Americans Be Crazy…or Is It Me?

Coming back to the States on Medevac has so far been a bit different than the previous times I visited. There’s a sense of finality, knowing I might not go back to South Africa. Instead of simply enjoying the first world life, I keep wondering whether I need to start transitioning back to it. Rather than only enjoying the company of my family and friends, I’m beginning to readjust. To call the USA my home again.

And it’s weird.

I catch myself truly reflection on how different life here is than my life back in the States. More often than not, I find things to be utterly ridiculous and superfluous, I won’t lie. Some adjustments I made in South Africa to my lifestyle seem logical to bring back here, yet wonder if Americans will understand my quirky behavior.

I will admit that I’m thoroughly enjoying my family’s wifi, but I forgot how incredibly FAST it can be. I went to watch a youtube video, and it loaded almost instantaneously. I had opened another window to slowly download another webpage to read while waiting, but almost before I could open the browser window, my video had loaded. I couldn’t believe it. Youtube is way more enjoyable when you don’t have to wait ten or twenty minutes for a short video to load.

I’m trying really hard not to add the unnecessary “u” to words like favorite or behavior, by the way. It might take awhile to remember, so I apologize.

I also don’t fully understand how someone could possibly use a ziploc baggie only once. So what if you put a piece of pizza in there? It’s not dirty. It’s got at least 3 more uses in it. I physically struggle to throw away a baggie, but I know if my Dad saw me saving them, he’d be grossed out.

Though I definitely identify as a bit “crunchy”, or rather an environmentalist, I haven’t recycled in two years. It’s not like riding a bicycle. It doesn’t immediately come back. My muscle memory has been lost. To be fare, I didn’t technically recycle in the traditional, put-it-in-a-bin-on-the-curb sense. I did, however, find a second, third, or fourth use for nearly everything that wasn’t gross-food-trash. Even that was given to my worm farm. Got an old newspaper? Use it like a paper towel to drain grease off food, because I’m not buying paper towels. Got an old magazine? After reading it several times, cut it up and make African-esque paper beads for friends. Got an old rama container? Jackpot, that stuffs as good as Tupperware. But I think if I tried to use newspapers as paper towels, my family would have me committee.

There’s a lot of things in the USA that seem absolutely crazy. I’ve seen photos of a friend’s child’s birthday, and I was appalled at the amount of things that child got. I’m happy for him, but to my eyes it seemed embarrassingly excessive, when I typical child in my village was likely to get a school uniform for his/her birthday, if it was celebrated at all. I don’t know how I will handle the abundance at Christmas. I can’t imagine a traditional Christmas at this point. I’m looking forward to seeing family I haven’t seen in 2.5-3 years, but….I don’t know, it’s hard to imagine the whole gift-giving side of things, and being able to enjoy it fully.

There are a lot of wonderful, absolutely wonderful, things about being home at this time of year as well. Playing Christmas tunes on Pandora, baking delicious Christmas/winter-themed cookies, getting Christmas cards from around the country, seeing a Christmas tree standing tall and proud in our living room, family, eggnog…I haven’t had a Christmas at home since 2010, and the whole festive “feeling” in the air is something I NEVER found in South Africa. When it’s wickedly hot out, there’s no way to feel like it’s Christmas.

But, to be fair, the cold Iowa winter is brutal. I haven’t left the house in two days. I don’t plan of leaving anything soon. 🙂

I still don’t know if I’m going back or not, but time’s ticking and I haven’t seen a single doctor. Regardless of what happens with my Medevac, my Peace Corps experience doesn’t end here. It’s a lifetime experience…the gift that keeps on giving, if you will.

-Jen

Safari Christmas

Traffic Jam!

Traffic Jam!

So my second African Christmas holiday was quite different than Christmas 2011. It included a trip to a game reserve, good food, grilling out (braai) Christmas dinner, and a fun and beautiful early birthday celebration. Oh yeah, while chilling on the porch, we heard monkeys chattering and lions roaring in the distance. Yeah, I’m in Africa!

I decided back in November that I would spend Christmas with two South African friends I met at a permaculture workshop. Through our permaculture interests, we became fast friends, and I even attended their wedding back in October. Cajun and Sue, my friends, lived on a small piece of land outside Rustenburg, in the gorgeous foothills (near the platinum mines). I was excited to spend Christmas with my white SA “family” and truly experience Christmas in another culture. Of course, their family is a mix of different cultures and traditions, and it was pretty awesome.

The day I got there was pretty hectic. I met Sue about a block from the Rustenburg taxi rank, in a seriously sketchy part of town. Besides an unfortunate bus ride in Mexico and taking the wrong exit out of a shopping mall in Durban, this was the sketchiest place I’ve ever been to. Me, with my big bag and glaring white skin-I was a little (lot) out of place, but Sue soon pulled up and off we went to a mall. Yes, a mall in Africa 3 days before Christmas. It was insane, but we got what we needed and got out of there. By the time we arrived at their house, we were beat and spent the evening catching up, fonduing, and relaxing.

The next day we rose at a horrible hour-I was so tired I don’t even remember the time. We wanted to be at the Pilanesburg gate by around 6am, when it opened. Pilanesburg is about an hour away. You do the math. We ran a little bit late, but got to the gate before 7am, I think. We pulled into the park and BAM Kudu! The animal after which my village is named. We spent all day driving through the park and saw tons of zebra, kudu, waterbuck, wildebeest, giraffe, hippos, a croc, birds, rhinos, babies of all sorts, and elephants. It is seriously amazing to see a family of elephants walking alongside the road, or to get caught in a traffic jam caused by a herd of zebra. Though the day was dreadfully hot, we had a ton of fun, and I enjoyed my first experience in an African game reserve!

Sue setting up Christmas Eve dinner.

Sue setting up Christmas Eve dinner.

The following day, Christmas Eve, we had to go to the mall again to shop for Christmas food. It was even crazier, but despite a broken phone and keys locked in the car, all went well. We made it home in the afternoon and spent the evening making Christmas Ham and Christmas Cookies. American style cookies-that was my cultural contribution. That night we lit candles for our loved ones far away as the sun set, and stuffed ourselves full of good food and cookies.

Lighting candles for those far away.

Lighting candles for those far away.

Christmas included hilarious gifts that only a PCV would appreciate: 2 ply toilet paper (what luxury!!) and a braai grill (so I can always cook, even if the power is out). We at too much chocolate, after I was introduced to a typical chocolate candy mix whose name I’m blanking…something Sweets. Anyways, we braaied (as in, I watched) steaks and gypsy spits, which are an incredible bit of bacon-wrapped goodness, and which I shall bring back to the USA. We had potato salad, lettuce salad, and steaks for Christmas dinner….what a strange world I live in. We also roasted marshmallows, and I promised to make s’mores happen sometime in the future.

Braaimaster cajun preparing Christmas dinner.

Braaimaster cajun preparing Christmas dinner.

The next day was not my birthday, but we celebrated 3 days early, as I was leaving before my actual birthday. Sue cooked a beautiful Israeli dish whose name I also cannot remember, but involved eggs, tomatoes, and other sorts of deliciousness. I sat down to a place setting covered in beautiful flowers and herbs from the garden, each with a special meaning. We watched a lot of movies that day, as we were still tired from all the excitement from previous days. And we still ate lots of Christmas cookies, finally finishing them off at night. I made tacos for dinner, which involved handmade tortillas, which cajun helped me roll out, pico de gallo, guacamole, and seasoned beef mince…everything homemade! It was quite an effort, but so, so delicious.

I had to leave on the 27th to meet a friend in Pretoria, but on the way we stopped at the Hartesbeesport Dam. It was busy, but cool. It’s obviously a hot tourist destinations, and there are seriously fancy lakehouses (overlooking a smelly lake). We stopped at a bead/rock shop, which I spent too much time and money at. 🙂 Then off to PTA, where I had to say goodbye to my friends.
-Jen

Birthday!

Birthday!

What Happened to December?

I am indeed alive and well. December was such a busy month that I decided to take a holiday break from blogging and just enjoy the festive season. It would be a little unfair for me to completely ignore the events of December, when I was repeatedly reminded of how welcoming, kind, and open-hearted people are in this country.

At the beginning of December, just before the school let out for the summer holidays, I zoomed off for a short stop in Pretoria (PTA) and on to the Permaculture Design Course (PDC) near Johannesburg. The PDC rates its own post due to the complete awesomeness of the course and the people who came. Maybe even 2 posts! Let’s just say it was a game changer, for certain!

After the PDC, I went back to PTA to spend a few days in the First World with Tumi and her boyfriend P. We thoroughly enjoyed shopping for clothes and eating good food for a few days. I tried Ethiopian food for the first time, and I sincerely hope I never have to move to Ethiopia. Not my idea of delicious, but I would give it another try. After PC, I’ll pretty much try, eat, and convincingly pretend to enjoy ANY food offered.

After purchasing some new summer clothes (necessary after 1.5 years of handwashing) and stuffing myself with food, Tumi, P, and I parted ways for Christmas: Tumi to Cape Town, P back to the village, and me off to my wonderful friends near Rustenburg.

Again, my visit to Sue and cajun rates its own post, but as a quick recap, we went to Pilanesburg, heard both lions and monkeys while sitting in their yard (Africa!), make American style cookies, shared our Christmas and birthday traditions, ate lots of wonderful food, and talked a lot about plants. These are my permie friends, fyi.

I went back to PTA for just one night to meet up with Oratile, a PCV who lives nearish to me. I though I’d just see her and another PCV, but suddenly 8 other PCVs, one brother of a PCV, and I were all catching up over dinner! Ahhh PC life is awesome!

The next day Oratile and I woke up early to get to the first taxi to Vryburg. We got good seats and the kombi filled up quickly, and after several long, loud, bumpy, hot hours on the kombi, we got to Vryburg. We located the taxi to her village (there is exactly 1 per day), did some quick shopping, then set off on another long, hot, loud, and bumpy three hour ride to her village. A horde of children were waiting for us as we got off the taxi who quickly rushed to pick up all our bags and carry them off to Oratile’s room. A tiny girl who had to be no older than 7 or 8 picked up my massive hiking backpack and carried it away, no problems….whereas I had struggled with it. 🙂

Oratile’s village is strange because there are white people there. We both pretty much agree that Apartheid still exists in her village, and I’ll write more on it later. Sufficient to say that I had a wonderful birthday which included swimming outdoors, I snuggled with a baby warthog, and I celebrated the New Year at an 80s theme party with loud Afrikaans pop music sprinkled with several rounds of “Cotton Eyed Joe”.

Needless to say, Africa is a very strange place.

And now: welcome back to the Third World. The village welcomed me back by being out of food staples like eggs and potatoes. Considering I didn’t get to shop before I came back, it’s been an interesting week for food!
-Jen

Christmas in a Swimming Pool

Being from Iowa, and having spent every Christmas in Iowa, Christmas time means COLD and often snow. So I simply was not able to understand Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere. Christmas when it is HOT out does not make sense to me, and still seems surreal.

Anyways, our setting for Christmas was a little lame. Sue, Genna, and I were at Khayalethu Guest House in Pretoria (an awesome backpackers which I intend to use a lot), and the only other people there were 4 other PCVs from different training classes. It was awesome to have the run of the place and be able to trust everyone at a backpackers.

On Christmas Eve after, the three of us were trying to decide what to do for dinner, and had narrowed it down to having Roman’s Pizza or KFC deliver-yes, I know, it may be the saddest excuse for a Christmas Eve ever! As we were deciding between the two, the owner of Khayalethu came in with an Afrikaner man, who explained to us that he loved PC and is amazed at all the work we do, and was stopping by to see if any PCVs were around to come to Christmas dinner at his house that night. Things like that really DO happen in real life!

Now, normally I would not go to some random guy’s house in a city in a foreign country, but as the owner of the guest house (which nearly all PCVs use) knew him, and some PCVs from our training class had spent a good deal of time with the guy a few months ago, we decided it was safe. He also gave us his contact info and address to give to our families….sorry Mom, I didn’t forward the info.

So, a few hours later the Afrikaner and his wife pulled up in two separate cars to take 5 of us PCVs to dinner. They had a fancy table set and some delicious food that we stuffed ourselves with. And it was really neat to talk to a few Afrikaners, as that doesn’t happen in my village (no white people, remember). It turned our really depressing Christmas Eve plans into a classic PC memory that I’ll always remember.

The next day held no gift exchanges or caroling, although we did set up my ipod to the Christmas tune while we swam in the pool. Let me repeat that-I SWAM in a POOL on CHRISTMAS! How strange! I even got sunburned, on CHRISTMAS! Ok, yes I am easily entertained. So were the other two PCVs.

Riding back to Vryburg in a kombi with a sunburn was not so fun, especially as I was sitting next to a sunburned Sue and a sunburned Genna, and they both were radiating heat! But we survived the ride, and I’ll probably travel on the kombis rather than buses because it is far cheaper and faster, though not as comfy.

The rest of the school holidays I spent at home or at Sue’s, reading, sewing, watching movies, sleeping, reading, etc. Lots of reading….my host family doesn’t understand how I can enjoy reading for hours on end!

-Jen

Swimming on Christmas!

Swimming on Christmas!