Monday, August 20, 2012

mosaics, gardens, hiking

after laura left my training group attended our close of service conference in pretoria. we talked about everything from goodbye strategies, closing up projects, getting jobs back home, traveling, re-adjusting/reverse culture shock, and did lots of reflecting over our 2 years of service.

i continued teaching grades 6-7 and 12 english with my counterparts and the library officially made it into the primary school time table of classes! each week for one hour grades 4-7 hold their english classes in the library and do dictionary work or focus on reading. let's hope it helps! the girls club also continued and we spent lots of time talking about goals and future planning.

 term 2 winded down with another mural, this time a map of south africa at my primary school. after the teachers and principal saw the photos from the one we did at danny's school they loved it and wanted to start right away. we painted it in 4 days with the whole staff and about 20 learners. teachers now use the map as a teaching aid. 

over the winter holidays (june-july) danny and i spent our time at each others sites and visiting nearby volunteers. we finally got around to two mosaic projects we started in january. oh time.

located on my front stoop it celebrates the gecko family that i've lived with. i love the way the full moon reflects on the uneven angles of the mosaic.

this one was inspired by van gogh's starry night but mostly the ingwavuma (danny's home in the mountains) scenery. danny built a table from free wood scrapes we found in town and we put the mosaic on top. we also learned that not staining the wood first was a bad idea as it absorbed the water from the cement and warped/cracked. oops!

 we visited the community garden in my village and got to hang out with my host mama #1 and all her hard working lady friends. they gave us so much food!

after spending about a week in my village we went to visit some nearby pcvs. together we went to check out lake sibaya, south africa's largest fresh water lake. we were so kindly hosted by a family who lives right next to the lake on an organic WOOFing farm. their house was amazing and is powered by wind and solar energy. they are very involved in the local communities and have started many developmental initiatives- check out their website here we went hiking for the day around the lake, saw hippos and tons of birds, and cooked dinner with the family and the full moon.

we also did some more hiking with friends around danny's village. the infamous 'swazi pass' was our goal for the day. many swazis hike up and down this mountain trail everyday or weekly to attend school in south africa or go to the hospital. after getting a late start and a little lost we found our way down to swaziland, hitched some rides to the closest gas station and had lunch under a tree by some cows. then we got arrested for not using a cross walk. we told the cops we didn't have those in south africa, which is very true, and after talking with them a while and letting them know we were teachers and one was a doctor they let us go. thank goodness! we hitched back to the pass and made it up the mountain in time to catch the sun setting over endless sugar cane fields.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

i'm tired of swimming in circles

one of my best friends and faithful blog/fb photo updater, laura buns zak, came to visit for a month in april! i felt so lucky and thankful. it was amazing to show her the places and people i've been emailing her about for 1 year and a half. so much happened and it's hard to really explain so i'll go with some photo highlights from her visit!
to start we visited hluhluwe game reserve and went on a safari with a game ranger! we drove around for hours spotting animals and hanging out with some other volunteers that joined us. this elephant got really close and was in a pissy mood, we were all a little scared.
to both of our surprise my primary school greeted laura with a huge procession of the entire school and preformed songs and traditional dance to welcome her. we stayed in and around the village for about 2 weeks and went to school everyday.
an english assignment was to write 5 sentences welcoming laura by telling her something about south africa or asking her questions. just go ahead and read this learner'scomments. haha, he was for sure copying from somewhere. another favorite wrote, 'laura, i'm tired of swimming in circles.' we all are mabika, we all are!
at school laura participated in my primary and secondary projects by teaching english, joining the girl's club, helping in the library, and working on a mural. it was so incredible to be able to share all the little hilarity's that happen during the day and have someone to discuss the challenges of the school with first hand.
during weekends we visited the indian ocean and went hiking through the estuary/lake system of kosi bay with a groups of other volunteers and friends. power in numbers! we inquired from local fishermen the where abouts of the hippos and made it safely through the mangrove mazes.
for 5 days laura, danny and i went on a hike through the drakensberg mountains. each day we hiked between 12-15kms and ended in huts for the night. the trails were simply gorgeous and we had great weather every day. slack-packing at it's finest.

and there are many more pictures and stories to share. at times we drove each other crazy but that's what being together everyday for a month does to you! i think because we drove each other crazy it only made our friendship stronger and deeper. all in all, it was wonderful to have such a great friend visit and have the opportunity to share my south african life and experiences with. we had so much fun! it's a time we will both cherish and never forget. love you buns!

Monday, August 6, 2012

down in mozam

mozambique(A!) during the two week school holiday between terms danny and i went to mozambique! the trip was all together enlightening, really enjoyable, and it was exciting to be out of south africa. it felt like the racial tension just melted away. but, everything is more romantic if you're just passing through. while south africa can feel heavy i'm thankful to spend enough time here to experience the good and the bad as more than just a tourist. however, being a tourist in mozambique was kick ass.
coconut groves near inhambane/tofu. basking. we camped off the beach for $6 a night, read in hammocks, got stung by baby jelly fish, went to a manta ray lecture, delighted in fresh fruits, veggies, cashews and bread, and woke with the sunrise over the indian ocean.
market in vilankulos locals were set up in a weaving labyrinth of stalls selling fruits, veggies, crafts, home items, clothing, cooking ware, fabric, etc. the gorgeous fabric is a practical and integral part of life used for skirts, baby harnesses, bags, head wraps, blankets, and more. love the patterns.
dhow sailing to the bazaruto archipelago near vilunkulos we met our temporary mom, a portuguese woman, and her two kids in town. on a grey unpromising sailing day the 5 of us agreed to take our chances and go snorkeling. the rain held off and we saw an abundance of aquatic life on the reef! and then it came. the 45 minute trip back took about 2 hours. we all hid under tarps yet were drenched by waves. it was cold and rocky but kind of awesome. the next morning we travelled to maputo with the family sharing taxis and food.
natural history museum in maputo imagine similar dioramas in a room the size of a basketball court. in other rooms were huge glass cylinders of formaldehyde with various creatures, a world renowned elephant fetus display, insects, but mostly more fearsome dioramas.
maputo street sides i fell in love with the art, architecture, and expression pouring out of mozambique's surface. typical plastic coca cola store signs were replaced with hand painted murals, paintings and gaping holes on buildings and roads spoke of the remnants of civil war, portuguese colonial remains crafted romantic city scapes, everyone spoke portuguese, street side cafes were on every corner, and espresso was less than $1.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

yes to life, yea to it all

it's july now and i'm leaving the village in 3 weeks. woa! and i realized i have yet to blog this year. they say there's no hurry here in south africa... school went so much smoother this second year. i felt more relaxed and comfortable. i continued teaching grades 6, 7, and 12 english with 2 counterparts. i dropped the grade 9 solo class as it was just not working. both logistically and for my sanity. as i delved deeper into the challenges of teaching english in this rural school, i had a super rough time. i can firmly say that sticking with teaching english here has been the most difficult thing about working in the school. all the problems with the department of education: the corruption, training, mismanagement, curriculum, power structures, unions, etc etc most affect and hurt the learners. teachers not getting paid leads to laziness and demotivation. government officials yelling and dictating to the ward managers, ward managers doing the same to the principals, principals to teachers, and teachers to learners, just doesn't seem to help anyone. a tradition of you scratch my back ill scratch yours which translates to someone else completing the distance education teacher certification diploma doesn't prepare the now teacher to be a good teacher. and the list goes on and on. and so when my counterpart, mr ntuli comes to me and says, 'today lets teach them reading comprehension.' i just want to shake myself and everyone in the country. because teaching reading comprehension to kids who don't understand english, who's books are far beyond their level... doesn't work. but we try anyways. we read a sentence and i ask them if they understand. they all say, "YES!" and so i ask them to say it in their own words. and no one can. they have been programmed to say, "YES!" out of respect for the teacher. to say no or to question is very disrespectful and taboo. a cultural reason why westernized education doesn't make sense in rural south africa. mr ntuli is brilliant and one of the best teachers at the school. together we've pushed for a personal dictionary program for all grades and have held meetings with the teachers to express our concern. the learners have such a small vocabulary that they are far behind their grade issued curriculum. they cannot answer the questions on their standardized tests because they do not have the vocabulary to understand what it's asking. and without stopping and teaching them new words, we're just swimming in circles. mr ntuli and i have encouraged the teachers of all subjects to stop during lessons, define new words and have the learners write them in their small notebooks designated, the personal dictionary. so the question is now, is it helping? i think so. are the teachers stopping and defining words? sometimes. it's a start. in this education system they stop using native languages in the 4th grade. from kindergarden to grade 3 they are taught their mother tongue, which here is zulu. in 4th grade the medium of instruction becomes english. at my school the teachers of grades 1-3 speak very little english. 4th grade learners do not understand english and thus cannot be taught successfully in english. some teachers of grades 4-7 also do not speak english well and definitely do not write well. the learners are far behind before they even get a chance. it's a big mess. and so everyone teaches in zulu. but their books are written in english and their tests are in english. you can imagine the challenges. there isn't an easy solution. the problem has so many complexities beyond what i have just shared and beyond what i know. i honestly think its going to take generations for the effects of apartheid, the racism and corruption, the historical injustices and disadvantages of this area, and so much more to fade before a western education system can be successful. but in the mean time, to use a favorite south african english idiom, 'we try our level headed best.' people use so many strange sayings here it blows my mind. and then i realized why. mr ntuli one day gave me the most prized book of south africans whose 1st language is not english. a book of quotes, sayings, idioms, and words of wisdom. things like, 'it's raining cats and dogs', cheaters never prosper', 'a rolling stone gathers no moss', all these crazy idioms that one actually uses. but if you know them here you're an english god. every speech i've heard here is centered around some words of wisdom or idiom that usually culturally makes no sense. when we held a grand opening for the library at the primary school the guest speaker used, 'the elephant in the room,' which i suppose does have some relevance as there are occasionally elephants in the village destroying gardens and trees. but still. not really. so, teaching is hard. i've become very invested with my learners and it becomes more emotionally taxing every time a challenge arises reminding me of all we're up against. and that's what's so amazing about this experience. about peace corps. it teaches you perseverance, patience, understanding, and it forces you to pick yourself up again and again. it teaches you that failure is part of life and that it's ok. it teaches you how to fail and how to deal with it. and part of failing is getting back up and trying again. and so i keep teaching and trying new things and struggling and failing and trying again. somedays i can really see improvement in the learners, i see them gaining confidence, i hear them say "No, we don't understand." someone asks a question, they do well on their homework, and that makes it worth every heart ache. teaching literature in grade 12 is a whole different story. thankfully by grade 12 at least 4 or 5 of the 19 learner class can understand the gist of what i say. and i can use different tactics, like acting. we read james thurber's, the secret life of walter mitty. a very difficult story for learner's who are trying to learn english. once scene involves a firing squad. which no one knew what was. and so we lined up the criminals and elected a gunman and everyone laughed and then had an idea about a firing squad. i never imagined myself play shooting teenagers/young adults in africa. apart from teaching, sindiswa and i continued the girls club. it got off to a rough start for lots of silly reasons but eventually started in february. we continued a similar curriculum to the one we developed last year and all is going well. it's still my favorite part of the week. sindiswa has gained so much confidence and now she approaches me to talk about the upcoming meeting. if i'm away on a thursday she goes to them alone and makes plans on her own. where as previously she would not. it feels so good to know that when i leave she now feels comfortable enough to continue the program alone. she is still my saving grace at school and is one of my best friends here. i don't know what i'd do without her. the libraries. like everything else the libraries have their own set of challenges. at the primary school things went well. teachers used the library with their classes and the library monitors kept it clean for the most part. things still get crazy disorganized but eventually it looks presentable again. its my brightest hope the next volunteer has a passion to work in the library. at the high school we almost completely finished organizing the books and recording them. i worked with the library monitors several days a week to finish up the books and they enjoyed doing something to better their school. in february i was invited to the us embassy in pretoria to view the art work on display from the world AIDS day art exchange. the embassy was super intense. i went with the peace corps south africa country director through mountains of security as we were escorted around by marines. i had to beg to take pictures and was allowed to only photograph the walls. the art looked great and it was really amazing to see artwork from around the country. the country director invited me to the business meeting of a life time, the south africa state of mission meeting. here the ambassador, diplomats, and various governmental heads reported their news in a concise down the line fashion, with the occasional white man with a comb over cracking jokes. i stood and was introduced i suppose to remind everyone the peace corps still exists. the meeting was held over video conference featuring conference rooms from cape town, durban, and johannesburg all while a huge countdown clock was displayed as if something more terrible than running over time would happen. but what i really learned is i never want to work for the foreign service. also in february, i had a birthday! the 29th finally came around and the teachers at the primary school had a surprise party for me. i walked into the staff room after coming back from the high school and when i opened the door the whole staff was lined up, starring at me, and immediately started singing happy birthday. i was shocked and literally jumped backwards. we had cake, snacks, juice, and fruit. i felt very very loved. the girl's club all made birthday cards for me and i nearly cried. everyone was amazed and slightly confused about me turning 6 years old. on the home front, host mamma #1 did a jig and sang hip hip hooray! it was an incredible birthday. in march i went to danny's primary school for the last two weeks of the term to help him paint a world map. he organized all the supplies and his team of student minions whom we taught to draw and paint via the grid system. some of his teachers helped and it was a blast. i was so happy to be painting with kids and to have something concrete to do everyday. we got several job offers, including a church altar. yes, the man wanted a map of the world on his church altar. we declined but danny's very talented counterpart will hopefully get some part time work from painting now. doing the mural at the school reminded me how much i love painting with kids, especially murals. it motivated me to paint at my schools and to make plans for the next term.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

nice. cows.

3 january 2012

happy new year! 2012 means back to america come september! a bittersweet but mostly happy wahoo!

host mamma #1 covering up the drying amakwakwa (monkey apple- fruit) on the kitchen roof.

highlights from october-dec 2011

mst(mid service training)

i was able to bring my counterpart sindiswa along to pretoria for a 3 day series of workshops. sindiswa and i do the girls club together. she is wonderful and is many times my saving grace at school. i can have a real conversation with her and she is very passionate and dedicated to the girls club. we both had a great time at training and learned a lot about hiv/aids from two men by the names of david patient and neil orr, authors of positive health. they were truly wonderful and i learned more about hiv in one day than everything i previously knew. i highly recommend googling them for anyone interested in up to date research and living with hiv. david has been hiv positive for 27 years, one of the longest survivors in the world. we received great resources which we will be using with the girls and i'll also use for other projects. aside from the workshops it was tons of fun to see all the other volunteers from my group, take showers, and eat lots of delicious food.


danny and i went to lesotho, the kingdom in the sky. it's a monarchy and has the highest low point of any country in the world. it also claims to have the highest pub in africa at about 2,800m. which is not true as they're a building and a drinkin on kilimanjaro! we took a public mini van up a ridiculous road known as sani pass to the tiny border town of sani top where we stayed for several days. (google sani pass! so beautiful.) we went hiking and rode basotho ponies around and froze ourselves silly. they get snow every month of the year there.

school, term 4 oct-dec

its common knowledge that nothing happens in term 4 in government schools in south africa. the focus is on the grade 12 learners final exams and so everything else kind of shuts down. at the primary school teaching was still going on but in a much more relaxed manner. summer also approaches in term 4 and some days it was so so hot that no one could really do anything. we just sat under the trees and sweated. i continued teaching english and managed to train a crew of learner library monitors, with much help of another teacher, to run the library. we will start borrowing books this 2012 school year and we have library card fundraisers planned. exciting!

at the high school i helped prepare the grade 12's for their english exams and worked on the school library. a group of teachers and i cleaned out several cabinets full of ancient learners books and found lots of library books scattered about. we organized them and repaired a cabinet to make space for our corner library. 17 learners from my grade 9 english class signed up to volunteer in helping catalouge and organize all the books. we are almost finished and will complete the work at the beginning of this school year.

girl's club

i always look forward to our thursday meetings. sindiswa and i taught lessons about role models, the reproductive system, the menstrual cycle, and hiv/aids. our most successful lesson was on the reproductive system which lasted for several meetings. we all drew our own diagrams, labeled it and discussed what's going on in there. we divided the girls into groups and played a game of labeling the diagrams on the board and gave prizes to the winning team. they loved it and it was great to see them remembering and arguing about what goes where and what it does. we finally finished making their name cards featuring each girls picture and handed them out. they went nuts and loved them! the boys were all jealous as were some of the other teachers and we got many requests to join the girls club. at the end of the year we had a party to celebrate the formation of the club. sindiswa, the principal, a girl from grade 6 and 7, and myself all gave a short speech about why the girls club is important and something we've learned. its definitely what im most looking forward to this next year.

kids club

and then there is the kids club. (the club for the orphans and vulnerable children in the lower grades) which has mostly dissolved. the main reason being a lack of support and interest from the teachers and me not wanting to do it alone. i'm not sure what's going to happen with it this year but if i can get someone who is interested and wants to do it i'll be happy to continue it. if not i can't do it alone because it would be too much on top of all the other things i'm involved with.


ah! for thanksgiving all the volunteers in the area went to stay with workers of an ngo nearby on a beautiful farm. the couple who started the ngo are from america and they managed to get two turkeys mailed. we had a crew of about 18 and we all brought side dishes and ate so so much. it was tons of fun to be together for the holiday.

new project- community based organization

one of my best friends in the village, dumisani (dubbed my male twin by my principal as we are the same age), a brilliant science and math teacher at the high school and i have started a new project. we have been talking for a while about the issues the community faces and he has opened up a lot to me in recent months. at the training i attended i learned that lots of money is available from the government to start community based organization focused on agriculture, skills development, youth, etc. i told him about what i learned and shared with him the resources and he got really excited and wanted to get started right away. he organized some responsible interested members of the community to join us. we held a meeting in which we did a needs assessment where we listed the problems, needs, strengths, and possible solutions to community issues. we used PACA (participatory assessment for community action) tools, which is a strong block in the foundation of the peace corps philosophy. its probably the most idealized 'peace corps' thing i've done so far- co-facilitating a meeting, having a translator, making an action plan based on voices from youth, women, children, men, and the older generations. it was really really cool and felt amazing to finally begin work outside the school. from that first meeting we had several more where we decided our focus (youth), elected a 7 member leadership committee, and wrote a constitution. we visited the department of social development and completed all the necessary paper work. it takes four months to be registered but we can get started in the mean time. we'll all be meeting again once school gets started to form our youth group.

farewells (graduations)


my host sister thandeka had a grade r (kindergarten) farewell which is possibly the most adorable function i've ever attended. the kiddos wore full gowns with hats and danced in pairs under a terrace to their seats. they squirmed around and sweated for 6 hours or so as people prayed, spoke, sang, wished them well, and presented them with certificates that i finished while the ceremony was going on. oh africa. the teachers cruelly put the enormous cake on display right beside their chairs. but mostly, it was adorable and the parents loved it, which i suppose is the real purpose of those ceremonies. the grade 7 kids also had a farewell where the same things went on. it was held on world aids day and so sindiswa and i had a time slot to speak about the day and present art work done by the kids to celebrate.

world aids day art exchange

last year a volunteer started this project. its an all volunteer art project where PCVs engage community members to make art based around the year's world aids day theme. PCVs incorporate the project into existing hiv/aids projects, classes, girls/boys clubs, anything really, or use it to start new projects. the art is then traded with another PCV so the kids can see how another village interpreted the theme, to use for further discussions, and to emphasize this as a common issue. the art is displayed as part of world aids day activities.

i was way too over stimulated with just getting to my village to participate last year so i emailed in july asking if she was doing it again. she told me she was too busy this year and asked if i wanted to organize it and so i said id love to! i sent some emails and met with a staff member during the training to organize an art show of the finished products in the peace corps office and the us embassy. over 20 PCVs living all over the country participated. we sent our best 3 pieces to peace corps which were then framed and are being displayed in the us embassy this month. i am planning a trip in the near future to view the show.

i loved coordinating this project and doing art with the kids. sindiswa and i did it with the girls club and the boys in grades 6 and 7. this year's theme was 'it takes a village to fight hiv'. we had discussions about hiv and how we can prevent the disease, how we can be healthy, and how we can support each other. we got some beautiful drawings of kids exercising, playing soccer, eating fruits and vegetables, being with family and friends, going to clinics to learn about hiv, getting tested, and even a few explicit drawings of condoms being used. these kids know whats up! many kids got really into the drawings and spent lots of time on them. it was great for them to get time to think about hiv, this white elephant that no one really talks about, and to share very sensitive feelings and beliefs about the topic. this project reminded me why i love art so much and why i studied art education. the work we received from the kids and the effect of these drawings was nothing short of profound. the potential of this medium of expression transcends culture and language barriers and is boundless. really, i can't wait to come back home and be an art teacher.

holiday! cape town, the wild coast

danny had two friends from home come and visit during december. after a while i met up with them in cape town for a few days. i took a 26 hour bus from durban. woa man. we had an amazing time and saw the major sites of cape town. we hiked the famous table mountain, which was really fun and exhausting. it's so cool to me that a popular attraction is a hike. we visited robben island, the island prison apartheid political prisoners were held in, famously where nelson mandela stayed for 23+ years. we went to the cape of good hope, the southwestern most point of africa, and absolutely gorgeous. we saw penguins, seals, sharks, whales, baboons, and lots of antelope species along the way. we ate good food and enjoyed the diverse city. cape town feels so absolutely different from anywhere else ive been in south africa. it felt much safer and more peaceful. right when i arrived i headed for the public taxis, which are usually only ridden by blacks, and inside i saw white people! woa! something ive rarely seen here. while i could still feel racial tension at times, the city largely felt much much more peaceful than say... johannesburg. outside of cape town we visited the wine lands and went wine tasting by bicycle. this was my favorite part of the trip. we went about 20k and visited 4 wineries. so much fun!

danny's friends left and he and i took a bus up the coast heading home. we stopped in the eastern cape along what is known as the wild coast. we stayed at hostels and hiked along the shore for about 6 days. the xhosa people live here and speak xhosa, which is very similar to zulu and we found we could converse pretty well with locals and understand most of what was said. this part of the country is a haven for old white hippies and bohemian types, rastafarians, and people wishing to live 'off the grid' and along the coast. still though, its a weird dynamic of lots of xhosa villages and then bam, white people and lodges and hostels and tourism glory. still not sure what i think about it. several of the places here claim to be 'fair trade in tourism' meaning the lodges are community development projects and community owned. we celebrated christmas by going to a brazilian band's show at a hostel and swimming in the warm indian ocean. christmas is just not a huge holiday here like it is in america. there isnt the christmas fuss or stress over presents and decorations and all. it's really nice.

i was so thankful to have been able to join danny and his friends. they were so kind and welcoming to me and i really enjoyed getting to know them. they are so much fun. thanks guys!

new years

we made it back home before new years and celebrated at danny's house with his host family. and we bought some fireworks! his 5 host sisters hung out with us during the evening. at 12 they screamed and screamed for like 10 minutes and we shot the fireworks. things were going well and then they got more bold and started shooting each other/forgetting to throw them after lighting them. everyone still has their fingers!


and now i'm back home relaxing until school starts up again either this next week or the next. it's kind of unclear. haha. i'm really looking forward to this year and im stunned that in 8 months or so it will all be coming to a close.

blog title

the most advanced english ive heard in south africa was in the back of a pick up truck. on the wild coast we got a ride to our hostel in a rural beach town and on the way picked up three urban xhosa teenage boys visiting the place for the first time. their english was perfect. we were talking with them about the place and what we saw around us and one of them said,

'nice. cows.'

and we laughed. and he was like but wait, you know what i mean. like nice. they have cows. like, nice. cows. not, oh those are nice cows. hahha. soooo funny. nice. cows.

happy new year everyone! wishing you many blessings and much love in 2012 and always.
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

completed mural for the health promoting schools launch. a bunch of kiddos helped me add color and draw people around the school grounds. it was super fun!

smooching on fresh vegetables courtesy of mamma#1! god bless leafy greens. so delicious, august 2011

to everything, turn turn turn, there is a season

hi guys!

the rainy season has officially started! for the first time since
april the sand is wet. 3 days of soft cloudy skies and rain on a tin
roof. it's so nice.

updates since late june! this is going to be another long one.

i finally got to walk with my host mamma #1, sister thandeka, and some
neighbors to madotsheni, the wetlands area of the village where
community gardens are plowed. the walk was about 7-8k through the soft
mostly flat grassy sand. the wetlands are literally on the border of
mozambique so we walked to the fence that separates the countries. on
this slight detour mamma #2 utilized her time by pulling up reeds from
the riverside. she collects them in huge bundles, carries them home on
her head, and spreads them out in the sand to dry for three days
before selling them in town.

the gardens were beautiful. the river flows all through the area and
tiny streams help to designate the different family plots. here banana
trees, sugar cane, beet root, sweet potatoes, carrots, lettuce,
spinach, onions, tomatoes, and local fruits flourish. as we were
walking around i followed my sister as she leapt across the streams
and landed in the muddy black soil. my host mamma was being a mamma
and yelled at thandeka not to take me that way because it was muddy. i
pretended to not understand and jumped right into the mud. i was mess,
and we all laughed. we sat around for while munching on sugar cane. so

because the soil is sand and water can be quite a distance away in the
village, the community largely does all the subsistence farming in the
wetlands. the plowing is mostly done by the women who makes this trek
on an almost daily basis during the sowing and harvesting seasons.
many women take extra veggies and fruits to sell in town or at school.
for some families this is the only source of income.

during the winter school break i was extremely blessed to be with my
closest friend and boyfriend Danny, and his visiting mom and brother.
they came for about two weeks and invited me to come along with them
for several days. we got to peruse around our shopping town made new
and exciting again by the fresh eyes with us. we visited the lake
system near the estuary which puts the town on 'some' maps. we took a
sunset boat cruise through the salt water lakes and saw incredible
birds and hippos! next we drove through swaziland and stayed the night
at an eclectic bed and breakfast famous for Bushfire, a huge music
festival. im not sure i can really explain how weird it is to be
driving through beautiful brown mountains, stricken with poverty, turn
off on a road and be at this perfectly manicured green ridiculous
modern venue. really throws your mind off. the buildings were almost
completely done in mosaics and lush green gardens surrounded the
grounds. here we enjoyed delicious food and hot showers!

the next day we drove to our destination, Kruger National Park. this
is the most famous game park in south africa and is known for almost
guaranteed sightings of the big 5- the lion, water buffalo, elephant,
leopard, and rhino. we went on a safari with an experienced driver who
took us around the park all day. he was part of a safari company and
so he and the other drivers would communicate with each other and
report sightings in various locations via radio. if there was
something good, we would quickly drive to the spot to see the animal.
in addition to the big 5 we saw many hippos, giraffes, baboons,
monkeys, crocodiles, tons of birds, impala, kudu, wildebeest, and
vultures. it was really incredible. it was kind of strange though
because there were so many cars driving around on paved roads and you
knew something was around each time you came up on lines and lines of
cars with people hanging out the windows with binoculars.

everything we did was so much fun and at times unbelievable. just
being with danny and his family was equally, if not more amazing. it
was so nice to be together with his family and to talk and enjoy each
others company over meals and wine. they were all so welcoming to me
and i can't express my thanks and gratitude enough for letting me join
them. it is one of my favorite experiences thus far and definitely a
vacation i'll never forget it. i feel so lucky.

after the park i parted ways with danny and his family. they went on
to explore more of south africa and i went to visit my volunteer
friends maggie and mike in limpopo. this was my first time to really
see this province and the landscape reminds me a lot of new mexico,
which i loveeeed. soft red desert mountains and brilliant sunsets.
different province, different culture, different language. (side
tangent, at first i thought it was awesome that south africa has 11
official languages, but now i feel like it might be a bad idea because
it seems like no one can communicate with each other! everyone is
learning english and afrikaans is also widely spoken as a legacy of
apartheid. the next most widely understood languages are isizulu and
northern sotho. point being, south africa is home to so many languages
and cultures that it could easily be several smaller countries.)

after the long immensely enjoyed holiday it was back to the village. a
4 hour taxi ride from durban (1st world) is still much too abrupt of a
transition back to the village(3rd world+cell phones).

it was the end of july and going back to school was a hard adjustment.
what was even harder for me to process were the months remaining. it
had been just over a year that we arrived in south africa but we still
had 26 months of service left. in peace corps this time in service is
not so affectionately known as the 'one year slump.'

somedays i was slumping really hard. i think the slump happened to me
for several reasons:

1. understanding more about the place and culture
2. homesickness
3. mentally processing another year of volunteer service
4. questioning my efforts here

i have a much better understanding of what's going on here than i did
a year ago. granted probably 68% of the time i have no idea what's
going on, it's a drastic improvement from the 98% of the time when i
first arrived. quite frankly south africa feels like a laid back
twilight zone.

understanding more is a sort of double edged sword. it's so nice to
understand more of the language, approximately how long things take,
when to expect transport, understand how teaching works, the school
schedules, etc. but also, i understand all those things so i know it's
going to take a long time when the only ride to town is with the
slowest driver, or that when the learners are taking their
standardized tests it's nearly impossible to do anything at school. i
can more accurately predict situations and know what to expect, which
is both good and bad. but almost always requires waiting. which is
really helping me to develop lots and lots of patience.

i've felt really homesick over the past months. the newness and
romanticism of being a volunteer has well worn off. that's not to say
i don't still love being here and i don't get excited about things
anymore, just that a certain element is gone, the realness has set in.
somedays it's hard to imagine being away from the people i love back
home for another year. besides people, what i miss the most is riding
my bike. but, i knew this would happen and i was prepared for it.
sometimes it is just hard.

being a volunteer for another year at times (i can't emphasize enough
how temporary these feelings are) has felt incredibly heavy. mentally
processing this, and all it's implications has been difficult but is
forcing me to grow a lot and to find purpose and meaning in the time
i'm spending here.

as a combination of these things i've been questioning my efforts
here. 'what am i even doing?' 'why am i here?' 'does it make sense
for me to be here?' 'who/how am i helping?' etc etc. and so this has
lead me to first, feel pretty terrible, and second to dedicate time to
thinking and reflecting upon the projects and people i am working
with. i've learned that i have to engage myself in something i enjoy
doing, or im not going to be happy. and i know i am already doing
that, its just that some days all the struggles and challenges of
working with people get to me. so currently, im trying to reflect and
think about how to spend the next year. i want to be doing things that
the community needs, that are possible, that i have the skills for,
and that i want to do. searching for that overlap. i think many of the
projects im involved in meet these goals, and so i want to make sure
im on the path to making an impact.

peace corps is letting me feel the full range of my emotions,
sometimes all in one day.

right after the break i was busy working with the library committee at
the primary school to prepare for the library's grand opening. we've
been working on cataloguing, organizing, cleaning, and 'finishing' the
library since about february. i was able to teach the educators and
some learners about the dewy decimal system and the alphabetical
arranging of the fiction books. we also taught the learners how to
prepare a book to be used in a library. we showed them how to make the
card holders, where to put the issue slips, cards, labels, etc. a
class of grade 7 learners prepared over 250 books in less than an hour
with very few mistakes! the books kindly donated from my high school
history teacher Mrs. Judy Falls, are proudly displayed on a shelf with
a sign reading, 'donations from america.' we are so thankful for them.

we held the grand opening on the 3rd of august. a teacher and some
learners erected a chalk board in the sand outside the library and i
got to draw a sign announcing the day. i recruited some learners to
help me and it was definitely the most enjoyable part of the process.
how i love murals. we had library orientations with all grades in the
morning where we went over the rules and policies of the library. we
also gave them a tour of the books and study areas. i led the first
orientation with the committee members and they led the rest of them.
for the afternoon we designed a program which included prayers, songs
from the learner choirs, poetry readings, questions and prizes, a
guest speaker and a ribbon cutting ceremony (my principal's idea)! the
committee worked with the learners to write songs and poems about the
library and the value of reading. our guest speaker was a librarian
from town who encouraged us not to let the library become a white
elephant. i asked the learners questions from the orientation and gave
out bookmarks as prizes. at the end of the program we went outside and
cut the ribbon to officially open the library!

and alas, as of now, the library is a white elephant. but let me
explain why by explaining what happened next.

right after the grand opening we were preparing for the biggest
function of the school year, the Health Promoting School Launch.
everyday was busy. teaching was almost put to a stop in order to
prepare the school for this function as 'the big wigs' from the health
department would be attending.

it's all sort of a haze right now but the days were spent cleaning the
school, gardening, re-writing policies, printing pictures, practicing
songs and plays, securing food donations, and many more details. and,
this went on for about 4 weeks. haha.

i was able to another mural with the kids for the event. it was so
much fun and took us about 3 hours. the kids were very proud to have
worked on it.

the event mostly went smoothly. a huge tent was erected and almost all
the important people who were supposed to attend made it, with only a
few getting lost trying to find the school. some volunteer friends
from the area came and we were repeatedly referred to as 'the team
from america.' we helped with cooking by to cutting up the lunch, an
entire kudu donated from a nearby game reserve.

despite all the fuss, the purpose of the day was to celebrate the
school's promotion of health. i'm not really sure if that happened but
regardless, these kids know when to wash their hands. and for the most
part they do. they've been taught about food, safety in the area,
hiv/aids, malaria, tb, and they can can produce an awesome garden.
it's a beautiful foundation for these kids to grow up with.

and so, temporarily the library was put on hold. after the event
teachers frantically were preparing for national exams and so the
library was again put on hold. but our white elephant will not stay
white! our elephant will be vibrant, starting... next term. haha.

in the midst of all this there was a 10k in our nearest town! it was
so mysterious. i saw a poster in the grocery store and another
volunteer called the number to see who was organizing it/if it was
actually a real thing. and he was told, yes it's happening and
dumisani is organizing it. dumisani being just a guy's name. haha. so,
we went with about 40 others ran through the town.a running club from
a big town came and domintaed the race along with other serious
runners. there were about 9 females running and i got 5th place, about
$15 and a trophy! really weird. my host family was so proud of me and
told everyone that i practice every day after school and that i work
very hard. haha. they are so supportive and hilarious.

i'll continue the updates in another post. until then stay super well!
enjoy the changing colors of autumn, i sure miss those leaves.

much love!