Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year from South Africa: 2010!

Rainbows must be big business here, but I'm not complaining. This shot was taken 12/22, the night before my trip to Gauteng.

I didn't have my camera with me at the time, but last night, at the same time, in different areas of the sky I saw the sun shining brightly with a full moon peeking out above a brilliantly-white, puffy cloud and in the southern sky, black storm clouds punctuated with a double rainbow. It was hard not running back to my dorm room to grab my camera; I kept thinking, "You know the rainbow will disappear before you can get back." Oh well, should have tried. It was a very dramatic sky. I can't remember ever seeing a perfectly bright, sunny sky with a full moon, storm clouds, and a double rainbow all at the same time!

So I'm back to my permanent site after my lovely Christmas visit with David and Sally. Upon returning to my site, I was thrilled that the +1,000 church group who were supposed to rent the dorm (my dorm) cancelled. So, instead of coming home to thousands of people "invading my space," it is still blissfully quiet here. I am so grateful!

As I had new seedlings started before leaving for my trip, (nasturtiums, marigolds, herbs), I had worried about my seedlings dying while I was gone and very happy to find that they made it. My regular bird visitors are missing, however, and I hope the families of barbets and bulbuls will return.

I had a community gardening project awaiting my return and am happy to say that I've started a compost pile, or should I say, compost piles, which makes me ridiculously happy (and I can't explain why). I set up three piles in a far corner and collected yard debris from the college and then vegetable debris found around the garden. The watermelons are ripe and lots of the gardeners are refreshing themselves with sweet melon. There are lots of discarded rinds about--perfect for composting!

I've mentioned before my horror at seeing the grounds keepers here burning yard refuse. My horror was especially acute at seeing pine needles being torched. Pine needles make excellent mulch, which I paid dearly for last season to use in my yard in Kentucky. To watch them wasted was heartbreaking, especially at knowing that the cement-grade soil of African clay over in the community garden desperately needs amending.

Last night, as I was setting up my compost pile, I was gathering dry sticks and a bit of brush to serve as the bottom, aerating layer. One of the women gardeners observed my efforts and walked over with a box of matches: she thought I would burn this dry plant material. Apparently, they burn all of the plant material so none of it is returned to the soil.

After my piles were started, I walked over to the same woman and asked her if I could mulch her tomatoes. I proceeded to place a thick layer of mulch around six or so of her tomato plants. Since she doesn't speak English, I can't imagine what she is thinking. And another lady came over and I found them looking at the mulch and scratching their heads.

I came home and wrote out how to say, in Setswana, "If you hate it, (the mulching), I will take it off." :-)

The woman was wonderfully gracious and patient with me and I will find out later today if the mulch is still there, or if she took it off (and probably burned it).

I've also written out, in Setswana, how to describe what I am doing and why it is helpful.  I'll have my tutor check over it and make sure it is understandable.

While I loved, loved, loved my holiday visit with Sally and David, it felt good to return "home." I feel happier with my assignment here and look forward to the exciting new year. I think the holiday trip did me a world of good.

I was also a bit anxious to return home to some expected packages arriving in the post. I came home to two: one from Aunt Bea, who sent wonderfully rich pecans. She orders these fabulous pecans and I often help myself to a bag or two while visiting. She knows I love them. Although I hate to think of the cost of shipping pecans to the other side of the world (financial and environmental), I was very happy to receive them. So, I'm having Christmas pecans for breakfast in the mornings. Yum! Thank you Aunt Bea!

The other was a package from the Bonnie W's: Bonnie, Marilyn, Donna, and Helen, a wonderful family of women that I've come to know and love through Deanna. They are dear, dear women and they are huge supporters of my African adventure. Bonnie writes me wonderfully long letters that are witty and full of details of life in Louisville and of world news. I'm amazed that she can find the time/energy to frequently write such lovely, long letters, and I relish them.

The package from the Bonnie W's was quite a treat. It contained a huge letter, a Courier Journal Sunday Comics page, a key chain with a favorite prayer on it (Footprints), pictures of a fairy-ring (a ring of toadstools that popped up on their lawn--I LOVE these!), a picture of Deanna finishing her monster bike ride (how many miles was it? 150?), an offer to buy a film projector for one of my ideas for the students here (Thanks Bonnie, this is a very generous offer. I think I can apply for a grant to obtain the funds to purchase the projector here, to save on the cost and shipping, but thank you!), and latex-free vinyl gloves. (Deanna and Bonnie have supplied me with enough gloves now, for the whole of two years, so I need no more. Thanks to you guys, my hands will be much happier scrubbing the toilet!)

It was great fun going through this box: thank you Bonnie, Marilyn, Donna, and Helen!

I have also received "going on a trip" funds from the following: my sister, Kim, my Grandmother, the Bonnie W's again: Bonnie, Marilyn, Donna, and Helen, Deanna, Sparky, and Emma, my mom, Jody, and my bonus dad, Joe, and my Aunt Bea.

(Oh dear, I hope I haven’t missed anyone!)

Thank you all very much! How generous of you! I can't wait to take a trip and tell you all about it! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! I'm so excited!  It's great fun planning a trip!

I know I have a few things coming as well, so I'll thank you in advance and eagerly await the packages.

I'm touched that you guys have gone to such trouble and expense, and greatly appreciate the gestures. I LOVE YOU GUYS! ;-)

I am very proud to say that I turned down a New Year's Eve invitation that required a trip out of town with an overnight stay with an educator who is known to drink (although not heavily, that I can tell). I didn't want to risk being stranded out of town and unable to get home on a night notorious for drinking--especially a trip out of town that required an overnight stay! I was very grateful for the invitation and graciously declined. I'm learning how to take care of myself in South Africa!

So I will spend a quiet night here, tonight, on this New Year's Eve, sitting at my IMAX window and sure to be watching fireworks. (My neighbors have been practicing for several weeks now.) I will not see the New Year ring in, as I can never stay up that late.

So let me wish you all, a Happy New Year!

Soon, Karen

My first Christmas in South Africa: 2009

I had a wonderful, wonderful first Christmas in South Africa thanks to my hosts, Sally and David, and their hosts, the wonderful religious community with whom they live.

For the first time since arriving in Africa, I felt I was finally enjoying the African splendor as their area is so beautiful: mountains, flowering plants and trees, baboons, birds, and community. I had an absolute ball and felt completely relaxed—also a first for me since arriving in South Africa.

I’m amazed that only a few hours away (six, to be exact) that the scenery can change so dramatically. I need to remember, however, that I moved away from the Kalahari Desert and toward an area that is mountainous and green with vegetation and trees. David and Sally are living in the Gauteng Province, just north/west of Pretoria.

(Pretoria, by the way, is officially renamed Tshwane, although I have yet to hear anyone refer to the city by its reclaimed name. I did notice street signs in the city with "Tshwane" on them. Apparently, the renaming is of great controversy here: one of the problems is the expense of replacing all of the city's signage.

During my time in Alaska, I noticed that the great mountain most people know of as Mt. McKinley, is referred to by the Alaskans by the mountain's reclaimed name, Denali. In the lower 48, and because of some very old Ohio state statute, we know it as Mt. McKinley.)

Oops! I digress. Back to my wonderful holiday...

David and Sally kept me wonderfully fed. David also makes a mean bowl of popcorn: my first popcorn since leaving the States. Sally made a wonderful cornbread that I couldn’t get enough of. (You’d think after eating all of the mealie pap/bagobe/corn porridge that I would be sick of corn. Not so! I guess I'm missing the more "American" ways of eating corn.)

Sally and David cooked a wonderful Christmas dinner with all the trimmings that was shared with fifteen of their community. David even made pumpkin and Derby pie! We were also invited to a lunch given by the sisters of the community the day after Christmas, so I had Christmas dinner twice!

So, I’m going on and on about food I see…

David and Sally had a coffee press so I had some really, really good coffee. I also tried the litchis fruit, which is new to me. (I think they taste like grapes.)

Since Sally and David live within the boundaries of a religious community, I was able to attend several church services, meet very, very interesting people, enjoy the beauty of the buildings and grounds, and enjoy the solitude. My only regret was the limited time I spent there: I would love to have more time with the members of the religious community—they are fascinating people!

But I enjoyed best of all, spending time with David and Sally. I’ve mentioned before that we share a common hometown (they have both lived and worked in Louisville, although they may claim Indiana as home). And both are very bright, interesting, well-read, well-travelled, kind and compassionate people. They are full of wonderful stories! And they have made their home in the mountains very comfortable. Also, they were very kind in helping me pep up a bit and gave me some good suggestions for adjusting my attitude. :-)

When it was time to leave, I didn't want to. David and Sally didn't make it easy for me either, as they tempted me with a trip to town to see a movie. A real, honest-to-goodness movie inside a movie theater! While originally I had hoped to see a movie during my visit with them, we were way too busy with the holiday and I can't imagine I could have left the beauty of their home to fall inside a dark "movie cave" for a few hours.

(While in AK, I was only there for three months and didn't want to miss a second of the splendor of the Alaskan wilderness. At one point I was invited to a friend's home to watch a rented movie. I went begrudgingly: I knew I could watch a lifetime of movies when I returned home and was painfully aware I would only be in Alaska for a short time.

Imagine my distress upon learning that the rented movie was one I had already seen!)

Oops! Digressing again…

Since I'm in Africa for two years, I would like to see a movie while I'm here. The new Morgan Freeman film, Invictus, is playing to great review. It is reputed to convey the true feeling of life in South Africa and is highly recommended by my friends (as is the book).

David and Sally have reassured me that another visit will include a trip to the movies! They also know a fabulous seamstress who has agreed to make me an African dress, so I’ll need to return for measurements, etc.

(There is no local theater near me; the closest movie theater to me is in Kimberley and is at least three hours away.)

When I did leave their home after the holiday, I felt rested, relaxed, recharged, and ready to resume my life “back home” at my permanent site. I’m excited that Sally and David extended their invitation for future visits: my stay with them has been the highlight of my time here in Africa.

There are more pictures of my holiday with Sally and David posted to my Facebook page and you need not be a Facebook member to view them:

Happy New Year! Karen

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas in South Africa 2009: Chacma baboons

Christmas in South Africa 2009: Chacma baboons

I was thrilled with one of my Christmas highlights: spotting the Chacma baboons (Papio ursinus).

On first sighting, the baboons are thrilling to watch and you most certainly feel that you are in Africa when you see them. However, my hosts were less than thrilled with them because they are terribly destructive. If they come inside your house, and they are known to “break in,” they are more destructive than the worst of bandits.

They also have a terrible bite.

I was able to watch them nearly every day. They don’t pose well for the camera, but I got a few shots. (See more photos on my Facebook page):

The following excerpt on them is from Clive Walker’s, Signs of the Wild: A Field Guide to the Spoor and Signs of the Mammals of Southern Africa, 2000.

Diet: Omnivorous, fruits, leaves, tubers, roots, bulbs, scorpions—they are most adept at removing the sting from the tail, ground birds, eggs, insects, young mammals and most partial to crop raiding. The baboon will eat virtually anything.

General: A large, powerfully built primate with a prominent dog-like muzzle and a strong jaw with canines which exceed those of a lion in length. They are terrestrial, gregarious animals and are found in small and large troops. They possess considerable intelligence and have acute eyesight and hearing. Their enemies are the leopard and man. They will often be found in the company of antelope whose additional alertness supplements their own. They frequent several sleeping sites, occupying a large tree or ledges on mountain slopes. They are very noisy at dawn and dusk. Their voice is a loud, deep bark with a range of conversational utterings, shrieks and screams. Baboons have a high social structure and when danger threatens, the dominant males adopt a hostile stance to protect the agile and swift troop which rapidly disperses while the flanking members stand up in the grass or jump on to anthills or tree trunks to keep you in view whilst the troop disappears… (27).

Again, they were great fun to watch. And again, I don’t have to live with them! But it felt very “African” to see them out and about, and out of a cage!

Best, Karen

Christmas in South Africa 2009: my Christmas Day hike

I got the best Christmas gift a girl could ever have: a Christmas day hike in the mountains of South Africa. (I’m sorry, I can’t give the exact location in order to keep the privacy of my hosts and their host community.)

Rest assured, it was the most beautiful part of Africa for me! I had a ball.

It was quite a gift: my gentleman friend who hiked me up the mountain is very well respected in his community and he was full of Christmas dinner at the time. (And I heard later that he probably wasn’t feeling very well, either.)

He led me up into the mountains behind his home. The mountains here consist of beautiful granite boulders that have been haphazardly mined by a company to make tombstones. During our walk, my hiking friend expressed great unhappiness that the mining company had been so careless and destructive to the area. He also mentioned, and was not happy about, the fact that the money earned from the land/mineral rights of course should have gone to the African nationals living in the area, and of course, did not.

I was thrilled at my chance at a guided hike in this beauteous, bountiful land of South Africa. Be sure to tell my hiking buddy back home, Tony, that I used a hiking stick! My hiking friend here liked to investigate deep, dark, broken places in the boulders, which reminded me of another hiking buddy back home: Joe. Joe would make me nervous looking about in dark crevices for reptiles and amphibians; my new friend here was looking for other kinds of things (his interests are in geology/archeology), but I still worried about him finding reptile!!

It was a wonderful, wonderful afternoon for me and I couldn’t have imagined a more exciting Christmas day in South Africa!

Soon, Karen

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sorry! Not gone yet, fellow volunteers, and the baby barbet AGAIN

Can't you tell that I've had unlimited internet access? I've been way too chatty and am happy to say, as I'm sure you're happy to hear, that I'm all blogged out.

I've finally, finally uploaded pictures of my fellow volunteers. They may be viewed on my facebook page (but you need not be a facebook member to see these photos) at:

I am very impressed with my fellow volunteers--especially the young ones! I often wish I had "had it all together" at their age. Everyone is very bright, witty, talented and skilled.

Of our group of 44 or so, I'll hazard to say that most of us are under the age of thirty. I guess about 10 or so of us is my age (46) or older.

Our group may have been unique as far as Peace Corps Volunteer groups go. We initially had SEVEN couples on board to leave for South Africa, but we lost a couple before we left Washington, DC. However, we still ended up with an amazing number of couples: SIX!

The pictures posted are of us together during pre-service training and at the swearing in ceremony: September 2009. I haven't seen most of them since then, but hear everyone is well.

And I wanted to tell one more story of my bird stories. Last night, on the tail-end of my evening stroll, I sat under a row of pepper trees so I could watch all the birds in the branches in their evening habituations. A baby barbet (the mostly-yellow bird with a red bib, a scruffy crown, and nose hairs--I've already posted his picture) lighted very near to me--within 10 feet--and I could see and hear him very well.

He was quite brave, probably very young, and not easily spooked so I admired him for quite some time. I was able to manage a few photographs, but they didn't turn out well enough to post. Well, maybe I'll try ONE. :-)

What the heck, I'll post all three. Maybe you can zoom in to see him better. He's really quite sassy.

But my favorite thing about him is that he is quite noisy and chatters up a storm. But if his voice box is off, he sounds just like a purring cat! I enjoyed his purring and twitting about very much!

Be back in a week, Karen

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Things are heating up, small gestures, I'm thrilled, I'm outta here, and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

I believe the insect activity is increasing as the heat is increasing here. I knew it was getting hot when I was walking about my apartment and touching things: Why is my cell phone so warm? Why is my glass of water so warm? Why is my chair seat wet? Why is my bed wet? Why is the toilet seat warm?

Yes, it is getting this hot. When my mom asked, “Is it unbearable?” I replied, “It must not be, if it is taking me wondering why things are so hot and wet to notice.”

So yes, it is getting hot here, but so far it isn’t bad. Since my dorm room is on the top floor of a west-facing corner, my room begins to heat up about 3:00 pm, is warm enough for me to leave for awhile, and holds the heat until after midnight.

But the air is very dry and arid and this dry heat is not nearly as uncomfortable as the humidity back home.

Not that you guys are having that problem now. Did you get snow?

When I first arrived in at my permanent site, I noticed that ants, large ants, seemed to be scurrying about everywhere. They were so abundant that I worried about squashing 100s of them with each step. (I didn’t retain this worry very long.)

But lately I’ve noticed, that if I’m wearing sandals, and stand still for only a moment (as when I stop to snap a photo, stop to examine a bug or plant more closely), I begin to feel these stabs of pain in my feet. The ants will climb on board and start chomping away—and they don’t want to be shaken off!

I was talking on the phone yesterday and felt the stinging pains and had to reach down to scrape them off. For the rest of the time I was talking on the phone, I would kick them away as they approached. Undeterred, they banded together in a game of “kick ant” with me: I would kick one about 12 inches away, it would quickly revive and renew its charge on me while I busied myself with one or more of its comrades.

I’m wearing my hiking boots for my little strolls now. They keep me protected from these vicious little buggers! (I've also read, that unlike sandals, the boots will protect the tops of my feet and ankles--where snakes tend to bite. Thanks sis, for the boots!)

I'm also posting some shots of the cows and I sharing a hot Sunday afternoon heat wave. I hope it rains soon and the bull, at least, can eat a bit better. There is a shot or two of one of the poor donkeys with his front feet bound. This donkey's feet are bound with nylon rope; I've seen donkeys and even a horse with its feet bound with chain. In one of the donkey shots, you can see some of my village up in the hill side.

I've also posted some shots of the bee-like creature that I know not what it is, but it is huge like our bumble bees, buzzes like our bumble bees, but is much longer in the abdomen and not as thick. When he flies, he seems like a thick, lazy, very heavy hummingbird rather than a bumble bee. He does have a stinger-like protrusion on his rear end, but from my reading, I think this is a reproductive stem rather than a stinger. (Or I should hope.) In the evening, they amass in the top of thorn trees and you can see them congregating in the hundreds. I LOVE THEM!

And then, of course, more sunsets--last night's.

When I first began my service at permanent site, I was put off (as everyone is sick of hearing about) with the constant requests for money, treats, trips to America, etc. I was particularly put off by the security staff asking for such gifts. It was constant and it was irritating and I grumpily ignored the requests.

In reading about South African history, or any African history, I’m finding that it was (and perhaps still is) quite common and expected for ordinary citizens to bribe those holding security-enforcing positions: border-crossing guards, policemen, etc.

Of course, such a practice is corruption and in my irritation think, when asked by people holding these positions: Aren’t these people getting paid to perform their duties?

At one point I wondered if this gift-requesting from the guards was simply a hold-over from South Africa in more turbulent times, and therefore a “cultural difference” if you will.

Regardless, the requests irritated me and I ignored them. I wasn’t subjecting myself to such tyranny.

Along the way I’ve found myself buying little treats to give to those who “take care of” my more important needs of living in South Africa. For example, I’ve taken to buying the ladies at the post office small bars of candy. (Chocolate is ADORED here; but where is chocolate not adored?) They are, after all, making sure I receive my mail and packages from the US, and I greatly appreciate their care.

I find myself buying cold drinks for the ladies at the library, who always welcome me to their library, their computers, and therefore, their internet.

It occurred to me, “Although this gift-giving is simply an expression of my gratitude, isn’t this gesture, in much the same away, a bribe? Or could it be perceived as such?"

One of the security guards here on campus is the male version of “the lioness” (the matronly lady at one of my schools). He is “the lion.” He has worked here forever, is much older than I, etc. We kind of don’t like each other. But he is probably someone I should work on getting to like me, since he is in charge of my safety and security.

By 10:00 on Saturday morning, it was too late to move about outside because it was already unbearably hot. I needed to run to the post office and he was on duty. We did our awkward greetings and I went on my way.

While in town, I bought him a cold drink at the grocer, and on my return to campus, gave it to him.

I wish you could have seen the look on his face: such a beautiful smile and such a humble gesture of acceptance (he cupped both his hands to receive my gift in the traditional South African way). The gesture of the gift, a very small one by me, has gone a long way to ensuring my safety here on campus. I’m only regretting my hard-headed resistance in wooing his approval.

That same morning, and here comes the "I'm thrilled," I met the gentleman in charge of the community garden. I have asked, and he has agreed, that I establish, monitor, and maintain a compost pile for the community garden. I’M SO EXCITED! I have some weird fondness of composting and everything about it. I could live happily ever after, not gardening in any other way, if only I could compost. It’s just so satisfying to see waste transformed into vital, alive, rich black soil. Composting makes me very, very happy. So I'm thrilled to be invited to assist with the garden in this way: I get to compost and the community's soil will be amended.

I’ll begin that new project on my return from my holiday. Return? Where am I going?

When I doing my volunteer stint in AK in 2006, I was told that many Alaskans hung a “gone fishing” sign in their work windows to indicate to customers that no business would be conducted for the next 3 months. It seemed, perhaps because Alaskan winters are so brief, that EVERYONE in the state was out of the office. No phone calls were returned, no emails answered, no business meetings were conducted.

I’m finding that true in South Africa as well.

There seems to be an unofficial 4-week South African holiday for the last half of December through the first half of January. I thought this holiday time was specific only to the schools, since the old school year has ended, (staff, educators, learners) but I'm finding it applies to everyone.

How do I know? Because I can’t find anyone to return a phone call, answer an email, or see me for a business meeting!

I had hoped to use this 4-week holiday period to plan and prepare for my teaching for the next school year. I’m a big planner.

(Wait a minute... I have to pick myself up off the floor from laughing so hard.)

I was promised time by those in charge of scheduling classes that “there would be time to plan for next year in December." This, translated from “indirect communication,” means: We’re outta here for the year and will worry about next year two days before school starts!” (Two days before school starts--if you’re lucky!)

Or so it seems. At first I felt panicked, watching the educators and schedulers running away from me, with no hope of guidance or preparation, but I relaxed a bit, when I realized that with my teaching experience, I will do fine.

So, I thought, “Well, I can’t prepare for teaching, so how about looking into secondary projects?”

I am here on the Education Project for Peace Corps, which has me working in the schools with children, educators, and administrators. But we’re allowed secondary projects of our choosing. I’d like to work in the community garden, of course, and I would like to work with the village clinic doing HIV/AIDs education outreach.

I had hoped to meet and plan with the administrators of the health clinic during these down weeks around the holiday.

(Wait a minute, I'm on the floor laughing again.)


Even still, I have enjoyed being alone and “unbusy” during this holiday period. But friends and family, including: my American family, my African family, and my Peace Corps family have all balked at my “not going anywhere” for the holidays.

Why my American family is alarmed is beyond me. I’ve spent much of my adult life working in the restaurant/catering business, which had me working and not participating in family gatherings for every major holiday: Derby, xmas, xmas eve, New Year’s, etc. I have missed many, many a family gathering because I was working.

Also, I hate all of the commercialization around the xmas holiday and hate the pressure of having to buy gifts. I have been known to “leave town” for the holidays-and a few of these trips were trips on my own.

So, my American family should know better.

My African family has been very worried about me staying at the hostel all by myself. Their top-two concerns are: Aren’t you afraid? And, Aren’t you bored?

I wasn’t afraid until Mr. Rat came by for a visit, but now that he’s moved on, I’m perfectly fine staying in the hostel alone. I adore the solitude and know it is temporary and brief, so I’m soaking up every second.

I used to say, “I can’t remember the last time I felt bored.” Now, I clearly do remember: it was when I was stuck at an educator’s “end-of-the-year party” for 13 hours with 350 people who wanted to harass me about how rich I was and who had been drinking heavily since very early that morning.

And, as an avid reader and writer, and one who likes to walk about with a camera studying the natural world, I can keep myself entertained--for hours and hours, for days on end. Not surprisingly, but unfortunately, the people here are not of a “reading culture.” People here, and especially young people, don’t read for fun. We are experiencing the same problem in the US, but not as severely--yet. Most rural S Africans don’t learn to read for fun, and for generations have not had access to reading materials, had the skills to read, etc.. (And many still don't even today, because of poverty, lack of materials, language barriers, etc.)

And then there is my Peace Corps family. Although sympathetic to my desire to “soak in the solitude,” all press that, “Really though, you should go somewhere.” And I'm sure they are right. It will do me a world of good to change my scenery and spend a bit of time with those who (easily) speak my language.

And, and I may inherit this tendency from my mother, I love to be "at home" and often need a crow bar to pry me out of my home to leave it. I've worked very hard to feel safe in my new home, have succeeded impressively, and I hate to leave it--especially since the students are gone and it is blissfully quiet. And the thought of riding public transportation for 6+ hours makes me more than a bit anxious!!

And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I HAVE SEEDLINGS TO CARE FOR! Only those of us that have chlorophyll in our veins instead of blood will sympathize here. But I have new starts of herbs and flowers and I hate to leave them to the hot dry air of Africa for a week. They, or at least the very new ones, are sure to wither and die without water. (No, there is no one here who can care for them while I'm gone and I'm not going to fool with some type of elaborate wick-bucket of water system.)

So, I’m going somewhere and my lovely new seedlings be doomed! A wonderful PC couple has invited me to their home for the xmas holiday. They like reading, as do I, and have promised a hiking trail up a nearby mountain and a trip to Pretoria to see a movie--not to mention xmas dinner. I’m thrilled.

Well, I’m thrilled about everything except riding the public taxis. But a fellow PC volunteer is traveling to Pretoria with me, so it will be less painful.

Although my friends are very well connected with technology, this is likely to be my last post for awhile. So, for my worry worts, NO WORRIES.

For everyone: Happy holidays!!

Soon, Karen

trips and travel

Ick.  I've been playing with my settings and seem to have messed up my template.  The pictures have uploaded haphazardly.  Bear with me...

Here are a couple of shots of “standing under the trees” here on campus. The one with the little yellow blossoms is an acacia tree in bloom. (Photo at the very bottom.) The bee-like creatures here (they are the size of hummingbirds) absolutely love this tree and at any time of the day you can pass one and see thousands of these creatures. (I will try to find a photo or take a photo and will, as soon as I identify these strange creatures.)

Another, with the pine cones, if taken by me standing directly under the pine tree and looking up through the branches at the sky. (If the wind is blowing and I close my eyes, I can pretend I’m back at home and walking in the forest. The only thing missing is the bite of the winter air.)

And another is of a bunch of weaver-bird nests all congregated together very high up in a pepper tree. I call this area the weaver-bird condominium.

And the only South African wildlife I’m seeing regularly is the South African striped mouse (which I do not mind because he lives OUTSIDE in the bushes) and the yellow mongoose. (Let me know if you want the Latin names.)

The striped mouse reminds me of the “kangaroo rats” or “gerbils” we kept as pets when we were children. Yesterday, I had great fun watching a daddy barbet fighting with two of these striped mice over some fruit pieces I had thrown out. By the way, the barbets have come to me just as the bulbuls have: it seems that there is a mom barbet and a junior barbet and all have come to me in search of food. At one point, the whole family was fighting the striped mouse over a pear core.

The mongoose I see almost daily now, as my evening stroll corresponds with his. I have always imagined mongoose as fierce creatures, (Riki-Tippi something?) and I’m sure they are, as they are known to fight and kill snakes, but this guy seems quite skittish, and dashes off quickly when he finds me coming his way. (Which is the correct behavior of all wild animals when a human approaches.) He is fox-like with very short legs. He reminds me of a cat when I see him, and I often wonder if it is cat I'm seeing. And then I see his white-tipped tail and know he is a mongoose.

I’ve not seen suricats, although I understand they are in this region. Nor have I seen monkeys, but am likely too, as several were spotted by my seat mates on a mini-bus ride home from town the other day.

I’ve picked up a book from the library that will help me interpret “signs” of wildlife (spoor, tracks, etc.) in the area, so I’ll know what is around, even if I can’t see it. (Most wildlife move about in the night; PC volunteers aren't allowed out at night--not that I would really want to be out at night.)

So yesterday, I was practicing my Setswana, when I decided it would be more fun to plan a trip. :-)

So, I planned a trip and it was great fun. I was so excited and when I called my family to share my excitement they were very confused. (They knew I was planning to travel next week, in light of the holiday season, but understood I was only traveling only to Pretoria. I am only traveling to Pretoria.)

Now, a bit about me and travel/vacations. I’m the kind of person that likes to choose one spot, go, and hang out and put my feet up. I’m not the type of person that chooses a spot and likes to see every sight to see within a 500 mile radius.  Also, for the mode of transportation, I want the least-painful way to go.  And lastly, I like to go off-season to avoid the "too many people."  And of course, expense plays a huge determiner in where I go, how long I stay, etc.

And because I live debt-free (yay!), I must save money before I go.

On coming to South Africa, my "must see before I leave" was Kruger Park. There are many reasons to go to Kruger Park: many go to see Africa's "big five" (lion, buffalo, elephant, giraffe, rhino); it's a huge park, HUGE; and of course, it is a large, remaining stand of wild-African habitat.  I would love to see it.

I want to go to Kruger see a baobab tree.  In fact, the only thing I'm truly interested in, in seeing here in Africa, is a baobab tree.  Sadly, I learned quickly, that I'm too far south to see a baobab tree.  They are in Kruger Park, but they are in the far northern reaches of the park (that I wouldn't be able to get to).  I could probably find a baobab tree in Pretoria's botanical gardens.  (I did see a small baobab tree from the airplane window when we stopped in Dakar for refuelling.)

But after spending time in South Africa, and after reading lots of South African history, my original hopes have changed somewhat.  How could I come to South Africa, spend two years, AND NOT SEE CAPE TOWN?  How could I not lay my eyes on Table Mountain?  How could I not visit Robbins Island?  Everything about the contemporary South Africa of today originated in Capetown.  Also, there is hiking and the BEACH.  :-)

Another thing I've decided is that I want to travel in South Africa by TRAIN.  There are several reasons for this. 

I hate traveling on the public mini-buses.  Hate it, hate it, hate it.  I could fly, but am not crazy about it.  Could use an inter-cape bus (like Greyhound), but not crazy about it.

I'd like to travel by train.  I've never been on a train.  Train travel in South Africa is rumored to take quite a bit more time, but there is nothing I like better than sitting by a window and staring out the window.  :-)  (Especially by a window that allows me personal space and safety, those wonderful things not provided on the public mini-buses.)

My dad has a life-long interest in trains.  In fact, before I came to SA, I had hoped that our family could plan a short train trip on Amtrack to Chicago, something in the way of a long weekend.  I thought that the more energetic of our family could be wildly entertained in the Windy City, while my dad and I, (and anyone else who wanted to) could remain posted up somewhere, relaxing and chatting and catching up.  Sadly, we didn't get to take our family trip...

Also, when I was volunteering in AK, my aunt had wanted to come and take a train trip through the Alaskan wonderland.  She had wanted to do this for years, and suggested she come since I was staying in AK.  But I refused on the count of the expense.  In hindsight I wish I had agreed: it may have been a "once in a lifetime" opportunity for her. 

Hey, maybe we could plan such a family trip when I return!  You guys wanna do a train trip in AK?  I'll start saving my rand and you start saving your pennies!  :-)

(Am not sure of the plural spelling of rand. Is it ten RAND or ten RANDS?  I've seen it handled both ways.)

Ooops, I digress.

So ANYWAY, I'm so excited because I've figured out a way to safely travel in South Africa: by train!  I'm so excited!!

Many of the volunteers are travelling far for this holiday period.  I felt uneasy taking such an extended trip because a) I'm not sure how my money is playing out; and b) I need lots of time to plan a trip; and c) I had hoped to spend my holiday time preparing for next year's teaching.  (More on that tomorrow, perhaps.)

PC doesn't "pay" us well enough to travel: that's not why we're here.  And they don't  "pay" us well enough to save for travel, but I'm going to try. (PC doesn't pay us a salary; they provide us with a "living allowance."

I'm figuring that if I pinch my pennies--or rand/s--hard enough, I can probably swing a trip to Capetown by April 2011.  If I pinch a bit harder, I might be able to swing October 2010.  I'm so excited!!

Several of you are sending money and have asked  "how much?"  I didn't really know until yesterday, when I sat down and figured all of this out.  THANK YOU for sending me $.  I will put it toward a trip (unless you request otherwise) and THANK YOU!

It was fun figuring this out and doing comparisons.  I was surprised that my food costs--both groceries and eating out--are similar to those I have in the US.

$5 buys me a round-trip fare to my shopping town (Vryburg), a nice bottle of bubble bath, or a South African greeting card that I will send YOU!  :-)

$9 buys me a nice lunch out: a burger or salad

$14 buys me a cot in a BackPackers hostel for one night or a cotton throw rug for my room.

$17 buys me an expensive steak dinner

$19 buys me a round-trip ride on the public mini-bus to Kimberley

$21 buys me international postage for a month or a nice dress

$27 buys me the hard-back South African dictionary I have my eye on

$34 buys me phone usage--international, local, text messages--for a month or a night's stay in a private room in the BackPackers hostel

$48 buys me a round-trip ride on the public mini-bus ride to Pretoria

$55 buys me groceries for a week

$130 buys me a weekend in Kuruman (lodging, meals, transport)

$180 buys me a long weekend in Kimberley (lodging, meals, transport)

$190 buys me groceries for a month

$268 buys me a week in Pretoria (lodging, meals, transport)

$350 buys me a week at the Indian Ocean (Durban, Port Elizabeth, or East London with (lodging, meals, transport)

$400 gets me to Capetown

$750 gets me to Kruger with a two-day, backpacking safari

So thank you for coming along on my fantastical journey. As I was recently reminded, "If I'm going to live in a fantasy world, it might as well be one I like!"  (Instead of worrying about what all can possibly go wrong here in SA.)

Soon, Karen

ps. Photos of the striped mouse and mongoose are from: striped mouse

pss.  It is likely that I get to Kruger with a group of PC volunteers and at much less expense.

psss. (?)  Peace Corps allots us R2291 per month, which is about 312 American dollars. 

pssss.  BackPackers is a very inexpensive hostel-type accomodation that many volunteers use.  They have BackPackers all over South Africa.