I started this blog entry a couple weeks ago and as a result is was a boring list of work and training items that would have been a waste of everyone’s time to read. Needless to say, I’ve been busy here. At times it has been nice, sometimes a little stressful, and even overwhelming. I remember my first month with Peace Corps in Madagascar – the days reading, bike rides off into the hillsides, the constant wondering of, “can I make it two years doing nothing?,” and eating out of boredom and just struggling to survive. This time around things are different, and in many ways I’m hoping that it’s for the better. The stressful thing about agriculture is that things do have their seasons and sometimes you just have one shot to get things going otherwise you’ll be too late. I just hope that I can set everything up in a couple months and then just relax and ‘manage’ afterwards.
Right now we’re planning like crazy and I’m trying to see what’s possible. I’m working with the garden at the youth center to feed to children, staff and hopefully provide enough produce for sale. I’m working with a 3 ha farm to produce on a more commercial level and aquaculture. Between the two of them we’ll start a nursery so that we can produce our own seedlings. In addition, I’ll be working on a home garden project that is already in existence, and we’ll be monitoring and improving those gardens which will help local people who were identified by local clinics. As if that weren’t enough, I should be helping once a week with the Early Childhood Development (ECD) children and the Fit For Life, Fit For Work youths/young adults. Then there’s all of the office stuff, making manuals, researching, pricing, and helping to apply for grants. Then I breathe, eat, and sleep when I can. Busy.
But you don’t need to read all about that, really. So I’ll try to talk a little bit more about the ‘interesting’ things that have caught my attention in the past few weeks.
For starters, I’m getting used to my house and I really feel at home in my little box. I’ve fallen into a routine for cooking, bathing, cleaning, etc., and I know how long everything takes. Space is still slightly limited, so I keep my plates and silverware in the top part of my wardrobe. That means that every time I want something, I need to lift the top door up and then look for what I need. Usually, I need to hands so I rest the top part on my head and then search. I feel like there should be an easier way, but I haven’t found it yet. The tin roof is low and as the hot weather approaches I can’t help but feel like I live in an oven. The walls themselves radiate heat and how anyone does anything clothed in one of these homes just boggles my mind. Still no rats, however ants have started to just come randomly and hang out and I had a toad that really wanted to move in the other night. So far, so good.
A co-worker picks me up most mornings and so I have it easy as far as going to work. I don’t walk far and I don’t need to flag down an empty taxi (which is hard to come by). However, most mornings I’m still blown away by the broken glass all over the dirt road on my way to the pick-up spot on the side of the paved road. I see the shattered bottles of clear, green, and brown glass and make sure there aren’t any pieces that might be troublesome. I think I need to reach out to these angry drunkards and teach them about mosaics. It would be great if my walk to the street was lined with all these glass pictures along the roadway. So when they’re belligerent or trying to smash the bottle to kill someone they can think to themselves, “ Now, let’s do this tastefully.” Not sure I’ll get to that anytime soon, but you never know. For now, I’m just avoiding the big pieces when I walk.
The local music is rather busy. I’m sure that you can go on youtube and find something about Xitsonga or Tsonga music. It’s almost like a 1980’s video game. When it comes on I feel like I’m in the lightening round and I have to collect all of the coins in 30 seconds… or something of the like. There are some songs that I like and more than anything I’m just curious to know what they’re saying. After all, they could be very sweet love songs. However, when it’s playing in a car, I can’t help but smile and feel like it’s the perfect soundtrack for the white guy traveling around town with no idea where he is going.
I have a kit latrine about 50m from my house. It’s great, I don’t need to squat, it’s clean in good shape, everything. However, I have to balance the flies with my arachnophobia. The flies get out of hand unless there are spiders. Now, the spiders on the inside walls and corners are cool – I don’t have any problems with them. It’s the spiders in the bowl that worry me. Now, thankfully, I haven’t had any stomach issues and so I’m not sitting that often in there, but I do feel rather vulnerable with them looming below. But flies are bad all the time and so sometimes you just have to deal with the spiders…7 year-old Nick would have disagreed.
Due to some technical problems, it’s like my first 6 months as a volunteer all over again…well, sort of. Back in Matsobe I didn’t have any water and so I had to walk about 200m to the river with two 15L buckets. When they moved the water pump outlet and the electrical box from my house to the main house something happened and the water pump to the borehole no longer works. What really went down, I’ll never know. As a result, I’m now walking to someone’s house and paying them R1 per container. I don’t use a lot of water so I can manage, but I do feel bad for my host family. Also, this time I have two jerry cans and a wheelbarrow, which is much easier than carrying two buckets…and I can push 60L no problem. However, I’ll be happy when it’s fixed and I just need to walk around the side of the house.
Having a fridge is amazing. Like really. Food is never an issue if you have a fridge. Although the fresh fruits and vegetables aren’t necessarily as accessible as they could be, my village has enough real food that even if I didn’t go to the grocery store, I’m still ok. I’m 40 km away from a town with two shopping malls. I can get pretty much anything I need. And because of that I sometimes forget that I’m “roughing it” out here.
Last week I broke down and bought a blackberry. I was spending so much money for my airtime that it just made sense to upgrade because it would save me money in the long run and I could actually talk to people. So I have an unlimited data plan (no minutes or text messages included) and so I can talk on whatsapp, facebook, email, and all the other stuff. It’s great for speaking with people in the US, except that it’s about 10 hours different in time. I’m also talking a lot more with volunteers because of it and it’s really nice to just talk and joke with people on the phone, easily, at night.
The weather here just confuses me. I really have no idea what’s going one. Today it might be hot, tomorrow it might be cold. It looks sunny and then it rains, it looks like it will rain and then it’s sunny. I don’t even know what’s happening. There were three days when it was freezing and then the next day it was so hot I was sweating in my house at night. Not a lot of trees in the area and the sun is pretty intense so I’m sure January will be a consistent batch of sweaty hotness. There are random windstorms; the past few days have been in the 90’s – it’s crazy. Apparently people don’t work when it’s hot here – unfortunately for them they have the guy from Central California who is used to working in 100+ degree weather. Save your sympathy for the next guy.
I love a lot of the people here. They can joke and they are straightforward. The other day a co-worker thought another co-worker was pregnant. So they asked her to come in and asked to see her stomach and then another lady started grabbing her breasts to see. Nothing weird about it to them. What’s funny, now that I’m writing this, is that I don’t even ask if the girl is pregnant. I was just cracking up in astonishment as it all played out.
I flood my room every night. Well, really it’s just me showering/bathing and failing to keep the water in the basin. If it weren’t entirely creepy I would video myself to see just how awkward I look, but it seems wrong to videotape myself bathing. I used to be concerned about the water and now I just splash around to my hearts content. I guess that’s life though, we don’t really get better at anything, we just become more accepting.
I went to a party for a co-workers niece. It was like a reverse baby shower in a sense. It was cool to see the fused culture of traditional songs and dress mixed with the current times. It was nice just to get out of the house as well and let people know that I’m willing to hang out with them. I went out last weekend with some friends and the people were blown away that I was there. In Madagascar, they were just surprised to see a white person in general. But here, the racial divide is much more apparent. I definitely see it with the older crowd as they lived most of their lives through apartheid and it makes me happy to see how happy they can be when I talk and joke with them (even if they are drinking). It got me thinking about when I drive around with one of my co-workers. If this were 25 years ago he would be arrested and beaten. Now, neither of us really thinks about it, but I’m sure it’s ingrained in many of the minds in this country.
I saw my first snake in South Africa. It wasn’t large and it was hardly fearsome, but people killed it anyway. Although I didn’t really take note of its coloration, people in the area were worried that it was a green mamba. However, I highly doubt that it was a green mamba only because I faintly recall seeing other colors on it and the likely hood of a green mamba being so far away from trees wasn’t likely. What surprised me is how adamant they were about killing the snake. Granted, there are small children in the area and if they are bit by a venomous snake that’s a problem, but there are no attempts for education or how to deal with the fears. I don’t think that this is something that I will address in my time here, but it was alarming nonetheless. Now, if there was a 2m long black mamba slithering around I might be more inclined to kill it. However, just another bush snake that isn’t venomous, not really sure it would have harmed anyone.
Finally, the honeymoon is over. Everyone has more or less gotten used to me and now they ask for money. I turn them down – sometimes politely, other times not so much. They’ll figure it out soon enough. Regardless, I’m adjusting to life in the village, and I’m definitely happy to be here.