Friday, October 26, 2007

A Glimpse of Our Village

Here is a quick sample of pictures. I also attached a few to previous entries. You should be able to click on the thumbnail to view a larger image. If you have any problems, please let me know. We are working on posting our pictures to another site with better access and viewing capacity. Once that is set we will provide a link. Until then, enjoy!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Helping Hands

As we continue to settle in we are frequently reminded of how genuinely kind and considerate the people are here. Not just the adults, but the children as well. During one of our first weeks at the village, we realized we would need one more plastic school chair for our house so that we could both study and work at the table together. Paul asked at the primary school if we could borrow one (for two years) and promised to take good care of it so that we could return it when we leave. Instead of getting just one chair, we received two more smaller school tables, a chair, a shovel and a pick axe. It was explained to us that we would both need our own table to work as our desk and that we could have more chairs at any time. The shovel and pick axe were to be used so that we could dig a hole in the back of our yard to burn our trash. They had were thinking of everything. So, after school, Paul and a troop of fourth grade boys gathered up the items and set off down the road. One tall American surrounded by half a dozen young lads in their black trousers and white oxford school uniforms. They eagerly practiced their English, pointing out their various items and testing each other, laughing whenever Paul tried the same in Setswana, but always assisting with the correct pronunciation eventually. Despite the short walk, it was a warm day and not ideal for hauling things back from school, but they were nothing but happy to help. After, arranging our assorted furniture on the front step they grinned as I thanked them in Setswana and proceeded to scramble off to play yelling back that they would ‘See you tomorrow malome(unlce)’.

Once the tables and chairs were inside, it was time to dig the hole. It is necessary to burn our trash here because there is no central, or community, waste disposal system (unless goats count; they will eat anything!). This is not the most environmentally friendly option, considering some of the plastics used each week, but it also keeps streets and yards from piling up with trash. The nice thing is that most all the glass bottles from colddrink (the one word that is universal for ’soda’ here in SA)or the taverns are recycled by the shop owners. A good start! Since we cannot use only glass or paper products here, Paul went out to dig our hole. The ground in our yard is a burnt red color and a bit rocky, so the pick axe came in handy. Having only been working for around a quarter of an hour, but already sweating rather uncomfortably, a young boy appeared from around our house heading toward Paul, shovel in hand. His name is Salan, a lanky 7th grader from the upper primary school where Paul works. Looking from me to my unfinished hole he asked rhetorically, “Need some help?”. No sooner had Paul said yes, than he was drawing a line in the sand with the corner of his shovel, saying, ‘You need to make it larger and deeper.” Side by side they worked for another hour, making small talk about school and the village. Once the hole was complete, he surveyed our work and smiled, half with approval, half amusement that this American was actually digging holes and burning trash. We exchanged a few laughs about our settling in, a handshake and then he was off for home to help his family prepare for dinner. We were amazed. At that age we would not have been too eager to help small hole to plant a few flowers, let alone help the new neighbors dig a hole in their backyard large enough for a few months of burning trash.

That is what life is about here. Everyone helps everyone else. Young or old, black or white, it does not matter. It was explained to us by a couple young guys from the high school who helped us hang the line outside for us to dry our clothes:

“If we help you today, and you help us tomorrow, everyone is happy and we get to know our neighbors as friends.” The village becomes a family.

Springboks Win!

The South Africa Springboks won the Rugby World Cup last night over England 15-6. The match was intense with a near try by England that would have dramatically changed the way the end was played. Celebrations were had all around the country and President Thabo Mbeki was on hand in France to help hand out medals to the team. In the last month we have been transformed into die hard SA Rugby fans. The sport is fantastic and addictive. It commands the same attetion that the NFL does on a Sunday afternoon back home.

We have met some great friends, Stehpen and Jolene, in our shopping town and they invited us and some other friends over for the day to watch the match. In the afternoon, Brandon, Stephen and myself went over to the local rugby field. Stephen, who plays on a team in town, gave us a quick tutorial in the ways of rugby. We passed, kicked and goofed around on what turned out to be a great afternoon. Afterward, just prior to the start of the match, we put together a braai (BBQ) of lamb chops with a potato bake to compliment. It was a perfect way to spend the day, and a new part of South Africa for us to experience. One we hope to take part in again. Go Springboks!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Settling In

On September 20th we had our official swearing in ceremony in Pretoria. Our training class is the 10th anniversary of Peace Corps in South Africa and the largest class South Africa has sworn in. We were joined by our Regional Director, our supervisors from the village, as well as a large number of current volunteers in South Africa. Our hosts, the US Ambassador and his wife, provided a delicious spread for lunch and we sat in the shade on a warm afternoon enjoying last moments with our friends from training before departing with our supervisors for our new home. We traveled with Ben and Susie, another couple serving in a village about 40 minutes by car from ours. With all our boxes, bags and people, two of our supervisors actually sat in the back of the truck for the four hour ride from Pretoria! We arrived at sunset, but there was a miscommunication with the keys, so we sat on the front step in the dark with our bags for around an hour until we could reach the woman from the church who had them. Despite the long day, we laughed at the thought of such a long journey only to be met with a locked door.
Our house is an old mission house owned by the Dutch Reform Church, our neighbors with whom we share a fence. The house is quite large by Peace Corps standards and we live on our own, not with a host family as is the case with most volunteers. There are four bedrooms, a main room, dining room/kitchen, and small bathroom. Our room and the dining room are the only furnished rooms. Another bedroom is used for storage, one for exercising, and the last for hanging ‘unmentionable’ laundry that we would rather not hang outside! We have electricity, but no running water. There is a tap in the church yard where we fetch water to use in the house. The water is rather bitter and a bit salty, so we resort to boiling and filtering our drinking water. Coffee, tea and Tang serve as a great way to give it a better flavor, if you are inclined to send any packages our way!
Our new home is slowly taking shape and looking like our own. We bought our first major appliance as a married couple just the other week, a new mini refridgerator! Being in a home without a host family we have had to buy a few larger items that other volunteers usually do not get. We also purchased a small oven with two hot plates on top. Just these two items have transformed the possibilities for us here when it comes to food. They will definitely get a workout over the next two years, at least when the power is on. Whenever it rains the power goes out, and it has rained.
It has rained more days than we can count. Mostly it has rained at night which is nice. We are grateful not to slop through the mud to work, and the steady drumming of rain on our tin roof lulls us to sleep at night (when we do not have rain, we rely on barking dogs, crowing roosters, bleating goats, noisy donkeys, and the music from the local tavern to sing us to sleep). Unfortunately in the morning we have to navigate a few pools of water on the floor that have formed beneath the few small holes in our roof or blown in under the cracks in the doors. A few strategically placed buckets and a mop have sufficed until we can patch things up. What may be an inconvenience for us is a great thing for the area around our village. Last year the rains did not come until later in November and crops were not good. This year is off to an early and good start with rain and they are beginning to plow. Mealies (or maize/corn) is the staple crop here in South Africa. The way it is prepared is not like anything we are used to eating. The mealies are ground down to flour and usually boiled in water with salt to obtain a sticky, mashed potato-esque, consistency. Served with one of a variety of sauces or gravy made with vegetables, beans, and occasionally meat this is the main course on most days for the large percentage of the rural population. We eat it occasionally when visiting friends, but at home we like to cook dishes that are a bit more familiar. Nothing like recipe from mom’s cookbook to make this truly feel like home.

The Road Thus Far

After two days in Philadelphia, we traveled for another two days on long flights with a substantial layover to arrive in Johannesburg on July 21. Our first order of business upon arrival was to grab a copy of the newest Harry Potter book at the Jo’burg airport. We had barely left the baggage claim and had not even met our South African colleagues before ducking into the nearest shop in the terminal to buy it. Following a two hour bus ride from the airport into the North West Province, we finally came to stop at Mankwe Teacher’s College. Our first week was spent here as we struggled to overcome jet lag and began to learn more about the work we will be doing. A broad overview of our projects was given and we were introduced to the training staff that would become our sources of information and our good friends over the next couple months. We met current volunteers as well, who provided a glimpse into our future in South Africa. Over the course of training we met many more volunteers from all different areas of the country. They provided short trainings on different work we will be doing, gave a number of amusing, yet informative skits on scenarios we are likely to encounter during our stay, and lent an ear to many of us individually who had questions or concerns regarding our service.
After our initial week at Mankwe, our training moved to a cluster of three villages just outside Zeerust, a town in the North West Province. There we all stayed with families that volunteered to host us for eight weeks. Our host family was wonderful. We lived in a lovely home with our Gogo (grandmother in Setswana), our host aunt Sidi, her son Amo, and our two host sisters Lekhabe and Mpho. Our host parents, Mmampho and Bushy, along with our host brother Robbie, lived in another house near the shop that they own. We shared meals with them, learned to cook a few delicious South African dishes, became avid soccer fans in a short time and were quickly told that the Kaizer Chiefs are the team to support. The love and hospitality they showed us made for an enjoyable transition into life here. They were also very helpful in getting us started on the long road to language learning by helping us each night master a few words and phrases.

During the days at training, we were attending sessions for our respective projects. We had speakers, workshops, presentations and short field trips around the area to bring us up to speed on South African history, culture and daily life. Along with this, each day we also had language training for a few hours. Our days started early, we were out the door around 7:30am and lasted until about 5:00pm. By the time we got home, did a bit of language homework and reading for the next day, helped with dinner and chatted with our family, we were exhausted. Average bedtime for training: 9:30pm. We just could not keep our eyes open much past that time.
On the weekends we were able to spend more time with our family and they were eager to show us around. The very first weekend in the village we were taken out to our family’s cattle post where Bushy and his colleagues care for their cattle. We learned about the cattle industry in the rural areas, weather patterns, rain (or lack there of in recent years) and much more. Cattle farming is a common and successful business for many people in the area. We had a home cooked meal over the fire that afternoon and it was a great day. Other weekends we were able to visit our host parents at their shop, see other family members for lunch or dinner, visit our fellow trainees and explore the village.
As the weeks went by we became quite comfortable in the village. Neighbors would recognize us and stop to talk, usually in a combination of Setswana and English. We had a number of experiences with all sorts of people around the village. Here are a few anecdotes from those two months:
-Walking to Botswana. Round trip was just over 20km.
-Learned the intricacies of South African pop-culture life through the soapies (soap opera) Generations.
-Visited a sangoma, or traditional healer and watched as they cast bones to read the future of a volunteer.
-Our bus broke down on the interstate from Rustenburg. We had to walk a couple km on the side of the highway to get to a B&B to wait for a new bus.
-Cooked dinner for our host family in the dark after we lost power. Luckily they had a gas stove!
-Our big training party fell on Jess’ birthday weekend. She had a cake and ice cream.
-Made sloppy joe’s for the host family. It was a huge hit.
-Paul tried cow brains. They taste like scrambled eggs.
-Peace Corps held a big event to thank our host families for their hospitality.
-Spent our 1st anniversary having lunch at our host aunt and uncle’s place. They had a huge spread for us and it was a great way to spend the day.
-Paul shaved his head.
-Spent many evenings with Gogo learning to speak Setswana, watching WWE (she loves it!), meeting her friends who are over for tea, and listening to stories from her 87 years in the same village.
-Paul spent two weeks teaching grade 6 at a primary school.
-Listening to our host cousin giggle at the noise of us shuffling a deck of cards. We spent countless hours keeping up with his four years of constant energy.

We have been busy, yet there is so much to learn about South Africa we feel we have barely scratched the surface. Thankfully each day we are greeted with smiling faces and genuine warmth everywhere we go. People are eager to know about us and even more eager to invite us into their homes and their lives. So with our Setswana dictionary in one hand and usually a small neighbor child grasping on to the other, we set off each morning down the dirt road in front of our house for another day under the African sun.


The opinions expressed are our own and do not reflect those of the Peace Corps, the U.S. Government, the Republic of South Africa, or and other person, party, or organization mentioned on this website.