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.

Monday, August 9, 2010

It's A Kodak Moment

As I sit here alone in my room, I am listening to the pider pader of the rain on my roof and the drip drop as it hits the floor; I thought that I would post more pictures for those of you who do not have facebook. Hopefully there will be some never-before-seen pictures as well. So here is a hodgepodge from the previous six months in South Africa.

This is Kim and me on a weekend getaway. Both a little chubbier than before, and somehow we always manage to dress alike. We have actually been mistaken as the same person on several occasions.

During the month of the World Cup the kids were on Winter Holiday. As part of Noah, we put on a week long camp for the kids. This is a picture of some of the kids and volunteers.

As part of the camp we had a soccer (football) tournament.

For our In-Service Training we were back up in Mpumalanga so I got the opportunity to go back to Bundu and visit my host family that I lived with during training.
Kabelo & Mibebeza

Ruby & Kabelo
(Ruby is still as fat as ever!)

And then of course it would not be complete without a couple pictures of my adorable (yet sometimes terrors) nieces.
This is Akona showing off ALL the hair stuff that Ashley mailed me

And this is Wandile enjoying the musical birthday card my sister sent me

My Creative Side

As I have probably mentioned before, I have a lot of spare time on my hands. Many PCVs use this time to take up new hobbies such as learning to knit, sew, sing the alphabet in reverse, juggle, and even compete to see how long they can grow their armpit hair. As for me, my most resent endeavor has become building shelves using scrap materials. I saw a need for shelves because I have a lack of storage space in my rondival. My first goal was to build a spice rack for my kitchen. All I used was some cardboard and string and BAM, I have a spice rack that hangs from the beams above. I was so proud of my spice rack/shelf that I decided to try my hand at building a bookshelf. My books were not getting used; I just had them stored away in a suitcase. So yesterday I gathered up wooden boards and bricks to construct a little bookshelf. After adding the final touches to my bookshelf this morning, I brought my host mom to my room to show her my new amazing shelves that I was extremely proud of. I guess she was not as impressed because she just stood there and shock her head in disapproval saying, “We must fix this” and then turned around and left. After about ten minutes she returned with newspaper, bigger boards, and better bricks and got to work building me a better bookshelf. After she completed that she moved on to my spice rack to make it look more presentable… whatever makes her happy. I think she just enjoyed helping out her new daughter, so I just let her do what she felt needed to be done. After all, mom knows best!

I have now lived in my rondival for four months and this whole time there has been some sort of animal body part hanging from the ceiling beam. I never took it down because I knew it had some significant meaning. So today, while we were constructing my better bookshelf I asked my host mom why exactly I have an animal part hanging in my room. She continued to tell me that they slaughtered a goat in here as an offering to the ancestors. That body part symbolizes the offering and now the ancestors watch over my rondival. Mom and Dad, you know longer have to worry, I not only have a guard dog and burglar bars, I also have goat intestine (ancestors) to protect me.

As for my armpit hair…it’s getting pretty long.

1)Spice rack in my kitchen
2)New and improved bookshelf (resource library)
3) Goat intestine protecting my rondival.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Six months have passed since I have been in country, and while I have learned and experience so much, I know I have only just begun. I was recently talking to another PCV and she asked me what I miss most about life back home? I thought about it and the first thing that came to my mind was food. In my opinion, South African food leaves much to be desired. But then I thought about my weekend in Pretoria and thought of all the wonderful food I ate there. I may not have access to good food all the time but I can definitely find just about any food I am craving (except Chipotle). The next thing I thought about was missing my family and friends (I know that should have been first). While I do miss everyone back home VERY much, I also know that they will be there in two years when I get back and I can communicate with them easily, via email, facebook, and phone, heck, I could even video chat with them if I wanted. So, while they are all missed dearly there is something else that I miss even more and that thing is freedom. I miss the freedoms of my life back home.
While I do miss the conveniences of running water, I miss having the freedom to hop in my car and go anywhere at any time and not spend hours waiting on the taxis. I miss going grocery shopping and not worrying about how I am getting everything home. I miss being able to lie out under the stars, and not worry about being outside after dark. I miss the freedom of walking down the street and not bring stared at, whistled at, yelled at, and harassed. I miss the freedom of interacting with people and not worrying about whether I am being culturally appropriate and understanding the conversation that is going on around me. I miss the freedom to be who I am and not worry about my skin color and constantly having to break down stereotypes and explain myself. The list goes on, but this gives you an idea.
I did a little site seeing while I was in Pretoria recently. These two pictures are from the Union Building in South Africa's Administrative Capital. (Dad, the picture with the canon is for you!).

Friday, July 9, 2010

This is Not What I Had in Mind

When I dreamt of my days as a Peace Corps volunteer, I pictured extreme isolation with my only mode of transportation being a bike. I imagined becoming fluent in the local language. I pictured myself as becoming someone completely different. Someone who wasn’t scared to talk to a stranger, an extrovert with the ability to mobilized mass quantities of people. Yet, I am beginning to wonder, who was this person I imagined?

My dream has come true, I am a Peace Corps volunteer and I am living in Africa. However, I am slowly coming to the realization that what I had imagined was just a dream and that becoming a Peace Corps volunteer didn’t change who I am as an individual. I am still me, the introvert that would prefer to disappear into the background rather than be the center of attention. My isiZulu name says it all, Nokuthula, a quiet individual, peaceful, and down-to-earth. Every day I am challenged, I am forced to step outside my comfort zone, to challenge my boundaries, and to question my abilities. I no longer blend in with all those around me; I am now the star of the show, the one that people are looking up to for help. I can’t help but question if I am really cut out for this job. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE being here. I feel that this is where I need to be right now. I just need to find a way to use my strengths and to challenge my abilities to become that great Peace Corps volunteer I once imagined.

This is a picture of me with two other women that I met named Nokuthula. The three Nokuthulas.

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