beautiful stresses

Since I’m still trying to figure out my role at the primary school, this post will be all about my life on the home front without electricity.  We will meander through the daily activities that you and I still have in common but probably execute quite differently; bathing, cooking, drinking, and spending free time.  Grab your head torches and let’s do it…

Sunlight.  Not only the brand name of my laundry powder over here, but it is my source of energy, heat, and ability to see.  I purchased a solar panel, which may have been the best decision I’ve made since choosing CentreCollege, and it has saved my white butt numerous times.  It came with a light bulb (which I rarely use because it’s that terrifyingly morgue-ish glow) and tons of charger ends to connect to anything I have.  I’ll be able to bring it home in two years and I’m really enjoying the fact that almost all the energy I’m consuming here is renewable.  Now, when night falls and my sun god leaves me, it gets dark.  It’s the blackest black I have ever known – it’s heavy, and it suffocates my eyeballs.  Although, it is insanely cool to see how quickly your eyes can utilize the tiniest sliver of moonlight.  As I’ve adjusted to my new living situation it’s been neat to learn what limits, or lack thereof, the human body has.

The stars are amazing here, so bright and crisp – truly the freckles of the sky.  In my house at night, sometimes I use a head lamp, but that just makes the bugs zoom towards my face that much faster.  Usually, I’ll have one or two candles burning in repurposed wine bottles (I know you won’t believe me, but I really did find them empty!).  It’s a really beautiful light; I spend much time walking towards and away from my walls to watch my shadow grow and shrink.  Shadow puppets are also a daily occurrence and my Nook has been a sanity saver (thanks, Mom and Dad).  Around half past ten, I blow out the candle(s) and last week one of my sweaters caught fire from an ember.  Wuddup, pre-bedtime cardio workout?!

An infamous and frequent omelette

An infamous and frequent omelette

Food.  I’m the most remote of my group here in central KZN and I have no tuck shops, the small stores that sell bread, sugar, canned items, etc.  This means that when I go to town, I really have to go to town.  I’ve been kicking it with basic food groups, and thus far it’s worked out fairly well.  I get to shamelessly eat one of my favorite foods at least ten times a week (eggs), and try to get as much fruit and vegetables as possible although, without a fridge, it sometimes proves a little difficult.  I’m downing some serious canned tuna, rice with soy chicken, PB&Js, and gourmet omelettes (really! – bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, bread crumbs).  Spices are a girl’s best friend.  My school serves me lunch, which is a nice filler, but I really enjoy cooking on my own.  I’m using thin silver coffeepots on a gas stove to prepare meals, heat water for my 6:00am coffee (I’ll never sacrifice that no matter where I am in the world), and heat water to bathe.  This week has been a stretch in both the food and water categories – I ate spoonfuls of peanut butter to get full and, since our village has been without water for a full week, resorted to drinking my drained pasta water.  Yum! Water.  Ohh, water.  The most essential thing to life and, to some, the most taken for granted.  Breaking down the average American family, one person consumes about 700 gallons a week.  I tallied up my water consumption here last week and it came to about 27 gallons.  Needless to say, my carbon footprint has significantly decreased and, once I return home, I’d really like to continue some of the practices I’ve gleaned over here.  For drinking, I either catch rainwater to filter (the first night it rained here, I woke up three separate times to move my bed since my head kept wanting to be the dedicated catcher of a leaky roof), use the outside tap (which requires filtering through a cloth and then through my Peace Corps carbon filter), or when the tap’s out, walk to the next one up the hill.  This week I learned to twala – carry the bucket on my head!  It’s an incredible arm workout but I’d say you definitely earn every drop of precious H2O.

Delicious water!

Delicious water!

Water is one of the major stresses for me here.  I’m in need of a large rain barrel, which I hope to get soon in order to store up more water.  For now, when I wake up, I go check whether our tap is running and then decide my priorities for the day.  Will I wash dishes or let them pile up, will I make a meal that doesn’t involve boiling, how many articles of clothing should I hand wash, will I wash my hair?  Speaking of – bucket baths!  Mine use about 4 liters of water and I think they’re tediously fun.  I’ve been trying out various techniques, but yesterday I think I found the one meant for me.  Like I’ve seen the children here do, I sit cross-legged in my big basin, usually by candle light (can you say romantic? Hope my curtains are thick enough) and that way, I can wash myself and my hair while looking up, like in a “normal” shower.  No more of this dunking-head-into-bucket business.  I’m squeaky clean most (some) of the time.  Clothes washing is time-consuming, hard work, and almost, almost fun.  You can make anything fun if you try (this one is like a two-hour documentary on watching grass grow), so I crank some tunes, scrub-a-dub in a soapy basin, rinse in another basin, wring out, and hang on our family’s clothesline outside or the one in my room that I made out of twine and strung from my burglar bars.

Everything takes much longer here.  It’s meticulous and sometimes annoying, sometimes therapeutic.  I’m really enjoying it though and sometimes elongate processes simply to take up time – using half an hour to make an omelette, slowly washing my dishes or clothing to music, squinting at Sudoku by a candle, methodically bucket bathing, or flossing my teeth to a whole artist’s album.  Sometimes I’m literally surviving (the pasta runoff for hydration, for example), sometimes I make too much food (it’s hard to cook for one when guessing with a gas stove), and sometimes my day is consumed with learning to be resourceful: using a rubber eraser and superglue to fix my water filter, using an old brick as a candle holder, using twine and Bostik on every available surface, etc.  In America, when meeting small fix-it obstacles, I would’ve given up or asked someone for help; here I can’t give up and I’m the one to ask for help.  I enjoy these challenges; they’re fun and I feel accomplished.  We really are much more capable than we believe ourselves to be.  Yep, I’m looking at you too.

My life has taken an abrupt turn towards basic and, nine times out of ten, I’m quite happy about it.  I’m not supposed to put my exact location online, so if you’d like to know more about where I truly am, feel free to email or Facebook me.  So, my beautiful friends and family, I’ll keep you posted on life inside my aqua abode if you’ll please do the same.  Now, in my name, go pamper yourself with the following: a shower, a permanent press cycle, a light switch, and an iced beverage.  Hambani kahle!  Go well, y’all!

I'm inheriting a lot today!

I’m inheriting a lot today!

Walking to school on Heritage Day

Walking to school on Heritage Day

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6 Responses to beautiful stresses

  1. MamaBram says:

    I love the “freckles of the sky”!

  2. erikhendel says:

    It is as if Pollyanna and Alton Brown had a child: “The Look-On-The-Bright-Side Gourmet, starring Laura the PCV” this fall on the Food Network! I love this post.

    PS – I’m enjoying some refrigerated water in your honor right now.
    PPS – No pun intended, but I gotta get me a basin big enough for me to sit in.

  3. I will never again take water, lights, ice, stores for granted. Your grandma says “Bravo” for your can-do attitude!

  4. Your situation sounds intense, but I’m glad you’re making the most of it! Peace Corps seems vastly different from my plush lifestyle in a thriving capital.

  5. Pingback: Reading Rainbow « Erik's Peace Corps Adventure

  6. Sheila Swanepoel says:

    Hi Laura so pleased you are making things fun for yourself – it’s the way to go – i.e. with the flow. As I said before, you write beautifully and are constantly reminding me of the beauty and simplicity of life that we as Africans take for granted far too often. Continue to grow, thrive and enjoy! Love to you and Katie. Sheila

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