the (not so) lean, mean, sustainability machine

PCVs and counterparts dominate successful transplants.

PCVs and counterparts dominate successful transplants.

Back at site, getting dirty continues as Thabiso and I enjoy earthy art time.

Back at site, getting dirty continues as Thabiso and I enjoy earthy art time.

I’m back, I’m big, I’m bad, and I’m green.  On Monday I returned from the most informative and interactive Peace Corps workshop I’ve been to: permagardening.  This specific type of gardening is a subset of the colossal and respectable ideology of permaculture, a forward-thinking and ethically-sound initiative on which I would like to eventually build a career.  This past weekend allowed me to visit with some Volunteers I hadn’t seen in some time, re-discover my pent-up passion for sustainability, and play in the dirt.  I only endured a single speed bump along the way so let’s just get that one over with.  A Phony Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum…

.

When dealing with street vendors and especially private taxis, I’ve occasionally wondered if I am quoted elevated prices due to my appearance.  Sometimes I forego the purchase and sometimes I allow myself to be taken advantage of simply because I want whatever “it” is badly enough.  (And doesn’t that just speak volumes about my true fiscal wiggle room…).  I recently realized that, in South Africa, I hadn’t yet been financially taken advantage of without my consent.  I quickly cursed myself because, as soon as you realize something like this, what’s the next probable thing to happen?  Indeed…Friday morning, on the way to the permagardening workshop, I got my first glimpse of village dishonesty.

Girl Scout Cookies from America! Baba's accent perfectly and unknowingly identified this cookie when he asked for "some more."

Girl Scout Cookies from America! Baba’s accent perfectly and unknowingly identified this cookie when he asked for “some more.”

My Baba and I, on different agendas, took the same village taxi to our shopping town.  The cost is R17 (about $2) and I only had a R100 bill, so I paid with that.  The process of doling out riders’ change in taxis is often confusing and aided with cell phone calculators, but my village mates are always very concerned that I get the correct change.  I guess I relaxed a little too far into the slippery idea of utopia because, this time, someone claimed my change for me.  We arrived at the rank, no one could “find” my R83, people disembarked, and that was that.  My taxi marshal, Baba Makhosi (one of those badass, bone-necklace-wearing Zulus who you always want on your side), was incredibly apologetic and people were crowded around me yelling, pointing, and accusing each other.  Keep them emotional tears on lockdown, Ms. Bramblett.

My sweet Baba said, “I’m sorry, my Thandeka.  We will trace it.  They take advantage of you because you have a lot of money.”  My gut reaction was to remind him that I don’t make money as a volunteer and am trying to save money, but I decided it was unnecessary.  In my current setting, even with unpaid school loans and living stipend to stipend, I am financially well-off.  I don’t have to feed ten mouths on a modest government grant.  I don’t have to eat mealie meal everyday because I can’t afford vegetables.  I am incredibly fortunate.  As much as the taxi transgression angered and saddened me, at the end of the day I actually could afford to lose R83.  (Yes, “only $9” but with the cost of living here, I only spend about $30 on food every month).  Should I really need it, I know that my parents and/or friends could wire me money (and they have before – thank you!).  As disappointing as Friday morning was, I learned a valuable lesson: even on your peaceful village taxi, plan ahead, pay with the smallest bills possible, and watch out for your bloody change.  Silly girl.

View from my room at the hotel. It's known to be haunted by eight ghosts, including a canine spector!

View from my room at the hotel. It’s known to be haunted by eight ghosts, including a canine spector!

So, with the low point out of the way early in the trip (I planned it so well, didn’t I?), the rest of the weekend went fantastically!  Seven PCVs and their counterparts from the southern half of KZN met in Bulwer, near those gorgeous Drakensberg Mountains where much of my pride and other things lie, and stayed at a quaint, intriguingly eerie, “haunted” lodging – the Mountain Park Hotel.  We all enjoyed two full days of buffing up on our gardening know-how with a “learn by

doing” attitude that included making seed beds, digging trench beds, and starting a

A traditional take on a seedbed, where seedlings grow before they are transplanted to their permanent, soiled home.

A traditional take on a seedbed, where seedlings grow before they are transplanted to their permanent, soiled home.

compost heap, as well as sit-down sessions to learn more about the benefits that permagardening can provide.  The discussions meandered through how to teach community members more sustainable gardening methods (ex: double-digging nourishes the soil for five years), how to use gardening as part of your curriculum (ex: using adjectives to describe a fruit or applying math to determine plants per plot, etc.), and how to encourage and improve communities’ food security (planning farther ahead, crucial tips about moody plants, turning a garden into a business, etc.).  The sessions really jogged my memory about much I had retained from my Environmental Studies courses in college.  As earthy as I am here, much due to necessity, I became even earthier this weekend due to desire.  I am now researching opportunities here in South Africa to obtain an international PDC (Permaculture Design Certificate) and I am stoked about it!

Preparing our double-dug trench bed! Ingredients to enrich the soil include tin cans, sticks, leaves, uncooked fruit or vegetables, paper, and lots of guesswork.

Preparing our double-dug trench bed! Ingredients to enrich the soil include tin cans, sticks, leaves, uncooked fruit or vegetables, paper, and lots of guesswork.

Ma'am K perfecting the mulch blanket that protects our little patch of life.

Ma’am K perfecting the mulch blanket that protects our little patch of life.

I took Ma’am Khumalo as my counterpart because, quite frankly, she is obsessed with gardening.  It’s a rarity if I don’t see her barefoot, covered in dirt, with a couple leaves sticking out here and there.  Sometimes if we’re in the same office, she’ll just lean back in her chair and state, “Whoo-ee, I like the soil.”  I could think of no person more entertaining, more positive, or more filled with raw gardening passion than my beloved Ma’am.  Over the weekend, a couple of us noticed as counterparts gained confidence in themselves and in their English – very neat to witness.  Then, it was Monday, we all returned to the rural speck on a map from whence we came, and it was back to the village grindstone!  I’ll update y’all as my school and personal gardening goals are assessed, acted upon, and hopefully achieved.

As usual, thanks a whole (compost) heap for tuning in to this wee stop in cyberspace.  I’ve got quite a few ideas that I’d like to get out on this puppy, but methinks I’ll cut today’s post right here and right –

I LOVE WHERE I LIVE

I LOVE WHERE I LIVE

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

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Screen shot 2013-04-17 at 8.04.44 PM

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2 Responses to the (not so) lean, mean, sustainability machine

  1. Emily Archer says:

    Oh my gosh, LB, I want to learn permaculture from you now! Matter of fact, I would want to learn anything from you, just because your Enthuse is so Effuse. People want to learn from people who love what they’re doing. Love the pictures. In love with your “bromie,” just from the picture. And sending big ridiculous squeezy teary stupid hugs to you. Lovelove, Aunt Em

  2. Gene Bramblett says:

    Great newsy post, sweet girl! Loved the photos and the enthusiasm that exudes from your writing. Sorry that you got “ripped off”, but at least the cost of the lesson wasn’t too severe. Love you so very much, Dad

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