Two weeks left of 2013? To be incredibly unoriginal: this year has absolutely flown and I cannot believe it’s already drawing to a close. It’s insane to think that I’ve seen a full Sun frolic since last year’s epic Drakensberg shuffle (riddled with dagga smugglers, precarious ascents, and poop trowels that you can indulge in here) and a New Year’s celebration in Durban. This season’s holiday excursions should prove even more varied and, if nothing else, lengthier. I’ve been in the village for about a week since school has closed, and soon I’m leaving for a month. I’m extremely excited because, even on my baby budget, I’ll be able to see a ton more of South Africa – such an incredibly diverse country, both
culturally and ecologically (dare I ever leave? Hmm…). This will be my last post of 2013 but sometime in February I should be documenting my travels and experiences in Cape Town, Nature’s Valley, Chintsa, the northern Drakensbergs, Durban, Coffee Bay, a short stint in my village, Hluhluwe game reserve, and Johannesburg (basically, I’m traipsing the whole coastline from west to east). Most of these travels will be greatly sweetened by the company of my brother, John. My actual, real, blood relative from the States! Yes! When he arrives in early January, it will have been 18 months since I’ve seen anyone resembling my family and it will surely be a deserved reunion of the squat, freckly, curly-haired tribe.
Though I do have many touristy, polished times ahead in December and January, there is much to be said about my current couple weeks spent in the village sans school. My family and I, consistently becoming closer and closer, are enjoying relaxed camaraderie, card games, and working on many household improvement projects (“spring cleaning,” they say). The Ndlovu complex has six buildings: one large house for the family, my two-room abode, a few crumbling storage structures, and the ancestral rondavel. This week has been largely dedicated to painting our buildings and roofs – while a fun, teamwork activity, it’s caused me to silently debate the stratified scale of poverty.
My family lives off of government grants and, while food purchases remain ridiculously poor in nutrition, they choose to buy high-end paint, nice clothing, and brand-name products. I think I can un-offensively say that much of South African native cultures are based on image – surprisingly despite fiscal standing. It seems that most families would rather have an updated home, new clothing, and hair extensions than proper nutrition or books. At the risk of sounding one-dimensional (and this is just a speculation), perhaps the subconscious mentality of it all is that because everyone is in a similar situation, it’s not who can live this way whilst internally gaining education or proper health, but who can live this way and externally look the prettiest doing it. However, my upbringing, circumstances, and priorities differ from theirs, so who am I to pretend to be validated enough to draw a conclusion? I know naught of what it’s like to grow up in and be fully shaped by a village; perhaps if I was born here, I too would place more pride on my physical representation than my report card or arteries. I simply wanted to convey an intriguing side of some of rural South Africa’s poverty; a type of poverty where it is possible to budget and afford paint and high heels, quite possibly at the known cost of something else.
Along with the family’s, my personal dwelling has also seen improvements recently. A few weekends ago a good friend and fellow PCV, Monica, came to my hut to help me organize and clean what had become a bit of a disaster. I’m someone who is happy to live out of a plastic bag, but that didn’t fly with her – we whipped my place into shape and, while I was already in love with my hut, I presently consider myself fully nested. (A quote that accurately portrays the haphazard tone of the weekend: “Monica, do you know what I’m doing right now? I’m unpacking from America.”) We had countless laughing fits and gorged ourselves on a calorie-less package I received from the States including Reese’s, Hershey’s, Starbursts, pumpkin cookies, and Nutella. Thanks, y’all! Mama like.
So, with the olde manor shipshape (t’was hell dusting the chandelier), it was time I started implementing something I’d wanted for a while: a thatch ceiling. Not only much more aesthetically-pleasing than the underbelly of corrugated iron (though I will argue that rust and sun spots are stunning), grass is a much better insulator – not to mention more renewable and cost-effective. The project is still in-process so hopefully in February’s post I’ll have pictures of the completion. Basically, the goal is
to bind bundles of grass onto wood to create thatch panels, essentially, and then hang those tightly together about a foot or so under the existing tin. This will provide an air pocket, a crucial buffer between the two materials, which will greatly reduce the amount of heat or chill that penetrates the thatch and enters my interior space. I’m very excited for a slightly cooler summer and warmer winter – not to mention the experience I’m getting as I consider a career in green building.
Here the post derails into a few random, choppy musings I’m sure to forget by February. Tally ho:
- Between school ending and my big adventure beginning, I decided to eat very frugally. In the States I chose to experience degrees of fasting for various reasons, but I wanted to see what some people go through by necessity. For the past week or so and
continuing up to next week, every day I’ll have enjoyed morning coffee, maybe some oatmeal, a cup or two of hearty soup, and a few spoons of peanut butter if need be (it totals to $1 or less a day!). It’s been quite revealing for my body and mind and, as I’m sure anyone who did this would say, I conclude that I need significantly less than I want. Of course, my daily activities are less rigorous than ever before, but I still think I overindulge too much. Shocker alert: hunger is an actual stomach pang, not a mentality or increased salivation or tantalized olfactory perception. Although I’ve been trying the old “eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full” thing, I do plan to give myself a little leeway when I’m travelling and good food is available…plus, I don’t give a flying rip about health or body image when there’s ice cream involved. For the most part, it’s been edifying to see exactly what my body actually needs to function day-to-day. (Put the damned fork down, America.)
- A must share: one of my host sisters, Nonkonzo, is home from university and one night last week she knocked on my door and said, “I didn’t smell anything tonight. Take this,” and handed me a small dish of food. I haven’t cried due to heartfelt reasons in a while, but her act of kindness and generosity immediately made me well up. They really are family.
- Something that’s been rattling around the ol’ noggin recently is that of conformity…what it is, why we do it, is it on purpose, is it on accident, do we even realize it, etc. My thoughts have been stimulated from watching Tom struggle with his caste identity on Downton Abbey, from the actions of both elephants and poachers in Secrets of the Savanna, from Kat in 10 Things I Hate About You, many things in Save The Last Dance, reflecting on college, my own time living in a Zulu area, the learners’ experiences in my classroom, and teenagers’ behaviour in the village as well as urban areas. Namely because I’ve yet to dedicate much time to its pondering, I don’t really have much to say on the subject of conformity other than it’s an interesting topic to toss around (poetic, aren’t I?). Do we start conforming – or the inverse: do we so strongly desire not to conform – at a certain age, more so in certain environments than others, is it animalistic, is it cultural, is it from external and/or internal pressures, is it a combination of all or none of these things? I don’t know. Look around; look at your fashion, at your social behaviour versus when you’re alone, at your vernacular and actions in different settings, etc. Create your own thesis and share it with me.
- Rolihlahla Madiba (Nelson Mandela) has passed. It’s an odd thing to wake up to a text message from Peace Corps with that news, being in the same country. At the same time, being in the village without TV and with radios on isiZulu-speaking stations, I didn’t and don’t really know what’s been happening. Thanks to his and Bill Clinton’s agreement in 1997, Peace Corps came to South Africa. There’s nothing I can say that even nears the magnitude of what Mandela did for South Africa, its people, and the world’s mentality on peace and justice, so I needn’t try. I’ll just say I’m honoured to serve in the same country where his great works started and prevailed, and I hope to mirror even a shred of his patience and determination in my projects and personal life.
- Recently, I’ve been struggling a bit with my writing. If you have probing questions about literally any aspect of my life, I urge you to ask. (There’s lots of material here…harassment, race, gender roles, hygiene, no electricity, flopped projects, home life, my dream man, pee buckets, you name it.) I’d love to write about what you want to read about – what a win-win that would be.
Last but not least: Happy Holidays! Enjoy them wherever you are, next to whoever you’re with, and for any and all celebratory reasons. Indulge in those firesides and eggnog, northern hemisphere friends and family; apparently it’s summer here and I’m off to the beach soon. Much love! Cheers from a sweaty lass in a soon-to-be more insulated hut. Damn, I’m romantic.