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!

Posted in Musings..., Village Life | 3 Comments

beers & buckets with mama

Beer & bath time!

Beer & bath time!

Although I am the kind of person who wouldn’t mind beer by the bucketful, the title of this post references two different experiences that I enjoy sharing with my host mama – one refers to the work we do together and the other to our bubbly, barley-inspired reward. Within the first dispatch from my humble abode back in September 2012, I alluded to my new host mama as a ‘maternal war eagle’ and, a year and a half later, that description still reigns true. Mama Ndlovu is one of those women at whom you can simply glance and see that she’s been through a lot in her life – but you’ll also intuitively note that she’s at peace with those things because they’re what help to define her. She has a strong body built by manual labour and a surplus of starch, animated eyes etched with laughter creases, and, due to the culture of a married Zulu woman, it’s rare to find her not under a fisherman’s cap or warm beanie. Yes, this is Virginia Sebenzile Zungu Ndlovu, and she is one of the pillars of my Peace Corps service.

Harvesting dung to dry out for fire fuel and making mqomboti (Zulu beer) for the men

Harvesting dung to dry out for fire fuel and making mqomboti (Zulu beer) for the men

We hit it off right from the start in 2012 and thoroughly enjoyed each other during 2013, but something about our times together during 2014 has really forged a bond between us. Perhaps it’s because we both know I have to leave the village this September, or perhaps it’s because solid relationships take time to build love and trust – whatever it is, it really doesn’t matter; I’m just happy that we have this connection. I call her Mama, My Lady, or Mama Wami (my mother), and she calls me Baby Girl, My Really Daughter, or Mfishane Wami (my shorty). Over the months I’ve spent at this homestead, it’s been fun to watch barriers slowly decompose, yielding my unhurried integration into the family. I rarely used to join them in household projects because we all respected each others’ space so much that we scarcely crossed borders, but now we call each other to help with chores (sweeping, mopping, polishing, washing, sawing wood, burning rubbish, etc.) I never used be invited into Mama and Baba’s bedroom but now that is where I spend a large amount of time with them. I remember what a big day it was when they asked me to sit on their bed and not on the floor anymore.

Shorties got smiles

Shorties got smiles

Of course I enjoy the meaningful time and deeply-English conversations I have with my Baba, but there’s something unique and special about the moments I spend just

Mama with the weekly washing and posing with her niece, Snenhlahla

Mama with the weekly washing and posing with her niece, Snenhlahla

with Mama. We’ve both silently come to the conclusion that we are from different places but, in the end, we’re both women trying to make it in the world – and, boy girl, does that give us a lot to talk about. She’s confided in me family secrets and I in her things that make us more alike than different. We walk up our hill to twala 20L buckets of water, bathe the children, chitchat, and secretly purchase beer to sip together (and sometimes straight from the bottle, too! – a big no-no for Zulu women). I’ve learned much about unconditional love and a tough work ethic from watching Mama’s sure hands complete the same arduous tasks day after day. I couldn’t tell you what she’s learned from me but, if it ends up being only that she realizes people from varying backgrounds are still equal and can still happily spend time together, then that’s perfect.

 

Mama Bram & her favourite (only) daughter

Mama Bram & her favourite (only) daughter

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Once before a phone call back to the States, Mama told me, “Tell your parents I love them! You know why? Because they born my daughter.” So…that’s simply adorable. I’m currently reading an intense book (Half the Sky) and it has several thought-provoking quotes about women, one of them being a Chinese proverb: “Women hold up half the sky.” On this upcoming Mother’s Day, make sure to tell all the mamas and gogos in your life just how much they mean to you because, let’s be honest, you’re in this world because of them. I love you and thank you, Mama, Mom, and Momé!

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One perfect Georgian Gogo

One perfect Georgian Gogo

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Posted in Everyday Life, Musings... | 1 Comment

my bipedal bros

 

The Gang.

The Gang.

Donning bandanas and leather fringe jackets, we mount our trusty Harleys, toss back our ZZ Top beards, and fly towards the next diner (thinking about the girl from yesterday but always keeping one town ahead of the fuzz). This is exactly what I experience on a daily basis – if you change everything about it. Trade in the bandanas for baseball caps, the leather jackets for threadbare school sweaters, the Harleys for legs, and you’ve got it. I’m part of a group, a throng, a bipedal gang if you will. My crew and I have two 45-minute meetings every weekday and we’re flawlessly successful at keeping things moving and reaching our destination. No road rash or bad rap with the police here, naw; we’re just a bunch of kids walking to and from school in a village.

Screen shot 2014-04-10 at 11.15.20 PM

 

Eighteen months ago, when I was just beginning to find my way, both figuratively in my service and literally on the path to school, I remember spying learners timidly hiding behind trees and rocks nearby, curious about my presence but not yet bold enough to walk in the unobstructed ground around me. As with everything Peace Corps (and most

Exploring with my bros, this walk took us high up the mountain.

Exploring with my bros, this walk took us high up the mountain.

things in life worth earning), Time is a necessary constituent, slowly coaxing and shaping something into a success – not so fast that it collapses unsupported, but at just the right pace to make it self-sufficient. About 12 months into my time in the village, I wrote about how comfortable my crew had become: shifting their schedules to walk with me, practicing English, teasing and joking, playing and dancing. Obviously, since I’m writing about it yet again today, you can glean that these walks have become a chapter of my service that really hits home. Actively or just as an observer, I am a part of the learners’ laughter (usually as a source of entertainment), fighting (usually being used as a human shield), and comfort (usually when Thabiso is tired or anxious, he’ll slip his little hand into mine). Though these bi-daily treks have allowed me to witness children growing taller, becoming more confident in English, and developing both socially and within the inevitable clutches of puberty, I’ve begun to notice how these walks are also changing me.

Screen shot 2014-04-10 at 11.05.47 PM

 

Though I do have the Peace Corps-issued bicycle, I rarely ride to school anymore. While cycling does provide me exercise and a shorter commute (despite a longer distance on the

When I used to cycle to school & if our timing matched, these cuties would sometimes run alongside me.

When I used to cycle to school & if our timing matched, these cuties would sometimes run alongside me.

actual road), it greatly reduces my ability to commune with people and nature. It’s rewarding to use the form of transport our bodies are designed for ever since we evolved from waterlogged amoebas. I’m starting to leave home earlier in the morning so that I can take my time walking to school, treating the activity less as a fast-paced means to an end but more as an end itself – something of purpose and consequence. These walks have taught me patience and intention. No longer do I gently nudge Thabiso

How could you not stop and smell the roses with these two?

How could you not stop and smell the roses with these two?

home at a pace I alone find agreeable but rather I copy him in his naïve, innocent ways – stopping to watch the orderly tasks of ants, playing hide-and-seek in the tall grasses, trying to find a new way home, or taking a rest under one of the shadowy mimosas. Time spent on the path, as well as in the village community, has altered and fine-tuned my senses quite a bit. It’s been a shock to realise how dulled they had become from my previous lifestyle and I’m compiling a list of examples to share in an upcoming post. In my current stages of both life and service, though it’s sometimes quite aggravating, I’m trying to live more parts of my day with intent – and the past few weeks that practice has revealed itself through my two little white feet.

Lower primary kiddos helping pump the bore hole before school.

Lower primary kiddos helping pump the bore hole before school.

Below are just a fraction of some experiences I had this past term of school and in the community. Some fantastic, some scarring, but, in the end, all experiences:

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Two of the bros relaxing in the yard.

Two of the bros relaxing in the yard.

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  • Having truly substantial, English-dominated conversations with Zweli (now 15 and in grade 7)

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  • Becoming a bit more maternal with the toddler and children at my house; praising and feeding them when need be or feeling comfortable enough to discipline them myself versus handing the problem over to Mama
  • Hearing a learner being hit, cry out, and then the teacher forcing the class to laugh at him
  • Over a looong time, finally earning the trust of a school cook enough that she’ll hold eye contact and joke around with me (I think she first had to allow herself to eliminate fear of me and to bring me down off the historically-induced pedestal – a small but significant example of progress in the race issues here)
  • On a walk home, seeing a learner eat clumps of dirt to have something in her stomach
  • Enjoying the company of my little grade 1 neighbour, Siyanda, who has recently become quite intrigued in me
  • Picking, washing, cutting, cooking, and eating an eggplant with its dirt still on my fingers

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Just the top layer of an amazing package!

Just the top layer of an amazing package!

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  • Receiving amazing and thoughtful packages from family and friends (I promise this is not a sly plug for more, just a thank you!)

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Grade 7s discovering the joys of a pop-up book.

Grade 7s discovering the joys of a pop-up book.

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  • Spending time with all learners in my primary school inside the library, their classrooms, and the playground – and getting about 95% of the BFA books sorted, logged, and shelved!

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Term 2 has just begun so we’ll see where it goes! Until my next update, salani kahle – y’all stay well.

See you tomorrow, girls!

See you tomorrow, girls!

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electricity; simplicity

The meter and plug centre (with the permission of our charging elephant of course)

The meter and plug centre (with the permission of our charging elephant of course)

Returning from town with Baba just as a storm rolls in.

Returning from town with Baba just as a storm rolls in.

I interrupt your day of tweeting Tweets and taking selfies to share this breaking story: after months of deliberation, community meetings with traditional leaders, and a new power station that ended up like bread set to level 7 on the toaster, electricity has officially arrived in my village! DundunDUN. While the poles and wires began disrupting the panoramic view months ago (starting last August, I believe), they remained stolid, taunting statues until the first spark surged through on Valentine’s Day – how unromantic that was: the one day you want a candlelit bucket bath with your pookie!

A relative helping to install fixtures all over the house.

A relative helping to install fixtures all over the house.

The kitchen I love now equipped with a bright overhead - great for late-night cooking & homework!

The kitchen I love now equipped with a bright overhead – great for late-night cooking & homework!

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I tell you, it was quite the day when we received connection here at the Ndlovu residence:  Mama ululating nonstop, Baba quietly surveying the scene and grinning (that man has certainly seen some major changes during his 7+ decades in the village), and my brothers talking about all the soccer and action movies they were going to watch now. In my post last year about the potential of electricity, I outlined reasons of excitement and concern regarding its implementation in the rural areas. It’s only been a month since electricity arrived here but I can already see hints of the benefits and of the drawbacks that I assumed I would encounter, especially concerning television…

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A sweaty afternoon with some cute grade 5s in the library.

A sweaty afternoon with some cute grade 5s in the library.

All of my brothers (there are now three living here) have improved in English. As an expectation I had, it’s one that I’m happy to see coming to fruition. Their frame of reference and context is expanding (think about your first time watching a weather report, a history show, your president speak) and their vocabulary is growing (Zweli now calls his lady interest his “sweetie pie” – he certainly didn’t get that idiom from my class last year!). Even Thabiso, in grade 1

Adorable little fancy pants readers.

Adorable little fancy pants readers.

and continuing to write his name backwards, repeats English that he hears on TV – now don’t think I make the mistake of calling this ‘learning,’ but as time goes on I’m sure he’ll use word to image association to, indeed, learn more English. It’s been really fun to stumble into teaching opportunities that begin with, “Thandeka, I see this on TV, and I remember it from class, but what does it mean…” and end with, “OH! I understand now!”

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The drawbacks I’ve seen so far haven’t been as obvious as the benefits but, of course, the drawbacks I predicted will take a bit of time to take root and reveal themselves. The main thing I’ve noticed is what I refer to as the Zombie Toddlers club, which is exactly what it sounds like. When they can’t have her undivided attention, Mama tells the kids to

TV officially has a permanent seat in the sitting room (which should maybe be renamed the 'watching room')

TV officially has a permanent seat in the sitting room (which should maybe be renamed the ‘watching room’)

“Hamba hlala phansi nobuka iTV” (go sit down and watch TV). And, really, who can blame her? There’s washing, hanging, ironing, folding, sweeping, mopping, polishing, cooking, and cleaning to do…I sure as hell would use the TV as a babysitter too – wouldn’t you? Thus, pertaining to the younger children, I’ve noticed less playing outside in my yard (though I’m both surprised and pleased to say that adolescent Zweli and his friends really aren’t glued to the TV as much as I thought they’d be). Whenever Thabiso asks to play soccer, I’m always gung-ho for it, trying to keep his adoration for activity alive. Although it’s quieter around my house, allowing for more uninterrupted reading and such, I’d trade that in a heartbeat for kids laughing their heads off and acquiring dirty knees and scraped elbows. Electricity is so young here that it still has novelty, so these are only the initial hints of change that I’ve noticed; I’m sure much more is to come in the following months.

The Zombies that I wrangled outside for some fun in the sun.

The Zombies that I wrangled outside for some fun in the sun.

I doubt many of you know this, mainly because the actual number of people keeping tabs on me is probably less than I conjure up in my mind (wait, so there won’t be a red carpet as I descend from my re-entry airplane?), but I have recently simplified my life even more. A couple weeks ago I deactivated from Facebook and deleted all of my laptop’s movies and TV shows. I did it for a couple reasons: I only have about six months left in the village and, frankly, I was spending too much time staring at screens and not

Thabiso still enjoying the dirt outside.

Thabiso still enjoying the dirt outside.

enough time using my other four senses. I want to spend my last stint here a bit more basic, trying to emulate just a fraction of my neighbours’ lives (minus the fact that they now watch more TV than I do!).  It’s revealing to have to make your own entertainment. It’s what’s meant to be – as far as I know, none of us were born with PlayStations in our hands. My nighttime activities include hanging out with my family, reading, doing hand stands, watching how candles create and change shadows, drawing, or meditating. It’s been really great and I’ve hardly missed my media connections at all. Looks like this PCV found a wormhole to the ‘80s!

It seems I’ve traded my connectivity with social media, pop culture, and the goings on of the electronic world with my host family, and I am perfectly alright with it. As an ode to me, to yourself, to a huge portion of humankind today, and even to the hominids we once were, try going one evening without any electricity. Just try it; it’s really quite amazing, not to mention humbling. There’s one week remaining in Term 1 before the holiday so, before I head off to do silly things like a colour festival, I’ll write one more post that will sum up the quarter and also feature my little brother, Thabiso. If that doesn’t encourage you to come back, I don’t know what will! As always, you can sign up to receive email notifications for new posts. Until next time, enjoy a candlelit evening with me 😉

Early morning TV programmes still don't deter my wake-up crew!

Early morning TV programmes still don’t deter my wake-up crew!

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sick & kickin’

I’ve been a bit sick this week so it’s nice to have moments like when a wasp so un-invitingly buzzes behind my head and my neck prickles and my pores pinch together and I’m made aware of the blood swishing through my ears to remind me of how very much alive and well I really am.

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