Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Good-bye train track. Hello red clay of Africa!

I won't be walking alone along the train track of my village anymore. I've already told this to my top worriers, but it seems as if many of you have been alarmed for me.

I stopped in the village police station last week and asked about walking along the train track. I was hoping to find where the track led (it leads all the way to J-burg). When I asked the policemen if it were safe for me to walk along this train track, they very sternly said, "NO." So I've quit. (I didn't press them as to why it was unsafe.)

Another reason is I've learned that the snake I spotted was likely to be a Cape Cobra: one of the nastier of the species as far as venom is concerned.

So I will contain my walking to the "alley walks" around the village and on the back ways of the college campus. I am very sad at losing this hike, however, because it had become my highlight of my week.
The first photo is of my beloved train track. This shot is a view coming back into my village (although I'm still too far out to actually see the village just yet).
The second photo is of the beautiful gorge that followed along the track that I'd come to call "the Karen Gorge" (kind of in the vein of "the Grand Canyon"--I know, how pretentious of me!). It is a gorge that runs through the village and even runs behind the college campus. One of my planned hikes was to, at some point, walk the length of the gorge. I feel certain this gorge is the result of water erosion, but when I ask the students if the rains fill the gorge in the summer, they say, "not really."
Perhaps rain carved the gorge a long time ago?

I took these photos and was unhappy with them: they don't seem to provide a dramatic visual. I'm glad I saved them though, as I may not get to walk that way again.

I have thought of drumming up some of the volunteers to hike with me, and may yet. I can't imagine anyone being happy about walking out into the bush following a train track. Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised.

When one door closes...

There is a community garden located on the college campus. (I've uploaded pictures of it earlier in my posts.) It has been on my list as one of the ways to "wiggle into" my community. I have visited the garden, but only once and then when I first arrived.
The garden sits right out in front of my picture window, so I can watch it every day and at any time of day. During daylight hours, there is almost ALWAYS someone out there working. And every day, several times a day, I think, "I should go out there and talk to them."

I'm kind of a baby about taking on new things or doing too many things in one day. For example, when working, I like to do my food shopping on the weekends because working AND food shopping in one day is too much. In this way, I've been taking the "new things" in Africa a step at a time.
For example, going to the Primary School for the day counted as one, big, hard thing. Going to a new church counts as one, big, hard thing. Going to the village grocer is one, big, hard thing. (Going to the grocer will probably always feel big and hard because I find new and different people to talk to each time.) Each day feels big, scary, and hard because I haven't gotten used to my new life yet. (But it is getting easier.)
So yesterday, I spent the morning at the college, then spent the afternoon in at the Primary School: this counts as two big, hard things on my list and I was done for the day.
Just like every day, I glanced out the window to see these wonderful people, bending over, working their gardens. And I whimpered to myself, "I want to go play!"
I was trying to justify that I had already done TWO big, hard things for the day and I was excused from taking anything else on. Blessedly, I was brought to my senses.
One of my character defects, which is really self-centered fear, is to think: "I don't want to bother anyone."
So I'm sitting there thinking, "I don't want to bother anyone" when I had a crystal-clear, sharp thought: "Ridiculous! There is nothing I'd rather do than show off my garden!" So out I marched feeling certain South Africans are the same.
As it was late, there were only four people there: two elderly ladies, a kindergartner (from my Primary School) and a laborer.
I approached, did my greeting in Setswana, only to find that they spoke only Setswana and Afrikaans. My Setswana is terrible and my Afrikaans even worse! But they were glad to have me and smiled at my walking about. (The laborer too, introduced himself as "illiterate" and could only speak Tswana and Afrikaans. I tried to tell him that anyone who could speak many languages and GARDEN was plenty literate! It broke my heart that he introduced himself in that way.)
So I'm walking about, admiring the new green stuff growing in this blood-red African clay. Africans dig their plots down a bit, kind of like a plate with a rim, and do this probably to conserve water (which is very scarce). There is a lovely image in Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible whereby the main character (an American) sets out to garden in Africa, only to have a village woman come behind him and "redo" his planting plot. He was infuriated with her actions but she of course, knew that the plot must be dug just so to accommodate African growing conditions. Every time I see an African garden, I think of this scene in the novel...
So I'm strolling along, thrilled to be among carrots, onions, beets, cabbages when I came upon an old friend. I came upon a plot and thought, "I know that plant, but what is it?" And then it hit me. I knelt down and ran my fingers gently along the new green leaves and brought my hands to my nose to inhale the fragrance: TOMATOES! Tomatoes! Oh, Tomatoes here growing in Africa! And I started crying. (Surely you guys know now that I'm crying at the drop of a hat these days!)
I found tomatoes growing in Africa and that seemed to make everything ok.
I'm walking along, wiping my eyes when I see another plant. This one I have trouble identifying: I know this leaf... But wait, I know this leaf from growing out of a container: these are POTATOES! I was thrilled to see potatoes growing in Africa. And I didn't recognize them because they were growing in the ground--which is how they are supposed to. I was growing potatoes back home in container as an experiment.
I walked back to the elderly ladies, picked up a rake, and motioned that I wanted to help. So last night, at dusk, I broke up the African clay with a beautiful, old African woman in the African sunset, and I knew I'd be ok.
Soon, Karen
PS Peace Corps is in no way connected to this post.


  1. Hi Karen, it's Bonnie, Amanda, and Christopher and Bud...we can watch you now and will keep up

  2. Hey there to my favorite neighbors! How are you? How's life in Irish Hill? Wish I were there! How's that beautiful child Christopher? How's he doing in school?

    So glad to have you guys on board! Best, Karen

    Ps. How did my tomatoes end up doing? Did you guys ever walk by? :-)