Sunday, March 4, 2012
Thank you all for your patience with me getting this blog post up! Time here has been flying bye and I can’t believe PST (Pre-Service Training) is over halfway done!
Yesterday we received our official Site Assignments and I’ve been assigned to Mohlarekoma Home Based Care near Groblersdal, Limpopo. We have site visits this coming week after which I’ll be able to answer many more questions, but as far as I know right now I will be living in separate rondavel on the compound of a host family about 20 min walking away from my organization. My org specializes in home based care for clients suffering from HIV/AIDS which includes but isn’t limited to HIV/AIDS Awareness and Outreach and palliative care. My role as a PCV will be assisting in Project and Financial Management, as well as development of income generating skills and activities. I’m nervous, but unbelievably excited! I mentioned in my interviews with my APCD (Associate Peace Corps Director) that I would love to be involved with some sort of agricultural project as well while I’m here, and I hear that there’s a group of elderly women across the street from my org who are looking for a volunteer to help them do just that! I guess they are quite the active and lively bunch, and I look forward to working with them!
So, let me try to summarize how it is that I arrived at where I find myself today. Before I begin with my update though, I’ll preface that life here in the Peace Corps comes hand in hand with not one, but TWO new vocabularies: One is your target language (mine is Sepedi or “Northern Sotho” but more on that later..) and the other is a completely separate language of acronyms. I’ll do my best to translate the both of them!
Let’s begin: My classes official title here is SA’25, translating into the 25th group of Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) to be stationed here in South Africa. The groups rotate between education and CHOP (Community Health Outreach Programs) which is what we are as SA’25. At the moment SA’25 is comprised of 5 men and 29 lovely ladies, all ranging in age from 21 to 78 years old with a myriad of skills and experiences to contribute. Apparently the gender imbalance is not uncommon for CHOP while education experiences a more equal interest between the sexes. Additionally, we hear that the ET (Early-Termination) rate amongst PCVs in South Africa is abnormally high; we’ve already shrunk by two! (Brant and Brittney, we miss you almost as much as we miss indoor plumbing!!!! Xo) Training thus far has been pretty intense, I like to joke that we feel like government agents undergoing intensive training comprised of 4hrs x day of language plus 5 hrs x day of skills/safety/culture/medical sessions with a weekly cocktail of assorted vaccinations with our lunch. No way any of us are giving blood any time soon!
Each of us has been placed with host families in the villages of Bundu and/or Matshipe in the Province of Mpumalanga. I have yet to find either on a map but they are located about 5 min by kombie away from a town called Denilton, which I believe is around 1.5 or 2 hours away from Pretoria.. In which direction I honestly could not tell you! Since my target language is Sepedi, I am living in Matshipe with the other Sepedi PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees) as well as those learning Tshvenda who will be living in the Venda region of northern Limpopo. All the other PCTs (Those learning Zulu and Tsonga) are living in Bundu, which is a slightly bigger village just up the hill about a 45 min walk away from us. We all get together 5 days a week for session at a nature reserve with a sort of conference/resort space inside and thus are entertained almost constantly by monkeys and baboons that are frequently trying to steal our lunches, tape, markers, and pretty much anything else they can get their furry little hands on. Adorable? Yes. Irritating and mildly upsetting when they charge you at full speed to grab the apple you’re eating? Absolutely.
My host family here is nothing short of amazing. I have my own small room in a grey terra cotta house with my host M’ma, Ashma, my grandma (who I simply call koko or “granny” in Sepedi) my sister Thebogo (19), and my brother Sello (12). They have given me the name Goitsimang (“hwee-tee-mahng”) which in Sesotho means “who knows”. I was a little perplexed by this at first until I realized the deeper meaning, which is essentially “only God knows why you’re here/ only God knows what you’ll do and where you’ll go”. I’d say it’s pretty appropriate for me at this point!
In our yard we have 2 mango trees, 2 pomegranate trees, 2 guava trees, and 1 lime tree, with the addition of a hefty flock of chickens that like to roost in one of the mango trees and have a nightly game of attempting to push each other out of it. There is no running water in the house (in fact water supply to Matshipe and Bundu is commonly shut off so it is collected and stockpiled in buckets and tubs around the house for when the spigots run dry) and baths are taken in a plastic bucket in your room. I was a fool coming here with long hair! There is a pit latrine located out back for you to do your business in, and ours is actually pretty nice compared to many others I’ve seen. For those emergency situations that seem to occur with semi-regularity here in Africa, the use of chamber pots / smaller plastic buckets is encouraged so that you avoid a mad dash to the latrine at 3am where you might be abducted by witches that fly around and snatch people up at night. Additionally, there is a high chance you may have a run in with a robber or spitting cobra if you find yourself outside at that hour, so it’s best to throw your pride to the wind and make friends with your bucket.
In other news, there are goats and cows EVERYWHERE. They wander down the red dirt roads eating grass, weeds and really anything else they come upon that looks appetizing. Every house I’ve seen here has a gate made of everything from actual gate to rusty old fence and sticks, to old mattress springs and wire to keep these wandering garbage disposals in their place. That place is usually in the middle of the road blocking any whisper of traffic that happens to find its way into town. It is overwhelmingly hot here, although it should be cooling down soon or so we’re told. It tends to be a little bit cooler on nights when there are thunderstorms and the heat is replaced with earth-shattering thunder, lightning, and raindrops whose pitter patter on our corrugated iron roof sounds less like an autumn shower and more like a steel drum band.
I’ve gotten several lovely letters from ppl asking about food here, so here’s my perspective on that: PAP. It is to rural South Africa as pasta is to Italy. Basically it’s just pure cornstarch, but appears and tastes like really congealed cream of rice/has the texture of polenta. I’m actually a pretty big fan of the stuff! It can be eaten with pretty much anything, and all you do is smush it into a little bite sized scoop with your (right) hand, load it up with whatever is on your plate (usually cabbage, beet root, beans, chakalacka, and or meat or some sort) and you’re good to go! Things are generally canned, cooked and salted longer and with a greater intensity than I’m used to, but then you can’t have everything. I’ve been steering clear of meat here (except when koko makes chicken feet or tripe that I sample while my family squeals and laughs at me in the background J) and I’m lucky enough to be able to pick a mango for bfast each morning. Life as I see it is pretty good.
I think I’ll leave it at that for now. I’ll have a phone and or modem here within the next couple weeks I’ll assume, although my internet access will continue to be sporadic until I settle into site at the end of the month. Also, my address will be changing when I move. I’ll still be able to receive post by way of Pretoria, but the likelihood that I will receive it might be slightly decreased. It seems like mail is taking about 3ish weeks to get here from the States, so whenever I’m able to post my site address, please forward all mail to that location.
ALSO!! If you haven’t heard, it helps a lot when sending anything larger than an envelope to mark the outside of it with a Bible verse so as to decrease the likelihood that it will be a victim of mail room theft. This comes from advice given by past PCVs and appears to also affect the speed with which the mail makes it through customs!
Gabotse for now,