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: kmsoeth@gmail.com

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.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Before I began regaling you with tales of my first day at Moshaweng, I want to take a quick moment to respond to comments. I can't figure out how to post comments in response on my Blackberry, so this will have to do.

Thanks for the moral support, Neelam! (It was definitely the glittery pencils.) I will talk to you soon, we have much to discuss.

I can't wait to see you, Mr Cooper. We can compare the horror of our living situations. I came home from school today to find a giant piece of plaster on my bed. What's worse is that because there are so many gaping holes in my walls, I'm not even sure where it came from. How far away is Ganap? 20 km? Are you near Laxey?

Other administrative issues: I know my e-mail inbox is full. I can't delete anything on my Blackberry. I will clean it out in the next week or so. Also, please be aware of the time in South Africa when you are making phone calls attempting to reach me. I am usually in bed by nine (my time) which is mid-afternoon your time. It's not that I don't want to talk to you, but I turn my phone off when I'm trying to sleep so you will not be able to reach me.

School today was, as they say in South Africa, hectic. By that, they usually mean crazy busy, and, boy, I did more today in 7 hours than in 7 months in Deorham.

During the school briefing I was introduced to all 5 of the educators not currently attending workshops in Kuruman. It was very low-key. I was then shown to my "office", a desk and chair in the computer lab. A few minutes later the learners arrived, and we all went to assembly. There were songs, prayers, announcements, the usual. I spent the rest of the day filling in for absent teachers. I taught Newton's laws in grade 10 physical science, transport in plants in grade 11 life science, compound interest in grades 10 and 11 maths, and human evolution, trigonometry, and mitosis and meiosis in grade 12 life science and maths. Phew! In between I had great conversations with learners about their role models and plans for the future, as well as checked out the fabulous computer lab where I will be teaching computer literacy. I was busy all day, but it felt great! I haven't done so much work since I left America! Also, I had no textbooks to teach from. I taught all of the above from memory! Most of it from high school as I only took one science in college (thank you, A.P. Biology). It was scary at first, but turned out to be quite fun. I especially enjoyed teaching physical science. The learners knew all the formulas, but they had never heard of Isaac Newton! I drew an apple tree with a little man underneath and proceeded to explain the whole concept of gravity. It was fun for everyone. The learners clapped when I left.

Anyway, now I'm back in my closet. Tired, but content. Tomorrow I will attempt my laundry, then pack for Pretoria. Hopefully when I finally return, the DoE will have delivered my wardrobe. Living out of a suitcase is tough in a place where everyone expects clothes to be in perfect condition at all times.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

New Site: Lopeng

I finally moved! After a harried night and morning of packing up everything I own (my goodness, how things accumulate!), my supervisor from Peace Corps arrived in the early afternoon to whisk me away to my new site.

We arrived in Lopeng far too soon. The distance between Deorham and Lopeng is less than a half hour by vehicle. Our first stop in the village was Moshaweng Secondary School, where I begin work tomorrow. I'm a little nervous. Apparently there is a staff briefing every morning before the learners arrive. What kind of school has a briefing? Tomorrow, I will find out and report back.

Our next stop was my new home. To be perfectly honest, I cried when I first saw it. Many of you would be appalled by my new living conditions. My room is the size of a closest, and the cracks in the walls look like gaping chasms. My official host mother speaks very little English and is a member of the Moshawen SGB (like the PTA, but different). On the bright side, I have two host sisters who appear to be awesome. One is still in school, at Moshaweng, and the other is just out of school and living at home while she job-hunts in Kuruman. They're great because while they are perfectly willing to help me whenever I need it, they are old enough to not be super-impressed (and hence clingy and annoying) by the white girl living in the backyard.

Lopeng itself is significantly larger than Deorham. Today I even visited a shop that sells furniture! I also really like the fact that there is tons of available transport, not only to Kuruman, but Vryburg (another "real" town in the opposite direction) and even other villages. For the first time ever, I will be able to visit another volunteer without enduring an excruciating bakkie ride to town. Other volunteers' villages are so close, in fact, that I've decided my next major investment is going to be a bike. The roads aren't great, but I'll suffer the 20 ks to Laxey or the 30-some to Battlemount.

Right now, I am feeling pretty good about this site, but tomorrow will be the real test. Will I survive a full school day?

One last thing: before I left Deorham this morning, I received a package from my sister! It was filled with all manner of cute and nifty school supplies. They will be so great for school (positive reinforcement) and, honestly, making the neighbor kids like me. The orphans living next door now all have glittery pencils. Thanks, Pam!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Big Move

As some of you may know, I am leaving my village, Deorham, and moving to another for the remainder of my Peace Corps service. After many weeks of waiting, the move is finally set for tomorrow. My new village is Lopeng, which is actually relatively close to my current village (only about 30 km away). I am very excited about moving on, but also a little nervous about starting over. I hope it goes well. I'm leaving tomorrow morning around 10:30, and I haven't even started packing!

Monday, April 12, 2010


After all my adventures abroad, I was back in Kuruman with several days to spare before the start of the new school term. I couldn't bring myself to return to my village quite yet. I needed a transition period. I needed a staycation.

So I booked at room at a guesthouse popular with several other PCVs and proceeded to explore my lovely little shopping town as a tourist for the very first time.

It turned out to be surprisingly pleasant. For a town of its size (or lack thereof) there are several things to see and do that are worth seeing and doing. The most famous, perhaps, is the Eye (or Die Oog as the locals would say). I think I've mentioned it here before, so I won't go into details, but a picnic at the Eye while watching the fish swim by is an autumn afternoon well spent. The admission fee is a mere 7 rand, and a nice grocery store is just steps away.

Another Kuruman attraction is the Moffat Mission. Anyone who knows their African history will recognize the place for several things. It was here, in 1829, that the first Bible was printed in Africa (in Setswana, of course) by the English missionary Robert Moffat. It was also here that David Livingstone was nursed back to health after being mauled by a lion, and then later married his nurse (a daughter of the Moffat's). The almond tree under which he proposed is still standing (kind of). I visited the mission for the first time another volunteer, J, and her friend T, who was visiting from America. J, who happens to also have been my seatmate on the flight to SA from DC, has visited the mission several times and was an excellent tour guide. The original house and church of the Moffats are both still standing, while the original printing press (still in occasional operation) is housed in a reproduction of a schoolroom from 1905.

On our way back from the Moffat Mission, J, T and I stopped at the Barrel, a restaurant none of us had ever tried before. While our server was a bit of an oddball, the food was delicious and the setting (at a garden nursery) delightful. The way the food was presented was also impressive. I had sprigs of lavender stuck artfully into my chicken, and fresh flowers adorned everyone's desserts. We spent the better part of the afternoon eating, drinking and chatting, while Rusty devoured a lamb bone beneath the table.

For those who are less historically inclined, and more Mall of America than Moffat Mission, Kuruman has The Cave. The Cave looks like a house on the outside, but rather convincingly like a cave on the inside. It is a shop that sells gems, mostly as jewelry, but also loose. It's definitely a unique shopping experience. I "caved" and bought a piece of hematite, pardon the pun.

Next week I'll be heading out to Pretoria for the trial, attempt number two. I'm not looking forward to all the traveling, nor the trial itself, but I'm meeting a friend in the city for a few days afterwards, and I'm very excited about that.

In other news, I was inspired by the last training event I attended to begin taking a daily multivitamin. Neil and David, the presenters and authors of Choices and Positive Living, declared that Centrum 50+ is far and away the best multivitamin on the market for people of any age, so that's what I'm taking... Or at least trying to take. The pills are elephant-sized! Maybe I'll get better...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Easter Break

Happy belated Easter! It's been a long time since I last updated this blog, and a lot has happened! I will try my best to bring everyone up to speed.

First, at the end of March, I participated in an HIV/AIDs training held at a rather fancy hotel with delicious food in Rustenburg. You may recognize the name of the city, as it is also the name of my dog. Anyhow, the training itself was wonderful. I learned so much, and, even better, most of what I learned is actually useful! The workshop was run by two men, Neil Orr and David Patient, and I urge you to give their names a Google if you want to know:

Why everyone should eat a brazil nut a day

Why you should keep the windows open in crowded spaces (especially where I live)

Why daily shots of cayenne pepper are worth suffering through

How to cheat the South African medical system by drinking Coke

... and other useful things.

Aside from the lectures and food, the hotel (Sparkling Waters) had two pools, a playground, a trampoline and a mini-golf course of mind-boggling difficulty. I won by a very slim margin, and it was entirely chance. Anyone who's ever seen me play before know that there's no real skill involved.

After saying goodbye to Rustenburg, about 20 volunteers boarded a taxi bound for Sabie, Mpumalanga for the Longtom marathon. We arrived at the backpackers, ate some spaghetti and promptly went to bed. We were up hours before the sun to hit the course. 4 PCVs were brave enough to run the 56 kilometer ultra-marathon, the rest of us ran or walked a mere 21 kilometers. The race course was absurdly hilly, but possibly the most beautiful scenery I've ever seen. It was a good distraction from the heat/pain, as were the water points which were staffed by super-friendly people proffering potatoes, chocolate and water packaged in plastic which you were expected to rip open with your teeth... while running. I, needless to say, was not particularly skilled at this art and wound up soaking myself and my neighbors many a time.

Of course, the best part of the marathon was the money we raised. I managed to pull together $355 to benefit KLM, so many, many thanks to those who donated. It's very much appreciated. Collectively, we beat last year's fundraising total by more than $1000. Well done, well done...

I woke up the morning after the marathon more sore than I ever believed possible, but did that stop me from climbing on a taxi as part of my journey to Zambia? No, absolutely not.

Another volunteer and I flew to Livingstone, Zambia for a week to see one of the wonders of the world, Victoria Falls. It was incredible, and certainly put Niagara Falls to shame. I will post pictures on Facebook sometime in the next week or so. They're pretty self-explanatory (and my thumbs are tired), so on to my last topic.

On my first night back in town, I met with a group of students and teachers from the Frankfurt International School. I had already met with the group leader when he and others came to the region a month or so ago. Anyway, he had a few things for me and my village, most importantly, Dr Pepper! No, no, no, seeds for my school garden, though the Dr Pepper is really nice and I'm considering building a shrine for it rather than just drinking it. Thanks a million to the good people of FIS!