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.”
--Marianne Williamson

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  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!