Monday, May 31, 2010

Lookey what I got!

And not a moment too soon, because we’ve had our first FROST! And it’s cold!

When we first arrived in South Africa, I noticed some South Africans rising every morning and dragging a chair out to sit at, what I thought at that time, the WALL! Uh oh, I thought. I hope this isn’t what South Africans do for FUN!

Now I know it’s what South Africans do for WARMTH!

I love my new blankey, and as someone is paying attention, it’s the colors of the African sky! I love it, love it, love it! And it’s sooooo warm!

Thank you!



Welcome to my new home!

I’ve been in my new home for all of six days and can’t begin to describe how much better I feel. It’s hard to explain, but I feel more like MYSELF.

In only six days, I finally feel happy to be here in Africa, happy to wake up in the morning, happy to go to school, (YES! I can’t believe it! I FEEL HAPPY to go to school!), happy to come home from school, very happy to “piddle” inside my new home, am happy to encounter students throughout the day, am belting out Broadway tunes spontaneously… ;-)

I had dinner last night on my “porch” under a full moon… It was beautiful… I felt so happy I could POP.

I think I was in intense denial about how UNHAPPY I was living in the hostel (dormitory). And I’m shocked at how much better it feels simply to change my living arrangements.

My supervisor had urged, when I was asking about relocating, that “Our volunteers who feel reluctant to request a housing change, and then ultimately decide to relocate, always wish they had asked sooner.”

I’m certainly one of these. I can’t believe I tried to “tough it out” as long as I did. All of that misery—for nothing, really. All because I hated to complain…

So, here are some shots after I’ve moved in a bit. I feel really, really guilty having so much space. Not only do I have more space now than most volunteers, but I actually have more living space now than my family back home!!

I have made a couple of sacrifices in my move though. I gave up hot water, a flushing toilet, and electricity. (I have electricity in my new home but pay for it now).

It’s kind of fun though, heating water for my bath, having a toilet “ritual” to flush it, and paying for my electricity and watching it tick away on a meter helps me not waste it (or take it for granted).

Oops, back to the photos!

One is of me, welcoming you inside my new home; one is of my “foyer,” (books on shelf), one is of my always-messy-writing desk; one is of my ugly “everything-but-mosquito-net and even uglier comforter, and one is of my always messy kitchen; one is of my front “porch”; one is of the full moon; one is of the picnic table near by that I used to sit and dream about living in the trailer; and one is of my bathroom. I scrubbed the next layer of grime out of the bathroom last night. It smells ever so much better!

I know, know, know I’m feeling better because I want to buy a shovel! A garden feels soon to come!

I’m so happy, and happy to be finally happy in Africa! For those who have been suffering along with me in spirit, we can be happy now!


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Traveling in South Africa

Unlike many of my fellow volunteers, I haven’t really “seen” any fun sights of South Africa. There are several reasons for this, but it can all be boiled down to: I’m an old fuddy duddy.

We’re eight months into service and many of my fellow volunteers have taken trips at Christmas and Easter. Many of us have seen Durban, Cape Town, Kruger, and the Wild Coast. Some of us have traveled outside of South Africa to visit neighboring nations: Botswana, Zimbabwe, Madascar, etc.

I have yet to see anything “fun” in South Africa.

For one thing, I’m careful with my money because I don’t have a cash reserve or discretionary income. I was very frugal at the beginning of my service because, well, I wasn’t sure how my living expenses would pan out in my volunteer experience in a new country, and I felt more comfortable forgoing trips to get a better feel of my financial situation.

Read: I’m a fuddy duddy. Feeling financially insecure was more important to me than seeing Table Mountain or the “Big Five.”

(A side note: I was delightfully surprised to find my financial situation significantly improved with my 2009 federal tax return. It seems the secret of getting a sizeable tax return is barely working or not working at all!)

In the beginning of my service, I was very overwhelmed with my integration into my new community, and all of my energy and effort was focused on trying to “fit in” to my community.

Read: I’m a fuddy duddy: I’m too old to multi-task community integration with travel and sight-seeing.

But the most important reason, and the real reason I’m such a fuddy-duddy, is that I find it nearly IMPOSSIBLE to take care of myself when traveling in South Africa.

Peace Corps volunteers are urged to use local transportation for moving about in-country. For those of us in rural South Africa, we rely on the public “taxi system.”

(Please don’t be fooled by the word “taxi.” “Taxis” here are vans that should seat 12-15 people, but are always loaded beyond capacity—I’ve counted up to 20 passengers in one van before—and all are packed with parcels and packages, and the vehicles are usually in disrepair, have bad tires, and often have an idiot for a driver.)

I’ve spoken more than a bit about the taxi system of rural South Africa, but as a reminder: it takes FOREVER to reach your destination, your travel experience is very unpredictable, and your safety is at risk more often than not.

As the ride is always unpredictable, I always limit my liquids in worry of needing a toilet. In other words, when traveling, I deliberately dehydrate myself which gives me a headache, makes me irritable, and feel in-general, all-around unhealthy.

If I forgo bringing lunch or snacks, I’m usually sorry, because I’ve waited up to 6-8 hours for a taxi to depart, which necessitates missing meals.

As the taxi is packed with parcels and people, I’ve been on long rides where I couldn’t even reach into my pocket for change or my cell phone.

The drivers, if they have the equipment, LOVE to blast their radios at ear-bleeding volumes regardless of whether small children or infirm as passengers are aboard.

As I am TRAVELING on these excursions, I’m usually loaded down with a bulky pack and other bags and therefore have transformed myself into a walking “target of crime” as I move about in unfamiliar taxi ranks. As we’re urged to be extra vigilant when carrying travel gear, I’m exhausted by all of the “fight or flight” adrenaline pumping through my body.

As an old fuddy-duddy who appreciates her health and well-being, I try to avoid using public transportation (read: TRAVEL) at all costs.

For extra measure, let me recount my recent adventures with some smaller trips:

For Cinco de Mayo, several volunteers traveled to a central location to get together and eat good Mexican food. This location was, by normal travel standards, two hours from me.

On the day of my journey to meet my friends, I arrived at the taxi rank at 7:30 in the morning in hopes of departing as early as possible so I could spend most of the day Saturday with my friends. My taxi left at 1:30 pm in the afternoon. So, I sat on my taxi most of the day Saturday (the party was scheduled for Saturday evening), limiting my liquids and worrying about lunch. (Remember, I thought I’d be departing early in the morning.)

When I finally arrived at my destination, I had time for a half an hour at the party, dinner, and then it was time for bed as I would be “traveling” back to my village first thing in the morning. My “trip” was actually a very expensive taxi sit.

I recently spent a week at Eduland with my school. Although the school provided transportation to and from the Eduland campus, I decided to use public transportation and leave a couple of days early to spend a weekend with a fellow PC volunteer.

On Saturday morning, I headed for the taxi rank around 9:00 in the morning (after my painful lesson that a 7:30 departure was sure not to happen). My taxi finally filled and departed around 1:00 pm. I had a four-hour ride and needed to be in the destination city’s taxi rank before dark (5:00-6:00 pm). About two hours into my ride, my taxi driver decided to ignore a construction sign stopping drivers from moving into one-lane, one-way traffic. As our vehicle was now driving head-on into oncoming traffic, our driver had to move to the “construction” side of the road. He proceeded to drive on the gravel part of the road, with pot holes as huge as bathtubs, at 80-miles per hour. Every time we were airborne, I hoped the vehicle wouldn’t roll upon impact. I was thinking to myself, “If this guy doesn’t care for his passengers, perhaps he might care about the vehicle?”

While we survived the ordeal, our vehicle did not, and when smoke began pouring out of the back of the vehicle, we stopped and emptied ourselves out on the side of a major highway. It was around 2:30 pm at this point, and I’m still 2 hours away from the destination city’s taxi rank and about 3 hours away from night fall. Nice.

Long story short: We were picked up by another taxi about an hour later, I made it to the destination city’s rank at nightfall, and safely reached my destination well after dark.

So much for going in a day early for visiting my friend.

There are a couple of other stories, but they pan out basically the same way and you get the idea.

As an old fuddy-duddy, I find it much easier and I’m infinitely happier to stay home and not go to the bother.  :-)

So, me, the fuddy-duddy has decided to take my first major traveling trip during the World Cup soccer match. Traveling during World Cup is absolutely, crazy-making waiting to happen.

What am I thinking?

I’m thinking, “I have to see a baobab tree!”

Wish me luck—and good travel stories are sure to come!



PS: For my worriers: travel during the World Cup won’t be so bad! I’m heading for a non-tourist, non-soccer area! No worries!

PSS. All photos are downloaded from the Internet.

Eat your veggies!

I was warned on coming to South Africa that it was a “meat eating” nation. I have found this to be true without exception. I’ve also learned that South Africans also likes to eat starch.

If you are invited to someone’s home, you’re likely to be served an ENORMOUS portion of meat (and often you’ll find three kinds of meat on your plate) along with an enormous heap of mealie meal (pap).

If pap is unavailable, you’ll have rice or bread. If you’re served bread, it will be the white sliced variety, and you’ll be served four slices. FOUR slices.

If you’re lucky, you might have a tablespoon (really, a tablespoon—I’m not kidding) of “salad,” which is really a relish or a sauce. It is often chakalaka, a yummy, spicy sauce made from tomatoes and grated carrots or acher, a spicy relish made from green mangoes.

While the “vegetable” portions are quite tasty, they are far from what I would consider a healthy portion in regards to nutrition.

In South African restaurants this is true as well. Even if you order a dinner salad off of the menu, you’re likely to be served a small ice-cream scoop size of grated lettuce. I’ve yet to order a dinner salad in South Africa and be satisfied with my meal.

I often find myself wondering how in the world South Africans move their bowels.

(On a sadder note, South Africans suffer—a great many South Africans suffer-- with heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.)

I’ve recently returned to my site after spending a week away eating lots of starch and meat. I felt like I could eat nothing but vegetables for a month and still not feel caught up!!

On my return I was hoping to harvest some wild spinach (amaranth) that I’ve noticed growing about the campus. Although it is often harvested by the people living in the village, I had found a patch that had been unmolested—as the photograph shows. Isn’t it a gorgeous plant?? I love it. I’m harvesting seeds to plant near my new home (my trailer).

Imagine my dismay at returning to find a spindly stalk and all the gorgeous leaves harvested!

Oh well, at least they left the seed pods!


Goodies from home!

Goodies from home…

I continue to receive goody packages from home and it’s always a thrill to go to the post office and find a package waiting. However, I have yet to overcome the shock of how much it costs to ship things, and always feel as though I’m having a stroke at seeing how much a friend or family member has spent to send me a package overseas. Without exception, the cost of shipping the package is more (often MUCH more) than the value of the contents inside!!

After I mourn the cost of shipping the package and carry it safely home, I’m like a kid at Christmas opening it!

Many of you have sent packages loaded with school supplies—always a hit with the kids (if I can keep them away from the educators!!) and more often than not, you tuck a few goodies in for me:

This latest package contained lots of goodies for the kids: cool pencils and sharpeners for the kids—very colorful and erasers in neon! 

And, as often is the case, this package had some goodies for me as well: GOOD dishtowels (how did you KNOW I needed dishtowels?!) of the IKEA brand. These are a special treat as I can’t even afford to go to the IKEA website! ;-)

Also included was a box of note cards: these continue to come in handy as I have lots of “thank you”s and “I’m sorry for your loss”es and a personal note is very well-received.

And a current Farmer’s Almanac (goody, goody, gumdrops!).

The sender(s) of this package actually smuggled me in some vegetable seeds and I had a grand time planning a garden--and feeling more than a bit homesick! I have yet to muster the interest in gardening in Africa that was squashed earlier in the year… But having the seeds in hand is sure to do it!

And I love, love, love the “Kentucky Proud” bag and personal notes from home!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

In an earlier package of school supplies from a different sender, there was included inside a “coffee table book” of my favorite place in the world: Louisville, KY. The book is full of wonderful photos of my favorite places around town. I cried and cried looking at it. Although the sender certainly sent it so that I could use it as educational material, I think I’ll hang onto it for awhile and have my “lessons on Louisville” closer to the time of my departure!

Thanks as always for the yummy gifts! I feel loved, very much so, from far across the sea!



Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Spider story

I owe at least one family member my spider story; she’s waiting on pins and needles.  The photo is not of "my spider" and the photo is not mine (see credit below), but "my spider" looked something like this.

I’ve been traveling a bit and will keep the location of my “spider incident” secret to protect my wonderful host’s anonymity. (He certainly wasn’t responsible for a critter coming into my room!!)

So, I had this really nice room near a body of water in a wooded area and winter’s a commin in South Africa. Mice, lizards, bees—all living things are coming inside to seek warmth and comfort from the dropping temperatures.

On night two of my stay, I’m piddling about my room, and it takes awhile, but after several minutes, I notice this very, very, very large spider hanging out nearby my clothes rack.

How large was he? I will say he was the size of a dinner plate. Well, ok, perhaps a dessert plate. He was so big that it took me awhile to notice him because I thought he was a piece of the furniture. 

As I grow older, I find it increasingly difficult to kill any living creature, but especially spiders because they can be very helpful in the house and garden (they eat lots of other nasty bugs!). While I’m somewhat familiar with North American spiders, I’m not familiar at all with South African ones, but I do know that South Africa has poisonous spiders, and at least two of my college colleagues have recently experienced spider bites requiring medical attention.

Alas, I didn’t have my “every-thing-but mosquito net with me” and I couldn’t find a LARGE ENOUGH container to catch him and release him in. (I would have needed a cargo container.)

While I hated to kill him, it was a case of “him versus me” and I knew if I let him wander throughout the night, I wouldn’t sleep.

So, after mustering a great deal of courage, and then mustering even more courage, I squashed him. And squash he did. He made quite a mess.

By this time I was quite creeped out and couldn’t gather any more courage to clean his squashed self up, so I went to bed—and was able to sleep even though I was creeped out.

The next morning, although I hated to pass the buck, I was hoping the cleaning crew would wipe him up. No such luck as there was no visit from the cleaning crew the next day.

Ok, now I was into a good day-and-a-half of dried, squashed, messy spider goop and I couldn’t stand to look at him any longer. I TRIED to clean him up. Much to my dismay, his squashy self left an irremovable GREASE SPOT that looked like anything but a spider kill. “Nice,” I thought to myself.

The next day, I left my room for my daily duties and returned home to a march of ants that had come in from the ceiling on the opposite side of the room, and in their majestic single file, had tansversed the whole of the room to feast on the grease spot remaining from the spider kill. “Nice,” I thought.

The next day, cleaning crew attempted the mess. “Great! Here comes the aid of the professionals!” Much to my dismay, while they had successfully cleaned up the feasting ants (and their single file transversing the room), the nasty grease spot remained.

“Great,” I thought, “I’ve ruined their room.”

In all of this I was extremely self-centered and worried WHAT the cleaning crew might think of this nasty, greasy spot and what on earth I had done, as the spider’s squashed body had long gone by way of the trash can.

In my vanity and embarrassment, I left a note (and a tip) explaining that I’d killed a spider and was terribly sorry for the mess. Am mildly worried that I will receive a bill for a complete room renovation.

Since my “spider incident,” I’ve learned that my spider was very probably not poisonous at all, as is the case with most South African spiders. (As in the States, South African poisonous spiders are very small and distinctly marked.) I was somewhat reassured, however, that I likely avoided a “very painful bite.”



Photo of spider found:

Monday, May 24, 2010

Home Sweet Home Revisited: Unpacking, moving in, and slaughtering a sheep

The photo is a shot of the (rural) South African version of junk day: I’m handing off most of the “furnishings” from the former occupant of my new home. First come, first served… If you want it at home, YOU pay for the shipping!

The past few weeks have proven rather hectic for me. In the midst of moving my living quarters from the “hostile hostel” (dormitory) to the calm, quiet, and private porta-camp (trailer), I also had to prepare my course work, including end-of-term tests and assignments, for both my college class and primary school classes as I was leaving for a week to visit Eduland.

So, two weeks ago, I was moving and working like mad, and feeling very anxious.

During my move, all of my colleagues—all of the other college teachers, expressed joy at my throwing a “house warming party.” I was quite grumpy with the notion of this as a) I was moving all by myself and none of the other teachers offered to help; b) I couldn’t fathom the expense of hosting a house-warming party (or any other kind of) party, for that matter); and c) my new digs lacked a safe entrance, a flushing toilet, low water pressure, and (at the time) hot electrical wires located throughout my new digs. My new home was not quite guest-friendly. (The electrical problems—read: the threat of electrocution--have since been repaired.)

This weekend past, after returning from my week at Eduland, I spent time unpacking and moving in to my new place, since I hadn’t time before leaving. I basically carried all my belongings to the trailer and left. Another small “hitch” in my moving week was that the campus lost water—for the entire week.

So, I had a pile of dirty laundry waiting from before my departure and added to it the everything worn during my week at Eduland. In short, I needed to launder every thing I owned this weekend.

As the water pressure remains low (and I don’t expect it to be repaired), I washed every thing I owned this weekend in a trickle of cold water. (Nope, no hot water either.)

(I can’t, can’t, can’t complain about my new living conditions--although this note may seem entirely that—because many of my fellow PC volunteers are living as I did originally: hauling water from a community tap, using an outhouse, still awaiting furniture, etc. Believe me, I’m still living in “Posh Corps” standards! )

One thing that has changed for me since moving from the hostel (dormitory) is that I can now line-dry my clothes. YUMMY! I can line-dry my clothes in the sun! I love drying my clothes in the sun. So I was happy, happy, happy doing my laundry this weekend.

I was also “home” long enough to open the windows and air out my new home—this was very badly needed.

So, I spent my weekend washing, boiling, filtering, unpacking, moving furniture, etc., all to make my new home “mine.”

Even living with the water only as a trickle, even living needing to heat my water for a bath, even living needing to dash to a student toilet to go “number two,” my life here in rural South Africa is INFINITELY better than living in the hostel. 100% better, 100% better, 100% better!!

My psyche drank in the peace, quiet, and solitude that my new home provides and I finally feel as though I’ve found a sanctuary to repair my spirits on a daily basis. I love, love, love my new home!

Also this weekend I spent time practicing my “share American culture” talents. When approached by a woman I hadn’t seen in more than a week, as reply to her greeting statement (to me) of: GIVE ME A COLD DRINK, I replied, in my cheeriest self, “Hi there! I haven’t seen you in a week! How are you? Yes, I too would enjoy a cold drink. I wonder where we could get one?”

And lastly, I was enlightened as to the “why” of the urgency of the need of my hosting a house-warming party. In the culture of the people I live with, it is very important for me to host a party in honor of my move: I’m to slaughter a sheep and feed my neighbors to appease my ancestors.

For some reason, I can’t imagine my passed friends and family—especially the grandparents--finding pleasure at my slaughtering a sheep! But, whaddo I know?



PS.  Did I mention that I LOVE MY NEW HOME??!!

Saturday, May 22, 2010


I spent this past week at Eduland, a unique learning program and the only one of its kind in South Africa.  The campus is located on a lovely, lovely farm nestled in the magnificent Magaliesberg Mountains near Rustenburg.  This is the same area of South Africa that we've had several of our training sessions.

Eduland offers a week course specializing in "simulated" working conditions like those encountered in the "real world."  For example, at my college we have a hospitality program and an electrical engineering program.  At Eduland, they worked for hospitality electrical "companies" for the week and encountered "real life" scenarios.  In addition to hospitality and electrical engineering, we had a finance and tourism "company" to make four simulated companies in all. 

It was quite a week: at Eduland, our own "country," we experienced  (all simulated) a devastating fire, the ups and downs of the stock market, injuries, tours, having businesses closed and businesses experiencing the loss of services for lack of payment, etc.

The easiest way to explain it is: I felt like I was in a living Monopoly game.  :-)

We were fed wonderfully all week, soaked up the spendor of the setting (gorgeous, gorgeous), and "worked" long hours, but it was great fun. 

As always, I mostly enjoyed exploring and staring at plants and birds.  Some members of the staff were quite knowledgeable and shared valuable information on regional flora and fauna--and invited me back to hike and go kloofing!  :-)

Kloofing is the South African version of canyoning.  I think I'm a bit old (and like my bones) for canyoning, but it sounds like great fun! 

I must admit that although I originally applied for this gig (several Peace Corps volunteers jumped at the chance for applying for a special position on a "working farm") it wouldn't have been a good fit for me.  Although it's exciting to see the kids acting out life in the business realm, I've personally tried the business realm (in the real world!) and found it a bad fit.  I was reminded of this when, after a few days working with the "finance company," I began having nightmares!  Years ago, when I left the business  world of publishing, I was having nightmares every night!

I had a great time with fellow volunteers Jeff and Anne and wish we had had more time for "playing."  The Eduland staff was wonderful too! 

For more pics of my time at Eduland, see my Facebook page (you need not be a Facebook member to see the photos):

Soon, Karen

Friday, May 14, 2010

Primary school choir competition

My primary school participated in a local choir competition hosted by the college.

My school one two areas and I got some great photos of some native dancing… I’m desperately trying to learn how to upload the video… Until then, enjoy the photos…

Many pictured are “my kids.” (In my English class.)

Soon, Karen

PS.  The little guy pictured at the botttom was quite taken with me...  I wonder if it was because we shared similar skin color.  ;-)

I will miss the IMAX windows...

and the hot water and flushing toilet, but that's all! 

Stayed last night in my new digs.  I felt my frayed nerves knitting themselves back together in the calm and the quiet of my new home.  I think I may be very happy there.

I'm posting some pre-cleaning pics...  Will update you when I clean and settle in a bit...

I love that the guys installing the security bars made them "pretty" for me.  All of this with a welder and some steel rods...  Craig Kavier, watch out!

I took a picture of me in the mirror because I HAVE TWO!!  (Mirrors are few and far in between in rural South Africa.)

I'm posting a picture of all the trailers together because many of you are afraid that I'm "all alone."  The Campus Office and classrooms are to the left of the photo (not pictured).  I'm safe, I'm safe, I'm safe!  Please, no worries!

I can't tell you how emotional this week has been for me and it has been quite a feat... Perhaps at some point I will feel up to telling you the whole story. Suffice it for now to know that I am moved, I am safe, and am feeling certain to be much happier in my new home.



PS.  I scrubbed my bathroom last night...   I was thinking, as many times as I've moved, I'm so tired of scrubbing someone else's old, crusty, dried on pee from the toilet seats... How many times must one do this particular chore in one's lifetime!  :-)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Saying goodbye to other volunteers when they decide to return home…

When you join Peace Corps, you sign on for service in a developing country for two years of your life. Peace Corps has goals and missions it wants us to pursue, and to best help us meet these goals, they provide us with on-going training. These training sessions happen every few months and involves us traveling to a central location and staying for a week or so.

Most of the training sessions are mandatory and are usually the only times we see each other on a regular basis, as since once sworn-in, we’re dispersed to different locations all over South Africa.

To perhaps help us remember, Peace Corps training names involve a T (for Training): pre-service Training, in-service Training, life skills Training… Peace Corps, like South Africa, likes acronyms. So, usually we refer to our trainings as PST, IST, and most recently, LST. Since acronyms are like a foreign language to me (in that they don’t “stick” in my brain), I’m usually referring to our most recent training by saying, “which ever T we just attended.” :-)

At our most recent T, I observed a new and sad phenomenon among us: Since some of us are deciding to return home, we are using the training sessions as an avenue to say, “goodbye.”

Since serving in Peace Corps is a volunteer opportunity, we are free to return home at any point in our service. Peace Corps has a term for it: Early Termination and of course, it has an acronym: ET. So, we say among ourselves that “so and so is ETing.”

When one of us decides to terminate our service, a formal resignation is made to the Country Director and Peace Corps processes you out rather quickly and usually within three business days. So, losing two of ours was whispered about at our last training because my friends hadn’t yet formally resigned.

It is a bittersweet feeling, to lose another volunteer. On the one hand, I’m tremendously proud and happy for my friends who are returning home, as it is a courageous decision to do so. And I feel a bit jealous: I wish I were going home too! I feel deep sadness, because, well, we tend to like each other and hate to lose a part of our Peace Corps South African family.

Because, for better or worse, (or better AND worse), family we have become.

At our latest “T,” I said goodbye to my two good Peace Corps family members: Andy and Rachelle.

I’ll start with Andy first because I knew he was leaving first.

I hold a special place in my heart for Andy. Andy is married to Lauren and the two of them are one of our “couples.” (We have six married couples among us.) During PST (see, a “T” again! Pre-service training), we all lived near one another in our village. Andy, Lauren, and a few others of us lived somewhat farther out than the others so we had a 40 minute van ride to and from the training site every day.

Lauren, Andy, and I always found ourselves moving to the rear of the bus. In this way, we found ourselves, depending on how loudly the music was played, able to have regular conversations on our rides to and from training. No matter how many scorpions had fallen on me in the night, no matter how severe the threat of swine flu in my host family, no matter how many roaches I had cringed at in my pit toilet, Andy and Lauren would have me in peals of laughter every morning. When Andy had my sides especially splitting, Lauren would admonish, “Don’t encourage him.”

Although I rarely see or speak to Andy and Lauren anymore due to the physical distance between our sites, I always look forward to seeing them at trainings. Now I’ll only get to see one of them on a regular basis—Lauren, as Andy has safely returned to the U.S.

(I love this picture of Andy and I; I had tried all morning to get a “good” shot of him and was unable to. His wife, fortunately, was!)

Also at this last training, I sadly bid farewell of another of us: Rachelle.

Rachelle is a very bright soul who lightens up the room every time she enters it. I like her especially well because she is a true neighbor back home—she hails from St. Louis, practically right down the street—and because her soul and mine share the same wave length. What I like about her most, however, is that she is honest with her thoughts and feelings. I’ve learned in life that true intimacy—and therefore connection with other people—comes only when people are honest with their thoughts and feelings. I’ve also learned in life that these people are few and far in between.

Although I’m very, very happy that Rachelle has decided to return home, I’m very sad to be losing her here.

I’m not too sad, however, as I feel truly in my heart that we’ll meet again.

(You too Andy! You’d better let me come crash when you’re living on millionaire’s row!!)

Lucky for us, however, there is only one more mandatory training at which I might dread discovering who else we’re losing, the Mid-service training--MST, which comes in September.

(Actually, we have one more mandatory training after that, our Close-of-service training, but at that time, we’re ALL preparing to return home!)

Many of us are actually returning to the States for a visit as the June/July holiday— and World Cup! —approaches. I worry a bit too, who might not come back?

I’m not so sure I could come back to South Africa after a trip home! Not so sure at all!



Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Three sisters

I lost three sisters last week: “lost” as in they died.

We lost a student at my college and I refer to her as a “sister” because that is how Tswana people often greet each other: “Hello sister,” “Hello brother,” “Hello mama…” (to an elderly lady), etc.

She died last weekend, supposedly of a “heart attach.” It seems everyone here dies of a “heart attach,” even if that particular cause is unlikely. She was awfully young, in my opinion, to be dieing from a heart attach.

(I don’t think we tell the truth about why people die in the US either.)

There seem to be two phases of a funeral in this culture as far as I can tell: the funeral service itself and a memorial service that usually precedes it by a day or two.

The memorial service was held on Thursday last week. As I’m an American, it’s important for me to be punctual and I’m especially sensitive to punctuality in this kind of event. I was told the service would be held at the college at “half past two.” I mistakenly interpreted this information to mean 2:30. The service actually began at 1:45 so in my trying to be punctual, I was 45 minutes late and very embarrassed.

The women in this culture wail for their dead. I admire this ability as it seems stifled in my culture. There is nothing that can cure the soul, I believe, better than a good wailing. By wailing, I mean wailing, as the women will cry, pull their hair, and let out wails that chill the spine. I’ve seen this behavior photographed at the graveside here in the village, but the young women at the college who were wailing were ushered outside. I’m not sure why they were ushered outside.

Since the service was in Setswana, when the announcement of the time and place of the funeral was made, I couldn’t understand it, so I left the memorial service not knowing the details of the funeral service.

When I awoke to voices and the arrival of the bus at 5:30 the next morning, I realized that the college had arranged transportation for students and teachers to and from the funeral service. When I had this realization and was still in my pajamas, so it was too late for me to go.

Here’s why I never know if I’m welcome at these kinds of functions. I always wait to be invited, and never am. And the fault of mine this time is that I could have asked someone when the funeral service was and if transportation was arranged, but I did not. When I was proactive and asked about the funeral arrangements for the last funeral I attended, I never felt for certain if I was welcome.

Of course, come Monday morning, everyone was asked, “Why weren’t you at the funeral?”

Also last week I received the sad news that I had lost a “sister”—a friend and colleague from the US—to breast cancer.

My friend’s name was Carolyn, and I worked with her at a private learning center in Louisville. Because of the center’s unique teaching process, we worked one-on-one with students (usually little ones) for two hour sessions. As was often the case, two “teachers” would work with one student and I was often paired with Carolyn.

We would work in 55-minute sessions then have a 5 minute break to use the toilet (see, I’m getting better and better at using that word!) and prepare for our next session. It’s amazing how strongly you can bond with someone in 5-minute increments and I came to enjoy working with Carolyn very much.

She was a gentle spirit and easy to laugh. I would often hear her laughing with another student while I was working across the room. (We worked in the same room with cubicle dividers)

I also had the great pleasure of meeting her son and spending some time with him. He is a beautiful, young man, very bright and inquisitive (and very much like his mother!). He is only thirteen and my heart hurts especially for this young man who has lost his mother. Please keep Carolyn’s son and her family in your prayers.

And lastly, I lost another “sister” last week. I lost a spiritual friend of the insect world, and please don’t take offense at my comparing the loss of an insect to the loss of a human life. I mean simply to relate that I’ve lost a special relation.

One of my largest gardening delights comes in mid-summer when I usually find a garden spider living among my tomato plants. They are fiercely colored with bold yellow and black markings, and although they appear dangerous, they are harmless to humans and very helpful in the garden.

This summer, I squealed when I found a South African version of a garden spider (see photo). She looked just as ferocious, with her black and yellow and perhaps a bit more so because this is AFRICA! and she had jagged edges!—but I learned that she too, is quite harmless to humans and very helpful in the garden.

I have visited her everyday for months. While you in Kentucky are warming, enjoying sunshine and blossoming, we here in South Africa are experiencing the opposite: winter is coming and our super hot days are cooling it has been very, very chilly at night. With the drops in temperatures, I kept waiting to “lose” my garden spider.

Sure enough, last week when I visited, she had dropped from her web and disappeared. Each day I went in hopeful search of her, only to find her web more battered and tattered and her still gone. Her season is certainly over and I’m sad at her loss and feel as though I’ve lost a friend.

So, last week, I said goodbye to three “sisters.” I am always amazed at how the fabric of my life changes when I experience loss. And the fabric of my life has changed.

Again, prayers please for my human families.

Soon, Karen

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