WELL, we did several things, but what I was most excited about was a "permagarden training." What is a permagarden? Permagarden is another word for "permaculture," which simply means making a garden that you will use permanently. In other words, permagardening in rural South Africa is all about developing food security for people who live in poverty.
Since my camera had died, all photos are supplied by the wonderful Cassandra and Kevin M of our group: thanks Cassandra and Kevin for sharing photos! And these are of us gardening.
We had our training at an uber-plush hotel and I wondered for days, "where will we build a garden?" Apparently, the hotel graciously allowed our workshop presenter to install several gardens for the workshops/training (for different groups.) We worked in the back lot and made a garden!
The love of gardening has come to me late in life, but all the women in my family have gardened, so I'm sure I get it in my genes. Also, in one of the wars of my lifetime, I remember stocking water and canned goods in my basement and thinking, "You know, it might not be a bad idea to learn how to grow food."
I started with a couple of tomato plants years ago and from that first planting, my life-long passion of gardening began. Gardening, like anything else in life, so it seems, is "learning what not to do next time." I love the challenge and the creativity of it, but I mostly love watching things grow from a tiny, tiny seed to a robust, food-producing plant.
Sadly, I can't get excited about teaching English: not here in South Africa and not in the USA. I can, however, get excited about teaching others to become self-supporting through food production. I was super-psyched about this workshop!!
The big bummer for me, however, was that a community member of my village was supposed to come to the workshop with me, and I was hoping we could learn the techniques together and bring information back to our village as a team. Sadly, he was unable to come.
In three days, we learned about establishing permaculture gardens throughout the world and overviewed permaculture theory. However, the workshop was "hands on" and so, much to my delight, we made a garden!
We made a compost pile that was impressively heated enough to 160 degrees by the second day, double-dug a vegetable bed, dug a seedling bed, and planted tomatoes, beans, corn, peppers, and herbs. I had a great time, learned a lot, and laid my hands on a neem tree. (I knew neem trees were living in Africa, but had not yet seen them or learned to identify them.)
The permagarden training was my favorite training opportunity to date and I was greatly inspired.
Other days of training were devoted to reviewing and reflecting on our Peace Corps service to-date (since we're at the half-way mark) and we also spent a couple of days practicing Life Skills lessons with our counterparts. Happily, my counterpart from my village, who is also a teacher at my primary school, was able to come to our Life Skills training and it felt good and productive to be working with her. We agreed upon a couple of projects to bring back to the primary school and will be working to implement these in the coming weeks.
Accommodations for the week of training were at a super-nice hotel, and I must say, I was grateful for the respite from the harsher life I experience living in the village. Sometimes I wonder if Peace Corps strategically plans these meetings knowing when we need a break: I was certainly overdue!
I'm back to site now for a couple of days, busying myself with laundry and wiping the dust that the Kalahari has showered all over my trailer. It felt good to sleep in my own bed (even if it WAS under a mosquito net!) and I never thought I would say it, it felt good to be cooking for myself again. Soya Mince never tasted so good!
I returned home to a shower of goodies from home: you guys have been busy sending me things while I was in Pretoria! Emily C, my nearest volunteer, and a little-bitty slip of a young woman, carried pounds and pounds of goodies from the post office to my home, only to find herself locked out of my trailer and unable to get in. A neighbor agreed to hold all of the mail until my return, but I will need to keep Emily in Cokes and chocolate for our remaining year for being such a soldier for me! Thanks Emily!