Monday, August 31, 2009

Aug 31, 09 Just when you're ready to throw in the towel...

Peace Corps throws you a bone. (Am somewhat kidding about throwing in the towel--I'm here for the duration.)

I think I've just checked into a 5 star hotel: Sparkling Springs near Rustenburg (sp?) SA. I'm here for two days for a workshop with my new, soon to be boss (all of us are here).

A bed that resembles a bed in the us, a BATHTUB, HOT WATER OUT OF INDOOR PLUMBING, HOT WATER, hangers, a closet, a TV, carpeting, etc. I'm in shock.

Not to mention a SWIMMING POOL, tennis courts, a luxury spa... Am I still in Africa?

Yes, many of you detected a disgruntled note in my last post, and yes, my family was only reacting to the Peace Corps "debriefing" with them about how our homestays were working out. My family loves me very much and is somewhat overprotective of me. They were distraught to learn that I will be leaving them soon to go to my permanent site.

Which is my big news:

After the workshop, my supervisor will take me to my "new home" which is, hold on to your hats: Vuselela College in a village in between Vrysburg and Tauong.

My amenities mentioned are: a studio apartment with OWN BATHROOM and mini-kitchen. Everyone here hates me and covets my housing situation. I'm hoping since it is on a college I'll have access to, dare I even dream, an internet connect, a LIBRARY, and perhaps a mailing address. I'm so excited I could pop.

What will I be doing? I'll be working with "outreach projects" which is very vague, but I'll be clearer by next week.

If I had known what my permanent post would be before leaving the states, I would have grumbled (I like roughing it). However, having lived in a rural village for 5 weeks now, I'm ready for an easier life. Anything involving making a wood fire, boiling water, hauling water makes for a long day. In short: I can't wait and am so happy!

Ok, so Deanna has promised not to come get me, so I'll relate my "bad camping story."

I was introduced to my homestay family my second week here and all of them were coughing and spewing from day one. I'm doling out Aleve all the while saying, "This won't help you; you need to go to the Doctor." I'm worried about them, am worried that my 91 year old go go (grandmother) is sitting/sleeping on the cold floor all day (she does sleep in a bed, btw. I've seen it.) having these horrible cold/flu symptoms.

On day three, the daughter who lives in some ambiguous place (Pretoria, probably: many family members live, work, and go to school in Pretoria while the remainder of the family lives at home in a village) and announces: I have SWINE FLU.

Ok, so I think, "Surely she doesn't know what she's talking about; doesn't she know how serious swine flu is? She's only nineteen. Surely she doesn't know what she's talking about." And I do not give it another thought.

I have, at this point, taken over dinner dishes duty, as they were washing their dishes in cold water with little soap. I'm happy, HAPPY to do the dishes now.

So, on day four of my homestay, I'm going to bed, turn off the lights, slip my foot down under my sleeping bag and ZING--this horrible pain shoots up from my foot. It's dark, I grab my reading light, shine it toward the pain, and a flipping SCORPION swinging his barbed tail saunters away. I feel like I am a horror film.

Ok, remember, this is me. It doesn't take much to derail me: I usually need weeks to recover from Thanksgiving Day holiday. :-)

So, it's thursday night, I'm EXHAUSTED, I've been living in Africa for only a few weeks, I'm trying to adjust to life at training (8-5 everyday of classes), and, I'm exhausted. So, I think, "I'm in no mood for anymore drama today so if I'm going to bed. If I die in the night of the scorpion sting, well, then I die.

So, God is good and I wake up the next morning, go to the college, call the Dr. about the scorpion sting. We decide I'm ok and to watch for any other symptoms to crop up. (I felt kind of sick the whole day and my foot hurt, but I was fine.) I hang up the phone, and hours later it occurs to me that I should have mentioned the swine flu scenario.

I call the Dr. again, and say, "Btw, this mystery daughter came home and announced 'I have swine flu' to the family, should I be concerned?" Thinking that he would laugh and say, "Oh no, it couldn't possibly be," he says instead "We need to get you out of there."


So, I felt sick all day from the scorpion sting on Friday, so it was decided that I would stay the weekend at the college. (D, this was when I was able to right the 8 page letter.)

Long story short: my homestay was evaluated for safety and determined safe for me to return and I returned on Monday after a weekend stay at the college.

The third week of August: we had three confirmed cases of swine flu in the group (Is it my fault? Should I have been quarantined? I haven't gotten sick, btw. My immune system must rock.), the military "demonstrated" in Pretoria and burned cars, scaled walls, etc., and I think my homestay family tried to "sell" my services to the loan shark for the money they borrowed to outfit my room. (This last scenario may have been misinterpreted, but as best I can tell, that is what was happening.)

So, I'm ready for a college campus setting with plumbing, safety, running water, lesser chance of scorpions, etc.

And, while I'm here, louisville has flooded and experienced a cool summer and one of our greatest statemen have died.

Thanks always for the words and news from home. It all warms my heart and makes me happy, so thanks for posting/snail-mailing.

I hope to have my own mailing address soon and I may have a phone by the end of the week.

I have taken photos of my homestay family, my village, and even this rocking hotel. I hope to post them too.

Love to all, and as always, PC is not responsible for or in anyway connected to this post.

(mo LAY boe hang)
Actually, the "h" in hang is a sound we make clearing our throats. I tell them that this is a rude noise in the states, but unfortunately, it is common in the Swana people's language. :-)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tuesday, Aug 25--happy belated kim!

Hello Everyone!

Peace Corps is in no way connected to what I say here; all error, misinterpretations are mine.

My goodness, my note came off as grumpy last time. So sorry.

Pre-service training is officially half way over! I’m so glad… This part of the experience has been pretty miserable for me…

Suffice it to say, that there is a future blog post titled: things not previously mentioned because a) Deanna would stop what she was doing, borrow my friend Ann’s canoe, and row across the Atlantic to come fetch me; or b) Deanna would stop what she was doing, go borrow a gagillion dollars, and fly to Africa to come fetch me.

For those of you who know me well, these stories have everything to do with a) the curse of the “Milam luck”’; or “bad camping stories make great stories” or “Karen has a HUGE learning curve.

I’m fine, I’m really fine, but it has been a hard week or two.

The good news is that I learn of my “permanent site” on Friday and will actually go spend a week at my new site and get a feel for how things will actually be. The biggest part of my problem right now is feeling like I have people crawling all over me all the time and have no space or alone time. I’m pretty grumpy.

The good news is THAT I CAN HAPPILY STAY HERE! We did a shopping trip (well, actually a window-shopping trip because we’re all so broke) to Bella Bella (Warmbath) this weekend and I found, guess what, hold on to your seat: fresh ground pepper, BLUE CHEESE, olive oil, balsamic vinegar… ANY fresh fruit or veg that I can find in the states: blueberries, strawberries, lettuces, mushrooms. I was so happy to know that yes, these things are here and are available, only not in the villages.


I could have stayed here for two years without these things, but now I can HAPPILY stay here for two years.

What else…

So, I’m not up for trying to cook with my host family. Making a meal seems such a huge effort: boiling water, cutting, chopping, COOKING food I’m not familiar with, so, I’ve tried to find other ways I can help out.

I’ve found that the family seems (seemed) happy with my doing dishes (I wanted to quickly take over this task anyway because of some things having to do with “not previously mentioned…) and hauling water for the family from the community tap.

So, every morning I rise before “school” (a day at the college) to haul about 450 kilos of water (three to four trips with 3 containers of water hauled in a wheelbarrow). And in the evening, after dinner, I was the dishes on the front porch under the stars. Both of these tasks are the highlight of my day… My “that thing which we think of as God” has given me meditations in water. (A favorite thing about working for Bunton’s was watering the plants. It took at least 6 hours and I loved every moment of it.)

So, anyway, I thought my family was pretty happy with me. BUT, the families debriefed w/ Peace Corps this weekend and I’ve since learned that my family is not happy because: a) I’m not cleaning my room and b) I’m not cooking.

So, when I asked about this whole “cleaning of the room” deal, I was told that I am supposed to “sweep my room” (my room is a concrete floor with filthy carpet tiles), open a window to let fresh air in, and “make my room tidy” in case anyone wants to “see it.”(I lock my room when I’m not there, per PC instructions.)

So, I told my family I would be happy to assume these tasks and to please forgive the fact that I had no idea I was supposed to be doing them.

So, on Saturday, I “cleaned my room.” I swept, generated such a cloud of dust I’m still sneezing a coughing three days later, opened my window (was actually glad to be shown how to do this—I love fresh air!), and threw everything back into the suitcase. J

They seemed pretty happy with this.

And last night, I attempted to make bagobe (pap) the stiff cornmeal porridge that most of the Africans live on. (It’s very similar to corn grits without tasting anything like corn grits.)

So, I think I’m making peace with my family. I had no idea they were so perturbed.

Oh yeah. They’re very happy I’m doing my own laundry. Actually, the whole village is happy that I’m doing laundry and has even asked me to show another volunteer how to do it. J

That’s plenty for now, I’m sure. I’m told that SA is experiencing a mail strike. Apparently, Zuma promised everyone a 20 percent pay raise and strikes are very common here. (A phone company is still on strike.)

But I did get three letters from home! Yay!

Again, I love hearing every word: electronic and snail mail. I can’t respond to everyone personally, but I love, love, love reading every word.

I love all of you more than you can know. Hugs, Karen (Moleboeng)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thursday, Aug 20 2009

Hello Family! I can't tell you how much I miss you all, and am, once again, wiping away the tears as I write this after reading about news from home.

First things first: Peace Corps is not responsible for anything I post on this blog.

Secondly, please, all of you, quit sending me American stamps. They do not work here. I will save the forever stamps b/c I'm told at some point I will use them when people return to the states and can "carry" them for me. But for now, I can only use SA stamps.

My whole postage/stamp situation is ironic bc This first 8 weeks will really be the only time I'm relying on snail mail. After the 15th or so of Sept, I'll have a cell phone--YAY! Postage is pricey here and we're only allotted a "walk around allowance" which is 100 rand a week. It costs me 20 rand to buy postage for three mailings.

Have you guys gotten any news from me by mail? I'm mostly sending to Deanna as she can spred the news to everyone. But Kim, I sent you a postcard, Mom, you one too (but worry I didn't have correct postage) and the Bonnie Wademan bunch (thanks for the card--I loved it.)

So far, I've only received two letters from D and read them over and over. I had no idea how much I would be moved by news from home. I crave every nugget. And again, by the time you read this and all of you feel moved to send me mail, I will have a cell phone and lots more money to mail cards/etc.

Also, I understand that calls from my cellphone to the states will be very expensive but that I can receive incoming calls for free. I'm worried that an international call from the States is very pricey as well... Could someone do a bit of research for me? One source told me a call to Africa from the States is $10. I do hope it is not that much.

My African mother taught me how to do laundry on Sunday and it isn't as bad as I thought it would be (and will be much easier than how I've been attempting it on my own. She "washes" in one tub w/ laundry soap (she uses a flat board to scrub on... She was letting me try it, but was quickly disatisfied with my efforts and relegated me to rinsing). She had two other tubs for rinsing twice. I learned that rinsing is really the trick, so no wonder the washing machines have 2 or more rinse cycles. I really miss my energy-efficient washer...

She also wasn't crazy about how I hung the clothing to dry, and came behind me "fixing" my arrangements.

I've felt very guilty with all of the brand new things that have come with me from America. In fact, I often feel like Karen Blixen with her crystal and china when I open my suitcase full of goodies and gadgets (batteries, over-the counter pain reliever, etc.). But I was greatly pained to see my brand-new clothes hanging along side with my African family's. Many of their clothes are in tatters. It breaks my heart to think of the clothing I sent to Goodwill before I came.... I wish I had brought those items with me to Africa.

I've had a rough week emotionally, probably because Chris turned 22 this week. It was so hard to be so far away from him and to not be able to call. Can someone (D?) phone him and tell him I was thinking of him all day?

I've also missed Marilyn's, Helens, and Kristin's. Kim, I will miss yours as well (but will be thinking of you ALL DAY on Monday), Kara's, and Mom's. Mom, maybe I'll have a phone in time for yours!

But mostly, I miss you all dreadfully. I knew I would.

Tammy, happy wedding day! I wish I were there for you!

I'm also missing the Gillian Welch/Davod Rawlings show on the waterfront. How was it?

And of course, I'll miss the big bike ride that Deanna and a bunch of my peeps will be riding in. (Including my uncle Terry, who is a cancer survivor--among many other wonderful things).

I haven't taken my camera out because I'm so conscious of me being the "haver" against my family who are the "have nots." But I've borrowed a friend's field guide and have seen the following if any of you have time to google images.

First, and sadly, I'm too far south for the baobab. I'm terribly sad about this but hope I will be able to see some in my travels.

Along that line, I'm told, although I haven't seen any evidence of this yet, that I can do lots of camping/hiking here, and hopefully will see bunches of cool stuff someday. As far as cool African game, I've read that the cool animals are restricted to wildlife reserves.

But I have seen some cool stuff. But remember, I'm easily entertained... I stopped traffic in AK because I was admiring a magpie. (He WAS magnificent!)

cattle egret: they stand by the cows and eat the ticks off of them! COOL!

gray go away bird: this is a grey bird that has a crown and a long tail. I swear I've seen this one in zoos. It gets its name from its call: gweey (go away). I like this bird very much.

crimson breasted shrike. Love this bird too. He has a bright red belly. (But his call reminds me of the pathetic cry Deanna's little yellow finch made back in June. Is he still hanging out D?)

Blue waxbill: a beautiful little bluebird the color of the sky.

Pied crow. I know, it's a crow. But he is BEAUTIFUL. They soar in the sky hear like our hawks back home and they're black with a white belly and collar. They are very striking.

White browed sparrow: lovely little sparrow with a striking mark on its head

White faced whistling duck: I watch these guys at the "damn." (That's what the people here call the pond.) They look exactly like that: a duck with a white face that whistles.) They love to fly as a flock over the pond and soar and soar together.

My favorite so far: a grey heron. He's a magnificent bird that reminds me of our great blue heron. We only have one at our pond and I can watch him for hours.

Cactus here literally grow on trees. It was weird to see a prickly pear cactus growing out of a tree trunk! Other more regular type cactus grow here as well: naboom, and queen of the night.

Trees I've been able to identify so far include:
umbrella thorn (there are lots of thorn trees here, but it is winter. Trees are hard for me to id in the winter and hope to be able to identify more as spring arrives and things begin to bloom).

sacred coral: favorite so far b/c it is blooming. It reminds me of our saucer magnolia that has the beautiful pink blossoms before they leaf out. This tree has beautiful fuschia blossoms before the tree leafs out.

A lot of cool aloes too. I've seen one type that grows 8' tall. But another grows out of a tree trunk: eastern tree aloe. Another cool one: mountain aloe.

more trees:
matumi, jacaranda (some of these are beginning to bloom), English oak (an import), weeping willow, small knobwood, and paperbark thorn.

I think I've spoken a bit about two of my favorites that are grown here, and seem to grow year-around: geraniums and marigolds. I found marigolds at the primary school I'm observing and cried when I realized what they were. I couldn't believe it.

Mammals and such, sorry guys. Again, I haven't seen any of Africa's BIG FIVE. But I've seen plenty of mammals: cows, donkeys, goats. A few dogs and cats (actually, my family has a cat--a black cat and I was surprised by this. I was told naitive people don't like cats. Actually, it's kind of funny. My bonus dad hated cats while we were growing up and then took a surprising turn later in life and has become quite fond of them. I'm reminded of my bonus dad when my African dad coos to the cat. Actually, I don't think my ma and go go (grandma) care much for the cat. And I smile too, watching the cat eagerly lap up bogobe (pap) while Deanna ususally struggles at home trying to get the dogs to eat expensive dog food.)

Oops, I digressed. Most of the families in my village have cattle. The cattle live in the bush but are rounded up every day and are walked to my "damn" (my pond) for water. I was there yesterday, trying to have a quiet lunch when at least 20 farmers brought their cattle. It was amazing to see so many large animals being handled by one man with a stick (or whip). Amazing.

My family also has goats and chickens. I feel sorry for the goats as they are confined in a small space and lie in their own excrement. (But they too, are released everyday to forage/feed.) I like watching the chickens because they are everywhere and are so new to me. There are usually a couple of hens leading a batch of peeping chicks around too.

I wouldn't want to be an animal here, b/c life is very hard for them. But of course, the same can be said about the people who live here too.

I hear jackals at night crying out in the bush. I didn't know what these calls were until recently when my African father explained to me. (don't worry tho, my African father refuses to allow me to go out at night, even for the toilet. I use something akin to a chamber pot--we all do.)

There are some rather interesting insects that hang out in the pit-toilet. I'll leave these for your imagination. I don't remember these from home. :-)

The mosquitoes aren't bad here yet, but that is because it is winter. I hear they are on their way. :-)

I'm all typed out today, but want to tell you of my experiences in the schools these last few weeks. I'll save that for next time.

Again, know I am will and miss you dreadfully, k

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thursday, August 12 2009

Dumelang! (Hello to you all!)

WHERE to begin. Well, first, I'm wiping the tears from my eyes reading your posts! It is SO good to hear news from home! I can't believe how much rain you guys are getting. What is going on!! Thank you so much for writing. Any news from home is a blessing. Yes mom, I got your post.

I'm well, very well. I'm living w/ a host family in the Moletji section of the Sekolo village. I hear that you guys are having a hard time finding me on a map. The closest town is Bela Bela. You should be able to find it. There is also a town called Warmbad (or something like that).

I live with a mother, father, and a grandmother. I'm so grateful that my family had a "cabin in the woods" and had some time hauling water and using an outhouse, b/c that is what I'm doing here! (And am fine with it.)

I do wish my grandma Simon were around to help me with handwashing clothes. I'm really bad with this and am feeling that I'm not getting my clothes very clean.

I had a really rough transition b/c my 91 year old grandmother sits on the cold floor all of the time and I'm afraid she probably sleeps on the floor as well. I'm mostly upset about this b/c the family has given me the nicest room in the house: I have a nice big bed, a table and chair, and a burea for my clothes. I cried about it when I told the PC staff, but they have tried their best to assure me that the grandmothers here are happy on the floor and would be very uncomfortable in my bed. (I can't fathom.)

I'll give you a daily blow by blow:

I get up early because our classes at the college begin at 8:00 am. As I need to catch the bus at 7:15, I'm up at 6:00. My mma (sestwana word for mother) rises earlier than I to make sure I have a bath and a hot breakfast. They seem very concerned about my cleanliness as they make me baths twice a day. My bath: I bath in a basin. My Mma collects water from a community tap, heats it for me on an open fire, then cooks my breakfast. She usually makes me oatmeal with coffee and hot milk.

I'm at the college from 8-5 with lessons in language (I'm drowning in language, but anticipated much difficulty), technical stuff (teaching), and culture. The bus ride to my village from the college is about 40 minutes, so I get home right at dark. My maa has another basin bath ready for me and then we all sit around a shovel full (literally, a shovel full) of hot coals to keep warm and they help me study Setswana. My Rra (father) speaks decent English but my Mma fusses at him if he speaks to me in English as they're supposed to be helping me learn Setswana. I shrug my shoulders a lot and they are very patient with me.

My African name is Moleboeng (Moe lay bow ang) which loosely translates as :gift from God. Although I'm humbled with such a wonderful name, I rarely answer to it (my brain doesn't recognize it) so my Rra, at least, has resorted to calling me Karen (KAH ren).

They are wonderful to me and I feel very lucky.

Mma cooks a lovely dinner every night which is no small task. Again, she is cooking over an open flame. Deanna is quick to notice people's hands and I'm sure she'd be mightily impressed with hers: the skin on her hands seems three inches thick. To manage the flame under the fire, she uses her hands to grab a burning log to move the flames around under the pot. She lifts amazing amounts of weight and carries heavy items on her head. (I'm going to have her show me how to do this.)

They like carbs here and it is not uncommon to have three starches for dinner: pap, rice, potatoes. My Mma and I have a nighly ritual whereby she must remove 2/3 of the pap from my plate. :-)

We have a ritual washing of the hands then we, again, sitting on the floor around the glowing embers in the shovel, eat our dinners with our hands.

My Mma is growing a garden. She has beets, cabbage, and spinach planted. I almost cried when she showed me. She has a big heap of thorny branches covering the small plants to keep the animals off.

My family has chickens and goats. They slaughtered a chicken for me on my second day in the home.

My Rra was born in 1940 and I'm not sure how old my Mma is. She seems younger than I, but they told me they were married in 1975. I guess she could still be younger than I. They have a son and a daughter who live, I think, in Pretoria. It is not uncommon for family members to live and work in Pretoria and come to the village on weekends. Pretoria is where the jobs are.

What else. I'm still feeling overwhelmed and this too, I anticipated. I figure I'll feel unsettled until February or so. I'll learn of my permanent site on Aug 28 and will move there around the 18th of September. It will be the end of the school year, so I'll have from Sept - December to settle into my permanent village, observe my schools (I'll probably have two that I serve), and figure out what the heck I'll be doing here for two years! :-)

I found a small pond in my village that is quiet and attracts wildlife. I can't wait to get my hands on an SA field guide.

Please, no one send me one! I can pick one up in Pretoria and will probably have one by the time one arrived from the states. Also, we have to pay hefty duties on packages received.

What I am very glad I had brought: Dr. Bronner's bar soap. I use it for EVERYTHING. I'm also to grateful to have brough several handkerchiefs (thanks mom!) and some bandanas.

Life here is such a contradiction in so many ways. And my time here is pushing my comfort zones in so many ways! I'm having loads of learning opportuntities! Anyone who knows me well knows I don't give a hoot how I look, much to Deanna's chagrin. :-)

Well, in SA, appearances are VERY IMPORTANT. S. Africans hold every esteem in proper dress. What is proper dress: dress shirts/ties/dress pants/jackets for guys; blouses, skirts, dresses, tights for women. Why is this a problem? This is the dustiest, driest, rockiest place I have ever been. You can't wear a pair of black shoes around the yard without having them coated in red dust all day. The red dust shows on black dress pants, etc.

And laundering? You HAND WASH everything with boiled water from an open flame. Ever checked the lable on your nice clothes? Ever see: dry clean only? So, what a contradiction: you SHOULD be wearing clothes suitable for the out of doors yet everyone walks around in their Sunday best.

I did have to buy a skirt to meet the chief, who was a no-show by the way! :-)

The other thing. If anyone else knows me well, they know I dislike idle chatter. What's the point? Well, everything in SA village life revolves around GREETING people. The most important interaction you can ever have with an African South African is to greet them. People are late to work (and acceptably so) for stopping to greet everyone in their village as they make way for work. And, once a day isn't enough. If you see your neighbor eight times a day, you have to formally greet them eight times a day. It's exhausting. So, I'm exhausted. :-)

What else. Back home in the States, we fence our animals. Here in SA, they fence their yards to keep out the animals. So you see these animals: cows and donkeys roaming the streets lookiing for food. The villagers fence their yards to keep out the animals. It doesn't make sense to me.

S. African African women love to work. They always work. My Mma, I catch her everyday sweeping the yard. What is wrong with this? The yard is nothing but red dirt. So she sweeps the yard of red dirt. I don't know why, other than African women love to work.

I hoard my candy (PC training is like any other business setting I've ever been in: they slam you with candy hoping you can sit through 8 hours of nonsense) and carry it home to a little girl that has stolen my heart. Her name is Dimakatso and she is 9 years old. She is the best Sestswana teacher i have and she follows me everywhere. I found out last night tho, that my Mma and Mmagogoho (grandmother) want candy just as much, so I'll have to spread the sweet around a bit.

We're going on a trip to J-burg this Saturday to see the Apartheid Museum. Rumor has it that we'll be in a shopping mall as well.

I currently make 100 rand a week as a "walk around" allowance, but learned today that I'll make 2, 500 rand per month when I move to my permanent site.

The stars here at night are magnificent. I think I can see a band of the Milky Way but don't know enough about the stars to know if this is indeed possible, or if I'm seeing smoke from the cooking fires. :-) Regardless, it takes my breath away to see them and I almost cry.

Believe it or not, I was teaching English grammar to African children in grades 4, 5, and 6 today. None of them knew what a woolly worm was and I'm not sure they grasped my description. I miss woolly worms.

More than one person has commented about my "southern accent." I never think of myself as having an accent, but guess I do.

I'd better skiddattle. I'm using the Internet when I'm not supposed to. (It's not my turn.)

Love to you all, thanks for posting, will be in touch, k