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.

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