primary 2.0

Back to my sweet No Name and T.C.  They saved a place for me in the middle.

Back to my sweet No Name and T.C. They saved a place for me in the middle.

My second year at the primary school has officially begun.  Well, school actually began on 15 January so this post is only about a 1/6 of a year late.  As you know, I was present for a bit of the beginning of Term 1 but most of the first couple weeks I spent – probably less guiltily than I should have been – away from my village and school, traipsing the country with my brother.  Once he left on 29 January, I experienced perhaps the lowest point of my service (don’t you dare feel guilty, John).  I can definitively say that 30 January was the worst day I’ve had since leaving the States in 2012.

Back to bucket life!  (Had to be shared.  You want the full experience don’t you?)

Back to bucket life! (Had to be shared. You want the full experience don’t you?)

Imagine being able to cling to a family member, smoothly ride in a rented car, and not constantly defend your culture or actions for almost four blissful weeks.  Within hours, cut to: cramped public transport, incessantly loud Zulus, and being poked and prodded on a 6-hour ride from Johannesburg back to a rural area…not my fondest memory of Peace Corps.  Within one day, I couldn’t face all of that and being alone in my hut, so I zoomed straight to Katie’s village where she comforted me with tissues, hugs, and chocolate – thanks, bud!  The curious and wonderful thing about bad times is simply that they end.  At some point, a bad spell will get a little less bad and a little less bad, increasingly so, until you ultimately find yourself laughing as you wrestle your host brother

Back to loving on my little snotgobblers.

Back to loving on my little snotgobblers.

in the front yard.  I knew that was the moment I had to get to in order to be okay and, though it took over a week, I got there.  From then on I was stoked to be back in the village, with my family, and nailing down my involvement in the primary school.  I doubt that extreme lows are always followed by extreme highs, but I was thrilled to experience unadulterated joy in all aspects of my service again: giggling with Mama as we did the weekend house cleaning, being amazed and humbled by chats with Baba, bopping around the community visiting people, and actually being excited to go to school in the morning and see all my little buddies (some of whom are taller than me).

Back to hanging out with the cutest kids around.

Back to hanging out with the cutest kids around.

The Peace Corps Education programme has different goals for the two years of service.  The first year the Volunteers are to be teaching in the classroom and the second year they’re to be working on teacher training (in hopes of sustainability once the Volunteer leaves – a sometimes fruitful, sometimes fruitless effort).  In all truthfulness PCVs kind of do whatever they want, whatever they perceive as most beneficial to the school, but these are the loose guidelines mandated by Washington, D.C.  Last year, I taught two sections of grade 6 English and enjoyed watching the learners s     l    o   w  l y improve in their command of the language within the classroom (activities, journals, test scores) and outside of the classroom (games, homework, conversation length and depth).  I also organized and opened our school library, distributed Mother Bears to learners in grades R-4, facilitated GrassrootSoccer with grade 7, fundraised for and received Books For Africa, and started the World Map project.  Woof.

Back in cahoots with the bakers at our grocery store.

Back in cahoots with the bakers at our grocery store.

This year has a bit of a different tone at school, and I’m not complaining.  I’m still involved with many of the above initiatives, but I’ve finagled it in a way that works better for me, my timeline, and my goals.  It’s eerie to work not on starting and maintaining projects, but rather on wrapping them up or getting them ready to hand off to the next PCV.  (I can’t believe I’m already talking about the “next PCV.”  Didn’t I just get here?!)  I will leave my village in early September and have a loose outline of what I’d like to do up until then – emphasis on ‘loose’…this is still Peace Corps, you know.

Back to fleas and black widows.  No big.

Back to fleas and black widows. No big.

In Term 1, I’m focusing on getting the BFA books handled as well as teaching every single learner the library system in hopes that they can self-check-out by the end of the term (the last week of March).  I have sorted the 2,000+ books into the appropriate reading levels and am in the process of acquiring carpal tunnel as I add them to the Excel book register.  (While sorting, I took out unsuitable materials such as the odd romance novel or two.  Took them where?  You’ll never know.  But, yes, Cassie did rope herself a Montana millionaire.)  My counterpart, the other English teacher at our school, and I devised a timetable that allows me to use part of her English periods to see every grade

Back to teaching! (My new office/classroom/library)

Back to teaching! (My new office/classroom/library)

twice a week.  As I said, I’m currently teaching them the ropes of the library as well as practicing conversational English (perhaps the weakest skill amongst rural learners).  Soon they will be helping me stock the BFA books, and should be self-checking-out within a few weeks.  Last year I always felt a little odd spending the majority of my time with one grade so, this year, I have really loved seeing every single child in the school – and I almost know all of their names!  If she can spare the time, my counterpart joins in on the short sessions and has already told me she’s gleaned a lot about the library as well as how to communicate with the learners.  D.C. would be so proud of me.

Back to crafting on the front porch.

Back to crafting on the front porch.

Back to unpredictable moments with Ma’am.  She loved the mug & chocolate gift John brought!

Back to unpredictable moments with Ma’am. She loved the mug & chocolate gift John brought!

In Term 2 I’ll continue meeting with each grade twice a week, though the lessons will shift from library protocol to simply practicing English.  We’ll do reading/writing with personal journals, listening/speaking with activities and games, and really anything I can think of that involves English implementation.  Since BFA should be done by this time, I will happily take up the World Map project again as well as doing a GrassrootSoccer intervention with the new grade 7s.  Those will be accomplished before the end of term in late June, which then allows for a three-week holiday.  Around that time actually marks my last Peace Corps training, the COS (Close of Service) conference.  Eek!  After those emotion-filled days and poop-filled cups (legally required for the medical office), and maybe some light travelling, I’ll be back at site for just over a month before packing up and leaving the village and the school.  I cannot believe that I just wrote my activities for the next seven months in two short paragraphs.  Sort of hyperventilating over here.

Back to fun times with my adorable, bed-stealing little brother.

Back to fun times with my adorable, bed-stealing little brother.

Back to enjoying community walks.

Back to enjoying community walks.

Yesterday as I was walking home from school, I experienced a time of sheer tranquility.  You know those moments where you stumble upon a conclusion about something…before you even realise you’ve been pondering it?  Yeah.  I noticed how at peace I felt with what I’m doing: living in a village community, attempting to teach English but mainly enjoying personal connections with youngsters, and simply soaking up this corner of the world for awhile.  There’s no need to get sappy yet, as I still have seven months where I am, but there is a need to truly live with intention and try my best to take pleasure in every day, despite the inevitable hardships and frustrations.  I still have many things bouncing around my noggin that I’d like to blog about, and I’ll try to keep the posts frequent.  If I lapse a bit, leave me a fiery comment about how short people can’t write good well.  Then I’ll really let you have it.  Until then, signing off and walking tall.

Back to HOME.

Back to HOME.

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Posted in Everyday Life, School/Teaching | 6 Comments

SURVIVAL GUIDE

(Secrets of the Universally Recognized Volunteers Intently Vying to Astonish Locals with Guile Utilized that Intensifies Desired Effect)
A handbook to easily solve issues that arise from living a Volunteer’s life
A way to fill up blog space during a semi-dry writing spell

Health:

  • If you don’t want to go through the trouble of buying food in town or toting water from up the hill, then don’t – if you’re in Peace Corps you’re probably a hippie and can therefore get all the energy you need from watching a sunset and feeding off of people’s auras.
  • Ignore all bites and infected-looking areas in an attempt to build up immunity to the local flora and fauna. It would benefit you to roll around in the grass and gain exposure to the various flavours of arthropods and chordates.
  • If you have a cold and can’t stop sneezing, take a couple laxatives – then you’ll be afraid to sneeze.
  • A seemingly ladies’ problem only: to avoid gaining the Peace Corps Ten, immediately throw any food received from the U.S. into your friendly neighborhood snake pit guarded by wild dogs. But, let’s be honest, even that won’t keep you away.

Safety:

  • Avoid being in close quarters with black widow spiders by leaving the pit latrine door wide open so that anyone can see if you’ve become distressed and need help.
  • To discourage break-ins, keep your valuables outside at all times. And in case the burglars still find their way in, it’s probably best to sleep outside too.
  • Tired of fielding marriage proposals? Then start giving them. That’ll teach ‘em.
  • You need only two items to make your hut successful: Doom bug spray and cooking oil. If it’s moving and you’d rather it didn’t, Doom it (e.g. black mambas). If it isn’t moving and you’d rather it did, combat with oil (e.g. bowels).
  • Avoid cutting yourself while chopping vegetables by getting someone else to hold them.

Cleanliness:

  • Spreading rubbish around your host family’s homestead will insure that your own disheveled house looks tidy by comparison.
  • Toss out your tap’s unfiltered brown water at the same time your family discards their bathing water – the products look astonishingly similar and your kin will be none the wiser that you didn’t bathe.
  • Revel in your greasy tresses. It’s guaranteed that a community member will comment on how beautiful your hair is and ask if you just came from the salon. (Not even joking with this one)
  • No need to wash off that one splotch of muck – simply cake the rest of yourself in dirt to gain a lovely bronzed skin tone and increased sun protection.
  • You’re too poor to buy spices, so washing your pots and pans is actually damaging to the potential of your dishes. Leave unwashed to add flavour to your food while creating a game of wonder-what-that-was when you encounter a zesty explosion.

Entertainment:

  • Count how many candles you can watch burn all the way down before looking away.
  • See how many zebras you can agitate into chasing you. One point per zebra; five points per personally-sustained injury.
  • Play What’s The Full Capacity of My Pee Bucket? Advanced: spice it up by seeing how slowly you can fill it. Try to beat your high score and remember: dehydration is key.
  • How long can you have a conversation in the native language? Instant triumph if you exceed five seconds.
  • Compete with other PCVs by calculating your daily health score based on item intake of the local diet: Carbohydrate/Starch (5 points), Sugar/Fat (5 points), Soda (4 points), Processed protein (2 points), Fruit (1 point), Vegetables (0.5 points), Water (0 points), Exercise (-5 points). Highest score wins.
  • Compose a silly blog post about a survival guide and then see how many people that read it come back for next week’s. Implore them to do so by stating that it will be all about what you’re doing during your second year at the primary school.
Posted in Musings... | Leave a comment

the arrival of the other white Zulu (holiday, pt. 2)

MG_3673

Imagine your favourite seasonal food. Go ahead: choose any season, any food – but it mustn’t be available year round. You wait for this special item for months, craving it and impatiently passing the time until its arrival. And when it finally turns up, finally hits those shelves, you speed your little keester to the store so quickly that you hope no bulging Atlanta policemen are around. Well, that’s about what it felt like on 6 January when my brother arrived in South Africa. Yes, I am unapologetically comparing John to fruitcake. (Although, that is not my favourite holiday food sopleasedon’tgiveittome.) Seriously, though, it was utterly incredible to be with a family member for nearly a month after being gone for 18 of them. Since he lives in Colorado, our time over here was the longest we’d spent together in our adult lives. The sibling duo picked up right where it left off in 2012 and I daresay we got even closer. You’re my boy, Blue.

Photo op in the northern Draks...someone’s getting swanky with their windbreaker.

Photo op in the northern Draks…someone’s getting swanky with their windbreaker.

As much as this blog is to share my Peace Corps story with those who want to read it, it’s also for me to look back on down the line and recall portions of my history. I fear that taking y’all through John’s and my trip is like putting you in a straitjacket and forcing you to watch hours of childhood home videos… but I’m doing it anyway. So, the sweet, nutty fruitcake arrived on 6 January. I thought I’d keep it together but a couple silly tears squeezed out when he rolled up after 72(!) hours of travel. Before succumbing to much deserved sleep, we enjoyed catching up a bit over the “best” meal I could think of – KFC and a South African beer. Welcome east?

Early the next day, we drove to Cintsa to have a quick hello-tell-me-your-life-story-goodbye coffee with my travel gang before continuing onward. On the way, John reminded me of something that I’d long forgotten even had a name: the ailment that has riddled me my entire life, and with no end in sight.  It’s called Laughingjitis and my mom diagnosed me with it back when I was younger.  It basically means that I get into ridiculously long fits of giggles caused by memories of things that have happened more so than what’s currently happening. It is quite annoying to the general public and I had many onsets and relapses during the December-January holiday bonanza.

Nature is amazing.  Take a moment to appreciate what’s being accomplished around you.

Nature is amazing. Take a moment to appreciate what’s being accomplished around you.

After meeting my other partners in crime and officially saying goodbye to Ted and Briana, my trip continued on as a foursome.  Katie, Brandon, John and I travelled to the northern Drakensberg Mountains for a couple days of Mother Nature nurturing – if I know my brother, crossing swift rivers and stalking colourful grasshoppers is one way to beat jetlag. We absorbed views, traipsed trails, found ourselves in coves that looked so akin to my favourite place on earth (Highlands, NC) that I nearly had to pinch myself, and gazed at the second highest

Waterfall, ho! (Tugela Falls)

Waterfall, ho! (Tugela Falls)

waterfall in the world: Tugela Falls, cascading down an astonishing 948m (kind of makes that pansy bungee jump seem like child’s play). At the backpackers, I’ll admit we were supposed to camp but a bed just sounded so wonderful – and I, being the always supportive sister, had to help an exhausted brutha out with some sympathy sleep. There at the accommodation we met some lovely, refreshing people (don’t backpackers just always host the most interesting strand of folks?), introduced John to a South African Olympic activity called a “braai” (barbeque; cookout; general southern shenanigans), and then our time with the gorgeous northern Draks had come to a close.

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Pre-challenge jitters & post-challenge titters.

Pre-challenge jitters & post-challenge titters.

On 10 January we headed to Durban for a short stay; John wanted to experience some Indian culture and cuisine. Little did he know, we’d have to call upon our American upbringing and German tendencies when visiting my favourite restaurant in the city, Unity. Katie, Brandon, and I had known about their infamous beer challenge for nearly a year, yet had never tried it. It’s called the Herdsman and consists of 2 litres of beer spread out between four glasses that increase in size (appropriately named the veal, the calf, the cowbell, and the bull) and must be consumed within 90 minutes seconds. Not many have succeeded – no women yet to speak of, which was enough to convince Katie and me to try – and, as the world expected, nor did we. After the allotted time we had each put away a litre or more so, gladly defeated, we took pictures and decided to slowly nurse or give away the remainder. The next day we visited an artisan market, found a café that sells real live bagels(!), and finally got John some lamb curry… Durban always seems to put our meek little village bodies to the test, yet we keep going back.

Taking a hike with the Killer Pool champion.

Taking a hike with the Killer Pool champion.

We said goodbye to Brandon on the 12th and Katie, John, and I rode south to a beautiful coastal area in the Eastern Cape called Coffee Bay. The backpackers where we stayed, the Coffee Shack, is set right on the coastline and provided a slew of enjoyable activities. After simply crashing the first night, we were ready for three full days of fun and quickly got to know the staff and other travellers. John made quite the impression one of the nights there during the backpacker-wide throw down of Killer Pool – one game of pool, 20+ players: you go in rotation of one shot each, the goal being to make any ball in, and once you miss twice – you’re out. Due to an injury in his teens, my brother has one functioning arm and so, with his rippling right bicep and me holding a bottle as the bridge, he ended up being the last one standing! He won a free pass to the next day’s Hole in the Wall hike, where we happily scrambled to a bay side cliff with a stunning

There seems to be a hole in that thar wall...

There seems to be a hole in that thar wall…

natural cavity, relaxed, and enjoyed some South African toasties. On our final day, we hiked the other direction along the coastline to cliff jump from two locations, first into the ocean followed by a tributary. The Eastern Cape coast is gorgeous and so different from any shore I’ve seen before. We took in rocky crags, huge waves, vibrant flora, and lively rolling hillsides. Unfortunately by the time we reached the ocean cliff, the tide was too high so we continued to the 8m river ledge and spent a long time jumping and frolicking like the toddlers we once were still are. Rejuvenated, re-centred, and with our thirst for nature abated for a little while, it was time to return to my area of central KZN.

Catching a double rainbow at the base of a 60m waterfall near my village.

Catching a double rainbow at the base of a 60m waterfall near my village.

John made some new friends in Rorke’s Drift.

John made some new friends in Rorke’s Drift.

After a nine-hour car ride on the 16th we arrived at Rorke’s Drift, an ecologically and historically rich area near me for John to meet some of the Rattray family, Ben – the CEO of the David Rattray Foundation, and the other Volunteers who live in my surrounding area. Before we knew it, the foursome that became a threesome had become a twosome and John and I were off to my village – a moment that we’d both been greatly excited about. It was ridiculous, almost surreal, to watch portions of my two families unite. Months ago, when I first told them that my brother would visit, Mama gave John a Zulu name: Thokozani (“they are happy”).

Siyabonga, imbuzi.  (I opted for one of the more tasteful photos.)

Siyabonga, imbuzi. (I opted for one of the more tasteful photos.)

Within an hour of arriving, Baba and Thokozani had already started on the men’s preparations for his welcoming party the next day: thanking the ancestors for the provision of a goat, slaughtering and skinning it, and moving it inside. Meanwhile, Mama, my sisters, and I made sure the food preparations were in order as well as keeping tabs on how the mqomboti (traditional beer) was coming along. John and I prepared his first village meal over my gas tank, drank parasite-free filtered water, had a hilarious and lengthy stalemate with a ginormous spider, and were lulled peacefully to sleep by a crescendo of livestock musings.

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The following day…wow. Mama and Baba had been planning Thokozani’s welcome for a few weeks, but even they were shocked with the turnout. I think nearly the entire village came to our house to meet and welcome the newcomer. I remember standing on my porch,

A small glimpse of the huge procession that kicked off Thokozani’s Day. Can you find the white Zulu?

A small glimpse of the huge procession that kicked off Thokozani’s Day. Can you find the white Zulu?

watching Baba take off his hat in disbelief and gasp, “Look, Thandeka, they are flocking.” One of the first activities of the day included John and me receiving the isiphandla traditional goatskin bracelet, confirming the forefathers’ approval.

Iziphandla zethu &  Ma’am’s wardrobe change.

Iziphandla zethu & Ma’am’s wardrobe change.

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My lovely Ma’am Khumalo brought traditional Zulu pants, umqhele (goat headband), and ihhawu (shield) for John to don and complete his transition. We socialized, tried the traditional brew, attempted the Zulu dances, and served around 500 people before happily sitting down and chowing on some leftovers. As it was dubbed, “Thokozani’s Day” was perhaps as Zulu as one can get within the amount of time John had been in the village. People kept wishing him a ‘Happy Birthday’ – we later realized that this was because he was considered a newborn; an addition to the clans… what a beautiful sentiment that is, hey?

Some oddball Zulus.

Some oddball Zulus.

Doing the Peace Corps life some justice.

Doing the Peace Corps life some justice.

The next few days at my site allowed for John to visit school, meet the staff, participate in some Books For Africa sorting, play English games with my learners, and otherwise soak up all other pros and cons that come along with being a PCV. A homestead downside that quickly became noticeable: my village’s incessant lack of water (coupled with the pokiness of my water filter) made for hot, thirsty days. A project downside reared its ugly head at my school one night when we were trying to use a projector to trace the World Map countries on an exterior wall and, at the last minute, electricity failed us. While frustrating, I was almost glad to be able to show John the brick walls that PCVs hit time and time again within their projects…you just have to back up and try again from a different angle.

Baba inspects the States-inspired meal we made in thanks for all the Ndlovus did for us.

Baba inspects the States-inspired meal we made in thanks for all the Ndlovus did for us.

Time is certainly not of the essence over here, and I think that’s a good thing – sustainable change never came from quick or easy efforts. The upsides of his stay included spending time with my host family, exploring some natural wonders of my site, visiting a sangoma (traditional healer) that my family knows quite well, and simply taking a few days off of the common tourist’s trodden path.

Primates survey their domains.

Primates survey their domains.

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That is, until we started touring again. With just one week left of his time in South Africa, we decided we hadn’t nearly had enough mountains so we pointed our muzzles south and aimed for Sani Pass in the lower Drakensbergs. (If you recall my backpacking adventure from December 2012, it started and finished at this very same place.) We lapped up the vibrant scenery like dehydrated hippies and enjoyed chatting with other travellers before setting off on a little two-night date with Nature. It’s a funny thing, hiking; it allows you to fully immerse yourself in the natural world as we were once strictly meant to (well, okay, minus the Lycra and the polarized sunglasses and the energy bars). The next two days were long and lovely: we stayed in a massive cave, collected water from the falls at our front door, used fire to cook and keep warm, and forewent our tent for sleeping on the earth. We forgot books or a deck of cards but it was a blessing in disguise – why must we always search for entertainment? Even if you’ve watched a river surge by for two hours, just watch some more, just… be. Thus, our desire for wilderness quenched yet again, we traipsed home to the backpackers and – I kid you not – right as the buildings came into view, I decided to twist my ankle and bum up my knee. So, no, “Thandeka” does not translate to “graceful.”

Enjoying the views at the Sani Pass base.  This almost seems posed or something.

Enjoying the views at the Sani Pass base. This almost seems posed or something.

Mrs. Ples set John’s anthropological interests a’tingle.  Gives a whole new definition to the term “cougar.”

Mrs. Ples set John’s anthropological interests a’tingle. Gives a whole new definition to the term “cougar.”

At this point we only had one destination left, Johannesburg – a place we were excited to visit, yet dreading because it plays host to that infernal institution known as an international airport. We did make the most of our couple days there, visiting hot spots around the area whilst in a consistent state of Laughingjitis as we rehashed the last three weeks. John got his South African history fix and paid homage to Nelson Mandela at the Apartheid Museum, we got some final souvenirs at a local market, and were able to squeeze in a trek to the Cradle of Humankind. Y’all, that was simply stupendous. We went on a cave tour where our ancestors are still being excavated, wandered around a thorough anthropology/environmental museum, and got six inches away from Mrs. Ples – a 20 million year old hominid skull. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Eventually 29 January rolled around, the day of departure – but what was our final stop before the airport, you ask? A brewery of the local South African beers. It was quite an interesting tour, one very different to the Stateside breweries I’ve been to in that it shares much more about the history and culture(s) of beer in this country and less about the production process. Finally, with (literally) all of our thirsts satiated, that dear brother of mine took off to a foreign land across the sea. But not without the cliché public sob fest – what’s a family gathering without a little drama? John has always been one of my best friends and, if this trip is any indication (and if he doesn’t try to overstuff me with Gouda again), we’ve got a lot of fun times ahead. Sala kahle, Thokozani; I’ll see you in October!

The entrance to our cave, complete with the goofy & gregarious gatekeeper.  Love you, bro!

The entrance to our cave, complete with the goofy & gregarious gatekeeper. Love you, bro!

Posted in Cultural Experiences, Travel | 2 Comments

laughing fits & restaurant food (holiday, pt. 1)

Well, it’s been a hot minute since I’ve written, hasn’t it? The next two posts will be less than literarily demanding in that they’re simple summaries of the past two months. Today’s dispatch covers my escapades from mid-December through just after New Year’s and the next one will be all about my brother’s visit. Hope you enjoy and, by the way, Happy 2014!

After spending some fun, adopted family-filled, semi-nostalgic days in my area for Christmas, the time came for this travel-bugged whippersnapper to start her second South African tour (as if this topographically and culturally diversified country could all be seen in less than a lifetime). On Boxing Day – December 26th for you Stateside folks – Katie and I headed to Durban to meet up with our good friends Brandon and Ted before proceeding to Cape Town the next day. Though short, our stay in Durban took up the usual vibe: fresh food, catching up with the backpacker staff, and many games of pool – it’s been a year since I learned how to play and I can honestly say that I have really, really… not improved. It’s fun, entertaining, and I’ll joyfully admit that I’ve never completed a game without collapsing into a belly laugh or ten.

From the mornings of the 27th to the 28th, we found ourselves on a 25-hour bus ride to Cape Town. I’m sure many of you are groaning at the thought of that, but I loved it. Somehow, perhaps due to my small stature, I take pleasure in most all modes of transport (save the hot, crowded taxi rides with live chickens); I’ve yet to come across a car trip, plane flight, boat ride, or train travel that I haven’t enjoyed in some way. So for that day’s trek across South Africa, I did a lot of dozing, bracelet making, and the ol’ stare-out-the-window-while-pondering-the-universe trick. Arriving at the Cape Town bus station, we made our wobbly way to our backpackers, one that has accomplished an excellent marriage of cleanliness and atmosphere: Amber Tree Lodge. It’s in perfect location for the common tourist; at the foot of Table Mountain and at the end of Long Street – a, believe it or not, lengthy strip of fantastic restaurants, shops, and pubs. After realizing that we definitely weren’t in Kansas anymore, we immediately sought out a laundromat so we could pretend to be civilized enough to sneak into Cape Town’s fast-paced lifestyle and quasi-European feel. Later that night, our fivesome group was completed when Briana arrived after flying back to South Africa from a two-week holiday in the States – THE STATES! Boy, did she go through the third degree. Very happy to see her, but not happy enough to take sympathy on her potential jetlag, we tried the tough love approach…

Taking a break to enjoy the view (and sounds) midway up Table Mountain.  Though Briana’s jetlagged, look who’s actually lagging behind.  I was just enraptured with the view; yes, that’s it.

Taking a break to enjoy the view (and sounds) midway up Table Mountain. Though Briana’s jetlagged, look who’s actually lagging behind. I was just enraptured with the view; yes, that’s it.

Closer to the Sun and soaking up some rays on the plateau.

Closer to the Sun and soaking up some rays on the plateau.

Bright and early the next morning we hiked up Table Mountain, a 1,085m feat achieved by just about anyone that visits this country, though I wouldn’t say it’s a cake walk. Perhaps I think that because there were several ascension steps as tall as my waist but, nonetheless, my heart and quads were happy for the workout. As this landmark’s name suggests, the pinnacle is a wide plateau, affording us an epic vantage point to gaze down upon the city, surrounding cliffs, and Robben Island (where Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years). After convincing ourselves we deserved an overpriced beer, we descended into the masses and spent the rest of the day gorging on fine (Mexican!) food and the rest of the

Doing our little turn on the catwalk, followed by some serious penguin judgement.

Doing our little turn on the catwalk, followed by some serious penguin judgement.

night on fun and (Mexican inspired!) frivolity. The next couple days we voluntarily got entangled in tourist traps

An afternoon jaunt to see a gig on Seal Island.

An afternoon jaunt to see a gig on Seal Island.

such as souvenir markets, hanging out with penguins and seals, and finally ducking south to see the Cape of Good Hope, a historical hotspot and argued to be the most south-western tip of the African continent. By this point, we found ourselves on the cusp of 2014, unsure of how it was already New Year’s Eve. Doing the predictable thing, our crew visited Long Street along with everyone ever born but, perhaps unpredictably, we had a relatively mild evening, meeting up with other PCVs, enjoying craft brews, and dancing ‘til the wee hours to what seemed to be about 2,014 songs.

Pretty friends go to Cape Point.  Laura follows, with photo shoot fan in tow.

Pretty friends go to Cape Point. Laura follows, with photo shoot fan in tow.

Taking our ~wild spirits~ on a trek through the woods.

Taking our ~wild spirits~ on a trek through the woods.

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Though there’s much more to see in Cape Town, it was time to continue our easterly ramble along the coast. Part of the Garden Route, we glided into The Crags for the next few days, settling in to our campsite at an earthy, ecofriendly (go ahead, read: hippie) backpackers called Wild Spirit. Completely by coincidence,

We were rewarded with a gorgeous waterfall, a big pool, and a big booty pool.

We were rewarded with a gorgeous waterfall, a big pool, and a big booty pool.

we knew a family that was staying a brief drive away in Nature’s Valley: the Rattrays, who own and operate the Fugitive’s Drift Lodge near my village as well as the David Rattray Foundation, an organization heavily involved in 17 of my surrounding schools. Our five-pronged amoeba of awkward, grungy Volunteers greatly appreciated the welcome arms extended to us by the Rattrays – being so far from home for so long, we are extremely happy to affix

Brandon's camera is awesome!

Brandon’s camera is awesome!

onto and absorb any sort of familial atmosphere. After a couple days of small hikes, kayaking, and logging the obligatory beach time, our dear Rattrays truly treated us like family when they sent us down a slippery slope and essentially dared us to add bungee jumping to our holiday repertoire. And – Gordon Bennett! – the world’s highest bridge jump was just a hop, skip, and a tumble to our death away?! A call to make the booking was placed just moments later.

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The following day, 4 January, will forever go down in history as the day I pooped my pants.

Saying goodbye to Nature's Valley and loving on each other as we prepared for the next day's bungee.

Saying goodbye to Nature’s Valley and loving on each other as we prepared for the next day’s bungee.

Just kidding, but barely so. On the way to our next destination, we pulled off to have a casual chitchat with the cavernous jaws of the Bloukrans Bridge. The bungee company, Face Adrenalin, opened in 1997 and has been incident-free with clientele as well as played witness to a 96-year-old participant in 2010. Facts like that should instill warm fuzzies, right? Tell that to the five of us as we staggered across a mesh catwalk out to the belly of the bridge, the site of the jump, clutching nothing but flimsy harnesses and callous curse words. That was definitely the scariest part of the whole ordeal; watching the solid earth fall further and further away, taking our confidence with it. Fortunately the staff really knows how to deal with their patrons, alternating between sturdy directional shoves and hyping us up with blaring, themed music (thank you, House of Pain). Katie, Brandon, Ted, Briana, and I made instant best friends with everyone in our group (how could we not?) and spent a while exchanging nervous jokes as we watched people go ahead of us.

The blatant difference in a 96-year-old’s calm, cool confidence and my artificial self-assurance.

The blatant difference in a 96-year-old’s calm, cool confidence and my artificial self-assurance.

Before I knew it, my ankles were getting strapped in to what looked like delicate water wingies, but was quickly told that they could take tons of pressure. I don’t think I blinked between then and being placed on the edge, where everyone instinctively curls their bare

Launch!  Apparently I did swan dive, unbeknownst to me.

Launch! Apparently I did swan dive, unbeknownst to me.

toes around the comforting concrete before they’re expected to do a graceful swan dive into the abyss 216m below. (I’m getting anxious again just writing this.) I don’t remember jumping – I literally blacked out. I recall thinking that I might die, so I told the launcher man I thought he was cute, and the next thing I saw was the brilliant landscape zooming up towards my face. It was SO COOL. As I whizzed my pants towards the river and trees, the music faded and I

“I’mokayI’mokayI’mokayI’mokayI’mokay.”

“I’mokayI’mokayI’mokayI’mokayI’mokay.”

only heard the wind rushing; vice versa as I bounced up. After the bungee momentum ebbed, I hung there for what felt like an epoch, willing my ankles not to slip out of their wingies and the retriever to belay down faster and clip me to more assured safety. It was probably a year’s worth of adrenalin within just a few seconds and I can’t wait to jump again! We all had so much fun in the gift shop looking at our photos and laughing at the videos of our jumps, or tumbles, or whatever you want to call them. The drive to our next destination, Cintsa in the Eastern Cape, was abuzz with recounts of the morning as well as finally making phone calls to our parents to tell them how rash and reckless their children had been.

A before shot and an after shot.

A before shot and an after shot.

Pulling up to our new campground at Buccaneers Backpackers made me so excited because that was going to be the last place where I stayed until my brother arrived. It didn’t make the next two days any less fun, but it did make the arrival of the 6th that much sweeter. Buccaneers is quite large; their buildings, campsite, pool, volleyball pit, and open fields were freckled along a forested hillside that led down to a nice beach. We happily wiled away the hours playing ping pong, swimming, participating in their daily 16:00 activities with free wine, and eating traditional Xhosa meals (though nothing will compare to village Zulu food). While I very much looked forward to meeting John at the airport, it was a bit sad to split off from my group. We’ve been through a lot together; literally during hilarious holidays and symbolically as we struggle and succeed at our Peace Corps sites. I simply love you all! And so, with heaps of memories in my pocket, the holiday beginning to show in my waistline (but who gives a flying rip), and unbridled anticipation in my tummy, I was off to pick up a certain curly-haired guy from the airport…

From Cape Point, looking northwest towards the States.  Before we know it I’ll be making a journey home to visit!

From Cape Point, looking northwest towards the States. Before we know it I’ll be making a journey home to visit!

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sawubona phambili, 2014

I will surely miss the walks to school until next year; what a calf workout (ba-dum-pshh).

I will surely miss the walks to school until next year; what a calf workout (ba-dum-pshh).

Thabiso graduated Grade R! Atta boy.

Thabiso graduated Grade R! Atta boy.

A proud sister and her little man.

A proud sister and her little man.

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

This is an airport flash forward...see you soon, sweet brother!

This is an airport flash forward…see you soon, sweet brother!

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.

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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.

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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.

An organised kitchen worthy of 5-star meal preparation.

An organised kitchen worthy of 5-star meal preparation.

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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.

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Raw materials. I'm told the photographer simply stared at them for awhile, unsure of the next move.

Raw materials. I’m told the photographer simply stared at them for awhile, unsure of the next move.

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

The Workshop on Day 1.

The Workshop on Day 1.

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
    Some cute neighbours picking wild imifino from our yard...a spinach-esque plant that's delicious! And hopefully non-toxic.

    Some cute neighbours picking wild imifino from our yard…a spinach-esque plant that’s delicious! And hopefully non-toxic.

    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.
PUMPKIN PIE. Amurrica.

PUMPKIN PIE. Amurrica.

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.

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