And It’s Back to the Grind!

I can safely say I am not good at posting when I’m on holiday in the USA (and that people laugh at me in the States when I say I’m “on holiday”).

I’m sitting in the Des Moines airport now, about an hour away from flying back from my holiday in the States.  It has been a crazy, busy, wonderful month home.  I saw so many good friends and family, though of course not as many as I’d like.  I had amazing Mexican food, delicious cupcakes, tasty ice cream, and all sorts of other great foods.  Including a deep fried Snickers bar on a stick at the Iowa State Fair.

Dad and I spent a weekend in Chicago. Oddly enough, I have flown, driven, and even taken a train through Chicago, but I have never actually “been” to Chicago.  So we “tourist’d” up and set out to hit all the sites: Shedd Aquarium, the Soldier’s Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, the John Hancock Observatory (with an open air balcony….94 floors high), Navy Pier, and the Skydeck at the Willis Tower…aka Sears Tower.  The Skydeck is 1,353 feet (412 meters) in the air, or 103 floors.  It was a fun stop….you can see 4 flights from that high!  We only got a little bit lost driving around Chicago (did you know there’s like an underground highway under downtown Chicago….not sure if we were supposed to be there, but….)

My parents thought it would be fun to move houses while I was back.  So my last week went like this: Friday-get a new dog,Saturday-have Dad’s 50th birthday party at the new house with about 40 people, Sunday-PACK, Monday-move the old house to the new house, Tuesday-pack my bags and have Graham’s ice cream one last time, Wednesday-Leavin’ on a jet place.  Crazy, right?  Notice how we had a party at the new house BEFORE we actually moved.  We like to live life on the edge.

And now I’m looking forward to sleeping for the next 16 hours.  On a plane.  Yeah, right.  But at least I can watch some good movies!

 

And I have a province-wide Permagarden workshop I’m cofacilitating in 3 days.  That’ll be an interesting experience, with jet lag and all!

-Jen

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The Biggest Surprise Ever!

I know I’ve been silent the past few weeks, and there’s a very good reason for that.  You see, I’ve been in the USA!

I’ve known for a few months that I would be going home to Iowa in July/August, but I chose to keep it a secret so I could surprise all my friends and family, primarily my father.  Only my Mom and sister were in on the surprise.  On the 25th of July, I border my flight in Johannesburg, landing back home in Iowa on the 26th, where my Mom kept me sequestered at home for the day.  On the 27th, my Mom and I drove to meet my Dad at the end of RAGBRAI, which is a bike ride across Iowa.  I surprised him at the finish line, which was an incredible experience.  He certainly didn’t expect to see his daughter from South Africa at the end of RAGBRAI….speechless for sure!!

Since then I’ve been enjoying life in the States.  I have a month at home before I head back for my third year of service, designated Home Leave by Peace Corps.  PC bought my ticket and granted me 30 days of leave, which I am exceedingly grateful for.  Good food, family, friends, and all the familiarity of home….I’ll post some pictures in the coming days!

-Jen

Leaving this Place Better than Before

At our COS conference, our CD showed us this video that PC Africa put together for it’s regional conference earlier this year.  I’ll talk more on it later, but I encourage you to watch this video.  It’s truly inspiring and shows the PC life all across Africa.  If you’re at all interested in Peace Corps, this video will make you want to fill out the application today!

 

-Jen

Planting Gardens Here and There

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The start of a trench bed!

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The past few weeks have been pretty crazy in my normally slow-paced African life.  I was out of the village from April 11-28th, travelling here there and everywhere on Peace Corps business.  It’s actually pretty unusual for an education PCV to be out of the village during the school term for so long, but lest anyone think I was slacking-it was all PC approved!  🙂

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Planting seedlings.

Back in February, I was invited to help facilitate one of the PC Permagarden trainings with the newest education group, SA26.  The workshop was held in KwaZulu Natal, the home of the Zulu people and 100% different than my Kalahari home.  Mountains, trees, long grass, rain, fog, fertile soil….what a beautiful area!  The workshop was held in the Sisonke district, and about 7 PCVs and their counterparts attended.  I hold this group of PCVs in high regard: almost all of them teach 15-20 hours a week, and some are so rural that they don’t have electricity at home.  Woah.  I had a lot of fun working with this group, and LOVED getting to see real KZN…I had been down to Durban last year, but Durban doesn’t even come close to showing the beauty of KwaZulu Natal.

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I've gotten good at carrying things on my head like the locals. I'm on the right.

Fun thing: we stayed in a haunted hotel.  I was on the fourth floor (aka attic), in a room alone, in a creaky, Victorian style house.  It was creepy to say the least.  No, I don’t think they had 8 ghostly visitors, but it was still pretty creepy. 

The two day workshop went remarkably well, and some of the participants have already started their own gardens since then.  They learned some basic permaculture methods, and several have already contacted me for more information.  I’d love to visit some of their gardens sometime, but I have no clue if that is in the cards!  It was definitely fun to interact with some Zulu people, and hear this 100% foreign-to-me language….we didn’t even learn Zulu greetings in PST, so I was at a loss besides “Sanibonani!”

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One of the covered seed beds.

After that workshop, I spent a day in Pretoria, then headed back across North West, through half of Northern Cape, to a remote village on the SA-Botswana border.  I had been planning a workshop with 3 (three!) PCVs who live in this village for awhile, and was excited to visit their unique home.  This village is home to a fairly large white and coloured population (not an offensive term here!), along with a large black population (who still live off in the “location” on the dune…relic of Apartheid).  However, no white children attend the school, only coloured and black kids.  This school, due to the “diversity”, is dual-medium, meaning they have an Afrikaans track and an English track. 

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Some of the ABET learners with their tire gardens.

Obviously, this was not the normal village experience.  This was easily the nicest rural school I had been in, and honestly could have been mistaken for an American school, albeit low-income and pretty under-resourced.  There were the typical South African education problems, such as overcrowding, corporal punishment, absenteeism, few resources, and the numerous other problems found in village schools.  However, the staff was pretty motivated, and wanted to have a workshop for their ABET ( Adult Based Education and Training) class, comprised of about 25 Grade 7 learners.  Yes, an adult education class for Grade 7 kids….some of whom were almost my age! 

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The finished garden!

I was a little leery about working with the most troublesome and struggling learners at this school, but I was pleasantly surprised.  For most of the workshop, they were attentive, involved, and asking/answering questions.  They were clearly excited to be out of the classroom and learning in a different way.  I spoke with one of the volunteers, and he said they might try to have a gardening period every day, since they learners were actually involved in their learning during this workshop.  Just goes to show that sometimes learners need to be out of class to learn!

My next leg of this journey involved another cross-country trip to see my third year site, but that is definitely worthy of its own post.
-Jen

Last Few Vacation Pics

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Dad wasn’t happy that I was perched on the edge of this cliff.

So for your enjoyment, here are a few more pics from my Dad’s visit to SA.  And then I swear I’ll update about the last month of my life.

 

 

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Cool birds at Kruger.

Rhino!  They were pretty far away from us, but it was great to see them....they are in grave danger due to poaching here.

Rhino! They were pretty far away from us, but it was great to see them….they are in grave danger due to poaching here.

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Bourke’s Luck Potholes

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Dad at the top of the world, AKA God’s Window.

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Kruger Safari Photos

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Some monkeys walking down the road in Kruger….African traffic jam. Actually this happened to us outside Kruger too.

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Dad perched on the edge of a cliff.

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Zebras always make me laugh a bit.

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Elephant herd.

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Elephant going for a walk.

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So many impala!! This was only a small section of the herd.

I might post more pictures later, if my internet cooperates.

-Jen

A Long Awaited Vacation

Sorry for my absence for the past few weeks.  There are two good reasons: the demise of my blackberry, and the arrival of my DAD in South Africa!!  Dad came for about 8 days, and we managed to pack a LOT of stuff into those few days, which left no time for blogging.  I’ll probably write a few posts about our trip, so this one doesn’t

My host family.

My host family.

become insanely long.

Dad flew in on the 23rd of March, and I stopped by Spar in Hatfield to buy him a few Mountain Dews and hopped aboard the Gautrain to meet him at the airport.  I had to wait almost a whole 1.5 hrs for him to walk through the gate, and when he did, this was our conversation:

Dad: I have to go through customs.  Where is customs?

Jen: You just walked past customs.

Dad: No, I have to go through customs.  There was a sign.

Jen: Yeah, and the sign pointed to the counter and you walked through the exit.  Let’s go before they realize you skipped customs.

Dad: What?

The NEW tar road TO my village.

The NEW tar road TO my village.

Joburg customs is a joke.  We found our rental car, and I had a lot of fun watching him get used to driving a car where “everything is backwards”.  He did pretty well at staying on his side of the road….that day.  We made it to Pretoria before sunset, and grabbed some pizza at my favorite backpackers, Khayalethu.  He got to meet a TON of PCVs, many of whom were excited to meet him because meeting parents is just fun.  We hit the hay early for a long drive to my site the next day.

After a mishap with my new phone’s alarm, we started only about half an hour late, and I only got us a little bit lost.  Or drive was a little longer than expected because I was getting used to my new phone, and got us a little lost a few times, but not horribly lost.  In desperation we stopped at Wimpys for breakfast at around 10am.  I had forgotten how horrible Wimpys food is, and apparently had just gotten used to it.  They brought out the plates and Dad took one bite….then I remembered how awful the food really is.  His face was quite hilarious though.

Kids in the village.

Kids in the village.

100_1512After an uneventful drive….well uneventful for Africa which meant driving through an active construction zone….we made it to Vryburg, which Dad immediately announced as sketchy.  We stopped and bought an insane amount of groceries as we had a car, then I took over the wheel and drove to my village.  That was really exciting, to DRIVE into my village.  We had several conversations like this:

Dad: Now those, are those houses for animals?

Me: No, those are houses for people.

Dad: No, those short ones with the metal.  Those can’t possibly be people houses.

Me: Those are houses for people.

People Houses.

People Houses.

Soccer time.

Soccer time.

The Tuck Shop.

The Tuck Shop.

We stopped at my school, toured the garden, then I drove happily to my house, waving to my surprised host family.  Dad had fun meeting them, me acting as the translator, and giving them little gifts from America.  We went on a walk to the edge of my village, stopped by a soccer game, and went to the village shop to buy cold drink aka Coke.  Then I cooked up a dinner as he slept, then wandered around my yard asking too many questions and taking a ton of pictures.  It was a nice night in the village.  Of course, a rain storm blew in, knocked the power out, and we spent some time chatting by candle light.  He got the full African Village experience!  Some people pay money to do such things on holiday! 🙂

Kids who push the donkey carts to haul water.

Kids who push the donkey carts to haul water.

African Sunset.

African Sunset.

The next day was spent on an even longer drive back past Pretoria to Mpumalanga, but I managed to get us not-as-lost that time. The next stage of our trip was the typical African holiday experience.

-Jen