Friday, April 30, 2010

Finally! A happy day!

I've posted plenty of pics of South African sunsets.  These are actually of a South African sunrise. Aren't they beautiful?  And another lovely rainbow this morning...  I'm a lucky girl!
One of the things I’ve been mourning since coming to South Africa is the fact that I LOVED my life back home. Loved it, loved it, loved it! I didn’t realize how happy I was living in the States until I arrived here in South Africa. In the States, I would wake two hours early just to have tea and sit by my window, watching the birds and the flowers in my yard. I WOULD WAKE EARLY so I would have time to enjoy myself before leaving for work. Sweet!

I was a very sarcastic and cynical citizen of the United States before coming to South Africa. I’m likely to never utter a sarcastic or cynical comment about my country ever again. MY COUNTRY.

I’ve finally had a happy day here in South Africa. A storm woke me this morning, but I remember thinking, “I wonder if it’s time to get up because I feel like getting up.” It was the first time I could remember wanting to get up since arriving at my site. (Now, for those of you who are going to jump on the depression wagon, I’m not the only one over here operating and feeling this way—others are too! It’s hard living here!) It was just a few minutes before my alarm was to ring, but I was happy that it was dark and I could sit at my IMAX window and watch the early-morning storm.

So, I did. I brewed a pot of tea and snuggled up in my hoodie in front of my IMAX window to watch the wind and lightening. I actually had time for three cups instead of my usual two and had a lovely morning all to myself. It was just like the good ole days.

So, why so happy? Well, I’m not sure.

But, I knew my workday would be light today as there was no school at my primary school: all the students were in town at a music competition. And my college class meets relatively early, at noon, so I knew it would be a short workday.

I did get some really good news this week. Peace Corps has given the “go” to installing burglar bars on the portacamp SO I GET TO MOVE out of the “hostile hostel”! I’m so very excited about this. And the entrance door to my portacamp was repaired well enough so I can go inside and “visit” my new home until it is ready for me to move. I “visited” it last night. I can’t wait! I’m certain to be so happy there!

A little story about the necessary repairs for the portacamp. Well, it’s a mess. For one thing, there are no stairs for entering. The door to the portacamp sits high off the ground and a staircase is necessary to gain entrance. There used to be a staircase to my portacamp, but it has rotted away. Are you getting a good picture?  :-)

The next little problem is that the door lock is jammed. When vendors have come to estimate the cost of repairs, I’ve had to call the lady in charge of building maintenance to send a screwdriver. Long story short: we had to break into the portacamp several times so that the repairmen could enter. We pried the door open with a screwdriver.

Let me repeat, because this is important for the story. I had to ask the building maintenance woman several times to send a screwdriver so we could PRY the door open and enter the portacamp. We basically broke into the portacamp several times.

Now, this lady and another gentleman have been “on board” with this fixer-up project for weeks. Both have known the condition of the portacamp.

So every day for weeks, the gentleman says to me, when he sees me, “So, Ms. Kaye, have you moved into your new home yet?”

I raise my eyebrows and skeptically reply, “Noooooooooooooooo.”

He asks, “Why not?”

I say, “Because there are no stairs for entrance, the door is jammed shut, there is no water pressure, the toilet doesn’t flush, there is a live electrical wire hanging out over the door…”

You get the picture. Every single day we have this conversation. EVERY SINGLE DAY for weeks. And I’m thinking what is this? This guy KNOWS the inhabitable condition of the portacamp, so why are we having this ridiculous, repetitive conversation? ??

It’s the same with the woman in charge of building maintenance. A little background on her: she knows that when I’m approaching her, I need something. So, right off the bat, we developed a relationship of her not being happy to see me. And when we try to discuss whatever problem I might be having, we have a difficult time communicating.

I originally thought this woman didn’t understand English very well. I’ve since learned that she understands English perfectly well when anyone else is around. (So, she uses this little trick of feigning lack of understanding so she doesn’t have to fool with me. And I don’t blame her!)

I think we’ve finally broken our ice, however.

So, this week, she stops me and asks about the broken lock on the entrance door. (The same lock that she sends a screwdriver over so we can break in.) “What exactly is broken?” she asks.

“The whole lock is broken” I reply. She relates that she’s not clear what I mean, so I pantomime: I get very animated and demonstrate how I hold the screwdriver in my hands like so, jam the screwdriver in between the door and the jamb, and pull hard to “pop the door open.”

She was greatly amused at my demonstration and laughed heartily. And I think we’ll be good friends now.

And my door is fixed. I can go visit my portacamp, climb up without the benefit of stairs, go inside, and actually be in a happy place. I’m delightfully happy just having access to my portacamp.

And another thing that has probably added to my happiness is I’ve finally planned a trip!

We’ve had several opportunities for taking trips since December of last year. However, it took me a while to settle in before I could even begin to think about traveling around South Africa for fun.

So I’ve finally settled in and am past-due for some fun.

I was originally going to “lay low” during World Cup, but I’m planning a trip to find my beloved baobabs and have just heard from Peace Corps that my leave is approved! Woo hoo!

I’m a happy, happy girl! I will miss my IMAX windows but will live happily-ever-after living in the land of adults and I will be traveling soon to see the wonderful sights of the baobabs!

I knew I could be happy in Africa! It just took a few months! Well, a little bit longer than a few months!

Soon, Karen

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Fog and Mrs. Brown

I woke up to a beautiful fog-covered morning this week. I’m always surprised to see fog in South Africa, particularly in a semi-desert setting. Isn’t it beautiful? I’m told that the fog is more common in places like KwaZulu Natal and Nelspruit. I’m glad we have it here, especially if it is uncommon.

Years ago when I was worried about my personal appearance and whether or not it was pleasing to others, I spent a great deal of time and energy shopping for smart outfits, growing my fingernails, tanning religiously in the sun, wearing the sharpest of shoes, and endlessly fussing with hair and make up.

All of my efforts earned me a decade’s worth of painful—very painful--relationships.

When I divorced in the early 90s, I cut my hair, bought sensible shoes, and threw away my make up. To hell with men, I was going to be comfortable and free of all of that endless fussing.

I was almost 30 years old and had wasted almost 15 years of my life trying to look pleasing to others. What a waste of time.

In the late 90s, I discovered, much to my horror, that if I wanted to be healthy, I would need to stop eating of chocolate. Now, I know most of you in the female persuasion will appreciate how devastating this news was for me. After an extended mourning period (probably a couple of years), I remember falling in love with the color “chocolate brown.” I remember thinking, “If I can’t EAT chocolate, then I will wear it.

So, it was at this time that my wardrobe began to “turn brown.” I was somewhat thrilled with this exercise too, as I learned that if I bought any clothing item with the color of chocolate brown in it, it would match anything else in my wardrobe. My life became simpler still.

Now, I’ve been existing in my “chocolate brown” happiness for several years now and no one ever commented about it in the US. No one. NO ONE.

So, now I’m in South Africa, people seem to be stuck on the fact that, well, “Why do you always wear the color brown?”

I get this question almost every day and almost everywhere I go. The college girls have taken to calling me “Mrs. Brown.” Even the Peace Corps volunteers seem to notice this about me and comment upon it.

We were warned about the attitudes for personal appearance before coming to South Africa. In this culture, how you dress reflects respect to those around you. Perhaps my wearing brown every day is disrespectful some how?

When asked the question of why I am (always) wearing brown, I’m not ever sure how to respond. I could say, “In coming to South Africa, we all brought 2 pairs of pants, a skirt, and three blouses and these are all the clothes that I have”; or, I could say, “We’re not paid so we can’t spend money on fancy clothes, jewelry, and stilettos.”

What I usually say, and is absolutely true, is “Brown is my favorite color and I love it.”

This response is never satisfactorily received by those to whom I say it. They often turn away with an expression that seems to indicate that I’ve said, “I wear brown because it will make my face grow horns.”

What I’m DYING to say, although my upbringing and manners would never permit it, is, “Why are you so shallow to care about what I’m wearing? Shouldn’t you be more concerned about the education of the youth of South Africa? How about the HIV/AIDS crisis? How about the fact that I passed twenty people on my way to school today that had nothing to eat? How about it’s none of your business what I’m wearing? Hey, how about worrying about YOUR OWN personal appearance?”

On most days I smile and say brown is my favorite color and on some days, I want to pop peoples’ heads off.

I remember some years back that the rock singer Jon Bon Jovi cut his hair. The media went ballistic (of course) and according to the media, the whole nation was in deep morning that Jon Bon Jovi could so such a selfish thing as have his long, beautiful hair cut. I remember reading about Mr. Bon Jovi’s reaction and noted that he was incredulous that people could actually be so concerned about whether or not he cut his hair. I think I know exactly how he felt.

I try to remind myself that it is all silly nonsense and go on with my chocolate-brown happiness. I take some consolation in the fact, so I’ve read, that Einstein couldn’t be bothered with fashion either and kept in his closet the seven suits that were exactly the same style and color. Hmm, seems I remember reading that they all were brown. :-)

Soon, Karen

PS.  I just returned from a memorial service given in honor of a student of the college who died over the weekend.  I arrived late to the service because I was told the service would be at "half past two." Now, in the States, "half past two" would mean 2:30.  Here, apparently it means 1:45.  :-)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Brubru, blissful solitude, and two South African firsts

A new bird friend; Isn't he darling?  This little guy is a Brubru or Nilaus afer.  He's a little sweety pie and I love him.  (Photos not mine, see credits below.)

So, the students are gone for four blessed days and I'm as happy as a clam.  I realized I really do love my site when the students are gone.  Isn't that terrible?  Terrible, but true.

I never realize how unhappy I am until the students leave and I'm suddenly overwhelmed with joy:  I LOVE MY SITE when the students are gone!!

I'm trying to be nice about the students with my wanting to move out of the dorm and all.  But the truth is, for me, there is a sinister element that goes along with living with the students.  I often feel as though I'm in a viper's pit.

On campus, there is housing for students in the hostels.  "Hostel" is the South African term for "dormitory".  On my campus, there are four "hostels" with a housing capacity of 200 students each.  As far as I can tell, only two of the dorms are used for housing students: I reside in the one reserved for the girls and another is used for the boys.  There are two other hostel buildings, but those are mostly vacant with some college staff residing inside.

Elsewhere on campus, there are individual houses and trailers (called "porta-camps" in my village) for educators.  All of the houses are occupied and most of the porta-camps are occupied with educators as well.

Another educator living in the men's hostel recently asked to be relocated from the men's hostel, to a porta-camp.  He arrived at my college in July and was moved out of the hostel in January.  I arrived in September and am still trying to tough it out (although I have requested to move and a move is in process).

My request to move to a porta-camp (only one porta-camp is vacant, but the reason it is vacant is because it is currently inhabitable and in need of major repairs) would take me out of the realm of the students and put me in the realm of the adults:  A realm that can provide me the space to finish out my PC service happily.

Now, it all sounds very petty about my complaining about living with the students.  However, I don't feel SAFE living with the students.  I feel threatened by them.

Each and every single day I must move through group after group of students, both males and females, who taunt me in a mean-spirited and menacing fashion.  This happens not occasionally, but EVERY SINGLE DAY.  It doesn't happen once or twice a day, it happens MANY, MANY TIMES THROUGHOUT THE DAY.  I get it in my hostel hallways, moving in to and out of my hostel, walking to and from class, etc.  It happens on school days and it happens on weekends.  When I'm in my room, the students passing by outside make a point of taunting me so that I can hear them outside my window.  The harrassment is all day, EVERY DAY. The only time I'm free of it is on holidays, when the students are sent home.

I'm glad I have my work at the primary school on school days, so that I have a reprieve, at least for a few hours.

I've been in denial about how bad it actually is for months now.  Many of you know it took me many, many months to even speak to my supervisor about relocating my sleeping quarters.  And this is why:  I keep thinking that it is MY FAULT that the students are behaving this way.  I think I'm not integrated well enough, I haven't found a common ground for reaching them, etc.  I keep thinking things will get better and change if only I keep trying harder.

It's also difficult and I have trouble finding support for my concerns when speaking to others.  They seem to diminish or dismiss my concerns all together when they say, "Oh, it couldn't possibly be that bad" or  even  worse, "You must be imagining things."

So I keep plodding away, trying, trying, trying to get the students to like me, and they continue to taunt and mock me and I remain miserable.

And it is only on the wonderfully blissful, student-free days that I realize how oppressed I feel.  I'm really, really, really hopeful about  moving into this porta-camp.  Because quite frankly, I can't imagine living so miserable for another year and a half.

So, why do the students behave this way?  I'm not sure, but I have my suspicions and I'll keep these to myself.  But to a major one I'll speak freely:

In the institutions I have previously worked, the administrators/staff of institutions of higher education hold the position of power.   In this way, the college makes the rules and the students abide them (or receive appropriate consequences).

What I see here is that the college makes the rules,  and operates as if it holds the position of power, but if the students are unhappy, the students protest, and when the students protest, they get what they want.  When the students protest, property is damaged, staff is locked inside buildings, and police come shooting rubber bullets.

On more than one occasion, and even this week, normal school activities are interrupted because the students are protesting.

So, as I see it, the STUDENTS hold the position of power where I live and work.  I've seen the students threaten the administration and I've seen the students "protest" violently.

So, I'm afraid of them.  And I want to be living away from them.

So there it is, the truth of why I am wanting to move.  And now that I know there is a possibility of moving, I feel very urgent about moving.  But, it South Africa, things move painfully slow, so I'm trying to be patient and wait.  And enjoy a few more days of happiness with having the students gone...

So, I'm very happy this weekend.  I'm enjoying the campus, walking about freely, unharrassed.  It is wonderful, it is lovely, and I'm brimming with delight!

I've had a couple of "firsts" this weekend.  When we originally arrived in South Africa, it was winter and we were provided with warm bedding.  This is my  big, bulky comforter, which is very, very warm.  (See photos below. But be warned: the blanket, while warm, isn't very attractive!)But because it is so big and bulky, I hadn't yet attempted to launder it.  So, today it was laundered and is drying on the line in the sun.

The weather has also cooled enough that I can keep butter and cream again. (I put it on my windowsill at night where it gets nicely chilled.)  So, I bought my first block of cheese!  I've bought small containers of parmesan before, but this is my first block of cheese.  It is so yummy and divine!

(Great news!  When I move into my porta-camp, I am buying a fridge!!)

For a few days, at least,  until the students return, I'm a lucky girl!

Soon, Karen

Photo credits of bird:

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Village indigobird and my first South African funeral

Hi there!

When I first returned from Easter holiday, I spied a new bird species to my area: the village indigo bird or Vidua chalybeata.  Isn't he darling?  I'm glad I got a look at him, because he didn't stick around very long. He must have been passing through...  Although black in color, he is the closest I can get to my favorite bird back home, the indigo bunting, or Passerina cyanea.

I can have two favorites: one in South Africa, one in North America.

So, I went to my first funeral in my village.  It was certainly not THE first funeral in my village; on the contrary, there are several options for funeral attendance every weekend. EVERY WEEKEND. 

I have been invited to several funerals but have always managed to talk myself out of attending.  It is not difficult to talk myself out of attending because a) most funerals in my village happen early Saturday mornings, early as in 7:00 am start times; b) the funerals I have been invited to are of people I have no close connections with, as with a community member I hadn't even met, or a friend of a friend of a friend, or of an educator's mother who was to be buried in Kimberly (a three hour ride out of town, very early Saturday morning, for R100 transportation cost); and c) well, funerals aren't pleasant events to attend in any country, in my opinion.

However, this was for one that I felt obligated to attend: My principal's, at my primary school, mother had passed this week.  The funeral was yesterday, Saturday.

When I received the news on Tuesday, I immediately thought, "I must attend."  This is my principal, one of my supervisors, and our relationship has had a rocky start.  I thought my attendance to  the funeral, to show respect to him and his family, would be important.  So I made plans to attend.

Come Friday night, I was already talking myself out of attending the funeral Saturday morning.  As stated previously, talking myself out of attending funerals is very easy to do.  I would need to rise at 5:00 to be ready and to walk the half and hour necessary to get to the funeral site; I didn't really feel well (I never really feel well and have decided I won't feel well until I return to the States!); and well, hey, when else will I have time to do laundry? 

I tossed and turned all night, I should go, but I don't want to go.  I should go, but I don't want to go.  Finally, I prayed for the willingness:  "Higher Power, please grant me the willingness to go to the funeral in the morning."

As is often, if not always the case, if I pray for the willingness, the willingness comes.  (This even works for mopping my floor.)  So, at 5:00 a.,. my alarm went off and up I got .  My self-will gave it one more shot: You're exhausted, you tossed and turned all night!  You can stay home!

I told my self-will to shut up; I was going.

So, I went to the funeral.  I wore my skirt, my head-covering (scarf), and made sure I had something covering my shoulders (an outer shirt, in this instance).  I didn't wear any fancy shoes because, well, I don't have fancy shoes.  I wore practical shoes, the same ones that I wear at school, but also the same ones that would get me through a half-hour travelling up dusty roads after walking through dewy grass.  Did my feet look nice?  Well, not as nice as everyone else's.

(If Peace Corps really wants us to look very nice at a funeral, well, Peace Corps can buy us nice clothes to wear at a funeral.)

It was interesting to see the amount of cars in my village, as many who attended came in cars.  We have a lot of cars in my village.  I was surprised. (But of course, attending a funeral is something of a flashy statement: if you're wearing beautiful finery, of course you want to come decked out in fancy car.)

For the service, the family had rented and erected a large tent.  Inside, the tent was decked out in funeral attire: crepe ribbons (yes, black), enlarged black and white copies of the funeral announcement (with a portrait of the deceased), sitting chairs, some covered in linen for the VIPs, a table at the front for the minister and other respected statesmen, an "gazebo" area where the coffin was placed for the service, speakers for sounds system, and an area where the photographer/film crew would stand to record the service for the family.

I thought at first the setting and even the service resembled more like a wedding: flowers, carpeted aisles, draped chairs, photographers/film crew, etc. But the more I thought of it, our funerals are the same.

The service had a program with lots of speakers, lots of singing, lots of praying.  One of the more touching moments, for me, was when a group of the great grand-daughters came forward to sing a song in honor of their grandmother.  (The song they chose, I was surprised to hear, was in English.)

Also, a group of men educators from a nearby village also came forward to sing as a group, the deep tones of the men's voices and the traditional song vibrated up and down my spinal cord: beautiful!

I was also moved, not only at this service, but at other village church services, when the congregation sang one of the Protestant hymns I grew up with: "Softly and Tenderly" (Jesus is Calling).  There is something other-worldly about being in a foreign country, sitting for hours listening to others singing their beautiful hymns in traditional language, and then hear the religious music I grew up with--sung in English!  The feeling is indescribable, but very moving.  I end up choking out the words as tears stream down my face.  It's very moving.

The churches in my community have groups of "devoted church women."  These women are usually the eldest in the church, attend special church services just for them (on Thursdays) and don a special uniform: a coat in a single color (usually bright red, white, or purple), a white cap, and a badge.  I thought it touching too, that because the deceased had been one of these "devoted church women." all the "devoted church women" stood by the coffin during the service: they kept a vigil beside her.  Because the service was very long, and the women very old, they would "take turns" standing watch beside the coffin.  I found it touching how one seated woman would sense that her colleague was tired and would walk up and take her place so that the tired one could sit.  These devoted church women, also served as pallbearers: they carried the coffin to the car.  It was nothing short of heartbreaking to watch these very old women heave the coffin and carry it to the car.

(Of course, these very same women are in the community garden every day doing back-breaking work and digging in hardened cement!!)

The funeral service lasted from 7:00 am until 11:00 am.  It went on, and on, and on.  I quickly realized that the reason for the early morning funeral services, probably, is to get the service in before the day grows too hot and the large group of people assembled in their best clothes won't feel too uncomfortable.  (Although it was still pretty warm with such a large assembly, and you could tell most were considerably uncomfortable.)

I was so grateful that my bladder full of breakfast tea was wonderfully cooperative and wasn't urgently calling me to the toilet.  I will know to sit nearby an exit for the next funeral I attend so I can dash out discreetly, as of course, for this one, I was sitting very close to the front table and would have made quite a scene trying to excuse myself. 

I think I'm finally getting over my bashfulness at saying the word "toilet."  It is just not a word I feel comfortable saying.  Another one of those American conventions at hiding a body function?  The restroom.  The bathroom.  The girls' room.  The potty.  The need to "powder my nose."  :-)

In Africa, it's simple.  We just say, "the toilet."  Simple, but not easy.  (For me.)

At 11:00 am, the congregation walked or rode in a car to the cemetery.  It took about 20 minutes to walk to the cemetery.  By this time, I was looking for a toilet and hoping we wouldn't be at the cemetery too long. 

We stayed at the cemetery, in the blazing hot sun, from 11:00 am until 12:30 pm, no toilet in sight.

At 12:30, we were back at the house, I peed finally, we ritually "washed" our hands (to leave the bad luck of the cemetery behind) and were fed.

Many, many village family's take on a great debt to host a family funeral.  The huge tents are rented for almost a week along with the funeral decorations.  The tent is erected early in the week, as people come to the house at all hours during the week to pay respects to the family.  Everyone that comes to the house is fed.  (It is not uncommon for hundreds of people to visit the deceased's home and expect to be fed.)  And then of course there is the funeral service and meal itself, hundreds of people are fed and ALL must eat.

I spoke briefly to my principal on the Thursday "condolences" visit that my school made to show respect.  As a group, we left our school on Thursday at the end of the school day, walked to my principal's mother's home, sat for awhile outside of the home--the family made sure we had cold water to drink (a bucket with iced water and one communal cup), and then we crammed 40 or so of ourselves into the family's front room and prayed and sang until 3:00 pm.  (Actually, my colleagues stayed until 3:00; I actually dashed out at 2:30 and RAN to my college to conduct my college class, of which all of three students bothered to attend.)

When deaths occur in our work community's circle, we are expected to contribute $20 to the "condolences" fund.  Since there are many, many deaths among us, unfortunately, it can be quite a pricey monthly expense.  Although we can, as volunteers, use our "we don't have money" excuse, it somehow rings shallow when someone has died.  I try to always contribute to this "fund" as it is money given to the deceased's family--probably to offset such a huge cost of hosting a funeral. 

One of my problems with the culture of my people is they withhold the truth from me, as a gesture of not hurting my feelings.  For example, should I, as an outsider, come to the funeral as a sign of respect, or would it be more respectful if I left such an intimate ceremony to the privacy of the family and close friends?  Although I try to feel these kinds of things out, I never really know, for certain, if my presence is appreciated, tolerated, or unwelcome.  Am I welcome?  Is my principal glad I've come, or is he embarrassed?  Are the people glad I'm here, indifferent, or angry?

I never really know and never really feel that I'm doing the right thing.  My principal spoke to me directly on the Thursday during my school's condolence visit, and on the day of the funeral, before the service, my principal approached me to "view" his mother in her coffin.  (Again, I felt intrusive to a very private family matter.)  But we didn't speak again the day of the funeral service. 

Also, the chief of the village was present (and spoke) at the service.  I've not yet been formally introduced to the chief.  I always wait, thinking someone will introduce me to the chief (shouldn't this have happened on my arrival?), but here, as always, our introduction was neglected.  Which makes me think again, "Am I unwelcome?"

So, ke a leka, I am trying.  On Saturday, I learned of the funeral culture in my village, whether I wanted to be there or not and I learned of the funeral culture in my village whether they wanted me there or not!

Soon, Karen

Photo credits of birds:

Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk and my primary school's "Intervention"

I used to feel supremely irritated at unsightly stretches of telephone poles with their miles of telephone and electric lines.  How ugly and how invasive of the natural landscape!  I've come to love them very much in South Africa, because they provide wonderful perching opportunities for this guy: the Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk, or Melierax metabates.  Isn't he magnificent?  One thing, one thing, I like about riding a taxi back from my shopping visit is the taxi follows 50K of road that is lined with telephone poles and electrical wires, so, I can see many of these birds of prey in one ride.  They adore perching on telephone poles. (Photos are not mine; see photo credits listed below.)

So, this week, and every term, my primary school offers three days of "intervention" for the struggling students.  Well, let me rephrase, they offer three days of intervention and those days are allotted as one day per level: one day for the foundation phase (K-3); one day for the intermediate phase (4-5); and one day for the senior phase (6-7).

Now, what comes to mind for you when you think of the term, "intervention"?  HELP for the learners who are struggling?  Yep, me too.  And then my next thought, "How can you possibly help learners who are struggling in one single day?"

Ok.  Here's what "intervention" looked like for my grade six learners.  Their parents are invited to "observe" their children, who are struggling in school, for the day.

Now, I could somewhat buy this if the parents would be observing their children within their normal, day-to-day school activities, so that they could see if their children are engaged, not understanding, distracted, etc.  HOWEVER, here is, in fact what the parents observe:

Their children come to school, to sit for 6 hours being TESTED in all of their subjects. For example, my sixth graders, the ones who are struggling, sat for a test in their Arts and Culture period from 8-830, their technology class from 830-900, their Setswana class from 9-930, etc.  So, the parents "watch" their kids "failing" these tests with the teacher standing over saying, "See, your child is failing."

Eish! I can't imagine anything more horrible than a child enduring this!  And a child who is already feeling demoralized anyway...

So, I hate intervention.

I'm currently in negotiation with my school to "let me" have extra time with my struggling students after school and on a regular, repeating basis (rather than once per term).  The negotiation is tricky, as this concept--of staying after school for anything other than sports--is quite unheard of.

Soon, Karen

Picture credits for Southern Pale Changing Goshawk:

Monday, April 12, 2010

I think I've been officially ousted from the community garden...

I think I've been ousted from the community garden.  At first, my feelings were hurt, but I think it's for the best.

Before I go, I want to show my deep-mulch method masterpiece.  I've been carrying yard debris, mostly lawn clippings, from the college waste sites to "my plot" in the community garden.  (Mine is the plot with the dried grasses covering and sitting in front a "normal" rural South African plot: bare, naked soil.  You never, ever find bare, naked soil in a natural state.  The earth considers it a wound.)  My hope was to cover my plot with deep mulch and let it overwinter.  In this way, I was hoping the mulch would smother existing weeds and then come spring, I could dig the mulch down into the soil to improve it.

Over the course of my deep-mulching project, I've had ongoing (and unsuccessful) conversations about the deep-mulching theory.  Most farmers were disbelieving.  Finally, the gentlemen in charge of the garden could see that the deep mulching was definitely killing the weeds, but he was so excited with this development, that he wanted to move my piles of mulch all around the garden to kill the weeds on other plots (instead of letting it overwinter and be turned back into the soil).

So, last week, the community garden manager informed me that the other gardeners had taken a vote, and they wanted to "uniform" the garden.  "What does that mean, exactly?"  I asked.  It means, that they want to plant all crops in uniform rows; for example, one row of 5 plots with nothing but onions, one row with 5 plots of nothing but carrots, one row with 5 plots of nothing but beets... You get the picture.

Then, I cautiously asked, "What am I supposed to plant in my plot?"  "You are to plant onions."  "Only onions?"  "Yes, only onions."

So, for months I've been working to carry mulch, painstakingly, in love of my garden-to-be next spring.  All for nothing but onions.

I explained that I was hoping to intercrop, grow a lot of food in a little space, blah, blah, blah.  Nope, only onions.  And, you'll need to pay a R50 start up fee and R10 per month there after.

"Ok.  Can I plant somewhere else, outside of the formal garden plan?" 

"Yes," he replied, and took me way back in the back of the garden.  "You can plant whatever you'd like, right here."  The plot to which he was pointing was full of weeds and would basically take me back to square one.  (I'd need to pull weeds and carry mulch, all over again.)

At first I agreed, but the more I think of it, it's a lot of work and I don't have the time to devote to such a large space as I'd like.  (Peace Corps would rather have me in the schools than in the garden.)  And quite frankly, I've felt disheartened by being bumped in such a way.  I simply don't have the heart to begin a new.

The good news is, I had a wonderful brunch on Sunday: eggs sauteed with onion, chillies and fresh lentil sprouts and gem squash sauteed with whole cumin.  YUM!

Soon, Karen

Friday, April 9, 2010

Something of an odd duck...

Right out of grad school, I landed a plum job at a prestigious publishing house in my city. It was quite the plum: banker’s hours, full health benefits, very generous amounts of personal and vacation days, an excellent 401 plan with a full match (which we thought was a good thing at the time!) 

There was only one problem: I hated my job. I hated going every day, felt a ton of dread on Sunday evenings, and on many mornings, called a supportive friend to cry on her shoulder until I could get myself back to my work desk. I hated this job and everything about it: the business world protocol, offices full of dead air, the time-wasting meetings that went on ad nauseum, etc. And because I was working as a copyeditor/proofreader, I would have nightmares about mistakes on my job. After all, if you make a mistake when copy-editing a book, the lives on forever—or at least until the next edition of the book is printed. Believe me, mistakes in publishing are not easily forgivable and they’re quite costly. It’s not a good thing to make a mistake in an expensive book. My job made me a nervous wreck.

In any case, I hated it.

When I tried to explain my problem to a family member, it went something like this: Me: “Here I am with this wonderful job with this wonderful company with these wonderful benefits, yet I’m the most miserable girl on the planet. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?”

See there? What is wrong with ME??

Through force of will, I stayed on at that job for 3 years.

So, here I am in Peace Corps—no! I’m not going there!—living in a living arrangement that I knew, on gut level, would not be good for me.

When we were given our site placements, we were thrilled and excited. (Most of us were thrilled and excited.) When handed my placement, I was very thrilled to learn that I would be working for a college—as that is what I do at home.

But as I read further, my stomach dropped a bit when I realized I would be living in the girls’ dormitory. Although I’d have my own room, I would still be residing inside the girls’ dormitory with them. And my stomach knew, at that moment, that I would not be happy there.

I commuted to college so I did not have the “dorm” experience. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to enjoy living in quieter neighborhoods. So, I knew out of the gate that living in the dorm would not be good for me.

But my mind said, “Oh Karen, don’t be ridiculous. You’ll have the best of the best: your own apartment, indoor plumbing with tub and flush toilet, hot and cold water from taps in the bathroom and kitchen, etc. Don’t be ridiculous, YOU’LL BE FINE.”

And so, I’ve been trying to be fine living at the college in the girls’ dormitory. But I haven’t been fine.

It’s been pretty miserable, in fact. And it’s not of anyone’s fault and certainly not the college kids’. They are who they are: young, vibrant, energized, up at all hours, busy, busy, busy. And I, unfortunately: considerably older, needing rest, easily irritated by all of the clamor, well, you get the picture.

“But is it really that bad?” I keep asking myself. After all, I have my own room, a tub, indoor plumbing…

So, our Peace Corps supervisor comes along on a site visit to see how I am faring. I wrestle for weeks about whether or not I should raise this tiny concern, because really, how can I possibly complain? Before my supervisor’s arrival, I confer with other volunteers: “Should I say something?” I pray, I worry, I fret.

So my supervisor comes along, we have a nice chat, and then she says, “Are you comfortable? Are you having any struggles or concerns?”


And I tell her, I say it out loud: “I hate living in the girls’ dorm.”

And she does an amazing thing; I couldn’t believe it really: SHE VALIDATES MY CONCERN!! I couldn’t believe it! She was absolutely on my side!! She said, “We were concerned about the living arrangement when we made it for the former volunteer.” “I, for one,” continued, “felt certain it wouldn’t be appropriate.”

And then, much to my delight, she added, “I certainly couldn’t do it!”

At that moment, I felt delivered from bondage! Someone who understands! I’m not some type of freak needing extra consideration!

We discussed the pros and cons of my staying or moving and I was reluctant to move just yet (thinking that I, could still, force a solution and WILL myself into liking living in the girls’ hostel) and she left me on this note: “the one thing I will say is, that in the past, when volunteers have expressed concerns about living conditions and then finally move, they always wish they had moved sooner.”

And so she left me, and I began praying in earnest about moving (to move, or not to move).

Only a few days later, on my return from the primary school, I stop for a moment to enjoy the wild zinnias and felt the wind blowing through the trees. My heart filled with joy. I remained there for quite some time when it occurs to me: THIS is what I’m missing: quiet and solitude. And then I realized, this seemingly insignificant need could go a long way to making me ever-so-much happier in my days here in South Africa. Yes, I would see about moving.

So, all of this has been going on for awhile and I haven’t really said anything about it because, well, who knows what will happen, and I didn’t want to get my hopes up.

And here is a photo of my, oh please oh please, new home-to-be. Isn’t it a lovely? I know, I know, it’s a fixer upper, but I do so LOVE IT! I’m so excited and so happy, but am still trying not to get my hopes up.

So I’m exceptionally happy today because the security officer for Peace Corps drove down today, all the way from Pretoria, and gave his blessing. (I feel sure we can make this happen!)

AND, two of the three necessary bids for prepares have actually happened! (I thought this process would take FOREVER!) Both the college and Peace Corps are working hard for me to make this happen.

Dare I say it? I could live happily-ever-after in South Africa! We’ll see.

Soon, Karen

Thursday, April 8, 2010

the February storm that blew away my primary school

Hi there!

I was asked not to publish these photos at the time of the storm but have since been granted permission.

We had a horrible storm back in February that lasted all of 30 minutes.  In that thirty minutes, the storm destroyed the school badly enough that my two classes of grade six English have become a one class of 63 students!  (My sixth-graders' classrooms were destroyed and they've been re-housed all together into one room until the repairs can be made.)

It also uprooted a massive pepper tree, that the students ultimately used as a climbing post for gobs of fun.

I guess some destruction isn't all bad?

Soon, Karen

dichotomies and generalizations: the lifeblood of stereotypes

Hi there!

This guy is a Black-throated Canary, or Crithagra atrogularis, isn't he beautiful?  We have tons of them and they make me deliciously happy.

Because I am a pea-brain and have had a lot of practice categorizing things according to differences, I'm afraid this bad habit has come with me from the States.  Some casual observations I have made, unfortunately, are categorized below:

In middle-class America, siblings usually don't help their younger siblings pay for their education; in rural South Africa, it is quite common to find older siblings financing their younger siblings' education.

In middle-class America, we leash, exercise and feed our dogs well; in rural South Africa, we starve our dogs, chain them to a tree, and have them as sentinels in our yards.

In middle-class America, we contain our domestic animals (cattle, donkeys, goats); in rural South Africa, we let domestic animals roam free.

In middle-class America, most documents are composed on a computer; in rural South Africa, most documents are hand-written.

In middle-class America, we have a cutting board for raw meat, one for garlic and onions, and one for everything else;  in rural South Africa, we use the table top.

In middle-class America, we dress for comfort rather than fashion.  In this way, we wear comfortable shoes and practical clothing.  In rural South Africa, we dress for fashion, which has us wading in 6 inches of dry dirt (or wet mud, depending the weather) in our stilettos and our cleavage busting out of our blouses.

(I do acknowledge here that fashion is indeed very important to many women in the US, and that style often trumps comfort in the US as it does in rural SA.)

In middle-class America, we have annual shopping trips to outfit our school with a wonderful variety of well-made, colorful clothes; in rural South Africa,  a school uniform is highly prized and often the most expensive cost a household assumes.

In middle-class America, these same annual shopping trips also procure a wonderful variety and abundance of all kinds of colorful and fun school supplies; in rural South Africa, a standard pencil (with no eraser) and the drabbest of cardboard covered "activity books" are supplied.

In middle-class America, we use a three-hole punch; in rural South Africa, we use a two-hole punch.

In middle-class America, we ask students questions to stimulate critical thinking; in rural South Africa, we tell learners what they should be thinking and believing.

In middle-class America, college students generally come to class as expected; in rural South Africa, college learners often do not come to class as expected, and any excuse seems honorable for an absence.

In middle-class America, we have periods at the ends of our sentences; in rural South Africa, we have end-stops at the end of our sentences.

In middle-class America, indoor plumbing is standard; in rural South Africa, indoor plumbing is exceptional.

In middle-class America, our greetings in English vary: Hello, how are you?  What's up? How have you been?; in rural South Africa, our greetings in English are standard and do not vary: "Hello.  How are you?  I'm fine, thank you. And how are you?"  (And any variety in greetings in English, we rural South Africans find hilarious.)

In middle-class America, we tend to write our dates in this manner: 04/08/2010; in rural South Africa, we tend to write the dates like this: 08/04/2010.  (Is it already April 8th?!!  Eish, my holiday was too brief!)

In middle-class America, most of our teaching course work has moved to computers and even on-line; in rural South Africa, most of our course work is done by hand.

In middle-class America, health hazards like raw sewage bubbling from the ground, or whole living areas being without water are considered health emergencies; in rural South Africa, these same health hazards are not regarded as urgent and barely become topics of conversation.

In middle-class America, we typically indent a paragraph; in rural South Africa, to find an indented paragraph in any of their learning materials is quite a find.

In middle-class America, teachers seem to have lost a once held, high regard of their community members; in rural South Africa, teachers are some of the most highly regarded by members of the community.

In middle-class America, passive voice is taught to be avoided; in rural South Africa, passive voice is taught painstakingly.

In middle-class America, our college kids are treated as adults; in rural South Africa, we treat our college kids as children, even locking them out of their dormitories so they are "forced" to attend class.

In middle-class America, we have discontinued the use of corporal punishment in schools; in rural South Africa, although corporal punishment is outlawed, we continue to use it.

In middle-class America, it is somewhat acceptable to make mistakes and be forgiven as a human being; in rural South Africa, to make mistakes publicly is the worst thing anyone can do.

In middle-class America, we typically value function over form; in rural South Africa, we typically value form over function.

Just some musings for a middle-class American pea-brain, and closing with another lovely sunset!  See the moon?

Soon, Karen

photo credit for black throated canary:

between-term (Easter) holiday

After our training at the end of March, we returned to our sites with the 2-week between-term holiday (Easter) already in progress.  As is often the case, if we have time to travel after a training, many volunteers opt to travel.  Many of our Peace Corps volunteers travelled from Rustenburg to Sabie, South Africa, a great place to see the sights of Kruger National Park and Blyde River Canyon.

I, my usual boring little self, wanted to return to my site.  :-)

There were several reasons for my wanting to return to site: a) I've discovered that holidays are a delicious time to be living on my college campus as all students have gone away for holiday and it is blissfully quiet; b) I've horribly regretted the community garden because I've been swamped with school and was quite looking forward to having my hands in the soil; c) we had this dreadful quarterly report for Peace Corps needing filing by April 1; and d) I wanted time to prepare for my term two classes, now that I know what I'm doing in regards to teaching.

So, after a wonderful weekend trip visit with my friends Tim and Liz, I returned to my site.  Once here, I was horrified to learn that a very, very large church group had booked the campus, including the dormitories, and would be my housemates for the ENTIRE week of Easter.  They were as boisterous, if not more so, than the college kids ever are.  There went one week of solitude.

And, to make matters worse, unfortunately for me, I've not felt myself since returning to site, and have not felt up to working in the garden.  To make this disinterest worse, the garden is woefully overgrown with weeds and any hope of mulching it with yard debris was crushed when I realized that the yardmen were careful to burn all yard debris before leaving for holiday.  Grump!

I did the dreaded quarterly report for Peace Corps, hoping it would take a few minutes.  It took four hours!  I did this lovely task on Easter Sunday.  :-)

And here I am, into days away of the new term beginning, and still not feeling up to the task of preparing my classes.

At first I thought I was getting physically sick: overwhelming fatigue, sore throat, chills, loss of appetite, etc., so off to bed I went for a couple of days.  I did the whole garlic/cayenne pepper thing (am sure I smell absolutely LOVELY) and have drunk gallons and gallons of herbal tea, especially designed for this type of thing and faithfully mailed to me by a family member.

So, I did the stay in bed thing for a couple of days, the sore throat went away but I was still left with the fatigue and loss of appetite.  I forced myself out to the garden, hoping it would help, but it didn't.  Another volunteer visited yesterday and we walked to the post office and that helped a bit, I think.

So, the only big task I have left of my holiday is course preparation, which is feeling urgent now, since courses resume on Monday.  I'll pull it out, I'm sure, as I always do.

The other thing that is very likely to be going on, is I crash and burn after an intense round of work or crisis.  At the end of last term, I knew I was over-working and not taking care of myself, but I kept my eyes on the prize and knew the end of the term was coming, so I kept pressing.  When the term finally concluded, off I went to training for a week, and needed to keep my momentum going even further for Pilanesberg.

So, these last two weeks may simply be the colliding of the train cars piling up on me since the speeding car had stopped.

But I do have some photos to show you.  The above, is one of my ever-ongoing, jaw-dropping sunsets.  Isn't it lovely?

And below are some snaps of my barren herb bed and how it fared this season.  I must confess that I planted very late in the season, when it was already too hot and too dry, so my herb beds didn't fare well.  Marigolds did well though, eh?  And I was also thrilled that the "weedy thing that I didn't know what was" turned out to be borage. Although borage is considered an undesirable to some gardeners (because it is a determined grower), it does attract bees and other beneficials.  Why I am especially excited is that the flowers are edible and I'm hoping to convince the hospitality program to add the flowers to their lovely dishes as a garnish.  And borage is hardy and practically indestructible, so now that it is established, I should have borage for many years to come now!  :-)


And below is the only living thing remaining from my mulching experiment with the village woman and her tomatoes.  I planted a marigold as natural pest control and, as you can see, it thrived.  The tomatoes did not, largely in part I like to think, because she had me remove the protective mulch.  But I think the photo demonstrates how the mulch was effective with weed control.  See all of the bare, brown dirt around the marigold?  And all the weeds growing in the background?  Guess where the mulch was?

And below is a shot of my Setswana tutor's campaign poster.  He's running for a student government position.  I particularly appreciate his motto, "Together we can steal more." Nice.

And lastly, the photos below show the how of South African rural village landscaping.  The  "lawn" on the left has been cleared to expose only the red dirt under the grass line.  Most rural South African yards are landscaped in this way.  The villagers remove any grass or anything growing so snakes have no where to hide and can be easily seen.  (No one currently lives in the "portacamp" on the right, hence the grass is allowed to grow.  They call "trailers" or "mobile homes" portacamps here.)

Off to prepare for term two classes!

Soon, Karen

Monday, April 5, 2010

still more on food and eating and something of a rant

I'm still experiencing the learning curve on eating healthily in South Africa. I think I’m making significant progress. As with everything else here in South Africa, it has taken awhile.

I've spoken before about how fresh foods are significantly more expensive than pre-packaged, snacky, food-products and about how I'm spending most of my living stipend on buying fresh food. But I’m learning some tricks on how to make the food money go further.

Another volunteer pointed out to me a previously untried grocer in my shopping town. I was delighted to find all of my usually procured foods at a markedly cheaper price. I was very, very happy until I discovered bugs in my food.

As I went happily about using my much less expensive oats, rice, barley and such, I noticed that every one of those products was full of those small, dark weevils that one finds occasionally in dried grain products. Not very appetizing, to say the least!

It took me awhile to figure out my problem, and decided it was the cheap grocer. I’ve since returned to the pricier, yet higher quality grocers, and have found my bug problem to have disappeared. Also, the pricier grains usually come in better packaging, a sturdier plastic, which better keeps bugs out.

Initially, I was trying to support my local grocer, but became more and more dismayed at paying three times the price for rotten food. (Not surprisingly, I discovered that my village grocer was buying the marked-down produce from the grocer that was selling the vermin-infested grains.) So, I’ve since switched to buying only soap products and other non-perishables from my local grocer, and saving my pennies for fresher produce available in town. In this way, I keep some money in the village but have fresher, more wholesome food for myself.

I’ve also been keenly interested in how other volunteers are faring with their living allowances, particularly in regards to their food budgets. At first, I was dismayed when my informal poll indicated that other volunteers were doing just fine with their living allowances, thank you very much, and ending the month with more than half of their monthly funds remaining.

I was aghast! What in the world was I doing wrong?

I later learned that the initially polled volunteers were of the “younger” in age group, and probably saved their stipends because they are young enough to thrive on inexpensive boxes of crackers, candy, and the like.

Much later, after I talked to some of the more older volunteers, (but not much older), I learned that yes, they too, were struggling with having enough stipend to get by, especially in the food category.

A brief aside: When I was volunteering in Alaska, I was readying myself for a 3-day hike in the mountains. There was a young guy to accompany us, and I was horrified to learn that he would only be bringing “trail mix” along to nourish his body for the 3-day hike. When I expressed this concern to my supervisor, she remarked, “Kids do this all the time.” So, I stood corrected. And yes, he survived 3 days of strenuous hiking through the mountains, enduring freezing temperatures, three days of steady rain, and climbing mountains, although he did seek handouts from those of us that packed more substantial foods.

And of course, I’m reminded of my graduate school days, when I got by on nothing more than ramen noodles and peanut butter, so yes, I can see how some can survive on such a diet.

However, in my advancing age and increasing concern for my health, have adopted a healthy eating style and feel, well, that my life depends upon it.

When sharing news of unhealthful eating habits among some of the younger volunteers, a sympathetic volunteer commented, “I don’t want my Peace Corps South Africa experience to feel any more of an episode of “Survivor” than it already does.” Indeed.

This brings us back to the fact that as Peace Corps Volunteers, we’re expected to live in the same manner of the people that we’re living with.

I have something of a bone of contention with this, because we are “paid” to live a bit better than the pensioners in our community. The pensioners’ diet consists mostly of meat and mealie meal pap—a stiff porridge made from corn, because that is all they can afford. However, we work and live with educators in our community, and educators are some of the most highly paid people living in South Africa.

So, our stipend has us hoping to live on meat and mealie meal pap, but our community expects us to dress nicely, have a nice car, a nice house, etc.

It is a confusing contradiction, for all involved.

The politics of food and healthy eating has food manufacturers, food distributors, and dare I say governments?, throwing highly processed, addictive, harmful-if-eaten food products at the poor. In this way, the poor purchase the only food affordable to them, become sick from malnutrition, and live their lives needing expensive health care and ultimately die. We have this problem in the US as well.

Not surprisingly then, most of the people in the rural villages of South Africa are existing on “mealie meal,” a corn product that goes far on filling the tummy, but has very little nutritional value. Rural South Africans eat a lot of meat as well, and the instance of stroke and diabetes within our communities is alarmingly high. And as with the United States, school children are likely to be snacking on chips, sweets, and sugary drinks.

But I’m learning to eat well and have enough funds to eat well. I’m still eating fresh sprouts on a regular basis, the freshest and least expensive of all of my fresh vegetables: a small bag of whole lentils costs about R8 and sprouts weeks worth of fresh vegetables. I’ve found a way to purchase clean beans and grains and high-quality produce. I’ve found a non-fat milk powder to lighten my tea.

Again, back to the politics of food and eating. There are plenty of dried milk products available to everyone living in rural South Africa, but these milk products are FULL CREAM milk products. We know that full-cream milk is very bad for you, particularly in regards to heart disease. I finally found a non-fat milk powder, in, guess where? A grocer in the shopping town that caters to the wealthier class. (I won’t mention the color of the peoples’ skin that you see patronizing these stores, but leave it to your imagination and best guesses.)

Oh dear, I’ve gotten myself—and you—into quite the political rant.

All this to say I’m eating better and am making my pennies go farther. I’m learning, I’m learning, I’m learning.

To close on a somewhat lighter note, most of the oats I find in rural South Africa are the “quick” kind, the more highly processed kind. Well, I’ve long ago fallen for traditional oats and they’re something of a find here in rural South Africa. Most of us find “Jungle Oats,” a name brand that is refined. I’ve found the same name brand in the whole-oat form: “Tiger Oats.” I love these very much. Guess the only store where I can buy them?

Thanks for hanging in there with me—time for lunch!


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Parcels!! I'm a lucky girl!

I've changed my mailing address from the college to a PO box because there was a significant bottleneck while waiting for the college to a) go collect the mail from the post office, and b) finally sort the mail and then hunt me down to deliver it.

The post office is doing a fine job of keeping all of my mail in one place so I get it more quickly and more reliably. Also, the post office is holding anything addressed to me, whether it is addressed to the college or the PO Box.

Before I left for the most recent training, I received two packages from family members.

One was a package of herbs and spices, tea, dental floss, soap, and an always prized letter! One of the greatest ways I've treated myself is to ask for "favorite spices" from friends and family members along with a note of explanation on how the herb is enjoyed. For every meal, I have a different spice to look forward to. I remember thinking once, upon receiving some cinnamon, and sprinkling my oatmeal with it, "Does cinnamon always taste this good?” “Is this just exceptionally wonderful cinnamon?” “Or am I so taste-deprived, old mud would taste good at this point?"

This particular batch held a selection of whole spices: star anise, cloves, cinnamon sticks and other wonderful herbs to add to my daily dishes. I'm a lucky, lucky girl!

Another family member sent along some more "underly things" with a big batch of peppercorns, (yay! can never have enough of THOSE!), soap, and family photos. I feel wealthy in peppercorns!

When I returned from training, I was delightfully surprised with no less than FIVE packages awaiting me! (I think that is a record.)

One family member sent along some batteries for my book light, a LEO (favorite local publication from my favorite city!), vegetable bullion, herbal tea, and a Wild n Woolly pen I'm supposed to have my photograph taken with. (Wild and Woolly is a local, independently owned DVD/video store specializing in "hard to find" films. Apparently, customers are encouraged to take their promotional pens to the far corner of the world and have their photos taken with it for their website:

This same family member also sent along a way-too-nice tea strainer that will have me feeling like Queen Elizabeth drinking tea out of her silver-plated tea strainer in dirt-town, South Africa!!

This particular package had a note and a gift of gardening gloves from my friends at Bunton Seed Company. Thank you! My bleeding hands feel better already! South Africa has some determinedly sharp and prickly weed seeds, and I've had a hard time trying to find adequate gloves!! These new gloves will work perfectly!

I took a seasonal job at Bunton's the spring before I came to Africa. Gosh, I guess it was LAST spring. It feels like a gajillion years ago... I wanted to work there because it is a reputed seed company and nursery; is within walking distance of my Louisville home; I was hoping I could learn more about plants, vegetables, trees, herbs, etc., and I was hoping to do was make some extra money for my African trip. Of all those things I accomplished except earning extra money for my trip. I spent nearly every extra penny buying plants! Silly me! I had a great time planting that spring tho!!

So thanks to Chloe and everyone at Bunton Seed!

Another family member sent me a package stocked full of fun reading material: a book on the Greening of Africa, several publications on my city's parks and upcoming festivals, local neighborhood papers, a Nature Conservancy, and stickers for the kiddos.

I'm happy to see that the organizations begging donations have switched from return mailing address labels to stickers I can use for school children! Woo hoo!

And then I had family members send several packages of school supplies after seeing promotional shows on American television for "Peace Corps Week," which I didn't even know existed. Apparently, it is held in the first week of March. My family saw a clip from Good Morning America and sent me parcels containing all kinds of school supplies: maps, atlases, pens, pencils, stickers, dictionaries--all fun, fun, colorful stuff. I almost can't wait to get back to school! (We're on Easter holiday until April 12.) The kids will be delighted. I am delighted!

And always appreciated are the ever-coming notes and letters. I have one family member in particular writing me of local and national news and events. She even supplies news of happenings in the sports world. (I, unfortunately, don't have a sport cell in my body.) I love reading news from home, ALL news from home, because it helps me feel as if I WERE home.

I'm a lucky girl!

Thanks to everyone for your ongoing support!



Thursday, April 1, 2010

the Lion Park near Pilanesberg March 2010

On our way out of Pilanesberg, Palma overwhelmed us even further with a visit to a lion park very near a hotel where we had lunch. The lion park had lions of all sizes to see: we stared at a lovely male with a tremendous mane lounging in the shade with three (or four?) gorgeous females.

But the thrill in the lion park, for me, was entering the area where young lions are kept for petting and pictures. And of course, I have never been this close to a lion before.

Lovely shot of both Liz and Emily holding a baby lion. He seemed a bit grumpy (and squirmy!) so I passed. He didn’t like being petted either:

Me: Aaaaaaaaaahhhh. Lovely kitty.

S/he: I’m not a damn kitty!

Me: You’re right!

S/he: I’m a LION.

Me: You most certainly ARE A LION.

Playing with lions after a day of jaw-dropping beauty. I’m a lucky girl.