Monday, November 30, 2009

who has been eating my pear?

So, apparently, my feeding the bulbuls from my window sill isn't good enough... I suspected someome was coming inside to help themself, or themselves, as you can see from my Goldilocks-like fruit bowl: who has been eating from my fruit bowl?

Sure enough, yesterday while I was reading, I heard a great ruckus outside my window and the next thing I knew, papa bulbul had flown right in. He perched himself on top of my fridge, as big as he pleased, and seemed quite irritated that I was there to bother him.

I fussed at him harshly in hopes of scaring him away and discouraging him from future visits: I had a hot pot going at the time and he could have easily perched on top of it and hurt himself. I also worry that he may become stranded inside.

I guess it's pretty African then, to be having a bird flying about in my room. Because there is no air conditioning (or not much), most structures here (classrooms, dining halls, etc.) always have their windows open. Most are not screened. In fact, I've only seen screens once, in the hostel I stayed in in Kimberley. So, it is not uncommon to have birds "in the house" and flying about. I've known people back home that believe a bird in the house is bad luck. I guess I've somewhat absorbed this superstition, because my heart somewhat falls when I see one flying about. But I'm getting over it. It is great fun to watch them, especially if you're in a 6-hour long graduation ceremony for preschoolers! It's fun to watch the kids watching the birds too!

So, last week I wasn't at the computer much because I was attending many "end of school year" celebrations." There are more of those this week.

One thing that I've noticed, and that I'm struggling with, is there is no counterpart of "southern hospitality" here in South Africa. (Or not any that I have encountered.) In my home state, if someone comes to a party, an event, or for a stay from out of town, a host usually attaches his or herself to the guest in a way that the guest is literally shown all around and attended to and is never left on his or her own. A host is careful to introduce the guest to everyone, etc.

Here in my stay in SA, quite the opposite happens. The guest here is left to fend for herself. What is expected, and what I am terrible at, is that I should go about the room, interrupting small groups of people chatting to introduce myself and make small chatter. I am loathe to do this. In my culture, one never interrupts a group of people talking but waits to be invited in.

Because I haven't mastered this interrupting technique, I tend to miss out. So I've been practicing "butting in."

It is the end of the school year here, and there are lots of parties and what not. I waited and waited for an invitation to those parties and celebratory functions at one of my schools. An invitation did not come. Finally, the day before one of the events, I asked directly if I might come. I was granted permission.

So the next day, as I'm in the audience of this event I had't expected to be invited to, I was asked to be a guest presenter. So, unprepared as I was, I bumbled through being a guest presenter when asked on the spot, in an event that I hadn't really been invited to. This happened again a few days later, when a similar party happened, that I wasn't sure I was invited to, and again was asked to speak, on the spot. I will also attend one tomorrow, and will, perhaps, be better prepared. Maybe I won't be put on the spot and asked to speak/present, etc., but I'm not taking any chances and am hoping to be somewhat prepared.

I'm not sure I've spoken of this yet, so excuse me if this is a repeat. With individual letters, emails, phone calls, etc., I can never remember what I've said what to whom.

I finally received my mail back-log packet from Pretoria. The packet from Pretoria held all of those letters and cards sent to me in my early months in training. I had fourteen in all, dated from August 15. So yes, Grandma and Aunt Bea, I've finally gotten those letters and cards: thank you! Aunt Bea, you alluded to a Sunday School luncheon that I never heard the results of... How was it?

Deanna, I love the pictures. What a great editing job! (Did you edit those, or did I?) I am now surrounded by current (somewhat) photos of friends and family. I even have them on my fridge, which is the way I had it back home. By the way Deanna, you owe me a picture of Sparky. ;-)

Photos of my family are not complete without a photo of Sparky.

I finally received the bit of black thread and a needle for some small sewing repairs I needed months ago. Curiously, the only thing missing from my luggage when I arrived in Africa was a small sewing kit that was a going away gift from my friend Mark. My luggage had been opened for screening, and I am not sure if the kit was "allowed." (But a very sharp pair of scissors was not confiscated. ??)

I tend to have "crushes" on musical artists and have had a "crush" on Gillian Welch for a couple of years now. I particularly like her when she's performing with David Rawlings. Deanna and I had even planned vacations around travel to a show of theirs we might see. Our vacation never happened and I hadn't seen the two perform live. In August of this year, a month after I had left for Africa, the duo came to Louisville for a riverfront performance. I was very upset that I couldn't go. Deanna said she would go to the concert and then and tell me every detail. She did go and did write every detail. This letter was in the backlog, so in receiving it last week, I was able to finally "attend the concert." It was wonderful. Thank you Deanna.

I received 5 letters from the Bonnie W's, who is actually just Bonnie but always giving me news of her family and their adventures. I'm always delighted with Bonnie's letters because she is very witty and has me laughing with tears whenever I read her accounts. She also does this lovely thing of composing letters on the back of star maps or maps of Kimberley. In this way, I get two prizes for the price of one. Bonnie has bought a very nice travel guide for South Africa as a gift for me, but I may never receive it, because Deanna has some type of large book donation project going on for me. I've tried to tell her that I do not want a large book donation, but don't think I've convinced her. (Peace Corps actually discourages large book donations from the US because they tend to cause problems with transportation of delivery, costs, etc. There are other venues available to us here for book donations.)

But Bonnie had written one of her letters on a map of Kimberley because at the time of writing, I was planning a trip to Kimberley. Maybe I'll get Bonnie's travel guide eventually. (Hint, hint.)

Bonnie also sent along some newspaper clippings of my friend Corrine doing work with butterflies out at Bernheim, and an article on forecasting the severity of winter with persimmon seeds. I actually conducted the persimmon seed experiment with Deanna, mom, and Joe last fall when we were at their house for a visit... Thanksgiving before last, probably.

Did everyone have a nice Thanksgiving? It is getting unbearably hot here, and very un-Christmas like.

Speaking of Christmas. We have four weeks off from "work" with our schools to celebrate the Christmas holiday. Many of us are taking trips to Capetown, the Wild Coast, Durban, etc. Where am I going, many of you ask?

Well, I'm not sure yet. I'm inclined not to go anywhere. The thought that I will be "alone" for Christmas tends to upset many: friends, family, and fellow Peace Corps volunteers.

In my defence, I don't mind being alone. In fact, all of the college kids have gone home for the holidays and the campus is very quiet, and I very much like the quiet. (Although the dorm mother is currently setting all of the dorm rooms for SIX when they are normally set for TWO: it seems that a large church group is coming in to use the facilities. Yikes!)

I also feel most comfortable in my teaching when I've had plenty of time to plan. This 4-week break would give me time to plan for my upcoming school year.

Also, many of the educators of the college and the primary school have threatened to entertain me over the course of the holiday/break with swimming trips, etc. I know that I have many friends here who would make me feel very welcome and happy.

And lastly, I'm thinking of returning to my initial village of my pre-service training. I would like to see my host family again, of course. But I also have work-related motives: there is a nationally recognized gardener there and I would love to see her garden and "pick her brain." Similarly, there is a PC volunteer there on an agricultural project and I would love to see how he's convinced his community to compost, mulch, etc.

So, I'm not sure yet what I'll be doing. Whatever it is, it will be fine, so no worries!!

Are you guys getting sick of photos of African sunsets? Each one is so magnificent I can't help myself. Every night, there is a show of colors for hours and hours. It is so beautiful.

I've also attempted a shot at an African full moon, although it is not a good one.

I'd better set off to prepare for tomorrow's party, as I am likely to be asked to "speak."

Soon, Karen/Molebogeng

Emily/Lesego, Israel, and the Tswana language

Many of you have asked about fellow volunteers and have asked especially about the "closest" volunteer to me. This would be Emily/Lesego. She is in the blue on the right.
Rachelle is another PC volunteer, and she is in green on the left, but she is quite far from me here in South Africa. She is a wonderful woman in her own right and I'm sure I'll speak more about her in future blogs--when I have her expressed permission. For today, I only have permission to use her photo.
Emily/Lesego, on the other hand, has given me permission to speak of her. I hope I'm spelling her African name correctly. It is pronounced, La SAY ho. She is about a 20-minute taxi ride from me. She's a wonderful young woman who has grasped the beauty of the Tswana language very quickly. She is close enough to me that many people in her village know of me, and vice versa. Emily is so good with the language, in fact, that whenever I open my mouth to attempt a bumbled Tswana phrase, Tswana peoples' faces visibly drop and they emit groans and express sentiments along the lines of, "but Lesego speaks Tswana so beautifully." Yes, she does.
I, unfortunately, do not.
In fact, yesterday, while in the post office, I met a gentleman for the first time. I was attempting the smallest comment about it being hot and the gentleman winced and begged, "Madam, please stay with the English."
But I'm trying.
I don't think I made a public announcement about failing my initial language test. I didn't want to add to my humiliation, I'm sure.
In giving myself a break, I had a lot going on during pre-service training and was not in the best frame of mind to study a foreign language. In addition to trying to adjust to my new surroundings on the other side of the world, I was also trying to stay abreast with the technical aspects of training and trying to integrate with my African host-family. While I made a valiant effort with trying to study the language at the time, the foreign language just would not enter and remain in my brain. In hindsight, I wish I had spent more time enjoying my African family because I don't think my studying helped.
It reminds me of my time in grad school in trying to pass my foreign language proficiency test that I would take my French language materials to the skating rink so my boys could skate while I studied French. There too, I wish I had taken the time to enjoy my boys, as the studying did not help!
Here's what I "know" of French after many years of study: Je ne sais pas. Which means, "I do not know." Which was the only thing I could reply to my French professor when she called on me.
In Tswana, it is, "Ga ke itse." :-)
I know a bit more in Tswana, but not much. Enter Israel.
Since I am a dinosaur in age, it take me a lot of time to study a foreign language. Lots, lots, and lots of time. Because I am more aware of my learning style and have somewhat grown accustomed to my new life in Africa, I can see that with our training schedule, and the fact that we engaged in several extra-curricular activities, (not to mention food shopping, laundry, etc.,) that there was simply not enough time in that six-week period for me to adequately study a foreign language.
Today, I average about two hours a day of study time just on the Tswana language. But it is still painfully slow-going for me.
Peace Corps provides us with funds for a language tutor. A wonderful woman at the college helped me find one. Israel is a wonderful and patient young man who helps me with my Tswana. I'm getting the grammar down, and even kind of like it because it feels like working a puzzle. But I still can't get my mouth to cooperate with the new sounds. It refuses to budge.
This refusal of my mouth to attempt these new sounds gives Israel many, many moments of entertainment. I appreciate his help and his patience.
He somewhat reminds me of my oldest son in that his smile is infrequent, but beautiful when displayed. He also wears same style of shoes that Christopher likes (the skate boarding kind) and both boys seem gentle in spirit. He even shares the same gait as my son.
I've spoken before about how clean my house becomes if something is troubling me. There is another time my house becomes clean: when I should be studying or writing. I find both tasks difficult and become keenly aware of dust on the baseboards when trying to study or write. They seem so dirty in fact, that I leave my work desk to go scrub them. I can't say that my house is particularly clean right now because I've been studying, but I do notice the monumental effort it takes to put my bottom in the chair every day to do it. And I do try to study every day, trying to coax this stubborn brain to learn new tricks.
In the past I worked for a wonderful learning center in Louisville, teaching various learning techniques, but we dealt primarily with teaching children to read. What I became keenly aware of in their learning was how monumental the effort was for the children to wrap their minds around language acquisition skills (which is what teaching children to read is). At times, the students would work so hard, I waited for the smoke to seep out of their ears. It was as though I could see their little brain wheels turning. Now I know (or remember), how hard it is to study/learn a foreign language.
But I'll keep trying and hope for the day when I can say, "It is hot today" without making a Tswana man wince.
Soon, Karen/Molebogeng

using small things to help understand the South African mind

One of the quotes I loved from the Kuki Gallman memoir was "Sometimes it takes small things to make the big things bearable."
I have many, many small moments in my days here that make my big adjustment to my African lifestyle more enjoyable.
Many of my small moments come from watching from my window. Here are some shots of my "friends" as observed from my window.
I figured out why mom and dad African red-eyed bulbul were hanging around. Meet bulbul junior. He is my new alarm clock: 4:40 am every morning every day.
Isn't he adorable? And he is loud! So he's practicing his fruit-finding skills on my window sill and letting me know that the chunks I am cutting are still too large!!
The playful goats are my South African version of Emma and Sparky. I love watching the young goats play. They butt heads and rear-up at each other. It is great fun to watch. Last night, I had a young burro run and run circles around the soccer field and his mother. He was having a blast and it was great fun watching him stretch his legs!
The other shot of a goat is my way to say, "By gosh, I will compost one way or the other!!" So, I'm feeding my vegetable scraps to the goats. Actually, their digestion speeds up the composting process. Soil amendment in only a few hours...
The South African mind…

One of the things we Peace Corps volunteers were alerted to during our pre-service training was to expect a different “mindset” from South Africans. It’s hard to describe these differences without sounding critical or condescending, but I will try. I will also keep in mind, “Who says our way (my way) is the right way?”
I see these kinds of differences in many ways every day, so I'm sure to speak more of them.

To describe this African mindset most clearly, I think, I’ll have to borrow someone else’s description, and am sorry to say that I can’t remember where I’ve recently read this. I read a story about a South African merchant who stocked his shelves with a certain product. The product sold so well, it sold off the shelves. Rather than order more of the best-selling product, the merchant decided it was too much trouble to keep stocking the shelves with this product, so he did not reorder.

Now, if you are like me, you may be thinking, “What? Is he crazy? Surely he knows that to restock with this item is the way to make money, to restock is the way to make even more money, and ultimately, to restock his shelves again is the way to make enough money to retire” (so he never has to stock the shelves again).

In America, we would have ordered tons of the stuff; in South Africa, no more was ordered.

Black South Africans originated as a migrating, tribal people, who moved themselves when the weather or other living conditions became inhospitable. I hadn’t really thought about it, but this fact has a huge influence, I think, on how our cultures differ and how our peoples think.

In the US, at least in the Mid-west, we seem to have evolved from an agricultural heritage that relied heavily on the four distinct seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter. The change of seasons had such an impact on us because we had to work especially hard during the temperate months to produce enough food to carry us through the harsh winter months, when there would be little or no food. In fact, our school calendar has evolved around a farming schedule: kids are out of school during the summer because this was when they were needed to help on the farms.

In this way, I think, Americans have acquired a “need to save for hard times” attitude.

Native South Africans, on the other hand, never had this need to work hard and save for the future because they were always moving if the environment became inhospitable. So there was no need to develop a “save it for a rainy day” attitude. I see this lack of need for forethought affecting many facets of South African life.
The great joke here is that, South Africans are never on time. In America, if you're late everyday to work, you're fired. This is not the case in South Africa. In fact, if you're "on time," you're likely to be the only person in the room. Because I have some compulsivity for being on time, I have noticed this tendency for lateness. However, I see this ""South African mindset" evidenced in many other ways.

For example, the water in our area went out last week and was out for a couple of days. Some of you may remember that when I first arrived on campus, I was without water for several days. I was very sick during this time, so it probably wouldn’t have been such a big deal to me otherwise, but I was impressed enough that I have since been hoarding water for future emergencies.

So, the water had been out for a couple of days, I show up at the college to help “invigilate” an exam. Isn’t invigilate an ugly word? I hate it. It makes me want to say, Gesundheit! after someone says it. It basically means to supervise.
Anyway, there were 600 kids in this room who hadn’t had any water for a couple of days. I was thinking nothing of carrying my little water bottle around (because I had been saving and hoarding water for two months and had some on hand) and when one of the students asked me for water, I withheld it from her on the grounds that it had been awhile since I had washed the bottle and I didn’t want to expose her to my germs. (Native South African’s don’t buy into the whole germs thing either, but that will be a blog for another day.)

Please don’t think I’m so pointedly cruel. At this point, I didn’t realize that EVERYONE had been without water, not just those of us who lived on campus. There was a large water main break north of the village/town and the whole area was without water.

As it turned out, I ended up giving my germy water to another student who nearly passed out because he was so dehydrated. To my horror, bottles of chilled water and soft drinks were brought in for the invigilators, (Gesundheit!) but none for the students. I couldn’t in good consciousness drink these beverages in front of these very thirsty, some dangerously so, students. I ended up giving girl who originally asked for my water my chilled one. (I hope this gesture somewhat redeems me.)

So, I, as an American, had been saving water because I anticipated another series of days of going without. No one else, it seemed, had stored water and there was none on hand.
In America, we would have certainly cancelled school for the day; in South Africa, it the water problem was not even mentioned during the daily staff meeting.
Is one way of thinking right or wrong? No, they are just different. So this is an example of one of the ways I'm trying to adjust my thinking.

There will be more on my understanding of South African thinking to come, and I’m sure this is plenty for now. I’m off to boil some water!

Soon, Karen/Molebogeng
Ps. It seems the South Africans are not going to let me get away with, "I prefer to be called 'Karen,' so Molebogeng it is, at least on "this side."

Sunday, November 29, 2009

2 month anniversary

2 month anniversary

The 17th of November passed this month and I thought nothing of it. I was reminded by a couple of my colleagues that it was “two months at our permanent site.” I thought, “Twenty-two months to go!” No, not really. Well, kind of.

What I did think about was how different my life is now in Africa than it was from that in the US. Not surprisingly, in good old American fashion, it split out in a dichotomy, somewhat in line with the “haves” and “have nots”:

For two months in Africa I have not:

enjoyed a decent cup of coffee. Actually, I haven’t had a decent cup of coffee since I left the States.
enjoyed a cup of Earl Grey tea. I have learned to love the tea available here. They have a strong black tea which sells under the name, Joko. There is also a Rooibos tea, sold under the name of Five Roses. This is an indigenous herb tea that is caffeine free. I have the caffeinated tea in the morning, the non-caffeinated in the afternoon and Deanna’s tea when I have the blues or the sniffles.
seen a movie. Oh, how I long for a movie… I think I was addicted to Netflix. What’s playing in the theaters these days? Did the new Julia Child movie ever come out? Starring Meryl Streep?
laid eyes on my family. I miss them painfully.
had a shower. I’ve had plenty of baths though.
cooked any meat. I haven’t really missed this, although when someone offers me meat or cooks it for me, I enjoy every bite!
sipped water straight from the tap. My tap water is probably ok, but I’m not risking it.
driven a car. I don’t miss it!
walked a dog. I thought I would never miss this, but I do.
hiked in the woods. I miss this terribly.
used or have use of a washing machine, a microwave, stove, or fridge. I can’t believe I’ve lived without a refrigerator for two whole months. I do miss my washing machine; especially the rinse cycle. I’m using a hotplate instead of a stove and while not my preference, am making do. I do sometimes miss having a microwave.
played with compost or mulch.
eaten out in a nice restaurant. My choices of restaurants include KFC, which I refuse to go (it’s the only connection most South African’s have with Kentucky and I find this connection embarrassing); Wimpy’s, which is a burger joint, mostly, and not very good; and Spur, which is touted as a “tex mex” restaurant, which is better than Wimpy’s, but still not great. Vryburg’s nickname is “Little Texas,” and the explanation for which I do not know.

Now, in Africa, for two months I have:

worked in a garden. I’ve only played in gardens in the States. To garden in Africa, one must work and work hard.
thought a lot about how to mulch and compost in Africa (which would make gardening a lot easier here).
planted nasturtiums, marigolds, and herbs in containers in my room. I have a baby nasturtium! Woo hoo!
read some good South African books: Nadine Gordimer is a new favorite. I’m currently reading some interesting, if depressing, histories of South Africa by Alistair Sparks and Rian Malan.
met some wonderful people who have fed me wonderful food.
stared at the African sky.
not missed (much) having a washer, microwave, stove, and fridge.
gone to bed early (although I did this in the States too, just not so ridiculously early).
observed children going to school in South Africa.
observed college kids going to college in South Africa.
hired a tutor for a foreign language (although here too, I’ve done this in the States, just not for Setswana)
fed goats cabbage leaves, banana peels, apple cores, etc. By gosh, I’ll compost one way or another!!
fed wild birds from my window sill.
studied a lot of South African educational policy. Yuck!
spied a gorgeous South African snake. I think he was a cape cobra!!
eaten a Ghanan chili paste—yum!
fallen in love with pepper trees.
observed some breathtaking South African storms.
viewed a magnificent double rainbow.
did two wonderful, amazing hikes. (Alas, yes, only two.)
written letters. Real, pen and paper, snail-mail letters.
visited Kimberley. (Not for fun; for a Dr.’s appointment.)
Visited Klerksdorp and Potchefstroom. These weren’t real visits, just drive bys, mostly. I did stay in Potch for a whole day; however, I was stuck inside a boring meeting. Yuck! (These, btw, are just the same in the US.)
found two decent libraries relatively close by.
visited several different churches. And knelt on unpadded kneelers—ouch!
finally accepted the unpalatable fact that I must give into the horrid practice of text-messaging. Just when you thought typing couldn’t get any worse, you’re to do it with your thumbs.
finally figured out that when a white person is speaking to me and I can’t understand them, they are speaking Afrikaans.
learned to wash clothes by hand.

What I hope to do in the next two months:

learn to feel comfortable in my new, African skin.

Soon, Karen

Ps. Oh, one more thing I’ve learned: how to say, “I prefer to be called Karen” in Setswana: Ke rata go bitswa Karen.

Pss. I was just reminded that I've been out of the US for FOUR MONTHS! Wow!

Friday, November 20, 2009


My most recent post, for Friday, Nov 20, is incorrectly listed under my October blogs: storms, Kuki Gallmann, and white man's footprint. I don't know how to move it. Sorry!

"Do you need any money?”

The most common question I get from home is, by far, “Do you need any money?” No, I don’t need any money. While Peace Corps doesn’t pay us a salary, they do provide us with a living allowance. The purpose of the purpose of the living allowance is to feed and house us in a modest way, a modest way that is comparable to the way most South Africans in our assigned area live. Since we’re living and working with people who live in poverty, well, you get the picture.

While I have plenty of money, I don’t have money to give to every child that asks me for some, and many children ask me for money every day. I give my standard response: “I’m sorry, I don’t have any,” which feels horrid and is untrue. (I have a little.) My fear is, that if I give one child some money, well, in living with 800 of them on a college campus, the “dam” will burst and my “having to say no” situation will worsen.

When I lived in the States I lived close to downtown and found myself being “panhandled” often. It was hard to tell these people “no” too, and once had a friend suggest, “Why don’t you buy them a sandwich?”

In this spirit, I’ve decided to allot some of my monthly allowance to “buying the African children a sandwich.” This means that I’m buying a jar of peanut butter and a box of crackers to have on-hand when I’m asked for money. (Often, the children state that they’re hungry.)

Now, before everyone’s heart strings are pulled, let me state as well: most of these children, asking me for money, are wearing the latest trendy, expensive jeans and all are carrying cell phones. Where does this money for these items come from? Well, I’m not sure, and worry, with the girls especially, where it might come from.

I’ve added a category to my spending plan to cover the expense of having food on hand for the times when I do have a hungry child asking for money. I have been giving a modest amount to the churches of village as well.

Peace Corps suggests a spending plan for volunteers to help with managing our living allowances, and I’ve run across one in a South African careers publication aimed at South African college students, and have, of course, my own. I thought them interesting to compare:

Peace Corps’
11% household/utilities
10% transportation
41% food
6% clothing
10% entertainment/holiday
4% reading material
8% work supplies
10% incidentals

South Africa’s
25-40% housing/amenities
15% transportation
10% food
5% clothing
5% entertainment/holiday
10% (or more) savings
5% credit card/loan payment
5% other expenses
(varies) tax

10% spirit/community contributions
11% household
4% transportation
52% food
4% entertainment/holiday
11% phone/postage
4% tutor (but reimbursed)
4% banking fees

By far, most of my money goes to buying food. (I spend more on private health insurance in the States, even more than I spend on housing.) I spend 10% more on food than the Peace Corps recommends and 42% more than is recommended by South Africa. I’m thinking that the South African recommendation is assuming that the South African college students are eating only Raman noodles and white bread, which seems to be the case.

My second largest categories for expenses are tied: one for maintaining household and the other for phone/postage. Money for maintaining household covers cleaning supplies, toiletries, and the like. The South African housing category is so high, I’m sure, because it is assuming that housing is bought or rented, whereas Peace Corps has arranged housing for us through our communities.

I also spend a chunk on phone and postage, because it is important to me to maintain contact with my loved ones at home. I guess, theoretically, this money could also fall under a “fun” category. (If this were the case, my second largest category would be “fun” at 15%.)

My next largest category, then, is the spirit/community contributions category that covers my expense for contributions to church and peanut butter crackers.

My last categories share 4% of my living allowance equally: transportation, entertainment/holiday, tutor, and banking fees.

Peace Corps provides us money to pay for transportation as most of us have to travel 20-30 miles to our nearest shopping town to buy food. I save a bit here, because I do have a market within walking distance where I can by fresh fruits and vegetables. I do travel either to Vryburg or Taung twice a month to stock up on cleaning supplies, toiletries, and non-perishables. This travel money also gets me into my “free” form of fun: visiting the public library.

Which brings me to my entertainment category: I spend 4% of my living allowance on eating out, which is a form of “fun” for me. At this, I generally eat out twice a month. What I mostly do for fun is free: I walk around with my camera and South African field guides trying to identify regional flora/fauna, which keeps me ridiculously entertained for hours. I also read voraciously, and since the public libraries are “free,” I have lots of fun time here. (Actually, as an international, I was required to pay a R50 fee at the Vryburg public library, which is renewable annually and is highly worth it!)

An aside: One of my favorite forms of entertainment in the States is going to the movies. The closest movie theater to me is 3 hours a way in Kimberley, so I haven’t seen a movie since leaving the States in July. I’m hoping to somehow devise a “movie night” here on campus to give the students something to do on Saturday nights (besides going to the bars) and so, very selfishly, that I can watch movies too. There is a lecture auditorium and even a large auditorium with a stage that would both serve as suitable venues. I must put some thought into how to acquire the equipment: screen, projector, DVD player, and of course, DVDs.

Other 4% categories include money for a language tutor and money for banking fees. Peace Corps encourages and pays for a language tutor. We have to arrange this service with a Tswana-speaking person in our community, pay them out-of-pocket, and then we are reimbursed by Peace Corps. Four percent of my living allowance is budgeted for my tutor and I hope to put the reimbursed cost toward a traveling/holiday allowance. Traveling is cheap in South Africa when compared to traveling costs in the States and elsewhere. Peace Corps, of course, does not pay for us to travel while on holiday. While I have a teeny, teeny amount of money from the States, I’m trying to hang onto it in case I have an emergency and need to get home. (Peace Corps does fly us home when there is a crisis with immediate family members, but in my extended family, I have people I would need to get home to that Peace Corps would not cover.) I’m hoping to recycle this reimbursed money from my “tutor fund” into a holiday/traveling fund.

And lastly, 4% of my monthly living allowance has gone to banking fees. This is outrageous to me and completely unacceptable and I’m working like mad to decrease it. In the States, most of my debit card transactions are free. Not so here in South Africa: every time the card is swiped, a banking fee is deducted. Not only that, if you go inside the bank and use a teller, you are charged a FORTUNE!! There are also various banking fees charged each month. It would have been helpful to know this before we were turned loose with our debit cards shopping and withdrawing money all over South Africa. Again, this awareness will help me conserve funds in the future, but the FNB of South Africa has made quite a chunk of money off of me for two months!!

That’s it for my spending plan. Let’s see what the others offer that mine lack. South Africa rightly recommends saving 10% or more of monthly income and I certainly try to do this in the States. Peace Corps argues that we shouldn’t be saving money during our service here: we’re to be working and living modestly. Therefore, Peace Corps doesn’t pay us well enough to save any money, so other than the reimbursed tutor fund, I’m not. (I do try to “put away” any money remaining from my monthly spending, but this is a tiny amount.)

South Africa recommends 5% to loan and credit card debt. Since, as PC volunteers, we are visitors/guests to South Africa, we don’t have the credentials (length of employment, length of residence, etc.) to obtain credit, and therefore don’t have this expense.

Both Peace Corps and South Africa recommend 6% and 5% allotted for clothing expense respectively, and you’ll notice I do not. I hate shopping for clothes and struggle with buying clothes for myself in the States, so I need to adjust my spending plan here to allow clothing purchases and actually buy some clothes. Yuck!

Both Peace Corps and South Africa’s plans allot for incidentals and Peace Corps allots for work supplies and reading materials. While I don’t have a separate category for these, these costs are covered in my “household” allotment.

So, that’s me and money. Too much information? I’m sure. I’ll look for something more exciting for next time.

Soon, Karen

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

African birds, plants, and garbage

The opening shot is an undershot of an African milkweed here. I neglected to find the botanical name or even get a shot of the milkweek pods, but I like this shot. It’s another way of capturing the African sky… The milkweed does attract butterflies and maybe even the monarch. The sap from the plant is supposedly used to cure warts!

The shots of the birds aren’t mine, but wanted to share my “this morning’s friends.”

I love to feed wild birds so I have something to stare at. I live on the second floor of the hostel here on campus and there are no trees nearby or tall enough to hang a feeder and I don’t want to bother with trying to install one outside my window. So, I’ve taken to scattering fruit and seeds on the window sill in hopes of luring some visitors.

It has taken me two months but EUREKA! I had a lovely African Red-eyed Bulbul (Pycnonotus nigricans) come eye the goods yesterday and this morning, he returned with his mate for a buffet. What fun! When they get more used to me, I’ll try to get some of my own photos. For now, I’ve posted someone else’s. ( He's the one with a yellow bottom.

I also spied, not at my window sill, but nearby, the lovely, lovely, Southern Red Bishop bird (Euplectes orix). He is so bright red, you can’t miss him. He reminds me of are cardinals back home. (Again, image not mine:

I spent a fortune on wild bird seed in the States and like the idea of feeding the birds my table scraps and a few seeds. It feels “simpler” and costs a lot less!

The others are of a disjointed cactus that grows here. I like it because it looks like, well, I don’t know what it looks like. A person? A robot? (I don't have the technical info for these right now... Hopefully will later...) I thought the blooms marvelous.

The one green weedish looking plant is a I don’t know what. The little feathers open up to look very similar to our dandelion. I think it is pretty and dainty.

Then we have a shot of my care package from Leila and Kara that I had hoped to post with my “care packages” blog. The package was colourful and fun and full of surprises!

And the last are of my “recycling” issues and are not very pretty.

I have, what are called here, “greening” interests, which means I’m interested in conservation, environmental education, regional flora/fauna, etc.

I’ve checked into recycling here, as many consumables are packaged in recyclable materials: glass, aluminium cans, etc. While there are recycling programs here, they’re not practical for my location: no one would have the resources or ability to transport the recyclables to “market.”

So, what happens to the trash at the college campus? Unfortunately, it is hauled to various locations ON THE CAMPUS GROUNDS and dumped and burned. Or tried to burn, I should say. Aluminum cans, tin cans, anything metal does not burn well. Nor does the glass. I’ve counted at least 30 such dump sites on campus. ON CAMPUS. It is depressing.

I my walking tours of campus, I was thinking of ways to at least recycle the glass bottles, when I came home one day to this enormous new pile of trash: old bricks from a remodelling project here on campus. I am now no longer excited about cleaning up the campus but, of course, don’t want to contribute to the mess either.

I originally thought I could save my own tin cans, aluminium cans, etc., in hopes of having materials to do recycling/art projects with the kids here in school projects. However, I think I have reconsidered my decision, however, as I’m running out of storage room I my oven—and very quickly! :-)

Then I started thinking… If I eat a can of beans a day, that’s 365 cans a year times two; that means I could potential leave 730 cans in my 2-year wake. Yikes!

So, I’ve decided to buy dried beans and cook everyday. I had never thought of canned beans as a convenience food, but, well, they are! It is certainly much more convenient to open a can of beans than cooking dried beans for two hours a day.

Ok, you scientists out there. Which is greener: leaving a tin can-a-day in my wake? Or using 2 hours-a-day worth of electricity to cook dried beans instead? I know they use nuclear-generated power here, but am thinking they rely primarily on coal. (Homework!)
I have some stories to tell, but am feeling tired today. So hopefully I'll have more later. Africa makes me tired. :-)
Btw, my Internet connection here on the college campus is unreliable. So, for my worriers, please don't worry if I get "quiet" for a week or more. The Internet was down here last week, for over a week.
Soon, Karen

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Mma Rosina and the "washing of the feet"

Have you ever noticed that if you speak about someone you haven’t seen in awhile, perhaps even in years, and then the next day find yourself running into them? Deanna and I seem extremely aware of this “coincidence” and sometimes joke of the ability to “conjure” people. It’s uncanny how frequently this happens with us, and again, perhaps we’re just extra aware of it.

One of the greatest spiritual comforts I have is the belief that we are all connected together by the Great Spirit, the Higher Power, or God (whatever it is that you name it). And I believe that we are all connected. A good friend describes it with the metaphor of a tuning fork: that as the fork vibrates, we can all plug into the resulting tone and be “connected.”

In my first weeks at my permanent site, as I was trying to adjust, I had some very rough emotional days. I have several spiritual guides in my life but one is particularly powerful. On an extremely bad day, I spent the evening convincing myself that I must call her and seek counsel in negotiating this spiritually difficult time. The very next morning, when I had signed on-line, there was a note from her in my email inbox.

Deanna and I might joke that I “conjured” her, or my friend may have noted she was simply “plugging into” the tone that we shared. Another friend might ask, “Is it odd or is it God?”

Similarly, at the three month mark of my service to Peace Corps, I spent several days thinking about how my last big volunteer adventure ended at the three month mark. In 2006, I volunteered with Eagle River Nature Center in Chugach State Park of Alaska. My service there was only for three months, and after three months in Alaska I went home. Since I’m serving 27 months with Peace Corps, I’m not going home after three months! But the three month anniversary was significant and I spent several days thinking about how the trips were comparable. I found myself almost aching for Alaska.

At the end of those several days, I heard from the woman that supervised my volunteer work in Alaska. While I consider us very good friends, we rarely “talk” so I think it more than a coincidence that I suddenly hear from her after thinking about my Alaska trip so intensely for several days.

During pre-service training, when I was staying with my African host family, my nkuku (African grandmother) was very, very sick. She was so sick; I was worried that she would die. As old African grandmothers go, she sat on the cold stone floor all day. She sat with her back against the wall and her legs stuck out straight in front of her. Her body was bent at a 90 degree angle. I was horrified at seeing such an old, sick woman sitting on the cold floor all day.

One night at dinner time, Mma Rosina was nodding off. She was so sick and tired. Apparently, she was hard of hearing as well, because the family would holler at her to wake her up. This woman would begin dozing off, and her head would gently nod down toward her knees an inch at a time. She would nod a bit, and her head would drop. Had she been allowed to nod all the way down, which would have taken several hours, she would have touched her forehead to her knees.

For a reason I am unsure of, the family did not want her to fall asleep. Each family member would take turns hollering at her to wake her up.

As was my custom, I sat beside her for the evening meal. So every evening, I would help my Mma Emily with dinner, then offer the ritual hand-washing bucket, and then sit by Mma Rosina to eat. Mma Rosina always prayed with me before eating and also directed the hand-washing.

I was sitting in my usual spot by Mma Rosina, she was terribly sick and nodding off with her head drooping and drooping, and the family was screaming at her to wake up. I found this terribly upsetting because were she my grandmother in the US, she would be off that cold floor (and had never been on it!) and in a warm bed resting as comfortably as possible. At ninety four years old, she would have certainly slept when she pleased.

The shouting went on and on and I became more and more distressed. I felt desperate to offer some type of comfort, some type of solace to this woman. As I was sitting beside her, and often in charge of smoothing the covers on her legs and feet, I reached down and slipped off her shoes and began massaging her ankles. Her ankles were swollen and I knew they caused her pain so I was very, very gentle.

I looked her deeply into her eyes as I gently rubbed and wanted her to know that I was there with her in her suffering. I couldn’t offer her anything but my presence, but I wanted her to know that I was present with her, present with her in her suffering, and on some level, suffering with her too.

The family thought this gesture was uproariously hilarious and who knows what kind of culturally inappropriate thing I was doing, but I didn’t care. I proceeded as if we were the only two women in the room and I continued rubbing her feet and looking deeply into her nearly-blind eyes.

We did not speak the same language, but I think I “spoke” to her through this gesture.

I had spent several days thinking about how I wanted to frame this story about Mma Rosina and our “washing of the feet.” The very next Sunday, after these few days of concentrated thinking, I was invited to a church in a nearby village. Would you believe, that during the church service, the whole congregation participated in a ritual “washing of the feet”?

One of my favorite images from the Christian tradition is that of Christ washing his disciples’ feet.

One of the most loving touches I’ve ever experienced has come from someone massaging my feet. When I was a little girl, my sister and I would run the streets barefoot. In those days, children could run the streets barefoot with little risk of injury. I remember my grandmother lovingly washing our feet before putting us to bed and fussing about the bottoms of our feet being as black as coal.

Many years later, someone gave me the gift of a pedicure. I had never had a pedicure before and was struck at how intimate the touch was: even at the hands of a stranger. There is something about being touched this way that moves into me very deeply; the sensations generated seem to resonate off of my spinal chord.

When I was reading meters for LG&E, I would come home from my routes with my feet and legs aching. Deanna would often massage my feet and legs, and more often than not, I would be moved to tears from the resulting sensations.

I do believe that we’re all connected. And as reminders, I’ve been given an unsolicited email from a spiritual mentor, an unsolicited note from a friend a world away, and a congregation inviting me to participate in a ritual “washing of the feet.”

November 13, 2009

Care packages

When Americans receive packages from home, South Africans get very excited because Americans usually get really cool things like American candy, Doritos, Oreos, homemade sweets, and electronic gadgets like ipods, netbooks, DVD players, etc...

I, on the other hand, receive nothing like these. I don’t eat sugar or snacks and I don’t share an attraction to electronic gadgetry. I’m quite the boring American, so it seems, as I like to read for fun and take long walks to look at trees, plants, and birds. Ho hum!

My care packages have consisted of:

Books: I originally asked for books, specifically I asked for field guides pertaining to South African flora and fauna. My mom found a way to order books for me in South Africa to avoid international shipping fees. She has sent wonderful field guides on South African wildflowers, birds, and gardening. I’m all set for field guides and with my camera, can keep myself wildly entertained for endless hours. I’ve also found myself two public libraries that are relatively close to me that can get me any thing I’d like. Hooray!

Deanna sent me my favorite care package so far: it was stuffed with month-old editions of LEO, the Highlander, and the Courier-Journal’s section of “Neighborhoods: Crescent Hill/Highlands.” I spent an entire evening reading these from cover to cover and in the end, I felt drunk with home and seemed as though I had just come in from an evening on Bardstown Road. It felt good to be “home” again.

Deanna sent me another, when I was sick: it was full of her healing tea (we call it DDT), a wad of Puffs Plus, and a chap stick. This package also contained a Leatherman tool that my parents had hoped to send me off to Africa with, but didn’t arrive in the mail in time.

My artist friends Leila and Kara sent me a package that was full of surprises. I had asked for bars of Dr. Bronners soap, (as I can’t find any non-petroleum based soaps here and the ones full of chemicals shred my skin) and in the box were two delicious bars. Leila and Kara are artists, so the package itself as a prize. The package was decorated in a Halloween theme and the packing material consisted of crinkly strips of black and orange crepe paper. There was a wonderful note on the inside the from Kara that included a wonderful sketch of my now-famous scorpion. A wonderful series of colorful words were wound around in such a way that I had to turn the box to read them. What fun! One of the two (Leila? Kara?) passed along a beautiful ceramic bead wrapped in a decorated shirt sleeve (yes, the shirt sleeve only!) that said: time to role up your sleeves! The shirt sleeve is a lovely reminder for why I am here and I love the bead: it is adorned with a branch of green leaves of the deciduous variety, a wonderful reminder of home.

And my most favorite gifts from home are simply letters from home. I had no idea how life-giving news from home can feel, and having a letter feels like a happy prize. I usually pick my letters up from the post, carry them home like protected treasure, and don’t open them until late in the day—to savor the thrill of anticipation. I read each letter very slowly and at least three times! Absolutely no news is mundane and I savor every word. I keep all letters to reread on days when I’m feeling especially blue.

I had no idea how emotionally satisfying it could be to receive letters from home. I once ended a romantic relationship—actually, I was engaged!!--with a dear young man who was out at sea serving the US Navy. I sent this heartbreaking news via a “dear john letter” and think how devastating it must have been for him. I had no idea how cruel the action was. Now I know. What a stupid young woman I was…

I had quite the prize this week: SIX letters in one day! There was some kind of letter blockage that has cleared and I had hours and hours of news from home last night. My friends Leila and Bonnie begin a letter and return to it over the course of days and even weeks: it’s a great way to have snapshots into everyone’s lives.

If anyone is dying to send me something, there are a few things that I’d like to have that are hard to find here. These are all small too, and hopefully the easiest and cheapest to send. Please note, padded envelops are the easiest for me to receive: they require no form of ID, etc. Deanna has sent the larger padded envelops and they come to me straightway. Even a tiny box requires proof of identification, the opening of windows, etc. J

The only extra step needed with padded envelops is that things need to be taped down and not moving about loosely in the envelop. (If things are loose and moving about, the envelop is likely to be opened for inspection.)

I’d love to have some of the “top shelf” dental floss. I have plenty of the less expensive kind, but feel as though I will throw a tooth every time I use it. The “more advanced” dental flosses (ribbons) are available here, but they are pricey and hard to find. Dental floss would be something easy to send in a small padded envelop.

Along these dental care lines, I’d love to have some StimuDents or other type of disposable inter-dental massagers. Again, these are available here but are hard to find and are kind of pricey.

Also, the Dr. Bronners bar soaps would be a happy gift at any time. They are pricey in the States and a bit heavy to ship, so sending only a bar or two at a time will save on shipping costs. I use this soap for everything, even shampoo, so I can never have enough of it.

Since spices are pricey, I’m hoping you guys might send me some small zip-locks with a pinch of your favorite spices in them along with your favorite ways of using them. I’m already hankering for some dark mustard seed and whole cumin seed… And I’m sure I’ll be wanting to try any spice that would perk up sautéed veggies.

I’m furiously allergic to latex but must still scrub the toilet. If anyone could send me some latex-free disposable gloves, those are always a great gift.

If anyone has any souvenir-type of note cards or stationary with a Kentucky theme—or American—those make great thank-you cards for the people who are helping me here. I’ve yet to meet anyone here that knows of Kentucky and these types of cards from the US are a big hit.

I’ll begin to teach little ones in January and the stickers teachers use to reward kids would be wonderful to have on hand. Since handing out stickers will go a long way for classroom management (I hope!), I will need a lot of them.

If anyone has any old editions of the Sun magazine or the New Yorker, (or any thin magazine that is heavy with wonderful hours of reading pleasure but would be relatively inexpensive to ship), those would be wonderfully welcome.

Along those lines, if anyone comes across any articles, stories, or poems they find interesting or inspiring, those can easily be torn from magazines and newspapers and tucked into a mailing envelop.

And any photo from home is the gift that keeps on giving. Keep those snap shots coming!

If you’d like to send me something, shoot me an email at: I can’t post my mailing address on a blog for security reasons.

Thanks in advance!

Soon, Karen
November 13, 2009

Monday, November 9, 2009

Kimberley wasn’t all bad, the dinner invitation, praying twice, and those crazy Americans…

I did find this lovely, lovely St. Cyprians Cathedral two blocks away from my Dr.’s appointment in Kimberley. The Cathedral had a lovely grotto with a divine garden where I ducked out for several hours. It offered a peaceful retreat and I felt very safe there.

The monument is of a Sister Harriet Stonedale.

Had I more time, I certainly would have gone inside, but as it was, I could not. So I don’t have much information to share and maybe I’ll have more at another time, or you can google it. And then you can tell me the historical significance of this Cathedral in Kimberly. J

Also nearby, I found a SYCAMORE tree, and the find was thrilling: it was like seeing an old friend. I didn’t almost start crying, so perhaps my homesickness has waned just a bit. I also saw one of these palm-y kinds of trees I have yet to identify fruiting. I thought the strands of beads of fruit pretty. And a bougainvillea TREE. It was gorgeous, just gorgeous!

Also, on the drive into Kimberly, we passed, unbeknownst to me, Kamfers Dam whereby the Lesser Flamingos were reintroduced and have made a lovely comeback. I saw only waves and waves of pink set against the sparkling back drop of their water habitat. They were beautiful, beautiful birds, even at a distance. It was beautiful sight to see so many of them flocked together, and I was thrilled, and sure to watch for it on my ride out of the city.

The dinner invitation:


Me: Um, the library?


Me: (At this point I burst out laughing, which is an improvement, because before I would have felt irritated and defensive), I’m sorry. I’m not sure what it is you are trying to ask?


Me: (Still laughing), I’d love to come to dinner. Thank you for the invitation.

I went to church yesterday. I was reminded of two things. When my youngest son was still a babe in arms, I was holding him during a church service. We, in the congregation, were standing and singing a hymn. My son, wasn’t yet one year of age, but he dropped his little chin and began to “sing.” Of course, he wasn’t singing, but sort of humming along. But his mouth was open and a singing sound was coming from his chest and I was convinced that he knew to sing with us. I was impressed with the power of music and it as serving a universal language.

So yesterday, the hymns were in Tswana, but I could drop my jaw and hum along.

The other is, I’ve heard that if you want to pray once, say the words; and if you want to pray twice, to sing them. I hope I was praying twice; it felt so.

I’ve found this PC brochure that was developed for the South African host families who invite us into their homes. It is written in Setswana, but an English translation accompanies it. I found it amusing to see how Americans are described here and thought you might be too:

“America is a very big country and its inhabitants are people from different races. Many people think that Americans are white people only, but that is not true. There are people from various racial descents, white people, black people, colored people, Indians, Chinese, Jews, Hispanic and many other races. Americans do not refer to each other according to color or race. We, as South Africans, know that we refer to one another as whites, blacks, coloreds, Indians, Chinese, etc., but they just refer to one another as people. In other words, they do not use a person’s race to classify them.”

“Americans have what they call personal space. This includes being afforded time to be on their own, either to write letters or to meditate or simply to rest. When we see one of them locking themselves up to be on their own, we think they are sick or have a problem, but it is acceptable in the American culture to frequently have time to themselves.”

“South Africa has many religions, but Christianity dominates over other types of faith. Americans practice many other religions that may not be available in our country and others do not practice any religion at all. Host families should let volunteers exercise their own free choice to join any religious activities. Religion according to the Americans is a private matter.”

“In terms of relationships, it is acceptable for same sex people to be in love whereas for us, this is something abominable. In the US the same sex relationships have been common and societies are tolerant of them. For many years there has been initiative to teach people about the rights of Homosexuals. The host families should be cautious about discussing sexuality as it is a sensitive issue to Americans.”

“South Africans have different kinds of domestic animals. Some of these animals are used for labor/transport while cats are kept to control the spread of mice and other unwanted bugs, South Africans deep dogs for security purposes. Americans keep different kinds of animals as pets. They commonly keep dogs and cats as pets, but may also keep birds and many other different animals. They love their animals a lot, put a lot of effort into caring for them, and also spend a lot of money on them.”

“Most Americans like traveling and meeting people of other countries. Another thing is that they like to travel around the whole world, seeing different places and learning about other people’s cultures. They like mountain climbing and game reserves.”

“The Americans are time conscious and they keep time. Families should try to clearly communicate with the Volunteer that people come first in South Africa, and that it is not so much as when one arrives, as it is that they arrive at all. In America, five minutes literally means five minutes and it is not their culture to wait for long hours before an event or during meetings.”

“It is the culture of Americans to exercise and keep themselves fit all of the time. They do it by running or jogging a lot in the morning and afternoon hours. They normally wear sportswear. The family should let them know what is acceptable to wear when they go out jogging in the community. Volunteers should make sure that what they wear does not draw unwanted attention.”


Soon, Karen

PS. I'm trying to post photos which may or may not upload today... If not today, tomorrow perhaps!

My trip to Kimberley

So, I went to Kimberley last week for a big Dr.’s visit. I wasn’t sick but needed to have my regular “old lady” check ups. It was a harrowing trip, just as I anticipated. But remember me? I get overwhelmed with regular old American holidays involving visits to numerous family members.

So, in working with the Peace Corps medical office, it was decided that Kimberley would be the best city to travel to for my exams (easier than, Pretoria, in my case). It took 3 public taxis (the kombi buses) and over three hours to get there.

I deliberately made my appointment late in the afternoon as I was unsure of travel time, my ability, or inability, to find Dr.’s office, etc. My appointment was at 4:00 pm; I arrived in Kimberley at 11:00 am. This left me plenty of time to discover the delights of Kimberly. (Am being very sarcastic here.)

I got my hands of a Lonely Planet guide prior to my departure and studiously examined a map of Kimberly. The whole time I thought to myself, “Will I be able to walk to these places?” Yes, I covered all of the city blocks I had hoped to, but for the hostel, I needed to hire a private taxi. (Which is a bit of a riddle: PC wants us to stay at modestly priced accommodations, but in order to get there, we must hire expensive taxis, which basically cost as much, if not more, than the difference it would have cost to stay at the more expensive, but within walking distance, hotel.)

I didn’t get to see the “Big Hole” but was very close to it. (If you’re anywhere in Kimberly, you’re very close to the Big Hole.) Having an environmentalist bent, I usually am not interested in destructive mining processes, but you have to admit… A whole this size dug with ax and pick? And it is full of pretty green water. J

I had hoped to find and see, the following, which I did: the Africana Library, the post office, Town Center, the public library, and the information center. All of these were within walking distance of my Dr.’s appointment.

I thought the Africana library was a public library but it is a historic library, so I stumbled into a tourist attraction. A very nice library volunteer gave me a tour of a very old building with many, many, many very old books in it. Most of the books were crumbling. I’ve never seen so many stacks of old (but bound) newspapers in my life. The whole time I kept thinking how amazing it was that the whole lot of it hadn’t gone up in flames. And was hoping that the mold/dust wouldn’t flare up my hay fever. The library is said to be haunted, as are many buildings in Kimberley are.

Then I found the post office where a helpful postal clerk was finally to be had. Although she didn’t have any international postcard or small letter stamps, she very clearly told me the amount of postage required for each. Yay! Mystery solved. I now know how much postage is required to send South African postcards, should I ever find any.

Then I made my way to the Kimberly Visitor’s Center, and passed, much to my delight, the public library, in which I was much more comfortable. I also found a shopping mall, which I hate, but can always find a bank or ATM inside, which I always need.

Then lastly, I made my way to the Visitor’s Center where I found plenty of nice maps of Kimberly but forgot, much to my consternation, to inquire about postcards. It has become close to impossible to find South African postcards now that I’m at my permanent site. (It seems very few visitor’s visit Vryburg so no one is in the need for anything souvenir-like.)

Happy with my maps, I made my way to the Dr.’s office for my appointment. It was 3:00 pm by now. (I had a nice picnic lunch in the courtyard of the Africana library.)

As soon as I’d signed in, a huge, huge storm brewed up and proceeded to flood the Dr.’s office and knock out power in the whole city. I was asked could I come back tomorrow, to which I said yes.

I called a taxi, who had trouble coming to get me (because of the storm and the resulting flooding of the city) and eventually made it to the hostel.
How much should one tip taxi drivers, btw?

I stayed at a hostel called Gum Tree Lodge. Its history is interesting: the structure originally served as a prison for miners caught stealing diamonds. The accommodations were fine, as hostels go, but nothing cushy like we have had previously (in Washington, at the Supervisor’s Workshop, at Searing-In). It was quiet and had lovely gum trees. And the jade-plant hedges (see photos). And my favorite of all-time: nasturtiums. If there are nasturtiums, I can’t complain too much.

The hostel too, is rumored to be haunted, but I experienced no incident. (Other than some unexplained itching, which may have resulted from my visit to the Africana Library.)

The hostel room did have a TV.

I haven’t owned a TV since 2005 and Deanna and I joke that whenever we go to someone’s house to visit, our eyes are drawn to the TV in a very embarrassing way: it’s as if we’re spellbound. My hostel room did have a TV, so I was glued to three hours of very bad TV until I shut it off.

By this time, it was after six o’clock pm… I wanted dinner and a shower… I’d hoped to grab dinner at the “attached restaurant that serves from early until late!” which was closed. (See photo: Old Diggers Restaurant). After supping on peanut butter and crackers, I realized I forgot a towel, so the shower was out. Grr.

After a good night’s rest (sarcastic here), my taxi arrived at 7:00 am to take me to my rescheduled Dr.’s appointment. When I arrived, the staff noted that since I’m new in town, I brought the storm with me. I originally thought only black South Africans thought this, but apparently the Afrikaaners do to. (I know, I know, you think I’m a terrible racist, but racial class is “owned” here, something I hope to address sometime soon…)

I had the test, which came back fine. When I inquired about the second test (which I very efficiently have done at the same time as the other back in the States), I was told, “Oh, we don’t do that here.”

At this point I’m on the side of a curb in Kimberly, and am advised (by phone) to “find a general practitioner who will conduct the test and have them call me.” To which I replied, “I don’t think so.” (But in a much nicer way.)

I then made my way to the kombie station to wait 4 hours for my 3-hour ride back to my permanent site

The good of it is, when I finally reached my destination, for the very first time, it felt good to “be home.”

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Dinner, church, campus tour

I hope everyone had a lovely weekend!

I did. I had my best South African meal to date: a wonderful staff member invited me to her home on Friday night (which is conveniently located on campus!) and fed me beef that melted in my mouth, rice, chakalaka (a spicy vegetable medley), and a Ghanain gravy—a chili paste from Ghana that is out of this world!

It was so good! I was also treated to wonderful company, television, and a cold drink! When we were in training, most other volunteers stayed with a family that had television. (Mine, mercifully, did not.) There was quite the ruckus raised about a South African soapy (what SA calls a soap opera): Generations. What was delightful about Generations (other than it being very, very bad) is that the dialogue is a mix of languages: Setswana, Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, and English. It is also subtitled so one can follow along.

I haven’t had a cold drink in quite some time. I buy one sometimes in my village’s “refrigerator” case, but it is an illusion, as the refrigeration does not work.

I had quite a nice time and the family is wonderful! (They’re not happy about my lack of refrigeration issue either, and are checking into having my fridge repaired.)

On Saturday, Halloween, I spent the day with another family of educators, who invited me to their church. I’m no longer naming churches but will describe my experience instead. (Lest I continue the risk of offence, which I’m likely to do anyway!!)

It was of a protestant denomination and we were in the service for SIX HOURS. Six hours! Eish! (The Setswana expression of “oh my!”)

The service was mostly conducted in Setswana but an English interpreter was provided (am unsure if for my benefit). Although the hymns were sung in Setswana, I recognized a few from my childhood: “Just as I Am,” “Onward Christian Soldiers,” and “The Old Rugged Cross.”

Unfortunately, the message was delivered in a style I’ve come to avoid: We’re all terrible people doing terrible things and only if the very angry god decides, we MIGHT be allowed into heaven. Eish!

The music, as always here in South Africa, was absolutely SUPERB! It was a wonderful service.

I rode in a car both to and from the service, as the service was in a church in Taung. I don’t think I’ll return, because I think it would be better for me to participate in churches in my community (rather than driving away from it). It’s been awhile since I’ve been in a car, too! But the radio was playing and I remember thinking, “Is that Elvis preaching?" It was Jimmy Swaggart.

Let me give a tour of my campus. I have a few shots of some of the remaining blooms of some of the lovely flowering shrubs/trees planted here.

We have two varieties of oleander: both with pink blossoms but one is shaped more like a carnation. Oleander is native to the Mediterranean and like most of the flora planted here, is brought into South Africa from somewhere else. These beautiful blossoms lasted for several days if I dropped them into a bowl of water.

The other brushy type of blossom, a darker red in color, is from South Australia: Callistemon macropunctatus, or bottle brush. The birds and bees love, love, love this tree and you can walk by it and hear the bees buzzing as they gorge themselves on the nectar of this lovely tree.

The next photos are a series of me hoping to catch a self-portrait to provide some type of perspective at how large the tree trunk is. Ultimately, I give up and show you the magnificence of the tree trunk in and of itself. Isn’t it magnificent? This is a pepper tree, or Schinus molle, and several are planted on campus. They do well in drought, the birds love it. In the distant shot is a favorite place to sit: I can stare up into the bottom of the tree and see at least TWENTY birds’ nests! I adore this tree, probably because it looks most like a tree I could find back home. The fruit of it is the little red berries that smell spicy, like pepper.
The shot of the four pine trees are of pine trees! I've mentioned before that pines were brought here as a source of fuel, furniture, etc. A campus worker was raking the needles the other day and I ran to him, "Excuse me sir? What do you DO with those pine needles? (I was paying $15 a bale to mulch with them back in the States.) He THROWS THEM AWAY. I've since been having a panic attack about it, because I want to work with the community garden and help them discover (or better said, rediscover) the joys of composting/mulching. It's heart-breaking to see those piles of pine needles burning on the back lot.
The shot of the aloe-like plant is of Agave Marginata. This is the plant that I wondered about earlier as I thought it was a six-foot tall aloe plant. This plant too, originated in the Americas but has come to naturalize here in South Africa. This plant takes many years to flower only once, and then dies (but leaves many, many babies in its wake, like aloes do).
And the last shots are of some I've taken in the dusk to show you the feel of the place in the evening. I often think, "It kind of makes me feel like I'm in an exotic place..." And then realize, "Oh wait. I AM in an exotic place: Africa!"
Soon, Karen