Friday, February 26, 2010

“If I hate it, I can just come home.”

One of my favorite things to do to make my family laugh is to share my botched self-portraits.  I usually look goofy enough that I would never share with anyone else.  Well, today I'm brave enough to share: enjoy.  I'm supposed to be looking contemplative.  :-)

“If I hate it, I can just come home.”

This was me talking last year, when announcing to friends and family that I had joined Peace Corps. Knowing that I adore living in Louisville, KY, my friends and family often asked, “What if you don’t like it?”

And I would respond: “If I hate it, I can just come home.”

What a trite, silly, offhand comment to make: I didn’t have a clue.

First off, let me say, that since I’ve arrived in South Africa, there hasn’t been ONE DAY pass that I haven’t thought about going home. So why am I still here? Well, it’s complicated…

For one thing, when you become prayerful about your life and about your life's work, your decisions take on new meaning.  And with being in South Africa, it's not just about me and what I want anymore.

Another thing: There is a joke among some of the older volunteers that originated upon arrival into South Africa. The flight was so horrendous (SEVENTEEN HOURS!!), that several of us joked, “Well, I’m staying. There’s NO WAY I’m getting back on that plane!"

This joke kind of sums up my whole Peace Corps experience to date: I have overcome such obstacles and challenges that if I even think about returning home, there is always the thought to follow, “That would mean I have endured all this for nothing.”

And I have endured a lot—all of us have. It’s one thing to talk about immersing yourself into another culture, and it’s another completely to actually DO IT. It's one thing to think about leaving your family, your friends, your home, and your work and it's another to actually do it.  It’s difficult!

Here's anonymous quote from some PC literature:  "There comes a day when all of this suddenly becomes apparent, all at once.  Things are no longer picturesque, they are dirty.  No longer quaint, but just furiously frustrating.  And you want like crazy to just get out of there, to go home."  ---PCV, Peru

This was my thinking on Day Two at permanent site (September 19, 2009).  The good news about reaching this point, is that there is no where to go but up.

Also, since I have strong intrapersonal skills, in that I know myself and my limits very well, I knew I'd have a very rough first six months.  So I promised myself that I would stick it out for at least six months.  My "you can go home" date was originally January 31, 2010: my sixth month mark.

I had said all along that I would feel fine once my work began and I had a regular schedule.  And I still believe this.  Well, my South African schools have gotten off to a rough start.  While school was supposed to be well underway by the end of January, it has not.  So I bumped my "you can go home" date to February 27, which is tomorrow.

I remember once having a discussion with someone about the pros/cons of getting married verses only living together.  The person replied, "If you get married, all of the doors are closed so it's more difficult to leave the relationship."

I had never heard the marriage commitment explained this way, and it made sense.

So yes, tomorrow is my official "you can go home date."  If I weren't handed my work schedule, from both the primary school and the college this week, and if I hadn't seen my PC supervisor this week, I may have, indeed, have decided to go home.

Happily, this week, I have a clear plan of action and my work plan for the year and my PC supervisor validated, supported, and positively addressed many of my concerns.  She proved to me that she is my advocate and she wants ME to be happy, and I feel ever so much better having talked with her.

I have decided to "close the door"  on that pesky, persistent question of "Do you want to go home?" and commit myself to finish my service with Peace Corps/South Africa.

I feel already, like I've lost a hundred pounds!

Soon, Karen

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A day of seeing red...

About 20 years ago, I learned a very, very, very important life lesson. The lesson was: Life is so much easier if you have God in it! I learned too, that it didn't matter what my conception of God was, (for example, I could use Jehovah, Allah, Buddha, etc.) it was only important that I USED it.

I think I've always believed in some sort of Higher Power, except when I was trying, as a teen-ager, to shock my family by declaring I WAS AN ATHEIST. I had always believed in God, I just never knew how to use it. (It, him, they, her... who knows?)

The big lesson was: if you ask for help from your Higher Power every day, life is SO MUCH EASIER.

It was almost ridiculous when I initially tried it; I remember thinking, "If it is so easy, WHY DOESN'T EVERYONE DO IT?" :-)

I also learned, that if I could get on my knees while asking for help (Ouch! and "Too much trouble"), it was even more evident how easier life could be.

Now, I wish I could say that I get on my knees every day, twice a day, but I don't. In fact, I can't even say that I get on my knees MOST days. I usually have to be very afraid of something I'm facing and it often involves worrying about my sons in what they should or should not be doing. My sons certainly bring me plenty of practice getting on my knees!

There is something I face on a regular basis that also brings me to my knees: teaching.

Now, I've been teaching off and on for over 20 years, find the profession generally agreeable, and feel I'm quite gifted and talented as a teacher. However, I suffer with terrible "stage fright," fully dread a day of teaching, and put a great deal of emotional energy into preparation and execution. I'm a limp rag by the end of a teaching day.

Teaching scares me and it wears me out.

Over the years, I've found myself on my knees in the restrooms of the Humanities Building at the University of Louisville, the restrooms of both Knobview Hall and other buildings at Indiana University Southeast, and the restrooms of Jefferson Community and Technical College.

When I get on my knees before entering a class, I usually come out of the class session feeling mighty fine.

I often wonder if my HP has me in the teaching profession JUST SO I have to get on my knees regularly. :-)

So, here in South Africa, it is no exception: I am terrified upon entering a classroom. So, I've been on my knees, well, in my hostel room. (I don't think HP would even want me on my knees in a pit toilet.)

So, yesterday morning, I was rushing off to class and I realized, while I was on the path to my primary school, that I had forgotten to get on my knees. In fact, I had forgotten to ask for help at all. As I began my prayers as I walked, a little red dragonfly approached and then flew right by my side for about 50 feet. He hovered right at my hipbone and flew along with me, as if he were "walking with me." I smiled when I realized that I'm never alone, especially when feeling panicked about missing my daily surrender.

Isn't this guy SPECTACULAR! I love him! As usual, the photographs (not mine; see below) don't do him justice: he is absolutely VIVID! His red seems coated in neon. I just love him.

After he left me, I rounded a corner to a beautiful bunch of these red star zinnias (Zinnia peruviana) that grow wild in South Africa. I too, absolutely love these flowers and hadn't seen them in my area until yesterday. Once again, I was feeling in good company. (This photo too, is not mine, see below.)

And lastly, peppers. These are peri-peri peppers, (photo not mine), of a variety I have been consuming lately.

Their Latin name is (Capsicum frutescens) and the nickname is "African Devil." As you can imagine, they're pretty spicy. (Photo below, is not mine.)

Back home in Kentucky, my household has a family tradtion of having an evening "hot toddy." Now, these toddies are not full of alcoholic spirits, but are full of fire nonetheless. We take tomato or vegetable juice, add a fiery hot pepper, and usually green tomato pickles that are as hot as fire. Oh yes, and a squirt of lemon. They burn all the way down!

We enjoy these especially if we feel a tickle in our throats and worry that a chill or cold may be coming on.

I've just read a couple of books by Neil M. Orr and David Patient, both who have dedicated themselves to bettering lives of those affected with HIV/AIDS. I'll have the honor of attending a workshop presented by these gentlemen in a few weeks.

I found their books/booklets very informative. What I liked best about them is that they suggest life style changes to boost immune systems. All kinds of suggestions are made: how to eat, how to grow your own safe food supply, etc. (I especially enjoyed the gardening section: it is a "how to" in building a home garden with the same types of gardening techniques I'm trying to introduce to my community's garden.)

In their discussion on keeping the body warm, they have this to say:

"Cayenne pepper is the safest of the heating spices if you have a sensitive stomach...We suggest that--three times a day--you take a quarter teaspoon of cayenne pepper in a glass of water or fruit juice, with a little lemon juice. Viruses, in particular, do not enjoy the increased heat. This is why the cayenne pepper drink helps to clear up many skin conditions, such as warts, herpes, and shingles." (Positive Health, 2008), 47.

So, my family and I were right about a hunch that the spicy pepper might ward off any bug-a-boos. And I'm delighted to be having my "hot toddy" three times a day! Wooo Weeee! And I toast my loved one at each swig.

Soon, Karen


Another bunch of goodies from home: spices, herbs, spices, herbs, spices.  I'm tickled and feel ridiculously happy with my new variety of YUM!  This will certainly see me through my remaining year and a half.  Yes, I'm almost able to say I have a remaining year and a half.

I also received some homemade twine, news clippings from home, stickers, and inspirational reading.  And letters from home!  YUM!

One of my favorite things to use is rosemary sent to me from my garden last spring. I have two varieties and while it is suggested to use rosemary with meat, I use it to flavor everything: beans, rice, soup.

Remember the flower I noticed at the Pretoria Botanical Garden that I thought was a protea?  It is.  The common name for this on us "sugarbush protea" (Protea repens) and is South Africa's best known protea.  Its image is found on SA's 20c coin.  (Image is mine, a repeat.)

Do you remember these black and yellow bugs that I thought were bees?  These are actually a garden pest called a CMR beetle.  (Don't have Latin name handy, sorry!).  They are named CMR beetles because their strips resemble the stripes of the Old Cape Mountain Rifles. (Image not mine; see below for web address.)

And this guy is a snap (not my image; see below) of the twig wilter.  Remember my story about me picking big bugs in the garden, the one with armored legs?  This is him. Isn't he a bugger?

Soon, Karen

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Still laughing...

About a week ago, I was preparing my breakfast and noticed a bug on the inside of my oatmeal bowl. He was very tiny and I had never seen a bug like this before. I thought, "Ick. I hope this new bug has just flown in the window and decided to land near my breakfast" and quickly brushed aside the thought that the bug might be coming from inside my breakfast. (Denial.)

Then I saw the bugs again, and although disgusted, I figured the bugs would be killed when I cooked the oatmeal. The old joke is, it's extra protein.

I had convinced myself that the oatmeal was the only food item contaminated and discarded it. Today, when I was eating my whole wheat cereal, guess who came crawling out of my breakfast?

I believe he is a saw-toothed grain beetle, and is pictured in the photo above.

I'm still laughing!

Soon, Karen

The following link is where the photo above officially lives:

All you can do is laugh...

A good friend of mine says, when the world is flying around her and falling to pieces, “I just laugh. If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.”

When she would say this, I never could quite understand her philosophy. When things are flying around me and the world falling to pieces, I get frustrated and angry.

This week, I’ve finally understood her philosophy, and have been laughing all week.

(Before I begin my tirade, let me be the first to admit, when it comes to my work—MY TEACHING—I become more than a bit of a planner. I’ve learned, in my teaching experience, that if you plan well, the teaching goes well. And if you don’t plan well, well, you’d better be ready to endure a very uncomfortable 45 minutes of the students taking bites of you, chewing them well, and spitting them out on the floor. Teaching is like this children’s rhyme I was taught as a child: There was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad she was horrid. Teaching is like that: when it’s good, it’s very, very good, but when it is bad, it is HORRID.)

So, it’s Sunday, February 14, and tomorrow is Monday morning. Before Monday morning, I need to grade 70 papers, have two sections of Grade 6 English planned and ready to go, grade assignments for my college English Level 3 class, and have their lesson planned for.

It was the Valentine’s Day weekend and I hadn’t realized how all of the Valentine’s Day activities would crunch my time. I had company coming so needed to clean and do laundry, which swallowed most of Saturday morning/afternoon. We had a Valentine’s Day dinner/dance on Saturday night and a lengthy church service on Sunday.

(Oh, also, I had hoped to work around 20 hours in the community garden. Didn’t happen.)

So, Sunday night, I grade 40 of the 70 papers and wake early Monday morning to develop my lesson plans for the 3 classes I will teach later that morning.

I go to the college staff meeting at 7:30 Monday morning to learn that a) we still don’t have a class schedule and b) we still don’t have textbooks for our students.

(Classes “officially” started on the 25th of January, but we haven’t had a schedule to direct us where to go or what time to be there to have class. So, neither educators nor learners had anywhere to go or have anything to do, so nothing—especially any teaching or learning—has happened. We have had a temporary schedule for the past two weeks, so I’ve had a week to teach about the 4 students who knew enough to show up the first week, and this week, most students have shown, but their “exams” started on Tuesday. Yes, their exams, for which they haven’t been to class for, or had the textbooks for, started on Tuesday.)

I’m laughing.

After the staff meeting, I teach my 9:30 class then sprint to the primary school for my 6th graders. After their classes, I return to campus to grade the remaining 30 papers, grade the college papers that have come to me that same morning, and now need to create a test for my 6th graders to take later in the week (but the test I create is needed tomorrow—Tuesday—for submission and approval.)

I’m laughing.

Oh, I should mention here, that there is a bone of contention with my supervisor at the primary school. He believes I should remain at the primary school all day, everyday, and is unhappy with my comings and goings. He knows that I have other commitments, but doesn’t realize all of the “groundwork” I’m laying in trying to get my classes up and running, without having the resources to do so. So, he’s not happy.

I should also mention, that while the college is struggling with their schedule, the primary school’s schedule is changing weekly. (The college is trying to arrange my schedule around the primary school’s schedule, which is ever-changing.)

I’m laughing.

I’m up most of Monday night and rise early Tuesday morning to do more of the same: grade papers, create lesson plans, conduct class, run back and forth between the college and primary school, and attend meetings.

I’m laughing.

I spend all of Tuesday night creating the test for my sixth graders that must be submitted on Wednesday. Wednesday, I teach my college class, (oh, thank goodness, the textbooks finally arrived, so at least they have the course materials available to them, even if they don’t have a concrete class schedule, informing them of when to go to class and which room to go to), and run to the primary school to submit the test I’ve created for approval.

I come home Wednesday and collapse. (After having a conversation with my supervisor at the primary school attempting to reassure him that “You (I) will be here tomorrow, right?). I don’t collapse for long because I have my college class to prepare for tomorrow.

On Thursday, today, I show up to my college class, after spending most of Wednesday night and most of Thursday morning preparing my lesson plans to find there is no class today, because the students are at the police station having their registration papers certified so they can apply for scholarships next year. Yes, this is important, but why is this happening today/now, and not weeks (or even months) ago?

I’m laughing.

Not only is there no class today, but there is no class tomorrow. Tomorrow, Friday is when we are PROMISED our class schedule. What are the chances of us having a class schedule, finally, on Monday?

I’m laughing!

Soon, Karen

My "snail mail", random questions, and Ubuntu...

When we first arrived in South Africa, well, actually before we even came to South Africa, we were warned that the South African postal system was not secure and that packages and letters from the US were subject to tampering--and even theft. Peace Corps gave us all kinds of "tips" to pass on to loved ones about how to prepare mail for us that would lessen the chances of "tampering."

The only parcel/letter that hasn't made it to me, that I'm aware of, was damaged in the US postal system. I received this torn front piece of an envelop and an apology from the US postal service. I'm not sure who it's from, but I think it is from one or both of my sons. If not, and you recognize it, could you let me know? thx!

While not terribly unhappy with my mail service, I could be happier. The mail comes to me through the college. I get my mail somewhat regularly and I don't pay for a post-office box (like many other volunteers).

However, there are problems. For example, when the college closes, for all practical purposes, my mail stops. The post office does a nice job of saving my packages for me, but put all of my letters in the college's mail pouch. So, while I received my packages over the Dec/Jan holiday, I didn't receive my letters until the college reopened in the middle of January. (I had quite a lot of letters in the middle of January!!).
Also, while the college used to travel to the post office regularly for mail collection, there seems to be a problem with transportation and the mail is now collected sporadically. Once again, I can walk to the post office to collect my mail, but the post office has put my mail in the college's mail bag (which is sitting there awaiting collection.)
So, I'm becoming frustrated. My nearest volunteer, Emily/Lesego, is also unhappy about her mail situation. We've talked about bucking up and sharing a post-office box so that we would both have more regular/reliable mail service. It would be an additional cost for both of us, but would both feel happier about our mail. She's away for a week but when she returns, we're likely to make this arrangement and my mailing address may change. Will keep you "posted." :-)
I've recently received a batch of letters that I'm going to address now. Please, for those of you, who have taken the trouble to write, please excuse my "laziness" of an electronic reply. No, I don't have so many fans that I'm backlogged with answering letters. My lame excuse is that I'm so swamped with work that I barely have energy to limp home and prepare for the next day. (See next blog.)
This will change, eventually, when the dust settles, I have a real schedule, and have adequately prepared my class work. For now, I must reciprocate electronically. Please forgive me.

One faithful writer tells me all about local and world news. I'm so grateful for this because a) I rarely know what is going on outside my village; and b) hearing about news in the US and especially Louisville, (even if it is crazy, scary, bad) helps me feel like I'm home. It's a very powerful connection, to simply hear of news from home and in reading my heart fills with great happiness. This particular writer has a very sharp wit, and keeps me laughing out loud.

(I've decided to try to better protect people's anonymity; I'm not sure why.)

There was much somewhat-recent news about Louisville politics, sports news, celebrity news, family/friend news, and puppy news.

One comment that stood out for me was noting the passage of Martin Luther King's birthday in January, which is a national holiday for the US. I hadn't realized that he would have been 81 this year. I always think of him as happening a long time ago so it was jarring to realize that he could still be alive today (and relatively young!).

How different would our world be today had he lived? What a great man!

A family member sent me pictures of my home: pictures of my nasturtiums and zinnias (last season's), pictures of my neighborhood taken from my front porch, pictures of my dog pouting with her head on my side of the bed, and pictures of my dog(s) with their granny. Treasures, all.

Another question from mail concerns the notion of South African "Ubuntu" and had I heard of it?

Yes, I have heard of Ubuntu. The African philosophy was covered in our pre-service training. It's a beautiful philosophy that loosely translated means: a person is a person only through other people.

In Ubuntu philosophy, all are cared for, all are protected, always. For example, if a woman of children dies, the surviving children are taken in by family members or anyone else in the community. There is no question as to what happens to the children: the community steps in and cares for their own.

The philosophy is realized in other ways: sharing wealth, food, clothing, etc.

The current practice of Ubuntu for South Africans is stressed with poverty and disease. (There are many more children orphaned because their parents are dying of aids.) In other words, there are more and more children to be cared for, but less and less adults available to care for them.

Now what I'm about to "say" may be offensive to some, or even all.

In my limited experience of living in South Africa, the practice of Ubuntu seems closed to outsiders. In this way, if you are "a part" of the community, you're protected, cared for, always. However, if you're not a part of the community, you're not protected, cared for, etc.

This may be a reason why Peace Corps South Africa places its volunteers with families; in this way, the volunteer becomes a "part of" the family and is protected and cared for by the family especially, but by the community as well.

I sometimes wonder if my integration would have been easier if I were placed with a family unit rather than living in my own accommodations on the college campus. (Many of you know I had a horribly rough time integrating.) While I feel relatively safe on my college campus, I do not feel as safe moving about in the community. I think living with a family would have helped me establish stronger community ties and therefore help me feel safer, more a "part of."

I’m taking steps to strengthen my bonds with the community and I think going to a village church helps me in this way a great deal. I also intend to become active with the health clinic, community meetings, etc. It’ll happen, captain!

So, that's it for now, snail mail, MLK, puppies, and Ubuntu.

Soon, Karen

Monday, February 15, 2010

Christmas in February!

I went to the post office on Saturday and received quite the surprise! My dear friend Pat sent me a copy of Barbara Kingsolver’s new book, The Lacuna. I was so delightfully surprised, I squealed!
The last time I bought a new book, that I can remember, was in the 90s! I usually try to get new titles from the library, buy them used, or at least wait for the title to come out in paperback!! (Because they’re so expensive!!)

A new title from my favorite author, Kentucky’s own Barbara Kingsolver! What a treat! And the novel showcases two of my favorite historical figures: Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera! I’m a lucky, lucky girl!!

I came home on Saturday and tried to put it away (I had papers to grade) but it kept calling to me! Finally, last night, I couldn’t stand it any longer and stayed up way too late reading this delicious novel! Thank you Pat!

She also sent along copies of another favorite: the Sun Magazine. Back home, when these arrive in the mail, I read them from cover to cover. These too, are delicious treats!

I had been in a reading “slump,” and nothing here was grabbing my interest. It feels good to be excited about reading again!
And, another few bars of my always-needed: Dr. Bronner’s soap! I covet these…

Also included was a featured article on Ms. Kingsolver in Bellarmine College’s publication and a poem that I’ll tell you more about after having had some time with it.

For now, I’m off to read! I’m so excited! Thanks Pat!

Valentine's Day at the college

Our college offers certification in  hospitality (restaurants, hotels, etc.) and our department hosted a "Valentine's Day Dinner/Dance."  The campus has both a restaurant and a Guest House where the students practice their theory! We had a wonderful dinner at the restaurant and the food was delicious!

(Notice the "hors d'oeuvres tray," but don't tell Susan H!!  These snack trays are presented at every eating event I've attended, and are quite popular with the people I live with.)

Below are my table mates: Jolane (JOE lah nee), her baby daughter, and Emily/Lesego:

Below are shots of the outstanding Hospitality faculty and the super-star students:

And lastly, parting shots, Jolane and baby departing, notice the baby "carrier."  Emily and I in my room after attending a special Valentine's Day service at "my" church.  The service was interesting; it was more in line with what we'd expect at xmas or Easter: the church was attractively decorated, special guests were invited, etc.; (I didn't get shots of the actual service.) And a parting shot of the little one. 

Soon, Karen

Friday, February 12, 2010

Yet one more bird and Happy Valentine's Day!

Do you have time for one more bird this week? This is the Helmeted Guineafowl (Numida meleagris). I see him whenever I’m riding in a taxi/bus/car. They are usually seen on the side of the road.

An interesting aside, to me anyway: I haven’t seen a lot of road kill in South Africa. I’m not sure why this is. Anyone?

On Wednesday, I’d gotten my college classes started, but there are no textbooks for students in sight. I killed an acre of trees having the first unit copied so the students have some information on hand. I begged the guy to copy 28 pages front-to-back, but he seemed unwilling to do so. (Or might not know how, or might not understand English well-enough to understand my request.)
So I died a little bit every time a neat, stapled, 28-page packet came off the press and then almost swooned when I carried the stack of 16 copies of 28-pages-each back to my room.
We have yet to work out my teaching schedule between the college and the primary school. So this was Wednesday morning:
7:30-8:30 at the college, staff meeting and trying to find textbooks

8:30-8:50 dash to primary school for my 9:00 class

8:55-9:15 quickly introduce material, give class work to students

9:15-9:30 dash back to college for 9:30 class

9:30 stand around waiting for college kids to show up, four finally do a half-hour late.

That was my morning! I went back to the primary school that afternoon for the primary school’s weekly meeting. Eish!

They did feed me, however, at the primary school: 5 pounds of beef, 3 pounds of mealie pap, and a teaspoon of spicy baked beans.

An educator watched me eating and commented, “You don’t eat all of the meat, do you?”

The South Africans I’ve encountered in my village eat every speck of meat on the bones. They are also unashamed to suck and gnaw bones. I felt more than a bit ashamed and noted back, “It’s wasteful, isn’t it?”

But guilt did not armor my stomach for eating gristle, fat, and bone. I just could not do it.

On this note, I am wishing you a Happy Valentine’s Day, as I won’t be posting until after it!

Soon, Karen

Photos of the helmeted guineafowl “mined” from the internet:

More pretty birds and random notes...

I know everyone is happy when I can post pretty pictures of pretty things.  However, the sad truth is, that while I'm on site, there really isn't anything "pretty" or dramatic to take pictures of.  And I'm still trying to gather enough nerve to take my camera out into the village and take photos of my community.

(Everyone here LOVES to have their pictures taken and once it's common knowledge that I'm an owner of a camera, my home and person will become the village's very own "Olan Mills Studio."  I'm trying to avoid this for as long as possible, or until I at least recover from school starting.)  :-)

These guys are two of my favorites. Actually, only the blue one lives in my area now; I saw the black-faced one when I was much further north. The blue one is a Blue Waxbill (Uraeginthus angolensis) and the black faced one is a Black-faced Waxbill (Estrilda erythronotos).  Both are tiny, tiny birds.  I love, love, love the blue of the blue waxbills and watched one yesterday while I was outside, working with my Setswana tutor.  I feel happy every time I see one.

(These photos are not mine; they are "mined" from the internet.  See websites posted below.)

Ok, some random notes I keep forgetting to mention...

When I visited my original host family a few weeks ago, I learned something interesting.  This is the family that I lived with for my first six weeks in Africa.  They were entrusted with "my learning Setswana" while I was staying with them.  (Or at least, they were to help me practice.) My host family "mother" speaks Sepedi and my host family "aunt" speaks Sesoto.  No wonder I was getting strange looks when practicing my Setswana!  Maybe it wasn't all my garbled pronunciation!!

One thing I've noticed about studying the Setswana language: it has helped me IMMENSELY in learning the students' names!  When first learning Setswana, I thought my mouth would NEVER learn to pronounce these strange sounds and syllables.  I'm delighted to be learning the language patterns and seeing things repeated--especially in Tswana peoples' names.  What a perk of "having" to learn Setswana!

I've been asked about the stars here in South Africa, specifically I've been asked about the stars I can see here at my site.  When I was living with my host family, the house was very, very small for the six of us living there at the time.  All dishwashing, because of lack of space, took place out on the front porch.  See photo below, which is mine!)

See, you can actually see my dish-doing spot. Now, I volunteered for dishwashing duties because a) I didn't want to cook and thought doing dishes would be a fair trade and b) for evening dishwashing duty, I got to stand outside, underneath a spectacular South African sky. It was a favorite part of every day during my stay with my host family.

Here at the college, I live in a dorm room. For several reasons, I'm not outside after dark. So, the stars seen here from my permanent site are just as spectacular, I just don't typically see them. I had my bed set up in away where I could lie in bed and stare at the stars at night, but I moved it closer to a light when reading at night was important. Now, since it's not so important, I may rig my bed up for star-gazing again. I try to go to bed a dark because a): I'm tired; b) if I stay up with the lights on, millions of bugs come in and make a mess for me to clean up in the morning, and c): a light on at night seems to call the bored college kids to my room for entertainment purposes.

An aside: "Visiting" is quite the thing in South Africa. I'm still trying to acclimate to this cultural practice and am not succeeding well. Let me rephrase: I'm fine and happy to go visit someone else when invited--and do!

However, and this was true while living in America, I'm not too keen on having people "drop in on me" unannounced. There are several reasons for this: (This is turning into a rather "listy" post.): a) my dorm room is a dorm room and in it are my bed, my bathroom, and my kitchen area. There really isn't anywhere "to sit" and I feel uncomfortable having guests congregate in my sleeping area; b) when I am in my room, I have generally returned from a work day and I'm exhausted and want to do nothing but eat dinner, take my bath, and go to bed, and while ending my day, I typically have my PJs on; and c) while I don't mind finding forms of entertainment for the college kids, I don't want to BE their entertainment. So, what I've noticed, when I get a knock at my door, it is usually a passel of college kids that are bored and want me to entertain them.

Somewhat relatedly, when asked by an educator if I will "help" them, I've learned to be very careful in my response. I volunteered for, and helped out with, student registration at the college. When my colleague had me "trained well enough" to somewhat captain the ship, my colleague "disappeared." I would find myself, stuck with people asking me questions that I didn't know the answer to, having no one to whom I could direct the questions, and staying hours and hours later than I had ever imagined, only to later learn my colleague had abandoned me to travel to Vryburg for some shopping! This same type of thing happened when asked to help with "invigilating" exams. An instructor would ask that I cover their shift, with no reason, but then I would later learn that they wanted my cover so they could go shopping! Eish! (So, what happens is, I do their job for them so they can go shopping, yet it is THEY who are PAID for the work!) I repeat: Eish!

Someone has asked that if I get late comments on an old post, can I still see them? The answer is yes, I can still see them. However, I have to go back through all of my old posts and pull up screens to find any new comments. (Blogger, as far as I can tell, doesn't notifiy me of new comments. If Blogger does have this feature, and I need to set it up, someone please tell me!) While I'd love nothing better than scrolling through all of my blogs, the fact is I don't have the time. I don't have my own computer and any use is on the college's library's time. So ususally, I'm signing on, taking care of business, and hopping off of the computer.

I'm raising very curious questions from villagers about carrying bags of grass clippings to the garden. "Are you going to replant those so they will grow again?" "Will you use that for manure?" "Why are you wasting those perfectly good pillow cases for doing yard work?" :-)

I can only imagine what people are thinking at my picking up cow and pigeon poo for the garden. (Yes worry-worts--I'm using gloves and a breathing mask!) I'm sure this new antic will greatly improve my reputation in the community. :-)
(I never had access to manure while living in the States as I lived in the city. Now, cows, donkeys, and goats roam all over and I can pick up and carry the piles. It would be easier if the animals were coralled, but hey, I'll take it where I can get it!
I have to tell this one gardening story--I keep forgetting. There is one gentleman in the garden that sells me his produce and has asked me to tend his eggplant patch--they call them brinjas here. One of the things I've been doing is hand-picking the sucking (and therefore disease-carrying) insects from his plants. I find the problem-causing bugs, pick them off the plant, and drop the insects into a bucket of soapy water. (The pests then drown in the soapy water.) I find the bug-picking an unpleasant task, but try to strengthen my resolve in remembering my nieces, when they were very, very little girls, helping their mother squash potato bugs in the family's garden. If those baby girls could be brave, then so could I!
Anyway, one of the nastier bugs is a big, black, squash-bug looking thing with pointy barbs on his legs. His legs look like Batman armour! Sometimes, when I'm worried the nasty bug might stick me, I emit my Jane Jetson-like "Eeeeek!" And my farmer friend, who speaks very little English, would shout, "WHAT IS IT?" And I'd reply, "It's a big, scary bug!" I'd work some more, shriek my "Eeeeek!," he'd reply, "WHAT IS IT?" "It's a big, scary bug!" And so it went. :-)
I have been asked about mosquitoes. The mosquitoes haven’t been bad at all. However, while I was attending a training the last two weeks of January, my village has a huge, huge rainstorm and after it have come the mosquitoes. They aren’t terribly, terribly bad, but they are another reason I like to go to bed when it gets dark—I can climb under my mosquito net.
Corporal punishment is a remnant of the former educational system supported by Apartheid. Apartheid has ended and South Africa has deemed corporal punishment a criminal offence. Corporal punishment is no longer allowed in South Africa. However, corporal punishment is still practiced by many, many of the educators in South Africa, especially in the rural areas.
Corporal punishment is one of the challenges the Peace Corps volunteers are invited to "take on." We're asked to demonstrate better ways of managing classrooms, ways of managing that doesn't involve the beating, shaming, or threatening of children.

I have seen corporal punishment practiced in my school.

As the bloom is waning from the rose in my classrooms, (Hey, this weird white woman is just another teacher and we're going to drive her crazy!), I've asked my colleagues for suggestions.
When asking my colleagues, my South African colleagues, for suggestions on classroom management, I'm advised, "They must respect you. They must do your homework!

When I say, "Yes, but how do you accomplish this?" I'm told, "You must smack them a little bit--just don't abuse them."

I was moved more than a bit in grading papers for my sixth graders this week. They were practicing using "because" in their sentences. Some examples from students:

I love Ms. Kaye because she is teaching me.

I am hungry because I did not eat last night.

I am crying because my mother passed away.

I like Ms. Kaye because she doesn't beat learners.

Soon, Karen

Websites for pictures of birds:

I get by with a little help from my friends...

I love this guy. He is a Black-headed heron (Ardea melanocephala). These photos are not mine and have been mined from the web (see websites listed below).

There is one gentleman that "owns" are community garden. I generally see him in the mornings and evenings. He is magnificent. I'll bet he stands 4 feet high! One evening last week, I had entered the garden and wasn't aware when I saw this slender, tall, snakey-like thing moving through the back of the garden like a very tall snake. For a split second, I thought it was a snake, but it was my buddy, the black-headed heron that frequents are garden. He was unaware of me too, but the pigeons around him alerted him to my presence and off he flew. I think we both gasped at the same time.

I'm counting this week as my first real week, "back to school." Although I love teaching and feel I have gifts and talents there, I find the work frightening and draining. Deanna has commented that, by the middle of the semester, I'm usually "as flat as a pancake."

This week has felt especially tough, probably because things are still really chaotic and I'm still finding my footing. But the other reason, I haven't had time to "plan."

When teaching in the US, I generally use most of the semester breaks to plan my next semester's work. It is intense work that keeps me busy for a good three weeks. However, once the planning is complete, the classes are ready to go and the rest of the semester feels "easy." I have to make tweaks here and there when I find something's not working, but for the most part, after the planning, the semester and school work "flies itself."

In the fall of last year, both schools were in a flurry to complete and finish the school year. I asked and asked for someone to help me with planning for my classes in 2010. I was assured that planning would happen in December. In December, I'm still asking and everyone is smiling and the tune changes to, "Oh, we'll do the planning in January."

So, silly me thought that the educators would return to the school year early, for planning.

Oh wait... I have to pick myself up off the ground from laughing so hard.

Short story: there was no planning, there weren't even any textbooks. I received my text book for the Primary school and have been planning and prepping somewhat successfully since January. However, for the college, we still don't have a firm schedule, I've only NOW gotten a copy of the textbook, and am frantically trying to prepare a year that is already 5 weeks behind schedule with exams due to commence in 2 weeks.

Now, my friends and family KNOW how this makes me. Little miss karen who likes all of her ducks in a row.

Teaching has taught me to "fly by the seat of my pants." However, teaching has also taught me that the better planned you are, the better the classes go.

So, I am trying. Ke a leka.

But I've been exhausted this week.

One of the things I've learned in life is that I have three areas that need attention every single day: physical needs, emotional needs, and spiritual needs. For my spiritual needs, I need several sessions throughout the day for "quiet time" to nourish my spirit. I often read spiritual material, or pray, or try to quiet my mind for moments of meditation, etc.

On Tuesday this week I was sitting at my IMAX window opening a book for some spiritual reading when my friend, the black-headed heron caught my eye.

He had actually flown outside of the garden and was sitting in the middle of the soccer field. I couldn't imagine what he would do in the middle of the field so I started watching him. I only had a few minutes before I needed to run off to a staff meeting and remember thinking, "I shouldn't be watching him; I should be reading my meditations." Then, gratefully, I decided that watching the heron would be my spiritual practice for the day.
I watched him for quite a while and had great fun. After a while, he began to move his way across the soccer field toward the community garden. When he moves, as mentioned above, his head "snakes" along. The motion seems quite awkward and I often wonder of all of that neck-snaking makes him tired. The community garden is fenced, so when he finally arrived to the fence, he sat right down, just like a dog, and sat there watching the community garden. He sat and sat for the longest time, seemingly admiring the garden.

It was the best meditation I could have, especially in the middle of such a gruelling week.

Now, this other guy I've mentioned before, the Southern masked-weaver (Ploceus velatus). Last Sunday, I was running late for church. As I neared the college gate, I heard this great commotion. I looked up and guess what I saw? Yep, Mr. masked-weaver. He sat up in the top of a thorn-tree, as big as he pleased, hanging upside down and fluttering open his wings. He was chattering away, fluttering his wings (including his tail feathers!), and doing these lovely acrobatic moves. He was AMAZING. I couldn't help stopping to watch for awhile. (Don't worry--I still made it to church on time!)

After a few minutes of his performance, a female did, indeed show up. I'm told that the male has the responsibility of making a nest and the female decides if the nest is up to par. I'm told that if the female finds fault with the nest, it is destroyed and the male has to begin again with a whole new nest.

A male weaver flew to close to this pair and "my" weaver guy furiously chased him away. It was an enchanting few moments, watching the birds.
In my trials of this week, I've also been shown that there are others with daunting tasks. The photo of the gentleman below is cutting the soccer field, with a lawn-mower, in preparation for that night's soccer match. Ah, one could wish for a tractor...

Soon, Karen

ps: the photos of the birds have come from the following links: