Sunday, March 6, 2011

Love crushes and the South African Dog Days of Summer

 Some people develop love crushes on people—and I certainly do! However, I also develop love crushes on old, abandoned buildings and here is my longest standing African heart-throb: the old abandoned Catholic Church in my village. This building, of course, is no longer in use and the current Catholic Church sits nearby in the foreground. I’m not sure how old this building is, but I know the principal at my primary school attended this church as his school when he was a child. I love the old ruin of it and have wanted to photograph it since I arrived. As with all things in South Africa, I wanted to photograph this church in the late-afternoon, early-evening light to avoid exposure to the blaring hot, African sun—exposure which creates unlovely photographs. And, as I’m still experiencing inconsistencies with uploading photos to my blog, so who knows what you will see!!--but hopefully the images are lovely enough.

As the day was late when I set off to photograph the church, I hoped Ounaai would accompany me as a companion; however, she is well-trained in not following me into the village as I’m usually off to school or church, both places where village dogs are unwelcome, and I scold her heartily if she tries to follow me. I need to figure out a way to better train her, about how to know when it’s fine to follow me and when it’s not. Will keep you posted. So, she was not with me this day, although I wished she were.

crossing the cemetary on the way to the church
As with many churches I suppose, it is necessary to approach this church by passing through a cemetery.  I’ve wanted to show you photos of the cemeteries of my people before, but struggle  with my conscious in regards to the appropriateness of the situation and with not wanting to exploit my people and their privacy.  So, here you are and I apologize if anyone is offended. 

the better-to-do are buried next to the poor
You can see, from the photos, that just like in living in rural South Africa, the poor  reside by the rich, or if not rich, at least better off.  The more elaborate the gravesite, the larger and lovelier the tombstone, the more elaborate the fencing, and the appearance of other fancier grave decorations, the wealthier the family of the deceased; or unfortunately, the more debt the family of the deceased has taken on to bury their loved one.  The gravesites of the poor are marked only with stones.  Three prominent dates are displayed on the tombstones of the well-to-do: the birth date, the death date, and the burial date.  Also, both names of the deceased, the English as well as the African name are displayed on the tombstone.  The most beautiful song I’ve heard since coming to South Africa was sung at a funeral: the men closest to the deceased sang only the two first verses of the national anthem, Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika.  (They sang the black African verses-isiXhosa and  isiZulu [first verse], and Sesotho [second verse] and  excluded the Afrikaaner and English verses [third and fourth verses, respectively].)  Their song was low in volume, almost a whisper, and very, very sorrowful.  It was the most beautiful hymn I’ve ever heard and its singing  so beautiful that my body ached.

oh wait!  a donkey!

The people that I live with hold very strict formalities regarding the approach and entering of a cemetery and I couldn’t help but feel I was trespassing.  It was eerily quiet, as all cemeteries are, I’m sure, and as I moved closer to the church to better photograph it, I was startled to hear quite a commotion coming from inside the abandoned, Catholic church.  I was more than a bit spooked with the unexpected noise!  Imagine my surprise at watching the resulting file of donkeys stepping delicately out of the church, one by one, ready to leave the cool interiors to munch about in the early evening dinner time.

Wait! More donkeys!
 My visit to the church was a quiet, solemn time, and the visit foreshadowed the coming of the South African dog days of summer, which are now arrived.

I was told by the former Peace Corps Volunteer at my site that South Africa truly has only two seasons: winter and summer, and I concur. However, if there is a fall season in South Africa, or at least in my area, I believe we’re experiencing it now. My garden, after enduring a full-growing season, is petering out. The production of my vegetable plants proved exceptional, I believe, due to my “trenched bed” digging techniques, techniques learned in our “Permagarden” training provided by Peace Corps, techniques to ensure plenty of root growth and nutrition for the growing plant. “Trenched bed” gardening is the labor-intensive practice of digging deep, then adding soil amended with compost and/or composted manure, and char to promote healthy plant production. I am still harvesting tomatoes when the community garden was locked back in December, when their gardening season (without trenched bed and other helpful gardening practices) ceased. My tomatoes, now in March, are almost harvested, the amaranth is bitter, and the blister beetles and Batman bugs are chomping my okra blossoms before than they can open. (I don’t know what the Batman bugs really are, but they are black, beetle-like, and have barbs coming off their hind-legs that remind me of Batman’s costume.) The infamous South African weed, “blackjack” is taller than I and their nasty, impossible-to-remove barbed seeds are at the ready.

Emily and I normally cross the creek bed here, but with summer rains, our crossing is detoured.

I’m seeing other changes that signal the “dog days” of summer. I’ve noticed the past couple of evenings that it isn’t broiling hot after 5:00 pm; I’ve noticed it’s becoming dark sooner—night is arriving around 7:00 pm; I’ve noticed the dramatic and frequent storms are lessoning; and I’ve noticed I’m needing a comforter by the middle of the night. My weather notes indicate that I was wearing mittens in mid-April last year and I’m watching my friend the spider make her last attempts at web repair in the evening light.

It will be very cold again, very soon, and I’ll be entering my second winter (or really the third, because it was mid-winter when we arrived in Africa in July, 2009). For some reason, I can’t imagine ever developing a love crush on the South African winter.


PS. For more pictures of love crushes and South African Dog Days, see my public Facebook page (click on the link). You need not be a FB member to see the photos:

Although she is not pictured here, Ounaai loves to run and jump in the long, late-summer grasses.


  1. Gosh, Karen, i just love your post. I am reminded of my crush on the Moffat mission :-) I planted some things last week. I want to see how much longer they last 170 k west of you. I wish you were visiting soon!

  2. I've had lots of crushes on buildings - I'm glad I'm not the only one! I love the donkeys in the church - that is great.

    I'd love you to join me for my Expat Linky Party on March 19th :)