After a four-month hiatus, I’m once again talking to the inter-webs. I was living the dream and putting on pounds in California, but now I’m back in Africa! I’ll be living in the Limpopo province of South Africa until August 2015 and I’m thrilled to be back the village and can’t wait to do more agriculture work.
As a Peace Corps Response Volunteer my positions are slightly more focused, but that doesn’t really mean that I know what’s going on. I know what I’m supposed to do according to the proposal, but what needs to be done isn’t always the same as what’s written down on the proposal. However, as the years go by it become increasingly clear that this isn’t the case, and all one can do is embrace the uncertainty. What I do know is that this position is much more like a ‘real job’ then my first go with Peace Corps and I have set hours during the week and supposedly a weekend (but we’ll see how long that lasts).
After arriving in South Africa, we had five days or orientation. It wasn’t the most entertaining of sessions, but I was with four other RPCVs and that made the time a lot better. I think that just having completed a Peace Corps service people can be drawn together. It doesn’t matter that we served in different countries or work in different sectors, we all took at least two years of our lives to experience something different…and if we’re doing it again then it means we probably enjoyed it the first time around. Although we aren’t geographically that close to one another it is nice to arrive in country with another group of people, if nothing else to have someone to talk to when you need it.
My installation was fairly similar to my installation in Madagascar. We arrived later than planned, I didn’t have everything I needed, it was a wild rush of chaos and stress to get things together, and by the end of the night I wasn’t quite settled in, but I slept because it was time to sleep. At least this time around I had a bed (I was told that it arrived that day) and there weren’t any rats running around my head.
My house is definitely modest and I was worried that it might take a long time to get used to it, but I seem to have adjusted quickly and smoothly. I guess all the time that I spent in my room this summer helped prepare me. My house is roughly 12 ft. x 15 ft. and made of cement. It looks like a bunker and I’m sure if the World War 3 ever starts I’ll be able to hold my position nicely from this location. Not to mention that I have electricity and a water tap on the outside of my house so that I’m really living the Posh Corps lifestyle. I even have a fridge, which means that I don’t have to re-heat food because I just eat it cold. Somehow the décor came in a blue/turquoise theme and I just kept building on it. I sometimes feel like I’m living underwater surrounded by the semi-arid countryside. The new curtains that I bought are especially shiny, almost giving off a 1980’s class to my little cube. The cement floor is nice because things don’t crawl in through the bottom, but aren’t great because, well, it’s a cement floor. I managed to get some small mat/rugs, which help with walking around and for doing exercises at night.
My major cultural adjustment so far has been bathing and how to accomplish this normal, hygienic task. In Madagascar we had a set area to shower, outside of the house. Here in South Africa, most people shower (actually bathe) in their homes, whether or not they have a room to do so (or a real tub). Initially, I thought that I would need a space outside of my house to shower. I’m a complete mess trying to get myself clean while standing, squatting, leaning, and contorting my body from within a plastic bin that serves as my ‘tub.’ While I splash around in the tub I’m constantly soaking everything around me and I have to clear an entire space in preparation for the inevitable flood. I think most people just take a bath in the basin, but that doesn’t appeal to me; most likely because then I would want to heat my water. A cold shower is doable and refreshing, a cold bath is just masochistic. So, I half bathe, half shower, and flounder around for a few minutes, until I deem myself clean enough to step out. I thought I might be able to buy a larger basin, but I’m not sure they exist. If I feel that it is something that needs to change I can always buy a kiddy pool in the mall that is 40 km away from my village.
All this being said, showering in my house is actually pretty sweet because I can shower anytime that I want. I don’t have to worry about it being dark or having to share the area. I can exercise at night and then just shower afterwards. This thought was put on hold for the first week because the original curtain supplied in my house was more of a see-through tablecloth. In other words, people could see into my house at night, but I couldn’t see out. Of course, I checked this before attempting any night showers and just reluctantly went to bed kind of stinky and showered in the morning. With my new curtains I can splash around my box as much as I like, all by myself.
As I mentioned earlier, there aren’t any rats in the house, which really makes life so much easier. I hate rats. They just destroy everything and they can dictate how you live your life. Without the problem and because they provide lunch at my organization, I only wash dishes in the morning. I somehow seem to be surviving on about 15 liters of water a day, which I find borderline amazing considering a normal shower alone back in the US was exponentially higher than that.
Where there are no rats, the insects seem to thrive. Maybe they’ve always been around and it was just when I didn’t have electricity that I didn’t notice them, but they are in full effect at the moment. Mosquitos aren’t awful, but there are all kinds of strange insects. On my second or third night at site I saw a huge creature (scorpion or spider or other insect) that hurriedly came out of somewhere and then left my house. Not really sure what it was, but I hope that it doesn’t feel the need to come back. It didn’t look like something I really want to be sharing a living space with.
Comparing my Peace Corps experiences, I feel that I’ve upgraded in many ways, but that I still seem to be living rather simply. To keep with tradition, my first meal was eggplant and rice. In general, the living is a little difficult because of the economic inequality and overall development of South Africa that already exists. People have a lot more in South Africa than they do in Madagascar. Not only in terms of material goods, but access to services, infrastructure and connections with the rest of the world. In many ways, being here, it helps me realize the poverty in Madagascar; something that I clearly acclimated to after four years. If Malagasy people from Matsobe came to my village they would think that everyone is crazy rich. Another interesting thing about this experience is that I arrived on a weekend. Most of the people that I worked with in Madagascar were subsistence farmers who didn’t have weekends, but their schedules depended on what they needed to do for crops. However, most of the people here have real jobs or are unemployed and so the weekend is much more prominent. I can see this being a good thing once I’m settled and know my work colleagues, but arriving into it seemed a little strange.
So once I got my little cell situated, it was time to walk around a bit. The owner of the house had her son walk around with me so I could explore the area. As it was a Saturday, pretty much every male in the vicinity was drinking alcohol. Although I didn’t partake in the drinking, it was interesting to observe the dynamic and to meet people in the area. In some ways I felt that they didn’t care if I drank, but found comfort in the fact that I admitted that I do drink alcohol sometimes and that I was still talking to them and willing to be around them. Although the knowledge of English changes from person to person, it really does make communication so much easier when the majority of the people can at least get by on a little bit of English. Later on in my day travel I did meet some people that seemed pretty nice and overall – for being called such a violent country and violent culture – I felt more or less welcomed or passive indifference to my arrival.
As I’m hoping to learn Xitsonga, I’ve been trying to get as much vocabulary as I can. Once again, drunken relatives of my homeowner accompanied me later that night that wanted to speak with me on the porch. Although they argued amongst themselves, they were nothing but nice and respectful to me and encouraged me to ask for more Xitsonga vocabulary (occasionally yelling at each other about how to spell it correctly). In some ways I like their aggressive and straightforward way of speaking better than the passiveness of Madagascar, but I can see how this can be problematic. I like knowing what people think and having them speak their mind. Also, the people living on my compound are far less protective of me than those living with me in Madagascar and this makes life much easier. If I ask for any help or assistance, they don’t hesitate to help, but they let me live my life and leave it at that. I’m sure that my time spent with Mama Grace and the family will be a nice 10 months. They have been so welcoming and love to talk with me even if their English isn’t the best.
I’ve been trying to talk with people in my yard/ my host family as much as I can. They really are nice people and I’m very appreciative for their welcoming me. Even more so I’m blown away at how willing they are to try and help me learn Xitsonga (almost like I have more pressure to really learn), but I guess not a lot of people really put in the effort to learn. We’ll see how work goes and how much time I really have to focus on language, but I hope to get at least the basics down, and a lot more than just the greeting, where I’m from, and my name. However, it’s difficult because they want to improve their English rather than help me improve my Xitsonga.
There’s another volunteer in my village; she’s an education volunteer who has been in the area for a year. I lucked out again to be in another site next to a person that I actually enjoy talking with. I often wonder about my time in Andapa how it might have changed if Hilary and I didn’t get along. It’s been cool to get her perspective of this village, the culture, the language, and just how things go down. I know that just by living here for a year she probably knows more about the area than she realizes and it’s nice to get her perspective.
I was very excited for my first day of work. Mostly because I still didn’t really know what I was going to do (even know there is a bit of uncertainty). It’s cool because I’m with a real organization that has real programs going on and so there is potential to get some serious projects done. The name of the organization is Valoyi Trust or Xitsavi and you can check out all of the things they do online if you’re interested.
I spent my time with the Fit for Life, Fit for Work class and I hope to sit in on a bit of those sessions over the year. They are meant to help young adults prepare for the workplace and to get jobs. I’m also going to be doing some permaculture gardening (what the position was all about). So I saw that they have some basic gardens and that they aren’t really using any specific techniques so I’m going to try an incorporate that with the women’s group and the afterschool student groups. There might be an opportunity to do some community work as well as partner with other schools and clinics in the area. I hope to do some gardening on my compound too.
I’m also doing some English work, which I know is important, but don’t really enjoy. If the kids already understand then it’s fine, but with the one’s that don’t speak any English it’s much more difficult for me and I need to figure out a way to make it more fun for them and myself if I continue to do it in the future. Regardless, it needs to be done so we’ll do it.
I’ve found over the years that no matter where I go, the kids love gymnastics. I’m really thankful that I enjoy simple gymnastics and that I spent part of my childhood flipping around so that I can share it with other children. The neighborhood children have already made an afternoon plan for me. I come home from work and they teach me some Xitsonga, then we do ‘gyming’ (their word for working out), and then we play some games before it’s dinnertime. Some of the kids have potential to be pretty good, but mostly it’s just the fun of walking on hands, cartwheels, and handsprings. They taught me their local games, which were funny in themselves.
My favorite is where one person is a shop owner and the other is a person who wants to buy things. The other children are then commodities within the store. So the buyer goes to the shop owner and s/he tells the buyer that s/he smells and that you must leave. So you go and shower. You come back and the shop owner says it again, so you repeat. Then you show up at the shop and have to ask for things to buy. You don’t know what the other children said they were so you have to guess what they might be. When you select them, the shop owner “weighs” them and the weight is the number of seconds that they count before a little footrace. If the buyer catches the commodity s/he gets it, if not, the shop owner keeps it. By the end of the game you see if the shop owner or the buyer has more commodities. Then it’s an all out tug-of-war of people until one side has all of the players. If nothing else it’s much better than the game where I accidently started play fighting with the children and then they started kicking me from all directions…I put a stop to it rather quickly. I think they didn’t realize that while I was battling three or four of them in front of me, the flying sidekicks to my back weren’t what I needed.
As the week progressed more children showed up and they even come to greet me on the road when I come home from work. It’s extremely embarrassing and I hate the attention they give me, but I guess it just shows that they need something going on in their lives. Maybe this will be the year that I get me over my fear of children…I’m not going to hold my breath.
I had my introduction to the local Tribal Authority in Nwamitwa. The Chief couldn’t be there, but the rest of the council was able to meet me and I had my formal introduction to the community. In doing so, I was ready for my Shangani/ Xitsonga name. The name I was given is Mzamani. The name means to try or to venture. Everyone seems to laugh when they hear it, but I’m just happy that I’m not another generic ‘gift.’ I think it’s because I really am trying to learn the language and I am willing to do anything at work.
My first week at work ended with a little bit of planning for the future and trying to grasp everything that’s going on with the organization. It’s somewhat overwhelming just because there are so many possibilities and so many things that I want to help on, but I’ll probably have to turn down a few. I’m hoping to get some test plot gardens done by the end of November and then we will start in January, after people return from Christmas break. We already made a small compost pile and we tried this technique of covering it with mud for heat insulations (we didn’t have plastic). I’m sizing the garden now and hoping to make a map so that we can figure out what we can plant, how much of it and the timing for a garden plan. It’s difficult because they are kind of on a year schedule because people leave around Christmas time. Therefore, I don’t want to start too much because I know that it might be neglected for a few weeks in December. In addition, the beds need to be re-dug so to be wider and this will take work. So it’s all a big mess until things really get going and everyone is on board and believes that what they are doing is worthwhile.
I spent my first real weekend in the area traveling with two of my work colleagues. One of the guys has a car and I ride with him to work regularly, so we traveled around to see his family and the two of them showed me the area. It was nice to hang out with them outside of work and get a better idea of their lives and what they are doing. It also gave me perspective on what they want from life and what they hope to do (one is 27 and the other 23). It was just nice to have some smart, fun people to hang out with rather than the local drunks.
So that’s my life after week 1 in the bush. I feel like so many things are happening and it’s hard to say what is really worth commenting on. Overall I feel positive about my house and my work and I just have to keep up that positivity. South Africans like to eat and the village is doing its best to try and fatten me up. One woman even told me that she hopes that I get so fat that when I come home my family doesn’t even recognize me! NOT GOING TO HAPPEN, LADY!!!!, but I appreciate the sentiment.
AND…I’ll try to post pictures on Facebook…