January seems to have come and gone much more quickly than I would have expected and now February is on it’s way as well. With these feelings I’m somewhat surprised with the time that has passed and I actually had to sit down and think about what has happened – or more correctly, I needed to organize what I’ve been thinking about the past month. I meant to write a blog before going on vacation to Cape Town, but I didn’t get it together and so now I hope to cover most of the things that happened over the course of the last four weeks.
As my vacation was only a week long and relatively unrelated to everything else I figure I’ll just start with that and get it out of the way. It was my first time to leave my site and so it was a little weird trying to figure out where to go and how the taxis worked, but everything was fine (mostly thanks to other PCV guidance). Travel has become easier over the years and I can just sit without having any real trouble. People in the taxis are confused by my presence, but I feel like people are confused by my presence most places that I go. I met some other volunteers in Pretoria and then spent a few days in Cape Town. It had been 8 years since I was last there and although the city is still as beautiful as ever, it has changed quite a bit as well. For one thing, people said that it’s becoming less safe and told me that when I went out I might consider leaving my phone in my room, but I never had so much as the slightest scare my entire time there. There are way more taxi companies driving around and the taxi buses are in better condition so it seems the city has adjusted to the tourism. Table Mountain is now one of the 7 wonders of the world and, although I don’t understand the criteria for choosing a ‘wonder’, it was still a great place to walk around and to see the city. The food was phenomenal as ever and the beaches were refreshing. I met up with a friend of mine from the U.S. and also a friend from Cape Town. For whatever reason when I was walking with my American friend someone asked me if I was a local…and someone else told me that I don’t speak like an American…whatever that means. The vacation was a good mix though because I was traveling alone, but with friends and so I got to have both dynamics for the trip. Regardless, I’m happy I went and I would still suggest to any type of traveler that they must visit Cape Town at some time in their life.
For work the past month has been land preparation everyday. The land was plowed, but we didn’t get a disc, so it was time to get the hand hoes out and start working. I went to the farm and we cleaned, cleared, and leveled the land. I went to the center and we did the same thing there. I couldn’t escape it even if it exhausted me or if I sometimes became bored with the work. It’s just something that needs to be done so I do it. We’ve managed to prepare a lot of furrows (hopefully we can switch to drip irrigation at some point because furrows aren’t that great) and should be ready to plant onions, spinach, mustard, and cabbage this week or next.
Although the physical labor is exhausting and it’s incredibly hot, I still enjoy the physical labor. I enjoy having a chance to do work that I see immediate results and because it gives me time to think. I often wonder how I can teach other people to do this, but I think they’re just more social than I am and have no desire to be lost in thought. They would rather talk to each other and be social to free their mind. The other day I was clearing a road and one of the farm workers asked me if the work was hard because I just kept moving. I had to laugh and say, “yes, of course!” but also explain that when I’m doing physical labor my mind and body aren’t in the same place. It’s just easier that way.
The other positive of doing physical labor is you get to see how people work. What motivates them, what distracts them, when you can push them to work harder, and when to give them a break and save their energy. I think every farm manager should do physical labor from time to time because he or she would have a better idea of planning as well as the incentives for the farm workers. It’s tough work, but one needs to realize the work that they expect and make sure that it’s realistic. The farming manager told me the other day that he enjoys when I’m at the farm because I’m working the whole time and I’m always happy. Honestly, as crazy as it sounds, I think that might have been all that this project really needed and it seems like the whole crew is slowly coming around. Even more exciting is that they aren’t always happy with what I’m saying, but they’re willing to listen and they’re willing to do it or try it anyway (and that gets back to me needing to know when to push and when to give them slack for working). I’m still trying to find a balance, but I feel like all of the conflict from the previous months might have paid off.
We finished constructing the seedling nursery and it’s such a relief! After all of the setbacks and obstacles, I’m happy that we were able to complete the simple structure. We still need to collect the seedling trays and decide on what mixture we want to use for starting seeds, but I think we will have seeds planted by the end of this month. So we’ll have to plan our planting schedule so that we can provide for the Center, the farm, the household garden project, and for sale. I think it will really help out the food security project and as people’s attitudes change I’m beginning to think they are going to be ready to continue all of this even after I leave.
My daily life seems to be going on smoothly and in many ways I’ve already begun to normalize my life here. It only took four months, but I feel like I know the area for the most part and what I need to do to live my life. I’m meeting more people each day and the friendliness that I’m shown each week continues to make my social life easier. It’s still funny to hear about all of the people that see me around, but never say anything. I often wonder if they intended to spy on me, whether they didn’t want to say hello at the time, or whether they heard it second hand. Nothing more than curiosity fuels me to ask these questions because it really doesn’t matter because they were willing to talk to me about it at a later time. It’s just a reminder to myself that I must be safe and careful at all times because I never know who is watching me or who has been watching me. At least if I knew, I could watch them back until they realized how weird it is.
People here eat with their hands for the most part and it made me think of the cutlery business and how they must struggle in Africa. My guess is that the English or the French would buy the most, but no real basis behind this other than stereotypes of being proper or cooking great food. Here, you’re lucky if they have a spoon and a fork is pretty much a hidden treasure. I still eat a lot of rice so the spoon is a must, and cereal would prove messy and difficult should I jump into it hands first. However, I’ve noticed that as time goes by I’m eating more and more food with my hands in my own home. I usually eat lunch at work (they provide the lunch) so I’m often eating pap and whatever our side dishes are (xixevo).
I helped lead a presentation with the Department of Agriculture on onion seedbeds and production. It’s amazing the knowledge that I’ve seemed to pick up over the years even though I don’t have any formal schooling in Agriculture. It’s just a reminder that even though people are constantly asking me here if I have a degree in Agriculture that it’s not necessary if I have the practical experience. I don’t speak Xitsonga, so I spoke in English and then a man from the Department translated and added his additional knowledge where I was light in information. After the presentation we did a practical and actually made a seedbed and filled some seed trays. It was cool because I saw that the people were really involved and interested and I hope that more workshops in the future have this aspect (it was a best practice with all of the CRS farmer field schools that I wrote a ton of reports on!). Mostly, I was honored that they considered me to help and participate and that they trust me enough to speak about these subjects to other farmers in the area.
Most of the people that I work with don’t have gardens at home because they are sick of what they do by the time they get home and just want to do something different. Now that I have the keyhole garden, I often feel the same way and I don’t always have the energy to deal with it. However, one evening, after a really long and exhausting day, I went out there because I needed to clean up the weeds and get things in order. The next thing I knew I had been out there for 45 minutes! It was really relaxing and in a way, psychologically, it was a lot like running in that the hardest part was getting started, but once I’m going things are easier. I took out a lot of weeds, which had control over the garden and planted some onions and tomatoes. I was a little worried because the seeds that I planted the first time around didn’t do to well and I had some worries about my garden. However, this time around the seeds germinated within 5 days and everything seems to be going well. I cut some holes into the bottom of a 2 liter plastic bottle and connected it to the hose so that makes watering much easier and much more consistent as well. I hope to transplant some of the tomatoes and onions into the keyhole garden and then transplant the rest in an area for my host family.
Although rain has been scarce, the summer has brought a lot of sun. Hot and dry it reminds me of California, but the new work suit I received from work is going to take some getting used to. Back home I worked in mesh shorts and a t-shirt – sometimes even wearing flip-flops. However, because they are worried about safety here, everyone wears work suits and boots that cover your entire body. I just got mine and I can tell you that it’s hot in that thing. Like crazy, make you sweat, forget what cold feels like kind of hot. But, the people are happy that I wear the same things as they do now and that we all look the same so I’ll keep it up. I figure winter is on it’s way so it can only get more manageable as time progresses.
My host family has been asking me to attend church with them for a while now and so I finally attended – it was my first time attending church in South Africa. I never know if I’m supposed to go or not, whether it is considered polite or rude based on my own personal beliefs. Regardless, every time that I enter a church I immediately feel awkward and I don’t know if this awkwardness is a result of how I truly feel or of how I think others think that I should feel.
I remember as a child attending Sunday school with some friends because I stayed the night at their house. Even in pre-school we went to the church and sang songs (Jesus loves the little children all the children of the world…) and I loved both of those things. But it wasn’t the theology or belief that encapsulated me, I loved singing and Sunday school always ended with juice and cookies – things I didn’t always get at home.
But I guess that’s why most people go to church. Not necessarily for the milk and cookies, but for something that they can’t get at home. The dynamic is different, the energy is different, the prayers more communal and the friendship and unity almost overbearing.
I had to introduce myself, which was awkward. People are dancing and speaking in Tsonga, which is difficult for me. However, despite my own personal feelings or beliefs, one can’t deny the power that reverberates within that building. As it became time to pray I just stood in silence and observed my setting the best that I could, in a polite manner. Hearing all of the different prayers requested at once did make me feel something, but not for myself. It made me feel for these people and their hardships and their struggles. It reminds me of one of the many reasons that I’m interested in Development – because I want to help people. Reflecting on my background in Psychology it makes me wonder how these people communicate and express themselves within their homes or personal lives – if they feel free to do so. Church is where the people go to ask anything, and often something private; to relieve the stress and find guidance. Although international development is far from holy and nowhere close to a replacement for God or religion, I do feel that in a way we are seeking similar things.
As hour 5 crept upon us, my tolerance faltered a bit, but continued nonetheless. As time continued I was reminded of the power of churches and how they could combine with development efforts to do a lot of good. It’s just too bad that there’s a lot of separation and that people sometimes think that a church only wants to help their own (which could be true). Regardless, if I ever have the chance to manage a project that can utilize the power of the church then I will try my hardest. Because some of the things that I saw and heard were beyond my belief, beyond what I want to see as real, but reality for so many others. Obviously their faith lead them to church, I would want to use their faith to lead them to progress.
With my first church experience beyond me, it seems only fitting that I should have my first funeral as well. I had heard a lot about funerals and they happen every weekend so I had mixed feelings about attending one. However, my host family invited me to a funeral because it was a relative of theirs and it was fitting that I participate.
Honored by the invitation I went and stuck out like the sorest of thumbs. It’s been almost 5 months since I’ve been here and I still forget that when I enter a new social circle that people don’t know me – like nothing about me. What’s interesting is that I can feel the tension and it’s no surprise to me that blacks and whites don’t integrate often in rural Limpopo. It takes a lot of effort from both parties to make the initiative and put themselves out there. It’s almost as if both groups are insecure, unsure of how the other will view or treat them. Obviously, apartheid isn’t too far in the past, but eventually someone has to do something. When they do they will realize that we’re all people.
The funeral was like a regular funeral, although it was my first time attending the funeral and then traveling to the cemetery. I had to cover my shoulders with a jacket to enter the cemetery and women had to cover their heads. A lot more singing and of course everything was in Tsonga so I kind of checked out. However, despite the words the feelings were there. It amazes me how much communication is done by tone of voice and body language. I didn’t know what most of the people said in their speeches, but I felt for them and I felt for the deceased.
And as I attend these events and more people begin to know Mzamani, I realize that leaving this place will probably be very difficult. Despite the stresses and the frustrations, I’ve become close to a lot of people here. I guess that’s what’s supposed to happen and obviously if you get to really know people there are going to be good times and bad times. For now I’ll just keep working and trying to enjoy every moment that I can because if January and part of February passed so quickly…July and August might be right around the corner.