Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year's Day 2010: my one full year in South Africa!

I had a wonderful New Year's Eve and New Year's Day—my first in South Africa! This holiday marks the beginning of my one full year in South Africa, as I arrived in July in 2009 and will be leaving in 2011 (God willing).

I've heard it said that whatever you are doing on New Year's Day, you'll be doing in the new year. I'm very happy to say that I was gardening on New Year's Day.

On Year's Eve, I started the compost pile in my community's garden. (See bottom photo, appears to be a grave with some onions on top!) Now, you might think this an undesirable chore to be undertaking on such a holiday, but I was smiling bigger than ever since arriving in Africa. I have never been able to "work in the garden" on New Year's in the States: it is winter and the ground is frozen during this holiday time at my home.

(My photos were arranged in a more logical order, but I messed them up somehow and am now too tired to try to "fix them."  Sorry not so visually logical.)  :-)

Now, I can say that I've planted flowers on New Year's Eve, and planted those flowers in Africa!

Now, about the compost...

The villagers here do not compost in the community garden. I was told that the villagers know of composting, but they don't want to have the bother of it. Instead, the villagers here burn all yard debris and feed the vegetable scraps to the domestic animals (donkeys, goats, chickens, etc.) In fact, when I was collecting the dry, coarser material to serve as the bottom layer of the compost pile, a woman brought me a box of matches, as she assumed I wanted to burn the pile (the same woman who is allowing me to mulch her tomato patch. I hope to have a picture of her soon: she is a TANK! She’s 84 years old and works harder in the garden than I ever have!)

Now, I can go along with feeding vegetable scraps to the animals, if you use their poo as compost. The villagers here do not use composted manure. And, it can be argued that the burned yard debris could be added to the soil in the form of ash. Here again, the villagers are not adding ash, and the rotted (composted) material would be much more valuable as soil amendment.

What do the villagers do in the way of soil amendment?

They add chemical fertilizer and dig our the weeds. That's it. Period. Oh yeah, they add chemical pesticide when the seedlings emerge. So they are weeding—A LOT!

What's the result? Their soil has the consistency of cement when wet and the consistency of concrete when dry. To dig in their soil is back-breaking work. In fact, after years of cultivating in this fashion, their soil is no longer soil, it is red clay. It’s a wonder anything can grow in it at all. (And what grows in it is of poor quality.)

Now, one of the secrets about me is that I'm inherently lazy. (Shh, don't tell Peace Corps!) I love to garden, but I hate to dig. Deanna likes to tell people that I garden with a wooden spoon; I do garden with a wooden spoon but only because I compost and mulch. Hence, my New Year's Eve/Day projects.

There is a lovely woman here, the same one who offered me matches to torch the foundation of my compost pile, who has agreed to let me mulch her tomatoes. Yes, the mulch is still there, as the photos indicate. I was able to have a conversation with this woman through her grandson who translated for me: if she likes the result of the mulch I will add more; if she hates the results of the mulch, I will remove it.

I've also planted a marigold and nasturtium plant to help w/ drawing beneficial insects and deterring undesirable insects. (See photos below. The red mud is the typical look of my unmulched community garden.)

Not only is the mulch still there, the mulch is something of a curiosity: from my widow I watch informal tours of gardeners back to the mulched area.

After my day of gardening on New Year’s Eve and a phone call from my friend Leila, who reminded me that we shared a special New Year's Eve 10 years ago, I retired for the evening (well before midnight). At midnight, however, I was awoken (awakened?) by a popping noise coming from outside. As I drew the curtain back, I gasped at the sight: the WHOLE VILLAGE was setting off roman-candle style fireworks! Not just one or two houses but the WHOLE VILLAGE. It was beautiful, absolutely beautiful!

I had a wonderful night's sleep and awakened (?) with a phone call at 7:00 am. (Sorry, I don’t feel like checking the usage for tense forms for “wake.”) My 7:00 am is your midnight (in Louisville) and was, of course, Deanna and friends calling to wish me a "Happy New Year!"

What a fun way to begin my first New Year in Africa!

First thing, I was visited by a South African bee eater. I was surprised to see him from my window because it is dry and flat in front of the college with little tree cover. I usually see him behind the college, where there is water and plenty of trees for protective cover.

I like to watch him because he reminds me of our blue jays back home. He will perch on a branch and watch for a meal to fly by, swoop down to eat his meal, then fly back to the same branch to await anew. When my youngest son was quite small, we took peanuts to Central Park in Old Louisville. My son would throw a peanut, the blue jay would swoop down to snatch it then return to branch to await the next toss. What fun!

A few hours later, I was relieved to see that my family of bulbuls have returned to my windowsill for feeding. (They had disappeared at my leaving them hungry for a week when I was away for holiday.)

The next treat of my New Year's day came with my daily reading. There are two books that have had a profound impact upon my life and one of them is Eckhart Tolle's, The Power of Now. Mr. Tolle's book has influenced me greatly for the past couple of years and has had a profound impact on my spiritual journey.

Mr. Tolle's book can be wonderfully concrete and abstract at the same time. I've found it helpful to read just a bit of it every day, as one might a daily reader. I was delighted to find that I had finished the book on the previous day, which had me beginning new again on New Year's Day. It felt like a promising omen.

I had a wonderful New Year's Day breakfast: eggs with onion, green pepper, and lentil sprouts. I had reservations about using the lentil sprouts in eggs, but I needed to use them up or throw them out. I'm glad I tried them because they were quite tasty! I also had some oatmeal with cooked apple and two pots of tea! It was quite an extravagant breakfast--especially with two pots of tea! I was as full as a tick! :-)

Also during breakfast I watched several gardeners touring my mulched tomato patch.

Around 9:20 am, I heard the whistle of the train and watched the train go by. I lived near enough a train track in Louisville to come to love the sound of it, and I'm glad to have this same delight here in Africa. (In Louisville, I also lived near enough the Ohio River to hear the Belle of Louisville's whistle blowing as well--also a treat. Of course, I also lived near enough hospital alley to hear the continuous whine of ambulances and near enough to UPS to hear, well, everyone in Louisville lives near enough to UPS to hear. the roar of the huge jet engines.)

By 10:30 am, I was off to the garden to check my seedlings and was greeted by the campus security guard. I was delighted at his comment, "I am very glad to be alive today, and celebrating the coming of a new year, when so many others are not." What a wonderful reminder that just being alive is a wonderful gift and a blessing.

The rest of the morning I did a bit of "piddling," in that I didn't do much of anything. I had a bit of wash to do and rested. I was delighted to realize that with my Christmas money (thanks, everyone!), I'm a third of the way to Capetown! I won't need to pinch my pennies so tightly and can probably go in October, rather than April. I'm so excited!

Also, since this is another significant milestone for my time here in Africa, (the first day of my one full year in Africa), I tried to cozy my room a bit more. I hung pictures to remind me of the changing seasons (in Louisville, we have 4 seasons: spring, summer, winter, fall—and I miss them!) of previous trips, and of previous gifts.

In the one photo you can see postcards from both Bernheim Forest of Kentucky and of Denali (Mt. McKinley) in Alaska. I have volunteered at Bernheim forest for several years now and absolutely love it there. While in Alaska, I did make a trip to see Denali. The mountain is notoriously fussy and often "hides" in the clouds so that people cannot see it. Since many come to the mountain for a vacation and don’t plan to return, many are disappointed at not seeing it. If you are lucky enough to see the mountain during your visit, it is considered quite a prize.

Now, remember me, not being the sharpest tool in the shed? When I was travelling to Denali, I was with two other volunteers and we were driving north, facing the mountain as we went. Our conversation consisted mostly of us wondering if the gorgeous mountain before us was "it" or not. (Denali.) We did not stop and take photos because, in our minds, the closer we got to the mountain, the greater the photo opportunities would be. Wrong! By the time we actually got to the mountain, the clouds had rolled in and the mountain had disappeared. To further our insult, we were had a tour guide point out that "Those of you travelling from the South today had a fabulous view of the mountain." So, I SAW Denali, but I did not get a photo. It was very beautiful and I deeply regret not snapping a photo.

My wonderful sister, feeling my heartbreak, SENT ME this lovely postcard of Denali that I treasure. Where in the world she found an Alaskan postcard in Kentucky is beyond me.

And the last isn't mine, it's from friends. My friends Linda and Ellen took a trip to Florida and snapped this shot of a sponge boat. It cheers me a great deal. There is also a photo there, but you can’t see it, of wonderful fiddlehead ferns emerging from the ground in spring. My friends Leila and Kristin grow a wonderful bed of ferns and knew this photo would cheer me.

Oh my, I digress.

The other photos in the frame, and the ones I’m supposed to be talking about, remind me of our lovely changing seasons back home: the top is of a blooming saucer magnolia from my apartment on Third Street in Old Louisville (spring), the next is of my mom and my sons when they were young down at their place on Nolin Lake (summer), the next is of the boys again, in Old Louisville, again, in the big snow storm of 1997 (winter), and the last is of me and my hiking buddies, out at Bernheim, with all of the fallen leaves of deciduous trees at our feet. (Fall. Well, actually, this could be winter, but it is the closest photo to capture the essence of fall that I brought from home.)

I hadn’t planned to bring photos from home to indicate the change of seasons, but must have intuitively known that I would want to see them.

Too much information? How about some more?

The other collection of photos is of previous trips: at the top are two from the trip that may have grown my travel bug: my family took a big trip "out west" when I was a child; me, hiking in the Mammoth Cave area, which I do often and love; a favorite shot from a Florida camping trip, which I do sometimes, and love, and on the bottom are a few shots and a xmas card from my other big volunteer trip: Chugach State Park in Ak.

I added a couple of favorite shots from this African trip, for good measure.

I also “hung” some gifts loved ones have sent along: the “sleeve” with the greeting “time to roll up your sleeves” and a wonderful ceramic bead with deciduous leaves painted on it (I can’t wait to buy a cord to put it on; I’m not a jewellery person, but this will be a wonderful reminder of home that I can wear!). Seeing this cheers me.

Also, Deanna sent me a bumper sticker from my most recent, favorite coffee shop in Louisville, Quills. And some dried herbs from our garden.

As I was spending my lazy day piddling, I had a couple of text messages (grr, I still hate texting) from well wishers: fellow Peace Corps volunteers and African nationals alike, wishing me a "Happy New Year."

On my trip to the pay phone to call members of my family, I heard the ruckus of the African hornbills. (See photo above.) They make a dreadful noise. My mother could even hear them from the phone line and my friend from holiday, Peanut (one of the sisters’ dogs) would bark uproariously at hearing them. I hadn't seen them here before but had seen them at David and Sally's. Mom mentioned that I might see different kinds of birds with the changing of seasons. I think we only have two seasons here: winter and summer. But we have had some rain here, and the temperatures are markedly cooler. I guess this could qualify as a change in a season--or at least in these few days.

And then on my evening trip to the garden, I had a lovely, long phone conversation with my friends Leila and Kristin. I was doing a little jig while talking to them: the African ants like crawling up my leg and biting me fiercely. I can't stand still for even a moment without being bitten and they often grab on even if I'm moving. I'm not sure why they are so bad now, perhaps because of the rain? (We've had two days of rain after months of going without.)

The last little bit of my New Year's Day was devoted to reflection and goals. I have had an incredible decade with much growth, opportunities, adventures, work, and satisfying relationships. The only painful parts of the past ten years have had to do with parenting and the on-going circumstances of "my kids not doing what I want them to do." I worry about their safety and well being constantly, but must also constantly “give them to God.” It has been a wonderful opportunity and practice of surrender: God's will, not mine, but very painful, all the same.

Other than that, this has been the most satisfying decade of my life, and I look forward to an even better, next decade, one day at a time.

I had retired "New Year's Resolutions" for several years, but I dug them out and dusted them off for this year. Actually,. I like to think of them as "New Year's Goals." In the coming year, I'd like to never complain and to take a weekly "day off."

I've already slipped in my complaining: just ask Deanna, Leila, Kristin, or my mom--all of whom I spoke with yesterday. But, I'll keep trying.

I still struggle with staying "too busy" and "busy" my life away, and have noticed the trend following me here to Africa. As a New Year's goal, I will try to "keep the Sabbath day as holy" in hopes of putting some joyful time into my life. So for Sundays, along with holidays and my birthday, I will try to keep as "no chores allowed and church only." We'll see how successful I am with that...

And today, I received more packages, which were filled with things I LOVE!

Deanna has sent me two months' worth of LEO back issues (Louisivlle Eccentric Observer)--my favorite. She also sent me a couple of "Neighborhoods" editions pertaining to Irish Hill (our neighborhood), some recovery literature (MUCH NEEDED--thank you!), the latest from Sierra Club's The Cumberland, and the latest newsletter from Eagle River Nature Center. YAY! YAY! Yay! I am wealthy in news from home—from all my homes!

She also sent some of her healing tea and some mystery herbs (sage? the other? I have no clue. Are they from the garden?)

All in all, it has been a fabulous two days. I feel rich, wealthy, well-loved, fed, and happy. I'm a lucky, lucky girl.

Happy New Year to all! Have a fabulous 2010!

Soon, Karen

ps: images of bee eaters and hornbill taken from:

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