I suck at this blog

Ciao everyone!
In case you havent figured out (because i have sucked at updating this blog); I officially finished my Peace Corps Service!!! On March 17th myself and three friends finished the last of our paperwork, and then took a vacation to Sani Pass SOuth Africa, with a stop in Lesotho, at Africa’s highest pub! From there we traveled to Sodwana Bay. I was really excited about the beach, but Sodwana turned out to be an epic fail because it was so hot and so many mosquitoes. Then, to top it off, we had to pay to use the beach! We only ended up staying 2 nights, before heading into a much much cooler Swaziland. In Swaziland Anne and I did a little bit of gift shopping and visited a Swazi PCV.

We came back to SOuth Africa a bit earlier than planned, and hung out with the rest of my intake group before I flew out April 1st. Flying out was really really difficult. Peace Corps was hard. Really really hard at times, and I definitely considered leaving early at some points. But I also learned a lot about myself, made great friends, and had some amazing adventures along the way, so it was hard to leave all of that behind.

Currently, I am in Italy on my COS (Close of Service) Trip. I met a friend of mine from America in Rome on the 2nd, we travelled around Rome and Florence before she left on the 10th. Currnetly I am in Pesaro visiting my cousin before heading to Germany the 14th.

Just prior to leaving my village, I found out that Drake Law awarded me a full tuition scholarship, so chances are I will be starting Drake (again) this fall. A lot of you either wrote recommendations, edited my statement, or just gave me support during my application process, so thank you so much!

I come back to Chicago May 6th. See you all then!

COS (Close Of Service), etc

I have left my village for the last time.
Leaving involved a lot of tears, and I think I am honestly still in denial. I have a feeling that in about 2 weeks when I finish up our Sani Pass and Sodwana Bay adventures (plans have changed yet again, haha) I will feel ready to return. Always after a few weeks of traveling I get that itch to return to my house and just relax, see my dog, and get into village mode again, and this time it won’t be an option. Getting on a plane and leaving this continent in 2 weeks might be even more difficult than leaving my village was.

It really has been an amazing two years, and as I sit in Pretoria and write this, I am reflecting on the hardships, the fun, the small successes and the great friendships that I have experienced over those 2 years and I am truly sad to be leaving.

What makes leaving South Africa so much more difficult than coming here is the sense of finality. I have every intention of coming back for a visit some day, but who knows what will happen in the near or even the far future? Knowing how quickly things change, here, how fast people themselves come and go, I know that some of my friends and family won’t be around by the time I can make it back. And that is terrifying. I hate goodbyes; saying goodbye to all of you for a mere 2 years was difficult enough, so saying goodbye for forever is even more trying.

Goodbye party, Thunzi, and packing

Friday the 25th my org hosted a wonderful goodbye party for me. Every one from my organisation came, plus the clinic staff, and my host parents. Plus, 3 of the new volunteers near me also came! Samu, my baba and Mrs. Makhathini all made speeches, and i was crying the whole time! When it came time for me to give a little speech, I apologized for my brevity due to my tears, but was able to say a few words. We also had a delicious meal of pap, sauce, boerwors, fried meat, and chicken with a few salads.

Some of you may have seen a few random updates on facebook regarding my inja (dog); He went missing for a few days 2 weeks ago. I wasnt worried for awhile, as he normally runs off to find himself a new girlfriend or two every once in awhile. But after about 4 days I began to feel nervous and went looking for him. Nothing. After about 6 days my host family told me that someone had stolen him! So my baba and I promptly traipsed over to some mans house. This man stated that he had bought Thunzi as a puppy (aka at least 3 years ago), and this was his dog. Negotiations ensued, and suffice it to say that Thunzi is now back with me, but I am scared the crazy man is going to attempt to steal Thunzi again.

I have started packing!! I am trying to get myself down to 1 bag, as my two easyjet flights in Europe allow only 20kgs (44lbs)!!! and damnit it is difficult! I have already mailed about 4 packages home, and have 2 more waiting here. I have been planning to give my host sister a majority of my clothes, but fitting in a sleeping bag, netbook, an enough clothing to last for almost 8 weeks, especially when transitioning from late African summer to an early European Spring! My final schedule is 12 days in Italy, 10 days in Germany, with a 1 night stop over in Prague, a week in London, and about 6 days in Paris with my mom! I am oh-so excited!

T-minus

I have officially 3 full weeks left in the village!
I can hardly believe that very soon I will be leaving.
That may surprise some of you, based on some of the difficulties I have had in adjusting to life here etc, but certain aspects of my life here have really grown on me.

Plane rides and Party Plans

On Thursday, I passed my two months in the village mark. I will be leaving my village on Sunday March 13th, and will spend Sunday thru Thursday in Pretoria filing paper work before officially ending my Peace Corps service on March 17th.

On the 18th a few friends and i will fly to Namibia for about a week. Namibia is the only country in the region I have yet to visit. We will see the sand dunes in Soussvlei, hang out in Swakopmund, and a few days in Windhoek (apparently more German than Germany) before coming back to South Africa on the 24th.

The 25th myself and a friend will go to Swaziland for a last hoorah, with about 2 days in Maputo (assuming the cheap visas at the Mozambiquan embassy in Mbabane are in fact real). I am planning on being back in Pretoria the 31st of March, as my flight off the continent is April 1st. I bought my ticket Friday, and it has definitely made everything seem real. I am in fact leaving. And very soon at that.

My plane ticket was decently cheap, but I have to lay over in the UAE (Heeeey Abu Dhabi!!).At least, inshallah, I will get to practice some Arabic. From there I am meeting a friend in Rome, hanging out with my Italian cousins that I haven’t seen in 14 years, then jetting up to Germany. My plans for Germany really only entail Munich for a bit, visiting an old friend outside Frankfurt, and of course Berlin. I am excited to see how much German I can dig out of the recesses of my brain.

After that it’s off to London! England is definitely in my top 5 countries to visit, because I am so fascinated with the history (especially early modern history). I am not sure what I will do yet, but the British museum is definitely on my radar. I need to check out some travel books next week when I am in Pretoria.

In the mean time, my org is planning a goodbye party for me, about which I am very excited. On our first day back at work for the year last week I started crying; I am going to miss everyone so much! Now I really have to focus on saying all of my goodbyes, and packing stuff.

November thru December

Thanksgiving
This past thanksgiving I was the proud host of about 15 people. There were 9 volunteers from around Mpumlanga Province, and 6 South Africans (my host parents, 3 co-workers, and a volunteers host brother). Everyone brought a dish to pass, and the menu included turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, fried rice, stuffed mushrooms, brussel sprouts, corn bread, bruschetta, beets, cake and pie. Considering my kitchen capabilities, everything was served decently warm and was delicious!
When I first came to the village, my co-workers had often wondered if I could cook (due to the high prevalence of white people having in-house help who cook for them). It was a bit difficult to explain that most people in the States DONT have in-house help, and that I had been cooking for myself for awhile. Over the past 2 years I had made simple things (omelettes, banana bread, cookies) and brought them into work to prove myself. Needless to say, Thanksgiving finally laid to rest this notion that I couldnt cook. My co-workers want another Thanksgiving feast prior to me leaving. The 4kg turjey was only about R100, so I will have to go check for another one next time I am in town! Hell, I will buy one just for me and live off the leftovers for the next 2 months!

COS
In early December the remaining ten people in my group went to Pretoria for our final training. COS (Close of Service) was the last time for many of us to come together as a group and look back on our service. It was great to get together one last time with everyone. I have put in an application to COS about 2 weeks early, on March 17th (our official date is April 1st), but I am still waiting on approval from the Country Director. Hopefully I will know soon!

December Holidays
From mid December to mid January every year South Africa essentially shuts down and goes on holiday. The cities are deserted, and holiday accommodation is booked up months in advance. After some last minute changes, myself and another volunteer went down to Warner Beach, south of Durban. It was great to be able to spend Christmas on the beach. Christmas Eve we went SCUBA diving on the Aliwal Shoal, considered one of the ten best dive sites in the world. I was really hoping to see my third species of shark for 2010. Alas, it was not to be! I will have to content myself with 2 species in 2010! We did see a turtle right as we were about to get in, a small ray, a giant star fish, and plenty of really amazing fish. I was a little scared to dive again after so long (2 years) since my last dive, but after a few problems getting down I did fine. I blew through my oxygen really fast, but still surfaced with the group. Warner Beach as a town was a bit of a disappointment (I think anything would have been after Tofo), and the backpacker was sort of weird; all families and not the usual young travelers that I have come to expect. For Christmas we ate a meal provided by the backpacker; curried lamb and duck, and some veg. It was delicious!
A few days after Christmas we were expecting to meet up with some volunteers in Lesotho. We took a night bus from Durban back to Pretoria; not even 15 minutes outside of Durban the bus broke down(I think exploded is a better way to put it; there was a loud pop under my seat and then smoke billowing from the rear tires). Luckily the company just sent us another bus (rather than a mechanic to try and fix the problem). I am delighted to report that that should hopefully be my last night-bus experience EVER!!
Due to a late start f rom Pretoria(one volunteer forgot her passport at site and had to go back and get it), we drove to Clarens, a town in the Eastern Free State just north of the border with Lesotho. It’s a small town with a lot of little shops and TWO breweries (this is amazing for South Africa)! Since we arrived in Clarens after dark we pretty much ate pizza (at the Nottingham Road Brewery) and went to bed. The next morning we walked around a bit and then crossed into Lesotho via the Camdoonspoort (Camel Rock in Afrikaans) border. Lesotho was the easiest border crossing ever. We didn’t have to pay a road tax for our car, or even register it! A few hours into Lesotho we stopped at some ancient dinosaur footprints. Apparently there are the markings from three different species in the rock at this particular site, but two were completely covered under water, and the third had to be scrapped out for us to see it. “Covered in water” certainly foreshadowed the rest of this trip!
We arrived to the Maseru backpackers to find that the lodge was out of water (toilets, showers, taps, etc). We went to dinner at an Indian restaurant, and discovered that Lesotho’s Maluti beer cans look exactly like Swaziland’s Sibebe beer cans. I bet they’re brewed by the same company…
The next afternoon we left Maseru and go on the road to Semonkong. We were booked to stay at Semonkong lodge in the mountains from the 30th until the 2nd, and to take a donkey pub crawl for New Years Eve. Roughly 50-60 Km’s outside of Maseru we noticed a clump of cars sitting on the road. Thinking it was an accident of some kind, we pulled over and got out of the car. It was an accident for sure, but not of the automobile variety; a flash flood had come down the river and was covering the low bridge. The water was quite high, and moving very fast. Our tiny clown car was never going to make it across. We were told to wait about 3 hours and the water would go down. We climbed a mountain next to the river and watched a large delivery truck attempt the crossing. He made it, but his giant wheels were completely covered. Next a Basotho man crossed on a horse. After that the minibus taxis (Combis) started crossing at a pretty fast pace. It started raining again, and at about this time we noticed that the river behind us had started spilling over the bridge immediately behind us. We had to leave or we would be trapped on a tiny peninsula of land! We made our way back to the nearest town and found a restaurant/shebeen to wait out the storm.
After about an hour and half we headed back to the river. The water level had dropped considerably, and was no where near as fast. However, it still looked slightly too high for the clown car. We hung out and watched how other cars made it. It appeared that the water was no longer the biggest problem; the raging river had washed away a bit of the concrete road on the far side of the bridge, and left a divot that our car would not be able to manage. Some Afrikaaners in a Jeep helpfully offered to cross before us and tow us out should we get stuck. This was a nice offer, but what if the bridge flooded again on our way back? Eventually we decided not to risk the divot and the 70KMs of untarred road on the opposite side of the bridge. After making a phone call, we found that another lodge about 3 hours away still had space for us that night. Off we went!
We arrived at night and in the rain, after 7 Kms of dirt road (Through a pass. In a Picanto.). Since I had been slogging through muddy river water all day, and hadn’t had a shower since South Africa, I was really excited to bath. I turned on the shower, and dark brown water shot out of the nozzle. There was no point to shower, I would come out dirtier than I went in! Eish.
The next morning it was still cloudy, but we were at least able to see the mountains all around us! Lesotho really is the mountain kingdom. We took a 5 hour hike to a water fall. Luckily I hadn’t showered, because we walked through so many rivers and hopped so many banks it was ridiculous. It was definitely an all-encompassing hike; fording rivers, kloofing, climbing up and down rocks, etc. The rain even stayed away until we were almost finished hiking! Luckily, after arriving back at the lodge we were able to shower! HOT water, and it was decently clear! Hands down best shower ever! As it was New Years Eve, we went for dinner at the lodge; rice, turkey, gammon, mashed butternut squash, chocolate cake and some other bits of deliciousness! AND we could go back for seconds!! Turkey! Twice in one year! So exciting!
This lodge didn’t have a donkey pub crawl, but we did head out into the village in order to visit some shebeens. The Basotho people are known for their blankets. Quite a few people wore their large blankets even when dancing at the shebeen. Traditional Basotho dancing involves a lot of shoulders (unlike Zulu dancing, which is characterized by kicking a foot high above the head, and pounding it into the ground), so that was cool to see. Someone even put their Sotho blanket over my shoulders. That thing was hot as hell to dance under!
We rang in the new year with some fireworks at the shebeen. It was a lot of fun…until some drunk guy took one of the still exploding fireworks out of the ground and started running around pointing it at people. Yikes! It was back to the lodge for us, for some dancing. The night got more and more crazy; I went to bed around 3:30…definitely one of the latest nights I have had in Southern Africa. On new years day we took a pony trek. The Basotho, in addition to their blankets, are known for their sturdy mountain ponies. We went for about an hour until we came to some 7000 year old San paintings (the San are the original inhabitants of this area; think of the movie The Gods Must be Crazy). The paintings were beautiful, and it was awe-inspiring to stand in front of something so old! Again, the rain held off for our pony trek, and started just after we arrived back in camp. Later, we met some Bots PCVs who had just completed a 4 day hike through rural Lesotho. Wanting to shower after being on a horse, we found the water worse than the first day; chocolate brown water sludging out of every faucet throughout the entire lodge. I managed to find one tap were the water was clear-ish, and showered there. Most of us were asleep by 10PM the night of the 1st.
The 2nd we crossed back into South Africa. One of our friends had to catch a bus to Durban, and there was an intense half hour when we couldn’t find the Intercape bus, or even anyone who knew where the Intercape bus stopped. Eventually we found it, and the rest of us missioned back up to Pretoria after a brief stop in Bloemfontein. I have never been so happy to get to Pretoria! Sun! Clean Water! Agh!!
Currently, I am back at my site, biding my time until my organization opens again on the 12th. My supervisor, who applied for me to come, quit the organization Monday for a better paying job at the clinic. Even though she is still really close, I feel so sad! It really is the end of an era. Next week our organization will have to elect/ decide on someone to take her position.

Leaving
I now have about 2.5 months left as a PCV. I put in application to finish up 2 weeks early (I will leave the village March 13th, and officially finish Peace Corps march 17th). My plan is to visit Namibia (the only country here in southern Africa I have yet to visit!), then do a crafting trip with Anne (Maputo via Swaziland). Roughly the 1st I will fly to Italy to meet up with Aditi, and then travel through Italy, Austria, Germany, London and possibly Paris. I am thinking I will arrive back states side about mid May. (My mother is decidedly unhappy about this new date). I am so so excited to get back to the states! Driving! Ginos East! All Night Grocery Stores! Family! High Heels! Friends! Newcastle! Wrigleyville! EEK EEK EEK! But I have already started bawling to Anne and my host family about leaving (my co-workers refuse to talk about it, because they themselves don’t want to cry). Life here was hard. Tons of ups and downs. Yes, I did think about leaving, especially within that first year. But at the end of the day I have really enjoyed my time here. I don’t think it would be worthwhile if it wasn’t hard. I will miss a lot of aspects of life here; weekends in Swaziland, traveling, month-long vacations, sense of independence, my host baba, my administrative co-workers (Samu, Nunu, Sibongile, Lindiwe), meeting tons of new and interesting people, my dog (OMG! I don’t know how I will leave him!! Tears just writing this!), certain aspects of village life, and tons of other things. Yes there are certain things I wont miss, like living out of my day pack for 2 years, packing my groceries in from town, drunk men slurring sweetie to me on the street, etc etc. But I have enjoyed my time here more than I have wished it was over.
One thing that really attracts me to Africa is how alive I feel here. Everything is much difficult here. Life and death are much closer to the service. Last week I had a rel-life Oregon trail decision situation: FORD THE RAGING RIVER. I don’t feel this way in America (I am now expecting a sharp rebuke from my father for writing that). There is something about this continent that, after visiting, never really leaves you. I know I will be back one day. Theres no way I could not come back.

Change

Two blogs in one week! Wow!
So the last one I talked a lot about me me me, but I wanted to focus a little on what’s been happening around my village and my organization.

I was reflecting on my service this past week, and I feel overwhelmed by the changes that have occurred around me the past 2 years. I came in with a lot of goals, which I humbly had to reassess once I realized that I really am only one human, and not superwoman as I sometimes like to believe in my head. But that changes that have occurred have really left me wide eyed in wonder.

ARV’s
When I first arrived, the population that a)knew they were positive b)knew their cd4 count and c) had a cd4 count of less than 200 had to travel at least 100km’s to one of three hospitals to access life-saving drugs on a monthly basis. At the cheapest this would be R100 round trip, a price that is unmanageable for those eeking a survival out of grants and unable to feed themselves and their dependents. I had foolishly believed that I might be able to get ARV’s into my local clinic by working with the Department of Health. After only a few weeks of being in the village and seeing how the DOH does/doesn’t operate, I quickly scratched that goal. However, a few months ago, the DOH reversed its order that only hospitals (read doctors) can dispense ARVs, and the drugs are now (technically) available in my village clinic. I don’t know how reliable they are (as in, are all the right meds consistently there?), but it’s a start! I am really happy for my positive community members, as this will do wonders to increasing their quality of life.

TAC
TAC, or the Treatment Action Campaign, is an organization that I was constantly reading about (Jonny Steinberg’s Three Letter Plague or Sizwe’s test, depending on where it’s published), and hearing about in the news. I had googled them and tried to find out how I could get them active in my village. Of course the website wasn’t as informative as I had wanted it to be, and could never find out much about local chapters. Then Thursday (11th November), I showed up at work and there they were! Perhaps twenty people in all, many wearing brightly colored shirts with HIV POSITIVE emblazoned across the front. I almost fainted! TAC had come for a visit to explain about their work, and because they want to start a group in my village! Thursday we went down the main road through the village (the gravel one leading to the police station from the tar road, for those of you who have been here), all the way to the taxi rank. Literally every person we saw was stopped and given a flyer and a packet of condoms. Even people who obviously didnt want to look any of us in the face! The best part was the people who saw what we were doing and left their wash in the yard to come out and collect condoms from us. That was really uplifting for me to see. TAC should start a group here in my village in early 2011, and I am excited to see the beginnings of this wonderful group!

Development
Although not on the scale of my neighboring town, Nhlazatshe, my village has developed in the past two years. Our Cash and Carry (pseudo African Costco) has expanded. Several entrepreneurs have set up braai (charcoal grill) stands to sell grilled chicken feet. There are two new drinking establishments (not the best form of development, but development nonetheless) near the taxi rank. One even has a snooker table! In the taxi rank someone has brought a trailer and cooks food to order out of it. My personal favorite is the “Shisa Nyama” (hot meat) braai stand, where you can go and buy raw meat (beef or wors) and then cook it out back. This stand is rather inconveniently located at one of the aforementioned drinking establishments, but if I don’t go on a weekend I am normally OK.

My Organization
When I first arrived, my organization was operating out of a garage. More or less a closet sized space inside the garage. In the past we had one virus-laden desktop computer, a rickety desk and plastic chairs. As of last week, we now operate in a spacious building (thanks to money we received in the Telkom charity grant last year) with a full kitchen, three offices, two toilets (currently not operating, but maybe soon?!), and a large meeting room. We now have two desktops and one laptop. I created an email for our organization and all of the administrative team can scan a document and attach it to an email. This has saved us a lot of faxing and mailing fees. Huge filing cabinets and several large desks were delivered earlier this week and proper chairs are on their way. By early next year we should have the bakery equipment installed and the bakery should be starting.

My house
When I first arrived, my host baba (father) hadn’t really been present for roughly the past twenty years. He lived outside Jo’Burg with his 2nd wife, and only came home about twice a year. The house wasn’t exactly neglected, but it could use some work. He retired and moved back here to the village last July, and we now own 4 cows, 20 chickens for family consumption, plus we sell chickens to our neighbors. Our garden has grown, and the pump has been moved from a muddy pit to the backyard. This makes my life slightly more difficult, but its better for the garden. He has also installed water in the big house, so my mama has a running faucet now. He has plastered both my house and theirs, and built a garage. There is also a large fence around the property so its difficult for people to break in now. I think he has several more projects planned as well, so further change is coming!

Even though I have in no way been a catalyst for any of this change, I feel proud to have been witness to it. I know change always takes a long time. I am an impatient person by nature, and I know I have gotten frustrated with both Peace Corps as an organization as well as my village as a whole, but in the end it has been worth it. As I am planning on finishing my Peace Corps service in mid March, I only have about 4 months left, and now I begin the process of wrapping everything up!

Bakery Training and Mozambique

Once again, I have been terrible at keeping my blog updated. Eish.
After taking my LSAT and receiving our “best in the province” award, I chilled around the village for a week. I was really focused on finishing up my personal statement and finessing my plan of action for submitting my applications. Late October saw me and 2 of my coworkers head to Pretoria/ Sandton for a workshop. The US Embassy in Pretoria graciously granted my organization US$20,000 to create a bakery from YOUR tax dollars (this is PEPFAR at work!). This is going to be a great community upliftment program in my village if it’s done well, which I have no doubt that it will be. We learned about budgeting and record keeping, and one day we had a great training about gardening. It was really interesting to hear the South Africans shock when told that they shouldn’t kill bees, snakes, cats, and owls. (There is a LOT of fear of these animals in the village) When told that because they kill these animals they have problems with rats, everyone looked like they had been hit by a bus. I had to quietly chuckle to myself, as I had been telling my coworkers for nearly two years now that cats (including kittens) were not something to be terrified about. The community grants team, two amazing American ladies, were so nice to myself and the other PCV who attended the training. They hooked us up with our own rooms, and I showered with the water on as hot as possible about three times daily! It was so nice not to have to bath in 3 litres of water!

After the conference, it was off to Mozambique! Myself, two other volunteers, and two South African friends all went to Maputo (the capital), and to Tofo (the beach) for a nice holiday. It was a lot of grueling travel; of the 8 days of the trip, we were up at 5 AM four of them. Pretoria to Maputo was about 8 hours in a Kia Picante, which belonged to one of the South Africans. Think clown car, plus bags. This was supposed to be the easy part, what with South Africa’s nice roads. But of course less than 200 km’s outside of Pretoria we got a flat. Ugh. So we lost a few hours changing it, and finding a tyre repair center to patch it up for us at 7 AM. Maputo to Tofo was supposedly pretty rough road conditions. Although it is only about 500 km’s up the coast from Maputo, we still planned for it to take the whole day. Amazingly, we didn’t have any problems until just past Xai Xai. Suddenly the tar road just…ended…But the dirt road was well packed and despite the large number of trucks we still made good time. What made it miserable was the oppressive heat and lack of air con in the packed car. One of my college roommates best friends is in the Peace Corps in Mozambique, and she made reservations for us an absolutely amazing lodge right on the beach in Tofo. She met up with us in Inhambane and took us around, to show us the ropes. A 6th person in the clown car was disastrous, but luckily it was only about a 30 minute drive.

Tofo was amazing. You could see the beach from our porch! Within 15 minutes of arriving and checking in, we were all down in the water, riding the waves, and splashing away like crazy. It was heavenly! A couple of times that first night I woke up confused…”What is that sound?” Then I would realize it was the crash of the surf and go back to sleep happy. Tofo is super touristy…but not in the built up American way. No holiday inn etc, and thank god for that! Our first full day there we just lazed about, and swam so so much! Our second day we swam in the morning, and then walked to Tofo Scuba because we had all decided to try our luck with animal viewing, but this time in the Ocean. Tofo has one of the only “resident” populations of whale sharks in the world, with roughly 300 individuals regularly spotted along that coast. The world-wide population of whale sharks is only thought to be +/-1000, so it truly was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Although it is a shark, the largest one in the world at that, the whale sharks feeds on plankton and other tiny creatures and doesn’t pose any sort of risk to humans. Unfortunately, the clouds rolled in and the waves got monstrous. So we didn’t spot any whale sharks, even though the boat just before us (THAT WE WERE SUPPOSED TO BE ON) had seen 3 sharks and a giant manta ray!! A few people did get seasick though. That morning a few fisherman had come literally to our doorstep and sold us a bunch of prawns (think shrimp). That evening we cooked up a bunch of prawns and potatoes using some stuff we had purchased in the local market (I know I wasn’t the only PCV from South Africa who was really excited to see real live markets again!), and had ourselves a fabulous dinner. The electricity went out shortly after that, so the other PCV’s and I walked down the beach a bit. The difference in tide levels was really high, probably close to 80-100ft.

The next morning 3 of us decided to try our luck with the whale sharks again…they gave us half off a second try since we didn’t see them the day before. This time we were in luck!! The first shark they spotted, everyone lunged off the boat, I was so nervous/ excited that I wasn’t breathing, despite the snorkel in my mouth. I couldnt see this supposedly giant thing anywhere, so I pulled my face out of the water to look at the guide (who was still in the boat), saw where he was pointing, and put my head back into the water. And then…HOLY SHIT! IT WAS COMING RIGHT AT ME! Right under me!! I tried to swim backwards, but it was a diver free-for-all, so I was a bit stuck/ in shock. It passed by uneventfully, and then I remember to swim after it. It went down shortly after, then it was back on the boat. For the next hour and a half we were jumping in and out of that boat (what a work out! My abs are still a bit sore!), and saw about 6 or 7 different sharks. There was another time when I got surprised by a shark right under me, and when I got back on the boat the guide had a good chuckle at my expense. But it was soo worth it! I am so happy that I went the second time. Between the whale sharks and the great whites earlier this year, I think 2010 will forever been known as the year of the shark!

The next day was the dreaded trip back to Maputo. Luckily the day was cloudy and so the drive wasn’t quite so miserable. We ended up wandering all over Maputo, half exploring, half looking for a decent restaurant that met our budget and wasn’t a South African chain. We ended up getting some pizza and beer (AHAHA so American), but it was so good. By 10PM we were all asleep. I know I definitely needed that sleep after all the sun sand fun! The next morning (early of course), we went and took a wee tour of the city. Saw a building designed by Eiffel (of the Eiffel tower), a pretty church, and then went to the Central Market. The Market was a great mix of touristy stuff and produce. So not every one in there was a touristy d-bag like us. We made a few purchases, but I had been really excited to pick up some African fabric, which is really difficult to find (read nonexistent) in South Africa. I had spotted a shop across the street, so we headed back over there, and let me tell you, it sorta felt like heaven! I was really overwhelmed by all the beautiful colors and designs, and restrained myself to only 2 pieces. I am really excited to get them made into some really amazing skirts! We walked back to the backpacker and lounged about through the heat of the day, then it was off along the coast to the fish market. All I can say is wow, it was super overwhelming! Before we even crossed the STREET to get into the market we were each being accosted by guys wanting to take us to their fish restaurant. We wandered through the fish market proper with every kind of fish/ crab/ mussel/ crayfish ever caught sitting out on wooden tables. We didnt loiter long, because we were getting hassled quite a bit, so we went and sat at a table and ordered crab, prawns, barracuda, and calamari along with some beers rice and chips (french fries). It was a really great last meal, and we were all super full and not in the mood to walk the hour back to the backpacker so we caught a chapa (Mozambique’s version of the South African taxi) back towards the lodge. It was amazingly cheap, especially compared to South African transport prices (South African taxis are pretty much all unionized…jerks).

Mozambique was an adventure in languages. As they were colonized by the Portuguese, the main language spoken is still Portuguese. Portuguese is alluringly similar to Spanish so that when you read it you think you might know how to say it. But wow the accent is a lot different. I tried as best I could with my restaurant Spanish…but I think Anne’s comment of “um, I think he pronounced it the exact opposite of how you pronounced it” sums up my attempts pretty well! All in all we got along decently well, the biggest issue was ordering tap water…we would ask for agua, and get bottled water. But all in all, that really isnt that big of an issue! It was a really great trip, and I would love to go back!

As for my applications. I submitted my first application (to University of Illinois) while at the hotel for the Embassy training, and submitted all ten (I rearranged things and only applied to ten) prior to leaving for Mozambique. In theory I should start hearing back within the next two weeks (aka I will have a pit in my stomach for the next two weeks), and should hear back from U of Illinois by around December 15th! Hope for the best for me, cause if I don’t get in anywhere, I am moving to Mozambique for 3 months and getting my master dive certification and you may never see me again. ;)

Update on my life

I know, I know. I promised a flood of blog posts, and its been almost a month since my last one. I am terrible. But, in my defense, I have been studying for the LSAT, which I took Saturday the 9th. I think I did well, and will receive the scores hopefully by month end.
I took the LSAT (the entrance test for law school) at Wits University in Jozi (Johannesburg), and it was such a different experience from when I took the test in 2007 in Southern California. In 2007, there were several hundred test takers spread out over at least three lecture halls. At Wits, there were ten of us in a massive lecture hall. The coolest part about the Wits test was the representation of Peace Corps. Of the ten test takers, five were PCV’s; one from Mozambique, one from Swaziland, myself, and two from Namibia. It was pretty cool to see everyone come down for the test.
As for law school, my first application (to the University of Illinois) is due by the end of this month. I have everything ready except the personal statement, which I am working on furiously. To all of you who are helping me edit it, I really appreciate it. Without all of you, I probably would have given up and set my career path for a future of living in a cardboard box under the I-294 overpass. Luckily that future doesn’t seem so likely anymore!

So! On the work front, My Home Based Care was nominated for the best project in the province . On Friday myself and several co-workers went to Nelspruit to a banquet dinner for all the nominees across the province (it was quite swanky). It involved a tortuous 7.5 hour (one way) bus ride because government officials were so disorganized, but a really great hotel! In the end we won out of the whole province! It was great to see my 4 co-workers dressed up in their finest (think prom dresses), and for them to be recognized for all their hard work was just great!
As for my girls club…it no longer exists. But! It has morphed into a co-ed youth group. Every Wednesday I teach a little class to about twenty OVC (Orphans and Vulnerable Children) youth. Recent classes have included a debate about gender roles (what is ok for men? Women? Both?), sexual reproduction (every time I draw a uterus it looks like a monster), and condom use (this was the best day. Ever.). I think things are going well.
I was thinking last night (when I should have been sleeping) about doing a “Take Back the Night” rally here in my village. Take Back the Night is about rape awareness, but it seems so important to do it here because of the fear people have (literally) of things that happen after dark. I will talk to my organisation tomorrow and see if it’s feasible.
Additionally, my supervisor was applied for a grant from the US Embassy here in South Africa several months back, and we were awarded US$20,000 to start a bakery! This is such great news not only for my org, but for our community. It will help with income generation, and will create bread that can be sold for less than current loaves that are imported from other towns. Even if they are only R2 less, this will help the impoverished people here.
Right now there are a lot of exciting things happening for my org, and I am excited and proud to be a part of it. In the near future there will be a bit of a shake-up as both myself and my supervisor will be leaving early next year, and I am honestly a tad nervous for the future, but I know that the ladies we leave behind will do an awesome job!

On a personal level, I am getting ready to head to Mozambique at the beginning of November. Myself, a few other volunteers, and some South African friends are going to do some diving. Mozambique is known for whale sharks, and giant manta rays, and I am hoping to see both! By early December I will have my COS (Close of Service) conference. I am almost done! I can barely believe that two years has literally flown by! At the beginning (and various bumps along the way), when the full two years stretched out in front of me, I didn’t think I would make it. And now, with less than 6 months to go, I am already sad at the prospect of leaving.
To date, my service has been filled with a lot of smiles and tears, but overall I think it has been worht it. At what cost to my personal sanity remains to be seen, but all in due time!

Cheers!

Strikes

A few weeks ago all the teachers and nurses belonging to South Africa’s largest union, COSATU, went on strike. They were demanding an 8.1% wage increase, and teachers wanted a R1000 housing allowance.
I firmly, FIRMLY believe that educators and social workers the world over are not paid according to their worth in society.
But these strikers wanted a wage hike more than twice the rate of inflation, and a R1000 housing allowance for living in rural areas where the rent is maybe R350 (including electricity).
Non-striking teachers, doctors, and nurses were forced out of their respective places of employment, sometimes violently.
Here in my village a non-striking principal was continuing to educate learners. I think it was a matric class (think senior year). Striking teachers came into the school and forced him out. He pulled a gun and shot it in the air, and teachers scattered. THIS IS IN MY VILLAGE!!
The head nurse in charge of the clinic across the road where I work continued to dispense medication to the emergency cases (I think this includes ARV’s for the HIV+ and medication for TB+). Strikers came and threatened him, wanting to know why he was still working.
I guess my general feelings on the strike is that yea, you guys deserve to be paid well. And yet…i think teachers need to accept more responsibility. From my experiences in two different schools here, I dont see a lot of…teaching. I see teachers wandering around. I see them grading papers in class, handing out papers and then collecting them again. I feel like teachers want this huge pay increase, but they refuse to accept responsibility for basic things like job performance. Additionally, teachers are already the ones driving new cars, they wear nicer clothes, have satellite dishes, and have big houses. Do they really need to widen the gap between themselves and their neighbors?
The strikes, after 3 weeks, have been put on hold while the unions continue to negotiate. So far the pay raise is at 7.5% (again, twice the rate of inflation). But they may continue in 4-5 weeks. Let’s hope they dont!

My Dog

Most of you know that I have adopted a dog. His name is Thnuzi (pronounced Two/n/zee), and it means “shadow” in Zulu. I named him that because he is constantly following me every where, and generally makes me look ridiculous when I walk around the village. He also answers to Mr. Inja (Inja meaning dog), and creature. He was full grown when we started hanging out, and has since essentially moved into my house with me. I made him a doggy bed out of one large plastic bag stuffed with other bags that has a sheet over it. He was afraid to come in my house for a long time, but now he sleeps there every night.
Last October he got really sick, and I had to go to the veterinarian in town, explain his symptoms to the vet (without Thunzi being present), and then come back to the village and give him three injections by myself. I left the next morning not knowing if he would be alive when I came back from my Botswana trip. Well he was! Everything was fine with him until the day before my parents were set to arrive in January. I was walking to the taxi rank (taxi meaning public transportation. Think bus) to catch a taxi into town and head to Pretoria so I could be around when my parents got in, and of course Thunzi was following me. He ended up getting hit by a car, and I ended up running through my village screaming and chasing him. He was bleeding from his paws, out of his ear, and from his bum. I was so scared. I called everyone I could think of who might be able to help me get him to the vet in town. Jessyca looked up vet numbers, and Jeff gave me moral support over the phone. I phoned my mother at 6 AM in America (her last morning before leaving) and woke her up with my sobs. I bandaged him up as best I could, but I was so worried. I had to leave the next morning to go to Pretoria, but once again my dog pulled through! He was alive when my parents and I came back to my village the next day!
Since January there have been no close calls. But I swear, this dog really knows how to time things so that when I leave for any amount of time I am worried sick over him. I can only imagine the stunt he’s going to pull when I leave for good!
I will say that having a dog has made my service that much more bearable. Those days when I was so sad, or felt lonely, that dog really helped out my morale. He is always doing something to make me laugh. The other day he followed me to work and lounged around outside waiting for me. I decided to take a walk to go buy some fruit with a young boy named Doctor. Well, Thunzi of course decided to come with Doctor and I. The route we took is full of other very territorial dogs. So Doctor and I ended up having to protect Thunzi as we walked (Doctor threw stones, and I stepped in front of a few very angry looking dogs). He’s a lover, not a fighter. I am looking forward to more adventures with Thunzi in the next 7 months, and fewer heart-attack inducing moments.

Transitioning from one year into the next

Any volunteer you talk to will tell you that the second year is very different, and much more productive, than the first. I always listened to these volunteers and believed them, but until I lived through that transition, I could not understand how different one year is from the next! I feel like my first year was marked by crying. Haha. Seriously though, everything seemed to go wrong! I didn’t know the right people. I was constantly beset by communication issues. My service stretched into the future with no foreseeable end.
And then, after I passed the year mark, a very different pattern emerged. I started accomplishing things! I worked at a local school for a time, my girls club is small but highly functional. I am in no way fluent, but my Zulu is at a comfortable place. After a trip in May I also realized how much Xhosa I understand, and I am functional in Swati as well! This is really exciting for me, because it means that I can communicate with a majority of the black population in South Africa!
Psychologically that transition into the 2nd year was massive. Suddenly, problems that seemed insurmountable the day before were manageable; mostly because I suddenly had less than a year! I hardly cry anymore, except when I think about how soon I will have to leave. I have made some great friends in my village, and it makes me so sad to think I might never see some of them again.
In more recent news, the strikes (there should be a post later today, or possibly tomorrow, on the strikes) have allowed me the opportunity to teach some English classes to my girls club. We are now meeting more than once a week, and I am helping them with basic English. As the strike continues into its 3rd week, I am hoping to increase attendance. So far the English club has been fun, and I am enjoying it.
I am mostly shocked at how fast 2010 has come and gone! In less than a week I turn 26 (shudder!!), and soon enough it will be summer break and Christmas holidays! From then I will be in overdrive to wrap things up, and figure out how I am going to get everything back to America! 7-ish months really isn’t that long, especially when it took me so long to get things started up in the first place!
Despite all the problems I have had, and how jaded I am, I really have enjoyed my service, and will be sad to see it come to an end.

YAY!

Hello everyone!
I have great news! I am writing this blog from my very own computer!
8 months after handing it over, and I finally have it back!

I feel like so much has happened in the last 8 months, I am not even really sure where to begin. But keep checking back here, cause the posts will be coming fast and furious for awhile!
Ciao, and salani kahle!

It’s July already?!

On April 2nd, I finally passed my one year mark! Already, it is past July, and I only have 9 months left! Every volunteer will tell you this, but it is truly amazing how fast and how different the second year of service goes. Already I am thinking about the things here I will miss, the people that I may never see again. It is common knowledge in the Peace Corps Volunteer community that the first year is beset with struggle, but that the second year is incomparable in how much easier it is. This is not to say that the second year is a breeze, simply that you know more or less what to expect, and with whom to speak when you have a problem/ question.
For the longest time, my self and other volunteers here have used the world cup as a marker…when it finally rolled around, we knew we would be almost done. Not only has it “rolled around,” it is over tomorrow! I know that the few months that I left will go so quickly! And there is still so much yet to see (namely Namibia, Leotho, and Mozambique)!
For those of you that have talked to me in the past 17 months, you will be shocked to know that I have made white friends here. This means that I have had to confront some of my own prejudices about white people in this country. As a PCV here, I feel camaraderie with the rural black population, and it took me a long time to approach whites here without eyeing them as racist assholes. But I have met some people who go into the townships outside Jozi and Pretoria, and are more aware of their country’s strengths and weaknesses than most. Trust me, no one was more shocked by this development than myself!
In my village I have a functioning girls club (albeit with low attendance, but its something!! I won’t complain!! I have also heard a rumor that there might be a new PCV placed in my village! I am ambivalent about this, until I meet the person. But as nearly everyone around me is leaving by late August, I would be really happy for the presence of another American! Otherwise, I might be the only American for about 400km!
I gained about 20 lbs in my first year here. It wasn’t terrible, but I wasn’t really happy with my new found shape. I started jogging in February after my parents left, and I am running a 5k a week, for a total of about 11km a week! I am planning on entering the Soweto marathon in November, but will only be running a 10k. All this running has shown results; I have lost about 15 lbs, and am feeling great!
Despite some serious doubt/ dread, I am taking the LSAT test in October (oh shit, only 3 months to study!!). I am writing up applications and what not for law school, and plan on enrolling for fall 2011.
That’s a brief update for now. Despite being MIA for almost 7 months, my computer is still no closer to being fixed than it was in December when it died (speaking of things I will and won’t miss…this pace. Or lack thereof). But I am planning on borrowing a computer to get through my Law school applications etc, so hopefully come August I will be more regular in my postings. For those of you on facebook, I just added some pics from World Cup, and will add more the next time I am in town. Be on the lookout!!

My 2010 World Cup

I know that this is a wee bit late, what with the final game tomorrow, but the World Cup has arrived in South Africa!! It has been impossible not to catch World Cup fever with the whole country going crazy!! Well before I arrived there were countdown’s in every McDonalds/ KFC/ airport etc for the opening game. As time passed, the excitement grew. Flags were put up all over, construction was hastily completed, and excitement was practically graspable in urban centers.
For the opening game, I stayed in my village. Vuvuzellas (now infamous) were heard for weeks (at all hours of the day and night) for weeks beforehand, but opening day they started at about 6 AM. I went to work and me and the women there sorted vegetables and parcels to be given to orphans in our area. For the game I went to a friends house where four or five of us sat around blowing our vuvu’s, and cheering on Bafana Bafana (South Africa’s team). The spirit in the air was electric; you could feel that the whole country had stopped and was cheering for Bafana with all their might. We didn’t win, but the vuvu’s still went mad, and there were parties all over my village that night. I had to take sleeping medicine to drown out the noise of the vuvuzelas!
For the Bafana v. France game (in which Bafana won, but was still knocked out of the tournament), I was at a small bar in another volunteers town. The game was shown on a projection screen, and the bar was so full to packed that people crouched on the floors in order to get a glimpse. The game was awesome to watch with such a crowd, and the amount of cheering and vuvu blowing was deafening. We sang Shosholoza (a black freedom song) and generally had a grand time. Despite us being knocked out, everyone was very happy at Bafana’s excellent game (although many wished they would have played like that earlier. Shame).
All in all, I attended three games. I paid about $15 per ticket, as I qualified as a South African resident. The final game was a round of 16, so I paid about $37 for it. I would say that all in all, the world Cup was a wonderful experience, and it was amazing to watch South Africans and international fans come together at the stadiums. I hope that the world watched in wonder as all the problems people saw attached to Africa’s hosting the cup melted away. Yea, people were robbed…but seriously that would happen anywhere! I am so happy that I was able to be a part of this.
The final game is tomorrow, and despite some scheduling mishaps at Shaka airport in Durbs after the Spain game, there have been no major concerns. Congrats South Africa!! And I think it’s amazing that there will be a first time World Cup winner tomorrow! So excited!

My Wild Coast Adventures

Hello all! I just got back from a lovely 5 day excursion along the Wild Coast. I spent the 5 days hiking with a Peace Corps buddy (Anne)and her friends from home who came to visit.

I took a bus from Pretoria to Umthatha (might be Mathatha on a map. Located in the Eastern Cape.). I ended up having to go alone on this 14 hour bus ride; Anne’s friends baggage got lost when their plane was delayed due to the volcanic ash. So the bus ride was pretty terrible, but after a few tylenol PM’s, i just crashed. I spent the day alone in Umthatha, as Anne wouldnt be coming until the next morning. Umthatha is near Nelson Mandela’s boyhood home, so I spent some time at the Nelson Mandela museum. I also bought a lot of fashion magazines. It was a generally uneventful evening, and the next morning I met up with my friends and our guide (Albert) in Umthatha, before heading to Port St. John’s.

If you look at a map, Port St. John’s is right on the coast. Its very tiny, and is a touristy type town. We did not spend much time there, but went to Albert’s village for lunch instead. We started the hike about about 1PM, and only hiked for about 3 hours. We walked along the beach, and Anne and I even jumped in for a bit. It was my first time swimming in the Indian Ocean, despite all the other times that I have seen it.

We spent five days (3 full days and 2 short ones) hiking the 61 kilometers from Port St. John’s to Coffee Bay. It was beautiful; mountains and oceans! We hiked from village to village, spending each night with a different Xhosa family. People were very friendly and welcoming, and the mama’s at each house were all so wonderful! (And great cooks!) The weather was overcast the first day, and unfortunately it rained the second day. Because the hike involved a lot of ups and downs over the mountains, the rain made us all slip a lot. Luckily The rest of the trip was sunny and hot (we missed the clouds a bit).

We had to cross quite a few rivers which involved hiring private fishermen’s boats to carry across the water. At one there was no boat, so we had to carry our bags on our heads and move quickly, because the tide was coming in!

It was a great trip, and we all learned a lot about Xhosa culture. In general, I was really sad to leave the ocean and the warm Zhosa people behind. Luckily, Anne and I are thinking about going back for New Years Eve.

Hello!

Hello! Just a note to say hello. I just finished a wonderful visit from Kari and her mother. it was a wonderful visit, and I am sad that they have left me.

COS Trip

2010!

Hello all!
I am sorry for the excessively long delay in between posts. My computer has been broken since mid-December, and I just haven’t had access to a computer for a long enough amount of time since then to really write a post. Ava, now that I am back on, I expect an email from you. I assume you have been ignoring me as a punishment for not posting?

So, a lot has happened since New Years! My parents and (paternal) grandmother came to visit me here in South Africa in late January/ early February. We did a lot of sightseeing around the country, and to quite a few places that I had never visited, such as Blyde River Canyon, Kruger National Park, we saw a leatherback turtle lay eggs on the beach in St. Lucia (Finally! This was my second attempt at this “turtle safari”), I drove the garden route, and got to see Cape Town! Whoo! The Western portion of the country is so very very different from the Eastern part where I live. Even the people look remarkably different.

A few highlights from this trip:
• Seeing the leatherback turtle lay eggs
• The little girls who practically live at my house met my parents
• All of my home based care workers getting dressed up in traditional gear and the wonderful braai we had at my office
• My moms face as we were being chased by elephants through KNP
• How beautiful Knysna is
• Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope
• Stellakhya wineries (the first African female wine maker in history! Whoo!)
• Robben Island

The three weeks went remarkably fast, and then I was back to site. While on the trip I celebrated my one year in country (but not my one year as a volunteer which I will celebrate on April 2nd), and returning to site made me very very sad.

It is common for volunteers to go through a depression at about their one year mark of service. Questions like “What am I doing here?” “What have I accomplished in a year?” And “What more can I do?” are all common questions, and they were all going through my head on a regular basis in the first few weeks back at site. I had a bit of a breakdown, and was seriously contemplating leaving.

I haven’t exactly resolved any of these questions (I’m not sure many PCV’s do), but I have made peace with them. At least in theory. Of course, there are always going to be days when I want to pack up and go but those days have been decreasing in frequency in the past two weeks.

I have started working at one of the local primary schools in a bid to keep myself occupied. I told the principal that I wanted to help with English lessons. South Africa has a devastatingly low passage rate for the matric test (the test that one must pass to officially graduate from secondary school). I personally feel this is because teachers are instructing in English, which is not their first language, to students whose first language is not English. I believe that by the time most learners have enough English to understand what’s going on in the classroom, they are several years behind where they need to be for that grade level. Then they are given the test in English, and cant understand it. So, although many adults speak decent English, I thought that as a native English speaker I could be of use in the classroom. So far I haven’t done much. I helped grade some papers for a very lazy teacher (who I have yet to see actually teach. All he does all day is pass back papers, then recollect them, and walk around outside and try and look busy), and babysat a 6th grade class room all day. I taught them hangman, and they seemed to like that. But I was unprepared to teach for a whole day! Apparently I need to get the curriculum schedule and a copy of the students’ textbook. And look up fun ESL games online. I have only been at the school about a week, and I’ll admit my first few days there were really depressing. How can we expect anything to change in this country when the teachers so obviously don’t care about teaching anything? I would say that a high majority of learners in this country have not much better than an elementary education. Once lessons are taught solely in English, they are left behind. However, the principal expressed an interest in starting a library, and this is one area where I know I can excel. I will keep you posted!

I have been busy since mid February with a committee meeting for Peace Corps, and a quick weekend trip to hang out with my best friend here, Jess. Additionally, preparations for the World Cup have started in earnest on my part. I got tickets to 7 games, but will only be attending 3; it is simply too expensive to get accommodation for all the games; prices have soared to three or four times their normal amount. World Cup has also forced me to change my LSAT plans. I am planning on applying to law school for fall 2011 admission, and had wanted to take the LSAT (the standardized exam for law school) in June of this year (it is only offered three times this year in South Africa). But with accommodation being as expensive as it is, I am forced to postpone my test date until October. I guess this is good, because it gives me a few extra months to study! I am aiming for a 160 on the exam.

The next three months should fly by; my best friend and her mother are planning on visiting me in the next couple of weeks! I am very excited to see them, and have some new adventures, as well as hear what they think about South Africa. After that is World Cup!

Again, I am sorry for the delay in posting. I know all of you “loyal readers” (I think there are about 2 of you) will be happy to know that I am still here.

Miss you all!

A Festive Holiday Season!

Because I had been traveling a lot with Kelly and due to a training that Peace Corps had for us at the beginning of December, I was very hesitant to leave my village for Christmas. On the other hand, I didn’t want to be alone for the holidays either. So at training I got two other volunteers to agree to come to my site, and we all agreed to cook something delicious to contribute to the festivities as well as expenses.

One friend (lets call him John) arrived on Christmas eve eve, and we made enchiladas and just hung out. My host baba also decided to slaughter a sheep for Christmas, and this is when the sheep (in actuality, a giant ram) showed up at my house. Poor John had to help my host brothers (who were all home for Christmas) tie the ram up to a tree. This ram was not happy, and kept stamping his foot and glaring at my dog.

Christmas eve came, and friend two (let’s call him Richard) showed up just as my baba and brothers were cutting the rams throat. WELCOME TO MY VILLAGE RICHARD!!! John was just used to it, as he had visited before….but wow, what a surprise for Richard! Christmas eve we had some delicious Indian food, and played bananagrams (aka speed scrabble). That night I got a phone call from my extended family. It made me miss them even more than I already did (and I may have cried after getting off the phone).

In terms of food for Christmas, I had grandiose plans!!! I was going to make an egg/ham/cheese bake for breakfast, but we woke to no power. Bummer! We hung around for a bit…I was very optimistic, but after realizing that cell service was also down and out, and that I couldn’t call Eskom (the electricity company for the RSA), we settled for muesli. We had lunch at my supervisors house, with her whole family and adorable children. The power came back on at her house, and I was hoping it had also come back on at mine. It had not, so I was finally able to get in touch with eskom, and the power miraculously came back!! (I highly doubt eskom had anything to do with it honestly). We sat outside drinking umqomboti (traditional Zulu beer) with a bunch of men, as they ate sheep parts from a tray in our front yard. I also cooked up the egg bake so that it would be ready the next morning (turns out this was the smartest thing I have ever done), and the three of us (plus my dog) went on a little hike. We could see storm clouds approaching, so we made it a quick hike. Richard now wants to switch sites with me. On our way back to my house, we saw my familys cows out wandering around, and heading in the wrong the direction. We tried herding them back toward my house but they took off running (ok, trotting). Needless to say we didn’t chase them, cause I saw one of my brothers doing it. When we got back to my familys yard, my baba was laughing at me, and out inability to herd cattle! Oh well! Such is life!

The electricity was mercifully still on, so I started cooking. As it was Christmas, we were all busy trying to get in contact with loved ones back home. At one point Richard was in my bedroom skyping his girlfriend, I was in one corner of the kitchen area with my hand over my ear, and John was in another corner, hand on his ear. The storm that had made us hurry home from our hike started to hit. It was just rain at first. Then hail. Then the hail got bad. I decided not to serve dinner until it had stopped. Then the power went out again (just before the rice was finished). All three of us popped on our head lamps (oh Peace Corps volunteers!).

By this point it was hailing so loud on my tin roof that I could stand and scream in your ear and you would not have been able to hear me. There is a gap in my roof which normally doesn’t cause any problems, except when it rains hard. Water had been tricking in, but suddenly it was gushing. Gushing doesn’t even begin to describe! It was a waterfall down my wall. It was raining on us! Golf ball sized hail started coming through the gap on top of us! My floor took on the appearance of a river. I threw open the front door and started sweeping water out the front door. John grabbed my mop, and Richard tried using his sandal to push water out. There was a puddle/ lake forming under my couch, and we moved that. Everything was soaked, including us.

We were sweeping/ mopping/ laughing hysterically for at least twenty minutes if not a half hour, before the storm calmed down enough for us to hear one another again. The ground outside was still covered in hail, and the grass felt like ice.

Dinner was good, after all that hard work! And the wine was much deserved. My friends left the next day, and the electricity still wasn’t on. About mid morning on the 26th I heard a loud pop/ explosion. Turns out it was a transformer that was overloaded when the electricity surged back on. Needless to say, I didn’t get electricity until Monday the 28th. Thank goodness I had leftovers!

New Years eve was also exciting. There was certainly no big city bar scene haha! But it was much nicer to hang out with a few friends in a quiet space, and I even got to see some fireworks!

Work shut down December 16th, so I am currently just waiting for them to open back up. My girls club has been touch and go due to holiday break, but I am expecting it to start up again about January 15th.

In other news, my parents are coming!! In about two weeks, they will be here to see what life is like in Fernie, and then we are going on a South African adventure (I fully expect to be sick of safari vehicles by their departure)! I will keep you posted!

Sharon! Where have you been?!

I know, I know…I have grown rather neglectful of this blog as of late. Sorry!!

So…after Botswana, Kelly came to visit me at site for a bit. She got to experience some extremely cold weather (it dropped down to single digits C). By the end of her stay though, there was some sun, and even an opportunity to go hiking a bit! My village is a lot bigger than hers was in Benin, so I think it was pretty interesting to hear about the differences and similarities in our experiences.

Thanksgiving saw Kelly and I making new South African friends. Our new friends took us out for delicious bunny chows (a half loaf of bread, with the center hollowed out, and curry sauce poured in the center!) and other Indian delights. They drove us all around town, so that was amazingly nice of them! After dinner, Kelly and I met up with some Brazilian guys that we had met at out hostel. All in all, it was a great Thanksgiving!

Then Kelly had to go home (to America!!), and I had to to head to training. My training class had training at Roode Vallei just outside Pretoria. The bed were amazing, and the food delicious! The training itself was also very useful (which is a change from some past trainings)! My supervisor got really into the condom demonstration that we had to give, and was in general very cute.

Because i saw Samu “in action” at the PC training, I have “given” her the girls club to take over. She is more than capable of leading it, and realistically its better for her to, as she knows Zulu, and can answer questions from a female South Africans perspective. I am going to help her with the planning, and I will still go to the meetings and help, but she will be the one up there facilitating the show!

After a doctors visit in Pretoria, I headed back to my village. It felt nice to be home after traveling so much.

Because I have been gone so much in the past month, I decided to spend Christmas and New Years here in my village. But I definitely didn’t want to spend Christmas alone, so I told two guys from my training class (who didn’t have Christmas plans) that I would cook for them if they came. Luckily this little trick worked, and we should be eating delicious food prepared by Jeff on Christmas Eve, and some good wine thanks to Ed.

My host brothers (there are 3), who live outside Jo’Burg are all coming in to visit, and I am actually looking forward to the holidays. I had thought it was going to be miserable with the huge influx of people from the cities, but so far nothing bad has happened to me. I actually found out today that my family will be slaughtering a sheep on Christmas eve, so thats pretty exciting!

Today I was using public phone (landlines are cheaper to use than cell phones), and some boys out front of the shop where the phones are were playing Mowzey Radio’s rendition of African Queen (aka Ugandan pop music). So when I finished up calling Kruger National Park (Im booked for my parents to come!! WHOOO!!), i went outside and gave them some more Ugandan pop, which I blue toothed to them from my cell phone. We sat around talking about music for awhile. It was a lovely day!

In other news, my parents are coming to visit at the end of January! I am so excited!!!

Botswana Adventures

At the end of October a friend of mine (Kelly) from University finished up 3 years of Peace Corps service in Benin and came to visit!

I had to go pick her up at the airport in Johannesburg. It was my first time to the city; Peace Corps strictly limits travel there. So I arrived on the outskirts of the city (Kempton Park), and got off a public taxi. I had planned to call a private taxi to take me to my hotel, but upon calling the taxi service I found that they didn’t operate in the city I was in. I was a little nervous, as none of the taxi drivers seemed to know the street I was talking about (most backpackers/ hostels are located in middle or upperclass residential neighborhoods, aka where public taxis don’t drive). Luckily a nice woman grabbed me by the arm and told me she was going to help me out. She dragged me to a McDonalds, talked to the driver at the hostel, and left me. I was scared simply because I was in the vicinity of Jo’Burg, but after waiting about an hour and a few more phone calls to the hostel I was picked up safely!

Less than 48 hours after arriving in South Africa, Kelly, Jess (a PCV friend of mine from SA), and I were on a bus to Botswana! The drive was really long, and unfortunately the “movie” they played was mostly Afrikaaner religious propaganda, but we made it to Gaborone alive! We had some trouble crossing the border, because one of the women said we needed a physical address to where we were going. We ended up just saying we were going to the Holiday Inn…whatever.

We met some of the Botswana PCVs, and the next day went to see one girls site. We lounged around in Palaype for a day, and then traveled to Serowe to see another volunteer. We went to a rhino sanctuary and went on a safari. We saw a ton of rhino, giraffes, wildebeest, impala, several kinds of bok (think antelope), and the butt of a zebra. It was amazing! We met some really great people, and had a lot of fun.

We got up at about 5:30 the next morning so we could head to Kasane, in far northern Botswana. We got to Francistown, and there was no bus to Kasane. We were advised that we could get on a bus to Maun, and get off in Natha from which we could find further transport to Kasane. WE waited for awhile, b ut everything was going to Maun. Locals advised us that there was probably transport coming, but we were still nervous. After waiting at the gas station about 3 hours, a bus pulled up. .

The road between Natha and Kasane bisects a part of the world with one of the highest elephant populations in the world. We were lucky enough to see a lot of single elephants near the side of the road for the first hour, and then we started seeing large herds after awhile. It was amazing!

Our spectacular ride was somewhat marred because we had not found accommodation in Kasane. Jess and I had assumed that Bots would be like ZA; this was the low season, so we didn’t need to be worried. Oh were we wrong! Everywhere we called was completely booked, and we didn’t have our own tent. Luckily we found somewhere just in time. It was more expensive than we wanted to pay, but we decided beggars really couldn’t be choosers. We ate an expensive meal at the resort (The Toro Safari Lodge) and fell into bed, exhausted. We ate our breakfast looking out at the Chobe river. Unfortunately the hotel didn’t have room for us for a second night, so we were back on the prowl for accommodation once again. Jess called a place that had tents on a first some first some first serve basis, so we packed up as quickly as possible, and hoped into a taxi. We arrived at the Chobe Safari Lodge, and pretended that there were only 2 of us, so we wouldn’t have to buy 2 tents. The Chobe Safari Lodge is gorgeous, with thatched roofs, and a beautiful view of the Chobe River and Namibia. Our tent turned out to be really nice. It was canvas siding on a wood platform. It had two beds and a table inside, with plenty of room for the third person to crash on the floor (we were smart enough to have brought sleeping bags). The camping section was on the far side of the grounds, and baboons constantly ran though, trying to get scraps of food from the trash.

We wanted to go on safari, and the cheapest way to do it was to take a boat cruise down the Chobe River into the Chobe Game Reserve. The boat was big, with a viewing platform on the roof. We saw a ton of hippos (I think they are the most boring safari animal…if only they would do something!!), a few crocs sunning themselves, and then cool things started happening. A herd of some-type-of-bok came down to the river to drink. Unfortunately for them, our boat scared them off. The we came across a few herds of elephants drinking around the waters edge. I got some good videos of elephants drinking. AS we continued down the river we came upon a huge herd of cape buffalo, definitely numbering into the thousands. There were clusters of elephants sprinkled in with the buffalo. The animals kicked up a lot of dust, and the setting sun turned the dust a reddish color. It was like I Was watching the opening scene of Lion King in real life! Heaven!

The next morning we went to a lion sanctuary, where they breed lions, and even let you pet them. The first two we hung out with were about 6 months. They were “small,” as in, probably couldn’t have killed me, and I may have even been able to kick one off. The second two were something like 16 months. Oh man! They were huge! The male was sprouting a mane, and I was a little bit afraid to walk right up to them. But it was wonderful to seem them up close. To see their jaunty walk, and their shoulder blades moving under their fur. That night (Halloween) we watched Poltergeist at the backpacker and passed out early.

Unfortunately, we were unable to catch transport from Kasane straight to Gaborone, so we found a ride to Natha. By the time we pulled back into Natha it was pouring. We were back in the aforementioned gas station that was so hard for us to get out of previously. I saw a bus in the parking lot and leapt out of the bed of the truck before it even stopped to go ask where it was going. It wasn’t going south to Francistown. Luckily, the driver that had picked us up outside Kasane was the nicest man alive, and pointed us to a much smaller bus that was going to where we wanted to go. Luckily he had room for the three of us. I made friends with the woman on the seat next to me. She was going to Gaborone that night, which is where we wanted to get to. She said she would help us get on a bus.

Luckily we made friends with her, because we were told to get on a certain bus. We had been sitting there for at least an hour when someone told her that it was not in fact the bus to Gaborone, so all four of us quickly got off the bus, grabbed our luggage and ran around the taxi rank until we found the proper bus. The original bus we had been on left about 10 minutes later.

We arrived in Gaborone at about 9PM. We asked for a private taxi to take us to what we had heard was a cheap place to stay. Turns out it wasn’t cheap at all, but it was too late to argue and we were exhausted. We had been up since 6:30, and had been traveling almost non-stop since 7 AM. The next morning we woke before 5AM, because we needed to catch a bus to Pretoria. Another 8 hours traveling. But we made it from Kasane…really far North…all the way to Gabs in a day!!

From Pretoria I stopped in Nelspruit to get some groceries, and then made a fatal error in my travel-exhausted brain. I decided that Kelly and I would go to my site rather than stop over in Nhlazatshe (closer to Nelspruit) and spend the night with the volunteers there (I really wanted to sleep in my own bed!). We were slow getting out of Nelpsruit, and just barely missed a taxi leaving at 2. Our taxi didn’t leave until 4, so we should have arrived in Ermelo by 6PM. But the driver was a jerk, and stopped just outside a toll booth and waited for his taxi driver friend to come pick us up so he wouldn’t have to pay a toll. Ugh. And to make matters worse, my wallet was stolen while I was trying to do some quick grocery shopping before our taxi left. Double ugh.

So, we didn’t get into Ermelo until about 7:30. There are no taxis that operate that late. I called my supervisor (whose mother owns a car), in the hopes that she would come get us. But Ishe didn’t catch the hint that I wanted a ride. I heard a girl mutter the word “Fernie” and yelled that I was going there. She pointed at a man and I desperately ran over to him. Luckily, he was really nice and said he would take Kelly and I to Fernie, plus some other stranded people to Amsterdam.

Kelly and I didn’t get to my house until 9:30. We pretty much brushed our teeth and fell into my bed. We had been traveling for almost 2 weeks straight, with the past 3 days full of really intense travel. Needless to say, we slept very well!

Despite a lot of stress, everything worked out wonderfully!

Mr. Thunzi

So, I have a dog here at site. Thunzi’s an outside dog who more or less adopted me (as if it was against my will). Just before I left on vacation, I had a very stressful week. It involved the cow having a baby, and another dog (Spinach) had two stillborn puppies. Then, only a few days prior to me leaving, I noticed that Thunzi was sick. He wasnt eating anything, and had a horrible cough, and was even sneezing. I could tell he was miserable because he didn’t want to play or move. The Sunday before I left I was pretty certain that he was going to die. Luckily he didn’t, and I even got him to eat some chicken on Monday. By Wednesday he was worse, and I had plans to leave for Jo’Burg the next day. I frantically called a vet, who agreed to prescribe me dewormers over the phone. My supervisor was going to town, so I thought I could give her some money and she could pick it up for me.

However, when I arrived at work, I found out that her plans had changed, and she was no longer going to town. I frantically got on a taxi (which was so slow to fill), and ran to town. I found the vetrinarians office with only a little bit of difficulty. I walked in, expecting to find the woman I spoken to on the phone, but instead found the vet himself. After talking with him, he decided that my dog didn’t need de wormers. Instead he pulled out three syringes and handed them to me. I was shocked! I had never injected anyone or anything before! In America you have to go to school for that kinda stuff!! But the vet was really nice and explained how to do it, and he even gave me the meds for free!. He also mentioned that he is a member of the Rotary club in my shopping town. So I am planning on going to the rotary club some Monday in the not distant future to talk to them about my activities.

I got home and tried to feed the dog a little bit. He wouldn’t eat anything, so I decided I should just give him the shots. I pinned him with my knees (he was sitting), gathered some skin from his neck, and stuck the first injection in. The poor thing was terrified though; he looked back at me like “why!!!” and then he slowly sank to the ground. He didnt have the energy to fight me, because he hadn’t eaten in days. I felt kinda cool though, tapping the syringe to get the air bubbles out and pressing the plunger to move the medicine forward. Luckily the other two shots went well.

But the next morning Thunzi still wouldn’t eat, and I had to go. He was sleeping on a rug in my house as I prepared to leave. I had to kick the poor thing out into the cold. I cried as I was leaving, because I didn’t know if he would be there when I got back from Botswana.

Luckily, when Kelly and I were dropped off outside my house upon my return, I saw him laying in my host family’s front step. He was alive!

The next morning, my host baba (father) said that he was pretty sure that Thunzi was going to die when I left, but that he was now OK. He was ridiculously skinny, and still had a bit of a cough. However, I have bought him some dog food and feed him a little in the mornings, to keep his health up.

Girls Club

So an update to my girls club: I finally have one!! I have met with them twice (tomorrow will be our third meeting!) It has been going really well. We do some singing, and play games and such. I am really trying to focus on building trust both with me and within the group. I am planning on creating an intake survey to measure the girls’ basic knowledge re: health, HIV, career opportunities, etc so that I can compare the results to the same group of girls in about a year.

 

I have had between 10 and 14 girls each time the group has met. They seem to be excited to make a play, and to work with younger children in the area to help with homework. I also plan on doing some self-esteem building games and sneaking some education in as well! I will keep you all posted!

Fun taxi ride!

I had a fun/ really busy today!

I went to my shopping town, and got new glasses (thanks Peace Corps!), then i went and mailed a package to my family. I didnt go to the normal post office, i went through a private company, which was more expensive, but since the 1st package i sent with the Sa post office has yet to arrive (I sent it in July), I think its worth it.

I then went on a hunt for an external CD drive for my computer. My computer has been on the fritz lately, and because i bought the cheapest thing available, it didnt have a CD drive…well now I have to reboot the thing, and need a disc drive. Apparnetly they dont exist in my shopping town. There might be some soon (hopefully), but I am not planning on going back for awhile. We’ll see!

At some point in my adventures I bought a package of broccoli seeds. AS I was riding the taxi back to my village, i noticed that the woman next to me was looking at seeds she had purchased. So I pulled out my package and asked her if she had ever planted it, so I could figure out when I should plant it etc. She had no idea what broccoli was, and the two women sitting behind us leaned over their seta to have a look. We then started a conversation (mostly in Zulu; GO ME!) about nutrition, and the importance of vegetables. I told them how to cook broccoli, what kinds of traditional dishes it could be added to, how you can freeze it, etc. I think everyone on that taxi is going to go and buy broccoli seeds now!

All in all, it was a good day. A bit crazy/ busy. But good!

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