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.