Monday, June 6, 2011

My Parents Come to Africa

I had the great pleasure of hosting my parents on their first African adventure. Here are just a few of the photos from our trip.

This is the old lighthouse at Cape Point.

A view from Table Mountain showing the cable car to the top.

This was Nelson Mandela's prison cell. We were actually on Robben Island the same day as Desmond Tutu. We got to see him as his vehicle drove past but unfortunately no pictures to prove it.

A view of Table Mountain and Cape Town from Robben Island

V&A Waterfront in Cape Town

This is a township just outside of Cape Town

The lighthouse at La'Agulhas, the southern most tip of the African Continent

This photo was taken at a quaint roadside stop where we had Mother's Day brunch. This is me trying to befriend, Bacon, the pot belly pig.

A rhino coming out of his mud bath at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve

Our final stop was a quick visit to my site. Dad became an instant celebrate at school with his big camera.

My mom and host mom, Thokozani

Mom and me reading with the girls, Wandile and Akhona

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Making Memories

To my surprise, March has started out being much hotter than February. The other day, I had to go into town for groceries and mail. After finishing all my errands I went and sat on the curb in the hot sun for an hour waiting for a taxi to come. I was not alone, there were approximately 75 other people also waiting for a taxi to take them home. Normally, in the afternoon there are 4 or 5 taxis lined up waiting to go, but that day was pension day, meaning the taxis were busy else where. As I sat and waited, I was plotting how I was going to get a seat on the taxi when it arrived. What you have to first understand is that, when there are more people than there are seats on taxi, courtesy falls by the wayside. It's every man for himself, as twenty people try to pile into the taxi before it has even come to a complete stop. It often becomes brutal as people push and shove, there's hair pulling and yelling as people fight for a seat. Another taxi pulls up as a throng of people attempt to get aboard. I was in no hurry to get home, so I sat and watched as the mayham went down. After several taxis had come and gone, someone walked up to me, grabs my second bag of groceries and says, 'Nokuthula, we are getting on that next taxi.' And like all the people had done before us, we had the door open and we were climbing into the taxi before it had come to a complete stop.

So there I am, stuck sitting in the worst seat, the back row, squished between two voluptuous African women with my two big bags of groceries on my lap. The taxi, aka 'the death trap,' is flying down the road. The door is about to fall off, there's dirt blowing in my face and I fear that the seat underneath me is about to collapse under the weight. Despite the wind blowing, the sun was shining right on me, I could feel the sweat rolling down my face and back as the sweat from my neighbors drips down my arms. The driver has the music up so loud you can't hardly hear yourself think. All I could think about was how miserable I was at that moment. But then I took a step back and looked at the bigger picture - 'I am in Africa!' A big smile came to my face as I thought about the fact that just over a year earlier this was exactly the kind of experience I had imagined. When else in my life am I going to get the opportunity to be completely immersed in another culture. I only have to do this for two years where as everyone else has to do this their entire life. What was a miserable experience a couple seconds earlier evolved into an experience that I will forever look back upon and smile, because twelve months from now this will all come
to an end and I will return home to a life of 'normalcy.' These will just be distant memories, stories from a different lifetime, a different world. As hard as it is at times, I am trying to make this a positive experience, an experience I can share with others years down the road.

(The picture to the right is of a women carrying firewood on her head. Electricity is available to most in the village, however, many people can't afford to pay for such a luxury. Thus, they must collect wood everyday for cooking.)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My Brother Comes To Visit

I had the great joy of hosting my first visitor here in South Africa. My brother and I spent about two weeks traveling around South Africa. We drove from Durban to Cape Town and then back to Durban via Lesotho. Here are pictures highlighting our journey.

Addo Elephant Park

We traveled through wine country. We drove past beautiful wineries, but not without stopping at a few for samples.

Shark diving off of Gaansbaai!!! The biggest Great White Shark we saw was 11 feet. They would swim within inches of us (we were in a cage). I thought I was going to freeze to death as I sat motionless in the 52 degree water for 20 minutes.

Cape Point -- The very south western point of the African continent


We spent New Year's Eve with my Peace Corps friend and partner in Cape Town

Middle of nowhere Africa

A famous hill in Lesotho
Lesotho is a tiny country within South Africa

This is what speed bumps are called in Lesotho

Our last stop was a visit to my village where Flint not only got the opportunity to meet my host family and village but he also experienced a bit of the Zulu culture and customs!
This is Flint sitting on a grass mat with some Gogos (grandmothers)

Part of my host family doing Flint's signature pose

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Why am I still here?

As I am sitting here writing this, it is one in the morning, I am listening to the evening melody of the frogs and insects. An electrical storm has moved in, knocking out the power, leaving little hope of relief from this summer heat. My fan sits silently as the air in my room becomes stagnant and the mosquitoes swoop in from every direction in hopes of a meal. My sandals are wedged under the door to keep the frogs out, while the fattened lizards call my walls home. I have been living in Africa for a year now. I am torn between think that this past year has flown by while at the same time being the longest year of my life.

It was a year ago this week that I was anxiously packing my bags, soaking up the last conveniences that America has to offer and saying goodbye. As I reflect on my first weeks in South Africa, I can’t help but think of how naive I was at that time. I knew there would be the highs and the lows, the rough patches and some bumps along the way but had I known what I was in for I think I would had turned right around and bid Africa a farewell. But what an incredible journey this first year has been.

Someone recently asked me why I am still here, why haven’t I just thrown in the shovel and gone right home. After all, I have been sick more often than not, the work is less than ideal, and I have slept in a bed full of maggots. There have been times when I was about to pack my bags and go but there are many reasons why I am still here.

1. The first reason I am still here is because of all the support and encouragement from my family and friends back home, as well as, from people I don’t even know.

2. I also wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for a few good Peace Corps friends. We may live hours apart and see each other only every couple of months but they are only a SMS away.

3. There is the typical answer that I am here to make an impact and do incredible work, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon. I feel that my life, knowledge, and understanding of the world has changed far more than I would ever be able to impact the lives of those around me.

4. My purely selfish reason is to prove to myself that if I can live in rural South Africa and all that that entails for two years, it will give me the confidence to know that I can handle whatever curve balls life throws my way.

Friday, November 26, 2010

My date with the Ambassador

With the bad comes the good. Last weekend I got called into the Peace Corps office in Pretoria due to medical issues. When I arrived on Monday I was a mess, not just due to medical issues but due to the fact that I had taken the night bus from Durban to Pretoria. I was running on very little sleep; I am one of those people who NEEDS my sleep or I just don’t function. Between exhaustion, illness, and the emotional roller coaster that is the Peace Corps, I was at my breaking point.

Long story short, I got sick at just the right time. Since I was in already in Pretoria, I got invited over to the Ambassador’s house for Thanksgiving dinner! Late Wednesday afternoon I got a call from the Peace Corps office asking me if I would like to have Thanksgiving dinner with the Ambassador and his family. You don’t have to ask me twice! So, Thursday morning I went out and bought a new dress for the occasion. I splurged a little but justified it with the fact that I had not purchased a single item of clothing in the ten months I have been in country. I even put on mascara for the grand occasion. That afternoon four other Peace Corps volunteers and I showed up at the Ambassadors house.

We were among 40 people dinning with the Ambassador and his family that night. As we sat around the grand table that evening, we enjoyed the traditional Thanksgiving feast and great company. I experience reverse culture shock being surrounded by so many Americans in such an American setting. I wasn’t sure how to interact with the American children, I found myself stepping back and observing the children, amazed by their interactions and the fact that they spoke English. As the night came to a close, we said our goodbyes, took many pictures and headed our separate ways. Some people flew back to the states (they were here on holiday), the others headed back to their large houses in the city and as for us PCVs, we are on our way back to our pit toilets, bucket baths and huts in rural Africa. What an incredible experience. It was amazing to feel like I was back home, if only for an evening, even if it meant going through all the medical issues.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tid Bits

I have compiled a list of experiences, observations, fact, and differences to share with you all in order to give you a better understanding of my life here in rural South Africa. This list could go on much longer but I don’t want to bore you to death, so for now I limited the list to fifteen.

*The longer I am here, the worse my English gets (and it was bad to begin with), therefore, please ignore all punctuation, grammatical, and spelling errors.

  1. Transportation: Road rule #1 - Cars have the right away, especially taxis. Time is money in the taxi business, therefore, taxis do not slow down when people are in the road; instead, they hit the gas thus insuring that people move out of their way quicker.
  2. Cultural Difference: Traditionally, a Zulu speaker will pass something to you using the right hand only, with the palm of the left hand supporting the right forearm. This is done to show you have nothing to fear and that nothing is being hidden away. (Personal Note: I am left handed and frequently forget to use my right hand, opps, hope I have not offended anyone.).
  3. Personal Note: The Peace Corps experience is the most emotionally challenging experience I have ever had.
  4. Country Fact: The president of South Africa is Jacob Zuma, also referred to as JZ. Zuma has been married 5 times (polygamist) and has 20 children.
  5. Food Fact: The staple food in the Zulu diet is maize meal (similar to cornmeal). Maize meal is eaten with nearly every meal. In the morning it is made into porridge (my favorite way to eat maize meal). It is also used to make pap (stiff pap) or phuthu. These are used as the base to a meal (similar to how we would use rice) with meat and gravy on top. In the summer, they enjoy eating phuthu mixed with sour milk.
  6. Cultural Difference: Gratitude is often expressed by gestures rather than words. Instead of saying “Siyabonga” (thank you) when receiving an item, one will clap their hands, curtsy, accept the offering with both hands, or place the right hand on the forearm (same as when passing an object, see # 2). It can be considered rude to accept something using only one hand.
  7. Food Fact: They love their meat and they do not waste any of it! In the frozen food section of the grocery store you can buy “Walky talky,” chicken heads and feet. They also enjoy tripe (animal intestines). And their idea of a good dessert is to chew on the bones and suck out all the marrow.
  8. Personal Note: Thus, I have become a vegetarian while living in South Africa. There are too many mystery meats and they handle the meat much differently (i.e. it sits out for long periods of time while flies enjoy a meal).
  9. Transportation: When getting on a taxi at a taxi rink, the taxi must be full (normally 15 passengers) before the taxi will leave. This can take anywhere from five minutes to hours. The longest I have had to wait so far has been four hours. What would normally be a quick errand turns into an all day event when using public transportation.
  10. Cultural Differences: The African handshake is a variation of the conventional handshake. Shake hands and without letting go, slip your hand around the other person’s thumb. You then go back to the traditional handshake.
  11. Country Fact: South Africa has 11 official languages: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu.
  12. Personal Note: I have adopted many South African words into my vocabulary including, saying in exclamation: eish, hhybo, how (said really fast), and shame. As well as other common words like braai (a bbq), bhaki (truck), and quantum (taxi).
  13. Transportation: Even on the HOTTEST days, no one opens the windows in a taxi. This makes for a great environment for TB to be spread.
  14. Cultural Difference: A child is taught to look down when addressing his elders, to speak quietly and to speak only when spoken to. They are also taught not to stand taller than the elders (i.e. elder sitting and child standing). When a child enters a room with elders (any adults) they will get on their knees and speak softly while avoiding all eye contact. This is a sign of respect.
  15. Observations: Everything runs on “African time.” Nothing starts or ends on time and it can take hours, days, weeks, months, and even years to get anything accomplished.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Coffee Bay

I must first apologize to my loyal fans as I have negated to write in quite a while. The truth is, not much is happening on this end. Life is the same, day in and day out. One of the reasons for this has been because of a big strike that has been taking place. I won’t get into specifics but pretty much the teachers were striking for about a month. When there are no teachers, there are no students, and when there are no students, there is no work. The issue has still not been resolved; however, the strike has been suspended for 21 days. We are still waiting to see if the government will meet their demands.

In August I took my first South African vacation! Two friends (fellow PCVs) and I headed to a rural village in the Eastern Cape called Coffee Bay. What a truly beautiful place! We went on a couple hikes, sat on the beach, and just relaxed. I even jumped off a few cliffs! Here are some pictures from my trip.

Jill Kim and me on a hike

Watching the sunset

Kim and Jill

My host family's store.
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