Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Exhausted, but Alive

Once again, I have failed over a long period to update the blog. Once again, my apologies.

My mom came for a visit and wow! We squeezed in quite the South African holiday.

-went to Simon's Town to see "seals" and wound up going on house tours
-took a train journey cross-country
-drove in Jo'burg
-zoomed around the Pretoria Zoo
-observed an ostrich family
-hit a game park that was awesome and terrifying
-hung out in my village
-visited a beach town with one main attraction that we missed due to "rain"
-watched a musical production starring several of my Kuruman friends (You guys are amazing! The singing! The dancing! The costumes!)
-jumped off a mountain
-swam with sharks
-saw tons of birds and a few giant dogs
-realized that "professional surfer" is not a viable career option for me
-regretted my choice of university
-pat a cheetah
-admired plants hundred of years old
-visited some choice museums that are a bit off the beaten path
-almost never slept
-seemed to cheat death on a fairly regular basis
-looked for sheep, found an evil horse
-rode machines of torture
-got a few serious work-outs
-ate so much kingklip I never want to see it again
-discovered the wonder of snoek
-got trailed by a few dassies (rock hyraxes)
-drank hot chocolate at Cape Town's very own Alpine ski resort (wait, that was Table Mountain...)
-nearly met a tragic end due to adverse weather conditions at Cape Point
-enjoyed a tour guide who was practically incapable of uttering a verb that did not end in "ing"
-spent too much time aboard busses
-got in some excellent photoshoots
-went shopping (obviously)

And so much more, I'm tired just thinking about it!

Clearly, very little time was spent just lounging about and relaxing. Mom and I are practically professional tourists.

In other news, my right wrist has decided it's had enough with me and all the typing on my tiny phone, so I'm wearing a brace and trying to rest (hence the list instead of complete sentences).

Happy holidays! And thanks for the birthday wishes!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Turkey and Post-Turkey

Hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving. I certainly did, but ever since then I've been suffering from a mild viral infection. Being sick in a village setting is draining, especially when I'm busy trying to wrap up my schoolwork and domestic chores in time for my vacation. So, if you've been trying to get in touch with me lately, thank you, I always enjoy hearing from you, but I've been a little too wiped out lately to formulate a coherent response.

Anyways... Thanksgiving!

Just like last year, I went into Kuruman to a guesthouse where the owner prepared a fabulous feast for about a dozen Americans (all volunteers). There were not one, not two, but three whole turkeys and we ate all of them over the course of the day. I baked four loaves of psimo spitiko (sp), and they were a hit. Other volunteers prepared banana bread and apple pies, everything was delicious. It was such a refreshing change from my regular village fare of rice and beans or bread and peanut butter. After the meal, and the Christmas crackers which contained both very self-explanatory crowns and completely inexplicable pink plastic bits, E brought out a surprise. It was a hand-drawn board game.

E is a fantastic artist, as well as my roommate during staging. Her board game was loosely based on Monopoly. Each player started out with R500 and had to make their way around the board without going bankrupt. Each place on the board was somehow related to Peace Corps and/or South Africa, and there were both PC acronym cards and Ga Ke Itse (I don't know) question cards as well. I took several pictures of the board. It was almost too beautiful to play on, especially considering the dirty rocks we were using as pieces. Anyway, I suffered a brutal loss after being sent back to PST and then spending a few too many nights clubbing in Pretoria. Other players suffered such fates as being trapped at taxi ranks, tied to other volunteers in a relationship and being stuck on indefinite medical leave in Pretoria. Such is life.

After Thanksgiving was, of course, Black Friday, which K and I duly celebrated with a trip to uber-cheap clothing retailer, Mr Price. Afterwards I made my way to a classier part of town to spend the rest of my weekend with some Afrikaaner friends. I went swimming, played chess, worked on my language skills, watched rugby and cricket and generally lazed about. The feasting continued with a braai Saturday night with several other families. (SA rubgy played England and won, finally.) As much as I love a good bacon roll washed down by cheesecake, all the rich food left me feeling less than well. That, combined with whatever virus I picked up, led to my spending most of Sunday sleeping off the previous few days.

I'm feeling a bit better, but still a little rough around the edges. I hope to spend as much time resting as possible between now and next week in order to be in tip-top shape for my upcoming vacation.

Oh, and one last thing that some of you may get a kick out of. It's been raining quite a bit lately, and the pit toilet in the backyard could not take it any more. It has caved in. So if you were thinking about how "Posh Corps" SA is based on my long weekends spent eating, shopping and swimming, let me say that right now, I would trade in everything for a decent hole in the ground.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


As much as I bashed Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love the other day, I will cop to one sentiment I wholeheartedly share.

"Maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it's wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices."

Happy Thanksgiving! And thank you.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Anthropological Study: SA Mating Rituals: The Jive

Bar, club, lounge, tavern, whatever you call it, and wherever it is, the same scene plays out again and again.

There is music of the loud and thumping variety and there are men and women hoping to attract each other with the awesomeness of their dance moves.In South Africa, however, people do not dance. They jive. The best way I can describe what jiving looks like is as follows:

Imagine a tyrannosaurus rex with its really small arms. Now imagine a person imitating a crimpled, limp tyrannosaurus rex. Shoulders up, elbows in, wrists flapping in the breeze. Got it? Okay, now picture said person hurling their body with great force in a series of random directions at high speed. In order to prevent themselves from toppling over entirely, they keep their feet in constant motion. It might appear that they are attempting to trip themselves. In fact, they are just trying to remain vertical.

Done well, this display is quite impressive. Done poorly, well, it's still a lot more interesting than what you might see in America.

Intellectual Snobbery

I'm a voracious reader, but not particularly discerning. I consume books of all types: trashy, high-brow, best-sellers and basically whatever I can get my paws on. I just like to read. Quality is a secondary concern. Often I find popular books highly entertaining, if not particularly enlightening, hence my love of authors like Sophie Kinsella. So regardless of my collection fancy Russian literature, I do not consider myself a snob.

A few months ago, while perusing the library at the Peace Corps office in Pretoria, I heard another volunteer state that she did not read popular books. Mentally, I instantly catgorized her under "snob". Well, maybe she is and maybe she isn't, but I should apologize because I definitely am.

Long, long ago I stumbled across a Newsweek that reviewed two very popular books in America: Julie Powell's Julie and Julia and Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love. Finally, I have read them both. In my humble opinion, they were terrible. I had trouble getting through them. Powell and Gilbert are not masters of the written word. Their stories were fundamentally interesting, but their narratives wandered. Their voices came off as whiny and unsympathetic. It's tough to be a W.A.S.P. in America these days. We (Gilbert and Powell) deserve more. We're destined for greatness! Life as it is is just so unsatisfying. That was the message I got. Also, according to Gilbert, if I'm not happily married at 34 I should just roll into a ball and pray for divine intervention because 34 is just so terribly OLD! She, at the time of writing, was not even part of More magazine's target demographic! (If you don't get that reference, good, you're not a forty year old woman looking for fashion tips and insipiring stories of reinvention.) Ugh. Ridiculous books, but at least we got two decent movies out of them.

We have yet to get a decent film out of Alexander McCall's Ladies' Detective Agency series, but I have also been consistently underwhelmed by those books. I recommend them if you're interested in seTswana culture, but if you just want a good mystery, look elsewhere.

Looking back on books that I have enjoyed I find more evidence of my snobbery. I absolutely loved Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy. I think that's my favorite book ever, all 900 pages of it. Other members of my personal hit parade are historical biographies and non-fiction. I'm a nerd. And a snob. I'm a nerb. Or a snerd.

Crazy Animal Lady

If Rustenburg (Rusty, Rusters, Rustafarian) had lived, today would have marked 1 year since he came into my life. I still miss him. He was a wonderful dog.

The people here in Loopeng seem to agree with me. They actually liked Rusty. He was (relatively) calm, well-behaved and friendly. Shaka Zulu, on the other hand, is nuts. Totally and completely crazy. Insane. The vet seems to think this is good. He's got plenty of energy. It means he's healthy. I keep trying to convince myself of that every morning at 5 a.m. when he decides to start using my feet as chew toys. There may be less pleasant ways to wake up, but I don't know them.

I was afraid that Shaka's ferocity would set me back a couple light-years in my quest to convince people that animals can be pets, companions, not punching bags. Sometimes even I want to punch that little beast. Anyhow, it seems that my fears were unfounded. I got home from school today to find a half-dozen neighbor kids playing with Shaka. They were tossing around his rope toy and, of course, playing tug-of-war as "Drop it" is not yet a phrase the dog recognizes. Anyways, it warmed my heart to see children actually having fun with a dog in a respectful manner (i.e. not causing the dog any physical harm). While I doubt people will soon start putting collars and leashes on their dogs and going for evening walks, at least the concept of "play" has been adopted.

Since the kids had Shaka and his evening exercise under control, I wandered around to the background where my host father keeps his donkeys. I like donkeys. I think they're pretty cute. Most people here treat them like, well, I'm not sure there exists an American equivalent of the village donkey. Let's just say these animals are literal beasts of burden. Rather than harass or mistreat them, as many Loopeng-ers are apt to do, I decided to pet them. They seemed scared at first, but loosened up eventually. Just call me the donkey whisperer.

Petting a donkey is pretty weird, but what I did next was truly bizarre. I wandered into my hovel empty-handed and wandered out with 2 carrots. I wanted to feed the donkeys. This was probably not the most culturally-sensitive thing I've ever done. The carrots were perfectly suitable for human consumption, and those neighbor kids looked hungry enough, but I was intent on my donkey feeding mission.

Do you know what a donkey likes to eat?

Neither do I, but not carrots.

That's right, I could not convince them to eat my carrots! At least not in my presence. I left them on the ground and walked away eventually. The donkeys ate them then. Maybe they're just very polite? In any case, I am definitely the crazy animal lady. Who knows what creature I'll adopt next?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Middle of Nowhere

Rolling into Kuruman on a taxi from Pretoria is a bit of an exercise in contradiction. On the one hand, it is generally a relief to be that much closer to "home", but on the other hand it is usually late in the evening when I arrive and I am instantly presented with a conundrum. Where to sleep for the night? Guesthouses are nice, but expensive. Friends are welcoming, but I hate to take advantage. On my last trip to the big city, I decided to avoid the issue altogether. I decided to stay with a friend in Vryburg.

It was great. I met her in town and we took a taxi to her village. I love visiting other volunteers' sites. It's so interesting to see how differently we live in such similar circumstances. We did some baking, a lot of dishwashing, but mostly just gabbed the night away. I was sad to leave the next morning, but leave I did.

This volunteer had managed to get to my site from Vryburg before. She had no difficuly, so I didn't anticipate any. Silly me. Once at the taxi rank I was informed that there were no taxis to Loopeng, but I could take one to a nearby village and then catch another taxi from there. At the time, this seemed not only plausible, but possible.

After waiting several hours for the taxi to leave the rank, I was crushed when we suffered a flat tire just after leaving Vryburg. It took a while to fix, but eventually we were on the road again.

Instead of taking a direct route through the Moshaweng valley, this taxi went wandering through the bush. It was scenic, but as the day wore on I started getting nervous. Where was I? How close to home?

Fading hopes started to turn to panic when the taxi suffered another puncture. Once again it was repaired, but by then the sun was setting. We drove on.

Eventually I was the only passenger left on the taxi. The driver arranged a ride for me to a village I recognized as only about 30 km from mine. When we arrived it was completely dark. There were no taxis. I was in trouble. Panic turned into a giant ocean of despair and I was beginning to drown.

Luckily, there was a tuck shop not too far from the road. I wandered in and lo and behold! A learner from Moshaweng was perched on the counter. She took me under her wing and tried valiantly to get one of her friends to come rescue us. I clung to this faint hope, but alas, rescue in the form of a motor vehicle never arrived. Rescue in the form of a kindly tuck shop owner who gave me a blanket and a place on her floor surely did arrive. I was exhausted and slept like a rock, despite the constant hum of house music.

The next day we woke up bright and early and walked out to the tar road, where we sat and sat and sat and sat and sat and sat and waited for a taxi to come along and take pity on us. I read Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith. I had almost finished when salvation, in the form of four wheels and an engine, finally showed up.

24 hours after I left my friend's place, I made it home to choirs of "Sego, where have you been?"

It was a long story.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Uncontrollable Rage

After more than a year here in South Africa, one would think that I had developed a tolerance for all of the little things that make life here what it is. Instead, I find myself growing less tolerant as time goes on. When the school staff breaks into song while I am grading papers in the library, I no longer consider it a cultural quirk. I am deeply annoyed by it. When men in the taxi rank decide that I must give them my phone number, I have no patience to smile and brush them off politely. Instead, I am all but quivering with rage. It takes very little to set me off. I called an Afrikaans friend, and when she answered the phone in Afrikaans, as I knew she would, it bothered me. Listening to people speak seTswana, a language in which nearly every word ends in a vowel, can drive me to the brink of insanity. My anger is baseless and aimless. There's no reason to explain it and certainly no appropriate outlet to express it.

This shamed me for a while. I felt guilty about being unable to enjoy some of South Africa's quirkier elements. It seemed like everyone else I knew had managed to make the adjustment and wasn't suffering bouts of fist-clenching anger in response to perfectly innocuous incidents. Alas, things are not always what they seem, and, as it turns out, I am not the only volunteer suffering from the effects of extreme frustration.

On my last trip to Pretoria, I met a friend. We hung out, did the usual things, got caught in a rainstorm, hopped a taxi... and a perfectly lovely day was nearly destroyed by our lack of tolerance for what we should have come to expect.

The taxi stopped so passengers could get out and switch to taxis more appropriate for their destination. We were headed to Bloed Street and it seemed as soon as we were directed to the Bloed Street taxi, it disappeared within the crowded, busy, muddy, rainy melee. Everyone was perfectly unhelpful. My friend and I were separated at one point. Some yelling ensued. All in all it was rather unpleasant, but instead of just letting it roll off our backs, our emotions ran a little high. We dubbed our feeling U.R., which stands for uncontrollable rage.

Hopefully this will subside soon. I think I just need a vacation.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

American Democracy: The View from Zimbabwe

I was sitting in a taxi, stuck in commuter traffic between Pretoria and Johanessburg, the day after the midterm elections in the US. The radio was tuned to a program I had never heard before, some talk program out of Zimbabwe. After the usual morning cracks about the trials and tribulations of the working masses midweek, the discussion got a little more serious when it turned to the recent elections.

While most Americans seem to be oscillating between disgust, anger, frustration and total apathy, the Zimbabweans went straight to the silver lining of the Republican take-over of the House. In America, so they claimed, there are no second chances. If an elected official tries, and then fails, to meet a campaign promise or the duties of the office, that's it. After just a couple years in power, the Democrats are out. In Africa, on the other hand, the people are far too forgiving. "He just needs more time. He'll fix the economy in the next term," the people say. They've been saying this about Robert Mugabe for thirty years now.

So while our political system may grind to a halt as the parties bicker, at least it is unlikely that any of our newly elected officials are likely to stay elected for long. Meanwhile who knows how long the current governments will maintain their iron grips on the continent of Africa?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pioneer Days

At most American elementary schools (in the Northeast at least), there is a delightful period of study often known as "Pioneer Days" in which young students are invited, to some degree, to reenact, through field trips and hands-on activities, the lifestyle of real pioneers. The definition of "pioneer" is generally loose. I've seen it applied to everyone from the earliest colonists at Roanoke to those preoccupied with Manifest Destiny centuries later. I suppose technically the "Pioneer Day" equivalent of the former should properly be called "Colonial Day".

In any case, I always enjoyed "Pioneer Days". There were visits to one-room school houses, days on end spent playing dress up and even one field trip all the way out to Plymouth. Unfortunately, try as I might, I never really felt like a pioneer. Not even weeks of playing Oregon Trail on the computer, or essentially LARPing it in Mr. C's fifth grade class ever gave me a genuine sense of what a pioneer's daily life looked and felt like.

Finally, a decade later, Peace Corps has given me that experience. I realized this while elbow deep in flour, kneading bread. I wasn't making bread for the sheer joy of baking. I was making bread out of an actual need. The shop was out and I was hungry. Similarly, I do not always go for long walks in the desert for pleasure. I go because I need to get somewhere and my two feet are all I've got. The same goes for hopping rides on donkey carts going to fetch water, doing laundry outside in a bucket and any number of other things that you may consider quaint or old-timey, but I now consider part of everyday life.

Living like a pioneer in the Peace Corps isn't so bad, but I do miss the costumes. It's pity I left my bonnet back in the States.

For those of you who don't know what LARPing is, it stands for live action role-playing. I can't remember my character from fifth grade, but I think my husband almost drowned while fording the Platte. I definitely lost of few oxen, and my children died of cholera. Fifth grade was pretty scarring for me, but at least my table (ahem, wagon) didn't turn into the Donner Party.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Examinations and the Last Term

They should call the fourth and final school term of the year the lost term. It seems like there were only a few weeks of actual teaching. Already we are in deep into National Senior Certificate Exams with local exams to start on Wednesday. Following a couple weeks of testing, educators will spend another week on paperwork before schools officially close for the "summer" break. The learning process ceased long, long ago, but the school calendar continues for another month.

During the examination period teaching is replaced by invigilating, or proctoring for all you Americans. Generally I don't mind invigilating. Yes, it is exceptionally boring, but there is nothing tortuous about monitoring an exam, passing out scrap paper and facilitating the sharing of calculators, rulers and rubbers. The NSC exams, however, are awful.

Invigilators for these nation-wide exams must be appointed and are expected to attend a training session prior to the start of exams. I was appointed and attended the training, led by the principal in the library afterschool one day. It, like most trainings, was incredibly lengthy and mind-numbingly boring. Essentially, the trainees were read a list of the many things invigilators are not permitted to do during an examination, such as: eat, drink, chew gum, wear heels, sit down or stand still. These exans are often three hours long. Invigilators are permitted one break.

If the rules don't shock and horrify you sufficiently, picture this: a regular sized classroom crammed with three rows of writing tables, two lined up againts the walls with the third arranged in the middle. This leaves two narrow rows and some space near the blackboard for walking. Now imagine that you must remain in constant motion for several hours contained in that tiny space. If that sounds like something you would enjoy, you are more than welcome to hop on a plane, move to my village and come do it for me because it is just about the least fun I've had all year.

While generally I have found the classroom experience a bit less of a drag from the teacher's side of the desk, I find myself wishing to be a student during exam time. I would rather take the NSC exams than invigilate them.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I'm Back!

The test is over, and I will return to intermittent blogging soon. I look forward to boring you all with exciting tales of taxis, examinations, baboons, piracy and, of course, the elections (from a bizarre African perspective). I can sense how thrilled you all are from here.

Check back soon!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Unite for Sight

The reality of life in the third world is that the standard of healthcare is low, very low, so low as to be almost non-existent. Seeing a doctor is an incredible rarity, seeing an eye doctor is unheard of.

While you may take these annual visits for granted, imagine if you had never gone to a doctor at all. Certainly there are home remedies for most coughs and colds, bruises and scrapes, but what about your eyes? Are wearing eye glasses or contacts now? Take them off. What do you see? Can imagine going through life like that? Can you imagine trying to get through school like that?

None of the learners at Moshaweng High School wear eye glasses. They are lucky just to be at school (South Africa only guarantees a ninth grade education). The lack of eye wear is not a testament to their visual superiority, but rather a lack of proper eye care. They have never had an eye test. Everyday I seem them squinting up at the board, shuffling their chairs closer to see. Yes, they are at school, but unless they are able to see the board it hardly does them much good.

Unite for Sight is a charitable organization that provides basic eye care to some of the world's poorest people. No, they are not coming to Loopeng, rather Neelam is going to them.

Some of you who have peeked at my Facebook page may wonder who the girl in all my photos is. It's Neelam, an aspiring eye doctor. For her senior year winter break, instead of going home to visit her family, Neelam is going to Chennai, India to work with Unite for Sight. Founded by a college student in her dorm room at Yale, Unite for Sight is not a particularly resource-rich endeavor and Neelam must pay her own way. If you are interested in donating, please follow this link:


And now I will return to my sedulous study of vocabulary...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Blogger, Interrupted

I am taking the GRE exam two weeks from today. Regularly scheduled blogging will resume after that date.

When not studying, I am reading Olive Schreiner's The Story of an African Farm. It's a very good read.

Ta-ta for now!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Service Learning

Most of the educators at Moshaweng High School live on campus. When they go home for lunch, they only go about thirty feet. P and I, however, are forced to venture beyond school grounds. We're neighbors, and I've come to enjoy our afternoon chats on the quick walk home.

There is one road through Loopeng of unusual size and it is well-trafficked. The school sits on one side, and our homes on the other. This road is primarily composed of sand, and if you're anywhere near it when a vehicle passes you'll swear you were just at the epicenter of a massive sandstorm. Thus, when P and I came to the road this afternoon and saw a bakkie headed our way, we hurried across as fast as we could. There was no way we wanted to cross the road in the desert-storm atmosphere that followed the vehicle.

As soon as we were safe on the other side, we looked back to see where the bakkie was headed. It was stopped at the school. "Who could it be?" we wondered.

We found out soon enough. The bakkie followed us and pulled up just outside P's house. Windows were rolled down, doors were opened and greeting were exchanged. It turned out to be people both P and I are familiar with. It was the staff of an organization that runs service learning trips for international schools in the area.

Today's visitors are the third distinct group to visit Moshaweng this year. I know more are coming. Each group is usually composed of a dozen or so high school students from Europe, Australia or Asia accompanied by a sort of tour director and a few school staffers. The projects they work on vary. Some work in primary schools, reading stories to children, some work in high schools, reviewing for the matric exams. Quite often they bring and donate an assortment of school and health-related items. They seem to appear from nowhere, stay for a week or two, and then just *poof* vanish... until the next group arrives.

They are, by and large, a friendly, well-intentioned bunch, but I always get a sinking feeling whenever they show up. "Great," I think, "More rich white people on vacation. Hello, neo-colonialism! Welcome, traveling salesmen for capitalism and consumption! Here come the troops to pad their college applications, gawk at poverty, find themselves and go home again."

I wonder how many people thought or think the same about me.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Shock and Sadness

Receiving an e-mail from the Peace Corps director is the PCV equivalent of having a military officer knock on your front door. It is always bad news. Another volunteer has died.

During my service volunteers have been killed in rock climbing accidents while vacationing in Tanzania, shot in the capital of Lesotho and found dead of natural causes at site in Niger.

Everytime I hear the news I find it shocking, sad and upsetting. I have not known any of these volunteers personally, but as part of the Peace Corps community it cuts close to home.

I suspect that, like me, the PCVs who passed away during their service never seriously considered the possibility that, when they left their homes, friends and family, they would never see them again. I also suspect that their family and friends never really considered that a quick "Goodbye" at the airport was goodbye forever. Death during service is not something the average PCV and their support network is prepared for, nor should it be.

Peace Corps goeps to great lengths to ensure that volunteers are healthy and well-prepared to survive in the environments into which they are thrust. Death, while always a possibility, is not likely. We are volunteers in Africa, not soldiers in Afghanistan. It is not our parents who should be getting knocks on doors, not our peers getting e-mails, not our bodies on planes, and yet, very rarely, it is. The fact that it is uncommon is little comfort to anyone.

My thoughts and prayers are with the friends and families of PCVs now passed away.

I hope it's a good, long while before I hear from the director again.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Speedbumps and Stoplights

A strange coincedence is that the distance between my site and my shopping town is approximately the same as the distance between my parents' house and their lake house. While the scenery is wildly different (the green Kalahari versus upstate New York Finger Lakes), the route has some surprising similarities. For example, both trips involve traveling over paved and unpaved roads in rural areas.

Most annoying however are man-made traffic controls. Back in the States these take the form of 17 stoplights over the 3 miles closest to home. Nothing is more aggravating than hitting all red lights and having to spend 20 minutes traveling a distance that should take 5.

Similarly, very close to town here in South Africa, is a string of speedbumps. Not two or three, a string, it feels like an endless, infinite series. It's obnoxious no matter what direction I'm traveling in. As long as I'm sitting in a moving vehicle, I want to really be moving, not suffering through constant cycles of slowing down and speeding up.

And yet, here I am.

The shouting match over women's rights is not helping. Man in the front claims women abuse does not exist, women in the back beg to differ. Apparently, whoever shouts the loudest is winning. And we have a new contender in row 2. And we're quoting popular TV series as arguments. And giving everyone in the vehicle a nice spray of saliva. This is fun.

See what you're missing? Shame. At least there are no stoplights.

Can't Complain, No One Will Listen

Shaka, subject of last week's attempted theft, stars again in this week's installment of South African Saturdays: Stories of Some Fortune but More Misfortune.

This week was time for Shaka's rabies shot. Like the good, responsible pet owner I do my best to be, I made an appointment at the vet's office for 10:30 this morning. Usually the taxi gets me to town by 9:30, 10:00 at the very latest. 10:30 seemed like a perfectly reasonable time. How foolish of me.

I got up early this morning, washed my hair and otherwise prepared myself for the trip to town. By 7 o'clock I was ready. I called my usual taxi driver. Usually he answers the phone with "Yes, yes, I am coming." Today, for the first time ever, he said "Sego, I'm sorry, not going today."

At first, I was undeterred. There were more taxis, right? Loopeng's got a few thousand people, surely some of them wanted to go to town today. I waited out front of my house for a taxi. By eight o'clock it was becoming increasingly obvious that no taxis were coming. Panic was growing.

"Don't worry," said my host sister, "Walk out to the main road by the sign and wait. A taxi will come."

Now, the place my host sister was referring to is nowhere near where I stay. It is almost as far away as you can get. It took me 24 minutes to walk there at a good clip. As it turns out, there was no need to hurry. I staked out a shady position near the sign and stood there.

I stood there for ten minutes, twenty, thirty, an hour. A bakkie went by, headed towards a cattle post. Another hour went by, a car went past going the opposite direction. A gogo comes out of her house lugging a chair for me. I guess I was a pretty sorry sight just standing there. I'm not sure sitting made me look any less pathetic, but it did make my wait marginally less uncomfortable.

At long last, a taxi came by. I climbed in, followed by two others. We were on our way!

The vet closed at noon. My feet hit the hot Kuruman pavement at 11:45. I practically broke into an instant run, or at least a rapid waddle in sandals and a dress. Shaka did his best, but I was practically dragging him. Until, suddenly, I wasn't.

I whipped around and came face to face with a man carrying Shaka and attempting to make an escape. Too bad I was still hanging onto the leash. I grabbed the dog out of his arms and promptly broke into a run.

I ran all the way across town to the vet's office, arriving minutes before closing. Shaka got his check-up and I forked over what little cash I had remaining (thank goodness the man who tried to relieve of my dog did not also reieve me of my wallet).

Now I still had to buy groceries and get enough cash out to pay the taxi fare home. This led to the Great ATM tour of Kuruman. The first two ATMs were out of cash, the next two claimed I had no funds (although their "check your balance" mechanism recognized that I did), a couple more had "technical difficulties". Finally, one was willing to dispense cash. Too bad it was not enough cash. I bought my groceries, but I was R20 short for the taxi home.

What's a girl to do?

I tried more ATMs. I got more rejections. I tried cash back. Still more rejections. Finally, at Shoprite, there was a ray of light. After a cashier called over her manager to help solve my card problem, she took pity on me and just slipped me R20 out of her own pay. It was such a wonderful gesture for which I am truly grateful. I would not be writing this from the taxi if it were not for her. I might have been reduced to selling Shaka for cash.

I guess that's what's so great about South Africa. Sure, nothing actually works, but someone's always there to help you out of whatever pinch you're in.

Ah, drunken citizenry on the taxi. Easily my least favorite part of the day.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Live from Loopeng, It (Was) Saturday Night!

Last weekend I went out with my host sisters. It was surprisingly similar to any night out in the States, or at least it started that way.

We all started getting ready around eight o'clock. There was much commenting on make-up and changing of tops. A few major decisions about shoes and hair, the usual. Thirty minutes later than intended, we set off for the party.

I should actually say bash. A bash is a kind of village block party to which everyone is invited. A party is apparently invite-only. This bash was held on a corner of Loopeng's biggest thoroughfares (picture a dirt track bisected by a slightly bigger dirt track). There was a DJ all the way from Rustenburg set up under a cheer and a few dozen people milling about. As soon as I arrived, there was a flurry of picture-taking. Everyone wanted a photo with the lekgowa. That died out and we all had a good time dancing and chatting for a while.

The sunshine and rainbows came to an abrupt halt when my sister grabbed my arm and pointed at a shadowy figure hurrying away in the gathering darkness. "He's stealing your dog!"

We ran like hell after the dog thief, through the bush at night. It was probably one of the dumbest things I've ever done, but the thief was caught and my dog rescued. It was decided that Shaka would best be tied up, so we returned to the bash only briefly before heading home to properly secure the beast (and change our now thorn and pricker infested footwear). Several people asked us what happened, we related the story of dog-thievery and there was much tongue-clucking. If only that was the end of it...

Apparently, while we were at home picking out new shoes, a fight broke out at the bash between the "Poor Sego, what kind of evil being would steal her dog?" people the "Dog thieves for life" faction. This fight grew so intense, that the bash was broken up entirely by the time we returned.

No matter, we hit the tavern instead.

Loopeng: where the party don't stop.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bane of My Existence: World Map Project

Not long before I left for Pretoria for MST, I started working on the World Map Project at my site. I started by blocking out a 2 meter by 4 meter rectangle on the south exterior wall of the school library. I put up some masking tape and called it day one. Day two involved slapping up a ton of blue paint on a very uneven, two-tone surface with the help of a few primary school learners. That was the beginning of the end. We ran out of blue paint, for starters. Anyways, day 3 involved making a grid out of Bostik and dental floss. Each square is 7 cm by 7 cm. That worked out pretty well, but the wind was a tough adversary. Finally another volunteer arrived to help me draw in the countries in each box. We went through several pencils and plenty of erasers in about 18 hours of work. Then we left for training.

All this brings me up to today, when I began painting. It started out well, but rapidly devolved into chaos. The learners helping me managed to paint Greenland as part of Canada and lose the Gulf entirely to Saudi Arabia, among a multitude of smaller incidents. Recall that I'm out of blue paint. It's hot, frustrating and tiring work. I can't wait to be done soon!

For all of its faults up close, the map looks great from a distance!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Surprising Honesty

Crime in South Africa is part of daily life. "Have you been mugged yet?" is a common question to new volunteers. When I told a local resident that I had been robbed within three weeks of arriving in country, his response was, "Well, you've received a traditional South African welcome."

Due to the high crime rate, most people keep their money and valuables well hidden at all times. The one exception to this is when traveling on taxis. Sometimes passengers pre-pay the driver. This is common when traveling a long distance. Occasionally passengers pay the driver when they arrive at their destination, as I do when going to my shopping town, but most frequently passengers begin rummaging for money when the taxi hits the road. Whatever money they have, passengers pass up to the people sitting next to the driver, who count the money and determine how much change to send back. This money is passed through the taxi and delivered to those to whom it is owed. This system works marvelously well. For a country where theft is routine, it will never cease to amaze me that total strangers on taxis trust each other so completely that they have no problem handing over great wads of money and expecting exact change. Perhaps being in such close quarters encourages honesty. Whatever it is, it is a refreshing change.


This week I am in Pretoria for mid-service training and medical appointments. Instead of staying within the city limits as I normally do, I'm visiting volunteers at a nearby site. Late last night, after dinner, we decided a little evening entertainment was in order. The first suggestion was a movie, the next was cards. I am not a huge fan of card games, so I was hesitant, but when D mentioned three-person solitaire, I was thrilled! Most people I meet have never heard of multi-player solitaire. It is, after all, quite the oxymoron, but, as in the Sullivan family, it turned out to be a DJ family tradition. We played several rounds, and I am proud to say I emerged victorious (albeit by a slim margin). Hope we play again soon!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Most Importantly...

I forgot the most important event of yesterday. It was the one-year anniversary of Z and I shaving our heads! As much as I enjoyed having no hair, it's nice to have back again. My hair now is the longest it's ever been in Africa, which isn't saying too much. I thought that washing it would be a pain, but in reality I just keep it tied back and away from my face. I'm pretty lazy when it comes to hair washing. You would be to if washing your hair meant crouching over a bucket and swirling your head around in a bucket half-full of questionable water. It's gross, like so many activities here. You should see the water I wash my dishes in...

Just now I'm waiting for another volunteer to come for a visit. We're going to work on a project at my site before heading off to Mid-Service Training in Pretoria next week. The fun never stops in Peace Corps!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Half Circle

My official Close of Service (COS) date is the 16th of September, 2011. As today is the 16th of September 2010, this marks the beginning of the end. I will not spend another 16th of September in South Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer. This is it. It's the final countdown. Less than a year to go!

Also today, the latest class of volunteers is swearing in. I feel for them. Swearing-in was an absolutely terrifying day for me. The last thing I remember before being separated from all the other volunteers and being herded into the Northern Cape group was another volunteer turning me and saying, "I am so not ready for this." You never are. Still, I wish them all the best at their sites.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Alternative Reading

I am a terrible blogger. I rarely update. My posts lack focus and proper attention to detail. They are all about me and offer little general information about South Africa or the Peace Corps. Frankly I'm surprised that people keep reading, but thank you. I appreciate having an audience as opposed to being a cyberspace pariah.

In any case, I'd like to direct you to a few blogs that I read routinely and think you might enjoy.

First up we have Ryan of Ryan's blog is well-written, insightful and often amusing. The topics covered by his blog include dubious construction projects and musings on everything from HIV to inflation. Photos and other graphics provide visual interest that is far, far more stimulating than the walls of text you'll find here. (And yes, if you read the post "And Then There Were Two," I am now his nearest volunteer. Go Moshaweng!)

Next I am pleased to introduce Karen. She was in my language group during training and her blog is every bit as fun and thoughtful as she is. Her focus is usually the day-to-day activities that make up a volunteer's world. She is a prolific poster of pictures that capture everything from the beauty of space heaters to soy products (things that volunteers truly appreciate). Check her out at

Finally, we have Gabi of Like mine, her blog is light on pictures, but high on perspective. She lives very far from me and so her experiences are quite often very different. It's good for comparison. Also, funny and/or horrifying things have a way of happening to her and reading about them is entertaining.

Of course there are tons of other Peace Corps South Africa blogs out there, many of which I peruse and enjoy. These are just a few to which I am particularly attached. Happy reading!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I did a very mean thing today. I'm not happy about doing it, but I would do it again.

I broke the Peace Corps Volunteer Honor Code. I learned of another volunteer who has not been following Peace Corps instructions concerning leave time, and I called headquarters and ratted him out. I did.

It was mean. Very few people actually follow Peace Corps instructions regarding leave time to the letter. Many of us fudge a day or two when submitting forms requesting time off. We live in a beautiful part of the world and want to spend as much time enjoying it as we can. I understand that. Non-volunteers who read this blog may be surprised that we are technically allowed only 24 days off per year. Granted, volunteers who work in the schools are also allowed a certain number of school holidays off. It adds up to a substantial amount of vacation, but in South Africa with its beaches, parks, history and culture it's impossible to get enough time off. Or at least Peace Corps tries valiantly to prevent volunteers from going on permanent vacation.

As they should.

We are volunteers. We live in uncomfortable poverty. We engage in often grueling labor for a pittance. We do not enjoy the perks of the more gainfully employed, so why should we be constrained to their work/vacation schedules?

Because we signed up for this. We knew this was coming.

In America, people are fond of the phrase "You get what you pay for". In my experience, too many volunteers carry this mantra with them. They barely earn enough to survive, so there's no need to actually work. There's no need to go to school or participate in community activites. But again, we agreed to this. We took an oath. We gave our word.

Peace Corps volunteers are often the only Americans that the villagers we live with will ever meet. Everything we say or do is representative of Americans everywhere. It's tough living inside a fish bowl. It's annoying, but it's also an important aspect of our job. We exercise tremendous influence over what people think of Americans as a people. We have a choice. We can show that Americans hold themselves to high personal standards, or we can show them that Americans are purely selfish flakes with no standards at all. We can demonstrate that Americans are men and women of their word, or that Americans put themselves over all else. I like to believe that Peace Corps represents the best of America, and that is the standard to which I hold myself.

Is it fun? Is it easy? No, of course not. There are plenty of days when I don't feel like getting out of bed. Plenty of moments when I want to make a sarcastic or rude comment. Nevertheless, I get out of bed everyday. I hold my tongue. When a colleague asks me to do something I consider useless or ridiculous, I buckle down and do it. I do all of these things because, as a Peace Corps volunteer, as an American, I believe that they are important. High personal standards may not be important in university where everyone's your best friend and you spend days on end in your pajamas, but when you're a lekgowa in a village they matter. The personal legacy Peace Corps volunteers leave in the memory of host country nationals lasts a lifetime.

Not only are most of the men and women employed at the Peace Corps office in Pretoria host country nationals (South African), but they also represent our immediate superiors.

Volunteers cannot be fired, we cannot earn promotions or bonuses, there is no such beast as an annual review, in fact, there is no such thing as direct supervision. No one at the Peace Corps office knows exactly what I'm doing at my site. They don't know what classes I teach or don't teach, the garden I work in, the map I'm painting or the book donation I'm working on. For all they know I sit in my room all day and watch "Friends". To be honest, many a Saturday has passed that way, but no matter. Just because we don't have "real" jobs is no excuse to slack off. Just because no one is breathing down our collective necks is no reason to lose sight of our objectives. We are all adults. We should be able to handle ourselves accordingly, sans supervision.

We are lucky to have the positions that we do. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in the United States was at 9.6% in August. It is not inconceivable to think that many volunteers would be part of that statistic were it not for Peace Corps. Instead, we are living abroad with a steady income guaranteed for two years, plus health insurance at no cost to us at all. We are enjoying a care-free existence thanks to the common American taxpayer. If we are answerable to no one else, we are answerable to him. There's a nearly 1 in 10 chance that whoever paid for our groceries last week could now use some help himself. At the very least we can show our appreciation by doing the very best work we can.

Unfortunately, some volunteers are forced into more difficult work environments. I have no sympathy. I moved, so can you. If something's not working, change it. Make it work. Adapting to new and challenging environments is, again, what we signed up for.

Will following the rules, being accountable, and holding oneself to high standards make one happy? Probably not. I would much rather be writing this from a beach in Durban, but I'm saving my leave time for December and have classes to teach in the meantime. Is Peace Corps about being happy?

Maybe... Anyone who says they haven't grown as a person, or learned something new about themselves since coming here is either a liar or very dense. The process of self-discovery is inevitable when you udergo such a rapid change in circumstances that is moving from the first-world into the Peace Corps lifestyle. I am living alone, in a desert, on the other side of the world. Am I really the same person who used to buy coordinating outfits with my friends and drink over-priced coffee as a social activity? Well, no, not exactly. Am I more or less happy? About the same. There are greats highs and tremendous lows associated with my service, but on the whole I am happy and satisfied with my life here.

As much as my family and friends may be heartened to hear that, it is really beside the point. My well-being is beside the point. Coming from a culture where people are drowning in social networking and fancy applications begging for the broadcasting of personal information, it is easy to be self-absorbed. For goodness' sakes, I have the audacity to be writing this blog and expect it to be read! From Facebook to Twitter, modern life is all about ego, most often our own. We are practically programmed to think only of ourselves. With high-speed internet and credit cards, instant gratification has never been easier. Combine the two and we have masses of people whose thoughts revolve almost entirely on themselves and whatever makes them happy. Such people have no place in the Peace Corps.

Fundamentally, at its very core, the Peace Corps is about helping others. Yes, this is difficult, more so than most people reading this in the U.S. can imagine. Yes, it may also be selfish as science has shown some people get their kicks from giving, but no matter what the mission of the Peace Corps is service. That means putting ourselves, our hopes, dreams, happiness and ambitions, aside and serving others. Putting a smile of someone else's face. Deriving the quadratic equation when you really don't have the time because a learner asked. Letting young children help with the painting even though they cannot keep the paint in the lines and you have to go back and fix it. Peace Corps is not an individual achievement, not a box to check off on the list of things you can use to impress strangers and admissions officers. Peace Corps is an opportunity to serve, serve the people of a developing nation and America. It may not be a higher cause, but it's certainly a cause bigger than ourselves. One that deserves our respect and best efforts at doing our job, whatever that may be in your community.

So, here's to high standards and hard work, even in a developing country, without proper sanitation and poor compensation. Here's to leverage, no slack and synergy even when there's no one around to admire and appreciate it. Here's to doing our best when it isn't exactly what we want. Here's to Peace Corps and the people who make it such a great organization, the best of America.

... And that's why I'll never write a book. I ramble. In my defense, have you ever tried to revise a rant of such length on a cell phone?

I will post more about life and the universe in the near future. I have several good blog ideas.

To any PCV readers who may have taken offense: As Dr. Seuss said, "Those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind." I love you, let's do lunch.

Thanks for reading my ramblings. Who knew my moral backbone was so easily offended?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

From the Newsroom

The strike has been suspended. Schools and hospitals began reopening today around South Africa. I go back to work tomorrow. Considering that we left off in the middle of exams, I wonder what we'll be doing.

More news on what I've been up to lately, a list of Peace Corps blogs better than mine and some more philosophical thoughts to follow. Stay tuned!

Saturday, August 21, 2010


A quick update on previous posts:

1) The field trip to Heuningvlei never materialized because the Department of Education failed to make any provision for the transport of 40-some people 80-some kilometres. Was I disappointed? Yes. Surprised? Not one bit.

2) I hunted down the bird in the computer lab (not too difficult considering the loud and continous tweeting). He appeared to have a broken wing. I resisted my urge to find a box, bring him home and raise him to wellness. Instead I set him outside under a tree. I have not seen him since. While I hope he managaed to waddle somewhere safe, it is more likely that some other creature got to him first. Shame.

In other news, I'm getting a bit sick of the strike. A few days off was nice. I cleaned, re-organized and de-cluttered my hovel. I went to visit another volunteer (dinner was Sprite and cupcakes - YES). I picked up supplies to complete my World Map project. I re-stocked my food corner. I washed my floor. I'm ready to go back to school! I have no idea when that will happen. I know for certain that the strike will last through Monday, but it could potentially last much longer. The last SADTU strike, in 2007, went on for a month. Oh joy. In the meantime, I will be soaking up the village ambience with as much good humor as I can muster. Right now I'm sitting on my stoop, listening to the sheep baa and squinting to keep the sand out of my eyes. Spring is coming to South Africa. It arrives with a hot, hot sun and plenty of wind. Not the best of weather, but it sure beats freezing cold.

Monday, August 16, 2010


After spending the better part of last week in town, avoiding the strike, I spent all of this weekend hanging about in Loopeng. J came to visit and brought supplies for a very important element of my Peace Corps service: sharing American culture through that most delicious of campfire foods: s'mores.

Graham crackers are not available here in South Africa, so we used Marie biscuits (a very thin cross between a cookie and a cracker). A package of biscuits, a packet of marshmallows and a bar of milk chocolate and we were ready to roll. We waited for darkness and then trooped out to a corner of the yard in search of appropriate tree branches. Four branches were selected and sawed off with J's pocket knife. He then sharpened the ends into points while everyone else gathered in the backyard to build a fire. In our little group was J, myself, my host sister R and seven children from the neighborhood who happen to stay with the family (3 are AIDs orphans, the mother of the other 4 is a drunk who ran off).

After a quick demonstration of marshmallow roasting technique and s'more construction, we were off to the races. We had plenty of supplies for everyone, luckily, and photo opportunities abounded. Some day I might actually get some of them online.

Even though it's winter here, I got a little taste of American summer with s'mores that I think everyone enjoyed.

Uhh, there's a bird in the computer lab. Better run!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


The strike is on. Learners have been asked not to go to school, no classes are being held, and educators are protesting. It's a confusing time right now. I've heard the strike could last anywhere from just a day to the rest of the school year. Some schools aren't striking at all, some schools have been on strike already. Eish! I'm following the official Peace Corps line on the strike: I have no opinion and no involvement. I'm staying home until it all blows over.

This past weekend was a one-year party in Kuruman. Volunteers came from across both the Northern Cape and the North-West for dinner at a local Afrikaner cafe and dancing at an Afrikaner bar down the road. It was fun. Nothing like doing a waltz to Afrikaans pop music. This weekend was also host to J's surprise birthday party. I was in charge of locating a cake. It was more difficult than you might think, but I managed to get it done. I was given the phone number of a local woman who baked cakes to order, and wow! It was awesome. It was enormous and dripping in frosting. So. Much. Sugar! Delicious, of course. So delicious in fact that we ordered another cake for no other reason than to eat more of it.

In other news of the weekend, well, frankly, it was all chutney. A bunch of volunteers met at Die Oog (the Eye, oasis of the Kalahari) for a picnic. One of the many conversation topics covered was that of chutney. Had we tried it before coming to SA? What exactly was it? Wikipedia to the rescue! Chutney was defined by the rather dubious internet source as "anything that does not contain raisins... with the exception of raisin chutney". So, everything is chutney? According to Wikipedia, yes, yes it is. One friend commented that she couldn't believe we'd spent the last hour cracking jokes about chutney, but another friend quickly pointed out that really, we've spent our whole lives talking about chutney. I guess you probably had to be there.

Enjoy your week, I'll be spending it at home pending further notice from SADTU.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

This Week

Yesterday's post makes my life sound terribly boring, so I thought today I'd list all the little things that are going on this week that spice things up a bit.

On Monday my backyard hosted a donkey slaughtering. Donkeys are primarily used here attached to carts to fetch water, but when they grow old and infirm they're eaten. The donkey was killed and the meat cooked in a big iron pot over the outdoor cooking fire. Because donkeys are considered communal property (they roam free and you round one up when you need one) a whole crowd of people came over to get their fair share. It was kind of distressing. I think donkeys are cute. I passed on eating this one.

Tomorrow is a field trip up to some caves in Heuningvlei in celebration of National Science Week. I'll have more on that later. I'm excited. I've been to Heuningvlei before, but in the summer when it's just too hot to walk anywhere.

Today was the last day of negotiations between the government and the teaching unions. A strike, if it happens, will begin this Friday. We should know by the end of school tomorrow what's going on.

This weekend is another Kuruman shindig/fiesta, this time in honor of our first year of service. We will eat, drink, make merry and shower. I'm excited about the shower, the food is a close second. I had instant soup for dinner. I look forward to chewing something with substance.

Judging from my blog, Peace Corps is all parties! It's tough out here in the Kalahari, but we manage.

In other news, I've just finished another round of antibiotics and other pills. It was exhausting, but the good news is that with all the pill-swallowing practice I can now swallow my elephant-sized multivitamins no problem!

One more thing: I forgot to post about last weekend! So here goes...

It had been months since I last saw my dearest PCV friend. Months! She doesn't live far from Kuruman and spends most weekends in town. It was quite ridiculous that we went so long without seeing each other. We decided to meet for dinner on Saturday night. I arrived in town in the morning. With nothing to do for most of the day, I wound up at the usual PCV hangout where a couple of PCVs were chatting with some locals. The conversation turned to horses and before we knew it, we were all given a lift to the local Rugby Club. The Rugby Club was also home to stable housing three horses belonging to our hosts. We saddled up and went riding. It was a complete and total disaster. I was in a dress and ballet flats, so I was hanging onto the horse with one hand and trying to keep my skirt down with the other. J's mount had a spasm and he was tossed to the ground. N proved to be a decent rider, but his horse kept heading home (back to his stall). Horse whisperers we are not. Dinner was great though (and J is uninjured).

The Rugby Club in general was a bit surreal. The atmosphere is so European, and yet the acacia trees and black groundspeople remind you that you are, in fact, in Africa. It felt very colonial. Interesting, but also uncomfortable.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Usually when I post on this blog, I'm posting about something unusual or exciting. As delighted as you likely are to read about all my awesome vacations, perhaps more enlightening would be a description of my everyday. Here it is:

6:30 am
My alarm goes off. I go back to bed.

6:45 am
My alarm goes off again. I can hear my host father building the cooking fire outside and my host mother bustling the younger children out of bed. I get up too.

7:00 am
I am not happy to be awake, but I boil water in an eletric kettle for a quick wash. I dress, gather my school things and generally putter until...

7:30 am
I walk to school.

7:35 am
I arrive at school. I hope the gate is unlocked. If it isn't, I wait for the security guard to let me in. Don't ask me why we have 24-hour security personnel. I haven't the faintest.

7:40 am
There is a morning staff meeting. Sometimes it's long, sometimes short, almost always boring. The principal leads it in English. The educators come from all over southern Africa and not all of them are familiar with seTswana. English is used at school.

7:50 am
On Mondays we have assembly. The learners line up, and there is singing, announcements... Every other day of the week classes start at this time (Mondays are delayed 10 minutes).

From this time until 4 o'clock or even later, I will be at school. I teach my classes, assist other educators, and generally act as a potentially useful hanger-on. I fix computers, tutor learners, attend meetings... It's all very boring once you get used to it, and I am nothing if not used to it. I leave whenever the other staff members do.

5:00 pm
I fetch water. It's a long walk to the tap. It's a longer walk back.

6:00 pm
I cook. By "cook" I usually mean boil water for pasta and smother it in butter and cheese. It never gets old.

7:00 pm
Wash dishes. Empty water basin outside.

8:00 pm
Get ready for bed.

9:00 pm
In bed, maybe with a book, maybe a movie, maybe with 10 episodes of Friends, or maybe with nothing... No matter what I'll be asleep before 10 pm.

Then I do it all over again. On the weekends I substitute trips to town, laundry and washing my hair with attending school.

Just finished Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller. Excellent! I highly recommend it for anyone interested in the experience of white Africans.

Just started At Bertram's Hotel by Agatha Christie. Peace Corps South Africa has a great library, huh?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Strike Season

It's that time of year again! South Africa is home to some very powerful unions who control all sorts of service delivery, including garbage pick up, electricity, the postal service and, of course, education. Around the end of July every year, all these organizations threaten to strike. Many actually do. In fact, this time last year both the military and post office went on strike. Cars were burned in Pretoria, and I had no mail for weeks, but the government caved and things quieted quickly.

The reason for my writing this now is that tomorrow is the final day of negoitiation between the Department of Education and the major teachers' unions. There is a possibility of a strike on Thursday. We had a big staff meeting today in preparation. No one was particularly fired up about the issues either way. There was a general sense of resignation, along with the usual feelings of injustice.

Anyway, I'll let you know what I'm doing Thursday!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Home Again, Home Again

I'm back in the village, back in my tiny but cutely decorated cell and am honestly able to say that switching sites was the best decision I could have possibly made. My new host family is awesome. When I started trudging to my corner of the house all my host sisters came rushing around the corner to greet me. I was gone for a week. It was quite the reunion, even before I unpacked a bit and offered a few kites I'd picked up in Pretoria. Everyone was super-excited about them, but of course, no wind. Maybe tomorrow?

In other news, where have I been? Pretoria. What for? The conclusion of a trial. For what crime? Theft, almost a year ago, from my home during training, by a friend of the family. How did it go? As well as can be expected. Who was there? Me, the safety and security coordinators for both South Africa and the entire region (an American! Stop the presses!) and a PCV friend who accompanied me for moral support (thanks L, you were great). What happened? I testified for about 30 seconds as to who I am, what I do and, oh yeah, the events of the actual crime. What was the sentence? A few thousand rand, probation... What did you do after the trial? Ate! Saw movies! In a theater! Ate some more! Picked up some books from the library at the Peace Corps office, as well as a bunch of electronic resources submitted by other volunteers on various educational topics. Said goodbye to some SA-18 volunteers who are leaving South Africa and moving back to the States as RPCVs. I know that the day will come for me eventually, but it sure doesn't feel like it now.

In other news, I visited a doctor once again and have now started two courses of antibiotics as well as some allergy medicine. Will it work? Who knows? I feel like the white doctors in town hear the word "village" and reach for antibiotics on autopilot. Oh yeah, and since when was I allergic to anything?

The World Cup is over, but "Waka Waka" is still the most popular song in South Africa. I'm not sure if the village kids have quite got the lyrics yet...

Coming up in future posts: reflections on 1-year in Africa, erm, stuff, things, what I end up doing with the can of viennas that I found in my grocery bag, whether a dozen eggs ever survive the taxi trip home without cracking, and assorted nonsense...

Currently reading: Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Random Bits and Pieces

It's still cold here, but my fingers are reasonably thawed. Nothing gets the blood pumping like functional relationships!

First order of business: the rest of vacation.

We left New Bethesda in the early afternoon and drove north to Kestell. Apparently it's a very beautiful area but we arrived in darkness and left early the following day. The backpackers was lovely, and provided hot water bottles. I was to glad to not be the only person who had never used one before. Strange, but effective little buggers.

The reason we scampered away so fast was so that we could get to Pretoria in time to catch the U.S.-Algeria game. First we had to locate our accomodations. Finding a place with space for five during the World Cup should have been impossible, but thanks to a particularly lovely guesthouse owner we all wound up sharing a "cottage". This particular cottage had three bedrooms, a laundry room, a kitchen with granite countertops, two bathrooms, a patio and private garden, and so much more. On every bed was a bathrobe! Best of all was the Peace Corps discount. Second best was breakfast (huge, delicious).

Anyway, we checked in. Two of us dragged ourselves off to the game (played at a rugby stadium) while everyone else relaxed in the lap of luxury.

The game was great. We won by one goal in overtime. I suppose it would have been even more fun if we hadn't found ourselves surrounded by Algerians, but that was a cultural experience in itself.

The following day, one traveled to Mpumalanga and another of our little party flew back to the States. The remaining three, the ladies, did a little shopping. We decided to extend our rental car for a few more days. This meant that we could transport large items back to our sites. Large items like ovens! I have been baking up a storm ever since.

Ovens and people crammed back into the Toyota we took off for G's site, near Rustenburg. As we got closer, she informed us to just follow the signs for the Borakalalo Game Park. Suddenly we were faced with a choice: stick to the plan and drive all the way back to the Northern Cape, or stop and stay awhile at a game park? We stopped. We saw giraffes, wildebeest, zebras and plenty of birds. In fact, we spent so much time there we barely made it out before the gates closed.

Back at G's, we baked bread and watched movies before collapsing into the kind of deep sleep only brought on by extreme cold.

When morning came, we said "Sayonara" to Gabi and hit the road towards my site. It was a long, exhausting drive in which we managed to puncture a tire. We had it fixed in Kuruman and set out for Loopeng around sunset. While J did the overwhelming majority of the driving, I did some too! She was an excellent, excellent teacher.

I only spent a few days in Loopeng before J and I popped back in our rental car and went back to Pretoria, en route to an IT workshop held at another volunteer's site outside the city.

The volunteers (a married couple) live at a Catholic mission. As a result, the accomodations provided for the female workshop participants were located in a convent, which we shared with the Sisters of Mercy.

The sisters were so sweet and tons of fun. I think everyone enjoyed them. I especially, because I was sick. They brought me tea, took me to the clinic, and generally kept me company.

I recovered shortly, and it was time to go back to Loopeng. Vacation was over and work was calling.

Work continues to call. I'm back in class, teaching math, fixing things, trying desperately to get a materials donation from a local hardware store. The usual. Next week I'll be in Pretoria, eating cheeseburgers and pizza. For now I'm very lucky to have bread, tinned fish and tomatoes. (It's lunchtime, can you tell?)

Well, that's all for now folks.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Frozen Stiff

As you've all probably noticed, my blogging has slowed, my e-mails and Facebook messages have become shorter. It's not because I don't want to keep up with you all, it's because temperatures here have plummeted. My fingers are frozen stiff. When it warms up a bit, I'll get back to you with a little more enthusiasm. In the mean time, I'll be huddled under flannel and fleece.

In other news, off to Pretoria next week for trial, part III. I hope you're all looking forward to it as much as I am!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

More Vacation Adventures

I forgot to mention in my last post the meaning of the title. "Ke nako" basically means "It's here" but more literally "It's time". It's part of the barrage of FIFA/World Cup advertising/propaganda inflicted upon South Africans prior to as well as during the event, along with "Feel it! It's here!" and the institution of Football Fridays (like casual Friday, but everyone wears soccer jerseys).

Anyways, back to where I was when I left off yesterday.

The five of us arrive in Port Elizabeth with plenty of time to check into the backpackers and catch the start of the game at 2:30. We wander. Take our time. Kick back. Relax. Miss the start of the game at 1:30. Lesson learned: read your tickets.

We finally make it into Nelson Mandela Bay stadium (because no South African city can have just one name) and take our seats. Knowing that you are attending a game for an itsy-bitsy fraction of the cost of those around you is a delicious feeling. Poor suckers. Maybe they should volunteer more. In any case, Germany is obviously the better team, but they've all got a big blind spot when it comes to the goal. So many shots, all so far off. Serbia takes advantage of the situation. They win. Everyone, particularly the German fans, are a little shocked and surprised. Nonetheless, it's the World Cup. It's awesome and we must celebrate accordingly. According to us, the only fitting celebration is going to a pub to watch the USA game and ordering every, single appetizer on the menu. The food was great, watching the US get robbed AGAIN? Not so much.

The next day we hit the beach. It was my first visit to the Indian Ocean, and even in winter it was quite nice. There were tidal pools to play in, sand to sink your feet into, and downtown but within walking distance, plenty of old buildings to feast your eyes on (including a lighthouse with spectacular views, well worth the climb). I've heard some pretty negative things about Port Elizabeth, but I couldn't disagree more. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Ferris wheel on the water at sunset? What's not to love about that? The pizza we had for dinner was also a highlight. PCVs love pizza!

We were all up early the following day for a big adventure, a visit to the Addo Elephant Park. After nearly a year in Africa, this was my very first game park experience. It was awesome. Our first animal was a warthog. We ooohed and aaaahed for ages. The next dozen animals were kudu (like deer, but cooler). We oohed and aaaahed again. After a while though, we were all sick and tired of kudu. A couple ostriches off in the distance couldn't even rouse us from our kudu-induced funk. G began to voice our frustrations aloud. That's when we first saw them. Elephants. Tons of elephants. In front of us. Behind us. Right. Left. Everywhere! Unfortunately, soon enough we fell into an elephant-induced funk, but there was one thing left to excite us: dung beetles! These are endangered and signs at Addo warn you to look out for them. Justin, our driver, was doing admirably, slowing down and stopping appropriately (sidenote: when we first began our game drive and we all wanted him to slow down so we could look around/take pictures, his response was, "But people are passing us!" Game driving is an adjustment). So, anyhow, we are driving along when someone spots a dung beetle crossing the road. "Where?" Just shy of panicked, Justin slams on the brakes (not very dramatic when you're only moving at 10 m.p.h). The dung beetle is straight ahead, crossing the road. We all breathe a sigh of relief and wait for it to complete its passage. Whoosh! A car comes speeding around the bend in front of us. Crack! Goes the beetle. Gasp! All of us, simultaneously. And the rest was silence.

It was a long moment before we started moving again (destination: picnic site).

After our picnic came a long afternoon of nothing. Perhaps to even out our kudu/elephant high of the morning, we suffered through several hours of pure nothingness. This is a side of game drives that you rarely hear about. The animals are wild and quite often choose to stay away from you and your noisy vehicle. It's not fun or exciting. It's boring. Exceptionally. Things looked up for a moment with a cute warthog family, but the occassional kudu was still a snore. Then we came across a row of cars parked along a hillside. We scanned the hill. Lions. In the wild. On this hill. It definitely made up for the long hours of nothing (both those past and still to come). A few more elephants, a couple more kudu and we'd had our fill. We drove back to Port Elizabeth, our appetites for wildlife fully sated (except for Justin, who probably still harbors lingering desires to ride an elephant).

The next day was our second World Cup game. We had intended to spend the morning being productive tourists, but instead ate Indian food and cupcakes. Lots of cupcakes. The game was Chile versus Switzerland and I remember very little except the cold. There was quite a chill in the air. Oh, and Switzerland fans dressed up as cows. That was cute.

The original plan was to spend that night in PE, but New Bethesda was calling us back and back we went that very night. The historic town of Graff Reinet was on our way, and I for one attempted to take in the sights on our way through it. Perhaps it is most famous for the Dutch Reformed Church that stands at its center, but that night the most obvious attraction in town was the fully-lit taxidermist's. All the game we missed the day before, we saw while stopped at a sign in Graff Reinet.

By the time we arrived in New Bethesda, it was much later than the first time we'd arrived. Still, the pub was open and we went straight for it. After some dog-petting and excellent conversation, we hit the hay ready to explore New Bethesda the next day.

New Bethesda happens to be the home of the late Helen Martins and the site of her Owl House. Being good little tourists, we went. It was more disturbing than anything else. Google it for details. Afterwards was a more light-hearted tour of the town by donkey-cart. Our lovely tour guide pointed out points of interests like the homes of famous artists, the recreation center and community theater. This town has no gas station, no ATM, no grocery store, but a plethora of artistic outlets and community iniatives.

Sadly our time in New Bethesda came to an end. Around noon we started the long drive north.

Once again, my thumbs are tired. More later.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Ke Nako: Vacation 2010

I have degreased my fingers and the pan of cupcakes has been relocated to my family's care. They will delightedly consume all the cupcakes and likely even was the pan for me. What nice people.

Anyway, shortly after school let out for the winter break in the beginning of June, I packed my bag and got the hell out of Dodge, by which I mean I crawled out of bed at 6 am and stood by the side of the road in darkness and waited for a ride out of Loopeng to Vryburg. It light out, but still freezing, when I reached Vryburg. Vryburg is the nearest white town to the east of me and a locus of inter-city transportation. Usually from there I attempt to head straight to Pretoria, but this time I was going to start my vacation at another volunteer's site. This meant a shorter trip, but many more taxis. Go figure.

Usually taxis take ages to fill up. Literally. Ages. I swear I've seen my hair grow. But thanks to the school holiday, World Cup, and who knows what else, taxis to my destination, Rustenburg, were filling up like, well, like the denizens of the North-West actually had somewhere to go and wanted to get there before Kingdom Come. That is to say I was on the road again in no time.

The scenery of this region is gorgeous, but I've seen it enough that it no longer thrills me. It was a long, cramped, boring ride to Rusty. Once in Rusty, however, things perked up. This was my first trip to the Rustenburg taxi rank, and, boy, was I shell-shocked. Rustenburg is home to some of the largest platinum mines in the world, and thus imports tons of laborers from all over. The rank was an impressive reflection of that. It's huge, sprawling, noisy, almost like a carnival but with hawkers selling socks and produce while the only rides available are taxis. Tons of taxis. I bought a Coke and begged the seller for guidance. She obliged and led me directly to my next taxi. I climbed aboard and gazed around. I never do too much sight-seeing while wandering around a taxi rank. I'm usually too busy guarding my possessions and fending off shady characters. Once safely ensconced in a taxi, however, I usually take a breather and soak it all in. In any case, the Rustenburg rank was carefully labelled with the destinations of its taxis, places like Brits (a nearby town), Pretoria (a nearby city) and Botswana (a nearby country). Yes, one can travel internationally BY TAXI. Good to know.

Sooner or later, my taxi leaves. I meet up with friends at the next stop and we all proceed to G's site where we watch movies, eat chocolate and generally act like the ridiculous, poorly socialized fools that months of alone-time in impoverished villages will turn anyone into.

The next day we're up and off to Pretoria! Again I discovered evidence of an inverse correlation between distance and number of taxis needed to traverse said distance. It only took a couple of hours, but we used 4 taxis! Once in Pretoria we boarded a local bound for the favorite of Peace Corps haunts: Hatfield. There's a movie theater and a McDonald's. What more can I say? This particular taxi got a flat tire halfway there. It could have been disasterous, but it was fixed fairly quickly and we were on our way again, speeding towards chicken nuggets and cheeseburgers. Also waiting for us at the McDonald's was a friend of mine from college, come to join us on our World Cup roadtrip.

We finally all met up, in cold, windy Hatfield and began awaiting the rest of our little party who were off procuring our rental car. They showed up, but if you think that means we hit the road, you are sorely mistaken.

I was sick, once again, and insisted that we all swing by the Peace Corps office so that I could pick up as many anti-biotics, parasitics, and what-not as I could get my grubby little paws on. Naturally, this took infintely longer than anyone intended. It was early evening by the time the five of us were all uncomfortably wedged into the Toyota Corolla and weaving through commuter traffic outside South Africa's largest cities.

Now at this point in the narrative it is important to share a few small details. One, we did not have a map. Good highway maps are difficult, if not impossible, to find here. Two, we had a GPS... that its owner had never used, but still it was something.

Our destination for the evening was Clarens, a town high in the mountains bordering Lesotho. Judging by the above paragraph, one can imagine the difficulty we had in getting there and also the late hour at which we arrived. Now, being volunteers who work for next to nothing, you can also imagine the sort of accomodation we sprung for. Put this all together: backpackers+winter+mountains+night= a very long night spent in the freezing cold. Clarens, I will fondly remember as the coldest place on Earth. On the bright side, there was plenty of hot water and if there's anything a PCV truly enjoys, it's a hot shower.

The next we spent exploring Clarens. It's beautiful, has great food, fun shops and looks like it would be perfectly lovely at any other time of year. Supposedly it also has the best trout fishing in SA. Anyway, we endured another night in freezing cold, helped along by a nice evening fire in which we made s'mores and around which we practiced our vacation anthem "Don't Stop Believing". The next morning, coffees and hot chocolates in hand, we left, never to return.

After a quick pit stop for a map, not particularly helpful but comforting nonetheless, we started a mind-numbingly lengthy drive south to Nieu Betheseda. Nieu Betheseda does not exist, according to Justin's GPS, but New Betheseda certainly does and they even happen to be in the same place, a fact which we did not figure out until much later. No matter, we flew across the Karoo, climbed into snowy (yes, snowy) mountains and descended back to the plains just as darkness was falling. The entire region looked pretty desolate. No wonder the actual Valley of Desolation was nearby. We knew our destination was nearby, but we were all getting a little worried. There were absolutely no signs of civilization. Finally, there was a sign, a sign that told us to turn down an old, dirt road and keep on until the end. If we were worried before, we were really worried now. It was completely dark. We began to hypothesize what might be at the end of the road. A tin shack? An ax murderer? The end of the world as we know it?

The road went on and on, up and down, curving left and right. If we broke down, or careened off a cliff, no one would ever find us. Ever. Just as we were starting to up hope, there it was. A light, no, two, four, a dozen, glittering beneath us. We rolled into town ecstatic. Searching for the backpackers we found a pub, a shop, a restaurant! The kind lady at the restaurant directed us to the backpackers and gave us a map with which she pointed out important features of the town. A microbrewery! A sculpture studio! It was a lot to take in, in our hungry, exhausted and cramped states. We dropped our bags off at the backpackers (no heat, no hot water, but so cute, so inviting) and made bee-line straight for the pub. Over burgers and local ale (the fact that even I drank it is a testament to how good it was), we congratulated ourselves on a job well-done. We had found a place to rest our heads for the night, and what a place it was.

Over breakfast scones and real coffee the next morning, we discovered much to our chagrin that we had no time to spare in New Betheseda. We had a game to catch that afternoon in Port Elizabth, Germany versus Serbia. So once again, we hopped in our car and sped off. The scenery that we had missed the night before was so breath-taking that we had to stop several times just to take it in (and to enjoy an odd snowball fight).

This post has gone on long enough for now. I'm going to give my thumbs a wee break for now. Check back in later for: PE, game drives, and more!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

It's Been a While (Again)

It's time I come clean and admit it. I am the world's worst blog writer. I'm able to access the internet very nearly 24/7, but I hardly ever manage to update this blog. I apologise. I'd say I'll change, but I probably won't.

Since it's been such a long time, of course I have tons to share. What do you want first: bad news or good news?

Bad news it is!

On November 19th, 2009, I stayed home from school. I wasn't feeling well, but I certainly wasn't sick. I was dealing with an awkward situation in my village, my first puppy had just died under mysterious circumstances and it was the very beginning of my first holiday in a different, and uncomfortably warmer, hemisphere. There was a knock on my door. I opened it, and there was Kagiso, a friend of my host family who, weeks before, had promised to bring me a new puppy. In his arms, there was a tiny, squirming white bundle of adorable puppyness. It was Rusty, my new dog. Rustenburg went from shy, little puppy to ferocious goat herder over the next several months. He followed me everywhere, to the shops, on runs. He waited for taxis with me. He even traveled on taxis with me. He survived puppydom and grew close to full-size. I thought for sure that Rusty would live to adulthood, to a long trip back to America, to meet his American family (Polar and Bi). He did not. While I was at a workshop outside Pretoria, my host family called to let me know that my best friend was found dead. I'm still not sure exactly what happened, but I no longer have a dog scratching at my door to be let in or jumping on my bed to be let out. Rustenburg is gone.

In typical fashion, the people here tell me not to worry, they'll get me a new dog. The concept that pets are not interchangeable is entirely foreign. I can only imagine what the Kuruman vet would think if I brought a third puppy in for a check-up.

To cope with some of my grief, I've been baking. I have orange-chocolate cupcakes in the oven now. They're delicious, but of course, I'd rather have my dog.

Now for the good news: vacation!

I went on an epic roadtrip a couple weeks ago. We saw... Too much for just one post. I'll get back to this later, maybe when my fingers have degreased from all the cupcakes I've been handling.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Masters of the Universe

It hasn't been very long since my last post, but a lot has happened and all of it is pretty awesome.

Before all of that, thanks to everyone who shared their advice and examples of student newspapers. Moshaweng News is coming along. Our first issue is coming out in June (fingers crossed).

Over the weekend was another Peace Corps party, this time in celebration of Cinco de Mayo, which commemorates the victory of General Zaragota Seguin over the French at the Battle of Pueblos (Ruan, please correct me). Anyway, I visited a real butchery for the first time in preparation for the celebratory braai. My friend J and I each bought beef fillets that turned out to be the most delicious food items ever. The meat was absolutely incredible! I kind of see where the Afrikaaner obsession with meat is coming from now. Of course, a big thanks is due to K, who actually cooked the meat. Another K, an RPCV who married a South African and lives in the area, also provided a variety of biltong and lamb kebabs from her farm which was thoughtful, sweet and, naturally, delicious. Several other volunteers also made food to share, including multiple tubs of guacamole and even Mexican cornbread (my contribution was my host mother's oven and pans). The best part of the night was seeing volunteers who traveled all the way from sites outside the Northern Cape. It's rare that I see people other than my immediate neighbors. Hopefully we will find another reason to gather soon.

The party was well-deserved because the end of last week was spent re-building the computer lab at Moshaweng High School. The operative word there is "build". My friend Justin, who has been traveling all over the province for a month helping other volunteers with their computer labs, trekked to Lopeng to help me with mine. The school had a bunch of computers, but they had been so poorly treated many were non-functional. Justin and I quite literally took them apart and re-built them. I spent the better part of two days on my hands and knees with a screwdriver pulling out hard drives, cloning them, dusting out the computers and putting the hard drives back in. It was exhausting and frustrating. We had power issues, missing mice and keyboards, really the whole experience proved the existence of Murphy's Law, but after several days the computer lab at Moshaweng is complete and functioning beautifully. The server Justin built (again, literally) is magical. I can shut down all the computers, all 33 of them, with 1 click! Forget Scholes and Hillibrand, I am a Master of the Universe. I can't wait to start teaching in the lab this week.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Moshaweng News

In my first full week at Moshaweng Secondary School, I assumed responsibility for the school newspaper. Apparently, sometime last year, a group came out to the school from town to workshop the learners on putting together a school newspaper. They produced one issue, but then everything fell apart and nothing's been done since. Well, now that I'm in control we have assigned staff positions (editor, sub-editor, photographer...), set deadlines (May 21st is the first), and organized twice weekly meetings for ten minutes after school and before the study period begins. While I'm really excited to be doing this, I have a few problems.

I know absolutely nothing about running a school paper. I was never part of Newspaper Club or anything remotely related to schools, news, or publishing. As the staff advisor, what exactly is my role? Without being too demanding or picky, how do I guide the students to better results? I tried to let them be creative with the title of our future publication. All they came up with was "Moshaweng Newsletter".

This leads me to my second problem. The learners don't know what they're supposed to be doing either! They've never seen a school newspaper before, some have never even seen a real newspaper. The blind really are leading the blind here.

The learners are also terribly unenthusiastic. I think this stems at least partially from the fact that no one really knows what they're doing, much less what they're capable of doing. The education system in South Africa does not reward creativity or thinking outside the box. No one here has ever heard of brainstorming. So, in order to up their enthusiasm and give them some ideas, it would be awesome if some devoted blog readers sent me a few copies of school newspapers for me to show to my students. Hopefully they'll feel less lost and more inspired. In the meantime, I've got cookies for our next meeting.

This coming Wednesday is my first meeting with the agricultural science learners. We're building (what else?) a compost pile.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Medical Issues

A few weeks ago, after the marathon and my trip to Zambia, I noticed a strange patch of skin on my shoulder. It didn't hurt, so I didn't worry too much about it. Then I noticed another strange patch of skin that burned when I touched it. I found that to be of mild concern. When I went to Pretoria last week, I headed to the medical office to have everything checked out. The burning is nothing to worry about, just some hellish insect that bites people. The mildly strange? FUNGUS! I have a skin fungus. I am disgusted and horrified, yet strangely pleased with myself. I'm definitely in Africa now. The doctor has given me a selection of topical creams. It should clear up soon. In the meantime I'll be applying fungicide after every bucket bath.

Back to the Village

After a whirlwind move and less than 72 hours in my new home, I packed another bag and headed to Pretoria. It was quite a trip. Thanks to the terrible inefficiencies of South African public transport, what should have been a miserable trip by taxi turned into an interesting journey by both vehicle and train.

I left my village Sunday afternoon. The taxi to town doesn't leave until midday on Sundays, and even then it waits until it's full. Full seems to be defined by at least one person crouched on the floor. On this particular day, the taxi wandered through the village for HOURS before picking up sufficient passengers. Thus, it was growing dark by the time I reached Kuruman. My next stop was another village, about a half hour from town, where my friend J lives. She had generously agreed to watch Rusty for the week while I was away. She also had generously arranged transport for me from town. All I had to do was wait for my ride to appear. (Sidenote: J is engaged! Her boyfriend came to visit over the Easter break, and they've decided to get hitched as soon as her service ends. I can't wait for the party! Congratulations!) My ride was a Bangladeshi shopkeeper and his Tswana friend. They arrived past eight, and we all proceeded to J's village. It was a fun trip, bizarre, but fun. At J's, there was pasta carbonara and a pile of blankets. It was just what I needed to pysch myself up for the long trip to Pretoria the next day.

Unfortunately for those of you deeply interested in all of the tiny details of my daily life, I'm not telling about what happened Monday. I could, but I think it would be in poor taste. Anyway, many thanks to Raymond, Errol (the seismologist) and the man from Krugersdorp who said God would bless me on my journey. I arrived safe and sound in Pretoria late that night, and waltzed right into the arms of another volunteer staying at the backpackers. It was a pleasant surprise after an uncomfortable day.

Tuesday was spent at the Peace Corps office, chatting with a volunteer from Botswana who was supposed to be flying home after an injury while skydiving but was grounded due to volcanic ash, watching movies, eating pizza and generally relaxing.

Wedenesday was my trial date. The safety and security coordinator and I were supposed to meet at seven, but he was delayed due to a taxi strike blocking roads as the drivers marched on the Union Buildings to protest the Bus Rapid Transit system being put in place for the World Cup. Meanwhile the municipal workers have already been on strike for a week or so. *sigh* It's just another day in South Africa. Anyway, we finally meet up and head to the Bakgatla Ba Mocha Tribal Authority for the trial (yes, the same one from January for a crime committed in August). This time the defendant actually shows up. I get up to the witness box, after hours of waiting, but instead of testifying I am informed that the accused has now decided to request a lawyer. The trial is now pushed back until July 21st. In the meantime, the defendant is being charged with either a 1,500 rand fine or 3 months in jail for failure to show.

Back in Pretoria that night, I had dinner with some volunteers recently returned from their travels. While in Durban they were mugged in broad daylight in a residential area at gunpoint and knifepoint. She escaped unscathed, he a little bloody, and both lost their wallets, passports, cell phones, everything. On the bright side, Peace Corps and the U.S. Consulate really pulled together for them and they received counseling, medical care, a hotel room, a small sum of money and even a visit from the ambassador! "Hi, I'm Don... the ambassador." So while the attack is certainly scary, it's good to know that volunteers are taken care of when they need it.

Thursday was an excellent day. My friend G arrived, and we did some shopping (chenille throw rugs), eating (pizza), and saw a movie (The Blind Side). This pattern was repeated on Saturday with the addition the Pretoria Art Museum (better than I expected). Saturday we had plans to visit a cheetah reserve, but we were rained out. Instead we met with another group of volunteers for taco night. Delicious!

Sunday I began the trip back to site, with a quick stop to retrieve Rusty. I'm now back in Lopeng and it seems as if winter has finally arrived. It's cold and rainy, an odd combination considering that winter is the dry season, but there is a definite chill in the air. Thank goodness for fleece and flannel!

In other news, I have a new e-mail address:

It's not configured with my Blackberry, so I don't check it as often as my current one, but please use it. It's easier for me to keep track of everything there.

Also, I finally have a mailing address for my new site! I'm sharing a box in town. You can write to me at:
Private Bag * 1532
Post Net Suite 120
Kuruman 8460

Please write soon!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Laundry Day

I'm sitting on a bench outside, watching my laundry soak before I get to the dirty business of scrubbing it all clean.

I've been thinking about the differences between doing my laundry here and doing it back in the States, either at home or at UA (you know).

I used to be a terrible procstinator when it came to laundry. I hated doing it with a passion. That seems quite silly here, considering how simple laundry is to do in America. You start the machine, you pour in detergent, add clothes, shut the lid, and go away for forty minutes. Then you come back, open up the machine, remove all your clothes, put them in an adjacent machine, turn that machine on and leave it for an hour. Wah-la, you're done. Sure, occasionally you might have to clean out the lint filter, but generally it's not so much work, especially compared to what I have to do now.

Laundry here starts with fetching water. You need a lot of water to both wash and rinse your clothes. The nearest tap to my current home isn't even in sight. It's about a 1/2 kilometer away. When carrying buckets of water, it feels much farther.

Once you have water, you split it between two buckets (or more, if you're into fabric softener). You pour some washing powder and your clothes into the first bucket and let them soak. Then you scrub. With your bare hands. It's a tough job, and wreaks horror on your skin, but it really gets your clothes clean. Tough stain? Scrub until your knuckles are raw, it'll eventually come out. This process also acts as incentive for keeping your clothes neat and clean while wearing them. I don't play in any puddles here. The consequences are just too painful.

Once the soak and scrub routine is completed, it's time for the rinse cycle. For this, you toss your clothes into the second bucket, swish them around, and then wring them out. South Africans tend to wring their clothes out like their very lives depend on squeezing every drop of water from their clothes, but ever since another volunteer informed me that hanging them up slightly wet reduces the amount of ironing necessary, I've considered myself a member of the "very little wringing" school. It's just less work!

The only problem with this approach comes when trying to hang clothes on the line. Wet clothes are heavy. Sometimes I swear my t-shirts mock my pathetic efforts to suspend them in mid-air using only a few paltry clothespins.

As you can see, laundry day is quite a work-out here, so the next time you have laundry to do and dread, say walking down a flight of stairs in your dorm, consider me, trudging through the Kalahari with a bucket. You'll be done in a few minutes, I'll be out here all day.