Sunday, October 14, 2007

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.

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