Medical Hold, Part 2

I know I haven’t written in a few weeks, so I thought it might be nice to update a little.

So, after falling, breaking my arm, and having surgery, I spent three days in a hospital in Pretoria. It wasn’t an overly pleasant experience. The hospital was modern and the doctors were great. But, unfortunately, the nursing staff was overall not fantastic. Three days was more than enough hospital time for me.

I was released after a total of four nights in two different hospitals, and here’s the kicker-I didn’t have clothes. I came to Pretoria only with the few things I had at with me at work the day I fell, such as a pack of colored pencils, a book, my bank card, and my two cell phones (no charger). My supervisor had taken the clothes I wore home, with the intention of bringing clean clothes when I was released. However, due to having to leave Tzaneen quickly to get to surgery in Pretoria, she couldn’t get to town and bring a bag of things for me to take to Pretoria.

So, I was released from the hospital in a nightgown, robe, and slippers that my supervisor had bought in town the day I was admitted.

Then I had to go shopping for new clothes in my nightgown. In a mall in Pretoria. Yes, now it’s funny. But at that point I was dying of humiliation!

I’ve spent the time since in Pretoria hanging out with friends, writing my novel for NaNoWriMo, and not doing much else. After a week, someone from my site happened to come to Pretoria, and they brought a bag of stuff for me, mostly clothes and my computer. I’m so thankful for it, as otherwise I’d be out of luck!

I’ve been doing lots of physical therapy and have had an overall good time, though Pretoria does start to get boring after a while. PC determined that I’d be here the full six weeks, which is a long time!

But at least I finished writing my novel for NaNoWriMo. With a late start, I ended up writing 50,000 words in just two weeks!
-Jen

Prov Con

Midway through my service, PCSA started having provincial conferences, or Prov Cons, as they came to be known. They are weekend long, optional, volunteer led conferences. No PC staff, and the volunteers pay their own way, with a little help for food from our VSN committee. They were started as a way to help PCVs from different cohorts meet and network with each other.

Being in North West Province, which only had SA24 (no other cohorts), we never had a prov con. We just did our own thing in Kuruman on holidays like Thanksgiving and Cinco de Mayo. 🙂

However, now that I’m living in Limpopo, where there are volunteers from SA23, 24, 25, 27, and 28, plus the 26s from Mpumalanga….I finally got a chance to attend a Prov Con last weekend. I lucked out because it happened to be held in my shopping town, Tzaneen, at a great backpackers called Satvik Backpackers. About 50 PCVs from both Limpopo and Mpumalanga came, and I was lucky enough to get one of the nice Chalet rooms, complete with an outdoor shower.

Seriously, taking a hot shower at midnight with only the African sky above you is an amazing experience. I’m considering building on at site. Or rather, I wish one would just appear at my house.

I ended up meeting my site mate in the morning to discuss a project we’re doing together at her school, and we left for Tzaneen around noon. We spent some time wandering around town and meeting up with various groups of PCVs on their way to the backpackers, and got some amazing Pakistani food at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in town. Literally, R25 and I was stuffed to the gills. That’s $2.50 for a full meal.

The other two volunteers with me couldn’t believe I had never eaten Pakistani food before. They were both from the West Coast, so I had to remind them about the overall lack of diversity in the Midwest. 🙂

We got to the backpackers a little before 5pm, and headed down to the Tzaneen Dam which bordered the property. Despite the warning that crocodiles live in the water, and the knowledge that hippos are all over this area, several of us went swimming. I waited until several volunteers had swum out a ways before getting in….kind of like how penguins push some unlucky guy off the cliff first to see if the seals are waiting below. We had a blast swimming, since it was a dreadfully hot day. Nobody got eaten, either. Though I’m sure we all got Schisto.

Saturday was spent having sessions led by volunteers. Nothing was set in stone beforehand, and those of us who had experience with a specific project got up and shared. I talked about permagardening, moringa, the warden system, and Souns, among other things. This was really beneficial to the newest group, SA28, who had just arrive at site in September, as they could hear about any manner of projects they might get involved with throughout their service. It was nice to chat and network with volunteers who are doing similar things to me. Plus, we got to swim a bit more during lunch break.

That night we had a potluck and braai. I brought beetroot to share, figuring a typical South African dish ought to be served. There were salads galore, salsa, guacamole, cakes, cookies, chakalaka, pasta, chips, veggies, fruit salad…..all sorts of delicious things, plus hotdogs, hamburgers, and chicken. I ate too much food, but since it was all delicious, it was ok. 🙂 I spent the rest of the night talking with various volunteers, and had another nighttime outdoor shower.

On Sunday we got up and ate leftovers. For breakfast, I had Niknaks (cheetos), cake, a few cookies, and coffee. Very healthy, I know. The owners of the backpackers came to meet with us, and it was great hearing from them. They are super supportive of PC and I look forward to visiting again. After that, we headed to town in small groups and did a bit of shopping. I got some pizza with some PCVs and did grocery shopping, then headed back to site with my site mate. I spent the rest of Sunday relaxing and preparing for the week ahead.

I was wonderful to get together with so many other volunteers. Though I had technically met almost all of the PCVs, I didn’t now them that well. But now I have a few new friends and look forward to hanging out with more of the Tzaneen cluster, since I actually know who they are now!

I can’t wait until the next Prov Con!
-Jen

Uniquely Peace Corps Experiences

Life as a PCV can be intriguing and unpredictable in some many ways, and there are many experiences that happen to be uniquely Peace Corps.  Some are just so out of the ordinary that a US citizen living abroad still wouldn’t experience them, but Peace Corps Volunteers do.   A lot of it comes down the community that is Peace Corps, worldwide.

Through Peace Corps, I have friends around the world: Peru, Jordan, Botswana, the Ukraine, Lesotho, Benin, Panama, Zambia, Azerbaijan, to name a few…countries that many Americans probably don’t even know are countries.  Primarily we have been brought together via friends-of-friends, the internet, stumbling across blogs, or random encounters in airports, and some have become close friends.  No matter what country, we are connected through our experiences with the Peace Corps.  It’s a family.  A very diverse, strange, open family that reaches to all corners of the world.

The past week has highlighted the connections I have with other volunteers.  Last Monday, a site mate moved into my village. In many PC countries, site mates are common, but not in South Africa.  The fact that we live maybe a mile apart, and that I can see her school from my house, is nothing short of amazing in SA.  She contacted me just before moving to the village, and we made plans to meet up on Friday.  Favi, as I’ll call her, was pretty much a stranger to me.  I had spent two days training at their PST, but since there were about 40 PCTs, I didn’t catch many names, and I don’t think we ever chatted.

So, essentially I was meeting a new neighbor.  Should be awkward, right?  Well, remember we are both PCVs.  So when we finally met up, it was like we were long lost friends.  We literally couldn’t stop talking, and I’m sure anyone who saw us on the street were amazed by how fast we were talking, and how animated we were.

Later on, an RPCV (returned PCV…aka, finished with service) from Liberia called me up and stopped by my place.  We had met through a PC couch surf group, and she was wanting to see what a PCV site in SA looked like.  We had chatted quite a bit on Facebook, and I was delighted to show her and three of her friends what the rural areas of SA are like.  She spent about an hour at my place, and we all had a great time learning about each other’s PC services.  We talked about all manner of things, and it was fascinating to learn what PC Liberia is like.

PC is a very unique experience.  Very few organizations send Americans abroad for such a long amount of time, and to be completely integrated into a new culture and language.  PCVs are trained to speak the target language, and embrace the culture of their host countries.  Typically, volunteers live at the level of the people in their community, and give up many comforts of modern life.  Of course, each county is different, but the highs and lows, joys and sorrows, struggles and successes, are relatively the same.  They’ve even worked out a graph depicting the mental state of volunteers over their two years of service-worldwide, not country specific.  PC can identify when volunteers will hit their highs and lows in service, based on a worldwide average, and it’s pretty darn accurate.

When I met with my cohort in Washington DC two years ago for staging, it was like I was meeting a group of friends I had known for years.  We didn’t know anything about one another, or even our names, but we had a strong connection already.  Each one of us had spent months (or years) applying for PC, and had fought through challenges to get there.  After two years, we are still a closely connected group.  We’ve been through some much while serving in PC, and there are some things that only other PCVs can understand.  It has been like this with every other volunteer I’ve met.  We understand each other on a deeper level.

Being a part of the PC community is amazing.  I look forward to returning to the states next year and getting involved with the Peace Corps community there, and for the random encounters with other volunteers in the future.

-Jen

PS…..random fact, but this is my 300th post.  I thought about doing something special for it, but then decided the PC community was special enough. 🙂

Beautiful Venda

Rondevals and maize in Venda.

Rondevals and maize in Venda.

I had been asked by a fellow PCV in December if I could come facilitate a permagarden workshop at her site, which I quickly agreed to. I was a little worried because her site is quite far from mine, in an entirely different climate in SA: up in Venda, or northern Limpopo province.

Start of the workshop!

Start of the workshop!

Fun fact: during Apartheid, Venda (home of the Venda people) was one of the few regions that actually because a sovereign country. The Apartheid government intended to make several of these areas, but Venda was one of the few that were actually created and recognized as a sovereign nation. Due to this, the Venda culture is still very strong. Where I live in SA was also an independent homeland during Apartheid, Bophuthatswana….but the Tswana culture didn’t survive Apartheid as well as Venda did.

Completing the compost heap.

Completing the compost heap.

Anyways, I was delighted to travel to one of the most beautiful parts of South Africa, and excited to garden in an area where things actually grow (unlike the Kalahari Desert). After approval with my APCD, I merged this workshop into a trip that would include a visit to a potential third year site, where one of the awesome SA24 PCVs live.

Takalani and her counterpart, Bruni.

Takalani and her counterpart, Bruni.

After a stop at my favourite backpackers in Pretoria (Khayalethu), I hopped on a bus up to Venda. The further north I went, the more lush and mountainous the landscape became. Finally, up near Louis Trichardt, I fell in love with Venda, its numerous mango trees, the intense green of summer, and the gently rolling mountains that contrasted sharply with my dry, flat, Kalahari home. I met up with Takalani, the PCV who I was helping.

Nearby students dancing....hard to talk over the drums and singing, but fun to watch anyways.

Nearby students dancing….hard to talk over the drums and singing, but fun to watch anyways.

The next two days were spent leading an intense permagarden workshop and drinking in the beauty of Venda. The workshop went very well, despite near constant translation, a cramped room, and interruptive culture dancing while we were working in the garden (ohhhhh Africa….it was still fun to watch). Despite my age, the people-adults and professionals who work in OVC drop-in centers all over Venda-were eager to listen and learn from me. A guy from the department of Agriculture attended the whole workshop and was excited to see the permaculture methods I was teaching. This is the second very positive experience with the Dept of Agric I’ve had while training, and I really hope to make some connections-they are amazingly supportive of permaculture, which makes me very happy!

Getting ready to plant seedlings.

Getting ready to plant seedlings.

A completed trench bed, with Takalani and the Dept of Ag guy next to her.

A completed trench bed, with Takalani and the Dept of Ag guy next to her.

At the end of the workshop, I knew a little more Venda and honestly didn’t want to leave the area. I’ve learned to see the beauty of the desert, but it was hard to leave the lush semi-jungle of Venda. However, I managed to travel via 4 (FOUR) bush taxis down to Southern Limpopo the day after the workshop to visit a potential third year site, but I think that deserves its own post.
-Jen

Wormery session.

Wormery session.

Sibasa, near Thohoyandou in Venda.

Sibasa, near Thohoyandou in Venda.

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PermaGarden Workshop #4

Wormery demonstration.

Wormery demonstration.

After I visited Bonolo’s Village, I headed to Kuruman and stopped by The Eye of Kuruman. I’ll post photos of that in a separate post, but it was one of those nice surprises you stumble upon in your travels. The staff members were nice, the Eye was peaceful, and I enjoyed a picnic lunch and reading for a few hours at this little oasis in the desert. Around midafternoon, another PCV met me there, as I was headed to her site to do a training. I’ll call her Tshepo, and she lives in a village about half an hour from Kuruman. It is seriously tiny (think 500 people) but has regular buses to it, a pretty good multigraded school, and some awesome organizations.

I made them eat dirt. In my defense, it's a soil test and I did it too!

I made them eat dirt. In my defense, it’s a soil test and I did it too!

I spent three days in her village, hosting a training and enjoying her beautiful house (she is lucky and has a four room HOUSE to live in….as opposed to my room). She’s a really good cook, and has a lot of energy.

Doing the “ball” soil test. I’m focusing hard so I can catch it. Also, don’t I look so Peace Corps?

Barbed wire is everywhere!

Barbed wire is everywhere!

This training was my first training after my PDC, so I was super excited for it. It was also the longest one I’ve done. We met for three days and I was able to teach the basics of permaculture: principles, mulch, compost, wormeries, trench beds, companion planting, intercropping, natural pest control, and recycling. Language was an issue, as always, but I’m learning a lot of garden vocabulary in Setswana, and am pretty used to working with a translator (it’s not as simple as you might imagine). At the end, the learners and volunteers divided up into groups and sang songs about what we learned. One of them went something like this “The white lady has brought permaculture to our school!” and involved a dance and lots of thrilling-yells. It made me smile.

Tshepo working with some Grade R learners.

Tshepo working with some Grade R learners.

I also did evaluations for the first time, and though many of the learners struggled to write one, even in Setswana, I got some good responses. Some of them just made me smile!

Some fun garden words:
Dijalo-plants
Go jala-to plant
Dijo-food
Seboko/diboko-worm/worms
Tshaba-afraid

And one of my favourite sayings:
Ke diboko. Ga ke noga. Ga di lome. Ga go na meino. These are worms. They are not snakes. They do not bite. They do not have teeth.

Can you guess what most people were afraid of?
-Jen

A garden. In the Kalahari Desert. Is this heaven? No! It's the Valley of Hope!

A garden. In the Kalahari Desert. Is this heaven? No! It’s the Valley of Hope!

Gotta have those certificates!

Gotta have those certificates!

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New Year’s Eve and a Posh Corps Village

On the 28th, the day before my birthday, I headed out from PTA to my friend Oratile’s site, another PCV. We had planned back in September or October for me to visit her remote site for NYE. Now, my village is pretty remote and isolated, but here’s is 220km from our shopping town in Vryburg, on the border of Botswana. I’ll call her village Poshville, and you’ll understand why.

Her village is unique because there is a large population of white people. Her village is actually a pretty good glimpse into what Apartheid SA looked like: there’s a black section and a white section, and there’s certainly no mixing. There are restaurants, lodges, and a bakery, plus 2 schools (1 private/white, 1 public/black) and a 24 hour clinic. It has at least one really nice church, homes with running water, and shops selling plenty of food. There is a post office, ATMs, and even a border crossing. Compared to my village, it’s an amazing oasis. Thus, Poshville. That being said, Oratile has the smallest room amongst any PCV we’ve met and faces frequent water outages that have stretched on for weeks. Transport leaves 1 time a day, and only on weekdays. So not 100% Posh Corps, just maybe 95%. 🙂

The first morning in her village, Oratile and I woke up, had some coffee, I opened a package that had ended up at her house due to some strange PCV chain, and off we went to Riverside restaurant (sans river) for delicious ommelettes. Seriously delicious. We enjoyed some good food and coffee, put in our pizza order for later (yes, I did say pizza) and headed back to her place to change. Change into our swimsuits! We went to one of the lodges (yes, plural) to swim. Outside, on my birthday, in December. Oh yeah, the heat index was 115F, a new record for me. I held a few baby warthogs, which were absolutely adorable, and enjoyed swimming in the oppressive heat. Swimming in the desert….

The next day, we had planned to do some laundry, but the water was out. So we packed up and headed to the lodge early. We stayed there the nights of the 30th and NYE so we could enjoy a few final days of the First World. On the 30th, a nice Afrikaans lady invited us to have dinner with her family, which was a nice surprise. Braai? Yes, please! While the conversation eventually turned very disturbing, it was a nice evening. Her kids had even spent time on farms in the USA, which is apparently pretty common.

The following day, we were ready to celebrate the new year. The NYE 80’s Exercise theme party was held at the lodge. We had been planning costumes for months and were so excited to go 80s for the night. Sadly, they let the teens have control of the music, so instead of 80s music, we listened to Afrikaans pop and Cotton-Eyed Joe. Afrikaans pop is not that fantastic…..we survived and celebrated the new year with some fairly hilarious Afrikaners and a warthog named Dexter.

I stayed in Poshville until the 3rd, when I awoke early to catch the taxi at 6:30am. It was a long ride to Ganyesa, but I had a surprisingly quick ride home. The driver even dropped me off at my door, which was nice because I had a lot of luggage from a month of holiday.

Then back to the bucket baths, pee bucket, and oppressive heat. Hello, Third World Africa!
-Jen

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