. we run into some teachers and a principal and stop and chat. dying of thirst we stop for some iced tea before going back to get a taxi.
4:30 - the taxi rank is super crowded. get on the second taxi to come even though it won't take us very close to our house. when we get back to the village, we find out it rained a lot and the power is out.
5:30 - clean up and listen to some NPR on the satellite radio now that we have speakers for it.
7:00 - james is making me dinner. now I plan to eat food and cake, watch tv, and go to bed. we'll be up early for a funeral in the morning.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


7:00 – Up and do a bit of internet before tackling morning chores.
8:10 – Leave for school, on the walk discuss my birthday tomorrow, Mma wants James to do something for me, so we’re going to go to Brits and I’ll have to figure out something to buy.
8:40 – Check the mail, it’s pension day so there are about 50 old people camped in front of the post office. Collect camp applications from kids, remind a teacher I’m willing to help her with teaching math. Head into the computer lab and put the finishing touches on the rainwater grant and enter in the accepted kids into the computer.
9:30 – Make James check it over (and get told I need to bake cookies for the teachers at his school tomorrow for my birthday), then the principal, then go take pictures of people who are going to help with the garden to submit with the grant. Chit chat with the principal.
10:30 – Library time. Clean up a bit and then read the 2004 Kids Guinness Book of World Records while the young librarians read to the grade 2s. The grade 6 appears to actually be busy in class so we scrap them for today.
12:15 – Print some donation request letters for the camp to bring to businesses in Brits tomorrow and procrastinate a bit on the computer. Listen to the noise of the little kids who have been mysteriously let out of school more than an hour early.
1:45 - Let's go home. It looks like it's about to rain, mma calls to tell us to bring a bottle of her homemade wine to a neighbor to bring to this display tomorrow for small businesses (they are starting a jam, preserves, etc business) and stop at the shop to get a bottle of coke. the guy asks me if I want red or white coke (they think there is a difference but it's just reusable bottles made in a different year).
2:40 - Bake myself a birthday cake and cook some beets. We don't like beets that much but needed to cook them since mma gave them to us the other day. Amazingly the power stays on while I'm cooking though we get treated to nice rain and a rainbow.
6:45 - Beautiful sunset. Power goes out soon after.
8 something - It comes back on.
10:00 - After dealing with internet difficulties, submit the rainwater grant and contemplate going to bed.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


7:15 – Get up, the regular morning routine, check election results, especially sad about Arizona, Grijalva race hasn't been decided yet and just about everyone else I voted for lost. Maybe with Tom Horne as attorney general, his successor won't be as horrible to the education system, haha yeah right now he'll just stop lawsuits against his previously created unconstitutional policies and his replacement is about the same anyway. At least they didn't kill First Things First...
8:35 – Finally make my way to school.
8:40 – Gate is locked. Oops I shouldn't come late. Call someone to let me in.
8:45 – Take the kids who need to finish their articles to the computer lab. The principal, admin asst and volunteer are busy getting something ready to report to the area office. Everyone is going crazy. Working on the magazine layout, I am constantly interrupted by things like stuck shift keys and randomly appearing footnotes. What are they clicking that makes these things appear?
9:55 – I kick the kids out whether they are finished or not. Finally things are moving until
10:27 – Power goes out for a minute. Luckily it had autosaved and I only lost 5 minutes or so of work. James at his school with a ridiculous security policy wasn't so lucky.
11:30 – Eat some lunch. Samp and beans. Delicious. I don't know why I bring my lunch because they always make me eat the school lunch. And I scored two bananas.
12:15 – Magazine finally done. Start the copying process. First I copy the applications for the camp and an argument ensues about who has to pass them out since the person who volunteered said she is too busy now. It should take about 5 minutes. I tell them to do it tomorrow.
My copying keeps getting interrupted. I am joined by this boy who seems to find every excuse not to stay in class. At least he's practicing his English talking to me. I also keep getting called over to help my best computer student (one of the teachers) with something she is typing. Though she seems to have forgotten everything I taught her (bold, centering, font size, borders, etc), at least she's not afraid to type what she needs on her own.
2:05 – Done copying, I show the magazine to the teachers and principal. They are quite excited.
2:15 – Return to the computer lab to find out I've been kicked out because the volunteer wants to get a ride home. Ask nicely if I can go back in to get my water bottle cap.
2:20 – Cold drink (aka soda with the school management team...principal and head teachers) while watching boys clean the classroom.
2:40 – Head home. On the way, get called a lekgowa (white person) by a little boy. His parents also try to educate him that my name is Lebogang but it doesn't work. Also see some goats who have snuck into someone's yard and are lapping away at their water supply.
2:45 – Time to veg out for a while.
5:00 - I have been meaning to polish the floor for a while, Mma being out of town is a great excuse because it will surprise her when she gets back. Floor polishing is very popular here, but this is the first time we've attempted it. It takes a while since I have to sweep and wash the floor first. Plus I'm interrupted at least 4 times by kids wanting water. One gives me a kiss and when he comes back, another kid asks if it's true he gave me a kiss.
6:30 - Floor is sparkling. Let's make dinner, oops we forgot to buy bread, off to the shop before it's dark.
7:20 - I love bathing everyday again.
7:30 - Dinner and tv. And more TV till bed time.

Is this starting to get repetitive and boring yet??

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


5:45 – Again the sun wakes me up
6:30 – Get up, dishes, Morvite, make lunch because we've got bread, and ready to go to school
7:30 – Walk to school
8:00 – Arrive at school (this one is a bit farther away than the other) and talk to the principal about plans to apply for a grant to do some rainwater collection
8:05 – Attempt to do computer class with the one teacher who still wants to but attempt is thwarted because the principal didn't bring the USB modem today and the teacher wants to learn how to use the internet.
8:15 – Copy and distribute applications for our spring camp to all the kids in 4-6th grade. They get very excited when they hear there is going to be a sleepover, campfire, braai (bbq), AND talent show. I wish more could come.
9:30 – Stop by James' school across the street and we head over to the youth centre to talk to the manager about her plan to start feeding orphans and vulnerable children after school, promise to do more research on funders.
10:30 – Back at school, head into the library and start eating my lunch
10:45 – Young librarians (library assistants in grade 5 and 6) show up and we get the grade R (kindergarten) kids. They read to them, then the grade 1 kids. 30 minutes a class. Then grade 5 comes and I try to encourage them to read things that are not intended for grade R. An argument ensues over the extremely difficult 12 piece jigsaw puzzle that 8 boys are trying to put together at once. I make them put it away.
12:15 – Finally some time in the computer lab to work on proposals for the rainwater and borehole (well) projects.
1:05 – Leave early with James and one of the camp organizers to go ask the owner of a local bottle store (selling liquor, beer, and soda) for a donation. She's going to get back to us.
2:30 – Make it home. Snack time. Read for a while. Get talked into watching a movie (Mma is gone so it means we can watch whatever we want on the satellite tv.)
5:45 – Feel like I've been lazy so time for some gardening and laundry.
6:00 – Men show up to talk to James about the sports ground project. We have to help them fix their business plan by Friday, that will be fun. I continue pulling weeds. A neighbor shows up with an invitation for a tombstone unveiling in December. Our social calendar is getting too full.
7:15 – Super itchy from gardening (I find a nice bite from who knows what) so it's bath time.
7:30 – Sit down to watch last night's Monday night football but I'm already falling asleep so I come back to our house and end up watching a creepy documentary about a boy who murdered his classmate because he owed him 5 rand (less than $1).

Monday, November 1, 2010

a week in the life

One of our PCV friends did a series of posts last week about how she spent each day for the week so I thought, why not try it too. Hopefully, if anyone actually still reads our blog, it will be exciting for you to see more regular updates. If it's boring, sorry. Let's see if I can keep this up :)

5:45 – Woke up because it is already light outside at this time. Luckily I'm good at falling back asleep.
6:45 – Got up, washed dishes, had some Morvite (instant sorghum porridge), checked fantasy football scores (I had a good week, James not so much), cleaned the house a little, lamented that we had no bread to make sandwiches since we ate it all last night since the power was out and we couldn't cook dinner.
8:00 – Left for school.
8:05 – Arrived at school in the midst of assembly where I'm pretty sure the teachers were telling the children to check themselves for head lice. Hopefully I don't have head lice. Said hi to some of the teachers and headed to the computer lab to work on the layout for our second issue of the magazine. The kids asked if they could come in the computer lab to finish typing their articles so spent the morning alternating between helping them and trying to work on putting it all together. Finally kicked the kids out because they were on Encarta and not typing their articles and said they couldn't come back after lunch.
11:45 – Ate some split peas and mealie rice. Happy that the school lunch wasn't fish today so I could actually eat something.
12:00 – More magazine. Worked on the agenda for camp meeting and application form. A lot quiter now. Helped the AA with expenditure tracking for school lunch purchases.
1:30 – Headed towards the camp meeting. Hot and sweaty outside.
2:00 – Printed out stuff for the camp meeting at the middle school since we were out of ink at the primary school.
2:30 – Meeting started on time miraculously, but not until we had finished discussing why people would break up after dating for 7 years.
3:30 – Headed home, not quite as hot as before, bought some bread.
4:00 – Hung out reading and doing crosswords.
6:30 – Realized it was late and started making dinner.
7:30 – Dinner and TV time until I get too sleepy.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

boys vs girls

One thing I think about and talk about a lot, but have not shared really on this blog is how gender plays out where we live in South Africa. My experience in Chad was extreme. In our village, I knew two women who had salaried jobs (and maybe 20 men). My students were only about 20% female, and there were less and less girls as they went on in schooling. Everyone told me and believed that men were smarter than women. My host father one day would say 'of course, men are smarter' and the next day would say 'wow, you know so much more French than me' but did not see those two statements as being in contrast to each other So I felt like doing a girls' club and working with the girls at the school was a valuable use of my time. Though I naively tried to extoll the equality of genders, that wasn't really something that I was going to get through to people about. I was happy to at least motivate the girls to stay in school and to take part in activities outside of the home (though they didn't really need my motivation since they loved playing soccer so much).

Here in South Africa, you can say that there are issues of gender inequity and there certainly are. The rape rate is extremely high. The HIV prevalence rate is higher in women then men (partially for biological reasons as women have more Langerhans cells in their vagina than men who have been circumsized do on their penis). It is difficult for women to exert control over their sexual lives – to say no or to say to use a condom. Transactional sex is also an issue.

That being said, I know many more formally employed women than men in our village. Of course, many men who are employed live outside of our village, but among those who do stay in the village and those who come to our village to work – teachers, nurses, etc – there are more women then men. Of the men who stay in our village, many are employed informally in different types of labor. Some of these men and some who are not employed at all spend a good amount of their days drinking at informal bars. So the children of our village can choose male role models who are unemployed and suffer from alcoholism or female role models who are teachers or retired women who are busy taking care of their households and grandchildren.

So it comes as no surprise that the girls in our schools do better than the boys. Even in grade 6, the vast majority of the girls are engaged in their studies and are doing well or at least passing. About half the boys are completely withdrawn, some do not know how to read, and are struggling if they are still trying. Some are already smoking marijuana after school. On the other hand, there are a group of boys who are motivated and love to spend time in the library or computer lab. I worry even for them as they go to middle school next year and will face increased peer pressure to try the myriad of drugs available to them (marijuana, huffing glue, and nyope – a mixture of heroin and marijuana – are the most popular) and not to be nerdy. When boys make the decision to drop out of school, they shape a future for themselves that mirrors what they see around them. Sexual encounters are one place where they can exert control in their lives and from that reality come the public health and safety disasters of rape and lack of condom use.

These boys need role models, and there is only so much we can do to encourage them. We know a few young men who are acting in this way for them, but in a culture (like that of rural America) where success is equated with getting out, these successful young men are mostly in Jo'burg. But one thing is for sure, these boys need to be educated and motivated to see a different future for themselves if people want to see change in the future of South Africa. Ironically, as I type this, I am watching a rerun of Oprah (we get them a few months late here) where she signed the One Goal petition that was happening during the World Cup and declares that we should educate our girls. Oprah, of course, has a boarding school for girls here in South Africa. Though her school presents a great opportunity for those girls, I would argue that what South Africa needs is the opposite. We must educate and empower the boys to live productive and healthy lives.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

up to the date

Well it’s been a while since the last update because things have been pretty busy since the strike ended. Coming back to school, there was lots to catch up on. I had planned for the third term to involve the bulk of the work for my after school clubs so there was a lot of improvisation to be done. My community service club ended up doing their presentation for the 4th and 5th graders at their school instead of for 6th graders from other schools, but it went very well. Each child got a pamphlet (made by the club members) to take home with them about HIV and nutrition so that will be a great supplement to what they learned during the presentation. As for the magazine, they are still working on it, but we should be able to print it in the next couple of weeks.

We just spent a week at a few different Peace Corps workshops with counterparts from our village. The first workshop was just for volunteers and we reflected on being at the half way point in our service, the second focused on the Peace Corps’ Life Skills Manual (which contains lessons about various life skills topics like decision making, peer pressure, etc.), and the third was a great hands-on workshop about permagardens (i.e. gardening using compost, double digging, less water, etc.) It got us really pumped to help out with gardening in the village and did not leave us so sad that our tomato seedlings didn’t make it through our absence (Mma has more that are still going strong and we bought some sweet pepper and watermelon seeds). We are going to work with our counterparts to put on some trainings for school gardeners as well as parents or grandparents of OVCs (orphans and vulnerable children). With that, planning our next camp, and all our normal responsibilities at school, we are going to be pretty busy for the next few months.

This time last year I was writing about our misadventures with mulberry jam. Well I am happy to report that we found a much easier and less time consuming solution…mulberry jelly. By crushing the mulberries to juice them, we did not have to worry about hulling them which was the most difficult part of the whole jam making process. Adding pectin also meant that we didn’t have to guess how long it would take to cook so we did not overcook our jelly and it congealed nicely. The whole process took about an hour to make 4 jars, and even the clean up wasn’t as bad. Just one mulberry tree could yield quite a lot of jelly but since we only have so much pectin and so many people to feed, we’ll probably just make one more batch.

Another characteristic of this time of year is the lack of water. The last time it rained was in May, and though the weather forecast keeps mentioning scattered showers, we have yet to see one. As a result, the municipality has been very stingy with the water. Months ago they cut off water in one of the pipes that comes into our yard (not so bad for us as we have another pipe, but for many people it means they haven’t had water at their house in months). The pressure in the other pipe has been so low that we have not been able to fill our water tank (which is maybe 10’ high) in at least two months. And it’s gotten worse. Yesterday it trickled out and took maybe 5 hours to fill a very small bucket. Luckily for whatever reason our neighbor’s water was coming out pretty hard, and we filled quite a lot of other buckets. One of our schools is completely out of water, and the children were pressing their mouths up to the tap of the water tank hoping that something would come out. When the water is on, we’ve seen lines of twenty people outside of abandoned houses that do have working taps, waiting their turn to fill their buckets. The whole issue really does show the divided nature of South Africa. In Pretoria, though they may issue warnings to cut back on water usage, this would never happen. Yet, in our village less than two hours away, people are resigned to the fact that they may go months without water at their homes. There are very few wells in the village, another issue that seems related to the development of the country. People expect to receive municipal water so there is not another system in place even though for much of the year, municipal water cannot be depended upon.

Friday, September 3, 2010


One of the interesting things I've noticed as a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Africa compared to other countries is the lack of visibility of Peace Corps here. Most people in my village have never heard of Peace Corps, do not know anything about it's mission, and though I have one friend who takes it upon herself to educate everyone about the history of Peace Corps, most people could care less. In fact some people do not even know we work at the schools, and those who do know we work at the schools often have no idea what we do there or only a slight idea (i.e. teach computers). Our neighbor and tuck shop owner has been extremely friendly to us since we arrived here and always wants to give us free vegetables and fruit. Maybe a month ago, he was at one of the schools and saw me and said, oh so you are working at the school now! We've known him for a year and he had no idea what we were doing here. And you may say this is our fault for not going around educating people, but in a village of 13,000 are you really going to go door to door and explain to everyone the name of your organization and what your role is.

The reason I find this so interesting is that it stands in stark contrast to the visibility of Peace Corps in other countries. In Chad, I was constantly approached by people asking me if I knew so-and-so who was their Peace Corps teacher in 1975. I would often get on a taxi going to visit my closest volunteers and be updated on the whereabouts of James or another volunteer from someone who had seen them the previous week. In America, I've met people from all over Africa (for the most part, I don't feel like I've talked with people from other regions about Peace Corps so I can't really speak to the visibility of PC in those regions) who remember fondly their Peace Corps teacher. My mom's colleague from Sierra Leone heard that Peace Corps was returning there before I did and shared the happy news with us. Even the old Somali Bantu ladies who would come into the office remembered Peace Corps when the younger. The Liberians who took care of my grandmother when she was sick remembered their Peace Corps teachers. In Botswana, my host mom tried to explain what we were doing our cousin's fiancee, and she replied, 'you mean they are in Peace Corps'. At the border between South Africa and Namibia, the Namibian border agents were excited by our Peace Corps passports while the South Africans took no notice of them.

So why this disconnect? I think there are multiple factors at play...the first being that Peace Corps has not been here that long, countries like Ghana and Niger have long histories of Peace Corps volunteers, while ours is relatively recent, the first volunteers arrived in 1997. But that doesn't account for the difference between here and Namibia where PC arrived not much earlier, in 1990 or even with Chad where Peace Corps' presence has been spotty.

The next is population. In a country of 50 million people, 100 something volunteers easily get lost in the crowd while in smaller countries in terms of population, they are much more visible. In contrast to Chad where people always seemed to know who I was before I met them, here I still see people I've never seen before almost everyday in the village. In towns and cities, it's even easier to get lost in the crowd.

The next is diversity. South Africa's white, South Asian, East Asian, and Coloured populations make this country much more diverse than the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa (Namibia is probably the closest after us at 87% black, but we come in at 79% black, if you consider Mauritania as subsaharan there is a pretty equal mix of Moor and black there, but it's definitely a different dynamic from what you find here) This means that I am far from the first white person that most people (except maybe babies) have seen. Though we are the only white people who live in our village right now, we have a neighbor whose white son-in-law is often coming by, and white people are often in the village for professional reasons. Living in our village, there are people of Indian, Pakistani, Somali, and Japanese descent. So the idea of an outsider coming and living in a village isn't such a crazy thing here like it is in other places. Though there are missionaries in other countries, people seem to draw a line between them and Peace Corps because PCVs don't stay in places separate from the people, but in the community. Though that does distinguish us from others here, it still doesn't seem to be so strange.

Finally, there is the issue of development and resources. In rural parts of other countries, it is quite a special event when a development agency comes in and does a project. They usually come in, do it, and then leave it to fail or succeed depending on the community's drive. Usually they fail. Peace Corps presents an alternative to that as the volunteer is there for a long time and becomes a part of the community. Here we have other people working in community development within our village. Our chief does a lot in this area. There's the youth centre, the department of education, etc. We are not the only resource that the community has, and the others were there before us and will continue after we are gone.

All this being said (and kudos to you if you read it all), I think these issues present a unique (maybe not unique, I feel it maybe be similar in a place like China that meets some of these same criteria) challenge and opportunity to Peace Corps Volunteers. We are not automatically seen as resources to our community in the same way that volunteers are in other countries. We must carve our own niche. While this can be frustrating, it can also be liberating as we do not have the same expectations put on us, and it may allow for more creativity. And with that, I'm done with my rant.

Monday, August 30, 2010

the beat goes on

Well the strike trudges on though it looks like we may be nearing the light at the end of the tunnel as the government and unions are supposed to resume talks this week. Though other sources say that there is no such plan for talks. One of my principals said the unions told them not to pay attention at all to the media, but it's not like there's another source of information available.

So in light of the strike, I'm trying to find ways to keep busy. I bought some tomato and basil seeds that I want to get started and we're going to try some of our other seeds that we didn't have any success with last year - radishes, cauliflower, and lettuce - at least we know that we can grow basil without any difficulty, I feel like it's like a weed. Mma already has carrots and onions doing well in the garden. I'm starting preparations for our December camp and planning our January vacation. I just realized that the April vacation does not coincide with Easter this coming year which means that we end up having a 6 day weekend for Easter (Good Friday, Easter Monday, a random day off because the next day is holiday too, and Freedom Day) so it seems like the perfect time for a short trip to Lesotho.

James is off helping at training for the week which makes my time to do nothing even more empty, but it might actually be easier to be productive without him always switching on Tyra and Judge Mathis (yep, our daytime tv here is so quality that they have to take these quality daytime shows from the states).

We got to attend a luncheon with the Ambassador and his family on Friday while we were in Pretoria for committee meetings. It was great to get to sit down and talk with them. They asked us lots of questions about our experiences, and the food was delicious. The Ambassador's house here is amazing, it's like a museum. Much fancier than in Chad, but in Chad we did get to use the pool whenever we wanted so there was that.

And I think I've exhausted my blog writing ability. Off to try not to watch Tyra.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


South Africa presents such an interesting mix of developed and developing that it sometimes still throws us for a loop. This country is extremely unionized (and I can't say what I think about that as per PC policy, but if you know us, you can probably figure it out) and this time of year is strike season as it's when unions and employers negotiate for raises and whatnot. There has been a continuing threat for the last few weeks of teachers and other public service workers going on strike because the government won't meet their request. The government is offering a 7% increase and a newly revised R700 housing allowance, and the unions are asking for a 8.6% increase and a R1000 housing allowance. To an American who is used to thinking in terms of 2 or 3 percent raises annually, this may sound really really high, but electric company workers received 11% and the auto workers are striking for 15%.

Now the thing that is interesting to me about this strike is that the time it has taken to get started. The unions first announced their intentions of striking at the end of July and gave some time for the government to revise their offer. Then we heard the strike would start Aug 6, but then they would get more time and the strike would start Tuesday, Aug 10 after the women's day holiday on Monday. Then the strike of the 10th (which happened) was declared to be a one day strike to give a taste of what's to come. They gave the government until Thursday to make a new offer which we thought meant the strike would commence again on Friday. But no, it will take through Monday to inform all the union members, and now the strike may start on Tuesday. Everything has to go through the channels and there are quite a lot of laws affecting labour. It's organized, yet the amount of time it takes to make it happen is distinctly developing world. In Chad, because of the lack of communication and organised unions, striking was decidely simpler. If you hadn't been paid in three months, you went on strike until you got paid again.

So the dilemma we face is the perpetual one of the Peace Corps volunteer - waiting (with a little bit of cluelessness thrown in their for good measure). I got back from helping with the new group's training last week ready to get down to business finally after being away for most of the first month of the term but unsure of when the strike would start and how long it would last. I have lots on my plate if there is no strike - substitute teaching English and life orientation to grade 6, restarting educator computer classes, doing a workshop for educators on the Foundations for Learning campaign, getting the kids in my clubs to do the bulk of the work (putting together their magazine and planning and presenting an HIV awareness event for kids at other schools), and making sure people actually are using the library that we made a timetable for at the end of last term. But if the strike happens, I'll be finishing up my grant report, watching a lot of TV, and attempting to help out at the old age home. But the first priority is to be a good Peace Corps volunteer and practice the art of waiting.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

watching the games

As the world cup comes to an end this weekend, it's a bit hard to process. It seems like the World Cup has been omnipresent in South Africa's consciousness since long before we arrived in the country so it will be a bit weird to go on without it. In fact, it already has started to feel like the World Cup is over since we returned from Liberia. With South Africa, Ghana, and Brazil all out, most South Africans don't care about the final. Well I'm sure some are very enamored with the Dutch, but obviously that brings up lots of race issues in this country.

For us, the highlights of the world cup were the many different venues where and people with whom we watched the games.

Greenpeace at the high school for the opening match - Greenpeace set up a big screen and projector powered by solar panels on the roof of the school. Watching South Africa take on Mexico with a couple hundred people, a cross section of our village...children, grannies, young people, was an amazing experience. Everyone was so into the game, and when South Africa scored, the room was electric. Vuvuzelas, screaming, hugging.

At the Royal Bafokeng Stadium - Decked in our US finest, we went to see the US play England. We got into a few fights with the England fans around us (they were actually all South Africans since we were sitting in the cheap seats), but had a wonderful time. Watching the game live was exhilarating as there's just something about having to follow the ball for yourself without help from the camera that makes it more exciting.

In our bedroom - Much of the first week of the World Cup, after we finished up at the camp, was spent sitting at home watching games and relaxing with the two visiting PCVs who came to help with the camp.

At the primary school - Some of the people who were planning the camp with us worked hard to get a projector donated so that we could show games at the school. Though the kids didn't end up staying (I think they were mostly exhausted from the day), we watched the 1 o'clock game there most afternoons. Also relaxing, it was a chance to hang out with some of the volunteers.

In the OR Tambo international airport lobby - We found a coffee shop with a big screen t.v. and plopped down in time to catch the US Slovenia game. The seating area was open and as the game started people started to trickle in until it was packed with people standing the back to watch. Airport workers and international visitors watched together, and I think it was the most men in sombreros I've ever seen in one place as there were lots of Mexico fans in transit.

At various restaurants in Monrovia - Since there was no TV at Matt's house (or satellite), all of our game watching in Liberia took place at restaurants and bars. At the Syrian and Bengali restaurants, it was just us sneaking peaks at the TV while enjoying delicious dinners, but there were some memorable games...

At an English pub packed with ex-pats - We watched the US/Ghana game. The pub was packed, mostly with American, but a group of Ghanaians was there as well. Though we would have been happy no matter who won, it was hard not to get caught up in the USA fever of being around so many Americans.

At a fancy resort - We lounged in Matt and Alvina's honeymoon room watching games on the flat screen TV then headed out to relax on the beach.

At a popular Lebanese restaurant - We watched the Ghana/Uruguay game, and there were probably more people there than at the US/Ghana game. This time almost everyone was pulling for Ghana, and the outrage was palpable after Suarez cheated (except for from one lady who declared that he's "a UNICEF ambassador" so we shouldn't be mean to him). Though disappointing, we shared in that exhilaration and disappointment with the rest of Africa.

And now we are back to watching games in our bedroom as the final approaches tomorrow. And that's all for now.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

our liberian family wedding

On the plane both to and from Liberia, they showed the movie Family Wedding which I did not watch but is about a cross-cultural marriage, weirdly appropriate though I wish they would have shown something I actually wanted to see.

But before I get to the trip to the LIB, I should mention that our camp went down without much difficulty and the kids had a wonderful time. Because of the cold and unexpected vacations, attendance wasn't quite the 100 we wanted but we had in the 80s each day. I think it was a big change from school to be busy with activities - team building games, crafts, soccer, and HIV education - each day so by the time we got out at 1, they were all tired but eager to come back the next day. One of my favorite things about the camp was the volunteer participation. We had volunteers who we had trained before, but it seemed like everyone just wanted to be involved. One of the principals taught a fun game, and by the last day, even the campers were leading games. Hopefully they have been playing some of the games that they learned during the rest of the break.

So the day after the camp ended we headed to the airport for our flight to Nairobi and then Monrovia via Accra. Though it was a long enough trip for our ankles to swell up, we arrived safely on Saturday afternoon. We spent the first week visiting, preparing for the wedding, and helping out with the opening of an orphanage in a village near the Firestone plantation (Firestone has a huge plantation...in different tracts...of rubber trees. It is an interesting place as it's kind of it's own community with stores and "villages" of houses where the families of workers live. It's a very different model from the old farming and mining world here in ZA where men used to leave their families to work at the mines or on a farm, but more towards what they are doing now. I don't know that much about the South African situation, but Firestone has created a community that has everything people need...and I can't judge whether this is a good or bad thing from just driving through.)

Monrovia itself is an interesting place. You can see that it once was a developed (by West African standards, nothing like what you see here in Southern Africa, but much more than N'Djamena) city, and it's returning to that slowly. With the hustle and bustle, it's a bit difficult to imagine that less than a decade ago (in 2003) the city was under siege. As we drove around, Alvina (Matt's new wife) would tell us about where the rebels were and where Charles Taylor's forces were, but now it's all a mass of shops and street vendors. The evidence is in the shells of burnt out and abandoned buildings that still remain and the converted apartment complexes that used to house NGOs (they've found new homes). The orphanage that we helped with upcountry had been located in the old Voice of America building before moving to the new one.

It was crazy for us to go from living in a country with such an immense and usually effective infrastructure to one without any at all. Though they are building roads, it still takes days to drive to towns upcountry (Liberia is about the size of Tennessee). The roads around Monrovia are pretty good, but some are pothole heavy, and traffic lights are non-existent (I remember Chad had one traffic light that was for show, I never saw it actually work). In Chad, I never really thought too much about the fact that there was no electrical power plant, and that everyone relied on generators, yet in Liberia it felt like such a waste. With so much investment and foreign aid coming into the country, why could they not build a power plant? Actually they are building some sort of renewable plant that will recycle rubber trees for electricity (I'm not exactly sure how) so hopefully that will provide power to some people. The dull (or sometimes extremely loud) roar of the generator at night was a constant reminder of how we take our electricity for granted here. Even the people we hung out with living in air-conditioned ex-pat apartments had their generators turned off during the day.

There are definitely changes afoot though with municipal trash collection (from dumpsters not homes) and renovated market structures with concrete floors and tin roofs so going to the market isn't such a muddy experience. It seems like there are thousands of NGOs or at least hundreds, and I think we met more Americans in two weeks in Liberia than a year in South Africa. The UN presence is still huge as evidenced by the fact that I saw a truck with the license plate UNMIL - 15823 (or something similar...they start at 1 and issue license plates up from there so that means there are tens of thousands of UN vehicles in the country. Matt told us that there is a graveyard of expired UN vehicles, not surprising with the road conditions and constant precipitation.) The huge ex-pat community also meant grocery stores stocked with American products, weird to see after a year of South African brands. Much of it was off brand and expensive (a jar of peanut butter for $4). And you can use US dollars to buy most anything. In fact, prices of more expensive items are given in US dollars.

So back to our trip...we enjoyed the wedding. James fulfilled his role as best man nicely giving a toast that no one seemed to listen to because of the feedback in the sound system. We danced the Grand March which is a Liberian tradition (there was a marching part, soul train part, and then circle dance part...I'm not sure how much of that is traditional). The day after the wedding we all (the family and Matt's friends) went to brunch at a nice resort and spent the day on the beach and watching games in their honeymoon room on the flat screen. The second week, we did lots of errands, visited with Liberian and American friends, went to the beach a few times, visited an orphanage, and just hung out with Ron and Pat.

We had a great time with family, getting to know Alvina, and experiencing Liberia. As we start the post Peace Corps job search, it was neat to get to go and see Monrovia as we may just end up moving there (with all these NGOs, there are a lot more jobs than in other countries). Back in South Africa, the air feels drier than ever as we must have acclimatized to the humidity. I can even feel the altitude a bit in my breath coming from sea level. I'm most excited to hear Setswana again and see people we know. One interesting thing about Liberia is that people use English as the lingua franca. I think I heard about one conversation in Bassa (Alvina's language) the whole time though we spent lots of time with her family. Though Liberian English itself is difficult to understand for those of us who are not used to it, I expected to hear more other languages. I'm sure in the villages you would, but just like in cities here, lots of people speak English. The difference is that it's been that way for a long time and the grannies and children speak English just as often as the people who've been to school.

Hope to write another post about watching world cup games this week, but ciao for now.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

world cup fevah

So I've been trying to think of things to write about other than how busy we are with work and struggling, but just realized what is staring me in the face...the World Cup is starting THIS WEEK. This is a bit crazy to us and the rest of South Africa as it has been the most talked about hyped up thing of the century so far here so people are just a wee bit excited. In addition to the games, the government is sponsoring fan parks in big cities where people can watch the games on big screens. They said that one of the goals of this was to make the games more accessible especially to the people who don't have TVs. Most of the people who don't have TVs don't live in towns so I didn't really understand how this would work, but we found out last week that the municipality is bringing a big screen tv to the high schools in our village as an official viewing point so I guess that answers that.

I'm interested in seeing if the TV announcing will remain the same during the World Cup. During soccer games here, there are usually three or so announcers all speaking different languages. You only hear your language when your announcer is talking and there are no subtitles. On the radio, you can hear a game announced all in one language. I just don't know if all the international guests are going to like listening to the game announced in Zulu and Sotho, but maybe they'll have to deal with it. That's what happens when you visit a country with an amazing language policy like ours.

One of my favorite things about the World Cup mania is that people are constantly quoting advertising slogans...Feel it. It is here. (SABC), Ke nako (also SABC), Bafana kaofela (ABSA bank), Fevah sinayo (E!tv), for example. I don't know how successful these slogans are in actually advertising their brands, but they definitely have become part of the national consciousness when it comes to the World Cup. The other day, we were greeted with one. One of the ladies we work with (complete with rainbow colored wig and Bafana Bafana jersey) said instead of the usual greeting "Can you feel it?" to which we replied "It is here."

So Bafana Bafana is the South African national soccer team. It means "Boys Boys" (and the women's soccer team is Banyana Banyana or "Girls Girls"). People have a hard time getting that most people in American don't know the nickname of Team USA (the Yanks). Most of the Africa national teams have animal mascots, but ours is distinctly (or proudly, to take another popular slogan) South African. The most audible and controversial symbol of South African soccer is the vuvuzela, basically a plastic toy horn that people blow on during games. When I was watching the Confederations Cup on TV it sounded like a very loud swarm of bees was surrounding the stadium, but in real life it's a bit more deafening. Our favorite symbol of South African soccer are makarapas which are hard hats that have been hand cut so that they stick up in the air and painted to express support of your team. If you search for pictures of Kaizer Chiefs or Orlando Pirates fans, you should be able to find the full effect. Makarapas, giant glasses, and capes. It's amazing.

Finally, the newest trend in World Cup fevah has come in the form of the diski dance. Basically this is a choreographed dance that has moves that are similar to soccer moves (kicks and stuff). We've tried to learn it a couple of times, but it's really quite complicated. It could never take off like the macarena or something in America because it's pretty complex, but here it's approaching that level of popularity.

Can you feel it? It really is here.

Friday, May 21, 2010

After reading James' thoughts on his hero Ronnie James Dio, you may be asking yourself what exactly it is that we do here that we have so much time to immerse ourselves in pop culture. In reality, we are insanely busy to the point where we just get home and crash every night. Of course, insanely busy is a relative term as we are still here in South Africa and we are still home between 3 and 5 every afternoon. I think I would have a heart attack if I was still at school at 6 o'clock though this is something that my principals do often (the amount of paperwork put on the management is ridiculous...this week they got a memo telling them they needed to submit final grades for all students from 1994 until 2009. They keep track of these on progression schedules but finding them from way back in 1994 proved to be very tricky.)

Anyway lots of things have been keeping us busy. We are quickly preparing for our World Cup day camp. We got final approval for our grant last week so we are very excited about that. We've got over 250 applicants for 100 spots to attend the camp but are hoping to have another similar camp in December so that more kids will get the chance to attend. Our co-chairs (two wonderful volunteers) are amazing and took care of tons of stuff when we were out of town for a week for the training of trainers for the new volunteers who are coming in July. Now we along with the co-chairs are busy training our staff (who are mostly middle and high school youth) about camps and youth development. Things are on track, but the looming obstacle is Youth Day (a national holiday that happens to fall during our camp). We've attempted to help plan some sort of celebration to happen after camp that day with some community partners, but so far we have no plan at all so it should definitely be interesting.

Other than the camp, this term at school has flown by. Exams are starting this week which to many people means we can't do anything else. In reality, the kids have lots of spare time during exams because usually they take two tests a day and spend the rest of the time hanging out. We're doing a candy gram fundraiser for our magazine at one school which I'll be interested to see how it takes off. My other club (a community service club) has come up with a killer vision and mission for their project (which focuses around healthy living for HIV positive folks) and we'll be drafting the action plan soon. Next quarter, they are going to make it happen. At the other school, I have been busy getting the library off the ground though I've faced a few setbacks, mostly because of the end of the term. The teachers have said that they want to wait til next term to open it so I've decided to informally open it to kids during break time and I've got some very excited Young Librarians helping me. And then there's educator computer classes...We've actually had to start saying no or not yet to people asking us for help with projects because our plates are overfilled right now. And I've realized we won't have a spare moment in the village til mid-August or so which will be right around time to start planning the next camp.

But though it's a bit overwhelming, it's great to be productive and James is just as busy as me with libraries, reading tutoring, computer classes, and more. Hopefully all of the stuff we are working on now will make it easier for us to do some of the things we are even more interested in (i.e. I have yet to do a workshop about bilingual education which is kind of my main goal in being here). And besides, being busy helps us stay warm in the colder weather.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mexican Hat

I would offer my throat to the wolf with the red roses. Why do you ask?

May Day, May 4th (of Kent state infamy), and Cinco de Mayo makes for a strange week.

Capetown is like the Outerbanks but with numerous financial institutions and French people.

I am willing to Early Terminate if and only if Steve Correl is leaving the office and I can take his place.

I forgot what it was like to huddle for warmth…I didn’t miss it.

I think that the Steelers and Browns should agree that Dennis Dixon and Antwaan Randle el and Seneca Wallace and Josh Cribbs should have to play every offensive down in their first meeting.

I just watched an Inconvenient Truth and fell asleep, took a break, played some baseball simulator 1.000, and then shut it off and that was in the first 30 minutes.

To answer the question I do miss America and not why you might think. Gary Busey on Celebrity Rehab is a crime to have to watch in reruns when I get back in a few years.

I am going have a sister and so finally I can play star wars properly, Matt was never a convincing Leia.

I am interested in how Marvel will actually make the leap from Tony Stark building some gadgets to Norse Mythology being real.

I had a dream last night that I got to tell my brother about the death of Ronnie James Dio and we had a long embrace.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

summer, where did you go?

Unfortunately for us, South Afrika is not the land of endless summer. It has gotten cold, and we are not fans. Though we have plenty of blankets, it is hard to motivate yourself to leave the house when it's cold outside. Plus, we seem to have finally broken free of almost a week of constant rain and clouds. Combine that with being sick and it's definitely been icky. But the sun has found her way back out which makes the cold a lot more bearable. And I know by a lot of people's definitions, it's really not that cold, but it feels like it is to me.

Now that we're coming out of the haze that was the last few rainy, cold days, I'm realizing how much work I have to do. We're going to find out soon if we got funding for our camp during the World Cup holiday, and there's lots of preparations to do for that. I'm doing computer classes for the educators at my schools, my clubs, and I want to get the second library opened and in use in the next few weeks. James is also busy with clubs, library stuff, the camp, and more I'm probably forgetting.

Snakes seem to be a reoccuring theme in our lives which is a bit scary. We found some snake skin in the house but couldn't find a snake. These random boys we don't know showed up with a baby snake in a jar and asked us if we wanted to keep it as a pet. One of the principals said her niece saw a giant snake in their kitchen, but they searched the house and couldn't find one anywhere. Our middle school girl friend was out in the bush with her friend and got bit on the back by a snake. She got to the clinic quickly enough that she was fine. That plus all of the tall grass and mud from the recent inexplicable rainy season has me scared. Last night, I dreamt a giant snake was chasing me. The only consulation of the dream was that somehow it was in Zanzibar, and I was enjoying sitting on the beach there before the snake encounter. It's probably a lot warmer in Zanzibar...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

a life on the road

What a whirlwind life has been and it's not over yet. After working very hard to finish a grant application in mid-March, we were off to a Peace Corps training focusing on HIV/AIDS, grant writing, and project design and management. It was a great time, and a very valuable learning and networking experience for our counterparts who are doing a learnership (like an internship) through the Dept of Education. It was great getting a chance to go through the process of designing a project with them. We planned out what we'd need to do to build a community park which would be quite a fun project if they weren't so busy with starting the old age home. Maybe next year...

Then it was off to the Longtom Marathon (thanks to everyone who donated!). Even though we walked the 21 km, we were pretty sore by the end of it. It was fun to see lots of other PCVs and meet a bunch we hadn't met before, but it was kind of rushed because we had to leave at 7 the next morning to make sure we'd make it to the airport in time to meet my parents.

The trip to the airport was remarkably smooth even though it involved 4 taxis and 7 hours. We got there in time to grab some falafel before they got in exhausted because they really didn't sleep the whole ride. We took a couple of days to recover and see the village. They got to meet our host mom as well as some of our friends and co-workers. Though it was quiet around the village because of the school holidays, we did end up introducing them to a lot of people.

Then it was off to tour South Africa...first we headed to Pilanesburg National Park where despite lots of rain we saw a ton of animals up close...elephants, giraffes, zebras, a warthog, rhinos, jackals, monkeys and lots of different kinds of antelopes. It was pretty amazing. From there, we headed south towards the coast. We stopped for lunch in Ventersdorp (where just a few days leader former AWB leader Eugene Terre Blanche would be murdered on his farm) and spent the night in Britstown in the middle of the karoo (an arid area that takes up most of the west of inland South Africa). Most of the people there are coloured (which is the classification given to the descendants of the Afrikaaners and black South Africans). They've been a separate group for so long that they are seen as one of South Africa's racial groups, and a child in our village with mixed race parents wouldn't automatically be considered coloured. Anyway, it was our first experience in an area where the majority of the population is coloured, and it just made us even more aware of how culturally diverse this country is.

Then it was off to Knysna on the garden route. Along the way, James did a cliff jump into a pool next to a waterfall and we attempted to eat lunch in Outdshoorn (the ostrich capitol of ZA) but the town was overrun by an Afrikaaner cultural festival. Knysna was a bit too built up for our taste, and the garden route really felt like another country because it's so developed and touristy, but it's definitely beautiful. We hiked along the first part of the Otter Trail in Tsitsikamma National Park and saw duikers, dassies, and dolphins. It was breathtaking, but I got some killer blisters from putting my sandals back on when my feet were wet.

The next day we headed to Swellendam, an old Dutch town in the Little Karoo. It was super cute and right up against the mountains. We got some of the best food of our trip there (my parents said the restaurant where they had dinner was one of the best they had ever been to in their lives, but we skipped it for ramen, but the lunch was pretty darn tasty too). It was a good day to kind of relax before heading to Cape Town.

In Cape Town, we kept busy...went up table mountain, saw the penguins, took a day trip to Stellenbosch and winery, went to the botanical gardens, walked all around the city, visited the Jewish Museum, hung out at the waterfront, ate bagels, Ethiopian, Cuban, Indian, and Thai food, shopped for crafts, etc, etc. It was beautiful and felt a lot like an American city, definitely much more hip and safer than Pretoria. But I think if we lived there, we'd spend a lot of money.

We were pretty exhausted by the time we got home, but it was definitely worth it. Now we've got another training this week and then have to get to working on making this camp happen because we've got only two months to go. Then it's time for Liberia and Namibia, wow our time here is flying by.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Life of the Library

Much of what we do on a daily basis right now has to do with libraries. James has been busy organizing and cleaning a library at one school, at another I'm sticking stickers on books to represent different learning areas, and at the last I'm playing chaperone to children who want to come and read the books. It's funny because neither of us really wanted to involve ourselves in library work (mostly because we didn't want to get stuck cataloguing books for two year) but it's become something we do almost everyday, and shockingly, it's rewarding.

The libary that is actually in use now is interestingly the only one that hasn't gotten donations coordinated by former volunteers but did have a lot of books donated in the past. The collection isn't that big but it's enough for most kids to find something they want to read. Kids come in and look through the books to find the perfect one to read. Interestingly, the books about HIV and AIDS are very popular as well as the one about how babies are made. Then they sit quietly or maybe in a group pouring over the words and the pictures. But the highlight of my time in the library thus far was when 4 grade 4 girls came in and decided to play school. One played teacher and picked up books to give lessons about. The others raised their hands and asked questions and repeated when she said to repeat.

Yet, the library is not always happy place. Last week, three grade 1 boys (yes, grade 1) broke into the library, grade 1 and 2 classes and wrecked havoc. I came in on Monday morning to find books all over the floor and broken glass. In the other classes, they spilled glue on the carpet and tore up notebooks. Though it was only a couple of hours till everything was put right, it still was hard to believe that these boys would want to destroy their own school and resources. Later that day, they came to see me with the other children and look at books as if they hadn't done anything wrong. And they did because really how are they going to learn to respect their school until they get to enjoy it.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

a day of quotes

Things are a bit crazy in the village with ongoing water strikes in the municipality (we haven't had water in weeks...well we've had it for a few hours but I don't know that that counts and it is...or was...dirty because the processing plant has some sort of problem). The biggest effect that this has had on us is that the strikers are blocking the road in the next village and so the teachers that don't live in the village (about 80% of them) can't make it here and people can't leave to do shopping and such things. So despite or maybe because of the strike we had a day full of amusing quotes...

A girl is crying grade 4. Becca asks why, a boy explains "That boy is bullying her because her father is Zulu, he's not sensitive to her culture".

Our friend who works at the area office has discovered that the new large TV in the lobby is actually a computer. James asks what you can do on it. He says "you can add a printer!"

Sitting and chatting Becca mentions that "I saw the grossest poop today. It was a person poop, it was too big to be a child." James drops everything to go see it and says he can here the flies buzzing around it from 50 feet away.

James calls Telkom for our 90 year old neighbor. The women on the phone asks why his English is so good though he has a Sotho name. He says "Well I studied in America".

We are sitting and talking and for some reason Mma explains "I am like Simba, the little lion king", I can't for the life of me remember why. Later she says that it would "take two buses to transport Zuma's family" when we are talking about Obama and Zuma's impending (obviously, it's going to happen) visit to our house.

And now we are watching Manhunt (the reality show that searches for South Africa's manilest man so I'm sure we will hear another choice quote or four.)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

So Wave Your Flag

Summer seems to finally be on the way out which though I'm not excited for winter weather, we're loving for the moment. There are actually clouds in the sky, today they are big fluffy cumulus ones which means that sunsets are beautiful again and sometimes the sun goes behind a cloud. At night, I start to freeze and need the mink (heavy blanket, not actually made of mink) around 2 a.m. But during the day it still gets hot, and the walk home from school is pretty sweaty. In between weather really is the best.

We've had to travel a lot recently, well mostly James went to Pretoria 3 times in the last week for the diversity committee meeting, medical stuff, and taking part in the fishbowl (a part of the training for new volunteers where volunteers talk about their experiences...he represented married volunteers). I'm off to Pretoria Thursday for a meeting of the volunteer advisory committee. After that, things will calm down a bit for a while, but it will only be 3 weeks until our next Peace Corps training.

It's interesting comparing experiences with other volunteers which James had a chance to do a lot of on his trips to Pretoria. I feel like our experience is pretty unique, and we are very lucky in a number of ways. One of which is that I don't get harassed. Most of the other female volunteers deal a lot with harassment, and I'm not quite sure why I don't get harassed. I think it's because I'm ugly. I've actually wondered if I do get harassed and just don't call it that because it is less extreme than harassment I experienced in Chad. I'm constantly wowed by the respect that people show us, and the lack of the mocking that I experienced constantly in Chad. But I think a lot of it is in your mind. Today I was walking home and some children called me Mme Mmabatho (the name of an old volunteer) and I said 'Mme whooooo, it's Lebogang' and then listened to them repeating the conversation (especially the word 'whoooo') like 50 times. So I guess I could get annoyed by that, but when it's not malicious I think it's rather cute.

I think it's interesting the things we watch on TV here. A lot of cartoons, Oprah, and things like Make Me a Supermodel. And it's not like we are watching these with our host family so we have no excuse for the quality of tv we are watching. I also really really like South African coke commercials and feel kind of guilty for that since I'm pretty anti-Coca Cola in general. They are just so catchy. I wish we had a way to exercise more than sitting around and watching TV in the afternoon. It's hard because I have no desire to start running and with no bike or swimming pool, I don't know of another way to get cardiovascular exercise.

Work is just fine. It's pretty busy in general with teaching computers to teachers and school governing body members, working in the library, 2 after-school clubs, maybe starting to teach natural science, making the area office newsletter, starting an old age home, and more that I can't think of. I think the business that we experience during the day definitely contributes to our laziness in the evenings.

Also, I should mention that we are participating the Longtom Marathon (walking a half marathon) to raise money for the KLM Foundation which some of our friends started a few years ago when they were volunteers here. If you want to learn more about it or donate, you can visit their website www.klm-foundation.org and be sure to put one of our names in the Longtom Marathon Field if you are donating.

And that's the end of my long rambly entry.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

fruit philosophy

I've decided recently that there are a number of ways to see fruit in life. One is that you can and do buy it when you want it at wherever you choose to buy fruit...whether it's organic or just regular...a subset of this is whether you wait for it to be in season or not, but there is a tendency to buy whatever fruit you happen to like regardless of the season. Then there's the only buy in season, maybe at farmers' markets. Then there's us...when we first got to our village, oranges were still in season and we have 4 or 5 orange trees in our yard so we only ate oranges. When the oranges ended, our fruit consumption dwindled and we may have bought an apple or banana or two. When there were peaches, we ate those. Figs. Grapes. Etc. But now we don't have any fresh fruit in our yard, and it's been a while since we have so the question arises, do we buy fruit? To most people it would be an obvious yes, yet we continue not to buy fruit. Somehow it keeps coming though. People keep giving us mangoes, watermelon, bananas, pomegranates from their yards or even that they bought. And it's not like we are out there asking or begging for fruit, it's just luck. And we appreciate it so much more now. But I don't think our fruit philosophy is for everyone as we might not always get our two servings a day. In fact, we can go days with no fruit at all. But our fruit philosophy seems to line up at least with our ma's as I've never seen her purchase a piece of fruit.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Eat some pap

I hit a kid with a discus at a track meet.

I bruised my ribs playing capture the flag.

South Africa has an under 10 javelin throw.

I watched twilight and new moon and thought they were spinoffs of Charmed because the plot and technical effects screamed TNT quality.

Got my tickets to the gun show and the US vs UK world cup this week.

The maple will now make a run for the Stanley cup because giguere and Phaneuf are worth at least 20 points in the rankings right.

I really hope that the Steelers resign Casey Hampton and that they draft Spiller in the first round.

New Haven Connecticut looks like a strong candidate for being our new home despite the lack of a curling rink.

Found a thrift store in Brits but I dont want to dress like a 50 year old Afrikaaner woman so the point is moot.

Is fairly sure that Omo could take the paint off a car.

I think that people who make viruses should be ashamed of themselves because they are just hampering people in rural Africa.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

what would you do for e-lec-tricity?

We got home from our IST (training) on Wednesday night to find out the power had been out since Tuesday when there was a big storm. We called Eskom about 50 times and they finally fixed it on Friday around 3. It stayed on until about 7 and then went out for the rest of the night. We called them again today and it came back around 12. Who knows how long it will stay on this time. It wouldn't be such a big deal if we hadn't gone straight from eating 5 meals a day at training to surviving mostly on bread and peanut butter since we've been home. And we came home with the computer battery basically dead so we could not take advantage of our normal cheating by actually having entertainment when the power is out. Yeah I think we're pretty spoiled.

But the highlight of this instance of power outages (which does not top our 6 days of no power record) is that the old man next door had no power for two weeks so ma told Eskom that one of the many times we called. So they came to fix his power yesterday. He does not own the house, he watches it for a woman who we have met a couple of times and she seems very nice. Anyway apparently she is a sangoma (according to wikipedia "a practitioner of herbal medicine, divination and counselling") and the Eskom man said that he will never go into that house again because he was so freaked out by the stuff inside. I asked if it was bones and such (if you want a pretty horrific "comedic" rendering of sangomas, watch of Leon Schuster's awful Mr. Bones movies) and ma said no, but didn't tell us exactly what was so scary in the house and we were napping at the time so we didn't get to peek inside ourselves. So now we are aching to figure out the mystery of the sangoma.

We had a great time with our fellow PCVs at IST. It was a little surreal to see everyone for the first time since September since we've mostly just seen Kristen and Gabi, but once we got over the initial shock we had a lot of fun. We planned some great evening activities...a PCV costume party (I was a pussy cat vixem and James was a punk cop voortrekker), talent show, capture the flag game, and of course Peace Corps Prom. There were some genuinely really fun moments including an amazing Bohemian Rhapsody sing a long and Autumn, Kristen and I singing and dancing at the talent show (which for at least 2 out of the 3 of us are not talents). We also got to go back to our training site for an afternoon and visit our host family from training who were very happy to see us and meet their new baby.

Anyway it looks like the family has shown up from Rustenburg so I'm off to say hello and inshallah we'll actually be able to cook dinner tonight.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Boring Work Update

Since we last updated, the school year has gotten off to a fast start. We've both been pretty busy and happy to be so though what we've been doing isn't always the most exciting work. Though we are not here to do the work of our schools' administrative assistants, it can be difficult not to provide a lot of help in this area as we are more proficient (and most importantly fast) when it comes to anything involving computers. Actually all of the admin assistants are pretty proficient on the computer, but time management can be an issue for some of them. Anyway, this means that we've been helping out some which the schools really appreciate but is leading to us being asked to do things again and again. One thing we've been talking about doing to help in this area is creating templates and organizing them well on the computer so that in the future people don't have to retype everything. This helping with administrative work led me to work both Saturday and Sunday this weekend for a few hours at one of the schools to help them have everything prepared for the year. It's kind of crazy how they have to have all their work done now (time tables, schedules, inventories) for the opening of school because they are always getting inspected while the 'good' school still hasn't done their time table for the year yet which means that teachers just kind of decide when to teach randomly.

I've also been busy cleaning up and organizing the library at one school. I have a table to sit in their now and made pictures for all the initial consonants and consonant blends (tl, sw, kg etc.) in Setswana that I put up on the wall. Now I have to do English. One of the teachers who hasn't talked to me much asked me to explain the new lesson plan format to him so that was a victory. I've gotten educators to facilitate two after school clubs with me. And I had my first meeting of my teacher research seminar today. It's hard to tell how it went. There were 13 educators there, mostly because the one school that is hosting required their teachers to attend (though some of them were absent) so it was them and 4 educators from other schools. Some people seemed really interested but most didn't really show much emotion. It was mostly me talking and explaining what teacher research is and what we'll be doing this year so there wasn't that much time for participation. We'll see how it goes next time. I am a bit nervous because though I'm structuring it over the course of a year, I am requiring a bit of work from everyone (they have to write a paper and present it). We'll see how it goes.

James has been busy with much of the same stuff. He just discovered another messy library to organize as we're receiving some books that the old volunteers got donated soon. He's been setting up e-mails (or as they like to call them, websites) for everyone at the middle school because they now have the internet.

On Friday we're off for our IST (a Peace Corps training) for a week. It will be fun though weird to see volunteers we haven't seen since September again. It's weird to think that in just about two months my parents will be coming to visit and then in another couple of months we'll be off to Liberia for Matt's wedding and then Thom will be coming. I think the next year is going to fly by.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

twenty ten!

Well we've made it back home after a relaxing and amazing trip to Coffee Bay. In fact the last month or so has really been non-stop, so it's crazy to sit back and chill at home this week until the beginning of school next week. The end of the school year was chockful of parties and meetings so it went by pretty quickly. Then after school officially ended, our friend who we work with (she manages the education support center in our village) took us to Sun City for the day. It was quite the adventure, we mostly stuck to free activities (sadly didn't get to go to the valley of the waves waterpark which was super crowded since it was a holiday but we snuck into a hotel pool instead), walked around a lot, had some falafel, and met a talking bird. The most ridiculous part was waiting in line half an hour to ride the Sky Train which is literally like a metro car that goes 2 miles an hour (they have a commuter rail here so I don't know why it's such a novelty).

Then we made the speediest excursion to Botswana ever. We went one day and came back the next so the majority of the trip was spent in the taxi they had hired. Our cousin (the younger brother of one of our principals also) is getting married to a girl from Botswana so we went as part of the family delegation to the negotiations for the details of the wedding. He had already paid lebola (the bride price) so this was just about the details of the wedding. They both are really educated, independent people so it was interesting to see how they reconciled what they wanted with the tradition. James got to go and sit with the men during the negotiations while I sat with the ladies. The men did the actual discussions between families and would come and consult us at various times throughout. And of course we had lots of food including an amazing breakfast prepared by the bride's aunt who we stayed with. What we saw of Botswana wasn't too different from South Africa, poorer but the infrastructure was great, and the absence of Afrikaaners was noticable.

When we got back, it was almost time to head down to the coast for our vacation. We met up with 9 other volunteers in Pretoria and took a pretty excruciating overnight bus ride (with everyone who wanted to make it home by Christmas eve) to Mthatha where we got picked up to go to the Coffee Shack in Coffee Bay. We had an awesome time there. The coast was beautiful...rolling hills meeting cliffs. We went to the beach a lot, went surfing twice (the first time, our lesson, was more successful as we both stood up and rode waves into shore about 10 times each). We did a bunch of hikes...trekking through the dense forest next to a river to the sacred pools, a long hike to a waterfall that you had to swim the last part of, along the coast to the Hole in the Wall, and to the Mapuzi Cliffs where James did a pretty daring cliff jump and I did a less scary one into a river. It was really fun to get to hang out with other volunteers who we hadn't seen since September and just relax. It was crazy how unaccustomed we are to being catered to so we were kind of shocked by how nice and accomodating everyone was. We're definitely happy to be back at home, but also excited to think about future vacations and seeing more of the country.

Here are some photos: