a ‘dawn to dusk’ in the life

Wuddup, crew? I hope you’re all having a splendid day so far, as you access this post on the Internet machine.

Bum on the ground, computer on a water bucket, fingers flying...

Bum on the ground, computer on a water bucket, fingers flying…

So, true confessions…I actually wrote this post in November but didn’t have a chance to upload it before I left on a month-long holiday. Oops. I’ll just ask you to throw yourselves back to that timeframe to read this. More are on the way soon – the wiles of my trips in the Drakensberg Mountains and in Durban are to come! Meanwhile, back in (un-edited and now humorous) mid-November…


I will be leaving site on 30 November for over a month so I wanted to get at least one more post out there in 2012. On Friday, my group of SA26 will meet for our In-Service Training, another checkpoint in our Peace Corps careers – we survived Phase 2, Community Integration! And how amalgamated we have become to our village lives. I actually am finding it a little difficult, emotionally, to pack a bag for a month away. But I’m sure, somehow, some way, the kids will have fun and the goats will be herded and the laundry will be hung without me.

My beautiful Mama works hard - some jobs are dirtier than others!

My beautiful Mama works hard – some jobs are dirtier than others!

My upcoming activities include: IST, hiking/camping around the Drakensburg Mountains, near Lesotho (pop quiz: did you know there was another country within South Africa??), Christmas with a lovely and generous family I met, and then New Year’s in Durban before returning to site in early January. The new school year starts mid-January so obviously I’ve got to do some site-seeing before then…it’s simply my duty as a philanthropy-minded individual who also wields a fanny pack and the American-grown desire to SEE EVERYTHING. When I return, my daily routine will shake up a bit so I wanted to put out a current ‘day in the life’ for me which, with my reliance on the sun, really is a ‘dawn to dusk’ in the life. I will also be giving incredibly well-deserved Thanksgiving shout-outs as I go along. Saddle up, y’all…

My amazing friends & family sent goodies to me! I've heard more is on the way too...you all will get personalized 'thank you's soon!

My amazing friends & family sent goodies to me! I’ve heard more is on the way too…you all will get personalized ‘thank you’s soon!

05:30 – alarm goes off (thank you, Manoa), and I promptly ‘snooze’ it until 05:45 or 06:00 (thank you, me). I roll out of my rock slate of a bed (thank you, Department of Education), shove my feet into slippers (sometimes I forget to rattle them first – it’s typically a fun critter-y surprise if I don’t), and shuffle into my kitchen/foyer/entertainment room to heat up water for coffee (thank you, Mom, Dad, Mome, Aunt Em, Uncle Erb, Sharon, Michelle, Marla, Sarah, Tyler, Haley, Abby, Hunter). This involves lighting a match to turn on my gas stove, putting a cup’s worth of water into a silver pot, and waiting.

06:10 – While it heats, I plug in my phone to charge via the solar panel (thank you, Mike) and check emails, the news, and sometimes even chat or call people who are still awake in what I consider to be “last night.” Next, drink a cup of joe while I bop around to horrendous tunes and choose an outfit that will suffice for both the school day and the weather (sometimes 35F swings throughout the day and rain showers almost daily). This means always carrying a rain jacket (thank you, Leah) and wearing tennis shoes to and from school for my, more often than not, muddy and entertaining 40-minute trek.

06:45 – Pull my school bag together (yep, I still carry a backpack but, don’t worry, I never forget my pocket protector and calculator watch) which holds: enough filtered water to get me through the day (if I need more, I end up drinking the school’s water and just hope for the best since it’s a long walk home. Thank you, usually-strong bowels), some fruit, learners’ journals, my school shoes, some exercises if I’m working with a class, my Phase 2 observation notebook, and a plethora of patience.

~07:00 – I begin walking through the bushveld that is my front yard with Zweli, my brother. Along the way, our ambling duo picks up more learners and most days we all quiz each other (in English and isiZulu) on colours, daily vocabulary, body parts, upcoming events and weekend plans, but some days they just sing the whole way to school. I usually end up at the head of the pack so it’s literally like I’m walking alone with the soundtrack to my life. It’s ridiculously cool to feel and beautiful to listen to – sometimes so much so that I find myself quite alright with walking in front (thank you, estrogen).

07:45 – Arrive at school for assembly. The learners line up by grade level with one line for boys and one line for girls. They sing and pray, the educators and learners greet each other, and the readers perform. Since starting the Friday certificates, more learners have participated and I can tell that some practice on their own. Yay!

~08:00 – School “starts.” Usually this means that the learners clean for a while as the educators prepare themselves. Nothing is ever done at home or beforehand. During Community Integration last fall, PCVs’ objectives at school were to observe how the institution functions, explore its administrative side, identify its resources (or potential lack thereof), teach some lessons if they so choose, and determine where they would best serve in the upcoming year. As ambiguous as it is, that’s exactly what I did for twelve weeks. Well, until we have a daily break at…

Boys practicing a traditional Zulu dance during lunch. Then I tried and all hell broke loose.

Boys practicing a traditional Zulu dance during lunch. Then I tried and all hell broke loose.

09:30 or 10:00 – Lunch is served. At this no-fee school, the government provides ingredients, prepared everyday by my buddy Mzala, and the Department of Education mandates that learners must have begun eating by 10:00. It is usually a starch (rice or uphuthu – a crumbly maize product), a protein (beans, chicken livers, or pilchards), and a veg (cabbage, green beans with carrots, or spinach). This is my main meal of the day. My school has an incredible garden, happily maintained by the principal (“See my shoes! I’ve been in the garden!”) and the learners, which provides ingredients at school and at home for me when they insist I take some. No complaints. Then from…

10:30-14:30 – I continue observing, exploring the school, organizing our young library, playing soccer or netball at break, doing impromptu English lessons or reading to classes, replying to journals, making themed crossword puzzles and word searches (anatomy, food, verbs, household items, etc.) for learners, and sometimes I even find myself making silly lists or doodling (the horror!). I’m quite excited for January when I’ll have my own classes and slightly more structure.

14:30 – Or earlier, we have a quick afternoon assembly and then everyone positively JETS out of there. I don’t think I’ve seen an educator there at 14:31. Since the school is so rural, they all take teacher transport in and out so, necessity coupled with desire, they really do have to split at 14:30. I want to do extracurricular clubs if possible, so I’ll need to get creative with the timing. Or maybe get/make a master key for the school (thank you for your inspiration, Mom’s mischievous high school friend).

14:30-15:30 – Walk home up the gently sloping hill during the currently very hot afternoons.  There are always many more learners in the afternoon trek, and we’ll do more talking (miming), singing, and labored breathing (thank you, Sara – deodorant). I’ve taught people the “I love you” sign in ASL (thank you, Uncle Wayne) so when we all part ways they always yell, “See you tomorrow, Ms. Ndlovu!” and we throw up the sign. It’s awesome.

I used the top of a dead aloe plant to aid in my 'rugged chic' decor. Look for me in the next Southern Living.

I used the top of a dead aloe plant to aid in my ‘rugged chic’ decor. Look for me in the next Southern Living.

15:30-16:00 – I take this time to simply sit, undisturbed. I’ll make a tea or just try to rehydrate after the day. Sometimes I’ll make French toast or a double-boiled cake (if I don’t eat the batter first) and just relax. It’s a really valuable half hour to regroup and take a breather.

Candid chillin' with my neighbours. They teach me Zulu dances & I teach them gymnastics.

Candid chillin’ with my neighbours. They teach me Zulu dances & I teach them gymnastics.

16:00-19:00 – Every day is different but also strangely the same. Usually I’ll need to twala water on my head from a tap a little ways up the hill, but sometimes I’ll have enough to make it through that day. Some days learners will come over to teach me the traditional Zulu dances and some days I’ll read for hours on my little veranda (my Baba has a complete set of the World Encyclopedia); some days I’ll make an elaborate meal on my gas stove and some days I’ll just eat an apple with decaf coffee (thank you, Mom). It’s safe to say that goat-herding, sketching, hand puppets, and crafting are usual evening activities. Although the ways that I fill the time have taken steps back in complexity, they’ve taken many forward in meaningfulness.

19:00-21:00 – Lock my door, attempt some sort of workout, and (I’ll be honest, not daily) heat up water to bucket bathe. Finally I’ll watch a movie or write on my computer (thank you, Dad). It’s a good time to vent, analyze, and/or praise the day.

Nighttime – After I blow the candles out (thank you, Liz, Paige, Sarah & Aunt Em), my nights can be quite peaceful or ridiculously over-the-top eventful. I’ve got some vessels laid out should I ever need to catapult out of bed and immediately pee, or poo, or vomit. My pee bucket is my savior; a true knight in no-longer-very-shiny armor. The village itself is silent at night, but sometimes there’s a dogfight right outside my window or a chorus of cows mooing or bleating goats (it is unfathomably loud). It’s a little difficult to sleep through all of that but, you know, so goes life as a PCV. And then, in the blink of an eye, 05:30 rolls around again!

I have lots to add to the usual Acclimation Station and Getting Zulu-fied ending sections, but this post is already so long (sorry –or– ‘soddy’ in the Zulu accent). Keep a look out for posts soon about my holiday, and I hope that everyone has had a fabulous Christmahannukwanzakah and New Year. Love to all!

Two of my learners/neighbours and their adorable siblings.

Two of my learners/neighbours and their adorable siblings.

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3 Responses to a ‘dawn to dusk’ in the life

  1. Sheila Swanepoel says:

    Great stuff, Laura. I love reading your posts. Very refreshing for this cynical old Africa hand. It was great having you and Katie for Christmas and to stay in Durban. Come again! Love Sheila

  2. Mary Archer says:

    You are amazing, LB! I love your ‘can do’ attitude and your embracing the culture, all so different from life here. The pictures say worlds, and your words are fantastic in painting what’s going on there. Sounds like you are more than ready to move into serious teaching, and you will definitely make a difference with your lucky learners. Can’t wait to read your Dec. post. God bless you!
    from your adoring Mome

  3. Mary H. Perry says:

    I am enjoying your posts. Your Mom and Dad are in my Sunday School Class, Credence at P’tree Pres. Church. Charles, my husband and I plus a friend visited the resort in Highlands last fall and had a great time.
    Mary H. Perry

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