Monday, November 5, 2012
I wanted to post this article that's been circulating the Facebook news feeds of PCSA for the past couple of days. It's not entirely short, but I found it simple, brilliant, honest, and inspiring as one who is currently wading through the dredges of this feeling of "Peace Corps guilt".
Enjoy, and let me know what you think :)
In other news, it’s ELECTION DAY and I cannot wait for this all-nighter of fun, anticipation, and well, anything else that will help calm our jittery PCV nerves. Baking? Jello? Midnight fun-run? Only time will tell, as it will tell whether or not I extend my service here for the next four years. Sorry Mittens.
P.S. I've attached some preliminary xmas photos for kicks and giggles and to celebrate Lilly Fine's FIRST EVER Santa hat. L'chaim and happy holidays in advance from Limpopo!
Sunday, October 28, 2012
It has been an unforgivably long time since my last blog update, and for that I must apologize. I have reached the point, in fact I fear it was reached weeks ago, in which so much time has passed that the amount of material left to be covered is overwhelming to the extent that I no longer know where to start. But as this sentiment of dread is only guaranteed to get worse, allow me to sit here and try to ameliorate the situation.
Let me begin in the present: Today is Sunday, October 28, 2012, or the end of Halloween weekend I am told, and I am allowing myself a lounge-around-the-hut kind of day to read and take catnaps with my kitten. All in all, I’m excited about it. I’m drinking a hot cup of Frisco instant coffee (sorry, no Stumptown here) and attempting to wake up at least a little bit so I can be a slug all day without actually being one. We’ll see how my efforts pan out!
Yesterday I took a taxi into Groblersdal to print, sign, scan, and finally email my ballot to the Multnomah County elections office with just over one week until the deadline. While I could rant about the perception of the circus that is American political dialogue from afar, this blog is NOT my soapbox, nor will I ever allow it to be. I am simply excited to have given the electoral system my two Rand cents yesterday, and can only hope that you all have done or will be doing the same. For the main event a few of us PCVs stationed here in Limpopo will hopefully congregate in the province’s capital of Polokwane to stream the election live or find access to a TV that is safe and available to watch in the middle of the night. Either way, cookies will be baked, beers will inevitably be had, and tensions will run high.
Life in the village is flowing along just fine. The past month has been rather tumultuous with extreme highs and even more terrific lows that we know are all just part of the package that results in a complete Peace Corps experience. Needless to say life goes on, and I’ve been attempting to busy myself with beginning and sustaining various projects in my community. Two weeks ago I began my first Grassroots Soccer intervention with a group of older OVC from one of my organization’s drop-in centers and it is going as well as I think can be expected given my still minimal language ability and slow pace of village action. (For those of you who are unfamiliar, Grassroots Soccer is this wonderful outreach program that uses soccer as a means of teaching HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention to youth.) Since the counterpart that volunteered to accompany me to the September GRS training in Polokwane has now decided she has no time to help implement the program, I have been lucky enough to have identified a care giver at this particular drop-in center who has proven herself a godsend to my efforts here. Her name is Betty and she has been beyond enthusiastic and capable as a GRS counterpart. “I am learning about HIV too Pebetse!” she often exclaims as we review each module before practice. As of now we have completed three out of eleven practices, and I can only hope that we are able to finish before the learners go on holiday break here in the coming months.
As some of you may or may not know (and now you WILL know!), World AIDS Day is fast approaching on 1 December. I am working with my organization to try and rally community support for an outreach event that will take place on the day before, but progress is, as usual, abysmally slow. You think you’re patient before you join PC, but the extent to which that assumption is tested is extraordinary! “Slow and steady wins the race” I keep telling myself. “Slow and steady Alyssa”. We’ll see at the end of next month if my mantra has been effective. If not, hey, there’s always next year!
Another project I have recently begun to work tentatively on is a community library. Unemployment is a huge problem here, and consequently perpetuates high levels of alcohol/drug abuse, unintended (teen) pregnancy, and HIV/AIDS prevalence. I have become friends with a member of my host family who runs the shop located just across a clearing from the main house, and I will occasionally stop bye on my way home to say hi and catch up on village happenings (of which, admittedly, he lets on to very few). Mostly, he moans about how boring life is. “There is nothing to do here Pebetse! You must bring me a book next time you come okay? I am so bored I could die”. As I began bringing him books from town on my occasional visits (Sizwe’s Test by Jonny Steinberg and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, to name a couple) I developed an idea that maybe if there was a library within walking distance, people would not only be less agonized by boredom but more importantly, less prone to engage in risky, destructive behavior. Besides, with three schools in my village and a large adult population studying to get their Senior Secondary Certificate (the South African equivalent to a GED), a library could be just what doctor ordered. No pun intended.
That is my life wrapped up as concisely as I can manage at the moment, but never fear, this next month is full of birthdays, christenings, and Thanksgiving celebrations. I will make sure to stay in touch and keep things up to date!
PS. I forgot to mention, at the beginning of the month a few other PCVs and myself were given the amazing opportunity to volunteer in Rustenberg at the Special Olympics Africa Unity Cup. Since I am out of data, I’ve attached a link to the report on the event that was posted on the Peace Corps website. Needless to say, the event was spectacular and moving, and I feel beyond privileged to have been able to take part!
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Sorry for the obscene lack of postage on my part. I'd like to say that I've been to busy to keep up with my own blog, but unfortunately I think laziness has been a root cause. I'll try my best to make up for it starting now.
Here is a piece I wrote about one day after my last entry, and details one of the most memorable days I've had at site so far. So here we go!
I’m writing to celebrate what may have been a milestone day between myself and my family that occurred a few days ago. I arrived back in Mohlarekoma after over one month away from site visiting Machipe, at IST, then parusing the Wild Coast in a lunch box on wheels. Sorry “Joan of Arc”, you served us all well but you were just so tiny! I walked to the office on Wednesday morning only to find the gate locked; silly me for going to work on Madiba’s birthday! Thankful that I at least was provided with the opportunity to strech my legs, I strolled the 45 minutes back home and conceded myself to the task of laundry, cleaning/de-roaching my room, and hitting up the pensioners market that materializes every month in front of my house. I was able to buy a sack of gorgeous avocados, onions apples, bananas and a mammoth tub of atchar for less than $10.00. Yehaw!
But I stray from my point. I woke up yesterday at 6am and went for a jog, deciding by the end of my loop to try for work again. As I walked through the village to my usual trail across the fields that takes you to the tar road, I ran into a coworker headed to the clinic who informed me that once again, there was nobody at the office. Go figure. Dimakatso, another caregiver, would be in later, she informed me, but as I had no business of particular urgency with her, I decided to go home and see if I couldn’t spend some time with my host family. As it turns out, that day in particular was the day in which they would begin to de-kernel the hundreds if not thousands of corncobs that had been baking in the sun soaked courtyard in front of my hut for over one month.
My family has a tendency to laugh every time I offer to help them out with household chores, and today was not by any means an exception. Long story short, and after I’d finished typing up the proposal for our community garden project, I sat down with the gogo who always does my family’s groundwork (and who’s name I admittedly cannot remember) and let her show me how to smack the kernels out of their cobs with a big iron pole.
With kernels flying in every direction we sat together on the ground laughing at our “workout” until many of the cobs were mostly bare, the maroon honeycomb of the interior striking against the golden armor of the kernels. At this point, gogo shoved a medium sized rock in my direction and showed me on her own crumbling cinder block how to grind the cob so as to rid it of any stragglers.
What I had approached initially as an opportune cultural learning experience was suddenly transformed into a daylong bonding affair. The mindless work outside in the sun was both soothing and invigorating. Before I knew it, four hours had passed and we were called inside for lunch. The usual protocol thus far between my family and I is that we eat separately (which I personally dislike but am shy to approach them about) unless the meal is earned. Needless to say today we were definitely earning it! To the table I contributed my bucket of atchar and we all sat around the table (my gogo, my new friend/mentor, myself, and another gogo from down the road who had joined us outside some time earlier).
The moment that stuck with me the most as we said thank you and left the kitchen to continue our work outside was the look in my gogo’s eyes. Usually, she’ll stare at me with what I can only describe as a distant perplexity, as if she’s not entirely sure what I’m about or who I am despite our many conversations and my attempts to make myself present within the household. That afternoon, her eyes lit up when she looked at me and I could sense something resembling a mixture of gratitude and relief passing between the two of us. It was as if it took this gesture of mine;, devoting a day to the tasks of a traditional Sotho woman, for her to judge my true character and not find me wanting. I doubt that she realized my recognition of that moment, or honestly, if it was even a moment for her at all. Whatever it was, it resounded with me on a level that I cannot possibly explain.
We spent the remaining daylight happily chatting and working in the sun, and though I was covered in dust and my hands bleeding by the end (“they will get stronger!” gogo reassured me) there was no place on Earth I would have rather been.
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
18 July, 2012
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel secure around you. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, presence automatically liberated others.”
Let me preface this post firstly by wishing everyone a happy Nelson Mandela Day, and “happy birthday” to Madiba himself! The last couple of months here have been hectic and exciting. The middle of June marked the official end of our first three months at site, otherwise known as our “integration period” or “lockdown”. It was a pretty big accomplishment for many of us so to celebrate, I left a day or so early for our in-service training conference (IST) and spent some time visiting my host family who I stayed with during my first few transitional months in South Africa. Even though I’m no longer living in Machipe, I still feel more a part of the Sikhali family than I do now living at my permanent site. Not that it’s bad, I’m just finding that I will have a different kind of relationship with my host family here in Mohlarekoma, maybe one resembling more of a close tenent-landlord kind of rapport. In any case, I was overjoyed to see my family and realized I could have stayed there for much longer than the one day I had given myself time for. They too were alarmed that I was staying for any time less than one week! So to compensate for my foolishness, we made plans for me to come back and visit for a longer time around the middle of September. My heart is fluttering just thinking about it. I can’t wait!
After spending one lovely night stretching my limbs in my old queen-sized bed in Machipe, I headed up to the nearby village of Bundu with my good friend Teresa (a fellow PCV who was there visiting her family as well) to meet up with our friend Lilly who has the absolute fortune to have our training site as her permanent site. Lilly and I have sites that are relatively close to each other in the grand scheme of South Africa and consequently spent a lot of time decompressing together over what we decided were well-deserved feasts and one too many Hunters at a pseudo-tex-mex chain called ‘Spur’ in Groblersdal. Needless to say I had heard all about her life at site, difficulties, triumphs, and random things that cannot be categorized yet hold a supreme importance in the life of a PCV nonetheless! It was wonderful then, to finally meet the family I had heard so much about, and they seemed every bit as wonderful as Lilly had described them to be. We spent a couple of hours walking around the village saying hi to Nikki and Paige, two more of our fellow “classmates” who were visiting their families, then caught a dusty orange bus for the hour or so trip south to Pretoria.
We had heard stories of IST from PCVs in the classes before us: There’s a pool. There’s a sauna. You’ll gain at least 3 kilos at the buffet. You’ll spend an hour each day taking a hot shower and/or never leave your GIANT bed. BYOB. You’re immensely spoiled for a reason after your first few months so thank your taxpayers. It’s amazing.
Suffice it to say that all these things were true. For me at least. I felt more blissed out and relaxed than I had felt in months. Not to mention clean! It was glorious. For the 10 day conference each PCV was requested to invite their supervisor for the first couple of days and a counterpart who would be arriving later so that knowledge disseminated to us from the sessions could be used to help devise long-term projects for us during our service. Though many of the sessions were tedious, I really enjoyed sharing the experience with Lucy (my supervisor) and Constance (my counterpart) and we were able to draft a solid proposal for a community garden project that will be located at the new location of our Mohlarekoma Drop-in Centre. It will take a lot of work and even more patience, but I think this project could turn out to be a complete success and I cannot wait to get started!
By the time IST finally drew to a close many of us were tired, happy, and honestly a little eager to rid ourselves of the buffet line. It’s common for PCVs to indulge themselves a little further after IST by taking a vacation to a different part of the country or beyond to stretch their legs, so to speak. A group of us decided to do just that, and on 3 July after a gorgeous meal of Ethiopian food we boarded a night bus from Pretoria to Port Elizabeth where we would begin a 10-day road trip up the Wild Coast beginning at Chinsta and working our way up the coast to Bulungula, Coffee Bay, Port St. Johns, and ending in Durban. Roughly 15 hours later we arrived. While Paige and Nikki took off to pick up our rental car, Donovan, Teresa, Kristen and I went in search of a bank and a bathroom. We all met up a couple hours later at a KFC (happy 4th of July!) and began our trek to Chinsta.
If the entirety of our first South African vacation was nothing but an epic success, I’d like to credit it to Cinsta and Buccaneers Lodge for getting the ball rolling. We were joined late on the 4th by a 7th member of our “dream team” named Dave who is looking to COS here in September, then embark on a world tour with the help of various international volunteer opportunities he found using a site called helpx.org. It was great talking to him about his plans and gave me plenty of ideas for things to do after I finish here! But back to the beach. White sand. Warm water. Gorgeous. We spent our time in Chinsta lounging around, walking down the beach, swimming, and surfing / crashing down immense sand dunes on boogie boards. I’m going to have to rely on pictures in my attempt to convey much of our experiences on the coast, so hopefully my minimal vocabulary will serve as a supplement if anything!
After a few days at Chinsta, we jammed ourselves back into our 7-seater mini-SUV (yes, there were 7 of us and yes, we did have all our stuff) and headed off to Bulungula. This beach was entirely different from Chinsta, located on the sleepy mouth of the Bulungula River. It took us about 2 hours of off-roading to finally arrive at the cluster of huts that was Bulungula Lodge. Unfortunately for us, the rain had made a mess of the dirt road and we ended up getting our little 4-wheel-driveless SUV stuck for essentially the entire time we were there. Paige, our apologies again for ruthlessly explaining to you that chained off roads are no different from main roads, and thank you Teresa for being wonder woman and working with Paige and that man to rescue our car. Twice. Next round’s on us.
While we were waiting for the car situation to be resolved (because, like a kitchen, too many people involved will only make matters worse…although we felt pretty bad about it) Kristen and Donovan took a canoe trip up the river and Dave and I went on an adventure to climb a seaside hill called Rain Mountain. It reminded me vaguely of a miniature, African Haystack Rock. After about 30min of strolling along the beach, passing fishermen and herds of cattle that had beached themselves on the sand, we realized that what we had anticipated as a hike was going to be more like a scramble up over rocks, down into coves, and eventually onto the loosely vegetated side of Rain Mountain. The effort was worth it though. From the top we were able to rest on grass surrounded by towering Aloe plants and watch pods of dolphins and whales dance around the horizon, scooping up what we could only imagine to be sardines from the sardine run that happened to be at peak season. What a view.
We made our way back and found that the car had once again been wrenched free, and so we decided to make a run for Coffee Bay before it started to rain again. We reached the paved road by sundown and from there drove North along a giant pothole of a road until we reached the Coffee Shack where we would spend the next three days. Apparently, and as we were quick to discover the Coffee Shack is the quintessential “party backpackers” of Coffee Bay, which to be honest, worked quite well for us. There’s a rationale among PCVs and many who enjoy the pleasure of our company that any opportunity to celebrate, be social, or just hands down go crazy is amplified tenfold as an attempt to compensate for the isolation, loneliness, and frustration that is often experienced at site. The carefree atmosphere of the Shack was undeniable and we spent three days roaming the seaside hills, soaking in sunrises over the Indian ocean, and dancing around the fire to the sound of drums as the sun set over the rolling hills behind us. Themed parties were a hit as well and I would like to commend our little group for setting the bar high for “Under the Sea”, for which we had only a couple hours notice. Making use of what we had we tore up the dance floor as a “bottle”nose dolphin, a salty sailor, Poseidon, a shark, and the Titanic. The next day I woke up early and met up with my friend Joseph who worked at a neighboring hostel and went out onto the rocks at the mouth of the bay to see if any fish were biting. He brought all his fishing gear that he’d had since he was a boy and would go fishing at that same spot, and did his best to teach me how to yank the pole up at the right moment so that the hook would catch. To what I’m sure would be Grandpa Roscoe’s dismay, it turns out I’m not a natural fisherlady and quickly surrendered him the pole while I sat and watched a pod of dolphins surf the breaking waves.
At the end of our three days of immense social exertion, we departed, leaving behind a family of friends, vagabonds, and our resident canine friends we so fondly referred to as “Francisco”, “Albert”, and “Frida”. Until next time Coffee Bay, until next time.
Our last stop before Durban was at Amapondo Backpackers in Port St. Johns. The weather was dank and cold; a stark contrast from our experience at Coffee Bay, but was immediately remedied by the warmness of the people we met there. On our last day, we met a fellow American (our first since embarking on our trip!) who had been to Amapondo before and volunteered to take us on this hike up the hill a short distance to see an area where the surf smashes upon a hole in the face of this big slab of rock, earning itself the name “the blowhole”. Little did we realize how treacherous this hike would be! What began as a drizzle amounted into a downpour, and before we knew it we were slipping and sliding down a path to what was essentially a cliff with a steel cable that was intended to make our descent less difficult. Or perhaps less lethal, as suggested by the memorial plaques that were scattered intermittently along the side of the cliff. Once we made it to the blowhole however, the rain and wind were subsiding and we were able to observe the sheer strength of the ocean as it pounded and frothed against the jagged black rocks below us. I love instances like this, when you are reminded of the immeasurably small scope of your existence in contrast with the power of nature and its potential to be instantaneously beautiful and cruel.
On our way back to the backpackers, we were fortunate enough to meet a man known as Ben, who has been living in relative solitude in a thicket of banana trees and other vegetation that boarders a small cove close to the blowhole. His story was an enthralling one at that. Born in 1939, he ran away from home when he was six years old after hearing stories of young men doing the same, only to return home to shower their families with gold and jewels they had stolen from the Spanish Armada. Solo travel was relatively easier for a six year old boy at the time that he himself embarked on his adventure, because of men who had returned from WWII only to find themselves abandoned by their families and wives who had “grown tired of waiting”. I get the feeling that Ben returned home a couple of times while he was still young, albeit without the treasures he had hoped to find, but never truly settled down until he found his niche at Port St. Johns. He his known well by the community and makes a living sketching out the many footpaths that exist in the area and giving them to local businesses and conservationists for a price. He was a very cool man, and we all felt extremely privileged to have been invited into his home.
Our last night at Amapondo was spent celebrating one of the staff members’ birthdays, who we lightly persuaded to have a “Freaky Friday the 13th” themed party, in honor of both her birthday and Friday the 13th of July. Needless to say it was a success. There was face paint, cobwebs, and giant spiders (both fake, thank god) and music until the wee hours of the morning. Nikki and I brought our Titanic costume back to the dance floor with a vengeance because, well, why not?
We arrived in Durban early the next morning after what was admittedly a less than comfortable drive from Port St. Johns. There’s nothing quite like arriving in a city after 10 days spent on a beachside road trip. We tumbled out of our filthy car covered in glitter, face paint, dirt, sand, and who knows what else, we probably looked like we’d just gotten hit over the head with a combination of beach bum, hippie, and African herbsman. Upon entering into Takweni Backpackers, we were immediately asked “Shit, where did you all come from??” I felt in that moment that our trip had indeed been a most epic success.
We spent the day wandering Durban, which I think has got to be one of my new favorite places of all time. There’s such a rich presence of so many diverse people and cultures from Indian, to Zulu, to White South African, to young people of all colors who have moved from Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Pretoria to study or pursue their budding careers. Regardless of how the people of Durban are individually identified, the city seemed to have a collective spirit that I found electrifying and although I spent less than two days there, I cannot wait to go back!
Well, that's about all I can think of for the moment. I'm finally back at site now and eager to get started on the projects that we came up with at IST and continue working on my Sepedi as I settle back into village life!
Until next time!
Monday, May 14, 2012
Thursday, April 26, 2012
26 April 2012,
Today marks 3 months since we arrived, jetlagged yet eager for work in Johannesburg, South Africa! People will say that time has flown by and although I agree, it still somehow feels like I’ve been here forever. Life at site is still trucking along and I’ve identified quite a few potential projects to work on over the next two years I’m living here, which is good.
Overall, the CNA (Community Needs Assessment) is going well so far. I’ve been conducting various interviews and gathering information from various stakeholders in my community such as school principles, NGO directors, clinics, etc which has given me a good launch pad off of which I might be able to start a couple trial project ideas. My org is still wonderful, although the work pace/pace of life in general here takes a bit of getting used to! For those of you who know me well, you know I’ve always had trouble sitting in one place for extended periods of time. To my parents: thank you for soccer camp, and to my teachers: my utmost apologies! In any case, an average workday involves much of this “idling” behaviour that I’ve so adamantly avoided and thus makes frustration on my part very difficult to avoid. I’m trying to remind myself of culture differences though. The last thing I want to do is to offend anyone with my antsyness, so I just sit tight and wait. However, one speck of silver lining should be mentioned: In recent days my apparently incomprehensible supply of energy has begun to illicit not the usual laughter and teasing from my colleagues, but requests for me to help them get in shape! “Pebetse, I eat too much pap! Let us exercise first!” We’ve begun doing some simple stretches and calisthenics in the mornings sometimes, and they just love it! Perhaps this marks the beginning of a discovery on my part. Maybe here in Africa, what at first glance appears as a dark mud of frustration is, in fact, the richest soil of opportunity.
Language is not coming along as quickly as I would desire ideally because English is very prominent in my community. Not to say that people speak English to each other or in business settings, but they know it well enough to speak it to me out of courtesy. It’s lovely that they’re making the effort to communicate and it really is helpful while I’m attempting to garner information on various community functions and establishments, but it really handicaps me and cuts me off severely from the social aspects of life here in Mohlarekoma. I bug people to speak to me in Sotho so that I can learn, but it is hard when they know that things will just be easier and less patience will be required on both our parts if English is spoken. Such a catch-22!
In other news, as many of you will have seen or heard, I’ve adopted a kitten! His name is Maka, which means “Lion” in Sotho and I found him abandoned by his mother in a bush in the front drive of my family’s compound. He was just a tiny nugget (about 4 weeks we think) when I found him, but is now going on around 7 weeks and has successfully made the transition from warm milk to solid food, which he loves a little too much I think. This kitten will break the bank for me I swear! If only he weren’t so cute :) He has been nice company though these past couple weeks though. Life here can get a little down at times, and it’s nice to have a little fuzzball to come home to every once in a while.
(Explicit content to follow for those of you with vivid imaginations and weak stomachs!)
This weekend is a five-day holiday to honor, well, I’m not sure anyone knows..Freedom Day I’m told? In any case, it means that people get 5 days off of work and school so needless to say they are excited and ready to party as only South Africans know how! Yesterday, I found myself helping to boil, de-feather, and butcher about six whole chickens in preparation for such festivities. It was crazy! I learned that before you cook a chicken head, but after it’s been decapitated and de-plumed the tongue must be cut out, and when you slice a female bird’s belly open from neck to stubby tail, you’ll more often than not find a bunch of (guess it..) EGGS waiting for you inside! It’s like a morbid little Easter basket! It was a great experience to have, both culturally and biologically although my jeans and hoodie sweatshirt experienced some major casualties during the process. Needless to say I’ll be doing an extravagant load of laundry today!
That’s about it for now, I’m heading up to Polokwane (the Capital of Limpopo) next weekend for a Peace Corps Limpopo conference where I’ll meet up with other PCVs from around the province to share skills, ideas, and experiences. Should be a fun time and a very welcome “break” from village life!
P.S. Just to clear up my two facebook “identities”: People from my village have been asking to be my friend on facebook and so I decided that with respect for “professionalism” here at site, I would create a new page that excludes me doing anything that might be interpreted as, well,“less than savory” :) . This new page (Alyssa Pebetse Bonini) is where I plan to be uploading pictures taken on my phone, status updates, more albums, etc!
Thursday, April 19, 2012
|Nothing says "happy easter!" like a cow head in a bowl!|
|View from my coumpound|
|My little predetor Maka or "lion" in sotho|
|"Pebetse, have you ever slaughtered anything??"|
|Sunset from Matlakatle|