makin’ sense

I spy with my little eye a No Name doggie, a baby's shadow, and some chick pretending to be artsy fartsy.

I spy with my little eye a No Name doggie, a baby’s shadow, and some chick pretending to be artsy fartsy.

Hellooooo, Internet surfers!

Before anything, let me publicly acknowledge how sparse my posts have become.  Ngiyaxolisa – I apologize!  I’ve noticed that some fellow Volunteers’ blogs have also quieted down a bit and I think I know why.  We’ve been living in South Africa for

Stumbled upon this carcass party the other day...timber!

Stumbled upon this carcass party the other day…timber!

nearly two years and within the past six months or so I’ve really noticed a transition in how I view my time in this country: it’s not just the place in which I serve or holiday; it’s the place in which I live.  I can’t speak for all the PCVs but, personally, I feel like I’ve become less of a tourist and more of a resident.  Along with that feeling, of course, comes normalcy.  For example, now seeing a cow slaughtered and hacked to pieces with an axe is a normal activity, so normal that it doesn’t trigger in my mind to write a post about it.  It’s just an ordinary activity that’s done in the community in which I live.  I hope this makes sense to y’all.  So, just because the frequency of my updates has decreased, please don’t fear that my excitement for my South African life is waning – I’m just now seeing my life here as less temporary and touristy, which is typical if you stay anywhere long enough.  Alright, onward…

In a previous blog I alluded to how my senses seemed to have changed over here.  Perhaps they’ve actually sharpened, or perhaps it’s simply because I’m more aware of them.  I think that the majority of this is due to that fact that I now live in a rural village and therefore need to fully utilize my senses a bit more than I did in the States (driving on paved roads, flicking light switches, etc.).  Some of these changes may also be due to the fact that I’m “on stage” about 99% of the time – someone, somewhere is always watching me – so both naturally and subconsciously I’m more aware of my surroundings than if I was just one of the customers in a queue at Starbucks.  In all honesty, I don’t really know how to describe the heightening of my senses…the best way I can think of is to share examples.  Below I have a few short lists to show glimpses of how my utilization of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch has aided me over here.  Of course, I’m not saying that if I still lived the way I did in the States that I couldn’t use my senses in these ways, I’m just saying that perhaps I wouldn’t.

I can spot our bull Inyanga (moon) from a mile away. Thankfully he didn't charge me today.

I can spot our bull Inyanga (moon) from a mile away. Thankfully he didn’t charge me today.

SIGHT:

  • Living here – not just existing or surviving here but truly living here – has taught me much about visual observation.  My Baba and the boys have an incredible skill for looking kilometers away, espying specks of cows and not only determining if they are ours, but easily determining to which clan they belong.  I am amazed by their ability to use a cursory glance to decipher livestock; many times I literally could not discern the cows from the rocks by them or the skuzz on my glasses.  Sometimes when we walk home from school, Zweli will point to a far-off cluster of cows or goats and ask me if they’re ours… I’m happy to say that I’m marginally more accurate now than I was in 2012 (meaning that I can actually pick out the animals from the surrounding landscape).

  • Improved nighttime vision – visitors who have stayed at my hut have been quite shocked at how few candles I light (usually one or sometimes zero).  It’s amazing how little light our eyes actually need to execute their function.  It’s also quite cool to do simple tasks because you have a mental map of your house; your feet and hands do basically all the work.

  • Walking home from school I noted that Baba had taken the same path that morning. How cool! Can't get this from strolls on pavement, can ya...

    Walking home from school I noted that Baba had taken the same path that morning. How cool! Can’t get this from strolls on pavement, can ya…

    Noticing the learners who are so small and/or thin that the elastic in their socks can’t tighten around their calves so they bunch around their ankles

  • Seeing a shoeprint and knowing whose it is

  • Seeing half of someone’s ear, the crown of someone’s head, or even just one of their fingers and knowing which learner it is, where Baba is within a crowd, etc.  (Although I will say I was already quite adept at recognizing people from afar or by seeing a small amount of them.  My Centre friends know just how creepy I can be with this…talent?)

After a while, my ear became tuned to the Zulu chants and clapping for their traditional dances. Now I can -almost- sing along with them!

After a while, my ear became tuned to the Zulu chants and clapping for their traditional dances. Now I can -almost- sing along with them!

HEARING:

  • Waking up and using the frequency and intensity of livestock murmurings to gauge what time it is

  • Footsteps outside and knowing whose they are

  • Different coughs, sniffs, sighs, whistling, etc. and know who it is

  • Different types of Zulu shrieks that tell me the emotion of the situation

  • Semi-listening to two or more Zulu conversations at once to glean any information I may need (the name of a taxi stop, how much the fare is, when/where an event is, etc.)

  • Being partially deaf for a couple hours after being cooped up in a positively bumpin’ taxi

  • Being able to discern different types of wails from children: fake-pain-wail, real-pain-wail, just-want-attention wail, etc.

  • Deciphering different accents within the nation (Zulus, British, Afrikaans, Indian, etc.)

  • Listening to the type of wind on my tin roof and knowing what weather to expect

A bit of odour hazing.

A bit of odour hazing.

SMELL:

  • The pungent, moist aroma of livestock dung that – I’ll admit – isn’t unbearable at all

  • A circle of goat skin on my wrist that reeks of death but also lets me know I’ve been

    Sadly, I've come across the smell of death more in my everyday life here than I ever have before.

    Sadly, I’ve come across the smell of death more in my everyday life here than I ever have before.

    accepted by the ancestors

  • The intensity of the odor of traditional brew on men’s breath that tells me how quickly I need to find an exit

  • The distinct tang of stomach and intestines being boiled in the kitchen…three houses away

  • My learners’ exercise books and uniforms that smell like fire                   .

If only you could smell and/or taste pictures!

If only you could smell and/or taste pictures!

TASTE:

  • Sour milk, soggy fruits, withering vegetables, maggots in oats, etc.  In Peace Corps: all down the hatch…

  • The innately sharp taste of bread dipped in grayish intestine soup

  • Soil still on the produce I’ve grown, picked, and cooked

  • Dust in my mouth…all the time

  • Cotton mouth after I finish my supply of filtered water I bring with me everywhere (I can only lug so much)

I'm happy to say that some tastes have remained blissfully unchanged during my absence.

I’m happy to say that some tastes have remained blissfully unchanged during my absence.

TOUCH:

  • The different texture and consistencies of grasses on my way to school that tell me how far along I am based on the terrain

  • The ache in my shoulders after ‘Zulu polishing’ a floor

  • The weight of a 20L bucket of water on my head (~45 lbs.)

  • Being quickly flicked, swiped, rubbed, poked, prodded, etc. to see what my skin feels like

  • At night, rubbing my thumb along my set of keys to find the one that fits my door

There are many more examples that I could include, but I’m sure you get the gist.  It’s really been quite fun to notice how much more I’m using my senses over here.  Sometimes it happens by accident: I’ll be halfway through making dinner in the dark before I realise it; I’ll hear how a door is opened and know who opened it; I’ll smell my family’s cooking and run in when I can tell it’s about to burn.  I’m blessed to have five fully functioning senses and living how I do here has shown me not to take them for granted.

Learners playing games and selecting/checking out books.

Learners playing games and selecting/checking out books.

In school news, I’ve been continuing to develop the library with learners and it’s been rewarding to watch them take initiative towards learning English via books, games, and conversing with me about their library responsibilities.  I recently began working on the World Map Project that I’m implementing on my school’s most public outdoor wall.  It’s been immensely enjoyable to tap into my artistic side again, as well as teach learners about geography (hopefully they’ll finally understand that England and the USA are different places!).  More updates on my school endeavours to come…

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My dear Briana showing us how to have fun (and be sunscreen safe) with your touch sense. Can't wait to see that smile crossing the finish line in Durban!

My dear Briana showing us how to have fun (and be sunscreen safe) with your touch sense. Can’t wait to see that smile crossing the finish line in Durban!

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This weekend, I’m off to Durban to support my good friend Briana as she runs Comrades, a hugely popular 56-mile ultra-marathon that spans the distance between two major cities in KZN.  She may be a little crazy, but we love her.  Crank it out, B!

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I sincerely hope you all are doing well, loving whatever it is you’re doing, and I’ll post again (relatively) soon  🙂

Bit by bit!

Bit by bit!

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3 Responses to makin’ sense

  1. Emily Archer says:

    Loved this post, LB! Thought of Diane Ackerman’s amazing book, A Natural History of the Senses. You would’ve been quoted a dozen times if she’d had this post. I must say the pics of dead animals are an acquired taste, but then I don’t even have the luxury of the other 4 senses to get the Full picture. I take your word for it, and will continue to live SA vicariously. Love you so much! Aunt Em

  2. Mary H. Perry says:

    Great reading material.

  3. Gene Bramblett says:

    Great, insightful post! Can’t wait to see the world map project once it’s completed. Dadee

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