Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Day in the Life... Resego Goes to Town

I have a lot of explaining to do concerning town, what it is, where it is, why I go, and how I get there.

When I refer to town, I am talking about Kuruman. In general size and appearance, it reminds me of Estherville, IA. It's got a few grocery stores, a couple decent restaurants, a smattering of guest houses, and a nice park around the Eye (the only permanent water source for miles). Most importantly, Kuruman is where the post office and my school's PO box is located, along with Rusty's veterinarian, the bank and ATM.

Kuruman is approximately 90 kilometers from Deorham. Oddly, that is the same approximate distance from my house in Pittsford to the lake house in Ovid. Anyway, it's hardly walking distance. Hence, I must provide you with a crash course in South African transport.

The most common form of transport in rural (poor, black) South Africa is by taxi. Locally known as khumbis, taxis are really minibuses. To attract a taxi, all you have to do is stand by the road and wait and wait and wait until one comes along that has space. Space does not necessarily mean a seat. I have stood, I have sat on people's laps, I have spent any uncomfortable hour or so on the floor even. It happens. Anyways, there used to be one taxi that served my village. It would pick people up at a few select spots around the village about 7 am, transport them into town and back again (this time dropping them at their door). We paid 56 rand for this service. A few weeks ago, the taxi people attempted to raise this to 70 rand. The people of Deorham responded by boycotting the taxi. The taxi responded by ceasing to come to the village.

This brings me to SA transport, part two. The other form of transport most common in my area is a truck with a cover on the back and benches for people to crouch uncomfortably on. Locally known as bakkies, these vehicles are owned by a few community members. When they either need to go to town themselves, or just need some extra cash, these people will operate their vehicles as taxis. With the official Deorham taxi gone, we now have to relie on the whims of the relatively wealthy to get to town.

All of this now brings me to today. I needed to go to town for groceries. Thus, as the sun rises, I hike out to the nearest taxi pick-up point and wait. I wait for nearly any hour. A bakkie comes. I climb in (the cab). Two people squeeze in next to me. We begin the bumpy journey to town. I lose feeling in my left leg. The bakkie breaks down. People climb out, try to push it along. This strategy seems to work for about ten minutes. Then, another breakdown. The cycle repeats itself for about any hour. We head back into Deorham. I climb out of the bakkie, check to make sure all my limbs are intact and that feeling has been restored. Seeing all is well, I wait for a new bakkie. The new bakkie arrives. Everyone who couldn't get to town on the first one, climbs into this one. I counted 16 people in the back. Try to imagine that. It was crazy! We begin the journey to town, but it seems doomed. We pull over four times to "fix" whatever seems to refuse to work for more than twenty minutes at a stretch. Almost four hours after I stepped into the first bakkie, I finally arrive in town.

By this time, the post office is closed, so there's no point in trying to pick up or send my mail. Might as well have lunch!

Spur is one of my favorite South African restaurants. It styles itself as an American steakhouse and the inside is decorated as kitschy as can be. There are cheesy references to American-Indian culture everywhere! Headdresses adorn placemats and the stained glass lamps bear vaguely Western patterns. Believe it or not, the food is actually quite good and by American standards, cheap to boot. Today I had the guacamole and bacon burger. Fantastic!

Then I trudged back to the rank to try desperately to make my way back to Deorham. I made it, but, like everything else here, it took a lot longer than strictly necessary. If patience is a virue, I'm headed to sainthood.

Once again, a big thank-you to my Longtom sponsors (especially the mysterious one my mom had to tell me about, thank you!) and to everyone else, there's still time to give and I'd really appreciate it! Thanks!

Please excuse any typos. My Blackberry has gone auto-text crazy and editing is difficult. I hope to hook up my computer soon.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Compost and Canned Goods

Something I learned in Peace Corps: food that comes in cans is a really wonderful concept. It doesn't need to be refrigerated, keeps forever, and when you do finally get around to opening it, it (usually) tastes delicious! It's also usually quite cheap. So here's to tuna fish, jam and beans... all in cans!

Today was a reasonably exciting day at school. We built a compost pile! The educators are interested in permaculture, but the soil here is terrible. It's really just sand and little else. Thus, before we can begin growing anything, we had to build a compost heap. It's pretty spectacular, as far as compost heaps go. I followed the directions in How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons. The book promotes "biointensive" gardens. I'm not totally sure what that means and if it's really better than normal gardening, but the book has detailed instructions, so what could go wrong? I have one question already: if I use cardboard egg cartons to grow my seedlings, can they be transplanted directly without removing them from the cardboard? I can't seem to find a definitive answer anywhere. Also, if anyone knows what kind of fruits and vegetable grow well in semi-desert conditions, I would appreciate the info.

Finally, I really need your support for the Longtom Marathon to benefit KLM. Read the post below. Many thanks to those who have already given!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Law and Order: South Africa-style

Just a few weeks ago, all the PCVs in SA20 gathered at teacher training college outside Pretoria for a couple days of in-service training (IST). First of all, we had a blast. Every night had a different theme, and everyone got into the activities. We had a talent show during which my puppy conducted Beethoven's 9th with a little help from J and C, T demonstrated a series of unmarketable skills (he is actually quite marketable himself with a PhD in physics), K put coins up his nose (weirdly fascinating) and our overall winner hosted a PCV singalong to the tune of "I'm Evil". The other acts were excellent as well, but too numerous to name. On PCV prom night, people dressed up in everything from curtains to garbage bags and danced the night away in a room decorated beautifully with toilet paper. We even had a costume party where people came dressed as anything that started with a P, C or V. I was a pirate, but there were also preppies and velociraptors. Unofficial PCV activities included riding a mattress on top of a skateboard down a hallway. Overall, the technical sessions may have been a bit of a bore, but we managed to have a lot of fun anyway.

When IST was over, most people returned to their sites immediately. I didn't. Remember the robbery from PST? Well, the local police finally decided to go to trial about a week after the end of IST, so I holed up in Pretoria until the court date when I was needed to testify.

At first, it was great. I saw movies, went shopping, hung out with people I rarely get to see and ate the most wonderful food (McDonald's, Chinese). Then I got food poisoning. From what, I don't know, but I was sick as a dog. It was awful, and I barely had time to recover before the "cultural experience" of the South African criminal justice system.

The safety and security officer for Peace Corps accompanied me to the court and walked me through everything that was supposed to happen. The key word in that sentence is supposed. First, court was being held at the local tribal office. Second, the prosecutor was hours late. Third, the defendant failed to show up! Now they're going to reschedule, and I have to trudge all the way back out there. I am not at all excited. Court isn't held frequently in the village, but there's a lot of crime, so it was really crowded and, of course, I was the only white person there. Awkward. Maybe next time I'll be more prepared. I will let you know how it goes!

Back in the village, I started teaching grade 5 maths and grade 10 English, but tomorrow the grade 10s will begin being transported to a secondary school in the next village. I'm thrilled for them, but I will miss teaching them. The grade 5s are any unruly bunch, but I'm working on it.

Anyways, I hope everyone has sent all their spare change to KLM. If not, there's still time!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Longtom Marathon

First off, I'd like to apologise for my long absence from this blog. All I can say in my defense is that time and money, before my Blackberry, were tight and I often had to choose between lunch with friends and time alone in front of a desktop. As you can guess, I usually opted for lunch. Anyway, now that, courtesy of my parents' annual masquerade as Santa, I now have a Blackberry which affords me inexpensive internet access from just about anywhere. It's very exciting, as you may have guessed from my recent activity on Facebook and even Twitter (kelseypcv).

I have loads to catch everyone up on, but for now I want to focus on an upcoming event that I would really appreciate your help with: the Longtom marathon.

This marathon takes place during the last week of March near Sabie in Mpumalanga, South Africa. The route is 56 kilometers total, while the "half" marathon is *only* 21. I will be making an effort at this scramble through the mountains in support of the KLM foundation. This charity was started by former Peace Corps Volunteers in South Africa. Its mission is to provide deserving students from impoverished areas a quality education that would otherwise be unavailable to them by providing scholarships to Uplands College. The organization relies heavily on funds raised at the annual Longtom marathon, so if the thought of me panting away on the side of a cliff near God's Window brings a smile to your face, please consider a donation. A few dollars can go a long ways here, so whatever you can afford is much appreciated. There are two ways to give:

Method 1: Online

* Go to the KLM foundation website   
* Click on the Donate photo in the upper left corner.
* This opens up a secure https connection for you to donate
* Please put my name in the Longtom marathon field (so organizers know who you're sponsoring)

Method 2: Check

* Make out a check to: Kgwale Le Mollo (US)
* Add a post it declaring that Kelsey Soeth is the PCV you're sponsoring
* Mail it to:
KLM Foundation (US)
        c/o Bowen Hsu
       461 So. Bonita Avenue
       Pasadena, CA 91107

My fundraising minimum goal is $100, so please dig deep everyone. Thanks! I solemnly swear that I will not another 4 months before I update this blog again.