Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Saying “Hello” to my last South African winter

A favorite to watch in winter, the hoopoe, or Upapa Africana

Photo courtesy of

When I arrived in South Africa to begin my two years of Peace Corps service, I had left the mid-summer season of Kentucky to come to South Africa’s ending winter—which meant South Africa would soon be warming up. In other words, I was a very lucky girl to experience two summers in a row. Of course, I didn’t have the foresight to realize that, two years later, when leaving South Africa to return to Kentucky, I would weather two winters: We’re entering our winter in South Africa (as you are entering your summer in the States) and when I arrive back home in September, the USA, or at least the Kentuckiana region, will be preparing for the winter season. Drats!

Oh well. I guess having two winters in a row is payment enough for having two summers in a row!

As I write this, I have my first season’s batch of cornbread in the oven and am pan-roasting some root vegetables: two of my favorite wintertime foods.

On arriving in Africa, I was lucky enough to meet and spend a few days with the Peace Corps Volunteer who served at my site prior. She explained South Africa’s season’s in this way: There are really only two: summer and winter. And she’s spot-on! Luckily for us, however, the South African summer is much longer than the South African winter!

In hoping to garden for most of my time in South Africa, I took daily notes on the weather for over a year. This information helps me watch for similar weather conditions this year. According to my notes, by April 22 last year, I was already wearing a coat and gloves. Although we’re not quite that cold yet, I have retired my fan and have donned my pink fleecy pajama pants with green frogs on them. My sister sent me these and I just love them. They are silly enough that I’d never buy such an item for myself but they are such fun I always smile the whole time I wear them. They make me very happy and I’m so glad she sent them.

I’m sure I’ll be digging my heater out from its storage box very soon.

Speaking of my heater… Last year I survived nearly the whole winter without having a heater, but it was an unfortunate and unnecessary experience. To try to live in South Africa without a heater in wintertime is simply TOO PAINFUL. There was no escaping from the painful cold: as soon as I got myself out of bed each morning, I never seemed to thoroughly warm up. My hands and feet were always icy. Going to work at either the primary school or the college provided no relief, as neither the college nor primary school buildings have central heat. I would find myself always in search of a thermostat to turn the heat up, and of course, the thermostat was never to be found! I finally broke down and purchased a heater at the end of winter last year, and felt much more comfortable. I can keep the heater in one small room in my house and close the door, and be toasty and warm. So I’m grateful I will have this important coziness the all of my last winter in Africa.

A favorite to watch in winter, the blue waxbill, or Uraeginthus angolensis
Photo courtesy of

In summertime, the African days are long enough and the sun hot early enough that I can launder and line-dry every washable item in my house in one single day! With the approaching cold, I’m noticing that I feel lucky to get one or two loads of laundry washed and line-dried by the end of the day—and very often, even after drying all day, they’re still not crisply dry like they are in summer.

With the approaching winter, I’ll soon resume my favorite practice of feeding and watering the wild birds. I cease feeding them in summer because, well, there is plenty of food for them to eat and the only birds that seem to frequent my feeding station in summer are the pigeons, which get on my nerves. I’ve already noticed some of my favorite wintertime birds; I don’t think these birds disappear in summer, but I think with the summer’s grass mown, my favorites are easier to see. I’m posting photos of my favorites. These photos are not mine—I don’t have camera equipment of high enough quality to shoot fine photos of wildlife—especially of birds that are in constant motion. These photos are gleaned from the internet.

I think I naturally withdraw a bit and somewhat hibernate when the winter months and cold weather come: I sometimes wonder if I weren’t a bear in a previous life. I’m finding this tendency beginning already, and I’m withdrawing a bit. Now that the afternoon air temperatures are milder, I’ve taken to going for long, late-afternoon walks with Fella (my surrogate African dog), and we seem to avoid people at all costs. I love these walks; it is the only time of my day I don’t have to experience the “fishbowl” effect. Peace Corps warned us of the “fishbowl effect,” and it is the same phenomenon that must drive celebrities absolutely bonkers: being the constant source of curiosity to every single person on the planet each and every single day. The stress of it is constant and relentless. I long to return home and resume my very-much-taken-for-granted ability to blend in and remain an ordinary Joe; to be simply just another Bozo on the bus; to have the ability to hide in a crowd and remain anonymous. I want to come home to people who simply do not care who I am!!

It seems I’ll be spending my last remaining months in Africa working primarily with orphans and vulnerable children. This is fine with me. I’ve had the chance to work with the college, the primary school, and now orphans and vulnerable children and my Pudimoe community.

Ok Kentucky… As your warming and sowing your season’s seeds, I’m gearing up to endure two winters in a row! Wish me luck!


My pink, fleecy pajama pants with green frogs on them!

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