Friday, October 16, 2009

Snakes in the Schoolyard

Everyone told me that there were no snakes in the village. All the dangerous animals stayed out in the fields. I would never see them. Everyone was wrong. I was walking across the schoolyard one day last week, on my way back to the staff room after a geography class, when I saw some creature all coiled up in a patch of sunlight. I crept closer. It was a snake! Thankfully it was dead. Some learners had killed it earlier. After my careful inspection, the snake was removed from the schoolyard by a group of boys. Hopefully, this is the last post in my "Snakes" series!

In other news, I survived another week at site. I'm starting to fall into a routine. I get up early, drink tea, go to school, take notes, make suggestions, drink tea, marvel at some of the bizarre things that happen, walk home, chat with some learners, tutor others, drink tea, haul water, kill flies, sweep up, watch extraordinarily bad South Africa soap operas, drink more tea and finally, collapse. Then I do it all over again.

My life in South Africa isn't all that fun or exciting, so why am I still here? Well, there are occasional Peace Corps moments that make everything worthwhile. For instance, a neighbor came over to my house a few days ago for help with a 10th grade chemistry assignment. She brought her 2-year-old daughter. We chatted for a bit, and she said she wanted to be just like me and finish school. I really hope she is able to. That's what I'm here for!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Snakes on a Khumbi

The title of this blog post comes from a small incident that occurred on the dirt road between my village and the next village over a few days ago. My host mom and I were just driving along when we came to what we thought was a stick. We drove over it. Then the stick moved. It was a snake! We turned the car around and headed back to look at it as it slithered away. My host mom refused to get too close, because she was afraid that the snake might jump in the car. Apparently, snakes can do that here.

Anyways, I have officially spent a full week at work in Deorham and have sort of settled into a routine. Monday and Tuesday I go to Mosinki Middle School, Wednesday and Thursday I spend at Gamochwaedi Primary School, and then on Fridays I work with home-based care in my village. I don't have a lot of free time, and I'm usually exhausted by the time I have to walk home in the blistering heat of a Kalahari spring. Even after the sun goes down, it's still burning hot, and it's not even summer yet!

I realize that it's only October, but since packages take such a long time reach me I thought I would post my Christmas list now.

Dear Santa,

There's no room in my suitcase to bring anything more home than I brought to South Africa, so I would like soccer balls and frisbees, etc. for the local children. Every night at six o'clock, the young people of my village meet at a big field to play games. There are only two soccer balls, and they are pretty ratty. So, if you have anything in reasonably good condition or are willing to part with a few dollars to buy new, send it to South Africa! Kites would be awesome too. The Kalahari can be very windy. Thanks!


Monday, September 28, 2009

At Home at Site

I am officially a resident of Deorham, South Africa. My swearing-in ceremony took place on the 17th of September at Mafikeng, and that night I moved into my room for the next two years. It's small, but comfortable enough. Peace Corps South Africa is often referred to as "the Posh Corps" by volunteers in other African countries. There may be some truth in that considering my rather substantial collection of kitchen appliances (fridge, hot plate, kettle), but I still haul my water to wash the dishes.

I have not spent much time at my schools because I arrived at site just before the September holidays. School is closed all over South Africa for more than a week. It's a little boring because I don't really know anyone yet and my village is not exactly known for its great entertainments, but I've been getting a lot of reading done. Peace Corps headquarters has a wonderful library in Pretoria, and I brought a ton of books to site.

Even when school starts up again I expect things to be slow for a while. The first three months at site are meant to be a period of community integration. That means that I'm basically a student teacher. I'm not allowed to start any big projects, much less any funded projects.

The isolation of being the only native English-speaker, the only white person, and the only person with a college degree for miles around is frustrating and overwhelming most of the time, especially considering the treatment I receive as a young woman. I can't say I wasn't warned about this, but I've been surprised at the degree to which I feel affected (and often offended) by it. I'm trying not to dwell on the negative though. Every PCV in any country, ever in the history of Peace Corps, probably felt or feels similarly at this point in their service. Things will get better, and in the meantime I have bad American movies on TV to remind me of home.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Kelsey in the Kalahari

I have just returned from my site visit. My village for the next two years is small, sandy and quite literally in the Kalahari Desert. It is called Deorham and was settled in 1976 when the apartheid regime moved native people off resource-rich land. While the town of Kuruman is 89 kilometers away, my new address is: 

Mosinki Middle School
P.O. Box 514
Kuruman 8460

Obviously, I am sharing the mailbox with one of my assigned schools. Mosinki has only 68 learners from grades 8-10. The actual school grounds consist of 3 blocks: one for classrooms, one for staff offices and one large, empty space with burglar bars on all the windows and doors that I am hoping to turn into a computer lab (ahem, Dell Foundation). In the middle of the school yard there is a big, metal post. Apparently, they used to have solar panels mounted on it but they were taken down for fear of robbery. There is also a school garden, filled mostly with sand and a little bit of spinach.

My second school is just down the road (i.e. sandy path). It is a primary school that is much larger than Mosinki. They also have a large, unused space. In this case, it is filled with dusty books. The staff wants the room to be a library, but they have not been able to make it work yet. I am really excited about helping them with that.

My host family is very friendly and welcoming. While the community is obviously impoverished, my family is comparatively wealthy. I have a host mother who is an educator at Mosinki, a father who works as a welder abroad and several siblings who are mostly all away either at school or working at the mines in Rustenberg.

The community welcomed me by giving me yet another new name. I am now Resego Potelo. Resego means "We are lucky". Please address your mail accordingly.  Hopefully, someday soon the post office will end their strike and I will actually get your mail. Please do keep writing. Holding a letter from the United States in my hands is practically a religious experience. 

Great news for those of you not into snail mail (ahem, Fore): I bought a cell phone! My number is 0829680607, so call or text me whenever. I look forward to hearing from you!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Good and the Bad

Good news: The police inspectors from Mmatlhake came to see me this morning, during my language class. They found my jewelry! It's a little dirty and twisted, but I'm just thrilled to see everything again. Of course the money is all gone. Oh well, welcome to Peace Corps South Africa. As it turns out, the mentally ill neighborhood man was responsible. Once the police found him, he readily confessed to everything. He had two pairs of earrings on him and admitted to giving the third pair away (which the police also recovered). It's generally assumed that he has drunk all the money away. I'm happy that no one in my host family was involved, and I hope to visit Sehokho again before I leave for my site.

Bad news: Because of the various illnesses floating among trainees, about a dozen have been quarantined as a precaution. I'm not sick at all, but since I'm currently staying at the college, I'm stuck with them for a few days. The worst part is that while they all get to sleep in every day, I have to be up early and in class all day. I almost wish I had the flu... almost.

In other news, I spent this morning at Sehokho Primary School teaching a lesson on America and American culture. The learners were stunned to hear that it takes 18 hours by air to reach America. They were disappointed that local soap operas (Generations, Scandal, Isidingo and Rhythm City) are not aired in the US. They were also greatly disappointed that I do not see celebrities on a regular basis. "No, I have not met Beyonce or Chris Brown or Barack Obama, nor have most Americans." I tried to teach Heads Up 7 Up and Four Corners, but the learners already knew them. They still enjoyed playing them though. I learned some games and cultural songs and dances from them which was tons of fun, but totally exhausting. Sadly, today was my last visit to this school. Next week I will be at my permanent site to see my new school(s) for the first time!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Laughing in the Face of Danger

Part I:

This past Friday evening I made an unfortunate discovery. I had been robbed. Someone broke into my room while I was away at school, rooted through my things and took whatever they wanted. My purse was missing two weeks' worth of my salary, and I also lost at least three pairs of earrings (all of which are irreplaceable in terms of sentimental value). Thankfully, none of my cameras were stolen, but my knife was misplaced and the blade dirty. I confronted my host family with some back-up from the Peace Corps. My host family believes that a mentally ill local man is responsible, but the Peace Corps is no longer convinced that my homestay is safe. Therefore, I've moved back into the dorms at the college in Marapyane. This morning I filed a police report about the incident. I'm pretty sure the money has been spent and the jewelry sold, but I think the Peace Corps will reimburse me for some of it. Of course I'm kicking myself for not buying personal property insurance. I can't believe that I was robbed after only a month in-country!

Part II: In my group of 43 trainees, three out of nine have tested positive for swine flu in the last week. I'm not sick, but it's something to look forward to!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

World Cup

Tickets for the world cup are really expensive, right? Not if you're a South African resident! I can get tickets for less than ten dollars a piece, so if anyone is interested in attending with me and can scrape together enough money for a plane ticket, please let me know!

In other news, I am feeling much better, but the other trainees are dropping like flies. Some have simple colds, others the flu, but no one has a medical kit. Rumour has it that they're on the ground in Johannesburg, so we should get them soon.

I taught my first class yesterday at Sehokho Primary School, and I am pleased to report that it went rather well. The regular teacher told me that I was good at teaching maths, but I think I can do better. There were some things in my lesson plan that didn't quite make it into my lesson and a few other things I realized for the first time mid-lesson. I learned that sometimes sample problems don't always work out exactly the way you want them to. Teaching involves a lot of thinking on your feet.

Last Saturday was a Peace Corps field trip to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. It's a great museum and I highly recommend a trip to anyone who plans to visit the area. After we all toured the museum, we headed to a mall in search of food that did not involve pap or chicken feet. I had pizza, which has never tasted so good. A shopkeeper came over to meet and greet all the Americans. He was shocked when we told him that we weren't tourists, we didn't live in Jo'burg, and we were volunteers who lived in rural areas in which indoor plumbing does not exist. His reaction to us seems pretty standard among whites from urban areas. Another shopkeeper who just opened a grocery store in Marapyane warned us to be very careful, implying that the area is very dangerous for us. I have yet to experience any violence, but some of the volunteers who have been in country for a while have pretty scary stories.

Yesterday I experienced my first awkward walk past dozens of children, all screaming "Lekgowa! Lekgowa!" Lekgowa means white person in Setswana. It used to be mildly derogatory, now it's more a statement of fact. Still, what do you do when people start yelling and pointing at you? I waved and kept walking.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sick in SA

I have caught my first illness as an official Peace Corps Trainee. The common cold seems to be circulating throughout the trainees, as well as a case of food poisoning caused by bad chicken (we think). This wouldn't be too bad, except that our medical kits still haven't arrived! I didn't pack medication of any kind, and now I'm in rural South Africa, unmedicated and blowing my nose with precious toilet paper. Augh.

I'm also suffering from a lack of postage. I have letters ready to send to people, but I have no stamps nor immediate access to them. I hope that by the end of the week I will send my letters, but in the meantime...

Thank you to the wonderful individuals who gave me water purifying tablets. They're really quite useful here when I'm too lazy to boil water.

"You don't know me!" This phrase was recommended to PCTs to be used when dealing with unwanted attention.

Chocolate bars, particularly of the life-saving Cadbury variety, are prized here. At the local convenience store, they are kept under glass.

On the bright side, today I co-taught my first class. We presented an English lesson on parts of speech to a combined fourth and fifth grade class and then were asked to present the same lesson to the sixth grade. Education seeems a little haphazard here, but since I was never a teacher in the US I don't have anything to compare it to. Anyways, the lesson went really well. We played a version of the game MadLibs which the learners enjoyed and the educator seemed enthusiastic about. Here in South Africa students are "learners" and teachers are "educators". Next week I will be teaching a maths lesson on my own. I'm nervous because although English is the language of instruction from the fourth grade on, many educators continue to use the home language. Hopefully we will find a middle ground between their English and my Setswana. I will be reviewing fractions and introducing multiplication and division on a number line. What little free time I had hoped for this weekend will now be consumed by lesson planning.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


This is Africa.

I've been here for almost three weeks and there is so much to catch everyone up on!

The first week of training took place entirely at a teachers' college in the village of Marapyane, Mpumalanga province. After moving out of the dorms at the college, I moved in with a host family in the nearby village of Sehokho and commute to the college. It's very rural, there are lots of cows, goats, chickens and donkeys wandering around. My host family is wonderful. I have a host granny (gogo), mother, and three siblings. Most of them speak English very well, and they are great resources for my language learning. My group of trainees (SA20) is learning Afrikaans and Setswana. You can probably Youtube the soap opera Generations to get an idea of what Setswana sounds like if you're interested.

Training is intense. It usually lasts between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. with a break for lunch, at least 5 days a week. We often have sessions on Saturdays as well. This time is split into sessions on language, culture and education training. We also have days during which we make visits to local schools. I'm working with Sehokho Primary School which happens to be attended by my two youngest host siblings.

My first impressions of the Peace Corps and South Africa in general are positive, but my life is very different here. The motto of PCSA seems to be "Hurry up and wait." I feel like I'm always busy, but then there are moments when I have no idea what to do with myself, like when I'm waiting for a ride that should have come 20 minutes ago. Everything operates on "Africa time" so nothing runs on time, ever. It's frustrating, but I'm adjusting to the concept. I'm also in bed every night by 9 o'clock at the very latest. I'm usually asleep by then. It's a far cry from the good days of UAlbany where 5 hours of sleep was considered a fair amount. In visual terms, the area I'm currently living in is amazing. The sunsets are incredible, the stars are unbelievable and the flora is awesome, if extremely different from upstate New York. I have yet to see any typically "African" wildlife though. There are no lions hanging around the front yard every morning, just roosters. I will try to post some pictures later on. Since I'm aware of exactly what you really want to know, yes, I pee in a pit and bathe in a bucket and, no, I never really feel clean. I live covered by a light film of soap. If anyone comes to visit, please book a hotel with running water. I would love a nice shower.

My updates to this blog are likely to be sporadic. The internet is hard to access here, but I will do my best to keep everyone informed.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Snail Mail

I've been busy begging people to write to me for weeks, but I haven't shared any mailing information yet. At long last, here it is!

My mailing address for the first two months (during training) is:

Kelsey Soeth/Trainee
Peace Corps 
PO Box 9536
Pretoria 0001
South Africa

Please number your letters so we can keep track of any missing mail. If you would like to send a package, disguising it as a letter in a padded envelope would help it arrive faster. I will update this blog with my permanent address as soon as I am assigned to a site.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Staging Information

Just made flight arrangements for staging. I will be leaving ROC at 11:50 am on July 22nd and arriving in Arlington, VA around 1:30. I was hoping for NYC, but Washington it is. The staging schedule looks pretty boring. There's a 4-hour lecture on the first day, followed by early morning vaccinations on the second. Thrilling. I leave for Pretoria at 5:40 pm on the 23rd.  Very excited, a little nervous. I can't wait to meet my fellow volunteers. I've started reading some of their blogs, and they all sound like pretty interesting people. It looks like there will be a few married couples and retirees in my training group. Still wading through registration/insurance paperwork.