Tuesday, October 13, 2009

More on snakes, plants on campus, language

Ok, Ok, I hear you guys about the snakes and I agree. Snakes here are deadly and South Africans die of snake bites. In my defense though, weak though it is, people usually bitten are the ones in the bush working: gathering firewood, herding animals, etc. And snakes bite defensively...

Good news for me: I am not working in the bush. I'm walking on a gravel road that parallels the train track and I walk in the middle of the road, can see very well around me, where I'm stepping, etc. I know, you're going to worry anyway.

But it was THRILLING to see him!

Let's move to plants.

I love these plants. (I think the photo has moved to the bottom: scroll down.) I have no idea what they are, because I can't get my hands on a decent field guide. I'm a very spoiled American who is sometimes employed by a college or university that has very, very generous lending privileges of very, very good materials. I miss my access to wonderful libraries! (In fact, I'll probably spend my xmas break in Pretoria at the University of Pretoria's and the US Embassy's libraries!!)

I did get a few field guides from the Vryburg library. However, they are very old and not specific to SOUTH Africa--just plain old Africa, which is a huge, huge continent. The plants and animals in my area are very different from the ones found elsewhere on the continent.

A fun note: I found a book on South African flowering plants... Guess who published it? The University of Kentucky Press! Guess who wrote it? A professor of botany at the University of Kentucky! (Go big blue!) Of course, he was writing it in 1940 and is a bit technical... It's more of a botany book than a field guide... It was fun to find a piece of home though... So far away!

Also, I'm thinking a lot of the plants/trees I'm finding on campus were PLANTED there and are not necessarily native to the Kalahari savanna (or bushveld, or thornveld, or whatever--I really don't know the name of my ecosystem because I can't get my hands on a decent field guide!!)
But there are some lovely, lovely plants and trees here on campus.

I've seen this plant elsewhere and was in fact, in the village I did my training. I originally called them the "six foot tall aloe plants," because that's what they look like from a distance--an aloe plant. However, on closer inspection, the leaves are very thin and not very succulent-like. If I ever find out what they are, I'll let you know.

When packing to come to SA, it occurred to me to get some South African field guides and I thought: "Field guides are heavy... Surely they'll have them in South Africa." Well, I should have shouldered the extra weight because I'm having a heck of a time getting my hands on any here: neither at a library nor a bookstore. (When I was closer to Pretoria, I had a much better selection, but I'm now 4 hours away from Pretoria.)

Wish I had brought them! Oh well...

I could look stuff up on line, and may yet... It generally takes me awhile to find anything useful on-line and I haven't had time to do much internet searching...

Now to language. South Africa has ELEVEN national languages. Eleven! (Challenge, challenge: how many national languages does the USA have?) What does it mean to live in a nation that has eleven national languages? It means that everyone here speaks more than one language. Isn't that AMAZING! I'm so impressed.

That means that white Afrikaaners will speak at least two (English and Afrikaans) and the black South Africans will speak AT LEAST THREE and usually 5-7. I haven't had a chance to ask an Asian or "colored" person yet. (Ok, I can hear you tensing up... I'm sure to offend some when I move into speaking of race. But race is in your face here in South Africa. And 15 years ago, everyone was segregated by race. South Africa's democracy is much newer than ours, and we still haven't straightened our race relations out either!)

In the primary school, the children are taught in their native language until grade four (in my school, the native language is Tswana). In forth grade, the language of instruction shifts to English. (This means that those 3rd grade children learning in Tswana move to fourth grade, and find their teachers speaking to them in English!) In addition to studying both Tswana and English, the children are also studying Afrikaans (my school's chosen second additional language).

So yes, I'm walking around feeling very self-conscious with the very limited ONE language I know.

I think it's amazing that one country can embrace such a diversity of languages. But South Africa has very dramatic history, as far as colonization, imperialism, etc., and there are so many languages because many of the people here have come from SOMEWHERE ELSE!!

A final note on language, for now, as it's getting close to closing time...

The bird book I bought (I need to take it back... It was very expensive...), Hugh Chittenden's Roberts Bird Guide: A Comprehensive Field Guide to Over 950 Bird Species in Southern Africa, the index includes categories to the common names of the birds in the following languages:









South Sotho

North Sotho




I don't think I've ever seen a book that has made itself accessible to so many different groups of people.

More later, love, Karen

ps. Peace Corps is in no way connected to this post.


  1. Riley, Herbert. Families of Flowering Plants of South Africa. Kentucky: University of Kentucky Press, 1963.

    I've been at the press for over a decade, and I had to look this one up.