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


  1. Hey girlfriend. Thanks for that post. I LOVED it! I love hearing about your host family. When you get restationed, will you live with a family then, or have your own place? Did Tammy tell you she got married on August 3rd? Her and Gary got married in Kill Devil Hills (Outer Banks), North Carolina while on vacation!! I'm giving her a backyard reception on Sept. 5th. Wish you could come :( Love, Nancy

  2. It is so GOOD to hear from you, and you really sound content and happy. What a blessing that is.

    I have found the approximate site of Bela Bela on the map. Also read a bit about Warmbad, which is also called Warmbath because of the hot springs. Probably a very nice place to visit.

    Your host family sounds wonderful, another blessing. Please thank them all for the caring they are giving from your American mother. Seems to me that God is watching over you!! Your plumbing is better than I imagined-(a public hole in the ground of which I have seen photos ) yuch. We never minded the outhouse and hauling water at our cabin. Felt we were blessed to have the convenience of doing it. I did not, however, like cooking over an open flame!! And wow, you are so clean. Are the many baths because that is their custom, or because they think you are in the habit of much cleanliness? And SO much work.

    Sounds like you are very busy, and will probably get busier as time goes on. Long walks? I have seen lots of photos on the web, and the scenery is gorgeous, and very lush in must be in the dust bowl. I still want to know if you have seen the baobab tree.

    Your name, Moleboeng, is definitely YOUR name, why didn't I think of it when I named you? Will it always be your name, or is it a name your family gave you?

    Everyone here in Kentucky is well and happy. No illnesses, etc., thank goodness. And all are happy to receive your news.

    Our college girls are headed to school in the next week or two. Mom is getting multiple copies of your news. I have heard from 3 friends/relitaves who have copied to take to her. I mailed her one yesterday. Have you received any snail mail?

    We have not had the torential rains that occurred in Louisville. We got about 2" when Louisville got 6". Our Philip lives near UL, and had water almost to his seats. The clean up cost was $400. My poor tomato plants have the "mange" and most are finished. From the weather. It has been hot and very humid or raining all summer. I have dried about 2 bushels, and still get enough to share and eat. very yummy. Peppers are producing very well. cucumbers are done, but I have replanted and the plants are about 6" tall.

    A reply from one of my dear friends was so glad to receive your message, mainly because she, and another are reading a series of novels set in Botswana. She said the language setswana, is spoken in the area where the stories are taking place. She said the words mma and rra are in the books, and she and another friend had wondered what they meant. She was so excited that she now knows. I have ordered some of the books.

    Also I turned on the tv this morning, to one of the educational shows, to see an interview of Hugh Masekela. He is a very famous musician from South Africa, and was much involved in apartheid. He had to leave SA during the uprising, and came to the states, wrote and travelled the world with his music about mandella and the situation in SA. He returned home around 1990 and is still very involved in politics. Very interesting and educational, and surprising that it was on today.

    My brain is spinning with all the news from you and what I want to say to you. But I must close for now, and will get back later. Please know how much you are loved, and how much you are inspiring others. We miss you greatly, but are so proud of the work you are doing. And you are a "gift from God".

  3. It is so good to hear that you are safe and happy. I love the images you have created for us to contemplate as we think of you there. I can see you and your family sitting around that fire and I can see your Mma's hands as she moves the coals. Can you provide some more detailed descriptions of your family and Dimakatso when you have some time? I imagine Dimakatso running ahead of you pointing to everything and looking back at you hoping you are catching on! It is so good to know you are with a group of people who are awed and delighted by your presence. Jody read me your post again as I was at work and did not wish to wait until I could get to a pc to read it.
    I love that you have found a place (a pond) to connect with your natural surroundings and meditate. I hope you can find time to be alone.
    It will be wonderful to hear your impressions of the Apartheid Museum and the mall, for that matter.
    I laughed out loud when I read about your Mma sweeping the dirt mostly because I know how you hate to do things twice! That is hilarious!
    Here's to your finding beauty in the pointless and here's to your finding the pointlessness in beauty.
    Love you

  4. Hi Karen,
    I swear your posts are so good, I hope these get saved you could write a book with all these posts in them. Your descriptions of everything are wonderful. I hope you can take a picture of the little girl you befriended, I would love to see it some day. You are doing a good thing. We all miss you:)

  5. Just checking in, Karen. It is the first I have been able to access your blog. Hope all is well.